November 2011

The ongoing political protests in Egypt have captured the imagination of people everywhere. A dictator is toppled and young people twitter their way into a people power not imaginable in the past. And now actual elections with more than 40 parties involved. The final results of the transition are yet to be felt, as many observers fear that there will be a conservative religious regime which will impose more restrictions on women, people’s expressive behavior and non-Muslim minorities. Egypt’s recent past is reflected in a post-Nasser conservative shift that Sadat originally encouraged and that eventually even Mubarak could not control. A visual portrayal of this can be seen in the pictures below of students graduating from the English Department of Cairo University in 1959, 1978 and 2004. Note the fashioning of a more conservative approach even to English literature over the past five decades.

Class of 1958

Class of 1978

Class of 2004

While in Bergen to lecture at the university I came across a couple of signs that begged to be photographed. It seems like kebab and pizza are always together here, even under the mantra of nirvana.

The rallying cry of those who admire the enlightened wit of David Hume might as well be “a pox on your apocalypse.” I suspect that there has hardly been any era since prophecies filled the imagination that prophetic fulfillment did not seem immanent. The biblical prophets clearly had real blood and flesh enemies in mind, and they are mentioned literally. Yet one can lionize a prophet like Daniel to such an extent that his multi-purpose end-time scenario is always in play. In the past year alone there have been the usual predictions of a fundamentalist “Rapture” when all the “true” believers get transported upwards in an eye-twinkling nanosecond and the rest of us are “left behind” for the worst hell-on-earth yet experienced. Those perpetual latter-day preachers who revel in the vials of Revelations are having a heyday with the current wave of political protests in the Middle East. New anti-christs can be christened; conniving Beasts are waiting in the wings for that one-world-government to finally take form. And, of course, the enemy these days is “radical izlam.”

As a Yemen watcher, a friend sent me a youtube video by Paul Begley, co-paster of the Community Gospel Baptist Church in Knox, Indiana. Begley has a string of youtube talks in which all the Satanic evil in the world is condensed into the religion of Islam. His latest video, produced on Friday, begins by reading the news about the reaction in Yemen to President Ali Abdullah Salih’s signing of the GCC agreement to step down. Begley’s disdain for Muslims and Arabs spills over into his linguistic mumblings, as he takes obvious delight in pronouncing Abdallah as abdalalalalalala. I beg your pardon, Pastor Begbegbegbegbegally, but r u serious? (more…)

Mellat Park Cineplex by Fluid Motion Architects, Iran

by Wiiliam O. Beeman, Chair of Anthropology, University of Minnesota

Dear Friends

My musings seem to have been of interest to a number of you, so I hope you will indulge me with another postcard. I’ll be here until Sunday

Two other Americans showed up for our conference, entitled “The First International Conference on Human Rights and Cultures: Cultures in Support of Humanity.” It is being held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and heavy in attendance are the students from the Foreign Policy School run by the Ministry. Some G2K members may find the subject of the conference “ironic,” but in fact the organizers, the Non Aligned Movement Center for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, has assembled quite a large and stellar international group of scholars, NGO officers, Peace Movement functionaries and government officials for this.

The 64 presentations have been on a high level, and would meet a significant academic standard anywhere.Some titles:

“Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflicts”
“Constructing the Other”
“The Role of Cultural Diversity in Promoting a Culture of Peace”
“Establishing a Normative Framework for Evaluating Diverse Cases of Transitional Justice” 

The graduate students in international relations are especially impressive. They all have impeccable English, are extremely charming, and are working on serious dissertation topics, such as: “Iran’s Developing Relations with Egypt 2000-2011,” “International Economics in non-petroleum sector in the Gulf Region,” “Iran’s prospects in West Africa” and many more. A group of them at dinner surprised me: “Do you speak Spanish?” Well I do, and so do they–quite impressively! They are all learning Spanish and plan trips to Latin America in the Near Future–even the young man posted as political officer in Sweden.

The young women graduate students have been formidable. Several are giving papers. They make up more than half of the student body. They ask great questions, don’t back down and have facts and figures at the fingertips. Forgive me for noticing sartorial details, but although they are dressed in impeccable hejab, every one of them has something that makes her dress stand out. It seems the fashion is now to turn the naghma’eh into a flattering accessory. There is the naghma’eh with a kind of rhinestone band at the forehead, one with little extensions in the front that can be wrapped in a clever loose bow, one with discreet embroidery around the edge. The women pair long skirts and jackets with front panels in white or pastel colors. They are in effect wearing the equivalent of the skirted suit. It is very smart and very professional while being distinctive. (more…)

There is an extraordinary photographic montage published online by Le Monde on the protests in Syria. This is Syrie: photos clandestines d’un massacre à huis clos.

The fat lady has sung…

Yemen’s beleaguered president Ali Abdullah Salih has finally signed off on his role after several aborted efforts earlier this year. He has arrived in Saudi Arabia and even the official Saba news agency is reporting that he has agreed to finally sign the GCC-brokered resolution. One can still find a November 15 item in which Salih denies not agreeing to sign the deal. It is hard to imagine that he can back out of this after signing it, especially on Saudi soil. If the fat lady is not singing, she is at least clearing her throat and it sounds like music to those opposing him … But signing does not make it a “done deal” given the stalemate within the army and the dissension between the groups opposing Salih. The next few days will be vital, as the various groups jostle for power and influence, no matter what the GCC deal entails in principle. One result is that Salih receives immunity, a rather sore point that will not go away. The historic deal was covered live on al Jazeera. Stay tuned…

Take two rather weird Finns, a camera and a mountain of jocularity. The result is one of the stranger travelogues you will ever encounter: Madventures YEMEN. This film was made shortly after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in 2008. The two travelers are hardly experts on Yemen and much of what they say (about tribes and geography, for example) should be taken with a grain (at times a pillar worthy of Lot’s wife) of salt. But I love this film, once you get by the Ali-G-ness of the two f-ing (a word they use to the hilt) Finns. First, the cinematography is fantastic and you hear from a number of Yemenis, who often make far more sense than their guests. Second, it does not treat qat as a drug and the Yemenis come across as anything but the “terrorists” portrayed in the media. Indeed, at one point, the traveler Rika notes that despite the number of weapons in Yemen it probably has less crime than the country you are watching the film from.

Check it out and enjoy…

There are three parts to the film available on Youtube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Robert Spencer and the Stealth Jihad
by David L Johnston,, November 1, 2011

A reader of my previous blog, “McCarthyism Returns in the 2010s,” asked a very reasonable question [when it was first posted on the Peace Catalyst website]. He or she had wondered how accurate my placing Robert Spencer among the “purveyors of hate and misinformation” actually was. I like this. I want feedback and the opportunity to promote an honest and transparent conversation. What is more, I write this answer trying to emulate the Apostle Paul by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I used “purveyor of . . . disinformation” as a blanket statement on the heels of Fear, Inc.’s Chapter 2 title, “The Islamophobia Disinformation Experts.” In that sense, this covered Spencer and several others, including Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes.

Yet Spencer is the most prolific – at least 11 monographs on Islam, including the 2005 title, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), with hundreds of newspaper articles and blog entries to his name. He’s written nonstop on Islam since his Masters Degree in 1980 (Religious Studies, University of North Carolina), and though he’s accumulated a good deal of knowledge, his sources are either secondary or translated into English.

For this blog I have carefully combed through two of his more recent books, as I discovered that his works do overlap a fair amount. I also glanced at a large volume he edited in 2005, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims. None of the authors of that volume are scholars with academic posts, and they are generally considered too biased to be taken seriously by Islamicists in the academy.

Nevertheless, two of these writers have international reputations. Bat Ye’or, who has specialized in the historic treatment of the dhimmis (“protected minorities”) under Muslim rule, authored seventeen chapters in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance; and Ibn Warraq, the pen name for a former Muslim from Pakistan who writes scathing critiques of Islam, contributed the Foreword and a chapter on apostasy. As the other contributors to this volume, they clearly have an axe to grind. (more…)

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