Round-up: Irshad Manji, moons in mosques, the OLPC fiasco, Pauline Campbell, Obama versus Agar, Undercover Mosque

Top Muslim blog piece this week, in my opinion, was brother Marc Manley’s piece, The Trouble With Muslim Pundits today. While the establishment are busy fêting the likes of Ed and Maajid here in the UK, Irshad Manji is still doing business over in the USA and he heard her speak at the University of Pennsylvania last week (also see Ginny’s commentary on Marc’s piece). He found the talk to be “filled with drivel”:

A major portion of my critique on Manji’s arguments and positions as well as comments that Dr. Swidler gave, were that neither Manji nor Swidler are scholastically equipped to answer any such questions regarding the intellectual tradition of Islam. Manji is a journalist of questionable objectivity and Swidler’s expertise lies outside the fold of Islam. Manji often relies on crude reductionism coupled with a woefully absent basic familiarity with the Islamic Tradition. Buzz words like ijtihad, fatwah and of course, the crowd pleaser, jihad, are tossed out to lend to her some Islamic academic credibility.

… Much of the holes in Manji’s arguments, and for pundits like her, is that because they are not conversant with that tradition and thus the judgments and rulings that it produces, they marginalize it under the assumption that because it is from the Tradition it is old, outdated, antiquated and has nothing to offer to modern Muslims in modern times. This could not be further from the truth. And aside from this stiff arming they also neglect why it is important and still speaks to Muslims today.

Mas’ud Khan has an article about a type of “moon-sighting” we can all do without. I must say that I have had arguments with brothers about similar issues in the past - usually men whose trousers show the shape of their tackle when they pray. My usual way round this is to use one of those waist-wrappers imported from Indonesia that you can get from many Islamic clothes shops.

This piece at Comment Is Free is about the ongoing saga of the “One Laptop Per Child” project, which is all about delivering cheap (supposedly $100, but actually nearer $200 now) laptops to children in developing countries. A third director has quit the project this year alone. When I first heard of it I thought it was grotesque - fancy supplying laptop computers in places which need rather more basic things and where not everyone is literate anyway, and I would have thought that supplying desktop computers to schools would have been more helpful. A whole load of them has gone to Peru, but nobody knows quite where in Peru:

In an excoriating blog post, [recently resigned director Ivan Krstic] describes finding “40,000 laptops, to be deployed in about 570 schools across jungles, mountains, plains, and with total variance in electrical availability and uniformly no existing network infrastructure. A number of the target schools are in places requiring multiple modes of transportation to reach, and that are so remote that they’re not even serviced by the postal service. Laptop delivery was going to be performed by untrusted vendors who are in a position to steal the machines en masse. There is no easy way to collect manifests of what actually got delivered, where, and to whom.”

Last Thursday, Pauline Campbell, who has run a high-profile direct-action campaign against the prison system since her daughter died of a self-administered overdose of pills in jail in 2003, was found dead. Nobody has said she committed suicide, but her body was found at her daughter’s grave. (She left this comment here in April.) Something which stands out a mile about Campbell’s campaign is that she blamed everybody for her daughter’s situation except her daughter, who was sent to jail because she and a fellow drug addict mugged an elderly man for his wallet, causing him to die of a heart attack. She got two years and a half, and smuggled a bottle of pills into jail and took them. I agree about the need to improve conditions (at least, based on everything I’ve read about conditions in most prisons), but that doesn’t mean most women in jail are just there because of circumstance any more than most male prisoners are. Most of them are criminals.

Bush pulled a Nazi on Obama when making a speech to the Knesset in Israel. That rule about facile comparisons to Hitler or Nazis being an instant argument-loser clearly does not apply to him as it does to lesser mortals, particularly given the fact that the USA is not exactly facing imminent danger from Syria, and that Bashar al-Assad is really not in the same league when it comes to forced-labour camps and mass gassings. Then again, it never has really applied to anyone who cries “appeasement” at anyone who is shy about killing Arabs or other Muslims, or who throws the insult “fascist” around. Oh, and Barack Obama also had a witch hunt for calling a white female reporter “sweetie”. Shock horror.

The West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service apologised for their claims regarding the Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque, broadcast in January 2007. This is after Ofcom, having been induced to investigate the documentary, which the WMP and CPS denounced as heavily edited to distort the speakers’ meaning after it was broadcast, decided there was nothing wrong with it after all, and Channel 4 sued. Predictably, the usual suspects, like Nick Cohen and Melanie Phillips, are crowing; meanwhile, those connected with the people shown in the film have gone silent.

I have written three separate articles on this in the past, but to summarise, while some of the preachers shown in the film were bang to rights, there were distorting elements which have been glossed over in the handling of the complaint, and in the coverage by the neo-con/”muscular liberal” contingent in the media, among them for example the images of women in niqab that were interspersed with footage of the offending material from the preachers. This is a common media shorthand for extremism or separatism, and exposes those women to hostility and danger. Clearly Channel 4 and Hardcash have found sympathetic ears, but it did not mean that Muslims’ complaints were entirely unjustified.

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