Archive for July, 2010

Poster for my book signing

July 31st, 2010 Comments off

Here it is.

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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: , ,

"It is blackmail…"

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“… Earlier today, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee said that “the United States is squeezing us to open & direct negotiations with Israel.”

She said Washington is actively pressuring the Palestinian Authority and the League of the Arab countries. “The United States threatened to isolate the PA politically, if it refuses to open & direct negotiations with Israel … It reached the level of blackmail “, claimed Ashrawi.

“The truth is that it is very heavy pressure,” said Ashrawi, “with all sincerity, in all my history in the negotiations, I have never seen such pressures on the Palestinian side.”

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will Obama bomb Iran?

July 31st, 2010 Comments off

Ah the ‘Polls’ and the fickelness of American public opinion …WaPo/ here

“…. Whatever progress Iran may make toward weapons of mass destruction, European diplomats and statesmen are likely to parade to Washington, concede America’s concerns, affirm its intelligence findings — and reject its policy recommendations. The United States would be advised to be patient and restock its economic sanctions kit for one more run at Tehran. In private, many strategists would summon their inner George Kennan and advise Washington that containment has worked with more powerful and unpredictable tyrants and can surely handle cautious mullahs and their rudimentary weapon. Washington would have to choose between an international coalition pledging rigorous containment of Iran, and the lonely, unpopular path of taking military action lacking allied consensus.

Domestic consensus would be critical as well. One of the tragedies of American history is that presidents have too often entangled the country in conflicts without forthright conversation with the public. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson engaged in their share of measured mendacity as they plunged the United States into very different wars. More recently, Bush’s decision to preemptively invade Iraq was characterized by exaggerated threats and faulty information.

Obama came into office pledging a new politics of accountability and responsibility, suggesting a predisposition to engage the public on the possibility that the United States may find itself in a prolonged war with a damaged but dangerous adversary. From town halls to college campuses, the president and his advisers would need to connect with civil society, clergy and university students — not to mention Congress — on this critical issue.

The direction such a debate would take is hard to predict. According to a February Gallup poll, about 90 percent of Americans believe Iran poses a serious threat to U.S. vital interests; 61 percent assessed the threat as “critical.” A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted in April found that 65 percent of Americans favor military force as a way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Yet, if skepticism about U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is any indication, Americans are also tired of war, while doubts about the accuracy of U.S. intelligence probably remain from the run-up to the Iraq war. A February CNN/Opinion Research poll indicated that only 23 percent of Americans agree with military action against Iran “now.”…

The views and reactions of the Arab world would also be relevant….

There are plausible developments that could render this scenario moot. Iran has notified the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is prepared to resume negotiations after Ramadan on the transfer of nuclear fuel to third countries for enrichment. And in the face of strong sanctions, the mullahs may well blink.

But to avoid the grim future postulated here, Iran would have to leave behind its peek-a-boo negotiating tactics and sign up for intrusive inspections and tight limits on its uranium enrichment activities. The record on this score is not encouraging, with decades of sanctions impeding but not blocking Iran’s progress to nuclear weapons capability. Thus, the world imagined here may not constitute destiny — but it will be hard to escape.”

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Beirut: photo-op over. Crisis not averted & escalating slowly …

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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: , , , ,

PLO official says Obama sends warning to Abbas (AP)

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Palestinians security forces loyal to president Mahmoud Abbas demonstrate their skills during graduation ceremony in the West Bank city of Jericho, Saturday, July. 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)AP – A senior PLO official says President Barack Obama has warned Mahmoud Abbas in a letter that U.S.-Palestinian relations might suffer if the Palestinian leader refuses to resume direct peace talks with Israel.

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US money transfer sites used in Dubai assassination: report (AFP)

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A picture posted on the website of Hamas' Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing in January 2010 shows Mahmud al-Mabhuh, one of the brigades' founders. US websites that allow employers to transfer money to far-flung employees may have been used to secretly finance the assassination of Mabhuh in Dubai, a US newspaper reported Saturday.(AFP/AL-QASSAM BRIGADES/File)AFP – US websites that allow employers to transfer money to far-flung employees may have been used to secretly finance the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, a US newspaper reported Saturday.

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Obama asks Abbas to enter direct talks

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US President Barack Obama has warned the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas that 'there will be consequences' if he declines to open direct talks with Israel, Arab media reported Saturday.
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Covering Afghanistan

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August 9, 2010 cover of Time Magazine

As usual for the end of the week, my Time arrived yesterday. It seems a bit unusual that I should receive the August 9 issue a week early, but then Time is not always accurate. The cover photograph is startling, haunting, disturbing and an unfortunate example of sensationalized news reporting. I cannot help but compare this to the widely traveled National Geographic photograph of an Afghan woman. I have no objection to covering a human tragedy etched in the face of young Aisha, the 18 year old girl whose nose and ears were cut off by self-righteous extremists who practice a brand of Islam that would make the Prophet Muhammad roll over in his grave. But the cover’s prominent announcement of the article inside by Aryn Baker is in fact not the title of the article, nor the main message of the author. “What happens if we leave Afghanistan” is a lot more sensational than “Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban,” which is why it graces the cover. Tragedies, like sex scandals, sell. The issue for me is how they should be reported responsibly.

Afghan woman holding 1985 National Geographic issue with her picture on the cover

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Burning the Qur’an? ‘Wherever they burn books, they will in the end Burn Human Beings’

July 31st, 2010 1 comment

A tiny, fringe fundamentalist cult in Florida, of the sort that American popular Christianity specializes in producing, has announced that it will burn the Qur’an on the anniversary of September 11 because it considers Islam an evil religion. The group also targets gays and the Wicca worship of the Goddess.

This is more cult-like thinking, of the sort I discussed yesterday, in which ‘good’ equals ‘us’ and ‘evil’ equals people we don’t agree with.

The German poet Heinrich Heine (d. 1856), in his play lamenting the forced conversion of Spain’s Muslims to Christianity, “Almansor,” wrote, “Wherever they burn books, in the end they will burn human beings.” (When the Nazis burned books in 1933, Heine’s were among those set afire, and his prediction was borne out).

The antidote to hateful and grandstanding ignorance such as this is learning and reading. The way to combat book-burning is to spread around books and consume them.

I discuss in my book, Engaging the Muslim World, the various charges against Islam from groups like this one and show how they are not true.

I liked the response of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, to this proposal, which is that Americans should take the opportunity presented by this controversy to actually read the Qur’an. I’d go them one better and suggest that some book reading groups who meet regularly select the Qur’an for their next set of discussions.

For the early chapters of the Qur’an, I warmly recommend Michael Sells’s Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, which manages to be both a pleasure for the English style and sensitive to the nuances of the underlying Arabic.

I’ve done study groups on the Qur’an from time to time in informal settings, and was surprised to find that the translation people told me they found most accessible is Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s rendering of the Holy Qur’an. Intended in in part for English-speaking South Asian Muslims, it is steeped in the Muslim tradition of Qur’an commentary but goes out of its way to explain phrases that are cryptic or telegraphic in the original Arabic.

Reading the Qur’an without context is actually not very useful since it is a highly historical work that refers to contemporary events constantly. Although it is now an older book, W. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman is still a good place to start for understanding the context of the Qur’an. In fact, I’d advise people to read it first, and then read the Qur’an backwards, starting with the shorter Meccan chapters that Sells translated and moving toward the front of the book with its longer Medinan chapets, many of which retell the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and Jesus or refer to Muslim attempts to avoid being wiped out by the attacking Meccan pagans (which anti-Muslim polemicists misinterpret as Muslim aggression).

I’ve done a little spadework on issues in Qur’an interpretation on issues of peace at this blog from time to time, and the links are here.

And, speaking of Heine and old Muslim Spain or Andalus, for a delightful book about the relations of Christians, Jews and Muslim in medieval Spain, see Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. You’ll find there that current controversies like that in Florida are nothing new. But Menocal argues that while there were periods of fundamentalism and persecution, the over-all achievement of Spain (both Christian states like Valencia and Muslim ones like the Umayyad Caliphate centered at Cordoba) was of a broad tolerance and a shared love of learning (the library at Cordoba had 600,000 volumes at a time when there were probably only a few thousand manuscripts in all of France). In many ways, the multicultural religious atmosphere of medieval Spain , before the Almohads from one direction and the Inquisition from another did it in, most resembles that in the United States today.

Menocal is brilliant throughout, but especially good at recognizing the secular aspects of Arab culture that often formed an attraction even for those in Andalusia who did not convert to Islam. Alvarus, a hard line Christian priest, lamented:

‘The Christians love to read the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the Arab theologians and philosophers, not to refute them but to form a correct and elegant Arabic. Where is the layman who now reads the Latin commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, or who studies the Gospels, prophets or apostles? Alas! All talented young Christians read and study with enthusiasm the Arab books; they gather immense libraries at great expense; they despise the Christian literture as unworthy of attention. They have forgotten their own language. For everyone one who can write a letter in Latin to a friend, there are a thousand who can express themselves in Arabic with elegance, and write better poems in this language than the Arabs themselves.’

Menocal suggests, in more elegant language, that Arabic romantic poetry was a babe magnet in Cordoba even for the Christian girls.

In many ways, the shoe is now on the other foot. Young Muslims often devote themselves to English and to American pop culture, and it is English that has the massive library, whereas the modern Arabic one is thin despite areas of excellence, as with the novels of Nobelist Naguib Mahfouz. But all along, the two cultures have interacted on a basis of admiration, not just competition or bigotry. Menocal thinks that the Renaissance and Enlightenment were actually peculiarly parochial in Europe, in contrast to the mixed-up character of medieval Spain, and despite the ugly periods and occasional fundamentalist movements, there are certainly innovations in toleration achieved in Valencia (a Christian kingdom that made a legal place for its Muslim subjects) and Cordoba that can inspire us today.



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Israeli airstrike kills senior Hamas rocket maker (AP)

July 31st, 2010 Comments off

Palestinians wheel a wounded man at the Shifa hospital following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, late Friday, July 30, 2010. Late Friday, Israel targeted back two buildings in Gaza used by Hamas militants as a training facility, Palestinian security officials said.Gaza militants fired a rocket into the Israeli city of Ashkelon early Friday.  (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)AP – Israeli warplanes fired missiles, killing a senior commander of the Hamas military wing and wounding 11 people in five targets hit across Gaza overnight, the group and the military said Saturday.

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