I had a productive day today, two weeks after my surgery, which is why posting has been light. I got to drive my own car for the first time in three weeks, just in the local neighborhood. I took the First Mate to dialysis under the watchful eye of my sister, who made sure that I didn’t get in trouble. It felt great; I didn’t realize how much being at the mercy of others for transportation needs had gotten me down. I even got the car washed and drove to my optometrist before picking the FM up from her appointment. The back got pretty sore by the time I finished, but it still felt pretty good to get out under my own steam.
The optometrist gave me less thrilling news, unfortunately. I haven’t had an exam in three years, and my eyes have changed enough now where I need bifocals. That sends the message Welcome To Middle Age in letters big enough even for me to read them. I’ll have to wear glasses everywhere now, which is pretty much what I had been doing with my reading glasses anyway. Also, the doctor spotted a retinal abnormality with the retinal photography this clinic uses. It looks like a little fluid has penetrated under the retina at the far edge of the right eye, along with some old spot bleeding. It may have been there all along, but she wants a retinal surgeon to take a look at it. At worst, I’ll need some laser treatment to tack it back down, but it’s small and in an area that doesn’t affect my vision.
Let this be a reminder to you to have your eyes checked every year. Skipping your annual exam can be dangerous to your health. The FM, my sister, and the doctor all threatened me with physical violence if I miss another one, so that can serve as your example.
The FM continues to improve. The viral load on the BK infection has come down dramatically, but the CMV load has decreased only slightly. The hemoglobin still shows some instability, and now we think that one of her medications may be a contributing cause; the doctors have to all get together to review the pharmacology and determine if changes are needed. She still needs oxygenation, but her coloring and energy levels have improved quite a bit since her last hospitalization.
Hope all of you have a great weekend.
The Globe & Mail continues its in-depth look into Canada’s home-grown terrorists and how they became radicalized while living in a tolerant, multicultural Western society. Yesterday the G&M reviewed the case of Nada Farooq, the wife of Zakaria Amara, one of the cell’s ringleaders. Today they focus on Amara himself:
More than anything, Zakaria Amara wanted to serve God. But it was never easy, especially not while living in Canada.
During the summer of 2004, the then-18-year-old felt disgusted by women who were immodestly dressed. For the same reason, he couldn’t watch television. He and his wife Nada Farooq stopped going to movies. One of his devout friends in England sent him a desperate e-mail asking for help in beating an addiction to pornography.
But the forces tugging at Mr. Amara — who now stands accused of being one of two leaders in a terrorist plot — in the years leading up to his arrest this month extended well beyond those annoyances.
In 2004, he had just married a woman whose own take on Islam was often far more extreme than his own. His wife would soon become pregnant with their first child and, on little income, he struggled to balance the needs of his family and his dreams for the future. Some of his closest friends, and later fellow suspects, were also becoming more extreme. The preachers he admired — both on-line and in Mississauga’s mosques — expressed often anti-Canadian sentiments.
Again, it seems that Canada never felt like home to these Muslims, prodded into separatism by radical imams and inspired by their Internet communications. He sees temptation everywhere, from television and films to daily interaction with secular Canadians. And while he grows more insistent on rejecting Western mores, he also becomes somewhat addicted to video games and surfing the Internet.
The Amara postings that G&M finds show someone with more than a little paranoia, feeding his identity as an outsider. Even his parents come under fire for taking a mortgage on their house, and later for demanding that he cut his hair after a hajj to Saudi Arabia. He also gets his share of disappointment for his commitment to Islam; a university in Medina rejected his application, forcing him to study at Ryerson Univeristy in Toronto instead of an Islamic college as he wanted.
Ultimately, Amara falls into relationships where his radical Islamic impulses find expression. He married his wife at 18, and as yesterday’s installment shows, her radical religious philosophy far outstripped Amara’s extremism, at least at first. He sought and found radical places of worship, eventually hooking up with the middle-aged Qayyum Abdul Jamal in an odd mentoring relationship. The pair wound up plotting together, and now will stand trial together.
Will this give Canadians any clue to solving the mystery of how Canadian citizens can grow up to be terrorists? Perhaps not explicitly. However, one point should be clear from the two articles: multiculturalism cannot replace assimilation. Canadian efforts to give Muslims the ability to conduct their own social interactions, including mediation of civil disputes in the mosques instead of the Canadian justice system, only increases the isolation and apartness of Muslims in their society. This should prompt Canadians — and Americans as well — to question previous assumptions of multiculturalism and its role in creating a tolerant and stable society.
EJ Dionne takes note of the controversy created by former left-wing hero Barack Obama, who alienated a number of pundits when he scolded Democrats for eschewing religion in their politics. Dionne, whose writings often touch on matters of faith, schools Democrats to pay attention to Obama when he counsels an outreach to the faithful:
[T]here is often a terrible awkwardness among Democratic politicians when their talk turns to God, partly because they also know how important secular voters are to their coalition. When it comes to God, it’s hard to triangulate.
So, when a religious Democrat speaks seriously about the relationship of faith to politics, the understandable temptation is to see him as counting not his blessings but his votes. Thus did the Associated Press headline its early stories about Barack Obama’s speech to religious progressives on Wednesday: “Obama: Democrats Must Court Evangelicals.”
Well, yes, Obama, the senator from Illinois who causes all kinds of Democrats to swoon, did indeed criticize “liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant.” But a purely electoral reading of Obama’s speech to the Call to Renewal conference here misses the point of what may be the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican.
Obama, as Dionne explains, wants to move past the church-state separation arguments by emphasizing the benefits to the faithful of such an arrangement. However, this seems rather patronizing and pointless. Very few among the faithful — I won’t say none — expect the US government to recast itself into a theocracy, where a Guardian Council of high priests pass judgement on all legislation. (We already have that with the Supreme Court, in some ways, which is why so many of us argue for the literal interpretation of the Constitution.)
We value the power granted to the people in crafting legislation, based on shared values and limited by the Constitution. What we do not appreciate is the systematic exclusion of the voices of the faithful in these debates. The secular underpinnings of the modern Democratic Party has done their level best to make religious belief a disqualifier for public service. All we need remember are Charles Schumer’s thinly veiled attacks on “deeply held personal beliefs” of Catholics such as the reason why he would not vote for their confirmation to understand the hostility felt by Democratic leadership to people of faith.
Dionne has a good point when he reminds people that the Bible contains many teachings, among them service to the poor and disadvantaged. The teachings of both Christianity and Judaism extol the values of tolerance and ethics, the holiness of working for those who have nothing or nobody, and the essential requirement of living in the world but not being of the world. In earlier times before Democrats became Christophobes, they relied on those passages to attract support for well-intentioned social programs intended to eliminate poverty and hunger. Even conservatives of faith acknowledge the strength of those arguments, and at least it provided a commonality of purpose, even when we could not agree on the means.
Now, however, the Democrats have abandoned the morality of our faith while demanding tribute to a government that has shown itself incapable of delivering any progress on the programs that their faith at one time demanded. In fact, they use the same government that forces us to support an ever-expanding set of social programs that also demands the removal of all symbols and speech of faith from the public square. The Democrats have replaced the church with the bureaucracy, and up to now have purged all that supported public expressions of faith.
It appears that the same dynamic has come into play with Barack Obama. When he made the common-sense statement that government cannot cure the soul of a man who would shoot indiscriminately into a crowd — a crime that happened recently in Minneapolis, resulting in the death of a random bystander — the Left excoriates him for what essentially amounts to heresy. We see no mere rhetorical device in the argument that the Left has created their own religion out of secular humanism, and the demand that Obama repent for his apostasy confirms it.
Dionne provides one of the few voices of the Left still around to speak on faith in public policy. Democrats should heed his words and get over their own form of religious intolerance. Don’t force Obama to mutter E pur si muove under his breath.
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz has more on the blogospheric reaction to Obama’s speech.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, says that Hamas will not negotiate under fire for the release of Gilad Shalit. He turned down the idea of swapping Shalit for the dozens of Hamas politicians arrested by Israel in the West Bank in response to the Shalit abduction:
In his first public address since Israel began its offensive into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Friday said his government would not cave into Israeli demands but said he was working hard to end a five-day-old crisis with Israel.
Though Haniyeh did not directly address Israel’s demand that Palestinian terrorists hand over abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, he implied that the government would not trade him for eight Cabinet ministers and 56 other Hamas officials arrested on Thursday.
“When they kidnapped the ministers they meant to hijack the government’s position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall,” he said.
This will come as news to Israel. After all, the entire incident came as a result of an act of war by Palestinian terrorists ferom Gaza who invaded Israel, killed two IDF soldiers, and kidnapped a third. Hamas refused to intercede for Shalit’s release, and instead demanded the release of prisoners held by Israel to trade for Shalit.
And now Haniyeh refuses to negotiate under fire? Since when?
Israel changed the game on Hamas. Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal gambled that the Israelis would sit back and take no action, falling back to earlier strategies of prisoner trades for hostages. They also expected the neighboring governments and Western nations to pressure Israel to accept Hamas terms for negotiations under fire. Except for France, the Hamas strategy has backfired spectacularly. Western nations have done nothing to restrain Israel, and Egypt has called for the expulsion of Hamas’ leadership in Syria.
If Hamas doesn’t want to negotiate under fire, then they should stop playing with matches. This time, they have burnt themselves.
Guess what the Iraqis and Americans found when they captured a number of Shi’ite militia fighters in Baquba?
Iraqi and U.S. troops battled Shi’ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said U.S. helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding there.
Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which a sniper shot dead the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two of his men. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified. …
“We captured a number of militants and were surprised to see that some of them were Iranian fighters,” the police intelligence captain said.
An Interior Ministry official, who did not want to be named, also said Iranian gunmen had been captured. Baquba lies 90 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border.
The United States and Britain have accused Shi’ite Iran of meddling in Iraq’s affairs and providing military assistance to Iraq’s pro-government Shi’ite militias. However, there have been few instances of Iranians actually being captured inside Iraq.
Surprise! The mullahcracy has been caught with its pants down. The Iranians have long wanted to exercise control over Iraq through the large Shi’ite population in the south. It has contested for power with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who wants to see Najafian Shi’ism come to the fore over the Iranian activist form based on Qom’s scholarship. Their hopes rest on Moqtada al-Sadr, and the militia movement serves their interests in dividing Iraq and undermining their democracy.
The report states that the method used to identify these Iranian agents was not known, but as Dafydd at Big Lizards notes, it would not be difficult for Iraqis to identify Persian accents. Iranians do not speak Arabic as a native language but Farsi. Having lived in the area, they can differentiate between the accents easily enough, even if Westerners cannot.
What does this mean for the international situation? The Iranians will have to explain their presence in Iraq. This may not cause the angst some of us would like, however, as the Iranians have their own gripe about outside infiltrators in the Kurdish unrest in their own country. Unlike the Iraqis, though, the Iranians have not yet captured any of these outside infiltrators, and so they have little but secondhand information to use for their own PR purposes.
And let’s face it: if we’re not willing to press the issue on nuclear weapons any harder than we already have, then a handful of Iranian mercenaries will not push us into a confrontation with the mullahcracy.
However, it does provide some context for the difficulties facing the Iranians. The unrest does not spring entirely from an impulse to be rid of foreign troops of occupation. The Iranians have acted as provocateurs in the southern regions, and the absence of foreign troops at this point would only make that worse. This will also remind the Sunnis who do object to foreign troops that an early exit by the Coalition will make it that much easier for Iran to push the Shi’ite militias towards annihilation of the Sunni minority, at least until the Iraqi security forces can stand up to them.
The ultimate effect of these arrests may be a renewed push for a peaceful end to the Sunni-based native insurgencies.
The hesitation of Ehud Olmert to order the movement of ground troops into northern Gaza for unspecified diplomatic initiatives now can be understood. Reports have Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak demanding that Bashar Assad expel Hamas from Syria if the terrorist group does not release IDF soldier Gilad Shalit:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demanded from his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to deport the Syrian-based Hamas leadership unless it agrees to release kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Palestinian sources said on Friday.
The demand was made in the context of a compromise that Egypt was attempting to draft between the Israel and Hamas, whose Damascus leader, Khaled Mashaal was demanding that thousands of Palestinian detainees, held in Israeli prisons, be released. Mubarak warned Mashaal that his position was leading the Palestinians to disaster, Israel Radio reported.
According to the Palestinians, the Egyptian compromise calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, as well as the release of prisoners who were already scheduled to be released within the next year.
Meanwhile, Mubarak stated in an interview to Egypt’s leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram that Shalit’s kidnappers have agreed to his conditional release, but Israel has not yet accepted their terms. …
The president said he had asked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “not to hurry” the military offensive in Gaza, but to “give additional time to find a peaceful solution to the problem of the kidnapped soldier.”
The compromise still relies on Israel’s release of prisoners convicted in court for attacks against them, and the Israelis are probably not terribly enthusiastic about trading them for someone abducted by terrorists. It still rewards the act of kidnapping IDF soldiers, something that will guarantee more kidnappings. If the Israelis don’t jump at this deal, it’s hard to blame them.
On the other hand, having Mubarak point out publicly that Hamas started the problem and that their policies are to blame for the current situation certainly represents some progress. The Israelis would love nothing more that to have top Hamas terrorist Khaled Mashaal flushed from his cave. Given Hamas’ history of negotiations, they could easily welch on any deal, in which case Mubarak’s call to expel Hamas would be given even more force.
Hamas had better hope that Shalit remains in good health. It looks like their southern neighbor has had enough of their leadership in Gaza, and Shalit’s death might be the last straw.
The Globe & Mail has a disturbing look at the family life of some of the Toronto terror cell broken up by Canadian authorities. Although the particular strain of Islam espoused by terrorists does its best to oppress women, it turns out that the wife of the cell leader believed so much in holy war that she wanted to make it a condition of their marriage:
When it came time to write up the premarital agreement between Zakaria Amara and Nada Farooq, Ms. Farooq briefly considered adding a clause that would allow her to ask for a divorce.
She said that Mr. Amara (now accused of being a leader of the alleged terror plot that led to the arrests of 17 Muslim men early this month) had to aspire to take part in jihad.
“[And] if he ever refuses a clear opportunity to leave for jihad, then i want the choice of divorce,” she wrote in one of more than 6,000 Internet postings uncovered by The Globe and Mail.
Wives of four of the central figures arrested last month were among the most active on the website, sharing, among other things, their passion for holy war, disgust at virtually every aspect of non-Muslim society and a hatred of Canada. The posts were made on personal blogs belonging to both Mr. Amara and Ms. Farooq, as well as a semi-private forum founded by Ms. Farooq where dozens of teens in the Meadowvale Secondary School area chatted. The vast majority of the posts were made over a period of about 20 months, mostly in 2004, and the majority of those were made by the group’s female members.
The wives spent a lot of time on the Internet, wheedling and cajoling their readers to support and to wage jihad on Western society. Farooq wanted a baby badly, and she wanted to name it after a Chechen Islamist commander killed by the Russians. Her dream was to have her children follow in his footsteps, apparently all the way to the grave. She called openly for death by crushing for gays in Muslim societies, and she posted a prayer to Allah for the Jews to be crushed as well. Crushing, apparently, gets big play in the Amara/Farooq household. Canada doesn’t fare any better in Farooq’s tightly wound world. She repeatedly refers to our northern neighbor as “this filthy country”. and explicitly declared in one message that “we hate Canada”.
Cheryfa McAulay Jamal doesn’t think too highly of Canada, either. She derides the secular nature of Canadian society, advising young Muslims not to vote or participate in its politics. She also finds membership in the United Nations objectionable — something that might amuse the UN’s critics here in the US — and opposes the rights given to Western women. She used the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia to urge her young readers to violent jihad on a number of occasions.
The portrait painted by the G&M are of an angry subculture that praises oppression and opposes the freedoms that they exploit to pursue their recruitment to jihad. It also paints them as rather naive and foolish; they obviously never considered the trail they left behind them of missives and screeds that support the image of militant jihadis. They may not mind that image, but their husbands will find it very inconvenient when they come to trial.
UPDATE: I forgot to credit Newsbeat1 with the hat tip — sorry!
The government of the Netherlands has fallen as a direct result of their handling of former MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende resigned over the controversy started by Rita Verdonk:
The Dutch government has decided to resign after losing the support of its junior coalition partner in a row over Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said.
The resignation follows a conflict within the coalition government about the way VVD minister Verdonk handled the controversy surrounding the citizenship of Somali-born Islam critic and former lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Just minutes before Balkenende announced in parliament that the entire government would step down, the three ministers of junior coalition party D66 said they could no longer be part of a cabinet with the controversial Verdonk.
This ends the fallout of Verdonk’s decision to strip Ayaan of her Dutch citizenship after the outspoken critic of radical Islam acknowledged that she had changed her name when applying for asylum. Ayaan had gained sympathy and support from her participation in the film by Theo Van Gogh that highlighted the harsh treatment of women in traditional Islam, a film that led to the assassination of Van Gogh by Muslim extremists.
Michael van der Galien, who has followed this story from The Netherlands, writes:
One of the key issues of the debate last night was the declaration signed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Prime-Minister Balkenende explained that this declaration was necessary for legal purposes: in it she ‘promissed’ that she would use the name ‘Ali’ in the future and would not change it to ‘Magan’.
However; in the last paragraph Ayaan ‘admitted’ that solely she was to blaim for the mess and that she was very sorry. Ayaan, however, said that she did not want to sign that declaration, due to the last paragraph because she did not agree with it. But; if she didn’t sign the entire declaration things would have taken much more time. So, to be sure that she would keep her Dutch nationality, she signed it anyway.
Balkenende admitted, during the debate, that the last paragraph – in which Ayaan takes complete responsibility – was initiated by Verdonk, so it ‘could be acceptable’ to her.
Where I’m from we call that ‘blackmail’. One of the government coalition parties D66 agreed with me.
D66 not only agreed with Michael, they put their opinion to use: they withdrew from the governing coalition after their motion to impeach Verdonk failed. The Dutch will now have to hold new national elections and put together a new government, while Ayaan has had to pay for her bravery with threatened deportation and humiliation. Rita Verdonk has had quite an impact on Dutch politics — one that she will never live down.
Since I have a limited number of options for fun and frolic while I recover from my back surgery (which is coming along nicely, thank you!), I got a chance to do a little consulting for my sister, who’s visiting this week. She needed to buy a laptop — her first — and she wanted something that would have the latest in technology. I got an opportunity to take a field trip to a new Best Buy that just opened down the street from me and give her some advice on a purchase.
We took a look around at the laptops; prices have come down a bit since I boughtthe Vaio last year, so the higher end of technology is more accessible. We settled on the HP DV-8000, which was actually on clearance. It comes with plenty of features: Centrino technology, Intel duo processors, DVD burner, TV tuner, all sorts of fun stuff. It also comes with an unsual feature — a ten-key along with the regular laptop-style keyboard. The wide dimensions that allow the 17″ screen also allows enough room for the extra keys.
I de-installed the Norton anti-virus security, having learned the lesson from my own laptop, and installed PC-Cillin. I also installed Microsoft Office at her request and removed some trial software she’ll never use. I haven’t played around with the TV tuner, which seems a little klugy to me, but I may in the next couple of days. The machine is pretty impressive; it runs fast, and the 200 GB of hard drive would allow for a lot of video editing. Pretty nice way to spend my down time! Too bad she’s taking it with her when she leaves.
A senior Fatah official in the Palestinian Authority told Israeli Radio today that, while he condemns the IDF incursion into Gaza, responsibility for this cycle of violence lies squarely with the extremists of Hamas. The advisor to Mahmoud Abbas blames Khaled Mashaal and the hardliners of Hamas for turning the world against the Palestinians:
A senior Fatah member said on Thursday that although Israel should be condemned for its incursion into the Gaza Strip and the arrest of senior Hamas officials, it was Hamas who brought these actions upon the Palestinian people.
He blamed Hamas’ uncompromising, extremist approach – especially that of Hamas leader in Damascus Khaled Mashaal – for turning the whole world against the Palestinians.
The official, an associate of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, told Israel Radio said that Mashaal interfered with any attempt at moderation or mitigation of the economic embargo on the Palestinians.
The Hamas-Fatah split does not seem to have improved under fire. Fatah may see this as a golden opportunity to sell themselves as moderates that can deliver better conditions for Palestinians while negotiating on a hard-line basis with Israel and the West. They lost the last election due to their overwhelming corruption, but the Palestinians may soon long for the days when they let the crooks run the asylum rather than the lunatics.
The agreement between Hamas and Fatah on national unity may soon become a casualty to the Gaza incursion. After the border invasion and kidnapping that Hamas at least sanctioned, Fatah will be more cautious about marrying itself to the leadership of Khaled Mashaal. When the IDF leaves Gaza, look for the civil war to follow in their wake.