Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Egyptian Internet Monitoring

Arab Street Bum has a great post about how the Egyptian government monitors the Internet.

Audrey Seiler

Now that Audrey Seiler has been found alive, I can say without seeming dismissive of the case that we in Madison were not living in fear of an imminent crime wave. I'm sure people in that neighborhood were a bit more cautious, though. People are now searching for a potentially armed man in Olin Park, which is down by Lake Monona. They sound pretty sure they're going to get him soon.

Shi'ites Rising

Juan Cole links to this article about the rise of Shi'ism in the Arab world as a result of the Iraq war. Regular readers know I basically agree with its sentiments, and think that this religious liberation has thus far been the greatest, though perhaps the only, positive regional pay-off from the conflict.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Early Muslim Women

Maryam has an awesome post in which she profiles three early Muslim women: Sukaynah bt. al-Husayn, the Prophet's great-granddaughter; the Sufi mystic Rabi'a of Basra; and the Yemeni Sultana 'Arwa, who ruled during the early 12th century. I've been reading Tabari lately, important women are all over the place. I ran into Sukaynah a few minutes ago, and down the page found one Mariyyah bt. Sa'd whose home was used for gatherings among the proto-Shi'ites of Basra during the reign of Yazid I (680-683). I've been meaning to write a post on 'Aisha bt. Abu Bakr, the Prophet's favorite non-Khadija wife, and speaking of Khadija, did anyone notice she was a wealthy merchant? In the Wars of the Ridda, a false prophet named Sajah arose among the Tamim - she was obviously not Muslim, but operating in the same cultural world. I have more to say on this, but it will have to wait.

MLB Predictions I

Today is a great day, as the Yankees have the worst record in baseball. Unfortunately, however, I don't think it will last. Here are some predictions for the 2004 MLB season, with more coming soon:

AL East: New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay

The common thinking here is that because pitching beats hitting, the Red Sox's signing of Curt Schilling will mean more than the Yankees' signing of A-Rod. But look at what the Yankees did with their bullpen, the major weakness from last year. Brown and Vazquez might be better than Clemens and Pettitte, and Contreras has the stuff to be a star. Throw in the fact that Millar and Mueller had career years for the Red Sox last year and I think we're seeing another Yankee division title. The rest of this division is fairly standard.

AL West: Seattle, Anaheim, Oakland, Texas

The Mariners are my favorite baseball team, so this might be a bit of wishful thinking on my part, but with Freddy Garcia's eye problems cleared up, their rotation should be solid. My main worries are Raul Ibanez not hitting at Safeco and team morale if management doesn't do enough to improve the team in-season. Anaheim will vie with Boston for the wild card, but I'm not sure the core of that team can repeat the 2002 magic. Oakland won't have th offense to finish above third, while Texas enters a rebuilding phase.

NL East: Philadelphia, Florida, Atlanta, New York, Montreal

The Phillies are finally here, and are the only team in this division to make significant improvements. I have no problem picking Florida to finish second - they were not a fluke last year, but the team with the best record in baseball after their hiring of Jack McKeon. I picked them to make the play-offs in 2001 and 2002, and couldn't figure out what their problem was. Apparently it has been solved. It's risky to say it, but I think Atlanta's run is finally done. Last year's team depended on offense rather than pitching, and now the offense is weaker after the departure of Lopez and Sheffield. The Mets and Expos both have some interesting players.

Uzbekistan Developments

Uzbek authorities are launching a crackdown in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Tashkent. An odd theme I keep seeing is gender, as in this story implicating foreign women in some of today's incidents. Assuming our basic information is accurate, it seems like there was a campaign to hit large numbers of targets using suicide bombings. Nathan Hamm comments here and here using his knowledge gained from living in the country. Soj also has some information. Unfortunately, no one really seems to have a convincing interpretation of these events.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Featured Books

At long last I've switched up the "Featured Books" Amazon links on the sidebar. What's new? A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language, by John Haywood. This book helped me out a lot with its systematic presentation of particles and supplemental readings drawn from texts such as Ibn Khaldun and modern newspapers. If you're looking to pick up at least a reading knowledge of Arabic on your own, this is the book to do it with, though there are no cassettes to aid in speaking and listening.

The other book is Robert G. Hoyland's Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam, which distills a lot of the most recent research on pre-Islamic Arabia for the general reader. This is a really fascinating topic, and I'm glad my dissertation goes into it some.

UPDATE: I also added Jonathan Berkey's The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800, winner of the Middle East Studies Association's 2003 Albert Hourani Book Award.

Herat Developments

IWPR puts a positive spin on recent developments in Herat, pointing out that Karzai now has a contingent of troops stationed in the city. Whether they actually constitute leverage as the article suggests is open to discussion, as Ismail Khan's forces outnumber them 15 to 1. Meanwhile, Nayaebzada's replacement in charge of the region's military is someone appointed by Ismail Khan, though the Kabul government is claiming he doesn't have that authority.

Revolution Quiz

Terror in Tashkent

According to Reuters, two female suicide bombers carried out attacks in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The Uzbek government is blaming Hizb ut-Tahrir, a non-violent Islamist group banned mainly because they oppose the Uzbek government. My own suspicions fall on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and group which was essentially crushed during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, but seems to have revived and has come up in reports of recent fighting in Pakistan.

One Year

Well, I've now beem blogging for one year. How time flies. I would like to thank all my readers, as well as those such as Matthew Yglesias, Oxblog, Jonathan Edelstein, Juan Cole, Cliopatra and others who have sent a lot of traffic in my direction. It has been rewarding to find other people interesting it discussing the same sorts of issues as I am, as well as gaining new insights on the world from those whose blogs I read. In my first post, I didn't know how long I'd stay with it. I'm glad I did!

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Shenouda III and Jews

In the post referred to below, Tacitus links to evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III. He uses this as evidence of Copts seeking to remain in the good graces of Muslims. However, I find this interpretation somewhat unwarranted. It's not as if Christianity has no history of its own anti-Semitism; in fact, the Muslim conquests were quite good for the Jews, because they were treated far better under Muslim rule than they were in Christian Europe.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic, just like I don't think Islam is. In fact, I think that whole way of phrasing the issue is problematic. When one talks about "Islam," one talks about 14 centuries of history and over a billion Muslims. With Christianity, there is even more history, and consequently far more believers. Anyone can pull examples of doctrines drawn up and applied in different times and places, but that doesn't mean they are inherent characteristics of the religion in question. One can look at religious discourse as a conversation about values using particular sets of symbolism. (If I just plagiarized that from someone, let me know and I'll cite them.) Both Qur'an and Bible, and certainly the centuries of commentary, have provided ample ammunition for a number of views. The real questions are what views are rising to the surface and why in a given time and place, issues which often have little to do with the religion itself. Many Western commentators intuitively grasp this about Christianity, but don't when it comes to Islam.

Tacitus and Arab Christians

Tacitus, referring to a recent trip to the Middle East, says:

"One of the strange things I noticed when speaking to local Christians in Jordan and Israel was the tendency, whever the subject turned to the subjects of jihad, dhimmi, the Crusades or Israel, for those Christians to swiftly emphasize one of two points: local Muslims gave them no problems, and they too had suffered at the hands of -- and most importantly, actively opposed -- the Crusaders and Zionists."

Why should this be considered strange? This is more or less what I've heard from all Arab Christians, both in the U.S. and while overseas. Certainly the Arab-Israeli conflict affects nationalistic sentiments as much as anything else, and the Crusaders' hostile attitude toward the Monophysites is well known. Ther former two I've never really discussed with an Arab Christian, but in the modern world would be mainly associated with Islamic militants who desire to create a world that seldom existed even in the medieval period. This of course does not mean that there is no official discrimination against other non-Muslim religions, especially with regard to conversion, and certainly in some places Islamic militancy is a force powerful enough to affect people's personal security. But judging from his post title ("Stockholm Syndrome"), it sounds like Tacitus was expecting universal religious hostility or something. Still, I look forward to reading his complete write-up so as to fully understand his thought and evidence on the matter.


Jonathan Edelstein looks into the ramifications of the proposed Sharon indictment in the Greek island affair. I haven't follow this that closely, but think there's an implication for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process many in the West overlook. When Shikaki was here, he made the comment that most Arabs believe there will be no peace as long as Sharon is Prime Minister. There were no questions about that point (my own query was on Palestinian views of Barak's Camp David offer), but when I was in Jordan, I found a lot of enmity directed at Ariel Sharon specifically as the "Butcher of Sabra and Shatila" which was unrelated to his stance on current issues. Everyone basically regarded him as an unindicted war criminal, and one professor compared him to Slobodan Milosevic. The idea that he is more likely to conclude a peace deal than other leadership candidates is based on his current positioning compared to that of, say, Netanyahu. However, I don't think one can discount the idea that if Israel had a Prime Minister who didn't carry that kind of baggage, Arab leaders would be willing to go futher in engaging him/her. These sorts of perceptual issues do matter, as seen in the the publicity about Dean's anti-Iraq war stance got him labelled as the peacenik candidate, or the way Americans are unmoved by our government's working with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan when doing so with Saddam or Castro for the same reasons would have generated outcry.

This is based on anecdote, but might be worth considering. I doubt any Israeli leader would be widely loved in the Arab world, but level and tone of anti-Sharonism was striking.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Wisconsin State Quiz Bowl Championship

Today was the 3rd annual Wisconsin NAQT State Championship, in which quiz bowl teams from around Wisconsin battled for state bragging rights and the chance to compete in the NAQT high school national tournament in June. Conserve School from Land O'Lakes, Wisconsin won their second consecutive title, defeating Milwaukee's Rufus King High School in the best-of-three final two games to one. (In the deciding game, Rufus King had a wide lead at halftime, but Conserve just completely dominated the second half.) Oshkosh West High School from Oshkosh, Wisconsin took home the bronze, while West High School from Wausau, Wisconsin put in a strong showing for fourth in their first state tournament appearance. As the Conserve coach said during the awards ceremony, the Conserve/Rufus King rivalry has been a great battle for the past two years (Rufus King also took second last year). In a sense, it sort of reminds me of Yankees/Red Sox - Rufus King always looks about to break through, but something always happens so that they don't. Still, there are worse teams to be than the Red Sox. Now both teams are going into rebuilding years. It should be interesting to see who rises into the vacuum, or if the successors of today's top teams defend their schools' young legacy. Running the high school stuff here is my favorite qb job, so I can't wait to find out.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Yarmouk University

My 2001 trip to Jordan was as a student in this Arabic program at Yarmouk University. (Here are pictures, but from a later year.) My first e-mail home was a description of the campus and surrounding neighborhood. Having been on a couple of campuses, I freely admit they are prone to bits of legend, so a couple of points here might have been embellished slightly by my sources; however, the core of it is probably good. It has been slightly edited in terms of content.

"Greetings from Jordan, the Apollo Internet Cafe to be precise, on the second floor of a sort of small mall clustered around a grocery store and a Subway in Irbid, Jordan. Things here are going fairly well - it's been good to hear from people, though I admit I haven't been the most regular of repliers lately. Perhaps the stock of e-mail I've sent in the past will make up for it.

"Yarmouk University is the second largest university in Jordan, with about 15,000 students, mostly from Jordan and Palestine. Boasting a nice campus with streets lined with olive trees and sunny weather almost all the time, it was founded as an arts & science school in the 1970s so as to aid in the development of Jordan and plug the "brain drain" that too often afflicts the world's developing nations. As described in the handbook, its primary purpose is excellence in teaching, its second is community service, and its third is the promotion of research. About 1980 there was an attempt to expand into so-called "modern fields" with the introduction of engineering and medical programs; however, after a few years they decided it wasn't working out, and these programs now form a separate school, the Jordan University of Science and Technology which I think is just outside of town. Still, Yarmouk is in a constant state of flux. The one change I've heard most about is the abolition of on-campus housing. The story is that the women's townhouses were located along the path where the President used to walk. Apparently he was not a popular man, because either the last winter or the one before the female students in the dorm began pelting him with snowballs as he walked by. He then decided students should not live on campus, and the offending building now holds the offices for the faculty of law and Islamic jurisprudence.

"All of this puts us in faculty housing near the South Gate, with the men and women in separate buildings. The route from our residences to the Language Center where classes are runs through a small evergreen forest next to a construction site for the expansion of Yarmouk's model school program, past the meteorological observation center, a small white building with a black cylinder outside, and up a closed-off street to the third floor of the center which houses classrooms on the first and the "English Village" for students of English on the second. Last year classes were held in the classrooms, but the students became a sort of tourist attraction with people always peering in the windows, so we're now in what I think are either seminar or meeting rooms near the professor's offices. (There is, however, a story about how last year a group of girls began perpetually watching the Upper Intermediate class, and one of them began leaving anonymous flowers and notes on the desk of one of the students each morning.)

"Right now I'm in class for five hours a day, with separate classes in Reading, Writing, Grammar, Listening, Conversation (focusing on important social situations, etiquette, etc.) and the spoken Dialect of Jordan, the last of which will end after sixteen days. All the professors are excellent, and I find I can learn more in a day here than in a good week back in Madison.

"Past the language center, one walks for a short ways down a street past the archeological museum and jumps down a small wall to cut across a parking lot before arriving at the Street of Love, so called because this is where the various couples of Yarmouk meet "out of the way" to do whatever it is they do. This ends just before the West Gate, which opens on the university drag, which is basically Yarmouk's equivalent of State Street in Madison, filled with pedestrian traffic going to all the various shops, restaurants, and internet cafes along its half-mile length. After walking around a giant pit where they are building a new underground tunnel for pedestrians and shops to releive the pressure on street level, you quickly come to the 'Ash al-Hana restaurant
(ed: that transcription from my first week there doesn't go with the name I remember - hard to say which is right), which with its maroon and purple plastic chairs on the outside patio has become our major place of eating, and is located just opposite the beautiful university mosque. We quickly became regulars there, and the waiters stopped bringing menus after about three days. A couple days ago they noticed that after eating at least one and sometimes two meals a day there for most of a week, no one in our group of over twenty had ordered anything besides felafel and shawarma, and let us try some small samples of different foods. Our diet has since expanded.

The shops around campus are generally not considered as classy as those downtown, as you might imagine; here, they seek to appeal to youth, which apparently means lots of American themes. It seems common to just slap an American (or Canadian) name on anything, which results in combinations like "Pokemon Coffeehouse," "Atlanta Internet Cafe," "The Big Taste of America," "Toronto BBQ," and "The Flavor of America." This American culture-worship gets kind of cloying after a while.
(minor deletion) The prototype for this may be the clerk in a store where some people bought notebooks the first day here (with Titanic on the cover), he kept offering to give us discounts on stuff just because of his adulation of American culture. He would to well to talk to the flight attendant on our Royal Jordanian flight over, a woman of about 30 from India with a masters in Russian literature who talked to a friend of mine and I at length about the false dreams of America in the world, with people from places like India hearing the success stories of people who make it rich in medicine or computers and yet go over there to find that in reality there's plenty of unemployment or low-wage work to go around, not to mention cultural issues that arise once the second and third generations are born into a world far different from the one their parents left.

"Perhaps the clearest illustration of this type of illusion can be seen in the gender interaction here around Yarmouk, which bears a strong resemblance to the sort of Hawk/Tilo issues raised in Chitra Divakaruni's The Mistress of Spices. The shopkeeper with the Titanic notebooks prefers to give one of the girls free stuff, and we're sort of waiting for the marriage proposal any day now. It is a common desire of young Jordanian men around here to want to marry an American girl, and affection based on the image of American culture and nothing else. This gets a little worse with the groups of unemployed college grads or dropouts who just sort of hang out around campus causing trouble. They frequently harass any women who walk by, but the stereotype of Americans as exciting and having loose values makes them especially tempting targets. This apparently was at its worst last year.
(minor deletion) Last year the various whistles, comments, and types of physical harassment directed at women in general and American women in particular became so bad that the city of Irbid flooded the university drag with plainclothes police officers whose sole purpose was to watch for and stamp out sexual harassment.

"It would be a mistake, of course, to read all friendliness with this cynicism, there are plenty of people around here who are nice just because they're nice, and these range from the professors in the Language Center to most people on the streets to the girl who shouted down "Hello, foreigners!" from a window of the chemistry building to a friend of mine and I as we were walking somewhere on campus. Yarmouk, like the rest of Jordan, regards hospitality as an important virtue, and one person who is on the program for the second year can hardly walk down the street without running into some old friend from last summer.

"All of these people, and the "West-struck" young people and "Street Dogs," and we in the program, and the people who seem to glare automatically whenever they see one of us somewhere, stand together at a time in history charactized by an unprecedented seeping of cultures and images of which the American is the most hegemonic (in the Marxist sense), and all dance together to turn the wheel of time as it moves along its inexorable, unexplored path. Perhaps, even as we walk the same ground, those of us found on the streets of Irbid today are no different from the merchants of the Biblical Beth Arbel, the Greek craftsmen of the Hellenistic Age, the people wandering to the Roman baths in the days of Arbila, the converts and missionaries of first Christianity and then Islam as the city became known by its present name, the Arab young people imitating Mongol garb in Mamluk times, or any other group in any other place down through the ages."

Unfortunately, I don't have a server to host the relevant pictures right now. Maybe in the future.

More Shikaki

Here is Khalil Shikaki's New York Times article calling for elections prior to an Israeli pull-out from Gaza. It's definitely worth reading. My main concern is whether the plan is feasible. Even if Shikaki is wrong and Hamas were to win such elections, I would support them. At least then someone would have control and a legitimate claim to speak for the Palestinians.

On a somewhat related note, something I found out today caused me think on chaos theory:

A.) Jonathan Edelstein has a series of interesting posts on Shikaki.
B.) When our Middle East Studies Program considers speakers for this semester, Shikaki is on the list. Remembering Edelstein's posts, I lobby hard for him, and since no one else has strong opinions, he is invited.
C.) Taking advantage of the trans-Atlantic plane ticket, Shikaki stopped in Washington for two days to lobby for his election idea. He said the people he talked to hadn't considered it, but did find it interesting.
D.) (projected) Shikaki's idea is implemented, leading quickly to peace in the Middle East.

OK, maybe not. Still, it's good to feel like you might have done something useful, even if you didn't realize you were doing it. At least when I go to figure out the paperwork on disentangling the different financial strains of his visit and how much of it we pay for, I'll have a sense it served a purpose.

UPDATE: Man, I can't get the tone to come out right here. Basically what I want to convey is that I was close to a chain of events which might have a positive impact on the Middle East (which I find neat, being young and idealistic and all that), but also that our program funds aren't going to a lobbying trip. In that context, it is fortunate that my attempts to communicate with Dr. Shikaki took a while to get a response, as had we known, we might have expressed a strong preference for a direct flight for various reasons related to the financial bureaucracy. This communication issue is the reason I just found out about this today, even though I was officially at the center of the planning action. Shikaki, of course, was quite pleasant during those times when we did communicate.

An Acceptance

Sometimes things happen quickly. The University of Wisconsin - Madison has just received its first Title VI-A grant for Middle East Studies. This rocks. Most importantly, of course, it means my PA-ship won't fall under the budget axe =) But we're also going to add a bunch of new courses in fields like political science, literature, and environmental studies, and a fourth year of Arabic and special course in colloquial Arabic, bring in more speakers, and some other things. The cement is that hopefully a year from now undergraduates will be able to declare a minor certificate in Middle East Studies. Whoopee!!!

Thursday, March 25, 2004

A Rejection

Long-time readers may remember that last fall I was applying for the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad grant. I have now officially been rejected for that. This was not entirely unexpected. At the time, there was a concern from my Arabic professor that my language skills were not yet ready, one which I shared to a lesser degree. (My advisor, on the other hand, was convinced I would be ready.) Still, I am a bit disappointed, because my recent work in the sources has left me feeling more confident, and I expect to be able to cruise once I complete my medieval Arabic private study in Morocco this summer. Still, next year the language situation probably won't be an issue, so hopefully my chances will be much improved.

Now to sit around and wait until the Title VI grants are announced in late April to make sure my job will still exist next year.

Khalil Shikaki in Madison

I just returned from a talk by Khalil Shikaki focused mainly on Palestinian public opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shikaki is a Palestinian political scientist who wrote the first book in Arabic on Israeli public opinion, and has been involved in Track Two peace negotiations while doing tons of research on public attitudes and perceptions related to the conflict. His talk was really interesting, I represent it below as best I can.

Basically Shikaki focused on the evolution of Palestinian opinion on four key issues across five turning points of the last ten years. The "turning points" were the start of the Oslo process, the Camp David talks, the al-Aqsa Intifada, the Road Map, and the proposed unilateral Israeli disengagement. Of these, he said Camp David and the Road Map had little effect on Palestinian opinions. The other points gave rise to the following noticable changes on the issues"

The first issue was support for different Palestinian factions. Shortly before the Oslo process, when asked which Palestinian factions they would like to support in an election, 30% said Islamic militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, 45% said Fatah, 10% preferred nationalist radicals such as the PFLP, and about 5% said a minor group, while 10% didn't like any of the choices.

The Oslo process, however, provided a boost to Fatah at the expense of everyone else. During this period, 15% supported Hamas/IJ, 5% the PFLP, and 55% for Fatah. Once the Intifada got going, however, Fatah plummeted. Today, 35% support Hamas/IJ, while only 20% prefer Fatah. Most strikingly, according to Shikaki, a full 40% now dislike all the available choices.

This last development Shikaki related to changing perceptions of the Palestinian Authority. In 1996, voter turnout in the elections was 77%. At that time, just over 50% of Palestinians said they had good government and that the Palestinian Authority was basically honest. Four years later, however, they are more cynical. 20% of Palestinians today believe the PA is governed well, and 86% consider it corrupt. In this context, Shikaki described the rise of a "Young Guard" of Palestinians which disapproves of the "Old Guard" represented by the PA, but has not given rise to an organized leadership or political program.

The third issue he discussed was on violence and diplomacy. According to Shikaki's data, at the start of the Oslo process, 20% of the Palestinians favored violent resistance, while 80% favored diplomacy. There was no overlap between these two camps. Today, however, 80% still support diplomacy, but 80% also support violence, with a clear majority saying a combination of the two is necessary to reach their goals. According to Shikaki, the roots of this lie in Palestinian views of different Israeli governments and the idea that one government can undo the progress of another, as well as a sense that violence works fostered by Barak's withdrawal from Lebanon and something that caused me to scribble down "Hebron/Temple Mount tunnel." In addition, Palestinians are convinced that no progress will be made toward peace as long as Ariel Sharon is in office.

The final issue was the solutions people actually wanted to see. As time was running short, he focused mainly on the current data. As of October 2003, over half of Palestinians supported a two-state solution with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Arab Jerusalem as the capital. However, only 1/3 of Palestinians believe most Palestinians support a two-state solution, and fewer than 20% believe Israelis want that. However, only 40% supported Barak's offer at Camp David. According to Shikaki, that last was probably due to a lack of knowledge among Palestinians about what Barak proposed. (This lack of knowledge among Palestinians came up a lot in his talk, and he attributed it to the traditionalist nature of Palestinian society and an authoritarian streak within the government interfering with civil discourse. Another point that came up later was that even 40% of Hamas supporters wanted a two-state solution, and Fatah was bleeding support to them mainly on issues related to corruption and public services. This accounts in part for Hamas leaders occasional statements about long-term truces with Israel as they seek to broaden their appeal.)

With regard to the unilateral steps, Shikaki focused mainly on Gaza, and said that as far as he could tell, the results would be, first, the "total collapse and disintegration of the Palestinian Authority," very quickly in Gaza, but soon in the West Bank, as well. This would be accompanied by an increase in violence as Palestinians perceived it was working. Hamas would be the main political beneficiaries.

What Shikaki is calling for at the moment, and what he said he lobbied for in Washington, was for Palestinian elections prior to a Gaza withdrawal. Based on his research/perceptions, he said that Fatah would likely win such elections, as the opinions of the disengaged 40% match them most closely. Hamas and IJ would likely not get more than the 35% or so which forms their core support, and would not join a coalition with Fatah. He said the benefits of this would be 1.) Creating a Palestinian leadership with renewed legitimacy that can act on crucial issues, 2.) Integrate Hamas and IJ into the system, thus making them less likely to use violence outside the formal PA framework while forcing Fatah to reform or risk losing support, and 3.) Reflect the above opinions about the two-state solution, helping bring to popular consciousness where people really stand.

Anyway, I won't try to add anything to his comments. He's also going to have an article in tomorrow's New York Times. (Regrettably, I didn't have the chance to actually meet him by name like I have most of our speakers, but all well.)

Farewell to Invisible Adjunct

Ralph Luker of Cliopatra has a round-up of farewells to the Invisible Adjunct.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

More Herat

RFE-RL has a pair of reports about the situation in Herat. The first describes thousands of mourners in the city attending the funeral of Ismail Khan's son, the aviation minister who was killed over the weekend. The second cites Iranian news sources as claiming that both the Karzai government and the United States are seeking to remove Ismail Khan as Herat governor. The latter report could be true, as extending control to Herat would be a huge boost fot the central government, or it could be a conspiracy theory floated by the Iranian government in support of their ally and against the U.S.

Sad Day

Invisible Adjunct is leaving both academics and her blog. The title of this post is somewhat selfish, because it sounds like she's very at peace with the decision, and her life will probably be happier as a result. However, her site and the community it spawned was unique in the blogosphere, and she will most definitely be missed.

UPDATE: In honor of her sailing from the Grey Havens of blogging, I wish to dedicate a playing of Annie Lennox's "Into the West" to the Invisible Adjunct.

"What can can you see
on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
a pale moon rises -
The ships have come to carry you home."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Yassin Stuff

Roger K. Simon links to a Ma'ariv story claiming that the Bush administration offered Yassin immunity from assassination in exchange for an end to terror attacks. Simon notes what this says about the U.S./Israel relationship. I would add it also says something about the Bush administration's approach to Israeli/Palestinian issue. I think any Palestinian state will have people with ties to terrorism in the leadership, just like Israel did when it was first founded. If the Ma'ariv report is accurate, then it suggests that Bush at least is taking a pragmatic view of the situation.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole (who has really let fly some rhetoric lately) explores the implications of Israel's targeting of Yassin for the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Cole might be correct that arresting Yassin would have been politically wiser, but despite my pro-Palestinian sympathies, I can never quite feel upset by "extrajudicial killings." One can argue that terrorism is often a form of warfare waged by non-state actors against states. Certainly the terrorists often think so. If you consider yourself a soldier in a war and set things up so that the whole country is a battlefield, then attempts by the other side to kill you would seem legitimate.

Yassin's replacement is Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, as was expected. However, another Hamas leader stated that soon the group would hold elections. Israel will continue to target the Hamas leadership. Abu Aardvark notes what al-Hurra's (lack of) coverage of the assassination says about that network, while Martin Kramer tells the International Herald Tribune that "He can't be reporduced."

What do I think? I have no idea what this will mean in the long term. In the short term, there will definitely be an increase in violence. Hamas has already said they will expand their attacks outside of Israel, which could lead to more cooperation with global networks such as al-Qaeda. The other major unknown piece on the board is the timing and manner of the Gaza pull-out, which I still think this assassination is related to.

Demonstrations in Herat

RFE-RL is reporting demonstrations in Herat against Karzai's government. Now my first instinct here is to speculate that this is an Ismail Khan rent-a-crowd given the strongman nature of his rule. However, many if not most Afghans do have a strong suspicion of centralized government. My advisor once told a story in lecture of his travels through Afghanistan about how an intercity taxi driver bragged about how much of the country was free from Kabul's control. So even if higher authorities did stir this up, it probably didn't take much.

Herat Analysis

Discussions of the situation in Herat are now up at RFE-RL and the Pak Tribune. Zahir Nayebzadeh is a commander loyal so Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The formal issue in the conflict between Nayebzadeh and Herat Governor Ismail Khan is the extent to which Khan should be under the control of the central government in Kabul. (This does not, of course, rule out the probability that Nayebzadeh just wants to be the new Ismail Khan.) Karzai is now sending troops from the Afghan National Army to impose a cease-fire, and if that fails, he will seek aid from NATO forces in Afghanistan.

All of this bears watching. For one thing, it is a test of Karzai's ability to impact the province of the most powerful regional governor. Ismail Khan is also the main warlord backed by Iran, and crucial to Iranian interests in the country. As far as the NATO role goes, it is not clear to me if NATO has the troops to both continue the current campaign against al-Qaeda/Taliban and stabilize Herat if necessary. Yet a conflagaration in Herat would almost certainly bode ill for the future stability of the country as a whole, far more than the continual security problems in Zabul and Waziristan. I also worry about NATO and the U.S. getting sucked into a local dispute we don't fully understand. Part of the problem the U.S. had in Lebanon was in not recognizing the realities of local politics and focusing too much on extending the power of state institutions. Where state institutions are weak, however, politics works through other loyalties. If we believe Nayebzadeh is representing the central government when in reality he is claiming to do so while merely playing everyone for support, and NATO falls for that and offers some sort of support, it will have sacrificed credibility in a meaningless dispute between rival warlords bent on factional aggrandizement.

Monday, March 22, 2004


I wish sushi were more filling.

Little Green Footballs

Tacitus (1, 2) and Obsidian Wings have had enough of Little Green Footballs. My stance here is simple: I consider it a hate site which should no more be promoted by conservatives and others sympathetic to Israel than those whose primary goal is to support the Palestinians should rely on anti-Semitic sites. Portraying Idi Amin as a typical Muslim and the ongoing "Religion of Peace" mockery posts are beyond the pale of civil discourse. If you think this is an over-reaction, try mentally conceiving an LGF dedicated to attacking groups to which you belong. Tacitus is now interested in trying to get the things certain people want from LGF in a more reasonable manner. I wish him well in this endeavor, and recommend that all current LGF fans dump LGF and move to his new site once it becomes available.

Plutonium Smuggling in Tajikistan

Authorities have arrested some people smuggling $20,000 worth of plutonium through Tajikistan, a major conduit for weapons smuggling from Russia to Afghanistan. This material could have been used to make a dirty bomb if it fell into the hands of terrorists. In terms of realpolitik, cooperation in these matters represents a major incentive for the U.S. to work with Central Asian dictators, though as I've said before, that policy has its own problems.

The real issue raised by this in my mind, however, is why the Bush administration is shafting the Nunn-Lugar programs designed to safeguard former Soviet nuclear material. According to this op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, present funding levels will not secure these materials for another decade. And as Arms Control Today states:

"President George W. Bush Feb. 11 offered a strong endorsement of U.S. programs to safeguard or destroy the arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials formerly possessed by the Soviet Union. However, in his fiscal year 2005 budget request to Congress, released just a week earlier, Bush did not substantially increase funding for these programs and actually proposed cuts to the Department of Defense component as well as suggested spending shifts in programs in the Departments of Energy and State."

The other end of this smuggling route is also an issue, and the Bush administration's lack of concern with finishing the war in Afghanistan has been well publicized. This is a real WMD issue, and I'd feel a lot safer if it were given a higher priority by the U.S. government.

Abu Aardvark on Syria

Abu Aardvark has some comments on Syria that I whole-heartedly agree with. In addition, I would add a point about Syrian politics: Whereas Iraq was rule by Saddam Hussein, Syria is ruled by a wider collection of people, and as of a couple of years ago it was even considered likely that Bashar al-Assad was ruling only as a sort of figurehead between rival factions. I don't know the current speculation, but it probably hasn't changed much. This makes little difference for the average Syrian's political freedoms, but it does matter in terms of the range of policy options available when dealing with the country.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Brace Yourselves...

Shaykh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, has just been killed by Israeli forces. This move is probably related to the planned Gaza pull-out, as some articles I'd read but never got around to blogging about talked about how Hamas was gaining influence in that territory over groups usually linked to Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

UPDATE: The Israeli strike on Yassin has even elicited comment from Arab Street Bum.

Banu Huddan

Item: According to the Encyclopedia of Islam's article on the Azd, the Huddan were the dominant clan along Oman's Pirate Coast.

Item: According to the conventional view of Azd development, the Azd Sarat (from the Sarat Mountains in Asir south of Hejaz) were among the original settlers of Basra, where a few decades later they were joined by the Azd Uman. Prior to that migration, the Azd Uman were not part of a confederation with the Azd Sarat. (In other words, they were not the "Azd" Uman.)

Item: The leader of the Azd in Basra during the early caliphate was Sabra b. Shayman al-Huddani, and the main mosque was the Huddan Mosque.

One of these pieces needs to move somehow. Is there another "Pirate Coast" somewhere?

Herat Fighting

Marwais Sadiq, Afghanistan's Minister of Aviation and son of powerful Herat Iranian-backed warlord Ismail Khan, was assassinated earlier today. Reports suggest that as many as 100 people have been killed in the fighting which followed. The circumstances of all this remain unclear.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Obvious?

After a day perusing Robert G. Hoyland's Arabia and the Arabs, I've started reading Golden Fool, Book Two in Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy. The first volume of a Hobb trilogy is always set-up, so I'm not going to judge it yet except to say something near the end of the first book (Fool's Errand) is pretty depressing, though both expected and well-executed. Anyway, as I was saying, the author is setting up a mystery about who Chade's new apprentice assassin is. Only he never uses a pronoun to refer to her. Which makes me strongly suspect it's one of the two possible female characters. I mean, in quiz bowl at least, ducking the gender pronoun means female.

We'll see, I guess.

UPDATE: Or you could introduce a third possibility, one stronger than the other two. Still, I'm only considering women at this point.


Stuff seems to have calmed down in Syria, but mark my words, those disturbances will have an impact, even if we can't pick up on it through the media. Al-Jazeera reports on Arab beliefs that the Kurds were hoping for American invervention. There seems to be a common belief that the protests were linked in some manner to Iraq, though I don't know exactly how. Iraqi Kurds were highly supportive of the Iraq war, though, and it may be that Kurds in other nations were, as well.

Kerry, Bush, and Credibility

Josh Marshall has a great post on the Presidential campaign and what Kerry should be doing. Here's just a sample:

"The key is simply that the president has no credibility. He has lost the trust of the country's allies in part because he has repeatedly deceived them -- dealt with them falsely or simply lied to them. But to a critical degree neither do they fear him. This is what we're seeing as our few remaining allies in Iraq ramp back their deployments in the country (Spain, South Korea, possibly Poland) and abandon our foolishly shortsighted effort to advance our interests by dividing Europe.

"Right-wingers in this country are casting this pattern as a cosmic moral drama of appeasement, with the faint of heart cowering before the grand struggle. In fact, the president is reduced to a mix of taunt and begging, pleading with other countries not to abandon him. What is a leader without followers? Not a leader."

Read the whole thing.

Minor Notes from Iraq

I've had lots of posts about the doings of ayatollahs, Presidents, and IGC members, as well as reflections about what's in store for the Iraqi people. Here, however, are links which give a glimpse at the American troops over there.

First Link

Second Link

(Via Daily Kos)

Friday Night TV

Here in Madison, one of the stations is showing Son of Godzilla. Come on guys, it's only 12:45 a.m. This shouldn't be on for another couple of hours yet! =)

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Road to Petra

I've decided that every Friday, I will post something related to my admittedly limited travels in other countries. (Until I run out, of course.) Often these will be drawn from e-mails sent at the time, which means they won't have been proofread (run-on sentences abound), and were targeted to an audience conisting mainly of relatives and friends who don't study the Middle East at all. (Part of the reason so much Biblical stuff is mentioned is because that would have been a main interest for the relatives.) With that in mind, here is my description of the Kingshighway as it runs from Amman to southern Jordan, and of Petra and its adjacent city of Wadi Musa...

"Over the years, however, I have decided that the 'stereotype' of 'desert' also conveys something important, what I call the 'literary definition' of the word. And it is this definition that you find as you travel south on the Kingshighway, considered a candidate for the world's oldest continuously used road, a road so old that the brochures on it claim it was mentioned in the Bible as travelled by Abraham. Following this road, which runs next to the Hejaz railway between Istanbul and Mecca attacked by Lawrence of Arabia and the Hashemites during World War I (see last e-mail). Past the hills which characterize Amman and Irbid, the land becomes increasingly level, dotted with small shrubs which become increasingly infrequent so that gusts of wind blow large clouds of sand and dust across the land, obscuring the view of the scattered farms along the way and hills and mountains in the distance.

"All throughout this country are small, scattered villages, occasionally noted by blue signs that serve the same function on Jordanian highways as green in the United States. Between them one sees small stone walls and what I suppose you would have to call abandoned house parts, a few walls crumbling, always without a roof, the nature of which I don't know. Also seen as one moves further south are encampments of the Bedouin, large gray tents near a herd of animals and pick-up trucks which can at times barely be seen against the brown-gray landscape covered in a haze of desert heat.

"In the middle of all this are occasional springs near the settlements, each varying according to the amount of water it contains. The largest and richest of these is the Wadi Musa, at which is found a sizable town of the same name. According to one of those stories common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, when the Hebrews were wandering in the wilderness, Moses struck a rock here, and it produced the stream that, in English, means "River/Spring of Moses," flowing from its source in a large gray stone enclosed with a white mosque-like structure down into a valley until it joins another stream far out of sight in the distance. The water of this spring produces soil that is apparently quite rich; outside the mosque across the street is grass, the richest grass that we saw in Jordan. Cool and clean, the structure which contains the source has a hollowed-out floor so that passersby can come and fill their water bottles or other containers with as much as they like, and one sees this happening irrespective of nationality or religion.

"As interesting as all this might be, however, the town of Wadi Musa owes its prosperity not only to the supply of water, but its proximity to Petra, Royal City of the Nabateans, the Rose Red City of the desert carved out of the living rock of in gargantuan proportions which must be seen to be believed. As Jordan's leading tourist attraction, Petra has around it a number of hotels in one of which we stayed, as this week and last week were trips sponsored by the program, which paid all the costs.

"To describe our hotel, the "Petra Forum," as expensive would be an understatement in American terms, much less Jordanian. Eating a standard meal in the dining room costs about $18. Needless to say, we passed on that, and instead wandered into the adjacent strip of restaurants in Wadi Musa before settling into a place called "The Bedouin Tent," this one multicolored with all sorts of what were supposed to be Bedouin implements hanging from the walls. The dining was a rather unpleasant experience - take my advice: If you ever do any serious travelling, try to get off the tourist track. It is here that the types of hospitality, etc. that I have described earlier start to give way to raw commercialism and swipe-whatever-you-can opportunism whether in Wadi Musa, Jerash, or wherever. In Irbid, you can't tip a waiter because it would give offense; here, a handsome gratuity was figured into our check for food which included a chicked dish which included only the skins of the chicken. And of course it cost about $5, more than my average day's spending in Irbid. That aside, however, we definitely enjoyed the hotel, and I even caught some of a Braves-Phillies game on a TV which carried stations in English, Arabic, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, and I think Japanese. Friday morning, however, we were up at 6 a.m. anxious to hit Petra before the worst of the day's heat.

"Attempting to describe Petra would be an exercise in futility, you must for yourself walk the path past the large stone cubes known as the 'Djinn Blocks' erected for the Djinn (genies) whom the ancient Nabatean Arabs of 1000 years after Moses believed guarded the city they were building across the seemingly miraculous stream they had stumbled across and whose water they channeled through stone channels through the siq, the long, narrow canyon through which the visitor must walk for at least twenty minutes before catching a first glimpse of the Treasury, originally the tomb of the Nabatean King Harith IV, which is in the United States most famous for being used as a set in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Past this monumental structure one reaches a street containing row upon row of stone-carved houses that remind me almost exactly of Tatooine from the movie Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, small dwellings piled on top of each other behind the columns the Romans erected when they conquered this city through treachery, much humbler in scope than the giant royal tombs which line rock face in the distance but which still shine bright red and pink in the sunlight, as the city's nickname indicates.

"It is also here that one sees that Petra, although only a ruin of its former splendor, remains inhabited, for as they have for uncounted centuries, the Bedouin tribe known as the Banu Badul, professed descendants of the Nabateans who built the city, continued to sleep on mattresses in selected houses and the small stands which they run for their livelihood throughout the ruins with the permission of the government which failed in its efforts to evict them as it had the inhabitants of Umm Qais from their village atop Gadara. For the Badul, unlike the tourists who crowd the ruins with paid-for camel and donkey rides and sit sipping coffee at the restaurant at the end of the main street, are of Petra, knowing its nooks and crannies, masters of their domain as no distant government could ever be, so much so that after we had climbed the 800 stairs to reach the distant temple that at 45 by 50 meters is Petra's largest structure, we ambled huffing and puffing over the rocks to get to the top of it, trying to find our footing, only to have one of the Badul actually jog past us, setting his feet precisely and thoughtlessly on the right spots to appreciate the view that makes up his own backyard.

"This view, from the top of ad-Deir, known as the Monastary, is another one of those things which has to be seen rather than simply described, with the sunlight gleaming off the red buildings in the distance, the Wadi Araba into which the Wadi Musa flows cutting a deep gorge, and in the distance, looming over everything at a distance of four hours by donkey, the tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses, as-Salam alaihu, who according to the same story as that of the water from the rock died here atop a mountain and whose tomb is accompanied only by a small white mosque glinting in the distance."

Here is more about Aaron's tomb, including pictures.

Libyan Reform

Diederik Vandewalle writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace relates Libya's decision to give up WMD to the rise of a technocratic class within the bureaucracy which has also promoted economic privatization. It's worth adding here that a scholarly article I read on Libya a few months ago made it sound very much like one of the Gulf states: Its economy is almost totally dependent on oil, and the government is "structured" by patronage and relationships among an extended ruling family. It also has a much smaller population than the more classic revolutionary dictatorships such as Syria and Ba'athist Iraq.

Sex Sale

Like Allison, I believe sex trafficking is a serious problem, and we should work against it. However, like also like Allison, I can't resist being amused by this.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Hizb ut-Tahrir in Tajikistan

Authorities in Tajikistan were surprised to discover Hizb ut-Tahrir cells in the southern part of the country. This is the Islamist organization which is a major target of the Central Asian War on Terror, despite the fact they believe in achieving their goals through non-violent means. The linked story gives an interesting profile of how they fill a gap in the political discourse caused by Tajikistan's dictatorship suppressing other forms of opposition. This is a story one finds behind a lot of Islamist groups throughout the Islamic world.

Syrian Tensions Continue

According to al-Jazeera, violence in Syria continued yesterday as Kurds in Qameshli fired on the homes of local police officers and a Syrian flag was burned in Afrin. According to Pakistan's The News, Arabs in the area have been waving pictures of Saddam Hussein, which in the context of the Halabja commemorations does not seem designed to improve relations between the two groups. The State Department has called upon Syria to stop suppressing the demonstrations.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Al-Qaeda Endorses Bush

I'm serious. The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a close al-Qaeda affiliate, have endorsed George W. Bush for President of the United States.

However, because I don't believe that terrorists should have a voice in American elections, I will refrain from attacking those who choose to vote for Bush for sound reasons of their own. I don't always believe terrorists anyway. My opinion of how best to combat the terrorist threat will remain unaffected by this statement.

Via Daily Kos.

UPDATE: The original al-Hayat story is here. Judging from the final paragraphs they don't have everything Reuters quotes, but the essence is there. What's missing is the stuff after "Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps," although my Hans Wehr dictionary does direct me to "negligence" or "foolishness" instead of sleep. An admittedly quick read: The al-Hayat excerpt has cunning next to wisdom as a quality Bush lacks, and adds that they don't really see Kerry as that different from Bush except in those qualities, which leads into Kerry's killing the umma. (laa faruqa beinik wa bein Kerry, lakin Kerry sayaqatulu...)

Marriage Name Wars

Matthew Yglesias, William of Baude and a trio of Butlers have posted on whether women should take their husbands' names upon marriage. I actually don't care one way or the other. Growing up in Quincy, women who didn't follow the traditional path stood out and were talked about, but even my more conservative friends in college at least considered what they would do, and I have been surprised a couple of times by the result.

Part of this attitude is because the terms of the debate really don't go back to the origins of the naming system. The American way of assigning surnames stemmed from a combination of urbanization in the late middle ages (how to tell John the Baker from John the Miller) and Norman record-keeping with respect to property rights and needing a word to call different descent groups. It was set up on a strictly utilitarian basis.

Other cultures developed different naming patterns. In Arabia, the key question was descent and figuring out who was related to whom and to what degree. Arab names thus tended to be very long, such as Masud b. Khalid b. Malik b. Ribi b. Sulma b. Jandal b. Nahshal b. Darim b. Malik b. Hanzalah b. Malik b. Zayd Manat b. Tamim (b = bin/ibn = son). In everyday use, they found it convenient to shorten things, so this man would often be referred to as just Masud b. Khalid al-Tamimi, with "Tamim" being his tribe. Eventually place would work as well as tribe, as in the historian Abd al-Qadir b. Umar al-Baghdadi. Today the patterns are the same, though usually without the "Ibn," and Arabs are frequently adopting Westernized practices by picking either an immediate father's name or the kinship or regional designation to become the family name. Thus, Saddam Hussein's father might have been named Hussein, and he just named his kids Uday and Qusay Hussein rather than Uday and Qusay Saddam.

Back to the main point, in this system there is no provision for women taking a husband's name, though Yasser Arafat's wife is Suha Arafat, probably a sign of Western influence on the elites. Names are about ancestry and origin, not a means of defining a bounded entity for the purpose of property rights. Which is why today, I think people should do whatever works best for them. The institution of the family will not collapse if not all members share the same surname, just like people who take a spouse's name are not giving up their identity because they wish to base it on the family they are producing rather than the one from which they sprung.

The remains of past gender bias in the property rights system could be removed if couples simply began taking a new name upon marriage. For example, If I got married in May and my wife and I wanted to honor the creation of something new, we could call ourselves Mr. and Mrs. Spring, or if we believed strongly in certain values we could be Mr. and Mrs. Compassion. Although that sounds weird, it would be true in some ways to the origins of naming. I admit I don't think I could actually do that, though - I much prefer to have my family life blend into the established options of whatever culture I find myself in and simply wish other people well when they decide to become reformers. Such a name, of course, would work for only one generation, and people who are really into family connections would hate it.

Bottom line? This really doesn't matter much. My wife will do what she wants. Other people will do what they want. Too much else goes into the status of women's rights and family life for names to be much more than a symbol, albeit one many will decide is important to them.

Syria Update

Al-Jazeera has more. I can't translate from here, but may update later.

UPDATE: Or you can just read Haaretz, which has clashes spreading to Damascus. Syrian intelligence is arming Arabs and sending them against the Kurds, while the Kurds are preparing defensive measures in case the government tries a true massacre.

Calpundit Transformed

Kevin Drum has now moved to the Washington Monthly as "Political Animal."


I haven't seen this ad, but apparently President Bush, who last summer tried to cut troops' combat pay, is falsely accusing John Kerry of trying to cut troops' combat pay.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

More Syrian Violence

Syrian security forces opened fire on Kurds commemorating the anniversary of the Halabja massacre in Iraq, killing several people. One place affected was Aleppo, a city where I spent a few days on my Syria trip and for which I harbor some affection. Some of my description:

"The city of Aleppo, in northern Syria about 30 miles south of the Turkish border, spans the centuries from where the Citadel stands on the hill from which was ruled the ancient Amorite kingdom of Yamzhak to the busy city squares and intersections with posters and statues supporting the personality cult of the Assads who rule the modern nation from Damascus, Aleppo's local rival for the title of world's oldest continuously inhabited city. In between stretch the ruins of ancient Rome, the churches of Byzantium and Armenia, and the ancient Umayyad mosque next to the mostly Ottoman suq in the old city.

"The streets of Aleppo are filled with yellow taxis much like those of Jordanian cities, though where the Jordanian taxis have a yellow sign with the name of the city in black in Arabic on the front and English on the back, Syrian taxis have the taxi number in Arabic numerals on the front and Western numerals on the back in between red and green lights indicating whether it is carrying a passenger. These taxis share the streets with cars, trucks, and horse-drawn wagons carrying watermelons along the curb, manned usually by a father with a son of between 8 and 14 hanging of the side.

"Another salient feature of Aleppo is its wide public spaces, including at least one significant park filled with fountains which at night are lit up red, yellow, and blue, providing a nice backdrop for people walking along the paved sidewalks through the thick grass and trees made possible by the city's place along a river. Near this is also a large pedestrian square dominated by a giant statue of - I believe - something Roman and surrounded by giant ball lamps each with the face of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who every night looks over this part of the city like the year on the New York apple that drops every New Year's Eve.

"Bashar al-Assad's face is one you come to know well in Syria, simply because it is in almost as many places as the remaining pictures of his late father Hafez al-Assad. This is subtly different than in Jordan, where although you see many pictures of King Abdullah II, they tend to fade into the background, just another part of the landscape. Assad's pictures, however, reach out and grab you, filled with propaganda touches like showing the Syrian landscape reflected in his glasses. Most also have some sort of writing on the bottom - Bashar's favorite word appears to be "Yes," and the slogans one reads include "Yes, Yes, Yes!" and "From our hearts, a thousand times yes!" Many also refer to him as "The Doctor," a reference to the fact that he worked as an eye doctor in London before becoming dictator.

"The sites of Aleppo are varied, ranging from the previously mentioned huge churches of the Armenian Quarter where in the morning you see mainly old people coming to pray while a priest sits in his office conducting some sort of business, to the Umayyad Mosque (not THE Umayyad Mosque, which is in Damascus) across from the colossal Citadel, which can be reached only after climbing a stone step bridge across the old moat. Between the Citadel and Umayyad Mosque and containing 6 miles of road is the suq, much of which dates from Ottoman times architecturally and is completely covered to keep out the sun, though most definitely not the heat."

I also had a conversation there about Saladin, the Ayyubid sultan of Kurdish origin who was Richard I's opponent in the Third Crusade. Someone told me that Saladin had once said there should be no national homeland for Kurds. That statement, of course, is anachronistic, since the 12th century was not noted for ethnic nationalism, but shows how governments can use their education system to achieve a political agenda.

Pilgrimage in Iraq

Today's been busy, but here's an interesting article about the revival of Shi'ite pilgrimage to Iraq. The economic benefits, security concerns, and contrast with life under Saddam are all interesting. Articles like this really make me hope Iraq comes through its current situation in decent shape.

Monday, March 15, 2004


Do you ever wish you had tentacles?

Saudi Labor Issues

Another story on issues related to nativizing Gulf labor forces. This one describes allegations that Saudi employers treat them unfairly so as to portray them as incompotent. (For other articles on this topic, see this post from last Friday.)

Before You Bash France...

Read this:

"Gen. Henri Bentegeat said about 200 French troops were operating with U.S. forces in southeastern Afghanistan against the Taliban and bin Laden's al Qaeda. The Saudi-born militant is thought to be there or just across the border in Pakistan."

Later in the article he mentions that militant Islamic radicalism - what some are coming to call jihadism - is spreading into West Africa, as well. This is another reason why I don't think remaking the Middle East is really a viable solution to the War on Terror.

Spanish Elections

Oxblog's Patrick Belton has a reasonable perspective on Spain's election results. Surfing around, I see both anguish that the terrorists may have gotten what they wanted and celebration that a government which played politics with tragedy was defeated. Both perspectives are, in my judgement, understandable. Without knowing what the Socialists have said on the issue of terrorism, I have no idea what I should have hoped for. As it stands, just opposing the Iraq war isn't enough to make me join the PP cheering section.

UPDATE: Jonathan Dworkin also has thoughts, while Jacob Levy brings up the Cold War, Winston Churchill, and the U.S. decision to pull troops from Saudi Arabia. Matthew Yglesias also makes some sharp comments here and here. (See his comment sections, as well.) Ocean Guy, meanwhile, makes the argument that the results did constitute appeasement.

UPDATE: I think there's a point beng lost in all this: Terrorists are going to attack us. It is only a question of when. Let's say that because of the PP's election defeat, al-Qaeda decides to blow up a subway car in New York on Halloween hoping to affect the American elections. Had the PP won, however, I believe al-Qaeda would still have decided to blow up that subway car, only perhaps at a different time. The only real way you can look at these things is deciding which group of leaders would do the best job of making sure no subway car would be blown up at all. Which brings us back to the old debate about how Iraq fits into the War on Terror.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Syrian Riots

I can find little information on the riots which recently erupted in Syria. They apparently began with a soccer disturbance in Qameshli, but fueled by Kurdish grievances against the central government turned into general anti-government rioting which was felt even in Damascus. I don't believe anything like this has happened in Syria in years, perhaps since the Hama massacre.

Saudi Elections

Saudi Arabia's municipal elections have been scheduled for this October. That happens to be during Ramadan. My cynical self wonders if the timing was chosen to help the Bush adminstration.

Friday, March 12, 2004


Good movie. However, I found it odd that sometimes the spoken Arabic didn't match the subtitles. I wonder why that happens?

(Leaves before debate can start over representation of Arabs and Americans in film...)

Gulf Labor Issues

There was a time when the Persian Gulf had lots of oil and few people, so the rulers set up welfare states and foreign workers came in to do a lot of the less desirable jobs. Then the population exploded, and now people are trying to nativize the work force so that they can all find jobs. One problem, of course, is that young people are often looking at careers their parents would have considered beneath them. All of this is probably the biggest under-reported story in the Persian Gulf these days, as it affects not only foreign workers who are now working illegally, but is also leading to calls for more women to enter the workforce in some rather conservative countries. But see also Mahmood al-Yousif for an employer's perspective.

Kuwaiti Shi'ites

The one area where I've been giving the Iraq invasion credit for current changes in the Middle East is Shi'ite empowerment, and today Gulf News has a story of this happening in Kuwait, where Shi'ites are seeking the right to build new mosques and have Ashura recognized as a national holiday, as well as the right to live under Shi'ite rather than Sunni personal law. Observers credit the developing situation in Iraq.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Paper Time

So which is worse, writing a paper, or grading them? Fortunately I'm not involved in either activity this semester, though there are times when dissertation activity slows to a crawl.

By the way, I apologize for the lack of substantive posts lately - I've been distracted with other things, and the news I tend to blog about seems slow, anyway.

Close to Home...

Had I not decided to fly into Gibraltar, I probably would have taken a Spanish train like those hit in this terrorist attack. My thoughts and sympathies go out to the victims and their families.

UPDATE: Al-Qaeda and the ETA have emerged as suspects. This would be a serious shift in ETA tactics, but the Spanish authorities say they have been expecting something of the kind. Someone claiming to represent al-Qaeda has claimed credit, and a tape with Qur'anic verses were found in a van with detonators.

UPDATE: Via Pejman Yousefzadeh, Iberian Notes is all over the story. My mother has also noticed the facts in the original post above.

Triangle Point

This is a picture of the scene I described here, where Israel, Jordan, and Syria all meet. The Golan Heights is off the picture to the left, and you would actually have to turn a bit to see them. The river is the Yarmouk, which provides water to both Jordan and Israel, and next to it is the road. You see the crocodile farm where the water is, and I'm guessing the building near that is the abandoned mosque I described. I'm pretty sure the barbed-wire fence at lower left is the border between Jordan and Israel. At the very least, there were some telephone or electric lines running overhead, and the professor showing us this was emphatic about not going past them by even a step.

UPDATE: Incidentally, one of the complaints Jordanians voiced about Israel was its intensive consumption of the region's scarce water supplies. I've read elsewhere that immigrants to Israel frequently try to pursue the same sorts of industry and agriculture they did in other places. In this picture, the crocodile farm looks like it uses just a bit of water. I have not, however, investigated this in detail.

Place Names

One of the major intersections in Rabat is the "Place Abraham Lincoln." I wonder where it got that name?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Travels in Uzbekistan

In keeping with the recent travel-related posts on this blog, here's Nathan Hamm's memories of Uzbekistan, where the Hare Krishnas are now being persecuted as terrorists.

I have now booked plane tickets to Gibraltar, and have a ferry reservation from there to Tangier. Can't wait...

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

"The Islamic World"

Matthew Yglesias, who is now accepting advertising, has a post that would make my advisor proud:

"Speaking of which 'Islamic world' is, in my opinion, a really poor way to denote that swathe of the world the majority of whose inhabitants are at least nominally Muslim. That locutions been critiqued often -- by, mostly I think, intellectuals from the region in question -- and on solid grounds. Nevertheless, it does seem to be the sort of entity to which one needs to refer at times. Something better would be . . . ?"

Ahh, yes. I think we've discussed this in every graduate seminar I've taken. In order to understand why "Islamic world" has more currency than "Christian world," you have to look at the history of the field. As described by Albert Hourani in "Islam in European Thought," back in the 1800's, scholars believed each civilization had certain core characteristics that made it great. The greatness of the medieval Middle East was in religion, or so they thought, and since the term "Islamic civilization" stuck.

This fell out of favor in the late 20th century. Classical orientalism tended to reify and essentialize its subject, so that Islam became perceived as some vast timeless whole with all the parts having "Islam" as their most important characteristic. For example, when A.S. Tritton went to study religious minorities in the Islamic world, he started off looking at some medieval texts, then moved on to descriptions of random events continually talking about how "the Muslim spirit" was causing this, that, and the other thing. Especially after the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism, however, scholars challenged these approaches, and under the influence of all the much-maligned "theory" of the 1970's and later, came to see texts as social products affected by economics, politics, and other factors.

Terms like "Islamic world" then fell out of favor as reminiscent of the old approach of seeing Islam as the major explanatory factor. Instead, we saw scholars focusing more clearly on, say, 13th century Egypt, or 20th century Iran, and not seeking to generalize to a broader framework. In my master's thesis, I looked specifically at relations between Copts and Muslims in early 13th century Egypt, and found lots of social, economic, and political causes for things even when they were described in religious terms. Those who continued to generalize, such as Bernard Lewis, were seen as old-fashioned, and even then it is instructive that in the early 1980's he wrote The Jews of Islam, but in the early 1990's it was Race and Slavery in the Middle East.

Now, however, we're seeing a resurgence of the term "Islamic world" mainly by scholars who wish to look at phenomena related to global Islam. Dale Eickelman perhaps fits into this category - his book Muslim Politics includes Muslims from Nigeria to Iran to Britain, but his The Middle East and Central Asia: An Anthropological Approach includes Islam as only one topic discussed among such things as family and tribal organization. Finding another term is difficult - Marshall Hodgson suggested "Islamicate" and "Islamdom," but these never really caught on. Really, the only commonality among Indonesia, Senegal, and Chechnya is religion, and the fact that people in both Mali and Malaysia want to study at Al-Azhar in Egypt shows that this in fact a tie. Robbed of its essentializing qualities, I don't see a problem with "Islamic world" in certain contexts, as long as people remain on guard that there are a large number of other factors at work throughout it.

(Note: Larger-scale works such as Lewis's The Middle East or Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples certainly remain useful. What I'm referring to in the penultimate paragraph is mainly a style of analysis.)

Israeli Arab Pioneers

Jonathan Edelstein has an interesting post on the Arab members of the first Knesset. I've often thought the Israeli Arabs were in a somewhat troubling social position, as simply by existing, they get to be part of the "demographic threat" to the existence of the state which has their loyalties. Other nations have similar issues, but not to the same degree: The French majority in France is unlikely to be seriously threatened anytime soon. Still, they do have rights and privileges as citizens, and I suspect that if there were ever a final status agreement they would play an important role in the rest of the Arab world.


This day care attack was very close to campus.

Al-Qaeda in Algeria

The AP is reporting that an Islamist group in Algeria could be a dangerous new al-Qaeda affiliate. In my opinion, these sorts of connections with regional groups make al-Qaeda even more dangerous, as a terrorist pooling of resources and specialized knowledge will increase efficiency as much as comparable corporate phenomena. This one seems especially troubling, as Algeria still isn't the most stable place in North Africa, and I'm sure illegal stuff could go on in the Sahara Desert.

Hamas and the Pull-Out

Hamas military leader Muhammad Daif is ready to take credit for driving the Israelis out of Gaza. This is the risk Israel runs by taking these sorts of unilateral actions. In the end, however, I believe Palestinian militants would take credit for any eventual withdrawal, or even a negotiation, and efforts to simply eliminate terrorism never work, so I don't think that's really a valid reason for staying there.

Middle East Studies

New York University's Zachary Lockman has a detailed look at some of the policy debate surrounding Middle East Studies. Juan Cole has also posted on his concerns with the proposed Title VI advisory board. My own stands on these issues will be well known to regular readers, but here's something I want to pluck out of the Juan Cole post:

"As Stanley Fish has said, university teaching and research is not about 'balance.' Our cancer institute isn't required to hire at least a few biologists who believe smoking is good for your health. In research, it is all right to be partisan for the evidence. It is in fact one of the things wrong with journalism and political discourse that there is so much emphasis on 'telling both sides of the story.' This is a bad approach because many stories have many more than two sides, and some stories only have one true side. Appointing a professor at each major university who would have insisted in early 2003 that Iraq was only 3-5 years away from having a nuclear bomb would not have been an academic advance, but it is the sort of thing the framers of HR 3077 had in mind when they urged 'balance.'"

It occurs to me that some of this debate goes straight to the heart of current discussions on the relationship between the academy and civil society. Part of this is salesmanship. In Middle East Studies, for example, there's a solif case to be made for the importance of gender studies despite its low reputation in right wing circles. After all, one of the major wedge issues Islamists use to advance their agenda is the role of women in society. But beyond that, the fact that the argument that Middle East Studies should be judged solely on the basis of its relationship with national security objectives has such resonance is interesting food for thought.

Libertarian Leanings

I have just scored a 12 out of 160 on the Libertarian purity test. I guess this means I will not be voting Libertarian in the upcoming Presidential election.

Monday, March 08, 2004


The man who carried the banner of the Basran Azd at the Battle of the Camel was Amr b. al-Ashraf al-Ataki. This according to Abu Mikhnaf of the Azd Sarat, with a very strong isnad, as recorded in Tabari on page 3203 of Volume I in the Leiden edition. This interests me because the Ataki were of the Azd Uman, and hadn't officially moved to Basra at the time. However, in the context of a dissertation which seeks in part to examine trade relationships involving the Azd, an Omani in Basra is quite useful.

(Yes, I've been working on my dissertation all day.)

Arabian Water Problems

Saudi Arabia may be running out of water, according to a Gulf News staff reporter. The culprit seems to be government programs to settle the nomadic Bedouin tribes into agricultural lifestyles that use water for irrigation. They've actually tried to limit agriculture in recent years to save water, but to no avail. I'm not sure how bad this problem is, but unless the Saudi economy becomes diversified, they could be in real trouble. Of course, we knew that already...

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Around Umm Qais...

I totally can't wait to be off for Morocco in a few months. I haven't been outside the country except for a brief vacation in Canada since 2001. There's so much to see, so many people to meet, and so much to be learned about them. Just last night I was talking to a friend about my hopes to possibly duck into Western Sahara. When I was in Jordan, I sent back e-mails to my friends discussing my observations and experiences, something I hope to repeat this summer on this blog. The post from last weekend about the kids learning English in Aleppo was excerpted from these, which I've been glancing at to tide me over. Anyway, here's another about our group trip to Umm Qays, on which we also saw the point at which Jordan, Israel and Syria all meet...

"To really understand a lot of this stuff, however, you need to leave Irbid behind and travel northwest, into the hills adjacent to the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. This is the breadbasket of Jordan, where fields are fertile (by Middle Eastern standards), the heart of Jordanian olive country, where, I am told, a row of about a dozen or so trees can get those lucky enough to farm them about $50,000 a year. Here along the roads are numerous small towns where children play around in the streets, and where a bus will have to go around a farmer driving goats or donkeys in front of it, a large wedding party conveying the groom to the bride's house, and where every so often you have to stop at a Jordanian military checkpoint, or at least slow until they wave you past.

"A good view of the area can be had from the small town of Umm Qais. Here there is a new, modern town covering most of a hillside, with the minarets of the mosques reaching skyward and streets buzzing with the sounds of human habitation. The place you will stop, however, is one hill over, in the old city, now abandoned to make room for archeological excavations of the ancient Roman city of Gadara which lies beneath. Gadara was founded sometime in the first millennium BCE, one of the cities of the Decapolis with Arbila, Damascus, Gerasa, Philadelphia, etc. Its streets, still paved with the original Roman stones complete with wagon ruts, preserve the record of the city's ages, through the days of the Roman gods to the time of Christianity and a Byzantine Church to the days of the Umayyads, before the city was destroyed by a great earthquake in 749. Thereafter the site lay deserted until, I believe, Ottoman times, when the village of Umm Qais was founded on its ruins, with the pieces of Gadara being used by its inhabitants in the construction of their new dwellings.

"Today Umm Qais looks and feels like a ghost town, preserving the small, dark-colored oblong buildings of the Arab townspeople who were moved into the new town much earlier this century. On its streets, built with occasional steps in an age before automobiles, one can feel back in time to the days when the carts and donkeys and merchants and farmers went here about their business, actors of one great civilization carrying out their activities in the shadow of another and atop its ruins. The city of Gadara, too, borrows some of this feel, and although it is not as intact as either the Arab village or Gerasa to the South, it, too had life one can sense strolling casually down the main thoroughfare on a quiet Friday morning, taking in the feel of this place most known today for the Chrisitian story of a demon called Legion and a herd of swine. And even this city still has a bit of lived-in feel to it, as a family from somewhere around here comes to picnic in the ampitheater and a few children run around a street which we think used to be a marketplace.

"Overlooking these treasures is a small restaurant where someone - I forget who - bought us all tea and coffee. This restaurant has an outside terrace from which one can see beyond the hills over to the Sea of Galilee, of which about 25% is visible on a good day, peeking out behind the Golan Heights in a hazy mist of blue against the green land all around. A closer view of this is necessary to bring out the things I'm eventually going to bring out; this can be obtained by taking the road down from Umm Qais to a nearby spot far below sea level from which this perhaps hottest of hotspots can be seen in greater detail.

"Imagine if you will, a large valley shaped like a wedge falling away at your feet. In the distance across the valley is the Golan Heights, which appears to be essentially a large pile of dirt with a Syrian observation post seen dimly in the distance. Bisecting this valley as it flows out of Syria to join the Jordan just below the Sea of Galilee is the Yarmouk River, which near the mouth looks like Emory Creek during a flood. Next to this river is a road lined on one side by a barbed-wire fence, with sand along the curb; this fence is the Israeli border, and the Israelis run daily patrols to make sure the sand has not been disturbed, a sign that someone has crossed illegally.

"Crossing this river and road is an old railroad bridge of the Hejazi line connecting Istanbul and Mecca; this was frequently attacked by the Hashemites and Lawrence of Arabia during World War I. Today it cuts through a no-man's land passing next to a hill upon which is a small round building which may hold about three people; this is an Israeli observation post; a slightly larger one is just up the hill. Just below your feet is a road where a Jordanian soldier walks his rounds near a Jordanian observation post. In the no-man's land are a few farms, the owners of which must each day pass through a series of military checkpoints before tending their fields.

"Somewhat further away, perhaps approaching the open end of the wedge's V, is a series of swamplike pools and plush green patches next to a white mosque. This is a crocodile farm located right at the edge of Israeli territory; the mosque now serves the farm as a storage facility. Just beyond the farm is a small grove of trees; somewhere in these trees is the triangle point at which Jordan, Syria, and Israel all meet. This somewhat surreal place holds the keys to some of the key aspects of our lives in Jordan. The Yarmouk River is divided by a dam; as the river flows into the Jordan half its water is destined to provide for northern Israel; after the 1994 peace treaty the other half was diverted into a cement-sided channel to northern Jordan. That's not a lot of water to go around. And the Golan Heights is the place where two days ago the Israelis sent in the tanks, adding a bit more force to one of the only borders in the world where two armies face each other, always on alert to resume on the ground the war that still exists on paper. "

Illegal Tea

It looks like opium isn't the only thing being smuggled in Afghanistan. It sounds like the border guards tend to look the other way, which is probably a good thing. This also reminds me of an amusing vignette from my Jordan-Syria trip: When we were in Damascus, we decided to take a shared taxi back to Irbid, Jordan, where we were living, but the first few drivers we found were a bit reluctant to take what we felt was an appropriate fare. One of the drivers, however, had "a friend" who might be interested, and in fact was. There followed many incidents which need not detain us here. However, when we got to the border town of Dara'a, our driver began buying watermelons to smuggle across the border, where everything was more expensive. The trick was that tourists could transport such items, but locals couldn't. Anyway, we reached the border crossing with "our" watermelons, not sure what to make of the situation in which we found ourselves. However, in one of the great amusing moments of the trip, I looked around at all the other cars being inspected in front of us, and almost without exception the border guards were discovering watermelons in the trunk.

Parents and Education

This commentary from a disgruntled high school teacher who has had bad experiences with parents reminded me of this Matthew Yglesias post on school vouchers questioning whether more parental control would actually lead to better education. Unlike the "Irascible Professor" poster, I attribute this more to some parents' conception of how best to prepare for the college admissions game or their own kids' perfection than the "self esteem movement," but the point is the same. As one of my undergraduate English professors said, "An education is the only thing we pay through the nose for and then try to avoid getting." Too often, that goes for more than just the students, something the anti-teacher forces in society might want to keep in mind.

Thanks Kristin!