Weekend Edition

May 27th, 2016

Sunni Muslims have three caliphs at present

May 27th, 2016


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud shake hands during a ceremony in Ankara, April 12, 2016 PHOTO/Reuters/Umit Bektas/Al Monitor

New images purport to show the Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi PHOTO/Independent

Caliph means “successor of the Messenger of God”
so khalifah rasul Allah is a just leader, not fraud
to look after the world’s Muslims, is his duty
without worrying about any risk to his own booty

at times, Muslims had caliphs more than one
for sure, people and critics would have had fun
this is not unique to any one religious group
it was also experienced by the Christian troop

the institute of caliphate was abolished in 1924
but in 2014 we heard new caliph Baghdadi‘s roar
attended by rapes, violence, killings, and madness
dreams some Muslims had were turned into sadness

Baghdadi declared his dream in an open manner
whereas Saudis do it under “custodian” banner
Turkey’s Erdogan also wants a hold on Muslim nation
and wants to capture higher than a president station

probably killed by the world caliph, Baghdadi is no more
world caliph is our own Obama, the master of drone war
in today’s internet era, no one caliph can represent all
and so the Islamic State is facing a multi-enemy wall

it seems, Erdogan wants to revive the Ottoman reign
and so he’s trying to overwork his Islamist brain
he sympathizes with a war criminal to gain fame
and sacks his prime minister without any shame

Saudi kings, though undeclared, are the caliph true
with their money and Wahhabism they Muslims screw
they have nothing to do with education or reason
they only export rigid Islam, whatever the season

it’s the greatest tragedy of most Muslims all over
that they have a Saudi who acts as their drover
then there is a Turk who wants to be their chief
and a horrible “Islamic State” which is not brief

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

The Romanovs (book review)

May 27th, 2016


The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Given how many books have been written about the Romanov family and its members and pretenders, I did wonder briefly whether Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 800-plus page The Romanovs: 1613 – 1918 really needed to exist. But it took only the introduction to enslave me and I have spent the last week or so neglecting practically everyone except for Montefiore’s variously ruthless, despotic, sexually voracious, bibulous, unstable, addle-pated, and gifted Romanovs. The author’s ease of manner, his limber way with historical intricacy and statecraft, and his connoisseur’s appreciation of personality, foible, and family unpleasantness—all that—render the familiar territory fresh, and the less-familiar memorable.

The focus of this enormous book is on character and the distorting effects of absolute power on both rulers and their advisors in each era, culminating in “the often bizarre, daft and self-defeating trajectory of the last Romanovs.” It all begins with the infinitely appalling Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian tsar, a man of tantrums who killed his eldest son by running him through with his staff. Among his other quirks was a habit of murdering his wives, at least three of his known eight met their ends that way. Though Ivan’s volatile blood did not flow down through the Romanovs, that of the family of his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna, did. And so, after a good deal of dynastic turmoil, an outbreak of royal pretenders, and sundry banishments, Asastasia’s grandnephew Michael became the first Romanov tsar.

It was a position he did not want, a feeling shared by a number of his successors and for good reasons, chief among them being a reluctance to be assassinated. Assassination, forced abdication, and imprisonment marked the 304-year reign of the Romanovs, but so did the development of an authoritarian modern state and steady integration into Europe, by invasion, annexation, and, increasingly, the recruitment of royal spouses from the German principalities, “the stud farm of Europe.”The flip side of the coin was diplomatic, in the form of political and military alliances, and throughout the book Montefiore provides astute scrutiny of the intersection of character and event, and of the relations between the big players—ending with Russia’s disastrous engagement in the First World War.

Montefiore is superb in describing the changing culture of Russia at the high end, not least the curiously contradictory place of women there. This included the putting on of “bride shows” from which the early tsars selected a mate—though more than once, the woman selected was poisoned by rival factions before she could make it to the altar. It’s worth saying that, for much of the time in question, families were governed by household rules (devised by a monk) which, as Montefiore explains, “specified that ‘disobedient wives should be severely whipped’ while virtuous wives should be thrashed ‘from time to time but nicely in secret, avoiding blows from the fist that cause bruises.’”

How odd it is then, that in Russia, more women than in any other nation of the period covered, achieved supremacy—starting with the powerful regent, “the Great Sovereign Lady,” Sophia, among whose accomplishments was the execution of countless Old Believers. A couple of tsars later, Catherine I came to the throne, taking over after the death of her husband Peter I. Three years after her death, Anna, “a swarthy, deep-voiced scowler” and a fan of dwarf-tossing, became tsarina. She was followed by Elizaveta—after the infant Ivan VI was deposed and hidden away as “Prisoner Number One.” Kept in solitary confinement, he was finally dispatched altogether during the reign of Catherine II – better known as Catherine the Great. She came to power with the forced abdication of her husband Peter III—”the Little Holstein Devil”—a devotee of all things German, most especially Frederick the Great. (Peter was, in due course, murdered.) Catherine brings women’s rule in Russia to an end. And, as it happens, the imperial Romanov bloodline very likely ended with Peter’s death, for he seems to have been unable or unwilling to father a child by Catherine. With Elizaveta’s connivance—for an heir was essential—Catherine turned to the courtier, Sergei Saltykov (“handsome as the dawn”), a man as likely as Peter to have fathered the future Paul I (later—need it be said?—assassinated).

Barnes & Noble for more

via Arts & Letters Daily for more

How butterfly genitalia inspired Nabokov’s masterpieces

May 27th, 2016


Vladimir Nabokov, circa 1975PHOTO / Horst Tappe / Getty Images

y 1967, Vladimir Nabokov had published 15 novels and novellas and six short story collections. But as he told the Paris Review that year, “It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology”—the study and classification of butterflies—“and never written any novels at all.” As most Nabokov readers know, the great Russian-American writer had a passion for butterflies. He published 18 science papers in the field of lepidoptery, and from 1942 to 1948 was de facto curator of lepidoptery at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

As a lepidopterist, Nabokov’s most audacious claim was that a South American subfamily of blue butterflies was not the result of a single migration, but the effect of five different migrations to South Asia over the course of 10 million years. Few butterfly experts at the time took Nabokov’s papers seriously. At best, they said, Nabokov was an inspired amateur. But in 2011, a group of scientists at Harvard’s School of Comparative Zoology confirmed Nabokov’s theory about the subfamily of blue butterflies, using genetic sequencing.

For years literary scholars have traced the influence of Nabokov’s lepidoptery on his fiction. Nabokov collected, dissected, and illustrated butterflies with the same skill and precision as he created characters and political cultures. On butterfly-hunting trips across America, Nabokov gathered the material for the famous portrait of road-side America that emerges in Lolita. As Mary Ellen Hannibal wrote in this magazine in 2013, “Butterflies were so entwined with the novel that Nabokov celebrated an especially important find—discovering the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens above Telluride, Colo. in the summer of 1951—by making the town the site of the novel’s final scene.”

Now scholars have given us a comprehensive portrait of Nabokov’s butterfly passions. Stephen H. Blackwell, a professor of Russian literature and language at the University of Tennessee, and his colleague, Kurt Johnson, coauthor of Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius, have just published Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. The book features 154 of Nabokov’s butterfly illustrations—most of which have never been seen by more than a handful of Nabokov aficionados—alongside 10 essays written by Nabokov specialists and leading scientists. The book will be of inherent interest to Nabokov fans, but Blackwell believes it will resonate with anyone interested in the pursuit of knowledge and beauty.

Nautilus for more

via Arts & Letters Daily

How Kosovo was turned into fertile ground for ISIS

May 26th, 2016


Gjilan, a town of about 90,000 where a moderate imam was kidnapped and beaten by extremists PHOTO/Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism.

Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

The New York Times for more

(Thanks to Razi Azmi)

Religious zealots ready for takeover of Israeli army

May 26th, 2016


In a surprise move, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week forced out his long-serving defence minister, Moshe Yaalon. As he stepped down, Yaalon warned: “Extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel.”

He was referring partly to his expected successor: Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose trademark outbursts have included demands to bomb Egypt and behead disloyal Palestinian citizens.

But Yaalon was also condemning extremism closer to home, in Netanyahu’s Likud party. Yaalon is to take a break from politics. With fitting irony, his slot is to be filled on Likud’s backbenches by Yehuda Glick, a settler whose struggle to destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple has the potential to set the Middle East on fire.

Israeli commentators pointed out that, with Lieberman’s inclusion, the government will be the most extreme in Israel’s history – again.

French prime minister Manuel Valls, who began a visit to the region on Saturday, is likely to face an impregnable wall of government hostility as he tries to drum up interest in a French peace plan.

Less noticed has been the gradual and parallel takeover of Israel’s security institutions by those espousing the ideology of the settlers – known in Israel as the national-religious camp.

None of this is accidental. For two decades the settlers have been targeting Israel’s key institutions. Under Netanyahu’s seven-year watch as prime minister, the process has accelerated.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the settler party Jewish Home and education minister, recently boasted that the national-religious camp, though only a tenth of the population, held “leadership positions in all realms in Israel”.

One such success for Bennett is Roni Alsheikh who was appointed police chief late last year. He was a long-time resident of Kiryat Arba, one of the most violent settlements in the occupied territories.

The force’s most recent campaign, “Believing in the police”, is designed to recruit more religious hardliners. Behind the programme are settler-politicians who have called Palestinians “sub-human” and expressed sympathy for those who burnt to death a Palestinian family, including a baby, last summer.

The other security agencies are being transformed too. Religious nationalists now hold many of the top posts in the Shin Bet intelligence service and the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency.

In the army too, the settlers are today heavily over-represented in the officers corps and combat units. For more than a decade their rabbis have dominated the army’s education corps, invoking God’s will on the battlefield.

But, despite these rising tidewaters, Israel’s traditional secular elite – mostly of European extraction – have desperately clung on to the top rungs of the army command.

Netanyahu bitterly resents their continuing control. They stood in his way at two momentous occasions, as he tried to overturn the Oslo accords in the late 1990s and to bomb Iran five years ago.

Counterpunch for more

The delicate task of restoring one of the world’s oldest libraries

May 26th, 2016


The curator of the Qarawiyyin Library, Abdelfattah Bougchouf, opens an original version of a famous work, Muqaddimah, written by historian Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century. The library in Fez is one of the world’s oldest working libraries, dating to the 10th century when it was founded by a pioneering woman. The library is set to reopen in May following a renovation. PHOTO/Samia Errazouki/AP

The copper craft makers in Seffarin Square in the historic district of Fez, Morocco, bang out designs on platters and shape copper pots to a rhythm.

Called the medina, neighborhood streets lined with domes and archways take you back through the history of the dynasties and occupiers that ruled Morocco from the 9th century on. At the center of the square is the Qarawiyyin Library, founded more than a millennium ago.

We’ve heard much recently about the destruction of grand historical sites in places like Syria and Iraq, where war and ISIS wreak havoc on the present and the past. But this library has been lovingly restored to protect ancient manuscripts by some of the greatest Islamic thinkers.

It’s part of what the United Nations calls the oldest operating educational institute in the world. The complex started as a mosque in the 9th century and expanded to include a university and library in the 10th century. It’s defined by beautiful courtyards centered around fountains.

Inside the library are ornately carved wooden window frames and archways, colorful ceramic tile designs on the floors and elegant Arabic calligraphy engraved in the walls. The high ceilings in the reading room are adorned with gold chandeliers.

“There is a big restoration because there was a need for the building and the manuscripts to be preserved,” said Abdullah al-Henda, part of the restoration team that’s been working on the restoration since 2012. “There were problems of infiltration, of sewage, degradation of walls, some cracks in different places in the library.”

The library holds some 4,000 manuscripts: Qurans that date back to the 9th century, the earliest collection of Islamic hadiths — the words and actions of Islam’s prophet Mohammed — and an original copy of the great Muslim thinker and historian Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah.

And Henda points out the library connected the east and the west.

“It was a bridge of knowledge of researchers, between Africa and between the Middle East and Europe,” he said.

NPR for more

(Thanks to reader)

Women and girls must be at center of any refugee response

May 25th, 2016


Female refugee at a camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria PHOTO/D. Kashavelov for UNHCR on Flickr, under Creative Commons

The photos that won this year’s Pulitzer prizestell a powerful story of massive migration from Syria and Iraq, yet the images fail to reveal how this ongoing tragedy impacts women and girls.

And while concentrating on the events in Europe, the media by and large has ignored the heavy burden that women bear in the many regions toxic with violent conflict.

For the first time since World War II, the number of refugees and displaced persons has surpassed 50 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The High Commissioner also emphasizes that women and children are those in the majority and the ones that face the greatest dangers.

During the first Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, these women and girls should assume their proper place at the center of world concern.

The summit brings together governments, U.N. agencies, private donors and nonprofit organizations. These are all important stakeholders. If they listen to the mothers, daughters and sisters who are suffering in conflict situations not of their own making, we can hope that something can be done for women such as Hala.

The 23-year-old woman from Aleppo, the Syrian city at the center of recent fighting, is among 40 refugee women and girls in northern Europe interviewed by Amnesty International.

Hala described the steady stream of invitations to transactional sex that she gets as a refugee. “At the hotel in Turkey, one of the men working with the smuggler, a Syrian man, said if I sleep with him, I will not pay or pay less,” she is quoted as saying. “Of course I said no, it was disgusting. The same happened in Jordan to all of us.”

‘She Said No, She’s Stranded Now’

She added: “My friend who came with me from Syria ran out of money in Turkey, so the smuggler’s assistant offered her to have sex with him [in exchange for a place on a boat].  She of course said no, and couldn’t leave Turkey. She’s stranded there.”

Women’s E News for more

Life without design

May 25th, 2016


Constructor theory is a new vision of physics, but it helps to answer a very old question: why is life possible at all?

iving things have puzzled and challenged us since the dawn of our species. Even in the light of our modern scientific understanding, they seem remarkable. A merlin falcon hunting its prey, a hummingbird suspended in the air beside a flower, the self-reproduction of a bacterial cell: all are instances of stunning control and precision. How could anything so complex have originated from inert matter?

For millennia, some of the most brilliant thinkers have attempted to answer this question. Most of them concluded that living things must have been produced by an intentional design process. They were wrong, of course: the theory of evolution by variation and natural selection – Charles Darwin’s momentous leap – shows how those stupendously intricate mechanisms can come about without one. Yet the task of showing how life itself can arise without design is surprisingly vexed.

The very problem Darwin’s theory addresses is ultimately rooted in physics: living things have certain properties that seem to set them apart from other aggregations of inert matter. They have many different subparts – instantiating biological adaptations – all coordinating to some function. That’s the key property: they closely resemble objects that have literally been designed, such as factories and robots. For example, the ciliary muscles and the lens in the eye coordinate exquisitely to permit vision, just like the optical components of a sophisticated camera. In modern biology, this is called the appearance of design – a property described by Socrates and given canonical expression in 1802 by William Paley in his ‘watchmaker’ argument for the existence of God.

More generally, living things, again just like factories and robots, have the ability to perform physical transformations with a very high degree of precision, and to do so repeatedly and reliably. A goat’s jaws and heart just keep on chewing and beating for its whole lifetime. If you got the goat to graze your lawn, it would mow it to high accuracy and be just as capable of doing the same when presented with another lawn. It just keeps going: the goat is, among other things, a lawnmowing machine.

Unlike factories, all living things rely on a rather peculiar contrivance: the living cell. Cells can self-reproduce, manufacturing new instances of themselves in a process involving, at its heart, the faithful replication of the genetic information contained in the cell’s DNA. We find this capacity nowhere in the rest of nature. Even among human technologies, there are only dim foreshadowings of it, such as 3D printers that print some of their own spare parts.

Why should such features of living things constitute a problem for physics? Crucially, what can and cannot be made to happen in the physical world is determined by physical laws. For example, a perpetual motion machine cannot be constructed, no matter what resources are devoted to the task, as it is forbidden by those laws. Conversely, given the presence of life in our universe, physics must be such as to allow for it.

But our laws of physics provide only certain elementary objects, such as simple chemicals, in great numbers. These objects do not, in themselves, have the ability to repeatedly cause highly accurate transformations. Neither do they seem adapted to do anything in particular. If they do cause transformations, it is neither very accurately nor reliably: they wear out and make errors, their resources get depleted, and so on. In other words, the laws of physics contain no built-in facility for accurate transformations; nor, in particular, for biological adaptations that can bring such transformations about. They are no-design, in this special sense. Thus the problem with living things, expressed within physics, is that they are highly adapted to effect all sorts of transformations to high accuracy, whereas the laws of physics aren’t.

Given that life isn’t the output of an intentional design process, but evolved, how could living things have evolved given these design-free laws of physics? Darwin’s theory addresses this problem, explaining that variation and natural selection bring about the appearance of design. But this in itself doesn’t close the explanatory gap, as we can see especially clearly in the modern version of Darwin’s theory – neo-Darwinism. At its heart are the replicators, or genes – bits of DNA that are transmitted, by replication, to the next generation. Moreover, for replication to be as accurate as it is in living things, accurate self-reproduction of the cell is also required. In short, the theory presupposes the possibility of certain accurate physical transformations, and these are just what no-design laws of physics fail to provide in their starter kit.

Aeon for more

A war by other means: Attacks on free speech threaten social and indigenous movements in Guatemala

May 25th, 2016


Campesino movement leader David Pascual addresses crowd PHOTO/Jeff Abbott

On February 22, a criminal court in Guatemala City allowed proceedings to begin in a legal case against Daniel Pascual, the leader of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), which could greatly affect the freedom of speech in Guatemala.

“These charges are a perversion of the interpretation of the law, and a violation and attack on the freedom of speech,” said Daniel Pascual. “ This is a precedent that is dangerous for the defenders of human rights in Guatemala.”

The case against Pascual has potential ramifications for other leaders of human rights organizations across Guatemala, and threats their ability to express their opinions in the national and international media.

“Following this case, are they going to prosecute people for what they say and what they think?“ said Pascual. “This is dangerous for our democracy and the peace in Guatemala.”

In 2013, supporters of a controversial San Gabriel cement factory attacked Pascual and several other human rights defenders during a visit to communities resisting the construction of the cement factory in San Juan Sacatepéquez. Following the attack, Pascual had associated the attackers with the nationally syndicated newspaper columns by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, a former military officer and the founder of rightwing Foundation Against Terrorism. Mendez Ruiz argued that the statement amounted to libel and slander, and opened up a legal case against the campesino leader.

Pascual has appealed the charges in the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, and in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC, and tried to get the case thrown out. But despite these efforts, the case has been permitted to advance.

Support for Pascual has come from across Guatemala’s diverse social movements, including from the Social and Popular Assembly, an association of 72 organizations that emerged during the 2015 protests against corruption in Guatemala, as well as leftist political parties such as WINAQ and The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), and indigenous leaders. This has been supported through a campaign on social media in solidarity with the embattled leader.

Attempts to Silence Investigations into Atrocities

Human rights organizations have not been Mendez Ruiz’s only targets.

On multiple occasions, Mendez Ruiz has gone on national television and openly sought to discredit the human rights organizations, which Mendez Ruiz has referred to as “the Mafia of human rights.”

But the Foundation Against Terrorism has also sought to derail those investigating the crimes committed by the military during Guatemala’s 36-year-long war. This has put the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), and its director Fredy Peccerelli, into the cross hairs of the foundation, which they have accused as a terrorist organization, and worked to silence the organization from speaking out.

Upside Down World for more