These are all the Blogs posted on Tuesday, 1, 2011.
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Suspects planned to slit journalists' throats
From the Swedish edition of The Local
The men from Sweden currently being held in Copenhagen on suspicions of planning a terror attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper planned on slitting the journalists' throats, police wiretaps reveal.
The three men traveled to Denmark during the evening of December 29th. They then met in an apartment on Mörkhöjvej in the Herlev neighbourhood near the Danish capital to discuss how they would attack the Jyllands-Postens newspaper.
In a joint prayer, one of the men said, "When the unfaithful are gathered, tie them up and cut their throats."
Their goal was to shoot and kill as many as possible in a 20-minute time span. Following the prayer, the left the flat, but were then arrested by police. During a search of the premises, PET found automatic weapons, silencers, and heavy duty tape.
Last Thursday, the court in Glostrup decided that the three men from Sweden arrested in Denmark, Munir Awad, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, 30-year-old Swede Omar Abdalla Aboelazm and 44-year-old Tunisian national and Swedish resident Mounir Dhahri, should remain in solitary remand.
Posted on 02/01/2011 4:50 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Lars Hedegaard acquited
From The Copenhagen Post
The court on Monday acquitted Hedegaard, president of the Danish Free Press Society, of charges of racism stemming from statements the historian and journalist made to a blogger in December 2009.
Although the court stated that it found Hedegaard’s comments to be insulting, the acquittal was handed down due to the fact that Hedegaard did not know that his controversial comments would be published.
Hedegaard had previously expressed regret for the statements, which were made during a 35-minute interview at a Christmas party with the author of the blog snaphanen.dk. However, he had maintained that what he said did not constitute racism under the Danish penal code.
Hedegaard released a statement following his acquittal.
“My detractors – the foes of free speech and the enablers of an Islamic ascendancy in the West – will claim that I was acquitted on a technicality,” the statement read. “That is absolutely true. However, the public prosecutor has been privy to the circumstances surrounding my case for a year – and yet he chose to prosecute me. Obviously in the hope that he could secure a conviction given the Islamophile sentiment among our ruling classes. My acquittal is therefore a major victory for free speech.”
Hedegaard’s Free Press Society believes that free speech is “being threatened, primarily by religious and ideological interests and international pressure groups” and that Islam is the “most dangerous threat at the moment” against free expression.
During the trial, Hedegaard received support both domestically – most famously from the Danish People’s Party’s Jesper Langballe, whose statements in support of Hedegaard earned the MP a 5,000 kroner fine for what another court said constituted racism – and from what Hedegaard called “freedom fighters around the world.”
According to Hedegaard’s statement, his acquittal “will encourage people all over the West and beyond to speak up”.
Posted on 02/01/2011 5:02 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
WikiLeaks cables show Government was 'playing false' over Lockerbie bomber
From The Telegraph
WikiLeaks documents that disclose how British ministers secretly advised Libya on securing the successful early release of the Lockerbie bomber demonstrate that Tony Blair's Government was "playing false" over the issue, Alex Salmond has said. Mind you if Alex Salmond said that the Pope was a catholic my immediate reaction would be to check his status with the Archbishop of Canterbury, just in case. He and the SNP do court the islamic vote with some enthusiasm.
A Foreign Office minister sent Libyan officials detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s cancer diagnosis to ensure he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph show.
The Scottish First Minister said the revelations confirm that while his administration acted according to its public pronouncements on the affair, Tony Blair's Government was behaving duplicitously.
“The cables ... show that the former UK Government were playing false on the issue, with a different public position from their private one,” said a statement released by Mr Salmond's office.
Downing Street maintained at the time that is was not complicit in the release of al-Megrahi, and that the decision to free the convicted terrorist was taken by the Scottish Executive alone.
In October 2008 – as negotiations on the prisoner transfer agreement were ongoing –Megrahi was diagnosed as suffering from cancer.
It can now be disclosed that within a week of the diagnosis, Bill Rammell, a junior Foreign Office minister, had written to his Libyan counterpart advising him on how this could be used as the grounds of securing al-Megrahi’s compassionate release from prison.
Rob Dixon, a senior Foreign Office official, met with the American Ambassador to brief him on the letter. An official American memo on the meeting states: “FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG and by the Scottish Executive, on October 17 outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release.
“It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on license, on compassionate grounds. Although the Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims in an email October 21 that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law.”
Mr Dixon went on to disclose to the Americans that Jack Straw, the then Justice Secretary, had also spoken to Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister about the case which had led Government officials to believe that the terrorist would be released.
The minute of the meeting with the Americans records: “Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Jack Straw that he will make the final decision in this case. Salmond told Straw that he would make the decision based on humanitarian grounds, not foreign policy grounds; Dixon told us HMG has interpreted this to mean that Salmond is inclined to grant the request.”
Had Megrahi died shortly after after his homecoming I would have said that whatever the political machinations behind his release, allowing a sick man to die in his own home was an act of Christian charity, and the right thing to do. But he obviously wasn't as near his end as we were led to believe. That's the biggest lie. Who said "War is deceit"?
Posted on 02/01/2011 5:38 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
In the late Eighties, in an advertisement for BT (British Telecom) Beattie, played by Maureen Lipman, had a phone call from her grandson staying that he had failed his exams, passing only Pottery and Sociology.
“You got an –ology?” she cried, “He gets an –ology and he says he’s failed. You get an –ology you’re a scientist.”
Ologies are old hat. The suffix du jour is -onomics. From The Times:
Szuchman, 36, writer, editor, wife and mother-of-one, has an answer that does not involve performance-enhancing drugs or the acquisition of a nurse’s outfit and handcuffs. The answer as she sees it, lies in the application of a little light economics.
In her opinion, densely argued papers on market opacity and supply-and-demand contain more principles to rekindle our flagging libidos than a dirty magazine. There, too, among the arguments over John von Neumann’s “minimax theorem” or the conceit of “hyperbolic discounting”, may we find solutions to the other nagging problems of married life. All we need is economics.
The result is Spousonomics, a name that is almost certainly the product of a deep economic yearning from her publisher for a title to rival the 2005 blockbuster Freakonomics, which popularised the practice of applying economics in the most unlikely places.
Knowledge of “loss aversion” should help couples to pull out of an argument before it is too late, like a trader pulling out of a stock as its value plummets. We should all follow the example of the multi-squillionaire hedge-fund manager David Einhorn and learn not to act in the heat of the moment, even though we are totally in the right and she is just impossible. Knowledge of the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis should encourage husbands and wives to be more transparent in their dealings with one another, just as it should remind us all that no marriage is “too big to fail”.
More gnomic -ononmics include:
Errornomics: From why security staff at LA International Airport miss 75 per cent of bomb-making materials to why you always forget your password, Joseph T Hallinan, a Pulitzer prize winner, explains the “onomics” of mistakes.
Obamanomics: Top-down and bottom-up economics are pulled apart by the financial writer John Talbott, who explains how Obama’s policies will give greater economic justice and opportunity.
Meccanomics: The Iranian academic Vali Nasr charts the rise of a new Muslim middle class, arguing that booming economies will tip the balance away from extremism.
The hell they will. Koranomics says otherwise. Homo meccanomicus is less dangerous when poor and downtrodden.
Posted on 02/01/2011 6:54 AM by Mary Jackson
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Abbas Claims He Abjures Violence For Western Audiences, But With Fellow Arabs, He Explains What He Means
From Palestine Media Watch:
Abbas makes contradictory statements:
No to violence, yes to war against Israel
by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in recent days has made contradictory statements concerning violence and war against Israel. To the English speaking audience Abbas said he would never turn to violence; in Arabic he said he would join Arab states in a war against Israel:
Abbas to Western audience:
"'I am committed to peace, but not forever,' Mr. Abbas said. 'I don't mean I will turn to violence - never. In my life, I will never do it. But I cannot stay in my office forever doing nothing.'"
Abbas to Arab audience:
"I have said more than once that if the Arabs want war - we are with them."
Abbas made the statement against violence in an interview with Bernard Avishai writing for the New York Times Magazine. The statement was intended for an international audience and reported in the New York Times on January 27, 2011.
Abbas made the second statement not ruling out war in a meeting with Egyptian and other Arab journalists. This statement was meant for an Arab audience and reported in the official Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on January 24, 2011.
Abbas stressed that he is against violence now because the Palestinians are unable and because the international community opposes it. He did not denounce violence as a tool:
"We do not wish to turn to armed struggle, because our [lack of] capabilities and the international atmosphere do not allow for it."
PA leaders' depicting non-violence against Israel as a necessary current strategy was exemplified recently during the 2010 peace talks. PA leaders repeatedly used apologetic language when explaining the rationale behind the non-violence to Palestinians.
Nabil Shaath, MP, member of Fatah Central Committee and former PA Foreign Minister, made a series of speeches justifying the cessation of violence, which he stressed was due to current conditions: "At the present time [the armed struggle] is not possible, or is not effective," he said. He noted "the inability to engage in the armed struggle," and pointed out that: "[it] has become undesirable now," and "international conditions do not permit us." Shaath also stressed the "right to return to the armed conflict whenever we view that as our people's interest." (Full quotes below.)
Abbas has repeated this willingness to join an all-out Arab war three times in the last year: First, to the Arab League in March, then in July, and now again:
The following are excerpts from the statements by Mahmoud Abbas (emphasis added):
Jan. 24, 2011, meeting with Egyptian and other Arab journalists:
"The President [Abbas] emphasized that in September the Palestinian leadership will pass a resolution which no-one will have dreamed of, if the available options concerning the peace process fail... President Abbas made it clear that the Arab Peace Initiative is the ideal solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict... He noted that the Palestinian Authority published the Peace Initiative in the Israeli media and on the 'streets', in order to bring it to the attention of the Israelis.
He emphasized that he supports the options that the Arab [state]s will choose, and added: 'I have said more than once that if the Arabs want war - we are with them. I cannot fight alone. We tried military action during the Second Intifada and during the attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, after the [Hamas] refusal to renew the ceasefire, and it brought destruction upon us. 25% of the homes in Gaza are still in ruins.' He noted that he opposes military action and that he believes that popular operations resisting settlement and the [security] fence lead to clear positive results for the Palestinian cause. He noted that 50% of the participants in these demonstrations are Israelis, while 25% are foreigners. He added: 'We are determined to continue this activity, and we do not wish to turn to armed struggle, because our [lack of] capabilities and the international atmosphere do not allow for it."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 24, 2011]
July 6, 2010, in the home of PA Ambassador to Jordan, to writers and journalists:
"'We are unable to confront Israel militarily, and this point was discussed at the Arab League Summit in March in Sirt (Libya). There I turned to the Arab States and I said: 'If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it.' ... 'The West Bank was completely destroyed and we will not agree that it will be destroyed again,' in addition to 'the inability to confront Israel militarily.'"
[Abbas, at meeting with writers and journalists
in the home of the Palestinian Ambassador to Jordan,
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Fatah), July 6, 2010]
The following are excerpts from the statements by Palestinian MP Nabil Shaath, (emphasis added):
MP Nabil Shaath (1): "... the armed struggle, which has become undesirable now"
"MP Dr. Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah Central Committee and Commissioner of Foreign Relations... emphasized that the Fatah's stated strategy for the struggle is to adopt the growing popular and 'non-violent' struggle against Israel, because of the inability to engage in the armed struggle, which has become undesirable now, although it is the right of the Palestinian people, which all international treaties and resolutions have guaranteed... Shaath emphasized that the non-violent struggle is no less honorable than the armed struggle, and that it does not signify submission to Israeli demands."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 20, 2010]
MP Nabil Shaath (2): "the armed struggle at the present time... is not effective"
"The current distancing from the armed struggle does not mean its absolute rejection... He noted that the difficulty of the conflict required the Palestinian people to diversify its activities of struggle - along with an emphasis on the importance of the armed struggle, which laid the basis for the existence of the state and contributed to maintaining the right and presenting it to the world - especially since the armed struggle at the present time is not possible, or is not effective, because of to the difficulties with which the Palestinian people contends."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 21, 2010]
MP Nabil Shaath (3): negotiations are "tactical" and "temporary"
"Dr. Nabil Shaath, Commissioner of International Relations and member of the Fatah Central Committee... stated that the decision to renew negotiations was a tactical decision, i.e., a temporary, defensive decision... and it is dependent upon the possibility of attaining tangible results for the Palestinians. He concluded: 'Even the resistance uses defensive tactics in order not to miss opportunities.'"
[Al-Dustur (Jordan), June 10, 2010]
MP Nabil Shaath (4): Palestinians will return to violence when it is "our people's interest."
"Dr. Nabil Shaath, member of the Fatah Central Committee... emphasized that 'the Palestinian people has the right to defend itself, and it has the right to act in the way of the armed struggle. We have acted in this way for 100 years. Fatah led it (the armed struggle) for 23 years, and Hamas adopted it for 15 years. We are proud of all of our Shahids (Martyrs), and it is our right to return to the armed conflict whenever we view that as our people's interest.'"
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 7, 2010]
The following is the article in New York Times quoting Mahmoud Abbas:
Olmert Memoir Cites Near Deal for Mideast Peace
By Ethan Bronner
JERUSALEM - Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, says in new memoirs that he and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, were very close to a peace deal two years ago, but Mr. Abbas's hesitation, Mr. Olmert's own legal troubles and the Israeli war in Gaza caused their talks to end. Shortly afterward, a right-wing Israeli government came to power...
In a separate interview, Mr. Abbas confirmed most of Mr. Olmert's account...
Mr. Avishai's article is scheduled to be published in The Times Magazine next month...
"I am committed to peace, but not forever," Mr. Abbas said. "I don't mean I will turn to violence - never. In my life, I will never do it. But I cannot stay in my office forever doing nothing."
He said Washington needed to play an active role, or "hopes for peace will collapse and the region will be controlled by extremists." [The New York Times, Jan. 27, 2011
There are several aspects to this.
The first is the clear difference between what Mahmoud Abbas says for a Western audience, and what he says to fellow Arabs. To the former he is perfectly able to lie, lie easily, while to the latter he says something like the truth.
The second is that Abbas' objection to using violence as an instrument of Jihad is not a moral one. He would use it in a minute, if he thought the "Palestinian" Arabs were strong enough, and he is prepared to support the use of warfare by Arab states.
The third is that Mahmoud Abbas, like Muslims elsewhere, will use whatever instruments of Jihad prove most effective, and will not use them only if the Muslim side is likely to lose more than it gains.
And that is why Israel should cease to put its faith in negotiatiions and treaties, that always and everywhere have caused it to surrender tangible assets, security, for promises that are never, in the end, kept -- and cannot be kept by those whose model of treaty-making with Infidels remains the agreement, a "truce" treaty, made by Muhammad with the Meccans at Hudaibiyya in 628 A. D.
Posted on 02/01/2011 9:08 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
She's right - what did happen to Mr Lyle?
I liked that French and Saunder's clip Paul posted this morning, not least because I recognised myself.
The view from the cafe in Tate Modern must be one of the best in London. This is how it looked one late afternoon in early January.
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:21 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
King Charles VI
I know I should expect very little from NPR -- just a bit more than I expect from the BBC World Service, when it sneeringly misreports on anything to do with permanently beleaguered Israel -- but yesterday, during a discussion about "The King's Speech" I heard the host of the program perkily refer to it being the story of "King Charles VI" and not a single guest on the program bothered to correct her.
Man wants but little here below, but must that little come to this? To National Public Radio telling its million-man audience about "King Charles VI"? And would anyone at NPR's office know why, of all the possible mistakes that could have been made -- with such names as James and Edward among the possible alternatives to George - the one that manages to betray the greatest ignorance about English history is the suggestion that "The King's Speech" is about a stuttering "King Charles VI"?
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:25 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Islamic extremist 'landed dream job with BA in spectacular terror plot'
From The London Evening Standard
An Islamic extremist intent on martyrdom in a "spectacular" terrorist attack on Britain got a job with British Airways, a court heard today. Rajib Karim, 31, was a computer worker for the airline and volunteered to be trained as cabin crew, the jury was told.
Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw said that "in the eyes of a terrorist" Karim's post with BA "was just about as good a job as could be obtained".
Mr Laidlaw told the Crown Court at Woolwich: "He is entirely committed to an extreme jihadist and religious cause. He believes that terrorism, including the murder of civilians, is permissible to establish, as he views it, a true Islamic state. As you will see from his own writings, Karim was anxious to carry out such an act and he was determined to seek martyrdom - to die and to sacrifice himself for his cause."
Karim was arrested last February at the BA call centre in Newcastle where he worked in the IT department. The court heard he had contact with leading international terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki and passed him information. Karim was associated with the terrorist group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh which was also linked to al Qaeda. He had been trained in terrorist skills, said Mr Laidlaw. The court heard the targets were intended to be a spectacular attack on civilians in the UK as well as on British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The jury was told that Karim admits he has been involved in terrorist activity but claims it was only to a very limited extent. He has pleaded guilty to three charges of preparing acts of terrorism by himself or others between December 2006 and his arrest last February. . .But Karim, who was born in Bangladesh, has pleaded not guilty to four other charges.
He denies seeking a job in the UK which could be exploited for terrorism, passing information to Awalki useful for attack on BA's computer systems and disrupting the airline economically and applying for cabin crew training which would be useful for causing an explosion on an aircraft or encouraging others to do it.
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:32 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Imam guilty of raping boy at mosque
A Muslim cleric has been convicted of raping a young boy as he attended Islamic education lessons at his mosque.
Mohammed Hanif Khan, 42, was also found guilty by a jury at Nottingham Crown Court of sexual activity with a child, as well as the two counts of rape.
The charges relate to two boys who attended the mosque in Capper Street, Stoke on Trent, where he was imam, in 2009. . . one of the boys claimed in police interviews that he was singled out by Khan after evening prayer on several occasions. He was sexually assaulted in various areas of the mosque which were not covered by CCTV, Mr Shakoor [prosecuting] told the court. The other boy was assaulted when he was an overnight guest at Khan's house, the jury of six men and six women were told.
Khan, who told the court he travelled to Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, India and Cyprus to complete his imam training, showed no emotion as the jury delivered its verdicts.
A further five charges were dismissed by Mrs Justice Dobbs because the jury could not reach a decision, and she adjourned the trial for pre-sentence reports to a date yet to be fixed.
Now is the cause of this his celibacy and loneliness? No, sorry, unlike Catholic priests Muslims clerics marry, sometimes many times.
Perhaps the boys were asking for it by their free behaviour and scanty dress? Oh no, they were praying at the mosque or guests in his house.
It must be because he is unhappy with his cousin/wife/child bride. And despite the thirst and fasting of Ramadan being supposed to teach self control too many Muslim men have no self discipline whatsoever.
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:54 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Some Things Are More Endurable In French
Whittier's "Snow-Bound" has its swirling points, but if you have had to endure one terrific snowstorm after another, with more to come, wouldn't you like to be able to think of that snow not as hard-packed piles, rising ever harder, the stuff which puts one in mind of Frank Smythe mountaineering in the Canadian Rockies, but as fluffy downy flakes, melting on the cheeks and forehead and eyelashes and possibly those lips, too, with that promising embouchure, of some ravishing beauty in anna-karenina fur hat-and-muff, whom you can visualize so well as she turns to enter a shop in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré.
Of course you would.
So today, and until the weather changes, make the effort to thinkof North America not as snow-staggered by one whopper of a storm after another, but more pleasingly endurable, even possibly seduisante, as
L'Amérique Septentrionale enneigée
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:53 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
A Musical Interlude: Sweetheart We Need Each Other (Ben Pollack Orch., voc. Scrappy Lambert)
Posted on 02/01/2011 10:51 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Pssst -- About El Baradei's Daughter
Mohamed El Baradei is neither wonderful nor awful. He's far less crude than Mubarak, and not -- so far -- corrupt. But he also accepts the general Muslim view of the world, and would be an apologist for Islam in the ekmeleddin-ihsanoglu manner. And since he is outwardly far more attractive and soothing than Mubarak, or other Arab potentates, and is soft-spoken, he would likely be more effective in his god-given task of defending, and protecting, an Islam that he may not practice or much believe in himself. The individual Msulim who continues to identify himself as such, and not merely out of well-justified fear, the Muslim who may not take Islam to heart but becomes defensive, and furious, should any non-Muslim show he understands Islam and is willing to hold it up for critical inspection, cannot be relied on to inform Infidels truthfully about what the mass of primitive Believers think, and would, uinder the right ripe circumsetances, do.
Recently the Mubarak regime has disseminated pictures of his daughter (she lives in London and is married to an investment banker) in swimming clothes, at a party where it appears alchohol was served. This is being used to lessen support for El Baradei among Believers. I am surprised that another aspect of his daughter's marriage has so far escaped notice. For she is married to Neil Pizey, a non-Muslim, and apparently he has not converted, which means that El Baradei has allowed his daughter to marry, and stay married, to a non-Muslim man. That's in his favor, in Western eyes. In Muslim eyes, it's a Bad Thing.
This will come out, and we'll see how he handles it. If he declares that such a rule is not something he would attempt to enforce on his daughter, thereby distancing himself more from the Ikhwan, that will be a good sign.
And if he doesn't?
That will also be a sign, but the other kind.
Posted on 02/01/2011 12:04 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Try A Little Craziness With Back Issues Of The Rupee News
Start reading around here.
Posted on 02/01/2011 1:07 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
"Staunch Ally" Pakistan's Great Idea: Swap Aafia Siddiqui For Raymond Davis
From the Pakistan Patriot:
Posted on 30 January 2011
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui an MIT graduate, now a prisoner in America
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui a graduate of MIT allegedly fired at US marines in Afghanistan, trying to escape her captors after several years of rape and abuse. Her three children faced a similar fate in Baghram prison run by the Americans. During the trial the defense was not able to find any evidence of firing or bullets, and the frail and beaten up Aafia she supposedly overcame a strong US Marine. Ms. Siddiqui’s please of self defense, were not accepted, she was tried and convicted in a US court of law and the US has not extradited her back to Pakistan.
Raymond Davis a US citizen fired at innocent motorcycle riders in Lahore and is now in the custody facing trial in Lahore. Raymond Davis the American told a Pakistani court on Friday that he had acted in self-defence after fleeing what he said was a robbery attempt. Ignoring US pressure Mr. Davis he has been remanded in police custody for six days for questioning– in a province whose government is run by Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who is not considered very Pro-American. A third Pakistani bystander was brutally run over by a US Embassy car. The US has been rebuffed and Pakistan will try him in a court of law. Islamabad so far has not recognized Raymond Davis as a diplomat.
The Pakistani Foreign office spokesman Mr. Basit has said that “This matter is sub-judice in a court of law and the legal process should be respected,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement, adding that a report was awaited from the Punjab Police. “And for this reason, the ministry has no substantive comments to offer,” he added.
The Law Minister of Punjab Rana Sanaullah said that the government of the US should respect Pakistan’s courts and should raise the issue of diplomatic immunity there. “The Punjab government respects the sentiments of the Pakistani public and wants to fulfil legal requirements,” he said.
At least in public the PPPP government is putting forward a brave front saying that “American influence would not be allowed to affect the criminal proceedings”.
Many Pakistanis are asking for a swap of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui with Mr. Ramond Davis.
Posted on 02/01/2011 1:09 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Now That El Baradei Is Out Of The Way, The IAEA Comes Down Harder
From Global Security News;
IAEA Takes Harder Stand on Syria
Feb. 1, 2011
Syria's continued refusal to allow further international access to the site of a suspected nuclear reactor bombed in 2007 could prompt the International Atomic Energy Agency to make public its current take on Syrian compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, possibly paving the way for punitive action at the United Nations, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano warned in a November letter (see GSN, Jan. 31).
(Feb. 1) - International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano, shown last year, warned his agency could issue a judgment of Syria's alleged nuclear work based on current evidence if Damascus does increase its cooperation with U.N. inspectors (Joe Klamar/Getty Images).
The warning, confirmed by three Western diplomats with knowledge of Amano's letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, marked a shift in strategy in the U.N. nuclear watchdog's bid over more than two years to examine the suspected reactor site and three other areas with possible atomic ties, the Wall Street Journal reported today.
Syria has denied multiple IAEA requests for visits to the Dair Alzour site, where a suspected partially constructed nuclear reactor was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Inspectors were prohibited from the area after a June 2008 visit turned up traces of anthropogenic natural uranium. Damascus has rejected accusations it had engaged in illicit nuclear activities, though it suspended its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog following the 2008 visit.
The Vienna-based agency could release an assessment of Syria's nonproliferation treaty compliance as soon as this month, when it is expected to make public a new safeguards report before its 35-nation governing board convenes on March 7. Amano asked Syria's foreign minister for an answer ahead of the March meeting and said the agency would not accept an 11th-hour reply; to date, Syria's only reaction has been to request that the deadline be postponed, the three diplomats said.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has concluded from existing evidence that Syria covertly established a nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour and did not disclose the facility's existence, according to two diplomats with knowledge of the investigation. The assertion is based largely on architectural similarities between the building that once stood at the site and other facilities known to house nuclear reactors, the first three diplomats said, referring to past safeguards reports by the agency. The Dair Alzour building's shielding, power and water systems were indicative of a possible nuclear reactor site, the agency indicated in reports between November 2008 and November 2010.
The United States has urged several other governing board member nations to support a potential resolution pressing Syria to permit IAEA monitors, said two of the diplomats, each of whom represent member nations. Such a call can precede further U.N. action, according to the Journal.
Unofficial calls for a governing board resolution were issued when the board last convened in December, one of the three diplomats said. Washington wanted to make clear that Damascus cannot "duck and hide from the IAEA in respect to fulfilling obligations" by stonewalling agency inspection requests, the diplomat said (David Crawford, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1).
Posted on 02/01/2011 1:19 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Cutting The Ties That Bind With Arab And Muslim States
Isn't it amazing how completely, innocently, unskeptically, thoughtlessly, enthusiastically without the slightest expression of any doubts as to what will happen in the future, the Western press has been reporting on events in Egypt. Couldn't they spare a few moments from their breathless reports from "Liberation" (Tahrir) Square, reports about how "young and old, rich and poor, men and women (but how few women!), Muslim and Christian (but how very very few Christians!)" have come together to demand...well, demand what, exactly, beyond the removal of Mubarak? What do they mean, these "young and old, rich and poor, men and a few women, Muslims and a handful of Christians," when they talk about how "we want democracy" and "we want freedom" -- what do these words mean to them? Do they mean something like what has been achieved in the advanced Western world, over centuries, after the Enlightenment, after political theories that gradually, by degrees, over centuries, gained favor?
No one reporting has discussed, or even hinted at, how Islam might explain the fact that everywhere in Muslim lands despots rule. What passes for "democracy" and "freedom" that bears some relation to those words as understood in the West, has occurred only in those countries where Islam has been constrained -- that is, for a time in Lebanon, because of its large, and for a time powerful Christian population, and in Turkey, where an enlightened despot, Ataturk, spent his entire waking life as ruler trying to systematically curtail the power of Islam, and its hold over the minds of men.
What will happen in Egypt? What, after all, can happen in Egypt? The many failures, political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral, of Muslim states and societies are, in the end, the result of Islam itself. And this is something that even the most secular of those who continue to call themselves Muslims cannot, save for that handful who jettison Islam altogether, dare to recognize.
No wonderful day is dawning, not in Egypt, not in Jordan, not in the Arab World where, we are excitedly told, a New Day Is Dawning.
And in tjhe only countries that matter to the outside world -- the oil kingdoms and sheiklets -- that money can be used to buy enough satisfaction to head off opposition to the ruling families.
What is likely to happen is that those rich Muslim lands -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar -- willl go their own way, for they have no intention of sharing their wealth with fellow members of the Umma.
Let that be the theme for the next few years in the Western world: no more transfer of wealth, beyond the trillions spent on oil, to Muslmi states from Infidel taxpayers. Nothing to Pakistan, Afghanistan, no more money to Iraq (it can pay for itself, thank you, and could all along, borrowing against future earnings when necessary). No more aid to Egypt -- after all, any aid will not result in gratitude but in the linking of America to the regime, and the regime will always be to the dissatisfaction of the Muslims who take Islam seriously, unless it is an all-out Islamic regime, in which case it should not be receiving any American aid in any case.
De-couple from these "staunch allies" Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest. Have as little to do with the Arabs and Muslims as possible. We have only gotten ourselves entangled, confused ourselves, squandered so much in such vain endeavors. Forget about them. Let them know that we in the advanced Western world know that the cause of their misfortunes is Islam, and let us speak openly about that. They will overhear, and their indignant responses will convince no one in the West, and even the more advanced members of Muslim societies will have to admit, if only to themselves, the truth of that proposition.
Posted on 02/01/2011 1:57 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
A Musical Interlude: Egyptian Ella (Ted Lewis Orch. & voc.)
Posted on 02/01/2011 2:27 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
An Egyptian Interlude: Wilson And Keppel
Posted on 02/01/2011 2:33 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Clinton Speaks Out About Egypt
Posted on 02/01/2011 2:37 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Human Rights Watch: Maliki's security forces torture prisoners at secret sites
By Liz Sly
Washington Post Foreign Service
February 1, 2011
BAGHDAD - Elite security forces under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are operating additional secret detention sites in Baghdad at which prisoners are being tortured and abused, according to a report by the watchdog group Human Rights Watch released on Tuesday.
One of the sites is at a military base where U.S. forces maintain an advisory team, the U.S. military confirmed.
Former prisoners at another of the facilities, a military base in the Green Zone that was vacated by U.S. troops last summer, have told Human Rights Watch researchers that detainees there were regularly abused, by being hung upside down, beaten and given electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals,
The Los Angeles Times first reported the existence of the Green Zone prison, which is being operated by the 56th Brigade of the Iraqi Army and the Counter Terrorism service, both of which are controlled by the prime minister's office.
Human Rights Watch says it has discovered another secret prison located at Camp Justice in the northwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhamiyah in which detainees are being kept without access to lawyers, family members or prison inspectors, "prompting fresh concerns that the [Baghdad] brigade may be torturing detainees," the report says.
U.S. troops have a presence there, but U.S. forces "are not responsible nor do they have any interaction with detainees of the government of Iraq," said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Rob Phillips, referring queries to the Iraqi government.
Iraqi officials did not respond to requests for comment.
More than 280 prisoners from the Green Zone site were transferred to the Camp Justice prison in November, apparently to avoid a planned visit by an international inspection team to the Green Zone facility, the report said. The Camp Justice site falls within a legitimate prison on the sprawling base that is run by the Justice Ministry, it says.
Most of the prisoners are accused of terrorism, it adds.
"Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The Los Angeles Times also reported the existence of another secret detention facility at Muthanna Airbase in April, and Human Rights Watch subsequently published a report based on interviews with 42 former detainees who described widespread torture there.
The report comes at a time when many of Maliki's political rivals are accusing him of seeking to concentrate power in his hands by assuming control of key independent agencies, including the election commission.
Posted on 02/01/2011 2:41 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Ricky, Thou Shouldst Be Hosting At This Hour
It's too bad that Ricky Gervais was the host for the Golden Globes, rather than the upcoming Oscars.
For who else could, in introducing one of the big films of the evening, "The King's Speech," have recycled an abdication-era witticism,and mentioned in passing "that while the King -- played by Colin Firth -- had his speech impediment, his older brother had his own problems, for why else would he have given up being Admiral of the Fleet to become third mate on an American tramp?"
Cometh the hour, we like to think, cometh the man. But Ricky was on -- and also pulled off -- for a televised hour a few weeks ago. And apparently he won't be back.
So who, when Oscar Time slouches round again at last, can give the world-wide audience the royal treatment it so richly deserves?
Posted on 02/01/2011 2:54 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Mubarak Seeks Term Limits
(Reuters) - Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak said on Tuesday he would seek changes to the constitution in a speech to the nation he said he was giving at a "difficult time."
Posted on 02/01/2011 3:24 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Michael Totten: A Report From Egypt, December 2005
From Michael Totten's Middle East Journal:
December 19, 2005
Nasser’s Biggest Crime
CAIRO – Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh gave me an insider’s tour of Cairo and the ghastly political situation facing his country today.
He took me down 26 of July Street on foot to the bridge over the Nile connecting Zamalek island to the mainland. As we walked up the entrance ramp – built for cars, not for people – he asked me if I ever walked like this in Beirut. “In Egypt you can walk wherever you want,” he said. “There are no rules or laws here.”
Well, I thought. There are laws against involvement in politics. But I knew what he meant. The Egyptian government doesn’t micromanage its citizens. Good on Hosni Mubarak for that one, at least. Egypt may be a police state, but at any given moment it doesn’t feel like one.
“There are no laws in Lebanon, either,” I said. “You can do pretty much whatever you want there.”
As soon as we crossed the river the amount of traffic – both pedestrian and automobile – multiplied exponentially [oops] while the economic conditions plunged precipitously. Zamalek isn’t the most charming place in the world, but it’s charming compared to the rest of the city.
“Can we talk about politics out in the open?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “We can say whatever we want.”
“Is it because we’re speaking in English?”
“No,” he said. “We could do it in Arabic, too.”
“You’re not worried about the secret police?”
“Not any more,” he said. “It is a real change from last year. Last year there was no way. But it’s better now, more open. Do you know why?”
“No,” I said. “Tell me.”
“Because of pressure from George W. Bush.”
That is the only piece of good news I have to report from Egypt.
We walked underneath an overhead freeway. I had to shout so that he could hear me. The entire world looked as though it were made out of poured concrete. I could taste the black tang of exhaust in the air.
Big Pharaoh pointed out a set of campaign posters on a wall. I felt good seeing campaign posters in Egypt. It was a long way from Libya where menacing portraits of Colonel Ghaddafi are plastered up literally everywhere.
“Do you know what that says?” he said as he pointed at the Arabic script above the portrait of a man’s face.
“No,” I said.
“It says Islam is the Solution.”
We made our way to the nearest subway station and descended the steps. It was clean down there – much cleaner than the subway stations in New York City – and I said so.
“It is almost brand new,” he said.
“How old is it, exactly?” I said.
“About ten years,” he said.
I was amazed that such a miserably poor country could build a brand-new subway while American taxpayers say they can’t afford to build any new trains.
“It must have been hugely expensive,” I said.
“France and Japan helped us pay for it,” he said.
“Japan?” I said. “Really. Why Japan?”
“To earn some goodwill, I guess,” he said.
As our train pulled into the station I made my way toward the first car.
“Not that car,” he said. “The first car is only for women.”
Women ride in the other cars, too. But the first car is reserved only for them so they can avoid both verbal and physical attention from men if they want to.
“I got in that car on accident once,” he said. “By the time I figured it out the doors closed. I got out at the next stop and was fined seven pounds.” Seven pounds is less than two dollars.
So we boarded the second car and held onto the plastic handles on the railing over our heads.
“Does this train look familiar?” he said.
“Kind of,” I said. It looked more or less like a subway car anywhere else, although it was cleaner and there was no graffiti at all.
“It’s French,” he said. “These trains are exactly the same as the ones in Paris.”
We got off downtown and emerged next to a huge well-lit roundabout. Cairo suddenly looked like a European masterpiece. It was not at all what I was expecting after seeing the squalid condition of so much of the rest of the city. I changed my opinion of Cairo – again.
“This is amazing,” I said. “What a terrific downtown. Look at these buildings!”
“They are from another era,” he said. “They are just relics. They have nothing to do with what Egypt is now.”
“But they’re real,” I said, “and you still have them. No country builds streets like this anymore anyway.”
It felt like an Arab New York, or rather an Arab Rome. Later, though, when I went downtown again by myself during the day, I saw what he meant about how the buildings represented another era. Downtown Cairo is all sparkle and no substance at night. The shops on the ground floor are not what I expected them to be. But I didn’t notice at first because it was dark, I kept looking upward, and I was talking to Big Pharaoh.
“I am going to take you to an Egyptian bar,” he said. “Is that okay?”
“You mean an Egyptian bar where no tourists would ever go?”
“Exactly,” he said.
“Perfect,” I said. “That is exactly what I want to see.”
We walked past a women’s underwear store. “When the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power,” he said as he swept his arm in front of female-shaped mannequins modeling panties and bras, “they will ban this.”
The Egyptian bar was called Cap’dor. Instead of glass windows it had wooden shutters painted red and green. The floor was laid with gray tile and the walls were made of wood paneling. There was not one single woman inside. Apparently that’s how it always is in that bar. They didn’t even bother to install a women’s restroom. Beer was the only available beverage.
“There are some prostitute bars around, too,” he said.
“Is it legal here?” I said. “Prostitution is legal in Lebanon.”
“No,” he said, “but the law is lax. The bar owner just pays off the police and no one cares.”
We ordered two stout bottles of Stella beer.
“Best beer in Egypt,” he said. “The company was started by a Greek guy in 1897.”
The bartender brought us carrots, sliced tomatoes, and ful beans. We dug in.
I wanted to know what he thought of the Muslim Brotherhood. Was it even possible that they are as moderate as they want everyone to believe?
“They are moderate because they don’t have guns,” he said. “They don’t kill people. It’s true. But most of the armed terrorist groups we see now were born out of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“At some point,” I said, “if you want to live in a democracy you’re going to have to accept the fact that conservative religious political parties exist. You may never like them, but they won’t always be a terrorist threat. Democracy has mellowed out the Islamists in Turkey, for example.”
“Yes,” he said. “But Turkey has a secular constitution. They want to enter the EU, so the Islamists are forced to play by the rules of the game. They cannot step on the freedoms that the Turkish people take for granted. The Egyptian people, though, since the time of the Pharaohs, have been a flock. They follow the shepherd.”
“My biggest fear,” he continued, “is that if the Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt we will get Islamism-lite, that they won’t be quite bad enough that people will revolt against them. Take bars, for example. Most Egyptians don’t drink, so they won’t mind if alcohol is illegal. The same goes for banning books. Most Egyptians don’t read. So why should they care if books are banned? Most women wear a veil or a headscarf already, so if it becomes the law hardly anyone will resist.”
“How many people here think like you do?” I asked him.
“Few,” he said. “Very few. Less than ten percent probably.”
We ordered more Stella beers. He practically inhaled all the ful beans. I didn’t think they were that great. They had little taste, actually.
“There probably aren’t many Muslim Brotherhood guys in this bar,” I said.
He laughed. “Ha! No way. This is a secular working class bar. Just the fact that they’re here makes them liberals.”
They didn’t look liberal, though. Not without any women around. If you want to hang out at a mixed gender bar in Cairo, go to Zamalek or a hotel.
It was odd, I suppose, to see my pale face, blue eyes, and black leather jacket in Cap’dor. No one actually stared, but almost all the other mens’ eyes lingered on mine a bit longer than usual. They seemed curious and slightly pleased that someone from somewhere else decided to hang out in their place.
Big Pharaoh made psst, psst, psst, psst, psst sounds, the way Arabs summon domestic cats. I turned around and, sure enough, a cat was swirling around an older man’s leg.
“Cats live in this bar,” he said.
“You mean they are strays who come begging?”
“No, they actually live in this bar. They belong to the owner. I’ll bet you haven’t seen cats that live in a bar before, have you?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve seen cats that live in bookstores, but never in bars.” I put out my hand and tried to lure one of the cats, but he was having none of me.
I asked Big Pharaoh what he thought would happen if Egypt held a legitimate free and fair election instead of this bullshit staged by Mubarak.
“The Muslim Brotherhood would win,” he said. “They would beat Mubarak and the liberals.”
I was afraid he was going to say that.
“I’ve had this theory for a while now,” I said. “It looks like some, if not most, Middle East countries are going to have to live under an Islamic state for a while and get it out of their system.”
Big Pharaoh laughed grimly.
“Sorry,” I said. “That’s just how it looks.”
He buried his head on his arms.
“Take Iranians,” I said. “They used to think Islamism was a fantastic idea. Now they hate it. Same goes in Afghanistan. Algerians don’t think too much of Islamism either after 150,000 people were killed in the civil war. I hate to say this, but it looks like Egypt will have to learn this the hard way.”
“You are right,” he said. “You are right. I went to an Egyptian chat room on the Internet and asked 15 people if they fasted during Ramadan. All of them said they fasted during at least most of it. I went to an Iranian chat room and asked the same question. 14 out of 15 said they did not fast for even one single day.”
“Egypt didn’t used to be like this,” I said.
“Nasser’s biggest crime was not establishing democracy when he took over," he said. "Back then, Egyptian people were liberal. It would have worked then. But not now.”
Progress is a funny thing. We Westerners like to think it moves in a straight line. In America that’s pretty much how it is. No serious person would argue that American culture was more liberal and tolerant in the 1950s than it is now. But Egypt, amazingly, moved in exactly the other direction.
“When Nasser took over,” Big Pharaoh said, “people were angry at Britain and Israel. He nationalized all the industry. He banned political parties. He stifled everything. Banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Banned the Communists. Banned all. When Sadat took over in 1970, he had two enemies: the Communists and the Nasser remnants. So to counter these threats, he did what the United States did in Afghanistan during the Cold War – he made an alliance with the Islamists. He brought back the Muslim Brotherhood which had fled to Saudi Arabia when Nasser was around. He used them to destroy the left.”
“That was part of it,” he continued. “During the oil boom of 1973 a lot of Egyptians went to Saudi Arabia to work. Then in the 1990s, two important things happened. After the first Gulf War, Saudi Arabia began to Saudize its economy and said they no longer needed Egyptian workers. When the Egyptians came home they were contaminated with Wahhabism. Egypt’s economy kept getting worse. Unemployed members of the middle class either sat around and smoked shisha or got more religious. That was when Islamism moved from the lower class to the middle class. Now it is moving even to the upper class.”
“Egypt will get over it after a while,” I said, “just like Iran is getting over it now.”
“That will take 25 years! I don’t have 25 years!”
The Iranian theocracy has been in power for 26 years. [now it is 31 years, and if they get nuclear weapons, they will never be dislodged]
I felt bad for Big Pharaoh. Even in the capital Egyptian society hardly had any place for a person like him. Thank the gods I didn’t have to stay there for the rest of my life.
The bartender came around and gave everyone a glass with a green liquid in it. Hey, I thought. Free drinks. I guessed beer wasn’t the only thing they had in the bar after all.
“What is this?” I said.
“It's the water the beans were cooked in.”
I just stared at him.
“This is bean juice? Are you serious?” Gads, the bars in Cairo are unlike the swanky bars in Beirut. But they’re great at least once in an experience-the-world sort of way.
“Yes,” he said. “You will love it.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said.
“There is a first time for everything,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “Here goes.”
I took a small sip. Jesus Christ on a stick, it was disgusting.
“No,” I said. “This isn’t working for me. It’s too salty.” Too salty was the least of what was wrong with drinking bean juice from the stove in the back. I wanted a glass of red wine.
“A friend of mine recently went to Algeria,” he said. “When he came back he told me that there are far fewer veiled women there than there are here. It is much more liberal in Algeria because there they have tasted Islamism. Egypt does need to experience what happened in Iran and Algeria…as long as I am in the U.S. or Canada when it happens.”
Even though he would rather live in the United States, he is seriously looking into immigrating to Canada. It might be easier for him to qualify for an immigrant visa. “If I live in Canada I will be in the apartment above the party.”
“The apartment above the party?” I said.
“America is the party,” he said. “And I will be living right above it. So I’ll be in the apartment above the party. And I’ll go downstairs a lot.”
“I sincerely hope you can make it out of here,” I said – although I partly felt bad because that would only contribute to Egypt’s brain drain.
“Mubarak is a horrible horrible man," he said. He is the reason we are in this thing. He has oppressed all the liberals.”
Optimism in Beirut comes naturally to a foreign observer like me now that Syrian occupation troops are out of the country, the Lebanese parliament has been freely elected, and the most popular Sunni Muslim leaders are secular liberal democrats in Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. That feeling is much harder to come by in Egypt right now. I told Big Pharaoh I found his country’s prospects grim and depressing, and how Islamism feels that it is coming like Christmas. [Michael Totten would no doubt realize that even his tiny bit of optimism, about a tiny part of the Arab Middle East -- that is Beirut -- has now proven to be hollow]
“You want to feel good?” he said. “You want to be optimistic? Go back to Beirut.” [ this was written in December 2005, before Beirut became intimidated by Hezbollah]
Posted on 02/01/2011 7:12 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
An Italian Student Reports From Cairo On The Fears Of The Christians (In Italian)
From Corriere Della Sera:
IL DIARIO DI SIMONE
Io, studente italiano, nel caos del Cairo
«Città irriconoscibile, blindati, sciacalli e falò». Le attese in aeroporto e la gente accampata. I timori dei cristiani
Venerdì scorso. Destinazione Amman con scalo al Cairo fino a domenica. In Giordania ho ottenuto una borsa di studio del Ministero degli Esteri per un corso universitario di Lingua e Cultura araba. Al Cairo ho la possibilità di soggiornare in casa di Magued, un amico che ho conosciuto l’anno scorso, quando ho abitato nella capitale per otto mesi. Sono cristiani e abitano nel quartiere di Shoubra, a Nord della città. Arrivo puntuale. Magued mi aspetta in aeroporto con suo fratello. C’è tensione nell’aria. Faccio finta di niente: sono contento di sapere che stanno bene. M. mi dice: «Simo, togli le lenti a contatto e metti gli occhiali, fuori l’aria è piena di gas». Mi ritrovo catapultato in un altro mondo. Le autorità egiziane hanno appena imposto il coprifuoco. Nonostante i divieti, ci fiondiamo in macchina e ci dirigiamo verso casa.
CITTA' IRRICONOSCIBILE - La città è completamente cambiata, non la riconosco. Strade deserte, finestre sprangate nei palazzi, vetrine distrutte, mezzi dell’esercito ovunque. Imbocchiamo la superstrada che da Nasracity va verso il centro e incrociamo un carro armato, poco più in là un altro mezzo blindato dell’esercito. Sfrecciamo a 120 all’ora per Heliopolis, qualche blocco della polizia qua e là fa finta di non vederci, li aggiriamo e ci infiliamo in viuzze minuscole che non ho mai visto. Arriviamo a Shoubra, finalmente. E’ notte e un grande falò acceso in un cassonetto della spazzatura occupa il centro della strada. I genitori sono felici di rivedermi. Dal terrazzino, calma piatta, si sente soltanto il canto degli uccelli che cinguettano tra gli alberi, fatto assolutamente raro per una città sovrappopolata e caotica come il Cairo. Nessuno in strada. Ogni tanto il rumore lontano di un cingolato che passa.
«BARADEI NON VA BENE» - Trascorre una giornata. Il tempo di rivedere una vecchia amica in un caffè all’aperto, con un sottofondo di mezzi blindati che girano. Per il resto, passo qualche ora con la famiglia di M. La giornata ruota intorno alla televisione, Al-‘Arabyya o Al-Jazeera, che ci aggiorna sulla situazione del paese: «Mubarak lascerà?» «E se cade il governo, chi prende il suo posto?». «Baradei non va bene, favorisce troppo i Fratelli musulmani. Noi cristiani vogliamo qualcuno che usi il pugno di ferro, che ci aiuti e ci sostenga». Giornate di sguardi ansiosi gettati sulla strada, con il timore di ladri e sciacalli di cui parla la televisione e di cui si parla al telefono con degli amici. La sera osserviamo di continuo la situazione in strada: bande di ragazzi del quartiere, sulle soglie delle loro case, sorvegliano con torce e spranghe che non arrivino ladri o altri tipi sospetti, mentre bambini giocano tranquillamente al pallone sull’asfalto. Ogni famiglia ha qualcuno che trascorre la notte sotto casa: riempiono i cassonetti di legna e vi danno fuoco per tenere lontani i malintenzionati. Il fuoco servirà anche a scaldarsi.
VIAGGIATORI ABBANDONATI - La notte è scandita da rumori, fischi, urla sulla strada: verso le tre si sente gridare: «L’esercito, l’esercito!». Sono soldati che passano per controllare la zona. Domenica, alle 13, sono di nuovo in aeroporto. Il volo per Amman è previsto alle 16 e 45. Incontro due giovani italiani diretti ad Addis Abeba, aspettano da tre giorni. Niente informazioni, niente assistenza, nessuno sa niente. I cartelloni elettronici assicurano che il mio volo è on time. Gira voce che i rifornimenti di carburante non siano arrivati in aeroporto e che quindi gli aerei non partano, altri dicono che l’esercito ha circondato l’aeroporto per ragioni di sicurezza. Speriamo. Una ragazza egiziana, seduta su una panchina, culla il suo bambino piangente tra le braccia, aspetta di poter partire per il Qatar dalle otto del mattino. Mozziconi ovunque per terra e una densa nuvola di fumo. Fumano tutti, non contano più niente i divieti dell’aeroporto.
FERNANDA - Alle 17 non si sa ancora niente e comincio a capire che passerò la notte in aeroporto, perché non è più possibile uscire con il coprifuoco. Si accende un inatteso barlume di speranza quando annunciano che il volo per Amman è posticipato alle 19 e 15. Acqua e cibo sono introvabili, i negozi sono chiusi, anche i pochi bar. L’unico aperto espone solo tre panini davanti a una calca fitta di persone. C’è gente che aspetta qui anche da tre giorni: anziani, donne e bambini ovunque, piangono, tossiscono e aspettano di poter partire, si agitano, urlano, si spingono, si insultano. Scoppiano tre risse nel giro di mezz’ora, una donna egiziana, presa dalla rabbia o dalla follia, comincia a urlare nella folla: «Il paese non va, fa tutto schifo!». Alle 19.30 il mio volo è cancellato, dalle 20 nessun aereo può lasciare più il Cairo. Incontro Fernanda, una trans brasiliana di 33 anni che si presenta come escort, deve andare anche lei ad Amman. Mi racconta della sua vita, era in Egitto per lavoro, dice che guadagna bene, 500 dollari a notte, ma adesso, vista la situazione, ha deciso di partire per la Giordania dove non avrà difficoltà a trovare lavoro.
DOLCI E CARTONI - Parlo con una famiglia egiziana, padre, madre e cinque bambini di cui un neonato. Vivono ad Amman: mi offrono una mela e dell’acqua. Lascio loro le valigie e con Fernanda vado al centro di assistenza Egyptair: due ore per cambiare il biglietto: partirò mercoledì, se tutto va bene. La famiglia egiziana mi annuncia che nonostante il coprifuoco proverà a tornare a casa. Mi lasciano una scatola di kahk, dolci egiziani di frolla e zucchero a velo: «Che Allah sia con te, buona fortuna». Ragazze velate al telefono informano i loro genitori delle sommosse e delle manifestazioni, hanno notizie dagli amici, urlano quasi per farsi sentire. Passo la notte nella hall delle partenze al primo piano. Compro due cartoni per poter dormire sul pavimento. Il ragazzo che li vende mi chiede dieci genie, i pound egiziani. Gli dico che un cartone in centro, a Wust-el Balad, lo trovo al massimo per 50 ersh, centesimi. Mi risponde: «Ya Basha, ragazzo mio, siamo in aeroporto non a Wus-el Balad. I cartoni lì te li regalano pure… Prendere o lasciare». Prendo. Anche Fernanda compera un cartone.
«L'EGITTO TI AMA» - La notte scorre lenta, di fianco a me una giovane nubiana dorme avvolta in una coperta di lana e russa pesantemente. Più in là una coppia australiana cerca invano di far addormentare i suoi tre figli che non smettono di piangere. Un impiegato delle pulizie, non più che ventenne, continua a portarci delle merendine all’aroma di fragola chimica, ha adocchiato Fernanda e mi chiede se Madame è in mia compagnia. Avrò dormito un paio d’ore, tra il chiasso, la tosse, i pianti dei bambini e degli adulti. Alle sette e trenta sono in piedi, esco dall’area check in e mi faccio largo tra la ressa. La folla si è moltiplicata nella notte. Si cammina scavalcando corpi distesi per terra. Tutti vogliono partire e lasciare il paese. A malapena riesco a passare con la valigia che non ho lasciato un attimo, ho dormito abbracciato alla valigia e allo zaino. Allo scadere del coprifuoco, alle nove, M. arriva a prendermi in macchina. Lo ritrovo sorridente davanti all’entrata degli arrivi nazionali. Mi dice: «Si vede che l’Egitto ti ama e non vuole lasciarti partire». Non mi resta che aspettare seduto davanti al televisore con un tè alla salvia e dei biscotti ai datteri.
LADRI E SCIACALLI - Sento al telefono una mia amica che lavora al Cairo. Dice che con altri italiani andrà a manifestare domani. M. mi dice che nelle manifestazioni si sente pronunciare solo il nome di Allah, in televisione si vedono molte donne velate. I sottotitoli dei canali egiziani riportano gli slogan che vengono cantati nelle manifestazioni: tante frasi di carattere religioso-islamico, «Allah provveda…». Tanti Fratelli musulmani. E’ la paura di M. «Si vedono troppi cristiani tra gli sciacalli… È tutta propaganda contro di noi». I ladri e gli sciacalli vengono ripresi in tv con i fari puntati in faccia, mentre lo speaker che pronuncia i loro nomi e gli indirizzi. Una amica mi telefona e mi dice che l’Ambasciata italiana sta organizzando voli militari di ritorno in Italia. Telefono, lascio il nome e mi dicono che richiameranno. Con qualche amico riusciamo a raggiungere il bar sotto casa nonostante i divieti. Ci beviamo un tè e chiacchieriamo come nulla fosse. Alle due di notte l’Ambasciata mi chiama: c’è un volo alle dieci del mattino per Roma, con scalo ad Alessandria. Devo lasciare la valigia, è permesso non più di un bagaglio a mano. Partirò. Amman, per ora, può aspettare.
Simone Di Stefano
Posted on 02/01/2011 9:31 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Church Of The Latter-Day Dudes
The man who founded a religion based on 'The Big Lebowski'
When he saw the Coen brothers' hit movie, Oliver Benjamin had an epiphany, and he is now the "Dudely Lama" of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude in Chiang Mai
Dudeism: "An ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness."
People who intuitively perceive 2,500-year-old Chinese and Greek concepts, while knowingly nod to California's detached hippie philosophy and quote droll lines from “The Big Lebowski” are joining a revelatory religion that has illuminated its U.S. founder in northern Thailand.
Dubbed "Church of the Latter-Day Dude," the group also invites "mellow, unflashy chicks who hang around in their bathrobes and take baths with candles and whale sounds," says the religion's Dudely Lama, Oliver Benjamin.
"Everyone feels oppressed by society's pressures. Everyone wishes they had more freedom. Everyone wishes they could be more carefree, to worry less about money and status," he says.
Oliver's church is heavily influenced by the Tao of Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.), Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), and the “The Big Lebowski,” a 1998 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen which stars Jeff Bridges as a surreal, hilarious, ironic, marijuana-smoking, satirical, 40-something character nicknamed "the Dude.”
Asked by a woman in the movie what he likes to do for fun, the Dude replies: "Oh, you know, the usual. Bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback."
Chiang Mai-based Oliver says he thinks everyone potentially identifies with aspects of the movie, even if they may not wholly approve of the Dude's lazy lifestyle.
"The Dude is an extreme case, but he provides an ideal which can help you to bring a little more 'Dude' into your life, without giving up on the rat race entirely," he says.
"I grew up in the 1980s, which was a very ambitious and materialistic time -- the era of the Yuppies. Even as a youth, I found it frightening and false. The reason I embarked on a 10-year backpacking journey was so I could avoid being brainwashed by the machine of industry, and find the space and freedom to indulge my imagination."
Or, as the Dude exclaims in the 1998 film, set in 1990: "It's all a goddamn fake. Like Lenin said, look for the person who will benefit. And you will, uh, you know, you'll, uh, you know what I'm trying to say."
Eastern philosophy and Dudeism
Movie still from "The Big Lebowski," starring John Goodman as Walter Sobchak and Jeff Bridges as "the Dude."
The Church of the Latter-Day Dude's website is ridiculous, absurd and lots of fun. But it also wrestles with questions and answers that have gripped humans throughout the ages.
"We contend that The Big Lebowski is actually a modern form of Taoism," Oliver says. "Taoism is probably the most philosophical religion in the world. Though there are variants that are heavily superstitious, the original tradition has virtually no dogma or rules of conduct. It suggests that there is a natural way of living that people can return to, if they just learn to sense it intuitively.
"Though 'The Big Lebowski' is a story about an aging ex-hippie in Los Angeles who is trying to solve a kidnapping case, at its heart it's really a story about how to live your life, how to deal with conflict, and how to maintain peace of mind in a world that's gone crazy. So there's really no distinction between the movie and Eastern philosophy -- the movie is infused with it," he says.
People who aren't cool, ultimately go crazy, Oliver warns.
"Following Dudeism helps you to keep in mind what's important in life, what actually makes people happy instead of what makes them insane. Dudeism has a great deal in common with Epicureanism -- the original, uncompromised first draft -- which states that simple pleasures are best and that less is actually more."
Born in 1968, Oliver grew up in Sherman Oaks, southern California, and got a psych degree from UCLA before working in graphic design for a few years and then traveling while writing three "bizarre" unpublished novels.
He is currently a freelance journalist and photographer, based mostly in Chiang Mai, and plans to expand his church this year.
"There are now over 100,000 ordained Dudeist Priests worldwide. Most are in the U.S., but it's surprisingly popular in the UK as well," Oliver says. "There's going to be a Dudeist Music Festival in York this summer, and there's a movement to get it on the U.K. census as an official religion -- as Jedi was, in the last census."
'We're never going to compete with Christianity'
Jeff Dowd (left), the real-life person upon whom the character of the Dude was based, appears alongside Oliver Benjamin at the 2008 Lebowskifest in San Francisco, California.
The Church of the Latter-Day Dude was actually born near Chiang Mai, in the hip resort town of Pai, where Oliver says he became transfixed by visions.
"In 2005, I was up in Pai at a small cafe, watching 'The Big Lebowski' with a crowd of people from all over the world. I had seen the film once before and enjoyed it, but this time the experience was totally transformative.
"I felt as if I'd seen a story that put all the difficulties of modern life into a manageable perspective. And it was probably the most touchingly funny film I'd ever seen. Oddly enough, I'd long wanted to start a religion. During my travels I'd become an earnest student of religion and philosophy," he says.
Wedging his church into a world crowded by older, cash-rich religions is not impossible, but it may remain a niche belief system.
"Money is power. Dudeists don't tend to be the upper crust of society. So we're never going to compete with the really wealthy religions like Christianity.
"Ideally, we'd like to help people find ways to earn money with less work, but of course that's always a challenge. Fifty years ago, everyone thought that robots would be doing all the work for us and people would be living lives of leisure. That this has not come to pass is surely mankind's biggest tragedy," Oliver laments.
"One problem also is that too many people just think the Dude is a burned out hedonistic stoner. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's an intellectual with strong moral character and a lively, creative mind.
"He's also a stoner, but that's not a bad thing. Too many people confuse Dudeism with anarchism or selfish laziness. Dudeism recognizes the need for organization and rules, and the laziness it touts is disciplined and determined.
"Free time should be used to free your mind and cultivate inner peace. Not to play 'Grand Theft Auto' all day and gorge on snack food," he says.
Asked if he financially benefits from having the church, Oliver replies: "I earn a modest income from the sales of some products on the site. We have plans to expand, and when we do, those increased profits will be used primarily to help spread the word of Dudeism via events and advertising, and maybe to provide jobs to Dudes who hate the ones they currently have."
The church is evolving, and hopes more members will know each other in the biblical sense.
"Perhaps it's not surprising that the Church is about 75 percent male. But we are trying to actively bring in more women. We think that women suffer even more than men do from the dictates of modern society," he says.
"We hope to start a Dudeist dating service soon, and a chapter in our forthcoming book, 'The Abide Guide,' will be devoted towards Dudeist feminism. Incidentally, we don't recognize the word 'dudette.' We're trying to help promote the idea of 'dude' as a gender-neutral word."
Posted on 02/01/2011 9:41 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald