Friday, October 31, 2003

Halloween Parties

As I was leaving my apartment this morning, I saw signs posted advertising a Halloween party. Although I already have plans for the evening, I decided to check and see which apartment it was in, and it was ...mine! Needless to say, some of these signs have already been removed, though I won't be there anyway.

Things have been extremely busy with my PA-ship this week, and I wound up just sort of vegetating yesterday evening. I may not get time to post later today, but let me recommend Juan Cole's thoughts on the importance of land reform in Iraq and the legality of some of our reconstruction plans for the country. Oxblog also has another account from Kabul.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Harry Potter: Health Hazard

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Howard Bennett of George Washington University Medical Center says that Harry Potter headaches might become a growing medical problem for young people.

Afghanistan's Opium Danger

The Financial Times and RFE-RL (scroll to near bottom) are reporting on the new UN report indicating that opium production has spread to 28 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces, and that the country is now responsible for a whopping 75% of the world's total opium supply. UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa is now warning of the emergence of organized drug cartels which would undermine the central government in Kabul. Opium already accounts for $1 billion of a $4 billion economy, increasing the power of the warlords and other rogue elements who profit from it. Heraldo Munoz, another UN official, has linked the rising opium trade to the Taliban resurgence.

As it stands now, the Karzai government may already be a sort of narco-regime, as many high government officials hail from the warlord-driven Northern Alliance. Last month, the Christian Science Monitor ran a report on how the drug trade was already corrupting the Afghan National Army, as Afghanistan's warlord-commanders turn to it as keep up their private militias and curry favor the local farmers who see it as their only feasible livelihood. What would I do about this? I wouldn't rule out legalizing opium, or at least turning a blind eye to it, thus weakening the factions' control over the wealth generated without driving away the rural population. This may not be a long-term solution, but until reconstruction reaches the point where other bases for the economy become feasible, may be the best way to handle a problem we do not need. Besides, if a smaller amount of the opium profits were siphoned off through corruption, the rest could actually go to speed up the reconstruction process.

Winning Wars

Via Josh Marshall, I've found a Washington Post editorial that everyone must read. Its point is that a key in ending wars is to make the other side give up, and that by such terms, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still very much alive. I definitely continue to see the conflict in Afghanistan as a war, one in which we can barely control our putative allies in the former Northern Alliance while the Taliban continue military operations in the south. Iraq may fall into the same category, though even as it is I feel like calling it anything but a war is to dismiss the sacrifices of those who are dying to win it. This may not be good for the Bush administration politically, but I'm more concerned with addressing reality than falling poll numbers.

Taliban Resurgence

The United Nations has confirmed that the Taliban have been retaking land and establishing control over administration in several areas along the border with Pakistan. Jean-Marie Guehenno, the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations also reported a rise in attacks against both military and civilian targets, and said that this insecurity was hampering reconstruction. A couple of weeks ago, William Taylor, the State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan, warned that the Taliban units were growing larger and better organized.

Pigs on Patrol

Israel may decide to post guard pigs around West Bank settlements. Proponents of the plan say pigs have a better sense of smell than the dogs which are now used.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Grant Writing

The production of our program's Title VI-A grant has moved to figuring out the details of the timeline. There's nothing like asking faculty if they will commit to organizing a workshop in March 2006!

Israeli Extremists Attack Rabbis

This post falls into the category of "balancing perceptions." Most people justifiably condemn attacks by Palestinian militants on those interested in working for peace. However, we seldom hear stories like this one about a group of Israeli settlers from near Nablus who attacked some rabbis who according to a Scoop site I'm unfamiliar with were documenting the destruction of some trees. The rabbis were members of a group called Rabbis for Human Rights which al-Jazeera says was showing solidarity with Palestinians during the olive harvest season. I will not equate the actions of these settlers with terrorism, but I will say a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to pay more attention to the settlements and their effect on the occupied territories, especially as Israel keeps expanding them.


MSN Kidz has a feature on whether cheerleading is sexist. One school of thought holds that cheerleading is a sport and has all the benefits thereof, while another sees it as a sexist relic in which girls are on the sidelines "standing by" male athletes. There are also ritual invocations of the existence of male cheerleaders, though I think today they're still predominantly female. While normally I'm with the feminist position on these sorts of issues, I think I have to take the "conservative" position here: While many people do make cheerleaders into mere sex objects, we should not allow such attitudes to deligitimize a complex and important part of American sports custom.

In my high school and college, it was common knowledge that cheerleaders worked, if for no other reason than you often saw them practicing. It is also true that there are cheerleading competitions which mean a great deal to those who participate in them. Any sports fan knows that the crowd is important, and one of the reasons why "home field advantage" is such a big deal. Cheerleaders at once both symbolize and guide the crowd in cheering on their teams. That's why they're called cheer*leaders* and not "cheering girls," or something. Cheerleading is also a performance, and a cheerleading squad with a good routine is just as much worth watching as a good marching band.

Criticism of cheerleading sometimes focuses on costumes, even though in this case those really do serve a functional purpose. More important, however, is the idea that cheerleaders are judged by their beauty and are mere sex objects. I think this is a media image that does not equate with reality. There are unattractive cheerleaders, and everyone knows this. Most "guy talk" I hear focusing on them in concrete cases isn't rooted in their role as cheerleaders, but rather the fact they are women in a public, performing role, much like one sees with female pop stars or drum majors.

Anything else is just based on a media culture such as in the movie Angus where the sexy cheerleader dates the handsome QB before deciding the nerd isn't so bad after all. The cheerleader in this sense is as much an iconographic cultural symbol as anything else, and I don't see a problem with invoking physical beauty in that context. And just to go out on a politically incorrect limb, I'm not sure those cheerleader images are as damaging as some make them out to be. If girls lose self-esteem or decide not to try out because they don't think they're pretty enough, then that is bad, but has a lot more to do with cultural standards in general than the activity of cheerleading in particular. Many will inevitably respond to girls dancing around in mini-skirts in a sexual manner, but don't use that as an excuse to stop girls from going out and pursuing an activity they enjoy.

Iraqi Unity

Yesterday, renowned historian of modern Iraq Peter Sluglett gave a talk on campus about the development of the situation in that country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. One point he made was that in his view, dividing Iraq along sectarian lines would be a mistake. As he put it, Iraqis identified more closely with nationalities and socio-economic groups than with religious sects. In my own readings, I've noticed that throughout the 20th century, Shi'ite leaders always sought representation in an united national government, not autonomy. Sunni dominance in the country has not been religious, but is rather the result of leadership drawn from Sunni areas whose connections are, of course, mostly Sunni.

To a degree this might be a strawman argument, since I haven't heard high-level officials of any kind suggest breaking up Iraq, and indeed doing so would go against American foreign policy as articulated in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. So as I see it, the coalition wants a united Iraq, Iraqis want an united Iraq, and Iraq's neighbors want a united Iraq. Can we just put this issue to bed?

UPDATE: I just remember that last spring, Iraqis kept protesting for a united country. So in that sense, the situation is almost the exact opposite of what happened in Yugoslavia, where there were strong independence movements and well-developed nationalisms.

Baghdad Attacks

Yesterday's attacks in Baghdad which killed dozens of people will have repercussions beyond the incidents themselves. As Juan Cole says: "Without security nothing else follows, friends. Not financial investments, not NGO aid, not more troops sent by allies. The Red Cross is needed for Iraq's reconstruction, but it is likely more or less to get out of Iraq now. The UN has already largely been chased out." I'm sure the tattered remnants of the anti-war movement will use this as another reason why the U.S. should leave, even though they don't have a viable plan for doing so. However, the world cannot afford to have Iraq turn into a failed state. While it is true better planning could have averted some of this mess, what's done is done, and the only choice now is to stay the course and put the country back on its feet by reaching out for the international help we need while trying to astutely manuever through the young but rapidly evolving post-Saddam political landscape in Iraq.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The Blog of Death

One of the attractions of Ed Cohn's sidebar is the Blog of Death. If any of you are interested in short articles about lots of famous and not-so-famous people who have recently died, check it out. Recent obituaries have included a wealthy philanthropist, the man who burned Hitler's body, the last Thai World War I veteran, and a country music singer.

Saudis Exclude Women

In the dog-bites-man story of the day, al-Jazeera reports that women will not be allowed to serve on the nation's consultative council. The consultative council has no real power anyway, so excluding women doesn't even make sense on some abstract "women should not rule" grounds (which wouldn't justify it, of course). Said Saudi dissident Muhammad al-Massari, "The extreme Wahabis that run Saudi Arabia have two obesssions - women and non-Muslims."

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Do you ever feel like time just keeps passing on you? I've had that feeling lately...hours, weeks, and days go by, relatively full, but in ways difficult to quantify, so I feel my life is in more or less the same place it was a month ago, whatever that means. At the same time, I'm feeling a bit down with's not that I'm tired, but rather weary with the concerns which have occupied me that won't quite go away. Today, for example, I went into work a noon, worked until 5 with only a one-hour break, then drove home and have been working ever since.

That's more or less 9 hours on a Sunday after I put in about 4 hours yesterday afternoon before reading a school-related book through much of the World Series game, and the usual 8-10 or whatever for the past week. In a sense I don't mind this...I plan to read just a bit more this evening, and none of the work has been that challenging. But it's all just writing a bit more of the Title VI-A grant, reading through another book for my dissertation, and going through another 10 pages of Arabic which resulted in little more than some more new vocabulary. And each day to come looks like more of the same.

This sounds like a complaint, but it's really not that. It's more a meditation. I remember, too, how in my latter years at QU and some previous years of graduate school I have worked even longer hours and taken it as normal, and wonder if my present inability to muster more energy that is a sign of being somehow "out of shape," early stages of burn-out, or what. Part of me wishes I had taken Saturday completely off, but then I would have just had a bit more work in front of me to worry about.

This post meanders. But then, so does my mood. Perhaps another chapter or so, then I'm crashing for the night.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

More on anti-Semitism

I just want to point to this post on Pejmanesque as an excuse to say one more thing on this subject: I seek to find explanations for anti-Semitism in the Islamic world, not to justify it, but because I believe that understanding where it comes from will suggest ways to both stop it from spreading and root it out where it is found. Pejman's suggestion is, "Whaddaya all say we denounce in the strongest terms possible such hate, make it as unacceptable as our power permits, and perhaps--just perhaps--change a few minds in the process?" Fine: If I haven't said so yet, I denounce the deplorable comments made about Jews by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, and urge Muslim leaders to be less tolerant of such things in the future. Unfortunately, I don't see my blog as that influential among the target audience, so hoping to accomplish something, I'll just continue trying to describe and understand the problem in the hopes the ensuing discussion might prove fruitful.

Israel's Arab University

Haaretz today has a profile of Israel's first Arab university, Mar Elias University in Ibillin, a branch of the University of Indianapolis. It seems to have some connection with the Melkite Church in Israel, and officials say they soon hope to have Jewish students as well as Muslim and Christian, as wll as from throughout the region. I found the article interesting for the glimpse into Israeli Arab issues, and it also went back to another question I've had: If a peace deal can be reached over the Palestinian question, what possible role does Israel and its Arab population have in building a better Middle East? That's down the line a bit, but worth pondering.

Afghan Ethnic Politics

Some may remember that when the current Afghan administration was set up, the powers-that-be picked Hamid Karzai to lead Afghanistan partly becase he was a Pashtun, Afghan's majority community and the Taliban's base of support. Now, Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty keeps going back and forth on whether the Karzai administration is reaching/has reached an agreement with former Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil. At the same time, Pak Tribune is reporting on efforts made by Tajiks such as those in the Northern Alliance to counter their declining influence in Kabul. The Tajiks have historically been the most influential group in Afghan national politics, and Karzai's policies to reach out to the Pashtuns have begun chipping away at that influence.

What's the upshot of all this? Just as I pointed out over the summer that issues between Iran, Pakistan, and India had begun to seriously muddy the landscape of Afghan politics, so now Afghan's ethnic mix is coming to the fore as a key element shaping people's behavior and opinions. The worst case scenario is a resumption of widespread civil war following the 2004 elections if both underlying political issues and the ambitious warlords who manipulate them are not somehow contained.

DISCLAIMER: I hate the term "ethnic" here, which calls to mind an European cultural situation that doesn't apply. But I couldn't think of anything better.

UPDATE: For an well-written on-the-ground description of Kabul, try this post on Oxblog. I love this stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Isam Makhoul

Via Jonathan Edelstein, I see that there has been an apparent assassination attempt on Isam Makhoul, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset. Rather then reinvent the wheel, I'll just link to Jonathan's brief analysis about the three possible suspects: Palestinian militants sending a message, militants from the Israeli right, or organized crime.


I have been extremely clumsy the past two days. Please use caution around me.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Islamic Anti-Semitism

In writing a reply to this Matthew Yglesias offering on TAPPED, I realized there's at least one key point about anti-Semitism in the Islamic world that needs to be in this discussion. The supposition that we're seeing Westernized leaders make anti-Semitic comments to appeal to the great Muslim masses has a serious weakness: The stereotypes of Jews usually usually drawn upon by these leaders have their origins in Western tradition, not in Islam. So the situation has to be a lot more complicated than that.

Just an indicator of what I'm talking about: Read this account of the 1840 Damascus blood libel and see if you notice anything. And lest you think I'm just a knee-jerk blame-the-West Middle East scholar here, it was a book by Bernard Lewis that got me thinking along these lines a long time ago.

I've been meaning to write something about Islam and Judaism ever since the run-up to Arrival Day, but I want to actually look through some things first, and it keeps getting pushed back. Maybe in a few weeks.

UPDATE: Read this Asia Times piece about the Mahathir speech. I don't agree with all its implications, but it has stuff of interest, mainly regarding Mahathir and PAS.

Warning: Soccer

From the State Department's Consular Information Sheet for Tunisia:

"Since 2001, there have been several incidents of soccer-inspired violence in Tunisia in which unhappy fans became unruly and damaged property and vehicles in the vicinity of stadiums. The U.S. Embassy recommends that Americans avoid the games. It is helpful to be aware of when/where soccer games are scheduled, and unless attending the game, to avoid the area of the stadium one hour before kickoff and one hour after the conclusion of the game."

Yitzhak Nakash

Tom Friedman is plugging Yitzhak Nakash's The Shi'is of Iraq. I, of course, was reading this book before it was cool =) (I wonder how many google hits I'll get from the title tomorrow.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Western Sahara

Kofi Annan has imposed a deadline of January 31, 2004, for Morocco to accept a peace plan for Western Sahara, and Morocco isn't happy. This plan, negotiated by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, would give the disputed region autonomy for a 5-year period before a referendum on independence, which Morocco opposes. If Morocco does not accept the plan, the issue would revert to the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, members of the Polisario Front, a guerrilla group supporting Western Saharan independence, say they are considering an all-out war against Morocco in order to win their independence.

I don't know much about this situation, but it seems like if France is giving Morocco carte blanche in Western Sahara policy, having the issue return to the Security Council isn't much of a threat. Whoever controls the territory will control what many believe to be substantial oil and gas reserves. French and American oil companies have contracts with Morocco, while an Anglo-Australian company is trying to do business with the Saharawi government-in-exile.

Tunisian Ambassador

So for what it's worth, I have now completed my experience with the Hatem Atallah, Tunisian Ambassador. I actually was around him twice. The first time was when he met yesterday with Arabic classes, and our professor had us go. This was entirely in Arabic. I asked him about the future role of Tunisia in the pan-Africa movement, which sent him into a lengthy reply I could not begin to understand. It sounded interesting, though.

Today's luncheon turned out to be in a rather small room with a total of six people. I had originally sought to sort of "stay out of the way" at the end of the table, but due to the way things were set up and the fact I was one of the first there, I wound up sitting right next to him. The Tunisian Ambassador to the United States has now passed me the bread. He also has a great memory, and recognized me from yesterday. There was a lot of fascinating conversation about Tunisian politics and economics I won't go into here, and some lighter discussions about the food of different countries and the squabbles which sometimes ensue over who invented what. He found out I was working on going to Morocco this summer and gave me some useful advice. I'm also really intrigued by the possibility of tacking a tour of Tunisia onto the end of my trip, as he described a lot of interesting places there.

So that's my first formal meeting with an ambassador. Interesting guy. I suppose I should mention that Tunisia is a dictatorship, but I don't see it useful to hold that against people I know nothing about. When I was at a conference in Kalamazoo, I met a former ambassador of Pakistan to different places, and talking to him made it clear he was basically just a career civil servant working for his country and that changes in government were more or less like the takeovers one sometimes sees in big business. At the same time, we really don't know how some American government officials would act in a society that tolerated dictatorship. Besides, as far as I know, Tunisia's not close to the same level of repression as Syria or Iraq.


Jeremy Reff has surfaced with a post which is definitely worth reading. His last paragraph:

"And in the end, perhaps, as a Jew, I end up making Gregg Easterbrook's 'mistake'. My actions, regardless of my current religious or political beliefs, have a historic obligation to my identity—this voice, so locally paranoid, so desperately unheard abroad, has its own responsibilities. This is heavy weather in a highball glass, indeed, but this is a highball glass floating on a dangerous tempest-tossed sea."

Nancy Ajram in Bahrain

The Bahraini Parliament has refused to consider a motion to ban the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram from performing in the kingdom on the grounds she often behaves in a sexy manner. In the words of MP Ali as-Samahiji, "This is just silly; we cannot just waste the parliament's time over these sorts of things." Now they can concentrate on the business of the state.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Patrick Belton on American Islam

Oxblog's Patrick Belton has written an article on Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan which he plans to develop into a book. It works primarily as a historical profile, portraying the community today while charting the development of both its political and religious institutions and the ideologies which have swept through the community, causing both conflict and restoration. I found it a highly informative survey, mentioning the different waves of immigration, tracing the struggles for control over mosques and religious endowments, and highlighting the relations of the Dearborn Islamic community with their non-Muslim neighbors.

In this article Belton unfolds a story of the building of a community, and based on that story concludes with a message of hope for the future of Arabs and Muslims in the United States. This Dearborn community, defined both religiously and ethnically, has in his words, "made a thriving and prosperous middle eastern enclave, where they are weaving forth a spectrum of civil society organizations, international trade to enrich their region, and an inevitable desire to secure greater political influence for their community shared by every other immigrant community in the United States's history." Implicit in this history is the contribution Dearborners have made, not only to their own community, but by extension to the larger fabric of regional and national life of which they represent an increasingly important part.

Approaching the piece as a religious and cultural historian, I was an interested in the potential for further exploration as I was what Belton actually presented. For example, the process of Islamic community formation is Michigan is in many ways similar to the way Islam spread to such regions as West Africa, Indonesia, and India, with groups of frequently economic migrants first establishing a community which later attracted converts. And just as Islam emerged from its Semitic Middle Eastern religious environment with all the common features of Middle Eastern religion - monotheism, prophet, holy book, sanctuary - so as it spread into new areas people interpreted it in new ways through the already existing concepts and ideologies of these new regions.

This happens with all religions: In the 18th-century Kingdom of Kongo, Halloween/All Saints' Day became the major Christian holiday due existing beliefs in the spirit world and the importance of ancestors. It would be interesting to see what differences are developing between American Muslims and their counterparts in other areas in terms of what beliefs and practices are considered most important, as well as which movements have the greatest following and why.

Other possible questions relate to developments in social practice, if I might temporarily withhold that term from the theoretical constructs in which Pierre Bourdieu embedded it. Immigrants bring with them ideas and ways of doing things based on the social and political environment from which they came. How do Arab ways of doing things - such as setting up and running mosques, for example - survive in the American environment, and to what degree has the American environment forced people to develop new ways. My knowledge of the Middle East drops off several hundred years ago, so I don't know a good standard of comparison here, but I think Yvonne Haddad has done some work along these lines.

Finally, what does it mean to be a Muslim in Dearborn? To a degree this question's impact might be limited by the impact of recent immigration and ethnic differences between Muslim and non-Muslim, but it's still a question which bears watching as Islam becomes the nation's second-largest religion. I think it was in southeast Asia that the standard became eating pork - no matter what else you did in life, the fact you abstained from pork tied you to Muslim culture. What will happen in this country? Dress? Mosque attendance? There is probably no single answer.

Anyway, as you might have gathered, I found this article extremely interesting. Can't wait to read more!

Iraqi Opinion Matters

It now looks highly unlikely that Turkish troops will go to Iraq as peacekeepers. Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he would prefer not to send troops if the Iraqis don't want them there. The Iraqis most certainly don't, and representatives both both the Kurds and tribal Iraqis have threatened violence againt them. It now appears the U.S. may withdraw the request.

This is both good and bad news. There do need to be more troops in Iraq; however, imposing another unpopular foreign force with its own agenda was not the optimal solution. This situation has shown something, however: Iraqi opinion of these matters does carry weight. It's sad that without the threat of violence it probably wouldn't have mattered, but that is the situation in which we find ourselves, and ignoring it in favor of ideologically driven administration planning won't change it. The sooner a stable national political process is created, the better. (Note: I consider this different from most of the guerrilla attacks on the U.S., which have diverse causes and will continue on some level as long as we're there.)

The Law

Not being a big legal buff, I normally just skim over law posts. But this was just plain cool.

Monday, October 20, 2003

History Majors

Invisible Adjunct brings up the declining number of history majors, and wonders if history departments should be more proactive in recruiting. I'd tie this to the decline of liberal arts majors in general, which if course goes back to concerns about the job market and all the jokes about English majors working fast food their entire life. What liberal arts departments should do is develop a curriculum and sales pitch to take account of this situation. Just to use the history example: In a good history program, students learn more than just stuff about the past. Critical reading, writing, and thinking skills are all transferable and can turn up in a variety of professions if packaged properly, especially with other sorts of experiences. Liberal arts degrees actually have a strength other fields may lack: English major can turn up at a PR firm or a library, but the public relations and library studies majors are boxed in. What to do with a history major is probably worth a blog post; I'll try to dig out some old stuff from my undergrad school and write about it.

Platform 9 3/4

Crescat Sententia's Will Baude has found Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station in London. I found that too neat for me to feel entirely comfortable with myself.

Bahraini Shi'ites

Mahmood's Den has a link to this interesting article about discrimination against Shi'ites in Bahrain. Shi'ites make up the majority of Bahrain's population, but the Sunni ruling family tends to favor other Sunnis in the patronage connections that are such a key part of Gulf political life. I didn't notice any sort of theological opposition, though, so this is a different situation than one finds in the Hasa region of Saudi Arabia. I'd be interested in learning more.

UPDATE: I have learned more. Moojan Momen's An Introduction to Shi'i Islam protrays the Bahraini Shi'ites as largely a rural class members of which have migrated to the cities in recent years as unskilled laborers. There have also reportedly been a number of violent incidents during the 20th century involving Shi'ite plots against the Khalifa dynasty, though here again there's no mention of a theological agenda, except marginally in the case of purported sympathies for Iran, which has at various times claimed Bahrain. I'm now curious of the extent to which the Khalifa monarchy is identified with Sunnism in terms of its political legitimacy, or whether there has been some attempt to create either a Bahraini dynastic nationalism or more generalized Islamic framework.

Afghan Voice

I've recently added Afghan Voice to my blogroll as one of my daily reads. The voice in this case is Arash, whom some of you may recognize from the comment threads on this and other sites. He seems to have the most bloggered site of any blog I've seen, but nonetheless posts something worth reading every single day. Go check it out. This post featuring past Afghan constitutions as context for understanding the one now under development is an example of his work.

How's Iraq?

Calpundit decided to try figuring out how things are going in Iraq. After looking primarily at all the policy shuffling at the White House, he says this:

"But the Sunni triangle still seems to be a war zone, ambushes are taking place at an alarming rate, oil production is not ramping up very quickly, NGOs (and the UN) have pulled out because conditions are so unsafe, unemployment is over 50%, and Saddam is still loose. Compared to this, it's hard to take seriously the evidence of a few miscellaneous visitors who proclaim that everything looks safe to them while refusing to go anywhere without a heavy armed guard."

At the same time, Matthew Yglesias takes on those who use pessimism about post-war Germany to argue that things are going well in Iraq:

"Clearly, if pessimists were wrong about one thing, all pessimists everywhere are always wrong. Shall I go hunt around and dig for historical examples of people saying something would work out well that did not, in fact work out well? How many minds will that change? None."

Yglesias then goes on to talk about the Marshall Plan and similarities between the policies that rebuilt Germany and those Democrats support today. Really, both posts are worth reading in full. From my standpoint, Iraq has so many moving parts it's hard to sit down and write a full analysis. I do expect Iraq in five years will be better than it was under Saddam. After all, Muqtada Sadr doesn't seem the type to fill mass graves. However, I hope we can set our standards a bit higher than "better than Saddam Hussein." With all the variables from Ba'athist remnants to fighting on the streets of Karbala, I'm not sure we have enough of a handle on things to create the stable and prosperous future we've been guaranteeing.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Homeland Security and Title VI

After looking around, I just found on-line the text of the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, the bill which authorizes most government spending on programs like Title VI through which students at American universities learn about the outside world. This bill is controversial because of Section VI, subsection 633 which creates the International Education Advisory Board. This new body, designed to address concerns that area studies programs too often criticize American foreign policy, has been bothering me on the grounds that government should stay as far out of higher education curricula possible.

However, in the legislation, the board will be formed in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security. Excuse me? Why does Homeland Security have a role in what is essentially a watchdog group designed to assess higher education? The Department of Education is there, but it strikes me that maybe the State Department would be a better choice, or even the Department of Defense if you want a strictly military definition of what fits the national interest.

I'd like to find a bureaucratic explanation for this, but don't see one. Right now, it sounds a tad orwellian.

Blog Traffic

Traffic has been ticking upward noticably the past couple of weeks, and yesterday this blog received 110 hits, only the second time in triple digits since it started. I've also noticed I am now the #1 Google hit for "Study Breaks." Thanks for visiting, but sorry if you don't find what you want!

Don't expect any more posting today...I'm currently at work writing stuff for out Title VI grant, and will probably just crash when I get home.

UPDATE: I hate grant writing. There are so many areas which have their own writing customs, and moving from one to another always frustrates me. I used to be considered a good writer as an English major, and left a trail of minor awards behind me in different writing contests. Since coming to grad school, I've learned to focus on the peculiarities of academic writing, where it's all about precise definitions and proper ivory tower terminology. Grants have their own set of rules, and I'm still not sure I quite understand what it is. All well.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Iraqi Oil Wealth

I use this Hawken Blog post to bring up something important about Iraqi oil wealth: You will not see Iraq turn into a rich state overnight just because of the oil. When people hear the phrase "oil wealth," they tend to think back to the stereotype of wealthy Gulf emirates like Kuwait, whose massive social spending even made my sixth grade reading book. However, these Gulf states combine large oil wealth with another variable: small populations. Iraq and Iran each have large amounts of oil, but it will generate a lot less wealth per person given their relatively huge populations.

Balance of Power

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has an article protraying the politics on the Iraqi Governing Council as largely between exiles and those who remained in Iraq under Saddam. the leading candidate to replace the late Aqila al-Hashemi is a woman named Safia as-Souhail, who during Saddam's last years served with a Paris-based human rights group while retaining strong connections to her tribe in Iraq, the Banu Tamim. The article also contained the interesting point that the exiles are the once who have experience working with global politics, even if they lack experience and support within Iraqi society. Sounds like the two sides might need each other, after all.

Reform in Egypt

Jonathan Edelstein talks about some minor reforms in Egypt, concluding that a "Cairo Spring" is probably some distance off. I have a question, however. A current goal of U.S. foreign policy is to promote democracy in the Arab world. Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. Why is the Bush administration not pressuring Egypt to become more democratic?

Dating and Relationships

The usually interesting Diotima points toward a Washington Post story that is clearly the best thing I've read lately about the state of modern romance. I'm not sure I agree with it 100%, of course, but the issues it raises and its general tone point toward a lot of what I've been saying about the current relationship scene.

The springboard for the article is the whole "death of dating" meme, presenting a woman-centered argument that people were better off with the dating conventions of previous generations than they are with today's hook-up culture and frequent ambiguous relationships. A common reason is that women today have surrendered control over how relationships are defined. I'm more concerned with social health and learning to relate to other people.

I've become convinced society lost something important with the death of casual dating and "dating around," an opinion shared by no less an authority than Miss Manners herself. In the new environment, romance as a means by which people of appropriate gender interact with each other has been replaced by sexuality, with all its attendant dangers and responsibilities, as well as its frequent lack of concerned emotional content. At the same time dating itself and its romantic precursors have been elevated to the realm of extreme seriousness to the point where holding someone's coat for them might easily be mistaken for the immediate precursor to discussing what to name your children.

This isn't just about some desire in me to find an outlet for non-sexual romantic tendencies. I can also see much of the criticism of dating as "a 'game,' full of artifice and role-playing." However, if such social games and rituals become more important guides to the relationship than the feelings of the people involved, the fault is with the people, not the customs designed to enable them free expression. In addition, the loss of the dating vehicle forces people to choose between being firmly committed or being alone, resulting in a loss of relationship experience that I believe makes people too often unhappy in the short term and more prone to relationship mistakes in the long term.

I do think some may be idealizing the past, as I can see ambiguities arising in the 1960's over whether a couple should become serious, and people who were desparate to find someone to marry immediately would be desperate regardless. At the same time, people in modern culture should theoretically be able to control their relationships even without the aid of protective customs - this is a question of communication, respect, and assertiveness. But unfortunately, too many don't even consider the possibilities for doing that. And we're all poorer as a result.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Surviving Graduate School

Lots of people have advice on how to get into graduate school, such as Susan Ferrari here on the sciences, Thomas Benton here on the humanities, and the various commentors on this Tacitus thread. I thought, however, I would contribute something on how to get by once you're there. Graduate school is a world different from both the "real world" and the undergraduate years, and requires adjustments no matter where you're coming from, and I've had a lot of conversations in recent weeks reinforcing how disorienting it can become.

Most people go through periods of wondering if they're smart enough to be in graduate school. My friend Jordan discovered that most people at her grad school wondered if they had been admitted by mistake. I've found the same thing here at UW. The reality is this: Getting into graduate school in most fields is highly competitive. If you got in, you belong there. In fact, there are probably far more deserving candidates who get rejected than who actually find a spot in top graduate programs. So once you're there, accept the fact you belong, settle in, and prepare to work, but that is what will govern your life for the next several years.

People have a lot of stereotypes about graduate students, one of the most common being that they are simply too lazy to enter the workforce. That is so wrong it's almost funny. When people who take a few years off before graduate school talk about their adjustment problems, they are not talking about the fact they might get to sleep an hour later in the morning. If you're the typical American worker, you go into a job for 40 hours a week, then you leave and watch TV, spend time with friends/family, or do whatever else you want. In graduate school, you revert back to full work mode, where having an hour or so at the end of the day is considered a thing of rare beauty, and Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to head to the library and get started on that research project.

I want to add an important caveat here, though, and that is this: Everybody takes time off now and then. Thus, despite the rhetoric about continual work, grad students should not experience "relaxation guilt" when they decide to simply sit down and watch TV for awhile. Everyone will find their own level of this. My friend Kristin sought to impose a no-work-after-7 p.m. rule, though I'm not sure it's there now that she's a TA. Most people tend to be a lot more random, working feverishly in huge bursts and then crashing for an entire day. Whatever works for you, let it work, as long as you handle your classes. I want to say I was always busy my first year, but I seem to remember leaving town a lot and sitting around reading for pleasure in the evenings. Once I became a TA, however, things got tight in a hurry, and my second year I was generally seen grading papers one of either Friday or Saturday night, as I also had 11 hours of class 4 of which were Arabic. One thing I've figured out, though, is that in this career, there will always be something else you should be doing to finish a research project or design a course or whatever. At some point, you're going to have to say you want some life to yourself, and I did that about when I became a dissertator, and now I still do my share of work, but am also careful about relaxing away from major deadlines.

Still, the workload of graduate school is there. One of my UW friends recently said he'd like to make it into a 9-5 thing. I don't think it works like that - the only time I do that is over the summer, and during the semester whatever you do will be governed partly by the calendar. Hopefully this balances the fact that we're here because we really enjoy what we do, and having to sit around reading about it can be as much a pleasure as a burden.

And that's another piece of advice: When the going gets tough, remember why you're here. It's not to fill out fellowship applications or navigate bureaucracy, it's to become a great researcher or teacher or archivist or whatever. Sometimes it won't seem worth it, but remember that the grass is always greener on the other side. I pay attention to web sites like Invisible Adjunct, but also consider the fact that if I don't land a tenure-track job somewhere, I'm probably not worse off than most of the workforce, and in my case certainly my Arabic and Farsi will lead to something interesting. I sometimes get far more bothered by my specific choice of field, as I realize had I gone into English I would have been in a 6-year program and be within sight of the finish line, but then I wouldn't be sitting here planning a trip to Morocco as part of my education, and when I read I'd probably wind up analyzing it instead of enjoying it. There is no perfect job, and despite the annoyances you made the choice to do what you're doing. Just remind yourself of the reasons why, because they're almost always still valid.

One thing you should definitely prioritize is getting to know people in your new school. This has actually been my biggest problem here. My first year here my neighborhood was really unsociable, and almost everyone I met in my department was in their late 20's with families and stuff, creating an age gap that could not be effectively bridged for social purposes. Coming straight for undergrad, I found myself more comfortable around the undergraduates I met in quiz bowl; this basically became my UW peer group, and while I still count most of them among my close friends today, for different reasons (me initially trying to induce a sort of "adult" social life, them defining themselves by dorm living) it never turned into full-blown hangout-type stuff while they were here. Things are better now, but this is still the area of my own experience I am most unhappy with.

This is getting long, so I'll cut it off now. I've never had advisor problems, so I can't talk about those. I will tack on one more point: Here at UW, funding is a huge hassle, and has been the single greatest emotional drain on me since I's very aggravating to every semester or year face the realistic chance you will suddenly not have a job in just a few months, and a couple of times this has affected minor life decisions. If you have a multi-year package, consider yourself lucky. And if you don't, be prepared to look relentlessly for cash months in advance, because the sooner you get that settled, the easier it is to concentrate on your studies.

Hope someone finds this useful!

Title VI

Congress is currently looking at legislation to place Title VI, the primary program which makes it possible for students at American universities to study the rest of the world, under more direct government scrutiny with an aim of influencing its content. I haven't said much on this because right now I'm working on UW's Title VI application, and figure there might be some obscure conflict of interest or something. However, I've noted Martin Kramer's latest post on the subject has a clear factual error I thought I'd correct. He says that, "Universities use Title VI money to produce more academics—and nothing else." Leaving aside the fact that at the college level you need to produce academics or there are no more classes, the grant I'm writing is a Title VI-A award geared exclusively toward undergraduate education with a strong component in less commonly taught languages such as Arabic.


I hate baseball.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

John Kerry

As I inch closer to deciding my Presidential candidate, I have eliminated John Kerry's web site from my sidebar. To learn the immediate cause, click here.

UPDATE: I think this David Brooks column is on the money. I'm coming down hard here because while everyone panders now and then, casting a vote on an important issue is a little different than making a campaign promise. That's why I exempt Dean from this post, because my gut tells me if he could affect the outcome of this vote, he would have done the right thing. And note what Brooks says about Gephardt, whom I have criticized for political pandering: "This week, Gephardt, who has to win over Iowa liberals to have any shot at the White House, is the bravest man in Washington." And my three remaining candidates are Dean, Gephardt, and Clark.

The OIC Summit

Al-Jazeera has a story up about Malaysian Prime Minister Muhammad Mahathir's recent speech noted in the American media for its anti-Semitism. The story inspires two separate thoughts. One is that al-Jazeera lists all his anti-Semitic remarks without comment, but then moves to: "However, Mahathir controversially appeared to suggest it was time for an end to violence against the Israelis." Something seems wrong with that picture.

The other thing I thought of is that CBS at least went straight from anti-Semitism to applause. I thought at the time that was probably meaningless...there is definitely anti-Semitism in much of the Islamic world, but applauding long speeches is just part of these sorts of meetings. Now I learn that his speech also contained references to the Qur'an and Muhammad supporting the peace process with Israel and an end to terrorism. His main theme overall was that the Islamic world needed to become stronger. I really feel that I don't know much about what people were thinking and saying at this meeting.

One additional note: Vladimir Putin attended this meeting as an observer. Russia is seeking membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference due to its large Muslim population. RFE-RL recently had an interesting article on post-communist Russian Islam, another sign that the term "Islamic world" may not always mean what you think it does.

U.S. vs. Sadriyun

According to Reuters, the U.S. has moved against followers of Muqtada Sadr who took over a municipal building in Sadr City. So far, the operation appears to have gone without incident. Sadr City remains the heart of Muqtada Sadr's strength, and if the U.S. can successfully challenge him there, I'll start feeling a lot better about how things are going. Sadr has been showing signs of weakness, such as abandoning his shadow government idea due to a lack of public support. The U.S. has also blamed Sadr for the attacks on the Baghdad Hotel and Imam Ali Shrine, though Juan Cole has his doubts.

Dining Companions

It now appears that this Wednesday, I will have lunch with the Tunisian ambassador. Gee, whiz. Does anybody know anything about ambassadors?

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


The Chicago Cubs are my favorite NL team. And they needed to win tonight. They needed to win because the north side of Chicago has waited 58 years for a pennant. They needed to win for that fan who tried to catch the ball last night. They needed to win to keep the great story of this post-season going, and story which cannot be repeated for a long time. But they didn't, while a much-maligned "has-been" catcher, a manager who was wrongly fired three years ago, a pitcher named Josh Beckett no one except baseball afficionados had ever heard of, and a 20-year-old rookie living out his dream proved they were champions.

I do like these Marlins. I might root for them in the World Series. But right now, I'm seriously bummed. The air was pregnant with a celebration such as the baseball world has seldom seen, cackling with a hope which emanated from the streets outside Wrigley to right here in Madison and beyond. And now, there is but a painful, empty disappointment as we realize that hope was never more than an especially vivid illusion.

Wait until next year.

UPDATE: Matt Bruce addresses this a lot better than I just did.

Afghanistan Shells Pakistan

According to Dawn, Afghan forces have been shelling Pakistan along the border. These two nations really don't get along, with the most prominent issues being the location of the border and Pakistan's alleged harboring of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. I don't expect these incidents to lead to anything, but it still doesn't hurt to keep in mind that all is not rosy in our "War on Terror" coalition.

Nice Ideas

Over in Switzerland, a group of former Palestinian and Israeli officials have signed the "Geneva Accord," a nice-looking document which if adopted would fairly resolve all the issues between the two sides and end the Middle East conflict. Jonathan Edelstein has also produced a peace plan around the theory "Good fences make good neighbors,", and his, too, has a lot to recommend it. Coming up with Middle East peace plans is a nice parlor game, but unfortunately has little to do with what actually happens in the region. The fact these plans almost all look alike says a lot about what the obstacles to peace really are. Nonetheless, I consider it important that these efforts continue, if for no other reason than to keep alive awareness of the possibilities, and how easy peace might be when the fighting once more burns itself out.

Iraqi Shi'ite Infighting

According to Juan Cole, militias loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Muqtada Sadr have clashed in Karbala, with at least five reported killed. Bulgarian troops succeeded in blocking off the city so that the Sadrists didn't get reinforcements from Sadr City, where they are strongest. The Sadrists want control of the holy shrines in Karbala which the people of the city have been keeping them out of for the past month. My analysis of this will probably get better once I finish reading Yitzhak Nakash's The Shi'is of Iraq, but I'd already note this seems to continue the pattern where Sadr's first goal is to become the pre-eminent leader among Shi'ites, and he only goes after the CPA either for tactical reasons in intra-Shi'ite battles or in self-defense.

Sadr's rise is currently the worst threat to the U.S. occupation, and it looks like his biggest strength is in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, a base of manpower more than resources. I repeat, however, that Sadr is aiming for political power in ways which render is lack of traditional religious prestige almost irrelevant. In this light, his focus on the Sistani faction as his main foil is interesting: Certainly Sadr's political agenda has a religious base, and religious authority can thus undercut it, but I also wonder if his probable deal with Iran involved removing rival schools of thought within Shi'ism, leaving Khomeinism as the dominant ideology throughout the region.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

ISAF Expands/Islam in Fiji

On the list of things that make me happy is this RFE-RL report that the ISAF peacekeeping force will be expanded beyond Kabul. (link will expire) I'm intrigued, however, that Fiji will apparently be a key player in this mission. A quick trip to the Fiji Sun failed to shed light on the matter, but did turn up an interesting story about the opening of an Ahmadiyya high school in rural Fiji. The Ahmadiyya are a sect very different from Sunnism, Shi'ism, or Ibadhism, and many Muslims consider them outside the pale altogether. They originally came from South Asia, though, and I'm now curious how they fit into the overall Fijian political picture and whether they constitute the primary form of Islam on the islands.

Archaeological Sites in Oman

Gulf News reports that Oman is lobbying to get more of its archaeological sites on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The south coast of Arabian peninsula has long been a key zone for the Indian Ocean trade, and plays a major role in my dissertation. These sites date from a few thousand years before what I'm doing, but it's still good to see the area getting attention. Aside from an Omani friend and a girl I've met who lives by me, no one really seems to realize it's there.

Fulbright Applications

My Fulbright proposal and application forms are complete. Now all that remains is training the faculty to use the new on-line reference forms when the system still has bugs in it.

In other news, baseball must be all the rage right now, as I was hanging flyers today and people kept stopping me to make comments on the play-offs. Good luck to Kristin, a newly minted Red Sox fan who is boldly teaching late afternoon-early afternoon classes by Fenway Park! Also see Daniel Drezner on the Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees and the relationship between baseball fandom and political philosophy.



Monday, October 13, 2003

Cole on Iraqi Shi'ites

Juan Cole's Boston Review article on the recent history of Iraqi Shi'ism and how current events fit both into that history and American foreign policy in the Middle East is an absolute must-read for anyone wishing to remain informed about the situation in Iraq.

Orphan Ali Update

Ali Ismael Abbas, the boy who lost both arms and his parents in the Iraq war and became the poster child for civilian suffering during the conflict, has been fitted with artificial arms. Ali was the recipient of donations for his medical treatment from all around the world. He says he can't wait to hug his remaining sisters - here's hoping they don't object to the tattoo he had placed on his right arm!

Saudi Elections

What to say about the news that Saudi Arabia will hold democratic elections for municipal councils? This is a step toward reform, albeit one of the baby steps we've seen in a lot of other Gulf states. The elections are a long way from actually taking place, and from what I understand won't even include all council members. To tell you the truth, I'm a little disappointed, as usual, in the media coverage of the kingdom's politics. Certainly terrorism and international pressure are one issue affecting the country, but another is the internal politics of the different princes who make up the Cabinet as King Fahd's last days come nearer and nearer. I'm unhappy with analysis that doesn't at least refer to both.

Arab Opera

In one of Bernard Lewis's sillier moments, he wrote in What Went Wrong? of the Arab world's lack of engagement with Western classical music as a sign of the region's alleged cultural decline. Personally, I'll worry about that when I start worrying about the West's failure to produce or appreciate maqamat. However, Lewis should be quite pleased to learn that the first ever Arab opera has just been produced in Qatar. The opera, written by Ahmed ad-Dosari and Michiel Borstlap, is based on the life of the 10th century philosopher Ibn Sina, and is described as a "philosophical 10th century tale of kingship, treason and love." The opera represents part of the opening festivities for Qatar's new "Education City," which as I understand it puts all the educational outlets of world universities in close proximity to each other where they can better share resources and build a thriving educational and cultural community.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

R.I.P., Dale Kimpton

I thought I would mention that Dale Kimpton, my private French horn teacher from either 4th or 5th grade until I graduated from high school, passed away last Wednesday. He also directed the Quincy Community Concert Band, but retired from that a number of years ago. When I was in junior high, he referred a beginning French horn to me for extra help over the summer, thus sending me my first student. Mr. Kimpton was always popular with his students, some of whom took to calling him "Coach" because of his teaching style. He was 76.


My breathtakingly perspicacious friend Jordan reminds me of the important crayon color issue, with this announcement that teal blue, one of my long-time favorites, will no longer exist. Blizzard blue, mulberry, and magic mint also got the axe, although voters saved burnt sienna. The four new colors are mango tango, wild blue yonder, jazzberry jam, and inchworm. (inchworm?) Alas poor teal blue, I knew it well! At least the shade survives in the new guest chairs I ordered for the Middle East Studies Program office.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Iraq's Trajectory

Matthew Yglesias suggests the real problem in Iraq is that progress is coming too slowly. I think he's on the right track there. Progress is definitely being made in terms of the infrastructure and political institutions. However, the longer this takes, the more Iraqis will turn against a U.S. which they have historically had little reason to trust. This will lead to more recruitment by groups dedicated to ending the current occupation, and from there it is an unfortunately short path to a real conflict between the U.S. and the Iraqi people.

On a related note, David Asednik of Oxblog seems to suggest that the recent actions by Muqtada Sadr's followers in Iraq aren't that big a deal because of Sadr's lack of support in the Shi'ite hierarchy. However, for reasons noted here, I don't think that really means much. What is at issue is not Sadr's traditional religious authority, but his ability to mobilize followers for a political agenda. Of that, there is no question, and I would ask Asednik if he's really willing to just brush off a potential urban guerrilla war against an army of 10,000 and growing. I doubt Muqtada Sadr can actually come to power in Iraq, but he can wreak enough havoc that the door would be open for other Iraqi leaders who see vulnerabilities in the coalition.


I'm trying to put the finishing touches on my Fulbright-Hays application, and Microsoft Word decides to go a little crazy on me. Specifically, I can't call up saved files without getting an out of resources error. I can still do everything else, though. Fortunately I have back-ups of the relevant documents, and can play with them in WordPad. Still, I hate computer problems.

The Reformation

Ideofact has responded to my random thoughts comparing Islamic fundamentalism with the Reformation. His comments are interesting, though in a couple of places we need to define some terms. By conservative, I mean in terms of social mores: The Reformation was a period when women's roles became increasingly restricted, for example, much like they are in places like Afghanistan. And in terms of the leaders, I see most Islamic fundamentalist leaders as forming part of an elite: Muqtada Sadr is the son of a leading ayatollah, for example, and Shaykh Ahmed Yassin a graduate of al-Azhar. However, their influence often seems out of proportion to their credentials. Of course, this comparison really isn't that meaningful on the Islamic side, as formal credentials have never been a big deal in Islam, which has no heirarchy.

Incidentally, I will say that as a Protestant, I mean this in no way as disparaging to any religious tradition of any kind =)

UPDATE: I see this topic has come up before. In December 2002, Unmedia posts some Ikram Saeed comments that "Wahhabism is the Reformation." Ideofact also discussed that perspective.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Moroccan Feminism

King Muhammad VI of Morocco is overhauling Morocco's family law to give women more rights, quoting the Prophet Muhammad as saying of women, "An honorable man will honor them, and only an ignoble man will humble them." The reforms would raise the marriage age for women from 15 to 18, give them divorce rights, and require their permission before their husbands can marry additional wives. The Moroccan royal family has encouraged feminism in the kingdom for at least two generations now., and these reforms, once enacted, can help set a new standard for the treatment of women in the Islamic world.

Random Life Notes

Things have been kind of busy the past couple of days. I can't point to anything in particular I've been doing, it's just sort of a cumulative effect. I've decided my least favorite task at work is doing the funding string on requisitions. It seems like almost every one I do turns out to have some mistake on it. My excuse, of course, is that at no point were funding matters included in my training, which was mainly about using various office equipment. It's still annoying to think that if this were a real world job, I'd probably have been dismissed or transferred by now. At least the Title VI-A grant writing feels like it's going well.

I also think my complaints about the small counters in my apartment have been validated by the logistical hassles I just experienced attempting to fry an egg. When I bake something next, I'm going to be working on the table, and heaven knows where I'll cool whatever it is I make.

OK...that's all for now.

Shirin Ebadi

Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. While not my top pick, she certainly seems a worthy choice. Word is the Nobel committee hopes to promote change in Iran by highlighting the reformist movement. There might be hope of that: While the prize for Aung San Suu Kyi, the closest parallel I can think of, did not lead to a turnaround in Myanmar, Iran's system is significantly more open at the Myanmarese military junta, and more susceptible to different forms of pressure. The reaction from elsewhere in the Islamic world will also bear watching, and in that vein I find it interesting that al-Jazeera seems to play up her gender more than her religion, probably because as Muslims themselves they take it for granted that Islam is compatible with human rights and democracy and the pressure to highlight that is thus less than in the West.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

More on Arafat's Health

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat is reporting that Yasser Arafat has a tumor in his large intestine, and that it may be cancerous. The situation does appear a bit confused, however, as for obvious his aides don't want to give off signs of weakness to other elements of the PA, terrorist groups, or the world at large. The article states he has been suffering from symptoms such as weight loss, diarrhea, and exhaustion. However, I see little to suggest his life is in immediate peril.

Rumored Presidential Endorsement

I still haven't made a firm decision on which Democrat will win the coveted endorsement of Brian's Study Breaks for the 2004 Presidential election. Most people I know who have already made up their minds point to particular issues like the war, trade, homeland security, unions, or certain characteristics like sticking to their ideology, foreign policy or other relevant experiences, fiery passion, or a military background. I'm greedy and want it all, or at least as much as I can get. I find several candidates have points I really, really like, but unfortunately these come combined with one or more glaring weaknesses. I've been waiting for them to address some of these, but things are developing the wrong way. And almost accidentally, I've realized there's one candidate who usually isn't the one who most inspires me on any particular point, but does have all his bases covered. I'm still waiting a bit to see how a few things shake out, especially with the Clark factor, but I'm close enough to a decision I thought I'd start a rumor about which way I might be leaning. It's this guy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Things Professors Say

Katherine of Not for Sheep has posted a collection of quotes by her law professors, a number of which are fairly amusing. It reminded me of my Quincy University English days, when two friends of mine began writing down a similar list of quotes from our Chaucer professor, which they proceeded to put into a book and present to him at the end of the year department party.

Unfortunately, I don't remember any of those, but I do have a T-shirt from when they did the same thing next year with an American lit prof who was retiring. They're not quite as funny - most of them you have to know personalities and context - but a sample would be, "I have no idea what your ethnic origins are...other than smart ass" and "Bless you, bless you, I don't mean that." The real treat to quote, though, would have been my Middle Eastern Political Systems professor. Tragically, the only quote from him I can recall right now is, "Saddam Hussein is the enlarged prostate of the Iraqi oil business," but his biting sense of humor pretty much reached every side of every issue in the region for the past fifty years.

Unholy Smokes

Amir Taheri, writing in Gulf News, has an interesting article which shows the difference between the Najafi and Qomi schools of Shi'ite jurisprudence through the issue of smoking. Ayatollah Shirazi, from Qom, argues that smoking is a sin because of the Qur'anin injunction against doing harm to oneself. Ayatollah Sistani, whom regular readers will recognize as the leading authority in Najaf, says smoking isn't actually a sin, but is pretty stupid and people should know better.

Taheri interprets this as the difference between a Qomi view in which people cannot exercise their own moral judgements, and must instead rely on clerics who interpret sacred tradition, and a Najafi view that people can interpret Islam on their own. I think in some ways he's making too much out of the theological distinctions, because while it's true that Sistani invokes modern science directly, it definitely lies behind Shirazi's view that smoking is harmful and thus sinful. The style differences, however, are definitely interesting, as is the idea Taheri attributes to Sistani that if the clergy claim blind obedience, they are introducing an intercessor through which people are only indirectly answerable for their own conduct.

There are political implications to all this, as well. Commentators such as Steve Gilliard during his Daily Kos period often lumped all Shi'ite clerics together, blurring the difference between direct rule by the ulama and elevating the authority of shari'a (Islamic law) interpreted by the ulama. However, these two views are an outgrowth of completely different worldviews of the relationship among religious knowledge, believers, and the ulama. And those differences can lead to very different societies and political systems.

Power in Kabul

According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Kabul has been suffering from electricity shortages due to the theft of power supplies by warlords and armed gangs who show up at the power station and demand electricity be diverted to them. Corruption is a factor, as well. It strikes me that if armed gangs can show up at your major energy production facility and force employees to give them access to power, things can't be all that rosy in Afghanistan, despite the good news noted yesterday by Daniel Drezner. Matthew Yglesias blogging on TAPPED is also pessimistic. I hate to be a nay-sayer, but when I look at Afghanistan, I just see so many problems it's hard to remain optimistic.

Arafat's Health

Basic story via al-Jazeera: Yasser Arafat allegedly suffered a mild heart attack, though aides publicly deny it. Although his personal physican says the Palestinian leader is in good health, anonymous sources dispute this.

Turkish Troops for Iraq

The Iraqi Governing Council has finally agreed on something, and it was unanimous: They do not want Turkish troops in Iraq. However, the U.S. has decided that they are coming anyway. I have to admit that somebody needs to send some troops.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Middle Eastern Trains

What is train travel like in the Middle East? I'm probably going to wash ashore in the region this summer, and am looking for ways to get from one area of it to another quickly and efficiently (relatively speaking, perhaps). If you know something about this, please e-mail or leave a note in the comments. (It occurs to me that since my main country could be Morocco, I might wind up hopping into either West Africa or Western Europe, instead.)

Israel's Separation Wall

I haven't commented much on Israel's separation wall, except to oppose the route it's taking, which is through Palestinian territory. Jonathan Edelstein, however, has given it a lot of thought, and actually proposes that the international community help build it. His argument relates the current Israeli-Palestinian situation to the Algerian War of Independence, and argues that a means for Israel to retreat safely is necessary for successful negotiations. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but as usual, he makes a lot of good points. I agree this wall shouldn't be seen in the same way as , for example, the Berlin Wall - I'm presuming Palestinians who work inside Israel would still be able to pass through with increasing ease as tensions gradually abate. However, like most involving the Middle East, the whole situation involves a lot of "ifs" before things work out well.

UPDATE: Read the comments thread, too.

Highly Unfortunate

Perhaps predictably, American soldiers overseas have devised a new derogatory ethnic term for Iraqis and others. Afghan Voice has details. This is especially annoying as the one chosen is a term of respect among Muslims.

Iranian Aid for Iraq

Juan Cole notes that Iran may soon be helping with the Iraq reconstruction by helping provide water and electricity. I don't really have much to say about this, but thought I'd point it out.

That "Islamic Reformation"

This is the sort of random, potentially silly thought for which blogs are often known. Anyway, I was thinking of the Jonathan Berkey lecture I mentioned below, and his comments near the end about the changing criteria for religious leadership in the Islamic world as people who would have formerly been considered amateurs can now inspire large followings. I have in the past tended to dismiss all the media commentary about the need for an "Islamic Reformation," which clearly superimposes on Islamic history a Christian metanarrative which simply doesn't fit.

But then it struck me, could there be an odd connection after all? After all, weren't many leading Protestants people who were not exactly high-ranking clergy yet achieved religious leadership by claiming to return to an ideal golden age in the past? And didn't this take place in an environment shaped by new technologies and the formation of modern nation-states? And finally, wasn't it in many ways fundamentally conservative? Or at least, that's what I remember from my undergraduate Women's History course...

This cretainly isn't what the media has in mind, and I'm not sure making such a comparison has any deep scholarly value, but I'd still be curious in finding out what people like Ideofact and Amy Lamboley think about the subject. It's definitely been ages since I've paid attention to the relevant European history.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Iraqi Shi'ite Politics

Juan Cole has a post suggesting that the Sadriyun are gaining support in southern Iraq's tribal areas. I haven't looked at this situation in awhile, so briefly: Muqtada Sadr is the son of an ayatollah martyred under Saddam's regime. He is staking a claim to religious leadership of Iraq's Shi'ites, among whom he has taken the strong anti-American line. His faction is not precisely orthodox Usuli Shi'ism, maintaining for example that people should continue to follow Ayatollah Sadr's rulings, when mainstream Usulis oppose following the rulings of a dead jurist. Sadr is also young, probably about 30, and has not built much in the way of religious credentials. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the leading figure of the more traditional main clerical extablishement in Najaf.

Today I went to a lecture by Jonathan Berkey, who discussed the changes in the modern ulama, with people coming into religious leadership through non-traditional means. It struck me that Muqtada Sadr represents just that type of leader, and so might be an interesting case study. Another thing I wonder about is just where the traditional tribal structures are in all this. I currently have checked out of the library Yitzhak Nakash's The Shi'is of Iraq, though I haven't gotten far with it yet. At the point where I last read, a rift opened between the tribal shaykhs and the Najaf clerics in the early twentieth century, and there were suggestions this continued under the Ba'ath. However, it was rural tribal action that came to Sistani's rescue in the spring when the Sadriyun tried to force him out.

I shall seek to learn more...

Afghan Warlords Form Party

According to the October 6 RFE-RL Middle East newsline (link will expire), several dozen Afghan warlords have formed a new political party to challenge Hamid Karzai in the 2004 elections. The group, known as the United National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, include such rivals as Abd ar-Rashid Dostum and Ata Muhammad, as well as the powerful Iranian-backed Herat governor Ismail Khan. Considering the warlords and other local leaders will have a lot of influence over any voting outside Kabul, this can't be good news.

Here Come the Serbs!

So according to Pak Tribune, the U.S. has decided to accept 1000 Serbs as peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Ah, yes, they should be quite popular in Afghanistan. I mean, after the promised vetting to eliminate all who have committed war crimes against Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and everything. I'm sure any Afghans who worry about the coalition waging a war against Islam will decide to let bygones be bygones, and that all these Serbs will be fully trained in dealing with Afghan cultural sensitivities whenever they might arise.

The article also says: "The American thinking was that the need for combat troops ready to take casualties in Afghanistan overrode political considerations about the wisdom of such a mission, and that in any case, the Serbs would probably be on their best behavior, officials indicated." So in what is officially the War We Already Won, we need allies who are willing to take casualties.

Apparently Serbia and Montenegro has a gendarmerie. Wouldn't that be more useful in Iraq?

UPDATE: The U.S. has declined an offer of assistance from Kosovo.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Omani Elections

Today Oman held its first-ever elections with universal adult sufferage for its Majlis ash-Shura, a consultative council for social and economic policy. Gulf News paints a positive portrait of the events, with high voter turnout, female candidates, and an efficient computerized election process. Al-Jazeera is more skeptical, pointing out that the women lost, the government manipulated the turn-out numbers, and people generally voted for candidates chosen by local tribal leaders.

Kashmir Pictures

Whenever I say something like, "I can't wait to go to Kyrgyzstan someday," people tend to look at me like I'm really odd. I think they stereotype much of the Middle East and Central Asia as a sort of barely civilized wasteland, and can't fathom any sort of attraction at all. With that in mind, check out these pictures of Kashmir on Zack Ajmal's blog. That, my friends, is what you find in southern Central Asia, with Islamic themes replacing Hindu and Buddhist ones as you move further north until at last, past the old Silk Road route, past the high peaks of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan and the Tien Shan, Pamirs, and Kopet-Dag of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Iran respectively, until they open out upon the vast steppes where for millennia pastoral nomads have driven their herds through the vast, thinly inhabited plains. And that, my friends, is worth checking out.

UPDATE: Also, check out this New York Times story about Mongolia, where you can see some of the above-mentioned pastoral nomads and vast steppe.

UPDATE: From a Mongolia-phile: "What the go all the way to Khovd and you DON'T try the marmot? Freakin' Euro-trash wannabe travel writer. He's nothing more than a marmot-phobe."

Terror in Haifa

Everyone stop and consider the target of the recent terrorist attack in Haifa: a restaurant partially owned and frequented by Arabs in a city famous for its multicultural atmosphere. This was an assault on the peace process as surely as any of those timed to derail important initiatives or inflame tensions in sensitive areas. Not only that, but as they have before, the terrorists have shown they do not care if Arabs they consider collaborators are killed in their attacks. In this there is a warning. The PA leadership often speaks of the fear of starting a Palestinian civil war. Yet one already exists, and is seen in this attack, in the murder of collaborators in the occupied territories, and in the way Hamas and Islamic Jihad undermine the PA's official policies at every turn. The only choice the Palestinians will have in the long run is to fight it, or be defined by that acquiesence which alone prevents it.

Of course, the problem is that the moderate Palestinians could actually lose such a civil war. That's the block my attempts to see a road to peace in the near future cannot see past. As Yeats once wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." And perhaps that goes for both sides.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Iraqi Marriages

Some American soldiers have married Iraqis. Stuff like this happens a lot in wars, but I just thought I'd mention it anyway. Since a year ago I was excited about seeing Miss Saigon, my first professional musical, I also have to ask if there's a film or musical in the future with this issue, as well.

Terrorism at MESA Conference

Martin Kramer, at the start of an interesting post about terrorism, takes a swipe at the Middle East Studies Association's annual conference by linking to the program and saying "not a terrorism paper in sight." Following the link, however, led me to find this panel, Saturday, November 8 at 4:30 p.m.:

(P023) Rescuing Islamic Political Theory from the Jihadist Ideology

Chair: Louis J. Cantori, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Kamran A. Bokhari, University of Texas at Austin
"Jihad & Jihadism: A Rendition of Transnational Militant Non-State Actors"
M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Adrian College, Adrain, MI
"De-Constructing Jihadism: In Quest of a Theology of Global Peace"
Ejaz Akram, Catholic University of America
"Ummah & Jihad: Categories of Analysis in the Transnational International Relations of the Muslim World"
Anas Malik, DePauw University
"Waging Jihads vs. Fighting Wars: A Credible Distinction?"

Without knowing for sure, I would suggest that "jihadism" refers to terrorist ideology, with the terrorists themselves appearing as "transnational militant non-state actors." Several other panels seem like they'd deal with the background to terrorism, such as the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One also notes a number of Iraq and Afghanistan panels. Unfortunately, I will not be making my way to Alaska to hear any of these and report more.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Bahraini Politics

Mahmood of Mahmood's Den is expressing cynicism about Bahrain's democratic reforms as he contemplates the upcoming session of Parliament. What's on the agenda? New penalties for humiliating public authorities, insulting the army, or ridiculing other countries or international organizations, among other things. Sometimes popular representation is only a small step on the road to freedom...

Hashem Aghajeri

Iraniangirl notes the possibility that Hashem Aghajeri might win the Nobel Peace Prize. A prominent Iranian dissident is certainly a possibility, though I don't know my "Who's Who" of that situation well enough to pick one. As far as I do know, Ayatollah Montazeri might be another choice, since he was actually under house arrest all those years.

My candidate remains Pope John Paul II, an opinion shared by Anthony DeJesus. I have to ask, however, whether there are any worthy candidates in Congo? If things are really on a peace track there, that's something that should be recognized.

Liberals' Grammar

Right now I have the TV on to a speech by John Kerry, who just said "every emergency rescue personnel" at the end of a list including "every fire fighter" and "every police officer." If I'm not mistaken, that is a grammar mistake. However, because Kerry is a liberal from New England, you will likely never here this gossiped about or reported anywhere as a discussion on whether he is smart enough to be President. (As if grammar has some direct bearing on economics or social and geopolitical issues)

Having reached the point where I have given 3 50-minute lectures a week to a class as a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic history, I can tell you grammatical construction often falls by the wayside. This is why I've never been a big fan of that line of attack against President Bush. As I hinted above, I strongly suspect that the media tends to go after conservatives for such things, anyway, following a sort of subtle "conservatives are dumb" meme. I don't think this comes from an overt ideological bias, but is rather just a box into which GOP politicians are far more likely to be stuck that Democrats, especially those who dare speak with a Texas rather than New England accent.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Ed Cohn's reply in the comments.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Citizens of Terror States

Via al-Muhajabah, I see that there is a bill in Congress to prevent any citizen of a state sponsor of terrorism from entering the U.S., and expelling those already here. I fail to understand the appeal of this idea to anyone who thinks it through even a bit. For one thing, these countries are generally dictatorships. The people have no control over their government's foreign policy. I'm also trying to think of a terrorist attack committed by a citizen of one of the countries on the list...none of the September 11 hijackers were, and I can't recall hearing any of them mentioned in the different arrest reports and everything that float in as the "War on Terror" progresses.

There are, however, plenty of citizens of state sponsors of terrorism already here, and with a large impact on our country. Cuba, for example, is on the list, and supporters of this bill will presumably sign up to send Miami's Cuban exile community back to the loving arms of Fidel Castro. Ahmad Chalabi and the other Iraqi exiles would have been sent away, if they were ever here.

Fortunately, I'm convinced that not even the current administration would sign on to this bill, which is probably driven by a desire to appeal to the GOP base more than anything else.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias just e-mailed me to point out a provision for refugees in the actual legislation. He also suggested this is realistically going nowhere, as there are no co-sponsors or anything.

J.M. Coetzee

Literature nerds like me will note that J.M. Coetzee has won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature. Coetzee is a South African novelist and essayist whose works include Dusklands, a novel about someone developing a new technique of psychological warfare during the Vietnam War; Waiting for the Barbarians, which describes as "a political thriller in the style of Joseph Conrad," The Life and Times of Michael K, about an ordinary person driven by growing chaos and impending war to a state of indifference, and various other novels you can read about at the above link.

We still haven't had a Nobel winner whom I've read stuff by before their award. Since Coetzee is African, Chinua Achebe will probably not win for a few years, though Carlos Fuentes is a possibility, as is Mahmud Darweesh. I could add David Grossman and Murakami Haruki, but they're both relatively young. I think Ben Okri is, too, though for various reasons I didn't finish The Famished Road last summer, and so probably can't count it as something I've read.

Saddam's WMD Bluff

With all the Valerie Plame coverage, I haven't seen much about this Washington Post story saying that investigators are working on the theory that Saddam Hussein wanted the world to believe he had WMD as a bluff to preserve his image of strength. I admit this has emerged in my mind as the most likely theory. I know it's possible to hide stuff in the desert or wherever, but even with all the scientists we've interviewed since the war ended, we haven't found a clue that these weapons actually existed. The article's suggestion that Saddam was scheming to restart his program after the end of sanctions makes a lot of sense to me, and was an important "even if" clause in my support for the war. If this is the case, I'd argue it partially exonerates the Bush administration from any intelligence lapses, and is certainly justification for the invasion for those of us who believe the economic sanctions to have been a crime against humanity.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Dead Sea

Al-Jazeera has a good story up on efforts to save the Dead Sea, which is shrinking rapidly due to increasing demands on the water supply. This goes to the heart of the region's water politics, and I've always felt that the fact Arabs and Israelis have seen fixing it as a joint venture is a good sign for the future.

The article also mentioned that one possible side effect of a proposal to save the sea might have the side effect of turning it pink. Now that would be interesting...

Third Party Voting

Over at the new Crescat Sententia, Will Baude and Matt Reading are defending the position that casting third party votes is not a waste. I seldom vote for a third party, but I agree it's not a waste. True, a vote for Nader or Buchanan in 2000 might have helped throw the election to your less favored major party candidate, but this presumes two things: A) The two party system is inevtable in American politics and B) The immediate election is all that matters.

Leaving A aside, I often find myself disagreeing with B. By voting for a third party, you're not just casting a vote for a candidate unlikely to win, you're withholding it from major candidates while showing you will still participate in the process. Assuming enough people do the same thing, the major parties will then try to figure out how they can get your vote. This has basically been the history of third parties in the U.S., most notably the Populists and Progressives of 100 years ago, whose issues were adopted by one or another of the major parties. In fact, I would argue that if you felt strongly enough about the Green Party in 2000, you absolutely should have wanted to cost Gore the election to show the democrats that your concerns as a voter couldn't be ignored.

UPDATE: Samer Ismail has an interesting spin-off of this discussion.