Friday, June 13th, 2008


Israeli leaders spent last week talking tough about Iran and threatening possible military action. The United States and the other major powers need to address Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but with more assertive diplomacy — including greater financial pressures — not more threats or war planning.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who is bedeviled by a corruption scandal that could drive him from office, led the charge. “The Iranian threat must be stopped by all possible means,” he said in Washington, a day before meeting President Bush at the White House.

Then Israel’s transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, who is jockeying to replace Mr. Olmert as head of the ruling Kadima Party if the prime minister is forced to resign, declared that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites looks “unavoidable.”

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors in Washington — or what Mr. Olmert heard from Mr. Bush. But saber-rattling is not a strategy. And an attack on Iran by either country would be disastrous.

Unlike in 1981, when Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, there is no single target. A sustained bombing campaign would end up killing many civilians and still might not cripple Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran also has many frightening ways to retaliate. And even Arab states who fear Iran shudder at the thought of America, or its ally Israel, bombing another Muslim country and the backlash that that could provoke.

Mr. Olmert may be trying to divert attention from his political troubles. Still, there is no denying a growing and understandable sense of urgency in Israel, which Iran’s president has threatened with elimination. A recent report by United Nations inspectors on Iran’s nuclear progress, and worrisome links to military programs, has only fanned those fears.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is scheduled to visit Tehran later this month to discuss, in more detail, an incentives package first offered in 2006 by the United States and other major powers. It is likely to fall far short — both in incentives and punishments — of what is needed to get Tehran’s attention.

There is no indication it will contain tougher sanctions — including a broader ban on doing business with Iranian banks and bans on arms sales and new investments. It also needs a stronger commitment from Washington to lift sanctions and to fully engage Iran if it abandons its nuclear efforts. The United States is the only major power not sending a diplomat with Mr. Solana.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain disagree on holding direct talks with Iran (Mr. Obama would; Mr. McCain would not). But last week, both endorsed enhanced sanctions, including limiting gasoline exports to Iran. That is an idea well worth exploring. Iran relies on a half-dozen companies for 40 percent of its gasoline imports. The United Nations Security Council is unlikely to authorize a squeeze, but quiet American and European appeals might persuade some companies to slow deliveries, and it would grab Tehran’s attention.

On his trip to Europe this week, President Bush is expected to press the Europeans to further reduce Iran-related export credits and cut ties with Iran’s financial institutions. He also must make clear that America will do its part on incentives. We wish he had the will and the skill to propose a grand bargain — and to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver it. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of that. At a minimum, he should send a senior official with Mr. Solana to Tehran.

If sanctions and incentives cannot be made to work, the voices arguing for military action will only get louder. No matter what aides may be telling Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert — or what they may be telling each other — an attack on Iran would be a disaster.

 

* Editorial NYT, June 10, 2008

 

Police recruits and veteran officers could benefit from more frequent firearms training and a wider use of Taser stun guns, according to a study of the New York Police Department’s shooting habits released on Monday.

The study, by the RAND Corporation, was commissioned in January 2007, about seven weeks after a Queens man, Sean Bell, died in a hail of 50 police bullets. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at the time that questions about the department’s effectiveness and training required an independent review.

RAND researchers raised the phenomenon of “reflexive shooting,” or contagious shooting, in which one officer’s gunshots spur a fusillade of bullets by others in the area.


Though they could not say whether the phenomenon occurred more often than in the past, they recommended that the department add “reflexive shooting scenarios that include a stimulus or the sound of gunfire, to sensitize officers to cues that may not be reliable, and to teach them that such cues may generate unwanted responses.”


In addition to training, the RAND group studied how the department conducts internal reviews of police shootings.
It studied 455 shootings that were adjudicated in 2004, 2005 and 2006 by the department’s Firearms Discharge Review Board. The study found that while the board had “exemplary procedures,” and a record of producing quick and fact-filled reports with an eye toward the legalities of those shootings, it could benefit from more analysis of the tactics used so that lessons could be learned.


In 25 of the 455 shootings, the RAND group found that officers might have been able to end confrontations more quickly by using a less lethal device — like a Taser, which uses jolts of electricity to disable an assailant — before those encounters escalated to a point where more deadly force was necessary. The police killed someone in 3 of the 25 cases.


The authors of the 114-page study suggested the department carry out a pilot program in selected precincts to expand the availability of Taser guns with a goal of decreasing civilian or officer casualties.


At a news conference to outline the findings, Mr. Kelly strongly suggested that he would embrace the recommendation for a pilot program for the Taser devices, though he said he still had to distribute the report, and its “well over a hundred recommendations,” to those in his senior command.


He said he was aware that critics had assailed the use of Tasers, saying some officers tended to use them overzealously.
But he said that by Wednesday, roughly 520 new Tasers — which are not a substitute for a handgun — would be available to about 3,500 sergeants on patrol, a shift from having them kept in certain patrol vehicles and in the hands of officers in the elite Emergency Service Unit.


“This was a study that’s focused on what we can do,” Mr. Kelly said. “It was not a panacea; it wasn’t going to solve all issues as far as shootings are concerned.”


The report also called for expanding hands-on, scenario-based training, said Bernard D. Rostker, a senior fellow at RAND, who presented the findings at 1 Police Plaza. The Police Academy now offers two six-month programs annually for thousands of officers. Mr. Rostker said, “It would be better” if more frequent and smaller classes were held.


On requalification for officers on the job, Mr. Rostker said New York’s officers requalified twice a year, as was the national standard, but suggested that one of the sessions include more “street-oriented” and real-life situations. He did add that the restraint used by New York officers was noteworthy compared with that of other departments nationally.


Mr. Kelly said the department’s antiquated police academy would be replaced by a more comprehensive center in College Point, Queens. Construction is expected to begin by the fall of 2009. It would include the ability for computer simulations and “tactical village” training, and various firing range simulations.
“It all sounds good to me, but as far as I can think, we have all presented such things before,” said John C. Cerar, a retired deputy inspector who was the commander of the Police Department’s firearms training section and who said he had not yet read the report. “I wish the department could give a little bit more to training.”
But he acknowledged the department’s hurdles. “With the facilities that the department has, it is limited because of the significant number of personnel they have to train,” he said.


Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the report represented a lost opportunity for the Police Department and the city.
“This report does nothing to answer the major questions that many New Yorkers were asking after the Bell shooting, including why officers are firing so many shots at civilians and why blacks and Latinos seem to be such a target for police shootings,” Mr. Dunn said. “Simply put, this is a major disappointment.”
The RAND analysts — who studied only shootings adjudicated by the internal board — did not study the Bell shooting. Federal officials have asked the Police Department to wait before conducting an internal inquiry of the matter.
Mr. Rostker said that data from police departments in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago, among others, was compared with data from New York. However, he acknowledged that the races and ethnicities of those involved in police shootings were not a part of this study.

RAND officials said later that the group was not asked to look at personal characteristics like race and age of perpetrators or victims in police shootings.
“We did not, explicitly, in 455 cases, line it up in terms of ethnicity,” Mr. Rostker said.

 

 

* By AL BAKER , NYT, June 10, 2008

The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Élysées involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.

But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.

Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse.

“In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,” said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. “Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”
As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.
“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”
No reliable statistics are available, because the procedure is mostly done in private clinics and in most cases not covered by tax-financed insurance plans.

But hymen repair is talked about so much that it is the subject of a film comedy that opens in Italy this week. “Women’s Hearts,” as the film’s title is translated in English, tells the story of a Moroccan-born woman living in Italy who goes to Casablanca for the operation.
One character jokes that she wants to bring her odometer count back down to “zero.”

“We realized that what we thought was a sporadic practice was actually pretty common,” said Davide Sordella, the film’s director. “These women can live in Italy, adopt our mentality and wear jeans. But in the moments that matter, they don’t always have the strength to go against their culture.”
The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country’s sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman’s virginity.
The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.
The domestic drama has gripped France. The groom, an unidentified engineer in his 30s, left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied. She was delivered that night to her parents’ doorstep.
The next day, he approached a lawyer about annulling the marriage. The bride, then a nursing student in her 20s, confessed and agreed to an annulment.
The court ruling did not mention religion. Rather, it cited breach of contract, concluding that the engineer had married her after “she was presented to him as single and chaste.” In secular, republican France, the case touches on several delicate subjects: the intrusion of religion into daily life; the grounds for dissolution of a marriage; and the equality of the sexes.
There were calls in Parliament this week for the resignation of Rachida Dati, France’s justice minister, after she initially upheld the ruling. Ms. Dati, who is a Muslim, backed down and ordered an appeal.
Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court’s acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.
“The judgment was a betrayal of France’s Muslim women,” said Elisabeth Badinter, the feminist writer. “It sends these women a message of despair by saying that virginity is important in the eyes of the law. More women are going to say to themselves, ‘My God, I’m not going to take that risk. I’ll recreate my virginity.’ ”
The plight of the rejected bride persuaded the Montpellier student to have the operation.
She insisted that she had never had intercourse and only discovered her hymen was torn when she tried to obtain a certificate of virginity to present to her boyfriend and his family. She says she bled after an accident on a horse when she was 10.
The trauma from realizing that she could not prove her virginity was so intense, she said, that she quietly borrowed money to pay for the procedure.
“All of a sudden, virginity is important in France,” she said. “I realized that I could be seen like that woman everyone is talking about on television.”
Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused — or even killed — by their fathers or brothers.
“Who am I to judge?” asked Dr. Marc Abecassis, who restored the Montpellier student’s hymen. “I have colleagues in the United States whose patients do this as a Valentine’s present to their husbands. What I do is different. This is not for amusement. My patients don’t have a choice if they want to find serenity — and husbands.”
A specialist in what he calls “intimate” surgery, including penile enhancement, Dr. Abecassis says he performs two to four hymen restorations per week.
The French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians opposes the procedure on moral, cultural and health grounds.
“We had a revolution in France to win equality; we had a sexual revolution in 1968 when women fought for contraception and abortion,” said Dr. Jacques Lansac, the group’s leader. “Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past.”
But the stories of the women who have had the surgery convey the complexity and raw emotion behind their decisions.
One Muslim born in Macedonia said she opted for the operation to avoid being punished by her father after an eight-year relationship with her boyfriend.
“I was afraid that my father would take me to a doctor and see whether I was still a virgin,” said the woman, 32, who owns a small business and lives on her own in Frankfurt. “He told me, ‘I will forgive everything but not if you have thrown dirt on my honor.’ I wasn’t afraid he would kill me, but I was sure he would have beaten me.”


In other cases, the woman and her partner decide for her to have the operation. A 26-year-old French woman of Moroccan descent said she lost her virginity four years ago when she fell in love with the man she now plans to marry. But she and her fiancé decided to share the cost of her $3,400 operation in Paris.
She said his conservative extended family in Morocco was requiring that a gynecologist — and family friend — there examine her for proof of virginity before the wedding.
“It doesn’t matter for my fiancé that I am not a virgin — but it would pose a huge problem for his family,” she said. “They know that you can pour blood on the sheets on the wedding night, so I have to have better proof.”
The lives of the French couple whose marriage was annulled are on hold. The Justice Ministry has sought an appeal, arguing that the decision has “provoked a heated social debate” that “touched all citizens of our country and especially women.”
At the Islamic Center of Roubaix, the Lille suburb where the wedding took place, there is sympathy for the woman.
“The man is the biggest of all the donkeys,” said Abdelkibir Errami, the center’s vice president. “Even if the woman was no longer a virgin, he had no right to expose her honor. This is not what Islam teaches. It teaches forgiveness.”

By ELAINE SCIOLINO and SOUAD MEKHENNET, NYT, June 11, 2008
Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Paris, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.