Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Senior Iranian Cleric Blasts Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad under fire for 'coarse slogans' after Israel attack
Agence France-Presse,
February 27, 2008
TEHRAN (AFP) — A top Iranian cleric on Wednesday made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's verbal attacks on Israel, saying a foreign policy of "coarse slogans" was not in the national interest. Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community. "Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?" Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran. "This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country."

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a "dirty microbe" and "savage animal" in a speech to a public rally. The president has already made calls for Israel to be wiped off the map [exaggeration] and predicted it is doomed to disappear, provoking international uproar and sharpening tensions in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West.
Rowhani warned starkly: "If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it. "We must act in such a way that the world understands that we are ready for more flexibility and more dialogue."
Rowhani headed the relatively moderate nuclear negotiating team that served under former president Muhammad Khatami before Ahmadinejad took power in 2005. He still holds a string of important positions, including membership of the elite clerical body the Assembly of Experts, and is a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran's supreme national security council.
Rowhani is considered a top lieutenant of Iran's pragmatic 1989-1997 president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was crushed by Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election. He has in recent weeks emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Ahmadinejad's controversial handling of the economy and foreign policy and one of few to prepared to criticise the president so explicitly.
"Someone can respect another person because he has a knife in his hands. But this is very different from respecting someone due to his knowledge, ethics and ability," Rowhani added in the speech. Earlier this month he had also criticised the Ahmadinejad government's emphasis on the swift return of the Imam Mahdi, who Shiites believe has disappeared into "occultation" and will come back one day to save the world. [More accurately, they believe he will usher in a period of absolute justice]

His comments are all the more startling coming the day after Khamenei personally congratulated Ahmadinejad for his role in ensuring Iran made no concessions in the nuclear standoff with the West. "The personal role of the president and his resistance in the nuclear case is very clear," Iran's undisputed number one said as he hailed the "great success" of the nuclear drive, according to state radio.
Khamenei also issued a stark warning to Iranian politicians to stay unified ahead of parliamentary elections on March 14, saying that the West wanted to divide factions into "hardliners and moderates".
Rowhani is director of the strategic centre for foreign policy studies, a think-tank run by Iran's top political arbitration body the Expediency Council which is headed by Rafsanjani. His deputy at the think-tank is Hossein Moussavian, another ex-nuclear official who was detained for several days last May on suspicion of espionage. He was released on bail but has been publicly denounced by Ahmadinejad as a "nuclear spy".
Comment: Facts belie the simplistic nonsense which is spewed by the American right wing about the Iranian clergy, which is much more diverse in terms of its political, social, and religious views than many people realize. Rowhani is not the first senior Iranian cleric to criticize the current president. Former president Muhammad Khatami has also repeatedly criticized Ahmadinejad, as has Grand Ayatullah Yusuf Saanei.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

IDF Officer/Ignoramus: Vengeance is Part of "Shi'ite" Culture

IDF Chief of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin, referring Tuesday to the the February 12 car bombing assassination of Hezbollah terror mastermind Imad Mughniyah, said that vengeance is an integral part of Shiite culture.Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yadlin said that in seeking to retaliate for the assassination, which it has publicly blamed on Israel, the group's goal is to generate deterrence and to strike Israel with severity.

Comment: I wonder what the generalismo and his ardent Zionist compatriots would think if the word "Shi'i" was replaced with the word "Jewish" or "black." People say the most insulting, bigoted, and inaccurate things about Muslims which they would never dare say against other groups. In short his comments are incorrect and anyone interested in more detail can e-mail me or post a comment.
Perhaps Yadlin should also remember where the concept of "an eye for an eye" comes from.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Half of Americans Leave Childhood Faith

Associated Press

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.The study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is unusual for it sheer scope, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.

While much of the study confirms earlier findings -- mainline Protestant churches are in decline, non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing -- it also provides a deeper look behind those trends, and of smaller religious groups."The American religious economy is like a marketplace - very dynamic, very competitive," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. "Everyone is losing, everyone is gaining. There are net winners and losers, but no one can stand still. Those groups that are losing significant numbers have to recoup them to stay vibrant."The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates the United States is 78 percent Christian and about to lose its status as a majority Protestant nation, at 51 percent and slipping.

More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent. One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution. "In the past, certain religions had a real holding power, where people from one generation to the next would stay," said Penn State University sociologist Roger Finke, who consulted in the survey planning. "Right now, there is a dropping confidence in organized religion, especially in the traditional religious forms."
Lugo said the 44 percent figure is "a very conservative estimate," and more research is planned to determine the causes." It does seem in keeping with the high tolerance among Americans for change," Lugo said. "People move a lot, people change jobs a lot. It's a very fluid society."The religious demographic benefiting the most from this religious churn is those who claim no religious affiliation. People moving into that category outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin.The majority of the unaffiliated -- 12 percent of the overall population -- describe their religion as "nothing in particular," and about half of those say faith is at least somewhat important to them. Atheists or agnostics account for 4 percent of the total population.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping, the survey found. While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics.The share of the population that identifies as Catholic, however, has remained fairly stable in recent decades thanks to an influx of immigrant Catholics, mostly from Latin America. Nearly half of all Catholics under 30 are Hispanic, the survey found.
On the Protestant side, changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses. Many Americans have vague denominational ties at best. People who call themselves "just a Protestant," in fact, account for nearly 10 percent of all Protestants. Although evangelical churches strive to win new Christian believers from the "unchurched," the survey found most converts to evangelical churches were raised Protestant.
Hindus claimed the highest retention of childhood members, at 84 percent. The group with the worst retention is one of the fastest growing -- Jehovah's Witnesses. Only 37 percent of those raised in the sect known for door-to-door proselytizing said they remain members. Among other findings involving smaller religious groups, more than half of American Buddhists surveyed were white, and most Buddhists were converts.
More people in the survey pool identified themselves as Buddhist than Muslim, although both populations were small -- less than 1 percent of the total population. By contrast, Jews accounted for 1.7 percent of the overall population. The self-identified Buddhists -- 0.7 percent of those surveyed -- illustrate a core challenge to estimating religious affiliation: What does affiliation mean? It's unclear whether people who called themselves Buddhists did so because they practice yoga or meditation, for instance, or claim affiliation with a Buddhist institution. The report does not project membership figures for religious groups, in part because the survey is not as authoritative as a census and didn't count children, Lugo said. The U.S. Census does not ask questions on religion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Israeli Shas MP Blames Earthquake on Gays; MP Says Gays Destroying Israeli Society

Israeli MP blames quakes on gays
BBC News

An Israeli MP has blamed parliament's tolerance of gays for earthquakes that have rocked the Holy Land recently. Shlomo Benizri, of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, said the tremors had been caused by lawmaking that gave "legitimacy to sodomy". Israel decriminalised homosexuality in 1988 and has since passed several laws recognising gay rights.

Two earthquakes shook the region last week and a further four struck in November and December. Mr Benizri made his comments while addressing a committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, about the country's readiness for earthquakes. He called on lawmakers to stop "passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes".

Israeli court rulings in recent years have granted inheritance rights to gay couples and recognised same-sex marriages performed abroad. Last week, Israel's attorney general ruled same-sex couples could adopt.

Shas MK: Gays are causing Israeli society to self-destruct
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent
As a Knesset panel deliberated Tuesday on proposals to ban all gay pride parades in Jerusalem, MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) accused the homosexual community of "carrying out the self-destruction of Israeli society and the Jewish people." Ze'ev also said homosexuals were a plague as "toxic as bird flu."
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee met to debate two bills presented by religious party members which would amend the Jerusalem municipality's Basic Law to prevent gay pride parades from being held within the city limits. The bills were presented by MK Eli Gabai (National Union - National Religious Party) and MK Yitzhak Vakhnin (Shas). Both bulls were passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum and have have now been brought for committee deliberations ahead of a first reading.
MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) said in response to Ze'ev's comments that "when I hear concepts like plague and self-destruction, I don't believe they are in the lexicon of expressions. The capital city does not belong only to the ultra-Orthodox." The chairman of Israel's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) organization, Michael Hammel, called Ze'ev's words embarrassing and frightening. "The right to march in the capital city is not a local 'Jerusalemite' matter," he said. "This is a culture war, where politicians are trying to turn Jerusalem into their private property." Committee members decided that public figures from the religious and homosexual communities in Jerusalem would meet to discuss the gay pride parade on a separate occasion.
MK Yitzhak Levy (NU - NRP) said, "the current situation is that this is a crippled and small protest: once you close a stadium, once you give 100 meters. There should have been a discussion to find new ideas, thus I am calling for a discussion." Noa Setet, who runs Jerusalem's Open House - the organization which has initiated the parade - seconded Levy's suggestion, but added that the group had scheduled two meetings in the past and Levy's aides had canceled both of them. Levy denied having canceled the meeting and said he intended two recruit other public figures from the religious community for the future discussion.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo Declares Independence

Kosovo MPs proclaim independence
BBC News
Kosovo's parliament has unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia, in an historic session. The declaration, read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, said Kosovo would be a democratic country that respected the rights of all ethnic communities. The US and a number of EU countries are expected to recognise Kosovo on Monday. Serbia's PM denounced the US for helping create a "false state". Serbia's ally, Russia, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting.

Correspondents say the potential for trouble between Kosovo's Serbs and ethnic Albanians is enormous. Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the US which he said was "ready to violate the international order for its own military interests. Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state," Mr Kostunica said. "Kosovo is Serbia," Mr Kostunica said, repeating a well-known nationalist Serb saying.

The declaration was approved with a show of hands. No-one opposed it. "We have waited for this day for a very long time," Mr Thaci told parliament before reading the text, paying tribute to those who had died on the road to independence.

"The independence of Kosovo marks the end of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia," the prime minister said - Kosovo was a unique case that should not set a precedent. He said it would be built in accordance with the UN plan drawn by former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari - at the end of negotiations which did not produce a deal.
The international military and civilian presence - also envisaged by the Ahtisaari plan - was welcome, he added. There should be no fear of discrimination in new Kosovo, he said, vowing to eradicate any such practices - and conveying a similar message in Serbian. President Fatmir Sejdiu had a similar pledge - also addressed in Serbian. The declaration was then signed by all the MPs present.

Kosovo's top leaders are due to go to a sports hall later where the Kosovo Philharmonic Orchestra is expected to play Beethoven's Ode to Joy. They are also due to sign their names on giant iron letters spelling out the word "newborn" which was to be displayed in Pristina. Fireworks and street celebrations will follow. Thousands of people have poured onto the streets. Some ethnic Albanians, who make up the majority of Kosovo's population, earlier laid flowers on the graves of family members killed by Serbian security forces during years of conflict and division.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica says local and UN police, as well as the Nato troops, are maintaining a high profile to reassure all the citizens of Kosovo that they have nothing to fear. The declaration approved by Kosovo's parliament contains limitations on Kosovan independence as outlined in Mr Ahtisaari's plan. Kosovo, or part of it, cannot join any other country. It will be supervised by an international presence. Its armed forces will be limited and it will make strong provisions for Serb minority protection.

Recognition by a number of EU states, including the UK and other major countries, will come on Monday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, says the BBC's Paul Reynolds. The US is also expected to announce its recognition on Monday. Three EU states - Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia - have told other EU governments that they will not recognise Kosovo, says our correspondent.

Pro-U.S. sentiment is high in both Albania and Kosovo because of American support both in the 1990s against Serbian aggression and war crimes and today for Kosovar independence. The vast majority of Albanians are at Muslims, though many are secular and non-practicing after decades of imposed socialist atheism. Only 10% of Kosovars are Serbs. The Serbian military and its paramilitary allies attempted to brutally suppress an uprising against its iron fist policies during the 1990s, during the reign of the murderous nationalist president and war criminal, Slobodan Milošević, who unfortunately died before he could be convicted.

Russia's foreign ministry has indicated that Western recognition of an independent Kosovo could have implications for the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The UN has administered Kosovo since a Nato bombing campaign in 1999 drove out Serb forces.
Comment: Russia has said that allowing Kosovo to become independent would be illegal and immoral. As if Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched the second Chechen War in 1996, knows anything about morality.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Media Coverage from the Middle East on the Assassination of Hizbu'llah Official Imad Mughniyya

A video montage from Hizbu'llah's al-Manar (The Beacon) Television about Imad Mughniyya. Interspersed with images of the funeral, Mughniyya, and mourners is footage of the party's guerillas and military operations carried out against the Israeli military and its Lebanese proxies, the South Lebanon Army militia. Beginning around the 2:30 mark, you will notice footage of fields of red flowers which in popular Shi'i art often symbolize martyrdom. In one traditional Iranian Shi'i painting, Fatima al-Zahra, the wife of Imam 'Ali, is pictured holding three red tulips which represent her martyred husband and sons, Hasan and Husayn.

A clip of Hizbu'llah leader Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah's eulogy at Mughniyya's funeral. Selections which I posted yesterday in English are repeated here. Nasrallah is famous for his excellent Arabic, charisma, and speaking abilities. I posted this video to provide an example. It is interesting to note that he refers to Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon who was assassinated in 2005, as a martyr. The ruling coalition in Lebanon, headed by the Sunni party of Saad al-Hariri, the socialist party of the Druze hobbit Walid Jumblatt, and the supporters of the inept Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, held a massive rally yesterday to commemorate Rafiq al-Hariri's death. The ruling coalition is supported by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who fear growing Shi'i power in the Middle East. The ruling coalition is also suspected of funding Sunni Salafi militant groups who the government hoped would counter-balance Hizbu'llah and the secular Shi'i AMAL party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri. The ruling coalition did not expect the events of last summer in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp when over 100 Lebanese soldiers were killed in a 3-month battle with Salafi militants in Fatah al-Islam.

Coverage in the Arabic satellite media, which is better than any coverage in the United States, of the assassination of Mughniyya. Link/Mosaic TV provides English translations.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hizbu'llah Holds Mass Funeral for Slain Military Official Imad Mughniyya

Tens of thousands of Lebanese mourners and supporters of Hizbu'llah, the country's most powerful Shi'i socio-political movement and political party, took to the streets of south Beirut at the funeral of Imad Mughniyya, a senior party military commander. Mughniyya, who once headed Hizbu'llah's foreign operations wing and masterminded airplane hijackings in the 1980s, was assassinated in the Syrian capital city of Damascus. The Israeli government, which at first refused to comment, soon denied that it was involved in the murder. Israeli commentators and their allies in the U.S. were quick to try and point the finger elsewhere, claiming that many countries sought to capture Mughniyya and thus could have carried out the killing. Some news reports have called Mughniyya the party's deputy secretary general (second-in-command). Although he was a member of its military council, it does not seem that Mughniyya held the #2 position, which is held by Shaykh Na'im Qasim.
Note: In the above photo, the first portrait on the lamp post is of 'Abbas Mussawi and the second behind it is of Ragheb Harb. See below for more details.

Israel is suspected of carrying out so-called "extra-judicial killings" abroad in Syria and Lebanon. In 1998, it tried and failed to kill HAMAS political bureau chief Khaled Misha'al in the Jordanian capital of Amman. However, after Israel's Mossad agents were captured by Jordanian security forces, the government of the hardline Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was forced to release HAMAS spiritual leader Shaykh Ahmad Yassin in order to secure the release of their agents. Israel later assassinated Yassin in 2004 as he was leaving a Gaza City mosque after the pre-dawn prayers. In the same year, it carried out the assassination of half of HAMAS' original founding leadership including 'Abd al-Aziz Rantissi and Isma'il Abu Shanab. Ironically, HAMAS is more popular and influential today than it was in 2004. The assassinations did not break the Palestinian group as was hoped.

At Mughniyya's funeral [above], Hizbu'llah secretary general (leader) Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah was defiant. Below are selected parts of his fiery eulogy which I took from the party's official web site. The above photo was released by the party's press office yesterday, the day of his killing. I have included notes for further explanation of certain points within the quoted text below.
"They [Israel] see in his martyrdom a great accomplishment and we see in it a good sign for the coming victory. This was the case with the martyrdom of our leaders Shaykh Ragheb Harb and Sayyid 'Abbas Mussawi....When Sayyid Mussawi was martyred the resistance grew stronger and a few years later the Israelis withdrew from most of Lebanon, humiliated and broken. Today they killed Hajj Imad and they think that killing him would cause the resistance to crash down in the course of the July 2006 war that is not over yet on the political, media and material levels and still backed by the same people. But they are mistaken. With the blood of martyr Imad we must begin to write the history of fall of Israel in the very near future. The blood of martyrs Harb and Mussawi drove them out of Lebanon and the blood of martyr Imad Mughniyya will drive them out of existence....."
Notes: Ragheb Harb was an influential Shi'i leader in southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He was one of the first Shi'i leaders to call for open resistance to the Israeli military, which invaded civil war-torn Lebanon in 1982 and occupied large swaths of the country for over 15 years until it retreated under cover of darkness in late May 2000. Harb was assassinated by the Israelis in 1984.
'Abbas Mussawi was Hizbu'llah's second secretary general who was assassinated with his wife and children in 1992 by the Israelis. He was succeeded by Nasrallah and the Shi'i party entered its "golden age," much to the Israelis' chagrin.
"You have killed Hajj Imad outside the natural battlefield. You have crossed the border. With this murder, its timing, location and method - Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open. Like all human beings we have a sacred right to defend ourselves. We will do all that takes to defend our country and people."
Personal Note: I hope to conduct in-depth research on the political mobilization of the Lebanese Shi'a and particularly Hizbu'llah during my doctoral studies. I still remember fondly my travels and experiences with my father in southern Lebanon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Real Face of the Settlers, Israel's Religious Extremists

Israeli settler youth assault British camera team.

Israeli settlers fire at Palestinian shepherds.

Israeli settlers assault Palestinian civilians in occupied Hebron, where some of the most extreme elements of the Israeli settler movement live in a small enclave in this the most populated Palestinian city in the West Bank and outside in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Baruch Goldstein of New York, who went into the al-Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 during Ramadan and murdered 29 Palestinians who were praying with an automatic rifle, is buried in Kiryat Arba. His grave is now a shrine to the Israeli extreme right.

Click the hyperlink or go to for clips of religious, messianic Israeli settlers (many of whom are also American citizens), who are some of the most extreme religious elements in the contemporary Middle East, in action.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Robot Romney Hits Rock Bottom

That's right, Mitt, your personal donations of tens of millions of dollars from your personal fortune didn't win you the White House. I guess the majority of Republican primary and caucus voters still weren't won over by your smarmy personality and snake oil salesman persona, despite the negative advertising you bought by the score. Bye, bye, bye.....

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad (George Mason mentioned)

Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad
February 10, 2008, The New York Times


When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift. “It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end, the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates.

Mr. Sexton has long been committed to building N.Y.U.’s international presence, increasing study-abroad sites, opening programs in Singapore, and exploring new partnerships in France. But the plans for a comprehensive liberal-arts branch campus in the Persian Gulf, set to open in 2010, are in a class by themselves, and Mr. Sexton is already talking about the flow of professors and students he envisions between New York and Abu Dhabi.

The American system of higher education, long the envy of the world, is becoming an important export as more universities take their programs overseas. In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall. “Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, internationalization has moved high on the agenda at most universities, to prepare students for a globalized world, and to help faculty members stay up-to-date in their disciplines. Overseas programs can help American universities raise their profile, build international relationships, attract top research talent who, in turn, may attract grants and produce patents, and gain access to a new pool of tuition-paying students, just as the number of college-age Americans is about to decline. Even public universities, whose primary mission is to educate in-state students, are trying to establish a global brand in an era of limited state financing.

Partly, it is about prestige. American universities have long worried about their ratings in U.S. News and World Report. These days, they are also mindful of the international rankings published in Britain, by the Times Higher Education Supplement, and in China, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

Traditionally, top universities built their international presence through study-abroad sites, research partnerships, faculty exchanges and joint degree programs offered with foreign universities. Yale has dozens of research collaborations with Chinese universities. Overseas branches, with the same requirements and degrees as the home campuses, are a newer — and riskier — phenomenon. “I still think the downside is lower than the upside is high,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. “The risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean diluting our faculty strength at home.”

While universities with overseas branches insist that the education equals what is offered in the United States, much of the faculty is hired locally, on a short-term basis. And certainly overseas branches raise fundamental questions: Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?

“A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has criticized the rush overseas.
[Even if this is true, a Republican is against making money? I see a pig flying and an ice storm is predicted for Hell....]

David J. Skorton, the president of Cornell, on the other hand, said the global drive benefited the United States. “Higher education is the most important diplomatic asset we have,” he said. “I believe these programs can actually reduce friction between countries and cultures.” Tempering Expectations

While the Persian Gulf campus of N.Y.U. is on the horizon, George Mason University is up and running — though not at full speed — in Ras al Khaymah, another one of the emirates. George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005 with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree programs that were beginning the next year. George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there. But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester. The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia, is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.

The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English skills that George Mason requires for admissions. “I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”

Aisha Ravindran, a professor from India with no previous connection to George Mason, teaches students the same communications class required for business majors at the Virginia campus — but in the Arabian desert, it lands differently. Dr. Ravindran uses the same slides, showing emoticons and lists of nonverbal taboos to spread the American business ideal of diversity and inclusiveness. She emphasizes the need to use language that includes all listeners.

And suddenly, there is an odd mismatch between the American curriculum and the local culture. In a country where homosexual acts are illegal, Dr. Ravindran’s slide show suggests using “partner” or “life partner,” since “husband” or “wife” might exclude some listeners. And in a country where mosques are ubiquitous, the slides counsel students to avoid the word “church” and substitute “place of worship.”

The Ras al Khaymah students include Bangladeshis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Indians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and more, most from families that can afford the $5,400-a-semester tuition. But George Mason has attracted few citizens of the emirates.

The students say they love the small classes, diversity and camaraderie. Their dorm feels much like an American fraternity house, without the haze of alcohol. Some praise George Mason’s pedagogy, which they say differs substantially from the rote learning of their high schools. “At my local school in Abu Dhabi, it was all what the teachers told you, what was in the book,” said Mona Bar Houm, a Palestinian student who grew up in Abu Dhabi. “Here you’re asked to come up with your personal ideas.”

But what matters most, they say, is getting an American degree. “It means something if I go home to Bangladesh with an American degree,” said Abdul Mukit, a business student. “It doesn’t need to be Harvard. It’s good enough to be just an American degree.”

Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change next year. The money is not from George Mason, either: Ras al Khaymah bears all the costs.

Nonetheless, Sharon Siverts, the vice president in charge of the campus, said: “What’s George Mason is everything we do. The admissions are done at George Mason, by George Mason standards. The degree programs are Mason programs.” Seeking a Partnership

Three years ago, Mr. Ghobash, the Oxford-educated investor from the United Arab Emirates, heard a presentation by a private company, American Higher Education Inc., trying to broker a partnership between Kuwait and an American university. Mr. Ghobash, wanting to bring liberal arts to his country, hired the company to submit a proposal for a gulf campus run by a well-regarded American university. American Higher Education officials said they introduced him to N.Y.U. Mr. Ghobash spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the company’s fees, talked with many N.Y.U. officials and paid for a delegation to visit the emirates before meeting Mr. Sexton, the university president, in June 2005.

Mr. Sexton said he solicited the $50 million gift to emphasize that he was not interested in a business-model deal and that academic excellence was expensive. Mr. Ghobash declined to be interviewed. But according to American Higher Education officials, $50 million was more than Mr. Ghobash could handle.

So when the agreement for the Abu Dhabi campus New York University was signed last fall, Mr. Ghobash and the company were out of the picture, and the government of Abu Dhabi — the richest of the emirates — was the partner to build and operate the N.Y.U. campus. The Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi made the gift in November 2007. “The crown prince shares our vision of Abu Dhabi becoming an idea capital for the whole region,” Mr. Sexton said. “We’re going to be a global network university. This is central to what N.Y.U. is going to be in the future. There’s a commitment, on both sides, to have both campuses grow together, so that by 2020, both N.Y.U. and N.Y.U.-Abu Dhabi will in the world’s top 10 universities.”

Neither side will put a price tag on the plan. But both emphasize their shared ambition to create an entity central to the intellectual life not just of the Persian Gulf but also of South Asia and the Middle East. “We totally buy into John’s view of idea capitals,” said Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority. “This is not a commercially driven relationship. It’s a commitment to generations to come, to research. We see eye to eye. We see this as a Catholic marriage. It’s forever.”

It is also, for New York University, a chance to grow, given Abu Dhabi’s promise to replace whatever the New York campus loses to the gulf. “If, say, 10 percent of the physics department goes there, they will pay to expand the physics department here by 10 percent,” Mr. Sexton said. “That’s a wonderful opportunity, and we think our faculty will see it that way and step up.”

Mr. Sexton is leading the way: next fall, even before the campus is built, he plans to teach a course in Abu Dhabi, leaving New York every other Friday evening, getting to Abu Dhabi on Saturday, teaching Sunday and returning to his New York office Monday morning. “The crown prince loved the idea and said he wanted to take the class,” Mr. Sexton said. “But I said, ‘No, think how that would be for the other students.’ ”

While the gulf’s wealth has drawn many American universities, others dream of China’s enormous population. In October, the New York Institute of Technology, a private university offering career-oriented training, opened a Nanjing campus in collaboration with Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and dozens of American universities offer joint or dual degrees through Chinese universities.

Kean University, a public university in New Jersey, had hoped mightily to be the first with a freestanding undergraduate campus in China. Two years ago, Kean announced its agreement to open a branch of the university in Wenzhou in September 2007. Whether the campus will materialize remains to be seen. Kean is still awaiting final approval from China, which prefers programs run through local universities. “I’m optimistic,” said Dawood Farahi, Kean’s president. “I’m Lewis and Clark, looking for the Northwest Passage.”

In fact, his negotiations have been much like uncharted exploration. “It’s very cumbersome negotiating with the Chinese,” he said. “The deal you struck yesterday is not necessarily good today. The Chinese sign an agreement, and then the next day, you get a fax saying they want an amendment.” Still, he persists, noting, “One out of every five humans on the planet is Chinese.” Beyond the geopolitical, there are other reasons, pedagogic and economic.

“A lot of our students are internationally illiterate,” Dr. Farahi said. “It would be very good for them to have professors who’ve taught in China, to be able to study in China, and to have more awareness of the rest of the world. And I think I can make a few bucks there.” Under the accord, he said, up to 8 percent of the Wenzhou revenues could be used to support New Jersey.

With state support for public universities a constant challenge, new financing sources are vital, especially for lesser-known universities. “It’s precisely because we’re third tier that I have to find things that jettison us out of our orbit and into something spectacular,” Dr. Farahi said. Possibilities and Alarms

Most overseas campuses offer only a narrow slice of American higher education, most often programs in business, science, engineering and computers. Schools of technology have the most cachet. So although the New York Institute of Technology may not be one of America’s leading universities, it is a leading globalizer, with programs in Bahrain, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Brazil and China.

“We’re leveraging what we’ve got, which is the New York in our first name and the Technology in our last name,” said Edward Guiliano, the institute’s president. “I believe that in the 21st century, there will be a new class of truly global universities. There isn’t one yet, but we’re as close as anybody.”

Some huge universities get a toehold in the gulf with tiny programs. At a villa in Abu Dhabi, the University of Washington, a research colossus, offers short courses to citizens of the emirates, mostly women, in a government job-training program. “We’re very eager to have a presence here,” said Marisa Nickle, who runs the program. “In the gulf, it’s not what’s here now, it’s what’s coming. Everybody’s on the way.”

Some lawmakers are wondering how that rush overseas will affect the United States. In July, the House Science and Technology subcommittee on research and science education held a hearing on university globalization. Mr. Rohrabacher, the California lawmaker, raises alarms. “I’m someone who believes that Americans should watch out for Americans first,” he said. “It’s one thing for universities here to send professors overseas and do exchange programs, which do make sense, but it’s another thing to have us running educational programs overseas.”
[What better way for us as Americans to broadcast our values as seen in our higher education system, much maligned by many Republicans, than to run and participate programs abroad? Rohrabacher, starting fires where there aren't any flames or smoke...]

The subcommittee chairman, Representative Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat, disagrees. “If the U.S. universities aren’t doing this, someone else likely will,” he said. “I think it’s better that we be invited in than that we be left out.” Still, he said he worried that the foreign branches could undermine an important American asset — the number of world leaders who were students in the United States. “I do wonder,” he said, “if we establish many of these campuses overseas, do we lose some of that cross-pollination?”

Friday, February 08, 2008

Favorite Song of the Moment: "No One," Alicia Keys

Gorgeous....Song and the singer.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

LA Times: Lebanese Ayatullah Advises 'Modern Shi'a'

Lebanon cleric advises 'modern Shiites'
Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah's liberal fatwas, or edicts, have shocked conservative Muslims around the world.

By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 6, 2008

BEIRUT — The ayatollah has a simple piece of advice for any Muslim woman being abused by her husband: Hit him back. "A woman can respond to physical violence inflicted on her by a man with counter- violence as a self-defense measure," Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's senior-most Shiite cleric, wrote in a fatwa late last year that shocked conservative Muslims around the world. Fadlallah long has been considered a leader of the most radical faction of Shiite Muslims in Lebanon. He endorsed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in Iran and was accused of ordering, or at least encouraging, the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks here, a charge he and his supporters have denied [and has never been proven; the Iranian revolutionary government is a more likely culprit and U.S. intervention on one side of the Lebanese civil war damaged, and some would argue erased, their status as "neutral peace-keepers." Fadlallah also no longer supports Khumayni's doctrine of wilayat al-faqih or velayat-i faqih in Persian, or rule by the so-called "supreme jurist."] He issued fatwas, or religious edicts, calling on the faithful to resist the United States, and urged Muslims to boycott American products. [Fatwas are more accurately described as legal opinions.]

But the 72-year-old cleric, who agreed to an interview recently in his South Beirut compound, has toned down his rhetoric in recent years. Instead, he espouses a more modest vision for the faithful than the ambitious agenda set forth by Iran, which considers itself the patron of Shiites worldwide and has been trying to increase its influence throughout the Muslim world. "I don't see there is a unity in the situation of Shiites in the world," he said.
He leaned forward, his piercing brown eyes becoming animated as he discussed religion, politics and international affairs. "I think the current Iranian president lacks diplomatic skills, and I think he creates problems for Iran," he said of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fadlallah, whose black turban identifies him as a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, focuses on daily bread-and-butter issues of concern to his followers. Such as parenting." One of the general principles in raising children is that parents should not consider their child as part of their possessions," he wrote in a ruling translated and placed on the English section of his website, "Instead, they should consider him God's trust that Allah . . . has put in their hands. This is done by loving the child, listening to him and respecting his mind."
Grand ayatollahs, the highest-ranked clerics in the Shiite hierarchy, have the right to interpret primary religious texts and serve as marja, or source of emulation, for their millions of followers in countries with large Shiite populations such as Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Bahrain. Most search for a niche. Khomeini espoused a highly politicized version of Islam; Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq advocates piety, modesty and good deeds.Fadlallah's fatwas and statements seem more like daytime talk show fodder.
"Sistani is very popular in the Shiite world, but he's not involved in the daily lives of Shiites," said Fadlallah's aide, Hani Abdullah. "This is why Fadlallah is more of a reference for modern Shiites. "On gender issues in particular, he takes positions that raise eyebrows among his conservative counterparts, such as questioning the conventional Islamic prohibition on female judges and challenging the traditional view that a woman's place is in the house and the man's in the workplace. "The belief that it is disgraceful for the man to manage household tasks is derived from the social culture and not from Islam," he says in a statement on his website. "Personally, I think that no woman would be obliged to bring her social life to a standstill just because she is being occupied with her children."
Also from his website: "Knowledge is a merit for man and woman equally, and the importance of acquiring it is identical to both of them."A statement from Fadlallah's office said he opposed a man "using any sort of violence against a woman, even in the form of insults and harsh words." He also has addressed issues such as cloning and plastic surgery. "Mostly his fatwas are on the side of modernity and progress," said Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Lebanese historian and journalist. "He's very influential, and he's got a lot of money. "His most liberal rulings and attempts to distance Lebanese Shiites from Iran's policies have angered some Shiite clerics close to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Fadlallah was once Hezbollah's spiritual leader, but now the two camps compete for donations from wealthy Shiites, who traditionally have given more money to him.
[It is often claimed that Fadlallah was Hizbu'llah's "spiritual leader." I dispute this claim. From its very beginning the party identified the "supreme jurisprudent" in Iran as its religious and political reference point, first Khumayni and then the faux "ayatullah" 'Ali Khamenei.]
"There's a real rivalry with Nasrallah, who has become both a military and religious leader," Traboulsi said. "Many conservative Hezbollah clerics are reacting against Fadlallah's rulings." Fadlallah appears to have eased his anti-American stances, even though he and others suspect U.S. operatives were behind an attempt on his life in 1985, apparently as retaliation in the belief that he had ordered the Marine barracks attack. The massive car bomb near his home killed more than 80 people in an apartment block, but he was unhurt. [This claim was first put forward by famed American investigative journalist Bob Woodward who identified the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as the culprits.]
He is critical of the Bush administration but takes pains to underscore that he's not anti-American. He recently answered a question about astronomy and Ramadan posed by a U.S. Marine, a decision criticized by other clerics. He was among the first religious leaders in the Middle East to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks. But Fadlallah remains a staunch critic of Israel, once describing the Jewish state as "a conglomerate of people who come from all parts of the world to live in Palestine on the ruins of another people."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sunni Awakening Councils Tell Central Government to Take a Hike

Professor Marc Lynch (George Washington University), "Abu Aardvark," writes about the reality of the Majalis al-Sahwa (Awakening Councils or Councils of the Awakening) in Iraq....Far from a "success," the so-called surge (read: escalation) in Iraq which John McCain fantasizes about, the U.S. military has primarily benefited from temporary shifts in alliances among different Iraqi groups. The largely Sunni Awakening Councils, who have significantly reduced violence in their areas, are not opposed to foreign organizations such as al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers because they are U.S. allies. Al-Qa'ida, rather, overstepped its bounds in carrying out wanton attacks in heavily populated civilian centers and carrying out assassinations of Sunni tribal leaders.

The councils also do not trust Iraq's central government, which is dominated by Shi'i Arab Islamist parties and their Kurdish allies. [By "Islamist" I mean parties which seek to establish, to some degree, a political and social system based on their understanding of Islam as a religion.] It should be said that based on the sectarian nature of the current central government and actions which it has taken vis-a-vis the Sunni Arabs, the Awakening Councils' mistrust is understandable. It has now been firmly established that between 2004-2006 the Iraqi security forces were manned by members of Shi'i Arab militias including the Badr Corps of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq's largest Shi'i political party which is closely allied with Iran's hardliners, and the Sadr movement led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr [see below]. Shi'i members of the security forces have targeted Sunni Arabs, murdering perhaps hundreds or even thousands of them in cold blood.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If People Who Believe Ann Coulter Had Any Brains, They'd Wouldn't

The Banshee of the American Right, Coulter churns out cheap screeds by the half dozen....She once complained that she couldn't find a husband.....
One guess as to why that is.

Saturday, February 02, 2008