Friday, April 30, 2004

Faith and History

Hugo Schwyzer at Cliopatra posts some quotes on Christian faith and history. When I teach Islamic history from an agnostic historical perspective, I often have to find a way to reach out to believing Muslim students, and for that matter Jewish and Christian ones, as well, for the lecture on the rise of monotheism in general. When that happens, I like to go straight to the master, Edward Gibbon:

"But this inquiry, however useful or entertaining, is attended with two peculiar difficulties. The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the church. The great law of impartiality too often obliges us to reveal the imperfections of the uninspired teachers and believers of the gospel; and, to a careless observer, their faults may seem to cast a shade on the faith which they professed. But the scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious triumph of the Infidel, should cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom, but likewise to whom, the Divine Revelation was given. The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.

"Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry, an obvious but satisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom find so favorable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted, though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church."

Dead Sea Area

I still haven't developed a good way of posting pictures to my blog, but I can still stick them in a Yahoo Photos album and make it public. Here are some from Madaba and the Dead Sea.

1.) "Moabite Stele" - This is the earliest artifact which mentions Israel.
2.) "Madaba Mosaic Map" - Madaba is famous for its mosaics, and this one on the floor of a church is perhaps the most famous of all, a mosaic map of the Holy Land. You can see the setting here from someone with a better camera than I had.
3.) "Sea Level Marker" - This is at the hot springs, and shows where sea level is. The drop in altitude in this area is so severe it's like landing in an airplane.
4.) "Blazing Hot River of Fire and Death" - Term coined by another person in our group, this is one of the hot springs .
5.) "Hot Spring Falls 1" - self-explanatory
6.) "Hot Spring Falls 2" - self-explanatory
7.) "Shore of Dead Sea" - Note the visible salt along the edges. In the distance, you see our driver. He is a fairly wealthy farmer who knows the owner of the place we stayed in Madaba, and as a sideline drives people from the hotel to the hot springs, Dead Sea, and Mt. Nebo. Our encounter was amusing: Earlier in the day, a shopkeeper had volunteered to drive us to the hotel because it was on the other side of town. We accepted, but the police came and stopped us believing that the shopkeeper was acting as an illegal taxi. Once at the hotel, we met this guy, made our arrangements, and were in his van waiting for him when the same police came again. This time they just wanted to tell us the shopkeeper had been cleared, and everything was fine. The irony, of course, is that we were now actually in an illegal taxi preparing to depart.

Another Anti-TAA Editorial

From the dear Badger Herald:

"We call on appropriate law enforcement officers to take note of the illegality that has been perpetrated on the UW's campus over the past 48 hours and to prosecute the TAA's membership accordingly."

Among those who have actually tried to justify the relevant anti-strike laws instead of just using them as a component of anti-union rhetoric, the claim is that strikes by public employees hurt the public rather than just a company. This is disingenuous. The term "public employees" means that we are employed by the public. Therefore, the employer from whom we withhold the labor for which many feel inadequately compensated is "the public." Keep in mind that when the state's chief negotiator characterizes the governor's stance as political, that means he is thinking about the will of the people of the state of Wisconsin. So unless you are a student from out of state - and I of course know there are many - you are not in a formal sense an innocent bystander in this dispute.

Education City

Gulf News has an update on the "Education City," which hosts outlets of major U.S. universities in Doha. The Qatari government sees the project as a component of plans to reduce reliance on expat labor, a necessity for all Gulf states as their populations explode. Because the Qatari campuses trend toward a more conservative society, families are more willing to send female students than they are to the United States.

World Press Review

Starting soon I and many other people will be less informed about the world as this magazine has published its last issue.

Western Sahara

The UN has extended through October the mandate of their peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara. On the table is a peace plan in which the region would have limited autonomy for five years pending a referendum on independence. The Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, has accepted the plan, but the Moroccan government has not. When I go to Morocco in less than three weeks, I have some hopes of going to northern Western Sahara, but no promises.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

A Dedicated Professor

I've never met him personally, but have overheard him meeting with students. As the Capital Times reports, Dr. Harold Scheub is excellent. His course web site is here.

UW Strike Report

Classes are back to normal today after the TAA's two-day strike, during which several hundred TA's, PA's and their supporters picketed 10 campus buildings. (I suspect media reports of 18 locations referred to multiple building entrances.) The Daily Cardinal reports the strike as a popular success. The Wisconsin State Journal, which had earlier published this rant, has the headline "Teaching Assistants Make Point Politely" for a story about the rally at the capitol. Here was their story from yesterday, focusing on students caught in the middle but still coming across favorably after the opening paragraphs. Madison's other newspaper, the Capital Times, focused on undergraduates who supported the strike. The Badger Herald also profiles a student caught in the middle.

From personal observations: Despite what the above article say, the picket lines could have been really porous had people wanted them to be. I decided to join the Vilas Hall picket line (whether more from commitment or curiosity remains clouded), and at no point did we cover both front entrances. The loading dock entrance was also picketed, but the building was still accessible from the entrance on the other side. Helen C. White Hall was easily cut off, but Social Science had only the front entrances picketed, while Humanities seemed accessible by climbing the stairs by the art museum and entering on the open third floor. Amazingly, even the administration building was completely open at entrance opposite Ingraham Hall. Whether this was true all the time or just when I was there is difficult to say.

When I went to Picket Central to explain my need to work to meet a federal grant deadline, they had no problems with it, and I was easily waved across the picket line. Most of the stories of harassment I've heared are mainly people objecting to the "don't cross the line" chants. This is simply a part of striking the debate over which doesn't belong here, and unless people were being directly intimidated in some fashion I have trouble worrying too much over it. I sympathize with undergraduates caught in the middle, but believe this constitutes the sort of situation many will have to deal with in the real world, and its probably better to develop a sense of how you will deal with it in college than in a company where two of your supervisors are feuding.

Here is a list of 16 departments whose faculty voted to support the TAA. The final number I heard was 23, though it is unclear whether this was support for the strike or just the bargaining position. The Teamsters also refused to cross picket lines, while many other groups provided at least moral support. I think, however, one must also take note of the disgusted looks many had as they walked past. I still have reservations about whether "Free Health Care" by itself is a slogan which will win much popular support. "Free Health Care or Market Wages" would have worked better, despite the extra words. I have my doubts about whether the former will happen, but based on the OSER director's comments in the Daily Cardinal story, movement on the latter remains possible.

Many are now concerned about the looming grade strike. My prediction is that it won't happen, if for no other reason that the fact it had even less support than this strike did at the moment people voted to go through with it, and the vote over this strike was close. However, if the state decides to retaliate against the TAA by seriously worsening their offer, all bets are off. This is partly why I've sort of settled on the idea that we should have given the now-fruitful negotiations more time, but we'll see what happens. The rhetoric from the people who matter sounds constructive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Strike Update

This morning's Wisconsin State Journal has the most insulting editorial ever. Note how the paper doesn't even question Wisconsin's repressive anti-strike laws, and derides the TAA members on a personal level rather than even mention our arguments. The pre-emptive notice about what students should do if they are threatened or intimidated is over the top. According to the live reporting from the local CBS affiliate (ignore the stuff about what will happen if the strike lasts longer than two days, since no one has even suggested such a thing), no one is being harassed if they enter, and the picketers are merely voicing their reasons for striking. They also said 18 buildings are being picketed. Since the list I got last night over e-mail had just 10, they apparently solved their picket personnel problems. UPS is also not crossing the picket lines.

Blogging Break

OK, here's the deal. I have a lot going on right now, and as you can see from the last few days of posts, haven't had much time for my usual news blogging. Don't expect much of anything for the next several days until I catch up on other projects. The exception may be strike reporting, if anything interesting happens, or something intriguing in my dissertation research.

Just thought I'd mention it. Thanks for reading! I should be back to normal by this weekend.

Monday, April 26, 2004

UW Strike

From a "Breaking News" banner at

"After judging the state’s latest contract offer not good enough, UW-Madison’s teaching and project assistants voted Monday to not hold classes today and Wednesday. The decision likely will leave hundreds of empty classrooms. Many faculty members have said they will respect the assistants’ strike by either canceling classes or holding them in alternate locations. Members of the Teaching Assistants’ Association are asking 1,200 of their 1,900 members to cancel their classes. Picket lines are planned around major university buildings starting at 7:30 a.m. today."

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

Because I am one of the 700 members not in a bound department, I didn't have a vote, and haven't developed a firm opinion on what course of action I support. I do think, however, that all the blame here goes with the state, which stonewalled for months, thus giving rise to the pro-strike sentiment in the union in the first place.

UPDATE: I'm being told that most of the strike committee was against the strike, and leadership wanted to continue negotiating but call off the strike. The actual vote was close.

UPDATE: If the strike committee doesn't think there are enough people for an effective strike, and the negotiation committee wants to keep negotiating, and a key part of our strategy is unknown people who will suddenly appear following media attention, does that mean this is the TAA equivalent of the Iraq invasion?

Iraqi Flag

The Iraqi Governing Council has approved a new Iraqi flag. Its use or not by the population will be an interesting sign of where Iraqis stand regarding the legitimacy of the IGC's actions in general.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Lecture Disclaimers

(post deleted at request of source)

More UW Strike Stuff

From a lot of conversations I'm having, there seems to be sentiment to call off the strike in response to the state's decision to actually negotiate. The amount of raise we're being offered is now higher than the amount we'd pay for health care. I was at a bit of the last bargaining session, and from what I heard, the union is now offering to respect the governor's political considerations on health care in exchange for the university picking up the segregated fees that pay for student organizations and governance. Developing...

Saturday, April 24, 2004

UW Labor Update

The Wisconsin State Journal has an update on the contract negotiations between the TAA and State of Wisconsin. The situation looks increasingly sad because if the state had actually been willing to negotiate seriously earlier, we wouldn't be in the position. The core of the new TAA proposal was to trade in the zero-cost health care option in exchange for not having to pay segregated fees. The state will reply to the offer Monday.

Tribal Submission

This Reuters piece has some interesting details which shed light on the ways in which the Pakistiani government and tribes interact in the North West Frontier Province.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Types of Unions

Earlier today I had a conversation that raised in my mind an issue I've noticed before: The extent to which different unions feel rooted in their community as opposed to their occupation. I gew up in a union family, and IIRC, whenever contract negotations came up the talk I heard was about how much we needed to live, the rising cost of living, and how much other people in the city made. In the current labor negotiations, however, the graduate assistants compare themselves primarily to graduate assistants in other places, with the implicit assumption that our skills are worth a certain amount set by a national educational marketplace. A teachers' strike I heard about recently was similar. Graduate assistants, of course, also have another unique characteristic: Our wages are not merely salary in the conventional sense, but also elements of a financial aid package which is a key aspect of recruitment. Many of those prospectively striking will finish their degrees in May and never earn the wages they are fighting for.

I'm not sure if one style is better than another, but it does have interesting implications for the future of labor solidarity. I feel like many of the TAA rank-and-file would be more energized by a threat to tenure in Alaska than an attempt by Madison grocery workers to win higher wages. This in turn raises the issue of possible changes in the national labor structure, as the line between professional associations and labor unions becomes fuzzier.



In order to get our Title VI-A grant, the Middle East Studies Program needs to submit some paperwork by April 28. As the only employee, it is my job to do this. If I don't, we don't get the grant, and have no money. And some of what I need to do requires administrative input which probably won't be forthcoming until Tuesday. Which means I'm likely to be stuck having to work during the strike. On a personal level I don't feel guilty about this - essentially defunding an entire program (that employs a grad student) probably doesn't fit the union's plans for minimal damage to the university. As I've noted before, since I work for the International Institute I'm not bound by the strike vote, though the history department is a hotbed of union activism. But it still feels really weird and awkward. Support for organized labor is one of the cornerstones for my view of American society. This is not a position in which I ever pictured myself.

UPDATE: Just got an e-mail from my union steward, and they have a procedure for people with a compelling need to cross lines. So I'm in the clear =)

Mount Nebo

"As you might have noticed, there are a lot of sites in Jordan which have religious significance. This is part of what makes Arabs nervous when extreme hard-liners in Israel talk about reclaiming Israel's full Biblical heritage - they tend to include everything connected with people like Aaron and Moses, who were of course prophets of Islam as well as leaders of ancient Israel. In any event, perhaps the most widely venerated site in Jordan is Mount Nebo, site of the death of Moses where he looked upon the promised land which he would never enter.

"Today Mount Nebo is under the control of the Franciscan friars, and on the summit of Pisgah you find a medium-sized stone church, as well as clearly marked artifacts from the summit's previous occupants. You enter the summit through a small gate after paying about 75 cents; there is also an expensive gift shop and restaurant just outside. Also present are various monuments connected to the Jubilee year 2000; the number of times I saw Pope John Paul II's name carved on various stones called to mind
name deleted's comment in the Vatican three years ago that you can tell the current pontiff intends on being remembered. One of these stones is a large statue which is perhaps the ugliest sculpture I have ever seen and that you'll have to see the picture of to believe.

"On a clear day, you can from Mount Nebo see Jerusalem and even glimpse the Mediterranean Sea. On a hot day in mid-July, though, you can only see a bit past Jericho across the Jordan River on the Dead Sea. People following the Jordan Valley pilgrimage trail were undoubtedly a bit disappointed, though people from the area such as the gang of little kids being led there on a field trip will probably simply come back some winter if the spirit moves them. For to them, such things I have described are simply part of their neighborhood, about 30 minutes from Amman and 90 from Irbid, a place to go on a weekend day trip like Hannibal from Quincy or Chicago from Madison.

"What you can do, however, as a traveller just passing through, is when the view of Israel disappoints, simply turn around a look at Jordan, the hilly farmland of which stretches as far as the eye can see. For while too often its religious significance is what draws people to this hot, dry country, there lies within and beyond these things a living world all around, visible to one who knows to look for it and who has the interest to look beyond the places where people say God left his mark to the people God has made all around us.

"In the far north of Jordan, half an hour from the Syrian border, you find Irbid, home of the Yarmouk University the physical features of which have been described previously. In the orientation packed, the UVA program directors - admittedly one of them an Irbid native - judged that Yarmouk University was a highly conservative school. I reverse. Yarmouk University is so liberal it juts out of the conservative background like steam rising from the stream
name deleted nicknamed 'The Blazing Hot River of Fire and Death' where it tumbles onto the rocks at the Hammamat Ma'in.

"This is not so much because of any political opinions on the part of the students; I've somehow gone for a month only getting into one political discussion outside of our group. It is instead an observation based on the lifestyle when compared with the surrounding community and standards of dress, social interaction, etc. that prevail in different locations. Perhaps it is best to just think of it in standard university terms: During orientation the student who had done this program last year was asked to comment when he thought it appropriate, and when the program director was explaining that any romantic liaisons would be difficult due to the conservatism of Irbid, the guy indicated that actually at Yarmouk nobody would really care, an observation which can be verified simply by noting the dense population along the Street of Love or its noticeably less proper counterpart across campus outside Al-Kindi Hall (the humanities building).

"The girls have far more friends than we do. It was so crazy - about a week into the program they couldn't walk anywhere without people they had met going up to them and "catching up."
stuff deleted (Incidentally, the bookstore here sells Vol. II of the Norton Anthology of English literature for about $6.) Once I also stumbled into what turned out to be the music music and theater building, where I found that the relative oddity of music/theater people* appears to be one of those universal constants. The university was supposed to be locked, and there they were surrounded by some sort of modern art painted murals doing impropto improv skits and humming chords.

"I'm wandering off topic here, but my point is that if you want to see a 'real Jordan,' you probably won't. The real Jordan consists of a lot of different things all of which are tied to each other and which interact with each other and the world outside in a number of complex ways. I say, rather, 'the Jordanian world,' probably no better a term, but hey. And this is a world which consists of the Bedouin, and the professors, and the Iraqi refugees, and the traditional Jordanian families, and the Westernized youth, and the street dogs of Irbid, all part of a world in which ideas and people mix around, tumbling through time and space forming communities of souls and cultures of behavior as they try to make a living and live their lives just as people have for centuries and will in the future.

"This awareness of community is perhaps the strongest thing I will take away from my stay in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There is an old Jordanian proverb one professor used to help us remember some vocabulary: 'The neighbors before the house.'** As I look out from our cheap hotel accomodation in Madaba, I think of this as I survey the street below, with the children playing, a group of girls laughing over some pictures, and the older people sitting on the balconies so close across the narrow street you can actually talk to them, say its a nice evening, etc. Some may complain that as a developing nation Jordan is uncomfortable, things fall apart or break down all the time, etc. But more important is to note the comfort with the people, to feel secure in a neighborhood where kids are the responsibility of everyone and where neighborliness and hospitality are values as strong as any others. For more than anything I've actually seen, I will remember the people I've met and the ideas they've shared with me, seeing in the face of humanity the face of the world which gives rise to all else.

*I was a music person
**The second part, "the friends before the road," is also cool
(This was pretty heavily redacted, partly for the usual reasons, and partly because I've excerpted it before. Unfortunately we really couldn't see much at all, and the pictures of the mosaic inside the church didn't turn out, so there's not much more I can do.)

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Lynch on Arab Media

April's CEIP Arab Reform Bulletin has a good article by Marc Lynch advocating that the U.S. treat the Arab media as potential allies in the war of ideas. Parts of it will sound familiar, but it is still worth a read. Toward the end, he also addresses the concept of "moderation" in discussions of Arab politics:

"The U.S. should also broaden its definition of political "moderation" in the Arab context. The curious tendency to define moderation in terms of support for American policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the occupation of Iraq radically and unnecessarily circumscribes the range of possible U.S. interlocutors. Moderation should be understood not as a set of pre-defined political positions but in terms of openness to dialogue and pragmatic willingness to engage with others to resolve contentious problems.".

Sadr and the Najafis

From Middle East On-Line, more evidence that Najafis are unhappy with Muqtada Sadr's presence in the city.


I wish to officially register my annoyance with Israeli refuseniks. Some group associated with them came by and stapled a flyer to the Middle East Studies bulletin board. They may have noticed everything else was attached with thumb tacks...

UPDATE: I just noticed that the Balata Refugee Camp people also employed staples. Come on guys, knock it off.

Birthday Dirge

Via Rob Groves, I have just found the lyrics to the "Birthday Dirge." I wonder if this will ever replace the more traditional "Happy Birthday to You."

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bargaining Sessions

Here are short accounts of the recent bargaining sessions related to the UW labor issue, for those interested. It does not yet include Monday's session. Here is the university press release.

Incidentally, I should add that because Middle East Studies doesn't have much funding, we don't have department status, and I am employed by the International Institute. Because the II falls below a minimum number of affected employees (I'm not close enough to the gory details to remember what the figures are), we are exempted from actually striking. Since I set my own hours anyway, the whole concept is meaningless. I just thought I'd come clean with that, lest I leave a false impression of my relationship to the events. I still don't plan to cross any picket lines.

UPDATE: Here's an article from the TAA on where things now stand.

Interesting Note

During the middle of the eighth century, al-Khalil b. Ahmad al-Azdi produced the first Arabic dictionary. It was called the Kitab al-'Ayn because it began not with alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, but with the letter 'ayn. He died when he ran into a mosque pillar while distracted by his research.

From the Front Lines

IWPR has no less then five must-read articles from the Iraqi front lines. First, read Aqil Jabbar, Muhammad Fawzi, and Dhiya Rasan on their trip to the Falluja front lines, as well as Wisam al-Jaff inside Falluja. Then head south with the same Wisam al-Jaff to check out Najafis' anger at Muqtada Sadr. Two additional pieces of note are Hussein Ali and Nasr Kadhim on why Kutis preferred the Ukrainians and Salaam Jihad's story of how he was accused of being an American agent.

New Falluja Fighting

Reuters reports new fighting in Falluja, despite the truce announced yesterday. However, the story contained this interesting bit:

"The fighting erupted hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the truce in the battered city of 300,000 people west of Baghdad would not hold indefinitely. He said days of talks involving Iraqi and Sunni Muslim leaders, Falluja officials and representatives of the U.S. governing authority in the city did not include Iraqi insurgents who have been confronting U.S. troops."

So...we are negotiation a truce with people who aren't fighting us? And it won't work? What, precisely, are we doing in Falluja? Is this an attempt to win over the non-militant Sunni leadership, gaining actual allies against the insurgents?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

UW Labor Issues

The Capital Times has a brief article on the current labor situation with the UW TAA, which just voted to authorize a two-day strike on April 27-28, followed by a grade withholding strike at the end of the semester. (Students who need grades would still be able to get them through a special TAA transcript.) On thing I want to emphasize here is that this is not purely a "TA's don't want to pay for health care" issue. It's more like a "TA's don't want to start paying for health care at the same time they get a 0.0% raise" issue. Another thing: I don't have exact details in front of me, but I believe the union and state were only $300,000 apart before yesterday's new offer. From accounts of the open bargaining sessions, the university admits the problem is not economic, but rather stems from political/philosophical decisions made at high levels of the state government about their policy toward state employees. UW is already below its peer institutions in terms of TA/PA compensation, so failure to even keep up with inflation will not be good for the school's future recruitment prospects, and hence its reputation and the value of the degrees it confers.

My 2 cents.

Saudi Arabia's Divorce Discussion

I usually don't even read Arab News, but in the wake of the Rania al-Baz case, found this interesting opinion piece on the conversation about divorce rates in the country. Here is one Saudi cleric's take on the issue:

"The cleric went on to say that working women 'have mistaken ideas about independence, and that they do not regard the man as the controlling figure in the relationship and so they neglect their homes and concentrate on their jobs.'"

I was shocked to read that the divorce rate in Jeddah is 40%.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Radio Sawa in Morocco

One month from today I catch a plane for Morocco (well, London first) where apparently Radio Sawa is the largest broadcaster. I'll be interested to see how it is received.

(I also promise that when I get back you can see a picture or two from here, where I have a reservation before catching the ferry across the strait.)

UPDATE: Last week when my advisor was back from Israel on a break, I asked him for ideas about what medieval chronicles I should take with me to Fez to study. He told me to get al-Baladhuri, adding that it hasn't been fully published anywhere and is available mainly in manuscript form in Middle Eastern archives.

Today I went to start getting materials together, and have noticed a problem: al-Baladhuri is available mainly in manuscript form in Middle Eastern archives. Madison, alas, is not in the Middle East. Perhaps Yaqut might be a better start.

UPDATE: Actually, this reminds me I also need to read Ibn Khaldun. And I am going to Fez after all.

Hizbullah Game Show

Via Chris Blanchard, I see that Hizbullah's al-Manar TV now has a game show featuring trivia with anti-Israeli and anti-American themes. Contestants compete for money and a trip to Jerusalem.

Falluja Agreement

The U.S. and Falluja leaders have announced an agreement which includes joint policing by coalition and Iraqi forces and disarmament by the insurgents. Details will emerge later in the day. This sounds like it could resolve some of the immediate issues in the Sunni triangle if it persuades Sunnis that they will still play a role in their own affairs. Conservatives may cry appeasement, but keep in mind that before all this started, the U.S. had been forced to withdraw from Falluja altogether. This is not the complete victory many demanded, but it has the potential to become the best kind of victory - one for both sides. The main thing I'm wondering is where the Iraqis in these patrols will come from.

Poem (Holocaust Memorial Day)

See Ocean Guy.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Arabs and Nabataeans

Last night, I was reading Jan Retso's The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. In the book, the author seeks the original meaning of the term "Arab." It cannot mean simply "speakers of Arabic," as the latter term is derived from the former, and most of the other possibilities Retso questions on similar grounds. Another point is that there is no early ancestor called "Arab," not in their own traditions, nor in those of other people in the region. Even the Hebrews didn't include them, and they included everybody. (For example, Genesis 10, the "Table of Nations," mentions "Canaan," "Cush," and "Egypt" as sons of Ham. Ham was the term used for the Egyptian sphere of influence when these traditions were germinating - other peoples were grafted in as they appeared.) The bulk of this very intense study is scraping together every mention of the word "Arab" across the 15 centuries before Islam.

During his discussion of the Hellenistic period, Retso shows convincingly how Greek geographers led by Eratosthenes began using the term "Arabia" to refer to a much broader area than it had previously denoted, and began calling all of its inhabitants "Arabs." (This was before the Arabic language had spread throughout the peninsula.) In fact, many Greeks believed "Arabia" was everything from the Nile delta to the mountains of modern Iran, thus including part of modern Egypt in their definition. However, this does not stop elements of older usages from entering into their records, as is perhaps seen here. (Like via Jonathan Edelstein.)

One interesting case of all this is the history of the Nabataean kingdom as described in Greek and Jewish sources. The traditional view is that the Nabataeans were Arabs under a different name. Retso argues, again convincingly, that this identification is false. (For example, some rulers are mentioned as kings of both "Arabs and Nabateans" in the same title.) Instead, he sees the "?Arab" and the "Nabat" as two different sectors of a society which existed in the region under a common political framework, witht he Arabs being militant nomads and the Nabati as settled cultivators. He further suggests the the Nabat of Petra in southern Jordan are the same as the Nabatu of Assyrian inscriptions, and the Nabat who are mentioned in lots of scattered literary and epigraphic evidence from the Arabian peninsula as far south as Najran.

Anyway, Retso's tentative conclusion is to note that the Nabat (actual plural is al-Anbat, but who cares) appear with Arabs throughout history "like a shadow." And this comes up futher because we also have Nabat in the early Islamic period. Here, Retso again suggests that the word was broadened during the Umayyad period so that is simply came to mean cultivators. However, if we accept the fact that it originally denoted a specific sort of person in a relationship with Arabs - and even if we reject where Retso's heading with his overall conclusion in the book, we can still keep the old idea of "Arab" as meaning primarily a nomad and accept the idea that they were in a special relationship with certain settled groups with anthropological happiness - then this definitely matters for the way we view early Islamic history. This is certainly relevant to my own dissertation, since I'm writing about a tribal confederation called the Azd where were often criticized by others for not always having been Arabs, and who went to southern Iraq were there were a lot of Nabat.

This also interests me as a problem of applying Western categories to non-Western societies. In the post-colonial world this doesn't matter so much, but ethnic identity as it developed in Europe was never a truly universal concept. Yet today it is fundamental enough to the way we view the world that scholars carve people into ethnicities without giving it a second thought. (This issue has long interested me because I have a certain mistrust of ethnic nationalism born from coming of intellectual age during this and this.) If Retso's right - and this really has a good feel about it - this might be an interesting opportunity to explore a non-ethnic means of cultural organization, though perhaps complicated by the long-time Persian domination of Oman in which they would have brought their own concepts to the table.

I don't quite know how this fits my own work yet, but it definitely fits. I've consulted the main work likely to have information directly relevant to me, but the author basically took his definition from 10th-century geographers and applied that broad defintion to the early Islamic traditions. The issue at least bears another look.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


I was about to blog about somethign really exciting from my dissertation research that had me thinking. But I just dropped a mug on the floor and broke it. So I'm not in the mood anymore. And I already miss that mug.

UPDATE: This would be a great time to know Swedish.

UPDATE: This is slightly off topic, but I get the feeling this is based on other accounts. It seems to have two different concepts of Arabness. And note that in paragraph 20 we have multiple languages, while in paragraph 33 "the Arabian language." But what were the antecedents?

Israel Assassinates Rantisi

Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, who after Shaykh Ahmed Yassin was the most important figure in Hamas, has just been assassinated by Israel.

"Freedom Fraud"

Matthew Yglesias has a solid article in the American Prospect highlighting the gap between Bush's rhetoric and his actual policies regarding democracy. While some of these policies can be defended on their own terms, filling the air with empty rhetoric like Bush is doing is extremely damaging both to American credibility abroad and to American voters who need to make informed judgements about the world beyond our borders.

And incidentally, congratulations to Matt on the cover story!

Friday, April 16, 2004

Aleppo Pictures

Pictures of Aleppo, Syria are here. Things are pretty self-explanatory. My two posts containing Aleppo memories are here and here. As you can tell, I liked this city a lot. What didn't make it into a good excerpt was evening by the citadel, when it is all lit up and families go there to relax. I had some interesting political conversations at a cafe across the street from the lit citadel.

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners are 2-7. Thus far, I have listened to 7 of the 9 games. And yes, the two I missed were both wins.

Moroccan Traffic

While family members fear terrorism, the most serious travel warnings about Morocco relate to traffic. Fortunately, the government has decided to take steps.

Rania al-Baz

Rania al-Baz, a popular Saudi TV personality, has come forward with allegations of domestic abuse against her husband. This is the first time a domestic abuse case has gotten a high level of exposure in Saudi Arabia, and it could pave the way for social change in that country much like celebrity cases of AIDS have in the United States. The Sydney Morning Herald has more.

Arabs and Israelis

Abu Aardvark sees Bush's Israel position as the final straw in losing the "War of Ideas" in the Arab world. I don't read nearly as much Arab opinion as he does, but I've always gotten the impression Iraq had passed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as an issue with Arab public opinion. As seen in the first quote here, the U.S. has never been entirely even-handed, and this has been going on for so long everyone is used to it. When I was in Jordan, people complained to me about sanctions on Iraq far more than anything else, and the past couple of days I've gotten some e-mails related to Falluja. In fact, I suspect coverage of this in the Arab media will get buried under Iraq coverage.

Jonathan Edelstein, meanwhile, looks at the situation with Israeli public opinion, and believes Bush may have forestalled the emergence of a far-right government there. My take, of course, is that Bush did this by accident, and that Sharon was really the active player who pushed his agenda with Bush during the American election season. The Bush administration values power over diplomacy, and believes in achieving goals through decisive action and shows of force. It's certainly not like Bush has carefully worked with an eye toward public opinion in other places.

Jordanian Picture Catch-Up

I have just put some pictues from Jordan in a photo album here. Brief captions:

From Amman:

1.) A picture of downtown Amman from Jabal al-Qala', the Citadel Hill
2.) Amman looking across from Jabal al-Qala' toward the King Abdullah Mosque
3.) Umayyad Palace on Jabal al-Qala', restored after its destruction by the original archaeological expedition

From the Triangle Point (1, 2), just the Golan Heights, with two military observation posts barely visible.

From Yarmouk University, a view of University Street from one of our classrooms.

From "The Road to Petra":

1.) A tree in Petra on the path to the Monastery
2.) Sunset over the Dead Sea from our bus
3.) Aaron's Tomb, from the Monastery
4.) Looking down from the Monastery

UPDATE: I've just realized my link only works if you're logged into my yahoo account. Let me play a bit and see if something works.

UPDATE: I think it's fixed.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


Why are heart-shaped food products cheaper than other kinds? I'd think they would be some sort of more expensive speciality kind, as the symbolism is appropriate only to part of the population, and making them would require some sort of special mold or something.


I just returned from The Frugal Muse used bookstore, where they had a Dari travellers' phrasebook published in 2002. Dari is a key language in Afghanistan.

Daniel Pipes

Some would have people believe that all scholarly opposition to Daniel Pipes comes from his conservatism. Instead, it has a lot to do with, shall we say, errors in the presentation of his arguments. As an example, consider this column from the Chicago Sun-Times in which Daniel Pipes argues, somehow, that European fear before the Muslim character of resistance to occupation led the Europeans to avoid colonizing Muslim countries during the Age of Expansion.

Oh really, well, part of this may have to do with the large state known as the Ottoman Empire, which was on the offensive against Europe for most of that period. Europe did try to confront it - the Varna Crusade is one such example - but unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Spain and Portugal, alongside the vast region of the Americas, set their sights on...Morocco. During the 1400's and 1500's, both those nations gobbled up various cities attempting to conquer the country before their final defeat in the Battle of Three Kings. In East Africa, the Swahili coast was largely Muslim and colonized by the Portugese. Much of French West Africa was Muslim - the Futa Djallon Revolution was in fact very much an Islamic Revolution - and under steady European assault throughout those centuries. The Dutch gobbled up Muslim Indonesia. (just fixed from India...ed.)

Pipes's point in this column is to persuade the U.S. to leave Iraq to "a democratically-minded Iraqi strongman." His vaguely racist portrayal of Muslims as people who won't shut up and abandon their religion and adopt European culture and insist on rebelling all the time is a means to that end. Pipes isn't as much of a hack as, say, Bat Yeor, but because of pieces like this, I still find him difficult to trust.

UPDATE: More here.

Bush and Sharon

While I continue my burst of research, which due to splendid weather conditions is mostly taking place outside, David Asednik has written a thoughtful write-up of Bush's statement about Sharon's withdrawal plans.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Good Post

Jonathan Dworkin has become an Iraq pessimist. Here's why.

Interesting Point

"The method of describing political alliances, etc. in terms of family relationships is not specific to Israel. We have already studied how it worked during the first centuries of Islam, and it is found in many societies. But the system found in the Pentateuch is unique in its scope: all the peoples of the earth ultimately belong to one family. There are no barbarians. Together with this goes the fact that Israel is seen as not belonging to the family since the beginning, since it did not exist from the beginning. Both P and J depict a world which, in different ways, is complete and finished without the existence of their own people. Israel is the last people in the world to emerge, the little brother of all the others."

-Jan Retso (The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, pp. 213-4)

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Bush's Press Conference

The first half of that was embarrassing to watch...President Bush was clearly nervous and unsure of himself. Throughout the evening, he was much stronger as a speaker when giving his standard talking points. When ad libbing in response to questions, he looked lost and his answers meandered. However, when he got to that business about God giving freedom to humanity and the mission of the U.S. in the world, he convinced me that this was the real core of George Bush and how he sees the country.

However, I was generally disappointed with what I heard. He said a lot about why it is important to succeed in Iraq, and set a very high definition of success, but there was nothing about how he planned to succeed in Iraq. The only thing I really know is that we're going to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30 (though who knows which Iraqis we'll hand it over to).

Another thing that stood out was how removed Bush seemed from the operational level of his own government. We saw this in his discussion of September 11. We saw it more when he said Lakhdar Brahimi was working on who we handed Iraq over to, a rather important part of the key issue of his Presidency. There are probably other examples I can't think of right now. I was not convinced Bush really knows much about what's going on. I feel like decisions in this administration are made bureaucratically, and Bush simply approves courses of action. That's probably why it's so difficult to alter major plans and agendas, because there's no involved leadership at the top, even on key issues.

All in all, I want to believe in Bush, but I just don't. And I fear as a result.


I am unsure exactly what is happening in Najaf. The BBC reports that Sadr's forces have withdrawn, and Iraqi police are again patrolling the streets. This came about through diplomacy. I wonder, however: Are these Iraqi police loyal to Sadr, the coalition, or neither? The U.S. is building up forces outside the city, allegedly preparing to go in after Muqtada Sadr. Sadr claims he is willing to die to free Iraq, but I don't think we know if he really means that. At the same time, some sources suggest Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani may call for an uprising if the U.S. moves into Najaf. That would be disastrous, and I hope we realize that Sadr isn't worth it, especially if he's as marginalized as we claim.

As things stand, the situation in the south isn't really that bad, though as usual things are fluid. Non-Sadrist Shi'ites are taking the lead in negotiations, perhaps playing a good cop/bad cop routine to bring things to an end with minimal bloodshed. The U.S. has enough issues to settle in the ongoing Falluja crisis without unnecessarily provoking a broad-based Shi'ite resistance movement.

Contested Traditions

This morning I went to another lecture by Ali Ansari, this time on Iranian nationalism in the 20th century. He told an interesting anecdote about two ayatollahs he talked to in Iran. The background to this is the crisis in the early Islamic community in the 7th century: After Muhammad died, Abu Bakr became the first caliph in a semi-democratic process. Shi'ites believe that Ali should have followed Muhammad as leader, and that Muhammad actually indicated this during his lifetime. Ali, however, supported Abu Bakr as caliph.

With that in mind, according to Ayatollah #1, Shi'ite Islam is incompatible with democracy, because if Shi'ites wanted democracy, they would have agreed that Abu Bakr was the true caliph along with the majority of Muslims.

According to Ayatollah #2, however, Shi'ite Islam is completely in harmony with democracy because even though Ali clearly had divine right on his side, he and the other Shi'ites did not oppose the will of the majority of Muslims.

I find this a good example of why it is wrong to try an explain Muslim political behavior as an inevitable result of the past, or to argue that Islam itself discourages independent thought in favor of blind adherence to tradition.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Ali Ansari in Madison

Earlier this evening, I was at a lecture by Ali Ansari, whom our Middle East Studies Director Dr. David Morgan described as "his generation's greatest scholar of modern Iran." His talk was basically on the failure of the Iranian Reformists and where things would go from here. Going solely by my own memories, some salient points were these:

*The primary failure of the Iranian Reform movement was in the fact that they insisted in playing by the rules when those rules were rigged against them and the other side wasn't afraid to cheat. (I feel like I've read that before, but I don't remember where.) According to Ansari, Khatami did far more than many realize behind the scenes, but he insisted on taking what he considered the high road. Ansari's analogy was something like "the Reformists seemed to think they were living in Sweden." The hard-liners interpreted this as weakness, and pushed harder.

*Ansari also mentioned the failure of the Reformist political leadership to coordinate effectively with the Iranian student movement. (Regular readers will know I share this perspective.) According to Ansari, who has talked to Iranian government officials on all sides of the political spectrum, the political leaders were afraid of another 1979, and this partly explains their attitude toward both following the rules and behiving nervously toward their potential allies in the student movement. Khatami and Co. refused to support the students in June 2003, and as a result the students didn't rush to their defense in the election controversy. Here I would also add the exile community: Ansari said he felt that the Iranian exiles failed to recognize the serious differences between the Reformists and hard-liners, and had wasted an opportunity as a result. This seems another example of the Reformists failure to mobilize potential supporters.

*One thing that I found really interesting was Ansari's contention that the first thing the Reformists to really threaten the hard-liners was audit the finances. He indicated that if Iraq was a state based on terror, then the Iranian regime was based on greed. Privatization is a highly corrupt process which is used to get potential enemies to buy into the system, and thus fear its collapse. Real ethics investigations threatened all of this.

*Finally, Ansari was unhappy with the way Western powers have dealt with Iran. he indicated, for example, that by the end of 2001, Khatami had adopted a strategy of trying to deliver normalized relations with the U.S. as his major accomplishment, and then leverage that into more reforms elsewhere. The tacit cooperation regarding the Taliban was a major opening for this. However, according to Ansari, Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech proved a disaster for the Reformists, as it set off in Iran a debate over who had ruined U.S.-Iranian relationships, which of course Khatami had been going out on a limb to handle. In the resulting finger-pointing the hard-liners made gains, as even most of the radical reformers wish to advance the Iranian nation-state against threats from abroad, and the policy of engagement with the U.S. stood discredited as something that would get them nowhere and simply make them look weak. In addition, Ansari was discouraged by Prince Charles's visit to Iran, which he said convinced many Iranians that Europe was on the side of the hard-liners, and led to a general loss of morale. (On this point regular readers know I've said engagement of that kind doesn't matter, but Ansari is causing me to reconsider that stance.)

Anyway, from there, the speaker joined the rest of the planet in saying peaceful change was no longer possible, and we should all start waiting for the revolution. He did, however, go into one issue that troubled him about the possible direction of the revolution: Grass-roots Persian nationalism today is far greater than it was even under the Shah. Iranians today are buying literature about the greater Persian nation and the need to reconstitute the old Persian Empire, and there is a renewed interest in pre-Islamic stories and monuments. Ansari said even the regime was starting to play this game, promoting stories like the Shahnama on state television as propaganda. He thus feared that in the future, Iran might behave in an aggressive manner toward its neighbors.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share that report. The whole lecture was really interesting, far more than I can go into here.

Issues and Individuals

Kos makes a good point:

"What's depressing is this infuriating penchant for Bush to villify individuals, as though our battles can be won by exterminating a few well-placed leaders. We have seen this with al Qaida and OBL, we have seen it with Saddam Hussein, and now with our two latest boogeymen -- Sadr and Abu Musab Zarqawi.

"The enemies we face are bigger than one person. Killing Sadr would be as effective in ending Shiite opposition as capturing Saddam was in ending Sunni opposition (or killing his sons, for that matter). Killing or capturing Osama bin Laden would make us all feel good (especially killing him), but it wouldn't have any real effect on Al Qaida operations.

"Yet the administration insists on creating the fiction that killing or capturing any one man can help us win our various wars. It's understandable, in a way -- a relatively easy way to prove progress to a domestic audience."

By quoting this, I do not mean to deny that those named above are villians, nor do I imply that they somehow represent true Arab opinion, whatever that is. However, this focus on personalities is too simplistic, and masks the real underlying issues involved with the occupation. It is easy to say that our enemies are simply bad people, much harder to explain why so many choose to follow them, and the consequences for our goals in Iraq. And I admit, too, the fear that the crowd running the show really believes their own propaganda, as they did long ago in telling us the aftermath of Saddam's fall would be a cakewalk.

Protests in Egypt

Abu Aardvark posts an informative account of recent protests in Egypt which I link to partly as a way of reminding myself to talk to Dr. Moustafa about what speakers we should invite to campus in the fall, since he's taking charge of that.

Top Stories

The subheadline to today's top CNN story is "Seven Chinese men are latest kidnap victims." I don't begrudge the focus on the American soldiers at the top, but this shows a disregard for the proportion of different catastrophes which is dangerous in the way it shapes public opinion. Nowhere in the CNN story is there reference to the hundreds killed in Falluja, not all of whom could have been combatants. Yet the long-term stability of Iraq depends on our taking note of the latter and finding ways to prevent it from happening again.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Uzbekistan Bombings

A previously unknown organization called the Jihad Islamic Group claimed responsibility for last month's suicide bombings in Uzbekistan. The group said they were in response to Uzbekistan's alleged persecution of Muslims. The Uzbek government had previously tried to pin the blame on Hizb ut-Tahrir, but not many believed them.


Happy Easter!

This actually feels kind of weird. This is the first Easter I haven't gone down to Quincy for.

UPDATE: This morning I went to this church where I attended my first Eastern Orthodox service. Orthodoxy is the one major branch of Christianity I've never experienced firsthand, except for seeing some of the artwork in old Byzantine churches in Madaba, Jordan. I liked the service, which wasn't as long as I expected, and I met a couple of interesting people while we waited for them to open the doors, none of whom was a regular member of the church. So I wasn't alone.

I still don't know where to place Easter theologically. The idea I grew up with - that there was sin, and someone had to pay for it, so Jesus volunteered and now we don't have to - doesn't make much sense if you think about it for too long. I have long been drawn to the notion that the coming of Jesus was part of the plan of Creation from the very beginning in order to bring it to fulfillment. This idea has been around since at least the Middle Ages, but has never been the dominant view in any denomination I am aware of. In this scheme, the Crucifixion stands as an experience of the world's suffering connecting God and humanity. I suppose from there the concept of the Resurrection could still follow in much the same triumph-over-death way, but something still seems to be missing.

The highlight of the service: Near the end was a part of the liturgy telling how Christ was risen and we were all saved now and the world would soon become spiffy. Then there was a moment of silence, into which a toddler loudly interjected the word "Yay!!!" And there was much amusement.


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Job Listing

Looking for a job? Try this one.

Hostage Release

According to al-Jazeera, Iraqi militants have agreed to release three Japanese hostages following a call from Iraq's Muslim Clerics Association. The kidnappers, who had threatened to burn the hostages alive if Japan did not withdraw troops, was even condemned by radical anti-American leader Muqtada Sadr.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Amman, June 2001

This is a description of Amman after our first weekend there...

"The Jordanian capital of Amman is not a city built with a great deal of planning. In fact, it was basically thrown up haphazardly over the past few decades, growing from a small town of about 2000 in 1900 to a metropolis of over a million sprawling across 19 steep hills in the erstwhile Jordanian countryside. It has a few main streets, but most are nameless, narrow driveways which curve and intersect seemingly at random, often connected by staircases between the shops and hostels which cram together in the Old City downtown. The closest thing to it I can really think of is the Rhuad from Robert Jordan's A Crown of Swords.

"The best view of the city comes from the Jabal al-Qala, near where was set the story of the death of Uriah the Hittite in the days of King David when this settlement was known as Rabbah Ammon, Royal City of the Ammonites. We found it in the morning; after taking a wrong turn and stepping out onto someone's roof to take our bearings, we stopped in a shop where the woman, unable to get past our poor Arabic comprehension skills, sent her son of about seven to guide us, and with a perfectly accented English "Come on, gang!" he marched off about half a mile until we could actually see where we were going. I think the casual way in which a kid can be sent off with four foreign strangers in a huge city is perhaps the most significant understated cultural difference I've seen in Jordan.

"The citadel of Jabal al-Qala is dominated by the ruins of a Temple of Hercules, built to overlook the city when as the Roman Philadelphia it stood on the seven hills where today are found the seven bustling traffic circles which form the major landmarks to Amman's present inhabitants. Openining onto the temple courtyard is a restored palace of the Umayyad dynasty, restored because the original was demolished by the British when they were digging for Roman ruins.

"From this vantage point, one can see that the city of Amman is all white, the buildings made of the same white material by order of some past king who thought correctly it would be beautiful. The only non-white building
(except at the fringes of town - ed.) is the huge light blue King Abdullah Mosque, restored just over a dozen years ago and dedicated to Jordan's founder and great-grandfather of the present monarch. In one direction - East, I think - one can just barely make out the hills toward which the city spreads in its inevitable expansion; in the others, it is urban white as far as the eye can see. Near at hand is the intact Roman ampitheater, still used for cultural performances and which can be seen after fighting off offers for special tours. Just outside are the columns and gate of the forum, where the ubiquitous children who live with a great deal of freedom in both Amman and Irbid laugh and run as they have for their playground the remains of 1900-year-old pillars and the fountains of the modern park which stands nearby. Outside this is a touristy area, filled with ATMs and drink shops and stands for the Italian-style ice cream preferred in Jordan.

"The streets of Amman are crowded, even on Friday, filled with the mixture of populations which is a hallmark of the modern city. At its best, a city is a place of meetings, and in the bustling streets of Amman jostle tourists and travellers of every description, men wearing everything from Western T-shirts and jeans to body-length garments which button at the top to white robes and red turbans, and women wearing everything from their own Western-style clothes to the more traditional hijab which comes in a rainbow of colors and fashions to the completely black robes, headscarf, and veil. Traffic is also nuts, being dominated by the cab drivers who basically do whatever they want, passing on both sides and weaving around so that every street crossing classifies as a significant adventure.

"The streets are lined with shops of every description, from small holes-in-the-wall selling soccer jerseys to the 'Big Taste of America' stores that you run into every three blocks to the local-style fast-food type joints marked by the giant wheels where stacked meat turns in a soft-edged cone before a vertical open stove while chefs with large knives chop off slices for use the shwarma, which with felafel are the cheap foods that form most of our diet. In the suq, or marketplace, you can barely move and patrons and merchants haggle over the prices of everything from clothes to gold pieces to stereos and car parts beneath unbrella tents in a large open field. Near the ampitheater is the historic King Hussein Mosque, built on the site of a mosque originally built by the rashidun caliph Umar Ibn al-Khittab, where three truly elegant Western tourists wearing flower shirts, tank tops, short skirts, etc. where tryint to talk their way in, and failing that on conditions acceptable to them, settled for having their pictures taken with their feet in the basin of ablutions. (A desire not to be associated with that made us decide to skip the Amman mosque scene.)

"In the late afternoon, we rested at our cheap hotel just down the street from a porn shop. We were staying on the roof beneath a roof of rusty poles and bamboo, which we got for about $3.75 a night, a substantial savings from the $6 or so we would have had to pay for an actual room. The sides were open, and the view of the city at night with its sparkling white lights and the green neon bars marking the minarets of the mosques was truly special to go to sleep by. That night, however, because one member of our group had a birthday and wanted his favorite food, we bounced into three taxis and sped out of the downtown past the different neighborhoods of the city, through an area of great white mansions and foreign embassies to the Abdoun, or Western quarter, where we settled in a Pizza Hut.

"The last stop of the day was the Cafe Arabesque, a true necessity in sampling the Amman nightlife, where the live singer was singing the same song the video to which is now playing in the Internet Cafe I'm at while people (who have the money) from both Amman and the rest of the world pass the evening enjoying the music, smoking shisha, dancing, and talking. The girls in our group, freed from the leering attentions of the 'Street Dogs' (see last e-mail), had 'let their hair down' a bit and through their efforts the rest of us were slowly drug from our table off to the side, to participate in the activities of the evening as people formed what seems to be the regional version of a conga (sp?) line including us crazy Americans, the red-yashmaghed and hijabed and Western-dressed Arabs, some people of African descent from somewhere in the world, all making swift, small motions to and fro to the beat of the singer's band, the feel of the traffic outside, the jostling pedestrians on the street, and the people conducting both business and pleasure well into the night across all the many hills of this tossed-up city called Amman, where people meet in the middle of the silent desert."

In light of current events, I might also mention this:

"Iraqi refugees seem to stand out in Jordan, perhaps because the Palestinians have been here for so long. In Amman, we also stumbled along a side street into an Iraqi restaurant (not the one everyone in Amman apparently knows) where our presence seemed to catch them a bit off guard, but where people started shaking our hands as we were leaving. Our waiter there worked at a hotel in Baghdad before sanctions nixed Iraqi tourism. You can still get a good meal of roast lamb and stuff for about $1.10. All kinds of people live in Amman; one person in our group has friends there whom he visits every weekend. They study with a Sufi shaykh; whenever the shaykh wants to teach them something, they go learn it, and the rest of their time they spend trying to start a publishing house and bookshop."

Still no pictures, but I'm getting tired of waiting for SIT, and am looking at other options. But I can still link to this picture of Georgia.

More on Sadr Negotiations

RFE-RL has a report that seems to confirm yesterday's post about negotiations between the CPA/IGC and Muqtada Sadr. The Shi'ite Islamic al-Da'wa party, which is represented on the IGC, says on its web site (not reading it myself) that it reached a deal with representatives of Sadr to end the fighting in exchange for the charges against Sadr being dropped until the handover to an Iraqi government. Bremer, however, rejected this deal and demanded that Sadr turn himself in. This is probably context for the statement translated by Juan Cole in which he calls for an end to fighting. The text of this statement also provides evidence for my growing belief that Sadr is not in control of the entire uprising.

Dostum's Wars

For the past three days, fighting has raged in northern Afghanistan between forces of Abd ar-Rashid Dostum and those loyal to Afghan Trasnitional Chairman Hamid Karzai. It is unclear what precise incident started it, but the whole situation appears to be an instance of Karzai trying to extend his control outside Kabul in preparation for the elections planned this September.

Sadriyun Uprising, Day 6

The U.S. has retaken Kut. We have also called a halt to offensive operations in Falluja in order to negotiate with local shaykhs. Muqtada Sadr also condemned the kidnapping and threats against the three Japanese hostages, and a spokesperson said they prayed for their safe return. However, some insurgents near Baghdad have now taken Italian and American hostages.

UPDATE: Oxblog indicates accounts about the nature and duration of the Falluja cease-fire differ.

UPDATE: There is confusion as to whether the two Arabs kidnapped yesterday were Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, but in any case, Yasser Arafat is trying to get them released.

UPDATE: Abu Aardvark has a report that the U.S. is demanding that al-Jazeera correspondents leave Falluja prior to any negotiations.

Then Again...

Observers generally expected to see a run-off in Algeria, but incumbent Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika appears to have won outright. His opponents are crying fraud. Apparently hopes for a new day in Algeria were overblown. Still, the open climate has laid the seeds for future democratic development.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Harry Potter Chess Game

This Pejman Yousefzadeh post caused me to do a google search which led to finding this theory that the plot of the Harry Potter series is foretold by the chess game at the end of Sorcerer's Stone. I can see where it's coming from, but more than anything else it reminds me of claims for Nostradamus: It's all vague enough that it could probably mean just about anything that involves death and sacrifice. And is Ron really the one directing things? I also don't see a pawn taken in the book.


This is a general announcement that I hate endnotes. When I want to check something, I'd much rather just glance down at the bottom of the page than hold my place while I hunt for the end of the chapter.


In addition to the Japanese and South Korean hostages being held by the Mujahideen Brigades, two Israeli Arabs have been kidnapped by a group calling itself the Ansar ad-Din. The Israeli government has vowed to get them back using diplomatic means. I'm not sure what they mean, though, as I doubt Israel has a lot of influence with groups fighting against the coalition in Iraq.

Negotiations with Sadr

Al-Jazeera is reporting that the IGC is negotiating with Sadr in an attempt to end the uprising in Iraq. Trying to learn more with Google news leads to this DEBKAfile report that Shi'ite factions within the IGC are leading the negotiations, and are in constant conact with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Iranian clerics are also in contact with Sadr trying to persuade him to end the uprising.

UPDATE: I want to clarify in the above that the Iranian clerics involved in negotiations are not the same ones who run the country. In fact, from the DEBKA report:

"US intelligence has evidence that the hands behind the Shiite uprising belong to Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah, operating through the veteran Lebanese arch terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. They advise the 31-year old Shiite rebel to look over his shoulder, because he will then discover that he was tossed onto the Iraqi warfront to fight alone without the promised support structure for himself and his Mehdi Army militia."

I should also mention that this is my first experience with DEBKA, but it looks fairly reliable.

UPDATE: A reader e-mails to suggest that certain people might have a political agenda for laying the blame for the uprising on Iran. This is a valid point, and worth keeping in mind. What should be clear to everyone is that plenty of Iraqis are participating.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Sadriyun Uprising, Day 4

Things in Iraq are getting worse. The headline is the attack on a Falluja mosque in response to enemy fire, but buried in the article you learn that Sadr's forces have driven the coalition out of Kut and that fighting has broken out in the ethnically diverse northern city of Kirkuk. I have seen no information on who the coalition was fighting in the north, which would be an important piece of information. There is, however, a Shi'ite minority in that region, as well as Sunni Arabs who were moved in as part of Saddam's Arabization program and fear losses if the Kurds come to exercise control.

UPDATE: For more on Kirkuk, see Matthew Yglesias on the Kurds' "Kirkuk is our Jerusalem."

UPDATE: According to the New York Times, the violence near Kirkuk came when the U.S. fired on demonstrators protesting our attacks in Falluja. We have also lost control of Kufa, while the Bulgarians are asking for reinforcements in Karbala.

Afghanistan's Importance

The blogger formerly known as Calpundit raises the Afghanistan issue, with the clear implication that Afghanistan is the true "War on Terror" with Iraq as a sideshow. For the record, I think that cat's out of the bag. Regular readers know that for months now we've seen evidence that al-Qaeda has used the lull in our attention to spread its tendrils into different parts of the world, uniting regional groups from Algeria to Turkey behind a common al-Qaeda inspired agenda with Bin Laden's organization as a dispersed central nexus. I don't think Afghanistan is a vital core of this, despite the presence there of top leadership. Afghanistan and Iraq are now both fronts in the War on Terror, as are a lot of other places.

Arafat and Hamas

It appears certain that Hamas will soon become part of a unified Palestinian leadership. This is probably Arafat's manuevering to hold onto power after Israel pulls out of Gaza, leaving the field there to Hamas. The end result could be a Palestinian leadership made more radical by the inclusion of fundamentalist rejectionist factions, but also more powerful within the territories and able to control violence. I'm uncomfortable with terrorists rising in the world, but remember that Menachem Begin of the Irgun Zvai Leumi became an Israeli Prime Minister. Developing...

Plural of "al-Qaeda"

David Asednik has an amusing point I've never thought of before.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Coming Problems

For some time, I've been meaning to check out Iraq'd, the blog for liberal hawks who got burned. Today they had a good post explaining the implications of an ominous development from recent days, the tacit support given to Sadr by the coalition-trained Iraqi police:

"Among the most important is that the U.S.-trained police force opted, generally speaking, not to challenge the rioters. This is a prologue to what Iraq will look like on June 30: numerous militias--Sadr's is called the Jaish Al Mehdi, or Mehdi's Army--of varying strength and agendas challenging each other or local Iraqi authorities for control of certain pieces of the country. The police, if today's chaos is any indication, won't stand in their way."

As I said below, thinking of this "The Shi'ite Uprising" is (so far) off the mark. It is at the moment only an uprising led by a Shi'ite faction which has now joined forces with the Sunnis who benefitted from Ba'ath rule. However, even if it is crushed - and I suspect it will be, albeit after much heavy fighting - it will be plain to everyone that Iraqis as a whole tolerate the occupation as better than the alternatives rather than endorse it as the means to a prosperous future. In short, that it is the Iraqis, particularly those who are well-armed and organized, who rule Iraq. Containing the tensions of Iraqi society will require a very careful development of the political system. There are ways to get it right, but there are also many ways to get it wrong. We cannot afford the consequences of the latter, which could include a truly mass uprising against the coalition followed by a descent into civil war among the armed factions.

Sadriyun Uprising, Day 3

CFRA claims that Muqtada Sadr's forces have taken control of Najaf. Josh Marshall has a report from a correspondent there. The good news? The Christian Science Monitor reports that most Shi'ites seem inclined to sit things out, rather than side with Sadr. That doesn't mean this isn't a huge crisis for the occupation, but it does mean that talk of "the Shi'ite uprising" needs to be more narrowly focused.

UPDATE: According to Daily Kos, the Sunni Arab insurgents in Falluja and Ramadi have pledged allegiance to militant Shi'ite leader Muqtada Sadr. This shows the power of Iraqi nationalism, a game being played by all sides. When Sadr went after Sistani last April, it was explained in part by Sistani's Iranian heritage.

More Algeria

Middle East Online has a more skeptical take on tomorrow's election in Algeria, with opposition candidates expressing some doubt that the Bouteflika government will play fair at the polls. Meanwhile, some Berbers want to boycott the election, though others say they plan to cast protest votes in favor of Said Sadi, a candidate who supports Berber causes.

Middle East Tourism

The New York Times reports that tourism increased sharply in the Middle East in 2003, mainly as a result of Arabs vacationing in other Arab countries. The article focused on Syria, which is underrated as a tourist destination. The article as a whole seemed a bit superficial, however.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Algerian Democracy

This Wednesday, Algeria will hold Presidential elections. According to the coverage, they are shaping up to actually be free and fair elections, monitored by international observers. According to the BBC, the U.S. has played a positive role:

"The intervention of the US administration into what some might call the internal affairs of Algeria has been welcomed by some political parties and personalities who say that 'the threatening eye of Washington' may have a positive influence on the fairness of the elections."

The best news is that the military is remaining neutral. Algeria had elections in 1991, but the military took power following victories by the Islamic Salvation Front. So I'm cautiously optimistic that this will work, and that Algeria will soon become the first Arab country with a democratically selected government.

UPDATE: Drapetomaniac in comments points toward Lebanon and Yemen as other examples of democracy. I'm not sure I'm willing to credit Yemen, but the case can definitely be made for Lebanon, especially before the civil war. My mistake.

Iraqis' Bind

Matthew Yglesias brings up conservative attacks on Iraqis for their insufficient loyalty to the occupation. I find their short-sightedness breathtaking. Pretty much everyone I know from the developing world finds American rhetoric about freedom and democracy cheap talk. The United States has helped build democracies, such as Japan after World War II, as we have made such crucial humanitarian interventions as stopping the genocide in Kosovo in 1999. However, all too frequently we opt to support a friendly dictator, such as the Shah of Iran (restored after the CIA helped depose Mossadeq), Pinochet (whom the U.S. helped bring to power), and, of course, Saddam Hussein, whom we notably failed to support insurrection against in 1991.

These occasions are usually defended as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. The Cold War, according to this line of thought, was a war of freedom against totalitarianism, and if NATO did not have secure allies in the resource-rich developing world, the Soviet Union would gain in influence and threaten to dominate the globe. Implicit in this is the presumption that democracy in France is more important than democracy in Chile. But that double standard aside, the justification of these actions remained the idea that some must suffer that others might live free.

Now, conservatives have decided that we shall promote democracy in the Arab world. This is a goal I strongly support, as do most Americans. However, one does not simply waltz into the neighborhood and expect these promises to be taken at face value, especially when we're associated with such questionable fellows as Ahmed Chalabi. The Iraqis understand that the United States is a nation-state acting in its own self-interest. And the question on Iraqis' minds has to be one of trust. If they take a strong stand now, are they risking their lives for freedom and democracy, or an American puppet regime?

Fred Barnes may be a very idealistic fellow who wants only the best for everyone. But Iraqis are used to living in a world of realpolitik in which they are mere chess pieces in a global oil game. And it will take more than a few speeches to convince them otherwise.

Moroccan Terrorism

Investigations into Moroccan terrorism suggest it is concentrated in Tangier and the Rif. Literary types will recognize this as the setting for Muhammad Choukri's For Bread Alone, which portrayed the area as one of petty crime and moral decadence. Tangier, just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, has long been a port of entry to North Africa, in in less than two months will become mine, as well. This article suggests that the region remains isolated from the central government because of various political conflicts during the reign of the late King Hassan II, and that the current government has had only limited success in bring it into the fold.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Quiz for Nerds

Nicholas Kristof
You are Nicholas D. Kristof! You enjoy travelling, going as far as China, Africa, Alaska, and Central America for a good story. You use a lot of quotes and references in your stories. You tackle tough issues like AIDS and religion, which makes you controversial among Christians. You're a good man, Nicholas D. Kristof.

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Via Kevin Yaroch.


Upon reading this, I uttered an expletive. Those who know me in person will know I don't slip into profanity often.

Sadr's Threat

Muqtada Sadr's rhetoric is getting more disturbing:

"In his sermon Friday in Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf, Sadr also told followers to fight 'the occupiers.' He urged them to 'strike them where you meet them,' and said he hoped the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas would accept him as 'their striking arm in Iraq,' The Washington Post and Newsday reported yesterday. Hussein said Sadr was expressing solidarity with those groups, rather than declaring plans to adopt the tactic of suicide bombings, which Hamas has used to kill hundreds of Israelis. But Hussein said such a tactic was not inconceivable in the future."

If Shi'ite radicalism takes this direction, we might see the worst-case scenario in Iraq, especially when they come up against the former Ba'ath loyalists in places like Falluja.

I'm getting depressed about this whole situation.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

MLB Predictions II

AL Central - Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit

It is difficult to defend this pick logically, but it's what I think will happen. Brian Anderson seems to be on the Woody Williams path of coming to life after a trade, and the KC bullpen is much improved over last year. Minnesota won't be hurting as much as people think, unless the bullpen there turns into a complete disaster. I don't trust Chicago's pitching staff, but they will stay in the pennant chase all year. Cleveland is a more interesting team than people think, but Detroit will just be starting the long slog back to respectability.

NL Central - Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee

Houston added Clemens and Pettitte to a rotation that wasn't far off the pace last year. I also have concerns about Prior's health left over from his noticeable decline last September, and the fact he's missing April only heightens them. The Cubs, however, remain my favorite NL team. St. Louis needs some pitchers to step up before they can join the party. The Reds are the team most likely to surprise this year. Pittsburgh is mainly trying to field trade bait, while Milwaukee will struggle on both sides of the ball.

NL West - San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado

This division will come down to who can get the most out of their talent, and for that I've learned to trust San Francisco. Arizona will try to win with offense and a patch-together rotation behind Johnson and Webb, though their bullpen looks sharp. San Diego is climbing through the ranks, but won't win until next year. Los Angeles will miss Kevin Brown more they realize, as their anemic offense leaves no margin for error. I just don't like the Rockies this year.

Palestinian Unity

Yasser Arafat's National Security Advisor Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan, who is powerful in the Gaza Strip, have reached an agreement on their respective spheres of influence. Arafat's opposition to Dahlan was a major issue before and during Mahmud Abbas's time as Prime Minister, as Arafat felt that the U.S. and Israel were grooming Dahlan as his replacement and that Dahlan's belief that all armed factions should be under a common command threatened his (Arafat's) power. This development comes at the same time that Hamas and other militant groups are participating in talks aimed a creating a united Palestinian leadership in Gaza in preparation for an Israeli pull-out. It is unclear to me whether Dahlan - who does not have a formal faction that I know of - is involved with these or not, but he remains a key part of the Gaza political equation. In an interview today, Dahlan called for the election of a new united Palestinian leadership, and idea also floated by Palestinian intellectual Khalil Shikaki.


How secure is Iraq? Well, the Army of the Mahdi apparently razed the village of Kawlia. This came after pimps from the village allegedly kidnapped a 12-year-old girl. Financial Times gives details.

Friday, April 02, 2004


Al-Jazeera has an article about Uzbekistan appealing to people through mosques for helping in finding terrorists. The word used in the article was "kamikaze." On March 1, Dale Eickelman, once of the leading lights of the anthropology of the Middle East, said in a campus lecture that Arab news outlets were starting to use the Japanese term "kamikaze" to avoid the implications of calling suicide bombers either "martyr" or "terrorist." What might be the comparable Arabic story is here, and while a key word is giving me fits to figure out, it contains the description "suicide operations" (al-'amaliyat al-intihariyya), with the "suicide" in quotation marks. So I guess what I'm curious about is what the Uzbek government is saying here, and why al-Jazeera puts "kamikaze" and "suicide" in quotes but not "human bombers" further down the English article. This might amount to just word games, but on the other hand, it might have conceptual significance and bear watching. (Or maybe this happens all the time...I haven't been a regular reader of Arabic media for almost a year, and then it was just 1-2 articles a day.)

UPDATE: Looking at the paragraph again, it might be talking about traditional religious leaders, not government-appointed ones. I'm honestly not used to reading about Central Asia in Arabic, so I don't know if that's just the terminology used for the government ones, or what. I'm not going to puzzle over the whole article in detail, though. The issue of the different terms used to refer to the terrorists remains open.

UPDATE: My first impression was right - the Arabic and English are covering the same ground. The word that confused me was the plural of "imam." Arabic has irregular plurals, and in this case the singular wasn't self-evident. Please disregard the note above, as the word I was trying to cram into the concept of "tradition" actually involves "support."


The new RFE-RL Weekly Iraq Report has some troubling news about an-Nasiriyyah:

"The Iraqi National Congress newspaper 'Al-Mu'tamar' reported on 28 March that the citizens of Al-Nasiriyah are being terrorized by armed groups in the city that threaten, detain, blackmail, and instill a general sense of panic over the population. Conflicts among the many political and religious factions and organizations are the main cause of the violence, the daily reported. The report said religious groups are looting and pillaging in order to finance their offices. One resident interviewed said a little-known group calling itself the 'Citizen Security Force' has been formed and is imposing its own order."

The coalition doesn't have the troops to keep order in the entire country, which means power is falling to whomever is armed and willing to take it. One guesses none of these groups is planning to pledge loyalty to the IGC this summer.

Fighting a Googlebomb...

On the word Jew.

Via Kevin Yaroch.

More from the Jordan of 2001...

I would really like to post pictures here, but haven't gotten my account from SIT yet. Until then, here's another slice of Jordan, slightly edited to protect identities...

"A short ride away from Irbid you find a small town called An-Ni'ma, home of *name deleted* who invited the other Wisconsin student and me over to dinner a couple of weeks ago. He lives next to his mother and paternal uncle, the latter of whom is irritating the former with his plans to marry a third wife, though he defends himself by pointing out that he's technically entitled to four. (Though I don't think polygamy is that common right now in Jordan.) The mother, a woman who appears to be approaching 70 mainly because of her weathered old face and missing teeth, was worried because the youngest of her eighteen children is getting ready to go study medicine in the United States, and while our host obviously made it through, she is quite a bit worried in this day when you hear such terrible things on the news about school shootings and the like, and just prays to God that everything will work out. She definitely liked us, apparently crediting the entire city of Madison with giving her son a degree. The paternal uncle's major curiosity was a bit more amusing; he had apparently heard that in the U.S. sibling marriage is quite common, a notion of which we readily disabused him. We also met two the the professor's sons, both engineering students, or "Technos," from the Jordan Institute of Science and Technology which made a previous appearance as YU's aborted engineering program and the campus to which is visible from the house we we visiting.

"Small towns like An-Ni'ma dot the Jordanian countryside. After our rather invigorating run-in with the police in Madaba, we wound up riding with a farmer named Issa. He has a brother in Ohio he hasn't seen in twelve years because of the problems involved in getting a visa. The United States is a hard country to enter simply because we're so paranoid that people will stay and use social services. Hence, before you get a visa, you must prove you can leave, as well as demonstrate such things as comprehensive health insurance. As you might imagine, this closes the country off to a lot of potential students whose families might sell their lands just to get one son an education, only to dump them into a poor job market where people who have a degree in computer science from Boston University now drive taxis in Irbid.

"Despite these economic problems, Jordanian hospitality continues unabated. Issa stopped on his farm to give us tea in the middle of his crops, and later at his house in a small town for juice and coffee. He also gave us a tour of his farm, of which I unfortunately don't remember much. His major crop is dates, and the small date trees are planted in neat rows next to the pasture where some Iraqi refugees in his employ herd goats and sheep. Jordan is in the middle of a bad two-year drought, which is why food costs are up this year. I can also say I've now had dates straight off the farm from both Jordan and Oman, and I still give the edge to Oman even though they had to go on an airplane ride first.

"We also wound up having tea with a guy who runs a rest house by the Dead Sea and who knew
*name deleted*. He studies law at the University of Jordan. Professional schools are hard to get into here; just to apply to medical school you need to be in the 96th percentile on a standardized test, with the exception of the children of professors who need only rank in the 85th percentile. This guy, Issa, and the hotel seemed to have a semi-legal thing going with getting tourists to the Dead Sea more cheaply than the regular taxis, etc., but hey - it's all good."