Beliefnet
City of Brass

In the year 2020, the Grand Mosque complex housing the Ka’aba might look something like this:

This is just one possible design that will be floated by star architects Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid, recruited by King Abdullah to vastly increase capacity at the mosque:

According to sources, the scheme for Islam’s holiest city could create a huge new structure around the central Haram mosque that will eventually be capable of holding three million people, making it the ‘highest occupancy’ building in the world.
 
The top-secret plans are being backed by King Abdullah ben Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia who has asked a hand-picked collection of starchitects to ‘establish a new architectural vision’ for the 356,800m2 mosque complex.

The AJ believes that the project is likely to be phased, with phase one transforming the mosque from having an official capacity of 900,000 to 1.5 million. This will then go up to three million with the completion of several phases over the following five to 10 years.

It is understood the proposals have been split into two ‘tracks’, with Foster + Partners earmarked to look at a range of alternatives for the northern expansion of the Haram mosque. Ten other practices are also believed to have been approached to draw up feasibility studies for the extension programme, including Atkins.

Meanwhile Hadid has been given the prize task of coming up with ideas for the Haram mosque itself as well as ‘revisiting the whole area of the central district’. Another six other ‘world renown’ architects have also been linked with the job.

To get an idea of just how many existing buildings will need to be totally obliterated to make way for this behemoth, look at the following Google Map of the area:


View Larger Map

Everything above and to the left of the Haram complex (white building in the lower right corner) will need to be razed. This represents a massive swath through the heart of the city.

Mecca is one of the world’s great historical sites – there are countless archeological treasures from the earliest days of Islam and even the pre-Islamic period which are already lost, due to an aggressive demolition campaign being systematically carried out by the Saudi authorities over the past few decades:

Historic Mecca, the cradle of Islam, is being buried in an unprecedented onslaught by religious zealots.

Almost all of the rich and multi-layered history of the holy city is gone. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.

Now the actual birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed is facing the bulldozers, with the connivance of Saudi religious authorities whose hardline interpretation of Islam is compelling them to wipe out their own heritage.
[…]
 A Saudi architect, Sami Angawi, who is an acknowledged specialist on the region’s Islamic architecture, told The Independent that the final farewell to Mecca is imminent: “What we are witnessing are the last days of Mecca and Medina.”

According to Dr Angawi – who has dedicated his life to preserving Islam’s two holiest cities – as few as 20 structures are left that date back to the lifetime of the Prophet 1,400 years ago and those that remain could be bulldozed at any time. “This is the end of history in Mecca and Medina and the end of their future,” said Dr Angawi.

That was three years ago – the situation now is even more precarious. Aside from the Grand Mosque expansion, there are private plans to construct an astonishing 130 skyscrapers in Mecca as well:

The holiest city in Islam is to get a £6bn facelift, it was announced yesterday, with homes and hills being flattened to make way for hotels, apartments, shopping malls and transport facilities for pilgrims. Six development projects ordered by the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, will transform Mecca, which struggles to accommodate the millions of Muslims who pour into the city every year to perform hajj.

The biggest change will be to the courtyards of the Grand Mosque, which can hold at least 100,000 worshippers during prayer times. An ambitious expansion programme has led to the demolition of 1,000 properties in the immediate Shamiya area and Saudi authorities have set aside an estimated £80m to compensate the homeowners.

There will also be a new residential district to the south-west of the mosque. Construction firms have begun to level hills to create a 230,000 square metre area that will include high-rise apartments and air conditioned prayer facilities for up to 120,000.

A new ring road, four kilometres (2.5 miles) long and 80m wide, will ease congestion and link to the Jeddah highway, while a project to the south of the mosque will increase prayer space from 1,170 to 30,000 square metres and provide parking space for more than 1,000 cars.

But Irfan Al Alawi, the founder and former executive director the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, said: “It’s the Manhattanisation of Mecca. The Saudis want to build skyscrapers. The worry is that as they level hills and mountains they will destroy sites of cultural interest.”

Related: discussion about “Meccahattan” at Talk Islam. Also, John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia has numerous posts on the battle between history and zealotry beyond just Mecca, noting threats to the Cave of Uhud (where the Prophet SAW took refuge during the battle of the same name) and Salae Mountain which played a role in the Battle of the Trench. It is important to note that there are forces within Saudi Arabia, including within the royal family as well as the general public, that are opposed to the wholesale destruction of Islamic heritage. However, where the zealots may fail, the developers may yet succeed.

On Inauguration Day, President Obama will take the oath of office using his full name.

Q: Do you anticipate being sworn in as Barack Obama or Barack Hussein Obama?

Obama: I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I’ll do what everybody else does.

That means according to Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, he will say the following words:

“I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute theoffice ofPresident of the United States, and will to the best of my ability,preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Watch for the Islamophobe tinfoil crowd to start claiming he will take the oath with his hand on the Qur’an instead of the Bible.

UPDATE (Jan 20th, 2009) – video of Obama taking the oath:

The stammer was because Chief Justice Roberts flubbed the oath 🙂

The Mumbai terror attacks were arguably India’s 9-11 – an attack on the nation as a whole instead of just isolated targets of opportunity. That makes these two stories an interesting pair – first, Pakistan has arrested suspects accused of being masterminds of the Mumbai attack:

Pakistan’s prime minister has confirmed the arrest of two men that India says had a role in last month’s attacks in Mumbai that left at least 171 people dead.

Yousuf Raza Gilani said in Multan city on Wednesday that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, members of armed group Lashkar-e-Taiba, are being questioned by Pakistani investigators.

“They have been detained for investigation,” Gilani said.

Confirmation of Lakhvi and Shah’s arrest came a day after Indian police released the names or aliases of nine suspected attackers killed during the Mumbai assaults.

Police said all the men named were from Pakistan.

meanwhile, Malaysia has released several suspected terrorists, including one who may have briefly housed the 9-11 NYC hijackers:

The Malaysian government has released three “terror suspects” from a detention camp, including one accused of abetting the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

Syed Hamid Albar, the Malaysian home minister, confirmed on Wednesday that the alleged members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional group were released from the Kamunting detention centre in the northern state of Perak over the last two weeks.

The most prominent among them is Yazid Sufaat, a JI member, who was arrested in December 2002.

“He was considered as a threat to public security in Malaysia because he was part of Jemaah Islamiyah, trying to establish an Islamic government within the region,” Syed Hamid.

“I think after holding him for so long, he can be brought back into society but at the same time we will follow closely everyone that may have ideology [of] militancy or extremism.”

[…]

Yazid, a former army captain, allegedly let several senior al-Qaeda operatives use his apartment for meetings in Malaysia, including two eventual hijackers in the September 11 suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre.

The United States’ 9/11 Commission report says Yazid, a US-trained biochemist, would “spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al-Qaeda” in a laboratory he helped set up near Kandahar airport.

The US had sought Yazid’s extradition after he was detained.

Nalini Elumalai, an activist with human rights group Suaram, said the three men were released on condition that they remain within their home districts and report regularly to police.

Security detainees undergo intensive counselling while in detention and will be freed if authorities are convinced that they have been “rehabilitated”.

It’s easy to be alarmed by this but it is important to remember that religious de-programming and rehabilitation of jihadis is not only possible but in fact quite successful. These suspects were being held without trial (akin to the detainees at Guantanamo) and so if the Malaysian government had no actual evidence to tie these men to their alleged actions, then releasing them is the right thing to do. 

Meanwhile, in Guantanamo itself, several of the detainees (including high profile Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept 11th mastermind) actually offered to plead guilty with full confession, hoping to get the death penalty. Far from simplifying things, the offer to plead guilty caused tremendous legal confusion:

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Dec. 8 — Five of the men accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said Monday that they wanted to plead guilty to murder and war crimes but withdrew the offer when a military judge raised questions about whether it would prevent them from fulfilling their desire to receive the death penalty.

“Are you saying if we plead guilty we will not be able to be sentenced to death?” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed operational mastermind of the attacks, asked at a pretrial hearing here.

The seesaw proceedings Monday raised and then postponed the prospect of a conviction in a case that has become the centerpiece of the system of military justice created by the Bush administration. A conviction would have capped a seven-year quest for justice after the 2001 attacks, but the delay in entering pleas will probably extend the process beyond the end of the Bush presidency.

mcjoan at DailyKos comments,

the military commissions process has been so haphazardly slapped together that even the judge didn’t know how to proceed with a guilty plea, whether a death sentence could be imposed if the case wasn’t heard by a “jury.”

Guantanamo not only makes a mockery of our principles and justice system, but also has caused immense harm to us as a nation – as evidenced by comments of an (anonymous) Air Force intelligence agent involved with interogations in Iraq:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans….

My experiences have landed me in the middle of another war — one even more important than the Iraq conflict. The war after the war is a fight about who we are as Americans. Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves. One day, when my grandkids sit on my knee and ask me about the war, I’ll say to them, “Which one?”
[…]

I’m actually quite optimistic these days, in no small measure because President-elect Barack Obama has promised to outlaw the practice of torture throughout our government. But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.

If we are to win against these people who threaten us, we must do so without conceding to them our principles and our honor. The same goes for all civilized nations under attack, including India and Malaysia. To that end I hope that the accused of the Mumbai attacks are indeed given a real, honest trial – and why I find Malaysia’s actions to be hopeful instead of worrying.

via sepoy at Chapati Mystery:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: progpak@gmail.com / 917.922.9836

Pakistanis Hold Vigil for Mumbai Victims
Call Upon India and Pakistan to Work Towards Peace

When: Saturday, December 13th, 4:00 pm
Where: Union Square NORTH (16th Street) – across the street from Barnes and Noble

(New York, December 8, 2008) – Action for a Progressive Pakistan (APP) condemns the violence of Nov 26th which claimed the lives of over 180 people in Mumbai, and expresses solidarity with the people of India. The group calls upon the democratically elected governments of India and Pakistan to work together in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice.

APP will hold a vigil this Saturday, December 13th at 4pm in Union Square to express sorrow at the loss of innocent life and call for peace and stability in the region. It demands that measured and deliberate steps be taken to ensure the safety and security of all the citizens of India and Pakistan, who remain the true targets of these extreme agendas. The group also calls upon the governments of India and Pakistan to work for a peaceful resolution of the current crisis, and asks that the world community support the two countries in this endeavor.

“The people of Pakistan stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in India because we also bear deeply the scars of terrorism,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology Saadia Toor who’s also a founding member of APP. In 2007 alone, 1500 people were killed in terror attacks in Pakistan. This year, forty people were killed and as many as 350 injured including school children when bombs destroyed a federal government building in the heart of Lahore on March 11th. Another fifty were killed by a terror attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel in September. These acts of violence, whether in India or Pakistan, are a backlash to the global War on Terror by non-state forces seeking to destabilize the region and derail long-overdue peace initiatives being pursued by the two countries.

The only defense against terrorism is a prosperous democracy. Pakistan has just elected its first civilian government in over a decade after a protracted struggle against the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. The civilian government has already taken several key steps towards de-militarizing the domestic political sphere, and has made overtures towards trying to solve the issue of Kashmir. The civilian regime has managed to impose some limitations on the military but it must do more. To ensure peace and security in the region, the world community must support Pakistan’s democratic institutions. This support must include development assistance geared towards addressing the needs of Pakistan’s poor. APP calls for an immediate end to US airstrikes inside Pakistan’s borders, as they are contributing greatly to the destabilization of the region and causing hardships for innocent civilians.

Action for a Progressive Pakistan stands with the people of South Asia in their struggle for peace in the region. The group, comprised of concerned Pakistani professionals and academics, is committed to ensuring peace, democracy and development in South Asia.

If you are in NYC, please consider attending!

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