Worse than Who’s Who

November 19, 2009

The recently released report entitled “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” would barely be acceptable as an IB MYP Personal Project from a 10th Grader. I certainly hope that the people who did the actual work were undergrads and not doctoral candidates or – Hasha lillah! – Esposito and Kalin themselves.

Aside from my personal biases, the most jaw-grind-inducing problem was the sheer inconsistency. There was apparently no criterion for deciding how individuals were assigned to the various categories. This was really noticeable with religious scholars who were haphazardly assigned to three or four different categories. There was also no consistency in the amount of detail or the extension of meaning of terms used in the sidebar. National placement was also fluid – Shaikh Nuh Keller (US born, resident in Jordan for two decades) is listed under the USA, while Shaikh Gibreel Haddad (Lebanon born, US educated, longtime resident of Syria, and settled for about 5 years in Brunei) is listed under Brunei.

The “top 50” are ranked, and the rest simply listed by country and region in their categories. The most offensive category is that for “women.” All of the women included are shoved in this category, no matter what their field. Sheikh Hasina Wazed – the Prime Minister of a country with a population greater than those controlled by the four “most influential” combined is not only relegated to this category but even has her name mis-Arabized. (I suspect the editorial hand of John “qital=killing” Esposito there.) The only exception is Sheikha Munira Qubeysi (!!!?!!1!1!) who makes it as the token woman in the top 50. Read the rest of this entry »


Be counted or else.

June 4, 2009

Morning Edition is talking today about the usual troubles the census goes through to get everyone counted. Apparently just about everyone in NYC belongs to one of those groups least likely to return a census form: young and single, immigrant, or African American. Apparently Hispanics are an exception to the immigrant trend for whatever reason. One of the suggested reasons for immigrants not returning census forms is their being unaware of what a census is. Is that really possible? While I’m sure that some of the states which haven’t had a functioning government in decades might miss out on the fun, I’m not personally aware of any country without a census.

Actually, I assume that in most countries it’s more important than it is here. Much of the developing world uses some form of representational quotas to fill their legislative bodies and apportion cabinet positions. The result of that could be that it’s more contentious or that it’s more corrupt, but either way everyone has a stake in making the census prominent in the national consciousness.

I was in Turkey for census day in 1997. Not having any advanced warning, that was the day we had chosen to get back overland from Trabzon to Istanbul, via Giresun. This was made nearly impossible by the fact that every 50 yards or so across the entire country there was someone dressed like this demanding papers of everyone on the street:

Turkish Police

Apparently no one is allowed to leave their homes on census day unless they have advanced parole. The dolmuşes  (shared taxis—yeah, I’m sure that plural should be made with a ‘lu’, but you get the idea) were getting stopped constantly and everyone had to show their permission slips. It was only in Giresun that we finally found an English paper that explained what was going on. (No one on the Black Sea coast seems to speak English and either I couldn’t figure out what Volkszählung meant or they were using something else to describe it in German—everyone in Turkey speaks German, while I only pretend to—or they were using some other phrase to describe it. I’m guessing the latter because the word seems pretty obvious 12 years later and in writing.)

I just wonder what sort of effect that type of experience has on people—would they be more or less likely to return a US census form? Would it have to do with fear of the census or the need for serious encouragement to actually bother with it?

Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam – New York Times
Sabrina Tavernise is following in the grand tradition of NYT bureau chiefs reporting on Pakistan from the comfort of their home base in anywhere-but-Pakistan. In this case she at least had someone (Sebnem Arsu) who apparently spent some time in the country send her a quote or two rather than just regurgitating what the English press had to say. In this case, both the reporting and the analysis were uniquely shabby. Read the rest of this entry »

Informed Comment: Global Affairs: Rubin: Taliban?- What’s That Got to Do with the Price of Bread?

Outside of Afghanistan people want to know if Deobandis are a type of Hanafis that are closer to Wahhabis, but inside Afghanistan all people think about is the price of bread.

I hate to boost so many “Informed Comment” pieces in a single week, but this is an important insight, and a great way of phrasing it. I’ve found myself struggling to get people to this point a thousand times. And it’s in no way limited to understanding the situation in Afghanistan or that part of the world.

It does not mean that understanding ideologies, belief systems, sects, and movements doesn’t matter. It just means that people are people and they don’t live their lives in vacuums. I usually try to get people to think about America – a country where religion is in many ways as important as it is in the Muslim world, but where we rarely understand people’s actions and motivations in purely religious and ideological terms. This never works, because as soon as you focus the conversation on religion in America, people begin to essentialize that too.

Therefore it’s usually best just to shake them up. These are some of the best bits in my arsenal:

  • Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson all belong to the same sect.
  • Until 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention opposed legislation that would prevent abortions when the woman’s health was at risk, and in other circumstances, or would interfere with the individual’s right to medical treatment. Since 1980 they have vowed to work for a ban on all abortion except in the case of imminent danger to the life of the mother. (<a href=”http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/baptist/sbcabres.html”>link)
  • Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy are all Catholics
  • The Catholic church is officially against capital punishment.
  • Ronald Reagan and Rudy Giuliani both started out as Democrats.
  • Ashraf Ali Thanwi and other leading Deobandis have written several thousand times as many pages about Sufism as about politics, political administration, warfare, and the like.
  • Most Salafis and Wahhabis are more passionate (and belligerent) about the placement of hands and the spreading of feet in prayer than about any political issue.
  • From the beginning, the Palestinian and other conflicts now regarded as “jihad hot spots” were led and incited by Communists, Atheists, and Secularists.
  • Most of the elders of the jihadi movements are former Communists or Secular (right wing) Nationalists.
  • Ravan Farhadi (the current Afghan government’s former ambassador to the UN) described his group (in 2001) as the “good fundamentalists” – as opposed to the Taliban, who were the evil fundamentalists.

Once they’ve gone over each of those points – many or most of which they were no doubt already aware, but not conscious, of – they’ll be as confused as the crazy world we live in and you can tell them that what people really talk about is the price of bread.

Bluetooth-enabled Mutawwa

September 17, 2007

The head of the Riyadh Branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice inaugurated the test launch of what it called the “Awareness Messaging System via Bluetooth” at one of the Riyadhs large shopping centers.

The service, aims to send a number of awareness messages to youths visiting the shopping center from both genders.

Since the introduction of Bluetooth enabled mobile phones in 2004, The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has made several attempts to curb what it considers “the negative and immoral utilization of Bluetooth technology in violation of the Islamic Shariaa.” However, these attempts have failed in preventing the technology from finding its way into the hands of Saudi Arabia youths.

Dr Abdullah al-Shithri, head of the Riyadh Branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, does not consider this step a consequence of his organizations failure to fight what he regards as “the drawbacks that have emerged as a result of using Bluetooth technology.”

Al-Shithri told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Embarking on this course does not mean that our other efforts to fight the bad manifestations of this technology have failed. However, we do want to make use of modern technology.” He stressed his decisive rejection of the rumors that are being circulated that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is opposed to this technology. He said, “We are not against Bluetooth technology. Rather, we are against the misuse of any kind of technology.”

Although still in its testing stage, the “Awareness Messaging System via Bluetooth” according to Al-Shithri will be utilized in all of Riyadhs shopping centers and family parks.

Al-Shithri would not elaborate on the exact number of Bluetooth crimes that have been detected by his commissions fieldworkers, but did say that that “these crimes are in the hundreds.”

A study conducted in the Al-Qasim region northeast of Riyadh reveals that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has intercepted 500 Bluetooth messages. The study adds that 90 percent of these messages were sexual in nature.

Asharq Alawsat Newspaper English

The interesting part is that this really shows how far behind the US is on the technology adoption curve. Our government is still intercepting landlines, and the Saudis are over intercepting Bluetooth and on to spamming it. I don’t even know anyone who uses Bluetooth peer-to-peer connections (as opposed to printer/headphone/etc. connections) for legitimate purposes here, let alone for moral iniquities.

What does it take to send broadcast Bluetooth messages? Is the technology such that someone on, say, Umra could broadcast random aya-translations from Kanz al-Iman and salawat and tawassul-infused du`as to everyone about to enter Masjid Nabawwi or Masjid al-Haram? Sweet sufi subversion.

The Normalization of Arab Opposition

(I guess that should be RsOUS.)

British troops blamed for ‘badger’ plague

British forces in the Iraqi city of Basra are being blamed for a plague of vicious badger-like creatures which have attacked livestock – and even humans….

“I was sleeping when this strange animal hit me on my head,” said Suad Hassan, a 30-year-old housewife. “My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer.”…

Sattar Jabbar, a 50-year-old farmer from north of Basra said: “I saw it at night attacking animals. It even ate a cow. It tore the cow up piece by piece,” he said….

“This animal appeared following a raid to the region by the British forces,” said Ali Mohsen, who farms near a British air base. “They probably released this animal into the area.”…

“They are known locally as al-Girta,” he said. “Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect.”…

“They are native to the region but rare in Iraq. They’re nocturnal carnivores with a fearsome reputation, but they don’t stalk humans and carry them back to their lair,” he said.

Perhaps they got the idea of deploying ratels from the South Africans.

(Read on for video.) Read the rest of this entry »