July 2010

From the Economist:

EDWARD LANE, an English orientalist, published a classic account of Egyptian society in the 1830s. Impressed with much else, he had this to say about religion in Egypt: “It is considered the highest honour among the Muslims to be religious; but the desire to appear so leads many into hypocrisy and pharisaical ostentation.”

The same observation might be made today. A generation ago it was rare to hear the Koran recited, except on formal occasions such as funerals or during the fasting month of Ramadan. Nowadays the word of God is a constant companion, wafting from taxi cabs and buses, barber’s shops and fast-food outlets, dental clinics and supermarkets. The call to prayer not only sounds five times daily from minarets but all the time from everywhere: millions of Egyptians have downloaded it as a ringtone for their mobile phones. Step into many shops at noon and you will be told to return after prayers. Call in to the main control room of Egyptian State Railways and you may find the chief operator similarly disengaged, as one panicked signalman did last year when a train stalled on the tracks. He was unable to prevent the next train from crashing into the first, killing 18 people and prompting the resignation of Egypt’s transport minister.



Image from Swissinfo.ch

By Nicholas Kulish, from the New York Times:

BERLIN — Vandals damaged several pieces of a memorial to the pregnant Egyptian woman who was stabbed to death in a Dresden courtroom last year, police said Friday.

The killing of the woman, Marwa al-Sherbini, 31, led to an outcry in the Arab and Muslim worlds and demonstrations in her native Egypt. Organizers are in the process of erecting 18 knife-shaped concrete columns around the city to memorialize her murder, one for each time she was stabbed.


By Roger Cohen, from the New York Times:

Just when you thought France could sink no further, it discovers improbable new depths to plumb thanks to outgoing coach Raymond Domenech, whose gift for combining the imperious, the inept and the insulting has few equals in sporting history.

No wonder President Nicolas Sarkozy has called crisis ministerial meetings on the French World Cup debacle. The daily Le Monde went further, drawing parallels between this “strange defeat” and another, on the front lines of 1940.


By Gana Pianigiani, for the New York Times:

SIENA, Italy — No horse race is more sacred in Italy than the Palio, which traces its lineage back 700 years. This year, however, the hotly contested chase has taken an unexpectedly ecumenical — and disputed — twist.

For the first time, a Muslim painter was asked to design the Palio, or banner, that the winner takes home at the end of the race, which is conducted two days every year around Siena’s distinctive shell-shaped square.

Not everyone was pleased with the choice, though that was not evident Friday evening, when residents of the winning district, or contrada, as Siena’s 17 neighborhoods within the city walls are known, jumped over fencing that lined the square to grab the Palio, crying and shouting with joy.

The horse representing their contrada had won the race, and they did not seem particularly bothered that the banner has generated controversy in the local and national media during the past weeks over what some have called “a profanation” of the Sienese tradition.


By Federico Ferrone, Michele Manzolini and Akram Adouani, from AlJazeera English:

Italy is a popular destination, but not just for tourists. Each year thousands of illegal immigrants arrive on Italy’s shores, mostly via boats from Libya and Tunisia.

Italy’s conservative government has responded by passing tougher anti-immigration laws, but the situation is turning explosive.

Roberto Calderoli, a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s government, says: “When they reach our shores, we should send them back to where they came from. Not accept them from Libya’s coast.”

Some accuse the government of racism and Islamophobia, others believe the immigrants are an “enemy within”.

“When we first arrived, Perugia was the city that attracted the most students. All those coming to Italy were students. No-one came for work because back then Italy did not offer job opportunities to foreigners,” says Altonji Ridwan, the director of the Islamic Centre in Bologna.

“We were all university students, mostly of medicine, engineering or pharmacology. These attracted the most university students.”

Ridwan says that at the end of the 1980s, and in the early and mid 1990s, the purpose of immigration changed from studying to job-hunting due to the poor economic situation in Arab and third world countries.

“This has caused a problem. Along with the good Muslims came some elements whose behaviour damaged the image of the good Muslims here. We are not responsible for the behaviour of these people who act in a non-Islamic way. But their incorrect behaviour was exploited and focused upon in order to brand all Muslims as violent, terrorists and drug dealers,” Ridwan says.


From the NYT

By Jim Rutenberg, Mike Mcintire,  and Ethan Bronner, for the New York Times:

Believing that Christian help for Jewish winemakers here in the occupied West Bank foretells Christ’s second coming, they are recruited by a Tennessee-based charity called HaYovel that invites volunteers “to labor side by side with the people of Israel” and “to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in Yeshua, messiah.”

But during their visit in February the volunteers found themselves in the middle of the fight for land that defines daily life here. When the evangelicals headed into the vineyards, they were pelted with rocks by Palestinians who say the settlers have planted creeping grape vines on their land to claim it as their own. Two volunteers were hurt. In the ensuing scuffle, a settler guard shot a 17-year-old Palestinian shepherd in the leg.

“These people are filled with ideas that this is the Promised Land and their duty is to help the Jews,” said Izdat Said Qadoos of the neighboring Palestinian village. “It is not the Promised Land. It is our land.”

HaYovel is one of many groups in the United States using tax-exempt donations to help Jews establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories — effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, widely seen as a necessary condition for Middle East peace.

The result is a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.