Building the biggest bridge in the world: A Bin Laden project (& Iran’s American hostages)

July 26, 2007


1. Finally, America gets a female President... on “24”
2. It’s Hurry Potter: Newspaper editors employ speed-readers to review book
3. Al-Jazeera commentator: “Most of the Turks here are drug dealers”
4. Ahmadinejad praises Islamist victory in Turkey
5. Economist launches audio version of entire magazine
6. Building the biggest bridge in the world: A Bin Laden project
7. UK’s Gordon Brown won’t rule out military action in Iran
8. Peres: International community does have power to make Iran back down
9. “What? You haven’t heard about them?”
10. “BBC to teach its stars honesty” (Daily Telegraph, July 25, 2007)
11. “VisionTV gives Islamic radical more air time” (National Post, July 23, 2007)
12. “Haleh Esfandiari” (By Mark Steyn, New York Sun, July 23, 2007)

[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch includes some “lighter” items first, followed by some more serious ones. It also includes a number of items about the media itself which are not directly related to the Middle East.


Sources tell the Hollywood Reporter that a female (to be played by “Ocean’s 12” actress Cherry Jones) is likely to be U.S. President in the upcoming season of the hit Fox show “24”.

Hillary Clinton will no doubt be watching very closely.

“24” has already had two African-American presidents.


The seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series was released at one minute past midnight, local time, on Saturday, and in an age of instant reaction and online blogs, newspapers in the highly competitive British market (which received no advance copies of the 608-page book*) wanted a review in time for editions the same morning, reports Reuters from London.

Britain’s bestselling daily Sun tabloid employed speed-reading champion Anne Jones to write its review. She took just 47 minutes and one second to read the book but still had time to conclude:

“Without being too critical, the plot does seem to be a bit complicated, but I would not change a word. ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ is a real page-turner.”

It was certainly a page-turner for her.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” sold 8.3 million copies in its first 24 hours worldwide, breaking all records. Borders, the second-largest U.S. book chain, said it sold about 1.2 million copies on the first day, the highest of any title in its history. (This compares to the 850,000 copies Borders sold when the sixth book in the Harry Potter series was released in 2005.)

(*The American version has 759 pages, the British has 608.)


Commenting on the Turkish elections held on Sunday, Hani Al-Sibai, a London-based Islamist commentator on al-Jazeera gave this criticism of Turkish secularism:

“What has become of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey? Go to Europe, and you will see. Most of the Turks here are drug dealers, outcasts. Moreover, the English here have a custom. On Christmas, they eat what they call ‘turkey.’ Imagine, they call it ‘turkey,’ and they serve it as food at the table. This shows the kind of hatred that is deeply rooted in the West – they serve the Turkish, Ottoman, Muslim man as food at the table, for entertainment and as a sign that they have slaughtered him. What has become of Turkey?”


Meanwhile Iran’s hardline, Holocaust denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has congratulated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Islamist victory in Turkey. In Arabic here.

Erdogan’s (moderate) Islamist Justice and Development Party received about 340 of the 550 seats.


The Economist is launching a downloadable online audio version of its entire magazine, to fit the needs of subscribers it says have no time to read.

The London-based weekly – which claims a worldwide print circulation of 1.2 million – says it will be the first leading international publication to offer a full audio edition every week.

From this week listeners will be able to scroll through the Economist online and download audio versions of articles by section or in its entirety. The audio service is free to subscribers, and costs £4 ($8) for non-subscribers.

Previously the magazine had sold “This week in the Economist,” a five-minute podcast of selected stories.


Osama Bin Laden’s elder half-brother is lobbying investors to build a 17-mile bridge that would be the longest in the world, connecting the continents of Asia and Africa.

Sheikh Tarek Mohammed Bin Laden, 60, says he hopes that the project would rehabilitate his family name.

Known as “the bridge of the century,” it would stretch between Yemen and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and include a freeway and rail links. Two new luxury cities would be built on either side of the Red Sea.

Sheikh Bin Laden – who runs the Saudi-based Bin Laden Group, a construction conglomerate which manages Mecca’s holy sites, among other interests – has already won pledges of land from the presidents of both countries after shuttling between the capitals in his private jet to outline his plans in recent weeks.

At present, the longest suspension bridge in the world is the 2.4 mile Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, which opened in 1998 and has a center span of more than 1.2 miles. Bin Laden’s proposed bridge would be more than three times as long with a center span of 3.1 miles, allowing even oil tankers to sail underneath.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday he would not rule out military action against Iran, but believed a policy of sanctions could still persuade Teheran to drop its disputed nuclear program.

“I firmly believe that the sanctions policy that we are pursuing will work, but I’m not one who’s going forward to say that we rule out any particular form of action,” Brown told a news conference, when asked if he would rule out a military strike against Iran.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions since December on Iran for failing to halt uranium enrichment, a process which can produce fuel for power plants or material for warheads. A third sanctions resolution is being considered. Many believe that Iran’s activities are aimed at producing nuclear bombs.


Separately, Israel’s new president, Shimon Peres, told the French newspaper Le Figaro on Monday that unified international pressure could force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Peres said that “Iran only has power when the world is divided,” and as proof cited North Korea, South Africa, Libya and Ukraine, saying that each of these nations gave up their nuclear programs in the face of international pressure.


I attach three articles below. The first, from the Daily Telegraph, reports that 16,000 members of the BBC will be sent “on a mandatory new training programme to teach honesty to BBC staff.”

The article adds that “The Safeguarding Trust course is being set up as part of the damage limitation exercise by the corporation after the revelation that six children’s and charity television programmes had misled viewers.”

As I mentioned on this website/email list last week, many of the BBC’s UK-based staff (such as Andrew Neill, who is cited in the Daily Telegraph article, are thoroughly professional and objective) but when is the BBC going to teach its foreign affairs reporters and analysts to be objective?

The second article, from the Canadian paper, the National Post, reports that “A day after saying it regretted broadcasting a lecture by a Pakistani preacher who says Muslim scripture advocates violent holy war and the ‘extermination’ of Jews, VisionTV put him back on the air again this weekend.”

(VisionTV calls itself “Canada’s Multifaith, Multicultural Television Network”.)

Mark Steyn, in the final article attached below, writes about the American hostages currently being held in Iran. “No, not the guys back in the Seventies, the ones being held right now. What? You haven’t heard about them?” This situation is put into perspective when one recalls the enormous fuss made by the media over Alan Johnston (as previously detailed in several dispatches on this website/email list).

Steyn continues, “It would be nice to think the press has ignored these hostages out of concerns that they might inflame the situation… Or maybe the media figure that showing American prisoners on TV will only drive Bush’s ratings back up from the grave to the rude health of intensive care.”

-- Tom Gross



BBC to teach its stars honesty
By Andrew Pierce
The Daily Telegraph
July 25, 2007

John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman will be required to join Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, on a mandatory new training programme to teach honesty to BBC staff.

The Safeguarding Trust course is being set up as part of the damage limitation exercise by the corporation after the revelation that six children’s and charity television programmes had misled viewers.

Mark Byford, the deputy director general, giving evidence to a Commons Culture Select Committee yesterday, said all employees, no matter how senior or famous, would have to attend the course if involved in making programmes.

Mr Byford, who was giving evidence with Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer, said: “Everyone must be reminded about what the BBC stands for and what trust is.”

But the BBC may find some presenters more resistant than others. Andrew Neil, who presents the Daily Politics show on BBC2 and This Week on BBC1, was contemptuous.

“All 16,000 of us are going to be sent to re-education camps, a bit like Pol Pot’s Cambodia,” he told his viewers.

Philip Davies, a Tory MP on the select committee, also questioned the need for the course as he thought the requirement for honesty ought to be obvious.

Mr Byford, standing in for Mr Thompson who was on a delayed family holiday, acknowledged that further deceptions might come to light. “We cannot be 100 per cent certain that we have captured everything. Some investigations are still going on,” he said.

Michael Grade, the chairman of ITV, also giving evidence to the committee, gave a hint that production company RDF, which has been suspended while the inquiry into wrongly edited footage of the Queen for the BBC is ongoing, might not work for him again.

“If anyone is found to have deceived or lied to viewers, we won’t do business with them. Anyone who wants to make programmes for me should be aware that if you are caught deceiving the public it is one strike and you are out,” he said.

ITV is awaiting the outcome of an audit ordered after allegations against GMTV and shows including The X Factor, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Soapstar Superstar.

Channel 4, in partnership with Five, will publish an Independent Producer’s Handbook that will provide a guide to the regulatory rules governing the making and broadcast of programmes and will also beef up its own training programme.



VisionTV gives Islamic radical more air time
Jewish groups outraged; Vision backpedals on ‘regret’ to air preacher
By Stewart Bell
The National Post
July 23, 2007

A day after saying it regretted broadcasting a lecture by a Pakistani preacher who says Muslim scripture advocates violent holy war and the “extermination” of Jews, VisionTV put him back on the air again this weekend.

A leading Jewish organization said yesterday it would launch a formal complaint with Canadian broadcast regulators after Vision aired another hour-long talk by fundamentalist Israr Ahmad on Saturday.

The preacher’s reappearance on Canadian television came as a surprise to some, since VisionTV had issued a statement on Friday expressing regret for broadcasting Mr. Ahmad’s lecture on violent jihad on July 14.

But despite the statement, Vision aired another lecture Saturday afternoon by Mr. Ahmad, who compares Jews to “parasites,” describes the Holocaust as “divine punishment” and calls Jews “condemned.”

“It is most troubling that VisionTV made a calculated decision to re-broadcast a segment featuring a radical Imam, whose words have the potential to incite hatred and violence,” Frank Dimant of B’nai Brith Canada said yesterday.

“It is a complete abdication of their responsibility to knowingly give a platform to this individual whose calls for jihad can clearly be interpreted by his supporters as a call to engage in terrorism. B’nai Brith Canada will be launching a formal complaint with the CRTC calling for a full investigation of this matter.”

Canadian Jewish Congress spokesman Len Rudner said he was “deeply concerned that Vision continues to provide a podium from which Israr Ahmad can speak and gain credibility.

“It’s fair to say that we know what Mr. Ahmad stands for, the question now is whether or not VisionTV wishes to associate itself in any manner with an individual who holds such a hateful agenda.”

Vision, which is available in 7.8 million Canadian households, has a strict code of ethics that forbids the broadcast of programs that could incite violence, overseas conflicts or strife between religions. Vision could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Last week, a Vision executive, Mark Prasuhn, described “Dr. Ahmad” as a religious scholar – he is a medical doctor – and in a recent interview the preacher acknowledged that he was not welcome in Canada. “I had no official information about a ban [from entering Canada] but I understood that I was not in the good books of the U.S. and the West, especially after 9 /11, due to my concept of radical Islam; which demands a Muslim to struggle against the prevailing corrupt and exploitative system in the world,” he said.

Mr. Ahmad heads a self-described “revolutionary” organization called Tanzeem-e Islami, which wants to turn Pakistan into a fundamentalist Islamic state and a launch pad for the global domination of Islam.

Although he is a popular speaker in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmad’s theories about a Jewish conspiracy to secretly rule the world through banking institutions have given him little credibility outside the Muslim world.

The controversy comes as Canadian authorities are struggling to deal with a growing number of Islamist extremists who support terrorism against the West. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service says many youths have been influenced by radical spiritual leaders.

Mr. Ahmad’s followers in Canada include terror suspect Qayyum Abdul Jamal, arrested last summer for his alleged role in a plot to detonate truck bombs in downtown Toronto.



Haleh Esfandiari
By Mark Steyn
The New York Sun
July 23, 2007

How do you feel about the American hostages in Iran?

No, not the guys back in the Seventies, the ones being held right now.

What? You haven’t heard about them?

Odd that, isn’t it? But they’re there. For example, for two months now, Haleh Esfandiari has been detained in Evin prison in Tehran. Ms. Esfandiari is a U.S. citizen and had traveled to Iran to visit her sick mother. She is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, which is the kind of gig that would impress your fellow guests at a Washington dinner party. Unfortunately, the mullahs say it’s an obvious cover for a Bush spy. Among the other Zionist-neocon agents currently held in Iranian jails are an American journalist, an American sociologist for a George Soros-funded leftie group, and an American peace activist from California, Ali Shakeri, whose capture became known shortly after the U.S. and Iran held their first direct talks since the original hostage crisis.

Two months in an Iranian jail is no fun. Four years ago, a Montreal photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was arrested by police in Tehran, taken to Evin prison, and wound up getting questioned to death. Upon her capture, the Canadian government had done as the State Department is apparently doing – kept things discreet, low-key, cards close to the chest, quiet word in the right ears … By the time Zahra Kazemi’s son, frustrated by his government’s ineffable equanimity, got the story out, it was too late for his mother.

Still, upon hearing of her death, the then Foreign Minister of Canada, Bill Graham, expressed his “sadness” and “regret,” which are pretty strong words. But then, as Reuters put it, this sad regrettable incident had “marred previously harmonious relations between Iran and Canada.” In his public pronouncements, Mr. Graham tended to give the impression that what he chiefly regretted and was sad about was that one of his compatriots had had the poor taste to get tortured and murdered on to the front pages of the newspapers. With an apparently straight face, he passed on to reporters the official Iranian line that her death in jail was merely an “accident.” The following year, Shahram Azam, a physician who’d examined Ms. Kazemi’s body, fled Iran and said that she had broken fingers, a broken nose, a crushed toe, a skull fracture, severe abdominal bruising, and internal damage consistent with various forms of rape. Quite an accident.

The longer American prisoners are held in Evin, the more likely it is they’ll meet with a similar accident. It would be nice to think the press has ignored these hostages out of concerns that they might inflame the situation. (To date, only National Review, Bill Bennett on his radio show and various doughty Internet wallahs have made any fuss.) Or maybe the media figure that showing American prisoners on TV will only drive Bush’s ratings back up from the grave to the rude health of intensive care. Or maybe they just don’t care about U.S. hostages, not compared to real news like Senate sleepovers to block unblocking a motion to vote for voting against a cloture motion on the best way to surrender in Iraq.

But I’ll bet the mullahs wouldn’t really care if everyone put Haleh Esfandiari on the front pages 24/7. It’s only a few months since they seized a bunch of Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines in international waters (an illegal act) and paraded them all over Iranian TV (in breach of the Geneva Conventions) and dressed up the female sailor in Islamic garb (another breach).

And the U.N. and the EU and all the other transnational arbiters of global order sent a strong message: “Whoa, you guys really need to tamp things down, de-escalate, defuse the confrontation…” Er, but for some reason, they sent the strong message to the British government, not the Iranians. And, with the sailors’ humiliation all over the media, the British public was inclined to agree. Almost to a man, they rose up and told Tony Blair: “This is all your fault for getting us into Iraq.”

But outrage at Iran? There was none. The ayatollahs figure that’s how it usually goes with a plump, complacent western world that just wants to be left alone and wishes these crazies would stop trying to catch its eye. Officially, Iran is “negotiating” with the European Union over its nuclear program. If this were a real negotiation, instead of a transnational pseudo-negotiation, the Iranians would be concerned to stop any complicating factors coming into play. Instead, every week they gaily toss new provocations into their EU chums’ laps: In recent days, they’ve stoned to death various fellows for adultery and homosexuality, two activities to which Europeans are generally very partial. But why let a few stonings throw your negotiations off track? And, if the Americans are so eager to get a seat at the negotiating table, why not remind them of the rules of the game? Last week, the Iranians paraded their U.S. hostages all over TV as they confessed to engaging in espionage, along the way fingering the Woodrow Wilson Centre and George Soros as key elements in the plot to overthrow the ayatollahs. If only.

The week before, Iran captured 14 spies near the Iraqi border whom it claimed were agents of American and British intelligence equipped with surveillance devices. The “spies” in question were squirrels – as in small furry animals very protective of their nuts (much like the Democratic Party re Mr. Soros). I’m prepared to believe that a crack team of rodents from NUTS (the Ninja Undercover Team of Squirrels) abseiled into key installations in Iran and garroted the Revolutionary Guards, but not that the U.S. and British governments had anything to do with it. If they have any CIA or MI6 training at all, they must be rogue squirrels from the Cold War days who’ve been laid off and gone feral.

In America, public opinion is in no mood for war with Iran. In Washington, Congress is focused on finding the most politically advantageous way to lose in Iraq. In Europe, they’ve already psychologically accepted the Iranian nuclear umbrella. In the western world, where talks are not the means to the end but an end in themselves, we find it hard despite the evidence of 30 years to accept that Iran talks the talk and walks the walk. Once it goes nuclear, do you think there will be fewer fatwas on writers, stonings of homosexuals, kidnappings in international waters, forced confessions of American hostages, and bankrolling of terror groups worldwide? These latest hostages are part of a decades-old pattern of behavior. The longer it goes without being stopped, the worse it will be.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.