30 July 2007

Are the Lebanese against Hamas? It depends

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 67% of Lebanese respondents have an unfavourable view of Hamas. However, while 87% of Lebanese Christians and 76% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims hold that view, only 35% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

Once again, I think the fact that 50% of Lebanese Shi'ites actually hold a positive view of Hamas (a Sunni militant group) lies in the fact that many Lebanese Shi'ites support the equally militant Shi'ite group Hizbullah.

Religious divide on Israel and Palestine in Lebanon

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 49% of Lebanese respondents agree with the idea that "a way can be found for Israel and Palestinian rights to coexist". However, 70% of Lebanese Christians and 57% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims agree with this statement, but only 16% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

If nothing else, this demonstrates what an unhealthy influence Hizbullah has been in Lebanon; the militant group's support base consists of Shi'ites, and they are the main recipients of its propaganda that rejecting peace with Israel.

Views of Sunnis and Shi'ites on Iran and Ahmadinejad

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 45% of Lebanese Muslims have a fabourable view of Iran, and 39% have a favourable view of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, 86% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims have a favourable view of Iran (a majority-Shi'ite country), while only 8% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims do. Similarly, 76% of Lebanese Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, while only 5% of Lebanese Sunnis do.

In Kuwait, the divide is less stark. Overall, 37% of Muslims in Kuwait like Iran, and 25% like Ahmadinejad. While 51% of Shi'ites in Kuwait have a favourable view of Iran, only 34% of Sunnis do; while 51% of Shi'ites in Kuwait have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, only 20% of Sunnis do.

In Africa, the difference is even less pronounced, but nevertheless exists. In Mali, 50% of Muslims overall like Iran, while 42% like Ahmadinejad. However, 54% of Malian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Iran, while 44% of Malian Sunnis do; 44% of Malian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, while 38% of Malian Sunnis do.

In Nigeria, 64% of Muslims like Iran, while 61% like Ahmadinejad. However, while 81% of Nigerian Sunnis have a favourable view of Iran, 75% of Nigerian Sunnis do; while 79% of Nigerian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, 76% of Nigerian Sunnis do.

Religious divide in view of American culture

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 71% of Lebanese respondents like American music, movies and TV. However, when broken down by religion and sect, it turns out that 87% of Lebanese Christians and 84% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims like American cultural exports, but only 37% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

58% of Ethiopians like American cultural exports; 73% of Ethiopian Christians do, but only 36% of Ethiopian Muslims.

59% of Nigerians like American music, movies and TV; 82% of Nigerian Christians do, but only 38% of Nigerian Muslims.

54% of Malaysians like American cultural exports; 73% of Malaysian Buddhists do, but only 40% of Malaysian Muslims.

What is really interesting, apart from the religious distinctions within these countries, is the fact that many more Muslims seem to like American culture than the proportion that likes the country itself.

What do Muslims think of the US?

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), the following proportions of Muslim respondents have a favourable view of the US:

43% in Kuwait, 33% in Lebanon, 22% in Egypt, 20% in Jordan, 15% in Morocco, 13% in Palestine, 9% in Turkey, 51% in Bangladesh, 27% in Indonesia, 15% in Pakistan, 9% in Malaysia, 78% in Mali, 69% in Senegal, 49% in Nigeria, 48% in Ethiopia, 41% in Tanzania.

What stands out to me here is that the majority of Bangladeshi Muslims hold a favourable view of the US: Bangladesh is the only non-African country surveyed where this is the case. I wonder why. Perhaps the anwer lies in the fact that a large number of Bangladeshis know their compatriots living in the US who send back a balanced view of the US to their friends and relatives in Bangladesh.

Religious divide in view of the US in Lebanon

Asked in the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here) about their opinion of the United States, only 47% of Lebanese respondents had a favourable view of the country.

However, when the results are sorted according to the religion and sect of the respondent, a much more nuanced picture emerges. Thus, 82% of Lebanese Christians have a favourable view of the US, as do 52% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims. On the other hand, only 7% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims have a favourable view of the US.

I wonder if the proportion of Shi'ites and Sunnis with favourable views of the US would be exactly the opposite in Iraq.

Bin Laden's popularity low among Muslims

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey (results available in a PDF), few Muslims have confidence in Osama bin Laden.

Asked whether they had "confidence in Osama bin Laden to do the right thing regarding world affairs," the following proportions of Muslim respondents said they had a lot of confidence or some confidence in him: 20% in Jordan, 20% in Morocco, 18% in Egypt, 13% in Kuwait, 5% in Turkey, 1% in Lebanon, 38% in Pakistan, 41% in Indonesia, 39% in Bangladesh, 32% in Malaysia, 30% in Mali, 20% in Senegal, 37% in Ethiopia, and 11% in Tanzania.

Only in two countries or territories did the majority of Muslim respondents express a lot or some confidence in bin Laden: Palestine, with 57%, and Nigeria, with 52%.

It is not surprising that Palestinians have a somewhat different view of the world from other Muslims at the moment, but what's with bin Laden's relatively high popularity among Nigerian Muslims? Perhaps President Umaru Yar'Adua should investigate the roots of the disaffection that Nigerian Muslims must be feeling.

26 July 2007

US court orders Sudan to pay Cole victim families

A US federal court in Virginia has found Sudan guilty of involvement with the bombing of USS Cole by al-Qaeda in 2000, and has ordered the Sudanese government to pay US $8 million (Canadian $8.4 million) in compensation to the families of 17 US Marines who died in the attack.

According to Judge Robert Doumar, who presided over the trial, "It is depressing to realise that a country organised on a religious basis with religious rule of law could and would execute its power for purposes which most countries would find intolerable and loathsome."

The ruling was based on the Death on the High Seas Act. The families can collect the sum from Sudanese assets frozen in the US.

Sudan denies any ties with al-Qaeda, and the US government seems to agree (BBC).

I wonder if Doumar took the US government's position into account in making his judgement.

HIV children's families protest medics' release

The Libyan Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children has protested against the pardon granted by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov to the six Bulgarian medics convicted in Libya of deliberately infecting the 438 children with HIV. The association has released a statement saying the pardon shows disrespect towards Muslims, and calling for Libya to break off relations with Bulgaria.

Each of the victims' families have received compensation of US $1 million (Canadian $1,054,000) from an international fund (BBC).

It's strange to see this accusation coming from the victims' families, given that, under Islamic law, a murderer is released following the payment of compensation. So, even if the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian-Bulgarian doctor accused of infecting the children were guilty, the compensation should have settled the case under the Shari'a. Now, I know Libya is not run by Shari'a rules, but the family's self-identification as disrespected Muslims calls their protest into question.

Further, if anyone should be blamed for this sordid mess, it's obviously Muammar al-Gaddafi and the rest of the Libyan leadership, who tried to make scapegoats out of the six medics for domestic consumption, and then traded them to Bulgaria in exchange for better ties with the EU.

25 July 2007

Most Muslims against the use of suicide bombing

The results of a Pew Global Attitudes Survey carried out in April in 47 countries (available in a PDF file) show that the majority (often an overwhelming one) of Muslims in 15 different countries are against suicide bomb attacks on civilian targets.

According to the survey, the proportions of Muslims who believe that suicide bombing is sometimes or often justified are: 34% in Lebanon, 20% in Bangladesh, 9% in Pakistan, 23% in Jordan, 10% in Indonesia, 11% in Tanzania, 42% in Nigeria, 16% in Turkey, 39% in Mali, 26% in Malaysia, 21% in Kuwait, 18% in Ethiopia, 18% in Senegal, 11% in Morocco, and 8% in Egypt.

The only territory polled where a majority of Muslims supports the use of suicide bombing as a tactic was Palestine, where 70% of respondents think it can sometimes or often be justified.

Gül says he is still running for president

Turkey's foreign Minister, Abdullah Gül, has hinted that he intends to continue seeking the country's presidency, saying, "It is out of the question that I should rule myself out as a candidate."

The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, to which Gül belongs, recently won 46% of the vote in a general election. This does not give the party enough votes to push its candidate through to the presidency without opposition support. The opposition parties, meanwhile, strongly opposed Gül's candidacy the last time around, because of the AK Party's Islamist roots (BBC).

Let's see how this plays out. The last thing the AK Party is likely to want is another election, which might get it yet another ambiguous mandate. I think the time for compromise has arrived.

US Marines, Army undergo cultural training before Iraq

The US Marine Corps organises compulsory cultural training for Marines headed to Iraq in Quantico, Virginia, where, among other topics, the trainees are introduced to topics such as "religion, the importance of mosques to Muslims" and "the importance of family values".

Meanwhile, the US Army has only recently launched a similar cultural training course, based in mock-ups of two Iraqi towns, which are located in the Mojave Desert in California. The Army training programme goes under the name of "Mojave Viper" (BBC).

Two questions: Why did the US Army start out with this programme in 2007, instead of 2003? By way of an answer, I suppose the neocons did not believe a knowledge of Iraqi culture or Islam had anything to do with occupying Iraq.

And secondly: What's up with calling the whole programme "Mojave Viper"? Who or what is supposed to be the viper here?

22 July 2007

South Koreans to negotiate with Taliban over hostages

A group of South Korean envoys are in Afghanistan in order to negotiate with the Taliban about 23 of their citizens who are being held hostage by the militant group. The Afghan army has surrounded the Taliban position in Ghazni Province where the militants are holding the South Koreans hostage.

The Afghan deputy interior minister, Gen. Munir Mangal, said that, since the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, he hoped the Taliban would treat the South Koreans with respect (BBC).

It seems a little much to expect the Taliban to show hospitality to their hostages, now doesn't it? But there's no harm in reminding them of the values they hold so dear; after all, they sheltered Osama bin Laden in 2001 on the pretext that their hospitality is inviolable.

Two Hamas activists killed in Gaza

Two Hamas militants have been killed by Israeli soldiers near Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. According to an Israeli army spokesman, the men were armed, and were killed as they approached the Gaza-Israel border fence (BBC).

Is it not an overreaction to shoot someone just for approaching a border? Was their any evidence that the militants had meant to attack any Israeli positions?

Dozens killed, injured in pilgrim bus crash in France

Twenty-six Polish pilgrims on their way out of France were killed when their bus fell 15 m off a highway between Grenoble and Gap. They had been visiting the Catholic shrine of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, where the Virgin Mary was reportedly seen in 1846. About 20 other pirlgrims were injured in the fall (BBC).

AK Party wins Turkish election

The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party has won today's general election in Turkey, securing about 50% of the votes. The top-ranked opposition party got only around 20% (BBC).

This theoretically gives PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a fresh mandate to implement direct presidential elections, which proved to be highly controversial during his previous tenure, and drew hundreds of thousands of secularist protesters into the streets.

Once again, the anti-democratic nature of the Turkish general's protests against the AK Party stands revealed.

21 July 2007

Indian president-elect retracts statement on the veil

Pratibha Patil, who has been elected India's first female president, recently told a group of Muslims that the veil had first come into use in India to protect Indian women from Mughal invaders. She retracted her comments after they drew protests (BBC).

I'm glad President-elect Patil is wise enough to have taken her words back, instead of starting out with half-hearted apologies, the way some other famous people have done in recent years after offending Muslims with ill-informed statements.

Korean and German hostages in danger in Afghanistan

The Afghan government has denied the Taliban's claims to have executed two German hostages it was holding, saying that one of them was still alive, while the other had died of a heart attack.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has kidnapped upto 23 South Korean Christians, who came to Afghanistan to preach and provide aid. According to Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, the movement would start executing the South Koreans unless 23 Taliban prisoners were released (BBC).

By kidnapping civilians, the Taliban is making it that much harder for those in the international community who advocate a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. It seems they are not interested in finding a way out of the conflict, but are instead trying to live off it. This strategy may backfire if Afghan civilians eventually tire of their suicide bombings, kidnappings, and other violations of common decency.

Alleged terrorist training school busted in Italy

Police in the Italian city of Umbria have raided and shut down what they describe as a "terror school" linked to al-Qaeda. They arrested the imam of the mosque that housed the alleged terrorist training centre, a Moroccan named Korchi el Moustapha, as well as two other Moroccans linked to the mosque, and twenty foreign students suspected with involvement.

According to the police, the mosque provided training in the use of poinsons and explosives, and also possessed instructions on flying a Boeing 747.

Commenting about the suspects, Abdel Qader, the imam or another mosque in Perugia, said, "If any has made a mistake, he will have to pay" (BBC).

Once again, it seems, we are faced with a group determined to ruin the reputation of Muslims and, if the Italian allegations are true, determined to kill innocent people. If only they could me made to understand how wrong-headed their actions are.

18 July 2007

Pearl widow accuses Pakistani bank of role in murder

Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was murdered by extremists in Pakistan in 2002, is suing the Habib Bank in a Pakistani court for allegedly transferring money for the al-Rashid Trust which, according to her, is linked to her husband's killers.

According to Mrs Pearl, Daniel Pearl was killed in a house belonging to one of the trustees of the al-Rashid Trust (BBC).

If the bank was indeed involved in transferring money for the al-Rashid Trust, let's hope Mariane Pearl can get justice in a Pakistani court.

There is also the question, though, of whether the bank knew whom it was dealing with. To what extent is it possible for a bank to check on the activities of the trustees or board members of every organisation it has dealings with?

17 July 2007

Vatican Library closes for 3 years

The Vatican Library, which is used by academics and other researchers from the world over, has closed for urgent repairs, and is not due to reopen until September 2010. The library has had to close because of structural damage that was discovered in one of its wings.

The library is home to over 1.5 million printed books and 150,000 manuscripts, including the Codex Vaticanus, a copy of the Bible dating back to the 4th century.

This is the first time since the 15th century that the library will be closed for an extended period of time. Despite the closure, however, scholars will be able to request microfilms of photocopies of documents they require, according to Ambrogio Piazzoni, deputy head of the library (BBC).

Visitor profile, 15 June to 14 July 2007

Welcome to the fourth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 June to 14 July 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 57 visits, that is, 56% less than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was two a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from Asia, Europe and North America. The largest number of visitors (39%) came from Canada, and the second-highest number came from the United States (28%). The UK came third with 14%.

Within Canada, 82% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

The biggest proportion of visitors this month (37%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. As for those who were referred by Google, their most common search term was 'Notesonreligion'.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (53%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 July 2007):

The total number of visitors during these four months was 549. The average number of visitors was five per day.

The largest number of visitors (42%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (30%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 7%.

Quebec accounted for 70% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (38%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'Ishaq Nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (50%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

10 July 2007

About 50 killed in Islamabad mosque raid

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), has been killed by Pakistani army troops in a crossfire with militants holed up in the mosque, according to Javed Iqbal Cheema, a Pakistan Interior Ministry spokesman. About 50 militant supporters of the mosque were killed in the fighting, and the head imam, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was arrested as he tried to flee the mosque disguised as a woman on 4 July.

About 50 women and children were removed from the mosque by the soldiers.

An additional 70 militants either surrendered to Pakistani forces, or were captured by them.

The standoff between the Pakistani government and the mosque, which had lasted for several months, escalated when supporters of the mosque kidnapped seven Chinese people who, according to Lal Masjid clerics, had been running a brothel (BBC).

This seemingly brings to a sad end the story of the Lal Masjid's defiance of the authorities in Islamabad, which Notes on Religion reported on several times previously. I argued before that Musharraf ought to do something about the mosque, but it is troubling that it came to a bloodbath of this sort.

02 July 2007

EU defends sex clip compilation

Martin Selmayr, the spokesman of the European Commission, has defended the EU's use of a compilation of sex scenes from European movies as a promotion tool on YouTube. The video is getting thousands of hits a day, and has drawn protests from some MEPs, including members of Britain's Conservative Party, and the League of Polish Families.

Selmayr described the criticism as "quasi-religious bashing of the very important cultural diversity we have in the European Union," and added that "the European Union is not a Bible belt, we believe in freedom of expression and artistic creativity" (BBC).

What Selmayr seems to forget is the EU's much-vaunted diversity. He should remember that he represents an organisation that does include some pretty religious member-states (Poland is but one example). So, while the EU may not be "a Bible belt", it does contain its own Bible belts and mini-Bible belts (in Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, but also in the more secular member-states). This video, while being a great gimmick for attracting viewers to the EU's YouTube channel, does a poor job of representing the views of the more religious or conservative citizens of the Union.

Happy national holidays to Canada, Belarus, and the US

Early July features the national holidays of three countries to which I am connected in one way or another: Canada, Belarus and the United States.

Canada celebrated Canada Day on 1 July, and a long weekend continues here today (for some). This was the 140th anniversary of Confederation. Belarus is due to celebrate its Independence Day on 3 July, which is the 63rd anniversary of the liberation of Minsk from German forces during World War II. Finally, the US is due to mark its Independence Day, the 231st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, on 4 July.

Happy national holidays to everyone from these countries!

Something Even More Magical

In other news...