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In exile: Iraqi women seek refuge
Bardarash, Dohuk, Rovia, Diyarbakir
By Arianna Pagani
24 Sep 2014

During the days of terror on Mount Sinjar, about 200 women were kidnapped by the militias of the Islamic State to be converted to Islam and sold in the occupied cities of Mosul and Tal Afar. This barbarism is not new to the chronicles of war.

The Islamic State's attack on Mount Sinjar led to the exodus of about 500,000 people, mostly from the Christian, Yazidi and Shabak minorities. These refugees, currently under the protection of the Kurdish militias, are living in the streets, under bridges or in abandoned places in Erbil and surrounding villages. Many of those who manage to escape the conflict have suffered losses in their family that effect them not only economically, but mentally and emotionally. Depression and anxiety in addition to insecurity are a constant challenge.

The UNHCR anticipated there to be over 900,000 internally displaced people in Iraq by the end of 2014. With the rise of ISIS, that number has been more than tripled, with 2.9 million displaced according to International Displacement Monitoring Center. The situation of internally displaced women, not only in Iraq but in conflict zones around the world, is especially precarious as the breakdown in social structures is a risk factor for gender-based violence. In their planning document for 2014, the UNHCR says it is ramping up its efforts to protect refugee and internally displaced women. However, agencies like the UNHCR as well as local associations can only care for and provide aid to so many displaced people, leaving others to fend for themselves.

The condition of the women and children displaced in Iraq is tragic: not only from a material point of view, but also from a psychological and ethical perspective. While talking with them, the elderly were crying because they don't see a future for their land, culture or traditions and were continuously asking, "What did we do wrong to deserve to be killed?" The women were mostly passive, trapped between emotions, tears, the inability to react, “deafened by pain and suffering.” They seemed to understand that as time passes by, the hope of returning to a normal and fair life fades away.

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Yezidi Minority Fear Persecution in I...
Nineveh
By rsoufi
08 Jul 2014

July 6, 2014
Doghat village, Nineveh, Iraq

Video shows the shrine of Sheikh Mohamad al-Bateni, a Yezidi temple in the Doghat village of Nineveh, north of Mosul.
Sheikh Ismail, the custodian of the shrine, performs rituals and speaks about the changing situation of the Yezidi minority in Iraq, after extremist Sunni militants took control of Mosul and vast swathes of Nineveh province.

Despite the concerns of Sheikh Ismail for the safety of all minorities in the area, Doghat is now controlled by Peshmerga forces, which he says ‘provide us with protection’. However, a video previously released by ISIS shows captured Yazidis in an ISIS prison located on the Iraqi-Syrian border. An ISIS fighter in the video states ‘the prisoners are Yazidis, they worship the Devil’.

The Yazidi religion is an ancient oriental belief mostly spread in areas of Mesopotamia. They worship Melek Taus and believe he is a proud angel who rebelled and was cast into Hell by God. After being reconciled with God, he became chief of the angels.

Transcript:

Sheikh Ismail: “The Yezidi live mostly in Baghdad. There they own shops and work. In the first attack against the Yezidi, seven people were killed. Another attack happened last year and eight people died. In the current situation they kidnap the Yezidi.”

Interviewer:
Does kidnapping happen in this village?

Sheikh Ismail: “Yes it happens in this village and in all other villages. A lot of kidnapping happens. They look at IDs and kidnap people.”

Interviewer:
Is a Yezidi person in Mosul afraid to say he is Yezidi?

Sheikh Ismail:
“Yes of course! He says he is Christian. Of course a Yezidi person fears to say he is Yezidi.

To be honest the situation is scary for the Yezidi sect, and for the Christians and for all the other minorities. They destroy our shrines, and it is a scary thing. The Yezidi sect is tolerant of all other religions but ISIS and the rebels attack the villages and say “they are Yezidi or they are Christian” and it is a scary thing, However, our area, the Christian area, is under the protection of the Peshmerga. If Section 140 is applied we are under the control of Kurdistan. Under these circumstances we are not afraid, we are under the protection of the Peshmerga and the central protection forces.”

Interviewer:
As a man of religion, are you willing to carry a weapon and fight and defend your religion and your land, if an attack happens?

Sheikh Ismail:

“I am willing to defend my village, my honour, and my shrines. Me and every person who listens to me. If, God forbid, anything happens and they want us to leave the area, we would rather die than leave. We will defend our village, our shrines, and our dignity with everything we have. We already had to back in the war between Iraq and Iran. Didn’t we defend Iraq? Didn’t the Christians defend Iraq? But you do not understand whatever the situation is, whether it’s ISIS, rebels, or the government not doing its work, Sunni or Shiite, the civilians are always afraid. The Yezidi are not emigrating now, but they are considering immigrating to foreign countries, for the sake of their future. Whoever lives in Baghdad and in those areas, definitely considers immigrating if they are able to do so”.

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Inside the 969 Movement - The Myanmar...
Mandalay
By Ruom
04 Jul 2014

There is renewed tension between Buddhists and Muslims in parts of Burma. In March 2014 targeted violence, towards the Muslim minority in Myanmar, claimed the 45 lives and led to many homes being burnt to the ground.

In the Burmese streets, stickers sporting the numbers “969” are seen on taxis, shop windows, betel nut carts. These three ominous numbers are the symbol of a fast-rising Buddhist pride movement, presenting itself as a return to Buddhist roots and the teachings of the Lord.

But, in the new Myanmar, 969 is actually a vehicle of anti-Muslim hatred and Buddhist brainwashing.

“Muslims are fundamentally bad. Mohammed allows them to kill any creature. Islam is a religion of thieves, they do not want peace”, declares Ashin Wirathu the saffron-robed monk nicknamed the “Burmese Bin Laden.”

Far from the iconic images of the 2007 “Saffron Revolution”, popular Buddhist monks like Wirathu are travelling the country, preaching in front of thousands, urging Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses, to avoid marrying them, hiring them or to sell property to them. The 969 movement is appealing to a deep anti­‐Muslim resentment implanted in Buddhist minds by fifty years of military propaganda. Burmese activist Maung Zarni recently confessed in a blog post: “Like millions of my fellow Burmese Buddhists, I grew up as a proud racist. For much of my life growing in the heartland of Burma, Mandalay, I mistook what I came to understand years later as racism to be the patriotism of Burmese Buddhists”.

By depicting a Myanmar on the verge of an Islamist invasion, the 969 movement is creating a framework for the wave of Islamophobic violence that has swept through Myanmar in the last months. In March, the bloodiest clashes to-date claimed the lives of forty-five people in the town of Meiktila. “At night, we sleep terribly. We are wondering when they will be coming. It is dark, it is scary. Our ears pay attention to every little noise”, said a Muslim resident of the city. Throughout the country the Muslim communities are living in the constant fear of new attacks.

Currently, 969 has seen little resistance from local or international governments. The movement is currently drafting a law proposal that would ban interfaith marriage, and four 969 monks have been working on a curriculum aimed at educating lay people and children about the ins and outs of protecting Buddhism from Islam. Set to take place in a Sunday school manner, the monks hope this new form of education will save their faith in this majority Buddhist nation but what implications will this have on cross-religious relationships? And will it instigate more religious violence?

Afraid of alienating the Buddhist vote for the 2015 elections, the democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is staying silent on this subject. Many see, behind 969 and the religious riots, the hand of hardliners from the army trying to destroy the fragile change Myanmar is going through as the country stumbles towards democracy.

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A Portrait of the Iranian Kurds
Palangan
By Ulrik Pedersen
15 Mar 2014

Iranian Kurdistan is located in western Iran and borders Iraq and Turkey. It includes Kurdistan Province, Kermanshah Province, parts of Ilam Province, and parts of West Azerbaijan Province. According to the last census, conducted in 2006, the four Kurdish-inhabited provinces of Iran have a total population of 6,738,787. About 60% of the inhabitants are Shia. Kurdish political organizations supported the revolution against the Shah in February 1979, as the latter had shown himself to be no friend of Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy. However, from the early days of the revolution, relations between the Islamic Republic and Kurdish organizations have been fraught with difficulties.The Kurds were seen as vulnerable to exploitation by foreign powers who wished to destabilize the young republic.  In April 1979, Sunni Kurds abstained from voting to endorse the creation of an Islamic republic. The referendum ultimately institutionalized Shia supremacy and made no provision for regional autonomy. Given that only 60% of Kurds are Shia, it has been difficult for Kurdish political parties to get all Kurds to agree on pursuing autonomy. Amnesty International says that Kurds have been a particular target of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Kurds' "social, political and cultural rights have been repressed, as have their economic aspirations.” At the beginning of the 21st century, a number of Kurdish activists, writers, and teachers were arrested for their work and were sentenced to death. The arrests are likely due to the government's crackdown following the nationwide protests after Iran's 2009 presidential elections. Following the election of President Rouhani, there are signals of a clear policy shift in Iran’s treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, and some see a brighter future on the horizon for Iran's kurds.

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Funeral of Nadia Haroun
By Leyland Cecco
12 Mar 2014

This is the funeral of Jewish Egyptian leader Nadia Haroun, on March 12, 2014. This is a rare sight in Egypt - Jewish Egyptians.Nadia Haroun was one of Cairo's only 11 Jewish Egyptians. There has been a slow disappearance of Egyptian Jews over the last 60 years. The population has gone from more than 80,000 60 years ago to less than 30 now. Most people inside and outside of Egypt have no idea this community still exists.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha
Myanmar
By Transterra Editor
11 Nov 2013

In August 2012 the rioting began. Fueled by religious extremists and invisible politicians with murky motives, arson spread to every major city in Myanmar.

In the beginning the lynching of three Muslims in the country's most westerly state sparked cycles of revenge attacks between it's two inhabiting ethnic groups, the native Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingya, descendents of immigrant Bangladeshi sherpas working for British colonialists. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was enforced by martial law, the streets desolate with shutters pulled low over the normally bustling markets. Workers stopped turning up for work and at night they defended their villages from creeping arsonists. Acres of downtown turned to blackened wastelands, whole blocks of wooden houses reduced to ash. Possessions and the skeletons of livestock lay amongst the fallen rubble where they were left, and orphanages filled with abandoned children.

Since, targets have widened to include anyone of Muslim faith in Myanmar. In cities like Sittwe, Meikhtila, Mandalay, and Lashio the attacks follow a similar pattern, an individual racist attack, a lynching in response, followed by cycles of revenge attacks from both sides. Houses are burnt, hundreds die, and thousands are left homeless. Muslims being the minority, accounting for only 5% of the country's population, always come off worse. They are no longer allowed to vote, travel, or hold positions within the government services.

Now the military struggles to contain and downplay the violence, President U Thein Sein admits the country's push for democracy is jeopardized, complicating the idea of budding democracy amongst peaceful Buddhists.

In Burmese markets, luminous “969” stickers tell Buddhists where to spend their money. Rows of stalls proudly display the logo; tyre shops, jade booths, hotels, betel carts and pharmacies. But this is not a method of religious inclusion, it's a ploy to keep Muslims out. An aggressive nationalistic movement, of which Buddhist monk Wirathu is figurehead.

Wirathu was released from prison in 2011, after serving seven years for inciting religious violence. He was released under a government amnesty program.

"Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak, "said Wirathu in an interview with the Global Post. "When they become strong, they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals."

The number 969 is taken from the Buddhist texts, where each number relates to an aspect of the religion - Buddha, Dhamma (teachings), and Sanga (monks) – the Three Gems of Buddhism. But under the peaceful umbrella of promoting trade between Buddhists and protecting their cultural identity, the 969 are segregating faith and commerce, undermining religious relations, and driving a wedge with continued violence. But the movement's roots grow into something much more sinister, the beginnings of genocidal thinking, and right wing nationalism.

Photos by Spike Johnson

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PAKISTAN'S ENDANGERED MINORITY - Edit...
Chitral, Pakistan
By Editor's Picks
28 Jan 2013

NORTHWEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Pakistan —

High in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province in a barely accessible area, live the Kalash People, Pakistan’s last remaining non-Muslim tribe. The Kalasha live in small villages built into the sides of idyllic valleys with gurgling streams, wheat and cornfields and fruit trees. Wooden houses stacked one on top of another, climb up the sides of steep cliffs. Children play freely and attend co-ed schools, while parents harvest crops and till the land.
Though they once numbered in the tens of thousands, the Kalasha have seen their numbers dwindle over the past century. Most experts put the current Kalasha population between 3,000 and 4,000.
The polytheistic Kalasha — whose women wear vibrant-colored embroidered dresses and beaded headdresses called “susutr" — are viewed with both admiration and suspicion by the Islamic majority.
After tens of thousands of Kalasha people, also called Nuristanis, were forcibly converted to Islam during the last century, only a few thousand retain their ancestral religion and traditions.
Wynn Maggi, anthropologist and author of "Our Women Are Free," says they were "brutally and forcibly converted to Islam, horribly persecuted, put in jail ... the Kalasha suffered a lot in their history.” Kalasha women were sometimes abducted and forced to marry Muslim men. Stories circulated of Kalasha men being forcibly circumcised.
With their light coloring — some even have blue eyes — the Kalasha are rumored to be the descendants of Alexander the Great’s army, which conquered the Hindu Kush along with “the known world” in the 4th century B.C. In Kalasha oral history, the people are the children of "Salaxi," their name for Alexander.
Most scientists and anthropologists dispute the legend: No genetic ties between Kalasha and Greeks have been discovered, and scientists believe the Kalasha are Indo-Aryans whose religion has some commonalities with pre-Zorastrian Iranians.
But regardless, the legend once lured busloads of Greek tourists to the valleys, seeking a link to their ancestral past.
“The tourists would always bring Greek coins and small perfume bottles with a portrait of Alexander the Great. Greek filmmakers have come to film the Kalasha. Some Greeks even brought Kalashas back to Greece to dance,” Maggi explained. Hellenic Aid has funded several projects in the Kalash Valleys, including the construction of two magnificent, wood-hewn Kalasha schools and several bashalis, women’s menstrual homes. "Their culture is a treasure belonging not only to Pakistan but to the whole world," said Athanasios Lerounis, a Greek teacher and activist who in 2009 was kidnapped and kept hostage for eight months—presumably by Islamic militants who disapproved of his work. There are just a few thousand Kalasha living “among a sea of Muslims,” he said — more than half of the remaining Kalasha have converted to Islam.

"We are here to support these cultural islands." Kalasha culture is threatened over pressure to convert to Islam. The pressure to convert to Islam comes in various forms. Some Kalasha convert for love or in hopes of bettering themselves, while others bow to peer pressure in the government-run schools, where students mix with Islamic students, and curriculum includes Koranic study. Recently, Kalasha girls began covering their hand-beaded headdresses with gauzy veils.
Since Kalasha has religion is its center, “Kalasha people see [Islam as a] threat — once you convert you are not 'Kalasha' and you can never be again," Maggi explained.
In the center of the Bumburet Valley, home to the largest Kalasha community, a mosque serves the area's Muslims, and the call to prayer permeates the village five times a day.
On the surface, it appears that Muslims and Kalasha coexist peacefully. Many are related — some converted, some not.
But incidents of ethnic hatred occasionally bubble to the surface. A wooden alter had it’s horse motif’s “decapitated” explained Akram Hussain, a Kalasha teacher at the Kaladasur School.
"This altar ... is sacred and historic," Nearby, a madrassa was built next to the Kalasha's sacred dancing ground. 
"Why couldn't they have put it any other place?" asked Hussain. Disrespect toward Kalasha religion is not new. Maggi said that a decade ago, “Kalasha gravestones were constantly being desecrated. Punjabi kids would pose and take photographs with the bones of Kalasha ancestors.”
Kalasha leaders can’t help but think that local Muslims damaged their sacred altar, despite protests by the town’s only imam.
“I worry because the tide is turning in Northern Pakistan due to the rise of fundamentalism. If fundamentalism spreads, the Kalasha will be easily targeted and could be wiped out or weakened," Maggi said. “The ironic and sad element is that the situation is destabilizing and escalating," said scholar Saima Saiddiqui. "If the situation remains the same, Kalasha will also suffer and what will be the outcome for the people already few in number?”

-Jodi Hilton

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (18 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash woman and girl look through the doors of a Kalash temple. Brun Village, Bumburet Valley, Chitral Region, Pakistan.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (17 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash children practice traditional dance at the Kalasadur School for Kalasha children in the Bumburet Valley.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (16 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash boys play a version of “Cat’s Cradle” at the Kalasadur School for Kalasha children in Bumburet. The school was built with money from Hellenic Aid, led by aid-worker Thanassis Lerounis. Lerounis was later kidnapped and held by extremists for eight months.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (15 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash children attending a mixed Kalasha and Muslim school built by the Agha Khan Foundation.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (13 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Family members doing chores in a Kalash settlement, Bumburet Valley.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (12 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash girl cares for her brother while her mother prepares “cahaka” and unleavened bread made of corn. Brun Village, Bumburet Valley.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (11 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash girl and her grandmother. The Kalash believe themselves to be descended from Alexander the Great. Bumburet Valley.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (9 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Fatha Rahman brings freshly cut hay onto his roof for storage. .

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (7 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Kalash girl preparing to bathe, Bumburet, Pakistan. Her “susutr,” (headdress), hangs on a nearby tree. Bumburet Valley.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (5 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

A Kalasha family on the porch of their home, Brun village.

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Kalasha People of Pakistan (2 of 18)
Chitral, Pakistan
By Jodi Hilton
01 Jul 2008

Zarifa, a Kalash teacher, instructing music and dance, Kalasadur School, Bumburet Valley.

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PAKISTAN'S ENDANGERED MINORITY
Chitral, Pakistan
By Mais Istanbuli
01 Jan 2008

NORTHWEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Pakistan —

High in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province in a barely accessible area, live the Kalash People, Pakistan’s last remaining non-Muslim tribe. The Kalasha live in small villages built into the sides of idyllic valleys with gurgling streams, wheat and cornfields and fruit trees. Wooden houses stacked one on top of another, climb up the sides of steep cliffs. Children play freely and attend co-ed schools, while parents harvest crops and till the land.
Though they once numbered in the tens of thousands, the Kalasha have seen their numbers dwindle over the past century. Most experts put the current Kalasha population between 3,000 and 4,000.
The polytheistic Kalasha — whose women wear vibrant-colored embroidered dresses and beaded headdresses called “susutr" — are viewed with both admiration and suspicion by the Islamic majority.
After tens of thousands of Kalasha people, also called Nuristanis, were forcibly converted to Islam during the last century, only a few thousand retain their ancestral religion and traditions.
Wynn Maggi, anthropologist and author of "Our Women Are Free," says they were "brutally and forcibly converted to Islam, horribly persecuted, put in jail ... the Kalasha suffered a lot in their history.” Kalasha women were sometimes abducted and forced to marry Muslim men. Stories circulated of Kalasha men being forcibly circumcised.
With their light coloring — some even have blue eyes — the Kalasha are rumored to be the descendants of Alexander the Great’s army, which conquered the Hindu Kush along with “the known world” in the 4th century B.C. In Kalasha oral history, the people are the children of "Salaxi," their name for Alexander.
Most scientists and anthropologists dispute the legend: No genetic ties between Kalasha and Greeks have been discovered, and scientists believe the Kalasha are Indo-Aryans whose religion has some commonalities with pre-Zorastrian Iranians.
But regardless, the legend once lured busloads of Greek tourists to the valleys, seeking a link to their ancestral past.
“The tourists would always bring Greek coins and small perfume bottles with a portrait of Alexander the Great. Greek filmmakers have come to film the Kalasha. Some Greeks even brought Kalashas back to Greece to dance,” Maggi explained. Hellenic Aid has funded several projects in the Kalash Valleys, including the construction of two magnificent, wood-hewn Kalasha schools and several bashalis, women’s menstrual homes. "Their culture is a treasure belonging not only to Pakistan but to the whole world," said Athanasios Lerounis, a Greek teacher and activist who in 2009 was kidnapped and kept hostage for eight months—presumably by Islamic militants who disapproved of his work. There are just a few thousand Kalasha living “among a sea of Muslims,” he said — more than half of the remaining Kalasha have converted to Islam.

"We are here to support these cultural islands." Kalasha culture is threatened over pressure to convert to Islam. The pressure to convert to Islam comes in various forms. Some Kalasha convert for love or in hopes of bettering themselves, while others bow to peer pressure in the government-run schools, where students mix with Islamic students, and curriculum includes Koranic study. Recently, Kalasha girls began covering their hand-beaded headdresses with gauzy veils.
Since Kalasha has religion is its center, “Kalasha people see [Islam as a] threat — once you convert you are not 'Kalasha' and you can never be again," Maggi explained.
In the center of the Bumburet Valley, home to the largest Kalasha community, a mosque serves the area's Muslims, and the call to prayer permeates the village five times a day.
On the surface, it appears that Muslims and Kalasha coexist peacefully. Many are related — some converted, some not.
But incidents of ethnic hatred occasionally bubble to the surface. A wooden alter had it’s horse motif’s “decapitated” explained Akram Hussain, a Kalasha teacher at the Kaladasur School.
"This altar ... is sacred and historic," Nearby, a madrassa was built next to the Kalasha's sacred dancing ground. 
"Why couldn't they have put it any other place?" asked Hussain. Disrespect toward Kalasha religion is not new. Maggi said that a decade ago, “Kalasha gravestones were constantly being desecrated. Punjabi kids would pose and take photographs with the bones of Kalasha ancestors.”
Kalasha leaders can’t help but think that local Muslims damaged their sacred altar, despite protests by the town’s only imam.
“I worry because the tide is turning in Northern Pakistan due to the rise of fundamentalism. If fundamentalism spreads, the Kalasha will be easily targeted and could be wiped out or weakened," Maggi said. “The ironic and sad element is that the situation is destabilizing and escalating," said scholar Saima Saiddiqui. "If the situation remains the same, Kalasha will also suffer and what will be the outcome for the people already few in number?”

-Jodi Hilton