Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Saudi Version of X Rated

Last week, the MEMRI Blog reported that "a Saudi court has convicted five Muslim students for disrupting a university play that advocated moderation in Islam, said the lawyer of one of the defendants." In the words of one of the actors, the attack was carried out by "extremists who are trying to kill moderation".

That a Saudi court chose to take action against radical Islamists for attacking those expressing more moderate views is both a welcome and a remarkable development. Just how remarkable becomes apparent after reading Youssef Ibrahim's January 15th piece for the New York Sun. In his article, Ibrahim discusses another recent event that shows just how xenophobic and fanatical the intellectual climate in Saudi Arabia truly is. Apparently, senior Saudi clerics are considering banning the letter "X" due to its resemblance to the Christian cross:

The new development came with the issuing of another mind-bending fatwa, or religious edict, by the infamous Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the group of senior Islamic clergy that reigns supreme on all legal, civil, and governance matters in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The commission's damning of the letter "X" came in response to a Ministry of Trade query about whether it should grant trademark protection to a Saudi businessman for a new service carrying the English name "Explorer."

"No! Nein! Nyet!" was the commission's categorical answer.


Well, never mind that none of the so-called scholars manning the upper ranks of the religious outfit can speak or read a word of English. But their experts who examined the English word "explorer" were struck by how suspicious that "X" appeared. In a kingdom where Friday preachers routinely refer to Christians as pigs and infidel crusaders, even a twisted cross ranks as an abomination.

Saudi Arabia is the greatest single incubator of the Salafist variant of radical Islamism. Developments like this help explain why.

A Cuban Blogger Speaks

Courtesy of Harry's Place, a Cuban blogger, el cubano de la isla, weighs in on the status of free expression in Castro's Cuba:

Twenty years ago, expressing opinions contrary to those of the government in the street could result in a beating from passers-by.

Today, things are very different. You can say whatever you like in the street without anything happening to you. People have lost that political fanaticism.

But that is only in the street, among the ordinary people. Questioning any official policy or leader in front of an official or policeman is classified as subversion. There is no middle ground - you are either with the government or against it.

Similarly, the internet is completely under state control. The state monopolises 100% of the information that a normal Cuban receives - the internet is seen as a threat to the system.

(Emphasis added-DD)

It's a sad commentary on the state of American librarianship that denial of the Cuban dictatorship's brutal suppression of intellectual freedom is still taken seriously within our profession.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Google and Copyright

The New Yorker has published a great essay by Jeffrey Toobin on the Google digitization project. In particular, Toobin does a nice job of discussing the copyright issue. As he puts it, publishers are like John Kerry: they're both for the Google project and against it. Toobin also makes clear just how ambitious this effort is:

Every weekday, a truck pulls up to the Cecil H. Green Library, on the campus of Stanford University, and collects at least a thousand books, which are taken to an undisclosed location and scanned, page by page, into an enormous database being created by Google. The company is also retrieving books from libraries at several other leading universities, including Harvard and Oxford, as well as the New York Public Library. At the University of Michigan, Google’s original partner in Google Book Search, tens of thousands of books are processed each week on the company’s custom-made scanning equipment.

Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at At the books site, which is up and running in a beta (or testing) version, at, you can enter a word or phrase—say, Ahab and whale—and the search returns a list of works in which the terms appear, in this case nearly eight hundred titles, including numerous editions of Herman Melville’s novel. Clicking on “Moby-Dick, or The Whale” calls up Chapter 28, in which Ahab is introduced. You can scroll through the chapter, search for other terms that appear in the book, and compare it with other editions. Google won’t say how many books are in its database, but the site’s value as a research tool is apparent; on it you can find a history of Urdu newspapers, an 1892 edition of Jane Austen’s letters, several guides to writing haiku, and a Harvard alumni directory from 1919.

No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, a vice-president at Google who is in charge of the books project, said recently, at the company’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California. “It’s mind-boggling to me, how close it is. I think of Google Books as our moon shot.”

Iraq's National Library Endangered

One of the many casualties of the current disorder in central Iraq is that country's national library. The Iraq National Library and Archive was forced to close in early December after the violent activities of Islamist insurgents and militias, both Sunni and Shia, seriously threatened the safety of the staff. While the institution has since reopened, the ongoing violence remains a major concern.

The harrowing situation facing the Iraq National Library is described in this diary by library director Dr. Saad Eskander. Posted on the British Library web site, Dr. Eskander's diary provides a sobering first person account of the horrific nature of the radical Islamist assault on the new Iraq, and the devastating impact this has had on daily life in Baghdad. Please give it a read.

(Link via Martin Kramer. Stephen Denney also has a post on this topic.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Read a Burned Book

Freadom has launched a great new effort to raise awareness of the Castro regime's record of book burning: the Read a Burned Book campaign. To quote Freadom's January 23rd press release:

Some of the most famous Cuban writers have joined with the head of Cuba’s major independent library group in endorsing a new “Read A Burned Book” campaign, aimed at getting high school and college students to read the books which Fidel Castro has ordered burned.

“Castro can destroy everything, except for books,” said legendary Cuban revolutionary and author, Carlos Franqui. “He may censor, ban or even burn them, but the ideas contained in books can never be destroyed.”

“As José Martí once said, paper trenches are stronger than those built in stone," said Franqui, a former confidante of Castro, and the editor of one of the hundreds of books that were ordered burned in 2003.

“In our homes, the homes of many of us who promote liberty and the defense of human rights in Cuba, books are frequently confiscated,” said Gisela Delgado Sablon, the Director of the Independent Library Project of Cuba. “Among those have been books about Martin Luther King Jr., the great American civic fighter who fought for the rights of blacks.”

Sablon, speaking from a phone in Havana, said books like Kings “are regarded as dangerous to society,” and she justified the need for independent libraries because readers have access “only to what the government designates for them to read.”

For more on this worthy effort, see the Freadom blog, which has numerous posts on this topic.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

An Iranian Travel Ban

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Iran recently prevented a journalist from traveling abroad to receive a free expression award:

The French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed concern that Iranian journalist Taghi Rahmani was prevented from leaving Iran to attend a meeting of the International PEN writers' association.

Rahmani told Radio Farda that he was due to travel to Denmark on January 13, to give a speech and receive a prize awarded by the local section of the freedom of expression organization.

But he said authorities prevented him from leaving the country without giving him a reason.

The authorities "didn't mention any specific reason for banning me from leaving the country," he said. "They only implied that the trip would cause trouble for the establishment and for myself. Despite my efforts, the ban on me leaving the country was not removed."

An Editor Murdered in Turkey

Yesterday, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor named Hrant Dink was murdered in Istanbul. As the Guardian reports, Dink was an outspoken advocate of free expression:

Dink had gone on trial numerous times for speaking out about the mass killings of Armenians by Turks. He had received threats from nationalists who viewed him as a traitor. He was a public figure in Turkey and, as the editor of Agos, one of its most prominent Armenian voices.

In his last newspaper column, Dink said he had become famous as an enemy of Turks and that he had received threats against him. He said he had received no protection from authorities despite his complaints. "My computer's memory is loaded with sentences full of hatred and threats," Dink wrote. "I am just like a pigeon ... I look around to my left and right, in front and behind me as much as it does. My head is just as active."

One email threatening his children worried him particularly, he wrote, adding that police had taken no action after he complained.

As the article notes, Dink was one of numerous Turkish writers to have been charged under Turkey's infamous Article 301:

That was the same charge that had been levelled at the Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk. Dink, however, was the only Turk to be convicted. Like Pamuk, Dink was taken to court by ultra-nationalists last year, and many believe they were behind his killing.

"This was an organised attempt by those who want to destroy Turkey's European Union aspirations and cast Turkey into darkness," said Akin Birdal, the former head of Turkey's Human Rights Association, who was himself shot and severely wounded in 1998 by suspected nationalists.

Whether it was committed by extreme nationalists or radical Islamists, Dink's murder was clearly intended as an attack on free expression. In the words of Turkey's Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, "(a) bullet was fired at freedom of thought and democratic life".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Limited Posting

In what is fast becoming a tradition, for the second year in a row the Department of Defense has awarded me an all expenses paid trip to America's heartland in mid-January. Of course, this one will be much shorter and less unpleasant than last year's excursion. Anyway, posting will be limited at best for the next week and a half.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Death Threats in Dublin

Sunday's Observer carried an interesting story about an Imam in Dublin speaking out against the spread of radical Islamism among Irish Muslims:

Imam Shaheed Satardien is taking a stand against those Muslims in Ireland whom he claims are too sympathetic to Osama bin Laden and the cult of the suicide bomber. At Friday prayers in the sports hall in north-west Dublin, the South African-born former anti-apartheid activist warns his multinational congregation against blaming other religions and the West in general for all Muslims' ills.

This will probably come as a shock to many of you, but Imam Satardien has received death threats for expressing his anti-Islamist views. Sadly, he has good reason to take these threats seriously:

Cast out by the majority Islamic community in Dublin for his outspokenness, the 50-year-old preacher says he has received death threats. 'I am standing firm in my beliefs,' Satardien says. 'The truth is more important than being popular or living a quiet life. Extremism has infected Islam in Ireland. It's time to get back to the spiritual aspect of my religion and stop it being used as a political weapon.'

The imam from Cape Town fled his native country following death threats, he says, from Islamic extremists in South Africa. His younger brother, Ibrahim, was shot dead in 1998 following a row with Islamic radicals in the city. When Satardien was told he would be next, he travelled to Ireland, the birthplace of his maternal grandmother, and pleaded for asylum.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Unfortunately, Imam Satardien appears to be facing long odds in his struggle against extremism. This passage illustrates the extent to which Islamism has spread among Ireland's Muslim community:

Satardien, however, is adamant that extremist Wahhabi sects have infiltrated the republic's 40,000-strong Muslim community, especially in Dublin. 'Young, impressionable Muslims in Ireland are being raised to think that suicide bombers are cool. I know for a fact that when the Americans killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq who died after an airstrike in June last year] there were prayers for him in this city. This was for a man who slaughtered other Muslims. What I am trying to do is convince the young people that such practices are un-Islamic, that there is another way,' he says.

(Emphasis added-DD)

I wish this brave man well in his efforts. The Irish authorities need to make sure that Islamists not silence him .

The Choudhury Case in Context

Librarians for Fairness recently republished a good overview of the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury:

Choudhury's crime: calling for diplomatic ties between his native Bangladesh and the State of Israel.

"The High Court has ruled that by conveying the message of the rise of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh to Jews and Christians, and by advocating relations between Dhaka and Jerusalem, I have damaged the image of Bangladesh worldwide," Choudhury said.


Choudhury, who is free on bail, said there is little chance of receiving a fair trial, and he probably will be sentenced to death. He spoke from a secure landline since his cell phone is under government surveillance, Choudhury said.

"The judicial system is corrupted by Islamic radicals," he said. "By continuing this trial and convicting me, they want to send the message that anyone else in Bangladesh who thinks as I do will face the same consequences."

Sadly, Mr. Choudhury is far from the only victim of Islamist persecution in Bangladesh. Novelist Taslima Nasreen was forced to flee the country in the early 1990s after an organized Islamist campaign demanding her murder. As with Choudhury, instead of standing against these threats, the Bangladeshi authorities themselves hounded Ms. Nasreen. As best I can determine, the fatwas against Ms. Nasreen remain in effect.

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, in Bangladesh "55 journalists were hounded and threatened in 2005 for articles deemed “un-Islamic” by fundamentalists."

How has this situation come to pass? A Bangladeshi writer based in Sweden offered this analysis to Daniel Freedman of the New York Sun:

After the major political changeover in 1975, what's actually going on in Bangladesh is gradual Islamicisation of the country. And by the time, coming out from the 'closet' the Islamist forces are now dominant in the country.

They're deep seated in society too, where they're dominating social life and behaviour, now. Hardline demands are intensifying day by day at national and local levels. As a result, a grave and grim danger is fast unravelling for the country, its secular people and minorities as well as its moderate Muslims, which also threatens the region.

Mr. Freedman's correspondent lays out in detail how Bangladeshi Islamists have taken advantage of both a permissive environment and large foreign subsidies to spread their cultural and ideological influence. The consequences of this creeping radicalization have been disastrous for free expression:

Secterianism, bombing of shrines, minority bashing (especially the Hindu minority), killing secular writers and thinkers -all are now on the rise. Islamist zealots are "wildly" calling for changing the political system from democracy to Sha'ria-based governance. More fatwas(religious edicts) are now emanating from the foaming mouths of Islamic fanatics and their likes. Soon the entire nation will be> radicalised. That's why Ms. Eliza Griswold, a reporter of The New York Times, painted a very grim picture of Bangladesh in her very damaging write-up on January 23, 2005, in its magazine section, in which she boldly proclaimed that Bangladesh is becoming a 'hotbed' of Islamic fundamentalism.

So, it's no more the internal issue of Bangladesh, it's turning dangerous rapidly for the region. Hence the international community has to act on containing these thriving evil forces, before it's to late. Otherwise, the threatening boast of the 'mullahs'--the gradually forced Islamicization of the country--will become a reality sooner than anyone can imagine.

Bangladesh is one of the world's most populous Muslim nations, with nearly 150 million people. If its troubled democracy is replaced by Islamist totalitarianism, the people of Bangladesh aren't the only ones who will suffer.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Afghan Paradox

Last year, an Indian Bollywood film named Kabul Express was filmed in Afghanistan in the face of Taliban threats. Paradoxically, it appears that while the film could be made in Afghanistan, it can't be shown there. A January 6th report originally from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn has the details:

Afghanistan has banned a Bollywood film about journalists in the war-ravaged country because parts of it were deemed offensive to one of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities, a government official said on Saturday.

Kabul Express charts a 48-hour journey by three journalists in post-Taliban Afghanistan. It opened to mixed reviews in India last month.

"The film has some sentences which were very offensive towards one of Afghanistan's ethnicities, namely the Hazara," said Minister of Culture adviser Najib Manalai. "For this reason it has been banned."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Magazine Banned in Tunisia

Also from Reporters Sans Frontieres comes word that Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have banned the most recent issue of a French magazine called Historia Thématique. RSF's press release explains the reasoning for the ban, while also exposing its absurdity:

The Tunisian authorities announced their ban on 10 January, saying it was due to a picture showing the Prophet Mohammed, which is “formally forbidden in Islam and could offend the religious feelings of Tunisians.” The picture in fact comes from an illustrated copy of the Koran dating from 1583 that is in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul.

The January issue of Historia, a monthly produced by the same publishing house, has been on sale without any problem although it has an illustration showing Mohammed in partially animal form (with feathers and the tail of a fish).

Historia editor Pierre Baron told Reporters Without Borders that the reaction to the Historia Thématique issue was indicative of the current climate of intolerance. He pointed out that the issue was also about Christian and Jewish fundamentalism, adding that his staff decided that fundamentalism was an appropriate subject because of the increasing frequency of cases of offence being taken on the grounds of religious sensibilities.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Unfortunately, when regimes censor in order to avoid offending Islamist sensibilities, they simply fuel this "current climate of intolerance".

A "Bad Start" to the New Year in China

Reporters Sans Frontieres documents a less than auspicious new year for free expression in China:

There has been a wave of violations of online free expression since the start of the year, Reporters Without Borders said today. A website covering corruption cases was shut down on 8 January, the Sichuan authorities are continuing to enforce an Internet ban on Tibetan poet Woeser, and the wife of Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong), one of the 50 cyber-dissidents jailed in China, today said he is being regularly tortured.

"The Internet is developing at breakneck speed in China but without any letup in censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "Both in Beijing and the provinces, the authorities still crack down on those who discuss sensitive political issues online. We are particularly shocked at the report of Guo Feixiong being tortured in prison. China continues to be a police state that sees the Internet as something to be censored and controlled. This must be resisted."

See the rest of their press release for further information.

Rafiq Tagi Update

Reporters Sans Frontieres posted a December 12th update on the status of imprisoned Azeri journalist Rafiq Tagi:

The detention of Rafiq Tagi, a journalist with the newspaper Sanat, and Samir Sadagatoglu, his editor, was extended for another two months yesterday by judge Gulnara Tagizade of the Nasimi regional court on the grounds that further investigation is needed.

Tagi and Sadagatoglu have been held since 15 November on a charge of “inciting racial, national and religious hatred” under article 283 of the criminal code because of a 6 November article by Tagi entitled “Europe and Us” which argued that European values were superior to those of the Middle East and Asia.

The controversy surrounding Tagi's article was deliberately incited by Iranian backed Azeri Islamists, and three Iranian clerics have issued fatwas calling for the murder of Tagi and his editor. Instead of standing up to this Rushdie-style effort at censorship by murder, the Azeri regime has sought to appease it by practicing its own form of censorship. This will only encourage the Islamists to escalate their campaign.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Puppet Show and Islamism

Reuters, via Dhimmi Watch, reports that Islamists in Malaysia are seeking to eradicate a traditional form of puppetry:

Osman Bakar is a specialist in Malaysia's traditional art of shadow puppetry, but fears his craft is flickering out under curbs imposed by strict Islamist rulers in the country's northeastern state of Kelantan.

"I have lost a source of income," said Osman, who has been a drummer for 20 years at performances of wayang kulit, as the art of puppetry, based on myths from India's Hindu epics, is known.

Wayang kulit is slowly fading out in the province following years of restrictions on this ancient form of puppetry, which dates back centuries before Islam spread to the region and whose origins are derived from Hinduism.

Sadly, the campaign against walang kulit is simply part of a broader assault on traditional Malaysian culture by the region's ruling Islamist political party:

The move was the latest in a series of changes PAS has ushered in since taking power there in 1990, as it seeks to discourage behavior it considers against the tenets of Islam.

It has shut down bars serving alcohol, which is forbidden under Islamic law, instituted separate checkout queues for men and women in supermarkets, and clamped down on traditional performing arts that it considers breaches Islamic law.

The following passages describe the impact of this campaign to suppress "offensive" culture and behavior:

"Now we see a lot more women in headscarves. There weren't so many earlier," said Azmi Noh, a cloth trader in Kota Baru's Siti Khadijah market, where his shop is surrounded by traders seated on platforms selling pyramids of vegetables and rows of chickens.

"They have been closing cinemas in the city for more than a year, eliminating illegal structures, and building more places for people to pray," he added.

The Siti Khadijah market is the only one in Malaysia with a mosque, batik trader Azmi said, adding that officials from the mosque occasionally targeted unmarried Muslim couples walking through the market with advice to mend their ways.

While Islamism draws upon elements of traditional Islam, it is anything but conservative. Rather, it is a radical, revolutionary ideology dedicated to the eradication of all cultural traditions that conflict with its totalitarian vision.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Real v. Fake Dissidents

Cindy Sheehan and other radical activists are currently in Cuba protesting the "Gulag" that is the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. As Walter Skold points out at Freadom, the wives of Cuban political prisoners wrote her a letter asking for her support. Unfortunately, Ms. Sheehan and her colleagues are so busy trying to get jihadists out of Gitmo that they can't be bothered to care about actual imprisoned dissidents. The New York Sun provides the details:

The Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, who march silently through the streets of Havana every Sunday in protest at the incarceration of political prisoners of the Castro regime, wrote a letter to Ms. Sheehan inviting her to visit Cuban prisons.

The Damas drew Ms. Sheehan's attention to the poor state of Cuban prisons, which they say lack clean drinking water and adequate food and where their relatives are imprisoned solely for speaking out against Fidel Castro's government.

The leader of Ms. Sheehan's trip, Medea Benjamin, said the American activists had not seen the letter and that they would be focusing solely on Guantanamo.

In the meantime, the BBC reports that a Cuban dissident has died of a heart attack after being denied the opportunity to seek medical treatment abroad:

Cuban dissident Miguel Valdes Tamayo has died of a heart attack, aged 50.

He was among a group of 75 activists jailed in 2003 for opposing President Fidel Castro, but was released on health grounds a year later.

His death in the capital, Havana, was announced by fellow dissident Maria Beatriz Roque.

She said Mr Valdes had been refused permission to seek treatment abroad. "It was a cruel action by the Cuban government," she told AFP news agency.

The next time people like Ms. Sheehan claim to be "dissidents", we should all remember the utter contempt they show towards real dissidents.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Primer on Islamism

White House communications official Peter Wehner has written an invaluable primer on the nature of the Islamist threat to the United States and the West in general. Wehner's essay does an excellent job of discussing who the jihadists are, what they believe, and outlining the differences between the Sunni and Shia forms of Islamist radicalism:

President Bush has said that the war against global jihadism is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. We are still in the early years of the struggle. The civilized world will either rise to the challenge and prevail against this latest form of barbarism, or grief and death will visit us and other innocents on a massive scale.

Given the stakes involved in this war and how little is known, even now, about what is at the core of this conflict, it is worth reviewing in some detail the nature of our enemy--including disaggregating who they are (Shia and Sunni extremists), what they believe and why they believe it, and the implications of that for America and the West.

This is truly information that every American needs to know. Please give it a read:

Why They Fight

Censorship in China

In Monday's Washington Post, Edward Cody offered a good overview of China's all too pervasive system of censorship:

All his life, Qin Zhongfei has been an ardent reader, a lover of literature and an amateur poet. But the drama he lived in this little mountain town, Qin said, has taught him that putting his thoughts into verse can be dangerous in China.

"I used to write poetry all the time, but I haven't written any lately," he said with a wan smile, repeatedly wringing his hands and wiping his high forehead during a recent interview. "This was a huge disaster."

Qin, 31, spent a month in jail on criminal charges because of a poem he wrote satirizing local officials accused of corruption. He was released only after several out-of-town newspaper articles related his fate and the central government in Beijing stepped in to halt the prosecution.

What happened to Qin, a mild bureaucrat in the county education department, was by any measure an abuse of power by local authorities here in the remote and wooded hills of central China. But more broadly, it was a vivid reminder of the Communist Party's enduring determination to control information and opinion among China's 1.3 billion people.

Since the party took power in 1949 under Mao Zedong, it has maintained tight censorship over radio, television, newspapers, movies, fine arts and books, carefully selecting what Chinese are allowed to know and enjoy. Human expression, it has decreed, must follow the party's lead.

But as China has opened to the world -- and as the use of cellphones and the Internet has become more common -- the censors' mission has become more difficult.

Still, controls persist. To carry out official policy, censors ban coverage of certain stories -- Qin's was censored from television -- and force the party organ, People's Daily, to fax over the front page every night for approval. Roomfuls of technicians have been enlisted to monitor millions of computers and cut off Web sites the party judges to be dangerous to its monopoly on power or unhealthy for the morals of young Chinese.

China is a far different place than it was in the nightmare years of Mao and his "Cultural Revolution". Yet it remains a one-party Leninist dictatorship. How long this state of affairs can continue is the key question that will decide China's future.

Zimbabwe's "Brotherhood of Silence"

The January 7th Sunday Times contained a chilling overview by RW Johnson of the horrific nature of Robert Mugabe's tyranny over Zimbabwe. In particular, Johnson shows how crushing free expression has been integral to the Mugabe regime's war against its own people:

The only people brave enough to talk to me about what is going on preface everything with “but you can’t quote me”. The only exception is Pius Ncube, the Catholic Archbishop of Matabeleland, whose outspoken critique of the Mugabe regime has earned him death threats.

When I go to his house behind the cathedral he speaks in a flat monotone, without looking at me, almost as if soliloquising or speaking to history. He strikes me as a man driven to the limits of exhaustion both by his punishing workload in the 40C heat and his own deep depression.

Given the terrible death toll, I ask him about the infamous statement by Mugabe’s henchman (and secret police boss), Didymus Mutasa, in 2002, that “we would be better off with only 6m people, with our own who support the liberation struggle. We don’t want all these extra people”.

Is this a master plan, I ask? Is the government trying to reduce the population? Ncube shakes his head slowly. “What is going on is truly evil but I do not think they set out to kill people, it is just that they do not care. Their only concern is to stay in power and enrich themselves and to turn people into terrified, compliant subjects. Some public killing is useful for that, of course. It frightens the rest.

“They have broken the confidence of the people. If you speak out, it is seen as odd, even mad, for there is a brotherhood of silence.

Please read it all.

NPR on Book Banning in Iran

I have previously discussed the widespread banning of books in Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For a good overview of Ahmadinejad's war on book publishing, listen to the streaming audio of this report from the January 6th broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition. Thanks to long-time reader Davette Zinik for the link.

Monday, January 08, 2007

ALA's Book Burning Blindspot

Freadom has the text of a letter from Steve Marquardt, on the refusal of ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) to acknowledge the Cuban regime's documented burning of books seized from independent libraries. As he notes, OIF's web page on book burning in the 21st century still contains no mention of this occurrence in spite of the evidence he lays out in his letter:

Reputable and objective verification does exist in the total of 151 direct references to Cuba's sentencing documents in the comprehensive reports published by Amnesty International (click here) and the Organization of American States (click here). The details are in the attachment.

This issue is important to the reputation of our profession and the integrity of our Association. Reasonable people can differ about the legitimacy of Cuban laws allegedly violated by persons operating independent libraries and accepting information materials from the US Interests Section in Havana, but if government-ordered burning of thousands of "subversive" books is not worthy of mention, then our professional association has indeed turned a new ethical corner.

(URLs replaced by text links-DD)

Please visit Freadom and read all of Steve's letter to find out what you can do.

Unfortunately, this is not the only issue where OIF has turned a blind eye to documented cases of book burning. For example, the page on 20th century book burning has no reference to the public burning of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses by radical Muslims in the UK in 1988 and 89.

Sadly, it seems that the contents of OIF's book burning pages is yet another example where politics has trumped the principle of defending intellectual freedom.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mugabe Moves to Silence Dissent

There are disturbing signs that Zimbabwe's despotic ruler, Robert Mugabe, is moving to silence all remaining prominent voices of dissent in that beleaguered country. According to The Guardian, he is moving to close Zimbabwe's two remaining independent newspapers:

Robert Mugabe's government has moved to close Zimbabwe's remaining independent press by stripping newspaper owner Trevor Ncube of his citizenship.

The action against the publisher comes as Mr Mugabe, 82 and president for 26 years, pushes for an extension to his term of office by a further two years. Frustrated by unprecedented resistance from within his Zanu-PF party, he appears to be trying to silence all of his critics.

Yesterday an outspoken opponent, Lovemore Madhuku, accused the police of failing to investigate a fire at his home, which he said was arson. "It is very clear that the government is trying to silence all critical voices, including Trevor Ncube and his newspapers, and me. We are all opposed to Mugabe's attempts to extend his rule to 2010," said Madhuku, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

Senior government officials said Mr Ncube, the publisher of two weeklies, the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard, was not entitled to Zimbabwean citizenship because his father was Zambian.

Zimbabwe's strict media laws require newspapers to be owned by Zimbabwean citizens. If the Mugabe government succeeds in withdrawing Mr Ncube's citizenship, it is expected to swiftly close his two papers, which are staunch critics of Mr Mugabe's policies.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Mugabe's thugs tried to murder a leading pro-democracy activist along with his family:

Lovemore Madhuku's home was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning when it was doused with gasoline and set alight with his family sleeping inside.

The smoke awoke the family who managed to escape and to put out the flames before they got out of hand.

The National Constitutional Assembly alleges this is the third attempt on Mr Madhuku's life in four years.

Madock Chivasa, the spokesman for the NCA which lobbies for political reform, said the attack came as the organisation was mobilising supporters to resist the extension of President Robert Mugabe's term in office by two years.

"The attack on Dr Madhuku should be seen as an attempt to break the resilience of Zimbabweans in their struggle to build a democratic, free and just society based on a people driven democratic constitution," he said in a statement.

I hope that Dr. Madhuku and the people of Zimbabwe succeed in their struggle, but I must admit I'm not optimistic.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Unruly Kids @Your Library

The January 2nd New York Times had a good article on what has become a major issue for many libraries: disruptive and unruly behavior by children. They cite the example of one New Jersey community:

Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly.

Others, library officials say, fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked. One recently threatened to burn down the branch library. Librarians call the police, sometimes twice a day.

As a result, starting on Jan. 16, the Maplewood Memorial Library will be closing its two buildings on weekdays from 2:45 to 5 p.m., until further notice.

An institution that, like many nationwide, strives to attract young people, even offering beading and cartooning classes, will soon be shutting them out, along with the rest of the public, at one of the busiest parts of its day.

The article points out the way many parents treat their local library as a de facto day care center:

Librarians and other experts say the growing conflicts are the result of an increase in the number of latchkey children, a decrease in civility among young people and a dearth of “third places” — neither home nor school — where kids can be kids.

“We don’t consider the world as safe a place as it used to be, and we don’t encourage children to run around, hang around and be free,” said Judy Nelson, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, part of the American Library Association. “So you have parents telling their kids that the library is a good place to go.”

Rowland Bennett, who served as the director of the Maplewood Memorial Library for 30 years and is now president of the local school board, said libraries had become “the child care center by necessity.”

The piece also includes comments from a librarian/professor whose view is summarized as "the students want only to be treated like everybody else." I'm sorry, but this is nonsense. My institution, even though it's an academic library, tries to serve the broader community and has had to deal with unruly teenagers and younger children. We tried to be as accomodating as we could, and in return had any number of instances where kids acted out just because they could. We were finally forced to adopt an age restriction policy (no unaccompanied children below the age of 14).

After reading the article, and based on my own experiences, I can't fault the Maplewood Memorial Library for its decision. While sadly it hurts those children who do use the library to read and to learn, it will hopefully also force the community to address the real problem: the unwillingness of some parents to take responsibility for their children and who instead expect librarians to act as babysitters.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Iranian Censorship Watch

One thing that hasn't changed in this new year is the war on intellectual freedom waged by Iran's Islamist autocracy. For example, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty brings word that an Iranian musician has been sentenced to two years in prison for playing music deemed insulting to Islam:

A colleague said Habib Meftah Bushehri was convicted in connection with a performance in France in 2006, during which their group, Shanbezadeh, played religious music.

Band leader Saeed Shanbezadeh told Radio Farda in an interview from Paris that the court issued its sentence after viewing a recording of the performance.

"The judge's interpretation is that our work is an insult to sanctities because we played [the southern Iranian city of] Bushehr's religious music," Shanbezadeh said. "The religious music of Bushehr is some of the strongest and most beautiful music in southern Iran; it's an important part of our culture. I'm surprised that someone can issue such a verdict."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Also from RFE/RL comes a bit of good news: the two Iranian web site editors arrested last week have been released. Unfortunately, the same article also reports the following:

Meanwhile, Iran's Culture Ministry has announced that as of January 1 all Iran-based websites and blogs must register their Internet address with the ministry.

The announcement has led to protests among media rights activists, who see it as an attempt by the authorities to tighten their control of the Internet.

The spokesman of the Tehran-based Society To Defend Press Freedom, Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, has described the move as a violation of Iran's consitution.

The web site Boing Boing provides additional confirmation of the registration requirement (link via Instapundit).

Overall, the status of free expression in Iran continues to be grim.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Weeding the Classics

Stephen Denney notes that the public library system in Fairfax County, VA is weeding unread classics in favor of popular literature. A Washington Post article quoted by Stephen explains the library's decision as follows:

"Public libraries have always weeded out old or unpopular books to make way for newer titles. But the region's largest library system is taking turnover to a new level.

"Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library bookshelves -- and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone -- even if they are classics..."

On the one hand, I understand why Fairfax County is following this path. Space is a major concern for most libraries. Plus, in the online age, when all too many think that everything is available on Google and libraries are no longer needed, public libraries in particular are under tremendous pressure to show their continued relevance. Hence the desire to keep only the most heavily used items in their collections and try to bring in as many patrons as possible. Finally, Fairfax patrons can still obtain almost any book using Interlibrary Loan. As print on demand technology becomes available, this will become even less of an issue.

Still, I think John J. Miller has a point in his essay from Wednesday's Wall Street Journal when he decries the tendency for libraries to adopt the Barnes & Noble model:

Instead of embracing this doomed model, libraries might seek to differentiate themselves among the many options readers now have, using a good dictionary as the model. Such a dictionary doesn't merely describe the words of a language--it provides proper spelling, pronunciation and usage. New words come in and old ones go out, but a reliable lexicon becomes a foundation of linguistic stability and coherence. Likewise, libraries should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends.

The particulars of this task will fall upon the shoulders of individual librarians, who should welcome the opportunity to discriminate between the good and the bad, the timeless and the ephemeral, as librarians traditionally have done. They ought to regard themselves as not just experts in the arcane ways of the Dewey Decimal System, but as teachers, advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance.

For better or worse, the move from "just in case" to "just in time" library collections is well underway. While libraries have successfully adopted elements of the bookstore model, it is important that we not lose sight of what makes libraries unique. We need to maintain our ability to educate and empower as well as entertain.

Article 301 Strikes Again

The BBC reported recently that four members of the Turkish publishing industry were acquitted of the charge that they violated Turkey's infamous Article 301:

Publisher Fatih Tas was found not guilty, along with a translator and two editors, of contravening article 301 of the penal code.

The European Union has pressed Turkey to reform the code, which it views as a bar on freedom of expression.

It followed the acquittal of another author, Ipek Calislar, on Tuesday.

Ms Calislar had been accused of insulting modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, by writing that he had once fled disguised as a woman.

The law has also been used against dozens of writers and journalists, including acclaimed novelists Orhan Pamuk - this year's Nobel laureate for literature - and Elif Shafak.

Most have been acquitted.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The text of Article 301, according to Amnesty International, is as follows:

"1. Public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.

2. Public denigration of the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security structures shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.

3. In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.

4. Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime."

Turkey needs to repeal Article 301 if it wants to be taken seriously as a free society.

Human Rights in 2006

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty offers a year-end review of human rights in Eurasia. Unfortunately, it's not a pretty picture:

From the fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, and Afghanistan to repression in Uzbekistan, Iran, and Belarus, the news on the human rights front in 2006 was often grim.

The observance of human rights deteriorated in 2006 as a result of conflicts and political repression. In Central Asia, human rights continued to come under attack.

World: 2006 A Hard Year In Human Rights

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Soccer 1, Jihadists 0

The Jerusalem Post, citing a report (PDF) by the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM), notes that radical Islamist efforts to turn Muslims against soccer are failing miserably:

The paper, entitled "The Ball Is Not Always Round," chronicles how little clout extremist Muslim forces have in the face of soccer's popularity. At the grassroots level, women's soccer is even thriving in the face of extremists' repression in Zanzibar and Sudan.

Terdman says that soccer serves women there "as a tool by which to challenge the radical Islamists."

He also notes that opposition to the fatwa exists even on online radical Islamic forums, and cites one man's post on such a forum: "I am an extremist, but I find no problem in watching the matches. Your calls to boycott the World Cup are doomed to fail."

I can think of few things that better illustrate the totalitarian fanaticism of the jihadists then their futile struggle to purge Muslim lands of the world's most popular sport.