Friday 29 November 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood aims in the west

I've read rather a lot on the Muslim Brotherhood over recent years.
I've read the writings of its founder, Hassan al Banna (the grandfather of Tariq Ramadan), of Sayiid Qutb, the Islamist theoretician and head of propaganda for the Brotherhood in the 1950s and 60s, "The Muslim Brotherhood" by Barry Rubin , "The Muslim Brotherhood" by Erik Stakelbeck and most recently I'm reading "Brother Tariq; the doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan" by Caroline Fourest, which I recommend. (Ramadan continues the task of his grandfather, the pursuit of Brotherhood aims in the west, but in the guise of a "Muslim reformer").
In addition I've followed the Brotherhood's own website, IkhwanWeb.
On this basis, I judge the article "How the Muslim Brotherhood Dupes the West", to be an eminently fair and balanced account of what the Brotherhood is doing in the west to promote its ultimate goal of world-wide adherence to strict Sharia law.
Moreover the author of the post above is a man who knows whereof he speaks:
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Some may think the Brotherhood's aims to be a ridiculous stretch, unachievable in a strong, secular west. I hope so.
But to ignore the threat on that basis would be dangerous indeed. For the Brotherhood plays the very long game.  It is chipping away in west: the increasing veiling of Muslima in the west is largely down to the work of Tariq Ramadan and his brother Hani.  The increasing number of Sharia courts in Britain (87 at last count), the increasing use of "hate crime" legislation to shut down criticisms of Islam (e.g. and also and here), the segregation of audiences at UK Universities (yes!), all are Brotherhood or Brotherhood-linked achievements. Even the term "Islamophobia", again to shut down critical discussion of Islam --in much the same way as "racist" is used by the left to shut down debate -- was a Muslim Brotherhood invention.
Therefore it's really important that the west -- the public, politicians and the media, all -- are aware of what they're up to and to resist it.
Unfortunately the opposite is too often the case.  In a shocking case of almost criminal misunderstanding -- by James Clapper the Drector of National Intelligence no less -- the Brotherhood was described as being "largely secular".  It is nothing of the sort.  Let's not forget the Mission Statement of the Brotherhood:
Allah is our objective
The Prophet is our leader
The Koran is our law
Jihad is our way
Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
Not much to comfort secular humanists there.
And finally, let's also not forget that the Brotherhood was the spiritual parent of Al-Qaeda and is mentioned in the Charter of Hamas as being its parent.  They've a lot to answer for, the Brotherhood, but just too often get a free pass, a case of the camel putting its nose in the tent.  It's just about got its whole body in, the way it's going.

What is ageing?

As I enter my seventh decade, the question becomes of increasing interest...
H/t to PhD comics.

Thursday 28 November 2013

China's limited influence

Many people around the world believe that China’s rise to the role of dominant global player is inevitable. A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year found that in 23 of 39 countries surveyed, a majority of respondents said China is already, or will soon become, the “world’s leading superpower.”
Even in America, just 47 percent told Pew they believe the United States will remain in that role, and the survey was conducted before Washington’s recent shutdown hardened opinions about America’s political dysfunction.
But although China’s economic influence is growing — it is now the lead trade partner for 124 countries, compared to just 76 for the United States — its power to influence other nations is slight. It has achieved little of what policymakers call “capture,” a condition in which economic or security dependence of one country on another allows the more powerful to drive the other’s policy making.
I agree with this assessment, by Ian Bremmer in today's New York Times.  Some time ago I came across the notion that China doesn't have a "Big Idea".  The Big Idea of the US is simple: Freedom. What's the Big Idea for China: Stability? One-party rule? Make money?  There isn't one.
President Xi Jinping talks of the "China Dream", but no-one seems to know what it is.

Bremmer concludes: "But for better and for worse, neither China nor anyone else appears ready and able to fill America's superpower shoes."   I think that's largely for the better, as much as that might infuriate the Left and Islamists.

What the hell is the Higgs Boson?

I've been a fan of Sean Caroll's for some years now.  By no means do I understand all of his writings and lectures, but the one above, from about 10 months ago, at the Royal Society in London, is about as good as it gets for us common folk, in explaining the significance of the Higgs Boson, discovered at the Large Hadron Collider on July 4th this year. In a single sentence: if we didn't have the Higgs Boson, the universe wouldn't exist.  It's that important...
And his name comes to mind again today, as I see that his book, "The Particle at the End of the Universe" has won the Royal Society's Winton Prize for Science books.  Now on my WishList.
Congratulations, Sean!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Jim Crow Redux: Gender Segregation at UK Universities

Letter to a mate.  Please also pass on and sign, wherever you are.

G'day mate!

Have you come across news about the latest Guidelines by Universities UK (“The voice of UK universities”) on gender segregation on UK campuses? 

Basically they allow gender segregation — extraordinarily, on “separate but equal” grounds — if a certain speaker has “strong religions beliefs” that the audience should be segregated (and guess just which religion might have just such "strong beliefs"?… hint: it’s a “religion of peace”™).

I’m rather horrified at this — Jim Crow redux -- as are many in the UK.  There’s an open letter signed by, inter alia, Richard Dawkins, A.C. Graylling, Gita Sahgal and Polly Toynbee (link in the post linked below).

My reason for emailing you is to ask — if you agree that it’s an egregious, perhaps even dangerous, move — if you might send out the link to the petition to your addressee list. I see you have a long addressee list which would include many or most who have (had) or will have kids at UK Universities — as we expect our son to go to as well.  This is definitely a case of “letting the nose of the camel in the tent”….

There’s a post on the issue at Harry’s Place — a kind of lefty site, but with a mix of commenters who are probably 50-50 left/right, with those on the left describing themselves as “of the Left, but pissed off with Islamism”, which I guess would pretty well describe me as well. It’s an interesting site, in any case.

Have a look at the comments on the post, if you have a half-hour or so to spare.  Some of them rather good, especially Aloevera, who describes herself as a non-Anglo Saxon American woman (somewhere in her 60s, it seems), with an interest in the UK as she’s married to a Brit and planning to move to the UK — and with an interest of the history of British (English?) Liberalism.  You have to read the comments in the next few days, as they’re deleted after 2 weeks, something to do with UK Libel Laws (something else that needs fixing!).

I trust this finds you well...


Monday 25 November 2013

Music is Haram....

None of that, thank you very much; so saith the Prophet (PBUH)
Haram... that is, forbidden in Islam.  In strictly doctrinal terms there should be no music in Islam.  As the Ahyatollah Khomeini said "there is no fun in Islam".
The lady below is a convert to Islam, and she's explaining to a letter writer why it is that music is haram, forbidden in Islam.  She takes rather a long time to do this.  You don't really need to watch it all: the message is simple: Music is no-no for the pious Muslim.
She's on strong doctrinal ground:
The authoritative manual of Islamic jurisprudence, the Umdat Al-Salik ("The Reliance of the Traveller", linked at left) says:
"On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will put molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.
"Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage." [r40 (2) (3)]

Aussies concerned about Islam...

.... and with good reason:

24 November 2013, Melbourne – According to a recent Morgan poll conducted on behalf of Q Society of Australia Inc., the majority of Australians are clearly concerned about Islam and 70% believe Australia is not a better place because of Islam. The survey, completed in late October, found a majority (53 per cent) of Australians want full face coverings banned from public spaces and 50.2 per cent want Islamic sharia law banned all together.
Australians over 65 are most concerned with 59 per cent in this age group stating that a growing Islamic population and Islamic immigration would be bad for Australia. Mature Australians and Liberal/National voters have a significantly negative view of Islam. Notably only 15 per cent of Australians think Islam and terrorism are not related. Multicultural advocates seeking to cancel Christmas, Easter or ANZAC Day celebrations in their quest to not offend other cultures should take note that 96.5 per cent of the population disagree.
The omnibus poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research Ltd has an error margin of 4 per cent.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Hong Kong philanthropists donate more than 6 Middle East states

I've always thought Hong Kong, my home for 30+ years, is a very generous place.
A recent article in the South China Morning Post, proves the point [PDF]: the $US 877 million donated by 47 Hong Kong philanthropists beats that of the total for six oil-rich states.  Of course, most of it stayed at home, or nearby, going to charities in Hong Kong and China. But that's also the case for most charity world wide.
Overall, Hong Kong is 18th in the world, according to the World Giving Index. I'm proud to see that top of the list is Australia.  New Zealand is next.  Go Oceania, You Give!

Bank of China helping fund terrorists?...

Should a country ever sacrifice fundamental principles for the sake of its national economic interest?
This question has been raised in Israel over a landmark court case brought by families of suicide bomb victims against the Bank of China. The families accuse it of serving as a key conduit for money transfers to Hamas and Islamic Jihad through its branches in the US.
Although the Israel government initially aided the case against the bank, it has now blocked a key witness, ex-counter-terrorism agent Uzi Shaya, from testifying.
Read the rest here.

Friday 22 November 2013

No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market

This morning's South China Morning Post ran my letter about sharia finance, in full:

No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market
I refer to the article ("Bonds of faith", November 15), on Hong Kong's issue of its first sharia-compliant bonds (or sukuk).
It paints these sukuk in a completely positive light, but that is not the whole story.
Sukuk are inefficient. Many Islamic banks promote a ban on usury as it accrues interest. But no bank can work for free, so deals are structured with sale and buy-back of artificial "assets" with profit margins at levels equivalent to prevailing interest rates.
The pre-eminent Muslim scholar of sharia finance, Timur Kuran, notes that all Islamic banks actually give and take interest routinely, using "ruses" to make interest appear as a return for risk.
In short, they are an elaborate ploy of form over substance, and inefficient because of that structure: sukuk have fees up to 20 per cent higher than standard.
Is it right that we, the taxpayers, should be expected to pay for this inefficiency by exempting taxation on the transfer of underlying assets, an exemption not granted to any other financial instrument?
Sukuk are discriminatory. Banned investments include not only alcohol and gambling. They are also not permitted to invest in companies that benefit non-Islamic religions; companies that promote equal rights for women and gays; companies involved with Western books, films or media; and companies linked to Israel.
Is it right for Hong Kong to promote manifestly anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynist financial instruments?
Sukuk are an Islamist programme. Sharia finance was first promoted by the Pakistani Islamist Sayyid Al-Mawdudi, founder of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, in the 1960s. It is promoted today by Islamists like influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi as being "jihad with money".
According to Professor Kuran, "Mawdudi's aim … was to reassert Islam's importance … [to] defy the common separation between economics and religion… to invoke Islamic authority." Sharia banking, he says, boosts the global movement of Islamism. Is it right for Hong Kong to support the work of global Islamists?
Sukuk perform badly. As for sharia finance's alleged success, that is moot: In the UK, sharia-compliant banking has been a huge flop.
Our government should reconsider its support for an innately inefficient, discriminatory and poorly performing religious financial product.
Peter F... etc..

Thursday 21 November 2013

"Unavoidable Answer for the Problem of Climate Change"

Workers removing fuel rods from one of the reactors at the Daiichi plant
in Fukushima, Japan, site of a nuclear accident in 2011.
I've been banging on for a while about Nuclear energy needing to be part of any carbon mitigation measures.
And now Eduardo Porter, writing in the International New York Times, has set out the case for it.  The best summary I've seen for a while.
BTW: the online headline (above), is different from the paper copy, which is "Nuclear could be the only answer", and has a caption noting that "... The perceived danger of radiation is far greater than the reality, one study shows."
Both Japan and Germany are now emitting more carbon dioxide than before they closed their nuclear power stations.
What did they think would happen?
The cost of nuclear is the same or lower that of wind (especially offshore) and solar, and is safer than all  the traditional energy sources.
But Japan’s about-face on its climate promises — which followed the government’s decision to shut down its nuclear power generators after the meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima — is also an opportunity for a reality check in the debate over how to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere.
It brings into sharp focus the most urgent challenge: How will the world replace fossil fuels? Can it be done fast enough, cheaply enough and on a sufficient scale without nuclear energy? For all the optimism about the prospects of wind, sun and tides to power our future, the evidence suggests the answer is no.
Read it all...

"Why can't we admit we're scared of Islamism?"

Tracey Emin's work (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)
Let's face it — we only challenge religions that won't hurt us, 
and governments that won't arrest us. 
-- Nick Cohen
From the Speccie a last week.
The money shot:
.... it [the Danish Court] acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity. The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny — proving yet again that the interests of women always come last.
When I asked what she thought of the Danish legal system, I did not receive a long lecture on freedom of expression.
‘I think it’s fucked,’ she said.  

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Wanted! Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed

A cutie, from The Spectator:
Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, 27, whose movements are restricted under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure (known as a T-Pim) went missing after changing into a burka at a mosque in Acton, west London.

"The man who broke the silence"

A fascinating article, an interview with Prof Paul Collier about his latest book on immigration and diversity, Exodus. (I wrote about Prof Collier earlier)
Collier's key findings: That immigration is great for the individual immigrant, probably neutral for the host country and very bad for the source country.  And as for "diversity", too much of it and trust in the community breaks down.  Of course, many have been saying that for a long time, and been shouted down as racists and xenophobes. The big thing Davies has done, as hinted in the headline, is to make it possible to discuss this, until now, almost taboo issue.
Another interesting snippet: a recent study [not linked] that showed non-EU immigrants to the UK since 1997 had taken more in welfare payments than they'd contributed. Hmmm, I wonder what faith they were?...

Article below, thanks to The Speccie:

It takes a lot to make the subject of immigration respectable for liberals, at least if you’re pointing out its problematic aspects. But Paul Collier, an Oxford economist specialising in the world’s bottom billion, has, in the 270-odd pages of his new bookExodus, opened up the issue for the left — well, for all comers, actually. Which, for a book suggesting among other things that, left to itself, there is no natural limit to immigration, is quite something.
‘The overwhelming reaction I’ve had,’ he told me, from his Oxford berth at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, ‘is that people thank me for making the subject discussable. I had an email from one man who had been a senior economist at two government departments… and he said that, to his shame, he had been unable to analyse this issue even when he was chairing two committees about it.’
Discussion of immigration has long been taboo among liberals. The subject is conflated with racism and associated fears of inter-ethnic violence. ‘I am concerned to raise the quality of public debate,’ Collier says. ‘There’s been a lot of sloppy and ideological thinking.’

New Plan for a Disabled Kepler

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The little spacecraft that could may still have some life left in it.
Hearts were broken around the lonely cosmos in the spring when a critical wheel on NASA’s Kepler spacecraft got stuck, leaving its telescope unable to point precisely enough to continue prospecting for Earthlike planets in a starry patch of the Milky Way. But Kepler’s managers say they have a plan that could keep it hunting for these exoplanets for three or four more years. [More...]
This is great news.  I wrote earlier in an "Ode to Kepler" about the breakdown of the planet hunter.  So sad, because it had led to the discovery of many planets in our galaxy and led to the recent estimates of at least 8 billion earth-like planets in our Galaxy alone.
Of course, the fact of billions of earths does not mean that they will develop intelligent life, let alone a civilisation.  This is discussed by Sean Carrol, in his "Billions of Worlds" and today in the International New York Times, in "Are we alone in the Universe".
In short, from current knowledge, it is just as likely that we are indeed alone, as it is that there are many millions or billions of earths with intelligent life. If it's the case that life tends to rise in any earth-like planet, then there will be not just some, but millions. But if or Earth's conditions really were unique, then there may be none.  
What will show the case for life is if we find the trace of chemicals associated with life, on an exo-planet.  And that's where the great news is: in the potential for Kepler to keep on gazing out at extra terrestrial earths to see if it can find the signature of life.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Is Islam a religion of violence or peace?

Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Feisal Abdul Rauf
Via Sam Harris' Twitter feed, news of the Richmond Forum which took place last Saturday, of which Sam says "Great (if occasionally frustrating) discussion, between Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz and Imam Abdul-Rauf":
One of the most compelling conversations of our age will take place on the Richmond Forum stage as we bring three noted voices together for the first time to tackle the question: Is Islam a religion of violence or peace? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim and the author of "Infidel," speaks and writes widely about what she believes is the inherently violent nature of Islam and its subjugation and abuse of women. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an American Muslim spiritual leader, acclaimed author, and one of the most influential Muslim voices of moderation, holds the position that Islam is a bedrock of tolerance. Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist and the author of "Radical," spent four years in an Egyptian prison and today works to challenge extremism and promote democracy in the Muslim world. Among the most requested topics by our subscribers, this promises to be a powerful and enlightening Forum.
Imam Rauf is accused of being a bit of a scam artist. He also says that Sharia is consistent with the US Constitution, and in this Forum talk he claims that "our laws are basically the same". This is nonsense. See my "Sharia: what does it say about...".  He says in this Forum that Sharia has a multitude of interpretations.  That's also wrong.  There is one manual of Islamic Jurisprudence, the Umdat Al-Salik, which is authorised by the supreme authority of Islamic law, the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and which explicitly says that it covers all five strand of Fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence.  The extent of disagreements may be on whether, say, homosexuals should be killed by stoning, or by hanging.  On the core of Sharia, all are agreed.
Indeed, it is one of the things that makes the "reform of Islam" so problematic: like the Koran itself, the pure and direct word of Allah, it's fixed and immutable.

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing, that's a fact

What have I been missing?  The lovely Katie Melua, who I just heard interviewed on BBC Radio, here in Hong Kong.

Monday 18 November 2013

“Wearing the burqa is a question of freedom” [not]

Chahdortt Djavann: says veiling young girls
is "psychological torture"
Letter to the South China Morning Post:

Ali M. Khan asks us to accept the ludicrous notion that wearing the burqa is a “sartorial preference”. That women wearing the burqa “do not consider themselves to be oppressed as, in their social circles, it is not considered so.” (“Wearing burqa is a question of freedom”, November 17 [PDF]). 

Muslim women beg to differ.

Saira Khan, a British writer, says  wearing a burqa is “... the most horrid experience. It restricted the way I walked, what I saw, and how I interacted with the world. .... I felt alienated and like a freak. It was hot and uncomfortable, and I was unable to see behind me, exchange a smile with people, or shake hands.” Norwegian writer Rooshanie Ejaz calls it a “medieval abomination”. Humanitarian Intervention Centre writer Julie calls it a mobile prison. “I would not wish it on my worst enemy… you cannot breathe, see, walk, sit or speak normally”.

Some “sartorial preference”!

Of course burqa wearing is neither a “sartorial preference” nor an expression of “freedom”. The Muslim women above note that it is a project of radical Islam. The burqa is “…a tool of oppression used to alienate and control women under the guise of religious freedom…. a tool of radical Muslim men." [Khan].  The Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie says it stems from Saudi Arabia as a “fundamentalist’s political flag” promoted by radical Wahhabi ideology.

It is an irony then that western supporters of the burqa are in fact promoting a radical Islamist agenda.

More troubling is the increased full-veiling girls as young as four.  Clearly there is no freedom of choice in those cases.  Iranian-born Chahdortt Djavann says the psychological damage done by veiling girls is “immense”.  It “makes them responsible for men’s arousal from a very early age...[and] fear, distrust and feel disgust and anguish at their own bodies”. Ejaz calls it a kind of “psychological torture” which amounts to the "blatant sexualisation of children".

As an aside there is plenty of evidence that wearing the burqa leads to vitamin D deficiencies with associated health problems from osteoporosis to rickets.

Yet all this is tolerated and promoted in the name of freedom of “sartorial choice”.

 I say bunkum, Mr Khan.

Peter F.
Hong Kong

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

The view of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is one natural wonder of Israel.
There are man-made miracles to celebrate, too. (Courtesy NYT)
Ari Shavit's new book, due for publication tomorrow, and on my Wish List:
“Israel is not a proposition, it is a country. Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history. . . . It is one of the achievements of Ari Shavit’s important and powerful book to recover [that] feeling . . . and to revel in it, to restore the grandeur of the simple fact in full view of the complicated facts. My Promised Land startles in many ways, not least in its relative lack of interest in providing its readers with a handy politics. [Shavit] has an undoctrinaire mind. He comes not to praise or to blame, though along the way he does both, with erudition and with eloquence; he comes instead to observe and to reflect. This is the least tendentious book about Israel I have ever read. It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism. It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience. Shavit is immersed in all of the history of his country. While some of it offends him, none of it is alien to him. His extraordinary chapter on the charismatic and corrupt Aryeh Deri, and the rise of Sephardic religious politics in Israel, richly illustrates the reach of his understanding. . . . There is love in My Promised Land, but there is no propaganda. . . . The author of My Promised Land is a dreamer with an addiction to reality. He holds out for affirmation without illusion. Shavit’s book is an extended test of his own capacity to maintain his principles in full view of the brutality that surrounds them.”—Leon Wieseltier, The New York Times Book Review

And the subject of a Thomas Friedman article in today's International New York Times, "Something for Barack and Bibi to Talk About"

Sunday 17 November 2013

"The only people thriving in post-revolution Egypt — tomb raiders"

The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Menkaure.    Courtesy: The Specator
The Sphinx, the pyramids and churches are being ransacked by looters and Islamists
 9 November 2013, The Specatator
Millions of other Egyptians whose livelihoods have depended on their country’s ancient culture are suffering. In Giza, for generations, families have made a living out of taking tourists around the pyramids on horse or camel rides. It is a memorable experience. The Egyptians touting for business never, ever leave you alone — but it’s also breathtaking to be able to ride around the famous pyramids.
Locals told me that on a normal day, back in the good old days, 10,000 tourists visited the pyramids daily. While I was there the people at the ticket office claimed only ten visitors had paid for entry that day and a fellow trying to sell me various bits of tat sincerely burst into tears when I purchased a handful of postcards.
It was tragic. But worse was to come. Towards twilight, near the stretch of dunes where I found the looters’ holes dug into the desert, within sight of the pyramids, a local camel rider showed me dozens of dead horses. Families in Giza have between 5,000 and 6,000 horses working in the tourism trade. In the boom times, these animals are sorely mistreated, filled up with sugar and ridden day and night. But now that the tourism trade has collapsed, the poor horses’ plight is even more ghastly: slow starvation.

The whole sobering article, is here.
I was in Cairo in October 2011, at the end of a Classic Car rally from Cape Town to Cairo.  At the time, we happened to arrive at a bit of an interregnum, and all was calm, though the scars of the so-called "Arab Spring" demonstrations were still on many blackened buildings...

Saturday 16 November 2013

"Serving life for this?"

This is really shocking.  People banged up of Life, with no parole, because of mandatory sentencing guidelines.  So bad, that even judges are against it.  I know there are those that agree with putting anyone with the least dealing with drugs in jail and throwing away the key. But it's just not right, by any measure, in my view.  It costs and wastes not only the life of the one put away, but costs the state and demeans the society that supports it.
Not the policy for an advanced, democratic society.  US's incarceration rates are -- or ought to be -- a scandal.

"China to ease one-child policy"...

... and to do away with labour camps.
Interesting news.
China has taken a new step to loosen its one-child policy, in a move that will allow millions more parents to have a second child if they wish to.
In the first comprehensive set of reforms under President Xi Jinping, the Communist party leadership, said: "We will begin to allow couples to have two children if one of them is an only child."
Read the rest... 

Friday 15 November 2013

"Bonds of Faith": critique of Sharia Finance

Letter to South China Morning Post
I refer to "Bonds of Faith" (Back to Buisiness, 15 November.  PDF), which reports on Hong Kong's issue of its first Sharia-compliant bonds (or sukuk).  The article paints these sukuk in a completely positive light.
But that's not the whole story.  
Sukuk are inefficient.  Many Islamic banks promote a ban on usury as being "interest-free".  But no bank can work for free, so deals are structured with sale and buyback of artificial "assets" with profit margins at levels equivalent to prevailing interest rates.  The preeminent Muslim scholar of Sharia Finance, Timur Kuran, notes that all Islamic banks actually give and take interest routinely, using “ruses” to make interest appear as a return for risk.  In short they are an elaborate ploy of form over substance, and inefficient because of that structure: sukuk have fees up to 20% higher than standard.  
Is it right that we the taxpayers be expected to pay for this inefficiency by exempting taxation on the transfer of underlying assets, an exemption not granted to any other financial instrument?
Sukuk are discriminatory.  Investments are banned not only alcohol and gambling. They are also not permitted to invest in companies that benefit non-Islamic religions; companies that promote equal rights for women and gays; companies involved with western books, films or media; and companies linked to Israel.  Is it right for Hong Kong to promote manifestly anti-semitic, homophobic and misogynist financial instruments?
Sukuk are an Islamist program.  Sharia Finance was first promoted by the Pakistani Islamist Sayyid Al-Mawdudi, founder of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, in the 1960s. It is promoted today by Islamists like influential Egyptian cleric Al-Qaradawi as being “Jihad with money”. [fn1]  According to Professor Kumar "Mawdudi’s aim … was to reassert Islam’s importance … [to] defy the common separation between economics and religion… to invoke Islamic authority." Sharia banking, he says, boosts the global movement of Islamism. [fn2]
Is it right for Hong Kong to support the work of global Islamists?
Sukuk perform badly. As for Sharia finance's alleged success, that is moot: In the UK, Sharia-compliant banking has been a huge flop. Your article itself notes a 20% drop in sales last year.

Our government should reconsider its support for an innately inefficient, discriminatory and poorly performing religious financial product which has an Islamist genesis.

Peter F, etc,
[fn1] Qaradawi"I like to call it Jihad with money, because God has ordered us to fight enemies with our lives and our money." [towards the end of the article].  He is referring to Zakat, or Islamic charity, which is required to be paid by issuers of sukuk.  According to Islamic law, at least one-eight of zakat must be use in the furtherance of Islam.
[fn2] Timur Kuran, “Islam and Mammon; the economic predicaments of Islamism”.  Princeton University Press, p. 52.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Do we need a moon? (aka "where are the little green men?")

Orpheus hits Earth 1.0
A little while back I was discussing with my son a question that had come to mind, especially as a sailor concerned with Tides: what if we didn't have a Moon? What would that mean for the Earth?
My own thought was that we'd not have tides, of course, so the seaside waters would be rather more brackish without the swish-swoosh of the moon-driven lumps of water. And we'd not have the lunar clock-keeper of months so clearly delineated. Women's cycles -- and those of other animals --  would be different, or non-existent.
But that was about it.  Or so we thought.
But it turns out that it's not at all like that.
On Discovery Science cable TV, currently running a "Space Month" during November, they looked at this very question.  And, remarkable to me, they say at the outset that the question has only recently been considered by scientists.
Anyway, here's the news on that:
If we didn't have a Moon, we'd not be living here on Earth at all. For likely we would not have developed as Homo Sapiens.
Here's the background and the reasons:
It all goes back to the way the Moon was formed. Most likely answer: a proto-planet we now call Orpheus crashed into the earth in the early days of our Solar System, maybe 5 billion years ago.  It was a glancing blow, but devastating to both Orpheus and the then Earth, which scientists now call Earth 1.0.
The blow destroyed Orpheus, part of which was incorporated into Earth 1.0 (which thus became Earth 2.0) and part of which spun off and created the Moon.
The blow also gave earth some spin, and turned it on its axis to about 23 degrees +/- 1 degree.  This is called our obliquity, or axial tilt.
It turns out that this obliquity is critical to our earth.  It's not just that there are no seasons without obliquity.  One part of Earth 1.0 might be way too hot (100 C) and one way too cold (- 50 C) to support the development of Homo Sapiens.  Still more critical is what the Moon does to the stability of the obliquity.  For without a Moon, Earth 1.0 would have wobbled around, from 0 to 90 degrees of obliquity, over periods as short as 100,000 years, far to short to allow evolution to create Homo, Sapiens or otherwise.  A chaotic climate, unlikely to allow the stability that we know we needed to develop our civilisations.
Further: the Moon, as it drew away from the new Earth 2.0, reduced not only the range of obliquity, but also reduced the speed of spin of Earth 2.0, so that the days we now consider "normal" came into being. (The Moon is still leaving us, at about 3 cm per year).
Of course, one could argue that this is just argument form the anthropomorphic principle and that we could have or would have developed in an Earth 1.0, just developed differently.  But we don't think so.  Life, especially life of a Sapient variety, would have been immeasurably more difficult to conceive in Earth 1.0.  So say the scientists.
If that's really the case, then that might explain why we're not finding the number of Civilisations we might expect from the number of earth-like planets that we now think there may be: at least 8 billion in our Galaxy alone. And that's what Enrico Fermi asked in 1950: "where are they?"
Pity 'dat.
The Fermi Paradox: "Where are they".
Courtesy: Sean Carroll on Preposterous Universe.

"I Regret my Anti-Islamic Past". Arnoud van Doorn converts to Islam. ATTN: Matthew Bannister

Dear Mr Bannister,

According to the BBC Website, you look at "Why former Dutch far-right Freedom Party politician Arnoud Van Doorn converted to Islam”.

But your interview doesn't answer that question. The closest we come is his statement that he did some "research" on Islam, spoke to the Imam of a local mosque and concluded that Islam is "peaceful" and "wise”.
That's it?
But what has changed in his Islam-critical  movie, Fitna, a movie he now regrets producing?
Which of the Qur'anic verses has been abrogated? Why, none. Which of the imams, which of the sheiks, which of the Islamic representatives quoted in the film has changed his (always “his”) mind? Which has decided that it's no longer acceptable in today's world to kill gays and apostates?  Which no longer believes that Jews are "apes and pigs"? Why, none. 

Could you not have asked van Doorn about these issues? That is:
How does he reconcile that Islam he previously presented with his recent discovery of a  "peaceful" and "wise" Islam?
Yet instead of germane and pointed questions you preemptively help him out: you suggest that those views in Fitna, and of "some others" in the west, are "propaganda" or "caricatures”.

Leave aside the lack of neutrality in those words. Leave aside that the BBC's own coverage of Islam over the years might just as well be described as "propaganda" and "caricature" (the "Religion of Peace”). The fact remains that there are many Muslims in thrall to the very "propaganda" and "caricature" that is shown in Fitna. For the movie is, let’s recall, nothing more than quotations from Islamic doctrine, set alongside actions that are prompted by those quotations.

If one objects that it is only a "tiny minority" of Muslims who act on those violent verses, still, it's an awful lot for a tiny minority. In fact it is not a minority at all, not even in the west.  For all polling shows a majority of Muslims in western countries want the imposition of Sharia law in their host countries and substantial minorities support violence to do so. 

In another part of the interview, you again help out Doorn, by suggesting that those who are critical of Islam might be so through "ignorance". But there are many people, amongst whom I include myself, who have become critical of Islam, not through “ignorance”, but the opposite: through extensive study of it: that is, as our knowledge of its doctrine, and history, has increased so has our criticism of what it stands for: its supremacism, homophobia, misogyny and anti-semitism.  (Don’t believe me? Study the Qur’an)

Which once again begs the question we started with: just why did Doorn convert?

My guess is that the answer is contained in Doorn's observation of himself -- that he had felt "something missing" in himself. Islam provided for him the answer, it tells him — from the dawn's Fajr to the dusk's Isha — it tells him exactly what he should be doing (even unto how he should perform his ablutions…). For many, especially those lacking in self-confidence, this can be immensely comforting. (If you search YouTube for converts to Islam, most say that this clear “structure” of the religion is what has appealed).  And to know that you are now part of something really, really big — and growing —  the 1.5 billion Ummah of brother and sister Muslims. How can Calfornia Fitness, or even the local pub, compete with that?

Sadly, you missed the opportunity to delve into this question. For Doorn to get away with saying that he found Islam to be "peaceful and wise" is just not good enough.   
It’s an opportunity wasted.
And for what? To enable the smooth advance of Islam in the UK? With nary a whimper or even a chirrup of contention?
Peter F...
Hong Kong

Wednesday 6 November 2013

To boldly dream... of new earths in distant galaxies

From the Daily Galaxy.
When the late great Carl Sagan talked of "billions and billions..." he was talking of stars.
But it now seems there are billions and billions (up to 40 billion) earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone and that more than 8 billion of them are circling in the "Goldilocks" habitable zone, not too hot and not too cold for liquid water.
Given what we know about the propensity of life to arise wherever it can, what's the likelihood of life on other planets?  Surely verging on 1.
Hopefully we will find some in my lifetime... one can only dream.
Just one report from many: "Study finds billions of Earth-sized planets in galaxy." 
[And another]

Don't tweak the dragon's tail

Old mate, SCMP columnist Frank Ching says Beijing must not let paranoia undermine its promise of a high degree of autonomy and universal suffrage to Hong Kong, and also that we should not unduly provoke.  I agree with that assessment, though it might seem pusillanimous to some.  For we have freedom, even if we don't have universal suffrage.
There are signs that the central government is increasingly anxious about developments in Hong Kong...[while]
...What did the Occupy Central leader think it would achieve by meeting Shih 

[the former chairman of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan]? It's simply not worth getting Beijing riled and suspicious.
"Beijing must avoid paranoia...." ($).[PDF]

Meantime, Graeme Maxton says, also today's SCMP,  "In Hong Kong, there's still freedom in the air" ($). [PDF]
Hong Kong certainly has some big issues to fix. To me, though, air pollution, inequality and poverty should be at the top of everyone's agenda, not press freedom.
Agree with that.  At least for now, press freedom is in fine fettle.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

"Shahina Siddiqui’s Muslim Contribution to Canada"

Last week I called Manitoba’s announcement of Islamic History Month “an extraordinary act of dhimmitude.”
Of course, that’s not what the Chairwoman of Islamic History Month Canada, Shahina Siddiqui, calls it. She says that it is an opportunity for Muslims to “celebrate, inform, educate and share with fellow Canadians the Muslim cultural heritage” in order to “help build a more inclusive, compassionate and multicultural Canada.”
Read the rest.  It's an interesting article, well-written, by Janice Fiamengo and for which h/t to BCF.
Also of note is the link in the article to historian Daniel Pipes' article on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist link. It's worth a gander.

Monday 4 November 2013

I was there!

Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Beijing, October 1973.
Others, from Left: Stephen FitzGerald, Australian Ambassador to China,
Margaret Whitlam, PM Whitlam, Mark Raffaele, ABC correspondent, behind
the lady interpreter's left shoulder, and front right: Deng Xiaoping!
Deng being the figure of China's modernisation and architect of the
concept for Hong Kong: "One Country, Two Systems".
Courtesy Pamela Hewitt of the (restricted) "Foreign students in China 1973-79" Facebook site, comes link to a story by Mark Raffaele, the first foreign correspondent in China post revolution: "Reporting on China 40 years ago".
On the far left of the photo is Stephen FitzGerald, Australia's first Ambassador to China, who had been appointed in January of that year (1973).  I worked with Steve in the Embassy for a bit in 1976, just before he left, and had a phenomenally fun farewell party at the Ming Tombs: an open air picnic of singing, dancing, wining and dining.   I then worked with him as a partner in his consulting company, Stephen FitzGerald and Company, from 1983 to 1990.  These were some of the funnest times of my life! Opening up China for Australian business in the "early days".
Raffaele's description of entering China in the early 70s was exactly as I experienced it in 1976.
Gough Whitlam was notoriously deposed from government in 1975.  He visited China again, with wife Margaret in 1976, shortly before I arrived.  They were in Tianjin, close to epicentre of the major earthquake in Tangshan, which killed 250,000.   Nicholson penned an (in)famous cartoon for The Australian:

A lot of people were upset by the cartoon, but Whitlam, by then safe in Japan, telegrammed Nicholson and asked for the original!
I looked after Gough when he was in China again around 1980.  He was one of the more difficult people to interpret for -- he wouldn't stop talking to give the interpreter (me) time to translate his booming, and often grand, thoughts....