The Washington Post reports that Abdulrahman Alharbi, a Saudi student who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is suing American conservative commentator Glenn Beck for defamation. Beck, a little crazy, somewhat bigoted, a rather conspiratorial in his thinking, claimed that Alharbi played a role in the bombing and was an “Al-Qaeda coordinator” behind it, the “money man”. The FBI thought differently, however, and saw Alharbi as an unlucky, but innocent victim of the bombs.

Glenn Beck sued for defamation after calling victim
of Boston Marathon bombings the ‘money man’ behind attack
Terrence McCoy

On a mid-April day last year, Glenn Beck was in a full lather. Less than one week had passed since a pair of bombs had exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds more. The FBI had just identified the Tsarnaev brothers as primary suspects behind the attack. But to Beck, cloaked in a gray button-down and a sheen of indignation, this wasn’t enough.

In attendance at the marathon had been a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian student named Abdulrahman Alharbi. He was on a full ride to study at the nearby New England School of English. He’d been injured at the marathon, later questioned by police and ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.

Beck, however, had suspicions. The radio host urged the U.S. government to release information on Alharbi or Beck would “expose” him. “Let me send this message very clear,” said Beck, who left Fox News in 2011. ”We know who this Saudi national is…. We know who this man is and, listen to me carefully, we know he is a very bad, bad, bad man.”

April:03:2014 - 07:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting book review in the Times Literary Supplment (TLS) of the book Reading Darwin in Arabic.

The book reports how Darwin’s theories of evolution and human descent made their way to and were received by Arabs in the late 19th and 20th C. There are some surprises, particularly in the favorable reception of not Darwin, but the derivative and erroneous “social Darwinism” as promulgated by Herbert Spencer. Lamarkism was favorably received as well, though it, too, is largely wrong, modified only by current understandings of epigenetics.

It’s interesting, too, that the theory of evolution was generally accepted without rancor, but has now become a hot-button issue in the region, much like among Christian fundamentalists who prefer to follow a theory of ‘Creationism’.

Darwin in Arabia

Marwa Elshakry
448pp. University of Chicago Press.

The title Reading Darwin in Arabic notwithstanding, most of the men discussed in this book did not read Charles Darwin in Arabic. Instead they read Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Gustave Le Bon, Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw in European or Arabic versions. They also read popularizing accounts of various aspects of Darwinism in the scientific and literary journal al-Muqtataf (“The Digest”, 1876–1952). The notion of evolution that Arab readers took away from their reading was often heavily infected by Lamarckism and by the social Darwinism of Spencer. Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859, but Isma‘il Mazhar’s translation of the first five chapters of Darwin’s book into Arabic only appeared in 1918.

For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”. Darwiniya entered the Arabic language. Even ‘ilm, the word for “knowledge” acquired the new meaning, “science”. With the rise of scientific materialism came agnosticism, al-la’adriya, a compound word, literally “the-not-knowing”.

March:09:2014 - 07:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri reviews Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. The book demythologizes Lawrence of Arabia, noting what he actually did and did not do. There’s far less to the story than the myth (and David Lean’s 1962 film) lead one to believe.

The book also addresses, Taheri tells us, the facts behind two other famous myths, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

The Deconstruction of a Hero
Amir Taheri

Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making
of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson

The narrative goes something like this: The British sent one of their spies, T.E. Lawrence, to incite the Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans. Thus the British seized control of the Middle East, which they then carved into pieces in a deal with the French known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement. On the margins of the main events, the British also issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave Palestine to the Jews who created Israel.

The crucial point in that narrative is to obtain a proper understanding of its central personage: Lawrence.

If you thought you knew all you needed to know about “Lawrence of Arabia,” if only thanks to David Lean’s epic film, think again. Scott Anderson’s magisterial new book retells the story in a way that challenges some aspects of the Lawrence myth.

March:07:2014 - 08:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

Not only are Saudis Electricty Gluttons, they’re profligate in their use of water. They consume water at twice the global rate, according to a Canadian professor at King Saud University, as reported in Arab News.

This is bad news for the country and society. Most of Saudi Arabia’s drinking water comes from desalination plants. Those plants burn fuel — primarily petroleum products — and what’s being burnt to power the plants cannot be sold on the market. It’s a double-whammy.

What’s amazing, the professor says, is that until the oil boom, Saudis were very, very careful to conserve water. When it had to be found in springs or shallow, hand-dug wells, people knew how to conserve it and did so. Now, when it appears to be free, running from the taps, and is nearly free because of government subsidies, there seems to be no shame at all in wasting it.

KSA water consumption rate twice the world average

A professor at King Saud University (KSU) says that water consumption in Saudi Arabia is higher than in countries blessed with rechargeable aquifers and replenishable resources.

Mirza Barjees Baig, a Canadian professor at KSU’s department of agricultural extension and rural society, told Arab News that the average water consumption in the Kingdom is double the world average.

“Demand for water by households is growing at the rate 7.5 percent annually. This increasing demand seems roughly three times the population growth rate in the Kingdom,” Baig said, adding that the situation is alarming.

According to him, water consumption (by households) exceeds eight million cubic meters per day, and it is an unprecedented record ever for Saudi Arabia. On average, the daily per capita consumption of water in the Kingdom is about 265 liters, he noted.

February:28:2014 - 09:20 | Comments Off | Permalink

“Al Majalla” magazine runs an interview with Abdullah Anas, a former mujahideen in Afghanistan and companion of Usama bin Laden during the fight against Soviet occupation. Anas is unabashedly proud of the effort and the way in which it was conducted. He finds that the so-called jihad now being promoted in Syria can only be described as barbaric and hugely unlawful. Interesting reading.

Jihad, Then and Now
The Majalla speaks to Abdullah Anas

As the situation in Syria grows worse and simultaneously more complicated day by day, the fears of observers of the conflict have become more focused on the foreign jihadists who have travelled to the war-torn country to take part in the fighting. With the chaos unleashed by some of the “Arab Afghans” who joined the struggle against the former Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s still fresh in the minds of the world’s intelligence and security services, it is worth looking back once more at the experiences of the members of this group. Few are more familiar with the Arab Afghans and their struggle than Abdullah Anas.

The son-in-law of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam—who became Osama Bin Laden’s mentor when he arrived in Afghanistan—Anas was second-in-command at the Bureau of Services office in Peshawar that supported the Arab Afghans and Afghan Mujahideen. Today, Anas remains proud of the decade he spent involved in the Afghan struggle, and counts Ahmad Shah Massoud and Osama Bin Laden as former comrades in arms.

Before meeting Azzam, Anas was already a founder of the Islamic movement in southern Algeria and worked with Algeria’s leading Islamists Mahfoudh Nahnah and Abbas Madani. He remains a part-time imam and a teacher of the Qur’an, having studied in Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Following his religious studies he took a degree in international politics in the UK. His journey to Afghanistan began when he came across a legal opinion written by Azzam, who argued that it was obligatory for Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. By chance he later met Azzam in Mecca and was invited to travel to Afghanistan with him.

After the departure of the Soviets from the country and the assassination of Azzam in 1992, Anas grew disillusioned by the takfirist ideas that had become increasingly prominent thanks to new arrivals such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. Anas’s role had been to focus on the logistical needs of the Afghan Mujahideen, while the organization that came to be known as Al-Qaeda had a larger agenda, which would become infamous in the years that followed. As infighting broke out among the Afghan Mujahideen, Anas left for Algeria, though his affiliation to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the subsequent military crackdown that followed its election success in 1992 forced him into exile in France and then the UK.

Today, Anas says he is in the process of writing his memoirs, running a TV channel and working with young people.

February:27:2014 - 07:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his column for Saudi Gazette, Hussein Shobokshi takes to task those Arab intellectuals who dwell on the glory of Arab history while paying too little attention to the present and future. While there certainly is a glorious history, the ‘golden age’ was never quite so shiny as it’s now made to be. There were very real problems, daily problems, that needed to be addressed and solved even at the height of Arab progress. Many of those problems linger, no less in need of being solved.

New problems have arisen over the course of the past 1,200 years, too. For all the wonder of Arab medicine, science, literature and the rest that made the Abbasid period the golden age of Arab science, it does nothing to solve problems like electricity generation or genetic disease. Indeed, honor the past, but don’t try to make it the sole support of your ethos and pride.

The retro Arab!

While it’s perfectly “hip” and “cool” to be nostalgic and look back in fashion, music as well as other types of arts, this state of mind has become known simply as retro. I don’t see the wisdom of being stuck in an endless political and cultural retro state of mind which basically describes the status of the common Arab today. The sheer volume and the massive amount of rhetoric devoted and dedicated to the Arab past in dialogue among common Arabs is simply mind boggling.

This is very alarming, particularly when one compares it to the same amount of “talk” devoted to the now and to the future. The Arabs are simply obsessed with their past and the glory that came with it. This has become a huge psychological entrapment, not allowing them to see the hopes and opportunities of today and tomorrow, which might be an important and serious factor to explain a lot of the problems and disappointments which they face and live in.
While it is perfectly normal and very much acceptable to be proud and nostalgic with a nation’s past every now and then, surely there is a fine line between pride and obsession and once that line is crossed it becomes very dangerous.

January:27:2014 - 09:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Fahad Nazer, a Saudi analyst, has an interesting piece at Al-Monitor. In it, he looks at the way social media — as well as modern media in general — have and are changing the politics of Saudi Arabia. He says that if one steps back and looks at the changes that have occurred over the past few decades, the changes become clearer than if one only looks at the past few years. Change in Saudi Arabia is certainly happening, but it’s incremental reform, as a recent study put it.

In the article, he notes how a young Saudi host lost his job at Rotana TV because of an interview he did with a member of the Shoura Council. A social media protest flared up. The host got his job back. Saudi voices are now louder and far more numerous than they used to be. The methodology of the classroom — “shut up and respect what I say!” — is being deprecated with new pedagogic methods. It’s also being overturned on the streets and in the homes. No more can a government have absolute control of ‘the message’ as it did when there was only one TV channel. Now, satellite TV (even though it remains illegal under Saudi law) has opened the doors and windows, and hopefully the minds of Saudi audiences. And beyond just listening, Saudis are speaking up as well.

New media technology reshapes Saudi political culture
Fahad Nazer

Due to its opacity, the continuing existence of traditional institutions and the generally conservative outlook of its citizens, casual observers tend to see Saudi Arabia as a relic of a bygone age where time has stood still.

However, those of us who have followed developments there over an extended period — decades as opposed to years — are likely to have a different perception. While the pace of change is slow — with Saudis favoring incremental reform to their social, political and economic institutions instead of wholesale changes implemented overnight — the political culture of the country has changed markedly. This slow evolution, however, is only observable over an extended time frame. This pace helps explain why an Arab Spring-inspired revolution has not taken place in Saudi Arabia and is not likely to happen any time soon. One can, however, be observed through the changing media environment.

Exactly when this change in understanding of what it means to be a Saudi citizen began is difficult to pinpoint. However, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and subsequent US-led Operation Desert Storm were seminal moments that left an indelible imprint on the psyche of Saudis.

January:25:2014 - 08:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

The petroleum sector of Saudi Arabia’s economy is massive and it’s growing. Unfortunately, young Saudis aren’t able to take advantage of this because their educations simply do not qualify them for the jobs on offer.

Al Arabiya TV quotes the head of Saudi-ARAMCO criticizing the situation at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

This seems to me to be a blunt failure of the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM), established in Dhahran, just a couple of kilometers from ARAMCO. The university was first established in 1963 to train Saudis to step into jobs next door. It has had some very limited success in doing so and is considered among the top universities in the country, but clearly it is not reaching its goal. Starting around 1980, more and more of its curriculum shifted away from the hard sciences toward theology. On my first full assignment in the US Foreign Service, I was stationed in Dhahran and KFUPM (then, just UPM; Fahd had not yet become king) was in my remit. I recall faculty and administrators — all Saudis — complaining about how the curriculum was being watered down.

Saudi Aramco boss: skills shortage holding back industry growth

The head of Saudi Aramco says a skills shortage is holding back growth in the energy industry, pointing to a mismatch between unemployment and the lack of qualified workers.

Khalid al-Falih, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Saudi Aramco, was speaking during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

He said the problem was widespread in the oil and gas industry.

“Here is an industry that is growing, that is very profitable… and more often than not companies in our industry are constrained by growth because of a lack of skilled human resources, while they are living or working in countries where there is high unemployment,” he said. “The issue of a mismatch… is real.”

ARAMCO continues to support the university, but it’s not getting petroleum specialists in any great number from the school these days. Today’s Arab News reports on a joint project between the two, but it’s not oil-related.

Aramco, KFUPM set up design and manufacturing laboratory

January:25:2014 - 08:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette carries a story on a new study published on PLOS-One, reporting on the identification of the first dinosaur fossils found in Saudi Arabia. [The abstract and full report.]

This is notable because for much of its history, the Arabian Peninsula was under water. Most fossils found in Saudi Arabia are marine fossils. These newly identified fossils date back 75 million years, to a period when the peninsula was still attached to the landmass that was to become Africa (maps are included in the full report).

Saudi Red Sea coast was once home to meat-eating dinosaurs
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH – A team of scientists from the Saudi Geological Survey with the active support of Uppsala University,

Museum Victoria and Monash University have uncovered the first record of dinosaurs from Saudi Arabia.

What is now dry desert was once a beach littered with the bones and teeth of ancient marine reptiles and dinosaurs.

The researchers found teeth and bones dating from around 72 million years ago in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia along the coast of the Red Sea, according to the scientific journal PLOS ONE which published the finds jointly authored by participating researchers from Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Australia.

January:08:2014 - 08:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting piece from the Arabic daily Okaz, translated in its sister publication Saudi Gazette. The writer notes that Umm Al-Qura university is going to strictly enforce its dress codes requiring students to appear in national dress. This is similar to the requirement that Saudis wear national dress when going into government offices.

Now, dress codes aren’t bad in themselves, though that can be a bit silly at times. What the writer objects to is that the administration of the university calls the required dress “Islamic dress.” What’s that, please? If it’s what Muslims wear, then that would incorporate everything from bikinis to burkas. What the university means, and should have said, was ‘national dress’, that is, thobes & ghutras for men and abayas for women. That’s Saudi dress. It’s not the dress of Muslims in Turkey or Indonesia, Mali or Morocco.

Extending the reach of religion into areas where it is not required does no favors for Islam. It makes it appear as though it is far narrower than it actually is. This is a problem for Saudis, I believe, as they have a tendency to see themselves as the standard of Islamic practice. In fact, they’re a small minority. Even Arab Muslims — most of whom are not Saudi or Gulf Arabs — represent only some 20% of all Muslims in the world.

There are no dictates in the Quran that all Muslims must dress like Saudis. All that is required is ‘modest dress’. Let’s try to stop stretching religion to cover all social and cultural preferences.

Umm Al-Qura University and “Islamic” dress
Saeed Al-Suraihi | Okaz

Like any other organization, universities – whether they are government or private – have the right to draw up rules and regulations that they think will ensure discipline among their students and staff. But it is not right for any university, or any government or private agency, to claim that what they have introduced are Islamic regulations, and that those who violate any of these regulations are violating Islamic law.

Umm Al-Qura University has come up with a raft of regulations that it has made mandatory for all male and female students to comply with. The university has made it clear to students that they will face disciplinary action if they violate any of these regulations.

Certainly, no one can argue with the right of the university to introduce regulations that it wishes to enforce on its campus, and students have no choice but to obey these regulations or suffer the consequences.

Let the university draw up as many regulations as it wants and call them the regulations of Umm Al-Qura University.

December:13:2013 - 10:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Archaeogenetics is the attempt to trace ancient genealogical information through the use of genetic material. This is done through comparing either the entire genetic make-up of individuals or, more commonly, the genes they receive specifically from their fathers or mothers. Arab News reports that a new study conducted in Saudi Arabia traces Saudi origins to East Africa, with the most-recent common ancestor leaving there some 150-170K years ago, based on the testing of mitochondrial DNA, that is, following the line of mothers.

In itself, this does not much but to confirm an ‘Out of Africa’ descent. That is not surprising. The genetic mapping, though, is useful for follow-on studies into particular combinations of genes and their potential effects on the health of both individuals and the population.

Results of study on Saudi genetic features released
Riyadh: Md Rasooldeen

King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC) announced in a statement on Sunday the details of the first Saudi human genome study on a section of the local population.

“This project aims to discover the Saudi genome characteristics and features compared to other ethnic groups,” said Dr. Bandar Al-Knawy, CEO of the National Guard Health Affairs (NGHA).

He revealed that the Saudi genome project is the first genomic map for Arabs in the Middle East and the Islamic world. The project was executed at the medical genomics research department in KAIMRC, and was operated by a research team consisting of scientists, medical technologists and clinicians. Al-Knawy described the medical genomics research laboratories at KAIMRC as one of the most distinguished genome centers in the Kingdom, containing state-of-the-art technology.
The official explained that the genome mapping gives accurate features for genetics information.

The project revealed that Saudis have more than 1.7 million genetics flag (SNP) not reported before. In addition, the mitochondrial genome showed that Saudis belong to L0a group. This group belongs to the old tribes who lived 150-170,000 years ago. The mitochondrial genome was deposited in the national center for biotechnology information.

December:09:2013 - 08:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

When will Saudi women achieve equality with Saudi men? Not anytime soon, I’m afraid. Saudi Gazette reports that the Grand Mufti has waded into the fray calling those who would see them as equal ‘decadent and immoral’. Women, he seems to say, are too silly to be taken seriously and men must be kind in their condescension of them. But never, no never, should men and women be allowed to work side-by-side in the workplace.

This would be a laughable attitude except that it isn’t. This is coming from the highest religious leader in the country, a man who is considered to know more about what God wants than the common man. He even draws a government salary to espouse his views.

Sorry, Saudi women… the clock measuring your progress just got set back a century or two.

Mufti slams advocates of free mixing of sexes
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The advocates of intermingling between men and women at the workplace want decadence and immoral behavior to spread among Muslims, said Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh.

Giving his Friday sermon at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh, he said such mixing poses a great danger to society and women in particular.

The Grand Mufti also stressed the importance of not taking divorce lightly, warning men against making hastened decisions in issuing concerning their family life.

He said that women can lead their husbands to divorcing them when they do not adhere to rules of modesty and that men must help their wives, protect their rights and be patient with them.

“Islam has taught men not to focus on their wives’ follies and to forgive their mistakes. They must look at their wives’ virtues and positive attitudes,” the mufti said.

December:08:2013 - 11:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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