Saturday, September 29, 2007

Weekend News Roundup

Notable articles from the past week.


Good Muslim Immigrants
Here's an interesting -- and not always in a good way -- article from Der Spiegel on American Muslims. Its thesis is that American Muslims have responded in a positive and potentially empowering way to the challenges of post-9/11 America because the United States has a better immigration policy than European nations.

But a some of the language is problematic and just plain odd. Like the bit where the writer claims that "America's new Muslim immigrants now find themselves being associated with [black] people who were traditionally viewed as America's losers" because they now vote almost entirely for Democrats. Huh? There's an odd whiff (or should that be stink) of elitism that runs through the article, as in: Wealthy, educated immigrants are good; working class, uneducated immigrants, bad.

Equally perplexing is the way the writer simply sweeps away the entirely different reason for Muslim immigration to Europe. Yes, immigrant Muslims in America tend to be better educated, perhaps, but they are also significantly smaller in number. The Muslim "ghettoes" that the author criticizes were created when countries like Germany and France "imported" large numbers of cheap, unskilled workers from countries like Turkey to solve their labor shortage problem in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

And as Der Spiegel itself documents in this 2004 article, these immigrants were then treated like guest workers with no rights, and not integrated into the society or given a path to citizenship. So it should hardly be a surprise that they're more alienated and at odds with mainstream Germany.

So, fine, it is indeed a "better" immigration policy to embrace the people you invite into your country to do your dirty work. Maybe American Muslims can teach Republicans to apply that lesson to certain other immigrants in this country.

News Flash: Muslim Denounces Terrorism!
Audah chose to issue his attack on Bin Laden on the Cornerstone program of Middle East Broadcasting, one of the prominent Arab satellite channels seen throughout the Arab world, on Sept. 14, coinciding with the sixth anniversary of 9/11 as well as the start of the holy month of Ramadan. That qualifies as pretty vigorous. He also has posted the letter on his website, in Arabic as well as English, which I reckon qualifies as a form of sustainment.

Sex in the Muslim World

A Dutch playwright tackles the intimate lives of Muslim women in ‘The Veiled Monologues.’

Sept. 28, 2007 - Five years ago actress and director Adelheid Roosen starred in the Dutch adaptation of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Roosen has long been in the Dutch theater avant-garde—she’s the founder of a performance group that commissions work from immigrant Muslim women—so all that frank talk about the female anatomy made her wonder what kind of stories Islamic women would have to tell. The result is “The Veiled Monologues,” which, like its “Vagina” sister, weaves together dozens of interviews of women talking about eroticism and sex, as well as arranged marriage, rape and female circumcision.

Roosen’s monologues are indeed taboo-breaking, if not downright shocking. There is a tale of incestuous sex with cousins and uncles. There is a woman who refers to her vagina as “my zebra.” Strawberry bubblegum is used to illustrate a detailed discourse on the hymen. And the play is crammed with wisecracks, such as “Until you marry, your vagina is your parents’ property, so that your husband will receive it as a closed box.” When audiences ask Roosen what they can learn from “The Veiled Monologues,” she often quotes one of the women she interviewed, who said, “You Western women no longer want to be treated as women. You have been emancipated without bringing along your uterus.” Take that, ladies of America.

Egypt: U.S. Concern Over Rights Group
The White House expressed concern about what it called setbacks on press freedom and civil society in Egypt. “We are deeply concerned at the government’s recent decree authorizing the imminent closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid,” an independent rights group, said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, “as well as the conviction and sentencing of several newspaper editors.” An Egyptian court sentenced three journalists from the opposition newspaper Al Wafd to two years in prison after they were convicted of publishing lies about the justice minister, judicial sources said.

Prisons to Restore Purged Religious Books

But this campaign seems more indiscriminate. In recent weeks, police nationally have been shutting down Internet data centers (IDCs), the physical computers that private firms rent – from state-owned or private companies – to host websites offering interactive features, say industry insiders. "With the approach of the Party Congress, the government wants the Internet sphere silent, to keep people from discussing social problems," says Isaac Mao, one of China's first bloggers, who is now organizing a censorship monitoring project. "Shutting down IDCs is a quick and effective way of shutting down interactive sites."

To avoid being blocked, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in China and individual websites have been disabling chatrooms, forums, and other interactive features that might provide a platform for viewpoints unacceptable to the authorities.

F.I.S.A. Related (Big Brother):
Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans' exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.

"The federal government is trying to build a surveillance society," said John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested by the Identity Project, an ad-hoc group of privacy advocates in California and Alaska.

The DHS database generally includes "passenger name record" (PNR) information, as well as notes taken during secondary screenings of travelers. PNR data -- often provided to airlines and other companies when reservations are made -- routinely include names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel.

The records the Identity Project obtained confirmed that the government is receiving data directly from commercial reservation systems, such as Galileo and Sabre, but also showed that the data, in some cases, are more detailed than the information to which the airlines have access.

He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous," he said. "If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship."

Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."

Homeland Chief Blogs
By Noah Shachtman
Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has a blog. And it's just as sharp and incisive as you'd expect from the leader who coordinated the lightning-quick federal response to Hurricane Katrina, underplayed the terror threat to New York, and brought us security alerts based on the feelings in his gut.
Scott McNealy, Chairman of Sun Microsystems, once said, “Privacy is dead, get over it.” He was referring to the unprecedented ability of people and organizations to access information about any one of us.

Privacy is certainly not dead, but our society must go the second mile to protect it. The question that my Department faces is how to do that in our post-9/11 world where the need for greater security is paramount.
Speaking of Chertoff and his gut, I just can't resist...

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