Taliban begins tweeting in English – adds “followers”

The Taliban have long been known as haters of modern technology, certainly the kind that comes out of the Western world they revile.

Now, they’re on Twitter, and as of this week, even tweeting in English.

The account, @alemarahweb, links back to the Taliban’s website, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is the name they use for themselves. Most of the tweets on the account, which was created on December 19, are written in Pashto, the native language in parts of Afghanistan.

As The Guardian, the UK publication, noted, the feed had fewer than 1,000 followers as of Thursday. The addition of English, as well as the media reports about it, have more than tripled that total to over 3,000 as of Friday morning.

The feed appears almost entirely made up of links to the Taliban website. The English-language posts appear to be wildly exaggerated claims of attacking and killing NATO and U.S. troops and Afghan government personnel.

If the tweets were to be believed, 81 “enemy” troops were killed since the feed began publishing in English on Thursday. A U.S. spy plane, and 23 vehicles, including five U.S. tanks, also were destroyed by Taliban attacks, according to the tweets.

Military and news reports do not support anything approaching those claims.

I’d say this alternates between hilarious and thoroughly dumb. I doubt if it carries odds of growing their support at roughly a hundredth of that enjoyed by the average religious nutball who leaves their sect’s newsmagazine rolled up and stuck into the top of our front gate.

“Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom”

Al-Qaeda has opened a new front in war on the West, launching its own English-language internet newspaper, which features articles such as “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom“.

Its tag-line is “Inspire the Believers” and its first front page features a quotation by the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki: “May our souls be sacrificed for you”. The magazine claims to be published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose leaders are the most prominent propagandists of any of the group’s branches.

The full magazine is not yet online, but the contents page offers messages from both Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also advertises a piece by Awlaki entitled: “Shaykh Anwar’s message to the American people and Muslims in the West”.

Other articles include a question-and-answer session with the leader of AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Basir, and a tantalising piece offering a “detailed yet short, easy-to-read manual on how to make a bomb using ingredients found in a kitchen”.

Awlaki, whose father is a former minister of agriculture in Yemen and who grew up in the United States when his father was studying there, has become the most important tool in al-Qaeda’s outreach to English-speaking Muslims.

His videos have been widely circulated on British campuses, and he was in touch with the American army major who went on a shooting rampage last November in Fort Hood, Texas. He is now believed to be operating under the shelter of members of his powerful Awlaki clan in eastern Yemen with ties to the militant group, and this magazine may be his brainchild, according to analysts.

Does this fall under the “Build-a-better-mousetrap-inventors” school of journalism? Or the Voice-of-America straight-up category of agitprop which is chartered to convince the world how to interpret which empires are good and which are evil?

Canada considers return to gender-neutral anthem

Canada’s federal government plans to look at changing the country’s national anthem “O Canada,” to make it gender neutral.

When parliament reconvened Wednesday and the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced its agenda, the anthem was one of the smaller items that would be addressed in coming weeks, the Toronto Star reported.

The gender issue, politicians claim, rankling female constituents is the third line, which says “True patriot love in all thy sons command…”

The “O Canada” music and lyrics in French were first performed in Quebec City on June 24, 1880. They are gender neutral and have not changed. The English lyrics were written in 1908, the report said.

Sing along!

Giant white horse to tower over UK countryside

A sculpture of a giant white horse taller than the Statue of Liberty is set to tower over the countryside as part of an unusual scheme to help revive the fortunes of a depressed region of England.

The 50-meter equine artwork was Tuesday announced as the winner of a competition to design a landmark to dominate the skyline of the Ebbsfleet Valley, set to be a new stop on the Eurostar London-to-Paris rail link.

Designed by artist Mark Wallinger — whose previous work has included dressing in a bear suit and wandering around a gallery in Berlin — the £2 million horse will be one of the largest artworks in the UK.

Wallinger’s horse — which echoes ancient white horse symbols carved into hillsides around Britain — beat a shortlist of designs that included a tower of stacked cubes and giant steel nest.

Ancient chalk horses was the first thing that struck my mind when I saw this headline. This critter fits perfectly into the history of the region.

Of course, it wil be controversial. But, art controversy is truly a great deal of fun. Aside from the ignorant who get to chime in – the educated and involved can be just as silly as anyone else who’s convinced that only their own opinion matters.

It’s a favorite local sport in my neck of the prairie.

Paradox of language choices in a global culture – in India

Removing English-language signage

A decade ago, the world hurtled toward a calendrical crisis, and India seized an opportunity. An affliction called the Y2K bug impended. Thousands of Indian techies were marshaled to repair the software glitch. The rest is outsourcing history.

The outsourcing boom craved English speakers. Hole-in-the-wall “academies” from Kerala to Punjab began to sell English classes for a few dollars a week. A colonizer’s language was recast in the minds of many young lower-income Indians as a language of liberation, independence and mobility.

A decade hence, Indians who have achieved that mobility may struggle to understand the newspaper headlines in Mumbai in recent days. They tell of brigades of young men shattering the windows of shops and restaurants whose signs declare their names only in English, not in the regional language Marathi.

The men are cadres of a political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that has electrified a section of lower middle-class youth in this city. Many of them view English as a language of exclusion: a secret code that, having become success’s prerequisite, traps millions of non-English speakers in failure.
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