Iranian hardliners appear to endorse Mike Huckabee

January 03, 2008

* How Islamists might regard Barack Obama’s “conversion” to Christianity
* Tajikistan launches campaign against witchcraft

This dispatch contains items relating to American, Russian, Pakistani and Tajikistani politics.



1. American presidential election starts today
2. John McCain: Vote for me or you’ll die
3. Study: Hillary hit hardest by media; Fox most balanced
4. British media humor
5. Iranian hardliners appear to endorse Mike Huckabee
6. The implications among Muslims of Barack Obama having converted to Christianity
7. The Fall of Rome?
8. “Musharraf blocked Bhutto from hiring U.S. bodyguards”
9. The BBC investigates attacks on its Moscow staff
10. Democracy, Russian-Style
11. On Putin and Stalin
12. Tajikistan launches campaign against witchcraft

[Note by Tom Gross]

At the present time I am giving an intensive round of interviews, lectures, and media workshops (including to the popular Iranian pro-democracy radio, Radio Farda, and to Radio Free Afghanistan). Because of this there are fewer dispatches than normal.

I have, however, continued to regularly publish items on the National Review’s Media Blog, and I attach a selection below, and in four accompanying dispatches this week. Some of these may be familiar to some of you by now, though I hope that most of them won’t be. Not all relate to the Mideast; some are lighter items, or items relating to the media in general, or to US and world politics.

In some of these five dispatches I also attach a number of items not posted on the National Review.



The voting process for the next American president begins today with the Iowa caucuses this evening. This is arguably the most important – and most open – American election in modern history.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses begin at 6.30pm and 7 pm respectively, and consist of local meetings in which voters either cast their vote by secret ballot or publicly, by standing with other supporters of their candidate.

One new aspect of the year-long campaign thus far has been the widespread use of the Internet, particularly YouTube, to reach out to new voters.

In July, for example, I sent out the risqué video “I Got a Crush on Obama,” which has now generated millions of views and became the second most watched video worldwide on YouTube last year.

Also popular was the response from Rudy’s girls who fought back in a joint release with Obama’s girls of a Giuliani v. Obama “political debate song”.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Even though in many ways I think John McCain is an extremely worthy candidate and would make a fine president, this last-minute “Foreign Policy Alert” to Iowa and New Hampshire voters is a little over the top.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008


TV election news has been hardest on Hillary Clinton during the last few months, while Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have been the biggest media favorites, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University.

The study also found that Fox News Channel’s evening news show provided more balanced coverage than any of its counterparts on the broadcast networks.

And having praised Fox as the most balanced, the liberal-leaning CMPA felt the need to add next to their headline that this is “not a typo”.


Thursday, December 27, 2007


Confusing Afghanistan with the United States, the headline from Iowa running right across the top of the world news page of this morning’s (London) Daily Telegraph is:

“Tribal leaders” choose the next president

(For clarity, the online version adds “US”: “Tribal leaders” choose the next US president.)


Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Given their unusually enthusiastic language in describing an American politician, it would appear that Iran’s hardline Fars News Agency would like Mike Huckabee to win the Republican nomination.

These are the same Islamist extremists who are hoping the next American president will go easy on them as they complete their drive to acquire a nuclear bomb.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Barack Obama is today a practicing Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ. But, asks Daniel Pipes, was he ever a Muslim or seen by others as a Muslim? More precisely, might Muslims consider him a murtadd (apostate), that is, a Muslim who converted to another religion and, therefore, someone whose blood may be shed?

Pipes writes:

“I’ve always been a Christian,” said Obama, focusing on his own personal lack of practice of Islam as a child to deny any connection to Islam. But Muslims do not see practice as key. For them, that he was born to a line of Muslim males makes him born a Muslim. Further, all children born with an Arabic name based on the H-S-N trilateral root (Hussein, Hassan, and others) can be assumed to be Muslim, so they will understand Obama’s full name, Barack Hussein Obama, to proclaim him a born Muslim.

… Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times reported … The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. “We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque,” Zulfin Adi said. “But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played.” … Obama’s younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only “for big communal events,” not every Friday.

Recalling Obama’s time in Indonesia, the Times account contains quotes that Obama “went to the mosque,” and that he “was Muslim.”

Summarized, available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity.

… Obama’s conversion to another faith, in short, makes him a murtadd… One must assume that some Islamists would renounce him as a murtadd and would try to execute him. Given the protective bubble surrounding an American president, though, this threat presumably would not make much difference to his carrying out his duties.

More significantly, how would more mainstream Muslims respond to him, would they be angry at what they would consider his apostasy? That reaction is a real possibility, one that could undermine his initiatives toward the Muslim world.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The Financial Times has released a list of its most read stories in 2007, according to its web traffic:

1. Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned
2. Chinese military hacked into Pentagon
3. Iran on course for nuclear bomb, EU told
4. Google’s goal: to organise your daily life
5. Pelosi backtracks on Armenia ‘genocide’ bill
6. Industry caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’
7. Vista marks end of an era for Microsoft
8. Memo to Obama: win Iowa or lose the race
9. Gates warns on US immigration curbs
10. Globalisation backlash in rich nations


Sunday, December 30, 2007


Benazir Bhutto had tried to hire American and British security professionals to protect her, the (London) Sunday Telegraph reports today.

But President Pervez Musharraf refused to allow the foreign personnel into Pakistan to help, according to Mark Siegel, Bhutto’s U.S. spokesperson. “She and her husband repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection, but they were denied by the government of Pakistan.”

Following the suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 140 during her homecoming parade on October 19, Bhutto had tried to bring in guards from the American Blackwater private security firm, and from the London-based Armor Group, which guards British diplomats in the Middle East. A Blackwater spokesman yesterday confirmed that Bhutto had approached them.

The report will add to the controversy over Bhutto’s security arrangements, which have been criticized as completely inadequate given the dangers she faced.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The BBC is examining the possibility that three journalists working for its Russian language service, each of whom was beaten up in Moscow in the same week, were deliberately targeted because of their reporting.

The BBC World Service, along with the American-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, continues to broadcast uncensored reports in Russian about what is happening under Vladimir Putin’s increasingly dictatorial regime. (Several RFE/RL journalists have been murdered in the last year, as I reported previously.)

A BBC spokesperson said the World Service was “extremely concerned” by the “spate of attacks” on its journalists, all of whom were assaulted in separate incidents just before Russia’s parliamentary elections. “Although we have no evidence that the attacks were motivated by the victims’ employment, we are exploring that possibility,” he said.

David Quadrat, a Russian who works for the BBC’s Central Asian Service, was assaulted on November 24 on his way home from the BBC’s Moscow bureau. His attackers shouted racist abuse as they beat him at a crowded Moscow metro station.

Another BBC Russian staff member, Mikhail Denisov, was attacked near his home the following day. They broke his nose, damaged his ribs, and stole his wallet.

Then on November 30, another BBC Russian staff member, Yevgeny Demchenko, was assaulted while on the way home from work. He suffered head injuries and required stitches.

Independent commentators suggested that the attackers might be linked to the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, who have recently staged demonstrations outside the British embassy in Moscow.

In August, the Kremlin blocked the BBC Russian Service’s FM frequency, severely curtailing the BBC World Service’s ability to broadcast in the Moscow area. The BBC continues to broadcast on medium and short waves.


Monday, December 17, 2007


From the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.


Monday, December 10, 2007


Germany today is a democracy which doesn’t threaten its neighbors. This is largely because it underwent an intensive and successful program of de-Nazification.

But Russian society has yet to fully acknowledge, understand and condemn Stalin’s crimes. Unless it does so, it may not be able to “save the democratic processes that started” after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as historian Nikita Petrov makes clear in this article:

100 Volumes of History To Shed Light on Stalin
By Bagila Bukharbayeva
The Associated Press

Historians have announced the start of a project to increase understanding of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s rule and help Russians come to terms with one of the grimmest pages of their history.

The project’s ambitious aim is to publish 100 volumes by Russian and foreign historians in the next three years. The first five books were issued last week.

“There still has been no legal assessment of Stalin’s terror, of the Soviet system’s crimes,” historian Nikita Petrov, one of the contributors to the project, said. “We have not bothered to analyze that bloodshed and its legacy.”

Russians must understand and condemn Stalin’s crimes if they want to “save the democratic processes that we’ve started” since the 1991 Soviet collapse, he said.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has rolled back the country’s democratic achievements, restored Soviet-era symbols and tried to soften public perceptions of Stalin.

In June, he told history teachers that although Stalin’s political purges were one of the most notorious episodes of the Soviet era, Russia should not be made to feel guilty because “in other countries even worse things happened.”

In a new book for history teachers commissioned by the Kremlin, Stalin is portrayed as an effective manager.

… Also in the book, published earlier this year, the United States is cast as an evil power seeking world dominance.

Under Stalin, who ruled from 1922 until his death in 1953, hundreds of thousands were branded enemies of the state and executed. Millions more became inmates of the gulag, the system of thousands of slave labor camps.

“We have not gotten over Stalinism yet because we have not yet come to understand it fully,” said Arseny Rochinsky, a member of Memorial, a nongovernmental organization that studies Stalin’s repressions.

“Look around, all the attributes of Stalinism are still here,” he said. Rochinsky cited the Kremlin’s intolerance of dissent and hunt for external and internal enemies and the lack of an independent judicial system…


Thursday, December 13, 2007


The last bastion of witchery is set to fall?

DUSHANBE (Reuters, Dec. 13) – Tajikistan is launching a crackdown on witchcraft and fortune-telling as part of an anti-poverty drive after earlier banning lavish weddings and expensive funerals.

Occultism is on the rise in Muslim Tajikistan. It is the poorest nation in ex-Soviet Central Asia, borders Afghanistan and was ravaged by a 1992-97 civil war. Queues to see sorcerers are often longer than those for regular doctors.

“Those indulging in sorcery and fortune-telling shall be fined between 30 and 40 times the minimum monthly wage (85 to 113 pounds),” says the text of a draft law backed by the lower chamber of the Tajik parliament on Wednesday.

The draft law has to be passed by the upper house and signed by President Imomali Rakhmon to become law. But this is widely seen as a formality.

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