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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Brown nosing

Thursday, September 30, 2004

It's quite nauseating to see the reports in the newspapers of "crowds" of supporters affirming their loyalty to the Premier in response to the Al Khawaja affair. Apparently, tomorrow there will be a rally tomorrow in Budaiya to pledge support to the ruling regime. It's all well to praise the leadership when they do something right, but it seems ridiculous to be celebrating the leadership right after it has banned a human rights group. But I don't really believe that the people who are pledging their support are doing it out of their love for the ruling regime, but rather because certain individuals have been able to identify an opportunity to further their careers by kissing ass.

Word on the street is that those opposed to the closure of the BCHR will also be holding rallies or protests tomorrow after Friday prayers. I really have no idea where it might be held, but the Ras Rumman mosque is a typical venue for these types of events. I do hope that there is no violence tomorrow, and that the police are able to keep their fingers off the trigger unlike other times.

Finally, I want to echo the demands made by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International (and Mahmood) to immediately release Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, rescind the ban on the BCHR, and to scrap the society laws which are a remnant of the old State Security laws.

Centre for Human Rights shut down

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Continuing on my last post about Abdulhadi al Khawaja, the latest news is that the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has been dissolved by the government! Really, this is a low move on the part of the Old Guard... but I can't say I didn't see it coming. It is ridiculous that the Centre has been shut down for criticizing the regime. I used to believe (rather idealistically) that in this New Era of Bahrain the government would guarantee rights to free speech, but now I'm not so sure. As a blogger I am particularly concerned, and I'm reminded of why I chose to write under a synonym in the first place (but that's not really much security for me).

Today's GDN is filled with rubbish about support for the regime and disingenuous headlines like "United we stand". Had the Centre not been shut down yesterday, maybe I would be praising the regime today also, but this is the wrong day. The regime has much to be proud of with regards to the reforms that it has enacted over the past four years or so, but this act of banning speech will be a big blemish on its records. It only continues and deepens the cycle of distrust between the rulers and the marginalized sections of Bahraini society.

The time has now come for both sides to step back and swallow their injured pride. We must get over the finger pointing that dominates Bahraini politics and move forward for the sake of the people. Again, try to remember the fable of the North Wind and the Sun. But I'm sure this isn't the end of this, and there will likely be more fireworks to come.

Here is the report from AP via the Guardian:

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) - Bahrain dissolved a local human rights group Tuesday, days after its director was arrested for criticizing the government. An international rights groups indicated the arrest set back for democratic reform in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain has taken bold steps toward democratization, putting it ahead of its neighbors in the conservative region. But critics charged that banning the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the arrest show that the ultimate power remains in the hands of the government.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights was ordered to close down because of the center's failure to "adhere to the law" governing the work of societies, the official Bahrain News Agency reported.

On Saturday, Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, the center's executive director, was detained after he called for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, blaming him for economic failures and human rights violations during his more than 30 years in office, his relatives said.

BCHR President Nabeel Rajab said he will try to challenge the closure decision in court. "This a political decision," he said. (Continued)

The North Wind and the Sun

If you haven't heard about it already, the vice president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was arrested after criticizing the Prime Minister at a seminar about Poverty and Economic Rights in Bahrain a few days ago. Below is the statement issued by Human Rights Watch (which I also fully endorse):

(New York, September 29, 2004) — Bahrain should immediately release prominent human rights activist `Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja from detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Khawaja was summoned to a police station and detained on Saturday, September 25, a day after he criticized Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Al Khalifa for the country’s current economic problems and past human rights abuses.

Al-Khawaja had made the remarks on Friday at the `Uruba Club in Manama during a Poverty and Economic Rights symposium sponsored by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Al-Khawaja, a vice-president of the center, is reportedly being held for investigation on charges that he violated provisions of Bahrain’s 1976 Penal Code that prohibits dissemination of “false or malicious news” that “damages the public interest” or “incites contempt” towards the government.

“Throwing people in jail for criticizing top officials is hardly compatible with the government’s boasts of democratic reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “With the arrest of `Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja, the prime minister is reverting to the authoritarian ways that had given Bahrain such a bad name in the past.”

On Saturday, the same day al-Khawaja was detained, the authorities also ordered the closure of the `Uruba Club for 45 days, ostensibly because of an event a week earlier, on September 19, in which a speaker reportedly expressed the opinion that Kuwait belonged to Iraq.

Bahrain’s king, Shaikh Hamad bin `Isa Al Khalifa, has been responsible for instituting numerous reforms since he succeeded his father as ruler in 1999. However, these reforms have not included changes to provisions in the Penal Code that continue to allow the government to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of association. Shaikh Khalifa Al Khalifa, the king’s uncle, has been prime minister since Bahrain became independent in 1971. He was a key proponent of the 1976 Penal Code provisions giving the government wide latitude to suppress public criticism.

My personal opinon on this is that Al Khawaja's arrest flies right in the face of all the positive reforms that have been taking place in the country in the last few years, and he should be released immediately. That said however, from a strategic point of view I think Al Khawaja did not achieve a great deal by criticizing the Prime Minister, asides from the publicity associated with his arrest. I believe he can do much more to help the poor of Bahrain outside of a jail cell, than he can through arrests and hunger strikes. It is crucial for those of us who want to bring change to this country to be aware of the realities of the political landscape in which we operate and work accordingly. The Prime Minister will never resign under pressure from the opposition or the international media, so demanding this is useless when we could instead be doing something to help the poor.

On that note, I thought I'd share with you something else. When I was six years old I read a book of Aesop's Fables which contained the story of the North Wind and the Sun. I remember the words and the illustrations vividly as they have strongly influenced the way I make decisions during times of conflict. I think everyone can gain by applying the principles in this story.

The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

Willing slaves

After the terrible accident at Dubai Airport yesterday in which five Asian labourers were killed, the BBC has come out with an article worth reading that highlights the main reasons for the plight of expat workers in the Gulf. I would guess that workers in Dubai are probably slightly better off than their equivalents in other parts of the Gulf like Bahrain, Kuwait, and of course Saudi Arabia. (And I do like the photo from AP above which illustrates well the vast difference in lifestyle between the expat workers and local citizens).

From the BBC:

The future prosperity of [Dubai] and its ability to create headline-catching superlatives for its ventures is dependent upon guest workers as well as on the flamboyant leadership which commissions the ideas.

Yet the majority of these employees have no voice - not even when it comes to their own safety.

Such workers are often the main breadwinners for their families back home. As such they are not in a position to lose their jobs through raising questions over on-site procedure.

Dissent is not encouraged in the Gulf. Expatriate unions are not allowed.

Safety on construction sites and more broadly within the workplace is currently a subject of debate in the UAE and one which is raised in the press from time to time.

Similarly the local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end.

They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed.

The names of the construction companies concerned are not published in the newspapers for fear of offending the often powerful individuals who own them. (Continued)

Russian shuttle in the desert

Monday, September 27, 2004

From the Khaleej Times, 2 July 2002:

MANAMA - Bahrain spread open yesterday its welcoming arms with splendour and grandeur like never before to an estimated 300,000 visitors, expected to arrive at the kingdom during the two-month-long summer bonanza.


Other events include Bab Al Bahrain Experience, float parades, stratosphere experience and Buran Space Shuttle.

Do any of you Bahraini residents remember the summer festival two years ago described above? And remember that they managed get, Buran, a Russian space shuttle from somewhere to put on display as part of the exhibition? I went and had a look and it was really quite interesting.

Well, apparently that space shuttle is STILL lying around somewhere on the island! A few days ago, German news sources Spiegel (English translation) and Bild (English translation), reported that some TV journalists came across the shuttle in the desert while they were here for the Formula 1 Grand Prix (via Slashdot). The funny thing is the way it was initially reported as though no one knew how the shuttle got to Bahrain and that it was some X-files type mystery. But they finally figured out how it got there, and now Spiegel has reported (translation) that the shuttle has already been purchased by a German museum, and it will be on its way to its new home in a few months.

Now I'd really like to have a second look at Buran (this time without throngs of little kids in the way), and maybe take some pics to share with you before it leaves for Germany. The problem is that its location is being kept "secret". I am assuming (and hoping) that means that it is just lying somewhere in the desert where people don't usually go. So I'm going to do a bit of wandering in the Sakhir area this weekend and hope that I might bump into it. And in the probable case that I don't find it, then it will have been a fun outing anyways. But if any of you have any tips about where to look then please do drop me an email or leave a comment!


UPDATE (27-Sep-04): Thanks to the GDN for saving me some trouble! The GDN incidentally just published an article today about the shuttle! Apparently, Buran is in the storage yard of a company called Pico, somewhere in Sitra (and not in Sakhir!). I'll be there as soon as I get a chance.

Here is the real story of why the shuttle is still in Bahrain (from the GDN):

Once the festival was over [Buran] should have been dismantled and shipped to Thailand as a tourist attraction. But it is still in the Sitra storage yard of Bahrain company Pico, which brought it here for the festival.

"NPO Molniya, the company which we negotiated with to bring the spacecraft and another Russian company both claim ownership of Buran," Pico chairman Khalid Juman told the GDN. First, a case was filed by a Bahrain-based foreign company at Bahrain's civil courts in October 2002, to order NPO Molniya to remove the craft from the Manama dock area. NPO had allegedly delayed meeting the terms of a contract with the foreign company to dismantle the spacecraft and ship it to Thailand, where it was set to go on display later that month.

Early last year it was dismantled into four pieces - the hull, two wings and the tail section - and moved to Pico's storage area. Mr Juman said a ruling was still pending in the case over the ownership of the craft, also being dealt with in Bahrain's courts. (Continued)

Ya Hussain! Ya Quds! (Part 2)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I thought I'd talk a bit about the background of the photo I posted on Monday. I took the photo at the site of a lecture that was given near Budaiya Highway, in the Al Qadam area way back in April. The lecture was given by a prominent Shia cleric who talked about solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and its relationship to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (since the day of the lecture coincided with the Shia holy ceremony of Arbaeen). I didn't actually attend the lecture, but I stopped by to take pictures in the morning, while the stage decorations were still being prepared.

When I got there I spoke to a chap who seemed to be in charge of the art decorations. He was a very nice man and seemed quite pleased that a non-Shia expat was taking interest in the event, and he encouraged me to take lots of pictures. What I was really interested in was the iconography portrayed in all of the images that were painted. So let's have a look at the first picture shown above (for enlarged version click here) and study all the different things going on.

The poster hung from the top of the shown building uses the Palestinian flag as its background, upon which are superimposed: (i) a portrait of the late Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, founder of the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas, who was assassinated by the Israeli military just a couple of weeks prior; (ii) a Bahraini flag in the shape of the country's bourders; and (iii) an image of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Below this is a banner in Arabic which says something like: "Verily, Israel is weaker than the house of the spider". I assume this is a reference to Verse 29:41 of the Quran which reads (Yusuf Ali translation):

The parable of those who take protectors other than God is that of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider's house;- if they but knew.

Below the banner are three more pictures. On the left is a portrait of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (I think) who is the current Supreme Leader (vali-e-faqih) of Iran. In the middle is an image of a mounted warrior, who I believe is the famous Saladin, with the Dome of the Rock used as the background. The picture on the right is a portrait of the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the former Supreme Leader of Iran, and spiritual leader of the Islamic Revolution. Finally, on the stage in front of the building are a number of mannequins representing Imam Hussain and his companions during the Tragedy of Kerbala.

What a mad mix of symbolism. Palestinian, Iranian and Bahraini nationalism, mixed with both Shia and Sunni Islamism... a confusing cocktail of identities.

Alright, when I started writing this post two days ago I was planning on studying in detail all of the the posters from this event, and then I was going to come up with some profound post-modern conclusion about the significance of the specific mix of icons used. But the post has been lying around unfinished in my drafts box for two days and I'm tired and I can't be bothered to finish it properly. So I'm just going to show you a few more pictures below, and then you guys can come up with your own profound conclusions (and feel free to share them with me in the comments section).

So here is the second picture:

The turbaned guy on the right is (I think) Shaikh Abdul Ameer Al Jamri who is Bahrain's most prominent Shia cleric, who for years was targetted by the government. I'm not sure who the young man in the picture is, but most likely he's a "Bahraini martyr". Also, note the way that the Bahraini flag and the Palestinian flag are almost blending in to each other.

Third picture:

Again we see Shaikh Al-Jamri and the young man from the previous picture. I'm not too sure who the two (seemingly) Shia clerics flanking him are. At the bottom right is the Dome of the Rock, again, and unfortunately I don't know the identity of the green building shown on the left. If anyone knows then please help me out.

Finally, here's one I took that I find slightly amusing:

That big billboard on the left side is an advertisement for a local beauty salon. I found it quite funny that the stage of the lecture was flanked on one side by a big portrait of the late Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, and on the other side by an even larger portrait of a bride. When the lecture was taking place they covered up the beauty by hanging a huge black cloth over the billboard. I can understand why.

Anyways, have fun with the pictures and come up with your own conclusions.

Expat rapprochement?

Here are some welcome words from a Bahraini politician:

Mr Redha said councillors should aim to represent all of Bahrain society - including expats. "Expats are the majority in Bahrain and they are the ones paying most of the municipal taxes," he said.

"Municipal councillors should meet with them and discuss their needs and requirements, because in the end they are a part of the community whether they are able to vote or not.

"In the Capital Governorate alone 88pc of people are expats, but what's happening is that councillors don't seem to think about them.

"Even though they are the ones concerned in any new municipal law, legislation or service." (Continued)

The 'Mr Redha' who said this is actually Jassim Redha, an Al Wefaq member who is currently the secretary general of the Manama Municipal Council (MMC). Yes, it came as a shock for me also seeing that just two months ago his comrade Murtadha Bader, chairman of the MMC, made calls to relocate expat workers out of Manama altogether.

Maybe Redha is just trying to cover up for all the bad press that Bader's proposition received. And unfortunately, I have little hope that the municipal councillors will actually give a hoot about the lives of expats. But I still welcome the remarks, even if they never get translated in to actions, because it is the first time that I have ever heard of a Bahraini politician who has said that the views of expats should be considered when making decisions about Bahrain. I do hope this isn't the last time we hear words like these.

Fishy seamen

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ever since those six men were arrested (two were recently released) on charges of terrorism, there have been widespread rumors that it is the US interests on the island that have been pressuring the government to take these actions; and that they are effectively running the show. Up until now there had been no official word from any US authority about what their role is in all of this.

One would expect that if this rumour has any truth behind it, then the US authorities would continue to keep their mouths shut, so as not to attract any more attention than they already have. If however they really aren't behind any of this and they want to disassociate themselves from the arrests, then we might expect them to publicly deny all of the rumours.

I was then rather confused when I read an article in Monday's GDN in which Vice-Admiral David Nichols, commander of the Fifth Fleet, gave his opinion about the arrests. He did not mention whether the US had any influence over the arrests, but praised the acts as a step against terrorism. I mean it doesn't really make sense. Why should the GDN be asking the US Navy about its opinion of the arrests? There is an official gag order on the case, so why is there an exception to publish the opinions of the Navy? The GDN certainly hasn't published the opinions of any other institution in Bahrain since the gag order was announced. Also, note how Nichols speaks about the arrests as though he is an authority on the issue.

What really confuses me is why the Navy would want to make a public statement about this in the first place, as it would seem to only help further spread the rumors. The fishiness continues...

Here is the article in question:

A series of arrests over the past four months has helped combat the immediate terrorist threat across the region, according to a top US commander. Vice-Admiral David Nichols specifically cited operations in Bahrain, the UAE, Pakistan, Oman and Kuwait as having a significant impact in the war on terror. But he warned the threat still existed and said that anti-terrorist measures would continue indefinitely.

Operations such as Task Force 150 (TF150), which is a multi-national coalition force patrolling the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa and the Somalia Basin, are expected to go on for at least another two years.

"There have been some significant successes in terms of locating terrorists over the last three or four months," said Vice-Admiral Nichols, who was speaking to journalists after the command of TF150 was handed over to the British Royal Navy in Bahrain yesterday. "That has been the case in Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Pakistan. All that work together has made a difference. I believe it has deterred some of the immediate terrorist threat, but on the other hand terrorists are still out there. They are still very determined."

Only last month, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists were arrested in Pakistan and Dubai. Among them was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who is accused of being the operational head for Al Qaeda. The arrests came shortly after six men were arrested in Bahrain for suspected terrorist connections. Two have since been released. "There is no immediate threat to Bahrainis, Americans or Westerners in Bahrain, but the issue we are dealing with is of a regional threat," said Vice-Admiral Nichols, who is commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command and Fifth Fleet. "The Bahrainis were arrested because they apparently had a relationship with terrorists off-island. This is a regional and transnational threat we are dealing with." The arrest of the six Bahrainis preceded the departure in early July of almost 1,000 relatives of US military personnel stationed in Bahrain. (Continued)

McKinsey on labour market reforms

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Man, I can't believe that the government needed a report from bloody McKinsey & Co (which must have to cost a hefty sum) to be convinced of the things that many of us ordinary folk have been saying for years. That said, I'm not complaining, because its better late than never. At long last the government is now recognizing the huge flaws in its Bahrainization policy of the past 8 years.

From today's GDN

Wake-up call on wages

A wake-up call went out yesterday to Bahrain businesses which survive on the back of cheap expatriate labour. The low-wage culture must go if Bahrain is to meet soaring demand for jobs, say experts.

Bahrain must level the labour playing field and create a skilled national workforce, with well-paid jobs that will attract Bahrainis, says a team probing potential labour and economic reforms.

The low-wage private sector business structure cannot produce jobs for the 100,000 Bahrainis entering the labour market over the next 10 years, said McKinsey & Company Middle East managing partner Kito de Boer.

The company has been studying potential labour market reforms in conjunction with the Economic Development Board, chaired by Crown Prince and BDF Commander-in-Chief Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

If you can't hear it, does it still break it?

Continuing on the topic of "Spoof Art" from my previous post, I think it is a real indicator that Western culture can produce works of satire like the Objective Ministries site, or Ali G for example. Sure, there are people who get upset by this type of stuff, but by and large they respect the rights of other people to express differing views. On the other hand, in the Muslim world today it is quite hard to find people openly making fun of their own society and culture. Muslims today really have a hard time swallowing satire and self-criticism, or even respecting someone else's right to air a different view. One needs only to think back to the Rushdie Affair, or the more recent case of Taslima Nasrin. The day that it is able to absorb and digest satire without death threats and burning effigies I will be satisfied that the Muslim world has undergone the much-needed reform that I am always talking about.

There are signs however that this change is already taking place. There are, for example, now many Muslim comedians around the world who feel comfortable making fun of Muslim stereotypes. In the US there is the Allah Made Me Funny comedy tour featuring Azhar Usman; in the UK there is Shazia Mirza; and in Norway, the hugely controversial Shabana Rehman. These folks have really done a great deal to get Muslims and non-Muslims alike to think hard about several cultural and religious issues that are part of modern (Western) Muslim life. As you can see, the divide I suggested earlier of "Muslim world vs. the West" just doesn't work since all of the comedians I have mentioned here belong to both of these traditions. However it does lead me to believe that Western Muslims are certainly leading the global march in the reform amongst Muslims.

One of my favourite "self aware" Muslim groups is the Islamica Network which issues Islamica News, a "Muslim" version of the satire news website The Onion. Their humour plays on aspects of life that are peculiar to Muslims, more specifically, modern American Muslims. In that respect, many of the jokes they use might not be fully understood by non-Muslim Americans, or non-American Muslims. They address the typical stereotypes of Muslims, and the different ethnicities that make up today's American Muslim communities. They also highlight the way in which many American Muslims today are obesessed with external ritual piety, rather than focusing on the more substantial issues of spirituality or ethics. Below I've presented excerpts from some of my favourite spoof articles in IslamicaNews and tried to give an explanation where it might not be obvious to non-Muslims or non-American Muslims.

The following article is so appropriate when we consider recent statements of yahoodi-blaming close to home.

Man Blames Everything on Jews

ISRAEL, IN - Witnesses stood in awe this morning when a 47 year old Egyptian man by the name of Habib Yawari lunged into a verbal assault at an area gas station.

"The damn thing wouldn't take my credit card," exclaimed Yawari, "They wanted to make me late, I know it! It's all because of the Jews!"

This marks the fifteenth incident this month where Yawari has blamed his misfortunes on the children of Israel. From having his credit declined to stubbing his pinky toe, Yawari seems to find a correlation between Jews and everything going bad in his life. (Continued)

Here is another classic which makes fun of the many Muslim men who insist maintaining complete segregation at all costs. Again, very apt when we consider recent events like Asra Nomani's movement, or the proposal to segregate the University of Bahrain. (Note to non-Muslim readers: The terms "brother" and "sister" are commonly used to address other male or female Muslims regardless of whether they are genealogically related or not).

Man Enraged That Two-Year Old Sister Is In Brothers Section

TULSA, OK - Chaos was nearly averted at the Islamic Center of Tulsa when Dadam Bazaam blew into a wave of histrionics when spotting a sister in the men’s section of the prayer hall. Two-year-old Nida Malik had her hand in her mouth when Bazaam spotted her.

"It was like I was at a wild disco with all this free mixing of the genders!" exclaimed an irate Bazaam. "Why don't we setup a casino in here with girls in peacock outfit?" (Continued)

I'm sure that every Muslim with an e-mail address has received a message with an attached image that shows a tree supposedly prostrating towards Mecca, or a tomato that has its seeds naturally arranged so that they appear to spell "bismillah". Asides from the questionable authenticity, it is so annoying to get the same thing 20 times from different people. And do we really require these gimmicks to believe in God? Anyways, the artice below plays on this common aspect of modern Muslim life (and I love the zebra photo). (Note to non-Muslim readers: "Shirk" is the Arabic word for "polytheism").

Area Sister Receives Miraculous E-mail, Forwards Message To 1200 Closest Friends

Birmingspam, NC - "I couldn't believe it, they were so beautiful," remarked Sister Aamina Fourwardu after viewing a picture attached to an e-mail forward she received early this morning. The e-mail, sent to her by a close and trusted friend, included approximately one dozen pictures portraying "Really Freaky Stuff That Has to do with Islam". Some of the pictures had subtle undertones of miracles whereas others were out and out unusual.

"The way that the clouds look, it's so clear that they say 'The streets will be flowing with the blood of the infidels'", she stated as she sifted through one of the attached pictures. Other pictures included in the e-mail portray images of a mongoose with a prayer hat, a zebra with the words 'Shirk' seemingly visible amongst its stripes and a bag of Basmati rice with a $3 price tag. (Continued)

And here are some one-liner headlines:

Pakistanis Think African-American Guest Speaker Is Angry

This refers to the ethnic differences among American Muslims, and the way they view each other.

Second Glance Taken, Followed By Third

Haha, this is a great one. One of the many rules that many Muslims are fed while growing up is that it is wrong for you to look at someone of the opposite sex. However, since you don't know what you're looking at until you actually see it, your first glance will be forgiven. A second glance is prohibited since you do it of your own will.

Throat-Clearing Sounds Plague Masjid Wudu Area

Now you really have to experience Muslim life to understand this one. The "wudu area" is the part of the mosque where Muslims perform their ablutions prior to praying. One of the requirements is to wash out your mouth, and many of the older folk insist coughing out the last drop of phlegm from their throats.

Brother Can't Delete Internet History With Allah

This one is about the paranoia of Muslims feeling that they will be labelled as terrorists if they are found to have any association with Islam. So I'm sure that any Muslim who has had a non-Muslim roommate or officemate laughed hard when they read this one.

And finally two great ones that play on Muslims' obsession with the Islamic rules that govern farting. Let me explain. In order to pray, one must be in a state of physical purity, which is achieved by performing the wudu (ablution). So the jurists have written manuscripts and books debating which actions break the state of purity after having performed the wudu. Among the things that "break one's wudu" are vomiting, letting blood, cutting fingernails (I think, but I'm not sure), pissing, shitting, and of course, farting.

Imam Farts But Keeps Going

The question below was featured in the advice column:

If you can't hear it, does it still break it?

Read the thought-provoking response to the question here.

We will have to wait a bit longer before we someone as outrageous as Ali G come from within the Muslim community. And it will be a while longer before we see Muslims outside of the West who feel comfortable having some fun with their religion. But Islamica, and the other Muslim comedians I've mentioned have made a good start, worth crediting, towards getting Muslims to question taboo issues, become more self-aware and self-critical and of course, have a laugh every now and then. Let's hope this tradition continues and spreads in the future.


UPDATE (21-9-04): I forgot to mention another source of American Muslim humour: DS-films. These are a bunch of Muslim college students from Texas who have produced a number of "mockumentary" videos about American Muslim life, very much in the same spirit as IslamicaNews. Again, non-Muslims might not get all of the jokes, but if you're interested go ahead and download their videos.

Ya Hussain! Ya Quds!

Monday, September 20, 2004

"The cry of Husayn in Jerusalem"

Spoof art

Saturday, September 18, 2004

This site has been around for a while, but it is easily the best hoax website I've come across. They've paid such attention to the tiniest detail. It took me a while to realize it was actually a spoof. This is art. Be sure to explore all the links.

Go Cabtain Majid!

I'm sure many of the Arab readers here will have grown up watching the Arabic cartoon "Captain Majid" on TV. It was a great show that I and many others throughout the Arab world would watch religiously. It was basically a cartoon about football in which Captain Majid and his team would play against his arch-enemy Bassam. Captain Majid was the centre of my life for such a long time. I stopped watching it when I "outgrew" it, and I totally forgot about it until recently.

Yesterday I was talking with one of my Italian friends about our favourite cartoons while growing up. She described an Italian cartoon named "Holly e Benji" which was also out football. After a while we realized that we both grew up watching the same show but dubbed in different languages. It's crazy. Coming from different corners of the planet, one would think that our upbringings would have nothing in common. But for both me and my Italian friend "Captain Majid" was a fixture in our childhoods, and we were able to have a discussion about all of the different episodes for several hours afterwards.

A bit of Googling made me aware that in its original Japanese form the show was called Captain Tsubasa, and has been dubbed in to many other languages. You can download some episodes (in Arabic) from here.

Go Cabtain Majid!

New American bloggers in Bahrain

Friday, September 17, 2004

I've recently come across some more Bahrain bloggers -- these two are Americans who are relatively new to the island (I think).

  • BD is (coincidentally!) a US Navy Reservist who is serving his annual active duty in Bahrain. He's been on the island since August, but I think he did a stint here previously also.
  • The Waalkes family have also just arrived recently. Scott Waalkes is a university professor who is in Bahrain on a Fulbright fellowship. I think he's teaching at Bahrain U while carrying out his research.

I hope I didn't screw up any of the introductions. It will be great to hear their perspectives as newcomers to Bahrain. Do give them a warm welcome.

Advice for US sailors in Bahrain

Thursday, September 16, 2004

So US Navy service(wo)men have been getting in to trouble on the streets of Bahrain lately. Here are two reports from yesterday's GDN. In that fine tradition of all sailors, both of the Americans in the two reports were allegedly drunk.

Report 1:

A drunken American was arrested by police who found him collapsed on Exhibition Avenue. The 29-year-old US Navy officer was picked up at 1am and handed over to the US Navy base in Juffair, sources told the GDN

Report 2:

A US military servicewoman allegedly attacked a Bahraini woman after accusing her of nearly driving over her foot. The incident allegedly happened in traffic in the Manama suq. A US military official confirmed that there had been an incident, but said there were as yet no Bahraini charges lodged against the servicewoman."At the moment, there are no Bahraini charges pending," said US Naval Forces Central Command and US Fifth Fleet public affairs officer Commander James Graybeal. "We are not in a position to discuss the case, under the United States law and military regulations. "We take the conduct of our soldiers very seriously."

Kamelia Isa Faraj Bu Rashid is considering filing a civil suit against the servicewoman, who she says yelled at her and tried to pull her out of her vehicle. Mrs Bu Rashid, who was accompanied by her mother and mother-in-law, said she was trying to find parking space in Government Avenue, at about 8.30pm, when the incident happened. "I was standing in traffic when I heard her yelling and swearing in the middle of the road, saying that I almost ran over her foot," said Mrs Bu Rashid. "She hit my car's rear right-side window then tried to open my door and pull me out. "Thankfully she was stopped by a passer-by who saw the incident."

A policeman on duty nearby tried to calm down the woman, but she apparently started shouting at him as well. He called for a patrol and the woman was taken to Naim Police Station. "The police suspected that she was unstable because of the way she was talking to them," said Mrs Bu Rashid. "She kept on saying that she did not care and even tossed a pen at one of the policemen. "She then accused me of actually running over her foot."

Tests later showed that the woman had been drinking, she said. Her foot was reportedly also examined, but was found to be uninjured. Mrs Bu Rashid's father, who is also a lawyer, is preparing a civil case against the American woman, alleging attempted physical assault and verbal assault.

Don't get me wrong now. Incidents like these involving US Navy personnel are quite rare. I'm sure that there have been many many more of such incidents involving Saudis than Navy servicemen. However, in these times, the involvement of someone from the US Navy has the potential to blow an incident in to much more than it actually is. I'm thinking of the time that some servicemen got into a fight with the storekeepers of Farshat al-Araes, a discount garments shop (I'll try to find the news article online).

The Navy authorities have been issuing orders to their personnel to keep a low profile for quite some time now. I have one suggestion which should help them significantly to blend in to civilian Bahraini society: Lose the stupid haircuts! Okay, I'm not really someone to talk when it comes to fashion sense. But more than anything else it is those military haircuts that makes it possible to spot these sailors from miles away. There are thousands of other caucasian residents here who seem to blend in to the island's social fabric. However the US seamen really do stick out of the crowd when you see them wandering the streets of the Suq every evening with their "High & Tight" haircauts. And I mean no offense. I've met many of them and most of them are pretty down to Earth nice guys. But for their own safety, and to help them not get ripped off when they go bargain-hunting, I urge them to do something about their hair.

More Qaradawi

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Once again, Abu Ardvaark has another interesting post about the whole "Qaradawi-says-kill-American-civilians" affair. Actually, he has translated an article by Fahmi Huwaydi from the Qatari paper al-Sharq, and then added his own comments at the end. There are two very interesting pieces of information in Huwaydi's article that I was not aware of previously. First, the event at which Qaradawi supposedly issued his statement to 'fight US civilians in Iraq' was actually a lecture he was giving entitled "Political Pluralism in the Islamic Understanding". His now famous statement was only in response to a question by a journalist at the end of his lecture.

The more interesting part is the text of what Qaradawi actually said in response to the question. Huwaydi claims that he managed to get his hands on a recording of the 31 August event and this is what Qaradawi said:

The Americans who came to Iraq as invaders, and brought with them war, killing them is necessary.. but the beheadings can not be supported by the ethics of Islam.. the constitution of war in Islam is a constitution of ethics, and by those rules we must not kill except those who kill us, and therefore all of those who do not carry weapons it is not upon us to kill.

This certainly is not what the international media reported the following day. Well okay, his English speaking spokesman did say something quite different. But was it really beyond the capabilities of the media to get a recording of the 31 August lecture (as Huwaydi did) and get an independent translation of what he said? Or why did no one pick up on Qaradawi's press conference held a few days later which had the specific purpose of denying the statements in the press being attributed to him?

Like I said before, I am not at all a supporter of Qaradawi and it is quite odd that I am defending someone like him. However the picture of Qaradawi being painted in the press is entirely different from what the reality seems to be. There are many other Muslim characters who do endorse the killing of civilians and those are the people we should be worrying about, not Qaradawi.

Do read the entire post by Abu Aardvark to catch the details that I have missed out.

Detainees in for another 30 days

Monday, September 13, 2004

The latest news with regards to the case of the four remaining detainees is that they have been ordered to remain in custody for a further 30 days. They have been in custody for 60 days already. When the order was announced one of the detainees, Yasir Malik, sprinted out of court but turned himself in after an hour, having spent a short time with his wife and children.

I am a bit confused on one point. I claimed earlier that the detainees were being faced with charges, which was based on the Reuters article printed in the Khaleej Times. However, today's report by AP says that none have been charged yet (which seems to be the actual case). I'll try and get a confirmation of what the actual situation is soon.

But there is something so fishy about this case, especially because of the media blackout imposed. It feels so much like the Old Days when the Security Law was in place.

Here is the AP report via the Guardian:

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) - A terror suspect escaped from court Monday but surrendered an hour later. Yasir Kamal fled the High Court after hearing that the judge had ordered him to remain in custody another 30 days. ``Leave me! Don't touch me!'' he shouted as police tried to restrain him. Kamal turned himself in at a Manama police station after a brief visit with his wife and children, said his lawyer, Abdullah Hashem.

Kamal is one of six suspects who have been in and out of jail since June in connection with alleged terror plots in Bahrain and contacts with foreign terrorist organizations. None have been charged. Two were released without explanation on Saturday. On Monday a High Court judge ordered the other four held for 30 more days. Kamal was the only suspect who tried to flee, taking advantage of an uproar in the courtroom as friends and relatives protested the decision.

The Interior Ministry says investigators searched the six detainees' computers and found documents on making and using bombs and poisons. Defense lawyers say the men deny being involved in terror plots. Last month, authorities banned the media from publishing details of the investigation.

Hammour anyone?

Sorry, they were out of chan'ad.

Here we go again

Sunday, September 12, 2004

This story just keeps repeating itself over and over again... I don't know why I keep posting it. I've lost track of how many times these guys have been rearrested and released. The last thing that happened was that after completing their 45 days under custody they were ordered to remain in custody for a further 15 days. As the article below reports, two of the six men have been released without any explanation, and a court session today will determine whether the remaining four will also be released. The charges against the men have not been removed though, so expect this story to continue going around in the same circle a bit longer.

The most frustrating thing about this all is the media blackout about this story that has been imposed on all local media outlets. What does the government have to hide here?

Well, here is the Reuters report published in yesterday's Khaleej Times:

MANAMA - Bahrain on Saturday released from prison two of six Islamists held for two months, but they still face charges over alleged links to Al Qaeda, one of their lawyers said. The six were arrested in mid-July and charged with plotting to blow up government and foreign targets in pro-US Bahrain -- headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The raid followed US warnings of possible militant attacks on US and Western interests in Bahrain and an order for non-emergency defence personnel and their families to evacuate the Gulf Arab island state.

“The two were freed without any explanations. The prosecutors still have the right to put them under arrest whenever they want,” lawyer Abdullah Hashim told Reuters. “The court will hold a special session tomorrow and may order the other four released. But they will continue to face the charges,” said Hashim, who represents four of the suspects.

Hopefully I'll be able to let you know about the fate of the remaining four detainees byt tomorrow.

We are so sorry

I felt like I didn't say all that I wanted to in my last post, but I found that Kamal Nawash's recent article sums up everything I had in my mind. I don't usually quote the whole length of a long article, but I felt like I should since I strongly agree with everything that is said in it. The world should know Nawash isn't alone in his cause, and that there are many Muslims around the world who feel the same way.

This September 11 marks the third unforgettable anniversary of the worst mass murder in American history.

After September 11, many in the Muslim world chose denial and hallucination rather than face up to the sad fact that Muslims perpetrated the 9-11 terrorist acts and that we have an enormous problem with extremism and support for terrorism. Many Muslims, including religious leaders, and “intellectuals” blamed 9-11 on a Jewish conspiracy and went as far as fabricating a tale that 4000 Jews did not show up for work in the World Trade Center on 9-11. Yet others blamed 9-11 on an American right wing conspiracy or the U.S. Government which allegedly wanted an excuse to invade Iraq and “steal” Iraqi oil.

After numerous admissions of guilt by Bin Laden and numerous corroborating admissions by captured top level Al-Qaida operatives, we wonder, does the Muslim leadership have the dignity and courage to apologize for 9-11? If not 9-11, will we apologize for the murder of school children in Russia? If not Russia, will we apologize for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain? If not Spain, will we apologize for suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other public places? If not suicide bombings, will we apologize for the barbaric beheadings of human beings? If not beheadings, will we apologize for the rape and murder of thousands of innocent people in Darfour? If not Darfour, will we apologize for the blowing up of two Russian planes by Muslim women? What will we apologize for? What will it take for Muslims to realize that those who commit mass murder in the name of Islam are not just a few fringe elements? What will it take for Muslims to realize that we are facing a crisis that is more deadly than the Aids epidemic? What will it take for Muslims to realize that there is a large evil movement that is turning what was a peaceful religion into a cult?

Will Muslims wake up before it is too late? Or will we continue blaming the Jews and an imaginary Jewish conspiracy? The blaming of all Muslim problems on Jews is a cancer that is destroying Muslim society from within and it must stop.

Muslims must look inward and put a stop to many of our religious leaders who spend most of their sermons teaching hatred, intolerance and violent jihad. We should not be afraid to admit that as Muslims we have a problem with violent extremism. We should not be afraid to admit that so many of our religious leaders belong behind bars and not behind a pulpit. Only moderate Muslims can challenge and defeat extremist Muslims. We can no longer afford to be silent. If we remain silent to the extremism within our community then we should not expect anyone to listen to us when we complain of stereotyping and discrimination by non-Muslims; we should not be surprised when the world treats all of us as terrorists; we should not be surprised when we are profiled at airports. Simply put, not only do Muslims need to join the war against terror, we need to take the lead in this war.

As to apologizing, we will no longer wait for our religious leaders and “intellectuals” to do the right thing. Instead, we will start by apologizing for 9-11. We are so sorry that 3000 people were murdered in our name. We will never forget the sight of people jumping from two of the highest buildings in the world hoping against hope that if they moved their arms fast enough that they may fly and survive a certain death from burning. We are sorry for blaming 9-11 on a Jewish or right wing conspiracy. We are so sorry for the murder of more than three hundred school children and adults in Russia. We are so sorry for the murder of train passengers in Spain. We are so sorry for all the victims of suicide bombings. We are so sorry for the beheadings, abductions, rapes, violent Jihad and all the atrocities committed by Muslims around the world. We are so sorry for a religious education that raised killers rather than train people to do good in the world. We are sorry that we did not take the time to teach our children tolerance and respect for other people. We are so sorry for not rising up against the dictators who have ruled the Muslim world for decades. We are so sorry for allowing corruption to spread so fast and so deep in the Muslim world that many of our youth lost hope. We are so sorry for allowing our religious leaders to relegate women to the status of forth class citizens at best and sub-humans at worse.

We are so sorry.

Read the article at its original web location here.

Three years on

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Three years on, today again we pray for the lost souls of that day. Like all Americans, many of us Muslims will also be mourning for them.

Labour market deregulation

This is great news. The current policy of Bahrainisation is a hindrance on efficiency and has really reduced our ability to compete with our neighbours, like Dubai. I know that several companies on the island hire a bunch of extra Bahraini secretaries (that they could do without) so that they can be seen to be complying with the Bahrainisation policies. If Bahrain ever wants to compete in the international market then Bahraini workers will have to be able to compete with expat workers on efficiency and salaries alone. I don't think labour regulations like minimum wages, or work hours are necessarily bad, so long as they are applied across the board to Bahrainis and expats alike, and efficiency is still the deciding criteria.

I was quite shocked to read in the report that a whopping 92% of the Bahraini workforce is saturated by the public sector. That is a ridiculous figure that the economy just can't support forever. The report did not say anything about when these changes would come, or what these changes would be exactly, but it is a good sign nontheless which must be encouraged.

Here is the report from the GDN:

MANAMA: The Bahrain jobs market may soon be entirely subject to the laws of supply and demand, it was revealed yesterday. The government has exhausted every possibility of creating employment for Bahrainis in the state sector, said Labour and Social Affairs Ministry Under-Secretary for Training Affairs Abdulilah Al Qassimi. But it would be counter-productive for the government to try to force the private sector to absorb large numbers of Bahraini workers, he told our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej.

He called for the deregulation of the jobs market so that the private sector would be free to recruit only those workers who it considered competent and productive. Mr Al Qassimi said the liberalisation of the jobs market would mean the policy of Bahrainisation would have to be reconsidered. (Continued)

An Islamic Bill of Rights for Women

Friday, September 10, 2004

Hats off to Asra Nomani for coming up with this much needed document. After demanding her right to enter her mosque through the main entrance a few months back, she has now come up with an 'Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque'. Recent developments like these really show that a genuine reform of Islam is being led by American Muslims more than any anyone else. (Read Michael Muhammad Knight's report on last week's ISNA Conference).

You might think I'm joking, but I seriously think that one of the reasons that current representations of Islam are so screwed up is because men seem to hold the exclusive right to interpret the religion. I'm sure that if women were to have a stronger presence in determining the direction of the community things would be considerably different. For one thing, I don't think violence in the name of Islam would be invoked as frequently as it is today. I think this Bill of Rights is a step towards achieving that goal. I do hope that women in Bahrain are also inspired by this and start demanding their rights in our mosques.

An Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque

Women have an Islamic right to:

  • enter a mosque.
  • enter through the main door.
  • visual and auditory access to the main sanctuary, or musalla.
  • pray in the main sanctuary without being separated by a barrier.
  • address any and all members of the congregation.
  • hold leadership positions, including participation on the board of directors.
  • be full participants in all congregational activities.
  • lead and participate in meetings, study sessions, and other community activities without being separated by a barrier.
  • be greeted and addressed cordially.
  • respectful treatment and exemption from gossip and slander.

Read Asra Nomani's article about this Bill of Rights at Muslim Wakeup. Also, don't forget to check out her 'Sex & the Umma' column.

Qaradawi in Darfur?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Apparently the "radical Islamic cleric" Yusuf al Qaradawi is in the Sudan right now trying to do something about the crisis in Darfur, yet none of the mainstream Western news sources have picked up on it yet. Abu Aardvark has an insightful post discussing this and the smear campaign being waged against Qaradawi. Concurring with the Aardvark, there are many things about Qaradawi that I really do not agree with, and I also find it quite unusual that I am now defending him. However I also disagree with the way in which the Western press has demonized Qaradawi. Says the Aardvark:

Qaradawi - along with his main platform, al Jazeera - has been the target of a concerted campaign of defamation which has established a conventional wisdom which just isn't true. When Swift Boat liars appear in the US, we all (or at least, most of us) understand the smear for what it is; when a smear happens in Arab politics, a lot of people think that someone like Abd al Rahman al Rashed or Mamoun Fandy is some kind of neutral truth teller rather than an active participant in the political operation. There's a million blogs to fact-check the Swift Boat Liars, but not many to correct the record on al Qaradawi or al Jazeera. So criticize Qaradawi for his views, by all means - lord knows there's plenty to criticize - but just try to recognize the political hatchet jobs for what they are....

Read the full post here.

Marcel Khalife coming to Bahrain

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Marcel Khalife, the Lebanese composer, singer and oudist will be performing on October 4th at the National Museum at 8pm. This is great news! Marcel Khalife is, in my opinion, the greatest gift to Arab music in the last few decades. For those of you who don't know him, he is perfectly comfortable in the classical musical traditions of both the West and the Orient, often fusing the two. He got in to some hot water a few years back for singing about the biblical Yusuf (Joseph), borrowing a verse from the Quran for his song. (The song is absolutely beautiful -- download the mp3 from here). He is also well known for his songs about Palestine. One of my favourite songs of his is Ila Ummi, ("To My Mother"). The lyrics for the song are based on the poem by Mahmoud Dariwsh. It is a truly moving poem so I thought I'd share the first two verses with you (translated into English):

I yearn for my mother's bread
And my mother's coffee
And my mother's touch
As [my] childhood grows up within me
Day upon the bosom of day,
And I love my life,
For if I died
I would feel shame for my mother's tears

Take me, if I ever return,
As a veil for your lashes
And cover my bones with grass
Baptized in the purity of your heel
Tie me to you
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails
In the train of your dress
Perhaps, I would then become a god
A god, I would become
If I touched the depths of your heart

There is no obvious reference to Palestine in the verses, but rather invokes memories of a way of life that is no more; a way of life that was robbed by the Occupation. Darwish usually takes this extremely personal approach to try and express how the Occupation ruined lives and relationships from the point of view of the individual, which is something that people of all castes and creeds can understand. And even if you aren't Palestinian, the poem will surely make you miss your mum!

Anyways, Khalife will be performing in Bahrain as part of a week long "International Music Festival", which will also include the Turkish Sextet, the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble, and our very own Ali Bahar. And best of all, it will be free! (Read the GDN article here)

Bahraini liberals and Al Muntada

Here's an interesting commentary about Bahrain's liberals and Al Muntada in this morning's Daily Star:

The majority of those who describe themselves as liberals in Bahrain have no illusions about their status in the political and intellectual life of their land, or its ambitions and future.

The liberals are delighted to participate with other Bahrainis in exercising their long-awaited legitimate right to form political societies or parties. However, some free-minded activists sought a different path. They wanted to consider other possibilities and give Bahrainis another option that might improve the health of political life in their country. This crystallized in 2001 in the formation of Al-Muntada, or the forum, a grouping of some 50 liberal businessmen, academics and creative professionals.

These proto-liberals knew that they were entering uncharted territory. Their idea had yet to be explored in, let alone incorporated into, the topography of Bahraini political and intellectual life. Even democracy had been around in the country for a long time, though the extent to which it was debased, confused or made counterfeit was another story. Bahraini liberals wanted to develop their own understanding of the practice, or, to be more accurate they wanted to see how they could assimilate liberal ideas and ways of thinking into the cultural system of individuals in Bahrain. That was an enormous task and, to be achieved, required a long process.

So it was not surprising that during Al-Muntada's first annual general meeting, in 2003, most of the sessions were spent on trying to answer the question: "Who are we?" This question is still very much at the center of discussions of members in their casual and official meetings. This persistence should not be taken as a sign of impotence, but rather as a desire to give the subject all that it requires to come up with correct rather than hasty answers. (Continued)

(This was just an excerpt, read the whole thing here)

Let's blame it on the yahoodis

Sunday, September 05, 2004

AP News has a report that talks about the Arab media's self-criticism with regards to the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia. It is quite relieving to see Arab and Muslim people finally willing to admit what everyone already knows: "All the World Terrorists are Muslims".

Unfortunately, thae was not the only type of view expressed. The report also says:

Ali Abdullah, a Bahraini scholar who follows the ultraconservative Salafi stream of Islam, condemned the school attack as "un-Islamic," but insisted Muslims weren't behind it.

"I have no doubt in my mind that this is the work of the Israelis who want to tarnish the image of Muslims and are working alongside Russians who have their own agenda against the Muslims in Chechnya," said Abdullah.

Yes, someone had to blame everything on the Israelis as usual. But that it comes from our very own "Bahraini scholar" is even more cause for concern. The report does not say whether these views were expressed in a newspaper, broadcast on TV, or in a private interview. Nor am I really sure who Ali Abdullah is, as there are hundreds of them in the local phone book. The most well-known Ali Abdullah I believe is MP Dr. Ali Ahmed Abdulla, chairman of the Services Committee. I think he is associated with the al-Menbar party but I'm not sure. I don't want to be accusing the wrong person of anything before I'm sure, so if anyone has more info then drop a comment.

In any case, what a ridiculous that claim that is. It's always so much easier to blame everything on the "yahoodis" than to take a critical look at oneself. I do hope that the mainstream local media does not put any weight behind such statements, so that we can finally begin to rid ourselves of the disease of terrorism.

Hijacking just struggles

It's hard for me to even begin to describe the disgust I felt when I saw the scenes from the hostage crisis in Beslan, Russia. I can only imagine how the parents and relatives of those involved must be feeling. This has been a pretty embarassing week to call yourself a Muslim. Let's review:

I'm sure there are a few more that I've missed, but these are the ones that I got around to discussing here.

Of course, the innocent lives lost are the biggest tragedies of these events. However, another truly sad aspect of the rise of militancy in the name of Islam is its hijacking of some very legitimate causes.In the last decade, many legitimate struggles that have been essentially social, political, or economic in nature have been hijacked Muslim militants and have forced the world to falsely translate them in to a religious struggle. By using Islamic terminology to describe the situation they have given these struggles an Islamic veneer. The sad thing is that they commit acts of terrorism under the banner of these struggles, thus removing any moral legitimacy that they may have ever had.

In Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine and Algeria, Muslim terrorists have hopelessly destroyed movements which are legitimate, and have turned the victims into the bloody aggressors in the eyes of the World. They have completely undermined the very causes that they claim to aid, through their naive view that the ends always justify the means. In the long run this premise fails both morally, and strategically.

Most recently they've even decided to get involved in the hijab issue in France. By holding hostage two French nationals and demanding the reversal of the hijab law, the terrorists have tainted all French hijab supporters with the brush of terrorism through association. Their act has only made life more difficult for those in France trying repeal the hijab law through constitutional means. On a side note, Dilnareen from the Kurdistan Bloggers Union has a more accurate analysis of what the terrorists were probably thinking when they captured the French nationals:

I wonder how cheated that 'Islamic Army of Iraq' felt when they found out that France didn’t send an army to Iraq.

"3aweel you idiot, now what are we going to do with them, go wipe that foam of your chin and google france see what you can find"

"hmm cheese, stereotypes, amelie ah look says here they have a headscarf ban"

"sounds good to me, call up that jazeera fella and this time tell him to get that plain white on black background, none of that artsy flash effects"

Muslim terrorists have repeatedly and consistently ruined the moral legitimacy of just struggles throughout the Muslim world. I don't know when the Muslim masses will take a stand against their terrorist co-religionists and reclaim the legitimacy they may have once held.

It's raining Gmail invites

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Even though I've given away loads of Gmail invites already, the folks at Google keep giving me more. So, if anyone out there (anyone at all) wants a 1GB mail account then just drop me an email and I'll send you an invite.

Clearing up mistakes

Friday, September 03, 2004

Just want to clear up a couple of factual errors I made in previous posts.

Two days ago I claimed that Gulf Air's office in Nepal was attacked by angry mobs in response to the killing of Nepali workers in Iraq. This was no more than just a rumour, as today's GDN tells us that:

Rioters attacked Arab and Islamic targets, including a mosque and the Qatar Airways office in Kathmandu. But Gulf Air's office was well out of the way and was not attacked, an airline official said in Bahrain yesterday.

Also, last week I was celebrating the demise of the Information Ministry, as it had been reported in the GDN. However, a commenter at Mahmood's Den directed us to a report in the Akhbar Al Khaleej, the GDN's Arabic language sister paper, in which an official is denying the report. This was also reported in the Dubai based Khaleej Times on August 30th which had this to say:

MANAMA - Reports appeared in the section of local Press stating that the Ministry of Information will be abolished, are ‘baseless,’ a source close to the ministry has told Khaleej Times on the condition of anonymity.

The reports said that the ministry will be abolished and will be divided into three commissions tourism; radio and TV; and culture and heritage.

The source said that the officials at the ministry were unaware of such development and were taken aback, pointing out that a local Arabic daily even carried a report later apologising for the inconvenience caused by the news and that it was not true. He said the ministry plays an important role, and it is not true that any such developments were being considered.

There is definitely something very fishy about this whole thing. If the original report was entirely baseless, why would the "source" telling this to the Khaleej Times have to speak on the condition of anonymity? Surely, everyone would come out and publicly say that there is no truth to the story. The other curious thing is that the GDN has remained completely silent on this since its initial report. There's definitely some infighting or something of the sort going on... ahh, I love Bahraini politics. If anyone has some more insider info about the story, then please do leave a comment.

IKEA stampede in Jeddah

Thursday, September 02, 2004

From Arab News:

JEDDAH, 2 September 2004 — Three men were killed and 16 injured in a stampede when thousands of people rushed to claim cash vouchers at the opening of an IKEA furniture showroom at its new location near the intersection of Tahlia and Sitteen streets here yesterday. (Continued)

No comments needed.

Queens of the highway

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Last year a Bahraini friend of mine had to go on a one-day business trip to Karachi. It was his first time visiting Pakistan. When he came back I asked him how his trip was.

"It was great!" he said. "I think there was a festival going on in the city that day."

"Really?" I responded. "Why, what was going on?"

"Well all of the buses and trucks were decorated and painted with really bright colours and images."

"Ha ha," I laughed, "in Pakistan every day is a festival."

That's right. What my friend had been describing was not specific to that day. One of the most bizarre aspects about Pakistan are the intricately decorated vehicles churning out clouds of black smoke as they traverse the country's roads and highways.

The story goes that sixty odd years ago, just prior to the partition of India and Pakistan, there was a Muslim painter who was an employee in the Court of a princely state in the region of Kutch. After partition, the princely state was incorporated in to India, so the painter found himself with no patrons, unemployed. So he migrated to Karachi in search of better prospects. But even here the best work he could find was to paint the names of companies on carts and trucks. At first he just painted the letters of the company name, but given his artistic inclinations he started adding minor ornamental embellishments. Gradually, these embellishments became more and more elaborate. This idea caught on throughout the country to the point where today there are no heavy vehicles on the streets which are not densely covered in brightly coloured decorations, cultural and religious symbols, verses of poetry, valley sceneries, woodwork, metalwork, "chamak-patti", and much more. Even the insides are heavily decorated. In the nearly 60 years since this medium started there have developed several distinct regional and stylistic schools of vehicle art, each with its own "Master".

This phenomenon fits in nicely into the theoretical frameworks of "Islamic art" already available to us today. Orthodox Islam has generally frowned upon the imagery of humans and animals. Thus, in most muslims cultures arts like calligraphy and architecture have usually excelled. The general criteria, as it seems to be, is that the medium should serve, primarily, a functional purpose. The medium could then be given an aesthetic wrapping with ornamental embellishments. For example, the primary role of calligraphy is to records verses of the Qur'an, or to send messages. The primary function of architecture is to serve as shelter or a place of prayer, etc. In practice however, very often the aesthetic role would overtake the functional role as the artists manipulated the medium to vent the artistic desires.

When Pakistan was created, with a supposed Islamic/Muslim agenda, little public space was given to people calling themselves artists, as it was something frowned upon. Artists, who had formerly been patronized by Princes to paint pictures of the royal family, were now unable to carry forward their tradition. It seems almost natural that in such a context vehicles would be the next medium of choice for these artists. For vehicles have the obvious functional role of transport, and they also provide a large and interesting canvas upon which one can explore aesthetics. In the way that Trinidadians created the steel pans to carry on their African musical traditions that the British had denied, the creation of Pakistani vehicle art is a very similar phenomenon.

For many Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike, the country's vehicle art is far too gaudy to be appreciated. It is an acquired taste. But if you spend some time examining everything that's going on, there is a chance you might see some depth to it. Most of the symbolism refers to religion (like the Ka'ba, or Buraq), to nationalism (like a flag, or a PIA airliner), and to traditional culture (like the Taj Mahal or a valley scenery). But every so often I come across something so bizarre that I have no idea how to interpret it. For example, have a look at the picture below of a bus:

Here you see a lake scenery, below which is a James Bond "007" revolver, below which is what looks to be a rocket-propelled multicolor cricket ball. On my next trip to Karachi I will be sure to locate the artist and ask him for a puff of whatever he's been smoking.

Below are a few more examples of vehicle art. You can see many more pics in my webshots albums (Buses, Trucks, Misc), and some more elaborate ones on Jamal Elias's On Wings of Diesel site.

The tank of a water tanker:

A bus interior:

A detail of the bus interior showing a bizarre Pakistani "love" boat:

Nepali anger

I was sickened when I saw the gruesome images of the 12 slayed Nepali workers in Iraq from yesterday. To their families and friends go my sincerest condolences.

In response, today in Kathmandu mobs of angry Nepalis torched several mosques and the offices of Qatar Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines, according to CNN. And word on the streets of Bahrain is that the Gulf Air office in Kathmandu is currently in the process being ransacked also. This seems to correspond with Gulf Air's announcement an hour ago to suspend operations in Kathmandu. Although there is no way to justify this violent response, it is easy to understand why Nepalis would feel so angry.

When, when, when will the Muslims of the world wake up and forcefully denounce their terrorist co-religionists, en masse? As usual we have a few Muslim leaders and clerics saying that terrorism is wrong, and Islam is a religion of peace, blah blah. But when will the Muslim masses realize that sitting silently, while Muslim terrorists continue to ruin their name, is not an answer. We must disassociate ourselves completely from the terrorists and their methods. Again, again, again, I say to my Nepali brothers: what happened yesterday was NOT IN MY NAME.