Monthly Archives: November 2009

No Swiss Minarets this Christmas


In general, I think that Juan Cole’s article today on the new Swiss law banning the building of minarets is oversimplified, but I do think he makes a few good points always overlooked in our they’re evil we’re good discourse:

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, “added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for ‘worshipping and tolerance.'” He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin, who I believe lived in … Geneva. About six percent of the population is Christian.

Personally, I would prefer less mosques and churches and more schools. I’m just a secular kind of guy, although I should probably disclose that I am writing this while listening to Ella Fitzgerald dreaming of a White Christmas, Frank Sinatra wishing me a Merry Little Christmas, and Sammy Davis Jr. reminding me that it is Christmas all over the world. And it’s not even December, yet.



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Getting Things For Nothing


One of the reasons why Americans are so indifferent to the U.S. invading other countries is because the wars usually don’t affect us at all. Do you think that all of the Republican war-mongers would be so eager to support the ongoing, ineffectual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq if Americans were actually made to pay for the wars instead of just borrowing the money from abroad? For example, George W. Bush did the unprecedented: he lowered taxes while fighting two wars. Eventually, but not on W.’s watch, both will have to be paid for.

On today’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the round table discussed a completely hypothetical (it is never going to happen) surtax to pay for Afghanistan. Former Bush senior strategist Matthew Dowd (ironically) described the problem perfectly,

I agree there is not going to be a surtax, but I think this goes to a fundamental value that I think we’ve lost, which is that we can get things for nothing, that we can go to war and not have to pay for it, either by cutting the budget or doing something else. We have a war, we don’t have a draft. All of these sorts of things, that we, think, oh, by the way, we can go fight the most important war in the history of our country, but we’re not going to have a draft, we’re not going to pay for it, we’re not going to do anything that causes anybody to sacrifice.

Imagine legislation that required all military interventions to be paid for through taxes. The citizens’ notion of what was and was not in our vital national security interests would change drastically.


Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Friedman Delusional


This morning I woke up to one of the most shockingly delusional Friedman op-eds to date. Self-righteous Thomas Friedman astonishingly writes,

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving. [Emphasis added]

I would agree that there are in fact voices in the Muslim world that misinterpret U.S. attacks on Arab and Muslim countries resulting in countless civilian collateral damage as being a willful attempt to keep “Muslims down”. But to go from there and argue with a straight face that the opposite – that U.S. foreign policy has as its principal goal to rescue Muslims by bombing them – is a narrative that is credible only to a select few in the U.S. with their heads in the sand. Meanwhile the entire rest of the world sees U.S. foreign policy — like the foreign policy of any other nation — as was it is: based purely on self-interest and never on an honest desire towards altruism or rescuing others. Only the politicians with the help of their “front-men pundits” sell altruism to the naïve as a ruse to do as one pleases. Who you trying to fool, Mr. Friedman?

But once again, I will have to defer to Mr. Greenwald who beat me to the punch on Friedman’s grotesque hypocrisy, Continue reading


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My friend and former right hand man at FON, Jacobo (aka Hysidro), recently started a blog covering some of his design work. I used to just look over to my left to see what he was working (or procrastinating) on. Now that I don’t get to see him every day, I check out I particularly like the beer in his face (and especially the sausages and garlic hanging in the background).

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My One Track Mind

At this time every year I start getting excited about the day after Thanksgiving;  and not because of the Black Friday sales, but because the Christmas Season officially begins and I can finally start annoying everyone with my Christmas favorites.

Although I am normally excited at the end of November, this year coming home for Christmas is just about all I think of. It clouds my judgment. So forget about my criticizing U.S. foreign policy or getting on Obama’s case for being such a wimp on every single issue on his plate. I haven’t been home to Washington, DC in over a year and half, and in my mind I am already over the river and through the woods.

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Nubian Fury


Yesterday I was listening to a Talk of the Nation segment about “Modern Black Face: Offensive or Just Irrelevant”and was thinking about how similar diminutive portrayals of minorities in Spain are never discussed or ever considered offensive and are widely accepted as endearing (as I have complained about here, here, here, here and here).

Then later in the day I read a news story about “Nubian fury at ‘monkey’ lyric of Arab pop star Haifa Wehbe”.

One of the Arab world’s biggest pop stars has provoked a torrent of outrage after releasing a song which refers to black Egyptians as monkeys.

Haifa Wehbe, an award-winning Lebanese diva who has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful people, is now facing a lawsuit from Egyptian Nubians claiming the song has fuelled discrimination against them and made some Nubian children too afraid to attend school.

The row has cast fresh light on the position within Egyptian society of Nubians, who are descended from one of Africa’s most ancient black civilisations and yet often face marginalisation in modern Egypt.

Wehbe, a 35-year-old model turned actress and singer, is widely regarded as the Middle East’s most prominent sex symbol and has been no stranger to controversy in the past. Her skimpy outfits and provocative lyrics (one previous hit was entitled Hey, Good Little Muslim Boy) have earned her the wrath of religious conservatives and forays into the political arena have also sparked debate, including her very public praise for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

The latest accusations of racism came after the release of her new song, Where is Daddy?, in which a child sings to Wehbe, “Where is my teddy bear and the Nubian monkey?”.

Wehbe has since apologised profusely for the offending lyrics, insisting they were penned by an Egyptian songwriter who told her that “Nubian monkey” was an innocent term for a popular children’s game. That hasn’t stopped a group of Nubian lawyers submitting an official complaint to Egypt’s public prosecutor and calling for the song to be banned.

“Everyone is upset,” said Sayed Maharous, 49, the Nubian owner of a coffee shop in Cairo. Adul Raouf Mohammed, who runs a nearby store, agreed. “To compare a human being to an animal is insulting in any culture. She has denigrated an entire community of people, and now some of our children are afraid to go into school because they know they will be called monkeys in the playground.”

The row over Wehbe’s song has highlighted a growing sense of communal identity among Nubians in Egypt, a country where the government has traditionally promoted a very monolithic brand of nationalism, sometimes to the exclusion of religious or ethnic minorities.

Despite breaking through into the cultural mainstream – several Nubian novelists are well-regarded within Egyptian intellectual circles and Nubian singers such as Mohammed Mounir are among the most popular in the country – Egypt’s estimated two million Nubians remain largely invisible on television and film, except as lampooned stereotypes.


Filed under Essays, Living la vida española



In an op-ed yesterday on why he has grown so pessimistic about the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Roger Cohen quotes Israeli author David Grossman,

We have dozens of atomic bombs, tanks and planes. We confront people possessing none of these arms. And yet, in our minds, we remain victims. This inability to perceive ourselves in relation to others is our principal weakness.

Does that sound familiar? Our endless war in Afghanistan? The entire War on Terror? And although I don’t like Iran either, as pointed out by Juan Cole,

Iran’s military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.

Yet we continue to threaten them with bombing and obliteration, and a media that is salivating for more war – oh so reminiscent of Iraq.


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Go George Will (Again)


George Will is at it again. After remarking about the obvious absurdity of conservative claims about closing Guantanamo to making the cases for leaving both Iraq and Afghanistan, he has now disagreed with his fellow pundits on the right — including the ever blood thirsty David Brookssiding with the Department of Justice in favor of trying 911 suspects in New York courts and in favor of the American Justice System.

All of this officially makes George Will one of the only conservative pundits (or any pundit for that matter) who consistently advocates in favor of his core beliefs over simply pushing the party line.


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The Fear of the Tough Guys

I find it increasingly incomprehensible how the hawks panic whenever terrorism crosses paths with the U.S. justice system, as if terrorism will always prevail. Just watch how David Brooks – everyday more of an extremist – views American justice as being incapable of handling terrorists and their propaganda:

I found [Holder’s decision to try the terrorists in court] disturbing, because the terrorists not only get to attack the country and make a global statement that way. Now they’re going to have a public trial to make more statements.

And potential future terrorists will also know that, if caught, they can have a trial, sort of an international reality TV show, to make their statements.

… I mean, what is terrorism? The real targets of a terrorist attack are not the people who are killed. It’s the message that is sent to the country, the act of intimidation. It’s the message of rallying radicals in other parts of the world. And that’s what terrorism is. That’s why terrorism is a unique form of warfare.

This trial will become another act of propaganda. The future trials will become other acts of propaganda. And I think we have to understand that terrorism works through propaganda, not through simply killing. And, therefore, controlling the propaganda effects of an act of terrorism seems to me part of the process we should adapt.

They should have the rights that they’re afforded by the Supreme Court and by the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean we need to provide them with another propaganda opportunity.

Would that mean that any trial whatsoever is potentially incompatible with our justice system? Wouldn’t prosecuting any high profile suspect, according to Brooks’ logic, be considered rewarding the criminal? Do we have that little faith in our Constitution and system of justice?

In his post, “The Right’s textbook ‘surrender to terrorists’: ‘We’re too scared to have real trials in our country’ is a level of cowardice unmatched in the world,” Greenwald notes

People in capitals all over the world have hosted trials of high-level terrorist suspects using their normal justice system.  They didn’t allow fear to drive them to build island-prisons or create special commissions to depart from their rules of justice.  Spain held an open trial in Madrid for the individuals accused of that country’s 2004 train bombings.  The British put those accused of perpetrating the London subway bombings on trial right in their normal courthouse in London.  Indonesia gave public trials using standard court procedures to the individuals who bombed a nightclub in Bali.  India used a Mumbai courtroom to try the sole surviving terrorist who participated in the 2008 massacre of hundreds of residents.  In Argentina, the Israelis captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, and brought him to Jerusalem to stand trial for his crimes.

It’s only America’s Right that is too scared of the Terrorists — or which exploits the fears of their followers — to insist that no regular trials can be held and that “the safety and security of the American people” mean that we cannot even have them in our country to give them trials.  As usual, it’s the weakest and most frightened among us who rely on the most flamboyant, theatrical displays of “strength” and “courage” to hide what they really are.   Then again, this is the same political movement whose “leaders” — people like John Cornyn and Pat Roberts — cowardly insisted that we must ignore the Constitution in order to stay alive:  the exact antithesis of the core value on which the nation was founded.  Given that, it’s hardly surprising that they exude a level of fear of Terrorists that is unmatched virtually anywhere in the world.  It is, however, noteworthy that the position they advocate — it’s too scary to have normal trials in our country of Terrorists — is as pure a surrender to the Terrorists as it gets.

The real controversy here is whether these are mere show trials. We only try the cases we think we can win, while the rest of the detainees are to be kept in cages indefinitely without trial or anything resembling due process. That is the true test of our resolve to uphold the American Way.

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Changing Behavior

Of course, “fun” loses its novelty over time.

Thanks, Bill.

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