Archive for November, 2009

Sheikh Mo on the Slopes

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Sheikh Mo is under a lot of stress these days. Why does not he take a break: he can go and rest on the multi-billion dollar artificial ski slopes that he brought to Dubai. Oh, yeah.

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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: , , , ,

sectarianism versus sectarianism

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Comrade Khalid explains sectarianism in Lebanon.

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Minarets or missiles?

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Rudolph makes a good point to me. He points out that the minarets on the Swiss political posters were made to look like missiles, just for extra effect.

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Arab disappointment with Obama

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Arab disappointment with Obama is suddenly very, very important. 
Fouad Ajami is very worried that Arabs are disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy — amazingly enough, for the same reasons he is!  Jackson Diehl is very worried that Arabs are disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy — amazingly enough, for the same reasons that he is!  It’s hard to believe that they came up with the same
idea at the same time, but the world is
funny like that.  Meanwhile, Elliott Abrams is very worried that Obama is not concerned with real Arab people the way George Bush was and lacks his commitment to human rights and democracy.  

It’s great to see that Arab public opinion suddenly matters again!   But… wait a minute. If Arab opinion is to be taken seriously again, then there is some requirement to get it right.  And these three authors really, really don’t. 

Ajami, who has spent the last eight years writing long articles
and multiple op-eds about how Arab public opinion does not matter, and who once called
opinion surveys in the Arab world the equivalent of counting the cats
in the streets of Zanzibar, now finds Pew surveys showing only marginal change in approval of the United States very important
indeed. Can’t think why. Oddly, Ajami fails to note that the Pew survey he quotes in
fact found that most of the Arab public surveyed expressed far more
confidence that Obama would do the right thing in world affairs than
they did in Bush:  31% more in Egypt had confidence in Obama compared
to Bush’s 2008 ratings, 24% in Jordan, 15% in the Palestinian
territories, 13% in Lebanon. Never mind.  Ajami does not need
"evidence" for he knows how Arabs feel, the patterns of the desert and
the timeless tribal traditions, the hot arid summer which follows the
blooming spring but leads inexorably to the fall and then the cold,
hard winter.  He has anonymous Saudi drinking buddies. One should not

For Diehl and Abrams, the problem lies in Obama’s allegedly reduced support for democracy and human rights. I have no doubt that many brave Arab reformists are disappointed with
America’s support for their cause. Diehl hits the usual checklist — Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Ayman Nour, the Jordanian Minister of Political Development (whose government just abolished Parliament because it was annoying), an admirable Kuwaiti MP brought to speak in DC by the National Endowment for Democracy.   And they are certainly right that public freedoms and democratic openings are on the retreat across the region, and that Obama has largely foregone the grand rhetoric which the Bush administration preferred.

And good for him.  It’s not like the Bush administration’s support for democracy actually created much democracy, after all.  Instead, it raised expectations which were quickly dashed as the U.S. failed to follow through on its rhetoric (sound familiar?).   As both Abrams and Diehl admit, Bush’s democracy rhetoric ended rather
quickly after it began.   The Bush administration largely stopped pushing democracy after the Hamas electoral victory in January
2006 — after some of those "real Arabs" that Abrams celebrates voted wrong — and not after the Annapolis process began, as Abrams oddly suggests.  From Condi Rice’s wonderful speech in Cairo in June 2005 to the deep freeze following the Hamas victory took about six months.  

They are right about one thing, though:  Arab public opinion is disappointed with Obama.  But it isn’t because he hasn’t lived up to his predecessor’s commitment to democracy and reform.  Many of the same reformists cited favorably in these pieces have complained loudly, for years, that American policies towards Israel and the Palestinians, the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Global War on Terror, and other deeply unpopular Bush administration policies badly undermined their credibility. Those complaints never seem to merit as much attention, for some reason.  And many of them hoped, with good reason, that Obama would help their cause by reversing those extremely unpopular policies. 

The reason that a growing slice of the Arab public is disappointed with Obama is pretty clearly not because of his attitude towards democracy but because they feel that he is not yet delivering on his promises to change American foreign policy from the Bush era.  Arab commentary and public discourse overwhelmingly focuses not on reform issues but upon the
Israeli-Palestinian track:  Obama’s failure to deliver the promised settlement freeze from
Netanyahu, his failure to do anything to alleviate the suffering of
Gaza, his failure to bring about a Palestinian national unity
government.  They also often cite a pattern of his insufficiently reversing Bush-era policies and discourse:  Guantanamo still open, escalation in Afghanistan, saber-rattling against the Iranian threat, and so on.  

The lessons of the Arab disenchantment are that Obama should deliver on his promises, not that he should abandon them, and that the Israeli-Palestinian track is for better or worse still what matters most in shaping Arab perceptions of American foreign policy.  There is no vindication of the Bush administration’s policies here, only frustration at his successor’s inability to rapidly reverse them.  And there, despite a great start on reframing relations with the Islamic world, a lot clearly still needs to be done.  

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Light Posting for a Day or Two: Blame Someone Back in 1946

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Posting will be light for a day or two. Back when the Journal was founded, the first issue appeared in January 1947, and ever since it has appeared in January, April, July and October. In those days, with hot lead typesetting and galleys shipped by mail, they probably went to press with the January 1947 issue somewhere in the fall of 1946. In our greatly technologically enhanced era, the January issue goes to press on the first working day of January. Given the intrusions of the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday blocs, that means fewer working days available to finish the editing process, compared to the other three quarterly issues. So the day job takes precedence, though I’ll have some comments sometime later today.

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Defiant Iran lashes out at IAEA

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Foreign Minister Mottaki says U.N. atomic watchdog implements ‘law of the jungle’, resolution ‘illogical’.
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Nazi death camp gurad Demjanjuk on trial

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

German trial of 89-yr-old alleged guard Demjanjuk on 27,900 counts of accessory to murder begins.
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Categories: Arab News Tags: , ,

Darwin, Egyptian Style

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Harnessing Darwin to Push an Ancient Intellectual Center to Evolve

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN, The New York Times, November 26, 2009

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — It is not that Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution are unknown here. But even among those who profess to know something about the subject, the common understanding is that Darwin said man came from monkeys.

Darwin, of course, did not say man came from monkeys. He said the two share a common ancestor. But to discuss Darwin anywhere is not just to explore the origin of man. It is inevitably to engage in a debate between religion and science. That is why, 150 years after Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, decided to hold an international conference on Darwin in this conservative, Sunni Muslim nation.

It was a first.

“A lot of people say his theories are wrong, or go against religion,” said Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council. “His ideas provoke, but if we are going to understand each other, we have to discuss things that divide us.”

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Swiss Islamophobia Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

Switzerland on Sunday voted by 58 percent in favor of banning minarets.

This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘ In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II. ‘

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed the building of Christian churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss. So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

End/ (Not Continued)

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“Make me look good.”

November 30th, 2009 Comments off

NYorker, here

“… But the anxiety persists. While political theatre went on inside the General Assembly, Netanyahu kept stopping by Platon’s makeshift studio and repeated his request: “Make me look good.”

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