The blogosphere is gurgling about the Iranian president's letter to Bush and Saudi Arabia's plan to issue tourist visas to non-Muslims. Bloggers are also concerned about dental care in Britain.
Bush's new pen pal: Temperamental Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President George W. Bush omitted mention of Iran's nuclear ambitions, focusing instead on the failure of "Western-style democracy" and offering a slew of rhetorical questions. The Iranian press says the letter contains "suggestions for resolving the many problems facing humanity," but the State Department calls it a peek at Ahmadinejad's way of thinking.
Many bloggers reference past epistles world leaders have sent one another. At Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying, software architect and foreign-policy enthusiast Mash proposes that Bush's response take its cues from Kennedy and Khrushchev's correspondence during the Cuban Missile Crisis. "Kennedy understood what this Administration appears not to grasp: that the need for communication is greatest at times when the crisis is at its most severe." At Informed Comment, Middle Eastern-studies professor Juan Cole is reminded of correspondence between former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and President Eisenhower.
Some view the letter as political posturing on the part of Iran. "By the extraordinary gesture of sending a letter directly to Bush, Ahmadinejad appears to be reinforcing Iran's determination to at least appear open to direct communication with Washington," postulatesVital Perspective, a blog penned by two Middle Eastern-policy experts concerned by Islamic extremism.
Washington MonthlyPolitical Animal Kevin Drum finds Ahmadinejad's tone to be "fairly mild," before calling on American diplomats to read the letter carefully. "An opening? Hard to say. But the job of a serious diplomat is to find the nugget of gold amongst the heapings of dross," he writes. Bradford Plumer, writing at Mother Jones' Mojo Blog, is more pessimistic, writing "[O]fficials in the Bush administration showed no interest in taking up similar overtures from Iran three years ago, and there's no reason to think they'd start now. Especially if Republicans could really use an international crisis to help themselves out in the midterms later this year. Maybe that's cynical. This bunch has certainly earned it."
Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is happy with the administration's cold response. "Until Iran offers a real solution to their repeated violations of the NPT, or at least starts to discuss the problem seriously, then historical lectures are meaningless. There is no interest in Ahmadinejad as a lecturer in history or Christianity," he writes. In Ahmadinejad's letter, Conservative Penraker sees Iranian aspirations of establishing a worldwide caliphate. "Ahmadinejad's use of the word 'spirituality' is a cover. Based on his address to the UN, he really means 'Islam'. So when he asks the world to embrace 'spirituality', he is not talking about some Kumbaya world where all religions will live in peace; he is talking about the necessity for the world to embrace Islam. Or else."
Read more about Ahmadinejad's note to Bush.
Mecca for tourists? In an attempt to repair its ailing image, Saudi Arabia is opening its borders to non-Muslim tourists. The head of Saudi's Supreme Commission for Tourism, Prince Sultan bin Salman, has promised tourists quick turnaround time on visa applications and a slate of nightlife options. Tourists, however, will be able to travel the country only with licensed tour operators. Prince Sultan voiced the hope that tourism revenue will make up 18 percent of the country's GDP by 2020. Non-Muslims are still prohibited from traveling to Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest sites.
Not everyone is jumping at this offer. "Visit beautiful Saudi Arabia, and experience the religious apartheid kingdom in all its glory! Witness beheadings in Riyadh's picturesque Execution Square! Stroll down crime-free Jeddah's fabulous Corniche! And ah! The nightlife! (Jews not allowed.)," snarks conservative Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs. "Worried that there's nothing fun to do in a country where you can be publicly flogged for drinking beer? Don't be. Says Prince Sultan, 'Nightlife can mean anything. … We can provide you a very valuable experience that will hit your soul and your mind and send you home sober,' " quips Allahpundit, at Hot Air, a conservative Web network started by Michelle Malkin.
Rezwan, a Bangladeshi living in Berlin and blogging at 3rd world view, is heartened by this news. "It is too early to predict that it will be as open as its Gulf Arab neighbors which boast Western-style nightclubs serving alcohol anytime soon. I hope they will consider giving permission to holy cities of Mecca and Medina to the non-Muslims as well. Saudi wahabi ideologies need some fresh air," he writes.
Read more about Saudi Arabia's "charm offensive."
Britain's toothache: A shortage of dentists in Britain is leading people into the unsavory realm of DIY dentistry. The National Health Service cannot meet the dental needs of its citizens, leaving Brits with the choice between the exorbitantly priced services of private dentists or relying on "autoextraction."
At Anglofille, an American Ph.D. student in London currently shopping for a dentist takes a personal interest in the article. "If I want my teeth fixed here, I will probably need to sell a kidney. I guess I have two options. 1) Pray that one of my faithful London blog readers is a dentist with charitable instincts; or 2) Check airfares to Budapest," she writes.
Dentist Gregory Cole of FollosseousFlap's Dental Blog proposes a solution: "[The solution is not] the recruitment of Polish dentists to do work 'that British dentists will NOT do.' Does this sound familiar? The solution: privitization of British dentistry with government vouchers for the poor and indigent," he writes.
Read more about Britain's dental woes.