Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our Policy in Somalia

Andrew McGregor has more information on the recent battles in Somalia between Islamists and secular warlords, a conflict I previously referred to here. McGregor seems quite skeptical that there is a significant al-Qaeda element involved with the Somali Islamists, a question to which I don't have an answer. He further suggests that the warlord alliance is losing its battle. Members of this alliance do seem to be using the American campaign against terrorism to get American backing the same way dictators such as Iran's Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi used to win American support by portraying their enemies as communists. Claims like this don't sound convincing, however:
"Muhammad Dhere, an important ATA leader, claims that Arab and Asian al-Qaeda members have been joined in Mogadishu by members of Ethiopia's Oromo Liberation Front, offering the observation that some fighters were covering their faces, obvious 'proof' of their foreign origins (HornAfrik, May 19). The warlord also accuses numerous members of parliament of being al-Qaeda members, and further claims that 70 MPs are agents of hostile foreign countries (Shabelle Media Network, May 19). Increasingly, accusations of al-Qaeda links have become a common way for the warlords to discredit political opponents."

McGregor also calls attention to the fact that efforts to fight those accused of being terrorist sympathizers and rebuild Somalia appear to be hindering each other:
"The already fragile TFG is in danger of collapse due to Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi's failure to force the return of cabinet ministers engaged in the Mogadishu fighting. Members of Parliament have called for his resignation, while other MPs accuse the United States of taking revenge on Somalia for U.S. losses in Mogadishu in 1993 (HornAfrik, May 17). The absent ministers are close to being dismissed from the government, which would effectively destroy any chance of the TFG establishing itself as an accepted government.

"ATA warlord Muhammad Qanyare has complained that the TFG has 'no respect for the [counter-terrorist] work we are doing.' Qanyare explains the absence of the ATA warlords from their cabinet posts by noting that 'we are busy fighting with terrorists now. We don't have time for the government' (Shabelle Media Network, May 24, May 25). Both the TFG and Somali popular opinion hold that the ATA is a collection of paid agents of the United States government. The presence of U.S. warships off Mogadishu and evening flights over the city by U.S. reconnaissance planes has tended to reinforce these perceptions (Haatuf News, Somaliland, May 10).

"With the dictates of counter-terrorism in conflict with the methods of nation-building, Somalia is on the verge of another collapse. The battle in Mogadishu is spilling over into a wave of assassinations, grenade attacks and gunfights throughout Somalia. In the capital itself, firing tends to be indiscriminate and thousands of civilians are once more fleeing for safety. U.S. food aid programs are not enough to offset the belief of U.S. responsibility for this new round of misery. If the United States has indeed thrown its support behind the ATA, its efforts appear to be counter-productive. Most ATA fighters battle for pay and the promise of loot. Any serious setbacks or an exhaustion of ATA funds are likely to result in the rapid dissolution of the "anti-terrorist" coalition and a triumph for Mogadishu's Islamists."

I feel like there's probably another side to this portrayal of the situation, so I don't want to say anything too strong. However, one does wonder if efforts have been made to incorporate the Islamists into a unified government, and then bribe them into denying terrorists a safe haven. Letting Somalia slip further into chaos in the hopes that a bunch of warlords will act as trustworthy agents in fighting terrorism doesn't seem like a viable long-term strategy.

UPDATE: The International Crisis Group issued this report last summer on the rise of al-Qaeda in Somalia. However, the Executive Summary also says:
"The threat of jihadi terrorism in and from Somalia is real. But attempts by the new Somali leadership and its regional allies to exploit this threat for short-term political gain risk plunging the country into even greater crisis. Several key leaders in the deeply divided transitional government are notorious for smearing adversaries and critics with allegations of terrorist linkages -- conduct that threatens to deepen the schisms within the government. More alarmingly, the faction of the TFG aligned with the interim president has tried to use the threat of terrorism to justify deployment of a regional intervention force to Somalia -- a widely unpopular and deeply divisive proposition that would not only irrevocably split the government and trigger renewed conflict, but would also dramatically strengthen the jihadis.

"Ultimately, the threat of jihadi terrorism from Somalia can only be addressed through the restoration of stable, legitimate and functional government. Dealing with that threat requires Somalia's friends to do more to assist in bringing Somali society together again and rebuilding the state. But such assistance must be carefully planned and finely calibrated in order to ensure that it does not empower one faction of the TFG at the expense of another or otherwise destabilise a fragile peace process."

UPDATE: See more on this at American Footprints.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Orange in Kuwait

Middle East Online reports on the growing pro-democracy movement in Kuwait:
"'We are a group of young people, from school, university and young graduates,' one of their leaders, 29-year-old Khaled al-Fadalah, said as dozens of activists gathered outside the election registration centre.

'Our beginning was spontaneous,' the US-educated Fadalah said. 'We were discussing the political crisis in Kuwait at a restaurant. We said we should act. We decided to hold a protest at the council of ministers.'

The orange protest began with the sending of SMS text messages. Then, through Internet bloggers and mobile phone calls, they set a date and a time.

'Between 400 and 500 people gathered. It was very successful,' said Fadalah of the peaceful rally that lasted about three hours."

This movement is stronger than the one in Egypt in that they can act in support of a reformist block in Kuwait's active Parliament. Both groups share the cause of reducing the number of Kuwait's electoral districts to make vote-buying more difficult:
"Buoyed by their initial success, the orange activists then staged an overnight vigil outside parliament ahead of the crucial May 15 debate. A number of pro-reform MPs visited them at what later came to be known as the 'Square of Will'.

"About 1,000 members of the orange movement and others disrupted the parliament session when the government backed a motion to send the constitutional court its own bill that would trim the number of constituencies to 10.

"They applauded as 29 opposition MPs walked out of the session, and chanted slogans like 'we want it five' and 'down with the government' - forcing ministers and pro-government MPs to leave the chamber before completing the vote.

"Two days later, the protesters held a large public rally at the same spot, followed on May 19 by another at which opposition MPs pledged to back a request to question Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah."

Read the rest to find out what they're up to.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


Juan Cole comments on public reaction to the apparent Haditha massacre:
"The Haditha incident, in which US Marines are alleged to have killed between 14 and 24 civilians in cold blood, is becoming the My Lai of the Iraq War. Officers have been relieved of command, and murder charges may be brought. Somehow, though, this time the American public doesn't seem very interested in the story. My guess, is that many still have payback for 9/11 in their minds. The Vietnamese had never done anything to us. Of course, the Iraqis hadn't done much to us, either, aside from fighting back when the United Nations pushed them (quite rightly) out of Kuwait. But Dick Cheney has by innuendo and half-lies managed to convince the American public that in fighting the Iraqis, we are fighting the people behind 9/11, or at least people very like that."

I think the much more mundane explanation is that most Americans have mentally pegged Iraq as another Vietnam, and so it takes longer to react when some new height is reached. People also might be afraid to be outraged at the military - or even a small portion thereof - in the days leading up to Memorial Day.

Kabul Riots

I've noted the Kabul riots at American Footprints, with this additional bit of commentary:
"There's a phenomenon I've heard called 'capital capture' where journalists tend to focus stories based on what happens in the capital or another important hub of the country on which they're reporting. This often leads to declarations that certain countries were secular and progressive, such as pre-Revolutionary Iran and pre-Taliban Afghanistan, when in reality that was mainly a phenomenon of the urban professional class in the cosmopolitan capitals. I think we're also seeing a security version of this in Afghanistan. I just got home from work, turned on CNN, and suddenly violence is everywhere and people are trying to explain what happened to Afghanistan's stability. What happening today, however, is not 'exceptionally violent' compared to what we've seen in recent weeks in other parts of the country."

You should also see this post from a few days ago.

Memorial Day

In the picture above, taken last summer in Cairo, you can just make out a small pro-democracy protest. From where Praktike and I stood, however, the view was only of the intimidating power of the state, hundreds of black-clad and helmeted CSF troops preventing the crowd from hearing a word that was said. Readers of the Arabist are following the ongoing struggle for freedom in Egypt, where now you read of protestors being sodomized and a hunger strike by those imprisoned for their beliefs.

Today in the United States we don't have to deal with that, and a key reason is our armed forces which have defended this country and others against evils ranging from the Nazis to the Warsaw Pact dictatorships. We can examine as a strong, idealistic nation whether all our foreign interventions live up to our ideals. However, we must never forget that the people who join and fight in the military do so to serve and protect this land that they love. Today we live in a troubled time, facing crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, and places we too seldom think of. When we stop to honor the countless sacrifices of our troops, the quality of our political leaders and the choices made to engage in individual theaters matters not, nor do the crimes committed by a few blot out the honor of the many who are willing to put themselves on the line because they believe it will help ensure the future safety of the United States and the world. Our task this weekend is to say only, "Thank you," while noting also the words of Shakespeare's Will, "Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Clarifications: Jews and Muslims Post

Over at Dean's World, Aziz linked to my Jews and Muslims post, sparking a comments thread which made a couple of points I want to address.

The first is the "Hispanic" analogy. That was pretty off-the-cuff, and I have no doubt that a careful academic study would prove it fatuous. What I was going for was the idea that Jews were seen more as menial people associated with jobs no one else wanted to do and to some degree as a cultural threat. Despite perhaps sharing a sports loyalty, I would disagree with the tone of Mariner's comment in the thread. On the religious point, for example, I think anti-Catholic bigotry still plays some role in how we view Hispanics, but a more relevant comparison might be to the huge backlash against flying Mexican flags. I could tackle a couple of the others, too, but really taken past the level of people's perceptions, you're comparing apples and oranges - a medieval religious legal system defined first and foremost by religious identity as opposed to a modern secular one based off nationality in a territorial defined space. Tomorrow I'll try to remember to grab a copy of Goitein's Geniza study and see what the voices of the past actually have to say for themselves.

As far as the line about anti-Semitism first appearing in the late 19th century as a European import, that was Bernard Lewis's quote, and I guess it does seem a bit odd out of context, though people should be given pause by the fact that this is not a scholar who is given to blaming things on Europe. (That's part of why I'm leaning on him, especially for the modern period which I don't know very well.) I haven't re-read his entire book carefully, but from what I've glanced at and remember, what he calls anti-Semitism is basically this ideology which sees Jews as evil, powerful, manipulative, and responsible for many of the world's problems. This is clearly different than seeing them as poor souls with an inferior religion. Seriously, the fact that works like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion originated in Europe isn't even controversial!

In closing, I'll quote Lewis (p. 156) on the 1840 blood libel in Damascus:
"On February 5 of that year Father Tomaso, a Capuchin monk of Sardinian nationality, suddenly disappeared together with his servant. A Jewish barber was accused of murdering them and, after torture, declared himself ready to confess. The Father's fellow monks, instigated and encouraged by the French consul Ratti-Menton, proclaimed that he had been killed by the Jews for ritual purposes. On the urging of the consul, the governor Sharif Pasha arrested large numbers of notables and other Jews, many of whom were tortured. One communal leader, Joseph Laniado, died under questioning; another, Moses Abulafia, saved himself by embracing Islam. He and several others were induced by torture to confess whatever their accusers desired. The French consul, to justify and further his actions in Damascus, supported it with an active press campaign in Damascus directed against the Jews in Damascus and Jews in general.

He goes on to describe how Great Britain, then France's rival in the Middle East, used the issue to attack the de facto independent ruler of Syria, part of a campaign which ultimately led to the restoration of control over the areas by Britain's then-ally, the Ottoman Empire, which took a pro-Jewish stance.

More Bahraini Strangeness

I've commented before on the number of strange lust-love-and-marriage news stories out of Bahrain (1, 2, 3). Here's the latest:
"A Bahraini got the shock of his life when he discovered that the man he assumed to be his wife's brother and who had lived with them for nine years was in fact her lover and the father of four of their children.

"According to the court papers, the Bahraini husband responded compassionately when his Asian wife told him that her brother wanted to come to Bahrain to work because his situation back home was desperate.

"As the 'brother' could not afford proper accommodation, the unsuspecting husband took the 'close relative' in and allowed him to live with him and his wife.

"But nine years later, the husband caught the couple having sex and immediately fainted from shock. He then reported them to the police."

A Qur'an Note

I hate talking about the Qur'an. It's a hugely complicated field of inquiry, with issues ranging from the history of the text itself to debates over the accuracy of the reports of the life of Muhammad which represent its historical context to linguistic questions stemming from it's complex, archaic Arabic. However, some parts of it are relevant to the Muslim-Jewish relations issue, so I will go into a few things.

The first is Sura 9, ayat 29:
"Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allâh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allâh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islâm) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
According to the fairly standard Yusuf Ali version, this whole sura belongs to the aftermath of the Battle of Tabuk. In the Muslim tradition, which is what really matters in this context, the Byzantine Empire was becoming aware of the growing power of the Muslim state along its trade routes, and began flexing military muscle in its direction with a presumed aim of eliminating it. Exact accounts differ, but basically the Muslims marched out in a show of strength, a battle began, many of the Muslims fled, and the few who stayed won.

According to Yusuf Ali, the first 29 verses of this were proclaimed to reflect the policy of the new state following this victory. It was an aggressive policy against those who had attacked or betrayed the Muslims. At this point, again according to the Muslim tradition, there was a warlike environment in which fighting for the faith was required. Now granted, I strongly suspect that later generations of Muslims used this to justify expansionist policies, but that hardly seems the most natural interpretation - plausible perhaps within this sura, but not in the context of the Qur'an as a whole. The last clause is grammatically complicated; as Bernard Lewis noted in his book there are a bunch of different interpretations, particularly of the last word. This is also clearly a source for the later practice of jizya, something also affirmed in hadiths about Muhammad's relationship with the Jews of Khaybar, though there humiliation wasn't an issue - the aggression here seems to be entirely based on the specific conditions it is addressing.

It's also interesting when you step outside traditional Muslim interpretations and get into the question of what constituted "Islam" during Muhammad's lifetime: As Fred Donner highlighted in an article called "From Believers to Muslims," the key elements are God and Judgement Day, and it seems both grammatically and historically plausible that some Jews and Christians did meet the criteria, though I'm not ready to go as far as he did and argue that many Jews and Christians were originally considered actual Muslims. As an aside, it's also interesting that the word for fight is always qaatilu rather than a jihad relative, which only occurs in 9:16. This is a good piece of evidence for the idea that the association of jihad primarily with military striving stems from medieval jurisprudence rather than the life of Muhammad itself.

The other thing I want to address is this sura, but it's crucial enough to the topic at hand I want to do so at length, and I don't have time now. Hopefully I'll get to it over the weekend.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mutawwa Reform

Saudi Arabia's religious police will now be just police and not the judges:
"Interior Minister Prince Nayef decreed that public prosecutors would deal with all cases concerning harassment', stopping the ultraconservative kingdom's unique morality squad from detaining suspects for hours, the state media said.

"'The role of the 'authority for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice' ends with apprehending suspected individuals and handing them to the police, who then present them to prosecutors with a report of the incident involved,' it said.

The article mentions that Nayef is an advocate for the mutawwa (the religious police), so I interpret this as another small but important victory for King Abdullah's reform programs.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


A couple of weeks ago I was trying to dig out information on the economic factors which I suspected underlay various elements of Kyrgyz politics. This bit may be important:
"Last June, Nurlan Motuev -- the head of the radical Joomart political group -- and his supporters took over Beshsary, the largest mine in the Kara-Keche coal basin, which reportedly accounts for 30 percent of the country's coal production. Motuev established himself as Beshsary's director and demanded control over all five Kara-Keche mines, threatening to withhold coal supplies from the capital, Bishkek, during the winter.

"Motuev was arrested on May 23 on charges including taking over state property and tax evasion. Observers note that the arrest came after the murder of the alleged crime boss Rysbek Akmatbaev, who allegedly supported Motuev. Akmatbaev was assassinated on May 10 near Bishkek."

Based on this article from June 2005, Joomart would seem to be leftist in ideology, though mafia in practice:
"On June 6, Joldoshbaev’s Karakeche coal mine in the northern Naryn region was seized by 200 people claiming to be members of the Patriotic People’s Movement (Joomart).

"Joomart leader Nurlan Motuev told IWPR that the commandeering of the mine was part of an attempt to redistribute property in a just way following March’s popular revolution.

"'Corrupt officials and foreigners fed off the profit from this coal mine,' he told IWPR. 'From now on 70 per cent of the profit will go to local residents and the state can take the remaining 30 per cent.

"'Some people say these actions are illegal, that we have seized private property. I couldn’t care less about these laws, which were written during [former president] Askar Akaev’s rule! What did we bring about a revolution for?'

"Motuev also told journalists that three days earlier, on June 3, his organisation had seized storage facilities, equipment, keys, documents and mines belonging to Joldshobaev’s Besh-Sary firm, as well as those owned by another private firm Ak-Jol and by the Meerim foundation, which is the property of former first lady Mairam Akaeva."

Nathan Hamm has more.

The Ties that Bind

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has taken a step that has Israelis jumping for joy. Rinat has the details.

From the Hamas Charter

Another thing I've been meaning to blog about is the Hamas Charter. I take issue with the idea that refusing to deal with Hamas constitutes a refusal to accept the democratically expressed will of the Palestinian people. I'm opposed to coddling Hamas because, elected or otherwise, it's essentially a militant hate group. Consider this from Article 32:
"The Islamic Resistance Movement calls on Arab and Islamic nations to take up the line of serious and persevering action to prevent the success of this horrendous plan, to warn the people of the danger eminating from leaving the circle of struggle against Zionism. Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying."

Ah, yes, the Protocols, one of those European anti-Semitic tracts that caught on in the Middle East which Bernard Lewis was talking about. Wikipedia describes its contents:
"The Protocols are widely considered to be the beginning of contemporary conspiracy theory literature,[3] and take the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the "Elders," describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, and replace the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation. The work was popularized by those opposed to the revolutionary movement, and was disseminated further after the Russian Revolution of 1905, becoming known worldwide after the 1917 Bolshevik October Revolution, when the idea that Bolshevism was a conspiracy for world domination sparked far-ranging interest in the Protocols. It was widely circulated in the West in the 1920s and 1930s, and while continued usage of the Protocols as a propaganda tool substantially diminished with the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, it still has currency in the arsenal of contemporary anti-Semitism."

The charter goes on to say, "The Islamic Resistance Movement consider itself to be the spearhead of the circle of struggle with world Zionism and a step on the road." It begs the question, "The road to what?" While the Charter contains the standard Muslim idea that the religions of the book can live together peacefully, it reads like a throwaway line amidst stuff like, "Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people." Like other Islamic militants, Hamas hearkens after an age in which its ideals were dominant, an age which unfortunately for them never really existed. And lest you think Hamas's hatred is just directed at Jews, don't forget Article 22:
"For a long time, the enemies have been planning, skillfully and with precision, for the achievement of what they have attained. They took into consideration the causes affecting the current of events. They strived to amass great and substantive material wealth which they devoted to the realisation of their dream. With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there."

Yes, those Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, and Lions.

All of this is not to go back on my basic pro-Palestinian orientation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor do I deny that some within Hamas want to modify this charter. However, as far as I'm concerned, they need to actually do it and show they mean it before they should be treated as a respectable power on the world stage.

Kuwaiti Women Candidates

Kuwait now has its first five female Parliamentary candidates, as registration opens for the June 29 elections to replace the Parliament dissolved by the Emir a few days ago. The strangest part of the article is when it described how there were separate registration lines for men and women to as to maintain segregation of the sexes, but both offices were mostly staffed by women anyway. In related news, Kuwait's Islamist Umma party is boycotting the election on the grounds it is corrupt.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jews and Muslims in the Middle East

The recent flap over the alleged Iranian law mandating distinctive clothing for religious minorities is as good an excuse as any to post something I've been meaning to for some time: an extremely brief overview of the history of Jewish-Muslim relations in the Muslim Middle East. Terms like "dhimmitude" are often tossed around polemically, and I'd feel better if I had something to link to for future reference in addressing the topic.

I'm going to skip over the first few centuries, which are made confusing by often porous confessional boundaries and a paucity of sources with the high quality found in those of later times. It is, however, important to note the Covenant of Umar, the document eventually attributed to the reign of the second rightly guided caliph which sets out the laws which dhimmis were to follow as their part of the covenant. These are not in the Qur'an, and in fact many represent continuations of Byzantine and Sassanid practices. Many others, such as the ban on Arabic inscriptions, seem to imply that at the time these regulations actually took shape, authorities were concerned to maintain social and cultural distance between a ruling elite and non-Muslims, who were then a majority of the population outside the Arabian peninsula.

A point which I emphasize to my students, however, is that the Umar document represents the theory, not the practice. Occasionally a ruler would start enforcing most or all of its prohibitions, but more often the main impediments faced by Christians and Jews were those common to all minorities, a popular prejudice against that which was different emphasized especially in times of difficulty. The stereotypes involving Jews in the Muslim Middle Ages more closely resembled that of Hispanics in the contemporary United States than the conspiracy theorizing of today. Another window into non-Muslim communities is that utilized most effectively by S.D. Goitein, the treasure trove of documents known as the Cairo Geniza. Here we see in the voluminous correspondence of medieval Egyptian Jewry that in that place and time, Jews and Christians played important social and political roles and were fully integrated into the large and prosperous economy of the Islamic world.

As might be expected, individuals whose letters are preserved in the Geniza have a variety of opinions regarding their status, but in his A Mediterranean Society, Goitein uses the analogy of "a nation within a nation," noting that they share a common homeland and ultimate government guaranteeing justice and security, but follow different laws and answer to different religious authorities. The importance of that last should not be underestimated, for medieval Muslim rulers relied on religious leaders to govern, and just as the ulema were responsible for the Muslims, so Jewish and Christian communal leaders were responsible for their own people. If I had a book by Mark Cohen lying around I could find a good Jewish example, but the same can be accomplished with this quote on the Coptic Patriarch from C.E. Bosworth's "Christian and Jewish Religious Dignitaries in Mamluk Egypt and Syria: Qalqashandi’s Information on Their Heirarchy, Titulature, and Appointment," on pages 200-1 of the International Journal of Middle East Studies 3:
"He is the leading figure amongst the members of his religious community, and the one with legal authority over them whilst ever he remains their head. They refer to them in all matters concerning what is licit and illicit, and for all their internal legal affairs in which judgement is to be made according to the divine revelation of those parts of the Torah not abrogated by the Gospels."

This is why many Christian and Jewish leaders were required to live in capitals, where the Muslim rulers had easy access to them.

The period of the Crusades and Mongol invasions is usually considered an important turning point in this history. I know more about the Christians, but Jews were also affected by the strong sense of Muslim identity under attack from these outside powers, and subject both to government demands for money to fight these wars and the fact they were, in effect, still outsiders to the now larger, religiously defined Muslim community.

Even then, however, we still don't have anything like the anti-Semitism seen today in much of the Muslim Middle East. When did that start to appear? I will quote at length from Bernard Lewis's The Jews of Islam, pp. 185-6:
"From the late nineteenth century, as a direct result of European influence, movements appear among Muslims of which for the first time one can legitimately use the term anti-Semitic. Hostility to Jews had, of course, roots in the past, but in this era it assumed a new and radically different character...A specific campaign against Jews, expressed in the unmistakeable language of European Christian anti-Semitism, first appeared among (Middle Eastern) Christians in the nineteenth century, and developed among Christians and then Muslims in the twentieth. Mention has already been made of the role of European consuls and traders, working with local Christian minorities, in ousting Jews and securing their replacement by Middle Eastern Christians. They were also active in the spread of certain classical themes of European anti-Semitism - for example, in the introduction of the blood libel, and in conjuring up fantasies of Jewish plots to gain world domination.

"The first anti-Semitic tracts in Arabic appeared toward the end of the nineteenth century. They were translated from French originals - part of the literature of the Dreyfus controversy. Most of the translations were made by Arab Catholics, Maronites, or other Uniate Christians. The first Arabic translation of the most famous of all anti-Semitic forgeries, the so-called
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was published in Cairo in 1927...There is now also available in Arabic a vast literature of anti-Semitic works, translated or adapted from European originals. These include the Nazi classics that form the basis of a large proportion of current Arab writings on Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history, as well as other writers as diverse as Henry Ford and Karl Marx...

"The result of all this is that some of the nastiest inventions of European anti-Semitism have been endorsed in Arab countries at the highest political and academic levels."

Lewis ties this into the idea that Muslims resent the inversion of the order in which their true religion was leading them into a glorious future, though since I understand that theory is riddled with holes I didn't quote it above. The main point is that the deplorable anti-Semitism we see today in places like Iran and Syria has its origins in Europe, not the Qur'an, even if certain Qur'anic verses are occasionally ripped out of context to justify it, and those who draw comparisons between Hamas, Ahmadinejad, and the Nazis might do well to consider their own analogy and remember that "pogrom" is a European word. (As an aside, there are perhaps interesting parallels in Lewis's depiction of the British using allegations of Muslim anti-Semitism to intervene in the Ottoman Empire and certain events in the news today.)

UPDATE: I should note that a couple of the elements in the Covenant of Umar do also have Qur'anic verses interpreted as referring to them. However, it's not in this form, and the historical context isn't that of laying out the rules for interaction in a newly conquered Middle East. In fact, my reluctance to discuss the first few centuries stems in part from our lack of definite understanding of what might have constituted Islam during that period.

UPDATE: There's now a Qur'an note here.

UPDATE: Certain elements of this post are further explained here.

UPDATE: Here's a post based on S.D. Goitein's Geniza research.

Climbing Mountains

Lisa Goldman notes that the Israeli and Palestinian flags have been waved jointly atop Mt. Everest. This is definitely better than some people's behavior. Unfortunately, in a conflict filled with them it just begs the question of how many symbolic victories for peace it takes to make a real one. Perhaps if word spreads that an Israeli unfurled the Palestinian flag to support a colleague, it will move a few Arab fence-sitters into the peace camp, and that comparable steps on both sides will eventually lead to mutual understanding between both peoples.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kyrgyzstan and Russia

Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation addresses the growing ties between Kurmanbek Bakiev's Kyrgyzstan and Russia. This part is new:
"On a parallel track, the authorities are encouraging the emergence of seemingly independent non-governmental organizations that oppose U.S. policies. On May 20, a 'Forum of Kyrgyz Young Politicians' launched a signature-collection campaign in Bishkek against the U.S. proposal that Kyrgyzstan should join the International Monetary Fund's debt-write-off program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). The program would institute IMF oversight of those countries' finances in return for writing off their debts, supporting budget-balancing measures, and improving their investment climate. However, the just-created Kyrgyz Young Politicians' Forum denounces the program as 'good for the rich countries, not the poor ones' and demands a rejection of 'IMF's ukazes' (Kabar, Interfax, May 19). The U.S. Embassy's public proposal last month that Kyrgyzstan join the HIPC triggered an outburst of anti-U.S. rhetoric from circles associated with Bakiyev.

"The recently created 'Coalition of People's Democrats' similarly demands that 'the U.S. embassy should not interfere in the country's internal affairs' and is telling the public that 'it is in the U.S. interest that there should be no prosperity in Kyrgyzstan … The USA is ready for anything to put a noose around the neck of independent Kyrgyzstan.' Moreover, these People's Democrats are asking the U.S. Embassy to stop supporting the 'odious' Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society led by Edil Baisalov (Kabar, May 18). The latter is a pro-U.S. group and Baisalov was recently injured in assassination attempt in downtown Bishkek in broad daylight by still-unknown perpetrators (see EDM, April 14)."

The piece also claims that Bakiev thinks the war in Afghanistan is almost over. I guess he doesn't follow the news much.

The Blogging of Jim Henley

Jim Henley is quickly becoming the go-to blog for the debunking of the yellow-badges-for-Jews story. In this great post, he dissects the New York Post's back-pedaling on the subject. You should read the whole thing, but to make sure the summary gets out:
"And after that it’s all 'Look! A bear!' 1) Iran has done other bad things. 2) An exile in New York says the zonnar are being 'discussed and considered.' 3) Iran has required religious minorities to wear funny clothes in the past. 4) Iran 'requires all non-Muslim butchers, grocers, and purveyors of food to post a form in the window of their place of business warning Muslims that they do not share their faith. At the time it was put in place, the code was defended on the grounds that it enforced Islamic dietary law.' Of course, there actually are Islamic dietary laws, but never mind.

"Final score: One actual Jewish Iranian, Mr Motamed, who does not thank the world for its outcry; one Jewish-American who lived in Iran a long time ago who does. 24,999 (roughly) Jewish-Iranians who couldn’t get through to Mr Lake in Cairo, Egypt. But the article exists to mutate the zonnar story into a form that can survive the new, harsher environment."

Emir's Decision Attacked

Kuwaiti Parliamentarians are angry about the Emir's call for new elections, accusing him of trying to stifle reform:
"Abdullah Al Naibari, secretary-general of the Democratic Forum opposition bloc, said the government was trying to rein in the traditionally fiery assembly.

"'The dissolution of parliament is aimed at electing a parliament like the dissolved one, paralysed and without any real impact or independence,' he said.

"The emir's decision came a week after lawmakers and ministers clashed in the house over the draft law to reduce the number of constituencies from 25 to 10.

"Reformists wanted the number reduced to just five, saying it would make elections easier to monitor.

"The row descended into a stand-off when government supporters in the assembly voted to send the bill to a constitutional court. The reformists, accusing them of stalling, then submitted an unprecedented motion to publicly question the prime minister."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bedouin Insurgency?

Issandr links to Seneferu's argument that the idea of a Bedouin insurgency is "stupid". What might be the best argument:
"If you are still unconvinced, it is the bedouins themselves of these regions who are denying this, and rightly offended in their honour by this claim. Their living depends on tourism...why would they destroy their only source of livelihood? Is it because they were offended so bad by the Egyptian government that they had to go and attack international peacekeepers?"

I think the word "insurgency" is probably misplaced here, but am open to the idea that there is a dispute being carried on by violent means with its origins in Cairo's Sinai policy.

War Propaganda

The crowd that wants a military confrontation with Iran is putting its media machine into high gear. Matthew Yglesias, noting that the New York Post is pushing the debunked Iranian Jewish dress story, while highlighting Jim Henley's obvious explanation and additional sleuthwork:
"They made it (a certain Iranian Cabinet official) up. Taheri and The Post ran a provably false report, on their own initiative or at the behest of some publicity-shy agency of some government or other, played in as inflammatory way as possible. Why? So that months from now, someone hearing about plans to bomb Iran, or seeing footage of bombing on TV, will say to themselves, 'Didn’t I read that Iran was going to round up all the Jews and make them wear yellow stars like the Nazis? Something like that. Well, good riddance.' All the story had to do was live long enough to get into circulation."

Now, via Ha'aretz, I see that the Post is also raising the spectre of Hizbullah sleeper cells in New York City. Hizbullah, of course, is a Shi'ite militant organization supported by Iran, though as the Ha'aretz article notes, they do not plan to defend Iran from an American attack. Expect us to get more of these stories in the coming months.

War Against Taliban Continues

If there were any doubt the spring would bring an upsurge of violence in Afghanistan, the past few days have removed it. Stories like this abound in which dozens of people are killed in various battles, and now an allied counteroffensive is killing dozens of both Taliban fighters and civilians. Amidst it all, President Karzai is blaming Pakistan, saying that while it cracks down on al-Qaeda, it is letting the Taliban go, and elements of the regime are even supporting it. The last point is interesting, and may account for the rhetorical separation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban noted in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's video. I remember a couple of years ago reading rumors that al-Qaeda had grown disgruntled with the Taliban for their ineffectiveness in retaking Afghanistan, while the latter felt that al-Qaeda was growing too committed to other theaters. If all this is true, it could amount to a definite shifting of the political situation among those who attacked us on September 11.

(Crossposted to American Footprints, where Dan Darling has a useful comment and someone added a picture.)


The Emir of Kuwait has dissolved Parliament. I wasn't following the issues leading to this, which apparently revolved around a redistricting campaign and electoral reform measure of which the articles I've read cover only the most superficial elements, though the popular demonstrations are striking. However, the elections for the new Parliament on June 29 will be the first in the country's history in which women will participate. Middle East Online previews the elections, in which reform will be a key issue.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Competing Authorities

Juan Cole today recounts an exchange with a journalist:
"I had a very disturbing short email correspondence with a reporter of a major national newspaper who used the inaccurate 'wiped off the face of the map' quote. When challenged, he said it was 'carried by the news wires and is well known' or words to that effect. I pointed out that the 'quote' was attributed to a specific speech and that the statement was inaccurately translated. When challenged further he alleged that his trusted translator in Tehran affirmed that Ahmadinejad had said the phrase. When that was challenged, he reported that the translator said that anyway he had said something like it. When I pointed out that the translator was either lying or lazy, the reporter took offense that I had insulted a trusted colleague! I conclude that this reporter is attached to the phrase. He complained about being challenged by 'bloggers' and said he was tempted to stop reading 'blogs.'"

In one sense the exact translation here is academic, as no one doubts Ahmadinejad hates Israel. As we saw during the Khatami years, however, the President is hardly the main power base in Iran, and so despite the need of some on the right for an arch-villian against whom they can whip up war fever, you also need to consider the majlis and more importantly Ayatollah Khamene'i and others in the clerical overlay to Iran's more democratic institutions.

In terms of that translation itself, however, I've come to belief Juan Cole has it right, not only in the literal wording, but in its larger essence. He once posted something like, "It's probably from an old Persian poem or something." I'm not sure I have the right to source this very specifically, but scholars who work on jihadi rhetoric have said that these tapes that get released contain a lot of very classical poetic language, and I see no reason why Ayatollah Khomeini should have been any different when he made his speech. Juan Cole, who has been the editor for the International Journal of Middle East Studies and is pretty well-connected with knowledge of both Arabic and Persian, probably has a sense of this, and is far better able to comment on Persian idioms than journalists. Dismissing him as a blogger is pretty silly, and calls to mind these comments by Matthew Yglesias:
"One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it's (mostly) composed of people who aren't professional journalists, it's composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they 'really' do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge. The consensus that emerges from that process can, of course, be mistaken but even though the most prominent people expressing that consensus may not be experts in the subject at hand (the most prominent bloggers tend to be generalists), the consensus will almost always be grounded in some kind of well-informed opinions. If you want to push back on that, in other words, you'd better know what you're talking about and not treat your audience like a pack of mewling children."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sinai Insurgency

Chris Zambelis of the Jamestown Foundation discusses the Sinai terrorist problem as a potential Bedouin insurgency against the Mubarak regime:
"In varying degrees, Sinai Bedouins represent an oppressed and impoverished segment of Egyptian society. Led by Nasser Khamis el-Mallahi, the el-Mallahi tribe is among the poorest in the region. One source of popular resentment toward the state is that much of the severely disadvantaged region has benefited little from the local tourist industry. This is especially true for the tribes that reside in northern Sinai near al-Arish, including the el-Mallahi. Local tribes also resent Cairo's political interference in local affairs. In contrast, southern tribes have benefited somewhat from robust investments in the tourist sector and social welfare projects. This translates into a more positive attitude toward the state (al-Ahram, November 2, 2005).

"Cairo is known to employ harsh measures in securing and policing the region. It is not uncommon for security services to round up men in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, often comprising entire tribes and villages, in security sweeps targeting alleged terrorist cells (al-Jazeera, February 28, 2005). In extreme cases, women and children are also detained. The state also co-opts certain tribes through preferential treatment and the provision of benefits in order to expand Cairo's reach in what is otherwise hostile territory. This strategy inflames tensions between rival groups and alienates others, which in turn take out their anger against the state.

"In general, the tribal identity of many Sinai Bedouins supersedes any attachment to the rest of Egypt. Although many tribes settled into towns and villages, their nomadic and tribal traditions differ markedly from the agricultural sedentary tradition characteristic of most Egyptians of the Nile River Delta region. The state's incursion into their traditional lands and way of life has always been seen as an affront on different levels. Cairo's failure to integrate most of the region into the rest of the country socially, politically and economically is largely to blame for these sentiments (al-Ahram, November 2, 2005)."

This reminds me of the point often made by Juan Cole that coalition forces are probably incurring tribal feuds with lots of Sunni kin groups in central Iraq. If the Egyptian government is harshly cracking down on Sinai tribes, they could be done the same thing, fueling even greater opposition against them.

Ibn Danan Torah

This is where the Torah is kept in Fez's Ibn Danan Synagogue. The guy on the right is the keeper of the synagogue, located in Fez el-Jedid, Morocco, near the Jewish cemetery.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sugar River

It's really ironic that a major dental procedure would lead to eating a food (yogurt), the cheapest brand of which in the nearest grocery store was called "Sugar River."

For those who've been wondering, this morning I went in to have five wisdom teeth removed, as well as some other tiny extra tooth the name of which I forget. Fortunately so far I'm doing better than when they removed a few other wisdom teeth when I was in junior high. This is probably because none of these teeth were rooted in the jaw, requiring the extraction of a small piece of that, as well.


Teeth are a curse. Why couldn't have have tentacles that just suck things?

Linguistic Assimilation

Matthew Yglesias posts data on the linguistic assimination of Latin American immigrants:
"It's also clear from polls that lots of people are upset that Hispanics in the United States 'refuse to learn English,' which would be a legitimate concern except that it's not true: 'Spanish is the primary language among 72% of first-generation Latinos, but this figure falls to 7% among second-generation Latinos and zero among Latinos who are third generation and higher.' The whole idea that this could possibly be a problem is just absurdly ignorant anyway. If you leave the United States, you'll be struck by the fact that huge numbers of people everywhere learn at least some English and would like to learn more. The reason, of course, is that knowing English is a very useful skill. It's even more useful if you actually live in the United States and, what's more, it's obviously much easier for an American-born child of immigrants to learn English than it is for someone growing up in Bangalore or wherever."

What Matt says is especially obvious in the developing world, where English medium schools are considered among the best and parents often pay for children to take English lessons. This article about the Gulf is a recent example, and this is just one of many personal experiences I've had on the subject. I'd never connected it to immigration before, but the key to language development is what people think will benefit them economically. Cultural purity is the primary concern of some intellectuals and people already of high social class.

This also strikes me as silly in part because of work I did as an undergraduate in the old records of the fraternal benefit society called Western Catholic Union. In their early days, they had to produce a lot of materials in German, because that was the only language many of their members could read fluently. German-Americans wound up assimilating just fine.

More on Teeth

My dislike of teeth has increaased.


I hate teeth.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Free Alaa Petition

Sign the Free Alaa petition!

(Via, err, Egypt.)

New Jersey Gas

People in New Jersey are allegedly irate that someone thought of giving them the option of pumping their own gas. When I drove through the state a few years ago, I was annoyed at having to pay someone (via the tip) to do something which I could just as easily do myself. Reading the article was, for this Midwesterner, a strange experience, as gas pumping was discussed as this complicated skill requiring special training rather than something that I don't think anyone ever actually taught me, but I just always knew how to do just because.


Joshua Landis calls attention to the Qubaysis, a female Muslim order based in Syria becoming known as much for its services as its religious values. Salika Sufisticate has more:
"Before I continue, I should probably explain what a Qubaysi is. They are women who are at the forefront of the revival of Islam in Syria, particularly in Damascus. They are kind of like a movement I suppose. They tend to be Shafi’ in fiqh, Ash’ari in aqida, and Naqshbandi in tasawwuf. I did study with them very very briefly one summer and my impression of them was very mixed. Anyhow, it was started by a lady- I forget her first name but her last name is Qubaysi. Her shaykh was Shaykh Ahmed al-Kiftaro (may Allah have mercy on him) who was the mufti in Damascus not so long ago."

Judging from the article, the Qubaysis are basically a new Sufi tariqa, with Miss Mounira al-Qubaysi as the shaykh or pir and various levels of initiation leading up to proximity to her. (For some reason, the Arabic "sufiyya" from the al-Hayat article was translated "Sophists" in English.) Like many classical Sufi orders, they are getting a mixed reaction from those whose spirituality is more shari'a-based, and baraka, or divine blessing, is attached to the holy person at the order's head. If the Qubaysis continue this almost textbook pattern, her tomb will eventually become a place of pilgrimage.

I've read somewhere about the Syrian government trying to encourage a Sufi order to counter the Muslim Brotherhood, but have no idea if this is related or what the broader context is in Syria. It is, however, striking that in recent weeks I've read about Sufi revivals in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and now Syria. That's starting to look like a pattern, and it may be that the Sufi movement which once dominated Muslim religious life in the Middle East is making a comeback on its home turf.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Fanatic

Congratulations to Laila Lalami for her 2006 Caine Prize Nomination! That is awesome, and the book is worthy.

UAE Census

'Aqoul's Dubaiwalla reports on the census in the United Arab Emirates:
"My best guess is that expatriates make up 85 percent of the UAE's population, but the government would probably like people to believe UAE nationals make up anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of the people living in the country. In Dubai, I've heard that expats make up 92-94 percent of residents, and this would seem very much in keeping with what I have seen. However, admitting as much officially could lead to a backlash from locals; many already feel upset, believing their culture is under siege or being drowned out in their own country, a line of thought the press seems to encourage. It is perfectly acceptable for the government to say that it wants to have the city's population quadruple within a decade and a half, but not for it to point out that the obvious consequence of this would be an even greater proportion of expatriates."

The Persian Gulf states are currently undergoing a dramatic demographic and cultural shift, and if they continue on their present course, in a century they will be no more Arab than Britain is Briton. The coast does have a cosmopolitan history, as centuries ago it was part of the great Indian Ocean trading network, and Oman and presumably others still have descendants of South Asians and Africans who came then. What's happening today is different, however, both in terms of scope and the relationship of immigrants to the government and their ability to retain ties to their ancestral cultures.

The course of this cultural shift is partly up to the government's involved. Will the workers continue to be a class apart, perhaps one day evolving into a South Africa-style apartheid until the dam finally bursts? Sadly that possibility, while extreme, is more likely than the happier extreme of trying to integrate foreign workers culturally into Gulf society. For those who are from Pakistan or other Muslim areas, the means to do this is already at hand, though for members of other religions the job becomes trickier.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Incitement to Division

Today, Juan Cole posts an Asharq al-Awsat interview with hardline Sunni leader Harith al-Dhari. I want to call attention to this part:
"On what is being said about a covert war between the Sunnis and Shias, Al-Dari said, 'Many people wonder whether there is indeed a covert war between the Shias and Sunnis in Iraq. I say there is no war between between the Sunnis and the Shias but there is a different kind of war that is being launched by forces that have an interest in fragmenting Iraq's unity by fomenting sedition among its people. These are political forces that have their own interests and agendas. Some of these interests are purely selfish while others are influenced by external forces on them. Therefore, they seek to foment sedition and incite one side against the other in order to create a sort of conflict and hatred. This is obvious in several Iraqi towns, especially in Baghdad, Basra, and other towns'.

"Asked about what the Sunnis in Iraq are being subjected to by other elements that are considered to be followers of Shiite groups, Al-Dari said, 'Terrorism does not differentiate between Shias and Sunnis although what the Sunnis have been exposed to for some time is dominant in the Iraqi scene. When the occupation failed to hit the resistance it resorted to inciting one side against another. It attacked this or that sect to incite reactions that they think would lead to sedition and to clashes among the sons of the same homeland and thus achieve their desired end, namely, the fragmentation of Iraq on one hand and giving the occupation the upper hand on the other'."

The conspiracy theory here is that foreign powers are working to divide Iraqis against each other. This idea comes from deeply held (and not entirely inaccurate) beliefs that the former colonial powers in the Middle East wanted the Arab world divided so as to keep it weak. Those who argue that we should try to force partition on Iraq ignore this context, mistaking an Iraq steeped in Arab nationalism for a Yugoslavia steeped in regional independence rhetoric. If Iraq, potentially one of the most wealthy and powerful Arab nations, is divided, it will sow new seeds of hatred of the United States and other Western powers throughout the Arab world.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Badr's Museum - Farafra

This is some of the artwork on display outside Badr's Museum in Farafra, Egypt. You can read more about that oasis here.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I used to say I wouldn't start thinking about whom to support in 2008 until early 2007 at the earliest, but as regular readers know I have anyway, and indeed I've recently reached a tentative decision. Suffice it to say that this would make me happy. However, my former co-blogger Aziz has a different take.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Jewish Bloggers

How does a church-going Christian like myself keep getting on these lists?

Friday, May 12, 2006

More Kyrgyzstan Notes

I've been poking around Kyrgyzstan-related information on the internet, hoping to stumble across something interesting. One thing I notice continually is the importance of Russia's economic importance for the country. Certainly the money that comes in from Kyrgyz workers in Russia is crucial, but I'd also guess that for infrastructure reasons Kyrgyzstan doesn't have the capacity to develop lots of foreign trade links, nor does it have the leverage in terms of oil and natural gas of several of its Central Asian neighbors. This suggests that Bakiev's pro-Russian policies may just be a case of charting the safest course to safeguard the country's future, accepting a role as part of Moscow's "near abroad."

On another matter, I had assumed that when Rysbek Akmatbaev blamed Prime Minister Felix Kulov for his brother's death, it was based on Kulov's anti-corruption platform. Instead, the links seems to be a Chechen crime boss in the prison where he was killed named Aziz Batukaev. Kulov is accused of developing a relationship with Batukaev when they were in prison together, though the Prime Minister denies it. Incidentally, while I don't know if he has direct links, Batukaev is a huge fan of Chechen leaders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Mashdakov, the former of whom is a terrorist leader whose colleages have included a Saudi who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: This is also interesting. Tynychbek Akmatbaev's father-in-law is Topchubek Turgunaliev. Turgunaliev was the main opposition leader in Kyrgyzstan for much of the 1990's, and founded a secular democratic opposition party.

Jerooy Gold

One of the demands of Kyrgyzstan's opposition movement involves government handling of the Jerooy gold deposits. For several years, a British firm called Oxus Gold had the rights to develop this field jointly with the Kyrgyz state firm Kyrgyzaltyn under something called the Talas Gold Mining Company Joint Venture Agreement. After several years of dispute, Talas's license was revoked earlier this year, even though construction on the processing plant was nearly complete. In late April, Talas was replaced by Global Gold, though the details haven't been worked out. The processing will take place at something called the Kara Balta Mining Plant. This is, if I interpret everything correctly, a joint venture with Russia and Kazakhstan.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Israel Boycott

K.C. Johnson nicely sums up why I don't think there should be an academic boycott of Israel:
"But perhaps they're onto something, and we should extend the practice. Germany has been very critical of the Iraq war, so maybe German faculty unions should resolve to boycott British academics. But Germany, of course, has long mistreated its Turkish minority--surely justifying a call to boycott German professors coming from Turkey. And Turkish treatment of its Kurdish minority would be more than enough reason for a human-rights friendly regime to pass a resolution boycotting Turkish scholars.

"Eventually, we'll be left with the scholars of only the nation that has practiced a foreign policy closest to perfect (I nominate Finland) being boycott-free. The center of international intellectual exchange can shift to Helsinki, the only place on the planet where academics from all countries know they could travel without possibility of a boycott."

Kefaya Crackdown

The Arabist continues its coverage of the Egyptian government's crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. One observer assesses the situation thusly:
"I have often questioned the utility of all the protesting that has occurred in Cairo since December 2004. Yet, today was impressive to watch people come out and start chanting when they knew security was going to respond within minutes – arresting some of them, beating some of them. Rather than give up, the remaining protesters would disperse and regroup and challenge the state again, against all hopes of actually achieving anything. Their bravery and their tenacity should be commended. Regardless of the people detained since 24 April (according to HRW, the number is over 100), people continue to turn out in the face of their decreasing numbers.

"Also, reports came in that said that a CSF truck fell over the 6th October Bridge in Abbasaya killing 10 and injuring 20 of the CSF conscripts. This state is hopeless. It is authoritarian and rotten to its core and one can only hope that some sort of change occurs. Yet, I remain skeptical that no matter how brave or stubborn the social forces resisting the state are, that much can be achieved. In Egypt, there can be no third way. This is not a state that is behaving like its scared or weak. It is a state that is boldly asserting its repressive power against its unarmed citizens. This state is not interested in practicing politics. It is incapable of dealing with its polity politically or diffusing political problems. Instead, it relies on repression, coercion, and intimidation. A high majority of Egyptians will be forced in acquiescence through fear. Yet, fear cannot and will not ever expand regime power.

"Lastly, word has emerged that the judges under trial – Hisham Bastawisi and Mahmoud Mekki - went to the High Court this morning accompanied by their lawyers and a delegation of judges. They were told that their entourage could not enter the High Court. Instead, only 8 people would be allowed to enter and the court informed them that it reserved the right to select their delegates. Bastawisi and Mekki refused to enter after this gross insult. They left the court and returned to the Judges Club where they remain hold up with scores of their colleagues. They say they will not be going to any more court cases until the Security Forces are removed from the streets and the protesters are released.

"The pro-reform judges were Egypt’s heroes before today. Now, they are not only heroes but legends. And they are the most important symbols of this very nasty and seemingly hopeless struggle for the political heart and future of Egypt."

Read the entire post for pictures and a full account of the day's demonstrations, government violence in response, and the aftermath.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bernard Lewis

Angry Arab takes apart Bernard Lewis as an authority on the modern Middle East. I've never read Lewis's Ottoman stuff, though The Jews of Islam is worth reading, and doesn't say what you might expect about the roots of modern Arab anti-Semitism. My views on his contemporary commentary, however are seen in posts like this one. I've also commented on the reasons for his influence, the reasons for his decline in academic influence, and a point on which other historians should learn from him.

As an aside, however, can I just point out that if both Lewis and Juan Cole think partitioning Iraq is a really bad idea, it probably is, in fact, a really bad idea?

Akmatbaev Killed

If you want to see mob rule, check out post-Revolution Kyrgyzstan. Today, Rysbek Akmatbaev was killed while leaving a mosque, just several months after his brother was also killed. Both have ties to Kyrgyz organized crime, and Rysbek, at least, was a public opponent of President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Akmatbaev's murder is on the same order of magnitude as that of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, though in this case no one knows who killed him. It could be the regime, or it could be another organized crime syndicate. I still wonder what the ties are between Kyrgyzstan's and Russia's criminal elements, and whether something like that fits into Bakiev's pro-Russian policies, and perhaps even this shooting.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I think it's really cool that in my dissertation I get to write about a guy named Hadash One-Eye.

The Alaa Campaign

There is now a Free Alaa blog with notes on his importance:
"Alaa and those arrested with him are now arrested for 15 days "pending investigation", which could be renewed indefinitely if the state so wishes. He and the men were sent to the infamous Torah Prison and the girls to the Qanatir prison for the duration. This makes them hardly safe, because stuff that goes on in Egyptian prisons on the hands of the jailors: beatings, sexual assaults, torture of all kinds.

"Currently there are about 48 detained, 6 of them are bloggers, and 3 of them are women. The best known is Alaa, which makes him the posterboy of this campaign - but getting them out is equally as important. Egypt has fewer than 830 bloggers all in all, 60 of whom are political and less than 30 are politically active. Now 6 of those are in jail - 20% of all politically active Egyptian bloggers - and amongst them one of Egypt's most highly profiled one.

"This is by no means a co-incidence. Government agents handpicked people to arrest from amongst the protesters. They have been wanting to get Alaa for a long time now, precisely because he is high profile, and because he helps organizes the protests and spread the information through the blog aggregator he runs ( With Alaa gone, Aggregator could shut down without his maintenance and other bloggers could get too scared to be active and find no way to organize or reach one other. It's of vital importance that he gets released ASAP.

"Alaa is a secular democracy activist, and a tireless advocate of freedom, free speech and human rights. He organizes demonstrations and engages in protests against all kinds of injustices in Egypt and is the winner of the international Best of the Blogs award from Reporters Without Borders last December."

They're calling for a googlebomb of the word Egypt directed to their web site. I remember that in 2005 the Kefaya activists were very concerned about being tied too closely to foreigners, but figure Sandmonkey knows what he's doing, and so comply.

Bush and Dissent

Kevin Drum notes the most recent example of the Bush administration's opposition to dissent:
"After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

"'He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,' Jackson said of the prospective contractor. 'He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, "I have a problem with your president..."

"'He didn't get the contract,' Jackson continued. 'Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe.'"

There are so many ways to approach this, not the least of which is what Kevin notes: This wasn't a buried scandal, but something the HUD Secretary went out and announced. The darker side is that the Bush administration has waged a campaign against dissent in government agencies among lifelong professionals, people who attend Presidential rallies and events, sought to intimidate the media and intelligentsia, and now seeks conformity from private sector businessmen who want to do business with the government. You don't have to wear a tin-foil hat to wonder where it all ends.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Free Alaa

Alaa Seif al-Islam, as well as a bunch of other people (1, 2), have been arrested by Egyptian security forces. There are a lot of bloggers on this list, most prominently Alaa himself, whom I never actually met per se but was around a fair amount in Egypt. The prison where they've been taken has a bad reputation, so if anyone has any ideas for pressuring for their release, let's implement them.

UPDATE: Elijah Zarwan has more:
"When I first met Alaa in the summer of 2005, I told him I was worried the government would crack down on the Kifaya protesters after the elections, when the world’s attention was elsewhere. I asked him if he was worried about what would happen if that came to pass: Many of the protesters were young, they had never been in jail, they didn’t know what could happen to them. He said he believed that it was too late for the government to put an end to the protests, that once people had tasted a bit of freedom, the regime couldn’t roll it back.

"'The government would pay a heavy price if it clamps down on us,' Alaa’s father told the BBC’s Heba Saleh last year. The coming days and weeks will see both those predictions tested."

Over the summer, I commented that the Youth for Change activists reminded me more than anything else of the Friends of the ABC Cafe. Let's hope things turn out differently.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

At Maon Farm

Dutchblog Israel alerts me to violence against children in the West Bank:
"Settlers from the settlement of Maon clashed with IDF troops on Saturday who were accompanying a group of Palestinian children from school back to their nearby village. According to the army, the settlers laid an ambush for the army force and attacked the soldiers as they passed the settlement, located in the southern Hebron Hills.

"Four soldiers and two Palestinians were injured in the clashes. The IDF subsequently declared the area a closed military zone to prevent additional right-wingers from reaching the scene of the scuffle.

"The settlers, the army said, threw rocks and cement blocks at the students, mostly young children between ages 6 and 11. One of the settlers, the army said, even commanded his dog to attack the soldiers and the schoolchildren. Soldiers fired their weapons in the air to disperse the settlers, the army said."

Yes, militant Israeli settlers attacked the same military which is there partly to protect them so as to get at some grade school kids. The proposed withdrawal from parts of the West Bank should prove interesting. The pictures which accompany the Jerusalem Post article are revealing.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


This is a really weird scandal, even by Turkmenistan standards:
"On April 10 the president’s enforcer left her post, ostensibly stepping down voluntarily to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

"But that story changed on April 24, when the president turned up at the prosecution service to announce the findings of an investigation into Atajanova’s alleged misdeeds. As a sideline to prosecuting high-profile figures, she apparently appropriated their assets, acquiring dozens of houses, shops and cafes across the country, over 20 cars, thousands of sheep and, for reasons still unexplained, 30,500 buckets.

"'I am astonished at your greed,' Niazov said to Atajanova, in remarks shown on Turkmen TV. 'You took 30,500 buckets – why?'

"Turning to investigators working on the case, he said, 'Have you found out why she took them? What did she need 30,000 buckets for? Did she use them for something or not?'"

Conquering Canada

Matthew Yglesias remembers plans for wars past:
In the wake of the American Civil War, British officials thought it likely that the Republican administration would use America's newfound large military establishment to once again try to conquer Canada in order to, among other things, dilute Southern electoral power after the reincorporation of the former rebel states. In retrospect, I sort of wish we'd done that."

It's really not too late, though. The United States has a much more powerful military than Canada does, and I think we'd find Ontario much more digestible than Iraq. In order to win Canadian hearts and minds, we'd only have to point out that Canadian NHL teams would start taking in American rather than Canadian dollars, and thus level that sport's financial playing field.

So which Democrat will take up the banner of northward expansion in 2008?

Wisconsin Crew Rape Case

Because of our top party school status, I suspect cases like this are far more frequent than most realize. I'm also frustrated by the way lawsuit fears seem to determine the university's handling of such matters. I remember something similar in my TA training, where the standard of proof in cases of cheating was also ridiculously high, ostensibly because of lawsuit fears.

UPDATE: See also this:
"UW-Madison is celebrating 10 years of progress in its main alcohol-abuse prevention program even as the university's student body finishes one of its booziest years on record.

"Most seriously, the number of students who drank so much they needed emergency help has soared, with 74 detox admissions reported by campus police compared to 41 trips last school year. Those numbers don't include students taken to detox by city police at off-campus events such as the annual Mifflin Street party, where this year female students filled up the detox beds by 5 p.m."

UPDATE: It occurs to me that by posting the above update to this most, I might give the impression of suggesting that rape is a problem of drunk women. That's not it at all. What I'm suggesting is that a culture of drunkenness will produce problems, including the crime of rape. The fact the victim was drunk in the Capital Times story and drunken women are singled out in the Mifflin Street Block Party reference in the Wisconsin State Journal is coincidental - both stories could just as easily have involved drunken men and I'd still make the same connection.

Best Books, 2005-06

Once more, it is time for my annual pre-summer ritual of recommending to others the best books I read for the first time during the past year. This year I read a ton of really good stuff, and it was hard to decide what was best. In the end, however, a few books really stood out.

Literary Fiction

The Man in the Iron Mask (Alexandre Dumas)

My top pick for the year is this time-tested classic dealing with the final adventures of the Three Musketeers crew of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan. The third volume of a trilogy originally published as Ten Years Later, its fast-paced action kept me up late several nights running. The work is darker in tone than previous works in the series, as after the crisis point it takes on an almost Revenge of the Sith feel with proponents of a new manner of government hunting down guardians of the old, but it also invokes themes of aging as the musketeers sense their time passing. The work also deals with timeless themes such as the difference between leading loyal followers and commanding servants and pastoral happiness versus adventure and activism. Getting to this point requires some wading through earlier novels, but in my opinion it was worth it.

The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)

This stunning firat novel of Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini explores themes such as forgiveness, friendship, privilege, and violence amidst the dramatic, haunting, and poignant backdrop of the past 30 years of Afghanistan's history. The characters are real, the thoughts are deep, and only a bit of over-the-top coincidental plotting kept this from occupying the top spot. Unless Hosseini himself tops it, this will become the definitive literary treatment of Afghanistan's recent civil wars, and will preserve their memory because people will always read it for it's pure literary value.

Davita's Harp (Chaim Potok)

This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a girl who comes to value her religious heritage, not as dogmatic truth, but as an individual choice to seek comfort in timeless traditions following the deaths of important people in her life and the breakdown of the modern leftist ideologies with which she was raised. Her gender also plays a role, as the fact she is female sometimes causes her trouble in finding her place within her tradition's institutions. I read this book in a single evening, and that's not something I do much anymore.

Dance, Dance, Dance (Murakami Haruki)

As is usually the case with Murakami, this novel is pretty weird. Although it can easily stand alone, it is a sequel to The Wild Sheep Chase, and features the return of the Sheep Man who bears an important lesson: "You gotta dance." Through a series of weird experiences, the listless narrator steps out of his routine and tries his moves on the dance floor of life. It's hard to say more than that, as so much of the pleasure of reading Murakami is in the weird, unexpected stuff that happens, so I'll just say instead that for some reason this novel made me feel ready to take on life.

The Rock (Kanan Makiya)

I already blogged about this once, so let me just repeat myself: As a historian of this period, I loved the way Makiya brings out the early affinities between Islam and Judaism, such as the caliph Umar's interest in Jewish holy sites as opposed to Christian cathedrals, and was absorbed by his lyrical weaving together of traditions so that it is often hard to tell which elements come from which religion. The Dome of the Rock, too, becomes more than just a Muslim shrine, but a monument to Jewish tradition, as well, built on the Rock explained through Ka'b's stories to honor the figures whom Jews hold most sacred. It is a beautiful, engaging vision, one which we can only hope will one day sink roots into the region in which it is set.

Popular Fiction

Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)

I enjoyed this more than The Da Vinci Code, but then I was in it for the thriller rather than the religious conspiracy theory, and whatever else you can say about it, this book is a page-turner filled with enough plot twists to keep you guessing until the very end. There's also some meaty philosophizing about the relative roles of science and religion, and Brown's more devout critics might be interested to know it definitely leaves a place for religion in our modern science-dominated world.


The Politicization of Islam (Kemal Karpat)

This massive capstone to the career of one of the world's most distinguished historians of the Ottoman Empire is designed as a study of how the Islamization policies of Sultan Abdulhamid II laid the foundation for the modern Turkish nation. Along the way, however, Karpat encompasses most of the globe as he explores relations between Europe and various Muslim societies, a confrontation which contributed to an awareness of unity among the former as they looked to the Ottoman Empire as a power which could protect them ruled by one who claimed the title "caliph." This is not for those with just a casual interest - suffice it to say there are two whole pages devoted to Comoros - but those who are serious about developing a deeper understanding of forces which have shaped our world should give this a read.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Robert Jordan

This is old news, but I completely missed it. Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time books, has amyloidosis that is affecting his heart function. He is posting treatment updates to his blog.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ahmadinejad Channels Hugo Schwyzer

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is fighting for women's right to attend live sporting events. The title for this post was inspired by his reply to opponents who fear it may lead to immorality:
"'Sadly, when we speak of corruption the finger is pointed at women. Are men without reproach? Some people think that women are the cause of corruption, but they are wrong,' said the president, who is not known to back down."

Ben Gurion Spoke

Aziz dug up a fascinating quote from David Ben Gurion:
"I don't understand your optimism. Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations' time, but for the moment there is no chance. So it's simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out..." (In conversation with Nahum Goldmann, in 1956; as quoted in The Jewish Paradox: A personal memoir (1978) by Nahum Goldmann)

Interesting. Aziz also has some thoughts on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hekmatyar Speaks

Over at American Footprints, I have a number of comments about Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's video declaring support for al-Qaeda. One thing I forgot to go into there is the timing. Clearly it is partly about the start of the spring war season in Afghanistan. In broader terms, however, the fact this is coming in May 2006 instead of a year or two ago would seem to indicate a change of alliances or a change of tactics. It may be that Hekmatyar only recently formalized his support for Bin Laden; however, it may also be the latest example of Iraqi insurgent tactics being imported to Afghanistan - in this case, videos calling for attacks on foreign interests - or, and this might seem unlikely but is scary enough if true to put out there, if allegations that Hekmatyar clandestinely leads an important Parliamentary block are true, then it could simply be that they were waiting for those elections to get out of the way and gain a foothold in the government.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this could explain everything.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sufis and Saudi Arabia

Angry Arab links to an article about a resurgence of Sufism in Saudi Arabia. He suggests the Saudi government is cultivating Sufism as an alternative to Wahhabism. If this is the case, it would have to be a very long-term plan, and I suspect it's more a case of trying to use tolerance to limit the influence of the Wahhabi ulema, leaving dynastic nationalism as the state's dominant ideology.

Cole on Hitchens

Today, Juan Cole struck back at a hit piece written about him by Christopher Hitchens. Cole clearly takes the approach of fighting fire with fire and getting into the gutter with his critics rather than just refuting them; that is his choice, though his comments about Hitchens possible being drunk when he filed his piece are regrettable and open him to attack. However, his main point remains intact. Hitchens did print something from a private list-serve for the sole purpose of discrediting a political opponent, and is ripping these statements out of the discussion of which they were originally a part and attacking Cole for a role played in a conversation of his own creation. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have time to read the entire Persian text of Ahmadinejad's speech, but a glance at the excerpts here support Cole's rendering, including the key reference that the occupation mentioned is of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Matthew Yglesias notes, as he often has before, how much cheaper than the Iraq War various humanitarian measures would be. Even apart from the Iraq analogy, I'd like to see a lot of this get done. The biggest obstacles, however, are political. Not only do most of these not have an important lobbying group, but as Dave Milovich has pointed out to me in the past, Americans vastly overestimate the cost of foreign aid expenditures. Most of this stuff is insignificant in terms of our federal budget, but it sounds like a big deal, and one people perceive as going down a black hole because the problems have existed so long, in part because of the inaction by the powers that could deal with them, causing an ongoing cycle.