2007-04-30

Requiem for Sandmonkey

I'm still in shock. I'm still in denial, and I'm thinking, "No, he doesn't mean it." Or, "This isn't happening, it's all just a bad dream." But reality is pretty stubborn. And there, sitting right in the middle of my screen right now, are the following words:
Done

Today is going to be the day that I've been dreading for quite sometime now. Today is the day I walk away from this blog. Done. Finished. ...

Sandmonkey is quitting. This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for the blogosphere. So we have to ask: Why?
One of the chief reasons is the fact that there has been too much heat around me lately. I no longer believe that my anonymity is kept, especially with State Secuirty agents lurking around my street and asking questions about me since that day. I ignore that, the same way I ignored all the clicking noises that my phones started to exhibit all of a sudden, or the law suit filed by Judge Mourad on my friends, and instead grew bolder and more reckless at a time where everybody else started being more cautious. It took me a while to take note of the fear that has been gripping our little blogsphere and comprehend what it really means. The prospects for improvment, to put it slightly, look pretty grim. I was the model of caution, and believing in my invincipility by managing not to get arrested for the past 2 and a half years, I've grown reckless.

There's more:
One has to wonder at some point the futulity of being a keyboard warrior in a country where nothing seems to matter to its people anymore. At the same time, there has been those amongst us who have loved the fame and the attention, and are now becoming the egyptian blogsphere's equivelant of Paris Hilton: They are famous for being famous, peddling the same stories and not really presenting anything of value to the debate. And then there is the fact that we are entering the "Iconogrphy" phase : We are becoming Icons. Too much Media attention, too many american organizations claiming to champion our causes while they are cashing out in donation from people gullible enough to believe them, too much hype generated by us and others, so many of us tooting our own horns and even crying wolf at times has made Icons of us. ...

Go read the rest at the link. And if you have a moment, go to the Sandmonkey index and peruse (or download!) his archives.

Here's Kat at The Middle Ground:
Sand Monkey was one of the first proponents of Democracy that I read in any other country besides the brothers at Iraq the Model. He was funny, snarky and serious all at once. He was pro-democracy, pro-American, and, though he would be categorized as "conservative" by current American politics, he is one of the most liberal Egyptians that I know.

His conversations with his NDP mother were priceless. Blogging about taxi rides, religious music and politics gave you a taste of Egypt on the ground. His site was the first place I ever talked to a real "Palestinian" about Israel, Palestine, Arafat and many other subjects. Most of all, his continued efforts to talk about the real political situation in Egypt, the motives, the laws and the people, allowed us to alternately hope for and fear for democracy in Egypt and the greater Middle East.

He's going dark now because Egypt has been arresting bloggers and, he fears, coming closer to him daily. He believes his anonymity has been compromised and, like the pamphlateers of old, he relied on that to be able to say whatever he felt about democracy and the lack of it in Egypt.

Kat links to Pamela at Atlas Shrugs with an interview:
SANDMONKEY: "Any kind of democratic reform in the country [Egypt] for the past 3 years has been rolled back specifically because there is no more pressure coming from Washington anymore."

ATLAS: Why? What happened to the pressure in Washington?

SANDMONKEY: You know what happened to the pressure in Washington. The Democrats won the Congress. There is no more pressure coming from Bush because he is not able to push people anymore to do those things. He is not able to push the Egyptian government anymore because the American public is suddenly not interested in reforming the Middle East because of what's going on in the Iraq. So suddenly the Egyptian government is not afraid of the American pressure. They are doing whatever they want to do. They are beating up demonstrators, they are cracking down on activists, they are changing the constitution, and eroding civil liberties once and for all and they are using proxies to take down bloggers. ...

Go read the rest, and click on the audio link for the full interview. Many, many thanks to Pamela for letting us hear Sandmonkey's voice.

Sandmonkey was one of my absolute favorite bloggers. I loved his honesty, his humor, his chutzpah and his humility. And I'm mad as hell that the bastards got to him.

But let's not leave it there. Just in case you haven't already, please bookmark Freedom For Egyptians; this should be one of your daily stops. So should Ritzy Mabrouk.

And there's more you can do. You might not be familiar with the name, but Egyptian blogger Abdulmonaem Mahmoud has been arrested. There's a petition to free Monem - take a moment to sign it. Yeah, I know, the English translation is lame, but you get the point, right? Here's the French text, which reads a little better:
Au nom de DIEU , le clément , le tout miséricordieux

Ce n’est plus un secret , ce que les actifs dans le domaine politique en Egypte subissent : violations des libertés , arrestations violentes , irruptions à domicile , intimidation des familles et enfants…

Au fond de cette sombre scène , on constate que ces violations touchent tout le peuple avec toutes les affiliations intellectuelles et politiques , sans exception.

les bloggeurs égyptiens constituent une partie du peuple , et se situent au cœur du mouvement de la presse libre égyptienne . Etant le cas, et puisque les régimes dictateurs ont comme souci de cacher toute vérité , ils traitent alors la presse libre avec une main de fer.

l’ irruption , puis l’ arrestation du bloggeur et journaliste Abdelmenem Mahmoud , propriétaire du blog « ANA IKHWAN » ( JE SUIS IKHWAN ), et correspondant de la chaine ALMIHWAR au Caire , n’ est que la réaction attendu d’un régime policier avec toute voix libre en Egypte.

On a trouvé primordial alors , nous les bloggeur égyptiens , de formuler un manifeste consacré à la défense du droit de notre collègue à s’ exprimer librement, et à défendre le droit des bloggeurs et de la presse libre , à une opposition pacifique.

On s’est entendu alors ,nous les bloggeur d’ Egypte, sur le refus total de toute réaction basé sur une mentalité policière et violente lors du traitement d’ une opinion opposée.

Tout les soussignés , sollicitent ce qui suit :

• On sollicite du gouvernement égyptien , la libération immédiate de notre camarade , et de tous les détenus d’ opinion en Egypte .

• On sollicite de toute organisation internationale des droits de l’ Homme , et des organisations non- gouvernementales, à dénoncer ces violations du droit à l’ expression libre en Egypte .

• On refuse tout traitement violent de la part du régime politique , des causes en relation à la liberté d’ expression, ou de publication électronique ou de presse .

• Nous confirmons notre soutien inconditionnel de la société des bloggeurs sur le niveau international , concernant leurs droit à la liberté d’ expression à travers tous les moyens de publication possibles.

I don't read much Arabic (yet!) but here's an excerpt from the Arabic text -

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

لم يعد خافيا على أحد ما يتعرض له النشطاء السياسيين في مصر من انتهاكات للحريات واعتقالات تعسفية ومداهمات للمنازل الآمنة وترويع للعائلات والأطفال .


و كحلقة في تلك السلسلة السوداء , نجد تلك الانتهاكات تطال كل طوائف الشعب المصري بكافة انتماءاته الفكرية و السياسية .
وكجزء أصيل من الشعب المصري نرى المدونين في صدر حركة الصحافة الحرة في مصر , وكعادة الأنظمة القمعية التي تريد تغييب الشعوب عن الحقائق الدامغة , فهي تتعامل مع الصحافة الحرة والمستقلة بالحديد والنار .


ومن هنا جاءت مداهمة منزل واعتقال المدون و الصحفي عبدالمنعم محمود صاحب مدونة أنا إخوان ومراسل قناة الحوار في القاهرة كنتاج طبيعي للتعامل البوليسي مع القلم الحر في مصر .

You know what to do.

2007-04-29

New face of Pakistan?

And now for something completely different.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Begum Nawazish Ali flirts with the country's law minister, batting her long eyelashes and calling him darling. She kisses one of the minister's sons on the cheek and practically asks another son to marry her. All in front of the television cameras.

"Look at my hands," she tells the minister, showing off her French manicure.

"Your hands are beautiful," he responds. "I feel like kissing them."

This is the most outrageous TV program in Pakistan, one that has regularly violated conservative Islamic rules and Pakistani customs while becoming a top-rated talk show. But Ali is more than just a mouthy woman, and that's what makes this popular show truly revolutionary, even subversive.

Ali is actually a mouthy man in drag. ...

Read the rest at the link.

Secularists Rally in Istanbul

Çok güzel!

Via Little Green Footballs.

AP via Yahoo news:
BENJAMIN HARVEY, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 29, 9:33 AM ET
ISTANBUL, Turkey - At least 300,000 Turks waving the red national flag flooded central Istanbul on Sunday to demand the resignation of the government, saying the Islamic roots of Turkey's leaders threatened to destroy the country's modern foundations.

Like the protesters — who gathered for the second large anti-government demonstration in two weeks — Turkey's powerful secular military has accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of tolerating radical Islamic circles.

"They want to drag Turkey to the dark ages," said 63-year-old Ahmet Yurdakul, a retired government employee who attended the protest.

More than 300,000 people took part in a similar rally in Ankara two weeks ago. ...


Go to the link for the rest. Meanwhile, AFP (via Yahoo) puts the turnout at over a million:
Nicolas Cheviron Sun Apr 29, 9:42 AM ET
ISTANBUL (AFP) - More than one million people took part in a mass rally here Sunday in support of secularism and democracy amid a tense stand-off between the Islamist-rooted government and the army over presidential elections.

The crowd, carrying red-and-white Turkish flags and portraits of founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, filled Istanbul's sprawling Caglayan square in a demonstration organized by some 600 non-governmental organizations.

"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," "Neither Sharia, nor coup d'etat, democratic Turkey," they chanted.

Police at the scene told AFP that the number of demonstrators was well over one million. Organizers said the rally drew people from all over Turkey and abroad.

The Istanbul demonstration followed a similar one in Ankara on April 14 that attracted up to 1.5 million people, according to some estimates. ...

Muslim children trash classroom; anti-Semitic attack in France.

Via IRIS:
Nine year-old Muslim children destroy a Dutch classroom because of a discussion of a pig on a farm and the only response is to expunge pigs from the curriculum.
A school in Amsterdam has halted lessons on rural life because the Islamic children refused to talk about pigs. Reporting this, Alderman Lodewijk Asscher said he wants to take "tough measures." Subsidies for all kinds of dubious groups must stop and parents of unruly children penalised financially.

Asscher told newspaper De Volkskrant: "A primary school in Amsterdam-Noord has decided no longer to teach about living on a farm. Various pupils began to demolish the classroom when the pig came up for discussion. Apparently it has gone that far. These children, 9, 10 years old, have not been given even the most elementary rules at home about why they must go to school."


Vicious anti-Jewish attack in France.
A 22-year-old Jewish woman suffered a vicious anti-Semitic attack by two men of Middle Eastern appearance in a train station in Marseille, France on Thursday night.

The attackers tore the Star of David chain from around the young woman’s neck, lifted up her shirt, painted a swastika on her stomach and then fled the scene.

Local police opened an investigation into the attack but had not yet found the assailants.

American Islamic Congress - latest news

From Zainab al-Suwaij, American Islamic Congress, via e-mail bulletin:
I just returned from a month-long trip to the Middle East, where we conducted three training conferences for young reformers in:

- Amman, Jordan, where we brought together 25 young leaders from eight countries for in-depth training in techniques of non-violent activism;
- Karbala, Iraq, where despite constant danger we taught 27 young Iraqis how to promote non-violent methods of conflict resolution and national reconciliation;
- Ifrane, Morocco , where we joined with the student Human Rights Club of Al-Akhawayn University to host 45 young Middle Eastern leaders from 12 countries to lay the foundations for a region-wide civil rights movement.

While I enjoyed my trip, my experiences reminded me of the challenges before us. The day I arrived in Morocco from Iraq, for example, multiple suicide bombings rocked the country. I was instructing young activists on implementing nonviolent reform at one moment, only to find myself comforting Moroccans devastated by the tragic actions of radical fundamentalists. The attacks (repeated the next day in Algiers and four days later in Casablanca) provided a stark example of the crises - and opportunities - that stand before us. Radicals seek to dominate the Muslim community. Basic human rights are denied by unelected rulers. And terrorists threaten the safety of all of us, regardless of our religious beliefs.

But we will not be silent in the face of these challenges.

Entering our sixth year, the American Islamic Congress has been at the forefront in advancing a platform of tolerance and understanding by creating grassroots networks for reform in the Muslim world and by promoting the moderate Muslim voice to the American public. We rely on the support of kind people of all backgrounds who are committed to promoting peace and progress - and to helping us move forward a positive agenda for the Muslim community. ...

Go to the link to find out more about AIC, and consider helping them out if you can.

Iran: Hunger Strike for Political Prisoners

From Ghazal Omid, via e-mail:
Hunger Strike in Iran Started April 7, 2007 Means Life or Death
For One of 39 Political Prisoners, Possibly All

On April 22, 2007, political prisoner Mr. Khalid Hardani was carried to the medical center of Rajai Shahar prison by two of his fellow inmates, Mr. Nasser Khirolahi and Mr. Shahin Aryanejad, due to Mr. Khaled Hardani's worsening heart condition. Mr. Hardani, who was transferred from Evin Prison to Rajai Shahar approximately two months ago, has had his heart medication intentionally withheld, and his physical well-being is worsening each day.

This hunger strike is a last resort for these political prisoners, who have no way whatsoever to alert people worldwide to their conditions in the prison, and illuminates the disinterest of UN Representatives, Red Cross/Red Crescent, and Amnesty International. Mr. Khaled Hardani and another 38 political prisoners from a number of prisons in Iran could possibly die as a result of this official apathy.

In the clinic, Mr. Khaled Hardani was not allowed to see a physician, and when the prisoners resisted pressure to end the strike, they were savagely beaten inside the clinic, in full view of medical staff, by professional torture master Aslan Beghi. Neither prisoner received any medical care, not for the hunger strike's physical effects, nor for the injuries from physical torture. Instead, they were dragged back to their filthy cells to recover on their own from the savage beatings.

Mr. Hardani, whose cardiac condition requires medication, has received no medication for his heart condition from prison medical officials since his transfer from Evin nearly 2 months ago.

Repeated letters and calls to officials of Amnesty International by Ghazal Omid (www.ghazalomid.com), Iranian dissident and the official spokesperson for 19 of the 39 political prisoners, have not been returned. UN Human Rights Commission member states have also not responded to repeated calls for intervention.

Ghazal Omid
www.ghazalomid.com/videos

2007-04-21

Representative Jenson on SB2, HB2007

State Representative Bob Jenson (R - Pendleton, District 58) has issued the following statement (via e-mail) following last week's vote on two important gay equality bills in the State of Oregon:
For the past few weeks I have heard from many of you expressing your concerns pro and con regarding SB2 and HB2007. By now most of you are aware that SB2 bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public places throughout the state. HB 2007 creates a method of legal recognition for same-sex relationships in Oregon, namely domestic partnerships.

As your representative I feel a responsibility to listen to your concerns and try to make your wishes heard. Sometimes this is not difficult when the issue is one that is fairly similarly viewed within the district. However, it is an entirely different concern when there are widely divergent opinions on a particular issue.

This was the situation with the above two bills. Adding to the complexity was the complication of religion and moral beliefs, and people’s rights. While there were many people with strong religious convictions that opposed these bills there were also a large number of church groups that strongly supported the legislation. Given that situation, I had to make a very difficult vote.

While I respect the position of Oregon voters on Measure 36, which banned same-sex marriage, I also know that many voters who did so believed same-sex couples should have some protections for their relationships in the form of a civil union or domestic partnership.

Many voters further stated that discrimination in things like jobs and housing is wrong. Having lived through the civil rights years where the differential treatment of people who were different was exposed as unfair I believe that our state is strengthened when all who live and work here are equal under the law. No one should be fired from a job, denied a table in a restaurant, or blocked from making medical decisions for a loved one in an emergency simply because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination has no place in our state, and as such I felt compelled to vote for the bills.


Interestingly there is something of a precedent from our district regarding this issue. When former Rep. Chuck Norris held this legislative seat in 1989, HB 2784 came to the floor on one of the last days of the session, July 2nd. That bill essentially stated that sexual orientation was a category that could not be intimidated against. The outcome of that vote was 31-29 with Rep. Norris being the deciding vote.

Thank you, Representative Jenson, for your courage in making this difficult decision. You did the right thing.

2007-04-20

Morning Report: April 20, 2007

Dreams Into Lightning celebrates three years of publishing with this morning's roundup of positive events.

Jane Novak: "The winds of change may be sweeping across Yemen." Jane's blog Armies of Liberation should be your first stop for all Yemen-related news; following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Jane made a vow to fight Osama bin Laden on his native soil. She still continues the fight against islamist extremism and dictatorship in Yemen, and she's not alone. Here's an excerpt from her latest article on political tribalism in al-Ja'ashen:
The winds of change may be sweeping across Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently appointed Dr. Ali Mohammed Mujawar as Prime Minister. Formerly the Minister of Electricity, Mujawar comes to the post with a strong reputation as an academic and a technocrat. This change in leadership was followed by a cabinet shuffle in April that brought eleven new ministers on board. The enthusiasm of the new government is palpable. However, the Cabinet’s ability to act decisively is limited by countervailing authority seated outside governmental institutions.

The elite among President Saleh’s northern tribesmen have supplanted the jurisdiction of the state. Since Yemen’s 1994 civil war, power has become consolidated in a network of influential individuals who largely operate above the law. ...

Read the rest at the link, and don't forget to blogroll Armies of Liberation. (AofL)

Irshad Manji: Don't call her a "moderate". Tom the Redhunter posts on Irshad Manji:
Last weekend I heard Irshad Manji interviewed by Monika Crowley on her radio show. I'd heard of Manji before, but didn't know much about her.

Irshad Manji is a Muslim woman who has decided that her religion needs serious reform. The title of her book says it all: The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith . The title of her website is also revealing: "Muslim Refusenik"

What impressed me most about Manji during the interview was when she said that moderates were part of the problem with Islam. Wow, I thought, you won't find that said out loud at any Washington DC dinner parties. But it's true. And we're at the point where the truth needs to be spoken about Islam, and spoken with all the PC restrictions gone. ...

Tom goes on to draw the important distinction between "moderates" (who say the right things but do nothing) and reformers (who stick their necks out - often literally - and work for change). (Irshad Manji, The Redhunter)

La décision française. Neo-neocon looks at the changing political climate in Fance: 'The field is unusual for France. As Jane Kramer points out in the New Yorker, all three leading candidates are relative outsiders, and all are in agreement that France is broken and needs fixing, quick. This in and of itself is somewhat unusual; the French are not especially known for self-criticism. The candidate who interests me the most is Nicholas Sarkozy, the leader in the polls. But the situation is very fluid, because the large undecided group—in some polls, half of the electorate, a truly formidable figure—makes predictions impossible. According to Kramer, Sarkozy makes many French people uneasy, for reasons they can’t articulate very well. I think it’s because he isn’t quintessentially French–his father was Hungarian, his maternal grandfather a Greek Jew. He is a blunt speaker in a world exquisitely sensitive to PC circumlocations, an action-oriented candidate focused on results, an extoller of the value of work in a welfare state, and an Americaphile in a country steeped in anti-Americanism.' (Neo-neocon)

Michael J. Totten, The Week's blogger of the year. Michael Totten has won the "Blogger of the Year" award from The Week. To find out why, read his latest, highly informative post on Kirkuk. (Michael Totten)

Oregon passes historic equality bills. Log Cabin Republicans, via news release: 'Yesterday [April 17, 2007] the Oregon House passed two historic bills for equality. AB 2, which provides non discrimination protection for gays, lesbians and transgendered people passed 35-25 with four Republican members voting yes. HB 2007, which passed 34-26 will provide over 500 benefits, rights and responsibilities under a new domestic partnership arrangement for same sex couples. AB 2 has passed both chambers, but will go back to the Senate to reconcile some minor changes that were made. The Senate is expected to also vote on the domestic partnership bill within the next two weeks.' LCR notes that Republicans Vicki Berger, Chuck Burley, and Bob Jenson were among the Oregon House representatives who voted for both bills. Also with an Oregon connection, Bruce at Gay Patriot applauds Log Cabin for for its "pragmatism and seriousness". From the Log Cabin website:
Log Cabin Republicans praise the bi-partisan introduction of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would allow local law enforcement agencies to access federal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) is the lead Republican co-sponsor. The House version was introduced last month. Similar legislation previously passed both the U.S. House and Senate by wide, bi-partisan margins.

“Our strong support for local law enforcement officials and our shared commitment to fighting crime unites us as Republicans,” said Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon. “We all understand the importance of combating violent crime in every community—from the largest cities to the smallest towns. That’s why every Republican lawmaker should support this legislation.”

I have criticized Senator Smith elsewhere for his positions on national security issues and the war on terrorism, so I'm happy to give him credit where it's due here. It remains to be seen whether Senator Smith will take the strong stand on defense that I expect from a Republican US senator. (Gay Patriot, LCR)

Briefly noted. Tammy Bruce unmasks a conspiracy, and Jeremayakovka has the scoop on some great music.

Notes. My first posts at Dreams Into Lightning were published on the 21st of April, 2004; I began writing the Morning Report feature on May 4, 2004. I began publishinng on TypePad a year ago; my first Morning Report on TypePad appeared on April 24, 2006.

2007-04-04

Gay Equality Legislation Moves Forward in Oregon

Basic Rights Oregon: Senate passes SB2, now on to the House.
3/21/2007
75% of Oregon Senators said YES to equality, NO to discrimination based on sexual orientation!
Today the State Senate moved Oregon another step closer to basic fairness by passing Senate Bill 2, the Oregon Equality Act. In a vote of 21 to 7, Senators declared a resounding YES to equality, and a resounding NO to discrimination.

"This is a great beginning to a historic legislative session," said Aisling Coghlan, Interim Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon. "The Senate clearly agrees with the majority of Oregonians, that discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong and should be against state law."

Immediately after the vote, Senate President Peter Courtney said, "After an extraordinary debate, the Oregon State Senate came together again to show that equality is not a partisan issue".

Statewide law banning discrimination was first proposed in 1973, and has been proposed in nearly every legislative session since then. ...

Log Cabin Republicans - Oregon alert.
Right now your elected officials are debating two historic bills to advance equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Oregonians.

The Oregon Equality Act (SB 2) would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Oregon. And the Oregon Family Fairness Act (HB 2007) would legally recognize same-sex couples and provide them and their families with important protections, rights and responsibilities.

Social conservatives have made stopping both these bills a top priority for 2007. Already they are flooding the state capitol with hundreds of anti-equality calls and letters.

Your State Representative needs to hear from you today that you support both SB 2 and HB 2007! Make a call or send an email today! ...

Morning Report: April 4, 2007

A setback for women in one Middle Eastern country, new developments on some British sailors, one American politician's visit to an Arab capital ... and much more. However, we regret that Morning Report is unable to bring you any information on Keith Richards, Alanis Morissette, or Kermit the Frog.

Saudi women still can't register their own babies. Sand Gets In My Eyes: 'At the same time, Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz handed down a decision saying that male relatives over 17 can legally register a newborn if the father has not done so after the first 15 days. Women – mothers – are still not allowed to register their own babies. Let me get this straight. Mothers aren’t responsible enough to register their own babies, but their teenage sons, brothers, uncles or cousins are? Oh and once those newborn babies are registered, their mothers are only responsible enough to have copies of the official papers – not the actual official papers?' (SGIME)

British hostage crisis. In From the Cold:
As we predicted more than a week ago, resolution of the British hostage crisis may well hinge on the fate of those five Iranian "officials," arrested by the U.S. military in Iraq back in January. The five were nabbed during a raid on a non-accredited Iranian diplomatic facility in Irbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Tehran insists that the officials were engaged in consular work, but military officials claim that the Iranians are linked to a military faction that provides support for terrorists in Iraq.

Today, an Iranian diplomat emphasized that release of the five would be helpful in securing freedom for 15 British military personnel, who were taken captive on 23 March. The Brits were abducted while conducting anti-smuggling operations in the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, along the Iran-Iraq border.

"We are intensively seeking the release of the five Iranians," the Iraqi foreign ministry official said. "This will be a factor that will help in the release of the British sailors and marines."

Tehran's efforts to link the British hostages to its own detainees underscores the importance of that raid in Irbil, and suggests that the captured "officials" were more than mere diplomats. Since their arrrest, coalition forces have scored a number of victories against Iranian-supported terror networks, and Tehran wants to get these "consular officials" back before they can divulge more information.

Winston at The Spirit of Man is majorly peeved: 'I have always disliked the concept of European Union and the fact that it is an identity-less group of nation-states which may not even share any common background with each other at all and I also disliked Europeans for terrible things they have done towards the Iranian people i.e supporting Khomeini and his followers through 1960s and 70s, their support for Iraq during Iraq-Iran war and their firm support for the mullahs. They are not just bunch of appeasers, they are simply evil when it comes to despots and people who have to endure in countries like Iran. I mean EU is comprised of pathetic nation-states that don't even care about their own neighbors. Check it here: EU refuses to back Britian on Iran export threat. 15 British military personnel are held hostage in Iran and the rest of the useless EU doesn't give a $hit to the plight of the UK government and their demand to halt trade with Iran for a short time. European Union is, effectively, one of the many major obstacles Iranian people face in order to change the mullahs' regime. And EU is to blame if the mullahs have been able to live this long.' The Belmont Club reports on a demonstration in London in support of the sailors. (IFTC, TSOM, TBC)

Pelosi visits Damascus. MSNBC: 'House Speaker Nancy Pelosi toured Damascus on Tuesday, the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate four years ago. President Bush criticized the trip, saying it sends mixed signals to President Bashar Assad. ... Pelosi, D-Calif., is scheduled to meet Assad and other Syrian officials on Wednesday.' Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog: 'The internet sites and cable TV shows are buzzing about the visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria today. She's not the only Member of Congress meeting with the Assad regime - three Republican Congressmen, including the normally sensible and reliable Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, also met with Assad this week against the express wishes of the Bush Administration. Do the four of them remember that they voted for the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003? The "Findings" in that Act include: "Terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine--General Command, maintain offices, training camps, and other facilities on Syrian territory, and operate in areas of Lebanon occupied by the Syrian armed forces and receive supplies from Iran through Syria." and "The Government of Syria is pursuing the development and production of biological and chemical weapons and has a nuclear research and development program that is cause for concern." Did Speaker Pelosi, second in line to succeed to the office of President of the United States, forget what she said on October 15, 2003, when she supported the Act? "The people of Israel and the cause of peace in the Middle East have been the traditional targets of the groups helped by Syria, but today’s attack on the U.S. convoy in Gaza is a reminder that the United States, and our interests around the world, are foremost on terrorist target lists." What possible good could come out of meeting with Syria and why send the unmistakable signal that the Act was a mistake?' But via Sandmonkey, here's Mustapha at Beirut Spring with some words in Pelosi's defense:
Are we going to be sold out? There are signs that perhaps not. Two things indicate that Pelosi's position will be more nuanced than paranoid Lebanese fear.

First, madame speaker is traveling with Tom Lantos, a democratic Representative well known for his Hardline stances on Syria. If anything, he will help her understand the nature of the Syrian regime and reduce her rose-tainted vision on Syria.

Second, the symbolism in her itinerary.

The first thing Pelosi did after landing in Beirut (which she visited before Damascus), is visit [assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri's grave. She then visited Majority Leader Saad Hariri, then P.M Seniora, in that order. If she weren't Pelosi herself, you'd be sure Assad would have cancelled the meeting with her by now.

Go to the post for the full text plus links, and don't forget to bookmark The Beirut Spring on your browser. (various)

Somalia deteriorates, US dithers. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Counterterrorism Blog: 'A congressional report on Somalia was released last week. The gist is that al-Qaeda's East African operations are intact, and they're out for revenge. After the ICU lost its hold on Somalia following the Ethiopian invasion, the group's donors started pumping more money into the country. Al-Qaeda's senior leadership is also clearly prioritizing Somalia, as virtually all the tapes they have released since early January mention Somalia in some way. I spoke with a senior U.S. military intelligence officer over the weekend who reports that a number of Yemeni tribes who would have previously sent jihadists to Iraq are now sending them to Somalia instead. ... The truly infuriating thing about the situation in Somalia is that after committing military resources to defeat the ICU, the U.S. has utterly failed to provide our ally, the TFG, with financial and political support. This shows that we have not learned the right lessons from past failures. The cost of our failures in Somalia will be heavy: U.S. prestige will be diminished, it will be harder to attract allies in the future, and Somali lives are being needlessly lost.' (CTB)

Operation leaves eight terrorists dead. MNF Iraq: 'BAGHDAD, Iraq – During a recent four-day operation beginning March 30 in Arab Jabour targeting al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists, Coalition Forces killed eight terrorists, detained 13 suspects, destroyed two explosives production facilities and several weapons caches. Coalition Forces were engaged by the enemy multiple times during the operation. Coalition Forces used appropriate defense measures to eliminate the threat resulting in eight terrorists killed. Among the weapons caches discovered, Coalition Forces found six DShK anti-aircraft heavy machineguns, 150 rocket propelled grenades, more than 30 rockets, plastic explosives, and several hundred mortar rounds. The weapons caches were destroyed to prevent future use by terrorists.' (MNFI)

California may lead Iran pension divestment movement. Or Does It Explode:
Granted the move does not come purely out of human rights concerns, but it's still noteworthy that eight US states have begun to divest their retirement funds from any companies doing business in Iran. Divestment was a tool wielded to great effect against South Africa during Apartheid, a fact noted a few days ago by a Guardian columnist calling for a Saudi divestment campaign over gender Apartheid.

Now it's Iran in the divestment crosshairs, and California, with one of the world's largest economies and public pension funds, is making moves:

The measure would force two of the nation’s largest pension funds — devoted to the state’s public employees and its teachers, with combined holdings of nearly $400 billion — to remove their money from any foreign company doing business in Iran. American companies are already barred from such dealings...
Full article at the link. (ODIE)

Don't laugh at this guy's name. Via Irshad Manji, here's an important item from CBS News: 'Hassan Butt admits he sent a 17-year-old boy from England to Pakistan to be involved in terrorist training. Butt was only 16 when he was recruited by the network. Like thousands of other young British Muslims, he became exposed to some of the most radical Imams in Britain – Imams who supported attacks on westerners all over the world and believed that they had a tacit agreement with the British authorities.' But unlike so many others, Hassan Butt made a different choice: 'Why is he revealing all this? Because, he told [CBS interviewer Bob] Simon, the London bombings changed him. He began asking questions of his handlers, theological questions. He wanted to know whether the bombings could ever be justified in Islam. He waited and waited for answers. Months later, he was summoned by his handlers to a meeting in the Middle East. But he wasn’t given answers, only new orders. ... ' There's a long and highly informative text of the interview at the link. Click on the video link on the right for the Hassan Butt interview, and then go to the one on the left for Irshad Manji. And kudos to CBS for making this information available - let's hope more of the mainstream media follow this example. (Irshad Manji, CBS)

Tammy: Cut-and-run meets screw-the-troops. Tammy Bruce: 'Harry Reid and John Kerry are now threatening our troops on the battlefield with complete abandonment if the president doesn't follow their orders. This should clear up once and for all any doubt about the level of depravity of Democrat party "leadership." [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may move to cut Iraq war funds.] ... n other words, they'll spend more weeks on another bill they know will be vetoed, all to send more reassuring love letters to the enemy as they tell our troops they're failures who don't deserve support. We know, of course, it's not the troops who are the problem--it's politicians and Washington, DC generals who don't have the courage to allow our military to do its job. In fact, I agree funding should be cut--to the House and Senate until those poseurs agree to act like adults who actually care about this nation.' (Tammy Bruce)

Commentary. Well, there are some positive developments here. Notwithstanding the short-term symptoms of political posturing, today's items suggest that there's a healthy, ongoing, long-term growth in support for a freer and better world.