Monday, July 23, 2007

Washington Post Outlook "One Islam, Many Circles"

The Outlook Section B (“Commentary”) of The Washington Post, Sunday July 22, 2007, had a big issue “One Islam, Many Circles” with a color picture of the hajj circular procession around the ka’aba.

One of the most interesting perspectives is “Muslims on Main St.” As American as You Are,” link. The author puts assimilation in perspective. He maintains that Islamic theology, while socially conservative, recognizes the rights of women (even full equality in certain contexts) and a modern idea of personal responsibility, owned by the self (man or woman). Later he mentions that Islam also accepts meritocracy, and that competition and hard work can be more important than family name. Many of the extreme practices reported in the media (as part of ‘radical Islam”) come from tribal culture that existed in Arabia before Mohammed appeared.

There is another article by Mohsin Hamid, “Roots of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us”, link here.
Followed on Monday July 23 by “Lumbering Foreign Policy Wounded Relationship With Muslim World; Focus on Ideals Could Heal It” here:

Hamid gives an example American intervention in Pakistan after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Lahore was once a liberal, pluralistic city, and things changed after Americans, under the Carter Administration at first, encouraged more conservative Muslims to oppose the Soviets. While Americans may be “envied” the tendency for the United States to intervene in small countries has enormous unintended consequences on the lives of ordinary people there. Some of al Qeada’s videos suggest that Americans must learn to accept personal responsibility and even targeting for the “wrongs” committed by their government (the “tainted fruits” theory). Americans, this writer believe, have little concept of the effect of their government’s policies. Until recent times, their concept of Islam was more like that expressed in composer Daniel Auber’s opera “The Caliph of Baghdad.”

Then Mansour Al-Nogaidan has a piece: A Cry for Change: Losing My Jihaddism” here
Mansour took what amounts to a “vow of poverty” to live a faithful lifestyle in the Salafi sect. Over time, he had several cycles of personal epiphany, written criticism of extremist religious rhetoric, being fired and then marked for fatwa. His story makes us wonder about a religious social structure predicated on absolute acceptance of the hierarchal authority of others to discover and speak the truth for the individual – in a religion that, unlike the Vatican, is not supposed to have a formal centralized authority struggle. He also mentions 14th Century write Ibn Taymiyya, the “Muslim Martin Luther” whose writings never quite took hold in a Muslim world that would fall from its previous heights. The book by Irshad Manji "The Trouble with Islam Today", reviewed here, seems relevant. The film by Gregory Davis "What the West Needs to Know" (review) unfortunately, represents what many Americans were hearing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jury trials in Japan will test intellectual and familial culture

Norimitsu Orishi has an interesting story in the Monday July 15, 2007 The New York Times, p. 1, “Japan Learns Dreaded Task of Jury Duty.” The link is here (may require a registration or purchase). The story relates some mock court exercises to prepare for introducing jury trials, guaranteed in the United States by the Bill of Rights, in Japan in 2009. The story notes that Japanese culture resists “questioning authority” provided by family and business structures, and expressing opinions in public. I’m not sure what this means with the issue of young people and blogging in Japan.

However, as I’ve noted on my main blog, it is the ability to think critically, question authority, and speak freely that is essential to breaking the hold of special interests and formal lobbying in a democracy.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Economist article on radical use of the Internet

The British and international periodical The Economist, in the issue of July 14 – July 20, 2007, has an excellent three-page discussion starting on page 28 (no author given): "Briefing: Internet Jihad: A world wide web of terror: Al-Qaeda’s most famous web propagandist is jailed but the Internet remains its best friend.”

The article does leave us with a concern about the double Janus-face of the pervasiveness of the World Wide Web. While making constructive journalists of ordinary citizens (which some critics see as dangerous amateurism) it also makes an effective stage for propaganda in the old fashioned sense, the kind we learned about in high school social studies, for indoctrinating masses with any totalitarian ideology like fascism or communism (which radical Islam certainly compares to). Accompanying this is the ease for publishing detailed instructions as to all kinds of destructive behaviors and devices. (We don’t need to get into the details here.) There is, with online publication, a tendency to “preach to the choir” and attract persons already predisposed to similar sentiments. So it is with radical Islam, which often seems preoccupied with historic group grievances rather than individual morality (something that Peter Bergen often points out). An example is the work of Taymiyya, who advocated allegiance away from Mongol leaders who had converted to Islam, and that make provide an apt comparison to today’s moderate Muslims. The United States Military Academy at West Point launched a project to map the ideology of jihadist online documents and found a surprising interest in old leaders and grievances.

The article also discusses the research of Avid, the Dutch domestic intelligence service, and Stephen Ulph, of the Jamestown Foundation; they find that the radicals use the Internet as a “turbocharger” to get the “choir” focused on certain grievances rather than on social and political issues and justice in a western sense. The article mentions an online book “Questions and Uncertainties Concerning the Mujahideen and their Operations” which seems to reinforce sweet lemons rationalizations for destructive behaviors. The ebook does not appear on Amazon.

Over all, the effectiveness of Internet propaganda by radical Islam (both in Arabic and European languages) reinforces a trend that many people, especially younger people, do not really follow the news very well (the way history teachers made us follow it in high school) and are not as able to think for themselves as they should.

A related story appeared in The Washington Post on July 5, 2007 by Brian Krebs, about radical groups and phishing scams, link here.

Stopbadware has been informing visitors of this article, here.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

European countries - especially Italy - still have a low birth rate and eldercare problem

Despite improvements in childcare and family benefits in many European countries (especially France), many countries are finding that affluent European citizens have to count of immigrants from Eastern Europe or other countries to provide eldercare.

Today the Houston Chronicle has an Associated Press story by Frances D’Emilio, “Italy’s aged turn to foreigners for care,” here.

Italy today has 1.5 adult children for every elderly parent, and by 2050 the ratio will be less than 1. High costs of day care, contraception, careerism, all kinds of social values account for the falling birthrate, whereas medical advances keep people alive longer.

Oddly, Michael Moore did not go into this demographic problem in his recent film “Sicko.”

Philip Longman, in his book “The Empty Cradle” (2004, Basic Books) had argued that falling birthrates threaten the prosperity of the west and make it vulnerable to massive political changes forced by immigrant populations, especially Muslims, whose culture demands more “blood loyalty.” A related book is by Angelo Bertelo: "Fertility: Power and Progress, Confidence in Life and Genius, Problems and Paradoxes." Book reviews are here.

In the United States, eldercare issues could well bring back the "pseudo-amnesty" issue in the immigration debate, as a major immigration bill recently failed in the Senate.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Scary weekend in Britain underscores fundamental problems "while Europe sleeps"

News keeps developing about the events in Britain (London) and Scotland (Glasgow) this past weekend of June 30-July 1. As far as I know, all the big public events, including Wimbledon, the “boys’” memorial concert for Princess Diana at Wembley, and gay pride London went on normally despite the threat level red in England, after narrow misses in in the Piccadilly Circus area of London Friday night and the “amateur” attacks at the Glasgow airport Saturday.

The most shocking part of the story is that some of all of the men arrested are physicians or medical students, who supposedly would have taken the Hippocratic Oath. The latest CNN story is here. According to many media sources, there was even the macabre warning, "those who cure you will kill you" found in Britain.

Related blogger posting on July 4 Ayman Al-Zawahiri video here.

This is a good time to reconsider the book by Bruce Bawer, “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within", review here: (Bawer is better known for his early 90s gay conservative book “A Place at the Table”). Bawer, who lived a number of years in Europe (including Amsterdam) makes an apt comparison between Muslim life in Europe, including Britain, and the US, where Muslims have assimilated into mainstream capitalist democracy for decades. There is a certain conceptual parallel between Muslims in Europe and the descendants of slaves in the United States, largely because of European and British colonial history, mostly before the World Wars.

Pope Benedict, known for making uncompromising statements of what he believes to be Truth (however we may disagree with him on some things like the Bible and homosexuality) certainly fingered the problem when the talked about Islam and “rationality” (the concept can be interpreted different ways), as documented on Wikipedia here, especially with the notion of “forced conversions.”

A good documentary to watch is Christiane Amanpour’s “The War Within” (link) and “the fight for young British Muslims’ Minds.” There are encounters like her conversation with a young British Muslim man, who is using his western “freedom of speech” to say that democracy is wrong, that everyone should be required to live under the law of Sharia. We look back to the notion of virtue propagated by The Egyptian Sayyid Qtub, and sometimes wonder if Virtue is simply a self-righteous rationalization for forcing other’s to share one’s own burdens and sacrifices. Is this sour grapes or sweet lemons?