What is this Muslim World I keep hearing about?

Posted June 4, 2009 by adampole
Categories: American Politics

Addressing Muslim World, Obama Calls for New Start” read the headline of the New York Times today.  President Obama spoke at the University of Cairo earlier today in a widely anticipated speech.

However, my question is, what is the “Muslim World”?  For that matter, what is the “Christian World” or “Jewish World”?  Doesn’t this broad grouping of obviously a diverse group of people sustain many of the stereotypes of Muslims?

When commentators decry the media associations of Islam with extremism or terrorism (when was the last time you heard the phrase Christian extremist or Christian terrorist) it is often observed that millions of peoples in diverse cultures living across the globe, and even practicing various forms of Islam are often crudely painted with the same brush, usually creating a ugly and dark picture.

Perhaps to many in the west (admittedly, a vague phrase), or North America and Western Europe in particular, since 2001 Muslims have become the other, a polar opposite around which to frame a black and white world after the collapse of the USSR a decade earlier.   Perhaps just as “the communists” were vaguely spoken about during the Cold War, so too a vague notion of Muslims, not too well defined, not too nuanced, serves the symbol of “otherness” seemingly necessary in our local and world views.

However, to continue talking of a “Muslim World” is problematic and counter-productive, especially for populations who are largely ignorant of what Islam is, what Muslims practice and believe, and how infinitesimally small are the number of persons who resort to violence to achieve their political goals.


World’s ‘worst’ poet

Posted August 14, 2007 by adampole
Categories: Diversions

Categorizations of ‘worst’ and ‘best’ are normally meaningless. However, they can be useful for drawing attention to some neglected personalities, books, or artists, and I can think none more deserving than the Scottish poet often referred to as the world’s worst poet.

William McGonagall (1825-1902) was a handloom weaver from Dundee, Scotland, who later in life, perhaps because of the mechinization of his trade, turned poet. And what a poet he became. McGonagall’s work will probably never make it into the Norton Anthology of Poetry for first year English courses, but his verses are so amazing(ly bad) that they are good.

Take, for example, his poem Jottings of New York:

Oh, mighty city of New York, you are wonderful to behold–
Your buildings are magnificent– the truth be it told–
They were the only thing that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high;
And as for Central Park, it is lovely to be seen–
Especially in the summer season when its shrubberies are green
And the Burns Statue is there to be seen,
Surrounded by trees on the beautiful sward so green;
Also Shakespeare and the immortal Sir Walter Scott,
Which by Scotchmen and Englishmen will never be forgot.


McGonagall was especially prolific in churning out disaster poems – fire disasters, disasters at sea, and railway disasters. One of his most famous was the Tay Bridge Disaster, which took as its topic the partial collapse of the eponymous bridge during a violent storm in December 1879, taking with it a train and claiming some 90 lives. The poem opens:


Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

A wonderful resource for all things McGonagall is the McGonagall Online site at which you can sign up for the Gem of the Day – and get a daily dose of McGonagall to your inbox.

Innovative US military thinking — the gay spray

Posted June 14, 2007 by adampole
Categories: Diversions

One of the strengths of a strong military is innovation in strategy and tactics.

In 1994 the US Air Force pushed the envelope in potential new weapons, contemplating a chemical spray that could cause homosexual behaviour among the enemy. This makes sense, of course, if you believe homosexuality has a “cause” or can be “induced”.

But this kind of thinking is perhaps more widespread (in America) than one would imagine. Consider the recent prominent example of this thinking, with the disgraceful downfall of Rev. Ted Haggard, who was president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a prominent umbrella group. Harding, who resigned in November 2006 after allegations of paying for sex with a male prostitute for three years, emerged from “counselling” in February 2007 “cured” of homosexuality.

Prince Phillip is a god

Posted June 10, 2007 by adampole
Categories: Diversions

The duke of Edinburgh, is worshipped as a god on the South Pacific island of Vannu, the BBC reported.

Apparently the people on this former Anglo-French colony, formerly known as the New Hebrides, have for centuries had a belief story that the son of a mountain spirit, who unlike them had pale skin, ventured across the seas to look for a powerful woman to marry. The islanders believe that this pale-skinned spirit is the duke of Edinburgh, which, as the article points out, is well-known for his less-than-politically-correct occasional statements about non-western peoples, such as his advice to British students not to spend too long in China or risk becoming “slitty-eyed”

Kadhr, Guantanamo and the Canadian Government

Posted June 4, 2007 by adampole
Categories: Canada

All charges against Canadian Omar Kadhr were dropped today by a U.S. military judge at the military “court” at Guantanamo on a procedural point which should rightly embarrass the US military and the Bush government.

U.S. Congress had created the military tribunals to try “unlawful” enemy combatants but Khadr’s status designated him only as an “enemy combatant”. Significantly, this could temporarily halt most other prosecutions of detainees at Guantanamo for the same procedural point.

Hopefully this setback will again shed light on the disgraceful and illegal detention of foreign citizens in this military prison.

While I have no sympathy with the actions of Kadhr that landed him in his US military detention, it does raise the issue of why the Canadian government has not, like dozens of other nations around the world including the UK, negotiated deals with the US military barring their citizens from trial in the US kangaroo courts. Kadhr’s actions were distasteful but the Canadian government has responsibilities to all its citizens, even those who may be “terrorists”; however, if Kadhr is a terrorist, it should be the Canadian or Afghanistan judiciary who determines this.

Hitchens on Falwell

Posted May 16, 2007 by adampole
Categories: Culture

Anglo-American journalist and prominent anti-religion writer Christopher Hitchens appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 last night to comment on the legacy of Jerry Falwell.

In one of the more memorable chacterizations of, anyone really, Hitchens called Falwell “an ugly little charlatan”, “such a little toad” and painted a lasting picutre:

“People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. “

Stand by your man

Posted May 16, 2007 by adampole
Categories: American Politics

George Bush is like a dog. Or rather, Bush is like a dog lover who values loyalty above all else.

This was manifestly evident in the firing of the eight US prosecutors around the time of the congressional elections, in which being a loyal “Bushie” was more important than being a competent or even effective prosecutor.

The Bush administration is very loyal in return. Look at the ongoing crises befalling two staunch Bush supporters: World Bank President Paul “hire my girlfriend” Wolfowitz and Alberto “Al” Gonzalez, US Attorney General. Wolfowitz, of course, is extremely unpopular with most people outside the president’s and vice president’s offices for being a principal architect of the invasion of Iraq, and Gonzalez is increasingly coming under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans for the inept firing of the US prosecutors and his less-than-stellar performances before congressional committees as of late.

It is out of loyalty to his man, however, that Bush is strongly supporting both men. It is more than blind loyalty, however, as Bush realizes that attacks against Wolfowitz and Gonzales are proxy attacks against the Bush administration.

It looks increasingly clear that Wolfowitz’s position is untenable and he will be forced to resign his position this week. It is amazing that Gonzales has not been forced out yet. However, if Wolfowitz goes, will Bush step up his support of his Texas buddy “AL”?

It will be interesting to see if Wolfowitz and then Gonzales are forced out, whether this will create momentum in chipping away at the Bush armour of blind loyalty and whether other unsatisfactory advisors, aides and officials will also be attacked.