22 May, 2006

A Saudi education

The Saudi government admits that standard textbooks in use before 9/11 were intolerant, but they have since said the problem has been corrected. Several textbooks in current use were recently smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, by way of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, Freedom House, and the Washington Post. Let's check the progress, shall we?


" Every religion other than Islam is false."

"Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________."


"True belief means . . . that you hate the polytheists and infidels but do not treat them unjustly."


"Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives."

"It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

"A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion."


"Just as Muslims were successful in the past when they came together in a sincere endeavor to evict the Christian crusaders from Palestine, so will the Arabs and Muslims emerge victorious, God willing, against the Jews and their allies if they stand together and fight a true jihad for God, for this is within God's power."


"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."

"God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews, who learned from parts of God's book [the Torah and the Gospels] that God alone is worthy of worship. Despite this, they espouse falsehood through idol-worship, soothsaying, and sorcery. In doing so, they obey the devil. They prefer the people of falsehood to the people of the truth out of envy and hostility. This earns them condemnation and is a warning to us not to do as they did."

"They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them]."

"Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God."

"Activity: The student writes a composition on the danger of imitating the infidels."


"The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills."

"It is part of God's wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgment]."

"Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him."


The 10th-grade text on jurisprudence teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a "free Muslim male." Blood money is retribution paid to the victim or the victim's heirs for murder or injury:

"Blood money for a free infidel. [Its quantity] is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, whether or not he is 'of the book' or not 'of the book' (such as a pagan, Zoroastrian, etc.).

"Blood money for a woman: Half of the blood money for a man, in accordance with his religion. The blood money for a Muslim woman is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half of the blood money for a male infidel."


"The greeting 'Peace be upon you' is specifically for believers. It cannot be said to others."

"If one comes to a place where there is a mixture of Muslims and infidels, one should offer a greeting intended for the Muslims."

"Do not yield to them [Christians and Jews] on a narrow road out of honor and respect."


"Jihad in the path of God -- which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it -- is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."

Well, I'm glad that's been taken care of.

Demography is destiny

Way back when, when the crumbling foundations of the Soviet Union weren't obvious, it should have been clear to anyone who looked that the ethnic composition of the USSR was leading to a disaster. Whatever else they said about themselves, the Soviets were running, at least in part, the successor to the Russian empire. Historically, when the number of Russians in the empire dropped below 50 percent, you could count on violence coming. In the mid-1980s, the proportion of Russians in the Soviet Union dipped below 50 percent. Within a few years, it had fragmented into its component (ethnic) republics.

The Russian federation now faces the same problem. The growth rate of the Russian population contines to be negative (despite calls from Putin to bear more children), while the relatively poor Muslim populations--generally non-Russian--are growing. Strategypage summarizes the problem:

If present trends continue, the population of Russia will decline from 143 million to 100 million by 2050. Not only that, but by 2050, most of the population may be Moslem. Currently, about 15 percent of Russians are Moslem, and the average Moslem family has three or more children, while the average non-Moslem family has one or two. While Christian (largely Slavic) Russians have seen their numbers tumble, the Moslem population of Russia has grown over 40 percent since 1989 (from births, migration and conversions). There has also been a religious revival, with the number of mosques growing from under a thousand when the Soviet Union collapsed, to over 8,000 today. That means Moslem men drink a lot less, and live healthier, and longer, lives.

In addition to a higher birth rate, the number of Moslems will increase because of migration. A falling birth rate among the Slavic population will create an enormous labor shortage, and the closest source of additional labor is poor, over populated, Moslem nations.

Dunnigan then suggests that things won't be quite so bad, because of the demographic transition (he doesn't use that term, but he notes that wealth tends to lead to smaller families). I'm not so sure. First, the greatest source of wealth in the next 50 years is likely to be the oil fields of central Asia, and that wealth is not going to be in of hands of the typical family--oil wealth is notorious for supporting cronyism, not general economic devlopment, and it will be outside of the Russian Federation in any case. Second, even if the wealth does get out to more families, these are not the people who would immigrate for low-pay jobs, and that's likely to be all that will be available for them in Russia. Third, the relationship between wealth and population size has an intervening variable--the status of women. (Dunnigan notes this, by the way.) I suspect there's a long way to go before we'll see a significant improvement in gender equality.

In other words, we may witness a major "clash of civilizations" within the Russian Federation, and soon.

16 May, 2006

I remember Osama...

...and so does the US government. For an interesting review of the complications of searching the Afghan-Pakistan border, see this. It looks like there's a major push under way, without the national armies of Afganistan or Pakistan. The connections between Al-Qaeda and the ISI are well known, so much so that the Afghan foreign minister is willing to say it out loud.
"According to everything we know, he [Osama bin Laden] really is living in Pakistan, near to the Afghan border. Our neighbor [Pakistan] could certainly catch him and put him in court. But to our knowledge, their efforts to do this have always been half-hearted."
- Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, May 14
The relations between Al-Qaeda and the Afghan army aren't much different.
Two years ago, US forces received confirmed information, with photographs, of the presence of high-profile al-Qaeda and Afghan operatives in Bazgal near Nuristan. It was impossible for US troops to take the risk of going after them alone in the maze of jungle and mountains, so they asked the ANA for assistance.

After many hours, the forces reached the area, but all the suspects had fled. Ground inquiries showed that they had left immediately after the Americans shared information with the ANA.
The US has moved the FBI into the border region, and in the tradition of the region is buying an army.
To improve the situation, the US is developing a special "Peace Force" in which the benchmark for recruitment is not military aptitude but staunch anti-Taliban tendencies. Many of the news [sic] force's members are either former communists or local villains. Perhaps they are attracted by the extremely generous pay - US$500-$1,000 a month.

The situation on the east remains in this state of balance, with the Taliban and some al-Qaeda operatives well bedded with a sympathetic local population, but in essence lying low.
It looks like the US is putting the pieces in place for a major push on both sides of the border. This creates new problems.
A massive operation, such as one in search of the elusive bin Laden, could ignite the tinder, and open up another front, as in the south of the country. All the pieces are already in place.
But if it gets bin Laden, I'd say it's worth it.

I've wondered about this myself

From Australia:

Muslim scientists and scholars will be discussing Islam and life in space during a two-day conference which opens in Malaysia today.

The meeting aims to answer some of the questions faced by would-be Muslim astronauts about how to meet the requirements of their faith while in orbit.

Malaysia is due to send an astronaut into space with the Russians next year and it is almost certain that the country's first spaceman will be a Muslim.

That raises plenty of questions.

For instance, water is a precious commodity in space and Muslims must wash before they pray.

Likewise, the faithful face Mecca while at prayer but that will involve trying to pinpoint a moving target while in zero gravity.

Prayer times for Muslims are linked to the times of the sunrise and sunset, but in orbit the sun appears to rise and set more than 12 times a day.

Malaysia's Science Ministry has called together a group of experts to thrash out all these and more in what has been billed as the first serious discussion of the issues.

There's more to it than just recycling and prayer in orbit. What about a trip to mars, when the sun is visible for the entire trip? Or the moon, with a month-long "day"? And what exactly are the status of prohibitions when they apply to "any place on earth"? At one time it was suggested than wealthy Muslims might be a market for orbiting pleasure palaces, where drinking and gambling could take place without violating the letter of the law. (The orbitals turned out to be unnecessary--the wealthy ignored the rules in London and Monte Carlo, while pretending to be nothing but pious at home.)

This isn't only a problem for Islam, of course. Most of the fundamental religious texts assume the earth is unmoving and at the center of the universe. The catholic church, to its credit, is at least thinking about the theological implications of life (especially non-human intelligence) on other worlds, and it has the advantage of having a single decision maker to announce official changes in theological interpretation. But Islam doesn't have a Pope. It's still at a point similar to the Christian diets and convocations to determine which books belong in the Bible, or if Jesus was in fact divine. People died over those issues, like they do in the ongoing Islamic "civil war," but eventually things worked out. Today, however, there is one important difference--none of the early Christians had weapons of mass destruction.