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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Islam, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 22 of 22
1. Roger Gaetani: The Powells.com Interview

Roger Gaetani is an editor, writer, and educator who lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He serves as the vice president for World Wisdom, an independent publishing company focused on religious and philosophical texts. With Jean-Louis Michon, he edited the World Wisdom anthology on Sufism, Sufism: Love and Wisdom. He directed and produced the DVD compilation of [...]

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2. Egypt’s President Sadat addresses Israeli Knesset

This Day in World History

November 20, 1977

Egypt’s President Sadat addresses Israeli Knesset

On November 20, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat made an historic speech before Israel’s Knesset, or Parliament, becoming the first leader of an Arab nation to speak there. He was also the first of Israel’s Arab neighbors to publicly say anything like these words: “Today I tell you, and I declare it to the whole world, that we accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice.”

By 1977, Israel and the nearby Arab states had fought four wars in less than 30 years. Sadat himself had been a principal architect of the most recent conflict, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. That conflict ended when Egypt, Syria, and Israel accepted a United Nations–imposed cease-fire. This time, though, the uneasy peace was not followed by yet another war. Sadat failed in peace talks to regain control of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied in 1967. To break the deadlock, on November 9, 1977, he stunned the world by telling Egypt’s Parliament that he was willing to travel to Israel to negotiate peace. No Arab state had ever recognized Israel’s existence, let alone sent a leader to the Jewish state. Israel quickly accepted his offer, and arrangements for the historic visit were made.

Sadat’s bold move set in course discussions that resulted in the Camp David Accords the following September, and a peace treaty in early 1979—the first treaty signed by Israel and an Arab nation. Both Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received Nobel Peace Prizes for their historic agreement. While Sadat was hailed across the world, he was less well received in the Arab world, however. The Arab League denounced Egypt in September of 1978, and Sadat was assassinated in his homeland by radical Islamists because of his overtures to Israel and the western world.

“This Day in World History” is brought to you by USA Higher Education.
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3. Hussein ibn Ali killed at Karbala

This Day in World History - October 10 marks a signal date in Islamic history. On that day, Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was defeated and killed at Karbala, in modern Iraq. His death cemented deep and lasting division among Muslims that persist to this day. In Iran, where the population is overwhelmingly Shia, the death of Hussein—“leader of the martyrs”—is regularly commemorated in passion plays.

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4. 9/11 and the dysfunctional “aughts”

By Richard Landes In the years before 2000, as the director of the ephemeral Center for Millennial Studies, I scanned the global horizon for signs of apocalyptic activity, that is, for movements of people who believed that now was the time of a total global transformation. As I did so, I became aware of such currents of belief among Muslims, some specifically linked to the year 2000, all predominantly expressing the most dangerous of all apocalyptic

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5. Infidels and Etymologists


By Anatoly Liberman

Today hardly anyone would have remembered the meaning of the word giaour “infidel” (the spellchecker does not know it and, most helpfully, suggests glamour and Igor among four variants) but for the title of Byron’s once immensely popular 1813 poem: many editions; ten thousand copies sold on the first day, an unprecedented event in the history of 19th-century publishing.  Nowadays, at best a handful of specialists in English romanticism and reluctant graduate students read it or anything else by this author—an unfortunate development.  Yet if the word is still familiar to the English speaking public, it happens only thanks to Byron.

At the end of the 19th century, there was a heated discussion about the pronunciation of initial g- in giaour, and, as usual in such cases, conflicting suggestions about the origin of the word turned up.  The OED had just approached the volume with giaour, and its verdict was eagerly awaited.  Alas, no dictionary will save us from the ambiguity of initial g in Modern English.  Only j can be relied upon: no one doubts how to pronounce jam, jet, jerk, jitters, Joe, or jumble, even when for historical reasons that make little sense to modern speakers j- renders what should have been y-, as in Jerusalem, Jericho, Jordan, and the like.  But g- before i and e is a nightmare.  We have begin (and Shakespeare often used this verb without the prefix and wrote gin, appearing in some of our editions with an apostrophe:’gin) and gin (the beverage), get and gem (alongside Jemima); gill (in a fish), gill “ravine” (both with “hard” g) and gill “half a pint,” as well as gill “lass,” that is, Jill (both with “soft” g).  To increase the confusion, we are offered gild, guilt, age, ridge, wedge and Wedgwood (for completeness’ sake, compare rajah and the odd-looking transliteration hajj “pilgrimage’).  It was deemed necessary to abbreviate refrigerator to fridge: frige, on an analogy with rage or fringe, did not suffice.  If I received the mandate to reform English spelling, one of my first executive orders would have abolished this mess.  Not hungry for power, except for power over words, and shirking administrative duties to the extent it is possible on a modern day campus, I think this is the one post I am longing for.  But the coveted mandate will never come my way, and judging by what is happening in this area, nobody will.  With regard to spelling, we are doomed to remain in the17th century at the latest.

There is no way of finding out how Byron pronounced giaour, though he probably said it with j-, as was more comm

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6. Is the Brotherhood part of Egypt’s future, or just its past?

By Geneive Abdo

Over the past several weeks, leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have placed on public display the lessons they have learned as Egypt’s officially banned but most influential social and political movement by trying to pre-empt alarmist declarations that the country is now headed for an Iran-style theocracy.

Members of the venerable Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by an Egyptian school teacher to revitalize Islam and oppose British colonial rule, have so far stated no plans to run a candidate in the next presidential election, and they surprised many by their halting participation in the transitional government, after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. They also have made it clear that they have no desire to seek a majority in the Egyptian parliament, when free elections are held, as promised by Egypt’s current military rulers. In fact, the Brotherhood has voiced its commitment to work with all groups within the opposition – including the secular-leaning youth who inspired the revolution – without demanding a leading role for itself.

These gestures have produced two reactions from Western governments and other international actors heavily invested in Egypt’s future: Some simply see this as evidence that there is no reason to fear the Brotherhood will become a dominant force in the next government.

Others view the Brotherhood’s public declarations with skepticism, saying the promises are designed simply to head off any anxiety over the future influence and scope of the religious-based movement. For example, British Minister David Cameron, who last week became the first foreign leader to visit Egypt after Mubarak’s downfall, refused to meet Brotherhood leaders, saying he wanted the people to see there are political alternatives to “extreme” Islamist opposition. Such simplistic characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood simply echoes Mubarak’s long-term tactic to scare the West into supporting his authoritarian rule as the best alternative to Islamic extremism.

But the future on the horizon for the Brotherhood lies most likely somewhere between these divergent views. Now that Egyptians have freed themselves from decades of restraint and fear, a liberalized party system will logically follow, reflecting the values, aspirations and religious beliefs of Egyptian society as a whole.

What the outside world seems to have missed during the many decades since the Brotherhood was banned is the fact that the movement has never been a political and social force somehow detached from Egyptian society. Rather, the widespread popularity of the movement – which is fragmented along generational lines – can be best explained by the extent to which it reflects the views of a vast swathe of Egyptians.

The Brotherhood has waited patiently for society to evolve beyond the Free Officers movement of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Beginning in the early 1990s, it was clear that Islamization was taking hold in Egypt. In my book, No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam, which documented the societal transformation from a secular to more religious Egypt during the 1990s, I made it clear that the Brotherhood was on the rise. This was in part responsible for the Brotherhood’s strong showing in parliamentary elections in 2005, when they ran candidates as independents because Egyptian law prohibits religiously-based parties to run candidates in elections.

The question now is wh

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7. Shari’a Law and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Shari’a in the West is a collection of essays, edited by Rex Adhar and Nicholas Aroney, written by leading scholars from a range of countries, academic fields, and political and faith positions in reaction to some public lectures given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales regarding the practice of Shari’a Law in the Western world. The excerpt below is taken from John Milbank’s essay ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury: The Man and the Theology Behind the Shari’a Lecture’ and focuses on the Muslim reaction to Dr Williams’s speech.

Over the first two weeks of February 2008 in the United Kingdom, a sizable controversy was stirred up by a lecture given to the Royal Courts of Justice by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Rowan Williams, entitled ‘Civil and Religious Law in England: A Religious Perspective’, and a prior interview which he gave to the BBC Radio 4 news programme, ‘The World at One’. In the course of both the talk and the interview, the Archbishop suggested that certain extensions of Shari’a law in Britain were both ‘unavoidable’ and also desirable from the double point of view of civil cohesion and the defence of the ‘group rights’ of religious bodies.

Public reactions to this pronouncement were both swift and overwhelmingly negative. The Prime Minister distanced himself from the remarks, declaring that there could be but one common law for all in Britain, which must be based upon ‘British values’. Most political leaders from all the main British political parties more or less followed suit. The popular press suggested that the Archbishop was clearly as mad as his hirsute appearance had always led them to suppose, while the quality press by and large accused him of extreme political naivety, obscurity, and misplaced academicism. Certain commentators at the higher end of the media spectrum dissented from the latter verdict, and allowed that Dr Williams had bravely raised issues of great future importance. They also conceded to him that some supplementary elements of the religious law of all three monotheistic traditions were already incorporated by British justice and that further extensions of this accommodation should not be ruled out.

Yet, with near unanimity they declared that he had gone too far in apparently condoning parallel legal systems with an option for people to have certain cases considered either by a civil or religious tribunal. Any such possibility was also condemned by the Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Rt Rev Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and this was discretely echoed by the majority of even the Anglican bench of bishops. It was reported that only three per cent of the members of the Synod which helps to govern the Anglican Church in England favoured the Archbishop’s opinion, while up and down the country, on the Sunday following the initial furore, priests found themselves forced in their sermons to make some sort of allusion to it, and were only received well by their congregations if they wholeheartedly confirmed their support for one common law for all people resident in England. The population at large, encouraged by some sections of the media, predictably associated the word ‘Shari’a’ with the chopping-off of hands and the punishment of raped women as fornicators—a reaction which, it seems, the Archbishop’s advisors had predicted and warned him against.

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8. Michael Scheuer sits down with Stephen Colbert

Michael Scheuer was the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counterterrorism analyst until 2004. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism. His latest book is the biography Osama bin Laden, a much-needed corrective, hard-headed, closely reasoned portrait that tracks the man’s evolution from peaceful Saudi dissident to America’s Most Wanted.

Among the extensive media attention both the book and Scheuer have received so far, he was interviewed on The Colbert Report just this week.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michael Scheuer
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Interested in knowing more? See:

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9. Guantanamo Boy: a review

Perera, Anna. 2011. Guantanamo Boy. Chicago: Albert Whitman.
(first published in the UK, 2009)
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in August.
"We must remember that once we divide the world into good and bad, then we have to join one camp or the other, and, as you've found out, life's a bit more complex than that."
Funny (or not so funny) - in searching for related links, further information and other reviews on Guantanamo Boy, I actually found myself wondering (worrying?) if my every passing stop along the Internet seeking information related to Guantanamo Bay will be tracked by some government official in a cubicle somewhere.  Just the fact that such a thought crossed my mind, is an indication of the intense fear, distrust and paranoia that is gripping our world because of terrorism.  With that worldwide fear and paranoia as a backdrop for Guantanamo Boy, Anna Perera has crafted an entirely plausible story about a 15-year-old British boy, Khalid, from Rochdale, a large town in Greater Manchester, England.

Khalid is much like any other boy from his town, interested in good grades, his mates, soccer ("footy"), girls, and online gaming.  Though his family is Muslim, Khalid is a casual practitioner.  When his family visits Pakistan to assist an aunt, Khalid's father inexplicably disappears.  Khalid goes to check the address where his father was last seen, threading his way through a street protest enroute.  Unable to find his father, he returns to his aunt's home where he is later kidnapped in the late night hours,

Surely only his dad could be coming through the door without knocking this time of night?

But he's badly mistaken. Blocking the hallway is a gang of fierce-looking men dressed in dark shalwar kameez.  Black cloths wrapped around their heads.  Black gloves on their hands.  Two angry blue eyes, the rest brown, burn into Khalid as the figures move towards him like cartoon gangsters with square bodies.  Confused by the image, he staggers, bumping backwards into the wall.  Arms up to stop them getting nearer.  Too shocked and terrified to react as they shoulder him to the kitchen and close the door before pushing him to his knees and waving a gun at him as if he's a violent criminal.  Then vice-like hands clamp his mouth tight until they plaster it with duct tape.  No chance to wonder what the hell is going on, let alone scream out loud.
And so begins Khalid's descent into a frightening labyrinth of secret prisons, interrogation rooms, and finally Guantanamo Bay detention center.
A few lengthy passages are didactic in nature, but they are few in number. Khalid's unique perspective as a boy, a British citizen and non-practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, offers a superb vantage point into the previously termed War on Terror. His sensibilities are Western, his concerns are adolescent, his perspective is that of  outsider - he has known discrimination in England, he is too Western for his Pakistani relatives, he has little in common with his fellow inmates.  Khalid is the perfect protagonist for this third-person narrative.

Heart-wrenching and frighteningly enlightening, Guantanmo Boy is not without bright spots - the power of small acts of kindness, the love of family,

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10. Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About MeTen Things I Hate About Me Randa Abdel-Fattah

Jamilah's dyed her hair blonde, wears colored contact lenses, and goes by Jamie at school. It's easier that way, if no one knows who she really is. Her school is full of racists and passing makes her life nicer--people see her instead of a Muslim stereotype. But she likes her Lebanese culture. She likes playing her darabuka drums in her band at Madrassa. Sadly, in hiding her heritage, she's hidden everything about herself. She thinks that people see the real her, but they see a girl with no self-esteem, a pushover.

I loved Jamilah's struggle with herself, her family, her friends at school and her friends at madrassa. I also really loved her family-- her activist sister, her slacker brother, her awesome aunt, and her father who is trying so hard to do the best he can as a single parent. (I especially loved her sister.)

It's a great book about self-acceptance against the odds. While I loved the look into Lebanese-Australian culture, I think Jamilah's struggles with defining and presenting herself are universal teen struggles.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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11. Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. - Review

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif
Publication Date: 8 July 2011 by Flux Books
ISBN 10/13: 0738723231  |  9780738723235

Category: Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Keywords: Ramadan, Muslim, blending cultures, religion
Format: Paperback

Kimberly's Review:

Almira Abdul is trying her best to honor Ramadan, an entire month where she is not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. While her family is not overly religious, and she has only been to a mosque twice, she feels that it's a good challenge for her... She thinks she can stand to lose a couple pounds.

What happens though is more than just food temptation! Her crush, Peter, starts noticing her at the same time her best friend starts noticing him! And while her traditional grandfather is teaching her to drive, he's also showing her how things would be if they weren't living in America.

Almira is a hilarious character. Her voice is unique and her inner dialogue charming. A few times I laughed out loud to the reference to her love of chocolate or her great infatuation of Rob Pattinson (and therefore her hatred of Kristen Stewart.)

Pop references aside, this is no light book. Almira is suffering from what many minority teenagers have difficulty with--how to blend in with the American culture while still holding onto her family's beliefs. It's not just about Ramadan. Her grandfather is a strong and aggressive character, representing the old ways. Her mother and father are somewhere in between.

Almira's friends are a diverse bunch of characters. Each has their own distinct personality and culture too. The conversations between Almira and her friends over AIM are hilarious. And let's not even get started on the new bomb shell of a girl that just started their school...

Sharif does a fantastic job navigating these touchy waters. Almira's voice is touching, desperate and loving. She is torn, observant and just doing the best she can. When there's drama at the end of the novel, Almira's sadness and panic came through brilliantly. This really feels like a high school teenager's account of her one month during Ramadan. 

I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know what to expect from the back synopsis, but it's an adventure I'm glad I didn't miss. Kudos to Sharif whose story made me sit down in a quiet corner, with no distractions, and quietly ate up Almira's journey. To be honest, I wouldn't have normally picked this book up, let alone read it! (Or seek it out for that matter. I went to three Borders and two Barnes and Nobles with no luck. I had to buy it on amazon.) But it's well worth it!

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12. The suspicious revolution: an interview with Talal Asad

By Nathan Schneider Not long after his return from Cairo, where he was doing fieldwork, I spoke with Talal Asad at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, where he is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Distinguished indeed: with books like Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular, as well as numerous articles, Asad’s work has been formative for current scholarly conversation about religion and secularity, stressing both

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13. Everyone needs an editor.

Thank you to all the folks who have looked through the site. I've had people making all sorts of helpful catches from misspelled words to David pointing out that I'd forgotten a link to the Books page on every page except the first. I love how this illustrates that we all need someone to look over our work. I don't see my own misspelled words, but I often find others. I was to close to the project to see the mistakes. And I'm very obliged to all of you for helping me find these glitches. Publishing, whether it's a book, a website, or a blog is very much a cooperative project - a lot like life. I'm appreciative to everyone that helps make these projects a success.

And now, like an Academy Award winning actress I will now ennumerate each and every one of these people.

I'm kidding. You folks know who you are, and if you don't, you should. You all already have my eternal thanks. :)

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14. Review: Three cups of tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

NY: Viking, 2006.
ISBN (hardcover) 0670034827 9780670034826
ISBN (paper) 9780143038252

Michael Sedano

An interesting variation in the subtitle of David Oliver Relin’s telling of Greg Mortenson’s story illustrates two ways to sell the book. The hardcover book calls itself “One man’s mission to fight terrorism and build nations-- one school at a time.” The paperback edition titles itself, “One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time.”

The work offers a creative nonfiction account of a mountaineer who stumbles off the Himalayan peak K2 in 1993. Taking a life-threatening wrong path, he stumbles into an unmapped village far from his intended landing. It’s a life-changing error, both for the mountaineer and the villagers who save Mortenson’s life.

During his recuperation in the village, Mortenson observes the village girls conducting school in the open air because they have no teacher nor a structure. He promises to return and build the girls a school. The adventurer’s gratitude takes on missionary zeal and he cannot stop with the one promise, instead devoting his career to building schools for girls across rural Pakistan. By September 11, 2001, Mortenson’s success has led him to Afghanistan, where he runs afoul of the Taliban, opium traders, moujahedeen, and the CIA. Here is the source of the spin given by the hardbound subtitle as the final chapters of the story focus on Mortenson’s experiences in Afghanistan. It’s an inescapable perspective, but the paperback volume’s subtitle about peace more accurately describes the likely outcome of Mortenson’s actions had there been no attack by the U.S., and a workable strategy should our nation choose alternatives to invasion and religious enmity.

The girls and villages benefiting from Mortenson’s work are Muslim. Mortenson is the son of Christian missionaries and not a convert to Islam. While religious schism plays little role in Mortenson’s commitment, it informs the story in surprising ways. The fathers and village men do not oppose education for their girls, yet one conservative cleric declares fatwa on Mortenson’s efforts, preventing building schools in the region. All of Mortenson’s local supporters are Muslim, too, but are powerless to intercede directly on his behalf. Instead, they petition the “supreme leader” of the Shia in northern Pakistan, who not only declares the fatwa inconsistent with Islam, Syed Abbas offers his wholehearted support to Mortenson’s project.

The story of Mortenson’s various projects fills the book with numerous emotional peaks. Dismal stories of government incompetence, generations of neglect, and abject poverty are sure to be depressing. Then, when the reader gets to see villagers hauling heavy loads up steep mountain tracks, followed by frantic construction ahead of winter culminating in the opening of a girl’s school, knowing that these children’s lives have changed forever is sure to bring tears to all but the most cynical eyes.

Three Cups of Tea offers a compendium of intercultural communication. “Dr. Greg,” as Mortenson is known, adapts to local custom. A natural linguist, he becomes proficient enough to earn the honor explained by the title. Mortenson’s second father, Haji Ali, teaches him that the first cup of tea taken with a villager is taken as a stranger and given out of obligation. The next cup is offered for a guest. The third cup makes one a member of the family.

Perhaps guilelessness helps. In one frightening instance, Mortenson disregards a friend’s advice never to travel alone. He finds himself imprisoned by a warlord and seems at risk of being executed. Beheading has not yet reached the news, so Mortenson fears only being shot. He doesn’t speak the captor’s tongue—he is blazing a trail into new territory—and requests a Koran. Having learned the proper manner of ablution from one informant, and how to read the pages from an illiterate, Mortenson makes a favorable impression. Doubtlessly, the captors have checked out Mortenson’s background and they release him.

Mortenson’s good works created a good name for “Dr. Greg.” As he advances into Afghanistan’s northern frontier, he goes in search of the principal commandhan of Badkshan, a man described as tying spies between two jeeps and pulling their bodies apart, the fiercely reputed Sadhar Khan. Alone and lacking any documentation, having sneaked into town hidden under rotting goat hides, Mortenson approaches a jeep of substantial appearing men. In a strange coincidence, or perhaps a bit of fiction has sneaked under the radar here, when Mortenson says he’s looking for Sadhar Khan, the driver says he is Khan! After a few moments explaining why he’s here, Khan shouts, “You’re Dr. Greg!” A couple years earlier, some riders had appeared near the Pakistan border after an eight day ride, beseeching Mortenson’s building a school for their village. Mortenson had promised he’d see what he could do and was in Badkshan looking to keep that promise. The riders were employees of Sadhar Khan, and they had related the story of the schools and water projects Dr. Greg was fomenting.

Three Cups of Tea has won numerous prizes. The CAI, Central Asia Institute, lists them on their website:
Kiriyama Prize - Nonfiction Award, Time Magazine - Asia Book of The Year, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association - Nonfiction Award, Borders Bookstore - Original Voices Selection, Banff Mountain Festival - Book Award Finalist, Montana Honor Book Award. Throughout the book, however, come allusions to the ultimate prize, the Nobel Peace Prize. Cynics might point to the softcover subtitle as evidence of a campaign to garner that for Mortenson and his CAI. The hagiographic treatment of Dr. Greg’s career might offer support for that view, if not for the actual good that inheres in building schools for girls in the middle of a culture that putatively forbids that type of education.

There may be a segment of reader who would dismiss Three Cups of Tea as one of the “blame America first” crowd. The “fighting terrorism” spin might support that view. For example, as the book draws to a close we see Mortenson meeting Donald Rumsfeld and being fascinated by the man’s expensive and highly polished shoes. Mortenson addresses a military audience at the Pentagon and relates the contradiction between the U.S. war machine and the need for security, telling them:

“these figures might not be exactly right. But as best as I can tell, we’ve launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far. Now take the cost of one of those missile tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000. For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced nonextremist education over the course of a generation. Which do you think will make us more secure?”

Mortenson has his day before the military to no impact, except for a man who offers him unlimited funds to build schools. But Mortenson recognizes his doom would come from any association with the military and he turns down the bribe. Later, he discusses terrorism and security with a Pakistani Major General. They are watching CNN images of civilian casualties in Baghdad. (p. 310)

“Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.”

“Osama had something to do with it, too,” Mortensen said.

“Osama, baah!” Bashir roared. “Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance.”

To writer David Oliver Relin’s credit, he controls the political spin exemplified here, spinning out just enough politics to contrast with the warmth and love that fill the first two hundred pages of the book. It’s clear why the hardcover came out with the “fighting terrorism” tag, given the closing pages’ focus on the existing conditions Mortenson works under. That he’s continuing the work building schools for girls in Muslim countries—and finding support from religious and ordinary citizens—is truly encouraging. Wouldn’t it be great if some reader in political authority is reading and learning the cultural lessons of this hopeful book?

That’s the final Tuesday of leap year February. La Bloga welcomes your comments and responses to what you read, or don’t read here. And, as we frequently offer, we welcome guest columnists. Let us know by leaving a comment, or email here, that you have something to say.


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15. Canada's Hate Literature Law

Back in 2007, author Mark Steyn was summoned to appear before the Canadian courts for statements made in his book America Alone. Styen argues argues that Western nations are succumbing to an Islamist imperialist threat. In the book, Steyn predicts that Muslims will swarm over Europe, ban alcohol and put women in veils. Maclean's magazine printed an excerpt in October, 2006 that outraged Islamic Canadians, who complained to human-rights tribunals in Ottawa and the provinces. The article entitled, "The Future Belongs to Islam," has been blasted by Muslim critics for spreading “Islamophobia.” As the trial continues, a history of the incident can be found in this search of Globe and Mail articles on Mark Steyn.

Also of interest in this censorship issue are Mark Steyn's Blog , the original Maclean's article by Mark Steyn, and information on the Hate Literature Legislation from the Canadian Parliament.

Part of Mark Steyn's marketing plan includes the words, "Soon to be banned in Canada" on the cover of his book."

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16. Extremism from a different point of view

I have my fingers stuck in my ears and am singing LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA rather loudly. My work email is full of unread messages.

You see, for class today, I had to read a "genre" book. I was feeling like a bad YA lit person for not having read Twilight. So, that's what I read. And then I ran out and bought all the rest of the books, and now I have to shield myself from all the Breaking Dawn discussion until I finish it. However, I *do* have some fun things planned for the reviews, once I finish reading...

Anyway, here's a review of a different book I read for class...

In The Name of God Paula Jolin

As a teenager in Damascus, Nadia tries to be a good Muslim, and studies hard so she can become a doctor. She is frustrated by her cousins who have Western ideas and do not yet wear the hajib. She is concerned for her fellow Muslims caught in war-torn Iraq or Israel. She is saddened by her brother’s inability to find a job. When her favorite cousin is arrested for expressing anger over the oppression of Muslims, Nadia grows even more conservative, to the worry of her family. Eventually, she is drawn into fanatical fundamentalism, seeing no other option but to serve God through the ultimate sacrifice.

Short chapters start with Qur’anic names for God and paint an uncomfortably realistic portrait of how one devout girl can go from general anger at world politics to thinking that becoming a suicide bomber is a good choice. Jolin sets up the cultural and political landscape of Damascus, letting readers see Palestinian refugee settlements, the fear of the Secret Police, and many conversations on US foreign policy. (The fear of the secret police that leads to so much self censorship in the name of combating terrorism was especially striking.) Characters are viewed through Nadia’s eyes, trapping them in her pre-conceived notions, although based on their words and actions readers will have a different opinion. While readers may struggle with such a different world-view, they will recognize the standard tensions between mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers. Adults will recognize the hubris of teenagers in Nadia’s stubborn convictions that she knows better than everyone surrounding her.

3 Comments on Extremism from a different point of view, last added: 8/8/2008
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17. Islam and the Nobel Prize

Physicist turned science writer, Gordon Fraser, most recent book Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam - The First Muslim Nobel Scientist, is a biography of Salam who despite wining the Nobel Prize was excommunicated and branded as a heretic in his own country. A staunch Muslim, he was ashamed of the decline of science in the heritage of Islam, and struggled doggedly to restore it to its former glory. Undermined by his excommunication, these valiant efforts were doomed. In the article below Fraser looks at the history of Muslim winners of the Nobel Prize.

Amid all the international reaction to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has stirred up more controversy in Iran. In December the Iranian authorities closed the Tehran office of Ms Ebadi’s Human Rights Defenders Centre, saying it had operated for eight years without permission. Whatever the context, the perception of a Nobel Prize in Islamic countries often appears to clash with the traditional veneration in which it is held elsewhere.

The Iranian lawyer’s Nobel acknowledged ‘her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.’ While people around the world applauded this recognition, others maintained that it was an insult to and part of a continuing conspiracy against Islam. In a statement carried by the Iranian Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, a group from a major seminary said ‘The decision by the Western oppressive societies to award the prize to Ebadi was done in order to ridicule Islam.’ How can what is supposed to be one of the world’s highest honours also be perceived as insult and ridicule?

Shirin Ebadi is one of the few Muslims to have been honoured by the Nobel authorities. The first was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who shared the Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 for their unexpected Middle East peace overture. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian hard-liners who condemned his rapprochement with Israel. So much for Nobel honor.

One year after Sadat’s award, in 1979 the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam (1926-1996) became the first Muslim to win a Nobel Science Prize, and the first Pakistani to win any Nobel. The achievement was greeted in the West with the customary apotheosis. But the accolade in Salam’s home country was very different. Salam belonged to the fringe Ahmadi sect of Islam, which was formally excommunicated in 1977 for its belief in a 19th-century promised messiah. Salam, once the Pakistan President’s chief scientific adviser, was ostracized. Revivalist Muslim voices criticized his Nobel award as a desperate attempt to restore Ahmadi credibility. In a grotesque eructation of prejudice and hate, the award was scorned as a deliberate insult to Islam.

After his funeral in 1996, Salam’s tombstone in Rabwah, Pakistan was inscribed ‘Abdus Salam, the First Muslim Nobel Laureate’ (innocently ignoring Sadat’s 1978 award). Soon the grave was visited by contemptuous outsiders and the inscription edited - and the error magnified - by an imperious hammer and chisel to read ‘Abdus Salam, the First … Nobel Laureate’. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, and the now absurd epitaph was daubed with black paint.

After Salam’s award, the 1988 Nobel Literature Prize went to the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), whose initial literary success in the 1960s and 70s created a new hub of Arabic culture. This became overshadowed by his controversial Awlad Haratina (Children of the Alley) which was banned in much of the Arab world after reactionary Islamic scholars declared its portrayal of religious figures to be blasphemous. In the darkness of such bigotry, writers who can still write are deemed more dangerous than what they actually publish. In 1994 Mahfouz almost died after being knifed in the neck, and was left unable to work.

In 1994 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shared the Peace Prize with Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for their resolute but eventually futile efforts towards resolving the perennial Israel-Palestine conflict. Such a pairing of names which not that long before had been sworn enemies soon created a new conflict of its own, and in 1995 Rabin was assassinated in his own country, a macabre reflection of the Sadat episode.

(On a less controversial note, in 1999, the Egyptian scientist Ahmed Zewail was awarded the Nobel Chemistry Prize for his work in using laser beams to track chemical reactions, ‘freeze-framing’ their evolution. 2005, Mohamad ElBaradei, the Egyptian Director General of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), and the IAEA itself received the Peace Prize for their efforts in preventing nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and for promoting its safe use for peaceful aims. In 2006, Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh received the Peace Prize for his idea of ‘micro-credits’ – mini-loans to help disadvantaged people haul themselves out of poverty.)

The world’s 800 million Muslims make up about ten per cent of the world’s population, but have garnered just a handful of Nobel awards, many of them generating more controversy than honour. Jews make up a small fraction of one per cent of the world’s population, but have won hundreds of Nobel prizes. This track record alone is enough to convince ultraconservative Muslims that the Nobel dice are loaded. But why such disparity and dissent?

The West has grown to view the Orient from afar through a thick prism which distorts the transmitted image. For more than a thousand years, the membrane between Islam and the West, inflamed by lack of understanding, has been rubbed raw by mutual hypersensitivity, and the ulcerated wound periodically erupts. It appears to be especially sensitive to Nobel Prizes.

10 Comments on Islam and the Nobel Prize, last added: 2/12/2009
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18. Several Fronts, Two Universes, One Discourse

Tariq Ramadan is a very public figure, named one of Time magazine’s most important innovators of the twenty-first century, he is among the leading Islamic thinkers in the West.  But he has also been a lightening rod for controversy.  In his new book, What I Believe, he attempts to set the record straight, laying out the basic ideas he stands for in clear and accessible prose.  In the excerpt below we learn a bit about Ramadan’s stance as a thinker straddling two worlds.

My discourse faces many-sided opposition, and this obviously prevents it from being fully heard in its substance, its subtleties, and its vision for the future.  Some of the criticisms expressed are of course sincere and raise legitimate questions – which I will try to answer in the present work – but others are clearly biased and attempt to pass off their selective, prejudiced hearing as “doublespeak” one should be wary of.  I have long been criticizing their deliberate deafness and their ideological “double hearing”: I am determined to go ahead, without wasting my time over such strategic diversions, and remain faithful to my vision, my principles, and my project.

I mean to build bridges between two universes of reference, between two (highly debatable) constructions termed Western and Islamic “civilizations” (as if those were closed, monolithic entities), and between citizens within Western societies themselves.  My aim is to show, in theory and in practice, that one can be both fully Muslim and Western and that beyond our different affiliations we share many common principles and values through which it is possible to “live together” within contemporary pluralistic, multicultural societies where various religions coexist.

The essence of that approach and of the accompanying theses originated much earlier than 9/11.  Neither did it come as a response to Samuel Huntington’s mid-1990s positions about the “clash of civilizations” (which anyway have been largely misinterpreted).  As early as the late 1980s, then in my 1992 book Muslims in the Secular State, I sated the first fundamentals of my beliefs about the compatibility of values and the possibility for individuals and citizens of different cultures and religions to coexist positively (and not just pacifically).  Unlike what I have observed among some intellectuals and leaders, including some Muslim thinkers and religious representatives, those views were by no means a response to current events nor a change of mind produced by the post 9/11 trauma.  They represent a very old stance which was confirmed, developed, and clarified in the course of time.  Its substance can be found in my first books and articles in 1987-1989; those views were then built on and expanded in every book I wrote up to the present synthesis.  A Muslim’s religious discourse, and the mediator’s role itself, bring about negative reactions in both universes of reference.  What makes things more difficult is that I do not merely shed light on overlapping areas and common points between the two universes of reference but that I also call intellectuals, politicians

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19. What Do Angels Look Like?

Guardians, messengers, protectors…what are angels? In Angels: A History, David Albert Jones, Director of the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies at St Mary’s University College, explores the enduring power of angels over the human imagination. He argues that they teach us something about our own existence, whether or not we believe in theirs. In this excerpt from the book, Professor Jones talks about what different religious texts tells us about what angels look like.

Ancient Depictions of the Cherubim

The Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures include a very severe warning about carving images: ‘You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath’ (Exodus 20: 4). Nevertheless the same book describes how to carve two cherubim with wings facing one another to overshadow the ‘mercy seat’ to sit on top of the ark (Exodus 25: 20–1). This is nicely ironic, as the ark is the box that holds the tablets on which are written the Ten Commandments— which say you should not make images.

When Solomon built a temple to house the ark, in the sanctuary he placed two cherubim, each 10 cubits high with a 10 cubit wingspan—that is, around 17.5 feet (5.3 metres) high and the same distance across (1 Kings 6: 24). The wings of the cherubim were outstretched, so that the tip of one touched the wall and the tip of the other touched the other cherub. Unfortunately the ark was later lost (as any film-goer will know!). The ark was taken or hidden or destroyed when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE. When the Temple was rebuilt after the exile there were no ark and no giant cherubim. It is, therefore, very difficult to know what the cherubim looked like. Some have imagined that cherubim looked like the winged bulls (the ‘shedu’) of the Assyrians or like a sphinx or a griffin (there is a scholarly theory that the words cherubim and griffin are related, but this is disputed). This idea is also based on the role of the cherubim as guards of the sanctuary. In other ancient cultures the shedu, griffin, or sphinx has this role.

The book of Ezekiel describes the cherubim as having wings outstretched and with faces of a man, an eagle, an ox, and a lion (Ezekiel 1: 10; see also Ezekiel 10: 14). However, Ezekiel does not say the cherubim have the body of an animal. Furthermore, the imagery of Ezekiel is deliberately exaggerated and may not reflect the Temple as it was. The other biblical accounts do not mention animal body parts in relation to cherubim. The cherubim on top of the ark face one another, and their wings ‘overshadow’ the mercy seat. This posture does not have parallels with images of shedu or other animal guards and Jewish writers from the third century CE suggest that these cherubs had human form (though not necessarily a human face).

It is certain that there were carved cherubim above the ark and in the sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple before the exile (586 BCE), but unfortunately these were lost or destroyed centuries before Jesus was born, and no image of them remains. What is more, the descriptions in the Bible do not give a clear picture of what they looked like. According to Josephus, no one in his day knew what cherubim were supposed to look like. There is a break, then, between these ancient images of the cherubim and the images of angels painted by later artists.

Wings and Halos

The traditional depiction of angels has been shaped largely by Christian artists. This is in part because both in Judaism and in Islam there has been a reluctance to depict angels. Images of angels found in Islamic manuscripts from medieval Persia or in Ottoman cu

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20. God’s Polity: Faith and Power

Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Easter Studies Emeritus at Princeton University.  His new book, Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, illuminates the role of religion in the Middle East, revealing how it has shaped society for good and for ill.  In the excerpt below, which looks at Islamic government, we learn about the long history of religion intertwining with governmental authority.

Every civilization formulates its own idea of good government, and creates institutions through which it endeavors to put that idea into effect. Since classical antiquity these institutions in the West have usually included some form of council or assembly, through which qualified members of the polity participate in the formation, conduct, and, on occasion, replacement of the government. The polity may be variously defined; so, too, may be the qualifications that entitle a member of the polity to participate in its governance. Sometimes, as in the ancient Greek city, the participation of citizens may be direct. More often qualified participants will, by some agreed-upon and recurring procedure, choose some form among their own numbers to represent them. These assemblies are of many different kinds, with differently defined electorates and functions, often with some role in the making of decisions, the enactment of laws, and the levying of taxes.

The effective functioning of such bodies was made possible by the principle embodied in Roman law, and in systems derived from it, of the legal person – that is to say, a corporate entity that for legal purposes is treated as an individual, able to own, buy or sell property, enter into contracts and obligations, and appear as either plaintiff or defendant in both civil and criminal proceedings. There are signs that such bodies existed in a pre-Islamic Arabia. They disappeared with the advent of Islam, and from the time of the Prophet until the first introduction of Western institutions in the Islamic world there was no equivalent among the Muslim people of the Athenian boule, the Roman Senate, the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Icelandic Althing or the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot, or any of the innumerable parliaments, councils, synods, diets, chambers, and assemblies of every kind that flourished all over Christendom.

One obstacle to the emergence of such bodies was the absence of any legal recognition of corporate persons. There were some limited moves in the direction of recognition. Islamic commercial law recognizes various forms of partnership for limited business purposes. A waaf, a pious foundation, once settled is independent of its settlor and can in theory continue indefinitely, with the right to own, acquire, and alienate property. But these never developed beyond their original purposes, and at no point reached anything resembling the governmental, ecclesiastical, and private corporate entities of the West.

Thus almost all aspects of Muslim government have an intensely personal character. In principle, at least, there is no state, but only a ruler; no court, but only a judge. There is not even a city with defined powers, limits, and functions, but only an assemblage of neighborhoods, mostly defined by family, tribal, ethnic, or religious criteria, and governed by officials, usually military, appointed by the sovereign. Even the famous Ottoman imperial divan – the divan-i humayun – described by many Western visitors as a council, could more accurately be described as a meeting, on fixed days during the week, of high political, administrative, judicial, financial, and military officers, presided over in earlier times by the sultan, in later times by the grand vizier. Matters brought before the meeting were referred to the relevant member of the divan, who might make a recommendation. The final respon

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21. Ypulse Essentials: Botox for Teens, Mattel's Monster High, Universal and MTV Call Truce

Universal, MTV call truce for the VMAs (Though Viacom-owned MTV.com recently lost the rights to stream videos by Universal artists — like Justin Bieber, who's up for Best New Artist — the label will allow the site to publish its... Read the rest of this post

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22. The Oxford Comment: Episode 4 – RELIGION! (Part 1)

In this two-part series, Michelle and Lauren explore some of the most hot-button issues in religion this past year.

Subscribe and review this podcast on iTunes!

Featured in Part 1:

Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan Debate: Is Islam a Religion a Peace?

Highlights and exclusive interviews with Hitchens, Ramadan, & New York Times National Religion Correspondent  Laurie Goodstein

Read more and watch a video courtesy of the 92nd St Y HERE.

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Nick Mafi, Oxford University Press employee extraordinaire

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David Sehat, author of The Myth of American Religious Freedom

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The Ben Daniels Band

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