Friday, August 31, 2007

China's Cyber Police

Agence France Presse reports that China is taking its online surveillance to a whole new level:

Virtual police officers will soon begin visible patrols on Chinese Internet sites to warn surfers they are being monitored, Beijing authorities said in comments published Wednesday.

The images of the "Beijing Internet Police," one male and one female, dressed in uniform and saluting, will from Saturday start popping up every 30 minutes on computer screens run by 13 major portals based in the Chinese capital.

The cyber cops will be on the look out for Web sites and Internet activities that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling, fraud, and pornography, the China Daily said, citing Beijing's public security bureau.

"It is our duty to wipe out information that does public harm, and disrupts social order," the bureau's deputy chief of Internet surveillance, Zhao Hongzhi, was quoted as saying.

(Emphasis added-DD)

I think that last quote pretty much speaks for itself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wordpress Banned in Turkey at Behest of Islamic Creationist

When I first blogged about Islamic creationism, I thought the topic merely offered a different twist on the whole creationism debate here in the US. Unfortunately, it turns out that Islamic creationism is anything but harmless. Ali Eteraz, in an August 20 web commentary for the Guardian, explains why:

The San Francisco based million-blogger strong blogging platform Wordpress was recently informed by the legal representative of Turkish writer Harun Yahya that under orders from a Turkish court "access to has been blocked in Turkey." The letter listed a number of "defamation" blogs - "all" of which make allegedly "slanderous" remarks against Harun Yahya. This ban is significant for the larger ripple it casts in Turkey's new Islamist democracy.

Harun Yahya is the author of the glossy Islamic creationist volume mentioned in my previous posts. In his column, Eteraz provides some disturbing details about Yahya's earlier writings:

Harun Yahya, which is the pen-name of Adnan Oktar, is a sort of spiritual head of a vast Islamic apologist outfit in Turkey, which has reached Islamic publishers in London, Canada and the US. Though Harun Yahya is described as a "charlatan", he has made inroads with Muslims all the way from Indonesia to America.

His books cover topics including refutations of atheism and Darwinism, romanticism as a weapon of Satan, anti-evolution pseudo-science, affirmation of miracles, and attacks on Freemasonry, Zionists, Buddhists, and terrorism (Darwin's fault). In 1996, Harun Yahya published a book called Holocaust Lies (also called Holocaust Deception), which claimed that "what is presented as Holocaust is the death of some Jews due to the typhus plague during the war and the famine towards the end of the war caused by the defeat of the German." Oddly, a few years later, he pinned anti-semitism on "neo-paganism" and "Darwinism" while putting himself forward as a denouncer of anti-semitism. Additionally, Yahya denies writing Holocaust Lies, but that is hard to believe.

According to Eteraz, Yahya is trying a silence a Wordpress-hosted blog run by one of his critics. The Turkish courts obliged him by blocking access to all of Wordpress and its more than one million blogs. Unfortunately, this is not Yahya's first attempt at censorship. Eteraz points out on his blog that Yahya has tried at least once before to have a web site that criticized him banned.

Even more worryingly, Yahya's efforts at censorship are the continuation of a longstanding effort by Islamic creationists in Turkey to silence their critics. An article in the May 5, 2005 issue of an independent Kansas City newspaper called The Pitch details this campaign by Yahya's organization, the BAV:

Turkey is a secular country that aspires to join the European Union and boasts several institutions of higher learning on a par with good Western universities. But beginning in 1998, BAV spearheaded an effort to attack Turkish academics who taught Darwinian theory. Professors there say they were harassed and threatened, and some of them were slandered in fliers that labeled them "Maoists" for teaching evolution. In 1999, six of the professors won a civil court case against BAV for defamation and were awarded $4,000 each.

But seven years after BAV's offensive began, says Istanbul University forensics professor Umit Sayin (one of the slandered faculty members), the battle is over.

"There is no fight against the creationists now. They have won the war," Sayin tells the Pitch from his home in Istanbul. "In 1998, I was able to motivate six members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences to speak out against the creationist movement. Today, it's impossible to motivate anyone. They're afraid they'll be attacked by the radical Islamists and the BAV."

(Emphasis added-DD; link via Eteraz's article)

The most disturbing thing about this case is not Yahya's desire to silence his critics; it is that the Turkish government is willing to act as his personal web censor. Combined with Turkey's recent election of an Islamist president, and other troubling incidents, the banning of Wordpress could potentially be the harbinger of a dangerous period for free expression in that country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three Heroic Women

Courtesy of Irshad Manji's site, here's an interesting story from Saturday's Times of India discussing Irshad and two other female Muslim dissidents:

The attack on Taslima Nasreen again highlights how Islam is being hijacked by extremists. Ashwin Ahmad profiles three women who, despite death threats, are fighting for change.

Fighting the Fanatics

Monday, August 27, 2007

What Censorship Doesn't Look Like reports that film director Frank Darabont has officially filed for intellectual bankruptcy:

It's a rabidly anti-intellectual world — a world in which literature is destroyed or otherwise censored; the intellectually curious are chastised and punished to the point of distraction by nonstop, insipid programming; and meaningful knowledge and interpersonal relationships are shunted in favor of empty propaganda and personal apathy.

Welcome to Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," where "fireman" Guy Montag burns books while prosecuting, and in one instance killing, those who cling to them.

Welcome to President Bush's America, said director Frank Darabont, a culture that proves that there is more than one way to burn a book.

"There's always somebody who's trying to take away your right to think for yourself or express yourself and call you unpatriotic if you don't believe their bullsh--. That's what's going on now," Darabont asserted at last month's Comic-Con (see "Comic-Con '07: Big News On 'Iron Man,' 'Watchmen,' 'Star Trek,' 'Spidey 4' Amid Carnival Atmosphere"). "Our democracy is tottering on its last thread right now, and people don't really notice because, as Ray Bradbury predicted 50 years ago, they're too frightened or they're too distracted to notice.

" 'Fahrenheit 451' is more relevant today than [when] it was published 50 years ago," he continued. "George Bush has made this the most relevant piece of literature ever written."

(Emphasis added-DD; link via Norm Geras)

Welcome to the most idiotic utterance ever made by someone in Hollywood (and that is saying something). For one thing, Darabont might want to check with the guy who actually wrote Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury insists that the book is not about censorship, and in fact has been quoted as saying that "we've never had censorship in this country".

Still, Darabont has a point about the systematic crushing of dissent in George Bush's America. You should have seen the book burning we had outside the Greenville Barnes & Noble yesterday afternoon. Oh wait, that's a figment of the imagination, just like the alternate reality that Frank Darabont apparently lives in. In the reality the rest of us inhabit, you will find no shortage of anti-Bush books at the Greenville Barnes & Noble, let alone magazines and newspapers. If they don't have the specific volume that you're looking for, you can easily order it online, or go to a bookstore in the Triangle, where the selection of Bush-hating books is even more impressive. If you're not the book type, you can go on the web and browse any of the countless thousands of anti-Bush blogs and web sites. Or you can go to the cinema and be treated to a number of films "exposing" the alleged evils of the Bush Administration's efforts to combat radical Islamism. Finally, if you want to stay home, finding anti-Bush sentiments on television is about as easy a task as there is. Being anti-Bush is not only acceptable; it is fashionable; and in environments such as librarianship and academia, expected. To put it another way, Bush hatred is the new black.

In short, only an idiot could claim that free expression is under threat from the Bush Administration and its supporters.

Civil liberties scholar and Bush Administration critic Geoffrey Stone makes this point quite clearly:

So, we should consider recent events in context. The legislation amending FISA is unwarranted, reckless and possibly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the overall state of civil liberties in the US, viewed in historical perspective, is surprisingly strong. There are no internment camps for American Muslims, no suspensions of habeas corpus for American citizens, no laws prohibiting criticism of the war in Iraq. This might not seem like much, but in light of past episodes, the intrusions on civil liberties since 9/11 have been relatively modest.

Sadly, though, Mr. Darabont is far from alone in his detachment from reality. Naomi Wolf, for example, has a new book coming out called The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Just how does Ms. Wolf think the "end of America" will come about? Because Darth Cheney and the Bushitler are taking us straight down the road to Fascism. In a terrific essay in the September 3 Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery summarizes Wolf's argument as follows:

...In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to "Fascist America" and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created "a prison system outside the rule of law" (Guantánamo, to which public dissidents, including "clergy and journalists" will be sent "soon enough"); developed "a thug caste .  .  . groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens" (young Republican staffers who supposedly "menaced poll workers" during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an "internal surveillance system" (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: "Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable .  .  . that it can happen here."

Emery then goes on to point out the very slight flaws in Wolf's case:

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress; Valerie Plame is rich and famous; the young Republican "thugs" made all of one appearance seven years ago--chanting "Let us in!" when Miami-Dade County vote counters planned to move to a small inner room with no observers present; and press censorship is now so far-reaching that you can't even expose a legal, effective, and top-secret plan to trace terrorists without getting a Pulitzer Prize. "What if the publisher of a major U.S. newspaper were charged with treason or espionage?" Wolf asks breathlessly. "What if he or she got 10 years in jail?" Well, journalists have been harassed, pressed for their sources, and threatened with prison, but not by George W. Bush and his people. Back in the real world, only one prominent journalist has been jailed by the federal government in recent memory, and that was Judith Miller, imprisoned for 80-plus days for contempt by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the great hero of the anti-Bush forces for having indicted Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

Finding the right balance between liberty and security during wartime, especially an asymmetric conflict against a transnational terrorist foe, is a serious issue that merits serious discussion. The Bush Administration is far from being above criticism. However, ridiculous paranoia of the kind peddled by Darabont and Wolf does not add to such a dialogue. Whatever mistakes the Bush Administration has made, it is not imposing fascism, censoring its critics, or crushing dissent. To argue that is has done any of these things is to display either a mind boggling detachment from reality or a shocking level of intellectual dishonesty.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Capitulation in China

Agence France Presse reports yet another cave-in by American corporations involved in China's Internet:

US Internet giants Yahoo and MSN confirmed Friday they had signed a code of conduct for their blogging operations in China that committed them to protecting the interests of the Chinese state.

Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN, and other blog providers in China this week signed the "self-discipline" pact, under which they pledged to "safeguard state and public interests," according to a statement from the China Internet Society.

The pact "encourages" the Internet firms to register the real names, addresses, and other personal details of the bloggers, and then keep this information.

The firms also committed to delete any "illegal or bad messages," according to a copy of the pact posted on the society's Web site.

Along with sex and violence, China's communist rulers have also deemed that opinions critical of it or the spreading of democratic ideology are not allowed.

(Emphasis added-DD)

PC World has more on this story. According to their account, Microsoft regards the pact as a set of "recommendations", not all of which they agree with or have to abide by. We'll see if Microsoft shows any willingness to stand up to Chinese authorities.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hipsters Redux

In light of the recent wave of publicity concerning hipster librarians, I thought I would bring your attention to Hot Air's superb coverage of the 2007 Hipster Olympics. Watch it, if a suitable feeling of detached irony strikes you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Exposing the Peace Racket

I posted a couple days ago on the efforts of the US military to enlist academic experts in support of counterinsurgency warfare. As I noted at the end of that post, one of the main obstacles to such efforts has been the widespread anti-military sentiment among left-leaning college and university social science faculty.

One manifestation of such attitudes is discussed by Bruce Bawer in an essay for the Summer 2007 issue of City Journal. In his article, Bawer looks at the burgeoning field of "peace studies". There is, of course, nothing wrong with the objective study of nonviolence and conflict resolution. However, the "peace racket" as Bawer calls it, is rooted in a worldview that sees America and the West as the source of all the world's problems. Thus, the United States is an evil, morally compromised oppressor that has no right to use military force under almost any circumstances:

The Peace Racket maintains that the Western world’s profound moral culpability, arising from its history of colonialism and economic exploitation, deprives it of any right to judge non-Western countries or individuals. Further, the non-West has suffered so much from exploitation that whatever offenses it commits are legitimate attempts to recapture dignity, obtain justice, and exact revenge. Have Third World terrorists taken Americans hostage? Don’t call the hostages innocent victims. After all, as Americans, they’re complicit in a system that has long inflicted “structural violence” (or “structural terrorism”) upon the Third World poor. Donald Rothberg of San Francisco’s Saybrook Institute explains: “In using the term ‘structural violence,’ we identify phenomena as violent that are not usually seen as violent. For example, Western economic domination.”

It is this mind-set that leads peace professors to accuse the U.S. of “state terrorism,” to call George W. Bush “the world’s worst terrorist,” and even to characterize those murdered in the Twin Towers as oppressors who, by working at investment banks and brokerage houses, were ultimately responsible for their own deaths. Barash and Webel, for instance, write sympathetically of “frustrated, impoverished, infuriated people . . . who view the United States as a terrorist country” and for whom “attacks on American civilians were justified” because one shouldn’t distinguish “between a ‘terrorist state’ and the citizens who aid and abet that state.” They also approvingly quote Osama bin Laden’s claim that for many “disempowered” people, “Americans are the worst terrorists in the world”—thereby inviting students to consider Osama a legitimate spokesperson for the “disempowered.” Speaking at a memorial concert on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, George Wolfe of Ball State University’s peace studies program suggested that we “reflect on what we as Americans may have done or not done, to invoke such extreme hatred.” The Kroc Institute’s David Cortright agrees: “We must ask ourselves . . . what the United States has done to incur such wrath.”

In short, it’s America that is the wellspring of the world’s problems. In the peace studies world, America’s role as the beacon of opportunity for generations of immigrants is mocked, its defense of freedom in World War II and the cold war is reinterpreted to its discredit, and every major postwar atrocity (the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan) is ignored, minimized, or—as with 9/11—blamed on the U.S. itself.

Essentially, as Bawer lays out in detail, "peace studies" is not an objective field of academic study, but rather a form of radical social activism rooted in a sense of national self-loathing, and designed to oppose any use of American military power, regardless of circumstance. As Theodore Dalrymple puts it (via Norm Geras):

If you believe that the history of your culture is nothing but a catalogue of horror, massacre and the oppression of others, then you will not be very assiduous in its defence once it comes under concerted attack.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Iran's Unhappy "Journalists' Day"

On August 10, Iranian media outlets commemorated the 9th anniversary of "Journalists' Day. Unfortunately, as Radio Farda reports, Iranian journalists have precious little to celebrate:

Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, a spokesman for Iran's press freedom organization, says the threats and problems have hurt the process of free publishing in Iran. He says the "deadly mines" are behind journalists' job insecurity.

In an interview with Radio Farda, Shamsolvaezin says journalism is among the most perilous professions in Iran today, and offers no job security. He adds that while the government last year revoked bans on some Iranian publications, it is very reluctant to issue new licenses.

About 3,000 people are currently waiting for approval of their license applications. Moreover, the Judiciary Committee to Oversee Publications and Journals has shut down more than 12 publications in the past year.

Shamsolvaezin says that in the last Iranian year, 1,200 journalists lost their jobs, joining the ranks of 2,800 journalist unemployed since 2000. He says that during that same year, 20 journalists have been summoned to court and jailed on security charges.

Shamsolvaezin says many of the unemployed journalists have been forced to leave the country and live in exile. Others have switched to "a safer profession." He adds that some journalists also accept the "red lines and turn to self-censorship in order to be able to pursue their profession."

Monday, August 20, 2007

When Academics go to War

No, this does not refer to a certain geeky librarian/citizen soldier. At least not for about a year. Rather, this post refers to a piece published last Friday by the Wall Street Journal, about the efforts of General David Petraeus to utilize the cultural expertise of scholars in support of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Marcus Griffin is not a soldier. But now that he cuts his hair "high and tight" like a drill sergeant's, he understands why he is being mistaken for one. Mr. Griffin is actually a professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. His austere grooming habits stem from his enrollment in a new Pentagon initiative, the Human Terrain System. It embeds social scientists with brigades in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they serve as cultural advisers to brigade commanders.

Mr. Griffin, a bespectacled 39-year-old who speaks in a methodical monotone, believes that by shedding some light on the local culture-- thereby diminishing the risk that U.S. forces unwittingly offend Iraqi sensibilities--he can improve Iraqi and American lives. On the phone from Fort Benning, two weeks shy of boarding a plane bound for Baghdad, he describes his mission as "using knowledge in the service of human freedom."

The Human Terrain System is part of a larger trend: Nearly six years into the war on terror, there is reason to believe that the Vietnam-era legacy of mistrust--even hostility--between academe and the military may be eroding.

The author, Evan R. Goldstein, does a good job of describing these initiatives. He also points out the unfortunate truth that the idea of supporting an American war effort remains anathema to many in academia:

So will these instances of cooperation be enduring? Do they represent the harbinger of a more pervasive reconsideration of Vietnam-era pieties in academe? Hard to say. But it somehow seems significant that no less an archetype of Vietnam-era agitation than Tom Hayden emerged last month to raise the dusty banner of anti-military antagonism. In an essay posted on the Web site of the Nation magazine, he attacked Ms. Sewall for collaborating with Gen. Petraeus on the new manual, which he dismissed as "an academic formulation to buttress and justify a permanent engagement in counter-terrorism wars" that "runs counter to the historic freedom of university life."

It is probably too much to ask of Mr. Hayden and those that share his worldview that they acknowledge that our Islamist adversaries, who destroy schools and murder intellectuals, are thoroughly committed to the destruction of the "historic freedom of university life". Instead, like many on the left, Hayden and company are wedded to the principle of opposing evil Amerikkka regardless of circumstances. Thus, it is not the Islamists who burn books and murder authors who threaten academic freedom; it is American efforts to fight back that are the problem.

A profound ignorance of, and contempt for, the American military is one of the main symptoms of the left's near stranglehold on academia. Let us hope that the efforts outlined by Mr. Goldstein succeed in both defeating the Islamists and changing the anti-military climate among many university faculties.

Portrait of an Exiled Cuban Author

The German literary web site Sign and Sight (newly blogrolled, BTW) has a fascinating article on exiled Cuban author Amir Valle. Now living in Germany, Valle's specialty is crime fiction. The article describes how Valle's commitment to artistic and intellectual integrity over loyalty to the Castro regime led to his involuntary exile:

In 2002 came the first caesura: Culture Minister Abel Prieto warned publishers to be careful in their dealings with Valle at a national meeting. At the time Valle was working for the Puerto Rican publisher Plaza Mayor, supervising their Cuban collection. But as the company belonged to Patricia Menoyo, the daughter of a well-known Cuban opposition figure, Valle was considered suspect, despite the prizes received by his literary work. The trained journalist first heard of the Culture Minister's thunderbolt through a publisher, and - as opposed to many of his colleagues - took the offensive, immediately writing to Abel Prieto asking him for a statement on his comments. He never received an answer. Not one to shy away from a conflict situation, Valle made no secret of his views abroad, at home, and to the political establishment, openly declaring his solidarity with Raul Rivero Castaneda, the poet and journalist who was arrested in 2003 and given a stiff prison sentence, and who now lives in Spain.

In Cuba this was a taboo, and Valle intentionally transgressed it. The place of an intellectual is on the side of the government. In going against this dictate, he placed himself squarely in the opposition, Valle admits. Yet he never dreamed he would be barred from returning home, and he harbours firm intentions of going back to his stepson in the apartment on the Calle Rayo. His own son, the six year old Lior, has long joined his father in Germany. Valle wrote to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian friend of Fidel Castro, as well as to Cuban intellectuals and politicians, threatening an international scandal if his son was not allowed to leave. A few days later Valle's father in Havana received the papers necessary for the boy's departure. The permit is limited to two years, after which Valle too hopes to be allowed to return. Until then he wants to put the time to good use by writing - also about his experience with the Cuban revolution: yet another taboo Valle has no bones about breaking.

Hopefully, the day will come soon when Mr. Valle is free to both travel to his homeland and write about any topic he chooses.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

An "Unlimited" Bounty on Taslima Nasreen

The Hindustan Times reported Friday on the latest development in the Taslima Nasreen situation:

A week after Muslim fundamentalists assaulted Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad, some Muslim leaders here revived an old fatwa against her, telling her to leave the country and offering an unlimited amount of money to anybody who would kill her.

SM Noorur Rehman Barkati, Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan mosque, and leaders of the Majlish Banchao Tanjim (MBT) made the announcement during Friday prayers. “If she does not leave within a month, she will face dire consequences. We have also asked the government not to renew her visa and deport her,” MBT spokesperson Majid Ullah Khan said. The MBT is a breakaway group of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which had attacked the author in Hyderabad.

Imam Barkati pointed out that the fatwa was an extension of the one issued in 1993 after the release of Lajja. But unlike the current fatwa, the earlier one promised had Rs 1 lakh to anyone who would assault or kill the author.

“Taslima has spoken against Islam and Prophet Muhammad and we will go to any extent to eliminate her,” Khan said. He added that the MBT would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to demand Taslima’s ouster.

(Emphasis added-DD; see also Jihad Watch)

To her credit, Ms. Nasreen remains undeterred by the Islamist campaign of violence and intimidation directed against her. In fact, the Hindustan Times noted today, she is even working on a sequel to the novel that earned her the original fatwa:

"Sharam, the sequel of Lajja (Shame), has the principal characters of the first novel who came over to India from Bangladesh in 1993 and is set in the backdrop here," Taslima told PTI.

Lajja, which drew attention to the torture of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, raised the hackles of Muslim clerics and was banned by the Bangladesh government.

Terming her detractors as proponents of "irrational blind faith," Taslima, who has been living in exile for 12 years and whose Bangladeshi passport stands revoked, said "they are averse to a rationale logical mind."

In another bit of good news, the Indian government, in defiance of Islamist threats, officially extended Ms. Nasreen's guest visa by 6 months on Saturday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Don't Take my Word for it

ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom statement about Alms for Jihad can now be found on the OIF blog.

Update: 8-19-07: Try going to the main OIF blog page to avoid the really retarded error message (BTW, this is not the only linking site that's getting this message). You would think that people committed to intellectual freedom wouldn't have a problem with others linking to their blog. Then again, this is ALA we're talking about.

Also, Peter Scott reports that Cambridge University Press has contacted US libraries about removing the book (link via The Counterterrorism Blog).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Saving Islam Through Critical Thinking

Irshad Manji, writing on the Washington Post web site, calls on her fellow Muslims to return to the Islamic tradition of ijtihad to save their religion from the totalitarian fanaticism of the Islamists:

Ijtihad has a history of achievement. In the early centuries of Islam, 135 schools of interpretation flourished. In Muslim Spain, scholars would teach their students to abandon "expert" opinions about the Qur’an if their conversations with the living, breathing Qur’an produced better evidence for their peaceful ideas. And Cordoba, one of the most sophisticated cities in Muslim Spain, housed 70 libraries. That rivals the number of public libraries in most cosmopolitan cities today!

From the 8th to the 12th centuries, the "gates of ijtihad" — of discussion, debate and dissent — remained wide open. This is also when Islamic civilization led the world in ingenuity. If ever we Muslims needed to renew our commitment to ijtihad, it is now. From the emerging generation, I continually hear this question: “Is there a way to reconcile our faith with freedom of thought?”

Yes, there is. The Qur’an contains three times as many verses calling on us to think than verses that tell us what is forbidden or acceptable. In that sense, re-interpretation – which means re-thinking Qur’anic passages, not re-writing them – is an Islamic responsibility. The Illinois-based Nawawi Foundation even describes it as a “religious duty of the first magnitude”.

That is why I and other young Muslims have launched Project Ijtihad, an effort to revive critical thinking in Islam by sparking honest debates both online and in person. As my story about the American imam shows, Muslims in the West are perfectly positioned to rediscover ijtihad. After all, it is in countries like the United States, Canada and Britain that we already enjoy precious freedoms to think, express, challenge and be challenged on matters of interpretation. What a precious gift.

But even if Project Ijtihad is launched from the West, it cannot stop in the West. People throughout the Islamic world need to know of their God-given right to think for themselves.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

ALA Statement on Alms for Jihad

ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom has issued a statement on the Alms for Jihad situation. The text of that statement was forwarded to the North Carolina Library Association listserv, and is reproduced below:

OIF is hearing from librarians who are wondering if they must comply with a request from British publisher Cambridge University Press to remove the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World from the shelves of their libraries.

Alms for Jihad is the subject of a British libel lawsuit brought by Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has filed several similar lawsuits to contest claims that the Saudi government has used Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Cambridge University Press chose to settle the suit rather than risk a large damage award at trial. Under the settlement, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pulp unsold copies and to ask libraries to return the book to the publisher or destroy the book. See "Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim," (Long URL deleted-DD; click here for text of article in question).

Critics claim that Mahfouz is attempting to silence critics by using British libel law. Unlike U.S. libel law, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms, and requires plaintiffs to prove that the statements about them are false, British law places the burden of proof on defendants, who must demonstrate the truth of their claims. See "Saudi terror, British Censorship," at

Unless there is an order from a U.S. court, the British settlement is unenforceable in the United States and libraries are under no legal obligation to return or destroy the book. Libraries are considered to hold title to the individual copy or copies, and it is the library's property to do with as it pleases. Given the intense interest in the book, and the desire of readers to learn about the controversy first hand, we recommend that U.S. libraries keep the book available for their users.

I give OIF full credit for doing the right thing in this case

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Iran's Online Crackdown

In the June 16 Washington Post, Robin Wright reported that "Iran is in the midst of a sweeping crackdown that both Iranians and U.S. analysts compare to a cultural revolution in its attempt to steer the oil-rich theocracy back to the rigid strictures of the 1979 revolution."

According to Wright, this "cultural revolution" involves the following:

The recent detentions of Iranian American dual nationals are only a small part of a campaign that includes arrests, interrogations, intimidation and harassment of thousands of Iranians as well as purges of academics and new censorship codes for the media. Hundreds of Iranians have been detained and interrogated, including a top Iranian official, according to Iranian and international human rights groups.

The move has quashed or forced underground many independent civil society groups, silenced protests over issues including women's rights and pay rates, quelled academic debate, and sparked society-wide fear about several aspects of daily life, the sources said.

Both the New York Times and the BBC, among other media outlets, have confirmed this picture of a "cultural revolution" designed not merely to quash dissent, but to take Iran back to the even darker days of the Khomeini era.

Among the aspects of this second Islamic revolution are: the most intense crackdown on "immoral" female clothing in over a decade; persecution of dissident university students and professors; periodic shutting of opposition newspapers; imposing death sentences on journalists and other activists; and carrying out the first openly acknowledged execution by stoning in 5 years. As BBC correspondent Frances Harrison wrote in a July 7 dispatch for the BBC web site, "there is a sense of a widespread crackdown on the media."

An intensification of Iran's campaign of online censorship is an integral part of this "cultural revolution". As Radio Farda reported on July 24:

It is among the most familiar phrases to the roughly 8 million-11 million web surfers in Iran, the second-largest Internet user in the Middle East behind Israel.

"You Are Not Authorized To View This Page!"

More than 10 million websites are currently being "filtered" in Iran, according to the state Information Technology Company.

So worried is the regime by the prospect of its people enjoying unfettered access to the Internet, that in late 2006 it even stopped Iranian ISPs "from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (kbps) to homes and cafes."

Blogging is extremely popular in Iran, and has become one of the few outlets for relatively free expression. Unfortunately, the Iranian authorities have started to rectify this situation. It's not that blogging is no longer permitted in Iran; it's just that, as The Guardian noted on June 7, there's now one condition:

Want to start a blog in Iran? Then you'll have to register it with the government - which has recently begun to require that all bloggers register at, a site established by the ministry of culture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.

All you need do is give your personal information, including your blog's username and password - otherwise it will be filtered and blocked so that nobody in Iran, and perhaps outside too, will be able to access it. This has led to an outcry among many Iranian bloggers who consider the net an independent and free forum for expression.

Both the Radio Farda article and the Guardian piece point out that Iran's online community is fighting back against the regime's intensified cybercensorship. Many bloggers are refusing to register, while others are developing proxy software designed to evade the filters. Whether the Iranian autocracy can successfully suppress online dissent over the long term is the key question, with far reaching implications for the future of the Internet and of free expression whatever happens. In the meantime, the Guardian sums things up:

For clever users, filtering sounds pointless: thousands of proxy sites distribute the net's wider content to blogs or emails. But self-censorship is already affecting journalists, writers and intellectuals who fear prosecution.

Whether the bloggers can fare any better remains to be seen; but what's clear is that they are all there, trying, working away at the edges that let the rest of the world creep through to tell Iran what the rest of the world is thinking, saying and doing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraqi National Library Developments

ABC News reports on a troubling incident last week involving the Iraqi National Library:

Saad Eskander, who has run the library since 2003, said a group of armed Iraqi troops rushed the archive at gunpoint, smashing windows and doors and threatening staff and library guards.

The director pleaded with the troops to refrain from harming the library's document collection, which includes some of the most historic documents in the Arab world.

The troops held positions in the building for two days before leaving late Thursday, according to Eskander, who said he now fears the archive will be targeted by extremists who routinely attack Iraqi forces here.

"The entire archive is in jeopardy," Eskander said today.

The Iraqi forces reportedly used the library as an overwatch position from which to protect Shia pilgrims. According to ABC, the library's holdings were not damaged during the incident.

Library Journal has some additional background on this story. Basically, US forces have also entered the library on several occasions recently, and Dr. Eskander believes that these incidents gave Iraqi forces the green light to do the same. Dr. Eskander's main concern seems to be that the presence of Iraqi and coalition troops jeopardizes the neutrality of the library and makes it a possible target for terrorists and insurgents. I fully understand Dr. Eskander's concerns. Yet, at the same time, considering Al Qaeda's track record, I find it hard to believe they wouldn't target the library anyway if they thought they could pull it off.

Dr. Eskander's diary for July 2007 records an ugly confrontation with Iraqi soldiers, though not inside the library itself. Also, to provide some historical perspective, it's worth noting that Saddam's Special Republican Guards used the Iraqi National Museum as a fighting position in April 2003.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nasreen Update

According to, there is good news and bad news in the wake of last week's attack on Taslima Nasreen. The good news is that the Islamist thugs who attacked Ms. Nasreen are being charged for their brutal behavior. The bad news is that charges have also been filed against Ms. Nasreen for offending the sensibilities of Muslims:

Hyderabad City Police have booked a case against controversial Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasreen for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims. The Police have also sought the clearance from a court to file a case against Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen floor leader in Assembly Akbaruddin Owaisi for allegedly holding out threats to Taslima Nasreen if she visits Hyderabad again.

On Thursday, the city police had arrested three MIM legislators for their bid to attack Taslima Nasreen when she was in the city to release a Telugu translation of her controversial novel "Shodh."


On the same day, MIM floor leader Akbaruddin Owaisi had filed a complaint against Taslima Nasreen, alleging that she had hurt the sentiments of Muslim community with her writings and speeches against Islam, including Holy Prophet Mohammed.

Based on his complaint, the City Police booked a case against Taslima Nasreen under section 153 (A) of IPC for "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony." The case is under investigation.

The same article quotes Owaisi as allegedly backing away from his threat to murder Ms. Nasreen should she ever return to Hyderabad:

Akbaruddin Owaisi, who is in the eye of a storm after the TV news channels claimed that he held out threats to kill or behead Taslima Nasreen if she came to Hyderabad again, told, "I never said that we will kill her or behead her. This is all distortion. What I said is that there is a 'fatwa' against her. It is the responsibility of Muslims to abide by the fatwa and being a Muslim I will also abide by the fatwa."

There's one problem with this so-called denial: the fatwa in question calls for Ms. Nasreen to be murdered for her views about Islam. Therefore, saying that "I will also abide by the fatwa" is the same as threatening her life. Clearly, it is Owaisi who is engaged in distortion.

(Rediff link courtesy of Jihad Watch)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bibles Still Banned in Saudi Arabia

If you're still trying to decide on the best place to take a late summer vacation, Saudi Arabia wants your business. In fact, Middle East Times reports that the Saudi "supreme commission for tourism recently set a goal of 1.5 million visitors annually by 2020, and enacted changes to encourage tourism like longer-term and group visas." If you do decide to sample Saudi hospitality, however, be sure to leave your Bible at home. The Jerusalem Post explains why:

Despite a series of initiatives aimed at generating foreign tourism, the Saudi Arabian government continues to bar Jews and Christians from bringing items such as Bibles, crucifixes and Stars of David into the country and is threatening to confiscate them on sight, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

"A number of items are not allowed to be brought into the kingdom due to religious reasons and local regulations," declares the Web site of Saudi Arabian Airlines, the country's national carrier.

After informing would-be visitors that items such as narcotics, firearms and pornography may not be transported into the country, the Web site adds: "Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are also prohibited. These may include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols such as the Star of David, and others."

I eagerly await the onslaught of international criticism of the Saudi regime's Christophobia and Judeophobia.

The Wrong Response

A week ago Saturday, a young man was physically assaulted in the Netherlands. Normally, such an incident isn't really a global news story. However, in this particular case, the victim was an outspoken former Muslim, and this was not the first time he was attacked. Radio Netherlands has the details of the assault:

Ehsan Jami (pictured) was knocked to the ground and kicked by a group of three men: two young Moroccans and one Somali. During the incidents, his attackers called him a 'filthy homo' and 'filthy traitor'. Mr Jami's advisor, Afshin Ellian, later pointed out that it was not the first time he had been physically attacked:

"He's also been threatened before, attacked or beaten up, and he reported this to the police too. This is the third time."

Since the attack, Mr. Jami is now under 24 hour police protection. Unfortunately, as the Radio Netherlands story reports, he is not the only such individual under threat:

Afshin Ellian does not regard what happened to Mr Jami as an isolated incident. In his view, the climate of intolerance in the Netherlands has hardened in recent years, and he says that such incidents put him in mind of the atmosphere in places such as the country of his birth, Iran, or Pakistan:

"We ought never to forget that people like former Amsterdam councillor and current deputy minister Ahmed Aboutaleb and Amsterdam City Mayor Job Cohen have also been threatened, and you really can't accuse them of making any harsh statements against Islam. Many opinion-shapers and satirists are simply scared to death of writing anything about Islam."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Since the November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the Netherlands has been at the epicenter of radical Islamism's assault on free expression in Europe. Last week's attack on Mr. Jami was merely the latest example. In response to this incident, one right-wing Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders, has proposed banning the Quran. According to Middle East Times:

Wilders, who heads the far-right Freedom Party, which holds nine of the 150 seats in parliament, argued for the ban in a letter published in the De Volkskrant newspaper.

Wilders compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf and said that it has "no place in our constitutional state."

"I have been saying this for years: there is no such thing as a moderate Islam," he wrote, arguing that several chapters in the Koran called on Muslims "to oppress, persecute, or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents, and non-believers, to beat and rape women, and to establish an Islamic state by force."

Unfortunately, responding to Islamist censorship with counter-censorship is exactly the wrong approach. Even if you believe Mr. Wilders' interpretation of the Quran, banning it or any other book is absurd, counterproductive, and wrong. In addition, Mr. Wilders' inability to distinguish between Islam and Islamism, his conflation of those portions of the Quran cited by Islamists to justify their beliefs with the entirety of the Islamic belief system, simply plays into the hands of the latter. Finally, by attacking all Dutch Muslims, Mr. Wilders condemns the innocent along with the guilty and pushes moderates into the arms of the Islamists.

Make no mistake: European societies need to take a forthright stand in defense of free expression, including instances where Muslim sensibilities are offended. Censoring Muslims, or anyone else, however, makes a mockery of the principles we in the West are fighting to defend. The goal, instead, should be to prevent Islamists from forcibly censoring others, especially moderate and reformist Muslims. This is the point made in a recent interview by Dutch scholar Hans Jansen:

'I do not have a solution for the existing problems,' Jansen admits. 'I do think it is important that Muslim critics and ex- Muslims feel protected if they 'come out of the closet.'

At present they are afraid to come out. The repeated attacks on Ehsan Jami, who openly renounced Islam, demonstrates their fear is legitimate.'

'It would be a good start to arrest those who incite people to violence. Perhaps we should expel them from the country. Imprisoning them definitely does not solve anything.'

I agree with Jansen, as long as it is only direct incitement to violence that is at issue. The point of standing up to the Islamists is to defend free expression, not deny it.

Taslima Nasreen Attacked in India

Taslima Nasreen is a Bangladeshi feminist and author, who was forced to flee her native country in 1994 after radical Islamists demanded her death and the government brought criminal charges against her. Ms. Nasreen has since ended up in India, where Islamist groups periodically demand her expulsion or worse.

Unfortunately, the seriousness of the threats against Ms. Nasreen was shown on Thursday. As the BBC reports, Ms. Nasreen was attacked by an Islamist mob at a book launching:

Ms Nasreen was launching a Telugu language version of a novel at the press club in Hyderabad.

About 100 protesters, including three lawmakers, from the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party burst in, shouting that the author was "anti-Islam".

Ms Nasreen backed into a corner as objects rained down and she was threatened with a chair, witnesses said. One witness said Ms Nasreen was slapped.

She was protected by others at the meeting and was later taken to safety by police.

Officers detained the three lawmakers and a number of other protesters.

Ahmad Pasha Quadri, one of the lawmakers, said: "Our protest is against Taslima Nasreen because of her writings ridiculing Islam. We want the Indian government to send her back to Bangladesh."

(Emphasis added-DD)

According to Indian newspaper The Statesman, as quoted by Jihad Watch, the three MIM legislators are quite proud of their barbarous actions, and ready to resort to the extreme form of censorship if Ms. Nasreen dares come back to their city:

The Majlis Ittehadul Musilmeen today threatened to behead writer Ms Taslima Nasreen if she ever visited Hyderabad again. Three MIM legislators, who led the attack on Nasreen yesterday, were released on bail late last night. They were given a rousing reception by the MIM cadre in the Old City. “Muslims are proud of what our legislators and workers have done because we can never tolerate any insult to Prophet Mohammed”, MIM floor leader Mr Akbaruddin Owaisi said. “If she comes to the city again we will kill her”, MIM MLA Mr Afsar Khan said. He was one of the MLAs who led the attack. The AP Union of Working Journalists represented to the Speaker Mr KR Suresh Reddy to disqualify the three MIM legislators.

(Emphasis added-DD)

To be fair, the attack on Ms. Nasreen has been widely condemned, especially by other Muslims. Sadly, though, some of those critics coupled their condemnation with calls for Ms. Nasreen to be expelled from India:

Delhi Minorities Commission chairperson Kamal Farooqui said the incident was condemnable, specially as three MLAs were involved in it.

But, he said, the government should also ensure that Nasreen is not allowed to do or write anything which hurts the sentiments of Muslims.

"The government should immediately cancel her visa and make her go out of the country," he said, adding, "she should realise that this is not Bangladesh or Pakistan, but India where the sentiments of all communities are respected."

(Emphasis added-DD; link via Jihad Watch)

Unfortunately, Mr. Farooqui is not really that different from the MIM; he merely disagrees as to the most appropriate form of censorship. As long as the debate is about whether Taslima Nasreen should be murdered or merely deported, free expression will remain under threat.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hirsi Ali on Islam

Former Muslim turned secular feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has summarized her perspective on Islam in an interesting piece published on the Washington Post web site. Ms. Hirsi Ali's employer, the American Enterprise Institute, has made the essay available on their web site as well, and it's a thought provoking read:

On the issues of holy war (jihad), apostasy and the treatment of women, the Koran and Sunna are clear. It is the obligation of every Muslim to spread Islam to unbelievers first through dawa, or proselytizing, then through jihad, if the unbelievers refuse to convert. It is the obligation of the unbelievers to accept Islam. Exempted from this edict of conversion are the people of the book: Christians and Jews. Both peoples have a choice. They may adopt Islam and enjoy the same rights as other Muslims, or they may stick to their book and lead the life of a dhimmi (lower citizen). Legally, the rights of the dhimmi are not equal to those of a Muslim. For instance, a Muslim man may take a Jewish or Christian wife, but Jews and Christians are not allowed to marry Muslim women. If a Christian or a Jew kills a Muslim man, they should be killed immediately. In contrast, the blood of a Muslim should never be shed in recompense for the blood of Christians or Jews.

It is also the obligation of every Muslim to command virtue and forbid vice. Apostasy, the worst possible vice a Muslim can commit, should be punished by death. The punishment need not be carried out by a state, but can easily be enforced by civilians. When it is a question of Islamic law, justice is in the hands of every Muslim.

Please read the rest:

My View of Islam

Friday, August 03, 2007

Islamic Creationism Update

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article on the Islamic creationism phenomenon. The Monitor's analysis makes it clear that the campaign I referenced earlier involves far more than just publishing a single glossy book:

On a recent afternoon inside Istanbul's busiest subway station, a young man beckoned commuters into a subterranean "fossil exhibit" full of skulls and insects dating back millions of years.

But this was no mainstream scientific display. One colorful poster advertised the "myth" of the evolution of the horse. Another, displaying a flying pterodactyl, denounced the evolution of birds as "fake."

The display is one of many traveling shows put on by the Foundation for Scientific Research, an Islamic creationist group that has become a household name in Turkey. Now, the groups says it is distributing its books – published in 59 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Swahili, and Polish – to 80 countries.

"Turkey is now the headquarters of creationism in the Islamic World. This is no longer only Turkey's problem, it is now the problem of the whole civilized world," says Haluk Ertan, a professor of molecular biology at Istanbul University. He's one of a handful of Turkish scientists who have been working to counter creationism's spread in the country.

Emboldened by its success at home over the past decade, the foundation, known by its Turkish acronym BAV (for Bilim Arastirma Vakfi), is now aggressively trying to export its unique brand of Islamic creationism well beyond the borders of Turkey to the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States.

The Litigious Sheikh Strikes Again

It's a good thing my inner intel nerd compels me to buy almost every interesting book about radical Islamism that I come across, because the Chronicle reports (reproduced by Campus Watch) that my copy of Alms for Jihad has just become a collector's item:

Cambridge University Press announced this week that it would pulp all unsold copies of the 2006 book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, in response to a libel claim filed in England by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker. The book suggests that businesses and charities associated with Mr. Mahfouz financed terrorism in Sudan and elsewhere during the 1990s.

"Cambridge University Press now accepts that the entire bin Mahfouz family categorically and unreservedly condemns terrorism in all its manifestations," a lawyer for Mr. Mahfouz declared on Monday in a London courtroom.

During the court hearing, the publisher also promised to contact university libraries worldwide and ask them to remove the book from their shelves. It also agreed to pay "substantial damages" to Mr. Mahfouz. Representatives of both parties declined to tell The Chronicle how much money was involved in the settlement.

(Emphasis added-DD)

It's hard to overstate just how craven a decision by CUP this is. As the article notes, the authors of Alms for Jihad refused to endorse the agreement. Also, it's one thing for CUP to agree to remove the book from circulation, but asking libraries to pull the book is outrageous.

Unfortunately, this is just par for the course for bin Mahfouz, who is an old hand at using British libel actions to silence any questions about his possible role in jihadist fund raising:

This is at least the fourth book against which Mr. Mahfouz has successfully pursued a libel action. His Web site also lists settlements involving Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Pluto Press, 2001), by Michael Griffin, a freelance writer; Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002), by the French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié; and Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed -- and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 2003), by Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, a nonprofit organization in New York.

In an interview on Monday, Ms. Ehrenfeld characterized as "despicable" Cambridge's decision to settle this week, a move the press has defended as necessary and just. Ms. Ehrenfeld, who is a friend of Mr. Burr's, said that, as she understands it, press officials "caved immediately."

"They didn't even consider the evidence that the authors had given them," she said. "They received a threatening letter, and they immediately caved in and said, Do whatever it takes. Pay them whatever they want. Ban the book, destroy the book, we don't want this lawsuit."

Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of religion at Emory University who has her own experience with libel lawsuits (The Chronicle, April 12, 2000), sounded a similar note on her blog last week. Decrying Cambridge's decision to settle the Alms for Jihad case, she warned of a "pattern of silencing by the Saudis of authors who are critical of them."

The case involving Ms. Ehrenfeld is particularly outrageous, because her book wasn't even published in the UK. Instead, Mahfouz's lawyers argued that because British residents could purchase the book online, this alone was enough to invoke the UK's much stricter libel laws. Unfortunately, Ms. Ehrenfeld has so far been unsuccessful at getting American courts to provide legal redress for this attempt to use British law as a means of transnational censorship. If the courts won't step in to put a stop to this travesty, hopefully Congress will.