Saturday, July 31, 2004

Bombings in Tashkent

A group ed with al-Qaeda has taken responsibility for the attacks on the American and Israeli embassies in Tashkent. I don't have any comment on the ongoing investigation into what happened, nor do I think there is a connection between this and our decision to suspend $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan. However, I do think that if this had happened right after the Republican convention, some individuals would argue that the terrorists were trying to distract attention from Bush so as to help throw the election to Kerry.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The "Stable Iraq" Thing

What Matthew Yglesias said. One thing people upset about this should keep in mind is that we now have an election between John Kerry and George Bush. Talking about the right goal is nice, but worse than useless unless you can actually achieve anything. And, given the fact that the Bush administration has completely bungled post-war Iraq so far, do those disappointed in Kerry's "stable" rhetoric want risk what things could look like if Bush does his version of staying the course for the next four years? Kerry, on the other hand, could manage it back into stability, and then if they want they can elect somone else to take it from there. When a situation is this bad, you need to take what you can get. Stability is a prerequisite of democracy, not its opposite. And how long was it before Germany and Japan became democracies after World War II?

Palestinians in Hebron

World Press Review has a profile of Palestinian life in Hebron's Old City, where there is a small yet well-fortified Jewish settler population. The whole article is worth reading.

John Kerry and Teachers

One issue I care a lot about is education. As an aspiring college professor, I consider myself a currently cocoon-stage professional in the field, and believe that the situation in high schools matters to higher education both in terms of the quality of students they produce and because policies adopted there are likely to impact the range of policies open within higher education. That is why John Kerry's call for an end to teacher tenure concerned me - while I admit some sort of reform is needed, I see tenure as crucial to the preservation of academic freedom, and believe that an end to high school teacher tenure will weaken the case for maintaining it at the college level.

This Washington Monthly article, however, puts Kerry's K-12 education plan in an interesting light. The key to his ideas is partnership between the teachers' unions and administrations, with the theory that this will produce results acceptable to both, though that will likely depend on the personalities and political situation of individual school districts. What intrigued me, however, was the types of systems the article foresaw spreading:

"Denver's plan, sponsored jointly by the school board and the local teachers union, called for teachers to develop achievement objectives for their students, and raised the pay of those instructors whose students met them. After a pilot program proved successful in hiking test scores, teachers easily approved a new policy that will offer monetary rewards both for achievement and for those who teach in schools or subjects where skills are scarce. The plan, drawing upon the revenues from a new local tax, has raised the maximum teacher pay from $60,000 to $100,000."

This idea is in the merit pay column, but has implications beyond it. One problem with many education reform programs, like programs against unionized work forces in general, is that they portray administrators and managers into as all-wise, all-knowing benevolent beings who would, saved from having to actually work with those under them, easily build a better society. This program says that teachers themselves are the ones to reform education and creates a system of evaluation that surpasses both student evaluations and standardized tests. And, if a teacher is terrible and chronically fails to meet the goals they themselves set then it should be easier to get rid of them just like a teacher can be safe by always meeting their goals regardless of whether their students like them.

Such a proposal, if it works, should result in better students showing up in college classrooms. Not only that, it can affect the way society perceives educational institutions as working, so that when college administrators toy with eliminating tenure to achieve their own goals, there will be another model at hand in which this basic guarantee of academic freedom remains intact, and they will be less able to use the tenure system to define "the problem." And think, too, how might such ideas affect the tenure review process or the situation for adjuncts? In the latter case, I guess administrations could always decide to "go in a different direction" or some such thing, but what if the key component of getting tenure at the college level became your ability to achieve definable goals you agreed to on being hired? Having never been around a tenure review process where the result was not clear-cut, I don't know how this might play out, but it is, at the very least, interesting.

Iraq Developments

Yesterday, President Bush officially ended 14 years of sanctions on Iraq. Another growing story, however, is the proposal for a Muslim force to assist in keeping order in the country. This is not as easy as it sounds, as many Muslim nations have small armies, especially once you take out Syria, Iran, and Turkey on the grounds they border Iraq. The main contributors would probably be Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt, and Pakistan at least is already occupied with the war against al-Qaeda along their border with Afghanistan. So I have reservations about whether this can generate troop levels that will make a significant difference to Americans. Juan Cole also mentions this plan, indicating that it will probably require the Bush administration to compromise and allow for UN organization of the effort. The good news there is that they might actually try given the importance of seeming to make progress in Iraq before the election.

UPDATE: Muqtada Sadr opposes the possibility of a Muslim force aiding the occupation.

John Kerry

This guy might be a decent Presidential candidate after all.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

MSF Leaves Afghanistan

Doctors Without Borders, my favorite charity, is shutting down its programs in Afghanistan in response to killings of its personnel. This organization has been in Afghanistan for 24 years, which means they handled the Soviet invasion, and the civil war which brought the Taliban to power. Not only that, but the attacks on their volunteers took place in the northwest, not in the south, which has the reputation for the most security problems. This is very troubling sign and a depressing if understandable development.

Syrian Buffalo Herds

While continuing to read al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-Buldan, I ran across a tradition that in the early 8th century, Syria developed a lion problem, so the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I sent 4000 buffalo to the area to drive them away.

Buffalo? Clearly, I thought, the meaning of this Arabic word has changed with time. However, from Encyclopedia Britannica, I learned that there were in fact buffalo in Southeast Asia and the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa. The tradition in the text went on to state that the Muslims gained thousands of buffalo from the conquest of Sind, and that those who were not sent to Syria were left in some place called Kaskar. Furthermore, during the reign of Yazid II, another 4000 buffalo were confiscated from the Bani al-Muhallab and sent to join the others in Syria, along with a bunch of South Asians. They were there at least until the Abbasid period.

So I guess thousands of buffalo used to roam Syria. Who knew?

Hazaras Prosper

If this Pak Tribune article is any indication, things are good right now for Afghanistan's Hazara population. The Hazaras, who claim to be descended from the Mongols, are Isma'ili Shi'ites who have long been persecuted by the country's Sunni majority, and during the 1980's supported the Soviets because they believed the mujahideen would be worse. Now, they are building their community and hoping to participate in a democratic process in the near future.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Let Me Explain...

I've often wondered how Muslims feel when they see me posting on something they take for granted about Islam like it's some strange foreign concept that requires explication. After reading this as someone who was raised Baptist, perhaps I have some idea. It can be amusing.


More potential problems in Iraq: IWPR reports that we may start to see more signs of insurrection in Ramadi, the residents of which are drawing inspiration from what happened in Falluja. One problem our occupation in Iraq had is that we quite literally lost some high-profile confrontations, both in Falluja and in our attempts to arrest Muqtada Sadr. Unlike some, however, I don't see that we had much alternative. Juan Cole has often commented on how tribal ties affect the size of the insurrection in these cities - attacking them often just means we make enemies of everyone's cousin. If I might make a slightly unnatural connection, Amanda Butler has a story which shows these sorts of kinship ties in action, albeit in a completely different situation. (Scroll to the last episode.)

President Bush and his administration have turned to force where skill was called for, and refused to address issues of legitimacy that underlie a lot of this whole mess. Of course, the most anti-Western types - such as Zarqawi and Co. - will fight us no matter what, and there we have nothing to do but respond in kind. However, there's also a lot of resistance that wouldn't be there if, say, we had gone in under international auspices and allowed for more real democracy, at least at the local level.

Battle for Kirkuk

At this point, that title remains metaphorical, but this article paints a troubling portrait of the controversy of Kirkuk, as Kurds seek to undo Ba'athist ethnic cleansing in the oil-rich city so as to improve their chances of having it as their capital. Regular readers will remember that there are lots of unhappy people floating around in refugee camps, and little political structure to contain the conflict. One thing I didn't know before was that the Kurdish leadership is using the rationing system to force Kurds to move to the city. Like so many issues in Iraq today, this has the potential to be explosive.

Barack Obama

My native state has a new star in Barack Obama, whom I saw for the first time last night. Links to the text and video of his speech last night are posted to Dean Nation, where I seem to be minding the store during the convention. (My posts there, however, aren't terribly momentous.)

UPDATE: Some have anointed Barack Obama first-Black-President-in-waiting. He might be Presidential material, but as this Daniel Drezner post reminds me, there's also a guy named Harold Ford, Jr. floating around. Ford might be too moderate for many Democrats, but don't rule him out as someone's 2012 VP pick, with his own shot at a 2016 or 2020 nomination.


Kristin Smith is wondering what makes a work a classic. I don't think there's any single answer to this question. The best you can do is probably something general, like a work which large numbers of people have found worth reading over a period of time. The reasons why they might read it, however, can vary. That's why I disagree with her dismissal of, say, Stephen King's chances of being remembered. A work can become a classic simply because it's well-written, regardless of it's intellectual value. After all, has The Three Musketeers really changed anyone's life? What about Around the World in Eighty Days? As long as readers can relate to the world in which a great story is set, it has a chance to be remembered.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Tax Refunds

In another tradition from Futuh al-Buldan, when the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius invaded Syria before the Battle of Yarmouk, the Muslims returned the taxes they had taken from the people of Homs on the grounds they couldn't defend them.

Maybe that explains Bush's tax policies...

The Name of Mecca

While doing dissertation research, I ran across a tradition in al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-Buldan that Mecca was originally called Salah. I googled a bit on-line to see if this was in the mainstream Islamic tradition anywhere, but it doesn't look like it. I'm a bit skeptical of a claim that Pre-Islamic Arabs called a city "Condition of Righteousness," anyway. In my googling, however, I did learn that Saudi Arabia has changed the official Latin spelling to Makkah so as to avoid sacriligious usages of the word "mecca" in English.

Sayyid Qutb on the United States

Over at Ideofact, Bill Allison's been doing a lot of excellent blogging as he reads through the works of Sayyid Qutb. Those of you interested in the ideology of this crucual Islamist thinker will want to check it out. Today's entry is a bit lighter than most: Qutb's impressions of the United States based on his travels here in the 1940's.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Afghanistan Election Update

RFE-RL reports that Education Minister Yunus Qanuni, another former Northern Alliance commander, has decided to run for President of Afghanistan. I'm not familiar with him, but he may have the backing of Defense Minister Muhammad Fahim, which could be significant. An additional point, however: This article protrays Karzai as having three major rivals - Qanuni, Dostum, and a poet named Latif Pedram. The latter two are basing their candidacies on allegations that Karzai is slighting non-Pashtuns who live in northern Afghanistan. Because of the ethnic make-up of the Northern Alliance, I'd guess Qanuni would draw on some of the same issues, though he's talking more about violations of the constitution. This means that Karzai remains more or less unchallenges among the country's most important ethnic group. If this does become an election you can analyze in conventional political terms rather than who has a bigger militia and can dispense more patronage, then Karzai still seems safe.

Al-Jazeera and the Democrats

Via the extremely useful DNC 2004 Weblogs News Aggregator, I find this post about the convention officials removed the al-Jazeera banner from that networks broadcast booth, which they replaced with one that said "Strong for America."

Syrian Publishing

The weakness of the Arab publishing industry is often used as a sign of intellectual weakness in the Arab world as a whole. Given the historical importance of learning an education in Islamic culture, however, I haven't been able to figure out the reasons behind the figures. Midhat Abrahram, however, has an essay on the state of the Syrian book trade which puts the current situation in context. During the 20th century, the infrastructure hasn't been there in terms of paper production or printing presses to publish large numbers of books cheaply. This links up with the economic conditions, where people can't afford to buy books, thus - and here I extrapolate - there exists a vicious cycle where the high cost of books keeps demand down, which in turn means there's little economic incentive to develop a better infrastructure in the industry that would help bring costs down. This suggests that the problem with the spread of ideas in the Arab world needs to have an economic as well as ideological and/or political solution.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Muqtada Sadr's Sermon

Muqtada Sadr is back on the minbar, predictably comdemning the U.S. and our allies. I found this part pretty weird, though:

"The Shia leader also criticised Allawi for the unbanning of the Hawza newspaper, a pro-al-Sadr publication, after former occupation administrator Paul Bremer closed it down.

"'Allawi, I tell you, what right do you have to order the reopening of the Hawza paper, if you were not the one to shut it down in the first place," al-Sadr said.'

Sadr has, however, taken a stand against the string of hostage beheadings:

"He also condemned the beheading of foreign workers. Al-Sadr said the captors of the South Korean worker were not justified in beheading him.

"Kim Sun-Il was killed in June after Seoul refused his captors' demands to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

"If you knew politics and religion, you would not have cut off his head," said al-Sadr.

"'There is no religion or religious law that punishes by beheading. True, they are your enemies and occupiers, but this does not justify cutting off their heads,' al-Sadr said."

It's worth mentioning that even during his revolt, Sadr bothered to condemn the group who threatened to burn three Japanese hostages alive. And this says something about the man and his appeal: He is very sincere about what he calls for, and there's a lot more to his agenda than just anti-Western fervor.

The Dostum Campaign

Northern Uzbek warlord Abd ar-Rashid Dostum has decided to run for President of Afghanistan, playing his traditional ethnic politics card to garner support from non-Pashtun groups. Dostum's accusations against Karzai are a bit deceptive: Karzai is more reluctant to pursue disarmament in the south because that is where the Taliban remains active. Also, it is the non-Pashtun warlords who hold much of the power because they were the cornerstone of the old Northern Alliance which has since evolved into the Afghan government. In any case, this move is all about Dostum's quest for power rather than any higher agenda - he's playing the same game as Ismail Khan in Herat with just a different strategy.

Opinion Changes

Matthew Yglesias reports young people have had one of the greatest swings in opinion against the Iraq war of any demographic group. As a member of this demographic who has gone from being pro-war to anti-war, I think Matt has it about right. In 1999, I had reservations about the Kosovo intervention because I believed it was likely to lead to a quagmire and that the Clinton administration had, by insisting on certain provisions in the Rambouillet Accords, sabotaged diplomacy that otherwise might have contained what was a very bad situation. As things developed, I came to see that I was wrong, and even that playing diplomatic hardball to force a conflict might be necessary when the odds were something worse could follow. When the Iraq war came along, I remembered this debate, and decided to support the war as long as it didn't interfere with the broader "War on Terror" and we had some sort of reasonable plan for the aftermath. As I've said before, I screwed up on all counts. Hopefully that means I'm now older and wiser.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Black Banners

Juan Cole mentions that the group which kidnapped the truck drivers in Iraq is called the "Black Banners," and goes on to use the Abbasid Revolution to explain how this is not necessarily Shi'ite symbolism. I won't dispute any claims he makes about how the symbol is understood today, and hence the implications he draws in current events. However, it should be mentioned that the Abbasid Revolution was largely a proto-Shi'ite movement.

The basic story is this: The Umayyad dynasty was growing unpopular for reasons too complicated to go into. Many people had long felt that the best person to rule the community would be a member of the Prophet's clan, especially one descended from Ali and Fatima, and there had been rebellions of these "Shi'ite" groups. (I place Shi'ite in quotation marks because they hadn't reached the point of development we normally associate with the religious sect.) When the Abbasids began spreading their revolutionary propaganda, they did so in the name of a member of the Prophet's clan who remained unnamed, but whom people generally assumed would be an Alid.

When in fact it turned out to be a descendant of the Prophet's uncle Abbas, it was a bit surprising, kind of like if George Bush had in 2000 hinted at appointing an African-American Secretary of State hoping people would think of Colin Powell, but then nominated Alan Keyes instead. Thus, although they were a Sunni dynasty, they had a lot of Shi'ite overtones to their early rule. In fact, an early justification for their rule was the claim that Abd Hashim, a grandson of Ali via Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyya (around whom an important revolt centered), had named the Abbasid heir as his own successor.

Incidentally, this web site gives information on important colors in the Arab world.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

More Keshi

IWPR now has its own report on Keshi, which sounds like its more stable than the shantytown I was wondering about. The article also indicates that Turkmenistan is refusing to acknowledge residents' housing papers because they were issued by the Soviet Union before Turkmenistan became independent. Meanwhile, the country just celebrated Harvest Day, which basically served as yet another occasion to glorify Niyazov.

JFK Airport

One thing I realized on this trip was that I really hate JFK airport, and really wish I'd booked in time to get a flight out of O'Hare. From what I've been reading, though, it looks like figures as diverse as Howard Dean and Martin Kramer (scroll to July 18) had it worse.

Site Counter

OK, that was weird - my Bravenet counter just deleted about 12,000 hits from my total!

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Beni Mellal, Morocco/Ouzoud, Morocco/Fez, Morocco

One of the things which I found disappointing as I travelled through Morocco was my inability to get away from the dreaded "tourist track." Often it seemed enough like the whole country was one big tourist track, in which as any sort of Westerner you would play a defined role as the "walking wallet" to be shaken down by hustlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else with whom you entered into some sort of tourist relationship. And this, of course, breeds lots of stereotyping both ways, as Moroccans see Westerners as rude and a little obtuse while Westerners believe that all Moroccans are untrustworthy people just waiting for a chance to cheat someone. This leads to the creation of some very intense social boundaries in which no matter what you do - even if you live with a host family - your social role will be defined primarily by your nationality and Moroccans not interested in your money will tend to ignore you. This makes forming relationships more difficult than in less touristed places like Irbid and Aleppo.

However, near the very end of my trip, I did finally stumble across a place where I was probably one of the only foreigners some of these people would talk to. I wanted to spend time in the High Atlas, but had to make it back to Fez in time to pick up the suitcase which I had left with my roommate. Thus, I spent two nights called Beni Mellal, which seems to be the Moroccan equivalent of Wichita in that it's an incredibly boring transportation hub nestled partly on the lowest slopes of the northernmost High Atlas a few hours south of Fez.

Like Casablanca, Beni Mellal has experienced rapid growth, but it seems to have handled things better, as no shantytowns were in evidence. The thing I remember most about it is the constant hustle and bustle, as huge crowds moved continually on the sidewalks along the the very modern Muhammad V Street, with its gas stations, banks, and cafes where, unlike in other cities, the men in them tended to play what looked like very intense card games more than watch the news and just talk. There was also a medina, equally busy, and with a selection of goods that did not include the usual tourist fare of Fez, Marrakesh, and elsewhere. Between the two was a huge square where a temporary stage and risers had been set up as if for an outdoor concert of some kind; all that happened when I was there however was a huge throng of people gathering on benches and in the open spaces to eat ice cream and talk eagerly over the day's gossip. Somehow the entire place had a sort of pop music feel to it that had different '80's songs running through my head the entire time I was there.

That is not to say there were no problems - you still saw a large number of people with limps from illnesses or accidents where they could not get the best medical treatment, and here and there you still saw beggars with their hand out for alms. People actually gave them money, too, for in mainstream, non-touristy society generosity and hospitality are more the orders of the day than profit and loss, and giving money to each other is just part of society. This was true even in such spicy places as Casablanca, where one of the beggars whom we ignored outside the cafe entered to have some immediately fork over a few dirhams in a scene that made me wonder whether Westerners look especially greedy for being the richest ones around and keeping it all for ourselves. (This was actually first pointed out to be by one of my friends, and while I dislike posting people's names even for credit purposes, this seems a good time to acknowledge people like my roommate, the German foreign service guy, souther guy, the computer programmer, the girl from New York, the girl who had lived in Kuwait, the Bostonian professor, the Floridian professor, and many others who contributed many insights and observations to my Moroccan experience.)

Being off the tourist track has both advantages and disadvantages. The greatest advantage is that people don't have a set program for dealing with Westerners, and when you ask an old guy in Arabic for directions he's liable to be really surprised by it and filled with friendly curiosity about what this foreigner is doing in Beni Mellal. I also met a couple of people who knew some English, though they said they had trouble understanding my accent as they were used to British English. Fortunately between this and some MSA speakers I was able to get around linguistically, though not always culturally, for in a place like this you realize just how many little things are different between countries that you never think about. When I went to get some ice cream I order a 5-dirham bowl, and when asked what kind said "chocolate" while pointing toward it. She then put in a scoop of chocolate and asked again. I repeated chocolate. She repeated her question. As this continued another person became involved, who eventually said something to her that must have been to just give me all chocolate, because she proceeded to do that. Apparently the idea that someone might want only one kind of ice cream was relatively incomprehensible here, and I realized in just how many ways people in Fez and elsewhere had gotten used to dealing with foreigners.

The drive from Beni Mellal into the mountains was by grand taxi, an aged Mercedes into which they crammed six passengers and a driver making a short hop between cities and small towns in the area. Along the road north of the mountains you see the rich farmland that make this area so prosperous, with fields of olive trees especially noteworthy. Once in the mountains, however, you're in a different sort of country, with winding roads where the driver has to honk all the time to help avoid collisions around the blind turns. The mountains are also important to the Moroccan economy, for it is in them that the rivers which water the land below have their sources before they go crashing from the heights, on the way providing the country with a potent source of hydroelectric power generated in power plants found in the foothills from which wires fan out in all directions. The most important of these is Bin el-Ouidane Dam, guarded by a military outpost on one end and with an armed guard standing halfway across along the road built atop it. This dam also creates a large artificial lake in the mountains

My destination in the mountains was the Cascades d'Ouzoud, Morocco's largest waterfall, where three streams tumble over 300 feet striking as they fall occasional ledges of rock which create new, smaller falls before all the water collects in a pool at the bottom and the river resumes its northward course toward the plains. Here there is perhaps the most expressive mix of touristy and normal cultural elements I found. Going left from the place where I got out of the taxi, you found a path with some carved stairs leading to the bottom of the falls. This was lined with souvenir stall and restaurants, some of which wanted an outrageous $1 for a glass of orange juice. Here there were also a lot of campsites, as backpackers and trekkers had set up shop there for a night or two, exploring the trails which led to either a canyon or a Berber village depending on your fancy.

At the same time, however, there were plenty of signs that to some people this was just home. At one point along the trail I saw four girls perhaps 5-8 years of age wearing headscarves so brightly covered that from a distance I thought they were patch of flowers. This was partly because they were all leaning down over the ledge, where they were attempting using bread to lure a Barbary ape who seemed quite content to hang off his tree in the shade. Along the river further up were two kids of about 13 filling two large plastic water jugs hanging on either side of a donkey. I saw them later, one walking the donkey, the other happily riding it, as they made their way to the village of Ouzoud, which had only one street with a policeman walking up and down it and a chicken hurriedly crossing it.

Off to the right from where I started you were mainly in the locals' territory. Along the streams were several pools where people were swimming or otherwise relaxing. There were some professional guides offering their services, but these were easily brushed off. This was also a place for grazing animals, as I discovered when in my eagerness to see the path ahead of me I became one of an increasingly small percentage of Americans to have almost tripped over a sheep. He (or she) was one of a flock by the side of the road under the custody of two women in later middle age, one of whom looked a lot like my Aunt Joyce.

I've often wondered what shepherds actually did while the sheep were grazing, and in their case it seemed to be a bit of talking and people-watching, as from their vantage point you had a decent view of the path leading to the bottom of the falls and all the cafes and campsites along it. While I was around, one of them decided to take her sheep back to wherever they went. This was apparently hard work, very similar to trying to coordinate a project involving a large number of college faculty. The woman would bang a stick along the side of the road, and the sheep would follow for a ways, but then all the sudden they would stop, and she'd have to stop, too, and start banging it in front of her, rubbing what must have been a sore back as she did so. Then sometimes the sheep would all decide to go off in a different direction, or sometimes one sheep would just decide to stop or wander off on his own; this is where the woman was aided by a small girl of about five who would when necessary beat the sheep from behind with a small tree branch.

Eventually I moved past them, the little girl waved, and the woman smiled and said something to me I didn't understand but which was probably a greeting. Just as with Marrakesh and Essaouira, my time in the mountains was being cut far too short, and only on some future trip would I be able to take in the many fascinating peaks and valleys they had to offer. But I do remember one more encounter I had, I'm pretty sure it was when I had first gotten there. A young man perhaps just under 20 who was walking along spoke to me in English, and asked me questions about where I was from and that sort of thing. Figuring this was the local version of a hustler I started mentally figuring out how to lose him, when he uttered the simple sentence "Welcome to our waterfall" before heading up the path toward the village.

The simplicity of that sentence, so human yet conveying a sense of hospitality too easily buried in all the turmoil of the major tourist centers, stayed with me as I caught a grand taxi back to Ouzoud, and later on the bus back to Fez. There, I spent one last evening saying farewell to my friends (one result of this trip was that I resolved to try to socialize more in Madison, always a tough task in grad school) and made a final jaunt through the medina to pick up a couple of last-minute items for people back home. Then, with my other suitcase in tow, I set out to make the short jaunt from the villa to my hotel, but it took longer than expected as so many people I hadn't realized thought that much about me realized I was leaving and wanted to wish me well, from the photocopy guy at ALIF to the owner of the restaurant where I ate my first and many of my subsequent meals in Fez.

In all this I realized a point I had been missing the past few days. In the broad scheme of things, it may be inevitable that Westerners will look at Moroccans and see only Moroccans, and that Moroccans will look at Westerners and see only Westerners. But it is more than possible for a single Westerner and a single Moroccan to look at each other and see a human being like themselves, part of the same world though from the other side of it, and having the same sorts of basic human feelings, failings, and virtues. Thus, I was in an optimistic mood the next morning when, arriving early at the bus station, I sat in the cafe, ordered an orange juice, and began hacking my way through an annoyingly tough passage of Baladhuri. When it was time to go, I was in for a surprise: The cafe owner refused to take my money, and said that while I was studying another patron had asked to pay my bill before leaving and so I was fine. And so it was that I found myself humming a lively version of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" as I made my way to my bus and toward home.

Rafah Proposal Rejected

Just to update an earlier story, sometime after midnight last night the Madison City Council narrowly voted to reject a proposal to make Madison and Rafah sister cities. This ends a controversy that has brought out the worst in both sides of the American debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the same time, Madison is now apparently enterting a sister city relationship with Cuzco, Peru.

The Tale Of Keshi

Last week I mentioned that calls to depose Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov may have been provoked by home demolitions in a suburb called Keshi. Now, RFE-RL reports on the Keshi issue, where people are being evicted without compensation to make room for new building projects. According to this article, there have been protests in the area. Which is interesting, but I'd guess these people have almost nothing to lose in life if they suddenly become homeless. I wonder what sort of homes these were?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Behind the Gaza Unrest

In the Lebanon Daily Star, Khalil Shikaki himself gives an analysis similar to but more knowledgeable than my own. In particular, he sees this as people trying to position themselves for leadership of the "Young Guard," and represents merely the beginning of such incidents. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post points a finger at Muhammad Dahlan. Despite his reformist tendencies, Dahlan knows how to play in the gang-like arena of Palestinian politics, and these rumors probably have more than a grain of truth to them.

Turkmenistan Plague

OK, first of all, am I to understand that Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has banned diagnosing patients with infectious disease? That aside, reports say the country may be facing a plague epidemic, and Uzbekistan has already implemented health controls at border crossings. If these reports are accurate - and I've been burned believing such things from Central Asia in the past - the country could be facing a major crisis, as the government has replaced many trained medical personnel with military conscripts.

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm's weekly round-up, among other interesting and important things, mentions that Russia has also taken some steps.

Reasons for Pessimism

I wish I could get optimistic about Afghanistan, but it's really hard. Here two girls' schools have been forced to close after students were threatened and teachers attacked with rockets. Meanwhile, IWPR reports on how Afghans see the forthcoming elections as a ratification of Karzai much like those held in Egypt that re-elect Mubarak every few years. From the article, it sounds like other candidates will have trouble even getting on the ballot - $1000 is a lot of money for that part of the world.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Career Advising

Over at Cliopatra, Hugo Schwyzer writes about the consequences of advising students to pursue a liberal arts degree. I, of course, am 27 years old, have given far more advice to friends than students, and have only two years as an intern in a fraternal benefit society's PR/activities department to list as non-academic experience on my resume. That said, I do have a few thoughts on this.

I think the simple aphorism "study what you love" is a bit naive. After all, you're going to be in college for four years, but your career will last for 40. I advise students to prioritize the latter. After all, if you get a job, you can still try to learn stuff on your own, assuming you're really interested. That said, however, it is true that you can get a good job with a liberal arts degree. The key is to know what you're getting into and have a plan.

If they're planning on going to law school or teach, they're probably fine. Otherwise, they need to take a look at ways to get other sorts of experiences. I was very lucky that QU had a strong internship program, which allowed me to get the experience mentioned above, and in fact when I left that company they felt like I could easily get a job in the field if I wanted. Some people also used involvement in student organizations such as the newspaper or campus activities board as a stepping-stone. Matthew Yglesias, a philosophy major who worked for the Harvard Crimson, is a noteworthy example of this in the blogosphere.

If you're at a different sort of school, you have a much tougher slog. Here at UW, I don't think any of my undergraduate friends has had any internship experience whatsoever. And to be honest, those who didn't go to grad school had huge problems which were only partly caused by the job market. In these cases, I think it's important to note that you may never use your degree when you find your job. It may be one you worked your way up to from an entry-level position in a department store by taking some night classes to earn an MBA or Masters in Communications. Yet another option is doing some sort of volunteer work, such as with Americorps, and gain job skills that way, though I don't know anyone who's done that in a way that helped them find a job.

Does that mean getting a liberal arts degree is generally not worth it? I think this is ultimately a personal decision to be made by each student, and to be honest, the computer science types I know have had a rough employment market, too. The value of a history or English degree remains partly non-commercial, and I would find it a shame if we ever gave up on that. But in the real world, it's not something you want to jump into life with blindly and without having a realistic sense of where you might end up.

UPDATE: One more point - liberal arts degrees have the advantage of being broad. If you major in library science, you're going to work in a library. If you major in English, you can adapt to a library, publishing, teaching, public relations, journalism, and a number of other things. But it's all about having a plan and cultivating career skills beyond just job training.

Palestinian Politics

As I continue to watch developments in the Gaza Strip, I am reminded of Khalil Shikaki's lecture in Madison last March. In particular, he made the prediction that the Palestinian Authority would collapse in Gaza, then in the West Bank. He also talked about the rise of a "Young Guard" of Palestinians who are disenchanted with Arafat's regime, but presently disorganized.

It now looks like we might be watching the end of Arafat's effective rule in Gaza, though he could continue to reign by simply acknowledging as legitimate whatever happens there, much like an 12th-century Abbasid caliph pretending to appoint the various sultans who held power throughout the Islamic world. However, the foot soldiers in these protests appear to be the "Young Guard" Shikaki spoke of, and perhaps in the aftermath of the assassination of key Hamas leaders it is they, and not Hamas, who stand to benefit from an Israeli pull-out.

I'm reluctant to make predictions, and I'm convinced Arafat will still be around in some capacity, but these protests show how weak his reach has become, and that weakness could embolden his enemies elsewhere. If this is the case, and a non-Hamas "Young Guard" takes over in an environment characterized by at least some reforms and popular backing, it could bring about what Shikaki wanted as far as a new Palestinian leadership that had the legitimacy to make compromises. This, of course, depends on whether there is some common leadership behind all the unrest we're seeing today.

Sabaya Cafe

Back in May, Middle East Online ran an article on the Sabaya Cafe, a women-only cafe in Jordan. When I write about cafes in the Middle East, I'm writing about areas that have traditionally been a male preserve. In Fez, I don't think I ever saw a Moroccan woman in a cafe, though some had special rooms upstairs where couples could go. In Casablanca, I did see some women and couples in cafes, and the same goes for Essaouira. Still, the idea of one for women only is an interesting and potentially important societal innovation for a region where the idea of separate spheres and segregation of the sexes remains very powerful.

About Australia

I still have one more Morocco post coming up, but if you're hungry for descriptions of foreign lands (assuming, of course, you don't live there), Jonathan Edelstein reports on Australia.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Gaza Turmoil

Some of you may have been following the turmoil in the Gaza Strip which began with the kidnapping of a Palestinian police chief by a rival security agency and has prompted the attempted resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Yasser Arafat's appointment of his nephew Musa Arafat, a highly unpopular figure, as the new head of Gaza security. The protestors, who are probably linked to Muhammad Dahlan, are demanding significant reforms in the Fatah party, such as the consolidation of the many Palestinian security forces into just three and an end to corruption. Reading of these developments, I strongly suspect there's a lot going on behind the scenes, probably involving Israel and the United States hoping to create a moderate rival to Hamas in advance of a Gaza pull-out.

Half Blood Prince

While in Morocco, I heard that the next Harry Potter book would be called Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This was the original title for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before JKR decided to hold back some information until Book 6. So what might we learn from this?

Unlike in some series, the titles of the Harry Potter books have all referred to the core element in the plot. So in this case, the "Half Blood Prince" must be something originally more important than the Chamber of Secrets, which does appear extremely late in that book, or the Chamber of Secrets must have been added to fill the plot holes caused by removing the princely aspects to the original plot. In either case, because the purpose of CoS within the overall story arc seems to be introducing the wizarding world's social divisions, HBP probably refers to someone with mixed muggle/wizard blood rather than human/non-human.

Beyond that much, we probably can't say. JKR has also talked up the importance of information in CoS for the final resolution of the series, and indicated that key information was divided between CoS and HBP. Now a lot of the information in CoS is historical, so its possible the HBP is a key historical figure of some kind with an important legacy or associated artifacts. Certainly royalty hasn't played into the modern world of the books so far. Another intriguing aspect to CoS is the ending, where faith in Dumbledore plays a key role as the means of calling on Fawkes for aid. Is there a lot more to Dumbledore than we now know? This possibility may be unlikely, but it is a possibility. The most boring option would be if some half-wizard prince starts attending Hogwarts.

Finally, on an unrelated note, I just reread CoS, and noticed that the diary is still out there, and that Voldemort put some of his spirit and/or abilities into Harry when he tried to kill him. Whether either of these notes will become more prominent is anyone's guess.

UPDATE: This piece suggests that "Half Blood Prince" refers to Godric Gryffindor. There's certainly a lot we don't know about the Hogwarts founders. But when considered with the events of CoS, that possibility tracks. Boy, does it track.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Iran and Global Terrorism

In a report due out Thursday, the 9/11 commission will apparently show evidence that Iran provided support to al-Qaeda by allowing al-Qaeda operatives to cross its territory. This comes shortly after IWPR reports on Iranian involvement with the Ansar al-Islam group previously based in northern Iraq. This link surprises me, and I suspect that Iran was primarily interested in attacks on the American presence in the Middle East and not stuff like the World Trade Center. Still, perhaps it will put to bed the common argument that groups X and Y will never cooperate because of differences among Sunnis/Shi'ites/secularists or whatever. After all, the U.S. is not a Muslim fundamentalist government, yet we had plenty of truck with Bin Laden in our day.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Sistani and Kirkuk

One flashpoint to watch in Iraq is the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, where thousands of Kurds were displaced by Arabs as part of Saddam's Arabization program. Now the Kurds want their homes and land back, but the Arabs who got moved in want to stay. A delegation of Kurdish religious leaders have now sought the intervention of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who said they need to work through the courts.  That's probably a really good sign, as it shows a highly respected figure lending legitimacy to Iraq's government institutions on a sensitive matter.

Tribes in Iraq

People often comment that Iraq has a "tribal culture," meaning it in a highly derogatory way in which it is unclear exactly what they mean by tribe.  RFE-RL has a more nuanced view of the situation, giving a good overview of what exactly all these tribes are all about. However, I would caution against the idea that they represent some sort of magic solution for the future of Iraq. As the article suggests, they are important primarily in rural areas. Secondly, tribal leaders can easily act as a social class with their own interests, and thus may entrench their own rule even if things look democratic on the surface. Finally, as Juan Cole points out, some tribal leaders are signing up with different sides of the conflict. What's important about all this is probably a view of the developing post-Saddam socio-political system in rural areas rather than a sign that is implicitly positive or negative in its implications.

NLRB on Grad Student Unions

Via a department list-serve, I have just heard of the National Labor Relations Board's 3-2 ruling that graduate assistants are unable to legally unionize on the grounds their relationship with universities is primarily educational.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Signs of Revolution?

Someone in Turkmenistan's capital of Ashgabat has taken their life into their hands by distributing leaflets in the marketplace calling for the overthrow of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.  I can't find anything on whether these leaflets are what led to this.  One exiled opposition leader attributed this to the destruction of some homes in the suburb of Keshi.  The leaflets state that it is time for the people to take their destiny into their own hands, and also call upon Muslims to avoid the new mosque Niyazov is building that includes inscriptions from his spiritual book the Rukhname.  Whatever the motive, Turkmenistan clearly has a serious revolutionary undercurrent.  Because Niyazov has shown signs of increasing insanity with his attempts to develop what is essentially a new religion, orders to build an ice palace, and fears that President Bush plans to wage a campaign against despotism in the region, he may lose his grip enough that these forces can come to the fore sooner rather than later.

Amanda in Kazakhstan

I've also just discovered that Crescat Sententia's Amanda Butler is blogging about her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan. There's too much for me to catch up on right now, but it all looks amazingly interesting. It's interesting, though perhaps not surprising given its Islamic cultural roots, that the standard greeting in Kazakh is exactly the same as that in Moroccan Arabic.

Ken Jennings

One thing about returning to the U.S. after a long trip overseas is that no matter how much you try to follow events, you always miss some. Thus my first night back it was quite a shock to see this guy, whom I sort of know from working with NAQT, reading the Top Ten list on Lettermen.

Casablanca, Morocco/Fez al-Bali, Fez, Morocco

When you take the train south from Rabat to Casablanca, you soon realize that there are really two Moroccos. One is what you see when you pass through the affluent suburb of Agdal, where you find large stand-alone houses that belong to the Moroccan upper classes whose children will perhaps be able to afford English lessons and attend a premiere college like al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, thus ensuring their family's prosperity is carried over from generation to generation. These familes are also among the most westernized, and it is to them the monarchy caters with a lot of its current social reforms.

Very soon, however, you find yourselves in a different world altogether when you pass through the farmlands along the coast to arrive at the outskirts of the Moroccan economic center of Casablanca, outskirts which are gradually expanded by the thousands of economic migrants who arrive looking for work every year. There they set up shantytowns which consist of countless little hovels made of cloth, sticks, pieces of metal, or whatever else is available, hovels surrounded by by dense thickets of trash and with roofs held on by tires or rocks that stand like tombstones marking the graves of all those dreams which lie buried therein. These shantytowns are technically illegal, but despite the squalor, people fight to retain them, hiding from the authorities until they have lived there two years, at which time their status is regularized. Their fate if they are discovered before two years is to go to government housing. In government housing, conditions are worse.

These shantytowns wear at your spirit as they go on for kilometer after kilometer of the journey into the city, and I admit that it was their sheer hopelessness that for the first time made me understand the power of a figure such as Osama bin Laden, who like the Nazis in Weimar Germany offer to people who have nothing whatsoever a strong message with simple answers and solutions to their subhuman conditions. In this context it is interesting to note how little jihadist ideology has to do with conservatism in Islam. The most conservative area I visited was probably the frontier of the Sahara desert, where at least 80% of the women on the streets wore the full black chador, yet when you read about terrorist activity in Morocco, you read almost exclusively about Tangier and Casablanca, where people sacrifice everything hoping for a ticket to a new life in Europe or a job in the city which has over half the country's industry only to find that dreams and reality simply don't match.

Like all major cities, Casablanca has its upscale neighborhoods; however, the poverty and desperation is felt everywhere. Alone among Moroccan cities, Casablanca can be as dangerous as much of the United States, and there are places even in nicer areas that have actual muggings. After wandering around the city and see the run-down French cathedral you couldn't enter because it was structurally unsound, my friends and I sat in a cafe near the well-touristed city center for awhile to survey the scene. There we found the usual array of beggars who wander with hand outstretched and peddlars trying to sell some minor goods. In addition, however, there were more aggressive types begging strongly for cigarettes or lighters and not wanting no for an answer.

There was en even bigger hassle than that, however. In Morocco, they always bring you a glass of tap water with your tea or coffee. Because my professor had warned against drinking the water anywhere in Casablanca, ours was still sitting there, and men would come up to us, grab the water, and begin drinking it until the waiter would come out and yell at them to leave. If they didn't leave, he would begin beating them with his tray and kicking them in the rear end until they were driven some ways down the street. That happened twice in the couple of hours we were sitting there. I'm not sure which was more significant, the way the situation was apparently customarily handled or the fact people had to steal tap water.

There was plenty of action outside the cafe, as well. Casablanca is a city rife with prostitution, from random street corners to the most expensive hotel bars, and some of them were hanging about, as well. We met a European businessman who was there work with a tour company who told us they came about 5 p.m. by taxi and began looking for customers for the night, trying to catch people's eyes and behaving seductively toward anyone who showed interest. On a good night they could get a meal, some drinks, and a fair amount of cash depending on the level of "work" that they were able to get. One suspects that people did not come here so that their wives and daughters could become prostitutes but when you can't find a job at the massive port of the shipping yards with the rows upon rows of boxcars, you still need to eat, and desperate people do desparate things.

Casablanca may be the most extreme example, but poverty is found throughout Morocco, even in Fez al-Bali, the nation's greatest spiritual and cultural center. Back in my Meknes write-up I talked about Moulay Idris I, the great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who had fled to Morocco and begun the first Moroccan dynasty only to be poisoned by Abbasid assassins after a mere two years. With him travelled a servant Rashid, who upon Idris's assassination persuaded the Berbers who had followed him to not choose a successor until the gender of his unborn child was known. When it turned out to be a boy, he was named Idris after his father, and recognized as the one who would rule when he came of age.

This man, Moulay Idris II, made his capital at Fez, the city which he father had begun, and today is buried there in a green-roofed white mausoleum which is one of the holiest sites in North Africa and a place many make pilgrimage every year. In addition, this mausoleum is very close to the Qarawiyin Mosque and University, founded by a Tunisian women later in the 9th century and which has become the second most important center of religious learning in Sunni Islam. When journalists want to find some sort of authoritative mainstream Muslim voice, they go to al-Azhar University in Egypt, but if that didn't exist, they would come right here to the heart of Morocco's Islamic tradition, a place so widely known as a religious center that it attracted holy men from as far away as Senegal, many of whose tombs are revered as holy sites with special pilgrimages of their own. Even Maimonides, who formulated Judaism's 13 Articles of Faith, studied in Fez before making his way to Egypt and Palestine during the 12th century.

Today Fez joins Marrakesh as one of the top two tourist destinations in Morocco on the grounds that wandering its medina is just like going back in time, and indeed with its almost 10,000 narrow, winding lanes and over 300 mosques with minarets reaching toward the sky and issuing the call to prayer in a chorus of piety at the appropriate hours every day, Fez al-Bali is like no place I have ever visited. However, in all honesty, it is difficult to characterize it as a truly medieval sort of place, as the shops have basic metal fronts rather than the carved wooden ones you see in museums, and while there are a sampling of the usual leather shops, booksellers, and the like, you also can't help but notice the giant movie posters on the walls or the tennis shoes jutting out into the street from an overhead rack.

It might be more accurate to say that in Fez al-Bali, you find 21st-century people trying to eke out a decent living with a medieval infrastructure, and this is not always a good thing. One very good way to enjoy the medina is not to enter it, but simply look out over it from a place such as the McDonald's terrace in the Ville Nouvelle or the hills to the north of the city where are found the tombs of the Merenid dynasty which succeeded the Almohads. There you see the full sweep of its many rooftops and monuments, but you also can't help but notice the huge clouds of black smoke which hang perpetually overhead, the product of car and truck fumes, trash fires, or the fires of the potteries off to the west. The health effects of this are obvious, and even though my asthma is hardly worthy of the name, I once spent a few hours laid up with general breathing issues, and the general effect of the smoke did not do wonders for my health in general.

Wandering the streets of the medina, you find all the different areas to which tourist guidebooks refer you, but thankfully the guide for our formal tour was more than willing to speak plainly about what we were really seeing. As we made our way through the streets, one of which was dark and so narrow some people had to move down it sideways, others of which were wide enough for a donkey laden with blue and white sacks or a sweating old man pulling a cart of huge leather bundles to make its way past, we found such places as the vegetable suq, where bananas and other fruits hung in bunches waiting to be purchased for whatever price you bargained for, to the woodcarvers suq where people sat carefully making small wooden decorations or household goods.

Some suqs, however, we as tourists would never use. One of these, marked by small multicolored streams of liquid on the streets outside, was the dyers' suq, where men used the same processes of dying leather as they did 1000 years ago to treat the fabrics for the shops who made jalabas, headscarves, and other clothing. Today, however, a lot of their custom is from people who just want a new look - unable to afford new clothes, they simply take it here to have the color changed. In other suqs, such as the metalworkers, people still follow centuries-old practices, but these have been abandoned for good reason - as the tour guide informed us, all the noise that to us marked this as an interesting a busy place would cost the craftsmen most of their hearing as they lived in it day after day and year after year for their entire lives.

The greatest example of all this however, was the tanneries, considered one of the highlights of the medina and often pictured on postcards for Fez. It is a place clearly ready for sightseers, as they have twigs of spearmint ready to hand you when you arrive, thus giving you something to combat the nauseating smell as you survey the scene from one of the viewing terraces. There you find men in shorts standing in vats of dye, working the cloth into the right color, while others lay them out to dry on surrounding rooftops. All very interesting and quaintly traditional, except that a job here can take as much as 20 years off your life expectancy as you work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day of the week even in freezing cold weather surrounded by dangerous chemicals against which you have no protection whatsoever. The guide, however, ventured that the ones who died young were lucky because otherwise they tended to go blind or become crippled and became a burden to their families as they were unable to do any available work whatsoever; still, he said the men here were grateful for their jobs because it would last at least until their kids were grown, and supporting their family was the main thing.

As mentioned before, Fez today survives off the tourist trade, and it will perhaps come as no surprise that the medina is also the home to some pretty intense hustlers - in my judgement rivalling those Tangier and Tetouan to the north. Often they pose as students since giving charity to students is considered especially virtuous in Moroccan culture. As I suspected in Tangier, they're not generally respected by the merchants with whom they might seem to be in league - two of my friends were basically followed by one into a shop where they were holding out for what they knew was a good price the merchant refused to meet. When the merchant got one of them alone in the back, however, he said he would give them their price if they could return without their tag-along, as he didn't want trouble with the hustlers which would follow not giving a commission. And of course the hustlers also ultimately hurt the tourism upon which the medina today depends - given the choice between an evening trying to lose someone who wanted my money and one just chilling in the Ville Nouvelle, I at least generally preferred the latter.

In response to all this, the government has taken some steps, though often with mixed motives. Casablanca's tourism generally depends on people seeking the nightlife, but during the 1980's they did built the Hassan II Mosque, the world's third-largest place of worship and perhaps the only mosque with a built-in ticket counter in the basement. It can hold 25,000, but when pressed our guide admitted only about 500 people used it each week for Friday prayers - still, if it brings people into the city, it helps the economy, even if it is as much about promoting the monarchy as anything else, including as it does gold lettering giving the generations tracing Hassan II back to the Prophet. It's also probably worth mentioning this mosque was funded largely through public bonds, and so indicates a civic spirit, one also seen in the Marrakesh project to improve the self-esteem of street children, that will could serve the country well.

More importantly for people's immediate needs, a project has begun to replace all the water mains in Fez al-Bali, which was still using the iron pipes built by the Merenids in the 1300's. In the short term this is a serious complication for the place, as the old plumbing basically crumbles as soon as you touch it, and the water in the medina is now infected with so much stuff people who have lived there their whole lives can't even drink it. But when it is all done, it will be a quality of life improvement for a badly over-crowded area that needs all of those it can get.

These are just some of the problems facing modern Morocco. Others include cultural issues, as one need spend only a little time in the country before you hear of violence across lines of both social class and gender, and of course politics - a friend of mine met one girl who went to prison for a few months for saying the government favored the rich too much. The current ruler, King Muhammad VI, is considered a more benevolent monarch than his father was, but Moroccans are still very reluctant to discuss politics, a stark contrast to when I was in Jordan and people often talked about nothing but politics. Even in Ceuta, when I asked a Moroccan if he though Morocco should own it, he just said he didn't know and nervously changed the subject - if my write-ups have been surprisingly free of direct politicla discussion, that is the reason.

At present, I'd say things are improving on the political front with the creation of a new truth commission to investigate past abuses, and on the social and cultural front with the implementation of a new family law the king skillfully managed to get even some conservative support for by basing it on liberal interpretations of Islam rather than secularism. However, the economic problems seem to run deep, and the deep divide between the lives of the rich and poor is a troubling sign for the future of a country that has in my lifetime seen riots over food prices forcibly suppressed by the government. Hopefully all the road construction is a sign the infrastructure is improving which will lead to better things in the future.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Flight Delays

For what it's worth, I'll testify to the truth of this. After landing at JFK Monday night, I had an hour wait before we could reclaim our luggage, then Tuesday morning I had to wait an hour and five minutes for a JFK-LaGuardia shuttle, the flight to O'Hare spent an hour on the runway, and the flight to Madison was delayed an hour and seven minutes, boarded later than that, and then spent an hour or so on the runway, as well.

Saudis, al-Qaeda, and Iraq

Ma'ariv reports on some intelligence suggesting that certain factions of the Saudi royal family are supporting al-Qaeda due to their belief that in coming years jihadist elements are likely to be the major players in post-Saddam Iraq. An important point about the Saudis is that they scheme against each other all the time, and it is very likely some princes sincerely try to fight terrorists while others want to cut a deal with them. This is one reason why I don't object to President Bush's relations with Crown Prince Abdullah, who seems very much in the reformist camp, and is perhaps banking on strong relations with the U.S. to consolidate his power after the death of the ailing King Fahd. However, if true, this story represents one more reason to oppose President Bush's Iraq policies, which are clearly making us appear weak to some in positions of power.

Uzbek Aid Suspended

Critics of the Bush administration frequently cite Uzbekistan as an example of how the U.S. is not truly following a policy of unwavering support for democracy. Thus, it seems fair to note that the State Department has decided to suspend some aid to that country in response to its poor human rights record. Cynics, however, might note that the aid suspended is for economic development and non-weapons-related military spending, so it doesn't sound like it will have any lasting impact - just soldiers waiting a little longer for their pay or something.

Ceuta Border

I was intrigued by Stephen Lazer's post on Spain's wall between its Ceuta enclave and Morocco simply because I just walked across that border Saturday morning, and found it easier than crossing between the United States and Canada. I was planning to write a post about how Spain apparently doesn't believe in border security! Basically what happened was on the Moroccan side they took my passport behind a little divide, presumably to check my visa in their system or something, then sent me on my way. Lugging my two suitcases and backpack I was waved through the actual border and the Spanish side without any questions, forms or inspections of any kind. It was a little weird.

Now it was hot, I had a lot of luggage, no idea where I was staying, and no money for a taxi, so my observational skills may not have been at my best, but no one seemed to be having any difficulty whatsoever. But still, this is not really a secure border. Half an hour away is Tetouan, in the heart of Morocco's drug-producing country, and there's nothing to really stop someone from wandering across the border bearing tons of hashish or other illegal substances. I suppose people from some countries might have to get a visa first, or they wouldn't bother sneaking across, but still once you're there, you're there.

This suggests something interesting about the immigration policy in the area: It is based primarily on keeping out people rather than things. Furthermore, the treatment of people is different based on where they are from. Because I am an American, I could get away with bringing anything into Europe I wanted - at the Gibraltar/Spain border, the British guy had all the presence of a random cop walking a dull beat. If I am a Moroccan, things are probably more difficult, but even then once I have permission, I can do whatever I want. Whether this is really the best way to run the system is probably open to debate. As it is, I would not be surprised to find that Ceuta is awash in illegal smuggling activity but that Spain is functionally indifferent while they try to figure out how to keep out economic migrants.

Musings and Imaginings

Ladies and gentlemen, from the world of English graduate school, we bring to you the new blog of Kristin Smith, Musings and Imaginings!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


While I was in Morocco, I appeared in print for the first time as an academic historian in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life. It feels really weird to read an article and then see my name at the bottom of it.


Well, I'm back in Madison, after a trip home in which both my domestic flights were delayed at least an hour. I'm still adjusting, though - I left Fez on July 3 and began travelling around on my own. At this point I've slept in nine different places in the past eleven nights. So for the moment this just feels like the latest place.

Anyway, expect two more Morocco-related write-ups, as well as a resumption of my usual news-related posting habits.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Essaouira, Morocco

While I may not have done anything American for the Fourth of July, I did spend the next day wandering about Essaouira, the city of Moulay Sidi Muhammad bin Abdullah, the sultan who made Morocco the first nation to recognize American independence, even before our allies the French. The city was designed for him by a French architect so as to give Morocco a port along the Atlantic Ocean during a period when the European expansion into the Atlantic had caused a massive shift in global trade routes that affected Africa in particular.

The name of the city means "the well-designed" in Arabic, and after its completion was the main port linking Europe with Timbuktu and sub-Saharan Africa. Today its economy is based mainly off fishing, and when you walk around the port you see dozens of small fishing boats, as well as a shipyards where workmen add ribs to the skeletons of new ships as yet unpainted with the city's characteristic blue. The entire city actually smells like fish. Near the port is a large open square where around one corner you find a number of outdoor cafes and reasonably priced restaurants, while on the other you find a couple dozen or so fish stands selling the day's catch along with accompaniments for a complete meal.

Near here, too, is the fish market, where an auction is held every afternoon, though regrettably I slept through it. Essaouira proved a very restful community, where the population of only 45,000 meant few hassles and a cool sea breeze kept away the heat and actually made me wish I had brought my jacket. In fact, of the 21 hours I spent there, 12 were spent asleep in one of the medina's many cheap hotels within just a few minutes walk of the sea.

There was still plenty of time to get the feel of the place, though, with its houses all of white with blue trim, yielding only to white with reddish trim in some newer neighborhoods you see from the bus. Essaouira today is a very artsy, cosmopolitan community. The place is crowded with tourists on day trips from Marrakesh, and it is mostly to these that the restaurants mentioned above cater as the people take a break from the beaches or bird-watching. In addition, Essaouira is apparently a key destination for expats working on various intellectual or artistic projects - it actually occurs to me that one person I know who had been in Morocco earlier got to be a real live expat working on a project in Essaouira, and I freely admit that I probably would have been content to simply crash there for a couple of days and just sit in a cafe reading al-Baladhuri while staring out over the ocean.

One should not, however, give the impression that Essaouira is without Moroccan influence, however, for it is here that a large number of Moroccan artists have made their home, and I did my first souvenir shopping in the many high-quality art shops found in the streets. These included mainly paintings of scenes in Morocco which seemed influenced by impressionism, and thus easy to sell to tourists. One could also find woodcarvers, and well as the usual Moroccan arts and crafts such as leatherworking and sewing, all generally of high quality, though I didn't investigate all the prices.

Essaouira is also a major player on the Moroccan pop music scene. The current craze in Moroccan music is gnawa fusion. Gnawa is the traditional music of sub-Saharan Africans living in Morocco, most of whom came as slaves centuries ago. The "fusion" refers to blending this music with Western pop music forms to produce exciting new combinations of sound and rhythm. The same weekend I went to Caablanca, some of my friends went to Essaouira for a four-day gnawa festival which brought the top bands from all over, playing concerts which lasted well into the night. One group performing there stopped at ALIF for a workshop at which we got to try some traditional instruments such as one that was played both by plucking at the three strings and beating it like a drum, as well as metal clappers used mainly to keep rhythm. Rhythm is important to gnawa music, and the form mixed extremely well with rap.

Aside from all that, however, in some ways Essaouira can always fall back on its tradition and location if it needs to sell itself. From the main square, or even panoramically from the road leading into town, you can see the Ile de Mogador, where some birds from Madagascar come to mate. Most of the old fortifications are intact complete with cannons, and my Lonely Planet guidebook assures me they're a fascinating blend of European and Moroccan styles. The main thing I used them for was sitting and watching the ocean, one of a huge number of people sitting in the ramparts and waiting for the sun to set over the Atlantic. As an opening act, you can also watch the tide come in, with the wind blowing huge white sprays of water over high points on the ground, creating first little pools of water and then completely submerging them as it moved ever inward.

I wound up sharing a rampart with three little kids, two from Essaouira and one from Safi, who were refreshing largely because one of them spoke some Modern Standard Arabic. In Jordan and Syria, even when people didn't know MSA, they respected it as an important part of their culture. Moroccans often seem to want to disown it, and speak it only reluctantly. I think French here fills the public discourse gap MSA does elsewhere in the Arab world, and it is rather interesting how many people - most passionately an Essaouira taxi driver, have dismissed my study of Arabic while encouraging me to learn French, which they claim is the language of art and culture. Communication in Fez was initially frustrating just because so many people insist on using French with foreigners - I actually had a couple of waiters sneer at me when I forced a conversation into Arabic because I don't know French.

Since coming south, I'd also had deeper issues in terms of speaking Arabic. In Fez, I'd gotten to where I could have respectable conversations in Arabic with the people I regularly interacted with. Starting in Marrakesh, that disappeared. On the bus between Marrakesh and Essaouira, when I'd try to use a basic Arabic greeting, they'd either give me a blank look or tell me what time it was or something. Some of this may have been Berber, but I think, too, that there is a southern Moroccan accent much deeper than what I picked up in the north. In Beni Mellal, I tried to order an orange juice, and when I tried it in French he repeated back something I barely understood that was like "Jew-dor" instead of the standard French "Jus d'Orange."

It was here, however, that in a role reversal from the Aleppo suq I got my first focused lessons in Moroccan dialect, as the kids decided I needed some more dialect that just pronounciation changes and set about teaching me. Some of this came in handy - for some reason asking for a single room in a hotel just got me blank looks even with the contextual clues of a guy with a suitcase walking into a hotel - here I discovered that Moroccans use the MSA word for "house" to mean room, and at my next stop this worked like a charm. (One of those kids, incidentally, has a future in education if he wants it.)

But despite all this I admit Essaouira was for me mainly a place of rest, where I paused to relax and shop between the hectic Marrakesh and climbing around the High Atlas. It is a nice place, perhaps with a dozen like it in the world, but still free of the mess that is Fez al-Bali, the street-fight waiters of Casablanca, (see forthcoming Casablanca/Fez al-Bali write-up), the hustling of Tangier, and that sort of thing while retaining a clear sense of Moroccan culture and identity. And this city even more than Marrakesh convinced me that the south of the country is far more interesting than the north, and that the few days I'm devoting to it are not enough to do it justice.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Darfur in Arab Media

You know, I haven't done any sort of scientific study, but based on my exposure to the Arab media these past few weeks, I could have sworn that Darfur was generally one of the top stories. It's been up there lately, certainly, as I had breakfast to Darfur news in a cafe this morning.

Posted in response to this.

Marrakesh, Morocco

During the 11th century, somewhere in the Sahara, a confederation of Berber tribes called the Sanhaja decided the peoples around them needed to be more Islamic, and began a series of wars to spread their puritanical beliefs. First they subjugated some lands south of the Sahara, then turned northward to smash the minor potentates which dominated Morocco before heading into Spain. And it was this group, known to history as the Almoravids, who built a brand new city for their capital: Marrakesh, lying on the plains across the Atlas from the Sahara in southern Morocco, a red jewel in the middle of a yellowish landscape alive with tradition and modernity intertwined in a variety of different ways.

Like almost every other Moroccan city, Marrakesh boasts both a Ville Nouvelle and a medina, though here they resemble each other more than usual as the French continued to build with the off-pink mud used in the medina and the medina itself has far more open spaces than those further north. Most of the medieval architecture dates not from the Almoravids, but rather from their successors the Almohads, Berbers from the High Atlas who decided that Almoravid religious conservatism didn't go far enough and took their place after only a few decades. Thus the walls of the city are in the same squat functional style as of Fez, as in both cities the Almohads destroyed the original fortifications and rebuilt them only when they became convinced the population wouldn't rebel.

Marrakesh also resembles Fez in that both cities thrive off tourism. I read somewhere that 40% of the officially employed workforce in those two cities depends on tourism, a percentage which is also probably high in Agadir. This includes many of the suq merchants whose goods are purchased mainly as souvenirs, hotel, restaurant and cafe personnel, the drivers of the green horse-drawn carriages which supplement the Marrakesh taxi service, and many others I'm probably not thinking of. This also explains why the potential for terrorism in Morocco became the object of such strong government action - a threat to tourism is a threat to the nation's entire economy. Finally, it makes it almost impossible to escape from the famous "tourist track" to find the "real Morocco," which I am coming to believe is a little like trying to find the "real Madison" away from the University of Wisconsin - you can find places in Madison where the university matters little, but its influence is too great to ignore in discussing the city as a whole.

The main thing tourists come to see in Marrakesh is the great square known as the Djemaa al-Fna, surrounded by reddish-pink buildings which change shade as the day progresses, and the home to one of the greatest spectacles in the world today. Here throughout the day there are dozens of stands where you can buy fresh-squeezed orange juice for about 25 cents, as well as the water sellers dressed in fancy red outfits and bells and female henna artists sitting on the ground with their equipment. Some of this caters specifically to tourists, but as the afternoon wanes the action picks up dramatically. Between 5 and 6 in the evening dozens of food stands appear in the midst of the orange juice stalls, on the day I was there a sudden downpour of rain did not interrupt the proceedings. Here you can buy the full array of Moroccan cooking and then some, from the obvious couscous to various tajines, which are combinations of meat and vegetables grilled slowly in a conical ceramic container, salads, and really weird stuff like sheep heads. Later in the evening, there is also hunja, a Moroccan tea so spicy hot that after finishing my small cup I immediately sought a glass of orange juice lest my mouth be consumed by fire.

In addition to all of these there are snake charmers, street musicians, and a small army of storytellers which draw an entirely local crowd since the tourists generally don't understand Moroccan Arabic. These performances last well into the night, and those who tire of participating can take a seat at one of the many terrace cafes with a panoramic view of the entire scene, and contemplate the red minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque at the far end of a street leading from the Djemaa al-Fna, as well as notice off in the distance the pretty lights of airplanes landing at the Marrakesh airport. Unfortunately, part of the square was under construction, so street-level views were obscured.

Marrakesh has many other treats beyond the square, however. Impressive gardens are scattered throughout the city, though I didn't have time to take them in. In the Ville Nouvelle you can sit in a cafe and watch the streetlife as people take their taxis and carriages around or eat in one of the nice restaurants serving international rather than just Moroccan cuisine. There are also several nice museums located in historic buildings. One of these housed several art exhibits, including a bunch of 19th century pottery from Fez and the works of a Moroccan painter named Hassan Kouhen, whose style seemed to my untrained eye to include both abstract impressionism and cubism.

It was the other museum, however, the Museum of Moroccan Arts, that I found most interesting. The exhibits here began with samples of wood from different areas of the country, and included minbars from mosques, door frames, pottery and jewelry from all over the country, and some more paintings in modern styles. Captions were available in both French and Arabic. I originally thought I would be able to understand almost everything from my knowledge of the two languages; however, I quickly discovered a flaw in this plan: The explanations were often different.

For example, in discussing a particular musical style, the French caption talked about how it was derived from Greek forms, while the Arabic explained it as going back to the Abbasid court at Baghdad. Both of these could be true - the people at the Abbasid court could have developed it from Greek forms, but the targeted cultural bias of the information presented is an interested insight into the way the tourist industry operates. I once read an article about how tour guides in Israel change what they highlight and the style of their presentation based on the group they are guiding. The Museum of Moroccan Art in Marrakesh seems to unabashedly post written evidence of such a practice as Arab and European tourists wander through having the information presented in a context which affirms their own culture's past.

This suggests an important point: That though Marrakesh may be a city that attracts both Arabs and Westerners, the two groups experience it very differently. In their hotel choice, the Westerners are far more likely than Arabs to opt for one of the more expensive hotels in the Ville Nouvelle. In the square, the Arabs will go see the storytellers and other performers, while the Westerners find the exotic snake charmers and get painted with henna. And in the suqs, the Westerners - perhaps intimidated by the practice of bargaining and enchanted with the very concept of a suq - will buy something like a miniature tajine (the name of the dish in which tajines are cooked, kind of like "casserole" in English) which for the Arab would be as if I were to buy a miniature BBQ grill to represent American culture while charmed with the idea of a shopping mall.

Still, all tourists are welcome in Morocco, and not just for their money. Despite the hustlers in some cities and the constant attention you get as a member of the richest group around, there's still plenty of genuine hospitality from people who are proud of their country, and often their individual city. People on the bus or train will encourage you to travel, and often talk about the glories and excitement of places you haven't been. And when you're there, for every person out to cheat you, there's also the food stand guy who, when you hand him a 100-dirham bill you need to break to pay your 25-dirham bill, will immediately pocket it and begin praising your "tip" to the guys at the next stand over before surrendering to your panicked expression and bursting out laughing. (Retrospective hint - he did the praising in English.) Later that evening, there was even a gnawa fusion concert attended mainly by Moroccans but also a small number of Americans, and a group of girls from Essaouira invited me to go to a nightclub with their group afterward, but I had to catch an early morning bus (to Essaouria, actually). Stuff like that only comes from liking the people around you across the divides of culture and cultural expectation, and makes some connections possible even in well-touristed and busy Marrakesh.

UPDATE: Edited for syntax. In retrospect, I'm wondering just how late it was that I didn't go to the nightclub. The bus was pretty early, but my ongoing complaint on this leg of the trip was not getting to know people, and here some were inviting me out. Of course since I spent so much of my stay in Essaouira asleep (see above) maybe I was just out of gas.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Moroccan Judaism

It looks like I won't be venturing to the museum by the Jewish cemetery before I leave Fez this weekend, so I'll just go ahead and write up my impressions of the state of Judaism in Morocco. One thing that struck me was how often Judaism comes up in casual conversations. When people talk about different religions, they mention Judaism the same way they do Christianity, someone in Tangier included the Jewish Quarter in their list of interesting places in Fez, a guy on a train referred to Hebrew in explaining Arabic sounds, a guy in a restaurant mentioned Judaism in the list of religions whose sacred music he studied, etc.

The Moroccans I have spoken to, and of course because of my social location they are not representative of the whole population, are aware of the Jewish heritage in their country, and consider the inclusion of Jews in Moroccan society a point of pride. It's sort of amusing how much some talk about Moroccan Jews resembles talk about the Elves in the The Lord of the Rings, and I half expect to encounter Jewish caravans in a forest headed off to Israel. However, problems have clearly existed. Morocco has separate Jewish quarters in every city, which seems unusual for the Islamic world and probably doesn't indicate anything good. The largest Jewish exodus, however, occurred after the Six Day War, when there were attacks on Jews by Moroccan Muslims.

According to the person with whom I had the most substantial conversation - and I should note here it was in Arabic, so I apologize for anything I get wrong - Moroccan Jews today don't face a real threat of violence, and the main reasons for continued emigration are economic. I've referred before to the fact of economic migration in Moroccan life, and if you're Jewish, you have a industrialized country that is ready, willing, and even eager to accept you. Jews who remain in Morocco are often prominent community members - here in Fez they seem to live in the upscale Ville Nouvelle. One person pointed out the house of a rabbi, which was a fairly nice residence in Fez al-Jedid. However, I was told, although Moroccans freely interact with Jews in business, politics, and society, "in their hearts" many Moroccan Muslims do have anti-Semitic attitudes.

Two last points: I have not talked to an actual Moroccan Jew about any of this. I don't like going into potentially sensitive issues without have some connection to a person, and no such connections existed. So this information comes from Muslims and other Americans who have talked to people on their own. Secondly, I get the feeling many of the Jews left aren't terribly religious. At least, there are two functioning synagogues in Fez with about 5000 Jews, and they have trouble getting a congregation together. In any case, I suspect we are seeing the last days of substantial Jewish culture in Morocco. If the major way for the average visitor to experience a culture is to visit cemeteries, that's not a terribly good sign.

UPDATE: An additional item that seems worthy of mention is that although Morocco was technically under the control of Vichy France and Nazi agents were all over, Sultan Muhammad V refused to implement the Holocaust in Morocco, and the country actually became a major transit point for Jews fleeing to the U.S. Unfortunately I can't find much more than the above after googling and glancing through a couple of travel books which refer to the above. If anyone knows more about this history, I'm rather curious.