Saturday, June 28, 2008

Muhammed al-Dura: dead before he was killed

Muhammed al-Dura, as mentioned before, was the young Palestinian whose death inflamed Muslim passions and helped ignite the 2000 Intifada. Recently, a French court acquitted blogger Philippe Karsenty of libel for accusing French TV2 of fraudulent reporting regarding al-Dura's death.

British journalist Melanie Phillips writes that a boy of that name died in a Palestinian hospital two hours before the alleged shooting by Israeli soldiers took place. Read about it here. People are comparing this case to the famous Dreyfus Affair 100 years ago. Then a French Jewish army captain was falsely accused of treason; now the state of Israel is falsely accused by French TV of child murder. (Thanks to Jihad Watch.)

More on the Islamic Saudi Academy

Patrick Poole, on Pajamas Media, reports that, although the State Department maintains that the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Virginia, is independent of the Saudi embassy, this does not appear to be the case. The school had a charter at one time, but apparently has been operating without one since 2004. Nor has it either paid taxes or filed for tax-exempt status.

As the head of the school supervisory board in Fairfax County is also running for Congress, his handling the school (he characterized criticism of it as slander) has become a political issue. And Congressional pressure on State is mounting. Frank Wolf, head of the House State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, wrote to Condi Rice that "The State Department is not doing its duty." (Thanks to Jihad Watch.)

Virginity update

Yes, I thought that headline would get your attention! Last May I wrote that a French judge annulled a marriage because the woman had not met one of the man's essential conditions - to be a virgin. Well, the case was appealed, and the annulment has been thrown out, according to Reuters. A ruling will be made in September, most likely requiring a divorce. Ironically, the woman reportedly wanted the marriage to end, but this will prolong it. (Thanks to Islamist Watch, which reports that summer is a peak season for subsidized operations to restore women's hymens.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Child marriage is fine?

Westerners, or ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who refer to the Koran's sanctioning of child marriage are accused of blasphemy, yet here an authoritative source confirms their views. Saudi marriage officiant Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi says that, since the Prophet Mohammed married his favorite wife, Aisha, when she was 6, and consumated the marriage three years later, there is no problem with marrying off girls at very early ages. Watch the MEMRI video of an interview on Lebanese TV.

On the other hand, a workshop in the Yemeni parliament just concluded that 18 should be the minimum age for anyone to marry; it also recommended banning female genital mutilation. See the report in the Yemen Times (thanks to Dhimmi Watch).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A different view of Israel

Here's an unusual commentary from a Syrian journalist flying from Cairo to Damascus. The plane's TV system displayed a map of its trajectory - except when it flew over Israel. Then the screen showed an announcement about wearing the hijab. So the journalist imagined what it would be like if he were walking around Haifa, interviewing people. I won't tell you any more; just read it for yourself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Garbage in, garbage out

Karen Hughes, Bush's public diplomacy maven, left her job at State some time ago, not covered in any particular glory. The Wall Street Journal just published an op-ed by her successor, James K. Glassman, setting out his approach. Don't hold your breath.

Here's his main goal: "The aim must be to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in violence." Huh? Did Osama Bin Laden launch the 9/11 attacks because of day-to-day grievances? This is what happens when you can't bear to use words like jihadist - you deny yourself the ability to say what's wrong.

But wait, it gets better. Here's Glassman's formula for describing the threat posed by Iran: "What we seek is a world in which the use of violence to achieve political, religious or social objectives is no longer considered acceptable..." So we shouldn't have invaded Iraq? Is that what he's trying to say?

Glassman previously was chair of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, so he's not a novice at this stuff. The only consolation is that most political appointees depart their posts during a change of administration. Which will happen within the year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Holocaust, apartheid - or what?

Israel, as you might have noticed, has taken some knocks in the world of public opinion. Increasing numbers of people liken it to Nazi Germany, with the Palestinians taking the part of the Jews as the group threatened with annihilation. For a lesser charge, see former President Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, whose title likens Israeli actions to those of white South Africans during apartheid.

So how do Arab Israelis (not the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza) feel about their lot? Well, 77% of Arab Israeli citizens surveyed by Harvard University's Center for Public Leadership said they would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world. That's only one of several surprising conclusions in the study, which you can access here. Next time you hear someone say that Israelis are Nazis, suggest they read this study. (Thanks to Judith Klinghoffer at Political Mavens.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Khalil Gibran International Academy

The third school in my little series, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, is a regular public school in New York City. Well, maybe not that regular; it opened last year amidst controversy that caused its principal, Debbie Almontaser, to resign (the straw that broke the camel's back came when she saw nothing particularly wrong about tee-shirts supporting the Intifada). Since then it has apparently been plagued by numerous problems, including a high level of violence. It aimed to start with the 6th grade, then expand to cover grades 6-12.

The New York papers have all done numerous articles on the subject, with the Times sympathetic to Almontaser and the Post and Sun critical. Daniel Pipes of the Mideast Forum has been a highly visible critic of the school, and posted an extensive history of the dispute online here. For a more sympathetic view of Almontaser, see a recent Times article by Andrea Elliott.

Pipes' critique extends not just to the particulars of the school (as it was supported by CAIR, he doubted it was non-political; with an advisory board of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, he doubted it was secular). Beyond that, though, he argues that the bias embedded in most Arabic-language curricula makes it difficult from the very start to conduct balanced study. He also notes that Khalil Gibran is but the latest of a number of Arabic language public schools in the United States; you can read about them here.

New depths

Sinking to new depths of absurdity seems to be a hallmark of 2008. Here's a great example: a London hair stylist specializing in "funky, urban" styles and expecting her staff to sport same as a form of advertising, declines to hire a young woman who wears a headscarf. The judge sides with the latter, awarding her damages for her hurt feelings. No, I'm not making this up. (Thanks to Islamist Watch.)

Schadenfreude and Kyoto

One of Europe's most successful depictions of the United States has been as a greedy country gobbling up natural resources, ruining the environment, and refusing to do anything about it. Europe, on the other hand, not only agreed to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases by 2012 to at least 8% below 1990 levels, but last spring committed to further reductions of 20% by 2020.

However, 2006 data just released by the European Environment Agency show that EU member states reductions are too small to meet the 2012 target, assuming current trends continue. So what to do? Environmentalists want the European Commission to be given the power to ensure that EU states comply with their targets - whatever that means. And the Central and East European members got a scolding from the EU environment commissioner because their carbon dioxide emissions continued to climb. (Of course, these are also the countries that suffered severe economic declines in the 1990s as they switched to market economies - now they're growing out of that hole.)

For more info, see this piece. Let's hope that American enthusiasts for Kyoto and other types of constraints will at least look at the track record so far of implementation by other industrial economies. Yes, I know that Schadenfreude is a bad thing, but it's irresistible when someone who has badgered and defamed you so consistently falls short himself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A tale of two schools

Charter schools, that is. One is the Tarik ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota; the other, the Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, Florida. Both are controversial for allegedly functioning, at taxpayer expense, as religious rather than secular institutions.

TiZA, named for the Muslim general who conquered Spain in the eighth century (although the Academy's website describes him only as an activist, leader, explorer, teacher, administrator and peacemaker), opened in 2003. In the intervening years, TiZA has thrived. Its example inspired the founding of the Ben Gamla Charter School, named after a Jewish high priest in the first century who encouraged education (according to the AP). It opened in August 2007.

TiZA is housed in the same complex as the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN), an organization identified by the Chicago Tribune in 2004 as belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and its executive director is an imam. MAS-MN certainly has a political profile; in 2006 it was a proponent of a fatwa telling taxi drivers not to accept travelers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who were carrying duty-free alcohol. See here.

The Ben Gamla school, like TiZA, offers religiously mandated food in the cafeteria, and its executive director is an orthodox rabbi. Reports of terrorist connections have yet to surface.

As this Wall Street Journal article says (thanks to Campus Watch), these and other charter schools are probing the limits of what publicly funded schools can do. That is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed in the context of American tradition and experience. But there is another issue: whether what a school is teaching supports or undermines the American system. We won't be able to answer that question until we decide what the limits are to such behavior in general.

Israel and the EU

You may not have read this in the MSM, but the EU just upgraded its relations with Israel, despite intense lobbying by Egypt and the Palestinian authority. The Arab world is reportedly becoming increasingly concerned by this trend, which is encouraged by France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Gordon Brown, Germany's Angela Merkel, and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. Having countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the EU has also helped.

These improved ties aim to bring the Israeli economy and society closer to European norms and standards, and increase the competitiveness of Israeli companies in the European market. Given the powerful pro-Palestinian tilt of European media and elites, this is a welcome development. (I got this info from an article by Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post.)

EU Treaty of Lisbon

I had been intending to write about the June 12 Irish referendum rejecting the proposed next step of EU integration, the Treaty of Lisbon. But then I found this short analysis by Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal that says it all - so you get to read his prose instead.

Dalrymple expects that the European political elite will not let the Irish vote come in the way of progress. (When the Irish voted against the previous Treaty of Nice, they were told to vote again until they got it right. They did.) He warns, however, that if the elite continues to ignore the wishes of the electorate, "tensions and frustrations in Europe have a history of expressing themselves in nasty ways."

It only gets worse

Saudi schoolbooks are definitely a problem, but it seems that Iranian textbooks are even worse. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education reports that Iranian textbooks indoctrinate children to prepare either for the final victory of Islam, or for martyrdom (if this sounds remarkably like Ahmedinejad's speeches, it's probably no coincidence).

Iranian youth is quite critical of the regime, but as Institute researcher Shayan Arya points out, if even 100,000 are indoctrinated, they represent a big problem for the West. See this webpage for further details (thanks to the Hudson Institute's News & Review).

Birds of a feather

Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal has written a new book, Le village de l'Allemand (The German's Village) which was inspired by a real village in Algeria 'governed' by a former SS member, a naturalized Algerian citizen who had converted to Islam. In researching Nazi Germany and the Shoah (apparently never mentioned in Algeria, unless as a sordid invention of the Jews), Sansal was struck by the substantial similarity between Nazism and the political order in Algeria and many other Arab and Muslim countries.

These similarities include: a one-party state, militarization of the country, brainwashing, the falsification of history, exaltation of the race, a Manichean vision of the world, a tendency to claim victimhood, constant assertions of a conspiracy against the nation, racism and anti-Semitism, glorification of the supreme leaders, etc. If Islamists come to power, things will get even worse. Says one of Sansal's protagonists, "When I see what the Islamists do here and elsewhere, I say to myself that if they ever come to power, they'll outdo the Nazis." Needless to say, Sansal expects his book to be banned in Algeria. For more details, see the translation by John Rosenthal of an interview with Sansal that appeared in the Le Nouvel Observateur.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Religious schools, intolerance and incitement to violence

Three Islamic schools in the United States have generated controversy over their curriculum and religious teachings: The Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia, the Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York, and the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in Minnesota. This entry deals with the first one.

The Islamic Saudi Academy, as its name suggests, is run by the Saudi government. The Saudi ambassador in Washington serves as chairman of its board and it operates on two properties, one of which is owned, the other leased, by the Saudi Embassy. This official connection brought it within the purview of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which for years now has sought to obtain copies of textbooks in use at the Academy to see if they promote intolerance and hatred. The Academy had previously come to the attention of the general public when its 1999 valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted of terrorism and attempting to assassinate President Bush.

The Saudis reportedly gave copies of the textbooks to the State Department, which has so far not given them to USCIRF. From other sources, however, USCIRF obtained copies of a number of textbooks. Its latest press release cites passages which state, for example, that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate, adulterer, or simply someone defined as a 'polytheist' (Shia and Sufi Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists).

The Commission wants the State Department to hand over the textbooks, so that their content and compliance with international human rights standards can be assessed. It also wants to set up a formal mechanism to monitor Saudi implementation of their commitments to revise the textbooks.

Meanwhile, a grassroots organization sought to delay renewal of the Academy's lease until this issue was resolved. The Fairfax County Supervisory Board, however, unanimously backed the Academy in a May 19 hearing, with the Chief Supervisor apologizing to Abdallah I. Al-Shabnan, the principal of the school, for slanderous, bigoted and unfounded accusations. Since that hearing, USCIRF has issued its analysis of textbooks and Al-Shabnan has been charged with obstruction of justice: he deleted the paperwork of a child abuse case, told the parents, and recommended that the child receive counseling. His hearing is set for August 1. For details on the curriculum battle, see Jihad Watch and Islamist Watch; for these other stories, see the Smooth Stone blog here.

With friends like these

Obama's soooo lucky that no one pays attention to foreign media reports! MEMRI just translated a TV clip in which the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi praises Obama, and says that he's sure lots of people in the Middle East have made financial contributions to his presidential campaign. (He also says Ben Gurion helped assassinate Kennedy - as Fox News put it, 'You Decide!')

Obama can't control what other people say about him, of course, but he's certainly collecting a rogues gallery of endorsements.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Obama and Muslims

Two news items suggest that Obama's relationship with the Muslim world will figure in the campaign more prominently than it has to date. One, by Egyptian Yasser Khalil, describes the hopes placed in him in the Muslim world. Obama is seen by many as likely to chart a new course that is less hostile to them. The second article describes a rough meeting in Dearborn between Obama aides and Muslim community representatives, in which the former are called to task for Obama's pro-Israel statements to the AIPAC meeting last week, and are asked if Obama is going to condemn Islamophobia. (Thanks to Jihad Watch for both.)

Obama's views on U.S. relations with the Islamic world, and with Muslims in the United States will be issues to watch in the coming months. I suspect that Obama's lack of experience and knowledge (both on display as he awarded Jerusalem to Israel) will hurt him. He will be tapping into broad public support for change in U.S. foreign policy - but how will he know which changes make sense and which ones don't? Nor will he find it easy to satisfy Islamists at home; they're likely to keep raising the ante on him.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

EU to be put to the test

An official Pakistani delegation plans to travel to Brussels to ask the European Union to adopt speech codes that would prohibit such excrescences of free speech as the recent movie, Fitna, by Geert Wilders (view here), or the famous Danish cartoons. They intend to threaten further violence if their request is not fulfilled...and to offer to hold talks on religious harmony. (See the report in Jihad Watch.)

I wish I felt more confident that the EU was likely to defend either freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The price of ethanol

Here's a rant after my own heart. Jerry Bowyer points out that food prices have indeed risen, but primarily those connected to corn and ethanol. Prices of things like fruits and nuts have apparently fallen. So when you hear about the food riots in faraway countries, think of Al Gore and ADM! I wish I thought that either Barack Obama or John McCain would take on the ethanol lobby and the environmentalists and fix this problem.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wafa the wonderful

Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychiatrist, doesn't seem to know the meaning of fear. Her outspokenness against various aspects of Islam on Al-Jazeera several months ago brought her a harsh condemnation from Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, considered the spiritual leader by many Muslims. She's been in hiding since, but has now given an equally outspoken interview on Al-Hayat TV in Cyprus. See the clip here. Note how she describes the way in which negative words and thinking warp and diminish people; it helps to explain the happy lynch crowd killing the young Iraqi girl, as reported earlier.

Wafa Sultan deserves a Medal of Honor - too bad that her bravery and intelligence pass virtually unnoticed in the United States.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just imagine

To give the foreign policy debate among U.S. Presidential candidates some immediacy, watch this TV clip in which Iranian President Ahmedinejad describes his foreign policy objectives. Those objectives clearly include wiping Israel off the map. See also how he commends the Palestinians for following in Khomenei's path, which I take as an acknowledgement of concrete as well as ideological links between Hamas and Iran.

If you were about to meet Ahmedinejad face-to-face, what would you ask for - what would you expect him to concede? And what would you be prepared to offer him in return? This isn't an imaginary issue: EU leaders have been trying to meet with him for some time now. Several years of abject failure at negotiating with him have not yet dulled their appetite. Nor can anyone (like the CIA, for example) pretend he has no nuclear ambitions, since the International Atomic Energy Agency has just published a list of worrying indicators.

Good luck.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nasrallah triumphant

Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, gave a victory speech June 2 in which he openly stated his direct affiliation with Iran, and claimed to have defeated the democratic movement in Lebanon, the Lebanese government and the United States and its allies.

According to analyst Walid Phares, Nasrallah's speech nevertheless hinted at several weaknesses. While he has for now neutralized the Lebanese army by making its commander President of Lebanon, he did not fare so well in actual military confrontations, even with local Druze peasants. Although Phares thinks Hezbollah can influence perhaps 25% of the Lebanese army, that still leaves 75% who oppose him. Nasrallah won this latest round with the help of Qatar, which blocked Security Council action that would have supported the Lebanese government, then brokered the current arrangement - now being sold as "peace on our time" to the Western press.

Conventional wisdom has long said that Washington cannot focus on more than one crisis at a time. Perhaps the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have used up all the circuits, but I hope not. Allowing Hezbollah to take over Lebanon is not at all in our interests, let alone in the interests of the Middle East. For Phares' analysis, click here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Honor killings

Saudi human women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar argues that, throughout the Middle East, both Muslim and non-Muslim men, for the most part dejected and defeated, can only be victorious by beating or killing women. The MEMRI translation of her article includes a link to a video of the April 2007 honor killing of a Yazidi Iraqi Kurdish girl who, at 17, made the mistake of falling in love with someone who was not Yazidi. Al-Huwaidar argues that women are also to blame for such behavior - after all, who raises the men and teaches them that this is acceptable behavior?

UK hate crime

The crime in question here was the effort by two evangelists to pass out gospel leaflets and talk to 'four Asian youths' in the Muslim area of Birmingham. A police community support officer reportedly told them they were committing a hate crime by telling the youths to leave Islam. The ministers claimed he threatened that they would be beaten up if they returned. The West Midlands Police refused to apologize, said the incident had been 'fully investigated' and the officer would be given training in understanding hate crime and communication. I wonder what they'll teach him. (Thanks to Dhimmi Watch.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Islamists in prison

A month or so ago I reported on an article by Judith Miller describing how the U.S. military deprograms and retrains Iraqis who have been incarcerated for suspected terrorist activities. One successful technique has been to separate the bulk of the detainees from hardcore jihadists; another to sponsor discussion sessions that challenge the religious justifications for jihadism.

Perhaps the UK should look more closely at this model; Islamist Watch reports that UK prison officials at the Whitemoor maximum security jail appear to be losing the battle with their Islamist inmates (about one third of 500 inmates). The officials are increasingly intimidated, yet unable to figure out what to do about it - except to get more sensitivity training. Other inmates reportedly feel endangered by Islamist gangs; I wonder if anyone will conclude that, for starters, the bad actors must be isolated from the other inmates.