Saturday, September 30, 2006


Marc Lynch on Zawahiri's new video.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Grant Green.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Michael Rubin has The Corner's two-minutes Muslim hate:
Taqiya is, in Islamic jurisprudence, religiously-sanctioned lying. Many Islamists feel justified saying one thing to a Western audience, and quite another to fellow Islamists. Muhammad Khatami, soon to receive an honorary degree at St. Andrew’s University in celebration of his “practical work to improve relations between Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities,” is one example. No need for Khatami to explain statements justifying murder and terror. The case of Tariq Ramadan, the Islamist scholar whom Notre Dame University tried to hire, has become a cause célèbre. Many progressives are in an uproar that the State Department this week again denied Ramadan a visa. After all, doesn’t he say the right things in academic salons? Perhaps, but beyond the window dressing and the material support for terrorists, what does Ramadan stand for? Lionel Favrot’s study of Ramadan’s record suggests he stands for quite a lot which he doesn’t speak about in English.

Taqiyya, commonly understood as "dissimulation in order to protect one's life, family, or the faith, against persecution," has its roots in Shi'i jurisprudence, as a defense against persecution by Sunnis or non-Muslims. It is not simply a license to lie, as Rubin ignorantly claims.

The concept of taqiyya has generally been looked upon with skepticism, or even derision, by Sunnis, that is to say, by the vast majority of Muslims. Tariq Ramadan, a Sunni, has never, as far as I know, indicated that he believes the concept is a legitimate Islamic practice. But I suppose Rubin would say that that's just like a lying Islamist to do that ("Your Islamist has no regard for the truth.").

The implications of Rubin's view are obvious. (Let's bomb Iran!) After all, if Muslims lie as a matter of religious duty, then why should we believe anything they say, ever? (Let's bomb Iran!) What's funny is that Rubin presents taqiyya as some sort of sinister religious-jurisprudential kung-fu, as if non-Muslim leaders never dissimulate, lie, spin, or misrepresent facts and intentions. Oh well, let's bomb Iran.

And someone please make Michael Rubin a drink of grain alcohol and rainwater.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Jonah Goldberg has a novel reaction to the report that the Iraq invasion has created more terrorists: So what?
If my backyard is festooned with hornet nests, I will likely be safer from a sting on any given day if I do nothing than I will be on the day or days I begin destroying them. Since when is any large, important, task required to show positive results at every stage? Declaring war on Japan increased the threat of war from Germany dramatically. And waging war on both countries, obviously, made things less safe for Americans in the short run.

Leaving aside that Goldberg's clumsy segue into a Japan analogy is just another way of eliding the difference between al Qaeda (who, like Japan, attacked us) and Iraq (who, unlike Japan, didn't), I'd suggest that, when confronted with evidence that one's hornet-destroying strategy has caused the tenfold increase of hornets' nests, there are probably wiser responses than simply declaring that "lots of things go badly until they go well," and then linking to one of your previous Simpsons jokes.


Republicans like to say that Democrats don't have a plan for winning Iraq, but Democrats haven't been very good at pointing out that the President's plan amounts to nothing more than "Win!" Seriously, that's pretty much it. And then, when we win, we'll have won. And that will show the terrorists.

In addition to being completely vapid, that is, not a plan at all, the "Win!" strategy wants us to believe that Arabs and Muslims are only able to draw certain prescribed lessons from Iraq. President Bush insists that it's "naive" to think that the Iraq war has inspired more Muslims to take up the cause of violent jihad against the U.S., while at the same time insisting that U.S. victory in Iraq (however he's defining it this week) will make them abandon the cause. Got that?

It's not just that he's relying on a tired set of self-contradicting talking points to defend a non-existent policy. With this administration, the talking points are the policy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Cheers to the brilliant detective Victor Hanson for finally uncovering ironclad proof of the long-suspected Hitler-bin Laden pact:
To read al Qaeda’s texts is to reenter the world of Mein Kampf (naturally now known as jihadi in the Arab world).

Yes, naturally. Mein Kampf is now known as jihadi in the Arab world, because Mein Kampf means "my struggle" in German, and jihadi means "my struggle" in Arabic.

Up next, Sherlock Hanson will argue that "Islamic Fascism" prefigured Naziism because jihadi meant "my struggle" hundreds of years before Hitler was even born!


I didn't remark on it in the previous post, but I think this may be one of the most brutish, insensitive things I've yet heard from the boy king:
"When the final history is written on Iraq, it will look just like a comma, because there is . . . a strong will for democracy."

In other words, a single death is a tragedy. Forty-eight thousand deaths (and counting) is punctuation.

I can't imagine that this wouldn't be incredibly offensive to anyone, especially Iraqis and American military families whose sons', daughters', fathers' and mothers' bodies make up that comma.

I like to think we Americans have a strong will for democracy, but that doesn't mean we look at our own civil war as anything like a "comma." We put up statues to honor its dead and its leaders, on both sides, even the shit-starting, slavery-loving side. We make interminably long and grandiose films about it in which clownish, soon-to-be-a-footnote politicians beg for cameos. We put on thick wool uniforms in the middle of the gotdamn summer to reenact its battles. Not a comma. Not really.

Greg Mitchell has other comments.


On Hardball last night, Chris Matthews interviewed Fran Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. If you want to understand how both our government and our press are failing us, look no further:
MATTHEWS: Well, do you think that‘s accurate? Do you think [the Iraq war] has encouraged extremism?

TOWNSEND: Let‘s go back. I mean, certainly the extremists used the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets as a recruiting tool. Certainly they‘ve used the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a recruiting tool. They use many of these grievances as recruiting tools. It shouldn‘t surprise anybody.

And by the way, the president has been very clear about this throughout September when he was giving speeches.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you think that people seek revenge naturally, and isn‘t it a reasonable assumption that if we go into a country and we kill 50,000 Arabs on television, that they will seek revenge? Isn‘t that human nature, tribal instinct?

TOWNSEND: You know, they were killing us long before we went into Iraq. Look at September 11 -- there‘s no question, this—they‘re not killing us because of Iraq, they were killing us long before that.

MATTHEWS: Well, sure, they were killing—you could—well, getting into motives is a tricky thing, I agree with you. But we do know that one of the reasons that bin Laden was most angry at us and hated us was that his government allowed 10,000 infidels into that country for 10 years. And that‘s his reason. I don‘t know why people make up reasons; I assume—don‘t you—that motive at some point is genuine? That when people say they‘re doing something for a reason, there‘s a reason there? Or do you just think they make up excuses to go to war?


MATTHEWS: And kill themselves?

TOWNSEND: No, I think this is a hateful ideology. It uses violence as a means to achieve its ends. And I think that whatever vapid and vacant reasoning that they come up with—do I credit that? No, I don‘t credit that.

Yup, they just hate us. All those various declarations and speeches and fatwas, just a smokescreen for their ideology of murderous hate, not worth considering. Hate. Murderous. Murderous hate. September 11. End of story. It says a lot about this administration that this cartoon of a person is essentially George W. Bush's Richard Clarke.

Townsend's claim that "there was terrorism before we invaded Iraq, therefore the Iraq invasion hasn't caused terrorism" would simply be funny if it weren't being made by one of the administration's top terrorism experts. It's like arguing that cigarettes don't cause cancer because people were getting cancer before cigarettes were invented.

Of course, a lot of blame belongs to Matthews for his letting this sort of crap go by without challenge. A real journalist would have pounced on any of Townsend's comically shallow soundbites. As ridiculous as she sounds, though, Townsend at least has an excuse: Defending utterly failed policies is her job. Matthews' job apparently involves making sure that the name of his show continues to be deeply ironic.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Mission accomplished:
A pitched battle over an intelligence assessment, covered first by The New York Times and then The Washington Post, broke out across the media today. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig went so far as blame the whole fuss -- over the negative view of the war in Iraq and the war on terror -- on liberal journalists. CNN aired an interview with President Bush in which he declared that one day the Iraq war will look like "just a comma."

The National Intelligence Estimate declared that the war in Iraq has increased Islamic radicalism, worsening the overall terror threat, cutting at the heart of the White House defense of its strategy. The assessment “should put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war,” Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) said in a statement.

Remember, flypaper theory was sold as a feature, not a bug, of the Iraq invasion. The super-geniuses of the Bush administration, and various water-bearers, seriously argued that attracting militants to Iraq from around the Islamic world, that is, repeating the Afghani Arab phenomenon, would diminish the threat of Islamic radicalism. Because, I guess, it worked precisely the opposite way last time...?

The idea always smelt strongly of bong hits. But when you realize that some senior Bush administration officials actually advocated installing a Hashemite ruler in Iraq after the fall of Saddam (not content merely to figuratively repeat the mistakes of the past, they wanted to literally repeat the mistakes of the past) it's perhaps not so surprising that they would push something as silly as flypaper theory.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Ably performing his function of making John Podhoretz and Jonah Goldberg look like deep thinkers, Mark Levin offers this bit of mumbo-pocus:
Bill Clinton is nuttier than a pecan pie. He has spent the last six years traveling the globe dumping on George Bush. Yet he turns into an emotional wreck when Fox’s Chris Wallace tries to ask him a few questions about his demonstrable failure to pursue aggressively Osama bin Laden after repeated al Qaeda attacks on Americans and American interests. Here.

Do you think his smear of "neo-cons" (which has become a codeword for Jews) will receive the kind of attention that George Allen’s "macaca" reference received from the likes of the Washington Post?

You almost feel sorry for the guy. The "neocon=Jew" canard was a crude and transparent diversion when David Brooks floated it (and then clumsily disavowed it) two and a half years ago, but it's Levin's attempt to equate Clinton's use of "neocons," (a term which has come to denote a movement of intellectuals and policy makers around a set of specific political ideas, and which the acknowledged founder of that movement, among others, has embraced) with George Allen's use of "macaca" (a slur used by French North Africans against non-whites in the country where George Allen's French North African mother grew up, and/or a word which George Allen spontaneously invented when he was struggling for an appropriately demeaning way to describe a non-white person), and then pre-emptively condemning the Librul Media for not subscribing this laughably false equivalence, which makes this a Wingnut Hall of Fame contender.

Mark, the day S.R. Sidharth writes a book called "Macacaism", I'll bake you a cake.

Levin played this same gamewhen the "macaca" story originally broke, scolding the media for producing "not one word about the Webb campaign's dirty trick in having one of its volunteers, camcorder in hand, harrassing Allen as he campaigns around Virginia."

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Some people collect stamps. Some collect sand from the various beaches they've visited around the world. Some collect Star Trek memorabilia. My friend's dad collects obscure performances of 'Round Midnight. George Allen?
In its May 8 issue, the New Republic published a cover story, entitled "Pin Prick," which argued that "before he runs for president, George Allen has to run against himself." The article's author, Ryan Lizza, reported extensively on Allen's apparent youthful interest in, and seeming enthusiasm for, the Confederacy, which included hanging a battle flag in his living room during his successful 1993 Virginia gubernatorial bid (part of a collection, Allen says) and hanging what appears to have been a noose in his law office (part of another collection, Allen says).

...Confederate battle flags and nooses. The punchline is that the author of the Weekly Standard article appears to lament the passing of a Virginia where this hobby would be a political plus.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Bill O'Reilly: "I am too important to the survival of the republic for Osama bin Laden to let me live!"
According to a September 20 ABC News Online article promoting an upcoming appearance of Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on ABC's 20/20 to promote his new book Culture Warrior (Broadway, September 2006), O'Reilly stated that he receives "death threats on a daily basis," and that it's "a little disconcerting" that "the FBI came in and warned me and a few other people at Fox News that al Qaeda had us on a death list." But O'Reilly's claim to be on an Al Qaeda "death list" has reportedly been disputed by an FBI official and a "correspondent" at Fox News.

A federal law enforcement officer reportedly told the website Radar that he is "not aware of any FBI agents warning anyone at Fox News of their presence on any list" and that he is "not aware of any Al Qaeda hit list targeting journalists." Radar also noted that one "correspondent" at Fox News said that "neither he nor anyone he's spoken to at the network has been warned by the FBI," and that "the government has warned Fox about threats in the past, but I don't think they involved specific people."

I suggest that if Bill O'Reilly figures into al Qaeda's plans at all, they prefer to keep him, Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of the Sons of Coughlin on the air.


Frank Zappa- 1988

He lets it go at about 2:35.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


You know, if you ignore the blatant Arab-hatred, the militant revisionist Zionism, and the magisterial self-regard, Martin Peretz is still full of shit:
Some 2 percent of the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza are Christians. Not so long ago they were roughly 15 percent of the Arab population. The rest are Muslims, all Sunnis. What explains the decline? Birth rates, of course. Christians are better educated than Muslims (all over the Middle East), and they know that if you want to raise a productive, truly loving, and educated family, you'd be wise to raise fewer children and give them all more attention.

The other reason that so many Christians have gradually abandoned Palestine is that their living among Muslims was a frightful experience. (Christians began decades back in deserting Iraq, too--at least, those who were not slaughtered.) Now, many Christian clergy have lined up against Israel, because they know that the Jews will not harm them. Moreover, they don't want to and have no reason to. The Christian authorities in the territories (and in Jerusalem) try to pacify the Muslims by joining the ugly chorus against Israel. Although they have been playing this appeasement game for nearly a century, it has done them no good.

I'm sure that the Hasidim of Israel, known for having large families with many children, would take offense at the notion that they don't have "productive, truly loving, and educated" families, but what's a little friendly fire when you've got Muslims to insult (they breed like rabbits, don't ya know?)?

While it is true that Palestinian Christians tend to be better educated and wealthier than their Muslim countrymen, the main reason that so many have fled their homeland is the same reason that so many educated, middle-class Muslim Palestinians have fled: Life under Israeli military occupation is unbearable.
Even as they struggle, many Christians in the West Bank strive for influence within the Palestinian Authority. A Christian holds one cabinet post in the Hamas-led government, seven are members of Parliament and others lead cities like Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala, which comprise a historic Christian enclave.

George Sa'adeh, deputy mayor of Bethlehem, said that despite occasional tension between Christians and Muslims, the groups are generally united in calling for more freedom of movement for Palestinians and a reduction in tension with the Israelis.

"All the people want peace, even Hamas," Sa'adeh said. "The people are frustrated. We must stop the killing, and I believe the United States has the power to make peace if it wants to make peace."

Peace and war are not abstract concepts for Sa'adeh, a Greek Orthodox Christian. One day in March 2003, when he was out shopping with his wife and two daughters, Israeli soldiers mistook his car for one carrying two fugitive terrorists.

They riddled it with machine-gun fire, wounding him and his 15-year-old daughter and killing his 12-year-old daughter, Christine.

Sitting in his office overlooking the Basilica of the Nativity, built 17 centuries ago on the site where tradition says Jesus was born, Sa'adeh took out a wallet photograph of a smiling Christine and recalled how an Israeli group of bereaved families reached out to comfort him.

"Talking about peace and ending the war takes a lot of faith and courage," he said. "As Jesus taught us, we must forgive. But when I call for peace, I also call for justice and an end to the [Israeli] occupation."

Sa'adeh and other Christians need a special pass from the Israeli government to leave the West Bank and visit their churches in Jerusalem. Nisreen Kunkar, who handles public relations for Beit Jala, has been unable to visit the home of her in-laws in Jerusalem, although she has been married for years.

Such obstructions, a number of Christians said, inflame tension in the West Bank and help persuade many of their religious brethren to emigrate.

Scholars and activists, both within Israel and without, have exhaustively documented the various methods by which Israel has brutalized Palestinian society through the occupation, and Israel's intention to provoke the exodus of those Palestinians who can afford to leave, the better educated, the more financially well-off, in other words, the very people with the knowledge, skills and capital necessary for the eventual creation of healthy, democratic Palestinian state. Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling has called this process politicide.
By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity. This process may also but not necessarily include their partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel.


Politicide is a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national existence of a whole community of people and thus deny it the possibility of self-determination. Murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation, re-education, and partial ethnic cleansing are the major tools used to achieve this goal.

It is unfortunately true that Palestinian Christians have endured violence at the hands of Muslims in the wake of the pope's ill-phrased comments about Islam, but Peretz's argument that persecution by fellow Palestinians is more to blame for Christian emigration from Palestine than is Israel's forty-years-long military occupation is simply a non-starter.

That Peretz would float such an obviously preposterous claim, however, is not suprising in the least. Peretz is someone for whom the Israeli occupation basically does not exist (and when it does it's only as an unfortunate necessity for dealing with those savage Arab squatters who've inconveniently been living on Jewish land for the last thousand-plus years), for whom the only wrong Israel can possibly do is go too easy on those rotten Arabs, and who can be relied upon to immediately unleash spittle-flecked volleys of charges of anti-Semitism at even the slightest suggestion that Israeli troops shouldn't be able to gun down Palestinian teenagers in the streets and bulldoze their homes with impunity.


Pham Xuan An, Vietnamese journalist and spy, has passed away.
HANOI (Reuters) - Pham Xuan An, a Vietnamese spy who worked for Reuters and Time magazine in Saigon during the U.S. war in Vietnam, died on Wednesday after a long illness, a government official said. He was 78.

"He died this morning," said the official by telephone in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where An had been admitted to a military hospital with emphysema.

An was acknowledged as a dean of Vietnamese journalists working for western news media while also working as an undercover agent for communist North Vietnam. The communists unified the country in 1975 with the fall of the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in Saigon.

Dan Southerland, an American journalist during the war, recounts some of his experiences with the man he calls the perfect spy:
Educated at a community college in California in the mid-1950s, An was in many ways the perfect spy. At the time most of us knew him, he led a modest but bourgeois lifestyle. He enjoyed song birds and gambled on fighting cocks. He loved dogs, especially the big German Shepherd that kept him company at the time.

Like many other reporters, I used to meet An and other South Vietnamese journalists at Givral's coffee shop near the old Continental Hotel in the center of Saigon. The wiry An chain-smoked American cigarettes. I drank strong black coffee laced with condensed milk.

An seemed to know a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of the American and South Vietnamese military forces. But I can't remember ever pursuing a story based on what he told me. Later, An told returning reporters that he'd never tried to plant a story on any of them because it would have blown his cover.

Aha, but little did An know that, even as he was spying for the Viet Cong, the CIA was getting him addicted to cigarettes!

America: We'll get you eventually.


Jesus Camp: Prepare to feel the love...

Yes, you heard that right, she said:
"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel, as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and and all those different places."

Isn't that special? I went to religious camp for a few summers when I was a kid. Nobody spoke in tongues as I remember, but they did like to show us this film about the Rapture that scared the crap out everybody. I can speak to the sense of siege that the adults tried to pound into us, the idea that Christians were at war with a culture which rejected Christianity. It wasn't until, oh, about age thirteen when I realized how monumentally stupid the notion was that Christians were a threatened class in American society, and also that Christian rock music was shitty. So shitty.

It's one thing to pass thing to pass your beliefs to your children, quite another to indoctrinate them into little Christianist jihadis, which is precisely what we're seeing in Jesus Camp. This is where the Christianist movement separates from more mainstream Christian denominations, and even, I would argue, from the mainstream of evangelicalism. The Christianist movement is not interested in merely living the example of Jesus, they are looking to radically transform American politics to reflect their particular, and very theologically shaky, interpretation of scripture, to create institutions that would have been utterly unrecognizable to the American founders. They have a patron in the White House, and supporters in Congress.

And they start young. We've seen, and many rightly criticize, the success that jihadist movements have had teaching holy war to children in Muslim societies like Palestine (a significant difference being, of course, that the siege of Palestine is real, and not just a dramatic conceit to make children cry, but which makes the transformation of children into soldiers no less outrageous).

Mark what Itamar Marcus says about children being "taught to hate", then watch this video taken in Tel Rumeida, Palestine, where brave Israeli Defense Force troops accompany Jewish settler children on their daily morning ritual of harassing, insulting, shoving, and stoning Palestinian women and children on their way to school.

Notice how, after a settler teen strikes a Palestinian woman, the Israeli soldier steps in to make sure that the Palestinian woman does not hit back. I can't think of a more perfect encapsulation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Years from now, when one of the children in this video, or any of the other thousands of Palestinian children who experience this sort of state-sponsored violence day after day after day, decides that he's had enough, and blows himself up in an Israeli restaurant, Charles Krauthammer will write a column deploring the anti-Semitism which infests Arab culture.

Militant political-religious indoctrination: It's bad for children and other living things.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The wingnutosphere has been up in arms over Rajiv Chandrasekaran's piece from Sunday's Washington Post on the political tests used to fill various positions in post-invasion Iraq.

Ramesh Ponnuru complains:
The bloggers who have decided they believe the Post’s account—some of whom distrust the Post in general—don’t know a thing about O'Beirne, but are happy to accept the veracity of an account that gibes so well with all of their prejudices.

I may not know a thing about Jim O'Beirne, but Chandrasekaran's account gibes very well with almost everything else I've read about the American occupation of Iraq, as well as with this administration's general record of privileging ideology over competence. And I suppose I'm "prejudiced" against Bush in the same way that I'm "prejudiced" against letting one of my cousin's stoner buddies fix my transmission.

One thing that has come through in nearly all the material I've read about the U.S. occupation of Iraq is that there was a period of about a month to two months immediate after the fall of Baghdad where Iraqis were on the fence about the American presence in their country. A majority were very happy to be rid of Saddam, but they weren't thrilled about being occupied by a non-Muslim army, and they were understandably nervous about the unknown future. We had two months to impress them, to get their lights on and water running, but instead of sending capable technicians, bureaucrats and assistants with some familiarity with the region, we sent a handful of knowledgeable people (while severely underfunding their work) and filled out the rest of the positions with aspiring young Republican operatives gleaned from an advert on the Heritage Foundation website.

This isn't to cast aspersions on all of the young people who went to Iraq to serve in the CPA, many of whom did so with noble intentions. It's very possible that no amount of genuine planning and competent governance could have saved Iraq from civil war after the fall of Saddam, but the cultishness of the Bush regime prevented us from ever finding this out. I think that some, probably a lot, of cronyism is to be expected when a government undertakes a project even a fraction of this size, but I don't think it was unreasonable to think that, given the stated central importance of Iraq to the President's agenda, and given the very small pool of people with the necessary skills to repair Iraq, such extreme political tests for those willing to serve would have been out of the question. Silly me.

P.S. I just have to include Paul Mirengoff's criticism of Chandrasekaran, which is one of the more richly ironic statements of this or any era:
Chandrasekaran's piece...suffers from an apparent failure to appreciate the inherent difficulties of nation-building.



M.J. Akbar responds to the Pope's comments.
What is aggravating is that the Pope has been free with assumptions, and liberal with its first cousin, innuendo. The peaceful piety of Manuel becomes an indictment of Islam, which is held to be violent in preference and doctrine. The innuendo is cleverly expressed, indicating that some effort has been taken to be clever. The famous verse of the Quran, that "There is no compulsion in religion", is juxtaposed with the proposition that "According to the experts, this is one of the Suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat". The implication is that when he was not under threat, he drew out his sword and went on a rampage. This is the kind of propaganda that the Church used to put out with abandon in the early days, adding gratuitously comments about believers and "infidels". But the Vatican had stopped such vilification, and it is unfortunate that Pope Benedict has revived it. If he had consulted a few experts who understood Islam, he might have been better educated on "holy war".


The war verses are sent to the Prophet only when he has been in Medina for some time, and has become not only a leader of the community but also head of a multi-faith state. War, in other words, is permitted as an exercise in statecraft, and not for personal reasons, including persecution. Further, it is circumscribed with important conditions. Surely no one, including Pope Benedict, believes that a state cannot ever take recourse to war? Indeed, the history of the Vatican is filled with war. The Quran's view of war, as an answer to injustice, certainly merits more understanding than censure.


Manuel's view is better understood in the context of his times. He was monarch of a once-glorious but now dying empire. The Ottomans had been slicing off territory for centuries; the first Crusade had been called by Pope Urban II three centuries before to save the Byzantines from Muslim Turks. The heart of the empire, Constantinople, was now under serious threat. If Tamerlane (another Muslim) had not suddenly appeared from the east and decimated the Ottomans, Constantinople might have fallen during that siege which so depressed Manuel. It was hardly a moment when the Byzantines could have the most charitable view of an Islamic holy war. What is less understandable is why Pope Benedict should endorse a fallacy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I've written a little about Maher Arar before. He's a Canadian citizen who was detained by U.S. authorities in 2002 as he transferred through JFK, and rendered to Syria where he was held and tortured for over ten months.

A Canadian government inquiry has concluded that Arar was falsely accused, and that Arar was detained and delivered to Syria for interrogation on the basis of bad information passed to U.S. authorities by Canadian intelligence sources.
Canadian police opened a file on Arar after seeing him talking to two other Muslim Canadians they were watching, authorities have acknowledged. Arar insisted the men were casual acquaintances in the small Muslim community in Montreal, where he lived before moving to British Columbia.

O'Connor said Monday that police agents told the Americans that Arar was "suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda movement." The judge concluded: "The RCMP had no basis for this description."

The Mounties also falsely claimed Arar had refused to be interviewed and had "suddenly" left for Tunisia. It listed him as a business associate of another man they called a "Bin Laden associate." Those descriptions were "either completely inaccurate" or overstated his casual connections, O'Connor said in an 822-page, three-volume report.

That information "very likely" led to his rendition, the report said. U.S. officials refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry.

Cavalluzzo said the Canadian agents apparently operated without proper training. "The best one can say is that it was sheer incompetence. They did not appreciate the fact that the branding of someone as a 'target' or 'suspect' or 'Islamic extremist' to Americans in 2002 could lead to disastrous consequences."

After Arar was detained in New York, Canadian authorities apparently were unaware the Americans were preparing to send him to Syria, according to the commission finding.

The RCMP contact, Inspector Michel Cabana, "was under the impression that Mr. Arar would only be detained for a short time," O'Connor's report said. "In his view, Mr. Arar was being held in a country with many of the same values as Canada."

This is shameful and disgusting in so many ways. First, there's the obvious: An innocent man, a husband and father, was taken from his family and tortured because Dick Cheney wanted to take a walk on the dark side. There's the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of George W. Bush condemning the Syrian government for its lack of freedom and democracy with one hand, while delivering people there to be tortured with the other. And then there's the very possible, even probable, outcome that foreign intelligence services will now be less likely to share information about terror suspects with the U.S. out of the reasonable fear that their citizens will be snatched up and spirited away to some dungeon without even the faintest whiff of due process.

I wonder if President Bush even realizes how, with stories like Arar's spreading through the Middle East, his talk of freedom is perceived, at best, as darkly comic. I seriously doubt it.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Abu Aardvark has a run down of some of the reactions in the Middle East to Pope Benedict's speech.


Andrew Sullivan:
The capitulation of neoconservatism to the evil it once fought against is now complete.


The National Review editors criticize George Allen for attacking his Democratic opponent Jim Webb over Webb's former reactionary position on women in the military, a position to which the National Review editors still hold, because they fear that Allen's transparently silly attempt to cast himself as a supporter of women's rights may cause some conservative voters to think that Webb still agrees with their reactionary position. Precious.

As to the issue of Allen's using a French North African slur against an Indian-American kid he mistook for an Arab? Eh, that "offended only the perpetually offended." Gold.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Allen again claimed the word was "just made up." Now, people, this is just not credible. Allen's mother is French Tunisian. "Macacca" is a slur used by French North Africans against Arabs. I'm not implying that George Allen's mother is a racist, just that given her background it is extremely likely that she was familiar with the word, just as it is extremely unlikely that, in struggling to invent an appropriately demeaning nickname for the brown-skinned person who'd been videotaping his speeches, Allen happened to "invent" precisely the term that was used against brown-skinned people in the country where his mother spent her childhood. If someone referred to an African-American as a "kaffir", and, additionally, it turns out that his father grew up in South Africa, how likely do you think it is that he just made up that word on the spot? Come on, on a scale of zero to zero, how likely?

I can't decide whether I'm more perpetually offended by Allen's original use of the slur, or that he thinks anyone is dumb enough to believe his excuse. Oops, sorry conservative base, didn't see you standing there...


I'm back from a very enjoyable weekend with Dr. Robert in Lexington, KY. Among other adventures, we visited the Woodford Reserve Distillery, where I learned exactly how my medicine is made.

We also spent some time watching Season 3 of Deadwood. I really enjoyed Gerald McRaney as George Hearst (aside from how unfair the portrayal may be), but I couldn't get this tune* out of my head every time he came on screen.

Many thanks to the good doctor for his hospitality.

* #12 greatest TV theme ever.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I'm off to Lexington, Kentucky tonight to spend a few days with the good Dr. Robert. I've been lucky enough to visit quite a few places in this fine country of ours, but this will be my first to the Bluegrass State. I'm very much looking forward to it. Bourbons will be sampled, and sampled again. And again just to be sure. Head distillers' feet will very likely be kissed.

I'll try to post some impressions if and when Rob lets me use his computer. Until then, I leave you in the able hands of John Zorn's Electric Masada.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Fresh from the campaign against Juan Cole, Joel Mowbray takes aim at another potential enemy of the state, Democratic Congressional candidate Keith Ellison:
Today’s Democratic primary in Minnesota’s very blue fifth Congressional district could prove historic. If he wins, Keith Ellison would be all-but-assured to be the first Muslim ever elected to the U.S. Congressman. It would also mark the first time that someone ascended to Capitol Hill courtesy of key support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Ellison has received financial and other help from executives at CAIR, which has deep connections to supporters of Islamic terrorism. Also among those who have contributed money to the candidate are an official from a group that participated in a "tribute" to the Iranian despot Ayatollah Khomenei and leaders of what is considered the political front in the U.S. for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mowbray's column actually says relatively little of substance about Ellison himself, instead focusing on the contributions from Arab-American groups and relying on the sort of "he received money from someone who's brother once stood next to someone who attended a Hamas rally" guilt by very tenuous association that has unfortunately become standard both for duller instruments like Mowbray as well as for supposedly more intelligent conservatives like David Frum. These guys continually condemn moderate Muslim groups like CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) for failing to condemn Islamic extremism as vociferously or in precisely the terms that they would prefer. In other words, they condemn CAIR for not appropriately indulging in the masturbatory moral grandstanding that defines modern American conservatism.

It hardly needs pointing out that any article which similarly reported on the sources of pro-Israel contributions or the questionable past relationships of pro-Israel contributors would be met with howls of anti-Semitism by the very people who will purr contentedly over Mowbray's hack job. This is a gross double standard.

Anyway, Mowbray might want to forward his work to the editors of the Twin Cities-based American Jewish World newspaper, who were apparently so troubled by Ellison's connections to CAIR that they endorsed him.


Against the stingrays:
Dead stingrays with their tails cut off have been found in Australia, sparking concern that fans of naturalist Steve Irwin may be avenging his death.

Mr Irwin, a TV personality known as the "Crocodile Hunter", was killed while diving in Queensland when a stingray's barb stabbed him in the chest.

Since then, 10 stingrays have been found mutilated on Queensland beaches.

Government officials said they were investigating the deaths and there could be prosecutions.

We must fight the stingrays in the seas and on the beaches, so that we don't have to fight them in our kitchens and TV rooms.


From Yediot Ahronoth:
The New York City Council's education committee approved a curriculum on Israel initiated by the public relations department of the Israeli Consulate in New York.

The curriculum will be integrated into the training program for educators teaching in 1,400 public high schools in New York City. The teachers will be able to register to a 30-hour course dealing with the history of the State of Israel, its economy, the high-tech industry, Israeli art and Ethiopian Jews.

The incentive offered to teachers who will take the course: Credit points for an academic degree.

The teachers responded so positively to the course, that by the third day of registration all seats were taken. Following the teachers' request, the consulate decided to add more seats.

Israeli Consul General in New York Aryeh Mekel said that "through the teachers a generation of leaders will be educated to maintain the special relations between the United States and Israel."

We are not bringing politics, but are exposing them to Israel as we know it and as we would like people to know it," he added.

I'm not aware of other instances of foreign embassies "initiating" American public school curricula, but I suppose exercising influence over what American schoolchildren are taught is part of the "special relationship."

It will be interesting to see what sort of history is given in these classes. I'm going to take a wild guess that neither Deir Yassin nor Sabra and Shatila will be included in the reading.

Speaking of ethnic cleansing, here's Israeli Knesset member Effi Eitam on Monday (I'm guessing the kids won't be learning about him either):
"We will have to expel the great majority of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria," Eitam urged, referring to the whole of the West Bank.

According to Eitam, experience showed that Israel cannot give up the area of the West Bank. "It is impossible with all of these Arabs, and it is impossible to give up the territory. We've already seen what they're doing there."

Turning to the subject of Israeli Arabs, Eitam said, "We will have to take another decision, and that is to sweep the Israeli Arabs from the political system. Here, too, the issues are clear and simple.

"We've raised a fifth column, a league of traitors of the first rank. Therefore, we cannot continue to enable so large and so hostile a presense within the political system of Israel."

Apparently, no one told Effi that the removal of Palestinians from their homeland is the subtext of Israeli policy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Sullivan figures things out.
Bush's statement [about torture] is true in his own private universe, and the criterion of his version of truth depends entirely on what the meaning of the word "torture" is. I think what you have to do is think of George W. Bush's statement in the same light as Bill Clinton's famous declaration that he had not had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky. Both statements are semantic evasions to avoid a direct lie. Each man is using a private dictionary to redefine a word otherwise clear to any other rational person. But the broader conclusion is obvious: Clinton lied about an extra-marital affair in a civil sexual harrassment lawsuit. Bush is lying about one of the core featurs of a civilized and decent society in the middle of a vital war. The Republicans ridiculed Clinton for his linguistic somersaults - and even impeached him for it. They are mostly silent today. A telling contrast, I'd say.

Give that man a prize.

It's particularly amazing how conservatives can blame the president's critics for hampering his efforts to fight the War of the Ring by refusing to march in lock step with the president's policies and muddying our moral clarity/weakening our will to win/damaging our resolve/distracting the President/burning the cookies, and then turn around and insist that President Clinton did nothing about bin Laden because he was preoccupied with the Lewinsky affair, that is, preoccupied with a conservative fishing expedition.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Albert King at the Fillmore East 1970

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Victor Davis Hanson demonstrates once again that, when it comes to modern Islamic movements, he sure knows a lot about ancient Greece.
George Bush recently declared that we are at war with "Islamic fascism." Muslim-American groups were quick to express furor at the expression. Middle Eastern autocracies complained that it was provocative and insensitive.

Critics of the term chosen by the president, however, should remember what al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other extremist Muslim groups have said and done. Like the fascists of the 1930s, the leaders of these groups are authoritarians who brook no dissent in their efforts to impose a comprehensive system of submission upon the unwilling.

There was a good discussion over at LGM a few weeks about the usefulness of the term Islamic fascism (or Islamofascism), and commenter gmack presented one the best treatments of the subject that I've seen:
1) One of the things I dislike about discussions like this is that we inevitably start down the path of providing necessary and/or sufficient conditions for when the term "fascism" is applicable.

2) This is inappropriate in this case because the term "Islamofascism" didn't emerge as part of some systematic or scientific effort to study a given phenomenon. Its meaning, if I may put it this way, is entirely built on rhetorical associations.

3) What are the rhetorical associations? The term links a variety of disparate groups together (Al Qaida, Baathists, Hezbollah, Iran, perhaps even Chavez); it then links them all to the great conflicts of the 1930's and 1940's. This has the added benefit of placing those who use the term into the "Greatest Generation," and it also helps to brand those who raise questions about, say, the Iraq war as akin to Neville Chamberlain.

The use of the term Islamofascism has less to do with accurately identifying the nature of the threat of Islamist extremism than it does with signifying the political and ideological affiliations of the one who is employing the term. That is, it is a shibboleth which identifies members of the Warrior Right to each other, as they appoint themselves the heirs of Churchill and Roosevelt and cast their political opponents as the heirs of Neville Chamberlain (if not of Hitler himself).

We could have fun with Hanson and point out that, according to his definition of fascism ("authoritarians who brook no dissent in their efforts to impose a comprehensive system of submission upon the unwilling"), the Mongols, the Crusaders, and the Spanish Conquistadors were all fascists, but that would be missing his real point, which is to label anyone who doesn't buy into this War of Civilizations crap as soft on terrorism, pro-burka, and unmanly.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Michael Ledeen:
ZOROASTRIANS [Michael Ledeen]
Thanks to John Miller for the latest silliness from the NYT, which seems not to know that there is a vast Zoroastrian revival under way in Iran. As I have written from time to time, Islam is very unpopular in Iran nowadays (mosques are empty for Friday prayers; a few weeks ago there were less than a dozen people in the main mosque in Shiraz, according to an ayatollah friend of mine), but Zoroastrianism is surging. Just look at the fire festival for No Rooz, the ancient new year celebration, which the regime has been unable to quash. (emphasis added)

Yes, Michael, I'm sure the Iranian people are getting sick of Islam, just as Iraq is a mostly secular country whose people will rally behind the "outstanding leadership of Ahmed Chalabi." Even if Islam were becoming unpopular in Iran, I guarantee that the best way to make everyone in Iran real devout real quick is to follow Michael Ledeen's foreign policy suggestions. Bloody well worked for Iraq.

Back in the reality-based community, non-Muslims make up between one and two percent of Iran's population. Zoroastrians make up a portion of that one to two percent, along with Jews, Christians, and Baha'i. I don't know if I'd call that "surging" as much I would call it "a portion of between one and two percent." While recognizing that there is a considerable amount of resentment against the regime among various groups in Iran, Edward Luttwak suggests that reports of a Zoroastrian revival come mostly from exiles. (I know I've seen this movie before...) A Google search of "Iran, Zoroastrian revival" produces mostly some articles by Michael Ledeen, or articles with references to claims by Michael Ledeen.

This isn't to say that the persecution of minority religions in Iran does not take place, or that it isn't a terrible thing (wherever it occurs), just that everything that crosses Michael Ledeen's line of sight is interpreted by him as one more reason to topple the Iranian government. He's become sort of a neocon Chatty Cathy doll, only when you pull his string, instead of saying "Please brush my hair" or "Let's make cookies", he says "Please Invade Iran" or "Let's Invade Iran."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


A collection of essays about Naguib Mahfouz from Al Ahram.


Andrew Bacevich:
The truth is that U.S. forces and the IDF looked good fighting Arabs only as long as Arab political leaders insisted on fighting on Western terms. As long as they persisted in pitting tank against tank or fighter plane against fighter plane, Arabs were never going to get the better of either the Americans or the Israelis. His stupidity perhaps matched only by his ruthlessness, Saddam may well have been the last Arab leader to figure this out.

Well before Saddam’s final defeat, others, less stupid, began to develop alternative means of what they called “resistance.” This new Islamic Way of War evolved over a period of decades not only in the Arab world but beyond.


What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the United States is this: the Arabs now possess—and know that they possess—the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people. To put it another way, neither Israel nor the United States today possesses anything like the military muscle needed to impose its will on the various governments, nation-states, factions, and political movements that comprise our list of enemies. For politicians in Jerusalem or Washington to persist in pretending otherwise is the sheerest folly.

It’s time for Americans to recognize that the enterprise that some neoconservatives refer to as World War IV is unwinnable in a strictly military sense. Indeed, it’s past time to re-examine the post-Cold War assumption that military power provides the preferred antidote to any and all complaints that we have with the world beyond our borders.


Monday, September 04, 2006


Michael Caine complains about the "banal" state of Hollywood film. Why do I care? Why should you care? See the title of this post, that's why. Recognize.

I'm not convinced that movies now are any more or less banal than they've ever been, but I believe an appropriate response to Caine would be something along the lines of the one Caine himself gave when someone asked him about the several-sub-basement-levels-below-staggeringly-awful Jaws: The Revenge:
"I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

Well put, Sir Michael. As it happens, I recently picked up Caine's autobiography (the excellently titled What's It All About? which seems like a rather odd title at first, but try saying it in Michael Caine's voice and you'll get it.) for a couple bucks used and have been enjoying it very much. It's hard for me to invest valuable reading time in non-Middle East related materials, so when something like this catches my fancy I tend to go with it.

The book paints a great picture of swinging Sixties London, contains some very entertaining stories about Caine's friendships with Terence Stamp and Sean Connery, a particularly funny anecdote about Caine hanging out with John Lennon at some wealthy socialite's party where no one knew who they were and Lennon posing as Caine's assistant, and, of course, about making his movies.

A few favorites which I think give a good sense of Caine's talent:

The Ipcress File (1965)- Based on Len Deighton's novel, Caine stars as Harry Palmer, the anti-Bond.

Get Carter (1971)- Think of the hardest hard man you've ever seen in a movie. Then think of him making Jack Carter's breakfast, washing and waxing Jack Carter's car, and picking up Jack Carter's dry cleaning. That's how hard Michael Caine is in this movie.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)- One of Woody Allen's best, Caine's performance won him an Oscar, which he couldn't accept in person because he was off earning the money to build that house.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)- Light, old-timey, con-man comedy. You want to know how cool Michael Caine is? Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars is Michael Caine's butler in this movie. That's how cool Michael Caine is.


A little Snake in the Eagle's Shadow for you. You'll no doubt recognize young Jackie Chan, but that's director (and legendary fight choreographer) Yuen Wo Ping's dad as the old man.

So just remember: as you take it easy this holiday, be thankful that you don't have to be looking over your shoulder every few minutes for maniacal Eagle's Claw masters who are dedicated to completely wiping out all the practitioners of your Snake Fist style.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Vian Juan Cole, the London Daily Telegraph reports that Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has decided to withdraw from politics.
Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."


The extent to which he has become marginalised was demonstrated last week when fighting broke out in Diwaniya between Iraqi soldiers and al-Sadr's Mehdi army. With dozens dead, al-Sistani's appeals for calm were ignored. Instead, the provincial governor had to travel to Najaf to see [Muqtada] al-Sadr, who ended the fighting with one telephone call.

Al-Sistani's aides say that he has chosen to stay silent rather than suffer the ignominy of being ignored. Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.

By most accounts, Sistani has been deft in his dealings with the U.S. occupation forces, using his influence as Iraq's most prominent jurist to hold out for an elections process that met his specifications. He has obviously been much less successful in cultivating support among poor, young Shi'a, who have come to form the core of the Sadr movement.
Hundreds of thousands of people have turned away from al-Sistani to the far more aggressive al-Sadr. Sabah Ali, 22, an engineering student at Baghdad University, said that he had switched allegiance after the murder of his brother by Sunni gunmen. "I went to Sistani asking for revenge for my brother," he said. "They said go to the police, they couldn't do anything.

"But even if the police arrest them, they will release them for money, because the police are bad people. So I went to the al-Sadr office. I told them about the terrorists' family. They said, 'Don't worry, we'll get revenge for your brother'. Two days later, Sadr's people had killed nine of the terrorists, so I felt I had revenge for my brother. I believe Sadr is the only one protecting the Shia against the terrorists."

I'm sure I'm not the only one who just flashed to the opening scene of the Godfather: "First I went to the police, like a good Iraqi. Then I said to my wife: For justice, we must go to Sayeed al-Sadr."

I recommend this report from the International Crisis Group to anyone interested in a better understanding of Sadr and his organization. One of Sadr's goals has been to create a prominent place for himself and his followers in the holy city of Najaf, the center of Shi'a learning in the world, and to challenge the traditional clerical hierarchy for leadership of Iraq's Shi'is. With Sistani apparently withdrawing from the political field, Sadr is significantly closer to this goal.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Someone is just asking to be stricken with leprosy by the god of rock:
Dinosaur Jr Gear Stolen (Long Island City, NY)
Wednesday, 30 August 2006
After a blistering set last night in Brooklyn, NY the band awoke this morning to find that the their trailer had been broken into and all of the gear has been taken.

J's Amma guitar, the mountain man guitar, Lou's Rickenbacker... EVERYTHING IS GONE. They are still taking inventory to see what else is gone but they were pretty much wiped out.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! Spread the word to everyone you know, every music store, pawn shop, club... anywhere you can think they may show up.

Dinosaur Jr at Download