Monday, July 26, 2010


I was hoping to keep updating while on vacation, but I'm having internet problems. If they get resolved, I'll continue posting, otherwise I'll be back next week.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Flotilla Investigation Update

The UN has decided to investigate the flotilla incident. And apparently an official in the Israeli foreign ministry thinks that the UN Rights Council is biased against Israel. I can understand a country not wanting to have an outside commission come in and investigate. But in a case involving several countries, it makes sense to have an outside view, instead of just the view of one country (Israel).

And Israel will probably announce soon that it will not cooperate with the investigation.

Torture is Torture

A right-wing Israeli was arrested for attacking Palestinians. And he is considered a terrorist. Kudos to the Israelis for putting this man in prison. Unfortunately, he appears to have been tortured while in custody.

I firmly believe in the rule of law, as well as civil disobedience against bad laws. But the law applies to everyone, whether they are rich or poor, and even if they are a terrorist. Once exceptions are made, it becomes easier and easier to make more exceptions. If becomes okay to torture a terrorist, who decides who is a terrorist? And who is next?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Religion in Saudi Arabia

I hate to discuss news like this because it makes Islam look weird. There is a man in Saudi Arabia who has a small circus. He eats fire, has strongmen, someone puts bricks on his chest and they are broken with a sledge hammer. It's basic sideshow stuff. But the mutawain (religious police) in Saudi Arabia are extremely strict and think that it may be magic or witchcraft, so they stop the performances. If they're not careful, the performers could even be jailed or beaten.

As I said, I hate to discuss this, because some people don't understand that this is not the norm in Islam. Saudi Arabia has a strict form of Islam, known as Wahhabism, outside of the Kingdom. And the religious police are very strict, and often carry sticks/canes. Think of it as some of the very strict Christian sects in the US. There are some people who really think that rock-n-roll is evil, and that women who wear tight clothes and make-up look like whores. Unfortunately, these type of people have control in Saudi Arabia. That in itself is a long story, going back to the founding of the Kingdom by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who used this strict form of Islam to legitimize and consolidate his rule.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

PLO in America

The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) has a diplomatic presence in Washington, DC. And they've recently been upgraded to "Delegation General," which is similar to its status in some other countries. It will also be able to fly its own flag (when it stops sharing a building with other tenants).

Flotilla Still On

Two Lebanese ships will be trying to sail to Gaza soon. Israel is trying to stop them politically, with the UN, saying the flotilla will escalate tensions in the area. I will keep you posted.

Who is a rapist?

A reader sent this article to me from FireDogLake (h/t Lenin's Tomb too). An Israeli man had sex with an Israeli woman, but now he's being prosecuted as a rapist. Why? Because he is an Arab. Apparently, if an Arab Israeli man has sex with a Jewish Israeli woman, and does not tell her that he is an Arab, it's considered rape.

Now, FDL and Lenin's Tomb are couching this in terms of oppression, but that is not the entire story. The judge was following precedents. In the past, men who lied about themselves could be convicted of fraud. In 2007 or 2008, a Jewish man was convicted of rape, because he pretended to be a housing official who could help women get better housing. Instead of fraud, he was convicted of rape by deception. And that is what is happening to the Arab man in question. And that is why some jurists are concerned that these are both dangerous precedents. In the United States, no one would think twice if a man trying to pick up a woman lied about being married or his job. But that is now a jailable offense in Israel. See the Guardian article too.

Edit Policy

I was reading an article on Slate, about how some blogs are not clear about their editing. For instance, they may post an article, and then the next day make changes without telling anyone. This made me decide to clear up my own editing policy, which is now posted on the right side of the blog. Occasionally, I will post something, and then almost immediately see another link I should have added. In that case, I go ahead and edit my post, without telling you, the reader. But after that first grace period (maybe 5-10 minutes or so), if I make a change to my post, I will put the word edit in there so that you know something has changed.

I do make an exception in one case: labels. Occasionally I forget to put in a label, or I misspell a label, and I may not notice for several days/weeks/months. In fact, I am trying to standardize some old labels (I have GB, UK, Great Britain, etc). So don't be surprised to see some label changes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spanish Burkas

Wow - the Spaniards beat me to it. I was going to post about the possible Burka Ban in Spain, but then their parliament went ahead and rejected it. Yay! It does bother me that more and more European countries seem to be considering banning burkas and niqabs.

I have discovered something about myself during all of these Burka Ban controversies: it does not bother me as much, if the banning country is Muslim. For instance, Syria is banning veils at university. That doesn't bother me too much, because even though they are technically a secular country, their background is Muslim. It's similar to the US: our background is Christian, but we have a separation of church and state. So it's okay in my book if the government decides to stop prayers in public schools. It's when the government decides to ban something from another religion that I have a problem. I would have the same problem if Syria decided to ban crucifixes, or something like that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mosque Madness

Two mosques are causing some Americans a lot of concern. The big issue is the one in New York City, which even has Sarah Palin weighing in. Apparently it's two blocks from Ground Zero, and some people think it's a slap in the face to the victims of 9-11. These people keep referring to it as the "Ground Zero Mosque." Although if it's two NYC blocks away, it's hardly near Ground Zero. Click here for an excellent article by John L. Esposito for CNN.

The other mosque is in Temecula, California. It will be across from a Baptist Church, which seems to really upset their preacher. Apparently all mosques are home to sleeper cells that breed Islamic terrorists. I didn't know that. But I have heard that all churches are home to conservative evangelicals who breed Christian racists.

Women's News July 19, 2010

The Iranian Girl's Soccer Team is having uniform issues. They're supposed to compete in the 2010 Youth Olympics in August. Their old uniforms were banned by FIFA in 2007 for being too restrictive. So these new uniforms were supposed to work in their place. Apparently the current problem isn't FIFA. The "top female official of Iran's physical education department was apparently offended by the uniforms" and doesn't want the team to wear them. No word yet on whether a compromise will be reached.

Life in Gaza just got more restrictive for women. Hamas has decided that women should not smoke water pipes (hookahs) in public. They're even sending agents out around town to make sure women obey. Women are upset because of the restriction, which one woman said doesn't make sense anyway, because you only smoke in restaurants, not in big public areas. The article has some interesting tidbits on other actions Hamas has tried to take, some of them unsuccessfully.

Syria has banned female students and teachers at universities from wearing the niqab (face covering). Syria is a secular country, like Turkey, and is worried because more women are wearing the niqab. The article goes into the social and political aspects of wearing the niqab and why the ruling party is concerned about it.

Civet Coffee

Too much news today . . . where to begin? So, Civet Coffee. Never heard of it? Civets eat coffee beans, then poop them out, and then people pick up the beans and make them into coffee. Really expensive coffee. This mainly happens in Indonesia, and the clerics there are looking into the subject and should be issuing a ruling on whether or not Muslims can drink it. They're worried it might be dirty, which I completely understand. The lead cleric said that it was basically an issue of whether or not they cleaned the beans before they made the coffee.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Top Stories July 19, 2010

Azzaman (Iraq): Iraq's Kirkuk seeks U.S. investment - Kirkuk is an oil-rich province claimed by the Kurds (and disputed by Arabs and Turkmen). Officials say they are happy to have US companies come in and invest.

Haaretz (Israel): Shas Chair: Absence of conversion law poses danger to Jewish people - this is a bit messy, so I'm going to quote the article:
Under current practice, Israel recognizes only conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis inside Israel, but people converted by non-Orthodox rabbis outside the country are automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship like other Jews. The proposed legislation would give Israel's chief rabbinate the legal power to decide whether any conversion is legitimate.

The group most likely to suffer would be immigrants who converted to Judaism abroad and could now be denied Israeli citizenship.
The whole thing is a mess, with both sides worried about their constituents and immigrants being able to convert.

Kuwait Times: MP: Iraq can do without Kuwait - All is not well between Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq wants the borders redrawn and claims that Kuwait has been looking for oil in Iraqi territory (this may have been a cause of the 1991 Gulf War too). And Iraq says it will do fine if Kuwait decides to sever political ties. Kuwait wants an apology for all of the above.

Turkish Daily News: Turkish protesters search for unrestricted Internet, blocked by judiciary - The Turkish people are really ticked off. The government banned YouTube and other websites, and the courts have upheld it. YouTube was banned because of videos that insulted Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.

Suicide bombings in Iran: Update I

Just a quick link to Juan Cole who has more info on people blaming it on the US and a lot of links.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Evil is Expanding

I really detest the Dutchman Geert Wilders. He's the politician who produced that horrible anti-Islamic movie Fitna a few years ago. [See my original post and updates one and two.] Well, now old Geert has decided that it isn't enough to stop Islam in the Netherlands. He needs to go worldwide. So he's starting an "international alliance" to stop Islam. Here are some of the specifics:
  • He wants to ban immigration from Islamic countries
  • He wants to ban Islamic Shariah law
So he is starting the Geert Wilders International Freedom Alliance, and making speeches in 5 countries to get it started: US, Canada, GB, France, and Germany.

Okay, where do I even begin? First of all, Geert Wilder is the leader of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and they did very well in the recent election there. Apparently he believes in women's rights and gay rights. But he hates Islam.

Let's take those two points up top:

1) Immigration - What exactly is an Islamic country? Is that a country where the official religion is Islam, such as Saudi Arabia? Or is that a secular country where the people are mainly Muslim, such as Turkey? Or does he just want to ban any Muslims from immigrating, even if they come from a non-Muslim country, such as Thailand?

2) Shariah - If you live in the United States, then you fall under US law, not Shariah law. In some Muslim countries the law is Shariah. And that is their right. So is Geert trying to abolish Shariah in someone else's country? I may not agree with the laws in Iran or Saudi Arabia, but they should only be changed if the people living there want it changed. What right does an outsider have to go into someone else's country and tell them how to live? Does Geert have any problems with Pentecostals? Perhaps he would like to come to America and tell the women to put on a pair of pants and some lipstick?

I am really concerned about this. There are a lot of Americans who are ignorant of Islam and what it stands for. And there are some who are already anti-Islamic and just looking for more justification in their actions. I remember what it was like right after 9-11. So many people were looking for somebody to punish. A Sikh man was killed because someone thought he was an Arab (because most Americans think all Muslims are Arabs, even though Indonesia is the largest Muslim country). I cannot stand the thought of the US becoming even more divided and of normal, innocent American Muslims living in fear.

Suicide bombings in Iran

And they are blaming it on the US. No, really. According to Haaretz, a senior official (Republican Guard) told the Iranian news agency that it was Israel and the United States that were behind it. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, a senior official (governor general) said it was "foreign intelligence services and big powers." IRNA also has an article in which an Indian Shia scholar says it was the US and Israel.

The bombers themselves said it was because the government executed their leader last month. The Republican Guard says it tortured their leader who admitted receiving aid from the US and others. Okay, technically the Republican Guard says "confessions" were "extracted" from the guy, and that the US wanted his group to carry out bombings in Iran.

Is there any truth to this? Traditionally, the US has supported opposition groups in countries that it doesn't like (i.e. Iran). But I wouldn't go so far as to say the the US wanted bombing attacks carried out. That kills innocent civilians, which really upsets the rest of the civilians, and gives you bad press. That said, it still wouldn't surprise me if some people in the US government did want bombing attacks carried out. And considering how most Americans feel about Ahmadinejad, why on earth would they listen if he blamed America for the attacks?

More Flotilla News

Here's Juan Cole's post on the Libyan ship that changed course to Gaza, and a post about how Turkey is still upset about the original flotilla attack.

A French judge, currently working on the financial side of counter-terrorism says that he found out the IHH was a terrorist organization in 1996 (IHH is the Turkish group that sponsored the flotilla that was attacked). The same judge says he has investigated and Hamas has no ties to al-Qa'eda.

So far, there really hasn't been much going on with the flotillas. I haven't been able to decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, nobody has been hurt. But on the other hand, this entire thing could die down and everybody may forget about Gaza (again).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Burkas in France

Well, the National Assembly has voted, and you can no longer cover your face in France (see my original post here). It still has to pass a final approval, where it could be found unconstitutional. I'm hoping it will be. This is billed as something that will prevent people from covering their faces, unless they're ill, or wearing a motorcycle helmet, or fencing mask, etc. And the statistics cited say that less than 2,000 women actually wear a niqab or burka. So why are they being persecuted?

One of the people quoted in the article is concerned that this might confine women to their home. And that is a valid concern. Before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Shah passed some laws forbidding wearing a burka - and many older woman were housebound for years because they could not leave their homes without one - and not because of their husbands! Because it was part of their religion and their tradition and going outside without a burka would be like your mother going outside in a tiny bikini for all her errands. She probably wouldn't feel comfortable doing it.

Flotilla, finally...

Well, it's been coming for weeks . . . The Flotilla. Libya sent an aid ship to Gaza, but then it decided to go ahead and dock in Egypt. That was probably a good idea. It's one thing for Turkey to try and break the blockade, but Libya? Here's the Haaretz article. I'm not sure what the status is on the other ships going to Gaza, but I'll keep looking.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More on Fadlallah

Another interesting article on Fadlallah, and what might happen now that he has died. Will the Iranians get more power in southern Lebanon?

Top Stories July 12, 2010

Arab News (Saudi Arabia): Riotous celebrations as Spain wins first World Cup - does this really need a summary?

Azzaman (Iraq): Temperatures soar to 51 centrigrade in Baghdad as electricity supplies worsen - apparently some of the electricity pylons are being attacked and destroyed. When it gets that hot, it's impossible to get anything done.

Haaretz (Israel): High court open to widening scope of Gaza flotilla probe - according to the article, currently the investigatory panel has a "limited mandate" and cannot subpoena witnesses, etc. But the High Court may try to widen the panel's power. The Court has been hearing a petition from an Isreali peace organization, and the panel's leader also wants more investigatory power.

Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Israel-Syria talks moving ahead without Turkey - Syria is nervous because of the UN sanctions against Iran, so it is talking with Israel. And since Turkey is not talking to Israel, they are no longer acting as the go-between for Israel and Syria.

Women's News July 12, 2010

Lots of Women's News, much of it not good.

A woman in Iran was sentenced to stoning, for adultery. The judges have temporarily decided not to carry it out. If you're wondering how stoning works, a woman is buried, with just her head above ground, and then stones are thrown at her head until she is dead. Lovely, huh?

Apparently young girls are being married off in one of the border provinces of Turkey, sometimes for money. Often these young girls are too young to consent, and this is a way to get rid of young female children.

The French National Assembly will be voting this week on an anti-burka bill. Technically, it's a bill that forbids covering your face in public places, because a bill that prevents Muslim women from covering themselves would sound racist. This bill is mostly aimed at Muslims and it really ticks me off. I do not agree with a woman being forced to wear a face covering, but there are women who do it on their own. I have met many Muslim women in America who wear a hijab (scarf over their hair), as a sign of their religion. When I visited the Gulf, I saw women wearing the niqab, a mask that covers the face. I asked about that, because most women were not wearing it. I was told that some women wore it for traditional reasons and that some women wore it because it kept the sun off of their face. So as much as I may agree with not forcing a woman to wear something, what if it is her choice? Where does it end? Perhaps the National Assembly would like to ban women not cutting their hair, and only wearing skirts, like the Pentecostals in America.

Finally, good news!!! A group of Palestinian girls formed a car racing team called the Speed Sisters and entered the Speed Test race. They are looking for sponsors if you would like to help.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fadlallah Fallout

In true US fashion, a 20-year CNN veteran was fired for saying something nice about Fadlallah. Check out the Slate article on the subject.

Also h/t to Slate for this article by Foreign Policy: The Sheikh Who Got Away.

I told myself I wouldn't comment on this anymore, because it really ticks me off. The corollary to "if you criticize Israel you're an anti-Semite" is "if you compliment the wrong person you're a traitor." The Middle East is not a black and white subject. About the only thing that's black and white is Al-Qa'eda. They are bad. But as I've explained before, if the Shi'ites in Lebanon are being screwed over, and Hizbollah helps them (hospitals, security, etc.), then how can you expect the Shi'ites to join the US in condemning Hizbollah? If the Palestinians in Gaza are so ticked off at corruption in the Fatah Party that they elect Hamas because they're not corrupt, then how can the US condemn those democratic elections?

The Foreign Policy article I linked to above says:
The United States always preferred blunt instruments and simple epithets -- crude tools indeed for a complex man.
That's our problem with the entire Middle East.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

News Roundup

Juan Cole has good posts on Fadlallah and the Turkey-Israel situation.

Obama & Netanyahu met and declared that the US and Israel are still friends.

An opinion piece in Haaretz offers insight on how Netanyahu should deal with Hamas.

Monday, July 5, 2010

No Top Stories

Woops - I was distracted by having a 3-day weekend for the Fourth of July, so I forgot the Top Stories.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

RIP: Fadlallah

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah passed away today. He was a major figure in Shi'ite religion, and lived in Lebanon. He was considered fairly modern and moderate. Fadlallah and Hizbollah helped establish hospitals and orphanages in Lebanon. Fadlallah condemned the 9-11 attacks, and even helped women's rights by explaining that Islam did not say a woman's primary job was in the home - that is defined by her marriage contract.

In the Middle East, everything is not either black or white. Oftentimes, this is hard to explain to Americans. If you mention Hizbollah or Hamas, most people will refer to them as terrorists. That's only partly true. Yes, Hizbollah and Hamas have launched horrible terror attacks and killed innocent civilians. They also have political branches, which run for office, and charity branches. It's very difficult for a Palestinian widow to condemn Hamas, when Hamas is the organization that brings her food for her children every week. Or clothes for her children every few months.

If anyone has a problem with "terror" organizations running for office, I have one word for you: Ireland. Add to that, the Fatah Party started as a terrorist organization and Yasser Arafat was a major terrorist before he became a Palestinian leader. At some point, you have to recognize that Hamas and Hizbollah are not going away and start to deal with them. It worked with Fatah.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fatah, Hamas, Hizbollah

Interesting news. Abbas has said that perhaps a deal could be worked out, so that Israel could control some Jewish sites and settlements in Jerusalem, and the Palestinians would get some land back to connect to Gaza. (Actually, Israel already controls most of them and would remain in control.)

And Hamas and Hizbollah are so impressed by fallout from the Gaza Flotilla that they may start using more incidents of civil disobedience to disgrace Israel. Personally, I think this is a great idea. I don't condone violence, but I can understand why someone would be driven to it, from a theoretical standpoint. But violence by Palestinians has mainly served Israel. If the Palestinians can get a large civil disobedience campaign going, and if the US media will actually cover it, then perhaps more Americans will realize what is going on over there.

It may be hard to believe, for people in the rest of the world, but a lot of Americans don't know what's happening outside of the United States. Especially in the Middle East. They ask questions like "Why are those Arabs so mad at Israel?" Or "Why do Muslims hate Jews so much?" It's very difficult to explain the situation to people who think Israel has been around for thousands of years, and that Islam is a heathen religion.

Flotilla Apology?

Nope - not going to happen, according to the Israeli PM. Although he was quoted as saying:
"We are sorry over the loss of life," Netanyahu said. "This is clear."
Does that count as an apology?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Israelis & Palestinians Protest Together

In this week's Top Stories, I mentioned the Jerusalem Master Plan, which would demolish Palestinian homes to make way for a new neighborhood. According to one of the Israeli protesters:
" Sheikh Jarrah there is no mistaking the good guys from the bad guys. No matter how you look at it or describe it − there is no way the settlers living there can be considered the good guys and the Palestinians the bad guys."
The Haaretz article itself explains some of the legalities behind the situation:
"Israeli law permits people to claim Jewish property abandoned almost a century ago, but does not permit Arab families to claim ownership over property they abandoned during Israel’s War of Independence. Thus, refugee families of 1948 are liable to become refugees again, in 2010 − and this asymmetry is nourishing the struggle in East Jerusalem. "
The article is very long, but really good; I highly recommend it. It has mini-interviews with many of the Jewish protesters helping the Palestinians, who see the settlers as being racist and even non-Jewish in their actions. It really gives one hope for the future to see that there are young Israeli Jews who see what is actually going on, instead of just the propaganda coming from their government.

Flotilla Apology?

According to the Turkish Daily News, Israel may be willing to apologize and compensate the people on board the Mavi Marmara. Turkey has demanded an apology, compensation, an international inquiry, and the end of the blockade. There is diplomacy happening behind the scenes, but right now both Israel and Turkey claim the other side requested the meeting.

According to Haaretz, the "secret talks" are causing trouble for the Turkish official involved, and both Israelis and Turks are watching the situation.

The Turkish PM has gone even further saying Israel should apologize and compensate the people of Gaza, and the Israeli government has not accepted a two-state solution.