Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zaza Nationalism

This is the first I've heard of the Zazas:
"Until recently, speakers of the Zaza language within Turkey have been considered part of the vast Kurdish ethnic group spread over Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. In the 1980s, the creation of a Latin alphabet suitable for Zaza-language publishing created a renewal in Zaza literature and culture, leading to the development of a type of Zaza nationalism that some Kurds suspect is inspired by Turkey’s intelligence agencies as a means of dividing the Kurds and weakening the Kurdish militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan - PKK).

"Zaza nationalism is still opposed by some Zaza-speakers who consider themselves Kurds. [1] Zaza nationalism is focused on the Zazaki dialect and native Zazaki speakers in Turkey. Some Zaza nationalists also want an independent Zaza homeland called Zazaistan in Turkey, potentially weakening the appeal of the PKK among speakers of the Zazaki dialect...

"The recent discussion about “mother language education” in Turkey and the policy of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi - AKP) government to open a Kurdish-language television station could strengthen the divisions between Kurmanci and Zaza speakers (see Terrorism Focus, January 13). The current TRT 6 channel only broadcasts in Kurmanci, but there are also plans to broadcast in the “Kurdish dialects Zaza and Sorani” (Hurriyet, January 2). This was welcomed by several Zaza speakers (, January 7). On internet forums, however, Zaza nationalists have already emphasized that they want a Zaza channel, not a Kurdish Kurmanci channel."

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Atrocities, or Just Insults?

Several days ago, Arabist flagged an account of Palestinian children being shot execution-style in Gaza which I said in comments sounded like a crude attempt at propaganda. Unfortunately, it hasn't ended there, with further reports such as this one:
"Abed Rabbo’s family had dealt with Israeli soldiers before, in March 2008 during a brief Israeli incursion. Nothing had happened then, and they just expected a search of their house this time around. The Israelis made him and his family line up and wait as tanks lined up across them. Then a red-haired soldier sporting Haredim long locks came out of a tank, shot his 2-year old daughter Amal ('her guts spilled out of her stomach') and then his 7-year-old daughter Sohad. They then destroyed a nearby ambulance, and when they found a man with a horse cart to help them, the man and his horse was shot. According to Rabbo, he and his wife (who is still under shock) were left alive and their daughters targeted and kept from medical care on purpose, to teach them a lesson. His third daughter was also shot (and will probably be disabled for life) and is receiving medical care in Belgium."
Arabist has also noted this report from Gulf News:
"Doctors operating the only brain-scanning machine at an Egyptian hospital near Gaza have been almost overwhelmed by the number of Palestinian children arriving with bullet wounds to the head.

"On just one day last week, staff at the Al Arish hospital in Sinai were called to perform CAT scans on a nine year old, two 10 year olds and a 14 year old, each of whom had a bullet lodged in their brain after coming under fire during the Israeli ground assault on Gaza...

"Dr Yahia, a professor of neurosurgery, believes that the bullet was shot from close range. 'If it changes course inside the brain it has high velocity and its penetrative force is also high,' he said.

"'I can't precisely decide whether these children are being shot at as a target, but in some cases the bullet comes from the front of the head and goes towards the back, so I think the gun has been directly pointed at the child.'

"Dr Ayman Abd Al Hadi, a medical team leader at the hospital, said: 'We've had one child with two bullets in the head and nowhere else. We think this shows something.'"

These atrocities seem unspeakable, and certainly don't reflect the Israeli mainstream, or even most of the right. If there's anything to them, they probably come out of the same 10% or so of Israelis who think Baruch Goldstein, who perpetrated the 1994 Hebron Massacre, was a hero, and cheer for Yigal Amir at Jerusalem Beiter soccer games. There was definitely significant incitement in the field:
"In addition to the official publications, extreme right-wing groups managed to bring pamphlets with racist messages into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to 'the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg' - the former rabbi at Joseph's Tomb and author of the article 'Baruch the Man,' which praises Baruch Goldstein, who massacred unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. It calls on 'soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law 'kill the one who comes to kill you.' As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy.'"

Today brings reports of investigations into graffiti that reflect a worldview conducive to massacres. It's a long way from graffiti to shooting children, but unfortunately we do have a pool of reports suggesting that some radical militants capable of the latter burrowed their way into the IDF and rode it into Gaza. This requires looking into.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lack of Gitmo Files

There was a quiet assumption that after Bush left office and a new administration was poring over all his stuff, we'd find out things were worse than we knew for sure when he was in office. I'm afraid the Gitmo Files affair may be the tip of the iceberg. For information, read Hilzoy here and here. The second post quotes this statement from a JAG officer:
"Instead, to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."

Steve Benen chimes in:
"On the one hand, the Bush administration released some detainees who apparently turned out to be pretty dangerous. On the other, the Bush administration refused to release other detainees who weren't dangerous at all, and were actually U.S. allies.

"How could this happen? In light of these revelations about the lack of files, it starts to make a lot more sense.

"But to put this in an even larger context, consider just how big a mess Bush has left for Obama here. The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who've been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren't hard enough to clean up."


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Steckler on Obama

My Great Aunt Mary was in the Quincy Herald-Whig commenting on the Obama inauguration.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Freed Gitmo Inmates

I agree with this post on the spate of reports about freed Gitmo inmates who have since joined terrorist groups:
"I get the idea behind reports like these -- Guantanamo has housed some dangerous folks, and if we let them go, they'll do dangerous things. Therefore, we better not let them go, and Obama should rethink all of his recent announcements.

"Except, the evidence doesn't match the conclusion. Obama isn't saying that he wants to just open the Gitmo doors, he saying he wants to review the pending cases and present evidence against the bad guys as part of a legal process. Ali al-Shihri returning to al Qaeda isn't evidence of a flawed Obama process, it's evidence of a flawed Bush process. Why did Bush let a dangerous guy this go? Did Bush's team not consider, I don't know, bringing charges against him before setting him free?

"And third, again, the argument about how this relates to Obama is flawed. As Atrios noted, it wasn't Obama's policy that led to their release. The administration created this nightmare at Guantanamo, which was supposedly necessary for U.S. national security. What do we have to show for the former president's efforts? A series of bad guys who went free, and many more bad guys we'll struggle to prosecute because the Bush administration broke the law and tortured them."

Most of the American left, especially the "partisanized moderates," to borrow Josh Marshall's old phrase, weren't just disagreeing with President Bush ideologically, they were aghast at his sheer incompetence. His signature issue was fighting Islamist terrorism, and yet his administration has seen transnational militant jihadi movements increase their power in Iraq, Pakistan, and several other areas. Gitmo is a broader part of that situation, and frankly it wouldn't surprise me if we ultimately learn that it formed something along the lines of what has happened in some Arab countries, where people turn to terrorism as a specific response to torture, where the existing terrorists in their midst provided an ideological avenue for coping with it.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Happy Inauguration Day!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Party Banning Redux

Matthew Yglesias talks about the decision to ban Arab parties:
"Israel is one of a number of democracies that combines religious tolerance with an established state religion (pretty much all of Protestant Europe, e.g.) and also one of a number of democracies that relies heavily on ethnic origin as a criteria for immigration (Germany, Finland, etc.) both of which are important parts of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. If you ask me, that’s fine. But by the same token, it’s hardly beyond the pale for a political party to think that those kind of policies should be changed and if that means calling into question Israel’s existence as a specifically 'Jewish state,' as opposed to a state where lots of Jews live, I don’t really see why that should be illegal.

"More broadly, though, I agree with Kirchick that the pragmatics of this are hard to understand. Israeli Arab public opinion isn’t a small, violent conspiracy that you can ban and extinguish. It’s a real issue that Israel needs to grapple with."

Although I dissent from commenters who see the ban as itself a sign of democracy, Israel's Supreme Court will almost certainly overturn it. The real problem here is the divide between Israel's Jewish majority and its many non-Zionist Arab citizens, one which is seen most clearly in the Arab riots during the al-Aqsa Intifada and the rise of Yisrael Beiteinu. A year or two ago, Ehud Olmert threatened to have internal security services work to undermine parties and groups which opposed the state's Jewish nature. There's clearly an establishment committed to preserving a nationalist ideology at any cost, one which can score points by attacking the legal legitimacy of its main ideological adversaries, however unlikely they are to acquire any sort of power democratically. This behavior is well on the way to the Turkish and Iranian enforcement of ideological litmus tests on who can compete in the democratic arena.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CORE 183A: The Middle East

This is the new, improved version of my interdisciplinary introduction to the Middle East.

CORE 183A: The Middle East
109 Alumni Hall, 2:45 TR
Dr. Brian Ulrich

Office: 309 Alumni Hall, Ex. 7556 (Office Hours: 1-4 p.m. Wednesday or by appointment)

“Before I came here, I was confused about this subject. Now I am still confused, but at a higher level.” – att. Enrico Fermi

“I want to start discussions. Arguments. Preferably a bar fight or two.” – J. Michael Straczinski

Required Texts:
Understanding the Contemporary Middle East, 3rd Edition, ed. Jillian Schwedler and Deborah J. Gerner
A History of the Arab Peoples, 1st Edition, Albert Hourani
Covering Islam, Edward Said
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami
On Shifting Ground: Muslim Women in the Global Era, ed. Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone

Reserve Texts with Required Readings:

Islam, Jamal J. Elias
The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an, ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe
Pop Culture: Arab World, Andrew Hammond (also electronic resource)
Electronic reserves found on Blackboard

This course will introduce students to important aspects of the Middle East, with particular emphasis on the deep connections between the Middle East and what we think of today as “the West” both throughout history and in the modern world. Whereas most courses are designed to clarify topics, it is hoped that students will emerge from this one confused about many of the complex issues we will address, but that this confusion is grounded in increased knowledge of the region and a textured understanding of life away from the crisis-inspired headlines that draw many to study it.

Exam dates and due dates for major papers will not change for any reason, and students who have unavoidable conflicts must see me for alternate arrangements as soon as they become known. Small assignments will usually be announced one or two class periods in advance, and will receive reduced credit if handed in late. Occasional quizzes may check student comprehension of readings and other course material and cannot be made up. Attendance in class is mandatory, and missing more than two class periods will result in a reduced participation grade. Participation, however, is more than just attendance, and will reflect your asking and answering of questions and participation in discussions. The instructor may change readings during the course of the semester.

Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated and handled according to Colgate procedures. Any text in taken from another source in an assignment must be noted with quotation marks and the original source indicated. On some assignments, all information, regardless of whether exact words are used, must be cited via footnotes. Furthermore, due to the importance of participation and handing in assignments in a timely manner, misrepresentation of the reasons for an absence or late assignment will be considered a case of academic dishonesty.


Major Papers (2): 10% Each
Small Assignments and Quizzes: 15%
Participation: 15%
Overwhelming Midterm Exam: 25%
Final Exam: 25%

If you feel you may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs. If you have not already done so, please contact Lynn Waldman at the Office of Academic Support and Disability Services in the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research. Ms. Waldman is responsible for determining reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis, and more generally, for ensuring that members of the community with disabilities have access to Colgate’s programs and services. She also assists students in identifying and managing the factors that may interfere with learning and in developing strategies to enhance learning. Her services are available free of charge to all students.

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

January 19 – Intro
January 20 – Gerner and Schwedler, Chapter 2 “A Geographic Preface”; J.M. Wagstaff, “The Measure of the Region,” The Evolution of Middle Eastern Landscapes, (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1985), pp. 9-28.
January 22 – Hourani, pp. 7-54, 181-6

January 27 – Elias, pp. 13-27; Qur’an, Suras 1 and 2; Jane Dammen McAuliffe, “The Tasks and Traditions of Interpretation,” The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an, ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe, (CASE hard copy reserves)
January 29 – Elias, pp. 44-81; Brian Ulrich on Ashura 1, 2; On-line intro to Jalal al-Din Rumi

February 3 – Fethullah Gulen on Jihad; “The Veil Debate – Again,” Leila Ahmed (On Shifting Ground); Hammond, “The Growth of TV Evangelists since the 1970’s” and “Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia,” pp. 205-15; Hadith selections
February 5 – Hourani, pp. 189-205; Charles Burnett, “The Translating Activity in Medieval Spain,” The Legacy of Muslim Spain, ed. Salma Khadra al-Jayyusi, (Leiden: Brill, 1992), pp. 1036-58.

February 10 – Hourani, pp. 207-42, 249-53; Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, (New York: Basic Books, 2008), pp. 130-44.
February 12 – Hourani, pp. 258-85, 302-32

February 17 – Hourani, pp. 340-5, 351-79, 381-84, 389-97
February 19 – Hourani, pp. 397-433; James L. Gelvin, “The Iranian Revolution” The Modern Middle East: A History, 2nd Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 282-93.

February 24 – Gerner and Schwedler, Chapter 4, “Middle Eastern Politics”
February 26 – Zachary Lockman, “Said’s Orientalism: A Book and Its Aftermath,” Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 182-214; Said, pp. 3-35

March 3 – Overwhelming Midterm Exam
March 5 – Said, pp. 36-68

March 10 – Said, pp. 81-133
March 12 – Schwedler and Gerner, Chapter 10, “Kinship, Class and Ethnicity”; Charles Tripp, A History of Iraq, 3rd Ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 259-67.


March 24 – Lalami, entire book – there will be a reading quiz!
March 26 – Gerner and Schwedler, Chapter 11, “The Role of Women”; “The Missionary Position,” Laila Lalami (Blackboard External Links)

March 31 – Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, In Search of Islamic Feminism, (New York: Anchor Books, 1998), pp. 72-124; “On and Off-Camera in Egyptian Soap Operas: Women, Television and the Public Sphere,” Lila Abu-Lughod (OSG)
April 2 – “Globalizing Equality: Muslim Women, Theology, and Feminism,” Asma Barlas; “Between Religion and Secularism: Islamist Women of Hamas,” Islah Jah (Both OSG)

April 7 – “Singing a New Song: Bonding and Breaking with the Past,” Sherifa Zuhur; “The Prospects for Democracy: Women Reformists in the Iranian Parliament,” Elaheh Koolaee; “Women and Civil Society in Iran,” Mehrangiz Kar; “Shirin Ebadi: A Perspective on Women’s Rights in the Context of Human Rights,” Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone (all OSG)
April 9 – Hugh Miles, “Making a Splash in the Arab World,” Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel that is Challenging the West, (New York: Grove Press, 2005), pp. 37-67.

April 14 – “The Satellite, the Pirnce, and Sheherazade: Women as Communicators in Digital Islam,” Fatema Mernissi; “Wings of Freedom: Iranian Women, Identity, and Cyberspace,” Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone (Both OSG); “Love on Girls’ Side of the Saudi Divide,” Katherine Zoepf (Blackboard Electronic Links); “Marriage in Egypt” (New York Times slide show, Blackboard External Links); Hammond, “Consumerism,” pp. 255-85.
April 16 – Schwedler and Gerner, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” pp. 185-214

April 21 – Palestine Monitor, all issue sections on left sidebar; “Palestinian Terrorism,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Hamas Charter (All Blackboard External Links); Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, “A Movable Death,” Lords of the Land, tr. Vivian Eden, (New York: Nation Books, 2007), pp. 245-75.
April 23 – “Haniyeh and His Israeli Sisters,” Lisa Goldman; “The Choice of Israel,” Liza Rosenberg; “Palestine’s Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood,” Mustafa Barghouti (All Blackboard External Links)

April 28 - Gerner and Schwedler, Chapter 7, “The Economies of the Middle East,” and Chapter 9, “Population Growth, Urbanization, and the Challenges of Unemployment,”
April 30 – Gerner and Schwedler, Chapter 8, “The Political Economy of Middle Eastern Oil”

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Ottoman Empire Syllabus

For those interested in an Ottoman course...

HIST 255: The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1924
109 Alumni Hall, 1:20 TR
Dr. Brian Ulrich

Office: 309 Alumni Hall, Ex. 7556 (Office Hours: 1-4 p.m. Wednesday or by appointment)

Required Texts:

Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire, Caroline Finkel
The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power, Colin Imber
My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk

Reserve Texts with Required Readings:

The Ottoman Empire, ed. Halil Berktay and Bogdan Mergescu (primary source workbook on Blackboard)
Conversion to Islam in the Balkans, Anton Minkov
Electronic reserves found on Blackboard

The Ottoman Empire was the last great agrarian empire to arise in the Middle East. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it disintegrated into modern nation-states, all of which rejected its dominant ideology and today remember it as oppressive. In this course, we will study the history of the Ottoman Empire, which is deeply entwined with that of both Europe and the Middle East. In addition, we will work to understand the Ottoman Empire as an example of a Middle Eastern agrarian empire, one of the most important political formations in the premodern world, and the circumstances which led to its disintegration into the nation-states which are such an important aspect of the modern world. In addition, we will come to see the role of different beliefs and worldviews in forming different historical narratives, and thus how history itself is a construction of present interests.

Our core text for this class will be Caroline Finkel’s highly readable narrative history Osman’s Dream. This will be supplemented by Colin Imber’s The Ottoman Empire, which examines the empire’s society and institutions during what is usually considered its height. We also have a primary source anthology found on Blackboard under “Course Documents.” In addition to two exams, students will complete as an experimental assignment an essay on the uses of different aspects of Ottoman history in Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red, a murder mystery/romance/meditation on art history by a leading contemporary Turkish writer. At the end of the semester, you will also write a 7-page essay on the importance of Ottoman history for the present. There will also be occasional very short response papers and quizzes which will be collected occasionally but randomly as a means of stimulating discussion, ensuring reading comprehension, and making sure that those who do the readings as required are suitably rewarded in final grades.

Useful terms:

Primary sources – The original materials historians use to reconstruct the past
Secondary sources – The accounts modern historians write based on primary sources
Historiography – The study of secondary sources

Small Assignments and Quizzes: 20%
Participation: 15%
Pamuk Essay: 10%
Final Essay: 15%
Mid-Term Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 20%

Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated and handled according to Colgate procedures. Any text in an assignment taken from another source must be noted with quotation marks and the original source indicated. On some assignments, all information, regardless of whether exact words are used, must be cited via footnotes. Furthermore, due to the importance of participation and handing in assignments in a timely manner, misrepresentation of the reasons for an absence or late assignment will be considered a case of academic dishonesty.

If you feel you may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs. If you have not already done so, please contact Lynn Waldman at the Office of Academic Support and Disability Services in the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research. Ms. Waldman is responsible for determining reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis, and more generally, for ensuring that members of the community with disabilities have access to Colgate’s programs and services. She also assists students in identifying and managing the factors that may interfere with learning and in developing strategies to enhance learning. Her services are available free of charge to all students.

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

January 20 – Finkel, Chapter 1; Imber, pp. 1-27
January 22 – Cemal Kafadar, Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 29-59; Heath W. Lowry, The Nature of the Early Ottoman State, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), pp. 5-13.

January 27 – Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, (New York: New York University Press, 1998), pp. 58-80; Primary sources I-3 to I-9, “Marko and the Turks”
January 29 – Finkel, Chapter 2; Primary sources II-1 to II-3

February 3 – Finkel, Chapter 3; Imber, pp. 27-44, Primary sources I-12, I-13, III-5
February 5 – Finkel, Chapter 4; Primary source III-1, v11, v12

February 10 – Finkel, Chapter 5; Imber, pp. 44-66
February 12 – Finkel, Chapter 6

February 17 – Imber, Chapter 2
February 19 – Imber, Chapters 3-4; Primary sources I-11, II-5 - II-7, v8

February 24 – Imber, Chapter 5; Johann Strauss, “Ottoman Rule Experienced and Remembered: Remarks on Some Local Greek Chronicles of the Tourkokratia,” The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography, ed. Fikret Adanir and Suraiya Faroqhi, (Leiden: Brill, 2002), pp. 193-208, Primary source II-8, II–11, v10
February 26 – Imber, Chapter 6, Primary sources II-12 – II-17

March 3 - Midterm
March 5 – Finkel, Chapter 7, Primary source II-4

March 10 – Baki Tezcan, “Search for Osman: A Reassessment of the Deposition of the Ottoman Sultan Osman II (1618-1622), (Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2001), pp. 1-26; Ralph S. Hattox, Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985), pp. 112-30, Primary source IV-13
March 12 – Leslie P. Peirce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 113-49; Primary source IV-33, “Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Dining With the Sultana, 1718”


March 24 – Finkel, Chapter 8, Primary source III-4
March 26 – Pamuk, My Name is Red (entire book)

March 31 – Finkel, Chapter 9, Primary sources III-12, IV-9
April 2 – Finkel, Chapter 10, Pamuk essay due

April 7 – Anton Minkov, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans, Chapter III (hard copy reserve), Primary sources I-15 – I-18
April 9 – Finkel, Chapter 11

April 14 – Finkel, Chapter 12, Primary sources II-21, II-22
April 16 – Jane Hathaway, The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, (London: Pearson, 2008), pp. 228-48.

April 21 – Finkel, Chapter 13, Primary sources IV-15, IV-16
April 23 – Finkel, Chapter 14, Muhammad Ali Appointment Firman

April 28 – Finkel, Chapter 15
April 30 – Finkel, Chapter 16, Final Essay Due

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Arab Parties Banned

Israeli democracy is in crisis as Arab parties have been banned from running in next month's elections:
"Israel on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month's parliamentary elections, drawing accusations of racism by an Arab lawmaker who said he would challenge the decision in the country's Supreme Court.

"The ruling by parliament's Central Election Committee reflected the heightened tensions between Israel's Jewish majority and Arab minority caused by Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Arabs have held a series of demonstrations against the offensive."

Whatever the excuse, these parties' real crime is taking unpopular viewpoints both on issues of national security and in dissenting from the unapologetic nationalism which Zionism in fact represents. I'm willing to live with a state defined as Jewish, but by declaring opposing viewpoints beyond the pale, Israel is heading down the same path that leads to a vetting process in Iran by which parties are declared outside the pale for failing to display adequate loyalty to the Khomeinist vision of the state.

What hasn't been banned is Yisrael Beiteinu.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Goldman's Tales

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gaza Reflection

My positions on the current Israel/Gaza fighting have seemed confused and meandering, even to me.

I think it's because, as I watch events unfold, I'm thinking of people I care about on both sides, all good people, sincere in the belief that their cause is just and their actions necessary. All I have to do to sense the personal side is look at my friends' status updates on Facebook. It's not an environment which is conducive to heated rhetoric.

I just want this conflict to end. Now.

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November 4 Raid

IPS News argues that an Israeli raid on November 4 was a catalyst for unwinding the ceasefire, leading to the current war. I wasn't watching Gaza closely in November, nor do I have time now to evaluate this claim, but I thought it should be out there.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Historicizing Jihadi Islam: Labels Revisited

In blogging about the MESA session on "The Global Spread of Saudi Islamism," I expressed frustration with the way labels were being seemingly tossed about with different and conflicting implicit meanings. This was not a problem at the AHA session "Historicizing Jihadi Islam," which came close to being all about getting at a way of talking about the various phenomena which fall within the field of Islamic political activism.

First, because it came up, a word about the use of "jihadi" in this context. The commentator, UCLA's Patrick Geary, castigated the panelists for discussing only the militant aspects of jihad. When one looks at what was actually presented, however, they very clearly dealt with the phenomenon that within the Muslim world is popularly called "jihadi," regardless of the theological precision with which the term is bring used. In fact, in the wake of the 18th and 19th century reform movements, groups which practice an aggressive military jihad are likely to oppose Sufism, the strain of Islam within which non-violent jihad has the greatest prominence.

That said, the first speaker was David Commins, whose work on Wahhabi history I blogged about here, talked about "The Changing Form of Jihad in Wahhabi Islam." His argument was much the same as in his book, that al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers from within Wahhabism owe more ideologically to the Islamic revivalism of Sayyid Qutb than to the religious teachings of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab, though in this paper he seemed to avoid the tendency of his book to portray them as actually non-Wahhabi. The key distinction as far as military jihad goes is that for Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the goal was to expand the domain of the Wahhabi community so as to reform religious worship and practices, whereas Qutb's primary nemesis was internal non-Muslim rulers, and the goal was political sovereignty for a community in which Islam was the source of all law. He also talked about the importance of 1980's Afghanistan in bringing Qutbists and Wahhabis together. He also noted that the distinctions he was drawing often blur in practice, which I underlined in my notes even though I'm no longer 100% certain of its context.

Another interesting note is that Commins talked about someone (Nasr al-Fahad?) who is portraying Osama b. Laden as a new Ibn al-Wahhab with the Taliban as the Saudis. Like Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Bin Laden was forced to flee until he found supporters, and like the original Saudi state founded in the 18th century, the Taliban were defeated, temporarily being the implication, by an invading major power.

Thomas Hegghammer's paper was an attempt to define the terms everyone keeps using for Islamic activists, as well as propose a new schema based off the rationales for the activities of various Islamist groups around the world. He began by discussing the four terms which come from within debates within the Islamic world and the meanings they seem to have. "Jihadi" conveys a general sense of militancy, and is usually applied to Sunnis whose goals aren't limited to a particular nation. "Takfiri" is always derogatory, and used to denote extremism. "Salafi," meanwhile is the opposite of "takfiri," and used by people to claim a "primal purity" for their agenda. As I've noted in previous posts, even though it can be and is used by a number of actors, it has come be strongly favored by more literalist and puritanical groups. Finally, there is the "jihadi salafi," which generally refers to transnational militants.

In place of this Hegghammer proposed a fivefold division into groups which had as their primary area of activity the state, nation, umma, moral reform, or the interests of a particular sect. He also drew a cross-cutting division between violent and non-violent groups. This does seem like an analytic advance that could lead to better thinking about these issues among social scientists, of which Hegghammer is one.

Because of the make-up of the crowd, I felt that this was one session where I could learn more from asking my own question than listening to those of others, and so raised the point of whether the fact all three panelists were doing their work in Arabic sources was creating distortions given the diversity of the Muslim world. Hegghammer gave a solid answer than pan-Islamism aspires to Arabness and that the major transnational conversations take place in Arabic. There is perhaps a slight hole here in that it doesn't take into account recruitment conversations, in which a member of Abu Sayyaf tries to get people from a Philippine village to sign on, but its defensible. When you look at the web site of an international group like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Arabic has pride of place.

At the same time, however, the more I think about it the more it seems like trying to label something like "Islamic activism" is too broad. Take, for example, the Gulen Movement. This is one of the largest Islamic movements in the world today, and its leadership deliberately avoids the Arab world. What about Sisters in Islam, the Malaysian Muslim feminist group? Among transnational conservative groups, Hegghammer's typology may work, but the range to which it applies needs itself a clear statement of definition lest we wind up with simply a modified form of the monolithic Islam that the media often seems to talk about.

I haven't mentioned the third panelist, James Gelvin. He mostly talked about his anarchism thing, which is, I gather, not that popular, and seems to be part of a misguided attempt to find what he calls "rules of history." He did, however, call upon scholars to abandon the framework of "terrorology" in looking at militant Islamist movements. This is a call we would do well to heed.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Bush Legacy

Matthew Yglesias points out the inanity of one of the more common Bush legacy claims:
"Yes, it’s true that George W. Bush was correct to say that terrorists armed with nuclear weapons would be dangerous. But this is like congratulating him for knowing how to tie his shoes. Nobody disputes this point. The novel idea Bush brought to the table about this subject was his decision to prevent al-Qaeda from getting a nuclear weapon by invading a country that had neither a nuclear weapons program nor operational ties to al-Qaeda. This is like saying that whatever you think of Herbert Hoover’s economic policies, at least he correctly ascertained that a return to prosperity would be desirable."


Monday, January 05, 2009

Feeding the Arab World

In a recent issue of the Middle East Review of International Affair, Elie ElHadj predicted that the coming decades would see a food crisis in the Arab world. He's right that becoming self-sufficient in food isn't an option, something the Gulf states have begun to realize during the past year. They've taken to buying land in India and Latin America. What Elhadj doesn't go into is the broader economic problems faced by the region. When I was preparing for my interdisciplinary Middle East course last semester, I was stunned by just how much the economies of the poorer Arab states depend on forms of rent and remittances from migrant labor. The region's historic comparative advantage, its location, has led to a thriving re-export industry in places with little business regulation and minimal corruption, but I don't see Cairo or Damascus emerging as a modern-day free port anytime soon. Internal trade isn't that important simply because all the Arab countries manufacture the same stuff. We're looking at some serious basket cases.

(Hat tip: Joshua Landis)


No Peace in Sight

At the new Foreign Policy web site, Aaron David Miller argues that the divided Palestinian national movement is the biggest obstacle to peace:
"But looming largest is the crisis that confronts the Palestinian national movement. It is a badly shattered humpty-dumpty -- two polities, two armies, two ideologies, two sets of patrons -- and putting it back together again does not look hopeful. Nor do the prospects for fostering the unity Palestinians require to negotiate with Israel, monopolize the use of violence in their society, or even struggle successfully for a Palestinian state.

"Without a unified Palestinian house, what Israeli Prime Minister would make existential concessions to a Palestinian leader who doesn't control all the guns? And what Palestinian leader could even begin to make the kinds of concessions that peace with Israel will require without the authority and legitimacy that derives from the support of most Palestinians? At present, if Israel wants peace and quiet for its southern towns and cities or the return of its kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, it goes to Hamas not to Abbas. And yet Israel and the United States look to Abbas to deliver a political settlement...

"The current war will only lengthen this timeline. In the wake of the death and devastation caused by the ongoing fighting, Palestinian anger (both in Gaza and the West Bank) is likely to be directed at Israel, the United States, Abbas, and only then at Hamas. The Hezbollah precedent is far from perfect, but if Hamas survives the full brunt of an Israeli assault and emerges still capable of launching rockets into Israel, this would be a tremendous victory. Hamas' power and prestige will likely grow. And it can always count on the combination of Abbas's fecklessness, Israeli settlement and occupation practices, and the U.S. bias toward Israel to help it maintain its relevance and influence."

This analysis is spot on, and explains why the analogy to Operation Grapes of Wrath, which I flirted with a couple of days ago, is much weaker than its proponents would have it.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Friendship Causeway

Wow - the long-awaited bridge connecting Bahrain and Qatar has actually been started:
"Shaikh Mohammad Bin Essa Al Khalifa, Chief Executive of Bahrain's Economic Development Board, hailed the start of construction of the 'Friendship Causeway', which will link Bahrain and Qatar, as a boost for Bahrain's role as an ideal access point for international companies to develop their business in Gulf economies."

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Concerning Gaza

Perhaps showing a desire not to repeat what some consider the mistakes of the Second Lebanon War, Israel has now launched a ground invasion of Gaza. My stance toward this is as ambivalent as my views on the ground campaign. Two and a half years ago, I outraged many of my Israeli readers by refusing to label the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit as a terrorist act on the grounds that he was a soldier, and thus a perfectly legitimate target. Similarly, I see no compelling evidence that Israel's primary objective is Gaza as a whole instead of Hamas in particular. The imperatives of public diplomacy if nothing else are driving them to keep civilian casualties as low as possible.

The issue is made complicated, however, by the broader front to delegitimize Hamas. The most important aspect of this has been the blockade of Gaza, a blockade which seems to stem from the same school of thought that inspired the sanctions to be put on Iraq and Cuba. Such sanctions have only ever worked if the entire international community was involved and if the society was internally stable and democratic enough that people would oust the offending government so as to improve their economic positions and cease being a rogue state. The sanctions regime actually strengthened the internal position of Saddam Hussein, and while Hamas is no Saddam, I suspect something similar is happening there as people become increasingly dependent on the source which controls the flows of wealth through society. By applying such severe restrictions to an entire population, Israel and Egypt are committing a crime against humanity compared to which Hamas's indiscriminate rocket fire is a misdemeanor.

One issue going forward if the effectiveness of Israel's campaign, both in weakening Hamas and in Israel's electoral campaign. Although I obviously have moral misgivings about war for political reasons, Joshua Mitnick's analogy to Operation Grapes of Wrath intrigues me. As a practical matter, had Peres won and signed a peace agreement, the region would be far better off today. Similarly, I'd much rather see Tzipi Livni as prime minister than Benjamin Netanyahu. What the different scenarios for Hamas's future might mean is much more clouded.

Finally, as the noted a few posts below, determining what makes a legitimate target is much murkier when the very government in a territory is held to be an illegitimate terrorist organization. In this context, Israel's proclivity for going for a broad definition is an obvious object of concern, and whatever the dubious merits of their campaign, which sooner or later will end in another truce, Israel will bear some responsibility if society collapses back into gang rule.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Egypt's Stance

The line between the Egyptian foreign minister's take on the origins of the Gaza conflict and that of Israel is distinguishable only by the rhetorical device of making Israel's stated reasons for its assault a mere excuse. Given how high emotions are over the siege of Gaza, it's no wonder Egypt's consulates are getting stormed.

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Warning Civilians

Imshin reports Israeli efforts to avoid civilian casualties:
"Do you know what they do before they bomb a residential building? They call up the people living there on the phone, tell them that it is the IDF calling, inform them that there is a weapons factory (or a Hamas terrorist or a weapon storeroom or whatever) on the first floor (or second or third or whatever) and tell them that the IAF is now about to drop a bomb on them, and that they should please vacate the building right now!

"Since this thing started, the IDF has apparently already called up over one hundred thousand Palestinian homes to warn them (as of yesterday) - or so I heard on Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet radio station five o’clock news last night! Incredible."

She also talks a little about the implications of what happens in Gaza for the peace process from the Israeli side. Regardless of occasional comments about using disengagement to freeze the peace process, the most important aspect of selling the Gaza disengagement to the Israeli public was based on the idea that Israel didn't want to remain in Gaza, and doing so was actually counterproductive to Israeli security. The possibility of leaving areas of the West Bank was also in the background. It is the fact that both Gaza and southern Lebanon became the bases for attacks on Israel shortly after withdrawals that has pushed Israeli public opinion to the right on the issue of relations with the Palestinians, a development which affects plans for withdrawal based on both negotiation and unilateralism. The Palestinian rejoinder, of course, would be that Israel shouldn't be occupying these territories in the first place, and only left Gaza and southern Lebanon because of the existing campaign against it.

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Azeri Censorship

In a huge step backward for press freedom, Azerbaijan has banned foreign broadcasters from domestic airwaves:
"The ban, which is due to come into effect on January 1, will terminate radio broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America, and RFE/RL's Azeri-language service, Radio Azadliq...

"Although the banned broadcasters will still have access to satellite, cable, and Internet platforms in Azerbaijan, the ban on radio transmissions is expected to eliminate the vast majority of the stations' current audience.

"RFE/RL's Azeri-language Radio Azadliq, for example, is expected to lose approximately 95 percent of its audience due to the ban, despite continued shortwave, online, and satellite broadcasts."