Archive for World politics

Timbuktu

Posted in Religion, World politics with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by shirhashirim

TimbuktuQuran03

An old Quran from Timbuktu: the beginning of the first chapter of the Quran, written in Maghribi script and featuring the recitation of imam Warsh, which differs slightly from Qurans that are mostly used nowadays.

It seems we can sigh with relief: most of the old and invaluable manuscripts in the Timbuktu libraries seem to be safe. The rescue operation was already on it’s way last january. At this stage however nobody can mention any figures, so our sigh should not be too big yet. The manuscripts that are now missing, may actually not have been burned, but looted for trade. That is bad news of course, but at least they’re not totally lost for posterity.

Still, some burning of manuscripts seems to have taken place. If it weren’t for the rescue operation, more harm might have been done. It is this fact that made me wonder during the past few days. Apparently, among the books in the Timbuktu libraries, there are old copies of the Quran. This means that militant Islamists may have been willing to burn Qurans. And maybe they already have.

Of course, for the really religious, nothing is sacred, so we can expect things like this happening. My real wonder is the fact that nobody seems to worry about it, not even in the Middle East. Where are the enraged Muslims when you need them?

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Dear Mr. Prosor,

Posted in anti-semitism, World politics with tags , , , on April 21, 2012 by shirhashirim

Your contribution in the Wall Street Journal of March 23th 2012 baffles me. You are the ambassador to the UN of the state of Israel. Have they not provided you with a spin doctor? Is no one available to comment on your drafts? Do you not have enough staff to check your facts? Propaganda is a profession mr Prosor. It’s not a job for mere ambassadors. You need to leave it to the experts.

You claim the international community is blatantly, and unjustly, disregarding the rockets Hamas terrorists are firing into Israel from Gaza. In you contribution you lament:

…over the past decade, the ratio of rocket attacks to words of condemnation from the United Nations Security Council is 12.000 to zero.

Here’s a word of advice. If you want to play the underdog, you should always understate you case. Not overstate. Because some people reading your text will start checking your facts. Bastards like me. If they find out that it’s even worse than you say, you can sit back and relax. But if they find out you’re exaggerating, you spent your time writing for nothing. They just won’t read on and even if they do, you’ll have lost their confidence.

Just five minutes of browsing delivers the figures for rockets fired from Gaza. They’re from your own ministry of foreign affairs: 4.728 rockets between 2001 and 2010, less than half. If you want to get close to your statistics you have to add 4.442 mortar attacks during the same period. And even then you still are 2.830 short of your claim of 12.000 ‘rocket attacks’.

Five extra minutes of browsing and you find figures that come a bit closer to yours.  That’s mainly because they’re up to date: 11.625 attacks, just 273 short of your 12.000. But again we need to count rockets and mortar-grenades together. Only 7.222 attacks really are rockets.

What’s worse, the newly found figures also include the fatalities. We didn’t ask for them, nor were we looking for them. But now that we found them, what does it tell us? A mere 31 dead for 11.625 attacks. That’s a disastrously bad perfomance (less than 0,5%). These are no terrorists as we know them, these are bunglers. I almost felt sorry for them. Even Israeli traffic does a better job. No wonder the UN Security Council is not paying attention.

You try to paint a gloomy picture of impending doom and by accident we find out it’s by far not as bad as you want us to think. What you say is just propaganda. What else may be wrong that we don’t know about?

See what harm a bit of browsing can do when you don’t do your job properly? And that’s not all. Because when average readers find out someone is being careless about his facts, or worse, they start reading your text much more attentively, but this time to find more mistakes.

Here we come to the central argument in your contribution, in which you claim that an Israeli attack on Gaza is imminent and only depends on a stray rocket hitting the wrong place, i.e. causing a lot of casualties:

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that if rockets fall on your head, you have a right to defend yourself. It’s a simple equation. Calm will return to Gaza when rockets stop falling on Israel. However, one rocket that explodes in the wrong place at the wrong time -in a grocery store, shopping mall or school- and Israel will be forced to respond in a completely different manner. Time and time again, Israel has warned the world that Gaza is an disaster waiting to happen.

But an Israeli intervention is not ‘inevitable’, nor it is ‘a disaster’ waiting to happen. Regardless how devastating, no rocket attack ‘forces’ an intervention. No Hamas terrorist has the ability to push an Israeli red button. And no Israeli officer is ever going to say: ‘Oops, look what happened, we intervened!’

You are portraying Israel as a victim, helplessly kicked around by circumstances and completely out of control. This is a blatant misrepresentation of the situation. Israel is not helpless, it has a choice, it can and does decide for itself. We all know decisions like that are hard and at times even cynical. Nobody likes to make them. But that does not mean the choice isn’t there. Israel is in control of itself, not Hamas. The devil did not make you do it, it was you yourself.

By trying to shift the blame in advance of its actions you have done the state of Israel a disservice. You should resign or hire some people who know about manipulating public opinion and who are metriculous about facts. Because with enemies like you, Hamas doesn’t need friends.

كل يوم كربلا

Posted in Music, Religion, World politics with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2011 by shirhashirim

Today Shiites all over the world commemorate the death of the grandson of Muhammad, Hussain, at the battle of Kerbala in 680 CE. Hussain, being a direct descendant of Muhammad had a fair claim on the caliphate which in 680 had just been assumed by Yazid, the son of Mu’awiya, who in 661 CE had usurped the function following the death of Hussain’s father, and caliph, Ali. Hussain went to Kufa to claim his rights and was caught at Kerbala, where he and his followers were massacred by an army that far outnumbered them.

In Shiism the commemoration of this battle has acquired a far wider meaning than just this historical incident. Hussain for Shiites is the epitome of everything that is good and just, while Yazid… Well, you may have guessed. The conflict between the powerless and the powerful, the oppressed against the oppressor. It all comes together at Ashura.

One day in Esfahan during Ashura, I read a phrase on the back window of a car, the title of this post. It means ‘every day is Kerbala’. According to Shiite Muslims Ashura is there to remind us of that sad fact. Those who are not Shiites need only to open their newspapers and read.

Kerbala is commemorated with passion plays in the streets, with music, public mourning and self-chastisement. In some parts of the world this even turns into self-mutilation, but not where I was. I’ve been told the latter is forbidden in Iran.

Flagellants in the main square of Esfahan (Iran) celebrating Ashura in 2010.

Beating oneself, in Iran with a bundle of chains of varying thicknesses, however is an integral part of the commemorations. It is done in groups in procession on the beat of a drum. It has a little choreography to it, that differs from group to group. Everyone wears black shirts and you can see small particles of iron shimmering on the backs of the men (no women beat themselves with chains). I’ve tried it myself. It does not hurt as much as you might think, it’s just a heavy thump on your back. But I’ve never tried doing it during half a day, as these men do.

It’s the beating with chains that impresses people the most, but once you’ve been at Ashura, you realise it’s just a detail. It’s the general atmosphere of mourning that is most impressive.

Tequilla Trap

Posted in Religion, Science, Society, World politics with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by shirhashirim

More and more people in the public realm are voicing the opinion that Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology. Some add: like communism or fascism. A Dutch politician has even dared to compare the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. Islam, as a political ideology, is alleged to strive for world domination, nothing less.

The nasty thing is: this is correct. You cannot disprove the idea that Islam is a political ideology. Not because Islam is more of a political ideology than any other religion, but because everything is political. Neither can you disprove the idea that Islam wants to take over the whole world, because every world religion either wants to or would at least prefer to convert the whole world.

A number of critics of Islam has added an idea to all this that has become increasingly popular. It is not only working in the political realm. Politicians have found support for it with scholars of Islam: in order to attain their political goals, Muslims may lie and cheat. It is a concept known in Islam as taqiyya, usually translated as ‘dissimulation’. The Dutch politician I mentioned has alleged this too in court, while on trial for his comparison of the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, among others.

Somehow this idea has so far only been unmasked as factually incorrect. Taqiyya is a concept from Shia Islam. Shiites are a minority of about 10% among all Muslims. They have not, and are not, always treated as equals by their Sunni coreligionists. In Shia Islam the concept of taqiyya was developed for those Shiites that had reason to fear for their lives if they would continue practicing their religion as Shiites among Sunnis. In cases of mortal danger Shiites are allowed to act like Sunnis. For the Calvinists among us: yes they are allowed to lie and cheat to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Naturally, taqiyya is loathed by Sunnis and Shiites are regularly criticised by Sunni clerics for being liars and cheats. They have an easy target, because it can be proven from their own writings. For ease, the critics forget that it is an institution that is intended at escaping death from persecutors, not an instrument to promote Shia Islam.

The theological-moral concept taqiyya plays no role in Sunni Islam, for the simple reason that Sunni’s have always been in the majority. However, Arabic being the language that it is, the word taqiyya is sometimes used in Sunni writings concerning a Muslim’s behaviour in war. It may come as no surprise that cheating is allowed in wartime. It has always been everywhere.

Unfortunately the western world has -through Christianity- become thoroughly unacquainted with halakhic religions, where even the simplest moral questions can become the object of lengthy theological debates. Like the question: may a Muslim general use deceit as a weapon?

The fact that it is easy to find writings on the allowed use of deceit in war by Muslims has nothing to do with Muslims being especially deceitful (they are not more that others) it’s just because Islam is a halakhic religion.

But combine the original concept of taqiyya with the (perfectly sensible) idea that deceit is a weapon in war, with the Islamic concept op the realm of Islam (dar al-islam) vs. the realm of war (dar al-harb) and with some qur’anic quotes about the early wars between the Muslims and their opponents (referred to as ‘unbelievers’) and it is easy to write a scholarly-looking piece that seems to prove taqiyya refers to a worldwide Muslim conspiracy to take over the world by deceit. It is in fact just one fallacy: a syllogism of the fourth term.

But besides being factually incorrect it is also nonsensical. That is an aspect of this idea that so far nobody has ever payed attention to. This is because it requires a lot of explanation and because it is thoroughly counter-intuitive.

It starts with Karl Raimund Popper who invented the first major shift in thinking about science since the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment taught us to look at nature and the world as it is in order to attain scientific knowledge about it. If we wanted to know what colour bears were, the only thing we needed to do is look at many bears and determine their colour. Every single new brown bear added credibility to our theory that all bears are brown.

Popper invented the idea that in order to prove us wrong, we only needed one white bear. No matter how many brown bears there were: one white bear would be enough. Instead, Popper proposed that the theory ‘all bears are brown’ did not gain credibility by finding more brown bears, but by the amount of attempts that failed at finding a differently coloured bear. Scientists, in other words, should aim at falsifying theories.

There are two beautiful advantages to this approach. The first is that you can try to falsify a theory in a methodical way. You can go look around for non-brown bears in the same way you’ve so far counted the brown ones, but that will not get you much further unless you are lucky. Instead you can refine your search. You might for example come up with the idea that a lot of mammals on the North Pole are white, for obvious reasons. You might then surmise that if there are bears up there, there’s a fair chance they will be white. This will make your search less random and much more aimed.

The second advantage is even bigger: theories need to be falsifiable. The theory ‘all bears are brown’ can be proven wrong as soon as a non-brown bear is found. This means that there is a specific set of theories that scientifically mean nothing: theories that cannot be falsified. This is not the same as a theory that has been proven right, although the general public tends to see it that way.

A good example of a scientifically nonsensical theory is one of the creationist views of the universe: it was created 6000 years ago, and anything that points to the contrary (fossils, isotope dating) was created with it. Any chance at falsifying this theory founders on the fact that every single counter-argument is already explained by the theory itself. Contrary to popular opinion, science cannot disprove this theory. Nor can it disprove the theory that the universe was created six minutes ago, and everything that points to the contrary with it.

This does not mean that the universe was created 6000 years ago, nor does it mean it was six minutes ago. The two theories are just scientifically nonsensical: they can neither be proven nor disproven, because they’ve been formulated wrong. They should be falsifiable.

The same goes for the theory that Islam is out to attain world domination: anything that might prove the contrary is the result of taqiyya, deceit that is part of the ideology that wants to take over the world. Any Muslim that gets caught up in a discussion about this idea is caught in a trap he cannot reason his way out of, unless he knows his Popper. And even then he’s not in the safe zone: because even if the idea is nonsensical, it might still be true, just like it might still be true that the universe was created six minutes ago.

Unfortunately, the people who divulge these theories are usually not the ones who have read up on theory of science, let alone Popper. They have worse things to do.

Manners

Posted in anti-semitism, Society, World politics with tags , , on October 4, 2010 by shirhashirim

At the end of last month I was in Iran, a country not known for its great love of the United States, Israel or Jews. One day in Isfahan I wanted to change US dollars into Iranian Rials.

Unbeknownst to me one of the bills that I had obtained at the Airport in Amsterdam had a note written on it.

The lady that helped me came back with the note and informed me that the amount changed was going to be $ 5,- less than I had planned.

“Sorry,” she said, “we really cannot change this!”

the Ignorant Little Fucker

Posted in anti-semitism, Society, World politics with tags , , on May 29, 2010 by shirhashirim

source: New York Yimes

The other day I visited the World Press Photo 2010 exhibition in my town, with a friend of mine from Ireland. He gave the comment quoted in the title of this post.

The picture, taken by photographer Rina Castelnuovo, won 3rd prize in the General News – Singles category.

Official caption:

A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron.

I think the caption of my Irish friend fits better.

Genocide

Posted in World politics with tags , , , on June 16, 2008 by shirhashirim

Some rough estimates and comparisons:

First World War: June 28th 1914 – October 3rd 1918.
1558 days.
Number of allied victims: 5.152.115 – 3.307 per day.
Number of central victims: 6.093.000 – 3.911 per day.

Second World War: September 1st 1939 – September 2nd 1945.
2193 days.
Number of victims: 55.000.000 – 25.080 per day.

Second World War in Europe: September 1st 1939 – May 7th 1945.
2.075 days.
Poles killed: 4.200.000 – 2.024 per day.
Germans killed: 7.800.000 – 3.759 per day.

Hitler’s war against the Sovjet Union: June 22nd 1941 – May 7th 1945.
1415 days.
Russians killed: 20.600.000 – 14.558 per day.

Endlösung der Judenfrage: January 20th 1942 – May 7th 1945.
1203 days.
Number of Jews killed: 5.933.900 – 4.933 per day.

Korea: June 25th 1950 – July 27th 1953.
1128 days.
Civilian victims: 1.000.000 – 887 per day.

Second Gulf War: January 16th – February 28th 1991.
43 days.
Iraqi soldiers killed: 85.000 – 1977 per day.
Civilian victims: 3200 – 74 per day.

NATO-actions in Kosovo: March 25th – June 10th 1999.
77 days.
Serb civilian victims: 500 – 6 per day.

Initial bombings of Afghanistan by US: October 8th until October 31st 2001:
23 days.
Number of civilian victims according to Taliban: 1500 – 65 per day.
Confirmed: 243 – 11 per day.

Iraqi victims of the Iraq campaign March 19th 2003 – March 16th 2007:
1458 days
Total Iraqi victims: 66.494 – 46 per day.
Number of victims attributable to coalition forces: 14.165 – 10 per day.