Monday, September 27, 2010

21st Century China: Economic Powerhouse or Enron-like Train-Wreck Waiting To Happen?

[via Flickr]

On one hand, it's very easy to be frightened by China's seemingly endless growth in political and economic power.
Why on earth are the Chinese playing military games with Japan, threatening Southeast Asia, or entering politics at all? When they stay silent, we ignore them. When they threaten boycotts or use nationalist language, we get scared and react. We still haven't realized that the scariest thing about China is not the size of its navy or the arrogance of its diplomats. The scariest thing is the power China has already accumulated without ever deploying its military or its diplomats at all.

And some of China's expensive, high-cost expenditures put current long-term American infrastructure coordination to shame.
China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.

On the other hand, perhaps China may be more fragile than most people realize.
Beyond economic output, more than three-fifths of China’s overall exports and nearly all its high-tech exports are made by non-Chinese, foreign companies. Foreign companies take advantage of low Chinese wages to reprocess imports of semi-manufactured goods that are then shipped to Europe and the U.S. China remains, in essence, a subcontractor to the West, says Will Hutton, British political analyst and author of an influential book on China, “The Writing on the Wall.” Despite China’s export success, there are few great Chinese brands or companies. China needs to build them, says Hutton, but doing that in a one-party authoritarian state, where the party second-guesses business strategy for ideological and political ends, is impossible.”
Because of China’s climate of corruption and authoritarian secrecy, even the volume of industrial output has been questioned. Some doubt China’s numbers and official reports. Investment guru James Chanos, who rose to prominence when he predicted the Enron meltdown (and pocketed a billion dollars shorting Enron stock), is shorting China now.
Says Chanos, “China is cooking its books. State-run companies are buying fleets of cars and storing them in parking lots and warehouses” to pump up state-mandated production figures. As evidence of this, experts point out that while car sales have been rising by a huge 20 percent per month, auto fuel usage seems to be rising by only 3-5 percent per month. Chanos also says China is plagued by an ominously growing real estate bubble in high-rise buildings, offices and condos. Much of China’s high growth originally came from decades-long heavy investment in infrastructure, but increasingly it has been coming from construction. Chanos estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of China’s GDP now comes from alarming levels of overbuilding, virtually none of which is affordable to the average Chinese. “This is not affordable housing for the middle class; this is high-end condos in major urban areas and high-end office buildings, which no one is buying,” says Chanos.
So modern China is driven by rapid spending and building and consuming for the sake of rapid growth, with some useful public infrastructure investments here and there.

Clearly, nothing the Chinese government is doing is sustainable, or factors in a Plan B in case the growth paradigm abruptly shifts (due to war, famine, natural disaster, global pandemic, societal collapse, etc.) but I don't think anyone influential cares while there's money to be made, and yachts to be sailed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

African Colonialism 2.0 - China in Senegal

Most people think of European exploitation when they see the words "African colonialism."

However, decades after independence for the former African colonies, China is moving into the economically-starved nations, buying up land, and shipping off the profits back to the motherland - with barely a cent going to the natives.

For example, take this documentary, "The Colony" about the Chinese migrants to Senegal, and the social and economic tensions caused as a result.

Chinese growth reliant on destroying local competition + destroyed local industry + Senegalese getting no piece of the Chinese economic growth = resentment and potential future ethnic violence.

And I'm sure anti-Chinese fervor in Africa will only increase in the coming years.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Koran's Influence on Early American History

Turns out the Founder Fathers you've heard of all read and studied it.
Thomas Jefferson, especially, had a familiarity with Islam that borders on the astonishing. Like Adams, he owned a Koran, a 1764 English edition that he bought while studying law as a young man in Williamsburg, Va. Only two years ago, that Koran became the center of a controversy, when the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked if he could place his hand on it while taking his oath of office — a request that elicited tremendous screeches from the talk radio extremists. Jefferson even tried to learn Arabic, and wrote his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”

Once again, the principle of "freedom of religion" was originally intended to apply to Muslims as well.
This theory was eloquently expressed around the time the Constitution was written. One of its models was the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, which John Adams had helped to create, and which, in the words of one of its drafters, Theophilus Parsons, was designed to ensure “the most ample of liberty of conscience” for “Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians.”

And even African slaves of the Muslim faith kept it alive.
While evidence is fragmentary, as many as 20 percent of African-American slaves may have come from Islamic backgrounds. They kept their knowledge of the Koran alive through memory, or chanted suras, or, in rare cases, smuggled copies of the book itself. In the 1930s, when WPA workers were interviewing elderly African-Americans in Georgia’s Sea Islands, they were told of an ancestor named Bilali who spoke Arabic and owned a copy of the Koran — a remarkable fact when we remember that it was a crime for slaves to read. In the War of 1812, Bilali and his fellow Muslims helped to defend America from a British attack, inverting nearly all of our stereotypes in the process.

Given the anti-Christian/Jewish sentiment popular in the various fundamentalist strands of Islam today, the following is an interesting historical contrast:
Jefferson and Adams led many of our early negotiations with the Islamic powers as the United States lurched into existence. A favorable treaty was signed with Morocco, simply because the Moroccans considered the Americans ahl-al-kitab, or “people of the book,” similar to Muslims, who likewise eschewed the idolatry of Europe’s ornate state religions.

 So, to sum up, America's Koran-versed Founding Fathers explicitly included Islam into American society, and at least one Muslim nation saw Americans as "people of the book." if only we can get millions of people across the world to realize this. Otherwise, forgotten history will triumph once again in favor of self-serving story lines.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reader Feedback

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

link round-up 9/22/10

A series of mapped out stereotypes. [via]

Turkish-Kurdish tension spreads throughout Turkey

Paris to encourage drinking tap water, discourage bottled water

Mexican papers ask drug cartels what can and can't be published

Iraqi-Syrian relations improve after years of refugee tension

New Delhi's embarrassing infrastructural challenges for the upcoming Commonwealth Games

Compare and Contrast - Attacking Iran's Nuclear Facilities

On one hand, you have Iranian president Ahmadinejad warning of a retaliatory "war with no limits"
"The United States has never entered a real war, not in Vietnam, nor in Afghanistan, nor even World War II," the Iranian leader told American editors and reporters when asked about how Iran would react to any US supported strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities.

On the other hand, a complex cyber-worm called Stuxnet may be responsible for destroying at least one Iranian nuclear facility.

Langner is quick to note that his views on Stuxnet's target is speculation based on suggestive threads he has seen in the media. Still, he suspects that the Bushehr plant may already have been wrecked by Stuxnet. Bushehr's expected startup in late August has been delayed, he notes, for unknown reasons. (One Iranian official blamed the delay on hot weather.)
But if Stuxnet is so targeted, why did it spread to all those countries? Stuxnet might have been spread by the USB memory sticks used by a Russian contractor while building the Bushehr nuclear plant, Langner offers. The same contractor has jobs in several countries where the attackware has been uncovered.
"This will all eventually come out and Stuxnet's target will be known," Langner says. "If Bushehr wasn't the target and it starts up in a few months, well, I was wrong. But somewhere out there, Stuxnet has found its target. We can be fairly certain of that."

You have to hand it to Ahmadinejad for having the gall to make his retort when visiting New York City, but he (and we) may have no idea what tricks the US military would have in store for an overt war with Iran.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

link round-up 9/21/10

Google's dirty word censorship algorithm has an American slang bias

Young urban Chinese generation wants China to dump US debt holdings

Xia Wie, a 24-year-old graduate from Guizhou province, worries about the cost of housing and pollution in China. To her, lending money to the U.S. doesn't make sense.
"America is a developed country and does not need China's money," she said. "Let China put its money into itself so China will be strong."
It's also not sensible to Lin Xiang, a 25-year-old graduate of Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.
"We have financed the American people's overconsumption for many years," Lin said at a Starbucks on Financial Street, near the investment bank where he works.

Using social networks to predict flu epidemics

Illegal tobacco trading linked to drug smuggling and human trafficking

English-language radical Islamic websites skyrocketing

How most journalism relies on government support through grants or tax credits

Russia to spend $613 billion on updated weaponry

Concerns in UK Parliament over possible return to 1970's oil shock prices

Some Thoughts On "Pro-Islamic Bias"


Texas Board of Education to take on "pro-Islamic bias" in textbooks

"Without a doubt, social studies and science textbooks oftentimes find themselves at the crossroads of our nation's cultural wars," said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' School Division.
Most book companies create independent internal bias reviews "because they know it does them no good to produce things that are inaccurate and biased," Diskey said.
The books cited in the resolution currently are not used in Texas schools, Diskey said.

A few thoughts:

1. World history in a nutshell: people did horrifying things in the name of ____, people did beautiful things in the name of ____. Just figure out what things influenced what events in what proportions, and you're most of the way there.

So if enlightening cultural contributions and mass slaughter have both happened the name of Christianity, as well as Islam, then the history textbooks should reflect the murky, mixed, complicated, multi-sided, multi-causal nature of what actually happened to begin with.

2. In a way, this can be seen as an overall attack on perceived political correctness in education - the idea that the "liberal" history textbook writers want to shove foreign religions and ideas down American children's throats to make them more tolerant of everything except their own American heritage.

This has been a storyline amongst American conservatives for decades. And it's not completely baseless - you could argue that some historians like Howard Zinn intentionally attacked the "heroic" conception of American history to the point of making America as whole look more bad than good to the point of over-emphasis. But the Texas School Board's recent rhetorical change of the "slave trade" to the "triangular trade", as well as the downplaying of Thomas Jefferson in favor of John Calvin shows that historical bias can go in any direction - even as an overreaction to a perceived overreaction to the way history was taught in America.

There is, after all, a difference between correcting bias, and substituting one's bias for another bias.

3. This event is happening in the context of the greater societal debate over Islam in the United States, and this debate centers around these general thought patterns:

anti-Islam: "Apologist liberals ignore militant aspects of the religion's history and holy texts, and downplay/ignore the concentrated efforts of networked Islamist groups to undermine Western power and society for the sake of Islam. Most public moderate Islamic groups are propaganda fronts for those who want to impose sharia law, and the politically-correct are too blind to see this "stealth jihad". Islam imposes itself on others more so than other religious traditions, therefore it should be given more scrutiny than other religious belief systems in the United States. Defenders of Islam are destroying Western civilization and letting more and more Muslim immigrants into Western countries will eventually turn the societies into hardline Muslim societies in a few generations...a few bad apples ruin the bunch and group discrimination is justified."

anti-anti-Islam: "Religion is personal, all anti-Islamic bias is racist xenophobia from dumb white Sarah Palin-loving rednecks, not every Muslim wants to impose sharia law on the United States and the ones who do are radical extremists that don't represent the majority views, Islam is subject to personal interpretation, 1st amendment guarantees it's practice, conservative politicians and pundits are using Islamophobia to scare people into voting Republican for the midterm elections, Islamophobia in Western countries will be used by hostile regimes in majority Muslim countries as propaganda and undermine the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. People should be judged as people and not their religious beliefs and perpetuating anti-Islamic fears in America tears apart social cohesion and increases discrimination against innocent people...a few bad apples don't ruin the bunch and group discrimination is not justified."

In turn, I offer this observation:

pro-Reality: some Muslims want to "destroy the West", some are content to live their own lives. The number of Muslims who want to carry out Jihad is significantly large to be a political and security concern, but proportionately small compared to the roughly 1 billion Muslims across the world. Anti-Western Muslims and Anti-Muslim Westerners are both going to spin past and current events into their own storylines to appeal to their supporters in order to keep their movements alive and achieve their goals. Most people just want to be left alone and engage themselves in their day-to-day lives.

Too bad this debate isn't going away anytime soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

link round-up 9/20/10

Favela (slum) tourism in Rio de Janeiro

The Chinese Communist Party drive to rid popular culture of the "three vulgarities"
WITH tens of millions of Chinese suffering from the country’s worst floods in years, President Hu Jintao convened a meeting of the ruling Politburo on July 23rd, to discuss what he said was an urgent issue. To a roomful of grim-faced officials, he declared that China must “resolutely resist” vulgar, cheap and kitsch forms of culture. The “great revival” of the Chinese people was, he said, at stake.
Thus was born a new campaign against what officials call the “three vulgarities”. The government news agency, Xinhua, has described this “new morality movement” as the leadership’s first broadside against vulgarity in years. Some online commentators in China call it a throwback to the 1980s and hugely unpopular drives that were designed to eradicate “spiritual pollution” and “bourgeois liberalisation”.

French wine vending machines to come to US? 

90% of Kuwati coral reefs dying

Russia sells missles to Syria

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims unable to return home after end of civil war

Chicagoan plants bomb near Wrigley drive the retiring mayor out of office?

Shell and UN back $100 million plan for clean energy stoves

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ban Sharia Law? Define It First


Amid the New York City Islamic center controversy, Newt Gingrich recently called for a ban on the enforcement of Sharia law in the United States.
  • Is this pandering to a fearful conservative Christian base? Yes.
  • Will it ever-so-slightly increase hostility and discrimination against all ethnic groups associated with Islam in the US? Yes.
  • Is it likely Gingrich is getting on the pulpit to position himself as a presidental candidate? Yes.
  • Does that make calling for "banning Sharia law" in the United States not worthy of analysis or discussion? No.
While most governments are based on constitutions, there are several countries (even Britain) that have separate courts for state legal law and sharia law.
Examples can be seen in Nigeria and Kenya, which have sharia courts that rule on family law for Muslims. A variation exists in Tanzania, where civil courts apply sharia or secular law according to the religious backgrounds of the defendants. Several countries, including Lebanon and Indonesia, have mixed jurisdiction courts based on residual colonial legal systems and supplemented with sharia. Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh of the American University of Beirut says only Qatar has an official dual legal system where Adlia courts, or civil courts, are independent of the sharia system and legislate secular laws. 
Western countries are also exploring the idea of allowing Muslims to apply Islamic law in familial and financial disputes. In late 2008, Britain officially allowed sharia tribunals (NYT) governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance to make legally binding decisions if both parties agreed. The new system is in line with separate mediation allowed for Anglican and Jewish communities in England. Criminal law remains under the gavel of the existing legal system. "There is no reason why principles of sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation," Britain's top judge, Lord Nicholas Phillips, said in a July 2008 speech (PDF). Supporters of this initiative, such as the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, argue that it would help maintain social cohesion (BBC) in European societies increasingly divided by religion. However, some research suggests the process to be discriminatory toward women (BBC). Other analysts suggest the system has led to grey areas. Britain's Muslims come from all over the world, Ishtiaq Ahmed, a spokesperson for the Council for Mosques in England, told the BBC, noting that this makes it hard to discern at times "where the rulings of the sharia finish and long-held cultural practices start."

Many critics have condemned the Islamophobia in America as a redux of racial and Communist fears of the previous century, and pointed out the dubious ties of the leading anti-Islamic blogs driving the current controversies about Islam in the United States.

At the same time, while they rely on heavily biased, paranoid fearful language, top anti-Islamic websites such as Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs base much of their rhetoric on daily news posts noting situations like an Australian YMCA banning bare skin at swimming pools in the presence of Muslims, Sharia-compliant halal meals on British Airways, and Ukrainian cheerleaders banned from performing in front of the Turkish President Erdogan during a baskeball tournament.

Sure, major economic and social norm shifts due to Muslim presence are newsworthy and significant. But a constant stream of news links solely focused on Muslims "demanding" subtle changes from Western countries paints a slanted picture of a one-way "Islamic dominance of the Western civilization."

Nevermind the Western cultural influence in Islamic countries.
I shouldn't have been surprised at the notion of Muslim metalheads or punkers. Muslim history is full of characters and movements that seemed far out of the mainstream in their day, but that nevertheless helped bring about farreaching changes in their societies. As I nursed my drink, I contemplated the various musical, cultural, and political permutations that could be produced by combining Islam and hard rock. I began to wonder: What could Muslim metal artists and their fans teach us about the state of Islam today?
And so began a five-year journey across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Pakistan, with a dozen countries in between, in search of the artists, fans, and activists who make up the alternative music scenes of the Muslim world. My journey was long, and sometimes dangerous. But the more I traveled and the more musicians I met, the more I understood how much insight into Islam today could be gained by getting to know the artists who were working on what might seem to be the edges of their societies. Their imagination and openness to the world, and the courage of their convictions, remind us that Muslim and Western cultures are more heterogeneous, complex, and ultimately alike than the peddlers of the clash of civilizations, the war on terror, and unending jihad would have us believe.

Furthermore, there is no one interpretation of "sharia law."
Also meaning "path" in Arabic, sharia guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. It is derived primarily from the Quran and the Sunna--the sayings, practices, and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Precedents and analogy applied by Muslim scholars are used to address new issues. The consensus of the Muslim community also plays a role in defining this theological manual.
Sharia developed several hundred years after the Prophet Mohammed's death in 632 CE as the Islamic empire expanded to the edge of North Africa in the West and to China in the East. Since the Prophet Mohammed was considered the most pious of all believers, his life and ways became a model for all other Muslims and were collected by scholars into what is known as the hadith. As each locality tried to reconcile local customs and Islam, hadith literature grew and developed into distinct schools of Islamic thought: the Sunni schools, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi; and the Shiite school, Ja'fari. Named after the scholars that inspired them, they differ in the weight each applies to the sources from which sharia is derived, the Quran, hadith, Islamic scholars, and consensus of the community. The Hanbali school, known for following the most Orthodox form of Islam, is embraced in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban. The Hanafi school, known for being the most liberal and the most focused on reason and analogy, is dominant among Sunnis in Central Asia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Turkey, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The Maliki school is dominant in North Africa and the Shafi'i school in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Yemen. Shia Muslims follow the Ja'fari school, most notably in Shia-dominant Iran. The distinctions have more impact on the legal systems in each country, however, than on individual Muslims, as many do not adhere to one school in their personal lives.

These days, there seem to be two major views on how to interpret sharia.
...Muslims agree that sharia is God's law, but there is little consensus on the particulars. To some, sharia is a set of rules that are codified and unchanging. To others, it's a collection of religious principles that shift over time.
Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University and spokesman of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America, describes Muslims as being divided into two camps: "Those who see sharia mandating that we live as Muslims did 1,300 years ago, and those who say sharia doesn't have a specific format as to how you live your life, that Islam gives you paradigms."
This question of how to define sharia has become a more urgent issue for Muslims around the world in recent decades as, according to some estimates, one-third of them live outside Muslim-majority countries for the first time in history. Conferences are held where scholars debate what it means for a government or a person to be "sharia-compliant."
Others say "sharia" refers to the specific words of the Koran (Muslims' holy book of God's revelation passed orally to the prophet Muhammad) as well as all the hadith, which are the actions and statements attributed to Muhammad that have been passed down, analyzed, interpreted (and sometimes tossed out) over the for centuries.
Many of the harshest, most controversial writings are in the hadith, such as those giving lower status to non-Muslims and mandates to stone adulterers (including a much-publicized stoning this month in Afghanistan, meted out by the Taliban). Muslims have debated their accuracy for centuries.
Another key source is fiqh, the collection of opinions scholars have written to determine how the will of God can be carried out in daily life. Some people include all fiqh as well when they refer to "sharia" or "Islamic law." 

So if we're going to talk about sharia law, we need to get specific with what we're dealing with...which leads us to debate at the heart of all of this:
  • What qualifies as "sharia"? 
  • How much of it is based on the authoritative Muslim texts (compared to indigenous customs and religious leader interpretations)?
  • How much of it is covered by the 1st Amendment?
  • Is not accommodating someone's personal interpretation of sharia a violation of the 1st Amendment? 
But Ali Khan, a law professor at Washburn University, sees a scenario where non-Muslims could be governed by Islamic law.
"Right now Islam is expanding in the United States," he says. "Now suppose that Muslims become a majority in a particular state; I think then the state laws would reflect Islamic law."
Khan notes that the heavily Muslim city of Dearborn, Mich., passed an ordinance that allows the call to prayer to be broadcast over loudspeakers. Khan believes that the rapid growth of American Islam means that more towns will enact laws friendly to the religion — such as banning alcohol or gambling. Of course, Christians have already done that in some cases by creating dry counties or passing blue laws that prohibit shopping on Sunday.
But religious accommodation can go only so far, says Clark Lombardi, a Shariah law expert at the University of Washington. Even if an entire state converted to a "Taliban-esque version of Islam," he says, the courts would not allow it to force women to wear veils, for example — that would violate their First Amendment rights.
"So we're not going to see hand chopping off, we're not going to see retaliatory violence, we're not going to see underage marriages, we're not going to see polygamous marriage," Lombardi says. "The U.S. court wouldn't do it. It's contrary to public policy, and they would refuse to apply that particular foreign law."

Of course, there are many laws on the books here based in Jewish, Christian and Mormon holy texts and traditions, and the Church and State battle has long been a part of American discourse.

But at the end of the day, the Constitution is the law of the land - no matter what religion the majority of Americans believe. Explictly banning anything related to "Islamic sharia dominance" would just be redundant.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Scientists Have Given Up On Explaining the Universe

Introducing "model-dependent realism"
Having declared that "philosophy is dead", the authors unwittingly develop a theory familiar to philosophers since the 1980s, namely "perspectivalism". This radical theory holds that there doesn't exist, even in principle, a single comprehensive theory of the universe. Instead, science offers many incomplete windows onto a common reality, one no more "true" than another. In the authors' hands this position bleeds into an alarming anti-realism: not only does science fail to provide a single description of reality, they say, there is no theory-independent reality at all. If either stance is correct, one shouldn't expect to find a final unifying theory like M-theory - only a bunch of separate and sometimes overlapping windows.

I get that measuring things we can't actually perceive is hard, but isn't it premature to declare "we'll never know how reality works?"

Nevermind the admission that we don't really understand what's going on around us - we can still make grand proclamations about the origins of the universe!
M-theory in either sense is far from complete. But that doesn't stop the authors from asserting that it explains the mysteries of existence: why there is something rather than nothing, why this set of laws and not another, and why we exist at all. According to Hawking, enough is known about M-theory to see that God is not needed to answer these questions. Instead, string theory points to the existence of a multiverse, and this multiverse coupled with anthropic reasoning will suffice. Personally, I am doubtful.

Let's just hope that someday quantum physics will advance beyond the "we have no fucking idea, but this concept sounds elegant" stage.

link round-up 9/17/10-9/18/10

Do one better than the multi-billion dollar US military-industrial complex and teach yourself Pashto. [via]

From a Pashto discussion forum:
Hard dialect: spoken in areas like Peshawar, Mardan, Swat, Malakand, Dir, Kohat, Paracinar, Jalalabad, Bajawar, Mohmand, Khyber,etc mainly in northern part of Pashto speaking areas. Here the pure Pashto words are pronounced as kh and g not sh and j if the 
The word for fine is pronounced as kha not sha. The word for beard is pronounced as gira not jira. 
Soft dialect:  Spoken in Kandahar and ares like Banu, Karak, Waziristan, Baluchistan, Paktya etc. Here the above sounds are pronounced as sh and g . Fine is sha here and beard is jira here.
I will try for your orientation of both the dialects or accents.THERE IS NOTHING TO DO SPECIAL .Often the symbol/ in this course denotes the difference of dialects. However it is not necessary to learn both the dialects as both are easily mutually intelligible. Accents of Qandahar and Peshawar or Mardan are the standard accents through out the world.
Remember that both the dialects are written in the same script . Thats why you see special Pashto letters for khe and ghe.
I wonder how many active duty soldiers in Afghanistan know this difference?

With Chicago's notorious history of corruption, what other global city offers a model to copy?
The problem with being a major global city is that it's hard to find mentors. If the "Big Daddy approach to city government doesn't work anymore" — to quote the headline of Greg Hinz's column — what approach does work, and where can Chicago go to study it? Nine years ago, Governingmagazine named Christchurch, New Zealand the best-run city in the world. Just last year,Maclean's magazine named Burnaby, British Columbia, the best-run city in Canada. Saskatoon was second. Toronto is often compared to Chicago and held up as a place Chicago can gainfully learn from, but according to Maclean's it is only the tenth-best run city in Canada.

Slate's investigation of the possible causes of the growing wealth gap in America 
Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have termed this midcentury era the "Great Compression." The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America's middle class.

The NDM-1 "Indian Superbug" has gone global
The news is not good. This new resistance factor has been found so far in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Oman, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. Most of the isolates, the bacterial samples in which it has been identified, are susceptible to only one or two remaining antibiotics. One was susceptible to none.
“These resistant bugs,” Dr. Patrice Nordmann, a professor of clinical microbiology at the South-Paris Medical School, said in a briefing here, “have already spread all over the world.”

Anti-Islam blog Jihad Watch has more daily visitors than top American conservative and liberal blogs


The Neoconservative and pro-Israel think tank ties to the Park51 movement and anti-Islam bloggers
It’s important to note this because the likes of Geller, Spencer and Horowitz present themselves as organic activists. Geller, for instance, describes herself as a mere blogger. It turns out she and the other organizers are more like professional activists, organizing the equivalent of what in American politics is called “astroturf”--manufactured grassroots--backed by powerful interest groups. Politico ’s story revealed that Horowitz has paid $460,000 a year and Spencer $140,000 a year for these “activist” groups. In other words, they are clearly full-time, dedicated rabble-rousers.

The Indian land-grab in Ethiopia (while the population still struggles for food)
In recent months, the impoverished and chronically food-insecure nation has become one of the world’s leading agribusiness destinations after the government leased for 40-99 years one of its hottest commodities: farmland. As a result, a host of countries from South and Southeast Asia and Latin America rushed in to seize the opportunity. An estimated 50 million acres have been leased by them in the past two years, in a mad rush partly driven by last year’s global food crisis.
“Some tensions stem from local resentment, because many foreign companies have acquired huge tracts of land and started plantations. And the locals are not liking it for a host of reasons,” quips Dipo Dave Ifabaye, an African journalist.Consider this. New Delhi, troubled by lack of farmland at home, is encouraging Indians to buy mega farms across Africa. Saudi Arabia has shifted its total wheat production to Africa. The pace of the scramble for land has alarmed policymakers. Unsurprisingly, locals aren’t too happy about this. In fact, even the United Nations (UN) agrees, deals are being signed with little public input, and local ministers promising just about anything But even the UN has little choice. Food is scarce in Africa, and Ethiopia recently asked for food aid for about six million people, as drought devastated East Africa.

Brazillian election highlights flaws in the country's economic and democratic structures
Even with the election of more progressive governments, the Brazilian government maintains its anti-popular character, without making changes that address the deeper structural problems of the country. How do you assess democracy and the State in Brazil?
First, there is a natural logic to how the accumulation and exploitation of capital overrides governments and laws. Second, in the neoliberal period, what capital has done was to privatize the state. That is, the State became the hostage of the bourgeoisie so that it would work only in function of its economic interests. And it scrapped the State in the areas of services for the entire population, such as education, health, public transport, housing etc..
For example, we have 16 million illiterates. To educate them would cost no more than about 10 billion reais (US$ 5.8 billion). It seems a lot - the state with all its legal apparatus prevents the money from being used - but this represents two weeks of interest payments that the state makes to banks. We build bridges and roads in weeks, but to solve the deficit of public housing is impossible? We still have 10 million homes needed for the people.

Friday, September 17, 2010

(belated) link round-up for 9/16/10

However, compared to all other global religions, Buddhism tends to be the one least associated with warfare, even while the Sri Lankan state, constitutionally bound to “foster and protect Buddhism,” was conducting a brutally efficient elimination campaign against Tamil insurgency, with the enthusiastic support of its Buddhist community. In fact, “Buddhist warfare” was not unknown to Western observers prior to this--the first works on Japan’s militant monks were published already in the late nineteenth century. The myth of “nonviolent Buddhism” persisted, however, owing much to the pacifist leanings of Western Buddhist converts who tended to “see no evil” in their adopted religion, as well as to the widespread tendency to apply “positive Orientalist” stereotypes to Tibet, often seen as a peaceful Shangri-La of sorts in the apologetic writings of Western supporters of its charismatic Fourteenth Dalai Lama.  

FiveBooks on understanding Pakistan
Cases of corruption and extra-regional assaults have certainly not deflated the mystique of political Islam given its powerful components such as resistance, sacrifice, utopianism, shared brotherhood and austerity. Following the dissolution of the communist regimes, it has been asserting its own space and here its various manifestations are falling beyond the orbit of simplistic and monolith definitions. Many Muslims, especially from amongst the modernists, have readily internalised simplistic and solely negative explanation of Political Islam, which, accordingly, becomes the bane of all the problems across the Muslim countries and communities. 

 Zawahri urges Turks and Pakistanis to rise up against their governments due to Afghanistan involvement
Zawahri, believed to be hiding in mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border, spoke in a 44-minute recording which appeared to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
"The primary concern of the ruling class in the government and army of Pakistan is filling their domestic and foreign bank accounts with dollars, and as far as they are concerned, Pakistan and its people can go to hell," he said.

The African-American Migration that Made America
Yet no immigrant group had as profound an impact on the U.S. in the hundred years following the Civil War as the millions of African Americans who fled to the North and West -- first in a trickle and swelling, in the years after World War I, to a roaring river of humanity. By the time this movement abated in the 1970s, more than half the South's black population had resettled outside the old Confederacy.
And, as Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson makes clear in her new, improbably page-turning account of that Great Migration, the black citizens who crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to reach their new homes bore many striking similarities to those who crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tit For Tat: Iran Funds Cuba, US Funds Saudi Arabia

Questions about the viability of Cuba's economy have also led to questions about the reliability of their economic statistics:
Officially—that is, according to the Cuban government statistics on which international bean counters rely—the Cuban economy has done relatively well. GDP rose in both 2008 and 2009, compared with U.S. contraction over the same period. The only European Union economy to fare better than Cuba last year was Poland, if you believe the government's numbers.

However, as the Slate article points out, these numbers might not to be too far off, partially due to all the Iranian investment Cuba has received  in recent years:
Cuba and Iran have pursued bilateral relations for some time, beginning in 2005 with a transportation investment program to aid Cuba’s failing transportation sector.  As part of this investment program, Iran sold 750 railway cars to Cuba in January 2008 under a $295 million loan to Cuba to finance imports from Iran.  In February 2008, Cuba and Iran inked their first agreement facilitating scientific and technological cooperation which focused on the biotechnology fields of medical and pharmaceutical development.  In June 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding reiterating their bilateral economic cooperation. 
Due in large part to the state-led economic cooperation agreements, trade between Cuba and Iran increased from $22.9 million in 2007 to $46.4 in 2008.  In September 2009, Cuba put into effect a bilateral trade agreement signed by Cuba and Iran in 2007.  The accord planned to increase trade between the two countries by decreasing tariffs on Iranian goods imported into Cuba by between 10 and 30 percent on 88 different products including textiles, industrial machinery and furniture.

On the other hand, this Cuban-Iranian economic cooperation pales in comparison to the $60 billion of weaponry the Obama administration wants to sell to Saudi Arabia.
The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters." What are these for? Not to defend against Iraq, as they might have been "during the Saddam Hussein years." Nor would it make sense for the Saudis to be "contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well." He thinks, instead, they're "arming as a regional rival to Iran--not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant.

On the surface, the "you back-up my enemy in my backyard, I'll back-up your enemy in your backyard" logic makes sense. But then there's the Saud family succession politics to factor in...
Abdullah could be replaced by his designated successor and half-brother Crown Prince Sultan, who is also in his 80s and ill, and then by Prince Nayef, the most rigid and anti-Western of the heirs to Ibn Sa’ud, founder of the modern Saudi state. 
Nayef, who is in his late 70s, is the protector of the Wahhabi clerics and was the first Saudi leader to declare that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy.  In such hands, American-provided arms could, by the law of unintended consequences, end up turned in a more dangerous direction. 
The long-term regional consequences of a well-armed Saudi Arabia in region depend entirely of the mood of the rulers (and if the House of Saud doesn't get overthrown), so a regime unfriendly to Israel and the United States would complicate both country's interests, and make regional politics messy.

After all, a bolstered Saudi Arabian military will continue to fuel tensions with other Muslim states vying for regional power. And there are plenty of existing divides in the Muslim world.

Clearly, the US-Saudi deal will have huge consequences in the region if it actually goes through. But the future impact of economic relations between Iran and Cuba? That depends on who takes over after the Castro brothers and what they believe.

So really, you could say that the future world geopolitical alignment depends on when a bunch of powerful 80-something-year-old men die, and who the replacements are.

link round-up 9/15/10

France bans burqas
The vote—passed primarily by the center-right party of President Nicolas Sarkozy, with most opposition Socialist Party lawmakers abstaining—came as a number of European countries are trying to figure out how to reconcile the values of modern Europe with more assertive expressions of Islamic faith.
Switzerland, for example, banned the construction of minarets after a referendum last year. Belgium and Spain are discussing measures to outlaw similar full-body cloaks. In Sweden, long known as one of Europe's most tolerant societies, an anti-immigration party that has called for Swedish Muslims to integrate more is expected to win its first Parliamentary seat in this weekend's elections.

"Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" cartoonist changes name, goes into hiding
Norris views the situation with her customary sense of the world's complexity, and absurdity. When FBI agents, on a recent visit, instructed her to always keep watch for anyone following her, she responded, "Well, at least it'll keep me from being so self-involved!" It was, she says, the first time the agents managed a smile. She likens the situation to cancer—it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.

Young Chinese mistrust the government

At first glance, the Chinese government appears to enjoy very high public trust: A series of surveys by international scholars over the past decade suggest that at least 70 percent of ordinary citizens express confidence in the government and ruling Communist Party – a level that Western rulers can only dream of.


But a new study from the independent Unirule Institute of Economics found that Chinese under age 25 are consistently more dubious of the authorities than their elders.

Mistrust also appears to run more deeply among the most wealthy, urban, and educated citizens here. "These are the groups of the future," says Shan Wei, an analyst with the East Asian Institute at the National Uni ver sity of Singapore. "The authorities are going to be facing stronger and stronger challenges from the population."

DIY culture bringing creativity and excitement back to educating kids
When a kid builds a model rocket, or a kite, or a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics, and chemistry along the way, she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her. But since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test, schools no longer focus on them. As our public educational institutions continue down this grim road, they’ll lose value as places of learning. That may seem like a shame, but to the members of the growing DIY schooling movement, it’s an irresistible opportunity to roll up their sleeves.

Mexican religious ritual causes fish to evolve toxic immunity
In lab experiments they compared molly fish from the ritual cave to others from an area upstream that had never swam in poisoned water, and found that the cave fish had a much higher tolerance for the Barbasco toxin.

Mars and Hershey compete to crack Cacao genome
While the scientists are just beginning to analyze the genome, understanding the tree’s innermost workings could lead to breeding programs for drought- or disease-resistant varieties, or even for trees that produce tastier or healthier cocoa. The consortium has put the data online at the Cacao Genome Database for use by any and all.

Spanish documentary on North Korea (via)

*Worth watching for the video footage alone.

The pro-public art, pro-environment, pro-public transportation mayor of a town in central Indiana

So how does central Indiana compete? We can compete by creating cities that are beautiful, sustainable cities with good public education. It’s important to remember that one of the things that’s distinguished America from every other country all over the earth is that we were the first to provide free public education. Maintaining that system is absolutely key to making cities successful.
From an economic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for a city to invest in the arts. For every dollar of investment, six to eight dollars are returned to the taxpayer.
Last fall, a Kennedy School study at Harvard showed the average household in the U.S. drives 104 miles a day. That’s not sustainable from a lot of aspects. But it’s particularly not sustainable from a city financial standpoint because we’re building all these roads and maintaining these roads.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

link round-up 9/14/10

IMF fears "social explosion" from global job losses
The study cited evidence that victims of recession in their early twenties suffer lifetime damage and lose faith in public institutions. A new twist is an apparent decline in the "employment intensity of growth" as rebounding output requires fewer extra workers. As such, it may be hard to re-absorb those laid off even if recovery gathers pace. The world must create 45m jobs a year for the next decade just to tread water.
Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist, said the percentage of workers laid off for long stints has been rising with each downturn for decades but the figures have surged this time.
"Long-term unemployment is alarmingly high: in the US, half the unemployed have been out of work for over six months, something we have not seen since the Great Depression," he said.

3D Printing? More real than you think.
A 3-D printer, which has nothing to do with paper printers, creates an object by stacking one layer of material — typically plastic or metal — on top of another, much the same way a pastry chef makes baklava with sheets of phyllo dough.
The technology has been radically transformed from its origins as a tool used by manufacturers and designers to build prototypes.
These days it is giving rise to a string of never-before-possible businesses that are selling iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. And while some wonder how successfully the technology will make the transition from manufacturing applications to producing consumer goods, its use is exploding.
Black Americans hit hardest by recession and unemployment 

Iran believes oil market over-supplied, world believes Iran imports much of its oil
Last week Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi was reported as saying Iran had already become self-sufficient in gasoline, something traders outside Iran said they thought was unlikely. 
Conservative daily Resalat reported Monday that Iran had imported over 1.64 million tons of gasoline over the last month. 
Over the last five months it had bought more than 3 million tons from 10 different countries: the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Oman, Saudi Arabia, India, Russia and France, it said. 
Reuters reported in August that Iran had been paying a premium of around 25 percent for its imports even before US-led sanctions took full effect. 

Minority Report has almost become real in Memphis, TN 
Using the past to predict where crimes are going to happen in the future, it's the idea behind heat-mapping, a new part of the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush. Before the crimes happen, MPD puts officers on the streets in hot spots to try to prevent them from happening. 
Crime mapping has been around for a while, but Memphis Police are taking it's precision to a whole new level and putting it to work. So far, they say they've seen big results. 
“We're operating on the theory that the past is the best predictor of the future,” said John Harvey with the MPD’s Real Time Crime Center.

What does a "Jewish State" mean?

Then there is the question of the Law of Return. In any formulation, I believe it is absolutely crucial that Israel guarantee, in its constitution, that any Jew and all Jews who are facing discrimination as Jews should be guaranteed asylum and the right to immigrate to Israel. And there should be immigration processes and standards for everyone else, as in any country, as well as special consideration for the families of any Israeli citizen, regardless of ethnicity.
But there is no reason that any Jew should be able to automatically claim a pre-existing citizenship. This undermines Israel’s existence as a state of its citizens, and while Jews should feel Israel is their homeland and Diaspora Jews will inevitably feel a connection to the state, Israel needs to be, at this point, a state of its citizens.
By the same token, while I think any resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict has to acknowledge Israel’s major role in creating the Palestinian refugee problem, the argument that the Jewish Law of Return implies that Palestinian refugees should return behind the Green Line doesn’t fit, and, in any case, would make a peace deal impossible.

The Venture Capitalists Influencing Obama's Energy Policy (and Spending)
The Silicon Valley venture world is still an elite club. Many times companies receive investments because, frankly, the founder has a personal relationship with the investor. Has that mentality carried over to the federal funds?
The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, recently found that the DOE has treated some companies unfairly in their bids to receive loan guarantees and risked excluding some potential applicants unnecessarily. In particular the GAO found that the DOE approved conditional awards to at least half of the first 10 winning companies before all of the project reviews had been completed.
In one case the GAO found that the DOE didn't bother to get a single report from an external reviewer about a specific (unnamed) project before fast tracking it for a loan guarantee. The DOE responded that the project in question was on the fast track because the department already had enough information that the project made solid business sense. But from the GAO's perspective, "It is unclear how the DOE could have sufficient information to negotiate commitment without such reviews."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

link round-up 9/12/10

Lighthearted gay jokes sell Coca-Cola in Egypt (via)

Proposed Turkish Constitutional revision pits Secularism vs. Islam

Has porn hijacked the sexuality of American culture?
What's interesting is that pornography is actually in a mess because they don't know what else to do, the pornographers. They've gone about as hardcore and as cruel as they can. They've done everything to women's bodies short of killing her. So the question is what can they do next to keep an increasingly desensitized audience interested?
...In an interesting way, pornography seems to almost be a metaphor for capitalism in general, right? Basically unchecked some point there's a limit, at some point you hit a wall, and you can't grow any more, you can't go any further because you've gone as far as you can.
Japanese simulated rape video game goes viral
The game allows you to even impregnate a girl and urge her to have an abortion. The reason behind your assault, explains the game, is that the teenage girl has accused you of molesting her on the train. The motive is revenge.
It is little wonder that the game, titled RapeLay, sparked international outrage from women's groups. Taina Bien-Aime helped yank the game off store shelves worldwide.
Asian women have the highest abortion rates in the United States  (via)

The unlikely match-up of an army chaplain and his atheist military bodyguard in Afghanistan (via)
Navy Chaplain Terry Moran is steeped in the Bible and believes all of it. His assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Philip Chute, is steeped in the Bible and having none of it.

Together they roam this town in Taliban country, comforting the grunts while crossing swords with each other over everything from the power of angels to the wisdom of standing in clear view of enemy snipers. Lt. Moran, 48 years old, preaches about divine protection while 25-year-old RP2 Chute covers the chaplain's back and wishes he were more attentive to the dangers of the here and now.
China's deep-sea submarine ambitions
The global seabed is littered with what experts say is trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral nodules as well as many objects of intelligence value: undersea cables carrying diplomatic communications, lost nuclear arms, sunken submarines and hundreds of warheads left over from missile tests.
While a single small craft cannot reel in all these treasures, it does put China in an excellent position to go after them.
“They’re in it for a penny and a pound,” said Don Walsh, a pioneer of deep-ocean diving who recently visited the submersible and its makers in China. “It’s a very deliberate program.”
Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.
 German nationalism back on the rise

Nuclear park in Jaitapur, India provokes local resistance (via)

Documentary on the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor

As always, you can get daily link updates at the Culture Bore Twitter feed (displaying on the left of your screen) or Facebook page.

Language Interpretation is a Sad Joke In US National Security

As covered before on this blog, the US Military still has trouble with translation services in Afghanistan, as it has just come out that 1/4 of Afghan translators can't pass proficiency tests.
"There are many cases where soldiers have gone out into the field and have spoken to elders [who] handed messages to the interpreter that a possible ambush three miles up the road would occur. The interpreter cannot read the message and they are attacked," Funk said. "We're talking about soldiers lives here."
Marc Peltier, MEP's chief operating officer, said in an interview with ABC News that he had "no reports from the field" of translators who could not communicate in Dari or Pashto, and said the company has received "100 percent outstanding" ratings from the Army and shared a copy of what he said was an internal company survey that showed 82 percent of its customers were satisfied with the performance of its translators. An attorney accompanying Peltier to the interview said the company would answer Funk's allegations in court, and not in the media.
Also worth noting is this Economist interview with journalist Lawrence Wright where he mentions the number of Arabic-speakers in the FBI.
Our intelligence community was extremely poorly prepared before 9/11. Since then it hasn’t done a good job of hiring the kind of people who speak and understand the languages and cultures of that region. One of the heroes of my book and my film, Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who came closer than anyone at stopping 9/11, was one of eight Arabic-speaking agents at the FBI on 9/11. Now there are nine.
A language spoken by millions of people in dozens of countries, as well as all the major Islamic terrorist groups (in Islam, the only true version of the Koran* is in Arabic)...and yet the FBI has all of nine people with security clearances who can understand it. Brilliant national security strategy, right there.

Finally, the Drug Enforcement Administration is looking for an Ebonics speaker.
And Ebonics is no longer spoken only by African-Americans, Sanders said, referring to it as "urban language" or "street language." He said he is aware of investigations in recent years in which it was spoken by African-Americans, Latinos and white people. "It crosses over geographic, racial and ethnic backgrounds," he said.
"[African-American English] is linguistic defiance being reinforced by hip-hop," said professor John Baugh, who leads the public relations committee of the Linguistic Society of America.
The DEA's recruiting "has it half right," Baugh said.
Although having translation help is a good law enforcement tool, Baugh said, the term "Ebonics" may be counterproductive because "the social positions of speakers have been the object of ridicule."
US Government branches being embarrassingly bad at translating Pashto and Arabic is one thing...but a government agency really needs a translator for an American version of English spoken by millions of people?

It's a wonder our military-industrial-security complex accomplishes anything at all.

(via Language Log)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

link round-up 9/11/10

How Mass Burning of 7th Century Korans Codified Islam

Thai Workers In Malaysia Funding Islamic Insurgents

The Truth About Honor Killings - Robert Fisk

Spain, Bolivia, Iraq, and the Fallacy of the Nation-State

Controversy of Japanese Magna-Inspired Artist Showcase in the Palace of Versailles

As always, you can get daily link updates at the Culture Bore Twitter feed (displaying on the left of your screen) or Facebook page.

How The Mass Burning of 7th Century Korans Codified Islam

A Florida pastor threatening to burn Korans has caused worldwide controversy, including calls for the pastor's arrest, concerns about American safety at home and abroad, a man burning pages of the Koran near Ground Zero, and even riots in Afghanistan.

Ironically, burning early copies of the Koran may have created the Koran as we know it today.
The great scholar of early Islam, Leone Caetani (1869-1935), published an essay in The Muslim World Vol. 5, 1915, pp. 380-390, (reproduced in, Ibn Warraq,The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus Books, 1998, pp.67-75; extracts from pp. 69,74) entitled, “Uthman and the Rescension of the Koran,” which included these confirmatory observations about the rationale for assiduously gathering and burning essentially of the extant Korans in 650/51 A.D. Caetani’s observations emphasize how Uthman’s actions, which tacitly acknowledge the existence of Koranic “variants,” and suggest a very human origin of the text, were motivated by a desire to enforce the dogma of the Koran being uncreated, unchanging, the eternal word of Allah—a belief which persists amongst the Muslim masses to this day.
The official canonical redaction undertaken at Uthman’s command, was due to the uncertainty which reigned in reference to the text. It is clear that in 30 A.H. (650/51 A.D.) no official redaction existed. [Islamic] Tradition itself [i.e., the hadith, Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510, above] admits that there were various “schools,” one in Iraq, one in Syria, one in al-Basrah, besides others in smaller places, and then, exaggerating in an orthodox sense this scandal, tries to make out that the divergences were wholly immaterial; but such affirmations accord ill with the opposition excited by the caliph’s act in al-Kufah. The official version must have contained somewhat serious modifications…
Uthman ordered the compilation of a single official text of the Koran, and the violent suppression, the destruction by fire of all the other copies existing in the provinces…It should be added that even if all existing copies of the Koran could not be traced to Uthman’s official copy, anyone who cast aspersions on Uthman’s action would be liable to the charge of raising doubts about the foundation of all Islam, for the Islamic world from one end to the other lives in the conviction that the text existing today represents the true, eternal, immutable word of God.
In addition, the hadiths - being second to only the Koran in terms of Islamic authority - provide historical context and clarification to Muhammad's words and actions. One of the six recognized hadiths, the Sahih Bukhari Ahadith, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509 explains how the Koran came to be written down:
Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." 
I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. "Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized." Then Abu Bakr said (to me). 'You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book." By Allah If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. 
Then I said to Abu Bakr, "How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Abu Bakr replied, "By Allah, it is a good project." Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. 
So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. 
So we almost didn't end up with a written Koran, because most of the people who memorized it were killed in battle. But we did get it because a couple influential guys thought compiling the Koran before everyone forgot it would be a good idea and then goaded someone into doing it.

And thus, we see in Number 510, compiling these memorized "recitations" did occur to create the "perfect" version of what Muhammad said.
Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before." So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 
'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.
But why were there already multiple versions of the Koran, barely a century into the existence of the religion? Apparently, Muhammad taught seven different versions of "the Koran."

I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper, and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, "Who taught you this Sura which I heard you reciting?" He replied, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You have told a lie, for Allah's Apostle has taught it to me in a different way from yours." So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said (to Allah's Apostle),
"I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!" On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him, (O 'Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way," and added, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you)."
Obviously, telling different people to memorize different words and saying only what they heard is the "true" version is going to cause some confusion.

But this begs following questions:

1. As originally brought up in Number 509, if Muhammad's words were in fact the revealed word of Allah, and Muhammad never commanded anyone to write the words down, did anyone really have any authority to compile and decide what Muhammad did and didn't really say?

2. If there were actually seven versions of the Koran, does that mean seven versions of different Suras, or seven versions with slightly different details?

3. Were these versions among the fragments and whole copies collected and burned?

4. Did Caliph Uthman, then, commit the ultimate, "anti-Islamic sin" currently being condemned by Muslims  worldwide by burning words of Allah, revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel?

If that's the case, then historical amnesia played a joke on all of us this week.

(via Andrew Bostom)

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