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…
Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed takes a look at the popularity of conspiracy theories across the Middle East. Conspiracy theories, he says, are a comfort because they reduce complex situations about which many things may be unknown into something that is easily understood. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not because they serve a separate purpose.
Most of the current conspiracy theories, he writes, actually have the cart before the horse. Situations develop for their own reasons: Saddam Hussein had his own political reasons to invade Kuwait; he did not need the US to tell him to go ahead in safety. He did not need anyone to push him into attacking Iran.
What other states do, though, is to act in response to events and try to shade the events or their consequences into directions to their benefit.
In Syria, no outside force created the opposition to the Al-Assad regime. That was spontaneous action on the part of Syrians. Outside forces — including Russia, China, the US, the EU — will try to find ways that whatever results is, if not to their benefit, at least not to their detriment.
Opinion: Conspiracy theories that will not die
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
According to some people, Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein only invaded Iran during Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini’s rule because he was entangled with foreign parties and only invaded Kuwait after receiving his cue from the US envoy in Baghdad.
Some argue that Libya’s revolution against Muammar Gaddafi was a foreign act and the toppling of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak was also a conspiracy. Some think the Muslim Brotherhood made it to power because of US planning. The Brotherhood thinks Egypt’s General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi turned against them because of Western interference.
And for three years now, the Syrian regime has been saying that the West is behind the revolution against it, while the rebels insist there’s a conspiracy to besiege their revolution for the sake of keeping Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in power.
A few days ago, my colleague Eyad Abu Shakra wrote an article saying it’s time to acknowledge there are conspiracies being planned outside our region. My colleague, Eyad, is not the only one who sees a conspirator behind every crisis. For decades now, this has been the common belief among intellectuals. This belief was strengthened by books that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s such The Game of Nations by Miles Copeland.
I don’t want to completely deny conspiracy theories because secret apparatuses from each country are involved in activities that are meant to influence situations in a direction that best benefits their country. But there is a proliferation of conspiracy theories in modern history books.
The search for the initial vector of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) a coronavirus disease, is narrowing in on camels. Arab News runs a report from Agence France Presse stating that camels in Saudi Arabia are carrying antibodies to the exact strains of the virus that are found in human victims. Up to 74% of young camels examined had the antibodies.
WASHINGTON: A respiratory virus that has killed dozens of people, mainly in the Middle East, is widespread in camels and may be jumping directly from camels to humans, said a study Tuesday.
Called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, it has killed 79 of the 182 people infected since September 2012, according to the World Health Organization.
Until now, little was known about its source or how it could be infecting people.
But senior study author Ian Lipkin of Columbia University said research now shows the virus is “extraordinarily common” in camels and has been for at least 20 years.
“In some parts of Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of young animals have infectious virus in their respiratory tracts,” he told AFP.
“It is plausible that camels could be a major source of infection for humans.”
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.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Social Affairs has announced an ambitious plan to do away with orphanages in the Kingdom. Instead, orphans will be placed with foster families who will be provided financial and supportive assistance.
The issue of adoption is complex in Islam. The role of family identity and bloodlines, inheritance, and the potential complications of relationships between siblings is fraught with difficulties. Fostering, however, is both acceptable and highly commended from a religious point of view.
Whether a sufficient number of foster families can be found to care for all orphans is another question, though. Saudi attitudes toward race and ethnicity are themselves complicated. And then there’s the problem of non-Saudi orphans who are most likely going to remain under the care of the state.
Orphanages in Saudi Arabia to make way for foster homes
Saudi Gazette report
MADINAH — The Ministry of Social Affairs has chalked out plans to do away with orphanages and ensure every orphan is assigned a foster family, a section of the Arabic press reported on Wednesday.
Consultant to the deputy social affairs minister, Abdullah Al-Shomar, said orphanages will no longer be needed once foster families have been identified and assigned the task.
He claimed the ministry already has a list of foster families ready to receive such children.
“The ministry will coordinate with social security bodies to provide such families with financial assistance to help them meet the orphans’ expenses,” he said.
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of electricity relative to many of its much more populous neighbors. And it’s getting to be a problem.
Most of the country’s electricity comes from burning petroleum — there’s no hydro power, very little coal power, and gas power is just starting to come on line. Solar power is still in the future, as are plans for nuclear power plants. The oil Saudi Arabia burns for itself — currently about four million barrels/day — is not available for export.
The article, based on economic reporting from the Arabic Al-Eqtisadiah, points to low efficiency equipment being one of the major sources of the problem, with air conditioning, one of the largest consumer uses, falling far behind international standards of efficiency.
Saudi individuals use on average nine times more electricity than their fellow Arab counterparts in Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Morocco, according to a report published on Tuesday.
These countries have 185.6 million people, seven times more than Saudi Arabia. Egypt has a population of 79.39 million, Algeria 37.76 million, Sudan 36.43 million and Morocco 32.06 million. Saudi Arabia has a population of 28.4 million.
The report by the economic reporting unit of Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper stated that an individual in Saudi Arabia consumed on average 8,161 kilowatt an hour in 2011, compared to 951 kilowatt an hour by individuals in the four largest Arab countries.
A previous report by Al-Eqtisadiah stated that Saudi consumption of electricity rose by 3 percent in 2011 and 9 percent in 2012. The housing sector consumed 50 percent of the Kingdom’s total electricity production.
The energy sector is subsidized by the state, with the Kingdom using an estimated 4 million barrels of oil a day to power the country.
According to this Saudi Gazette article, there’s a move on to raise the minimum wage for laborers in Saudi Arabia to SR25 (US $6.67) per hour. Prior to the crackdown on illegal workers, wages ranged from a quarter to a half of that. Low wages have been responsible, at least in part, for keeping Saudis out of non-skilled jobs, so this increase just might provide inviting enough to bring them back into the market.
SR25 an hour wage for laborers proposed
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A number of recruitment companies that will start operating in the next few months have suggested an hourly rate of SR25 as a suitable wage for workers, Makkah daily reported.
The companies agreed on this wage after conducting several studies on the most reasonable hourly fee for laborers.
Abdullah Redwan, chairman of the contractors’ committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the hourly wage was set based on market forces.
He said: “The early wage put forth before the crackdown campaign on residency violators started ranged from SR7 to SR10. “It was raised to SR25 when the amnesty period ended.”
This wage will be applied to laborers, especially those in construction sector.
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.
The population of Saudi Arabia continues to rise, Arab News reports. The current population is now 30 million, with one third of those being foreign workers and their families. The rate of population growth, however, seems to be slowing. In a country where 75% of the population is under the age of 30, this is likely a good thing.
Foreigners make up around a third of the Kingdom’s 30 million inhabitants, according to a study conducted by the economic unit of Al-Eqtesadiah.
The Central Department of Statistics and Information (CDSI) estimated the Kingdom’s total population to be 30 million at the end of 2013, a growth rate of 2.7 percent from the 29.1 million inhabitants in 2012.
By contrast, there were only 19.8 million Saudi citizens in 2012 versus 9.4 million foreigners, showing a slightly more accelerated Saudi population growth rate.
Under its ninth five-year plan, the Kingdom is striving to make foreigners account for a little over a quarter (26.6 percent) of the total population in 2014.