Monday, July 31, 2006

Lodging Adventures

The following summarizes my recent experiences with reserved lodging:

Kalamazoo conference, 2004: Room reservations lost, but I had paperwork to prove I had made them

Fez, 2004: Arabic program desk didn't have my lodging request, though they later found it

Cairo, 2005: Hotel lost my reservation, but had room

Blair Victoria Hotel, London, 2005: No problems

Blair Victoria Hotel, London, 2006: No problems

London conference lodging, 2006: Claimed I had no reservation, though it turned out a supervisor had simply skipped over my name in providing the list to the front desk

Does this happen to other people with such frequency?


I'm back from London, where I was uncharacteristically cut off from news and internet access. I need to catch up on things before posting much on Lebanon, but I will say now that it sounds like Israel is losing this war and knows it. Yesterday in Heathrow I saw a BBC report that Israel was putting Shebaa Farms on the table in negotiations. The Qana disaster speaks for itself. Israel's assault on Lebanon looks to end up as a significant disaster, both for itself and Lebanon. Despite my views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, if I were Israeli I'd be thinking seriously about trying to bring Netanyahu back because the current crop of national leaders seems downright incompotent.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Studying Ancient Times

Well, I'm off for a week in London to do research, attend the Seminar for Arabian Studies, and do whatever else I find to do. Hopefully my trip there won't be marred in the same way last year's was.

In the meantime, here's a picture of the ruins of Ayla, on the site of modern Aqaba, Jordan. You can read more about the site here.

One of the papers at the conference will argue that the city was damaged and repaired seven times due to earthquakes. These earthquakes apparently had an important impact on Jordan's cultural development. I'm not sure if I'll go to that session or not, but I'm impressed by the ability of scholars to figure out that sort of thing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kramer on the Crisis

Martin Kramer has some comments from an interview he did about the current war between Israel and Lebanon. He agrees with Juan Cole on Hizbullah's megalomania and the idea that they might have started believing their own propaganda. I figure if those two are on the same side, there might be something to it. He also arrives at the same conclusion I have about the (lack of) probable Iranian involvement, and about the Iranian links explaining President Bush's strong pro-war stance. Syria is unmentioned. He has some other comments which I would address if I had time - read the whole post and see what you think. His comparison between Islamism and Arab nationalism is intriguing considering the support I've seen for Hizbullah from Arab nationalist sources. I don't, however, think Israel needs or can even get another Six Day War out of this. Given the fact they're still stuck with the problems from the aftermath of the last one, I'm not sure they should even want to.

Friday, July 21, 2006

End of World

MSNBC has decided that a good use of their resources is to study whether the events in Lebanon signal the end of the world as depicted in the Bible. They even have guests on the subject, one from beliefnet and a rabbi to explain what Amalek is. The rabbi, Marc Gellman, is explaining how Amalek was the first terrorist group and that Muslim fundamentalists are their children. The report is apparently a follow-up to this story.

This post from the Arabist is also interesting.

Just in case the end is not near, I need to get back to work or I'm going to have a late night tonight.

This Ugly War

Eugene has what may be the straight of the reports that Hizbullah is preventing people from evacuating with this post indicating that people are unable to leave a certain village because Hizbullah has taken up positions around it:
"I've also received an independant confirmation from another reader, regarding a previous post: 'I can confirm this report also. A Lebanese friend has told me that family members are trapped in a village close to the border and are being prevented from leaving by Hizbollah fighters who are setting up rocket positions around the village. Her uncles' words were 'we are waiting for death'. They are terrified of retaliatory Israeli strikes, but can do nothing when threatened by armed guerillas.'"

Another knock against Hizbullah is noted by Doha at The Lebanese Bloggers, who claims that Nasrallah is not accepting the authority of Prime Minister Seniora to negotiate a ceasefire. This isn't really surprising, but should shake those who want to see the Hizbullah leader as a hero. He participates in the national government, but only when it suits him and on his own terms.

Lebanese sources believe Israel's ultimate goal is to drain the civilian population of southern Lebanon, leaving the Hizbullah fighters out on their own. It's a cliche to say the civilians get caught in the middle during times of war, but in this one they've actually become part of the terrain which both sides are trying to manipulate to their own advantage.

Angry Arab says that in Beirut, the old sectarian militias are coming out to provide security. There may be more than just Hizbullah to disarm when this is over.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I'm presuming this is what woke me up last night:

This tree is right next to my apartment, and did not survive an overnight summer thunderstorm which featured winds over 80 miles per hour. Fortunately I haven't heard reports of injuries anywhere, though there was property damage. Incidentally, if someone wants to do me a favor, try going back in time to yesterday evening and suggest rolling up my car windows.

Aid to Lebanon

Israel has agreed to open a humanitarian corridor into Lebanon:
"Israel agreed on Thursday to allow humanitarian aid to flow directly into Lebanon as the the Israel Defense Forces continues to press a major offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas, officials said.

"The aid will be brought by a French ship to the Lebanese port of Sidon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said. Israel's decision follows a United States request to open a 'humanitarian corridor' that would allow ships to anchor on Lebanese shores to unload their supplies.

"Israel has imposed a blockade on Lebanon but has not stopped foreign countries from evacuating their nationals."

Good News

My passport (with Israeli visa) has arrived!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Armies Behaving Badly

I've been looking into reports such as this one that the IDF is using chemical weapons in Lebanon. One suspicion I have is that Israel is deploying white phosphorus, much like the United States did in Fallujah. These are designed as screening devices, but as you can see from the pdf links on the sites above, the U.S. military in its own publications talked about experimenting with it as a combat weapon. Although not technically banned as a chemical weapon, its effects include melting human skin, and therefore it might as well be. Wikipedia, in an unsourced citation, mentions someone interviewed on Australian television who claims Israel is dropping flares to confuse heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. If the effects of such flares do parallel WP, then it's just as bad. If either is true, then Israel has forfeited the moral high ground they gained when Hizbullah threatened a de facto chemical weapons attack in bombing chemical plants in Haifa.

Meanwhile, Allison Kaplan Sommer is trying to get the straight of reports that Hizbullah may be preventing civilians from fleeing the bombardment areas. The United Nations is in the best position to confirm this, but I tentatively believe it, as I don't think the IDF would invoke the UN unless they were pretty sure of themselves. Of course, it could still be psy ops, as well. I don't think Hizbullah is above using human shields.

Meanwhile, Israel has also begun labelling financial institutions as Hizbullah targets.

UPDATE: Some commenters think I might be interpreting some of this material. Who was it that said, "All wars are crimes"?

Horn of Africa Update

If anyone's interested, it looks like Ethiopia is about to invade Somalia to prevent the organization formerly known as the Islamic Courts Union from defeating the transitional government in Baidoa. Meanwhile, it sounds like Eritrea is working to move away from both the Middle East and northeastern Africa.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein has more, including his belief that this could be the worst of the crises the world presently faces.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lebanese Defense

A few days ago I highlighted Imshin's comments defending Israel's actions in Lebanon. I just found a great post passionately arguing the Lebanese perspective. Although as with Imshin's posts I don't agree with everything in it - I think, for example, that the Shebaa Farms issue is just an excuse for Hizbullah to stay armed - I still advocate reading the whole thing. I will, however, highlight this portion:
"Do Americans and Israelis actually believe this drivel? Hezbollah does not need to blend into the population of the South. Hezbollah IS the population of the south. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Lebanese are loyal and passionate about Hezbollah. It is true that Hezbollah has the backing of Syria and Iran, but to claim it’s a foreign entity is lunacy. Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, with Lebanese leaders and Lebanese followers, with Lebanese aspirations and Lebanese deficiencies. Whether you like it or not, it is the single most popular party in Lebanon.

"There is no way to get rid of a resistance that has the backing of a large portion of the population. Hezbollah has its roots deep in Lebanese society, with literally hundreds of thousands of supporters. Unless Israel is thinking of mass extermination of a vast section of the Lebanese people, there is no way to eliminate the resistance.

"Israel’s current strategy (bombing the hell out of us) will not shake Hezbollah. They do not have infrastructures that can be hit from the air. They don’t have tanks and caserns. Even if Israel is foolish enough to go for a ground invasion, and even if they break Hezbollah's military backbone after suffering major losses, the resistance will not fade away. Other groups will form; other forms of resistance will take shape, more effective and more deadly to Israel."

This is all true, and one reason I'm not sure what Israel is trying to accomplish. The post also notes that the Maronite Christian Michael Awn and his organization have been supporting Hizbullah. Those two formed an alliance a year or two ago, and this crisis is probably helping them politically.

Peace Proposals

Jonathan Edelstein reviews the UN peace proposal. As he notes, the proposal would give Israel everything it wants on the Gaza front, but not the key demand of an armed Hizbullah being moved off the Lebanon border. I'm more optimistic than him about the prospects for being able to hold to it in Gaza, as if Fatah and Hamas were able to build on the cooperation which went into their late June agreement on a joint negotiating position (remember that?), then they could probably bring a great deal of stability to the Strip. Egyptian aid would also be vital on this score. The bigger diplomatic problem is Hizbullah, which would only sign on to a ceasefire if they could claim some sort of victory, either in keeping their two prisoners or obtaining the release of Israel's Lebanese prisoners. Israel, however, doesn't want to give in to what they see as terrorism in the kidnapping of the IDF soldiers. I don't know much about the Lebanese it is holding, but might there be plausible grounds for transferring them to Lebanese custody?

One Family's Story

This is the sort of thing Israel will have to explain, as there doesn't seem to be any evident Hizbullah connection:
"Ali El-Akhras wanted to introduce his children to his grandparents in Lebanon to show how three generations had thrived in Canada, but the carnage his parents once fled ended the trip and their lives.

"An Israeli air strike destroyed the family home in Aitaroun in southern Lebanon this past week, killing the Montreal pharmacist, his wife and children, as well as his mother and an uncle, relatives said...

"Ali El-Akhras had graduated from Montreal University and worked for the popular pharmacy chain Jean Coutu in the city’s Cote-des-Neiges district.

"He had scrimped and saved to afford to bring his four children, aged one to eight years old, to Lebanon and introduce them to relatives for the first time, his sister Mayssoun El-Akhras told reporters at a press conference in Montreal.

"'He wanted to return because the country was for a while peaceful … but they died as they slept, they burned to death in the same room,' she said, evoking images and sounds of the bombs their parents 'had fled 35 years ago which finally caught up to them.'"

I believe Israel is acting on some sort of intelligence here, but quite a bit of it is wrong. As with the general infrastructure attacks, you cannot surgically wage an effective war against Hizbullah from the air.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reports that Israelis are targeting trucks "suspected" of transporting Hizbullah weapons. As Ha'aretz notes, at least one of the four mentioned by the Post was actually carrying concrete. Israel has a tactical problem in that they can only be sure of their targets by going in on the ground, even if it's just to call in the air strikes based on immediate intelligence. However, such incursions could easily turn bloody for the IDF. This is the main reason I question the wisdom of this war.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Saparmurat Niyazov: Evil

Regardless of what side of the Arab-Israeli conflict you're on, I hope we can all agree that Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov is a ruthless and evil dictator:
"The watchful eye of the secret police is all too familiar to local reporters, and to anyone who has even the most innocent contact with the outside world. Phone calls, emails and internet access are all monitored carefully by the security service. Anyone who has travelled abroad is regarded with particular suspicion.

"One Ashgabat-based journalist who asked to remain anonymous said even putting together a brief article can be an ordeal.

"'There is simply no escape from surveillance. If you gather information by telephone, the conversation is suddenly cut off, and if you dial a second time the line goes dead at the most interesting point, and you realise that contact is impossible. To gather a single figure or fact, you have to travel to the other end of town,' he said.

"Even a trip abroad is enough to put you on the list of possible dissenters.

"Ashgabat has just hosted an international conference of English-language teachers from south and southeast Asia, but many schoolteachers from across Turkmenistan were quietly barred from attending...

"An employee of the Turkmen communications ministry said the government wanted to create an 'information vacuum'. He said the ministry had been required by the National Security Committee to set up a special office which trawls through the internet and decides which sites are acceptable and which are not.

"The list of undesirable sites includes opposition organisations in exile and uncensored information about Turkmenistan carried by Russian news sites, but it is always expanding. One young woman told how she was hoping to apply to a European university to do a master’s degree there, but found its site was blocked."


I've been wondering why Israel has begun attacking Lebanese army targets. The reason may be allegations that sources in the Lebanese military provided information to Hizbullah that led to its attack on the Israeli naval vessel. With that issue out of way, I think I need to change back to my original view of Israel's motives in this conflict. It is part of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's desire to establish Israel's ability to remain secure following withdrawals from occupied territory, and the kidnapped soldiers were just the excuse, at least on the Lebanese front. I'm still not as willing to give Israel the benefit of the doubt on Lebanon as I was on Gaza, though, if for no other reason than the fact that at least in Gaza there was anarchy anyway and it was hard to see how Israel could make things that much worse in the long term.

Hizbullah is still something of a question. Many people want to link their actions directly to Tehran. The only evidence they have, however, is the fact that Hizbullah is close to Iran and gets weapons from them. By that logic, the United States must be responsible for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, something none of these commentators are suggesting. Furthermore, in order for Iran to demonstrate Hizbullah's military capacity, they would have had to foresee the scale of Israel's response, and if they did that, then it's not clear why Hizbullah would go along with it given the price they are paying. If foreign interests are involved, and Husni Mubarak definitely claims there are, then Syria seems much more likely to be the major player, and certainly its interests align more closely with those of Hizbullah regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanese politics.

Finally, Juan Cole has a good post for the "I Hate Everybody" school of thought. Because two of his specialties are Shi'ism and Lebanon, I take his opinion pretty seriously.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

In Southern Lebanon

Reports sourced ultimately to the United Nations and anonymous IDF sources claim that some Israeli ground forces briefly crossed Lebanon's southern border. Hizbullah takes credit for driving them away, though who knows what really happened. The IDF is probably reluctant to cross the border is force because of all the landmines and the fact they wouldn't be welcome even by those not Hizbullah fighters. I knew a guy who has been to rural Lebanon recently, and who confirms that there are still lots of weapons in the hands of private citizens and employees of what for lack of a better term I will call rural notables who still fear as resumption of the country's civil war. If such uncontrolled people decided to support Hizbullah, Israel would pay dearly for every kilometer of Lebanese territory they gained. Meanwhile, The Lebanese Bloggers explain why Israel's evacuation warnings, while probably well-intentioned, are doing only limited good:
"I'm just hearing on TV the Israeli Army alerts to the civilians in the south. They're asked to evacuate to Beirut, because the southern border is considered now a war zone. The alert went to explain in Arabic that the reason for the shelling of the villages is because Hizballah is launching its attacks from there. It's scary listening to the alerts.

"The sad part is that when people try to evacuate, they are hit. Just got news of a car completely buried under the rubble after Israeli warplanes hit a bridge in the south. Three died."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

CNN's Coverage

I've noticed a strong pro-Israel tilt in CNN's coverage of the war, especially in terms of the guests they have on, but haven't been able to do the sort of quantative analysis Eric Boehlert has (Hat tip to Issandr El Amrani):
"Later, I went back and checked CNN's reporting, via, and discovered that throughout the day CNN repeatedly reported on the lone Israeli civilian causality without making any mention of the more than 50 Lebanese civilian casualties. To be exact, CNN did that at 10:31 a.m., 11:02, 12:09 p.m., 12:19, 1:00, 1:30, 1:52, 2:00, 2:17, 2:30, 2:50, and 4:04.

"Note that at 12:05 p.m. CNN did report that "at least 45 Lebanese civilians have been killed in this offensive," but that's because the news channel was airing a feed from CNN International, which seemed to understand one of its fundamental responsibilities in covering bloody, revenge-driven political conflicts was to report civilian deaths suffered on both sides. In fact, a check of CNN Europe's reporting yesterday afternoon showed CNN Europe routinely reported on the death of the Israeli woman and as well as death of nearly 50 Lebanese civilian. CNN's U.S.-based anchors and reporters though, seemed mostly unable or unwilling to do the same."

Angry Arab also has a relevant comment.

I've posted some other Lebanon-related links here.

UPDATE: According to The Lebanese Bloggers, Israel is attacking Lebanese army assets.

UPDATE: As of July 18, CNN coverage has improved.

Quincy Connections

Today while working, I watched this movie without noticing the name of the lead actor, Quincy, Illinois native Tad Hilgenbrink. He would have been in my brother's class; I was closer in age to Tad's sister Tricia, who was (and is, I suppose) a year older than me.

The Levant, 2026

I give you "Recalling War," by Robert Graves:

Entrance and exit wounds are silvered clean,
The track aches only when the rain reminds.
The one-legged man forgets his leg of wood,
The one-armed man his jointed wooden arm.
The blinded man sees with his ears and hands
As much or more than once with both his eyes.
Their war was fought these twenty years ago
And now assumes the nature-look of time,
As when the morning traveler turns and views
His wild night-stumbling carved into a hill.

What, then, was war? No mere discord of flags
But an infection of the common sky
That sagged ominously upon the earth
Even when the season was the airiest May.
Down pressed the sky, and we, oppressed, thrust out
Boastful tongue, clenched fist and valiant yard.
Natural infirmities were out of mode,
For Death was young again; patron alone
Of healthy dying, premature fate-spasm.

Fear made fine bed-fellows. Sick with delight
At life's discovered transitoriness,
Our youth became all-flesh and waived the mind.
Never was such antiqueness of romance,
Such tasty honey oozing from the heart.
And old importances came swimming back -
Wine, meat, log-fired, a roof over the head,
A weapon at the thigh, surgeons at call.
Even there was a use again for God -
A word of rage in lack of meat, wine, fire,
In ache of wounds beyond all surgeoning.

War was return of earth to ugly earth,
War was foundering of sublimities,
Extinction of each happy art and faith
By which the world has still kept head in air,
Protesting logic or protesting love,
Until the unendurable moment struck -
The inward scream, the duty to run mad.

And we recall the merry ways of guns -
Nibbling the walls of factory and church
Like a child, piecrust; felling groves of trees
Like a child, dandelions with a switch.
Machine-guns rattle toy-like from a hill,
Down in a row the brave tin-soldiers fall:
A sight to be recalled in elder days
When learnedly the future we devote
To yet more boastful visions of despair.

(Excerpted from Modern British Literature, ed. Frank Kermode and John Hollander, Oxford University Press, 1973)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Additional Commentary

My American Footprints colleagues Praktike and Haggai are doing a lot of great posting at American Footprints.

Israel's Actions

Imshin quotes an Israeli expert named Ehud Ya'ari as saying that most civilian casualties in southern Lebanon were families of Hizbullah members who stored rockets in their homes. This strikes me as believable, as it would be consistent with both Israel's military practice as demonstrated in Gaza and the long-standing practice of militant groups in the Middle East working from densely populated areas, effectively using locals as human shields.

However, I'm still having trouble buying the offered reasons for Israel's assault. On CNN earlier today, an IDF spokesman was claiming it as a response to rocket fire against northern Israel. The latest round of rocket fire, however, came only after Israel began its assault. I attributed Operation Summer Rain to the gradual escalation of violence and the Qassam fire as much as Gilad Shalit, but I'm starting to suspect the key to both operations is really IDF force protection. In the same post, Imshin links to a source suggesting that Iran might be hoping to use its alliance with Hizbullah as a means of responding to a military strike on its own nuclear facilities. That danger may account for President Bush's approach to the problem.

Imshin also links to a post arguing that socialists should be supporting Israel. I have trouble with the idea that the attacks were "unprovoked," as I don't think you can carve out the Palestinian territories and say that just because Israel has withdrawn from some of them, Palestinians living in those territories should stop caring about those still under occupation. However, this is worth considering:
"The real question for socialists when a war like this breaks out is to look at what will happen if either side wins. Let us imagine that Israel wins -- meaning that the captured soldiers are returned and the rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon end. The result will not only be good for Israel, but good for the Palestinians and Lebanese as well. The Islamo-fascists will be weakened. Democratic and secular forces will be strengthened. Socialists should cheer this on.

"Now image what happens if Hamas and Hizbollah win. They over-run the Jewish state, slaughtering and expelling its several million Jewish inhabitants. They create a reactionary theocratic dictatorship along the lines of their benefactor, Iran. No one benefits -- not the Jews, not the Arabs. This a result that only fascists could applaud."


This pit of raw sewage is near the Citadel in Damascus.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Israel's Plan

Several weeks ago, I sent my passport to the Israeli consulate in Chicago thinking to simplify my arrival there by getting a student visa in advance. For some reason, even though the processing time is supposed to be one week and most people say they get theirs back in a couple of weeks, I still haven't received mine. This is worrisome because next weekend I'm leaving for research and a conference in London.

However, I haven't really been working that much on my conference presentation because I keep following the news related to Israel's assault on Lebanon and the ongoing conflict in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And it just struck me that these things are connected. The Israeli government is conspiring to prevent me from completing my scholarly work. That's what this has been about all along!

Sorry if this post is irreverant, but if I gave every crisis the seriousness it deserved, I'd be perpetually depressed.

Some History, Nasrallah's Speech

I've heard sources on TV networks making statements like, "Iran founded Hizbullah." This is a gross over- simplification, and perhaps even flat wrong. When you look at the history of Shi'ism in the 20th century, a key thing to remember is that all the top clerics trained in a few religious centers, especially Najaf, where they formed personal connections. Hizbullah began as a splinter movement from Amal, another Shi'ite group, primarily over differences about how to deal with the Israeli invasion in 1982. While Iran did provide funding and probably assisted in its founding, it grew out of the Lebanese environment, one in which popular religious figures trained at prestigious foreign centers had displaced local zu'ama landowners as leaders of the Shi'ite community by providing social services and means for defense during the civil war years. Hizbullah is much more than simply an Iranian (or Syrian) puppet that takes orders from Tehran and Damascus, even though those powers have influence due to their financial support. When I examine foreign influences in the present crisis, I want to make clear that I think foreign powers might be a key player, but that Hizbullah also sees itself as standing to gain something.

Another point from recent history is that the Iran-Syria friendship is not new, though it's probably become more important in recent years. Iran and Syria already had a good relationship during the 1980's and 1990's, and perhaps even before, as both were rivals of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Angry Arab has some preliminary comments about Hassan Nasrallah's speech today, which he sees as an attempt to rally Lebanese behind Hizbullah, implicitly defending the group against its critics. His admittedly thin anecdotal evidence suggests it may have worked. His running commentary is also worth reading even if you disagree with his views, though be ready for some graphic photos.

UPDATE: Elijah Zarwan speculates about possible Syrian and Iranian motives. He and an anonymous Syrian friend both agree with my thought that this is partly setting the stage for a Syrian return to Lebanon.

UPDATE: Bedouina also has a good collection of links.

Gaza-Egypt Border

Hamas fighters have blown a hole in the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, allowing hundreds of Palestinians to enter the Gaza Strip. The situation at the border, which I mentioned here, has been bleak. Middle East Times posted this article shortly before the Hamas attack:
"Nearly 1,000 Palestinians are stranded at the Rafah crossing, which has been sealed by Israel. They are growing increasingly desperate.

"Just outside the big, dusty grates that mark the entrance to the no-man's land between the two countries, some 500 refugees sit in make-shift tents awaiting word from the Israelis about when they can go home.

"On Friday morning, 24-year-old Palestinian Maher Wadi died there. As his body was allowed through the crossing and into Gaza for burial, Farouk Salam looked to the sky, muttering, 'where is the justice?'

"Salam, a post office manager in Gaza City for the Palestinian Authority looked around at his brothers and sisters, finally turning and asking if this is what Israel wants for the Palestinians.

"'Do you call this just punishment?' Salam asked referring to the Israeli military incursions into Gaza and the closure of all its border posts in response to the capture of an Israeli soldier last week by the Hamas military wing.

"'A two-year-old child has died. A 15-year-old has died, and adults have died,' he claimed, adding, 'I don't care about the kidnapped soldier anymore. All I want to do is go home.'"

Since Palestinian soldiers - presumably loyal to Fatah - were among those holding back the flood, this can only rebound to Hamas's political benefit.

Concerning Nass

I'll side with the Wisconsin State Journal on this:
"But UW bashing is becoming a gleeful sport for too many lawmakers. And it always seems to be open season.

"The latest and worst example is Rep. Steve Nass' over-the-top bellowing.

"Nass, R-Whitewater, is entitled to his opinion that part-time UW-Madison lecturer Kevin Barrett should be fired. A lot of people agree with Nass on that point.

"And this newspaper certainly agrees with Nass that Barrett's conspiracy theory - that America attacked itself on Sept. 11, 2001 - is ridiculous.

"But Nass has lost his bid to fire Barrett. UW- Madison officials carefully looked at the facts. They considered Barrett's academic credentials, his past performance and - most importantly - how little he was incorporating his ideas into a class about Islam...

"Instead, Nass fired a fresh salvo at UW and threatened retaliatory budget cuts if university administrators don't follow his orders.

"All of this over a single reading to be assigned in one class taught by a part-time lecturer who is paid $8,000.

"How about a little perspective!"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Iranian Involvement

There's now word of another possible foreign connection to the recent surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence:
"Israel has concrete evidence that Hezbollah plans to transfer the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers abducted Wednesday to Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Thursday.

"'We have concrete evidence that Hezbollah plans to transfer the kidnapped soldiers to Iran. As a result, Israel views Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as the main players in the axis of terror and hate that endangers not only Israel, but the entire world,' AFP quoted Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry Gideon Meir as saying.

"An Al-Jazeera correspondent said Thursday that he had evidence that the two soldiers - identified Thursday as Ehud Goldwasser, 31, of Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, of Kiryat Motzkin - were alive during the abduction. He said they were transferred to a Shi'ite mosque in a nearby town, where the abductors changed clothes. According to the report, one of the soldiers was transferred in a cab, to make it difficult for Israeli intelligence to locate him. The Al-Jazeera correspondent stressed that he had received the information from a source close to Hezbollah, and that members of the organization refuse to disclose more information with nothing in return."

Because I've always thought there was more Iranian money in Palestine than there was Syrian influence, my first guess at possible foreign movers in all this was Iran, as a way of using the conflict to win support in the Arab world in its confrontation with the United States over its nuclear program. While Mubarak mentioned Syria and Syria still looks to have more to gain, it's possible both are involved. I really doubt all this is about the Palestinians, who are once more becoming as much victims of politics between their supposed friends in the Muslim Middle East as they are of Israeli occupation.

UPDATE: Iran denies Israel's claims.

Hizbullah's Moment

Joshua Landis argues that Hizbullah saw this as the moment to act on old threats:
"Hizbullah has been announcing for over a year that it would kidnap Israeli soldiers if Lebanese prisoners in Israel were not released...Normally, Hizbullah would have to be very cautious about embroiling Lebanon in another round of fighting with Israel for fear that Lebanon's other sects would condemn it. But with the Gaza situation having aroused general anger against Israel, Hizbullah felt free to jump into the fight on the side of the Palestinians, knowing that even its Christian enemies in Lebanon could not condemn it for sacrificing Lebanon's infrastructure and all important tourist season."

Beirut Airport Attacked

OK, at this point I think Olmert is just attacking things like a maniac with no clear plan of any kind:
"Israeli aircraft have fired missiles at Beirut international airport as the retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah continued.

"Airport sources said the airport had been closed down and that at least two flights had to be diverted to airports in the Middle East after three rockets hit the runway.

"A report on Israeli army radio said the attack on Beirut airport was aimed at shutting down air traffic in and out of the Lebanese capital...

"Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his government had not known of the Hizbollah attack and did not endorse it or accept responsibility."

I'm turning in for the night. Can we please for a change not to have any major violent incidents or escalations of conflicts while I'm asleeep?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Kuwaiti Reform Passes

Kuwait's recent elections were called because reformers wanted the number of electoral constituencies reduced to five, whereas the government wanted ten. The new Parliament has now passed the bill with five constituencies. It's not clear to me whether the Emir still has to sign off on it, or whether that has already been done.

Enter Hizbullah

Hizbullah's entry into the current Gaza Crisis may be morally satisfying to some pro-Palestinian commentators, but even some of them have noted that it doesn't make much tactical or strategic sense, even by the Palestinians' high standards for miscalculation. Given the divisions within Hamas and Mubarak's claim that Damascus was behind the Hamas rejection of the prisoner swap, I begin to suspect that the current crisis was completely manufactured by foreign, rather than Palestinian interests, and that at the very least Syria has hopped onto the crisis to advance its own agenda. May I dare suggest that Damascus is looking for ways to get back into Lebanon, and is counting on Israel to create an opening, one which would also benefit the pro-Syrian Hizbullah? Let's see what happens.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kevin Barrett

I don't know Kevin Barrett, but the situation is close enough to my professional location that I haven't felt comfortable commenting on it. However, as he has made Hannity and Colmes, I will echo Ann Althouse's comment that he is an adjunct lecturer and not a professor. This is the same rank I had when I taught my course on Middle Eastern history in Fall 2002, the semester after I passed prelims. In the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, he's probably sharing an office with several other people, much like a teaching assistant. Although there are a few semi-permanent lecturers on campus, this position is not one of them, and is merely a replacement for a faculty member who will be on sabbatical. Barrett has been around quite a while, and has become part of the landscape to the point where I doubt anyone considered hiring him that controversial.

I've also been told that Dr. Uli Schamiloglu, new Director of Middle East Studies, has gotten some e-mails about this. MES, which I worked for until June 30, has nothing to do with this class. As a program, it does not offer classes, though the confusion is understandable. Through its Title VI-A grant it provided some funding for summer Persian instruction and course development in other areas, but like I said, this is just an old class with a temporary replacement. As for Dr. Schamiloglu, while he is a liberal, the guy is balanced in everything he does. When Amotz Asa-El of the Jerusalem Post was here, his reaction was regret that his schedule wouldn't allow him to be a guest speaker in the "Introduction to the Middle East" class.

Another point, as long as I'm posting anyway, is that Barrett certainly seems to be enjoying the megaphone being provided him by the likes of Hannity and Colmes. I've also checked the timetable, and the Introduction to Islam course is badly under-enrolled. I hope it winds up still able to support two TA's, or some grad student is likely to lose funding over this.

Al-Qaeda Leadership

Via the War in Context, I see a report that Osama bin Laden's health is declining rapidly and for several months he has been hooked continuously to a dialysis machine. The informant in the article, described as, "an operative close to the al-Qaeda leadership," also claimed that financial control of the group is now primarily in the hands of Tahir Yuldashev, founder of the once-crushed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Gaza Humanitarian Situation

Ha'aretz reports deaths among Palestinians waiting to enter the Gaza Strip from Sinai:
"Four Palestinians have died in recent days awaiting entry into the Gaza Strip on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed for nearly two weeks since the kidnapping of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

"More than 3,000 Palestinians, including 578 deemed "urgent humanitarian cases," have been stranded for 16 days inside a make-shift terminal on the Egyptian side of the crossing, the Red Cross said Monday.

"Two Palestinians died at the crossing on Tuesday - a 19-year-old woman and a 1.5-year-old infant.

"The young woman, identified as Mona Ismail, was returning from an operation in a Cairo hospital. She died as a result of a severe deterioration in her medical condition as she waited at Rafah. The infant, identified as Hamze Abu Taleb, died of heat stroke.

"Two other people also died over the past few days while waiting at the crossing. Hani Daoud, 70, suffered a heart attack after waiting nine days to return to Gaza after receiving medical treatment in Egypt. Muhammed Shuhab, 15, also died at the crossing after undergoing heart surgery in Cairo, an Egyptian official at the border said."

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias calls attention to the humanitarian situation inside Gaza, and Egyptian government sources suggest Hamas rejected a proposed prisoner exchange.

Isma'il Shammout

Laila el-Haddad has a good post about recently deceased Palestinian painter Ismail Shammout. It includes pictures!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dissent Suppression Watch

As Bahrain approaches Parliamentary elections, the government is discussing a law banning rallies:
"'The draft law violates the basic tenets of human rights, especially the freedom of the public to hold peaceful rallies wherever they want. In fact, some of its articles forbid people to organise rallies near shopping malls and other public locations,' Dr Al Dirazi told the Gulf News.

"Dr Al Dirazi said it was expected of the committee to forward the draft law without any amendments. He said the members of the Shura council have been picked by the government to support its agenda.

"According to the draft law, carrying weapons, knives, flammable or explosive products or sticks by any protester would put the organisers of such demonstrations in danger of facing a one-year jail sentence or no less than BD200 fine or both.

"Those organising rallies without licence will get a 6-month jail sentence or BD100 fine or both."

As noted before, I also think banning criminals from politics is a swipe at Bahraini reformers. Meanwhile, in Egypt, detained activist Muhammad ash-Sharqawi has reportedly received death threats and the NDP-controlled Parliament has passed a restrictive new press law.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad...

The violence keeps getting worse:
"Eyewitnesses in the Iraqi capital said that elements of the Mahdi Army, loyal to young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, killed at least 61, among them women and children, on the basis of their religious identity. [Official Iraqi and US sources said these numbers were exaggerated, and most American wire services gave the number of dead as 42.] They set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Jihad quarter of Baghdad for this purpose. Eyewitnesses said that gunmen wearing civilian clothing set up checkpoint barriers in the streets beginning early Sunday morning and began stopping passers-by. They investigated their identities, and killed anyone whom they found to be Sunni Arab. The eyewitnesses also said that some gunmen entered a number of homes and shot down the inhabitants. Some then set the houses on fire...

Officials of the Sadr Movement denied any involvement in the killings. Some Iraqi government officials, according to al-Hayat, said that they believed the massacre was committed by Sunni Arab guerrillas attempting to provoke civil disturbances...

The Mahdi Army closed off the largely Shiite Shu'lah district of West Baghdad near the site of the massacre in expectation of reprisal attacks. Al-Hayat said that two Sunni prayer leaders were killed in Shu'lah, who belonged to the Association of Muslim Scholars. A major Shiite preacher in Najaf on Friday accused the AMS of having ties to al-Qaedah.

The massacre ceased when Iraqi police and army, and US troops, intervened, surrounding the al-Jihad district and imposing a curfew. The curfew is expected to last at least 2 days."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fires in Karabakh

Sometimes the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh can be even more acrimonious than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the latest round of accusations, Azerbaijan is accusing Armenia of setting wildfires as a way of destroying Azeri cultural sites. Armenia, meanwhile, insists the fires are natural, though they add that Azeri forces firing into the area also contribute. Meanwhile, at the negotiating table, the co-chairs of something called the Minsk Group, which seems to be this dispute's equivalent of the Quartet, announced the parameters of a solution to the conflict. The peace process in the region had been kept secret on the theory it would make for less posturing, though critics allege leaders aren't doing the work necessary to prepare public opinion for eventual concessions.

Golan Heights

This is the Golan Heights as seen from Jordan. As you can see, it's basically a large pile of dirt with some bushes growing on it.

Gaza Developments

Palestinian Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh has offered a cease-fire, which Israel rejected. This goes well with my new "I hate everyone" take on the conflict. Meanwhile, the Lady Goldman has a somewhat blog noir post on her trip to the Gaza border and back.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Jihad and Martyrdom

Near the beginning of Khalid Blankinship's The End of the Jihad State, he discusses the doctrine of jihad as laid out in the hadith, particular those in the eighth-century work al-Jihad, by Ibn al-Mubarak. While most deal with the term in a military sense, there are plenty of alternatives. The best kind of jihad, according to a canonical hadith, is building a mosque to promote Islam. Performing the pilgrimage to Mecca is considered jihad, as is internal struggle, though the hadith which calls that the "greater jihad" was not accepted by the medieval hadith scholars who composed the canonical collections.

There are also lots of ways to achieve martyrdom. One can be a martyr of you undertake a journey for the sake of religion and die during it. People were also considered martyrs of they died of plague, drowning, a collapsing building, abdominal disease, being burned alive, being eaten, or falling off a mountain. Women could also become martyrs if they died as virgins or while pregnant or giving birth.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Early Semitic Poets

A few days ago I was reading Ignaz Goldziher's Muslim Studies, and he was talking about how in pre-Islamic (and early Islamic) Bedouin culture, satirical poetry was believed to have an actual impact on the people satirized, so that tribes would often ask a poet to compose poetry about their enemies prior to attacking them. Goldziher also mentions that Numbers 22 is probably another example of this from a related culture. In this story, the Moabites hire one Balaam to curse the invading Hebrews. Poetry is never mentioned, but Balaam did speak in poetry, and the situation was probably obvious to the community in which the story originated. This also undoubtedly reflects the context in which Muhammad allegedly had a poet who satirized him put to death, a tradition which I suspect dates from a time when this aspect of Bedouin culture was still strong.

Have the Israelis and Palestinians considered making poetry the main weapon of their conflict instead of tanks and rockets?

Foreigners and Levantine Conflict

Elijah Zarwan reports on influences in Lebanon:
"I was also surprised by the evidence of Syrian, Iranian, and even Al-Qaeda meddling. I’d always been suspicious of talk of Syrian-Iranian cooperation and harmful meddling in the region. But it’s true: The Lebanese groups are open about the sources of their money and guns, and it seemed pretty clear that the money and the guns weren’t helping Lebanon come together. All the groups profess to be worried by Al-Qaeda’s ventures into the Palestinian camps and the possibility of the camps’ becoming recruiting grounds for foreign fighters in Iraq. There have been a few cases of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon popping up in Iraq."

Some of this money also finds it's way into the Occupied Territories, which is one reason the often hard-up for cash Palestinian Authority has trouble controlling militants. A related point is made by Ocean Guy, who is far enough to my right I'm not going to deal with his whole post, but will just note his comments on the use of the conflict by Arab governments. I used to think the whole "deflect criticism" argument was overblown, but if you read back through the Arabist Network for the last few weeks you'll be struck by how much the Egyptian reformists seem to have been knocked off course by the events in Gaza, which also buried Kuwait's elections. Given the recent upsurge in repression within Arab states, I'd be very curious to know who some of the more mysterious partners in the anti-Israel Gaza operations are and who's paying their bills. Economics are also a factor, though I forget which Gulf state recently came up with a plan to allow guest workers to earn citizenship but explicitly prohibited Palestinians from participating based on some nonsense about them losing their identity. I think some leaders, such as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan, might be serious about wanting to end the conflict, but behind the scenes the inter-Arab politics are pretty messy.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I Hate Everybody

In response to the fire of new and improved Qassam missles at Ashkelon, Israeli forces have seized part of the northern Gaza Strip with an eye toward ending it. While I respect in principle the Palestinians' right to resist, this is becoming increasingly stupid. One thing I don't like about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that when people pick sides, they tend to support their chosen side under all conditions using strident rhetoric whenever possible. I believe the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is both wrong and harsher than it needs to be given Israel's states objectives, and I find the Israeli settlements and appropriation of Palestinian lands to be even more wrong. In fact, I even understand the idea that Hamas shouldn't have to extend formal recognition to Israel until Israel recognizes a Palestinian state.

However, both Israel and the elected President of the Palestinian Authority have committed themselves to peace negotiations. It is Hamas, which despite is Parliamentary majority carried only 43% of the vote, much of it in protest votes, which has held up the process before finally agreeing to a joint position with Fatah last week, and it is Hamas's armed wing together with a few other groups has been driving much of the escalation surrounding the Gaza Strip. I didn't like Israel's stupid show of shelling, but it wouldn't have happened were it not for the Qassams, which is really what began this whole mess. Fatah and Hamas, meanwhile, would rather fight each other for control of the PA's meager resources and the right to be king of what passes for their hill than take the steps necessary to gain the monopoly over foreign policy which is a basic prerequisite for statehood.

What's the Israeli government supposed to do here? One reason the long-term occupation of Palestinian territory is so wrong is that that government is answerable to the Israelis, and not at all to the Palestinians whose fates they control. But in practical terms, what matters for the moment is that Israel's government is answerable to the people. Is the crew currently in charge supposed to sell negotiations with a group whose charter is filled with anti-Semitic claptrap which can't even control its own territory? Would Palestinians favor that if roles were reversed? Out of desperation, they've barely swallowed the bitter pill of negotiating with increasing Israeli settlement, and the Israelis at least curtail settlers' worst behavior.

Of course an escalation like this was to be expected, which is why we have the whole "spiral of violence" thing which included Operation Summer Rains in the first place. However, it's only going to stop when one party steps back from the brink, and for once I think it's the Palestinian side, and Hamas in particular, that need to demonstrate they can be a responsible diplomatic actor and a strong enough government to enforce on their side any peace agreement Israel makes. Yes, I know the Gaza Strip is desperately poor, but Hamas's main solution seems to be a failed ideology of ongoing struggle pushed mainly by exiled leaders who themselves aren't carrying on much of a struggle.

I remember this Danny Rubinstein column:
"It is a known fact that there is no military solution to the overall Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But now it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no military solution for putting an end to the Qassam rocket attacks. The Israel Defense Forces has struck at the rocket-launching crews and their commanders; it has destroyed the bridges and the roads leading to the launching areas; it has carried out what it calls 'exposure' activities and has destroyed farmland; it has bombed the launching sites, over and over. The army has dispersed fliers warning the population and threatening to destroy entire neighborhoods and towns."

The first sentence applies to both Hamas and the Palestinians. I post the rest merely to show that Israel's seizure of territory was not its kneejerk reaction to the fire, even if I find some of the above measures more objectionable than what they're doing now.
"There are many more rockets and missiles in Gaza today than in the past. The know-how, the means and the capabilities to launch them against targets in Israel have only improved and become more sophisticated. And there is no doubt that the continued deterioration of the security situation will only sharpen Palestinian martial skills and broaden their activity in this area. We can even assume that sooner or later, in the absence of a diplomatic option, the motivation, the means and the know-how for launching missiles will also reach the West Bank."

All of this is true, and shows why Israel feels compelled to act as it does.
"It has already been four years since the Arab initiative was presented at the Beirut summit, which called for normalization with Israel. The terms are obviously difficult to meet, but Israeli statesmen have not even bothered to relate to the initiative. On the agenda now stands the so-called prisoners' document, which has met only with rejection and derogatory responses from the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his spokesmen. And there are also the decisions of the Hamas government to permit contacts with the Israeli government on practical matters - economics, finance, agriculture, electricity, health, tourism."

This is just my frustration talking. As the title of this post says, at the moment, I hate everybody. Rubinstein goes on to argue that Israeli attacks fuel suspicions among the Palestinians that Israelis don't truly want peace. This is true, but the same holds for Palestinian attacks on Israel. At the moment things are out of control. Somebody needs to stop the madness.

Let's bring back the Canaanites.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Salika Sufisticate Danya an-Niqabi posts on her decision to wear niqab in Jordan:
"So why do I love my niqab? I can’t say for sure. I do feel safer. Men don’t oggle at me and if they are staring at me, they can’t see anything. I like the idea that you only get to see me if I let you- that is, if you have a right to. Most men on this planet have no right whatsoever over me and therefore have no control over me. I like the idea I can sit in class and smirk at something and no one knows it. I like the mystery of it. When I wear my niqab, I feel myself in true submission to God and no one else. It’s a different feeling than when I wear hijab when I am in the states. I wear colors, cute skirts, and so on. Although my clothes cover what needs to be covered (ie, my ‘awra- all but face and hands), something is missing. When I wear abaya, also feel more in obedience to God, but niqab- well, that’s just something else.

"But Danya, don’t you feel like a ghost? No, I feel more like a ninja. People see through ghosts, but not niqabis. The fact of the matter is, niqabis are held in awe on some level or another. Brothers fear us and I like that. :mrgreen: We are seen but we are hidden. Why do some people have an obessesion with being known? Why is there the assumption that if we can not see something, it can not benefit? Why can’t the hidden inner (al-khafi) be appreciated? Why must we know everything and why must things be superficial? This a problem with Western culture and I think leads to the oppression of women in general but that’s a blog post for another time."

Women in Muslim Politics

Mona Eltahawy wrote a column about how women can have political rights in Islam. Her main examples are contemporary societies such as Pakistan and Indonesia, but even in the early days of Islam it is crystal clear that women had a voice. The career of Aisha, a wife of Muhammad whose leadership in the wake of the assassination of Uthman was accepted by companions of the Prophet and led directly to the Battle of the Camel is the most famous example. If people that close to the source of Islam could handle politically active women, what gives modern fundamentalists the right to say otherwise based on later innovations?

Conditions in Gaza

The New Zealand Herald reports on the effects Israel's military efforts in Gaza are having on residents there. Electricity has been sharply curtailed as a result of the power plant attack, and water pipes have apparently been destroyed, as well. The sonic boom attacks are also taking a psychological toll, with concerns especially for the children and for potential long-term hearing loss. They have also apparently caused damage to homes. Israel Ambassador to Switzerland is protesting that Israel provides humanitarian aid to Gaza despite the fact the elected Palestinian government has a charter calling for its destruction. Israel's government is also discussing ways to supply additional power to Gaza.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Barring Criminals

Bahrain's Parliament is set to debate a bill banning those sentenced to six months or more in prison from running for office, and perhaps from voting. Does this include those whose crime was participating in illegal gatherings, most of which were political?


Let's discuss checkpoints.

Israel maintains several hundred checkpoints, most of them within the West Bank rather than along the Green Line, though the latter are staffed most continuously. According to the IDF, their purpose is to impair the freedom of movement of terrorists. I take this at face value, though some on Israel's far right might see them as part of a more extreme agenda of trying to crush Palestinians and force them to emigrate. The BBC profiles them here.

In order to see them from the Palestinian perspective, however, let's take just the single issue of medical emergencies. As described by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, provisions for medical emergencies are more theory than practice. As a result, Palestinians are sometimes unable to get emergency medical care because of delayed or refused passage at these checkpoints. Palestine Monitor has some statistics. 52 women have been forced to give birth at checkpoints, resulting in 36 stillbirths. These are among the 116 total deaths due to denied medical treatment thanks to the checkpoints, or about 20 a year. That's less than the number of Israeli civilians killed in Israel a year during the most violent period of the al-Aqsa Intifada, but more than the total during the past few years.

This is just one statistic, and we could also examine civilians killed in Israeli raids and air strikes or people who have died due to ruined infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In this light, the logic of Palestinian hostility to Israel becomes understandable. This is why even those who do not condone terrorism see the Israeli occupation as the key issue in the conflict rather than the suicide bombings which make for CNN Breaking News coverage. This is also why I can't muster much outrage about the current Gaza military incursion, which seems like just another step in the violence which has been escalating in Gaza, and one far preferable to both a reoccupation of the Strip by Israel and to aerial bombardment that would almost certainly kill innocent bystanders, as opposed to the zero Palestinians whose deaths had been reported when I woke up this morning. (It's also worth pointing out that this is allowing Abbas and Haniyeh to put up high-profile a show of unity much like Olmert and Peretz are putting on a show of strength. Who knows where that might lead?)

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sharifa Brooke Shields

The latest in speculation that descendants of the Prophet Muhammad are everywhere:
"The longer ago somebody lived, the more descendants a person is likely to have today. Humphrys estimates that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, appears on the family tree of every person in the Western world.

"Some people have actually tried to establish a documented line between Muhammad, who was born in the 6th century, and the medieval English monarchs, and thus to most if not all people of European descent. Nobody has succeeded yet, but one proposed lineage comes close. Though it runs through several strongly suspicious individuals, the line illustrates how lines of descent can wander down through the centuries, connecting famous figures of the past to most of the people living today.

"The proposed genealogy runs through Muhammad's daughter Fatima. Her husband Ali, also a cousin of Muhammad, is considered by Shiite Muslims the legitimate heir to leadership of Islam.

"Ali and Fatima had a son, al-Hasan, who died in 670. About three centuries later, his ninth great-grandson, Ismail, carried the line to Europe when he became Imam of Seville.

"Many genealogists dispute the connection between al-Hasan and Ismail, claiming that it includes fictional characters specifically invented by medieval genealogists trying to link the Abbadid dynasty, founded by Ismail's son, to Muhammad.

"The Abbadid dynasty was celebrated for making Seville a great cultural center at a time when most of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages. The last emir in that dynasty was supposed to have had a daughter named Zaida, who is said to have changed her name to Isabel upon converting to Christianity and marrying Alfonso VI, king of Castile and Leon.

"Yet there is no good evidence demonstrating that Isabel, who bore one son by Alfonso VI, is the same person as Zaida. So the line between Muhammad and the English monarchs probably breaks again at this point.

"But if you give the Zaida/Isabel story the benefit of the doubt too, the line eventually leads to Isabel's fifth great-granddaughter Maria de Padilla (though it does encounter yet another potentially fictional character in the process).

"Maria married another king of Castile and Leon, Peter the Cruel. Their great-great-granddaughter was Queen Isabel, who funded the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Her daughter Juana married a Hapsburg, and eventually gave rise to a Medici, a Bourbon and long line of Italian princes and dukes, spreading the Mohammedan line of descent all over Europe.

"Finally, 43 generations from Mohammed, you reach an Italian princess named Marina Torlonia.

"Her granddaughter is Brooke Shields."

I agree with the skeptics that the Abbadid claims to Hashemite descent could easily have been falsified for political purposes, but I'm also pretty sure the ties are there somewhere, even if at a low enough social level we can't recover them.

View from Qalat ar-Ribad

Danya, known on-line as Salika Sufisticate, recently blogged about her trip to Ajloun, where she saw the Ayyubid fortress Qalat ar-Ribad, also known simply as Ajloun Castle. The picture below was taken on my own trip there almost exactly five years ago, and shows the view the castle has of the surrounding countryside.