December 2012

by Lindsay Benstead, Ellen Lust, Dhafer Malouche, The Middle East Channel, Foreign Policy, December 11, 2012

Just over a year since Tunisia’s October 23, 2011 Constituent Assembly elections, long lines of patient citizens who emerged beaming from polls last October have given way to new demonstrations and general strikes — this time against the Ennahda-led troika. In the cradle of the Arab uprising, Tunisians are deeply frustrated with the economic and political failure of the government. Today, nearly half of Tunisians feel they are worse off than they were before the revolution, and only 26 percent believe their situation has improved. Despite this, however, our original survey of 1,200 Tunisians conducted between October 10 and November 20 finds reason for optimism.

Tunisia’s problems run deep. A December 1 New York Times article, written in the wake of uprisings in the Tunisian town of Siliana in November that led to a five-day stand-off with the government, chronicles the problems: unemployment is up from 13 to 18 percent since the fall of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, youth increasingly flow out of universities to find themselves without work, a constitution is yet to be written, elections are postponed, and local governments remain appointed. Tunisians talk about the disconnect between the government and the people — grumbling that it is no more concerned with daily needs than Ben Ali’s before it. People say that the current government and police are as corrupt as in the past, and express a general sense of insecurity. (more…)

The most potent symbol of the history of the Middle East, indeed of much of human history, is the stuff of life itself: blood. In the sacred history of the three major monotheisms enough blood has been shed since their inception (by and against each one of them) to raise the sea level meters upon meters. Even in the Genesis origin story the first two natural births, Cain and Abel, became the first to introduce bloodshed as a norm. The God of Genesis got into the act, killing animals to make skins that would clothe the naked bodies he created of Adam and Eve and then preferring the animal sacrifice of Abel to the firstfruit figs raised by Cain. The same God went on to substitute a lamb for Abraham’s heir, although only when Abe’s knife was poised to slit his son’s throat, but then in Christian dogma the now-threefold deity shed a third of his essence on the cross. In that same dogma Jesus no longer needs that lost blood as he resurrected to make the trinity a divine threesome once more. But the bloodletting has never stopped.

By all accounts the prophet Muhammad was not fond of shedding blood. The forays and battles that took place while he and his followers were in exile in Medina are remarkable for how few deaths are said to have occurred. When he returned in triumph to Mecca it was not because of any great military victories, nor was their a bloodbath of the Meccans. At the start of Islam the Allah seen through the Quran is neither interested in literal blood sacrifices or a figurative eucharistic variety. Muslims purify themselves with water to make themselves ready for prayer. Calls for jihad have resonated throughout the Islamic era as countless thousands upon thousands have died for not being Muslim, being Muslim or being the wrong kind of Muslim: such is the political baggage common to most religions known to history and probably before recorded history. (more…)

Today is December 21, 2012. For most of us it is just another day. But for some it is the end of the world. The most infamous prediction for today is a claim about the Mayan calendar and the nebulous plant Nibiru. I am not sure what time of the day the end is supposed to happen, but I am taking the precaution of posting my commentary the night before. Of course, since NASA has seen fit to deem this prediction a hoax (imagine that) with a Youtube video, I am perhaps being overly cautious. I suppose NASA took action because there is a Youtube channel out there on the Mayan date and we all know how many people accept anything they see on Youtube as true. Fingers have been pointed at the filmmakers of 2012, said on the official film website to be the “number one movie in the world.” But who knows why Hollywood bothered to make the film at all if the producers won’t be around to cash in on sales. Well, they did make it a couple of years ago and have no doubt been partying right up until December 21.

But just in case Muslims are wondering about this 2012 doomsday scenario, it is comforting to note that Ahlul Bayt News Agency has issued a statement that Muslim scholars have condemned the threat as a hoax. (more…)

A documentary (The Light in her Eyes) on the teaching of the Qur’an to women in Damascus aired on PBS last July and is now available for viewing online until January 12, 2013. To view the trailer or the entire film, which was made before the recent violent protests rocking the Syrian regime, click here.

Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1538

Growing up on the King James Version of the Gospels, I well remember the force of a verse from Mark 10:14 in which Jesus, in anger, said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” The occasion was when several parents brought children to Jesus to be blessed, but were discouraged by his disciples. This past week has seen the suffering of little children around the world. Last Friday America was gripped by the tragedy of twenty elementary children and six adults gunned down by a disturbed young man, who first killed his mother in bed and then at the school took his own life. In a nation that wears its constitutional “right to bear arms” on its political sleeves, this was a shot to the gut. For all of us whose children have gone through the public school system, the shock lingers. It could have been any local school in any state. It could have been any of our children. A killer with a gun has denied them life. This suffering is not what Jesus meant when he said “suffer the little children to come unto me.” One need not be an expert in 17th century English to understand the meaning of the verse.

But children continue to suffer at the hands of adults all over the world. In Pakistan on Monday six health workers engaged in a project to immunize children were shot to death by extremists who have been told that such a program to save children’s lives is actually a Western plot to undermine Islam. Along with five brave women and one man, the Pakistani children who will not have immunity from polio will also suffer. The irony that six adults were killed both in Pakistan and in New Town, Connecticut is worth reflecting on. In both cases those trying to save children became victims; in both cases children suffer. (more…)

by Gabriel Marranci, Islam, Muslims, and an Anthropologist, December 11, 2012

Recently I came across a short article titled: The Muslim ‘prayer bump’ and Traumatic Brain Injury. Since I am interested in both religion as well as neuroscience, I eagerly read the short post. To my disappointment, I had to conclude that this was another, yet more sophisticated and insidious, attempt to demonstrate that Islam has horrible consequences for practising individuals. The gist of the article is as follows. Muslims pray five times per day, and as part of the Muslim prayer (salah), the Muslim prostrates and touches the ground with his or her forehead and nose (sujud). The article proceeds to inform the reader that in doing so, millions of Muslims develop what, in Islamic jargon, is called zebibah (Arabic for raisin), or a prayer bump. In other words, the repeated pressure of the head on the prayer mat will produce a discolouration of the skin in the area of contact, and in some cases, apparently, provoking a ‘bump’.

Now the article, after presenting a photo gallery of notoriously controversial, and in some cases criminal, people identified as Muslims, goes on to introduce some recent scientific research published by Oxford University, which advances a new hypothesis in neurotrauma arguing that repeated traumatic brain injury may result in cumulative damage to cells of the brain. The article, through selective quotations, informs us that this produces memory loss and alters cognitive function so that the affected individual is prone to violence and fanaticism.

Finally, we know why Muslims are terrorists, why they protest violently, why they mistreat women, why they commit honor crimes and are dangerous people in general. It is Islam. Of course, we have heard similar accusations before from people like Robert Spencer. However, this article has moved the argument one step further by creating the missing link that was needed to finally demonstrate the deeply dangerous effects of Islam. (more…)

[Editor’s note: This superb interview with a major figure in Yemeni politics has recently been posted by Samaa al-Hamdani, who blogs at Yemeniaty.]

Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Eryani has been involved in Yemeni politics for more than 40 years, holding various senior positions within the government, first under the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) then the Republic of Yemen. Moreover, he is an influential member of the General People’s Congress (GPC) political party. Currently, Dr. Al-Eryani presides over the National Dialogue Committee (NDC). For his full biography, click here.

In New York City, Yemeniaty sat down with him to discuss some Yemeni politics. Click here to watch the interview.

The current cover of about-to-be-print-defunct Newsweek asks a question that could be seen as an old (and oh so tired) joke:

Who’s there?
Jesus who?
Jesus who? After 2000 years you still don’t know who Jesus was?

Perhaps Newsweek is reduced to the digital because it took so long to follow up on Time Magazine‘s 1966 cover that asked “Is God Dead?” Both are questions that beg further questions. For Time, which God? For Newsweek, which Jesus? For that matter, it could also be asked which Moses, which Muhammad, which Buddha, which Krishna, which Ishtar, which Baal, which Zeus, which Napoleon, which Joseph Smith and which Elvis? In all but the last three choices above, no historian can ever answer the question, and even Napoleon is philosophically iffy.

Since this is the Christmas season that is consuming our time, let’s start with Jesus. Do you want the Jesus who is mortal or the one born of a virgin and equal to eternal deity? Be careful how you choose for you could end up (and it would be your end after the middle of the 4th century) being an Arian heretic rather than accepting the alternative of homoousious (a word worth looking up if only because it has a double o in the middle). Do you want the babe away in a manger while angels sang to shepherds and wise guys followed a star to Bethlehem? Then even the current Pope has his doubts. Do you want Jesus of the Gospels, who thought it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven and preferred the wisdom of children to the theologians of his day? Then think twice about applying for funding from the for-profit Andrew Carnegie’s trying-philanthropically-to-be-like-the-prophet Carnegie Foundation.

Do you want the Jesus that died for your sins so you could go on a crusade to the Holy Land and kill the infidels who had taken over Jerusalem? (more…)

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