Monday, June 30, 2003

Pervez Musharraf has been making noises about establishing diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Israel, to the chagrin of many in Pakistan. Zack Ajmal places this in the context of Pakistan's conflict with India, which has been developing military ties with Israel. Jonathan Edelstein looks at the overall relationship between Israel and the Muslim world, mentioning trade contacts and recent conciliatory noises about Israel coming from Bahrain. Middle East Online has a story mentioning similar developments in Qatar. As far as the Arab world is concerned, this seems to continue policy trends which go back at least to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative from Spring 2002. Much of the Muslim world seems to want the Palestinian issue to go away, something also seen in Egypt's active involvement in trying to shepherd forward the "Road Map" through security chief Omar Suleyman's constant shuttling among Palestinian factions.

I don't know the reasons for all this, but I wonder if they might be economic. Most Arab economies are struggling, and some might see gaining access to Israeli markets or possibly becoming home to Israeli-owned factories as a potential boost. In addition, Gulf states which are trying to reserve more jobs for their own nationals need to do something with the foreign workers, many of whom are Palestinian. The eventual goal is almost certainly to send them back to an independent Palestine, which requires a deal. Pakistan, of course, is a separate issue, and I don't know enough about that country to speculate. On the side, I'm also curious what the current economic ties are between Israelis and Palestinians. Anyone with actual knowledge of these matters, feel free to comment.
A rare link to FOXNews: American forces in Najaf have arrested the mayor there, Abu Haydar Abd al-Mun'im along with "62 of his top aides" for kidnapping and corruption. The U.S. had originally appointed Abd al-Mun'im to the mayorship despite popular opposition stemming from his Ba'athist past. Najaf was the city where U.S. forces recently cancelled a planned election because they didn't like who was going to win, and I'm guessing this is partly to make up for that in the battle over public opinion. I was intrigued by the fact the arrest reportedly came on the request of an Iraqi judge, and would definitely like to know more on that score. Meanwhile, this Middle East On-Line article painted a positive picture of the current situation in Najaf...slightly too positive, I suspect. Still, that city, one of the most important centers of Shi'ism and home Ali's burial place has been one of the brighter spots in the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq, and hopefully this arrest is a sign that trend will continue.
A few days ago, Salam Pax linked to Zaynab, an Iraqi woman with some opinions that are probably heard frequently on the streets of Baghdad, but which are far outside the pale of what one hears in the United States. After a couple of days of reading her comments thread, Arab Street Bum had had enough. His whole post is worth quoting, so I'll just direct you to it. The blogosphere sometimes has the potential to catapult someone into a spotlight they may or may not be emotionally ready for - I hope Zainab doesn't get too down from all the negative attention she's turned up. Meanwhile, I'll contemplate this Tom Friedman column on the world's interconnectedness.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Personal post for the day: While I was on my way to do laundry, my bottle of detergent fell from the top of my basket, splitting open with a crash and spewing its contents all over the floor via an expanding blue puddle. A bit of mopping has finally gotten it cleaned up, but my floor is now incredibly slick, and the edge of the rug is ruined, though it was due to be thrown out anyway come August. This is why I don't use Persian carpets in the context of a grad student's apartment...
Since I last blogged on the subject, the major Palestinian terror groups have agreed to cease attacks against Israel, and the Israelis have begun a pull-out of some of the Occupied Territories. One important thing the PA gets out of this is time. Doubts remain on whether Abbas has the strength to win a confrontation with Hamas, and this truce will allow them to demonstrate their willingness to suppress terrorism in the areas now under their control while rebuilding their infrastructure when the confrontation eventually comes. The big story to watch for is not small attacks on settlements and demonstrations, but transfers of funding to the PA from the West. And all of this could still be derailed if one side or the other begins behaving provocatively.
In the most recent RFE-RL Daily Afghan Report, Tanya Goudsouzian reports on a new plan to allow traditional Afghan customs to govern security in the southern part of the country. Tribal militias would control the border regions and apply traditional penalties for infractions. The article also indicated this was aimed at breaking the power of the regional warlords. Given the state of the Afghan government's institutions, this move makes a great deal of sense. I also like the fact they're looking to see what can develop from existing customs rather than simply try to transplant Western models into a context in which they are unlikely to work. I'm unsure, however, how Karzai plans to get all the tribes onto the same page, and also wonder if some of these tribes might actually be on the Taliban's side. The article was interesting, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Mad City Masters has come to a successful conclusion, with "The Whole Family," consisting of Subash Maddipoti, Andrew Yaphe, and Paul Litvak taking first over "Triceratops" consisting of Eric Hillemann, Julie Stahlhut, and Tom Drucker. I didn't know Union South wasn't unlocked until 10 a.m. on Saturday, and no one wanted to start without buzzers, so we got off to a really late start which made the tournament go until 7. Then, some people wanted to stay for an extra match, which I kind of felt like a heel turning down when I didn't have any other plans. (I'd tried several times to interest people in going to Rhythm 'n Booms all week, but no one bit.) But the people enjoyed the match, which was on a packet I'm really glad didn't decide the championship. People have moderated such things for me before.

Given my current Harry Potter kick, the highlight of the tournament was probably watching Chamber of Secrets in Tournament Central on the time I meant to devote to thorough repeat checking. I'll probably spend the evening finishing Goblet of Fire so I can have space between it and Order of the Phoenix and see if I want to revise any of yesterday's post. I thought about going to the fireworks anyway, but I'm not in the mood to hang out alone in a huge crowd on presumably soaked ground. There'll almost certainly be standard concerts and fireworks and the like this Friday, so I'll just save my 4th of July celebration until then. I really do wanna see what this Rhythm N Booms thing is about before I leave Madison, though.

UPDATE: A little after 9 o'clock, I heard noises outside, so I walked across the street to the park, and sure enough, there were the fireworks, and with a great view at that. Some of them seemed a bit distant, like there were firing them from two separate places, but most seemed as close as some of the places I've watched them from in Quincy. The amazing thing was how few people were there - it was basically just the neighborhood, as near as I can tell, so I could just relax and then walk back home when it was all over. Whee!!! I'm still doing something on Friday, though...
I'll be working at Mad City Masters all day, so don't expec any posts. In the meantime, Anthony de Jesus, one of the participants, has some interesting comments on terrorism and a future Palestinian state.

Friday, June 27, 2003

In his big Africa speech, President Bush publicly called on Charles Taylor to step down as President of Liberia. Once again, he didn't tie Liberia to the War on Terror, despite the credible accusations that Taylor is linked to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the UN terrorism committee can't find any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. For ongoing coverage of the Liberia situation, read AfricaPundit.
Last night saw me curled up rereading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban while I wait for Order of the Phoenix to come in. (Yes, I've become one of them.) Just a few thoughts on the ending:

Dumbledore's conversation with Harry about his decision to save Peter Pettigrew was so similar to Gandalf's conversation with Frodo about Bilbo's sparing Gollum it almost seemed like Rowling was actually forcing herself to write it differently. It seems fairly obvious that Peter will have an important role to play in defeating Voldemort, as well as bringing him back. (And by the way, did we ever find out Professor Trelawney's first correct prediction and I just missed it?)

According to Jordan, Rowling has said that in her books, dead characters stay dead. This statement seems to require a "but," as we see a number of examples of dead characters continuing to affect the world of the living in one way or another. The end of Goblet of Fire is one clear example, aided by the magic that pulled them out of Voldemort's wand. In Prisoner of Azkaban, it is strongly implied that Harry's father took a direct hand in helping Harry drive off the Dementors. The ghosts, of course, I will acknowledge but leave in a separate category. It seems accurate to say that death is permanent, yet also a barrier that can be crossed. The most powerful forces in the series are the connections between people, expressed magically in everything from the circumstances of Voldemort's initial defeat to Harry's relationship with Pettigrew. How than angle of things plays out remains to be seen.

Those of you who have read Order of the Phoenix may now laugh at me: I've been crunching some thoughts about who is going to die. If this were a David Eddings book, I'd say either Arthur Weasley or Hagrid is toast, but it isn't. Given the usual plot structure of the book, it looks like if the death takes place near the end it pretty much has to be someone associated with Hogwarts. Some have suggested Fred or George Weasley, because of the way their mother worries about them. It has to be someone whose death will affect us more than Cedric Diggory. However, in reading some notes on the Babylon 5 episode where Kosh dies, and JMS pointed out that that the mentor-figure always has to die so that the other characters can make Big Decisions. This isn't always true, but is definitely common. Professor Dumbledore is becoming an increasingly important figure in the resistance to Voldemort - I suspect the name of the new book refers to his phoenix in some way - and Rowling will have to be careful to let Harry have room to be the hero and not just Dumbledore's agent. This can be done with Dumbledore still in the picture, as in the Garion-Belgarath relationship (though even after Garion has a kid in the next series I still see him as young because of his attachment to Belgarath), but it would be far more convention to somehow great space between Harry and Dumbledore, and if they're both at Hogwarts, that will be difficult. But, of course, Rowling might be developing things in an entirely different way entirely, with Harry as a permanent "mentored hero," since he will be only 18 at the end. Stay tuned...
Will Baude has posted again on the Islam and Democracy question. Let the reader decide... Incidentally, his blog is generally good (a recommendation meant to include his co-bloggers as well), so consider checking it out.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Recent days have seen two troubling developments in Afghanistan. One is the closing of an opposition newspaper and the arrest of two reporters who criticized some of the country's leadership. In addition, the Taliban have named a new leadership council to coordinate their resistance to the U.S. and the Karzai government. I continue to worry about the situation in that country, which is where you actually find the people who attacked us on September 11 instead of those who might conceivably have attacked us at some point in the future.
Will Baude of Crescat Sententia has replied on the Islam and Democracy front. Unfortunately, his reply largely confirms the suspicions I had on the subject. He refers to the fact that in several countries, "powerful anti-Democratic elements are Muslim." What does this mean? Are there Muslim groups opposing democracy in the Arab world? Or is he concerned about the fact most of the nations there are dictatorships which happened to be ruled by Muslims? Given the fact that some of the most repressive regimes have historically been secularist, such as Ba'athist Iraq and Syria, why aren't they discussing whether secularism is compatible with democracy? I'm not literally suggesting that, but rather making a point.

Will is correct in pointing out that complex historical understanding is not always necessary in understanding these situations - I mainly linked to that post because as a historian it is where I see the most understanding develop. He also correctly points out that certain ideas originating in the West are very attractive to people in the Arab world. Still, some type of understanding is necessary, and the discussion as reported still doesn't seem to show much. Will's last paragraph is an example of this: "Most fundamentally, a lot of people want to install some European ideas and values and make them take root. Freedom of speech, worship and of the press, the legal right of women to drive cars, many things may be outside of the Islamic traditions that have evolved on their own. But other than the nebulous charge of 'cultural (or political) imperialism,' what's so bad about bringing European liberalism to a world that hasn't known it?"

Note how all that is good and right is held to be the unique property of European civilization, while Islam is stereotyped with all that is negative. Many of the basic freedoms Will refers to are not alien to Islam, but fundamental to it. Within the Islamic world, all Muslims are held to have a religious obligation to gain knowledge of shari'a and to take responsibility for the well-being of the community. Under the Covenant of Umar, "People of the Book" were allowed freedom of religious worship, and in practice this was extended to all non-Muslims under Muslim rule. Even today Iran, a country ruled by fundamentalists, guarantees Christians and Jews representation in Parliament (though Baha'is are presecuted).

Where are women not allowed to drive cars? In Saudi Arabia, certainly, but that is only one, arch-conservative nation in the Arab world, an Arab world that itself has fewer than 20% of the world's Muslims. Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country, and is led by a woman named Megawati Sukarnoputri. True, like all religions, Islam has been heavily influenced by patriarchy, but you cannot deny the importance of a figure like Aisha, one of the main transmitters of Hadith and leaders in the Battle of the Camel, or the Sufi mystic Rabi'a.

There are a couple of debates that could be held regarding Islam and democracy. Basically, some fundamentalists (my preferred term when talking to the general public) argue that the gates of ijtihad, or the use of individual conscience in striving to interpret shari'a, should remain firmly closed and that as God has provided all the laws we need, Parliament is unnecessary. However, this argument within Islam is seldom referred to in the West, where people tend to fall back on media-propagated stereotypes. Without a better understanding, however, attempting to forcibly change a society will only cause chaos. The Shah's forced Westernization policies were one of the causes of the Iranian Revolution, for example. Islam is a highly dynamic religion which encompasses a broad range of political and legal thought: Muslim law student al-Muhajabah blogs on such issues regularly. While many countries in the Islamic world have problems, they should not be so readily identified as representing the essence of Islam which the members of this forum will rush in to fix.
Time for a deep question: When do the people change their clothes on Blind Date? I admit I'm not terribly experienced in the matter, but it seems a really odd thing to do. Anyway, this is my first post with the new blogger, which at least looks kind of spiffy. And I got my new printer/scanner/copier at work today, but I can't hook it up until we get the new computer, as well, because this one is too old.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

It's hot out. Any time I spend sitting in front of my computer today will be related to Mad City Masters and not blogging. If you're interested, check out, a site by Mufti Maybe and Imam Mecca Cola taking a frequently tongue-in-cheek look at the gender scene in a Muslim Students Association. Courtesy of Dania.
UPDATE: Ikram Saeed has linked to this post, and gotten some interesting comments. He also links to a post on the oft-forgotten Pig War from American history. (I wish he called me "Brian" instead of "B.J.," though.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Will Baude of Crescat Sententia reports on an Islam and Democracy forum associated with Patrick Belton of Oxblog. I have previously posted on this subject here. Seriously, why do people always pick on Islam? How come we don't have forums on Buddhism and democracy after looking at governments of nations which have large Buddhist populations? (Note: This is not an attack on Buddhism, the influence of which I have found valuable in my life.)

Based on Will's description, this forum sounds like the classic case of people sitting around deciding that "the Islamic world" is somehow deeply flawed and they need to run over there and fix the inferior civilization. First of all, as Judge Kleinfeld noted, "Islam" is not "the problem." Gee, thanks. This does not stop Will from calling for a "Radio Free Islam," which would presumably be similar to the current Radio Sawa only with a more controversial name. There was talk of "using the education system to propagandize good, truth, and the American way." What does this mean exactly? If they want to install a Western-style system, it is already in progress at the university level, with institutions such as Yarmouk University in Jordan where I studied Arabic during the summer of 2001, and Sultan Qaboos University in Oman where I hope to go for my dissertation research in 2004-05. Beyond that, I'm a little uncertain what this group wants to do. Perhaps they were thinking of some of the Saudi textbooks which teach anti-Semitism, for example - I'd like to find out more on that point.

Will correctly points out that economic prosperity does not lead automatically to democracy. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it slows things down. After all, if everything in your country is going well, why topple the government? Gulf states such as Qatar and Kuwait have recently made moves toward more popular representation in government; while both of these nations remain monarchies, I'd still say that shows that people are aware of democratic values and that states are taking steps to answer these demands.

I think the thing that really got me from what I read of this forum, though, was a certain sense that nobody had much respect for or understanding of existing institutions in the Arab world. As I said way back here, "The reality is that the Islamic world got to this point by its own unique path, and in order to really start to understand, it helps to go back before the beginning and watch it being built brick by brick." Will reports people wondered by the Islamic fundamentalists were successful at institution-building. I don't know for sure what that referred to, but perhaps it has to do with building on foundations already present in the culture rather than importing European ideas and hoping they take root. I don't have answers, but I suggest that following their lead might be the most profitable way to foster governmental change in the region. Having an idea of how something works is a good idea before you try to fix it.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty has a new Iraq report which is really packed with information ranging from some fatwas issued by Grand Ayatolah Ali Sistani to details on the different protests which the American media tends to meld together. There's also some information on the doings of the different political factions. If you want to know what's up in Iraq, this is definitely something to check out. In addition, David Asednik of Oxblog has a good post on the debate over WMD.
I'm feeling kind of tired right now after I lay awake much of last night wondering if I should buy Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. OK, let me explain: There's an undercurrent of stress in my life right now as the state socks it to us on health care costs, and I don't know for sure what percentage my PA-ship will be starting July 1. I was going to buy the book eventually, but psychologically dislike buying books for hardback prices when I can buy them later for much cheaper in paperback. Money itself isn't really the issue - realistically, even according to my worst-case scenario, I could afford to buy a used car next year if I wanted to. But the uncertainty of it all has come to focus on this potential book purchase, helped along by the fact that the last two times I bought a book for myself on something of a whim I regretted it.

This morning, however, it suddenly seemed so obvious I should just go splurge. It occurred to me what would do me the most good right now is to let loose and spring for something that would allow me to escape for a bit to a place like Hogwarts. I haven't spent any money on myself aside from the occasional movie, eating out, or Beowulf performance since January. And this book is really long, so the paperback would fall apart anyway. If I feel too guilty, I can make it up to myself by not eating out sometime, or more fruitfully not buying a coffee every day at work for a week, which I've for some reason started doing. Hence, I'm now placing my order at Amazon, along with a CD I've wanted. Not only that, but when it comes, I'm actually going to take a day off from my dissertation to read it! Hopefully the state will pass a budget and the university will make their funding decisions, thus allowing me a firm grasp of how much money I'll make and my bills so I can stop subconsciously fretting over it.

Incidentally, intellectual blogging may be light over the next few days as I expend energy elsewhere. I'll try to toss out some stuff, though.
Gulf News: Potter-mania in Dubai (Contains spoilers for Chapter 1)

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Sidebar Changes: The contents of my blogroll is continually evolving. I don't wish to have one of those incredibly long blogrolls at this point, so I've limited the links to blogs I read regularly either because their content often reflects my own interests or it belongs to a friend. I've also made minor changes to the web sites, and added a list of countries whose abbreviations I've seen on IP addresses on my stats page. (I'm a Midwestern hick who's impressed with that sort of thing.) I'm looking for a way to change the text color, and am trying to get monthly rather than weekly archiving. At the moment, this transition has my archive a bit confused, but hopefully that will pass.
Another day, another anti-American protest in Iraq with a rather small turnout. Commentors over at Daily Kos like to attribute this to fear of American forces, but I've noticed standards of proof are very low over there for things that could make the Bush administration look bad. Based on the collection of stuff I keep reading, I really think the Iraqi Shi'ites are giving us that grace period Thomas Friedman wrote about.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

"There will not be lacking, nor will there be more than, one single opportunity to make your days what you want them to be. And if you become one thing rather than another, that will be because in spite of everything you have to choose. Your choices will not negate the possibilities remaining to you, or anything that you will leave behind by the act of choice: but those possibilities will be weakened, attentuated to the degree that today your choice and your destiny will become the same: the coin will no longer have two faces: desire and destiny will be one."

-Carlos Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz)
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has issued a report on the state of the Iraqi media. They basically said that there is now a lot of media, all of it highly partisan - the nation lacks authoritative voices. The State Department has set up an Iraqi Media Network to rebuild this vital element of a democratic society and given it regulatory powers. However, IWPR reports: "The central problem is a conceptual one: the US administration has not firmly separated its policies for media from its agenda for public diplomacy (otherwise known among hacks as spin)." This of course hurts the credibility of the broadcast efforts.
Time for a rare bit of American politics: Kevin Drum links to a debate over whether unions represent the grassroots of the Democratic party. I am a strong union supporter, though I don't agree with all the strategies currently espoused by "big labor." I think they need to be less concerned with favoring their existing members by getting governments to give all contracts to union companies, for example, and more concerned with crackdowns on companies that violate labor laws and stifle organization. But still, I see "big labor" as all that the working classes can turn to for defense against "big business" unless they want "big government." Unions today are weaker than they've been in decades, while corporations are stronger, and the employees are suffering for it.

That said, what really inspired me to link to this post was the comment related to the class divide in the Democratic party. The party is very much divided between those who find its core in social liberalism on issues like gun control and the environment and those who remember it as the party which protected economic opportunity for the old New Deal coalition. In my lifetime, the party has been steadily walking away from the real concerns of blue-collar voters, which is definitely having the overall effect of driving them to the GOP, who will at least cut their taxes. Democrats need to get a backbone when it comes to the demonization of unions and start pushing for their revitalization in the new economy.

Incidentally, this is why I've tended to support Dick Gephardt in the Democratic primaries, along with a few other reasons. That's not carved in stone, though, despite the link on my sidebar. I'm also interested in Howard Dean and John Kerry, as well as anyone else who hasn't declared yet. But we'll see what happens.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Because I'm kind of stupid, I'm going to wade into a bit of academic politics even though I'm a grad student...

Stanley Kurtz is recommending Congress take funding away from Title VI and regulate the awards process, partly by including "policy makers" and "policy experts.". For those who don't know, Title VI is the program which funds area studies centers at major universities; Kurtz and others on the right claim they undermine American national security by publicly opposing U.S. foreign policy. Former UW Chancellor David Ward has posted a rebuttal of Kurtz's claims, which Kurtz admirably links to. This would be something to pass off as a scary notion of the far right, except the House Subcommittee on Select Education is actually holding hearings to consider it.

Speaking as a junior member of the academic profession, the main concern I have with Kurtz's article is continual use of support for American foreign policy as a barometer of whether area studies are useful. He states his goal is not to drive off those who oppose aspects of U.S. policy, but to bring in supporters for balance. However, most of us in Middle East Studies do not work on American foreign policy, we work on the Middle East. Here is a list of UW-Madison's Middle East faculty. Most teach things like language courses, the environment, literature, and religious studies. Of those who work on more modern policy-oriented questions - which due to a weakness in modern history is mostly the political science department - Tamir Moustafa focuses on internal developments in Egypt. As near as I can tell, only Michael Barnett's work might relate to American foreign policy. Is Kurtz suggesting that the recent search committee to hire a specialist in Qur'anic Studies should have interrogated the candidates to determine their political views? The fact is, for most faculty, any advocacy they do is largely an individual thing, and the amount of funding our program (which is not a Title VI center) receives has nothing to do with it.

Kurtz's article also contains a number of other arguments, many of which are highly questionable. I don't know what's up with the situation he describes on African Studies here at UW; however, I recently received an e-mail saying that all our existing Title VI centers had received funding increases, so if there was a plot to destroy it, it apparently failed before he even wrote this. He is corrent in saying that Edward Said is influential; however, it is blatantly false that: "The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power." I took a course in "History and Theory" which included a lot of post-colonial readings, and foreign policy never came up. It is merely a school of thought which seeks to evaluate the impact of colonialism on culture for the purpose of understanding cultural changes during the colonial period and recovering knowledge of pre-colonial cultural forms.

Kurtz singles out New York University as an example of a Title VI center which lacks ideological balance with regard to American foreign policy. He doesn't bother to mention that that is a joint research center with Princeton University, home to Bernard Lewis, a scholar he recommends. Kurtz claims Middle East scholars don't spend enough time discussing Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. When I have looked into those topics, I have found plenty, including work by the likes of Dale Eickelman, John Esposito, and number of scholars who have investigated the Iranian Revolution, and lots more I don't remember offhand because I'm a medievalist.

Kurtz ignores that fact that scholars produce a great deal more that is valuable, ranging from nation-building in Yemen (the subject of a recent talk by Lisa Wedeen) to the current economic situation in Egypt (the subject of a recent talk by Roger Owen). Even if we ignore the ideal of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, a quick look at the process of rebuilding Iraq should tell us that total knowledge of the society and culture of a region is what is truly necessary to serve the national interest, even if the conclusions reached by some of these scholars might indicate the U.S. sometimes makes mistakes.

I'm not experienced enough in the field to know precisely how politicized it is now, but what really scares me about Kurtz's proposals is that they would in the name of national security place it under direct control of governmental bodies, which would almost certainly make objective scholarship more difficult as centers began having to impress interest group lobbyists rather than academic experts. The fact is, most scholars I know - myself included - are not led to this field because of American foreign policy. We are here because we are nerds who are fascinated with the subject and wish to learn about it. That's precisely why such a small percentage of us are experts on topics related to foreign policy - note the disclaimer in the "Who am I?" post on this blog. If Kurtz and his kind have their way, then soon all of us may be judged as much by our political views as by the quality of our scholarship. And that would really destroy the academic freedom on which our education system is built.
I have been drinking too many caffeinated beverages lately.
I hate quiz bowl.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

It's been so long since I last talked about the anti-Iranian Saddam-backed terrorist group Mujahadeen-e Khalq that I won't even bother to dig it out of my archives. France has recently cracked down on the group, and some of its members have been dramatically setting themselves on fire in protest. Hoder, the most widely read Iranian blogger, has some comments on what Iranians think of the group. His first sentence: "Imagine the American Talib, John Walker Lindh, times 30,000 or 40,000." Naturally, some in Congress and elsewhere wanted the U.S. to work with these people, including Daniel Pipes, whom President Bush has nominated to the Board of Directors for the Institute of Peace.
Two recommended posts:

Allison Kaplan Sommer on "Cherry-Picking in the Golan Heights," an extremely well-written vignette of a day in the life of Israel.

al-Muhajabah on shari'a (Islamic Law) and how what you see labelled as such in Saudi Arabia doesn't necessarily conform to the definition.
The Globe and Mail has an article about the situation in Kirkuk. Here Kurds are returning to land they were forced out of as part of Saddam's Arabization program, which of course means the imported Arabs are going to be forced out now. The city government is imposing a plan where profits for this harvest will be split equally between the Kurdish and Arab farmers, but that goes for this year only. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Bremer has cancelled an election scheduled in the city of Najaf that would have been the first full election for local government in American-occupied Iraq. When the U.S. invaded ostensibly to install democracy, this seems like the worst kind of bonehead manuever. Even if an anti-American candidate had won, by allowing them to govern we would be showing that we are serious about the ideals we claim to represent, and lessen anti-Americanism in the city. Juan Cole also mentions that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called upon Iraqis to press Americans to leave. Sistani has been critical of delays in the transition to Iraqi rule, and I wonder if the election cancellation was a factor in his decision.
According to Haaretz, Israel has removed its first inhabited West Bank settlement after violent clashes with the settlers wounded 37. Hundreds of settlers came from throughout the area despite Israeli roadblocks. Credit Israel with taking a real step toward peace. Meanwhile, CNN just had breaking news of a new suicide bombing. On the PA side, of course, the question is not whether Abu Mazen wants to confront the militants, but whether he can. I just don't see how the PA can fulfill their side of the bargain without developing a stronger security force, which causes me to doubt the wisdom of trying to force the Road Map right now at all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I am mostly a Tom Friedman fan, but since the Iraq war he's seemed to be trying to shoot the moon with American Middle East policy. First there was his notion about building a new ME by freeing Lebanon. Today, he attributes several trends in the region to the U.S. victory against Saddam. Most of these, however, have little or nothing to do with Iraq whatsoever. Bush's Road Map to peace could have been released at any time. Jordan's elections are a complete non-issue - they've had them before, and these were long promised. It's not like the Jordanian Parliament is that significant. There were also protests in Iran before the war, and its even odds on whether they are helped or hurt by our presence next door. I will give him the introspection within the Arab media, however. And I definitely agree with his basic point that it is far too soon to write Iraq off as a failure. Comments like these from Daily Kos would work better as warnings than descriptions of the present. The crowds are actually rather small, and very, very seldom do I read of coalition forces firing on them. The press is substantially freer than it was under Saddam, despite the censorship flap, and some local government is definitely in Iraqi hands, though I have qualified that here. The situation could collapse, but hasn't yet. And Americans are still dying, despite the end of "major fighting."
More interesting items related to Iraq reconstruction efforts: Orin Kerr quotes from his friend in Baghdad, with the most interesting tidbit being the idea that Iraq is now generating more power than before the war. According to this source, before the war areas of Iraq outside of Baghdad had black-outs on a regular basis while the capital received favorable treatment. Now, power is being distributed more equitably. I obviously can't verify this officially, but it sounds like the sort of thing the media would miss. Also, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has a story on how women are being excluded from the reconstruction effort. The administration appointees are either simply ignoring women's rights, or they're assuming placing women in important positions would violate cultural sensibilities. If the former, they should stop ignoring it. If the latter, I don't think they should worry. Arab countries generally have highly educated female populations, and Iraq is certainly no exception. You won't see a woman as President in Iraq anytime soon, but in the cities especially people are used to women serving important functions in society, and the U.S. should take advantage of their potential.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Courtesy of The Head Heeb and al-Muhajabah, I've found an interesting new blog from Egypt called The Arab Street Files. According to the heading, it will contain "Occasional reflections & musings on what is really said on the mythical 'Arab street,' by someone who lives there." I also see that he has listed me in the honorable category of "Links That Aren't Stupid." The other possibilities were "Freaky Arab Propaganda" and "Freaky Zionist Propaganda."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has some stories critical to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which I haven't seen reported in the mainstream American press. One is the settler movement's resistance to the "Road Map." When most Americans last heard of these issues, Israel had ina noble gesture begun removing settlements from the Occupied territories. Most stories buried the fact that they were uninhabited, and I didn't see any major network cover the fact that the settlers rebuilt them the next day. According to this story, the uninhabited settlements are now dismantled (again?), but the inhabited ones are tied up in court. Meanwhile, "hilltop youth" have gone on a rampage through a Palestinian village destroying and stealing, though to their credit the IDF have returned the stolen property to the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Palestinian security chief Muhammad Dahlan is in Europe looking for money to rebuild the Palestinian Authority, which is still recovering from the Israeli attacks of a year ago. Certainly it would help the Road Map if the Palestinians could actually crush Hamas rather than simply negotiate from a position of relative weakness. The Palestinians are in a trap: They need to clamp down on terrorism in order to get the money needed to clamp down on terrorism. What I'm getting from the mainstream press, however, is simply Abu Mazen calling for truces, with little explanation as to why he's not cracking down, as most Americans expect him to do.

These particular omissions leave a biased impression of the conflict, in which Israel simply tried to comply with the Road Map while Palestinian radicals upset it and the PA doesn't tackle them. I don't see this as deliberate, I think the media just likes to follows explosions and heads of state before settlers and security chiefs. I'm also not saying that the above stories are more important than terrorism, and I certainly feel Israel has the right to defend itself. But one cannot form sound judgements about the conflict in the Middle East without understanding all its aspects.

UPDATE: Haaretz tends to add updates to existing articles on a given topic, hence the content of these links may change without notice.

You're Madagascar!

Lots of people don't really know anything about you, making you buried treasure of the rarest kind.  You love nature, and could get lost in it whenever possible.  You're remote and exotic, and the few people who know you value whatever they share with you a great deal.  For some reason, you really like the word "lemur."
Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

Monday, June 16, 2003

As a graduate student in Middle Eastern history, discussion of the area sometimes follows in my wake, and over the weekend a lot of people asked my opinion of the student protests in Iran. The major question regarding Iran's future has always been whether the clerical regime would play by Tiananmen Square rules and suppress the protests with lethal force, which in the long run is really the only way they can win continuation of the current system. My betting has been that they won't. The Iranian regime, while repressive, has never been brutal in the way the Ba'athist regimes in Iraq and Syria have. In Iran, people who oppose the government face a revolving-door prison term, and opposition publications are banned only to start up again under a new name a few months later. Sometimes the demonstrators even get what they want.

In order to crush the protests, the hard-liners would have to call in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards - the basiji groups who are out beating the students couldn't pull it off. I suspect this would require the consensus of a large part of the hard-line community. The media sometimes portrays the theocratic side of Iran's government as a dictatorship led by the faqih, an office currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamane'i. However, there are also bodies such as the Expediency Council and th Council of Guardians, as well as lower-level military commanders, many of whom would have to go along with such an order. The hard-line side of the government contains many types of people, some undoubtedly power-hungry despot wannabees, others true believes in Islamic government who believe they're doing the right thing. In addition, there's an open selection process for these positions, even if the range of choices is very narrow.

I'm not entirely sure what sorts of specific changes would satisfy the current protestors. A recent letter apparently called for Ayatollah Khamene'i to step down, and called his office blasphemous. I suspect if they lead to anything - and they won't for a few weeks yet, if then - it will be a renunciation of some of the faqih's powers and the passing of reformist legislation. Predicting the future is a dangerous business, so I don't stand by this in any way, but I've long suspected the faqih would eventually end up like the British monarchy, a symbol of certain aspects of the country's heritage without any real power. But only time will tell...
I have returned! The wedding was loads of fun. The bride and groom are both strong feminists, so they set out to purge the day of all sexist customs, which made room for some innovation. I somehow always imagined myself as a traditionalist when it comes to such ceremonies, but I recognize that such traditions are transient, and hence enjoy experiencing something different, if that makes any sense. I did have a couple of encounters which brought back the sorts of memories that make me wish QU had been home to more of a Miss Manners dating philosophy, but really, I've been removed from most of my QU friends for so long that sometimes it seemed I was just watching pieces of my past on a stage, with the wedding itself as the long-delayed final act of a past era.

The panel also went well, I think. It was the sort of crowd where people already knew what they thought, and we were just there to confirm it. My role was to show ways of getting information about the world despite the flaws of the mainstream press, so hopefully that came in handy. It was a little strange with me being the one up front and so many of my old professors in the audience looking on.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

I'm about to leave town to serve as part of a panel and attend a wedding, and won't be blogging until Monday night. In the meantime, read G on on the situation in Baghdad, Joe Gratz on a sparrow's plight, and Daily Kos on the Democratic Presidential candidates.

Also, my three votes in the new blog showcase: Datanerd, Vision: On, and Kuboid.The Smarter Cop is a back-up to those who lack working permalinks. Please note that this does not reflect my opinion of the content of these posts, but rather obscure notions of my own I cannot clearly articulate.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Today 16 Israelis and 10 Palestinians were killed in Jerusalem and Gaza, only 4 of whom could plausibly be classified as combatants. I used to wonder why the media never actually called this a war, but now I understand. Since the dawn of time, wars have been about armies fighting each other for control of resources or some ideology, with civilians killed as part of the operations directed at that army. This is more like two entire peoples woven together, mouthing ideologies and wishing vaguely for a better life, but also consumed by a learned hatred and lack of trust which continually feeds on itself, so that at times it seems like the struggle will continue, massacre after massacre feeding a blind rage and building high the walls which prevent people from reaching out, until one day some traveller will, in a city of burned-out car shells and collapsing buildings, find the streets littered with corpses clawing at each other in final acts of revenge for the doom which surrounded all. And so I will hold off on my follow-up to yesterday's settler post, and instead leave the day to this person.
From the Eurasia Research Center e-mail list, I just received a translated article of a multi-part al-Jazeera report on the Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia. This reminds me of something I should have noticed before writing this post in which I suggested religious diversity could be imported to the kingdom. As the report describes, Saudi Arabia is already highly diverse - the Hijaz, after all, is the site of the hajj and maintains religious links with a variety of places. Oddly, the religious center of the Islamic world ceased to be the religious center of its own kingdom when the Saudis came to power in the early 20th century. The eastern part of the kingdom also has a Shi'ite majority which has been bitterly persecuted by the Wahhabis.

The substance of my first suggestion, then, should have been for the Saudis to reach out to these other religious communities - particularly the Medina one - rather than allow the Wahhabis a continued monopoly. This would not lead to instant democracy, but as I've said, that isn't going to happen. It would allow the Saudi royals a freer reign, which I see as ultimately a good thing at this point. The al-Jazeera story theorizes that: "Recognizing and dealing with religious pluralism raises the issue of religious and intellectual rights of the followers of the other sects. It also demands reevaluating the privileges the winning sect enjoys from the state--in other words, reconstituting the authority and its components on new basis." Yet this authority is based on what Muhammad Ibn Saud did to win support in the conservative heartland of Najd. If the Saudi monarchy is to survive, it needs to reconfigure itself to earn legitimacy with all Muslims on the peninsula.

The article's last paragraph: "The suffering of the Shiites from oppression is no different from the suffering of the Saudi woman from deprivation and the Saudi man from persecution. The solution does not lie in dealing with the results but in solving the main problem, which is the absence of tolerance, political participation, and human rights. When every citizen, irrespective of his belief, race, and ethnic background, feels that the homeland belongs to him, his dignity is being safeguarded, and his freedom is being guaranteed, we can talk about the branches, including the problem of the Shiite sect in the Kingdom."
Dr. Atefeh Oliai, my Persian professor, sent the following in response to this post which she requests I share with you:

Iran situation is a riddle: the question is this: " if Shah's regime was so progressive why is it that the publication of newspapers and books are Skyrocketing now: i.e.: after the rev. Literacy is 85% as compared to less that 50% before the rev. Much wider area in rural Iran is benefiting from Electricity now than under Shah. Iranian movie production doesn't need any explanation. And YES! human right is the main issue. But let's be fair and say that at least now people know what is happening in contrast to the complete forced silence and censorship under the Shah.

Finally I would like to point that surprisingly democracy is more present now than before, if we define democracy as people's ability to voice their concern publicly, act openly and get result. See Aghajari's situation. Wasn't he freed because of people's pressure? What about numerous demonstrations through which people voice their concern? Have you forgotten a simple student strike would result to student's emprisonnement from 2 to 12 years? The obvious fact of such harsh but explicit struggle between the two factions of the gov. is another sign in my opinion of the democracy And again: Yes, human right is worse than ever but nevertheless, today's Iran is one of the most dynamic society in the world if not The most. A lot to say, but I wonder if the fact that Farah looked more "modern" means anything! And yes! that picture of people kissing Shah's hand: what does this prove? Of course the present regime is to be criicized, but PLEASE let's raise the bar!

UPDATE: I just glanced at a headline about scores of arrests following protests in Iran. So I want to emphasize that the point of my posts is a historical one: The Islamic Republic is better than the Pahlavi monarchy. Hopefully the student movement will succeed in pushing the government into reform and set up a democracy not stifled by this sort of theocratic oppression.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Palestinian terrorist groups are working hard to sabotage the "Road Map" for peace, and Abu Mazen has his hands full trying to find a solution, especially after this incident involving an Israeli strike on a Hamas leader. Those issues will be well covered by the American media. However, Israel also has its own problems with extremists. According to Haaretz, the settlements removed by the military yesterday have now been rebuilt by the settlers, who are working hard to disrupt Israeli peace efforts. And this is before Israel starts taking down inhabited settlements. CNN's web site has covered the settlement removal, Abu Mazen's struggle agains the terrorists, and recent terrorist attacks but as of the time of this post the settlers remain out of the picture.

President Ould Taya's military government of Mauritania has survived the coup attempt. Speculation remains that the coup may have been caused by Mauritania's crackdown on Islamist factions opposed to Ould Taya's pro-American stance on Iraq. Al-Jazeera apparently had the best coverage of this, but I haven't had the energy to read the Arabic media lately.

I found this link on Notes of an Iranian Girl. It was really a shocking look at how much the perceptions of young Iranians on the revolution differ from those of their parents. People I know who lived through the revolution, such as my Persian professor, frequently criticize the current regime in Iran, but make a point of saying it is an improvement over the Shah. Those images, however, present the Shah's reign as a sort of golden age which Khomeini and Co. ruined. The images chosen are highly one-sided propaganda pieces, but it's propaganda that apparently has an audience. I looked up the party sponsoring this web site and remembered where I'd heard "National Socialist Workers Party" before; I hope that's not the direction people in Iran are going. I seriously doubt it, but the fact their page is being linked to by major Iranian bloggers only gives that group publicity.

Monday, June 09, 2003

This blog has gotten over 300 hits during the past 24 hours, thanks mainly to a link to my Saudi Arabia post from Matthew Yglesias. I haven't seen the details on all, but I did add Singapore to the list of countries whose abbreviations I've noticed on my site stats. Others on the list since this blog started are the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Germany, Russia, The Netherlands, Australia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Spain, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Czech Republic.

This post on the Thomas Friedman debate speaks to an interesting point: Why has opposition to American foreign policy become the litmus test for liberalism? The idea that American involvement overseas is often benevolent may be abused for propaganda purposes and serve to cover up actual abuses, but liberals shouldn't allow that to box us into a corner with some of the world's oppressive regimes who also happen to be disliked by conservatives.
According to Gulf News, 107 women recently graduated from Qatar's police academy, the first time an all-female squadron has graduated. The same paper reported an Omani plan to reserve more job categories, mainly in retailing, for Omani nationals. Oman, like other Gulf countries, plays host to a large population of foreign workers who dominate certain sectors of the economy. However, as the population of these countries increases, they need to start finding jobs for their own people, especially as declining oil prices hurt their ability to maintain their current welfare infrastructure. To me, both of these stories are the sorts of things the Western media won't pick up on, but that reflect the changing face of the Middle East we're going to be dealing with in the future.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

This Matthew Yglesias post and the ensuing comments bring out the difficulty of how to solve the myriad problems involving Saudi Arabia, which stands accused of questionable internal stability and fostering ideologies which incite terrorism. I think part of the problem with finding answers stems from the difficult time the American media is having coming to grips with the Saudi situation. For example, the Saudi royal family is not the impediment to social progress, it is the engine of social progress - no major development of the past century has come without their sponsorship and deal-making with the Wahhabi establishment that aided their rise to power over the nomadic tribes and oasis communities which pre-dated the monarchy.

Today the kingdom has two major problems - an ideological one amplified by an economic one. Ideologically, the early Saudis allied themselves with the early Wahhabis, the latter of whom persuaded everyone to follow the monarchy in exchange for essentially getting a monopoly over religious policy. This meant that while the Saudis were able to gain popular legitimacy, they were also dependent on holding the approval of the religious leaders on whom that legitimacy depended, leaders who advocated a very extreme form of Islam based entirely off proper behavior and resistance to innovation. During the 1970's, there was an oil boom which created vast wealth the Saudis used to set up a national infrastructure; however, the collapse in oil prices and a population explosion resulting from improved health care meant that the system could not be sustained in its present form. This has created - especially in the underdeveloped Najd and 'Asir regions - large numbers of unemployed young people who have turned to following the most extreme of the religious leaders mentioned above.

There is no golden bullet solution to this situation, which developed over time as a governing system which would have been easily recognizable to Harun al-Rashid struggled to find its footing in the modern world. However, I have some suggestions. The most important tackles both the ideological and economic issues. Saudi Arabia's claims to leadership have always been pan-Islamic, as opposed to pan-Arab. Therefore, encourage them to become more Islamic. Traditionally, Islamic states supported all strains within Islam. In the middle ages, cities had judges of all four major schools of Islamic law. Therefore, let Saudi Arabia truly seek to become a center for all Islam by inviting religious scholars from Indonesia to Belgium to come teach in newly endowed madrasas, bringing with them the diversity of ideas which pass in most countries for orthodox Islam. If done as traditional waqf endowments even Taliban-like scholars would have trouble opposing them, and they would include things like agricultural development to help provide jobs and develop underdeveloped areas while diversifying the Islamic discourse within Saudi Arabia. My gamble is that tha extremist Wahhabis would lose a fight for support against the moderate Wahhabis, royal family, and foreigners with impeccable Islamic credentials who come bearing money. From the Saudis' perspective, a Maliki scholar can support their rule as easily as a Wahhabi.

Secondly, the royal family is huge due to the fact that Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud formed political marriages with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happened to be the leader of some patch of ground as part of consolidating the kingdom. Let's cut off some insignificant lines, freeing up money for economic development while shrinking the circle of powerful figures the immediate royals have to appease. If this causes rebellion in some areas - which I think unlikely - the U.S. should guarantee the sale of military training and equipment, as well as intelligence support in suppressing them. The only thing I'm uncertain of here is the role these groups play in succession battles, which given the age of the King, Crown Prince, and most other top figures may make cutting them off difficult.

Critics will argue that I'm basically setting up the immediate royals as stronger monarchs than they are now - I think, however, that we have no real alternatives. You will not get a democracy in Saudi Arabia at this point in time..."secular" is a charge Saudi leaders defend themselves against, not a serious political orientation, and even the Islamic liberals call for a "consultative assembly" rather than democracy. The Saudi government's instincts have always been pro-American, and freed of the need to appease their most radical elements they can continue to be a strong ally, one with whom we can discuss democracy down the line. In the meantime, the pace of social change can increase as increased debate under the auspices of Islam takes place at the local level over such issues as whether or not women can drive (they can in Iran, which is quite obviously Islamic).

Those are my ideas. Hack away...
I wonder how often "quack, quack, quack" has been added to web-pages and uttered over IM conversations in recent weeks?

Since I periodically complain about how boring life is, I should probably mention I went out tonight. I went with Jordan to see a rather cool band called Reptile Palace Orchestra, which you sort of had to be there to understand. They were followed by another group we didn't stay for all of...they weren't actually bad, but just not good for that particular time and place if you know what I mean. All in all, a fun evening.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

One possibility on Iraqi WMD's that seems all over the blogosphere but no so much in the mainstream media is the idea that they may have been looted, as discussed in this post by Matthew Yglesias. Whether that is possible I will leave for others to say.

The RFE-RL Daily Afghan Report has contained some disturbing information recently, as does this New York Times article. Abd ar-Rashid Dostum was recently summoned to Kabul to assume a new post, but is refusing to leave his power base in the northwest where he has a few thousand loyal fighters. In my Afghanistan seminar of a couple of years ago, Dostum became our poster boy for the corrupt, self-aggrandizing and often brutal warlord.

This issue highlights a core problem in the Afghan reconstruction efforts: What is Karzai's means of unifying the country? As became clear from Bob Woodward's Bush at War, the most important early factor was money - we hired the warlords as mercenaries, and set up a state on the theory they would learn to profit from stability. However, they see their real power in their armed forces, and Dostum knows that if he loses that connection he becomes less worth the attention of the different power blocs.

One thing to remember about Afghanistan is that even before the civil war there was never much central control by the government...the concept of the nation-state taken for granted by Western policy-makers really doesn't exist there. Hence, Karzai's main tool, a plea for Afghan unity to become a modern nation-state, may not be the best tool for the job, even worse than the Taliban's religious ideology. The government needs to sell itself as the guarantor of stability and prosperity, which requires military forces to make it safe to run an economy. And the famous "Afghan army" has been slow to develop indeed.

As it is, I worry that the Afghan government may be trying too much too quickly politically. The RFE-RL-reported leaks about the Afghan constitution say it will call for a strong central government. In the absence of a basis for unity on the ground, trying to write it into the constitution is a serious mistake.

A follow-up to yesterday: Muhammad Dahlan denies reports of a weapons buy-back program. He also offered Hamas confrontation if they won't talk. As I noted a lot at the time, Abbas's power struggle with Arafat centered largely around Dahlan; let's hope he knows what he's doing.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Today's Haaretz had a good article about recent developments in the peace process, especially on how the weakened PA is planning to go about gaining power from the militants. The U.S. and Europe have reportedly given money to Muhammad Dahlan to buy weapons from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fighters at twice the price of the black market, as well as money to pay each $6000 to leave the AMB and join PA security. According to the paper, the average teacher in the territories makes about $330 a month and unemployment is over 50%, so it is a major offer. However, there exists the danger that people will simply see it as a plot to disarm them without the PA getting anything in return. As it stands the settlements Israel is abandoning are mostly empty, so the PA is having to offer up a lot for a little.

Buried in this Orin Kerr post to the Volokh Conspiracy is an example of the complexity of nation-building: Food aid devalues Iraqi crops hurting farmers. Juan Cole also refers to the imminent health crisis in that country. I wonder how much the current situation in Baghdad resembles that in Damascus at the end of Lawrence of Arabia.

This afternoon at about 1:15 someone from Quincy University made hit #1000 on this blog, one day after a new record was set with 34 hits in a day, especially interesting because there were no permalinks from major bloggers. Thanks for visiting!
Today there was a meeting in Iraq between Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's highest-ranking Shi'ite leader, and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to discuss the political situation in post-war Iraq. Sistani has been silent about Iraqi politics until now, though he is known to believe that religious scholars should express opinions but avoid political power and favor non-violent means of achieving political change. During the war there were reports that he had issued a fatwa urging cooperation with the U.S., but these turned out to have been exaggerated. According to the New York Times, Sistani criticized humanitarian conditions inside Iraq and supported a swift transition to Iraqi rule. He was also said to have expressed the feeling the Americans are making mistakes by appointing Sunnis to govern Shi'ite areas. I hope the U.S. takes him seriously, as he seems an important, winnable voice in the new Iraq.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

This article from the BBC mentions continuing tension between Kabul and Islamabad over alleged support for the Taliban-al-Qaeda by Pakistani intelligence. This dispute concerns the nationality of some Taliban fighters killed near Spin Boldak. I'm always a little skeptical when the nationality of these groups' members is cited as a somehow indicative of their nations' policy. The argument that the U.S. should crack down on Saudi Arabia because 15 of the hijackers were Saudis seems lazy to me, and I forget how many terrorists we've seen from places like Jordan and Kuwait that are clearly not supporters of terrorism. The argument also works the other way: There's always this undercurrent of people wanting to deny visas to citizens of countries that support terrorism. Most of these nations are dictatorships. Should we ship back all the Cuban refugees because that nation is on the sponsors-of-terror list?
Last night, after a series of stressful developments in life, I found myself crashed on my couch for the evening reading Naguib Mahfouz's Akhenaton: Dweller in Truth. The book is basically the account of a young scholar's quest to learn the truth about Akhenaton's reign by interviewing people who were involved in the events. Each had a different view of the man based on that person's experiences and suppositions about life. It really reminded me of all the accounts that circulate about George Bush, why he does things, what his character is like and so on. This is part of the reason I don't like to play those games...I'm not sure you can come to a definitive truth about people around you, much less figures on the general world stage.

I also had a random George Bush thought while watching Babylon 5 the other day. The episode was "Comes the Inquisitor." The premise of the main plot was that the Vorlons wanted to test Delenn, for reasons which are initially unclear. Even though the show is sci-fi, there are also a lot of themes commonly associated with fantasy: The Shadows, one of the "Older Races," are returning after 1000 years presumably to spread their dominion over the galaxy, and the Vorlons, the other Older Race, have been watching and laying the groundwork to allow the Younger Races like humans to resist when the time comes. JMS has compared Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador, to Gandalf, though he's really more like Wheel of Time's Moiraine, and Delenn and Captain Sheridan to Aragorn and Arwen, as well as King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake. Anyway, Delenn knows she is a figure prophecied to come (and you find out how prophecy can be in sci-fi during the third season), and thus the nature of the Vorlons' test: Basically, the Inquisitor they send - a human they took from Earth in the 19th century are prepared for this task - keeps asking "Who are you?" and things like her name, title, personal history and such aren't good enough as answers - they want to know if she's the right person for the time. As it turns out, she proves she is when she offers to sacrifice herself for one other person, alone with no one ever knowing, and hence forego the glory of saving the galaxy from the Shadows. What's really cool is that it eventually comes out that the human once considered himself divinely appointed to rid London of corruption, to which end he became a murderer of prostitutes (Jack the Ripper) before the Vorlons took him and showed him the error of his ways while turning him into this Inquistor tool. Anyway, I just wondered how Bush, who reportedly believes God chose him to be President on September 11, would do on this test.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

OK, so I'm a bit distracted at the moment because the latest health care proposal on the TA/PA contracts would take a serious bite out of my budget, which of course comes on top of the fact I don't actually know if my job will exist a month from now, though the signs are encouraging. All well...if it goes through, there are a few ways I could weather it, it's just the uncertainty of it all.

I'd been saving some comments on the state of the Middle East peace process to make following today's summit. Jonathan Edelstein, however, is saying pretty much what I would with much greater eloquence. So go read it - I may say more tomorrow.

Incidentally, I have decided I will not get into the gutter replying to people advocating the form of ethnic cleansing known as "population transfer." If someone started advocating a "push all the Jews into the sea" route I wouldn't give them the dignity of serious debate, so I shouldn't be showing respect for the Israeli extremists, either.

A UN court investigating war crimes in Sierra Leone has indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor, saying he "bore the greatest responsibility" for events in the ravaged African nation. Taylor, who worked as a gas station attendant in Boston before becoming a dictator, has also been linked to al-Qaeda.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

This post may seem a bit random, but I've been meaning to write it for several years. It stems out of frequent debates over things like the definition of the middle class and what experiences constitute "ordinariness," recognizing of course the problems always inherent in that term. Here, according to the 2000 U.S. census, is the household income profile of the U.S.:

$0-$10,000 - 9.5%
$10,000-$14,999 - 6.3%
$15,000-$24,999 - 12.8%
$25,000-$34,999 - 12.8%
$35,000-$49,999 - 16.5%
$50,000-$74,999 - 19.5%
$75,000-$99,999 - 10.2%
$100,000 - $149,999 - 7.7%
$150,000 - $199,999 - 2.2%
$200,000 and up - 2.4%

The median household income is $41,994.

So what does this mean? Looking at the data, my family probably ranks in about the 35th percentile, better off than about 1/3 of the country, lower middle class as I have always claimed. I would now argue using this that I have a better claim to represent the average American than those who make $100,000 - the "six-figure income" commonly held as the standard of affluence. In fact, not only is a family with a total income of $100,000 more than twice the national median, they are in about the 86th percentile, near where you talk about the "Top 10%"

This is convincing enough to me that I won't even go on...$100,000 may not make you "rich," but it puts you at the high end of things, and once you get much over $200,000 "affluent" is an understatement. So why is it that since coming to college I've been around so many affluent people who consider themselves right on the average? I think the main reason is suburbs. In a city like Quincy, you have everything represented from "the projects" to a professional class to an "old money" elite, and everyone can kind of see where they rank. Suburbs, however, are more segregated by income, and most kids in these neighborhoods probably are surrounded by people of the same socio-economic level from birth until college. College itself still has far fewer people from the working classes than the upper middle class and above, though I'm not looking up the data on that off the top of my head - I do remember that my mom, based off her life experiences and those of her friends, was once ecstatic when something happened so that I could go to college, which I had from my socialization always taken for granted and was resenting not having the same array of options as everyone else I knew.

People probably wonder why I think about this, and I do, too. I think partially it's because the issue comes up so many times in so many different contexts. In junior high there were trips the cost to which was almost $1000 each; an overwhelming majority of the school obviously didn't go, yet in the honors track the teacher had to plan a special project for me since I was the only one left behind. In high school there was overt "wrong side of the tracks" opposition to me from people using their influence in a rather competitive honors program - I once had a hall conference with a teacher who had nominated me for "Student of the Year" in one subject, but was worried about getting complaints from others, whom of course I could guess at. At QU it wasn't as much. and certainly not at a public school like UW, but still I get everything from becoming an object of amusement for people who can't believe how little my family has travelled (or distaste at having to bother with an obviously unsophisticated hick, which is rarer but happens) to hearing a public relations director pounding on the desk about how "QU has always been based on good, solid upper middle class students," which presumably left me as some sort of ruffian there on generosity because I happened to do well on standardized tests. On a whole lot of issues, even today I find myself in areas where I feel behind everyone else even while talking about things I have done amazes folks back home. (This is not meant as anything personal between me and friends with whom such issues have occasionally arisen.)

More deeply, however, it might be the way I was raised. Dr. Spear once made a comment that in the U.S. the national obsession was race, while in the UK it was class. I'm convinced that if J.K. Rowling were an American Lucius Malfoy would be a racist and Ron Weasley an African-American. My mother, however, was steeped in Britishness to her fingertips, and a lot of the early talk I heard on the issue was from her, in terms of me having to be one of the best-dressed people in class and so on so we wouldn't be dismissed. Of course, since she was involved with a lot of the decision-makers and know how things worked, that might also have been simple realism.

Anyway, that's now out there, and off my shoulders. Read it and do with it as you please. (I've actually figured out what I want from people who get on my nerves, though. It's not that they're all snobs, nor is it that I'm demanding opportunities and hand-outs, despite my generally liberal politics. It's also not that I'm arrogant and obsessed with "justifying my ego," which was what I always got to hear at QU, nor is it jealousy, as I heard at QU and in high school. I simply want an acknowledgement from people of our relative stances in relation to others. All well.)
Right now I am at work continuing to renovate the web site of the UW-Madison Middle East Studies Program. One thing I've done is make it into a frames site. The problem is that the side bar is currently longer than the screen resolution height of about 40% of our visitors, and there's no way to scroll down on it. I'd rather not make the text smaller than it already is. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what I could do? My normal consultants are all rather inaccessible right now. And by the way, thanks to those of you who sent stuff about our media page - most of your suggestions have been incorporated in one way or another!

Oh, yes, I baked pumpkin spice bars last night. I really dislike my oven...almost as soon as you turn it on, it starts giving off this annoying burnt smell. This is my first time using an electric oven, though, so maybe they're all like that.
Somebody tell me if I'm misreading this article, which seems to suggest that Saddam Hussein's daughters are seeking asylum in Britain because of the severe psychological stress of having to "wash their own clothes and cook their own food."

Monday, June 02, 2003

Mosul and Kirkuk are two cities in northern Iraq generally billed as "success stories" because they have held elections for local governments. As usual, the details are not quite so rosy. The Mosul election was held by 200 people presumably chosen as representatives of different groups by the U.S. military. The result was that a retired Arab general named Ghanim al-Basso became mayor, a Kurd became Deputy Mayor, and a Turkmen and an Assyrian were each chosen as Assistant Mayors. This shows the sorts of ethnic balancing acts necessary in northern Iraq, where Kurdish aspirations for independence probably lurk not too far below the surface in this region affected by Saddam's "Arabization" programs, while leaders of all communities officially pledge to work together. Whether or not this council is doing anything is harder to say; the city made big headlines in April when U.S. troops killed demonstrators, but I can't find anything after that.

One finds a similar situation in Kirkuk, Iraq's largest oil-producing city, where first 300 delegates met to select a city council of 30. Then on May 28 the council chose as mayor a Kurdish lawyer named Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa, with the usual ethnic mix of assistants. Here the different ethnic groups have complaints, but have put them on hold with warnings that the administration should not display favoritism toward any one group. One key issue: Property rights in an area where Saddam deported hundreds of thousands of Kurds and gave their property to Arab citizens who now fear reprisals.

Information on other cities is sparse...and I think that is a serious gap in the media coverage. Also, the headlines saying things like "Mosul elects mayor" would seem to be seriously misleading. However, I think the key to Mosul and Kirkuk will be in how effective these transitional administrations are at handling key issues such as services and ethnic disputes. But this may also show the wisdom of starting with local administration - if these complex local issues weren't solved, any national government would inherit a country in chaos.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

A quick example of media manipulation: Bush on his aircraft carrier proclaimed the "major fighting" in Iraq over. Hence, the 9 Americans killed in combat operations in that country during the past week have not - to my viewing - received the many profiles and acclamations of heroism the networks gave to those killed while the war was still officially going on. This continues the pattern the Bush administration began in Afghanistan.
According to Gulf News, the opening session of the Yemeni Parliament was disrupted yesterday when a raging bull stormed the building.

This from al-Muhajabah: Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax will begin contributing to The Guardian.