November 2011

The Nation‘s special issue on The Arab Awakening (September 12, 2011) is available free and is a useful resource for anyone teaching (or wanting to learn more) about the political protests. Click here to get a pdf of the issue.

“Articles are devoted to the situations in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Palestine and Israel, as well as thematic issues affecting the entire region, such as the struggles for social justice, labor rights and self-determination. Wrapping it all up is an analysis of Washington’s response to these cataclysmic events.”

Taking hostages is hardly a new phenomenon. In far too many cases a hostage is nothing more than a political pawn, perhaps for a showcase video or as an “eye-for-an-eye” beheading. In Yemen the majority of hostages in tribal areas are negotiation acts. When Hunt Oil worked the Marib fields, local tribes would periodically “detain” American workers in order to get the government to do what they wanted or needed. The workers were treated as guests, for the most part, and it was a recognized game which generally led to the government doing what it should have done all along. This changed in the mid 2000’s with several high-profile al-Qaida killings of tourists. But generally when someone is taken hostage, the point is to get something out of it and not just to get publicity for a cause. This is especially the case when the context is tribal, since there are mechanisms within customary law for mediating such disputes.

Three French hostages kidnapped by al-Qaida fighters in Yemen more than five months ago have arrived in the Omani capital Muscat after being freed. Al Jazeera is reporting a recent release of three French aid workers who had been kidnapped last July in Hadramawt, one of the safer areas in Yemen at the moment, by suspected Al-Qaida operatives. They were released to Oman after a round of negotiations, as discussed in the news report: (more…)

It seems this year that the Republican Antique Ideas Road Show is more about flubs than substance. Having made the cable-show “debates” (which are like T-ball compared to Major League baseball) the center of political attraction, the news media and late night talk show hosts are reveling in their good luck. With the crew assembled it is inevitable that one or more of them will stick their feet (or some other insignificant part of their anatomy) into their mouths. There was no “oops” moment last night in South Carolina, no 9-9-9 upside downside and no smoking gotcha gun moment, but Rick Perry is still as insensitive to political realities as Cain is to a woman’s dignity. Perry’s litmus test for “foreign aid” would be to start at zero and let each country prove it deserves our help. Each country, as Perry admitted, includes Israel. While his campaign was quick to release a statement assuring the Israel Lobby that they would obviously have no problem proving their case for Israel, the mere suggestion that American aid to Israel be re-evaluated is flirting with rhetorical fire. If Obama had made such a suggestion, Fox News anchors would be ranting above their usual derisive decibels.

Perry’s ignorance of foreign policy, while perhaps not as deep-dished as Herman Cain’s knowledge outside the pizza box, is front and center in this case. First of all, there is a cardinal rule in both major parties not to alienate the so-called “Jewish vote”; suggesting that aid to Israel can be reevaluated is not a wise political move, especially when it echoes the Libertarian sentiments of Ron Paul. I suspect that Perry is not aware of the recent book by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt arguing that it is not in the best interests of our government to continually bow to the “Israel lobby.” (more…)

The Bazzy-Aliahmad Family

Watch ‘All-American Muslim’ This Weekend

By Alyssa Rosenberg,, Nov 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Normally, I would never tell you to watch something just because it would make someone mad. But noted Islamophobe Pamela Geller is apparently vexed that TLC’s All-American Muslim, a new reality show about a group of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, doesn’t achieve what she thinks of as balance, by which she means including storylines where Muslims commit crimes based on their faith. So I’d really like to see the show, which premieres at 10 on Sunday, do smashingly well as a rebuke to folks like her, and to the idea that we should based practitioners of a faith by its extremists.

You should also watch All-American Muslim because it’s a very good show: warm, funny, with great characters, high-stakes storylines, and the some of the most thoughtful discussions of faith I’ve ever seen on mainstream television, or in mainstream popular culture at all. First, the characters: it’s nice to have so many people to like on a television show. Blowsy Shadia’s the least observant member of her fairly observant family, but she’s sweet and funny. Nawal and Nader are expecting a son, and watching them attend a childbirth class, even though it’s not traditional in Dearborn’s Muslim community, or seeing Nader get extremely anxious when faced with a tiny, adorable baby in a tutu makes Up All Night‘s instincts for parenting comedy look clumsy. And seeing the Muslim football coach of Dearborn’s high school team explain to the Christian parents of a black player how he’s trying to balance the obligations of Ramadan for observant players with the need to get the team in championship shape is a great moment of dialogue. In an era of increasingly vile reality television characters, and in a fall television season that’s stumbled in part by relying heavily on abrasive main and supporting characters, it’s a nice to have people to get invested in and to root for. (more…)

Ah the magic of numbers. Today we can triple our numeratic pleasure as the 11s line up like a row of ducks. The esoteric knowledge of the symbolism of numbers stretches across time and cultures. Some numbers are wildly popular, such as the trinity (where three is not a crowd but a godhead), the dreaded three 6s (which Michele Bachman recently used to tax the imagination of Herman Cain), the nines (addressed to those who are well dressed), the decidedly decimal tens (from Moses to metrics), and the well disciplined 12s (for which the jury is never out). But, what about that rather odd dual digit number 11? Apart from a painting of The Last Supper with Judas out of the room, when was the last time you thought of 11 of anything? Well, if you like bad horror movies that stroke biblical demons to death, try out the film 11/11/11.

To the Kabbalists no stone can be left unturned and no number uninterpreted. In her fascinating book, The Mystery of Numbers (Oxford University Press, 1993), Annemarie Schimmel devotes only a mere three pages to the semiotics of 11. As she notes, “Larger than 10 and smaller than 12, it stands between 2 very important round numbers and therefore, while every other number has at least one positive aspect, 11 was always interpreted in medieval exegesis ad malam partem, in a purely negative sense.” For medieval Christians 11 was the number of sinners, not the total number of course, but the curse of going beyond the 10 commandments and not reaching the 12 disciples.

In Islamic texts Schimmel only notes that the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa) also thought of 11 as negative and as a “mute” number. But for those who love conspiracy theories, here is one that is too precious not to repeat:

1) New York City has 11 letters
2) Afghanistan has 11 letters.
3) Ramsin Yuseb (The terrorist who threatened to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993) has 11 letters.
4) George W Bush has 11 letters.

This could be a mere coincidence, but this gets more interesting:

1) New York is the 11th state.
2) The first plane crashing against the Twin Towers was flight number 11.
3) Flight 11 was carrying 92 passengers. 9 + 2 = 11
4) Flight 77 which also hit Twin Towers , was carrying 65
passengers. 6+5 = 11
5) The tragedy was on September 11, or 9/11 as it is now known. 9 + 1+ 1 =
6) The date is equal to the US emergency services telephone number 911. 9 +
1 + 1 = 11

Sheer coincidence. .?! Read on and make up your own mind:

1) The total number of victims inside all the hi-jacked planes was 254. 2 +
5 + 4 = 11.
2) September 11 is day number 254 of the calendar year. Again 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.
3) The Madridbombing took place on 3/11/2004. 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 4 = 11.
4) The tragedy of Madrid happened 911 days after the Twin Towers incident.

Now this is where things get totally eerie:

The most recognized symbol for the US , after the Stars & Stripes, is the Eagle. The following verse is taken from the Quran, the Islamic holy book:

“For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced: for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah and there was peace.” That verse is number 9.11 of the Quran.

Still unconvinced about all of this..?! Try this and see how you feel afterwards, it made my hair stand on end:

Open Microsoft Word and do the following:
1. Type in capitals Q33 NY. This is the flight number of the first plane to hit one of the Twin Towers.*
2. Highlight the Q33 NY.
3. Change the font size to 48.
4. Change the actual font to the WINGDINGS.

Nice try, but the real Quranic 9:11 flies in the face of this scenario: “And if they turn to God, keep up the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, then they are your brothers in faith.” Oops, this hardly seems like a call for aerial jihad. But 11/11/11 mongers have even prompted Egyptian authorities to close the Khufu pyramid for fear of Masonic rites there.

And you thought 11 was a rather harmless number… But, perhaps the last word about 11 should be the most sporting one. A soccer team, anyone? And, to top the hat trick, German goalkeepers are said to call the penalty kick an Elfmeter (11 meters).

by William O. Beeman, Star Tribune, November 6, 2011

In an ill-advised piece of legislation, Congress is using opposition to Iran as an excuse to attack President Obama’s executive authority.

The “Iran Threat Reduction Act” (HR1905), passed on Nov. 2 by the House Foreign Relations Committee, neither reduces an Iranian threat nor puts significant pressure on Iran’s leaders to change policies.

The bill would make it illegal for any American diplomat to speak to or have any contact with an Iranian official unless the president certifies to Congress that not talking to the Iranian officials “would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States” 15 days prior to that contact.

Minnesota cosponsors of this bill are GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack, John Kline and Erik Paulsen.

A corresponding bill has been introduced in the Senate (S1048), cosponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats.

In addition to tying the president’s hands on diplomacy, the bill also prevents the president from issuing waivers to existing Iran trade sanctions for any reason, singling out the sale of vital airplane parts for civilian aircraft.

Iran’s civilian air fleet is aging, and without replacement parts, air travel on Iranian carriers poses a danger to the public, including American citizens who travel to Iran. (more…)

There is a very nice photograph montage on about the recent hajj and preparations for Eid al-Adha. Here are two of the photographs:

Yemenis shop at a market in Sanaa on November 3, 2011, in preparation for the Eid al-Adha feast, or Feast of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage for Muslims worldwide. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba (center) inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on November 3, 2011. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

There is a dangerous dualism that has haunted Islamic societies since the very start of the faith. I am speaking about the haram that results from individuals and groups that seek to enforce a distinction between haram and halal through violence. The recent waves of sectarian killings are a chilling reminder of the harm that can be caused in the name of stamping out haram. In the north of Nigeria, as reported by al Jazeera, as many as 150 people may have been killed in a single day by Boko Haram, a militant group whose name means “Western education is sacrilege.” The irony of this name is tragic. When I think of the hadith “Seek Knowledge even unto China,” I do not think that the Prophet only meant to look eastward for knowledge. When I think of the extraordinary contributions Muslim scientists and philosophers made to the earlier classical heritage of knowledge, I do not think the Prophet would have disapproved. When I think of sacrilege, I remember that the Prophet forbade his followers to violate the truce of the sacred month and prohibited those who fought for him from mutilating the bodies of those who fought against him. There is much that is haram in this world, but it appears that the value of human life is not as sacred for some Muslims as it is for Allah as the Merciful One or for Muhammad as a Prophet for peace. (more…)

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