Saturday, November 29, 2008

VIDEO: Mumbai's patron saint ...


Mumbai (or Bombay as it is still known to many locals) has its own patron saint. Each day thousands of locals of all faiths, creeds and castes visit the shrine of Piya Haji Ali, a complex located on a small islet within view of Mumbai's skyscrapers.

The Piya Haji Ali Dargah was first built in 1431, and seems almost immersed in the ocean. Devotees' visits are generally limited to low tide.

The shrine is a tribute to India's uniquely religious form of secularism, a tradition of rick spirituality in which people of all faiths share a devotion of common saints.

The first video shows devotees visiting the shrine, and features background music from the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani sufi singer admired across the subcontinent and the world. The seoond video is a track from a Bollywood film written by legendary Indian musician AR Rahman.

No doubt thousands of Mumbaiyans will be descending on Piya Haji Ali's shrine to seek his "faiz" (spiritual blessing). As AR Rahman writes in the second video:

Yaha Hindu Muslim Sikh sari faiz pathey hay ...

(Here all Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus have access to spiritual blessings)

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf





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Friday, November 28, 2008

INDIA/CRIKEY: Many layers of homegrown terror ...

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein makes these perceptive observations in Crikey today:

India has been wrestling with the issue of "home-grown terrorists" over the past few weeks ... The Indian authorities have arrested a number of Hindu militants, including a serving army officer, in relation to a bombing in Malageon that was reportedly aimed at transforming India into a Hindu state by 2025, and to "make India like it was when it was ruled by the Aryans".

The apparent revelation of an organized terrorist network with links to well-known Hindu nationalist organizations, including the opposition BJP, has attracted considerable attention in the subcontinent.

The network has also been
connected to attacks in Hyderabad and Ajmer. But the biggest sensation came when anti-terrorism officials claimed during a court hearing that the network may have been responsible for the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between Delhi and Lahore. Most of the 68 victims of the Samjhauta attack were Pakistani nationals returning home after visiting India, and Pakistan-based jihadi organizations were widely held to be responsible. So allegations that the perpetrators may have been Hindu
extremists rather than Muslims attracted widespread attention in both India and Pakistan. The Indian authorities later retreated from the
claims regarding the Samjhauta bombing, but the Pakistani government and media are still demanding further information.

The ruling Congress party is in a weak position to face forthcoming elections, and the BJP is claiming that the current crackdown on Hindu organizations is aimed at courting the Muslim vote. The BJP, for its part, is rallying in support of the so-called "
saffron bombers".

This week's Mumbai attacks have overtaken the "saffron bomber's" place in the headlines. But the story does not seem likely to go away.



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REFLECTION: Hurried thoughts on Mumbai ...

Well, it looks like this is going to be an all-nighter. Lots to read and write after having spent virtually the entire day with my eyes glued to the TV screen. My mother has spent a fair bit of time making and taking phone calls and speaking with family friends who have relatives living in Bombay.

We still refer to the place as Bombay. The name “Mumbai” seems like a kind of strange political and cultural correctness, an attempt to impose a provincial dialect on what is essentially a city for people across India. And now across the globe.

It sickens me that the people who could pull off such a coordinated and deadly attacks could dare call themselves “mujahideen”. They may use Iraq and Afghanistan and Kashmir and countless other causes for rhetorical purposes. But what they do bears little relation to jihad and to Islam as most Indians (and broader South Asians) know it.

I saw images on TV and in newspaper reports of people in Bombay hiding behind barricades and walls to avoid shooting. It reminded me of scenes of innocent civilians in Sarajevo having to crouch down behind concrete slabs and makeshift walls and anything else they could find to dodge sniper bullets. The so-called mujahideen are behaving like the goons of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Mumbai or Bombay, call it what you will, simply doesn’t deserve this. India doesn’t deserve this. Neither does the broader South Asia, Asia and the world. Nor do Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Catholics, Parsees and the followers of any number of indigenous Indian faiths.

Terrorists regard nothing as sacred. Just a few months back, they attacked a hotel in Islamabad in the heart of Ramadan. Now they have attacked innocent civilians in a crowded Indian city. They even kidnapped an elderly rabbi, a man of God, Clearly these people have no shame.

Soon the Mumbai locals will be burying or cremating their dead. They will pray to God / G-d / Bhagwaan / Allah to have mercy on their deceased relatives. Other people from a host of different countries (including Australia) will be mourning their dead. I urge even hardened atheists to pray with me that God gives them strength.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: Focussing on India's politics and economy on the Mumbai coast ...

Riz Khan of al-Jazeera interviews a young Indian MP and a not-so-young social activist in Mumbai on November 25, not long before the Mumbai attacks.

Here is the al-Jazeera blurb that accompanies the video ...

Riz Khan continues our coverage from Mumbai. In this show we look at the growing divide between rich and poor in India.

India has the fastest growing number of millionaires in the world and also has than 700 million people living on less than two dollars a day many of whom reside in slums or shanty towns.

Some accuse greedy developers of refusing to build low-cost housing, because there is much money to be made off the real estate.

Others fault the politicians for letting things get out of hand by refusing to change the status quo.

Still others blame the poor themselves. They claim that the poor have a fatalistic attitude and believe it is their destiny to live in squalor.

In this program Riz speaks with Milind Deora, Member of Parliament, and Gerson Da Cunha, a member of the Action for Good Governance and Networking in India which aims to increase government transparency and raise awareness of people's rights.

Riz asks, what can be done to reduce the gap between the rich and poor in India's Cities?
It makes really interesting viewing. The interviewees provide a really useful background about the Indian economy, social and political situation.

This video is in 2 parts.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf





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COMMENT: Dr Greg Barton tries to grapple with Indian terrorism ...

Dr Barton knows plenty about Indonesia. He's written some superb stuff on the subject of Indonesian Islam, and has authored an insightful biography of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (known to his people as Gus Dur). He is a sober and thoughtful analyst who has a strong understanding of Indonesian culture and language.

On the morning of Thursday 27 November 2008, Dr Barton appeared on the ABC's morning TV show with Virginia Trioli and Barry Cassidy. I'm not one to bag genuine academics, but I found Dr Greg Barton's performance on the ABC morning show a little disappointing. It's often hard for news programs to find "experts" on short notice, and it's even harder for experts to provide anything more than somewhat vague analysis early in the morning.

Dr Barton seemed completely out of his depth when talking about the Indian situation. A cynic might even suggest that Shane Warne could have provided at least as equally useful analysis on South Asian affairs. But that would be rather unfair.

I took notes of Dr Barton's interview after watching it on the ABC website and stopping and starting the video. The excerpts below are based on my notes.

It is quite surprising. More bombings wouldn’t have been surprising but this sort of attack across the city using guns – that’s surprising.


Attacks on major towns and cities by violent terrorists are common in India. One need only recall the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and subsequent communalist violence in Gujarat. There have also been attacks by Maoist groups on Hindutva politicians as well as Hindutva attacks on Indian Catholics in such states as Orissa. Hindutva groups have attacked other religious minorities as well as members of lower casts. Many of these attacks have involved brazen daylight attacks in busy urban centres including Mumbai, where Hindutva activists are active. Further, quite a few such groups are linked to organised crime gangs. Then there is the spectre of inter-caste violence. All these matters are well-known to Indians and India-watchers.

Dr Barton further claims that the fact that they target those with British and American passports ...

... does suggest an international jihadi terrorist group of the kind linked with al-Qaeda. It doesn’t mean that there are links with al-Qaeda here of course but that ideology does seem to be at play here.


Targetting foreign Western citizens (though some of those attacked included Singaporeans) doesn't automatically make a group linked to al-Qaeda. The group might be a Maoist or militant unionist group (from, say, Bihar or even Maharashtra) who doesn't like Western capitalist influence. Hindutva groups are also unhapy with Western cultural influences such as Valentines Day. There are Hindutva groups unhappy with India's growing friendship with Pakistan.

India is a complex place with all kinds of nuanced conflicts. But the only conflict Dr Barton seems to understand is the kind of conflict that led to the London or Madrid bombings.

Indian authorities have been saying they don’t have a domestic problem. It’s just a problem across the border. This appears further proof of a deep domestic problem.


Indian authorities have repeatedly said that they don't have a specific al-Qaeda presence within their Muslim communities. But they do acknowledge the existence of a range of militant groups, whether they be communalist militants of Hindu or Muslim or Maoist or separatist variety. Indians know they have a domestic problem. Mumbai itself has numerous domestic problems, including violent Hindutva groups and organised crime gangs.

The Indian police, the Indian military especially, are very professional and so we can expect some very good responses from them.


I hope this is true, but many Indians are highly critical of corruption in the police force. However, Mumbai police are supposed to be among the best in Asia, if not the world.

Dr Barton went onto make some perceptive comments about ...

... globalising influences ...



... and ...

... al-Qaeda-type concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan.


I’m not sure whether one could describe opposition to foreign troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan as “al-Qaeda-type concerns”. This seems a little simplistic given that such concerns are shared by many Afghans and Iraqis themselves, including lawmakers from these two countries who are deeply opposed to terrorism. They are also shared by leftist groups inside India.

Of course, it may be that Dr Barton's analysis turns out to be absolutely correct and that some group linked to al-Qaeda is in fact responsible. One has to wonder why the group targetted Westerners specifically. Surely one would expect groups like al-Qaeda to specifically target Muslims as they usually do in areas with large Muslim populations.

Dr Barton's experiences and knowledge of Indonesia don't necessarily reflect the situation in Mumbai and the rest of India, where there have always been various layers of conflict simmering below the narrow surface occasionally picked up by Australian media.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

INDIA: Mayhem in Mumbai ...

To get a sense of what is happening in Mumbai, listen to this interview from Radio National with Australian Bernard Carpenter. Mr Carpenter said he first heard something was wrong when he heard about shooting in a popular restaurant near where he was staying. He visited the restaurant soon afterwards and found blood everywhere. Around 9 sites have been taken over, including the domestic airport and 2 hospitals (where many victims were being treated). Also targetted were a number of luxury hotels and a large and busy railway station. British and American passport holders were being held hostage. Gunmen were stopping tourists and asking for their passports and/or demanding they disclose their nationality.

Perhaps the most chilling words in all this was Mr Carpenter's reason for not leaving his hotel room.

I look as American and English as I do Australian.
Mr Carpenter didn't want to speculate who was behind this. Mumbai was a city of many different ethnic and religious groups, a city of some 90 million people.

In terms of international TV coverage, I'd recommend al-Jazeera English. I've been watching it on and off throughout the day.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: Jonathan Atherton talks Singapore and Eurasian wives ...



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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UPDATE: More old stuff ...

I'll be posting more old stuff I've written elsewhere. Sometimes I'll add some comments but usually not.

My editor has almost finished editing my manuscript, so I'll be working on that for a fair while (as in 2 weeks or so).

After all that, hopefully this blog will have more original stuff.

Enjoy!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, November 24, 2008

CRIKEY: Nelson (as a minister in the Howard government) and the Exclusive Brethren ...


Back in May 1995, I was one of 200-odd Liberals sitting on what was without a doubt the preselection of the year. Former AMA President Dr Brendan Nelson took on the Opposition’s spokesman on superannuation and retirement incomes, David Connelly, in the federal seat of Bradfield, a seat Connelly had held for years.

Some weeks before the preselection, Nelson had kept me on the phone for an hour, providing me with all sorts of reasons to vote for him. He must have made certain presumptions from my name, and proceeded to slam Israel for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank. He also slammed what he saw as a far-Right cabal within the Liberal Party who seemed to be opposing his chances at winning.

What someone had forgotten to tell Nelson was that I was at that time part of the same cabal! Indeed, I was one of the people busily spreading the fatwa issued by Sheik David Clarke (now MLC) that Nelson was way too wet for good "mainstream" conservatives to support.

Today, of course, Nelson has jumped into bed with that same cabal. He recites all their mantras about Australian values.

In August 2005, as Education Minister responsible for the funding of independent schools, he blew his dog whistle hard, publicly lecturing Muslim independent schools to teach Australian values or "clear off".

Nelson’s suggestion? During a doorstop interview in August 2005, Dr Nelson made these remarks:

... the Australian Government announced last year a $30 million program for values to be formally taught in every Australian schools including the thirty Islamic schools throughout Australia. I have sent to every school in the country the National Values Framework and the nine key values: responsibility, care for one another, tolerance, understanding, fair go, doing your best – a whole range of values, and over the top of it I have superimposed Simpson and his Donkey as an example of what is at the heart of our national sense of emerging identity. We are also going to be providing funding to all Australian schools to actually sit down with their parents, their teachers and their broader community and talk about the values they teach, how are teachers going to actually reflect the values we want taught in Australian schools, and more specifically, I will be meeting very shortly the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and I will be discussing with them how we can formally develop programs to ensure that not just in Islamic private schools, but also in government schools, we make sure that all children and Australian Islamic children fully understand Australian history, its culture, its values. We believe in giving every person a fair go. We don’t care where people come from; we don’t mind what religion they’ve got. But what we want them to do is to commit to the Australian Constitution, Australian rule of law, and basically if people don’t want to be Australians and they don’t want to live by Australian values and understand them, well they can basically clear off.

That interview continued ...

JOURNALIST: How much of an impact on values can Muslim schools have? For example, the mosques that they attend and obviously not all Muslims would go to Islamic schools.

DR NELSON: Well, all schools are about teaching children how to read, write, count and communicate and teaching kids how to learn. But education is also about building character, and the virtues that inform character must be taught in all Australian schools. They need to be explicit. It is a requirement of the Australian Government funding that not only will every school fly the Australian flag, but it will prominently display the National Framework for Values Education, superimposed over which is a silhouette of Simpson and his Donkey, which is at the heart of our sense of national emerging identity. And what’s important in the end is that we all love people that are talented, it doesn’t matter what school our kids go to, but in the end it is character that really counts. And the Islamic Council and the Islamic schools have been working very hard to teach very good values for their children. We want to make sure that not just those schools, but all schools that educate Australian children including Islamic children are focused on Australian values to make sure that – it’s not just the students but also the teachers – fully understand our values, our belief and the way they relate to one another and see our place in the world.

Now we know that hardly 12 months earlier, he was providing schools run by the Exclusive Brethren with exemptions from testing computer literacy for Year 6 and Year 10 students, despite this being made a condition of Federal Government independent school funding. Here's how The Age broke the story on 15 February 2008:

MORE evidence has emerged of the power of the Exclusive Brethren's lobbying in Canberra, with the sect's world leader giving thanks for the "unexpected recognition" from former federal education minister Brendan Nelson.

The Age has obtained a 2004 passage of Brethren "ministry" — transcribed words of Sydney-based world leader Bruce D. Hales and other sect figures — in which they discuss their schools.

"(The schools were) set up to deliver the young people from the world," Mr Hales told followers on July 24, 2004.

"We don't want to go back to it, we don't want to be stupid enough to go back to the world, otherwise the Lord might take away our liberties, might take away what the Government has given us. The Government is very favourable; been favourable to us this week, hasn't it, Mr David?"

Another senior Brethren man, David Stewart, replies: "Yes, very clearly. … Very ready support from the Minister for Education."

Mr Hales: "Yes, well, we need to be thankful for it. You get the unexpected recognition of what the saints (the Brethren) represent. You don't expect it, and then they give it to you, they're compelled to give it to you."

Mr Hales' words make it clear that Brethren lobbyists, including Mr Stewart, had met then education minister Dr Nelson in the preceding days.

The Education Department has confirmed that, during 2004, Dr Nelson had representations from the Brethren, and agreed to give them an exemption from testing the computer literacy of year 6 and year 10 students.

That year, computer literacy was made a condition of Federal Government funding of private schools, but at the time the Brethren shunned computers, believing them to be instruments of the devil.

Brethren spokesman Tony McCorkell said yesterday that the ministry reference merely recognised the responsive hearing given to the delegation by Dr Nelson at the 2004 meeting.

He said the Brethren's concern at the time had been that paperwork associated with its private schools would need to be lodged with the department electronically. Dr Nelson assured them they could still lodge returns on paper.

Brethren are now allowed to use computers on a restricted basis.
Once again, a Howard Government Minister has been caught doing dirty deals with the Exclusive Brethren and bending law and government policy to assist them with non-integration. Nelson obviously thinks it’s OK to provide $6.6 million in funding to schools that teach their students that computers are instruments of the devil.

Then again, Nelson’s admirers from this non-integrated sect might have a point. After all, Simpson and his donkey never used computers.

An edited version of this story was first published in Crikey on Thursday 15 February 2007.

Words © 2007-08 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, November 14, 2008

VIDEO: What it takes to be US President ...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


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CRIKEY: McKew Victory thanks to more than one type of Asian voter ...


Earlier this week, I was in Adelaide for an academic conference. The subject was the "border politics of whiteness". Not exactly the cup-of-tea for a small-"c" conservative like myself. One of the keynote speakers was Dr Sara Ahmed, a British academic of Pakistani descent who was brought up in Australia. She provided a rather novel re-interpretation (I’d suggest misinterpretation) of the movie Bend It Like Beckham, which she examined in the context of how white people deal with Asians.

Believe it or not, in the United Kingdom, when people use the term "Asians", they are referring to people from the sub-Continent – Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese etc. In Australia, we use the term "Asian" to describe someone of Indo-Chinese heritage. When John Howard made his 1988 remarks about Asian immigration, it was assumed his target was Indo-Chinese migrants, many of them refugees.

Recent reports of Maxine McKew targeting "Asian" voters (a claim she has denied) suggest many Indo-Chinese migrants wanted to teach Mr Howard a democratic lesson on why the politics of race simply doesn’t work in the long run. But it wasn’t just Indo-Chinese voters responding to McKew’s overtures.

The gossip I heard around the traps is that many of my South Asian uncles and aunties also collectively decided to punish Howard. For many, it wasn’t just about 1988. It was also about the anti-Muslim sentiments of Howard and his ministerial minstrels (including Dr Nelson). Believe it or not, when Muslims are vilified by politicians, the victims of verbal and physical attacks are not just women in headscarves but also men in beards and turbans (like the Prime Minister in this photo standing on the left).

Most of these men aren’t even Muslims. Further, the treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef by the Immigration Minister also went down like a lead balloon among shoppers at any one of Bennelong’s many Indian spice shops. Middle class Indians aren’t exactly huge ALP fans. But they certainly aren’t fond of alleged conservatives who play the politics of race. And they certainly added plenty of chilli and spice to the vote in the former PM’s electorate.

Then again, race politics hasn’t harmed Pauline Hanson, who profited handsomely despite gaining just over the 4% required to cash in on the taxpayers' largesse.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on Friday 14 December 2007.



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CRIKEY: What does a free Kosovo mean to America?


The fireworks are going off across Kosovo as the people of this ethnic Albanian nation celebrate their independence from Serbia. Europe’s newest nation has a population that is 92% Albanian. The vast majority are of nominally Muslim faith.
Should the US be scared of this development?

Conventional wisdom says another Muslim nation in Europe would be a potential hotbed of anti-US religious extremism. But Kosovars regard such conventional wisdom as political heresy.

Some allegedly conservative commentators in Australia regarded David Hicks’ Kosovo expedition as the beginning of his radicalisation. But the fight for Kosovo's independence was certainly no holy war against the West. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see young Kosovars celebrating by flying both Albanian and American flags.

The BBC quoted one elderly Kosovar Albanian declaring: "Thank you USA, thank you. I am free of Serbia, my grandchildren are free of Serbia."

He had a large American flag draped across his shoulders. I first discovered this pro-US phenomenon at a 9/11 anniversary conference organised by a Sydney Turkish Muslim group on Sunday 11 September, 2005. Almost all speakers (including media identity Keysar Trad) castigated the United States for its hypocrisy in the Middle East, as if to suggest that 9/11 represented the US reaping what it had sown.

One speaker, however, stood out from the panel. This Bosnian imam, a graduate of one of Europe’s oldest Islamic seminaries, complained that far too many young Muslims, especially from the Middle East, were infected by the rhetoric of anti-American elements and those he described as "the blind followers of Noam Chomsky". He then reminded the audience that the United States had saved Bosnia and Kosovo from near-oblivion. He also reminded them of the crimes of communism against his people.

The imam’s speech drew only muted applause from many peace activists and young Muslims of Arab background. Arguably, the Yanks didn’t do much for the Bosnians when they were being slaughtered during the mid-1990’s. But the Americans did turn a blind eye when the desperate Bosnians were channelling weapons in from Iran and other controversial yet sympathetic countries.

In the case of Kosovo, American Albanians sent truckloads of cash into Kosovo, as well as lobbying the United States to act and stop another Balkan attempted genocide. The Americans pounded Serbia’s capital with air strikes in 1999. These were the air strikes they had threatened Serbia with during the Bosnian war some five years earlier. So here, in the heart of Europe, a set of young nominally Muslim countries are happy to fly the stars and stripes.

I just hope they remember that American-style democracy also involves affording equal rights to minorities

First published in Crikey on 18 February 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: Here's one for the monarchists ...



Sunday, November 09, 2008

COMMENT: Apologies for the rudeness of this post ...


Dear readers,

I've just about reached the end of writing a certain book I've been working on. The last few thousand words require sh*tloads of concentration. The result is that I can't spend as much time blogging and doing commercial f#cking writing for hours in the manner I used to.

Some people will think I'm b*llsh!tting when I say this, but I really have to get cracking and finish this stupid f*cking book! So don't expect much more than the occasional video post. I might also post some old stuff written years ago.

Now p!ss off and let me write!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, November 07, 2008

VIDEO: Why Obama allegedly cannot be trusted ...

... his outlook, his reliability, his er where his loyalties lie would be in question.

What? Because his middle name is Hussein? Because his dad and step-father were Muslims? Because he went to school in Jakarta? Because he wore a sarong in Indonesia, just like thousands of Australian tourists do when they visit that country?

Pffft!!



UPDATE I: Here's what Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, has to say about such claims:

Meanwhile, Daniel Pipes is striving mightily to suggest that Obama is the Islamic equivalent of the Manchurian candidate - a secret Muslim with longstanding ties to radical Islam. It’s incredible - really - that 18 months of campaigning haven’t brought this out, so far. Here is Pipes’s article. If you can’t face reading it, it could be summarised by the slogan chanted at Palin rallies - “Vote McCain, not Hussein.”


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VIDEO: BHO & The Fear Industry



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