Sunday, July 31, 2005

Prague architecture



One of the more pleasant aspects of my trip to Prague was simply wandering around the city and looking at the fantastic architecture - medieval and modern. Near to where I was staying, by the Jirasek Bridge across the Vltava River, is a building called "Tancici Dom" in Czech - "Dancing House." It was built in the 1990s, and one of the architects was Frank Gehry. When I first saw the house I was astonished, and after that the building always made me smile.

Another building was my favorite in Prague - the Obecni Dom (Municipal House), built in the early 20th century with much art nouveau decoration. This first photograph is of a mural just above the entrance to the building.

The second photo is of the balcony over the entrance. Notice the symbol of Prague in the center of the balcony.




The third photo is a detail in the stained glass of the entrance.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Pulsa Denura

Having just arrived back from Prague, I checked my blog and discovered to my astonishment how many people have been reading it - apparently to learn about the pulsa denura that the latest group of extremists has pronounced against Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

According to Haaretz, "Twenty people took part in the ceremony, which was held last Thursday in the small northern town of Rosh Pina. The participants believe that Sharon will die in the coming 30 days, or else all those who took part in the ceremony would die." Rabbi Yosef Dayan was one of the organizers of this curse ceremony, as he was of the original curse against the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed in 1995.

I originally wrote about this when Dayan threatened to curse Sharon, in September of 2004.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Terezin

Yesterday I visited Terezin, the Czech town that was turned by the Nazis into a ghetto for the Jews of the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia), as well as Jews from other parts of Europe (in particular, elderly German Jews). The town was originally built in the late 18th century as a fortress, and had become an ordinary town where people live before being taken over by the Nazis. It is about 40 miles from Prague, and the tour was led by a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz. We visited museums that have been constructed only since the fall of Communism in 1989 (apparently the Communist regime only memorialized the Communists who had been held prisoner there by the Gestapo, but not the Jews), as well as surviving parts of the ghetto - for example, the morgue and the crematorium, which was built by the prisoners. There were no gas chambers there - Terezin was not an extermination camp, but rather a transit ghetto. Most of the Jews who passed through there (about 150, 000) were eventually transported to death camps, especially Auschwitz. The horrible, crowded conditions (about 60,000 people living in a town fit for about 5,000), starvation, and epidemic illness killed about 35,000 in Terezin.

We saw, among other places, one of the barracks where the Jews lived - part of it has been turned into a museum about cultural life in the ghetto (visual arts, theatre, and music paradoxically thrived in the ghetto, due in part to the large number of artists and musicians imprisoned there). There was also one room that has been reconstructed to look like a barracks room - with three-level bunks, clothes hanging up, people's suitcases, pots and pans and other belongings (they were allowed to bring a suitcase of about 100 lbs. per person with everything they needed). One could see from this how crowded the living conditions must have been. The museum showed many drawings made by prisoners about life in the ghetto, including pictures of people being taken to transports to the extermination camps in Poland.

In addition to the ghetto, we also saw the Small Fortress, which was the Gestapo prison. Political prisoners were held there in terrible conditions - the Jewish prisoners in particular were crammed together into a small cell, and very few survived. It was a grim place. One entered through an archway with the typical Nazi slogan at the entrance to the concentration camps - "Arbeit macht frei" - "Work makes you free," which was, of course, completely not true in the camps.

One of the feelings I ended up with was just blank incomprehension. I felt like I came away with some sense of the what - what happened - and of the how - how the Nazis treated the Jews and other prisoners there, how the prisoners tried to organize themselves and survive - but with no better sense of the why. I can study Nazi anti-semitism and try to understand Nazi ideology, but even that doesn't give me the answer I'm seeking, which is how people are capable of such acts of cruelty. I feel kind of like one of my students, just not understanding.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Visiting Prague

Just a quick posting, because I'm paying by the minute.... I arrived in Prague last Monday, and will be visiting here until next Thursday. I spent the first few days visiting an academic study abroad program that we have sent students to - it seems very well-organized and intellectually rooted, and I will be happily recommending it to more students. Along with that I've been a tourist in Prague, and as I'm sure almost everyone says who visits here, it's a beautiful city - lots of art nouveau buildings from the early 20th century mixed in with medieval architecture. I visited Josefov, the Jewish quarter, my first full day here - I saw the synagogues, including the Old-New synagogue, which dates from the 13th century. Yesterday and today I went to the Prague Castle complex and have still seen only a part of it - lots of beautiful buildings and art still to be seen in the days ahead. Tomorrow I'm going on a tour to Terezin - the town the Nazis turned into a concentration camp, which became the way-station to Auschwitz. I'll post more about my trip probably when I return to the states and have more time (and I'm not writing in an internet cafe!).

It was shocking to hear about the attempted bombings in London yesterday and the horrible bombings in Sharm el Sheik today. It still feels distant from Prague, which seems like a very safe city (at least in the touristy sections), but it puts me a bit on edge.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Blair speech on terror

Tony Blair made a very strong speech today denouncing terrorism which says "What we are confronting here is an evil ideology." It is very refreshing to see such an articulate explanation of what the "war on terror" is fighting - something which President Bush has never been able to explain sufficiently carefully to the American people.
They demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries, irrespective of the wishes of people and government; the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.

From the mid 1990s onwards, statements from Al-Qaeda, gave very clear expression to this ideology: "Every Muslim, the minute he can start differentiating, carries hatred towards the Americans, Jews and Christians. This is part of our ideology. The creation of Israel is a crime and it has to be erased.

"You should know that targeting Americans and Jews and killing them anywhere you find them on the earth is one of the greatest duties and one of the best acts of piety you can offer to God Almighty." Just as great is their hatred for so-called apostate governments in Muslim countries. This is why mainstream Muslims are also regarded as legitimate targets.

This is what we are up against. It cannot be beaten except by confronting it, symptoms and causes, head-on. Without compromise and without delusion.

The extremist propaganda is cleverly aimed at their target audience. It plays on our tolerance and good nature.

It exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world, as if it is our behaviour that should change, that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil, that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs. This is a misunderstanding of a catastrophic order.

Their cause is not founded on an injustice. It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such it can't be moderated. It can't be remedied. It has to be stood up to.

If it is the plight of the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an outrage that turns hope back into despair?

If it is Afghanistan that motivates them, why blow up innocent Afghans on their way to their first ever election? If it is Iraq that motivates them, why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in defiance of an elected Iraqi government?

What was September 11, 2001 the reprisal for? Why even after the first Madrid bomb (in March 2004) and the election of a new Spanish government, were they planning another atrocity when caught?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Apologists among us

This thought-provoking posting at Norman Geras' blog, Apologists among us, made me think about something that has often occurred to me after one terrorist outrage or another. My reaction, when I hear of a terrorist attack, in Israel, the United States, Britain, Russia, Iraq, etc., is usually first of all shock and sadness, and then anger and often a desire for revenge against the terrorists (not that I'm advocating revenge, but it is one of my first feelings - I would advocate cool analysis, investigation, and measures to find the attackers and defend the vulnerable, instead). I feel helpless. I can't understand why people would do such a thing, especially to innocent civilians (the attack in Baghdad yesterday that killed many children was particularly appalling). I am interested in having a political understanding of how such things occur, but I don't view this as an explanation or excuse for why people commit such atrocities.

A month or so after September 11, I went to NYC to visit friends, and made a trip to the World Trade Center site. I couldn't see much, because of the fence around the whole site, but between the slats I could see the pile and the skeleton left of part of the buildings, a couple of stories high. I also saw another building that wasn't destroyed but had obviously been hit by falling debris and a huge gash in it (I think this was the Deutsche Bank building). It wasn't as horrible a sight as it would have been earlier, but it was still stunning. As I looked at it I was trying to figure out why people would do this - how they could possibly bring themselves to do this - and I had no answer. I took the train back uptown still baffled and shaken.

It didn't occur to me right after the attacks, or at any point thereafter, what the U.S. had done to "deserve this." I thought it was completely undeserved, as I think is true for every terrorist attack. It made me angry that people had attacked our country this way.

For this reason, I'm baffled why people react to terrorist attacks by searching for "root causes," as Norman says. It seems to be part of the whole ethos of blaming the victim, even if the victims include oneself. I think it's important to understand the political framework for these attacks, but that framework includes a lot more than the usual suspects - all the purportedly evil things the U.S. (or Britain) has done in the Middle East.

And I'm even more baffled when people's reaction is that since the attack was caused, for example, by Britain's participation in the Iraq War, that this means that Britain should pull out of Iraq. Isn't that simply giving in to the enemy, declaring defeat? Is the correct answer to an attack surrender, or preparing better defenses and going after the attackers? Even if one opposed Britain's participation in the Iraq war, isn't it simply giving in to terrorists to do what (you think) they want? And why would someone who opposed the war want to give in to terrorists, whom I hope he or she also opposes?

Global Attitudes

Andrew Sullivan sees positive trends in the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which reports lowered support for terrorism (specifically, suicide bombings) in six selected Muslim countries. The six countries surveyed were Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, and Morocco. If we break it down to individual countries, however, I am not as sanguine as Andrew. Those surveyed were asked if violence against civilian targets is justified. In Jordan, 57% said it was often/sometimes justified, which is an increase from the last Pew survey, in summer 2002, when it was 43%. Perhaps this has something to do with the Palestinian intifada, since a majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian in ethnic origin. This summer, 11% in Jordan said it was never justified, as opposed to 26% in summer 2002 - so the attitudes have worsened there. There has been a decrease in support for terrorism in the other countries, specifically Lebanon (from a height of 73% to a low now of 39%) - presumably affected by disapproval at the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri. Support in Morocco went down from 40% to 13%. Majorities in Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey saw Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries.

The most depressing statistics were from the questions about how people viewed those of other religious groups, specifically Jews. See the table below.



You'll notice that in all non-Muslim countries a majority has a favorable view of Jews - ranging from a low of 54% in Russia to a high of 85% in the Netherlands. If we look at the Muslim countries, opinions are uniformly negative, ranging from a high of 18% in Turkey having a favorable view of Jews to a low of 0% in Lebanon and Jordan. Even Turkey and Morocco, which have pretty good diplomatic relations with Israel, have a preponderance of negative views of Jews. I would guess that these negative opinions have been formed both by the Arab-Israeli conflict and by the spread of vile anti-semitic slanders in Muslim countries. Opinions about Christians in Muslim countries are mixed - 91% in Lebanon have a favorable view of Christians, and views are positive in Indonesia and Jordan (58% favorable). In Turkey, Pakistan, and Morocco lopsided majorities disapprove of Christians.

Views of Muslims in non-Muslim countries are much more positive, in contrast - the lowest favorable percentages are 40% in Germany, 45% in the Netherlands, 46% in Spain and Poland. In the U.S., 57% have a favorable view, 22% an unfavorable one. Thus, even after September 11, 2001, most Americans do not harbor anti-Muslim attitudes, showing that there is a reservoir of goodwill in this country.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Al Qaeda since 1998

At Winds of Change they have a produced a flash movie of the Al Qaeda attacks since 1998.

As the author says, “The purpose of the presentation is to graphically demonstrate al Qaeda’s ability to conduct mass casualty assaults on a global scale. This presentation by no means documents every single al Qaeda attack. For example, the murders of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and USAID executive Lawrence Foley in Jordan were excluded, as have smaller impact suicide attacks and beheadings by al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere. Al Qaeda's butchery in Iraq can fill a presentation of its own. Also, planned or foiled chemical attacks against Jordan, France and England, the assassination attempts on President Musharraf of Pakistan and numerous other incidents throughout the world have not been documented.

The facts presented speak for themselves.

There have been 30 major mass casualty attacks directed against the United States, Britain, France, Spain, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and North Osetia. 14 of the 30 attacks were conducted prior to the invasion of Iraq, making claims of the occupation of Iraq as a casus belli for al Qaeda’s terrorism to be disingenuous at best. 4,895 people have been killed in these attacks, and 12,345 plus have been wounded. The majority of the countries attacked are Muslim countries. And although not stated, the vast majority of the victims of al Qaeda's violence are Muslims.

The ideologues, leaders and foot soldiers of al Qaeda have no reservations about slaughtering the innocent. The majority of their attacks have been directed against civilian infrastructure such as embassies, consulates, shipping, transportation, hotels, resorts, nightclubs, bars, synagogues, churches, temples, mosques, markets, housing complexes, office buildings and schools. Each of al Qaeda's targets were purposefully selected and carefully timed to inflict mass casualties as well as to provide the maximum media exposure. The radical Islamists embrace Muslim casualties, as many are considered infidel for embracing Western culture and rejecting the “pure” Islam espoused by al Qaeda. This is an enemy that deserves no quarter.

Monday, July 11, 2005

First London Bomb Victims Named

The First London Bomb Victims Named today.
Susan Levy, 53, a mother-of-two from Hertfordshire, north of London, was named by police while University College London (UCL) said its employee Gladys Wundowa had also been killed.

Levy was on the Piccadilly line train that was hit between Russell Square and Kings Cross last Thursday. She had traveled to central London with her son James, 23, but they parted at Finsbury Park.

"We are all devastated by our loss,'' her husband Harry said in a statement. "She was a valued and respected member of her extended Jewish family and will be deeply mourned and sadly missed by us and her many friends. We are all distraught at her needless loss and our thoughts and prayers are also with the many other families affected by this horrendous tragedy.''

Wundowa, a cleaner at UCL, was killed in the bus explosion at Tavistock Square.


And in the meantime, while people in London are mourning the dead, still searching for bodies, and doing their best to go forward leading normal lives, my local newspaper has printed its first letter blaming President Bush for the bombings....
There was no mercy here, no compassion, just bloodlust and desire to reciprocate the deaths and injuries that England has helped the United States to commit in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between Bush's puerile, gung-ho cowboy rhetoric and Blair's sidekick acquiescence, thousands of innocent people have died, including U.S. soldiers whose better natures and love of their country caused them to enlist and protect because their leaders fed them lie after lie. Iraqi civilians watch their families being destroyed, see their homeland occupied and looted, and all without evident hope that reason and justice will prevail to protect those who deserve none of the violence, the everyday citizens of the world.

The letter writer is avoiding the inconvenient fact that the September 11 attacks occurred before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't quite see how those attacks could be blamed on our subsequent actions.

This letter fails completely to come to grips with the Islamist ideology that governs the actions of Al Qaeda and its cohorts - an ideology well articulated long before Sept. 11. Everything is blamed on the U.S. - would the writer even hold the bombers truly responsible for their own actions?

I was visiting my family when the London attacks occurred, and thus was buoyed up by the feeling that the world is a sane place, that decent people denounce terrorist attacks. Now that I've returned to Ithaca, I have the sinking feeling that I'm just going to have to listen to more of this rhetoric and once again try to decide whether to confront it (and get into arguments with people) or just let it pass in order not to say something I'd regret.

islamicate: London, G8, and the Bombings

I have finally taken a look at the Islamicate blog; the author, "Islamoyankee," has a very moving post about Al Qaeda and the London bombings. He says, "Understand, Al-Qaeda is not only about hatred; they are not only about denying and destroying the Islamic spirit; they are about destroying hope; about destroying the future. Their only concern is themselves. Not God's message. Not their interpretation of God's message. They have to be the center of everyone's attention. Like spoiled brats they make noise to get noticed, but there's no meaning to the noise. There's no way to make it stop."

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Islam & Terrorism roundup

An excellent article by Salman Rushdie on India and Pakistan's Code of Dishonor. "The 'culture' of rape that exists in India and Pakistan arises from profound social anomalies, its origins lying in the unchanging harshness of a moral code based on the concepts of honor and shame. Thanks to that code's ruthlessness, raped women will go on hanging themselves in the woods and walking into rivers to drown themselves. It will take generations to change that."

And also in today's New York Times, For a Decade, London Thrived as a Busy Crossroads of Terror. Read this article if you subscribe to the puerile excuse that the attacks in London last week were because Britain has supported the U.S. in the war in Iraq.
Long before bombings ripped through London on Thursday, Britain had become a breeding ground for hate, fed by a militant version of Islam.

For two years, extremists like Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, a 47-year-old Syrian-born cleric, have played to ever-larger crowds, calling for holy war against Britain and exhorting young Muslim men to join the insurgency in Iraq. In a newspaper interview in April 2004, he warned that "a very well-organized" London-based group, Al Qaeda Europe, was "on the verge of launching a big operation" here. In a sermon attended by more than 500 people in a central London meeting hall last December, Sheik Omar vowed that if Western governments did not change their policies, Muslims would give them "a 9/11, day after day after day."

If London became a magnet for fiery preachers, it also became a destination for men willing to carry out their threats. For a decade, the city has been a crossroads for would-be terrorists who used it as a home base, where they could raise money, recruit members and draw inspiration from the militant messages. Among them were terrorists involved in attacks in Madrid, Casablanca, Saudi Arabia, Israel and in the Sept. 11 plot. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man charged in the United States in the 9/11 attacks, and Richard C. Reid, the convicted shoe-bomber, both prayed at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. The mosque's former leader, Abu Hamza al-Masri openly preached violence for years before the authorities arrested him in April 2004.

...Well before Thursday's bombings, British officials predicted a terrorist attack in their country. In a speech in October 2003, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, said she saw "no prospect of a significant reduction in the threat posed to the U.K. and its interests from Islamist terrorism over the next five years, and I fear for a considerable number of years thereafter."

Britain's challenge to detect militants on its soil is particularly difficult. Counterterrorism officials estimate that 10,000 to 15,000 Muslims living in Britain are supporters of Al Qaeda. Among that number, officials believe that as many as 600 men were trained in camps connected with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

...Even last week's bombings did little to curtail the rhetoric of some of the most radical leaders, who criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair for saying that the bombings appeared to be the work of Islamic terrorists. "This shows me that he is an enemy of Islam," Abu Abdullah, a self-appointed preacher and the spokesman for the radical group Supporters of Shariah, said in an interview on Friday, adding, "Sometimes when you see how people speak, it shows you who your enemies are."

Mr. Abdullah declared that those British citizens who re-elected Mr. Blair "have blood on their hands" because British soldiers are killing Muslims. He also said that the British government, not Muslims, "have their hands" in the bombings, explaining, "They want to go on with their fight against Islam."

Imran Waheed, a spokesman for a radical British-based group, Hizb ut Tahrir, which is allowed to function here but is banned in Germany and much of the Muslim world, said: "When Westerners get killed, the world cries. But if Muslims get killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's the smallest of news. I will condemn what happened in London only after there is the promise from Western leaders to condemn what they have done in Falluja and other parts of Iraq and in Afghanistan."

So far, there appears to be little effort to restrain outspoken clerics, including prominent extremists like Sheik Omar, who has reportedly been under investigation by Scotland Yard. Sheik Omar, who remains free, is an example of the double-edged policies in Britain. He is a political refugee who was given asylum 19 years ago and is supported by public assistance. Asked in an interview in May how he felt about being barred from obtaining British citizenship, he replied, "I don't want to become a citizen of hell."

It's nice to see the Times not pulling any punches in today's article, because in article in yesterday's Times on Muslims in England, they presented Imran Waheed as an example of a moderate Muslim outraged by people slurring all Muslims as terrorists! See this outrageous article.
But the frustration of the community is growing as evidence mounts that Muslim immigrant citizens or the children of immigrants in Europe are increasingly populating the rank and file of terrorist organizations. Of 140 people implicated in European terrorist activities since 1993, 24 percent were European nationals, according to a study by Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke at Washington's Nixon Center, an independent think tank.

And whose fault is it that Muslim immigrants or their children are increasingly counted among the terrorists? Seems to me that Muslims should be frustrated at themselves, not at others!

These next paragraphs, however, are the most outrageous, picking supporters of Islamist terror and quoting them as moderate Muslims!
For many Muslims here, condemning terrorism does not mean condoning American or British policies. "It is correct to say Islam forbids the killing of civilians, but we need to have a larger discussion about why these actions happened," said Imran Waheed, spokesman for the British branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist party working for the return of an Islamic caliphate, whose activists handed out leaflets outside the Finsbury Park mosque as people left Friday Prayer. "What we want is equity or parity between the life of a Briton in the suburbs of London and a farmer in Iraq," he said.

Opposition to Britain's role in Iraq has turned the area's Muslim community away from the governing Labor Party and toward the upstart Respect Party of George Galloway, who issued a statement Thursday saying that his party had warned that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain.

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of Britain's Islamic Human Rights Commission, argued that injustice lends legitimacy to extremist discourse. "There needs to be a separation between those who are committing those atrocities and those who are passionate about injustice," he said, adding that dismissing extremists outright only isolates them and makes them more likely to turn to violence. "We need to encourage that passion and give them avenues within the civil society to deal with injustices."

This is another excuse for terrorists. Their "passion" needs to be encouraged and given avenues within civil society! How, exactly? Making all women wear burkas? Like instituting the laws about rape cited in Salman Rushdie's op-ed piece? Like opposing the existence of the state of Israel?
"We have far greater experience as victims of terror than as perpetrators of terror," said Mr. Waheed of Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying that the community's reaction to the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and the Middle East has been "remarkably restrained..."People need to understand the feeling on the Muslim street," he said. "People hate the foreign policy of Britain and the United States, and the West needs to consider whether constant interference in the Muslim world is productive."

What were the editors of the Times thinking when they allowed this piece of biased, slanted, and simply wrong journalism to be printed in the newspaper? It seems to me that they were letting the political biases of this particular reporter, Craig Smith, get in the way of some honest reporting about the support for Islamic terrorism among Muslims in Britain. While I am not usually one to attack the Times for its political stance, in this case I think it has made an egregious mistake.

This article, however, does give me some hope: Longtime Haven for Arabs Now Must Ask: Why Us?. One of the bombs in London went off in a predominantly Arab neighborhood.
"We have to be honest and realistic with ourselves," said Laith Abdel Fattah, a part owner of Panini Cafe, tucked on a side street a block from the bombed train station. "We are living in an age that is simply unnatural. Is there anywhere in Islam that says you have to kill? Nowhere does it say you can take away somebody's right to live. And yet they do this in the name of Islam." Like many here, Mr. Abdel Fattah said he was indignant that the bombing could possibly be done in the name of his faith and his community. Out of a sense of duty, he said, he approached the police on Friday and offered any help they required.

"I wanted to show them that we too believe that what happened was unacceptable," he said. "There are only two directions we can take now. Either we wait and see what's coming, and that can only be bad, or we have to speak out and say unequivocally this is unacceptable. We need to show people what the right example is."

At the Rafidain Real Estate Agency on Edgware Road, Abu Ahmad al-Sharif sat with his nephew and a friend, pondering the bombings. Mr. Sharif, an immigrant from Iraq, was riding a bus as the Edgware Road bomb went off a few blocks away from him. The bus service was halted and he walked to work, leading him past the carnage at the Edgware Road station, where he grasped the gravity of the incident. He realized his son had taken one of the routes to work and broke into tears, then grew furious.

"In my homeland, Iraq, terrorism is no longer a surprise," Mr. Sharif said. "But I never imagined it could happen in a place like this. This place always seemed so far from terrorism," he said, noting the safe harbor England has given many Iraqis. "I blame the fathers, the mothers and the schools of these people who let them get to this point," he said. "It is our duty to find these groups because they are like a cancer and will only continue to grow unless we cut it from its roots." "Someone has to show them the boundary," said Sabah al-Hamdani, who had been listening intently. "We need to stand in their way."

Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorist attacks in London

Tom Friedman in tomorrow's New York Times is correct when he says: "Yesterday's bombings in downtown London are profoundly disturbing. In part, that is because a bombing in our mother country and closest ally, England, is almost like a bombing in our own country." I have to admit this is also how I feel - although more people were killed in the Madrid bombings on 3/11/04, the bombings in London have upset me more deeply. I've visited London, some of my ancestors come from England (others passed through on their way to the U.S.), and the British were the bulwark against Nazism when no one else was. Somehow, this hits closer to home.

He continues by arguing that this attack in London could lead Western countries to a crackdown not just on Muslim terrorists, but on all Muslims.
And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.

What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough.

The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

Some Muslim leaders have taken up this challenge. This past week in Jordan, King Abdullah II hosted an impressive conference in Amman for moderate Muslim thinkers and clerics who want to take back their faith from those who have tried to hijack it. But this has to go further and wider.

The double-decker buses of London and the subways of Paris, as well as the covered markets of Riyadh, Bali and Cairo, will never be secure as long as the Muslim village and elders do not take on, delegitimize, condemn and isolate the extremists in their midst.

There are Muslims who condemn terrorism in their name and who call for free and equal Muslim societies. The Bahraini blogger Mahmood al-Yousif says, "The way to beat them is not to give in to them, and more democracy and democratic institutions, a complete overhaul of the education system in the Arab and Muslim worlds and the full separation of Mosque and State. The time is now. We have to get this done. Otherwise we will be completely left behind and will suffer much more at the hands of these terrorists. My heart and thoughts go to the people of the United Kingdom in this very difficult time."

I second his feelingsl and hope that this will be the last terrorist attack inflicted by al-Qaeda and its cohorts.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Protest vigil in Jerusalem

According to this report in Haaretz, about 350 people showed up tonight for the protest vigil against the stabbing at the Jerusalem gay pride rally.
Tuesday's demonstration was an expression of solidarity with the three marchers stabbed last Thursday at Jerusalem's gay pride parade. The slogan of the demonstration was "They tried to kill me because I am gay."

Approximately 350 demonstrators gathered Tuesday on King George Street in the capital across from the spot in which Schlisel stormed the parade. Demonstrators waved signs ("Jerusalem was destroyed by hatred" and "love thy enemies") and called for an end to homophobia, addressing Jerusalem's mayor Uri Lupolianski directly.

Chair of the Jerusalem Open House and organizer of the event Noa Sattath said, "There is a direct connection between the incitement that originated with the mayor and the stabbing... I don't understand how the mayor sleeps at night."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More violence against gay people in Jerusalem

As reported in today's Jerusalem Post, Violent anti-gay protests continue in Jerusalem.
A 30-year-old haredi man who was seen approaching an event organized by Jerusalem's gay and lesbian community in the city center Tuesday night was detained for questioning after police found a knife in his possession, police said. The suspect told police that he came to the event to "read the placards" and that he uses the knife "to peel fruit", Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel ben Ruby said.

Simultaneously, several thousand haredi protesters pelted three city busses with stones Tuesday evening at a central Jerusalem thoroughfare in a continuation of the protest over last week's gay pride parade in the city, police said. One police officer was struck in the head by a rock, and was treated for injuries at Sha'are Zedek Hospital. Three Egged busses were also badly damaged, ben-Ruby said. Police dispersed the rioters, who had congregated at Kikar Shabat in the heart of Jerusalem's haredi neighborhoods.

I would guess that the event referred to was the protest vigil I mentioned earlier.

One wonders why the haredi rioters pelted city buses with stones - were their drivers or riders guilty of anything in particular, or were they just handy, in the way? And one also wonders if there will be any protests by the religious "leadership" in Israel against these acts of violence?

Daf Yomi

There seems to be a new phenomenon of people blogging on the Daf Yomi. I found this blog, Daf Am Haaretz, written by Neil Litt, former chair of the National Havurah Committee. And Kaspit frequently blogs on the Daf Yomi, especially as it relates to environmental issues. Reclaiming the Daf is a group blog on the Daf, which includes Kaspit.

Gay pride parade assailant charged with attempted murder

The man who stabbed three people at the Jerusalem gay pride march has been charged with three counts of attempted murder.
The man, Yishai Schlisel, an Orthodox Jew from Upper Modi'in, was quoted by state prosecutors as telling police officers who interrogated him that he "came to kill in the name of God." According to the indictment filed against Shlisel, the defendant carefully planned his actions, purchased the knife ahead of time, hid it in his waistcoat and then ambushed the marchers along the parade's route.

The Jerusalem Open House sent out an e-mail yesterday giving more details about the protest vigil, which is to occur tonight at 7 p.m., Jerusalem time.

Web Roundup

I just read a beautiful post on Mishkaneer - Beyond the Old Zionism, about what it really means to be a "New Jew."

Jen Taylor Friedman is a soferet (female scribe), whose website I found from Netivat Sofrut. Jen Friedman writes megillot Esther (the scroll of Esther), as well as other documents.

Mordechai Pinchas, a sofer, writes about his writing of a newly composed scroll, the Megillat ha-Shoah. This Megillah was composed by Professor Avigdor Shinan, working on behalf of the Conservative movement in Israel. These are the contents:
The scroll contains six chapters that include a testimony from a survivor whose job in a death camp was to dispose of bodies while removing the victims' gold teeth, including those of his dead brother; an eyewitness account of life in the Warsaw Ghetto; and an eulogy for those who perished. Its final chapter also commemorates the survivors, including those who went on to build the State of Israel.

Velveteen Rabbi is discussing the numbering of the Ten Commandments and how they differ between Jews and Christians. She says:
But disenfranchisement of those who don't share this text, or the government's chosen version of the text, is only one problem. Another problem -- at least, for me as a Jew -- is the implication that these verses supercede the rest of the Torah. Jews don't generally call this bit of text the "Ten Commandments," because we don't want to imply that they're the Big Ten and all the other ones don't matter as much. (In Torah they're called aseret ha'dvarim/ten sayings, and from Rabbinic days onward we've used the name aseret ha-dibrot/ten utterances). We place our focus on the whole path of righteous behavior, and consider it inappropriate to elevate these ten statements above the other 603 mitzvot that Torah offers. So while it's true that I'm a member of a faith-community for whom (some versions of) these words have relevance, I wouldn't be comfortable seeing them displayed in public spaces even in the original lengthy Hebrew version.

And here's a good online article about Jewish blogs, written by Sarah Bronson.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The gay pride parade in Jerusalem last Thursday night was disrupted when a protester stabbed 3 marchers.
The stabbing attack was the most serious in a series of incidents involving opponents of the gay and lesbian gathering. Police said that some 200 religious protesters gathered at the parade's starting point, the downtown offices of the Jerusalem Open House, the gay and lesbian community center that organized the fourth annual parade.

Protesters tried to stop the march by throwing a stink bomb, but some 2,000 participants marched on through the center of Jerusalem regardless, braving shouts and insults from protesters, most of them young ultra-Orthodox men.

"Homo sex is immoral," read one protester's sign. As the parade neared a main intersection, the attacker jumped into the first group of marchers and stabbed a man. Blood from the victim's chest seeped through his shirt as he sat, dazed, at the side of the road before an ambulance came to take him to a hospital, where he was said to be in serious condition.

The organized protest, I am sure, came about because of the determined opposition of the ultra-Orthodox leadership to this parade - including Mayor Lupolianski's trying to ban it (ban was overturned by the court). It's hard to imagine that the stabbing was unrelated to the extreme rhetoric used by the ultra-Orthodox and to the general atmosphere of violent protest against the disengagement from Gaza.

In my experience of demonstrations in Israel, I never saw a weapon used against demonstrators (I mostly went to demonstrations against the Israeli occupation), but I was tear-gassed four times (by the police), and many times experienced horrible curses being directed against us by right-wing passersby. One in particular sticks in my mind - when participating in the weekly "Women in Black" anti-occupation demonstration in Paris Sq. in Jerusalem (this would have been in the late 1980s, during the first intifada), we were cursed by someone wishing that Hitler had killed us too. And this was a curse uttered by a Jew against fellow Jews! I also remember going to prayers organized by the Women of the Wall for Ta'anit Esther in 1989, when we were met by a determined band of about 50 ultra-Orthodox men yelling at us and threatening us. The police fired a tear-gas canister at them, and one man picked the canister up and threw it at us in the women's section of the Kotel. We all had to leave, since it was impossible to breathe.

According to the weekly e-mail that I receive from the Open House in Jerusalem (the Jerusalem gay and lesbian center), they are planning a protest vigil against the stabbing, at the same place where it occurred (on King George St.). I'm not sure when the vigil is planned for, since a date isn't given. The notice reads: "A community demonstration to protest the incitement, violence, and the stabbings that occurred at the Pride March on Thursday." It says that it will be guarded by the police. "It is important for us to emphasize the connection between incitement and violence, and to protest in a dignified way against hatred." They were also planning for buses to bring people from Tel Aviv to participate in the protest vigil. I looked at the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz web sites, but didn't see anything about this protest vigil, so I don't if it occurred already.

For more information, see also: Gay Stabbing Victim Blames Negative Publicity, Court extends remand of suspect in Gay Pride stabbing. To see some pictures, see Gay Pride Marchers Attacked in Israel, but ignore the anti-Zionist ravings in the comments. For an example of incitement see this story from Arutz Sheva: MK Yishai: Gay Parade is a Contamination. Yishai is the chairman of the Shas party, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party.