Saturday, July 30, 2005

Ratzinger slams Isreal

Vatican in terror dispute with Israel

John Hooper in Rome and Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Saturday July 30, 2005
Adapted : The Guardian

Pope Benedict XVI was yesterday immersed in the first big diplomatic crisis of his papacy after the Vatican issued an unusually blunt statement criticising Israel for its response to Palestinian attacks. The Vatican's stinging rebuke came after Israel demanded to know why the Pope did not refer to a Palestinian suicide bombing in remarks he made on Sunday condemning terrorist attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a 1,300-word communique, the Vatican said: "It has not always been possible to follow every attack against Israel with a public declaration of condemnation."

It said one reason for this was that "the attacks on Israel were sometimes followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the norms of international law ... It would thus be impossible to condemn the [terrorist operations] and pass over the [Israeli retaliation] in silence".

The statement also expressed irritation with the reaction of the Israeli government to the Pope's original comments and said it was not prepared to "take lessons or instructions from any other authority on the content and direction of its own statements".

Israel has repeatedly demanded that other governments recognise Palestinian attacks as part of an international Islamist campaign against western democracy, therefore implicitly not connected to its own actions in the occupied territories.

The Israeli foreign ministry called in the Vatican's envoy on Monday to complain that the Pope, in condemning terrorist attacks in several countries, had "deliberately" omitted mention of a July 12 suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya in which five Israelis died. The Pope's spokesman replied that the pontiff had explicitly indicated he was referring to all the recent attacks. He said it was "surprising that one would have wanted to take the opportunity to distort the intentions of the Holy Father".

The generally conciliatory tone of the Vatican's initial response appeared to have put an end to the row. But the next day an Israeli foreign ministry official told the Jerusalem Post that it has been Vatican policy for years not to condemn terrorism in Israel.

Thursday's statement was framed as a response to that claim. It included a long list of references to statements made by the late pope, John Paul II, condemning violence against civilians in Israel.
After the July 7 bombings in London, Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said suicide attacks around the world were driven by a common hatred for freedom. "Ultimately terrorism can strike any country in the world that has an ideology of freedom, of democracy, that has an ideology of openness," he said.

Shortly afterwards the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered his ministers not to comment on the London bombings for fear that their remarks could be interpreted as seeking to make political capital out of the killings.

But Mr Shalom's wife, Judy, felt no such restraint on a television chatshow a few days later. "As long as I hold no official position I can say it's not all bad for the English to find out what it's like," she said.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tanseer, my best mate. Dapper-looking and stupid!!! A great guy.
Pic Sam

Tanseer, he never looked this good!
Pic Sam

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Nothing is Impossible

This is a real story that happened between the customer of General Motors and its Customer-Care Executive. A complaint was received by the Pontiac Division of General Motors:

"This is the second time I have written to you, and I don't blame you for not answering me, because I sounded crazy, but it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family we have Ice-Cream for dessert after dinner each night. But the kind of ice cream varies so, every night, after we've eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it. It's also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then my trips to the store have
created a problem.

You see, every time I buy a vanilla ice-cream, when I start back from the store my car won't start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts just fine. I want you to know I'm serious about this question, no matter how silly it sounds"

"What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind?"

The Pontiac President was understandably skeptical about the letter, but sent an Engineer to check it out anyway. The latter was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well educated man in a fine neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinnertime, so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was vanilla ice cream that night and, sure enough, after they came back to the car, it wouldn't start.

The Engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, they got chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got strawberry. The car started. The third night he ordered vanilla. The car failed to start. Now the Engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this man's car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore, to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. And toward this end he began to take notes: he jotted down all sorts of data: time of day, type of gas used, time to drive back and forth etc.

In a short time, he had a clue: the man took less time to buy vanilla than any other flavor. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store. Vanilla, being the most popular flavor, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavors were kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to check out the flavor.

Now, the question for the Engineer was why the car wouldn't start when it took less time. Eureka - Time was now the problem - not the vanilla ice cream! The engineer quickly came up with the answer: "vapour lock". It was happening every night; but the extra time taken to get the other flavors allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start. When the man got vanilla, the engine was still too hot for the vapour lock to dissipate.


Even crazy looking problems are sometimes real and all problems seem to be simple only when we find the solution with cool thinking. Don't just say its "IMPOSSIBLE" without putting a sincere effort...

Observe the word "IMPOSSIBLE" carefully... Looking closer you will see,

What really matters is your attitude and your perception. As well as your perseverance.

Hadi, mon ami, in his Manhattan apartment
Pic Sam

Monday, July 25, 2005

Beethoven's grave in the Zentralfriedhof, Vienna.
Pic Sam

Beethoven, the beautiful composer

'You must listen to Beethoven once before you die'

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17, 1770; died March 26, 1827) was a German composer of classical music, who predominantly lived in Vienna, Austria. He was a major musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. Beethoven is widely regarded as one of the greatest of composers, and his reputation also inspired – and in some cases intimidated – composers, musicians, and audiences who were to come after him.

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, to Johann and Magdalena van Beethoven. Beethoven's first music teacher was his father, who worked as a musician in the Electoral court at Bonn, but was also an alcoholic who beat him and unsuccessfully attempted to exhibit him as a child prodigy, like Mozart. However, Beethoven's talent was soon noticed by others. He was given instruction and employment by Christian Gottlob Neefe, as well as financial sponsorship by the Prince-Elector. Beethoven's mother died when he was 17, and for several years he was responsible for raising his two younger brothers.

Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792, where he studied with Joseph Haydn and other teachers. He quickly established a reputation as a piano virtuoso, and more slowly as a composer. He settled into the career pattern he would follow for the remainder of his life: rather than working for the church or a noble court (as most composers before him had done), he was a freelancer, supporting himself with public performances, sales of his works, and stipends from noblemen who recognized his ability.

Beethoven's career as a composer is usually divided into Early, Middle, and Late periods. In the Early period, he is seen as emulating his great predecessors Haydn and Mozart, at the same time exploring new directions and gradually expanding the scope and ambition of his work. Some important pieces from the Early period are the first and second symphonies, the first six string quartets, the first two piano concertos, and the first twenty piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique and Moonlight.

The Middle period began shortly after Beethoven's personal crisis centring around deafness, and is noted for large-scale works expressing heroism and struggle; these include many of the most famous works of classical music. The Middle period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3 – 8), the last three piano concertos and his only violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7 – 11), the next six piano sonatas including the Waldstein, and Appassionata, and Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.

Beethoven's Late period began around 1816 and lasted until Beethoven ceased to compose in 1826. The late works are greatly admired for and characterized by intellectual depth, intense and highly personal expression, and Beethoven's experimentation with forms (for example, the Quartet in C Sharp Minor has seven movements, while most famously the Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra. They include the Ninth Symphony (the Choral), the Missa Solemnis, the last six string quartets and the last six piano sonatas.

Considering the depth and extent of Beethoven's artistic explorations, as well as the composer's success in making himself comprehensible to the widest possible audience, the Austrian-born British musician and writer Hans Keller felt able to pronounce Beethoven 'humanity's greatest mind altogether'. Beethoven was a musical genuis, sans any doubt.

Beethoven's personal life was troubled. Around the age of 28 he started to become deaf, a calamity which led him for some time to contemplate suicide (see the 1802 'Heiligenstadt Testament'). He was attracted to unattainable (married or aristocratic) women, whom he idealized; he never married. A period of low productivity from about 1812 to 1816 is thought by some scholars to have been the result of depression, resulting from Beethoven's realization that he would never marry.

Beethoven quarrelled, often bitterly, with his relatives and others (latterly and painfully over the custody of his nephew Karl); and he frequently behaved badly to other people. He moved often from dwelling to dwelling, and had strange personal habits such as wearing filthy clothing while washing compulsively. He often had financial troubles.

It is common for listeners to perceive an echo of Beethoven's life in his music, which often depicts struggle followed by triumph. This description is often applied to Beethoven's creation of masterpieces in the face of his severe personal difficulties.

Beethoven was often in poor health, especially after his mid-20s (when he began to suffer from serious stomach pains). In 1826 his health took a drastic turn for the worse. His death in the following year was attributed to liver disease; but modern research on a lock of Beethoven's hair taken at the time of his death shows that lead poisoning could well have contributed to his ill-health and untimely death. It is unlikely, however, that lead poisoning was the cause of his deafness, which several researchers have seen as caused by an immunopathic disorder such as 'systemic lupus erythematosus'.

In 1996 the hair was analysed chemically. High lead concentrations were found. History records that Beethoven continued working on his music until the day he died. This implies that Beethoven decided to keep his mind clear for his music. Amongst possible sources of lead are fish caught in the heavily polluted Danube, and lead compounds used to sweeten wine.

Beethoven's musical style and innovations Beethoven is viewed as the transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic eras of musical history. As far as musical form is concerned, he built on the principles of sonata form and motivic development that he had inherited from Haydn and Mozart, but greatly extended them, writing longer and more ambitious movements. The work of Beethoven's Middle period is celebrated for its frequent heroic expression, and the works of his Late period for their intellectual depth.

Beethoven was much taken by the ideals of the Enlightenment and by the growing Romanticism in Europe. He initially dedicated his third symphony, the Eroica (Italian for "heroic"), to Napoleon in the belief that the general would sustain the democratic and republican ideals of the French Revolution, but in 1804 crossed out the dedication as Napoleon's imperial ambitions became clear, replacing it with "to the memory of a great man". The fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony features an elaborate choral setting of Schiller's ode An die Freude ("To Joy"), an optimistic hymn championing the brotherhood of humanity.

Scholars disagree on Beethoven's religious beliefs and the role they played in his work. A continuing controversy surrounding Beethoven is whether he was a Romantic composer. As documented elsewhere, since the meanings of the word "Romantic" and the definition of the period "Romanticism" both vary by discipline, Beethoven's inclusion as a member of that movement or period must be looked at in context.

If we consider the Romantic movement as an aesthetic epoch in literature and the arts generally, Beethoven sits squarely in the first half, along with literary Romantics such as the German poets Goethe and Schiller (whose texts both he and the much more straightforwardly Romantic Franz Schubert drew on for songs), and the English poet Percy Shelley.

He was also called a Romantic by contemporaries such as Spohr and E.T.A. Hoffman. He is often considered the composer of the first Song Cycle, and was influenced by Romantic folk idioms, for example in his use of the work of Robert Burns. He set dozens of such poems (and arranged folk melodies) for voice, piano, and violin.

When the most famous composer of the age died, about thirty thousand mourners were present at the funeral procession on March 26, 1827. The world had suddenly lost its greatest music maker.

Beethoven's story is one of personal triumph over tragedy and supreme musical achievement. A complex and brilliant man, no composer before or since has exerted greater influence.

Sameer Bhat

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A largely bourgeois endeavour

A fascinating write up by William Dalrymple in 'The Guardian'. A must read.
Dalrymple continues to be one of my favourite authors.

Al Qaida-style terrorists are not the type who seek out madrasas
William Dalrymple
Wednesday July 20, 2005
The Guardian

Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld were not known for their close agreement on matters of foreign policy, but one thing that they were united upon was the threat posed by Pakistan's madrasas. In 2002, Rumsfeld posed the question: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrasas ... are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" A year later, Powell described madrasas as a breeding ground "for fundamentalists and terrorists".

Since the revelation this week that no less than three of the suicide bombers visited Pakistan in the year preceding the attack, the British press has been quick to follow the US line: last weekend the Sunday Telegraph was helpfully translating the Arabic word madrasa as terrorist "training school" (it actually means merely "place of education"), while yesterday's Daily Mirror confidently asserted over a double-page spread that three of the bombers had all enrolled at Pakistani "terror schools".

In fact, it is still uncertain whether the three visited any madrasa in Pakistan - intelligence sources have yet to confirm this. More important, the link between madrasas and international terrorism is far from clearcut, and new research has poured cold water on the much-repeated theory of madrasas being little more than al-Qaida training schools.

It is true that there were good reasons for people jumping to the assumption of the madrasas' culpability. The terrifyingly ultra-conservative Taliban regime was unquestionably the product of Pakistan's madrasas. Many madrasas are indeed fundamentalist in their approach to the scriptures and many subscribe to the most hardline strains of Islamic thought. It is also true that some madrasas can be directly linked to Islamist radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence. It is estimated that as many as 15% of Pakistan's madrasas preach violent jihad, while a few have even been known to provide covert military training.

But it is now becoming very clear that producing cannon-fodder for the Taliban and graduating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaida terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the World Trade Centre. Indeed, there is an important and fundamental distinction to be made between most madrasa graduates - who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication - and the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be madrasa graduates.

The men who planned and carried out the Islamist attacks on America were confused, but highly educated, middle-class professionals. Mohammed Atta was a town planning expert; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's chief of staff, is a paediatric surgeon; Omar Sheikh, the kidnapper of Daniel Pearl, is the product of the same British public school that produced the film-maker Peter Greenaway.

Peter Bergen of Johns Hopkins University recently published the conclusions of his in-depth study of 75 Islamist terrorists who had carried out four major anti-western attacks. According to Bergen, "53% of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52% of Americans have been to college." Against this background, the backgrounds of the British bombers should not come as a surprise.

The French authority on Islamists, Gilles Kepel, has arrived at a similar conclusion. The new breed of global jihadis, he writes, are not the urban poor of the third world - as Tony Blair still claims - so much as "the privileged children of an unlikely marriage between Wahhabism and Silicon Valley". Islamic terrorism, like its Christian predecessor, remains a largely bourgeois endeavour.

It is true that there are exceptions to this thesis. There are several examples of radical madrasa graduates who have become involved with al-Qaida. Maulana Masood Azhar, for example, leader of the banned Islamist group Jaish-e-Muhammad, originally studied in the ultra-militant Binori Town madrasa in Karachi.

By and large, however, madrasa students simply do not have the technical expertise or conceptual imagination necessary to carry out the sort of attacks we have seen al-Qaida pull off in the past few years. Their focus, in other words, is not on opposing the west - the central concern of the Salafi jihadis - so much as fostering what they see as proper Islamic behaviour at home.

All this highlights how depressingly unsophisticated the debate about the British bombers is in this country. Again and again we are told that terrorism is associated with poverty and the basic, Qur'anic education provided by madrasas. We are told that the men who carry out this work are evil madmen with whom no debate is possible and who, according to Frank Field on last week's Question Time, "aim to wipe us out". All links with Iraq and Afghanistan are vehemently denied.

In actual fact, al-Qaida operatives tend to be highly educated and their aims clearly and explicitly political. Bin Laden, in his numerous communiques, has always been completely clear about this. In his first public statement, "A declaration of war against the Americans", issued in 1996, he announced he was fighting US foreign policy in the Middle East and, in particular, American support for the House of Saud and the state of Israel. His aim, he stated, is to unleash a clash of civilisations between Islam and the "Zionist crusaders" of the west, and so provoke an American backlash strong enough to radicalise the Muslim world and topple pro-western governments.

Bush has fulfilled Bin Laden's every hope. Through the invasion of secular Ba'athist Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, the mass murders in Falluja, America - with Britain's obedient assistance - has turned Iraq into a jihadist playground while alienating all moderate Muslim opinion in the Islamic heartlands and, crucially, in the west. Of course, we must condemn the horrific atrocities these men cause; but condemnation is not enough. Unless we attempt to understand the jihadis, read their statements and honestly analyse what has led these men to blow themselves up, we can never defeat them or even begin to drain the swamp of the grievances in which they continue to flourish.

· William Dalrymple is the author of White Mughals

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Iraq not Islam, Mr Blair

The British government rejected a report by the highly influencial Chatham House and the Economic and Social Research Council which said that Britain's support for the Iraq invasion had increased the risk of terrorist attacks in the country.

A key problem for the UK in preventing terrorism in Britain is the government’s position as ‘pillion passenger’ to the United States' war on terror. Formulating counter-terrorism policy in this way has left the ‘ally in the driving seat' to do the steering. This is one of the key findings of Security, Terrorism and the UK, a new, long-planned briefing paper to be published on Monday 18 July by Chatham House and the Economic & Social Research Council.

The report also argues that Islamic terrorist activity was not given appropriate priority until the late 1990s. Prior to this, groups known to be active in London were not viewed as a threat to the UK's national security and were subsequently left with ‘relative impunity.’

The report also says that the UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the US and has closely supported the deployment of British troops in the military campaigns to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime in Iraq.

The report claims that there is ‘no doubt’ that the invasion of Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK and for the wider coalition against terrorism. According to the paper, the situation in Iraq has ‘given a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising’, whilst providing an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.

However, the report says that decades of experience with terrorism relating to Northern Ireland has meant that the UK has created an impressive capacity for inter-departmental and inter-agency collaboration. The report also praises the establishment of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre following 9/11. The report argues that JTAC has proved to be a valuable innovation in assessing threats to UK security.

The broad-ranging report also stresses the need for a move away from the rigid forensic approach to professional post-terror attack responses. It argues that, whilst often being horrific incidents, acts of terror can also give communities the chance to pull-together and help each other. Authorities and professionals should be alert to sideling public cooperation and assistance in preference for more meticulous and competent solutions post crisis.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tom's problem

Assimilate not annihilate

I don't want to begrudge Friedman. There is no point in rubbishing all that he pontificates. I know he is the same man who shamelessly supported an unjust war on Iraq. Never the one to shed a tear on the near 100,000 fatalities of innocent Iraqi's, inflicted by his civilized white house pedagogues, Tom is nevertheless entitled to his views. In his diatribe 'A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage' published in the New York Times, 15 July, 2005, Mr F puts it rather succinctly," Part of what seems to be going on with these young Muslim males is that they are, on the one hand, tempted by Western society, and ashamed of being tempted. On the other hand, they are humiliated by Western society because while Sunni Islamic civilization is supposed to be superior, its decision to ban the reform and reinterpretation of Islam since the 12th century has choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands, and left the Islamic world less powerful, less economically developed, less technically advanced than God 2.0, 1.0 and 0.0."

The latter numericals are a typical style of shallow mocking that only Tom will do and do it so flagrantly. Matt Tabbi writes about Friedman in the New York Press," The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. To put the first part of his statement in context; Not all Muslim males are allured by the west. This is a gross misinterpretation. A fraction of Muslims are no doubt hooked in by the West -- me included -- but they are not ashamed of the lure. I reckon, Friedman is reclining in a fool's paradise if he thinks -- after working all his adult life in the Middle-east and making a fortune out of it -- that the Islamic world feels chastened by the West. Civilization is at best of the times a relative term. Faith has nothing to do with ones velleity.

America is roughly two centuries old. Not, two centuries civilized. I think the gold-rush in California ended in 1848. Bush still thinks he is a cow-boy, galloping in the wild-wild west. Friedman -- a Pulitzer award winner, mind you -- thinks Muslims feel terribly embarrassed about their own civilization. The streets of Baghdad that the 20-something year old American army conscripts roam these evenings, have known civilization for 7000 years. Tom knows what that means: seven followed by three zeros. Mesopotamia was one of the greatest civilizations to have ever existed because of Mesopotamia’s rich history of the arts, significant growth in law, its advancements in science, technology, thriving trade routes and writing. From the wheel to the sails on ships, ancient Iraq truly left its mark on human civilization as no other civilization would. I guess a GI Joe in his Humvee cannot fathom this at 20. He needs his girl, his beer, his shag, his Archie's. And here he is: Patrolling the medieval alleys of Mesopotamia for Bush's quest for freedom. Friedman won't tell you this: This is patrolling for petrol.

Back to Tom's soul-searching article. Another place, Mr F writes," This is not about the poverty of money. This is about the poverty of dignity and the rage it can trigger." Now for once I don't condone terrorism. I abhor suicide bombings. The whole-phenomenon which has scared the west and created a sense of false bravado in many Muslims is misplaced. This is a perverted ideology which needs be defeated by progressive Muslims themselves. Islam does not allow for blowing up innocent passengers. Friedman is wooly-eyed to ruminate that it does. As a matter of fact, this is not a fight for Islam. Anyone blowing himself up -- in NY or London isn't doing it because of Islam. These folks are fighting a political fight. The means to wage this war are WRONG. The Bombers can intimidate people, not ideologies. Hot heads and cold hearts have never solved anything, as one writer puts it. On April 21,2001 the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz bin Abdallah, said that Islam forbids suicide terrorist attacks. Shaykh Abd al-Aziz is head of the Saudi commission of senior Islamic scholars and the supreme Islamic authority in the kingdom. Tom Knows that, but won't tell you.

So why do they do it? Not because of the poverty of dignity. I reckon, it is an ultimate degree of frustration. Of being oppressed and ostracized. Their collective dignities have been lacerated in the middle-east. Britain authored the Balfour declaration that created the state of Israel in heart of the Arab world. And Israeli's shall now shut the Palestinians out of their own land. Why does the US need to strip the Muslim world of its dignity. US of A doesn't need to maintain its huge army in the Muslim lands and Great Britain doesn't surely need to tom-tom Uncle Sam. Apocryphal Powell in UN general assembly, lying to the world, blatantly. WMD's. Shoddy, falsefied dossiers by Mr Blair. No self-respecting nation, with a distinct, proud culture and values will ever tolerate alien troops on its soil or its sands. Remember, they will have you believe that Iraqi's will brace the invading US army as liberators. That was the farthest one could go away from Truth. Matt continues, " The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses."

And then Friedman wants to cut the whole Muslim terror phenomenon into two. Sunni-suicide bombers. Shiite's for a while get a clean-chit. The matter of the fact is that the dispute in Islamic world over the suitability of suicide terrorism started in the early 1980s, when Shiite terrorists began to use the tactic. The leading Lebanese Shiite scholar, Muhammad Husein Fadlallah, stated his reservation about these operations on several public occasions during the 1980s. His followers in Hezbollah had to turn to Iran in order to legitimize these operations. Muktada Al-Sadr remains the biggest thorn in America's flesh in the badlands of Iraq. This stocky gentleman is a Shiite. The phenomenon has of late turned into a Sunni phenomenon not because Sunni Muslims suddenly turned violent, but as a result of their eroded political capital in Iraq. It is simple. This is a political fight, however abject it may be. Muslim extremists give it a tinge of religious color to further their ends and people like Friedman play up these false religious sentiments and try and demonize a great faith. for A New York Times op-ed by Robert A. Pape, “Dying to kill us” (Two years after 9/11), concludes that suicide terrorism transcends religious, ethnic, and political boundaries. Confusing matters with Sunni and Shiite won't help, Mr. F.

Friedman's skill is that he speaks in the voice of Madison Avenue, as David Plotz says. He's effective not because he sounds like a historian, but because he sounds like an advertisement. Friedman has no ideas that can't be expressed in a catchphrase. His work is salted with slogans and phrases in capital letters. They are gimmicky, too simple, and extremely useful.

Wish he could put his mind to a better understanding of his own government's foreign policy follies and his pen to a better use!

Sameer Bhat

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Srebrenica, an Obligation Unfulfilled

Year 1995, during the war in Bosnia, ethnic Serb forces murdered more than 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, almost every Muslim male in the city. That genocide stands as the worst atrocity against civilians in Europe since World War II, and as a tragic symbol of the inability of United Nations peacekeepers to protect civilian populations. A decade later, the two men with ultimate responsibility for the massacre remain free. And despite the parallel tragedy of Rwanda, the major powers that run the U.N. Security Council have yet to make peacekeeping operations more credible and effective.

The survivors of Srebrenica honored the anniversary of the massacre on Monday by burying 610 of their sons and brothers and fathers, the latest to have been identified through DNA tests of bones dug up from mass graves. So far, only 2,000 people have been identified and properly buried. As Muslim children dressed in white stood amid rows of coffins, Serb policemen stood by respectfully. The president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, attended the ceremony.

But shovels of dirt will not lay this infamy to rest. The men of Srebrenica were murdered after the world betrayed them in the bloody war that raged in Bosnia, a fragment of the former Yugoslavia. The ethnic Serbs who terrorized the Srebrenica region were bent on killing or driving away every Muslim Bosnian. United Nations commanders, knowing that a Serb assault on Srebrenica was imminent, rejected calls from local peacekeepers for airstrikes on Serb positions. The United Nations disarmed the people of the town and declared it a "safe area." But the 370 Dutch peacekeepers assigned there had only light weapons and orders to use them only in self-defense. The United Nations allowed Serb soldiers to round up the men and boys, and to take them away and kill them.

That same year, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the top political and military leaders of Bosnia's Serbs during the war, were indicted on charges of genocide by the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. But they remain free, hiding in different parts of the still-divided region. Even when NATO had 60,000 troops in Bosnia supposedly charged with arresting wanted men, the two Bosnian Serbs moved with relative impunity. NATO governments, principally Washington, did not want to risk their troops by trying to arrest either man.

Today, 7,000 European Union troops patrol Bosnia, apparently unable to find Karadzic, who is protected by his followers and is still a hero to many of his fellow Serbs. The European troops patrolling Bosnia must make Karadzic's capture their top priority, and international pressure to arrest Mladic must increase on neighboring Serbia, where he has taken refuge and finds great sympathy among members of the army.
In the Serb Republic carved out of Bosnia, Karadzic is still perhaps the most powerful figure in the ruling party. He runs a smuggling network that controls patronage for thousands. As long as Karadzic is in control, reconciliation among Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia is a far-off dream. Capturing Karadzic and Mladic is not just a way to keep faith with the dead - it is the only way to move these regions into the modern world.


Muslim communities must be treated as allies, not enemies

It is an agonising moment to be a British Muslim. This has been their worst nightmare come true: British-born young men from families that were well established in UK carrying out a suicide bomb attacks. From what we know of their lives, one was at university, another might have had a small child, another's father had a fish and chip business; they didn't live in ghettos but in ethnically mixed suburbs - the like of which surround many UK towns. In other words, they were unexceptional; until July 7, they seemed to illustrate, with thousands of other Muslims, Britain's pragmatic multiculturalism.

But the actions of these men have thrown British Muslims into the biggest crisis of their community's history. It makes of the 7/7 atrocities a completely different narrative to those of Madrid or New York: the British enemy is in their midst. It puts the British model of multiculturalism - until now the source of quiet admiration across Europe - under unprecedented scrutiny. Its hallmark - a kind of British indifference, often indistinguishable from tolerance, that leaves people to get on with things in their own way - will be questioned as never before.

It was always obvious that British multiculturalism had major inadequacies - particularly pertinent right now are facts such as 70% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children grow up in poverty. Already, one senses that the Muslim community is bracing itself for two long and painful processes. Firstly, it will be called to account for how its own children could have taken this path - and without anyone tipping off the police. People are asking each other: "Someone must have known, why didn't they tell anyone?" Another question follows: "Are there any more out there?"

The Muslim community is being charged with a near impossible task; If even the mother of one of these suicide bombers did not know what her son was doing, how can the rest of the community be expected to know? It's no longer enough that we condemn terrorists, the educated and aware Muslims are now expected to take the lead-- introspect, ponder overand help flush out the extremism.

The perception is that Muslims are being offered a deal: the price of being trusted again is to periodically deliver some scalps. Does that go as far as shopping co-religionists for any indication of heightened religiosity? The second painful process that the Muslim community has already embarked on is desperate soul-searching. Why has the Muslim community failed in reigning in its own youth and shaping their future? Why have the mosques failed to provide rigorous leadership? What is it about Islam that makes people suicidal? Plenty of people are really angry about Iraq, but they don't give up their life at 19. There's a missing link here - what makes a boy commit suicide? It can only be if he thinks that what lies in store for him is better than life - and that's got to be Islamic theology.

It will have to change. In particular, the references to violence in the Qur'an have to be contextualised; in a global village, this has to be reinterpreted and that has to be done by our Islamic scholars. New thinking is desperately needed.

But alongside the heartfelt self-criticism, another issue repeatedly cited is just as important; British foreign policy is a cancer in Islamic community, corroding trust in the British political system and poisoning Islamic youth. Honesty and new thinking is required by Muslims but it must be mirrored by the governments also; Iraq and Palestine cannot be irrelevant.

The anxiety among Muslims is that this crisis will ensnare a range of issues - some relevant, some not - that come under the rubric that "to avoid terrorism, the west must learn more about Muslim community". This "integration" agenda was summed up by a particularly intemperate commentator yesterday who urged the government to "tear into those Muslim ghettos. Force them to open up. Make the imams answer ... they must become more ordinary." This could expand into a shopping list of demands, from supervision of mosques, licensing of imams and restrictions on intercontinental marriage, to the state monitoring every aspect of Muslim life.

We - Muslim and non-Muslim - have to be much cleverer than that. There is no point alienating another generation of Muslim men with an intrusive, aggressive state; that will only push more of those poised on the margins into secretive extremism. We have to be very careful to pick the right targets - much of the talk about radical imams is misplaced; most Muslims by definition are moderate -- love their families, go to their work, pray and enjoy; most mosques are cautious and have lost touch with their younger populations, who look to the internet for inspiration, not the imam.

I reckon the best chance lies within the Muslim community itself - in its own capacity for reform and renewal. That's precisely why the Sun's front page on Tuesday demonising the Muslim thinker Tariq Ramadan was so inexcusable. Here is a man who commands respect across the Muslim world. Here is one of those rare thinkers who can help us plot a way forward for a self-confident Islam securely established in Europe. He is a crucial figure in reaching audiences that non-Muslims cannot, yet the Sun wilfully twisted old quotes to depict him as a supporter of terrorism who should be banned from the UK, a call echoed by the Daily Telegraph yesterday. This is irresponsible journalism at its scaremongering worst.

One of the most extraordinary side-effects of 9/11 and of the Iraq war has been the energising of the Muslim community in England; thousands of groups and local initiatives have sprung up. Some have campaigned alongside non-Muslims against British foreign policy; some have built up dialogue in their communities. One of the most hopeful possibilities is that this crisis of 7/7 will have the same impact in mobilising people to make more effort to understand each other better and find common cause.

God bless us all

Sameer Bhat

Pedro will visit his gransparents in these lovely hills soon!!! Algarve
Pic Sam

Picturesque Portugal

Al-Garve -- South Portugal
{Pedro's grandparent's town}
He's going there on a holiday soon!!!

The climate is mild and mellow and so is the character of the land and its people. Spring, with its profusion of wildflowers, comes very early. Summers are long; winters are short. The Atlantic that laps the southern shore of this most south-westerly corner of Europe is nearly always calm. The air is free of pollution and light breezes prevent even the hottest midsummer days from becoming oppressive. The Algarvean lifestyle is easy-going, fatalistic and unfettered by concern for time. The predominant influences in this unique and remarkably beautiful region are as much Mediterranean as Atlantic, and as much North African as Southern European.

The Algarve is a compact, well-defined and historically ancient province, quite distinct from the rest of Portugal. It is a south-facing amphitheatre not quite 100 miles long by about 30 miles at its widest. The coastal belt where most Algarveans live is fringed with sand-spit islands, lagoons, drifted dunes, spectacular headlands, cosy coves and vast open beaches. From the coast the land slopes gently up through vineyards, orchards of oranges and lemons, almonds and avocados, to ranges of rolling hills which separate it from the wide-open plains of the neighbouring Portuguese province of Alentejo. The placid Guadiana River forms the border with the Spanish province of Andalusia.

The character of the people of the Algarve has been shaped by successive waves of traders, invaders and occupiers. From the Mediterranean in the first millennium before Christ, when Portugal was inhabited by Celtiberian tribes, came Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. From the north with the decline of the Roman Empire came Suevi, Vandals and Visigoths. Much more significantly, from the south in the 8th century came the Islamic Moors, whose civilised rule lasted for more than 500 years until the Christian reconquest and the incorporation of the Algarve into the independent Portuguese nation whose borders have not changed since the mid-13th century.

The Algarve was the cradle of the 15th-century Age of Discoveries. It was here that Henry the Navigator planned and directed the epoch-making voyages that culminated in Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama discovering the sea route from Europe to the Far East, and Cabral crossing the South Atlantic to Brazil. The names of other great seafarers, from Columbus to Nelson, will forever haunt the craggy headlands of Sagres and Cape St. Vincent.

One of the most appealing aspects of life in the Algarve is that it seems to be locked in a paradoxical time warp. As international airlines strain to shuttle visitors in and out of Faro airport according to strict schedules, Algarveans feel no compulsion to be punctual, no reason to rush. Nothing is more important than conversation with friends over small cups of coffee. Some of Europe's most sophisticated residential and holiday developments with their manicured golf courses and first-class restaurants are viewed without envy by ordinary folks who like to sit outside the front doors of their humble townhouses grilling sardines on mini makeshift barbecues. A motorway slices through countryside where farming methods have not fundamentally changed since medieval times. Tourism has made the Algarve remarkably cosmopolitan, yet traditional customs and ancestral ways of doing things prevail.

The Algarve's healthy climate, pure air and mostly pollution-free environment are nicely complemented by wholesome, locally-caught and home-grown food. In particular, there is a wonderfully wide range of seafood, including all sorts of clams, prawns and lobster, and delicious fresh fish such as swordfish, tuna, sea bass and sea bream. Eating out in restaurants is all the more delightful because Portuguese wines are so good and so reasonably priced.

Clarity of light and brilliance of colour are startling features of the Algarve. The coastline is made up of various shades of gold set in a translucent turquoise sea. The vast vault of sky is usually vivid blue. Town and village houses as well as country cottages are dazzlingly whitewashed. The cork oaks, olive and carob trees in the foothills and serras are evergreens. Bougainvillea and begonias in gardens, jacaranda and judas trees in town squares, roadside mimosa, oleander in the ravines and great swaths of almond blossom and cistus rock roses all over the countryside provide riotous colour at different times of the year. No wonder that writers have long likened the Algarve to the "Garden of Eden" and "the land of promise."

Sameer Bhat

Mount Batten left India in a hurry. This is one of the reasons why!!! { Albeit in a lighter vien }
Pic Sam

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Wages of Denail

TEN years ago this week, Serbian forces slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Despite the efforts of a dedicated few in Serbia, and despite the war crimes prosecutions at The Hague, Serbia is no closer today than it was a decade ago to reckoning with its war guilt.

For years Belgrade has denied involvement by its citizens in Srebrenica and other massacres of the 1990s. The recent broadcast of a graphic video that showed Serbian paramilitary police executing six young men from Srebrenica should have made it very hard to sustain that revisionism. Amazing as it seems, however, the video was not enough to shatter what Serbian human rights activist Sonja Biserko has described as the country's "state of collective denial."

Fewer than half of Serbs polled last spring believed the Srebrenica massacre took place. And while much has been made of the video's effects on a shocked Serbian public, it remains to be seen where that public will stand once the furor recedes. The Radical Party, which won 27 percent of the popular vote in the last national elections, making it the largest party in Parliament, has already criticized what it sees as the anti-Serb hysteria that "wishes at all costs to put the burden of all crimes on Serbia." Graffiti has appeared in several cities praising the "liberation" of Srebrenica. Rumors circulate that the video was doctored, or that the men committing the crimes were acting independently.

Instead of coming to terms with its past, Serbia has circumvented the issue with the narrative skills befitting a psychopath. For example, a debate on Srebrenica at the Belgrade Law Faculty earlier this year was initially titled "10 Years After the Liberation of Srebrenica." In response to the video, Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, said, "Serbia is deeply shocked" that "the killers had walked freely among us." But Mr. Tadic's government surely knows that the killers in the video are but a small fraction of the number who continue to walk the streets of Serbia and Montenegro as free men.

A fairy tale has passed for public memory until now in Serbia and Montenegro and it is conspicuous in its omission of Serb atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, which left hundreds of thousands dead. The Serbian version of that history denies the fact that President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and those like him enjoyed overwhelming popular support in Serbia during the war, despite the evictions, rapes and unchecked slaughter by Yugoslav troops and irregulars. It suggests that Belgrade today has nothing to do with Belgrade as it was 10 years ago. It aims at an absurd relativism, placing Serbian atrocities within the context of crimes committed by other ethnicities (in fact, the C.I.A. has reported that Serbs were responsible for 90 percent of all atrocities committed in Bosnia). Mr. Tadic was quoted as saying, "Crimes are always individual." All of this is fiction.

At the end of the Second World War, Allied troops forced German citizens to walk through Nazi death camps. They were confronted by crimes committed in their name, in order to ensure that those crimes could not be denied or minimized later. The people of Serbia and Montenegro, by contrast, have never been forced to acknowledge the crimes committed in their name.

There are those who refuse to whitewash Serbia's recent past. The Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Serbia and the independent broadcaster Radio B92 are admirable examples. People like Natasa Kandic, chairwoman of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, have spent years fighting for the truth, often at great personal risk. Extremists threatened to lynch Ms. Kandic at the law school debate on Srebrenica, and one of them spat in her face.

Eight of Serbia's human rights groups have drafted a declaration on Srebrenica that would obligate the country's government to confess to the massacre and to "expose and punish any ideological justification of crime." But the daily newspaper Blic reported that the majority of parties in Serbia's Parliament refused not only to endorse the declaration but also to debate it.

Serbia must relinquish the fairy tale that its own wartime suffering was equivalent to the devastation it visited on others. Adopting an honest declaration on Srebrenica would have been an important first step, and the Serbian Parliament should have taken it. For as long as Serbia's people deny complicity in war crimes, they undercut any hope for justice and cheat their country out of any decent future. The Western aid money that has poured into Serbia may help rebuild the country's infrastructure, but it will do nothing to cut out the cancer that riddles the country's heart.

Western governments are anxious for reconciliation in the Balkans, which would ensure future stability in the region. They are pushing hard for the arrests of people like Radovan Karadzic, the architect of the genocide, and Ratko Mladic, who carried it out, and they lauded the speed with which the Serbian government detained those suspected of being the killers shown on the video. But those arrests will not be nearly enough.
Such men were not exceptions, nor were they acting independently, and Serbia must acknowledge this truth, rather than denying or minimizing it. That means surrendering all war crimes suspects to The Hague and paying reparations to the victims of war. The West should ask for no less than this when it considers Serbian requests for aid.

Bosnian grief, Western regret at Srebrenica

Families grieved over the skeletal remains of Srebrenica victims on Monday at the 10th anniversary of the massacre, as the West acknowledged its failure to prevent Europe's worst atrocity in 50 years.
Women in white headscarves wept and touched some of the 610 green-draped coffins lined up under a gray sky at the Potocari cemetery, now a muddy field after an overnight storm.

The dead had lain for years in hidden pits where they were flung by Bosnian Serb troops in July 1995 after the systematic slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys taken from what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected "safe area."

Identified by DNA analysis, their bones came home for burial in narrow, cylindrical boxes tagged with a number and a name.

"Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping and of the United Nations. It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again," said former U.S. Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke.
A message from U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated that Srebrenica would haunt the world body forever. Some 400 lightly armed Dutch troops guarding Srebrenica's Muslims were swept aside by Bosnia Serb forces while the U.N. rejected appeals for air strikes by NATO to halt their advance.
"The victims had put their trust in international protection. But we, the international community, let them down," said a message from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "This was a colossal, collective and shameful failure."

"The truth cannot be forgotten, it cannot be denied. The evil must be spoken about for the evil not to be forgotten," said Mustafa efendi Ceric, Bosnia's chief Islamic priest.
But the evidence of massacre has little impact on hardline Serbs who insist any killing was simply a hard fact of war or a justifiable act of revenge, or who deny the massacre outright.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic attended the memorial, although some Muslims said they do not welcome him and Serb nationalists objected, saying he should come to their rival memorials for Serb war dead this week.
A choir sang the mournful "Srebrenica Inferno" as families walked the rows of freshly dug graves looking for the final resting place of their fathers, husbands and sons. Tens of thousands turned to Mecca and knelt for prayers.

"Our pain continues, every year we come to bury someone else," said Hajrija Mujic, who was burying her father-in-law. Her husband's remains were identified too late for burial today.

The massacre, in the final months of a 43-month war that claimed 200,000 lives, aimed to ensure there were no Muslims to fight back or reclaim Serb-occupied land or homes in the future.
Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and his political master Radovan Karadzic are indicted for genocide for the atrocity. To the anger of Bosnians and the embarrassment of Western powers who intervened belatedly, both remain at large.

"The failure to arrest them is a great failure which we all regret. They must be caught," said Holbrooke.
Srebrenica today is a dismal, half-empty town in the "Republika Srpska," or Serb Republic half of Bosnia, which last year had to be coerced into acknowledging the massacre. The only visitors come to tend to the graves at the Potocari cemetery.

Monday's funerals will raise the number of identified and buried Srebrenica victims to about 2,000. There are 7,000 more body bags with partial remains still awaiting identification and 20 more mass graves awaiting excavation.

Adapted Reuters

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Pluck the right cherry for you, can you!!!
Pic Sam

Tanseer, recent picture. He looks innocent but that is where the sting lies! Beware.
Pic Sam

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Struggle over Oil

China and India are currently the engines of world economic growth. But India is still a minor part in the worldwide competition for scarce resources. China has become the world's second-largest importer of oil after the United States. It is building new cities and a network of superhighways, both of which are only deepening its appetite for oil, steel and other industrial materials. The rise in price for oil, which recently crossed $60 per barrel, has profound implications for Indian industry, since it continues to operate in conditions of chronic energy shortage.

In its ongoing strategic rivalry with the United States, China holds a trump card -- its nearly 800 billion dollars in foreign exchange reserves. Until now Beijing has been content to buy low-paying US government bonds, indirectly financing America's huge trade and budget deficits.

According to one view, there is a domestic imperative behind this policy. The Communist Party hopes to gain legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens that it lost after the Tiananmen massacre 16 years ago by appealing to nationalism by reclaiming Taiwan. By integrating its economy to that of the West, it makes itself immune to Western sanctions should it take over Taiwan by force.

In reality, China and America are already dependent on each other. Much of American manufacturing has relocated to China to take advantage of low wages. China cannot let its currency appreciate against the dollar, because then its products will be too expensive for Americans to buy, which would result in the closing of its factories, and social unrest and unemployment.

A new phase
The contest between China and the US has now entered a new phase. Beijing has moved beyond holding US government bonds to the purchase of American companies. Last year Chinese computer maker Lenovo bought IBM's PC operations for $1.7 billion.

More recently, fridge and washing machine maker Haier bid $1.28 billion for US domestic appliance group Maytag, and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), which is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, offered $18.5 billion in cash for the American oil company Unocal.

The bid by CNOOC is raising objections in the US on national security grounds. Unocal has global reach and its control would make China a formidable player in the new energy 'great game.' Beijing is pursuing several other initiatives to secure oil and gas that will bypass American or European companies before reaching China. This includes negotiating with Russia for a pipeline to bring Siberian crude to Daqing, China's northeastern oil hub.

As its economic power increases, China's foreign relations are being transformed by its energy imperative. Beijing is entering into deals with countries around the world to diversify its economic and trade relations. It has already become the second largest world economy as seen from the figures for GDP from the 2004 CIA World Factbook:

Country2004 GDP in trillion dollars
United States 10.980
China 6.449
Japan 3.567
India 3.022
Germany 2.271

Chinese GDP is two-thirds of that of the US and the gap is shrinking rapidly because of its much higher growth rate. Chinese analysts are arguing that the US should approve the Unocal deal so that China becomes America's partner in the management of global energy resources. Some analysts have warned that if this approval doesn't come through, China will be forced to expand its business with 'rogue states' such as Iran, Sudan, and Myanmar.

China's recent tensions with Japan, South Korea, and other neighbours are energy related, regarding control of disputed islands in the Pacific with potential oil deposits. These tensions would worsen as oil prices go up.
The great game in Southern Asia

India's own attempt to ensure energy supplies with a gas pipeline from Iran has met with opposition from the United States on the grounds that it would strengthen Iran's economy. The victory of the anti-American nuclear-hardliner Mahmud Ahmadinejad as the country's next president is only going to make that opposition stronger.

Ahmadinejad has won massive backing from Iran's rural poor, who want a continuation of handouts based on oil and natural gas revenue, which run to about a fifth of the per-capita GDP. As Iran's economy continues to flounder, it will come under increasing pressure from the West to renounce its quest for nuclear weapons in exchange for technology. It is not clear that the radical mullahs who run Iran will listen.

Afghanistan is partially pacified; it remains to be seen whether the old plans of Unocal to build a pipeline from Central Asia to the Arabian see through Afghanistan and Pakistan will be revived. Unocal promoted the pipeline in the 1990s through its intermediary Zalmay Khalilzad, who has since served as American ambassador to Afghanistan and now to Iraq. If the Iranian pipeline to India is not built, then this may be substituted by a Central Asian pipeline through Afghanistan.

If China's bid for Unocal is approved by the United States, the 'great game' for energy will become more tangled. Already China has signed a $70 billion deal to buy Iranian oil and natural gas. It has also blocked American efforts to raise the issue of Iran's nuclear weapons program before the United Nations Security Council.

Sameer Bhat

Monday, July 04, 2005

For 800 years, Arabs lived in Spain, Al-Andalus. The brilliant civilization they created flourished while the rest of Europe groveled in the Dark Ages.
Pic Grenada

Pool in the Patio de los Arrayanes reflects the grandeur of the incomparable Alhambra under Muslim rule.

A Moorish-built tower soars above Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain.

Islamic Spain (711-1492)

Islamic Spain was a multi-cultural mix of the people of three great monotheistic religions: Muslims, Christians, and Jews. For much of the time, the three groups managed to get along together, and to benefit from the presence of each other. It brought a degree of civilisation to Europe that matched the heights of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance.

In 711 Muslim forces invaded and in seven years conquered the Iberian peninsula. It became one of the great Muslim civilisations; reaching its summit with the Umayyad caliphate of Cordovain the tenth century. Muslim rule declined after that and ended in 1492 when Granada was conquered. The heartland of Muslim rule was Southern Spain or Andulusia.

Muslim Spain was not a single period, but a succession of different rules.
The Dependent Emirate (711-756) The Independent Emirate (756-929) The Caliphate (929-1031) The Almoravid Era (1031-1130) Decline (1130-1492)

The Conquest
The traditional story is that in the year 711, an oppressed Christian chief, Julian, went to Musa ibn Nusair, the governor of North Africa, with a plea for help against the tyrannical Visigoth ruler of Spain, Roderick.
Musa responded by sending the young general Tariq bin Ziyad with an army of 7000 troops. The name Gibraltar is derived from Jabal At-Tariq which is Arabic for ‘Rock of Tariq’ named after the place where the Muslim army landed.

The story of the appeal for help is not universally accepted. There is no doubt that Tariq invaded Spain, but the reason for it may have more to do with the Muslim drive to enlarge their territory. The Muslim army defeated the Visigoth army easily, and Roderick was killed in battle. After the first victory, the Muslims conquered most of Spain and Portugal with little difficulty, and in fact with little opposition. By 720 Spain was largely under Muslim -- Moorish, as it was called -- control.

One reason for the rapid Muslim success was the generous surrender terms that they offered the people, which contrasted with the harsh conditions imposed by the previous Visigoth rulers. The ruling Islamic forces were made up of different nationalities, and many of the forces were converts with uncertain motivation, so the establishment of a coherent Muslim state was not easy.

The heartland of Muslim rule was Southern Spain or Andulusia. The name Andalusia comes from the term Al-Andalus used by the Arabs which is derived from the Vandals who had been settled in the region.

Stability in Muslim Spain came with the establishment of the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty, which lasted from 756 to 1031. The credit goes to Amir Abd al-Rahman, who founded the Emirate of Cordoba, and was able to get the various different Muslim groups who had conquered Spain to pull together in ruling it.

The Golden Age
This was a Golden Age of learning where civilisation, religious and ethnic tolerance, interfaith harmony, discovery and free debate were the norm. Libraries, colleges, public baths were established and literature, poetry and architecture flourished.

In the 10th century, Cordoba, the capital of Umayyad Spain, was unrivalled in both East and the West for its wealth and civilisation. One author wrote about Cordoba:

"there were half a million inhabitants, living in 113,000 houses. There were 700 mosques and 300 public baths spread throughout the city and its twenty-one suburbs. The streets were paved and lit... There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries."

Muslim scholars served as a major link in bringing Greek philosophy, of which the Muslims had previously been the main custodians, to Western Europe. There were interchanges and alliances between Muslim and Christian rulers such as the legendary Spanish warrior El-Cid, who fought both against and alongside Muslims. There were also cultural alliances, particularly in the architecture - the 12 lions in the court of Alhambra are heralds of Christian influences. The mosque at Cordoba, now converted to a cathedral is still, somewhat ironically, known as La Mezquita or literally, the mosque.

The mosque was begun at the end of the 8th century by the Ummayyad prince Abd al Rahman ibn Muawiyah.
Under the reign of Abd al Rahman III (r. 912-961) Spanish Islam reached its greatest power as every May campaigns were launched towards the Christian frontier, this was also the cultural peak of Islamic civilisation in Spain.

Decline and Fall

The collapse of Islamic rule in Spain was due not only to increasing aggression on the part of Christian states, but to divisions among the Muslim rulers. The rot came from both the centre and the extremities. Early in the eleventh century, the single Islamic Caliphate had shattered into a score of small kingdoms, ripe for picking-off. The first big Islamic centre to fall to Christianity was Toledo in 1085.

The Muslims replied with forces from Africa which under the general Yusuf bin Tashfin defeated the Christians resoundingly in 1086, and by 1102 had recaptured most of Andalusia. The general was able to reunite much of Muslim Spain.

It didn't last. Yusuf died in 1106, and, as one historian puts it, the "rulers of Muslim states began cutting each other's throats again". Internal rebellions in 1144 and 1145 further shattered Islamic unity, and despite intermittent military successes, Islam's domination of Spain was ended for good.

By the eleventh century, however, a small pocket of Christian resistance had begun to grow, and under Alfonso VI Christian forces retook Toledo. It was the beginning of the period the Christians called the Reconquest, and it underlined a serious problem that marred this refined, graceful, and charming era: the inability of the numerous rulers of Islamic Spain to maintain their unity.

This so weakened them that when the various Christian kingdoms began to pose a serious threat, the Muslim rulers in Spain had to ask the Almoravids, a North African Berber dynasty, to come to their aid. The Almoravids came and crushed the Christian uprising, but eventually seized control themselves. In 1147, the Almoravids were in turn defeated by another coalition of Berber tribes, the Almohads

On January 2, 1492 - the year they sent Columbus to America - Ferdinand and Isabella hoisted the banner of Christian Spain above the Alhambra, Grenada last Muslim city to fall. Boabdil, the last Muslim king, rode weeping into exile with the bitter envoi from his aged mother, "Weep like a woman for the city you would not defend like a man!"

The Muslims had finally lost all power in Spain in 1492. By 1502 the Christian rulers issued an order requiring all Muslims to convert to Christianity, and when this didn't work, they imposed brutal restrictions on the remaining Spanish Muslims.

Other Religions in Muslim Spain

Jews and Christians were able to thrive under Muslim rule, providing they obeyed certain rules. These rules were not much of a burden by the standards of the time, although they would now be considered completely unacceptable. There were several reasons why the Muslim rulers tolerated these rival faiths: They were monotheistic faiths - so arguably their members were worshipping the same God - despite having some wayward beliefs and practices: most notably the failure to accept the significance of Muhammad (pbuh) and the Qur'an.

Some Emirs even took Christians as bodyguards.

There was clear guidance in the Qur'an that Christians and Jews should be tolerated if they obeyed certain rules. The Muslim rulers allowed Jews and Christians to live according to their faiths and customs. They were given the status of Dhimmis -- or Zimmis -- which allowed them some power to organise themselves and freedom of religion. In return the dhimmis had to pay a tax called jizya. If they didn't want to pay it, they could convert to Islam or be executed. This was not as oppressive as it sounds, in that the dhimmis got the full protection of the state in return for their money.

In describing the fate of Islam in Spain, Irving suggested that the Muslims were then swiftly and thoroughly wiped out. Never, he wrote, was the annihilation of a people more complete.

Sameer Bhat