it's a small web after all...

I was ego-surfing on Google and came across this issue of the Fall Reporter (PDF link), a newsletter for the Old South Church in Boston (where I lived for two years). The Old South Meeting House (the original home of this congregation), is a historic site along the Freedom Trail. In a bizarre twist of coincidence, they used a little logo I designed in the aftermath of 9-11 (see page 5).:

How they came across it, I can't imagine. It's kind of a boost though to my ego to see it being used, especially since I made it solely for myself, as a creative outlet and homage. Here's another more jingoistic one:

and yet another that is now dated but was then a small ray of (now fully restored) optimism:

cheesy in retrospect, but it was what I was feeling.


Gujarat I: riots press coverage

The BBC had excellent coverage of the riots in Gujarat early this year. You can access it by searching the BBC archives. There are 12 pages of search results!

The Gujarat riots are a case of systematic state-sponsored terrorism, in my opinion:

Forensic evidence suggests that the fire in the train was NOT started by a muslim mob after all.

Horrific tales of rape, mutilation, and slaughter were reported, carried out by well-organized busloads of murderous thugs organized by cell-phones and possibly using voter registration lists to identify Muslims.

The army was sent in, but was ineffective.

Police made some token arrests, there was a token resignation, and token heads rolled to deflect criticism at higher levels.

The state's chief inister (Modi) made some noises of token concern and successfully held on to his post, despite being a known colleague of hard-line violent Hindu rightwing groups.

The local and state authorities were heavily implicated and found complicit in planning the systematic campaigns months before the train incident.

Amnesty International representatives were denied visas to stop them from investigating the violence.

The refugee camps housing the victims of the riots were forced to close by government authorities.

Muslims lived (and still live) in fear after the riots, but life goes on.

The Guilty Men of Ahmedabad
Ayodhya solutions
At Ground Zero in Godhra
Vajpayee hides behind militant smokescreen
Hindu militants and their saffron shield
Vajpayee braces for communal remobilization
Sack Modi, ban VHP
The agony of Gujarat

UPDATE: Suman Palit responds. Also see the comments section for more by Suman on this. I reply to Suman's reply in a new post, since we have drifted from the topic of the Gujrat riots and are now discussing the history of Islam in India.

silence of the media II: Islamic condemnnations of terrorism

Many have accused Muslims of being "silent" in the face of terrorism. Though examples abound in the blogsphere, where it is practically conventional wisdom that Muslims consent by virtue of their supposed silence (examples: Steven, James, Brian). This stereotype also penetrates deeply into traditional media, with William F Buckley's essay "Are we owed an apology?"[1] being a prominent example.

From Muhabajah.com, is this comprehensive list of links and resources on Islamic perspectives against terrorism (hirabah), essays by prominent Islamic intellectuals and clerics condemning terrorism, statements by muslim leaders, and even a section on muslim military personnel.

In addition to these, there is also this statement condemning 9-11 by the leaders of the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North America, and American Muslims for Jerusalem. Almost all of the country's 7 million muslims are represented by these groups.

And, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia condemned the 9-11 attacks as well.

In general, though, islamic condemnnation of terrorism is dull news here in America's media. Here in Houston, the various Islamic groups had "open Mosque" days and other community-peace programmes after 9-11, which drew mild interest at best. Later, a firebrand gave a anti-Semtic speech at a local campus and it made headlines. One firebrand x 10,000 media points = a score of 10,000. 100 peaceful muslims x 1 media point = a score of 100. AltMuslim has a nice roundup of other community outreach efforts by Muslims during Ramadan, but again, this is not a winnable PR battle (another reason I don't think it's worth the effort, counter to SDB's opinion).

[1] Muslims do NOT owe anyone an apology for 9-11.

sparking discussions

(this is a followup to my meta-comentary on my lanat post)

NoWarBlog has linked to the lanat post as well, and there is a vibrant discussion going on in the comments section. I haven't publicly endorsed NoWarBlog yet, so let me do so now. I haven't asked to contribute solely because I am honestly still on the fence.

I also had posted the link to the lanat post in LGF's feared comments section and got a lot of initially positive interest. When they found out I have been critical of Israel, the tide turned. I'm painted as a standard Mark IV Anti Semite who wants to Destroy IsraelTM in their evaluation at present. Most of the opinions there rely on extensive out-of-context trolling through my archives. It's too much trouble to wade in and try to defend myself, but my archives are listed at left, and the posters in the LGF thread do provide links to the blog entries they misquote and misrepresent.

If anyone else has linked to the lanat post, please let me know in my coments section, as I'd like to document it and give apropos linkage.

the skein of God

I never liked string theory. I never really understood it, so my reaction may simply be sour grapes. But this new theory of Loop Quantum Gravity promises to be a more elegant solution to unifying quantum mechanics to the Theory of Relativity. The even cooler thing is that the theory was created by 31-year old Markopoulou Kalamara, a woman in a field dominated by men. The article in Scientific American goes into excellent layman-level detail.

What I especially found intriguing was the concept of the observer. Usually, theories of the universe are presented in such a way that there is a definite "outside" for a hypothetical observer to observe from. This theory seems different in that the observed reality is the integrated view from the inside. This is similar to projection reconstruction in computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (my own field), in which multiple limited views are combined to reconstruct a full view:

Because the speed of light is finite, you can see only a limited slice of the universe. Your position in spacetime is unique, so your slice is slightly different from everyone else's. Although there is no external observer who has access to all the information out there, we can still construct a meaningful portrait of the universe based on the partial information we each receive. It's a beautiful thought: we each have our own universe. But there's a lot of overlap. "We mostly see the same thing," Markopoulou Kalamara explains, and that is why we see a smooth universe despite a quantized spacetime. "

Fascinating stuff, makes me wish I had enough knowledge to read the original paper. I'll look it up on ScienceDirect anyway and fantasize about being able to understand the formalisms. I really need to subscribe to SciAm though.

There also a Physics News Update on Loop Quantum Gravity at the American Institute of Physics, and a detailed technical overview culled from Google.

(the article was also posted to the UNMEDIA mailing list, and public archives)


beyond the limits of journalism

I know the war is inevitable and I know nothing you said was meant as an attack on me personally and I know saddam is a nutcase with a finger on the trigger. But this is my country and I love its people, there is no way you can convince me that a war is OK. I worry about what will happen during the attacks and I worry more about what will happen afterwards. I take walks in parts of the old city and can't stop thinking will this be still there this time next year. You are right; on an emotional level I can not and will not accept a war on Iraq. But on the other hand..........
Look there is no way I am going to say it mainly because I do not trust the intentions of the American government.

from Raed, blogging from Iraq.

silence of the media I: what consent to infer?

Steven has another post supporting my thesis that tribalist misogynistic impulses are often wrapped in religion to lend them legitimacy.

Throughout history, what has been the one way that Brute A can impress Brute B? (def. impress: scare off, intimidate, keep from stealing your grain or winning the election) The easiest route is to beat on your women. Instant respect!

But, when religions came along, and said things like "women are people", this caused some initial concern among these boneheads, because they until then had never really dealth with a coherent and intellectual response to their straightforward Hulk Smash! attitude. The response was ingenious, simply assert that "women are people" REALLY means "women are chattel" and now, you can use the entire infrastructure of religion as just another club! It's a far better club, in fact, because no matter how big and striong a Brute you are, your victims fear God more than they fear you.

Steven agrees with me. But he doesn't know it yet.

When Steven writes, however:

But to remain apathetically silent is to consent to let the extremists speak on behalf of Islam collectively and to characterize the struggle as being against all of Islam. To stay silent is to permit the extremists to control how Islam is perceived by the non-Muslims of the world.

then we rae emphatically NOT in agreement. He is talking about Muslims. But let me assure him and you that as a Muslim, I don't really CARE how Islam is perceived by non-Muslims. I care how Islam is perceived by Muslims.

And just because he thinks Muslims are silent doesn't mean they are. In fact they have strong voices, and there is a level of debate raging in the Islamic world that is completely missed by insulated commentators in the US. This point was eloquently made in an interview with Stephen Schwartz, in National Review Online:

Leading Muslims outside the U.S. denounce Wahhabism, and many denounced the atrocity of 9/11. Unfortunately, however, most of U.S. media is completely incompetent in finding, listening to, or understanding these voices. U.S. media does not interview anti-Wahhabi sheikhs or imams or muftis in the Islamic world. U.S. media paid no attention when the head of Bosnian Islamic scholars, Mustafa efendija Ceric, preached eloquently against terrorism. U.S. media did not notice when an Albanian daily - in a country with a Muslim majority - hailed the U.S. action in Afghanistan last year with the headline "Nobody Veils the Statue of Liberty's Face." Nobody in the U.S. media has followed up on reports by myself and others showing that Kosovar Albanian Muslims would like to fight for the West in Iraq. Worse, U.S. media has reported very little of the mobilization of 70 million Indonesian Muslims against extremism in the aftermath of the Bali horror.

U.S. media listens to the so-called "Arab street," which is essentially irrelevant, filled as it is with yelling loiterers, or engages in polling
exercises asking loaded questions. This, of course, reinforces the view of Muslims as unanimous haters of the West and America. To understand the struggle of the world's traditional Muslims against Wahhabism, you have to get away from the "Arab street" and meaningless people wandering around. You have to sit down with serious Islamic clerics and thinkers and dialogue
with them in a way they understand and respect.

(this article was posted to the UNMEDIA mailing list. You can browse and search the list archives without subscribing.). I know I reproduced the same text below in my Falsafat post but it's so important (and again relevant) that it was necessary.

Steven usually links to BBC and ABC News as his primary source of information about news and world events. Therefore it's not surprising that he perceives a raging silence. That silence is the media's journalistic ethos, though, not the moral clarity of the majority of the world's muslims.

In fact, the effort that Muslims would have to make in order to get media coverage to satisfy the opinion of Steven and others like him who rely exclusively on western media for information about the Islamic world, would be wasted. Positive coverage lasts only as long as the next tragedy. That energy would be better spent - and is being better spent - inwards.

And, silence is not consent. If it were, the date rapists (another species of Brute A) will have won. Sometimes, silence means, "no time for inane talk. Busy actually fixing the problem"

UPDATE: via the indispensable alt.muslim, an article in Sify News that mentions that the fatwa was condemned by much larger Muslim groups in Nigeria:

Zamfara's deputy governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi said late Monday in a speech to religious leaders in the Zamfara State capital Gusau which was rebroadcast on state radio, "Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed.

"It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty," he said.

But Lateef Adegbite, general secretary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, distanced his influential body from the fatwa, refusing to immediately endorse it. He told AFP that the council would study the ruling, but would also take into account that Daniel is a Christian, does not live or work in Zamfara and that her paper had apologised.

By the way, the givernor of Zamfara state who issued the fatwa stated that "Islam prescribes the death penalty on anybody, no matter his faith, who insults the Prophet." This is wrong. He actually claimed a Qur'anic basis, which is a pure fabrication.

UPDATE 2: Tony Adragna has a related post, and is kind enough to mention this blog as an example of Islamic self-analysis. My actions are not new, they are just a tiny drop in a vast ocean.

Also, Steven has linked this entry as a response, and adds as commentary:

I do think he's making one mistake when he says, let me assure him and you that as a Muslim, I don't really CARE how Islam is perceived by non-Muslims. I care how Islam is perceived by Muslims. In ordinary times that would be a reasonable thing. But in time of war, when non-Muslim guns are aimed at those they think are dangerous, it should be important to Muslims whether they're perceived as being dangerous by those pointing the weapons.

Again, I respectfully disagree. If guns are going to be aimed, then the targeting is solely in the hands of the one holding the gun. All a muslim can do is be a good muslim, live a decent life, be a good example to his family and others, be a good citizen, etc. (this is the advice of Ali ibn Talib AS).

If, despite all this, then guns are pointed at the muslim regardless, then this is another burden of the world that the Muslim must accept. I don't go out of my way to make myself less of a target to the high-school jerks who harass my family as we drive to masjid for ramadan prayer. When my daughter grows up to adolescent awkward self-conscious age, she will no doubt want me to wear a shorter beard, stop wearing our religious dress in public, and to be less conspicous. I will firmly explain that the threat to us as muslims is greater from not being ourselves than it is from any idiot punk.

This is what is known as "not letting the terrorists win".

What non-muslims think is irrelevant. The worst they can do is kill me. Death is a release from this world (full of beauty though it is), and if my fate is sealed by my actions of being a good Muslim, I gain, not lose. I do not intend bravado, I intend submission.

UPDATE 3: Nigerian Muslim authorities have rejected the "fatwa".


Falsafat II: Peak of Eloquence

This is the second post in my falsafat (philosophy) series. The first part serves as an index to the Ideofact blog's ongoing review of Qutb's Social Justice in Islam, one of the core ideologies of extremist Islam.

Ideofact has comprehensively analyzed how Qutb's ideas (which are just distilled versions of Maudoodi and Wahab) are not only internally contradictory but flout the entire history of Islam and discard the theologic traditions of the past 1400 years. It is supreme understatement to say that Qutb has been discredited, and Ideofact is hardly alone. In fact, throughout the Arab world and the greater Muslim sphere, Qutb (and Wahab) have been attacked with great effect by prominent Islamic thinkers, intellectuals, and clerics. Unfortunately, this repudiation of extremism is completely ignored by the Western media. This point has been made effectively in an interview with Stephen Schwartz at National Review Online (via Bin Gregory, and posted to UNMEDIA list) :

Leading Muslims outside the U.S. denounce Wahhabism, and many denounced the atrocity of 9/11. Unfortunately, however, most of U.S. media is completely incompetent in finding, listening to, or understanding these voices. U.S. media does not interview anti-Wahhabi sheikhs or imams or muftis in the Islamic world. U.S. media paid no attention when the head of Bosnian Islamic scholars, Mustafa efendija Ceric, preached eloquently against terrorism. U.S. media did not notice when an Albanian daily � in a country with a Muslim majority � hailed the U.S. action in Afghanistan last year with the headline "Nobody Veils the Statue of Liberty's Face." Nobody in the U.S. media has followed up on reports by myself and others showing that Kosovar Albanian Muslims would like to fight for the West in Iraq. Worse, U.S. media has reported very little of the mobilization of 70 million Indonesian Muslims against extremism in the aftermath of the Bali horror.

U.S. media listens to the so-called "Arab street," which is essentially irrelevant, filled as it is with yelling loiterers, or engages in polling exercises asking loaded questions. This, of course, reinforces the view of Muslims as unanimous haters of the West and America. To understand the struggle of the world's traditional Muslims against Wahhabism, you have to get away from the "Arab street" and meaningless people wandering around. You have to sit down with serious Islamic clerics and thinkers and dialogue with them in a way they understand and respect.

The failure of the Western media to avoid being blinded to moderate majorities by the allure of extremist minorities is the reason why normal Muslims like myself and Bin Gregory are routinely challenged to "justify" our religion, or why we have now been labeled "moderate muslims" (to distinguish from muslims, who are understood to be fanatic nutjobs. CW is cruel.).

Peak of Eloquence But it is not enough to denounce harmful ideologies like Qutbism and Wahabism. A strong alternative must be presented simultaneously, otherwise there is no net progress towards solutions. Towards that end, having dismissed Qutb in part 1, I intend to present an alternative here in part 2. That alternative is Nahjul Balagha ("Peak of Eloquence"), written by of Amirul Mumineen Ali ibn Talib AS[1]. Ali AS was the chosen successor of the Prophet Muhamad SAW. This book is a collection of his sermons and is essential reading. The book is available from Amazon, but the full text is also available online.

Before understanding this book, though, it is hepful to gain a sense of who Ali AS was. There is an essay posted to Shiapundit on the character of Ali AS, and also provides a general biography and the nature of his relationship with the Prophet SAW.

The value of the sermons is that they give an accurate and in-depth view at the moral code within Islam, as exemplified by the example of Ali AS. This is a clear window into the core of Islam as practiced by its first male convert[2], undistorted by the Wahabis and the Qutbis and the attached cruft of their self-serving hadith and fundamentalist interpretations. Shi'a such as myself revere Ali as the only person of the Prophet's SAW companions who had the Prophet's permission and authority to interpret the Qur'an. Muhammad SAW himself said that "I am the city of Knowledge, and Ali is the Gate." But the value of Ali's example need not be restricted to Shi'a alone. Ali AS is acknowledged as the Fourth Caliph to Sunnis as well and embracing the ideals that Ali AS personified is an embrace of core Islamic values.

But Nahjul Balagha is about more than character. It also lays the framework for a rationalist approach to theology. The great Shi'a jurist Imam Jafa al-Sadiq[3] - who actually mentored the Sunni founders of the dominant Sunni schools of thought - laid the foundation for Islamic rationalist philosophy, emphasising the importance of al-Aql (Reason) as the primary faculty of mankind. The great works of Ikhwan us-Safa and Dai'm al-Islam are almost completely unknown to Western armchair analysts of Islam, but are central to the core of true Islamic theologic philosophy (the very word philosophy comes from the Arabic word, "falsafat").

It is beyond my ability to "review" Peak of Eloquence, any more than I could review the Bible or the Qur'an. But the authenticity of every word spoken by Ali AS in these sermons is an absolute. Contrast this to the compilations of hadith (sayings) of the Prophet SAW, notably Bukhari and Muslim, which were accumulated without any real regard for authenticity. Unfortunately, the bulk of Muslim believers accord higher status to these flawed compilations of hadith than they do to Nahjul Balagha. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine Bukhari and Muslim in this piece, but I have previously blogged about some minor but highly illustrative examples of the absurdity of the claim to authenticity for these books. Some of the flaws in these compilations, in fact, have given ammunition to Wahabists as they sought to discredit all prior Islamic theology and establish the dominance of their interpretation.

Peak of Eloquence remains the single clearest example of living Islam that Muslims can both agree on and aspire to.

UPDATE: A comentator below and several people have emailed me to point out that "philosophy" is not derived from "falsafat", but that both terms are probably directly derived from two ancient Greek words, "philos" (love), and "sophia" (wisdom). As reader John Holbo writes,

Starting with Plato it began to have precisely the meaning we ascribe to it today. Given the strong influence of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers on classical Arabian philosophers (the Greeks were popular and influential in the Arab world during the "Dark Ages" in Europe, where they were virtually lost) I would surmise that the Arabic term is derived from the Greek one rather than vice versa.

I sincerely appreciate being fact checked - please keep it up!

[1] I am using transliterated honorifics that are traditionally applied to Ali AS and Muhammad SAW. SAW is for "sallalahu aleyhi walehi" which translated roughly to "Peace be upon him". Often, you see "PBUH" appended to the Prophet SAW instead of SAW, but I personally find this distasteful for much teh same reasons that I don't like translations of the Qur'an. AS is for "alayhi-salaam" which is similar.
[2] The wife of the Prophet was the first convert to Islam. Ali AS was the second. For many long years, the three of them were the only Muslims in the world, until the Message began to spread. For an epic telling of the early origins of Islam, I highly recommend the movie, The Message.
[3] Direct descendant of Ali AS and Ali's son, Imam Husain AS (who was martyred by the Caliph Yazid LA at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq).



This has been a strenous Ramadan (I am grateful to Allah for the lesson in humility). As such I have been quite behind in blogging - especially the reading part (during this holy month, I try to focus more on reading the Qur'an than I do the Internet. Usually I succeed :)

Because of this, I did not notice the response in the blogsphere to my lanat post. I have been somewhat dazed by the attention it has drawn. I know this is an incomplete list, but let me publicly thank Glenn, Jim, Patrick, and Thomas for their links, kind comments, and most importantly, their moral support.

But I am hardly alone.

Jim has compiled a thorough collection of links to blogs run by "islamic moderates"[1], male and female. In doing so, Jim also has this typically insightful caveat:

So what do we have here? A growing network of serious young men (I have found only men so far) actively engaged in challenging the extremists of their faith on the basis of their faith. They are already doing important intellectual work for far too small an audience, but we can expect that that audience will grow and that this formative work will not be wasted. Some of our muslim bloggers will go on to write for other media with more readers. Some of them will inspire people we don't know yet to do the same.

Do not expect their reconstruction to be an abnegation. Their repudiation of the murder of innocents, antisemitism and the stoning of women will not often also be their acceptance of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, nor even, in all cases, Israel's founding. It will not be tantamount to support for a US conquest of Iraq (and Iran, and Syria, and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt...) and a "MacArthur-style regency" to "reconstruct their culture like we did with Germany and Japan." Some of the thinkers we are discussing may support some of these things, others will consider them wrongheaded if not evil. "Islam" means "submission," but not submission to the Weekly Standard.

Precisely. The reason that decrying immoral actions of terrorists who happen to be muslim can be separated from the notion that Islam itself somehow nurtures these kinds of actions is precisely because Islam itself condemns terrorism. And while many high profile bloggers understand the concept that correlation is not causation enough to blog about it (repeatedly), few seem to be able to actually apply the principle. I have made a modest attempt at explaining a reason for the correlation between terrorism and Arabs.

It's curious that despite the best efforts of muslim moderates, we will always be seen as forever biased and somehow compromised by our religion when it comes to our patriotism or loyalty. In fact, this has come up very recently for me - something I will blog about later. We moderates understand that Islam is the answer[2] (with due respect to Jim, there's nothing bold about this idea) to attacking the symptoms of the terrorism meme. But attacking symptoms is not the answer. When it comes down to it, we share the goals of the warbloggers and the neocons at the Weekly Standard. We want terrorism to be eradicated. We want the Middle East to be democratic. But we think that terrorism needs to be solved by addressing the causal factors, not the symptoms alone. And we think that democracy has been stunted by Western powers, deliberately, for short term strategic gain. This is why we have trouble with the notion that mass imperial invasion of more middle eastern countries is the cure-all.

Because we are muslim, this makes us an authority, not a biased fifth column. And we will defend our religion from unjust attacks as we will defend our country from unjust attacks. To many, this is intolerable. So be it.

[1] A group that sorely needs a buzzword label (modlims? paleomuslims? postmuslims?) Leave suggestions in the comments :)
[2] Islam offers a solution to Iran, for example.


homeland security through obscurity?

I strongly disagree with Steven Den Beste's assertion that when it comes to homeland security, the best action is to "keep your mouth shut". He harshly critiques the decision by a researcher in North Carolina to reveal how vulnerable our agricultural industry is to bio-economic terrorism (such as cultivation of foot and mouth disease).

The best analogy is software security. When an exploit is discovered by outsiders, they usually announce it immediately and publicly. The reason is that this creates immediate pressure upon the software company to react quickly and patch the hole. Without that outcry, the tendency would be for the software company to sit quietly on it and hope for "security through obscurity". Microsoft actively bribes software developers to be silent about holes in MS software, for example, because they perceive the PR reputation of the company as more important than the security concerns of their users. Such as this gaping hole in Passport which leaves users' credit cards vulnerable to hackers.

Note that Eric Raymond has a definitive Jargon File entry on "security through obscurity". Another must-read essay on the topic was penned by Bruce Perens, posted to Slashdot.[1]

This "play it loud" approach is even more critical when lives are at stake. It is nonsense to imagine that terrorists will not eventually deduce the existence of security holes in our society, and exploit them. They effeciently managed to exploit the "placation-centric" attitude of airport security towards hijackers on 9-11, for example. Had someone raised an outcry - publicly - that this is no defense against a SUICIDE hijacker, there might have been simple measures taken to prevent an exploit and 9-11 could have been averted.

In general, a security hole in software takes hours to exploit. But a terrorist organization might need years to prepare an exploit of a homeland security hole. Quick outcry as soon as such holes are detected is essential to keeping the country safe.

UPDATE: Jane and NZ Bear weigh in. With respect to Jane's point, she makes the same assumption that Steven does, namely that there do actually exist terrorist attacks that are truly unstoppable. As long as her entire argument rests on this thesis, it's unsound. There is always a solution. Sometimes there may be no technological solution, but there certainly could be a POLICY solution.

Case in point - agriculture. Its easy to point out how our mass-produced genetically non-diverse feedstocks are vulnerable. And maybe the current Big Aggie way of doing farming is inherently vulnerable in certain ways that cant be solved. The answer then becomes, CHANGE that method. This is already happening with micro-farming and the rise of smaller more varied farming cooperatives. By introducing variety into the genteic stock and by decentralizing the production of food we can achieve not just increased security (ie, removing a single point of massive failure) but actually get tangible results in terms of healthy and tasty foods. (Aside. Did you know there used to be thousands of different species of chickens? Each with a unique flavor. The very concept of "tastes like chicken" used to be meaningless.)

The point is, there are always solutions. Jane and SDB both posit that there do exist unstoppable attacks. But the assumption of "unstoppable" is always based on assumptions that are not universal.

Eric also has related bloggage, but seemes to have bizarrely descended into self-inflating paranoia. From the comments thread in NZ Bear's post, comes this link to an essay written in 1857 (!) on the same topic, as applied to locks. There are a number of other useful links in there for those further interested in the topic.

[1] I must apologise to both ESR and Bruce Perens for using their names together in the same paragraph. But they actually DO agree on some things.

review: Mullahs on the Mainframe

Mullahs on the MainframeTo some extent, my reviewing the book Mullahs on the Mainframe (Jonah Blank, University of Chicago Press) is narcissistic. Not in the sense of vanity, but rather the more general sense of overt self-contemplation. The book is a cultural anthropology study of my own religious comunity, the Dawoodi Bohra muslims (one of the Ismaili branches of the Shi'a sect). Yet, Jonah (who signed my copy) has managed to use his observations about my community as a springboard for a broader investigation of modernity as it relates to Islam, and he leverages it into a fairly powerful repudiation of many stereotypes that not only impede relations between East and West, but often actively undermine them. As such, I read this book on two levels, the superficial level of curiosity about how my own familiar community looks from an outsider's perspective, and the more profound level of global socio-politics. It is a testament to Jonah's credentials that I was able to "forget" I am Bohra, or even Muslim, and appreciate his analysis on its own merits independent of my own affiliations.

The book begins with an extensive overview of the history of Islam, detailing the specific doctrinal schisms that led to the Bohras as a separate group. The discussion of the early Shi'a and Sunni split is probably of highest interest to most readers, naturally, but Jonah does an impressive job of conveying the epic quality of the office of the Dai ul-Mutlaq, which has governed the community's religious affairs for the past 1000 years. After the historical introduction, the book begins the ethnography, with chapters devoted to Bohra rituals of life, major events and observances, domestic life (with special emphasis on the status of women), and more. Naturally it is impossible for an outsider to fully characterize the complex and fine-grained details of daily life. The second part of the book is the analysis, devoted to the religious influences and institutions within the community. Again, there are many details left out, and Jonah of course focuses attention on some things that seem important to him but with which an insider would disagree. But the overall picture is coherent and illuminating and even informative to members like myself. I learned a few things about my own community from this book.

The book's website has a fairly long excerpt that directly addresses the deeper implications and benefits of studying a community such as mine, that has fully embraced the modern world, yet also strongly comitted to its cultural and religious heritage. Jonah discusses Edward Said's thesis that study of the East amounts to "cultural imperialism" and rejects it, arguing that (as his study of the Bohra community demonstrates) "what is needed is more cultural outreach rather than less. The best way to defeat ignorance is through knowledge, imperfect as such a search may be."

All of this leads to the inevitable question by non-Muslims - what is "real" Islam have to say on modernity? There have been numerous examples of pundits and bloggers and columnists whoose opinions on Islam range from leery to outright hostile. Jonah makes a strong case with empirical evidence to support his assertion that "Islam is far too varied and complex to have a single, authoritative position on the topic of modernity." :

For every hidebound Taliban zealot who condemns television or female education as bid�a (innovation), there are tens of thousands of other Muslims who do not. By what standard is he more "Islamic" than they? An excellent case could be made that it is the literalists themselves who are outside the mainstream of contemporary Islam.
A thorough discussion of Islam and modernity would fill several bookshelves. I have raised the topic merely to indicate a few premises underlying this study, in brief:

- Western perceptions of Islam in general, and Islamic fundamentalism in particular, are based upon the views of a small, unrepresentative sampling of Muslim attitudes and beliefs.
- Even these self-styled spokesmen of Islamic traditionalism are often less categorically hostile to modernist ideas than is generally recognized.
- There are tremendous numbers of wholly orthodox Muslims, both individuals and entire communities, living their lives in strict accordance with a traditionalist interpretation of the faith, yet displaying few (if any) of the anti-Western, antisecular, antimodern attitudes commonly associated with this level of Islamic devotion.

Jonah is careful to avoid making extreme generalizations. The truth that Islam is complex applies both ways - just as the extremists cannot be said to represent all of Islam, neither of course can the moderates. But Jonah instead uses his data on the Bohra community to make a more direct but in some ways far more critical point: that the distinction between Islam and the West is not a clear boundary:

It is my hope that the portrait of the Bohra community presented in this study will help dispel some commonly held misperceptions about fundamentalist Islam. I do not argue that traditional Muslim values are identical (or even particularly similar) to those of modern Western society�merely that they can be compatible with so-called modern Western values. I would argue that the values Western triumphalists like to claim as their own (respect for human and civil rights, pursuit of social justice, equality of sexes, promotion of liberal education, aptitude for technology) are hardly limited to the West. And "modernity" (whatever its definition may be), is something far broader than a taste for sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
Are the Bohras themselves an anomaly among Muslims? Whether or not they are representative of Islam's future, the Daudi Bohras shatter stereotypes about traditionalist Islam today. As a community of up to one million devout Shi�a whose faith is every bit as fundamental to them as it is for Afghans, Saudis, or Iranians, they present an example that must be taken seriously. While adhering faithfully to traditional Islamic norms, the Bohras eagerly accept most aspects of modernity, strongly support the concept of a pluralist civil society, boast a deeply engrained heritage of friendly engagement with members of other communities, and have a history of apolitical quietism stretching back nearly a thousand years.

Not all traditionalist Muslims are like the Daudi Bohras�but not all are so very different.

I am a muslim, and I consider myself to be a Westerner also. My entire life has been a struggle to balance the competing priorities of these aspects of my identity and I have (in my opinion) largely succeeded.

lanat upon the hirabists

The people of Israel are in shock and pain today. A suicide bomber killed 11 people - mostly children - on a crowded bus during the morning rush hour in Jerusalem.

The military wing of the militant Hamas movement, Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, has claimed responsibility for the attack and named the suicide bomber as Na'il Azmi Abu al-Hal, Hezbollah's al-Manar television station reported, according to Reuters.
"Such operations must go on," Abdul Aziz Rantissi told the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, adding that the "vast majority" of Palestinians supported them.

Lanat upon Na'il Azmi Abu al-Hal. Lanat upon the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades. Lanat upon Abdul Aziz Rantissi.

As Almighty Allah revealed in the holy Qur'an,

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. Those who wage war against Allah and His prophet, kill the believers and plunder their property shall be disgraced in this world, and for them is a dreadful doom in the hereafter. (5:32-33)

When innocent children are slain, it is indeed as if the whole of mankind are slain[1]. And those who perpetrated, those who planned, those who approved, those who conceived, and those who justify this act of harabah will indeed face a dreadful doom in the hereafter.

The Palestinians are truly oppressed and suffering. They face true injustice, and rectifying that injustice is the only way that the Middle East will ever achieve peace. But the path to achieving Palestinian goals MUST be in accordance with the morality of the Qur'an:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. (2:190)

Jihad will always succeed. Harabah will always fail.

[1] Mohammed al-Dura will welcome the innocents to heaven, as the cohort of the victims of injustice grows. Palestinian or Israeili, Heaven is enriched, and the world grows poorer, for their departure.


mediahome II: the solution

I stated in the first part of this series that I consider the blogsphere a potential "media home" for liberals. I'll try to jutify this assertion here in part two.

The blogsphere was at its outset a far more conservative place. The prominent pundits were conservative or libertarian (like Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh, Bill Quick, Asparagirl, Lileks, etc.). I am sure some of these bloggers would be surprised at being labeled "conservative" so I apologise in advance for any mischaracterization (and invite corrections). Still, it was common knowledge that the blogsphere was right-leaning, and the very fact of its rightward tilt was enough to galvanize many second-generation bloggers to try and redress the balance (like Demosthenes, Matthew Yglesias, and Hesiod).

While meta-analysis of blogging abounds (too exhausted to even try and link!), as a challenge to traditional media, I think this overlooks a subtle and related point. The conservative media infrastructure does not "challenge" (ie, seek to replace) the normal channels. It seeks to influence it, so that by repetition of talking points, omission of background and context, the traditional media amplifies the conservative message. Were the traditional media to vanish overnight, and the offices of the NYT to sink into the ground, the conservative media infrastructure would be severely weakened[1].

The purpose of a liberal media home, then, would be to act as a reference, where the omitted bits can be restored and the context fleshed out. It needs to be complementary to the traditional channels. Instead of trying to influence it as the conservative side does, it needs to stand on it's own. A liberal media home needs to present all the facts, not just some, and discuss and analyse the context in detail, not in passing. Unpleasant truths must be openly discussed. Sacred cows have to be abandoned, dissenting voices have to be encouraged.

The net effect is to treat consumers of the mediahome as intelligent people instead of ravening masses, as thinking and reasoning beings rather than a machine to be greased. A liberal mediahome must cater to the readers' intelligence, not pander to its emotions, and above all allow the consumer to make up their own mind.

The liberal blogsphere is steadily evolving towards this standard. While Glenn Reynolds is not a liberal, he has certainly done his part to encourage dissenting voices, by virtue of a single link at times. But more is needed, like the exhaustive comparative economic analyses of Dwight Meredith, who has systematically analyzed government economic data to look at economic growth, inflation, unemployment, total and non-defense federal spending, the national debt, and number of federal non-defense employees, during a 40 year period under both Republican and Democratic administrations. This is a fantastic start, though of course one could argue that economic performance is more affected by who has control of Congress rather than the executive branch (the latter presents the budget and nominates the regulators and chairmen, but the former actually approve the budgets and nominations). It would be great to see someone build upon Dwight's research and do a similar analysis by Congressional breakdown.[2]

Likewise, Eschaton has been a consistent reference to flesh out stories and information that simply don't appear in the mainstream (and which conservative commentators wish would disappear entirely). For example, this section of the Barbara Waletsr interview with Al Gore, which was not broadcast and exists solely in transcript form on the web (for now). Excerpt:

WALTERS: I'm not sure that people realize that while you were in the residence of the Vice President there were crowds of people outside screaming at you. What was that all about?

AL GORE: Well, this was the Republican response to what was happening during that 36-day period, and they organized busloads of people that came and stood outside the house all day and all night screaming at the top of their lungs.

WALTERS: What, "Get out!"?

TIPPER GORE: Things like that, yes, and, and sometimes � things that we don't want to say on your program, and, some people saw that they were buses from "churches," but it was organized. The one thing that, that they did mainly was reach the bedrooms of our children, and Albert was still in school locally, and trying to study, so we rearranged, you know, they � kids moved to a different part of the house, and I was trying to think of a way that we could kind of laugh about this since obviously it was out of our control, there wasn't anything anybody could do so I got all the boom boxes in the house and � I remember sort of what the government did with Noriega � I thought we'd try that, and I aimed them at, toward, you know, where the crowd �

WALTERS: The crowd?

TIPPER GORE: � And I put nature sounds on and turned it all the way up. And at least the kids laughed.

note how in the lengthy comments thread on Atrios' post, conservatives such as "Laura" and "Chris" attempt to downplay the incident, and are rigorously refuted. Also note that Walters admits that "not many people know" but still presumably did not consider this segment necessary for broadcast. Atrios has the patience and the resources to go slogging for those tidbits of information that provide critical context to daily events.

Another example of the evolution towards a true media home is the rigour of the arguments. For example, this post by Ampersand, which exhaustively analyses the issue of "husband batterring". It is well-argued with logical organization of the main points and extensive references to back up her assertions. These are real footnotes, not invented ones that populate Ann Coulter's book. While one can certainly find points to disagree with, it's obvious that Ampersand's analysis is a well-reasoned one, not a knee-jerk ideological stand. And by phrasing the argument in such structured and documented terms, a framework for further debate is created that truly advances the discussion and serves a useful purpose. The hilarious satirical cartoons are icing on the cake.

And finally, a rational and measured response to distortions is a necessary function. For example, in regards to the crusade by Martha Burk to get women admitted to the Augusta National golf club, CalPundit has a chronological analysis of how the central issue (the restriction of women from the club may be legal, but immoral) became hijacked away into relative minutae and scare-mongering with terms like "radical feminist agenda". As Kevin concludes, "The real issue is simple: Why? Why do they feel that admitting women would ruin their club?". This kind of documentation of how the conservative infrastructure can manipulate the debate is a powerful reminder of the cost of unilaterally disarming on the battleground of ideas. (Kevin is hard on Glenn here, and while Glenn defends himself, he still misses the point in bold above. It would be great to see him address that rather than the red herring of "double standards").

Across the blogsphere, liberals are beginning to form the individual pillars of a media infrastructure. It will likely never be completed, but it is fast gaining critical mass. Already, meta-blogs devoted to aggregating content on liberal blogs are rising up, like Progressive Gold (I've proposed something similar myself, as has Nathan Newman).

I urge all liberals to start a blog. You don't need to have a hundreds of readers, or be featured on Glenn's blogroll, or be the number one search result on Google. You just have to get out there and express your opinion. The sum total of these ideas is what will give liberal ideas - broadly defined as "finding the right solutions to the problems still facing mankind[3] - a chance to evolve far faster than they can in the stultified arena of the traditional media. Do it yourself, don't rely on Instapundit or Eschaton or even UNMEDIA - contribute to the debate of ideas, join teh ranks, and have your say.

You are entering the blogsphere, liberals. Welcome home.

UPDATE: Dwight points me to this rigorous analysis of government spending on Calpundit's site, which arose out of a discussion between him and Max. I'm starting to wish there was a unified repository of liberal blogger data analysis. All of which - Dwights, Cal's, Max's, - do not assert ideological points but rather simply refute the ideological attacks of conservatives. Proving something false does not necessarily mean the converse is true! Liberal economic analysis understands this, conservatives don't seem to. I do wish that a conservative economic blogger like Jane or Steve Verdon would take a look at these, however, those are two conservative bloggers whose opinions I respect and take seriously. If they could be persuaded to join the analysis, that would truly further the debate, productively.

[1] I invite readers to Google for "Tubesteak Messiah"
[2] It is vital to understand that this analysis is NOT to "prove" that "Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans" !!! It exists as a counter-argument to the false claim that Republicans are better for the economy than Democrats. The myth of GOP economic supremacy is so pervasive that the stock markets routinely surge in anticipation of GOP victories, which has a real and detrimental effect on on the economy itself, in a meta- kind of way. (Curiously, though, that wasn't the case for the 2002 midterms). Still, proving A is not better than B does NOT prove that B is therefore better than A. Correlation is not causation, regardless of whether that correlation is positive or negative.
[3] Hunger. The Environment. Injustice. Oppression.


mediahome I: the problem

When I began this blog, I named it UNMEDIA for the simple reason that the mainstream media simply did not meet my needs. This had long been a problem in my mind but 9-11 was what finally galvanized me to action. I first created the UNMEDIA mailing list, for whose list description I wrote the following rather incisive text:

The media is the primary filter through which we perceive the world. It affects opinions, policies, attitudes, and understanding. The media has failed in the West to educate and inform, rather it has devolved into entertainment and propaganda in service of the current prevailing political attitudes.

The first post to the list was October 2001. By March of 2002, I was ready to begin blogging, and since then I have strived to make UNMEDIA list and blog both serve as spotlights, to highlight information that remains unavailable in the "normal" media channels (which regrettably still shape the opinions of the vast majority of Americans).

Principle: Knowledge is power. Which means that those with incomplete knowledge have less power, and powerlessness is still the default condition that I have with respect to the actions of my government and the world. This blog, and the list, are ways in which I am able to regain power. And I am sure that other bloggers feel the same about their own sub-Creations[1].

Which is why this must-read[2] editorial at Consortium News, about "media-homeless liberals", struck a resonant chord with me. The article explains the leverage that the conservative media infrastructure gives to conservatives[3] :

Conservatives anywhere can tune in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or a host of other broadcast outlets. They can open the pages of the Wall Street Journal editorial section, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard or dozens of other print or Internet publications. There, they will find their interests addressed, their outlook validated, their enemies unmasked.

In other words, conservatives are given a comfort zone by their national media, which in turn gives them a political cohesion. They are part of a team with shared goals. But what makes this conservative media such a potent political force is the lack of anything comparable on the liberal side of the U.S. political divide.

this echoes comments by Jonathan Chait in TNR:

The fact of the matter is the Republican Party enjoys certain basic advantages when it comes to getting its message across. One is that it has substantially more money for TV advertising. (Republicans touted this advantage while talking up their prospects prior to the election. Now that they've won, they ignore the impact of money completely.) The GOP also enjoys allied media outlets like Fox News and talk radio, which disseminate its message to its base in a way that Democrats can't duplicate.

Both of these phenomena are relatively recent. Ten years ago, pro-GOP mass media lacked its current breadth. And, before 1994, Democratic control of Congress assured some semblance of financial parity--business interests wanted to curry favor with the party that wrote the laws as well as with the party they felt represented their political viewpoint. Since Republicans took Congress, however, they began to gain a decisive advantage in fund-raising, and that disparity has only grown since Bush took office. (In the last cycle, Republicans out-raised Democrats by some $200 million, not including tens of millions spent by affiliated business interests such as the drug industry.) During the Clinton presidency, Democrats were able to offset the GOP's financial and media advantages because they had the bully pulpit of the presidency. Now that Republicans also hold the White House, they enjoy almost unfettered capacity to set the political agenda.

There is no comparable "media home" for liberals. One or two newspapers does not an infrastructure make, and the editorial rightly points out that "mainstream news outlets � that conservatives incorrectly label the 'liberal media' � studiously avoid tilting to the liberal side and increasingly compete for conservative viewers and readers." The myth of the liberal media - propagandized by books such as
and Slander - lends itself to systematic and rigorous refutation4.

The important thing is that the solution is NOT to construct an equally distorted ideological infrastructure on the left! While I greatly respect and rely on Atrios and Hesiod, for example, their approach reflects an ideological rather than a journalistic motivation. The strength of liberal ideas should be manifest if they are given a chance to compete on their own merits, not solely because they are liberal. There are some issues on which liberals are simply wrong[5] and they need to be willing to face up to this. This is why I also respect Glenn Reynolds - as I wrote to him recently[6]:

...you have done more than any other single person to promote blogging as a forum for political DEBATE. Note that I said debate, not propaganda or partisanship - you have consistently linked to those you disagree with, you have always made a point of having a diverse blogroll, and you have been willing to promote the parts of the blogsphere and outright critiques of your own content. In doing so, people like myself have been able to find other bloggers who are of common mind, helped me find allies of opinion as well as critics, and helped correct the right-shift tendency of the early blogsphere simply due to your volume. Kudos to you on this :) Every blogger I read today is at most one or two links away from you.

But of course, Glenn is not a liberal, and a media home for liberals is not his problem. The authors of the editorial are thorough in their description of the problem, but do not follow through and provide a solution.

I have a solution, however. The liberal media home that liberals (Democrats and otherwise) need to embrace, is the Blogsphere. (continued in part 2)

[1] a reference to JRR Tolkien's famous essay, "On Fairy Stories". You can read it and the accompanying metaphoric short story, Leaf by Niggle, in the The Tolkien Reader.
[2] the article has also been posted to the UNMEDIA mailing list, you can browse the public archives without subscribing.
[3] "conservative" is almost completely synonymous to "Republican" nowadays. The non-overlap of these groups is far smaller than the overlap between "liberal" and "Democrat". For example, myself - I am a liberal moderate, but I am not a Democrat, and I shed few tears for the "future of the party" or interest in "fixing the party" in the aftermath of the 2002 midterms.
[4] Ann Coulter's book is an especially egregious offender. Scoobie Davis has a list of links that debunk the errors in the book, including Slanderman and Spinsanity.
[5] CAFE standards for light trucks and gun control are two easy examples (I will address CAFE standards in an upcoming installment of my Love my SUV series. Go read ESR for gun control). And liberals need to be more skeptical of global warming (which I do buy into), and look for more balanced solutions than the Kyoto treaty (which I don't)
[6] I urge all liberal bloggers to write to Glenn and express your appreciation for all he has done to nurture the nascent blogsphere - on both right and left.


a new take on a classic parable

A local peasant Chad found himself in the position of choosing which of two sages would be the ruler of the kingdom. The two sages were named Bore and Gush. Chad knew that one of these sages always lied, and the other always told the truth. But he did not know which was which! So he thought for some time, and then asked Gush, "What would Bore say if I asked him which of you I should vote for?" to which Gush replied, "Bore would say, vote Gush!". Chad then asked Bore, "What would Gush say if I asked him which of you I should vote for?" to which Bore replied, "Gush would say, vote Gush!"

So, Chad voted for Gush, not Bore. But which was the liar?


a salute to veterans

I salute all our veterans, past and present, in honor of Veterans' Day. President Bush also had a salute, but of the middle-finger variety (via UggaBugga). It's not the first time that Bush has shown his "respect" for the armed forces - he recently broke a $275mil pledge to reduce backlogs at Veterans' Hospitals (causing the American Legion to react with disappointment). And Bush has reneged on promises of $340mil to fund fire departments nationwide.

The money would have been there, but for these little tax cuts, that I'm sure everyone has heard of by now. And I wonder what the armed forces about to risk their lives in Iraq think? Will their sacrifices be "rewarded" in similar fashion?

It isn't surprising that Bush is immune to compassion for the needs of those who served our country. Only the most committed partisan would deny that Bush entered the Air National Guard as a pilot to escape Vietnam duty. He was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied, despite scoring only 25% on the aptitude test (the minimum) and long waiting lists for other more qualified applicants.

And it isn't even clear if Bush even served out his National Guard duties - there is abundant evidence and press investigation to suggest he went AWOL[1]. This is the kind of behavior that the word "chickenhawk" refers to, not the strawman version proferred by Bush's defenders[2].

Bush of course made a photo-op appearance at the sacred ground of the Vietnam Memorial. "Thank you for serving," he told them. "God Bless you all." Is this an example of faith-based charity?

UPDATE: Bush is a known liar. But the media has given him a pass. This alone refutes accusations of media bias to the left - especially since Bush's lies could seriously affect the country, unlike the personal lies of Clinton or the alleged lies of Gore. I also recommend a new book, What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, which you can pre-order on Amazon.com.

[1] Bush's 2000 campaign refused to release his service records, as Gore, Clinton, McCain, and Bradley had done.
[2] The strawman argument is this: chickenhawk means "the opinion of someone who did not serve in active duty counts less than someone who did, when it comes to issues of waging war". The real meaning of chickenhawk is:
A chickenhawk is a term often applied to public persons - generally male - who (1) tend to advocate, or are fervent supporters of those who advocate, military solutions to political problems, and who have personally (2) declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime.

animated biography of Muhammad (SAW)

AICN reports that an animated biography of the Prophet Muhammad SAW is in the works, with the actual animation and CGI embellishment to be done by RichCrest Animation in Burbank CA. There's a detailed look at the project as well as background historical material. The producer, Badr International Corporation[1], has plans to introduce further topics of Islam as well beyond this project once it is completed:

It is Company�s vision to become the major provider of high quality Islamic animated stories, episodes, and series for distribution to Islamic countries and people worldwide. Such stories will be produced in Arabic, English and other significant languages in the Muslim world.
The Company�s primary mission is to convey knowledge and cultural values through the medium of animation in an entertainment format, targeted to the entire family as a single audience.

I note that the intended targets for marketing of the movie is to an Islamic audience as well as an American one. The impact at home doesn't interest me as much as the foreign - is the goal here to try to "reprogram" the masses towards moderate Islam, by using the moral lessons and example for humanity that was Muhamad SAW? Or just to be a Disneyfied package of history like Liberty's Kids? Perhaps I am reading too much into it - or it could be a combination of identifying a market niche and performing an experiment in social engineering .

The MessageThe definitive project in film to narrate the early history of Islam was the powerful movie, The Message (1976). The director, Moustapha Akkad, actually shot each scene twice, with different sets of actors for the English version and the Arabic version, because he felt that subtitles would mar the film. Anthony Quinn played Hamza in the English version. Akkad also introduced the cinematic equivalent of the Islamic tradition of not representing the Prophet SAW visually, by framing scenes involving Muhammad SAW from his point of view. Thus, when other characters address the Prophet SAW, they are actually addressing the viewer of the movie. Some scenes had the Prophet SAW off-screen, and Akkad used a haunting musical theme to indicate Muhammad's presence. Muhammad's SAW spoken words are never heard by the audience but are heard by the other characters. The net effect is to convincingly establish the presence of the Prophet SAW but yet never actually violate the tradition against representation. It's partly a brilliant statement about perception and cue within movies in general as well as a merely functional device to circumvent offense. I consider Akkad's use of this device to be the opposite of Jar Jar Binks - rather than visualize an artificial person, the character has enormous impact upon the film and the mportance of the character is underscored, by their absence (visually speaking. But in cues from other actors and the music, the character exists. With even more realism than the jarring artifice of a CGI construct).

To say that there was controversy surrounding the making and release of The Message would be an enormous understatement :) But the film was vetted by established Islamic scholars, notably those at Al-Azhar University in Cairo [2], and garnered enormous acclaim. The video is worth purchasing for the appended "maing-of" documentary alone.

However, while I purchased a copy of The Message for my family, it bore the marks of having been "sanitized" to reflect a cohesive vision of the early history that probably was decided by calculated compromise rather than historical accuracy. While I don't seriously expect the political machinations that gave rise to the Shi'a-Sunni schism to be highlighted (what purpose would it serve, except for disunity?), it's still somewhat jarring to be see certain personalities portrayed in ways opposite to what you've been taught. I have a feeling that this animated version will also bear the same marks, but I cannot fault them for it. The core message of that early history is the story of Muhammad SAW, and the details of the supporting players are not the main narrative. How Islam came into being, the environment that preceded it, the principles that it was founded on (which any denizen of the West would easily recognize), these are what is important. I highly recommend The Message to non-Muslims and I cautiously recommend it to Muslims.

The animated film adopts Akkad's pioneering approach to non-representation, by also using camera point-of-view and thematic music to convey the presence of the Prophet without direct portrayal:

William Kidd has created a thrilling epic score that illuminates this most important moment and man in history. Mr. Kidd helped solve on of the film�s greatest challenges. According to tradition, the Prophet (pbuh) is not physically portrayed in the film. How then does the filmmaker convey his presence in a powerful way? Cinematically, Mr. Rich used the camera�s point-of-view to indicate the comings and goings of the Prophet (pbuh). But this technique is completely brought to life by an unforgettable melody created by Mr. Kidd. The effect is stirring.

To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about this. The problem is that by using entertainment media as a vehicle, the message is inherently commercialized. That's not necessarily bad, but it does undermine the authority of the film. It's easier to dismiss something because it's a movie than if it were, say, a book or even a play. A variant of this "dismis-by-association" theme is what makes it so difficult for Japanese anime to gain any kind of foothold in the movie industry here in the US, because the primary reaction of most adults is, "it's a cartoon". The concept that animation can be used for adult-oriented information (I'm using "adult" in its more general sense, not merely a pornographic context) is one that is dofficult for most adults.

The movie The Message had impact because it was live actors. I think that animation might be the wrong vehicle for this kind of project. But of course, I am highly interested in how it turns out, and I do want to see the outcome.

There is an interesting and moving anecdote related to the making of the film, related to the voice actor for the role of Muhammad's SAW uncle, Abu Talib.

Early on in the casting it became clear that the voice of Abu Talib would be crucial. Though not an adherent to Islam, Abu Talib was a loving uncle to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). His was the responsibility to support his nephew but also to lead, placate, and sometimes stand up to his peers of Quarysh. The voice needed strength, majesty, but also kindness and a gentle quality. It was found in Eli Allem, a veteran actor of stage and screen. With each recording session it became clear that Eli was creating a unique and powerful performance. Finally, his job was done. On the day after his final recording session, he passed away.

[1]It is interesting to note that the company is named after the Battle of Badr, in which Muhammad's followers defended themselves against a Meccan army three times larger. Badr was the first great victory of Islam in its struggle to survive the machinations and entrenched power brokers of pre-Islamic Arabia.
[2] Most assuredly, these Islamic scholars and authorities were not contacted by Osama bin Laden for validation of his religious interpretations. Most likely because it would have been pointless.


Bill has added another chapter to his ongoing analysis of Qutb. You can access the latest installment directly here, or use this index to all of his Qutb's post to find earlier entries (the Qutbdex?)

(note, Bloggers' archives seem to be misbehaving. For now, to get to the Qutbdate, go straight to the Ideofact home page and scroll down).


smaller government is not always good

It's axiomatic that corporations are amoral (note, I did not say "immoral"). If they see a way to avoid paying their share of taxes, for example, then they will. And while Democrats may be sometimes characterized as "tax and spend", the GOP is equally characterized as "spend". The one guarantee of GOP control is that the federal givernment will have less money, but only the highly gullible will believe that this will result in less spending (after all, GOP senators dine on pork as vigorously as do their Dem counterparts).

With this in mind, the Slate article on the impending deficits is worth reading for this excerpt:

Meanwhile, it's difficult to read the shift in congressional control as anything but a green light for tax avoidance. Buried amid the campaign talk yesterday was a New York Times article in which outgoing Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rossotti lamented that his agency is unequipped to deal with the growing army of wealthy and sophisticated tax cheats. "Basically, demands and resources are going in the opposite direction," said Rossotti. "This is systematically undermining one of the most important foundations of the American economy." What's more, the Bush administration had prohibited Rossotti from telling a congressional hearing that the IRS couldn't do its job with the funds it had.

All those who think that Bush will replace Rossotti with a pit bull and then grant him the resources he needs to pursue tax cheaters aggressively, raise your hands. (The deficit the administration helped create is the perfect excuse not to bolster watchdog agencies like the IRS and the SEC.)

With the corporate scandals having proved irrelevant at the polls, the Republican-controlled Senate now has little incentive to crack down on companies or individuals going offshore to avoid taxes, or on accounting firms constructing sketchy tax shelters. Already, corporations have been paying a declining share of taxes�a mere $144 billion last year. While the profits they report to investors have risen steadily, the income taxes paid by corporations have fallen. In 2002, the corporate income tax raised 22 percent less than it did in 1997.

Expect to see more tax cheats and Enrons in the near future. With a defanged SEC and IRS, it's unavoidable. Without givernment oversight and regulation, there won't be an honorable or ethical playing field.


Jim Henley has two excellent meta-analyses about the election. The first is an analysis of whether voting really is helpful (the answer might surprise you) and teh second is an analysis of the electoral motives underlying the Republic itself. These are both thoughtful pieces that could be strong seeds for discussion. Since Jim doesn't have comments on his blog to host such a reflective discussion, I volunteer my own :)

GOP self-analysis

I've blathered about how I think Mr John Derbyshire is the greatest, but of course NRO has its dark side as well. That dark side is personified for me by Jonah Goldberg. Therefore, it's significant that I find his post-election column not just grudgingly well-argued, but almost brilliant. It's essential reading, and I will also post it to the UNMEDIA mailing list (note, you can access the list archives without subscribing. I encourage all readers to browse)

With great power comes great responsibility...

Dwight Meredith has summed up in a few elegant paragraphs what I was about to try and write in much more painful detail:

By winning control over both the House and the Senate, Mr. Bush controls the agenda and has the power to muscle his policies through the legislature and into law. On issues such as Homeland Security, prescription drugs, balanced budgets, economic growth, tax policy, faith-based initiatives, corporate reform, accounting reform, Social Security privatization, crime, social policy and others, Mr. Bush has been given the power to govern. With the power comes the responsibility. Those issues and others are now Mr. Bush's and the Republican Party's responsibility.

It is now Mr. Bush's job to grow the economy, balance the budget, reduce crime, improve the culture, end partisan sniping and protect us from terrorism.

Mr. Bush came into office after a campaign in which he ran as a "compassionate conservative." He promised to change the tone in Washington and end the partisan bickering. With control over both houses of Congress, Mr. Bush is in a position to dictate the tone. He will choose whether or not the tone remains vituperatively partisan.

Mr. Bush�s control over the agenda enables him to demonstrate that he is the more moderate version of 1990�s Republicanism that the �compassionate� portion of compassionate conservative implies. He must now choose whether or not to govern in a bipartisan, compassionate way.

Since I am not a Democrat, I have no real regret about the outcome of the 2002 midterm elections. In accordance with the instanalysis by the pundits on TV, radio, and the blogsphere, I saw no difference between the policies of the GOP that I opposed and the appeasement of those policies by the so-called "opposition" party.

Of course, election analysis is partly a mirror into the self - Steven Den Beste saw it as a referendum on Iraq, for example. But fundamentally, the why doesn't matter. The point is that the GOP is in control, and I for one am curious to see how it turns out.

If Europe is the bastion of liberalism unchecked, then America could easily be the bastion of conservatism. Just as it is patently unfair of conservatives to label Europe "socialist" (invoking memories of communist Russia), it is equally unfair to label America "fascist" (invoking memories of Nazi Germany) after the GOP assumes total control in January. I consider Europe to be a useful data point at one end of the scale, and now America will give us the other needed to establish a trend.

With the domination of liberalism in Europe, there have been many unintended consequences. For example, the rise of the violent unassimilated immigrant population, directly caused by the combination of the welfare state and the heavily taxed anti-business environment, which make it hard for the unemployed to get on their feet, encourage them to sit at home and seethe, and discourage risk-taking that leads to entrepreneurship and enterprise and re-channeling of the energy of the human spirit into constructive rather than destructive pursuits.

Likewise, the heavy emphasis on international consensus has led to a dilution of sovereignty, leading to less local control over the affairs of people. The rise of the EU and the perceived self-importance of the UN when it comes to social and economic policies are direct outcomes of this. The average European has very little avenue of exertion over their local socio-economic environment. The decisions and referendums of the voters there are easily obliterated by remote decree of unelected committees.

While welfare and business regulation and international agreements ARE important, and play a necessary role in the function of our society, they are not sacred cows. Liberals need to understand this. What was achieved on Tuesday was a separation of variables, allowing for a social experiment whose results will lead to real data. I think it's healthy and I look forward to it (as do some intellectually honest Liberals like my friend and fellow blogger, Matthew Yglesias)

Some of the Good Things that I think we will see - total English-language immersion for immigrant schoolchildren. Stricter welfare programs, and strengthening-by-necessity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to take on social work that is neglected in the federal budgets (overall, social work performed by true believers is preferable to that done by bureaucracies , even if the latter outspends the former by 10-1). Simplification of the tax code.

There are many things I disagree with, of course. I think we will see weaker unions, higher federal deficits, rising inflation. There will be weaker government oversight of the corporate world, leading to more merging anti-consumer behemoths like Clear Channel, AOL-Time-Warner, and HP-Compaq, and more ethically-challenged smoke and mirror companies like Enron and Worldcom. We will probably have school vouchers implemented at a national level, which will lead to further worsening of public schools. It's likely that there will be some privatization of Social Security, which would fundamentally alter the very nature of the program, because it replaces the original concept of government-guaranteed retirement security with a individual-level burden of risk and uncertainty. Though, the plus side is that it might kill Social Security off entirely, which is good for people my age (28) since it's unlikely there will be any money left for me by the time I retire.

And, of course the moderate wing of the GOP (forgot about them, did you?) now gains enormous power. The control of the Senate is only by a two seat margin. This is an enormously good thing. And I for one an excited to see how this changes the dynamics of the GOP internally.

It boils down to the central lesson : with great power comes great responsibility. I am eager to see the face of the new America.


Ramadan il-Moazzam 1427

O Allah! This is the month of Ramadan in which descended the Qur'an as a guide to mankind and a criterion to separate truth from falsehood. O Allah! Bless us in the month of Ramadan, and give us Your help and accept our ibadat, for You have power over all things.

There is no god but Allah. We seek Your forgiveness. O Allah! Grant us Paradise and save us from Hellfire.

Ramadan mubarak, and remember my family and myself in your duas.

Does not bode well for 2004

This trio of articles is especially alarming, taken together. I fully expect Republican interference strategies, invented in 2000 and honed during this election, to proliferate to other swing states in 2004 as they emerge from the Floridalab.

Polling precincts ready, but long lines seem likely (Miami Herald)

One ominous indication: Experts timed Miami-Dade voters Monday and calculated that the average person needed 20 minutes to work through the ballot, according to Linda O'Brien, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Police Department.

If that holds true today, only three voters per hour will use each machine -- causing major congestion at polling places.

''We'll see what happens,'' said Dave Love, a Broward precinct clerk. ``Last time was bad, and I don't know how they could have fixed everything.''

Can South Florida get it right? (St. Petersburg Times)

Miriam Oliphant, the embattled Broward elections supervisor, also cited the long lines and suggested in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush that he extend polling hours on Tuesday, as he did on Sept. 10.

Campaigning in North Florida, Bush said: "We're just not going to extend the voting hours." The lines were expected, given the length of the ballot, he said. "That's democracy."

Bush also acknowledged the sensitivity of the situation, being asked as the state's chief executive to make a decision that could hurt him at the polls but leave him open to charges of partisan tampering. Ordering an extension of the poll hours in heavily Democratic Broward would aid his opponent, Bill McBride . "It would put me in a difficult position, no question about it," Bush said.

This is reminiscent of the problems plaguing the September 10th primary elections:

Voting Problems Persist In Orlando, South Florida (Tampa Tribune)

In one precinct in a predominantly black Miami neighborhood, voting didn't begin until 11:45 a.m., nearly five hours after polls opened. Officials estimated about 500 people left without voting.

``Nobody has been able to vote in this district, period,'' said Delbra Lewis, who attempted to vote three times by late morning. ``I've been here since 7 a.m. and I haven't been able to vote.''

A precinct at a senior center in Jacksonville opened 90 minutes late because poll workers didn't realize they were supposed to turn on machines themselves. Dozens of voters left without casting ballots.

Another polling station near downtown Miami was down most of the day, finally opening shortly before 5 p.m. Carlton Howard said he was turned away three times before it opened.