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  • Bloomberg notes Venezuela's hopes for an oil price at $US 50, looks at Labour keeping the current London mayor's seat, observes the vulnerability of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and warns of a possible drought in the US Corn Belt.

  • Bloomberg View notes the continuing fragmentation of the Orthodox Church, and suggests Putin might accept a partial ban on Russian athletes at the Olympics.

  • CBC looks at Russia's state-supported soccer hooliganism.

  • MacLean's notes Florida theme parks' concerns re: alligator attacks, and notes how homophobia complicates the grieving process for survivors of the Orlando shooting victims.

  • National Geographic looks at the logic chopping behind South Korea's whale hunt, and observes that some coral reefs have coped.

  • The National Post notes Russia's professed interest in improved relations with Canada.

  • Open Democracy frames the Orlando shooting in the context of an international campaign by ISIS.

  • The Toronto Star suggests Portugal's decriminalization of drugs is a model for Canada.

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  • Bloomberg notes the difficulties Syrian refugees have with liberal Europe, reports on warnings of dropping property values, and examines Russia's search for partners in Southeast Asia.

  • Bloomberg View reports on a Russian oligarch who warns of the dangers of oil dependence.

  • CBC warns of a resurgence of sexism if Hillary Clinton gets elected.

  • The Inter Press Service notes the positive things refugees can bring to the cities where they are resettled.

  • The National Post reports a claim that an Argentine lawyer whon was investigating a terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires was forced to kill himself.

  • Reuters notes Oklahoma legislators who want to impeach Obama over trans rights.

  • The Toronto Star notes the imminent installation of a tidal power turbine on the Bay of Fundy.

  • Wired looks at IKEA's indoor farming kit and defends Los Angeles' new metro line.

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Quartz' report about Hindu nationalist propaganda at American universities is alarming.

In October 2015, the University of California, Irvine, announced the creation of an endowed chair—the Thakkar Family-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies—supported by a $1.5 million grant.

As reported in this article in a local newspaper, following pushback from faculty and students because of the suspected Hindu nationalist or Hindu-right sympathies of the foundation, and concerns about excessive interference in the hiring process, the plans for the chair seem somewhat uncertain at present.

Compared to the shenanigans of Hindu-nationalist organisations and their supporters, the controversy, thus far, appears relatively tame, more of the order of a dull tussle between faculty and administration about procedural autonomy than about anything else.

The interventions of the Hindu right in the academic field, in India and more broadly, have generally fallen into the category of the absurd or the violent. The former is exemplified by the routine claims of the achievements of the ancient Hindu civilisation—Vedic aeroplanes, plastic surgery, intergalactic travel, and so on. The recently concluded 103rd edition of the Indian Science Congress, for instance, featured a bizarre conch-blowing performance by an officer of the elite IAS (Indian Administrative Service), ostensibly as an act of impeccable scientific merit.

Much more at the site.
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  • Centauri Dreams considers the likely cometary explanation for KIC 8462852.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes an enigmatic dark spot on a white dwarf.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports on China's construction of a military base in Djibouti.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that the man who promised to reduce the price of an HIV/AIDS medication that his company hiked has reneged.

  • Lawyers, Gins and Money notes that Trump was lying about protesting Muslims in New Jersey after 9/11.

  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of ethnic minorities in Ukraine, now and in 1926.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at how the right won in Argentina.

  • Torontoist notes local initiatives to welcome Syrian refugees to Toronto.

  • Towleroad notes a Vietnamese trans right bill.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy observes that American states cannot ban Syrian refugees.

  • Window on Eurasia looks on a new Chinese railway passing from Xinjiang through Central Asia to Iran, and looks at the odd Communist-Christian-Muslim mélange being favoured by some Russians.

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There's much still to be said about the November 2015 Paris attacks. One point I'd like to elaborate upon relates to the attack on the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people waiting for a performance of Eagles of Death Metal were murdered. A statement made in passing by American Secretary of State John Kerry, contrasting the Bataclan massacre with the Charlie Hebdo massacre by suggesting that whereas the latter attack had some rationale, the Bataclan attack was just pure terror. He later backtracked under criticism, as reported by The New York Times.

Secretary of State John Kerry is drawing criticism for contrasting the latest terror attacks in Paris with the mass shooting in January at the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

“There’s something different about what happened with Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that,” Mr. Kerry said on Tuesday, speaking without notes to American Embassy employees in the lobby of the embassy in Paris. “There was a sort of particularized focus, and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, ‘O.K., they’re really angry because of this and that.’

“This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate,” he continued. “It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong; it was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.”

Mr. Kerry’s comments were swiftly assailed by conservative critics in print and on social media. National Review called them “abhorrent” and “despicable.”

I've blogged here quite a lot over the years about the amount of meaning I derived and still derive from popular music, about how even when I was a solitary listener disconnected from fandom (and much else) I was able to get a sense of community and identity through pop music. (Eurythmics, thank you for helping me make it to my 20s.) Being a consumer of music is not the same kind of thing as being a producer of music, just as being a consumer of any cultural product is not the same as being a producer of any cultural product. Even so, the act of consumption matters: It's a profound marker of identity, of the consumer's voluntary decision to belong to a particular community. As noted by Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic, the communal enjoyment of music at a concert can be hugely enjoyable. It's not for nothing that the rave has become so huge, I think.

Do you remember the article in The New Yorker that I linked to Monday, the one noting how Daesh used the traditions of Arabic poetry to accrue cultural capital? That article also noted that instrumental music is banned from the territories of the Islamic State, as un-Islamic. If the rich and vast and enormously popular tradition of Arabic popular music is actively rejected by Daesh, the people who listen to it or--worse--make it being subject to punishment, how much worse Western popular music? The concert-goers at the Bataclan were murdered because they had made the choice to reject the ideals of Daesh. They were martyrs.

Earlier this week, I shared a meme image on Facebook that happened to be built around what turns out to be an authentic quote from Salman Rushdie.

The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. There are tyrants, not Muslims.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list -- yes, even the short skirts and the dancing -- are worth dying for?

The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.

How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.

Music matters. Let's make the choice to have it matter even more.
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Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed's Open Democracy essay makes very important points about how to, and how not to, respond to the threat of ISIS.

ISIS’s choice of targets reveal a range of ideological motives – sectarian targeting of minorities like Shi’as, Kurds and Yazidis; striking in the heart of Muslim regimes that have joined the anti-ISIS coalition; as well as demonstrating the punitive consequences of attacking ISIS to western publics by hitting them at their most vulnerable, in bars, restaurants and music venues.

The goal, of course, is to inflict trauma, fear, paranoia, suspicion, panic and terror – but there is a particularly twisted logic as part of this continuum of violence, which is to draw the western world into an apocalyptic civilizational Armageddon with ‘Islam.’

ISIS recognizes that it has only marginal support amongst Muslims around the world. The only way it can accelerate recruitment and strengthen its territorial ambitions is twofold: firstly, demonstrating to Islamist jihadist networks that there is now only one credible terror game in town capable of pulling off spectacular terrorist attacks in the heart of the west, and two, by deteriorating conditions of life for Muslims all over the world to draw them into joining or supporting ISIS.

Both these goals depend on two constructs: the ‘crusader’ civilisation of the ‘kuffar’ (disbelievers) pitted against the authentic ‘Islamic’ utopia of ISIS.

In their own literature shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, ISIS shamelessly drew on the late Osama bin Laden’s endorsement of the words of President George W. Bush, to justify this apocalyptic vision: “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”
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As someone with a Master's degree in English, Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel's article in The New Yorker, "Battle Lines", tells an unsettling tale about the successful appropriation by Daesh of some of the key features of Middle Eastern popular culture.

On October 11, 2014, according to Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts a woman going by the name Ahlam al-Nasr was married in the courthouse of Raqqa, Syria, to Abu Usama al-Gharib, a Vienna-born jihadi close to the movement’s leadership. ISIS social media rarely make marriage announcements, but al-Nasr and al-Gharib are a jihadi power couple. Al-Gharib is a veteran propagandist, initially for Al Qaeda and now for ISIS. His bride is a burgeoning literary celebrity, better known as “the Poetess of the Islamic State.” Her first book of verse, “The Blaze of Truth,” was published online last summer and quickly circulated among militant networks. Sung recitations of her work, performed a cappella, in accordance with ISIS’s prohibition on instrumental music, are easy to find on YouTube. “The Blaze of Truth” consists of a hundred and seven poems in Arabic—elegies to mujahideen, laments for prisoners, victory odes, and short poems that were originally tweets. Almost all the poems are written in monorhyme—one rhyme for what is sometimes many dozens of lines of verse—and classical Arabic metres.

Little is known about Ahlam al-Nasr, but it seems that she comes from Damascus and is now in her early twenties. Her mother, a former law professor, has written that al-Nasr “was born with a dictionary in her mouth.” She began writing poems in her teens, often in support of Palestine. When, in the spring of 2011, protests in Syria broke out against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, al-Nasr took the side of the demonstrators. Several poems suggest that she witnessed the regime’s crackdown at first hand and may have been radicalized by what she saw:

[. . .]

ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Islamist movements produce a huge amount of verse. The vast majority of it circulates online, in a clandestine network of social-media accounts, mirror sites, and proxies, which appear and disappear with bewildering speed, thanks to surveillance and hacking. On militant Web sites, poetry-discussion forums feature couplets on current events, competitions among duelling poets, who try to outdo one another in virtuosic feats, and downloadable collections with scholarly accoutrements. (“The Blaze of Truth” includes footnotes that explain tricky syntax and unusual rhyme schemes.)

Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colorful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. But this is a mistake. It is impossible to understand jihadism—its objectives, its appeal for new recruits, and its durability—without examining its culture. This culture finds expression in a number of forms, including anthems and documentary videos, but poetry is its heart. And, unlike the videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window onto the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad.

“Al-shi‘r diwan al-‘arab,” runs an ancient maxim: “Poetry is the record of the Arabs”—an archive of historical experience and the epitome of their literature. The authority of verse has no rival in Arabic culture. The earliest poems were composed by desert nomads in the centuries before the revelation of the Koran. The poems are in monorhyme and one of sixteen canonical metres, making them easy to memorize. The poets were tribal spokesmen, celebrating the virtues of their kin, cursing their enemies, recalling lost loves, and lamenting the dead, especially those killed in battle. The Koran has harsh words for these pre-Islamic troubadours. “Only those who have strayed follow the poets,” the Surah of the Poets reads. “Do you not see that they wander lost in every valley, and say what they do not do?” But the poets could not be written off so easily, and Muhammad often found it useful to co-opt them. A number of tribal poets converted and became his companions, praising him in life and elegizing him after his death.
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It's certain that the implications of the Paris attack will reverberate globally. What I truly, sincerely, hope is that in doing so, they might provide the world with a sort of do-over of 9/11. Instead of lapsing into pointless militarism and a clash of civilizations thinking, I would hope that maybe, just maybe, we as a world might be able to move against ISIS. I fear this won't happen, but I think there's still space for me to hope.

What about you? What do you think will happen?
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  • Wikipedia's page on the November 2015 Paris attacks is a good basic source of information, and further links.

  • Bloomberg had a collection of articles, one looking at how Parisians are coping the day after, another connecting this to France's role fighting Islamist groups from West Africa to Syria.

  • CBC shared early social media footage.

  • Slate has terrible reports from the slaughter in the Bataclan theatre, which turns out to have been named after an amusing-sounding Offenbach operetta, Ba-ta-clan.
  • The Toronto Star noted how soccer fans at the Stade de France remained calm, even exiting singing "La Marseillaise".

  • Vox, helpfully, notes that using these attacks to justify an exclusion of Syrian refugees overlooks that these are the people the refugees are fleeing.

  • The Atlantic's controversial article examining the roots of ISIS in Islam is a useful starting point, although this critical examination at Lawyers, Guns and Money is also worth noting.

  • MacLean's shared reactions from around the world.

  • Wired reported on how the Facebook status updates of one Benjamin Cazenoves, trapped in the Bataclan, were widely shared, and also notes the wide use of the #porteouverte hashtag.

  • Quartz reports on the universal condemnation of the attacks throughout the Muslim world.

  • Esquire argues that the Middle Eastern oil states that funded ISIS should be held to task.

  • John Scalzi at Whatever makes the point that buying into ISIS' rhetoric is a trap we must avoid.

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First posted at Demography Matters.

* * *

News of today's terrorist attacks in Paris reached me almost instantaneously here in Toronto, via a short BBC breaking news feature. It's been terribly sad to see different acquaintances on different social networks reveal their connections to different attacked sites: one actually stayed in an apartment above Le Petit Cambodge, others also had spent time or had loved one in different areas. My thoughts are with the victims.

I owe thanks to Vox's German Lopez for pointing readers like me to a
Tweet by one Dan Holliday. Holliday's reaction to the people who would seize upon the refugees entering Europe from Syria as some kind of contagion for terrorist infection.

More to the point, I suspect that the attackers were native to wider Europe.

The Daesh have their own strategy of tension, a desire to help its cause by causing a general collapse in relations between different communities--Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, in short the people it sees as its natural power base whatever they actually think and everyone else. It's critically important not to let this happen, not to give the Daesh victory here. Their enemy is all humankind. Never forget that.

And now, to conclude, here's the famous performance of "La Marseillaise" from Casablanca. Allons, les enfants, allons.

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CBC carried the news that three people convicted of carrying out an honour killing directed towards four female family members have lodged an appeal.

A Montreal couple and their son who were convicted of first-degree murder in the so-called honour killings of four female family members are appealing for a new trial.

Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed, filed a 110-page factum with the Ontario Court of Appeal, arguing Justice Robert Maranger failed to intervene when the Crown presented arguments that they believe improperly swayed jurors in their decision-making.

The document also questions the testimony of University of Toronto Prof. Shahrzad Mojab, an "honour killing" expert who testified on behalf of the Crown.

The three accused were each given an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years for their roles in the deaths.

The bodies of Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with Mohammad Shafia's first wife, Rona Mohammad Amir, 50, were found in the family's Nissan, submerged in a lock on the Rideau Canal on June 30, 2009. The prosecutors at their trial said the three accused felt the sisters and Amir had been acting dishonorably by not following family rules.

Michael Friscolanti of MacLean's goes into more detail.

In a lengthy factum filed at Ontario’s Court of Appeal, the Shafias take specific aim at the “overwhelmingly prejudicial” testimony of a key Crown witness: Shahrzad Mojab, a University of Toronto professor who researches honour-based violence. A leading expert in her field, Mojab told the original Kingston jury that in some Middle Eastern cultures, a family’s reputation is measured by the obedience and chastity of its women—and that even the mere perception of inappropriate conduct can be a death sentence. “The shedding of blood is the way of purifying the name of the family in the community,” she told a packed courtroom on Dec. 5, 2011. “It is an expected act. It is expected that the honour of the family be restored and controlled.”

Lawyers representing the Shafia trio (father Mohammad, mother Tooba Yahya, and eldest son, Hamed) say the trial judge, Justice Robert Maranger, never should have allowed Mojab to take the stand. Her evidence “created enormous prejudice,” they argue, because it implied the accused “had a disposition to commit family homicide as a result of their cultural background.” Originally from Afghanistan, the family immigrated to Canada in 2007.

“Allowing cultural disposition evidence tempts jurors to follow their worst impulses and creates the risk that defendants will be judged by their background rather than their proven actions,” reads their joint factum, obtained by Maclean’s.

“By reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes of violent and primitive Muslims, [Mojab’s testimony] created the risk that the jury’s verdict would be tainted by cultural prejudice.”

The factum points out that Ontario’s high court has described Muslims as “a minority that many believe is unfairly maligned and stereotyped in contemporary Canada,” and that “cultural caricatures of ‘dangerous Muslim men’ and ‘imperilled Muslim women’ ” are “well-entrenched in popular culture and mainstream media.” “By placing the deaths of the deceased in a context of culturally inspired violence against women,” the factum continues, “Dr. Mojab’s evidence risked engaging racial and cultural animus.”

Friscolanti notes that there was, in fact, much evidence suggesting that the three held the four dead in great contempt.
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The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has just ended, and I, for one, remain impressed by the genius of Osama bin Laden. Using his skills in rhetoric and organization, enlisting less than a two dozen volunteers, providing them with a half-million dollars, and giving them a clear plan, bin Laden managed to change the course of world history. The attack he organized killed thousands, the wars this attack triggered killed hundreds of thousands at least, and the lives of millions of people--easily tens of millions--have been directly deformed by all of these various legacies, of terrors and wars and persecutions and man-made disasters.

Never let it be said that one man can't change the world.
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Pinar Tremblay at Al-Monitor points to an ongoing controversy in modern Turkey. Are women are doing so much better than men--or are perceived to be doing so much better, at least--that men feel depressed? It's not unimaginable.

On July 19, Islamist writer Ismail Kilicarslan published a piece titled "Joyful pious girls, unhappy Islamist young men" for the pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) daily Yeni Safak. The piece became an instant hit, receiving thousands of tweets from all over the political spectrum in Turkey. Several other columnists have chimed in on the issue since and Kilicarsan felt compelled to pen a follow-up piece on July 21 to better explain himself and to respond to some of the critics.

The controversial piece had said, “Today pious girls [young women] are more advanced than Islamist men in the culture of living and finding joy. Girls are better than men in learning about life, respecting differences, developing sensitivities and comprehending life from different perspectives. On top of all these, girls are better at active participation in life than guys.” Kilicarslan continued to explain that although young Islamist men are frequently heard talking about “saving the world” while puffing hookahs, women are the go-getters. They are the real game changers. To make his point, Kilicarslan argued that women today are better educated, more involved in politics and Islamic matters while men act like know-it-alls in colleges and seminar halls. He explained that one reason why there are so many seemingly overconfident yet delusory young men are the false images created. Kilicarslan complained that Islamic teachings boost young men’s egos and they start developing unrealistic expectations about possible future spouses.

Kilicarslan said that devout girls were focused, sociable and hardworking in the causes of Islamic studies and charity, while young men had pumped up egos and high demands, yet were unqualified to fulfill the needs of their families and society. Therefore, these young men are perceived as failures, and hence are unhappy.

While some applauded Kilicarslan, many were extremely critical of him. His analysis, perhaps long overdue, hit a nerve in Turkish society.
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Srdja Pavlović's March Open Democracy essay looks at the continuing internal conflicts in Serbia over the country's orientation.

In an interview for CNN in August 2014, the Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, reiterated that his country "supports and respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea as a part of Ukraine." He added that at the same time, however, Serbia "did not" impose sanctions against Russia. The Serbian political elite, however, has quickly learned that the time of non-alignment and neutrality belongs to yester-years. Serbia has been reminded time and again by its Western partners of the need to make a choice, and of the fact that the New Cold War reality demands unwavering loyalty. It is also worth noting that Serbia became a member of the Partnership for Peace at the 2006 NATO Summit in Riga.

On the other hand, the government in Moscow is sending a clear message that it does not look benevolently upon Serbia’s EU aspirations. In an interview for the Serbian State Television, the Russian General Leonid Ivashov stated that Serbia in the EU and NATO would be “a catastrophe”. It is reasonable to assume that the pressure from Moscow would only increase over time.

Within the ruling party there seem to be dissonant voices on the issue of choosing between EU and Russia. The President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, disagrees with the prime minister about their country’s EU and NATO integration, and favours stronger ties with Russia. Nikolić’s attempt to maintain close relations with Moscow is informed by his understanding of history and the political usability of the memory of the recent confrontation with NATO, as well as the ideology of nationalism to which he wholeheartedly subscribes. He is supported in that by the entire right-wing political block that currently commands the loyalty of a sizable portion of the electorate. President Nikolić is also aided in its pro-Russian stance by the high ranking clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Some analysts, however, interpret his dissent as a tactical maneuver that portrays Prime Minister Vučić as a reform-oriented centrist determined to see Serbia become a part of the EU, and as a politician who is facing stiff opposition. The prime minister, long known as a hot-bloodied nationalist, indeed appears eager to project the image of himself as Serbia’s last chance for salvation and a victim of historical circumstances. Vučić believing in his messianic role notwithstanding, the reality is that criticisms of his policies are few and far between. His standing as the most popular politician in Serbia was built on the perception of his determined fight against deeply rooted corruption even though the results of such struggle are yet to manifest themselves in earnest. Many in Serbia say that Aleksandar Vučić had promised a lot but delivered precious little.
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  • The Big Picture shares photos from post-referendum Greece.

  • blogTO looks at a recent live-tweeting of a bad date.

  • Centauri Dreams notes the recovery of New Horizons.

  • The Dragons' Gaze notes a new estimate for terrestrial exoplanets suggesting that every Sun-like star should at least have one.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper suggesting that salt in the waters of Uranus and Neptune plays a critical role in determining their internal structure.

  • Geocurrents looks at Dhofar.

  • Language Hat notes that Stalin was quite multilingual.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the way the language used by women is policed.

  • The Map Room's Jonathan Crowe links to an interview with fantasy map designer Robert Lazzaretti.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw reflects on Australia's experience in the Great Depression, noting that it was a time when states were powerful.

  • pollotenchegg notes post-Second World War fertility in Ukraine.

  • Savage Minds has a roundup of links to various anthropology and social sciences blogs.

  • Speed River Journal's Van Waffle shares photos from St. Jacob's Farmers market.

  • Torontoist looks at a BDSM sex dungeon.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that Iceland has repealed its blasphemy law in direct reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia's historical singularity and recent evolution.

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Reuters reports on a community in upstate New York, founded in the 1980s by African-American Muslims and thriving, in the aftermath of a recently-revealed plot to attack it.

Just beyond the gated entrance to the tiny Catskills community of Holy Islamberg, population 200, cows graze and ducks glide on a tranquil pond. Modest houses of wood and cinder block sit along the hamlet’s single thoroughfare, a rutted dirt road without traffic signs.

Islamberg sits about 150 miles northwest of New York City, but the small enclave of Muslim families living on shared land feels a world away from city life, which is what its founders intended 30 years ago, when they established the hamlet on 70 acres of pasture land and dense woods in upstate New York.

Last month, however, the community’s serenity was disrupted by news that a Tennessee man had pleaded guilty to charges of plotting an attack on Islamberg and its residents.

Formed by a group of African-American Muslims from New York City, the community follows the teachings of Pakistani Sufi cleric Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, who during the 1980s urged his American acolytes to leave metropolitan areas and establish rural communities centered on religious life.

Today, Islamberg is one of about a dozen Muslim enclaves formed in accordance with the cleric’s ideas. It also serves as home to Muslims of America, a Gilani-founded organization.
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Of all the potential spokespeople for Muslims in Canada and Québec, Adil Charkaoui is among the worst. Martin Patriquin of MacLean's writes about how a man once suspected of terrorist connections has become a prominent figure.

Hints of [Adil Charkaoui]'s alleged former life as a terrorist have crept into Charkaoui’s present-day narrative. Two of Charkaoui’s former students, who attended his Muslim community centre in east-end Montreal, were found to have made a trip overseas to join jihadi groups in their fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. More recently, two of 10 individuals arrested before they could leave on a similar mission had frequented Charkaoui’s classes.

Charkaoui, who didn’t respond to interview requests, has vehemently denied that he coaxed his former students into jihad­—and none of those students has spoken about Charkaoui at all. He has further denied that he planned a “biochemical attack in [Montreal’s] Metro” in 2002, or that he ever talked of “taking control of an airplane for aggressive purposes,” as the federal government alleged in court filings from 2013.

He has since become a Canadian citizen—proof positive, Charkaoui has said, that the government’s own allegations of terrorism were far-fetched. On the day of his citizenship ceremony, Charkaoui happily quoted from the letter sent to him from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “welcoming him to the Canadian family.”

While he continues to draw the ire of old foes—the PQ’s Agnès Maltais, now in opposition, recently labelled him “a merchant of hate”—he is also facing criticism from an unlikely source: Muslims themselves. In March, the tabloid Journal de Montréal published an open letter to Charkaoui by Omar Kesraoui, an Algerian-born Montrealer. “In Algeria, I didn’t have a childhood or an adolescence because of Islamists like you . . . The community needs real leaders to speak in the public sphere, not charlatans like you,” reads the letter, in part. Kesraoui goes on to call Charkaoui a “self-proclaimed sheik.”

Kesraoui didn’t respond to requests for further comment, and many others from the community seem to be wary of criticizing Charkaoui in public, for fear of adding to the perceived anti-Muslim bias in Quebec society. “By coming out and saying that Adil Charkaoui is a bad person, you end up joining the ranks of those who criticize Muslims in the public sphere, and perpetuate the idea that there’s something wrong with Islam,” says Stephen Brown, a Muslim activist in Montreal and a Charkaoui critic. “So, guys who proclaim themselves to be spokespeople can say anything and nothing is going to happen to them.”
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  • Anthropology.net notes the embarrassing discovery that one of the vertebrae believed to have been part of the skeleton of early hominid Lucy actually belonged to a baboon.

  • Antipope Charlie Stross comes up with another worrisome explanation for the Great Filter.

  • BlogTO visits the Toronto offices of photo community site 500px.

  • Centauri Dreams features a guest essay from Ashley Baldwin about near- and medium-term search strategies and technologies for exoplanets.

  • Crooked Timber examines problems with non-copyright strategies.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper noting oddities in the protoplanetary disk of AA Tauri.

  • The Dragon's Tales considers how how to make enduring software.

  • Mathew Ingram notes that Rolling Stone encountered ruin with the story of Jackie by wanting it to be true.

  • Joe. My. God. notes a New York City artist who took pictures of people in adjacent condos won the privacy suit put against him.

  • Language Hat looks at foreign influence in the French language.

  • Language Log links to a study of Ronald Reagan's speeches that finds evidence of his progression to Alzheimer's during the presidency.

  • Languages of the World considers the geopolitics of a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues that Jonah Lehrer was not treated unfairly.

  • Marginal Revolution approves of Larry Kramer's new GLBT-themed history of the United States.

  • Justin Petrone at North contrasts Easter as celebrated in Estonian and Russian churches.

  • Savage Minds features an essay in support of the BDS movement aimed against Israel.

  • Spacing engages David Miller on the need of urbanites to have access to nature.

  • Torontoist notes the popularity of a bill against GLBT conversion therapy at Queen's Park.

  • Towleroad observes the beginning of an opera about Grindr.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy takes issue with Gerry Trudeau's criticism of cartoons which satirize Islam.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at a Tatar woman who kept Islam alive in Soviet Moscow, argues that the sheer size of Donbas means that Russia cannot support it, looks at the centrality of the Second World War in modern Russia, and suggests the weak Ukrainian state but strong civil society is the inverse of the Russian situation.

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CBC's Laura Lynch reports on the strange defenses, legal and otherwise, of former Tunisian graduate student Chiheb Esseghaier on charges of terrorism.

Since the trial began on Feb. 1, virtually all of Esseghaier's words and actions in court — save for a brief, rambling statement at the end, read out by a court-appointed lawyer — have been kept secret from the jury and public under a court-ordered publication ban that has been lifted today as the jury goes into its deliberations.

They include:

■Asking the judge to help him persuade members of Parliament to change the Criminal Code to reflect the Qur'an
■Praying in the prisoner's dock and ignoring the judge's order to stop
■Displaying an unusual aversion to the number three

What those words and deeds suggest is a man whose level of religious zeal is unmatched by many, and whose unorthodox actions have clearly tested the patience of Judge Michael Code and the conduct of the trial.

Perhaps the most unusual of Esseghaier's interjections are those surrounding the number three. On at least two occasions, with the jury absent, he spoke about his apparent aversion to matters involving three.

Last month, noting that Esseghaier was falling asleep in court, Judge Code asked him whether he was sleeping well in the prison where he is being held.

Esseghaier told him he realized not long after his arrest that the jail had given him one blanket and two sheets and he saw it as a symbol, a symbol he could not accept.

"I told them I cannot accept symbolism because one blanket and two sheets suggests God has a son and a wife and God does not need to have a son and a wife because God is the creator of all things. So I can't accept the metaphor."

Much more at the link.


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