Friday, February 29, 2008

Gulf Quick Roundup

Bahrain is having some problems. They are majority Shia, but the government is Sunni. There were some protests in December demanding compensation for abuses committed in the 1980s and 1990s. A protester died, which sparked more protests, and over a dozen men were arrested. They claim they've been tortured, and this is sparking more protests. Articles from BBC and Gulf News (Note: I can't find the article now. The title was "Lawyer demands medical tests for 'tortured' Bahraini Shias").

Gulf Workers (read "cheap immigrant labor") are trying to get more rights. Some have been sent to jail for protesting. In the rich Gulf countries, most of the actual work is done by laborers from Southeast Asia. They aren't paid well and they're quite often treated like crap.

Gaza Quick Roundup

Israel is still trying to halt the rocket attacks out of Gaza. And the water authority in Gaza has issued a warning, because they're out of things like chlorine, to clean the water. They've issued a boil warning.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Human Chain in Gaza

BBC has some interviews with people who took part in the human chain protest in Gaza. I think what annoys me the most is that Americans don't seem to be paying any attention to what it going on over there. Yes, some of these people are terrorists - but not all of them are! And everyone is paying the price. They are trapped in their own "country" and are slowly starving. How can we support this?

Turkey Revises Islam

This is pretty interesting. Turkey is having scholars look at the Hadith and revise it. The Hadith are sayings (hadith) that supposedly come from Muhammad. They have been looked at and studied and analyzed. They are usually accompanied by a list of names describing the transmission of the statement. Example: Abdul said that his father heard this saying of Muhammad from Samir who heard it from his uncle Ali, etc. etc. Scholars have looked at them and tried to determine their accuracy. For instance, by checking out the people involved: Abdul's father had a good reputation, but Samir's uncle Ali didn't, so this saying might be true, but we're not sure. Or Ali had a great reputation as an honest man so it's probably true. That's how the Hadith came about.

Well, Turkey is taking another look at them. Some people are even comparing this to the Protestant Reformation. Personally, I think they do need another look. A lot of old religious works (including the Bible) are often taken out of context, because times have changed a lot since they were written. The Turks even give an example of their own: one of the hadiths says that women should not travel on their own. But that was written at a time when it was not safe for a woman to travel alone - it's not a religious requirement. But today some governments and men use this to control women's movements. I'm hoping this new look will help Islam and not cause a backlash, since the Turks have a secular reputation.

Update V: To Headscarf or not to Headscarf

This is the story that just won't end. The headscarves have been approved, but not everyone is following the new law. Also, headscarf means a scarf that ties under the chin, not the hijab or a some bigger covering. And the Turks are freaking out over this! I would find the whole thing amusing if I wasn't so concerned over the outcome.

Education in the Middle East

More info on education - specifically Egypt and Syria. BBC News has short interviews with a man whose daughters are being educated in Syria, and a woman educated in Egypt. Both have dual British-citizenship, and a British parent.


BBC News has a fascinating article on transsexuals in Iran. Apparently homosexuality is illegal and condemned, but transsexuality is a disease. And the treatment is a sex-change operation. That doesn't necessarily mean the family approves, but hey, they don't always accept it in the US either. I found the article really interesting. I had assumed that transsexuals would face the same discrimination as homosexuals - legally, I mean. Socially is a different story.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Top Stories 2/25

I think I'll make this a weekly feature: the top stories from various newspapers.

Algeria Daily (part of the World News Network) - OPEC will meet in March to decide what to do about their oil output levels.

Asia Times - article about Turkey going into Iraq after Kurdish terrorists. A rather convenient distraction from the headscarf issue.

Gulf News (UAE) - also about the Turkey-Kurdish situation and how the Kurds feel about US involvement.

Syria Today - Syria has completed its first section of the Arab Gas Pipeline.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kuwaitis Shouldn't Go To Lebanon

Kuwait is following in Saudi Arabia's footsteps by advising it's citizens not to travel to Lebanon. There was a threat to the Kuwaiti embassy and they've had some trouble in parliament. I may discuss the situation in Lebanon in a different post.

Update IV: To Headscarf or not to Headscarf

The president of Turkey just signed the new law so that women can wear headscarves at the university now. More info in my earlier posts:
Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4

Don't Pretend to be a Prince: Update I

Here's the original post. The update is that the guy did get jail time. He says he was beaten in jail, and Moroccan bloggers held a day of silence for him.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Women Should Drive

Two Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia have publicly stated that there is nothing in Islam to prevent women from driving. They say a few more problems need to be worked out, but women should be able to drive.

It's the Gays' Fault!

Bizarre story out of Israel. A conservative religious MP is blaming the earthquake activity there on homosexuality. Apparently tolerating gay people has angered the Almighty.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Top Stories 2/18

I thought I would try something different today. Here are the top stories (physically at the top of the website) from a variety of newspapers across the Middle East.

Al-Ahram (Egypt): 3rd anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Things are heating up in Lebanon.

Asia Times (no update today because of holiday): Iraq's oil minister Shahristani.

Gulf Times (Qatar): the ruler of Qatar got an award for outstanding Islamic contribution from the Grand Mufti of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Tehran Times (Iran): Iran & UAE are trying to improve ties.

Turkish Daily News (Turkey): Should alcohol consumption be banned in the media?

Don't Pretend to be a Prince

A man in Morocco is under arrest and will probably go to jail. Apparently he set up a Facebook account in the name of a Moroccan prince. Sounds like he's in pretty hot water.


Israel arrested some Palestinians in Gaza.

And the UN is really worried about what's going on in Gaza. Yes, there are terrorists there, but do you have to starve the population to get to them?

Saudis in BAE, but not in Lebanon

There's an update on the whole BAE-Saudi Arabia scandal. See Post 1 (Jan 2007), Post 2 (June 2007), and Post 3 (June 2007).

Also, Saudi Arabia is telling its citizens not to visit Lebanon right now. Who knows what's going to happen next in Lebanon. It's getting crazy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Free Fouad Top Post

I wanted to keep this near the top. Please read my post on Fouad al-Farhan and Fouad's Week.

BBC article on Fouad

Media Code Bad

Al Jazeera is speaking out against a new media code that the Arab world has come up with. See their article here. Basically the new code says that if a satellite news company does something against "the rules" then the government can suspend their license. But these rules are somewhat vague. As in, don't "damage social harmony." There are 22 member states in the Arab League and so far only Qatar and Lebanon are speaking out against it. Al-Jazeera is located in Qatar.

Qur'anic Snuff Film

Iran wants the Netherlands to ban a new Dutch film. The film's creator, who is a member of the Dutch Parliament, "says his film will show the Muslim holy book is an inspiration for murder." Well, so is the Christian Bible. But if this movie was about the Bible, first of all, the Pope would weigh in. Then the many Christians in America would lobby and boycott it. And most people in the US wouldn't take it seriously. But if you make this movie about the Qur'an, then most Americans will go, "oh, so that's why they're so violent over there. That's why they're all terrorists." And no, I'm not exaggerating. I teach at a university. One semester I gave extra credit for students who went to one of several lectures on Islam and wrote a little essay on it. Quite a few of those essays came back with "I had no idea all Muslims weren't terrorists" or "I had no idea Islam is actually a peaceful religion." It was frightening how little is known about Islam in America.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More Muhammad Cartoons

A newspaper in Denmark has reprinted those cartoons that ticked off the Muslim world last year two years ago.

UPDATE: See this article about the issue making it onto Facebook.

I firmly believe in freedom of speech. But I also believe that just because you CAN say something doesn't mean that you SHOULD (or print in this case). It wouldn't bother me quite so much except that I heard (no actual facts) that the newspaper in question had previously rejected a cartoon of Jesus. And in America there is a large religious group that would be extremely offended if they saw a cartoon of, say, Jesus in bed with another man. But when it's Muslims, we tell them they can't take a joke. I guess my final comment is that the cartoon shouldn't be printed, because it is SO offensive to a lot of Muslims. We should have enough sensitivity not to make tacky jokes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


This one still blows my mind. A woman in Saudi Arabia was accused of being a witch and found guilty and sentenced to death. At one point an appeals court decided she shouldn't be sentenced to death, but that was changed. Human Rights Watch is appealing for her. She's illiterate and was originally detained by the religious police in Saudi Arabia. This is one of those stories that you hear about and just can't quite believe it's happening in the 21st century. Hopefully the king will do something.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Fouad Top Post

I wanted to keep this near the top. Please read my post on Fouad al-Farhan and Fouad's Week.

Terrorist Killed

I'm sure you've all seen this by now: Mughniyeh was killed/assassinated in Syria. This guy was a well-known terrorist, and no great loss to the world. The only question is: Who did it? So far suspicion is on the US and Israel. Personally, I'd bet on Israel. This wouldn't be the first terrorist they've killed, and they have a lot more incentive than the US.

An Arab City in Israel

Israel's Interior Minister has come up with an idea to build an "Arab City" in Israel. There are a number of Arabs who are Israeli citizens; about 20% of the population or 1.2 million according to the BBC article.

I'm really split on this issue. On the one hand, a new city sounds great. On the other, my cynical side says "this is a way to get rid of some of the Arab population." Think about it. How would you feel if the US Interior Secretary, a white man, said he wanted to build a "Black City" north of Washington, D.C.? You'd be screaming racism. So is it different for Arabs?

Let's All Blame the Terrorists

A friend pointed this out to me: Did terrorists cause the housing mess? At first I thought it would be on Fox Faux News, but it's actually on MSN. It's not a completely crazy propaganda article, it's actually serious and thought out. That doesn't mean I agree with it. I doubt that al-Qaeda timed the attack for economic reasons. The actual economic mess probably isn't even icing on the cake for them, more like sprinkles on the icing. Economics isn't my strong suit so I'll let you judge for yourself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Archbishop of Crazybury

What the hell is going on with the Archbishop of Canterbury? First he says that Britain should allow some people to use Sharia law if they want to. Then the former Archbishop disagrees with him. Then the Archbishop says he meant what he said, but some people misunderstood him.

I, for one, do not think Sharia law is "unavoidable" in Great Britain. I also think that the law is the law and should apply to everyone. If you start allowing Sharia, where will it end? Will other religions want to have their rules applied? What if there's a cross-religious event? Then which law would you use? This is such a can of worms, and it should never be opened.

What's in your Laptop?

This is sort of Middle East related. Apparently some people are being screened more than others when they enter the US. Their laptops, mobiles, etc. are checked and possibly copied? They don't know what happens to them. And it sounds like it's mostly those darn brown-skinned people who are affected. Remember, all brown-skinned people are terrorists. Or is that all Muslims are terrorists? I have trouble keeping those straight.

Saudi Arabia Bans Valentine's Day

Well, not really the day, but everything associated with it. They claim it's un-Islamic, and it encourages unmarried men and women to fraternize. Remember, unmarried women and men can't intermingle in the Kingdom.

British Pakistanis Claim Islamophobia

Okay, this one annoys me. If you read my blog, you'll notice that often I'll explain what's going on in the Middle East and why it's not crazy or weird. Well, this is one of the opposite times. A British minister made a comment about how first-cousin marriages cause more birth defects. Apparently the Pakistani community in Britain took offense to that. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee even asked the Prime Minister to fire the guy.

Analysis: This is totally ridiculous!!! It is well known that when you marry your first cousin you are more likely to have children with birth defects. Just because your culture allows and even prefers that, does not change the facts. And claiming Islamophobia just detracts from the REAL cases of Islamophobia. Get a clue! They also have valid statistics showing that the Pakistani community has a much higher percentage of birth defects than the rest of the British population. This is so ridiculous it's almost painful.

Emirati News

1) Abu Dhabi is trying to create a Green City: no cars, no waste, no carbon. We'll see how that works out. Some people are claiming it's just a stunt.

2) Be careful when you visit the United Arab Emirates. Dubai has arrested a number of people lately for carrying drugs. And when I say drugs, I mean tiny tiny amounts of marijuana, for example. One guy had something like 0.003 g in the tread of his shoe - so it probably wasn't even his. One woman was in jail for 2 months while she proved she had a prescription for codeine. One guy had poppy seeds from a bagel on his shirt. A lot of Europeans think that if you are caught with marijuana, you just plead guilty at trial and get deported. Not in the UAE - you get caught, you go to jail. The moral of the story is: don't carry any illegal drugs. If you carry legal drugs, even non-prescription ones, you might want to take only what you absolutely MUST have to survive. And get a detailed not from your physician saying what you are taking and why. Fair Trials International is trying to help some of these people. They also have a list of drugs/medications to avoid.

Poisoning Children in Iraq

This is so reprehensible it amazes me. Somebody made 2 cakes with thallium, a major poison, in it. And then several families ate the cakes. Several children died, and the British government flew in some antidote. Hopefully the rest will recover.

Coptic Convert Victory

More good news for Egyptians. In Islam, it's good to convert to Islam, but to convert away from Islam is considered apostasy, and that can really cause problems. Some Coptic Christians who converted to Islam, then wanted to convert back to Coptic Christianity, will be allowed to do so. Unfortunately, they're being allowed to do so because they were "born Christian." So not everybody can convert away from Islam.

Update: To Headscarf or Not To Headscarf? III

Yes, more news on the headscarf debate. Parliament approved an amendment to allow them in universities. This is a very divisive issue in Turkey. And Europe is weighing in on the issue since Turkey wants to join the EU. Turkey straddles Europe and Asia, and some Turks see themselves as European, not Middle Eastern. I have a friend who lived in Turkey for a number of years. He swears that the army is not about to overthrow the government. I'm not so certain.

Immolated Kurdish Women

Things aren't all rosy in Kurdistan. There are a number of women trying to commit suicide by burning themselves to death. Read the BBC article here.

Where to begin?

I had intended to leave up the Free Fouad II post all week, but there is so much going on I feel the need to post about it. Please read the post about Fouad al-Farhan, though, and sign the petition. I would also like to address the dearth of postings on Iraq. I haven't been ignoring Iraq, but there is so much information in the mainstream media that I only post when something extra interesting happens.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Free Fouad II

This week is Fouad's Week. You may have noticed the quotes on the right side of my blog. They're all from Fouad al-Farhan. He's a blogger from Saudi Arabia, who blogs under his real name, not anonymously. He was arrested 2 months ago and it still being held in jail without being charged with a crime. I'm participating in Fouad's Week because he asked that he not be forgotten. Please go to his site and sign the petition to free him.

This is a copy of his post Why Do We Blog? (in English) :

Why Do We Blog?
  1. Because we believe we have opinions that deserve to be heard, and minds that should be respected.
  2. Because societies do not progress until they learn to respect opinions of their members. And we would like to see our society progressing.
  3. Because blogging is our only option. We do not have a free media, and freedom to assemble is not allowed.
  4. Because we want to discuss our opinions.
  5. Because we think.
  6. Because we care.
  7. Because blogging has had a positive effect on other societies and we want to see the same result in our society.
  8. Because blogging is a reflection of the life of society members. And we are alive.
  9. Because blogging is gaining increasing attention from media and governments. We want them to listen to us.
  10. Because we are not scared.
  11. Because we reject the cattle mentality.
  12. Because we welcome diversity of opinions.
  13. Because the country is for all, and we are part of it.
  14. Because we want to reach out to everyone.
  15. Because we refuse to be an “echo”.
  16. Because we are not any less than bloggers in other societies.
  17. Because we seek the truth.
  18. Because our religion encourages us to speak out.
  19. Because we are sick and tired of the Saudi media hypocrisy.
  20. Because we are positive.
  21. Because blogging is a powerful tool that can benefit society.
  22. Because we are affected and we can affect.
  23. Because we love our country.
  24. Because we enjoy dialogue and don’t run away from it.
  25. Because we are sincere.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Many people haven't heard of the Baha'i faith. They're a relatively new religion that started in Persia. Just like Christianity descended from Judaism, and Islam descended from those, the Baha'i faith is another offshoot. It's a universal faith that accepts Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and some others as being paths along the way to the final true religion - Baha'i.

The Baha'is I've met are very nice people and the religion is very peaceful and pretty tolerant. Unfortunately, the Baha'is are being persecuted in several Muslim countries, especially Iran. Islam allows people to convert to Islam, but you're not supposed to convert to something else. That's a crime (and before you start bitching about Islam, think about what could happen to Christians who wanted to convert to a different religion). So the Baha'is in some Muslim countries are former Muslims and face persecution. Well, they just won a small victory in Egypt.

The Egyptian government only allowed Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to be listed on identity cards (this started in the 1990s). So if you wanted an ID card, and weren't one of those 3 religions, you either had to lie or just not get one. But if you're stopped by the police they can demand that you produce an ID card, and if you don't have one that's a criminal offense. Well, the court in Egypt just changed that policy. Now you can get an ID card that does NOT list your religion. Hopefully the government won't appeal. This is good news for any Egyptians who aren't members of the Big Three religions.

Update: To Headscarf or Not To Headscarf? II

Another BBC article about headscarves in Turkey. It looks like the Turkish Parliament is going to allow headscarves in universities. This brings up the issue, what happens if they pass it? Last time the government got "too Islamist" the military overthrew it. This is a thorny issue. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The State of Arab Education

The BBC has a good article on how education in the Arab world is not doing well. The World Bank did a report to try and get the Arab nations to start rectifying the situation. Statistically, they state that 60% of the population there is under 30 - so a lot of new jobs are needed.

I don't know a lot about this subject for the Middle East in general. Of the 4 "worst" countries, one of them is Iraq - and we all know why they're on the list, and another is Yemen, which is a poor country. I do know that in many of the Gulf states, women outnumber men at universities, sometimes at a rate of 2 to 1. (Of course, the Gulf states tend to have more money too.) Education is something that the Middle East will really have to take care of if they want to make it in the 21st century.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More Headscarves!

I thought this was pretty neat: it's a new type of headscarf from a Canadian company called Queendom Hijabs. They have a new hijab specifically for winter - it's knit like a cap or scarf. Here's the link to it. And I'm posting the photo here too.

©Copyright 2008 Queendom

Saturday, February 2, 2008

To Headscarf or Not To Headscarf?

The Turks are all in an uproar right now over headscarves, and it's not the way you're thinking. I'll forgo the argument about whether or not Turkey is part of Europe. The Turks are mostly Muslim but they have a secular government. It is illegal for women to wear headscarves at universities. And now they're mad because the government wants to change that.

Personally, I think forbidding the headscarf is discriminatory. I can see a lot of Americans thinking it might be good to ban the headscarf. But what if someone wanted to ban wearing necklaces with crosses on them? Or ban the long skirts that Penecostal women wear? It's the same principle with headscarves. Turkey has gone so secular in some matters that religion scares them. They're Muslims who are afraid to let women wear headscarves while attending college classes.

Friday, February 1, 2008

News Roundup: Women

This is from October, but I thought it was interesting. The BBC asked some women in Iraq to do photo diaries about their life. Here's the main link. From there you can access the photo journals of 2 Iraqi women.

This is a good article about women voting in Iran (yes, those women in chadors actually have voting rights). It has some good analysis about how women have affected the elections in the past.

The BBC also has a diary by a Save the Children worker in Gaza. This is her account of events during the crisis.
Diary 1, Diary 2, Diary 3, Diary 4