In yesterday's New York Times, Ross Douthat argued that the populist backlash that led to Switzerland's minaret ban is the result of the European Union's increasingly undemocratic style of governance, notwithstanding the fact, as he acknowledges, that Switzerland is not an EU member:
The European Union probably wouldn’t exist in its current form if the Continent’s elites hadn’t been willing to ignore popular sentiment. (The Lisbon Treaty, for instance, was deliberately designed to bypass most European voters, after a proposed E.U. Constitution was torpedoed by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.) But this political style — forge a consensus among the establishment, and assume you can contain any backlash that develops — is also how the Continent came to accept millions of Muslim immigrants, despite the absence of a popular consensus on the issue, or a plan for how to integrate them.
The immigrants came first as guest workers, recruited after World War II to relieve labor shortages, and then as beneficiaries of generous asylum and family reunification laws, designed to salve Europe’s post-colonial conscience. The European elites assumed that the divide between Islam and the West was as antiquated as scimitars and broadswords, and that a liberal, multicultural, post-Christian federation would have no difficulty absorbing new arrivals from more traditional societies. And they decided, too — as Christopher Caldwell writes in “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe,” his wonderfully mordant chronicle of Europe’s Islamic dilemma — that liberal immigration policies “involve the sort of nonnegotiable moral duties that you don’t vote on.”
Better if they had let their voters choose. The rate of immigration might have been slower, and the efforts to integrate the new arrivals more strenuous. Instead, Europe’s leaders ended up creating a clash of civilizations inside their own frontiers.
I'm not exactly sure how European politics can be both dominated by non-democratic liberal technocrats and in the grips of a xenophobic populist backlash. I'm not quite sure how Douthat can bring up France's proposed restrictions on the burka, which are supported by President Nicolas Sarkozy -- hardly a fringe figure -- and argue that European governments are dominated by multiculturalist elites who ignore popular sentiment.
I haven't read the data in Caldwell's book, but from what I understand, the widespread public opposition to Muslim immigration developed after the population was already in place. Attitudes toward immigration are rarely static and respond to economic conditions and the relative size of the immigrant population, as well as unpredictable events like the 9/11 attacks.
It seems to me that if the Swiss can get enough votes together to ban minarets in 2009, they should have been just as able to get the votes together to oppose liberal immigration policies decades ago.
Douthat doesn't seem to support bans on minarets or burkas or that the European populist attitudes toward Muslims are correct (though he lends credence to some of their fears). Instead, he seems to want to blame the "elites" -- rather than Europeans or Muslims themselves -- for the existence of these attitudes and conflicts.
Update: Sarkozy defends the minaret ban.
The concensus on this weekend's Swiss minaret ban seems to be that it "heralds a new surge in populist, anti-immigrant sentiment," and contradicts Switzerland's images as "a place where peace, democracy and human rights are valued above all else." There are a few problems with this narrative.
First, the "famously tolerant" Swiss didn't just suddenly become paranoid xenophobes last weekend. The Swiss People's Party, the primary sponsors of this referendum, succeeding in essentially banning non-European unskilled immigration drastically increasing requirements for asylum speakers in through a referendum in 2006 and won a national election the following year on the strength of highly enlightened policy ideas like this one.
Second, despite the international shock and hand-wringing over the Swiss vote, I'm not sure that citizens of other Western countries would vote that differently if given the chance. The German media is already ruminating about this question. More than anything, the Swiss decision made me think about the survey data collected in Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson's recent FP piece, written in the wake of the Ft. Hood shooting:
According to a 2006 Gallup poll, a third of Americans admire "nothing" about the Muslim world. Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslims. A July 2007 Newsweek survey indicated that 46 percent of Americans think that the United States is accepting too many Muslim immigrants, 32 percent consider American Muslims less loyal to the United States than they are to Islam, 28 percent believe that the Koran condones violence, 41 percent are convinced that Islamic culture "glorifies suicide," 54 percent are "worried" about Islamic jihadists in the U.S., and 52 percent support FBI surveillance of mosques.
light of these attitudes -- and ignoring whether the courts would
strike such a law down as unconstitutional -- is it absurd to think
that a well-organized, well-funded ballot initiative to ban minarets would have a chance of passing in many U.S. states?
I don't mean to suggest that Americans are either more or less anti-Islamic or xenophobic than the Swiss, but I do think there's someting to Tyler Cowen's argument that, "Sooner or later an open referendum process will get even a very smart, well-educated country into trouble."
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There is going to be a Muhammad biopic. Yes, that Muhammad. Many readers may wonder: How is that possible, with the whole he-shall-not-be-depicted rule? Well, it's pretty simple; the movie will never show him.
Due to start shooting in 2011, producer Barrie Osborne of Matrix and Lord Of The Rings fame will throw $150 million into a movie that he said is, "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures. The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam."
Osborne has enlisted Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi to help guide the film's positive portrayal of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, though it should be noted that Qaradaw is also barred from entering the U.K. because he defended suicide attacks on Israelis as "martyrdom in the name of God."
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It appears the Uighurs have arrived in Palau, but they may not have much company there for long:
President Johnson Toribiong himself welcomed the group when they arrived before dawn Sunday on a secret flight, and he will treat them to a personal tour of the Rock Islands, a diving attraction that is country's top tourist destination, later this week as part of their orientation.
But Toribiong has also announced plans to send home between 200 and 300 Bangladeshi Muslim migrants whose work visas have expired, and last month he banned anyone else from the South Asian country from entering . No timetable has been set for deporting the Bangladeshis.
Palau's Muslim community of about 500 is made up almost completely of Bangladeshi migrant workers. Reducing their number by half could make the Uighurs' transition to island life that much more difficult.
"They need a community of Muslims," Mujahid Hussain, the only Pakistani in Palau, said of the Uighurs.
Definitely never imagined I would see a quote from someone identified as "the only Pakistani in Palau" in an AP story.
Toribiong, who I spoke with briefly in September, has a nack for getting his country international headlines with moves like accepting the uighurs or creating the world's first shark sanctuary. The downside of that is that messy Palauan immigration disputes are now covered by the international press.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed an effort by Islamic countries to ban religious criticism last week.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference pressured the U.N. Human Rights Council to ban defamation of religion, like this cartoon that inspired the measure. Secretary Clinton fired back, "Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," she said. "I strongly disagree."
Although she is opposed to the negative depictions of certain faiths, a blanket ban of discourse isn't the right path, she said; instead countries should focus on tolerance.
Her statement came as the State Department announced its annual report on international religious freedom. The OIC has 56 member states, 18 of which were listed in the report as "countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy."
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Dutch MP Geert Wilders won an appeal lifting his travel ban to the United Kingdom. He was barred from entering the country after British officials deemed him a risk to the public order. Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran, called the reversal a victory for free speech.
Depending on who you ask, Wilders is either a hateful Islamophobe who wants to incite violence against Muslims or a a common sense leader who doesn't want his government's tax money going toward unemployment checks for al-Qaeda bloggers, like it is in Belgium. Either way, he still faces trial in his native Holland for inciting hatred.
After being turned back at Heathrow Airport in February, Wilders appealed the ban, won, and plans to return to the UK next week at the request of Lord Pearson and his conservative UK Independence Party. There he will screen Fitna for the House of Lords. After Wilders was banned from the UK, Pearson said the government was appeasing militant Islam.
British authorities said of the reversal of the ban, "We are disappointed by the court's decision. The government opposes extremism in all of its forms."
Wilders claimed he isn't an extremist.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," he said. "I'm not protesting or running through the streets of London."
Passport reported on Wilders' visit to Washington in February.
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After German voters sent the Christian Democrats -- led by Chancellor Angela Merkel -- back to power with 13 more seats, it seemed appropriate to ask: In a secular country, what exactly makes it "Christian?"
The Christian Democratic Union says its "policies are based on theChristian view of Man and his responsibilities before God." HoweverGermans shy away from being connected with other versions of politicalChristianity.
Christianity Today recently interviewed Merke's minister of state on this issue. "Germans don't want to be called evangelical because theyare labeled by an image dominated by American evangelicals," Grohe said. He does want to see more German Christians discussing their faith in public, mixing personal with civil life, citing the United Kingdom as an example where religion and politics mix well.
Fighting abortion rights is an important issue for German Christians, but Grohe said fighting poverty and climate change are also imperative.
Talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification, Grohe said, "We are still struggling to put together two very different societies." This is especially evident looking at the electoral map from the recent election. (Sorry it is in French, scroll on the semi-circle to see how each party did in each region)
The former East Germany had the strongest support for The Left and the least support for the Christian Democrats. This is paralleled in East Berlin and West Berlin. The difference is more for political reasons than for religious reasons, but anti-religious feelings in Eastern Germany are prevalent.
"In East Germany, there's still a strong non-religious presence. Religion is for your grandma," Grohe said. "People say they forgot they forgot God."
Grohe said the pacifist aspects of the religion don't play much of a role in German politics, most people who want out of Afghanistan want out because they think it is unwinnable, not because of any feeling of religious necessity. However, a dislike for Islam is present in some German Christians.
"I'm very shocked when I see Christians talking hatefully about Muslims," he said. "When I talk about the need for freedom to build Islamic mosques, I receive shameful letters from Christians filled with hate."
Update: The link to the Christianity Today interview is down, but should be working again soon.
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A new Islamic law in Indonesia's devoutly Muslim Aceh province takes a strict interpretation of Sharia law including a provision to stone adulters to death. The "Islamic Crime Bill," passed by the regional parliament on September 15, 2009, authorized the following punishments for adultery and homosexuality:
“Any person who deliberately commits adultery is threatened with 100 cane lashes for the unmarried and stoning to death for those who are married.”
“Any person deliberately performing homosexuality or lesbianism is threatened with up to 100 cane lashes and a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of fine gold, or imprisonment of up to 100 months.”
Additionally, the law outlines the punishment for rape is a minimum of 100 cane lashes and a maximum of 300 cane lashes or imprisonment of at least 100 months and up to 200 cane lashes or a maximum imprisonment of 200 months for pedophiles.
The regional parliament passed this law in order to target "behavior considered morally unacceptable."
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It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a transnational, multi-denominational, interfaith co-op of superheroes? International diplomacy may well have found a new medium: the comic book -- forging inspired coalitions, and trumpeting unlikely champions.
In anticipation of upcoming elections, a 64-page comic novel featuring heroine Angela Merkel has hit Germany's streets. As some critics are noting that it took three and a half years for the German chancellor to be satirized in this way is something of a compliment, especially when pitted against similar works based on Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown. Indeed laughs wasn't the only aim with the Merkel bio-comic: "We wanted to both amuse and educate readers about the main points in her life," its creator told reporters.
The United States' DC Comics and Kuwait's Teshkeel Comics will collaborate on an "unprecedented" miniseries collaboration expected to hit shops within the year.
Characters of The 99 anthology battle evil the "Islamic way," representing the 99 attributes of Allah. The 99 comic books "sell about 1m copies a year, enjoy a high profile in the Middle East. The adventures are to be made into an animated film, while the first of several 99-inspired theme parks has opened in Kuwait."
There's some question about how Wonder Woman's immodest getup will cross the cultural lines abroad while others are accusing the American creators of "Muslim pandering," but creators are optimistic that in a post-Bush world, the American superheroes will be welcome among Middle East readership.
And so it would seem Obama will be adding international comic book alliances to his list of recent triumphs.
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It sounds like the beginning of a joke," writes The Guardian. "What do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room?" I initially thought the answer had something to do with light bulbs, but it turns out this is part of the premise of a new Turkish game show:
Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Contestants will ponder whether to believe or not to believe when they pit their godless convictions against the possibilities of a new relationship with the almighty on Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), to be broadcast by the Kanal T station. Four spiritual guides from the different religions will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each programme to their faith.
Those persuaded will be rewarded with a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen creed – Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, and Tibet for Buddhists.
The programme's makers say they want to promote religious belief while educating Turkey's overwhelmingly Muslim population about other faiths.
"The project aims to turn disbelievers on to God," the station's deputy director, Ahmet Ozdemir, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review.
What kind of spiritual guide is this show going to be using? With each week's suspense inherently built off of contestants' conversions, I look forward to quotes like "yes, my son, you may come forward to accept Jesus... but please, wait until after these commercials."
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An attack on Algerian police by the militant group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was the latest in a wave of violence in North Africa this week. It followed two major incidents in Somalia.
On June 17, Mogadishu's police chief was among those killed in heavy fighting between hardline Islamic militia and pro-government forces in the city. The following day, the Somali security minister was killed along with at least 22 others in a car bombing of a hotel in Beledweyne, north of Mogadishu. The last month has seen a push in Mogadishu by anti-government forces like the man pictured above.
Interestingly, while Somalia's rebels, including some hardline Islamists have often downplayed alleged Al Qaeda connections and told Osama bin Laden to stay out of their business, AQIM in Algeria was formed from extremist remnants from the country's civil war in the 1990s and explicitly joined Al Qaeda in 2006, showing their allegiance with the name change.
MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images
Neil MacFarquhar tries to count the votes on Iran's Assembly of Experts, the only institution with the (theoretical) authority to remove the supreme leader. If these numbers are right, things could get interesting:
The analysts say about a third of the Assembly members are loyal to [former President Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani. Of the other members, perhaps a quarter are considered loyal to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a mentor to Mr. Ahmadinejad and a staunchly conservative figure who has suggested that allowing the public a voice in elections serves only to sully God’s laws. The rest are viewed as independents who could vote either way.
This bit is also interesting:
Analysts suspect that Mr. Rafsanjani’s message to the rest of the religious establishment is that they are about to be eclipsed by the military, which supports the government.
There is a certain delicious irony to the idea that we're hoping a bunch of black-robed clerics in Qom will challenge Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Just a week ago, we would have been talking about the need for Iran to reduce the influence of the mullahs. Now, there's an outside chance they could be the deus ex machina that helps bring Mousavi to power.
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Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney's new Washington Times column arguing that after the Cairo speech "there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself," is not really worth much of a response.
But these two pieces of Gaffney's "evidence" did jump out at me:
Mr. Obama referred four times in his speech to "the Holy Koran." Non-Muslims -- even pandering ones -- generally don't use that Islamic formulation.
Mr. Obama established his firsthand knowledge of Islam (albeit without mentioning his reported upbringing in the faith) with the statement, "I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed." Again, "revealed" is a depiction Muslims use to reflect their conviction that the Koran is the word of God, as dictated to Muhammad.
After about 30 seconds of Googling, I present the venerable Islamic theologian George W. Bush:
The Islam that we know is a faith devoted to the worship of one God, as revealed through The Holy Qu'ran.Besides, if Obama were really a secret Muslim, he'd probably have done a better job pronouncing al Azhar and hijab.
In a widely diffused and entertaining post, a contributor named “Abu al-Bashar” describes a daydream about Egyptian Salafi Ulama confronting Obama. The text is written like a short skit which goes something like this (loosely translated):
“Here are our ulama from Egypt: Sheikhs Yasir al-Barhami, Muhammad Hussain Ya’qub, Ahmad al-Sisi, Abu Ishaq al-Huwayni, Tal’at Zahran, Muhammad Hasan, Muhammad Ismail al-Muqaddam and Mahmud al-Misri. They hear about Obama’s visit to Egypt and decide to convene a meeting in which the following conversation takes place.
Ismail gets angry and says we have been silent for long enough.
Hasan asks: what about Obama? He is coming here to salvage relations with the Muslim world.
Al-Huwayni intervenes: But he’s coming here while is armies are killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and supports the Jews in their killing of Palestinians.
Burhami says: The bottom line is that Obama the pig is coming here to slaughter us and he smiles at us in the process.
Al-Sisi sayd: Sure, but Obama the pig is coming here, so what should we do?
After long discussions, the scholars announce their decision, which consists of two steps.
First, a statement, denouncing Obama’s visit. It would be distributed on the satellite tv stations and on the internet forums and on facebook, and in all newspapers and journals, in Arabic and English and French. Second, a demonstration on the day of the speech. All preachers and scholars and their students would go to the location where Obama will deliver his speech and show their opposition.
- The end -
Here Sheikh Muhammad Husain Ya’qub intervenes, saying ‘I retract my positions’.”
The final part is quite funny – even in a dream official ulama lack moral courage.
This is more disturbing:
The third and most widespread type of post focuses on tactical issues such as the detailed program of Obama’s visit, the size and nature of his security attachment and the prospects of carrying out an assassination. One writer quoted the Saudi opposition abroad as saying observers and Saudi security officials fear for Obama’s life in Saudi Arabia. He argued that the recent shooting in Jubayl is indicative of a surge in pro-al-Qaida sentiment in the Kingdom. The fact that the perpetrators of the Jubayl shooting have not been caught further worried the authorities. Most responses to the post expressed hope that Obama be assassinated, but one commentator drily noted that Obama comes and goes as he wishes so long as the royal family is in power.
Another post by “Baghdad al-Khilafa” presented a more detailed “Plan for killing Barak Obama” in Egypt. It included a picture of Cairo university followed by the note: “the best way of killing Obama: Suicide belt, suicide belt, suicide belt.” Then followed detailed instructions on how to manufacture a suicide belt, including links to downloadable instruction videos.
In his speech in Cairo today, Barack Obama addressed the militant group and political party Hamas directly, acknowledging the support it receives from many Palestinians, but urging it to “put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.”
Shortly after the speech, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Meshaal shared his reactions with freelance journalist Helena Cobban in Damascus. It's reprinted here with her permission:
Of course I listened to the speech. The words are different from those used by Bush. The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed the Muslim world-- using phrases from the Holy Kor'an, and referring to some historical events. And also, in the way it showed respect to the Muslim heritage. But I think it's not enough!LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
What's needed are deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies.
For example, if the Palestinians today don't find a real change from the situation of siege in Gaza, there's no point; the speech by itself doesn't help them. What they're looking for is an end to the siege and an end to occupation.
We want to see practical steps by the United States such as ending Israel's settlement activity, putting an end to Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land and its campaign to Judaize Jerusalem; an end to its demolitions of Palestinian homes; and the removal of the 600 checkpoints that are stifling normal life in the West Bank.
Rather than sweet words from President Obama on democratization, we'd rather see the United States start to respect the results of democratic elections that have already been held. And rather than talk about democratization and human rights in the Arab world, we'd rather see the removal of General Dayton, who's building a police state there in the West Bank.
In the speech, Obama talked about the Palestinian state, but not its borders. He didn't mention whether it should comprise all the Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, or just part of it, as Israel demands.
He made no mention of Jerusalem or the Right of Return.
Yes, he spoke of an end to settlement activity; but can he really get them to stop?
Without addressing these issues, the speech remains rhetoric, not so very different from his predecessor's.
Eurasianet profiles Gürsel Tekin an up-and-coming Istanbul politician from the once-dominant secularist CHP party, which has, in recent years, suffered a string of defeats at the hands of the more pro-Islamic AKP. Tekin sees Turkey's secularists fading into obscurity unless they continue their traditional anti-Islamic hard line:
What strengthened Tekin’s policy of door-to-door canvassing immeasurably was the perception that he is more relaxed about Islam than many of his CHP colleagues. Tekin denies being out of synch with the party and insists that secularism is the one principle CHP will never relinquish.
Yet, while the CHP played a leading role in blocking government efforts to end a ban on headscarves in universities in 2008 year, he supports an end to the ban. And while some CHP supporters see the headscarf, worn by roughly two-thirds of Turkish women, as a symbol of a medieval mentality threatening Turkey, Tekin insists "the vast majority of Turks have no problem with secularism."
"If a woman with a headscarf comes and says I want to join the party, what do you say? ’Come in.’ It’s as simple as that," he says. "A party that fears the people of its country has no future."
The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:
The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain's sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:
"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But it's not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers "caught on camera" in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it's against military rules.
As for the bibles in Dari and Pashto, the conversations in the video actually seem to better support the military's explanation that a soldier had "showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them."
Afghanistan's former prime minister has called for an investigation after seeing the segment. This is a serious issue and one that has gotten the military into trouble before. But without more evidence, this particular case seems like a manufactured controversy.
According to Pakistani paper The News, U.S. President Barack Obama's Kenyan grandmother (actually, his father's stepmother) is headed to Mecca this year for the annual pilgrimmage. The 87-year-old Sarah Hussein Obama will be the guest of Sulaiman Al Fahim, an Abu Dhabi real estate baron:
As my own mother is no longer with us, our family has a spare place. So I invited her and she has accepted," the Hydra Properties chief executive officer was quoted as saying by Arabian Business.
During the presidential campaign, Ms. Obama denounced Hillary Clinton staffers for circulating photos of Barack in a turban. "Bringing such pictures that are trying to imply that not only is he a foreigner, he is a Muslim is wrong, because that is not what he is," she said.
The Hajj will be in late November this year.
Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Malaysian Christians have long referred to Jesus as the "son of Allah." Their government, it seems, has a problem with that:
Malaysian Muslim activists and officials and they see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytize.
Those concerns led to the ban on the Catholic Herald newspaper's use of "Allah" to denote God. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling, made after it appeared the paper would be allowed to use "Allah" provided it stamped "For Christians" on the front page of the paper.
"Allowing Christians to use the word is dangerous because it's attacking the sole religion of the Malays," said Yusri Mohamad, president of the influential Muslim Youth Movement.
"We have to question Christians' motive for wanting to use this obviously Muslim word. It appears to be for conversions. All Muslim Malays in Malaysia are against this."
The Indonesian island of Bali has big dreams to become a world capital of spiritual tourism. But that required ignoring the religious edict issued by the country's top Islamic body last week. The Council of Ulemas issued a Fatwa against yoga. Awkward, since Bali had planned to host an international yoga conference.
What ever to do? Not much of a question there, it seems. Yoga! The conference went off as planned, finishing up today, with even the island's governor attending.
Praise be to tourism, the payoffs from Bali's yoga drive could be big. Wayan Wijayasa of the Denpasar Tourism Academy in Bali told local press that if just one percent of U.S. "yogis" visited Bali a year, it would mean 160,000 yoga tourists in the country. That's big dough if you consider that Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga equipment presumably last year, according to Wijayasa.
Monetary gains aside, yoga is popular in Bali. So that must be what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That should ceratinly be worth a few sun salutations.
See also, FP's list of the all-time stupidest fatwas.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
"It is always a pleasure to cross a border without being sent back on the first plane," quipped Geert Wilders at the start of his talk at the National Press Club today. The Dutch MP should know. He was recently denied entry into Britain on the grounds that we would "threaten community harmony and therefore public safety."
What's so dangerous about this guy? Wilders is a leading campaigner against the "Islamization" of Europe. He has called for a moratorium on Islamic immigration into the Netherlands and pushed to classify the Koran -- which he has compared to Mein Kampf -- as hate speech. Thanks to his film Fitna, a 15-minute documentary that intersperses verses from the Koran with graphic footage of Islamic terrorism, he has received death threats and is under prosecution for hate speech in his own country.
Wilders got a relatively warm welcome in in the U.S., where his trip is being sponsored Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy. He was invited by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl to show Fitna on Capitol Hill, and met with a number of VIPs including former U.N. ambassador John Bolton.
At the talk I attended today, Wilders was pulling no punches against Islam or its "cultural relativist" defenders, calling the religion "the communism of today" in terms of its threat to the West.
Our Western culture based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism is in every aspect better than the Islamic culture. Like the brave apostate Wafa Sultan said: it's a comparison between a culture of reason and a culture of barbarism."
The crowd, mostly affiliated with right-wing think tanks and organizations, treated Wilders like a rock star, even verbally attacking a few Dutch journalists who dared to ask him some hostile questions about the money he was raising for his defense in the United States.
While it can't be easy for him personally, Wilders' prosecution in the Netherlands and banishment from the U.K. has done wonders for his cause. As long as his legal troubles continue, Wilders can quite reasonably claim to be the victim of a society in which political correctness has gone too far and authorities are terrified of offending Muslim sensibilities.
Take away the persecution and Wilders' argument is pretty thin gruel. The Koran verses cited in Fitna aren't much worse than some passages of the Bible. Unlike communism and fascism, his two favorite historical comparisons for Islam, there aren't a huge number of non-Islamic citizens in Western countries rushing to join the jihad.
His call to ban all immigration from Islamic countries belies his claims that he is not a racist and has no quarrel with Muslims who successfully assimilate. It's a bit strange to see Americans responding so positively to Wilders' message since this country would seem to be proof that under the right conditions, Muslims can assimilate just fine.
Europeans are actually avoiding this debate by denying him access to the public space. By, as he says "accepting the free spech standards of Saudi Arabia," the Dutch and British are allowing Wilders to take on the role of free speech martyr and defender of enlightenment values. He seems to have the European left right where he wants them.
In the end, democracy and the Enlightenment are strong enough that they should be able to survive the threat from Islamic radicalism without banning any book or keeping anyone out. That being said, I would hope they're more than strong enough to withstand Geert Wilders. Those who would try to legally silence him show curiously little faith in the values they're defending.
VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images
The miniskirt and the hijab (the traditional Islamic headscarf) might be on opposite ends of the women's fashion spectrum, but they've found a common enemy in the government of Uzbekistan which deems both items "alien" to Uzbek culture and hazardous to your health. From RFE/RL's TransMission blog:
Speaking in a 25-minute long, prime-time television program aired this week, Uzbek officials and doctors cited health and security reasons to condemn both the hijab and the miniskirt.
"Some religious extremist women carried guns under their hijab," warned an official from the state religious committee in the television program called "Tahdid" ("Threat").
The hijab can also cause oxygen and calcium deficiencies, warned doctors. As for women who wear miniskirts, they were advised to dress with "moderation" to prevent susceptibility to all kinds of infections and other unspecified health problems.
Tajikistan apparently tried to do something similar in 2007, banning both garments on university campuses. According to TransMission, the hijab ban was more effective than the miniskirt one.
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
Encouraging news from the kingdom:
An expert on girls' education became Saudi Arabia's first woman minister on Saturday as part of a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle by King Abdullah that swept aside several bastions of ultra-conservatism.
Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, a US-educated former teacher, was made deputy education minister in charge of a new department for female students, a significant breakthrough in a country where women are not allowed to drive.
Abdullah also sacked the head of Saudi Arabia's despicable Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police who once prevented a group of girls from escaping a school fire because they were improperly dressed. It's about time. We can only hope the beatdowns will continue until the commission is dismantled entirely.
Guess things are already changing. Yazeed Essa, an Ohio doctor who stands accused of murdering his wife four years ago and fleeing to Cyprus, has decided to return to the United States to stand trial. And it's all thanks to Barack Obama. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
Essa left the country because he feared his Arab-American heritage would preclude him from getting a fair trial, his lawyer said. Essa chose to return to fight the charges after Barack Obama was elected president because he sensed a shift in the political climate, Bradley said. If a man named Obama could be elected president, Essa reasoned, perhaps he could be judged fairly.
I certainly hope that's true. Though if I were Dr. Essa, I'd be a bit more worried that police found cyanide in the "calcium" pills that he had been insisting his wife take.
(Hat tip: TD)
This week, Muslims from Belarus to Indonesia are celebrating the holiday Eid al-Adha, in which an animal -- typically a cow, goat, or sheep -- is slaughtered to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God. A portion of the meat is distributed to the poor.
In India this year, however, Eid is taking a largely quiet tone, the Washington Post reports, in respect for those victimized in late November's terrorist siege of Mumbai. Leaders of the All India Organization of Imams of Mosques requested the country's 140 million Muslims -- about 13 percent of the population -- to wear black bands on their shoulders to show solidarity. Muslim leaders have also requested that cows not be slaughtered in order to show sensitivity to Hindu beliefs against killing cows.
Indian Muslims -- some photographed praying Dec. 9 at the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, in the image above -- for the most part seek to distance themselves from the allegedly Islamist terrorists who attacked Mumbai, and they have drawn attention to the fact that about one third of the 171 victims killed were Muslims. Additionally, Muslim leaders have refused to permit the nine terrorists killed during the siege to be buried in Islamic cemeteries.
"It's not a happy Eid," Ahsaan Qureshi, a famous Indian comic, told the Post.
Photo: MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
Just in case you were worried that Congress was neglecting other pressing issues during the ongoing financial meltdown, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo is working diligently to prevent the imposition of Sharia law in the U.S.
The "Jihad Prevention Act," which he introduced last week would make it a deportable offense for immigrants to advocate Sharia and require that all immigrants pledge not to do so when they are admitted to the country. I'll give Tancredo the benefit of the doubt and assume that he actually sees this as a threat, though it's a bit dodgy that the statistics he cites are from the U.K.
On the merits though, this is a phenomenally dumb idea. It not only singles out Muslim immigrants for suspicion, needlessly inconveniences the vast majority of U.S. immigrants who aren't Muslim, and violates the very constitution that it's meant to protect. It also, as Cato's Jim Harper points out, displays a disturbing lack of faith in the strength of American institutions to stand up to the ranting of a few extremists.
It's also inaccurately named since, as far as I can tell, non-Sharia-related Jihad activities would still be allowed.
In Iran, health experts have issued warnings on TV and radio discouraging people from overeating during the holy month of Ramadan.
They are right to worry. Some Iranians actually gain weight during this time because they overindulge at iftar, the evening feast when Muslims break their daily fasts, National Geographic News reports:
Editor and Publisher reports that, over the weekend, millions of DVDs of a film, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, were delivered by newspapers mainly in key swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. The New York Times, the Miami Herald, Denver Post, and the Columbus Dispatch were among 70 papers, by E&P's count, that were paid to distribute the film.
The unusual advertising supplement is being bankrolled by the Clarion Fund, a non-profit, "non-partisan" group whose "primary focus is on the most urgent threat of radical Islam." The movie itself, which originally aired on the Fox network, was funded by an undisclosed donor.
"The threat of Radical Islam is the most important issue facing us today,'' the hour-long film's jacket reads. ''But it's a topic that neither the presidential candidates nor the media are discussing openly. It's our responsibility to ensure we can all make an informed vote in November.''
Here's a short clip:
If the tone of E&P's coverage is any indication, I guess I'm supposed to be upset by this. Sure, the film looks to be an unsophisticated, unnuanced look at the phenomenon of radical Islam and terrorism. It's propaganda, not journalism. The group's logo is distasteful, and the Web site explains "Islam itself" as "a kind of fascism that achieves its full and proper form only when it assumes the powers of the state." I'm aware that the DVD is obviously intended to help out John McCain. But so what? Advocacy groups on both sides do similar things all the time, and it's nothing the same crowd hasn't been saying for years. What's really new here?
Steve Clemons gives the Barack Obama campaign a good thrashing from the left today for the candidate's willingness to accept the resignation of his Muslim outreach coordinator, Mazen Asbahi. The Wall Street Journal reports that Asbahi, a Chicago lawyer, resigned because of questions about his ties to an Illinois-based Imam named Jamal Said who has been accused (though not indicted) of fundraising for Hamas. The two served together for a few weeks on the board of an Islamic investment fund back in 2000. Predictable smug outrage has followed on right-wing blogs.
According to the Journal, the tenuous connection between Asbahi and Said was first noted by the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a subscription-only Web site that tracks the international activity of that Islamic party and its supporters. The WSJ says the Report is published by a "Washington think tank," but there doesn't seem to be any author or organizational affiliation mentioned on the site, and a Whois lookup yields no clues.
The Report employs a fairly loose definition of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates that includes fairly mainstream organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Amusingly, recent FP contributors Graham Fuller and Marc Lynch are also described as Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers. As Passport readers know, Lynch has indeed met with senior Brotherhood leaders in Cairo, but they hardly see eye to eye. Fuller's supposed ties are of the six-degrees-of-Mahdi Akef variety.
By the standards of this site, you are not only a fellow traveler of the Muslim Brotherhood if you have defended them or recommended dialogue with them, you need only have been loosely associated with people who held those views. By this standard, there probably isn't one prominent Muslim-American in the country that Obama could hire for the campaign. Anyone he could find who has never participated in an event that includes people with sympathies Obama might not agree with is probably not actually influential enough to win him any votes.
Even in a campaign full of trumped-up outrage and guilt by association, the Asbahi affair is pretty absurd. This is roughly the equivalent of Obama throwing Chris Rock under the bus because he once appeared in a movie with the anti-semitic Mel Gibson. If nothing else, it's an indication of how rattled the Obama campaign is by all the Muslim rumors.
Update: ABC's Jake Tapper has much more:
As long as we're playing the guilt by association game, we should note that Karen Hughes, back when she worked for the State Department, spoke before an ISNA conference and was honored with an ISNA dinner, and both former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have met with ISNA leadership.
Also check out the comments on this post for some more investigation into the mysterious Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report website.
Turkey's top court announced today that the ruling AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not, in fact, violating the fiercely secular constitution. Instead, Erdogan got off with a warning and the party's state funding was cut in half. Six of 11 justices ruled against the AKP, but luckily for Erdogan, seven votes were required to give him the boot. Close call.
Political analysts everywhere breathed a sigh of relief, as did investors in Turkey's stock market. Interestingly, investors began to bet on Erdogan surviving before the decision was announced. Bloomberg reports:
Markets extended gains after court officials started admitting journalists into the court building in Ankara pending an announcement by court chief Hasim Kilic later today.
Loose lips sink short-sellers? In this case, it doesn't seem like insider trading is to blame. Newspapers had apparently been speculating for days that the AKP would win its case. But it sure would be interesting to see when the upward trend began vs. when the first rumors started to leak out in the press.
UPDATE: The Century Foundation's Jonathan Kolieb writes in with a clarification:
10 judges found them guilty of being in some sense anti-secularist. But only 6 voted to ban them. That is an interesting split. This really does put the AKP on notice. Gives something to everyone, but everything to no one.
He also observes that, according to Today's Zaman, JPMorganChase told investors it was "80 percent sure" that the AKP would not be disbanded and that even if it were, it would stay in power. Interesting.
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