Saturday, October 28, 2006

Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks

Richard Kerbaj
The Australian
October 26, 2006

THE nation's most senior Muslim cleric has blamed immodestly dressed women who don't wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned "meat" that attracts voracious animals.

In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame.

While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years".

"But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he asked.

The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney's southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years' jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men.

"It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

Muslim community leaders were yesterday outraged and offended by Sheik Hilali's remarks, insisting the cleric was no longer worthy of his title as Australia's mufti.

Young Muslim adviser Iktimal Hage-Ali - who does not wear a hijab - said the Islamic headdress was not a "tool" worn to prevent rape and sexual harassment. "It's a symbol that readily identifies you as being Muslim, but just because you don't wear the headscarf doesn't mean that you're considered fresh meat for sale," the former member of John Howard's Muslim advisory board told The Australian. "The onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves."

Australia's most prominent female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said the hijab did not "detract or add to a person's moral standards", while Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said it was "ignorant and naive" for anyone to believe that a hijab could stop sexual assault.

"Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that there is a relationship between rape or unwelcome sexual interference and the failure to wear a hijab, clearly has no understanding of the nature of sexual crime," he said.

Ms Hage-Ali said she was "disgusted and offended" by Shiek Hilali's comments. "I find it very offensive that a man who considers himself as a mufti, a leader of Australia's Muslims, can give comment that lacks intelligence and common sense."

Yesterday, the mufti defended the sermon about "adultery and theft", a recorded copy of which has been obtained and translated by The Australian.

Sheik Hilali said he only meant to refer to prostitutes as "meat" and not any scantily dressed woman with no hijab, despite him not mentioning the word prostitute during the 17-minute talk.

He told The Australian the message he intended to convey was: "If a woman who shows herself off, she is to blame ... but a man should be able to control himself". He said if a woman is "covered and respectful" she "demands respect from a man". "But when she is cheap, she throws herself at the man and cheapens herself."

Sheik Hilali also insisted his references to the Sydney gang rapes were to illustrate that Skaf was guilty and worthy of receiving such a harsh sentence.

Waleed Ali said Sheik Hilali was "normalising immoral sexual behaviour" by comparing women to meat and men to animals and entirely blaming women for being victims.

"It's basically saying that the immoral response of men to women who are not fully covered is as natural and as inevitable as the response of an animal tempted by food," he said.

"But (unlike animals) men are people who have moral responsibilities and the capability in engaging in moral action."

Revelation of the mufti's comments comes after he criticised Mr Howard last month in The Australian for saying a minority of migrant men mistreated their women. Sheik Hilali said such a minority was found in all faiths. "Those who don't respect their women are not true Muslims."

"There's a small percentage found among all religions, but we don't recognise ours as Muslims."

Aziza Abdel-Halim said Sheik Hilali's remarks during Ramadan were inaccurate and upsetting to the Muslim community.

"They are below and beyond any comment (and) do not deserve any consideration."

Ed Driscoll: Teddy's War

October 20, 2006 11:02 PM · Bobos In Paradise · War And Anti-War

In his 2002 book titled Reagan's War, Peter Schweizer wrote:

On repeated occasions, according to numerous Soviet accounts, [Jimmy] Carter encouraged Moscow to influence American politics for his benefit or for the detriment of his enemies. Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin recounts in his memoirs how, in the waning days of the 1980 campaign, the Carter White House dispatched Armand Hammer to the Soviet embassy. Explaining to the Soviet Ambassador that Carter was "clearly alarmed" at the prospect of losing to Reagan, Hammer asked for help: Could the Kremlin expand Jewish emigration to bolster Carter's standing in the polls? "Carter won't forget that service if he is elected," Hammer told Dobrynin.

According to Georgii Kornienko, first deputy foreign minister at the time, something similar took place in 1976, when Carter sent Averell Harriman to Moscow. Harriman sought to assure the Soviets that Carter would be easier to deal with than Ford, clearly inviting Moscow to do what it could through public diplomacy to help his campaign.

Even when he was out of office, Carter still tried bitterly to encourage Moscow to do damage to his enemies during an election. As Dobrynin recounts, in January 1984 the former president dropped by his residence for a private meeting. Carter was concerned about Reagan's defense build-up and went on to explain that Moscow would be better off with someone else in the White House. If Reagan won, he warned, "There would not be a single agreement on arms control, especially on nuclear arms, as long as Reagan remained in power."

Did Ted Kennedy also try to throw a presidential election involving Reagan by going to the Soviets? Bryan of Hot Air writes:

There’s a new book on Ronald Reagan making the rounds, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. Its author, Paul Kengor, unearthed a sensational document from the Soviet archives. That document is a memo regarding an offer made by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts via former Senator John Tunney, both Democrats, to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, USSR, Yuri Andropov, in 1983. The offer was to help the Soviet leadership, military and civilian, conduct a PR campaign in the United States as President Ronald Reagan sought re-election. The goal of the PR campaign would be to cast President Reagan as a warmonger, the Soviets as willing to peacefully co-exist, and thereby turn the electorate away from Reagan. It was a plan to enlist Soviet help, and use the American press, in unseating an American president.

Think about that.

It certainly rings a bell. (In addition to Carter, it's also reminiscent of his fellow senator from Massachusetts' Winter Soldier moment. But that shouldn't be too surprising.)

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Borat: America's Funniest Movie or Most Offensive?

Beyond the Cringe

As bumbling documentarian Borat, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen provokes, offends, and embarrasses -- all in the name of good clean satire. But will American moviegoers get the joke?

by Josh Rottenberg
Entertainment Weekly
October 12, 2006

One evening this summer, a number of Hollywood's finest comedic minds gathered in a Los Angeles screening room to watch an early rough cut of a new comedy, awkwardly titled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The audience, which included legendary stand-up comic Garry Shandling, Simpsons writer George Meyer, 40 Year-Old Virgin director Judd Apatow, and Curb Your Enthusiasm star-creator Larry David, thought they were just there to offer the filmmakers a little helpful feedback. When the movie ended and the lights came up, everyone realized they'd just seen something totally original, perhaps even revolutionary. Capturing the sense of collective astonishment, Meyer turned to Apatow and said, ''I feel like someone just played me Sgt. Pepper's for the first time.''

At first glance, Borat, which opens in theaters on Nov. 3, looks like some weird foreign public-access TV show that has inexplicably found its way onto the big screen. Shot in deliberately crummy-looking video, it's a faux documentary about a TV reporter from Kazakhstan named Borat Sagdiyev, who embarks on a journey across America for the supposed edification of his audience back home. In his travels, Borat encounters a wide range of real-life Americans: Wall Street power brokers, political leaders, Pentecostal churchgoers, genteel Southern ladies, Pamela Anderson. Oblivious to American notions of decorum and political correctness, he cheerfully says appallingly inappropriate and offensive things at every turn in his unique brand of broken English, punctuating them with overeager exclamations: ''I like!'' ''Hi-five!'' ''Very nice!'' ''Sexytime!'' He mangles the national anthem at a Virginia rodeo. He releases a chicken on a crowded New York subway car. He brings a prostitute to a posh Southern society dinner.
Some people are charmed by the seemingly innocent Kazakh bumpkin. Others are simply baffled. Some are outraged to the point of calling the cops. None seem to have the slightest idea that it's all a complete and total put-on: Smile, you're on Kazakh Kamera!

For the uninitiated, the Borat character is the creation of 34-year-old British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, first introduced to a wide American audience in 2003 on the cult HBO comedy series Da Ali G Show. In each Ali G episode, Baron Cohen interviewed unsuspecting subjects in the guise of one of his three alter egos: Ali G, a dim-witted wannabe gangsta rapper/TV journalist; Brüno, a flamboyant Austrian fashion reporter; and the bigoted, horny, anti-Semitic, and yet strangely likable, Borat. Now, with the Borat movie, Baron Cohen has exploded the clueless-foreigner shtick into a wild, mostly improvised 89-minute road movie, creating one of the most elaborate and audacious pranks ever put on film.

In the past few months, the buzz around Borat has been steadily building. Reports from test screenings make them sound like tent revivals, with audiences convulsing with laughter, covering their eyes, and screaming out loud at the blend of merciless satire and over-the-top slapstick comedy, which includes a truly eyeball-searing scene of Borat wrestling in the nude with his obese sidekick, Azamat (character actor Ken Davitian). Following the film's debut at Cannes — which featured the spectacle of Baron Cohen, as Borat, strolling along the Croisette in a neon green thong — the fervor reached a climax at this year's Toronto film festival, where, despite a projector malfunction 12 minutes into its screening, Borat earned a rapturous reception, overshadowing more sober-minded Oscar bait.

Of course, not everyone shares a fondness for this kind of cringe-inducing humor.

The government of Kazakhstan, for one, has denounced Baron Cohen's work as ''a concoction of bad taste and ill manners…completely incompatible with the ethics and civilized behavior of Kazakhstan's people.'' The Kazakh Foreign Ministry last year threatened legal action against the comedian and booted the official Borat website off its Kazakhstan-based domain. The country has launched its own damage-control PR campaign; a recent four-page advertorial touting Kazakhstan's wonders appeared in The New York Times, with unintentionally funny come-ons to potential tourists and investors (''The country is home to the world's largest population of wolves''). All of this has played into Baron Cohen's hands. Last month, when Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev went to Washington to meet with President Bush, Baron Cohen — in a piece of dadaist performance art worthy of Andy Kaufman — showed up as Borat outside the gates of the White House to invite ''Premier George Walter Bush,'' along with O.J. Simpson, Mel Gibson, and ''other American dignitaries,'' to a screening of his movie.

Yet the man at the center of all this hubbub remains shrouded in mystery. Though the highlights of his biography are well established — educated at Cambridge, the comedian, who is Jewish, rose to fame doing the Ali G character on British TV, then crossed over to America in 2000 with an appearance in Madonna's ''Music'' video — Baron Cohen has rarely agreed to be interviewed as himself. In advance of Borat's release, he will only conduct interviews in character, via e-mail. His commitment to his concept is nothing short of extreme. For example, not only is Baron Cohen's Borat mustache real (it takes six weeks to grow), but the drab gray suit he wears is left unwashed to make him smell more ''foreign'' to people he meets. At a time when the line between the real and the unreal in popular culture seems ever more blurred — fake reality TV, fake news, fake Internet celebrities, fake memoirs — Baron Cohen has taken our sense of uncertainty about what can be believed to its logical cinematic conclusion.

Baron Cohen has said that the character of Borat was inspired by a Russian doctor he once met, but one of the undeniable masterstrokes in bringing him to life was having him hail from Kazakhstan. Though Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world — look at a map, the sucker is big — the former Soviet republic represents one of many gaping holes in the average American's shaky knowledge of geography. According to a recent survey, 63 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 24 can't locate either Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map, let alone the country above Uzbekistan and to the right of the Caspian Sea. Even in a time of supposedly heightened awareness about our nation's place in the wider world, Baron Cohen exploits the fact that Americans can be made to believe the most absurd things about life in other countries: say, that women in Kazakhstan are kept in cages, or that Kazakh wine is made from fermented horse urine. The truth is, when playing Borat, Baron Cohen is not even actually speaking Kazakh but mainly pure gibberish with a sprinkling of some Hebrew and Polish.

But even more remarkable than what Baron Cohen gets people to accept about Kazakhstan is what he gets them to reveal about themselves.

Armed with only his smelly suit, cheap microphone, and wide, naive grin, he turns Borat into a cross-cultural Trojan horse, sneaking past his subjects' defenses and giving them license to bare hidden prejudices — to confess, on cable TV, a wish that it were legal to hunt Jews, for example, or to keep slaves. One only hopes the CIA employs people with such skills.

Borat is actually not the first time Baron Cohen has brought his Ali G Show creations onto the big screen. In 2002, he starred in the movie Ali G Indahouse, in which the hip-hop poser was elected to the British Parliament. The film was a hit in England, where Baron Cohen has long been a household name, but was dumped straight to video in the States. By placing Ali G in scripted scenarios with other actors, the comedy lost much of the spontaneity and high-wire riskiness that made Da Ali G Show unique.

Baron Cohen had no intention of making that mistake again. In spring 2003, he brought the idea for a Borat movie to Jay Roach, director of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents. (They were introduced by their manager Jimmy Miller.) Roach agreed to co-produce the movie, and together they pitched the idea to studios, ultimately going with Twentieth Century Fox, which greenlit it immediately. A longtime admirer of South Park, Baron Cohen sought out its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (whose South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut grossed $52 million in 1999), to bounce around story ideas. When Parker and Stone went off to make 2004's Team America:World Police, he brought in Todd Phillips (Old School) to direct.

The film's initial concept had shades of This Is Spinal Tap, with an American film crew making a documentary about Borat as he traveled across America. After around three weeks of shooting in 2004, though, it was clear that the approach wasn't working — it created too much of a buffer between Borat and his subjects — and Phillips dropped out. ''Ultimately, the creative core of Borat is Sacha,'' says Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos. ''If there were reasons certain elements didn't work out, that was really Sacha's choice.''

Baron Cohen recognized that, for all his debts to past satirists, from Jonathan Swift to Mark Twain and beyond, what sets his work apart is its total demolition of the boundary between the wildly surreal and the all-too-real. South Park, The Onion, and The Daily Show all offer their critiques from a self-consciously wry, above-the-fray perspective. Even Stephen Colbert does his Bill O'Reilly-ish shtick with a twinkle in his eye, and both guests and viewers are in on the gag. Baron Cohen, by contrast, allows his subjects and his audience no comforting recourse to ironic detachment, giving his social commentary a unique gut-punching immediacy. ''You can't top reality,'' says South Park's Parker. ''We're basically still just in the business of making cartoons.''

After a period of creative retooling, Baron Cohen hired Seinfeld writer and Curb Your Enthusiasm director Larry Charles, whom he'd met at a boxing match, to take the directing reins. In the summer of 2005, with only the barest sense of a narrative in mind, Baron Cohen, Charles, and a tiny crew of about 20 people set off by van to create Borat's American odyssey.
Budgeted at between $15 million and $20 million, the film involved unprecedented guerrilla tactics for a major studio. On the road, there were none of the usual accoutrements: no sets, no trailers, no craft service, and, of course, no real script. Crew members had to essentially double as off-camera actors, often using false names and keeping stonefaced, no matter how insane the situations turned.

The unwitting subjects, whom Baron Cohen and his team carefully selected for their potential comedic value, were handed release forms that were, if not technically bogus, at least ambiguous as to the filmmakers' true intent. ''I don't want to get into the whole process,'' says Gianopulos. ''But people knew in advance they were being taped, so they signed the appropriate documents.'' Asked if the releases said ''Twentieth Century Fox'' on them, he answers, ''I don't know.''
Says Charles: ''I'd tell people, 'Right now this movie is only scheduled to be shown in Kazakhstan. I don't know what they're going to do with it. I'm just here to shoot it.' We were like the Merry Pranksters in a way. These people got dosed.''

One unsuspecting target, Ron Miller, took part in a formal dinner party arranged for Borat in Natchez, Miss. ''We signed the releases without even reading them,'' he admits. ''We have no idea what we signed.'' After suffering through a long and excruciatingly awkward meal, during which Baron Cohen repeatedly attempted to bait his hosts with racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments, Miller says he and his fellow victims felt ''emotionally raped.'' To his relief, the scene didn't make the final cut, and he has no intention to sue anyone over the prank: ''Why be made a fool of twice?'' he says. Others may feel differently. Fox lawyers are no doubt standing by the phones.

Occasionally, when Borat would ask a wildly inappropriate question or offer a discourse on some bizarre aspect of life in Kazakhstan, people would wonder if it was all some strange stunt. ''Sometimes people would say, 'Is this real?''' says Charles. ''I'd say, 'Yes, it's totally real.' And in my mind I'm thinking, It may not be the reality you think it is, but trust me, it's real. There's film in the camera.''

Numerous times, especially in the South, Baron Cohen and the Borat crew found themselves in very real physical and legal jeopardy. ''We walked into extremely hostile situations that we then exacerbated into incredibly hostile situations. We got pulled over by the Secret Service in Washington, by the police in Dallas, all sorts of places,'' says Charles. ''Sacha never once broke character. He was fearless.... To maintain the integrity of the character and accomplish what needed to be accomplished in the scene with no second takes or anything — it was an incredibly breathtaking performance.''

Some have expressed concern that Borat's bigotry, particularly his virulent anti-Semitism, goes too far. The Anti-Defamation League recently issued a statement saying that, while it understands Baron Cohen's intentions, it fears that ''the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke.''

Roach doesn't share the concern: ''If you want the anti-Semitism to be clearly anti-anti-Semitism, you have to exaggerate it. You have to take it so far that there's no ambiguity about how ridiculous it is.''

Charles, who is also Jewish, insists that revealing hidden prejudices has not just comedic payoff but redeeming social value: ''At one point, we went into a gun store and Borat asks, 'What kind of gun would you recommend to kill a Jew?' This gunstore guy doesn't hesitate: 'I'd recommend a 9mm or a Glock automatic.' That's one of those moments when you're going, Holy s---, that just really happened. This anti-Semitism is real and it comes from ignorance. You understand it better, and maybe in some way that will ultimately defuse it.''

So what else do we know about the real Sacha Baron Cohen? A few things: He wrote a thesis on the black-Jewish alliance in the American civil rights movement. He is engaged to actress Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers). And by all accounts, despite his mercenary and misanthropic comedy and one alleged confrontation with a photographer at a party last year, he is a thoroughly decent and courteous person. ''When you interact with him, there's nothing that would lead you to believe that he would make the Borat movie,'' says Apatow.

In a way, hunting for these sorts of biographical details is beside the point; it's like trying to get to the bottom of who Woody Allen's Zelig really is. The more interesting question is, Once Borat has had its way with our cultural sensitivities, what will Baron Cohen do next? His recent performance as a gay French race-car driver in Talladega Nights proved he can hold his own with the likes of Will Ferrell in conventional scripted comedy. Now, having likely burned up the chance to keep fooling people with the Ali G and Borat characters, can he find a new avenue for his brand of confidence-game comedy, mining humor in the gap between the real and the fabricated, the serious and the absurd?

Matt Stone, for one, thinks he can. ''The day after I saw the movie, I told Sacha, 'Forget about Borat, you've f---ed that character every way you can — now go do a Brüno movie,' '' Stone says, referring to the final remaining Ali G Show character. ''He can't do a Borat sequel, but people will want to see a Sacha Baron Cohen sequel. People are going to want to see another movie like this, and he's really the only person in the world who can do it.''


Friday, October 27, 2006

The Many Faces of Sacha Baron Cohen

Updated 10/27/2006 7:58 AM ET
By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY

Britney. Barbra. Bono.

There are a handful of stars in the pop-culture pantheon who sail by on just one name. Prepare to add one more: Borat.

Borat Sagdiyev, the sex-crazed, thong-wearing, moustache-sporting, obscenity-spouting Kazakhstani reporter hurtling into a theater near you in one of the year's most anticipated comedies.

He's not real. Neither are his "reportings."

Yet his movie, which has the unwieldy title of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, has generated the kind of pre-release hype that blue-chip Oscar contenders can only dream of.

"I haven't ever gotten this same kind of response from such a broad range of people, like parents at my kids' school," says producer Jay Roach, who helmed the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents flicks. "I was just sitting with Jack Valenti (the 85-year-old former head of the MPAA) at something, and he'd heard about Borat. The weirdest people come out of the woodwork."

The movie, which starts rolling out Nov. 3, killed at early screenings in Cannes, where Borat showed up on the beach in a neon man-kini, and Toronto, with Borat arriving at the premiere in a cart pulled by burly women. "You probably won't laugh as hard all year," raved the Hollywood Reporter, while Variety called it "uproariously funny."

The credit for all that hoopla goes to British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, 35, a Cambridge-educated fellow best known as faux gangsta rapper Ali G on Da Ali G Show, which made its debut in England before having a two-season run on HBO. The show featured Baron Cohen as Ali G, who interviewed unsuspecting public figures such as Andy Rooney and Pat Buchanan, and secondary characters Bruno (a catty gay Austrian fashion reporter who accosted stylists and designers) and Borat, who came to America to report on the great land by going to wine tastings, self-defense classes and dating services.

Borat simply moves Borat to a larger screen: The star Kazakh reporter comes to America to learn about it and to take his "reportings" back to his homeland. While here, he catches a rerun of Baywatch and falls head over heels for Pamela Anderson, deciding to make her his bride.
Because he's afraid of flying and believes the Jews were responsible for 9/11, he drives cross-country from New York to L.A. to find her. Along the way, he sings at a rodeo, learns to rap, hits a yard sale and engages in a wrestling match.

"Borat wants to come to the greatest country in the world and take back what he's learned," says Roach. "It just so happens that he reveals things about our culture to ourselves by getting people to say what they're privately thinking." For example: Drunken college boys lament the end of slavery and a rodeo hand slams homosexuals.

The goal was "to make a hysterically funny movie," says director Larry Charles. "The idea of exposing hypocrisy? Those were secondary agendas."

Some bits shoot barbs straight at Kazakhstan. Borat says the central Asian country is a backwater that holds an annual event called "the running of the Jew," bans women from driving because "to let a woman drive a car is like to let a monkey drive a plane" and serves fermented horse urine as wine. He professes amazement that in the "U.S. and A.," people flush their excrement down the toilet and wash themselves in a shower, not a river.

Some are not amused

The humor hasn't gone over well with officials in Kazakhstan. Earlier reports had Kazakhstan threatening to sue, but embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko dismisses those accounts.

"We're concerned that the joke may be lost on somebody, that it's just a British comedian playing a prank on Americans," Vassilenko says. "We never did threaten to sue, and we're not going to. The movie is an opportunity for Kazakhstan to present its side of the story, and we hope the movie will draw attention to the real Kazakhstan."

Although Baron Cohen is devoutly Jewish, his bumbling alter ego fears Jews. On the Ali G show Borat sings a song called Throw the Jew Down the Well; in the film he refuses to stay in a B&B run by Jews. When Kazakhstan first protested Baron Cohen's shtick, Borat sided with the angry country by saying in a video posted on his official website that he supports the decision to "sue this Jew."

Baron Cohen wasn't available to comment. Not exactly, anyway. He responded to questions by e-mail — as Borat. On the movie, he writes: "My government was concern about amounts of anti-semism in my moviefilm. But eventually our censor decide there was just enough and allow its release. However it do have most strict certificate of Kazakh Censor, which mean it cannot be looked on by anyone below age of 3."

And on the biggest perk of fame: "Since I change from be gypsy catcher and icemaker to occupation make reportings I have much better life and great success, especial with opposite sex ... Hi 5! Ladies like Borat!"

Such oddities as doing interviews only by e-mail and in character are the mild side of the Borat universe. To promote the film, Borat has gone to Washington, D.C., to meet with "Premiere George Walter Bush." On his MySpace page, Borat posts videos that have Kazakhstan endorsing Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade and calling him a "warrior" and asking his "lady-friends" to send him erotic photos.

In comedy circles, such dedication is something to celebrate.

"Borat is fantastic," says British comic Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office. "He absolutely goes all out. If he can justify something, he doesn't compromise."

"He's courageous," says Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. "It's hard to know how much someone knows what he's doing is real and how much is a creation. I have a great admiration for him. It takes a tremendous amount of guts to stick to your character."

Whenever Baron Cohen is Borat, he never breaks away from the character's wide-eyed stare, gleeful grin, choppy accent and garbled English. While shooting, Charles says he noticed Baron Cohen's mouth twinge a few times, perhaps inching toward a smile, but that's as far as it went.

"He is doing four-hour single-take scenes, and he is in character at all times," marvels Charles. "He's in character when he and I talk between scenes. From the moment he comes out of the hotel in the morning, you're talking to Borat. He was completely immersed in the character. He is an incredibly intense, focused individual."

While Baron Cohen takes his comedy seriously, he's not afraid to mock himself. Hence his penchant, as Borat, for wearing thongs and shiny suits.

"He has no inhibitions with his physical self. None whatsoever," says Roach. "When you think of the green thong to the little gym shorts, there's very little concern for the risk of looking uncool."

He's nothing like Borat

Those who know Baron Cohen say he's nothing like any of his outrageous, in-your-face characters. He also voiced King Julian in Madagascar and played the Camus-reading French race car driver in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

His Talladega co-star Molly Shannon calls Baron Cohen "hilarious. Such an original talent. I was so star-struck. But he seems very normal. He's funny but kind of quiet. And he's pretty religious."

Bring up his name to anyone and the word you often hear is "nice."

Paul Rudd calls him "the greatest comedic performer on earth. There's really funny people, there's incredibly funny people, and there's him. He's got more guts and is more inventive than anyone except Peter Sellers. I actually, as a diehard Peter Sellers fan, think he might actually be better, because he's a very nice guy, too."

There's that word again. Nice.

"He's not like what you'd expect," says Gervais, who has known Baron Cohen for years. "He's very scholarly and quiet, and serious."

Adds Tina Fey, who is writing a movie for him to star in at Paramount: "He's really smart. Just a lovely, genteel, educated British gentleman."

And while comedians can be sour in person, Roach says Baron Cohen is the exception. "You don't have to have a dark upbringing or dark approach to life to be funny. I don't think his comedy comes from that at all. His personas often come from the physical. That walk he has, that looks almost like a wooden puppet, as Borat."

Roach calls Baron Cohen "very respectful, deferential. He will get up and pull a chair out for anybody who walks into the room and make sure they're comfortable and (make sure) they have something to drink. He's tremendously chivalrous. I find him to be incredibly intelligent, articulate, charming, super-polite by American standards."

A life more ordinary

The London-born Baron Cohen lives in Los Angeles and is engaged to Aussie actress Isla Fisher, of Wedding Crashers fame.

He has a solidly middle-class background. His first cousin, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, is an autism expert in London, his brother Erran Baron Cohen is a composer and a trumpet player, while dad Gerald is an accountant and mom Daniella an aerobics instructor.

At Cambridge, he studied history and wrote his thesis on the Jewish involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s. While in college, he performed in scores of plays, including Cyrano de Bergerac and Fiddler on the Roof, and became involved with the Cambridge Footlights acting troupe. After graduation, he worked the London comedy club circuit, where he developed the characters he later brought to British TV.

Because he inhabited his Da Ali G Show characters thoroughly, he told Jimmy Kimmel in 2004, viewers had no idea what Baron Cohen looked like.

"When the first DVD came out in England, I'd be at the stands, and the people would be buying them and have no idea that I was standing next (to them)."

Despite the buzz surrounding Borat, which cost less than $20 million to shoot, it remains to be seen whether an R-rated comedy based on a character from a premium cable channel will have wide appeal.

But if the movie does reach mass audiences, Baron Cohen's anonymity could be endangered.
To a certain extent, a hit movie is the comedian's Kryptonite. The more identifiable he is and the more people are aware of his ambush antics, the less he can con people into chatting with him.

"His art depends a certain amount on being able to go incognito," Roach says. "He's conflicted about it. On the one hand, he very much wants people to enjoy the film. But every exposure makes him that much more recognizable. It's a conundrum."

Apparently, Baron Cohen is willing to take it as far as he can; according to Variety, he's shooting another reality-based movie next summer with a new character.

And Borat himself has no qualms about being rich and famous. Will success spoil him?

"No, I excite!" he writes. "I hope my fame outside Kazakhstan will make come true my dreams to be friend of bald homosexual Eltonjohn. If you are read this, Eltonjohn, you must call me for chitchat! My telephones number is Almaty 74. I would also like very much to have meet ladies man Frederick Mercury. It was shame he die in that car crash. Many peoples say I looks like him, infacts, last month I come 7th in Almaty's annual 'who look most like Freddy Mercury' competition. This out of over 843,000 entrant!"

Posted 10/26/2006 10:16 PM ET

Updated 10/27/2006 7:58 AM ET

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

John Tierney: Iraq- One Nation, Divisible

Published: October 24, 2006
The New York Times

An American in Iraq has finally gotten it almost right.

J. D. Thurman, the major general who is the senior commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, has figured out the obstacle to America’s dream for Iraq.

“Part of our problem is that we want this more than they do,” General Thurman told The Times’s Michael Gordon, alluding to American efforts to unify Iraqis. “We need to get people to stop worrying about self and start worrying about Iraq.”

That’s a refreshingly candid alternative to the usual lines we hear about the Iraqi people’s patriotism and resolve. General Thurman predicted that Americans will keep struggling unless Iraqis put aside their differences. Quite right — and quite depressing, because they’re not about to do it, no matter what timetable the U.S. tries to impose.

But what’s stopping them is not selfishness. When General Thurman talked about the conflict between serving oneself and serving one’s country, he was applying an American template to a different culture. Rampant individualism is not the problem in Iraq.

The problem is that they have so many social obligations more important to them than national unity. Iraqis bravely went to the polls and waved their purple fingers, but they voted along sectarian lines. Appeals to their religion trumped appeals to the national interest. And as the beleaguered police in Amara saw last week, religion gets trumped by the most important obligation of all: the clan.

The deadly battle in Amara wasn’t between Sunnis and Shiites, but between two Shiite clans that have feuded for generations. After one clan’s militia destroyed police stations and took over half the city, the Iraqi Army did not ride to the rescue. Authorities regained control only after the clan leaders negotiated a truce.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, American optimists invoked Germany and Japan as models for their democratization project, but Iraq didn’t have the cultural cohesion or national identity of those countries. The shrewdest forecasts I heard came not from foreign policy experts but from anthropologists and sociologists who noted a crucial statistic: nearly half of Iraqis were married to their first or second cousins.

Unlike General Thurman and other Westerners, members of these tightly knit Iraqi clans don’t look on society as a collection of individuals working for the common good of the nation. “In a modern state a citizen’s allegiance is to the state, but theirs is to their clan and their tribe,” Ihsan M. al-Hassan, a sociologist at the University of Baghdad, warned three years ago. “If one person in your clan does something wrong, you favor him anyway, and you expect others to treat their relatives the same way.”

These allegiances explain why Iraqis don’t want to give up their local militias. They know it’s unrealistic to expect protection from a national force of soldiers or police officers from other clans, other regions, other religions. When the Iraqi Army ordered reinforcements to go help Americans keep peace in Baghdad, several Iraqi battalions deserted rather than risk their lives defending strangers.

Instead of trying to transform Iraqis into patriots and build up national security forces, the U.S. should be urging decentralization. The national government should concentrate on defending the borders and equitably distributing oil revenue, ideally by distributing shares of the oil wealth directly to citizens.

Most other duties, including maintaining law and order, should devolve to autonomous local governments: one for the Kurdish north, one for the Sunni Triangle, one for the Shiite south, plus coalition governments in Baghad and the multiethnic region around Kirkuk. The result would hardly be peace. There would still be murderous religious conflicts in Baghdad and fierce interclan battles in towns like Amara.

But the local leaders — elected officials, police officers, sheiks, clerics — would be in a better position to provide security and negotiate truces than would a national government. It’s no accident that the most stable part of Iraq is also the most autonomous: Kurdistan, where two rival clans have negotiated a relatively peaceful coexistence.

It wouldn’t be easy for Iraqis in other regions to work out their differences, but the local leaders would have one crucial advantage over any Iraqis or Americans giving orders from Baghdad.
They would realize their neighbors are not going to suddenly embrace national unity. They would know you make peace with the citizenry you have, not the one you want.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Robert Spencer: Death to the Apostates

[More fun and frolic from those misunderstood adherents of the "religion of peace"...or maybe it's better stated "religion of pieces" in "we'll chop you up into little pieces if you fornicate or apostasize." - jtf]

Robert Spencer
October 24, 2006

An Afghan citizen named Abdul Rahman, you may recall, made international news last spring, when his conversion from Islam to Christianity led to his arrest, with the intention of putting him on trial for apostasy. At that time he was spirited away to safety in Italy. Now jihadists in Afghanistan are demanding his return to Afghanistan in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist, Gabriele Torsello. “We want this issue resolved before the end of Ramadan,” his captors demanded, but no resolution seemed imminent as the holy month drew to a close.
It is safe to say that if Italian authorities agreed to turn over Abdul Rahman to the kidnappers, the convert would almost certainly be killed for his crime of apostasy from Islam. Yet at the time of Abdul Rahman’s arrest, puzzled Western analysts pointed to what they thought were guarantees of freedom of religion and of conscience in the new Afghan Constitution: after all, didn’t the document pledge “respect” for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Didn’t it say, “followers of other religions” were “free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law”?

Indeed it did, but what were the “limits of the provisions of law”? The Constitution itself made the answer abundantly clear: “In Afghanistan,” it stipulated, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” It mandated that the President swear an oath to “obey and safeguard the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” and only secondarily “to observe the Constitution and other laws of Afghanistan and supervise their implementation.” What’s more, it stated that “the provisions of adherence to the fundamentals of the sacred religion of Islam and the regime of the Islamic Republic cannot be amended.”

Most non-Muslim observers missed the significance of these provisions, and especially the danger they posed to converts like Abdul Rahman and to the freedom of conscience in general. This is understandable, however, since so many Muslims in the West maintained that Islam contained no provision against apostasy. Typical of this was “Leaving Islam is not a capital crime,” a Chicago Tribune article published by M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor of Law at DePaul University and President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, when Abdul Rahman was arrested. “A Muslim’s conversion to Christianity,” Bassiouni wrote, “is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law, contrary to the claims in the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan.” Several Muslim spokesmen have insisted the same thing to me in radio debates, excoriating me as “Islamophobic” for pointing out that many Islamic texts do indeed call for apostates to be killed.

Yet the idea that the death penalty for apostasy has always been an element of the “fundamentals of the sacred religion of Islam” is something that some Muslims have made no effort to deny or conceal. IslamOnline, a site manned by a team of Islam scholars headed by the internationally influential Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, explains, “if a sane person who has reached puberty voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be punished. In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.” And if someone doesn’t wait for a caliph to appear and takes matters into his own hands? Although the killer is to be “disciplined” for “arrogating the caliph’s prerogative and encroaching upon his rights,” there is “no blood money for killing an apostate (or any expiation)” – in other words, no significant punishment for the killer.

These laws are rooted in the words and deeds of Islam’s prophet, as I explain in my new book, The Truth About Muhammad. When he “forced his entry” into Mecca, according to his ninth-century biographer Ibn Sa‘d, “the people embraced Islam willingly or unwillingly” (Ibn Sa‘d, II.168). The Prophet of Islam ordered the Muslims to fight only those individuals or groups who resisted their advance into the city – except for a list of people who were to be killed, even if they had sought sanctuary in the Ka‘bah itself. One of those was Abdullah bin Sa‘d, a former Muslim who at one time had been employed by Muhammad to write down the Qur’anic revelations; but he had subsequently apostatized and returned to the Quraysh. He was found and brought to Muhammad along with his brother, and pleaded with the Prophet of Islam for clemency: “Accept the allegiance of Abdullah, Apostle of Allah!” Abdullah repeated this twice, but Muhammad remained impassive. After Abdullah repeated it a third time, Muhammad accepted.

As soon as Abdullah had left, Muhammad turned to the Muslims who were in the room and asked: “Was not there a wise man among you who would stand up to him when he saw that I had withheld my hand from accepting his allegiance, and kill him?”

The companions, aghast, responded: “We did not know what you had in your heart, Apostle of Allah! Why did you not give us a signal with your eye?”

“It is not advisable,” said the Prophet of Islam, “for a Prophet to play deceptive tricks with the eyes.”

Apostasy from Islam had always been for Muhammad a supreme evil. When he was master of Medina, some livestock herders came to the city and accepted Islam. But they disliked Medina’s climate, so Muhammad gave them some camels and a shepherd; once away from Medina, the herders killed the shepherd, released the camels and renounced Islam. Muhammad had them pursued. When they were caught, he ordered that their hands and feet be amputated (in accord with Qur’an 5:33, which directs that those who cause “corruption in the land” be punished by the amputation of their hands and feet on opposite sides) and their eyes put out with heated iron bars, and that they be left in the desert to die. Their pleas for water, he ordered, must be refused.

The traditions are clear that one of the main reasons that the punishment was so severe was because these men had been Muslims but had “turned renegade.” Muhammad legislated for his community that no Muslim could be put to death except for murder, unlawful sexual intercourse, and apostasy. He said flatly: “If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.”

It stains credulity, in light of all this, that Islamic apologists in the West assert that, in the words of one Ibrahim B. Syed, President of the Islamic Research Foundation International of Louisville, Kentucky, “there is no historical record, which indicates that Muhammad (pbuh) or any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.” This kind of assertion may be comforting to non-Muslims who would prefer to believe that the capital charges levied against Abdul Rahman were some sort of anomaly. Unfortunately, this claim simply does not accord with the facts of Muhammad’s life. That such assertions pass unchallenged only underscores the need for Westerners to become informed about the actual words and deeds of Muhammad – which make the actions of Islamic states and jihad groups much more intelligible than do the words of Islamic apologists in the West.

The kidnappers’ demand that Abdul Rahman be returned to Afghanistan illustrates the hollowness of the arguments we hear all the time – about how we must support self-proclaimed moderate Muslims like Bassiouni by refraining from noting the flimsiness and weakness of their presentations. While we’re being polite to alleged “reformers,” Muslim hardliners are cheerfully implementing the elements of Islamic law that bemused non-Muslims are nodding their heads and agreeing don’t exist.

It’s good that the Italian government shows no sign that it is considering returning Abdul Rahman to Afghanistan. It would be better if the United States government, on which the Afghan regime depends for its continued survival, called upon the Afghans to drop the Sharia provisions from the nation’s Constitution, and affirm in unequivocal terms freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. For the kidnappers’ action has placed the Afghan government in a peculiar position. What can Afghan officials say? That they don’t want the kidnappers to get hold of Abdul Rahman, because they want to kill him themselves? The kidnappers’ demand is an unpleasant reminder that United States has deposed one Shari'a regime in Afghanistan, that of the Taliban, only to replace it with another. The State Department should call upon the Afghans to seize on the occasion of this demand to call for a searching reevaluation of the role of Islam in Afghan public life. But this, of course, is even less likely to happen than Abdul Rahman’s return to Afghanistan. One certainty is that people will continue to suffer for freedom of conscience in Afghanistan – under the indifferent eye of the U.S. military.

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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of
Jihad Watch. He is the author of six books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and the New York Times Bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). His latest book is The Truth About Muhammad.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Asra Q. Nomani: Clothes Aren't the Issue

[This is an interesting piece...the author has some compelling points to make but it remains extremely difficult for anyone to maneuver around a literal interpretation of the many very troubling verses in the Koran regarding the treatment of women, non-Muslims, etc. How one comes to an authoritative conclusion about a book that contains so many contradictory verses and ideas is for better minds than mine. The only thing that seems empirically obvious to me is that those that take a strictly literal approach to interpreting the Koran are causing one hell of a lot mischief in this world...and they've been doing it for quite awhile. They also don't show much sign of letting up anytime soon.- jtf]

The Washington Post
Sunday, October 22, 2006; B01

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. When dealing with a "disobedient wife," a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of "the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost."

Such appalling recommendations, drawn from the book "Woman in the Shade of Islam" by Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha, are inspired by as authoritative a source as any Muslim could hope to find: a literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Koran, An-Nisa , or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation.

The notion of using physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," as Sheha suggests, especially for "controlling or mastering women" or others who "enjoy being beaten," is common throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, I first encountered Sheha's work at my Morgantown mosque, where a Muslim student group handed it out to male worshipers after Friday prayers one day a few years ago.

Verse 4:34 retains a strong following, even among many who say that women must be treated as equals under Islam. Indeed, Muslim scholars and leaders have long been doing what I call "the 4:34 dance" -- they reject outright violence against women but accept a level of aggression that fits contemporary definitions of domestic violence.

Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have recently focused on Muslim women's veils as an obstacle to integration in the West. But to me, it is 4:34 that poses the much deeper challenge of integration. How the Muslim world interprets this passage will reveal whether Islam can be compatible with life in the 21st century. As Hadayai Majeed, an African American Muslim who had opened a shelter in Atlanta to serve Muslim women, put it, "If it's okay for me to be a savage in my home, it's okay for me to be a savage in the world."

Not long after I picked up the free Saudi book, Mahmoud Shalash, an imam from Lexington, Ky., stood at the pulpit of my mosque and offered marital advice to the 100 or so men sitting before him. He repeated the three-step plan, with "beat them" as his final suggestion. Upstairs, in the women's balcony, sat a Muslim friend who had recently left her husband, who she said had abused her; her spouse sat among the men in the main hall.

At the sermon's end, I approached Shalash. "This is America," I protested. "How can you tell men to beat their wives?"

"They should beat them lightly," he explained. "It's in the Koran."

He was doing the dance.

Born into a conservative Muslim family that emigrated from Hyderabad, India, to West Virginia, I have seen many female relatives in India cloak themselves head to toe in black burqas and abandon their education and careers for marriage. But the Islam I knew was a gentle one. I was never taught that a man could -- or should -- physically discipline his wife. Abusing anyone, I was told, violated Islamic tenets against zulm , or cruelty. My family adhered to the ninth chapter of the Koran, which says that men and women "are friends and protectors of one another."

However, the kidnapping and killing of my friend and colleague Daniel Pearl in 2002 forced me to confront the link between literalist interpretations of the Koran that sanction violence in the world and those that sanction violence against women. For critics of Islam, 4:34 is the smoking gun that proves that Islam is misogynistic and intrinsically violent. Read literally, it is as troubling as Koranic verses such as At-Tauba ("The Repentance") 9:5, which states that Muslims should "slay the pagans wherever ye find them" or Al-Mâ'idah ("The Table Spread with Food") 5:51, which reads, "Take not the Jews and Christians as friends."

Although Islamic historians agree that the prophet Muhammad never hit a woman, it is also clear that Muslim communities face a domestic violence problem. A 2003 study of 216 Pakistani women found that 97 percent had experienced such abuse; almost half of them reported being victims of nonconsensual sex. Earlier this year, the state-run General Union of Syrian Women released a report showing that one in four married Syrian women is the victim of domestic violence.

Much of the problem is the 4:34 dance, which encourages this violence while producing interpretations that range from comical to shocking. A Muslim man in upstate New York, for instance, told his wife that the Koran allowed him to beat her with a "wet noodle." The host of a Saudi TV show displayed a pool cue as a disciplinary tool.

Modern debates over 4:34 inevitably hark back to a still widely used 1930 translation of the Koran by British Muslim Marmaduke Pickthall, who determined the verse to mean that, as a last resort, men can "scourge" their wives. A 1934 translation of the Koran, by Indian Muslim scholar A. Yusuf Ali, inserted a parenthetical qualifier: Men could "Beat them (lightly)."

By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia, with its ultra-traditionalist Wahhabi ideology, was providing the translations. Fueled by oil money, the kingdom sent its Korans to mosques and religious schools worldwide. A Koran available at my local mosque, published in 1985 by the Saudi government, adds yet another qualifier: "Beat them (lightly, if it is useful)."

Today, the Islamic Society of North America and popular Muslim Internet mailing lists such as SisNet and IslamIstheTruth rely on an analysis from "Gender Equity in Islam," a 1995 book by Jamal Badawi, director of the Islamic Information Foundation in Canada. Badawi tries to take a stand against domestic violence, but like others doing the 4:34 dance, he leaves room for physical discipline. If a wife "persists in deliberate mistreatment and expresses contempt of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations," the husband "may resort to another measure that may save the marriage . . . more accurately described as a gentle tap on the body," he writes. "[B]ut never on the face," he adds, "making it more of a symbolic measure than a punitive one."

As long as the beating of women is acceptable in Islam, the problem of suicide bombers, jihadists and others who espouse violence will not go away; to me, they form part of a continuum. When 4:34 came into being in the 7th century, its pronouncements toward women were revolutionary, given that women were considered little more than chattel at the time. But 1,400 years later, the world is a different place and so, too, must our interpretations be different, retaining the progressive spirit of that verse.

Domestic violence is prevalent today in non-Muslim communities as well, but the apparent religious sanction in Islam makes the challenge especially difficult. Some people seem to understand this and are beginning to push back against the traditionalists. However, their efforts are concentrated in the West, and their impact remains small.

In his recent book "No god but God," Reza Aslan, an Islam scholar at the University of Southern California, dared to assert that "misogynistic interpretation" has dogged 4:34 because Koranic commentary "has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men." An Iranian American scholar recently published a new 4:34 translation stating that the "beating" step means "go to bed with them (when they are willing)."

Meanwhile, shelters created for Muslim women in Chicago and New York have begun to preach zero tolerance regarding the "disciplining" of women -- a position that should be universal by now. And some Muslim men appear to grasp the gravity of this issue. In Northern Virginia, for instance, an imam organized a group called Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence -- though it still endorses the "tapping" of a wife as a "friendly" reminder, an organizer said.

Yet even these small advances, if we can call them such, face an uphill battle against the Saudi oil money propagating literalist interpretations of the Koran here in the United States and worldwide.

Last October, I listened to an online audio sermon by an American Muslim preacher, Sheik Yusuf Estes, who was scheduled to speak at West Virginia University as a guest of the Muslim Student Association. He soon moved to the subject of disobedient wives, and his recommendations mirrored the literal reading of 4:34. First, "tell them." Second, "leave the bed." Finally: "Roll up a newspaper and give her a crack. Or take a yardstick, something like this, and you can hit."

When I telephoned Estes later to ask about the sermon, he said that he had been trying to limit how and when men could hit their wives. He realized that he had to revisit the issue, he told me, when some Canadian Muslim men asked him if they could use the Sunday newspaper to give their wives "a crack."

Yet even those doing the 4:34 dance seem to realize that there's a problem. When I went back to listen to the audio clip later, the offensive language had been removed. And when I asked Estes if he had ever rolled up a newspaper to give his own wife a crack, he responded without hesitation.

"I'm married to a woman from Texas," he said. "Do you know what she would do to me?"

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam" (HarperSanFrancisco).

Don Feder: High Priestess of the Palestinian State

Don Feder
October 23, 2006

If the State Department has a religion, it’s Palestinian statehood. On its altar, diplomats are eager to sacrifice the security of America’s only reliable Middle East ally and, ultimately, our own security as well.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become the high priestess of this cult – muttering mystic incantations about Palestinian suffering under the brutal Israeli occupation and how a Palestinian state would be the crowning achievement of American foreign policy, much the way the Munich pact was the Olympic gold of British diplomacy.

Her recent address to the American Palestine Task Force was modestly described by the Zionist Organization of America as the “most pro-Palestinian Arab, anti-Israel speech in memory by a major U.S. administration official.”

In her remarks, Rice confessed, “I believe that there could be no greater legacy for America than to help bring into being a Palestinian state for a people who” suffer the “daily humiliation.” of living under the so-called Israeli occupation.

This is the way our secretary of state chooses to characterize the nation that has been our steadfast friend for 60 years (brutal occupying power), to demonstrate her devotion for a people who celebrated the slaughter of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 by dancing in the streets of Ramallah.

As a student of history, Rice observed, I know that “there are so many things that once seemed impossible that, after they happened, simply seemed inevitable.” She wasn’t talking about the improbable rise of Nazism in Germany, which would be an apt comparison here.

Scholar that she is, Rice had another political movement in mind, “By all rights, America, the United States of America (in case her audience thought she was referring to another America), should never have come into being,” the lady declared.

To compare Washington, Adams and Jefferson to Arafat, Abbas and the mad bombers of Hamas is kinky, to say the least. Our Founding Fathers were men of learning, achievement and discernment, not a gang of Allah-intoxicated savages. They demonstrated their courage by pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, not by turning mothers and children into smoldering lumps of mangled flesh.

“The Palestinian people deserve a better life, a life that is rooted in liberty, democracy, uncompromised by violence and terrorism,” Rice inanely proclaimed.

What the French are to cuisine and collaboration, the Palestinians are to violence and terrorism.

In January of this year, the Palestinians gave Hamas control of their legislature. It’s not that the rival gang (Fatah) isn’t also a terrorist entity. It’s just that Hamas is more bloodthirsty and fanatical – good things in the eyes of the worthy Palestinian people. Gary Bauer summarized the election’s outcome with the observation, “Faced with a choice, the Palestinian voters picked the most ardent and committed Jew-haters and America-haters.”

In recent opinion polls, 61 percent of Palestinians supported suicide bombings and terrorism, 56 percent favored rocket attacks on civilian targets, 75 percent endorsed the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers (which sparked a mini-war on Israel’s northern border in July and August), and 97 percent were pro-Hezbollah.

Palestinian tastes run to Protocols-of-Elders-of-Zion-type anti-Semitism, “honor killing” of women suspected of adultery, the brutal murder of Israeli civilians, and the sectarian-cleansing of Nazareth and Bethlehem, once overwhelmingly Christian cities.

In the aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at a Bavarian university, which included a quote by a 14th century Byzantine emperor, the state-run television station of the Palestinian Authority described the pontiff as “arrogant,” “stupid,” and “criminal.” The pope will be judged by Allah on the day “when eyes stare in terror,” the jihad network predicted.

Hey, the Palestinians need a symbol for their state, right – like Uncle Sam for the U.S. or John Bull for the Brits? How about the mother of a suicide bomber decked out in fashionable black robes describing her pride and pleasure that her martyr son did Allah’s will by detonating himself along with as many innocents as possible?

Rice could look far and wide and not find worse candidates for creating a nation where democracy, tolerance, and pluralism will reign than the Palestinians.

But Condi is more than a ditzy cheerleader for Palestinian nationalism. She’s also a facilitator par excellence. A year ago, Ms. Rice brokered the deal to hand Gaza over to the terrorists, which entailed 7,500 Jews being driven from their homes.

It wasn’t long before the Minutemen of the Middle East were expressing their gratitude for this by rocket attacks on Israel’s southern settlements (45 in September alone).

Rice pressured Israel into turning over checkpoints on the Gaza/Sinai border to a joint force of Palestinians and Egyptians. Since then, Palestinian terrorists (excuse the redundancy) have smuggled 15 tons of explosives over the border, as well as quantities of rifles, ammunition, rockets and other weapons and munitions. Condi must be very popular with Israelis just a rocket’s shot from Gaza.

Now she wants the U.S. to fund an expansion of Abbas’s Presidential Guard from 2,500 to 6,000 troops. She also wants Israel to approve the transfer of additional weapons to the ironically misnamed Palestinian security forces. Toys for Terrorists?

If Condoleezza Rice has a favorite Palestinian, it’s Mahmoud Abbas, president of the “Palestinian Authority.”

In the fantasy realm Rice has constructed, Abbas is the moderate working feverishly for democracy and human rights in Jihadistan, as well as for an enduring peace with Israel. Good Abbas and his noble Fatah party are contrasted with the terrorist black hats of Hamas.
On her Middle East trip earlier this month, Rice told reporters she had “great admiration” for the president of the Palestinians, and praised his “willingness” to restart negotiations with the Israelis (so gracious of him).

“You have the strong commitment of the United States to that cause and the personal commitment of me,” the secretary of state simpered.

Palestine’s George Washington was Arafat’s chief deputy for 40 years and helped him to found Fatah. Abbas was paymaster for the Munich Olympics assassins. His Ph.D. thesis on why the Holocaust never happened reads like David Duke’s memoirs.

Abbas’s party, Fatah, was the undisputed master of the Palestinian Authority until January, when it lost the aforementioned legislative elections to Hamas. (It still controls the presidency.) Fatah and Hamas are rival gangs – like the Capone mob and Bugs Moran’s boys – engaged in a turf war. One is more religious, the other more ideological. Otherwise, there’s no difference..
Both are anti-American. Both seek the destruction of Israel. Both are willing to wade through a river of blood to reach their goals. Both envision a Palestinian state which will resemble a hybrid of Syria and Iran – without the amenities.

There’s an assiduously cultivated myth that unlike Hamas, Abbas recognizes Israel. Abbas has made it quite clear that he recognizes his Israeli counterparts for purposes of negotiations (when he thinks he can get something) – not Israel’s legitimacy or claim to any territory.

The charter of Abbas’ party calls for the annihilation of Israel. Maps of the Palestinian Authority show Palestine from the Jordan to the sea. In a 2004 interview on Iranian television, then PA Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddoumi said Fatah’s embrace of a two-state solution was a feint. “At this stage, there will be two states. Many years from now, there will be one state.”

Abu Ahmed, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (Fatah’s terrorist auxiliary) is frank: “The base of our Fatah movement keeps dreaming of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa and Aco. There has been no change in our position (vis a vis the Zionist entity). Abbas recognizes Israel because of the pressure that the Zionists and the Americans are exercising on him. We understand this is part of his obligations and political calculations.” It’s an act to get the dumb Americans to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Palestinian Authority and pressure Jerusalem into giving in to his latest demand.

The Brigades are responsible for every suicide bombing inside Israel in the last two years. Rice’s State Department considers the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades a terrorist group. Members of the Brigades are members of Fatah. It was started by Arafat. When they overran Fatah headquarters in 2003, the Israelis discovered documentation that the party had recently transferred $50,000 to the Brigades. With the Brigades, Abbas can have it both ways – playing the sober, business-suited diplomat for the West, while acting as the terrorist chieftain for his own people.

Abbas has authorized the payment of annuities to the families of suicide bombers. Of both Hamas and the Brigades, Rice’s favorite Palestinian politician says, “Israel calls them terrorists, we call them strugglers.” Also, “Allah loves the martyr.” Suicide bombers should be recognized as “heroes fighting for freedom.” He’s also praised the Islamic lunatics of Hezbollah as a shining example of what he calls the “Arab resistance.”

A year ago, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began raving about wiping Israel off the face of the earth, Abbas’s party in Gaza distributed flyers proclaiming, “We affirm our support and backing for the positions of the Iranian president toward the Zionist state which, by God’s will, will cease to exist.”

By the will of Allah – and with the unwitting support of Condoleezza Rice.

In her speech to the American Palestinian Task Force, Rice described Palestinian statehood as the impossible dream that we must dare to dream nonetheless.

It’s more like the inevitable nightmare. Everyone wants it. Its boosters include Tony Blair, the European Union, the UN, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, the Saudis, the Arab League, the Conference of Islamic Organizations, al Qaeda, Iranian mullahs, Bashar Assad, etc., etc. At least half of Israel, including the Olmert government, is willing to go along with it.

The two-state solution is a one-state solution in disguise.

With a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will lose strategic depth. It will be 9 miles wide at its narrow waist. It will lose the high ground of Judea and Samaria. Most of its population and industry will be within mortar- and rocket- range. Instead of a 40-mile eastern border, its new border with the State of Palestine will be over 400 miles long.

For their future security, Israelis will have to trust in the good will of Mahmoud Abbas, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hamas and al-Qaeda (which is already operating in Gaza). Apologies to the M*A*S*H theme song, but this suicide will not be painless.

Who knows, perhaps Abbas and company will erect a statue of Secretary Rice (their Marquis de Lafayette) in the future Palestinian state – just after they demolish the Knesset and Western wall, turn Yad Vashem into a mosque and drive the Jews into the sea.

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Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website,

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bob Knight, Rock Star

The New York Times
Published: October 22, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oct. 19 — Sitting with his teammate A. J. Abrams less than five feet from Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight, the highly regarded Texas freshman Kevin Durant marveled at the nearby crowd.

At a table to Durant’s right, about 50 members of the news media encircled Knight during his appearance Thursday at the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball media day at the Cox Convention Center.

Knight spoke with his usual saltiness about a variety of subjects, including the World Series and his wish that the 3-pointer be eliminated. He even offered an impression of Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach.

Knight’s 50-minute session drew frequent laughter and a crowd so densely packed that Aaron Bruce, a junior guard for Baylor, could not wedge his video camera into the throng.

“He’s a basketball rock star,” Durant, 18, said of Knight. “I wanted to go over there and listen. I heard he had some nice stories.”

Dressed in a green pullover sweater and a yellow long-sleeved shirt with dark slacks and brown loafers, the often-cantankerous Knight, who will turn 66 on Oct. 25, recounted how he was paid $4,600 to teach and to coach junior varsity basketball at an Ohio high school and how he once declared that he would not coach beyond 37 seasons.

But now, after 40 turbulent years of coaching, he needs 11 victories to break the N.C.A.A. record of 879 set by Dean Smith of North Carolina. Knight has a record of 869-350 (a .713 winning percentage) in 40 seasons at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, ranking him third in victories behind Smith and Rupp (876).

Knight has coached more seasons than any other active N.C.A.A. Division I basketball coach. He is tied with Jim Boeheim of Syracuse for most 20-victory seasons (28) and is 105-61 in his five years at Texas Tech after being fired in 2000 by Indiana, where he had coached since 1971 and won three national titles.

“To do what he has done in different times is impressive,” Baylor Coach Scott Drew said. “It shows that he’s been able to adjust to different trends as far as society goes and different innovations in the game. He’s led to a lot of that.”

Texas Tech is picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, according to the preseason coaches poll. Kansas was picked first, followed by Texas A&M.

Knight’s Red Raiders return four starters, including the senior guard Jarrius Jackson, who led the conference in scoring last season at 20.5 points a game, and four of their top six scorers.

Texas Tech plays 14 nonconference games before January, giving Knight an opportunity to pass Smith before the end of this year. Seven of those games are home at rowdy United Spirit Arena, where the Red Raiders were 12-4 last season. Using self-deprecating humor, Knight, his hair white and his complexion ruddy, has played down his approach to Smith’s record.

“There are records of ability and records of longevity,” Knight said. “I wish I had some kind of record because of ability rather than longevity.”

After a trip to the Round of 16 in 2005, Texas Tech’s season was a disappointing 15-17 over all and 6-10 in the conference last season. It was just the second time a Knight team finished with a losing record.

“I think I did a poor job of assessing the talent that we had available and what we lost,” Knight said. “We lost more than I thought we did. We weren’t as good as I thought we could be.”

To be a legitimate contender in the revamped Big 12, which has six new coaches this season, Texas Tech will need to improve on the road and against quality opponents. Last season, the Red Raiders were 2-9 in away games and failed to beat a top-25 team (0-7).

“There’s not added pressure because of the record,” Jackson said. “I look at it as more of a challenge, really. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting, and we’re going to get a lot of attention from it.”

A preseason all-American pick by various publications, Jackson topped the Big 12 in 3-point shooting (44.8 percent), free throws made (152) and minutes played (38.38 a game) in 2005.

A native of Monroe, La., Jackson, who is 6 feet 1 inch and 185 pounds, scored more than 20 points 18 times last season, highlighted by a 41-point game against Nebraska.

“He’s a guy that can take over a game in a lot of different ways,” Colorado Coach Ricardo Patton said of Jackson. “He has what it takes to play at the next level.”

But despite Jackson’s offensive prowess as a junior, Knight said he was expecting more than offense from him this season.

“The key to him being a truly outstanding player will be his defensive play,” Knight said. “He has been a very, very good offensive player all the time in the three years he has played for us. I want to see him be as complete a guard as there is anywhere in the country.”

No matter what happens this season, Knight is not planning to leave Texas Tech anytime soon. He has agreed to a three-year contract extension through 2012 for $300,000 annually with a guaranteed $600,000 in outside income, Texas Tech Athletic Director Gerald Myers said.

The new deal must be approved by the university’s board of regents, said the Texas Tech men’s basketball spokesman, Randy Farley.

In a telephone interview, Myers said of Knight: “He’s exceeded any expectations we’ve had how this program would have done so quickly under him. He’s still got energy. He’s still got drive.
He’s still got his enthusiasm for coaching. I think in some ways he has mellowed, though.”

Texas Tech’s players may not agree that Knight is more docile, but he is seemingly a long way from giving up basketball for more fishing, hunting and golf.

“I have no decision whatsoever in mind about how long I’m going to coach,” Knight said.

Mark Steyn: Fear of too many babies is hard to bear

October 22, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

Last Tuesday morning, in a maternity ward somewhere in the United States, the 300 millionth American arrived. He or she got a marginally warmer welcome than Mark Foley turning up to hand out the prizes at junior high. One could have predicted the appalled editorials from European newspapers aghast at yet another addition to the swollen cohort of excess Americans consuming ever more of the planet's dwindling resources. And, when Canada's National Post announced "'Frightening' Surge Brings US To 300m People," you can appreciate their terror: the millions of Democrats who declared they were moving north after Bush's re-election must have placed incredible strain on Canada's highways, schools, trauma counselors, etc.

But the wee bairn might have expected a warmer welcome from his or her compatriots. Alas not. "Three hundred million seems to be greeted more with hand-wringing ambivalence than chest-thumping pride," observed the Washington Post, which inclines toward the former even on the best of days. No chest-thumping up in Vermont, either. "Organizations such as the Shelburne-based Population Media Center are marking the 300 million milestone with renewed warnings that world population growth is unsustainable," reported the Burlington Free Press.

Across the country, the grim milestone prompted this reaction from a somber Dowell Myers. "At 300 million," noted the professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, "we are beginning to be crushed under the weight of our own quality-of-life degradation."

I, on the other hand, was feeling pretty chipper about the birth of the cute l'il quality-of-life degrader. The previous day, my new book was published. You'll find it in all good bookstores -- it's propping up the slightly wonky rear left leg of the front table groaning under the weight of unsold copies of Peace Mom by Cindy Sheehan. Anyway, the book -- mine, not Cindy's -- deals in part with the geopolitical implications of demography -- i.e., birth rates. That's an easy subject to get all dry and statistical about, so I gotta hand it to my publicist: arranging for the birth of the 300 millionth American is about as good a promotional tie-in as you could get and well worth the 75 bucks he bribed the guy at the Census Bureau. But, even if you haven't got a book to plug, the arrival of Junior 300 Mil is something everyone should celebrate.

So why don't we? The answer is that too many people who should know better are still peddling the same old 40-year-old guff about "overpopulation." What does Professor Myers mean by "quality-of-life degradation"? America is the 172nd least densely populated country on Earth. If you think it's crowded here, try living in the Netherlands or Belgium, which have, respectively, 1,015 and 883 inhabitants per square mile compared with 80 folks per square mile in the United States. To be sure, somewhere such as, say, Newark, N.J., is a lot less bucolic than it was in 1798. But why is that? No doubt Myers would say it's urban sprawl. But that's the point: you can only sprawl if you've got plenty of space. As the British writer Adam Nicholson once wrote of America, "There is too much room in the vast continental spaces of the country for a great deal of care to be taken with the immediate details." Nothing sprawls in Belgium: It's a phenomenon that arises not from population pressures but the lack thereof.

As for other degradations the weight of which is so crushing to Myers, name some. America is one of the most affordable property markets in the Western world. I was amazed to discover, back in the first summer of the Bush presidency, that a three-bedroom air-conditioned house in Crawford, Texas, could be yours for 30,000 bucks and, if that sounds a bit steep, a double-wide on a couple of acres would set you back about $6,000. And not just because Bush lives next door and serves as a kind of one-man psychological gated community keeping the NPR latte-sippers from moving in and ruining the neighborhood. The United States is about the cheapest developed country in which to get a nice home with a big yard and raise a family. That's one of the reasons why America, almost alone among Western nations, has a healthy fertility rate.

Everywhere else, for the most part, they've taken the advice of Myers and that think tank in Vermont. In America, there are 2.1 live births per woman. In 17 European countries, it's 1.3 or below -- that's what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility, a rate from which no society has ever recovered. Spain's population is halving with every generation. These nations are doing what Myers and the Vermont "sustainability" junkies would regard as the socially responsible thing, and having fewer babies. And as a result their countries are dying demographically and (more immediately) economically: They don't have enough young people to pay for the generous social programs the ever more geriatric Europeans have come to expect.

By the way, I wonder if any helpful reader would care to provide a working definition of "unsustainable." We hear it all the time these days. You can hardly go to an international conference on this or that global crisis without Natalie Cole serenading the opening-night gala banquet of G-7 finance ministers with a couple of choruses of "Unsustainable, that's what you are." Two centuries back, when Malthus warned of overpopulation, he was contemplating the prospects of a man "born into a world already possessed" -- that's to say, with no land left for him, no job, no food. "At Nature's mighty feast," wrote Malthus, "there is no vacant cover for him." But that's not what Myers and Co. mean. No one seriously thinks 400 or 500 million Americans will lead to mass starvation. By "unsustainable," they mean that we might encroach ever so slightly onto the West Nile mosquito's traditional breeding grounds in northern Maine.

Which is sad if you think this or that insect is more important than the developed world's most critically endangered species: people. If you have a more scrupulous care for language, you'll note that population-wise it's low birth rates that are "unsustainable": Spain, Germany, Italy and most other European peoples literally cannot sustain themselves -- which is why, in one of the fastest demographic transformations in human history, their continent is becoming Muslim.

As a matter of fact, you don't have to cross the Atlantic to see the consequences of a loss of human capital: The Burlington Free Press would be better occupied worrying less about the 300 millionth American and more about the ever emptier schoolhouses up and down the Green Mountain State. I used to joke that Vermont was America's leading Canadian province, but in fact it's worse than that: demographically, it's an honorary member of the European Union.

The reality is that in a Western world ever more wizened and barren the 300 millionth American is the most basic example of American exceptionalism. Happy birth day, kid, and here's to many more.

©Mark Steyn 2006