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
READING DARWIN IN ARABIC, 1860–1950
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”.
Strict Islamic states ban the projection of films that portray the Biblical prophets. Thus, the film “Noah”, scheduled to be released in the US later this month, is already being banned in Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE. Bans are expected to follow in Jordan, Kuwait, and likely Egypt. In Saudi Arabia, where nearly all public film presentations are banned, the question won’t even arise.
The Al Arabiya TV article noting the bans reports that this is nothing new and nothing in particular against the latest film. Films portraying prophets just aren’t going to make it past the censors. It reports that the similar “Son of God”, which has been released in the US already, will face the same challenge as did the earlier “Passion of Christ” as Jesus is also considered a prophet in Islam.
Upcoming Hollywood movie “Noah” has been banned in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on religious grounds, a representative of Paramount Pictures told Reuters on Saturday.
Sending shockwaves across the Arab world, the $125 million film – starring Oscar-winners Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins – was officially banned by censors in the three Gulf countries this week.
Meanwhile over in Malaysia, Ultraman is facing his own ban…
Another small step for woman…
The first all-female law firm has opened in Jeddah. What’s more, it includes the first female attorney to have presented a case before a Saud court.
First female law firm opened in Jeddah
Jeddah: FOUZIA KHAN
In what is being seen as a major boost for Saudi women seeking legal advice and help, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, the first Saudi woman lawyer who was issued license to practice law in the Kingdom, launched the first female law firm for the benefit of Saudi women on Wednesday.
Bayan Al-Zahran became the first Saudi woman lawyer when she appeared at the General Court in Jeddah for the first time in November last year to defend a client. She had been working for years as a legal consultant and had represented dozens of people in criminal and civil cases besides family disputes.
Al-Zahran told Arab News that the objective of her law firm is to fight for the rights of Saudi women and bring their problems before the court, since male lawyers in many cases couldn’t understand the problems and situations of a female plaintiff.
Saudi Arabia is moving forward in a full-court press to limit, restrain, and punish those promoting extremist forms of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports. After the expiration of a two-week grace period, the government is acting on a broad front to enforce its decision to stop a number of groups it has identified as “terrorist organizations”. Among the groups are Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Hezbollah. Notably, the Houthi movement in Yemen is also declared a terrorist group. While only a handful of groups are currently listed (see below), the government says more groups will be named.
In the article, numerous Saudi officials charged with overseeing security and religious affairs are all stating their support and eagerness to get on board. The article also notes that several preachers have been arrested for violating the new law.
Riyadh and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following Saudi Arabia’s official decision to designate a number of local and regional organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups, domestic and regional figures and analysts have moved to respond. Many local and regional figures have praised the decision, while also warning against potential future challenges.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Justice Minister Mohamed Issa affirmed the government’s duty to take all necessary legal measures to ensure domestic security and stability.
Issa praised the royal decree, which he said is based on protecting national security, adding that the recent escalation in the ideologies of such groups has been extremely harmful to public tranquility and the state has no choice but to seek to confront this.
The Saudi Justice Minister confirmed that the spread of these terrorist groups and their ideologies has harmed social cohesion in Saudi Arabia.
In another piece, Asharq Alawsat provides the text of the government’s statement, including a list of offenses and groups currently banned.
While designation of terrorist groups is useful, there are several elements of the statement that are troubling. The very first item on the list of offenses, for example, condemns those who promote “atheistic ideologies”. I’m not aware of any atheistic terrorist groups that are threatening Saudi Arabia at present.
The eighth item, “The pursuit of unsettling the social and national fabric, or the call for, participation in, or promotion of sit-ins, demonstrations, gatherings, collective statements, or any actions that touch the unity and stability of the Kingdom under any reason and in any form,” is also fraught with the potential for abuse. “The unity and stability of the Kingdom” is overbroad and open to interpretations that meet political ends at the expense of freedom of thought and expression. If it chose to do so, the government could make this to mean any criticism of the government, its members, or its actions. Calling for women to be given the right to drive could well fall under this rubric as, clearly, there are many in Saudi society who do not like the idea at all.
Given its past record of behavior toward Shi’ite groups, the government will have to be very careful that its designation of Shi’ite groups is not just another measure of abuse.
Saudi Arabia has formally declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Belonging to, supporting, or offering public sympathy toward the group is now against the law, Al Arabiya TV reports.
At the same time, the government has criminalized membership in or support of Hezbollah, as well as the al-Nusra Front and ISIS organizations now active in Syria.
Saudi Arabia blacklisted on Friday the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group among three other militant groups in the Middle East, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, citing a royal decree.
The Saudi terrorism list also includes the kingdom’s branch of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front.
Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Saudi authorities have extended a deadline for those fighters to return home.
The royal decree also criminalized taking membership in, supporting and sympathizing with any of those groups.
According to Al Arabiya TV, a top Saudi cleric has reached the conclusion that Google — the owner of YouTube — should be sued because it permits offensive videos to be broadcast over the Internet. We’ll forget that hundreds have already called to this or for YouTube and/or Google to be shut down.
It was not enough that YouTube, in compliance with a court order, took the offending video down last week due to a copyright claim. That, as it proves, was ineffective because the video, with the scenes that had the copyright complainant now excised, is back up.
This, I think, demonstrates that attempts to remove offending materials through brute force tend to be futile. It is far better to just avoid looking at it. Unlike TV, one is not accidentally exposed to materials on YouTube. One has to make an affirmative action — clicking a link or a ‘Play’ button — in order to see it. Clerics might more fruitfully explain to their followers why they should avoid doing those things that will only lead to offense.
Khaled al-Shaya, a top Saudi cleric, recently called on Islamic countries to ban and legislate against Google, after the internet search giant’s apparent “disrespect of Islamic beliefs” in continuing to display an inflammatory video against Islam, news website CNN Arabic reported on Saturday.
Google – the parent company of video sharing site Youtube, which hosted the controversial video entitled “The Innocence of Muslims” – had “insulted the Prophet” by not removing the video, said Shaya, who serves as the assistant secretary-general of the Global Commission for Introducing the Messenger, a Riyadh-based Islamic organization.
The video “insulted the Prophet through distorting facts and spreading falsehoods, which was condemned by Muslims as well as all those who support rightness and justice,” said Shaya, adding that the Islamic world needed to “look into” freedom of expression.
“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.
While you probably weren’t looking, the obnoxious film “Innocence of Muslims”, the film that caused rioting and discord across wide stretches of the Islamic world, has been removed from YouTube.
The removal was not because people complained about it in general, nor because it was insulting. And, sadly, there’s no way simply stupid stuff can be taken down from the Internet.
Its removal resulted from a very particular complaint, made by an actress in the film, who has succeeded in convincing the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeal that the presence of the film on YouTube violated her personal copyright in her performance.
Eugene Volokh, writing at his Volokh Conspiracy law-blog, explains…
From today’s Ninth Circuit decision in Garcia v. Google, Inc. (9th Cir. Feb. 26, 2014):
[A] writer and producer, Mark Basseley Youssef — who also goes by the names Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile — cast [Cindy] Garcia in a minor role. Garcia was given the four pages of the script in which her character appeared and paid approximately $500 for three and a half days of filming. “Desert Warrior” [the title of the film as Youssef described it to Garcia] never materialized. Instead, Garcia’s scene was used in an anti-Islamic film titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Garcia first saw “Innocence of Muslims” after it was uploaded to YouTube.com and she discovered that her brief performance had been partially dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”
These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, calling for the killing of everyone involved with the film, and Garcia soon began receiving death threats. She responded by taking a number of security precautions and asking that Google remove the video from YouTube.
Garcia’s theory is that (1) she owns the copyright to her own performance, (2) Youssef never properly acquired the rights to that performance — for instance, because there was no express assignment of rights — and therefore (3) a court should order Google to take down the video that infringes Garcia’s copyright. The Ninth Circuit held for Garcia, by a 2-1 vote. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Judge Ronald Gould. Judge N.R. “Randy” Smith dissented.
Note, though, that the court’s action is only an injunction. It can be appealed. As Prof. Volokh notes in his article, a Fair Use argument could be made in any suit on the matter. And would likely succeed. That would allow YouTube (or a user) to re-post the video.
UPDATE: Prof. Volokh has a follow-on post noting something unusual about the court order…
Saudi Gazette reports that many Saudi men — husbands, fathers, brothers — have a belief that they are owed all or a portion of salaries earned by women in their families. This belief is not supported by Saudi or religious law.
It’s rational to think that a woman would choose to be supportive of families, but it is not reasonable to demand it, as the article explains.
Men lay claim on wives’ salaries as ‘legal guardians’
Saudi Gazette report
MAKKAH — At the end of every month, many wives have become accustomed to a monthly quarrel with their husbands, who claim their rights to their wives’ salaries.
Soad Salman, a teacher, experiences tension at the end of every month, as she fears the regular dispute between her husband and her family on each party’s right to her salary.
She has to exert strenuous efforts to calm both sides down, and resolve the issue with minimal losses.
Soad is one of many employed wives whose salaries become a dilemma between their husbands and families.
Such dilemmas sometimes end in a court case which last for long periods, and many times end in divorce.
Husbands justify their demands as they have the right to prevent their wives from going to work under the pretext of their authority and guardianship over their wives, while wives believe that they have sole rights to their salaries.
An interesting piece from Al Arabiya TV criticizing an article appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Madinah. That article called for Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to become more involved in monitoring social media with the purpose of protecting society from unwanted and dangerous messages.
Controlling social media is fraught with problems that make it impossible to actually do. Simply blocking the various media do not address the issues behind criticism or complaint. Blocking does, however, squelch free speech, alternate opinion, challenges to received wisdom, and dissent. While these can be uncomfortable for some, can be factually wrong, can be ‘inconvenient truths’, they are not and should not be stopped.
Never mind that the Commission doesn’t have the technical wherewithal to effectively monitor all social media. Never mind that the Saudi government’s efforts to filter the Internet are porous and can be defeated with relative ease. The point is that the attempt is wrong in principle.
Saudi religious police to monitor social media?
Eman El-Shenawi | Al Arabiya News
A Saudi columnist has encouraged the country’s religious police to monitor social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, targeting “evil” accounts that “promote pornography, magic and sorcery.”
In a column published in the Saudi-based al-Madina newspaper on Friday, Lulu al-Hubaishi noted that efforts by the religious police, officially known as the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, to target such “vices” should be bolstered.
“The decision of the Haia (religious police) to activate its awareness and to monitor social media violations, which are difficult to control and purify in terms of contents, is extremely important in order to protect society and the youth, especially those who frequently visit social networking websites with good intentions,” wrote Hubaishi.
The writer went on to say that the police force should look beyond popular platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a report on the rise of Prince Mohammad Bin Naif, Minister of the Interior, as a replacement for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as the point-man for Saudi efforts in Syria. Mohammad, who established the Saudi rehabilitation program for returned/captured jihadists, has been working to separate Syrian rebels battling the Al-Assad regime from the extremists who are also fighting, but for entirely different reasons. The mixing of the two groups has been a serious impediment to US efforts in Syria as the US is simply unwilling to provide support if it ends up in the wrong hands.
The article notes that among those looking at Saudi succession issues, Mohammad is rated as being very much in the game.
Riyadh (Reuters): Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef, perhaps the most powerful younger prince in the ruling Al Saud family, is shaping Riyadh’s new emphasis on protecting the kingdom from a fresh wave of Islamist militancy inspired by the war in Syria.
The United States pulled out the stops for him when he visited Washington last week to prepare for President Barack Obama’s fence-mending trip to Riyadh next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander all sat down with the 54-year-old, a veteran of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Al Qaida.
Prince Mohammad seems likely to be a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter for decades to come. Many Saudis say he is a strong candidate to become king one day.
“He’s now playing not only the role of Interior Minister, but also that of a senior diplomat and adviser to the king,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Prince Mohammad, btw, escaped being killed by a suicide bomber back in 2009 who carried his bomb within his own body.
“The New Yorker” magazine’s online site runs an article about the consequences a Saudi woman is facing after writing about the meaning of beards in the Kingdom (“silly,” in her terms). The critique could have been applied to Pakistan as well, but the article focuses on Saudi Arabia.
It’s very clear that there are subtle and not-to-subtle messages being sent by beards — shape, length, color, as well as lack of a beard. The signalling is primarily used in a religious context to identify people who share the same beliefs. As the “New Yorker” writer notes, the beards of members of the Muslim Brotherhood differ from those of Salafis and the Al-Saud, including King Abdullah, wear them differently as well.
Messing around with religious signals can be risky because it’s seen as a challenge to one’s piety. And if there’s one thing the religiously conservatives hate — and fear — is that their piety be challenged. Sometimes, as here, the result is threats to one’s life and that of one’s family.
A Saudi Woman Is Threatened After Tweeting About Beards
The controversy began—as virtually all political and religious debate in Saudi Arabia does these days—with a provocative tweet. On January 18th, Souad al-Shammary, a liberal activist with more than a hundred thousand Twitter followers, tweeted her thoughts about the idea, popular among devout Saudis, that Muslim men should grow long beards in order to differentiate themselves from unbelievers. The notion was “silly,” Shammary wrote, pointing out that “Jews, priests, Communists and Marxists” have also been known to wear beards.
Shammary is the co-founder of a group that calls itself the Saudi Liberal Network, in a country where liberaliyeen—Saudis use the English word, giving it an Arabic plural—are so widely reviled that even prominent feminists and human-rights advocates shy away from the label. She has never been popular among Saudi conservatives. But her remarks about beards were met with an unusually violent reaction. Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, a former imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca (in 2008, when he became the first black man appointed to the post, some in the Kingdom dubbed him “the Saudi Obama”), announced that Shammary should be tried for insulting the Prophet, adding that he prayed for her to become blind and to lose the use of a hand.
In the past month, via Twitter, thousands of conservatives have echoed Kalbani’s remarks, attacking Shammary and calling for her to be put on trial. Some have gone a step further, accusing Shammary of apostasy, an offense that carries the death penalty under Sharia law. Last week, Shammary told an interviewer for the BBC World Service that she and her family had received so many threats that she had gone into hiding.