Thursday, March 30, 2006

Guest Workers' Rights

I don't blog about it much, but I make no secret out of the fact that I consider President Bush's guest worker program little more than a legal mechanism through which corporations can recruit cheap labor entirely dependent on their largesse for their very rights. Apparently Israel had a similar system, but thanks to their Supreme Court, that's about to change:
"Under current Israeli law, as in the United States, temporary work authorizations are granted to employers rather than the foreign workers themselves. Thus, if a foreign worker leaves his job against his employer's will or is discharged without a letter of release, he becomes an illegal resident and is subject to deportation. This creates a situation with great potential for abuse, leaving workers with few means of redress against substandard working conditions or illegally low wages. Anecdotal evidence as well as data compiled by organizations aiding foreign workers suggests that abusive conduct by employers is in fact widespread...

"The net effect of the ruling is that, while the Israeli government can still require a pre-existing employment offer as a condition of entry, it can no longer issue visas that require foreign workers to stay at particular job. The state will probably be able to restrict migrant workers to areas of employment in which labor is needed, but they will be free to move from job to job within those fields. This, combined with the Interior Ministry's proposed worker education campaign, will give the foreign workers the freedom to leave abusive employers and reduce the employers' incentive to act abusively in the first place. Now imagine a court having the guts to do the same thing for migrant agricultural workers in this country..."

The opinions of the Israeli judges sound like they'd be worth reading in full.

Carroll Released

Who says there's no good news out of Iraq?
"Kidnapped U.S. reporter and Ann Arbor native Jill Carroll has been released and is in good condition after being held nearly three months by captors in Iraq who had threatened to kill her if their demands were not met.

"Carroll's mother, Mary Beth Carroll, told the Free Press she talked to her daughter this morning from her home in Illinois.

"'We are just thrilled,' Mary Beth Carroll said...

"According to the Associated Press, Carroll had a brief interview on Baghdad television Thursday morning, saying she 'was treated well, but I don’t know why I was kidnapped.'

"'They never hit me. They never even threatened to hit me,' said Carroll, who was wearing a light green Islamic headscarf and a gray Arabic robe.

"'I’m just happy to be free. I want to be with my family,' she was heard to say under the Arabic voiceover. 'I felt I was not free. It was difficult because I didn’t know what would happen to me.'"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Journalists in Trouble

RFE-RL has a full report on two of its journalists who were imprisoned for several days in Turkmenistan. The men were forced to sign confessions admitting that they were traitors who had fomented religious hatred, and warned against further collaboration with RFE-RL.

This ordeal is, unfortunately, one that is all to common to reporters around the world. In the same vein, journalists in Jordan went on a one hour strike to protest a new press law. And, of course, let's not forget those who are hostages or who have been killed in Iraq.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Badger Hockey

Congratulations to the UW Women's Hockey team for winning the national championship, and to the men for reaching the Frozen Four and still hoping to translate their #1 seed into a title of their own. Naturally, I haven't made it to a single game all year despite being a hockey fan nearing the end of my time in Madison. Still, it feels good to be at a school with champions, one that may soon be the uncontested best in NCAA hockey competition.

Israeli Results

No one needs me to tell them about the Israeli election results, which seem likely to lead to a left-center coalition led by a Kadima knowing that Labor is back even if the Likud has descended into a generalized right-wing chaos. While I'm not on the scene, it wouldn't surprise me if in the Israeli political system, Kadima's status as perceived certain victor worked against it on election day. People who support its agenda may not have bothered to vote, as they likely cared most about the Prime Ministership rather than its largely undefined broader agenda. Meanwhile, people felt freer to vote for a single-issue party like Gil, thinking that weighty war-and-peace issues were pretty much set and thus this would be a time to vent regarding other concerns and try to put them on the agenda.

Labor leaders must have mixed emotions tonight, as while they performed better than expected, if it hadn't been for Gil, Peretz might be biting his nails right now to see if he'd be forming the next government. Likud, meanwhile, probably needs Kadima to collapse if it is to regain major-party status, unless Kadima picks up the secularization banner, which would leave the middle-right religious slot of the spectrum still needing a champion.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another Jill Carroll Editorial

This time the torch is being carried by the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
"Few of us, obviously, choose to go to Iraq. Jill Carroll was one who did.

"She went in order to document the activities there. She went essentially on her own, and once there, became a correspondent for The Monitor.

"For most of us, Carroll is a woman whom we've seen on those chilling videos, hoping for the best and in one particularly horrifying look, begging for her life.

"We think it's worth remembering and honoring this brave reporter, and that's why we chose to publish an entire page filled with the thoughts of those around the world who pray for her safety.

"One letter came from a teenage girl in Black River Falls, Wis.: 'Before Jan. 14, I didn't know who Jill Carroll was. But ever since, I've thought about her every day because ... she changed how I look at other people. She taught me to put myself in other people's shoes, who don't have the same rights and privileges I do. I think if she can change a 15-year-old who hardly took a second to think about how bad the war is affecting the Iraqi people, she can change other people. She has become my role model.'"

Abdul Rahman

It's hardly the most important issue in the Abd ar-Rahman story out of Afghanistan, but "Abd ar-Rahman," or "Abdul Rahman," is one name. "Abd" is the Arabic for "servant of," and in names is usually followed by one of the 99 names of God, such as "ar-Rahman," or "The Merciful." "Abdul" reflects the "Abd" plus the basic form of the definite article "al," the "l" of which assimilates in front of what are called solar consonants such as "r." The "u" meanwhile is the nominative case ending applied to "Abd" which elides the "a." All these media outlets that treat Rahman as a surname drive me nuts - as an Afghan, he probably doesn't use one.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Conference Ends

Well, the conference is now over. I really don't have much to say, other than that I got to hear some interesting presentations and meeting interesting people, especially the smurfy Natasha and of course Mona Eltahawy. What little I saw of the International Conference on Islam was also good. I definitely prefer roundtables to formal sessions.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Al-Azhar Courtyard

This is the courtyard to al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.

Friday, March 24, 2006


This article by Joyce Davis does a great job at discussing Muslim positions on apostasy. An excerpt:
"The key issue for Muslim thinkers grappling with Islamic law and modernity revolves not around whether apostasy is a heinous crime, but how to deal with it. Islam Online, a Qatar-based site that attempts to explain Islamic issues, quoted the well-known Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as acknowledging that there is a difference of opinion on the issue even if most support the death penalty.

"'All Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished,' al-Qaradawi said. 'However, they differ regarding the punishment itself. The majority of them go for killing; meaning that an apostate is to be sentenced to death.'...

"Ibrahim B. Syed, president of the Islamic Research Foundation International, based in Louisville, Kentucky, believes that verse supports more lenient interpretations on apostasy. 'One grave misunderstanding of Islamic beliefs over the years is that Islam doesn't tolerate apostasy,' he wrote in the article, 'Shari'a: Is Killing An Apostate in Islamic Law?' published on the internet site

"'Islamic scholars from past centuries -- Ibrahim al-Naka'i, Sufyan al-Thawri, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, Abul Walid al-Baji, and Ibn Taymiyyah -- have all held that apostasy is a serious sin, but not one that requires the death penalty,' Syed wrote.

"Specifically, Syed noted the words of the respected scholar in the history of Islamic jurisprudence, Shamsuddeen al-Sarakhshi, who stated, 'renunciation of the faith and conversion to disbelief is admittedly the greatest of offences, yet it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is postponed to the Day of Judgment.'"

The most important point to note here is that while ulama have generally seen apostasy as deserving the death penalty, there has always been a minority which disagreed, even in the Middle Ages. The fact Ibn Taymiyya did so is particularly symbolic, since many feel he previewed modern fundamentalism during the Mamluk period. I suspect that in the near future those opposed to capital punishment will gain the advantage.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Via Issandr, I find an article by Amira Hass that highlights the ongoing reality of the Israeli occupation:
"In the elections, Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians - as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian's life.

"This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game...

"Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided that Gaza's residents should eat less and less fresh produce and dairy produce, then less and less rice and then no bread.

"By closing the Karni crossing to merchandise for prolonged periods, Mofaz intervened (as a cabinet representative) not only in the Palestinians' eating habits. He also sent tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians on unpaid leave. Drivers, merchants, porters, sewing workshop workers, farmers, construction workers and contractors, whose materials are not arriving, are all out of work. The already large number of people dependent on charity in Gaza will grow. The chain reaction will affect every family's life and choices: the children's education, medical treatment, visiting relatives, building an additional room to alleviate the crowded conditions at home.

"No elected Palestinian government, headed by Hamas or Fatah, has ever intervened in everyday life to such an extent, or had such an influence on it."

Let's not forget, too, the importance of Islamist groups in providing charity in the Occupied Territories.

Conference Rising

You know there's an Islam conference about to begin when you're waiting in the Lowell Center's temporary lobby and 50% of the women you see are wearing hijab.

In other news, I just got back from dinner with Mona Eltahawy and UW's own Asifa Quraishi. Both are, of course, as excellent as widely reported. I'm looking forward to Saturday, when I can actually show up for some of the action.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bat Mitzvah Time

The most interesting thing I've read today is this post about Chayyei Sarah's day with Ethiopian teenagers. Given my plans for next year, I couldn't stop thinking about how multicultural the roots of Israeli society are. Seeing the results should prove interesting.


Hugo Schwyzer engages in some religious musings:
"But as better Christians than I tend to discover early on, Jesus is not 'nice.' As C.S. Lewis says of Aslan, his Christ-figure in the Narnia books, 'He's not a tame lion!' Jesus was non-violent, it's true -- and peacemaking was at the center of His mission on earth. But Jesus never compromises the truth in order to save people's feelings. He may have said 'turn the other cheek', but he also overturns the money-changer's tables in the temple. That was very, very, impolite of Him.

"Jesus models a new way of relating to the powers and principalities that be. Unlike the Zealots, He will not endorse violence against other human beings. But His non-violence is not passive, and it isn't 'nice'. He makes people uncomfortable over and over again; He is not a proper gentleman. A proper gentleman of the sort I aspired to be would have had lunch with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Romans and the Zealots, and told them all that they were awfully nice people and that God loved them just the way they were, and couldn't they all be just a bit more civil to each other? Pretty please?"

This reminds me of a scene last night in this Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which Troi tells Data that emotions, specifically anger, are neither positive nor negative, and what counts is what we do with them and, I would add, what gives rise to them. This is not a popular thought in contemporary liberal Christianity, which tends to emphasize God's Barney-like aspects. It is, however, one that bears repeating.

Another Israeli Poll

This Ha'aretz article answers some of my earlier questions about undecideds by indicating they have been placed according to past voting patterns and comments about which alternatives they were considering. That seems a really problematic methodology given the fact this is Kadima's first election, and it's the main political force out there. I think Kadima will win on policy grounds, but I have hopes for a few surprises come election time.

Meanwhile, is it just me or are Israelis pretty cynical about their leaders?
"The poll examined the public's approach to the three leading parties and three candidates for prime minister. The results indicate the public's negative attitude toward the Likud and its chair, Benjamin Netanyahu. Some 50 percent regard the Likud in a negative manner, and 20 percent regard it positively. Some 44 percent regard Labor with a negative view, compared to 26 with a positive view. Kadima gets the highest grade from the public - 37 percent have a negative view of it and 26 have a positive view.

"The public's view of the leaders is similar. Some 50 percent have a negative image of Netanyahu, compared to 22 who have a positive image of him. Amir Peretz's image is slightly better - 23 percent said they have a positive image of him compared to 43 percent who have a negative one. Ehud Olmert gets the best marks here, too: 39 percent have a negative image of him, while 26 percent have a positive one."

As someone new to following the details of Israeli politics, I remember Amotz Asa-El's comments about Israel entering a post-heroic age, and wonder if these negative ratings are the result. Aside from the negativity, one thing that stands out is that each leader's rating is within one or two percentage points of his party's. Is it just that Olmert and Peretz aren't as widely known, and hence their approval blends into their parties', or is there some deeper pattern at work about parties and personalities in Israeli politics.


Daily Kos links to this site dealing with privately funded travel by members of Congress since 2000. I was surprised to see that Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl didn't make it. Tammy Baldwin, however, came in at 137th in dollar value with her 14 trips, while Russ Feingold is 597th with his two, both to accept awards. The person who raked up the highest tab was James Sensenbrenner.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Middle East Media Events

Madison area readers might be interested in knowing that in a revision to this Sunday's Middle East Studies conference, there will be a definite focus on politics and the media in the Middle East during the early morning.

First, as noted previously, the keynote address will be delivered by Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the influential Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Eltahawy, who was recently honored by the Next Century Foundation for her contributions to increasing understanding of and within the Middle East, is also a frequent contributor to U.S. media outlets and has been a guest on several cable TV talk shows. Before moving to the United States, she was a correspondent for Reuters in Cairo and Jerusalem. This title of her talk will be, "Egypt - Moving Forward or Back to Square One?"

Second, following thet keynote there will be a roundtable discussion of "Reporting the Middle East." This session will feature Eltahawy, as well as Mustapha Khalfi and Natasha Tynes. Khalfi is the Editor-in-Chief of the Moroccan daily newspaper Attajdid, and is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where he focuses on political reform trends and Islamist political movements in the region. Attajdid is linked to Morocco's main Islamist movement, the Justice and Development Party. Tynes has worked as a reporter for a number of Middle Eastern media outlets, including reporting on the opening months of the Iraq War from the Iraqi-Jordanian border for the Jordan Times and serving as an English newsroom editor for al-Jazeera.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


I have now captured a cold, ripping it single-handedly from the environment and containing it within my own body. Truly it is a great victory, one I think I will celebrate with chamomile tea.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Umayyad Palace

This is the Umayyad Palace at Citadel Hill in Amman. As you can see from the Roman ruins, the Umayyads were not the first to decide to rule the city from this site, which has a great view over the Roman ampitheater downtown.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Opinion on Iraq

I think Matthew Yglesias is right about this:
"The point, however, is that 'sensible' opinion on the war has tended to follow extremely superficial trends. When it briefly appeared that the march on Baghdad was getting bogged down by Fedayeen, Rumsfeld was a disaster. When things were calm in April-May 2003, Bush was a genius and the anti-war folks utterly discredited. Then things started getting worse and doubts grew. Then Saddam was found and folks like Howard Dean who said this wouldn't change anything were said to be in a 'spider-hole of denial.' Then things went downhill and everyone said Rumsfeld needed to be fired. Then Iraq had its first election and everyone said the anti-war group was discredited again. Then things went downhill again and now virtually everyone says the conduct of the war has been incompetent."

Thursday, March 16, 2006


The latest Ha'aretz poll shows Kadima up 17 seats over Labor and 21 over Likud. It also mentions, however, that undecideds account for 28 seats. In American politics, undecideds generally break against the incumbent, though Israel isn't working with the same two-party dynamic, and Olmert's incumbency is merely accidental in the wake of Sharon's incapacitation. But who are all these undecideds? Are they people who like Sharon's policies but wonder if Olmert is a fitting successor? People who want to error on the side of security but aren't sure about Netanyahu and Likud's internal chaos? More dovish voters who aren't sure whether to trust Peretz on economic issues? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The Egyptian government is plotting to prevent me from getting a good picture of the Sphinx. You see, when I was there last summer, my camera batteries died when I was at Giza, so I didn't get one then, and for some reason I never made it back down there despite its convenience. Now with this renovation, I figure it's due to be partly covered with scaffolding during my projected visit from Israel.

In all seriousness, though, I hope they're not fighting a losing battle, as Lonely Planet's Egypt guidebook indicates the Sphinx has some sort of rock decay that hasn't been fully explained or successfully treated.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ibadhis and Terrorism

This article seeking to explain the lack of Islamic militancy in Oman needs at least some adjustment. My concern is with this part:
"The reason for terrorism not occurring in Oman is mainly attributed to the peculiar religion of the Omanis, who are followers of Abdallah ibn Ibadah al-Maqdisi's branch of Islam, a breakaway from the Khariji ('quietist') movement in Basra in 650 AD. Some experts suggest that the movement is an offshoot of a dissident Shiite sect hailing originally from Ibadh in Saudi Arabia, which was introduced to Oman in the eighth century.

"Oman is the only Ibadhi country in the world, with its tenets closely linked to the Maliki Sunni school. Ibadhism rejects primogeniture succession and asserts that the leadership of Islam should be designated by an imam who is capable and elected by the people. In fact, both political and religious Ibadhi leadership is vested in an imam.

"The Ibadhi orientation, which many Muslims consider unorthodox, has conditioned the society in such a fashion that in a region extremely conscious of sectarian affiliations, the 2004 census did not even seek to ascertain the composition of the Omani population along divisive lines, though it is understood that roughly 25 percent of the population is estimated to be Sunni. Further proof of Oman's uniqueness lies in it becoming the first Gulf Cooperation Council country in December 1994 to host an Israeli prime minister—Yitzhak Rabin—though there were murmurs of discontent among the Islamists."

The Kharijites are in no way quietists. The word actually means "Seceders," and was originally applied to those who rejected Ali's decision to agree to arbitration rather than fight at Siffin. Ironically, they were the early Islamic world's version of terrorists, having among their tenets ist'rad, which Hans Wehr translates as "to massacre without much ado" and which they applied to those they considered unbelievers. They were also radical in that they declared Muslims who were not of their own sect unbelievers, much as the modern jihadist movement.

Within the Kharijite sect, the Ibadhis arose, and they were more quietist in seeking their goals, though never pacifist. There are just as many excuses that could justify terrorism in Ibadhism as in any other religion. If Oman does have less militancy, I'd look in part to the fact that Ibadhism, simply because it is a different sect, is isolated from the currents which seek to create puritanical versions of Shi'ism in Sunnism, and in part to the fact that Oman, by reputation anyway, is more traditionally conservative and therefore those who in other environments might be reactionaries have little against which to react.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Enclaves and Exclaves

Coming Anarchy has an interesting series of posts about those funky corners of the world that fall unto the categories of either enclaves or exclaves. You can read them here, here, here, here, and here.


I'm going ahead and accepting the Mosse Fellowship to spend next academic year in Jerusalem. It's clearly the best financial deal I've applied for, and I've ascertained I can travel to all the Arab countries I need to even with an Israeli stamp on my passport. The only thing that could drive me away is a catastrophic collapse in the security situation, and I wouldn't even begin to worry about that unless the UW administration decides to pull out the study abroad kids.

One thing the picture below reminds me of, though, is that often the most powerful memories of extended travel abroad come from moments rather than monuments, and interesting corners of the world rather than major destinations. It would not surprise me if in the future I think of Israel in terms of some Tel Aviv cafe rather than Temple Mount, and if I learn as much from a side trip to someplace I have yet to hear of as I do from wandering about Ramallah. My favorite of my three trips to the Middle East/North Africa is Morocco, and when I left I certainly didn't foresee any of this aside from a general idea of getting into the Atlas at some point.

I'm also planning to leave Israel quite a bit when I'm over there, just because there's so much to see and so little time. Getting to the Sinai and Luxor in Egypt is a must, as is checking in on people I know in Cairo. I have research to do in Oman and the UAE, which shall also become an excuse to see other Gulf states I can get into. I should also look in on Istanbul, and then try remember to get back to Israel as I have a look around the rest of Turkey, Greece, and some Balkan highlights. This is not to mention a short hop over to Cyprus and a long weekend in Malta. All in all, the map of countries I hope to visit in the next twelve months looks like this:

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

But then again, what do I know? If a friend invites me to check out Mongolia and I have the time and money, I'll almost certainly be off, for with the length of the trip, the uncertainty factor also increases. As Captain Picard said in the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Let's see what's out there."

For now, however, I need to stop daydreaming and get back to grading exams.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Madrid Conclusions

Over at American Footprints, I've taken a look at some of the conclusions of the Madrid bombing investigation. I'll let those interested go read for themselves, but what stood out for me the most is how no conventional military action could have prevented this attack. There was apparently some communication with senior al-Qaeda leaders, but this was entirely at the level of instructions, and the willingness and capacity to carry out the attack was all there with the attackers. Furthermore, the funding came not from bin Laden's famous wealth, but from drug smuggling. I've been attuned to the connections between terrorism and organized crime since attending a William Olson lecture a couple of years ago, and have maintained a persistent interest in al-Qaeda's involvement in the African conflict diamond market. While military efforts can deny terrorists safe havens and training camps where they can network and become even more dangerous, the front lines remain in the area of intelligence and law enforcement, even if that doesn't seem muscular enough for some people.

Carroll Blog Campaign

Natasha Tynes notes that the Committee to Protect Bloggers is asking all bloggers to link to this PSA calling for the release of Jill Carroll in Iraq.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ceuta in History

Recently I've run across two articles by Derek Latham on the history of Ceuta, one in Israel Oriental Studies 2, and the other in Islamic Quarterly XV. It struck me that this picture shows several elements which have made Ceuta important over the centuries.

On the right, you see Mt. Hacho, atop which today sits a Spanish fort. The Spanish took Ceuta in 1415, and still control it today. The mountain, of course, makes for easy defense, especially since the peninsula on which it sits is curved, making for the nice protected harbor you see in this picture with the two boats out probably fishing. According to Latham, the city was difficult to lay seige to because fishing was an important industry, and it was hard to block off access to the harbors.

On the left is the Ceuta ferry terminal, where many ferries a day depart for southern Spain. When the Mediterranean was the western world's major commercial highway, Ceuta was among its busiest ports, a mercantile city much like the Italian city-states. Only with the rise of Atlantic trade did Tangier begin seriously to compete for influence.

What's more, Ceuta has historically been a gateway to Europe rather than one to Africa. As noted above, the city was difficult to take, but even after it was taken, the mountains surrounding it meant that you couldn't easily advance into the Moroccan interior. However, many invasions of the Iberian Peninsula and reinforcements of Muslim positions there were launched from its harbor. In fact, one could take this "gateway" pattern even up to the present, where desperate African economic migrants try to use it as a stepping-stone to continental Europe.

These historical and geographical factors make the competing Spanish and Moroccan claims to the enclave more complex than it might first appear. The Moroccan claim draws its legitimacy primarily from geography, in that everything on the North African coast is properly the territory of North African states. Spain, on the other hand, claims it not primarily on the basis of the 1415 conquest, but rather as part of a broader claim to the territies of the 10th-century Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba.

Spain is thus trying to claim an Islamic legacy rather than one based on the nationalism of the Reconquista, setting itself up as a successor state to the Muslim states it replaced. The existence of local Spanish festivals commemorating the Reconquista in anti-Muslim ways, however, perhaps make that identification problematic. At the same time, the political situation at the Strait of Gibraltar never truly depended solely on religious identifications. Christian and Muslim states made alliances with each other against their co-religionists on a regular basis. What's more, its defensible nature often meant that Moroccan control of Ceuta was often merely nominal, with local governors or the independent Azafid dynasty giving at best a formal allegiance to Fez or Marrkesh, and often none at all.

This is not to deny that Ceuta has figured prominently into Moroccan history, not only for its commercial presence, but for its cultural development as well. The Moroccan celebration of the Prophet's birthday appears to have been first introduced by the Azafids of Ceuta in the 13th century. However, set against such importance and that fact that Spain has to essentially bribe its citizens into living there is the pragmatic sense that in Ceuta Spain is simply controlling its own doorway, one whose political ties to Moroccan polities have historically been not much stronger than cities north of the Strait which are not in dispute.

In reality, of course, the dispute today rests not on all these ideological justifications, but on Moroccan and Spanish nationalism influenced in the 20th century by the reality of colonialism of which the Crusades and the Reconquista can be seen as a historical precursor. All of which is to say that there really is no clear right and wrong approach to this issue - Spain is not clinging to a piece of clearly Moroccan territory, but nor is Morocco out of line in asserting its own ties to the enclave. In a period of shifting boundaries, conquest and counterconquest, this is where the line happened to end up, at least for now.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Middle East Studies Certificate

I just now got around to reading the Capital Times's story on the new Middle East Studies certificate available at UW-Madison. You can find the actual requirements for this credential here. What's missing is the new courses just being taught for the first time or under development in departments like geography, legal studies, or rural sociology. The University of Wisconsin, however, is finally filling a critical gap in its highly regarded international studies curriculum, and with luck a Middle East Studies Title VI NRC is in our future.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if, in my enthusiasm for the projects now coming to fruition, I neglected the existing Middle East Studies heritage on this campus. I don't know when precisely the Middle East Studies Program was founded, but it was quite some time ago, and for a long while it was under the direction of the now impressively active octogenarian Ottomanist Kemal Karpat, who will be one of the keynote speakers at the forthcoming International Conference on Islam.

Much of our historical depth, however, comes from Wisconsin's rich tradition of Jewish Studies. Tonight the MES Program held a reception, and among the things we were celebrating was the 50th anniversary of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies, which has long been a leader in Hebrew education. I also understand that establishing such departments was rare in the 1950's, though I don't know my institutional history well enough to provide details. In addition, the noted historian George Mosse left as part of his legacy the Mosse Program, which links Wisconsin with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in ways that have benefitted people in a number of subfields.

Even though budgets have been tight, the program has added faculty almost every year since I've been here. My first graduate seminar was the first here for current director David Morgan, who came in Fall 1999. Others who have come in my time are Moneera al-Ghadeer (Arabic), Samer Alatout (Rural Sociology, Environmental Studies), Leila Harris (Geography, Environmental Studies), Flagg Miller (Anthropology), Asifa Quraishi (Law), Tamir Moustafa (Political Science), and next year will see the arrival of Nadav Shelef (Political Science, Meyerhoff Professor of Israeli Studies). If you want to be part of an exciting young program, Wisconsin is the place to be. (And I just can't resist plugging yet again that you can find out more by coming to our conference.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Amotz Asa-El

Tonight I saw an interesting talk by Jerusalem Post Executive Editor and columnist Amotz Asa-El, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Program and a bunch of groups affiliated with the Hillel Foundation. It was an interesting talk even though I think I'm well to his left on most issues facing Israel. The point he made which drew the most discussion was that there was a new consensus in Israeli politics around the ideas of disengagement put forward by Ariel Sharon. I was most struck by the idea that Israeli politics is entering a "post-heroic age" in which the Prime Ministers won't come from the ranks of military heroes and domestic politics will gradually rise to the forefront of people's minds.

I did get the chance to ask him about Sarah's point that conflict between Gaza evacuees and the government would turn people against future withdrawals. He felt that this was getting a lot of attention in Israel and that Kadima was about to see it drag down their poll numbers as it reached critical mass. It'll be interesting to see if he's right, as that definitely goes against the sense I have from my perch on the other side of the world. He also said in response to a couple of questions that ethnicity has little or no impact on contemporary Israeli politics, and that the intermarriage rate has gotten so high that the words "Ashkenazim" and "Sephardim" are losing their relevance, and many kids don't even know what they mean.

International Conference on Islam

Today's Capital Times has a nice write-up of the International Conference on Islam:
"The event, which Gokcek helped organize and is being funded largely by the UW's Global Studies program, will feature some of the top Islamic scholars in the world. And since it comes at such a critical time, Gokcek's hoping the local media don't choose to ignore it, as they did last year.

"Not that it was entirely the media's fault, Gokcek says with a grin.

"As noted here last spring, Gokcek and other members of Dialogue International - a campus group formed in the wake of 9/11 - got so caught up in the pre-event planning that they made an embarrassing blunder: they scheduled it for the last weekend in April, traditionally the most frenzied weekend of the year in Madison...

"Indeed, while the primary goal of the conference is to promote the need for dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims and to discuss Islamic-related issues in a 'more scholarly, non-speculative way,' a secondary goal is to boost attendance by making the discussions accessible to the Madison community as a whole, Gokcek says. To that end, there will be question-and-answer sessions at the end of each presentation.

"While the participants will debate a wide range of issues, Gokcek points out that several speakers - notably Thomas Michel, former director of the Islamic office of the Vatican Council for Interreligious Dialogue - will address the controversy over Danish cartoons that poked fun at the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and ignited riots in Muslim countries."

All well and good, but don't forget our own humble conference the next day!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

(No) Democracy in Egypt

Over at American Footprints, Praktike reports on the political crackdown underway in Egypt:
"Generally, I would say that a crackdown is already underway, one which began either after the first round of the parliamentary elections or with the prosecution of Ayman Nour, depending on how you look at things. Nour is now finished, his party shattered, himself in prison and his wife under threat of prosecution. They're coming after Judges who criticized the conduct of the elections. Gamal is putting his people everywhere in preparation to succeed his father. Three reporters for Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt's closest thing to an independent newspaper, until recently were under threat of punishment for defaming a former public official. And so on.

"If freedom is on the march here, it is headed backwards."


Do you ever feel like you're not in Istanbul?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Palestinian Shi'ites

The Jerusalem Post reports on Palestinian concerns about a new Shi'ite group that has appeared in the Occupied Territories. Muhammad Ghawanmeh, the group's founder, is a former Islamic Jihad leader, and says his ultimate goal is Muslim unity, while his immediate goal is to build a Shi'ite mosque in Ramallah. Hamas, however, is concerned:
"PA and Hamas officials told The Jerusalem Post that Iran or Hizbullah were most likely behind the group. 'The timing of the establishment of the new group is very suspicious,' said a top Hamas official here. 'It appears that some parties are trying to replace Hamas or compete with it.'

"A PA security official said he did not understand how a Shi'ite group could operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip 'where we don't have even one Shi'ite.' All the Muslims living in the PA-controlled areas are Sunnis.

"Many Palestinians expressed fear on Sunday that the presence of a Shi'ite group in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could lead to a similar situation as in Iraq, where Shi'ites and Sunnis appear to be on the verge of civil war.

"The security official said both Iran and Hizbullah were now trying to establish new contacts in the Palestinian territories because of Hamas's preoccupation with running the affairs of the Palestinians after its victory in the January 25 parliamentary election. Their fear, he added, is that Hamas would be forced, under international pressure, to halt its terrorist attacks after taking control over the Palestinian Authority."

I really doubt the fears expressed by these officials. For one thing, Iran should have little interest in creating a rival to Hamas, of which it is a major supporter anyway. Seriously, this is the first sign I've seen which suggests any problems in their relations. Secondly, Angry Arab claims there are Palestinian Shi'ites, and claims otherwise probably represent nothing more than the common tendency of Sunnis and Shi'ites to underestimate the each others' numbers.

That Shi'ites are in some way catspaws of Iran is a common prejudice against them in the Arab world, and these Palestinian concerns are probably no different. I'm also intrigued by Angry Arab's comment that this new group seems to be interested in winning converts, which may trouble Hamas in some way - I don't know enough about their religious ideas to say for sure. Furthermore, any new movement which might make a claim for foreign funding has the potential to set up a new patronage network which challenges the existing power holders, Fatah as well as Hamas. Until I see stronger evidence to the contrary, I'm inclined to take this group as just another Palestinian faction.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jonathan Dworkin Goes to Kurdistan

Over at Washington Monthly, med student Jonathan Dworkin has the final post in his series about his work and travels in Iraqi Kurdistan. There is a complete index to the series at the bottom. If you haven't read them all yet, I definitely recommend it.

Speaker Sultanov

Following Omurbek Tekebaev's (second) resignation, the Kyrgyz Parliament has chosen as speaker Marat Sultanov, an MP from a party which supported ousted dictator Askar Akayev and whom many worry may bow to President Bakiev, whom some fear is seeking to become a new dictator-like strongman. Others, however, simply feel he will lead an independent Parliament in a less confrontational manner than Tekebaev, who before resigning apparently told Bakiev to "hang himself." It does seem clear that Bakiev has won his struggle with Parliament, and that the Presidency will remain the strongest branch of government in whatever system develops there.

Save the Hijaz

Thanks to Maryam, I've found this site about the destruction of Muslim religious sites under the Saudi regime.

To The Library

The Capital Times has a story on how UW libraries have been transformed into "the academic equivalent of the student union" through the addition of cafes, computer terminals, and lounge-like study areas. My friends in Library Science tell me this is the "library as place" concept. I'm not sure all these changes belong in the same category, as computers are certainly a critical tool for modern researchers, especially in the sciences. However, the concept of what a college library would be like has definitely changed. As the libraries have evolved, more people are now using them, and I certainly think there's nothing wrong with having a comfortable academic working environment as an inherent part of the same facility where students obtain educational materials. What is most likely to create controversy is when books are removed from the shelves; here; however, one has to trust the professionals one hires to make decisions about what best serves the libraries' mission to serve as a center for research materials.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Deadline Anxiety

Daniel Drezner quotes Mary McKinney's advice for academics who procrastinate. As someone who has just organized a conference program, I would disagree with the idea that your project is more important to you than anyone else. True, advisors may not lose sleep over missing chapters just like I don't spend an eternity worrying about my own students' late work, but I have definitely been a little jumpy waiting for the confirmation of paper titles and abstracts. Of course, that might be different if we were an established conference and I were sitting on a wealth other papers I felt I could easily substitute if someone missed a deadline.


This is a view of Fez. Despite the filename, I actually think this was taken from somewhere between the Ville Nouvelle and Fez el-Jadid, where the Jewish Cemetery is located.

Middle East Studies Conference in Madison

New York-based Egyptian commentator Mona Eltahawy will deliver the keynote address at the Middle East Studies Program’s “Change in the Middle East” conference on Sunday, March 26 at the Pyle Center. Eltahawy writes a weekly column for the influential Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, and has also contributed to the pages of American newspapers such as The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune, as well as television and radio programs such as ABC’s Nightline, BBC Newsnight, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC.

This conference marks the debut of what the Center intends to become an annual event, highlighting its role as both a regional networking hub for scholars working on the Middle East and an institution producing cutting-edge scholarship involving the region. In particular, this year’s conference will bring to the forefront UW-Madison’s unusual strength in science and technology fields while examining different aspects of the region in the context of issues related to globalization and modernity. It is conveniently scheduled the day following the International Conference on Islam, a two-day event co-sponsored by Global Studies and Dialogue International.

Following the keynote address, Ellen Amster of UW-Milwaukee, Nathan Godley of UW-Parkside, and Ma’ati Monjib of Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco will serve as panelists for a roundtable discussion entitled “North Africa: Social and Political Change in Historical Perspective.” All three are historians specializing in the history of Morocco and Algeria, including the history of medicine, Jewish history in the region, and contemporary political developments.

Thereafter will be a session on “Globalization and Modernity” in which a trio of scholars will present work on different topics falling under that broad heading. Jaafar Akiskas of Columbia College will examine distinctly Middle Eastern and North African trajectories to global modernity while critiquing the very concepts of both “globalization” and “modernity.” Joseph Lawrence of the College of the Holy Cross will examine the place of religion in an emerging global order, with special respect to whether it can be distinguished from its divisive elements. Finally, Satoshi Abe of the University of Arizona will examine the relationship of the individual to modernity in the works of two politically influential Iranian philosophers.

During the afternoon, Leila Harris and Samer Alatout, both of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, will lead a roundtable discussion of issues related to “Water Security and the Environment.” Alatout’s research interests primarily involve public and technocratic perceptions of environmental issues in the West Bank, while Harris focuses on the relationship between waterscape changes and gender in Turkey. Both are part of a campus research group on “Environmental Change, Security, and Well-Being,” out of which this session will primarily arise.

Finally, the program will conclude with a session entitled “Science and Technology: The Middle East in a Globalized World.” Hsain Ilahaine of Iowa State University will present his research on the social and economic effects of the spread of cell phones in Moroccan cities. Ece Algan of the University of Iowa will give a paper focused on globalization, the media, and popular culture in Turkey. Finally, the UW-Madison’s own Amy Charkowski will give a presentation on collaborative efforts between faculty from the Department of Plant Pathology and Middle Eastern scientists and businessmen to improve agricultural production in the region.

Although there is no registration fee for this conference, we ask that participants register by March 20 to aid in planning. To register, just send an e-mail to with the word “conference” in the subject line. Please include your name and institutional affiliation, if applicable. A complete program will soon be available at the Middle East Studies web site. This event is organized with the support of the International Institute and Dialogue International.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Jill Carroll's Captors

The latest word is that Jill Carroll is being held by the Islamic Army of Iraq. This is giving rise to some optimism because of previously kidnapped journalists whom they released, but the group's record is actually mixed. In March 2005, they were profiled by the Jamestown Foundation; the bit about interrogation may support this style of optimism.

Listen to Thabet

Via City of Brass, I find Thabet's commentary on polls that show many British Muslims want to live under shari'a law. Here's a key part:
"It should be realised that the shari'ah is not a single text that is opened and from which one reads an answer to a particular situation. To talk of "shari'ah law" is really to talk of the cumulative interpretation of a whole range of texts and customs, foremost of which are the Qur'an and hadith material. It can be seen as a combination of practice, theory, belief and custom. A social history of Muslims could be written using these interpretations as the shari'ah has developed depending on the situations (cultural/geographical/social) in which Muslims have found, and continue to find, themselves. It does violence to the concept of shari'ah to reduce it simply to a set of 'laws' to be enforced by the state, which is what is assumed by far too many people, including Muslims. When Western Muslims talk about shari'ah they are not likely to be referring to the functions of the state or seditious activites which undermine the state or society at large; but about individual matters of conscience, piety and observance of religious duties."

I once wrote a post on shari'a, and think there is a bit more to it than that, depending on how you view issues such as ijtihad. The point stands, however, that these polls are useless unless you also find out what people mean by shari'a, and I trust that Thabet is close enough to the pulse of Islam in Britain to give a good read on what is happening.


Those who have been reading this blog for years may remember that Shi'ite more than Sunni Islam has long been of interest for my own sense of spirituality. This is perhaps because core elements are similar enough to Christianity to be compared directly, yet different enough to give rise to dialogue with it. I have especially noted this the past few years, when Muharram, the month of Ashura, has fallen near to Lent. One sees two redemptive sacrifices in Husayn's decision to stand at Karbala and Jesus's to wait in the Garden of Gethsemane. One also finds models of patient suffering in those imams who taught and faced persecution without seeking political leadership and the apostles who suffered persecution and ultimately martyrdom in the name of their faith.

Most people today find following their religion quite simple, as by definition they are majorities in their country and don't face persecution. This is certainly true of Christians in the United States, and nowadays of Shi'ites in most places they are found. We don't need to suffer for our faith, and we substitute commemorating our spiritual forbears who did. And this leads to what seems a key difference in attitude between the two faiths. For the Christian, despite the symbolism of "Ash Wednesday," everything still looks forward to the risen Christ and a faith that we personally are redeemed from sin. For Shi'ites, there is a darker tone. Yesterday in class, two students showed video of Ashura commemorations in Bahrain, with parades of mourners remembering Husayn, much like most of the pilgrims I saw at the shrine of Husayn in Damascus had tears in their eyes. Shi'ites through prophecy are assured of final victory, but for the moment there is primarily sorrow and patient suffering.

When we remember, however, that Jesus called his followers to see him in the poor and downtrodden, perhaps we see that there is room to put more of Ashura in Ash Wednesday. For us, ash is a symbol, one which since ancient times has been used for rituals of mourning and repentance and which we use to remind us of our own mortality, together with the words, "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." Many in the world, however, need no such reminder. Their lives are filled with suffering, to which the rest of us are functionally indifferent. Families lose loved ones, and we shuffle aside consumed by our own awkwardness. People around the world live in poverty or in the middle of wars, and we are hardly aware of it. Even people who seem to have everything can suffer emotionally and spiritually, consumed with fears over body image and other superficial matters our culture has come to regard as important.

Those for whom the story of the Passion is too remote might do well to remember the suffering of those around us, and to come out of our forty days of reflection with the same spirit as Jesus, one determined to make a difference in the lives of those who need us regardless of the temptations to seek our own power and glory. Can we truly pick up the cross and follow? No, for we live in sin, and only very few can overcome it to that degree. But everything we do in this world still makes a difference and allows us to serve in our own small ways he who gave his life for us. And as for the sin in which we dwell and of which we are called to repent at this time, I will first echo what I said last year:
"I don't want to sign off without mentioning Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. What is most interesting to me about Yom Kippur is that on the eve of this day, which like Ashura is the tenth of the year, people seek forgiveness of their neighbors for the injuries and offense given during the previous year. You cannot seek forgiveness from God until you have sought it from man. And Yom Kippur thus becomes a time of renewal, for it is our human failings that drag us down into habitual conflict and broken relationships, what a Christian might see as an accretion of sin that needs to be washed away so that something new and wholesome might begin.

"And I like this idea so much that, with apologies to my Jewish readers, I have decided to steal it. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian penitential season of Lent, which does not begin the year, but is named from an old Saxon word for spring, the season in which life is reborn after a harsh winter. And on this Ash Wednesday let me say, 'To those whom I have wronged, let me now seek forgiveness for those wrongs. To those by whom I have felt wronged, I humbly forgive you, knowing that good and evil, when applied to humans, are but points on a scale on which we all slide to one degree or another. And in this way, let us join together in a new season of peace and fellowship with all people everywhere, whom the ancient Middle Eastern peoples with their genealogies rightly saw were, despite their differences, one family and one community.'