Shoura Rejects Three Proposals for Commission
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 28 June 2006 — The Shoura Council has rejected three recommendations made for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Only one of the four recommendations proposed by the Shoura Council Committee for Islamic, Judicial and Human Rights Affairs in support of the commission was approved.

The three rejected recommendations were to increase the commission’s annual budget by SR5 million, to increase the annual salary of its field workers by 20 percent and finally to open 20 new departments annually in various parts of the Kingdom.

According to Shoura Council members, this is the first time in the council’s history that recommendations made by one of its major committees have been rejected.

The council voted in favor of the recommendation to create suitable jobs for graduates of “The Higher Institution for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”

According to this Arab News piece, the Saudi government—here, the Shoura Council—is further curbing the range of the Mutawwa or religious police. By limiting their funding, salaries, and bases of operation, the Advisory Council it making it pretty clear that they see the remit of the religious police to be a limited one.

June:28:2006 - 09:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Where We Failed, Security Has Succeeded Part 1
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

Saudi Arabia in a two-month period apprehended 44 terrorist, before they had the opportunity to execute a single operation. The operation was a part of a series of crackdowns that anticipated and neutralized the extremist before they could accomplish their activities. However, this brings up the question; why are security forces successful in detecting and capturing these cells, while society has failed in ending the terrorism phenomenon?

This time last year, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Abdullah al-Rushud, the last of the 26 wanted terrorists, was killed.
[T]he result of a two-year war on terrorism, which saw the elimination of more than 100 terrorists, and the death of 90 civilians and 40 security, since the initial bombings took place in Riyadh in 2003. Then a new list of 36 wanted terrorists was released, followed by an entire year of security crackdowns, which prevented Al-Qaeda from carrying out a single successful operation. The flaw is obvious. From a security perspective we’ve been successful, but from a religious, educational, information, and cultural aspect we have not.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed has an interesting rumination in Asharq Alawsat. He notes that while Saudi security forces have been very effective in getting terrorist, Saudi society has been less successful in rooting out the sources of terror-supporting thought. The theme is to be continued in another piece, probably next week. Read this one and wait for the next.

June:28:2006 - 09:46 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia: Billboard Ad Sparks Controversy
By Halima Mazfar

Jeddah A, Asharq Awsat- A billboard ad for a Pop concert featuring contemporary Arabic artists, is in the center of a legal dispute between an advertising agency and the Saudi Ministry of Information.

The Advertising agency had put up a large billboard prompting a concert featuring Arabic singers Mohammed Abdo and Ahlam, close to a commercial center in Jeddah’s Al Tahlia Road, an area renowned for its shopping outlets and numerous adverts featuring the latest fashions trends.

Asharq Alawsat reports on a culture clash happening within Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Abdo is, arguably, the most popular Saudi singer. But music is also something strict Wahhabists believe sinful. The billboard promotion of a concert is causing heartburn, to say the least, among the Wahhabists, and they’ve enlisted the government to fight their battle. At question is the interpretation of a regulation that limits advertising for satellite TV channels and its products (Abdo is known to most Saudis through his TV appearances). The advertising agency challenges that regulation, at least because authorities inconsistently enforce it. The article makes fascinating reading about how Saudis are facing change within their own societies.

June:28:2006 - 09:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Da Vinci Code and the Girls of Riyadh
Hussein Shobokshi

Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has been translated into 40 languages, including Arabic. The book has been adapted into a film showing all over the world, reaping millions of dollars. The story, as the majority of people know, questions the life of Jesus and claims that he married Maria Magdalene and fathered her child. The suggestion has caused much controversy and has been strongly condemned by various Christian sects, which eventually led to the film being banned in Egypt and Lebanon (the book is sold in Egypt, but is censored in Lebanon). What was noticeable however was that the request for censorship in the Egyptian Parliament was made by Muslim MPs, who wanted to express their solidarity with the Copts and to defend Jesus. This caught my attention and I could not help but draw comparison to the incident in Saudi Arabia concerning the novel “Banat Al Riyadh” (Girls of Riyadh). This book, which tells the story of four girls living in the Saudi capital, was met by a fierce campaign to stop it being published and sold to defend and protect religion and to oppose secularists.

The author of the book, Dr. Rajaa Al Sanea, and Dr. Ghazi Al Gosaibi who wrote the forward for the book, faced numerous accusations and insults waged against the both of them. What was odd however was the complete silence from those who loudly protested against ‘Girls of Riyadh’ when ‘The Da Vinci Code’ came out, despite its severe insult of one of God’s prophets. Maybe they thought that there is no need to defend Jesus, as he is a prophet for the Christians who they may consider “disbelievers”.

The raging stance towards the book ‘Girls of Riyadh’ confirmed once again that such a rejection was never based upon defending religion, but was rather a political and social position cloaked by religion to mobilize the public against the novel. Those who rejected ‘Girls of Riyadh’ claimed that they sought to defend the dignity of women. The position that extremist movements call for through their ideologies is hypocritical, especially that they choose to ignore the offense that was waged against one of God’s prophets in comparison to their reaction to the ‘Girls of Riyadh’. Such a comparison underlines the dangerous manipulation of religion to play with people’s moods through a hazardous and misleading manner. As long as there are people to add fuel to the fire, extremism will continue.

Shobokshi points to the hypocrisy of those who use religion as a club–when convenient–but manage to overlook “outrages” when it suits them in this Asharq Alawsat article.

June:27:2006 - 06:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Reflections in a Cracked Mirror: Islam and West
Iman Kurdi,

This week has seen the publication of the latest opinion poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. People in 13 countries — Egypt and Jordan were the two Arab countries included — were asked about their views of Westerners and Muslims. Views is too strong a word; this is the kind of poll that takes a pulse rather than a full medical history. For instance respondents were asked to indicate whether they have a favorable opinion of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Arabs. It’s the kind of question that is too vague to have any meaning. Say you were asked to indicate your opinion of “Americans”, would you understand that to mean your opinion of American citizens or of American policy-makers? What if, like many people around the globe, you disagree with American intervention abroad but think ordinary American Joes perfectly nice?

What this kind of question is good at is picking up baseline prejudice. Common sense predicts that we should rate most people at least somewhat favorably; it is only when we feel threatened that the balance tips the other way. Within the backdrop of the ongoing Middle East conflict, it is not surprising that Muslims in the Middle East rate Jews almost uniformly negatively, even if this is based on the erroneous assumption that Jew equals Zionist. The most interesting — and in my view encouraging — finding of this survey is that Muslims in France do not succumb to this prejudice, they were the only Muslim population surveyed where unfavorable views of Jews were not prevalent.

Writing in Arab News, Iman Kurdi provides an analysis of the Pew Global Attitudes survey (noted earlier here). Her primary focus is on France–where she currently lives–but also addresses the other countries surveyed. The survey’s most startling finding, however, was common throughout the Arab countries, unfortunately:

On the whole though this latest poll confirmed much of what we already know. It certainly confirmed something which every Arab knows: Conspiracy theories are alive and well in the Arab world. More than half the people surveyed in the only two Arab countries polled thought that Arabs did not carry out the 9/11 attacks. How depressing, if we refuse to take responsibility, what chance progress?

June:26:2006 - 15:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Iran to Host Holocaust Conference Later This Year

TEHRAN (AFP) -Iran has said it will still go ahead with its plan to host a conference questioning the Holocaust, with the event now scheduled for later in 2006.

The controversial idea emerged after hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the systematic slaughter of an estimated six million Jews during World War II as a “myth”, and the event was initially set for early this year…

In January, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described plans for the conference as “shocking, ridiculous, stupid”, and advised Ahmadinejad to “come and see the evidence of the Holocaust himself in the countries of Europe”.

But Iran responded by inviting Blair to take part in the conference and “defend the Holocaust” as an historical fact.

Because I’m an optimist, I can see how this conference could be very useful in educating an ignorant audience to some actual facts. But because I’m not particularly stupid, I can also see how that’s not going to happen. If this conference were truly open, inviting people with real knowledge, then it has the possibility of opening some Muslim eyes to things the rest of the world has known for over 60 years. But I fear that the doors won’t be open and that this will just be an echo chamber for anti-Semites.

June:26:2006 - 10:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

Analysis: Behind Saudi’s successful war on terror
Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor

Ever since a group of 19 terrorists struck at the heart of America on Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia, from where 15 of the 19 hijackers originated, suddenly found itself on the front lines of the war on terror. And for the most part it was largely unprepared…

Saudi counter-terror authorities, according to Obaid, have successfully thwarted 17 major terrorist attacks since May 2003. More than 767 suspected terrorists were arrested in counter-terrorism operations since May 2003.

Fighting terrorism does not come cheap, however. Saudi Arabia has spent $8.5 billion in 2004 — of which $1.2 billion was allocated to petroleum security, including the National Guard. That figure rose to $10 billion in 2005, and jumped to $12 billion for 2006, (projected) — including more than $2 billion allocated to petroleum security.

But failure to invest in security would be far more costly.

The World Peace Herald carries an interesting analysis of how the Saudis “officially” view the war against terror within the country. Worth reading.

June:26:2006 - 09:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Disunity in the Ranks of Muslims
Fatimah Al-Faqih • Al-Watan

I can totally understand why a housewife would sit with some guests tediously analyzing the reasons that led to the failure of her sponge cake recipe or explaining the most recent glass-cleaning techniques.

Such housewives indulge in limiting their talk to issues concerning the small world they belong. However, I find it difficult to understand how people with scientific and ideological titles follow the same methodology when writing books and appear on interviews that analyze the miserable situation of the Muslim world. Such experts repeatedly come out with the same mantra that “Muslims have drifted away from their religion”.

Arab News offers this article, translated from the Saudi Arabic daily Al-Watan. The writer is peeved that the best critics of the current plight of Muslims can do is repeat the same old mantra that everyone knows, but no one actually knows what it means.

The article is worth a look!

June:26:2006 - 07:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al-Jazeera, as American as Apple Pie
By Joanne Levine

In a country’s hinterlands, a distant region seldom visited by outsiders, a television crew investigates why so many residents are fleeing the area. When local officials catch wind of the crew’s presence, they begin interrogating people the journalists interviewed, and pressure others not to talk.

Russia? Uzbekistan? China? No. This incident took place in North Dakota, in the heart of the United States.

That’s where a team of reporters I supervise went to shoot a story about the Great Plains emptying out. When the sheriff of Crosby, a town near the Canadian border, heard about it, he contacted the U.S. Border Patrol. An agent soon showed up at the local newspaper, asking for the journalists’ names. Other agents asked whether they “seemed like U.S. citizens.”

The journalists are Peggy Holter, Josh Rushing and Mark Teboe. They are all experienced reporters, and they are all U.S. citizens. So what was it that raised officials’ antennae?

The channel they work for: al-Jazeera.

Very interesting article in today’s Washington Post. The writer, an American Jew, finds that the bigotry expressed on hearing the name “Al-Jazeera” is exactly that: bigotry. And that bigotry serves to close the American mind, not open it.

Al-Jazeera is far from being a perfect media institution. These days, I’m not sure that a perfect media institution exists. Al-Jazeera is highly unprofessional in many regards and, I think, sometimes the emotions rule in the production booth rather than reason. But Al-Jazeera should not be confused with satellite TV channels like “Al-Manar”, the voice of Hizbullah, either.

Levine correctly points out that Al-Jazeera is often the recipient of allegations of being a “Zionist front”. It gets banned from Arab countries with some regularity. At times it is truly obnoxious and offensive, but I can get pretty offended watching some American TV news programs, too, from the right as well as the left.

I think, most of all, that Al-Jazeera needs to do a better job of explaining itself and answering the questions it raises through its broadcasting practices. Whether or not the criticisms levied against it are justified, those criticisms exist and must be addressed.

I do hope they break through, though. I think it important that Americans see other points of view. Now only if my cable TV provider will carry the channel…

June:25:2006 - 09:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

14 Saudis Are Released From Guantanamo Bay
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 25 June 2006 — Fourteen Saudi nationals in US custody at the Guantanamo Bay prison are on their way home, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Meanwhile, back in the Kingdom, the investigation following a raid on a suspected terrorist cell in Riyadh on Friday led to the arrest of two suspects in the nation’s capital yesterday, according to the Interior Ministry’s spokesman.

The repatriation of the 14 Saudis increases the number of repatriated Gitmo detainees to the Kingdom to 29 this year, not counting the two who returned dead after allegedly committing suicide earlier this month.

This Arab News article also identifies the six “deviants” killed in the Riyadh shootout a couple of days ago:

The six were identified as: Mohammed ibn Rashed Al-Jalidan, Sami ibn Saud Al-Mutari, Mishal ibn Abdullah Al-Rashoud, Humod ibn Miqbel Al-Utaibi, Saad ibn Abdullah Al-Muathir and Ghazi ibn Salem Al-Utaibi. Al-Jalidan (alias Abu Dawood Al-Najdi) and Naif Al-Shaybani reportedly figured in a tape released by Al-Qaeda in March.

Al-Rashoud is believed to be the son of an alleged Al-Qaeda member, Abdullah Al-Rashoud, who figured on a list of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted deviants and was reported to have been killed in Iraq last year, the Arabic daily Al-Watan reported yesterday.

June:25:2006 - 08:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Debate, a website I came across earlier this week, has published what appears to be the executive summary of the new Pew Global Attitudes Project report, The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other. It makes for very interesting reading.

Comparing the data of this survey with the problems pointed out in the Arab News editorial I wrote about earlier, is instructive. One thing that jumps out is that relations between Muslims and Europeans are in far worse shape than relations between Americans and Muslims. Do take a look at this piece.

June:25:2006 - 07:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

France’s Media Regulator Issues Warning to Iqra TV
Ebtihal Mubarak & Paul Michaud, Arab News

JEDDAH/PARIS, 25 June 2006: France’s media regulator issued a warning to the Saudi-owned Islamic television channel Iqra over controversial statements that were broadcast calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

The Conseil superieur de la audiovisuel, or CSA, has the right to assign or withdraw licenses that could affect Iqra’s ability to broadcast not only to France but also across the European Union.

In the bureaucratic language that typifies a government bulletin, the CSA issued the following warning: “The council (i.e., CSA) has issued a warning to the Iqra Channel, established in Saudi Arabia and broadcast in France by way of satellite and ADSL, against the making of statements capable of inciting (racial) hatred or violence, such as those (statements, i.e.) made on April 2, 2006, at 7.30 in the morning, which called for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

I guess this Arab News article has to go under the category of “unclear on the concept”…

The article is full of condemnation for the French warning to Al-Iqra TV. What those doing the condemning don’t seem to realize, however, is that certain kinds of speech–particularly those that call for violence–are generally regulated around the world. Calling for the destruction of Israel is a call for violence. The Al-Iqra speaker could have called for Israel to “wither away”, perhaps, and avoided the warning. Perhaps even a “May God destroy Israel” would have passed muster as a statement of religious belief. But either would have dampened his rhetorical point. And that’s fine.

Criticising, mocking, disdaining a religion are all protected by free speech. Calling for the destruction of a country and its population is not.

June:25:2006 - 06:04 | Comments Off | Permalink
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