Thursday, September 30, 2004

Avoidance Practice

I missed much of the debate while I was out campaigning for Russ Feingold near campus. It was interesting to watch how people responded differently to my attempts to engage them. Women are definitely more practiced at avoiding unwanted attention than guys are.

Dr. Ahura

Pejman Yousefzadeh posts an article explaining how a Zoroastrian mystic who appeared on a Los Angeles-based TV show is the latest hope for the reform movement. The mystic's triumphant return to Iran will supposedly take place on October 1. Feel free to joke in the comments about how this is the much-discussed "October Surprise."

Baseball in Washington

Hughes for America is looking for ideas for a nickname for Washington's new baseball team. Personally, I like the "Washington Grays" idea, but there are a lot of others floating around, both funny and serious.

UPDATE: On this thread I just learned that the District of Columbia's official bird is the swamp robin. That would rock.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

When Not a Grad Student, I'm a...


This year I am voting against people who support this and this.

UPDATE: Red State's Sebastian Holsclaw has more on the torture issue.

Terrorism and Gangs

Via Oxblog, I see a Washington Times article on al-Qaeda's attempts to build ties with organized crime. By coincidence, this same issue arose in William Olson lecture here at UW Monday, so I'm inclined to take it seriously. One issue I haven't heard discussed, however, is how this will affect the application of police powers designed for use in terror-related cases. If a kid buys marijuana from a gang engaged in trafficking terrorists, could he be viewed as someone linked to a terror-related group? These issues are far off my expertise, but I'd like to know more.

Freedom in Bahrain

Bahrain may have elections, but the whole freedom thing is taking a while. A human rights activist named Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja called for the Prime Minister's resignation, so the government has closed the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The center has apparently closed their FAX line so as to avoid receiving the official letter on the matter, but it's only a matter of time before things are official. This shows how Gulf governments continue to see rights as something given by the ruler to the people. Parliaments are called by the ruler's good graces as an official forum for people to express themselves. Criticizing the government too strongly or holding it responsible for problems in the country, however, remain off the table. These countries embody the term "paternalism," as what passes for free expression is like the father consulting his kids on what they want to do on a weekend or letting them decide how to arrange their rooms.

Mahmood of Mahmood's Den has more on this, focusing on the idea that the Prime Minister is not actually responsible for poverty in Bahrain and the center's political tactics are off.

HRW: Elections Hijacked

RFE-RL has the scoop:

"The report says that regional armed militias across the country have held onto political power and are using force, threats, and corruption to dominate the election process.

"Worse, says the report, a number of the warlords commanding these militias are allied with the U.S. forces. Sifton said that because of the under-manning of international forces by both the United States and its NATO allies, the people guarding polling sites often will be the local militias ordinary Afghans fear most."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Nuclear Proliferation

Two men trying to sell plutonium have been arrested in Kyrgyzstan. Let's get a bit more passionate about Nunn-Lugar, shall we?


Yesterday the Middle East Studies Program lecture series drew its first protestors. It was rather fun when we got to the question-and-answer period and the speaker drowned confrontational questions in knowledge of the situation. At the end, the chair was calling the event to and end, but Dr. Olson asked to take a question from a protestor in the back who'd had his hand up for awhile. The guy asked about the real reasons we went into Iraq, and as Olson went into his answer, the questioner interrupted and demanded he give a clear answer within the next seven words. Dr. Olson indicated that he didn't have to answer according to any particular rules and stopped. That was probably what the quote about "his refusal to answer questions" referred to.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Afghanistan: The Positive View

Oxblog's David Asednik has some positive views of the situation in Afghanistan. I should state that my focus on election difficulties is mostly a reaction against Republican rhetoric suggesting that the country is now a stable democracy. When I step back and look at the overall situation, I find the situation is a lot better than it was five or ten years ago, and am starting to think that a stable and responsive government could emerge within ten years. One indicator of how the situation has improved is the refugee flow, which has been one of people returning to the country for some time now, even if their quality of life still sucks.

Florida Voting

Jimmy Carter, known throughout the world for his interest in fair elections, is warning of possible irregularities in Florida. Many of those who regard this as a bizarre conspiracy theory are Republicans who strongly believe Kennedy won the 1960 election due to corruption in Chicago. I suspect that in 2000 and 2004, Florida has become the latest Chicago.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Allawi in America

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's visit to Washington induced in me a sort of incoherent strangled sputtering. Fortunately, others were more articulate. This blog post gives part of the reasons why this was not a great moment in Iraqi history:

"Allawi was brought here – forty days from the election – as part of the Bush re-election strategy, and everyone knows it. This was supposed to be a victory lap, further solidifying the themes presented at the Republican Convention – until Kerry and reality intruded. Indeed, Allawi even adopted Bush talking points about how much progress Iraq was making, and that the terrorists were 'getting more desperate.' So, let’s dispense with the little charade about how this trip was beyond politics. It was entirely about politics.

"Second, given that Bush is so radioactive in Iraq right now, I think that trotting out Allawi in the Rose Garden does little to help his legitimacy in the eyes of American-hating Iraqis. On this point, Lockhart is right on. The more Allawi is seen as a puppet of Bush (which was pretty much confirmed this week), the less chance of success he – and thus we – have. If I'm right, then Bush is sacrificing Allawi's legitimacy for the sake of his re-election."

There's more at the link.

Jewish Cemetery

In honor of Yom Kippur, here's part of the Jewish cemetery in Fez. The tomb with green trim is that of Solica, who refused to convert to Islam and marry the governor of Tangier. She was thereafter revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Intimidation in Afghanistan

From RFE-RL:

"A broadcast by a tribe in eastern Khost Province has warned its members to cast their vote for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai or face retribution, AFP reported on 24 September. 'Vote for President Hamid Karzai [in the 9 October election], or we will burn your houses down,' was the message broadcast by the Terezay tribe, a small Pashtun tribe numbering between 120,000 to 150,000...A Terezay tribal elder, Wakil Sayyed Anwar, told AFP that 300 tribal chiefs jointly drafted the threatening statement."

There will be security forces monitoring the election, but will they be there six months later to protect villages which had a high percentage of people who voted in a way other than they were instructed to?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Shawn Green and Yom Kippur

Jack McDowell is upset that Shawn Green won't play on Yom Kippur, saying he would play on Christmas despite being a Christian. This comparison breaks down on several levels. First, most denominations consider Easter holier than Christmas. That aside, Christmas is a day of celebration with few if any practices set by doctrine. Yom Kippur is a Day of Atonement which according to the wikipedia entry involves this:

"On the Day of Atonement the pious Jew becomes forgetful of the flesh and its wants and, banishing hatred, ill-feeling, and all ignoble thoughts, seeks to be occupied exclusively with things spiritual. Jewish prayerbooks note that while public acts of contrition are mandated, the most effective corrective is that stated by the Biblical propehts, who teach that the true fast-day in which God delights is a spirit of devotion, kindliness, and penitence.

"The serious character impressed upon the day from the time of its institution has been preserved to the present day. No matter how much else has fallen into desuetude, so strong is its hold upon the Jewish conscience that few Jews, unless they have cut themselves entirely off from the synagogue, will fail to observe the Day of Atonement by resting from their daily pursuits and attending service in the synagogue. With a few exceptions, the service even of the Reform Jewish synagogues is continuous through the day."

In other words, Green's decision is closer to a Catholic fasting on Good Friday than deciding Christmas ham is more important than work.

Yet Another Post on Afghanistan's Elections

I just returned from a Center for South Asian Studies lecture by Michael Carnahan, Senior Advisor to Afghanistan's Finance Minister. During this, I had the opportunity to ask about whether Afghanistan's forthcoming elections would really be in any way democratic give stuff like this and this. His response was not terribly reassuring. After a bit of "umm"-ing, he talked about how unpopular the warlords were, and suggested that no matter what they did Karzai would still win and he was the most popular candidate. This led to a suggestion that savvy warlords might figure out who the people wanted to vote for and try to puch that agenda to make themselves look influential, and that really who's to say someone voted for a certain candidate out of conscience or intimidation? He also added something about the importance of securing all the polling places so warlords couldn't intimidate people.

Only the last point really addresses my concerns, and he admitted he thought they should have fewer polling places to make that job easier. The issue of voter registration was not addressed. He did, however, make a solid case that Afghanistan has the potential for long-term stability on the current trajectory, and powerful people were embracing the process (such as it is) and willing to compromise.

Allawi's Outreach

Matthew Yglesias's remark that Iyad Allawi isn't really trying to weaken the insurgency by bringing in new elements isn't entirely correct. In both Falluja and Najaf, Allawi has used development aid as a lure to local notables who currently oppose him, which I have interpreted as essentially a bribe to make them the chief dispensers of patronage in their area, but dependent on his government for that source of influence. Earlier this week, I talked to someone who knows much more about these things than I do, and he felt my interpretation was spot on. However, he wasn't optimistic it would work as well as it has in Afghanistan because he said Iraq and Afghanistan don't have the same sort of political culture. I'm guessing the differences stem largely from the fact that Iraq has a highly educated urban class of professionals for whom issues like policy and ideology matter a great deal, whereas in Afghanistan you see more emphasis on decentralized personal ties regardless of ideology. In any case, it seems clear that Falluja is still far from under Allawi's control.

Fulbright Application Process

I am currently applying for a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad grant. Letters of reference can only be submitted electronically. The deadline is October 5. And today the person who adminsters that program at UW tells me there is a planned system outage from October 1 - October 3.


Terror Watch List Changes

I must say that when I saw this article's headline, I was hoping for something a little different.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Title VI

One common criticism of the Title VI program is that the money goes mainly to produce other academics. I've always said that wasn't a problem, as you need those experts to fan out into the world and teach undergraduates. Most academic jobs are at teaching-oriented universities, and students there have international education options often because of the Title VI centers which train these academics. However, while working today's visit of the Senior Program Officer who oversees the Title VI-A program which is our current funding source, it became apparent from conversations that the system is actually intended to work that way. Title VI-A - focused on undergraduate curriculum development and language training - is an integral part of the Title VI apparatus.

An additional point: Here is a rundown of the Title VI NRC funding for the University of Wisconsin. of the $3.9 million, $1.9 million is in FLAS fellowships for those who require language training as part of their training. The regulations governing FLAS fellowships specify that they are only for graduate students. As long-time readers will remember, last year Democrats in the House of Representatives tried to make undergraduates eligible, but the Republicans stood in the way. It seems something of a consensus that the percentage of general undergrauates who will enter government service is higher than that in the graduate student population, so Republicans were standing in the way of a program change that would have helped cure the shortage of expertise in Arabic and Persian afflicting the federal government.

Are you worried about directing government funding in a way that will provide direct short-term benefits to the federal government? If so, help the Democrats take back Congress in 2004.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kerry's Iraq Speech

Last year, I got a lot of links from conservative blogs. Over the past year, these have largely dried up. If I have any remaining Republican readers, however, could they please explain how this speech constitutes "retreat and surrender" in Iraq?

In addition, I'm seeing Kerry's statements about bringing troops home in six months taken out of context, both in TV news clips and Republican comments on the subject. Can I please have a clear explanation of what is wrong with them in context? That context, as I see it, is this:

"If the President would move in this direction … if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces … train the Iraqis to provide their own security …develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people … and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year … we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years."

Troops for Afghanistan

The Bush administration is sending an additional 1000 troops to Afghanistan in order to maintain order in the south during the election. This is good, and I would like to see more support for our Afghan reconstruction efforts, as they are in a region where the people who attacked us on September 11 are known to operate. Sadly, two more American troops were killed Monday in Paktika province.

Wolf in the Fold

Throughout the centuries, a fascinated abhorrence with serial killers has led to their becoming famous. The following report is nestled among those of civil war and intrigue in Tabari's History under 257 A.H. (870-871 C.E.), and was transated by David Waines for the SUNY edition:

"In the same year, at a place called Birkat Zalzal, a strangler from Baghdad was apprehended. He had murdered a number of women and buried them in the house where he was living. He was brought to al-Mu'tamid, and I learned that he had ordered the prisoner whipped. He was given two thousand lashes and four hundred strokes with a bastinado, yet he continued to live. Only when the executioners beat his testicles with two wooden flogging posts did he finally expire. His body was then returned to Baghdad, where it was strung up in public view; the corpse was later burned."

Saturday, September 18, 2004


This is a view of Gibraltar as you walk from the airport/Spanish border into the city. In the background on the south end of the Rock is the "Moorish Castle," now a prison.

More Herat

IWPR has a good overview of recent events in Herat. That and this BBC story leave the impression of a successful change in governors, but an unstable city. One issue in the background here is the fact Afghanistan has never had a strong central government for any length of time, and people in the provinces value their independence. Furthermore, Ismail Khan retains influence - he is remaining in the city, and was responsible for the order being restored. Without the governorship, however, his influence will start to wane.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

William Olson in Madison

The text of an e-mail I just sent that might be of interest to area readers:

Dr. William Olson, formerly Chief of the Information Management Unit for the CPA in Baghdad, Iraq and now with National Defense University, will give a talk entitled "Transnational Threats to the U.S. National Interest" at 4 p.m. on September 27 as part of the Middle East Studies Program's Fall Lecture Series "Change in the Middle East." The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Pyle Center Auditorium.

The Middle East Studies Program is fortunate to have as its guest Dr. Olson, who in Iraq was responsible for the collection, analysis, and publication of CPA-related information on Iraq reconstruction. Before this, he served in several different capacities with both the Department of Defense and the Department of State, and has done work related to international peacekeeping, counter-narcotics operations, and counter-insurgency operations through the world. In addition he has been a Senior Fellow at the National Strategy Information Center, a Washington think tank. While at the Center, Dr. Olson worked on projects on global ungovernability, on international organized crime, and on bank security issues. He has also served as a participant in and contributor to working groups at CSIS and the Heritage Foundation on homeland security, as well as the Consortium on Intelligence's Working Group on Intelligence Reform.

Dr. Olson's published works include over 50 articles and books on light forces, US strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, the war on drugs, conflict management, and most recently on studies on international organized crime and homeland security. He is the editor of a book series on regional conflict through Harper-Collins, founded the Journal of Small Wars and Insurgencies, edited a special volume for the Annals of Political Science on small wars, served on the editorial board of Parameters, and is co-author and co-editor of Trends in Organized Crime.

Signs of the Day

While on the bus into campus this morning, I realized that in my tired rush to leave, I had put my shirt on inside out. That was pretty impressive.

As you might have guessed, I've been a tad busy lately.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Russian Star Wars

I've been looking for something clever to say about the latest "anti-terrorism" moves by the man President Bush considers a good friend, but don't think I can top Kevin Drum on this one.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Iranian Baha'is

I knew that Baha'is faced persecution in Iran, but hadn't realized quite how severe things had become:

"The advertisement cites the destruction in June of the historic Tehran home of Mirza Abbas Nuri, father of the founder of the Baha'i faith, Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri or Bahaullah, as the Iranian government's most recent action against the minority. A 13 September press release from the Baha'i community notes that earlier this year the Iranian authorities destroyed the gravesite in Babol of Mullah Mohammad-Ali Barfurushi, a prominent Baha'i known as Quddus. Bani Dugal, a Bahai representative, described these developments as 'part of a concerted plan on the part of the Iranian government to gradually extinguish the Baha'i faith as a cultural force and cohesive entity.'"

Muslim fundamentalists classify the Baha'is as Muslim heretics rather than People of the Book, so they have none of the protections of the latter.

September 11 Blogging

Imshin takes American bloggers to task for not doing more on September 11. As someone who did exactly nothing, my reason is that thanks to the Presidential election, I've been thinking about terrorism and related issues rather steadily for months. In fact, in this context, the event seems more like a campaign issue, and even more than last year it seems like anything non-standard I had to say would have been seen as divisive rather than commemorative. In emotional terms, I haven't had any new revelations or feelings related to the attacks during the past year, anyway. For me, it's become part of the general problem of global terrorism, and as regular readers know, I talk about that all the time. Maybe Imshin's right and I should have put up some simple memorial post or something, but there you have it.

UPDATE: This is an example of what I mean. I agree with it, but is this really what people have in mind when they say commemorate September 11?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Body Image

One complaint I hear from people that I can never fully relate to is dissatisfaction with one's body image. The most common form of this I run into is women who are obsessed with the idea that they're fat. I occasionally have to stop myself from laughing when certain people say this. But this is really something I see across a broad spectrum of society, and seems to affect people's overall opinion of themselves in extraordinary ways.

While aware I could probably be more physically attractive than I am, how I appear is just part of me, and I can't imagine looking any other way. By the same token, I've noticed that while looks factors into my attraction for members of the opposite gender, it's a highly malleable trait. There are lots of people whom I found attractive only after I got to know them and started liking them despite there being no discernable change in appearance.

This may suggest that looks are like clothing - how you wear them matters far more than anything else. I think, too, with me there is another issue, one from the same vein as the post immediately below this one. On a very deep level I cannot explain, I perceive each person as a unique and special part of Creation, and quite easily get frustrated when they don't see themselves the same way. This isn't just a "God made you that way, are you questioning his judgement?" sort of thing. Looks seem so superfluous, yet for so many people they are a burden which drains the spirit and therefore hurts the quality of their lives. And because the major reason for this is the way body image is played up by the media, if I ever meet the person responsible for that, I'm going to give them a very serious piece of my mind. I grew up Baptist, so there's a fair amount of Zell Miller-ish fire and brimstone lurking in me =)

History and My Religious Choices

For years I've been most attracted to Christian denominations which have about them an aura of tradition and history. This I attributed to the fact that I'm a historian, and assumed it was nothing more than aesthetic preference. Recently, however, I've realized there's more to it than that. It sounds like a cliche, but who you've been really is part of who you are. What's more, how we understand our own past says something about us. Given the diversity in the Christian tradition to which I belong, it's not enough to just say you're going to follow the Bible and not worry about anything else. I grew up Baptist, the sola Scriptura denomination par excellence, and almost all the key tenets are based off highly contestable interpretations of scripture. Admitting that tradition counts for something feels to me more honesty than heresy.

If I'm going to join your faith, what I want is to know what you make of the past 2000 years of Christian history, generally involving people with beliefs as pure as your own and whose experiences represent a valuable spiritual resource. I also want to know what's important to you, as seen in what you've fought for over the years and what you're likely to hold dear when the tide of history alters everything else. I don't care so much about the details of your worship service, though for purely aesthetic reasons I avoid those with modern music and such, but I do want to know why you do the things you do, and what is commemorated in all the small rituals and services scattered throughout the year. Issues like these play a large role in where we situate ourselves in Creation, and ideally in a universe of religious experience that includes billions who are not Christian at all.

For reasons I won't go into here, this year I've resolved to finally select a denomination. In a few short months, I hope to have formally hooked up with either this outfit or this one, two churches very different from each other and yet each attractive to me in its own way. I honestly have no idea which way this will break, and of course given the fact that I spent most of 2003 explaining why I wasn't a Deaniac but then wrote this, it's entirely possible that I could wind up a convinced Catholic or something. To be continued...

Crisis in Herat

In a moment of truth which will go a long way toward determining Afghanistan's future, Hamid Karzai has fired Herat governor Ismail Khan and appointed in his place one Muhammad Khair Khuwa. Many Heratis are opposed to this, however, which is now causing rioting in the streets. With American military backing, Karzai is seizing a moment of weakness for Khan, who just went through a major battle with another warlord. Getting control of the relatively prosperous Herat region would be a major victory for the central government, but many Heratis are undoubtedly unwilling to give in to a central government of any kind. Another factor in the background of this is that Ismail Khan was Iran's major ally among the Afghan warlords. They gave him arms, money, and provided development aid to his territory. Whether they will do anything to openly help in now is doubtful, but clandestine support is likely.


This is enough to make me a regular churchgoer.

UPDATE: Never mind. The North Koreans were just getting rid of an inconvenient mountain.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Abd ar-Rashid Dostum

If the major players in Afghanistan's political scene all run together for you, this profile might help flesh out Uzbek warlord Abd ar-Rashid Dostum.

Al-Houthi Killed

The Yemeni government claims it has killed Shaykh Husayn al-Houthi, who was leading an anti-government insurrection in the country's north. Let's hope this doesn't simply make him into a martyr whose movement will spread.

Springs in Jordan

This picture is from Jordan, in the hot springs area near the Dead Sea:

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Morocco's Family Law

The CEIP Arab Reform Bulletin has a piece on the challenges of implementing Morocco's family law. This perspective conflicts with what I heard in the country, where people I talked to thought the reforms were a major step forward and were extremely happy about them. However, that was a tiny sample and not really representative of anything, especially across the urban/rural and rich/poor divides.


This is weird.

Via Daily Kos.

Kazoo Records

As a Quincy, Illinois native, all I can say is that La Crosse, Wisconsin needs to get a grip.

Genocide in Sudan

Colin Powell has said that the abuses by the Janjaweed in Sudan are genocide. The Persian article drove home to me exactly what that means. Persian, despite its poetic beauty, has a surprisingly small vocabulary, and so much is built off combining words. That article says Powell called it "race killing." That is obviously what genocide means, but in an age in which the English can sound technical and overused, seeing the Persian adds a special force.

Iran and Sadr

According to Juan Cole, a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has accused the Mahdi Army of accepting aid from a neighboring country, which Cole takes to mean Iran. I suspect Iran is willing to support people resisting American influence in a neighboring country, though Cole is right that Sadr is in no way the Iranian proxy many conservatives claim. In fact, the conservative focus on states as the root of all problems is, I think, a key reason why I trust others more to fight terrorism.

Shadid on Iraqi Sectarianism

For what its worth, Anthony Shadid said at this afternoon's lecture that during his time in Iraq, he found that most Iraqis resented the fact that their religious group was becoming such an important means of identification. This supports what Peter Sluglett, North America's leading historian of modern Iraq, said on the same subject last year. Sectarianism is becoming important in Iraq politics, but only because some religiously oriented parties have lots of weapons and influence. The fact Ayatollah Sistani has shown occasional ability to reach beyond the Shi'ites is, in this context, unsurprising, and perhaps bodes well for the future of the country.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Daniel Pipes on Beslan

Chris Bertam destroys a Daniel Pipes column. When I choose to ignore or reject a claim because Daniel Pipes makes it, people sometimes accuse me of not taking something seriously just because I don't like the source. The reason I don't like using Daniel Pipes as a source, however, is because he is unreliable. These sorts of easily refutable claims color my impression of Pipes's work when he discusses issues on which I have no knowledge, simply because I assume them to be equally specious until proven otherwise. This is the price of hackery.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A Great Letter

This letter from a victim of this hateful display is absolutely amazing.

Palestinian Elections

At some point when I wasn't paying attention, the Palestinians schedule elections, and now key militant groups are participating. I guess it's time to try out Khalil Shikaki's theory:

"What Shikaki is calling for at the moment, and what he said he lobbied for in Washington, was for Palestinian elections prior to a Gaza withdrawal. Based on his research/perceptions, he said that Fatah would likely win such elections, as the opinions of the disengaged 40% match them most closely. Hamas and IJ would likely not get more than the 35% or so which forms their core support, and would not join a coalition with Fatah. He said the benefits of this would be 1.) Creating a Palestinian leadership with renewed legitimacy that can act on crucial issues, 2.) Integrate Hamas and IJ into the system, thus making them less likely to use violence outside the formal PA framework while forcing Fatah to reform or risk losing support, and 3.) Reflect the above opinions about the two-state solution, helping bring to popular consciousness where people really stand."

Anthony Shadid in Madison

Madison readers looking for something to do tomorrow should check this out.

Arrival Day: Israel's Missionary Future?

Jonathan Edelstein is today marking the 350th anniversary of the Jewish arrival in America by sponsoring a blogburst, with links to a number of thoughtful posts dealing with the future of Judaism. In putting together my own thoughts on the subject, I found it appropriate that Ha'aretz would today have an article on the Inca Jews, Peruvians who converted to Judaism and immigrated to a West Bank settlement.

I say this because I think it possible that the future of Judaism could involve a return to the missionary faith that it was during the first millennium of the common era. Edelstein himself has speculated on this possibility. The key for me is Israel's existence and the need felt especially by the more conservative elements of society to keep the population growing in relation to that of the Muslims in the area. At the same time, as I noted in my Morocco travels, many people in the developing world sacrifice everything to move to industrialized nations for economic reasons, and in the case of Moroccan Jews, Israel is part of the developing world.

So let's just say that, since history has seen people convert to a new religion for economic reasons, you have a potential solution to Israel's population issues, one which is especially likely to be pursued if the Arab-Israeli conflict continues unabated and the settler movement finds itself in need of more recruits. I suspect that such missionary work would be undertaken largely by the orthodox, who have in the case of the Inca Jews, also known as the B'Nai Moshe, shown a willingness to accept converts. (Article like this actually cause me to suspect the orthodox leaders had thought of exactly the points I am making here.

Such converts could easily tip Israel toward a more conservative path even as they face likely social discrimination and carry with them certain traditional practices from their homelands. If western Judaism tilts in a Reform direction, that could have serious implications for the identification between Israeli Jews and the Diaspora, which of course affects American policy towards Israel, as well. In addition, the migrants would probably compete with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs on the low-wage job market, making the economic situation in the Occupied Territories even worse than it already is.

How likely is this path? Historians can be terrible at predicting the future. This future, however, is in the interests of several parties with the power to make it happen. If so, it will be the greatest change to overcome Judaism in centuries.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Worst Dictators

Jonathan Edelstein highlights Parade's list of ten worst dictators. Like all such lists, there is room for controversy. Edelstein notes Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov as a significant omission. I'd also suggest Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Libya's Moammar Qadhafi as worthy of consideration. At the same time, however, it's unclear whether Crown Prince Abdullah should get pegged for all the repression done under the House of Saud, or whether Mugabe, while undoubtedly not a nice fellow, is really top ten worthy considering that in Zimbabwe, unlike Syria, you have an opposition press to silence.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Fissile Material (Possibly Retracted)

Matthew Yglesias highlights another reason why Bush doesn't have the edge with me when it comes to national security:

"Readers may recall that about a month ago I was dumbfounded by reports that the Bush administration was scuttling the verification component of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. The Treaty would, if properly enforced, damage US interests not at all while making it harder for terrorists and rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons. The administration's official line on why they'd done this -- that it was too expensive -- seemed to seriously call into question their sanity. Verification may be expensive, but it could hardly be too expensive to reduce the single greatest security threat facing the nation.

"The current issue of the Economist has a seriously buried lede explaining that the main motivation was, in fact, 'the worries of Israel and Pakistan, two allies that want to keep the option of adding to their stockpiles.' We scuttled a treaty that will keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists so that Israel and Pakistan (!) can build bigger arsenals? Israel and Pakistan! The same Pakistan whose chief nuclear scientist was operating a global proliferation market. The same Pakistan whose intelligence services built the Taliban and nurtured al-Qaeda in its early days. The same Pakistan whose military runs terrorist training camps. That Pakistan? Apparently so."

The actual Economist article lists other factors behind the decision, as well, but the fact Israel's and Pakistan's interests would even come up is ridiculous.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias retracts the above post.

UPDATE: Or maybe he doesn't.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi

Sepoy has found an editorial cartoon suggesting the U.S. clone al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi, who served the Umayyad caliphs Abd al-Malik and al-Walid I as governor in Iraq. Al-Hajjaj arrived on the scene following a civil war in which the tribes of the garrison towns Basra and Kufa had exercised a great deal of independence, and his reputation for harshness stems in large part from his trampling over tribal independence. At some point I need to post some excerpts from the speech he gave when he took over the governorship. I'll let you click on through for the rest, with the minor correction that al-Hajjaj was beseiging Abdullah b. az-Zubayr in Mecca, not Kharijites.

Trolls Win

Regretably but understandably, Matthew Yglesias has shut down comments on his blog. Some of the most interesting exchanges of ideas I've participated in have been on his threads, and I hope he finds a way to bring them back soon. Al-Muhajabah has also been afflicted by foul on-line miscreants.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Tangier Waterfront

Allawi and the Shi'ites

Did anyone else notice this:

"On Tuesday, the same day that Dr. Allawi abruptly canceled a peace deal struck with the Mahdi Army, he met with a group of more than 300 prominent leaders from Sadr City and asked them to withdrawal their support from the militia. As an inducement, he offered some $300 million in reconstruction projects for the neighborhood.

"The meeting ended inconclusively, according to tribal sheiks who were there, but the prospect of millions of dollars in aid set off excited discussions throughout the area. Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad, has as many as three million people."

The fact that a peace deal struck in such spectacular fashion has now been cancelled would seem newsworthy, even during a political party's national convention. Also interesting to me, however, is that Allawi is apparently doing here what he is doing in Falluja. The Sadr City leaders, however, seem pessimistic about his overall strategy toward the Sadrists, and felt like a settled issue has now been reopened without cause.

There are several ways of looking at this. One, of course, is that Muqtada Sadr simply cannot be trusted, so working to undermine him is the only option. If you think he is serious about participating in the democratic process, then you might want to just have some faith in the ballot box when the alternative is possibly reigniting a rebellion against you. However, we also need to look ahead to the manner in which an Iraqi election might be conducted. Tribal leaders maintain influence through mediating among their followers and between their followers and political powers outside the tribe, and by distributing wealth in shows of generosity. Allawi is probably trying to buy their loyalty, knowing what has happened in places like Oman where people often look to tribal shaykhs to tell them how to vote. Whether such a strategy would even be appropriate in the urban shantytown setting of Sadr City I have no idea.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Bush's Speech

Well, I've met a few Palestinians, and all seemed to feel that democracy was within their reach regardless of who ruled Iraq. And as for women seeing that they can have equal rights, they can see that from Syria, and earlier could in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Stuff like that aside, I agree with the core of President Bush's vision for a Democratic Middle East, I just have grave doubts he can bring it about.

UPDATE: Just to clarify the above, I don't think Syria and Ba'athist Iraq represent free societies. That would be totally ridiculous. However, President Bush is again using clever rhetoric to conflate secular dictatorships with Islamic radicalism. On issues like women's rights, such systems are polar opposites, and Iraq and Syria were both home to equal opportunity for women long before Bush showed up.

The Israel Issue

One theme of the Republican National Convention, being advanced by Rudi Giuliani right now on my TV and Tom DeLay in these comments, is that the American and Israeli wars on terror are identical. If they actually meant this, the policy shift would be quite remarkable - you'd presumably see us invading Syria, Lebanon, and the Occupied Territories or something. The fact no one believes such action is imminent highlights the fact the administration doesn't believe that and is just playing for the votes of pro-Likud Jews in midwestern swing states like Wisconsin. (Milwaukee has a large Jewish population, for example.)

Peace in Falluja?

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has reached an agreement with Falluja notables for governing and rebuilding the city. The subtext here is buying certain leaders with cash, which as I have suggested is something we should really consider in Iraq, since that's worked to an extent in the much more difficult terrain of Afghanistan. Here, Allawi has promised $50 million in development aid. Political power in Arab tribes is based off distributing wealth, and governments have historically manipulated the situation by choosing who gets the wealth to distribute. I don't know the details of how this agreement will operate, but I suspect the tribal leaders Allawi negotiated with will play a key role in distributing the aid.

UPDATE: Of course I would dearly like to know how this air strike plays into the above situation.

Religious Rule in Afghanistan

Two interesting stories are found in today's RFE-RL report. The head of Afghanistan's Supreme Court has called for the disqualification and arrest of Presidential candidate Abd al-Latif Pedram for allegedly insulting Islam. Meanwhile, an American citizen could face up to 15 years in prison for homosexuality. Somehow Laura Bush forgot to mention these sorts of things when she mentioned the country.

Job Opportunity

The University of Wisconsin - Madison Middle East Studies Program Project Assistant is currently looking for a Jedi Knight to assist with the administration of a Title VI-A grant. Primary duties will include waving your hand in front of various staff and administration from the UW-Madison campus and U.S. Department of Education, planting suggestions like "You don't need to see any more documentation" and "Everything here seems to be in order." Telekinetic ablities are not necessary, but would be useful for setting up rooms for certain activities. Please e-mail me to apply.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Women looking for a magazine to read might want to check out al-Khansa. Or maybe they won't. I guess it depends on your ideal lifestyle.

Arabs for Bush

Abu Aardvark has some interesting evidence that many Arabs see Kerry as potentially worse than Bush from their perspective:

"Kerry's decision to wage a hawkish campaign emphasizing a better, smarter, tougher war on terror worries a lot of Arabs and Muslims. Arab and Muslim moderates worry that Kerry will end up being tougher than Bush, and just haven't seen very much from him to reassure them. Michael Moore's Saudi-bashing (and Kerry's 'tough on Saudi' position) can sound like more general Arab bashing to many Arab ears. And radicals are pretty happy with Bush's policies, which have inflamed anti-American sentiment and bogged US forces down in Iraq."