Ted Thornton
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2009  The year opened with a fresh Israeli offensive in Gaza underway (see).  The UN threatened to stop humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza when its workers came under Israeli fire.  The UN alleged Israeli troops may have committed a war crime in shelling a civilian shelter into which they had earlier forcibly removed 110 people and then delaying the Red Cross access to the wounded - at least 30 Palestinians died.  On January 9, a UN Security Resolution calling for a cease fire was ignored by both sides (the U.S. abstained from the vote). By January 12, according to a report by The Economist, 910 Gazan deaths had been reported, 40% of which were those of women and children under 18.   Women and children accounted for roughly half the 4,250 injuries reported.  Israeli deaths numbered 13.  On January 15, Israel shelled the UN Headquarters in Gaza setting fire to a warehouse where humanitarian food supplies were stored (Israel claimed Gazan combatants had shelled Israeli positions from that location).

On January 21, 2009, the BBC reported that Dutch MP Geert Wilders had been charged by a Dutch court with defaming Islam in a film he had made.  (more) (Muslims in Europe) (Wars of Words and Images)

In late January, 2009, moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president of Somalia, a country that had not had a working government since 1991and was still riven by sectarian divisions and lawlessness. 

In mid February, 2009, Pakistan forged a truce with the Taliban that allowed the Taliban to impose Islamic Sharia law in the Swat Valley.  Critics accused Pakistan of caving in to the Taliban. 

On February 23, 2009, a seventeen year old French teenager on a class trip to Egypt was killed in a bomb attack in Cairo's Khan al-Khalili bazaar area.  Twenty-four others, mostly classmates of the dead girl, were also killed.  Experts believed the attack was carried out by people angry at the Egyptian government for not responding more robustly against Israel's recent attack on Gaza

On March 3, 2009, gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan killing seven.  The attack accelerated fears that Pakistan was unraveling (see above)

On March 4, 2009 the International Criminal Court of the United Nations issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is charged with crimes against humanity in Darfur.

By April, 2009, Pakistan's truce with the Taliban had broken down and the Taliban were threatening to take over key areas of the country, at one point advancing to within sixty miles of the capital, Islamabad before withdrawing. Pakistan, it appeared to some, seemed to be on its way to becoming a failed state or even breaking up.

In May, 2009, four women were elected to parliament in Kuwait, a country that has experimented with limited democracy since 1963. The Economist (May 23, 2009, 50) reported that seats occupied by members with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to the Salafist Islamists suffered losses while the number of Shiite seats increased from five to nine, closer in line with the 20% of the population who call themselves Shia. (More on women in Islam)

On June 4, 2009, United States President Barack Obama delivered a major speech in Cairo addressed to the entire Muslim world (transcript courtesy of CNN).

On June 7, 2009, Lebanon's voters endorsed the pro-Western "March 14" coalition led by Saad Hariri,, who became the new Prime Minister. Hariri was the son of slain former PM Rafik Hariri, whose assassination sparked the most serious political crisis in Lebanon since the civil war. The coalition won 128 seats in parliament while the opposition - led by Hizbullah - won 57 seats. (more on Lebanon's recent politics)

In June, 2009, street clashes erupted in Iran following elections. The results, giving incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 62.6% of the vote, were disputed.  Ahmadinejad drew his support from the urban and rural poor while his closest opponent Mir Hossien Mousavi, garnering 33.8%, spoke for the educated urban professional middle class favoring reform and a milder stance toward the West.  Iran, to some, seemed to have made a stunning transition: from a revolutionary theocracy to a "military dictatorship," or, a "security state," as some began calling it,, the result of a progressive transfer of power to the security forces, which had become stacked over the year's with Ahmadinejad's supporters.  Coupled with Iran's historical fear of foreign attack from enemies on all sides, the future both inside Iran and in the region appeared to have darkened. 

In June, 2009, French President Nicholas Sarkozy called for a ban in his country on the full-body veils (sp. burqa or burka) worn by some Muslim women.  Sarkozy said:  “‘The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement.  I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.  That’s not our idea of freedom.’”  (Angelique Chrisafis, “Nicholas Sarkozy Says Islamic Veils are not Welcome in France,” guardian.co.uk, June 22, 2009 --  See also,  and also More on Muslims living in Europe

In July, 2009, an Egyptian woman, Marwa Sherbini, was stabbed to death in a German courtroom by a German man whom she was suing for denouncing her as a "terrorist" because she wore the hijab (head scarf).  The incident sparked outrage in Egypt: newspapers there praised the victim as "the headscarf martyr" (shaheedit-l-hijab).  (for more on the troubled history of Islam and the West see "Wars of Words and Images")

On July 17, 2009 in Jakarta, Indonesia, suicide bombers detonated devices in two hotels killing eight and wounding 53.  It was the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia since 2005. (see also)

In July, 2009, the United Nations released the fifth in its series of Arab Human Development Reports.  These reports dated back to 2002.

In late July, 2009, northern Nigeria was the scene of intense fighting as a militant Muslim group, "Boko Haram" ("Education is a Sin"), also called locally "Taliban" (Ar. "Students") battled government troops.  The militants' goal was to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Sharia law on the country.  Mohammed Yusuf, the group's reputedly well educated leader, was quoted as saying, "We believe [rain] is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun.”  He also held that if the idea of earth as a sphere contradicted the will of God, then it must be rejected.  By the end of the month, Nigerian authorities had brought the group under control and were restoring order. Nigeria was a country of 150 million split almost equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.  Northern Nigeria is the area where the nineteenth century "Fulani jihad" took place.

In August, 2009, a controversy sprang up in Germany over lyrics in a football (soccer) rally song containing a reference to the Prophet Muhammad.  In the third verse, the following line is sung: "Muhammad was a prophet who understood nothing about football." (BBC report)   (More on Islam in Europe)   (More on the polemical relationship between Islam and the West)

In August, 2009, Human Rights Watch in a report "Rockets From Gaza" condemned rockets fired on Israel by Palestinian militants "war crimes."

On August 7, 2009, news sources reported that Pakistani warlord and Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had been killed in Waziristan in an American drone attack. 

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Last Revised: August 7, 2009