Monday, January 31, 2005

A Strange Rabbi

According to this chap, the tsunamis which ravaged Southeast Asia were God's punishment for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Wausau West Tournament

Since I blog on this sort of thing often: Saturday was the first Wausau West High School Quiz Bowl Invitational, which was won by, well, Wausau West High School. They defeated Conserve School in the championship on the last question, 190-185 after scoring a more decisive victory during round robin play.

Soros Under Siege

Philanthropist George Soros is under siege in Central Asia, where Kyrgyzstan's state media have accused him of seeking to instigate a revolution. Central Asia's dictators have become rather paranoid since the recent Orange Revolution in Ukraine - Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, for example, has threatened to suspend cooperation with a group which includes Georgia and Ukraine due to their recent democratic developments. Soros's organization has also recently come under pressure in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

Al-Jazeera for Sale

Aspiring media moguls might want to consider purchasing al-Jazeera, which the Qatari government is reportedly planning to sell. The New York Times attributes this to Qatar's desire to avoid diplomatic pressure from countries which the station criticizes - the article mentioned the United States, but that would also include regional powers such as Saudi Arabia. As Abu Aardvark regulars know, Arab satellite stations have done a great deal to advance civil society in the region. The decision to sell stems also from economics:

"Mr. Sheikh said that Al Jazeera's budget last year was $120 million, including a subsidy of $40 million or $50 million from Qatar. Mr. Ballout said one reason for the shortfall was that businesses were afraid to advertise because of criticism they might get from Arab governments and the United States.

"'We feel aggrieved that Al Jazeera's popularity has not been rewarded with the advertising it deserves,' said Mr. Ballout. 'The merchant families in control in the Persian Gulf feel they cannot sustain their position if they are not part of the status quo.'"

I have to give props to the Qatari government on this, who are choosing to sell the station rather than exercise greater censorship over it as the Bush administration and others would prefer. Of course, if it became just another government mouthpiece, its market share would drop and probably not improve the economic situation despite the enhanced advertising revenue.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Theme Song

I have decided that this should be my new theme song.

Iraqi Elections

Everyone is reporting solid turnout in the Iraqi elections, with millions of people turning out to vote for the Parliament that will take responsibility for writing the country's Constitution and representing them in the immediate future. They came, they went into voting booths, and they cast ballots to signify their preferences, preferences which we can assume will shortly be transferred into action as those chosen assume their offices. There were threats of violence, and many feared rivers of blood due to terrorist attacks, but they still came. There was cynicism as many claimed the U.S. would rig the elections, but they still came. They had to get their finger inked when some have threatened to kill anyone who voted, but they still came.

This triumph is marred by the boycott in the Sunni regions, but that these elections were a triumph cannot be disputed. It is a triumph for the Iraqis who voted, asserting their right to control their own destiny, for the soldiers and civilian volunteers who helped organize the protect the polls, and for the values on which these United States were founded and to which people across the political spectrum subscribe. Long after President Bush is gone, we can look back and praise the brave men and women of this day, and say that at this, their moment, they represented us well. In the coming days and weeks I will undoubtedly find myself highlighting many problems with Iraq's trajectory and our ability to defeat the insurgency. But this is a day worth celebrating. In Iraq, freedom was on the march, and I'm proud that this country had its back.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Koutoubia Mosque

In keeping with the Marrakesh theme from a couple of days ago, here is the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque:

Friday, January 28, 2005

Female Interrogators

So who comes up with this stuff? According to al-Muhajabah, we are using women as interrogators with Arabs because our decision-makers believe Arab men can't handle it. Huh? So let's grant that Arab society remains highly male-dominated. In Morocco I saw female police officers. North Africa is more socially liberal than the Middle East, but even in Jordan and Syria you see women as professionals, giving orders to male employees in a bank and the like. This whole notion is just ridiculous.

Free Speech and Basketball

In the Capital Times today, Dave Zweifel has an incisive editorial about the UW athletic department's opposition to free speech. Over the weekend security confiscated placards meant as part of a student protest over seating policies. He also raises the question of whether college athletics are really there for the college.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More UWMES Plugging

My Madison area readers might be interested in our "Change in the Middle East" lecture series this semester, in which we get away from some of the current events-dominated themes of the past. What's up? On February 7, William Beeman will discuss "Iranian Performance: From Laughter to Tears." On February 28, Anna Secor will talk about "State, Space and Subjectivity in Turkey." Mark Tessler turns up on March 26 to talk about "The Extent and Meaning of Popular Support for Democracy in the Arab World: Findings from Cross-National Survey Research." Finally, on April 25, the distinguished Robert Irwin will give a talk on "Sufism and its Sufferings at the Hands of the Orientalists." The action is at noon - see flyers and posters for exact places.

By the way, thanks to Chan'ad Bahraini for letting us use the bottom picture here on our publicity posters.


In the New York Times, Seth Sherwood has a travel article on Marrakesh which is different from mine in approaching it from further up the economic scale and spending more time there. It did tell me there was a growing expat presence in the city, though I might dispute the salience of some of the "oriental" details he included.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

No on Alberto Gonzales

I'm signing on with this. I don't have time to write an original post on the subect, so let me just quote Senator Russ Feingold, whose statement I found via The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy:

"But Judge Gonzales's appearance before the Committee was deeply disappointing. When given the opportunity under oath to show that he would be adequately committed to the rule of law as our nation's chief law enforcement officer, he failed to do so. He indicated that the infamous OLC torture memo is no longer operative, but that he does not disagree with the conclusions expressed in it. He reiterated erroneous interpretations of the effect that applying the Geneva Conventions to the war on Afghanistan would have on the treatment of members of Al Qaeda captured in combat. Most disturbingly, he refused time after time to repudiate the most far-reaching and significant conclusion of the OLC memo - that the President has the authority as Commander-in-Chief to immunize those acting at his direction from the application of U.S. law.

"This failure goes directly to the question of his commitment to the rule of law. Under our system of government, the Attorney General of the United States may be called upon to investigate and even prosecute the President. We cannot have a person heading the United States Department of Justice who believes that the President is above the law. I and other members of the Committee questioned Judge Gonzales closely about this issue. He hid behind an aversion to hypothetical questions, he conjured up his own hypothetical scenarios of unconstitutional statutes, but he simply refused to say, without equivocation, that the President is not above the law."

Hamas Inclusion

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas have agreed on a set of basic principles by which Hamas will form part of a new "supreme diplomatic authority" responsible for negotiations with Israel. Hamas, which has agreed to negotiations on the basis of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, will also participate in Parliamentary elections and possibly form part of a future Palestinian government.

As I've noted before, the Palestinian government is very weak, and could not govern effectively if directly opposed by other factions aspiring to leadership. Such a direct confrontation could easily take place if leading militants felt that the PA had given up too much during a peace agreement with Israel. Furthermore, Hamas now forms a full-fledged domestic political rival to Fatah, and as such will hold the latter's feet to the fire on issues of corruption and management, especially at the local level.

Critics will howl at the fact a terrorist organization will be taking part in the peace process, even if their only role is comment and ratification. This is certainly understandable, and as a human I always want to see people guilty of atrocities get what they deserve. In the larger context, however, there are people in the world who have done far worse deeds than Hamas, and they walk free as dictators-in-exile or whatever whom it is simply not worth a war to punish. Nor is Israeli history entirely clean on this score, as Menachem Begin was also a terrorist. As Gandalf the Grey put it: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends"

Fighting Sadr

A question raised by Matthew Yglesias here caused me to do a google news search and learn that we've detained 25 Sadrites at a Shi'ite mosque in Sadr City. So has there been a policy shift? Is there a crackdown on Sadr because we fear some sort of election turmoil? Does Allawi not want them supporting the United Iraqi Alliance, and we're serving as pawns? This is the sort of thing I'd love to hear more about.

Arabic and Persian, Take II

The link here has now been fixed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

North African Holocaust

While poking around Moroccan Judaism, I wondered about the history of the Holocaust in North Africa. Via Jonathan Edelstein and Martin Kramer (side link), I see that Robert Satloff has done some research. The article is just an overview which ends by seeking to involve Arab Muslims in deeper discussion of their relationship with Judaism, but presents an interesting picture. Understanding the history of anti-Semitism in general would be a good step for the Arab world, just as a means of explaining something about where the Jews are coming from in life.

Egyptian Politics

If the Fulbright committee is kind, then my sojourn in Egypt will coincide with this fall's election campaign. As al-Ahram Weekly reports, that could be an interesting experience. I don't know enough to really comment, but I feel like little will probably happen with the Egyptian political system. What stands out is the energy and organization of the current opposition forces who are trying to seize the moment of Mubarak's advancing age to force change.


Articles like this one portray Iraqi election boycotters as saying that elections cannot be legitimate if they are held under occupation. Today, however, Spencer Ackerman notes that key Sunni leaders will still agree to participate in writing the Constitution. Why is it illegimate for Sunnis to run and vote in an election, but not for their unelected leaders to represent them in writing the Constitution? And wouldn't a public debate over the constitutional provisions be far more susceptible to foreign pressure than an election by secret ballot?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Arabic and Persian

Thinking about studying either Arabic or Persian this summer? Try here.

Terrorism and Dictatorship

Matthew Ygelsias astutely questions whether terrorism springs from dictatorship by pointing out that Iraq and Syria produce few terrorists from among their citizens, while Spain and Ireland have had their share. I think this is only partially right. Iraq and Syria don't produce domestic terrorists because the level of state surveillance is so pervasive nothing could really get organized. Beyond that, people turn to terrorism as a tactic because they can't achieve their goals through other means. If you want your dictatorship to be a theocracy, you don't have the ballot box option. By the same principle, the non-Muslims people like Bin Laden see as enemies can't be defeated by conventional military means. Therefore, people turn to terrorism. So there is something of a link. This does not mean that spreading democracy will end terrorism, because if the terrorists feel they still won't get their way, they'll continue to be terrorists. Abu Musab Zarqawi is making this point rather effectively in Iraq.

UPDATE: Discussion of these points is found here.

Fathiya Barghouti

Jonathan Edelstein blogs about Fathiya Barghouti, the first woman municipality head among the Palestinians, who was elected with joint leftist-Islamist support. A complete article is here. And is it just me, or is "Barghouti" to Palestinian politics as "Ryan" is to that of Illinois?

Super Bowl XXXIX

Super Bowl XXXIX is now set between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. I don't really follow football and have no natural feelings about either of these teams, so this is an open invitation to use the comments to try and win me over. My current default position is to root for the Eagles, as I have friends in New England.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Chateau Frontenac

This is the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. I really don't remember much else about it.

Eid al-Adha Expenses

Several stories have called attention to the difficulty many Muslims have with the economic aspects of Eid al-Adha. In Morocco, many people are taking out loans to purchase the sheep to sacrifice on the holiday. Chapati Mystery includes a bit on whether the meat is really distributed equitably. IWPR portrays Eid al-Adha in Afghanistan as a fairly commercialized event in which some are struggling to get by. None of this is really surprising, but it's interesting to look at the social realities woven into any timeless celebration.

Chalabi Charges in Context

Juan Cole looks at the possible arrest of Ahmad Chalabi in the context of the upcoming elections. Chalabi is a candidate for the Shi'ite list, and Cole suggests some in the Allawi government might be trying to taint them. Certainly intimidation is one possible explanation, but this may be simply a counterstroke to Chalabi's charges against the defense minister who announced the arrest plans, reminding everyone that two can play at the game of corruption charges but only one currently has the power to act.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Chalabi Accused

Normally I'm all for arresting Ahmed Chalabi, but do we really want to charge to be "maligning the defense ministry?"

Iranian Bloggers

SusanHu at Daily Kos posts on an issue I should be paying more attention to, Iran's continuing crackdown on bloggers. Farsi is one of the top four blogging languages because the medium has become such a tool for the student movement there. Some of the forced confessions sound just creepy.

Blogging Ethics

Articles like this show how the line between journalism and blogging is blurring, and highlight calls for bloggers to adopt journalistic ethics. But is this realistic? Except for a few professionals, the blogger/journalist line is still thicker than the news blogger/personal blogger one, especially for sites like this and this that make up an overwhelming majority of all blogs. Are we going to start imposing a code of ethics on speech itself? That's the road some people seem to want to take.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


This has been an amazingly good day.

The Hijr

If you read this blog, you probably know that the hajj has been taking place in Saudi Arabia. The center of the action is the Ka'aba, which Muslims believe was built by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) as the first mosque; however, right next to it is an interesting little enclosure known as the Hijr.

As discussed in an article by Uri Rubin called "The Ka'ba: Aspects of its Ritual Functions and Position in Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Times," before Islam this was probably an enclosure for sacred livestock which could be sacrificed to one of the gods whose idols stood there. The sources suggest that the meat from the sacrifice was either laid upon stones or divided and eaten by the worshippers.

In Islam, the Hijr is believe to be the burial place of Ishmael, and perhaps other prophets, as well. It is among the most sacred spots in the Ka'aba complex, and used for oaths. I don't know about today, but there's also evidence that medieval Muslims believe the Hijr housed the spirits of the righteous dead.

Rubin's article was originally published in 1986 in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam. Now read about Eid al-Adha and considered the possibilies of historical continuity, one of my favorite things to talk about.

Hajj Sermon

The head cleric of Saudi Arabia is getting plenty of coverage for his anti-terrorism message at the hajj, which is good, even if it was related the House of Saud's fears for its own survival. What struck me as odd, though, is the "however" near the end of this story, and perhaps others like it. How is warning against anti-Muslim campaigns somehow in opposition to opposing terrorism? The expert quoted seems to say that because Muslim militants say certain things, no one must ever say similar things. Which is not really a new argument, but I somehow didn't expect it here.

Khatami's View

Who will rise of to overthrow the regime in the event of an American attack on Iran? Apparently not the reformist political leaders, as President Khatami today discussed Iran's plans to defend itself. If we're counting on just the student movement, forget it. Successful revolutions require credible national leadership, and the students just don't have the means for this sort of thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ismail Khan Update

I missed this over break, but apparently former Herat governor Ismail Khan is now serving as Hamid Karzai's Energy Minister. If a warlord of his power and reputation is willing to buy into the system, then that's a strong sign that the system will prove durable.

Kirkuk Elections

Spencer Ackerman today has an important post about the situation in Kirkuk headed into the elections. The news hook is the Iraqi Electoral Commission's decision to allow 100,000 Kurdish refugees to vote as residents of that province. Read the whole thing for the implications.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Phantom of the Opera - Movie Version

I have just had the unique experience of seeing a musical in which the leading man was easily the worst singer in the entire cast.

"Clerical Mistake"

What happens when Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi defies an order to appear before the Revolutionary Court? The court claims there was a clerical error and she should never have been summoned in the first place.

Monday, January 17, 2005


I want to see this opera.

Regime Change in Iran

At the moment, I believe Seymour Hersh's article on American plans in Iran. But with all the attention it's gotten, has anyone noticed this bit:

"The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. 'Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,' the consultant told me. 'The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse'—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said."

Excuse me? A military attack on Iran is supposed to impress Iranian nationalists? And how, exactly, is the collapse of the Iranian regime supposed to happen? I hope the people thinking this have been in touch with members of the Iranian reform movement. Reza Pahlavi doesn't count for much.

UPDATE: Josh Trevino has a thoughtful post on the article as a whole.

Palestinian Militants

Haaretz has profiles of some Palestinian militant groups. One aspect of regional politics which these protrayals bring home is that the Palestinian Authority - whether led by Arafat or Abbas - is a very weak government, and its power comes partly from its ability to deal with the outside world and partly from its leaders ability to bribe or persuade people into following them. What's more, it's a situation in which foreign governments can easily become the real powers among some Palestinians. There are connections between the IRGC and Hizbullah, and reports continues to suggest that Hizbullah is linked to many of the individual cells of Palestinian militant groups. In this case, Hizbullah acts as the conduit for Iranian influence in Palestinian affairs. The caveat to this is that these reports rely on Israeli intelligence, and Israel has its own reasons for wanting to attract American attention to Iran and Hizbullah. However, the model dates back to when Arafat was still alive and kicking, and I don't think the Israelis would have wanted to falsify information undermining their case that he was the Terrorist-in-Chief just to attach blame to people the U.S. already opposed.

Brass Crescent Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the Brass Crescent Awards! And thanks to and City of Brass for hosting the competition.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Intelligences Test

You scored as Verbal/Linguistic. You have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing and telling stories, and are good at getting your point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. People like you include poets, authors, speakers, attorneys, politicians, lecturers and teachers.















The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences
created with

Saturday, January 15, 2005


One of my friends has gotten me poking around this organization, which does sound like it could be fun. A problem has been that the standard activity lists tend to leave off the things I would find most interesting, straying close to stuff that would seem like work given what I spend all day doing as a professional historian. However, I was just struck by the notion of storytelling, an idea that has occurred to others. I think I could get a kick out of being something like a historically authentic version of the Thom Merrilin character from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, weaving my tales for the entertainment of all before twirling my way around the dance floor. Of course, it would take a lot of work.

I wonder, though - how do academic European medievalists regard the SCA? On the surface it seems harmless; however, scholars can be odd people who complain if the armor is wrong in a movie. There are probably several camps on this question.


This is the waterfront in Essaouira, Morocco at low tide, next to a large open square which I don't think has a name. As you might guess, this city is also great for birdwatching. The blue in the distance on the left is part of the shipyards.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Baluchistan Explained

I know almost nothing about Pakistan, but thanks to Chapati Mysterty, today I know more.


Al-Ahram Weekly has an article on the problems facing Cairo.

Ebadi Summoned

Iran's hard-liners continue to grow more daring, summoning Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi to appear in the Revolutionary Court.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

HBP Speculation

Over at The Leaky Cauldron, speculation continues about the next Harry Potter book based off a Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Jeff Guinn on parallels between Harry Potter and other epics. Based on these, Guinn raises the same loss-of-the-mentor possibility I discussed here. At this point, however, I don't think Dumbledore has to die - there are just too many ways Rowling can create space between the two, and someone has to be around at the end to have a Deep Conversation on the meaning of whatever happens.

I wouldn't predict his death at this point, but I do think people should pay close attention to Neville Longbottom. J.K. Rowling has said that Neville's story is important for the overall plot. Indeed, she has gone as far as to have him born on the same day as Harry Potter, the other figure to whom Professor Trelawney's prophecy might have referred. Something is going to happen with that kid, perhaps the best candidate for a Tolkeinesque ennobling of the humble.

Another point raised by Guinn is the betrayal of the hero. This works for King Arthur, but in Tolkein all the betrayals were early and didn't involve anyone to whom we got emotionally attached, so I don't give it the same importance he does. It is, however, an interesting idea. Any speculation on potential traitors in the current cast of good guys?

Finally, while I managed to sort of invert the plot, several of the notions I had before Order of the Phoenix remain as unresolved issues.


Juan Cole today argues for the continued American occupation of Iraq so as to prevent a new Ba'athist coup. Fine, so let's assume that something terrible would happen if the U.S. were to leave. It has also become apparent that present force levels are insufficient to defeat the insurgency militarily. So do we fight a holding action until either the Iraqi government has a military strong enough to fight on its own or an Iraqi government gains enough political support among the most disaffected populations that the insurgency dies? We're still years away from either outcome. Maybe it is the best we can hope for, but what Cole seems to be saying is that the U.S. military needs to spend the next several years trying to preserve a stalemate, one in which the military balance has been steadily tilting against it. As usual, though, I don't want to declare that all is lost, and am interested in suggestions.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Pornography

Some time ago, this post drew this disagreement, which I never responded to because I didn't have time to articulate my reasoning. However, I think I can tease out my position through dialogue with the much stronger argument made today by Hugo Schwyzer:

"Perhaps it is my Christian faith informing my feminism, but I am convinced that pornography is the representative art form of a woman-hating culture. In porn, women exist to fulfill men's desires -- they have no real agency of their own. To see anyone as existing only to serve you and to fulfill you is, feminists have argued, a practical form of hatred. Relatively few men who use porn are conscious of hating women. But regular use of porn inevitably desensitizes the viewer to the humanity and dignity of all of the women with whom he interacts. It defies all we know about human psychology to say that a fellow can go from masturbating to images on his TV or computer screen into interactions with real women without objectifiying them."

I have disagreements with this. First of all, I think "hatred" is far too strong here. In addition, while I am religious, I don't see my stance here as that affected by religious prohibitions. Rather, what concerns me as a Christian is a belief that all Creation is sacred, including women. On a gut emotional level, I am deeply offended by that which reduces vibrant created beings to single dimensions, especially when that dimension makes them little more than a toy for others' pleasure. And I agree with Schwyzer about the problem of desensitizing people.

Some will argue that sexuality is a legitimate area of human interest, and I would agree. However, I don't believe healthy sexuality can exist without an interest in the whole person, which does not and cannot exist in internet porn pictures or with paid performers in a strip club. Furthermore, this leads to "distorted fantasy, loneliness, and despair" because the values and attitudes one develops as a porn consumer carry over into the real world, affecting your relationships and expectations. I don't think it's coincidence that I usually have the most trouble homosocializing with guys who are proudly into porn, even if that isn't coming up when we interact.

Dhu al-Hijjah

Today is the first day of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar. I must confess that I had always thought of it as just the hajj month, but as Maryam notes, there's a lot more to it than that. Incidentally, this and Ramadan are also my answers to those who think the Christmas season shouldn't start until well into December. Yeah, we can discuss the problem of commercialization and materialism, but having a month set aside for one of the holiest times of the year is no problem in my book.

Signs Needed

Paul Adler suggests that some of the checkpoint problems in Iraq could be solved by posting signs letting people know what's going on.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Kyrgyz Sex Trade

Via Nathan Hamm, I see that some in Kyrgyzstan want to officially legalize prostitution. I find this situation odd, as prostitution is not currently illegal, so I'm not sure what actually legalizing it would change. The point seems to be to keep better tabs on it for purposes of public health and safety. Reading between the lines, however, I'm not sure that would really have much impact. Prostitution is frowned upon enough that many prostitutes would refuse to register, and many clients would avoid registered prostitutes. The alternative is to ban prostitution altogether.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I feel very strange today.

Kyrgyz Protests

Some Kyrgyz aren't willing to wait until October to try having a revolution. Protests demanding free Parliamentary elections are now in their third day, and disqualified candidate Roza Otunbaeva has donned a yellow scarf perhaps hoping to create a symbol for the opposition to rally around. At present, however, only a few hundred people are involved.

Palestinian Election Stuff

Helena Cobban has some materials from the Palestinian election that are rather interesting. Some will undoubtedly object to Abu Mazen's running as Arafat's successor, but they shouldn't. At this point, we're talking about a political figure named Mahmud Abbas using the symbol of Yasser Arafat, regardless of the latter's flaws as a leader. Many Israelis, of course, would like the Palestinians to have nothing to do with someone they see as just as thug and a terrorist, but then Palestinians would generally prefer to deal with an Israel not led by a man they consider an unindicted war criminal.

AMS and Withdrawal

The Iraq's Association of Muslim Scholars, the most influential Sunni organization in the country, clearly sees the withdrawal of American troops as its first priority. Not only have they offered to call off their election boycott in exchange for a withdrawal timetable, but they have offered to accept a Shi'ite-dominated government if it achieves withdrawal. The Americans rejected the offer, but ending the occupation has been the salient campaign pledge for the Sistani-organized United Iraqi Alliance. The "kick the Americans out" option is probably the last, best hope for Iraq's immediate future, ironic considering our presence is what made that future possible in the first place.

Afghan Blogs

I don't spend as much time looking at new blogs as I'd like, but I've just found two interesting Afghanistan blogs, About Afghanistan and Sanjar.

Brass Crescent Awards

I have been nominated for a Brass Crescent Award for Best Non-Muslim Blog. What can I say except, vote for me!

The Brass Crescent Awards

I don't actually claim to be the most respectful of Islam and interested in genuine dialogue and all that - I think there are tons of people who fit that criteria easily. I'm also mostly a current events blogger. But to see where I might have sought dialogue this year, check here and here.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Abbas Elected

As expected, Mahmud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority yesterday, getting close to 70% of the vote according to exit polls. He has set himself up as continuing Arafat's legacy, dedicating his victory to him. Israeli officials, however, immediately raised the issue of fighting terrorism, which is all they really want from a Palestinian leader. Abbas still lacks street cred and voter turnout was low, but he can now claim to speak for the Palestinian nation. An interesting note: In his victory comments he referred to a "life in dignity" for "fugitives." If that is a right-of-return reference, it doesn't really mean he'll stand up for the right of return, about which he has long been skeptical anyway.

UPDATE: Al-Jazeera suggests turnout varied by locality.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


While many in my profession are off at the American Historical Association conference in Seattle, it seems fitting to note the life of the man Ibn Khaldun called the Imam of Historians, Abu al-Hasan Ali b. al-Husayn b. Ali b. Abdullah al-Mas'udi.

Mas'udi's importance lies in his practice of charting not only political history, but the effect of culture and the environment on human society, as well. This sprang from his frequent travels, which took him from his native Baghdad into India and through the Caspian Sea region, as well as throughout the Arab world. During his journeys he made a point of talking to as many people as possible. As Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone describe in the introduction to their translation of his Muruj ath-Thahab (Meadows of Gold), he met Byzantines in Syria, Zoroastrians in Persia, travelling merchants from all over, and became a close friend of Sa'adia Gaon.

His historical masterpiece was Akhbar az-Zaman (The History of Time), a massive thirty-volume universal history which has unfortunately not survived. Indeed while this work was much praised by Mas'udi's contemporaries and successors, the lack of citations for it have caused many modern scholars to speculate that it was infrequently read, perhaps due to the length. Muruj is basically a shorter version, and may have contributed to its voluminous predecessor's decline. Another work, the Kitab at-Tanbih, has also survived, and is basically a short, to-the-point summary and update of his previous works.

Al-Mas'udi died in Cairo in 957, having lived there the previous ten years. His legacy, however, affects the study of history to this very day, and he is truly an "imam" worth following.

Aaron's Tomb

Some time ago, I posted about Petra and its legendary associations with Moses/Musa and Aaron/Harun. Here is what Aaron's Tomb looks like from the top of the monastery in Petra:

If you have trouble making out the details, you can zoom in for a closer look here.

Friday, January 07, 2005


How specialized can academic conferences get? This one has a whole panel on medieval traffic accidents.

Man and the Desert

Imshin is making me jealous.

Akaev and Revolution

The forces which control Kyrgyzstan are looking to hold onto power as President Askar Akaev warns against foreign elements working to promote a Ukraine-style revolution in his country. The back story here is that under the Constitution, Akaev must step down in October 2005, and opposition parties are slowly joining forces in an attempt to ensure that upcoming Presidential elections are free and fair. I suspect that Akaev is on the way out, but the forces which back him won't yield their position that easily, and will work to keep the opposition fractured and intimidated.


I don't mean to snarky in the face of tragedy, but this headline might be more reasonable if the date were not January 7.

UPDATE: The link has changed. Originally, it was something like "U.S. Suffers Worst Day of 2005."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Saudi Charity

Because I have no framework into which to put the numbers, I haven't commented much on the tsunami relief controversies. However, Juan Cole's right that given Saudi Arabia's microeconomic norms, this is a pretty impressive charity drive.

Labor Ghettos

Kuwait's Parliament is considering a bill to build special townships for foreign workers and separate them from Kuwaiti residential areas. I don't claim to know Kuwaiti crime statistics, but if most crime is by foreign workers - which would be unsurprising considering they are most of the population - locking the whole group away from society would only trap honest workers in crime-ridden slums. The word "township" (admittedly not the Arabic) when applied to social segregation also has a nasty history.

On a related note, stories like these are why I dislike President Bush's guest worker program despite my pro-immigration leanings. It is very easy for such programs to lead to these kinds of abuses, or worse.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Koufax Awards

Voting for the Koufax Awards has begun over at Wampum.

The Sageman Thesis

Matthew Yglesias posts about Marc Sageman's thesis regarding how Afghanistan and Iraq fit into the War on Terror. His ideas make a great deal of sense. Go have a look.

UPDATE: Here is a clarification.

Karrubi In

Mehdi Karrubi, formerly reformist speaker of Iran's Majlis, has announced he will run for President. The other reform candidate is the much more radical Mustafa Mo'in. I expect pressure will grow on one of them to drop out, and that the political establishment will support Karrubi as less likely to rock the boat, which they have been loathe to do. Mo'in also stands a greater chance of getting bounced by the Council of Guardians. As Pejman Yousefzadeh points out, this leads to an odd situation in which many in the reform faction might actually hope Mo'in gets disqualified rather than siphon off votes from their probable anointed one.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Half Mast

Here at the University of Wisconsin, people spend a fair amount of time wondering why the flag is at half mast on any particular day. Over at Cliopatra, Oscar Chamberlain has answers.

Israeli Media On-Line

Ma'ariv International died, but watch this space for exciting developments.

Abu Al Hassan Out

Abu Aardvark reports that embattled Kuwaiti Information Minister Muhammad Abu Al Hassan has resigned. Gulf News has more.


I have now returned to Madison, and should resume regular blogging. My return was not triumphant, except perhaps in the stoic Cool Runnings sense. I've had a cold lately, and during an especially fierce coughing fit actually pulled a muscle in my chest, which remains troublesome though submerged with ibuprofen. This did not affect my driving, but did cause pain when I would reach down to my drink holder. Then, just as I entered Madison, my car began overheating, and turned out to have a rather impressive coolant leak. I had to tow it in to a repair shop and then walk home. As everyone knows, walking through a Madison winter night carrying luggage is a great way to cure the remains of a cold and a pulled muscle.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Daughters and Drugs

IWPR has a disturbing report about how Afghanistan's opium farmers are having to use their own daughters to pay debts owed to opium dealers following the destruction of their crops. Getting rid of illegal drug traffic may be important in stabilizing the country, but to everything there is a price.

June 17

Iran has now set June 17 as the date for its upcoming Presidential elections. The big question hanging over them is whether former President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani will toss his hat into the ring, which is starting to sound likely as both hardliners and moderates, as well as some reformists, rush to support him. Many expect the reformists, who are still scrambling to find a candidate, to lose power with this election, as the Council of Guardians has not been shy about tossing them off the ballot. This RFE-RL Iran Report gives a good overview of the current state of play at this critical moment in Iran's political development. Observers should bear in mind, however, that if Iran is becoming essentially a kleptocracy as some have suggested, a figure from within the system who advocates social reforms while looking the other way at economic issues might have the best chance at pushing through peaceful change, even if most civil disturbances in Iran are economic in origin.