Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Allah Sends New Anti-Danish Message, This Time in Bovine Form

Nearly 20,000 Egyptians converged on the village of Tunis in southern Egypt’s Sohag Province to witness a newborn calf said to have two heads and the words “No God But God” apparent on his hide. The crowds mobbed the home of Mumid Abu Dhaif where the ‘miracle’ occurred, according to an AFP story carried on Elaph today. It was a ‘sign’ interpreted by many onlookers as a divine rebuke from Allah against those who had recently mocked the Prophet Muhammad; demonstrating that Allah continues to provide round-the-clock commentary on the Danish cartoons.

Egyptian police moved in to provide crowd control, and it was not known if the two-headed calf marked with divine graffiti is still alive.

But what if God is sending an altogether different message this time? Unlike 'Oscar' the Prophetic Fish, there was no mention of Muhammad on ‘MooMoo’—a name coined by the sensationalist media machine for the two-headed yet adorable beast (okay, so I made it up). And by choosing a calf in the land of Egypt, is God trying to make a more specific point? Is this a giant put-down directed against Moses for throwing a hissy fit when he found his wandering nation worshipping a Gold Calf in Sinai? Does this mean that Jews should revert to Sacred Bovinity?

And guess who is going to have a field day with this…the Hindus. Sure, everyone finds it a hoot that India’s road traffic grinds to a halt whenever an ambling ox takes a mid-highway breather, but who’s laughing now? Huh?

But it’s not only Egyptian peasants making fools out of themselves, this picture below that I got today as part of a mass e-mail titled “Almighty Allah Destroys a Road in Denmark” is an example of how western-educated Middle Eastern professionals residing in places like Canada, and who are sending it around, can also become total idiots when dealing with this whole cartoon business.

I think this malady was best captured in a piece by Eli Lake reporting from Cairo, and published yesterday in the NYSun:

February 13, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

A Small Victory in a Losing War


February 13, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/27495

CAIRO, Egypt - A sign on the entrance to the Alfa Market in Zamalek boasts "All Danish products have been removed from our displays." The island of Zamalek, with its grand apartment buildings, embassies and bars, is a refuge for secular elites. Its cafes are popular among teenagers because they can hold hands in public without risking intervention from pious onlookers. But even Zamalek, even the Alfa Market - with its gleaming shelves of goods only those earning western salaries can afford - is not immune to the poison of Islamism.

This ought to alarm us. The outrage over the 12 Danish cartoons in Cairo is not a temper tantrum among fringe ideologues or uneducated workers manipulated by state-run newspapers and opportunist television sheiks. The affair has tapped a vein among the educated classes, the very people we hope would be our front lines in a fight for a tolerant modern society.

The primary means of spreading the distortions over the cartoons has been the cellular telephone text message, the preferred mode of communication for Cairo's middle class. Many of the messages, which appear coordinated, say the Danish government has organized parties to burn the Koran, that Copenhagen publishers are now planning to reprint the Muslim holy book with edits and new additions. The deputy chief of mission for the Danish embassy here, Christian Gronbech-Jensen, says that the text messages are providing the worst source of disinformation his embassy, now guarded by riot police 24 hours a day, must counter. But because of the nature of the medium and the fact that cell phones are now disposable, no one knows from where these messages originate.

Mr. Gronbech-Jensen says he has taken to telling Arab diplomats in his conversations of an antiquated Danish blasphemy law that is being invoked by local Muslim groups against Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that commissioned the 12 cartoons. He has had to answer questions about what his government would do if someone in Denmark were to burn a Koran. "We cannot promise people that no one in Denmark would ever burn the Koran. But we try to explain that anyone who does this will be dealt with by the law," he said referring to his country's laws prohibiting hate speech.

The rise of Islamism among Cairo's lawyers, journalists, doctors and accountants is sometimes called the Amr Khaled effect, after an imam whose television show on the Iqra satellite network instructs Egypt's middle class how to be better Muslims. He stresses his show is "not political," but in many ways it is. A few years ago he urged his well-heeled followers to start calling Valentine's Day, "Mohammed Day." And so it was. The shops of Zamalek began phasing out cards and gifts referencing Cupid on the Hallmark holiday invented to celebrate romantic love.

But the Amr Khaled effect has been a long time coming. In November I asked the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's politburo what he considered to be the organization's greatest accomplishment in the last 30 years. I expected him to say it was the victory for the party in the Egyptian parliamentary elections where, despite widespread cheating and intimidation by the state party, the brothers managed to increase their voting bloc six-fold.

But Mr. Habib surprised me. For him the real accomplishment was the rise in membership in his organization among the higher strata of the police state. After Anwar Sadat allowed the brothers to organize openly in universities, a whole generation of devout theocracy supporters joined Egypt's bureaucracy and professional associations. "We have brothers everywhere now," the former geology professor said. If only this was frivolous boasting. The president of the student union at the American University of Cairo - an institution that only the wealthiest Egyptians can afford - is a member of the brothers.

In the last month the forces of Islamism have felt empowered. Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon, Hamas destroyed Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections last month, and now this: embassies burned in Damascus and Beirut. A member of the brothers who deals often with the press, Abdel elRahman Sarwat, said that while he did not approve of the violence, he thought the boycott and the protests have been effective. "The paper has apologized and the government has apologized. More people are learning about Islam now. Did you know that more than 50 people joined Islam in Denmark after reading about this?" he said. Mr. Sarwat, who speaks fluent English and understands press relations better than anyone I've met here, added, "We want to protect the prophet with our freedom. We believe in free speech and a free press, but this does not give you the right to hurt me by hurting the prophet."

Back at the Alfa Market I checked for the royal blue boxes of Danish butter cookies I like. I found they had been replaced with knock offs made in Egypt, but behind a row I found one of the genuine articles that had escaped the purge. A small victory in a war we are losing.

February 13, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >


Blogger AngloGermanicAmerican said...

The irony, or at least a significant irony, for me in all of this, given my own religious beliefs, is that underlying the proscription against making a graven image, or “idolatry”, is to prevent man from making his own gods. I view, for example, Pat Robertson’s “interpretation” of God’s will, God’s mood, His pleasure or displeasure, based upon natural or unnatural disasters as a form of idolatry. He is making an “idol”, he’s putting God in a box for all to see, and he is naming the One who when asked, simply said, “I am.” To my ears, all of this sounds like the clashing of golden horns.

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