Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Children's Parliament

The Yemen Observer reports on what might be a meaningful attempt to bring democratic values to that country, the Children's Parliament. Childen from ages 12 to 15 will vote this April on representatives to serve a two-year term to the body, which will focus primarily on drawing attention to children's issues such as education and child labor.

Saddam's Victims

However they feel about the CPA occupation, Iraqis are clearly happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein. IWPR's Aqil Jabbar reports on how different groups in Iraq are supporting the families of Ba'ath victims, giving them preference for employment and social services. This is causing some controversy, as people who simply lay low during the Saddam years are being passed over.

Afghanistan's Drug War

RFE-RL reports from today and yesterday show the opium issue rising to the forefront in Afghanistan. This is critical as illegal drug money probably represents a greated threat to the country than the Taliban, and at least some of the warlords have their hands in the opium trade. How this will affect the larger context of Afghan politics remains to be seen.

Day the Music Died?

Al-Jazeera reports on the threat posed by Muslim fundamentalism to Iraqi musicians. Similar pieces have turned up in the Western media, discussing threats, intimidation, and violence against those who don't follow fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, especially in the south. For those interested, there is a great deal of dispute among Muslims over whether music is permitted. this scholar claims it is clearly forbidden, while these people are convinced that it isn't. The case that music is forbidden rests pretty strongly on the hadith corpus, which is contradictory on the subject, and the belief that all the verses forbidding that which distracts from religion mean quite literally anything that is not religious. To my outsider's perspective, these are some pretty thin arguments.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias points out a key source on the subject.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Rebuilding Iraq

This fairly basic Iraq article has at least one graft I'd like to point out:

"Some observers worry that instead of the many capital-intensive projects being promoted in exhibitions and conferences in neighbouring countries to attract foreign companies, there should be a labour-intensive public works programme launched in Iraq itself.

"Such a programme could utilise available small- and medium-sized Iraqi engineering and construction companies and the tens of thousands of unemployed professionals and workers to rebuild the roads and schools and other public facilities that were neglected by the previous regime and lacked maintenance because of the UN’s sanctions regime."

The Bush administration is trying to rebuild the Iraqi economy from the top down, bringing in global corporations to provide jobs and mobilize Iraqi resources for the world economy. However, I tend to believe that economic prosperity is best built from the ground up, and that empowering local Iraqis to undertake their own reconstruction has better long-term prospects for success. The economic models may show that corporations can do something more efficiently, but human beings tend not to follow neat models. What if high unemployment continues to lead to rioting? What if the corporations set up infrastructures in a way that suits themselves? And what about the popular view of such corporations as neocolonial looters, against whom resistance can be justified? I'd feel much better with a small business or labor rights approach to things.

Watch Carefully

The U.S. is really playing up this evidence that Iraqi insurgents are seeking to work with al-Qaeda. I agree that they probably are and have been saying so for some time. However, the administration's rhetoric bears watching at this point. Will they try to paint this as evidence for an existing link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi Ba'ath party? Developing...

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Dean Returns to Madison

I've just learned that Howard Dean will be at the Madison Concourse Hotel tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. for a town hall meeting on his health care plan. If you're still undecided, consider checking it out. I have stuff to do at work, and so won't be there.

Featured Books

If you look to the left and down, you'll see I have finally jumped on the Amazon referrals bandwagon with some featured books of my own. I expect these to mainly reflect the content of the blog, which means they'll mostly deal with the Middle East and Islam, with occasional forays into other areas. I also plan to replace the links in my "Suggested Reading" posts with amazon referrals once they get off the front page.

The first book I've chosen is the really nice The Oxford History of Islam. The chapters in this book each give an overview of a given topic or geographic region, such as "Science Medicine and Technology" or "Central Asia and China." There's even a chapter on "The Globalization of Islam" dealing with the experience of Muslim communities in the West. The illustrations are excellent, and make this a good thing to set out on your coffee table and just flip through.

Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx, and Mujahid is what looks like an updated version of the work by Ralph Magnus and Eden Naby that was a key general reading for my "Afghanistan" seminar from Spring 2002. After a brief introduction to the aland and people, it goes over developments of the last few decades with an emphasis on the importance of Islam, introduction of Marxism, and the rise of the mujahadeen. The Taliban appear only in the last chapter, but this is still a good introduction to the geopolitical and social landscape into which they came and that we're still dealing with over there today.

Finally, Madawi al-Rasheed's A History of Saudi Arabia is a good one-stop introduction to Saudi history, covering the rise of the Wahhabi movement and their early links with the Saudis to the relationship of foreign powers to the new royal family to the internal developments of Saudi society during the 20th century. al-Rasheed is a historical anthropologist by trade, and I think a couple of parts of this get a bit complex, this is still the place to go to understand Saudi society from the perspective of how it got to be the way it is.

Suggested Reading, 2000-01

Here are the best books I read during the 2000-01 academic year.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)

My top pick on the year, I sat down on the front porch one Saturday afternoon last summer to start reading it, and put it down finished much later that night - and this book is not short. It really has nothing to do with Robert Jordan's mission to destroy a bridge, which serves as an excuse to make a journey through the Spanish Civil War in all its twisted idealistic horror. The descriptions of the war and its effects on people represent the most powerful sections of this work, dwarfing the fairly forgettable romance between Jordan and Maria. Also interesting was the portrayal of the unforgettable characters - from Jordan to Pablo and Pilar to El Sordo and even that Fascist lieutenant near the end - as they seek to achieve some sort of surreal heroism in this world of fractured causes and fragmented alliances. And the title says exactly who it's aimed at...

No Longer at Ease (Chinua Achebe)

This book made me wish I were back in an English class, because after reading it I had this ovepowering need to discuss it with someone. The third book in Achebe's Africa trilogy, its protagonist is Okonkwo's grandson Obi, who studied in England and returned to get a job with the colonial administration. Through Obi's relations with his father and a woman whose name I'm actually stuck on remembering, Achebe illustrates the breakdown of the traditional kinship and community networks under the pressure of European values, leaving everyone in a strange moral netherworld in which they are "no longer at ease." It is in this netherworld that the moral economy of money and power replaces that of community, leading to Obi's fall in a bribery scandal as discussed in the first chapter. In this novel, Achebe tackles other issues like colonialism and the formation of prejudice much more head-on than in Things Fall Apart, and it also puts a new spin on the murder of Ikemefuna representing the worldview of its new lead character.

The History of the Siege of Lisbon (Jose Saramago)

I had a lot of fun reading this book, but then how could I not with the story of Raymundo Silva, a copy editor who decides to change a "Yes" to a "No" in a book on the Second Crusade and finds true love as a result? I did find parts of it a little contrived, and they must have hired Star Trek: Voyager's preview people to do the cover jacket, but there's some marvelous discussion in here about the relationship among history, life, and literature - if history is life, as Silva suggests, then are we not alive? But if it is story, as his later actions seem to suggest, then can we not make our own stories for our own lives? Fans of Saramago will also find his standard worldview of essentially nameless, storyless people performing mechanically under the direction of distant, all-powerful corporate forces, the sense of distance between people, and the idea that it is only by acting randomly to break the routine that we can truly find meaning in life.

Shakuntala (Kalidasa)

This is one of those works everyone talks about but nobody reads, and since I talk about it all the time I decided to actually read it. The play by India's greatest poet and dramatist adapts a story from the Mahabharata about a girl named Shakuntala who falls in love with a king named Dushyanta, who gives her a special ring. Unfortunately, somebody curses them so that Dushyanta will only recognize his beloved by her ring which is lost in a river. Fortunately the ring is caught by a fisherman, and everyone lives happily ever after. According to the little bit of information I've checked out, Sanskrit drama features works governed by one emotion or spirit, which is commented on through a different emotion/spirit in each successive act. Here the dominant love theme is maintained brilliantly, yielding the best poetic love story I've read since Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.

The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett)

Like the Shakuntala, this is another work I read just to check out the action, and I came away finding it not underrated. Sam Spade is appropriately hard-boiled, Bridget O'Shaughnessy is as femme fatale as advertised, the secretary nags a lot, the villains are all villainous, and there's a nice if not 100% unexpected twist at the end. As a student of the Crusades, I was glad to see that Hammett at least knew enough to put the Hospitallers on Malta instead of the Templars. A good read for a balmy summer evening, this cultural landmark both entertains and leads an important genre of American fiction.

Snow Country (Yasunari Kawabata)

In quiz bowl, I used to complain that all questions involving the plot of Kawabata works sounded the same. After reading a fair sampling of them, I've figured out why: They are all the same. But I've finally figured out you're not supposed to get the meaning from the plot, but from the ordering of images, like a series of haiku images strung together as a commentary on the events described. Kawabata's plots all involve an older man seeking purity in a beautiful young woman, which in this case takes place in the hot springs area of the west. Upon reflection, I really don't understand the book - I only figured out what I was supposed to be looking for when I got frustrated and read something on Japanese literature to figure out what the point was. But this was definitely good, the clear masterwork of Japan's first Nobel laureate in literature.

The New Africa (Robert Press)

Despite being a journalist, Robert Press writes with keen insight and vividly detailed depth about the current state of affairs in Africa. The origins of this work lie in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which Press witnessed and credits with changing his life. His experiences there - which he describes unforgettably - alerted him to the ways in which the portrayal of Africa as a "dark continent" filled with interminable ancient enmities and unfallible corruption contributed to the situation by causing people to belittle African conflicts and tragedies. So he set about chronicling positive change in Africa in a number of arenas - successful economic growth programs in Kenya, a popular uprising in Mali, and many others. While not denying the problems of this region of the world, he shows in a highly accessible and personal way the reasons why the world shouldn't forget Africa and brings to life places and experiences even most educated Americans know about only vaguely.


Saturday, February 07, 2004


In re-reading The Lord of the Rings, I can't help but wonder what exactly Gandalf did with all his time. He and the other wizards showed up about 1000 TA, with the sole purpose of preparing Middle-Earth to fight Sauron. According to Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, about 1100 TA the wise realized an evil force had inhabited Dol Guldur. Then, in 2063, Gandalf went to check it out. 2063!!!!! Since Middle-Earth doesn't really seem to be filled with mysterious evil forces, why did Gandalf wait almost 1000 years before popping in to see what was up?

Then, when Sauron returned to Dol Gulder in 2460, Gandalf didn't go back until 2850. What was he doing for all that time? I guess you could say he had to become familiar with the lands of Middle-Earth, but if you have me a solid century or two, I think I could have done that much. And in The Fellowship of the Ring, he said he'd only been to Moria once, Now Moria was allegedly the great center of Dwarfdom for the first 1000 years or so of Gandalf's life. If he had spent all those years getting to know the world, would he really have only been there once?

This is just something I've noticed. I'm curious if anyone else has theories.

Fatah Resignations

Hundreds of members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement have resigned due to the lack of reforms.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Asifa Quraishi

I just found out that Asifa Quraishi will be joining the University of Wisconsin law faculty next year. Wow.

Tajik Shuffling

IWPR reports on President Imamali Rahmonov's reshuffling of Tajikistan's government, including moving Lieutenant-General Ghafur Mirzoev from his military commant to a post in the Drugs Control Agency. Mirzoev played a major role in securing Rahmonov's power during the Tajik Civil War, and his ouster undoubtedly signals an attempt by the President to consolidate power. IWPR also ventures that taken as a whole, Rahmonov's moves suggest that Tajikistan will adopt a pro-Western Europe/United States foreign policy as opposed to an alignment with Russia.


I had tofu yesterday at a co-worker's retirement party. I definitely liked it better than the first time I had it. I think if I became a regular eater, I could easily learn to enjoy it. In other news, a bunch of things I've been waiting for at work have finally happened, so I'll be able to get lecture publicity out, update the web site, and so on. Now all we need is for the International Institute to hire a new financial specialist for when we pay the bills.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Bernard Lewis

Angry Arab has a pretty good take-down of Bernard Lewis:

"In writing about contemporary Islam, for years Lewis has been largely recycling his 1976 Commentary article titled The Return of Islam (“return” from where?) In this piece, Lewis exhibits his adherence to the most discredited forms of classical Orientalist dogmas by invoking such terms as 'the modern Western mind.' He thereby resurrects the notion of an epistemological distinction between 'our' mind and 'theirs,' as articulated by Ralph Patai in The Arab Mind (which, incidentally, went into a new printing after September 11th). For Lewis, the Muslim mind never seems to change. Every Muslim, or any Muslim, regardless of geography or time, is representative of any or all Muslims. Thus, a quotation from an obscure medieval source is sufficient to explain present-day behavior. Lewis even traces Abu ‘Ammar’s (Yasir ‘Arafat’s) own name to early Islamic history and to the names of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, though ‘Arafat himself had explained that his name derives from the root ‘amr (a reference to ‘Arafat’s construction activities in Kuwait prior to his ascension within the Palestine Liberation Organization). Because ‘Arafat embraced, literally, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran when he met him, Lewis finds evidence of a universal Islamic bond. When Lewis revised his book years later, he took note in passing of the deep rift that later developed between ‘Arafat and Khomeini by saying simply that 'later they parted company.'

"The Islam of Bernard Lewis is an unchanging Islam. Indeed, according to Lewis, Islam is religion, culture, history, people, geography, law, outlook, paradigm, and, of course, texts (preferably, ancient religious texts). Muslims are dominated exclusively by Islam. He: 'For Muslims, Islam is not merely a system of belief and worship, a compartment of life, so to speak, distinct from other compartments which are the concern of nonreligious authorities administering nonreligious laws. It is rather the whole of life, and its rules include civil, criminal, and even what we would call constitutional law.' The dangers of this view does not lie merely in its impact on college and public education in the United States, where no student of Middle East studies can escape Lewis’s books. Lewis now has access to the highest circles of the US government. None other than Vice-President Richard Cheney once answered a question in public by saying: 'I’ve talked to Bernard Lewis about that very subject.'"

I find Lewis one of the touchiest blogospheric topics to talk about. The man was a very good historian, and a few of his books have been required reading during my graduate career. However, his approach to history has fallen by the wayside, with good reason. This is independent of his political views, which are also of course under attack from many quarters. And, of course, he's been invoking his recent scholarship on behalf of his chosen political causes, coming to be the administration's expert par excellence despite the fact he's so out of step with the field.

Enter Edward Said, of course, who is also a figure of widely known political views who has academic influence. His work Orientalism was an attack on Lewis's way of doing history, and its influence has been that scholars like myself have increasingly turned to social and economic studies rather than just religious explanations for Middle Eastern life. The most direct offspring of Saidian thought is post-colonialism, a school of thought most influential in South Asian Studies that seeks to understand the effect of colonialism on societies and ultimately discover their pre-colonial constructs. Please note that this does not necessarily imply colonial exploitation, merely differences as Western ways of doing things were overlaid on existing native cultures. Some key questions can be found here:

"How did the experience of colonization affect those who were colonized while also influencing the colonizers? How were colonial powers able to gain control over so large a portion of the non-Western world? What traces have been left by colonial education, science and technology in postcolonial societies? How do these traces affect decisions about development and modernization in postcolonies? What were the forms of resistance against colonial control? How did colonial education and language influence the culture and identity of the colonized? How did Western science, technology, and medicine change existing knowledge systems? What are the emergent forms of postcolonial identity after the departure of the colonizers? To what extent has decolonization (a reconstruction free from colonial influence) been possible? Are Western formulations of postcolonialism overemphasizing hybridity at the expense of material realities? Should decolonization proceed through an aggressive return to the pre-colonial past (related topic: Essentialism)? How do gender, race, and class function in colonial and postcolonial discourse? Are new forms of imperialism replacing colonization and how?"

Some of these have political overtones, but most seem good and necessary topics for examination, unless you believe that Africa, Asia, etc. would all look exactly the way they do today with European-style nation-states, education systems, and so on regardless of whether there had been colonization.

Back to Said and Lewis, politics and scholarship are, of course, not completely unrelated. A key element of Said's criticms was based on the idea that traditional orientalism was the handmaiden of racism and the colonial enterprise. This is actually considered the weakest part of his argument. The three most influential orientalists were probably Carl Becker and Ignaz Goldziher (both German and not serving someone's Middle East empire) and Louis Massignon (something of a radical who tried to get himself martyred in the cause of Algerian independence). However, Lewis has to some become the stereotype of the Saidian orientalist. You can also see the political implications for today of this precise dispute: If Arab hostility toward the U.S. is religious in origin that means one thing, whereas if it relates to concrete social and political causes it means something else. This February 3 Angry Arab post shows Lewis's current political influence as refracted through the Wall Street Journal. (I haven't read The Crisis of Islam, but his earlier works did show far more nuanced thinking.)

I don't have a real point in all this, other than to beware taking the words of experts at face value, and always be aware of how the knowledge given to you gets put together. Old habits and concepts die hard. Here at UW, the graduate seminars I take are all called "Problems in Islamic History," yet there is no "Problems in Hindu History," "Problems in Shinto History," "Problems in African Traditional Religious History," and so on for those regions of the world. A key reason is that Europeans have had contact with the Middle East since the Middle Ages when their Muslimness counted for far more than their ethnicity. Albert Hourani has a book of essays called Islam in European Thought that gives some interesting insights into the development of the field from a non-Saidian perspective.

Sistani Survives

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has just survived an assassination attempt.

UPDATE: Or maybe he didn't.

Sistani and Iran

According to Juan Cole, Iranian reformists have reached out to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to intervene in the Iranian election crisis. Sistani is the highest-ranking religious scholar, not just for Iraq, but for all Twelver Shi'ites, and if he chooses could provide a key rallying point for Iranian disaffected with the regime. Granted, Sistani is a bit busy at the moment, but Cole's right, this could get really interesting.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Dean in Madison

I went to my first meet-up tonight, as well as saw Dean in person for the first time. It was a real treat. The event was held in the Club Majestic, and I was standing on the completely full balcony, looking across at another completely full balcony on the other side and above the table area which was, of course, completely full. The volunteers were going around with their sign-up cards, where I signed up for a couple of things, and people all over were talking politics, from the Bush AWOL story to pre-emptive war. The crowd as a whole was so big that, as noted in the comments below, they had to start sending people into nearby buildings, and I think we in the Majestic were less than half the total turn-out.

I didn't recognize the first speaker, but he rocked, listing cities in Wisconsin which we are going to win before letting out the patented Dean "Yearrgghhh!" Kathleen Falk, the popular Dane County Executive went next, introducing the Governor. And then, Howard Dean stepped out. I had a brief period of adjustment, as happens when you've seen someone on TV for ages and ages and then suddenly he appears before you in the flesh, a real live human being with a voice and hair and skin. Yet that only lasted for a moment, for truly had you been there you would not think it too melodramatic to compare him to an avatar of the American spirit, exuding and drawing us into a vision of hope and can-do idealism before he even opened his mouth.

This was a charisma like I have never experienced before, and his presence is such that I say that although Dean is not known for his great height, in the mind's eye he was one of the taller figures around, taking control of the atmosphere in the room as surely as he has the atmosphere of this entire campaign. His only "gaffe" was when he talked about Michigan's affirmative action policy; regardless of the issues, defending Michigan is not permitted in Madison, a fact of which he was quickly informed by the audience. I keep hearing that John Kerry is Presidential because he looks like a President from central casting, but the people who say that do not have a sense of history. I have to admit the Kerry does look like a movie President, but then most movie Presidents are failing at defending us from aliens or something, not being "Presidential."

Howard Dean is a leader. He has led Vermont for over a decade. He has led his supporters to heights no one thought they could reach. He has led the Democratic field to its present stance on the issues. And soon, if all goes well, he shall lead America. For Howard Dean alone among all the candidates carries the aura of vision and the credentials of ability that make a true President. When deciding what counts as Presidential, we should not look at who's been in Congress the longest or who does the best job at following the standard political scripts - after all, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest President, was elected after a single term in Congress.

Rather, to be Presidential is to make people want the future which you can bring about. I want health insurance for every American according to a plan that will actually pass through Congress. I want to repair our international alliances so that the United States once more stands as the moral leader of the world. I want to globalize human rights and not just corporate rights so that we can have a world where people are more than just business assets to be discarded at will. And I want a country I can be proud of, a democracy where the special interests don't rule from the shadows, and where ordinary Americans once more control the processes of our own lives.

And that is why, when we picture the world 50 years from now, we can see the Howard Dean we've all come to know, a Howard Dean aged by his office, his face cast in marble like the great Presidents of old sitting before a painting of him in the oval office dealing with a crisis today unforeseen. And as schoolchildren pass through on their field trips, they are told of how in a time of despair, this man brought the promise of a new beginning; of how when the forces of fear threatened to overwhelm our values this man brought hope and restoration; of how when people said he couldn't do something, he went ahead and proved them wrong, and most of all how he showed that the United States is not just a nation of special interests and pundit-identified population groups, but a community of shared ideals, ideals every generation of Americans has sought to live by and succeeded at just a little more than the one which came before. And then the schoolchildren will file out, anxious to be on with their lunch time, except for one little girl who remembers, and takes to heart the message of Howard Dean, and message which transcends today's issues even as it responds to them. And that little girl will go on to solve the problems of her day, enriched by an understanding of society and an example of how to lead it.

That is what it means to be Presidential. And while I think all the other Democrats are probably electable, I see only one as truly Presidential. And if that's the test for whom we should nominate, then let it be Howard Dean.

More on Uzbekistan

Matthew Yglesias weighs in on the Uzbekistan issue. He mentions the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which may have been involved in last spring's terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan. However, as this article points out, the main group currently being opposed by the Uzbek government is the Hizb at-Tahrir, which while fundamentalist believes in non-violence as a way of achieving their goals. The argument is that they might one day develop violent intentions. American support for such actions clearly takes "preemptive war" to new heights. Unfortunately, one of the surest ways to persuade people to turn to violence is to attack them.


Today is one of those days when you have to remind yourself of why as a medievalist you regard the rise of bureaucracy as a good thing.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

CBS Annoys Me

I just had CBS news on, and they covered today's primaries using the storyline that today we would learn if John Edwards could beat Kerry in South Carolina and prove it's a two-man race. This is absurd. First of all, leaving Dean aside, Wesley Clark had the lead in Oklahoma polls over the weekend, and was gaining in the southwest. Dean is making his stand this weekend, and so should not be written off, either. Crowning Edwards as the "anti-Kerry" at this point is journalistic irresponsibility.

I'm not alleging a conspiracy here, but the way the media covers campaigns needs serious reform. "Momentum" is all that matters. Most people still get their news from these network newscasts, and by talking about only two candidates, the media exert an undo influence through their editorial decisions. Secondly, the horse-race coverage that is annoying enough most of the time becomes dangerous during the primary season, when every contest is treated not as a single group of voters stating their preference, but rather as a statement about "Where the race stands." There is no logical reason why a candidate should gain "inevitability" after winning two states that have only a handful of delegates. This cannot continue.

By the way, I haven't posted much at Dean Nation lately because I have some sort of campaign writer's block. Hopefully I'll snap out of it soon.

Uzbekistan Funding Safe

The new American Ambassador to Uzbekistan has assured Uzbek leaders that financial assistance to the country will not be reduced, despite their terrible human rights record. This brings us back to the old debate about supporting dictators when it seems to be in our national security interest. Despite administration rhetoric, this policy really hasn't changed. Uzbekistan supported the Iraq invasion and the conflict against the Taliban/al-Qaeda. Therefore, we are supporting Uzbekistan's ruthless dictator Islam Karimov. Beware of moral issues and future blowback. An optimist might say that if Afghanistan becomes stable, however, we'd be in a better position if we needed to confront Uzbekistan down the line, as we would then have a nice wholesome democratic prospective ally in the region.

Sharon's Latest Move

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is considering land swaps with the Palestinians wherein Israeli Arabs would live under Palestinian rule, presumably with Israel gaining formal rights to areas of dense Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories. The first question that comes to mind here is whether the Israeli Arabs will go along with this. And regardless of whether Sharon is serious, the fact he's proposing all this from the right really affects the overall Israeli political climate. Meanwhile, Labor party leader Shimon Peres has promised to join the government if settlements are removed, a sentiment echoed by Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak.

Blog Names

The University of Chicago gets some really good blog names. We've already seen Crescat Sententia, now we have Gnostical Turpitude!

Iraqi Women's (Lack of) Security

Sara Butler posts a very good article on rape and the abduction of women in Iraq. It's definitely worth a read. In general discussions of security, the special situation of women is too often overlooked.

Iran Round-Up

I wish I had more to say about the current events in Iran. Fortunately, Oxblog's Patrick Belton has a round-up of views.

Apology to Saddam

Dear Saddam Hussein-

For years, I listed you and North Korea as two of the three most brutal regimes on the planet. For the record, I still think you were an evil dictator, even without weapons of mass destruction. Your deposition made the world a better place. But I must nonetheless apologize for linking you with this.

Winter Weather

Ahh...temperature in the 20's, and lots of pure snow. Now this is the way winter should be!

Monday, February 02, 2004

Iran Developments

I haven't commented much on Iran just because I have little to add to the actual news accounts. Today the leading reformist party pulled out of this month's Parliamentary elections. This comes after massive resignations among reformists in Parliament when the hardline Council of Guardians only reinstated a fraction of those candidates it had previously banned from running. I think this would probably be a good time for some street demonstrations like we saw last summer. If the reformists can win this round, they will have seen their power and likely have the upper hand. If they lose, then the idea of reforming the system from within will stand revealed as an illusion, and the government will quickly lose all legitimacy.

Iraq Stuff

Juan Cole has a brief analysis of the Irbil bombing, in which he with probable accuracy blames Ansar al-Islam. Ansar al-Islam is a terrorist group with known links to al-Qaeda. During the run-up to the Iraq war, its presence in Iraq was listed with evidence of Saddam's supposed al-Qaeda links, even though it was actually based in the Kurdish territory. And speaking of questionable administration arguments, here is yet another example of the sudden blaming of the CIA for the WMD intelligence failures. I'm surprised no one has gotten whiplash from all this yet. True, the CIA did overestimate the Iraqi weapons programs, but the conservative attack on them was that they actually underestimated it, which is why the administration set up the Office of Special Plans to produce their own conclusions. Hopefully people will remember all this and not fall for these attempts to murk up the truth.

Leaving Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced plans for a complete end to Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip. Over break, I learned that during the Camp David negotiations under President Carter, it was Sharon who declared to Begin that the Sinai settlements were unnecessary for defense purposes, and later Sharon who saw to their evacuation. The settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, however, have different ideological associations, and I've been wondering if Sharon would take the same attitude. This is a positive sign.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein has a good analysis of this. There's also discussion at An Unsealed Room.

UPDATE: Imshin also weighs in, including a description of Gaza from her days in the reserves:

"Rafah horrified me. I’d never seen so many people in my life, just standing about, hanging around, in the streets and alleyways. It looked like prison. And to make things worse, the town was cut in half by a border. Half the town was in Israel, the other half in Egypt. The Egyptian side didn’t look any better than the Israeli side, by the way. We drove along the border in a jeep. I believe you can’t do that today, unless you’re in a heavily armed vehicle, and even then it’s very dangerous. That’s the border they tunnel under to smuggle arms in."

Read the whole post. As far as the heritage of the Gaza Strip goes, Gaza City is home to the tomb of Hashim, namesake of the Prophet Muhammad's Hashemite clan. According to EB On-Line, it was also a Philistine city where Samson allegedly died and the birthplace of ash-Shafi, founder of the Shafi'i madhhab.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Building Walls

I wonder if this wall being built by Saudi Arabia will be met with the same vociferous opposition as this wall being built by Israel. You know, in the "From the Editor" to the February 2004 World Press Review, Alice Chasan suggested the wall was a monument to failure. Fine, so what's wrong with that? Having a big, ugly wall separate Israel from Palestinian territory will result in hurt feelings for the world's idealists. Not having it will result in dead Israelis. Why is this even controversial?

Of course, the big hole in the above argument is that the wall cuts through a lot of the Occupied Territories, thus giving the impression it is a land grap by the Sharon government. This is a valid case, and the main thing that prevents me from being a whole-hearted wall defender. However, even this wall might be better than no wall if the international community is willing to apply the pressures necessary to eventually ensure an full Israeli withdrawal if an Israeli government at the peace table proves reluctant. At the moment, I think the most practical route to peace may lie through increasing Israeli security, allowing the the rise of political forces within Israel who want negotiations. This may not be fair to the Palestinians, but again in practical terms I don't see anything resembling a policy from their leadership that would change the status quo. Arafat seems content to sit atop the territories and ride whatever waves come along, which means other people will direct them where they will.

Saturday, January 31, 2004


Today I went to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin to moderate in the Wayland Academy High School Quiz Bowl Tournament. It was a lot of fun - at the UW tournaments I tend to work in tournament central, and don't get to see actual matches. Wisconsin quiz bowl has really taken off. There were two teams there I'd never seen before, Wild Rose and Wausau West, and the level of interest from the existing schools was much greater, as most rooms had parental spectators. The winner was Conserve School A, which defeated Wayland Academy A in a match I got to moderate.

I did get there a bit later than I had wanted, as I forgot just how long it takes to get out of Madison heading out on US-151. On the way back, though, I finally did an experiment I've been meaning to, and determined that to reach my apartment on the west side taking the US-151 exit into Madison makes for about a 5-10 minute longer trip than driving down to the beltline and exiting later.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Pet Peeve

People who use the weather of a particular time and place as evidence for their preferred views of global climate change

Sanctions vs. War

Abu Aardvark notes a Charles Krauthammer column in which he invokes ending sanctions as part of the justification for war in Iraq. Aside from the hypocrisy, that was actually one element of my thinking, as well. At the time, I felt that even if Saddam were contained it was only because of the sanctions, which I regarded as worse than open war. I didn't place much faith in adjusting the sanctions, either, because as Juan Cole has noted before, the Ba'ath manipulation of the sanctions was much worse than the sanctions themselves, and they probably could have manipulated whatever we did. This was part of a complex of thought in which the U.S. had botched Iraq policy long ago, and the only thing we could really do was get rid of the existing order entirely as quickly as possible and before our position in Saudi Arabia deteriorated due to a possible new government there, even if that meant a war. However, now I feel I should say that if the David Kay is right and Saddam's rule was badly frayed, then there were probably better options and I was wrong.


When I awoke this morning, the temperature was -13. My apartment has a door in my bedroom that opens directly onto the outside, and is not in any way insulated. Which means that even with the heat on, at today's expected high of 2, I am a bit chilly. The decision made over the summer to move the mailboxes from inside the door of each building to a central place outside is also not one I'm presently admiring. Still, it has a cozy feel to it. If only it were snowing.

Engaging Iran

This Washington Post editorial addresses some of the thorny issue currently facing the American relationship with Iran. On one level, freedom and democracy are good things, and if an American involvement with Iranian hard-liners hurts democratic movements, then we should avoid them. On the other hand, the U.S. has an interest in eliminating the Iranian nuclear program and fighting terrorism. For that, the U.S. needs to talk to the people who can get it done, and right now that means the hard-liners. (A reformist-dominated government would probably seek nuclear weapons with the same alacrity, but cooperate more against terrorists.)

However, I'm not convinced that simply engaging Iran really hurts reformist efforts that much. It strikes me as highly possible to find ways to aiding the regime economically without giving the government new tools of oppression, and when you develop relationships with governments, you also gain tools to use if you want to pressure them for something else. At the same time, I'm not sure whether the student movement favored by the Bush administration is capable of changing the country. They have manpower, but lack leadership and a clear program for change. The reformists, by contrast, have a program and are in leadership positions. Their greatest failure is probably not acting like the students are really on their side, forming a tight alliance against the hardliners.

Presidential Primaries

I think the 2004 Presidential election has validated the much-maligned system of state primaries in that it demonstrated that candidates low in resources with which to compete nationally - specifically, John Kerry and John Edwards - can gain momentum by proving their candidacy sells in a single state. If we did have a national primary system, chances are either Howard Dean or Wesley Clark would be the nominee as others simply lacked the funding base with which to compete. However, the latest Zogby poll results show that the system probably does need some sort of major reform. Winning Iowa and/or New Hampshire should be a mechanism for launching a candidacy, not choosing the nominee outright. Yet for whatever reason - media spin, the compressed schedule, a nation of bandwagon-jumpers, something - huge numbers of Democratic voters are changing into his column. Just last week, Kerry was winning hardly any February 3 states; now, it looks like Wesley Clark's Oklahoma campaign is the best if not the only hope for slowing him down. If New Mexico, Delaware, and North Dakota look the same as these four states, we'll have a nominee selected by a small, unrepresentative sample of Democrats - a huge percentage of whom work in his home state - that was merely ratified by another small sample of voters elsewhere based partly on self-fulfilling perceptions of his inevitability.

UPDATE: By the way, in case you were wondering, I'm still for Dean.

Qatar is Rich

Qatar has the highest per capita income of any Arab nation at $29,948. Next come the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, though the drop-off is pretty steep, as the Saudis check in at $8,053.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


"La France est une grande nation occidentale. La capitale de la France est Paris. La France est une republique. La France est membre des Nations unies. Elle joue un role important dans l'alliance atlantique."

And they call this language "foreign." Though I must say, some people need to learn to fake things better. Yesterday in class we went over articles and cognates. Our homework was to translate a bunch of them. And when we went over it in class, some people actually couldn't answer because they said they hadn't done the work. I mean, assuming you've picked up that the "l" stuff is definite and the "u" stuff indefinite, it shouldn't be hard to just guess a translation of "les ocean" or "la correction."

I should admit, however, that my mind continues to function oddly. An example under guessing unknown words from context read, "The planets revolve around une etiole called the Sun." "Naturally," though I, "'etiole' means 'object.'" Obviously, it meant star. I did the same thing in Arabic, where the book had these pictures next to Arabic words rather than just the English equivalent. I thought "bayt" (house) meant "laundry" for a couple of weeks. I mean, there was laundry hanging in front of it! All well.

Khalil Shikaki

For those of you in Madison, Khalil Shikaki will be coming as part of our Middle East Studies Program Spring Lecture Series. The tentative date is March 25, and the topic is "The Future of Palestinian-Israeli Peacemaking Between the Roadmap and Unilateral Steps." Once everything is finally confirmed, I'll post it here. You can find more on the significance of some of Dr. Shikaki's recent work here. The series will also include Ali Ansari on April 12 on "Iran after the 2004 Parliamentary Elections" (title still tentative) and Dale Eickelmann on March 1 at noon on a topic I've forgotten. There may be one additional speaker in late April.

Problems in Afghanistan

RFE-RL is reporting the death of a British soldier in Kabul the day after a Canadian soldier also died, both at the hands of suicide bombers. Meanwhile, Melanie reports on a possible major offensive this spring. I wonder if this offensive would in any way relate to this.

Oh, yes, and near the bottom of the RFE-RL report Brigadier General Mark Kimmett admits that "disenfranchised youth" form part of the insurgency in Iraq. Given the state of the Iraqi economy, that number will probably get larger rather than smaller.

On to Pakistan?

The Chicago Tribune is reporting administration plans for massive military operations in Pakistan during the coming year aimed at rooting out Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Someone more familiar with Pakistan than I will have to give analysis of this. I worry some about spreading our military too thin - trying to do too much, and thus not doing anything well. I'm a little intrigued that the administration still seems to view Iran as a potential tactical ally, despite the rhetoric. Given that and the reports of forthcoming military action in Lebanon, it may be that 2004 will see a large-scale resumption of military activity against Islamic militants.

More Politics

Some more analysis on where things stand:

John Kerry has to be considered the front-runner, after winning convincingly in both Iowa and New Hampshire. However, it seems to me he's a sort of accidental front-runner, and that his tenure in that position may turn out to be as stormy as Dean's. The main issue this week will be whether he starts to come under attack and how he handles it. There's also the money aspect - I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that he doesn't have the resources to compete in all seven February 3 states, which opens the door for others. However, if he gets a huge bounce in the polls, that may not matter. Still, I feel there is a chapter in this campaign which has yet to be written, and probably several. (Granted that despite liking him on paper, I could never quite get on board an relished finally getting a defendible excuse to remove him from consideration, so I might be reading my own attitude into the general public.)

John Edwards has said he needs to win South Carolina, and he probably will. He might also be competitive in Missouri, Delaware, and Oklahoma. After that, it depends on his further fundraising, what happens if Kerry comes under attack, and what happens with Clark, with whom he seems to be splitting the southern/moderate vote.

The wisdom that says Edwards is the most likely "anti-Kerry" ignores Oklahoma. Wesley Clark should and must win here to remain a viable candidate, and if he does, I don't see how the media can give all their attention to Edwards for winning his southern neighbor. (Oklahoma, of course, borders Arkansas, but I have trouble seeing Oklahoma as a cultural neighbor of anything but Texas, and Clark hasn't built a reputation in Arkansas politics.) In addition, he should be competitive almost everywhere, simply because he has organization and fundraising on almost Deanish levels. (We're getting Clark ads here in Wisconsin three weeks before the primary.) Considering Edwards has to push hard in South Carolina at the expense of other states, Clark could easily be the big surprise of the day.

What to make of Howard Dean? I was amused to see just now that Dean's New Hampshire finish got its own postive yahoo headline. Dean has the money and organization to come back with, but the problem is he has to get more positive press to create momentum. If he finishes at least second in the majority of February 3 states, I think he looks good for the weekend states of Maine, Washington, and Michigan, especially if Kerry gets knocked around. But it's hard for a one-time front-runner to climb back to the top, and that's what he's trying to do.

Joe Lieberman, you did not finish in a three-way tie for third. But thank you for playing.

Bottom Line: Last summer many thought we'd see a nothern competition and a southern one before getting the final two candidates, and we may be back to that model. And the southern primary is just beginning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

John Kerry

It looks like the voters of New Hampshire have, on grounds of electability, decided to give another boost to John Kerry. I sure hope they've thought this through.

UPDATE: See this Dean Nation post for an admittedly biased view of Kerry's flaws as a candidate.

Iraqi Break-Up

I have to date been quite vehement in my opposition to the idea that Iraq will break up after the fashion of Yugoslavia, though I do feel a civil war is possible. However, this al-Jazeera article raises some interesting spectres as it goes into plans to have elections for Shi'ite areas only while leaving the Sunni center under occupation. This could lead to a situation where you have three independent governments in Iraq, or rather independent governments for Kurdish and Shi'ite areas and puppet occupation control of the Sunni center. If the center remains turbulent, it becomes more plausible that other areas of the country may simply decide to strike out on their own, though at present there is no internal constituency advocating that. A lot would depend on whether the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders cooperated with the occupation authorities or sought to advance the interests of Sunni insurgents.

Trying Bin Laden

Over the weekend, I posted this on why attacking Dean for his comments referencing the importance of trying Osama Bin Laden are ridiculous. To be honest, I'm a little horrified that they are even controversial. Conservative rhetoric has made "fair trials" into a sort of unfortunate gift to criminals. In reality, it is in a fair and open trial that people become answerable to society. The purpose of a transparent jury-based judicial system is to ensure that criminals are answerable to the people, not the government.

Frequently in the modern world, trials of major figures have been a moment of pride for the ones doing the trying. That is why putting Saddam Hussein on trial in Iraq has such emotional resonance, and why the trial of Milosevic in The Hague a moment of international celebration. To use an extreme example, one of the key events of modern Israeli history was when they put Adolf Eichmann on trial for his role in the Holocaust. If they can handle and take pride in trying a Nazi, we certainly can a terrorist who, in the grand sweep of human history, is small change. Fortunately there's still a candidate in the race who understands these basic principles and will see that terrorists answer to the American people and not an executive order.

Monday, January 26, 2004

States Visited Map

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

The only awkward situation in whether to count a state is with New York, which I drove through once without stopping and stayed overnight in once between flights. Still, I think this gives me a landslide in the electoral college, though I definitely don't have nationwide appeal! Found via Rob Groves.

Iraq War Politics

Calpundit has an analysis of Bush and the Iraq situation that I think pretty much nails it.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Saudi Peace Plan

The Saudis have offered a comprehensive peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several things to notice:

1.) It is almost identical to Crown Prince Abdullah's Spring 2002 plan that fell by the wayside after the Seder bombing and subsequent Israeli response. (In other words, I don't think the fall of Saddam Hussein had anything to do with it.)
2.) The components of the plan may be standard, but by internationalizing the situation you change the balance involved. The Israelis may not trust the PA, but they could find a modus vivendi with the Arab states collectively. This also sweetens the deal.
3.) Given the story just out about possible plans for the U.S. to confront Hizbullah, I'm wondering how and if the pieces fit together. I've already said that on paper, confronting Hizbullah dampens militant attacks on Israel, thus creating a possible environment for peace.
4.) The Middle East players are all definitely moving, as Sharon talks about withdrawing from the Golan, Arafat warns that time may be running out on the two-state solution, and Syria also presses for negotiations. Something may actually happen within a year or two.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq

The U.S. has captured two al-Qaeda figures in Iraq, apparently organizing operations in that country. As the Ba'athist leadership is captured, watch for more al-Qaeda-related attacks from the insurgents. The fact Saddam had to write orders forbidding his loyalists to cooperate with al-Qaeda shows that some are willing to do this.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Saudi Women: Some Good News

From the February 2004 issue of World Press Review:

The female literacy rate is 70%.
70% of all bank accounts are held by women.
40% of all private wealth is in the hands of women.
55% of all college graduates are women.
25% of businesses are owned by women.

There is, of course, plenty of bad news, as well, but you probably know most of it. Still, give credit for people who achieve despite the odds.

Draft Deferments

From at-Tabari, SUNY Translation:

"One day, while the Messenger of God was making preparations for this expedition, he said to Jadd b. Qays, brother of the Banu Salimah: 'Would you like, O Jadd, to fight the Banu Asfar this year?' He said: 'O, Messenger of God, please excuse me and do not tempt me. By God, my folk know there is no better admirer of women than I. I fear that if I see the women of the Banu Asfar I shall not be able to control myself.' The Messenger of God turned away from him saying: 'I excuse you.'"

Abd ar-Rahman Munif

Abd ar-Rahman Munif, one of today's greatest Arab writers, has died. He is best know for his trilogy Cities of Salt, chronicling the fortunes of the fictional sultanate of Mooran, which sounds suspiciously like Saudi Arabia in the 20th century.


Over at A Dervish's Du'a, Maryam is posting about aqiqah, a Muslim birth celebration. Also, here is a picture of a baby, for those of you who are really into such things.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Something on Electability

Current Democratic frontrunner John Kerry likes to go around saying that he's more electable than other Democrats because of his war record. I'm not so sure...avoided military service didn't seem to keep Clinton and the current Bush out of office. Max Cleland wasn't helped by it in Georgia. But the perception is there nonetheless, and when electability is such an important issue to voters, it's worth examining in full.

Which is why I point out this Oklahoma Presidential poll from Daily Kos, where we see Kerry at a whopping 17%. Now the leader in this poll is Wesley Clark, and the conventional blog wisdom is that Oklahoma is Clark territory all the way, so I'm not saying the military theme is irrelevant. I'm just saying that being a veteran isn't enough to tap into it. I haven't seen any South Carolina polls lately, but I'd imagine the position there is similar, though with Edwards probably in the lead instead. In recent Presidential primaries, southern voters gave Bill Clinton the nod over Bob Kerrey in 1992 and opted for George Bush instead of John McCain in 2000. Any "veteran effect" will be especially muted in Kerry's case because he followed his military service with antiwar activism, which does not go over well in some quarters.

What I'm saying here is that I don't think the path to victory is to hope some cultural infatuation with the military causes southerners to dump a popular wartime Commander-in-Chief in favor of a liberal Massachusetts Senator who happens to be a veteran. A career military officer like Clark might do better, but realistically if any Democrat wins in states like South Carolina and Oklahoma, we're seeing a landslide of historic proportions and any major Democrat probably could have won. If electability is to be the theme, I think you need to assume a close election in which the Democrats try to dominate swing areas like the midwest and southwest. Personally, I think Clark and Dean are the most electable candidates simply because they actually disagree with the President and explain why forcefully, though Edwards also might be creeping in there.

More on Hizbullah

My thoughts on the alleged administration plan to confront Syria and Hizbullah remained jumbled, but Oxblog's Patrick Belton points toward this MEIB report on the organization which is worth reading. A key point that comes through in the piece is that Syria has been as much a hinderance to Hizbullah in Lebanon as a supporter. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard also plays a role, and I've blogged before about how weapons for Palestinian terror groups are probably being laundered through Hizbullah and the IRG. This article is also a good profile of the group and its role in keeping the border hot so as to pressure Israel on Syria's behalf, and predicts an American move against Syria in Lebanon. (It was written in May 2003.)

One thing I take from all this is that fears of an Iraq-style invasion of Syria are alarmist. I think it more likely the U.S. wants to boot Syria out of Lebanon and end Hizbullah's role in terrorism. If that is the case, they might actually take a complete Syrian crackdown on Hizbullah's terrorist-related activities. What I don't get, though, is the overall strategic reasoning. The two things we're hearing is that Hizbullah has al-Qaeda connections and that the famous Iraqi WMD may be in Syria. However, Hizbullah actually condemned the September 11 attacks, and would appear to have little interest in a grand war against Western civilization. Their interests lie primarily in Lebanese politics, and attacks on Israel are mainly to keep up support from Syria and Iran which they parlay into grassroots political support among Lebanese Shi'ites. Syria is actually helping us torture people in the war against al-Qaeda.

I'm also uncertain what the consequences would be if Syria suddenly withdrew from Lebanon. One school of thought is that Lebanon would become a stable democracy. The other is that you would shortly see a resumption of the civil war which the Syrian occupation helped end. Bear in mind again that Syria may boost Hizbullah militarily, but it curtails them politically. Seeking to rid the world of all terrorism is a fine thing, but needs to be done carefully and with an understanding of all the different local situations. Based on what happened in Iraq, I really don't trust neoconservative thinkers to think these things through on the level necessary to guarantee success. But, of course, for all I know they could be sitting on a pile of intelligence that Hizbullah has formed links with al-Qaeda and is planning to do evil things.

A final possibility is that this relates to the Middle East peace process. Reining in Hizbullah would help both the Syrian and Palestinian tracks by reducing terrorism and aiding the rise of pro-peace sentiment in Israel, as well as cutting a channel of outside support to militant elements of the Palestinian Authority. If the administration is making that a priority, this move would almost certainly boost Israel's security.

Lord of the Rings Quiz

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Plagues of Ants and Nosebleeds

According to al-Tabari, the first tribe to have custody of the Ka'aba was the Jurhum, a daughter of which married Ishmael son of Abraham who was its builder. When the Jurhum eventually fell into evil, God destroyed them by sending plagues of ants and nosebleeds. The ants pursued them, crawled into their ears, and destroyed them from within. No further detail was provided about the nosebleeds.

Attacking Hizbullah

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the United States is considering attacking Hizbullah bases in Lebanon so as to provoke a military confrontation with Syria. My thoughts on this are sort of jumbled at the moment, though I thought I post the news blip to get it out there. Also in the news today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts claims evidence that the Iraqi WMD are in Syria.

5 Million Terrorists???


I started "French for Reading Knowledge" this morning. The professor looked like the quintessential French professor. I was a little surprised that almost everyone else seemed to have a couple of years of French already, but figure any language where the word for "longevity" is "longevite" can't be that bad. As an undergrad, I taught myself Latin to the end of the old "Gray and Jenkins" textbooks in the QU library, and as a grad student I learned to handle Arabic. I refuse to wimp out in the face of French. Bring it on, monsieurs!

Veep Speculation

Why does everyone keep talking as though the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats will automatically be one of the Presidential field? Has that happened since 1980? Joseph Biden. Bill Richardson. John Glenn. Blanche Lincoln. Tom Vilsack. Ben Nelson. These are all potential Vice Presidential nominees, too.

I Stand Corrected

In my recent post on hijab, I suggested that no one was talking about banning beards. I was apparently wrong.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Dostum Wants a Promotion

Abd ar-Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord form northern Afghanistan who apparently has some support from Uzbekistan, is seeking a senior position in Karzai's government. Dostum is also one of the warlords who helped create a new political party to challenge Karzai in the upcoming Presidential elections. Don't believe anything happening today in Afghanistan is really democratic. What we're seeing is warlords leveraging for personal advantage sometimes backed by foreign powers who will manipulate the semblance of a democratic process to suit their own interests. You might get stability out of it, and it'll probably be better than the Taliban, but these are not great leaders of the people.

UPDATE: Something else I just noticed: Three U.S. soldiers were injured in an attack on a base in central Afghanistan. The continual mantra is that there are only attacks in the south.

As Saudi Arabia Turns

Al-Jazeera is reporting that a reformist member of the royal family was kidnapped from Geneva and is now under house arrest in Riyadh. Some blame is being attached to the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs. Meanwhile, terrorist training camps have been found in the Saudi desert.

Two Dean Nation Links

Anna Topia talks about her experience with the media in Iowa. It's unverifiable, but the people here are hardly professional spin doctors, so it's definitely worth reading.

Also, I have a post with Middle East relevance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Child Slavery and Prostitution

I just found two really depressing articles, one on child slavery in Pakistan, the other on prostitution in Central Asia.

More on Tribal Shaykhs

Some thoughts on this tribal shaykh stuff...

Buried in this article, one finds information that the two chief duties of tribal leaders in today's Iraq are intervention with central authorities and keeping the peace. There's nothing new about that whatsoever. There's another side to the coin, too: The central authorities have historically chosen the tribal leaders they want to work with.

I've been reading some pre-Islamic Arabian stuff for my dissertation, and the Sassanids basically appointed tribal leaders to serve their own interests - keeping the Bedouin from raiding their territory and serving as proxies in warfare. This was done by a combination of prestige by association, gifts of money to be distributed and weapons to be used to fighting, and not dealing with lesser shaykhs. The early caliphate also promoted certain shaykhs in the same manner. During the Crusades the Mamluks had an office called the Amir al-Arab, or "Commander of the Bedouin," which basically went to one or more tribal chiefs through whom they worked. Even in the 20th century, you find the same patterns. In Lawrence of Arabia, Auda brags about how the Ottomans pay him for peace along the frontier, while the British are quite obviously taking a hand with Sharif Husayn. Many of the tribal chiefs in Iraq are called "Shaykhs of the '90's" because that is when Saddam brought them to prominence hoping for more influence with the Shi'ites.

So what the coalition is doing is simply continuing the millennia-old pattern of interaction between tribally organized rural areas and city-based state structures. However, I can't help but wonder how it plays into our overall plans for Iraq. Because if these shaykhs base their importance on serving as a bridge to the government and resolvers of conflict, I'm not sure they'd want to see an open democracy and state legal system giving individuals direct access to government and eliminating the need for their influence. Yemen, which while not a democracy has certain elements of one, might be an interesting case study of this issue. If we're basing our understanding off colonial British studies, though, we're off on the wrong track just because colonial British anthropologists tended to get stuff wrong in their explanations of how tribes actually functioned socio-politically.

This, of course, does not negate the fact that I simply don't think tribal leaders have that much influence these days. Both Peter Sluglett and Juan Cole, who know far more about modern Iraq than I do, have suggested as much. The population is too urbanized and organized into occupational and religious groups as the main channels of political participation. My pet idea to build democratic institutions in Iraq is actually to legalize labor unions. The Bush administration is taking the corporate-friendly route of assuming foreign investment will bring stability with economic prosperity, but I can't help but think that societies are built off people rather than money, and in any event without labor you have often fundamentalist religious groups as the only noteworthy organizations headed into some hypothetical caucuses or elections, which is something we allegedly don't want.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Dean the Game

Now you can waste time with the Dean for America Video Game. Via Ed Cohn.

Patrick Belton on Pakistan

Oxblog's Patrick Belton has a round-up and analysis of some recent developments in Pakistan. Since his analysis is good for the United States, I hope he's right, but I can't help but think that the single largest factor in Musharraf's decision to crack down on Islamic militants might be the fact they keep trying to kill him. If Osama bin Laden really is in the tribal regions of Pakistan, this crackdown increases the odds he will be captured. That would have more impact in the fight against al-Qaeda that capturing Saddam did in the fight against Islamic militants, but given the ways in which al-Qaeda is believed to have morphed the past two years still wouldn't be the sort of final victory the press may perceive it as.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Sources of Iraq Knowledge

From Lupin's Daily Kos diary, I see that the U.S. is using British reports from 1918 as its sources of information on Iraqi tribal politics. Do have have any idea how much any nation in the developing world has changed in the past 85 years? I watched some of Lawrence of Arabia last week. I guarantee you the Middle East is different today. Little things like the development of the nation-state, the spread of new technology, the coming of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism, and so on have all taken their toll. And of course the British occupation of Iraq was such a smashing success...

UPDATE: New blogger Daniel Stein has a bit more commentary.

UPDATE: Jason in comments recommends this article, which covers in more depth Lieutenant-Colonel Alan King's outreach among the Iraqi tribes. I'm not sure it contradicts the above, though, as he seems to be acting a lot like a Lawrence of Arabia wannabee. I think what it comes down to is that the influence of these tribal shaykhs might be overrated. Only time will tell.

Iowa Caucuses

If you're interested in following the Iowa Caucuses, the absolute best place to go is Daily Kos. This is a partisan Democratic site, but the people posting know politics, and have been following the details of the primaries closely from a variety of perspectives. You'll get information here that is far more in depth than anything you hear on the networks. And now, for a better reading experience, it has been cleaned.

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Jonathan Edelstein has a post on the Jewish tradition regarding Amalek, which he considers potentially similar to the Muslim jihad. In the book of Exodus, the Amalek were a group who attacked the Hebrews as they fled Egypt, leading to a commandment to the Hebrews to exterminate the Amalek. When I was a freshman I became rather obsessed with the Amalek, though my professors didn't really know anything about them. I found a bit of irony in his post because the Amalek also turn up in the medieval Islamic historical tradition, though not with religious implications.

I don't know anything about this site, but it does remind me of the basic story. The Amalek were among the greatest of th Arab tribes in the ancient world, and were custodians of the Ka'aba in Mecca. Following some rather elaborate natural upheavels, they left and went to Egypt, where they ruled as pharaohs. (The linked site, which melds together Hebrew and Arab sources, also gets from somewhere that the Amalek later converted to Judaism, which would probably really screw with the minds of certain Jewish militants.)

The identity of the Amalek has always intrigued me because it is unclear from the existing sources why they get to be Public Enemy #1 for ancient Israel. I remember Immanuel Velikovsky (whose theories I am not here touting) equated them with the Hyksos, partly on the basis of the Arab traditions mentioned above. Both Arab and Hebrew traditions tout them as extremely powerful - in the book of Numbers, they are called the greatest of nations, a designation that in that time better seems to fit Egypt. However, I don't see any easy way to learn more.

Ultimately, the identity of the Amalek lies in the historical issues surrounding the Exodus itself, where I am rather unorthodox, though Biblical scholarship is in no way my field. I think the Pentateuch should be regarded as oral tradition, and in oral tradition it is the specifics which are usually late additions, not the generalities. Most scholars place the historical Exodus in the reign of Ramses II on the basis of the Pi-thom and Ramses mentions and the fact that the first historical mention of Israel is on a stele of Ramses's son Merneptah. However, I've been reading al-Tabari, and for remote periods he reports traditions about stuff happening in cities that didn't exist at the time, like Nebuchadnezzar's connections to al-Hira. I can easily see Pi-thom and Ramses getting tacked onto an existing tradition about Hebrew slavery in Egypt.

What I believe is that the Exodus story functions kind of like the bursting of the Ma'rib dam in Arab tradition - a period of great upheavel in which various tribes found in convenient to postulate genealogical links. Viewing it as oral tradition, I'm more inclined to believe in the plagues than the exact cities. There may have been a tribe working at Pi-thom and Ramses. There may have been a tribe that fought the Amalek. These need not have been the same. The Biblical story of the Exodus is then a theologically interpreted editing of the oral traditions of different tribal groups which made links in very ancient Israel. And that would mean that the historical Amalek could eventually be found at any time over a several-century period.

Dean's Internet Policy

Joe Gratz has written a study of Howard Dean's Internet policy that is worth reading. As he notes at the end, it's important that we elect a candidate who can get these issues right, because today's decisions on the future of cyberspace will have repercussions for our lifetimes and beyond.

Incidentally, blogging has been light recently because I've been busy either here, here or here.

PA vs. al-Arabiyah

The al-Arabiyah TV network is apparently in trouble with the PA for refusing to call all dead Palestinians "martyred." The analysis sounds simplistic, but the events are interesting. Via Chris Blanchard.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Daily Kos

I see one of my occasional on-line haunts has made the news.

Saudi Public Opinion

Gulf News reports on a survey of social attitudes among male secondary school students in Saudi Arabia. It sounds more like a focus group study than an actual survey, but the results aren't terribly encouraging, as respondents expressed concern over the possibility women might gain more freedoms.

Turkmenbashi's Army

Saparmurat Niyazov, the ruthless dictator of Turkmenistan, has been engaged in a military build-up. He apparently fears diplomatic and economic isolation resulting from criticism of his human rights record, and is hoping for some sort of security guarantees. His moves seem mostly defensive, such as strengthening coastal defenses. I don't think anyone actually plans to invade Turkmenistan in the near future, so this may indicate he's falling further into the "paranoid dictator" mindset.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Saddam and the Jihadists

I have too much dissertation momentum to do much substantive posting today, but I can't resist asking if this news that Saddam warned his loyalists not to trust the jihadists means he was unlikely to give jihadist terrorists weapons of mass destruction, supposedly the major reason we deposed him. Also, if he was really the main obstacle to cooperation between Iraqis and terrorists, has deposing him, however noble in humanitarian terms and a decent thing to do under other circumstances, really helped us against the immediate threat of al-Qaeda terrorism?

Enterprise Quiz

This doesn't seem right, somehow. Via Procrastination:

You're Lt. Malcolm Reed. Your philosophy is that it's better to be safe than sorry. You love your job and are a bit of a perfectionist. When it comes to the opposite sex (or the same sex, depending) you become shy. You get cranky if you don't have something to blow up every once and a while.

Take the Enterprise Quiz!

Brought to you by redanubis.

Islamic Law in Iraq

An important story I just found via Juan Cole:

"As reported here earlier, the IGC took a decision recently to abolish Iraq's civil personal status law, which was uniform for all Iraqis under the Baath. In its place, the IGC called for religious law to govern personal status, to be administered by the clerics of each of Iraq's major religious communities for members of their religion. Thus, Shiites would be under Shiite law and Chaldeans under Catholic canon law for these purposes...The IGC has ceded to the religious codes jurisdiction over marriage, engagement, suitability to marry, the marriage contract, proof of marriage, dowry, financial support, divorce, the 3-month "severance payments" owed to divorced wives in lieu of alimony, inheritance, and all other personal status matters."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Indonesians in Africa

Ed Cohn afficionados will have seen this piece in The Guardian about a theory that Indonesians were primarily responsible for the creation of African culture. I basically agree with Ed that this is more a media-friendly surprise theory than serious history, but also want to note that there is evidence of an Indonesian presence in the western Indian Ocean for very early periods, and that Malagasy is actually the westernmost Polynesian language. I vaguely remember reading an essay in this book that went into these issues, but don't recall the details.


In an otherwise decent Washington Post article about the state of Middle East Studies, Michael Dobbs says something that is simply wrong: "A favorite target for Campus Watch is the late Edward Said, a Columbia University professor best known for his book "Orientalism," which denounced the "neo-colonialist" policies of successive U.S. administrations." Excuse me? Does Orientalism even mention a single American President? He's trying to write a historical critique of the field of orientalism using the Foucauldian concept of discourse. Since Orientalism's influence is at the center of the critique of Middle East Studies made by people like Martin Kramer, you'd think a reporter could at least get a key fact straight.

The Iranian Situation

Abu Aardvark reads that Iranian leader Ali Khamene'i may permit the banned reformists to run in the election after all. The major weakness of the reformists has long been their refusal to work outside the system - Khatami has more resembled a Gorbachev in the late 1980's than a Yeltsin during the coup. Now, however, they are taking some serious stands, such as the threat of resignation from all the provincial governors. Developing...

Monday, January 12, 2004

Sunni Islamic Law

A lot of people ask me about Islamic law, how it works, and what I mean when I talk about the different schools. So I thought I'd write this post on Sunni Islamic law, to be followed later by one on Shi'ism.

"Islamic law" is a translation of the Arabic term "shari'a," which literally refers to a path. In this case, it is the path of a believing Muslim in doing God's will, and encompasses all aspects of Muslim life both public and private. The people the media refer to as clerics are better thought of as scholars (ulama), for they do not adminster sacraments, but instead study shari'a and show the people the proper way to live. Although all Muslims are supposed to gain some knowledge of shari'a, in practical terms most simply choose a famous scholar and follow his example.

Islamic law derives from four sources: the Qur'an, the Sunna (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, based on the Hadith, which are individual accounts of his words and deeds), analogy from the Qur'an and Sunna (qiyas), and the consensus of the Muslim community (ijma). Using these sources, religious scholars perform ijtihad, which means to strive for correct judgement and is used to refer to the practice of independent reasoning on legal questions using the four sources of Islamic law. Over time, scholars divided into schools of thought, or in Arabic madhhab, meaning "path." These differ on the basis of methodology - how one comes to a conclusion is more important that the actual conclusion. Of these, four had lasting importance, and in the middle ages most cities had judges in each of the four so everyone could follow their own way. These are:

1.) Hanafi: Accepts local custom as another possible source of law, allows great liberty to individual scholars, as the favored school of the Turkish peoples it became prevalent throughout the old Ottoman Empire, as well as South and Central Asia and is today followed by the majority of Muslims
2.) Maliki: Places emphasis on the practice of Medina as the community founded by Muhammad, prevalent in North Africa, West Africa and in days of yore Muslim Spain
3.) Shafi'i: Believes the both Qur'an and Sunna are infallible, and tries to reconcile contradictions while placing little emphasis on analogy and consensus, it is followed today in Egypt, southern Arabia, Southeast Asia, East Africa and Chechnya and is considered the most lenient
4.) Hanbali: Elevates the Qur'an and Sunna above all else, considered the strictest, significant in the Arabian peninsula

Now in order to understand how this works in the modern world, we need to keep in mind a concept known as "The Closing of the Gates of Ijtihad." At some point, the belief grew up among Muslims that around the year 1000, all the questions of life had been settled and independent reasoning was no longer useful. This was never actually a universal belief, but was common enough that the study of shari'a gradually became more and more tied to the past. This has interesting effects for our impression of the madhhabs. For example, based on procedure, the Hanafi looks fairly liberal. After all, a Hanafi scholar in California could very easily include Californian customs as one of his sources, and produce some rather liberal views. If the gates of ijtihad are closed, however, we're left with rulings based on the customs of 10th-century Turkestan, which were somewhat different, and in some areas, such as women's rights, the Hanafi is actually the most conservative school.

In reality, however, the "gates of ijtihad" were never quite latched, and by the 18th century, Muslim reformers had emerged to challenge the status quo. The most influential was Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who sought to "purify" the Hanbali branch of what he thought were pagan influences. A group of scholars called the Deobandis did the same thing with the Hanafi, leading to the brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban. The obvious thing to regret here, of course, is that these influential reformers have been coming at things from the wrong end, so to speak. More liberal voices are out there, too, but generally don't make headlines or take over countries, so most liberal Muslims find themselves looking at secularism as the main alternative to Islamic law as handed down through the centuries.

So the key points: Islamic law at its core is not a set code of conduct, but a diverse field of inquiry with many differences of opinion. Nonetheless, the conservative trends that cropped up during the past millennium have left it with a very conservative stamp. When Islamic law is adopted, the theoretical potential exists for a sort of "rethinking" if the community to which it is applied considers ijtihad legitimate in the modern world. Whether or not such development actually takes place is a subject for another time, and perhaps someone who specializes more on the 20th century. Individuals, of course, follow shari'a all the time, each according to their own conscience. Because many acts are classified as either "praiseworthy" or "reprehensible" instead of just "obligatory" or "forbidden," and because even with prohibited stuff penalties often involve God's judgement rather than a government's, this is very much within the historical mainstream of Islamic spirituality.

UPDATE: JB suggests a couple of resources for the 20th century.

In a Time of Shortage...

Last fall, I was annoyed that I couldn't find a source for how Democrats had tried to make undergraduates eligible for FLAS funding, only to be blocked by the GOP despite the shortage of Arabic speakers currently hindering our national security efforts. Now, I have found one. Ron Kind and Chris Van Hollen proposed the unsuccessful amendment.

Feminists and Hijab

Ikram Saeed has a post on the hijab controversy in France and a link to this Globe and Mail article by Sheema Khan on the same subject. A common point they share is that with regards to Islam, the recent French measures against personal religious displays fall disproportionately upon Muslim women.

My comment here is on Western attitudes toward Muslim dress in general rather than the French law under discussion. For many Westerners, especially feminists, hijab is seen as the physical expression of a Muslim misogyny that also includes everything from honor killings to forced marriages. In doing so, they unconsciously fall into a mindset where Islam is a religion which needs to be reformed with the help of a supposedly superior West. Because they make these links, they object strenuously to a religious choice made by many women, while ignoring the choices made by men who choose to wear beards, for example.

When I was in the Arab world, I found that standards of modesty were higher for both men and women. You could not wear shorts, for example, and nice jeans was the lower limit of public acceptability. Behavior patterns were also different. Above and beyond that, everyone finds their own level at which they are comfortable. Questions of cultural conflict arise when these informal dress codes are transferred to a different milieu. In the West, we have people who wear nice slacks to class even in summer, choose to grow beards and avoid profanity, but we do not have women who choose to wear headscarves unless it's cold out. Well-meaning feminists pick up on this difference as dangerous, a sign that women are being hidden from view (note the passive voice) as a means of disempowering them. Yet in reality, every hijabi student I have had in class has been an active student leader, and not just in the Muslim Students Association.

It is true that some men may force their wives or daughters to dress a certain way against their will. But if you're going to crack down on domestic abuse, mental cruelty, and that sort of thing, let's do it on those grounds for all citizens, regardless of their religion. Forcing women to choose between their religious convictions and their opportunities for a public life is not a policy for a progressive society.


Have any of my readers ever been to Spain? In thinking about my planned Morocco travels, I've discovered that flying into Madrid is substantially cheaper than heading directly anywhere in Morocco, and so was considering that option. However, if it costs a few hundred dollars to get from Madrid to Fez, there would be no point. I'm assuming it won't, but I'm trying to get a better sense of the overall landscape.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Dean Supporters

Over at the Dean campaign blog, Deaniacs are coming up with ads to refute the laugh-inducing Club for Growth spot. Some of the results are rather amusing.

Iraqis of African Origin

The Washington Post today has an article on Iraqis of African descent which I found an okay read. It was focused mainly on southern Iraq, where during the Middle Ages many slaves known as the Zanj were brought from East Africa and forced to work clearing land. The Zanj Revolt of the late 9th century played a key role in the decline of the Abbasids, throwing the Indian Ocean trade from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and having shockwaves felt as far as India and Southeast Asia. (Alexander Popovic wrote a book about it.) The Post article falls a bit short, though, in its historical presentation: It claims to deal primarily with the Zanj, yet it takes its descriptions of slavery from a broad spectrum of the Middle East, where conditions were much better. Still, I found the accounts of how African traditions survived very interesting. A couple of years ago, I considered African influences on Middle Eastern society a possible area from which to draw a dissertation topic. I even applied for an SSRC fellowship on the subject, but got turned down and moved on to other things. It's still an interesting field, and one where a lot of work could be done.