I noted back in January that Pakistani authorities had temporarily lifted a ban on kite-flying in time for a spring festival, Basant. Well, it turns out that 11 people died during the weekend celebration—two from having their throats slit by wire strings, five from celebratory gunfire, two from electrocuting themselves in power lines, and the final two from falling from rooftops.
The deaths are a great opportunity for Islamist political parties, many of which consider flying kites to be "un-Islamic." Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest of these groups, held anti-Basant rallies in a number of Pakistani cities yesterday:
JeI leader Muhammad Kamal criticised the government of adopting 'Western and Hindu cultures' in the name of 'enlightenment and moderation' that President Pervez Musharraf has been advocating.
Kamal's speech shows the Islamist opposition as struggling to get much mileage out of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's concurrent visit to Pakistan. The United States seems to have learned from President Bush's disastrous March 2006 visit, when the U.S. leader told Musharraf in public, "I came to check up to make sure you're still with us." As regional expert Barnett Rubin complained to FRONTLINE about that incident:
What Bush is actually doing is saying, "I came here to see if you're really on my side," and he looked at Musharraf and he expected Musharraf to say something like, "Yes. We are the loyal followers of the United States of America." In other words, he expected Musharraf to commit political suicide, which shows his complete lack of understanding of Pakistan or many other Muslim countries.
Cheney's quieter trip, though a stern warning that U.S. patience with Musharraf's foot-dragging is wearing thin, was therefore a smarter approach to a delicate political problem. Better, from the U.S. perspective, to have rallies about kites than nefarious American influence.
Samuel P. Huntington began this ongoing debate when he argued that "the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future" in a controversial 1993 essay for Foreign Affairs. One of the main cleavages Huntington identified was between the West and Islam, which he doubted was capable of embracing liberal democracy.
In the new issue of FP, former Bush speechwriter David Frum argues that the events of the last few years have vindicated* Huntington's thesis:
As they turn against the Iraq war, Americans seem also to have rejected the sunny assumptions about the Middle East upon which it was founded. Bush argued that terrorism was the work of a tiny handful of extremists, repudiated by the vast majority of Middle Easterners. His fellow Americans no longer believe him. More and more are coming to believe that Islam really is inherently hostile to democracy and the West. Civilizations are clashing. Paul Wolfowitz has lost. Sam Huntington has won.
And in a recent web exclusive for ForeignPolicy.com, former senior intelligence officer Col. W. Patrick Lang, Jr. says that it's actually these sunny assumptions—widely held by Americans—that were wrong in the first place.
But lots of people still disagree with Huntington outright. A new poll by the BBC World Service and the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that "the global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture." Most of those surveyed blamed "intolerant minorities" for causing the clash between Islam and the West. That doesn't make them right or Huntington wrong, but it's an encouraging finding nevertheless (Political scientist Marc Lynch agrees, but sees some worrisome countervailing numbers). Much more detail here.
*UPDATE: David Frum writes in with a clarification: "I don't say that events have vindicated Huntington's thesis, but rather that events are leading Americans to believe it—a tendency I myself happen to think mistaken."
Are you a wealthy Saudi looking to invest but worried that most standard bonds don't comply with Islamic law? Pakistan has just the thing for you: The country's central bank recently issued sukuk, or Islamic bonds structured to comply with Islamic restrictions on interest.
Economists say that in addition to responding to demand from pious Muslims, Islamic banks and finance outlets driven by Islamic principles carry the potential of attracting investors from the oil-rich Arab world. In the past few years, oil wealth from the Middle East has prompted demand for Islamic investment opportunities in the Middle East, parts of Africa and in Asia.
It's not just Islamic countries that are structuring financial products for observant investors. Japan's national bank announced plans for a similar instrument last year, and a growing number of Western banks are offering sharia-friendly services. The UK has been particularly aggressive in this area, with a push from London's controversial mayor, "Red" Ken Livingstone, to make the city a powerhouse of Islamic finance on par with Dubai.
Not everyone's a fan, however. The association of Islam with terrorism has prevented the United States from becoming a player in this area. And Arab governments outside the Gulf, such as Egypt's, have been wary of strengthening the financial clout of the Islamist opposition and setting up competition for state-run banks. But the influx of oil money from Saudi Arabia has proven hard to resist.
Never one to eschew a dramatic gesture, French interior minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has just popped up in the middle of a court case on blasphemous cartoons (several Islamic organizations had sued a French magazine for reprinting cartoons of Muhammad).
A lawyer for the magazine read a letter out from Mr Sarkozy, who is standing as presidential candidate for the right-wing UMP. Mr Sarkozy noted he was often a target of the magazine but said he would prefer "too many caricatures to an absence of caricature".
Several French Muslim organizations are overreacting, just as Sarkozy no doubt expected they would. So Sarkozy gets to make a good stand on principle, offer up some faux self-deprecation, and stand up to opponents of free speech: not a bad day's work for the man likely to be France's next president.
Arab media expert Marc Lynch, wrapping up a trip to Cairo, explains in a long and fascinating post why the Egyptian government might want to promote an Iraqi insurgent channel that contains nasty anti-Shia propaganda:
Why all this anti-Shia discourse now? One popular theory is that the Egyptian government, backed by the US, wants to prepare the ground for confrontation with Iran. By this theory, the government is stoking hatred of the Shia as a pre-emptive move to shape the political space in such a way as to make it hard for Iran to appeal to Egyptian (and Arab) public opinion in the event of a war - and to prevent a repeat of anything like the outpouring of popular support for Hassan Nasrullah last summer. One problem with this theory is that mobilizing anti-Shia anger against Iran simultaneously complicates attempts by the government to support American goals of strengthening a Shia government in Iraq - an irony of which at least some officials seem painfully aware. Another school of thought points to the Iraq war, and especially the Saddam execution video, as fueling anger against the Shia, independently of anything the government is doing. Whatever the case, I've seen a lot more anti-Shia discourse than I expected or have ever seen before, and it alarms me.
Lynch adds an unrelated, but amusing, side note:
[O]ne of the main bookstores in central Cairo is prominently featuring posters for an instant book declaring that "Saddam was not executed" - it was all an American hoax. The guy who hanged was actually one of Saddam's doubles - the author compares a bunch of pictures of Saddam in power with pictures from the trial and execution, and declares that they are obviously not the same man. It's a nutty book in every sense of the word... I don't know how many people (besides me) have bought it, but I saw the poster in a few places.
So it's not just random conspiracy theorists on the Internet—somebody in Egypt has figured out how to make money off this thing.
Egypt is one of several Sunni Arab governments that have pledged to support President Bush's new strategy in Iraq. But despite repeated requests from American and Iraqi officials, Egypt continues to broadcast violent propaganda from Iraqi Sunni insurgents, 24/7, on its Nilesat satellite television provider. Today's Thursday Video is a taste of Al Zawraa's programming, provided to FP by Lawrence Pintak, director of American University in Cairo's television journalism program:
Al Zawraa divides its hatred between Americans and Shiites:
Al Zawraa began two years ago as an above-ground, hard-line Sunni TV station, based in Iraq, until the Iraqi government closed it down last November, around the time Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death. Today, it's an underground station with brutal, no-holds-barred content, often amateur, shaky footage showing American soldiers crumpling to the ground after being shoot [sic], and alleged American atrocities against Iraqi civilians. The station's anchors wear military fatigues and rail against the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
The sectarian strife in Baghdad is spilling into the wider region. Al Zawraa appears to be a symptom of Sunni unease about the rise of the so-called Shiite Crescent. Faced with growing threats, the Egyptian government may feel pressure to support its Sunni brethren. There are probably healthier ways to do that, however.
For another video clip from Al Zawraa, see the MEMRI Blog, which flagged this last week.
For many Westerners, the word Muslim conjures up images of stern, bearded mullahs. But a new Canadian sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, may lighten up that image through the universal language of laughter.
The sitcom centers on the comedic events in the daily lives of Muslims in a fictional Midwestern town. In one scene, the mosque's imam condemns the TV show Desperate Housewives by saying, "Why should they be desperate when they’re only performing their natural womanly duties?"
A young woman then whispers to her mother, "Hey, did you tape last night’s episode?"
The show's debut drew a record 2 million viewers for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Let’s hope that each episode's dose of laughs succeeds in demystifying Muslims, revealing that under those head scarves and behind those beards, we're all human.
As the world's eyes focus on Baghdad, problems in other parts of the world have a stubborn way of plodding along, whether or not anyone takes notice. In Bangladesh, a fragile democracy of nearly 150 million souls, caretaker president Iajuddin Ahmed has just resigned as "chief adviser" in the face of a general strike and growing protests. Our Thursday Video takes you to the streets of Dhaka, where violence between police and protesters is getting increasingly out of control:
Demonstrations by the opposition Awami League have thrown much of the country into chaos; the League claims that the outgoing government of the Bangladesh National Party has rigged a general election due in two weeks. The UN and the EU have both left, claiming that the deteriorating situation make it impossible to hold a free and fair vote as scheduled. A state of emergency had been declared by President Ahmed last night.
Why does this matter? As a country made up of mostly moderate Muslims, Bangladesh is an important counterweight to more politically repressive regimes elsewhere in the Islamic world. Countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Turkey, when their political systems work, show that democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive. They also preclude the emergence of religiously-based terrorist groups by better channeling dissent. The success or failure of democracy in places like Bangladesh could reverberate in other countries, like nearby Pakistan and distant Iraq, that occupy more real estate on newspaper front pages.
This broadside in today's Guardian is certain to raise some hackles in Britain. Columnist Sarfraz Manzoor throws calls for Muslim integration right back at British society by suggesting that Britain integrate into Muslim values.
It is easy to dismiss Muslim parents as old-fashioned and traditional, but when the rest of the country is busy wondering how to respond to a culture of rampant disrespect, it is worth considering whether they could learn from Muslim values. Muslim children are more likely to be brought up in two-parent families rather than the single-parent households that are increasingly common in Britain.
For good measure, he wraps up the piece by blaming extremism not on Islam but on the overexposure of extremists to "white society."
Whether the danger is religious extremism, drugs or crime, those involved are largely third-generation Muslims who are so integrated into white society that they are emulating its worst characteristics.
Integration did not save them, it created them.
Finland and other pro-Turkey European countries are scrambling to salvage the Muslim country's flagging bid join the European Union. The stumbling block? Cyprus. If the Greek Cypriots remain inflexible, Turkey doesn't back down, and the EU ultimately says no, will Turks turn away from Europe? What does Turkey think about Iran and the bomb? Will Turkey seek its own nuclear weapon? Which is a greater threat to Turkish democracy: the military or the Islamists?
To answer these and other questions, FP spoke with Mensur Akgun, an expert on Turkish foreign policy.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Asbar), which aired on ANB TV on November 26, 2006.
Adonis: The difference between Europe and the Islamic world is in quality, not in degree. What I mean is that the Christian view of the world is not political, but humanistic. It is human beings who are the basis for politics. A Christian person has great liberty to separate his religious faith from his political activity. The mistake committed by the Church in the Middle Ages was rectified - obviously after a struggle and violent revolutions - and political rule was entirely separated from politics...
Interviewer: From religion...
Adonis: From religion, sorry. In our case, political rule was based... Ever since the struggle over who would inherit Prophet Muhammad's place, political rule was essentially based on religion.
Interviewer: But there were great revolutions in the Arab and Islamic world. Take, for example, the ideology of Arab nationalism. This ideology may be connected with Islamic culture, but it is still a man-made ideology.
Adonis: But the ideology of nationalism, in all its forms, is a religious ideology, in the sense that it has never raised any cardinal question concerning religion.
The Arabs have managed to turn democracy or the revolution into a dynastic or monarchic regime, which is handed down. Most Arab regimes are monarchic regimes, one way or another.
View the entire transcript.
Dear Representative Reyes:
Congratulations on your new position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. With the sorry state of our intelligence community and the continued specter of transnational terrorism (not to mention organized crime, narco-trafficking and nuclear proliferation), yours is an important position and I’m sure you’re enthusiastic about the job. However, I couldn’t help but be more than a little concerned this weekend when I read that you, like so many other U.S. officials involved in counterterrorism, do not know the religious layout of the greater Middle East. Knowing the difference between Sunnis, Shiites and Arab nationalists will not simply make your job easier, it will make it possible. Because I’m sure you’re busy, I took the liberty of writing up a primer for you:
Muslim residents of Katy, Texas are planning on building a mosque in the Houston suburb so they have a place to worship. The neighbors are not happy:
"[O]ne resident has set up an anti-Islamic Web site with an odometer-like counter that keeps track of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims' land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day."
Nice guy, that Craig Baker. Actually, there's no rule explicitly forbidding the racing of pigs in Islam, but it's still gratuitously offensive.
You've no doubt heard it before from Washington: The West will know it is winning the war on terror when it stems the tide of Islamic radicalism. The problem with that theory, though, is that the West is still at a loss as to just what makes a Muslim radical. Some say it is poverty. Others say it is hopelessness. Still others say it is because radicals are religious fundamentalists. But those theories are wrong.
In a new ForeignPolicy.com exclusive, Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Muslim studies at the Gallup Organization, and John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown and participant in the recent U.N. panel recommending strategies to build bridges with the Muslim world, offer some fascinating new data based on an immense poll just completed by Gallup in nine Muslim countries. Their findings will surprise you: Across many indicators, Muslim radicals are often indistinguishable from their moderate bretheren. And where they do differ offers policymakers a key opportunity to prevent the moderate Muslim mainstream from sliding away, and to check the persuasive power of those who would do us harm. Don't miss it.
The Netherlands may be taking religious wear to the legislative level. The Dutch center-right government has proposed a ban on burkas and similar garments in public. According to Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk,
The cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing - including the burka - is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens.
Dutch Muslims are outraged, pointing to the small minority of people - less than 100 - who actually wear the full burka. Many also think that it is an attempt by the government to secure more votes in the national election coming up in five days.
When is Europe going to get serious about tackling the roots of extremism and social disharmony, instead of continuing to further marginalize their Muslim populations?
When it comes to Rep.-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck just isn't sure. That's because Ellison is Muslim, which Beck said made him "nervous." Interviewing Ellison on Tuesday, Beck said he felt like questioning Ellison's loyalty to America. Then he said Ellison "could be" a shining example to European countries that are struggling with multiculturalism.
Seriously, this is why I refuse to watch CNN Headline News, which has the most thoughtless programming of any 24-hour news network. Here's a news flash for Glenn Beck and CNN producers: Not all Midwesterners are white. And they're not all Christian, either. Also, you might try learning a thing or two about a congressman-elect before you interview him. Ellison was born in Detroit, not Mogadishu. He hasn't "integrated" into America -- he was born here.
Here's the exchange:
BECK: [M]ay we have five minutes here where we're just politically incorrect and I play the cards face up on the table?
ELLISON: Go there.
BECK: OK. No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims. I've been to mosques. I really don't believe that Islam is a religion of evil.... With that being said, you are a Democrat ... what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.
ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, the people of the Fifth Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There's no one who is more patriotic than I am. And so, you know, I don't need to -- need to prove my patriotic stripes.
BECK: I understand that. And I'm not asking you to.... And I think it's wonderful, honestly, I think it is really a good sign that you are a -- you could be an icon to show Europe, this is the way you integrate into a country.
Hat tip: Media Matters
The overnight air strike on a madrassa this week, which killed 82 people, has hurt Musharraf's attempts to make nice with pro-Taliban tribal groups in the border regions. After suffering a bloody nose in Waziristan, the Pakistani army promised to stay out if militants stopped launching attacks into Afghanistan. This led to two agreements prior to Musharraf's American book tour, and a third was to be signed last Tuesday. But since Monday's bombing, the streets have been overflowing with protesters and the country's editorial pages are furious.
So why endanger the strategy of reconciliation at such a crucial moment? One theory suggests an American drone destroyed the school. It wouldn't be the first time. In January of this year, a U.S. drone attacked a madrassa, killing 18 and causing outrage in Pakistan. Officials there deny that the most recent attack was led by the Americans, but they admit it was based on US intelligence. "They pressed the intelligence hard against our face....A rapid military action was inevitable," one intelligence official said privately.
But more importantly, did the missiles target the right people? The Pakistani military says that all 82 were militants. As evidence, infrared videos were shown to select journalists. However, there were no guns or arms in the video - just people exercising inside the building during the night.
The absurd view of Australia's most senior Muslim cleric that women who don't cover up in the Islamic fashion are inviting sexual assault has reignited the whole veil debate. His rather revealing parallel was, "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?"
With public condemnation—rightly—raining down on him, he has felt obliged to backtrack. (Though his apology is a classic example of that weasely genre of 'I'm sorry if anyone took offense' apologies.) But there is no doubt that his remarks are going to further polarize a debate that is already in danger of spinning out of control. We've raced from the reasonable suggestion that wearing the full veil isn't conducive to integration, to claiming that "wearing the nikab in this country at this time is an expression of affinity with the enemy."
With a controversy raging in the UK and Egypt over the strict Islamic practice of women wearing the niqab and Minnesotans arguing over whether Muslim taxi drivers should be able to refuse rides to people carrying alcohol, a standard argument used by people opposed to these practices is that they are sending us down a slippery slope. But events in the Netherlands show that the slope slips both ways.
Members of the country's Party For The Animals, a political group expected to win a seat in next month's elections, are protesting the grocery chain Albert Heijn's introduction of halal (Islamicaly pure) meat to some of their stores. The activists argue that halal slaughtering methods are inhumane because they don't allow for anesthesia. Whether or not that is true is, like many religious rules, open to interpretation.
Great Britain isn't the only nation facing controversy over the niqab, the full Islamic veil that reveals nothing but a woman's eyes. Agence France Presse reports that women who wear the niqab have been banned from the residence halls of Egypt's Helwan University. The reason? The dean of Helwan, Abdel- Hay Abaid is worried about "individuals who might worm their way in, disguised under a face veil." If a man made it into the women's halls, he said, "their parents would kill me."
Daily Star, the trashy UK newspaper, has dropped plans to publish a spoof called the “Daily Fatwa”. Headlined "how your favorite paper would look under Muslim law", the mock section featured a “Page 3 Burkha Babes Special” and an editorial titled "Allah is Great" followed by a blank column stamped “censored”. A newsroom revolt led to a meeting of the National Union of Journalists, which issued this statement:
[T]his editorial content poses a very serious risk of violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics who may take offence at these articles. This may place the staff in great jeopardy.
Muslim commentators applauded the decision to bin the project. They had warned that publication could have set off worldwide protests like those reacting to the cartoons of Muhammad. For his part, UK Culture Minister David Lammy argued recently that
Freedom does not mean that regard for others no longer matters. Having the right to be offensive does not mean that it is right to be offensive.
It's a shame that the threat of mob violence—rather than other factors—appears to have been the decisive element in the paper's decision not to offend.
When I was back in Britain the other week, I was struck by how every day the major news story was about the issue of Muslim integration. First, it was a Muslim cop being excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy during the conflict in Lebanon. Then it was a Muslim cab driver fined for refusing to carry a guide dog he thought religiously unclean. Finally, the veteran Labour politician Jack Straw set off a firestorm by suggesting that Muslim women shouldn’t wear the full veil.
The debate is continuing to accelerate. In just the last few days we’ve had the Communities Secretary saying that the government wouldn’t fund Muslim groups which don’t actively combat extremism, a substitute teacher suspended for refusing to take off the full veil while teaching young children, and a report that the government has asked academics to spy on their students. Non-hysterical commentators are discussing the possibility of a Kulturkampf.
The veil issue unites two very different sections of British opinion. On the one hand, there are the “assimilationists” who object to the veil as an in-your-face statement of difference and otherness. Then, there are the liberals who believe the veil subjugates women and insist that no woman wears it voluntarily. (Those who think they are wearing it of their own free will are presumed to be suffering from false consciousness.)
Banning the veil would be phenomenally illiberal. Hoping that people choose not to wear it, though, is not unreasonable. As is their wont, the self-appointed Muslim leadership is using the issue to further divide and polarize the country. In an op-ed in The Guardian today, the deputy secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain writes:
Since John Reid demanded that Muslim "bullies" must be faced down and Jack Straw declared the veil a "statement of separation", ministers have fallen over themselves to make increasingly unbridled attacks on Muslims.
A look at what John Reid and Jack Straw actually said illustrates the absurdity of the charge. Straw expressed "concern that wearing the full veil [is] bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult. It [is] such a visible statement of separation and of difference.” Nowhere did he propose banning it or forcing women to remove it. For his part, Reid was actually standing up for moderate Muslims whose voices are drowned out by "extremist bullies." Constant grandstanding by non-elected Muslim leaders may so polarize the country that it could spark the “Kulturkampf” that should all be desperate to avoid.
Religious observance in the West is supposed to be a personal decision. That’s what makes it so upsetting when anyone tells someone else how they should practice their faith. Here's an example: just a week after the Jack Straw’s controversial remarks regarding veiling, the BBC reports that an observant Muslim English teacher in Dewsbury, England was suspended from work for wearing a veil in class. Supposedly, her students couldn’t understand what she was saying when her mouth was covered. Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik critcized the teacher, telling the BBC, "There is no religious obligation whatsoever for Muslim women to cover themselves up in front of primary school children."
Evidently his statement is supposed to hold more weight because he’s a Muslim. That assumption is wrong. Individual Muslims interpret the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad differently. (There’s an article from the October Atlantic Monthly that touches on the issue.) Some believe that a woman's veil should cover everything but her eyes; others believe that a woman only needs to cover her hair; and still others believe that any sort of head covering is unnecessary. Jews do the same thing. The book of Deuteronomy says that you shouldn't boil the meat of a calf in the milk of its mother, resulting in practices ranging from Jews who eat cheeseburgers to Jews who have separate sinks for meat and dairy products in their kitchens. We Westerners believe it's an individual's right to determine how to interpret religious guidelines.
To be fair, if the students couldn't understand their teacher, that is a problem. But there's language to avoid this kind of situation, without telling people how to practice their religion: Are there any physical or religious restrictions that would keep you from functioning in your job properly? Sound familiar?
In the most recent New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash takes a look at Ian Buruma's new book on the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Buruma seems to break new ground in his assesment that the schizophrenia experienced by Europe's Muslim communities may as much literal as it is cultural. Garton Ash writes that...
Buruma meets a psychiatrist specializing in the mental problems of immigrants. Apparently women, and the first generation of immigrant men, tend to suffer from depression; second-generation men, from schizophrenia. According to his research, a second-generation Moroccan male is ten times more likely to be schizophrenic than a native Dutchman from a similar economic background.
Whether this amounts to dubious psychological research or a shocking insight is hard to tell.
I thought Dogma was a fairly terrible movie, so I'm loathe to even bring it up now, but what is Buddy Jesus doing in Iraq? He first appeared in Kevin Smith's 1999 movie as one of the Catholic Church's half-baked schemes to appeal to a younger, hipper demographic. And now, somehow, Buddy Jesus has found his way to Iraq. Residents of Sadr City are claiming that a picture of the grinning Jesus - which they apparently mistook for a caricature of a Shiite holy figure - was found in a house after a joint US-Iraqi raid in the area, along with a poorly photocopied "plan" to discredit Iraqi militias by "raping and kidnapping women." So is the picture (but not the ridiculous "plan") an inappropriate prank by U.S. forces, or a misinformed (and, ultimately, ironic) tactic by elements in Sadr City to enflame opinion against U.S. troops by charging them with mocking a holy Islamic figure? You decide.
Update: I should note that the proper term from Dogma is "Buddy Christ." Poor memory is to blame. 1999 suddenly seems so long ago.
Reuters reports today that reformers in the Saudi royal family have pushed forward a new comedic soap opera for Ramadan that ridicules Islamic radicalism. The timing of the show is especially significant because Ramadan soap operas, called musalsalat, draw not only the highest ratings of the year (think sweeps), but because they serve as a cultural touchstone during Islam's holiest month. The new tone is also significant because musalsalat have not always served as platforms from which to assail extremism. During Ramadan in 2002, Egyptian television aired the series A Horseman without a Horse, which was based in part on the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, stirring protest from both the United States and Israel.
But this year the protests are coming from Muslim clerics who deem the comedy offensive to Islam (though perhaps it's because the show ridicules militants at a clerical school). The Saudi response? They've pulled the show from state television, but are instead shipping it to the widely-watched (and Saudi-owned) Middle East Broadcasting Corporation in the United Arab Emirates.
Is al-Qaeda on the march in Somalia? According to Somali interim PM Ali Mohamed Ghendi, it is. After Islamic militias captured the southern town of Kismayo, on Sunday, Ghendi cried out for international help:
I would appeal to the governments of the region to join our efforts and protect the region from the expansion of this al-Qaeda network, these terrorists."
What makes this characterization completely disingenuous is that Ghendi was among those who celebrated the take over of Mogadishu by the Islamists a few months back. This is Prime Minister Ghendi in a June interview with Radio France Internationale:
It was an excellent step forward... because [the previous secular warlord leaders] were not ready for a government, they were not ready for peace."
So, why the flip-flop? As it turns out, Mr. Ghendi fears that the Islamists may be positioning themselves for an attack on Baidoa, the seat of his transitional government. The al-Qaeda allegation is meant to provide justification for the involvement of Ethiopian troops that are reportedly inside the country. Gregory H. Winger, in a recent Christian Science Monitor op-ed, points out that part of the reason why Ethiopians are eager to defend the transitional government against the Islamists is to gain international aid - because they'll be seen as partners in the war on terror. It's just more evidence that anytime someone wants to get the United States' attention, you'll hear the al-Qaeda connection invoked.
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