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Archive for December, 2010

Saudi Wahhabi architecture: destruction

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.  The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government.  “It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.””

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Israeli machismo

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Fewer than 20 percent of the women who contact Israel’s rape crisis centers file complaints, and of those cases that are filed, 64 percent end without an indictment, Ms. Schler said.   “There is a culture of machismo here where men of privilege, especially those in power, feel that they can do what they want,” said Ms. Schler, who immigrated to Israel from Oceanside, in Nassau County, N.Y. She said the verdict “is an important message that they will be held accountable for their acts.””  Look at the last line: the conviction of one man will lead to holding all men accountable? What is that?

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Isabel Kershner comes to the rescue: how the conviction of an Israel president of rape is a good thing

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

The vulgarity of Zionist propaganda in the New York Times knows no bound: “in that it upheld the value of equality before the law.”  The conviction of one person is an indication of equality before the law?  What kind of logic is that?  Does that mean that a conviction of white man in the American South in the 1930s was an indication of equality before the law?   When New York Times reporters peddle pro-Israeli propaganda they should go slow, really.

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The Year That Was/The Year That’s Coming

December 31st, 2010 Comments off


As Husni Mubarak leads the way for Obama and the rest of us into 2011, let’s glance back at the key points of 2010, the year in which Al-Ahram taught us with the above photo what an “expressive” photo was: what we’d previously thought of as “faked.”

They had an “expressive” election, too.

The historian in me resists doing the “biggest story of 2010″ sort of wrap-up, since I think you need longer perspective to know what really mattered, They say that when China’s Zhou Enlai was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, he said “It’s too soon to tell.” A useful perspective.

Brian Whitaker chose Tunisia. The Jerusalem Post suggests Stuxnet. Either might turn out to be true, or as evanescent as all the stories you’ve forgotten about from last winter. Both are pretty recent. The simmering tensions in Lebanon over the STL could blow both off our radar screens in 2011,or might themselves prove overblown.

I do have a candidate for silliest story of the year: the Miss USA is a Hizbullah mole story that riled the far right briefly, until they focused on the “Ground Zero Mosque” that isn’t a mosaue and isn’t at Ground Zero.

Looking ahead, certainly one of the big stories of 2011 will be which Mubarak Egyptians will be asked to vote for in the fall. The illnesses of senior Saudis may be moving us towards a major transition there, too.

But the one looming story that I’ve shied away from could be the real bombshell lurking in the wings: the January 9 referendum on independenced in southern Sudan. The secession of southern Sudan — which seems inevitable unless they have Egyptian or Tunisian election observers — is going to shake the region and the Arab world. There’s an African precedent (Eritrea from Ethiopia) but not an Arab one, and Egypt is concerned about the Nile. This is the powder keg no one wants to notice even as the fuse burns. Let’s hope everyone’s really going to respect the results. You believe that, don’t you?

Yeah, me neither. Happy New Year.


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Palestinian leader wants US backing in UN proposal (AP)

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2010 file photo Israeli earth-moving equipment works in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Netafim, near the West Bank village of Salfit. Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Wednesday Dec. 29, 2010 that Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council in the coming days to condemn Israeli settlement construction. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh, Files)AP – The Palestinian president said a new attempt by the Palestinians to get the United Nations to condemn Israeli settlements was specifically designed to win U.S. support.

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Indians on death row in UAE refuse settlement proposal

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A proposal to settle the case involving seventeen Indians, who have appealed the death penalty for killing a Pakistani in Sharjah has been refused.
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Egypt floods sweep bus with schoolgirls, 15 drown

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police say flood waters caused by torrential rains earlier this week swept a bus packed with 77 schoolgirls and their teachers off a highway in the country's south, en
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Egyptian flood kills girls on bus

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

Fifteen people, mostly schoolgirls, were drowned when a school bus was swept off the road by flood waters caused by torrential rain, Egyptian police say.
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Iran leader sells car for charity

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to sell his 33-year-old car to raise money for a charity that funds housing projects for young people.
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8 Baghdad Bombings Target Christians

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

Al-Safir reports that 2 were killed and 14 wounded in a series of bombings extending over a two-hour period in Baghdad in the late afternoon on Thursday, which targeted Christians. The bloodiest attack took place in the district of of al-Ghadir in the center of the capital, where guerrillas attacked two Christian homes with bombs, killing two and wounding 5. The other five attacks, which took the form of roadside bombs, did not kill anyone, though they wounded a further 9 persons. Many Christians still live in al-Ghadir, though some number have fled because of the threats launched against them by Muslim radicals. Two bombs were detonated in West Baghdad, targetting the garden of a house owned by a Christian family. In the neighborhood of al-Barmouk, which wounded one person. The second targeted Christians in in the district of al-Khadra’, wounding two.

In Dora, in south Baghdad, a bombing wounded three Christians, and two more were injured by a bombing that targeted their home in al-Sayyidiya. Another bomb was set on Sina`a Street in Karrada, a shopping district in which is located Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral, which had been attacked on October 31 and its congregation massacred, with 41 killed. After that bloodbath, all the major churches in the capital had blast walls erected around them. Christmas celebrations were canceled and the only service was in honor of those Christians who had just been killed.

CNN has a video report by Jomanah Karadsheh

Last week, the threats from radicals had led most Iraqi Christians to commemorate Christmas in an unusually muted fashion, as ITN reported:

This column in al-Sharq al-Awsat ['the Middle East'] points out that Christians are relatively well treated in Jordan and Syria, from which there has been no great exodus, whereas they are leaving Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. The comparative perspective here is important as a way of fighting essentialism. The problem is not a Christian-Muslim struggle in the Middle East in any simplistic sense.

Syria’s Muslim, Allawi Shiite rulers, adopted the secular Baath Party, which downplays religious identity and so, relatively speaking, benefits Christians, who are about ten percent of the Syrian population. In neighboring Jordan, where Christians are also about ten percent, the Hashemite monarchy pursues a cultural policy of secular tolerance and religious traditionalism (as opposed to modernist fundamentalism). Both governments are relatively strong, and both have cracked down hard on fundamentalists and other radicals.

In Lebanon the Christian exodus was hastened by the Civil War of 1975-1989 and then by the political uncertainty thereafter, including the Israeli attack of 2006. Note that there has been little targeting of Christians qua Christians in Lebanon; the struggles are between political parties and clans. The Shiite party-militia, Hizbullah, has often had a close alliance with sections of the Maronite Christian community. Likewise, Christian Palestinians have left Gaza and the West Bank more because it is unpleasant to live under Israeli occupation than because they were attacked by Hamas.

As for Egypt, I’m not actually sure that there is significant Christian out-migration from that country. There are only about 340,000 Egyptian-Americans, and they are probably about evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Since there are 8 million or so Christians in Egypt, 170,000 just isn’t that many. In the 1990s, only about an average of 4000 Egyptians a year immigrated into the US. Only in the past five years has the annual average jumped to 10,000. Again, if that is approximately 5,000 Copts per year leaving Egypt for the US, it just isn’t all that significant demographically. Of course, some Egyptians do also emigrate to Europe, but I think those numbers are relatively small. Nearly 3 million Egyptian guest workers labor in oil states in the Middle East, but almost all of those come home once they save some money, and I don’t have the impression that Christians bulk large among them.

The Baath regime in Iraq was horrible for Kurds and Shiites, but it protected Chrisitans, and there were prominent Christian Baathists such as Tariq Aziz (Mikha’il Yuhanna). The current attacks on Iraqi Christians are not the operation of normal, everyday, Muslim culture in that country. Rather, the US overthrow of the secular Baath and the rise of fundamentalist Shiite and Sunni parties and militias removed the protection that Christians had enjoyed under secular nationalism. And, Iraqi Christians were unfairly tarred with the brush of Christian America’s occupation of that country, becoming politicized and made a symbol of collaboration in the absence of any real evidence for such a charge. The American occupation provoked the rise of radical cells intent on overturning the new, American-installed order, and they are scapegoating Iraq’s Christians as a soft target whereby to make their political points. But remember that these radical cells attack and kill far more other Muslims than they do the religious minorities. Remember, too, that many Iraqi Christians appear to settle in Syria and Lebanon once they flee Iraq– i.e. they are staying in the Middle East.

It doesn’t have much to do with mainstream Islam, which has made a place for Christians in the Middle East for nearly a millennium and a half. Rather, religion has been politicized in new ways by America’s muscular Christianity and its heavy-handed interventions in the region. And, in places like Egypt, local economic and status competition drives the conflict, as a side-effect of globalization. It should be remembered that in 1919-1922, during the Wafd Party’s campaign for independence from Britain, the Copts joined the freedom struggle and were lionized as symbols of authentic Egypt (being coded as direct descendants of the Pharaonic Egyptians).

All that said, for Iraqi and Egyptian Christians to be targeted by radical Muslim cells is very bad news and really could over time drain Iraq in particular of Its Christians, leaving it culturally and politically much impoverished and monochrome.

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