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200 lashes for a Saudi rape victim???

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — how a half-baked, re-raked tale from 2007, now showing on my local Facebook, gets things all wrong ]
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Let’s set the record straight.

It seems that Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times did the amplification in this case. He tweeted, and Mia Farrow retweeted him, so we know what he said:

I can’t find Kristof’s original tweet, I guess he’s deleted it. About the same time Mia Farrow was RTing it, though, and thus saving it for the record, he tweeted:

And if you go to JM Hall‘s twitter stream, you’ll see that he was schooling Kristof on this one, and pointed him to an NYT piece from 2007. Funny, that — being an NYT piece and all…

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Anyway, the word got out on Facebook and went at least a little viral. And that’s sad. Because while the story does illustrate the state of jurisprudence in Saudi in 2007, the raped girl never actually received those 200 lashes — she was personally pardoned by the King.

Which should be a reason for rejoicing, not condemnation.

But here’s how it was presented on my FB page —

That does somewhat encourage the reader to think she did in fact receive those lashes, doesn’t it?

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I understand, Nick Kristof tweeted it — and he’s the good guy who helps a whole heap of socially beneficial causes around the world that deserve all the support and encouragement he can bring them. I’m not disputing that, in fact I’ll gladly stipulate it.

But the story was wrong, and wrong in a damaging way. And forwarding or endorsing this sort of thing makes me very sad. Let me explain why.

The Examiner.com is an outfits that “operates a network of local news websites, allowing ‘pro–am contributors'” — nothing wrong with that, you just need to be careful when you read them, in other words.

The Examiner article in question quotes the Clarion Project, calling it “the women’s rights-centered news portal” when it’s far better known as the source of a whole lot of anti-Islamic propaganda — the Muslim organization CAIR lists Clarion among the “Islamophobia Network’s inner core” groups, while Clarion views CAIR with similar distaste. Okay, maybe they cancel each other out, let’s stipulate that, too.

But the article then states that the Clarion piece was posted “on Sept. 22, 2013″ — whereas if you click through, you’ll find it’s actually dated Thu, November 15, 2007 — it’s 5 going on 6 years old. So why drag it up again now?

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Retired US diplomat John Burgess who blogs about Saudi Arabia quotes to us, in a blog post from December 2007 and titled ‘Qatif Girl’ Receives Saudi Royal Pardon, an article from Agence France Presse in Riyadh, also dated December 2007, which can tells us what actually happened — how this unhappy story ended:

RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has pardoned a teenage girl sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes after being gang raped, Al Jazirah newspaper reported on Monday.

The ruling against the 19-year-old girl in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom had attracted widespread international condemnation, including from human rights groups and the White House.

The Arabic language daily said it had been informed of the royal pardon from its own, unidentified, sources.
But in the same article, the kingdom’s Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al Shaikh told the paper the king had the “right to overrule court judgements if he considered it benefiting the greater good.”
The minister added that the king, who is viewed by many as a cautious reformer, was concerned with “the needs of the people and the court judgments that are made against them.”

Got that? Pardoned. By the King. Who is viewed as a cautious reformer.

I hope Kristof and Farrow have let their friends know…

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So the Examiner writer whose work Kristof and others are quoting has:

  • picked up a nasty story from Saudia Arabia almost six years ago,
  • that actually didn’t end in a girl being given 200 lashes for being raped
  • but resulted in the King personally pardoning her,
  • thus moving Saudi jurisprudence in a very welcome new direction
  • — and posted it without any of the redeeming parts, with attribution to a group that’s not exactly friendly to the House of Saud, and getting the date wrong by almost six years in the process… And then well-meaning, generous people — Nick Kristoff and some of my friends among them — circulate this ugly and incomplete story, without first checking to see what truth there is to it.

    I quoted a source without checking its veracity only the other day [1, 2, 3], so I’m in no position to go around blaming people who don’t check their sources. But seeing this particular story of the 200 lashes go viral makes me sad — because repeating it only stirs up righteous anger, disgust and hatred.

    Rape is terrible. A penal code that sentences people to 200 lashes is way, way beyond my sense of justice. But I don’t believe stirring up hatred between nations or against religions is the path we want to choose…

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    Birthday Greetings to Online Forums and Community

    Thursday, August 8th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — history was minted here ]
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    Today is the fortieth birthday of Plato Notes — the “first permanent, general-purpose online conferencing system”, brainchild of my online friend David Woolley.

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    You can read Brian Dear‘s PLATO Notes released 40 years ago today for the general story, or David’s own PLATO: The Emergence of Online Community from 1991 — but best of all perhaps would be this video, which will give you a sense of the man as well as the relevant history —

    — and historic this truly was.

    Happy fortieth, David — and more thanks from so very many of us than I quite know how to express.

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    Elites at Cross Purposes

    Monday, July 15th, 2013

    [recycled by Lynn C. Rees]

    Vertical conflict, where non-elite rises against elite, is a strong, ancient, and obsessive current of fear that flows through political thought. Only elite had surplus time to craft political thought. Hence their antagonism toward vertical conflict saturated political thought for most of written history. The opposing vein of political thought, while less well-represented in history, had an equally ancient past: non-elite fear of elite oppression.

    Both variations have good and bad.

    Those above and those below have good reasons to fear each other. Elite were outnumbered ~95 to 1. They controlled the vast majority of a political community’s wealth. They were often scattered throughout the population, isolated in a sea of non-elite.

    Moreover, elite was somewhat aware that non-elite had concrete reasons to eat them raw. Elite wealth was extracted from the sweat of non-elite brows. The means used to extract this wealth leaned toward the unpleasant or unfair. This rude leaning bred resentment among its non-elite targets. Fortunate elite: the power that let them live off non-elite also guaranteed they normally had little to fear from non-elite: elite become elite through their effective predominance over violence and threat.

    Elite should fear another form of conflict, one far more deadly than vertical conflict to them: horizontal conflict. The real threat is conflict within elites between elites. Few vertical conflicts succeed without having their way paved by horizontal conflicts breaking out first.

    Unified elite? Non-elite have little chance.

    Divided elite? Non-elite opportunity beckons.

    Escalation of internecine horizontal conflict frequently tempts one elite faction to appeal directly to non-elite for backing against competing factions. Elite factions often race to outbid each other as they attempt to win non-elite allies against their elite rivals. This has been known to open the way for successful non-elite vertical conflict. Even if vertical conflict is averted, intra-elite horizontal conflict may decimate elite ranks, leaving a vacuum at the top.

    Horizontal conflict is a major theme of the cliodynamics of Peter Turchin, an attempt to shape the study of history into “analytical, predictive science”. The mere thought is enough to make neo-Seleucid Nassim Nicholas Taleb foam, wildly gesticulate in dangerously pointy ways, and rant about ice cubes, naive models, charlatans, and infidels. Turchin, in Taleb’s construction, is pushing the “narrative fallacy” to dangerous extremes.

    Imagine the dangerous Taleb gesticulations Hari Seldon would produce.

    Turchin faces an uphill battle in creating his psychohistory. That said, some of his initial thoughts have interest.

    Focusing on pre-industrial agricultural societies, Turchin argues that the primary reason for the rise of empires is a notion of Ibn Khaldun‘s called asabiyah. Asabiyah is the “strong force” that gives a human group its ability to cooperate. Turchin extends Ibn Khaldun’s notion by arguing that it’s specifically along “metaethnic frontiers” that empires rise. Along metaethnic frontiers, not only are societies diametrically opposed in means of production (e.g. pastoralist vs. agriculturalist) but diametrically opposed in cultural norms as well. They are true borders with the Other.

    Some examples of metaethnic frontiers that Turchin offers are those between his native Russia and the Crimean Tatars, European Americans and American Indians, Han Chinese and Huns/Turks/Mongols/Manchus, Christian Spain and Muslim al-Andalus, Republican Rome and the Gauls, and Imperial Rome and the German tribes. The vast cultural differences between cultures bestride a frontier produce asabiyah by their clashes more effectively than frontiers between peoples with similar cultures (e.g. the Franco-German frontier). Such asabiyah is often strong enough to drive a political community along a metaethnic frontier to aspire and even ascend to empire.

    For the forces that maintain asabiyah, Turchin points to studies based on the ultimatum game:

    The ultimatum game is a game  often played in economic experiments in which two players interact to decide how to divide a sum of money that is given to them. The first player proposes how to divide the sum between the two players, and the second player can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. The game is played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.

    Results of some of these experiments seem to reveal the presence of three classes of people within any human group: knaves, saints, and moralists. Turchin writes in War and Peace and War:

    During the 1990s, several economists, most notably Ernst Fehr at the University of Zurich and his colleagues, decided to test the assumptions of rational choice theory experimentally…[and] what these experiments, and many others like them, reveal is that society consists of several types of people. Some of them – perhaps a quarter in experiments with American college students – are self-interested, rational agents – ‘the knaves’. These will never contribute to the common good, and will choose free-riding unless forced to [contribute] by fines imposed upon them. The opposite type, also about a quarter, are the unconditional cooperators, or ‘the saints’. The saints continue to contribute to the common pool and lose money, even when it is obvious to everybody that cooperation has failed (although most of them reduce the amount of their contribution). The largest group (40 to 60 percent in most experiments) are the conditional cooperators, or ‘the moralists’. The preference of the moralists is to contribute to the pot, so that everyone would be better off. However, in the absence of the mechanism to punish noncontributors, free-riding proliferates, the moralists become disgusted by this opportunistic behavior, and withdraw their cooperation. On the other hand, when the punishment option is available, they use it to fine the knaves [even though imposing a fine comes at a cost to them…and] the group [eventually] achieves the cooperative equilibrium at which, paradoxically, the moralists do almost as well as the knaves, because they now rarely (if ever) need to spend money on fining the free-riders.

    Moralists maintain asabiyah:

    The  experiments also point to the key role of the moralists…. Self-righteous moralists are not necessarily nice people, and their motivation for the ‘moralistic punishment’ is not necessarily prosocial in intent. They might not be trying to get everyone to cooperate. Instead, they get mad at people who violate social norms. They retaliate against the norm breakers, and feel a kind of grim satisfaction from depriving them of their ill-gotten gains. It’s emotional, and it’s not pretty, but it does ensure group cooperation…. [Moreover,] that capacity for trust and moralistic punishment are wired into our brains. At some level, they are as basic as our abilities for finding food, or finding mates. It does not mean all humans will always behave in a cooperative manner. People are different…[and] societies differ in their ability to sustain collective action. But the capacity for cooperation (even if it is never exercised by many people) is part of what makes us human….[In addition,] as a result of our ability to use symbols, the idea of a social group (‘us’) has a peculiar grip on human imagination. Because of our psychological makeup, we tend to think of social groups, such as nations, as more ‘real’ than they are ‘in reality.’ And, because people treat nations as real, they behave accordingly and, paradoxically, make them real…Two key adaptations enabled the evolution of [human] ultrasociality. The first one was the moralist strategy: cooperate when enough members in the group are also cooperating, and punish those who do not cooperate. A band that had enough moralists to tip its collective behavior to the cooperative equilibrium outcompeted, or even exterminated, bands that failed to cooperate. The second adaptation, the human ability to use symbolic markers to define cooperating groups, allowed the evolution of sociality to break through the limits of face-to-face interaction, [and] the scale of human societies increased in a series of leaps.

    Turchin argues that empires decline when asabiyah-driven imperial conquest brings wealth, security, and power. High asabiyah societies have strong vertical and horizontal cohesion and cooperation between elite and non-elite and within elite and non-elite, reenforced by moralists among elite and non-elite. Much of this asabiyah formation is driven by pressure from external attack. Imperial conquest removes the immediate threat of external attacks. This lack of immediate external threat saps asabiyah as elite and non-elite pursue increasingly divergent agendas. This further saps the influence of moralists. This leads to elites divide that opens opportunities for internal non-elite and external actors. This frequently pushes elite over the edge into atomized oblivion.

    But losing your elite doesn’t have to be a net loss. Rotating elites is usually required to reinvigorate a society. However, getting there is frequently unpleasant for elite and non-elite alike and unpleasantness is a powerful source of asabiyah cultivation.

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    Videos, the counter-nasheed and some dancing girls

    Sunday, June 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — further notes from the frayed edges of what’s significant ]
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    Okay, you all know I’m interested in the graphics of terrorism and their symbolism, and only a day or two ago I posted Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality on the two into one phenomenon — well, here’s an addendum:

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    The upper image, showing the Jabha al-Nusra logo — Sunni, left — alongside the Hezbollah insignia — Shi’a, right — morphs into the single image in the lower panel, thereby resolving the sectarian conflict in Syria by filmic means.

    The video from which these two shots were taken, alas, was the work product of the US Government, as part of an effort of outreach by the little-known Digital Outreach Team at the State Department, who at the time of writing appear to have 193 videos uploaded.

    The BBC notes:

    According to the Associated Press news agency, the 50-member Digital Outreach Team tweets, posts Facebook updates and uploads video to YouTube in Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu, in a bid to counter the radical jihadist message. It seems it’s even had exchanges with terror suspects such as US-born militant Omar Hammami, a former member of Somalia’s al-Shabab.

    The two images above were taken from a video titled Secret meeting between Hassan Nasrallah and al-Zawahiri, but the Beeb’s article focused on what it termed a “spoof Al-Qaeda video”, which I’ll call Pharaoh Ayman speaks to the dancing girls for want of a better name:

    The team’s al-Zawahiri spoof opens with a notice that “fizzy drinks should be consumed while watching this production” – a twist on the usual message at the beginning of al-Qaeda videos saying “it is not permitted to add music to this production … Taking the classic preaching-to-camera format, the three-minute clip features a voiceover in which the Egyptian-born militant repeatedly bungles his speech by saying things like: “The butchers, ahem, sorry, I mean the mujahideen”. In the video – issued by the US State Department’s Digital Outreach Team – al-Zawahiri is backed by punkah-wallahs. The clip then cuts to a shot, as though from behind the speaker, to reveal a troupe of dancers performing in front of him.”

    But see for yourselves, punkah-wallas and all:

    For your further Sundance consideration, and from the same studios, you might also like the lowest and slowest nasheed ever recorded.

    **

    Speaking of graphics — coming up on ZP when I have had a chance to read a little more of El Difraoui, reviews of:

  • Beifuss and Bellini, Branding Terror
  • Abdelasiem El Difraoui, Al-Qaida par l’image. La prophétie du martyre
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    Social media and religion: from Benedict via Barney to Vajrayana

    Friday, January 25th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — mostly for the fun of it, though students of social media may want to explore further ]
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    Two stories from opposite ends (arguably) of the spectrum:

    First, how social media can subvert respect for the “virtue police” in Saudi Arabia (h/t Sana Issa):

    A lady in Dammam, the hub of the oil industry on the kingdom’s Gulf coast, tweeted a complaint from a local shopping mall. Agents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), she said, were causing an unpleasant scene. The government-salaried vigilantes, a bearded auxiliary police force familiarly known to Saudis as the Hayaa, had marched officiously into an educational exhibit featuring plaster models of dinosaurs, turned off the lights and ordered everyone out, frightening children and alarming their parents.

    [ … ]

    Within minutes of the incident, a freshly minted Arabic Twitter hashtag, #Dammam-Hayaa-Closes-Dinosaur-Show, was generating scores of theories about their motives.

  • Perhaps, suggested one, there was a danger that citizens might start worshipping dinosaur statues instead of God.
  • Maybe it was just a temporary measure, said another, until the Hayaa can separate male and female dinosaurs and put them in separate rooms.
  • Surely, declared a third, one of the lady dinosaurs had been caught in public without a male guardian.
  • A fourth announced an all-points police alert for Barney the Dinosaur, while
  • another suggested it was too early to judge until it was clear what the dinosaurs were wearing.

  • There’s more, but I’m too prudish to post it…

    **

    Second, and more seriously – but wittily too, hey! — here’s how social media can impact the egos of “so-called” Vajrayana [ Buddhist tantra ] practitioners, together with sage advice from a noted film-maker Rinpoche, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse:

  • Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning
  • Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job.
  • Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement.

  • Vajrayana Buddhism? Here’s a quick overview:

    In contrast to the approaches of conventional religion, tantra does not attempt to soothe the turmoil of existence with consoling promises of heaven and salvation. The tantric practitioner chooses to confront the bewildering and chaotic forces of fear, aggression, desire, and pride, and to work with them in such a way that they are channeled into creative expression, loving relationships, and wisely engaged forms of life.

    **

    And then there’s Benedict XVI, tweeting as @pontifex. His 1,458,557-and-counting followers have thus far received 27 tweets from the Holy Father since December 12th — no “Friday Follows” and no “Retweets”.

    He does, however, follow himself in 8 languages besides English.

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