City of Brass

Along with the entire nation of Pakistan, I’m fascinated by this story:


He is Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor. She is an outspoken poet
and journalist born into Pakistan’s greatest political dynasty. What,
then, could spark a bigger media circus than a “secret romance” between
George Clooney and Benazir Bhutto’s 26-year-old niece, Fatima?

across the subcontinent were thrown into frenzied excitement yesterday
when America’s most influential supermarket tabloid claimed that
Clooney had embarked on a long-distance relationship with Ms Bhutto
after meeting her at an international conference last year.

National Enquirer alleged that the 47-year-old actor and political
activist was privately smitten by the “brainy foreign beauty,” who
lives with her brother and step-mother in a prosperous suburb of

Assuming that it’s true (which given the origin of the story in the National Enquirer, does require at least some skepticism), it’s notable that Clooney’s interest is partly because of the “foreign” aspect. Also, we can assume that the “brainy” appeal is largely due to the contrast with his usual coterie. I’m surprised the phrase “exotic beauty” haven’t been used yet. But Fatima Bhutto’s cachet as scion of the most powerful political dynasty in Pakistan also surely is part of the appeal.

As a distraction from other (ahem) world affairs of greater significance – such as finally admitting that the Mumbai attackers did have Pakistani links – the Clooney-Bhutto romance certainly is useful. But let’s suppose it is true and Clooney is serious. How serious is he? Would he be willing to convert to Islam to gain Bhutto’s favor? To be honest, after Mikael Jackson I’m kind of dreading the media circus. But Clooney’s been fascinated with the Islamic world for a while now – Three Kings and Syriana come immediately to mind. As a muslim Clooney could film his next movie in Mecca proper… and not even have to give up his Starbucks or Burger King.

pizza_1293894c.jpgWhat happens when a Domino’s pizza decides to serve to all-halal menu? The end of Western civilization, of course:

Chris Yates, 29, a hospital worker living in Moseley, Birmingham, said he was
told he couldn’t have a ‘Meteor’ pizza, topped with pepperoni, sausage,
meatballs, ground beef and smoky bacon, when he called up at the weekend.

He said: “It’s a disgrace, I can appreciate them having it as an option
but to have it completely halal is just not on,” he fumed.

I’m all for racial and religious tolerance but if anything this is
intolerant to my beliefs and discriminatory against me

“Instead I had to travel two miles out of my way to another branch – I
was appalled. “Hall Green is a mixed race area and should therefore
cater to its multicultural make-up.

In a society that promotes racial and religious integration, this sort
of things only isolates people

While Peter Merholz, 38, from Hall Green, added: “This is a global pizza
chain that is isolating western values and choice. It’s alienating people
and that’s just not on.

“I’d been coming here for ages but now I’ll go elsewhere because I can’t
get a pepperoni pizza
, which is what I always have.”

Halal items on the menu include halal spicy beef sausage, roast and tandoori
chicken, halal pepperoni and halal cured turkey – all produced and stored
within the Halal Food Authorities guidelines.

The reactions (emphasis mine) are illuminating. These members of the religious and cultural minority are so threatened by one halal pizza shop that they feel as if they are being discriminated against – and this despite the fact that pepperoni remains on the menu, and there are plenty of other pizza venues they can get their pig products from if their palates really are so refined as to discern the difference between halal and non-halal anyway (let’s face it. this is pizza we are talking about, not foie gras).

The predictable cries of “Dhimmitude” notwithstanding, this is actually a positive mark of assimilation and a good thing overall for the UK muslim community. It’s exactly the sort of thing that the putative Defenders of the West should be trumpeting as evidence of the West’s capability for religious tolerance and freedom. Instead, we have pepperoni ultimatums.

It’s worth pointing out that the muslim world doesn’t seem too concerned about Burger King’s prime location in Mecca. Also note that the Subway fast-food chain has many Kosher outlets now in the US. Their existence went largely unremarked and un-outraged. Frankly I think that Kosher and Halal should be combined. It wouldn’t be too hard to cross-certify food according to both standards, at least for basic staples.

This is a guest post by my friend Aamer Jamali. This is the second post in a series.
just returned from Hajj, a number of anecdotes stick out in my mind
which best serve to illustrate the role that modern technology has to
play.  Perhaps relating these will serve to outline my thoughts.
remember clearly the crush of the people around the Holy Kaaba.  The
unified voices calling out in prayer during Tawaaf.  The unity in
purpose, in belief, in humanity where differences were forgotten, and
then… “Tell him I will not sell the generator for less than
140,000!”… Huh?  Tawaaf in my mind is similar to salaat, an act of
worship which deserves to be treated as such, and yet, the ubiquitous
cell phone had invaded even this holy place, this holy act.  To my
right, a man in a traditional thawb and topi was giving tawaaf.  In his
left hand, an open prayer book, held down at waist level at his side,
ignored.  His right hand to his ear, conducting his business during
this most sacred of all Hajj rituals.  I felt like shouting, “come on,
is nothing sacred?” but the thought was a little too literal, and hurt
a little too much.  What is the etiquette of cell phone usage in the
Haram?  On the one hand are the guards, fruitlessly and totally
ineffectually checking every entering person for cell phones.  On the
other is this gentleman, bargaining on a generator while performing
tawaaf.  In between are countless others, calling beloved family from
the fringes of haram, relating their thoughts for them from this
holiest of holies, texting friends and loved ones around the globe. 
Shooting countless low resolution pictures in bad lighting as if 1.3
megapixels could somehow capture this fleeting existential moment (I
was guilty of this myself).  At first these latter behaviors struck me
as rude, but when I stopped to think about it, if the motive underlying
these phone calls to beloveds or pointless pictures was one of intense
respect and veneration for your situation, then what is wrong with that
emotion manifesting itself through a more modern medium?  Would anyone
object to someone quietly writing a letter to their parents “Dear dad,
I sat in front of Kaaba and prayed for you today” or sketching the
incredible scene in charcoal?
Cellular phones on Hajj were
everywhere, much as they have become in every aspect of life on every
corner of the globe.  But their uses are not limited to the evil and
the crass.  Without them, my wife my sister and I would have been
separated on the very first day, and Allah knows if we would have ever
found each other.  2.4 million people, all dressed the same.  Without
our trusty mobiles on each of us every second, communication would have
been impossible.  It was to the point where if you lost physical
contact with one another, the waves of masses could separate you by an
impassable breach in seconds.  In that scenario, the quick text
“waiting under green sign” or “doing one more tawaaf, go home without
me” was essential.  I truly cannot fathom (nor do I frankly wish to) my
Hajj experience without a mobile phone.  This method of communication
was nothing less than indispensable.  This simple act was directly
responsible for so much less headache, worry, and so much more safety
and ability to concentrate more on the task at hand (rather than “where
did my wife go?”), and any technology that can help that should be
One piece of modern technology which I frankly
struggled with was photography.  Cameras, cell phone cameras, and video
cameras are officially forbidden, and yet almost everyone has them. 
What is the etiquette for photography inside the Haram?  You have traveled your whole life to get to this point, and you are there but
for a short time.  Why not take pictures to remember your momentous
journey?  To show your kids?  To teach others preparing for Hajj?  And
yet, it seemed at times, garishly tacky and ‘touristy”.
corner before Hajre Aswad is called Rukn-e-Yamani.  The crowd around
this corner is second only to hajr-e-aswad itself as people throw
themselves against the walls, kiss them, and beg, pray and cry for
forgiveness of their sins.  On the seventh time around during one particularly long, crowded, and hot tawaaf, my wife and I approached
this point, humble and ready to prostrate ourselves before Allah, only
to find the man in front of us posing unabashedly with his hand on
Rukn-e-Yamani, smiling widely while his friend tried in vain to get far
enough away to take a reasonable picture (this turned out to be a
futile exercise).  This bothered me a little.  But photography was
everywhere, including in my own hands (for better or worse).  But in
the end, I returned to my sentiment, that if the photographer is moved
by respect and love, what really is the harm in expressing this with
21st century tools?
Finally, a couple of quick lighter anecdotes:

of Haram in mecca there is no shortage of places to eat, including many
western fast food places such as starbucks (really, did you doubt this
for a second?), burger king, KFC, and Carl’s Jr. (surprisingly no
McDonalds!).  At the Burger king in Mecca, the cash registers scrolled
a three line message, two lines at a time:Mecca Burger King

“Welcome to Burger King/At the Holy Mosque”

Followed by:

“At the Holy Mosque/Have it your way!”
I really, honestly think that as electronics become cheaper, 4
miniature GPS transponders and one mapping device could be sold for
around $50 and you couldn’t keep them on the shelf.  Two would go to
two family members to wear on their person, and two would go (more
importantly?) in your check in bags, so you could at all times see
where they were.  If you get rich off this idea, please give me 10%,
that’s all I ask.

Aamer H. Jamali, MD, FACC is a cardiologist in Los Angeles.

On November 19th, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery where 51,000 soldiers (both Union and Confederate) were killed, wounded, or missing just a few months earlier. In honor pf President Lincoln’s birthday, I think a word cloud of the text of his shortest, and yet most important, speech is a fitting tribute, as well as the transcript so that his words can speak for themselves.


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground — The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I find it fitting that the dominant word is “Nation”. That was, after all, the sole object of President Lincoln’s concern during his tenure, and rightly so.

Related: The actual “delivery copy” of the Gettysburg Address is somewhat unknown, as there are multiple versions. The version above is the Nicolay copy.