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Showing posts from November, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood aims in the west

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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.
Moreov…

What is ageing?

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

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 Ti…

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!

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 byUniversities 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 hav…

Music is Haram....

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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 di…

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.

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. I…

"Unavoidable Answer for the Problem of Climate Change"

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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.
/snip:
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 …

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

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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.  Read it all...

Wanted! Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed

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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"

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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 i…

New Plan for a Disabled Kepler

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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 Ti…

Is Islam a religion of violence or peace?

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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 …

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.

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

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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 p…

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

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Ari Shavit's new book, due for publication tomorrow, and on my Wish List:
Review:
“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 …

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

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The Sphinx, the pyramids and churches are being ransacked by looters and Islamists
9 November 2013, The Specatator
/Snip:
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, …

"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"...

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... 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...

"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 ineff…

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

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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 like…

"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 wi…

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

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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&#…

"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.

I was there!

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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.  …

Woah! Senior Homeland Security Advisor: America is an “Islamic Country”

A senior advisor to the Department of Homeland Security, Mohamed Elibiary, says that America is “an Islamic country” and continues to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is comparable to Christian evangelicals. [Me (the blogrunner): this is a nonsense, see, e.g., here.] Elibiary is a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and was promoted in September. He also served on the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism Working Group and the Faith-based Security and Communications Advisory Committee.
Read on....