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from FaithWorld:

Should Obama address “Muslim world” as a bloc?

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President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said in his inaugural address. "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." (Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)

It's not clear what he plans to do. One idea he's mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There's already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.

Before this train starts rolling, it might be useful to recall that some Islam experts don't think it's a good idea for him to deal with "the Muslim world" as a bloc opposed to the West. Two French experts on Islam, Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, argued this in a New York Times op-ed piece last month. Here is the full text and below are excerpts.

Do you think it's helpful for Obama to talk about the Muslim world as a distinct bloc?  Would he actually play into Osama bin Laden's hands by talking about the Muslim world and the West as distinct entities? If so, what should he do?

Judging “The Speech” — what did you think?

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Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States on Tuesday. In his much-anticipated inaugural speech, he said the “economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

But the new president also said the United States remained “the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth,” and that “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

from Global Investing:

Dead cat bounce?

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New year can get in the way of understanding what is happening on financial markets. Just because humans measure the year in 12 month tranches, it does not necessarily follow that markets do. Consider world stocks, for example. MSCI's all-country world stock index is often cited as having fallen 43.5 percent in 2008. In fact, long-term investors' losses were a lot worse. From an all-time high on November 1, 2007, to a low on November 28, 2008, the index fell 56.2 percent.

Something similar is happening at the moment. Investors might be focusing on year-to-date losses of around 5.7 percent for the index, but they are doing better than that. The index has gained 14.5 percent from that November 28 low last year.

Are you postponing your retirement?

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Most Americans felt investment pain in 2008 as the value of retirement accounts and other assets dropped along with the economy. But older Americans are feeling particularly hard-hit by the financial crisis and many now say they must now postpone their retirement, according to a survey by the AARP, which represents older Americans. The survey, released on Friday, showed 57 percent of those who were employed or looking for work and who lost money in their investments over the past year expected to delay retirement and work longer. It also found 36 percent of workers had stopped putting money into their retirement accounts in the past 12 months.

Have you decided to postpone retirement because of investment losses? How much longer will you have to work to afford retirement? Is the concept of retirement a thing of the past?

Jobs: How bad will it get?

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The economy lost over half a million jobs in December and shed the greatest number of workers in 2008 since the end of World War II. The grim news didn’t stop there: the unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent, the highest in 16 years. Many analysts say it will only get worse before it gets better.

“The job situation is ugly and is going to get uglier. There’s no reason to expect hiring anytime in the next three to six months,” said Richard Yamarone, chief economist at Argus Research in New York. Tempus Consulting’s Matt Esteve agrees. “No matter how you look at it, those are dismal numbers,” he said.

from FaithWorld:

Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect?

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Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect? I ask this because my post Should India cremate Mumbai militants, spread ashes at sea? last week has prompted a surprising wave of comments suggesting these corpses should be desecrated. Readers have been proposing (and we have been deleting) graphic and crude scenarios for disposing of the nine corpses still lying in a Mumbai morgue. The proposed solution of cremating the bodies and spreading the ashes at sea - originally from a blog post by Leor Halevi in the Washington Post - seemed far too tame for them. (Photo: Gunmen at Mumbai train station, 26 Nov 2008/Official CCTV image via Reuters TV)

The Mumbai militants were murderers. Once they're dead, though, what purpose would it serve to dismember them, feed them to crocodiles or turn them into a stoning pillar? What would it say about the Indian government if it disposed of these bodies without even the barest minimum of respect for the dead? Indeed, what does it say about readers who want it to do just that?

from FaithWorld:

Should India cremate Mumbai militants, spread ashes at sea?

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The bodies of nine Islamic militants killed while attacking Mumbai in November still lie in a public morgue there. Indian Islamic leaders have refused to bury them in a local Muslim cemetery, saying terrorists "have no religion" and do not deserve a religious funeral. Although India suspects the militants came from neighbouring Pakistan, Islamabad refuses to take the bodies back as this could presumably undermine its claim to have no link to the gunmen. Indian officials say they still need the bodies for their investigations into the Nov. 26-29 massacre, in which 179 people were killed, but those inquiries will end some day. What should the Indians do with the bodies then?

A U.S. historian has come up with a proposal that would dispose of the bodies without requiring Pakistan to take them. Leor Halevi, a professor of Islamic history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote in the Washington Postthat India should cremate them and scatter the ashes in international waters, as Israel did after executing the Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann in 1962. He notes this would be an un-Islamic method of burial and would avoid a permanent grave that could become a memorial for other militants.  He writes:

Lining up for a bailout

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The auto industry’s Christmas present from the government — in the form of a $1 billion loan to General Motors and a $5 billion stake in GMAC — may have left other industries hoping that the giving season isn’t over yet.

The steel industry is pressing President-elect Barack Obama to boost the flagging demand for U.S.-made steel by instituting a “buy American” clause in his infrastructure stimulus package, the New York Times reported.

Out with the old year, in with the new

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Despite the incessant drumbeat of poor economic data — consumer confidence fell to a record low in December and the price of single-family homes plunged in October — the majority of Americans are optimistic about what is in store in 2009.

The Marist College canvassed 1,003 Americans about their expectations for 2009 on December 9 and 10 — days after the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed the United States had been mired in a recession since December 2007.

One small step, again?

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It’s been four decades since man last walked on the moon, but a new race to its craterous surface may be in the works. The cold war was behind the last space trek that saw U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong become the first to set foot on the lunar surface. This time, it may be simple pride that propels the next landing.

China and India have made important strides in space in recent months, and that has spurred talk of a new race – something the aerospace industry wouldn’t mind at all.

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