Labor grows some stones

The resignation of the Labor party from the Sharon coalition government is a tidal wave through Israeili politics. Had it happened a year ago, perhaps many lives, Israeili and Palestinian, would have been saved. But is it a good thing ? I think, yes, because it breaks the invincible aura of the settlements.

Ha'aretz has a fascinating account of teh negotiations and the final meeting between Ben-Elizier and Sharon. It closes :

Then the real debate began. Ben-Eliezer and Oshaya wanted the word settlement to appear. It was obvious to all that Ben-Eliezer needed the word to get Ramon, Mitzna, and the contrary faction off his back. But that's where Sharon had to dig his heels in. The founder of the settlements was unable, psychologically or politically, to even hint that the settlers would cease to benefit from government largesse.

Finally, Ben-Eliezer stood up pulled the letter of resignation from his pocket, and said, "thank you, Mr. Prime Minister." He laid the letter on the prime minister's desk and the Labor Party left the office and the government.

there's also an editorial in Ha'aretz that discusses what a drain the settlers are on the Israeili economy.

UPDATE: excellent summary of coverage within and outside Israel, at Slate.


Falsafat I: Ideofact on Qutb

Bill Allison's Ideofact blog is one of those rare blogs that serves as a reference site for others, rather than a mere collection of opinions. Bill has blogged on topics ranging from the middle ages to Bosnia, covering literature and history and supported by a formidable library. One of the most important series of posts that Bill has worked on is his ongoing analysis of "Sayyid" [1] Qutb's book, Social Justice in Islam[2]. This book's influence on the radical segment of Islam has been profound, to the extent that Qutb has been called "the brains behind Osama bin Laden" (here are a pair of articles that discuss this influence in detail by Dinesh D'Souza).

What is important about Bill's thorough analysis is that it demonstrates just how far from mainstream Islam that Qutb's ideas and interpretations are - to the extent that even an outsider to the faith can see them (not to impugn Bill - he has deep and personal knowledge of Islam, though he is not muslim himself). I agree completely with him when he says:

I've never been convinced that it is Islam in and of itself with which we are at war, but rather with a bunch of lunatics who believe that Islam justifies flying a few airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Beyond that, I tend to think the main problem of the Middle East is tyranny.
Islam shares the concept of the equality of souls before God. It has not found expression in anything like our Declaration, it is not the organizing principle of any predominantly Muslim society, but the concept is there, and is something which perhaps can be built upon.

Following the vein of my previous post, where I discuss how far off base OBL is from Islam, this post is an attempt to catalouge all of the Ideofact entries on Qutb. Thus we can demonstrate that not only is OBL's ideology flawed, but also the lineage of his ideology as well. Taken together, this could be considered the beginnings of a systematic refutation of the OBL version of Islam. I am regrettably not qualified to "deconstruct" Qutb with Qur'anic references but I know this to be possible, and Bill does an admirable job even without turning to the ultimate authority.

Ideofact Qutb Series
2:1, 2:2, 2:3
3:1, 3:2, 3:3
7:1, 7:2, 7:3, 7:4, 7:5, 7:6
8:1, 8:2

(Bill hasnt yet finished the series, so I will update this post as he adds new entries.)

So, then, what is the alternative to Qutb? The answer is Ali ibn Talib AS, the chosen sucessor to the Prophet (and the defining figure of Shi'a theology). I will review Ali's AS work, "Peak of Eloquence" (Nahjul Balagha), in the next post in this series.

[1] As far as I can determine, the title of Sayyid was bestowed upon Qutb by himself.
[2] For the masochistic, you can buy this book from Amazon. Not recommended unless you have the patience of a sage (like Bill).


The history of Hizbullah

I've posted a new article to UNMEDIA list, called The history of Hizbullah. It's a detailed look at the history behind the Israel/Lebanon conflict and traces the rise of the group. It's also mirrored on the UNMEDIA list archive.

Note you can browse and search the entire list archive. You do not need to subscribe to the list in order to access the archive, either, though I certainly do hope you join and participate!

wretched are those who call for Harabah

Glenn has a transcript excerpt from Osama Bin Laden's "fatwa" to "jihad" against Americans. Those are snort quotes, not scare quotes, because in this essay I want to discuss how OBL's statement was (a) NOT a fatwa, and (b) a call to harabah, not jihad.

A fatwa is a religious pronouncement, a call to religious duty. By its very definition, therefore, it can only be invoked by a religious authority. OBL has no such authority, and in fact usually fatwas are issued by councils of clerics (in the Sunni tradition) or by religious imam (in the Shi'a). OBL's family may have built many mosques, but it is certainly doubtful he ever led prayers in one, or ever acted in a religious advisory capacity. If anything, OBL is a pretender to religious authority. The notion that his pronouncements can be labeled fatwas is intrinsically ludicrous. Even the ruling Saudi family dares not lay claim to the authority to issue fatwas (though in their case, they just let their Wahabi symbiotes do it).

OBL's ignorance about Islam and the laughability of his claim to religious authority is well-illustrated by his own words:

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God." . . .

The very first statement asserts that "killing Americans and their allies" is an "individual duty". The Qur'an does in fact support violence if in defense against attack, but here OBL explicitly describes the targets as "civilians and military." Note that if you make the argument that there is no such thing as a civilian, then that qualification is unneccessary. Presumably then OBL does make such a distinction, and thus he is knowingly calling for the murder of innocents.

Contrast this with the words of the Qur'an itself:

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. Those who wage war against Allah and His prophet, kill the believers and plunder their property shall be disgraced in this world, and for them is a dreadful doom in the hereafter. (5:32-33)

(note - translations of the Qur'an are inherently flawed.)

The contrast is crystal clear. What OBL is calling for violates Qur'anic precepts. His assertion that this is the "duty" of all Muslims is thus ignorant and self-refuting. His gross ignorance of the Qur'an demonstrates that he is an impostor of religious authority.

On a minor theological note, the "holy mosque" (ie, the Kabba) never needs to be liberated. It is Allah's - and thus will always be safe. To say that the Saudis are pagans and that the Kabba needs to be liberated is in one sense an insult to God. Would Allah allow the Kabba to fall into the hands of pagans? The Saudis - despite all their faults - have made it possible for Muslims worldwide to perform the Hajj[1]. As for Masjid al-Aqsa, it still is owned by the Waqf and muslims do have access, for the most part. Any muslim who has actually gone there can attest to this. I wonder if OBL has ever bothered?

Finally, the ayats that OBL invokes are taken grossly out of context. Again with a translation (sigh) :

Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah's ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth, of these four being sacred; that is the right reckoning; therefore be not unjust to yourselves regarding them, and fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil). (9:36)

This is directed at two targets. First, the pagans here are specifically the pagans of Saudi Arabia before Islam, who used to observe a year of 13 months after two years to combine the solar and lunar years, due to which they had to transfer the observance of Muharram to the succeeding month, Safar. This verse condemns their interference with the lunar calendar. Second, taken in a broader context, says to fight them together as they fight you all together. Since Islam is not under attack by America or her allies (in fact, Muslims reside there as well, and none of the established schools of jurisprudence consider American muslims to be inferior or non-muslim), this ayat does not apply.

The other ayat that OBL invokes is also very out of context:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. (2:190-193)

These ayats are often used by fanatics for precisely oppsite to their intent. The main points here are that fighting is only permitted in self-defense. If fighting starts, then kill them wherever they are found, unless they ask for mercy (this is also the Jacksonian model as well). Most importantly, show mercy when one has the upper hand.

The Qur'an is also explicit about the fate of those who misuse the words of Allah themselves for their own gain. I'll let OBL, and any fan of his, look that up themselves. For all the good it shall do them.

OBL continues,

We -- with God's help -- call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.

I have previously blogged about jihad. What OBL calls for here is not jihad, since he has already explicitly targeted non-combatants, but note that he goes further here and calls for plunder as well. This is actually a call to harabah, or "war of intimidation." Note that harabah is strongly condemned in the Qur'an, for example the explicit reference in 5:33 to those whose intent is "mischief through the land".

For more discussion on harabah, see this excellent entry on alt.muslim, and this essay on an Islamic definition of terrorism. Alt muslim also makes this telling point, which is similar to what I was saying earlier:

Because the word jihad roughly means "religious effort," the West can come off as attacking the daily life of ordinary Muslims, while terrorists get away with wrapping their crimes in religious phraseology. Muslim scholars are meeting in Washington with US officials to change this. "When people carelessly dump on jihad, it has an immediate polarizing effect," said Khaled Abou el Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at UCLA who will attend the meeting. "It may not change much, but it allows Muslims and non-Muslims to say something about terrorists without appearing to malign Islamic theology."

Speaking in God's NameKhaled Abou el Fadl (professor of Islamic law at UCLA) is also an accomplished writer on these topics. His book, Speaking in God's Name, is a very thorough look at how religious terminology is abused by the extremists. It is vitally important that these differences in terminology are understood - more than merely semantics, it is the framework for understanding the problem of radical fascist Islam and the underlying problem of tribalism. I urge other bloggers to make a point of calling terrorism harabah and not jihad, and to avoid labeling every frothing opinion of extremists a fatwa.

Islam is actually the solution to the problem. It is in our collective best interest, to understand the classical interpretations of Islam (of which mine is but a single example of many), because that understanding can shape policy. Consider the hypothetical post-war Iraq. If we simply set up a barbie dolls and rock and roll culture, then there will be a fundamentalist backlash. The last thing we want to do is turn secular but tyrannical Iraq into a defeated but fundamentalist nation. The former can be bombed and deterred and exiled and killed, but the latter is a huge incubator just like Afghanistan was.

If we are to be successful we have to remove the incubators, the conditions under which they are created, as well. Doing that means that an understanding of classical Islam is essential. Thats the propaganda war we need to fight against OBL.

[1] I drive an SUV. Whether I'm killing the Earth or helping muslims do hajj depends on your point of view, I guess.


UNMEDIA scores an "A"

UNMEDIA blog scored an "A" grade for layout design by Scott Wickstein! However, the DeanBlog didn't do as well, only B-, because of excessive white. I'll have to think of what i can do to fix that. He didn't look at Shi'a Pundit, but I spuspect it would have done even worse.

two white elephants in Baghdad

Michael Kinsley points out in Slate that though oil and Israel are two major (and valid) reasons to distinguish Iraq from other nuke-enabled dictatorial regimes as a potential target, Bush isn't discussing them. The reason smacks of disingenous political manipulation, which is the hallmark of this administration. Kinsley explains:

The idea that oil is a factor in official thinking about Iraq shouldn't even be controversial. Protecting oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was an explicit�though disingenuously underemphasized�reason for Bush War I. After all, we couldn't claim to be fighting to restore democracy to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, let alone Iraq. This time around, the fact that Bush and Cheney are both oil men is suggestive, but the implication is not clear. A war to topple Saddam will raise oil prices in the short run but probably lower them in the longer run by stabilizing the supply. An oil man could have sincerely mixed feelings about these prospects. Surely, though, even a sensible opponent of the war ought to register a steady oil supply as one of the better reasons for it.

The lack of public discussion about the role of Israel in the thinking of "President Bush" is easier to understand, but weird nevertheless. It is the proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it. The reason is obvious and admirable: Neither supporters nor opponents of a war against Iraq wish to evoke the classic anti-Semitic image of the king's Jewish advisers whispering poison into his ear and betraying the country to foreign interests. But the consequence of this massive "Shhhhhhhhh!" is to make a perfectly valid American concern for a democratic ally in a region of nutty theocracies, rotting monarchies, and worse seem furtive and suspicious.


Notes on Columbus Day

I know it's almost two weeks after the fact, but I recently posted a belated entry on Columbus Day. I've used Blogger Pro to change it's date to October 12th. It's based on an essay I wrote for a college course and I have also linked to several books that I think are mandatory reading for an understanding of the impoact of Columbus of the Native American spiritual culture. It's not my intent to label Columbus evil, but simply to try and discuss the effects. So it's not a bashing frenzy but rather a reflective look. I hope you find it interesting.

still on the fence

I had earlier posted my initial response to the news of DPRK's nuclear program with some frustration, but posts by Suman Palit and William Burton have managed to convince me otherwise. I don't think DPRK is a higher priority than Iraq, any longer.

Still, I am not back to where I was before the Bali bombing in terms of supporting war on Iraq.

The question, "how does attacking Iraq solve the problem of terrorism?" is one that needs to be answered, and yet all those who support war on Iraq have shied away or evaded that question completely.

Possible answers that I have seen are:

Answer 1. "Remaking Iraq will bring democracy to the Middle East"

This is beyond speculation and approaches fiction. First, the proposed postwar plans all call for a significant military occupation, most likely a military government, with General Tomy Franks playing the role in Iraq of General MacArthur in Japan. It's not clear how long or even how successful this will be - and Afghanistan is a great example. Previous imperial powers suceeded in winning the general battle in Afghanistan, but attempts at setting up colonial givernments failed miserably. This was true of the British and it seems to be true of the American-supported Karzai government, which really only controls Kabul. And the airport, but that's because we built an AFB there.

Second, most Arab govts in the middle east would rather see a weak and tyrranical Iraq than a strong and prosperous one. If anything, a strong Iraq (whose creation I am NOT conceding would be a guaranteed outcome of our military action) would cause those givernments and regimes to crack down even harder. The most likely effect will be to intensify support of Islamic radicals which are the most effective means of pacification, because when your political authority is cast into religious form, it attains a measure of legitimacy that is very difficult to undermine, without being seen as an attack on faith itself. I think we would see a strengthening of the radicals' hands, not a weakening.

Answer 2: "Iraq supports terrorism, therefore it is a legitimate target of the War on Terror"

The link between Iraq and 9-11 has been exhaustively researched and it's fairly obvious at this point that no such link exists. The Bush Administration has admitted as such. Anyway that was a bad road for Bush to take, because if he argued that a weak link to Iraq justified all-out invasion, then what is implied about the much stronger, extensively documented, link between 9-11 and Saudi state-funded Wahabi extremism? All of Bush's rhetoric about Iraq now centers on his Evil - "tried to kill my dad" etc. This rhetoric solves the problem of undermining his economic and political ties to Saudi Arabia, which he has never criticized, but makes him look like a petty fool, doling out foreign policy on the basis of a vendetta rather than a statesmanesue approach.

Answer 3: "This ISN'T part of the war on Terror, but Saddam is a bigger threat right now"

This answer makes me angry. It wasn't Iraq that killed 3,000 Americans in NYC and DC, nor was it Saddam who killed 200 Australians (our noblest allies) in Bali. Nor the attacks on American servicemen in Kuwait, or bombing of oil tankers in Yemen.

This hasn't stopped the Bush Administration's fervent partisan supporters from asserting:

In truth, the men who "implemented" the "cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans" are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, last Sept. 11 ... In truth, the "vast majority" of the men who "sponsored" and "planned" the crime are dead also, or in prison, or on the run.

Compare that fantasy to Gore's speech. In the context of the Bali bombing, who is the disgraceful liar?

None of these answers do the job. If someone, anyone, has more to say that can sway me, I need to hear it. But right now the case is weak. And we will pay the price in the future for misdirecting our attention.


Logic of Mass Destruction

Supporters of invading Iraq have been vocal in their attempots to explain to us poor liberal naive fools how Saddam is not deterrable.

I imagine that there will now be a rush to explain how Korea is deterrable?

UPDATE: Suman Palit does just that, and does a good enough job explaining it that I am convinced (I probably violated some central axiom of blogging in that I'm no9t supposed to actually be convinced by other people's arguments. Maybe I just have a weak mind).

Related - William Burton has a fairly comprehensive Plan of how to deal with Korea. It's based stringly on realpolitik arguments, and I'm not entirely comfortable with some aspects of it, but teh general point that he is making is that the DPRK has plenty of levers of pressure that can be applied.

UPDATE 2: Slate notes another difference between Iraq and N Korea. Not what you think, though.

UPDATE 3: Thomas Nephew has a counterargument to Suman. I appreciate his point, but emotionally speaking, my bubble of alarm at the DPRK nuke story remains punctured. My main fear about China with regard to Iraq centers on Taiwan.


opinions buffeted by events

from an op-ed in the New York Times, "The Wrong War at the Wrong Time"

The atrocity in Bali last Saturday is a grim reminder that we are in a long war. It is a war that pits a few thousand unidentified individuals against most of humankind, from the beaches of Bali to lower Manhattan. A year ago President Bush named this conflict the "war on terror" and committed the United States to fighting it. Today many people outside America believe that Washington has lost interest in this war, except as rhetorical cover for a retreat to more familiar territory: an old-fashioned battle against an old-fashioned kind of enemy � Iraq. We are seeking a fight we can win instead of concentrating on the war that we must win.

I confess that just prior to the Bali bombing, I was going to post an entry, "Why I support war with Iraq." That entry had been the result of long debates via email with bloggers, essays and opinion pieces, and good old-fashioned research using Google and CNN.

I've tabled that essay for now - it may be that I do support an Iraq war again - but since the Bali bombing, my perspectives have changed - in that nothing has really changed after all. Given the numerous links of the Bali blast to Al-Qaeda, it is obvious that our year+ long "war on terrorism" has been nothing more than a re-entrenchment of Cold-War foreign policy.

One of teh arguments often presented by pro-war types was that America has to ACT to maintain its image as The Great Beast. Porphyrogenitus gave me long pieces about how Somalia proved that we lacked the commitment to follow through, and that cost us. Yet what signal is the Bush administration sending by focusing on the "guy who tried to kill my dad" ?

9-11 shoudl never have hapenned again. But it did happen again, this time in Australia. Not with nuclear weapons or anthrax, but with a car bomb, the kind we have seen since well before Clinton came to power to accept blame for all the evils of the world.

That's TWO strikes against Western Civilization, people - you know, the one you are signing manifestos about? And yet while we focus on Iraq to exclusion of all else, Afghanstan falls further apart, Pakistan continues its transformation into Taliban II, and now this, in Australia?

And while all sorts of examples about what a threat Saddam will be to Israel and America are put forth, little mention of the threat posed to S. Korea by the much more aggressive, much more advanced, AND ballistic-missile-possessing N. Korea? Saddam will have to ship his nuke to us in secret, the DPRK can send theirs flying across the Pacific.

We will be paying for teh short-sightedness of this Administration for decades to come.

a letter to google, and their response

From: "Aziz H. Poonawalla"
To: news-feedback@google.com
Subject: web log indexing akin to your news service
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2002 09:31:39 -0500


I am a longtime user of Google, from the very beginning, and I must congratulate you on how you have extended Google's services over the years. I will never use another search engine.

Your news service is brilliant, but it made me wish for another similar feature aimed at weblogs (and tied into the news service also).

What would be wonderful is if you could do almost exactly the same thing you do for news feeds, but using RSS feeds from weblogs. Currently there are hundreds of thousands of weblogs run on Blogger Pro, on Radio Userland, and on MovableType, all of which support XML syndication. It should be easy for your team to build up a comprehensive list of weblogs by looking at the recently updated list at weblogs.com and blogs.salon.com, as well as
blog.gs. Blogs with XML feeds could be flagged and used as information feeds into the same algorithms you use to construct Google News.

With that data, I propose you do two things:

1. create a weblog-centric normal Google search
2. link weblogs to the news.google service so that if a number of weblogs link to a given story, users of Google News can immediately find those bloggers commentary.

Weblogs are posing a significant challenge to the normal media and often contain intense, detailed discussion and analysis of current events as well as general debates on politics, religion, the economy, and foreign policy. All of these diverse threads of opijion and analysis could thus be indexed and accessible via the Google News interface.

Point 1 above would be very useful from an archive perspective - ten years from now, if someone wants to research the Bali terrorist bombing, it would be extremely useful to have a weblog-centric search and get the full window into the diverse discussions it has sparked. Point 2 would provide real-time analysis on a level well beyond what the mainstream news organizations can provide.

Both would immensely enhance Google News and make the depth of the content an order of magnitude richer. I sincerely hope that this idea is not only feasible but that you also find it worth pursuing.

Aziz Poonawalla

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2002 13:29:43 -0700
From: news-feedback@google.com
To: "Aziz H. Poonawalla"
Subject: Re: web log indexing akin to your news service [#1014151]

Dear Aziz,

Thanks for your helpful email about Google News. We're considering a number of improvements based on feedback from our users, and we'll be certain to pass your thoughts on to our engineers. Given that we're still fine-tuning this service, it's too early for us to know which of the many great ideas we've received will be implemented. Thanks again for taking the time to write us and please visit Google News in the coming weeks to see our additions and improvements.

For the latest on Google News and other Google innovations, you may want to sign up for our Google Friends newsletter at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/google-friends/

The Google Team

ok, so it wasn't a substantive reply. But I can always hope ...

UPDATE: by way of Zizka, Nathan Newman has a related idea:

The interesting challenge for us in the progressive blogosphere is whether we can figure out a format to combine the best of our posts into a single structure that casual web browsers could access like a magazine. What would be needed is some kind of peer review to move the best posts from individual sites into a collective web effort, categorized by issue area, and posted in a user-friendly form. There are some collective blogs out there, but what is needed is a more serious editing function and user-friendly formatting to make it easy to access. If we could even do with progressive blog posting what Google News has done with mainstream papers, it would make web writing far more accessible.

In fact this is similar to an idea I had recently, to set up a Movable Type blog that would be called the Progressive Archive (or, "ProgLog" for short) that consists solely of archives from major liberal bloggers like Atrios, Hesiod, and Demosthenes. It would be a simple matter to import their entire archives into the MT archive, and thus have the full power of MT's search and browse and category features available. I myself have wasted hours trying to dig through Eschaton for a post I remembered reading ages back that would have been useful to link to for a post I was writing, but usually the task is just too labor-intensive. I emailed those three to ask their permission but not much response yet, certainly not teh permission that would be necessary to even try out a prototype. But the idea remains, and it's good to know I'm not the only one who is thinkig about the utility that such an archive would have.

what's going on behind his back?

another great Fark photoshop, worth sharing:


my favorites:

Dr. Toast:



as well as more hilarious ones from Yammering_Splat_Vector, Fox, GoMifune, AiryAnne, and Suburban Cowboy :)


don't discount empirical evidence

The icecap on Kilimanjaro, at the border of Kenya and Tanzania near the equator, seen in 1912.The summit, photographed in 2000

If perfect is the enemy of good, then sometimes proof is the enemy of action. Empirical evidence is not enough to prove causation from correlation, but there is a point at which the common-sense filter simply has to apply.

Fact: The ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro formed 11,000 years ago.

Fact: the ice fields at the summit have shrunk by 80% in the last century.

Prediction: the snow cap will be gone in one or two decades.

Twenty years from now, I will look back at this archived blog entry, and show it to the idiotarians who still insist that global warming is a liberal fable.

UPDATE: Note that those people who simply have doubts about some of the science, but who don't dismiss all evidence of warming out of hand, are not who I am labeling idiotarians.

more Islamic links

I don't keep a counter on this site, mainly to avoid any mass-appeal temptations that could skew my perspectives. First and foremost, this blog is an expression of my personal thoughts and it helps me to pretend that any readers are merely symptoms of my deranged imagination. To paraphrase Douglas Adams' character, The Man in the Shack :

I blog what it pleases me to blog. More, I cannot blog.

So, it would really be hubris to expect that if - suppose - I find a blog I like and blog about that blog I like, that I actually expect anyone to actually go to that blog. I just blog about blogs once in a while to remind myself why I like blogs[1].

Curiously, most of the time I've blogged about other blogs, they have been Islamic ones. I blogged about Ismail Royer (whose essay on Victimhood is absolutely brilliant) - though I've become somewhat disenchanted with him subsequently, since his personal interpretation of Islam compels him to make acid comments about the validity of others' marriages, and make a curious denial of the existence of Wahabism. Read the comments section on this post for details. I've also recently noted the alt.muslim site, which is so good that I'm going to add an XML feed to Shia Pundit from it. The editor, Shahed, has graciously invited me to submt content for alt.muslim, so I willdo my best not to disappoint him.

But apart from luck, it is quite hard to find other Islamic sites, especially ones that link to me, since I have no counter and no way to track referrals. I am forced to rely on the statistics pages at Ecosystem websites like Myelin and Organica to find new refers. That's how I came across Bin Gregory, a Muslim blogger who immediately captured my attention with his post on the beauty of Qasida, which are elegies of faith, haunting and powerful, taking the elegance of the written Arabic to an entirely different level.

Also, Bin Gregory reminded me of the following link, to the Zaytuna Institute, which was founded by Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, a staunch proponent of Modern Islam and its role in the world as a beacon of reason. Yusuf is a true intellectual and has an extensive portfolio of speeches and essays that are mandatory reading if you want to understand the true Islam of the ages as opposed to the pseudo-Islam of the media and the tribal idiots. Some of these speeches are Islam's Progressive Tradition, and America's Tragedy (an essay about 9-11). The Zaytuna Institute also runs an Academy, which is an Islamic school run according to modern and rational philosophies in stark contrast to the ignorance of the madrassahs in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Their explanation of their mission rejeuvenates the original spirit of the word madrassah, in my opinion:

Zaytuna Institute and Academy is a non-profit, educational institute and school founded and run by people committed to reviving time-tested methods of educating and transforming human beings. It is our belief that Islam offers a cohesive understanding of the world and a praxis for it that is able to cut through the illusion of contemporary nihilism and materialism.

We recognize ignorance as the greatest weapon of the dark forces working in the world and believe that the light of true knowledge is the only weapon to dispel that darkness. This is our struggle, and our efforts are directed at spreading the light and wisdom of prophetic truths everywhere and to all peoples. Our aim is to teach the tools individuals need in order to live lives of guidance and adherence to sacred order and to restore broad-based pluralistic and true scholarship to its proper place as a first priority of Muslims.

We believe the problems facing this generation are those very problems mentioned in our Prophet's final sermon, upon him be prayers and peace: economic injustice, racism, the oppression of women, and the manipulation of natural order. We believe these human illnesses can only be treated through healing the hearts of humanity with spiritual truths of the impermanence of the world and the need to understand our purpose while we are here and act accordingly. This can only be done with sound and true knowledge. It is our goal to acquire and disseminate that knowledge.

There are two other great modern Islamic writers I want to mention as well. First is Irshaad Hussain, a relative unknown, but whose discussion of The Place of Intellect in Islam remains one of my favorite essays of all time. Second, is Seyyed Hossein Nasr, whose essay Science and Civilization is a powerful refutation of Huntington's flawed Clash of Civilizations thesis. Links to these many other essays on the nature of Science and Islam can be found at my friend Murtaza Gulamali's website, The Interface.

[1] Does this make even a tiny scrap of sense?



Hopefully I haven't driven away my three readers by withholding "free ice cream" for so long. By way of apology, here is a quote:

"If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?"

-- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney[1], defending Bush 41's decision to end the Gulf War. (source: New York Times, April 1991, via Chatterbox)

The issue of the occupation of Iraq is discussed in much more detail by James Fallows in the November issue of The Atlantic.

[1] Cheney is not the only one in this Administration who has done a 180 on Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld was actually envoy to Saddam during the Reagan Administration (December 1983), pledging support and normalization of diplomatic relations. He went back in March of 1984, and the very day he arrived in Baghdad, the UN issued a report that confirmed allegations that Iraq had used nerve gas against the Iranians. These reports were corroborated by the State Department as well. Rumsfeld did not mention the issue of biological weapons to Saddam. Worse:

Throughout the period that Rumsfeld was Reagan�s Middle East envoy, Iraq was frantically purchasing hardware from American firms, empowered by the White House to sell. The buying frenzy began immediately after Iraq was removed from the list of alleged sponsors of terrorism in 1982. According to a February 13, 1991 Los Angeles Times article:

�First on Hussein's shopping list was helicopters -- he bought 60 Hughes helicopters and trainers with little notice. However, a second order of 10 twin-engine Bell "Huey" helicopters, like those used to carry combat troops in Vietnam, prompted congressional opposition in August, 1983... Nonetheless, the sale was approved.�

In 1984, according to The LA Times, the State Department�in the name of �increased American penetration of the extremely competitive civilian aircraft market��pushed through the sale of 45 Bell 214ST helicopters to Iraq. The helicopters, worth some $200 million, were originally designed for military purposes. The New York Times later reported that Saddam �transferred many, if not all [of these helicopters] to his military.�

In 1988, Saddam�s forces attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. U.S. intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they �believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.�

In response to the gassing, sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The measure was killed by the White House.


no assets to freeze

Want to see an example of a thriving embrace of Islam and the Internet? Take a look at the alt.muslim website, especially their Islamic Thought section. It has an ecellent collection of analyses and interesting stories, including this short account of Badshah Khan, a leading advicate of non-violence and contemporary of Ghandi:

Working alongside Gandhi to liberate South Asia from British colonial rule, Badshah Khan (affectionately known as the "Frontier Gandhi") spent his 98-year life proving that the highest religious values of Islam are deeply compatible with nonviolent conflict resolution, even against heavy odds. From the tribal Pushtuns, Khan assembled the world's first and largest non-violent army in the 1930s, the 100,000-strong Khudai Hidmatgars ("servants of God"). "That such men, who would have killed a human being with no more thought than they would kill a sheep," recounted Gandhi, "should at the bidding of one man have laid down their arms and accepted nonviolence as the superior weapon sounds almost like a fairy tale." "I cited chapter and verse from the Koran to show the great emphasis that Islam had laid on peace," said Khan of his discussion with a skeptical Muslim. "I also showed to him how the greatest figures in Islamic history were known more for their forbearance and self-restraint than for their fierceness. The reply rendered him speechless."

There is a great collection of articles and intellectual opinion on the Islamic Thought page. And, the site is humorous and witty - including randomly-changing bylines like 'Your mysterious neighbors', 'No compulsion in opinion', 'Detained indefinitely', and my personal favorite, 'no assets to freeze" :)

the impact of Columbus

This essay is not a typical "blame Columbus" piece. It's more of an introspective look at the impact upon Native American identity, as a result of the relationship they have with the mainstream society today.

Talking Indian"What is strange is what has happened to our folks in the last five centuries. We've been through allot. Because of that, on the surface it looks like we must have changed a lot, too. But we're still not what others want us to be. Strange. For some we ain't real enough anymore. For some, we're still too Indian. Some say we're not Indians at all, or First Americans, or Native Americans. Some say we are." -- Anna Lee Waters, Talking Indian, pg.41-42

October 12th is Columbus Day, 510 years after the Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere. The Indians of North America have changed immeasurably since Columbus made first contact. Some accuse Indians of losing their identity, while others want the Indian communities to assimilate more than they have. This duality in public thought is called Bateson's Double-Bind; it represents a double standard under which the Indians cannot win. If an Indian refuses to assimilate, then they are considered an obstacle to progress, and if they attempt to fit in they are considered non-authentic. The passage above is essentially an observation of this.

One issue in which this double-bind is glaringly obvious is language. The Indian language was considered a rebellious icon, and so in the late 1800's government policy sought to eradicate the native tongues. Forcing the natives to speak the language of their conquerors brought enormous social pressure to bear on the Indian population. The advantages of assimilation were made much clearer once the language barrier was down. This was accomplished in part by missionaries who encouraged their converts to speak English only, but the main thrust of the campaign was the boarding school system established in the 1870's (one of the initiatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs)

The boarding school system was simple in concept and brilliant in strategy. The children of each tribe in a certain age group were rounded up and sent to boarding schools where they would be safe from the "corrupting" influence of native life, and were educated according to mainstream ideals. The children were utterly forbidden to speak their native languages, and were forced to speak English all day, ridiculed and punished if they did not obey. A sense of shame was instilled in each youngster about their native culture, so as to make the option of assimilation more attractive. This resulted in 'internalized oppression,' the self-conviction that the old ways were harmful and wrong. The system of boarding schools was extremely effective in this regard.

The level of language retention for various tribes falls along a broad spectrum. Those tribes that were small, decimated by disease, or uprooted tended to be heavily affected, with the original language in extreme disuse or even lost forever. Other tribes with large, stable populations tended to hold on to their primary language, but every tribe was affected in some way.

In essence, the government wanted Indians to abandon their old language and speak English. Those that refused to do so were considered obstacles to progress, troublemakers, and uncivilized. Those who did make the switch to English faced problems as well, however. They were no longer considered 'true' Indians, in some cases by their own people. The loss of language alienated many people from their culture, and today there are many Indians who do not feel comfortable in either society. Indians who seek to return to their roots may find themselves unwelcome due to their lack of common ground; the language of a people is a very strong bond in a community. Those Indians in mainstream society who seek to be recognized for their work in the Indian community (i.e. arts, music, literature) may not be considered authentic and suffer economically for it. The general opinion seems to be the Indian who lost their language somehow compromised their 'Indianness.'

Language, though important to the cultural identity, really is not crucial any longer. The short story Talking Indian illustrates this point vividly. The loss of language makes it more difficult for Indians to find their roots, and experience their culture, but it does not deny them access. Maxine, the main character in the story, found she could understand dogs speaking, in what seemed to be her long-forgotten native language. Her grandfather's explanation is that though she may not even know it herself, her Indian identity is still intact. As he puts it, "The only thing that's different is I'm talking in a foreign language, one forced on us, but nevertheless, I'm still talking Indian. It's ironical" (pg. 41). The author is clearly refuting the double-bind theory, claiming in essence that though you may not speak Indian, you are still Indian in some indefinable way, that will never change despite the loss of the native tongue.

Religion also suffers from an identity crisis. The Catholic church has claimed a significant fraction of Indian peoples as members, and the new Native American Church has rapidly grown in popularity (mainly Peyotism). Islam is also making inroads (with Latins, also). The old religious traditions and ceremonies are still practiced, but even they have changed with the times. Once again we have the double-bind situation, this time pertaining to religious practice instead of language.

Those who remained true to the old religions are still in some cases pressured to change, but in today's society those forces have lost much power. The real injustice is meted out to those who no longer subscribe to the traditional practice. The question is, do those who believe in different religions still have the right to be called Indian?

The Sixth GrandfatherBlack Elk is an example of this. His biography, written by John Neihardt in the 1930's, was one of the most-read books on Indian culture ever. Neihardt recorded the culture of the Lakota, and faithfully wrote of Black Elk's rise as a medicine man and war rior, and told of his Indian heritage; he was a cousin to Crazy Horse, for example. However, all mention of Black Elk's later years, 25 of which spent as a Catholic catechist, were ignored by Neihardt in the final version. Neihardt apparently viewed Black Elk's conversion to the Christian faith as compromising his Indian heritage, and accordingly deleted any reference to it. Neihardt and many of his readers equated religious practice with cultural identity, and in so doing did a great injustice to a man w hose work made hundreds of lives better and happier through his teachings.

Black Elk speaksContrast this treatment with Black Elk's own autobiography, in which he extensively discusses his own conversion. To Black Elk, the new religion really wasn't that new. He actually saw many parallels between his old practices and Christianity. This was primarily due to the amazing similarities between the vision he had at age nine (which inspired him to become a medicine man) and the Two Roads Map. The Two Roads Map was designed to instruct about Catholicism in a pictorial way. As Steltenkamp puts it, "... the Two Roads Map imaginatively captured in picture form the basic world-view of traditional Christian theology". Black Elk's vision and the Map shared many common elements, including thunder-beings, flying men, and tree imagery. Many other details of Black Elk's vision are explicitly or implicitly present on the map as well. Black Elk saw the amazing correspondence between the vision and the map as further proof that his destiny lay in the Christian faith, and emphasized this point in his catechism. In Black Elk's own words, "I had been appointed by my vision to be an intercessor of my people... I'd bring my people out of the black road into the red road". Using the Two Roads Map, he was able to pursue his dream of benefiting his people. He saw the Church as a path to salvation for himself and his family, and he wished to spread the enlightenment he had found to the rest of the Indian population, hence his career as a catechist. This was a sincere effort at saving his people's souls. It is clear that Black Elk saw his conversion not as a radical change, but as a logical continuation to his early career as a medicine man.

Though religion is a central part of the Indian culture, due to circumstances beyond anyone's control most of the Indian population no longer shares the same belief. But even before Columbus, there was vast diversity in belief and religious practice. Using Black Elk as a prime example, it is clear that merely switching religious alliances does not invalidate one's Native identity.

Finally, the issue of tribal affiliation is also affected by the double-bind concept. Tribal affiliation is determined by the "blood quanta" concept, devised by the government as a record-keeping tool for tribal membership. Under agreement with the Indian nations, officially recognized tribes are allowed to choose their membership according quantum of 'Indian' blood. The required fraction of Indian blood to legally be a member varies with the tribe in question.

The problem is that there are many Indians who do not fit neatly into these arbitrary classifications. Many Indians have intermixed ancestors, from different tribes or white marriages. Often, these Indians do not have enough blood quanta of any type to qualify for membership in the tribes they are descended from. The double-bind again raises its head. In this case, those Indians who seek affiliation with a tribe may be rejected, thanks to extremely arbitrary rules. Those who do not attempt to gain tribal affiliation are considered to be non-authentic.

The very essence of Indian identity appears to be at stake here, but once again there really is no conflict. Traditionally, tribal membership has been based on behavior and acceptance, not strictly genealogy. The debate raised on this clouds more pressing issues, such as that of tribes not recognized by the government, and hence with no rights, or con artists faking tribal membership for personal gain, thereby reducing the credibility of true Indians.

The essence of the passage from Talking Indian is that identity is not easily defined. Indians and non-Indians alike have pre-conceived notions of what constitutes this identity, and often in the battle to prove it one way or another the real issue becomes clouded. Indians are not defined by religion, language, or tribe. The irony of the situation is, the double-bind itself is caused by this erroneous belief.

This essay was originally written for a college anthropology class. I've used Blogger Pro to post it to Columbus Day (Oct. 12th), though I made the entry on Oct 22nd.


ego trip

According to Emode.com, I have an IQ of 136 and am a "Visionary Philospher" (they must have cheated and looked at my Yahoo profile). They then promise to tell me all about just what a braniac I am if I send them $14.95. I wonder, if I click the link to purchase my IQ report, does my calculated IQ drop by 50 points? It should.

Defeated by Islam

Steven has honored me with a direct link in a footnote to his recent piece on the condition of the human race, where he argues that the root cause of the problem that an invasion of Iraq will solve, is essentially Islam. Aside: a nice coda to his essay and to my comments below is this Map of Freedom, linked shamlessly from Suman's site:

Before I reply to Steven's comments, I'd like to point out that he uses the term Islamic apologist. In the context of his usage, it clearly applies not just to misguided Muslims who wholeheartedly support tribal policies wrapped in a cloak of vaguely Islamic justification, but also to the hundreds of millions of Muslims (in fact, the vast majority) who are not Wahabi but who simply live their lives. Like myself.

But am I am "apologist" for my religion? Steven's use of the label is a clever rhetorical device which immediately puts anyone trying to discuss Islam in response to his characterization, on the defensive. It's a subtle form of ad-hominem.

However, since he has used this device, I am forced to play along to the extent that wherever he refers to "what Islamics apologists feel/believe/do" I will reply as if he is addressing me (which he is). My answering to that label does not mean I agree with it. Had Ann Coulter engaged me in debate I would be forced to treat the term "liberal" in much the same way.

Steven Den Beste: 1, Aziz Poonawalla: 0 - on technical grounds. Let's continue.

Wahhabism in particular definitely does justify many of the most pernicious Arab policies which must be changed on the basis of the Qur'an, and therefore would be expected to resist reform as heresy. If Islamic apologists dislike that, their argument is with the Wahhabists, not with me.

True. my argument IS with the Wahabists.

To argue that an incorrect and deeply flawed interpretation of the Qur'an is the source of the problem doesn't change the fact that those who believe in that interpretation think they're basing it on their religion, and that they would be expected to defend the status quo accordingly.


However, there is a differrence between the average guy on the Muslim street and those people in their societies who hold the power, and who are doing the actual oppressing. The only people who really believe in the cruel interpretations of Wahabism are the ones who have authority. And most of them don't really believe in it either, but rather rely in it as a tool for political control.

It's a faulty assumption that the bulk of the Arab population supports the pernicious policies of oppression. In fact, most Arabs hate these rules as much as you or I would.

Islamic apologists tend quite naturally to be deeply sensitive to any implication that Islam overall is flawed and that Islam overall must be discarded or reformed. I do not make that argument, and I do not believe it to be true.

Actually, Steven has made exactly this argument before.

What Steven says in that piece is that Arab societies need to have a cultural cataclysm. The current state of their societies is the primary barrier to their people's freedom, and (proved by 9-11) our American safety. I agree! But the current state of oppression has been imposed upon Arab culture, and is not a manifestation of an inherent quality as Steven asserts. Steven often confuses cause and effect in his analyses of Islam and of Arabs.

Worse, by either deliberate choice or by simple confusion, he has interchangably substituted "Islam" for "Arab society" (The very title itself of the piece linked above is "Defeating Islam", not "Defeating Arab tyranny"). And not only does he fail to make the distinction, he even fails to draw the distinction between the people in CHARGE of Arab societies and the people who actually live in them.

By failing to make these important distinctions, Steven is actually making it harder to solve the problem.

To take a specific example - consider the rule against letting women drive in Saudi Arabia. This is easy to solve if you make a rational economic argument - currently, to get around this, families in Saudi with two working adults have to hire a male driver (usually a Pakistani immigrant) to act as chauffeur for the working woman (surprised? yes, many women are professionals, including doctors and lawyers, in Saudi Arabia). This is an enormous expense and a drain of money from Saudi middle class to Pakistan (not that there's anything wrong with that ;). This is basically a massive brake applied to one-half of the workforce in Saudi Arabia, which acts to filter out their economic impact. Were the stupid rule against women driving[1] lifted, there would be immediate economic benefit and increase in the standard of living.

Now this argument is easy to make[2]. It's easy to find the source of the injunction, which is a fat Wahabi priest sitting on his pulpit who decided one day how cool it would be to get rid of women drivers. Unseemly! The religious authority of this person is trivially easy to challenge and invalidate. Enough alternate religious authorities could be found and .. compensated.. to assert the idiocy of the rule on Qur'anic ground (3:42, 4:32, 9:71-72 , 33:35, 33:73, 48:5, 57:18, and above all, most importantly, 85:10).

However, suppose instead along comes Steven Den Beste, who says to the Saudi people, "liberate your women! you must reform Islam! Islam itself is at fault!" then the response becomes very differrent.

"See! they defame Islam! This man Den Beste has written an entire essay on Defeating Islam!" - and thus, the debate is hijacked away from the shaky foundation of the tyrant's authority, towards theological grounds. Passions are easily roused - "This man Den Beste challenges the Veracity of the Qur'an itself!" ... "An American has insulted the Prophet SAW!" and teh hold of the tyrant is strengthened, because he can position himself as a defender of Islam.

(Ralllying around your leader (however flawed) in response to challenge of war against your cherished ideals, is a trait not unique to Arab populations.)

The point is that Islam is not the problem, it's the interpretation. The solution is to replace the faulty interpretation (which is NOT supported by any actual religious authority) with a correct one (suitably referenced and supported by religious authority). The former is solely a power play, of tribal impulses. The latter is the essence of Islam, because contrary to Steven's assertions, Islam and freedom are inherently co-resonant ideas.

But Islamic apologists cannot avoid the fact that Islam in one form or another, whether flawed or valid, is heavily implicated in the problems the Arabs face, and will also be a major barrier to solving those problems

That's not a fact, it's a contradiction. It's the interpretation that is the problem. Islam is the solution. It's easy for SDB to argue that all interpretations are valid solely because they exist, but they are not equal. The religious interpretation of most Muslims is driven by a genuine need to apply the religion to the modern life. That's not just unique to my community but is nearly universal throughout Islam.

However, in Saudi Arabia, the religious interpretation of Wahabism does not exist to act as a guide for the Muslim's daily life. It exists solely to support the Saudi regime, in a delicate symbiosis with the radical priesthood. This interpretation gives the Saudis authority, justification, to pursue policies that predate Islam, including subjugation of women, cruel punishment of crimes, and not least, depravity and hedonism of the ruling class (subsidized by the general populace).

To claim moral equivalence between Wahabism and other interpretations of Islam like the Mu'tazila, Hanafi, Ithna Asharai, or Ismaili schools (madhabs) is therefore misguided to any reasonable observer. I agree with Steven's own statement, that being reasonable doesn't require you to abandon value judgments - and such comparisons clearly have no value. The fact of my being Muslim does not invalidate my assertion that the Wahabi interpretation is un-Islamic, though it serves my self-interest, any more than the fact that Steven has been a CDMA engineer for decades invalidate his discussion of its technical merits over GSM.

Tribalism is the true oppressor. Tribalism is that state of human history in which the strong preyed on the weak, in which society was not a cooperative entity but one that funnelled money, food, liquor, and sex to the people at the very top. Tribalism is the state of human pre-civilization when brute force was the sole instrument of morality. IT dominated humanity for millenia prior to the rise of the first civilizations and it has never left. Even in the best nation in the world, America, where the very fabric of the society is the antithesis of tribalism, muted echoes still arise from time to time. Wherever in the world you see a tyrant, or a dictator, and an oppressed and radicalized people sufferring under their iron grip, it is always and without exception a form of tribalism.

I have posted extensively on the abuses of morality by Bonehead Tribalist Idiots before:
The tools of political control
The politicization of Shari'a
The Burka and the Bikini

But in this day and age, with the proliferation of such powerful mature ideas as freedom and cooperation and compassion as principles on which to found a society rather than simply a personal code, it takes more than brute force to enact tyranny. You need to wrap tribalism in a cloak of something mroe acceptable, so that the people you need at the base of your oppression pyramid will let you in the door. That cloak used to be Marxism, it used to be national pride, ethnic pride, and of course, religion.

The way to combat it is to attack the true root cause - not religion, not American foreign policy[3], but the iron grip of the tyrant over the people.

Let's agree to disagree as to how exactly these tyrants came to power. Steven says that people like Hosni Mubarak and Saddam Hussein arose because of deep flaws in the Arab interpretation of Islam. He blames the victim. I would say that these tyrants were installed because of Western support for pacifiable populations in the Middle East, and that these tyrants offerred a more cooperative regime than a messy democracy (like France) that doesn't always see eye-to-eye. Fine, we disagree. It's irrelevant to this debate.

But we do agree that the current state of Arab societies needs to be reformed. That has to be done by challenging the foundations of the tyrants' authority. What Steven instead proposes (and how he constructs his arguments) is to challenge the religion - which only strengthens the hand of the tyrant. As long as he continues to imply that Islam itself is at fault, he is part of the status quo.

UPDATE: Steve comments.

[1] According to eyewitness reports, the absence of women drivers has not improved the traffic situation much, either.
[2] The reason this argument is NOT made is because there is no incentive for the Saudi ruling class to do so. It would anger the small group of religiou freaks who control the police and oppression apparatus, and losing their support would make it harder for the Saudis to retain power within their dynasty. The Wahabi fringe is prepared to denounce the Saudis themselves, which would mean a huge upheaval and loss of control for the ruling class. In many ways, I almost wish that this would happen :)
[3] though in some cases, especially Saudi, policy changes would really help.

BTW, Enetation comments seem to be down, just in time for Glenn to link to me! Use Haloscan instead:

it's the economy, stupid

PLA has another in-depth analysis of the quandary facing Bush regarding the dismal outlook for the economy:

All courses open to Mr. Bush are fraught with political peril. First, he can do nothing. If Mr. Bush does nothing and the economy goes into a double dip recession or a deflationary cycle he will be blamed for taking no action and being indifferent to the economic suffering of Americans.

If the Democrats have both a spine and a brain, they will feed that perception by proposing a stimulus package that includes items such as 1) extending unemployment benefits; 2) cutting payroll taxes for working Americans; and 3) increasing government spending for such projects as school building repair, infrastructure improvements and funding a prescription drug benefit for seniors. Democrats should propose paying for those projects by rolling back portions of the 2001 tax cut that are not yet in effect and which benefit the wealthiest Americans.


he may taunt me a second time

Well, it looks like my writings have attracted the attention of the most feared warblogger of our time, R. Robot.:

Now who's bitter?
by R. Robot

The whiners of the bizarrely hypocritical Left are not capable of rational thought. So they accuse candid people like President Bush of whatever pops into their heads. Just like his fellow leftoids, who have long refused to listen to war until the administration "makes its case," Dick Gephardt wants to get all the credit for taking on Ann Coulter from the left, while distancing himself bizarrely from the topic of war altogether.

Outrageously, to be one of the depraved National Public Radio set is to devour and fail. Al Gore's appeasement was defeatist. It was outrageous. It was dishonest. But I understate.

Like the Buffalo Al Qaeda cell, Aziz Poonawalla believes in a bizarrely weaseling philosophy of treason.

In 1938, George Orwell wrote, "The child-molesting appeasement of the libs is little more than irrelevance." I ask you, has our Republic seen the like of this handwringing anti-Americanism?

I've actually come under strudent critique by R. Robot before - here's an earlier piece:

The bleating disgrace of Aziz Poonawalla
by R. Robot

In the wake of President Bush's common sense speech, let's put to rest the political treason of the hot-tubbers, for there is nary a shred of evidence.

Instead of constructing arguments based on logic, the Democrats assume that whatever they want to be true must be. "Going to war is fine, but how about maybe giving people jobs," says Aziz Poonawalla. "There could be some unwelcome consequences," says Aziz Poonawalla. For shame! I suppose he'd rather invite the terrorists of Oregon over and make love.

We must commit to confident prosperity.

What a moment! What moral equivalence! What anti-Americanism! What rationalizing.
To oppose candid challenges is to hate America.

Contemptibly, Aziz Poonawalla wants to have his cake and eat it, too.

I think the fundamental difference in opinion between myself and R. Robot is that we do actually agree on his assessment of my position, but differ as to it's moral quality.Nevertheless, R. Robot has earned a place on my Critics list.

UPDATE: R. Robot also does music reviews. Such wit!

the obstacles to peace

This article in Ha'aretz is a detailed look at the effect that the settlements have had on strangling the prospects for the Two State solution:

Israeli construction in the West Bank in general and in the area of Jerusalem in particular would leave the Palestinians with chances for a "state" in name only, that would more closely resemble an Indian reservation in the United States, with limited access to water and land. This is the opinion of the document's authors - a team of legal scholars, academics and geographers who have been working in the framework of what is called the "Jerusalem task force" for the past two years.

Israel has exploited the opportunity afforded by the conflict to expand in three directions, through its construction and settlement policies in Jerusalem. These trends originated long before the outbreak of the intifada: closing off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; for all intents and purposes cutting off the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank; and the prevention of any opportunity for Palestinian urban development, partly by means of expanding construction in the settlements of the West Bank in general, and in Jerusalem in particular.
The longstanding Israeli policy of discrimination on the allocation of budgets and land reserves is turning the Palestinian territory in Jerusalem proper into slums that are isolated from one another, states the chapter about the implications of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem for the Palestinian population. These slums are denied open land tracts for future population growth and economic and commercial growth.

The document predicts an exacerbation of population density in these slums, which will be fertile ground for poverty and disease. The Israeli construction policies in Jerusalem and in the northern and southern West Bank, spoils any possibility of leaving Jerusalem as an open city shared by two peoples and two states. The document concludes by cautioning that unless Israel leaves territorial continuity in the Palestinians' hands, "the only remaining option is for the Palestinians to accept a one-state, two nations solution." However, this will not be accepted by Israel because of Palestinian demographic superiority that threatens the Jewish state, say the authors of the document.

(emphasis mine)

I think this is a good thing. The Israeili policy has been designed for a one-state solution all along - but that state has been designed to be Jewish, ane xtension of the current Israel to all of the territory. However, by pursuing that plan, and making it impossible for the Palestinians to establish any kind of territorial continuity or sovereignity, they are actually suceeding too well. The result will be a one state solution, but the Palestinians have been ignred in the equation. The truth is that transfer is untenable (imagine the symbolic shock, of long lines of people with bar codes on foreheads being herded into railroad cars, to the Israeili psyche).

While the Israeilis are creating "facts on the ground" with construction and land appropriation, the Palestinians are creating facts on teh ground with simple population. The eventual result will be that a one state solution is inevitable.

the terrorists are winning - but which ones?

Israel's economy continues to sour:

According to the International Monetary Fund, growth will be negative again this year (-1.5 percent) compared to 6.2-percent growth in 2000, despite the start of the intifada in the last quarter of that year. This prime indicator of the economy's health immediately began sinking with the start of Sharon's peace and security era, to levels not seen here since the austerity years of the 1950s. In effect, since 1953 - until now - the state has never experienced negative growth. The standard of living dropped by 6 percent in 2001-2002.

The burden of blame for this is usually assigned to the Palestinians, who inexplicably refused to be meekly herded into Arab ghettos. But the actual blame falls on the settlers, who consume an enormous fraction of Israel's resources and who represent the most extreme ideological segment of Israeili society. The enormous network of bypass roads, the increased security requirements for isolated settlements, the massive subssidies to settlers to build their separate infrastructures, and of course the deliberate impediment to the peace process, all have taken a massive toll.

Eventually, the Israeili people will realize collectively who their worst enemies are and vote accordingly. But that wont happen soon, as long as Labour remains as mesmerized to Sharon as the Democrats are to Bush.

The Second Amendment as gun control policy

PLA (Dwight Meredith) has posted an extremely lucid analysis of the strategy that should be pursued by gun control advocates.

Dwight discusses gun control in the context of the maryland shootings, and notes that many useful gun control measures - such as ballistic fingerprinting - that would help solve crimes such as the DC shootings are routinely blocked by the NRA because of (valid) slippery slope arguments (leads to registration, leads to banning outright, confiscation, etc.).

The conclusion he draws is that gun control advocates should support the right to bear arms:

"If one wishes to see rational gun control measures enacted, the first step is to agree with the NRA that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to keep and bear arms. The political power of the NRA and the power of its slippery slope arguments will then fade. Reasonable gun control measures may then be debated on their own merits. In such a debate the gun control advocates will have the better argument as well as the better politics."

Dwight has argued this point before, noting that both sides of the gun control debate would be well-served. The interests of the NRA and those who seek gun control measures for safety, are NOT incompatible.

Looking at Dwight's argument, I can't help but feel that it's a win-win scenario for any campaigning Democrat or Republican to adopt as a policy platform, because it apeals to both sides of the debate. The people on the left who would be aghast at recognizing the individual right of gun ownership are probably not going to sign onto any compromise, and are just as an extremist faction as the committed NRAnians who sleep with their .44 under their pillow (think Dale Gribbel from King of the Hill). Most people fall somewhere in between.

It's interesting to look at Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont, who is running for the Democratic candidacy. His position on gun control is certainly the most broadly incusive and rational compared to past Dem. positions:

f you say "gun control" in Vermont or Tennessee, or Colorado, people think you want to take away their hunting rifle. If you say "gun control" New York or L.A., people are happy to see Uzi's or illegal handguns taken off the streets. I think Vermont ought to be able to have a different set of laws than California. Let's keep and enforce the federal gun laws we have, close the gun show loophole using Insta-check, and then let the states decide for themselves what if any gun control laws they want.
Just as we resist attempts by President Bush to dictate to the states how we run our school systems and what kind of welfare programs to have, we need to resist attempts to tell states how to deal with guns beyond existing Federal law.

Dean doesnt go as far as Dwight in that he doesn't mention the Second Amendment, but I think Dwight's proposal would fit better with Dean than any other Dem candidate. Maybe we should bring it to his attention :)


blogging: meta-commentary

Courtesy of Tom Tomorrow:

Bush in 2012!

Atrios writes:

if Al Gore should run and win the Presidency in 2004, will he be prevented from running in 2008 by the 22nd Amendment? It does say No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.

The flipside of Atrios' comment about the 22nd Amendment is that we could easily see the Republican Party snatching victory from the jaws of defeat: Bush would only be term-limited from running in 2016, by that logic!

the essence of democracy

Bill writes, in response to my earlier post about neocons and neowilsons:

(Aziz wrote:) "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?" The neocons will say "No." and the neowilsons will say "Yes".

I think this is an oversimplification, because it doesn't take into account the idea that many anti-American leaders could also be hostile to the very democratic machinery that brought them to power. Having gone to great lengths to fight a war, topple a leader, rebuild the country, and install democratic machinery, should the United States walk away from -- to use a current example -- Iraq if a dictator in the mold of Saddam Hussein achieves power and suspends elections? Would Aziz's neo-Wilsonian accept such a result? I'm not entirely comfortable with his labels, but what he calls a neo-conservative, he says, would not. Of the two views, which is preferable?

If we achieve regime change in another country, and install democratic machinery, and the people of that nation USE the democratic machinery to vote into power someone who is freely elected but anti-American, then that is one thing. The scenario that Bill describes, where a powermonger grabs control and brushes aside the machinery of democracy that we have installed, is quite another.

Both scenarios are intolerable to neoconservatives. Only the latter is intolerable to a neowilsonian.

paging John Edwards

I spilled my piping hot Shipley's Do-Nut coffee on myself this morning. OUch.

No plans to sue.


post-invasion prediction

Prediction. IF we invade Iraq explicitly according to the Doctrine of Pre-Emption, China will follow suit, and attack Taiwan.

It's pessimistic, and I hope it's wrong.

myths about the Israeili-Palestinian conflict - Part II: Arafat started the Intifada

This is a continuation of the previous article, on myths about the Israeili-Palestinian conflict.

Myth 2 - Arafat started the Intifada

This myth often appears in concert with nebulous statements about Arab culture such as "they only respect strength" and other ridiculous stereotypes which in the end, exist solely as rationalizations. As Steven wrote:

Arafat ... concluded that Israel was about to collapse. So he refused [the Barak proposal] and turned on the Intifada and the suicide attacks because he thought he was near to winning.

The truth is that Camp David ended three months before the beginning of the Intifada. It convened July 11th and concluded July 25th.

Arafat and Barak actually met on 25th September for more negotiations.

On 28th September, Ariel Sharon made a political visit to the Haram Al-Sharif masjid site, with 1,000 armed men in escort. This was a show of strength, whose purpose was to send a message (to both Israeili and Palestinian political oppoenents alike) that Israel would always control the Palestinians by brute force.

The Palestinian demonstrations that broke out in reaction to Sharon's visit included stone-throwing, but absolutely no firearms. The Israeli response was tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets, and also live rounds. The violence escalated as Israeili police used more and more lethal force. At this point the narrative becomes murky, but I invite you to read the actual news reports from the BBC detailing these events, and draw your own conclusions:

Israel apportions blame

In pictures: The shooting at Temple Mount

Shots fired at Jerusalem holy site

Strike call after Jerusalem bloodshed

Violence engulfs West Bank and Gaza

Israeli soldiers shot

Fierce clashes in Gaza and West Bank

Mid-East peace 'drowning in blood'

Some background on Ariel Sharon, and how he has made things worse. I also have previously blogged an excerpt from a piece in Ha'aretz observing the two-year anniversary of the Intifada, which also lays out these events in chronologic order very clearly.

Arafat and Barak met again at Taba, Egypt in January, for more negotiations, and these were widely considered much more fair by both sides. Sharon, however, lambasted these meetings, and publicly declared (BEFORE Taba had concluded) that he would NOT honor any results from these negotiations. Negotiators on both sides wanted to continue talks after Taba, expressing the last rays of optimism - declaring that they should continue even after the elections! However, By this time, Barak was a lame duck and Sharon had enormous popularity (in no small part due to his visit to the Temple Mount). It was clear Sharon would win and Taba quickly became meaningless.

Therefore, claims that Arafat started the Intifada after Camp David are absurdly wrong. In fact, the Palestinians tried to negotiate a fair settlement right up until Sharon took office, after which things got much worse. But that's another topic.

myths about the Israeili-Palestinian conflict - Part I: Barak was generous

Steven Den Beste has a lengthy article which is all about Iraq and whatnot. There isn't much new, but he does have this throwaway line embedded in a sterotypical tangent about Arab culture (and how it only respects strength and other absurd simplifications):

That's one of the reasons why Arafat refused the Barak proposal. It was so generous, so comprehensive that he concluded that Israel was about to collapse. So he refused it and turned on the Intifada and the suicide attacks because he thought he was near to winning.

SDB is referring to the Camp David accords under Clinton in 2000. This is an amalgamation of two gross and specious mischaracterizations of the Palestinian-Israeili struggle.

These myths are:
1. the Barak proposal was generous.
2. Arafat initiated the current intifada.

Both are absolutely false, but are promoted as truth through repetition that they have entered conventional wisdom. Certainly, if you firmly believe these myths to be true, and consider my following attempt to debunk them as the partisan anti-Semitic ravings of a moral-equivalency terrorist sympathizer, then you may as well skip the rest of this post. I haven't the ability to convince ideolouges of anything, nor do I wish to debate with them. But if you are open to the idea that both sides in the struggle have consistently used propaganda (ahem Jenin, anyone?) to achieve their political aims, then in my humble opinion you will find these facts interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking.

Myth 1 - Barak was generous

The so-called "generous offer" to the Palestinians at Camp David was not a true proposal for a Palestinian state, but for a set of separated, non-contiguous, bantustan-style reservations. The borders and airspace would have been controlled by the IDF, as well as travel between the separate pieces of the so-called "state". This was not a proposal for a sovereign nation, but rather a long-term plan for total surrender of the Palestinians' aspirations for a truly sovereign homeland.

Look at the maps yourself.

The Israeili group Gush Shalom has also prepared a short Flash animation that graphically illustrates these maps and boundaries of the proposals at Camp David. Also worth reading is this analysis by the New York Times (reg. req.) by Robert Malley, who was Clinton's special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, and participated in the Camp David negotiations. Malley wrote:

"Many have come to believe that the Palestinians' rejection of the Camp David ideas exposed an underlying rejection of Israel's right to exist. But consider the facts: The Palestinians were arguing for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. They accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs. They accepted the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem -- neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the Six Day War in 1967. And, while they insisted on recognition of the refugees' right of return, they agreed that it should be implemented in a manner that protected Israel's demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees. No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel -- not Anwar el-Sadat's Egypt, not King Hussein's Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Assad's Syria -- ever came close to even considering such compromises."

Robert Wright likewise wrote an extremely cogent and fair analysis in Slate that came to much the same conclusions, and points out that the Barak deal at Camp David was NOT the final deal offerred! In fact, there was a deal made afterwards at Taba, that was much more balanced:

The Israelis, for their part, had sweetened the pot considerably by the time they got to Taba�most notably in accepting Palestinian sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif. They also made the land offers more generous. But they didn't really offer "97 percent of the West Bank," as has been asserted not just in such right-wing outlets as National Review and the Fox News channel, but in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. The Israelis offered 94 percent of the West Bank�a 6-percent annexing�and then offered to compensate the Palestinians with land from Israel proper equaling 3 percent of the West Bank. That is, they offered a total land mass as large as 97 percent of the West Bank.

Taba was a big step forward. A 2-to-1 land swap sure beats a 9-to-1 swap. But it still left Arafat having to answer the obvious question: Um, why not 1-to-1? If Israel really accepts the principle that pre-1967 borders are a valid goal except where rendered impractical by demographic "facts on the ground," then shouldn't it offer fair recompense for the land being withheld�especially since it created those facts on the ground, in some cases cynically? Israel's Taba position also left in place some details�no Palestinian military, for example�that made the term "statehood" a bit misleading.

More important, by the time of Taba, the whole political environment had changed. In September, Barak had allowed Ariel Sharon to make his famous visit to Haram al-Sharif, which many observers consider the spark that ignited the current intifada. Given the only deepening mistrust between Arafat and Israel, America was, more than ever, a vital guarantor of any deal. Yet President Clinton was by then a lame duck, and comments from President-elect Bush had made clear his limited enthusiasm for Middle East peace brokering.

The Taba negotiations are still considered fair by the Palestinian side and form the real basis for any future negotiations towards the two-state solution (which for other reasons, I also oppose).