Friday, November 21, 2008

Jews and Muslims fight race hate together in USA

If this is on the level, it is wonderful, isn't it? Can we include Christians and atheists in this too? How about Hindus? They seem to get a bad rap in the Ibrahimic faiths, no?  
Last update - 11:58 21/11/2008       
U.S. Jews, Muslims launch unprecedented drive against anti-Semitism, xenophobia
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent
Dozens of synagogues and mosques across the United States and Canada are to take part in a first-of-its-kind three-day joint public relations campaign against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim xenophobia beginning on Friday.
The initiative, which was given the code-name "Twinning," calls for close cooperation between rabbis and imams based in some of the largest cities in North America, including Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Palm Beach, St. Louis, and Washington DC.
Organizers say the venture, which will encompass an estimated 100,000 Jews and Muslims, will feature rabbis appearing before Muslim congregants in mosques while imams address Jewish worshipers at synagogues. In addition, workshops and symposiums will be held to examine ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic hatred.
The event comes two weeks after Saudi King Abdullah appeared at an UN-sponsored interfaith conference in New York during which the monarch called for religious leaders to promote greater tolerance and moderation.
The event is the brainchild of Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization devoted to improving ties between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States.
Schneier told Haaretz the venture was launched with the acknowledgement that the fight against extremism and radical Islam needs to be waged within Islam, thus requiring others to strengthen the moderate elements within Islam.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Experts: Iran has enough low leverl enriched uranium for nukes

According to experts quoted by the New York Times, Iran has enough enriched Uranium to make a nuclear weapon. This seems to be true and not true. Iran always had enough uranium to make a bomb, if it could be purified. It now has about 630 KG of low enriched uranium. This may be 5% to 20% U-235. According to the IAEA report, we are talking about 5% enriched Uranium. Critical mass for a bomb is about 50 kg of (presumably pure or highly enriched) U-235 according to Wikipeda. In 630 KG of 5% enriched uranium there are only 31.5 KG of enriched Uranium. With 20% enriched uranium, you would require at least 400 KG.
But if a different (implosion) design is used, they might be able to make a bomb with as little as 20 pounds of uranium (less than 10 KG):
However, less widely known is that uranium can be used in the different type of bomb design that was tested in New Mexico and dropped on Nagasaki. This other approach, the implosion design, must be used if the fuel is plutonium. (Because of its differing, more temperamental nuclear properties, plutonium in a gun bomb would predetonate, or fizzle.) An implosion bomb is a much more subtle and delicate thing, harder to construct from scratch than a gun bomb. However, an implosion bomb can indeed be fueled by weapons grade uranium instead of plutonium. Sources estimate that an implosion design U-235 bomb would need only twenty pounds of fuel, instead of forty. This is because the implosion approach assembles a super-critical mass more efficiently. The barrier to WMD implementation has just been cut in half. Not good news. (See here)
And the same source claims:
More sophisticated implosion designs do more than simply collapse a hollow sphere into a solid one. They achieve such a strong and perfectly shaped implosive force that the solid sphere is actually compressed. Compression into a volume as small as one-fourth that of unstressed solid metal has been reported. In other words, the density of the bomb fuel is as much as quadrupled. Because of the physics involved, this higher density requires less total weight of fuel for a large atomic explosion to occur. The degree of reduction in the amount of fuel required by such a compression-implosion device is classified. I make a semi-educated guess that if the bomb quadruples the density, the weight of fuel needed might be cut in half. If so, ten pounds of weapons grade U-235 would achieve a yield of several kilotons, maybe even a dozen - Hiroshima-scale devastation with only one quarter the fuel. Or, viewed differently, four times as numerous an arsenal for the same amount of fuel. Frightening thoughts.
Iran Said to Have Nuclear Fuel for One Weapon
Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.
The figures detailing Iran's progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country's main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.
Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design — a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.
"They clearly have enough material for a bomb," said Richard L. Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the hydrogen bomb and has advised Washington for decades. "They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that's another matter."
Iran insists that it wants only to fuel reactors for nuclear power. But many Western nations, led by the United States, suspect that its real goal is to gain the ability to make nuclear weapons.
While some Iranian officials have threatened to bar inspectors in the past, the country has made no such moves, and many experts inside the Bush administration and the I.A.E.A. believe it will avoid the risk of attempting "nuclear breakout" until it possessed a larger uranium supply.
Even so, for President-elect Barack Obama, the report underscores the magnitude of the problem that he will inherit Jan. 20: an Iranian nuclear program that has not only solved many technical problems of uranium enrichment, but that can also now credibly claim to possess enough material to make a weapon if negotiations with Europe and the United States break down.
American intelligence agencies have said Iran could make a bomb between 2009 and 2015. A national intelligence estimate made public late last year concluded that around the end of 2003, after long effort, Iran had halted work on an actual weapon. But enriching uranium, and obtaining enough material to build a weapon, is considered the most difficult part of the process.
Siegfried S. Hecker of Stanford University and a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory said the growing size of the Iranian stockpile "underscored that they are marching down the path to developing the nuclear weapons option."
In the report to its board, the atomic agency said Iran's main enrichment plant was now feeding uranium into about 3,800 centrifuges — machines that spin incredibly fast to enrich the element into nuclear fuel. That count is the same as in the agency's last quarterly report, in September. Iran began installing the centrifuges in early 2007. But the new report's total of 630 kilograms — an increase of about 150 — shows that Iran has been making progress in accumulating material to make nuclear fuel.
That uranium has been enriched to the low levels needed to fuel a nuclear reactor. To further purify it to the highly enriched state needed to fuel a nuclear warhead, Iran would have to reconfigure its centrifuges and do a couple months of additional processing, nuclear experts said.
"They have a weapon's worth," Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist in the nuclear program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group in Washington that tracks atomic arsenals, said in an interview.
He said the amount was suitable for a relatively advanced implosion-type weapon like the one dropped on Nagasaki. Its core, he added, would be about the size of a grapefruit. He said a cruder design would require about twice as much weapon-grade fuel.
"It's a virtual milestone," Dr. Cochran said of Iran's stockpile. It is not an imminent threat, he added, because the further technical work to make fuel for a bomb would tip off inspectors, the United States and other powers about "where they're going."
The agency's report made no mention of the possible military implications of the size of Iran's stockpile. And some experts said the milestone was still months away. In an analysis of the I.A.E.A. report, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, estimated that Iran had not yet reached the mark but would "within a few months." It added that other analysts estimated it might take as much as a year.
Whatever the exact date, it added, "Iran is progressing" toward the ability to quickly make enough weapon-grade uranium for a warhead.
Peter D. Zimmerman, a physicist and former United States government arms scientist, cautioned that the Iranian stockpile fell slightly short of what international officials conservatively estimate as the minimum threatening amount of nuclear fuel. "They're very close," he said of the Iranians in an interview. "If it isn't tomorrow, it's soon," probably a matter of months.
In its report, the I.A.E.A., which is based in Vienna, said Iran was working hard to roughly double its number of operating centrifuges.
A senior European diplomat close to the agency said Iran might have 6,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of the year. The report also said Iran had said it intended to start installing another group of 3,000 centrifuges early next year.
The atomic energy agency said Iran was continuing to evade questions about its suspected work on nuclear warheads. In a separate report released Wednesday, the agency said, as expected, that it had found ambiguous traces of uranium at a suspected Syrian reactor site bombed by Israel last year.
"While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use," the report said, the building's features "along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site." Syria has said the uranium came from Israeli bombs.

As oil falls below $50 a barrel, greedy OPEC tries to create a scarcity

The price of oil, which skyrocketed to bring down the economic house of cards, is now headed south. For the Middle East, this is of great significance. Economies of oil rich Arab states geared their budgets and spending to $100 a barrel prices. Most will fall into deficit if the price remains at $50. Iran is at a deficit since the price fell below $90. OPEC attempts to limit production in order to pay for bare necessities like artificial islands and ski parks in the desert will fail. Nobody has the money for expensive oil.
November 21, 2008

Oil Falls Below $50, Lowest Price Since January 2007

LONDON — Oil plunged below $50 a barrel on Thursday, deepening losses over the previous four sessions as battered financial markets reflected ever lower confidence in the world economy and evidence mounted of falling fuel demand.

Crude oil in New York trading fell $3.71, to $49.91 a barrel, the weakest level since January 2007.

As economic slowdown has destroyed fuel demand, oil companies plan to store millions of barrels of oil in the hope economics will improve.

Oil has lost about two-thirds of its value since July's record above $147, in part because a global credit crunch has made investors pull their money out of riskier assets.

The falls on oil have mirrored weakness on equity markets, which dropped again on Thursday when European stocks hit their lowest level since March 2003.

"Weakness in stocks reflects weakness in the economy at the moment looking forward, but I think the general trend in oil is lower anyway," Sucden's head of research Michael Davies said. "It's a bit of a chicken or egg thing. Everything's moving together, it's hard to say what's leading."

Oil differs from other commodity markets in that producer group the Organization of the Petroleum exporting Countries can intervene to curb supplies, in theory providing support for prices.

Since early September, OPEC has said it will remove around 2 million barrels per day from international markets, but the market has taken the view falling demand is a bigger factor than tightening supply.

Deutsche Bank said on Wednesday oil could fall to as low as $40 a barrel next year.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Al-Qaeda: Obama is a baddie Jew lover

The Arab and Muslim world has generally come up with some ludicrous criticisms of the United States.
Last update - 16:39 19/11/2008       
Al Qaida No. 2: Obama guilty of betraying Muslim roots in backing Israel
By Reuters
Al Qaeda's second-in-command urged Muslims to continue attacks on "criminal" America and slammed U.S. president-elect Barack Obama for vowing to back Israel during his campaign.
Ayman al-Zawahri warned Obama that he would fail if he followed the policies of President George W. Bush, according to an audio tape published on Wednesday by the SITE Institute, a U.S. organization that monitors Islamic militant groups.
"America, the criminal, trespassing crusader, continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses," Zawahri said in a message to Muslims across the world.
"Its (America's) criminal, expansionist Crusader project in your lands has only been neutralised by the sacrifices of your sons, the mujahideen."
Zawahri also criticised Obama for what he described as turning his back on his Islamic roots.
"The Muslim nation received with extreme bitterness your hypocritical ... stance towards Israel," he said. "You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand with the enemies of Muslims.

IAEA: Syrian site was nukoid

So let's see, what is that has traces of uranium and lots of water pumping stations??
Last update - 22:04 19/11/2008       
IAEA: Syria site bombed by Israel bore features of nuclear reactor
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters
A Syrian complex bombed by Israel bore features that would resemble those of an undeclared nuclear reactor and Syria must cooperate more with UN inspectors to let them draw conclusions, a watchdog report said on Wednesday.
According to the report, nuclear inspectors took samples from the site, which was bombed by Israel Air Force jets in September 2007, on their lone visit in June 2008. Lab results showed traces of uranium, according to the report, which stressed that the traces had undergone chemical processes.
The report states that the high number of water pumping installations was sufficient to serve a nuclear facility that would be built near the Euphrates River.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report stresses that Syria refuses to produce documents in relation to the site as it is required to do. The report accuses Syria of denying access for further inspections to the site as well as three other locations believed to be tied to the construction of the suspected reactor.
The report explicitly states the site was bombed by Israel even though Israel has never confirmed this publicly. An American intelligence report, which was released earlier this year and cited photographs which suggested the building resembled a North Korean nuclear reactor, also did not mention Israel as the party which carried out the bombing.
Obtained by Reuters, the report said "significant" amounts of uranium particles were found at the site by inspectors who checked it in June but it was not enough to prove a reactor was there and further investigation was needed.
The confidential IAEA report said the UN watchdog would ask Syria to show debris and equipment it whisked away from the site after the September 2007 Israeli air raid. Washington says the target was a nascent reactor meant to produce plutonium for atomic bombs. Syria denies this.

[Syria] Economy Drives Away Young Professionals

Economy Drives Away Young Professionals
Damascus Team

DAMASCUS -- Everyone knows that employment opportunities in Syria are scarce, especially for students and recent graduates. More and more graduates are entering a job market with little opportunity to work in their area of study. To explore this issue, we met with students at Damascus University and asked them about their experiences (or lack thereof) with employment, wages, and working abroad.

Mohammad is a graduate student at the mechanical institute. We asked him about the availability of employment opportunities after graduation. "Graduates of the mechanics institute can usually find job opportunities. If you can't find a job in the public sector there is usually something to apply for in the private sector. However, I will tell you frankly that wherever you go for a job there is cronyism and nepotism. It is difficult for a regular graduate like me to get a job in the government without any connections."

"Many graduates were forced to move abroad to search for work due to the lack of employment opportunities here," continued Mohammad. "The unfortunate trend today is that students become desperate and accept work that doesn't relate to their field of study. In addition, many students don't take jobs in their field because of low pay, and instead settle for a higher paying job in an unrelated field. If the opportunity is available, many student and graduates travel to the Gulf region in order to find a job that relates to their degree."

Said, a student who works as a painter, also told us about the lack of a merit based system. "Job opportunities are little to none for university students. Today, learning a craft is more beneficial than studying at the University. It is much easier to earn a certificate in a craft and get a job in the private sector. This type of work will earn you 20 to 25 thousand pounds [SYP], compared to the public sector which pays only around six thousand pounds. Not to mention that it is impossible to be hired in the public sector without connections."

We also asked Said about job opportunities abroad and he told us, "My goal is to travel to the Gulf region after I graduate in order to find a good job. If salaries improve at all I will stay here, but the opportunities are much better outside the country."

Another student, Samr, sells fruit in addition to being enrolled in university classes. He agreed with the lack of job opportunities, adding, "There aren't many jobs for graduates and with the price of rent the way it is today, things are very hard. Just to commute to school today cost us 500 SYP (about $10) and the university refuses to compensate us."

Samr continued: "The best chance to get a job after graduation is to study in the Faculty of Education. I can have a guaranteed government job after graduating. Although the salary of any government job is pretty low, I can't stay at the university any longer because of my financial situation."

Regarding working in another country, Samr noted, "Travel to the Gulf region is very attractive and tempting for students because of the high salaries. For example, the best salary available here is around 20 thousand pounds, and I'm talking about someone who has been in their profession for some time. However, in the Gulf, salaries begin around 50 thousand pounds. Nonetheless, students still have to consider factors like being alienated from friends and family and adjusting to a new society and surrounding. If I can find a job here that pays around 15,000 SYP I will stay; I can't handle being away from home and the loneliness I would experience abroad."

It is fair to say that the concerns expressed by these students are representative of what the majority of students in Syrian universities are facing. Employment opportunities are simply not available for most graduates. Not only is there a deficiency of jobs but also there aren't enough institutions being created to fuel more job openings. More and more students see working abroad as their only solution, which means that there are fewer and fewer young professionals in Syria, compounding an already serious "brain drain" problem throughout the country.

Some of the names of our contributors have been changed to protect their identity.  The names of people interviewed have also been changed. The opinions expressed in our regional pieces reflect the beliefs of their writers, and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the Tharwa Foundation and its members.

Arab states face deficits if oil price declines to reasonable levels

Supporting them in the style to which they are accustomed means getting oil back up to the inflationary and unrealistic levels that helped cause the world financial crisis.
GCC states face abrupt decline in surpluses
Reuters - 19 November, 2008

Gulf Arab countries could witness an abrupt decline in external surpluses next year if oil prices average $ 50 a barrel, with the emirate of Dubai being most vulnerable to a downturn, Citigroup said yesterday.

With oil at $ 50, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar would all post external trade deficits in 2009, Citigroup said in a research note.

"In effect, this means the members of the GCC will have to dig into their overseas wealth to keep their economies moving," the bank said.

Oil stood near $ 56 a barrel yesterday, down more than 50 percent since hitting a record above $ 147 in July.

Citigroup said Saudi Arabia's deficit could hit 28 percent of the gross domestic product, compared with a surplus of 30 percent this year, when oil prices should average $ 99 a barrel.

Kuwait would be the only member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to post an external surplus, it said.

Dubai, the commercial and retail hub of the Gulf region, would be "most vulnerable" to a downturn, Citigroup added.

"Two specific concerns are Dubai's real estate sector and how it will refinance the debt it has built up in recent years," the bank said, adding
it expected a correction in Dubai real estate prices and consolidation of its companies.

A Gulf plan to launch a single currency "are even less likely now than they were six months ago," Citigroup added.

Hossein Derakhshan - Iranian blogger who visited Israel arrested for spying

Blogging can be a dangerous business. Derakhshan was generally a voice of reason. Why did he return to Iran?
Last update - 21:18 18/11/2008       
Iranian blogger who visited Israel arrested for spying
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
Hossein Derakhshan, the Iranian blogger who visited Israel in 2007, was recently arrested in Teheran upon his return from Canada. The Iranian blogger, who also holds Canadian citizenship, admitted to being involved in espionage for Israel, the Iranian news Website Jahan News reported Monday.
Jahan News is affiliated with the Iranian intelligence community.
The report, citing "credible sources", revealed that Derakhshan's confession included several "intricate" points. The site noted that Derakhshan attended various conventions in Israel, and quoted Haaretz and Jerusalem Post articles stating that Derakhshan is a friend of Israel.
Following his visit to Israel last year, there was a change of tone in Derakhshan's blog posts, which had previously been supportive of Israel. Derakhshan even commended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad occasionally, and recently expressed his support in the arrest of several Iranian citizens on political grounds.
Iranian expert Meir Javedanfar wrote Tuesday that prior to his return to Iran, Derakhshan criticized former Iranian president Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani and added that his arrest may be the result of power struggles within the Iranian regime.

Arab League "frustrated and angry" after collapse of Palestinian unity talks

You better believe it.
Arab League "frustrated and angry" at collapse of Palestinian unity talks
Date: 19 / 11 / 2008  Time:  10:59

Cairo – Ma'an – The Arab League leadership was "frustrated and angry" at the collapse of Palestinian reconciliation talks the League helped to organize earlier this month, a senior official told Ma'an on Tuesday.
Mohammed Sbeih, the Assistant to the Secretary General on Palestine Affairs at the Arab League, said that restoring Palestinian political unity is a higher priority for the organization even than ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
The remark was the most pointed expression to date of the frustration felt by the meeting's sponsors.
The talks between Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah, which were scheduled to begin on 9 November, were cancelled when Hamas withdrew the day before, protesting a campaign of a arrests against Hamas members in the West Bank.
In an interview in his office in Cairo, Sbeih said the League would continue its efforts to bring Fatah, Hamas, and the other Palestinian factions together. Arab foreign ministers plan to take up the Palestinian issue at a meeting on 26 November.
The Arab League is exerting "large efforts trying to preserve some international accords because of this disagreement which causes lots of losses in the Palestinian and Arab cause," said Sbeih.
"We believe that this is the most dangerous situation Palestine has ever faced," he added.
With regard to dialogue, he said: "The Arab League sees no other option besides dialogue and the Secretary General, Amr Moussa, had previously met with the factions and he frequently meets with President Mahmoud Abbas. Frankly, such disagreements are not convincing. The boat is sinking deeper in the sea and still [Palestinian] brothers are feuding."
Still, he said, the League would not "force" Palestinians to accept a resolution of their civil conflict, but warned that in the current situation the gap between leaders in the West Bank and those in Gaza is likely to widen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How much does a Bill Clinton speech cost?

In the old days, you could get Bill Clinton speeches for free, just by watching television. I bet Monica got a few too. This report from the Daily Beast says he gets paid fabulous sums for giving speeches:

While his accounts are being scrutinized by Obama's search committee, a Kuwaiti report indicates Bill Clinton reaped $500,000 for a single speech there Sunday.

The National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) has paid $500,000 to Bill Clinton for a single lecture he delivered in Kuwait City on Sunday on his assessment of Barack Obama's foreign and economic policies. It was delivered the day after the Kuwaiti stock market resumed trading after it was suspended by order of a Kuwaiti court on Thursday to avoid a total collapse.

Without mentioning reports that Clinton's finances were coming under close scrutiny as his wife, Hillary Clinton, is being vetted for the job of secretary of state, the Arab-language Kuwaiti newspaper Awan published a front-page story under the headline "Clinton's lecture at NBK cost $500,000."

Delivered before "a packed audience" and attended by local dignitaries, ambassadors, and senior officials, Clinton offered advice to the president-elect on the world financial crisis, urging him to continue to pump liquidity into the American system until confidence came back, according to a press release by the National Bank of Kuwait, which organized the event at the Sheraton Hotel.

$500,000 would be a high fee, even for Bill Clinton. In 2006 he averaged almost a speech a day, at an average of about $140,000 a speech.

He has earned far more per speech, particularly from Middle Eastern or foreign organizations wishing to hear his views on a range of topics. The Dabbagh investment firm in Saudi Arabia paid $600,000 for two speeches, and China's JingJi Real Estate Development Group paid $200,000 for a single speech. The Mito City Political Research Group in Japan paid him $400,000 in 2002 for a single speech....

ARGH! But We can be sure he is not alone. Is he being paid for speeches, or for influence he can provide? After all, I can provide the same advice for free, and so can you.


Shaykh: Holocaust Denial Undermines Islam

Only excerpts of this fine article are provided here. Click the link to read the whole thing.
Holocaust Denial Undermines Islam
By Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

This article originally appeared in Tikkun Magazine.

Islam, at its advent, developed a sophisticated methodology for the validation of truth claims. One of the greatest achievements of the Islamic scholastic tradition is 'ilm ar-rijaal, the science of narrators... Its formulators established a rigid set of criteria to validate the truth claims of those who asserted they saw or heard the Prophet do or say such-and-such. Reports were grouped into two categories: ahad, or solitary reports in which one or a few people claimed to have heard or seen something, and mutawatir, or multiply-transmitted reports narrated in numbers large enough to preclude collusive fabrication. The solitary reports must meet many criteria before being accepted as sound statements that nonetheless contain... On the other hand, firmly established multiply-transmitted reports, in numbers that rule out collusion, are taken as uncontestable fact.

The Quran, the seventh century book narrated by Muhammad, is considered mutawatir, and thus epistemologically undeniable. Whether one believes it is from God or not is another matter, but the Quran in its current form is the same Quran the Prophet taught to his companions more than 1,400 years ago; untold numbers in each generation of Muslims have transmitted the same recitation, making it infallible in its historicity and accuracy. Islamic scholars accepted multiply-transmitted reports from Muslims and people of other faiths. Upon this epistemological foundation rests the Muslim faith. Creedal matters are deemed valid only if they are buttressed by multiply-transmitted traditions that can be traced back to the Prophet. Although Islamic jurisprudence is largely based upon solitary evidence (hence the differences of opinion in the various schools), the Quran and the creed of Islam are both founded upon multiple narratives that achieve an undeniable status. Early Muslim scholars would certainly consider much of our current knowledge of history to have achieved such status. For instance, there is consensus among historians that the Normans invaded England in 1066; too many accounts of this momentous event exist and have been recounted in each generation through multiple sources. In the case of any solitary original source, healthy skepticism is warranted. When Lee Harvey Oswald claimed to be a patsy, it led to an entire field of conspiracy studies among Kennedy assassination buffs. Did he act alone or didn't he? That aspect of the event is debatable. But was John F. Kennedy shot on November, 22, 1963 in a motorcade at Dealey Plaza in Dallas? Far too many accounts of that tragic event exist; to deny it is simply to deny reality and have one's sanity questioned.
Much of what we know about the world and what we accept as truth comes from multiply-transmitted accounts. Let's say I claim that Australia doesn't exist and is merely a figment of our imagination, that its origins lie in a whimsical cartographer in the Middle Ages who decided that such a large ocean needed a land mass. And, when confronted with people who claim to be from Australia and can prove it, I dismiss them as part of a conspiracy of cartographers who wish to perpetuate the myth of their forbearer. I would be laughed at, or ignored, or deemed "certifiable." While this example seems absurd, many people actually believe things just as fatuous and far-fetched.

Holocaust denial is one such example. As one who has read some Holocaust denial literature, with the poorly reproduced pictures and claims of the orchestration of these scenes in collusion with the U.S. government, I can attest to the tragic gullibility of people who take such literature as historical truth. To return to the Kennedy assassination, if one reads Mark Lane's version that a rogue element within the CIA killed Kennedy, the "facts" seem overwhelming. But if one reads another version that the Mafia killed Kennedy because of his failure to return Cuba to the gambling lords of Italian America, the "facts" also seem overwhelming. Finally, one can read the version that Mossad killed Kennedy because he wanted to force nuclear inspections in Israel, and again the "facts" seem conclusive. Each of these accounts is presented with utter certainty by the "researchers." In the end, reality is manipulated to meet the needs of the mythologist.
...those who present alternative versions of "reality" tend to reject everything that does not suit their theory, and cherry-pick and interpret everything—facts, innuendos or "coincidences"—that does.

In the case of the Holocaust, the facts are clear and transmitted from multiple sources. Tens of thousands of Jewish and other individuals who survived the death camps and other horrors of Nazi Germany lived to tell of it. Nazis were brought to trial, evidence was presented in court, and they were convicted. Mass graves were found, and gas chambers were discovered, which were clearly not delicing rooms as some callously claimed. The ovens exist and cannot be reduced to an efficient way of preventing cholera outbreaks or disposing of victims of starvation. I have personally met many Holocaust survivors and their children. I have seen tattoos...  That a "conference" examining the historicity of the Holocaust should take place in a Muslim country hosted by a Muslim head of state is particularly tragic and, in my estimation, undermines the historicity of the faith of the people of that state.

In our inherent contradictions as humans, and in order to validate our own pain, we deny the pain of others. But it is in acknowledging the pain of others that we achieve fully our humanity. A close friend of mine, a professor of religion in a Muslim country for many years, recently told me that his wife, an English teacher in that country, had wanted to use Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a text for her Muslim pupils. But the school administrators repeatedly denied her request because they deemed it inappropriate reading for young Muslims. It is sad that the current political morass in the Middle East has led to this intolerable refusal to confront a people's collective suffering. Perhaps in acknowledging that immense past of Jewish suffering, in which the Holocaust is only the most heinous chapter, Muslims can better help the Jewish community to understand the current Muslim pain in Palestine, Iraq and other places. In finding out about others, we encourage others to find out about us. It would greatly help our Jewish brethren to know the historical facts of Jewish experience in the Muslim world, which are often heartening and humanizing and very different from their European experience. In our mutual edification, we grow together.

Tikkun Magazine, 2007.

Horse's mouth: James Zogby reveals all about Rahm Emanuel and Arab rumors

Zogby is an Arab-American and no friend of Israel. He is evidently a decent and honest man.  He has seen fit to debunk some (not all) of the nonsensical rumors manufactured by wingnuts and Mullah groupies about Rahm Emanuel.
Thank you James Zogby.
Ami Isseroff

Dr. James J. Zogby (c)
Arab American Institute 
    On November 5th, my office sent an email to tens of thousands of our members and contacts congratulating President-elect Barack Obama. In our message, we noted the historic transformation his victory represented and commended the thousands of Arab Americans who participated in this winning campaign.

    The initial and near universal response was heartwarming, with many sharing moving anecdotes of their campaign experiences, their reactions to the victory, and their hopes for change.

    One day and one announcement later, the tide turned.

    With the naming of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Obama's White House Chief of Staff, the euphoria of some, not all, turned to despair. The emails and calls to my office were both troubled and troubling because much of the reaction was based on misinformation and because of what the entire episode revealed about the larger political dynamics involved.
    First, the facts.
    Rahm Emanuel is a brilliant strategist and a practitioner of hard-ball politics who in campaigns, his time in the Clinton White House, and more recently in Congress has demonstrated that he knows how to get a job done. Because there will be critical legislation the President-elect will need to move through Congress, from an economic recovery package and health care reform to a comprehensive approach to alternative energy, Obama has tapped Emanuel for his proven political skills. It is that simple.

    This, of course, was neither the content nor the concerns raised by the emails I received. Some charged that Emanuel was an Israeli citizen or a dual U.S.-Israeli national (he is neither, he was born in Chicago in 1959); or, they alleged that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and lost his finger confronting a Syrian tank during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (he did not serve in the IDF, and lost his finger in a freak accident while working as a teenager in an Arby's restaurant). A few accused Emanuel of skipping U.S. military service to join the IDF in 1991 (also not true - in the midst of the 1991 Gulf War, while U.S. forces were manning Patriot missile batteries in Israel and the Arab Gulf, Emanuel volunteered for a few weeks, as a civilian, doing maintenance on Israeli vehicles). The most recent story alleges that Rahm Emanuel was fired from the White House in 1998 after being implicated by the FBI, together with Monica Lewinsky, in a Mossad plot to spy on then-President Clinton (a total fabrication, compliments of a shady character who claims to have been a U.S. intelligence official and is a purveyor of many bizarre tales).

    That stories such as these have been circulating, and have taken hold, is as reprehensible as the "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim/Manchurian candidate" tale, or the anti-Arab anti-Muslim canards to which I and many of my colleagues have been subjected over the years.

    Putting aside the fiction or, more accurately, the slanderous myths, the truth is that Emanuel is an effective leader in Congress. He is a strong supporter of Israel. But then, how many members of Congress are not?

    Emanuel is Jewish and his father is an Israeli. Arab Americans should be especially sensitive to attacks on anyone based on religion or ethnicity. He has worked closely with and is liked by the Arab American Members of Congress from both parties, and he was the architect of the 1993 White House lawn signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords that brought Arab Americans and American Jews together. When, in 1994, Rahm accepted my invitation to a luncheon with Arab American community leaders, those who met him were impressed by his openness and honesty.

    Beyond these facts, however, there are two concerns that must be addressed.

    It is deeply troubling how quickly, for some, the excitement of Barack Obama's victory was eclipsed by cynicism and suspicion, and how receptive some were to wild tales. This could only occur, on one level, because the victory itself was not understood. If it had been, the excitement would have been tempered by an appreciation of political realities.

    Obama's victory, no doubt, demonstrated that change is possible - but incremental change. Pressures remain, from the right and the left as well as the interest groups of all sorts that continue to have influence, limiting political options. The economy is in free-fall and, after eight years of Bush neglect and recklessness, dangers abound in the world. An Obama victory doesn't alter those realities. And so our excitement was justified, but our euphoria should never have taken us so high as to lose our grounding and understanding of the limits of what is possible.

    My concern is that, for some, the need for change became so great as to make them susceptible to wild swings - from unrealistic expectations to unwarranted despair and, therefore, to become prone to believe the worst.

    But the fault here should be shared. I am concerned by the slowness of the Obama camp to respond more quickly or effectively to address the situation. Modern political operations have learned the need to confront false stories, to manage perception, and to anticipate problems -- and, here, the Obama team had been especially masterful.

    During the campaign, for example, they repeatedly demonstrated how tuned-in they were to public perception - and in particular to matters that might have created discomfort in the Jewish community. They knew that these stories needed to be shot down quickly. (American Muslims understood much of this, despite feeling slighted, at times.) But in this most recent instance, the Obama camp displayed both inattentiveness and tone-deafness to Arab misperceptions about who Rahm Emanuel is, and what role he will play. (Aside from the flap over the comments made by Rahm's father, for which Rahm, himself, has now profoundly apologized.) As a result, the situation festered.

    The campaign is now over, and the President-elect is playing on a world stage with more than one audience at stake. And in the Middle East, especially, sensitivities are as great and (perceived) sleights are felt as acutely as they are among any people in the world. With feelings having been rubbed raw by decades of U.S. policy miscues, with U.S. favorability ratings at all-time lows, and with extremists preying off resentment and fear - perceptions matter.

    If we are to succeed in making changes in U.S.-Arab relations - and I believe that an Obama Administration can - greater attentiveness and sensitivity is in order.

    Bottom line - there are lessons to learn and work to be done. Arabs and Arab Americans need to ground their expectations in political realities and be wary of slanderous attacks smacking of anti-Semitism, and U.S. political leadership must learn to be as attentive to Arab sensitivities as they are to the concerns of others.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Did Muhammad exist?

A German convert to Islam who is a professor of theology has come up with the interesting theory that Muhammad did not exist.
MÜNSTER, Germany -- Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.
So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.
If that is his theory, an obvious question is why doesn't he unconvert? More interesting is the reaction of the German university, which forbade him from teaching Islam! If an American theologian came up with a theory that Jesus didn't exist, can we imagine the uproar that would occur if was not allowed to teach it?
Ami Isseroff