The UAE’s Gulf News reports that the elected Riyadh Municipal Council is frustrated by its lack of executive powers. It quotes various members complaints, but also the statement by one that the Council is working to find its way. With little or no experience in elective government, the Council is having to invent its own rules. Worth reading

Frustrated council members prepared to quit
Mariam Al Hakeem

Riyadh: Several elected members of the Riyadh Municipal Council, who failed to fulfil the promises given to their voters, voiced their frustration and willingness to resign from the council.

“The council virtually possesses no real powers to execute any decisions,” they complained. In an open meeting with their voters held in south Riyadh on Friday, the members shared their frustration and disappointment with those who elected them to the council.

Abdullah Al Suwailem, one of the members, said that he plans to tender his resignation from the council shortly.

“The election process and [our commitment to voters] is more important for us than holding this [ceremonial] post. We have to cope with the [hopeless] state of affairs at the council.

March:31:2008 - 10:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Steven Coll’s book on the Bin Laden family is reviewed in the Boston Globe. This review is particularly interesting as it’s by Richard Clarke, former official in the National Security Council office. He says the USG knew quite a bit about the Bin Laden’s—the good ones and the bad ones—well before 9/11.

Movers and sheikhs
How the Bin Ladens became corporate giants while gaining wealth and favor from the Saudi royals
Richard Clarke

One of the many conspiracy theories surrounding Sept. 11, 2001, is some inchoate suspicion about the request the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., made to fly out Saudi citizens and members of the Bin Laden family in the days after the attack. That Osama Bin Laden’s relatives were among those asking to leave and that the government let them go is seen as some sort of indicator of a hidden hand, of secrets, evil deeds. Who let them go?
more stories like this

I did. When the embassy request came to me as the White House crisis manager, it seemed understandable that these people might think themselves at risk after disclosures that almost all of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis. I had arranged evacuation flights for Americans from crisis zones many times when I thought they might be at risk. So I approved the request on condition that the FBI sign off on the Saudi flights and everyone on them. The FBI did not want to interview the passengers then and has not asked to interview them since. Why wouldn’t the bureau want to investigate what the Bin Ladens were doing here?

March:31:2008 - 10:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a new Saudi government initiative to provide health and life insurance for all expat workers in the Kingdom. The move certainly has its up-side; it also has a down-side. In the future, expat workers, particularly from African countries, will have to undergo more thorough health screenings before being given work visas.

Plan for complete insurance cover for expatriates
By Shahid Ali Khan

RIYADH – Saudi Arabian National Recruitment Committee (SANARCOM) is drafting a mechanism to give complete insurance coverage to all foreign workers, SANARCOM chairman Waleed A. Al-Swaidan told Saudi Gazette here, Sunday.

The coverage will not only be related to health care but also to accidents, injuries and deaths, he said.

The final draft would be submitted for approval to the Labor Ministry.

Al-Swaidan said Saudi Arabia is applying strict health screening measures before recruiting foreign workers.

Strict health examination is conducted for recruitment of domestic helpers from African countries, which are endemic to communicable diseases such as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Ebola and Yellow Fever.

SANARCOM is concerned about the health of Saudi citizens and take all possible healthcare measures before recruitment of foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers, he said.

March:31:2008 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News carries a peculiar item about the way women—and their camera-enabled mobile phones—are being treated at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. The writer spells out the ways that the ban and the way it’s implemented are confusing, insulting, and not at all what should be happening at a religious site.

Banning Mobile Cameras at Prophet’s Mosque
Nourah Abdul Aziz Al-Khereiji,

Many Saudi columnists including myself have written about the harsh treatment of women at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah in general and at the Roudha Shareef in particular. Unfortunately, the authorities have not take any action to improve the situation. We have also not seen any official response to such concerns.

I am now writing about the same issue again. Let me tell you first about the problems women face at the entrance of the mosque and the humiliating way some guards at the entry points treat them.

Some touch their bodies and check their personal possessions in a highly irritating and embarrassing manner. All in the name of security.

March:31:2008 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

I’ve just finished reading two books concerned with how Islam and Muslims are portrayed in American media. Neither book, unfortunately, is particularly good, though both have their useful points.

The better of the books is Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. This book analyses a recent Gallup World Opinion Poll for indications of how global Muslim populations think about various issues. It notes, usefully, that when Americans think ‘Islam’, they are also tending to think ‘Arab’, even though Arabs represent only 20% of Muslims.

The book looks at issues from politics, radicalism, terrorism, women, and the concept of a ‘clash of civilizations’, reporting on how various Muslims answer the poll questions. Not surprisingly to those who have any factual information about Islam, opinions vary. Most, however, come down in much the same place as Americans do: moderation.

The book is disappointing in that it doesn’t really have much new to say, at least to those who have followed the issues with any rigor. Perhaps I’m just not the intended audience. The writing seems to be aimed at a general public with little knowledge of the Islamic world. It would certainly be accessible to high school students.

The second book is Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg. The book is well-intended. Islamophobia is a real concern and it certainly provides a platform for hate-speech and demagoguery. It also follows the play-book set up by Usama Bin Laden to force a conflict between civilizations.

This book approaches the issue through an analysis of editorial cartoons appearing in the US media (and a very cursory history of American-Muslim contact). The content, though, is thin. Barely two dozen cartoons are reprinted. The arguments that they are ‘anti-Islamic’ are shallow in that they tend to forget that editorial cartoon simply are not the place for nuanced discussions. Appearing mostly as single-panel illustrations, they rely more than other media on stereotypes to provide identification. One could argue (as the authors do) that the stereotypes are ‘unfair’, that they pick unflattering—sometimes untrue—aspects of Islam or Islamic cultures, that they blur the differences between the global Umma and particular Muslims. These are valid complaints, but they fail to recognize that most Americans’ concepts of Islam are mediated through particular acts taken by particular Muslims. The Muslim non-actors are invisible because they have no direct effect on most Americans.

The book, too, strikes me as leaning a little too far in the direction of cultural relativism. Not all behaviors in Islamic countries and cultures are acceptable. The writers try to deflect this argument by explaining how American culture unconsciously sees itself as the ‘norm’ against which it measures other cultures. True, to an extent. But certain behaviors are simply unacceptable (e.g., ‘honor killings’ whether justified as religious or cultural necessity). Muslims are quite capable of making the same logical errors of blurred borders as Americans.

I found the book to be annoyingly trivial, more interested in promoting a multi-culti viewpoint than addressing the very real issues of Islamophobia. That editorial cartoons use a shorthand that is easily recognizable by the intended audience is obvious, a real ‘Duh!’ moment. That those editorial cartoons deal in generalizations should be equally obvious. And while these cartoons do not do much to promote favorable views of Islam, they are nowhere near the dangers represented by real Islamophobia, las the film ‘Fitna’.

I’m still looking for good books on the subject, but neither of these fills the bill, alas….

March:30:2008 - 13:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The release of the provocative Dutch film ‘Fitna’, ‘Discord’, is attracting a lot of attention internationally. The film has been roundly condemned by not only Muslim groups, but also by European governments and the UN. And of course, groups that approve of the film cast this condemnation as unwitting or intentional acceptance of ‘dhimmitude’.

Creatively, some Saudis are asking that the film be shown in Saudi Arabia as part of a program to come to grips with the inter-religious frictions that now beset the world. This Arab News article explains:

‘Books Not Bombs’
Ismaeel Nakhuda | Arab News

A Jeddah-based publisher is to put into practice a novel method to counter a growing climate of Islamaphobia while fostering positive dialogue between Christians and Muslims: Books not Bombs.

The proposed screening of an anti-Qur’an film by a right-wing Dutch MP has led Esam Mudeer of Al-Bayenah Bookstore to team up with a dawah organization set up by the late Ahmed Deedat to distribute in Holland 50,000 copies of “Jezus in de Islam en de Koran” — a Dutch translation of Deedat’s book “Christ in Islam and in the Qur’an.”

“We’re sending books not bombs to the Netherlands… This is an opportunity for dialogue, an opportunity for the Netherlands to come to know the Qur’an and its message,” said Mudeer, adding that the books will be distributed tomorrow.

The call for dialogue follows the proposed screening of a 10-minute provocative anti-Qur’an film entitled “Fitna” (Arabic for strife) by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. Dutch television channels have declined to show the film, which also drew protests from ordinary Dutch people in the streets of Amsterdam last week.

Mudeer, who is a Saudi writer and a member of several charities and dawah organizations, was a student of Deedat for 18 years. He told Arab News that the book is a “thank you” message to ordinary Dutch people who have protested against Wilders.

I do think it worth pointing out that the protests to this film, unlike those that followed the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005, have so far been verbal, not violent. That, I think, is important to how Muslims are seen in the West and a measure of proportionate response.

March:30:2008 - 12:58 | Comments & Trackbacks (15) | Permalink

Arab News runs a story in its weekend supplement on mastic, the resin of an evergreen shrub (a member of the pistachio family) used in eastern Mediterranean and Arabic cooking. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste—easily picked up by chewing the resin as a breath-freshening gum. Mastic appears in both sweet and savory dishes, from rice pudding to shawarma, more or less according to the hand of the cook. You can readily find mastic to buy online if you’re so inclined.

Mastic Drops of Chios
Sarah Shaban, Arab News

WHILE Greece has long been known for its great writers, philosophers and rich history, its fifth largest island, Chios, is known for its mastic gum. Located in the northeast Aegean Sea, the island is a few miles off the coast of Turkey. In fact, 24 villages in the south of Chios, known as Mastihohoria which means mastic villages, have together controlled the production of mastic gum in the area since Roman times. Its exploitation has always been the primary source of revenue for the region’s inhabitants. Chios Mastiha or mastic is an aromatic gum or resin exuded from the bark of a Mediterranean tree. It is used in making varnish, chewing gum and as a flavoring.

March:30:2008 - 12:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Today’s religion pages of The Washington Post carry this item originating from the Religious News Service. I can’t say that I’m surprised in the least. The discussion about building Christian churches in Saudi Arabia is not solely a Saudi matter; it will involve Muslims from across the Islamic world and arguments over the validity of hadith that apparently ban such construction.

Saudis Won’t Build Christian Church

Saudi Arabia will deny a request by the Vatican to build that Muslim country’s first Christian church, according to a report broadcast Tuesday by a television channel owned by the Saudi royal family.

The report came the same day that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced plans to host a conference of monotheistic religions, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, a project that he said he had discussed with Pope Benedict XVI on a visit to the Vatican last November.

The conference would be the first such interreligious event in Saudi Arabia, which forbids public observance of any faith but Islam.

The two events epitomize the ambivalent and volatile nature of recent relations between the Holy See and the Islamic world.

Benedict’s decision to baptize a former Muslim, Magdi Allam, in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day before Easter also raised tensions. Allam, who until his conversion was one of Italy’s most prominent Muslims, has been an outspoken critic of Muslim intolerance of other faiths.

In an effort to soothe feelings, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran a front-page article in its Wednesday edition declaring that Allam’s baptism did not represent “any hostile intention with regard to so great a religion as Islam.”

March:29:2008 - 08:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Book World supplement to The Washington Post for tomorrow will carry this review of Steven Coll’s book, The Bin Ladens. It appears to be an interesting books, though one I’m unlikely to review myself. I do question, though, the reviewer’s comment that the ‘US flooded Afghanistan [with weapons], chiefly Stingers’. The number of Stinger missiles provided the mujaheddin was in the low-hundreds, hardly a ‘flood’. If he means that it proved to be a critical weapon, then okay, he has a point; perhaps it’s just sloppy writing for the review. For those interested in Bin Laden, Osama, his father, and siblings, they might want to take a look at the book.

How Osama bin Laden’s family grew rich, powerful and divided
Reviewed by Milton Viorst

Change the names and locations, and Steve Coll’s marvelous book about the bin Laden family would begin like a familiar American saga. An illiterate youth arrives in a land of opportunity from his impoverished homeland and, by dint of ambition, talent and hard work, becomes immensely rich and powerful. He collects properties, airplanes, luxury cars and women — tastes he passes on to his sons. He earns a niche in the pantheon of great builders of his adopted country.

The youth is Mohamed bin Laden, justly venerated in Saudi Arabia. But collective memory plays funny tricks, and in the West he will be permanently remembered as the father of Osama. The bin Ladens, though their Horatio Alger story overlaps Western experience, emerge as unmistakably Middle Eastern — to the point of being torn asunder by today’s religious struggles. Coll, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Washington Post managing editor, leaves the psychology to his readers. He prefers writing on economics and politics, leavening them with anecdotes and gossip; the result is a fascinating panorama of a great family, presented within the context of the 9/11 drama.

March:29:2008 - 08:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on Abdul Rahman Trabzooni, a 24-year-old Saudi wiz-kid who has drawn the attention of both academics and entrepreneurs around the world. I was pleased to see that he credits the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for early recognition of his talents. That was an NGO, staffed primarily by volunteers, that I was always pleased to work with as I liked the way in which it sought out talent, regardless of family or connections. Trabzooni appears to be a person to keep an eye on.

A Saudi Bill Gates in the making

DAMMAM – Jeff Raikes, the retired president of Microsoft’s business division, believes Saudi Arabia has its own Bill Gates, and he has a good reason.

Abdul Rahman Trabzooni, a 24-year old Saudi, is so talented in Internet browsing application solutions and software that he just might prove Raikes right.

Tarabzooni’s talent came to light through the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for the Gifted.

Trabzooni, who was speaking to audiences in a lecture titled “The World is Waiting” at the information technology forum of the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Program for Youth Development in Dammam last week, said that was the turning point in is life.

March:29:2008 - 07:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News carries this story on how permitting Saudi women to drive would have a major and positive effect on the overall Saudi economy. I’m not so sure about the third reason being cited as it seems that a lot of Saudi women already own vehicles, as noted later in the piece. But I suspect that there would be a shift in the type or accessorizing of vehicles for that cohort of drivers.

The article is definitely worth reading, though.

Lifting Ban on Women Driving Will Bring Economic Windfall: Experts
Sarah Abdullah, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 March 2008 — As women’s rights groups continue to steam ahead in full speed petitioning for the reversal of the ban on women’s driving in the Kingdom, experts on the issue conclude that the move, if successful, would not only lift the ban itself but the Saudi economy as well.

“Overall, lifting of the women driving ban in Saudi Arabia is expected to have a major effect on the local economy in three different ways,” said Dr. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Saudi British Bank (SABB) in Riyadh.

“First, by putting a large portion of house drivers out of work and increasing the purchasing power of Saudi families; secondly by causing a shift in the ownership of vehicles; and thirdly by a trickle down of additional vehicles being sold to women translating into greater opportunities of opening up new markets.”

March:29:2008 - 07:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

This Arab News article on an appeal by the Saudi Shoura Council Chairman suggests that he doesn’t quite understand how US federalism works. He seeks the intervention of the Federal government into a state criminal case. It just doesn’t work like that in the US. The Federal government has already done as many favors (if indeed they were favors) for Homaidan Al-Turki—convicted of sexual abuse and withholding his maid’s wages—by dropping related Federal charges.

Al-Turki is exercising his right to appeal his conviction under Colorado state law, as is proper. But claiming that his behavior was ‘only typical Saudi behavior’ doesn’t say much good about Saudis in general or him in particular.

US Urged to Review Saudi Student’s Case

RIYADH, 28 March 2008 — Shoura Council Chairman Dr. Saleh Bin-Humaid has urged US authorities to review the case of Homaidan Al-Turki, a 37-year-old Saudi student who was found guilty in a Colorado state court of 12 counts of sexually assaulting his Indonesian maid.

“The Saudi people sympathize with Homaidan Al-Turki and they closely follow up his case,” the Shoura chief said and hoped for a speedy end to the issue. He also emphasized the Kingdom’s respect for American justice.

Al-Turki, a former Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, maintains that he did not sexually assault the woman, whose identity has not been disclosed due to the nature of the alleged crime, and has accused US officials of persecuting him for “traditional Muslim behavior.”

… Al-Turki, who had been a graduate student in Colorado for nine years, was sentenced in August 2006 to 20 years for the rape charges and eight years for theft of the maid’s wages. The federal charges of not renewing the maid’s work visa, falsely imprisoning the woman and holding the woman’s passport to ensure she didn’t flee were dropped after federal prosecutors decided the 28-year-sentence by the state court was sufficient. Al-Turki is appealing the verdict.

Al-Turki’s wife Sarah Al-Khonaizan returned to the Kingdom in September 2006 after serving two months in prison related to labor violations: Paying the maid less than $2 a day for more than four years, and withholding this wage, too. Al-Khonaizan claims the maid willingly wanted her employers to hold her salary, a claim denied by the plaintiff.

March:28:2008 - 08:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink
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