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…
The injunction issued by the 9th Circuit Court requiring YouTube to take down the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” video based on copyright law is being challenged. Google — which own YouTube — has filed an emergency motion to stay the enforcement. Eugene Volokh has more…
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…
“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.
Eugene Volokh, professor of constitutional law at UCLA and among the writers at the eponymous Volokh Conspiracy (now part of the The Washington Post‘s online presence), has an article in the Oklahoma Law Review that looks at how American law and religious law intersect. He finds that US courts are not subject to ‘creeping Shariah’ — a meme that is well-planted within the Islamophobe community, but has also led to several misguided attempts by American states to limit religious freedom.
While church and state are separate within American governance and law, religion and religious issues still play some part in American law. These laws, whether concerning contracts, arbitration, comity, or even exemptions from generally applicable law are of long standing in America. The earliest of religious accommodations dates to not long after the signing of the US Constitution, in fact. The point is that the laws apply equally to all religions, with no special preferences given to Islam.
The law review article is clear and easily read. If the subject matter is of interest, I strongly recommend it to you.
Many people worry about the possible encroachment of Sharia—Islamic law—into the American legal system. Oklahoma voters banned the use of Sharia and other religious law, though the Tenth Circuit struck down the ban precisely because it singled out Sharia by name. Other state legislatures have considered similar bans.
But in many of the instances that critics see as improper “creeping Sharia,” it is longstanding American law that calls for recognizing or implementing an individual’s religious principles, including Islamic principles. American law provides for freedom of contract and disposition of property at death. Muslims (like Christians, Jews, and the irreligious) can therefore write contracts and wills to implement their understanding of their religious obligations. American law provides for arbitration with parties’ consent. Muslims can use this to route their disputes to Muslim tribunals, just like Christians, Jews, and the irreligious often route their disputes to private arbitrators of their choice.
Christian Science Monitor runs a cover story on what it means to be Muslim in America. The answer, of course, is complex and differs depending on whom you ask.
The article takes a solid look at how American Muslims behave in manners nearly identical to those of their non-Muslim neighbors, though they have to deal with negative stereotypes and considerable ignorance about Islam and a certain amount of discrimination. The main thrust of the story, though, is how young Muslims are trying to sort out where the lines between cultural and traditional practices and those actually called for by religion are to be found. And interesting read.
Islam, the American way
Flint, Mich.; and Alexandria, Va.
Listening to immigration attorney Muna Jondy talk about growing up in Flint, Mich., it’s easy to imagine her as a teenager, eyes ablaze, hands on hips, confronting her Syrian-born parents with her all-American attitude. A petite woman with a strong, expressive face, she sits cross-legged on her couch and leans forward to recount the day, at age 13, that she wanted to go to the movies with a friend.
Ms. Jondy says her mother, a devout Muslim, responded “like I had asked to snort cocaine.” She was incredulous, and Jondy recalls her asking: “Did you just ask that? Did you just say that out loud?”
Jondy had already started to cover her hair with a head scarf out of modesty. She never questioned the family’s dietary restrictions. She prayed faithfully, and during Ramadan she fasted. But not go to the movies at the mall with her female friends? She balked: “Really? Is that Arab or is that Islam?”
Going to the movies is “just for loose people,” her mother replied.
“Maybe in the Middle East way back in your day,” Jondy thought.
The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) provides that handy scorecard for the major groups now on the US government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The groups range from the well known like Al-Qaeda and its various affiliates to old-time groups like the Abu Nidal Organizations whose continued existence is somewhat surprising. The locations of the groups range from the Maghreb, across the Middle East and Turkey, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on to Indonesia.
Each group’s citation includes links to the source of information for each group’s inclusion.
… Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.
Today we take this opportunity to highlight some of the terrorist groups from the Middle East North Africa region subject to the U.S. FTO designation. Many are profiled in a useful resource at the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center Web site. We have included the guidelines the U.S. Government uses in reaching FTO designations and for dealing with such groups.
Writing at Harvard University’s “Iran Matters” website, Saudi analyst and government advisor Nawaf Obaid offers his take on the recent deal reached between Iran and the “5+1 group. In sum, while the Kingdom is always interested in international agreements that tend toward peaceful resolution of issues, it is wary about Iran’s expansionist foreign policy and the likelihood of its acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Iran deal: a view from Saudi Arabia
The fundamentals of Saudi foreign policy stem from its role as the cradle of Islam, the world’s central banker of energy and the Middle East’s economic and financial engine. As the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and the location of the religion’s two holiest sites, the Saudi Kingdom is in a unique standing vis-a-vis the more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. This situation makes it incumbent on the Kingdom to remain extremely conservative at its core and outlook. This reality is enhanced by the Kingdom’s role as the world’s largest crude exporter. This has made Saudi Arabia the largest economy by far in the Middle East-North Africa region and the world’s third largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and is giving it the firepower to expend formidable financial and economic resources in assisting other nations in dire straits to maintain stability. The Kingdom’s enhanced role has generated an ever expanding foreign policy assertiveness that is being transformed from a primarily reactive based doctrine to a proactive one. The implications are that the Saudis will amalgamate political and financial incentives with an ever-growing military capability to sustain a forceful diplomacy to pursue vital national security imperatives.
From Foreign Policy magazine, a piece discussing how Saudi Arabia — finding that the US is not a useful partner at the moment — is looking for their own solutions to what they consider serious international problems.
Saudi Arabia’s Shadow War
The Kingdom is turning to Pakistan to train Syria’s rebels. It’s a partnership that once went very wrong in Afghanistan. Will history repeat itself?
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces. And according to three sources with knowledge of the program, Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, along with the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s. That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day: The fractured Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons.
While the risk of blowback has been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda-linked groups in the country. Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.
In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.
The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.
The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism
A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.
Saudi Gazette and other media are reporting that Saudi researchers have found the MERS-CoV flu virus in a camel owned by a patient who had come down with the new flu. This is the first time the exact virus has been identified in a camel, though earlier research had shown the presence of a similar, related virus in camels. Saudi public health officials consider this a major breakthrough in their investigation of the disease.
Camel owned by Jeddah patient tests positive for MERS-coronavirusSaeed
Al Khotani | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — The Ministry of Health announced that an initial investigation on a group of camels conducted by its experts indicated that one of these camels tested positive to MERS-coronavirus.
“We had to conduct this investigation on this group of camels that was owned by a 43-year-old citizen, also a MERS patient. He is currently under treatment at a hospital in Jeddah. The investigation was part of the surveillance procedures, ” the ministry said.
According to the ministry, whenever there is a suspicion of a infection a surveillance process is conducted that includes the patient himself, and the people, and animals that were in contact with him. The process includes lab tests of samples taken from these people and animals.
“The Jeddah patient appeared to own camels, so the tests were made on his camels as part of the process, and also on everything that he was in contact with,” the ministry said.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDREP) of the University of Minnesota also reports:
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”