March 2010

Those Americans who feel compelled to rewrite our collective history as the emergence of an avowedly Christian nation are fond of quoting scripture. Take the seemingly noble sentiment in John 15:13, where Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I say “seemingly noble” because even the Devil is good at quoting scripture. Consider the fringe Christian apocalyptic group called the Hutaree; there this motto blazes their website just above the image shown above. Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney General announced the arrests of nine individuals accused of “plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising, the latest in a recent surge in right-wing militia activity,” as the New York Times reports. The plan is right out of what is often called the Al-Qaeda playbook, one played out in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan on almost a daily basis: kill a police officer and then when there is a funeral procession, set off an i.e.d. Were these Muslim extremists, the word “jihad” would be on every television newscast. But, no, these are individuals who claim to be following a commandment of Christ. So why not face the fact that rhetorically it is possible to jihad for Jesus?

Speaking of those who believe in a literal Devil and do not recognize they are doing his work, earlier today I happened to be leafing through The Devil’s Dictionary by the Ohio-born American journalist Ambrose Bierce. Here is what Bierce had to say a century ago about the real-world definition of “Scriptures”:

“The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”


Area: 219,000 sq. mi
Population: 2,750,000
Government: Absolute Monarchy
Scenes: Morocco Leather; City of Morocco; Street Scene in Morocc

previous post I began a series on coffee advertising cards with Middle Eastern themes. One of the most colorful collections is that provided by the Arbuckle Coffee Company. In my great, great aunt’s album there were several Middle Eastern and North African nations represented, but she did not have all the cards. Here is a final potpourri from Arbuckle’s 1889 series, starting with Morocco above. (more…)

David Powers
of Cornell University has recently published what is sure to be a controversial analysis of early redaction of the Qu’ran. This is his
Muhammad is Not the Father of any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. He provides a discussion of the book on Rorotoko, the first part of which I attach here.

Muhammad Is Not the Father of any of Your Men is about the Islamic assertion that Muhammad was the last in a series of prophets sent by God to mankind in order to facilitate human salvation. This assertion is mentioned once in the Qur’an, in verse 40 of chapter 33 (“The Confederates”). Here, addressing an unidentified audience, the voice that controls the text announces, “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men but the Messenger of God and the Seal of Prophets.”

The meaning of the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” (in Arabic, khatam al-nabiyyin) is equivocal. Some early Muslims understood this phrase as signifying that Muhammad confirmed the revelations sent previously to Moses and Jesus, while others understood it as signifying that Muhammad brought the office of prophecy to an end, that is to say, he was the last prophet. By the end of the first century AH, the latter understanding had come to prevail.

The assertion that prophecy ends with Muhammad is central to the claim that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity. It is understandable that this doctrine is taken for granted by Muslim scholars. Less understandable is the general neglect of this doctrine by students of Islam.

In Muhammad Is Not the Father of any of Your Men, I attempt to shed light on the emergence of this key theological doctrine and to show how the Islamic foundation narrative was constructed in order to assure its integrity. Specifically, I focus on the intersection between the theological assertion, on the one hand, and the collective memory of the early Muslim community, key legal institutions, and the text of the Qur’an, on the other.

For the full article, click here.

On March 11, 2010 the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the U.S. Department of State released its 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Yemen. The full report can be accessed online here, but I include below the preliminary paragraphs:

Yemen, with a population of approximately 23 million, is a republic whose law provides for presidential election by popular vote from among at least two candidates endorsed by parliament. In 2006 citizens reelected President Ali Abdullah Saleh to another seven-year term in a generally open and competitive election, characterized by multiple problems with the voting process and the use of state resources on behalf of the ruling party. Saleh has led the country since 1978. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government. The prime minister, in consultation with the president, selects the council of ministers. Although there are a number of parties, President Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party dominated the government. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, although there were instances in which security forces acted independently of government authority. (more…)

Veiled Voices

Women across the Arab world are redefining their role as leaders in Islam. Veiled Voices investigates the world of Muslim women religious leaders through the eyes of three women in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Filmed over the course of two years, Veiled Voices reveals a world rarely documented, exploring both the public and private worlds of these women. The stories featured in the film give insight into how Muslim women are now increasingly willing to challenge the status quo from within their religion, promoting Islam as a powerful force for positive transformation in the world. Each triumphs over difficult challenges as they carve out a space to lead—both in Islam and in their communities.

For air dates, click here.

The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story

by Mark Perry, Foreign Policy, March 13, 2010

On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.” (more…)

About two and a half years have passed since my Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid was published by the University of Washington Press. Being an academic book, as opposed to a short-life trade paperback written for anyone who might have failed Middle School English, the reviews have come in a trickle rather than due to a publisher’s promotional media torrent the week of launch. One of the first reviews came in the TLS from Robert Irwin, one of the most qualified reviewers and an astute student of Orientalism himself. Irwin found that my book is “closely argued” and “makes for exhilarating reading,” despite the annoying (intentionally so) stream of puns. I appreciate a thorough German review by Siegfried Kohlhammer, who was kind enough to remark: “Jede Verteidigung von Orientalismus wird sich mit dieser sorgfältigen und präzisen Summa der Said-Kritik auseinandersetzen müssen.” In Common Knowledge, David Cannadine continues sweet music to an author’s ear by concluding that my book “is an important and impressively documented work, which deserves a wide audience.”

But now along comes a review that is breathtaking (I tend not to breathe when I am convulsed in laughter), however, one that I am honored to receive. The venue is telling: the Middle East Forum, which is affiliated with the websites of Campus Watch, Daniel Pipes and Islamist Watch. Were I to receive a favorable review from this forum-idable group, I could only conclude that my book was an utter failure and would be tempted to buy back all the existing unsold copies for a large Obsession-triggered book burning. I can now breathe a sigh of relief that a site defending the offensive opinions that I set out to counter has seen fit to dismiss my book as an uninformed and witless screed. (more…)

Mirror, mirror on the terrorist list wall,
Whose the most likely terrorist of them all?

In the post 9/11 world it is not easy to have a Muslim name. Just because your name is Khan, does not mean you are a terrorist. Just because your university (Harvard, for example) has a fellowship paid for by the Bin Laden family does not mean it is an academic haven for suicide bombers. But if you have a last name of Ramadan, you are not going to be put in the fast lane for an entry visa. Literally. In 2004 the distinguished Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan was appointed to a tenured professorship at the University of Notre Dame. One would think having a major contemporary voice for Islam, especially Muslims living in secular societies, at an acclaimed Catholic university would help break down or at least counter the hatred that fueled the Twin Towers bombers. Such thinking was not on the agenda of the Bush administration, which was more attuned to the slimy interrogation technique of water boarding than interfaith dialogue. (more…)

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