Dayton mosque attack incident revisited

New details have emerged about the Dayton mosque incident. I explore them in detail at City of Brass v2.0.

(sorry no RSS feed for the new site is available yet. I am leaning on my editors to get me one soon. Please stay tuned :)


Patience, patience

It's been a couple of weeks now at my new home for City of Brass at Beliefnet, and while I've largely settled into a new routine there, several things remain unfinished. First among these is my RSS feed, which still has not been activated. I ask your patience. In the meantime, why not take a look at the blog the old fashioned way? I really have been quite a lot more active these past two weeks.


City of Brass v2.0 now live at Beliefnet

It's official - City of Brass will henceforth be published at Beliefnet - the URL to the new blog is:


Please join me over there, and update your bookmarks accordingly!



I am pleased and honored to announce that I have been invited to move City of Brass to BeliefNet.com. Effective next week, I will be posting at my new URL (http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/ - but don't go yet, there's not much there at present). If you are subscribed to my feed, you needn't change anything, you should be redirected automatically.

I am really excited about this opportunity and I think that it will be a lot of fun. See you over there!


Obama's muslim-outreach advisor resigns

Chalk up another victory for the scalp-hunting Islamophobe right: Mazen Asbahi, appointed as national coordinator for Muslim American affairs by the Obama campaign, has resigned from his volunteer position because of claims that he has "ties" to the Muslim Brotherhood, and served on the board of advisors for an Islamic fund at the same time (8 years ago) as another member, Jamal Said who is a fundamentalist imam. Asbahi actually resigned from that position after only a few weeks, once he learned of allegations against Said. In other words, Asbahi got the jihadi cooties, which are kind of like a mixture of anthrax and herpes.

Obama continues to disappoint on this score. He still remains unable to state publicly that "no, I am not a muslim but it would make no difference even if I were." It would have truly been a hope-inspiring change to see him defend Asbahi and take on the whisperers, because caving to them makes them all the stronger. That would be audacity I can believe in.

Yes, 12% of voters still think Obama is muslim (incidentally, 1% think he's Jewish). So whats the better strategy? Try to distance yourself from muslims at all costs to try and make that 12% think, "hmm. ok so he threw his volunteer outreach guy under the bus. I'm convinced!" ? Or to try and undermine the reasoning that says "if Obama is muslim, then I cannot vote for him, because muslims are not acceptable" ?

If any politician had the power or the pulpit to take on the ugly, dark side of American culture that Islamophobia represents, it's Obama. Given the confluence of events of war and energy and security, a sane outreach to Islam is in our collective best interest. Yet Obama runs away. Again.

I'm not sure whether I have any substantive analysis here other than snark, so I'll just stop here. Some excerpts from the story at WSJ:

why even have a muslim outreach advisor?

Until Mr. Asbahi joined the campaign, Sen. Obama did not have a Muslim-outreach coordinator and had relied on the Democratic National Committee's efforts. The campaign has long had its own outreach efforts to Catholic, evangelical Christian and Jewish voters. Some Muslim voters have complained about the disparity. An Obama aide says Mr. Asbahi was brought on in part to bridge that perceived gap and to reach out to Muslim communities in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, states seen as among the most competitive this fall.

What exactly are these "ties" to extremism?

In 2000, Mr. Asbahi briefly served on the board of Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a Delaware-registered trust. Its other board members at the time included Jamal Said, the imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois.
[faith and obama]

"I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board," Mr. Asbahi said in his resignation letter. "Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down...to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change."

Who exactly is Jamal Said?

The Justice Department named Mr. Said an unindicted co-conspirator in the racketeering trial last year of several alleged Hamas fund-raisers, which ended in a mistrial. He has also been identified as a leading member of the group in news reports going back to 1993.

Mr. Said is the imam at the Bridgeview Mosque in Bridge-view, Ill., outside Chicago. He left the board of the Islamic fund in 2005, Securities and Exchange Commission filings state. A message left for Mr. Said at the mosque was not returned.

What jafi scum was responsible for this particular scalping?

The eight-year-old connection between Mr. Asbahi and Mr. Said was raised last week by the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, which is published by a Washington think tank and chronicles the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, a world-wide fundamentalist group based in Egypt. Other Web sites, some pro-Republican and others critical of fundamentalist Islam, also have reported on the background of Mr. Asbahi.


Is orientalism dead?

I admit to not having read Edward Said's Orientalism, but from what I gather, his thesis is that any study of eastern cultures by western historians is necessarily tainted by a racist, condescending, colonial perspective that portrays eastern culture in an inherently inferior light. I have always had trouble accepting this thesis (at least, as far as the modern era - examples of it abound from the colonial era, for example pretty much everything written about India during the British Raj).

Any analysis of a foreign culture is necessarily going to happen across a cultural chasm. As such, it is inevitable that elements of that culture under study will be filtered through the observer's own. The whole point of cultural analysis is to try and understand something alien; the human way to do this is to try and relate it to something more familiar. As a result, the culture under study will be bent and folded (and even mutilated, depending on the skill or lack thereof of the observer) to fit into predefined (and alien) categories.

There probably is always some element of condescension involved as well. Cultural superiority is ingrained deeply by force of habit and the comfort of the familiar. How many times have we seen statements about the West from Islamic sources that seek to portray the West as inherently sinful, hedonistic, without morals, etc. ? Perhaps Western analysts have learned to mask or even suppress their condescension better. But is that condescension the core of the analysis or a side effect? Is the value of the analysis totally negated by it?

A modern day westerner writing about the middle east (which, it should be noted, includes we western muslims as much as it does someone like Michael Totten) will not be immune to these foibles. In my opinion, the thesis of orientalism draws a false line between east and west. In that way Edward Said is as guilty of perpetuating the "Clash" as Samuel Huntington (personally, I favor the Gash of Civilizations theory instead). When i think of Oriental I think of the far east (the Chinese civilization and its offshoots). The middle east is the frontier between east and west, but I don't think you can argue (especially with the adoption of western leftist parliaments and political systems) that its wholly distinct. Neither are they distinct in the religious sphere - after all, there are three great Abrahamic faiths, and they are coterminus at Jerusalem.

I think that we cannot expect a non-muslim writing about the middle east to be too sympathetic to our muslim axioms. It's our task to explain why orthodoxy and faith are important, to rescue terms like hijab and jihad from the negative connotation, to take our own pride in our orthopraxy. A non-muslim writing about the middle east will look for what they know - bars, liberalism, hot chicks - whereas we might see something different. That's not orientalism, its simply culture shock.

Overall, orientalism is badly named. It describes a relationship between colonial powers and its colonies more than it does east vs west or Islam vs (anything). I can't help but speculate that Said's motivation was really to try and establish a distinction between east and west as proxies for the palestinians and the israelis. That conflict is all the more tragic when seen as a fraternal one rather than one at the very frontier between two civilizations, alien and opposed. There's no reason however that the rest of us, who are not embroiled in a life or death struggle over holy land, need to be bound by this formulation. I think we as western muslims especially need to reject the concept of orientalism out of hand.

UPDATE: great essay in The Guardian, "Orientalism is not racism". In my opinion the most important part of the argument is as follows:

Today the west is bleakly incurious about the history of Islam, its art, peoples and learning. There's a blank wall of terror. This wall has been strengthened by Said's book because it closes down a crucial way for cultures to encounter one another: it closes down romanticism.

NOTE: Comments closed here - to discuss this essay, please join the discussion at Talk Islam.


What is an African-American?

Tariq has a very thorough post at his blog expanding on the question of what it means to be African American and whether Obama qualifies to claim that ethnic heritage or not. I think the post expands very well on the earlier discussion and i find myself in agreement now that the term African American does have a special meaning that is best left undiluted. I do still think that the self-identity of AA in the US needs to ultimately free itself of slavery’s shadow, much like the self-identity of Jews needs to free itself of the Holocaust, but in practice I don't know how practical that is.

It must be noted however that the term AA will continue to be used as a broad brush. So i think in one sense if ethnic AA's try to articulate their "ownership" of the term African-American, they do risk being tarred (unfairly) as making the “black enough” argument. It might be better to make the argument in the abstract for the term AA, but adopting a more specific label for pragmatisms’ sake. I personally think “Black American” is more descriptive since Africa, per se, is not really central to the identity in question.

(Note - comments closed here. Please discuss this post at Talk Islam).


Club Med

At Talk Islam, thabet links to a pair of editorials from the FT (skeptical) and the Economist (upbeat) regarding France's proposal for a Mediterranean Union. I must confess, I find the idea of a Mediterranean Union extremely appealing. I found this graphic from the FT rather fascinating, illustrating the economic disparity of the nations around the Med Rim: (click to enlarge)

I am also reminded of the way in which the states surrounding the Great Lakes here in the US came together to form the Great Lakes Compact. Access to the same massive shared body of water means that all adjacent polities have a vested interest in preserving it as a common resource. An economic union across the Med would also be a great way to uplift North Africa in particular, and provide an economic bulwark against fundamentalism.


Introducing Muslim Advocates: freedom and justice for all

Introducing Muslim Advocates - the Muslim-American civil rights group that CAIR should have been. Founded by the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML), they are hitting precisely the right note in their mission statement about seeking freedom and justice for all. They have hit the ground running, by producing this excellent video titled "Got Rights?":

Watch This Video: It will give you crucial Information about how to protect you and your family when approached by law enforcement.Since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs and South Asians have endured particular scrutiny by law enforcement -- and in some cases, questioning and searches that infringe fundamental rights at the core of the Constitution. In this climate, it is vital that members of our communities inform themselves about our rights as Americans.Then, Take Action: Share the video with your family and friends; and visit our website to tell us about your experiences with law enforcement.To change discriminatory policies, we first need to educate our fellow Americans about our experiences. Help stop racial and religious profiling.

Brilliant. They also invite you to share your story with them if you've been denied your rights or had an otherwise unjust encounter with the law.

The importance of this group cannot be overstated. For 15 years, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has failed to really make a case for muslim American civil rights. The failure of CAIR to articulate a national civil rights argument on behalf of muslims has not gone unnoticed - leading CAIR's chairman to resign in frustration (though he certainly deserves some of the blame). CAIR's membership has been steadily dwindling as well.

Is CAIR now irrelevant? Not neccessarily. I've defended CAIR many times because while their national leadership has been inept and controversy-prone, the local state chapters do important work in compiling information about muslim civil liberties violations that would otherwise go unnoticed, as well as basic community outreach, humanitarian work, and of course damage control. MA can step in to fill the gap at the national level but probably won't be able to replicate CAIR's infrastructure on a state-by-state chapter level, at least not for a while. I don't see MA as being capable of doing the community outreach/open-mosque/interfaith yeoman's work, either. The ideal situation would be for genuine reform within CAIR and have these two organizations work independently, but cooperatively, towards the same goals.

My friend Shahed Amanullah recently mused on a number of ways in which CAIR might reform:

a) Change the name. It has the connotation of “American” and “Islamic” being mutually exclusive.
b) Be more selective about the civil rights issues that are taken up, because there are some times when people are just being jerks and not necessarily anti-Muslim. And some actions (i.e. the “flying imams” lawsuit) have ended up having a net negative impact on public opinion about Muslims.
c) Be more broad about the issues taken up. There’s more to being Muslim in America than the right to wear hijab and pray at work.
d) Explicitly reject all foreign funding, like MPAC has done since its founding.
e) Have at least one proactive/positive initiative (outreach, training, community building) for every aggressive one (i.e. lawsuits).
f) Take a different attitude towards the media - the current CAIR attitude towards the media is far too hostile and uncooperative, and it feeds on itself.
g) Push for the inclusion on younger/more diverse leadership, with special attention given to those who were born and/or raised in the US.
h) Focus on Muslim life in America, and leave foreign policy to other Muslim groups. Both are worthy causes, but the pursuit of both at the same time hurts the efficacy of each one.
i) Stop trying to be another ISNA (i.e. stop adding parallel programs that step on the toes of other groups, and stop positioning yourself as an umbrella group for all Muslims.). Focus on what you do best - defending civil rights of Muslims.
j) Thoroughly vet all staffers for anything in their past that can drag down the organization as a whole. (Not trying to discredit past work that people may have done, this is simply a cost-benefit analysis that weighs the skills one brings to the table vs. the obstacles it can place in the way of the larger org goals).

With the advent of MA, CAIR might as well outsource all or part of (b) above to them, as far as lobbying at the national level and engaging in PR work. Of course, at the local level, it's the data collected by local CAIR chapters that MA will need to have access to in order to make their case.

Overall, what CAIR needs is bold ideas and fresh leadership. I know the perfect man for the job as CAIR Chairman but he's already declined to be drafted :) Ultimately though the creation of MA bodes well for muslim-American organizations in general, as long as these orgs realize they are all on the same team and "representing muslim American issues" is not a zero-sum game.

painfully self-aware

More than a few people have brought the seeming hiatus in blogging here at City of Brass to my attention with alarm, asking if I have shuttered this site in favor of a sexier project (Talk Islam, which if you aren't reading, you SHOULD be).

However, while I admit to being distracted of late, nothing could be further from the truth. City of Brass is not going anywhere. Stay tuned, if you've stuck through te drought this long already.

FWIW, I am going to retire the Carnival of Brass, however, in favor of Talk Islam. More details later.


the Qur'an shooter

The US military has officially apologized for the actions of a sergeant who used the Qur'an for target practice.

The incident was earlier strongly condemned by al-Hashemi and the Association of Muslim Scholars, which represents many of Iraq's mosques.

"This heinous crime shows the hatred that the leaders and the members of the occupying force have against the Quran and the [Muslim] people," it said.

It added that it held both the US military and Iraqi government responsible for the incident.

The US army earlier said the staff sergeant, who fired bullets at the Quran and wrote graffiti inside it, had already been removed from Iraq and was to be disciplined.

A heinous crime? good grief. Personally I think that it's literally impossible to demean the Qur'an - the most anyone can do is destroy a copy, but that's an impotent gesture indeed. What need have we of apologies such as these? Why should the empty symbolism of an unbeliever concern us?

If anything is an insult to the Qur'an, it's this compulsive obsession with how the exterior of the physical book is treated rather than what's inside.

UPDATE: President Bush will also make a personal apology.


Pipes' dream

As noted previously, the "Obama is a muslim" smear has evolved into the "Obama is an apostate" smear. The reason for the latest mutation is probably the Wright affair, which put OBAMA - PASTOR - CHURCH in giant headlines for most of April. Hence, the smear has had to adapt, from "he's a muslim" to "he's an apostate". Actually, Luttwak isn't the first to push the Smear v2.0, Daniel Pipes was blathering about it just a few weeks ago:

Obama's Kenyan birth father: In Islam, religion passes from the father to the child. Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. (1936–1982) was a Muslim who named his boy Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Only Muslim children are named "Hussein".

Eteraz already refuted the assertion about birth fathers:

Islamic law recognizes abandonment by the biological father. Obama's Kenyan father abandoned Obama. As such, any religious imprimatur he may have had over Obama -- which is already a stretch since the man was an atheist -- is null and void. In such a situation, Obama's mother's religion is controlling. She was not Muslim. Even if someone makes the argument from patriarchy: that Obama's paternal grandparents were his rightful guardians, that would fail since they also constructively abandoned him.

There is a corollary issue here: what about the fact that Obama's second father, the Indonesian, was a "non-practicing Muslim." Doesn't his faith transfer over to Obama? The answer is no. Under Islamic law, step-fathers do not acquire ownership over the child. Their relationship to the child emanates from their relationship to the child's mother. Again, Obama's mother was not Muslim. If a practicing Muslim man marries a Christian woman with children from a previous marriage, her children wouldn't automatically become Muslim. Here, the new father wasn't even practicing.

Luttwack and the other fake experts promoting this new smear do not understand Islam. Religion is not hereditary as it is in Judaism. Islam is not a race. Just because a child has a Muslim father -- which, again, Obama didn't -- doesn't mean anything unless the child is being raised as a Muslim. At the time of birth, Muslims engage in a symbolic act -- of saying the Call to Prayer in the child's ear -- that renders a child Muslim. If Obama's father was agnostic/atheist, then he wouldn't have done such a thing.

Pipes claims to be an expert on Islam, but none of the traditional practices or concensus views above seems to penetrate his analysis. I think people of Pipes' ilk are confusing muslims with Jews. Or with Klingons (we already know muslims are Orcs).

As far as Pipes' assertion that only muslims are named Hussein, I wonder what he thinks of these shady characters:

Gen. Omar Bradley, who bore a Semitic, Muslim first name, and shared it with the second caliph of Sunni Islam, was the hero of D-day and Normandy, of the Battle of the Bulge and the Ruhr.
What about other American heroes, such as Gen. George Joulwan, former NATO supreme allied commander of Europe? "Joulwan" is an Arabic name. Or there is Gen. John Abizaid, former CENTCOM commander. Abizaid is an Arabic name. Abi means Abu or "father of," and Zaid is a common Arab first name.

It should be noted that by Pipe's logic, this fellow might also be an apostate:

Look at that beard! And he's named after a Prophet in Islam, to boot.


Administrative note regarding the Carnival of Brass

The Carnival of Brass is composed of two feeds, one dedicated to blogs (@brass_crescent) and the other devoted to articles in the mainstream media (@COB). However, with the launch of Talk Islam, the latter feed is now obsolete. Please note that there will be no more further updates to the @COB (media) feed, instead I highly recommend that you replace that feed with the one from Talk Islam. Javascript code for embedding the Talk Islam feed is as follows:

<script src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/TalkIslam?format=sigpro" type="text/javascript" ></script>

Please note that the @brass_crescent (blogs) feed is unchanged. You can use the same javascript code for that feed as before. Alternatively you can also use the following code:

<script src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/brass_crescent_blogs?format=sigpro" type="text/javascript" ></script>

The Carnival of Brass FAQ will be updated with this information as well.


Muslim Smear v2.0

Obama is falsely accused of being an apostate in the New York Times.

Ali Eteraz refutes at the Huffington Post:

people that appear to be Muslims, but don't follow Islam and choose another religion, are permitted under Islamic law to leave Islam without penalty. A major case in Malaysia recently handed down -- a woman who was Muslim for some time in order to marry an Iranian was permitted to go back to Buddhism -- is an example. Obama, unlike the Malaysian woman, didn't even make a profession of faith to Islam, so it makes even less sense for him to be considered an apostate.
No call to prayer in the ear, not raised as a Muslim, born to an atheist father, and then abandoned to a Christian mother both by father and his family, equals not Muslim. Obama is right to say he had no religion until he became a Christian.


IQ and pseudoscience

In the debate over Ben Stein's movie Expelled, which purports to argue that creationism/intelligent design has a rightful place in the science curriculum, some have argued that - to be blunt - pseudoscience of this sort is popular because people are dumb. Example - Jerry Pournelle argues that higher education is wasted on the proles:

As we go down the Bell Curve it becomes more difficult and eventually becomes impossible -- and all the educational effort expended in teaching "talent meritocracy" skills has been wasted. Those on the left side of the Bell Curve have talents and potentials, but they require a different kind of education -- and the United States public school system, with rare exceptions, not only doesn't provide it but doesn't want to provide it. We believe or say we believe what Bill Gates believes: that every child deserves a world class university prep education. And as I have said, attempting to provide that to everyone means that few will in fact get such and education, and much of the money and resources devoted to education will be wasted.

In a nitshell, this is why the IQ-is-taboo crowd has such a bad reputation - because they cannot resist the temptation to indulge their latent sense of superiority. In asserting their intellectual prowess, they wholly abandon the moral high ground.

The argument in defense of science is wholly separate from the argument about IQ. The former is easy: ExpelledExposed, RealClimate, TalkOrigins, etc. Yes, those who unequivocally reject the (in retrospect, obvious) idea that IQ has a genetic component are as guilty of pseudoscience as Stein et al.

But the other side of the fence, those who say "IQ has a genetic component" are also at fault when, and if, they propose policy. Such as Pournelle's horrific implication that higher education is wasted upon the plebes.

There is in fact no need to "consider" IQ when combating pseudoscience unless you are prepared to accept the fallacy that only dumb people fall for pseudoscience. Very, very high-IQ people are quite happy embracing pseudoscience for a number of reasons. One of them being simple calculus of self-interest (financial or otherwise). And another being genuine belief.

It is intellectual laziness to assume that disagreement is due to inferiority. You are implicitly assuming that super-rationality exists. It does not. The reason people fall for pseudoscience is not because they are dumb but because pseudoscience is Godelian - it cannot be disproved by reason and logic. Pseudoscience is a belief system.

The problem is not that there are low IQ rubes who slurp up pseudoscience. The problem is that there are high-IQ people who gladly dispense pseudoscience because unlike science, pseudoscence is very useful in promoting an agenda. Science is not quite so easy to push around to fit an a-priori.

Were reason and rationality truly objective, then pseudoscience would not exist. That is the problem, and there is no solution aside from the kind of solution to bad, but free, speech: more speech. More Science. Fight fire with light.

Proposing public policy to restrict higher education to the high-IQ-enabled is not only a moral travesty, but would also do nothing to erase pseudoscience from this world.


a conspiracy of cartographers

This is inane.

SPEAKERS at a Doha conference on Mecca's importance said that the holy city, not Greenwich, should become the reference point for world time, reigniting an old controversy that started some four decades ago.

A group of Islamic scholars presented on Saturday “scientific evidence” to prove that Mecca was the core of that the zero longitude passes through the holy city and not through Greenwich in the UK.

Greenwich in England has been the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) since 1884. GMT is sometimes called Greenwich Meridian Time because it is measured from the Greenwich Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Greenwich is the place from where all time zones are measured.

The phrase scientific evidence has scare quotes around it for good reason. For one thing, they argue that Mecca has perfect alignment of geographic north to magnetic north. All well and good, but magnetic north drifts over time. The claim is false anyway, the true perfect alignment is somewhere around Kandahar.

Possibly the most hilarious aspect of this is their solution: reject the maps!

The participants recommended the unification of the time in the Arab world to the time in Mecca instead of Greenwich. They also called the Arab governments to abandon the new world maps “because they are forged to serve Western interests.”

yes, western interests like global trade, or navigation of oil tankers?

As I've said elsewhere, attempts like this to assert Islamic superiority in the arena of science by pseudoscience fatwa betray a deep-seated insecurity about faith more than anything else.


Talk Islam v2.0

I am very pleased to announce the relaunch of Talk Islam, an experiment in conversation between the members of the Islamic blogsphere.

Talk Islam was originally conceived as a "frequently asked questions" resource to combat public mis-perceptions about Islam, analogous to the Talk Origins archive on evolutionary theory. However, for various reasons, that goal was not realistic in its original form. The relaunch of Talk Islam is intended to be a long-term project, with a focus on promoting stories and initiating discussions that are relevant to our concerns.

This goal is achieved in numerous ways. First, the main page of Talk Islam is a group blog, that hosts a running discussion between leading bloggers in the Islamosphere. This conversation is open to all, and we are actively seeking participation from muslim bloggers to participate.

Second, Talk Islam hosts the Carnival of Brass, which highlights key posts by muslim bloggers throughout the Islamsphere. Anyone can submit links to the Carnival, and posts that are linked appear not just at Talk Islam but at dozens of other muslim blogs around the web.

Third, any regular participant of Talk Islam may request a free blog, at (username).talkislam.info. These user blogs are powered by Wordpress and equal in functionality to free blogs hosted on the Wordpress.com hosting service - except the URL is far cooler!

All in all, Talk Islam is an experiment in progress. The goal is to promote the entire Islamic blogsphere and forge stronger connections within it. Do stop by and take a look! We hope you join us.


The Papacy and Jon Stewart

This is probaly one of the funniest segments I've seen in a long time on the Daily Show.

"OH MY GOD The Pope's plane in invisible!"

"yeah, not like that last pope.. that guy was a dick!"

"wait, I thought the Jews controlled the media?"

and my favorite, "awesome speech". But that was President Bush's line, not Stewart's.


JStreet: pro-Israel, pro-peace

"We must establish boldly and forcefully that nothing is more pro-Israel than pressing for immediate, sustained and meaningful American action to end the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.This requires a dramatic change in the dynamic of discussion about Israel in the American Jewish community and in the American body politic. It demands an end to simplistic slogans and name-calling that effectively shuts down debate and discussion in a community not known as shy and retiring in expressing its opinions.

My history demands that I say this. Our future and Israel’s future demands that we act on it."

-- "For Israel’s Sake, Moderate American Jews Must Find Their Voice", by Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street and of JStreetPAC.

More information on JStreet at their website:

J Street is the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

J Street was founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israel conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. We support a new direction for American policy in the Middle East and a broad public and policy debate about the U.S. role in the region.

J Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own - two states living side-by-side in peace and security. We believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole.

sign me up!


I am converting to Scientology

It's been a great ride, oh ummah, but here's where I get off.

"goodbye, evrybody... I've got to go..."

"Bismillah NO! We will not let you go!"


how appropriately named

I don't think anyone could deliver a more damaging critique of Wilder's Fitna than this:

Omar Bakri, the Libyan-based radical Muslim cleric who is barred from Britain, did not think the film was very offensive. "On the contrary, if we leave out the first images and the sound of the page being torn, it could be a film by the [Islamist] Mujahideen," he said.

Ouch. especially since he was serious in his admiration. When you've made a film that makes a terrorist smile, you have to wonder what side you really are on.

(source: Financial Times, registration required)


the wages of fitna

Earlier, I mentioned that Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, of bomb-in-turban Mohammed fame, was suing Geert Wilders for copyright violation. Now it seems that Dutch businesses are following suit (pun intended):

Dutch businesses warned on Saturday that they would consider suing far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders if his anti-Islam film led to a commercial boycott of Dutch goods, while police said cars were set ablaze and graffiti called for Wilders to be killed.

“A boycott would hurt Dutch exports. Businesses such as Shell, Philips, and Unilever are easily identifiable as Dutch companies. I don’t know if Wilders is rich, or well-insured, but in case of a boycott, we would look to see if we could make him bear responsibility,” Bernard Wientjes, the chairman of the Dutch employers’ organisation VNO-NCW, told the Het Financieel Dagblad newspaper.

Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Muhammad on Saturday suggested a boycott of Dutch goods.

“If Muslims unite, it will be easy to take action. If we boycott Dutch products, they will have to close down their businesses,” he told reporters.

The media in Jordan has also called for such a boycott.

Two days after the Internet release of the long-awaited 17-minute documentary “Fitna”, Muslim nations, including Malaysia and Singapore, and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned it. Although there were no mass disturbances in the Netherlands, two cars were set ablaze in Utrecht overnight, with a slogan calling for the death of Wilders. Police said they could not say with certainty that it was connected to the release of “Fitna”.

The inclusion of the mention of cars being set afire seems pretty tangential to me, especially since it was isolated incidents and not widespread.

At first glance, a boycott seems rather harsh since the ordinary Dutch people - including obviously all Dutch muslims - were steadfastly opposed to Fitna and yet they would bear the economic brunt of a boycott far more than the jafi minority like Wilders and his cohorts.

However, in a free country a boycott is a legitimate instrument for applying social pressure, a form of speech in its own right. Just because you have the right to do a thing doesn't mean that there aren't reasons, of civility and honor, to refrain. If Fitna results in economic harm by voluntary (and legitimate) boycotts of Dutch goods from muslim countries then that is part of the price that the Dutch have to pay for their freedom. Wilders had every right to make his movie, irrespective of the harm it could have caused others, and muslims have every right to respond peaceably via boycotts.

And Dutch businesses suing Wilders over it seems rather just a comeuppance, doesn't it?

UPDATE: anyone inclined to argue that a boycott is unfair would do well to consider the alternative:

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 29 -- Islamic and Arab leaders denounced a Dutch film Saturday that portrays Islam as a ticking time bomb aimed at the West, calling for international laws to prevent insults to religions.

So not gonna happen!

Obviously Arab governments, being largely autocratic, would advocate criminalizing speech sine that is what they routinely do. Speech truly is dangerous, after all, and autocracy has reason to fear it. But the case of Fitna also shows that free nations also have reason to fear speech, and the corrective is applied not through government intervention but rather the power of the market.

The best answer to bad speech is more speech. But that doesn't mean that bad speech doesn't have consequences of its own, regardless of whether you live in a free ocuntry or not. There is no such thing as cost-free speech - rights come responsibilities, as well.


Geert Wilder's Fitna

(welcome, Instapundit readers!)

UPDATE: The YouTube version was pulled offline, but I found another from Google Video via Rusty.

The ridiculousness of the film speaks for itself, I think. However, Ali Eteraz performed the thankless task of reviewing it anyway. Also, do not miss Thabet's link roundup about the subdued response to the film's release by muslims in Europe and elsewhere.

Warning, very graphic images. Absolutely NOT work- or children-safe.

The cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammed SAW as a hook-nosed terrorist with a bomb in his turban, over which a lawsuit has been filed, appears in the first 15 seconds.

The tone and style of the film is lifted straight out of the most fevered swamps of the blogsphere and talk radio. I don't really see how this makes any coherent argument other than "terrorists are evil" which is hardly a point of contention. The link of Islam to terror is ham-handed and clumsy and at many times outright laughable. However, for someone with confirmation bias predisposing them to believe the link exists already, this will no doubt be seen as a devastatingly rigorous argument. To someone with no a-priori image of Islam, its actual persuasive value is practically zero. It is solely a guilt-by-association polemic, and a rude, ugly, obscene fear-mongering polemic at that.

Part II tomorrow.

UPDATE: I have received some emails from people asking why I would want to publicize this. (No, no death threats yet. Don't hold your breath.) As I discussed at a thread at Dean Esmay's blog, The film is it's own best counter-argument. It is so over the top that it undermines itself. If censorship against the film succeeded, then people would only know it exists and it would have some credibility accorded to it by virtue of the mystery and controversy. Like Janet Jackson's nipple, though, once (ahem) laid bare it's not that big a deal, and just kind of pathetic.


a disagreement among jafis

I find this rather bizarre - one of the original Danish cartoonists who portrayed the Prophet SAW as a terrorist in his cartoon, is now suing Dutch MP Geert Wilders over copyright violations in the latter's movie Fitna, which portrays Islam as a religion of terror.

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, says he will sue the maker of an anti-Islam film.

Mr Westergaard says his cartoon, which sparked riots two years ago, was used in the film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders without permission.

Mr Westergaard told Danish TV that his cartoon was a protest against terrorism, not Islam as a whole.

The Danish journalists' union is suing on his behalf for copyright violation.

"Wilders has the right to make his movie but he has not permission to use my drawing," Mr Westergaard told Denmark's TV2.

"This has nothing to do with freedom of speech," he said. "I will not accept my cartoon being taken out of its original context and used in a completely different one."

I find it intriguing that Westergaard chose the movie to make his stand and to argue that his cartoon was only an indictment against terrorism. He was certainly, ahem, silent over widespread adoption of his cartoon (portraying the Prophet with a bomb in his turban) by exactly those vocal European groups which explicitly claim that Islam as a whole is a problem. And I dont see how you can claim you are not indicting the religion as a whole if you coose to portray the founder of the faith himself as a terrorist. Logically doesn't that imply that his teachings are also terror?

I think the more likely explanation for Westergaard's sudden concern for moderate Islam is revealed here:

Mr Westergaard says he is once again in danger because the cartoon has been used in Mr Wilders' film.

In other words, he is really just afraid of the additional publicity. Since his cartoons did actually trigger a genuine StupidStorm of violence, whereas Wilder's Fitna is largely being ignored, I think his fear is understandable given his experience. Still, it's quite interesting that now he has basically endorsed the existence of moderate mainstream Islam, which will be a useful wedge to use against those who try to adopt his insulting cartoon as a weapon against ordinary decent muslims.

ritualizing Science

(Below is a comment I left in response to Elezier Yudkowski's thought experiment that science might be better served by wrapping it in a cloak of ritual.)


The reason I keep coming back to this blog is because you madden me. Long time reader, first time commentor. I appreciate the thought experiment you are conducting in this post but I think some of your own biases are driving the theory.

For example, you equate science with magic. I suspect this is because you have a romanticized bias towards science instead of practical, mundane scientific experience in the trenches. Arthur C. Clarke would be happy, god rest his soul, but the actual practice of science is the opposite of magic. The scientific method simply could not survive in an arcane mysterium context. As a practicing scientist, I not only rely on the knowledge of my fellow initiates to Ars Scientifica to hold my work to its rigour, but also the very public nature of the peer review process itself. There's a reason why PLoS and arXiv are so popular and groundbreaking - these are innovations in the process of peer review that drive us towards greater public transparency, not less. If Ars Scientifica were walled off from the public sphere and wrapped in layers of ritual, it would hamper the very process of inquiry and most importantly self-critique that is essential to the function of Science itself (and magnify the very real flaws and problems in the Method and peer review that persist today).

Secondly, you equate religion with the very small, very specific, and very (disproportionately so) vocal subset that is intelligent design/young earth creationism/etc. This is likely because you are biased in regards to the sample of religious folk you find yourself debating with online and in person. Ordinary deeply religious folk like myself are simply not insecure enough about their faith to care much that you keep referring to religion as a whole as an original sin of rationality (though I do admire your cleverness in inverting the metaphor!). However, that said, you tipped your hand a bit when you wrote above that "if some other cult tried to tell you [The Truth] was actually a bearded man in the sky 6000 years ago, you'd laugh like hell." I think at least part of the underlying drive behind the thought experiment at hand is the wish that science were accorded more respect, so that it least would have parity with pseudoscience. But if science has a PR problem, it is structural. It's simply not worth the effort worrying about it. I think Science succeeds in making an impact on people's lives irrespective of their respect for it.

By focusing only on the bearded sky dude you are avoiding the much deeper intellectual challenge of grappling with the far more mature manifestations of religion, the majority of which transcend minor details like young earths, bearded men, or whatever. The kernel of religion is not the trappings of the stereotype you invoke but rather the simple idea that existence is deeper than what can be accessed by the finite tools we possess.

I am fond of arguing that Godel's Theorem points the way towards the superset of knowledge that contains all that Science can discover and all that Religion seeks to uncover. I don't think ritualizing Science to make it more like religion, or systematizing Religion to make it more like science, is the answer.


fitna against fitna

As previously mentioned, Dutch MP Geert Wilders is planning to release a film entitled "Fitna" which purports to prove that Islam and the Qur'an are an "inspiration to murder" and the faith is fundamentally inmical to Western values. In essence, it is hate speech, which will test the boundaries of free speech in much the same way that (falsely) yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater does.

There are numerous restrictions on free speech - for example, in most of Europe, Holocaust denial is illegal. Still, I find myself repulsed by suggestions that the Qur'an and Islam should be placed beyond limits of critique, parody, or even mockery as a matter of law. However, there is nothing wrong with advocating opposition to hate speech in the marketplace. They say that the best answer to bad free speech is more speech, but what is often more effective as an answer to bad speech is less money. Boycotts, public pressure, and media scrutiny upon those affiliated with hate speech hits the purveyors of hate where it counts - in their pocketbooks.

This is why, though I am absolutely opposed to any restriction by law upon speech against Islam, I applaud this news:

Godhatesfags.com. JewWatch.com. KKK.com. These are all examples of controversial web sites that regularly stir up debates over religion and hate speech online. Generally speaking, if a site avoids making direct threats and is based in the US, it's usually allowed to continue operating in the name of free speech. Once site that has not made the cut is Fitnathemovie.com. It promoted a yet-to-be-released film by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders that was critical of the Qur'an, and it has now been suspended by its US-based hosting company, Network Solutions, pending an investigation into the site's contents.
The company's placeholder page says that Fitnathemovie.com "has been suspended while Network Solutions is investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy. Network Solutions has received a number of complaints regarding this site that are under investigation." The Acceptable Use Policy generally prohibits sites that contain "profane, indecent, or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature."

And yes, I do believe that Network Solutions should follow suit on the other hate sites mentioned above, assuming that they have received complaints. This strikes me as a reasonable market response to a speech issue. Anyone who cries foul or censorship on Network Solution's takedown of the movie page is misguided in their understanding of what speech is. Wilders has no inherent right to force any company to act as vehicle for his (genuine) right to free speech. A company affiliated with him has every right to assess their own self-interest and determine whether they want to maintain that association, and take into account just how that association will affect its own image in the marketplace.

I think Ars Technica is trying to be fair in invoking other hate sites which remain in operation, but really it is pretty irrelevant that other hate sites remain online. If Ars were to file complaints about each of those, and NetSol refused to then do the same to those as they have done for Fitna, then the comparison would be relevant.


electronic intifada

At Nation-Building, I look at how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has opened a new front - on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Tariq Nelson promises to return, with a jihad on his agenda.

defining a muslim Left III: a muslim bloc?

at alt.muslim, Shahed discusses the flaws in the concept of a muslim bloc vote:

A necessary component of the "block vote" strategy is the faulty assumption that Muslims either have uniform political views or are indifferent enough to drop them in favor of a recommendation by Muslim leaders. But every survey of Muslim political opinion shows a wide variety of views on issues ranging from national security and foreign policy to education and trade. While some Muslims conservative values are in line with the Republicans, their social justice, civil rights, and foreign policy viewpoints are sometimes more in line with the Democrats. In the current race, many Muslims also admired Ron Paul's fiscally conservative, anti-war bent.

It is unreasonable to expect, and unfair to encourage, Muslim voters to drop these personal political leanings in favor of a dictate from above. To do so would be to mirror dysfunctional electoral politics in less-sophisticated democracies, where voters cede their responsibility to be informed decision makers, casting their votes largely along ethnic or tribal lines. This approach can only lead to political apathy and atrophy in the Muslim electorate - the exact opposite of what the Muslim American community needs.

I have to agree. Shahed discusses a bit of the history of the muslim bloc in 2000 and 2004 and illustrates in both cases how dysfunctional and meaningless the bloc was in practice.

However, I can't agree to the prescription that he offers as an alternative:

Instead of focusing on orchestrating a block vote, Muslims must be (or should have been) encouraged to focus on issues at grassroots levels, and not be swayed by personalities, throwaway overtures, or one-time favors. Interest groups of every persuasion are effective at promoting their issues because they work with politicians across the spectrum, at all levels, from local to national. Muslim leadership should be enabling this by opening doors for Muslims to get involved in this way, and not just during an election year. And rather than swinging from Democrat to Republican, as the last two endorsements have done, Muslims should be encouraged to become involved in the political party of their choice, staying true to their own ideals.

This is a laudable suggestion for civic involvement, but is a universal strategy rather than one of particular or unique relevance to the muslim community. In essence, it surrenders the idea that muslims have a political identity in america all their own. That idea is certainly open for debate; the point about the diversity within the muslim community is well-taken. However, is there really no broad umbrella principle we muslims can look towards as a point of commonality?

To answer that question, we as a community need to first decide just what muslim "issues" are. As I have argued previously, these issues will necessarily be both muslim and American; therefore there will be issues of social justice such as Darfur and Palestine in which we might have an emotional stake, but which are not strictly within the boundary of our collective political self-interest.

A good example, again, is Obama, whose position on the Israeli-Palestine issue is pretty run of the mill (rhetoric about balanace, in practice will do nothing to upset the status quo). However, as regards to Pakistan, Obama alone has spoken of a post-Musharraf, pro-democracy policy instead of the pro-stability policy of administrations past, and ties US aid to Pakistan directly to the performance of the Paksitani government in rooting out the extremist enclaves. This is a refreshing approach to Pakistan policy and one that will be of significantly more relevance to the muslim community (given its large fraction of members of Indopak heritage) than Israel-Palestine.

Unlike the AMT endorsements of Bush in 2000 and Kerry 2004, where the parameters of the decision were decided by a relatively small group of self-appointed muslim leaders, any decision on what constitutes an American muslim policy platform needs to be made in consultation with the community. Ideally, a panel for discussion at next year's ISNA conference could be expressly devoted to fleshing out muslim concerns and identifying topics of relevance. Such a panel would not be tasked, initially, with anything more than simply identifying such areas of concern. However, follow-up panels would be required to devote attention to the topics in turn, and perhaps also fund polls to assess how well they are tracking genuine muslim american opinion. Ultimately, I envision a convention structure with delegates appointed/elected from within all muslim organizations and groups, who could meet in a political Shura whose ultimate aim would be to define the issues platform. If we embrace the mechanism of party politics, we can leverage them to truly give ourselves voice. This can be done under the banner of our cultural and religious identity rather than despite it.


Tariq Nelson on hiatus

Tariq Nelson is one of the most consistently professional muslim bloggers in the Brass Crescent. He was nominated for Best Blog in the 2007 Brass Crescent Awards and won the category of Best Thinker in 2006. His perspective as an African American muslim is that of a major fraction of practicing muslims in America, though also one that is under-represented within the community itself. As such, his is a voice that we in the Islamsphere can ill-afford to see silenced.

Unfortunately, silent Tariq will be, for a short while at least - he is taking his blog on hiatus. I for one pray that he will be back soon and that the time off brings a sense of renewal and rest so that when he does return, he will be invigorated enough to shrug off the slings and arrows that wear all of us down over time.

Here is a list of Tariq's popular past posts worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with his writing.


freedom of religion in Qatar

The very first church in Qatar is to open soon:

St Mary's Roman Catholic church was inaugurated in the capital, Doha.

Tens of thousands of Christians, most of them Catholic, live in the emirate, which has a mainly Sunni Muslim population.

Previously, Christians were not permitted to worship openly. Saudi Arabia is now the only country in the region to prohibit church building.
The church is expected to cater for the country's large community of foreign workers, mainly from the Philippines and other Asian countries.

The building is estimated to have cost $15m and seats 2,700 people.

Tomasito Veneracion, the priest of the new parish, expressed gratitude to the Qatari authorities for allowing the project to go ahead.

"The opening of the church is an important event for the entire community," he said.

There are plans for further churches in Qatar, which correspondents describe as part of a strategy of opening up to the West.

Saudi Arabia remains an outlier as usual. Recently, the top Wahhabi cleric there issued a death fatwa against two writers, for their "heresy" of arguing that believers in other religions might not be hell-bound. And let's not even bother mentioning the state of the Shi'a community there. However, in the rest of the middle east, the trend is indeed towards increasing religious freedom. There's a long way to go, but the trend is there, and opposite to the trend in Europe (Spain being just one example...).


Hard times in Al-Andalus

The New York Times has an interesting article about the dearth of mosques in Spain, forcing the burgeoning muslim population to pray in smaller makeshift prayer halls in garages, rented halls, and other similar venues. The muslim community faces stiff opposition from the locals, who mask their underlying (and historic) Islamophobia with the new rhetoric of security:

Although Spain is peppered with the remnants of ancient mosques, most Muslims gather in dingy apartments, warehouses and garages like the one on North Street, pressed into service as prayer halls to accommodate a ballooning population.

The mosque shortage stems partly from the lack of resources common to any relatively poor, rapidly growing immigrant group. But in several places, Muslims trying to build mosques have also met resistance from communities wary of an alien culture or fearful they will foster violent radicals.

Distrust sharpened after a group of Islamists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people, and in several cities, local governments, cowed by angry opposition from non-Muslims, have blocked Muslim groups from acquiring land for mosques.
The North Street prayer hall faced opposition from the outset. Marta Roigé, head of the local neighborhood association, said residents tried to block it five years ago by renting the garage themselves, but backed down after the landlord started a bidding war. They have since sued the local council to close it down on the basis that it is a health and safety hazard.

“The tension has grown as the numbers have grown,” Ms. Roigé said. “They’ve set up shops, butchers, long-distance call centers and restaurants.” These businesses, catering to Muslim immigrants, line the surrounding streets.

She added: “They are radicals, fundamentalists. They don’t want to integrate.”

Muslim leaders, however, say the lack of proper mosques is one barrier to integration. And Spanish authorities and Muslim leaders say the potential for extremism would be easier to monitor at fewer, larger mosques than at the 600 or so prayer halls scattered throughout the country.

The muslim communities are organizing and trying to acquire leases to land to build, though they still face opposition. Given that the majority of muslims in Spain, like the rest of Europe, are laborer class, funding is also a severe obstacle. There is a bill proposed in Spain's legislature to set aside land for all faiths to build places of worship, however the Christian leaders argue that all faiths are not equal and freedom of religion is only for some, not for all:

Cardinal Luis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, opposes the bill, which would entitle all religious groups to land on an equal basis. He argues that Catholicism requires different rules.

“A church, a synagogue or a mosque are not the same thing,” he said, according to the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC. The bill, he said, “impinges on our ability to exercise a fundamental right, that of religious liberty.”

While no law on religious land use exists, the wealthy Catholic Church faces no difficulty acquiring land, experts in law and religion say.

Ah, Western values! This is tremendously short-sighted, because this attitude will further prevent integration by the muslim community, facilitate extremism, and also leave a gaping void for resources which other undesirable forces may fill. Does Spain want the wahhabis to fund a mega-million dollar mosque and appear the saviors of Spanish Islam in the face of committed Christian opposition?


Andre Carson wins IN CD-7 special election

Shari'a alert! The number of muslims in Congress has now doubled:

Democrat Andre Carson defeated his Republican rival tonight by a wide margin in a special election to replace his grandmother in representing the 7th Congressional District.
He called the win an “extremely humbling experience” and said his message of protecting Social Security, bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq and fighting for jobs and health care had resonated with the voters of the 7th District.
Carson will be the first Muslim to ever represent Indiana in Congress — and only the second Muslim nationwide in Congress.

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama congratulated Carson on “winning a hard-fought race.”

Carson's tenure is likely to be somewhat short as the regularly scheduled primary takes place in two months, and he faces numerous challengers. Still, his win is noteworthy in its own right.

I think it's interesting that both muslims in Congress are African American Democrats. In contrast, Brown Americans (aka Desis) like Bobby Jindal and rising star (you heard it here first) Amit Singh in Virginia are Republicans (thus far, of the old-fashioned, sane, fiscally-oriented variety). Neither Jindal nor Singh are muslim. Overall, though, Desis are leaning towards the Democrats, and Hillary in particular (for this cycle, anyway). I don't think that Desi-Americans can be assumed to be as reliably Democratic as African-Americans, regardless of religion. At City of Brass I have been attempting to articulate a political identity for a muslim Left, but if the GOP were ever to abandon its war on muslims, there's no guarantee that the muslim vote would stay left. It's clear though that the Desi political identity is already split left-right, the question becomes whether desi-muslims will follow or will the "Muslim" political identity override.

(via Tariq Nelson, whose blog is essential reading for African American muslim perspectives)


a foreign policy Q&A with Obama

This is a very specific set of written questions by the Washington Post to which Senator Obama gave detailed replies. Let me highlight and excerpt a few of the ones that I think are particularly relevant to the muslim american interest.

On democracy promotion:

Q. Do you believe democracy promotion should be a primary U.S. goal? If so, how would you achieve it? How would you balance democracy and human rights priorities against other strategic needs in the case of countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and Russia?

A. We benefit from the expansion of democracy: Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies and the nations with which we share our deepest values.

Our greatest tool in advancing democracy is our own example. That's why I will end torture, end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detentions; restore habeas corpus; and close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

I will significantly increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other nongovernmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies. And I will start a new Rapid Response Fund for young democracies and post-conflict societies that will provide foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages that show the people of newly hopeful countries that democracy and peace deliver, and the United States stands by them.

I recognize that our security interests will sometimes necessitate that we work with regimes with which we have fundamental disagreements; yet, those interests need not and must not prevent us from lending our consistent support to those who are committed to democracy and respect for human rights.

On reaching out to the muslim world:

Q. You have said that within your first 100 days in office, you would give a major speech in a "major Islamic forum" in which you will "redefine our struggle." What is that redefinition? What would be the substance of that speech?

A. As president of the United States, I will directly address the people of the Muslim world to make it clear that the United States is not at war with Islam, that our enemy is al-Qaeda and its tactical and ideological affiliates, and that our struggle is shared. In this speech, I will make it clear that the United States rejects torture -- without equivocation, and will close Guantanamo. I will make it clear that the United States stands ready to support those who reject violence with closer security cooperation; an agenda of hope -- backed by increased foreign assistance -- to support justice, development and democracy in the Muslim world; and a new program of outreach to strengthen ties between the American people and people in Muslim countries. I will also make it clear that we will expect greater cooperation from Muslim countries; and that the United States will always stand for basic human rights -- including the rights of women -- and reject the scourge of anti-Semitism. Simply put, I will say that we are on the side of the aspirations of all peace-loving Muslims, and together we must build a new spirit of partnership to combat terrorists who threaten our common security.

On Afghanistan and Pakistan policy:

Q. How would you balance the perhaps conflicting imperatives of taking U.S. action against presumed terrorists in the Pakistan border area and the possibility that such action could further undermine the ability of . . . the Pakistani government . . . in its own fight against domestic terrorism? You have called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan." How, specifically, would you change current U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

A. I will deploy at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan to reinforce our counterterrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban. I will put more of an Afghan face on security by enhancing the training and equipping of the Afghan army and police, including more Afghan soldiers in U.S. and NATO operations. I would increase our nonmilitary aid by $1 billion to fund projects at the local level that impact ordinary Afghans -- including the development of alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers. And I will put tough anti-corruption safeguards on aid, and increase international support for the rule of law across the country.

In Pakistan, I will reject the false choice between stability and democracy. In our unconditional support for [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf, we have gotten neither. I will condition elements of our aid to the Pakistani government on their actions to pursue al-Qaeda in the FATA, and their actions to fully restore democracy and the rule of law. I will increase assistance for secular education and for development of the border region so that we meet the extremists' program of hate with a program of hope. Our goal in Pakistan must not just be an ally -- it must be a democratic ally, because that will be a better ally in the fight against terrorism and that will represent a better future for the Pakistani people.

On India and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:

Q. You've said you want to strengthen the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] "so that nations that don't comply will automatically face strong international sanctions." What about those nuclear states that have refused to sign the NPT -- specifically Israel, India and Pakistan? Should they also be eligible for sanctions? If not, does that encourage countries like Iran simply to follow their example and withdraw from the treaty?

A. There's a big difference between countries that are members of the NPT and violate their obligations, and countries that have never signed up to these obligations. In the first instance, we need to enforce treaty obligations. Withdrawing from the NPT, after having violated its provisions, is contrary to international law and requires the strongest international response.

I didn't excerpt it above, but it should be noted that Obama's answer to the obligatory question on Israel-Palestine was typically vague. Tha's reassuring, as is the fact that Obama has been vilified by as both an anti-semite and a zionist already by the usual suspects. I've long argued that the Israel-Palestine issue is fundamentally irrelevant to the muslim-american political self-interest, so I am actually pleased with vague rhetoric and status quo. Any further interference in I-P is detrimental to everyone involved.

There's a lot more in depth at the link (the article is four pages long) and covers the whole spectrum of issues, including withdrawal from Iraq, Iran policy, Guantanamo, and the State Department. It's worth reading the whole thing. On the whole, reading this makes it clear that Obama's judgement is indeed comprehensive and informed and that the "experience" issue is merely a canard. Obama knows the issues and in this interview outlines a very consistent and principled approach.

What's the one thing missing? I would very much like to see someone ask Obama about Dubai Ports World.


Al Qaeda Boogaloo II: Barack the House

Iowa Representative Steve King is a jafi of the highest degree:

I don’t wanna disparage anyone because of their race or their ethnicity or their name, whatever the religion of their father might have been-- [but] I’ll just say this then: If you think about the optics of a"Barack Obama" potentially getting elected president of the United States, and I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world, what does it look like to the world of Islam?

And I will tell you, if he is elected president, the radical Islamists, and the al Qaeda and radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11. Because they will, they will declare victory in the war on terrorism. They will say the United States has capitulated, because we will be pulling our troops out of any conflict that has to do with Al Qaeda anywhere. And additionally it does matter, his middle name does matter, it matters because they read a meaning into that the rest of the world, that has special meaning to them, they’ll be dancing in the streets because of his middle name, they’ll be dancing in the streets because of who his father was, and because of his posture that says pull out of the Middle East and pull out of this conflict. So there are implications that have to do with who he is, and the position that he’s taken.

If he were strong on national defense and said I’m gonna go over there and we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna win and we’ll come home with a victory, that’s different, but that’s not what he said. And they will be dancing in the streets if he’s elected president, and that has a chilling aspect on how difficult it will be to ever win this global war on terror.

The GOP War on (American) Muslims continues apace. Presumably, the inconvenient truth about what Al Qaeda really thinks about Barack Obama doesn't interest the gentleman from Ohio.



former US navy sailor has been convicted of spying and supplying a pro-al-Qaeda website with information on American warship movements.

Hassan Abujihaad, 32, was found guilty of providing material support to terrorists and disclosing secret national defence information.

He was arrested last year in Phoenix, Arizona.

Abujihaad, a Muslim convert previously known as Paul Hall, faces 25 years in jail when he is sentenced on 23 May.

He showed no emotion as he was convicted of passing classified details of US navy ships to Azzam.com by a jury at the US District Court in New Haven, Connecticut.

Azzam was an Islamist website that prosecutors said had actively supported terrorists but has now closed.

Only 25 years in prison? He endangered American lives. This is about as clear-cut a case of "aid and comfort" to our literal enemies as it gets. I'm not in favor of executing traitors any more than I am of chopping the hands off of thieves, those are archaic and barbaric extremes. But this tool should at least spend the rest of his life in prison. He dishonors his uniform, his family, his nation, and his fellow citizens.

I don't think he dishonored Islam however - as far as Islam goes, he is as irrelevant as the jihadis he colluded with.

Did the muslim smear hurt Obama in Ohio?

Obama carried the major cities in Ohio yesterday but lost statewide.I can't help but wonder how much the "cryptomuslim" whispering smear campaign hurt him. There are some clues in the exit polls. Using the data from CNN, we see the following:

The vote among Democrats was racially divided, with white Dems going for Clinton and black Dems going for Obama. Democratic party members followed the same breakdown, but white Independent voters were somewhat closer, preferring Clinton by 8 points.

Vote by Race

White (76%) - Clinton 64%, Obama 34%
African-American (18%) - Clinton 13%, Obama 87%

Vote by Party and Race

White Democrats (49%) - Clinton 70%, Obama 27%
White Independents (18%) - Clinton 53%, Obama 45%
Black Democrats (15%) - Clinton 12%, Obama 88%

Protestants and Catholics alike preferred Clinton by a very large margin. This held true regardless of race.

Vote by Religion

Protestant (32%) - Clinton 61%, Obama 36%
Catholic (23%) - Clinton 63%, Obama 36%
Other Christian (23%) - Clinton 46%, Obama 54%

Vote by Religion and Race

White Protestant (40%) - Clinton 67%, Obama 30%
White Catholic (20%) - Clinton 65%, Obama 34%

Interestingly, when you look at the age breakdown overall, there's a transition with Obama taking progressively less and Clinton taking progressively more as you go up in age bracket. The breakeven point was the 40-49 age group who went for Clinton by only 4 points. However when you factor race and age together, the numbers decline for Obama quite drastically, with Obama winning the youngest age bracket (17-29) by only one point, and then losing more and more to Clinton as you go up.

Vote by Age

17-24 (7%) - Clinton 29%, Obama 70%
25-29 (8%) - Clinton 41%, Obama 54%
30-39 (17%) - Clinton 49%, Obama 51%
40-49 (21%) - Clinton 52%, Obama 48%
50-64 (32%) - Clinton 60%, Obama 37%
65 and Older (14%) - Clinton 72%, Obama 26%

Vote by Age and Race

White 17-29 (10%) - Clinton 47%, Obama 48%
White 30-44 (19%) - Clinton 60%, Obama 40%
White 45-59 (26%) - Clinton 66%, Obama 32%
White 60 and Older (20%) - Clinton 72%, Obama 24%

So overall, the vote broke heavily across racial lines, regardless of party affiliation. The Christian vote broke heavily for Clinton, regardless of race. And the youth vote broke for Obama, except for the white youth.

It is of course very difficult to tease out anything concrete from this. What seems relevant though is that race, while a strong factor, had no effect on the religion breakdown, whereas it did tip the age breakdown. This suggests to me that religion was a strong barrier to Obama and operated independently of race. If religion was more flexible, then it would also have followed the racial pattern seen in the age grouping. Can we infer then that the muslim smear had some effect? It certainly wasn't negligible, but it probably was just one of a number of factors that combined to tip the state towards Hillary.

Hillary certainly had the opportunity to distance herself, and utterly repudiate, the muslim smear in a very public fashion before the people of Ohio and chose not to do so. So while her campaign probably wasn't actively fanning the muslim smear, it certainly was content to let it operate unhindered.

Earlier I argued that we as muslims should wait until after the primary ends to hold Obama accountable for distancing himself from muslim Americans. It's true that he has called the smear an insult to muslims, but he still has not said that whether he is muslim or not is irrelevant. I thought prior to Ohio that some distance between Obama and muslim Americans would help him, but now it seems to me that there's not much point. So why not press the issue now?

I think that prior to Pennsylvania Obama should confront the muslim smear and attempt to take it off the table by challenging the underlying islamophobia. I don't think his delegate lead is in any danger but I very much doubt he will win PA, a state with demographics highly similar to Ohio. Even the most committed Obama partisans must concede that losing OH and PA is going to be a significant liability in the general election - electability is a real concern, and the Democrat can't beat McCain without those two states. Therefore Obama has to look strategically at the electability issue and attempt to neutralize whatever forces he can that are undermining him in these blue-collar, predominantly white and Christian communities. The two things hurting him the most are the NAFTA problem and the muslim smear.

The real target is John McCain, and John McCain is no Alan Keyes. If Obama wants to counter Hillary's argument that only she can beat McCain by competing in battleground states (whose importance in the general election even a 50-state strategy can't diminish), he is going to have to make a serious play for PA. And that means it's time for him to channel his inner Jerry Seinfeld.

"I'm not muslim and never have been. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Senator Obama, you can't hide from the cryptomuslim smear forever. The time to confront it is now. If Hope, Change, and Unity aren't enough to defeat the Islamophobia within, then how much power do these key concepts of your campaign really hold?


Obama: muslim smear offensive to muslims

I asked in January why Obama didn't do more to defend Islam rather than just distance himself from the muslim smear. Since that time a number of other articles in the popular media as well as the blogsphere have followed suit. Now, 60 Minutes had a segment yesterday that dealt in part with the muslim smear, in which Obama directly addresses the smear:

"This has been a systematic email smear campaign that's been going on since, actually, very early in this campaign. Clearly it's a deliberate effort by some group or somebody to generate this rumor. I have never been a Muslim, am not a Muslim. These emails are obviously not just offensive to me, but its also offensive to Muslims, because it plays into, obviously, a certain fear-mongering there."

Obama doesn't go as far as the Jerry Seinfeldism we'd all like to hear him say ("not that there's anything wrong with that") but others from his church do make that explicit. As I mentioned earlier, muslims probably need to be content with this from him for now because the smear is indeed a barrier to the nomination. The Clinton campaign is not pure as driven snow here. But once the nomination is secured, we can expect much more from Obama. And we should.

UPDATE: Ali Eteraz also has the video and transcript up. He urges all muslim bloggers to do the same.


micro-Islamophobia, macro-Islamophobia

Via Tariq Nelson, a very disturbing expose of deeply ingrained Islamophobia in conservative country.

The segment was filmed in Waco, Texas. I have to stress that while living in Houston, the vast majority of Texans I met were true to the hospitality tradition, respectful of my differences and spirituality. The incidence of attitudes like the ones depicted in the video are rare, though less rare outside the major cities than within. That said, I have been called raghead, camel jockey, etc and spit upon and told to go back where I came from (Chicago?). Those incidents - in Houston - were few and insignificant compared to 9 years of living there.

Even though it is still a rare (though increasing) phenomenon in the social landscape, Islamophobia is unfortunately an embedded part of the American politicsl landscape. If the above example is a micro-example, then the treatment of Obama is a macro-example, as noted in the jerusalem Post:

Some of the dirtiest attacks against Barack Obama are being carried out by Jewish bigots in the US and Israel, and if Obama is the Democrat's candidate for president, which looks very likely, these smears are going to get a lot worse.
[Sen. Barack Obama (right)...]

It's not a whispering campaign, it's not anonymous; Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel, put his name to an article in The Jerusalem Post's Web edition last week that brands Obama as a Muslim anti-Semite.

"Obama and the Jews" begins: "Less than two weeks before the critical primary elections in Ohio and Texas, Democratic voters have made it very clear: Barack Hussein Obama is for real."

Why would a Republican activist mention Obama's middle name, especially in the first sentence, especially to readers of The Jerusalem Post? Everyone knows the reason, but I'll spell it out anyway: To reinforce the false impression that Obama is a Muslim, knowing that many readers, Jewish and Christian, will hate and fear him for that reason alone.

That same wink-wink-Obama-Hussein insinuation is made constantly at RedState, the premier Republican web community. Here's just one example - their latest rhetorical strategy is to simply pretend that the furor is over middle names and that Obama should be "proud". (I agree that Obama should not repudiate his muslim connection and stand up for muslims in the classic "not that there's anything wrong with that" sense - just not right this moment.) However other Republicans are not nearly as subtle or sophisticated in their bigitry-enabling. Case in point, Tennessee blogger Bill Hobbs, who works for the TN GOP and who penned this unbelievable screed against Obama, labeling him an anti-semite on the basis of his middle name. Just a flavor from the lede:

NASHVILLE, TN - The Tennessee Republican Party today joins a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.

“It’s time to set the record straight about Barack Obama and where he really stands on vital issues such as national security and the security of Israel,” said Robin Smith, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. “Voters need to know about two items that surfaced today which strongly suggest that an Obama presidency will view Israel as a problem rather than a partner for peace in the Middle East.

the whole thing is even worse. So much worse, that it was pulled from the TN GOP website, though Google Cache still has the record. And as Obama gets closer to the nomination, and the Presidency, watch for this to increase. The cycle is the same - smear, retract, deny - but each time it makes an appearance, damage is done, not just to Obama but also to ordinary muslim Americans. The video I linked to at teh top of this post is an example of where attitudes towards Muslims are now - a fringe attitude, but one that is headed for mainstream, in no small part because of jafis like Bill Hobbs.

Who would have thought that the first Black President of the United States would face not racial, but religious prejudice as his primary obstacle? I guess that counts as progress, of sorts. At least we know that the terrorists don't want Obama to win.