Islamists Attack Hotel Bar In Tunisia

Tunisia has long been a favorite North African destination for its beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and relatively tolerant atmosphere. That tolerance, however, may be changing.

The BBC reports that a group of Salafists, Muslim hardliners who have been gaining in influence in recent months, stormed into a hotel bar in Sidi Bouzid. The Salafists had warned the Horchani hotel management to stop serving alcohol and when they didn’t comply, dozens of Islamists entered the hotel bar, chased away the customers, and smashed the bottles. They also entered rooms in search of alcohol and turned their wrath on the furniture.

There were no reported injuries.

Sidi Bouzid was the birthplace of the Arab Spring. It was here in 2010 that a fruit seller set himself on fire to protest government corruption and oppression. This set off a chain of events that toppled governments in several Arab nations. While the Arab Spring has opened up the possibility of democracy, it has also encouraged Islamist groups that were generally suppressed by the old-style military dictators.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user spDuchamp. This is not a photo of the Tunisian hotel and is used for illustrative purposes only.]

People Of Mali Fight Back Against Fundamentalists Destroying Their Heritage

We’ve been covering the turmoil in Mali for some time now. Three months ago, rebels in the north of the country took advantage of a coup in the capital to break away and set up the nation of Azawad. This new nation, as yet unrecognized by any other, was supposed to be a homeland for the Tuaregs, a people who complain of poor treatment from the central government.

All did not go as planned. The radical Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) took over part of the area and put it under harsh Sharia law. Their area of control includes Timbuktu, where they have been destroying the medieval shrines of Muslim saints they say are contrary to Islam. There are also fears they may burn the hundreds of thousands of early manuscripts in Timbuktu. Fundamentalists tend not to like reading much.

Now moderate Muslims are fighting back. Sufi Muslims, who are the majority in Mali and who honor the shrines, have created an armed band to defend them. They’re guarding the holy tombs at Araouane and Gasser-Cheick, close to Timbuktu.

This is the latest step towards conflict between the supposedly allied Ansar Dine and the other rebel groups. Ansar Dine has overstepped its bounds and insulted local religious feeling. They may soon pay the price.

With the world community doing nothing but wringing their hands and making sympathetic noises, it appears the only hope to save the ancient treasures of Mali is in the hands of the locals.

[Photo courtesy Emilio Labrador]

Somalia’s Al-Shabab bans handshakes between men and women

As if you didn’t have enough reasons to avoid visiting Somalia, Al-Shabab has given you another. BBC reports that the Islamist group has banned handshakes between men and women in the town of Jowhar. It’s also illegal to walk with or chat with a member of the opposite sex you’re not related to.

It’s not clear what the punishment would be for committing these “crimes”, but BBC’s correspondent in Mogadishu says a common punishment is public flogging.

Al-Shabab controls much of southern and central Somalia and rules under a harsh form of Shariah law that, in the humble opinion of this agnostic, has nothing to do with real Islam. I’ve read the Koran twice and don’t recall anything about it being a sin to shake hands or talk with someone of the opposite sex. In fact, I’ve had conversations in public with many devout Muslim women, including Somali women. Looks like these women could tell Al-Shabab a thing or two about Islam.

Luckily not all of Somalia is controlled by these idiots. In the north part of the country, Puntland remains free from their rule, although it’s full of pirates, and Somaliland is a safe place to travel. When visiting Somaliland I met a lot of refugees from the south and they all felt tremendously grateful that they didn’t have to live with Al-Shabab’s false form of Islam.

[Image courtesy user Hucz via Wikimedia Commons]

Coupling couples cuffed for “close proximity” in Malaysia

Unmarried couples were awoken to a surprise on New Year’s Day. Fifty-two coupling couples were detained by Malaysia’s Islamic morality police, according to USA Today, because they were suspected of having … get this … sex despite not being married! These 104 people could spend up to two years in prison, not to mention fines. The Selangor State Islamic Department chose this particular day of the year because it’s known to be celebrated with the offense of marriage-less sex.

The authorities — you can’t even call them the “sex police,” because they’re so much more than that — busted in before dawn, looking for people violating the rule of “khalwat,” also known as “close proximity. So, even if they weren’t caught in various back-bending and spirit-breaking positions, participating in any number of acts either common to a booze-soaked night of revelry or rich fantasy informed by adult cinema, the fact that they were in confined areas was enough to get them in hot water under Malaysia‘s Sharia Law.

So, what would have happened if this door-busting scene played out in the Hard Rock Hotel’s Provocateur Penthouse master suite? Well, if you’re flying solo with the ceiling hottie, you’re bound to have at least an uncomfortable moment.

[Photo by Mark Coggins via Flickr]

The Search for Homosexuals in Iran

I don’t want to get political or anything, but I just have to say that New York has been fun this week with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cruising the city and enjoying the spotlight.

My gay friends have especially enjoyed his statements about Iran having no homosexuals and, now, they feel committed to go there and test it out. On the contrary, I have heard that gay sex may be quite common in Islamic countries because it is often not considered “real sex.”

Leave it to The Borowitz Report to deal with the issue: “Iran Invites UN Inspectors to Find Homosexuals in Iran, Permits Use of Advanced Gaydar.”

Don’t laugh too hard. This is a serious issue.