Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz Dies

Naguib Mahfouz has died:
"Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian playwright and screenwriter who won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature and was widely regarded as the Arab world’s foremost novelist, died today, Reuters and The Associated Press reported. He was 94.

"Mr. Mahfouz had been hospitalized and in declining health since suffering a head injury in a fall at his home in July, the agencies reported, citing Dr. Hossam Mowafi, who supervised Mr. Mahfouz’s treatment and who announced his death...

"While Arabic has a rich tradition in poetry, the novel was not a strong art form in that language until Mr. Mahfouz made it accessible. For English-language translators and readers, Arabic presents special difficulties: the dialogue sounds overwrought, the descriptions stilted. As Brad Kessler wrote in a 1990 article for The New York Times Magazine: 'Mahfouz writes in the florid classical Arabic, which is roughly the equivalent of Shakespearean English.'"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Blogging will be slow this week as I get ready to leave Madison. I just finished going through my filing cabinet to see what I wanted to keep, and discovered a think yellow folder of A.P. Calculus homework from my senior year in high school.

I decided not to keep that one.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Serenity Wins

Congratulations to Joss Whedon and everyone involved with Serenity for their much-deserved Hugo award!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Statue of Saladin

This statue of Saladin is outside the Citadel in Damascus.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Turkey Attacks

Juan Cole cues us in to a Turkish attack on northern Iraq:
"Turkish airforce jets on Thursday struck in northern Iraq, bombing bases believed to be operated by the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Cihan news agency reports. The PKK which is banned in Turkey had earlier appealed to the population in the villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the Turkish border, to leave the area, predicting military attacks by Turkey and Iran. The separatist group also said it had proposed some sort of truce to Ankara.

"Turkish military officials stated that the F-16 jets which took off during the night had inflicted serious casualties on the PKK, the agency reported, adding that ground operations are continuing along the Iraqi border."

This is not the first Turkish military operation in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent weeks, though it is the most serious. There are also reports of Iranian involvement. Someone should explore how Iranian interests in the Kurdish question play into the nuclear program stand-off.

Muradova, Amanklychev and Kajiev

RFE-RL provides and update:
"Three people, including an RFE/RL reporter, went on trial today in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat. The hearings lasted just a few minutes and ended with the judge handing long jail sentences to all three defendants.

"The trial of RFE/RL Turkmen correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova, aged 58, and her two codefendants -- human rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev, 35, and Sapardurdy Khajiev, 47 -- opened today at 10 a.m. local time...

"'According to the information we got from their lawyers, Sapardurdy Khajiev was sentenced to seven years in a high-security jail,' she said. 'Annakurban Amanklychev got seven years in a regular prison and Ogulsapar Muradova -- six years, also in a regular prison. They were all charged with possessing ammunition. Ogulsapar [Muradova] denied the charges brought against her, and the presiding judge used that to give her a heavier sentence. Sapardurdy [Khajiev] also denied the charges brought against him.'"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Naturalization in Bahrain

This is an interesting and important story:
"Bahrain's interior ministry on Wednesday sought to tackle a looming political and social row over the alleged naturalisation of hundreds of Asians by stating that the law allowed eligible residents to apply for Bahraini citizenship.

"'The law allows any Arab citizen who has spent 15 years in Bahrain or any non-Arab national who has lived in Bahrain for at least 25 years and has a steady income, a clean police record and speaks Arabic to apply to become Bahrainis. It is then up to the authorities to decide whether the applicant is eligible or not,' interior ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs, Mohammad Rashed Bu Hmood, said in a press statement.

"Parliamentarians and activists on Tuesday led by Abdul Nabi Salman, reported seeing hundreds of Asians at the immigration offices and expressed concern that the government was granting them Bahraini nationality a few weeks before the municipal and parliamentary elections in a bid to influence the outcome...

"The society charges that the massive naturalisation of hundreds of pro-government Asians would be used to decide the winners of the elections in which Al Wefaq will take part after it boycotted the 2002 polls."

I have no idea where to even start with the commentary.

Questions and Hate

In my line of work, almost everyone I meet has some interest in learning about other cultures in general and Islam in particular. Because of this, I often underestimate the breadth of anti-Islamic attitudes in the general population. However, consider this question asked of Jill Carroll:
"Because of your well-known support of everything Muslim, many of your fellow Americans, including myself, believe your capture was not real, but was in fact conducted and staged with your cooperation, and, that you are a traitor to your country as well as to your family and friends. What is your response to those allegations?"

Note that the reasoning here isn't based on opinions about the Iraq war or even political orientation in general, but merely an interest in promoting knowledge of the religion of Islam and the people who practice it.

Palestinian Affairs

According to the Jerusalem Post, plans for a joint Fatah-Hamas government have fallen through, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is now looking at forming a government of independents and academics. How, you may ask, is the Fatah President able to lay these sorts of plans when Hamas is the ruling party? Most of the Hamas government has been arrested by Israel, and Abbas is more than willing to proceed without their input. Even if Israel didn't deliberately set out to undo the results of the Palestinian Parliamentary elections, that has been the effect, and while I have no great love for Hamas, can't endorse the IDF undertaking a military coup on behalf of their preferred leadership.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, a group called the Holy Jihad Brigades is seeking the release of Muslim prisoners in the U.S. in exchange for kidnapped FOX News reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig. This comes at the same time as a massive protest in favor of a renewed political caliphate.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sunni-Shi'ite Violence

One incident the importance of which has never been fully appreciated in the United States is the destruction of the Askariyya Shrine in Samarra, Iraq last February. This event was critical enough for me to detour my Beloit class and discuss its importance, and many date the beginning of a true civil war in Iraq to that event. Jill Carroll definitely noticed a difference:
"Two days earlier, on Feb. 22, an important Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, had been blown up. Shiites had attacked Sunni mosques in retaliation - the result being a vicious cycle of attack-and-response that had altered the world of my Sunni Islamist kidnappers.

"We arrived back at the place I called the 'clubhouse,' near Abu Ghraib, later that night. Slumped in a plastic chair in a room lit by the stark half-light of a fluorescent camping lantern, another mujahid told me their new bottom line.

"'Aisha,' he said, calling me by the Sunni nickname they'd given me, 'now our No. 1 enemy are the Shias. Americans are No. 2.'

"The wave of sectarian violence which overtook Iraq following the destruction of Samarra's Askariya Shrine had a huge impact on the nature of my captivity.

"That was because the level of activity of the mujahideen group which had seized me greatly increased. Many of its members were out fighting their new war almost every day."

But, in a comment that hints at a point that I've tried to make for years, and that goes back to passions from as far back as high school against the idea of timeless incomprehensible enmities, she also hints at the former state of affairs:
"In his state of agitation and boredom, he began raising suspicions about the Shiite neighbors. They didn't know I was there. They didn't appear to know that the men at this house were mujahideen. They'd drop off fresh bread or yogurt, or stop to chat outside, just as Iraqis had done for generations.

"They did not yet recognize that those days of amity were over."

Intercommunal violence in Iraq is not something deeply rooted in society and culture, but an outgrowth of the spread of extremist ideologies among the population, particularly in Sunni areas. They, as much as anything else, represent the price of our failure in the country.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Budget Request

Mike thinks the UW Board of Regents can do more to save money. I have doubts about that. For example, there's always a lot of talk about cutting administration. While UW has more bureaucracy than I would like, a lot of it is necessary to cope with state and federal financial management guidelines, and during my years in Middle East Studies, those became stricter rather than more lenient. Leaving those positions aside, where would you make the cuts? Advising? Financial aid? There's probably a lot of wiggle room in places like housing and athletics, but that's all I can think of. The University also does a lot already to try and find private funding, and I heard from the Dean's office frequently on that topic last year. However, you can't just snap your fingers and conjure up funding out of nowhere. For one thing, you need to employ people to work on it, and for another, you need to have donors interested in basic university functions as opposed to special projects they find interesting.

Scholarly Debates, Damascus Style

One of the funner parts of Michael Chamberlain's book Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350 is his description of the portrayal of scholarly debates in our surviving sources. He once compared the participants to Western gunfighters whose goal was to prove that they were the best mind in town. Here are some quotes, with the references removed because there are so many of them:
"A debate was a duel in the lists, and argument a sword or a knife. The debater triumphed with the 'sword of eloquence,' 'slashing through obscurities men of the sword have never known,' finally 'killing the feeble-minded opponent.' A scholar 'unsheathed the sword of the tongue of eloquence to make war on his opponent.'" (p. 154)

There's more:
"Formal debates were 'contents in the hippodrome,' the debater 'galloping onto the field of eloquence,' attacking like the legendary hero 'Antar, struggling against falsehood with 'Ali's legendary sword Dhu'l-faqar. Victory in debate was 'striking the opponent with an arrow,' 'cutting him off,' or 'taking him to the impasse of surrender.'" (p. 166)

Here is an account of a particular debate:
"In a debate in Baghdad in 605/1208-9, a shaykh quoted a hadith containing a problematic preposition. Taj al-Din al-Kindi interrupted and pronounced the preposition according to one school of thought. The shaykh turned to the wazir and asked who his interlocutor was, and the wazir responded, 'He is one of the Kalb, so let him bark.' The pun was so esteemed that it was lauded in poetry composed to commemorate the event and reported in chronicles written long afterwards." (p. 165)

And, of course, letters of appointment:
"When Muhammad Ibn 'Ali al-Misri was appointed as lecturer and administrator of the Duwla'iyya, the decree referred to him as a man who in the 'thick of debate' 'cuts through obscurities with proofs [sharper] than a sword.' The appointment of Salah al-Din al-Ala'i described the ink that flowed through his pen as the blood that flows from a martyr. The aptness of this language to describe social competition among civilians...was not merely metaphoric license; it was also because shaykhs identified with warriors as engaged in mortal combat." (p. 166)

I wonder if any of my conference exchanges will inspire poetry.

American Footprints

I no longer do as much cross-posting between this site and American Footprints as I used to, though what I post where is still pretty fluid and depends as much on variables like how much is being posted there by others as it does content. In case some of you are making the mistake of not reading that site, however, you might want to check out this review of an excellent book on American-Iranian relations. That's also where you'll find a lot of Afghanistan coverage by several of the contributors.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iraqi Insurgency Organization

In the latest installment of her ordeal published by the Christian Science Monitor, Jill Carroll provides insight into the workings of the militant Sunni insurgents in Iraq. It raises in my mind the question of whether Zarqawi might have influence far more than the 14% of the Iraqi insurgency one study attributed to him.

(This section of narrative was also freaky to read. How does someone go through this and remain sane?)

Suspicions and Muslims

Last week, Natasha Tynes flagged this article about incidents of prejudice against Muslims in the U.S.:
"Motaz Elshafi, 28, a software engineer, casually opened an internal e-mail at work last month. The message began, "Dear Terrorist." The note from a co-worker was sent to Muslims working at Cisco Systems in Research Triangle Park, N.C., a few days after train bombings in India that killed 207. The e-mail warned that such violent acts wouldn't intimidate people, but only make them stronger...

"Derr says she has seen some Muslim children so traumatized by violent bigotry that she wonders whether they'll ever recover. Last October, a Seattle high school junior who had faced verbal harassment was assaulted in gym class. He suffered a hemorrhage behind his eye and a collapsed lung, Derr says. 'The good thing is that the student who did it was convicted of a hate crime.'

"But the beaten boy won't go back to school, she says. 'He's terrified. You can see how damaged he has been. He won't look you in the eye; he just shrinks back. He won't talk.' The family came from Afghanistan four years ago, she says...

"A few years ago, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Asad says two men approached her and aggressively shouted 'Y'all ought to be (expletive) locked up!' Pregnant at the time, she quickly backed away and then realized there were parked cars behind her. 'I felt trapped and very vulnerable. I'm pregnant. I didn't know if they were going to get violent.' Luckily, she says, they just walked away. The mother of three girls says she developed ulcers a few months after 9/11. 'I feel stressed a lot.'"

Meanwhile, Daily Kos notes a Muslim physician was removed from a flight when a passenger regarded his praying as suspicious.

The Daily Kos post was inspired by today's news of two people of Middle Eastern origin removed from a flight due to unspecified "suspicious" activity. About that, a member of the UK's Conservative party had this to say:
"The Conservative homeland security spokesman, Patrick Mercer, described the incident as 'a victory for terrorists'.

"'These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally,' he told the Mail on Sunday.

"'For those unfortunate two men to be victimised because of the colour of their skin is just nonsense.'"

Perhaps all these people whom we expect to be vigilant should get more guidance in what constitutes suspicious behavior.

Trafalgar Square

This picture of London's Trafalgar Square on a summer Saturday night shows Big Ben in the background.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hizbullah as Heroes

Praktike posts about an Egyptian newspaper giving away free posters of Hassan Nasrallah, while Egypt's Youth for Change are organizing a solidarity demo with Hizbullah. What, exactly, did Hizbullah do? While Israel clearly lost the war, all that means is that Hizbullah continues to exist. It's rocket attacks on Israel were probably a war crime and accomplished nothing for Lebanon, simply giving Israel cover for their military operation against it. The only militarily useful things they did came during the Israeli ground campaign, and the IDF still reached the Litani River. Now the Youth for Change is siding with Nasrallah on disarmament. What if Lebanon's democratically elected government, of which Hizbullah is only one part, has a different perspective? Arab nationalists need to determine where democracy and fighting Israel fall in terms of their relative priority.

Quiz Bowl Poetry

This work, entitled "The Ballad of Bovinia State" by the little-known American poet Phil Groce, was e-mailed to me on January 25, 2000.

The Ballad of Bovinia State

Listen, my players, and you shall hear
Of the Penn Bowl semis they held last year
'Tween the champions of tourneys both far and quite near --
And a team full of newbies, shocked just to be here.

On one side sat confident dinosaur vets
Who spouted grandiloquent, bold epithets
About old finals matches and bad question sets.
And nearly as confident as confident gets.

They looked at three players, and one empty seat
And sized them up much as good butchers do meat,
For, no doubt, Bovinia State would get beat
By their cadre of quizbowl assassin elite.

Across from them, sitting there, quiet and shy
Were the kids from Bovinia State, thinking, "Why,
Why, God, have You ordained that we play these guys?
They're champs and we're newbies; we're fated to fry."

There was Raji, a math major brilliant and bright,
Who was fair overflowing with clever insights
In a field which engendered, in many, sheer fright --
But alas, he had yet to get one question right.

Maria, a walk-on philosophy grad
Had helped make what little success they had had.
And they might have done better, but it made her mad
to have knowledge this good, and reflexes this bad.

Third was Amaya, a high school player
Who'd signed up at the Activity Fair.
She had great potential, they all were aware,
But she tended to buzz when she wasn't quite there.

Their star player Ted, for the last year or two
Had been a Chem senior, and picked up a few
Minors in History, Art and Kung Fu --
But where he was now, they hadn't a clue.

And so there they waited, to get beat black and blue.

In the room walked the reader, who sat down and said,
"I'm sorry Bovinia, we can't wait for Ted.
See, we're running behind and we must get ahead
so the tourney directors can all get to bed."

Thus the carnage began, and what carnage it was,
With Bovinia edging in nary a buzz.
The poor squad scored twenty that half just because
The other team didn't know who Superfly was.

At the half, they were dumbfounded not to be swept.
But as the champs chatted and Bovinia wept,
Through the door sauntered Ted, looking wildly unkempt.
"Sorry guys," said the prodigal, "I waay overslept."

"Have a seat," said the reader, "if you want to play."
Still the champs felt ebullient, felt they owned the day.
"Tossup," he began, "_Eugenie_, his first play--"
Buzz! "Ted, what's your answer?" "Pierre Beaumarchais."

And the subsequent tossups all fell that-a-way.

The finals, alas ,were not nearly so kind.
Bovinia lost on "The Maginot Line."
But the grapes were not sour, they tasted like wine.
For they'd shown they could hang with the big boys this time.

So when you're through ten questions, and the score is a laugh,
And you feel less the prodigal, and more like the calf,
Remember that Moses can still raise his staff.
Forget all your screwups, all previous gaffes --

'Cuz the game isn't won 'til the end of both halves.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What Was It For?

I agree with Matthew Yglesias:
"So this war . . . all the Israelis killed . . . the even greater number of Arabs killed . . . Israel achieved, what, exactly? Condoleezza Rice delayed the implementation of a cease-fire agreement for weeks in order to do . . . what? I feel like the many people who were so busy slamming skeptics of Israel's policy really have a duty to address this. What went wrong? Was this really such a hot policy in retrospect? Were all of us saying this was leading to pointless bloodshed and not much else really just driven by our deep-seated Jew-hating?"

Dangerous Ignorance

The tape of Bush and Blair's frank conversation about Hizbullah at the G8 summit scared me. The most frightening part was when Bush expressed his opinion that Assad feared that if Iraq turned out okay and various other things happened, his regime would fall, with the context implying that this was why Hizbullah had attacked Israel. Up until that point I was assuming that the administration was aware their worldview lay discredited and was just sticking to it for political reasons. However, there was no way to explain away that part of the tape as there were other segments, and one is left with the horrible conclusion that our President actually believes much of what he is saying about Iraq.

With this in mind, one has to take seriously many worst-case scenarios for the future. What if we really are planning an attack on Iran? The main reason for discarding the possibility has been the lack of a free army, but then President Bush is doing everything he can to keep them right next door to Iran. Ray Close sees signs a war is coming, and while his case is hardly airtight, others claim to have heard that sort of buzz coming out of the Defense Department.

As Josh Marshall, with whom I share "partisanized moderate" status, says: "It's like we just need to be in lock down. How little more damage can we get by with in the next two and a half years?"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why GOD Never Received Tenure

While cleaning out old e-mail, I found this, which I received as a forward on August 6, 1997:

1. Only one major publication
2. Hebrew
3. references
4. It wasn't published in a refereed journal.
5. There are some doubts he wrote it himself.
6. It may be true he created the world, but what has he done since then?
7. The scientific community has had a hard time replicating his results.
8. Never applied to the ethics board for permission to use human subjects.
9. When experiment went awry, tried to cover it by drowning subjects.
10. When subjects didn't behave as predicted, deleted them from sample.
11. Rarely came to class and just told students to read the book.
12. Expelled the first two students for learning too much.
13. Only had ten requirements, but most of his students failed them.
14. Office hours infrequent and usually held on mountain top.

UPDATE: A comment on a friend's LJ adds rumors that he might have gotten his son to teach important lessons.

It occurred to me that if there were a Muslim version of this, we could add poor proofreading in the form of all those random letters he left at the beginning of chapters.

Religion in Azerbaijan

Registan's newswire today has two articles on plans for a new religion law in Azerbaijan, replacing one from 1997. I'm glad I won't be trying to bring any religious literature with me when I go there:
"Under Azeri law, printers are not allowed to produce religious literature without specific authorisation for a specified number of copies from the State Committee. Literature brought into Azerbaijan by land or air is subject to inspection and, if more than a handful of books, subject to confiscation and despatch to the State Committee for approval.

"Forum 18 has visited the large room in the International Post Office in Baku where all parcels containing religious literature sent to Azerbaijani residents end up, regardless of where in the country they live. Recipients have to come to the post office, collect one copy of each book, take it to the State Committee, wait for it to produce its expert analysis, collect a letter authorising or not authorising the receipt of the named books specifying how many copies of each they may receive, and (if positive) return to the International Post Office to collect the books."

The process of registering is also cumbersome:
"Another Protestant pastor - who asked not to be identified as he was speaking in his own name, not in that of his church - agreed. 'You can't get registration until you get a denomination, but you can't get a denomination until you have a centre abroad,' he told Forum 18 from Baku on 8 August. 'Why not? What if you don't have a centre abroad that you're subject to? What if you're just a few people getting together to worship?'

"The Baku-based pastor also complained about the way registration is implemented. The regulations setting out the procedure require a 'religious centre' to apply for any individual community's registration, as well as requiring that the ten founding members need to present a document from their place of work. 'It's funny: all ten founders need to get a special paper from where they live and where they work,' the pastor told Forum 18. 'This means you have to tell your employer that you are a founder of a religious organisation. As well as potentially bringing problems for you, it violates the Constitution as your religious affiliation is confidential. This must be corrected.'"

All of this sounds mostly like the remains of Soviet-era bureaucracy and hostility to religion, though discrimination is also caused by resentment of religious minorities. A major concern expressed by the state is the activities of Christian missionaries, particularly Baptists, something I've also read about in neighboring Georgia. People who tie their religious beliefs closely to their cultural identity see this as a threat.

Monday, August 14, 2006

After the War

One result of the Lebanon war may be changes in the government of two peoples. In Israel, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is starting to sound relevant again. Meanwhile, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz face challenges to their leadership. Neither had a firm status within their parties going into this, with Peretz alienating some in Labor with his antics during coalition negotiations and Olmert holding Kadima's reins solely because he was Sharon's deputy when the party founder suffered his stroke. My guess is that the most likely political changes will come through internal party challenges, especially in Kadima, where Shaul Mofaz joined the party only after aborting his bid for Likud leadership and was later denied the Defense portfolio in favor of Peretz.

Meanwhile, in the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas are close to creating a unity government. This might go back as far as the joint negotiating position they agreed on at about the same time Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, but has been spurred on by the Israeli campaign against Hamas and Hizbullah. Given Fatah's insistence on key points like respecting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, this might be a good thing for Israel, but Hamas also claims to be drawing the lesson from events in Lebanon that, in the words of the PA's Information Minister, "Resistance should be a key factor in resolving the problems of Lebanon and Palestine." National unity is, I think, good for the Palestinians. According to the Jerusalem Post article, Israel's defeat is resounding around the Arab world, with some commentators arguing it shows the destruction of Israel is a realistic objective, though I'll wait for Abu Aardvark to assess that trend more fully.

The situation in Lebanon is harder to read, though predictably Nasrallah is resisting calls to disarm. He's also trying to build up his group's image by marshalling them for a rebuilding effort.

UPDATE: And then there's Avigdor Lieberman.

Kamoluddin's Death

Several days ago, Kyrgyz security forces killed Rafiq Kamoluddin, imam of the largest mosque in Karasu, a border town between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the Ferghana Valley which some have called "the capital of Hizb ut-Tahrir" because of its influence in the city. Kamoluddin allowed Hizb ut-Tahrir members to worship at his mosque, saying it was free to all, but always said he was opposed to the group's ideology, and compared his stance to Muhammad's own religious tolerance for those with errant doctrines. Kyrgyz authorites, however, are claiming he was a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group tightly linked to al-Qaeda which during the past few years has recovered from the U.S. war in Afghanistan and become active in that region of Central Asia. The evidence against him appears thin, and I suspect that simply by being tolerant he got himself into trouble.

In this article, some question whether it shows greater repression in Kyrgyzstan caused by cooperation between Bishkek and Tashkent, as Uzbekistan leans on its smaller neighbor to help crush dissidents among Kyrgyzstan's sizable Uzbek minority. The deportation of these five refugees from the Andijon massacre also fits that pattern. Given the problematic state of security in the Ferghana Valley, however, it may be that Bakiev feels there is no choice but cooperation among the governments involved in order to crush legitimate security threats. If so, then freedom in Central Asia will take a serious setback.

UPDATE: Kyrgyz authorities are now suggesting that Kamoluddin may have been kidnapped and used as a human shield by the IMU.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


This is the Amman ampitheater as seen from Jabal al-Qala'a.

Jill Carroll's Story

Today, the Christian Science Monitor has published the first part in its series about Jill Carroll's captivity in Iraq. The Monitor is enmeshing the story in drama; predictably, however, Jill is also attuned to the news value of the look inside the Iraqi insurgency. As she notes, it came at a high price, and I think it important that we read and respect it. I'd also call attention to Reporters Without Borders and their ongoing campaigns for journalistic safety and freedom. The situation in Turkmenistan may be of particular concern to American Foorpints readers.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Opposing Nazis

On August 26, a neo-Nazi group will be holding a rally at the state capitol. I think the Steven Morrison of the Madison Jewish Community Council has hit upon the proper response:
"We encourage everyone to totally ignore the rally, thereby depriving them of any audience at all. Far better, join in celebrating Madison Jewish life and the Madison Jewish community's long-standing support of equal opportunity and gay and immigrant rights the next day.

"This annual MJCC Jewish community picnic takes place -- rain or shine -- from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus, 7762 Highway PD, Verona.

"A second suggestion is to make a donation to an LGBT, immigrant rights, Latino, African-American, or Jewish organization -- perhaps a few dollars for every neo-Nazi who shows up at their hate-fest.

"These two suggestions are the antithesis of what these neo-Nazis are all about. What better way to let them know they wasted their time and money coming to Madison."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why Israel Fights

One theme I've noticed floating through commentary on the Lebanon war has been that Israel's battle against Hizbullah is primarily a chapter in a broader war against militant Islam. Imshin links to this example, and it also comes up in this article noted by Allison Kaplan Sommer. Israel's enemies may in fact be less than charming people, but Israel is fighting for its own security, not for some grand cause of freedom and democracy. Regardless of whether I agree with its decisions in that regard, I think it's a key point that needs to be kept in mind in commenting on and formulating policy regarding the Middle East. After all, Israelis will need to explain why they take such a hard line against Hamas despite the fact it came to power democratically, just as Americans who support political reform in the Arab world need to understand that Arab attitudes toward Israel stem from a long history of conflict and the continuing occupation rather than a simple politico-religious ideology.

UPDATE: President Bush is now rhetorically linking Israel's war to the prevention of airline bombings in London.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Attitudes Towards Muslims

According to a recent Gallup poll:
"While Americans tend to disagree with the notion that Muslims living in the United States are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, a significant 34% believe they do back al-Qaeda. And fewer than half -- 49% -- believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.

"Almost four in ten, 39%, advocate that Muslims here should carry special I.D. That same number admit that they do hold some 'prejudice' against Muslims. Forty-four percent say their religious views are too 'extreme.'

"In every case, Americans who actually know any Muslims are more sympathethic."

Hat tip to Daily Kos, where SusanG notes that a key tip in the British airplane plot came from a Muslim informant.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lebanon Commentary

Over at American Footprints, I've posted about the trap in which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert found himself and why he probably responded the way he has. I also link to this Tim Burke post which is worth reading in its own right, as my quote taken in passing doesn't do justice to the whole thing.

Today's Terror Plot

Take it away, Ivo Daalder:
"At the core of the administrations’ war on terror are two strategies, neither of which appear to be particularly relevant in this particular case. One is the notion that we can best win the war on the offense — that should 'fight them over there so we don’t need to fight them over here.' That’s what the Iraq War, and Bush’s support for Israel’s fight against Hizbollah, are all about.

"But as far as we know, the plotters in the UK were homegrown — all were British citizens. Taking the offense in this war — by which the administration means using military force — is worse then useless. For who are you going to bomb? Safe houses in High Wycombe or Birmingham?

"What appears to have cracked this case is not a war strategy or military offensive, but good intelligence, skilled detective work, and months of careful surveillance — the kind of traditional law enforcement strategies and defensive measures that Bush and his administration have always shunned."

This really brings us back to whether rogue states represent the root cause of terrorism. The only two governments convincingly linked to al-Qaeda were the Taliban in Afghanistan and Charles Taylor in Liberia, and at least in the former case, the administration doesn't seem that upset about the resumption of Pakistan's relationship with the ousted rulers.

UPDATE: See also Matthew Yglesias:
"Nevertheless, under the circumstances I can only take this as a good sign. Perhaps people will remember that al-Qaeda is the enemy that hit us on 9/11 and, presumably, is the enemy we ought to be targeting in our post-9/11 policies. Not Iran, not Hezbollah, not any old Muslim who says something we don't like, but al-Qaeda and those inspired by it -- the actual terrorist menace to the United States."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Jill Carroll Arrests

Natasha Tynes notifies us that American marines have arrested four in connection with the kidnapping of Jill Carroll. According to this account they were siezed in a small village west of Falluja. This announcement comes less than a week before The Christian Science Monitor begins an 11-part series on Jill's captivity. I look forward to reading the account, which should provide a unique look into one element of the Iraqi insurgency.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Human Rights Watch

The war in Lebanon has brought a new round of people claiming that Human Rights Watch is biased against Israel and the United States. Yet, as David Asednik notes here, they also criticize Hizbullah's rocket attacks on Israel. David comes off sounding like this is the exception to a pattern. However, without following the organization closely, I have a rather difference impression. Human Rights Watch definitely goes after countries which are the enemies of the U.S. and Israel. You can see their Iran page here, and they also appear unimpressed by North Korea. Instead, the problem is that Americans (and presumably Israelis) only hear about their reports when they weigh in on an issue which is controversial within those societies. I also suspect that governments, wishing to maintain a monopoly on people's moral perceptions, have no compunctions about trying to portray independent voices as biased.

This is not to say that every action criticized by a human rights organization should immediately cease. It might make the world a better place, but is impractical unless everyone abides by it simultaneously, and that won't happen. However, people would do well to keep the larger picture in mind, and value voices dedicated to the human side of sometimes cold political calculations.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

FOX News

If these screen captures are any indication of the tone of their coverage, then I'm glad I'll be at the dentist's office this afternoon where I won't have the tempation to flip to FOX News.

UPDATE: The dental hygenist missed my mouth with the water shooter, not once, not twice, but three times. Is it really that hard?

Monday, August 07, 2006


Juan Cole thinks we may be at a key juncture in the battle for Baghdad:
"In the capital, the US military and Iraqi soldiers of the elected government launched a big security operation. Some 3500 US troops had been brought down from Mosul (where security promptly collapsed, according to al-Zaman).

"It turns out that the Sunni Arab guerrilla strategy had been gradually to ethnically cleanse southern districts of the capital [Ar.], so as to cut it off from the Shiite south. One observer in Baghdad told a friend of mine that this operation is make or break. If the US cannot stop the deterioration of security in Baghdad at this point, then the capital is lost, and with it the country."

Religious Views

Allison Kaplan Sommer highlights a John Stewart segment on Lebanon War coverage this is simultaneously depressing and hilarious, like so much else from the American news media.

On another note, I don't know who's sponsoring these "Israel is Under Attack" TV ads in which you can dial a toll free number to support Israel in some unknown manner, but they're driving me crazy. It's obviously a religious group, as they keep quoting the Bible about giving comfort to innocents in their time of need. Sadly, Lebanese innocents don't appear to register on their radar (even though they do on most Israelis'), and I'm pretty sure God cares about them, too.

An Israeli View

Diklah Cohen, with whom I worked some when I was with Middle East Studies, appears in today's Capital Times with an Israeli view of the war in Lebanon:
"Her father's story, she said, demonstrates that Israel is a haven for the Jewish people in a world where anti-Semitism is still in fashion. That haven, she said, is constantly under attack from those who believe land for peace isn't enough.

"She said she disagrees with a common critique of the war against Lebanon that she often hears in Madison: that Israel overreacted after Hezbollah crossed into Israel and kidnapped two soldiers last month.

"Israel's attacks, she said, are the result of a cumulative effect of attacks by Hezbollah over the years, by a growing threat on Israel's northern cities by a group that does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

"'We feel like we have no choice. Countries around us want to wipe us off the map,' she said. 'Are we going to sit still and do nothing? We have nowhere else to go. Israel is the only place.'

"Steve Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council, said the war hits home for Cohen, whom he said has a compassionate manner.

"'She's a sweet, charming, a loving, delightful person. She hasn't specifically mentioned any worry, but I can see it, I can sense it, because of her style. She's a very emotive kind of person,' Morrison said. 'I know her well, she also mourns for the families of the Lebanese who have died, too.'

"Cohen said it's easy for people to criticize Israel from afar. Of Israel's critics in the area, she said, 'When was the last time they've been witness to a terrorist attack, or sat in a bomb shelter? When was the last time they had to cancel a trip because a bomb hit their hotel? Do they ever walk into a restaurant and wonder, what is the best place to sit in case of a bomb?'"

Unfortunately, what this really does is show one part of the bunker mentality you find in the region. The obvious rebuttal is to talk about how Israel's opponents haven't had the experience of living under occupation. For my part, even given Israel's own terms, I still don't see what this war accomplishes.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


This is not good. I suspect, however, that the corruption is individual rather than institutional.

Christianity and World Peace

Today the Northern Province of the Moravian Church of North America marks its annual Prayer Day for World Peace and Nuclear Disarmament. In an age in which the media often portrays Christians as only interested in controversial social issues, I'm glad to promote this occasion as an example to a concern that united almost all Christians, as well as members of other religions, regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative.

In a similar vein, I was excited that the newest addition to the statuary at London's Westminster Abbey was a row of statues of 20th century Christian martyrs over an entrance, which you can see below. Most of them fell while promoting goals related to peace and social justice. From left to right, they are Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Elizabeth Fyodorovna, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapedi, and Wang Zhiming.

Click on the links above for close-ups and biographies.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


This summer, the British Museum has a special exhibit called "Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East." Below is a work by Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli of the Persian word "heech," which signifies negation. Several other Tanavoli interpretations of that word were on display, most simply the word itself, though one had it climbing out of a golden cage.

What I remember most about the exhibit is how calligraphy, historically the Middle Eastern art par excellence, has blended with Western modern art forms in interesting ways, from an avant garde display designed to be like graffiti on a wall (I forget what it said) to abstract expressionist calligraphy involving random letters over random displays of color.

Things to Read

Moorish Girl offers "What I Read About Lebanon." Among other things, she notes the positions of extremists who deny either the Palestinians' or Israelis' rights to exist as a nation. I've argued before that whatever the situation a century ago, the Palestinians have developed a national consciousness and are the legitimate national heirs of an Arab population which took pride in living in the holy land before the State of Israel came into being. At the same time, whatever the circumstances under which Israel was founded, at least two generations have put their souls and backs into building a state there, a state which how has an Arab majority and of which even the Jewish population is at least half Arab and thus able to claim a piece of an Arab homeland. What's more, I don't believe either people can destroy the other without sacrificing many of the best aspects of their own society. In this as in so much else, Israelis and Palestinians are bound together by fate even in the midst of their conflict.

Meanwhile Mark LeVine questions whether the global left has gone insane. I recognize some of this from his response to questions in his December 2005 visit to Madison. It would seem that the response of some to the Lebanon war has inspired him to develop his argument in full. He is generally further left than I, but an often insightful thinker, and I hope those who currently crowd around the likes of George Galloway take note of what he has to say.

A Closed Circle

Praktike points to some comments by Israel's Justice Minister which I missed earlier:
"'What we should do in southern Lebanon is employ huge firepower before a ground force goes in,' Mr Ramon said at a security cabinet meeting headed by Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. 'Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah. Our great advantage vis-a-vis Hizbollah is our firepower, not in face-to-face combat.'"

I presume some of the logic here is that Hizbullah has a base of support in the civilian population, and that these supporters should be considered the same as Hizbullah. This is the same logic used by many who justify suicide bombings against Israeli civilians on the grounds that they support an occupying power. If this statement is as it appears from context, then in trying to defeat the monster, Haim Ramon has become the monster, and the same goes for any who agree with him.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What Raja Said

Here's a post that sums up where I'm at in terms of my views on the war in Lebanon. You should also read this one.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lebanon's Implications

I've been quietly fearing that blowback from Israel's war in Lebanon would finally push the American position in Iraq into it's worst-case scenario, and that a weakened or even failed state in Lebanon would lead to an enhancement of al-Qaeda influence there which already seems to exist. These fears worsened with reports of Southeast Asian jihadis poised to use Lebanon as a networking ground. What I hadn't considered yet was the possibility of its weakening our already tipsy position in Afghanistan.

What's scary is that the Bush administration has been so supportive of Israel doing whatever it wants regardless of the war's damaging implications for virtually every major aspect of American foreign policy. Sometimes you just have to stop and take in the fact that they really do appear to be dangerously clueless.

If you feel like Bush's presidency has resembled an Edgar Allen Poe story, you're not alone. I'm going to go hide in the 7th century for awhile.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Moroccan Islam and Feminism

A few weeks ago, I noted this in an interview with Nadia Yassine of Morocco's Justice and Charity Group:
"First we need to understand what sharia means; is it only the divinely-ordained penalties or is it dynamic and in need of rediscovery? The problem with Muslims is that they have come to understand the sharia as set texts. We envision the sharia as a spirit that the heart must discover. This is why our charitable educational programs, which are related to Sufi (Islamic mystic) schools, are so important.

"Thus, the most important thing in this field is the preparation of a new generation to acquire the essential tools of intellectual ijtihad (interpretation) in all fields—particularly women, who have been consistently wronged when ijtihad was performed before. The group's general leader Abessalam Yassine emphasizes that the tragedy of Muslims is due largely to the lack of female knowledge of ijtihad, or, more precisely, the exclusion of women from ijtihad. We are now seeing a renaissance of thought relating to women, who are returning to studies generally and particularly to ijtihad in order to acquire real skills."

I just read from Moorish Girl that Morocco is now training female religious leaders. This is being done under royal auspices, and fits the pattern I've noticed in the Arab world of rulers supporting social reforms in order to divide their proponents from political reformers. However, together both the monarchy's recent actions and the views of its Islamist opponents (Yassine supports a republican government) show that there's a lot happening out on the Maghreb that amount to a revivial of Islam's historic dynamic and progressive spirit.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

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Civilian Casualties

Human Rights Watch has concluded that while Hizbullah is guilty of using civilians as human shields, Israel is also guilty of attacking civilian targets:
"On July 15, for example, a group of villagers from Marwahin left the area in a convoy, in part because Hezbollah was attempting to store weapons behind their homes, and residents feared a retaliatory IDF strike.9 Two rockets believed to have been fired from Israeli helicopters struck a white pick-up and a passenger car in the convoy on the road between the villages of Chamaa and Biyada, killing twenty-one civilians (see 'Attacks on Fleeing Civilians'). A U.N. team trying to retrieve the bodies came under fire from the IDF.10 While the villagers’ flight could be attributed in part to Hezbollah’s unlawful attempt to store weapons in Marwahin—the main reason for flight was the Israeli warning to evacuate within two hour—Human Rights Watch found no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah fighters were near the civilian convoy when it got hit.

"Christian villagers fleeing the village of `Ain Ebel have also complained about Hezbollah tactics that placed them at risk, telling the New York Times that 'Hezbollah came to [our village] to shoot its rockets.… They are shooting from between our houses.'11 `Ain Ebel was a former stronghold for the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army (SLA), a force opposed to Hezbollah. According to an official from `Ain Ebel, some villagers told him that Hezbollah had fired at Israel from certain positions close to their houses, although so far Human Rights Watch has heard no reports of Hezbollah entering any village homes. No villagers have died but a number have been injured (mostly from broken glass), and Israeli fire had destroyed roughly eighty of 400 houses, he said.12.

"Human Rights Watch is hardly asserting that all Israeli strikes have targeted civilians. There are obviously many cases in which Israeli forces attacked legitimate military targets, such as rocket launchers and dug-in military positions. However, in the cases documented below, no apparent military objective existed in the civilian houses that Israel attacked. Villagers interviewed privately in one-on-one settings stated credibly and consistently that Hezbollah was not present in their homes or the vicinity when the attacks took place, and Human Rights Watch found no other evidence to suggest that Hezbollah had been there."

You'll have to go through those cases yourself (including an account of Qana), as there's no good way to excerpt them. It sounds like Israel is acting on a lot of questionable intelligence, striking anything they believe might be a Hizbullah target, such as vehicles fleeing target areas which they fear might be carrying something they want to destroy. They are also not limiting themselves to attacking Hizbullah's military wing.

(Hat tip: Juan Cole)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Efficacy of Violence

Matthew Yglesias, from a series of posts on the efficacy of violence:
"During the Anglo-Irish war, for example, one thing the Irish side needed to do successfully was convince the English that the price of staying in Ireland was going to be too high. They also needed, however, to convince the English that the price of leaving wouldn't be too high. Nobody wants to leave an occupied territory only to see that territory turn into a lethal security threat. Under the circumstances, it helps if your violence seems clearly related to the political objectives of independence (killing soldiers, police, and officials) rather than indicative of deep-seated bloodlust or hatred. The Palestinians keep failing to win independence in large part because the unrestrained nature of the violence they unleash makes Israelis extremely fearful of what an independent Palestine would mean for them."

One aspect of the Gaza withdrawal was supposed to be a test of what would happen when Israel left a territory. Had Palestinian militants simply taken credit for driving Israel away and then declared a ceasefire while negotiating over West Bank withdrawals, the Middle East today would be a happier place. Instead, violence out of the Gaza Strip reduced Israeli support for further withdrawals, and ultimately led to the current war in Lebanon. By the same token, Hizbullah's behavior convinces people that the Shebaa Farms is just an excuse to remain armed, and if Israel were to leave them, they'd just find another one.

The same thing, however, applies to Israel, which has the ultimate goal of living in peace with its neighbors. Some claim that all Arabs simply want to wipe Israel off the map, but that is simply not true, and many now accept, if grudgingly, the Jewish state's right to exist. However, when Arabs who are on the fence about what their ultimate goal should be see the huge onslaught against Lebanon, one which goes beyond Hizbullah military targets, and tie it to the unrelenting support of the Bush administration, many undoubtedly see its existence as a long-term threat to Arabdom, something like a Western client state which uses terrorism as an excuse to pursue an agenda for regional dominance. This is something which should factor into Israel's calculations when they decide which potentially Hizbullah-related targets are worth pursuing. A few months ago, I would have said Lebanon might be the next Arab state to recognize Israel. Now, that is inconceivable.

Magan Boat Project

One of the more interesting presentations from last week's Seminar for Arabian Studies was Tom Vosmer's report on the latest efforts of the Magan Boat Project. This group works under the idea that they can learn more about the unknown elements of Bronze Age sailing from southeastern Arabia to Gujarat by building duplicates of the Bronze Age boats and trying to sail them, seeing what sort of construction materials and techniques best conform to the surviving evidence.

The most recent version, Magan III, launched last September, and sank after a few hours. Regrettably, I can't capture the humor with which Vosmer told the story of the boat's construction and brief voyage. However, I do remember much of what they learned. One was the efficacy of wool sails in the Gulf of Oman, which they had never before tried. Another was that bitumen from southern Iraq worked much better than the non-Gulf products they had used earlier. Furthermore, although holes began to appear between the reed bundles as the bitumen curles around them soon after setting sail, the patching they did with bits of rope and wood en route closely resembled the remains of Bronze Age ships, suggesting this was a problem sailors then encountered and solved the same way.

We can expect to learn more, as they're already planning Magan IV.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Still Catching Up

I'm still a long way from mastering the wealth of information and ideas produced about the Lebanon war during the past week, but evidence keeps mounting that Hizbullah is using civilians as human shields, often against their will. Mark LeVine is also on board with this, and he knows people in Hizbullah and is far from an Israeli propagandist. Meanwhile, judging from Israeli blogs, that nation is still wholeheartedly behind the assault on Lebanon. I find this difficult to relate to, though I guess after being an American in early 2003 I should look at it as a mirror of what countries are like during the early heat wave of a war against an already hated enemy.

For those interested in something different, Mark LeVine has also proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Finally, there was an unconscious historical parallel in my comments yesterday about Olmert's questionable decisions perhaps leading Israelis to turn to Netanyahu. One key result of the 1996 Qana attack was a boycott of the 1996 elections by Israeli Arabs, leading to a narrow victory for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party over Shimon Peres's Labor. According to William Quandt, Peres and Arafat had already reached basic understandings about a peace agreement to be pursued after the election, though of course Netanyahu was less than kindly disposed toward the Palestinians and the peace process began seriously floundering, never to recover.