Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sudanese teddy bears

There's been a big to-do in Sudan because a teddy bear was named Muhammad. See articles by the BBC and Gulf Times. Apparently an Englishwoman asked her class to name a teddy bear, and they chose the name Muhammad. The school secretary complained to the police and the teacher was accused of insulting Islam and inciting hatred, etc. She could have faced being flogged, but instead will serve 15 days in jail and be deported.

Analysis: First of all, I do not agree with what is happening to this woman. There was no ill intent on her part or on her students' part. But there are laws in Sudan against insulting Islam and naming a teddy bear Muhammad was deemed insulting. Think about it - many Americans would be insulted if you named a teddy bear Jesus (and does anyone remember the elephant dung Virgin Mary?). You need to remember that not every country in the world has the concept of free speech. In many Middle Eastern countries pornography is illegal and will get you jailed or deported. Whether you agree with it or not, if you get caught that is what will happen to you. It's the same concept with insulting Islam. The courts in Sudan felt that the teacher had insulted Islam, and I think she was lucky to get off with such a light sentence. When you live and work in countries that are radically different from what you are used to, you have to be careful. Especially if they are under religious law. It wasn't that long ago that the US had some religious laws of its own. In some areas it was illegal to work on Sundays. And it wasn't that long ago that you could go to jail for having an affair (adultery) or having consensual anal sex with your wife. There are still counties in the US where you cannot buy alcohol. This event has already started more talk in Sudan about discrimination against non-Muslims, so maybe some change will come of it.

[Note: does anyone remember the American kid who was supposed to get caned in Singapore?]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Peace in the Middle East

I am all for peace, but I fail to see how Bush' s little summit is going to do anything. Olmert is incredibly unpopular back home in Israel, and Abbas does not represent all the Palestinians. How can you possibly expect a momentous outcome from their meeting? Anything that is agreed upon will only affect the territories held by Fatah, and the Israel government might not even go along with Olmert.

I also do not like the way Bush is pushing a 2-state system. I do see that as the only viable solution, but I would guess Bush & the Israelis would like the Palestinian state to be exactly where it is now, so the Israelis can keep their wall. And then if they are attacked by the new Palestinian state, they have a good excuse to retaliate, instead of just attacking refugees and civilians. At this point I cannot see Israel ceding any of its territory for a new Palestinian state. They (Israel) are the ones who need to compromise the most, because their compromise involves land and money and pride. Hamas may not want to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and may want to destroy them, but that is something that is easier to change.

Friday, November 23, 2007

More Sex in the Middle East

I don't have any current links for you, but there have been problems in Jordan and Syria with honor killings. If I remember correctly, there are something like a dozen to 20 cases a year of honor killings in these two countries. Usually it happens when a young woman meets a man and either has sex with him, or marries him against her family's wishes. In Islam, a lot of honor revolves around a woman's virginity. So when a woman loses that in a dishonorable manner - whether of her own accord or by rape - there are repercussions, because it reflects badly on the family. To regain their honor, the family must kill her. Many women try to flee when their family finds out, because they fear for their lives. There are even cases where sisters and aunts have helped lure a young woman to her death to help out the family honor. One young woman even went to jail after she fled. I wanted to point this out to illustrate another point in the article on Rape in Saudi Arabia. I believe there's this fear that if men and women mingle, who knows what might be going on, hence the law against mingling. So if someone breaks that law, there may be the feeling that the couple involved were intending to be up to something. Otherwise, why would they break the law? This just further complicates the issue.

Rape in Saudi Arabia

The Largest Minority has a report about a rape in Saudi Arabia. From what is said, this woman met a man she knew, to return a picture, then both were attacked and raped by a group of men. Some of the men were sentenced to a few years in prison and several hundred lashes. But the woman and her friend were also sentenced to lashes. After she spoke out about her case, she was sentenced to more lashes and some time in jail. Her lawyer is also having problems.

Disclaimer: First let me state that I do not agree with what is happening to this woman, but I will try to explain it. I just don't want anyone to think that that means I in any way support what is going on. I just know if I don't specify that I'll probably get e-mails accusing me of supporting it.

Analysis: In Saudi Arabia it is illegal for the opposite sexes to mingle. When a woman goes out in public she must be escorted by a male relative. So when this woman met a friend, who happened to be male, technically she was breaking the law. Here's a theoretical example for the USA (and no, I am not saying these 2 cases are equal): if a woman and a man were trespassing on someone's land, and happened to be raped by other trespassers, there's a chance they would still be prosecuted for trespassing. Now, in the US, the landowner would really be pressured not to prosecute someone who had been raped. But in Saudi Arabia, they take mingling seriously. So the woman and man were prosecuted for breaking the law. The extra time and lashes tacked on afterward, though, seem to be an attempt to get her to shut up and take her punishment.
So does the harassment of her lawyer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

New Direction

I got the idea to start this blog after last year's MESA meeting. There was a panel on bloggers, and how there haven't really been any new MESA bloggers. The president then (Juan Cole) basically challenged us to start blogs, and I took that challenge. Unfortunately, mine seems to be a case of 'if someone blogged in the woods and no one was there to read it, would it really matter?' That started me thinking and I've come up with some new goals for 2008. First of all, I intend to start doing more analysis on the news, not just acting as a news aggregate. Secondly, I'm going to try to increase my readership. I read a number of blogs so I intend to start commenting more, when appropriate, to try and get the Ali Gator name out there and more read. For those of you who do read the blog, thank you for your support and tell your friends!

MTV Arabia

The NY Times has an article here about MTV Arabia ( I haven't had much chance to check it out, but I will say that it started to mess up Firefox, so you might have better luck using IE to view it.

MESA: Middle East Studies Association

Each year MESA has it's annual meeting just before Thanksgiving. This year it was in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. And it was fabulous! I was at MESA and had a blast. When you study the Middle East, it's often hard to find people to discuss that topic with. Unless you want to talk about how all Arabs are terrorists. MESA gives us all a chance to come together and pursue our specific interests. So if you're interested in 14th century Persian poetry, odds are good that someone else who likes that will show up at MESA. That's why I enjoy going to MESA. I get to speak with people who share my specific interests and I get to be a tourist. Montreal was great and I hope to be able to visit it again soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Yes - this is the latest buzzword from the far right. October 22-26 was Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, and speeches were held at a number of colleges by the likes of David Horowitz and Ann Coulter. At my university, the College Republicans were handing out brochures on the topic. I have a few questions and comments about Islamo-fascism. Who came up with this word? I first heard it in Spring of 2006, on Oprah of all places. She had several Middle East speakers on the show and one of them used the word Islamo-fascism. According to the dictionary ( in this case) fascism is: "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism." Which is why you have people like Mussolini and Hitler as fascists. I'm really not sure how Horowitz et al have put Islam into the picture. I mean, if you want to talk about the ruler of a Muslim country suppressing criticism and opposition then you really have to look at our buddies the Saudis, or Musharraf in Pakistan, or even the Egyptian president Mubarak.

Apparently, though, what they mean by Islamo-fascism is simply Islamic extremism, also referred to as Islamist movements. So why do we need a new word? Personally, I would guess because "Islamo-fascism" has a good ring to it and everyone know that fascism is evil, right? And maybe if they use the word fascism with Islam, then those darn liberals won't be able to co-opt it and accuse Bush of being fascist. I fail to see, however, how Islamic extremists or terrorists who are not state-backed or part of a government could be called Islamo-fascist. Are they suggesting that Hamas is Islamo-fascist? But Hamas is not a single man being a dictator. And there are valid arguments for it not being a terrorist organization either. Perhaps the right-wingers need to study some history, or even open a dictionary, to see what fascism really means.