Sunday, October 23, 2005

Blogger geneaology

This is a great idea: a family tree of the Blogsphere. I launched UNMEDIA (which became City of Brass) in March 2002, and I credit Steven den Beste of USS Clueless as the direct blogfather. When Steven stopped blogging (for personal reasons), I wrote a brief tribute that really captured what it was about his blog that inspired me. I suppose (the Reichenbach analogy aside) that it is unlikely Steven will return to active blogging at USS Clueless, though you can find him still participating in the blogsphere if you know where to look :)

Monday, October 17, 2005

whither the Clash? religion and freedom are uncorrelated

There have been some conservative essayists whose thesis includes the assertion that Islam is a threat to Western values of freedom. This, despite the fact that tens of millions of muslims live in the West, are good members of society, bear their civic duties without complaint and fully participate in the fabric of community. Yet, the skeptics remain quite cold in their assessments, advocating that their fellow patriots like myself - muslim Americans, note noun and adjective - are simply unrepresentative, and that our families shoudl have been barred from ever having immigrated here on sole basis of their professed faith.

To those critics, I offer the following.

Dean Esmay recently looked at data from Freedom House and posed a simple question: are liberal democratic (i.e. free) and electoral democratic (i.e. partly free) nations particularly troubled by the presence of Islam within their borders? And, do countries become less free when Islam has a major foothold?

His findings - untainted by sentiment or blinders, as those of who who are familiar with his writing can attest - are here.

Further, a reader of Dean's World took the data and performed a more rigorous statistical analysis upon it. He has published the excel file containing the raw data and the analysis methodology for all to review.

I invite the critics referred to above to inspect these results. In this, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Abrahamic convergence between three faiths, my aim is only to foster goodwill, not ill will. I accuse no one of racism, nor of evil intent, and I recognize the underlying patriotic impulse beneath the words with which I have taken offense and which I seek to answer here. Nothing more.

were the Sunnis empowered by the election?

I am very proud of Iraq, and what the ordinary heroes of that nation have achieved as they emerge from the dark sham into the light of authenticity. This is a true victory for the Iraqi people.

However - democracy is but a tool by which liberty is attained, and Liberty is hard. Interpreting this election as a measure of liberty's inevitability is perhaps the greatest threat to Iraq's democracy, fledgling and still vulnerable as it is. I want to see that tree grow; it certainly has been watered enough by the blood of Iraqi patriots (and American ones).

Here lies a genuine danger. One could look at the voting and conclude that the Sunni insurgents recognized the futility of violent struggle and are now trying to excercize power via political channels. This is obviously the desired result.

However, one might instead interpret the results as follows: the Sunni electorate - despite massive and record turnout, was still unable to clear a pretty low bar for exerting their influence. Despite significant Sunni populations in four provinces, they were unable to achieve a majority in the three required to block passage. Couple this verification of political impotence with unfounded yet widely published allegations of fraud, and what conclusion might a Sunni draw?

These elections were marked by relative calm (compared to the previous ones). I think if that calm persists, then the fears above are unfounded. However, a steady return to violence might be the seeds of a disastrous civil war, the worst possible outcome and failure of our efforts and sacrifices in Iraq that can be imagined.

I am a believer in the need to finish what we have started in Iraq. My concerns are driven by the desire to see that success be nurtured through this stark and still critical phase. A single misstep can be fatal, so we must not blind ourselves with this latest victory to the enormity of the task yet ahead.

Friday, October 14, 2005

not wanted

This story is making rounds in the Brass Crescent:

Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has proposed a ban on the wearing of Muslim burkas - full-length veils covering the face - in certain public places, to prevent people avoiding identification.

Alarm about Islamist terror has increased in the Netherlands since the Van Gogh murder.

A Dutch MP who campaigned with him against radical Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, defended Mrs Verdonk's plans in a BBC interview.

She told the World Today programme that CCTV cameras, used to help track down terrorists, must continue to reveal suspects' faces.

The CCTV operators "need to see their faces and if you cover your face you cannot be identified".

The jafi angle is certainly there; after all, the argument about CCTV cameras is so specious as to be laughable. However, as always with burka issues, this is more than a simple case of Islamophobia.

The murder of Theo van Gogh was a raw and tragic event that ripped off the Dutch veneer of tolerance (thin in most of Europe to begin with) and replaced it with fear. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been marked for death by the fanatics so it is no surprise to see her endorsement of any measure which in some way "strikes back" (even though this measure does not, actually, strike back). The Dutch are human beings like the rest of us. And their soecity is uniquely vulnerable for its very openness. Perhaps to preserve their culture, they need to limit their own tolerance.

However, what it comes down to is that the Dutch are about to force some women (not all, but some) to wear less clothing than their personal sense of modesty demands. And they impose this burden upon innocent women out of fear of male islamist fanatics. Truly, the terrorists have won.

UPDATE: This is becoming a textbook case of "radicalizing" :

Few Dutch Muslims wear a burqa, though the issue could prove explosive if Muslim radicals encourage their women to wear it in defiance of a ban.

"encourage" sounds pretty shameful to me. What is happenning is that the muslim women in the Netherlands have become pawns between a tiny minority of male muslim extremists and a tiny minority of hard-line Dutch politicians. Can't muslim women be allowed to wear - or not wear - what they want based on their personal sense of modesty? Both sides are oppressing the muslim women here. It's shameful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Please help

Pakistan earthquake reliefSepoy at Chapati Mystery writes:

It was the summer of our junior year in high school. Khayyam, Sohail, Reza and I went to Mansera and beyond for a hiking trip. Our host in Mansera was Bilawal. His house was one of the many in lanes [galli] that dotted the mountain side. Thin strips of mountain rock led from the main road up to his house. Beneath the wide chasm. The jokes were that us fools will come out in the night and take a wrong step into the darkness below. We went fishing in the coolest, clearest river I had ever seen. And by fishing, I mean, we packed some gunpowder in a small bread ball with a long fuse and dropped it in the river. It was my first time alone in the mountains. I went many times after. Much further into the ranges with many, many fond memories. I keep remembering Bilawal's face. Not his face in person but his face in a picture that was taken and that I haven't seen since. Isn't that funny? This trick of memory. In the picture, all four of us are "striking a pose" with our jeans rolled tight at the cuff and our high-top Reeboks puffed high. I think my tshirt collar was up. I have no idea if Bilawal or his family are alive.

The human toll of this earthquake in Pakistan continues to rise. The Indo-Pakistani diaspora has taken the lead in relief efforts (though the Bush Administration has generously sent considerable money and material through official channels as well), and in the blogsphere, sepoy, emullah, and Haroon have been doing yeoman's work in compiling links to vetted and authentic charities that are already on the ground.

Of these, the Edhi Foundation is the most respected, experienced, and competent. While they prefer snail mail, you can donate online through this third party. Now there is also an American Red Cross Earthquake Relief fund. And the official airline of Pakistan, PIA, will airlift donated good and supplies for free to Pakistan if dropped off at any regional office, including Chicago, New York, Houston, San Francisco, and London. Here are contact numbers for PIA offices worldwide. Winter is coming and many hundreds of thousands are homeless, so the urgency is acute.

Please. Head over to your local PIA office and donate supplies. Or click over to Chapati Mystery, avari/nameh, or emullah and see what you can do to help. Let our sense of propriety and justice correct the otherwise natural inequality of our sentiments:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

The Adam Smith quotation via Daniel Drezner, who is the epitome of facing adversity with grace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Islamists don't care about muslims II

again, Haroon:

It might also be hoped that, in addition to causing India and Pakistan to realize the benefits of a fair and flexible peace, Pakistanis and Muslims more generally realize the true enormity of terrorism and the terrorists who have based themselves in Pakistan, capitalized on Pakistani resources, sentiments and grievances, but have fallen utterly and entirely silent in this, an hour of national (indeed, international) need. Israel has extended to Pakistan an offer of aid. (I don't know in what amount, nor do I know how the Musharraf government has responded.) But if Israel offers Pakistanis aid, and none of the so-called jihadist movements, centered on Darths Laden, Zarqawi and Zawahiri do not, perhaps we will realize, once and for all, the menace and scourge they represent, and the blot upon the name of Islam. They are viruses, who infect organisms, who are not alive except for when they harm others. They can do nothing to help. Perhaps - and this is the most frightening part of all - that part of them is irrevocably dead.

Monday, October 10, 2005

One way to lower gasoline prices

I know the major topic today is still the catastrophe in Pakistan, but I think it is worthwhile mentioning that with each of these global calamities, our energy prices continues to rise.

I think most pundits agree that the price hikes in the recent months have been a combination of multiple issues including speculation, profiteering, lack of refining capacity (that has finally caught up with us) and numerous other global supply challenges due to war and strife in critical oil producing areas.

Despite the constant rise in cost I still do not see a single person rising up and saying anything about a national strategy over the next 10 years focusing on fundamentally addressing this challenge.

Here is one thing I read recently that could make an immediate impact. Did you know that that there are 15 different types of "blends" of autombile gasoline (PDF link) that are produced in the USA? FIFTEEN! Why so many? Because the EPA, combined with the different state environmental agencies have created a requirement for 15 different types of gasoline to be produced. Here is where a national strategy could benefit us rather than each state doing its own thing. During the hurricane crisis in the gulf coast, refineries were shut down, but other refiniries that produce other "blends" could not make up for the loss of production because some of those blends cannot be sold in the gulf coast states.

The reason for the different "blends" comes from the winter, summer additive requirements combined with different emmission standards for different regions of the USA. Why not create a national standard based on the most restrictive air quality requirement and use that everywhere?

We should revisit the 15 "blends" and determine a national standard based on a strict EPA goal to reduce emmissions everywhere and then have ALL refineries produce only a couple of blends. This would increase overall capacity and by some estimates lower gasoline costs by almost 30 cents!

I think the time has come for our local and national leaders to examine a 10 year strategy to reduce our dependency on oil. The first step is to rexamine the layered policy such as the 15 blends of gasoline that artifically chokes the supply of energy.

Islamists don't care about muslims

inshallah, some of the rural villages of Pakistan will receive international aid very soon, including much material from the United States. Haroon notes, with respect to the need for human relief and assistance in Pakistan:

While there are a handful of unfortunately high-profile terrorists who constantly claim to defend the lands of Islam from ghosts and goblins, not once have I heard them sending any of their money or supposed expertise or supplies to assist even their co-religionists, let alone other human beings, who don't figure into their upside-down, bankrupt calculus.

For those who are merciful to God's creatures, God is merciful to them.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Eathquake in Pakistan kills 18,000

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

We heard about this within an hour of the event yesterday, the news media is still catching up. Still very little idea of how many in my community were affected by this. Initial word of mouth reports are that every buildng is damaged. EVERY. Many shops and businesses destrroyed. Still the toll in terms of human life is far higher:

A powerful earthquake centered in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan on Saturday morning sent tremors across South Asia, killing more than 18,000 people, including at least 1,600 in remote northern Pakistan, among them hundreds across both sides of disputed Kashmir, and shaking houses and high-rises throughout the region.

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's chief army spokesman, who announced the toll on Sunday, said at least 45,000 people had been injured, a vast majority on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. He said that "so far there are many areas which have not been reached" by the army, but that military units were expected to reach all of them by the end of the day.

It registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. We have many close friends and family in the region affectedd by this earthquake, and do dua that they are saved from tragedy.

UPDATE: While Zack's relatives seem to have come through, Haroon also still has friends and family unnaccounted for, as does Thabet. He also notes that the initial offer of aid from the US was rather miniscule; I counsel patience, as with the tsunami the amount of aid given by the American people always becomes a force unto its own. The amount the federal givernment offers is irrelevant. The expat community of Pakistanis in America will send vast sums to be sure; what is needed far more than merely money to the Patriarch's coffers, but the kind of material aid that the Red Cross and other organizations can deliver on the ground. You can't feed dollars to your children.

You can donate to victims of the earthquake via the International Red Cross. More information on how to help is here. There's also a Quake Wiki. Also see the BBC's excellent quake coverage, they have devoted an entire section to it for the latest information.

UPDATE: $50 million dollars pledged from the US.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Abrahamic convergence

Via Street Prophets, comes more information about the convergence of holy observances in the Abrahamic faiths. There's actually a project called The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah that is calling for a interfaith observance on Oct. 13th. Some background:

In other periods of history, this group would have made unlikely bedfellows.

The first is a small Jewish community that has always been against the oppression of Palestinians.

The second is a small group of Muslims who are opposed to the fundamentalist definition of "jihad" as military struggle rather than as the interior struggle to be holy.

The third is a small group of Christians who have no doubts about the sins of Christianity against both these communities and, even more, a memory of Francis of Assisi, who in the midst of a Crusade against Egypt, crossed the battle lines to talk to Sultan Malik al-Kamil.

Francis, to convert the Egyptians, tried to strike a bargain: He would go into a fiery furnace and, if he came out alive, the Egyptians would convert to Christianity. Al-Kamil's answer to Francis was a gentle and a wise one. Gambling with one's life, he argued, is not a valid proof of one's God. Then, both of them wiser, he spared Francis' life and sent him on his way again.

Like Francis, these people have decided to do what their governments won't do. They are stepping across battle lines.

They are reaching out as friends to one another in formal, public ways. They are listening to the spirit in the heart of the other.

They call their project The October Surprise. The surprise is that the Jewish High Holy Days, the Islamic Month of Ramadan and the Christian feast of St. Francis of Assisi who opposed the Crusades and learned from an Islamic teacher, all come in October.

Check out the Tent of Abraham web site for more information. I like "Abrahamic convergence" better than "October Surprise" though :)

Monday, October 3, 2005

Shehrullah il-Moazzam

Ramadan Mubarak! Today is the 1st of Ramadan, 1426 Hijri, by the classical Islamic calendar. My community of Dawoodi Bohras does not rely upon moonsighting but rather on the astronomical cycle to commence Ramadan, so today I commence observance of fasting.

O Allah! This is the month of Ramadan in which descended the Qur'an as a guide to mankind and a criterion to separate truth from falsehood. O Allah! Bless us in the month of Ramadan, and give us Your help and accept our ibadat, for You have power over all things.

There is no god but Allah. We seek Your forgiveness. O Allah! Grant us Paradise and save us from Hellfire.

Mubarak to all on the holy month of Shehrullah il Moazzam. Please remember me and my family in your precious dua during Ramadan.

UPDATE: cool, Abrahamic convergence this year: It's also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Shana Tova!

I'll be posting about Ramadan at Dean's World, as an effort at outreach to a non-muslim, conservative, and largely pro-war audience. My muslim readers are encouraged to visit DW and participate with respect and decorum in the discussion there. My first post discusses fasting.