Archive | American Politics

Islamophobia Can Create Radicalization

Posted on 25 March 2011 by admin

America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America.”  Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed – the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.

What they should also know, is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way and engaging in this most “un-American activity” King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalization. Al Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States of America than Anwar al Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.
On one level, al Awlaqi, from his cave hide-out in Yemen, can only prey off of alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self-assured and assertive – all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, al Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited – a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.
Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalization.
I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British, or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to the “migrants” – a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent, living in her country, regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats – without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.
America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America.”  Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed – the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.
Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.
This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative, as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history – they are learning “their host’s” history. In the U.S., from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” – that it includes all of us and has included us all, from the beginning.
It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with World Wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During all this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.
They lose, but they do not always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry,” on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism,” “radicalization” or “national security concerns” – despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews, rallied against any and all Jewish organizations).
If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented descent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes and produced fear in the Muslim community.
In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party – who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.
In the past only obscure or outrageous Members of Congress (like: North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11’s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the U.S.
The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base, while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Fifty-four percent of Democrats have a favorable attitude toward Muslims, while 34% do not.  Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12% hold a favorable view of Muslims, with 85% saying they have unfavorable views. Additionally, 74% of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60% believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.
The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan and, in some cases, a proven vote getter for the GOP, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them – and they will feel like aliens in their own country.
It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organizations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalization of American Muslims. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims – who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.
What they should also know, is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way and engaging in this most “un-American activity” King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalization. Al Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States of America than Anwar al Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.On one level, al Awlaqi, from his cave hide-out in Yemen, can only prey off of alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self-assured and assertive – all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, al Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited – a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalization.I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British, or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to the “migrants” – a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent, living in her country, regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats – without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.   America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America.”  Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed – the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative, as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history – they are learning “their host’s” history. In the U.S., from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” – that it includes all of us and has included us all, from the beginning.It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with World Wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During all this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.They lose, but they do not always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry,” on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism,” “radicalization” or “national security concerns” – despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews, rallied against any and all Jewish organizations).If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented descent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes and produced fear in the Muslim community.In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party – who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.In the past only obscure or outrageous Members of Congress (like: North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11’s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the U.S.The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base, while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Fifty-four percent of Democrats have a favorable attitude toward Muslims, while 34% do not.  Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12% hold a favorable view of Muslims, with 85% saying they have unfavorable views. Additionally, 74% of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60% believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan and, in some cases, a proven vote getter for the GOP, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them – and they will feel like aliens in their own country.It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organizations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalization of American Muslims. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims – who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.What they should also know, is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way and engaging in this most “un-American activity” King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalization. Al Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

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Growing Religious Intolerance in Pakistan Spells Demise of Democracy

Posted on 10 March 2011 by admin

By Lisa Curtis, Washington

I was in Lahore, Pakistan, two weeks ago, and it’s clear that the thin layer of liberal thinkers in Pakistan is getting thinner by the day. Academics and moderate politicians express fear about the current situation in the country and a sense of not knowing what’s coming next.

The murder of Pakistani Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by religious extremists establishes a pattern of growing religious intolerance. It is undermining Pakistan’s struggling democracy by shutting down free speech and political expression in the name of a ruthless ideology disguised as religion.
The murderers left pamphlets at the scene of the crime, explaining that they killed Bhatti because of his opposition to controversial blasphemy laws, which are often misused against Pakistan’s religious minorities. Some Pakistani officials had sought to argue that the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer at the hands of his own security guard in January was an anomaly and unreflective of broader societal trends. They were wrong.
I was in Lahore, Pakistan, two weeks ago, and it’s clear that the thin layer of liberal thinkers in Pakistan is getting thinner by the day. Academics and moderate politicians express fear about the current situation in the country and a sense of not knowing what’s coming next.
The case of Raymond Davis, the American embassy officer who is accused of killing two Pakistanis in late January, has energized the religious political parties in the country. They carry out regular protests shouting down America and are beginning to tie the issue of support for blasphemy laws with that of the jailed American. The rapidly developing political dynamics in Pakistan are a dangerous witch’s brew that could portend a significant shift in Pakistani politics to a regime that is more insular, less engaged with the international community, and more repressive toward its own people.
There are signs that the opposition Pakistan Muslim League/Nawaz (PML/N) Party may seek to exploit the Davis case to its political advantage. Last week the party dismissed all Pakistan People’s Party leaders from the Punjab provincial cabinet, which it controls. This signals that the PML/N may be preparing to make a power grab for the center. Riding on the coattails of public anger over Davis would spell disaster for the future of U.S.–Pakistan relations.
The rising tide of extremism gripping the country—as evidenced by the assassination of the second top official in Pakistan over the blasphemy issue in the space of less than two months—demands that the civilian leaders of Pakistan who still value the principles of democratic governance stand together to keep the country from lurching further toward lawlessness and instability.
Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia at the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation

The murder of Pakistani Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by religious extremists establishes a pattern of growing religious intolerance. It is undermining Pakistan’s struggling democracy by shutting down free speech and political expression in the name of a ruthless ideology disguised as religion.The murderers left pamphlets at the scene of the crime, explaining that they killed Bhatti because of his opposition to controversial blasphemy laws, which are often misused against Pakistan’s religious minorities. Some Pakistani officials had sought to argue that the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer at the hands of his own security guard in January was an anomaly and unreflective of broader societal trends. They were wrong.I was in Lahore, Pakistan, two weeks ago, and it’s clear that the thin layer of liberal thinkers in Pakistan is getting thinner by the day. Academics and moderate politicians express fear about the current situation in the country and a sense of not knowing what’s coming next.The case of Raymond Davis, the American embassy officer who is accused of killing two Pakistanis in late January, has energized the religious political parties in the country. They carry out regular protests shouting down America and are beginning to tie the issue of support for blasphemy laws with that of the jailed American. The rapidly developing political dynamics in Pakistan are a dangerous witch’s brew that could portend a significant shift in Pakistani politics to a regime that is more insular, less engaged with the international community, and more repressive toward its own people. There are signs that the opposition Pakistan Muslim League/Nawaz (PML/N) Party may seek to exploit the Davis case to its political advantage. Last week the party dismissed all Pakistan People’s Party leaders from the Punjab provincial cabinet, which it controls. This signals that the PML/N may be preparing to make a power grab for the center. Riding on the coattails of public anger over Davis would spell disaster for the future of U.S.–Pakistan relations. The rising tide of extremism gripping the country—as evidenced by the assassination of the second top official in Pakistan over the blasphemy issue in the space of less than two months—demands that the civilian leaders of Pakistan who still value the principles of democratic governance stand together to keep the country from lurching further toward lawlessness and instability.Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia at the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation

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After Egypt: Arab Voices Matter

Posted on 25 February 2011 by admin

Will the military cede space and open the political process to real reform? Will they be more responsive to the growing aspirations of their young who are demanding: jobs in an expanding economy where wealth is shared; an opportunity to participate in the shaping of the future of their country; and the freedom to express their discontent with and seek to change policies they find deplorable, without fear of repression?

Bahraini demonstrator lies injured on a stretcher as unrest continues throughout the region. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP

If one lesson is to be learned from the remarkable events unfolding in Egypt, it is that Arab public opinion matters. For too long Arab voices have not been listened to, nor have Arab sensibilities or aspirations been respected. The Egyptian people have not only risen up, demanding to be heard, they have challenged other Arabs and the West to pay attention to what they are saying.
On Thursday night I watched a remarkable scene unfolding on television. As my dinner partner, Patrick Seale, and I sat transfixed watching the BBC, there, on one half of a split screen, was President Hosni Mubarak making a last ditch effort to save his rule. On the other half screen were throngs in Tahrir Square. The disconnect was so real. Mubarak was talking, but he simply wasn’t listening. He played every card at his disposal: the caring father, the patriot, the xenophobe, the reformer and more. Maybe, I thought, he was reaching out beyond the Square to those he thought might also be listening. But if his imagined and hoped for audience was there, they were not responding. The crowd in the Square was listening and his lack of responsiveness to their concerns only served to inflame them and deepen their resolve.
It was the immovable object squaring off against the irresistible force. In the end, the force won. The protesters rejected Mubarak’s promises and his appeals as “too little, too late,” and began to pour out beyond the Square to take new space and demonstrate their discontent.
Now the president is gone. The throngs have won this round and they are empowered to seek more change. It is not the end, just the beginning of a process, the outcome of which is still uncertain. With the military in charge, it will now be up to them to listen. Questions remain. Will the military cede space and open the political process to real reform? Will they be more responsive to the growing aspirations of their young who are demanding: jobs in an expanding economy where wealth is shared; an opportunity to participate in the shaping of the future of their country; and the freedom to express their discontent with and seek to change policies they find deplorable, without fear of repression?
In some ways, after February 11th, much has changed. In other ways, the struggle remains the same. A movement that has won a round now becomes a potentially formidable force. But a regime that fears losing control is also a force which must be reckoned with. In the weeks and months ahead we will see this drama play out in the streets and in negotiations. The constitution must be changed. President Mubarak has promised as much. The concerns of the demonstrators have been acknowledged by the military, who have said they are listening. Now we will see if they, in fact, were.
The problem of not listening to Arab voices is not only a problem for those Presidents who have fallen or those who are still at risk; it is a problem for the West, as well. For too long, the U.S., Great Britain, and others have ignored the concerns and sensibilities of Arab people. Arabs have been treated as if they were pawns to be moved about on the board. While we paid attention to our own needs and politics, Arabs were left to make do or accommodate themselves to realities we created for them, as we sought to protect our interests, not theirs.
This is not a new phenomenon. The cavalier dismissal of Arab voices began with Lord Balfour who famously rejected the first survey of Arab opinion, conducted for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I. While the survey found Arabs overwhelming rejecting the European powers’ plans to carve up the Arab East into British and French mandatory entities, and the creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, Balfour balked saying “we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad…is of far greater import than the desire and prejudices of the Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”
As blatant as that rejection was, this practice of ignoring Arab concerns did not end. Until this day, all too often the West has acted across the Middle East as if Arabs were objects without sensibilities or concerns. We invaded Iraq without understanding the impact this might have on Arab opinion. We have continued to ignore Palestinian suffering and aspirations (recall Condolezza Rice’s dismissal of the plight and rights of Palestinian refugees with a casual “bad things happen in history”). And we have engaged in wide-spread profiling and other forms of deplorable treatment of Arabs and Muslims, paying no attention to the toll that these and other wildly unpopular policies were having on the legitimacy of Arab governments who were our friends and allies.
Now all this must of necessity change. When the Egyptian people organized themselves demanding to be heard they introduced a new and potentially transformative factor into the political equation of the region. It will no longer be possible to operate as if Arab public opinion doesn’t matter. It will no longer possible to act as if policies can be imposed and blindly accepted. No longer will we be able to consider only the Israeli internal debate or the consequences on Israeli opinion in our calculations. Arabs have been inspired by Egypt and empowered to believe that their voices must be heard and respected. It will make life more complicated for Western and some Arab policy makers. But if this complication is a good thing and it represents change, that has been a long time coming. As President Obama said, this is just the beginning and after today, nothing will be same. The reality is that this transformation will not only affect Egypt. The change that is coming will be bigger than any of us can imagine.

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Dangers in U.S.-Pakistan Rift

Posted on 25 February 2011 by admin

Jayshree Bajoria
Washington

U.S. goals for a stable and democratic Pakistan are also frustrated by recurring tensions between India and Pakistan that threaten a regional conflict, and by the Pakistani army’s continuing support for some militant groups as strategic assets in its foreign policy, as this Crisis Guide notes. A persistent thorn in Washington’s side is the army’s refusal to send troops into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan.

The diplomatic spat between the United States and Pakistan over U.S. Embassy employee Raymond Davis’s arrest by Pakistani authorities on murder charges has led to Washington postponing high-level talks with Pakistani and Afghan officials scheduled for next week. Davis has confessed to killing two Pakistani men in Lahore in an act of self-defense. The Obama administration says he has diplomatic immunity and has asked Islamabad to hand him over. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Islamabad Tuesday to smooth over tensions (AP), seek Davis’s return to the United States, and reaffirm Washington’s commitment to a strategic partnership with Pakistan.
This U.S.-Pakistan dispute comes at a time when Pakistan is increasingly challenged by growing violence, a teetering economy, political factionalism, large numbers of displaced people from last year’s floods, high rates of inflation and unemployment, and widespread corruption. Strained relations with Islamabad add to problems the United States already faces in trying to ensure stability in Pakistan–a nuclear-armed country crucial to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and U.S. national security interests. In a Foreign Policy survey, fifty-one out of sixty-five terrorism experts questioned said Pakistan posed the greatest terrorist threat to the West.

The Davis case has fanned anti-Americanism (PressTV) among many Pakistanis who distrust the United States for what they see as meddling in their affairs, a charge largely fueled by the CIA-operated drone attacks in the country. “What is euphemistically called a trust deficit (PDF) has for some time defined the U.S. relationship with the elites and public of Pakistan, and will continue to influence the partnership,” writes Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution. U.S. goals for a stable and democratic Pakistan are also frustrated by recurring tensions between India and Pakistan that threaten a regional conflict, and by the Pakistani army’s continuing support for some militant groups as strategic assets in its foreign policy, as this Crisis Guide notes. A persistent thorn in Washington’s side is the army’s refusal to send troops into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan.
This week, the Obama administration proposed to Congress $3.1 billion in financial assistance (PTI) to Pakistan for 2012. This includes $1.5 billion for the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, which is largely aimed at strengthening Pakistan’s economy, infrastructure, and democratic institutions. But as an officialU.S. government assessment notes (WSJ), the civilian aid program has “not been able to demonstrate measurable progress.” In this essay, Nancy Birdsall and Wren Elhai of the Washington-based Center for Global Development suggest some measurable targets that could help the United States and Pakistan meet shared goals for effective and transparent development.
The foremost challenge for the United States in dealing with Pakistan has been balancing long-term goals with response to immediate threats such as al-Qaeda. “My sense is that we are playing to the short term at this point,” says CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey in a video interview. One policy recommendation to address this challenge, says Markey, is to open up trade between the United States and Pakistan. “It’s that kind of bigger, more long-term thinking that’s going to be a tough lift,” he says, but it will help both in near term and over the long term.

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