Vol. 3    Issue 15   16-31 December 2008
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
The Holy Quran A Pictorial Gallery
Muslim Minorities in Non-Islamic Milieus
Virtual Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture

The Iraq war: A flagrant violation of international law and human rights

There is a growing realisation around the world, as well as in the United States, that the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has proved to be an unmitigated disaster-for Iraq, for the world at large and for the US. The war has brought nothing but devastation and instability to Iraq, failed in its ostensible objectives (finding weapons of mass destruction and restoring democracy and stability in the country), and added to global insecurity. President-Elect Barack Obama said during his election campaign that he failed to understand how the US ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. According to a study carried out by the World Health Organisation in January 2008, more than 151,000 Iraqis have died between March 2003 and June 2006. More than two million people have fled Iraq and an equal number have been displaced within the country.

The so-called "war on terror," launched by the Bush administration in the wake of the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, has failed to stem global terrorism and has in fact exacerbated tensions and conflicts in large parts of the world. A survey carried out by the BBC Radio in 2006 revealed that most people in 33 out of 35 countries believed that the American-led war in Iraq has increased the threat of global terrorism.

The invasion and continued occupation of Iraq by the US-led forces has increased America's international isolation. America's pursuit of a myopic foreign policy has landed it in an unenviable situation where, as Aaron David Miller, a former US State Department official pointed out a couple of months ago, it is not liked, not feared and not respected around the world.

Soon after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan categorically stated that the invasion was in violation of international law. In the past few months, a number of prominent public figures and human rights organisations have voiced their anguish and concern over the legality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies. The 2008 annual report of Amnesty International points out that the US has "distinguished itself in recent years through its defiance of international law".

Britain's participation in an illegal war

Lord Bingham, one of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures and a former law lord, said in a speech at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law in London on 18 November 2008 that the legal advice given to the British prime minister Tony Blair prior to the invasion of Iraq was fundamentally flawed. Lord Bingham described the invasion of Iraq as a "serious violation of international law" and accused the US and the UK as acting like "world vigilante". He said advice by the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith failed to acknowledge the lack of hard evidence implicating Iraq's non-compliance with UN resolutions. Furthermore, it neglected to make clear that only the Security Council could authorise further action in the matter, Lord Bingham suggested.

Lord Bingham pointed out that the former Attorney General's advice to the former British prime minister in March 2003, which justified the invasion of Iraq, was flawed in two fundamental respects. First, it was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply with UN resolutions in a manner that justified resort to force, and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors had found no WMD, were making progress and were expected to complete this task in a matter of months.

Secondly, Lord Goldsmith's advice rested on the belief that a decision over whether Iraq had not complied with UN resolutions could be made by anyone other than the UN Security Council. He added, "If I am right that the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK and some other states was unauthorised by the Security Council, there was of course a serious violation of international law and of the rule of law". Lord Bingham also criticised the post-invasion record of Britain as "an occupation power in Iraq". He added, "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration" (The Guardian, 18 November 2008; The Independent, 18 November 2008).

One of Britain's leading constitutional experts, Peter Hennessy, recently pointed out that the decision to join the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 represented the worst breakdown in cabinet government since the Suez crisis of 1956.

Hypocritical regret

The outgoing US President George W. Bush said in a TV interview on December 1, 2008 that his biggest regret is the failure of intelligence over Iraq's weapons. He declined to say whether he would have decided to invade Iraq if he had known it had no weapons of mass destruction.

Guantanamo Bay: Ammerica's torture chamber

Lt Col Darrel Vandeveld recently resigned as a prosecutor for the military commissions which tried terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. He told the BBC that the tribunals used for putting suspects on trial at Guantanamo Bay are "a stain on America's military". He said that in the course of his assignment he found that suspects had been mistreated and tortured in order to secure confessions. He narrated how an Afghan suspect was moved from cell to cell every few hours, with the aim of preventing him from sleeping properly. Mr Vandeveld was deeply troubled by what he discovered at Guantanamo Bay. "I never suffered such anguish in my life about anything," he said. "It took me too long to recognise that we had abandoned our American values and defied our constitution," he added. He said, "We should end the shame of Guantanamo now, close it down. The handful of bonafide terrorists, who have been held at Guantanamo for as long as seven years, should be tried in a civilian court" (bbc.co.uk, 3 December 2008).

President-Elect Barack Obama has promised to shut Guananamo Bay. The world is impatiently waiting for an end to America's torture chamber.

Casualties of conscience

As criticism of the Iraq war grows in the US, the number of American soldiers deserting the army for reasons of conscience is steadily increasing. According to the US army, 4,598 soldiers serving in the Iraq war deserted last year alone. The Pentagon has counted more than 25,000 career soldiers who have gone absent without leave for more than 30 days since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. Any soldier who has gone absent without leave for more than 30 days is considered a deserter, and those captured by the US military police spend several months in jail.

In the US groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace are growing. Nearly 1,600 enlisted soldiers have signed an appeal to the US Congress that reads: "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price". In Seattle, Lt Ehren Watada is now in the focus of media attention as the first American officer to be court-martialed for refusing to serve in Iraq. He has called the Iraq war "an illegal and unjust war…. launched for profit and imperialistic domination".

Andre Shepherd, a helicopter mechanic in the US army, has applied for political asylum in Germany because, he says, the American-led war in Iraq is in violation of international law. In November this year, representatives of the Green Party and the Left Party in the German parliament and in the European Parliament declared their support for Shepherd.

Shepherd's petition for asylum says he "refuses, for reasons of conscience, to continue his military service, because he does not wish to take part in a war by the United States against Iraq that is in violation of international law and the prohibition of violence stated under Article 2, Number 4 of the Charter of the United Nations". Under a European Union directive enacted in 2006, a person who refuses to participate in a war that violates international law must be recognised as a refugee.

A few months after joining the Iraq war in 2005, Shepherd began to have doubts about the war. He noticed that no one, "not even the guys who were out on patrol every day, the pilots who risked their lives with each mission, had an answer to the question of what exactly we were doing in this foreign country, not to mention for what and for whom we were fighting".

Back in Germany, in February 2005, he searched the Internet for information on the Iraq war that hardly any American newspapers were reporting at the time: about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction in the country, the number of Iraqi civilian casualties, and Guantanamo Bay. Watching YouTube videos, he witnessed for the first time the violent collateral damage during the Apache missions. "What was a puzzle at first became an increasingly clear picture," says Shepherd. "That was when I realised that I didn't want to have anything to do with this war any more". When he received his orders to redeploy to Iraq in the spring of 2007, Shepherd decided that he could no longer carry on with his association with the American onslaught on innocent civilians in Iraq. On 21 April, 2007 he submitted his petition for asylum to the German authorities.

General Ludwig Beck, the former chief of staff of the German Armed Forces who resigned after the Nazi takeover and was put to death following an attempt on Hitler's life, said: "A soldier's duty ends where his knowledge, conscience and responsibility forbid him to follow a command".

France's complicity in the Rwandan genocide

Generally, governments and human rights groups based in the Western world reprimand poor countries in Asia and Africa for human rights violations. In an unprecedented reversal of roles, the government of Rwanda in August 2008 issued a damning 500-page report documenting France's implication in the genocide that rocked the country in 1994. According to the report, prepared by a panel of experts that heard the testimonies of more than 150 witnesses, France defended a client regime in Rwanda against rebels and gave it "political, military, diplomatic and logistic support" and "directly assisted" its genocidal campaign. The report named 33 present and former French politicians and military officers as conspirators, among them the late President Francois Mitterand and the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

The report points out that France armed Rwanda's brutal regime, sent soldiers to support it as the genocide was unfolding, and gave refuge to some of its most heinous perpetrators after they were forced out of power (International Herald Tribune, August 15, 2008).

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, accused France of complicity in the 1994 genocide. "They knowingly trained and armed the government soldiers and militias who were going to commit genocide and they knew they were going to commit genocide," he said. French soldiers who arrived in Rwanda believing that they had come to protect victims of repression soon discovered that they were in fact protecting the killers, and many of them conveyed their disgust to French journalists.

Ethnic strife in Rwanda

Rwanda is a mountainous, landlocked country in east-central Africa with an estimated population of 7.4 million. The population consists of two major ethnic groups: the Hutus, who form the majority, and the Tutsi, who are about 15 per cent of the population. The Hutus are cultivators while the Tutsis are cattle breeders. The cultures of the two groups are closely intertwined. Both speak Rundi or Rwanda and adhere to similar religious beliefs, which are a mixture of traditional and Christian elements. There are frequent intermarriages between the two groups.

The Tutsi conquered the Hutu in the 15th century and founded a kingdom which lasted until 1961. For nearly five centuries the Tutsi were a dominant, aristocratic minority in Rwanda. The Germans and Belgians occupied Rwanda in the late 19th century and the colonial regimes allowed the Tutsi to maintain their dominance over the Hutu in furtherance of their own interests. In 1961 the Tutsi monarch was overthrown and the Hutu took control of the government. This was followed by large-scale persecution of the Tutsi, who were seen as fifth columnists and demonic creatures.

The seeds of ethnic conflict in Rwanda and in other parts of Central Africa were sown by German and Belgian colonialists in the late 19th century. Successive colonial governments favoured the minority Tutsis at the expense of the Hutus. They calculatedly accentuated ethnic distinctions and made the Hutus and Tutsis carry distinctive identity cards. During the run-up to independence in Rwanda, the Belgians cleverly changed their strategic preferences and started favouring the Hutus instead.

Following Rwanda's independence in 1962 and the assumption of power by the Hutus, the simmering conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi intensified. There were frequent skirmishes, accompanied by large-scale killings, between the government forces and Tutsi guerrillas. On April 6, 1994, a surface-to-air missile brought down an executive jet killing the Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana. Within hours of the incident Hutu militiamen and soldiers began attacking and killing Tutsis, plunging the country in an orgy of carnage and massacre. Some 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and a few moderate Hutus (including 300,000 children), were massacred in a space of 100 days. More than two million refugees fled to neighbouring Congo. The conflict spread into the sprawling rain forests of the neighbouring Congo, culminating in a deadly war that took a toll of nearly 3 million lives.

Strangely, a force of UN peacekeepers, led by France, had been despatched to Rwanda in 1993 to help enforce an emerging peace deal between the Hutu government and invading Tutsi guerrillas. Then the UN decided to withdraw all but a handful of the peacekeepers. The UN voiced its anguish and disapproval of the carnage that was raging across the country but declined for many days to use the term "genocide". By the time the UN decide to summon up an intervention force and the US hesitatingly agreed to despatch armoured vehicles, most of the killing had already taken place.

Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who was part of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda in 1994, said that France, which led the small international peacekeeping force at the time of the genocide, the UK and the US in particular did not care enough to stop the killing. In December 2008 the former UN commander in Rwanda accused Western states of being responsible for the genocide. Belgium and South Africa have apologised for their inaction during the fateful period.

The massacre in Rwanda came to a halt when an army of Tutsi exiles, led by Paul Kagame, toppled the genocidal regime and took control of the country.

France and Rwanda have long levelled charges and counter charges against each other for the 1994 massacre. France says Tutsi rebels led by Paul Kagame were responsible for killing the former Rwandan president Habyarimana while Rwanda accuses France of complicity in the genocide. Rwanda says the French peacekeeping force stood by while the carnage took place, and subsequently created a buffer that allowed Hutu killers to escape into Congo.

Acting on a French arrest warrant, German authorities on November 9, 2008 detained Rose Kabuye, a former guerrilla colonel who is a senior aide to Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, in connection with the killing of Habyarimana. Rwandan officials say they are likely to retaliate by issuing warrants for the arrest of French army officers and politicians, including the former premiers Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppe and Dominique de Villepin (The Economist, 13 November 2008).

Ravages of French colonialism in Africa

European colonialism was premised on the assumption, as the eminent British anthropologist Edmund Leach has bluntly put it, that "all non-Europeans are stupid, childish, barbarous and servile by their very nature". Colonial rule led to a massive plundering of indigenous resources and the destruction of traditional institutions and cultural patterns in large parts of Africa and Asia. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred and even larger numbers were thrown into bondage.

Some of the most devastating and insidious consequences of European colonial rule were witnessed in the French-held territories of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The violent imposition of French colonial rule in the Maghreb was justified in terms of a "civilizing mission"-bringing the torch of enlightenment and progress to barbarous and uncivilized peoples. French rulers and intellectuals believed that Islam was the root cause of the backwardness of Muslims in the Maghreb and elsewhere. Alexis de Tocqueville, the celebrated author of Democracy in America, observed in 1843: "I must say that I emerged convinced that there are in the entire world few religions with such morbid consequences as that of Mohammed. To me it is the primary cause of the now visible decadence of the Islamic world". Tocqueville was in full agreement with the colonial project and argued that whole villages must be wiped out and their inhabitants dispersed if France were to conquer their territory and thus re-establish her pre-eminence as a European power.

Francois Guizot, the French minister of foreign affairs during the colonial era, stated in 1846 that in Algeria one is faced with "people who are half savages accustomed to devastation and murder and therefore one is obliged to employ more violent and sometimes harsher methods". One French general called Muslims "our eternal enemy".

During the first decade of colonial rule in Algeria, some 675,000 hectares of farmland and 160,000 hectares of forestland were appropriated by the colonial settlers. Massive changes were introduced in agriculture with a view to ensure the permanent presence of the French and to displace the indigenous population. One commentator wrote in 1903: "Intellectually superior, morally superior, economically superior, the colon will drive out the Arab, only leaving him those lands which he (the colon) judges too poor to make use of". Economic organisation and patterns of cultivation were radically altered, replacing wheat cultivation with vineyards and communal land ownership with private property rights. Market economy was introduced with a view to replace the traditional economy of exchange.

French colonial rulers also undermined traditional religious and cultural institutions in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Madrasas and religious libraries were closed down along with endowments that supported these institutions. The Algerians were seen as the subject peoples, with no vote and no right to political representation. The 1919 law extended naturalisation only to those Arabs who were willing to relinquish their "indigenous status," which included following Islamic law.

The large-scale exploitation and oppression of Muslims in the Maghreb by the French colonial rulers led to a massive uprising in 1954. A formidable challenge to colonial rule was mounted by the Ulama and Sufis. Imam Abdul Hameed ibn Badees founded the Ulama Association in Algeria to mobilise public opinion against colonial rule. The Association extended active support to the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), which spearheaded the anti-colonial movement. The Algerian war of independence lasted for seven years, in which nearly two million French soldiers participated and hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and nearly two million displaced. The French were ultimately forced to withdraw from Algeria in 1962.

Political space for Muslims in Europe

The experiences of Muslims living in Western countries and the record of Western nations in accommodating them and in addressing their concerns present a mixed kind of picture. By and large, Western societies offer Muslims a fairly good package, including better economic prospects, opportunities for higher education and professional advancement, security, political and civil rights, personal autonomy and religious and cultural freedoms. Muslims are free to build mosques, have their own cemeteries and Islamic schools (which are funded by the state in some European countries), and establish religious and cultural organisations. Almost all Western countries allow Muslims to slaughter animals according to Islamic rituals. In many Western countries, Islamic dietary rules are respected in prisons, hospitals, schools and army canteens on request from Muslims. Many Western countries provide facilities for imparting instruction to the children of immigrants in their own national languages. Countries like Germany, Belgium, Sweden and The Netherlands support imams brought from Turkey, Morocco and other Muslim countries to provide Islamic instruction to Muslim children.

Since 1975 Islam has been taught along with Christianity and Judaism, in public schools in Belgium. There are about 700 Islamic teachers in the country, whose salaries are paid by the state. Several public schools in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, which have a large concentration of Muslims, offer classes in Islam, in addition to the usual courses on Christianity. Many European countries allow tax deductions on donations to Islamic charitable organisations. In Britain, one is required to pay a tax on the registration of a change of title to a property, which in effect functions as a tax on house purchase. In the 2003 budget the British government announced that the burden of double stamp duty would be waived in the case of Muslims.

Many European countries have taken steps to provide political representation to Muslims and other minority groups. The Labour government in Britain has two Muslim ministers. There are two Muslim ministers in the Dutch government. In 2007 the French President Nicolas Sarkozy selected three ethnic minority ministers, two of them Muslim, to his cabinet. The House of Lords in Britain has four Muslim peers.

A Muslim mayor for Rotterdam

In October 2008 the city council of Rotterdam, Holland's second largest city, took the historic decision to appoint the Moroccan-born Ahmed Aboutaleb as the city's mayor. Nearly half of Rotterdam's 600,000 residents are foreign-born. The Rotterdam city council described Aboutaleb, who has Moroccan as well as Dutch citizenship and is often described as a model non-Western immigrant, as "an inspiration to all Rotterdam residents". Before his appointment, Aboutaleb served as deputy social affairs minister in the Dutch government. Wouter Bos, Dutch finance minister, described Aboutaleb as "the prototype of the modern Social Democrat: firm with a sense of justice".

Aboutaleb's political rise has been a major immigrant success story in the Netherlands. He was born in the town of Beni Sidel in Morocco's Rif mountain region in 1961, the son of an imam. In 1976 Aboutaleb, his mother and siblings moved to The Netherlands to join his father, who was already working in the country. In 1987 Aboutaleb graduated from a technical school where he had studied electrical engineering. He later worked as a journalist and then as a public relations officer before becoming director of the Institute for Multicultural Development Forum, a non-governmental organisation focused on integration policy. In 2004 he became a member of the Labour Party, where he was responsible for social affairs, education and integration. He was appointed as deputy social affairs minister in February 2007.

Geert Wilders, head of the rabidly anti-immigrant PVV party, submitted a motion of no confidence in the Dutch parliament against Aboutaleb in 2007 on grounds of his dual citizenship. The move was rejected by Parliament.

A Turkish Muslim as co-chairman of Germany's Green Party

Turkish-born Cem Ozdemir was elected co-chairman of Germany's Green Party in November 2008.

Ozdemir says that Germans must become comfortable with the "hyphenated identities" of some of their fellow citizens. On the other hand, immigrants and their children must accept that Germany "is not enemy territory".

Catholic-Muslim Forum meet in Rome

Relations between the Islamic world and the Vatican came under strain following a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at a university in Regensburg, Germany on September 13, 2006, in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying that Islam had brought only evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword. Following world-wide protests by Muslims, the Pope later said he regretted the misunderstanding that his speech had caused among Muslims.

On October 13, 2006, 38 prominent Muslim scholars and intellectuals from around the world wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, emphasising that the relationship between Christians and Muslims, who constitute nearly half of the global population, needs to be strengthened in order to contribute to meaningful peace in the world. In a declaration A Common Word Between Us and You, they dwelt at length on the similarities between the fundamental doctrines of Islam and Christianity. The letter, copies of which were sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the heads of Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox and other Christian churches, called for greater theological cooperation between Muslims and Christians around shared concepts like love of God and love of one's neighbour, and urged the pope to move the relationship in the direction of mutual understanding. The letter concluded: "So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us….We hope that we will all avoid the mistake of the past and live together in the future in peace, mutual acceptance and respect". The letter now has more than 250 signatories.

In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI had taken a controversial decision to downgrade the Vatican's Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which dealt mainly with the Islamic world. In May 2007 the Pope reversed his decision and restored the Council to its former position. On March 5, 2008 the Vatican and a group of Muslim scholars and academics founded the Catholic-Muslim Forum and decided to establish a regular official dialogue to improve relations between Muslims and Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey on November 30, 2008 and prayed at Istanbul's Blue Mosque, the second pope (after Pope John Paul II) in 2000 years to have visited a mosque. He also endorsed Turkey's entry into the European Union.

The first meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum was held on November 4-6, 2008 in a Vatican-owned building in Rome, in which 25 religious leaders and scholars from each side participated. The Muslim delegation was led by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, while Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran headed the Vatican officials.

On the last day of the meeting, the Pope addressed the delegates and urged them to overcome past prejudices and correct the often distorted images Christians and Muslims have of each other.

Later in the day, the participants assembled for a final public session in the main lecture hall of the Gregorian University in Rome. A few members of the public were invited to attend the final session. The delegates issued a 15-point declaration highlighting the common emphasis placed by both Islam and Christianity on loving God and loving one's neighbour. The Catholic-Muslim Forum decided to meet again in two years' time in a Muslim country.

A refreshing report on Muslims in Germany

Bertelsmann Stiftung, a prominent German think-tank, carried out an important survey called the "Religion Monitor" in 2007. In the survey, over 21,000 people in 21 countries were asked more than 100 questions about the role of religion and spirituality in their lives. The study focused on six core dimensions of religion and faith: intellectual aspects, faith, public practice, private practice, religious experiences, and the relevance of religion to everyday life. One of the objectives of the Religion Monitor is to provide scientific data as a foundation for a sustained dialogue among the world's religions.

In the summer of 2008, Bertelsmann Stiftung carried out a comprehensive study "Religion Monitor 2008: Muslim religiosity in Germany", based on a representative survey of more than 2,000 Muslims over the age of 18. The study included all communities and ethnic groups among Muslims in Germany, including Turks, Arabs, Iranians and Bosnians. The findings of the study indicate that across all age groups, Germany's Muslims are highly religious, which clearly differentiates them from mainstream German society. The study points out that despite a high degree of religiosity, the beliefs of Muslims are not characterised by dogmatism or fundamentalism. On the contrary, Muslims in Germany tend to be very accepting of religious pluralism.

More than 70 per cent of respondents in the study feel that every religion has a kernel of truth. Eighty-six per cent of the respondents feel that people should be open to all religions. These findings hold true regardless of age, gender, immigrant background or denomination. The study emphasises that for the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Germany, a high level of personal religiosity is associated with a great deal of tolerance towards other religions. The study also suggests that religiosity is a resource for civil society that might be utilised more fully to promote integration.

Dr Martin Rieger of Bertelsmann Stiftung thinks Muslim children in Germany should have their own religion classes. Robert Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops' Conference, the body responsible for the country's Catholic churches, has voiced his support for the incorporation of Islamic instruction in public schools.

Tunisian Muslim as Rome's Spaghetti specialist

Italy enjoys a worldwide reputation for its delicious cuisines. Nearly every major city in the world boasts one or more Italian restaurants. Italy is the home of the "slow food" movement, which has brought into prominence local recipes and cuisines and which are becoming increasingly popular not only with local residents but also with international tourists.

Once a year, the "Gambero Rosso" (or "Red Crab"), an organisation that is dedicated to the promotion of slow food, presents its coveted awards to restaurants, vineyards and estates that preserve traditional Italian cuisines. And this year the award for the best spaghetti went to Nabil Hadj Hassen, a 44-year old Tunisian immigrant. Hassen, who has innovated a highly popular spaghetti-called pasta alla carbonara-is the head chef at the Antico Forno Roscioli Trattoria, located in the heart of Rome.

Hassen is not the only foreigner working in the Italian restaurant business. Almost every restaurant in the old city has at least one immigrant standing in the kitchen. "Nearly all the pizza bakers (in Rome) come from Egypt. The Bangladeshis wash dishes, the Romanians knead pasta dough," says Hassen. Incidentally, the award for the second best carbonara went to an Indian-born chef. The making of the Italian carbonara tells a fascinating tale of globalisation of food. A key ingredient in the dish is eggs, which are brought from Pisa. A variety of pepper used in the dish is sourced from Jamaica, India and China. And the chefs are from a variety of countries around the world.

Hassen first arrived in Italy at the age of 17. He initially washed dishes is a Sicilian speciality restaurant, where he picked up the fine methods of preparing Italian dishes.

About 1,100 kilometres from Rome, in Paris, another Tunisian has been declared France's Best Baker of 2008. Anis Bouabsa, the son of a Tunisian immigrant, received a call on 12 February from Paris' blue-ribbon jury informing him of the honour. As the maker of the best baguette in Paris, Bouabsa has the privilege to be the exclusive caterer to President Nicolas Sarkozy-the son of a Hungarian immigrant with an Italian-born wife-for one year.

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