Monthly Archives: January 2008

Internet Outages in Middle East

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=106350&d=1&m=2&y=2008

ALKHOBAR, 1 February 2008 — Disruption to communications in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East and South Asia continues due to a cut in two submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea.

There is no definite time specified for the repair but early indications are that at least 10 days and perhaps two weeks will be needed to bring both cables back to full service.

Estimates have put disruption of Egypt’s nationwide Internet network as high as 70 percent. India is thought to have suffered up to 60 percent disruption. In Saudi Arabia, there is no official estimate of the damage to Internet services, but a manager at one local Internet service provider (ISP) believed that “the Kingdom is struggling to cope with a situation worse than that created by the Algerian earthquake in 2003.”

Throughout the region there are reports that business operations from international stock trading to call centers have been affected by the diminished availability of connectivity. As companies become aware that communication is difficult online, many are switching to telephone systems.

In the coming week, communication across the region will be challenging. It is expected that the problem will grow as companies return to business in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and try to use online services.

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Islamophobes Secretly Desire Veiled Women

Here’s a link to a most excellent blog post about the phenomenon.

The blog is called Muslimah Media Watch.

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What Doughnut am I?


You Are a Caramel Crunch Donut


You’re a complex creature, and you’re guilty of complicating things for fun.
You’ve been known to sit around pondering the meaning of life…
Or at times, pondering the meaning of your doughnut.
To frost or not to frost? To fill or not to fill? These are your eternal questions.

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Real ID and the Fight Against Terrorism

Found this site and blog post while meandering around the internet and this struck me as funny enough to want to post about it.

When the Patriot Act was enacted, privacy advocates lamented that the government could check your library records; if you’re worried about that, why weren’t you concerned that those personally-identifiable records are kept by the library in the first place? I know, I know — if you’re afraid to get and use your library card, the terrorists win, and why you checked-out that copy of How to Fly a Jetliner Without Knowing How to Take-Off or Land is your own business. My point is simply that data about us is everywhere and is accumulating in ways we don’t necessarily comprehend or appreciate; anonymity is a functional impossibility.

How to Fly a Jetliner Without Knowing How to Take-Off or Land! Hilarious!

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Science in Islam

There’s a book review in the Times Literary Supplement of a book called Science and Islam by Muzaffar Iqbal. The review itself is really long and interesting, so here I am copying and pasting all kinds of little snippets.

In a review (January 19) of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, the Nobel Prizewinning physicist Steven Weinberg denied that there had been any developments in Islamic science after the death of the scholar and mystic al-Ghazali in 1111. In response, James Ragep, a historian of science, adduced, in rather general terms, all sorts of advances in Islamic science that had occurred after al-Ghazali’s death. Weinberg responded by denying or diminishing some of Ragep’s examples, such as the discovery of the pulmonary circulation of the blood, or a pre-Copernican presentation of a heliocentric system by Muslims.

Then Weinberg, apparently possessor of a mighty ego that can’t stand contradiction,

Weinberg, having reiterated that Islamic science never achieved much of importance after the early twelfth century, ended by quoting a 2002 survey by Nature which “identified just three areas of science in which Islamic countries excel: desalination, falconry and camel reproduction”.

Seems like a childish dig.

Ever since the nineteenth century there have been European thinkers, such as Ernest Renan, who have argued that the scientific outlook and Islam are incompatible; that the explosion of scientific translation and discovery was largely the achievement of non-Arabs; and that an increasingly strict and ossified Islam curtailed further scientific and speculative thought. Historians have wondered why the scientific movement in Islamic lands from the eighth to the eleventh centuries did not lead on to a scientific and an industrial revolution. Some Muslims might choose to detect an anti-Islamic agenda among those historians.

Well, yeah. This is a good time to add that there are plenty of thinkers who also view scientific outlook and any religion as incompatible. Many are the Americans who think that Galileo was a Atheist who was at violent odds with the Roman Catholic church, when in reality he was a devout Catholic his whole life, and the Church sponsored, well, basically, all scientific inquiry for a thousand years.

After all, the scientific and industrial revolutions did not occur anywhere in the world except in Europe, and therefore one needs to explain the peculiarity of European history, rather than adduce some kind of Islamic brake or blinker.

One of the targets [of Muzaffar Iqbal’s new book] is the notion that Islamic science was little more than a reheated version of ancient Greek science: “many histories of science tend to regard the eight hundred years of scientific activity in the Muslim world as being no more than some kind of depot where Greek science was parked and from where it was retrieved by Europe in later centuries”.

He points out that the Arab scientific movement in the eighth century pre-existed the translation movement of the ninth and tenth centuries. He draws attention to a curious genre of literature that developed later, called shukuk, which was devoted to casting doubt on the findings of the Greeks, and he has no difficulty in adducing instances of Muslim scientists improving on, empirically testing or refuting Greek ideas.

But darnit, he’s gone and muddied the waters with a some real quackery:

But, while he has some good sources to support the early development of what can be seen as an Islamic science, Iqbal is unwise to rely so heavily on the alleged writings of Jabir ibn Hayyan (whose notional dates are c721–815).

People who are only aware of Jabir (or Geber as he was known in the medieval West) as the name of an early scientist, may not be aware of what richly bizarre treasures are to be found in his strangely diverse writings: sperm is a crucial ingredient in the elixir of life; bird sperm is needed for producing a man with wings; the effigy of a Chinaman in bed will keep one awake at night; a picture of a man killing snakes done in magical ink will actually kill snakes; there is a fish called “the doctor of the sea” that carries a stone in its head that has the power to cure all ills; putrefied hair generates serpents; demons can be usefully trapped in statues.

Interestingly, I had an Arabic teacher that told me about at least one of these things in all seriousness. As for the ‘man with wings’ thing, I think I read a James Patterson book like that, and it was a best-seller in America a few years ago. Fiction, though.

Mr Iqbal also ignores the evidence that Jabir/Geber couldn’t have been one person and

In general, Iqbal elides the pervasiveness of occult thinking in Islamic science.

I’m no historian, but I bet there’s a lot of occult thinking in European science of the same time period.

But Iqbal is successful in arguing that the “Quran itself lays out a well-defined and comprehensive concept of the natural world, and this played a foundational role in the making of the scientific tradition in Islamic civilization”. Faith impelled rather than impeded the Islamic scientist. The Koran commands man to study Allah’s creation.

At a more practical level, astronomy and mathematics were studied and further developed to assist in such matters as the orientation of mosques, the determination of prayer times and the division of inheritances according to Islamic law.

Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that important advances in science were made after the twelfth century. For example, Ibn al-Shatir (d 1375) improved on the Ptolemaic model of the solar system by removing its eccentrics and equants, and his model for the rotation of the Sun anticipated that of Copernicus.

Hmm, so why does Copernicus get the credit? This is one of those things that continues to confuse me.

In most other respects there was no conflict between science and Islam in the pre-modern period, and Iqbal shows this.

Reminder: there’s a whole lot more content to this article than what I’m copying and pasting here.

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935 False Statements Leading to War

The Center for Public Integrity has posted this fascinating study of the Bush administration propaganda that led us to war in Iraq.

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.

In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.

I’m really impressed and glad that someone took the time and effort to compile the list.

I hate to dwell so much on political topics, but it’s hard to get off them in an election year like this. I’ll keep my eyes open for non-political but Arab-related topics for future posts.

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Saudi Arabia to Allow Women to Drive

There’s an article in the Telegraph online, but nothing in the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News.

Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.

Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.

The end of the year. Why, that’s a mere eleven-plus short months from now.

Here’s what the naysayers say:

Critics believe allowing women to drive would be the first step towards a gradual erosion of the kingdom’s modesty laws. A woman would have to remove the traditional abaya robe to get a clear view behind the wheel.

“Allowing women to drive will only bring sin,” a letter to Al-Watan newspaper declared last year. “The evils it would bring – mixing between the genders, temptations, and tarnishing the reputation of devout Muslim women – outweigh the benefits.”

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Saudi Rape Case Lawyer Gets License Back

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=105880&d=20&m=1&y=2008

JEDDAH, 20 January 2008 — A disciplinary committee at the Justice Ministry in Riyadh yesterday returned the law license of the Saudi lawyer who represented the “Qatif Girl,” the 20-year-old woman who was kidnapped and raped by seven men last year.

Lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem was returned his license, which was confiscated on Nov. 14 prior to a hearing at Qatif General Court, said Al-Lahem’s lawyer Khaled Al-Mutairi.

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Unprecedented Cold in Saudi Arabia Kills Ten

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=105752&d=17&m=1&y=2008

JEDDAH/AL-JOUF/MADINAH, 17 January 2008 — At least 10 people and hundreds of animals have died as a result of unprecedented cold weather in different parts of the Kingdom.

The coastal city of Jeddah is preparing for the coldest weather in recent years. According to weather forecast for tomorrow, temperature in the city will drop to 11 degrees Celsius. In Riyadh, it will be minus two, said the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment. It forecast that the weather in Madinah would be two and in the northern city of Tabuk, it will be minus four.

Another article, same paper: http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=105845&d=19&m=1&y=2008

The death of Mashael, a 15-year-old girl in the northern city of Arar, due to severe cold has turned public attention toward the poor who stay in tinplate houses. An intermediate school student, Mashael was living in one such home with her relatives.

Mohammed Al-Kilabi of the International Islamic Relief Organization in Arar said at least 1,300 families with nearly 10,000 members are living in tinplate houses in villages of this northern region. “Some families have been living in such houses for more than 20 years,” Al-Kilabi said. But Ramdhi Al-Enazi, director of social insurance in the Northern Border Region, said the number of people living in such houses would not exceed 5,000.

Internet wingnuts point to this as proof that global warming is a lie. *snicker* I won’t link to their sites, though.

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Arabic Words for “Children”

Turns out I couldn’t resist reading Raphael Patai’s book the Arab Mind once I’d heard about it. I was confounded by an Amazon.com reviewer’s claim that Patai said there’s no Arabic word for “children.”
So I bought the darned book, and I’ll be damned, he did say that.
It’s hard to speak meanly of someone who, number one, is dead and who, number two, claims to be writing a book about people he’s fond of, but, come on. You don’t need to know much Arabic to learn the word atfal, which means children.
Patai seems to be acquainted with only the words awlad, which means boys, and banat, which means girls. Based on his imperfect knowledge, he draws the conclusion that boy and girls are regarded as completely different in Arab culture. A few pages later he mentions the English people who send their sons off to Eton, but doesn’t notice that the English evidently regard boys and girls as completely different.
Along with good old atfal, which is MSA, there are words in various dialects that mean children. My favorite one is the Iraqi word jihal, “the ignorant ones.”
If only the book were more readable. As it is, I’m grudgingly forcing myself to pick it up and read some here and there. I keep hoping to find more nuggets of funny.

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