How do you know when a death threat is a death threat? Seems like it would be easy enough to tell -- but events in Germany during the last couple of days show that it's not. Sometimes, it depends on your point of view.
At issue is a statement posted on the German Web site "Muslim Markt" (Muslim Market) -- a page that sees itself as a clearing house of information for those seeking to live a devout Muslim life amid the permissiveness of Western culture. One can find candidates for marriage, lists of halal butchers and downloadable forms that will get daughters out of school-mandated swimming lessons.
And then, until recently, there was this: "If Islam is the way Mr. XXX has repeatedly portrayed it, then let the all-powerful creator destroy all followers of the religion. And if Mr. XXX is a hate preacher and a liar, then let the all-powerful creator punish him along with those -- despite repeated evidence of the spreading of untruths by Mr. XXX -- who continue to believe him."
Who is Mr. XXX? Hans-Peter Raddatz, an expert on Islam and the author of a number of Islam-critical books and texts. Indeed, his name was only recently deleted from the posting. And Raddatz is clear about his interpretation of what Muslim Markt wrote: It is, he feels, an obvious death threat.
Many others agree. Islamic studies expert Ursula Spuler-Stegemann and the Arab studies expert from the University of Göttingen Tilman Nagel both argue that the formulation clearly puts Raddatz's life in danger. In other words, Raddatz, who is now accompanied by bodyguards everywhere he goes, may be in danger of dying like the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh -- who was murdered last year by an Islamist upset about van Gogh's anti-Islamist work.
The authors of the post, however, plead innocence. Yavuz Özguz, 42, of Turkish origin but who grew up in Germany, and his brother Gürhan, 46, maintain the site together. Yavuz argues that the passage was taken out of its original context. He says he wanted to solve a dispute with a reader of the site. According to the Muslim tradition of Mubahala, parties in a dispute both pray to God to have him hand down a final judgement. In no way was he trying to incite violence against Raddatz, he says; it was just a "very peaceful method of making clear to a hypocrite his own hypocrisies."
The German government respectfully disagrees. Not only has Raddatz now filed suit against Yavuz, but the prosecutor general has opened an investigation in the case. It's not the first time. Yavuz has come to their attention in the past for his harsh critiques of Israel, the US and the "anti-Islamic" German society. He is also thought to have contacts with Hamas and Hizbollah. What he doesn't have, however, is an organization behind him aside from the 100,000 clicks per month he claims his Web site gets. And he soon may not have a job. His employer, the University of Bremen is considering canning him should he be found guilty of issuing death threats.
Radovan Karadzic in (Lyrical) Flight
If you were Europe's most-wanted war criminal, hiding, let's say, in a Montenegrin monastery, and you wanted to taunt the people charged with hauling your heinie to the Hague, where international judges could be expected to find you guilty of atrocities like the Srebrenica massacre, what would you do? Send a grainy videotape to Al-Jazeera? No. That's for unliterary Islamists like bin Laden. If you were Radovan Karadzic, apparently, you'd publish a slim volume of poems.
Under the Left Breast of the Century was launched Monday in the Serbian town of Pozarevac, where former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was born. Milosevic is in jail -- the UN is trying him now in The Hague for war crimes -- but Karadzic has been on the run for almost a decade. The UN's war crimes tribunal indicted him in 1995 for ethnic-cleansing atrocities during the Bosnian War, including the massacre at Srebrenica -- allegedly part of a campaign to "terrorize and demoralize the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat population" (according to the indictment). Over 7,500 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica were murdered in July 1995 and dumped into a mass grave.
Dr. Karadzic is a psychiatrist by training. As a young man he was influenced by the Serb nationalist writer Dobrica Cosic, who encouraged him to enter politics. He's published more than one book as a fugitive; last year a book called Miraculous Chronicles of the Night won a Serbian literary prize.
But no one is sure when these books were written. Karadzic obviously wants to put out an image of an exile at ease, versifying while NATO troops trudge after him with bristling weapons. (The cover of Under the Left Breast shows Karadzic's face framed by a rifle target.) And some news reports suggest the poems might give clues to his whereabouts. One poem, "St. Vasilije Ostroski," has the name of a monastery in Montenegro where he allegedly hides now and then. But another, "Sarajevo," has been published before -- in the 1970s. And the verse overall has the clumsy sound of a man trying to stoke his own self-image. "St. Vasilije Ostroski" starts like this:
Do you see your hand in the ploughed fields
Peace is growing again and grapes are stiff, are ripe
Only the snail, not happy, remembers your power
These lines won't help any NATO search teams. Neither will Karadzic's publisher, Slavoljub Obradovic. "It's a professional secret how I came to posses these Karadzic poems," Obradovic told the Associated Press on Monday. "I don't know where he is hiding. I wouldn't say even if I knew."
A Warmer Southern Ocean?
A new study by British researchers has found a 1 degree Celsius rise in average ocean temperature just west of the Antarctic Peninsula over the last forty-odd years, which surprises scientists who thought temperatures in the Southern Ocean had warmed much more slowly -- or stayed level -- since the 1960s. Experts know that Antarctic sea ice has melted and that air temperatures have risen; this is the first clear piece of evidence that the water has likewise warmed up.
The consequences are bad for small creatures. If peak water temperatures rise by two more degrees, writes The Guardian this week, scallops may lose the ability to swim and certain molluscs may not be able to bury themselves in the seabed. They'll grow sluggish, fall victim to predators, and unbalance the food chain. The krill population -- the tiny shrimp which provide sustenance for small fish as well as whales -- in the Southern Ocean has already plummeted by 80 percent since the 1970s.
"If the warming goes on at the same rate for 50 years or 100 years then lots of populations of animals I work on, and maybe entire species, would be at risk," Lloyd Peck, a marine biologist for the British Antarctic Survey, told The Guardian. "The sea temperature is going up in a way that wasn't predicted and this makes me more worried for the marine animals. The evidence we've got and the models we've been looking at said sea temperature was not likely to change much in the Antarctic. A one-degree increase puts us into the region where the animals are pushed to one end of their biological, physiological and ecological capabilities."
Two other researchers at the British Antarctic Survey -- Michael Meredith and John King -- made the findings on ocean temperature levels. The BAS has a position statement on the complex topic of Antarctic climate change.