Thursday, July 31, 2008

Plutonium Spill! Aircraft Carrier Fire! Warplanes Crashing! Disasters Everywhere!

I ran into a number of news items recently, none of them calculated to encourage calm:

Plutonium in Denver Sewers! Federal Agents Investigate! Foreign Involvement!

All true, but the accident last June wasn't all that bad. Traces of plutonium from a small glass container got onto a researcher's hands, and onto a notebook. The bottle broke in a NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) lab that's working on ways to detect 'dirty bombs.'

The researcher washed his hands in a basin that drained into the Denver sewers. Then, he took the contaminated notebook out of the lab. Later, other researchers walked into the lab, got contaminated, and spread the stuff more.

The real problem here isn't a minor increase in the background radiation in the Denver sewer system. What's bothersome is that the lab didn't train the people who handled radioactive materials, didn't have a procedure for dealing with a spill, and generally wasn't on the ball.

Big, big problem.

American Navy Captain Lets Carrier Burn!

It looks like someone smoking in the wrong place, where flammable material had been improperly stowed, started a fire that hurt over a dozen sailors, and caused $70,000,000 USD damage to the George Washington.

Normally, there's no smoking allowed in some parts of a nuclear carrier, and there are a lot of nit-picking rules about where flammable liquids should be stored. The George Washington's captain had a more laid-back approach: which doesn't seem to have worked out the way he expected.

The Captain and Executive Officer have been relieved of duty, the George Washington's being repaired in San Diego, and the Japanese government is understandably edgy about the planned arrival of the carrier in Japanese waters.

Air Force Sends Nuke Fuses to Taiwan, Nuke Cruise Missiles to Louisiana!

This is old news. The American Air Force has been making mistakes with sensitive equipment. The fuses sent to Taiwan, in place of some helicopter batteries, didn't have any fissile material in them: but certainly weren't supposed to go to Taiwan. The cruse missiles were armed with nuclear warheads, and flown over the United States: a really big 'oops.'

Nobody got hurt, aside from a couple of severe career setbacks when the SNAFUs surfaced.

F-15 Crashes, Pilot Killed!

Quite a lot of F-15s are in service, and several have crashed. Another one went down yesterday, killing one pilot and injuring the other. They were involved in a large-scale red flag training exercise, a close approximation of actual combat experience. A Las Vegas news station, KVBC's News 3 ("Watching Out for You") gave the usual commentary on such things: "Over the past three decades, dozens of airmen have died or suffered critical injuries during these red flag training missions. But the Air Force claims that the lives 'saved' by this type of training far outweigh the casualties...."

Exactly what happened is anyone's guess at this point.

Time to Panic? Hardly

I'd start worrying, if the news was full of our smiling leaders, courageously and compassionately protecting us from antisocial malcontents at home, and maintaining friendly relations with all the other nice leaders around the world.

It looks like the Air Force and Navy are getting back to the 'rigid' and 'authoritarian' leadership styles that tend to keep ships from catching fire - and nuclear weapons where they're supposed to be.

NIST labs' handling of radioactive materials, and the people who work with them, is getting a (much needed) review.

I'd be surprised if the Air Force doesn't take steps to deal with whatever brought that F-15 down yesterday.

And the news services are, by and large, doing what they're supposed to do: exposing glitches in this society. National notoriety for big-time errors can have a wonderfully stimulating effect to the corrective processes.
  • Plutonium in Denver Sewers!
    • "Plutonium mishap draws stern rebuke"
      Denver Post (July 31, 2008)
      "BACKGROUND: A 62-page report [*.pdf format] details the spread of contamination at a Boulder lab and the lack of handler training. Some material got to the sewer."
      • "A project to enhance the United States' ability to detect "dirty bombs" went awry at the Boulder campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where dangerous plutonium sources were obtained without management approval and handled by inexperienced and untrained researchers, according to a scathing review released Wednesday.
      • "The result, said the 62-page report by the NIST Ionizing Radiation Committee, was the spread of plutonium contamination at the lab and into the Boulder sewer system...."
    • "Bad Training Caused Mishandling Of Plutonium Spill"
      ABC 7 News, Denver (July 12, 2008)
      • "DENVER -- An internal investigation found that sloppy safety procedures and poor training and response contributed to the mishandling of a plutonium spill at the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology lab last month.
      • "A vial cracked June 9 and about one-quarter gram of powder containing plutonium spilled. An investigation by experts found that the vial probably cracked while three scientists were performing an experiment involving a spectroscopy system used to detect radiation.
      • "One of the scientists, a visiting researcher from India, then washed his hands in the sink, sending a small amount of the plutonium down the drain into Boulder's public sewer system.
    • "Information Update: June 24, 2008 Plutonium Discharge into Sink Below Federal and State Limits"
      NIST (June 24, 2008)
      • "BOULDER, Colo. – Using detailed measurements made with the assistance of a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) team, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has determined that a discharge of plutonium powder into the sanitary sewer system from a laboratory room sink at NIST on June 9 was below federal and state limits.
      • "Boulder wastewater officials have said in a statement that the wastewater treatment process has shown no indication of contamination. NIST has been consulting closely with the City of Boulder wastewater officials and city management since the incident. In the same statement, wastewater and city officials did not express health concern for the local population due to the discharge.
      • " 'The health and safety of our personnel and local communities is our top priority,' James M. Turner, NIST deputy director, said. 'The fact that this incident occurred is not acceptable. We are actively investigating what happened and have enlisted the help of top radiation safety experts to review our procedures. We are committed to strengthening our safety program and its implementation to help prevent safety incidents in the future.'...
    • "Feds investigating possible plutonium in Colo sewer system"
      Denver Post (June 18, 2008)
      • "DENVER—A government laboratory is investigating how much plutonium may have leaked into the Boulder city sewer system following a spill of radioactive material.
      • "The spill happened June 9 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology when a small glass vial containing a quarter of a gram of powder that included plutonium cracked.
      • "NIST spokeswoman Gail Porter said Wednesday that experts don't believe the spill is a public health concern because contaminated water wouldn't make it into Boulder's drinking water....
  • American Navy Captain Lets Carrier Burn!
    • "U.S. Navy boots captain after fire on carrier"
      CNN (July 30, 2008)
      • "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy fired the captain and executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington on Wednesday because of a massive fire that damaged the ship in May, Navy officials said.
      • "Capt. David C. Dykhoff and his executive officer, Capt. David M. Dober, were relieved of duty while the ship is in port in San Diego, California, for repairs.
      • "The two were fired because of practices on their ship that Navy investigators believe led to the fire, Navy officials said.
  • Air Force ships nuclear fuses to Taiwan, armed nuke cruise missiles from North Dakota to Louisiana - by mistake
  • Three air disasters in Guam This Year!
    • "Air Force says no survivors of B-52 crash off Guam"
      Associated Press (July 23, 2008)
      • "HONOLULU (AP) — All six crew members aboard a B-52 bomber that crashed off Guam were killed, the Air Force said Wednesday as the search effort shifted focus from rescue to recovery of the crew and pieces of the wreckage.
      • "Two bodies have been found; the Air Force, without elaborating, said in a news release that forensic specialists were trying to identify additional remains recovered.
      • " 'Losing this bomber crew has been a tragedy felt by everyone here and across the Air Force,' said Brig. Gen. Doug Owens, commander of the 36th Wing...."
  • Air Force Claims Lethal Exercises "Save" Lives
    • "Pilot killed in jet crash identified"
      KVBC's News 3 ("Watching Out for You")
      • "NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - The pilot who died in an aircraft accident July 30 was identified as Lt. Col. Thomas Bouley in a press conference with Col. Russell Handy, 57th Wing commander. Colonel Bouley was the 65th Aggressor Squadron commander.
      • "Colonel Bouley died when the U.S. Air Force F-15D Eagle, a two seater he was piloting, crashed on the Nevada Test and Training Range during a Red Flag training exercise July 30, 2008.
      • " 'Colonel Bouley had recently celebrated his 20th year wearing the uniform, and had more than 4,200 flight hours in the F-15 Eagle, the Royal Air Force F-3 Tornado, and the T-38 Talon,' said Colonel Handy during the press conference. 'He was a decorated warrior, an inspiring leader of Airmen, and a loving father and husband. He served his country with distinction and will be greatly missed.'..."
      • "...Over the past three decades, dozens of airmen have died or suffered critical injuries during these red flag training missions. But the Air Force claims that the lives 'saved' by this type of training far outweigh the casualties. ..."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Monsoor Coffin Trident Hoax? Probably Not

There's a story going around that the photo, at least, of Michael A. Monsoor's trident-studded coffin is a fake. That's because "You can't get such alignment by slapping badges on a coffin as it passes by."

I did a little checking into the story, and wrote an update to "Golden Tridents on Petty Officer Michael A. Monsoor's Coffin" (July 5, 2008).

The bottom line is this: the video (embedded in the original July 5, 2008, post) shows SEALs approaching an essentially stationary coffin, and carefully placing each trident, before pounding it in place.

A lesson here may be to take a closer look at available evidence, before declaring something to be a hoax.
Update, of a sort:

Islam in the Information Age: Afghan Journalist Charged with Blasphemy

It's not easy, maintaining the assumption that Islam is a "peaceful religion." Sure, President Bush said so, several times ("Backgrounder: The President's Quotes on Islam" (The White House)). So has the Dali Lama.

It helps, knowing that Muslims who live in the Information Age are trying to drag Islam into the eighteenth century. You'll find some of their groups in the blogroll.

Today's news from Afghanistan, however, doesn't help.

"Afghan Journalist Jailed for Blasphemy Faces Death If Convicted, Danger If Acquitted"
FOXNews (July 30, 2008)

"An Afghan journalist who printed a translation of the Koran in a Persian dialect is on trial for blasphemy and could face the death penalty if convicted. But with threats from various powerful groups, he could face the same fate even if acquitted...."

The target du jure is Ghaws Zalmay. He's been a spokesman for the Afghan Attorney General and the Afghanistan's Journalists' Union head.

Part of the charge is true: Zalmay did have a translation of the Quran printed. It's in one of Afghanistan's official languages, Dari.

His third hearing is coming up. I'm not clear on how official any of the three are.

Apparently, about 1 in 5 cases in Afghanistan go to official courts. The rest get thrashed out in tribal councils or by village elders.

Finding a lawyer to represent him, in kangaroo court or something a trifle more official, has been tricky. The lawyer would be seen as supporting Ghaws Zalmay's position - and would likely be killed around the same time that Zalmay is.

Zalmay didn't write the new Quran. An Iranian-born Shiite cleric, Ghodratolla Bakhtiyarinejad, did. He seems to be living in America, and so is temporarily safe from Islamic law. That's good for Zalmay: he may be able to dodge the charge that he's calling himself a prophet.

The biggest problem with the new and improved Quran seems to be Bakhtiyarinejad's views on sensitive subjects like homosexuality, alcohol and begging. Bakhtiyarinejad thinks he's got it right, quite a few Afghan bigwigs don't agree.

The old-fashioned Afghans may have a point. I remember, about four decades back, reading some downright imaginative 'New Gospels:' very groovy, very hip, that were accurate expressions of the translators' preferences: but not very accurate translations.

But, being what I am, I wouldn't try to kill anyone over the things. I may even have a copy or two around. (I'd check, but the family library is being re-organized right now.)

Afghanistan's government, on the other hand, has to deal with local and regional leaders. Some of them are in the habit of killing people they don't agree with.

That puts at least some of Afghanistan's religious leaders in about the same category as Jim Adkisson, who shot up a Tennessee church last Sunday. According to the police chief, Mr. Adkisson killed a couple of people and injured more because "he hated the liberal movement." ("Church Mourns as Cops Say Shooting Suspect Targeted Liberals" FOXNews (July 29, 2008))

(From FOXNews/Knoxville News Sentinel, used without permission)
This is America: He's charged with first-degree murder.

In America, Jim Adkisson is one angry man, and now a criminal.

In Afghanistan, it looks like the Jim Adkissons are in charge.

That's not good for Afghanistan, and it's not good for Islam. Many of Indonesia's Muslims get by without killing people they don't entirely agree with, showing it's possible for Islam to exist in an Information Age culture. Islam's defenders in Afghanistan, on the other hand, seem determined to demonstrate that Islam really is an antique death cult.

Previous posts: Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Qantas Flight 30, Chicken Little Wingnut Pundits, Ziofascists, Bushistas, Conspiracies of Silence, and the News

I've said it before: elections (and other stressful situations) shake quite a few loose nuts out of the tree of liberty. This time, happily, it's a small crop.

  • On July 25, 2008, People on Boeing 747-400 operated by Qantas heard a loud bang
  • The pilots went into a controlled three-and-a-half-mile dive, getting the airliner down to breathable air
  • Qantas flight QF30 landed safely in Manila
  • There's a hole in the side of the QF30 747-400 that's big enough to walk through
Nobody, thank God, got killed. And, odds are good that there's enough evidence to figure out what actually happened.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of room for speculation, and innuendo.
  • Maybe cheap foreign labor was to blame. 'Everybody knows' what those foreigners are like, after all. ("Qantas has often outsourced scab labor. Maintenance inadequacies....")
  • Then again, maybe not.
    • Malaysia Airlines says it's done engineering and maintenance of Qantas' Boeing 737 aircraft - not the 747. Qantas agrees ("MAS denies Qantas senior pilot's claims" the star online (July 27, 2008))
  • Islamic terrorists could be responsible, since Al Qaeda and related groups seem to love things that go boom
  • Or maybe this was an accident like ValuJet Flight 592, except this time with no deaths.
The blogosphere, the parts I checked and Googled, were actually rather quiet.

I get the impression that "Chicken Little wingnut pundits" and other conservative bloggers haven't been cooperating properly.

Those ultra-right-wing-intolerant-conservatives were apparently supposed to go stark raving mad over this incident, making wild claims about Jihadist plots and Islamic terrorists.

A few forward-looking, broad-minded, bloggers commented on how the wingnuts should have reacted, if things had been different.

Headings for the following two sets of excerpts use terminology from the more broad-minded and tolerant blogs, since those terms are probably more widely understood:
  • From those who want of "Liberty and justice for all," and warn against ziofascist and Bushistas:
    • "Re: After dismissing an explosion on the Qantas 747, investigators say it may have been an explosion"
      Top Stocks (July 28, 2008)
      • "If there was a possibility that terrorism was involved the Australian media and Government would be milking it for all they could get. They are notorious for distortions regarding alleged terrorist activity.
      • "They have been silent. Also If terrorists had managed to get a bomb on board I am sure they have the expertise to make sure the aircraft was blown out of the sky, not just tear the side of the fueselage.
      • "Over the last year there have been on going disputes with rolling strikes and stop work meeting by the aircraft engineers, at which time Qantas has often outsourced scab labor. Maintenance inadequacies are far more likely to be the answer in this case, which would account for Qantas sensitivity in the matter...."
      • (There's an extensive quote, apparently from a news source, another quote, this time from TimesOnLine, with a working link, then:)
      • "...When considering the above, keep in mind when you start the investigation with a lie, everything that follows is also a lie. "
    • "Keening and wailing"
      lovable liberal (July 27, 2008)
      • "What would Chicken Little wingnut pundits be saying this morning if this Qantas flight has simply disappeared over the Pacific? I'd be surprised if most of them would have even mentioned the possibility of accident, which by all appearances this was...."
    • "Bomb In Qantas Flight QF30? "
      piglipstick (July 25, 2008)
      • "Qantas 747 terror could have been caused by bomb, say aviation experts...."
      • (An extensive quote follows, presumably from a news report, although no source is given. Then:)
      • "...If this was a bomb intended to bring the plane down, killing 300 people, it wouldn't have been be the first time that Australians were punished for not dancing fast enough to the ziofascist tune.
      • "Six years ago the Bushistas began beating the war drums for Iraq. Aussies overwhelmingly rejected Howard and his government's craven agreement to go along with the upcoming invasion, and needed to be taught a lesson.
      • "On October 12 a series of bombs went off in a nightclub area on the island of Bali. The largest explosion, probably a mini-nuke because of the crater, vaporized victims and radiation deaths that ensued, went off in a monsoon drain in front of the Sari Club. 88 Australians died and the propagandists went apoplectic blaming muslim terrorists.
      • "Funny thing about that Indonesian event. Everybody there knew where americans hung out on Kuta Beach and it wasn't the Sari Club. Aside from their possible disgust at the drunken revelry, why would terrorists want to murder Aussie kids when americans were just down the street?...
      • (The "October 12" reference is almost certainly to the October 12, 2002, attack in Bali's tourist district of Kuta. Death toll was 202: 38 Indonesians and 164 foreign nationals. Another 209 people were injured. There's a discussion of the incident, "The Bali Confessions" (Four Corners (February 10, 2003)), which does not mention mini-nukes.)
      • "...The answer of course was that "muslim terrorists" were the fictitious patsies in a false flag explosion designed to capitalize on Australian grief to whip up support for the invasion of Iraq...."
  • From Chicken Little Wingnut Pundits, Ziofascists, and Bushistas:
    • "That Didn't Take Long, Did It? (Or: 'Monty Python's Parrot Salesman Investigates Huge Hole In Qantas 747')"
      The Anti-Idolitarian Rotweiler (July 26, 2008)
      • "Before the engines had even had a chance to stop spinning, 'experts' declared the explosion that ripped a gaping hole in the fuselage of Qantas flight QF30 'definitely NOT terrorism.' "
        • "An explosion that blew a hole the size of a small car in a jumbo jet from London to Melbourne was not a terrorist attack, investigators believe."
      • "Just in case you missed the initial 'Nothing to see here, folks. Move along now.', the Press Association writers provided the following, just a few sentences later:"
        • "Air accident investigators are probing the cause of the explosion, but they do not believe it was caused by a terrorist attack."
      • "'He's not dead, he's merely sleeping.' "
        • "Initial investigations suggested that a section of fuselage had separated and that there had been an 'explosive decompression'."
      • "And, when the first theory of 'corrosion' that 'experts' threw out there (before they had even reached the plane to have a look at it) was ruled out by them actually looking at the metal surrounding the 'mysteriously appearing gaping hole', they come up with the 'mysteriously exploding oxygen tank or luggage item' cause."
        • "An exploding oxygen tank or luggage item or puncture caused by a loose panel were cited as possible causes as experts rejected corrosion as being to blame"
      • (Interestingly, this post includes two working links to news sources: "Jumbo jet explosion 'not terrorism'" (The Press Association (July 26, 2008)) and Exploding oxygen tank one theory of QF30" (Herald Sun (Australia) (July 27, 2008)).)
  • Hard to Say Where This One Stands
    • "Claims cost cutting, outsourcing led to Qantas' close call"
      Silobreaker (July 26, 2008)
      • "A senior Qantas pilot has claimed yesterday's narrowly averted mid-air disaster could be the result of the company outsourcing maintenance duties to Malaysia.A team of four investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will join local authorities..."
        • (Apart from the "Qantas has often outsourced scab labor..." quote, this is about as close to an explicit 'foreigners did it' charge as I could find.)
        • (A senior Qantas pilot, who is anonymous, got quoted in The Daily Telegraph, one of Sydney's more colorful papers, saying "that a mid-air calamity on Qantas flight QF30 from London to Melbourne could have been caused by the airline's outsourcing of maintenance to Malaysia." That quote is from 'the star online' article)
I'll say this: there is a diversity of sincerely-held opinion here. I can't say that I agree with anybody here, except maybe MAS senior general manager Ismail.

I seldom take such an extensive excerpt from a source, but I didn't think I could do piglipstick's post justice with less. Although piglipstick does not give a source for what appears to be a news article, the post does provide a link to What Does It Mean?, an alternative news site that includes an article by Sorch Faal that refers to the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. (The GMM is a Gnostic work, among other things.)
In the news: And, from the Australian government: "Boeing 747 diversion to Manila" (The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau Media Release (July 25, 2008)).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Subway Project and 'Why Islam?' - Terrorists in the Subways! Or, Not

I ran into a cryptic CNN headline today, part of Monday's news: "NY paper blasts Muslim ad project because of supporter." No clue what paper it was: and several newspapers operate in the Big Apple.

Smoke, Fire, and a Few Facts

I'm pretty sure that CNN was talking about the earlier one of these gems, from the New York Post: The New York Post was careful about sticking to facts, and just as careful about which facts it published. (I've put short excerpts at the end of this post.)

Blog posts about the pro-Islam ads are popping up: There's a lively discussion going on in an online community: I've even heard that New York State Congressman Peter King had had a few words to say about the ads. He's in the House of Representatives for New York state's 3rd Congressional District. He's also ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee.

With Friends Like This - - -

Another personality involved with The Subway Project is Siraj Wahhaj, an imam who's promoting the project. The Subway Project's backers have asked him not to, but what can you do? It's a free country.

Here's what Congressman Peter King said about The Subway Project: "I have no problem with the ad itself, but I have a very, very real problem with those behind it," and he's asked the MTA to ban the ads. talking about Siraj Wahhaj, Representative King said: "He is a known Islamic extremist, and you would be giving him credibility and stature through a known government facility," a remark which may or may not be accurate. (Quotes from "Islam subway ads cause stir in New York" CNN (July 22, 2008).)

CNN described Siraj Wahaj as "the first Muslim to lead a prayer before the House of Representatives..." and "...a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman." That's 'the blind sheik"' who masterminded the 1993 NYC World Trade Center bombing. Representative King, perhaps understandably, doesn't approve of imam Wahhaj's views.

People, Please! Check Your Facts!

What gets lost in the fuss is that imam Wahhaj is connected with The Subway Project only because imam Wahhaj decided to promote The Subway Project.

Against the wishes of the people who actually have an interest in it.

I'll grant that Saraj Wahhaj has a video with cool music. The embedded version that I put in an earlier post seems to have been blocked, but you may still be able to view it on the YouTube site: "The Subway Project - Coming To The NYC Subway This Ramadhan!." (YouTube video (July 20, 2008)). Still, I think he's showing dubious good sense, promoting The Subway Project with his background. Particularly since he's been asked not to.

In the world where I live, The Subway Project shows every indication of being a well-intentioned effort by American Muslims to educate their non-Muslim neighbors about what Islam is. I think it sounds like a good idea. The Subway Project is closely associated with the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) - an organization I added to the blogroll earlier this week.

What Are They Thinking?!

One thing stands out in online discussions of The Subway Project. Very few people seem to have collected facts about it, before forming an opinion. I don't think that's a good idea: The technique of forming an opinion first and thinking later is easy, but not well-known for producing accurate results.

Why Defend an Islamic Group That's Promoting an Islamic Site?

I'm a devout Catholic. A Christian. And, an American. So, why am I defending 'those people?' Because I'm one of 'those people,' in some circles.

A personal digression: It ties in with what I'm writing about, but feel free to skip this paragraph. The regional culture where I grew up had a strong anti-Catholic sentiment as part of its core values. Being the sort of person I am, I wanted to know exactly why Catholics were as bad as some people said they were. I discovered that part of what I thought I knew about Catholicism was about four centuries out of date, and much of the rest was simply wrong. Some time after that, I became a Catholic.

Although there are more Catholics than Muslims in America, we're still a minority in America. That's kept me rather aware of what happens when "vox populi, vox dei" is taken too seriously, or out of context.

Various Versions of Niemöller's 'They Came for the Jews'

A German pastor, Martin Niemöller, is credited with writing a poem:
"When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church --
and there was nobody left to be concerned."
Or maybe it was
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me."
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
You probably heard another version. There are quite a few out there, some rather politically correct, some edited with a more conservative slant. The first one I quoted is presumably from the Congressional record (I couldn't verify that). The third what a professor at UC Santa Barbara researched. (I recommend reading "Martin Niemöller's famous quotation: 'First they came for the Communists'," by Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara (2000, updated 2007).)

The point is, when 'those people' are attacked with the sort of strong emotions and weak evidence we're seeing directed against Muslims, it's time to stop, take a deep breath and think.

Even hysterical ignoramuses can be right. It doesn't hurt to do a little research and see if there's something to the wild claims.

But, if it appears that there is little or no fact behind the claims, it's time to speak out. I'm not a Muslim, but if 'those people' are being attacked today, it could be my turn next. Or yours, for that matter.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
In the News:
Excerpts from those New York Post articles:
    New York Post (July 22, 2008)
    • " Elected officials and straphangers called on the MTA yesterday to pull the Islamic subway-ad campaign being promoted by a controversial Brooklyn imam whom federal officials have linked to acts of terrorism.
    • "The push to promote Islam on the rails this September, in a $48,000 ad campaign sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, was reported in The Post yesterday.
    • " 'I strongly believe the MTA should pull the ads,' said Rep. Peter King (R-LI), a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. 'They are especially shameful because the ads will be running during the seventh anniversary of September 11, and because the subways are considered a primary target of terrorists.'...
    New York Post (July 21, 2008)
    • "Allah board!
    • "An Islamic group plans to blitz 1,000 subway cars with advertisements this September in a campaign being promoted by a Brooklyn imam whom federal officials have linked to a plot to blow up city landmarks.
    • "The group says its mission is to explain the true nature of Islam to non-Muslims who believe the religion is bent on acts of violence - but Siraj Wahhaj, the inflammatory imam who appears in a promotional YouTube video for the project, has defended convicted bomb-plotters and called the FBI and CIA the 'real terrorists.'
    • "US Attorney Mary Jo White even named Wahhaj one of 170 unindicted co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the thwarted plan to blow up a slew of buildings....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pro-Islamic Ads Coming to New York City Subways: There's a Real Danger Here, of Becoming Informed

You'll probably be seeing these ads this September, if you use New York City's subways:

(from FOXNews, used without permission)

Informative, Low-Key, Tasteful: What's the Problem?

The ad campaign, called The Subway Project, looks very straightforward and sensible. Just one catch. One of the people promoting it has alleged connections to the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center.

With Friends Like This...

An American-born convert to Islam, Siraj Wahhaj, has a video on YouTube, telling about Islam and The Subway Project. That video is embedded farther down in this post. Siraj Wahhaj was also suspected, investigated, but not indicted, of being involved in the 1993 New York World Trade Center bombing. Siraj Wahhaj did testify at the trial of the "blind sheik," Omar Abdel-Rahman.

Suspecting Siraj Wahhaj made some sense. He's an imam, and apparently has preached this, about America: "In time, this so-called democracy will crumble, and there will be nothing, and the only thing that will remain will be Islam," words that, after dust had settled from a massive explosion, were bound to attract attention.

It's anyone's guess, why Siraj Wahhaj posted that video on YouTube. The Islamic Circle of North America, who are launching The Subway Project, didn't ask him to 'help' them, and have said so. His connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing doesn't help the ad campaign look mainstream, and neither does imam Wahhaj's assertion that the FBI and CIA are the "real terrorists."

In fact, The Islamic Circle asked him not to promote their campaign.

Here's that video:

(Update July 23, 2008)
The video, "The Subway Project - Coming To The NYC Subway This Ramadhan!," is no longer available in blog posts. "Embedding disabled by request" is what the YouTube page says. It is, however, still viewable from YouTube (2:55).

It's Some Kind of Islamic Plot, Right?

Some bloggers definitely think so. Samples:
  • "Radical Imam Siraj Wahhaj & the Islamic Circle of North America are the ringleaders behind this latest Islamic propaganda."
  • "Terrorists Recruiting" on NYC Subway System / MUSLIM SUBWAY ADS HAVE TERROR TIE-IN"
I'm not so sure. I seriously doubt that New York City's MTA is run by terrorist stooges, fools, or fifth columnists. Here's what a news report said:
  • "Radical Imam Promotes Pro-Islamic Ad Campaign to Run on New York Subways"
    FOXNews (July 21, 2008)
    • "Aaron Donovan, spokesman for the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, confirmed to that the Islamic Circle had signed a contract to run the ads on 1,000 subway cars during the month of Ramadan.
    • "When asked if the MTA knew of Wahhaj's background before signing the contract, Donovan declined to comment on the imam specifically.
    • " 'As part of the process, we review the ad and go to the Web site to make sure there is no inappropriate content and decided in this case there was not,' he said."
I took a look at the website,, myself, and didn't find anything particularly terroristic about it. I suppose it could be argued that Why Islam? is trying to lull Americans into a false sense of security. I don't think so, though.

Additions to the blogroll

After reading about Why Islam? and the ICNA, I decided to add both outfit's websites to the blogroll:

Islamic Circle of North America
"The goal of ICNA shall be to seek the pleasure of Allah (SWT) through the struggle of Iqamat-ud-Deen (establishment of the Islamic system of life) as spelled out in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)"

Why Islam?
Featuring "articles, books etc on Islam and comparative religion. ... This project has been initiated by volunteers from ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America). ... Islam does not expect the individual to suspend her faculties of reason and logic. On the contrary, it exhorts every individual to sincerely ponder over Creation and to free her mind from the shackles of false idols and ideologies. With this in mind, the WhyIslam project strives to bring reason and logic to the discourse on Islam."

The blogroll entries will be a bit condensed.

Why Post About The Subway Project?

I think that one of the problems facing America is ignorance of just what Islam is. The Subway Project seems aimed at reducing that level of ignorance. I still believe that there is reason to believe that "Islam is a peaceful religion," and see Indonesia as an example of how Islam and the Information Age can get along.

I am not a Muslim, but I think I may understand how Muslims sometimes feel in America. I converted to Catholicism as an adult, partly as a result of trying to find out what made Catholicism so bad. I'm very much aware of how ignorance of an identifiable group of people can be associated with fear and loathing of that group - and how knowledge of such a group very seldom is.

Considering that groups like Al Qaeda claim that they're defending Islam, I think it's a good idea to learn more about what Islam actually is.

(Update July 23, 2008)

Another post about The Subway Project in this blog: "The Subway Project and 'Why Islam?' - Terrorists in the Subways! Or, Not" (July 23, 2008)

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
In the news (Updated July 23, 2008):

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The War on Terror: Yes, It's Important

On the one hand, there are Americans who strongly disapprove of American interference overseas. They seem to take the 'it takes two to tussle' philosophy to heart.

On the other hand, headlines like this keep cropping up:

"Activists: 9 Iranians convicted of adultery set to be stoned to death"
International Herald Tribune (July 20, 2008)

"TEHRAN, Iran: Eight women and one man convicted of adultery are set to be stoned to death in Iran, activists said Sunday.

"Lawyer and women's rights activist, Shadi Sadr, said the nine were convicted of adultery in separate cases in different Iranian cities.

" 'Their verdicts are approved, and they may be executed at any time,' she told reporters.

"Sadr, who has been leading a campaign in Iran against stoning deaths since 2006, said trial protocol was not applied properly in the cases. Six of the nine were convicted based solely on judges' decisions with no witnesses or the presence of their lawyers during their confessions, she said...."

Maybe it's not such a big deal: It's just nine people, and 'they're all foreigners anyway.' Besides, aren't we supposed to be tolerant of non-western cultures and their customs?

The problem is, some of those non-western cultures don't show tolerance, even when they're tolerated. And it looks like one bunch of enthusiasts is trying to establish their flavor of Islam on the whole world.

A Congress of the Caliphate - Ayatollahs on the Supreme Court

That sounds extreme. Maybe 'it can't happen here.' But I think that organizations like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Iran's Ayatollahs, even Hezbollah, have world conquest on their minds. If they're serious about their brand of Islam, anyway. And, they might succeed: particularly if people who aren't Islamic, or are 'insufficiently Islamic' don't understand the threat.

I think the Dalai Lama may be right:

"Dalai Lama defends Islam as peaceful religion"
Associated Press (July 14, 2008)

"BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — The Dalai Lama said Sunday that 'it's totally wrong, unfair' to call Islam a violent religion.

"The Tibetan spiritual leader, appearing at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, offered a defense of Islam in response to a question about the rise of violent religious fundamentalism. He added that he has made a point of reaching out to Muslims since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001...."

Islam has no single organized, or coherent, set of rules (" 'Will the Real Islam, Please Stand Up?' " (February 6, 2008)). There are Muslims who most certainly do not stand behind the Ayatollahs or Al Qaeda: You'll find some of their organizations in my blogroll.

It's quite possible that the sort of Islam that's noted for stoning (for select offenses), beheading, bombing, and assorted mayhem isn't quite representative of Islam as a whole.

That won't matter, though, if those militant Muslims win, and establish what they think is an ideal form of government around the world.

Right now, stoning is the punishment for adultery in places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Nigeria.

I doubt that many Americans would appreciate seeing Pennsylvania and California added to the list. I certainly wouldn't: and I'm one of those people who doesn't think highly of fooling around with someone who isn't one's spouse.

The Threat Isn't Islam

Islam isn't today's threat to people and nations that value freedom.

The threat is would-be conquerors who want to control others. Jihadists, with their colorful brand of Islam, are leading the charge, but there are others. Hugo Chavez, for example, seems to be allied with radical Islam ("Just When You Think it Can't Get Weirder" (April 8, 2008)): and he's no Muslim.

Neither was Saddam Hussein. Particularly since there was good reason to believe intelligence about WMD from the international community, I think that removing that intransigent tyrant was a good idea. The former ruler of Iraq was at best a nominal Muslim, but he posed a credible threat to people who wanted to run their own lives.

There are other ways of looking at the post-9/11 world ("Professor Ward Churchill: 9/11 Truthteller, or Nincompoop?" (July 25, 2007)).

But, I think that there is an active, directed, effort to convert free nations into 'properly' organized, controlled, countries: with something like Sharia law and the whims of local imams and magistrates deciding who's naughty and who's nice.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Darfur and the United Nations: Something's Happened

The International Criminal Court wants to arrest Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The charge is genocide.

I have little doubt that al-Bashir is responsible for much of the death and suffering in southwestern Sudan.
  • If
    • President al-Bashir is arrested
    • He's brought to trial
    • The trial goes smoothly
  • Then
    • There might be some relief for the people in Darfur
    • Al-Bashir's supporters might start starving, raping, and killing more often then they are now
    • What the ICC is doing might cause more suffering in the short term, but help end the Darfur problem
The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm very glad I don't have to make decisions for the ICC.

The matter of placing a head of state under arrest is rather new in international law. The International Criminal Court is a new organization, with roots going back only a little over a half-century, to the Nuremberg trials.

What we're seeing could be as important as the Magna Carta. But I'm not looking forward to what's likely to happen in the short run.

Previous post on this topic: Sudan's President and the ICC in the news:
  • "Sudan President's Arrest Sought by ICC Over Darfur (Update5)"
    Bloomberg (July 14, 2008)
    • "July 14 (Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court's prosecutor is seeking the arrest of Sudan's President Umar al- Bashir, alleging he bears 'criminal responsibility' for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur....
    • "...The ICC is the only permanent tribunal for prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world. Its first judges were installed in 2003.
    • "The ICC has approved 12 arrest warrants that resulted in the custody of four people, said Dicker.
    • "The court was modeled on temporary tribunals set up to try war crime cases stemming from conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia as well as the first such trials held in the German city of Nuremberg after World War II...."
  • "CNN exclusive: ICC prosecutor on Darfur charges"
    CNN (July 14, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of genocide in a five-year campaign of violence in the country's Darfur region. Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke exclusively to CNN's Nic Robertson ahead of his announcement on Monday of the charges.
    • "Nic Robertson: What exactly are you accusing President Bashir of?
    • "Luis Moreno-Ocampo: We request a warrant for the crime of genocide -- 6a, b and c -- basically massive rapes and the condition of 2.5 million people -- in addition we charged him with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
    • "Q. For genocide though -- attempt to destroy an ethnic group in whole or in part -- which is an intent -- how do you prove intent?..."
  • "Sudanese president charged with genocide"
    CNN (July 14, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has filed genocide charges against Sudan's president for a five-year campaign of violence in Darfur.
    • "Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Monday urged a three-judge panel to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million people forced from their homes in the war-torn region of Darfur and who are still under attack from government-backed Janjaweed militia...."
  • "Arab parliament slams ICC move against Sudanese president "
    Xinhua (July 15, 2008)
    • "CAIRO, July 14 (Xinhua) -- The Interim Arab Parliament (IAP) on Monday criticized the plan of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur, the Egyptian official MENA news agency reported.
    • "The IAP is 'amazed and dismayed' by reports of the ICC move, which is stirring Arab nations' concern, head of the parliament Mohamed Jassem al-Saqr said in a statement.
    • "The ICC move raises the fear that the international court could become a tool of major world powers to intimidate smaller countries, al-Saqr was quoted as saying...."

The New Yorker 'Satire' Obama Cover Backfires

The New Yorker magazine is a sophisticated east coast periodical with a reputation for publishing top-rate cartoons. This week, the magazine's editors decided to devote its cover to a satirical depiction of what those right-wing extremists over there think candidate Barack Obama if he's elected.

Here's what they came up with.

What struck me first, right between the eyes, was Michelle Obama's nicely submissive posture, right out of some Victorian illustration. Then, her rifle and that over-the-top Afro, and Mr. Obama's outfit.

He's not about to kiss her hand, of course: that's a fist-bump. And, of course, a cultured New York magazine would never portray the wife of a presidential candidate in a posture that implied the properly submissive attitude of the nineteenth century. It just looks that way.

The Obama campaign, and the McCain campaign finally agree on something: that cover is tasteless and offensive.

And I agree with half of that.
  • Offensive, yes
  • Tasteless? I know what the campaign reps mean, but I wish I could get the taste out of my head
Is there some excuse for this exercise in visual insult? Almost.

Some fairly wild rumors have been thrown against the wall. Quite a few stuck.

What I think about Obama's background:
  • His middle name is Hussein
    • "Hussein" is a fairly common name
    • In America
    • Live with it
  • He is not now, nor has he ever been, a Muslim
    • Remember the Reverend "God Damn America" Wright brouhaha?
    • Not "Imam" - "Reverend"
  • Even if Obama were Muslim, So What?!
As I've written before:

"...Muslims We are not looking at a monolithic group here...."
(from " 'They’re all Muslims' - This Does Not Help" (December 29, 2007)

In fairness to The New Yorker editors, there's some reason for their assumptions about American voters. Newsweek did a poll recently, and came up with some disquieting numbers.

"Some of Obama's lag in white support may be explained by continual confusion over his religious identity." ("Glow Fading?" Newsweek (July 11, 2008))
Of American voters surveyed:
Idea Believed by True or False
Obama was sworn in as a United States senator on a Quran 12%False
Obama was raised as a Muslim26%False
Obama went to an Islamic school while growing up in Indonesia39%False
(from "Glow Fading?" Newsweek (July 11, 2008))

Newsweek writes, "Finally cracking the code with less-educated whites could have a big payoff for Obama: 85 percent of undecided voters are non-Hispanic whites and only 22 percent of those undecideds have a four-year college degree."

Be Different - Look at the Facts

The article doesn't connect those appalling proofs of ignorance with the 'undecided' voters - it's 39% of all voters who believe that Mr. Obama went to a Muslim school. That 39% could be part of the block that
  • Won't vote for Obama
  • Will vote for Obama
  • Don't know who they'll vote for
The article doesn't say. That Newsweek article also implies that there's a connection between being white and not having a college degree, and believing things that aren't true about Obama. But the data given by the article doesn't support that idea, or refute it.

And, I've known college grads with some dubious ideas lodged in their heads so tightly, it'd take a backhoe to move them around.

Satirical, or Out of Touch?

I'm accustomed to the covers of major magazines not conforming to my values, cultural or otherwise. Minnesota, where I live, isn't even a flyover state: we're well north of the major American air routes. And, I don't live in the Twin Cities, where state policy is determined.

This 'Osama Obama' cover for The New Yorker magazine seems to have offended people in the American coastal cultures. That's remarkable, since I've gotten the impression that those are the people that the big, important, magazines aim at.

It's not good news, if editorial boards get isolated from their own culture.

There's an Election Coming Up: Stay Informed, or Stay Home!

I'll be coming back to this idea from time to time: If you don't care about the election results, please: stay home!

(from "Obama Camp Slams Satirical 'New Yorker' Magazine Cover" (FOXNews (July 13, 2008), used w/o permission)

Other bloggers' on The New Yorker satirical cover: (Given the divergent views in those posts, I shouldn't have to say this, but just in case: The views expressed in those posts are not necessarily my own - I'm providing these links to show how different people are seeing this situation.)

The New Yorker 'satirical' cover in the news:
Barack Hussein Obama's funny-sounding name and distinctly non-Anglo-Saxon appearance have raised the nonsense quotient of this presidential campaign to epic levels:
Update (October 4, 2008)
While reviewing this blog, I noticed that the New Yorker cover pictures had disappeared. This happens once in a while. Happily, this time I found another source, changed the graphics and links: and added the source to this post's "In the news" list.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Haditha, Iraq; My Lai, Vietnam: This Isn't the Good Old Days

The Haditha incident had so much promise.

Monster Marines Massacre Men, Mommies, and Moppets

What actually happened:
  • The place
    Haditha, Al Anbar province, Iraq
  • The time
    November 19, 2005
  • The event
    About two dozen Iraqis died, quite abruptly
What we've been hearing in the news: There's been an investigation, of course. So far, it's been rather anti-climactic. Charges have been dropped against most of the Marines involved, sometimes in exchange for testimony. The 'journalism student' who provided video seems to have been a plucky young reporter in his forties, with ties to Al Qaeda. (That last detail is from a panel discussion - no transcript available - and I've found no solid online corroboration: just references to other references.)

All the News We Feel Like Printing

There are some very interesting details of the Haditha incident in an unclassified report on the events of November 19, 2005. This report, and its contents, aren't a particularly good match to the 'Haditha is Iraq's My Lai' story, which may explain why the news media hasn't taken note of it.

The report appears to identify the enemy action in Haditha as:

"Enemy propaganda
  • Use of 19 Nov attack to gain local support"
There's another very odd entry:

"Local Iraqi views and opinions
  • 'CF handled the situation perfect'
  • Others blamed CF for the death of local Iraqis"
"...handled the situation perfect?!" Aside from the grammatical error, what's strange about this is that it isn't the sort of thing we hear in the news. American soldiers simply aren't to be seen as a positive presence in Iraq, or anywhere else.

The report also acknowledges that "others blamed CF for the death of local Iraqis." Which I expect is true. You may have noticed the same phenomenon here in America: Thug shoots convenience store clerk, carjacks customer, gets chased by police, and runs into a wall. It's the fault of the police, for chasing him.

It also names Muhannad Hassan Hamadi, who was in the enemy force on November 19, 2005, was captured December 11, 2005, turned informant and told the Marines of the insurgent's plan to make a propaganda piece of the "massacre."

Anti-American Bias in Haditha Coverage? Could Be

I don't know what, exactly, happened at Haditha: apart from the near-certainty that about two dozen people died there on November 19, 2005.

I do think that there's good reason to think that 2005's enthusiastic coverage of 'an Iraqi My Lai,' compared to this year's lackluster acknowledgment of a dull legal process, is another example of American news media's fervent desire to see America as a global bully and all-round bad guy.

My Lai Massacre: Not Quite as Advertised

'Everybody knows' that the My Lai Massacre was a horrible, awful, brutal case of bloodthirsty American soldiers killing a whole lot of innocent people for no reason at all.

Innocent people probably did get killed, but there's more to the incident than that. ("After Word: My Lai and Abu Ghraib, Perception and Reality" (March 4, 2008))

Iraqi My Lai in the News

  • Orphan Headlines
    • "What happened at the Iraqi My Lai?"
      (Los Angeles Times, print edition) (May 31, 2006)
    • "U.S. braces for 'Iraq's My Lai' "
      Chicago Sun-Times (May 28, 2006)
    I couldn't find those articles online today, but they're referenced at Newsbusters.
  • "Battle for Haditha (2007)"
    The New York Times movie review (May 7, 2008)
    • "The Killing of Innocents Faces a Dry-Eyed Dissection
    • "In 'Battle for Haditha,' the British filmmaker Nick Broomfield revisits a wretched chapter of the war in Iraq. On Nov. 19, 2005, marines stationed in Haditha, a Euphrates River valley city northwest of Baghdad, killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including at least 10 women and children, from toddler age up, who were in their homes. The reasons for the killings remain in dispute, though not this evidence: most victims died from close-range gunfire and at least five were shot in the head. After various investigations, murder charges against four marines were dropped; one still faces reduced charges.
    • "Although Mr. Broomfield has made his name with spiky, pugnaciously personal documentaries like 'Biggie and Tupac' and 'Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer,' this new film is a dramatization, complete with actors and a semblance of a screenplay. Shot in Jordan with mostly nonprofessional performers, including several former marines who fought in Iraq (including in Falluja) and many more Iraqi war refugees, the film is located at the familiar intersection of nonfiction and fiction, where raw documentary grit receives an imaginary glaze. The Middle East dust in this film looks chokingly authentic because, much like the prostrated Iraqi women keening over their dead and much like the battle scar that runs along one marine’s upper leg like a zipper, it is...."
  • Iraqi Assails U.S. for Strikes on Civilians"
    The New York Times (June 2, 2006)
    • "BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 1 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.
    • "As outrage over reports that American marines killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year continued to shake the new government, the country's senior leaders said that they would demand that American officials turn over their investigative files on the killings and that the Iraqi government would conduct its own inquiry.
    • "In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a 'daily phenomenon' by many troops in the American-led coalition who 'do not respect the Iraqi people.'... "
  • "The Erosion of a Murder Case Against Marines in the Killing of 24 Iraqi Civilians "
    The New York Times (October 6, 2007)
    • "BAGHDAD, Oct. 5 — Last year, when accounts of the killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha by a group of marines came to light, it seemed that the Iraq war had produced its defining atrocity, just as the conflict in Vietnam had spawned the My Lai massacre a generation ago.
    • "But on Thursday, a senior military investigator recommended dropping murder charges against the ranking enlisted marine accused in the 2005 killings, just as he had done earlier in the cases of two other marines charged in the case. The recommendation may well have ended prosecutors’ chances of winning any murder convictions in the killings of the apparently unarmed men, women and children...."
  • "Iraqi Assails U.S. for Strikes on Civilians"
    The New York Times (June 2, 2006)
    • "BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 1 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.
    • "As outrage over reports that American marines killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year continued to shake the new government, the country's senior leaders said that they would demand that American officials turn over their investigative files on the killings and that the Iraqi government would conduct its own inquiry.
    • "In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a 'daily phenomenon' by many troops in the American-led coalition who 'do not respect the Iraqi people.'..."
Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Friday, July 11, 2008

France and the Burqa: Idea of Freedom Gets Reality Check

Stress tests people, and ideas. When exposed to stress, some people make themselves up to look like corpses, and lie down in front of news cameras. Others find the courage to drive fanatic invaders from their homeland.

I've written before, about how I think today's world has put a great deal of stress on an ancient and fairly isolated culture.

Face to Burqa: France, Freedom and Foreigners

It looks like coming face to face with a foreign culture has stressed at least one western nation, too.

Technically, I should say "face to burqa."

The French government has decided that a woman who wears a burqa is too submissive, and can't be a French citizen.

The French government also says that individual freedom is important, and that individuals should be free to choose their own religion, and how it should be practiced.

The French ideal of freedom seems to have worked just fine, as long as everybody in France lived about the same way. Now, this outsider has shown up, and wants to be a French citizen.

Problem is, she dresses funny: and doesn't treat her husband the way that the French government thinks she should.

It's Not Just France

I'll grant, freely, that I'm making the French position look about as bad as possible here. I think that a case can be made for immigrants living up to some standards before becoming citizens of another country: being able to use the local language, understanding the laws and customs well enough to keep out of trouble, maybe even being able to hold down a job.

There are two questions here:
  1. Is it okay for a country to ban the burqa? Or the babushka, for that matter?
  2. Should a country say that it supports freedom of religion, but refuse citizenship to people who practice their religion the 'wrong' way?
The 'natives' of exotic lands in the mysterious orient aren't the only ones going through culture shock these days. France - and every western nation - is being forced to take a hard look at what, exactly, ideas like "freedom" mean.

In the long run, I think the exercise will be good for us. Meanwhile, it's going to be a bumpy road.

The French national dress code, and how the proper French woman is expected to act, in the news:
  • "Muslim woman deemed too submissive to be French"
    Reuters (July 11, 2008)
    • "PARIS (Reuters) - France has denied citizenship to a veiled Moroccan woman on the grounds that her 'radical' practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes, a legal ruling showed on Friday.
    • "The case will reignite debate about how to reconcile freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the French constitution, and other fundamental rights, which many in France feel are being challenged by the way of life of some Muslims.
    • "Le Monde newspaper said it was the first time a Muslim applicant had been rejected for reasons to do with personal religious practice...."
  • "Burka-wearing woman denied citizenship for being 'submissive'"
    The Scotsman (July 12, 2008)
    • "A MOROCCAN woman who wears a black burka has been denied French citizenship on the grounds she is too submissive.
    • "The Council of State ruled that the woman, who is married to a French national, speaks good French and has three children, all born in France, should be denied citizenship because her 'radical' practice of Islam is incompatible with French values such as equality of the sexes.
    • "The 32-year-old woman, named only as Faiza M, has lived in France since 2000. She wears a burka that covers her body from head to foot, leaving a narrow slit for her eyes. According to social services, she lives in "total submission" to her husband and male relatives including her father and brother-in-law...."
  • "Opinion: France Gets it Right" (July 11, 2008)
    • "France's Council of State has made a choice which requires assimilation into French society to become a French citizen. They recently denied citizenship to a Muslim woman based on her radical religious practices.
    • "France got this one right, in my opinion: A woman married to a French national was denied citizenship in France despite having lived there for eight years and giving birth to three children.
    • "The reason? She is totally submissive to her husband and her male relatives in all areas. The woman in question wears a black burqa which covers her from head to toes with the exception of her eyes ( although she must not wear it 24/7 since she has three children.)..."
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Darfur and the United Nations: Something's Happening

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may - or may not - issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. If that happens, it will be the first time that a head of state has been indicted by the ICC while in office.

The Darfur region of Sudan is a mess, and Sudan has been a prime example of weirdly Islamic bullying ("Sudan Defends Islam Against
Blasphemous Teddy Bear
" (November 28, 2007)).

I think that what the ICC is expected to do Monday makes sense, and is just.
  • This could be as big a change how global affairs work, as the Magna Carta was, in the way national governments work.
  • Or, it could be a flash in the pan, with little long-term significance.
  • Worse, it could be the start of trouble on a global scale: United Nations leaders, using the authority of the ICC and the power of 'peacekeepers,' to purge ideologically impure regimes from the world - or turn a profit, making the Oil for Food scandal look like stealing petty cash.
I'm no huge fan of the United Nations. My opinion is that the delegates and officials of the global body are just as human and prone to weakness as anyone else. And almost a half-century of United Nations squabbles has done nothing to change that opinion.

However, it's the closest thing we've got to a global legal authority that's competent to deal with situations like Darfur.

I think it's time to give the rule of law a test-run on the global stage.

In the news:
  • "Ambassador: Sudanese president may be charged with genocide"
    CNN (July 11, 2008)
  • "ICC prosecutor likely to name Sudan's Bashir-UN envoy"
    Reuters (July 11, 2008)
    • "UNITED NATIONS, July 11 (Reuters) - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is likely to seek the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in a new war crimes case he will open on Darfur on Monday, a senior European envoy said on Friday.
    • "The prosecution said in a statement on Thursday Luis Moreno-Ocampo would submit to judges "evidence on crimes committed in the whole of Darfur over the last five years" and seek to charge an individual or individuals but gave no details.
    • "Sudan has said any such move could undermine the peace process in Darfur and aid officials fear a potential backlash. The Darfur investigation also could embarrass China, Sudan's close ally, just weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics...."
    • "China has advised Sudan to cooperate with U.N. efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis but has faced Western criticism as Khartoum's biggest arms supplier and for not using its oil and investment stakes to press harder for an end to the conflict.
  • "Sudan condemns UN Darfur attack"
    BBC (July 10, 2008)
    • "...Sudan's foreign ministry condemned the attack, and urged Western governments to deal more firmly with Darfur rebels.
    • "UN officials have said they suspect the government-backed Janjaweed militia were responsible for the assault, which also left 22 troops wounded...."
  • "ICC to seek arrest of Sudan's Beshir: report"
    AFP (July 11, 2008)
    • "THE HAGUE (AFP) — Prosecutors on the International Criminal Court will seek an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir next week for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, reports said Friday.
    • "ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will request the warrant on Monday in the first-ever bid before The Hague-based tribunal to charge a sitting head of state with war crimes, said the Washington Post, citing diplomats and UN officials...."
    • "UN officials in Sudan said the Janjaweed -- state-backed Arab militia -- were suspected of carrying out the attack, while Sudan's government blamed the attack on rebels in Darfur.
    • "According to the Washington Post, representatives of the UN Security Council's five permanent members -- China, Britain, the United States, France and Russia -- met UN officials Thursday on the safety of Darfur peacekeepers in the wake of the attack...."
    • "Beshir's regime has refused to allow the deployment of Nepalese, Scandinavian and Thai soldiers and remains reluctant about any non-African troops reinforcing the mission.
    • "In talks with UN Security Council ambassadors in Khartoum last month, after Moreno-Ocampo accused the Sudan state apparatus of war crimes in Darfur, Beshir slammed what he called a vicious campaign against his country.
    • "Sudan rejects the ICC's jurisdiction and refuses to surrender two war crimes suspects already named.
    • "NGO Human Rights Watch said the possibility of Beshir's arrest was 'very exciting'.
    • "If the rumours were true, 'for us this is what the institution was created for ... the fight against impunity' at the highest level, spokeswoman Geraldine Mattioli told journalists in The Hague...."

Update July 11, 2008
Another news link:
"Sudan Leader To Be Charged With Genocide"
Washington Post (July 11, 2008)
(Link provided by cooper in a comment on "Darfur - Heads Up!" (BlogCatalog discussion thread, started July 11, 2008)))

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran's Missile Test, ah, Enhanced with Digital Fakery

It's a cool photo: Four missiles rising into the sky at a dramatic diagonal, demonstrating the armed might of Iran.

Just one problem: There were really only three in the air. The fourth one was a copy of one of the other missiles, combined with smoke on the ground from another.

(from The Lede/The New York Times, used w/o permission)
Wow! Impressive, isn't it?

(from The Lede/The New York Times, used w/o permission)
Oops! One's still on the ground.

The official Iranian photo was on the front page of The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, and The Chicago Tribune, before the Associated Press got a copy of the pre-enhanced photo. Newspapers weren't the only ones embarrassed: online news services like BBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and were displaying the doctored photo, too.

The Associated Press found the original photo, and distributed it: and there's a pretty good discussion - with photos - of what happened at The New York Times blog, "In an Iranian Image, a Missile Too Many"
(The Lede/The New York Times (July 10, 2008)).

I think I understand why Sepah News, Iran's Revolutionary Guard's media section, improved the look of their original photo. Showing a test-firing of four mighty missiles, where one is just sitting on the ground, just doesn't have the impact of showing a test firing where all four worked.

And, I'll have to admit that Iran's retouching was much better done than Adnan Hajj's, back in 2006. You may not remember him: He's the Reuter's freelance photographer whose sub-amateurish work on a photo showed extra smoke - and a duplicated building - in a Beirut, Lebanon, suburb.

(from BBC, used w/o permission)

Pictures Don't Lie

But people do.

Even untouched photos can tell a story that isn't true. Here's how:
  • Leave something out - Let's make up a ridiculous (and quite fictional) example
    • A photo of a woman in some third-world country
      • On one knee
      • In tears
      • Looking pleadingly at the camera
      • In the background, a pile of burning debris
    • What won't be in the caption
      • The debris is a pile of garbage with no connection to her, or her family
      • She's crying because the photographer is standing on her foot.
  • Put something in - This is speculation on my part
    • A photo of what used to be a building
      • Slabs of concrete with twisted rebar, lying at odd angles
      • Blocks of shattered masonry in disorderly piles
      • Grayish-brown dust covering everything
      • Except for the brightly-colored plastic child's toy, perched neatly on the nearest bit of masonry - clean as a whistle, and fresh as it was when it came out of the box
Really tugs at your heartstrings, doesn't it?

I haven't found any reliable discussion of what I'll call The Strange Case of the Clean Toys. My speculation that those Pathetic Reminders of War's Destruction of Innocent Victims were about as real as the space aliens I'd see on tabloid covers is just that - speculation.

An important lesson to be drawn by this week's fake photos is that reasoned skepticism is a good idea. Even when it looks like there's photographic proof.

More at:
Update (July 10, 2008)

Looks like Iran's optimistic reporting is still going strong:

"U.S. source disputes Iran missile tests"
CNN (July 10, 2008)

According to an American source, today's 'full round of tests' was more a matter of getting yesterday's dud off the ground.

As is often the case, it's a matter of who you're going to believe: "a senior U.S. military source" or the people who did such a good job of retouching yesterday's publicity still?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sandeela Kanwal, Chaudhry Rashid: Honor Killing? Maybe, Maybe Not

What we've got is a dead woman, a weeping father, and a really ugly situation.

Sandeela Kanwal is Dead

Here's what's in the public record, so far.
  • Sandeela Kanwal, daughter of Chaudhry Rashid, was taken from America to Pakistan
  • In Pakistan, on March 14, 2002, she was married to Majid Latif in an arranged marriage
    • Arranged marriages are fairly common in many cultures - including Rashid's
  • Back in America, Sandeela Kanwal lived with Majid Latif for several years
  • April 15 - presumably this year - the couple separatged
  • July 1, 2008, Sandeela Kanwal filed for divorce
  • Then she died
    • Abruptly
  • Investigators say that Chaudhry Rashid confessed to killing her
Something struck me as I read headlines and articles about this murder investigation. With the possible exceptions of a headline, and a claim by Rashid's lawyer, every significant statement I read could be quite true. Even the apparently contradictory ones:
  • "Investigators said Rashad confessed to strangling the 25-year-old woman."
    Clayton Co. Police Say Father Killed Daughter to Honor Family
    (MyFOX Atlanta (July 6, 2008))
  • "I have done nothing wrong." Chaudhry Rashid, in court, through an interpreter.
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))
  • "But police say Rashid, 54, used a bungee cord to strangle Sandeela Kanwal, 25, early Sunday morning in the family's Utah Drive home in Jonesboro."
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))
  • " 'I don't know anything about an arranged marriage," Long [Rashid's lawyer] said. 'I am not positive that is a factor in this case.'
    "However, Long said she could not elaborate and would need time to talk to the family in depth. She also asked for privacy and declined to discuss Kanwal's funeral arrangements."
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))

"I've Done Nothing Wrong" Doesn't Mean "I'm Innocent"

The newspaper headline reads, "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death" - but what Rashid's interpreter said was "I have done nothing wrong." There could be a translation error, but that's a pretty simple idea. And, in English, there's a difference between "I'm innocent" and "I have done nothing wrong."

American law includes the idea of justifiable homicide. Not for awkward circumstances like the one Mr. Rashid faced, but we do accept the idea that sometimes it's okay to kill someone else: as in cases of self-defense.

So, Mr. Rashid's confession (perhaps 'statement' might be a better term) that he killed his daughter, the police assertion that he strangled her, and Mr. Rashid's "I have done nothing wrong" during his tearful court appearance, could all be true. Assuming that he killed her for a culturally-mandated reason.

That assumption could even explain his tears in court. He said he was mourning his daughter - which could be quite true - particularly if he'd been 'forced' to kill her, in order to follow his culture's code of ethics.

I think that Rashid's lawyer is prudent in dismissing the arranged marriage, and I rather doubt that we'll hear much about America's intolerance of non-western values in court. Playing on a jury's sympathies probably wouldn't be as effective in this case, as it was in the Menendez Brothers' first trial.

Do I Think This is an Honor Killing?

I don't know. But that's a distinct possibility:
  • An arranged marriage that doesn't seem to have gotten off to a good start
  • A young woman who learned enough about American culture to know that there are alternatives
  • An old coot, about my age, who may very well have that mental ossification that makes adjusting to new realities difficult
Yeah: I'd say that 'honor killing' is a real possibility.

On the other hand, Mr. Rashid may just be a guy with anger management issues, a dead daughter, and a lawyer who may be able to get him sprung. As long as the defense doesn't bring up the 'cultural' thing, and concentrates on a father's tears, I'd say Mr. Rashid has a shot at a reduced sentence, at least.

Finally, about Islam and honor killings. In Indonesia, a country that's more Islamic that America is Christian, in terms of percentages, and which has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, there are almost no 'honor killings. I've written about this before.

More, in the news:
  • "Dad charged with murdering reluctant bride"
    CNN (July 9, 2008)
  • "Father charged over 'honour killing' "
    Herald Sun (AU) (July 9, 2008)
    (This article has some additional information about the marriage's circumstances.)
  • "Chgo Trib's 'Honor Killing' Report Omits Islam Connection" (July 8, 2008)
    (This is a quite biased report, which I think has a point:
    • "OK, I am wondering here if the hanging of a black Southerner by the KKK in the American south would be reported by the Chicago Tribune in the same kind of vague language of 'cultural' murder as a recent Muslim murder in Georgia was treated? More likely, of course, the story would be immediately pegged to the racist, white motives that actually led to the murder. In essence that is how the Chicago Tribune mishandled their reporting of another so-called Islamic 'honor killing' that occurred in Georgia this week. They wrote about the 'culturally rigid Pakistani' immigrants and said that 'honor killings' occur with 'other South Asians' without ever once mentioning that this is more often than not a Muslin practice. Instead of pegging this murder to Muslim 'culture' the Tribune makes it a vague and nondescript 'culture' so that the reader is unaware of the connection with Islam...."

About the op ed

I doubt that there are many American readers who would not associate an honor killing with Islam - but I do believe that there is a distinct reticence - a sort of prudery - on the part of some news services to openly discuss the connection.

And, I believe that, by leaving Islamic/Middle Eastern/Asian cultural and religious issues out of reports, this prudery makes room for gossip and rumor - some of it rather wild.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store


Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.