up yours, Abu Ayyub al-Masri

Al-Qaida in Iraq's leader, in a chilling audiotape released Thursday, called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.

The fugitive terror chief said experts in the fields of "chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts" should join his group's jihad, or holy war, against the West.

"We are in dire need of you," said the speaker, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri. "The field of jihad can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them."

BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! Dumb ass.

Regards, Aziz Poonawalla, Ph.D.

footnote: the article notes,

The statement followed the release of a U.N. report Wednesday that said fewer foreign fighters have been killed or captured in Iraq in the last few months, "suggesting that the flow has slackened." The report also said some fighters had expressed dissatisfaction they were asked to kill fellow Muslims rather than Western soldiers and that the only role for them was to be suicide bombers.

well, if you selectively recruit the dumb asses fools enough to sign up for suicide bomber missions, then eventually you raise the mean IQ.

CAIR sends money to Palestine... to rebuild Churches

Beliefnet has the story:

The Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday (Sept. 21) that it will deliver $5,000 in seed money to help repair six churches in the Palestinian Territories that were damaged by Muslims who were infuriated by the pope's speech.

"We're still waiting for a detailed report from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to find out the full cost of the damage," said CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Ahmed Bedier, announcing the campaign with Catholic officials in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But the response has been received well."

The Rev. Robert Gibbons, vicar general for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, is accepting the donation on behalf of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a New York church agency that offers humanitarian and pastoral support to churches in the Middle East and around the world.

"I'm very impressed that (CAIR) would make this statement to Christians that Muslims don't condone this violence," Gibbons said.
Bedier said "these churches were protected under Islam. We were upset to see them attacked."

Bedier said the idea to collect money for the restoration originated from individuals within the Tampa-area Muslim community who were concerned about increased Muslim-Christian friction. CAIR leaders said the campaign would soon go national.

Emphasis added, though otherwise presented without comment.

I do not hide the fact that I am pro-CAIR and that my assessment of the organization is that while there are several fools at the top at the national level, the state-level branches do essential and good work.

Michelle Malkin, Robert Spencer, and many others in the conservative blogsphere unfairly smear the organization as a whole as being "an Islamist front group" based on a few stupid comments from the national leadership but they cannot and never will be able to point to anything concrete that CAIR has ever done to support terror organizations. Daniel Pipes' bogus lawsuit against CAIR was a complete joke and a good example of abusing the legal system.


Crossroads Arabia

I just wanted to mention that John Burgess's blog, Crossroads Arabia, is one that is as important reading as Abu Aardvark. Only by uderstanding the discourse and reforms within the muslim world can we hope to harness them. John's blog is an old warhorse that's been essential in describing the ongoing reforms in Saudi Arabia, especially with regards to women's issues. As John put it himself,

Particularly of note are how Saudi women fight to create a space for themselves, on their own terms. And how they really, really hate it when their "big sisters" in the West tell them how deprived they are.

You're not going to find honey if you're only looking in the vinegar barrel.

John is a real scholar and even had an op-ed published in Asharq Alawsat recently. XDArabia is a blog well-worth keeping a regular eye on.


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.

UPDATE: And, happy Rosh Hashanah! I love these Abrahamic convergences :)

(aside - regarding the moon sighting issue - thank god for ISNA's decision. Zack has a nice roundup and comment. I have little to add that I haven't said before on the matter. We Bohras use the Hijri calendar as described here, and which also powers the salaat timings tool you see at the left sidebar.)


taking up the Pope's gauntlet

If the purpose of the Pope's speech was to stimulate debate, then it was indeed a success. As with the Cartoon StupidStorm, the short term initial wave of violent reaction by the extremist minority has given way to substantial and thought-provoking analysis. Said analysis, not incidentally, also enjoys the same total media blackout as the post-cartoon analysis did.

Paramount among the reasoned responses to the Pope is Tariq Ramadan's essay, which argues that the real context of the Pope's address was to emphatically place Islam within the category of Other with which no true dialog can be undertaken. Ramadan argues,

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the crisis is that the real debate launched by Benedict XVI seems to have eluded most commentators, and particularly Muslim commentators. In his academic address, he develops a dual thesis, accompanied by two messages. He reminds those rationalist secularists who would like to rid the Enlightenment of its references to Christianity that these references are an integral component of European identity; it will be impossible for them to engage in interfaith dialogue if they cannot accept the Christian underpinnings of their own identity (whether they are believers or not). Then, in taking up the question of faith and reason, and in emphasizing the privileged relationship between the Greek rationalist tradition and the Christian religion, the pope attempts to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage. A few years ago, then-Cardinal Ratzinger set forth his opposition to the integration of Turkey into Europe on a similar basis. Muslim Turkey never was and never will be able to claim an authentically European culture. It is another thing; it is the Other.

Or, to put it more succinctly, Muslims are Orcs.

And as we know, Orcs are a mindless horde. They cannot be reasoned with, because they lack reason. Therefore, any attempt at dialouge with Islam is utterly futile. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, highlights that subtext in the Pope's address clearly:

What makes me shudder about the Pope's Regensburg lecture is that he appears to join Osama bin Laden in this effort to cast the current conflict as a clash of civilisations. Complicatedly, and dense in footnotes, he is, at bottom, trying to establish the superiority of one faith over another. His argument is that reason is intrinsic to Christianity, yet merely a contingent part of Islam.

And we see that attitude towards Islam reflected in the foreign policy of the present Administration, in fact. Hossein Derakshan, reknowned Iranian blogger, points out that Iran is developing nukes for the most obvious reasons: security. But security guarantees to Iran in return for cessation of its program are beyond the pale? Meanwhile, Syrian's Assad cultivates Hizbollah as a counterweight to Israel's regional dominance. Are there no common interests between his nation and ours? The expectation of the West towards muslim nations is as towards a dog: do as you are told, or be punished - be obedient, and you may be given some scraps.

And if muslims are orcs, then Europe is Minas Tirith, which must be defended. The question of Turkey's admittance to the European Union is the flashpoint for this subtext. In the face of lengthy polemical diatribes that invoke the West without ever defining it, it is not surprising that Turkey itself is reconsidering it's own allegiances - and the strategic position for the "West" will be the poorer for it.

Let us take up the substance of the Pope's charge. What does Islam have to say about Reason? In a tremendously insightful comment on my previous post, reader jr786 writes:

Interestingly, for a Pope so well read in Islam he seems to have forgotten that Koran 18: 60-82 deals explicitly with the limits of human reason and its finite, conditioned interpretation of events. The message for Muslims is to strive for knowledge and truth and not to be misled into thinking that reason is the highest form of human achievement.

Qur'an 18 is Sura al-Kahf, one of the most mystical and powerful - and exceedingly difficult and symbolic - surahs in the Qur'an. In it, the prophet Moses follows a chosen servant of Allah, and learns the limits of his own rational faculties. The lesson is that all knowledge is not within reach of the human intellect, and that reason can take you a certain distance, but not all the way. Ultimately, super-rationality is an illusion.

And the Qur'an, far from being (as the Pope implies) a spartan text filled with trivial daily injunctions and strictures, is a deep well when it comes to broader philosophical issues. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in one of his typically erudite essays entitled, "The Qur'an and Hadith as source and inspiration of Islamic philosophy" gives this overview:

One might say that the reality of the Islamic revelation and participation in this reality transformed the very instrument of philosophizing in the Islamic world. The theoretical intellect (al-aql a1-no ari) of the Islamic philosophers is no longer that of Aristotle although his very terminology is translated into Arabic. The theoretical intellect, which is the epistemological instrument of all philosophical activity, is Islamicized in a subtle way that is not always detectable through only the analysis of the technical vocabulary involved. The Islamicized understanding of the intellect, however, becomes evident when one reads the discussion of the meaning of aql or intellect in a major philosopher such as Mulla Sadra when he is commenting upon certain verses of the Qur'an containing this term or upon the section on aql from the collection of Shiite Hadith of al-Kulayni entitled Usul al-kafi. The subtle change that took place from the Greek idea of the "intellect" (noun) to the Islamic view of the intellect (al-aql) can also be seen much earlier in the works of even the Islamic Peripatetics such as Ibn Sina where the Active Intellect (al-aql al fa dl) is equated with the Holy Spirit (al-ruh al-qudus).

Ultimately, a reading of Islam that derives the conclusion that it is hostile to reason is fundamentally a polemic, not a debate. In other words, it is anti-reason itself. Did the Pope really desire debate? It looks more like he wanted to ensure that there could be none.

Ramadan concludes his essay with this call to action:

Muslims must demonstrate, in a manner that is both reasonable and free of emotional reactions, that they share the core values upon which Europe and the West are founded.

Neither Europe nor the West can survive, if we continue to attempt to define ourselves by excluding, and by distancing ourselves from, the Other — from Islam, from the Muslims — whom we fear.

Carnival of Brass: update

The Carnival of Brass has thus far been an initial success, and I would like to especially thank Dean Esmay, Haroon, Ali, and Thabet for hosting the Carnival on their sidebars. Their high-profile example has inspired several other blogs to follow suit and thus greatly increase the overall utility of the Carnival for all bloggers. I am also grateful to the numerous smaller blogs that have also hosted the Carnival as well.

However, we are still far short of the full potential of the Carnival to serve as a uniifying force for the Islamsphere and as a "force multiplier" for our ideas in the broader blogsphere at large.

For one thing, not enough bloggers are contributing their own links, to either the @brass_crescent (blogs) or @COB (media) feeds. At present I myself account for over 75% of the links on both feeds, which means that the Carnival is dominated by my personal taste. This is not desirable. I especially appreciate thabet's help in this regard; he has submitted quite a few links himself and many of the links I submit are lifted from his personal bookmarks.

Second, we do need more blogs in the Islamsphere to add the Carnival to their blogs. And not just the @brass_crescent feed, but also the @COB feed. Remember that the Carnival has two feeds - one for blog commentary, and another for articles in the mass media. The @COB feed gets as much fresh content as @brass_crescent does, and for maximum impactwe need everyone who wants to participate to use both.

To these ends I want to make the following revised javascript code available. Unlike the code given in the FAQ, the headlines here are only 5 long, not 15. That should make the footprint of the Carnival much smaller and more conducive to inclusion on blog sidebars. The code, which you only need to cut and paste into your blog template, is as follows:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40brass_crescent?extended;count=5;

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40cob?extended;count=5;

Note that you can change the number of headlines from 5 to whatever you want - just edit the part in green to your taste. Likewise you can also put any title you want, just edit the part in red (the %3A means a colon, ie : , the %20 means a space, and %40 is the @ symbol. You can also style the feed with CSS to match your blog layout.

I would like to make an appeal to please do use the code above and put the Carnival on your blog sidebars. The great advantage of the Carnival is that it unites us and amplifies our voice. Its real time, and there's no host, so the admin overhead is minimal. Its a platform for us to share action items and important events just as much as it is for introducing new and fresh voices. And it's the best way to get our message out to the wider world - we are not silent.

And of course, please participate by submitting links as well! You will need a del.icio.us account but once you've got one, and you've added me to your network, it is very easy for you to send links for submission. If you tag a link with "for:azizhp" it will even show up directly in my inbox! Let's take full advantage of these technologies to support ourselves.


apology accepted, but the damage is done

As is well-known, Pope Benedict made a tremendous speech about secularism and human reason. He spoke of Logos and faith. It was really an erudite, reasoned, and intellectual piece about secularism that any believer in God would do well to take note of, and appreciate.

However, the Pope also threw in a gratuitous swipe at Islam, which was mostly tangential to the main thrust of the argument and (as the Pope's own defenders concede), could have been readily omitted without undermining the speech as a whole.

The Pope has since apologized, saying that the views of Emperor Manuel II towards Islam do not reflect his own, and that he sincerely regrets the offense he caused. I accept this apology unreservedly.

I also remind fellow muslims that we take great exception to the moving goalpost syndrome that our own condemnations of terror invariably attract, and so we must as a matter of principle take the Pope at his word.

But we should also be very realistic about the probable intent of the Pope's original remarks, and the true consequences.

The riots and tragic murders that the Pope's remarks set off are tragic, foolish, and yet more evidence of the profound vacuum that exists at the center of the muslim world's discourse. But riots and murder in the name of insult to religion are hardly limited to Islam. My aim is not to engage in tu quoque but rather to illustrate that violence in the third world is worthless as a metric. Such violence is the product of professional thugs who exploit the lack of civil order in their societies, and seek any pretext upon which to wage chaos. Their efforts are barbaric, and they are transient, and they are ultimately futile.

The violence is a red herring; far deeper damage has been done.

First, the needless propaganda gift to our enemies - the enemies of all civilization, Islamic, Western, whatever label you choose. Marc Lynch illustrates in detail why the Pope's comments amounted to a gift for bin Laden - he minces no words in describing the comments as "strategically dumb." He summarizes:

To put it another way: It is just really dumb to "fight radical Islam" by handing it rhetorical weapons and then doing everything you can to drive ordinary Muslims - the vast majority of which have no truck with al-Qaeda's ideology - in their direction. The point should be to drive al-Qaeda farther away from the Muslim mainstream, not to try to force them together. The sorts of confrontational statements that some folks seem to consider to be courage or moral clarity or whatever aren't.. they're just strategically dumb. They actively help al-Qaeda and hurt al-Qaeda's opponents, whatever the intent behind them.

But the damage is far worse than just a PR gift to al-Qaeda. The Pope's comments also were disastrously timed with respect to the critical struggle for women's rights in Pakistan, the face of whom is Mukhtar Mai. True reform has been proceeding in minimalist, incremental fashion. And now, the fate of reform hinges upon the judgment of Pervez Musharraf.

However, Musharraf is in a delicate balance between the wealthy elite and the Islamists. And now with the outrage over the Pope's needless highlighting of thousand-year-old insults to Islam, the pressure on him from the Islamists will be tremendous.

Think of the opportunity that has been lost. Pope Benedict could have lent moral support to Musharraf. The bully pulpit of the Papacy, coupled with the eloquent appeal to Logos, would have given great power to the reformers in the muslim world - and the Christians who abide therein.

Why would the Pope, noted for his mastery of language, have sought to open an old wound of rivalry between the faiths at such a critical time? Victory in the war on Terror requires that we give the reformists succor, not undermine them. One possible answer is that the Pope's speech was aimed at multiple targets, Catholicism's "chief competitors for souls" - Islam, Protestants, and secularists alike. I think however that a better answer lies in this rather fair-minded article in the Telegraph (via Bill Cork), that goes into some detail about Benedict's perceptions of Islam:

no pope in history has made a deeper study of Islam. Having explored every verse of the Koran, and engaged in long debates with Muslim scholars, he rejects the simplistic notion held by fundamentalist Christians, and by the Roman Catholic Church until the middle of the 20th century, that Islam is evil. Yet he is convinced that some of its doctrines are morally indefensible.

In Benedict's view, a profound ambiguity about violence lies at the heart of Islam, arising from the Prophet's belief that faith can be spread by the sword. Mohammed, after all, was a general whose troops beheaded hundreds of enemy captives.

Asked recently whether he considered Islam to be a religion of peace, the Pope replied: "Islam contains elements that are in favour of peace, just as it contains other elements." Christianity, by contrast, he sees as a religion of pure peace which is why he adopts a near-pacifist approach to conflict in the Middle East.

(with regards to that last sentence, Razib points out that Benedict's view of Christianity benefits from the unique and different geopolitical landscapes into which Christianity and Islam expanded into. Razib summarizes, "In short, the fact that Islam has bloody borders is a natural consequence of its expansion into cultures which need no civilizing and have religious ideologies which are naturally resistant to marginalization and offer compelling narratives to elites.")

The article continues, drawing an important difference between Benedict and his predecessor:

John Paul II hoped that prayer could bring Christians and Muslims closer together, and famously prayed alongside Islamic leaders at Assisi in 1986. He also reassured Muslims that "we believe in the same God".

Benedict would emphasise that the Islamic understanding of God is radically different from that of Christians.

In a sense, JPII saw muslims as brothers in Abrahamic faith, whereas Benedict sees them as truly Alien. Note that the default understanding of Christianity for a muslim is that we are indeed heirs to the same tradition. In that sense, John Paul's passing and Benedict's ascension represented an easily-foreseeable souring of Christian-muslim relations.

The Telegraph article continues,

"The Koran is a total religious law," he wrote in 1996, "which regulates the whole of political and social life." Therefore, a devout Muslim living in the West must aspire to live under sharia law. A multi-faith society "is not consistent with Islam's inner nature".

In other words, the Pope subscribes to a version of the "clash of civilisations" theory, which sees a fundamental incompatibility between Western and Islamic cultures. In his opinion, the primary aim of Christian-Muslim discussion is to avoid conflict.

(emphasis mine). That the Pope subscribes to the "clash" thesis - and rejects the idea that both Islam and Christianity have anything in common or have any common cause (against secularism, for example), is hardly surprising. The former Cardinal Ratzinger was known for his hardline stances. He is a religious partisan first and a spiritual leader second; the previous Pope (partly due to his role in articulating the universality of Enlightenment values against Communism during the Cold War) was the exact opposite.

But then why provoke that clash?

How could a man who is so notoriously careful with words have committed what, in the eyes of liberal society, is a diplomatic blunder? The answer may be that underlying Benedict's nuanced world view is a deep-seated fear of Islam, which crops up in the daily conversation of Italian Catholics and stretches as far north as his Bavarian homeland.

He does not believe that the Koran condones terrorism; he bears no animosity towards peace-loving Muslims; but he is worried that the aggressive ethos of authentic Islam may provoke a crisis in Western society. And if the price of making that point is a "diplomatic blunder", then so be it.

And here I think we have the true answer. Fear of Islam - literally, "Islam phobia". Rather than a race for souls, he fears that Islam will destroy all of them. The Pope sounded an alarm against secularism in the short run, but Islam is the threat on the horizon. Perhaps his words were even deliberately intended to provoke, to better prove the point.

What is truly tragic about Benedict's world view is that the fear he holds towards Islam could be largely mitigated if he followed the footsteps of John Paul II, and helped use his influence to bring Enlightenment values to the Islamic world. Helping Musharraf rather than hindering him would have been a truly momentous start. It is the liberalization of the muslim world, a liberalization that was not even fully completed in the West until August 26, 1920.

It is not too late for women's rights in Pakistan. We must stop talking about the Pope and start talking about this instead. There is only so much media oxygen and the Pope affair has consumed almost all of it until now. Muslim bloggers are relatively powerless in this regard, however - what is needed is the alliance of non muslims to bring pressure upon the mass media, to shine a spotlight on Pakistan and to speak the language of human rights and tolerance rather than demonization and fear. Muslims and Christians together must join forces and pressure Musharraf for true reform of the hudood laws.


Rita retrospective

We just passed the anniversary of Hurrican Katrina; the anniversary of Hurricane Rita is just around the corner. I am jumping the gun a bit, but here are my blog posts from last September, chronicling our Rita experience.

Rita's comin' to Texas, folks (Sep 19, 2005). I was one of the very first Texas bloggers to declare that Rita had our number. That post was updated numerous times over the next couple of days as the reality began to sink into the wider media.

Batten down the hatches (sep 21, 2005). I started planning our escape route. At that point in time it wasn't clear whether my wife, a resident at UTMB Galveston, would have to stay on duty or not.

update (Sep 22, 2005). A grueling 9-hour drive to go 60 miles. We were part of the largest evacuation in US history, the great mother deity of all traffic jams. A nightmare of overheating brakes and low gas and frustrating cell-phone outages and endless mile after mile of highway, one foot at a time.

contraflow (Sep 23, 2005). Having escaped Galveston county, but still in northwest Harris, we were deciding whether or not to try and make it to san antonio or not. We ultimately decided to stay in Katy rather than take our chances on the highway and repeat our experience of the previous day.

shelter in place (same day, 23rd). The evening of landfall. We went to our community masjid for shelter, anticipating the worst.

the power is ours (late that evening, 23rd). A report from the masjid, waiting out the storm. It became pretty clear that evening that Rita wouldn't pose the threat we all feared - thanks to the divine providence of a sudden change in Rita's course.

Houston makes it through (Sep 24, 2005). A guest post from my friend Taha. We made it safe and sound and Taha expresses the thanks we all felt.

sitting dry (that same day, 24th). We did lose power but only for about 10 hours. We returned to my inlaws' place in Katy and now begin the waiting for normalcy.

Aggie joke (Sep 26th 2005). Some welcome humor at Texas A&M alumni expense.

Houston reawakens (same day, 26th). The city comes back to life, though finding eggs and milk was pretty hard. We were glued to the radio listening for when the local WalMart would reopen!

home (Sep 27, 2005). Made it back to my house in Galveston, where apart from a few shingles, everything was ok.

My posts didn't get into a lot of detail about the preparations we made to leave our home, the work involved in getting it all back together again, etc. Overall it was a grueling and insane week, one I'd never want to repeat. And we were of course lucky. Our neighbors in Lake Jackson, who got the full brunt of Rita, still haven't fully recovered.


Naguib Mahfouz, 1911-2006

The father of the Arabic novel died a couple of days ago, at the age of 94 (NPR.org). Mahfouz is credited for being the first writer to have captured the essence of spoken Arabic in written prose. His works were only accessible to me via their English translations, but even then the two books I have read impressed me with his almost effortless ability to paint a scene and bring it alive.

Mahfouz' most controversial novel was Children of the Alley, which was a metaphorical retelling of the origins of faith, as set in a modern-day Egyptian slum. I found it a difficult and maddening book; not because I was offended by its content, but because I found the retelling to be monotonous - a crude kind of morality play, in which the outcome is known. I felt that had he chosen to go a different route with the characters, each of which represented a major figure of Abrahamic history (Adam, the Prophet SAW, etc), then it would have been more interesting, but ultimately the characters seemed trapped and destined to go through the motions that had been foretold. In so doing, it drained them and the significance of what they achieved, leaving them just.. people in a slum. Maybe that was the point? I was hoping that the personalities he tried to evoke would have a transformative effect, but ultimately nothing happened.

The book did inflame Islamists, who attacked Mahfouz and stabbed him in the neck. Mahfouz survived, though with partial paralysis, and continued his work. He was a brave man and a powerful artist. His legacy will endure, and that is something the Islamists can never destroy.

I heartily recommend this additional story on NPR about Mahfouz' works. Also, TIME has a piece on Mahfouz' life with much more detail.

three blogs

If there were only three political blogs in the entire blogsphere that I could read, they would be Washington Monthly, Balloon Juice, and American Footprints.