Syrian Cyber-Dissident Arrested

Via Reporters sans frontières:
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Zoro, who regularly posts material on foreign-based opposition websites. It noted that two other people were in prison in Syria for posting similar material. It said the state security service, whose agents arrested Zoro on 5 April 2007 in Damascus, were "as always, acting quite illegally" and his family had not been told why he was picked up or where he was being held. "It is more like a kidnapping than an arrest," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Zoro, who belongs to Syria's Kurdish minority, was helping to organise a seminar called "The Philosophy of Lies." He has posted many articles in Arabic on websites such as the blog Tharway and Mengos. Zoro, 47, has already spent seven years in prison, from 1987 to 1994, for belonging to the Syrian Communist Party. He is a member of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights in Syria. Journalist Muhened Abdulrahman and writer Habib Saleh are also in prison in Syria for posting material online.
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Liberation through shopping

Ever since I read this New York Times article a few days back about the identitarian fashion issues of Muslim American women I've been trying to figure out exactly what bothers me about it. It's not just the article's utter naiveté (the New York Times discovers that Muslim women--even veiled ones--care about fashion!) or the trite dichotomies it sets up. Here's the lead, for example:
For Aysha Hussain, getting dressed each day is a fraught negotiation. Ms. Hussain, a 24-year-old magazine writer in New York, is devoted to her pipe-stem Levi’s and determined to incorporate their brash modernity into her wardrobe while adhering to the tenets of her Muslim faith.
(Wow, get it? Pipe-stem Levi's = "brash modernity." Muslim faith = the opposite.) And it's not just that it seems to be trying to turn a pretty mundane observation (what a Muslim woman chooses to wear “is a critical part of her identity," says one interviewee) into a sociological phenomenon that is unique to Muslim women. It's mostly the way the article seems to subscribe to a "liberation through shopping" theory. The title is "We, Myself and I." Presumably, in the outfits of the Muslim women interviewed, the "we" is exemplified by the veil and the modest long sleeves, and the "myself" by the brash, modern touches of Western coutoure. Theres' no questioning of the assumption that fashion and consumerism do anything but allow the individual woman to express herself.
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playing catch up

The beating that John McCain continues to take over his assertion that Petraeus goes out everyday in an “unarmed Humvee� and that Americans can stroll about downtown Baghdad in shirt sleeves might be old news now, but it still has entertainment value. “I think you ought to catch up� McCain told Wolf Blitzer when he got home. These days it looks like it's McCain, trailing two unelectable competitors for the Republican nomination, who needs to do some catching up. Michael Ware is denying, sort of, the Drudgereport story that he laughed at McCain and heckled him during the Green Zone press conference in which he made the original comments. CNN hasn’t released the tape of the conference yet, but note two things. First, that a CNN story later mentioned that McCain "became testy when pressed." And secondly, that Ware only denies misbehaviour during the conference, and neatly rules out speaking about what happened after the conference "abruptly ended." There’s also an video here of McCain getting smacked around on CNN the day after he talked to Blitzer, though, and a transcript here of CBS’s Allen Pizzey referring to his comments as “utter rubbish� (and the rest of the interview is worth a scan as well).
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Poor Jeanne

Half way through the Presidential campaigns, another French champion national is threatened by foreign powers. A study has found out that relics attributed to Jeanne d'Arc are actually bones of an Egyptian mummy.
The charred bones that were long believed to be remains of St. Joan of Arc don't belong to the French heroine but are instead the remains of an Egyptian mummy, a new study has shown. Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at the Raymond Poincaré Hospital in Paris, France, obtained permission last year to study the relics from the church in Normandy where they are housed. The relics were said to have been retrieved from the French site where Joan was burned at the stake in 1431. Charlier's team studied the relics—including a fragment of cloth and a human rib—under the microscope and subjected them to chemical tests. Close inspection of the human rib showed that it had not been burned but may have been heated to create a blackened crust on the surface, Charlier said. Meanwhile the fragment of linen cloth had a coating characteristic of mummy wrappings and contained large amounts of pine pollen. "Pine resin was widely used in Egypt during embalming," Charlier explained, adding that pine trees did not grow in Normandy during Joan of Arc's time.
Zahi, could you please comment on smell artists from the French perfume industry also being used to find this out. (Where do pine trees grow today in Egypt?)
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Venice and the Middle East

Yesterday I went to the Met to see this exhibit on "Venice and the Islamic World." While not perfect, the show was facinating. Did you know the first Koran was printed in Venice in 1537? Or that Venetians learned the art of glass-blowing from the Arab world, Syria in particular? There are many examples throughout the exhibition of the ways in which craftsmen in Venice and Muslim countries imitated each other's work, competed, and at times produced strikingly similar objects. There are also examples of the kinds of luxury items (and I mean LUXURY: we're talking robes embroidered with gold, linen boxes made of crystal) that Venetians traders brought to and from the Middle East. It was impossible not to think of these by-gone trade routes as terribly romantic and surprisingly cosmopolitan--the show reminded me of Amitav Gosh's "In An Antique Land," a wonderful book that partly traces Gosh's research into the Indian Ocean trade and into a family of Arab Jewish merchants who lived between Tunisia, Egypt and India (it also gives a wonderful portrait of Gosh's life in a small Egyptian village). And although there wasn't nearly enough Venetian painting in the show, the canvases, illuminated manuscripts and portraits (many Sultans commissioned Venetian painters to portray them), also reminded me of Orhan Pamuk's "My Name is Red," a great novel that deals with the crisis in the world of Ottoman miniaturists provoked by the encounter with Renaissance painting.
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Betrayed

I've been meaning to signal George Packer's article "Betrayed" in the New Yorker from 2 weeks ago. I know the issue has been out for a while now, but this article is the definition of a must-read. Everything about it, including the accompanying photographs, is stellar reporting. Packer tells the stories of different Iraqis working for the US forces in Baghdad and through these stories captures the nuances of the relationship between Americans and Iraqis and many of the reasons the occupation has been a failure. He also justly indicts those American politicians (including most Democratic presidential candidates) who are currently perfecting the "blame-the-Iraqis-for-not-getting-their-own-occupation-right" argument for withdrawal. On top of everything else, this unwillingless to take any moral responsibility for what we've done in Iraq and for the lives of Iraqis who believed in our "liberation" rhetoric is shocking.
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Fire in Sayyeda, again

The same black, thick smoke again, as just ten days ago. Not having checked the source of the smoke, I'm assuming it's houses burning again. This will serve as another argument to those who claim that the government uses the fires to pursue its relocation plans for parts of Sayyeda Zeinab. But I remember Masr el Youm running a full-page report on the dangerous trade in gaz bottles, which is scandalously unregulated. Update: The smoke is already gone; maybe someone just made use of the holiday to get rid of some waste?
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Fatah building new "Special Force" - with Egypt's help

This is Palestine under Fatah: it doesn't have a real state, doesn't give proper support for military operations against the occupation, but still builds the elaborate domestic security infrastructure of the classic Arab national security state.
Fatah training new force in Egypt for renewed infighting By Avi Issacharoff Fatah has established a new security apparatus in the Gaza Strip and is recruiting thousands of militants in preparation for another round of violent clashes with Hamas. So far the organization - known as the Special Force - has recruited 1,400 combatants, a thousand of which have undergone military training. Fatah intends to recruit an addition of at least 1,000 men to the organization, loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The organization is headed by Sami Abu Samhadana, a notable operative in the first intifada. Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the new recruitment effort was initiated some six weeks ago. According to the sources, officers from Palestinian General Intelligence service and the National Security Force were assigned to the ranks of the new organization. They added that the organization is designed to function as an intervention force in case of a second conflagration of hostilities in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Fatah. The sources, loyal to Fatah, add that the cease-fire between the two rival factions is regarded as a temporary arrangement, to be terminated as soon as Hamas "perceives itself strong enough to overtake Fatah militarily." Therefore, the sources say, the Special Fatah Force along with Abbas' Presidential Guard will have an important role in deterring Hamas from resuming hostilities.
More likely that the Special Force will be used to attempt to crush Hamas when Dahlan feels ready to do so. Also intriguing is Egypt's role in all this:
Palestinian sources say some 350 combatants from the Special Force were sent to Egypt at the beginning of March to participate in a training course under the tutelage of officers from the Palestinian Authority and Egyptian army. The combatants of the Special Force training in Egypt were joined by several hundred soldiers of the Presidential Guard. Other soldiers of the Guard are currently training within the PA, in Gaza and in Jericho, where 500 new Presidential Guard recruits have only recently completed their training program. The sources say both the Special Force and the Presidential Guard are exercising strict discretion in accepting new recruits. "Anyone with any sort of affiliation to Islamist groups will not be accepted," they say. Sources add that Hamas is well aware of the mass recruiting and training in organizations loyal to Fatah, and that senior Hamas figures are pressing to militarily engage Fatah as soon as possible. They fear Dahlan and Abbas' military force would greatly surpass Hamas' forces in several months' time, the sources explain.
Fantastic.
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Pyramids built from inside out?

A new theory on how the Pyramids were built:
A French architect says he has cracked a 4,500-year-old mystery surrounding Egypt's Great Pyramid, saying it was built from the inside out. Previous theories have suggested the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu was built using either a vast frontal ramp or a ramp in a corkscrew shape around the exterior to haul up the stonework. But flouting previous wisdom, Jean-Pierre Houdin said advanced 3D technology had shown the main ramp which was used to haul the massive stones to the apex was contained 10-15 metres beneath the outer skin, tracing a pyramid within a pyramid.
I still think it was aliens. But look at how they want to prove the theory:
Now, an international team is being assembled to probe the pyramid using radars and heat detecting cameras supplied by a French defence firm, as long as Egyptian authorities agree.
What, using high-tech defense equipment on the national treasures? I suspect Zahi would say no unless he gets to do the Discovery Channel special about it, and Hosni will say no unless he gets to keep the high-tech gadgets.
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