Friday, September 30, 2005

Ceuta Waterfront

By the way, here's what the Ceuta waterfront looks like:


Damian Wampler has some interesting observations on official culture in Osh:
"What’s interesting is that the Kyrgyz government has tried to mark the mountain as a Kyrgyz site. The Kyrgyz flag on top of the mountain, a Kyrgyz cultural museum at the base, statues of Kyrgyz heroes decked out in ‘traditional’ Kyrgyz clothing, and the Kyrgyz village of yurta’s along the front of the mountain. All these things are trying to surround Suleyman and contain it. They all scream, 'This is Kyrgyzstan, home of the Kyrgyz!'. But if you look in any other direction, we appear to be in Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz are a minority in Osh, a city of 500,000. On the street level, there is no problem. You ask a question in Kyrgyz, you get an answer in Uzbek. Everyone speaks their own language and everyone understands one another. But it is strange to see the Kyrgyz culture so highly promoted and celebrated by the government when the only Kyrgyz I see on a regular basis are the police officers in their blue uniforms. It seems like Osh is a colony, run by a distant Kyrgyz empire. But the truce here is fragile. Osh is home to dozens of high schools that teach all their subjects in Uzbek. The Kyrgyz government takes the textbooks from Uzbekistan and retypes them, removing the Tashkent history of Central Asia and inserting the Bishkek one."

Read the whole post.

The Problem at Ceuta and Melilla

The last few paragraphs of this story are what get to the root of the problem:
"Spain's leading daily El Pais said in an editorial Friday that long-term solutions must be sought to address the economic disparities between Europeans and Africans, which are propelling waves of immigrants in often deadly attempts to cross the continental borders at the two enclaves.

"'There is an immediate problem which has claimed eight mortal victims in a month and which demands urgent solutions,' it said.

"'But there is a more serious problem which can only be resolved over the long term which is the economic inequality between the African and European continents which turns the two Spanish cities in northern Africa into siphons for immigration,' the paper added."

One of the primary impressions my summer 2004 trip to Morocco left me with was the sheer economic inequality one observed crossing between Europe and North Africa, and then within Morocco between most actual Moroccans and the Western tourists. For one example, read this, and there's more here. (While I'm in the neighborhood, you might also be interested in these observations about how for some people getting across borders is almost too easy.) The advantages of leaving are just too great - I don't know about Europe, but in the United States the minimum hourly wage is almost twice the average daily wage in Morocco, and when you get into sub-Saharan Africa the economic situation grows even bleaker. While nations should do everything they can to control their borders for security reasons of nothing else, the issue won't go away until these underlying economic issues are addressed. The problem, of course, is that "make Africa prosperous" isn't much of a policy suggestion.

(Crossposted to Liberals Against Terrorism.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ceuta Stampede

Based on my observations in northern Morocco, I'm surprised stuff like this doesn't happen more often.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Israeli Baseball

Allison Kaplan Sommer links unenthusiastically to a Jerusalem Post article claiming that Israel needs more baseball:
"Locally, the two most popular games are of course basketball and soccer. Baseball easily trumps them both. Defined by innings rather than a clock, baseball is a more leisurely pastime, one that often combines fast-paced action with deliberate and measured steps.

"It is not a matter of running up and down a court trying to outmaneuver an opponent. No; baseball is far more subtle than that. It is a duel between the pitcher and the batter, with each trying to outsmart the other. It is about placement of the ball just as much as about speed, about foresight as much as about power.

"Unlike other sports baseball places immense value on the individual as well as on the collective. Each player must stand in the batter's box on his own, with the spotlight focused entirely on him. There is no avoiding the issue of personal responsibility, no way to point the finger at someone else and escape accountability for one's actions."

This piece has it right. In fact, I think the U.S. should start making the establishment of Little League teams a condition for housing aid to Israel. Thoughts?


Husni Mubarak's fifth term has officially begun, with hundreds of protesters turning out in opposition. Ayman Nour, however, attended the inauguration ceremony; nothing is said about him joining the protests. Anyone have any idea if that is significant?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sacred Jerusalem

One of the issues occasionally discussed by students of Islamic history is whether Jerusalem has always been an important holy city for Muslims or whether that importance dates mainly from the Crusades and the propaganda needs of medieval Muslim governments. Although the only solid discussion I can find on-line is this one from Daniel Pipes (who yokes it to a political agenda), the basic outlines of the evidence - or lack thereof - are well known and were introduced to me my very first semester in graduate school. There is, for example, precious little to suggest that the Muslims saw Temple Mount as the "Farthest Mosque" referred to in the Qur'an in the first few centuries of their faith, and when the Crusades began no one really seemed to care about it.

What strikes me as interesting, though, is the way in which many revisionist historians of early Islam take the exact opposite approach, tending to see Jerusalem as the original Muslim holy city which was only gradually overtaken by Mecca. In their Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook argue based on 7th-century Christian sources that Islam began as a Jewish messianic movement centered around the concept of the Children of Ishmael returning to Jerusalem. They later dedicate half a chapter to how an originally obscure Mecca came to occupy its present place in the Muslim religious system. In their Crossroads to Islam, Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren go so far as to suggest that references to Jerusalem fell out of the Qur'anic corpus based on the fact it occurs in inscriptions otherwise based on Qur'anic verses, such as being the place where a herald will call from in 50:41. There are also anomalies in the evidence about the direction of the qibla in early Islam that suggest Muslims may have prayed facing Jerusalem for some decades after the death of the Prophet.

The revisionist historians mentioned above have problems of their own, so I don't mean to suggest they've stumbled across the truth regarding the development of Islam as a whole. (I do think it's gradually becoming undeniable that the core of Islam as practiced by early Muslims was a very basic monotheism with Abraham as the key figure, and that Muhammad as messenger gradually increased in importance during the Umayyad and early Abbasid periods.) While the evidence is very open to different interpretations though, it does seem likely that Jerusalem was seen as a significant holy city for the first few generations of Muslims, regardless of what happened later.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


It would seem that, while tinkering with my sidebar, I deleted something rather important. If anyone else has a template similar to mine in terms of layout, would you mind e-mailing me a copy so I can determine what it was? This should be fairly easy to fix.

UPDATE: Well, thanks the wonder of forums the worst is solved, though I'm still missing what's probably a very simple tag to get my sidebar up to the top.

UPDATE: All is now well, thanks to ye olde valign="top" tag.

Cotton Harvest

Cotton harvest season is not a happy time for people in Central Asian dictatorships, as many are ripped from their own lives and conscripted to perform the hard labor. According to IWPR, in Turkmenistan, this includes pregnant women forced to work around toxic chemicals. This is not only bad in the most obvious way: Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov several months ago ordered the closure of all hospitals outside the capital, so people have nowhere to go to seek treatment:
"To make matters worse, Turkmenistan’s rural population has had limited access to healthcare since Niazov announced the closure of all hospitals outside the capital, Ashgabat, earlier this year. Clinics continue to operate in the regional centres, but offer only basic health services.

"The government also continues to meddle in the health service in other ways. A civil society activist with a women’s rights organisation in the Dashoguz region said doctors are under intense pressure to avoid giving diagnoses that might link patients’ health complaints to their work in the cotton fields.

"As a result, doctors often use the term 'acute respiratory disease' to fudge diagnoses of conditions such as conjunctivitis, bronchitis, persistent colds and laryngitis, which increase during the harvest season as a result of the use of chemicals.

"'For a long time now [doctors have been] forbidden to give diagnoses according to the [actual] illness [from which a patient is suffering],' said the activist. '[Instead], there is a list of approved diagnoses that doctors [must use] to classify an illness.'"

Friday, September 23, 2005


Polo - including women's polo - returns to Iran:
"Today female polo players are not allowed to ride with men or compete against them. They have to wear strict Islamic clothing which some find a little tricky to control on horseback.

"'We're always worried about the headscarf and overcoat staying in the right position,' says Shella Ilkhanizadeh, adding that 'the game is so exciting that you forget all these problems'.

"She finds the headscarf and riding hat difficult: 'This kind of helmet is very hot and when I take it off it's full of water inside because you see how hot the weather is here'.

"Inconveniences aside, most women players feel it is a sign of progress that they can take part in sports competitions like this."

Habiba Sorabi Update

RFE-RL fills us in on the activities of Habiba Sorabi, female governor of the Afghan province of Bamiyan.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

From Darfur to Cairo

Cairo Magazine has a good feature on Darfuri refugees in Cairo.

Afghanistan and Iraq

Dude, where is the New York Times getting this?
One reason, surely, is that Afghanistan, for all of its ethnic diversity and political turbulence, has a long continuous history as a single nation. International intervention can, with skill and luck, revive a battered and prostrate nation. But it cannot easily create one where the population has no real history of, or desire for, willing coexistence and cooperation."

Afghanistan was created as a buffer between British India and the Russian Empire in the 19th century, and while it's been a single country on a map, it had little real unity. People stayed in power by accepting the fact most of the country would do whatever it wanted; my advisor tells a story about an Afghan intercity taxi driver bragging when they left the area controlled from Kabul.

Meanwhile, while I can see the point about Iraq, it's not that much more artificial than Afghanistan. The forces of Arab nationalism could under better circumstances trump divides between Sunnis and Shi'ites, though you'd still have a Kurdish issue. And don't forget that while regional federations have emerged as a popular option for much of the population, the protests right after the war all warned against people who wanted to break up the country to weaken it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My God-Self

You scored as Balder.





























Which Pagan God or Goddess are you most like?
created with

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Basra Tensions

Don't look now, but there's a lot of tension in Basra. What isn't clear from Cole's account is why Muqtada Sadr moved against the British, if he in fact did so and this was just a British error or the act of a few renegades. Is he trying to get more control in the south? Is it a propaganda boost to show him resisting the occupation? The latter he probably doesn't need given his anti-constitution activities. Anyway, here is his statement.

German Elections

The Israelis know how to handle things like this. Just take turns, as happened with Labor and Likud in the mid-1980's!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Afghanistan's Elections

It's worth noting that yesterday Afghanistan held its first Parliamentary elections since 1969, with little violence. I wouldn't worry so much about the low turnout - Parliamentary contests are always different from those for a head of state, and I suspect that even in a place like Afghanistan the President is much more well known than the vast array of local candidates.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogging Graduate Students

Rebecca Anne Goetz continues to seek data on blogging graduate students. The origins of this lie in Ivan Tribble's latest outing for his position that having a blog hurts students on the job market. I've already e-mailed answers to her questions, but thought I'd share some of what I said here.

Basically, academic blogging at its best can represent what Tim Burke thinks an academic conference should be. Originally, I began blogging because it was a good way for me to contribute to a public discussion of issues I cared about, but increasingly it also serves as a means to discuss issues that affect us all as a profession. Reading and participating in blog discussions has helped sharpen my sense of what it means to be a professional historian and academic while keeping me in touch with many currents that may not affect my dissertation work, but are still important to the field as a whole. At the same time, it's a valuable means of networking. My recent trip to Egypt was much more valuable thanks to my knowing folks at The Arabist Network and LAT than it would have been if I had simply done nothing but see the sites and work in the archives.

I can understand why people might be suspicious of blogging, because it often makes the news for stuff like this. I also recognize that because I'm in a subfield where Juan Cole made it a legitimate activity early on, I might not be getting the full sense of anti-blog prejudice that's out there. However, I'm willing to argue that it's concrete professional benefits outweigh those disadvantages, and that while a search committee might frown if they learn I have a blog, the subtle impact of blog participation on the rest of my persona will make me a stronger job candidate in the long run.

Kyrgyzstan Blog

Damian Wampler, who was in Persian with me last year, is now blogging from Kyrgyzstan. He's good, so be sure to check it out. Given his interest in photography, I'm sure we'll get photographic content soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Businesswomen in Jeddah

The Saudi government will allow women to run for the Chamber of Commerce board in Jeddah. This may not seem like much, but it is an important step in terms of the direction things are going. Once you start having women in a council like this, it becomes harder to produce arguments for keeping them out of the broader political arena.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Afghan Symbols

RFE-RL has an interesting article about using symbols to identify candidates on the ballot in Afghanistan's Parliamentary elections. It's an interesting idea, though I must be missing something since I don't understand how people can be confused by multi-digit numbers - couldn't they for this purpose just treat it as a sequence of one-digit numbers? That aside, I wonder if there will be complaints that the commission deciding the symbols will give more desirable symbols to favored candidates?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sunnis and Shi'ites

I keep saying that there isn't really a long-standing broadly felt existential hatred between Sunni and Shi'ite in Iraq, and here's more evidence:
"Abdul-Jabbar al-Dulaimi expressed his sympathy with survivors of the stampede in Baghdad that killed about 1,000 people last week in the most practical way possible – by going to the Abdul-Aziz mosque in the Sunni heartland town of Fallujah to donate blood.

"'With tearful eyes and broken hearts, we offer our heartfelt condolences to families of those martyred, whose souls have been elevated to God,' said al-Dulaimi, a 26-year-old Sunni who spoke of the suffering of those he called his 'Shia brothers'.

"Sunnis across Iraq have expressed similar sentiments following the August 31 tragedy in which a crowd of Shia pilgrims marking a holy day were panicked by fears a suicide bomber was in their midst. In the chaos, many were trampled to death on the bridge leading to the Shia shrine, while others were drowned after jumping into the river Tigris in desperation.

"In addition to the fatalities, about 800 people were injured – and mosque leaders in Fallujah, located only 50 kilometres from Baghdad, as well as the other Sunni areas rose to the challenge, calling on local people to help with blood donations or other services. At least four of Fallujah’s biggest mosques were transformed into ad hoc blood donation centres."

Black Desert

This is the Black Desert near Bahareyya Oasis in Egypt.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


For perhaps a year now, I've been accepting the administration's conclusions that the Taliban, while continuing to operate, was no longer a serious threat to Afghanistan's stability. This report from the Jamestown Foundation, however, makes me a lot less sure:
"The large-scale battles this spring and early summer clearly suggest that the Taliban are not in decline, contrary to what Coalition spokesmen had claimed earlier. Although they seem to get slaughtered on a large scale, the fact that the Taliban are able to conduct larger, conventional battles is something of a surprise. Earlier, it was thought they couldn’t organize such battles because anti-Taliban operations made it too difficult for high-ranking commanders to meet for necessary planning.

"Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that the insurgency is not limited to the Taliban, sympathizers from Pakistani madrasas (where thousands of new Taliban are still produced every year) and probably some mercenary allies, who are all engaged in fighting the Karzai government and the Western forces which prop it up. Resistance is also coming from local people who feel marginalized by the new government, such as those from Zabul province, which is fast becoming the heartland of the Afghan insurgency.

"Since March, the Taliban seem to have largely abandoned classic guerrilla tactics where a small group of fighters disappears into the mountains or among urban populations after a short battle. Instead, they try to hold on to strategic positions with a larger group of fighters. As a result, scores of insurgents have been killed by laser-guided bombs. Experts believe the Taliban might have changed tactics because U.S. anti-guerrilla techniques had become too effective."

The last sentence is scant comfort if the Taliban insurgency is being sustained primarily through safe havens in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. This, of course, leads us back to the problem of how to keep the nuclear-armed Pakistan stable and still clean the terrorist elements out of the areas where the government has difficulty operating. The Pakistani armed forces, of course, have been active there before. This suggests the largest problem is one of thin intelligence from that region.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Arrival Day 2005

Jonathan Edelstein hosts the Arrival Day 2005 blogburst. If I had any deep thoughts on American Jews as part of world Jewry, I would post them, but regrettably I don't have time to think about much of anything right now outside my professional life. This happens to me often - perhaps a good use of a time machine would be to go back and delay the St. Catherine for a couple of weeks to give people more time to plan =)

Election Day in Egypt

This story tells the tale:
"Ordinary citizens, opposition party members and private groups monitoring the vote told The Associated Press on Wednesday that election workers inside polls in Luxor instructed voters to choose Mubarak, who is expected to be easily re-elected to a fifth six-year term. In Alexandria, workers for the ruling National Democratic Party promised food to those who cast a ballot, voters said.

"More than 3000 people marched through downtown Cairo at midafternoon - by far the largest crowd drawn by the opposition group Kifaya, or 'Enough' in Arabic. Police watched from a distance, despite government vows that protests would not be allowed."

Meanwhile, Abu Aardvark posts on a truly suspenseful story.

Monday, September 05, 2005

September Baseball

Unlike the past couple of years, my pre-season NL and AL predictions still look pretty good. However, I'm really unsure of anything heading into the final month of the season. I'm sticking with the Florida Marlins to win the NL Wild Card, and think they will make the World Series, but wonder how the young and hungry version of the Atlanta Braves will do with a seasoned post-season manager like Bobby Cox. In the AL, I liked Oakland before Crosby went down, but now have shifted back to the Angels. I believe the Yankees will catch the Red Sox, and that the Indians' schedule down the stretch will help them win the Wild Card. But as for the pennant? I don't really like any of them. I have often dismissed the Chicago White Sox as a .500 team that got off to a red-hot start, but saw them today and think they have a lot of skills that will serve them well in the post-season, so that's my flavor of the moment.

Policies or People?

Dave Milovich think Hurricane Katrina makes the case for making power less centralized in Washington, while others demand FEMA be removed from the Department of Homeland Security. This might come across as crass politics, but I don't think the catastrophes of the past week make any of those cases. Most of the failure we have witnessed came on the human level. Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco could have found a way to get people out of the city who had no transportation on their own - commandeer a bus fleet or call out the national guard even before the storm if you have to. The worse failures, however, came from the Oval Office, as seen is stories like this one. Are bureaucrats in Washington fighting over responsibility? That's where we need a Chief Executive to be on the scene issuing orders to the people who work for him. You get the idea. The pathetic incompotence of the Bush administration, first clearly displayed in Iraq, has now had a price on our own soil, and should be of concern to everyone regardless of ideology.

UPDATE: Dave Milovich notes that Kevin has corrected his original post, and adds further to his own argument.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Kuwait's Donation

This is a large amount.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Foreign Katrina Response

I've started hearing a steady drumbeat of people complaining that the international community isn't helping the United States in our hour of need the way we help others. Just yesterday the two announcers on WTBS's Nationals-Braves coverage raised the issue, as did someone being interviewed on CNN during the midnight hour as I was going to bed.

Media coverage has been so New Orleans-focused that I don't think anyone can really say what the international response has been, though I did see a CNN crawl yesterday with lots of countries which had pledged some sort of support, and a quick trip over to Google News turns up this story and this one. What I fear, however, is that this tale of how we were ignored by the international community will evolve into a truism, kind of like the common belief I get even from well-informed liberal friends that Muslims never condemn terrorism.

At the moment, this is a minor issue next to the devastation along the Gulf coast, but I would hate to see us emerge from this somehow self-righteous and bitter and less willing to use our vast resources to help others in the future.

(Cross-posted to Liberals Against Terrorism.)

UPDATE: Nadezhda and CNN both have collections of pledges of foreign assistance.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Reactions

Hugo Schwyzer wonders where the line is between being well-informed and voyeuristic with regard to the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I think there's an important element to disaster coverage like this that he doesn't bring out enough, and that is watching as a form of participation. When confronted with the crisis at hand, I sometimes feel guilty if I go on as if nothing has happened, and so watch with concern out of respect for what is happening. In addition, I think it's important that we try to understand the world as much as possible, and sometimes it's true that a picture can be worth a thousand words. After all, don't we have a duty to be shocked and horrified in a world where shocking and horrible things happen? These emotional memories will stay with us far longer for what we have seen than if we just heard about it second-hand.

Another issue being raised is the appropriateness of political commentary regarding all this, what Josh Marshall calls "the accountability free moment". For now, let me just say that this disaster calls attention to the fact that politics matters. Political decisions have consequences, often life-or-death consequences, and when people have different policies, it matters who wins elections. I'm undoubtedly preaching to the choir here - after all, I'm posting this to a blog dedicated almost entirely to current events - but I've talked to enough people in my life who think it doesn't matter that I can't help but make the point. And since politics matters, then it's also important to take note of policy issues and problems as they arise, even if the raging debate comes later. After all, what in education you might call the "teachable moment" is now - coming back in December and saying you think we need to examine FEMA won't have the same effect.