Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shameful, shameful

In his history of the UN, Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos, Dore Gold argues that the UN got off on the wrong foot by refusing to oppose agression against Israel and Kashmir. He then catalogues a series of costly UN failures, from Korea to Rwanda to the oil-for-food scandal. In that context, the vote today in the General Assembly in favor of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya isn't so bad.

And, of course, Zelaya has the full support of President Obama. Why is it bad to meddle in Iranian politics, but not in Honduran politics? According to news reports, U.S. embassy officials were deeply involved in the negotiations preceding the military's decision to send Zelaya into exile. Just what, I wonder, were they doing? Just what is U.S. policy on the substance of this dispute? Do we support elected presidents who seek to violate their constitutions?

Oh yes, of course, how silly of me - why would any news agency be interested in that when it can be covering Michael Jackson instead?

Mushrooming sharia courts in Britain

A new report by the Civitas think tank estimates that some 85 sharia courts currently operate in the United Kingdom, usually in mosques and behind closed doors. Many of their cases have to do with marriage or divorce. According to fatwas on websites of UK mosques, the courts are supposed to forbid Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men unless the latter convert. They are also supposed to grant custody of any male children over the age of seven to the father, regardless of other circumstances.

The Civitas report urges that sharia courts no longer be recognized under British law. A number of Tory politicians are on record opposing the use of sharia courts, as reported here, but the Labour Minister of Justice last year said "if, in a family dispute ...the parties to a judgment in a sharia council wish to have this recognised by English authorities, they are at liberty to draft a consent order embodying the terms of the agreement and submit it to an English court."

I wonder if there are any cases in which English courts have rejected sharia settlements. (Thanks to Rachel.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Constitutionality in Honduras

As you may have noticed, the Honduran military just removed President Manuel Zelaya from power and exiled him to Costa Rica. You may also have noticed that the United States and the EU condemned this move.

But did you know that the military removed him in response to a decision by the Honduran supreme court that he was violating the constitution? Here's a summary of the issue by commentator Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal.

Does the new and improved U.S. foreign policy designed to restore our image and our popularity require support for presidents who break the law?

Nefarious forces

Sooner or later, this moment always comes: people revolt against a repressive government, and the repressive government blames the unrest on foreign conspirators.

Iranian Supreme Leader first singled out the United Kingdom, blaming its government policies, then BBC broadcasts. Now it has detained some of the local employees of the UK embassy in Tehran. The detentions came on the same day that an estimated 3,000 demonstrated against the regime, despite the beatings, arrests and murders that could ensue.

Do the Iranian people believe in these conspiracy theories? Daniel Pipes hopes that they do not, and notices that so far there is little evidence that the Iranian public is falling for them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Islam and the West

In Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism & Its Discontents, Robert Irwin highlights some of the tensions between Islam and the West that have gotten lost in the historical mist. Two struck me as particularly interesting:

-- Christopher Columbus, by sailing West, was "seeking to outflank the Islamic empires of the Ottomans, Mamluks and Safavids [in Persia]. He believed that he lived very close to the Last Days and he was inspired by knowledge that astrologers had predicted the imminent collapse of Muhammad's sect and the coming of the Antichrist."

-- The Austro-Hungarian ambassador to the Ottomans half a century later "believed that the Christian powers were wasting their time and resources in America, while Christianity's very survival was threatened by Ottoman advances in Europe ..."

And indeed, it wasn't until the Turks were defeated a hundred years later at the gates of Vienna that the tide turned against the Ottomans.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iranian protests

Here are statistics on the anti-government protests, arrests and deaths in Iran. The webpage includes a map showing where incidents have been reported, and graphs showing the numbers of protesters on different days and the levels of lethal violence deployed against them. Looks like the website is maintained by the American Enterprise Institute, but it doesn't openly say so.

And here's a description, from a medical student, of what happens to protesters taken to hospitals. It includes the authorities carting away the dead bodies before they can be identified. (Thanks to Jihad Watch.) No wonder CNN is reporting this morning that parents are searching high and low for their children.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Funding university studies

Last March, the UK think tank Centre for Social Cohesion published a report detailing the funding from foreign governmental sources that underwrites strategically important studies in many UK universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, and the London School of Economics.

The report notes: "The UK’s finest universities are taking money from some of the world’s worst dictatorships – Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, all nations with appalling human rights records, are significant contributors to venerable UK institutions ...

There is clear evidence that, at some universities, the choice of teaching materials, the subject areas, the degrees offered, the recruitment of staff, the composition of advisory boards and even the selection of students are now subject to influence from donors."

I suspect a study of U.S. universities would produce similar results.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Go, Sarko, go!

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in a speech on June 22, said that the burka, the tent-like clothing that completely covers the body, should be banned in France. In his view, this type of clothing is a sign of subservience, not religion. A French parliamentary commission has already been set up to study the issue; I assume no actual change will occur until it completes its work. (Thanks to Joe.)

His position contrasts with that of President Barack Obama, who praised the defense by the U.S. government of the right of Muslim girls to wear head scarves.

Not long ago, Sarkozy reportedly predicted that France would become an Islamic nation. If he does indeed believe this, perhaps he figures Muslims should accept Western values now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poland and Iran

Here's a comparison between what's going on in Iran today and what went on in Poland when Solidarity was set up. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I wrote it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We need a survey

Here's what I'd like to know: do people think that the media reporting on Iran is better or worse without foreign correspondents?

I think it's better; the information is not constrained by the personal agendas of the correspondents and the limited number of people whom they cite. It's also a bit comical: CNN in particular constantly emphasizing that it can't guarantee the accuracy of the reports coming in - wouldn't it be nice if they'd admit that the same problem applies to their own reporting?

Iranian women

President Obama is proud that the U.S. government supports the right of Muslim women to wear head scarves. In Iran, thousands of women have been out demonstrating for their rights, appearing without a head covering to show how they feel. (Thanks to Jihad Watch.)

Do you somehow feel we're on the wrong side of history?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CO2 emissions

For those of you who aren't climate change experts, here's a great little cheat sheet to help you understand the absurdity of the energy bill now under debate in the Congress.

Former President Bush and the United States in general were - and still are - depicted as criminal destroyers of the environment. Unlike the Europeans, who agreed to the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions, we didn't care and were only making things worse.

Only it turns out that, between 2000 and 2006, carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels increased 0.7 % in the United States, as compared with 4.9 % in Europe. This, mind you, during a period when the U.S. growth rate exceeded the European average. Worldwide, CO2 emissions increased 21.6%.

So, do we really need a punitive, expensive new regime to control emissions?

Who are those guys?

Jihad Watch has now posted two reports of Arab thugs beating up Iranian protesters.

The first, linked to a report in The Jerusalem Post, alleged that members of Hamas were beating up street protesters.

The second charged Arabic-speaking toughs may be among those responible for the murders of eight protesters.

If the Basij militia and the other police, military and paramilitary forces supporting the Iranian regime are so numerous and so powerful, how come they need to turn to outsiders for help?

And why would anyone do so and not think it would backfire? In the first report, the brother of one of the beaten-up protesters commented that it was ironic that the victorious Ahmadinejad "tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel." His hope, he added, was that Israel would "come to its senses" and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Morocco - 3

I mentioned yesterday the increased role of women as elected officials in Morocco. That follows the adoption, in 2004, of a new family code aiming at equality of the sexes, and the entry of women into many jobs, such as policing, where they had never been previously employed.

Meanwhile, some girls and women wear traditional dress and others Western clothes. I saw only a couple women fully veiled. The impression was of a country in transition.

Did they or didn't they?

Did the Iranians vote massively for President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, or didn't they? Here, thanks to Smooth Stone, is an intriguing report. Two Iranian filmmakers presented to the European Parliament what purports to be an internal letter from the Iranian electoral commission, sent secretly by the Ministry of Interior to Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei.

According to the letter, opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and and Mehdi Karroubi received 19 million and 13.5 million votes respectively, while President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad got only 5.5 million. The Ministry of Interior, while reporting these figures, promised nevertheless to support Ahmedinejad.

Khamenei's speech today aimed to put the electoral dispute to rest in favor of Ahmedinejad. It will be interesting to see if the letter is indeed real.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Morocco - 2

The debate as to whether Islam is compatible with democracy appears to be largely irrelevant in Morocco. The communal, or local, elections that we observed were professionally conducted, fair and free, with a voter turnout of over 50%.

Some critics charged that the elections were not really significant, as King Mohammed VI would continue to exercise the only real authority. Indeed, the party that won the largest number of votes is led by a politician close to the King.

I disagree with that assessment. I think that the elections will contribute to greater democracy in Morocco, for the following reasons:

-- First, the party that won in fact is the one most committed to various modernizing reforms. Of its rivals, the Islamist party gained votes but still only received less than 8% of the total.

-- Second, Morocco is busy decentralizing fiscal authority so, at particularly in the larger towns and cities, local officials will be responsible for large budgets - and with money comes power and influence.

-- Third, the minimum age for candidates was lowered this year from 23 to 21, making it possible for younger people to compete. While they will presumably be inexperienced, they should also have a lot of energy and ambition.

-- Fourth, this election also set aside a number of seats for women candidates. Many of those elected were young and well-educated. If this trend continues, over time it too will produce significant changes.

Terrorism in the US

If you want some information on individuals prosecuted or detained by U.S. authorities for alleged terrorist actions, here's a handy-dandy fact sheet from the Department of Justice. It starts with the prosecutions arising from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and includes the four individuals just detained for attempting to bomb a synagogue in the Bronx and to shoot down military plans. (Thanks to Jeff.)

For more information, visit the website of the the Investigative Project on Terrorism. It contains a mother lode of trial documents and other relevant material.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Morocco - 1

Last week I went to Morocco as an international election observer for the communal elections. They took place on June 12, the same day as the Iranian elections. The trip was extremely interesting, so I thought I'd post some entries describing my chief impressions.

I had always thought of Morocco as being exotic, remote and not necessarily friendly to Europeans or Americans. Nothing prepared me for the warmth and friendliness of the people - it's a much nicer atmosphere than in Madrid or Malaga, two Spanish cities which I've visited in the past 10 years. It's odd; I speak Spanish but no Arabic, yet felt more at ease in Morocco than in Spain.

The second surprise was the discovery that Morocco is one big construction site. I had expected a financially struggling government buffeted by the economic downturn, and abandoned cranes by rusting skeletons of buildings. Wrong again. The government's long-term debt is significantly lower than its annual budget expenditures or its foreign exchange reserves. It ran a budget surplus until two years ago, so it has some cushion for subsidies for construction (lower interest rates and tax breaks) and basic commodities. In fact, the U.S. government might do well to ask the Moroccans for advice...

I saw apartment buildings, commercial space, and luxury villas going up in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakesh and the towns in between. It turns out that most of Morocco's urban areas are in similar shape. I also saw slums, but not as many as I had expected. In talking to people, it's clear that jobs are not easy to find and that most incomes remain low, but the atmosphere is not downbeat.

Deja vu all over again

An intriguing quote, provided by Jihad Watch, which gives a little perspective on President Obama's efforts to set a new course in U.S. policy in the Mideast:

“There is reason to believe that [the president] cherished the illusion that presumably he, and he alone, as head of the United States, could bring about a settlement –if not a reconciliation—between Arabs and Jews. I remember muttering to myself as I left the White House after hearing the President discourse in rambling fashion about Middle Eastern Affairs, ‘I‘ve read of men who thought they might be King of the Jews and other men who thought they might be King of the Arabs, but this is the first time I ‘ve listened to a man who dreamt of being King of both the Jews and Arabs.’” Herbert Feis, a State Department economic advisor, did not say this about President Obama’s address in Cairo in June 2009, but after Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, in February 1945. Roosevelt wanted the Arabs to allow thousands of Jews from Europe to immigrate to Palestine to which Ibn Saud responded, “Arabs would choose to die rather than yield their land to Jews.”

After all, why make a mistake only once, when in fact you can repeat it any number of times?

Monday, June 8, 2009

False analogies

President Obama gave a big boost, during his trip to the Middle East and Europe, to two ideas that are coming into vogue:

-- that the suffering of the Palestinians today is equivalent to that of the Jews during the Holocaust. This Obama did by linking the two rhetorically with "on the one hand" and "on the other hand."

-- that the firebombing of Dresden was the equivalent of the Holocaust. This, John Rosenthal argues, was accomplished by visiting first Buchenwald, then Dresden, including the recently-restored Frauenkirche which for many Germans has become, not a symbol of reconciliation, but of German suffering at the hands of the Allies.

Neither of these ideas is true, but each seeks to appropriate the moral outrage usually associated with the Holocaust for other ends. In the first case, the idea is to promote the Palestinian cause while implicitly (and increasingly, explicitly) equating Israelis with Nazis. In the second case, the suffering of those firebombed in Dresden is no longer compared with the suffering of those in the European cities bombed by Germany during the war, but to that of innocent people in concentration and death camps. Indeed, the intent is to classify the firebombing of Dresden as a war crime equivalent to that of the Holocaust.

I can understand why some Palestinians and Germans would support and promote these ideas. What I can't understand is why a U.S. president would.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A bit of history

For those interested in the history of the interwar period, here's an interesting analysis by Williamson Murray of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He argues that achieving peace after World War I was extremely difficult, given the fear and hatred engendered by German war atrocities, and the Germans' conviction that they had not truly been defeated. It's a short and useful summary of the key elements at play during that period - plus some great suggested readings in interwar literature that make his point.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Follow this case

A judge in eastern Michigan has ruled to continue the case, reported earlier, brought against the U.S. Treasury for continuing and developing the sharia financing programs of insurance giant AIG, which has by now received more than $150 billion from the government. As Frank Gaffney and David Jerushalmi argue:

"The problem with all of this public largesse is that AIG sponsors, pays for, and aggressively markets sharia-compliant insurance products. The practice of sharia finance has created lucrative advisory positions for often radical imams, who get paid to guarantee the religious 'purity' of sharia-compliant products. Such vehicles typically follow the Muslim principle of zakat and donate a slice of their profits to charity. Unfortunately, many of the charities receiving these funds have links to terrorism. Mr. Murray objects to his funds’ being used to legitimate and promote sharia law, when that is the same law that calls for jihad. For that matter, sharia allows Saudis, Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis, Afghans, Taliban members, and other adherents to justify the following: the execution of apostates who decide to abandon the faith; the criminalizing of “Islamophobic blasphemy”; the punishment of petty crimes with amputations, floggings and stonings; and the repression of “non-believers” from practicing their respective religions freely and openly."

The government had moved to dismiss the case; the judge replied that he would not, on these grounds:

"In this case, the United States government has a majority interest in AIG. AIG utilizes consolidated financing whereby all funds flow through a single port to support all of its activities, including Sharia-compliant financing. Pursuant to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the government has injected AIG with tens of billions of dollars, without restricting or tracking how this considerable sum of money is spent. At least two of AIG’s subsidiary companies practice Sharia-compliant financing, one of which was unveiled after the influx of government cash. After using the $40 billion from the government to pay down the $85 billion credit facility, the credit facility retained $60 billion in available credit, suggesting that AIG did not use all $40 billion consistent with its press release. Finally, after the government acquired a majority interest in AIG and contributed substantial funds to AIG for operational purposes, the government co-sponsored a forum entitled 'Islamic Finance 101.'"

This will be a case to watch. (Thanks to Jihad Watch.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

A very brave man

This article in the Middle East Quarterly describes how liberal Iraqi parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi has persisted, in spite of political troubles and the assassination of his two sons, to argue that Iraq should make peace with Israel - as indeed it should with all the states in the region. He is also a prominent defender of the free market, press freedom, and human rights, including women's rights.