Friday, February 29, 2008

The Enforced Isolation of the Muslim World

In a recent column for the New York Post, exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri made some powerful observations about the efforts of Islamists to insulate the Muslim world from the spread of "infidel" ideas, or any form of free thought for that matter. With Osama bin Laden having openly called for the murder of "freethinkers and heretics" and Iran now amending its legal code to make apostasy a capital crime, intellectual freedom is truly under assault in many Islamic nations.

Taheri points out that this campaign to limit contact between Muslims and non-Muslims has had disastrous effects on both. It is a crucial part of the Islamist war on intellectual freedom, makes it easier for them to spread their totalitarian ideology and fosters the growth of anti-Muslim, as opposed to anti-Islamist, sentiment in the West. All of this aids radical Islamists in their quest to bring about a "clash of civilizations" that they believe will pave the way for their eventual triumph:

The closing of Muslim lands has many aspects. With a few worthy exceptions, there's more censorship in Muslim countries today than in the 1950s. The average movie buff can't see foreign films in a cinema where his grandparents viewed freely half a century ago.

And the number of Western novels translated into the languages of Muslim countries has also fallen - partly because translators and publishers fear having a fatwa issued against them. (The translator and publisher of the latest novel by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez face prison terms in Iran.)

Al Qaeda, the Khomeinists and other radical ideologies in contemporary Islam are concerned that direct people-to-people contact between Muslims and non-Muslims could contaminate "the true believers" with the same love of life and fear of death that they believe has doomed Western civilization to ultimate extinction.

As direct human contact between the two visions of existence declines, virtual contact through satellite TV and in cyberspace is increasing exponentially. The two sides watch each other from afar - strengthening the feeling that the "other" is a fictitious character in an exotic tale.

The "Infidel Retreat": Islamists' War on Cultural Contact

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Egyptian Author Threatened with Death

A female Egyptian scholar recently published a book on the sex life of the Prophet Muhammed. You can probably guess what happened next, but, just in case, Radio Netherlands has a good overview:

Egyptian writer Bisnat Rashad has become the target of a fatwa and death threats after publishing her book "Sex in the Life of the Prophet Mohammed". Rashad wants to debunk the myth of Mohammed's extraordinary sexual powers, which she considers offensive to the Prophet and a bad example for Muslims.

Rashad, who calls herself a devout Muslim, faced harsh criticism from elders on a religious satellite television channel. They issued a fatwa declaring her an infidel and calling on the faithful to spill her blood, even if she were to recant her position. Rashad told Al Arabiya news channel that elders see her book as "a severe insult to the Prophet Mohammed and his wives". She claims to have received serious threats.


Al Azhar, the highest-ranking religious body in Sunni Islam, has called on the Egyptian authorities to ban the book and prosecute its author. Sheik Ali Abdel Baki, Secretary General of the Islamic Studies Council of Al Azhar, said that the book misrepresents the Prophet's sex life.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Sadly, both death threats and book banning are common forms of censorship in Egypt. The tragic case of Farag Foda is merely one example of the former. As far as the latter, the Christian Science Monitor reported on September 22, 2004 that Al Azhar typically asks the Egyptian government to ban 10-15 "blasphemous" books per year. Such requests are usually, but not always, granted.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Belarussian Editor Released

The Danish Muhammed cartoon controversy has made yet another comeback during the last couple weeks. I'll have an overview this weekend. In the meantime, there is some good news to report: a Belarussian newsweekly editor who last month was sentenced to three years in prison for publishing the cartoons has been released. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has the details.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Blind Sheikh Comes to America

From 1993 to 1996, Andrew C. McCarthy was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. During this period, he led the prosecution of those responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the subsequent plot to attack a number of New York City landmarks.

McCarthy's efforts would ultimately focus on one of the leading figures in radical Islamism: an Egyptian cleric named Omar Abdel Rahman. Known as the "Blind Sheikh", Rahman was, incredibly, allowed to come to the United States in July 1990 and took up residence in Jersey City, New Jersey. His open incitement to violence was instrumental in motivating those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other acts of violence.

In a terrific essay from the March 2008 issue of Commentary, McCarthy describes how Rahman sought to inspire a campaign of terror in the heart of the "fiercest enemy of Islam":

Omar Abdel Rahman’s arrival in New York in July 1990 lit a fuse to the city’s nascent but already functioning jihadist community. He went to work right away. It was time, the sheikh exhorted his flock in Brooklyn and Jersey City, to stop pretending that the challenge for Muslims lay elsewhere in the world. The challenge lay right here in the United States. This country, he preached, was “the big evil,” the “fiercest enemy of Islam,” and the real power behind not only the Middle East interloper Israel but such secular Islamic governments as Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt.

Sheikh Omar pilloried his followers for their empty talk, talk, talk about jihad. He wanted the real thing. A tireless booster of Hamas and of the effort to funnel funds to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, he traveled the world to raise money and fighters for the Afghan mujahideen and for militant Muslims in Bosnia.

In his exhortations to his American followers, the blind sheikh cautioned against recklessness. “Child’s play,” he counseled, was to be avoided, and resources should be marshaled for deeds of greater impact. Next to the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, his favorite example of an effective jihadist operation was Hizballah’s strike against the United States Marines in Lebanon in 1983. But the main point was this: one way or another, it was time to wage jihad in, and against, America.

Among those listening closely to Abdel Rahman’s words was a thirty-four-year-old Egyptian-born immigrant named Sayyid Nosair. An engineer by education and by trade, Nosair was now working as a maintenance technician at the criminal court in lower Manhattan. More significantly, he was already known in jihadist circles as the “emir of marksmanship,” working to build the Egyptian sheikh’s American cell.

It was Nosair who would inaugurate Rahman's jihad in the New York area. He would do so by murdering someone whom Rahman wanted silenced: the radical Jewish zealot and bigot Meir Kahane:

During October and November 1990, Kahane embarked on a speaking tour of the United States. On the evening of November 5, he appeared in a ballroom at the Marriott Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Fifty or sixty people were in attendance for the two-hour lecture, including Nosair and two associates: Mohammed Salameh and Bilal Alkasi.

At the conclusion of his speech, Kahane mingled with audience members near the podium. Nosair approached, concealing a .357 magnum Sturm Ruger revolver, fully loaded with hollow-point rounds, its barrel shortened, the sight filed down (to avoid inadvertent hooking on clothing at the moment of truth), and the serial number obliterated—the trademarks of an assassin. Worming his way into a small knot of people, Nosair suddenly drew from a distance of about seven feet, pumping two shots into Kahane and killing him instantly.


In the aftermath, Abdel Rahman refrained from telling his followers outright that he had authorized the murder, but he boldly declared that to have issued a fatwa calling for Kahane’s death would have been “an honor. . . . We ask Allah . . . that we be worthy to issue a fatwa to kill tyrants, oppressors, and infidels.”

It is sadly fitting that the first act of Rahman-inspired terrorism in America would be an act of murderous censorship, for he would also instigate several such acts in his native Egypt. In 1989, when asked a question about Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Rahman replied that if only Egyptian Nobel Prize winning author Naguib Mahfouz had been "punished" for writing his 1959 novel Children of Gebelawi, Rushdie would "never have dared to write that book." In Cairo in 1994, a follower of Rahman's would stab Mahfouz in the neck and seriously injure him. Just as in the case of Meir Kahane, Rahman would deny direct responsibility for the attempt on Mahfouz's life, but his intentions had been made abundantly clear to his followers.

Two years previously, secular Egyptian intellectual Farag Foda had been murdered by two members of Rahman's Egyptian terror organization, al-Jama'at al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group).

Ultimately, McCarthy would succeed in persuading a New York jury to hold the Blind Sheikh accountable for his role in bringing Islamist terrorism to their city. In 1995, Rahman would be sentenced to life in prison. Unfortunately, as McCarthy discusses with obvious frustration, numerous clues were missed in the Kahane investigation that could have prevented the 1993 WTC attack had they only been followed up. In particular, the crime was seen as the act of a lone fanatic and not part of a broader network that reserved the right to murder anyone whose views they despised.

This is one of the forgotten lessons of the story of Omar Abdel Rahman. His career shows quite clearly that radical Islamism's murderous campaign against intellectual freedom is inseparable from its broader jihad against infidels and apostates. For Rahman, there was no essential difference between the ultra-Zionist fanatic Kahane, the novelist Mahfouz and the secular intellectual Foda. They were all enemies who needed to be silenced by what George Bernard Shaw has called the "ultimate form of censorship".

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Two Cuban Librarians Freed

There was some good news from Cuba last week. Besides Fidel Castro stepping down, I mean.

Last Sunday, four Cuban dissidents were freed as a goodwill gesture to Spain's foreign minister:

Four Cuban dissidents arrived in Madrid yesterday after being freed by Fidel Castro's government in a deal negotiated with Spain, the Spanish foreign ministry said.

All the men had been imprisoned since 2003.

"The decision was made unilaterally by the Cuban authorities and we are very satisfied," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said, noting the move came after dialogue with Cuba.

The four, named by Spanish media as Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, Omar Pernet Hernandez, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, were released Saturday and flew to Spain with their families, dissident sources in Cuba said.

According to Walter Skold, two of the four, Pernet and Alvarez, are independent librarians. The BBC notes that Alvarez has spoken out about the brutal treatment he and his fellow prisoners received:

"Imagine what it's like to live in a penal population with delinquents, murderers, unscrupulous people of all types," said Mr Alvarez.

He described the high-security prison where he was held as being plagued by mosquitoes with severe humidity.

"They are practically concentration camps, or more than concentration camps, camps of physical and moral destruction," he told the Associated Press.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph quotes Jose Castillo providing additional details on the vile conditions in Castro's prisons:

Mr Castillo, 50, a journalist who wrote articles critical of the regime, told The Sunday Telegraph: "It was terrible. It was like being in a desert in which sometimes there is no water, there is no food, you are tortured and you are abused.

"This was not torture in the textbook way with electric prods, but it was cruel and degrading. They would beat you for no reason even when you were in hospital.

"At other times they would search you for no reason, stripping you bare and humiliating you. There was one particular commander at a jail in Santa Clara who seemed to take delight in handing out beatings to the prisoners."

Mr Castillo, who claims he was denied proper medical aid for diabetes and heart problems, added: "We are nothing more than a reflection of the human cost of the fight being waged by the Cuban people."

According to the Telegraph, there are still another 250 Cuban political prisoners being held in Cuban prisons. Fidel Castro may have stepped aside for his brother Raul, but the Caribbean Gulag he created lives on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Meaning of Gaza's Book Burning

The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh provides additional details and a specific motive for last Friday's destruction of the Gaza YMCA library:

Sources in Gaza told The Jerusalem Post the attack was in response to the re-publication of cartoons "ridiculing" the Prophet Muhammad in a number of Danish newspapers last week.

The sources said at least 12 gunmen participated in the assault, the latest in a series of attacks on Christian figures and institutions.

"The attackers kidnapped the two guards before they stormed the building in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City," the sources said. "Then they entered the library, where they detonated a number of explosive charges, causing heavy damage."

One of the guards, Abdel Mu'ti Abu Khoussa, 52, said the attackers also stole computers and other equipment from the offices of the YMCA. Only some of them had masks on their faces, he said.

Issa Saba, secretary-general of the YMCA in the Gaza Strip, said all 8,000 books were destroyed. He said the gunmen also stole a vehicle belonging to the organization.

Hamas policemen who rushed to the scene discovered another bomb in the library that had not exploded.

(Emphasis added-DD)

I have written about numerous instances of Islamist censorship on this site. None of those incidents, however, define the pathological Islamist hatred of intellectual freedom quite like this one. Responding to offensive cartoons by burning thousands of books? The reprehensible and barbarous nature of this crime speaks for itself.

Heinrich Heine's famous quote that "[w]here they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings" has long since become a cliche. The murderous record of al Qaeda and other Salafist-jihadist groups, Iran's autocracy and Sudan's regime have proven its validity for Islamists. This also applies to Palestinian Islamists.

As I noted in my previous post on this incident, the destruction of the YMCA library was merely the latest in a string of such attacks directed against Christian and other "un-Islamic" symbols. The ultimate purpose of this campaign is to cleanse Gaza not only of "infidel" ideas, but of infidels themselves. In particular, it is aimed at Gaza's 3,500 strong Christian community. Father Raymond J. De Souza made this point quite clearly in an essay for Canada's National Post:

If indeed the attack on the YMCA was motivated by the latest wave of violence in Denmark over the cartoon controversy, it shows how precarious the Christian position is. The Young Men's Christian Association in Gaza is open to Muslims and includes a school, sports club and community hall. It is not a centre of Christian proselytism. But if events in Denmark which have nothing to do with Christianity can produce anti-Christian violence in Gaza, then it is clear that there is nothing Christians can do to avoid such violence.

The problem is not their behaviour but, in the eyes of the violent Islamist jihadists, their very presence. They must simply live in hope that some faraway event does not inflame the anti-Christian wrath of their neighbours. Is it any wonder that Christians in such situations desire to emigrate? Could anyone judge harshly the few thousand Christians in Gaza if they were to leave entirely?

(Emphasis added-DD)

This reinforces the point that Lee Harris made in his recent essay "Speaking of Islam". Defying Islamist censorship carries a price. All too often that cost includes lives. If radical Islamists such as those in Gaza are unable to satisfy their lust for blood censorship from the "far infidel", they will extract it from the "near infidel".

This is not to say that Palestinian Islamists are uninterested in punishing those guilty of "un-Islamic" expression in distant lands. Last November, when a right-wing Danish political party included a drawing of the Prophet Muhammed in their election commercials, the Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade responded by threatening to add the party to its "list of enemies".

Just this Monday, a spokesman for the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees responded to last week's republication of the 2005 Danish Muhammed cartoons by calling for violence against Denmark. According to the Jerusalem Post:

Israel Radio reported that the spokesman, speaking to demonstrators burning Danish flags, said anyone involved the drawing, printing, or publication of the caricatures should be "slaughtered."

Eventually, after Gaza's radical Islamists have succeeded in driving out the remaining infidels in their midst, they will look to start making good on such threats.

The attack on the YMCA was the second time in less than a year that Islamists in Gaza have destroyed a library. According to the Intellectual Freedom section of the American Library Association's Policy Manual, ALA "deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property, and the disruption of the educational process by that act, whether it be done by individuals or groups of individuals and whether it be in the name of honest dissent, the desire to control or limit thought or ideas, or for any other purpose."

After reading this passage, one would think ALA would be eager to condemn this latest act of cultural desecration. Yet, as Walter Skold at Freadom has pointed out, ALA has said nothing. Long-time readers of this site (and Walter's) will know that such lack of interest in Islamist censorship is sadly typical in our profession.

Many librarians who will passionately and justifiably condemn acts of book burning and desecration in this country are strangely unperturbed by such behavior when Islamists are the guilty party. When an article about the YMCA attack was posted on LISNews, it drew a typically snarky and uninformed response from a left of center librarian. Had this been a mosque library burned down by right-wing fanatics in Europe, I doubt "Chuck" would have quite so flippant about it.

There are several possible explanations for such attitudes. Perhaps it is partly a belief that Islamist censorship is something that only occurs in the Middle East. This argument ignores the widespread fear among European writers and intellectuals of saying the "wrong thing" about Islam, inspired by the November 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the numerous Islamist death threats against Europeans such as those cited above. Those who believe Islamist censorship is not anything Americans need to worry about also fail to realize that the phenomenon already exists in this country. So far, Muslim reformers and freethinkers living in the US have been the main targets, but it is only a matter of time before this changes.

There are other explanations. Considering the political makeup of American librarianship, there are undoubtedly some for whom being on the opposite side of George W. Bush and the dreaded "Neocons" is an imperative that overwhelms any other consideration. For others, it is a mix of political correctness and multiculturalism run amok. This is the notion that, as Irshad Manji has described it, Islamists and Muslims in general are victims of Western racism and ethnocentrism and simply cannot be held to the same standards of behavior as we are. This notion is both implicitly bigoted and ignores the fact that it is Muslims who are the main victims of the Islamists.

Islamism is a global ideology and its brutal war on intellectual freedom is a worldwide phenomenon. One does not have to sing the praises of George W, Bush, become a "Neocon", or support the American military presence in Iraq to recognize this. Resolute opposition to Islamist censorship should be something that everyone who values free expression can agree on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wikipedia Muhammed Update

An article from Sunday's Observer provides further information on the Wikipedia Muhammed controversy:

The images at the centre of the protest appear on most of the European versions of the web encyclopaedia, though not on Arabic sites. On two of the images, Muhammad's face is veiled, a practice followed in Islamic art since the 16th century. But on two others, one from 1315, which is the earliest surviving depiction of the prophet, and the other from the 15th century, his face is shown. Some protesters are claiming the pictures have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims and argue the least Wikipedia can do is blur or blank out the faces.

Such has been the adverse reaction, Wikipedia has been forced to set up a separate page on its site explaining why it refuses to bow to pressure and has also had to set up measures to block people from 'editing' the pages themselves.

In a robust statement on the site, its editors state: 'Wikipedia recognises that there are cultural traditions among some Muslim groups that prohibit depictions of Muhammad and other prophets and that some Muslims are offended when those traditions are violated. However, the prohibitions are not universal among Muslim communities, particularly with the Shia who, while prohibiting the images, are less strict about it.

(Emphasis added-DD)

You can read Wikipedia's statement here. As is pointed out by the Observer, offended users can alter their personal settings to avoid viewing the images. That seems a more than reasonable solution.

Wikipedia is to be commended for refusing to indulge Wahhabi-inspired iconoclasm.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Islamist Valentine's Follow Up

For more on Islamist efforts to suppress Valentine's Day celebrations in the Muslim world, I recommend the following two pieces by Daniel Pipes:

Valentine's Day in Mecca

Valentine's Day in the Muslim World

Justice for Robert Stethem

Robert Dean Stethem joined the United States Navy in 1981 and became a diver. In June 1985, he and several colleagues were flying back from an assignment in Greece on TWA Flight 847 when the plane was hijacked by Iranian-sponsored Lebanese terrorists. After the terrorists found out Stethem was an American serviceman, they beat him for hours before shooting him and dumping his body onto the tarmac at Beirut International Airport.

The man responsible for Stethem's murder was a Lebanese Shia named Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was the head of the terrorist group that came to be known as Hezbollah and worked closely with Iranian intelligence. He is believed to have helped orchestrate the April 1983 suicide car bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the October 1983 attack on the American and French peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. He initiated many of the tactics now used by al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations, such as suicide vehicle attacks and simultaneous spectacular operations. In concert with his Iranian sponsors, Mughniyeh had the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands and is the main reason Hezbollah is second only to al Qaeda in terms of number of Americans killed in terror attacks.

On Wednesday of this past week, justice was finally done for Robert Stethem and the other victims of Mughniyeh.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Library Destroyed in Gaza

Agence France Presse reports that the YMCA library in Gaza was attacked and destroyed by a group of armed thugs:

A gang of gunmen attacked the Gaza City premises of the YMCA before dawn on Friday and blew up its library, the head of the centre said.

Eissa Saba said the attack on the Young Men's Christian Association centre, which left thousands of books burned, was carried out by 14 masked men who overpowered two security guards and tied them up.

He said the men also broke into the YMCA office and stole a computer before placing another bomb, which did not explode.

The guards were later taken to the northern Gaza Strip, where they were freed.

(Emphasis added-DD)

This is the second time in the last year that a Christian library was bombed in Gaza. In addition, the tactics used by the YMCA attackers are almost identical to those used in an April 2007 attack on Gaza's American International School. All of these previous incidents were part of a campaign of bombings directed at Internet cafes, music sellers and other possible sources of immorality and "un-Islamic" ideas, and carried out by a radical Islamist group calling itself "The Swords of Truth". It is highly likely that they are the perpetrators of this latest act of barbarism.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Islamist Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day will always hold a special place in the annals of Islamism's war on intellectual freedom, due to the simple fact that this was the date Ayatollah Khomeini released his infamous fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie and anyone else associated with publishing The Satanic Verses. While the announcement of Khomeini's edict on Valentine's Day was merely a coincidence, Islamists have in recent years displayed their intolerance by attempting to ban the holiday itself. In their view, the holiday is un-Islamic and an inducement to immorality. Hence, it must be eliminated.

Here is a brief roundup of this year's Islamist assault on Valentine's Day:

-We begin in the disputed region of Kashmir, which is ruled by India but claimed by Pakistan. Last year, an Islamist women's group burned greeting cards and assaulted couples. This year, female militants raided at least four hotels and restaurants in search of young couples daring to have a good time. One activist justified these actions as follows:

“Saint Valentine was a symbol of vulgarity .We should avoid celebrating Valentine’s Day,” Nasreen said, adding that Muslims should follow the path of Prophet (SAW) and only celebrate Islamic religious occasions like Eid, and not Valentine’s Day.

“From last few years we have launched a campaign against the Valentine’s day celebrations in the Valley and Alhamdulillah we have succeeded to a great extent,” Nasreen said.

“Kashmiri culture is very rich and it should not be spoiled by adopting western practices,” she added.

Thanking the gift card dealers for their cooperation in avoiding the sales of Valentine day cards and gift items, Nasreen said that every Muslim has to play a role in eradicating the evils of western culture from the Kashmiri society.

(Emphasis added-DD)

-In neighboring Pakistan, the president of the women's wing of the Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami also condemned Valentine's Day:

The Urdu-language newspaper Khabrain quoted Ms. Qazi as saying that ‘‘Jews and Hindus have specially designed this occasion in order to weaken the beliefs and traditions of Muslims.’’ Raheel Qazi, the daughter of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Qazi Hussein Ahmed, said that Pakistani media should black out any news about this occasion.

(Emphasis added-DD: The comment about Valentine's Day as a Hindu conspiracy is especially absurd, since Hindu fundamentalists are just as intolerant of the holiday as their Islamist counterparts.)

-In Kuwait, two Islamist members of parliament called for the government to ban any attempts to celebrate Valentine's Day in that country.

-No such calls were necessary in Saudi Arabia, where the religious police (Mutawaeen) banned the sale of red roses and other Valentine's items.

-Finally, the most disturbing reported incident occurred in Yemen, where the local branch of al Qaeda threatened to murder singer Asalah Nasri if she performed in a Valentine's Day concert:

The press release called on all Yemeni citizens to stand against practices such as public concerts, saying that they are considered a breach against Islamic Sharia law. "We warn Asalah that if she does not change her mind about this concert, she will suffer the same [fate] as Benezir Bhutto."

The statement did not mention the other singer who is slated to perform with Asalah, Esam Kareka.

Official Yemeni security sources have questioned the seriousness of these threats.

The deputy governor of Aden, however, said that the interior ministry should take these threats seriously.

(Emphasis added-DD)

To her credit, Ms. Nasri has refused to give in to the threats. At the time of writing, it appears that the performance went off without incident.

Despite the efforts of the Islamists, millions of Muslims went ahead and celebrated Valentine's Day as they saw fit. Even in Saudi Arabia. As Abeer Mishkhas has noted, it will take far more than banning red roses to keep young Saudis from enjoying each other's company. There were even muted celebrations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. These are all small but symbolic victories for those Muslims who believe in free expression.

For many Americans, Valentine's Day is an annoying, over-commercialized holiday. For many Muslims, it is an opportunity to defy Islamist threats and intimidation and assert their right to live as free individuals.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

FBI Tracking Book Sales?

I have been skeptical of the often overwrought claims that the federal government is monitoring the reading habits of Americans. In the interests of fairness, however, I need to note this February 11 article from WorldNetDaily. The conservative news site reports on an alleged FBI program to track the sales trends of books covering certain sensitive topics:

Counterterrorist analysts at the FBI have been monitoring the sales velocity of books dealing with aviation and other security issues, WND has learned.

The bureau recently sent a letter to Prometheus Books in New York to inquire about a recent spike in sales of a title critical of gaps in airport security.

The book, "Aviation Insecurity: The New Challenges of Air Travel," experienced a surge in orders in the fourth quarter, raising a red flag at the FBI.

In my view, this is not a threat to privacy, as long as the focus of the program is on how many copies of the book are being sold, not the identity of the individuals buying it. After all, this is similar to the kind of information that provides in its sales rankings.

I will admit that the last paragraph of the article did give me pause:

The FBI, which did not immediately return phone calls, keeps a list of security books in addition to Thomas' book, and tracks the titles through sales and distribution channels. Libraries also are monitored for activity and interest in the listed titles.

(Emphasis added-DD)

To be honest, when I read this paragraph the first thing that came to mind is how eerily similar this sounds to the story told in the Little Red Book hoax of December 2005. Of course, if all the FBI is doing is tracking the circulation trends of certain books, they can do that using and local library catalogs. If this alleged monitoring program goes well beyond those limits, then there may be genuine cause for concern.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tariq Ramadan: Censor

Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss-based Islamist intellectual and grandson of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Western writers have acclaimed Ramadan as the representative of a new kind of Islamism, one that is forward looking, tolerant and compatible with liberal democracy. Paul Berman has discussed in detail why such hopes are misplaced.

Further evidence of this was supplied a few days ago, when Ramadan called for a boycott of the Turin Book Fair. Rachel Donadio of the New York Times explains why:

In an interview on Feb. 1 with the Italian news agency ADN Kronos, Ramadan called on “all people of conscience” to boycott the Turin fair. “From now on we cannot recognize the legitimacy of celebrating the state of Israel, which leaves death and desolation in its wake.” The issue, he said, “is not an Islamic or Arab question, but a matter of world conscience.” (Ramadan also called for a boycott of the Paris Book Fair, to be held from March 14 to 19, because it too will honor Israel.)

After the ensuing media storm, Ramadan clarified his remarks on his own Web site, saying the boycott campaign was “intended as criticism of the ‘guest of honor.’ It is not an attempt to prevent Israeli authors from attending or from expressing themselves. It does not refuse to engage them in debate.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

Norm Geras is justifiably skeptical of Ramadan's attempt to draw a distinction between honoring Israel and hosting Israeli writers. After all, the Turin Book Fair is honoring Israel through its authors. This is yet another example of the rhetorical doublespeak that Ramadan has become infamous for. Caroline Fourest's book Brother Tariq describes this phenomenon in full.

More importantly, this is not the first time that Ramadan has mounted a public effort against expression he finds offensive. In 1993, he supported a campaign that resulted in the cancellation of a Geneva production of Voltaire's play "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet".

Ramadan has also expressed his contempt for Muslim freethinkers and reformers. A February 2006 analysis from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) quotes Egyptian journalist Adel Guindy's description of Ramadan:

Guindy adds that Ramadan belongs to the Salafi stream, to which Qutb, Al-Mawdudi and Al-Bana belong, and says that "Ramadan does not hesitate to express his hatred for the liberal reform stream. He is opposed [to the notion of] Islam developing into an individualistic faith that does not force itself on others... He condemns those who are opposed to the unique way of dress that distinguishes Muslims from others (such as the veil), describing them as traitors who have surrendered to Western thought. He also condemns those who think that the Koran and the Sunna cannot be a source of authority for contemporary personal and cultural behavior, and depicts liberal Muslims who understand liberalism in the Western sense, [i.e. as an outlook which] encourages rationalism and personal individuality, as 'Muslims without Islam'...

"In a November 2003 interview with the Paris Arabic-language radio [Beur FM], Tariq Ramadan said: 'There is a reformist rationalist stream, and there is a Salafi stream that is trying to remain faithful to the foundations [of the religion]. I belong to the [latter] stream. That is, there are a number of principles that I consider to be basic, and that, as a Muslim, I cannot deny'... However, during a February 2004 UNESCO conference, when [author and French Muslim cleric] Ghaleb bin Sheikh, who belongs to the reformist liberal stream, attacked him, he said: 'I am not a Salafi. A Salafi is someone who clings to the written word [harfi] and I am not like that.' Ghaleb bin Sheikh believes that [concepts such as] 'shura' ['advisory council'] and 'ijma' ['religious consensus'] should be used as means for reinterpreting [the religious sources], and, when necessary, as a means of abolishing some of the verses that run counter to human dignity as it is understood today. Tariq Ramadan is completely opposed to this trend, and sees it as treason and as apostasy in Islam [riddah]. He stresses that the text is eternal, but its interpretation is relative."

(Emphasis added-DD; Please note that apostasy is considered a capital crime by many Islamists and puritanical Muslims.)

Ramadan is, of course, free to condemn Muslim freethinkers or anyone else and to boycott any event he wishes. To my knowledge, he has never advocated using violence as a tool of censorship. His attitude towards free expression, however, should be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that he is a kinder, gentler sort of Islamist.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Implications of Islamist Censorship in the West

Lee Harris has written a interesting and thought provoking essay in the February 11 Weekly Standard. Harris looks at the efforts of Islamists to silence free expression in Western countries using both the legal system and threats of violence. In particular, he focuses on the cases in Canada involving Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn:

The English-speaking peoples are justifiably proud of their tradition of free speech. When Thomas Macaulay reviewed the achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he observed that the victorious English Whigs had shown how "the authority of law and the security of property" could be reconciled with "a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known."

Since Macaulay's day, many of the other nations of the world have also figured out how to reconcile liberty of discussion with the general welfare, until a point has been reached where we in the West have completely forgotten what a remarkable achievement our ancestors bequeathed to us. Even a devout Whig like Macaulay, writing midway between us and the Glorious Revolution, recalled a time when unrestricted liberty of discussion could not be made compatible with domestic tranquility. Today, on the other hand, most of us have lost any awareness of the painful fact that, under certain conditions, a society might be forced to make a tragic choice between two incompatible goods, namely, free speech and the public welfare. Yet the events of the last several years should have awakened us from our dogmatic slumber, for when it comes to speaking of Islam, there is troubling evidence that our cherished liberty of discussion may not be compatible with security of life and limb, not to mention the security of property.

It is only by keeping these sobering facts in mind that we can hope to put into perspective the strange drama unfolding in Canada--a drama that contains elements that might have been borrowed from the theater of the absurd, making it uncertain whether we are dealing with a surreal farce or an all too real tragedy.

Harris's main point, as noted in the excerpt above, is that the right of free expression as it exists in most Western societies is the product of a very unique set of historical circumstances. In his view, the ability of Islamists to use both legal and illegal means to suppress speech they dislike is altering this dynamic and will force us to ultimately rethink the consequences of permitting virtually unfettered free expression.

My main disagreement with Harris is his implicit argument that it might be worthwhile to provide Islamists with legal methods of censorship so as to give them an alternative to censorship by assassination or car bomb. In my view, this would be a disastrous form of appeasement that would concede the very rights we fight to defend while encouraging Islamist threats of violence in order to elicit further silencing of "immoral" and "un-Islamic" expression. The censorship of moderate and reformist Muslims has been one of the key factors in fostering the spread of Islamism in the Muslim world. If non-Muslim countries surrender our free expression as well, what hope do we have that a tolerant, pluralist vision of Islam will arise to challenge the Islamists?

Nevertheless, Harris offers a clear headed assessment of the situation that we in the West find ourselves in and reminds us that we will have to pay a price in order to preserve our right of free speech. Please read it for yourself:

Speaking of Islam

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cyber-Iconclasm and Wikipedia

On Wednesday, Fox News reported that some Muslims have started an online petition calling on Wikipedia to remove images depicting the Prophet Muhammed:

"I request all brothers and sisters to sign this petitions so we can tell Wikipedia to respect the religion and remove the hillustrations," the creator of the petition at The Petition Site asks.

Opposition among Muslims to images of Muhammad has its roots in the prohibition of "graven images" in the Ten Commandments, but has varied over time.

"Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent," Notre Dame history professor Paul M. Cobb told the New York Times. "Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammad."

(Emphasis added-DD)

The images are included in Wikipedia's biographical entry about Muhammed. According to the New York Times, Wikipedia is refusing to remove them:

A Frequently Asked Questions page explains the site’s polite but firm refusal to remove the images: “Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.”

This is exactly the right position for Wikipedia to take. Once it grants a "particular group" veto power over its content, it will forfeit whatever claims to objectivity and credibility it currently has.

Muslims certainly have the right to criticize Wikipedia for displaying the images of Muhammed, yet their protests contain a glaring irony. For the fact is that the very images they condemn as un-Islamic" were actually produced by Muslims and published in Islamic texts. According to Fox, "(a)ll four images on the English-language Wikipedia page are rather lovely Persian and Ottoman miniatures from the 14th through 16th centuries."

Contrary to the petitioners, there is nothing inherently un-Islamic about producing images of the Prophet Muhammed or any other individual. The fact that many Muslims now believe otherwise is just one example of the pernicious influence of Wahhabism: the puritanical, extremist brand of Islam that arose in Arabia in the late 18th century and has been propagated worldwide by Saudi Arabia.

A fanatical iconclasm is one of the central tenets of Wahhabism. The rise of this ideology, according to Stephen Schwartz, "saw the destruction of many famous manuscripts, books, and artistic works, including pictures of the prophet, on the argument that any depiction of living beings was idolatry". The impact of Wahhabism on Islamic art and architecture has been little short of disastrous. The petition against Wikipedia is a sad echo of this legacy.

The call for the removal of the Muhammed images from Wikipedia is just a small example of how a Saudi-sponsored ideology of hate and intolerance has led many Muslims to reject the rich cultural and artistic legacy of their own civilization. This development has done far more harm to Islam than any act committed by outside forces.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Books Unbanned in Cairo

There was a small but welcome victory for intellectual freedom at this year's Cairo International Book Fair. As I noted earlier, Egyptian authorities had banned a number of secular and Western books from being displayed at the event. However, according to a January 30 dispatch from Agence France Presse, this decision was reversed and the books were permitted to be shown:

Nabil Nofal from the Lebanese publishing house Dar al-Adab said that "we have received all of our books that were confiscated," including four works by renowned Czech author Milan Kundera.

Germany's Al-Jamal publishers said the authorities had returned copies of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri's "For Bread Alone," which contains references to teenage sex and drug use and is banned in several Arab countries.

Other publishers also said their books had been released from customs at Cairo airport.

As with the seizure of the books on Monday, no explanation was given as to why the authorities had now allowed the books to be put on display.

Unfortunately, the Arab publishing industry faces problems that transcend individual instances of censorship. Israeli writer Zvi Barel, in a piece for Haaretz, argues that the (temporary) book bannings are merely a symptom of the broader malaise afflicting intellectual life in Egypt:

A UNESCO report on the state of development in the Middle East found that while 600 titles are published for every million citizens in Europe, and 215 titles are published for every million American citizens, only 28 titles are published in the Arab Middle East.

But it's not only a matter of quantity, but also of quality. To judge by what sells best, it turns out that religious literature, and primarily radical religious literature, is in first place. At this book fair, for example, the top seller was a book by Saudi cleric Aaidh al-Qarni, who recently left a radical stream for the center. Al-Qarni's book "Don't Be Sad" has sold 2 million copies, about half a million of them in Egypt alone. This is a readable book that explains to the reader that he should not worry or fear the future. He must improve his ways now, because life is what happens to us on a day-to-day basis, and not only in eternity. The path to happiness, Al-Qarni says, is of course to pray to God and follow his commandments, but with a contemporary viewpoint.

When this is the type of book that sells well, while the Egyptian censor takes on such Western classics as "Zorba the Greek" and Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," as well as new Arabic books such as Ibrahim Badi's "Love in Saudi Arabia," which was banned from display at the fair, it is hard to see how such an event will attract young people.

Finally, the famous British journalist and author Robert Fisk writes in The Independent about a rather different problem that beleaguers the Egyptian publishing industry. Fisk recently discovered that his new biography of Saddam Hussein was selling quite briskly in Cairo. The only problem is that Fisk has never written a book about Saddam:

Needless to say, I noticed one or two problems with this book. It took a very lenient view of the brutality of Saddam, it didn't seem to care much about the gassed civilians of Halabja – and it was full of the kind of purple passages which I loathe. "After the American rejection of the Iraqi weapons report to the UN," 'Robert Fisk' wrote, "the beating of war drums turned into a cacophony..."

Dare I suggest to readers that this kind of cliche doesn't sound like Robert Fisk? The only war drums I could hear were those of my own astonishment. For I never wrote this book. It wasn't plagiarism – a common practice in Cairo, which is why I ensure that all my real books are legally published in Arabic in Lebanon. No, this wasn't plagiarism. This was forgery.