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.