Thursday, October 30, 2008

Iran and the price of oil

The sharp drop in oil prices (from $147 in July to the mid-$60s today, or a drop of more than 50%) may hurt Iran more than would sanctions.

A MEMRI analysis reports that, according to the IMF, the Iranians may need a minimum oil price of $95 per barrel to balance their national budget. While Iran has a stabilization fund to protect against a rainy day, President Ahmedinejad has apparently drawn it down for various reasons to a level of approximately $7 billion. That would just about cover gasoline imports (Iran produces a lot of oil but lacks refineries to produce gasoline) for a year at most.

Ahmedinejad's revenue-raising options are limited. His attempt to get OPEC to reduce production failed to meet his expectations, while domestic fiscal measures are risky. His recent attempt to increase domestic taxes met with such resistance that it had to be abandoned. Other alternatives, such as restricting consumer imports, aren't likely to be popular.

Meanwhile, the Saudis can balance their budget at around $50 per barrel. In addition, they have much heftier funds in reserve. Other Gulf States can live with even lower oil prices. Thus, they are well positioned to push back Iranian influence in the region.

The cloud that accompanies this silver lining: the report cautions that Iranians could seek to provoke a regional crisis as a means of jacking up oil prices.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama and apostasy

This is a theoretical question, but it's one that keeps nagging me: Obama was definitely born a Muslim, and definitely converted to Christianity as an adult. Americans, myself included, consider him to be a Christian - but what do Muslims think he is?

In principle the punishment for apostasy, for leaving Islam, is death. This is hardly ancient history. Jihad Watch reports here the recent beheading in Somalia of a Muslim apostate. If Obama is elected President, he'll have a very fine security detail, so the risk of beheading is presumably nil. But will Muslim leaders bring up his apostasy if Obama backs some policy that they don't like?

Monday, October 27, 2008

To swim or not to swim

The Swiss Federal Court has ruled against Muslims plaintiffs who argued that their children should be allowed to attend swimming classes segregated by sex. In so doing, it cited the need for schools not to undermine efforts at integration. As Necla Kelek explains in her book, Die fremde Braut, swimming facilities are one of the battlegrounds for those seeking to carve out Muslim-only or Muslim-dominated areas. (Thanks to Jihad Watch.)

Daniel Pipes summarizes recent similar cases in the United States and Europe. He saves the best for last: a father and son who were excluded from a pool in East London during a male-only session because they were not Muslims. The authorities subsequently apologized, saying they had no right to make assumptions about anyone's religion, and assuring them they wouldn't be denied admitance simply on the basis of a non-Muslim appearance. Guess that solved that problem!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Truth in textbooks

If you're wondering about just what American textbooks say about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, here are a couple of useful links.

The first one is to a study by Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra that draws some disturbing conclusions from a survey of the 28 most widely used textbooks in U.S. public schools. Among their findings: "The textbooks tend to be critical of Jews and Israel, and sometimes disrespectful of Christianity. Moreover textbooks tend to glorify Islam rather than represent it in an objective way... the Muslim groups who insisted that their religion be presented in an uncritical fashion seem to have their narrative included without modification."

Robert Spencer provides a specific example of such a presentation in a recent blog entry. Here, Christians are described as those who believe in Jesus, while the Koran is simply described as the word of Allah. This may not seem, in and of itself, to be such a big thing. But when it's linked to other themes, such as denying any historical link between Jews and Israel, you have to wonder what's going on.

Tobin and Ybarra don't argue that the textbook publishers are even aware of these problems. Rather, they describe shortcomings in how textbooks are produced that leave them vulnerable to distortions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Technical challenges

This has nothing at all to do with foreign policy, but it may amuse
you to watch this video, especially if you're trying to wrestle with
your electronic gadgets. (Thanks to Gail)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Sorry for the silence - I'm away from home and it's harder to blog.
(Whine, excuses, excuses...)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Islamist Watch reports that the British Columbia human rights court has dismissed the case against Canadian news magazine Maclean's for publishing an excerpt from the book America Alone by Mark Steyn. This is the third time that such charges have been brought and dismissed by various human rights courts.

While that is good news, Steyn notes that the court may have been influenced by the fact that he is well-known. Also, had Maclean's lost the case, according to columnist Andrew Coyne, they could have appealed it to a regular court, and sought to change the law.

It is no victory to be told by a shadowy government agency that you will be permitted to publish. This ruling … also prevents Maclean's from appealing the tribunal's decision to an actual court, wherein it might have had the relevant section of the B.C. human rights laws thrown out on constitutional grounds.

(My comment) This may not yet be the end of the story; the Canadian Islamic Congress, which lodged the complaint, may appeal the decision.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who's a Neo-Nazi?

Last month, an "Anti-Islamization Congress" was blocked in Cologne by violent protesters and a supportive city government. Their actions were greeted by the German and international media as a victory against 'right-wing extremists'.

But is that true - are the right-wing extremists really on the side of opposing the Islamists? Certainly, it was not true in the past, as shown by the links between the Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mufti of Jerusalem documented in books like Matthias Kuentzel's Jihad and Jew Hatred.

And it turns out not to be true now, according to a report issued by the domestic intelligence service in Hamburg. The neo-Nazi groups rail against foreigners, apparently, but are careful to avoid criticizing Islam - and they have been openly hostile to the group that sought to organize the Anti-Islamization Congress. For more details about this sordid scene, read John Rosenthal's piece at Pajamas Media.

Next time someone is tarred as a neo-Nazi or right-wing extremist, please ask for details. Could be completely the opposite case - and, if so, why should you fall for the smear?

Self-promotion timeout

Again, what's a blog for if not to blow your own horn!

Here's a short piece I wrote arguing that, if Obama wins, all those who want change in the form of offshore drilling and mortgage financing reform will most surely be disappointed. Please be sure to send it to all your friends, relatives, acquaintances, enemies, etc.!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

EU under pressure

Bill sent me this link to an article detailing how the EU member states have gone their own ways under pressure of the financial crisis. On the one hand, this development reveals the lack of real unity within the EU, disarray already in evidence from the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty to the crisis in the Caucasus. On the other hand, as the article notes: "Without a unionwide banking regulatory system or fiscal policy, any reaction to the crisis was inevitably going to be national in character."

One interesting thing to watch will be the euro-dollar exchange rate. It's been extremely unfavorable toward the dollar for an extended period; with the financial crisis, the euro has weakened. This is probably just a short term response, but time will tell.

Data mining

Data mining, in the counter-terrorist world, refers to various methods used to extract (or try to extract) from a large amount of data key nuggets that can help to track and neutralize terrorists. Sometimes, the data has been collected by government sources; more often, it is personal data collected for commercial reasons - and the individuals giving up that information were unaware that it might be passed on to the government.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded a study of this practice that has just been published. The study was conducted by a privacy and terrorism committee created in 2005 by the National Research Council. Its findings, according to the press report: "The government should not be building predictive data mining systems that attempt to figure out who among millions is a terrorist...The commission found that the technology would not work and that the inevitable mistakes would be un-American."

Those strong statements made me curious to read the report itself. Unfortunately, it looks as if it's not available on the internet - unless you pay for a hard copy. For something like this, I think at least the executive summary should be widely available. (Thanks to Stefaan.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

You gotta be quick

Guess what: YouTube pulled the video by British comedian Pat Condell asking people to sign a petition against sharia law (mentioned in last Friday's entry). The reason: it was hate speech. But of course! See details here on Dhimmi Watch.

Apparently, in the 24 hours it was posted, the video had 40,000 viewers; more than 4,000 people have signed the petition (for British residents only). Condell has been threatened with losing all his access to YouTube if he commits any more infractions. Meanwhile, his fans are posting the video elsewhere on YouTube.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Achmed the Dead Terrorist

Matthew reminded me of the ups and downs of Achmed the Dead Terrorist, a puppet show by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. I thought that South Africa had somehow banned the video of his show. However, it turns out that what happened was that the South African Advertising Standards Authority banned a ringtone commercial featuring Dunham and Achmed because it was offensive to Muslims. Here's a news report on the incident which contains a link to the video. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What Bawer was talking about

Jihad Watch today has three items that reinforce Bruce Bawer's concern that America is asleep at the wheel.

-- The first concerns a conviction for sending hate email which, while laudable, came two years late, apparently because of resistance from, among others, the U.S. Department of Justice.

-- The second shows the strong negative response to the distribution of the film Obsession as an ad insert in many newspapers. Critics say that a film showing the hate-filled statements and actions of Islamists is, in itself, somehow as bad as promoting the Ku Klux Klan.

-- And the third links to a New York Times article about a dispute over whether a Hindu-Muslim family can cremate rather than bury one of its members.

How many more incidents are going unreported?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bruce Bawer on America

Bruce Bawer, author of While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within, argues in this piece on Pajamas Media that in some ways, Americans are faster asleep than are Europeans. As he points out, most Americans appear blithely unaware of the challenge of radical Islam; certainly, it figures nowhere in the current electoral debate.

The mainstream media on both sides of the Atlantic ignore or obfuscate the problem of radical Islam, but Europeans are more aware of it "because they can see with their own eyes what's going on around them." The only positive point in Americans' favor is that, when they resist radical Islam, they tend to be "consciously fighting for freedom". In contrast, Europeans on the right are more likely to oppose radical Islam on the grounds of ethnic identity, cultural tradition or religion. Those on the left, he argues, are anyway more interested in the welfare state than individual liberty.

If anyone has any ideas about how to alert Americans to the danger posed by radical Islam, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Central front in the war on terrorism

Vice Presidential candidates Biden and Palin in last night's debate disputed whether Iraq was a central front in the war on terror. Well, here's my candidate for an upcoming central front (Afghanistan/Pakistan being the other, and closely linked): the United Kingdom. I measure the UK's candidacy in term of 'violent' and 'non-violent' jihad.

For 'violent' jihad: UK authorities report that the terror threat is approaching critical levels. They are tracking some 200 networks in the UK. Why just now? Well, there are many links between the British Muslims of Pakistani descent and Pakistan whose territory the United States, Britain's ally, just attacked in hot pursuit of terrorists. Also, there are a number of Somali immigrants who may have links to Al Qaeda.

For 'non-violent' jihad: Here's one UK citizen who has had enough. Pat Condell, in a video on YouTube, condemns the introduction of sharia law in the UK and its acceptance by British courts. He argues that this undercuts the principle of equality before the law, particularly for women, and asks British citizens to sign a petition of protest. He clearly feels that time is running out.

Thanks to Jihad Watch for both items.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wafa Sultan again

Last June, I posted a video of an interview with Arab-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan. Vonnie just sent me this link to a 2006 interview on Al-Jazeera, translated by MEMRI, in which Wafa is just as outspoken and articulate. She calls the shots like she sees them, and she doesn't put up with any nonsense from Islamic clerics or anybody else.

Wafa argues that the 'clash of civilizations' began 1,400 years ago when Muslims differentiated between themselves and non-Muslims, not when Samuel Huntingdon wrote his article of that name. She urges Muslims to stop killing people and start working and gaining knowledge.

Islamist recruitment and radicalization

The European Commission has just released a study carried out by King's College London on Islamist recruitment and mobilization in Europe. (Thanks to Rachel.) Based on extensive field work in the UK, France and Spain, it concludes that recruitment efforts have been driven underground; that 'radical imams' play less of a role than 'activists'; that the internet is very important in the process; and that despite a more difficult environment, recruitment appears to be continuing unabated.

One recommendation caught my eye: "Governments need to tackle the problem posed by gateway organizations, and to be clear and consistent in doing so." By 'gateway organizations', they mean 'non-violent' Islamist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir that act as a conveyor belt for potential terrorist recruits. That's true, but I predict governments will have to a step beyond that, and 'tackle the problem' - whatever that means - of the entire network of organizations related to the Muslim Brotherhood.

More on prisons

Security officials from France, Germany and Austria, according to this news story, have developed a manual designed to help prison authorities to combat recruitment among the inmates by Muslim extremists. The manual draws on information from other EU member states, as well as from other sources like the New York City police.

In France, there are an estimated 80-100 hard-core extremists among about 64,000 prison inmates. The goal of the authorities is to keep them from influencing others. Needless to say, the manual (whose contents are not being made public), has already drawn fire for potentially stigmatizing Muslim inmates.