Thursday, November 1, 2007

With friends like these

by Jason Burke from The Guardian

In the spring of 2003, local imams in northern Iraq were worried. Not just about the impending war, but about the inroads that ultra-conservative, intolerant and aggressive strands of Islam were making among their traditionally moderate congregations. The enemy in this particular struggle was not Saddam, they said, but Saudi Arabia. Since the Kurdish regions had established a de facto autonomy in the wake of the first Gulf war, the imam at the main mosque in Sulaymaniyah explained, hundreds of mosques had been built by Saudi Arabian religious foundations, their ultra-conservative imams imported from the Arabian peninsula. He and his fellow clerics simply did not have the means to compete with the massive aid being distributed by Saudi-based charitable organisations - aid contingent on attendance at special Qur'anic lessons, on wives or sisters wearing a veil and leaving secular political parties. Most damaging of all, he said, was the flood of pamphlets and books that pushed a worldview in which Jews, Christians, Shias and the west were cast as Muslims' sworn enemies ... What I heard in Sulaymaniyah should surprise no one. For many decades, Saudi Arabia has used its prodigious profits from oil not just to buy off domestic dissent but to fund the export around the world of one of the most conservative, rigorous and intolerant strains of Islam.

Darfuris express lofty ambitions for peace

by Opheera McDoom from Reuters

The more than 2 million Darfuris who sought refuge in makeshift camps -- one third of the region's population -- reject the peace talks in Sirte, Libya, which opened on Saturday despite a boycott by the key rebel factions. Even if rebels who are supported by the population went to the talks, the goals demanded by their increasingly politicized people would be a far cry from the agenda prepared by African Union and United Nations mediators. Separating religion from state in Sudan, which operates under Islamic sharia law, having democratic elections to change the government, and a referendum on possible Darfur secession are the issues these victims want addressed ... "We want another government," said Ibrahim Musa Abakr, 37, who fled the war to a camp near Darfur's main town. Abakr said the government had exploited Islam for it own ends -- to remain in power.

Balkanizing Utah's schools

by Richard D. Kahlenberg from Politico

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to adopt the nation’s most far-reaching school voucher initiative that would provide taxpayer funding for every public school student in Utah to attend private school regardless of family income ... Utah is a very conservative state, yet one recent poll showed roughly 60% of voters were leaning against vouchers. Conservatives generally like to know that taxpayer money is being well-spent, but private schools aren’t subject to the same set of standards and testing that public schools are. Another issue is assimilation ... Arguably the worst thing that could happen to conservative pro-voucher Republicans like Giuliani would be for the voucher initiative to pass. Suddenly, voucher supporters would have to explain why American taxpayers should fund schools like a Saudi-sponsored institution in Fairfax County, Va. While Republicans like to paint a picture of liberals as supporting an extreme form of multiculturalism that divides Americans, the Utah voucher fight could expose Republicans as the real balkanizers.

Pope to Meet Saudi Monarch

from The Associated Press

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah will meet Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday in the first encounter between a pope and a Saudi monarch, the Vatican said. The Vatican and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but the Holy See has ties with many other Islamic nations. Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam that rejects the possibility of diplomatic relations with a Christian entity. This interpretation would prohibit a Vatican embassy in Saudi Arabia on the grounds it would be equivalent to raising the cross inside the site of Islam's holiest places. It is forbidden to practice Christianity inside Saudi Arabia, and it is illegal to bring symbols from religions other than Islam into the country. Bibles and crosses, for instance, are confiscated at the border. The Vatican has repeatedly stressed its demands for "reciprocity" — meaning that countries such as Saudi Arabia should ease limits on worship by Christians and other non-Muslims.

With Book, Gerson Is Back To Fight for GOP's Identity

by Peter Baker from The Washington Post

By the time Michael Gerson left the White House as President Bush's senior adviser last year, he had grown weary of the battle, becoming an irritable colleague disillusioned by the conventions of a political party and a government that seemed indifferent to the plight of the downtrodden. Now he is back with a new book and a publicity tour intended to fight for the identity of the Republican Party ... He rues the Bush team's failure to do more to stand up to autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to further its "freedom agenda." And he laments that the war in Iraq has sabotaged the president's efforts to redefine the Republican Party. Gerson said he also wants to push Democrats to recognize genuine security concerns in an age of terrorism and the value of spreading democracy.

Walid Shoebat's story is inspiring, cautionary

by James D. Buckman from The Springfield News-Leader

An American Christian woman marries a Muslim here in America on business, and they move to an Islamic country. Upon arriving, the Muslim husband takes his wife's American passport and effectively imprisons her in a land with a radically different view of women's rights and roles than America. The wife remains trapped for 20 years, despite pleading at the American Embassy for safety. All the time, her children are raised to be terrorists, against her will, by the imam at the mosque. Several relatives are killed in terrorist acts and one of her sons actually plants a bomb on an Israeli bank; fortunately, no one is killed in the explosion. This continues until her Muslim husband kills two men at a meeting in the mosque. In order to flee the country, her Muslim husband gives her American passport back and she is able to get back to America; upon arriving, her first act is to divorce her Muslim "husband." This was reality for our guest this Sunday — Walid Shoebat. He has gone from being a Muslim terrorist to being a Christian who speaks on behalf of Israel wherever he can.

Yemen Frees USS Cole Bomb Plotter

from The Associated Press

Jamal al-Badawi, who is wanted by the FBI, was convicted in 2004 of plotting, preparing and helping carry out the USS Cole bombing and received a death sentence that was commuted to 15 years in prison. He and 22 others, mostly al Qaeda fighters, escaped from prison in 2004. But al-Badawi was granted his freedom after turning himself in 15 days ago and pledging loyalty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The official said police were told by the government to "stop all previous orders concerning measures adopted against al-Badawi." Witnesses told The Associated Press that al-Badawi was receiving well-wishers at his home in the al-Buraika district in Aden.