demographics as identity and Israel's existence

Another piece in Ha'aretz again critically examining the myth that Israel's success lies in its demoghraphic identity:

The very term Jewish is becoming a legal fiction.

It has no common cultural, linguistic or even religious content - certainly not a "national" one. It is nothing more than a distinction between those who have full civil rights without duties in a country that they exploit, and second-class (secular) citizens, or third-class (all the rest) residents.

The only viable solution is to turn Israel into what everyone, left and right, is most afraid of - an open democratic state for all its citizens, based on the assumption that a Hebrew culture is strong enough to include Christians, Muslims, Semites and Slavs.

When we give up defining our national essence by religious criteria, and forcing conversion on people who are good Israeli citizens, and give up the effectively illegal preferences afforded to Jews, it will suddenly become apparent there is no need to worry about the "demographic threat."

as I have written before, the demographic myth is actually a chokehold on Israel. The true path towards a stable peace there is to integrate into one nation under American principles. Israel is not a democracy, and the two-state solution would only reinforce this and prolong the conflict.

I have blogged this link before, but there already exists a strong and thorough proposal for a reunified Israel-Palestinian state. It deals with all the major issues realistically and has specific prroposals for how to proceed in order to achieve that vision.

Right now, peace plans are driven by the need to "stop the violence" - but that is a cure-the-symptom approach. The reality is that any peace plan will have to accept teh grim reality that the violence will continue. The extremists control the agenda and they must not be allowed to derail a long term vision, because peace is not in the extremists' self interest.Yet as long as any idiot with a gun can hold the entire Israeili and Palestinian peoples hostage, they (the terrorists) win.

The two state solution is a failed idea, because it's central premise (stop the violence) is putting the horse before the cart. And it's central assumption (that demographics are central to identity) is flawed - Israel needs to take a lesson from America:

Most Americans are no longer White-Anglo as they were at the beginning of the 20th century. Nonetheless, indeed because of it, America is a strong and flourishing country. Israel after Oslo did not flourish because of settlements and yeshiva parasites, but because of the high technologies produced by secular, liberal Israelis, and from the education and talents of every Vassili and Ludmilla who came here and are considered second class citizens compared to "real Jews" whose "Torah is their craft."

Founding Israel on the illusory premise of "Jewishness" is as flawed as teaching kids that Egyptian Negroes (oxymoron) invented civilization. And America has shown that diversity of race and religion is an accelerant of progress, not a brake.

civil disobedience in the occupied territories

The suicide bombers get more press. But the ordinary Palestinians, the ones that warbloggers tell you are commited to the destruction of Israel, have far more mundane concerns. And they are resisting in a moral and righteous manner - by breaking curfew with tin pans.

Last night was amazing here. About 11:45pm in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, following the 6th full day of 24-hr curfew (today was day 7), every family started turning on their home lights and all that could be heard were pots and pans banging in the cool night. At around midnight some brave souls, a few hundred, broke the curfew and headed to the center of town, beating on light poles and anything tin and metal. Palestinian civil disobedience has begun! If we were Eastern Europeans, and not Palestinians, CNN would have made it their lead story. For 45 minutes a pitch dark Ramallah awoke and rang out to the world - enough curfew, enough destruction - enough is enough. The IDF tanks and jeeps ran around in chaos, not knowing which street to attack...some soldiers just shot live rounds in the air out of frustration. Other jeeps just sped through the streets and turned their sirens full blast trying to drown out the pots and pans---they failed. I can only wonder what this sounded like to the illegal settlers at the illegal settlement Pesgot across the valley from my bedroom window.
These actions last night led to more people peaceful breaking the curfew today. A few store owners opened for business using their back door and under cover from the entire neighborhood. Wives and mothers, Abeer included, headed out to get the bare necessities. Stores were low on supply but offered a ration to all. The curfew is falling apart one street at a time. A neighborhood school opened on our street today - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students all cram in one room to 'play' school. Areen refused to go, she says her school is Friends Girls School and nothing can substitute. We try to make up some lessons at home and a teacher friend on this list from Australia sends Areen lessons on a regular basis. Long live the Internet.

Black Studies

Steven Den Beste has a powerful and deeply insightful (and also disquieting) piece on the emergence of Black Studies programs:

American blacks make up 12% of our population. I brood about the fact that 12% of our best minds are going to waste, being directed away from useful study and productive contribution in science and engineering and business and law and medicine, instead to bury themselves in ideologically-warped anthropological and sociological studies of race, because they will somehow feel that they have a racial obligation to major in "Black Studies" instead of chemical engineering -- or computer engineering, where I might have been able to hire them. I think about all the miracles they would be creating, all the advances they'd produce. I think of all the fantastic work I've seen done by Chinese men and Indian women, and I know that blacks would be just as valuable. I brood over the lost opportunity, the resource wasted, the opportunity lost.

The recent emergence of the Reparations movement is just another symptom of this. Though the reparations concept has been eviscerated by reasoned argument of some black intellectuals, it still persists. The flip side of the "racial obligation" that Steven describes is a sense of inferiority that is ingrained even deeper - and leads to a permanent sense of victimization. That is a trait that should be beneath a people of dignity.

the decline and fall

The lure of empire is ancient and powerful, and over the millennia it has driven men to commit terrible crimes on its behalf. But with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, a global empire was essentially laid at the feet of the United States. To the chagrin of some, we did not seize it at the time, in large part because the American people have never been comfortable with themselves as a New Rome.

Now, more than a decade later, the events of Sept. 11 have given those advocates of empire a new opportunity to press their case with a new president. So in debating whether to invade Iraq, we are really debating the role that the United States will play in the years and decades to come.

excerpt from an essay on the new foreign policy. It's a disquieting, and somber piece which will likely have me brooding all day. (also posted to UNMEDIA list).


the politicization of Shari'a

this article is a follow-up to the case of Amina Lawal, who was sentenced to be buried to her neck in sand and stoned to death, for adultery. Nigeria seems to be the spicenter of brutality under a religious guise, partly because of its embrace of Islamic fundamentalism after emerging from a bloody military rule (itself a colonial legacy). The article notes:

While there is sincere belief and a good deal of lip service to shariah as the "unchanging holy law" of Islam, in fact it has historically been flexible and more open to change than conservative and literalist proponents assert. But among ordinary people there is a whole range of popular claims and fantasies about shariah. It often appears that it is as much about popular lore as law. Northern Nigeria is going through a period in which shariah is open to manipulation by populist politicians and they are using its populist appeal to the full among masses of people not educated in scholastic jurisprudence.

This is the same argument I have made before - that Islam is consistently applied as an excuse to justify socio-political self-aggrandizement. This is true of the subjugation of women, like the burka and bikini. The article is an in-depth analysis and well worth a read.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias comments with the example of 19th century imperialism.

domino democracy: neo-wilsonian neo-conservatives?

This article critically examines the proposition that defeating Iraq would defeat the Arab Islamic Bogeyman worldwide, or "domino democracy" as I think of it. Interestingly, it points out that this notion is actually a co-opting of neowilsonian ideas by neoconservatives!

The Wilsonian rationale, which takes its name from former president Woodrow Wilson - ironically a champion of international law whose aim in World War I was to "make the world safe for democracy" - has been championed almost since last year's September 11 terrorist attacks by a small group of neo-conservatives with close ties to the right-wing Likud Party in Israel.
If Saddam can be overthrown in an overwhelming show of force, the argument goes, then all of the autocracies that have dominated the Arab world, resisting democratic reform and peace with Israel, will themselves totter and collapse to popular pressures, creating a domino effect from Iran in the east, clear across North Africa as far as Libya.

(This article has also been posted to the UNMEDIA list.)

civil disobedience

quoth John Dvorak:

The music industry began to act like a monopolist. With the advent of the CD, it found that it could continue to gouge its customers. While the industry lectures the public on illegal copying, it gets busted for price fixing. So much for the morality argument.

apropos, Cringely has a call-to-arms. Unite! (discuss)

UPDATE: more lessons in right and wrong. Thieves:

The five largest music companies and three of the USA's largest music retailers agreed Monday to pay $67.4 million and distribute $75.7 million in CDs to public and non-profit groups to settle a lawsuit led by New York and Florida over alleged price-fixing in the late 1990s.

Attorneys general in the two states, who were joined in the lawsuit by 39 other states, said that the industry kept consumer CD prices artificially high between 1995 and 2000 with a practice known as "minimum-advertised pricing" (MAP).

The settlement will go to all 50 states, based on population. Consumers may be able to seek compensation.

I wont seek compensation. I am just going to continue to download music until the industry lets me micropay.

great aside in the Dvorak piece: Students in particular are not moral reprobates, nor are they fools. They are pragmatists, and they stretch the rules along with their budgets. This is a crowd that worships the fake ID and is taught to question authority. So you're going to lecture them about copyrights? Give up. Rethink your business model. The problem will be solved.

Bellicose Casuistry

via PLA, I came across this excellent piece by Cogent Provacateur which analyses pro-Invade arguments in a comprehensive and systematic manner. It also obsoletes my attempt to solicit a similar set of bullet points from SDB and others, but it looks at them in a different way than I was intending to. Its a fantastic summation of the debate (one-sided though it is at the moment in the media). He sums up as follows:

Summing up, what have we got? For the administration's true reasons it's not clear ... my "serious" list includes the potential threat to Israel, the sanctions quagmire exit strategy, the assassination attempt, the plunder and transformation arguments, and the Freudian angle. For (informed) US public consumption: Israel, broken promises and UN credibility (especially targeting coalition aircraft), and assassination. For the international market: UN credibility. [Brilliant stroke! Bush outmaneuvered everybody ... maybe even himself!] For the timing and urgency: politics, pure and simple, down and dirty.

but it is extremely worth your time to read the (length) piece in full for its detailed analysis of each of the individual arguments.

CP also has another excellent piece entitled "A Convergence of Parallel Li(n)es" which takes a look at the role propaganda has played in the "debate".

Boston drivers

I lived in Boston for two years. It was where I earned my stripes in a regular daily commute. Steven Den Beste is absolutely spot-on in his description of Boston drivers.

He uses this an an example to analyse why deterrence wouldn't work against Saddam with respect for WMD. It's an excellent summary of why deterrence worked against the Soviet Union.

However, what he doesn't take into account with his beat-up Pinto versus the Jaguar example, is that in a confrontation, the Pinto in the end wont suffer much economic hardship (in fact SDB explictly admits this in his analogy.) However, Saddam, if he talkes on the US in a nuclear exchange, will suffer a lot more than a cruimpled fender. He will be dead.

SDB argues:

In other words, if we threaten to use conventional forces to (for instance) defend Kuwait against a second attempt by Saddam to invade and absorb, and if Saddam says that if we do he'll use a nuke against an American city, will we be willing to sneer at him, say "If you do we'll retaliate massively" and then go ahead as if the threat had never been made?

the same logic applies to the US during the Cold War. In fact, it was worse - the USSR would have not nuked one city, it would have nuked ALL our cities. Yet we had to be ruthless - as SDB himself argues - because deterrence is useless unless the other side believes you will actually do it. What SDB is saying that for some reason, we cannot credibly be perceievd as willing to use our nukes. We CAN. If we were credible against the USSR, we are certainly credible against Saddam, who if he had a nuke would at best get one city.

SDB's argument assumes that there is something different - weaker - about the USA today than during teh Cold War. Saddam is a small fish, and we have stared down the "nucular" barrell with a lot more powerful enemy than him. He is small potatoes.

Saddam is a conventional enemy. He is a conventional nation, with conventional designs of regional power, and we have a playbook 50 years old that shows how to deal with him. We have the Big Stick and we will beat anyone - nuclear or not - with it, if we are threatened.

And we have deterred him before, John Major himnself has admitted that we explicitly told Saddam during the Gulf War - "use chemical weapons against Israel, and we nuke you." That threat was credible and he didn't dare use his (enormous at the time!) stock of bioweapons on his pathetic little SCUDS.

unfortunately , Steven's attempt at debunking the Saddam can be deterred argument is based on a poor assumption - that we Americans arent willing to take a risk. We are a lot stronger than that, and we have already been there during the Cold War.

Economic religious fundamentalism

One of the great myths of our time is that Capitalism (which I am in favor of) is intrinsically a democratic system. The concept of individual choice is enshrined as the ultimate mover of markets.

This is absolutely untrue. Capitalism has as its fundamental axiom that the Market is infallible. But the market is rarely influenced by consumer choice. It is fundamentally dictated by the large economic entities.

For example, companies like Enron created an illusory energy market in California simply by sheer size of their market share. Also, an illusory market was created during the dotcom era. The market intrinsically leans towards the self-interest of the largest players, while the individual is completely marginalized.

The only time the market is democratic is when all the individuals act in concert. But what does that actually mean? it means that the individuals (who outnumber in sheer size any other player as a collective group) are acting as One. That is, they have also become a large player. The largest! Again, the market will respond.

If people are nuclei, then in MRI physics they would be an "isochromat" - a large group of particles all at the same resonant frequency. However, in nature, isochromats have randomized phase - that is, though everyone rotates at the same rate, they are pointing in different directions, so the net direction they are pointing is zero. Only when you apply an external field (ie a magnetic field) do the isochromats align themselves with the field and become in phase. When that happens, the signal is suddenly enormous.

This is exactly analgous to capitalism. The people are an isochromat, but they are usually out of phase. Only in certain rare instances do they act in phase. When they do, they become the dominant player. But it takes a lot of energy to maintain the common phase and slowly they drift out of phase again. Eventually the signal is zero again. Large corporations are smaller than the People isochromat, but they are always in phase. So, far from being democratic, its a king of the hill system.


give the man a (press) pass

PLA is a new blog, but it's rapidly become one of the absolute best ones out there. Dwight has a lengthy analysis of political rancor which serves as a great historical recap:

After the inauguration, Mr. Bush was afforded a honeymoon period. Although Linda Chavez withdrew her name from consideration for the Cabinet amid liberal calls for her defeat, Mr. Bush got his other nominees confirmed, including very ideological nominees such as John Ashcroft and Gale Norton.

We attended the 1992 inauguration of President Clinton. Due to other obligations we had to leave as soon as the swearing in ceremony was completed. Before we got to Culpepper, Va. (a couple of hours outside D.C.), Rush Limbaugh had announced on the radio that the newly inaugurated Bill Clinton was a �failed President.� Mr. Bush�s honeymoon lasted a bit longer than a drive from Washington to Culpepper.

The tendenct post-9-11 to give BUsh a free hand actually existed well prior to the event. It seems as if Bush has had all eth cards from eth beginning. Since then, he has moved to curtail civil rights, assert a "strike first" doctrine regarding foreign policy, pursued a conservative domestic agenda, wants to create a new Department but wants to avoid civil-service laws (basically guaranteeing that it will be a haven for political appointees), in general basically centralizing the power of the Executive Branch. And yet the only people alarmed are those who are politically opposed - which sounds like a tautology, but illustrates something more fundamental.

The Founders built checks and balances into the Constitution to prevent consolidation of power in any one Branch. In fact, there are 5 branches in balance - executve, legislative, and judicial, as well as the media and the voters (the fourth and fifth Estates).

The flaw in the Founder's reasoning was the assumption that only a single governmental branch would seek ascendacy (most likely the Executive), and that the other branches would immediately act in self-interest to counter. This assumes that each branch acts as one entity of will - but in reality, wit the two-party system, each branch is itself divided into two wills. So now it becomes a Republican vs Democratic issue, and so the self-interest of the Judicial and Legislative branches is changed.

The voters also are part of the Democratc and Republican teams and perceiv their self-interest in those terms as well. Hence, a power play by one Governmental branch (the Executive) can actually absorb the base power of the voters as a weapon to further its cause.

This leaves the media. Despite conservative claims of bias, the media has actually played almost no role. As man in the blogsphere have observed (notably Bill Allison in Ideofact) , a free press is intrinsic to the concept of a free society. My frustration with the media predates this blog - it's why I started the mailing list also. The problem is that the media has two differening self-interests also - it's power as an Estate, and commercial success.

The media is like most other institutions in this country, a capitalist system. To compete with each other, great media outlets used to vie for content. But as a base fact of human nature, the dry intellect is often no match for the racier side - and sensationalism has crept slowly into the media focus over ther past 200 years. It used to be worse (think of Randolph Hearst's tabloid tendencies) and it used to be better (think of theaggressive journalism of the 1960's) but it has been there all along. Precoccupied with increasing volume and circulation numbers, the media is engaged in navel gazing - surviving by treating the Fourth Estate as a business. Which it is. But it is also an Estate, and it's function in our society in that regard has fallen by teh wayside.

What can be done? certainly, the media cannot be changed. That has to come from within. The two-party system won't be going anywhere either - it;s unlikely that Congress will assert itself as a unified Legislative Branch anytime soon, and instead continue to be a place full of Democrats and Repblicans. The Judicial Branch is marginalized and has been ever since the 2000 election (though it dutifully helps the GOP pursue its conservative domestic agenda). The only Estate that has any power is the Fifth Estate.

That's us.

teach them to fish

Khatami has introduced bills into the Iranian parliament that would give the President (him) the power to overrule judicial decisions. In other words, remove the theocratic veto.

In a dramatic move drawing attention throughout Central Asia, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami submitted two bills to Parliament on September 24 that could curb the political power of Iran�s conservatives. The first bill will expand the president�s constitutional powers at the expense of the hardliners' veto power. The second would make elections more direct.

The embattled Khatami pledged in an August 30 press conference that he would take a new approach to his feud with his conservative opponents. "I am announcing today that the President must be able to perform his duties within the framework of the constitution," he said at the time. Maneuvers by the hardliners have stalled Khatami�s efforts to broaden Iranian democracy, reformists say. The president himself said he had made his decision to introduce the two bills after his warnings had been repeatedly ignored by the conservatives.

In his press conference, Khatami singled out the hard-line Guardian Council, a 12-member watchdog group appointed by the country�s Supreme Leader, for a showdown over the two bills. "The Guardian Council should not reject the bills because they are logical and none of them are against the Constitution or the Islamic law," he said, "unless it intends to violate the Constitution." He said he had repeatedly warned them of the violations, but "unfortunately I have had no success," he added. "My warnings have been ignored, and the president�s duties, which are clearly stated in the Constitution, have been suspended."

the article notes Khamatmi's heavy reliance on constitutional arguments - playing within the system as best he can. That is (as history has shown) the most successful route to reform - that arising from within. Contrast this with the approach favored by neocons like Michael Ledeen, who advocate direct intervention into Iranian affairs (as well as threats).


fear vs. goodwill

One of the reasons I like Slate is that is always has big-picture analysis - it takes a step back and looks at the issues from a broader perspective. I like trees, but I like forests better. Slate has a great piece for example analyzing the competing visions of foreign policy that are being espoused by the GOP and the Demoracts - namely, fear vs goodwill respectively:

Which party is right? Both are probably oversimplifications. For now, the important thing is to be aware of the dispute. They're completely different theories of psychology. Neither has been clearly articulated, challenged, or defended. My colleague Bob Wright thinks the world operates on goodwill. My friend Charles Krauthammer thinks the world operates on fear. Their prescriptions on how to fight terrorism are completely opposite, yet each man's analysis is logically compelling, once you accept its psychological premise. That's where the real debate needs to be joined.

The article is (as usual) well-balanced and looks at both philosphies critically, and notes the respective weaknesses.


those wacky germans

I just can't get worked up about Germany and Schroeder and umlauts and things. Unlike Steven Den Beste, who seems to have worked himself into a righteous fury over statements by Schroder (which SDB later admits to being unable to verify), I share the pragmatic perspective as espoused recently in Slate - Schroder talked tough against the US for the usual reason, purely domestic politics. And Stoiber would have been far far worse.

Brilliant observation by Marc Fisher, author of the Slate piece:

Bush, who expects nations to abide by the same rules of friendship that govern prep-school boys, is said to feel hurt and refused to make a congratulatory phone call to Schr�der.

but there's a lot more than just witticisms - plenty of good analysis of the history of German relations with the US and the domestic political scene over there, which make the Slate essay well worth the read.

the burka and the bikini

(formerly titled 'the oppression of the barbie doll')

Jim Henley (of the great Unqualified Offerings) took issue with my earlier statement that the bikini is a tool of female oppression much like the burka. It's hard to do justice to his critique by excerpting just part of it, and I feel odd about just copying the entire text here, so do take a look for yourself at his link.

I think that Jim's analysis of the burka is fundamentally sound. It's an oppressive and cruel imposition on women when worn against their will (as a significant fraction of burka wearers undoubtedly are). But I was talking more about the bikini, not the burka, and Jim's response is very burka-centric (though since he doesn't consider the bikini to be oppressive, he takes understandable umbrage at the comparison). While Jim hasn't posted on his specific views about the bikini, I'll assume that he holds similar views as Steven Den Beste, in that he equates the bikini with Freedom.

So, let's start with the burka. What is it? As routinely imposed on women, it is a full-length one-piece garment that covers the woman from head to toe, almost invariably black. Usually the face is uncovered, except in extreme cases where there is a veil or even worse, a metal faceplate. This is almost exclusively a Sunni-Wahabi innovation of recent times, whereas if you look at the modes of modest dress in other Islamic societies you see much more healthy interpretations, ranging from the two-piece colorful ridah garments worn by women in my own community, the Dawoodi Bohras, to fully-Westernized business attire (jacket, pants) topped with headdress or scarf. Many muslims living in America use a particular form of headscarf known as hijab, which is a shawl that drapes around the women's head and shoulders. It's a matter or ethnic and cultural variance as to how much hair is visible, or whether the shoulders are covered, or whether it's black or white or some other color. There is an incredible variety of which non-Muslim commentators are almost universally ignorant of - it's no exaggeration to say that the variety of Islamic female fashion easily matches if not exceeds the variety of fashion found in Western societies. In fact, since many Muslim comunities are Western, there is a healthy mixing between these two fashion universes, with many innovative and (dare I say it?) attractive innovations.

However, none of these fashionable garments are worth anything if they are imposed against the woman's will. However, apart from a few cases (worst offender being Saudi Arabia, homeland of Wahabism), modest dress is part of the culture and not a cruel imposition.

It's important to emphasise that the Qur'an places restrictions on womens' and men's dress (both). These restrictions are solely for modesty, whose importance as a virtue is comon to Judaism and Christianity. Attractiveness is NOT the same as sexiness. It is possible to be attractive and yet retain modesty, but sexiness is inherently immodest, because it promotes women as sex objects. Modesty is retaining your dignity - and maintaining your identity as a person, to be respected on the basis of your character. Webster's dictionary defines it as "humility respecting one's own merit." The concept of merit is intrinsic to the Islamic concept of modesty as well.

Many women choose burka freely, as well as lesser variations such as hijab or ridah. Even the most oppressive-seeming burka with metal faceplate and voluminous robes is actually a weapon in the hands of a woman when chosen willingly. My own wife wears ridah full-time, even to medical school, though I was initially against the idea. But I supported her in her desire to achieve her moodesty, and the result has been astonishing. But the benefits she derives from wearing ridah are a topic for some other time.

Contrast the Qur'anic prescription of modest dress with the tribal custom of imposing oppressive dress on women. It's not exaggeration to say that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity brought the first concepts of equality between genders to tribal peoples who at the time had decidedly primitive notions of gender roles. To take one self-aimed example, pre-Islamic customs of burying first-born daughters alive was stridently condemned by Muhammad SAW. Yet these practices still persist in modern times - for example in Nigeria, where a woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Also recently a woman was sentenced to be buried up to her neck in sand and again stoned, for having a child out of wedlock. And there is the case of the gang-rape of an innocent girl in Pakistan, and riots in India.

These kind of barbaric decisions are always made in remote villages by a band of grizzled elder men, who invariably call themselves an "Islamic court". The truth is that these are immoral primitive tribal customs, which are used by the tribal elders as a power play of enforcing their authority. They are wrapped in poorly-argued Islamic reasoning, often bundled with some selective out-of-context Qur'anic verse, so that no one dares argue. But this is not Islamic, it's purely a primitive cultural practice, with its sole aim as a power play of I-have-control-over-you.

These tribal impulses of control are the root cause of the Saudi burka, and the absurd punishments in Nigeria and Pakistan, and the concept of honor killings. They also, to a lesser degree, are the underlying philosophy behind the bikini, which is the real subject of this essay.

The bikini was invented in 1946 by an engineer in Paris, Louis Reard (here's a history link via Google). The historical record doesn't mention whether Reard was grizzled or an elder, but he was definitely male, and the bikini was a invention specifically designed to "stir the masses". What the bikini does is reduce the woman to a caricature of sexual desire - by revealing almost every part of her anatomy, it completes obliterates any trace of modesty (and hence, undermines her respect in her own merit).

It's true that some women wear bikinis because they have pride in their bodies and don't care (or need) what men think. But a larger fraction of women wearing them are doing so because they want to influence the response of men in some way. Jim Henley called this the "sexual power if women" but it is analogous to appeasement. Whatever power the woman has, is being bent to serve the desires of the other party (in this case, titillation of the male). One of the major flaws in Jim's argument is unstated but implicit assumption that the bikini is an expression of female power - but in fact, it's an abject surrender. Is it really true that women have to strip down to two strategic strips of cloth just to excercise their power?

The bikini and the burka are so far to the extremes that they meet again. They both serve to reduce women, from a person, to an object. In the case of the burka, that object is "slave". In the case of the bikini, that object is "sex". The burka is forced upon women, for fear of consequences, whereas women are induced to wear the bikini, out of desire for consequences. But in both cases those consequences are to please males.

The bikini and the burka can both be used by women as expressions of power and independence. The burka, or ridah, or hijab, can be a powerful weapon of modesty, if chosen freely (and in fact, it is in Western countries like America that Qur'anic modes of modesty in women's dress do finally take on the meaning they were intended to have, because of the freedom of choice. America is the greatest Islamic country on earth). Likewise, the woman wearing a bikini solely out of her personal pride in her appearance has turned the bikini into a weapon of self-expression.

That said, the bikini is not Islamic, because it is immodest. Whether you care about modesty or not of course is irrelevant to the issue of whethr you are being oppressed or not.

But in the West, many women wear bikinis to try and attract the attention of men. And in the East, many women are forced to wear burka, especially cruelly oppressive versions. In that case, both are wrong and immoral, and this is why I claim that they are equally oppressive.

UPDATE: Abraham in the coments asks:

The second problem is your last clause. I don't follow why something being immoral is the same as something being oppressive. The only relation between these two concepts is that oppression is immoral. But you have somehow reversed it and are claiming that immorality is oppressive. If this is the case, then do we maximize freedom by forcibly minimizing immorality? I find this a dangerous and disturbing line of reasoning.

in my last clause, I said that women wearing a bikini solely to attract the attention of men is comparable to women being forced to wear the burkah by men. This is a manifestation of men's control over women, and it is that control which I am labeling immoral. I was careful to only use the word "immoral" in the context of focring women to wear burka (or the power play which makes women want to wear a bikini to please men).

UPDATE 2: Glenn has linked to me ! He asks:

Is it a "power play" when women want to wear bikinis to please men? Is it a "power play" when men dress or groom or whatever in a particular way to please women? And -- even assuming that this statement is true -- what precisely is immoral about it? Not much that I can see.

The target of my immorality label is more subtle than that - Glenn is right, the desire of the woman (or the man) to please the man (or the woman) is perfectly moral (in fact, celebrated in the Shi'a interpretation of Islam).

I am targeting those specific instances, when a woman wears the bikini because her entire sense of self-worth (or "self-merit") is founded on te reaction she is trying to induce in men. I am not saying teh woman is immoral and I am not even saying teh man in this scenario is immoral. What I am labeling as immoral is the force acting on her to subsume her sense of self merit into a a stereotypical perception of herself as sex object.

UPDATE 3: Jim comments, and since I still can't find much to disagree with in his commentary, I still feel we are talking slightly past each other. I find his opinions to be perfectly compatible with what I wrote above. Of course, I could just be slightly insane :) And Jim, I readily apologise for the comparison to Den Beste ;) Also, Jim points me to this commentary from Diana Moon. She says I'm "full of shit".

UPDATE 4: Jane Galt weighs in (I confess to hoping she would comment :) :

What Aziz is arguing for is, in my opinion, a well meaning but futile attempt to take sex out of male-female relations. ... Aziz is, probably without knowing it, endorsing another brand of feminism, the "difference feminists". Those are the folks who set up the speech codes and sexual harassment laws in a futile attempt to excise every trace of sex from all but the narrowest spheres of human life. Can't be done.

I appreciate the comment, but respectufully, I don't think it has any bearing to my argument. In fact, Shi'a Islam not only takes explicit notice of teh differrence between men and women, it insists on it as part of a fundamental philosophic worldview. The fact that men and women are differrent is integral, is essential, to understanding the roles of men and women in society and culture and religion.

The root of the misunderstanding seems to be that Jane thinks I called the bikini "immoral". It isn't, and neither is the burka (both are just pieces of cloth). Hence she deduces I intend to ban it outright and thus make men and women neutered clones. What I am saying is that the bikini and the burka can be used as tools - and their very existence often creates a kind of societal pressure - that reduces women's sense of self-worth to a carictaure.

It's ironic that opne of the people leaving a comment pointed out that the argument above doesnt really apply to men - and the lack of symmetry in the argument therefore invalidates it. I think that poster is more guilty of "difference feminism" than I am, Jane. In fact, my entire argument is founded solely on the premise that men and women are different.

UPDATE 5: Meryl Yourish mischaracterizes the post so grotestquely, that I can only assume she skimmed the post, ignored the comments and the updates to date, and just cherry-picked a few choice sentences with which to construct her straw man. I've replied to her in a new post.


Wonder Woman, crossing Jordan

This news tidbit is too good to pass up on:

Witnesses say a Jordanian woman ripped off her enveloping black cloak and veil to reveal a traditional long dress that was nearly as enveloping and punched and kicked into submission three young men who had been verbally harassing her.

The woman was singing the lyrics to a popular local song, titled "patience has limits". The crowd cheered her on :)

UPDATE - HD Miller is back at long last! and comments on the story with background on the author of the song, Umm Kalthoum.

the myth of the barbie doll

One of Steven Den Beste's arguments about Arab culture is that it needs to be "reformed". What he means is, it needs to become a clone of ours. He advocates the Barbie Doll (equating the bikini with freedom. Actually, the bikini is as much a tool of female oppression as the Saudi burka) and Rock and Roll as elements of a successful cultural imperialism.

Jane Galt has a fantastic post which does a lot to analyze the fallacies in Steven's argument. Cultural imperialism is reduced in Steven's perspective to what music you listen to and what clothes you wear. Somehow, these things make you more free than someone else who doesn;t wear or listen to what you do (having oppressive givernments, installed by colonialist Western givernments, presumably factors little into the issue). Jane points out:

Turning into a western society would involve ripping out everything they do, and embracing an untried, and in many ways inferior, way of life. To take just one example, many Arab/Muslim cultures, social lives revolve almost entirely around the extended family, especially for women, who in many countries rarely socialize with anyone but their own families, and their husband's families when they are married. This is not compatible with the sexual license and serial monogamy of modern American society. You're asking women to give up their family and friends so that they can wear lipstick. Of course, we, who are comfortable in this way of life, consider it superior. And perhaps it is. But for someone whose lifestyle is so different, the idea of embracing it is terrifying, not liberating.

She also makes this witty yet insightful comment:

That's why feminist aid workers are so often angry and hurt to find out that the majority of women in places like Afghanistan do not want to throw off the veil and turn into Gloria Steinem. It would mean abandonning the entire matrix of customs and beliefs in which they are operating comfortably, for an unknown future.

why Arabs are different (its not culture)

Steven Den Beste neatly summarizes his thinking about Arab culture:

Do the Arabs who became terrorists think of themselves as being victims of American foreign policy? Certainly. But they're not the only ones who have thought of themselves that way, and no one else seems to be doing it. Where are the Chilean terrorists? The Argentine ones? Angolan? Burmese? Vietnamese? (Surely the Vietnamese have a lot bigger cause for anger at us than the Arabs do.)

None of them are terrorists. It's Arabs. Only Arabs. So there must be something about Arabs which is different from the Vietnamese and Burmese and Angolans and Chileans, all of whom have been shafted at least as badly by American foreign policy without turning to terrorism.

curiously, right before this passage, he invokes the great scourge of the french-fry peril:

Have you heard of the great french fry peril? Consider this: every single convicted murderer in the US ate french fries before committing murder! It's obvious that french fries must be implicated in their crimes, isn't it?

Well, no, not really. A lot of other people have eaten french fries without descending to a life of crime.

which is really a metaphor for explaining the basic truth that correlation is not causation. Steven's argument is that there is something different about Arabs than Chileans, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc. and this is the basis of his argument that Arab culture is inherently flawed.

But Steven has disproved his own point. The difference between the Arabs and the other ethnic groups is that the Arabs had the misfortune to be the people who lived in the oil-rich middle east. As a result, they have been the focus of targeted, systematic, widespread imperialist and colonialist intervention of a kind not seen anywhere else.

The western powers have consistently supported anti-democratic and dictatorial governments in the Middle East for 100 years. The reason for this is because the Middle East is strategically vital to the entire planet.

That isn't the case with any of Steven's counter-example countries and therein lies the difference. Interestingly, there was a nascent nationalist and pan Arab movement that had its roots with teh Ba'ath party (currently ruling Iraq) and Nasser and Sadat (the latter of which courageously spoke to the Israeili Knesset about peace). To counter it, the West supported radical Islamic groups to act as a political counterweight (including Wahabism, which had the British empire as a sponsor at its outset).

Theres a lot more that could be said about this but Im already well past teh point where readers agree or disagree.


another muslim blogger

Ismail Royer is another insightful Muslim blogger I have recently discovered (maybe someone should start a web ring?). Like me, he is an American muslim (in his case, a convert to the faith). He has a number of penetrating pieces for such a young blog - including a detailed takedown of Daniel Pipes and a matter-of-fact critical look at the temptation to indulge in victimhood. It seems he also has a day job.

realistic assessment of Iraqi nukes

Slate as usual has a solid and thorough analysis, this time about the possibility of Iraq posessing and developing nuclear weapons. This parangraph struck me as quite relevant to the debate:

Saddam probably could not hurt the United States directly with a bomb even if he had one. Even if he overcomes his most serious obstacle by obtaining fissile material on the black market, he would probably be able to build only a few nuclear weapons, and they would be big. That would make it hard to transport such weapons to give to terrorists or his own foreign-based operatives for use against a U.S. city. He might be able to sneak a bomb into Kuwait or another neighboring state with a low-flying aircraft, but the plane might well also get shot down. He probably does not have a missile big enough to carry what would be a fairly primitive and thus large nuclear warhead.

which tends to undercut most of the worst-case scenarios of a mushroom cloud over New York promoted by pro-attack pundits, who have a "marked propensity to assert as fact points for which there is virtually or absolutely no evidence".

note that the (Bush Administration) claim that Saddam has recently been buying thousands of aluminum tubes for uranium centrifuges is itself under suspicion. And the main Iraqi weapons scientist who defected, Dr. Khidhir Hamza, has a credibility issue, given that his booking agent has ties to warmongering thinktanks.

That said, does it make any sense for the Bush Administration to BLOCK weapons inspectors from going to Iraq?

bullet points on Iraq

Steven has responded again in our weblog conversation and gives me what I ask for. There's a number of other statements I want to address within that post (especially his consistent misconceptions about Islam), but I'll have to save that for later. The bullet points he states though are here:

First, we are moved to urgency by the fact that Iraq may be close to developing nuclear weapons. We cannot permit that to happen because of the unacceptably high likelihood that such weapons will eventually be used against us, or that they will support a threat against us. If Iraq has nukes, it won't be possible for us to apply sufficient influence within that part of the world to begin the process of reform we require to be safe.

Second, we need to conquer Iraq so that we can rebuild it and make it more prosperous so that all the other Arabs around it will see that it isn't just heathen Americans who can become successful, and that Arabs can do it too. We need to make Iraq a better place, with people who are happier, more free, and more prosperous while still being Arab and Muslim. And in particular, we must free the women of Iraq, to show the women in neighboring nations that they don't have to be treated as animals.

Third, we need to conquer Iraq to put the "fear of God" (as it were) into governments of all the neighboring Arab nations where the traditionalists still hold sway, so that they will be much more likely to permit the few initial reforms we require from them which will start the process of cultural change moving. When we have substantial military forces right on their borders, it will be much harder for them to say "no" to our demands.

Fourth, we need to conquer Iraq because the "Arab Street" only respects power. We have to prove to them that we actually can do it and that we're willing to do so. That's their culture and it's different than ours, but that is how they think and we have to take it into account. (That, by the way, is the reason there was no rising of the "Arab Street" after Afghanistan; it's because we won convincingly.)

Steven says that any one of these is sufficient rationale to invade Iraq.

In addition, there are some bullet points raised in the comments section of my previous post on the topic. I will resummarize these here also.

From "buffpilot" :

1) Iraq has chemical weapons, probably basic bio weapons, and is trying to get nuclear.
2) Iraq has used chemicals on its own citizens
3) Iraq is the most advanced in WMD of the Arab/Islamic countries and thus the most immediate threat
4) Taking over Iraq, like Japan ala 1945, will provide a solid base of manuever against the rest (both militarily, culturally and economically). Links directly to NATO through Turkey.
5) Iraq has a nominally secular culture (Tarek Azis (sorry spelling) is christian), that can be changed the easiest into a more liberal western democracy - by rewritting their constitution ala Japan 1945.
6) Iraq has oil assets to help rebuild itself with assistence ($ and knowledge) from the western democracies
7) Its small population make it again easier than say an Egypt or Pakistan.
8) Once Iraq is back on its feet and is succesful, like Japan is now (in comparison to any of SDBs Arab/Islamic countries), it will provide the beacon that may push changes throughout the Islamic world to free, secular, democratic governments
9) Lastly, by defeating the biggest, nastiest country in the area its far less likely that any country will challenge us and will force them to assit in hunting down the terrorists among them or face invasion

Abraham Liesch suggests one more:

1.5: "Iraq is likely to use WMD or cause its WMD to be used against the U.S. or its allies."

and suggests this modification:

2: "Iraq can only be stopped from developing WMD *in time* by direct full-scale invasion."

Abraham says that if he were convinced that any single of these bullet points were wrong, he would change is view from favoring an attack to being opposed.

He also points out these four logical possibilities:

1) We are right about Saddam and depose him quickly.
2) We are wrong about Saddam but depose him anyways.
3) We are right about Saddam but do not depose him.
4) We are wrong about Saddam and do not depose him.

These are exactly what I was looking for, and I still want more. If you have comments, please do add your two cents' worth. I'll try to summarize these and then present my analysis point by point later on.

Christianity's new center-of-gravity

An fascinating article on Christianity in The Atlantic suggests that (demographically speaking) Christianity will soon be dominated by it's Southern Hemisphere adherents:

The places where Christianity is spreading and mutating are also places where the population levels are rising quickly�and, if Jenkins's predictions hold true�will continue to rise throughout the next century. The center of gravity of the Christian world has shifted from Europe and the United States to the Southern Hemisphere and, Jenkins believes, it will never shift back. So when American Catholics, for instance, talk about the necessity and the inevitability of reforms (reforms that Southern Catholics would most likely not condone), they do so without fully realizing that their views on the subject are becoming increasingly irrelevant, because the demographic future of their Church lies elsewhere.

I think the article misfires, however, in stating that this will lead to conflict with Islam. Islam is not expanding as rapidly in South America compared to Christianity, but rather is making far more inroads in the West. For example, the rise of Hispanic muslims in America. I agree that Africa is a potential source for converts to both religions, but religion is the least likely source of conflict there, compared to race and tribe (and anyway, AIDS is a far more immediate problem in Africa than religion). I also don't buy the argument that India is equal ground for conversion by Christians and Muslims - Christianity has an impressive, but fractionally insignificant, presence. The primary conversions there will be to Islam. Even in those places where there will be competition for converts (like the Philippines), I dont see any reason why this would necessarily lead to conflict. Muslims and Christians are for the most part compatible and apart from places like the Middle East (where the tension is imposed for political and strategic reasons) tend to live together in peace.

UPDATE: Zachary Latif comments, saying that Christianity is indeed a force to be reckoned with in India. I agree for the most part but he hasnt really taken certain Muslim comunities like the Bohras (my comunity) and the Nizaris into account in his analysis. Part of our difference in outlook is due to his ethnic origins from outside India (his ancestry hails from Zoroastrian Persia) whereas mine in indigineous to India, namely converts to Islam from the lower Hindu castes. My ancestors converted despite the appeal of Christianity and is why I still feel that Islam remains the primary attraction to converts rather than Christianity - comunities like mine offer a vibrant economic and egalitarian social escape from the caste system. That may not be true of some muslim communities in India, but its very true of mine.

self censorship on Israel

Yesterday, I wrote a short piece inviting all Jews in Israel to move to America. After receiving a number of emails, I have decided to engage in self-censorship. This was not an easy decision, after all, it is my blog and I should be allowed in principle to write what I want, but I am not a fiery ideolouge (this blog is titled principled pragmatism, not pragmatic principlism).

The emails were shocking, to me. There's not much point in discussing the content, most readers can probably guess what I was accused of. I'm a fairly normal person, and there are just some emotional responses to which I am not immune. Rather than subject myself to it, I have taken down the piece which generated them.

It's clear that there are some topics that - speaking as a Muslim - I need to be extremely careful about. If I am even slightly critical of Israel (even within the context of a generally laudatory piece), my faith is used to completely dismiss my arguments. I refuse to defend myself against accusations of anti-Semitism - if you want to see where I stand, go through my archives. Most of those emailing me in response to my post had already made an assumption of my positions and proceeded from there.

Is this running away? Am I a coward? maybe, in part. But it's also a personal issue - I blog for fun, and like Steven when something about blogging becomes doubleplusun-fun, I'd rather perform some surgery than ruin the experience. If anyone really wants to see the post, it's still there, but hidden (you figure it out).

UPDATE: Nick Denton has made much the same point I tried to make, by discussing a fictional book about an alternate history where Alaska, not Palestine, was the Jewish homeland. And Baja California has also been suggested in a tounge-in-cheek essay.


The enemy of our enemy...

...is Saddam Hussein. This argument should appeal to Steven Den Beste, who has argued the existence of a diffuse Arab Islamic Bogeyman as our "real" enemy.

However, Saddam Hussein has also called the Arab Islamic Bogeyman an enemy for a long time:

Anyone who spends a little time in Baghdad knows there is one thing the dwindling, beaten-down middle class of that country fears more than the hideous regime of Saddam Hussein: an Islamic uprising. The Iraqis sent millions of young men to their deaths in the 1980s fighting exactly the kind of fundamentalist Islamic mentality that we so dread now. As much as they hate their dictator, Iraqis hate the Islamists even more. As a Sunni Muslim, so does Saddam. As in the 1980s, this creepy strongman is standing between Iraqis and the jihad.

the article points out that this observation is obvious to anyone who actually bothers to go to Iraq. It's obvious to me from my discussions of people who live and who have traveled to Iraq (I know many)[1].

In my opinion, Saddam would make a great proxy dictator. He is a contemporary of murdered Nasser, and of Mubarak his protege. The Arab Nationalists were all viewed as a great threat by the United States during the Cold War because we feared they would lean to the Soviets, but now that the Soviets are gone and the Islamic Jihadis are the real enemy[2] (they're the only ones who have actually landed a blow on America, and pose a direct threat), we should be encouraging Arab Nationalists like the Baath party.

And history has shown that nationalist movements are far more susceptible to internal democratic pressure than religious theocracies. Yet, inexplicably, we coddle the latter and plan to invade the former?

We should adopt the approach taken with another Arab Nationalist strongman, Hosni Mubarak. Spend a few billion a year on Saddam, make him our pet, and another bulwark against the Arab Islamic Bogeyman[3].

And then focus on the real problem: Saudi Arabia. We can start by partitioning off the Hijaz. I strongly recommend Zachary Latif's excellent series on the Fault Lines within Islam for a much more realistic and potentially successful approach to remaking the Middle East.

Part I - The Saudi State
Part II - The Fault Lines of Islam
Part III - Recommendations for Iraq

UPDATE: Norwegian Blogger says, regarding regime change in Iraq and hypothectical democratic elections: "There will be exactly one election no matter what, if we are lucky Gadaffi II wins, if we are not lucky the Taliban wins." Thus, you can argue, if theer has to be a strongman, why not a kinder, gentler Saddam? After all, Gadaffi seems to have mellowed, but was Public Enemy #1 back in the Reagan days. NB also has an exhaustive discussion about the fallacy of comparing the Middle East to Japan.

UPDATE2: Bill Allison sees my argument as disrespectful of Arab culture - it's a solid critique, and I emailed him the following clarification:

I suppose I shoudl have indicated on my "let;s co-opt Saddam" post that it was satirical :) I don't like Saddam and would love to see him go. The main point I was trying to make though is that if the war on Iraq is all bout taking necessary but realistic steps, for the betterment of the Iraqi people, then it makes as much sense to simply co=opt Saddam as it does to siomply dpeose him and leave Iraq vulnerable to radical Islamic fundamentalism. Saddam is not hated in Iraq the way we sterotypically assume, and teh article I linked to about how Saddam abnd B'aath are really perceived as a bulwark against a Far Greater Evil is quite spot on,based on my conversations with people who live in Iraq and who travel there often.

Remember the Taliban were welcomed into Afghanistan.... because they wer seen as stable compared to the Northern Alliance warlords who took over and rampaged Kabul after the USSR pulled out and US aid ceased abruptly.

my main point is that normal democratic traditions cannot emerge in the Middle East as long as the entire region remains a pivot for strategic imperial maneuvering by more powerful nations. To that end, Egypt;s model fo benevolent dictator is preferable to an Islamic theocracy. The Iraqi people don't have much choice either way.

Contrast Iraq with Iran, BTW - Iranians do have more control over their destiny, because Iran is not the focus of imperialist and colonialist attention. Iran is not Arab and it isn't in the mIddle East, and is currently in a kind of isolation. If you have a repressive givernment in isolation, eventually it must fall. But unlike Iran, Iraq is not isolated, and so its repression is going to continue in some form or another due to these pressures.


[1] Of course, the failure of the US media (a theme of this blog) to actually go to Baghdad and report on these perspectives is both unsurprising and yet still disappointing, even to a cynic like myself.
[2] Note that Steven's Arab Islamic Bogeyman is a more vague and diffuse concept than mine of the Islamic Jihadist. Islamic Jihadists are those specific groups of terrorists who use violent means to enact religious and political goals. Steven is talking about cultural genocide, which I agree is not always a bad thing (remind me to blog about the Assassins sometime). But note that we have direct evidence of the existence of Islamic Jihadis and none for the Arab Islamic Bogeyman. Steven's comprehension of Islam is terribly flawed and I think part of the source of the mischaracterization. Islam is totally tangential to this debate.
[3] Note that as our pet, Saddam would no longer need nukes any more than Egypt does.

wanted: Jewish neighbours

This post has been commented out using <!-- and -->

a response to Steven on Iraq

I was pleasantly surprised to see Steven had printed my email to him, I wasn't sure if I would be considered signal amidst all the noise he is surely receiving, especially since he has such a wide receive bandwidth :) [1]

What he has done is ignore my request for simple numbered facts and painted a wider picture of a civilizational conflict taken straight from Samuel Huntington. Along with the essay by Fonte about Transnational Progressives, Samuel Huntington's essay is of the type which seeks to find a "root cause" target population for all the perceived ills befalling Western society as it seeks to bring light to the wretched corners of this world. I heartily recommmend Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad to you, Steven, as it encapsulates this worldview and looks at it critically (but in the end, agrees with it, but that was my reading. Acres of student essays have debated that point. It's a masterful piece of literature and I enthusiastically recommend it).

Of course, Steven (despite having voted for Gore) will surely consider Bush to be a mastermind who has fully grasped the intricaicies of the cultural war that he is describing. Every setback is interpreted as part of the plan ("rope a dope"). Bush announces to the UN that he seeks Security Council resolution, but also insists that he is willing to go it alone. He is preparing to ask Congress for approval despite insisting that he doesn't need it. If you believe that we don't need UN approval OR Congressional authorization to wage war against Iraq, then fine. But why, then, bother with the public requests for approval from these entities? Could it be, perhaps, that Bush possesses not the omniscient awareness of the Real Enemy (as explained by SDB) but is actually trying to chart a middle course through conflicting advice from differring advisors?

The problem with Steven's long post detailing the Evil Arab Culture (with appropriate caveats about how that term is somewhat fallacious and a warning about crossing the bounds of political correctness[2]) is that he has created a Straw Man. I asked him about specific reasons to attack Iraq, he responded with a caricature of Arab culture as a vague and diffuse enemy, whose relevance to Iraq is questionable[3]. Steven's assumption of a causal link between a successful attack on Iraq and his stated desired result of a "defeat" of this supposed "Arab Culture" is tenous hand-waving. The fact is that the Baath party is the sole barrier between radical fundamentalist Islam and Iraq, so the suggestion that by attacking one you defeat the other is ludicrous and ignorant of middle-east politics and history. Proponents of total antiwar surrender have constructed equally plausible historical scenarios as his.

And the comparison with Japan is simply a False Analogy, since Japan was a nation, not a religion or a culture (Japanese culture is not monolithic and the caricature he presents of Japanese culture that needed to be "defeated" is again largely a sterotype).

I won't even bother right now with Steven's statements about Islam, all of which are utterly false. I am willing to discuss that issue separately, but we are talking about Iraq, and Islam has very little to do with it.

In the past, Steven has answered the question "after we invade, what next?" over email with an optimistic assessment that we would "set up a democratic regime". In the experience of history, successful democracies are not "set up" but rather must arise from within. Is Steven willing to comit to a Neo-Wilsonian program of nation building? Certainly we have not suceeded in that regard in Afghanistan.

To summarize, Steven has answered my request for specific reasons to attack Iraq (not Arabs, not cultures, not Japan) with an evasion, describing a hypothetical and conveniently diffuse enemy. He does not explain in causal detail how attacking Iraq will further the goal of defeating this enemy. He doesn't even address the issue of what happens after Saddam is deposed.

I repeat my question to you, Steven. Please enumerate the specific reasons for attacking Iraq, as bulleted points[4].

UPDATE: Demosthenes points out that the vast cultural war that SDB is arguing for is exactly the desired outcome of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the America.

UPDATE 2: Steven hasn't linked my response to his post yet, but does respond via email:

What you are trying to do with your response is to shift the terms of the
discussion. I can't answer your question about why we need to attack Iraq as
a series of bullet points specifically about Iraq, because our need to
attack Iraq isn't specifically about Iraq, any more than our attack against
Morocco in 1942 was about Morocco.

I find it somewhat ironic to be accused by him of shifting the debate. . I was clearly asking about the proposed Battle of Iraq. It was Steven who "shifted the debate" to the general War against the Arab Islamist Bogeyman. My question was independent of whether I agree with the War or not. If the Battle of Iraq is truly critical to the War on the Arab Islamist Bogeyman, then it should be possible to explain why.

The analogy to Morocco is apt to my point, not his. The specific reasons we attacked Morocco in 1942 were directly related to the War against the Axis Powers. Bullet points in favor of invading Morocco, of the type I am asking for from SDB, might read:

1. A Second Front is needed against the Axis
2. A French landing is not possible at present
3. etc.

(I'll let WWII military historians supply the details).

However, Steven has partly answered my original question in the second paragraph of his email:

We have to attack Iraq as part of the process of defeating all of Arabia; we
have to attack Iraq first because it's near to getting nuclear weapons and
we can't take the chance of letting that happen.

finally, some scraps of meat! From this I deduce that some of the bullet points related to Iraq are:

1. Iraq is acquiring WMD
2. Iraq can only be stopped from developing WMD by direct full-scale
3. Iraq would support Arabia if we attacked it

are there more? is that it? and as I asked Steven earlier, if any or all of these bullet points could be disproved, would it affect the calculation of whether this Battle is desirable or not?


[1] Noise scales with bandwidth to the root power. End Nerd Lesson.
[2] Will someone please explain to me what the heck political correctness is supposed to mean? the only people who ever use the term are people ostensibly opposed to it. Do you actually have a empirical example or is it just another fancy label like "tranzi" or "neocon" to be applied to your target of the moment? It's really just a subtle form of ad-hominem attack, as far as I can tell. You're a tranzi! You're a NeoCon! You're Politically Correct! and thus the faculties' shutdown is enabled, and independent thoughts cease. Activate stereotypes, and Engage!
[3] Notably, Steven has dropped any pretense of linking Iraq with 9-11. Good. The facts don't bear out any such link.
[4] and please, leave the bogeyman out of it.

Note: comments are not working, Haloscan is down. I'll put em back when they come back up. Email me if you have comments. Thanks! UPDATE: I've replaced Haloscan with Enetation. Let's see if this works better. I'll donate money to them if the service pleases me.



the security of Israel? or America? neither.

leaving aside Iraq for a moment, what is the central principle of our foreign policy under the Bush Administration? That can be surmised by looking at who, exactly, is directing foreign policy. Nominally, Sec. of State Powell would have that role, but in reality, there are a core group of people advising President Bush, the Neo-Conservatives.

The label "Neo-Conservative" (neocon for short) is often broadly applied to anyone disagreeing with a liberal agenda, even with regard to domestic politics. It is somewhat more accurately but still too-broadly applied to those who favor an attack of Iraq (for whatever reason, on either side of the politico-ideological divide). The real neocons are a core group of defense and foreign policy advisors during the Reagan Administration, including Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz (current Deputy Secretary of Defense, was Under Secretary of Defense for Bush 41), Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense, for both Ford and Bush 42, as well as multiple advisory posts under Reagan). Other prominent neocons include William Kristol (who funds the Weekly Standard), Norman Podhoretz, George F. Will, and William Bennett. Modern neocons include Stanley Kurtz and Michael Ledeen (both writing for National Review).[1]

FACT. The central tenet of the Neo-Conservatives is that all foreign policy, especially that pertaining to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, should be aimed at benefiting Israel.

This is the bedrock belief of the neocon agenda. All foreign policy is derived from this cenrtal principle, and recent events simply are shoehorned into that principle.

Yet, the rationale is sound from a certain pragmatic perspective - Israel is the most successful of our client states, dating back to the Cold War (whose domination-via-proxy mentality still dominates the thinking and viewpoint of most of the neocons mentioned above). Our financial support for Israel is the primary engine driving Israel's growth as both an economic and military power (myths about making the desert bloom notwithstanding). As Steven Den Beste has noted, Israel is our client, not our ally.

Curiously, neocons share the goal of Neo-Wilsonians in promoting democracy (at least nominally). But this is misleading, as these two competing schools of thought are actually diametrically opposed. The central difference between neocons' and neowilsonians' approach to proxy client states is the answer to this question:

"After American-directed regime change of a nation, and installation of democratic machinery for self-government, should the people of that nation be allowed to elect an anti-American leader?"

This question applies to Palestine, to Iran, to Afghanistan, and of course Iraq. The neocons will say "No." and the neowilsons will say "Yes".

The consequences of saying "No." are clear - that is why we have corrupt and dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Saudi Arabia. In a brazen display of hypocrisy, the non-democratic nature of Arab regimes are used as an argument for neocons' wish to extend American military intervention beyond Iraq to the entire region. Presumably, they would effect regime change in all these nations, and then again deny the people there the right to elect leaders unfetterred by American strategic concerns. This will again lead to dictators and oppression, as well as cauldrons for terrorism, and become targets for the neo-neo-cons of the future.

Israel's security is something I strongly favor. The neocons' prescription for Israel's security is to endlessly destroy nations surrounding Israel until eventually they give rise to pro-American democracies. This will only result in Israel's insecurity.

The neocons are the worst enemy that Israel has ever had.

I assume that an invasion of Iraq is a given, regardless of Congressional deliberation or UN resolutions. Once the war has begun, it will be conducted entirely on Bush's terms. That is how the administration has pursued domestic policy and that IS how it will pursue foreign policy.

So, after invasion, then what? There are still good arguments to be made for invading Iraq. But these (quintessentially Neo-Wilsonian approaches) require a kind of commitment to nation-building that the Bush Administration is incapable of making[2]

I also highly recommend this series by Zachary Latif, on the Right Way to effect regime change in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. This is the kind of analysis that the Bush team should have been making a public case for. In some sense, neo-wilsonianism is anti-imperialist imperialism. It takes an imperial power to set right what an imperial power previously set wrong.

The consequences of invasion according to a neocon game plan, on the other hand, are going to be bloody. There are legitimate comparisons to Vietnam. Worse, in fact - there are legitimate comparisons to the Israeili-Palestinian violence. Iraqis are not likely to simply lay down and embrace American troops as saviors the way Iranians would, since the general sentiment in Iraq is pretty hostile

Note that some conservatives, addicted to the neocon gameplan, have already called for re-instating the draft. (For a thorough discussion of why Selective Service should be abolished, and why the suggestion of a draft is so anti-American, see this Libertarian page quoting Ronald Reagan and John McCain. Also, Steven Den Beste has a nice essay on the value of a conscripted military.

Certainly, Afghanistan was a short-term success, though even with Bin Laden most likely dead, it may have increased the threat from terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda rather than decreasing it, by dispersing them far and wide. And Afghanistan is far from stable. It was our failure to properly rebuild Afghanistan after using it as our proxy against the USSR during the Cold War that caused such strife there, that the Taliban were (initially) welcomed into power. The Taliban's rule created the Al-Qaeda safe haven, leading to the attacks on 9-11. What lessons does this cycle of cause and effect hold for Afghanistan II, as well as for Iraq? It's impossible to say. But success in creating a stable and democratic proxy requires a Wilsonian approach, not a neocon one.

The neocons may be thew worst enemy democracy has ever had.

[1]There is a difference between neocons and warbloggers. Warbloggers are those favoring military attack on Iraq, but aren't necessarily neocons. Many warbloggers, for example, are liberals or moderates who simply believe that invasion of Iraq is necessary based on their reasoning from teh facts. These include Steven Den Beste and Glenn Reynolds.
[2] for domestic political reasons. Must.. Have.. Tax.. Cut... and Israel and Iraq can't BOTH be our Bestest Favorite Proxy Client Nation, because that would mean splitting the pie$$$. Strategic and political foreign aid is a zero-sum game).
[3] I have confirmed this from many people I know who live in or have visited Iraq. Iraq is home to several important religious locations to Shi'a muslims, and so there are always many pilgrims traveling there.


transcript with the Allegator Alley suspects

below is the entire transcript of the interview of Butt, Gheith, and Choudary, from CNN archives. Interviewer is Aaron Brown.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT: the three medical students who were at the center of the nation's attention for much of the day. They join us on NEWSNIGHT from New York.



AYMAN GHEITH: But we were talking about what we were going to do. I'm sorry, in Miami.

BROWN: That you were on to your way in a medical class in Miami. When you were in the restaurant was there any tension in the restaurant? Did you have a sense that you were being watched?

GHEITH: Not at all.


OMER CHOUDHARY: Very comfortable.

GHEITH: And actually, I mean, to give credit to Shoney, the server was very nice. Everybody was very nice.

BUTT: No indication.

CHOUDHARY: No weird stares, no awkward looks. Nice meal.

BROWN: So when was the first time that you came to believe you were about to have a memorable day?

CHOUDHARY: Well, I mean. When we got pulled over. And then rather than the officer approaching us, they said, "Get out of the car. Get on your knees and put your hands behind your back." And that's when I...

BUTT: Three squad cars were behind me. I knew that it wasn't just going to be an average, you know, pull over.

BROWN: It wasn't just a traffic stop. Did you run a toll gate, by the way? Is that part of the story?

BUTT: No. I was the one being implicated for not paying the toll. I paid the toll, and as a matter of fact, then after me, Ayman paid the toll again.

GHEITH: So the state of Florida owes me a dollar. $1.50. I pulled up to the toll. Do you want to hear the story?

BROWN: Yes. Absolutely.

GHEITH: OK. Real Quick. I pulled up to the toll booth, OK. The lady at the toll booth, a nice young lady, she didn't speak English too well. All right? She looked nervous. I saw it on her face. I saw a cop car take off after Kambiz, so I asked her, "Is everything OK?" She said "Yes. No." I was like, "Well, did he pay? Is that the problem?" I'm looking at her hand. She has the money in her hand. She said, "No, he didn't pay." I was like, "All right. Then I'll pay. How much do I owe you?" "Three dollars." $1.50 for me, $1.50 for him, and I got a receipt. And then I thought everything was OK and we took off.

BROWN: And how soon after...

GHEITH: Next thing I knew, somebody was yelling at us.

BUTT: Immediately.

CHOUDARY: Immediately afterwards, we had cars behind us. One, then two, then three, and before I knew it, they just -- I heard a voice said "pull over and get out of the car."

BROWN: OK. A couple more here. When we first started hearing the story they were describing you all as uncooperative. First of all, tell me what they were asking; and second of all, tell me if you view how you behaved as uncooperative or not.

BUTT: OK. Well, actually our interrogation didn't begin until the FBI came into the scene.

GHEITH: Right.

BUTT: And as far as the local police were concerned, they wouldn't answer any questions. The whole time, I kept repeating myself and asking, "Why are we being pulled over? Why is this happening?" Well, they just told us, "We can't tell you, because it's not in our authority."

CHOUDARY: At 11:30 when we got handcuffed and placed in the squad cars, we were each in an individual car. From that time onwards, we were never told why we were pulled over. I found out, I think, an hour or so before we were released this morning or this afternoon.

BROWN: What kind of questions did they ask you?

CHOUDARY: About 4:30.

GHEITH: Everything.

BROWN: Like what?

BUTT: Where were you born?

CHOUDARY: We answered questions about where we were from.

GHEITH: Where were you born? How long have you been a U.S. citizen? I mean, questions like...

BUTT: Why are you going to Miami?

GHEITH: What business do you have in Miami? Who are your friends? They asked me about 100 people. Do you know this person? Do you know that person? Do you know this person. No. I don't. Why are you going to Miami. What are you doing in Miami?

CHOUDARY: What do you think of America?

GHEITH: What do you think of America?

CHOUDARY: They asked us a lot of questions. I was asked about nationality. They asked me where I'm from. I told them I was born here in Detroit, Michigan. I'm U.S. citizen, obviously, because I was born here. Yet they kept emphasizing that my parents are from Pakistan and that I'm from Pakistan. I told them that, you know, everyone has their roots somewhere. My parents were from Pakistan, but I was born here. It seemed like they were making that an important point, that I was a foreigner.

BUTT: Right.

GHEITH: I got hammered more with 9/11.

BROWN: We have about 45 seconds left. Let me -- tell me what you learned today. One of you.

GHEITH: I learned one thing. Can I?

BROWN: Please.

GHEITH: One thing I learned that -- OK, in justice, regardless against who is wrong, whether you be Muslim, whether you be black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, Jewish, I would like just to make a request.

For every person in the United States, this is an address to the U.S., America, to my people. If you know this is wrong, and you do know this is wrong, get up and call your congressman, please. Because it is against us today; tomorrow it could be against you. Whether you be white or black, it doesn't make a difference. Because injustice is injustice. It's going to be wrong.

There is no contradiction between the word Islam and the word American. There is no contribution in terms. And I hope that the American people will realize it some day.

BROWN: Gentlemen, I think from our side of life, we can't imagine what it's like to walk in your shoes today, for whatever reason you ended up in that. We appreciate very much you joining us tonight. Thank you very much.

GHEITH: No problem. BROWN: And good luck to you.