Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for SFGate.com (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at CinnamonStillwell.com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Setting the Record Straight at Campus Watch

As part of my work with Campus Watch, I spend a fair amount of time rebutting smears and false allegations, as do my colleagues. In fact, we set up a section of the Campus Watch website for just such a purpose: Setting the Record Straight.

Following an initial announcement about this new feature, I just posted an update at the Campus Watch blog, including links to all the latest entries. Here's one of my recent corrections:
In "Israel's 60th Anniversary: Why are some people partying like it's 1948?," Linda Mamoun, writing for The American Muslim, uses the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary to tout the efforts of what she calls "the People-First Movement." Mamoun describes this movement as a "grassroots" alliance of activists and campus groups who feel that "the official Israeli story has to be outsold by a new narrative." In other words, they seek to replace historical facts with propaganda.

In the process, she accuses Campus Watch, and a host of other organizations, of attempting to squelch such efforts with an imagined alliance she dubs "the Project-First Movement." As she puts it:

Even so, it has certain people worried, and they have mounted a Herculean effort to regain control -with support from the political and religious establishment, evangelical Christian groups like CUFI and the Joshua Fund, lobbies like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, and newer organizations like the Israel Project, the David Project, and the Solomon Project. You might well call this the Project-First Movement. And it has well-funded campus arms like Stand With Us, Campus Watch, and the Israel On Campus Coalition.

In fact, Campus Watch is not aligned with any of these organizations, nor do we seek to "regain control" of anything. As indicated in our mission statement, Campus Watch reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with the aim to improving them.

The implication that organizations sharing some common interests constitute a cabal is not only conspiratorial, but ridiculous. Maybe it's time for Mamoun to join the "Common Sense Movement"?
To read the entire post, click here. For all Campus Watch corrections, click here.

Bill Maher's First Fundamentalist Fashion Show

While we're on the subject of oppressed Muslim women, I've located a YouTube clip from "Real Time with Bill Maher" titled, "First Fundamentalist Fashion Show," that provides some comic relief. Hats off to Bill for bucking the PC-humor trend when it comes to Islam and being a real liberal in the process!

Monday, May 19, 2008

25-Year-Old Saudi Woman Blogger and Social Critic Dies "Unexpectedly"

There's definitely something fishy about 25-year-old, Saudi, female, dissident blogger Hadeel Alhodaif's untimely death.

Via the Arab News, we learn that Alhodaif "unexpectedly" fell into a coma and 25-days later, simply "passed away." But considering her legacy of activism, both within the blogosphere and without, and the fact that she insisted on blogging under her real name, it's more likely she was targeted for death by Saudi authorities. That she was a proponent of women's rights in this most backward of nations (and regions) is even more reason the enemies of progress would want her out of the way.

The article elaborates on her impressive, but all-too-brief, career:
Alhodaif, who maintained “Heaven’s Steps” (http://hdeel.ws/blog), often challenged other Saudi women to join her in stepping out of the shadows of anonymity and devote their writing to issues of social importance.

“I wish that Saudi women bloggers would step forward in their writing instead of simply writing their personal diaries,” she told Arab News in an interview last year. She said that blogging offered a unique opportunity in Saudi Arabia to create a “new free media” to face off against the entrenched establishment newspapers and television channels and give the public what they really wanted to know. In some cases she would appear in these media outlets, such as AlJazeera and Saudi Channel One.

Alhodaif was invited last year to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University to discuss the role that Saudi blogs play in promoting the freedom of expression. Later that year she gave a lecture at the women’s section of the Riyadh Literary Club calling on women to start their own blogs to help influence public policy and opinion.

“I would like to educate Saudi women about the importance of blogging as an efficient medium that can greatly influence public opinion,” she said during her presentation.

When blogger Fouad Al-Farhan was detained late last year for openly defending a group of conservative academics that had been arrested for meeting and discussing the need for political reform, Alhodaif was the only Saudi woman who came out publicly calling for Al-Farhan’s immediate release. She started a “Free Fouad” website and created a forum on the social networking site Facebook to keep interested people up to date on the case.

“She was truly courageous speaking to the BBC Arabic eloquently and bravely about Al-Farhan’s detention when most Saudi bloggers wanted only to be quoted anonymously,” said a fellow blogger, who preferred to be quoted anonymously.

Al-Farhan was released last month after four months of detention without charges.

Alhodaif published a collection of short stories titled “Their Shadows Don’t Follow Them.” Last year her play “Who Fears The Doors” was performed at the men’s section of King Saud University. In her blog Alhodaif mocked the fact that even as the playwright she was not allowed to attend the performance of her own work due to the university’s strict policy on the mingling of the sexes.

“I guess I have to beg the male audience to inform me how my play was produced,” she wrote in Arabic. “I hope that a day comes when I can attend a cultural function where the presence of women does not cause anyone an allergic reaction!”

Alhodaif’s Facebook profile shows a young woman who was interested in reading, writing and good food. Saudis from all ages and backgrounds — liberals and conservatives alike, those who knew her closely or from a distance, and even those who did not know her at all before — are mourning the bright skinny girl with high dreams and hopes of a better future for all Saudis.
All except the Saudi Royal Family and its Wahhabist cohorts, no doubt.

Whatever its cause, Alhodaif's tragic death demonstrates why the U.S., and the West as a whole, needs to lend its support to such voices of liberalism (in the true sense of the word) in the Muslim world. Just as we supported dissidents behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, today's conflict with radical Islam requires no less.

Update (5/20): Speaking of supporting Muslim dissidents, the New York Times reports on blogger and housewife Jane Novak's one-woman crusade to save the life of persecuted Yemeni journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani. Al-Khaiwani is in prison and may face the death penalty merely for reporting on the Houthi rebellion in Northern Yemen. Novak's blog, Armies of Liberation, focuses on Yemeni affairs and her petition on behalf of al-Khaiwani can be signed here.

Update (5/23): A reader suggested via the comments section on this thread that Alhodaif's death could have been the result of an honor killing. It's difficult to know for sure under the circumstances, but that's certainly a possibility, especially considering the "dishonor" her family members may have felt due to Alhodaif's activism. As I wrote earlier, there's definitely something fishy about this case...