December 2006


The news this morning after Christmas is more bad news, especially for the Horn of Africa. As if the Darfur debacle in Sudan is not bad enough, the civil war in Somalia has escalated beyond the borders. Yesterday Ethiopia dispatched a fighter plane to briefly strafe the international airport in Mogadishu. This was not exactly shock-and-awe, but then Mogadishu is not Baghdad and the self-styled “Islamists” in more-or-less control of the capital are not a trained and disciplined army.

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[Illustration: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, from Josias Leslie Porter, Jerusalem, Bethany, and Bethlehem (London: Murray, 1858).]

by Helen Gibson
Aramco World Magazine, November-December, 1971

To Americans, Christmas in Bethlehem can be a jarring experience.

This is partly because the sight of armed troops is still an unusual sight to most Americans and in Bethlehem, an occupied territory since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Uzzis are at least as common as rosaries. (more…)

[Note: The following Islamophobic/Christophilic piece was written by the early 20th century missionary Samuel Zwemer and his wife Amy for Christian children. The overt Orientalism seen here through a virtually complete opposing of Arab Muslims to “civilized” American Christians is chilling; unfortunately it still resonates and not only with conservative Evangelicals intent on converting Muslims to their own brand of Christendom. I offer the following selection (the whole cloth is preserved at Project Gutenberg) as a reminder that the so-called “clash of civilizations” has deep roots. So on this Christmas Eve, as you count your blessings, consider also the many curses you can find in the following excerpt as a Muslim reader. A century or so after this book was written, a different kind of mission embroils Baghdad. On this Christmas Eve, for President Bush, mission not accomplished; for Samuel Zwemer, prayer not answered. For Iraqi Muslims the world has indeed been turned downside up. ]

The story of mission work in Arabia is not very long, but it is full of interest. From the day when Mohammed proclaimed himself an apostle in Mecca until about sixteen years ago when Ion Keith Falconer came to Aden as a missionary, all of Topsy-turvy Land lay in darkness as regards the gospel. For thirteen hundred years Mohammed had it all his own way in Arabia. Now his dominion over the hearts of men, is in dispute, and there is no doubt that the final, full victory will rest with Jesus the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

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[Photo from Yemen Observer]

By Hakim Almasmari
Yemen Observer, Dec 16, 2006

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the U.S., student enrollment in Arabic courses at American colleges has grown faster than that of any other language except for American Sign Language, according to a survey by the Modern Language Association.

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[Pick your triangle and move to square one…]Our self-effusive politicians lie rather than admit mistakes. Our soldiers keep dying and these same politicians talk about sending more into harm’s way in Baghdad. The military death toll is now only 60 off the 3000 mark, one we are sure to reach in early January. Yesterday the Department of Defense released the names of the last nine on this list: they were Joe, Matthew, Henry, Kevin, Nicklas, David, Matthew, Seth and Luke. Tomorrow new names will be added. “Regretable but acceptable,” argue the rhetorical warriors against international terrorism.

It seems like everyday we are back to square one. (more…)

The Critics
by Ceyhun Atuf Kansu (1919-78)

They know their English:
The Victorian Age,
Eliot schmeliot
Are complete on their shelves.

They know their French:
From its origins to the present
The grasshopper and the ant
From La Fontaine to our day.

I am not even mentioning
Those who know Italian or German
The erudite scholars
Those who did it the American way.

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Today’s New York Times has a superb op-ed column by Orlando Patterson, a distinguished Professor of Sociology at Harvard. Since it is on the Times Select list only, I do not have a copy to provide you. But try to read it when it does become available. It is worth buying today’s newspaper copy just for this one short but to-the-point piece. Here is an excerpt to illustrate what I mean:

A basic flaw in the approach of the president and his neoliberal (a k a neoconservative) advisors was their failure to distinguish Western beliefs about freedom from those critical features of it that non-Western peoples were likely to embrace…

The bad news is Iraq. Apart from the horrrible toll in American and Iraqi lives, two disastrous consequences seem likely to follow from this debacle. One is the possibility that, by the time America extricates itself, most Iraqis and other Middle Easterners will have come to identify freedom with chaos, deprivation and national humiliation. The other is that most Americans will become so disgusted with foreign engagements that a new insularism will be forced on their leaders in which the last thing that voters would wish to hear is any talk about the global promotion of freedom, whatever ‘God’s gift’ and the ‘longing of the soul.’

[Donny George at Iraqi exhibition of pre-Islamic antiquties.]

Muslims Need to be Sensitised to their Own Material Past
By Alastair Northedge, The Art Newspaper, November 2006

At the end of August, The Art Newspaper revealed the stunning news that Donny George, president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, had been forced to flee the country in fear of his life and take refuge in Damascus. In recent months, Dr George sealed up the treasures of the National Museum in Baghdad behind concrete walls, as it was too dangerous to leave them exposed. He was replaced by a relation of the Minister of Tourism, who comes from the party of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric and leader of the resistance movement. (more…)

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