News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Saudi judge condemns ‘immoral TV’

Saudi judge condemns ‘immoral TV’

Map

The most senior judge in Saudi Arabia has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programs.

Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan said some “evil” entertainment programs aired by the channels promoted debauchery.

Dozens of satellite television channels broadcast across the Middle East, where they are watched by millions of Arabs every day.

The judge made the comments on a state radio program.

He was speaking in response to a listener who asked his opinion on the airing of programs featuring scantily-dressed women during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“There is no doubt that these programs are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them,” said the sheikh.

“It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties.”

Royal dilemma

Given his position as the country’s most senior judge, the sheikh’s views can not be easily dismissed.

Clerics like Sheikh al-Luhaydan represent a huge dilemma for the Saudi royal family, our correspondent adds.

On the one hand, Saudi rulers need their support to claim that they rule in the name of Islam.

But on the other hand, fighting militant Islam can be difficult when the country’s top judge calls for the beheading of those he views as immoral broadcasters.

September 7, 2008

Anger over ‘Ramadan’ trial delay

Anger over ‘Ramadan’ trial delay

Muslims pray during Ramadan

Ramadan is a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims

A row has broken out in France after a court postponed a trial, apparently because it was to take place during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Critics say the decision is a breach of France’s strict separation of religion and state.

The trial of seven men for armed robbery was due to start on 16 September in Rennes.

But last week the court agreed to a request from a lawyer for one of the accused to put it off until January.

In his letter asking for the delay, the lawyer noted that if the trial were to start now, it would fall in the Muslim month of Ramadan.

His client, a Muslim, would have been fasting for two weeks and thus, he said, be in no position to defend himself properly.

He would be physically weakened and too tired to follow the arguments as he should.

Knife wound

The court’s agreement to postpone the trial has now triggered an outraged response from campaigning groups and politicians of both left and right, who see it as a worrying new incursion by religion into the institutions of the French state.

The government’s Minister for Urban Affairs, Fadela Amara, herself a Muslim, said it was a “knife wound” in the principle of a secular republic, and she compared it to another controversial decision earlier this year, in which a judge agreed to annul a marriage between two Muslims because the wife had lied about her virginity.

The far right leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, for his part, said the French justice system had reached a new low.

The row has forced the Rennes prosecutor to issue a denial that Ramadan was the reason for the postponement.

But this has not convinced lawyers, who note that all the other reasons previously put forward as arguments for a delay had already been declared inadmissible.

September 3, 2008

US ‘terror’ suspect freed from jail

US ‘terror’ suspect freed from jail

Al-Arian is now under home detention pending trial for contempt of court [GALLO/GETTY]

A US court has ordered the release of an Arab-American former professor who had been in jail for five years after he was accused of being a Palestinian terrorist.

Sami al-Arian was freed on Tuesday after US immigration officials failed to explain his continued detention pending a trial for refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organisations in northern Virginia.

“We are obviously relieved and delighted,” Jonathan Turley, al-Arian’s lawyer, said.

But the former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida, in custody since early 2003, is not yet fully free.

He must remain under home detention at his daughter’s residence in Virginia, pending trial.

In February 2003, federal prosecutors charged al-Arian with being a leader of the Palestinian resistance movement, Islamic Jihad, which the US has labelled a “terrorist organisation”.

A jury acquitted him of eight charges out of the 17 against him but was deadlocked on the others.

Al-Arian later struck a plea bargain and admitted to lesser charges of conspiring to aid the group by helping a family member with links to it to get immigration benefits, and by lying to a reporter about another person’s links to it.

He was sentenced to nearly five years in prison, during which time federal prosecutors sought his testimony for a grand jury investigation.

Last month US District Judge Leonie Brinkema postponed the contempt trial and questioned whether the charges violated the terms of al-Arian’s plea agreement which bars the justice department from standing in the way of his deportation after he has served jail time.

August 28, 2008

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

WarGames

Before the days of flat screen monitors… and Perestroika

The conflict in Georgia has awoken fears of a new Cold War between Russia and its allies and the West, nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But will the animosity come back to haunt Western imaginations as it once did?

“We share the same biology,
regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too”

That couplet might be a mere piece of lyrical doggerel to any listener born after 9 November 1989, but when Sting released the single Russians in 1985, it came out of a deep mine of anxiety in the West about the course of the Cold War.

Sting

A good period in which to make profound statements…

For nearly five decades, the Cold War provided a rich seam running right through popular culture in the West, throwing out films, music, novels and even computer games that carried the fears, conscious and subconscious, of millions.

In the 1950s, science fiction movies were often allegories about different aspects of Cold War politics. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers was interpreted as a reference to McCarthy-era paranoia, Invaders from Mars as a parable of communist infiltration, and the Day the Earth Stood Still as a simple fantasy that some higher supernatural power would come to try and sort everything out.

After the world reached the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there was another wave of Cold War-inspired fiction, with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove perhaps the most notable example.

With the detente of the 1970s the Cold War thread became less noticeable, but with worsening relations in the early 1980s, both sides of the Atlantic were suddenly replete with fictional Cold War dystopian scenarios.

On the British side people were treated to the agonisingly poignant graphic novel When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs and its film adaptation, as well as 1984’s Threads, about the terrifying aftermath of a nuclear strike. On the other side of the Atlantic, there were the mini-series Amerika and World War III, and the gruesome The Day After with its vivid montages of men, women, children and even horses being vaporized.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

…and ripe for sensational scare-mongering

On the silver screen WarGames explored the issue of computer hacking against a background of mutually assured destruction , while Red Dawn took the usual brat pack characters complete with preppy letterman jackets, and armed them with AK-47s to fight a Soviet invasion of the US. Popular attitudes towards the Eastern Bloc were shaped by movies like Rocky IV, where the drug cheat Ivan Drago was emblematic of suspicions held against Soviet athletes.

As well as Sting’s Russians, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s chart-topper Two Tribes provided a musical accompaniment to the era. It seems strange to discuss now what was, even then, viewed as often laughable ephemera, but the course of popular culture reflected deep-seated fears, particularly significant among those too young to temper their concerns with a grasp of the political context.

Almost as soon as it had intensified, the Cold War quickly ebbed away, and by the end of the 1989, with the Berlin Wall coming down and relations defrosting across the whole of eastern Europe, it suddenly became a bit silly to pick the Soviet state as baddies.

Hollywood had to find new protagonists for a new zeitgeist, and fast.

Bond sabbatical

While rarely casting Russia itself as the main enemy in a storyline, and indeed often featuring a sympathetic KGB general, the James Bond franchise was unmistakably driven by Cold War themes of espionage and fear of weapons technology. It was inevitably affected, says film critic James King.

It was a competition to be modern – consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism
Jane Pavitt

“Bond went into limbo for seven years, for many reasons, but one was that it didn’t feel relevant any more.

“The first film I remember that actually caught up was True Lies. When that came out it was almost a James Bond film and it had a new Hollywood enemy, which was an Arab – this was the new thing.”

Post 9/11 there has been a glut of movies either tackling the threat of terrorism, attacking the politics of the war on terror and Guantanamo Bay, as well as a host of television programmes that have explored the fall-out for Muslim communities on both sides of the Atlantic. A poster for the current movie Shoot on Sight – with its tag line “Is it a crime to be a Muslim?” – is typical.

In the space between the end of the Cold War and Islamist terrorism entering the mainstream mindset as the main threat to the West, movie producers did their best to come up with convincing action movie baddies.

Having been conceived long before the fall of the wall, the Hunt for Red October, an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel, still performed well at the box office in 1990. But in projects conceived after the end of Cold War hostilities, the baddies are very often neo-nationalists or rebels trying to destabilise a friendly Russia (Crimson Tide and Air Force One) or are avaricious terrorists and gangsters of other nationalities (Die Hard).

Cold War the Sequel

The effect of the end of the Cold War on secret services and military personnel came to be a major theme. John Le Carre was one of those spy novel authors who made the transition smoothly. The Russia House marked the last of his novels released during the Cold War, the next three deal with the effect of the thaw on intelligence operatives, while the subsequent four, including the Tailor of Panama and the Constant Gardener are not directly related to the Cold War. But Hodder and Stoughton, his publisher, maintain sales of the Cold War novels were unaffected by the events of 1989.

Threads

Threads – not your average prime-time BBC drama

King is sceptical about whether current Cold War fears will quickly feed back into popular culture.

“Films take a while to get on the screen – I don’t think we will see anything for a year.”

Film producers and publishers may also feel that with the long lead times, tensions could be defused by the time anything gets to market.

They are returning to Cold War classics but not necessarily because of modern fears over relations between the West and Russia. WarGames was recently remade as a straight-to-DVD release although terrorism underpinned the story rather than a renewed Cold War. It has also been recently reported that Red Dawn is to be remade, although the exact plot is unclear.

But as well as those cultural products directly referencing or making allusions to the Cold War, the conflict also provided the backdrop to massive shifts and vigorous battles in everything from product design and modern art to fashion, says Jane Pavitt, curator of the Cold War Modern exhibition opening next month at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

“It was a competition to be modern,” says Pavitt. “Consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism in Europe in the 1950s. That’s why fashion and kitchen goods can be seen as part of this.”

For those who were too young to remember the Berlin Wall coming down, or were born afterwards, the unique fears of the Cold War era, and the popular culture they steered, may be hard to appreciate.

But for anyone over the age of 25 in the West, they remain a deeply significant part of our psyche.


Add your comments on this story.

What about Soviet / Eastern Bloc popular culture during the cold war – was it also full of espionage dramas and ‘what if’ nuclear bomb scenarios? As someone old enough to remember it from a British perspective, I realise I have no idea at all how it was perceived and represented in media the other side of the Iron Curtain. I’m sure there is a level of propaganda and also aware that creativity was somewhat stifled, but is there a parallel strand of writing/drama/film-making that we’re all ignorant of over here?
WorldGirl, Enfield, UK

I have grown up at the other side of the Iron Curtain and can assure you: the fear that the Cold War would spiral out of control was just as real on our side, only that we expected the West to make the first move. This was reflected in our popular culture in a similar way as was quoted in the article. I used to think: perhaps both sides are just too afraid of each other, perhaps such fears could be calmed by assuring each other that “we” would not make the first move. However, my views have changed a bit over the years. Having seen how readily the West is prepared to enter into a war (Yugoslavia, twice in Iraq, Afghanistan) and how openly it encroaches on Russia’s borders by supporting various colour-coded revolutions, I am beginning to wonder who was indeed the more aggressive side. For anyone getting into a rage about this posting: just for one moment, try to forget our view that we are always right and that our view on democracy justifies any means to spread it around the world. Try to be unbiased and then read again what I said.
Holger Laux, Bristol, UK

It’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that in times of national perceived potential threat from outside, so much creativity happens. I remember vividly the tension of the 1980s, the big changes in the UK and around the world. In some ways, it was an exciting time because every new day could bring danger. Is that what we humans survive on and does it draw us together?
Krystyna, Sedgley

In the mid 1980’s I can remember being in a 6th form who generally agreed that they would not live to be 30 because nuclear war was both imminent and inevitable. A strange mix of living a normal life but with the constant knowledge of impending disaster. This is probably why I felt so uneasy with the worsening relationship between Russia and the West. The world is, in my opinion, much less stable than it was in the 80s and the politicians are much more dangerous and paranoid than Maggie/Ronnie/Andropov/Chernenko.
John Ferris, Coventry, UK

I’m 27 and can just about remember the Berlin Wall coming down, though I can’t say I remember much more about the cold war. I’d raise your threshold to at least 30!
James, London

How true. I was only nine years old when they installed an air raid siren to the roof of our school. There were lots of discussions about what we would do with our last three minutes of life before the bombs arrived. It sounds trivial now but at the time we were convinced it would happen.
Dawn, Redhill

Reading the above it confirms my gut feeling that it is the Media that stir up scenarios causing more trouble than most just by publishing half of the story and twisting the facts. Even the BBC has succumbed to the drum of the gutter press by allowing the papers to show headlines on some of their programmes such as Breakfast, the BBC does not need to give the like of these people air time they have enough journalists to concoct their own stories, so why of why do they (BBC) despoil their standards with drivel?
Robert, Liverpool

I was born in 1985 so missed the hysteria, but we were subjected to ‘Threads’ in school. I didn’t sleep for weeks and when I did I dreamt of that cat on fire and the melting milk bottles! Haven’t been to Sheffield since!!
Martin Doyle, St Albans

Threads was an excellent – and terrifying – story, and was also the first ‘post-holocaust drama’ to incorporate the concept of the nuclear winter, which had only recently been realised. And it was more than just a story: it included occasional subtitles to spell out what would be happening. It’s hardly likely to get repeated (and would in all likelihood be out of date with its figures), but as an illustration of why not to play with nuclear weapons it was second to none.
Ruaraidh Gillies, Wirral, UK

Please stop doing this. Drumming up panic when there is no need. Even Russia has said they don’t want another cold war. There is NO crisis, just sabre rattling as always.
Rich, UK

Yes a large influence on Culture of the 80’s when I grew up. I went into the RAF and ended up at Greenham Common on the other side from the peace camp. I have still have a Cold War playlist on my iPod with tracks like ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Mad World’ and ’19’. Recent Computer games like Operation Flashpoint also hark back to the Cold War 80s. Are we going into a Second Cold War. Yes and there is nothing the West can do.
Simon CS, Farnham, Surrey, UK

The Cold War was fun and inspired some great films.
Matt, Philadelphia USA

Let’s hope that we don’t go back to the scare-mongering of the early eighties. For once I would like to think that today’s youngsters are a bit de-sensitised to the whole ‘we’re all going to die’ thoughts portrayed back then. I myself started digging out a bunker at the age of seven for our family to shelter in. When I was discovered I claimed it was a copy of Percy Thrower’s Blue Peter sunken garden!!!
Jenny, Wolves

I remember being absolutely terrified of nuclear war growing up. It was an all too real possibility. The intro to “Two Tribes” used to frighten me, and “Threads” is just as disturbing to watch now as it ever was. We also had the misfortune to live nine miles from the RAF/US Navy bases and oil refineries making us a prime target. When the Air Force did their low-flying exercises in the middle of the night, I’d lie awake waiting for a bomb blast to follow. That said, I think the idea of being nuked at any moment really beefed up Western popular culture at the time.
Mandi, Cardiff, Wales

They don’t need to drop the bomb. Russia has between 1/4 and 1/3 of the world’s oil and natural gas.

All they have to do is turn the taps off.
Philip Le Roux, Aldershot HANTS UK

August 14, 2008

Philippine displaced begin return

Philippine displaced begin return

A family sit at an evacuation centre in Pikit town on 13 August 2008

Tens of thousands of families were forced to leave their homes

Troops defused a bomb at a bus station in the southern Philippines, as people displaced by fighting between troops and Muslim rebels began to return home.

About 160,000 villagers fled violence which began in early August, after a deal expanding a Muslim autonomous zone was blocked.

Separatist rebels then occupied several villages in North Cotabato province, triggering a military assault.

Operations ended a day ago, and troops are encouraging families to return.

“We expect a considerable number of people to return home today. Since late Wednesday they were slowly going back, we are assuring them of their safety,” an army spokesman, Lt-Col Julieto Ando, was quoted as saying.

But many people still feared for the lives and were reluctant to return, aid agencies said.

Early on Thursday, security personnel defused a bomb planted at a bus station at Kidapawan town in the center of the province.

A military spokesman said it was probably a retaliatory measure by the retreating rebels.

‘Tainted relationship’

A boy salvages belongings from the ashes of his home in Takepan, North Cotabato province, on Tuesday, after it was razed by retreating rebels

The violence began when a deal that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous zone in the south fell apart.

The agreement had angered many Christian communities, who appealed to the Supreme Court to block it pending further hearings.

Several hundred guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then occupied 15 villages in North Cotabato – next to the autonomous zone.

The action triggered military air strikes and artillery assaults. At least two soldiers and more than two dozen rebels were killed.

Some of the tens of thousands of families who fled the fighting are now beginning to make their way back.

map

“The security situation has improved but it will probably take a bit of time before people feel secure enough to return home en masse,” Stephen Anderson, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told Reuters news agency.

“We have to be looking ahead to people having to potentially rebuild their lives – a lot of houses, villages have been destroyed.”

One local resident, whose house was looted, told the French news agency AFP that ties between Muslim and Christian communities would have to be rebuilt.

“The relationship has been tainted but our brother Muslims agreed we can rebuild it for the sake of our children.”

MILF rebels have been fighting for greater autonomy in the southern Philippines for almost four decades.

August 12, 2008

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters defying curfew in Srinagar on August 12 2008

Protests over land erupted in June

At least seven people were killed and many injured when security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir opened fire on  stone-throwing Muslim protesters.

Thousands defied a curfew in Srinagar and other towns in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley for a second day. One person died in clashes in Jammu region.

The curfew was imposed ahead of the burial of a senior separatist who died after police opened fire on Monday.

Tensions are rising and threaten peace hopes after years of relative calm.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says Kashmir has now become dangerously polarized, in a dispute which began over the control of a small piece of land.

Protests and counter-protests have been taking place for weeks in the Kashmir valley, and in the mainly Hindu region around the city of Jammu further south.

The demonstrations in the valley are some the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule broke out nearly 20 years ago.

‘Freedom’

Security forces opened fire on Tuesday on a number of protests by Muslims who defied the curfew.

If the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us
Mohammad Yousuf,
Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association

The army fired to disperse a procession in the northern district of Bandipora, killing three people and injuring five. Three other people were killed in the Lasjan and Rainawari areas.

“We have imposed a curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,” local police chief Kuldeep Khuda told reporters.

In the Jammu region, one person was killed and more than a dozen injured after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town of Kishtwar. Houses, vehicles and other property were damaged before police opened fire to restore order.

No other violence has been reported from the Jammu region.

Sheikh Aziz was a prominent leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of separatist groups which opposes Indian rule.

His body has been kept in a mosque in Srinagar. Mourners have stayed with the body and shouted slogans like “We want freedom”.

The police said they were trying to find out why security forces opened fire on the protesters on Monday.

Police say several of their personnel were injured by stones thrown by those at the protest.

Pilgrims

Sheikh Aziz was among thousands of protesters who marched on Monday towards the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslim protester runs for cover as tear gas shell explode near them during a march in Srinagar 11 August

The violence is spreading

They were supporting fruit growers who wanted to sell their produce. Muslims say Hindus in the state are blockading a key highway that links the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

The government, which denies the blockade, says lorries are moving between the two regions with security escorts.

Hindus have protested for weeks since the authorities scrapped plans to transfer land to a Hindu trust.

With the highway blocked for days, the Muslim fruit growers have complained that their produce is rotting.

The land row started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board to be used by Hindu pilgrims.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.

More than 20 people – Muslims and Hindus – have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with police since the unrest began.

August 8, 2008

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Baba Mohammed Bello Abubakar

Mr Bello Abubakar says he does not go and find women, they come to him

Nigerian Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, has advised other men not to follow his example and marry 86 women.

The former teacher and Muslim preacher, who lives in Niger State with his wives and at least 170 children, says he is able to cope only with the help of God.

“A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them,” he told the BBC.

He says his wives have sought him out because of his reputation as a healer.

“I don’t go looking for them, they come to me. I will consider the fact that God has asked me to do it and I will just marry them.”

But such claims have alienated the Islamic authorities in Nigeria, who have branded his family a cult.

Ganiat Bello Abubakar
When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them
Wife Ganiat Bello Abubakar

Most Muslim scholars agree that a man is allowed to have four wives, as long as he can treat them equally.

But Mr Bello Abubakar says there is no punishment stated in the Koran for having more than four wives.

“To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allows,” he says.

“God did not say what the punishment should be for a man who has more than four wives, but he was specific about the punishment for fornication and adultery.”

‘Order from God’

As Mr Bello Abubakar emerged from his compound to speak to the BBC, his wives and children broke out into a praise song.

Mohammed Bello Abubakar of Bida and some of his wives

Some of Mr Bello Abubakar’s wives are younger than some of his children

Most of his wives are less than a quarter of his age – and many are younger than some of his own children.

The wives the BBC spoke to say they met Mr Bello Abubakar when they went to him to seek help for various illnesses, which they say he cured.

“As soon as I met him the headache was gone,” says Sharifat Bello Abubakar, who was 25 at the time and Mr Bello Abubakar 74.

“God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now.”

Ganiat Mohammed Bello has been married to the man everyone calls “Baba” for 20 years.

When she was in secondary school her mother took her for a consultation with Mr Bello Abubakar and he proposed afterwards.

“I said I couldn’t marry an older man, but he said it was directly an order from God,” she says.

She married another man but they divorced and she returned to Mr Bello Abubakar.

“I am now the happiest woman on earth. When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them,” she said.

No work

Mr Bello Abubakar and his wives do not work and he has no visible means of supporting such a large family.

Inside "Baba's" house

Many of the wives live three to a room, some have seven children

He refuses to say how he makes enough money to pay for the huge cost of feeding and clothing so many people.

Every mealtime they cook three 12kg bags of rice which all adds up to $915 (£457) every day.

“It’s all from God,” he says.

Other residents of Bida, the village where he lives in the northern Nigerian state, say they do not know how he supports the family.

According to one of his wives, Mr Bello Abubakar sometimes asks his children to go and beg for 200 naira ($1.69, £0.87), which if they all did so would bring in about $290 (£149).

Most of his wives live in a squalid, unfinished house in Bida; others live in his house in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

He refuses to allow any of his family or other devotees to take medicine and says he does not believe that malaria exists.

Hafsat Bello Abubakar
They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come
Wife Hafsat Bello Abubakar

“As you sit here if you have any illness I can see it and just remove it,” he says.

But not everyone can be cured and one of his wives, Hafsat Bello Mohammed, says two of her children have died.

“They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come.”

She says that most of the wives see Mr Bello Abubakar as next in line from the Prophet Muhammad.

Indeed, he claims the Prophet Muhammad speaks to him personally and gives detailed descriptions of his experiences.

It is a serious claim for a Muslim to make.

“This is heresy, he is a heretic,” says Ustaz Abubakar Siddique, an imam of Abuja’s Central Mosque.

« Newer Posts

Blog at WordPress.com.