Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan Kareem! Ramadan Mubarak to all my family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Ramadan Mubarak to everyone beginning fast today. May Allah bless each and every one of you during this holy month.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Anti-Muslim Website Provides Aid and Comfort to Right-Wing Terrorists

It should come as no surprise that anti-Muslim bloggers Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller helped shape the political ideology of right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed killer of at least 76 people in the bombing in Oslo and the shooting rampage at the nearby island youth retreat.

In his 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik quotes Spencer 64 times. Breivik also suggests that he was the anonymous Norwegian blogger who wrote anti-Muslim posts as Fjordman, who regularly contributed to Spencer's website.

Spencer and Geller have distanced themselves from Breivik. There has been increasing blog chatter about Spencer's right-wing extremist influences, but the notoriously thin-skinned Muslim hater is uncharacteristically restrained in his response. His only answer to the growing speculation about his links to Breivik was a July 23 post denouncing the Norwegian and reiterating "our dedication to the defense of free societies and opposition to all vigilantism and violence."

Spencer hides behind the argument that he doesn't advocate violence, but his mocking and abusive rhetoric against Muslims on Jihad Watch prompts hundreds of commenters to fill the gap that Spencer leaves open by suggesting or openly advocating the destruction of mosques, mass deportations of Muslims and wars against Islam. Here's one mild example from a regular Jihad Watch reader commenting on the pending trial of an alleged Muslim extremist: "Burn his ass at the stake. I'll bring the (sic)."

Spencer claims that readers shouldn't construe any comments to his posts, or any of the dozens of his links to hate websites, as an endorsement by Jihad Watch, which has tax-exempt status as a religious education website. However, each link to websites like Geller's Atlas Shrugs or posting comments that suggest execution by immolation, rings of endorsement.

In the July 24 New York Times, former CIA officer Marc Sageman said anti-Muslim writers like Spencer argue "that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam 'is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged.' Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged."

Sageman said such "rhetoric is not cost-free."

This points to the culpability of Spencer and his fellow travelers concerning the Oslo terrorist attacks. Breivik, and only Breivik, is responsible for his actions. However, should be consequences for laying the foundation that helped Breivik reach the conclusion that the mass destruction of life and property was the only answer.

Osama bin Laden was not an active participant in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but he inspired 19 men to wage horrific attack son New York City and the Pentagon in the name of Islam. Jihadist websites worldwide inspire young men and women to wage war against the West. Some websites explicitly advocate violence, while others are more subtle in espousing an extreme ideology that prompts followers to commit violence. Law authorities shut down or block these websites, and may put the owners or website readers under investigation.

The irony is that Spencer's Jihad Watch is emerging as the mirror image of the jihadist websites. He doesn't advocate violence; he just inspires it in his readers. He plants the idea that Muslims deserve special retribution for the ills of society and demands that his readers be vigilant to prevent Muslims from imposing their will. He then stands back and watches someone else do the dirty work, whether its mounting a pig's head on a stick in front of mosque, or, I suppose, killing people with a machine pistol. I see little difference between Spencer and jihadists.

Yet Spencer, who a generation ago would be mimeographing his screeds in the basement of his parents' home, has gained respectability in the mainstream media. The BBC, for example, included his viewpoints in its "Life of Muhammad" (peace be upon him) special. He exercises restraint and minimizes his trademark mocking and smirking in front of the camera for audiences watching the BBC or ABC. He's a little more frothy as a guest on Fox News, but he generally keeps his hate on a leash.

The same can't be said for his website, which attracts a much broader audience with a much nastier tone. And like any true extremist, Spencer is unaffected by the Oslo horrors. He takes a moment to express outrage that the media linked him to Breivik, and then moves on to chronicle the perceived misdeeds of every Muslim that comes under his gaze.

As a journalist, it's repugnant to me to see anyone's right to free speech curbed. Still, I'm conflicted. I have to admit that after reading the noxious postings on Spencer's website I see merit in hate speech legislation. But rather than go to that extreme, I prefer to see Spencer come under the same scrutiny from federal authorities as any jihadist website. After all, they have common goals: Inspire the masses and then sit back and watch the mayhem.

UPDATE: Mr. Spencer responds to a query from a Norwegian journalist with this:

"I have never been in contact with Anders Behring Breivik.

If I was indeed an inspiration for his work, I feel the way the Beatles must have felt when they learned that Charles Manson had committed murder after being inspired by messages he thought he heard in their song lyrics. There were no such messages. Nor is there, for any sane person, any inspiration for harming anyone in my work, which has been consistently dedicated to defending human rights for all people."

Ah, yes. The Beatles, those hateful lads from Liverpool with a well documented history of writing hateful songs. Who would have thunk it?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mandatory English Courses Come to Saudi Primary Schoolers

For too long the Saudi Ministry of Education gave less than its full attention to requiring primary school students to learn English. When I was a kid the Saudi education system provided me with few tools to master English, so I learned the language mostly on my own.

Beginning with the 2011-2012 academic year, the Ministry of Education will require English-language instruction for Saudi students starting in Grade 4. Khalid Al-Seghayer argues in the Arab News that “there is evidence that students knowing English are more creative, they develop a deeper understanding of cultures, show stronger skills in their own native language, and generally do better in problem-solving and overall academic performance.”

I have a younger brother taking intense English-languages courses in the UK to prepare for undergraduate studies abroad. I have seen amazing results in his command of the language and improvement in his cognitive skills in just a few months. Imagine if he had started when he was 8 years old.

There are thousands of Saudis abroad studying at the best universities because they took the time to study English on their own or had had teachers who influenced them to study the language. These students are part of the fabric of the international community because of their ability to communicate with people of other cultures and nationalities.

The Ministry of Education recognizes the necessity of mastering English. It’s a vital step towards narrowing the differences between cultures and religions. I look forward to see what the next generation of Saudis will bring to world as they acquire these new skills.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Sports Organization Gets it Right

You may remember that Atlanta weightlifter and hijabi Kulsoom Abdullah sought a religious exemption to wear a modified uniform to compete in the USA Weightlifting organization's American Open Weightlifting Championship. USA Weightlifting operates under International Weightlifting Federation rules.

USA Weightlifting initially denied her request, but promised to discuss it with the IWF. A few days ago the IWF announced that its changing its rules to accommodate Abdullah.

IWF President Tamas Ajan said: "Weightlifting is an Olympic Sport open for all athletes to participate without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin in accordance with the principles of the Olympic Charter and values. This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion."

Hmm, "in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion." What a novel thought.

FIFA? Care to address this issue?

The Real Conspiracy Against Saudi Women

You may have read articles on some Arabic-language blogs identifying me as a member of and The blogs allege CyberDissidents and Movement are Zionist-backed groups that use some Saudi women’s rights activists as the puppets of Zionists.

Although lists my name, I am not identified as a member of anything. I am not a member of CyberDissidents, nor do I plan such a membership. My inclusion on the website’s list was done without my permission or consultation. As anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Internet is aware, we have no control over who publishes our names or what they say about us.

I have made it abundantly clear over the years that I am a patriotic Saudi. I do not seek wholesale changes in the Saudi government, and I certainly don’t want to see the Western concept of democracy in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I advocate for women’s rights, but within the context of Islam. That hardly makes me a dissident.

These blogs got their facts wrong, and not only have they put me in harm’s way but other Saudi women who have found themselves on without their knowledge. Most of these Arab blogs hide behind the cloak of anonymity. If there is a conspiracy involving Saudi women with a voice, it starts with these Arabic-language blogs that want to silence women with intimidation.

UPDATE: removed my name from the list per my request. An Egyptian blogger who is responsible for the original phony story will not cooperate.