Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Female Detention Centers in Libya .... and me

It could have been me in one of these female detention centers. No, really, it could have. Not because I did anything 'wrong' but because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and my minimal deviance was enough to land me there.

My deviance, in this instance, was asking my cousin to stop by shore at sun-set before dropping me off at home (literally 4 blocks away). He did me a favor and I almost landed us in jail. I'm thankful for getting home and I'm thankful for the experience as well.

I can never think of women in these facilities as distant from me. So I guess we are a threat to the society afterall and it wasn't all in my head.

Libya: A Threat to Society?
Arbitrary Detention of Women and Girls for “Social Rehabilitation

PDF of the full report: http://hrw.org/reports/2006/libya0206/libya0206web.pdf

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Detainee 063

Thanks to MB, who forwarded this article to me. I still firmly believe that Guantanamo will forever be the shame of the US and, at the same time, the best recruitment for any organization affiliated with al-Qaida.

The Torture of Detainee 063 | ReasonableReflection.net

Submitted by Charles Miller on Fri, 24 Jun 2005

Inside the Interrogation of Detainee 063

The prisoner known around the U.S. naval station at Guantànamo Bay as Detainee 063 was a hard man to break. Defiant from the start, he told his captors that he had been in Afghanistan to pursue his love of falconry. But the young Saudi prisoner who wouldn’t talk was not just any detainee. He was Mohammed al-Qahtani, a follower of Osama bin Laden’s and the man believed by many to be the so-called 20th hijacker. He had tried to enter the U.S. in August 2001, allegedly to take part in the Sept. 11 attacks. But while Mohammed Atta, the eventual leader of the hijackers, was waiting outside in the Orlando, Fla., airport parking lot, al-Qahtani was detained inside—and then deported—by an alert immigration officer who didn’t buy his story.

More than a year later, after al-Qahtani had been captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray, his interrogation was going nowhere. So in late November 2002, according to an 84-page secret interrogation log obtained by TIME, al-Qahtani’s questioners switched gears. They suggested to their captive that he had been spared by Allah in order to reveal the true meaning of the Koran and help bring down bin Laden.

During a routine check of his medical condition, a sergeant approached al-Qahtani and whispered in his ear, “What is God telling you right now? Your 19 friends died in a fireball and you weren’t with them. Was that God’s choice? Is it God’s will that you stay alive to tell us about his message?” At that point, the log states, al-Qahtani threw his head back and butted the sergeant in the eye. Two MPs wrestled al-Qahtani to the ground. The sergeant crouched down next to the thrashing terrorist, who tried to spit on him. The sergeant’s response: “Go ahead and spit on me. It won’t change anything. You’re still here. I’m still talking to you and you won’t leave until you’ve given God’s message.”

The interrogation log of Detainee 063 provides the first internal look at the highly classified realm of Gitmo interrogations since the detention camp opened four years ago. Chief Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita tells TIME that the log was compiled by various uniformed interrogators and observers on the Pentagon’s Joint Task Force at Gitmo as the interrogation proceeded. It is stamped SECRET ORCON, a military acronym for a document that is supposed to remain with the organization that created it. A Pentagon official who has seen the log describes it as the “kind of document that was never meant to leave Gitmo.”

The log reads like a night watchman’s diary. It is a sometimes shocking and often mundane hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute account of a campaign to extract information. The log records every time al-Qahtani eats, sleeps, exercises or goes to the bathroom and every time he complies with or refuses his interrogators’ requests. The detainee’s physical condition is frequently checked by medical corpsmen—sometimes as often as three times a day— which indicates either spectacular concern about al-Qahtani’s health or persistent worry about just how much stress he can take. Although the log does not appear obviously censored, it is also plainly incomplete: there are numerous gaps in the notes about what is said and what is happening in the interrogation booth beyond details like “Detainee taken to bathroom and walked for 10 minutes.”

Despite the information gaps, the log offers a rare glimpse into the darker reaches of intelligence gathering, in which teams that specialize in extracting information by almost any means match wits and wills with men who are trained to keep quiet at almost any cost. It spans 50 days in the winter of 2002-03, from November to early January, a critical period at Gitmo, during which 16 additional interrogation techniques were approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for use on a select few detainees, including al-Qahtani.

By itself, the log doesn’t make clear how effective the interrogations were. The Pentagon contends that al-Qahtani has been a valuable source of information: providing details of meetings with bin Laden, naming people and financial contacts in several Arab countries, describing terrorist training camps where bin Laden lives and explaining how he may have escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001.

Pentagon officials tell TIME that most of the intelligence gleaned from those sessions was recorded in other documents. But the interrogation log gives a rare window into the techniques used by the U.S. military, suggesting at least in this case that disclosures were sometimes obtained not when al-Qahtani was under duress but when his handlers eased up on him.

The case of Detainee 063 is sure to add fire to the superheated debate about the use of American power in the age of terrorism. The U.S. has been criticized for mistreating Gitmo prisoners and denying their rights at a facility Amnesty International has controversially called the “gulag of our time.” Along with lawmakers and human-rights groups, former President Jimmy Carter has called on Washington officials to shut the camp down. Even President George W. Bush told Fox News last week that his Administration was exploring alternatives to the detention center.

How should a democratic nation proceed when it captures a high-value prisoner like al-Qahtani, when unlocking a mind might save lives? Experts acknowledge that brute torture generally doesn’t work because a person will say anything to stop the pain. So what, exactly, is effective? And when do the ends justify the means?

From the moment Mohammed al-Qahtani stepped off a Virgin Atlantic flight in Orlando back in August 2001, immigration officials noticed something troubling about him. He had arrived on a one-way ticket yet carried only $2,800 in cash, barely enough to buy his return. When an official pressed him for details about his destination, al-Qahtani was hostile and evasive. With an interpreter’s help, the immigration agent questioned al-Qahtani for 90 min. and then sent him packing. Al-Qahtani’s parting words: “I’ll be back.”

From London, al-Qahtani made his way to the United Arab Emirates and then to Afghanistan to fight against the U.S. He was captured fleeing Tora Bora in December 2001. When he was shipped to Guantánamo two months later, officials had not yet realized he was the presumed 20th hijacker. For weeks, he refused to give his name. But in July 2002, the feds matched his fingerprints to those of the man who had been deported from Orlando and marked him for intensive interrogation. Al-Qahtani, explains Pentagon spokesman DiRita, was “a particularly well-placed, well-connected terrorist who was believed capable of unlocking an enormous amount of specific and general insights into 9/11, al-Qaeda operations and ongoing planning for future attacks.” But the initial questioning by the FBI went poorly. “We were getting nothing from him,” a senior Pentagon official says. “He had been trained to resist direct questioning. And what works in a Chicago police precinct doesn’t work in war.”

That’s where things stood in late November 2002, when the log obtained by TIME begins. At that point, tag teams of interrogators are putting al-Qahtani through a daily routine designed to drain the detainee of his autonomy. They wake him every morning at 4 and sometimes question him until midnight. Each day—and sometimes every hour—is shaped around standard Army interrogation techniques, with code names like Fear Up/Harsh, Pride/Ego Down, the Futility Approach and the Circumstantial Evidence Theme. Each day, the interrogators seem to be trying to find those that work best. They promise better treatment; they show him pictures of 9/11 victims, particularly children and the elderly. They talk about God’s will and al-Qahtani’s guilt. They tell him that he failed on his mission and hint that other comrades have been captured and are talking about his role in the plot. They play on his emotions, saying he should talk if he ever wants to see his family or friends or homeland again.

For days, al-Qahtani stonewalls his handlers and maintains that he went to the U.S. to get into the used-car business. “You are working with the devil,” he tells his captors. The interrogators respond by forcing him to stand or sit immobile on a metal chair. He tries to deflect questions about where he went in Afghanistan with answers apparently drawn directly from an al-Qaeda handbook, given to terrorists, about how to resist interrogations. When al-Qahtani resorts to a handbook answer, his handlers reply that it amounts to another admission of guilt.

Yet in other ways, al-Qahtani emerges as an innocent abroad—uneducated, almost from another era. He asks whether the sun revolves around the earth. He wonders about dinosaurs and is told of their history and demise. He confides that he would like to marry someday—apparently not realizing how unlikely that goal now is.

The first break in al-Qahtani ‘s facade comes with a long-delayed call of nature. When a hunger strike he has launched fizzles, he starts refusing water. That becomes a battle of wills—and teeth. Al-Qahtani quickly becomes so dehydrated that medical corpsmen forcibly administer fluids by IV drip. He tries to fight them off with his hands and is restrained. Another time, al-Qahtani tries to rip the IV needle out; when he is cuffed to his chair, he turns his head and bites the IV line completely in two. He is then strapped down and given an undisclosed amount of fluids. An hour or so later, around 9:40 a.m., al-Qahtani tells his guards that he would be willing to talk if he is allowed to urinate. The log notes he is given 3 1/2 bags of IV fluid. He starts to moan and asks again to be allowed to relieve himself. Yes, but first he must answer questions:

Interrogator: Who do you work for?

Al-Qahtani: Al-Qaeda

Interrogator: Who was your leader?

Al-Qahtani: Osama bin Laden

Interrogator: Why did you go to Orlando?

Al-Qahtani: I wasn’t told the mission

Interrogator: Who was with you on the plane?

Al-Qahtani: I was by myself

That answer frustrates the interrogator—You’re wasting my time, he says—and when al-Qahtani requests his promised bathroom break, he is told to go in his pants. Humiliatingly, he does. The log notes 30 minutes later, “He is beginning to understand the futility of his situation . . . He is much closer to compliance and cooperation than at the beginning of the operation.”

But things appear to move slowly after that. It is not clear from the log’s terse entries that increased pressure is leading to new disclosures. The interrogators keep juggling techniques—giving extra sleep some days, offering a home-cooked Arab meal on another (al-Qahtani refuses it). Later that day, when a video of the destruction of the Twin Towers is played, al-Qahtani becomes so violent, he has to be restrained. “We can’t say, Because we did this, we got that,” a senior Pentagon official says. “If we did know what worked, we’d know exactly which pressure points to apply and when.” Even al-Qahtani seems to understand that: “If you interrogate me in the right way and the right position,” he taunts his questioners, “you might find some answers.”

A secondary battle appears to be under way over Ramadan. At various points during the Muslim holy month, al-Qahtani claims to be either on a hunger strike, refusing all food and water, or fasting during daylight hours, as Ramadan requires. According to the log, the interrogators tell al-Qahtani he cannot pray—a religious obligation—unless he disregards another by accepting water. So he declines to pray.

Al-Qahtani’s resilience under pressure in the fall of 2002 led top officials at Gitmo to petition Washington for more muscular “counter resistance strategies.” On Dec. 2, Rumsfeld approved 16 of 19 stronger coercive methods. Now the interrogators could use stress strategies like standing for prolonged periods, isolation for as long as 30 days, removal of clothing, forced shaving of facial hair, playing on “individual phobias” (such as dogs) and “mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing.” According to the log, al-Qahtani experienced several of those over the next five weeks. The techniques Rumsfeld balked at included “use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.” “Our Armed Forces are trained,” a Pentagon memo on the changes read, “to a standard of interrogation that reflects a tradition of restraint.” Nevertheless, the log shows that interrogators poured bottles of water on al-Qahtani’s head when he refused to drink. Interrogators called this game “Drink Water or Wear It.”

After the new measures are approved, the mood in al-Qahtani’s interrogation booth changes dramatically. The interrogation sessions lengthen. The quizzing now starts at midnight, and when Detainee 063 dozes off, interrogators rouse him by dripping water on his head or playing Christina Aguilera music. According to the log, his handlers at one point perform a puppet show “satirizing the detainee’s involvement with al-Qaeda.” He is taken to a new interrogation booth, which is decorated with pictures of 9/11 victims, American flags and red lights. He has to stand for the playing of the U.S. national anthem. His head and beard are shaved. He is returned to his original interrogation booth. A picture of a 9/11 victim is taped to his trousers. Al-Qahtani repeats that he will “not talk until he is interrogated the proper way.” At 7 a.m. on Dec. 4, after a 12-hour, all-night session, he is put to bed for a four-hour nap.

Over the next few days, al-Qahtani is subjected to a drill known as Invasion of Space by a Female, and he becomes especially agitated by the close physical presence of a woman. Then, around 2 p.m. on Dec. 6, comes another small breakthrough. He asks his handlers for some paper. “I will tell the truth,” he says. “I am doing this to get out of here.” He finally explains how he got to Afghanistan in the first place and how he met with bin Laden. In return, the interrogators honor requests from him to have a blanket and to turn off the air conditioner. Soon enough, the pressure ratchets up again. Various strategies of intimidation are employed anew. The log reveals that a dog is present, but no details are given beyond a hazy reference to a disagreement between the military police and the dog handler. Agitated, al-Qahtani takes back the story he told the day before about meeting bin Laden.

But a much more serious problem develops on Dec. 7: a medical corpsman reports that al-Qahtani is becoming seriously dehydrated, the result of his refusal to take water regularly. He is given an IV drip, and a doctor is summoned. An unprecedented 24-hour time out is called, but even as al-Qahtani is put under a doctor’s care, music is played to “prevent detainee from sleeping.” Nine hours later, a medical corpsman checks al-Qahtani’s pulse and finds it “unusually slow.” An electrocardiogram is administered by a doctor, and after al-Qahtani is transferred to a hospital, a CT scan is performed. A second doctor is consulted. Al-Qahtani’s heartbeat is regular but slow: 35 beats a minute. He is placed in isolation and hooked up to a heart monitor.

The next day, a radiologist is flown in from Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico, 600 miles away, to read the CT scan. The log reports, “No anomalies were found.” Nonetheless, al-Qahtani is given an ultrasound for blood clots. For the first time since the log began, al-Qahtani is given an entire day to sleep. The next evening, the log reports that his medical “checks are all good.” Al-Qahtani is “hooded, shackled and restrained in a litter” and transported back to Camp X-Ray in an ambulance.

Over the next month, the interrogators experiment with other tactics. They strip-search him and briefly make him stand nude. They tell him to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. They hang pictures of scantily clad women around his neck. A female interrogator so annoys al-Qahtani that he tells his captors he wants to commit suicide and asks for a crayon to write a will. At one stage, an Arabic-speaking serviceman, posing as a fellow detainee, is brought to Camp X-Ray for a short stay in an effort to gain al-Qahtani’s confidence. The log reports that al-Qahtani makes several comments to interrogators that imply he has a big story to tell, but interrogators report that he seems either too scared or simply unwilling, to tell it. On Jan. 10, 2003, al-Qahtani says he knows nothing of terrorists but volunteers to return to the gulf states and act as a double agent for the U.S. in exchange for his freedom. Five days later, Rumsfeld’s harsher measures are revoked after military lawyers in Washington raised questions about their use and efficacy.

It’s unclear how al-Qhatani’s interrogation proceeded from that point and whether it is still continuing. Senior Pentagon officials told TIME that some of his most valuable confessions came not during the period covered in the log or as a result of any particular technique but when al-Qahtani was presented with evidence coughed up by others in detention, especially Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or KSM, the alleged mastermind of 9/11. The intelligence take was more cumulative than anything else, says a Pentagon official. Once al-Qahtani realized KSM was talking, the official speculates, al-Qahtani may have felt he had the green light to follow suit.

Al-Qahtani has never been charged with a crime, has no lawyer and remains in detention at Guantanamo. But his case is already the subject of several probes in Washington. A year ago, a senior FBI counterterrorism official wrote the Pentagon complaining of abuses that FBI agents said they witnessed at the naval base. The agents reported seeing or hearing of “highly aggressive interrogation techniques.” The letter singles out the treatment of al-Qahtani in September and October of 2002—before the log obtained by TIME begins—saying a dog was used “in an aggressive manner to intimidate Detainee #63.” The FBI letter said al-Qahtani had been “subjected to intense isolation for over three months” and “was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).” The Justice Department and the Pentagon have opened separate investigations into the charges. A Pentagon official tells TIME he expects that many of those charges will prove to be unfounded.

Interrogators eventually compelled al-Qahtani to focus on his fellow detainees at Guantanamo. In that process, he implicated more than 20 other Gitmo prisoners as members of al-Qaeda or associates of bin Laden’s, according to the Los Angeles Times. A military board has since used al-Qahtani’s identification as a factor in prolonging the detention of some of them. Whether he has won more favorable treatment in return for his cooperation is unknown. But at least one of those he named, a Yemeni, is now claiming in a U.S. federal court that al-Qahtani’s statements about him are unreliable because they “appear to have been obtained by the use of torture.”

President Bush has said the U.S. would apply principals consistent with the Geneva Conventions to “unlawful combatants,” subject to military necessity, at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The Pentagon argues that al-Qahtani’s treatment was always “humane.” But the Geneva Conventions forbid any “outrage on personal dignity.” Eric Freedman, a constitutional-law expert and consultant in some of the growing number of federal lawsuits challenging U.S. treatment of these detainees, says, “If the techniques described in this interrogation log are not outrages to personal dignity, then words have no meaning.” Then again, in the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty. —With reporting by Brian Bennett, Timothy J. Burger, Sally B. Donnelly and Viveca Novak/Washington

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration

Gender imbalance experiment ala Asia. sexist birthing practices apparently have even worse consequences than women looking for love elsewhere. Se la vie, as they say.

So while many were all too focused on Taliban style oppression of women (a focus I do NOT disagree with except for its sensationalism), female infanticide went right under most of our radars with hardly a word. Interesting. Very Interesting.

“In 2020 it may seem to China that it would be worth it to have a very bloody battle in which a lot of their young men could die in some glorious cause.”

"More likely, the organized crime networks that traffic in women will shift their deliveries toward Asia and build a brothel culture large enough to satisfy millions of sexually frustrated young men."

So what will it be? War, crime, or prostitution that will solve this problem? Read the rest for the full story.

The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration

By Martin Walker

March/April 2006

Asia has too many boys. They can’t find wives, but they just might find extreme nationalism instead. It’s a dangerous imbalance for a region already on edge.

The lost boys of Prof. Albert Macovski are upon us. Twenty years ago, the ultrasound scanning machine came into widespread use in Asia. The invention of Macovski, a Stanford University researcher, the device quickly gave pregnant women a cheap and readily available means to determine the sex of their unborn children. The results, by the million, are now coming to maturity in Bangladesh, China, India, and Taiwan. By choosing to give birth to males—and to abort females—millions of Asian parents have propelled the region into an extraordinary experiment in the social effects of gender imbalance.

Back in 1990, Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen was one of the first to call attention to the phenomenon of an estimated 100 million “missing women” in Asia. Nearly everywhere else, women outnumber men, in Europe by 7 percent, and in North America by 3.4 percent. Concern now is shifting to the boys for whom these missing females might have provided mates as they reach the age that Shakespeare described as nothing but stealing and fighting and “getting of wenches with child.”

Now there are too few wenches. Thanks in large part to the introduction of the ultrasound machine, Mother Nature’s usual preference for about 105 males to 100 females has grown to around 120 male births for every 100 female births in China. The imbalance is even higher in some locales—136 males to 100 females on the island of Hainan, an increasingly prosperous tourist resort, and 135 males to 100 females in central China’s Hubei Province. Similar patterns can be found in Taiwan, with 119 boys to 100 girls; Singapore, 118 boys to 100 girls; South Korea, 112 boys to 100 girls; and parts of India, 120 boys to 100 girls.

China, India, and other nations have outlawed the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques to select the sex of an unborn child. But bribery and human ingenuity have made it easy for prospective parents to skirt the law; a suitably compensated ultrasound technician need only smile or frown at the expectant mother.

Many of the excess boys will be poor and rootless, a lumpenproletariat without the consolations of sexual partners and family. Prostitution, sex tourism, and homosexuality may ease their immediate urges, but Asian societies are witnessing far more dramatic solutions. Women now risk being kidnapped and forced not only into prostitution but wedlock. Chinese police statistics recorded 65,236 arrests for female trafficking in 1990–91 alone. Updated numbers are hard to come by, but it’s apparent that the problem remains severe. In September 2002, a Guangxi farmer was executed for abducting and selling more than 100 women for $120 to $360 each. Mass sexual frustration is thus adding a potent ingredient to an increasingly volatile regional cocktail of problems that include surging economic growth, urbanization, drug abuse, and environmental degradation.

Understanding the effect of the testosterone overload may be most important in China, the rising Asian superpower. Prompted by expert warnings, the Chinese authorities are already groping for answers. In 2004, President Hu Jintao asked 250 of the country’s senior demographers to study whether the country’s one-child policy—which sharply accentuates the preference for males—should be revised. Beijing expects that it may have as many as 40 million frustrated bachelors by 2020. The regime, always nervous about social control, fears that they might generate social and political instability.

Brigham Young University political scientist Valerie Hudson—the leading scholar on the phenomenon of male overpopulation in Asia—sees historical evidence for these concerns. In 19th-century northern China, drought, famine, and locust invasions apparently provoked a rash of female infanticide. According to Hudson, the region reached a ratio of 129 men to every 100 women. Roving young men organized themselves into bandit gangs, built forts, and eventually came to rule an area of some 6 million people in what was known as the Nien Rebellion. No modern-day rebellion appears to be on the horizon, but China watchers are already seeing signs of growing criminality.

The state’s response to crime and social unrest could prove to be a defining factor for China’s political future. The CIA asked Hudson to discuss her dramatic suggestion that “in 2020 it may seem to China that it would be worth it to have a very bloody battle in which a lot of their young men could die in some glorious cause.” Other experts aren’t so alarmed. Military observers point out that China is moving from a conscription army to a leaner, professional military. And other scholars contend that China’s population is now aging so fast that the elderly may well balance the surge of frustrated young males to form a calmer and more peaceful nation.

It would be reassuring to assume that China’s economic growth will itself solve the problem, as prosperity removes the traditional economic incentives for poor peasants to have sons who can work the land rather than daughters who might require costly dowries. But the numbers don’t support that theory. Indeed, the steepest imbalance between male and female infants is found in more prosperous regions, such as Hainan Island. And census data from India suggest that slum-dwellers and the very poor tend to raise a higher proportion of female children than more prosperous families.

The long-term implications of the gender imbalance are largely guesswork because there is no real precedent for imbalances on such a scale. Some Chinese experts speculate, off the record, that there might be a connection between the shortage of women and the spread of open gay life since 2001, when homosexuality was deleted from the official Classification of Mental Disorders. It is possible to dream up all kinds of scenarios: Mumbai and Shanghai may soon rival San Francisco as gay capitals. A Beijing power struggle between cautious old technocrats and aggressive young nationalists may be decided by mobs of rootless young men, demanding uniforms, rifles, and a chance to liberate Taiwan. More likely, the organized crime networks that traffic in women will shift their deliveries toward Asia and build a brothel culture large enough to satisfy millions of sexually frustrated young men.

Whatever the outcome, the consequences of Albert Macovski’s useful invention will be with us for some time. When they called him “the most inventive person at Stanford,” they didn’t know the half of it.
Martin Walker is editor of United Press International, and senior fellow of the World Policy Institute at the New School University in New York.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cartoon Reason

I was hoping that if I ignored it long enough, this controversy over the Danish cartoons would go away—or at least not get so annoying. Sad to say, I was wrong. The topic creeps into conversations with Muslims and non-Muslims alike and seems to be the latest installment to the inflammatory and pathetically small minded ‘Why do they hate us?’ paradigm for both sides.

And it works in this argument…. It’s ammunition for both sides that’d rather simply antagonize the other. For some Muslims, it typifies and in fact proves the non-Muslim West’s indignation of Islam (I say non-Muslim because the Muslim Civilization is in fact a western civilization contrary to common perceptions); for some non-Muslims, the response of small groups in various countries and those governments’ appeasement proves beyond a reasonable doubt the intolerance of Muslims throughout the world—indeed it’s actually Islam that is now justifiably seen as intolerant (Sullivan article in TIME). For media opportunists, it makes for great media and self-promotion (again, on all sides).

But let’s just be honest about what’s going on here. Let’s call a spade a spade: This has turned into an over masculinized school yard fight where those fanning the flames don’t want to hear the voice of reason—let’s just agree that this is no longer about the freedom of speech or the blasphemy of depicting the prophet. It’s about something else at this point and frankly I’m sick of trying to figure it out on a case to case basis because not all the motives of fueling the flame are the same here. The voices in the middle of this mess—you know, the ones that actually just want peace of mind that includes peace in the world—are hardly sought after and then not really amplified. Let’s face it; the kid that tries to break up the fight in the school yard is likely to get hurt. Why? Because everyone likes a fight and because he/she is ruining the fun. Fine, but let’s be conscious of this.

One thing that is clear to me is that this is a test to the core. The test is for the mindful and those searching for some kind of worldly peace. It’s about whether, when shit hits the fan, you can still sincerely take the tougher route of understanding and even better reach out when everything tells you not to. Yes, this is an opportunity—but it’s also an opportunity to discover what we really stand for and believe. It’s an opportunity to stare fear in the face and call it for what it is rather than projecting this onto other people elsewhere to make ourselves feel better.

Yes, there are fundamentalists who have taken this opportunity to call for deaths. It’s nothing new, given the cases of Naguib Mahfouz (shot, but lived), Nawal El Saadawi (fatwa), Rushdie (fatwa), Van Gough (killed), and others. What is new is that now non-Arab, non-Muslim media is paying attention. What’s also new is that governments of Muslim countries are now a little more sensitive to the outrage of their citizens, and rightfully so. Now, their citizens have an idea of what kind of hell could be made of their countries if the US and allies felt so inclined to invade—and the response is an adamant rejection.

In fact, I kind of think the response to the Muslim response has been ideologically fundamentalist, but that’s a side thought. It’s primarily been provocative, for reasons I don’t yet fully understand. I think media sensationalism and solidarity are two major reason—if you can create a story by re-publishing a cartoon in support of a tenet of your own profession (whether or not you actually act on that tenet), then why not do it? But if freedom of expression is really at the bottom of this, where’s the outrage about the war on media and media complacency since 9/11?

The voice of reason I’ve found as someone raised Muslim in the US is Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute. He’s an American convert to Islam with a powerful voice, refreshing insight, and an ability to articulate his experience and opinion clearly. He’s the kid that’s likely to get hurt, but has the courage to speak truth no matter how disinterested the world is. Below is a video to his interview on Deadline (a Danish TV news program)

Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute:

I hope that this issue can be put to rest soon. In my opinion, there are more important things to pay attention to, but as someone who values democracy, the people have definitely spoken to this issue. The raw nerve has been exposed, and I'm not intersted in burying it... but let's really understand. What the hell is going on?