Saturday, February 28, 2009

Verboten: Christian Journal can't use the word 'Allah' in Malaysia

An example of the enlightened human rights policy of Malaysia.

Malaysian govt rescinds Catholic paper's use of "Allah"
Posted: 01 March 2009 1117 hrs

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's government has rescinded a Catholic newspaper's right to use the word "Allah" just weeks after it gazetted a law allowing the paper to do so, according to reports Sunday.

On Friday, the editor of the Herald newspaper, Father Lawrence Andrew, said the weekly had been allowed to use the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language edition, as long as it printed "For Christians" on the cover.

The permission had been granted after a long battle with the government which threatened to close it down.

However, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the New Straits Times newspaper Sunday a "mistake" had been made, although he did not specify what it was.

"I think there was a mistake in enacting the gazette. When we make a mistake, I must admit that there is a need to look at it thoroughly," he was quoted as saying.

Syed Hamid said the ban on the use of the word would remain in force until a pending court case decided on the matter, the paper reported.

"There is a judicial review on the matter and we leave it to the court to decide," he added.

Home ministry officials could not immediately confirm the decision.

The government has argued that the word should be used only by Muslims, who dominate the population of multicultural Malaysia.

Andrew said Malaysian Christians have been using the word "Allah" for centuries in translations of the Bible, and in popular prayers.

The home minister's comments come as some conservative Islamic leaders criticised the government's decision to allow the use of the word.

"To me, it's a mistake," Malaysian Islamic Dakwah Foundation chairman Nakhaie Ahmad told the state news agency Bernama.

Andrew said Friday the Herald would continue with a court case which it started to force the government to allow it to print the word "Allah".

Around 60 per cent of Malaysia's 27 million people are Muslim Malays.

The rest of the population includes indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, variously practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.

Pakistan's extremist triumph


The government has caved in to the Taliban in the Swat Valley to avert more violence.
By Ahmed Rashid
February 24, 2009,0,6443372.story

Writing From Lahore, Pakistan -- Maulana Sufi Mohammed, a radical cleric who was freed last year after spending six years in jail for leading 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, has begun a new campaign. He is leading a peace march through the strategic Swat Valley in an attempt to persuade his son-in-law, Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, to accept the government's offer of a cease-fire and enforcement of an Islamic system of justice in the valley.

The fact that Mohammed has embraced the government's offer is a sign of how fully Islamabad has capitulated to the demands of extremists in the region. And the fact that the peace deal has not yet been accepted by Fazlullah, who leads the Swati contingent of the Pakistani Taliban and is closely allied with Al Qaeda, is a sign of how radicalized some of the region has become.

Pakistan's concessions to the Taliban in the Swat Valley, located just 80 miles north of Islamabad, are a watershed in the country's steady slide toward chaos. The situation there has added to the prevailing sense of public gloom in Pakistan that the Taliban is rapidly making inroads into the world's second-largest Muslim nation -- and the only one armed with nuclear weapons.

Fazlullah's men have fought bloody battles with the army over the last two years, finally driving it out and taking control of most of Swat last year. The fighting has led to about 1,200 civilian deaths and the forced exodus of an estimated 350,000 people out of a population of 1.5 million. Fazlullah has blown up 200 girls schools, hanged policemen, set up Sharia (Islamic law) courts and established a parallel government.

Now, rather than order the army to retake Swat, the Pakistan People's Party government in Islamabad led by Benazir Bhutto's widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, and the Awami National Party (ANP), a Pashtun secular party that runs the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province, have capitulated to the Taliban's demands in order to avoid more violence.

While the government insists the legal change will allow only a limited application of Islamic justice through the local courts, the Taliban interprets it as allowing the full application of Sharia, affecting all aspects of education, administration and law and order in the region.

However the deal may be interpreted, it is an unmistakable defeat in the country's losing battle against Islamic extremism. Even though the military regime of former President Pervez Musharraf entered into several controversial, short-lived cease-fires with the Pakistani Taliban in the Pashtun tribal belt, Musharraf's army never conceded major changes in the legal or political system. Even in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban controls several provinces, the Kabul government has never conceded the writ of the state, insisting that such provinces remain contested.

Zardari has to sign off on the deal, and the cease-fire may not last. Still, this is the first time the government has surrendered an enormous area of northern Pakistan to extremists, who will govern by a separate set of laws. Moreover, the Taliban is unlikely to stop in Swat. Even Mohammed, who is viewed as a moderate in comparison with his son-in-law, has vowed to impose Sharia across Pakistan and has denounced democracy as an evil, Western model. The psychological blow to public morale has been devastating.

In the North-West Frontier Province city of Peshawar, the ANP has been besieged by Taliban suicide bombers, who have vowed to eliminate the party's ministers and members of parliament. The threats have left the party divided and unable to govern, despite overwhelming support in last year's general elections from secular and democratic Pashtuns, who voted to oust a regional government of Islamic fundamentalists installed by Musharraf.

Fazlullah's strategy has been influenced by Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. The groups would like to create a new haven in the Pakistani heartland so they can move away from tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan, where increasingly successful attacks by U.S. drones have made survival difficult.

And the extremist threat doesn't stop with the Swat Valley. The Pakistani Taliban ultimately hopes to conquer all of Pakistan. Already it has made inroads into the largest province of Punjab and in the southern industrial city of Karachi, where it is facilitated by multiple Pakistani extremist groups that have spent two decades fighting in Indian Kashmir or are masters of urban terrorism.

The army is demoralized and overstretched, and has declined to accept U.S. offers to retrain its regular forces in counter-insurgency because it still perceives a much larger threat from its traditional enemy, India.

The Swat crisis will further weaken an already devastated Pakistani economy, which faces increasing joblessness, inflation and capital flight. Moreover, several hundred thousand Pakistani migrant laborers are being forced to return home from the Arabian Gulf countries because of the global recession. Many of these workers are Pashtuns and, with no jobs at home, some will inevitably become Talibs.

The Obama administration has promised Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for the next five years to be spent on social programs, but it is difficult to envisage when the U.S. Congress will make such large sums available and what fresh conditions it will impose -- conditions that the Pakistani state may be incapable of fulfilling.

The crisis comes just as the Obama administration has to conceive of a new strategic policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan before the NATO summit on April 2.

Afghanistan, despite dramatic advances made by the Taliban as a result of neglect by the Bush administration, requires obvious common-sense policies -- a comprehensive increase in foreign troops, money, development and reconstruction by the international community and real efforts to get the Afghan government and army on their feet.

For Pakistan, the U.S. and its allies have far fewer policy options. Large injections of money are desperately needed to give the government and the army the time and space to reestablish the writ of the state. Nevertheless, the question being asked in Washington and other capitals, as well as by millions of Pakistanis, is whether the government and the army have the will and the capability to do so.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and the author of "Taliban." His latest book is "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saudi Agent to Head to US National Intelligence Council?

Charles Freeman, Obama's reported pick for chairman of the National Intelligence Council, talked business with the Bin Laden family even after September 11. He is also president of the MEPC, an Arab lobby group, and accepted a donation of a million dollars from the king of Saudi Arabia, stating that he was glad the Saudis are doing public relations.

Amid the criticism that has already emerged about President Obama's reported pick for the powerful position of chairman of the National Intelligence Council, there is a yet unmentioned problem that is likely cause even bigger troubles: He had business ties to the bin Laden family after 9/11.

Charles "Chas" Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had business connections with the bin Laden family and their Saudi Bin Ladin Group, a multi-billion dollar construction conglomerate founded by the father of Osama bin Laden. As chairman of Projects International, Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still "discussing proposals with the Bin Laden Group—and that won't change."

In an interview, Freeman contested the notion that international companies who had business with the bin Laden family should be "running for public relations cover", noting that bin Laden was still "a very honored name in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] despite its family tie to the Al-Qaeda leader." (Freeman wasn't immediately available for comment.)

Mr. Freeman frequently maintained that the larger bin Laden family was closely aligned with American interests. Contrary to the notion that the family was still supporting and even funding Osama bin Laden, the bin Laden family and its business conglomerate were part of the "establishment that Osama's trying to overthrow," as Mr. Freeman told The Wall Street Journal in a separate interview less than two weeks after September 11.

However, The Journal also noted that Freeman's connections with the bin Laden family went beyond business: Freeman's Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a think tank dedicated to Mideast issues, was receiving "tens of thousand of dollars a year from the bin Laden family" at that time. Since the rumors of his appointment broke, Freeman has been criticized because the pro-Saudi MEPC also accepted donations in the millions of dollars from the Saudi royal family.

Subsequent investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies and journalists of bin Laden family ties to Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden raised questions about the authenticity of the family's claim of financial and emotional distance from the world's most wanted terror leader. A number of experts like Vincent Cannistro, a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist, assert that while some members of the bin Laden family have disowned Osama bin Laden in a complete sense, other factions have not. Carmen bin Laden, a sister-in-law of Osama, told Der Spiegel that " (the) Bin Ladens never disowned Osama; in this family, a brother remains a brother, no matter what he has done."

Freeman's appointment for the top intelligence post, which would task Freeman with creating and occasionally directly presenting President Obama with national intelligence estimates, has also sparked a firestorm among groups supportive of Israel who have accused him of bias. Freeman's MEPC was one of the loudest supporters of the Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy written by Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer, which was criticized by scholars for the paper's factual errors and shoddy scholarship.

Freeman has also spoken critically, and in unusually frank terms, about United States policy after September 11. In 2006, in a speech to the United States Information Agency Alumni Association, Freeman compared George W. Bush to Caligula and criticized America as a country that "stifles debate at home, that picks and chooses which laws it will ignore or respect, and whose opposition party whines but does not oppose."

A search of campaign finance records reveals that Freeman's Projects International, Inc. donated upward of $1,000 to Obama's presidential campaign, which might further complicate what's already a tangled appointment.

Partial Source

Christopher Hitchens: "Who are the Revolutionaries in Today's Middle East?"

On not debating Christopher Hitchens
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Much attention was paid last week to the run-in the British-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens had with followers of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Hamra Street. However, a far more interesting aspect of his visit was a lecture at the American University of Beirut, which if it told us something about Hitchens himself, told us a great deal more about the university and its students.
Hitchens' talk was titled "Who are the Revolutionaries in Today's Middle East?" In fact, the author focused on historical ironies, among them the irony of seeing "the old reds" of the Iraqi Kurdish parties being welcomed at Blair House in Washington by President George W. Bush, after he had helped them overthrow Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Baghdad. Iraq figured prominently in Hitchens' presentation - the removal of a genocidal leadership that had, for decades, beleaguered its own people. "Could there have been any greater degradation for Iraq," he asked, "than of being under the control of a psychopathic family?"
For Hitchens, the eviction of Saddam Hussein was a revolutionary moment, one that he, as a radical, could hold up with satisfaction to express his approval of Bush's actions in Iraq. It was often those on the left, he continued, particularly the communists, who seemed to best appreciate that essential moment in modern Middle Eastern history, perhaps because they had a sense of history's contradictions, therefore its ironies. As Hitchens put it, "It seems that only those who opposed America during the Cold War could understand its liberating qualities in the post-Cold War period."
Here was a bold challenge to the left, asking what it meant to be of the left, to be an internationalist in the defense of universal liberal values. Hitchens' critics have often labeled him a "neoconservative" for his defense of the American war in Iraq - in that way showing as trivial an understanding of the man as of neoconservatism as of the broader debate inside the left on how to uphold universalist principles. The question that the left has had to grapple with in recent years, even before the Iraq war, is a simple one: If a tyrannical leader is abusing his own people, is it the duty of the left to confront him in all ways possible, including force, because that may be the only course open in defending human rights and human liberty, even if this requires depending on the United States for its success?
Hitchens is one of the few public intellectuals in the West who has rarely fallen into self-referential terms when answering that question. When he justified the Iraq war, as he continues to, he usually did so from the perspective of the victims, not to score debating points in Washington or New York. That's why the negative reaction to Hitchens' lecture at the AUB was so revealing, and so demoralizing. You could distil his argument down to one sentence: The Arab world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and the US, alongside the true "Arab revolutionaries", is responsible for this outcome. Instead of addressing that point, many in the audience resorted to the oldest of rhetorical subterfuges: When you don't like an argument, change the subject; which only tended to show how we in the region seem incapable of engaging in constructive self-doubt about our own affairs.
The dissent against Hitchens could be bunched into two broad categories: You're talking about Iraq, but we want to talk about the United States and its hypocrisy and perfidy; or, You're talking about Iraq, Hitchens, but we really want to talk about Palestine and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. How ironic it was, since we're into historical irony, that during the 1990s, when the Clinton administration was fully engaged in mediating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, its critics would impulsively point to Iraq, and the sanctions regime there, to illustrate America's iniquities. Once again, it was a case of shifting the goalposts to feed a cretinous form of anti-Americanism. No less ironic was that Hitchens (few in the audience bothered to learn) has long defended the Palestinian cause, and co-edited with Edward Said a book on the Palestinians titled "Blaming the Victims."
It would have been nice to be able to extract worthy nuggets from what was, at times, an acrimonious session with Hitchens. However, those objecting to his endorsement of America's regional role, in Iraq but also in Lebanon, left little to remember, except for a third irony: that their statements were offered in the confines of the American University of Beirut, a living example of the complexity of the historical American conversation with the Arab world. In its own way, the AUB was as much a consequence of America's confidence in the universalism of its liberal values as was the Iraq war, though we can endlessly debate how the results greatly differed.
Hitchens' critics failed to catch this incongruity. If you can embrace America's educational mission as a byproduct of the spread of universal liberal values, then what makes the forcible removal of a mass murderer from power in the name of those same values so condemnable? The critics would respond that the US did not remove Saddam in defense of such values, but only to advance its own interests; yet that only invites a more pressing question: Why do the Arabs so often allow themselves to be defined by America's actions? Did America's assumed insincerity in Iraq prevent the Arabs, particularly Arab liberals, from welcoming the defeat of the Baath as a historic event in and of itself for the Arab world, without their having to preoccupy themselves with the instrument of that removal? In other words, haven't too many Arabs, in getting hung up on the US, on the messenger, completely missed the message that Iraq is no longer a dictatorship, and that this can only benefit Arabs in general?
The recent death of David Dodge, a former president of the AUB, came and went with very little notice from most Lebanese. That was a poignant reminder of how marginal the university (which happens to be my own much-appreciated alma mater) has become in Lebanon's intellectual life. The AUB has been through difficult years, but the worst wounds are frequently self-inflicted. Christopher Hitchens offered his listeners an opportunity to look differently at the momentous changes in their region, but all that many of them could do was launch the most spineless and confining of ripostes, telling him it was really he who had to look at himself.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Decline and fall of Dubai?

We all watch with dismay the possible descent of Dubai into religion and barbarism.
Dubai's Dramatic Drop
by Daniel Pipes
February 25, 2009
As the Muslim world settled into ever-deeper decline over the past decade, mired in political extremism, religious sickness, economic irrelevance, WMD, anarchy, dictatorship, and civil wars, Dubai stood out as a happy anomaly.
Burj Al Arab claims to be the world's only 7-star hotel.
Under the leadership of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai (one of seven polities within the United Arab Emirates) invited peoples from around the world to come make money and they did; about 83 percent of its population of 1.4 million is foreign. The emirate intelligently exploited the energy boom surrounding it and had the ambition not just to globalize but to become a leader at globalization. Dubai became renowned for the world's only tropical desert ski slope, the world's only 7-star hotel, and the world's very highest building, all done with a new-agey twist. (Publicity for the skyscraper, for example, presents it as "an unprecedented example of international cooperation" and "a beacon of progress for the entire world.")
But if Dubai seemed to be an exception to the general Muslim trajectory, it was only temporary.
In three distinct arenas – economics, culture, and sports – very recent developments show how much the statelet has in common with the impoverishing and separating Muslim world.
Burj Dubai is the world's highest building; but will it be inhabited?
Dubai was the froth of the early 2000s, the purest example of a bubble economy based on rising prices and boosterism, a Ponzi scheme among the nations. Already in 2006, financial writer Youssef Ibrahim dissected its trompe d'oeil economy:
The huge oil revenues that have been pouring in for two years have nowhere else to go but into more and more real estate speculation. It makes for great business for the developers and their Western and Asian contractors, as well as for the owners - the sheiks, kings, emirs, and their big businessmen friends who own the deserts on which these mirage-like projects are being erected.
The formula from their perspective is straightforward: Sell desert land to investors at a premium. Then double the profits by financing the construction of artificial islands, lakes, and massive air-conditioned shopping malls, alongside pie-in-the-sky projects like the largest ski slope in the desert, a Jurassic Park complete with mechanical dinosaurs right out of the movie, and millions of housing units. Then get the hell out and let them eat cake.
Dubai's leadership, Ibrahim notes, invested its profits "from selling Disneyland desert fantasies in enduring assets outside the Gulf," such as port facilities and hotel properties.
When the music stopped last fall, with a world-wide recession and the price of oil tumbling over two-thirds, no one got harder hit than the Dubai dream machine. Just as it ascended with panache, so it now sinks con brio. One example, as reported by Robert F. Worth in the New York Times:
With Dubai's economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.
This unique abandoned-car syndrome results in part from the emirate's stringent work rules. As Worth explains, "jobless people here lose their work visas and then must leave the country within a month. That in turn reduces spending, creates housing vacancies and lowers real estate prices, in a downward spiral that has left parts of Dubai — once hailed as the economic superpower of the Middle East — looking like a ghost town."
Signs of the new penury abound:
real estate prices, which rose dramatically during Dubai's six-year boom, have dropped 30 percent or more over the past two or three months in some parts of the city. … So many used luxury cars are for sale, they are sometimes sold for 40 percent less than the asking price two months ago, car dealers say. Dubai's roads, usually thick with traffic at this time of year, are now mostly clear.
Expatriates in Dubai are now so down on the country, Worth explains, some see it "as though it were a con game all along."
There is every reason to think that the economic descent has just begun and has a long way to go. As this happens, foreigners are fleeing. Christopher Davidson, a specialist on the UAE at Durham University, notes that "When Dubai was rich and successful, everyone wanted to be its friend. Now that it has no money in the pocket, nobody wants to be pals anymore."
When it comes to cultural extravagance, Dubai cedes first place to its neighbor, Abu Dhabi, which in early 2007, announced the "Cultural District of Saadiyat Island" to include satellites of the Guggenheim (costing US$400 million) and Louvre ($1.3 billion) museums, plus about two dozen other museums, performing arts centers, and pavilions.
Still, Dubai has ambitions, if more modest ones and the first Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, opening on Feb. 26, is to serve as its literary coming-out party. A welcoming message from the director of the festival, Isobel Abulhoul, explains:
EAIFL is the first true literary Festival in the Middle East celebrating the world of books in all its infinite variety, with over 50 events featuring authors whose books range from some of the finest contemporary literary fiction to inspirational lifestyle titles, via the magical worlds of children's, fantasy and science fiction writing. We invite you to share and enjoy their company in a relaxed Festival atmosphere, made even richer by our vibrant fringe which showcases the wonderful and diverse talents from our very special city, Dubai.
British author Geraldine Bedell was disinvited from Dubai because her novel The Gulf Between Us tells about a gay sheikh.
The festival boasts authors from twenty countries, including such big names as Frank McCourt and Louis de Bernières.
All good, but the EAIFL hit a bump before it even opened, one that threatens to overshadow the event itself. Never mind "the world of books in all its infinite variety"; the festival banned British author Geraldine Bedell because Sheik Rashid, one of the minor characters in her novel The Gulf Between Us (Penguin), is a homosexual Arab with an English boyfriend; to make matters worse, the plot is set against the background of the Kuwait War.
As Abulhoul wrote to Bedell, disinviting her. "I do not want our festival remembered for the launch of a controversial book. If we launched the book and a journalist happened to read it, then you could imagine the political fallout that would follow." As for the Kuwait War, that "could be a minefield for us."
Bedell responded that her novel "is incredibly affectionate towards the Gulf. I feel very warmly towards it, except when things like this happen. It calls into question the whole notion of whether the Emirates and other Gulf states really want to be part of the contemporary cultural world ... You can't ban books and expect your literary festival to be taken seriously."
Indeed, the biggest name of the Dubai event, Canadian author Margaret Atwood, stayed away in protest at Bedell's exclusion ("I cannot be part of the festival this year."), eventually agreeing to appear via video link-up in a debate on censorship to be staged by International PEN at the festival.

Shahar Peer is the Israeli tennis star excluded from a tournament in Dubai because of her nationality.
Nor can you ban one of the game's finest players and expect your tennis tournament to be taken seriously. But Dubai did that earlier this month when it banned Shahar Peer, 21, ranked 45th among female players globally, from its $2 million women's Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships.
Why? Well, she is Israeli. Organizers of the event cited security fears as their reason to bar Peer.
In consultation with Peer, the Women's Tennis Association decided to continue with the Dubai tournament. "She didn't want to see her fellow players harmed the same way she was being harmed," said Larry Scott, CEO of the WTA.
Still, Peer's exclusion had immediate repercussions for Dubai. The Tennis Channel canceled coverage of the event; The Wall Street Journal Europe revoked its sponsorship; event organizers were fined US$300,000 ($44,250 of which will go to Peer); and American star Andy Roddick said he would boycott the male championship in Dubai. During the trophy ceremony, tournament winner Venus Williams discomfited the hosts by mentioning Peer's exclusion.
Not only was Scott bombarded with messages from upset fans ("It's an issue that obviously touches a nerve") but he reported "a real snowballing effect": "I've been contacted by representatives of other businesses, academic institutions, cultural institutions that equally would only have invested in being in the UAE if they had the same assurances we had that Israelis could participate in the activities."
As a result of the Peer fiasco, Andy Ram, an Israeli ranked 11th among male tennis players was granted a "special permit" to enter Dubai and will play this week in the male Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. To stay on the tour schedule in 2010, the Dubai organizers must guarantee Peer a wild-card entry, so she gets to play there even if she fails to qualify, and must grant qualifying Israeli players visas eight weeks in advance.
In other words, Dubai must accept international rules or it excludes itself from championship play. That is no small matter in a statelet that has gone into top-tier sports in a big way as a way to attract tourism; the Associated Press notes that it "hosts the world's richest golf tournament and horse race, is home to the world governing body for cricket and is building a $4 billion Dubai Sports City to house stadiums, sports academies and one of several lush golf courses."
Through a heady mix of speed and affluence, Dubai tried to vault over tough economic, religious, and political decisions. The establishment hoped that building big would substitute for a sound base. It hoped to finesse troublesome issues, that glitz would overwhelm substance. For example, it expected that patronizing prestigious events would permit it to change the rules; Dubai says no minor homosexual literary characters or no Israeli tennis players? So be it! Dubai rules, the globe follows.
But that will not happen. The sharp drop in oil prices exposed the country's inescapable weakness, while Dubai's literary and tennis debacles confirmed the point. Instead, an entirely different model now tempts it – what I call the separation of civilizations. Unable to impose their way, Persian Gulf Arabs are retreating into a Muslim ghetto with its own economics (including Shar'i compliant tools), consumer goods, media, transportation, fast foods, sports competitions, search engines, and even systems of keeping time.
This course is doomed to failure. At a certain point, the issues at the center of Muslim life for the past two centuries – the tension between tradition and modernity, the opposition of Muslim identity to universal values, the strains of economic development – will have to be faced. Hucksterism and fast talk will not solve these problems. As Dubai's vacation from history abruptly ends, its hard work begins.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two Saudi Shia Dead After Clash with Religious Police for a Second Day in Holy City

[communicated by email]
Saudi Information Agency
Washington, DC

Two Saudi Shia Dead After Clash with Religious Police for a Second Day in
Holy City

SIA News

(Washington DC –February 22, 2009) - Two Shia civilians have been reported killed by Saudi police who opened fire at thousands of Saudi Shia visitors
to the holy city of Madina following a second day of clashes with religious police, witness told SIA News.

Witnesses told SIA News that two people have died after security forces opened fire at buses carrying Shia visitors in their way to attend religious gathering in a farm outside Madina to commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The farm is owned by Sheikh Mohamed AlAmari, the top religious leader of Saudi Shia community in the city. While they make up 30% the city, they are not allowed to build their places of worship.

Witnesses said, the religious police attacked Shai visitors in Baqee Cemetery and in the Prophet Mohamed Mosque, where Shia gathered for prayers.

On Saturday, thousands of Shia protested outside the Baqee after discovering a member of the Saudi religious police was filming Shia women while they gathered outside the Baqee to perform visitation rituals. The protest left several injured and arrested by the riot police. Photographing women in Saudi Arabia is seeing as sexual harassment.

In keeping with its policy of banning coverage of Shia religious and cultural news, Saudi press outlets reporting the clashes didn't make any reference to the Shia. AlWatan, AlRiyadh, AlHyata, and Okaz newspapers blamed the crowds for causing disturbances.

The government of King Abdullah bans its Shia citizens from senior government jobs such s diplomats, ministers.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bangladesh: Anti-Radical, Pro-Peace Muslim Journalist Savaged in Broad Daylight

To those of us who know of Salah Uddin's brave work in countering radicalism, this is sad news indeed. Salah's ordeal has been continuing for over six years now.

 Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Attacked by Goons:
Anti-Radical, Pro-Peace Muslim Journalist Savaged in Broad Daylight
CONTACT: Richard L. Benkin, Ph.D.; +1-847-922-6426;
e mail :
Dhaka, Bangladesh—At 10am today, local time, internationally-acclaimed journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, was attacked as he was working in the office of his newspaper, Weekly Blitz, by "a gang of thugs" claiming to be from Bangladesh's ruling Awami League.  I spoke by telephone with Choudhury as he awaited medical treatment for eye, neck, and other injuries suffered in the attack.  The renewed violence marks the first against him since he was abducted by Bangladesh's dreaded Rapid Action Battalion a year ago.
A large group stormed Blitz premises and attacked newspaper staff until they found Choudhury.  At that point, he said, "they dragged me [and two staff] into the street" where they beat them "in broad daylight…They looted my office and stole my laptop" with "all my sensitive information.  As of this writing, the attackers continue to occupy the Blitz office.
According to Choudhury, the police were impassive and seemed intimidated when the attackers emphasized their party membership and accused him of being an agent of the Israeli Mossad.  They later threatened to attack his home should Choudhury go to the police again.
Choudhury was arrested in 2003 by government agents, in cooperation with Islamist forces, because of his advocacy of relations with Israel and religious equality, and his articles exposing the rise of radical Islam in Bangladesh.  He was tortured and held for seventeen months and only released after strong pressure by human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin and US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL).  In 2007, the US Congress passed a Kirk-introduced resolution 409-1 calling on Bangladesh to stop harassing Choudhury and drop capital charges against him after extensive evidence confirmed them to be false, contrary to Bangladeshi law, and as admitted by successive Bangladeshi officials, maintained only to appease Islamists.  The Bangladeshi government continues to remain in defiance of that resolution and its provisions.
For further information, contact Dr. Richard Benkin at the telephone or email above.