A reading in Iraqi papers: Half of the cup is still full
Dominic Asquith

First I must make it clear that I am not about to show off my skills in writing or analysis, for this is an attempt to share with the honourable reader a number of impressions that have accumulated in my memory through my repeated visits to Iraq, and a number of other commitments which I carry with me in my diplomatic bag. Also, I am not about to win the reader to my side, as some people may believe, in an attempt to mislead him. All what I want is to seek to explain the formula of reality and ambition in my simple words and with the perspective of a man like me, who has spent most of his days probing the depths of the Middle East, while Iraqi affairs have become in recent years the essence and core of his work and interests.

The British Ambassador to Iraq has this open letter published in Asharq Alawsat. Worth reading.

August:31:2006 - 10:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

The State or the Individual?
Mshari Al-Zaydi

The state or the individual…which is more important?

What is the state’s duty toward its citizens? Should they be exploited as a tool in certain political endeavors or should they be protected, developed, educated and promoted?

The state is a need for the individuals who make it…or is it above individuals? Is the state an independent entity, with individual citizens deriving from it their value, existence and meaning? Will the state derive its meaning, existence and value from citizens and society or from another source?

Which is above which, the state or the individual?

A good and timely piece on the relationship between the individual person and the state. Needed next is an analysis of the relationship between the individual and society/culture.

August:31:2006 - 09:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Right Man, Right Place, Right Time:
King Abdullah�s First Year

A Conversation with Robert Jordan

This month marks the first anniversary of the reign of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Abdullah, the fifth son of Saudi Arabia�s founder King Abdulaziz, has led the government as Crown Prince since January 1996 after King Fahd suffered a stroke.

To provide perspective on King Abdullah�s first year on the throne SUSRIS talked with Ambassador Robert Jordan who served as America’s top diplomat in the Kingdom from 2001 to 2003. He shared his assessment of the issues facing the Saudis and insights on King Abdullah as well as a headline he would choose, ‘Abdullah consolidates power, increases effectiveness.’

Robert Jordan’s tenure as American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and mine as Counselor for Public Affairs overlapped almost entirely. I arrived a day before he did; he left a day after I did. We very much saw the same Saudi Arabia.

This brief interview with Amb. Jordan by the Saudi-US Relations Organization gives Jordan’s views of King Abdullah as the first anniversary of his ascession. I think we’re still seeing eye-to-eye. Click the link to read the entire piece.

August:30:2006 - 07:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Minister Stops Sale of Endowment Land
Hasan Hatrash, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 August 2006 — Justice Minister Abdullah Al-Asheikh, heading a specially formed committee, has ordered notaries in Riyadh and Makkah to stop issuing land ownership deeds regarding land that was intended to accommodate a new industrial zone in Jeddah.

Deeds were being issued for a 400-million-square-meter parcel of land east of Jeddah; however, it has emerged that much of the land is allegedly part of a centuries-old endowment held by a group of landowners who say the proceeds from the development of the land goes to local orphanages and women’s shelters.

As any American who has ever bought a house knows, title to the land is the first thing that needs to be sorted out. In Saudi Arabia, a major development project is running into a certain amount of sand when it was noted that the land, through a 300-year-old deed, belongs to a religious endowment. Interesting.

August:30:2006 - 07:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

Uncle Does Not Grip Concept of ‘Detached Irony’
Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 August 2006 — It’s trendy to wear something that is written in a foreign script, whether it’s New York hipsters with Chinese character tattoos, or Japanese youths wearing some inadvertently humorous mistranslation of some English phrase.

This tendency to wearing something in a foreign language has a certain hip aesthetic, and in Saudi Arabia it’s no different.

But a young hipster wearing a shirt that declared in bold script “Long Live Sharon!” (Referring to the comatose former Israeli prime minister who, among other things, presided over the massacres at Sabra and Shatila during the 1982 war with Lebanon) was assaulted by his uncle because the man was offended by the phrase, the Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday.

There’s so much trouble one can get into with a Tee Shirt these days! Not just in Jeddah, but also in the US:

Raed Banned from Plane for Wearing T-Shirt
By James Joyner

An Iraqi man was denied the right to board an airplane because he was wearing a t-shirt with the words “We Will Not Be Silent.”

An Iraqi architect says he was not allowed to board a Jet Blue flight at JFK because of the Arabic inscription on his t-shirt.

REPORTER: Raed Jarrar was wearing a T-shirt that read We Will Not Be Silent in Arabic and English, when he was approached by security officers. The officers said the Arabic script was upsetting other passengers, and told Jarrar to either turn the shirt inside out or wear something else. Jarrar protested but finally wore a T-shirt provided by a Jet Blue employee.

JARRAR: I grew up and spent all my life living under authoritarian regimes. and i know that these things happen. But I’m shocked that they happened to me here, in the U.S. Especially that I moved from Iraq because of the war that was waged in Iraq under titles like democracy and freedom.

REPORTER: A spokesman for Jet Blue says the airline is investigating to see if the security officers were with the airline, the Transportation Security Administration or the Port Authority. He also said the airline does not forbid Arabic T-shirts, but that it does take into account the concerns of its passengers.

While one can understand passengers being somewhat nervous about t-shirts bearing defiant messages in Arabic, given the history of defiant Arabs and airplanes, this is certainly an overreaction.

I like the Tee Shirt that Saudi Jeans found. It reads, in Arabic, “I Am Not a Terrorist”. I wonder who will take offense at that one?

August:30:2006 - 00:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Thank You Nasrallah!
Tariq Alhomayed

Throughout the war in Lebanon, I wrote out of conviction. Today, with the same confidence I say, Thank you Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah! Why am I showing my gratitude when I disagree with him on several issues? Simply because the Hezbollah leader has practiced self-criticism, in the aftermath of the destructive conflict.

Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah told Lebanon’s New TV station “did not think, even 1% that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not”.

His statement wasn’t merely one of atonement but represented a step in the right direction, for Lebanon’s sake, away from Assad’s speech and from Iranian proclamations. Crucially, the words were not uttered by the hero of sound bites in Damascus or by the Emir of Qatar, the post-war leader and strategic victory choir member.

Nasrallah spoke after the war ended and he himself had seen the destruction wrought on Lebanon, despite the presence of data one should be aware of or, at least, be able to discern.

Tariq Alhomayed, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat offers up this editorial about how it seems that political leaders in the Middle East are finally beginning to wake up to their responsibilities and that rhetoric is not substitute for sound policy. Worth reading.

August:29:2006 - 20:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: Mission of Compromise

United Nations’ Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday saw for himself the terrible destruction in southern Lebanon which, thanks to US obstruction, he had tried and failed for a month to halt with a UN Security Council resolution. He was no doubt appalled at Israel’s systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure and the deadly cluster bomb harvest it has sown which is causing even more deaths and injuries.

But Annan’s job is not to apportion blame but to bring compromise and peace. Having seen the devastation and heartbreak for himself, then honored UN personnel slain by the Israelis, Annan flew on to see the Olmert government. A key element in this part of his mission was to get the Israeli blockade of Lebanon lifted.

Interesting editorial from Arab News. I disagree that it is proper that the UN should not be involved in disarming Hezbollah. If it were a simple matter for the Lebanese government to have done so, it would have been done years ago. Clearly, the Lebanese government needs assistance in doing so.

But the piece concludes, I think, on the right note: It’s time for Hezbollah to lay down its arms:

The future of Hezbollah’s weapons is therefore rightly a matter for Lebanon to decide — the organization and the elected Lebanese government, in which Hezbollah holds two ministerial portfolios.

As the Israeli government is holding an inquiry into the tactical and strategic failures of its assault, Hezbollah’s leader can claim that he is speaking from a position of strength. Because Israel did not destroy Hezbollah as it said it would, Hezbollah emerged battered but victorious.

There is, however, no place for Hezbollah’s militias in Lebanon’s future. Its victory will turn to dust if it gives Israeli hawks the excuse to pulverize the luckless Lebanese still more. The price of the check to Israeli aggression has been unacceptably high for Lebanon. Further violence will serve no purpose. If Nasrallah is wise, he will take advantage of this high point in Hezbollah’s fortunes, use the momentum that has been created to convert its voice entirely into politics and now work with the Lebanese government and the UN for a lasting peace.

August:29:2006 - 19:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Rights of Women in the Grand Mosque
Hatoon Al-Fassi

Last Friday a number of Saudi newspapers carried a report concerning possible new prayer arrangements for women at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The new arrangements are based on proposals made by a special panel formed according to directives from Makkah Governor Prince Abdul Majeed. The panel was composed of representatives from the Makkah Governorate, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs and the King Fahd Institute for Haj Research. It proposed that the present prayer area for women at the mataf (circumambulation area) be shifted to two other locations on the ground floor on the northern side of the mosque. The panel members said that women would thus get a larger prayer space in the new area compared to the present one at the mataf. They said the new area was away from places of overcrowding, the mass movement of people and the focus of television cameras, thus ensuring the safety and privacy of women and allowing them to see the Holy Kaaba but avoid the disruption of tawaf (circumambulation).

As this proposal was made without considering the views of women, I thought it my duty to express my opinion of it with the hope that the panel’s proposal is rejected. It not only goes against the message of Islam but also wounds the feelings of Muslim women.

Here’s a Saudi woman who simply won’t have the deal being offered by the all-male panel looking into the use of space around the Grand Mosque in Mecca. She states here case clearly.

August:29:2006 - 19:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia: Panel of Judges to Examine Terror-Related Arrests
Majid al Maymouni

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sources affiliated to the Saudi Ministry of Justice have told Asharq Al Awsat that between six and seven judges will be assigned to the cases of those charged for involvement in terrorist attacks carried out in Riyadh on 12 May 2003.

According to the sources, the Saudi Ministry of Interior will be the only authority allowed to charge members of armed groups involved in terrorism. The Saudi ministries of Justice and Interior will coordinate to organize the cases before they are presented.

In July, sources from the Ministry of Justice stated that the first trial for a number of those charged for terrorist activity would soon take place.

Dr Abdullah Bin Mohammed al Sheikh, the Saudi minister of justice has previously stated that the accused has the right to a lawyer in accordance to the laws of criminal procedures in the country. He highlighted that these courts do not differ from existing courts in the country apart from a few formalities and procedures. He stated that the issued sentences would face appeals and the possibility of being brought before a court of cassation, just like any other courts.

Al Sheikh highlighted that although the courts will not differ to others, the procedures used by judges will vary slightly in dealing with this category of criminals. Sufficient media will be available for the accused to defend his case, making the case more accessible to media figures, those following the cases and legal representatives. The minister of justice stated that the existence of independent courts concerned with terror-related cases does not mean independence from the general framework of the law or a violation of the rights of the accused, which have now become clear. Rather, this system will demonstrate the transparency of the courts for Saudis and non-Saudis alike.

Over the past three years, Saudi Arabia has witnessed 22 terror-related crimes that have caused the deaths of 90 citizens and residents and have injured 507 people. The attacks also resulted in the deaths of 52 members of the security authorities and the wounding of 213 officers. 92 terrorists have been killed and 17 injured. The financial losses incurred with regards to properties and buildings has exceeded one billion Saudi Riyals. The security forces have successfully foiled over 52 terrorist attacks.

According to this Asharq Alawsat report, the Saudi government has now completed its reorganization of its court system to deal with terrorist cases.

August:29:2006 - 17:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

America’s Muslims Aren’t as Assimilated as You Think
Geneive Abdo

If only the Muslims in Europe — with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West — could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry.

So runs the comforting media narrative that has developed around the approximately 6 million Muslims in the United States, who are often portrayed as well-assimilated and willing to leave their religion and culture behind in pursuit of American values and lifestyle. But over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths in universities and Islamic centers from New York to Michigan to California — and I have encountered a different truth. I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.

The Washington Post runs a provocative op-ed in its Sunday edition, claiming that American Muslims aren’t well-assimilated in the general population. The writer provides some quotes to support that, but the economic evidence she provides doesn’t, I think. American Muslims are among the most successful immigrant groups in the country; they are successful not only in comparison to other immigrants, but to the general American population.

There is a disturbing quote in the piece, though, where a young woman says that, as a Muslim, she doesn’t need to assimilate. She does, but apparently doesn’t recognize just how American culture deals with religion. Religion, for most Americans, is simply a matter between you and God. The state does not interfere with the rights, rituals, and beliefs of any religion. A religion does not interfere in the laws, rules, and regulations of the state. Where those values conflict, then negotiations—sometimes in the courtroom—take place. Usually, and particularly since the passing of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the state must try to accommodate religious requirements if it can do so without threatening the religious rights of others.

That does not mean that all of any religions rules or laws will necessarily accommodated. Polygamy, for instance, is against American law. Therefore, even if permitted by a particular religion (and there are several religions which do permit it, in addition to Islam), polygamy is not permitted in the US. Some cultures permit honor killings or female circumcision, often with religious justificaitons offered. They are not permitted in the US. Anyone seeking to avoid assimilation on religious grounds will be charged with a crime and prosecuted.

Assimilation does not mean becoming a stereotypical American—however you draw the stereotype. One can keep one’s cultural identity, one’s language, one’s religious values. But they must also respect, if not follow, those of the general population and culture surrounding.

[UPDATE: To make my point for me, this article is now on the wires, about the arrest of an American polygamist who was on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted" list.]

August:29:2006 - 16:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Indian Hindu, Muslim groups tussle over song

(Reuters) NEW DELHI – India’s opposition Hindu nationalists and Muslim groups are heading for a confrontation over a controversial move to get all Indians to sing the national song on the centenary of its adoption next month.

The row was sparked this month after the government asked all schools, including Islamic madrasas, to get students to sing the song, which is separate from the national anthem, on Sept. 7.

Within days, it backed down and made singing voluntary after Muslim leaders objected.

Muslim groups say the Sanskrit language song, “Vande Mataram”, penned by Bengali poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, has strong connotations of Hindu deity worship because it reveres India as a holy goddess, which is against Islam’s basic tenets.

But the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pounced on the government’s climbdown, saying it smacked of discrimination and encouraged a lack of patriotism.

Just as a reminder that religious extremism and intolerance are not exclusive to any single religion…

August:29:2006 - 08:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi woman accuses officers of kidnap, assault
Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH – A Saudi woman has accused two officers of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Riyadh of kidnapping and assault, and sought the help of the National Human Rights Association (NHRA) in the matter, according to Arabic daily Al Hayat.

The woman, whose name is being withheld at her request, said the two officers kidnapped her, her daughter and maid and assaulted her driver about three years ago.

In her petition, the woman claimed that the Commission officers forcibly took the family car for a joyride. “(They) were both wearing plain clothes and abandoned the car when it started emitting smoke. They fled the scene after they had made sure that the three of us were stuck in the car,” she said.

The woman’s husband immediately informed the authorities. After an investigation, police and prosecutors determined the Commission members were at fault.

The woman then filed a lawsuit against the Commission officers in a Riyadh court. After several months of hearings and deliberations, the judge dismissed the case, citing a court ruling 40 years ago that the Commission personnel cannot be held liable in court for actions or mistakes they commit while performing their duties.

Unlike the con job described in the post below, this one seems to be a matter of corruption. It also spells out why clean and clear lines of authority and responsibility are needed, not to mention a uniform set of laws. Interesting, too, is that this woman is not taking the matter quietly, even three years after the event.

August:29:2006 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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