pedantic impulses: Qur'an, not Koran

I freely admit that this is a marginal and pedantic point of semantics. But Just want to go on record, that the way to write the name of the holy book in Islam is "Qur'an", not Koran.

There are numerous ways to perform arabic-english transliteration, but most of them agree that the hard "Kaaf" consonant is best represented by Q rather than K (there is a soft k consonant also in Arabic for which the k is beter suited). This distinction is important - for example, the words Kalb and Qalb can be easily confused - one means, heart, the other means dog.

Also, the apostrophe in Qur'an represents an actual pause - actually more of a glottal stop. Omitting it means that the word will be pronounced incorrectly. An analogy to english would be the silent "e" which makes a difference in meaning between "cap" and "cape".

Anyway, that's why Qur'an is right and Koran is wrong. Not that this really matters a huge deal. I do not take offense at the Koran spelling, but I do want to be on the record as to the correct one.



Boycott update

boycott over. ah well. The movie rocked!

substantive geeky analysis to follow.


cause and effect?

Part of the reason for the outrage at Newsweek by the RighteousSphere is that they claim Newsweek's report "triggerred" the violent rioting in Afghanistan that led to 15 deaths. I've already addressed how earlier reports of Qur'an desecration led to no such rioting. Now comes this piece of evidence, from a briefing transcript at the Department of Defense by Rumsfeld and General Myers:

Q: Do either one of you have anything about the demonstrations in Afghanistan, which were apparently sparked by reports that there was a lack of respect by some interrogators at Guantanamo for the Koran. Do either one of you have anything to say about that?

GEN. MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

General Myers goes on to express his opinion that no incident of Qur'an disrespect ever happenned at Gitmo, but no one asked a follow-up question about the reported previous eyewitness incidents, which are numerous and were reported widely.


Abuse of the Qur'an

With respect to the Newsweek/toilet/Qur'an debacle, I have no dog in this fight - as a muslim, I don't see how flushing the Qur'an down a toilet in any way disrespects the faith; rather it speaks of a almost deperate desire to deny it. Such an action reveals as much about the hollowness of the actors' faith as the audience of a Jack Chick tract.

Likewise, rioting because one thinks that the Qur'an needs to be "saved" from America only reveals profound ignorance about the timelessness of the book itself - and its transcendent status in our material world.

However, with respect to Newsweek, a magazine that I stopped reading in 1998, I think that arguing that the single disputed factoid about flushing the Qur'an is somehow responsible for American deaths requires proof of cause and effect.

Since there have been numerous reports of abuse of the Qur'an well before Newsweek's report, with no such riots, I think that evidence for the causal relationship is weak. Here are previously published media reports of Qur'an desecration that did not to my knowledge result in widespread rioting:

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 20, 2005

Lawyers allege abuse of 12 at Guantanamo

By Frank Davies
Inquirer Washington Bureau


Some detainees complained of religious humiliation, saying guards had defaced their copies of the Koran and, in one case, had thrown it in a toilet, said Kristine Huskey [an attorney in Washington, D.C.], who interviewed clients late last month. Others said that pills were hidden in their food and that people came to their cells claiming to be their attorneys, to gain information.

"All have been physically abused, and, however you define the term, the treatment of these men crossed the line," [attorney Tom] Wilner said. "There was torture, make no mistake about it." ...

Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY / Human Rights Watch report (PDF link)

72.They were never given prayer mats and initially they didn't get a Koran. When the Korans were provided, they were kicked and thrown about by the guards and on occasion thrown in the buckets used for the toilets. This kept happening. When it happened it was always said to be an accident but it was a recurrent theme.

Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY / Human Rights Watch report (PDF link)

74. Asif says that `it was impossible to pray because initially we did not know the direction to pray, but also given that we couldn't move and the harassment from the guards, it was simply not feasible. The behaviour of the guards towards our religious practices as well as the Koran was also, in my view, designed to cause us as much distress as possible. They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it. It is clear to me that the conditions in our cells and our general treatment were designed by the officers in charge of the interrogation process to "soften us up"'.

Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY / Human Rights Watch report (PDF link)

The disrespect of the Koran by guards at Camp X-Ray was one of the factors prompting a hunger strike. Ibid., para. 111-117.

(hat tip: Susan Hu)

January 9, 2003 - The New York Times | Late Edition - Final | SECTION: Section A; Column 2; Foreign Desk; Pg. 14

THREATS AND RESPONSES: TERROR; Hate of the West Finds Fertile Soil in Yemen. But Does Al Qaeda? By Ian Fisher | DATELINE: SANA, Yemen, Jan. 8

Investigators know the basic facts: In this poor and isolated nation with no lack of extremists, a young preacher named Ahmed Ali Jarallah assembled a small cell of militants to strike the enemies of Islam in Yemen. Two years ago, he read off a hate list in a speech at a mosque here, singling out specifically a hospital run by American Baptists.

"In Jibla, there is the Baptist hospital, which is the source of Christian activities in the province," Mr. Jarallah said. Muslims converted to Christianity at this hospital, he charged, and even "stuff the Holy Koran into toilets of mosques."

On Dec. 28, anger went into action: Mr. Jarallah himself assassinated a leading secular politician, Jarallah Omar, according to the police. Two days later, one of Mr. Jarallah's followers, Abed Abdel Razzak Kamel, is said to have killed three Americans in the hospital, which provided medical care in the southern town of Jibla for 35 years.

June 28, 2004 - Financial Times Information

Global News Wire - Asia Africa Intelligence Wire | InfoProd | Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

One of the men, Timur Ishmuratov of Tatarstan, told ORT on 24 June -- prior to the release -- that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces shortly after the beginning of the U.S. military action in Afghanistan and "sold" to the Americans for $ 3,000-$ 5,000. Former prisoner Airat Vakhitov told ORT about alleged mistreatment while he was at Guantanamo. "They tore the Koran to pieces in front of us, threw it into the toilet," Vakhitov said. "When people were praying, they forced their way in and put their feet on people's heads and beat them."

(hat tip - corrente)

Note that these reports of flushed Qur'ans in toilets have been reprinted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Independent (London), The Daily News (New York), The Denver Post, The Hartford Courant, and broadcast on CNN.

If you accept that the causual relationship alleged by the RighteousSphere is in fact weak, then you might conclude (as I have) that Newsweek or no Newsweek, the muharib involved would surely have found a different excuse to launch their harabah.

deadiraqi2 The real reason for the damage to (as White House press secretary Scott McClellan put it) "the image of the United States abroad" is because of the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. Arguing that it's all about Newsweek is just a deflection. Given that there still hasn't been real justice for those abuses - including the actual deaths of prisoners in US custody - it's not surprising that some still doubt our intentions. But do those who are suddenly so concerned about our "image" even remember Abu Ghraib? I assure you that the average Arab does. The causal connection is a lot stronger, but somehow I think the righteousness will cool when set upon this pathway of investigation.

As for the contention that this single line of newsprint undid years of post-war progress in Afghanistan, well if thats true it only reveals how poor that postwar planning was to begin with, and how tenous our victory was indeed. Given that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden still walk free, anyone arguing that we suceeded with respect to avenging 9-11 has a large burden of proof deficit indeed.

(By the way - Newsweek did NOT "retract" the anecdote about the Qur'an being flushed. They clarify:

"On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report."

Pretending that the Qur'an has never been desecrated by American forces as an intimidation tactic is therefore a dishonest argument. Is the outrage by the RighteousSphere because Newsweek was wrong about eth fact (which it wasn't) or that it reported the fact? If the latter, that speaks volumes...)

UPDATE: Excellent discussion at Dean Esmay's blog on the topic.


Episode III boycott blues

As regular readers (all three of you) remember, I had sworn an oath to boycott Star Wars Episode III. My oath clearly got Lucas' attention, however my zeal was redoubled when the first title rumors leaked out ("A Creeping Fear" ?!?)

(OK, I admit that I thought Episode I was a masterpiece. You may discount my opinions from this point as your please. POD RACE!).

Now, however, I am in a bit of agonized indecision. My pride tells me to continue the boycott. There's still no hint that the original movies will ever be released in their original form on DVD. However, word is that the final movie is excellent. But that isn't the main reason I am rending my garments in confused despair.

The reason is that I had forgotten just what George Lucas has done for movies - the technological advancements that he pioneered and then literally gave away. One example is his digital animation technology, which he sold to Steve Jobs to become Pixar for a measly few tens of millions. Another is the creation of the software that eventually was bought for a similarly tiny sum - that became Avid editing software. The combined contributions to movie-making from Lucas-driven technology are immense - and all for the love of the art were they created, to remove as many obstacles from Lucas' brain to the screen.

In other words, Star Wars gave birth to modern film-making. And more. Lord of the Rings, Battlestar Galactica, and Finding Nemo all owe their success and magic crafted on screen directly to George Lucas.

I am humbled by the contributions Lucas has made to the entertainment medium of which I have always loved. But my pride still demands a boycott, because the original Star Wars films were the ones that captured my imagination all those years ago, and continue to lie at the foundation of my enjoyment of that medium today.

Background: Wired article on George Lucas

Also, here's the complete text of today's Houston Chronicle article on George Lucas's technical contributions to movie-making.

May 12, 2005, 3:38PM
Star Wars technology too far ahead for its own good
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO � After filming the first Star Wars movie with special effects far from special, George Lucas spent millions to develop a complete digital editing system to populate his sequels with armies of X-wing fighters and Gungan warriors.

Then, he virtually gave it away.

"We were 10 years ahead of the commercial reality," said Bob Doris, co-general manager of Lucas' computer division during the mid 1980s. "He inspired some very worthwhile ventures ... but the innovations weren't close to paying for themselves."

So Lucas sold many of his technologies for cheap � technologies that would later appear in home stereos, cell phones, medical imaging devices and virtually every Hollywood studio, driving billion-dollar companies and employing thousands of people.

Apple Computer Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs paid $10 million for the team that became Pixar Inc., and the movie company went on to make $3 billion at the box office.

And so it goes with Lucas, who was famous for saying "I'm not a venture capitalist."

Lucas recognized the absurdity of his situation as he made the first Star Wars movie. There he was trying to tell a futuristic story about intergalactic revolution, space travel and androids, and Hollywood was stuck using 50-year-old film-making techniques.

To create space ships or alien creatures, his artists built small models and hoped for audiences with vivid imaginations. The first "Death Star" was made out of plastic.

Lucas aspired for something much more grand, and after the first movie was released in 1977, he gathered a small group of computer artists and told them to spare no expense in creating a system that would include software capable of rendering images in three dimensions.

First, the computer team created "EditDroid," the first digital-editing system. It allowed movies to be transferred to computer disks so editors won't have to fiddle with cumbersome film reels. Lucas sold that technology to Avid Technology Inc., which went on to sell the forerunner of modern movie-editing bays.
Associated Press
Bob Doris heads Sonic Solutions, one of the companies to benefit from the innovations out of Skywalker Ranch.

Then he sold the computer division � later to become Pixar � to Jobs in 1986 in arguably one of the worst deals in movie history.

Using talent and technology that Lucas had let go, Pixar developed RenderMan, the software that has since transformed the film industry by infusing computer images with real-world qualities, such as shadows, glossy reflections, motion-blur and depth of field.

Emeryville-based Pixar used RenderMan in 1995 to release the first entirely computer-animated film, Toy Story, and then five more hits.

Other studios used RenderMan or software inspired by it to make the form-changing cyborg in Terminator 2, the massive waves in The Perfect Storm and even the computer-generated smoke and fire in the final installment of the six-film Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith, which debuts May 19.

In all, the software has helped studios win 33 of the past 35 Academy Awards for special-effects.

But Lucas � already financially secure because he owned the Star Wars franchise � had good reason for unloading some of the technology. Most of the editing and production tools were so advanced that there was little market for them at the time.

Also, he wasn't motivated by profits � he just wanted to make better films, said Doris, who left with three other Lucas staffers in 1986 to form Sonic Solutions, which makes DVD-creation software.

In fact, dozens of groundbreaking technologies were initially developed at Lucasfilm Ltd.'s San Rafael headquarters, known as Skywalker Ranch.

"Half the technology companies here are spinoffs" of a Lucas' company, said Robert Huebener, a former LucasArts videogame developer who in 1998 founded a competing firm in nearby Redwood City.

Perhaps not half, but the list of companies that in one way or another got their start at Skywalker Ranch is long.

Besides the Lucasfilm divisions Industrial Light & Magic for special effects, Lucasfilm for movie production, Skywalker Sound for audio post-production and LucasArts for video games, Lucas inspired Pixar, Avid and Sonic Solutions.

Other spinoffs include visual effects developer Visual Concept Entertainment, production studio Digital Domain and video game software companies BioWare and Nihilistic Software, to name a few.

Some of those companies found other applications for the technology developed at Skywalker Ranch.

THX, the theater sound system developed in 1983 and rolled out to more than 2,000 theaters across the country, is now in car and home stereo systems. Sound effects designed by Skywalker Sound's Gary Rydstrom are available on Apple computers. Before Pixar became a powerhouse in animated-movie making, the company sold computers that helped doctors create digital three-dimensional models.

Lucas may not have profited from this galaxy of businesses, but he's earned lasting respect and gratitude from his fans as well as many in the movie industry, said BZ Petroff, who oversees production at San Francisco's Wild Brain Inc. animation studio.

"Back in 1980s you'd have a director of photography on a crane performing incredibly complex and long camera moves going through these miniature sets," Petroff said. "Now, you have a 25-year-old getting the same shots on his computer."

Special effects had fallen out of favor in the 1970s when Lucas began the Star Wars saga, Lucas recalled as he promoted his final Star Wars movie last week. Some studios had dismantled their special-effects departments entirely.

"I'm most proud," Lucas said, "of the fact that I was able to take special effects out of the cellar."


Brass Crescent links roundup

AR Squires links to an extremely interesting essay about Pope John Paul II and Islam, and offers his own comments. There's also an interesting article at Beliefnet that discusses whether Pope Benedict will open the door to dialouge with Islam, and "foster the love for Jesus within the Muslim soul." However, sepoy at Chapati Mystery is not nearly as optimistic.

Thabet at Muslims Under Progress has a fascinating excerpt from a philosophy journal about the German Philosopher Hegel's views about Islamic monotheism. I was particularly struck by the suggestion that Islamic monotheism, as a unifying principle, is in some ways an extension of Buddhist thought.

The new Muslim satirical blog Tamatar has already found controversy, with a post about chimpanzees leading prayer. The idea was to lampoon the media hype over Amina Wadud's stint some weeks ago, in leading a mixed-gender prayer. However, the regrettable choice of analogy led some to wonder whether the satire team was trying to equate women with chimpanzees. Aghast at the error, the satire team chose mass suicide as a sort of self-policing honor killing.

Abu Aardvark provides the play-by-play of a frank discussion about the role of Arab media and satellite television... on Arab media satellite television. Don't miss his classic related post on the role that Arab TV plays in seeding the Arab world for democratization.

And finally, Hesham Hassaballa discusses the Qur'anic injunction, "Let not the hatred of a people towards you move you to commit injustice" (Qur'an 5:8). He discusses the implications of this ayat in detail, and spares no one in pointing out those who have most visibly failed it. The muharib will never be able to justify their actions using Islam, in judgement before Allah.

Do leave links to other posts of similar calibre from across the Brass Crescent that I've overlooked in the comments! I'd like to make this a recurring feature, but I need your help.

Defending Grover Norquist

Daniel Pipes, whohas been the subject of my critiques before, now asks whether Grover Norquist is an Islamist. The rationale for Pipe's musing?

He married a muslim! (strike one)
He married a Palestinian Muslim! (strike two)
He thinks questions about his religion are out of bounds! (strike three!)

That last is especially galling. Pipes asks what Norquist has to hide by refusing to answer - the McCarthy-esque overtones of the implication that Norquist's religion is relevant are apparently lost on him, which is ironic given that freedom of religion is one of the things Pipes castigates muslims for supposedly not respecting (clue: read Qur'an 2:256).

Where Pipes' argument really goes off the rails is here:

[Norquist's Palestinian wife] has radical Islamic credentials of her own; she served as communications director at the Islamic Free Market Institute, the Islamist organization Norquist helped found. Now, she is employed as a public affairs officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development � and so it appears that yet another Islamist finds employment in a branch of the U.S. government.

Now, observe the chain of "logic" here. Pipes starts by asking if Norquist is an Islamist. As evidence, he says his wife served as communications direcor for an organization that Norquist helped to found. Pipes casually refers to the organization as an Islamist one; therefore his wife has "radical Islamic credentials" and therefore Norquist is suspect for having married her and for founding the organization in the first place. Why would Norquist be involved? According to Pipes, his goal is "enabling the Islamist causes".

It is no surprise that Pipes links to a smear job against Norquist by Frank Gaffney, entitled "Agent of Influence". The article was published in David Horowitz's FrontPageMag site, which is also host to the "Discover the Network" project (I won't link to it, find it yourself) which purports to untangle the web of connections between Islamists and the political Left.

Given that Norquist is an ultra-conservative Republicanist who wants to "drag government into a bathtub and strangle it", there's certainly plenty of irony to go around. Let's play Discover the Network, shall we? I may have to begin a series questioning whether Daniel Pipes is an Islamist...

BTW, Razib pointed me to this story at Pipe's blog. Razib speculates that Norquist may have taken the shahada (declaration of faith) in a pro-forma manner to satisfy his wife's religious constraint about marrying outside the faith; I find this rather unlikely, because the shahada has no meaning if it is insincere. Its not clear to me what purpose such an act would serve, in appeasing anyone hard-core enough to care.

Hiatus' end

I successfully defended my PhD last monday, the 25th - some red tape ahead, and of course a search for gainful employment, but a major life journey has come to a close.

I'll be returning to blogging here at CoB and at Dean Nation. In addition, I'll be doing MRI-related blogging at Reference Scan. In celebration, I've turned off mandatory registration for the comments section, I'd very much like to rebuild the community of intelligent debate that used to thrive here before the real world intervened.

So anyway, that's my big announcement :)

PS - are/were you a regular reader, and have a blog of your own? Please leave your blog URL in the comments!

UPDATE - well, looks like open comments hasn't worked so well. Back to registration required.