December 2009


Image by Michel Gangne/Agence France-Presse

by Steven Erlanger, for the New York Times:

MARSEILLE, France — The minaret of the new Grand Mosque of Marseille, whose cornerstone will be laid here in April, will be silent — no muezzin, live or recorded, will disturb the neighborhood with the call to prayer. Instead, the minaret will flash a beam of light for a couple of minutes, five times a day.

Normally, the light would be green, for the color of Islam. But Marseille is a port, and green is reserved for signals to ships at sea. Red? No, the firefighters have reserved red.

Instead, said Noureddine Cheikh, the head of the Marseille Mosque Association, the light will almost surely be purple — a rather nightclubby look for such an elegant building.

So is this assimilation? Mr. Cheikh laughs. “I suppose it is,” he said. “It’s a good symbol of assimilation.”

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by David Green, for the Palestine Chronicle:

During Stanford Professor Joel Beinin’s visit to the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois in March of 2000, I was introduced to the seemingly esoteric topic of the plight of Jews in Arab societies subsequent to the establishment of Israel–specifically regarding his research specialty at that time, the Jews of Egypt. In Beinin’s outstanding book on this subject, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, he explores the ultimately unsuccessful attempt of 75,000 Egyptian Jews to “maintain their multiple identities and to resist the monism of increasingly obdurate Zionist and Egyptian national discourses.”

Beinin also spoke presciently—6 months before the beginning of the 2nd intifada–of the dire conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, which he described as “worse than horrible.” Six months after Sharon’s 2000 visit to the Temple Mount, in March of 2001, a political advertisement sponsored by The American Jewish Committee and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago appeared in the Chicago Tribune titled “The Other Refugees.” It claimed that:

“The Arab onslaught of 1948 and its aftermath tragically produced two—not one—refugee populations, one Jewish and one Arab. More than 700,000 Jews across the Arab world were forced to flee for their lives, their property ransacked in deadly riots, and their schools, hospitals, synagogues and cemeteries expropriated or destroyed.”

The ad went on to compare the absorption of many of these Jews by Israel to Palestinians who ”have remained quarantined in squalid camps,” concluding that “Palestinian leadership, backed by many in the Arab world, seeks the destruction of Israel through the ‘return’ of the refugees and their millions of descendants.” This diatribe concluded by claiming that such a return would mean “Israel’s national suicide.”

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By the Economist:

FRANCOIS I, crowned king of France in 1515, had ambitions. One was to become Holy Roman Emperor. However, the electors voted in the Habsburg Charles V. The two men became hated adversaries. They fought repeatedly, perhaps even continuously. Today the French king is remembered as an inspired patron of the arts. Leonardo da Vinci was one among hundreds of painters, sculptors, architects and decorators invited to his court—and is even said to have died in his arms.

A new exhibition, “François Ier et Soliman le Magnifique” (until February 15th 2010), at the Chateau d’Ecouen, the French national museum of the Renaissance, focuses on a different aspect of his reign. In 1525, in an attempt to weaken his imperial adversary, the king made his first moves towards forming an alliance with the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman, a ruler who wanted to conquer Europe for Islam.

The vast and romantic 16th-century chateau was built for the very rich Duc de Montmorency, a courtier who carried out many diplomatic missions to Constantinople. Ecouen today is again filled with Renaissance tapestries, ceramics, jewels, enamels and sculpture that would have given pleasure to François.

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by Bruce Crumley, for the Times:

For decades, the French considered it taboo to question whether immigration and foreign influences were diluting France’s social and cultural character. Indeed, the topic was considered so toxic that no one in France besides extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen would even take it up in public. But times have changed. Twenty years after Le Pen’s National Front Party (FN) became a political force in France, its view that immigration is threatening the French national identity is starting to gain wider acceptance. Now, the government is putting the issue front and center for the first time by encouraging people to have a vigorous national debate about what it means to be French in the 21st century.

“We must reaffirm the values of national identity and pride in being French,” Eric Besson, the Minister for Immigration and National Identity, said as he announced the three-month series of discussions on Nov. 2. “This debate doesn’t scare me. I even find it passionate.” Besson says it’s important for an increasingly diverse France to define its essential unifying values and reclaim a national pride and patriotism that the National Front co-opted long ago for its own xenophobic purposes. (See pictures of Bastille Day celebrations.)

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by Ross Douthat,  for the New York Times:

They toasted to progress in Europe’s capitals last week. On Tuesday, the Treaty of Lisbon went into effect, bringing the nations of the European Union one step closer to the unity the Continent’s elite has been working toward for over 50 years.

But the treaty’s implementation fell just days after a milestone of a different sort: a referendum in Switzerland, long famous for religious tolerance, in which 57.5 percent of voters chose to ban the nation’s Muslims from building minarets.

Switzerland isn’t an E.U. member state, but the minaret moment could have happened almost anywhere in Europe nowadays — in France, where officials have floated the possibility of banning the burka; in Britain, which elected two representatives of the fascistic, anti-Islamic British National Party to the European Parliament last spring; in Italy, where a bill introduced this year would ban mosque construction and restrict the Islamic call to prayer.

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by Laila Lalami, for the Nation:

At a literary festival in New York City some years ago, I was introduced to a French writer who, almost immediately after we shook hands, asked me where I was from. When the answer was “Morocco,” he put down his drink and stared at me with anthropological curiosity. We spoke about literature, of course, and discovered a common love for the work of the South African writer J.M. Coetzee, but before long the conversation had turned to Moroccan writers, then to Moroccan writers in France, and then, as I expected it eventually would, to Moroccan immigrants in France–at which point the French writer declared, “If they were all like you, there wouldn’t be a problem.

His tone suggested he was paying me some sort of compliment, though I found it odd that he would want the 1 million Moroccans in his country to be carbon copies of someone he had barely met and whose views on immigration–had he asked about them–he might not have found quite to his liking. It was only later, when I had returned to my hotel room, that it dawned on me that the profile of the unproblematic Moroccan immigrant he might have had in mind was based solely on conspicuous things. Some of these, like skin color, were purely accidental; others, like sartorial choices or dietary practices, were in my opinion inessential, but from his vantage point perhaps they suggested a smaller degree of “Muslimness.”

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by Atlaf Husain, for the BBC:

A human rights group says it has discovered more unmarked graves in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice says there are 2,700 graves with nearly 3,000 bodies.

Some of the mass graves contain between three and 17 bodies. Last year too, the group had found 1,000 unmarked graves in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

The Indian army and militants have been accused of numerous human rights abuses in Kashmir over the past two decades.

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