Not Shades of Grey

Muslims Under Progress makes an important point.

“Islamists”, we’re told, are out to create ‘barbaric’ and ‘undemocratic’ societies, where ‘human rights’ will be something of a heresy. “Modernists”, on the other hand, are the very people that are needed to free Muslim peoples from the tutelage of a “medieval religion”. Does that sound familiar? What, then, do we make of the “Islamist”, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, who wishes to completely democratise Islamic society and introduce the language of ‘human rights’ into Islamic legal discourse, but is persecuted by secular Tunisia; and of the “modernist”, and former Professor of Islamic Thought at the University of Chicago, Fazlur Rahman, who sought to use the state as an instrument of “moral-religious” values, but was driven from his home by conservative and fiery elements of Pakistani Islam?

The problem is that we view the world as black and white. All “Islamists” are supposed to be bad. This way of looking at the Muslim world misses a lot of details and nuances. There are lots of different viewpoints there. The Islamist/Modernist dichotomy is something I have used as well, but is generally not very illuminating.

Professor Abdullah Saeed uses 3 different classes. Here is the Head Heeb’s description of Professor Saeed’s ideas.

Al-Ghannushi is, in Professor Saeed’s taxonomy, a “neo-revivalist.” Saeed divides political Islamists into three groups – modernists, neo-revivalists and traditionalists. The traditionalist group can be considered “fundamentalist” in the same sense that the word is used with respect to Christians, in that their ideal state is founded on sharia as interpreted by the classical Islamic jurists. The neo-revivalists believe that “the Qur’an and the Sunna are the foundation texts on which a Muslim society and its institutions should be based” but are more flexible in scriptural interpretation. Modernists argue that “the priority in an Islamic state is the implementation of the clearly spelt out rulings and principles of the Qur’an and authentic Sunna” but “[t]he remainder of Islamic law is subject to change, requiring a new methodology to deal with the new problems and demands of a modern Muslim society.”

Read the Head Heeb’s post for some more details on Al-Ghannouchi and his view on citizenship in Islamic countries.

Even these three categories are extremely broad. For example, neo-revivalists would include Al-Ghannouchi as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and some less savory characters.

Brian Ulrich made a similar point about painting with a broad brush.

When one talks about “Islam,” one talks about 14 centuries of history and over a billion Muslims. With Christianity, there is even more history, and consequently far more believers. Anyone can pull examples of doctrines drawn up and applied in different times and places, but that doesn’t mean they are inherent characteristics of the religion in question. One can look at religious discourse as a conversation about values using particular sets of symbolism. […] Both Qur’an and Bible, and certainly the centuries of commentary, have provided ample ammunition for a number of views. The real questions are what views are rising to the surface and why in a given time and place, issues which often have little to do with the religion itself. Many Western commentators intuitively grasp this about Christianity, but don’t when it comes to Islam.

It’s not just that the world isn’t black and white, the world can’t even fit in sRGB colorspace. I hope Von, Tacitus and others who are planning a weblog on or about Islam or the Muslim world keep this in mind.

Site Outage

This weblog, along with other websites hosted by Dreamhost, went down for most of the day today. According to Dreamhost, this was the result of a distributed denial of service attack.

Our apologies for the repeated outages today. It turned out our router problems were caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack aimed at a site we hosted […] It was a pretty massive attack, more than doubling the amount of inbound traffic we normally receive.

As a result, our routers were overwhelmed. Due to the nature of the attack and the circumstances surrounding it, we were not able to immediately trace down the cause of the problems. We have now blocked the target’s IP address and are keeping a close eye on our inbound traffic so that we can act quickly to prevent this from impacting customers any further.

Sorry for any incovenience.

Which Revolution Are You?

The Hippy Revolution

What revolution are You?

Made by altern_active

Via Randy McDonald.

Which American City Are You?

Las Vegas

Las Vegas
You Shine bright and partake in all the vices. You’d rather burn out then fade away.

Take the quiz: “Which American City Are You?”

Via Randy McDonald.

Assassinations and Arrests

Recently, the former President of Chechnya, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was assassinated in Qatar. Two Russian intelligence agents were arrested. Russia protested and promptly detained two Qatari wrestlers on their way to a sports competition.

The Gulf state of Qatar says Russia arrested two of its citizens after Qatar charged two Russians over the death of a former rebel Chechen leader. A Qatari foreign ministry official was quoted as saying two Qatari wrestlers were detained as they passed through Moscow airport on their way to Serbia […] to take part in a qualifying contest for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Russians deny their guys’ involvement, perhaps a bit too vehemently.

The announcement in Qatar that two Russian intelligence agents have been charged with involvement in the assassination of former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev has sparked official outrage in Moscow.

Russia’s acting Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has been broadcasting repeatedly on state-run television condemning the arrests as an act of provocation. According to Mr Ivanov, the agents are innocent. He claims they were in Qatar on legitimate business, gathering information for the international fight against terrorism.

But the suspicion that Russia’s intelligence agencies may be behind the killing is not new. The one-time separatist leader of Chechnya was one of Moscow’s most wanted men.

Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev was targeted by a powerful car-bomb as he drove home from Friday prayers in Doha on 13 February.

Just hours later —- as the former rebel president lay fighting for his life —- Russia’s foreign intelligence body was already denying all responsibility.

Spokesman General Boris Labusov insisted the SVR had not assassinated anybody abroad since 1959.

1959? And the Russians expect us to beleive that?

Somehow the Americans got involved as well.

Clarifying comments by a U.S. diplomat, a U.S. official in Moscow said Monday the United States played no role in the arrest or investigation of Russian intelligence agents held in Qatar on charges of killing a Chechen separatist leader.

Earlier, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, told a Russian newspaper the U.S. had provided Qatar “very insignificant technical assistance” after Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, former president of Chechnya, was killed February 13 when a bomb attached to the bottom of his car exploded.

[…]The statement by Pifer drew criticism from Russian lawmakers who questioned why the United States would help Qatar in the arrest of the Russian agents.

[…]Later Monday, after Pifer took part in non-proliferation and disarmament talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry, a U.S. official in Moscow told CNN “in the initial aftermath of the explosion, Qatar requested ,and the United States sent, a small team of experts in the technical aspects of explosives.”

The official said the United States has provided such assistance to other countries as well but added, “the experts played no role in the arrest or investigation of the suspects.”

In his interview with Moscow’s Vremya Novostei newspaper, Pifer denied claims that U.S. officials had met with Yandarbiyev last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made such a statement last fall.

Last week, in a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, CNN asked whether Russia believes it has the right to pursue or assassinate terrorists living outside of Russia.

Lavrov refused to directly answer, saying the question was “not for Russia” but should be considered “in light of actions by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

And the Russians are pointing fingers!

All this brings “nostalgia” for the cold war and for the PLO-Mossad war of the 1970s. Assassinations, bungled assassinations, arrests of agents, denials, and finger-pointing all used to occur with regular frequency at that time.

I can’t recall any specific cold war case which would be similar but one of the bungled attempts on the Black September guys I remember reading recently in Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Here is some more info about that specific case and other related Mossad assassination attempts.

In Lillehammer, Norway, on 07 January 1974, Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmad Boushiki, an Algerian waiter carrying a Moroccan passport, whom they mistook for PLO security head Ali Ahmad Salameh, believed to have masterminded the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics [Salameh was killed in a 1979 car-bomb explosion in Lebanon]. Following the attack, the Mossad agents were arrested and tried before a Norwegian court. Five Israeli agents were convicted and served short jail sentences, though Israel denied responsibility for the murder. In February 1996, the Israeli government agreed to compensate the family of Ahmad Boushiki.

[…] On 24 September 1997, Mossad operatives attempted to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, a top political leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. The assassins entered Jordan on fake Canadian, and injected Meshaal with a poison. Jordan was able to wring a number of concessions out of Israel in the aftermath of the fiasco, including the release of the founder of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, from an Israeli jail.

Ephraim Halevy, a nephew of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin [who helped to negotiate a peace deal with Jordan], became the new head of Mossad after two bungled operations led to the arrests of agents in Switzerland and Jordan.

Any cold war or legal history buff (Jonathan?) have any more cases of assassins from intelligence agencies getting caught or even punished?

POSTSCRIPT: The Qatari wrestlers were released and a Russian displomat who was briefly detained with the other two Russians has been expelled from Qatar. Also, the two Russian intelligence agents are going to have a multinational defense team of Russian, American and British lawyers. Their defense lawyers include former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and a former U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, Jerome Shestack.

Political Contributions

I knew that one could check who has contributed to political campaigns by name on the Open Secrets website. But now you can enter an address at the Fund Race 2004 website and find out who contributed to whom in that neighborhood. There are other ways to collate the information as well, some of which are available at these two websites.

It is an amazing tool, but at the same time there can be privacy concerns. The Decembrist has an interesting post on this topic.

Even if its value is limited, disclosure is probably better than no disclosure. We want to be able to answer the question, “Where does Congressman Jones’s money come from.” We don’t really need to know the answer to the question, “Who did Mrs. Smith give money to?,” certainly not within the realm of limited, hard money contributions. But you can’t have the answer to the first question without making the answer to the second available. With current technology, there’s nothing that prevents any bit of information from being cross-tabulated all kinds of ways, and this is just the beginning.

I think disclosure of campaign contributions is definitely important and overrides some of the privacy concerns of individuals.

While on the topic of contributions, I want to ask all of you to contribute something to the Kerry campaign. US citizens and permanent residents can donate money to political campaigns according to the FEC.

The Poor Man is running a contest for contributions to Kerry between Wes Clark supporters, Dean supporters, “Dennis Hecubus” supporters and those who think the others are losers. I recommend the last category.

Mexican Immigration Threat

Samuel Huntington has written an article about the threat of Mexican immigration to the US. His article is full of assumptions, half-truths and ignoring data that doesn’t fit his thesis. In some ways, it is worse than his Clash of Civilizations idea some years ago.

I can’t be bothered by this so-called “threat.” As someone who was not born in the US, I have no problems with immigrants arriving in the US. As a global nomad who has not yet decided where to settle, I don’t have much sympathy for nationalists and patriots. Nativist feeling only gets my contempt. As for language, I am not a good learner of language and have been found bitching a few times about Spanish-only signs in some areas, but then English is not my first langauge and the world will not fall apart if most people spoke Spanish in the US. Like I learned English as a kid, my children could learn Spanish.

The best critique of Huntington I have seen is by a multipart one by Scott Martens on his blog Pedantry. Daniel Drezner has some good points as well.

Buscaraons relates bilinguilism, colonialism, Mexican immigration and insecurity.

Russell Arben Fox and Haroon Mughal are somewhat sympathetic to Huntington probably because of their conception of language and culture.

Newton’s Laws of Graduation

I read and cried.

  1. First Law: A grad student in procastination tends to stay in procastination unless an external force is applied to it.
  2. Second Law: The age, a, of a doctoral process is directly proportional to the flexibility, f, given by the advisor and inversely proportional to the student’s motivation m.
  3. Third Law: For every action towards graduation there is an equal and opposite distraction.

From PhD Comics via Cubical Life.

A Tasty Dinner

I made this dinner last week which is a combination of a few recipes. I am not sure how to classify this. May be it could be called a Brazilian dish.

Couscous is a North African staple which I was introduced to while living in Libya more than 2 decades ago. I bought two packs (6oz each) of instant couscous from the grocery store. Just follow the simple directions on the package for cooking it. It takes about 5 minutes to cook.

To make the dinner more interesting and tasty, I added some chicken and fried bananas to it. This makes for great dinner, though it is best when eaten hot right after cooking. Here are the recipes for those two items.

Sautéed Marinated Chicken Breast
From Modern Italian Cooking.

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Juice of 1 large lemon

Skin, bone, and split the chicken breasts. Put the breasts in a large bowl. Add the oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover the bowl and marinate at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and all of its marinade. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, turning the chicken once during the cooking. The chicken should have a light golden color.

Stir in the additional lemon juice and cook and stir until the juice has evaporated.

Banana Farofa
From a Brazilian Recipes webpage.

Requires 15 minutes:

  • 6 bananas, cut into thick slices
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion cut into rings
  • 3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs

Fry the bananas in the butter until golden brown then remove the bananas from the butter. Fry the onion rings in the same butter. Add the bananas back in, along with the breadcrumbs and brown. Don’t let it get too dry. Add more butter if necessary. The crumbs should be coated with butter, but light and loose.

Nauroz Mubarak

Happy Persian New Year to Kianoush and my Iranian readers.

سال نو مبارک

Happy Persian New Year to Kianoush and my Iranian readers.

Are you guys in the 14th century still?

PS. Kianoush, when are we going for dinner at a Persian restaurant to celebrate the new year? I love Persian food.