Thursday, November 29, 2007

teddy bear fiqh

the saga of the teddy bear from hell continues. The decision to arrest Mrs. Gibbons is not without controversy within Sudan:

Sudan's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

A Muslim youth organisation, the Ramadhan Foundation, called for Mrs Gibbons' immediate release.

Spokesman Mohammed Shafiq said: "This matter is not worthy of arrest or detention and her continued detention will not help repair the misconceptions about Islam."

However, since the hardliners are in control, the outcome was predictable: she's been charged with "insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs". The British government is not the only one outraged on Mrs. Gibbons behalf:

The Muslim Council of Britain reacted angrily to the news, saying it was "appalled" and demanded Mrs Gibbons' immediate release.

"This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense. There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith," said Secretary-General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, in a strongly-worded statement.

"We call upon the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, to intervene in this case without delay to ensure that Ms Gibbons is freed from this quite shameful ordeal," said Dr Bari.

The Sudanese ulema's rationale for throwing the book at Mrs. Gibbons reeks of paranoia and insecurity:

Earlier, the Sudanese Embassy in London said the situation was a "storm in a teacup" and signalled that the teacher could be released soon, attributing the incident to a cultural misunderstanding.

But Sudan's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

"What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam," the Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas said in a statement.

This jibes well with Meph's analysis at 'Aqoul, who describes the Sudanese government thus:

the existing government in Sudan has always been prickly, obstreperous and wont to childish displays of inferiority complexes. This is partly rooted in deep insecurity and partly a hangover of the cynical anti-Western propaganda campaign the National Liberation Front employed for years in order to divert attention from its own lack of a political agenda and rally support for the war in the South. They need to be SEEN to be doing something as opposed to actually feeling strongly about the case. The overreaction stems from the government’s lack of touch with the national zeitgeist (the streets of Sudan have hardly been awash with protestors, and those that have showed up have strong affiliations with the government) as well as the miscalculation of how their display of standing up the big guy will be perceived in the West. Instead of coming across all Iran like, principled and not bowing down to the hegemony of the West (which is how the Sudanese government likes to perceive itself) the real perception is of a joke of a regime that really has no perspective.

Meph has actually lived in Sudan and observes that it's unlikely that the teacher's sentence of lashes will be carried out if convicted, as well as providing some context to the fracas:

there has always existed an uneasy truce between the highly Westernised elite that chose to send their children to the school and local government authorities who resented the very existence of such an elite and their access to the admittedly exceptional education the school offered. Were it not for the ironic fact that high ranking government officials mostly sent their children to the school, the co-existence would have been much more challenging.

There were several instances where expat teachers were be vaporised due to public displays of drunkenness. Parents who lapsed in their fee payments sometimes resorted to the local authorities to plead their case against the exorbitant unregulated fee structure and sometimes, managed to keep their children at the school by bullying the school administration which comprised mainly of British expats eager not to incur the wrath of the temperamental government. This background is important when judging the actions of the government as totally randomly barbaric.

The behavior of the Sudanese authorities may at best be characterized as pointedly barbaric, rather than randomly. Clearly, the very existence of the school itself - providing superior education and heavily used by government officials themselves - is the thorn in the side of the ulema, and Mrs. Gibons is simply a proxy for their ire.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I don't believe in god

not the God who is a hypothesis, or the god who is a gene, or the God who is a hole, or any of the other Gods that those who freely choose disbelief continually insist is equivalent to the God in which I have, simply, faith.

I don't want to prove God. I don't need to prove God. However, many anti-theists (a distinct subset of atheists as a whole) seem to want to, and need to, disprove God. But all of these boil down to utilitarian descriptions of God - a functional God, one whose existence is defined by human semantic constructs such as Occam's Razor, or limited by human concepts of logic and reason (proof of negatives, the immovable stone, etc), or by linear time and space (creation and causation), or even by morality (why won't god heal amputees?). I agree; none of those gods exist, and I don't believe in any of them.

There is no god. Save Allah!

Monday, November 26, 2007

teddy bears are haram

The entire concept of "an insult to Islam" is itself the closest thing to an insult that can exist, if an eternal divine revelation can be insulted (which in my view, it can not). Case in point:

The Sudanese police arrested a British schoolteacher and accused her of insulting Islam after she allowed her 7-year-old pupils to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, Sudanese officials said today.
According to BBC, Ms. Gibbons, 54, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in a teddy bear and for her classmates to pick a name for it.

“They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammed,” Mr. Boulos said.

When it came time to vote, 20 out of 23 children choose Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim word.

The article notes that if convicted of this "crime", Mrs. Gibbons faces punishment including lashes. The article also gets to the nub of the matter, somewhat unintentionally:

In Islam, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is considered a grave offense, and the law of northern Sudan, where Khartoum is located, makes this a crime.

Where is it written that "insulting the Prophet" is a "grave offense" ? Is it in the Qur'an? Hadith? Upon what jurisprudence is the law of Sudan based? Far from this law being based in Islam, it's actually invented without a single source of Islamic law to justify as source. The law of Sudan is, in effect, bida'a.

That is all beside the point, however. No rational person can consider naming a teddy bear "Mohammed" to be an insult. Especially given that Mohammed is the single most common name in the muslim world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

hate crimes in the US

John Burgess links to the 2006 hate crimes report by the FBI and argues that muslims are not the most-persecuted group in the US.

Contrary to what many of the world’s Muslims believe—and contrary to the picture that groups like CAIR seek to portray—Muslims are not the target of most hate crimes in America.

The FBI has issued its statistics for 2006 on hate crime in America. Crimes directed against Muslims, simply because they are Muslims, amounted to 156 incidents; those against Jews, 967; against homosexuals and bisexuals, 1,195.

Well, great!

Note, however, that he does ascribe to CAIR the belief that muslims are the most victimized by hate crimes. I take serious issue with him on that claim. I don't think I have ever seen a single CAIR publication assert that muslims are the "principal" target of hate crimes in the US. Can anyone point to a source from CAIR that says otherwise?

That said, muslims ARE a persecuted group, as the FBI statistics clearly demonstrate, and the only reason that the FBI even has any record of that persecution is because of work by groups such as CAIR to document it. Assuming that there is no under-reporting of cases against muslims, and using the US census data from 2001, we see that Jewish Americans outnumber Muslim Americans by 6 to 1. Thats about the same ballpark as the hate incident ratio as reported by the FBI.

I think any reasonable discussion of hate crimes in the US needs to take these issues into account. Rather than use the hate crimes statistics to bash CAIR, whose regional chapters are independent organizations that do good work, it would be nice to see someone use those statistics to rebut those who argue that there is no such thing as Islamophobia in the West.

mob justice, sadly thwarted

This man, Afazuddin Ali, is a coward, a blasphemer, and a pervert:

Afazuddin Ali, 36, has five children - three of them daughters.

A few months ago Ali married his eldest daughter, telling his wife Sakina that Allah had ordained him to do so.
"He is a deeply religious man and will never lie in the name of Allah," Sakina told a court in the northern district of Jalpaiguri.

"I agreed to his marriage with our eldest daughter when he invoked divine sanction," she said.

Let's also add that his wife is an ignorant buffoon. His neighbors, also muslim (as it should have been noted in the article), were not impressed by this "deeply religious" man's sudden communion with the divine:

"We didn't know she was married so when we confronted his wife, she told us about the bizarre marriage six months ago," Sheikh Ramzan, a village leader at Kasiajhiora, said.

"We wanted to smash his head, we were so angry."
Ali and his wife have not returned home because they fear a fresh attack from angry villagers.

If Allah wills the man to marry his daughter, surely Allah would provide protection from the mob? Oh ye of little faith!

Monday, November 12, 2007

CAIRO by G. Willow Wilson

Willow is a good friend of mine; I guess I was predisposed to enjoy anything she would have written. Still, her new graphic novel CAIRO (inked by M.K. Perker) was a great read on its own merits. The story is unabashedly ours, ie it's rooted with pride in Arab and Islamic mythology, and also pays homage to the pre-Islamic Egyptian mythos as well. The Qur'an and the faith of Islam are not the subject of controversy or debate or analysis; they simply exist and are as factual as the sky, which is how it is in practice. The lack of needless navel-gazing, and letting the story exist in that context without any need to explain it, was so refreshing that it sets a kind of bar in my mind for any other fiction set in similar settings. There are no clumsy apologetics, or appeasements, or anything intended to set someone's mind at ease. The world is presented to you; take it or leave it. Assuming you take it, you are treated to a fun story that is part Aladdin and part Indiana Jones.

The story has an ensemble cast, and truth be told none of them seemed out of place. However, I suppose I am naive. Willow writes at her own blog that the inclusion of an Israeli character was a difficult one, and explains why she went ahead anyway despite the very real risk of alienating the Arab audience:

I want so much for tenderness to be universally understood, and it isn’t. I want not to have to separate the people I love to keep them from hurting each other. At the very least, I want the space to pretend, in fiction, that this is possible. But I may not even have that.

My husband wanted to know why I needed an Israeli character. Without her, the book is a shrine--a sometimes paradoxically irreverent shrine--to Islamic, Arab and Egyptian mythology, fit for all but the most hardline bookshelves. As one reviewer observed, the only unequivocal image in the entire book, the only symbol that is not polluted by shades of grey, is the Qur’an. Without the Jew, the book is kosher. I told him I didn’t need an Israeli character. But I did need the Israeli who was one of my most steadfast friends through my conversion; and the Israeli who held my hand while I was getting a large, pretty but idiotic Arabic tattoo in the days leading up to it, who joked that speaking Arabic would help me learn Hebrew; and the Israeli refusenik who was one of the first people to read a draft of the book, who was robbed of his Nobel peace prize by the tree woman from Africa. I needed those Israelis, and Tova was--is--for them.

As a privileged son of Western liberalism, I simply accepted the character without a second thought (my main beef with the story was the "mission" of the main character, prior to getting caught up in the events). In reality, including Tova was an act of courage. This book builds bridges, and does so within a firmly muslim context. That is exciting and fresh, and for that alone, deserves a place on your shelf.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Afghanistan's own 9-11.

59 Schoolchildren Killed in Afghan Blast

By FISNIK ABRASHI – 21 hours ago

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Dozens of schoolchildren and five teachers were among those killed in a suicide attack in northern Afghanistan earlier this week — the country's deadliest since the fall of the Taliban — the government said Friday.

The 59 schoolchildren had lined up to greet a group of lawmakers visiting a sugar factory in the northern province of Baghlan on Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated explosives.

"The education minister has ordered that no children should be ever again be used in these sort of events," said Zahoor Afghan, an Education Ministry spokesman. He said the children ranged in age from 8 to 18.

In all, the explosion claimed the lives at least 75 people, including several parliamentarians, and wounded 96. It was the deadliest attack in the country since the toppling of Taliban regime from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

not to contradict Tariq bhai, but these aren't even people. They are Reavers, and they will burn in hellfire.

More importantly, it behooves us all to remember who kills the most innocent muslim blood in this world. Not secret Jewish cabals, or neocon conspiracies, or colonial designs; none of these bogeymen of the modern ummah are to blame.

The Reavers. The Reavers alone are the enemy of the Ummah.

And the dominant organizing principle of a western muslim political movement must not be focused on nonsensically unrelated issues like Israel-Palestine or Iraq withdrawal or Iranian nuclear capabilities. Nor should it chase after "reform" or "moderation" or "dialog". No; the dominant principle of a Western muslim polity should be to promote foreign policy that destroys them.

Until then, the Ummah will live in fear from within.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

an Astrodome proposal

After 9 years, I moved from Houston to central Wisconsin this past July, but there will always be a part of Texas - and Houston - in my blood from now on. So I stay abreast of local news and politics from Houston as best I can, mostly via Charles Kuffner. His ongoing coverage of the travails of the Astrodome redevelopment project has been fascinating, and dispiriting as well. The recent news that the Texans and the Rodeo are pretty much opposed to any hotel concept on the Dome site really bodes ill; as Charles puts it, any new plan needs to be "1) commercially feasible, 2) politically viable, and 3) not in conflict with the bidness of the Texans and the Rodeo." Otherwise, it seems that the demolition of the Dome is inevitable.

A crazy thought occurred to me. The old Compaq Center in downtown Houston was sold to Lakewood Church (of Joel Osteen fame) and is now fully renovated as a megachurch. Why not attempt something similar with the Astrodome, by making it into a mosque?

Houston has several public personalities who are also muslim who could rally the community and marshal outside support and resources to such a task. Notably, city councilman M.J. Khan, Mustafa Tameez, and retired basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon. More to the point, Houston has an estimated muslim population of 250,000, and native Texan-style Islam is vibrant and growing - especially among the Latin community. A megamosque would become a focal point of Islam in Texas and serve as a valuable icon of outreach to the rest of the spiritual community. In addition to serving as home to the annual Eid al Fitr feast, the megamosque could also compete to bring the ISNA and other important annual conferences to Houston. While the megamosque would need to be an independent entity, it could certainly have relationships with existing muslim organizations like the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, the Katy Islamic Organization, etc. The potential for charity and disaster relief work and coordination is also immense.

This could all just be a pipe dream with no pragmatic reality. Still, it fires the imagination.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

falafel: the fifth column snack

I'm amazed.

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

How stupid! everyone knows that the real food of terror is nihari.

The article raises the bogeyman spector of a secret Iranian terror infrastructure here in the US:

According to Israeli-born Youssef Bodansky, director of the conservative-backed Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Iran already had a terrorist network in place here in the early 1980s.

It “included safe houses in major cities, weapons, ammunition, money, systems to provide medical and legal aid, false identity papers, and intelligence for the operatives,” Bodansky said in a widely circulated 1993 Associated Press report. It was “large and spanned the United States.”

The FBI was unable to find any of it.

Maybe because those clever Iranians hid it in Syria, next to the Iraqi WMD?

to Baraka

As an article of faith, God burdens no soul more than it can bear - this we are told in the Qur'an. So by that measure, Baraka must be a strong, strong soul indeed. Keep her in your prayers.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pakistan roundup

It's been only 24 hours since President and General Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, which amounts to martial law. The Islamosphere has responded admirably to the constitutional crisis. Here's a brief roundup.

First, the video of Musharraf's televised address to Pakistan is available online:

Chapati Mystery has transcribed the full text of Musharraf's remarks, for both the Urdu and English portions. Sepoy notes that the official printed transcript differs a bit from what was actually said. He also notes that there are a number of surprising things in the speech, including a total absence of mention of India.

Sepoy also blogged the Provisional Constitutional Order when it was first announced, as part of his ongoing Tick Tock series about Pakistani democracy. His summary analysis was rather bleak:

Next up? Martial Law. More bombings. And the eventual drain of all that capital that had accumulated in the country in the past 8 years. Zimbabwe, here we come. Unless, US and China can come to their senses and do some actual diplomacy. The status is bleak. Let us say that Musharraf resigns and leaves. The Supreme Court declares an election date, the new government solves the Baluchistan issue, the US redeploys significant troops to Afghanistan (and keeps them there), the Pakistani military combats within cities and mountains of Pakistan. War. Chaos. Uncertainty. And this, my gentle readers, would be the best case scenario. A more likely option is a military state somewhere between Mugabe’s Zimbabwe circa 2005 and Gandhi’s India circa 1976. I must be proven wrong.

Start here for the first post in his Tick Tock series.

PKpolitics has been updating extensively, in real time. They are probably the best source for the latest news. Zack of Procrastination blog also chimes in. He's equally cynical, and notes that he also has been suspicious of Musharraf from the start, casting a parallel between Musharraf and Zia ul Haq:

On October 12, 1999, I told everyone who would listen that Musharraf was not taking over for the sake of Pakistan or for saving the country from the corrupt politicians like Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto. He did not act when the country was in peril, but when his own position as Army Chief was threatened. I have always considered him a power-hungry army general in the mold of General Ziaul Haq.

Ziaul Haq sowed the seeds of Pakistan’s current troubles with his Islamization and jihadi policies and today Musharraf is reaping its rewards and acting like Zia II. Having grown up in Zia’s Pakistan and now watching Musharraf’s Pakistan from afar, both these generals look to be the worst nightmare for Pakistan.

Sepia Mutiny offers a roundup of their own. In addition to summarizing the most important events, they link to detailed legal analysis by Anil at Dorfblog, a pocket guide to surviving martial law by Manish at Ultrabrown, and an interview with Lawyer Aitezaz Ahsan, while under arrest, speaking furtively from the police station toilet.

Finally, Ali Eteraz already has launched a new website devoted to Pakistani Politics ( and written a piece at the Guardian about the PCO. In a nutshell, he advises to take Musharraf at his word, with the litmus test being the January elections. He also notes,

Disengaged western audiences, pumped full of the current pro-democracy intoxicants, will almost universally decry Musharraf's behaviour. I decry it too, precisely because I am a disengaged westerner and I have that luxury. However, the story in Pakistan is not so straightforward.

For that matter, I have to agree. The Supremem Court of Pakistan has been playing politics with as much vigour as Musharraf has - Musharraf's charge of judicial activism by the Supreme Court, including releasing confirmed terrorists and reopening extremist madrasahs, has substantial merit. Musharraf's argument that democracy is Pakistan is young also bears repeating, in is English remarks addressed to the West:

I request you all to bear with us. To the critics and idealists against this action, I say please do not accept or demand your level of democracy which you learned over a number of centuries. We are also trying to learn, and we are doing well. Please give us time. Please also do not demand and expect your level of civil rights, human rights, civil liberties which you learned over the centuries. We are trying to learn. And we are doing well also. Please give us time.

Well, we can give him until January.

And I'd like to reiterate that there's no better way to promote these excellent posts or blogs than by nominating them for a Brass Crescent Award.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Musharraf declares state of emergency in Pakistan

General Musharraf. Not President... General.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 3 — The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency tonight, blacking out all independent news media and confronting Supreme Court justices who are deliberating on the recent vote to re-elect him.

Witnesses said that police forces had surrounded the Supreme Court building, with justices still inside. Earlier, the justices were ordered to sign a provisional constitutional order enabling the emergency decree, with the government leaving implicit that any failing to do so would be dismissed. Still, a panel of at least 6 of the court’s 11 justices, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhrythis, rejected the order, according to Pakistani news reports before the blackout.

The six gathered at the Supreme Court building. Cellphone transmissions were blocked around the building.

The police also blocked access to the Parliament and to the homes of Supreme Court justices. Cellphone transmissions were also blocked at the justices’ homes.