June 27th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

"Punished mercilessly" – Is this Islam?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/24/iran.tolerance/art.ayatollah.afp.gi.jpg caption="Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."]

Octavia Nasr
Middle East Affairs Editor

“Annihilate the rioters,” demanded one of Iran’s fundamentalist clerics during Friday prayer. He believes that the opposition “defied the orders” of Iran’s Supreme Leader, who “rules by God’s design.” Therefore, “they should be punished mercilessly." Either way, his words couldn’t be harsher or more extreme. Some would say those words couldn’t be more un-Islamic.

The word Islam means “surrender.” The entire religion is based on surrendering one’s self, speech, action and thoughts to god. When moderate Muslims hear what this Mullah has called for, they wonder which brand of Islam he is advocating.

The first pillar in Islamic faith is the declaration called “Shahda” that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet.

The first verse of every chapter in the holy Muslim book, the Quran, goes like this, “In the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate.” Devout Muslims start many of their activities or speech with these glorious words.

Where is the compassion in the Iranian mullah’s speech? Where is the Mercy?

He’s directing his wrath at his own people; their only crime was to ask for an honest vote and to insist that their votes counted in a timely presidential election. They are the ones who shouted from their rooftops every night since their demonstrations began, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” –God is Great. They are the ones who were denied their legal right to demonstrate so they had to defy the regime and take to the streets anyway.

They are the Iranian opposition movement, young people, mostly students, many women who were kicked and beaten in the streets; they were shot at, detained and even killed. They were called traitors and terrorists. Despite all that, they kept going out for more show offs with Iranian police and a brutal volunteer militia known as the Basij.

The Iranian regime imposed a crackdown on foreign media which made the story impossible to cover freely. The world ended up with two views of on what’s going on: The government perspective came through the state media, radio, TV, newspapers and websites. The opposition turned itself into a media outlet where everyone with a cell phone became a correspondent. They uploaded their images to video-sharing websites and interacted with the world through social media. They provided raw, unedited picture to the entire world.

Now one cleric vowing to “teach them a lesson” is a sign of more brutality and more bloodshed to come. The only difference is that when it happens, if it happens, it will be behind closed doors. We can’t count on Iranians who turned their cell phones into newsgathering machines and became the story and journalists telling it at the same time.

What tomorrow will bring them is a mystery that no one is there to witness or report on.

Filed under: Iran • Islam • Octavia Nasr
June 27th, 2009
10:38 AM ET

Dear President Obama #159: Now that's impressive

Reporter's Note: President Barack Obama seems pretty busy, no matter what day of the week; so in keeping with that spirit, my letters to the White House continue every day no matter what the calendar says.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/06/26/michael.jackson.internet/art.michael.jackson.gi.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

The passing of Michael Jackson has me mentally running through all the famous people I’ve met, covered, and/or filed obituaries on. I won’t list them here, because I suspect in the past few months your list has easily blown mine out of the water. Not before that time, mind you, but after…sure…I’ll give you that.

I assume you know this, but just in case you don’t, news organizations routinely have elaborate collections of pre-produced obituaries, written, edited, and shelved just in case someone noteworthy dies all of a sudden. It’s a little creepy if you think of it, and having worked on a few, it is kind of maudlin work. I don’t know if we had one ready for Jackson. He was such a big name we probably should have, but then again he was so young, it’s possible we did not.

Anyway, when I think about these big celebrities (and most of the big politicians too, I may add) I almost always see them falling into one of two categories: Those who are impressive, and those who are impressed with themselves. The people with the most genuine talent, intelligence, and confidence, (no matter how big or small their titles) I have usually found, are also fairly easy to get along with. They don’t need to show everyone in the room that they are smart, rich, or influential. They are quick to admit their faults and slow to blame others. And they’ll take at least as much interest in you as you do in them.


June 27th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

My brush with the King of Pop

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/06/26/Michael.Jackson.russia/art.jackson.skin.grammys.gi.jpg caption="In spite of all of the rumors and his 'Wacko Jack' persona, Jackson's musical draw remained strong."]

Gideon Yago
The Daily Beast

The first time I ever had a panic attack was at a Michael Jackson concert. I think it was the sheer surreality of the event that set me off. Because I was the junior-est junior reporter for MTV News at the time, I pulled the short straw to cover Michael’s 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert at Madison Square Garden.

This was September 7th, 2001, the night after MTV’s Video Music Awards. The night before, I watched the self-proclaimed King of Pop burst through a prop wall to pop, lock, break, and grind on stage showing the new guard of fame eugenics experiments how it was done. Most of the channel’s staff were hung over or burned out the next day so I got the gig of working the red carpet for Michael.

Thank God I’d experimented with acid in high school. Working that rope line was like being an extra in a David Lynch movie. It started out normal, just trawling for sound bites and yelling over the flashbulbs at N*Sync, Britney Spears, and Brandy.

But it got weirder and weirder. The circus machine just kept churning out increasingly bizarre characters, all of them part of Michael’s party train. Here was Star Jones insisting on Michael’s rightful place as the Artist of the Millennium. There was Liza Minnelli in kabuki makeup singing. Marlon Brando yelled at the audience about dead children from a divan clad in a purple muumuu. By the time Jackson finally showed up, I took it as a given that naturally, he would exit his limousine with his leather pants half off.

Thank God Elizabeth Taylor was there to shove him back in, button him up, and send him in front of the world’s press corps like a child on their first day of school. Because my mic flag said MTV, I was the only person he did an interview with on the carpet that night. It was like talking to someone in outer space.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Michael Jackson
June 27th, 2009
06:35 AM ET

Rogue monkey urinates on Zambian president

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/maps/zambia.lusaka.jpg]

Asia Lindsay
AC360° Intern

Zambia's president was talking up his country’s economy at an outdoor press conference when a monkey sitting in a tree above urinated on him, mid-sentence.

President Rupiah Banda, whose controversial inauguration in 2008 provoked small-scale riots, called the press conference to speak about recent riots that have erupted throughout the country due to a deepening global recession and its effect on the price of copper, Zambia's principal export.

"You have urinated on my jacket!" he shouted back at the monkey.

“I will give this monkey for lunch to Mr. Sata,” he joked, referring to his political rival, Michael Sata.

Banda took control of Zambia in 2008 after the former president, Levy Mwanawasa, suffered a stroke.

Since his inauguration, he has focused on improving the economy and reducing taxes on food and fuel to “help Zambia to become a middle income country by 2030."

Zambia’s ruling party has already put Banda forth as a candidate for the 2011 presidential elections, despite widespread claims that his 2008 victory was fraudulent. Banda beat Sata by 2 percent, though Sata had led in the polls.

Strange incidents involving presidents and press conferences are not unprecedented, of course. At a 2008 press conference in Iraq, former U.S. President George W. Bush ducked to avoid a shoe thrown by an angry Iraqi journalist.

Bush was unphased by the incident, despite it being a grave insult in Arabic culture, saying later, “If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw”.

In the department of strange liquids landing on politicians, in March 2009 British Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson had a cup of green custard thrown in his face by political activist Leila Deen at a summit on low carbon industrial strategies in London.

Deen is a member of the environmental group ‘Plane Stupid’ and threw the custard in protest of the third runway at Heathrow Airport. She described the incident as a “last resort.”

In Zambia, President Banda took the monkey’s misstep with good grace, later laughing with journalists saying that, “perhaps these [monkey urine spots] are blessings.”

If so, there could be more such blessings. Plenty of animals live near the State House, including antelopes and birds.