Sunday, November 30, 2003

Sistani's Views on Government

David Asednik of Oxblog wants the media to do more to examine Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's views on government. One way to find these out, of course, might be to ask him. On a more serious note, however, I'm not sure such an examination would reveal much, simply because it's unclear to me whether Sistani has really developed his views on proper government. I doubt that branch of jurisprudence was encouraged under Saddam Hussein. The only things I know for sure are that he rejects Ayatollah Khomeini's doctrine of velayat-e faqih (rule of the jurist) and wants Iraqi law to be based on Islamic law. This rules out an Iranian-style theocracy, and suggests something similar to the constitution currently being worked on for Afghanistan, or maybe an Iran without the Faqih and Council of Guardians, which is basically where the Reformists there are heading. The only alternatives I can think of would be a monarchy or military rule of some kind, which doesn't seem likely. As it is, Sistani is mainly reacting to things others are proposing, and it may be that's all he really plans on or has interest in.

UPDATE: Swopa's thoughts are also worth reading.


As you probably guessed, I've been away for Thanksgiving. It was good. A few random notes:

1.) I saw the extended DVD version of The Two Towers, and it was good. I also watched a bit of the appendices. There were defensible story-telling reasons for the Osgiliath diversion, and the Ents were better with the cut scenes. In fact, if you've never read the books, I recommend the extended version because there are a few expository scenes that will really help you out.

2.) As I was pulling out of Fazoli's for lunch, I turned on my radio and they were playing "Stairway to Heaven." That was rare.

3.) Life's unexpected developments: I stopped by to visit my old French horn teacher's widow, and learned that a girl who in high school had been our official far-left somewhat anti-religious could-have-used-a-Nader girl is now in a convent taking up the religious life as a convert to Catholicism.

4.) There are a couple of very uninspiring James Bond movies. I saw The World is Not Enough, which was fine, but Never Say Never Again had me flipping around a lot despite my desire that night to simply watch a movie without worrying about it. I also watched A Christmas Story all the way through, which was mostly an experience in seeing how different scenes I already knew related to each other.

5.) If you ever develop a bit of car trouble on I-39 in northern Illinois, I recommend a place called Oscar's by the city hall in Oglesby.

UPDATE: Crescat Sententia's Will Baude questions my taste in Bond movies. I admit I'm not a connoisseur of Bond films, as I didn't see my first until two or three years ago and most of my viewing since has been stuff I've randomly caught on TNN/Spike TV. However, Never Say Never Again reminded me a lot of Moonraker, which I also disliked, in its reliance on cheap slapstick humor, plus the entire first hour with the new bureaucratic MI6 sort of put me too sleep. The part with the captured American pilot also kept giving me flashbacks to The Manchurian Candidate, and looked weak in comparison.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Small World Project

This is sort of fun and interesting.

Producing Doctorates

Martin Kramer has a new post about the Title VI controversy in which he uses all the predictable loaded terms to attack a pro-Title VI op ed in the Los Angeles Times. A lot of his arguments are things I've refuted before, but one I haven't gotten around to yet is the argument that because Title VI money partly provides fellowships for doctoral students, it is useless in producing people who go into government service. A couple of easy points, however:

1.) Kramer says interviews of doctoral students reveal they don't plan on going into careers in government. Fine, but do they wind up going into government anyway? After all, the academic job market is notoriously harsh, and many people wind up outside their preferred careers.

2.) Those who do remain in academics don't exactly leave this plane of existence. They work in universities teaching and developing courses in Middle East Studies. As I mentioned here, part of the problem finding Arabic translators is the lack of Arabic instructors, who are ideally people with a Ph.D. in Arabic. The same goes with any other area of cultural knowledge we might need. Kramer and his associates regularly conflate scholars' research interest with what they teach, but in the real world those people examining 19th-century Arabic poetry probably have jobs where they teach the Arabic language - this is true with all Arabic lit people at UW-Madison.

I have two friends from grad school who took a terminal masters and went into the military, armed with language and important cultural knowledge that will serve them well on the ground. And they have it because of dedicated faculty who, regardless of political views, taught them what they needed to know. Let's support programs which help our troops, not take advantage of the situation to attack them for political purposes.

UPDATE: Although Kramer links to the LA Times piece, he has it set up so it's tough to link to. You can read it here.

UPDATE II: See also the discussion at Daily Kos.

Hizbullah in Iraq

The New York Times has an article about the presence of Hizbullah agents in southern Iraq. I actually know something about this topic, as I wrote an early graduate school paper on the political mobilization of the Shi'ites in southern Lebanon. Much of what I have to say, however, has already been pointed out by Juan Cole. One thing the article did over an over was treat Hizbullah as simply an Iranian puppet, which is simply not true; their relationship is more about collaboration in areas of common interest than anything else. As Cole points out, the Lebanese Shi'ite leaders come from Najaf, and that's where their personal and ideological connections are. Tehran is mostly a bank account useful for building social services and obtaining weapons to use against Israel. Especially since everyone admits Hizbullah isn't doing anything hostile to the U.S., I think analysts should fold their presence into the larger issue of Iraq's Shi'ites and their attitudes toward the occupation - Hizbullah can support the Iraqi Shi'ites, but is unlikely to lead them anywhere.


By day, I am a graduate student in Middle Eastern history. By night, however, I am the Czar of Russia. Given the current state of the world there's not that much to do, and the work is interesting. If only it weren't for those pesky English...

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Kennedy and the Middle East

Afghan Voice has an interesting round-up of Middle Eastern reactions to the Kennedy assassination. One can approach this issue from a number of directions. How have things changed since then? Is there really an irrevocable Arab hatred of the West? And to what degree can the U.S. inspire the world when we remain true to our founding ideals?


Do you ever go through periods where you have a serious need to blow off steam, but can't find a safe outlet? This is my mood at present. There are a whole host of reasons both large and small, but unfortunately the large issues I have to be patient with, and I don't want to have an out-of-proportion reaction to one of the small ones. Such is life.

What's Up With al-Qaeda?

Zvi Bar'el has a column in Haaretz examining the ways in which al-Qaeda now seems to turn up in discussions of every terrorist attack. A key graft:

"The problem is that the organization has developed into a kind of worldwide lexicon of terrorism. So, when two vehicles blow up on the same day in the same place, it's taken to be "a characteristic operating method of al-Qaida." Every terrorist who was ever in Afghanistan or Pakistan is automatically a member of the organization. Every extremist preacher in a remote mosque is from al-Qaida, and every Arab regime that wants to arrest opponents of the regime can do so very comfortably by declaring that the detainees have ties to al-Qaida."

I don't think we should look at terrorist organizations as closed compartments, but rather networks. I believe the key phrase is "tied to al-Qaeda," not "members of al-Qaeda"; the latter may be few, but the former are many. Most traditional Islamic institutions did not have the sort of formalized institutional structures you see in the West, and while terrorist groups are in no way a traditional Islamic institution, my thought is that they follow the same pattern. The key to understanding them is not a leadership structure per se, but rather the pattern of personal ties (based partly on priority of targets) and money flows through which Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is linked together.

Democracy in America

I've seen Tommy Franks's comments about suspending the Constitution in the event of a serious terrorist attack, but hadn't thought much of them just because they seemed so removed from reality. Juan Cole has taken them up, though, and I guess the mere fact a high-ranking general would say such things should be sending alarm bells all through society. Let's put a stop to this sort of talk right now.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Georgian Revolution

On Oxblog I read that there is a revolution taking place in Georgia. Opposition protestors have taken over the Parliament building, and outgoing Parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze has declared herself interim President. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has threatened to call in the military to restore order.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The War Continues

While the U.S. tries to get a handle on Iraq, the war against those linked to the September 11 attacks continues:

"The Afghan base at the Khost airport came under heavy attack last night by Taliban Mujahideen who, instead of firing rockets and slipping in the forests, waged a continuous operation using heavy weapons. The attack started at Suhoor, the morning meal before Muslims fast for the day during Ramadan, and lasted for three hours. Jasarat is reporting fourteen soldiers in the base were killed and another 23 wounded."

Brian News

My major work project of the week has been getting off an application to AU-Beirut for a visiting scholars program. Unfortunately, I might have to come in this weekend to do it, because I have precisely none of the information I need.

The December 6 UW high school quiz bowl tournament looks like it's coming together. Unfortunately for the team, nothing else is.

I'm going through a period of really just wanting to be done with grad school and out living in a community I can call home as a productive member of the workforce. My dissertation itself seems kind of listless...I've done a fair amount of work, but it doesn't feel like it adds up to anything.

I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. I have an intense craving for turkey stuffing. Not the turkey, just the stuffing. I could also use a piece of pumpkin pie and some cranberry sauce. I need to remember to stop by Sentry and pick up a kringle before I go.

That's all for now.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Newspaper Corrections

Egyptian Reform

In the past, I've suggested that if the U.S. were serious about democratic reforms in the Middle East, they would put pressure on Husni Mubarak to open up the political situation in Egypt, which is probably the most important cultural and intellectual powerhouse in the Arab world. Now, I see in al-Ahram Weekly that members of the ruling party are denying accusations that the regime's recent discussions about liberalization are a response to American pressure. Absolutely no one quoted in the article saw democratization under American pressure as a good thing. Unfortunately, I don't have enough context to discuss what other factors might be in play among these different parties.

Hard-Boiled Arabs

Today I read an article by M. Daniel Beaumont in the scholarly journal Studia Islamica about the literary structure of early Islamic historical narrative which pointed out close parallels between our extant sources and the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett. I have to admit this was an interesting analogy. Beaumont even went so far as to say that this style came from a similar historical environment, as the "hard-boiled" American literary style came when post-World War I disillusionment made writers decide to react against the romantic trends of the 19th century, while in the late 8th century when the Islamic historical tradition took its surviving form Muslims were disillusioned because of the Abbasid Revolution and reacted against the literary styles of the Umayyads and pre-Islamic Arabia with their heroic tales and romantic poetry. I think he's way far out on a limb there, but I have to admit my perceptions of the early caliphs have been permanently affected.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


From the New York Times:

"The Bush administration, which was wary earlier this year of installing a government dominated by Shiites in Iraq, has concluded that such a development is virtually inevitable and not necessarily harmful to American interests, administration officials said Wednesday.

"The officials said that fears of an Iranian-style — and Iranian-influenced — theocracy in Baghdad have faded because it has become clear that Iraq's Shiite population is not a monolithic bloc and not necessarily dominated by Tehran.

" 'Our basic position is that as we get to know more of Iraqi society, we're more comfortable with a democratic process, and if that emerges with a predominant Shiite role, so be it,' said an administration official. 'There's been a steady education process here.' "

This does not change my position that we should have gotten to know the basics of Iraqi society before we invaded.

Dating Techniques

Diotima points to this New Yorker review of a book on using marketing techniques to find husbands. The suggestions include direct mail marketing:

"Greenwald suggests that a single woman send, to a hundred or more friends, greeting cards bearing photographs of herself being witty or playing golf, and include the message 'This year, I would like to find someone wonderful to spend my life with. Do you know any single men you could introduce me to?'"

And here I thought women were all about subtlety. Please note that as a guy, I find the immediate leap to "spend my life" with a total stranger a bit over the top. But then I'm not 35 yet.

Iraq's Labor Issues

After a bit of googling, I found this article about how the economic policies imposed by the U.S. are affecting Iraq's workers. Under Saddam Hussein, industry was generally government-controlled, and the U.S. has been privatizing it on the (correct) theory that it will lead to more foreign investment. Unfortunately, in order to make it attractive to corporations, the CPA is taking positions on workers' rights which would not fly even among conservatives in the U.S. Forming unions is illegal, for example, and there is no right to strike or demonstrate peacefully about working conditions. CPA permission is required for businesses to get raises, and in some cases non-salary benefits have been eliminated. Unemployment is currently around 70%, and this is before privatization really gets going, which most feel will lead to further lay-offs. With workers organizing anyway, however, the U.S. will either have to adjust its plans to take into account the everyday realities for millions of Iraqis or face a staggering level of unrest which will have far more popular roots than Ba'athist remnants.

Arabic Speakers

According to this article, the U.S. army has only 1300 active duty soldiers "who can speak or read some Arabic." That's rather amazing, considering how long this region has been considered an area of "strategic importance." I wonder, though if there's even more to the story than this: One person I know who could actually communicate well with native speakers and had spent a lot of time in Jordan and Yemen was called up into the army after September 11 and told me he spent all his time assigned to vehicle maintenance. I know a couple of other people who have joined the military in the past year, but my guess is they're still in training. Another aspect here is the vast gap between the "Modern Standard Arabic" most university students learn and the colloquial speech of any country, which is usually taught as a separate course, if at all. And I can pretty much guarantee the Iraqi dialect wasn't commonly taught until maybe very recently, just because it wasn't a place most students saw themselves going.

What's the solution? In the short term, I can't think of one. Part of this is a pipeline problem, as in order to get more Arabic speakers you first need qualified Arabic teachers. Relying on willing native speakers is probably the best option. As far as the future goes, however, I think this makes the case for why the U.S. has a national interest in generating knowledge throughout society of different languages and cultures throughout the world. In my undergraduate education courses, I learned the standard thinking among educators was that multicultural issues should ideally be introduced in middle school, though there are seldom the resources to do that. But imagine how much better off we might be if more soldiers had basic knowledge of Middle Eastern culture from their general education before they even thought of joining the military. And you never know where the next major crisis might arise...

Theorist Quiz

Apparently I haven't been in grad school long enough...

You are an undergraduate! Your mind has not yet warped into the utter oddness of contemporary theory. If you put down the beer bong, and start reading dreafully weird theory, you'll probably have a better chance of not getting the answer designed to make fun of you.

What 20th Century Theorist are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Iraq and al-Qaeda

Juan Cole has a very good analysis of the alleged Saddam-a-Qaeda connections, explaining why the recently leaked memo means nothing, and why such links are almost impossible to begin with. The permalinks aren't working, so you have to scroll to the bottom November 19 issue. It will be worth it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Nizar Hamdoon

Via Angry Arab, I've found a Middle East Quarterly profile of Nizar Hamdoon, who served as Iraqi Foreign Minister in the last year's of the Ba'ath party. I didn't read through the whole thing, but admittedly it does contain some interesting points. I just find it really bizarre that a right-wing publication would promote a Saddam loyalist. The ones involved with this piece are also some of those involved in this outfit.

Surprise Elimination

Gee, the process of picking a Presidential candidate makes me feel like I'm on Joe Millionaire. Anyway, in a decision which really surprises me considering how I felt here and here, I have decided that I will not be voting for Dick Gephardt in the 2004 Democratic primaries. I like Gephardt a lot. I think he's much more authentic than people give him credit for, and that the way congressional seats are currently set up it's hard for to generate major swings as far as which party has control. We have the same major areas of concern as far as issues go, his interest groups are my interest groups, and in this campaign's flagship issue of foreign policy he combines the key element of experience with overall positions I generally support. The problem? He's wrong too much, and seems out of touch with the latest ideas. I saw him on TV yesterday, and he was talking about how he's learned from the mistakes he's made, which caused me to realize just how many there were. This may be why even though I said a year ago I wanted Gephardt in the Presidential race, he still hasn't locked down my vote. So, in a decision I really feel strange about, I thank him for a good career in Congress fighting for the working people of America, but feel that for the nation's highest office, I must look elsewhere. It's now down to Wesley Clark and Howard Dean.

(And yes, I'm frustrated that both Anique and Petra got eliminated tonight.)

Monday, November 17, 2003

Founding Father Quiz

Death Penalty in Iraq

IWPR has a story on the debate over the death penalty in Iraq. The CPA abolished capital punishment soon after taking over, but many Iraqis say it should be reinstated to punish former Ba'athists. Some also cite religious reasons why the death penalty should be on the books, though others suggest that the judiciary it currently too unreliable to risk executing people. The Bush administration has been notorious about imposing conservative agendas in Iraq; I kind of wonder how the politics worked on this one.

The Quest for Troops: Fiji

Some time ago I blogged about American efforts to get Fiji to increase their troop commitment in Afghanistan. Now, Washington is also begging the Pacific island nation to help out in Iraq. Fiji, however, wants the U.S. to foot the entire bill, including troops' salaries, which we are refusing. I also see that Fijian troops are apparently considered among the world's finest peacekeepers, which I hadn't heard before.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Arabic Education

Via Ed Cohn I see this New York Times story on Arabic education in the U.S. The point that a bottleneck is developing at higher levels is definitely at UW we have basically three - two years followed by an "Advanced Readings in Arabic" that takes third and above and in which I'm now sitting in as one of eight students. Numberwise, there are almost 60 students in first year and close to 30 in second year, so something has got to give.

An interesting aside to this article, of course, is the federal funding currently under attack from the right. A highly reliable source whom I didn't get permission to quote told me several weeks ago that Democrats led by Ron Kind of Wisconsin had proposed extending FLAS funding (scholarships for foreign language study currently available to graduate students) to undergraduates in certain target languages, but that Republicans had blocked it. This debate came amidst the Campus Watch-inspired assault on Title VI, which basically makes area studies in the U.S. possible. Some of the Campus Watch folks have predicted that if the current "advisory board" goes through (preferably with themselves appointed to it), it will find Title VI is not useful for "America's national interest" as they define it, and that Congress will decide to better spend the money elsewhere; presumably they would want to block something that made it even more useful than it already is. Many Republicans, of course, already want to eliminate the Department of Education, and attacking area and foreign language studies would help chip away at that. Such are the people now wrapping themselves in the flag on their righteous quest to make sure conservative governments get a de facto right to have people in academics support them, regardless of the intellectual merits.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Interesting Links

I often run across interesting things which I don't blog about just because I don't have much to say or they don't fit in with my generally discussed mix of topics. Nonetheless, I've seen enough of these recently, I've decided to just point some out...

Over at Crescat Sententia, Will Baude discusses the University of Chicago's abhorrent suicide policy.

Ed Cohn, a Ph.D. candidate in Soviet history, is posting on the Soviet role in the Six Day War.

At Ideofact, you can read about the story of the publication of Franz Kafka's novels, which is apparently more interesting than just the Max Brod stuff.

Daily Kos posts a new poll of the Wisconsin democratic primary.

Josh Marshall has analyses of our current relationship with South Korea here and here.

Academia's "Prestige Principle"

Invisible Adjunct has a post up on the prestige principle in academic hiring decisions. I'm not yet at a point where I can say much about this, but I thought I'd call it to people's attention. One thing I've noticed about academics is that it tends to have more peculiar quirks than I perceive in most professions, though in this case it may just be a combination of the importance of personal networks in hiring decisions and the better resources available at usually wealthy "prestige institions."

Istanbul Bombings

Car bombs exploded outside two synagogues in Istanbul today, killing 24 people. Turkey and Israel both say they believe al-Qaeda had a hand in the attacks, although a local group called the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front has claimed responsibility. Both of these could be true, as I think it would be a mistake to consider terrorist networks as sealed compartments, and al-Qaeda could have links to this Turkish group the say way they do with Ansar al-Islam in Iraq and the JI in Indonesia.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Bamiyan Buddhas

Everyone now agrees we can't rebuild the giant Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban at Bamiyan, but now a Swiss expert wants to recast them in concrete. UNESCO is opposed to this idea, as in the past such attempts have apparently not worked, and they wish to keep the site as a memorial to cultural destruction. I'm thinking, however, that in order for future generations to really understand the destruction, they should have some sense of what was destroyed. So I'd say make new Buddhas, let them be somewhat cheesy, and stick somewhere nearby to give people a better emotional grasp of the scale of what is lost.

Camel Cheese

Despite our amusing manner of talking, Wisconsin proudly boasts having the best cheese in the country. (Although in 2000 Howard Dean led Vermont to an upset victory in that competition) However, we might soon have competition from Mauritanian imports.

Dean's Foreign Policy

For some time now, I've said that Dean's lack of foreign policy experience bothers me, and that I've at the very least wanted to know who his advisors were. I couldn't find a record of this anywhere, and I came to the conclusion he simply didn't have any. However, I recently found this article about Democratic foreign policy advisors in general, and learned that one Danny Sebright has been arranging for meetings between Dean and various foreign policy luminaries, none of whom they are willing to name.

There are two obvious questions, here. The first: Who is Danny Sebright, who seems to be Dean's version of Condoleezza Rice? Turns out he's a DoD civil servant who worked first in the Clinton administration as the DoD's man on the Middle East peace process and a coordinator of arms sales to Israel. (This gives his title then as "Israel Country Director.") Later, he worked on Bush's missile defense policy and later in Donald Rumsfeld's office as the "Director of the Executive Secretariat for Enduring Freedom," where he helped oversee the war in Afghanistan. In February 2002, he became Associate Vice President of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by William Cohen, former GOP Senator from Maine and Clinton's Secretary of Defense.

The second is why Dean won't name those he's been meeting with. The only other name I could turn up was Maria Echeveste, whom I can't find stuff on as readily. One possibility is that for some reason Dean doesn't want to reveal meeting with people who aren't committed to him, but that didn't stop him from claiming to have been meeting with Wesley Clark before Clark entered the race. A more likely possibility is that Dean is deploying this stuff strategically. Dean's reputation as a liberal comes mainly from his opposition to the Iraq war. However, Dean's actual record of foreign policy views is rather hawkish, and the cynic in me still wonders if he largely saw opposing the Iraq war as a way to stand out in a crowded primary field. This guy is very shrewd - it's on thing I like about him - and it may be he's waiting until after the primaries to sketch out a "Scoop" Jacksonish foreign policy to appeal to the broad center, the groundwork for which is now being laid as he mentions his support for the war in Afghanistan and 1991 Persian Gulf War.

In any event, these are my thoughts for the day. I now need to let all this filter around in my head before I decide whom to vote for. I would also definitely be interested in hearing from anyone who knows how these things work.

UPDATE: I cross-posted this to Daily Kos, where there is now an actual discussion thread.

Imshin on Haaretz

Non-piscean Israeli blogger Imshin has some comments on the English version of Haaretz, to which I link regularly. Her point (I think) is that the paper has a strong liberal and pro-peace bias that puts it outside the Israeli mainstream, perhaps a bit like NPR in the United States. On the UW Middle East Studies web site we have media page which links to a semi-random sampling of news sources from around the region, including Israel. To be honest, the main reasons I go mainly to Haaretz are the fact those labelled "centrist" tend to be in Hebrew, Arutz Sheva would drive me up the wall (a corollary to the unspoken fact I tend to agree with Haaretz), and every time I try to read the Jerusalem Post it seems like I have some technical issue of one kind or another. Still, if anyone has a solid English-language "mainstream" Israeli news source they'd recommend, I'd like to find out about it.

Polygamy in Uzbekistan

IWPR reports that polygamy is on the rise in Uzbekistan. The two factors leading to this are an economic decline which in the Uzbek social climate hurts women far more than men and a growing trend among males to see wives as status symbols. I don't have a lot to add in the way of analysis, but thought I'd point it out.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Arabs and Chinese

I spent this afternoon in the library looking mainly at archaeological reports, when I stumbled across an article by Zhang Jun-yan about early relations between China and the Middle East. It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected much of the world was even with medieval transportation. Chinese sources mention that during the 5th century, vessels from the Liu-Sung dynasty frequently sailed to the Persian Gulf and traded with the Lakhmids near their capital in al-Hira. With the expansion of Islam into Central Asia, contacts only increased, and Arabs traders in China settled down and in at least one case took the civil service exams and entered the Tang bureaucracy. The Abbasids sent military forces to China to help put down the An Lushan Rebellion, and they wound up staying in China. Even when relations deteriorated, such as with an event called the Battle of the Talas, there was cultural exchange: Chinese prisoners from the battle were settled in Samarkand, where they introduced paper into the Islamic world.

Angry Arab

In a remote corner of the blogosphere, I have found an Angry Arab.

Ansar al-Islam and the Media

It is an undeniable fact that Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, had a headquarters in the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq. The administration tried to use this to link Saddam to al-Qaeda, anyway, and still are. Some people I know keep insisting the administration's alleged lies are all the Democrats twisting what they said. I think, however, that this Center for American Progress article by Matthew Yglesias gives a good round-up of what's been going down, and the press's complacency therein.

New Iraq Strategy

The U.S. is now moving toward having local elections for an Iraqi transitional government early in 2004. Regular readers will suspect correctly that I support this move, which will be an important signal that the U.S. ultimately wants Iraqis to control their own country. I do not think this counts as "cutting and running," and may speed the process of winning the war for reasons I discussed yesterday. Some government officials worry that Shi'ite Muslims will try to write a theocratic constitution. Those officials are dumb and should be ignored.


Juan Cole reports that a U.S. soldier shot at the car of prominent IGC member Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum as he was entering U.S. headquarters in Baghdad, wounding the driver. It occurs to me that if I could pick the worst possible blunder for the U.S. to make, shooting a relatively pro-American ayatollah on the IGC would be it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Dean Can Win

Hawken Blog's Nitin Julka has taken note of the debate on Howard Dean's electability. The major reason people say Dean can't win is because of his stance against the Iraq invasion. I'm not convinced this does him in, both because Dean has conservative stands on issues like gun control that will make it hard to portray him as a radical leftist, and because he is a very shrewd politician who can probably sell his views on a war the American people will see as either over or a potential quagmire, depending on how things go during the next year.

I don't agree with Dick Morris on a lot of policy, but he is an extremely astute political observer, and he has made two points I think are relevant to Dean's chances. One is that Presidents lose because they are successful as often as because they fail, simply because in basic terms whatever job they became identified with no longer needs doing. In this case, if Iraq turns into a Bush success, people will turn to other issues, and if it appears to be failing, that failure will become an issue. The second is that having the most money - which Bush will - does not guarantee victory; what matters is having enough money to get your message out to a national audience and rely on voters to sort out the issues regardless of the relative number of ads they see. The first point relates to shaping issues, the second to internal campaign management. I believe Dean can do both of these - he has already shown he can be strong on offense, and his fund-raising edge among Democrats came after he rose in the polls, not before, showing he knows what he's doing. Would he be favored against Bush? I'm not so sure. But don't count him out.

(Julka also mentions the Confederate flag flap, but I don't think enough people are following the election in detail right now for it to matter.)

Who is the Enemy?

Josh Chafetz, Matthew Yglesias, and Sebastian Holsclaw have all recently touched upon the identity of the people in Iraq presently using violence to oppose the CPA, with consequences for what U.S. policy should regarding troop levels and internationalization. I think, however, that the question of our enemies' identity is far from conclusively answered, if there is even a united opposition in the first place.

Juan Cole today says they are "Sunni Arab nationalists and Sunni radicals in Iraq", which he then generalizes into "the Iraqi people." I'm not sure he can really do that, as the two categories he named don't include all the Iraqi people, and in fact seems to support the line about Saddam loyalists which often comes out of the administration. (They may not technically want Saddam back, but they are the same people who formed the base of his regime.) Hiwa Osman of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting suggests that they are a mix of former Ba'athists and Muslim militants who are gaining new recruits from the Iraqi population. This article describes a group called "Muhammad's Army" which claimed responsibility for the blast at the UN heaquarters, and apparently tried to coordinate the dispersed Ba'athist remnants behind its own program.

There is clearly a growing coordination behind these attacks, so I can't buy the notion that a nationalist resistance has simply sprung from nowhere without the coordinating hand of either a noteworthy Islamic militant group or leaders of Saddam's old regime. However, if they are recruiting significantly from the population at large, internationalization would help reduce that pool of recruits by allaying Iraqi fears of a new colonial era and by providing reconstruction aid to give jobs to Iraqis, thus reducing the number who will turn to the resistance out of financial desparation. This in turn would give us a finite number of enemies with central coordination, and presumably make winning the war easier.

UPDATE: I knew I was forgetting something. A couple of posts down, Juan Cole discusses an Iraqi political scientist's observations that Turkmen and Christians are among those killed fighting the U.S. forces, suggesting a nationalist resistance directed mainly at driving out the U.S. If true, that might support the "Iraqi people" line mentioned above. I should also add caution against seeing "Muhammad's Army" as some new umbrella group for the resistance...when I was paying more attention to the Eurasia Geopolitics Yahoo Group over the summer, I saw claims of responsibility and calls to arms from lots of miscellaneously named groups that may or may not have been important.

Aging Rapidly

In about 45 minutes, I will have reached the advanced age of 27. Somehow this isn't as big a psychological leap as turning 26 was.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Middle Eastern Democracy

Martin Kramer dissents from President Bush's goal of supporting the democratization of the Muslim Middle East on the grounds that such democracies would oppose U.S. interests and human rights. However, his reference to Iran seems a weak case: Any problems with human rights in Iran stem from its lack of full democracy, and its anti-Americanism came largely because of U.S. support for the Shah. Kramer also links to an address he gave in 2002 in which he mentions Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority as examples of pluralist societies in which Islamist radicals have gained influence. However, I don't think you can really discuss those cases without reference again to the corruption of Arafat's regime, Syrian influence in Lebanon, and the Israeli occupations in south Lebanon and the West Bank.

The real problem I have with such thinking, however, is that over the long term support for these dictators is likely to be a losing strategy. The crux of Kramer's argument is this: "I do not claim here that the Arab world is imprisoned by Islam, as some might argue. I do claim that it is burdened by its history—history transmuted into memory, and preserved as a mindset. And I would summarize the mindset in a simple axiom: rule or die...In the Arab world, civil society is very thin on the ground. And the reason is this: civil society is regarded everywhere as a form of political opposition. The state therefore seeks to destroy or co-opt it. And the people? They also suspect the institutions of civil society, which cannot protect them from the state, and whose sponsors are often distrusted."

One issue here is the extent to which the conditions he cites are conditions created by dictatorship itself. The only way to build a habit of ideological tolerance is to force regimes to tolerate more diverse perspectives. In the short term, this may give rise to anti-American revolutionary fervor in some areas; however, I disagree that this would be universal, and in the long term is the only way to ensure the future stability and prosperity of the region. Iran may be more repressive culturally than under the Shah, but there is far more open political discourse across the nation as a whole rather than just key urban areas, and this makes a better platform from which to approach true democracy than the Shah's repression. Adopting Kramer's strategy would seem to keep the Muslim Middle East in dictatorships for all eternity.

In addition, I think some of these civil society institutions do exist in terms of Egyptian trade associations, for example. In addition, the description of the Arab press is something of a MEMRI caricature which does not capture the full range of Arab debate in contains. (See Abu Aardvark for more on MEMRI.) I haven't talked to anyone in the field who thinks democracy is right around the corner, but the building blocks are starting to appear. The U.S. needs to be on the right side of history and support them whenever possible.

Afghan Hindus

IWPR has an article about the problems Hindus are facing attempting to reclaim old sacred sites in Afghanistan, especially cremation grounds. Since these grounds were last used, neighborhoods have expanded close to them, and now the residents say they don't want to live next to cremation grounds. The residents say their concerns are not religious, which I find sort of interesting. We've heard a lot about Afghanistan's conservative Islamic culture, but it also strikes me as more old traditions surviving than the ideological Islamism found in places like Saudi Arabia. I'd be interested in learning more about the history of intercommunal relations in the Afghan context, where other religions would have long been part of the social landscape.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Joe Millionaire

So after seeing most of the episodes of The Next Joe Millionaire, I've figured out that reality TV gets better as you near the end. The first couple of episodes were horribly boring; tonight's two actually had me interested. I think it's because so much depends on getting to know the characters, and before any eliminations take place it's just a random cacophony of voices you really can't form an opinion about. As it stands, though, I have to admit I'm happy with where the series stands now, as Olinda (whom I could barely stand) is gone while Anique (my favorite) surprisingly remains, along with the highly likable Petra and sympathetic Cat. (Yes, I know Petra lied about smoking...for some reason that bounced off me. And "favorite" here indicates she's the one I like the most, and hence whom I hope winds up with David since that's her goal, as I like her attitude there as much as anything else. I haven't the foggiest idea who would actually make the best match.)

Of course next week they're having someone return. Let's just hope this doesn't turn out like the ALCS and NLCS ultimately did.

Anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism

Allison Kaplan Sommer mention an incident at the Kristallnacht commemoration in Vienna and asks how those who differentiate anti-Israeli violence from anti-Semitic violence would explain it. I would say simply that all anti-Semites are by definition anti-Israeli, but that does not mean that all opposition to Israel is based on anti-Semitism. I oppose many policies of the Israeli government, yet find Judaism interesting and have Jewish friends (some of whom agree with me). This is pretty much the same as my approach to Syria or Egypt, the main difference being that at least some people think Israel shouldn't exist anymore. I can't answer for them.

Part of me also wonders if there's a difference here between Europe and the United States. Without having studied it out in detail, it seems like anti-Semitic parties and rhetoric continue to be significant forces in many European countries, and this anti-Semitism easily tips into opposition to the Jewish state. By contrast, anti-Semitism in the United States seems much more limited in scope, and doesn't make it into the public sphere at all unless you already believe all opposition to Israel is veiled anti-Semitism. The issue might be somewhat complicated by the fact that some people dislike those who don't share their political views, and if they're strongly opposed to Israel may dislike Jews as people who tend to support Israel, as many Jews, especially of the older generation, take this as an important aspect of Jewish identity. (Please note that I place the flaw here in those who engage in this sort of "shadow anti-Semitism," and in no way wish to insinuate that it is the Jews' fault.) But in an interesting irony, the disengagement of younger American Jews from Israel may indicate the security they feel in this country: If they felt there was a chance they could face a campaign of anti-Jewish violence of some kind, they'd probably be more likely to support the state which would seek to protect their interests and to which they could ultimately flee, if necessary.

Arabs and Democracy

The media tends to be lazy in reporting Arab public opinion and reaction to things, giving rise to the impression on the street that a lot of Arabs simply want to live in theocratic or dictatorial societies. Is "Is Islam compatible with democracy?" meme also springs from this. Oxblog's Patrick Belton points this out in how different media outlets responded to President Bush's speech about democracy in the Middle East.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

More on Olives

Uzi Benzamin has a column in Haaretz explaining why the settlers' destruction of Palestinian olive trees represents an important part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'll have a bit more to say on this later. On the other hand, for those in the mood for a little optimism, Jonathan Edelstein brings up olive growing in Israel as a model of Arab-Jewish cooperation. (This includes recipes!)

Egyptian Opposition

Arab Street Bum speaks out about the tortured Egyptian dissident:

"I may not agree with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, but I think that the hakooma (government) has been committing these crimes against humanity long enough. Torture has become the modus operandi for the GOE, most especially since the unfortunately unsuccessful attempt on Don Mubarak's life in Ethiopia. So this man might have expressed contempt for the thieves and charlatans that call themselves our government, or perhaps voiced support for Hamas or Hizbullah? Did he hurt anyone? If we discount hurting the President's feelings, probably not. But for his defiance, he was beaten, starved, electrocuted, burned, and otherwise abused until one day, he died. Who is the criminal?"

Terrorism in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on Islamic militants in the country, and now it would seem the militants have struck back with an attack on a residential compound in Riyadh. The early suggestions that this was an al-Qaeda operation are of course merely speculation at this point, but I think it's likely to be born out.

Wanted: Iraqi Government

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. is looking for a new leadership group to replace the Iraqi Governing Council, which they deem ineffective. The U.S. has accused council members of following their own political interests rather than focusing on collective action for Iraq's future. The leading alternative seems to be holding a national assembly similar to that which chose Afghanistan's interim government, a plan backed by other nations on the Security Council. Personally, I think that's a good idea, as it would give the Iraqi grassroots a feeling of ownership in the new regime.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Afghanistan's Constitution

Amin Tarzi in the RFE-RL Weekly Afghan Report is analyzing the new Afghan constitution. This week he covered the powers of the President the role of religion. Two key points:

1.) Assertions that the President could become dictatorial apparently have some merit. The President gets to appoint one third of the upper house of Parliament, and can circumvent the legislature by convening a loya jirga on key issues. He can't go against the entire country that way, but the amount of power vested in him is impressive nonetheless, especially in a system likely to be dominated by patronage for at least the immediate future.

2.) Islam is enshrined in the constitution as the official state religion, and it is specified that that no law can contravene shari'a (Islamic law). As Tarzi points out, however, the document also vests the people rather the God with sovereignty, which suggests the danger of an ideological theocracy is small. If this is all the constitution says, I'm not worried about it, because the interpretation of Islam is left to the people, and they are unlikely to pass laws which go against their religious values anyway. Given what Juan Cole says about how the Constitution mandates a Parliament that is at least one-sixth women, I think we need not worry about a political Talibanization of the type some fear.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Cool Fact

Azerbaijan's Rawadid dynasty had Azdi origins!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Torture in Egypt

I've said before free press such as al-Jazeera will have more to do with building a democratic Middle East than American rhetoric. I admit I wouldn't want to rely on them as my main news source, and find them biased in several areas. However, I've learned more about the daily drumbeat of government oppression from them than anyone else. Today's headline? A member of the Muslim brotherhood was tortured to death in Egypt.

Women's Literature

Crescat Sententia's Amy Lamboley posts about an issue involving literature by women: "Just about everything either written by a woman or featuring a woman protagonist is assumed to be chick lit of one sort or another. When a man writes a novel about a man, it's assumed to be a statement on the human condition, but when a woman writes a novel about a woman, it's assumed to be a statement on the female condition, and hence largely irrelevant to half the population."

I think that's pretty much true. I wrote my English senior seminar on Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek in which I treated it as an artist's coming-of-age novel in the vein of Hermann Hesse, and not a few people treated it as a really strange thing to do. At a wedding over the summer I mentioned I'd just read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, the reply was, "I haven't read much women's literature lately." And to be honest, when I look at my own perceptions, I tend to be aware of reading literature by women as "women's literature," even if I'm not looking for feminist themes.

I'm not sure I agree that this is an insurmountable crisis, however. Look at the way the teaching of history has developed: "Black history" originally developed as a topic because it was overlooked in the overall White narrative. Now, do to a self-consciousness about trying to include it, textbooks and courses regularly include it at all levels of education, causing a new perception to seep through society. Hildegard of Bingen now makes medieval courses with no one even blinking. Women writers are at a stage where to many people, the fact they are women is the most important thing, but the mere fact people are aware of women and reading them will ultimately change perceptions. I know in high school opinions on Silas Marner were relatively unaffected by the author's gender.

At the same time, as long as there are socially constructed gender differences, men and women will likely be attracted to topics in different numbers. And as long as high school girls get into the romance of Pride and Prejudice, guys will be less willing to sample the social criticism therein. But as long as men and women are themselves held to be equally valuable, perceptions of the relative worth of their chosen topics will also change. And even the differences in popular genres Amy cites may be changing: The two most recent fantasy authors I've discovered and liked are by Robin Hobb and Terry McGerry, while two of the three 20th-century mystery writers I've read are Agatha Christie and P.D. James. And these works, I think, can easily appeal to genre fans regardless of gender.

Mosse Humanities Building

UW Chancellor John Wiley today unveiled plans to tear down the Humanities Building. This is a very good thing.

Arab News Column

I don't normally bother to read Arab News, which is basically a mouthpiece for the Saudi establishment in practice if not in fact. But via Somewhere On A1A, I saw this editorial by a columnist saying he was wrong to oppose the U.S. invastion of Iraq. A key graf:

"Look, I have no illusions about the shenanigans and hypocrisies of a big power like the US, including its neocon ideologues, who are more cons than neos. Lest we forget, at the height of Saddam’s bloody reach in the 1980s, which saw the Halabja atrocities, Washington not only uttered nary a word of criticism of the Iraqi leader, let alone called for his overthrow, but provided him with political, military and economic assistance that, in effect, underwrote his survival and made possible the very repression that American officials now claim they want to banish forever from the land.

"All true. Yet, the US may, just may, end up doing in Iraq what it did in war-ravaged European countries under the Marshall Plan. And if it doesn’t, well, what would Iraqis have lost other than the ritual terror of life under a dictator who had splintered their society into raw fragments of fear, hysteria and self-denial — a man who insisted that third graders learn songs whose lyrics lauded him with lines such as 'when he passes near, the roses celebrate.'"

I wonder if this is an aberration (this guy is clearly on the liberal side of the spectrum), or the start of a possible trend. I suspect the future course of our Iraq policy will have a lot to do with that.

By the way, Arab News is widely linked to because of the name, but if you want higher quality English-language Arab news sources, the ones on my sidebar are all much better choices.

Traffic Record

Defend Howard Dean and the legions of the Chosen One will flock to your door. This blog got 222 hits yesterday, directed mainly at that post.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Of Olives

In a rampage which served no security purpose whatsoever, bands of Israeli settlers destroyed large numbers of olive groves in the West Bank just before harvest time. In a brief blip on Israel National News, the Yesha Rabbinical Forum condemned this, to no avail. Haaretz did have a longer story earlier today, but I can't find it now. The Jerusalem Post story is here.

Cutting down trees does not sound like very much, so let me explain it to you. Olive farming in the Middle East is a highly lucrative business. When I was in Jordan, I saw a small olive groves of less than a dozen trees which would keep a family easily well off year after year. The catch is that they're very expensive to start with, and take years to develop. When you decide to plant olive trees, you're thinking about your descendants more than your immediate future. Once a tree is planted, the family continues to harvest it for generations, making it like a small family business, life savings and prized heirloom all in one.

Many among the settlers, of course, want to drive out the Palestinians. And they realize that destroying their families' lives would quite likely force them off the land. So they go after the olive trees, even if they have to attack some rabbis to do it. Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers for doing nothing more than trying to harvest their crops, events which go relatively unnoticed by a media more interested in the sirens and flashing lights of urban terrorist attacks.

That terrorism, however, is an outgrowth of a conflict, a conflict which began decades ago in a regional and international climate which has long passed away. Today, that conflict continues, each new provocation spurring it a horrid new step further. Yosi Peli, a settler leader, said, "The trees grow back and ultimately we hope to harvest them in the place of the unwanted inhabitants of the area." Meanwhile, many among those "unwanted inhabitants" will resolve to fight the ones who ruined their families, and come to believe that most Israelis are like the ones they see around them, fanatics who want nothing more than all the holy land in the in the name of their religion. And when they see the IDF protecting these settlements and Ariel Sharon building a wall to protect them further, they will conclude that they have no choice but to resist by any means necessary, just as Israelis have in response to terrorism. And the cycle will go on as two peoples clutch at each others' throats afraid to let go and put out the fires which burn the world around them.

NOTE: You may notice that al-Jazeera quotes only one rabbi, and he supports the settlers. This directly parallels much Western media coverage of the Islamic world.

Malpractice Lawsuits

Nitin Julka has a story and a request for advice. Go read it.

Peace-Loving Guests

According to Juan Cole, (link bloggered) Muqtada Sadr has declared the American forces in Iraq to be "guests" and "peace-loving people." He added, "The Iraqi people want only good for the Americans, and there is no enemy of Iraq except Saddam and his followers." Juan Cole ties this in to American threats to arrest him; they also probably stem from the lack of support he was getting for his rival government idea. Rare kudos to the U.S. team running Iraq for the way they seem to have handled this situation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

More Mischaracterization

David Asednik's comments on Howard Dean's criticism of Bush's case for war: "While Dean can argue with some validity that the war may have been a mistake given our failure to find a substantial cache of WMD, this sort of statement implies that because we made a mistake by going in, we should pull out right now regardless of the consequences. That is the kind of short-sighted thinking that makes it so hard for me to even consider supporting the Vermont governor's bid for Commander-in-Chief."

Howard Dean's views on Iraq, as publicized on his web site: "That is, after all, now much more than a national security objective. It is a declaration of national purpose, written in the blood of our troops, and of the innocent on all sides who have perished."

UPDATE: David Asednik defends his position. For the record, I think Dean's position in debates mirrors what he says on-line, but I can't say for certain on that point. I will grant that his point about wondering where Dean's instincts are and how he would manage foreign policy as President go straight to the heart of my questions about Dean and the reasons I wish he would name some foreign-policy advisors.

UPDATE II: Matthew Yglesias also chimes in, suggesting Bush did "cut and run" in Afghanistan despite the rhetoric on his side. The comments thread is, as usual, worth checking out.


Our program's Title VI-A application is now submitted. In addition, Arabic has been cancelled the rest of the week. I smell some serious dissertation time coming...

I've also realized I've now been at UW-Madison longer than any other school. It honestly doesn't feel like it. It's odd to think that four years ago I was sitting in my Sufism and Crusades seminars while seeing my first Idhaafa structure and developing my skills in the fine art of cooking. It's been a good four years.

Views of Democrats

Hawken Blog's Nitin Julka posts a letter from someone explaining why they won't vote for the Democrats in 2004. I suspect I'll spend a lot of time debunking such things in the year to come, so why not start. From the letter:

"Not with the raving lunacy that has captured the Democratic party. Not when National Security is considered dispensable, if considered at all. Not when the Democrats fault George Bush for creating French obstruction. Not when the Democrats secretly applaud American deaths because it proves George Bush is "wrong." Not for a party that hates the South, the West, anything not New York (I'm from New York, so I can say that) or San Francisco, or anyone who feels proud flying the American flag. And above all else, not for a party that panders to the protesters who waive signs blaming "the Zionists" for the world's ills."

I can accept as a legitimate issue whether or not Bush or the French caused the failure in the United Nations, but everything else here seems little more than a bizarre caricature. How, precisely, are the Democrats seeing national security as dispensable? Is there not a lot of rhetoric from Howard Dean in particular about what a great country the U.S. is? Do the likes of John Edwards and Dick Gephardt really hate everything not from New York? The real tip-off, of course, is the final line, since too my knowledge only Dennis Kucinich is not strongly pro-Israeli, and not even he has signed up for global conspiracy theories.

This will, of course, not stop Republicans from spinning things that way.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a post on Democrats and the south that relates to some of these issues.

Yitzhak Rabin

Allison Kaplan Sommer has an article on the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. This seems to be a rather significant event in Israel, perhaps even more significant than the Kennedy assassination in the U.S. due to the continual relevance of the issues for which he became a martyr. I do remember when Rabin died...I was watching something on television and it came on as breaking news, but admit that for me it wasn't a life-changing event. I did know a couple of people who got up to watch the funeral, however.

UPDATE: Imshin's thoughts aren't too shabby either.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Iraqi WMD

Over the past couple of days, I've seen two stories related to the Iraqi WMD issue. Via Calpundit, I found a Los Angeles Times interview with Madeline Albright in which she said she believes Iraq had WMD. So where are they?

"I had very interesting conversations with some of the former weapons inspectors. They said that the kind of evidence that might have been there right after the war ended was not the kind that a Marine kicks a door open and finds. It would have been mostly stuff that scientific people might find by following the paper trail, and looking for small pieces of things hidden somewhere. God knows what happened, whether that stuff got scattered or what."

At the same time, RFE-RL reports that former officials claim Saddam wanted everyone to believe he had WMD to maintain an image of strength. I suspect the second theory might be closer to the truth, or the Iraqi scientists would have coughed something up by now.

Campus Watch at Work

Campus Watch, a right-wing site dedicated to attacking Middle East Studies, is proud as punch because they have "struck a blow against Islamic extremism." Off in the "Survey of Institutions" corner of their web site, they have also helpfully posted the relevant correspondence. The issue was the fact that this CMENAS web site (perpetually under construction, btw) linked to an Islamic extremist page in its Islam section.

Here is my shorthand version of the correspondence:

From CW to Dr. Michael Bonner:

"Your web site links to Islamic extremists. Were you aware of this, and do you endorse this site?"

Dr. Michael Bonner to CW:

"I'm actually not in charge any more, but I sent your message to the person who is. We don't endorse Islamic extremism, and will look into this."

Michigan's Michael Fahy to CW:

"Thanks for pointing out that link. It was the result of insufficient oversight, and has been removed. We understand your concerns, and assure you we do not endorse Islamic extremism"

CW to U of M President:

"Your CMENAS used federal money to link to an Islamic extremist site. We contacted Michael Bonner, who 'disclaimed any knowledge' (exact quote in letter). They removed the link and pleaded insufficient oversight. We don't believe that's enough, and demand a complete investigation to see what else they are spreading."

Does anyone else feel that certain people are trying to stir the pot to advance an agenda? This is especially interesting because in the past, Campus Watch has complained that Middle East Studies people gloss over Islamic extremism. Now, including them in information about Islam is held to be endorsing their views. I should also add that I have no idea how Michigan works, but around here a web site is often maintained as a low-level priority by a student worker or graduate assistant. If Michigan is the same, "insufficient oversight" is almost too grand a term to use here.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sin's Purpose (Christian Theology)

Kristin Smith quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, suggesting that sin is simply "an element in the human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained." The word"sin" is usually used in the sense of "bad deed," but it might better be thought of as a condition of weakness. The question of course becomes how a perfect creator can create a flawed humanity. One possible answer rests in an argument to which I was exposed at QU: The Incarnation was not a response to an original sin, but rather a necessary part of the plan of creation from the very beginning. Humanity's "sin" is thus by design, for reasons possibly linked to the importance of free will to perfection, again possibly linked to the need for an understanding of what is being overcome.

This isn't much of an answer. I haven't paid much attention to these sorts of questions in years, but they are sort of interesting. I think in order to understand what we mean by sin, we first have to understand the goal. And that, of course, is one of the major questions inherent in any religion.

A Question of Education

Matthew Yglesias has voiced strong support of a Western effort to pour money into education in the Islamic world. As I commented on that thread, I see no reason why this isn't a good idea. Institutions like AU-Cairo, AU-Beirut, and AU-Dubai have a serious market in the Arab world; other regions may have comparable institutions. I think if we emphasize significant language training in English and sweeten the deal with links to institutions like this, we can have a serious impact on education in the Islamic world. As long as the curriculum should be designed largely by educators from target countries, I don't see any problems with this.

Blogging Languages

Via Pejman Yousefzadeh, I've found a chart showing the most popular blogging languages. Check out #4. Now that I think of it, #2 is also kind of surprising. And Catalan is pretty close to putting three Iberian tongues in the Top 10. Scandanavia, however, is way behind.

Saturday, November 01, 2003


To whom it may concern, I am now officially enrolled here for a six-week period from late May until around July 1 for an independent study course in medieval Arabic for historians. I definitely look forward to it, and you can expect blog posts about my observations and experiences. I'm also planning to tack additional travel to the end of it, probably to Tunisia, Spain, or the British Isles.

Iraqi Babies' Names

Al-Jazeera has been looking into names of recently born babies in Iraq, and according to an official at the Public Records Office in Baghdad, no one has been named Saddam since April 9, the day generally taken to mark his regime's fall. No one has been named "Bush," either. The most common names? Those of current religious leaders, or others with Islamic overtones.

Palestinians vs. RIAA

Via Tyler Cowen of the Volokh Conspiracy, I see that the most popular on-line file-sharing network is now Earth Station 5 based in the West Bank's Jenin Refugee Camp. It averages 15 million people on-line at any given time, and when warned that they were violating copyrights, offered a fiery response, which included the line "The next revolution in P2P file sharing is upon you. Resistance is futile and we are now in control." Cowen mentions some of the facets of all this, though I will say the potential for anti-Israel pop-up ads strikes me as a good thing, since I'd rather see the anti-Israel money go to a file sharing network than some other organizations I could name.

Incidentally, for good insights on the file-sharing world from an often legal perspective, be sure to check out Joe Gratz.

Iraqi Resistance

According to Hiwa Osman of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the recent spate of car bombings has turned Iraqis against the resistance, which they believe to be composed of foreign Islamists and former Ba'athists. With all their focus on religion as a key factor in the Iraqi worldview, the mainstream media seems to keep missing the importance of Iraqi nationalism. Since at least the early twentieth century some Iraqis have opposed the influence of ethnic Persians in the shrine cities, and Muqtada Sadr tapped into that back in April in his rhetoric against Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Ironically, it is Muqtada Sadr himself who has the foreign connections, as his movement has received the backing of Iran's hard-liners. David Ignatius in the Washington Post claims that the U.S. is preparing a crackdown on Sadr, partly because they feel he has crossed a line they can't ignore and partly because they wish to defend the traditional religious authorities with their more moderate stance toward the occupation. Juan Cole mentions evidence that Sadr's popularity is just because he is the most outspoken resistance leader, but still he's gained his influence through the Sadr network which has been in development since the late 1990's.

I should mention here that there seems to be little public evidence to connect the Sadriyun to the bombings Iraqis oppose, though the U.S. has tried to link them. Nonetheless, if the U.S. can portray Sadr as one of the foriegn troublemakers, they might have the clout to move against him and prevail, even at the risk of a short-term increase in violence. Furthermore, the IWPR story also made explicit that Iraqis remain unhappy with the Americans, as well, for the usual reasons. Still, if the U.S. can begin chipping away at resistance elements with increased popular support, it will gradually improve security, and if undertaken with sincere and solid political progress, could lead to a relatively happy ending in Iraq yet.

My Life

So...I'm now waiting to catch the bus home after putting in just over 37 hours this week not counting academic stuff. I think that's probably a record...most other places were careful not to get me too close to 40 hours a week for the usual benefit-necessitating reasons. Fortunately the grant is almost done. I'm now planning to take a weekend off, since I haven't had a day without MESP-work or academic-work in quite some time. Well, I still need to do my Arabic.

Halloween was okay, except for me feeling exhausted. I went to bed at about 1 a.m. last night, and woke up just after 11 a.m. I'm not really a big Halloween person, but it was good to be hanging out with people. I admit the food they had was awesome...I only regret not trying the quesadillas until they were cold.

UPDATE: I just remembered that there were some weeks when I worked at WCU when I was there for their "full time," which came to 37.5 hours.

Afghanistan's New Constitution

Afghan Voice has some preliminary comments about new Afghan Constitution, of which he has received a Dari version. (Although Pashtuns are a majority of the population, the main language of business in Afghanistan is Dari, a form of Persian different from Iran's Farsi in that is has far less Arabic influence.)