I managed to slog through the entire 46-pages of al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri's responses to questions (pdf), and found it very revealing as to how jihadi sympathizers view the terrorist organization.
The general tenor of the questions is sharply critical, so let me boil down the questioners' main beefs here:
Now, it's entirely possible that some of these complaints were planted by clever Western and Arab intelligence agencies, but the fact that Zawahiri felt obliged to respond to them repeatedly and at length shows that the critiques must have stung a bit. It also suggests that he's got a lot of time on his hands.
Before declaring independence, Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced that 100 countries would quickly recognize its sovereign status. It seems he may have been a bit too optimistic.
Currently, 25 countries have or are in the process of recognizing the
The list of recognizing countries includes big names like the United States,
Even if Kosovo does hit the 100 country mark, that's still barely half the countries in the world. Though, I suppose fewer recognizing countries does mean fewer thank you notes.
The scenes on CNN today of Serbian political and religious leaders holding candles at a vigil to protest Kosovo's independence, as well as the rogue protesters setting fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, bring to mind Graham Fuller's January/February FP cover story, "A World Without Islam." In the piece, Fuller cautions Islam's critics not to assume that a Middle East dominated by Orthodox Christianity would be any more accepting of Western influence than today's Middle East. With Serbian Christians now fighting to retain what they they view as their religious homeland, maybe he was on to something:
The culture of the Orthodox Church differs sharply from the Western post-Enlightenment ethos, which emphasizes secularism, capitalism, and the primacy of the individual. It still maintains residual fears about the West that parallel in many ways current Muslim insecurities: fears of Western missionary proselytism, a tendency to perceive religion as a key vehicle for the protection and preservation of their own communities and culture, and a suspicion of the “corrupted” and imperial character of the West. Indeed, in an Orthodox Christian Middle East, Moscow would enjoy special influence, even today, as the last major center of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox world would have remained a key geopolitical arena of East-West rivalry in the Cold War. Samuel Huntington, after all, included the Orthodox Christian world among several civilizations embroiled in a cultural clash with the West.
Whatever you think of Fuller's characterization, it certainly seems noteworthy that the United States and the EU are about to go the mat with Russia for a Muslim country at the expense of a Christian one. If the rift between an increasingly religious Russia and the West continues to grow, can it be long until the op-eds start appearing on "The Orthodox Threat" or "The Failure of Political Orthodoxy"? "Orthofascism" doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?
But I, Assud [pink bunny], will get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and I will eat them up."
The last 30 seconds of the video really say it all, though earlier the little girl has a nice little statement to make in her interview with the bunny:
Of course, Assud. We will liberate al-Aqsa from the filth of those Zionists."
I guess nobody's ever heard of the Waqf -- the Muslim religious council that administers the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif site that includes al-Aqsa.
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (shown at right) gave an interview for Friday's Haaretz in which he professes admiration for Israel and stresses that his majority-Muslim proto-country (which is expected to declare independence any minute now) will not be an Islamic state:
At a time when in Turkey, which also wants to join Europe, the battle over the religious character of the state is heating up, Thaci promises: "Kosovo is going to be a democratic and secular state of all its citizens, and the freedom to exercise religion without any hindrance is granted by the Kosovo Constitution."
This assertion is significant since many Israelis fear that an independent Kosovo, or a potentially unified "Greater Albania" could serve as an Islamist beachhead in southern Europe that relies on Iranian and Saudi support, an argument that Thaci said "does not even deserve comment." It was this concern that lead then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon to break with most of the international community in 1999 and support Slobodan Milosevic during the NATO bombing of Serbia. Nevertheless, Thaci describes Sharon as a "great leader."
Many also see parallels between Kosovo's struggle for independence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and worry that a precedent may be set. This is but one of the many domino-effect scenarios that have emerged in recent weeks. Thaci argues in response that Kosovo is "a unique case" and "should not represent any precedent." The rebel leader-turned-politician clearly hopes Israelis will think of Kosovars as kindred spirits. Haaretz, at least, is already calling him "the Ben Gurion of Kosovo."
Remember those controversial Danish cartoons from 2005 that depicted the Prophet Mohammed and aroused so much anger in the Muslim world? At least 50 people were killed in the ensuing worldwide riots. Well, the cartoons were republished in Europe today by Danish, Swedish, Spanish, and Dutch newspapers to emphasize freedom of speech and to protest an alleged plot to kill one of the cartoonists. This time, Danish Muslim groups seem to regard the reprinting as an internal, domestic issue and don't plan on internationalizing it. But I can't help thinking, here we go again.
The first time around, the publisher of the cartoons explained his motives in this New York Times op-ed:
By treating a Muslim figure the same way I would a Christian or Jewish icon, I was sending an important message: You are not strangers, you are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life. And we will satirize you, too.
We'll see what the second round brings.
Someone please explain to me how this is supposed to be justice. A 23-year-old journalism student named Sayad Parwez Kambaksh supposedly goes online, finds an interesting paper, and prints it out. He supposedly brings it to class at Balkh University, discusses it with a teacher and some fellow students. The paper gets copied and distributed. Some students find it objectionable; they say it is offensive and that it insults Islam. They complain to the government.
Kambaksh is arrested in October and put in jail. He says he had nothing to do with the paper. His case goes to trial, but he has no lawyer. In fact, his family is not even aware that he's put on trial. A panel of three judges decides that he should be put to death because the paper he supposedly distributed "humiliates Islam." The Afghan Independent Journalists' Association reports that any paper in question may have downloaded from an Iranian blog, which contained articles questioning the origins of the Koran, among other controversial things.
Now, his case goes to the first of two appeal courts. But Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the province where the trial took place, says that only President Hamid Karzai can pardon the student, since Kambaksh supposedly confessed to having violated tenets of Islam. Incidentally, Wahab has never read the paper (to be fair, he was also not on the panel that convicted Kambaksh).
Kambaksh isn't the only Afghan journalist who's gotten into trouble with the law. Ghows Zalmai was also arrested three months ago, charged with distributing a translation of the Koran that clerics did not accept. Religious scholars have also called for him to be put to death.
At any rate, all of this raises the question: Why did the U.S. go into Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, only to have it be replaced with a system like this? So far, no comment from Karzai, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. But he'd better step up.
If you haven't yet read "A World Without Islam," the cover story for our January/February 2008 issue, you really should. Graham Fuller, the former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, has penned a sweeping, thought-provoking essay that has already turned a lot of heads in the United States and beyond. Fuller takes a hypothetical question—What if Islam had never existed?—and walks us through an alternate history of the world as if Mohammed had never founded the third major monotheistic religion in the seventh century.
It's an intriguing thought experiment. With no Muslim faith, would Christianity rule the globe? Would the Middle East today be democratic and free? And the big question, of course: Would the attacks of Sept. 11 never have happened? The answer, according to Fuller, is none of the above. Wipe Islam from the sands of time, he says, and we'd wind up largely in the same place we are today.
Fuller, now an adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, is chock full of knowledge and insights on Islam and the Middle East and is eager to hear reactions to his essay. Send us any questions you have for him by this Friday, Jan. 25, and we'll publish his answers here on Jan. 31.
Iran may be an international pariah, but the country is nonetheless eagerly suiting up for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this year's biggest international event. In the Athens Games of 2004, the Islamic Republic allowed just one woman to compete and won only six medals. This year, nationalistic Iran is investing greater resources in its team and hoping for a stronger performance.
An unlikely boost for Iran's "Go for the Gold in '08" strategy has come from the conservative religious establishment: a "special religious dispensation" that allows more women to compete, as long as they wear the proper attire. Check out Haaretz's translation of an al-Jazeera report here:
Couple this with news that Hamas is recruiting women police officers to serve in Gaza, and you have to wonder what's going on in the region.
Nearly a year ago, Passport noted that Finnish PM Matti VanHanen, ever the classy guy, dumped his girlfriend via a text message. Ha, ha. But in the Muslim world, apparently there's a serious debate going on as to whether divorce by SMS is valid, and some countries have even had to explicitly ban the practice. In Egypt, however, the law remains unclear:
An Egyptian woman is seeking clarification from a court on whether her husband's declaration of divorce by text message is legally valid, a state-run newspaper reported on Thursday.
After missing a call from her husband on her mobile phone, Iqbal Abul Nasr received a text message from him saying "I divorce you because you didn't answer your husband," Al-Akhbar said.
In line with sharia (Islamic law) men do not need to go to court to file for divorce. A unilateral declaration of divorce by a man, repeated three times, formally ends a marriage.
Egypt actually has a hybrid legal system, meaning that contrary to what most people seem to think, sharia law is already in place in many areas of jurisprudence (though Christians have their own religious courts). A return of the caliphate is not nigh, but if you're a woman in a place like Egypt, the growing Islamicization of the country is bad news indeed. Let's hope the judge rejects this divorce-by-SMS nonsense, if he hasn't already.
You have to admire Bob Kerrey's skill as a political assassin. While casually shooting the breeze over the weekend with the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray after a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton, the former Nebraska senator and 9/11 commissioner had this to say about Barack Obama:
It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal."
Kerrey kept it going Monday on CNN:
[T]here is a smear campaign going on. And people are acting as if he's an Islamic Manchurian candidate. And I feel it's actually a substantial strength. He is a Christian. Both he and his family are Christians. They've chosen Christianity. But that connection to Indonesia and a billion Muslims on this Earth I think is a real strength and will add an awful lot of value in his foreign policy efforts. [...] I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust him because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa.
The point Kerrey makes in these statements is, on the face of it, a nice one: Obama's diverse roots could be a real asset abroad. But if you think the Obama campaign is eager to receive compliments that include the words "Hussein" and "madrassa," especially from someone who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, then I have a bridge to sell you in New York City. (Also, it's worth noting that it wasn't a "madrassa" in any case.) Obama supporters and others recently jumped all over the Washington Post for running a front-page story about how rumors that the candidate is some sort of "closet Muslim" could hurt him politically. The critics accused the Post of essentially laundering a smear. But the point made in the story seems to be on solid ground: Americans simply aren't ready to elect a Muslim president or even someone falsely rumored to be Muslim. It shouldn't be this way, but it's simply a fact that associating Obama with Islam hurts him politically.
And thanks to Kerrey, this issue became the dominant political story of the week. The only thing many voters will hear is "Obama Muslim," even though the Illinois senator is a Protestant Christian. Emphasizing his father's African roots is standard fare for Obama, and it's one of the first items on his campaign bio. But the Muslim thing? That's a bit tricky given today's political climate.
While I applaud the spirit of your critique of Anne Applebaum's take on gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, I'm afraid your rejoinder is wide of the mark. Applebaum is right to criticize the ruling class, but wrong to say that the fate of women there isn't dictated by religion at all. Part of the challenge is to figure out what is religious about gender in Saudi Arabia and why religion gets invoked to justify women's subordinate status. Rather than seeing the issue as one of doctrine, or as the product of the peninsula's tribal past as you suggest, it would be more helpful to see it as political. More specifically, the kingdom's treatment of women has everything to do with the issue of the political, juridical, and legal structures of authority that flow from the basic contract between rulers and the clergy. Women have been thrown under the bus by the kingdom's rulers to the religious scholars who see control over women and women's bodies as one of the last bastions of their spiritual and social power. Islam does not dictate such treatment of women. We know, however, that the tenets of faith become fuzzy when authority and power are at stake.
On the issue of Saudi liberalism, you've parroted the Saudi state about the fault lines that exist in the kingdom and why we (the United States) should support the political status quo there: It is a place where a liberal leadership routinely squares off against a regressive, tribal, and dangerously conservative (religious) populace. The suggestion that the Saudis know what pace of reform the "traffic will bear" is hard to take seriously. Authoritarian states regularly claim to be "reforming," a process that typically leads to a stronger authoritarianism in the end. Saudi Arabia is no exception. Ask any Saudi reformer, including Abdullah al-Hamid who is in jail for promoting reform while Islamic militants are rehabbed and freed from prison, if the state just needs more time and that it will get there.
While there are plenty of Saudis who would be familiar to American liberals as a result of their having studied here, it is more important to recognize that there are also plenty of Saudis educated in their own system that express values and political goals that we should embrace and pursue more seriously. On the matter of gender apartheid, it is also time to take seriously the voices of Saudi women who have their own thoughts to offer about how to improve their fate. They are not hard to find.
Anne Applebaum rightly condemns Saudi Arabia's treatment of women, but I think she misunderstands the political dynamics in the kingdom. Writing about a truly abhorrent case in which a Saudi court ruled that a woman who had been brutally gang raped had to face a punishment of 200 lashes and six months in prison, Applebaum opines:
Thanks to international pressure, the Saudi king has pardoned the woman. And now? In Saudi Arabia women still can't vote, can't drive, can't leave the house without a male relative. No campaign of the kind once directed at South Africa has ever been mounted in their defense.
The comparison of Saudi and South African apartheid, and the different Western attitudes to both, has been made before. Recently the journalist Mona Eltahawy argued that while oil is a factor, the real reason Saudi teams aren't kicked out of the Olympics is that the "Saudis have succeeded in pulling a fast one on the world by claiming their religion is the reason they treat women so badly." Islam, she points out, does take other forms in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia and elsewhere. But Saudi propaganda, plus our own timidity about foreign customs, has blinded us to the fact that the systematic, wholesale Saudi oppression of women isn't dictated by religion at all but rather by the culture of the Saudi ruling class.
If you meet Saudi officials, you soon realize that many of them are actually Western-educated liberals. The oil minister, for instance, went to Lehigh and Stanford. The ambassador to the United States attended Texas and Georgetown. Before 9/11, more than 60,000 Saudis came to the United States each year. That number is now down to around 25,000. Still, in 2006, more than 11,000 visas were issued to incoming Saudi students. Think most of those kids don't absorb American culture and values while they're in college? Many of them go back and become high-ranking officials in Saudi Aramco or the government. They will tell you that widespread, systematic discrimination against women in their country is a tribal issue and has nothing to due with Islam.
Some top leaders, such as Interior Minister Prince Naif bin AbdulAziz, are basically religious fundamentalists. But in general, the "Saudi ruling class" is a relatively liberal group sitting on top of a deeply conservative population. It's an elite that constantly jockeys with the religious establishment for power; sometimes the liberals win, and sometimes they lose. Certainly, Saudi Arabia's reformers move more cautiously than we in the West might like. But they know far better than we do what the traffic will bear. Remember: Before oil was discovered in 1938, Saudi Arabia was largely a land of tribal nomads and subsistence farmers. Just 70 years later, the country is a modernizing state and one of the linchpins of the global economy. This is a lot for any country to absorb. Give the Saudis time. They'll get there.
Do you think cooling your heels in an airport for a few hours is pure torture? It could be much, much worse. A group of more than 1,500 Muslim pilgrims in Tanzania recently endured a flight delay of nine days. They were supposed to depart on Dec. 3 for Mecca for the hajj, the pilgrimage that is one of the pillars of Islam. But because of bureaucratic snafus, the pilgrims were stranded at the airport until Dec. 12 (and some until Dec. 13).
But patience is apparently a virtue. A correspondent for the BBC reported that the pilgrims were not angry, but, rather, saw the delays as a test of their faith. One pilgrim said:
Anyone who gets angry because of flight delays at this time of year does not know Islam.
It's a helpful thought to keep in mind. Such cognitive reframing may help you manage stress, whatever your religion (if you have one), as you head to the airport this holiday season.
It's hard to avoid the impression that the teddy-bear imbroglio in Sudan was a piece of elaborate theater designed to give Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir a chance to magnanimously pardon the offender and thereby chalk up some brownie points with the West. Just scanning the headlines, one would have the impression that Bashir has courageously faced down the mob that was baying for the hapless schoolteacher's blood. Bashir's spokesperson is certainly cultivating that storyline:
There was a political risk in this decision. Although the pardon is a presidential prerogative, because of the rising feeling and tensions that have been generated many Sudanese will see it as unfair to them and that it might encourage others to do the same.The president considered the intentions behind the actions when he made this decision [to pardon].
The wise moderate in the midst of extremists—it's not a bad image to have as frustration grows over delays on Darfur peacekeeping.
This has not been a good day for free speech in the Muslim world. In addition to the news that the British teacher who was arrested in Sudan for insulting Islam by naming a teddy bear "Mohammed" at her class's request has been charged, the Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins's atheist manifesto, The God Delusion, has been called in for questioning by prosecutors and may face charges of inciting religious hatred. Turkey took heat in 2005 for prosecuting Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk on the dubious charge of "insulting Turkishness." Those charges were eventually dropped and the government promised to soften the law.
That the Turkish government would enforce secularism by banning head scarves in universities ... while a prosecutor considers indicting a publisher for propagating the works of one of the world's leading secularists seems to reveal something deeply schizophrenic about Mosque-state relations in Turkey. I can't wait to hear Dinesh D'Souza weigh in on this one.
Forgive for a moment a short trip down memory lane: Back in the last half of June, Hamas had just kicked Fatah out of Gaza, the surge wasn't working, a huge truck bomb decimated a Baghdad mosque, early leaders of the "Anbar Awakening" were killed in a suicide bombing, and one of U.S. President George W. Bush's steadfast Republican supporters broke ranks with him on Iraq. Not a great month by anyone's count, least of all President Bush.
Amidst these dismal headlines, the White House managed to regain control of the headlines with a big announcement on June 27. That day, Bush declared that he would appoint the first U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 countries that promotes "solidarity and cooperation among Islamic states."
Bush's aims for the appointment were simple:
[T]o "listen and learn" and share U.S. views with delegates from Muslim nations. The appointment is intended "to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship," [Bush] said.
Great, right? A small gesture, but nice all the same. Except for the fact that five months later, nada. Zip. Zilch. No envoy.
The gesture is obviously symbolic, a band-aid for a deeply wounded U.S. image in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. But why even bother to announce such an appointment, which is supposed to express the United States' intention to reach out to Muslims and at least appear interested in their points of view, and then not do it? It seems so careless. I asked the White House's press office when we might be able to expect an announcement, and I was told in true Yogi Berra fashion, "when we announce it, we'll announce it." I got the feeling they forgot.
June, 2007, was the month of unfulfilled promises, it seems. On June 5, Bush declared that he'd ordered Condoleezza Rice to cable every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation with the following message: "Seek out and meet with activists for democracy. Seek out those who demand human rights." Sounds nice, right? The Post's Jackson Diehl checked in on the status of the cable in early August. It still hadn't been sent.
When I was at the United Nations earlier this year, I remember being astounded by the religious language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mideastwire.com translated the following excerpt of a recent Ahmadinejad speech; it gives you some of the flavor, and then some:
Two years ago, when we want to go to the United Nations, there, we wanted to utter the blessed name of the Lord of the Age. Some people were saying: Sir, no-one in the world knows the Lord of the Age. We said: Wait now, let us do our duty and see what happens.
"We said it that year. The second year, this year, when we went there, it had become a very normal thing there when we said, a reforming, perfect human being will come, he will smash all these idols and powers, and, by God's grace, will establish justice in the world. That first year, they'd come and ask us: Sir, what are these things that you're saying? This time, when we went there, they were coming up to us and saying: In our beliefs, we have something similar to what your saying. We, too, are looking for a world reformer.
"I want to say to you, dear ones: The dream of your martyrs, the ideal for which the martyrs gave them their lives, and our war-disabled, is rapidly coming to fruition. Let me tell you: The world has no other way. Humanity has no other way. Creation is aimless without it. It is futile and void. All this world has been set up so that, one day, that luminous day will occur. A day on which everyone will come. Listen to me. All the prophets, all the pious, all the martyrs will come. And they will help.
"And let me tell you something that I can see. There are some people who sneer when we say these things because their hearts are empty of faith. They are the modern idol worshippers. They are the modern Satan worshippers. They put on an intellectual demeanour; they don't understand as much as a goat about the world."
Take a gander at the map at right, posted by Marc Lynch. At the top of the poster, the text reads in red, "Federalism is our sole path to realize security and freedom." The top of the map portion is labeled, "The Kurdistan region." The light blue area is, "The center and the south." And at the bottom is the name of the Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation for Islamic Revelation, a group that Marc describes as affiliated with Ammar al-Hakim's SCIRI/SIRI. As you can imagine, Iraqi Sunnis are none too pleased with this kind of artwork. Marc writes:
It was published on an Iraqi Sunni website and then spread like wildfire through the forums and other papers - whether it's authentic or not, it seems to have become one of those viral images and to have touched some exposed nerves. Can't help noticing that there are only two hands clasped together there, not three, and that the Sunni areas are kind of... dark. And small.
Germany may not be too gung-ho about the war in Iraq, but that doesn't mean the country is not serious about stopping terrorism and extremism. That said, the latest serious tool it has added to its arsenal for fighting extremist Islam is ... a comic book (pdf).
Created by the interior ministry of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the comic book features an adolescent German hero, Andi. Andi's frustrated Muslim friend Murat, a German resident of Turkish heritage, can't find an apprenticeship and blames his difficulties on xenophobia. Murat starts to become brainwashed by Harun, a Muslim youth who takes Murat to meet a radical sheikh who shows them extremist Web sites.
The story has a happy ending after Murat finally comes to his senses when his sister Ayshe—a modern, head-scarf-wearing, Muslim girl who staunchly believes in liberal democracy—is threatened by Harun.
Hamburg is planning to use the comic book in its schools; additionally, a second Andi comic is headed to schools soon. It's unclear how German kids will react, though, or whether the book will succeed in stopping the cultivation of homegrown terrorists, such as the three men—two German citizens who had converted to Islam and one Turkish Muslim resident—who were arrested in September for planning bomb attacks. It wouldn't be surprising if teenagers—being teenagers—find it cheesy and just roll their eyes. More importantly, though, is the impact on Muslims. The 2005-06 Danish cartoon outrage showed that cartoons and Muslims don't often go well together. (At least this comic book doesn't appear to have images of the prophet.) There's bound to be somebody who complains that the comic book depicts distorted caricatures of Muslims in Germany.
If the book gets families talking and makes youth more apt to peer-pressure their friends away from extremist recruiters, though, it may have well served its purpose. Only time will tell if placing the security of Germany on the shoulders of a teenage comic-book hero will protect the country from terrorism.
Since 2005, 69 Nigerian kids have been paralyzed by polio, and, surprising to many, these kids indirectly contracted the disease from the vaccine itself.
How? The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened form of the polio virus. Vaccinated kids pass the virus into the water, where unvaccinated kids can pick up the virus by playing in or drinking the water. Normally, this exposure gives unvaccinated kids some protection against polio. But in very rare circumstances, the virus can mutate into a dangerous form, causing the actual disease in unvaccinated kids.
Since this manner of contracting polio only happens when not enough kids are vaccinated, the solution is to vaccinate an even higher fraction of youngsters. But that could prove to be very challenging in Nigeria.
In 2003, there was a boycott of vaccination programs for nearly a year—which caused polio to jump to 12 new countries in 18 months—because some Muslim leaders in Nigeria said that the polio vaccine was a Western plot to sterilize Muslims. The belief reflects a general mistrust and skepticism of Western medicine that exists in many developing countries, where many believe that vaccines and drugs will sterilize people or infect them with HIV as part of a Western conspiracy to reduce the populations of certain races or religions. An earlier FP List, "The World's Stupidest Fatwas," mentions how some rural Pakistani mullahs have issued fatwas against the polio vaccine.
Stupid is still the right word. As the Nigeria case shows, the latest polio outbreak proved how these fatwas can be self-fulfilling prophecies: By boycotting the "dangerous" vaccine, some kids actually got sick from it, proving how "dangerous" the vaccine indeed is.
The only thing sadder may be health officials' delayed response. The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control have known about the Nigerian outbreak since last year, but they kept silent about it until now. One specialist has said that the delayed reporting may have delayed a medical response.
The FP Memo is one of my favorite sections of the magazine. One of the coolest things about Memos is that, from what people tell us, they often get read by their intended recipients. But rarely do we get such a detailed account as that by Marc Lynch of George Washington University, who penned the Memo to the Muslim Brotherhood in our September/October issue.
The Memo is addressed to Mohammed Mahdi Akef (above left, with Lynch), who is the Brotherhood's "Supreme Guide" or titular leader. It urges the banned Islamist organization to seize a window for dialogue with the United States:
[T]oday you have a historic opportunity for such a dialogue. Americans now recognize they are losing the war of ideas in the Arab world, that Islamic extremism is on the rise, and that the promotion of democracy in the region has collapsed. A vigorous debate has ensued in Washington about the Muslim Brotherhood. Some now see you as a relatively moderate force and a potential partner in a common struggle for democracy and against Islamic extremism. But many others see you as an enemy to be confronted, your Islamist agenda as a major source of extremism and anti-Americanism, and your talk of democracy as a deception meant to fool gullible Westerners. How you engage with this debate will have long-lasting repercussions for your relationship with a United States that isn't leaving the region anytime soon.
If you are sincere about seeking meaningful dialogue with the West, then you must tackle this debate now, while it's hot. But repeating the same tired slogans isn't going to cut it. Demonstrate that, despite many policy differences, you share two fundamental goals with the United States: democracy in Arab countries and curtailing the influence of al Qaeda.
Last week, Lynch flew to Cairo, where he spoke with "most of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood which isn't currently in prison" and a number of other bloggers, analysts, journalists, and others. "Most of the leaders had read the memo, and came into the meetings with some detailed criticisms and complaints," Lynch writes.
Unfortunately, Lynch says, "few were particularly forthcoming with regard to the idea of dialogue," despite being friendly and generous with their time. Although they were happy to talk with a U.S. academic, the MB members Lynch spoke with evinced little interest in having official political dialogue with the United States.
That may be due to the group's historic mistrust of Washington, as Lynch suggests. It may also be because Egypt is in the midst of a massive crackdown on dissent, and the Brotherhood is afraid of crossing the government's red lines. Whatever the reason, it's clear from Lynch's account that fostering better mutual understanding between the United States and the Arab world's oldest and largest Islamist movement isn't going to be easy.
In an effort to kick-start its nascent space program, Malaysia is set to launch its first space-bound national into orbit on Oct. 10. In addition to the usual scientific studies and research assignments, the government of the predominantly Muslim country wants to make sure that its novice angkasawan (Malay for astronaut) does not forgo his duties as a devout Muslim. Thirty five year old Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (who is a doctor and part-time model), was chosen from among 11,000 eager hopefuls to accompany two Russian cosmonauts on a ten-day mission in the International Space Station. While he has been fasting for the month of Ramadan throughout his training, the strains of a zero-gravity environment might mean our astronaut will have to adjust his daily rituals during the mission. For a practicing Muslim who prays five times a day, would he have to pray 80 times every 24 hours, since the ISS will be circling the Earth 16 times each day? Plus, figuring out where Mecca is while you are in space must be no easy task.
In order to avoid confusion, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development laid down some guidelines on how to observe Islam correctly while in space. For example:
During the prayer ritual, if you can't stand up straight, you can hunch. If you can't stand, you can sit. If you can't sit, you should lie down.
The guidelines also include useful tidbits on what to do if there is no water for washing rituals, or on the ill-fated chance that there is a death on board. And Malaysian Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis recently declared that Muszaphar is allowed to postpone his fasting until he returns back to earth.
So as he prepares to be his country's first galaxy representative, the thoughtful Muszaphar plans on bringing Malaysian food on board to share with his Russian shuttle cohabitants. But don't worry, he says:
We've made sure it's not very spicy so the Russians can eat it very well.
Things have been relatively quiet following the fierce battle for the Turkish presidency back in July. But it looks like the moderate Islamist AK Party and its secular opponents may be gearing up for round two. Since its victory at the polls, the AKP put constitutional reform at the top of its agenda. Select constitutional scholars and party leaders have reportedly been privately toiling away on creating a new draft. While there is wide agreement that the current constitution put in place after the 1980 military coup is in desperate need of a revamp, that is where any congeniality ends. Despite reassurances by AKP leaders that the new draft will represent the entire country and not simply their own interests, there are some legitimate concerns about the secretive and exclusive drafting process.
Coverage had been mainly limited to the Turkish press... that is, up until Prime Minister Erdogan dropped the headscarf bomb in the Financial Times on Tuesday. He told reporters:
The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears. There is no such problem in western societies but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve this problem.
And boy did that launch a media frenzy.
The question over whether or not to lift the ban, which has forbidden Turkish women from wearing Islamic headscarves on state university campuses since 1982, will unquestionably be the constitution's biggest sticking point. Turkey's secular elite warn that this is just the first step; before you know it, the AKP government will be imposing Islam in all avenues of public and private life. The president of the Middle East Technical University suggested taking the matter back to the European Court of Human Rights (who ruled favorably on the constitutionality of the ban in 2005).
A fair, all-inclusive debate on the headscarf ban is way past due. If, as expected, the new constitution is presented to the Turkish population in a referendum before it is put in place, the country will finally see some sort of fair and democratic resolution on an issue that has polarized the country for decades.
Picture "women's Islamic dress." If you imagined a plain, black burqa, or even a black abaya accompanied by a niqab, you may be envisaging an outfit that could soon be a relic of the past. That's because the Islamic women's fashion industry around the world is taking off—in a big way. Aside from introducing abayas decorated with crystal beads, pearls, embroidery, satin flowers and other colorful adornments, designers are introducing dramatic new styles, fabrics, and colors to Islamic dress. For instance, British designer Sophia Kara offers an outfit composed of a "hooded abaya with a matching niqab, or face veil, in shocking pink over a salwar, or loose pants, printed with an ornate English floral motif" as part of her Imaan Collections. High-end designers including Hermés and Gucci are also trying to break into the Muslim market with scarves and other products.
What's the attraction? Perhaps it's about encouraging women to "experiment ... with ways to feel happy about themselves while holding on proudly to their faith," as Raja Rezza Shah, entrepreneur and director of the Islamic Fashion Festival, says. Perhaps even more than that, it's about the bottom line: The global Muslim fashion industry is estimated to be worth at least $96 billion, assuming that half the world's 1.6 billion Muslims dress modestly, and that they spend $120 a year (a conservative estimate) on this type of clothing. Some outfits even sell for $10,000—which is not all that surprising considering that several of the key markets for Islamic fashion include oil-rich states like the United Arab Emirates—and Muslim fashion shows have have been held in places from Tehran to Jakarta to the United States.
Islamic fashion is also not just restricted to Muslims. As with the burqini, which has gained popularity amongst non-Muslims, Muslim styles have begun to influence European street fashion. I'm willing to bet that this is an industry that's got a pretty bright future.
JERUSALEM - SEPTEMBER 14: An ultra-Orthodox Jew laughs as he crosses paths with Palestinians passing Israeli police guarding an entrance to the Temple Mount in the Muslim Quarter September 14, 2007 in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Religious Jews leaving morning prayers at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, rubbed shoulders with Muslim worshippers rushing to the first midday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque as the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincided with the second day of the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
This article from the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Alawsat on a rehabilitation program the kingdom is running for former jihadists is nothing short of mystifying in its portrayal of the Saudis' attitudes. The article never really says what the young men going through the program have done, only that they have been detained for "security reasons." It does note that one detainee's "hands have been deformed as a result of being manipulated in a bombing incident." But if you were expecting harsh treatment from a country with one of the world's worst human rights records, think again. Terrorist rehabilitation doesn't sound so bad:
The Ministry of Interior has provided the grounds and facilities for the implementation of the rehabilitation program, which include football Pitches and swimming pools, among other recreational facilities. Additionally, there is also a library, research hall and classroom. Moreover, those in charge did not overlook the fact that the detainees are quite young in age, thus providing them with games, including PlayStation.
Sheikh Ahmad Jailan, the coordinator of the care program, recounts the story of one of the detainees who upon his release insisted on taking the PlayStation with him. He would not budge so that those in charge could do little but give in to his pleas, however only after consulting his colleagues first. The PlayStation was replaced by another one so that the rest of the detainees could still play. Officials at the Ministry of Interior do not hesitate to meet the requirements requested by the detainees, in addition to providing them with foodstuffs, including chocolates and sweets.
Remember, this is a country where last spring a man was beaten to death by religious police after being suspected of alcohol possession. The priorities of the rehabilitators seem pretty clear from their staffing:
Remember, this is a country where last spring a man was beaten to death by religious police after being suspected of alcohol possession. The priorities of the rehabilitators seem pretty clear from their staffing:
The advisory program is comprised of four subcommittees: The Religious Committee, the Psychosocial Committee, the Security Committee, and the Media Committee. The number of religious specialists working in these committees is approximated at 160 personnel, while the social and psychological workers number 40. [my emphasis]
The educators also have an interesting definition of "success":
Thus far, it has recorded considerable success; 700 of the detainees were released on the recommendation of the committee after being thoroughly assessed.
I don't mean to get all Rudy Giuliani here, but I think most people would define success by what these guys do after they're released.
I don't mean to get all Rudy Giuliani here, but I think most people would define success by what these guys do after they're released.
With parliamentary elections due next year, Iran's center-left coalition might be the latest victims of the YouTube effect. The would-be reformers are crying foul over the above video, which has been posted on a number of conservative Web sites and allegedly shows former President Mohammed Khatami shaking hands with a female supporter on a recent trip to Italy.
Khatami says the video is a fake and claims never to have shaken hands with any woman, an act considered taboo by many conservative Muslims. A mid-level cleric, Khatami has formed a coalition with more conservative former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi to attempt to stem the tide of Iran's rightward drift. Though emboldened by the defeat of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardliners in last December's local council elections, reformers still worry they could be disqualified by Iran's religious Guardian Council, which vets parliamentary candidates.
To Western eyes, Iran's Handshakegate looks pretty silly—and it gets much sillier (video)—but with some clerics calling for Khatami to be defrocked, Iran's struggling reformers certainly aren't laughing. It doesn't help, apparently, that Ahmadinejad himself is guilty of the horrible crime of touching a woman; this is about gutter politics, not bedrock principle.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan intended to give the children of Khost province a gift they could enjoy. Instead, they ended up giving them a gift—soccer balls—that some residents in the region found blasphemous.
The soccer balls roughly resembled the photo at left, but had flags of the world printed on them, including Saudi Arabia's flag. The Saudi flag bears the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith whose recitation is one of the five pillars of Islam. One Afghan MP explained the offense by saying, "To have a verse of the Koran on something you kick with your foot would be an insult in any Muslim country around the world." (For a Christian, it would be roughly analogous to kicking the Lord's Prayer or the Apostles' Creed around the field, but worse.) In the past, Saudi Arabia has complained to World Cup officials about the use of soccer balls bearing its flag.
Around 100 people in Khost, a province of about 300,000 people, chose to express their anger by holding a demonstration. The U.S. military said it simply didn't realize that some would find the soccer balls offensive. A spokeswoman said that U.S. forces work with local leaders to ensure they respect local culture. Perhaps, though, they also need a cultural "copy editor," a native of the region who reviews such actions for possible offense before giving the green light to go ahead with them.
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