Saturday, October 28, 2006

Good News: Iraq ≠ America

It has been widely reported today that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the following to Zalmay Khalilzad, American Ambassador to Iraq:

"I consider myself a friend of the U.S., but I'm not America's man in Iraq"
(See references here and a follow-up on Bush's call here).

Now, the news is reporting this as some huge coup d'etat that Iraq's government is turning against us. Personally, I think that conclusion is a load of hooey. For the good of Iraq and the United States: We WANT the Iraqi PM to be his own Man!!!

The western world has a LONG history of colonialism and puppet governments in the Middle East. Generally, the US was innocent on this account, but Britain and France had huge colonial interests in the region after World War I. If you have seen movies like Lawrence of Arabia, you'll notice that western policies in the Middle East (and Iraq was included there) were not exactly fair or respectful of the local people. And, the popular disenfranchisement caused by poor colonial policies is one of the main reasons Saddam rose to power.

So, if we are to be successful in Iraq, we need them to take their own banner and run with it. As long as Iraq keeps working together with us, I'm glad that the Prime Minister is declaring his independence. It will increase his credibility among his own people and make him a more effective leader.

I don't want "America's Man in Iraq." I want a successful and truly independent state of Iraq. So, Mr. Al-Maliki, if you are willing to work with us as you represent your people in Iraq, BE YOUR OWN MAN.

Prime Minister Al-Maliki: Don't be America's man, be Iraq's man.

That is all.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Real Islam: Open Letter, Closed Press

I have had many people ask me: If Islam is a "religion of peace," why aren't there more moderate Muslims making statements to counteract the extremists?

And, it is a very good question. In fact, it has a very good answer:

They Are... we just don't hear about it.

Recently, a group of 38 Muslim scholars, clerics, and government officials sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI concerning his controversial remarks on Islam. Immediatly after the Pope's remarks, the world press delighted to cover riots and protests across the Muslim World as they happened. Now, when Muslim authorities release a moderate and articulate assertion that Islam is for peace... did it get any coverage? Did we get any Alerts on CNN or Fox or MSNBC? Actually, no. Al-Jazeera covered it and UPI put out a wire report. The Christian Science Monitor was the only paper I can find to publish any real discussion of this letter. That's how I found out about it (and everybody I've talked to since then has said: "Really?")

In contrast, if Bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi's replacement hopped on TV and screamed: "Death to the Infidels", how much coverage would that get?

The following comes from a Press Release on Islamica Magazine's website:

Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI by 38 Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders.

In an unprecedented move, an open letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world was sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 12, 2006. The letter, which is the outcome of a joint effort, was signed by top religious authorities such as Shaykh Ali Jumu‘ah (the Grand Mufti of Egypt), Shakyh Abdullah bin Bayyah (former Vice President of Mauritania, and leading religious scholar), and Shaykh Sa‘id Ramadan Al-Buti (from Syria), in addition to the Grand Muftis of Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Istanbul, Uzbekistan, and Oman, as well as leading figures from the Shi‘a community such as Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran. The letter was also signed by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and by Muslim scholars in the West such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf from California, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar. In this respect the letter is unique in the history of interfaith relations.

For those of you who aren't up on the "Who's Who of Muslim Scholars"... that is a REALLY impressive list of people. In fact, I don't think you could put together a more authoritative group of people to speak for the Muslim majority. The release continues:

The letter was sent, in a spirit of goodwill, to respond to some of the remarks made by the Pope during his lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics—which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor—pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.

The Muslim signatories appreciate the Pope's personal expression of sorrow at the Muslim reaction and his assurance that the words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion. By following the Quranic precept of debating “in the fairest way”, they hope to reach out so as to increase mutual understanding, reestablish trust, calm the situation for the sake of peace, and preserve Muslim dignity.

Christianity and Islam make up more than half of humankind in an increasingly interconnected world, the letter states, and it is imperative that both sides share responsibility for peace and move the debate towards a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds which furthers mutual understanding and respect between the two religious traditions. Indeed, the scholars point out, both religions teach what Christianity calls “the two greatest commandments”. The commandment that “the Lord our God is one Lord” and that we shall love Him with all we are is enshrined in the first testimony of faith in Islam, “There is no god but God.” The second commandment “to love thy neighbor as thyself” is also found in the words of the Prophet, “None of you believes until he desires for his neighbor (in another version, his brother) what he desires for himself.” The signatories also point out the positive contacts the Vatican has had with the Islamic world in the past, with a hope that they will continue and even grow in the future.

The letter speaks of the prevailing views of things like "Jihad" (which is NOT a "holy war") and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In fact, I think just about everybody should read the letter itself.

The full text of the letter can be found here in PDF form. I strongly recommend you read it. You will learn a lot about Islam.

I am very frustrated to know that this letter never hit the press. It was largely ignored. I guess it wasn't sensational enough. Nobody is screaming for our destruction. Nobody is calling us infidels. This is a group of distinguished men and women who assert that Islam and Christianity can get along.

What more important message could we be hearing these days?

I know this post is long-winded. But, I hope you will send it on to your friends. There should be an E-mail button below. More people need to understand about what I have long known to be real Islam.

That is all.


Friday, October 06, 2006

A Thickly Veiled Problem

Recently, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a comment about Muslim Women in England and the wearing of the veil. From the article here they quote:

Jack Straw wrote in a newspaper that a veil was "a visible statement of separation and difference" and that he was more comfortable dealing with female visitors to his local political office with their faces uncovered. (...)

Straw, leader of the House of Commons and the former foreign secretary, said he was concerned that "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult."

Asked on Friday if he would like veils to be discarded altogether, Straw said: "Yes. It needs to be made clear I am not talking about being prescriptive but with all the caveats, yes, I would rather."

"You cannot force people where they live, that's a matter of choice and economics, but you can be concerned about the implications of separateness and I am," he told the BBC.

Straw originally wrote in the Lancashire Telegraph that he asked women to remove their veils in his constituency office. "I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone 'face to face' who I could not see," he wrote. No one had refused his request, he said.

Straw pointed out that he defended Muslims' rights to wear head scarves and that wearing a full veil "breaks no laws."

It is clear from various sources that Straw was referring to veils that cover the full face, not the more common hijab veil that covers the hair and neck.

As I read Jack Straw's comments on the veil, I don't see any bigotry in his idea. He is simply saying that when he deals with people, he prefers to deal with their face. And, furthermore, Muslim women who chose to wear the veil (no matter what be their motive) seperate themselves from the rest of society. I am highly respectful of muslim rights to religious dress, but Straw's argument was not religious... it was practical.

According to most Muslim clerics, the veil exists to shelter, seperate and protect women from the outside world. Straw is presenting the other side of that argument: that seperation has an effect on society. You can't visually seperate yourself from the rest of the world and expect everybody to understand that.

I repeat again: Muslim women have every right to veil their heads and even their faces according to religious custom. I respect that choice deeply. But, they should be neither surprised nor offended when it is hard to integrate into a society.

Western society is built upon face-to-face relationships. And, a huge part of our interpersonal communication happens through body language or facial expressions. If you take those out of the occasion... a "face to face" conversation is no different than a phone call. In fact, in the case of veiled faces, it is a one-sided conversation. One can see what the other cannot.

The basis of Straw's comment was that when veiled Muslim women come to his constituency office to meet with him, he asks them to remove the veil (always making sure there is a female staff member present). And, according to his comments, he has not yet had a women refuse. For any effective interaction, both sides must be comfortable with the relationship. Communication must start on EQUAL grounds.

There is much political hoopla in England right now over this statement. But, I truly see nothing bigoted in what he said. It is true that Muslim women who choose to veil their faces have a more difficult time integrating into society. And, to be honest, maybe they do not want to fully integrate. But, they cannot assert that the barrier they create must only be understood on their terms.

We live in a world of relationships. And, while I respect DEEPLY women who choose to wear full veils, I also agree with Mr. Straw. The veil is a barrier that works both ways. Especially in private meetings where complete understanding is paramount: I want to see a face.

That is all.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Air Wars: Boeing v. Airbus

I was recently reading an article in the New York Times about the A380, the huge airplane being released by Airbus. For those of you who don't know, it is slated to be the largest passenger airplane in the world... that is... when it finally takes to the sky. It is a double-decker MONSTER that will be configured to carry 555 people in three classes (First, Business, Coach).

Airbus did have a much-lauded test flight of the A380 recently. But, they are having a heck of a time getting the thing built and delivered for its orders. The article above points out that the A380 will be delayed again... so that the company will only deliver 1 airplane during 2007 (down from the 9 promised when they announced their first delay in June). This delay means that he company will lose $6.1 billion in anticipated profits over the next few years.

Now, those who actually know me (at least... some of them) know I have been an airplane nerd for years now. I mean... I love airplanes! (Of course, as I get taller, I love the coach class less and less... but I'm hoping to make enough money to not worry about flying coach in the future).

In my nerdy state, I have annoyed some of my friends with the following prediction: The A380 is a MISTAKE. The whole idea was flawed. The airline industry isn't looking for huge airplanes (albeit the Cargo industry is). They are looking for small, flexible airplanes with a long range to keep up with passenger demand. For this reason, not a single US airline (last time I checked) has announced an order for the A380 beast. And, I don't just say this because I dislike the French. Although, that does give me a sick sense of satisfaction.

Boeing, on the other hand (an American company), has recently announced the 787 Dreamliner. This new airplane will be about the size of the current 767, carrying between 200 and 300 passengers. But, the key here: EFFICIENCY. The 787 will be lighter and more efficient than any other plane its size. In fact, they are talking about 20% better fuel efficiency! That means 20% less emissions per mile! The plane is also lighter... 30,000 - 40,000 lbs. lighter than the Airbus A330-200 (the similar-sized airplane from Airbus).

Plus, Boeing is touting various improvements in passenger comfort and overhead space and humidity. But, the important thing is: The 787 will COST LESS TO FLY. And, with oil prices continuing to rise, shouldn't we be happier about a more efficient airplane?? The airplane will also be FASTER than the 767... flying about Mach .85, about the same speed as a 777 or a 747. And, anybody who has travelled internationally knows that that extra hour or so will be very nice.

Also, the windows are 65% larger than your common airplane port hole. That'll be nice too.

So, while Airbus went for the record largest plane in the world, Boeing actually did some market research, and realized that the market wants a smaller, more efficient, long-range airplane. And, with the logistical nightmare Airbus has created, they are paying for it... in the billions.

The 787 Dreamliner will take to the skies for the first time in 2007, with first delivery set for 2008. And, it already has 420 planes claimed in announced orders (377 of which are firm orders). That is a year before the plane is to get off the ground.

Airbus, on the other hand, only has 159 orders. And, some of the customers are a little terse...

On Tuesday, Emirates, based in Dubai, issued a terse statement suggesting that it was considering scaling back its order for 45 planes.

“This is a very serious issue for Emirates and the company is now reviewing all its options,” said Tim Clark, the president of Emirates. The carrier said that it had been informed by Airbus that its first A380 would be delivered in August 2008, nearly two years behind schedule.

Analysts said the latest delay — the third for the A380 in 16 months — increased the chances that Emirates could substantially pare its order, which was valued at about $13.5 billion. (see linked article above)

Yep, Airbus, that is gonna hurt. Right now, nobody is sure if the entire A380 program will ever break even. Whoops.

As an airplane nerd, I will be excited to one day ride on Airbus' beast A380... just for the novelty. But, for the good of the industry, I think Boeing has made the choice the market wants: the 787 Dreamliner. For that reason, I think they are going to make a lot of money. And, since 75% of the 787 will come from the USA, it is a choice that is good for the US Economy.

So, I don't care if we send our telemarketing jobs to India. We still make the finest airplanes in the world... as well as a host of other products the world wants.

One more reason I am proud to be an American.

That is all.