Thursday, March 31, 2005


(via James Wolcott)

My faith (in America's youth, and the transcendent power of the Ramones)is restored. Chuck, this is your hour. Posted by Hello


This Hugh Hewitt article pretty much defines the phrase "willfully obtuse":

The Terri Schiavo tragedy has been seized on by long-time critics of the "religious right" to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate--on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo--of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

Hewitt's suggestion that the Schiavo incident has been improperly "seized on" by critics of the religious right, rather than "seized on" by the religious right itself in their transparent and tawdry attempt to use Terri as a bullet point in their "right to life" agenda, doesn't even pass the laugh test. Indeed, it got lost in the hallways and never even found the room where they were giving the test.

Similarly lost in the labyrinth is Hewitt's idea that the presence of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson on the "feed her" side of the debate somehow diminishes the fact that it is predominately the religious right that turned one family's legal battle into a gruesome carnival.

No one that I'm aware of has challenged "the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief." What's at issue is whether religious belief alone is sufficient for creating legislation, whether what the Bible says (or what a particular group says it says) is reason enough for writing a law, without having to demonstrate how such a law might promote the general welfare. This is what the religious right is about: "This is what God says, and therefore this is what the law must say." End of discussion.

James Madison wrote in 1803 that "the purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." Madison helped design, and we are fortunate in the U.S. to have, a complex of institutions which checks religious fervor, channelling it toward political consensus-building and away from the fighting and the hacking and the burning and the Ow! that hurts. When politically powerful groups start to deride those institutions, as the religious right has been doing in its longstanding campaign to discredit a judiciary which it sees as activist (i.e. doesn't hew to it's very particular religious interpretations, and thus doesn't produce their exact preferred outcome) I think we're getting into dangerous territory.

Religious faith has always played, and I believe should play, a part in American politics, but as guide, not as blueprint. Abolitionism, women's suffrage, and the civil rights movement all drew inspiration and strength from the scripture, but when it came time to write laws, those laws had to be justified in terms of the common good. No one is suggesting that people faith stay out of politics, just that they have to make their arguments in terms of politics and not of religion.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Here followeth the continuing story of Maher Arar, who is credibly alleging that the United States government kidnapped him and delivered him to torturers in Syria.

Maher Arar, a 35-year-old Canadian engineer, is suing the United States, saying American officials grabbed him in 2002 as he changed planes in New York and transported him to Syria where, he says, he was held for 10 months in a dank, tiny cell and brutally beaten with a metal cable.

Now federal aviation records examined by The New York Times appear to corroborate Mr. Arar's account of his flight, during which, he says, he sat chained on the leather seats of a luxury executive jet as his American guards watched movies and ignored his protests.

The tale of Mr. Arar, the subject of a yearlong inquiry by the Canadian government, is perhaps the best documented of a number of cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which suspects have accused the United States of secretly delivering them to other countries for interrogation under torture. Deportation for interrogation abroad is known as rendition.

In papers filed in a New York court replying to Mr. Arar's lawsuit, Justice Department lawyers say the case was not one of rendition but of deportation. They say Mr. Arar was deported to Syria based on secret information that he was a member of Al Qaeda, an accusation he denies.

Question: why would the U.S. Justice Department be in the business of deporting Canadian citizens to Syria? Yeah, that smells right.

If Mr. Arar's story is true, and the discovered aviation records are a strong sign that it is, then this would demonstrate that, even as he talks a good game about freedom, President Bush is apparently not above kidnapping and delivering citizens of democracies to interrogation and torture at the hands of an undemocratic, authoritarian regime which he otherwise condemns for its authoritarianism and lack of democracy. We are through the looking glass, people.

I honestly don't know what I find more disturbing, that Bush has an army of lawyers, not mention wingnut pundits and bloggers, at his disposal and prepared to seriously argue that there is nothing at all improper or contradictory about the policy of rendition, or that this brazen affront to democracy and decency will have to take it's place in a long, long line, overshadowed by Saving Terri and Steroids in Baseball.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


The new cover of National Review must be seen to be believed. If Castro and Chavez are the new Axis of Evil, I'd say the Forces of Goodness and Light are in pretty good shape.

And oh, look, the cover story is written by Otto Reich. Why do I feel like I've already read it?


This is cool. Attendees at a recent film festival held at Abbey Road Studios were allowed into Studio Two:

Last Saturday, Abbey Road's owners opened its gates for a film festival honoring the 25th anniversary of the studio's work as one of the world's largest producers of movie music. Nearly two dozen films are being shown over 16 days in Studio One, the cavernous, auditorium-like room where the movie scores are performed and recorded. But for many, the main attraction is just across the hall: Studio Two is also open for festival-goers.

EMI veterans say the studio looks much the way it did when the Beatles worked there between 1962 and 1969. A soundproof iron door that looks like it could have done service on a German U-boat still guards the entrance. Inside, white paint is peeling from parts of the acoustic panels on the walls, and the parquet floor is scuffed from hundreds of amplifiers and instruments that have been hauled over it. There are a half-dozen sets of multicolored lights that were installed at the demand of the Beatles, who felt it gave the room a warmer, more psychedelic ambience.

Studio Two is a pop music afficionado's Sistine Chapel. There are other legendary studios, such as Motown's Hitsville USA, Stax studios (sadly no longer in existence), Rudy Van Gelder's studio at Englewood Cliffs, but I think Studio Two stands apart. The Beatles (along with George Martin, of course, providing the technical know-how as well as a steadying influence) were the first pop group to really delve into the possibilities of recording, to use the studio itself as an instrument, and that room was their laboratory for 192 of 202 songs. There are few rooms in this world I'd more enjoy seeing.

It would also be cool to see the bathroom just off Studio Two where they used to hide from George Martin to blaze up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


David Bedein, writing for the stridently revisionist Israel Insider, argues that Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza and, if necessary, forcibly expel any Jewish settlers who remain there is a violation both of Israeli human rights law and of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act:

While walking the halls of the US Congress last week, I asked for and received a copy of the US Foreign Assistance Act.

A congressional human rights policy specialist pointed to the relevant section of the law, which restricts nations receiving foreign aid from the US from using that aid to subjugate human rights and civil liberties.

That official pointed to Sect. 502B, which is the "Human Rights" amendment, which was added to the US Foreign Assistance Act in 1979, to ensure that any and all US foreign aid would not abrogate the fundamentals of human rights and civil liberties.
She explained that this would mean that any equipment supplied by the US to an aid recipient would come under the scrutiny of this "human rights" amendment to US Foreign Assistance law...

Prof. Eliav Schochetman, Hebrew Professor of Law Emeritus and Dean of the Shaari Mishpat Law College, testified last month at the Israeli Knesset Parlimentary Law Committee that the decision of the state of Israel to demolish the homes and villages of 10,000 citizens, represents the kind of human rights infraction that is described in the human rights amendment to US Foreign Assistance Act.

It would violate the constraints of Israel's own "Basic Human Rights Law" which oversees Israeli democratic institutions in matters of human rights and civil liberties, in the same way that the US Bill of Rights ensures that the US government can never trample on the human rights and civil liberties of American citizens.

In his testimony, Schochetman noted that this Israeli government decision represents a violation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which all democratic governments are adherents. Schochetmen added that Israel's decision to expel Jews from their homes, would represent a wanton violation of basic human rights and civil liberties that are protected under Israeli and international human rights law.

Prof. Schochetman cited clause 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which mandates that it is illegal for sovereign governments to expel their citizens and ethnic minorities from their homes, from their private properties or from their farms. Since the only group that Israel has slated for expulsion would be Jews, it may be recalled that the government of Serbia was recently held liable for international prosecution at the International High Court of Justice in the Hague, under the charge of "ethnic cleansing", after leaders of Serbia expelled an ethnic minority, solely because of their religion.

Schochetman also mentioned the clauses in the San Remo Treaty that was ratified by the League of Nations and then by the United Nations which provide international protection for Jews to purchase and dwell in the "Jewish Homeland", defined as any land which lies anywhere east of the Jordan River.

It takes a special, special sort of chutzpah to oppose Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory on human rights grounds, given that it was a clear violation of Palestinian human rights, not to mention illegal under international law, for Israel to have moved segments of its own population onto occupied land in the first place. It's doubly ridiculous given the human rights violations committed by Israel against the Palestinians on a daily basis. The mind boggles that Mr. Bedein's hands don't burst into flame as he taps this stuff out.

Regarding Mr. Bedein's very questionable representation of the San Remo Treaty, let's see what the treaty actually says:

Article 25.
In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.

Note: the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine. The treaty would certainly not have defined a "Jewish Homeland" as "any land which lies anywhere east of the Jordan River" because at that time the land between the Jordan River and Jerusalem was considered part of what became Transjordan. In any case, the intention of the San Remo Treaty was for a Jewish homeland to be established within a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Palestine, not for a gang of Zionist guerillas to establish a Jewish-supremacist government and expel thousands of Palestinian Arabs from their homes.

Bedein ends with this:
I did ask the congressional human rights specialist if the human rights amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act would apply to Israel's demolition of the homes of terrorists. Her answer: US human rights officials have determined that this would not apply to such acts, since terrorists would be viewed as combatants.

Nice to see that Bedein understands irony enough to address this question, but it's as disingenuous as the rest of his essay. First, in many cases, Israel acts upon secret, unchallenged evidence to determine exactly who the "terrorists" are. Second, Israel doesn't just demolish the homes of terrorists, it demolishes the homes of their families and neighbors, which is inarguably a human rights violation. Third, Israel also demolishes the homes and farmland of Palestinians who have nothing whatever to do with terrorism, but who have the bad luck to get in the way of settlement expansion, also inarguably a human rights violation. Fourth, David Bedein is a crank.

The bottom line here is that it is preposterous for anyone to challenge the Gaza withdrawal under the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, given that Israel violates the act in regards to its treatment of the Palestinians on a daily, probably hourly, basis.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Michael Berube offers a critique of Peter Beinart's foreign policy prescriptions, and of the effect that they're having on the liberal conversation of foreign policy. It's very refreshing to see a left-liberal such as Berube honestly appraise Beinart's foreign policy views rather than simply caricature them, as so many others have done. I can think of no essay which has been more misunderstood, misrepresented, and which has induced the frenzied construction of more strawmen in such a short amount of time than Beinart's A Fighting Faith from last Demember. Berube's approach is a nice change.

I'm a little curious about this, however:

Yes, the Americans for Democratic Action met at the Willard Hotel in 1947. Yes, they announced their opposition to Communism “because the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere” and America should support “democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over.” And yes, they had a better sense of totalitarianism than did their critics on the left at the time. But it doesn’t seem, in retrospect, that this managed to inoculate American liberals and progressives against McCarthyism over the course of the ensuing decade. A fat lot of good it did, actually. When the shock troops of the Right broke down your door fifty-odd years ago, searching for spies and softies and fellow travelers and people who’d voted for Norman Thomas in 1932 and people who knew someone who’d just denounced the Taft-Hartley Act, and when you insisted, as you were being led away, that you were in fact an anti-Communist, you remember what the reply was: they didn’t care what kind of Communist you were.

True enough, but I think Berube's (and Perlstein's) point that taking a more hawkish position on the War on Terror won't dissuade the Right from it's attacks is something of a non-sequitur. I don't think anyone, certainly not Beinart, has promulgated a more hawkish liberalism merely as a means to ending conservative attacks upon liberals. Conservatives don't attack liberals because they're soft on terror, conservatives attack liberals because they're liberals, indeed without the hatred of pointy-headed, wine and cheese eating liberal elites to animate them, the conservative movement would probably cease to exist.

While I don't agree with all of Beinart's ideas, I do strongly agree with him that the Democrats need to transform the way that they approach and represent national security issues; to recognize that, for better or worse, the war on terror is the issue around which U.S. foreign policy will be organized for the foreseeable future; and to develop a positive program which recognizes the profoundly liberal values at stake in this conflict. I like these ideas not because I think they will make conservatives stop hating us, I really couldn't care less. I like them because I believe they are correct. I also believe that, given that national security was by most accounts the main issue which broke in favor of Bush in the 2004 election, and given that it remains, and probably will remain, the number one most salient issue for American voters, a retooling of their approach to national security is necessary if the Democrats want to retake Congress and the Presidency.


Dear President Bush (and other Israeli partisans),
Could you please explain how Israel's plan to build 3500 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim is not a clear violation of both the spirit and letter of requirements under the road map (we already know that it's a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention)? And could you explain how this move by Sharon, which will further immiserate the Palestinians by stealing more of their land, expropriating more of their water, and by even more severely constraining their movements and access to Muslim holy sites and family members in Arab East Jerusalem, is conducive to the peace process?


Here's some history of the Maale Adumim settlement, which includes maps. A more current map is here (Maale Adumim is the pink section stretching east from Jerusalem to the top of the Dead Sea).

I visited Maale Adumim in June, 2003, and I can attest that the expansion was already well under way at that time. This is yet another fact that is persistently underreported in American news media: Israeli settlement construction in the Palestinian West Bank is ongoing, almost uninterrupted since 1967. It's only when Israel announces an exceptionally massive project, such as the current expansion of Maale Adumim, that it makes news, and even then the best you can usually hope for is a little tsk-tsk from Thomas Friedman.

President Bush bears a significant amount of blame for this. He effectively tore up the road map when he indicated both that it was unrealistic for Palestinian refugees to expect to return to homes from which they'd been ejected by Israel in 1948 (contradicting fifty-five years of both U.S. policy and international law in the process), and that Israel would be able to hold on to its larger settlements, (which Sharon of course took as advice to "Keep on building!") By making concessions on behalf of the Palestinians that he had absolutely no right to make, Bush at a stroke gave diplomatic cover to Israel's illegal settlement operations as well as incentive to increase those operations, and demonstrated to the world once and for all his belief that Palestinian rights do not merit serious consideration.

As I've written before, the great irony of Israel's colonization project is that it will eventually make a two-state solution impossible, if it hasn't already. There is simply no way that a Palestinian state can be economically viable when divided into small, non-contiguous enclaves (and no, "bypass roads" connecting the Palestinian Bantustans do not make them contiguous, especially when the settlements are specifically positioned to control both the flow of traffic and access to scarce water).

The simple fact is that these settlements are counterproductive both in terms of Israel's security and of its continued existence as a Jewish state.



Friday, March 18, 2005


Good article in the current New Yorker focusing mainly on Joe Biden, but also more broadly on Democratic Party repositioning on national security. The article describes a split among national security-oriented Democrats:

[John] Kerry considers himself to be a national-security-oriented Democrat—[Richard] Holbrooke, too, puts him in that camp—and appeared to take no particular offense at Biden’s criticisms. “I’m not going to dissect the campaign,” he said. But he seemed displeased when I asked whether the Democrats had a credibility problem on defense issues, and he finally said, “Look, the answer is, we have to do an unbranding.” By this he meant that the Democrats had to do a better job of selling to the American people what he believes is already true—that the Democrats are every bit as serious on the issue as Republicans. “We have to brand more effectively. It’s marketing.”

Most national-security Democrats believe that the Party’s problems on the issue go deeper than marketing. They agree that the Party should be more open to the idea of military action, and even preĆ«mption; and although they did not agree about the timing of the Iraq war and the manner in which Bush launched it, they believe that the stated rationale—Saddam’s brutality and his flouting of United Nations resolutions—was ideologically and morally sound. They say that the absence of weapons of mass destruction was more a failure of intelligence than a matter of outright deception by the Administration; and although they do not share the neoconservatives’ enthusiastic belief in the transformative power of military force, they accept the possibility that the invasion of Iraq might lead to the establishment of democratic institutions there.

I'm probably with Kerry here, I think the Democrats do have the correct national security positions, and just haven't done enough to communicate it's details to voters. Ironically, I thought his campaign did a rather poor job of this.

This observation is interesting, and I think accurate:

Richard Holbrooke suggests that the Republicans have boxed in the Democrats, by stealing their ideas. “The Republicans, who always favored bigger defense budgets—we were the soft-power people, the freedom-and-democracy people—now seek to own both the defense side and the values side of the debate,” Holbrooke said. He believes that if the Iraq war actually does bring about the hoped-for results it might help the Democrats. “We’d be better off as a country and better off as a party if Iraq is a success and we get it behind us. The Democrats can then talk about their traditional strengths, domestically and internationally.”

It has been much easier for Republicans to temper their hardline military stance with talk of support for human rights and democratization, things they've never genuinely been interested in for their own sake, than it has been for Democrats to accomodate their liberal internationalism to a greater willingness to use military force, at least in the perceptions of voters. This probably has something to do with the fact that the Republicans have held the presidency during this transition, and that this president has shown an exceptional willingness and ability to redefine his position and terms as it suited his needs. I also think it's easier for people to accept that a tough guy has attained a new sensitivity than it is to believe that a sensitive guy is now tough, especially when the tough guy has been calling the sensitive guy a ponce every day for the last thirty years.


Following on my thoughts in the previous post, here's a somewhat more local example of what can occur when fanatical religion and politics intermix: a brain-damaged woman can become a football. I wish these clowns showed half as much concern for kids living in poverty, indigent defendants who get railroaded through lack of adequate legal representation, families who go bankrupt because of medical emergencies, and a host of other unfortunates the support of whom is not deemed politically profitable.


Islamist insurgents in Iraq are now targeting impious barbers:

It was almost closing time in Sadiq Abdul Hussein's barbershop when a man in a black mask walked in, pulled out a pistol, and began spinning it on his finger, cowboy style.

The gunman was not after government officials or American collaborators. He had come because of the way Mr. Hussein cut hair.

Within seconds, the masked man opened fire, fatally wounding Mr. Hussein, 23, who lived long enough to describe the attack. The gunman also killed his partner and a customer.

In southern Baghdad, the hazards of life have come to this: gangs of militant Islamists are warning barbers that it is haram - forbidden - to shave men's beards or do Western-style haircuts. As many as 12 barbers have been killed, Iraqi officials say, including five in one day in late January. With little hope of police protection, most now refuse to offer the offending cuts, and have placed prominent signs in their front windows saying so.

Nothing much to say here, except that it's yet another example of what can occur when fanatical religion and politics intermix: getting a shave and a haircut becomes a political act, and barbers become agents of revolution who must be stopped.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I'm unconvinced by Matt Yglesias' suggestion re: Bolton and Wolfowitz:

Another way of looking at this is that both Wolfowitz and Bolton are being given jobs that are further away from the policymaking nerve center. Instead, they're being shipped out to institutions that the President doesn't think are important. Potentially, at least, what's going on here is that they're being kicked upstairs, and this is the way a man who doesn't like admitting to mistakes is admitting that he made mistakes. Even if this is right, these aren't measures I approve of, because I think the UN and the World Bank are important and there's every reason to think Wolfowitz and Bolton will ill-serve the interests of the United States and the world in those roles. Still, I think these could be bad moves that are part of an overall positive development.

All of Bush's second term appointments have followed the same pattern: loyal operatives close to the President (or close to those close to him), who strongly shared and/or shaped his views in the first term, have now been sent out to various posts, Gonzales to Justice, Rice to State, Bolton to the UN, Wolfowitz to the World Bank, to implement different aspects of his agenda. The "kicked upstairs" argument seems appealing merely for being counterintuitive, but that sort of analysis has never proven very productive with this president.

The appointment I find personally most galling is the one which may at first glance seem the least consequential, that of Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Hughes is a close personal friend and adviser of Bush's, has no apparent knowledge or experience of the Middle East or Islamic culture, and has been known to wear yeti costumes on TV. She is also a bullshit artist of the first order, someone who can always be counted on to present a self-serving "interpretation" of events which even Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf couldn't sell with a straight face.

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but it seems to me that this is a time for serious public diplomacy, for dialogue carried on by competent, open-minded individuals, not cornpone apparatchiks like Hughes who view "diplomacy" as a one-way street, a method by which BushWorld(tm) can be marketed like a damn soft drink. And Hughes' "shucks, I'm just a girl from Austin" schtick may make Tim Russert and Chris Matthews wag their little tails, but in the Arab media, where reporters tend to, you know, be skeptical and ask inconvenient questions of American politicians, I suspect it will be received about as well as a fart in a car.


It'll be different this time. I just know it will.


The Good (via Aron's Israel Peace Weblog):

Some 250 high-school seniors have signed a letter stating that they will not serve in the Israel Defense Forces or take part in military activities, and sent the letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Education Minister Limor Livnat.

"We call on all youths ahead of service in the IDF, and all soldiers already in the Israeli army to reconsider endangering their lives and taking part in a policy of oppression and destruction," the letter states.

The letter, originally published on the ynet Website, states that the signatories will not serve in the IDF, which they claim is a tool of a policy of occupation and oppression.

"The current policy is not the result of security needs, but of a nationalist-messianic worldview," the students wrote. The signatories note that they will refuse to take part in the policy of occupation and oppression, and would like to contribute to society by alternative means "that do not include hurting other human beings."

Responding Monday to the letter, President Moshe Katsav told Army Radio that with time, the youths would shift from their "mistaken attitude and outlook." According to Katsav, "Something went wrong during the process wherein we tried to shape the younger generation. I can't place my finger on the defects during this process. The mistake can be rectified - it's not irreversible."

That Katsav quote is priceless: Apparently our revisionist Zionist indoctrination, wherein children are taught that Israel belongs to the Jews alone and the Palestinians have been squatting for the last two-thousand years, didn't take, and thus the children will have to be reeducated to have their defects rectified. Not to worry, soon they'll get their heads on straight and before you know it they'll be harassing elderly Palestinians at checkpoints and responding to human rights observers, without a hint of irony, that they are "just following orders."

The Bad:

Sources in both Jerusalem and Washington are impressed with Abbas’ efforts to build democracy and to eradicate terrorism. Although Israel would prefer that Abbas move more quickly toward dismantling the terror organizations, the Sharon government is allowing Abbas time to consolidate his position...

Bush is so confident about the direction events are moving that he asked Congress to help the Palestinians (and thereby Israel) get to a point where they can effectively repulse terrorism and establish a working democracy. The Bush administration believes that bucking up the PA is critical if Abbas supporters are to prevail against Hamas in the July legislative elections (some observers say that right now Hamas would pull 45% of the vote, a result that could be disastrous for the US and Israel, not to mention the Palestinians).

To demonstrate his commitment – and his view that it is a new day – Bush has asked Congress to provide $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority...

And what has been the Congressional response to that request?

We found out on Tuesday. The answer was “yes, but….” There were so many “buts” that they rendered the “yes” almost meaningless.

The House Appropriations Committee attached a host of conditions to the aid which, amazingly, are more onerous than those placed on Palestinian aid when Yasir Arafat was in charge. Not only does Congress rightfully demand an end to terrorism and incitement (which, is, of course, the Bush policy), it wants “schools, mosques and other institutions…to promote peace and coexistence with Israel.” It demands investigations into Yasir Arafat’s finances. It wants the internet monitored for hate speech. The list goes on and on.

But then you have to understand that for some people on Capitol Hill, Yasir Arafat is still alive. At the Appropriations Committee session in which the aid was decided upon, one Member of Congress after another got up and talked about…Arafat. The late PLO chairman would be so pleased. Most people do not continue to be major players on the Washington stage after their death, but Arafat is...

This phenomenon is particularly jarring because you just won’t find anything similar in Israel. Yes, there are Israeli politicians who insist, with no evidence whatsoever, that Abbas is a clean-shaven Arafat but they are in the fringes of the radical right. You won’t hear that from Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert. You’ll hear it from the most die-hard settlers and their supporters. You’ll hear it from the crowd that supports ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. You will not hear it from anyone in the mainstream.

The Christian Zionist lobby opposes any peace which requires Israel to withdraw from the "biblical" land of Israel, which is to say the Christian Zionist lobby opposes peace. They are intent on frustrating any legislation which could be perceived as strengthening the Palestinian position, even if it means taking actions which even Israeli hardliners view as counterproductive. Anxious for Armageddon, indeed.

And the Ugly:

Some 40 yeshiva students from a West Bank settlement attacked a group of eight Palestinian laborers on Thursday morning, wounding at least five of them.

Jewish students in Nahliel threw stones at the Palestinians and attacked them with clubs. The Palestinians were legally contracted to work in the West Bank settlement located west of Ramallah.

Military sources told Haaretz the Palestinians were severely beaten and that they were "almost lynched," an expression connoting an execution of defenseless victims.

No word on whether the settlers wore white sheets.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Andrew Sullivan on this Hitchens article regarding the plundering of Saddam's weapons depots: seems to me more confirmation of my essential position: that the war was right, but that the execution came close to undermining it. But it's also true that you cannot both lament the plundering of al Qaqaa and other sites and insist that there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war. Both sides have some reckoning to do.

Both Sullivan and Hitchens, as well as the broader conservative community, persist in eliding the difference between actual WMD and the potential for WMD programs. While it's true that Saddam possessed material that put him in clear violation of disarmament agreements, it's simply no good to pretend that we went to war to war over potential WMD programs. President Bush and his crew made their case for war on the assumption that Saddam was in posession of WMD, pure and simple.Thus it's entirely reasonable and consistent to lament the plundering of al Qaqaa and other sites as well as insist that there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war.

Sullivan's attempt here to play one argument off the other is characteristic of his tendency to try and set himself up as objective critic of both the left and the right, but it's a charade. In this case, there is no splitting the difference. The blame for misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting the threat posed by Saddam lies with the Bush administration and U.S. intelligence, as does the blame for failing to secure known weapons sites.


Homegrown superheroes in the Middle East:

A Princess of Darkness, a time-travelling pharaoh and an ancient Arabian swordsman are among the superheroes of a new comic book - one of the first to be designed specifically for the Middle East.

Aya, Zein, Jalila and Rakan are the heroes of Egypt-based AK Comics' Middle East Heroes.

The comic, published in both Arabic and English, sees them entrusted with keeping the region out of the hands of evil following 55 years of war between two unnamed superpowers.


What is notable about Middle East Heroes is that the female models are at least as powerful as their male counterparts. Jalila is most powerful character in terms of abilities.

"We really wanted to assess gender equality by creating two male characters and two female characters - and making them equal," Mr Nashar said.

He added that this strategy had been well-received, especially amongst women, who read the comic books in disproportionately large numbers.

The books have also managed to remain relatively uncensored throughout the region - where the authorities tend to strictly control publication.

Mr Nashar said that there had been no problems at all in Egypt, while in some countries the only change has been to cover up Jalila's abdomen.

Here's the AK Comics website.

This is pop culture chipping away at cultural restrictions, an integral part of modern political change. In Eastern Europe it was Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. In the Middle East it's Queen bootlegs and Jalila's midriff.

And from a purely financial standpoint, no one ever went broke overestimating male enthusiasm for big-breasted superheroines.

Of course, with comic books inevitably come Comic Book Guys, so it's just a matter of time before this phrase begins popping up in cafes, madrassas, and Arabic chat rooms:

Asdara. Al aswa. Abadan.

Worst. Issue. Ever.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Steve Clemons has a post on the prominent role John Bolton played in promulgating the Niger uranium story.


Good discussion of great films of the '00s over at LGM. I've been slowly compiling my choices for best records of the 00's (thus far, obviously), though I'm sure there are some that I've missed and which may end up in subsequent lists. In no order, aside from Supermodified and Yoshimi in spots one and two:

Supermodified- Amon Tobin
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots- Flaming Lips
Vespertine- Bjork
Electric Masada- John Zorn
Chutes Too Narrow- The Shins
Deltron 3030- Deltron 3030
Blues Dream- Bill Frisell
Drawings and Garbage Structures- Sushirobo
Shades of Blue- Madlib
Kill the Moonlight- Spoon

Other greats: Ageatis Byrjun (Sigur Ros), Tourist (St. Germain), The Argument (Fugazi), Speakerboxx/The Love Below (Outkast), Standards (Tortoise), History of an Apology (Paul Rucker), Original Pirate Material (The Streets).

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Settlers confirm state complicity in building outposts in West Bank:

Settlement leaders painted a picture of widespread state complicity in setting up unauthorized West Bank outposts, contradicting Israel's repeated claim that it is trying to dismantle dozens of outposts in line with an internationally backed peace plan...

The settlement outposts dotting the West Bank are seen as seeds of larger communities, in violation of assurances by successive Israeli governments that they would not build new settlements. Locations were often chosen to break up contiguity of Palestinian areas and prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

Zvi Hendel, a settler leader, said Tuesday that various government ministries and agencies have cooperated over the years in setting up outposts. He told Israel Radio that the Israeli military administration in the West Bank provided the lands, the Housing Ministry bought mobile homes, Defense Ministry officials gave permits for trailers to be moved from place to place, (and) the army provided security for the setters...

Hendel, a legislator, said the support for the outposts extended to the highest levels of government. Outposts began springing up in 1993, as a protest against an interim peace deal with the Palestinians.

"All the defense ministers ... were part of the secret," he said. "You can't do it without the defense minister, you can't move mobile homes, you can't move a nail in the West Bank without the army's agreement. So let's not fool ourselves. This is what the state of Israel wanted. We carried out its mission."

If Hendel's statements are true, then it proves what I think has been rather obvious since Sharon first proposed the Gaza withdrawal, that the withdrawal is a smokescreen for Israel's strengthening it's hold in the Palestinian West Bank.

The irony here is that the more land Israel takes, the less likely an economically viable, geographically continguous Palestinian state becomes, and thus eventually a two-state solution will no longer be an option. At that time, Israel will be faced with the choice of whether to become an actual, declared apartheid state (instead of a de facto apartheid state, which it currently is) in order to preserve Jewish political supremacy, or to grant full citizenship to Palestinians, who will then make up a substantial majority.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


From the BBC:
Israeli state bodies have been secretly diverting millions of dollars to build illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an official report has revealed.

Former state prosecutor Talia Sasson has recommended criminal investigations against those alleged to be involved.

Israel is meant to remove unauthorised outposts on Palestinian land under the US-backed roadmap peace plan.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al -Kidwa said there would be "no peace" while settlement building continued.

Anti-settlement groups say more than 100 outposts have sprung up, normally consisting of small groups of mobile homes stationed close to existing settlements.

The report details how officials in the ministries of defence and housing and the settlement division of the World Zionist Organisation spent millions of dollars from state budgets to support the illegal outposts.

The New York Times:
The report describes almost a state within a state devoted to promoting illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

"No one seriously intends to enforce the law," says the report, written by Talia Sasson, a former chief state prosecutor. "It seems as if the violation of the law has become institutional and institutionalized."

"There is blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, regional councils" in the West Bank "and the settlers," Ms. Sasson wrote, according to excerpts published Tuesday by the Israeli daily Maariv. "Everything is done for appearance' sake, as if a regulated institutional establishment were acting within the confines of the law."

Sharon has been demanding that the Palestinians stop committing acts of terrorism while at the same time his government has been increasing the very activities which incite Palestinian terrorism. This is what's known as "Israeli politics as usual." Here's how it works: Despite solemn promises to the contrary, Israel continues to annex Palestinian land for illegal Jewish settlements. Then, when it's time to negotiate, Israel offers to return some small percentage of this stolen land as a "compromise." The Palestinians point out that this is a rotten deal, considering all of the stolen land rightly belongs to them, and is occupied illegally by settlers. Then the Israelis throw up their hands and declare that the Palestinians just don't want peace. Then the negotiations stall, giving Israel more time to annex more Palestinian land. Repeat.

Meanwhile, teenage Mustafa has just watched the house his family has lived in for generations bulldozed to make way for a new swimming pool for settler children (settlers in the West Bank use 75 gallons of water for every 25 used by Palestinians. Have I mentioned that water is scarce over there?) The cries of his mother, grandmother, and sisters echo in his ears, and the image of his father standing there, broken, pathetic, and helpless in the face of Israeli aggression is seared into his memory. This is the image that will finally motivate him to make a bomb of himself. "I am not helpless," is the last thought that goes through his head as he sits on a bus in Jerusalem. KABOOM. A couple days later, Charles Krauthammer writes in a column that this kid was obviously motivated purely by hatred of Jews.


Israel's policy of settlement in the West Bank and Gaza must be understood as what it is: a form of war against the Palestinians. Attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinian civilians are a regular occurrence, often taking place under the averted eyes of Israeli soldiers. Here's a charming bunch who decided to poison their Palestinian neighbors' water supply. Shalom, indeed. (Why is it that the wingnuts are always blowing their catheters out over Palestinian attacks on Israelis, but we don't hear a peep from any of them when Jewish terrorists attempt to poison an entire Palestinian village?)

It is outrageous that Israel is paying for its illegal and deeply inhumane colonization of the Palestinian West Bank with U.S. taxpayer dollars. Israel receives nearly one third of the total U.S. aid to foreign countries, to the tune of $13.7 million per day. I have to ask: In what way has this staggering transfer of wealth helped the United States?

And now there is proof (not that anyone familiar with Israeli politics is surprised) that elements in Sharon's government were supporting the expansion of outposts (which even Sharon concedes are illegal) even as Sharon was talking out the back of his neck about making "painful concessions." It is preposterous to suppose that Sharon had no idea that this was going on, given his history as the settler movement's most vocal and strident political patron. But will we hear a word of condemnation from the useful Likudnik idiots who regularly used to condemn Arafat as "two faced"? Doubtful.

I anxiously await Bush's routine mild rebuke of Sharon (he'll call Israeli actions "unhelpful" or some such), after which Sharon will smile, shrug his shoulders, and then go back to stealing Palestinian land for Israel, as has been the focus of his political life.


Eric Alterman describes making small talk with Paul Wolfowitz at a Tina Brown party. To bad they didn't get into music, it would be interesting to hear what the Wolf Man is into.


(via Metafilter) Slacker Manager presents: The Unspoken Language of the Office. My favorite is the Lip Smack, which I also occasionally use around the house.

The Lip Smack
I must admit, this is a personal favorite. So much a favorite that it's lost some of it's effectiveness around my office. Everyone knows what I'm doing and they just make fun of me. I hope it works out better for you. To implement the Lip Smack, simply pretend that you're chewing gum loudly. The slower the better. Envision a cow chewing cud--that's about the rhythm you're aiming for. Don't be afraid to show that tongue. If your conversational counterpart hasn't witnessed the Lip Smack before, they'll be temporarily struck dumb. As I mentioned, this effect eventually wears off and they begin to make fun of you. You'll become a caricature of yourself. So don't overdo it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Stanley Kurtz in The Corner:

I wonder how Peter Beinart and TNR feel about the Bolton nomination. Apparently, the Democrats are planning a big confirmation battle. Do they think they'll gain anything by opposing a guy who puts America's interests first? Fighting Bolton is catering to the Democrat's base. Nothing could undermine the Democrat’s hawkish make-over than a big confirmation battle over Bolton. We’ve had Nancy Pelosi’s dovishness, Ted Kennedys call for an Iraq pull-out, the grilling of Condoleeza Rice, and now a big confirmation battle over John Bolton. (I know I've left out plenty, but who has time.) I can’t see how fighting Bolton is going to do anything but carve the Democrat’s dovish image even more deeply into stone.

Typical wingnut claptrap: Democrats just can't be serious about national security unless they acquiesce to every last item on Bush's agenda, which, with the nomination of the odious Bolton (more here and here), apparently includes further deconciliation with the UN (That's right, I invented a word.) Is it possible for these people to frame their arguments honestly?

As noted in the Salon article above, Bolton has been a bridge between the hardline neoconservatives and the dispensationalist Christian right, which is to say that he is the embodiment of all of this administration's bad foreign policy ideas.

Also, his haircut indicates extremely bad judgement.


Juan Cole responds to Fareed Zakaria's claim that Bush has been proved right on some of the big questions in the Middle East.

Whether or not Bush deserves credit for everything that is happening in the Middle East, he has been fundamentally right about some big things.

Bush never accepted the view that Islamic terrorism had its roots in religion or culture or the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead he veered toward the analysis that the region was breeding terror because it had developed deep dysfunctions caused by decades of repression and an almost total lack of political, economic and social modernization. The Arab world, in this analysis, was almost unique in that over the past three decades it had become increasingly unfree, even as the rest of the world was opening up. His solution, therefore, was to push for reform in these lands.

The theory did not originate with Bush's administration. Others had made this case: scholars like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the Arab intellectuals who wrote the United Nations' now famous "Arab Human Development Report" and even this writer. (Three weeks after 9/11 I wrote an essay titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" that made this case.) These ideas were gaining some ground in the Arab world, especially after 9/11. But Bush's adoption of them was absolutely crucial because he had the power to pressure the region's regimes. Efforts to change the dynamics of the Middle East had always collapsed in the past as its wily rulers would delay, obstruct and obfuscate. Bush has pushed them with persistence and, increasingly, he is trying to build a broader international effort. The results might surprise.

I'm all for democratization in the Middle East, as a good in its own right. But I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation. To erase that fact is to commit a basic error in historical understanding. It is why the US military occupation of Iraq is actually a negative for any "war on terror." Nor do I believe that democratization, even if it is possible, is going to end terrorism in and of itself.

You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there is some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism.

I don't think Cole and Zakaria's arguments are all that divergent, though I think Cole's assertion that terrorism can be blamed on military occupations is uncharacteristically simple. I think it's more accurate to say that the legacy of European colonialism in the Middle East is a major, probably the major, factor in the growth of terrorism in the Middle East. Authoritarian governments, as Zakaria notes, in addition to being unjust (and thus un-Islamic) rulers, are seen by many fundamentalist groups as puppets of foreign governments, which strongly contributes to the resentment and humiliation which Cole identifies. Most of these countries, however, haven't been occupied by foreign powers for many years. For example, fourteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, yet Saudi Arabia is not currently experiencing an occupation. Saudi Arabia is, however, ruled by an authoritarian government which many devout Muslims view as illegitimate both because of its hugely inequitable stewardship of Arabian oil wealth, and because of its close relationship with the U.S.

Even though he was supporter of the Iraq war, Zakaria has been one of the most astute critics of Bush's handling of the invasion and its botched aftermath, which will continue to produce bad consequences even as it seems to have emboldened democracy activists in the region. And that, I think, is the big question: In the long run, what will prove stronger, resentment of foreign interference or desire for democracy? Will bad consequences produced by Bush's policies, the damage to Western alliances, the international terrorist jamboree that he is hosting in Iraq, his virtual carte blanche to Sharon, overwhelm the small democratic space that his rhetoric has possibly opened up in the Middle East?

I think it's too soon to tell, but there are positive signs. Youssef Ibrahim offers reasons to believe that the kifaya movement will continue to gather steam.

p.s. This is off the main topic, but I think Zakaria misrepresents somewhat Bernard Lewis' writing on the roots of Islamist terrorism. In his seminal essay The Roots of Muslim Rage, Lewis did argue that Islamist terrorism does to some extent have its roots in Islamic culture, specifically in resentment at the steady eclipsing of Islamic power by Christian empires, and at the current dominance of Arab Muslim societies by more technologically advanced Western powers. In his book What Went Wrong?, Lewis writes that much of Muslim resentment of the West can be attributed to Islam's history of military conquest, a feature which distinguishes Islam from the other two Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity, both of which grew up in stark opposition to authority. Judaism as we know it was largely developed in bondage, Jesus was rejected by his own people and executed as a criminal in the most hideous and shameful way possible, but Muhammad was a conqueror who brought the Middle East and North Africa under the sway of Islam. Lewis suggests that this fact is essential in understanding the Muslim fundamentalist phenomenon. Not that I particularly agree with Lewis, but that's what he wrote.

Anyone interested in a critique of Lewis' "Clash of Civilizations" thesis (which was purloined and developed into an entire strain of misguided foreign policy thought by Samuel Huntington) should see Richard Bulliet's excellent The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Are you kidding me?

Mr. President, could you give this poor man a break? I wasn't even done yet being outraged over the appointment of John Negroponte as Intelligence Czar.


It's getting more dangerous for bloggers, a consequence of the government beginning to perceive it as more dangerous for the government.


Tzahal is finally taking steps against a too long ignored threat to Israel, fantasy role-playing gamers (via Metafilter).

Does the Israel Defense Force believe incoming recruits and soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons are unfit for elite units? Ynetnews has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and suscepitble to influence,” the army says.

Fans of the popular role-playing game had spoken of rumors of this strange policy by the IDF, but now the army has confirmed that it has a negative image of teens who play the game and labels them as problematic in regard to their draft status.

Sure, D & D players are "detached from reality," as opposed to those who believe that a three thousand year-old tribal religious text should be treated as an enforceable deed of land ownership. I guess there's good crazy and bad crazy, at least as far as the IDF is concerned.

Friday, March 04, 2005


The conventional wisdom now is that Hillary Clinton is the one to beat for the Democratic nomination in 2008. I'm of two minds about this. The first is that a Hillary candidacy seems to run completely counter to DNC chairman Howard Dean's plans to make Democratic inroads into the GOP-dominated South. It's been my experience (I have a number of very conservative red state relatives with whom I occasionally, though always in retrospect ill-advisedly, broach the subject of politics) that Hillary Clinton occupies a special place of deep and abiding hostility for conservatives, especially social conservatives, a very common species in the south. They see her as standing for everything they stand agains: big gubmint socialism, the 60s, smoking dope, feminism, and dressing tastefully. She is Gloria Steinem, Teddy Kennedy, and Fidel Castro rolled into one. She is the horsewoman of the decline of Western Civilization. It's as impressive as it is confusing, but it's true: these people hate Hillary Clinton with a hate that burns so hot you could probably attach electrodes to their earlobes and power several small cities ( which, come to think of it, might not be such a bad idea because then they wouldn't need us blue staters to subsidize their electricity as much.) If Dean's plans for the south involve coaxing any of these people into the Democratic Party, a Hillary candidacy means he'll have to come up with a new plan.

Now to my other mind. The thing I've always dearly loved about Hillary Clinton is that she angers and annoys all the right people. A Hillary Clinton victory in 2008 would be about the only thing that could redeem two George W. Bush administrations. I can't think of a more gorgeous fuck off to the people who saddled us with eight years of this guy. End dream sequence.

Hillary spent her first four years in the Senate learning the game, made friends, kept her head down, played well with others. She has staked out positions squarely in the center of the political spectrum, understanding that the center has moved drastically rightward in recent years. My impression, though, is that she doesn't have positions on issues as much as she positions herself on issues. Her recent abortion speech is a perfect example. All politicians do this to some extent, but the trick, which Hillary hasn't yet mastered, is to not seem like they're doing it. Credit where credit's due, Bush has a true talent for this, for abandoning unpopular positions for more defensible ground, then acting as if he's been steadfastly and consistently defending deeply held beliefs the entire time.

No doubt the Right Wing Hate Machine is firing up for Hillary, but then the machine never really stops, does it? The flunkies are just shoveling extra coal into its furnace to get it revved up nice and hot for her. Could she actually win? Given the level of hatred directed at her for the last decade, I have a hard time believing she could, no matter who the Republican nominee is. But it's gonna make great TV.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Good God:

A George Rogers Clark High School junior arrested Tuesday for making terrorist threats told LEX 18 News Thursday that the "writings" that got him arrested are being taken out of context.

Winchester police say William Poole, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday morning. Investigators say they discovered materials at Poole's home that outline possible acts of violence aimed at students, teachers, and police.

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Okay, there's being overly cautious, and then there's being a stupid bunch of yokels. I'm going with B here for the time being. An alternative explanation is that the authorities in Winchester, Kentucky, are in fact vampires and thought that young Poole's zombie story hit a little too close to home, and wanted to clamp down on any potential heroic slayer types before they became a problem.

Also, when you read that policeman's quote, be sure to do so in the voice of Chief Wiggum.

(Via Kevin Drum, via One Good Thing, which includes a great accompanying item on high school.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


This was posted at Crooked Timber, and I heard the same disturbing story on NPR this morning.

The Department of Homeland Security is experimenting with a controversial new method to keep better track of immigrants who are applying to remain in the United States. It is requiring aliens in eight cities to wear electronic monitors 24 hours a day.

The ankle bracelets are the same monitors that some rapists and other convicted criminals have to wear on parole. But the government's pilot project is putting monitors on aliens who have never been accused of a crime.

So far, the Department of Homeland Security has put electronic monitors on more than 1,700 immigrants. Victor Cerda, director of Detention and Removal Operations at Homeland Security, says the anklets will help prevent tens of thousands of immigrants who are ordered to leave the country each year from "absconding" -- going into hiding to avoid deportation.

Punishing people who have done nothing wrong, but who could potentially commit a crime...welcome to George W. Bush's America.

This is obviously a violation of these individual's rights, but I don't know how likely it is that any of them will pursue legal action over it for fear of prejudicing their INS proceedings.


Juan Cole on Lebanon and Syria.

And from the Daily Star, a timeline of events in Lebanon since Hariri's assassination.


Ariel Sharon has received countless encomia from conservatives for his hard nosed approach to dealing with the Palestinians, his handling of the intifada (which his visit to Haram al Sharif helped ignite), his marginalization of Arafat, his building of the separation wall, and his supposedly courageous plan to unilaterally withdraw from settlements in Gaza (settlements of which he has been a longtime supporter). His strategy, described by Israeli army chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, has been to make the Palestinians "understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." Control, repression, and humiliation, enforced by military violence, have been the tools with which Sharon has tried to provide security to the Israeli people.

I think Friday's Tel Aviv bombing shows that the best that Sharon's approach can provide is perhaps a longer interval between bombings. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone, given the reprehensible measures which Israel has used to punish the suspected supporters of suspected suicide bombers, destroying family homes, uprooting family crops, indefinite "administrative detentions," measures which have proven more likely to provoke a continued violent response from the Palestinians than to cow them into submission. It's true that the security barrier has cut down on attacks, but at a huge human cost to the Palestinians, a cost which most observers agree has been completely out of proportion to the casualties suffered by Israel. Even given the extent to which Sharon's policies have cut down on the number of attacks, I don't think anyone would argue that they've cut down on the number of people who want to attack Israel, only made them think about new strategies for doing so, and thus haven't really provided any genuine long term security for Israelis, who know that another attack could come at any time.

Even as the status quo for Israelis, even in times of relative quiet, has been constant nervousness, the status quo for Palestinians is a nightmare: daily humiliation and harassment at the hands of Israeli soldiers and militant Jewish settlers who commit violence against their Palestinian neighbors with impunity, constant expropriation of Palestinian land for expanding Jewish settlements, for security perimeters for settler-only highways, and for the separation barrier. In other words, the status quo for Palestinians is constant war being waged against them by Israel. Any progress by Abbas in reigning in the rejectionist Palestinian minority and building Palestinian democracy will have to be made despite this severe handicap, a fact which is rarely acknowledged in the American media, which is what allows pro-Israel types to persist in their presentation of Israel as embattled democracy instead of a brutal and repressive occupier. The truth is that Israel is both, but there will only be more Tel Avivs until Israel acknowledges its own culpability and ends the occupation and the inhumane practices which it involves.


Interesting piece by Dilip Hiro:

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and all legislation is derived exclusively from the Shariah. Members of the governing House of Saud belong to the puritanical Wahhabi sect within Sunni Islam, and the religious legitimacy of the royal household is underwritten by the Supreme Religious Council, nominated by the king...

In addition, alcohol, movies and dancing in public are banned. There is strict censorship of the news media and of books, whether published domestically or imported. Only Muslims are allowed to worship. Christians are not even permitted to wear jewelry containing a cross.

Things are quite different in Qatar. As the Saudi men went to the polls, officials and the news media here watched with a mix of quiet approval at the idea and regret at the disenfranchisement of women. Most of all, it made Qataris feel proud of their own political system. After all, they had their first local elections, based on universal franchise, in March 1999.

As in Saudi Arabia, the ruling family of Qatar is Wahhabi. And, here too, the Islamic Shariah is the main source of legislation - it states in Article 1 of the Qatari Constitution, which was ratified by referendum in 2003, that "Islam is the state's religion and the Islamic Shariah is the main source of its legislations."

Nonetheless, Qatar has a relatively democratic political system. The Constitution created a 45-member Parliament, called the Advisory Council, with 30 elected members. It may not be a full legislature by Western standards, but it is authorized to approve the state budget and monitor the executive authority, which rests with the ruler, called the emir.

Article 50 of the Constitution, which assures the freedom to worship, applies to all. The Anglican archdeacon for the Persian Gulf region is based in Doha. Christian groups can congregate in halls or private villas, where ministers, priests or pious laymen can conduct worship.

Equally important is Article 48 of the Constitution, assuring freedom of the press. In March 1998 the emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, abolished the Ministry of Information, thus ending censorship of print and broadcast media. The state-owned news media entities became independent public institutions. And, of course, the law widened the horizons of the most prominent Arab news source, Al Jazeera, which was established in 1996...

Not that Qatar is perfect by any means. But if two homogenous Sunni nations, both with rulers belonging to the Wahhabi sect, can be so different, it is unlikely that Iraq, with its unique mix of religious and ethnic groups, will emulate an existing fundamentalist republic or monarchy. Instead of worrying about the mixing of faith and law, let us see how the emergent Islamic Republic of Iraq creates a category by itself among democratic yet religious states of the Persian Gulf.


 Posted by Hello

Via Stacius, via Pitchfork:

Dinosaur Jr., one of the most legendary indie rock bands of the 80's, are reuniting to play the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan with shows in the UK to follow. The BBC reports that the embattled duo of J. Mascis and Lou Barlow will perform together under the Dinosaur Jr. name for the first time in 15 years. Ongoing feuding between the two spurred Barlow to leave the band after the release of their third album, Bug, in 1988 in order to focus on his work with Sebadoh. The 1990s saw Barlow's greatest success with the Folk Implosion and the unexpected top 40 hit "Natural One". Dinosaur Jr. briefly went on hiatus after Barlow's departure and reformed in 1991. The group permanently disbanded after 1997's Hand It Over, at which time Mascis moved on to form The Fog. That group's More Light-- released in 2000 and featuring guest appearances from Kevin Shields and Robert Pollard-- was hailed as a return to form.

No U.S. dates have been set, nor has anyone at Merge confirmed the reunion. The original lineup recorded three albums together, including the widely influential You're Living All Over Me, which are set to be reissued with bonus material via Merge on March 22.

With all the horrible crap going on, it's nice to have some good news. Dinosaur Jr is one of those bands I love so much I tend to geek out when talking about them. Hopefully the band will bring their reunion stateside so I can give them some of my money in exchange for their damaging my hearing.