Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

T-Bone Walker.

Orientalism: The Movie

Lyrad already posted a fine review of 300, but I thought I'd throw in my few cents.

I saw it the other night, and the thought that kept running through my head was that the film could have taken place entirely within the imagination of a ten year old boy. (Or your average neoconservative.) My little brother and I fought these sorts of battles countless times, wildly swinging our fence-picket swords, as well as a considerable array of other home-made melee weapons, at the oncoming horde, tumbling and rolling around our small side yard in South Nyack, fighting back wave after wave, taking arrow after arrow until we... just... couldn't... go on. (There's probably a secret rec room at AEI with foam-rubber swords and cardboard shields for just this sort of play. They call it "The Lab.")

300 is about as good an illustration of Edward Said's ideas about Orientalism as I ever expect to see on film. I should say first that I disagree with Said's overbroad characterization of Western scholarship as being in the service of empire, and think it's been amply demonstrated by Said's critics that work relating to the Orient has been rather more diverse than he gave it credit for. Then, as now, imperial governments and their intellectual servants seized upon scholarly work which served to justify their particular aims, and ignored that which didn't. (Please see: Iraq, invasion of.) As he was neither a historian nor a political scientist, but a professor of comparative literature, I find Said's work most compelling when he focused on the use of literature and art in the production of knowledge and the maintenance of Western popular assumptions about the Orient. 300 could function as Exhibit A in this regard. The Greek (rational, well-organized, frequently bathed, and white) and Persian (prone to magic, a horde, much less frequently bathed, non-white) ethnic and cultural stereotypes are so blatantly offensive that they come very near subverting themselves. There were parts of the film that really made me wonder if the filmmakers were indeed winking at the audience, such as the Spartans' "Before we sally forth in defense of reason, let's consult the Oracle!" bit, but I don't think so. Did this spoil the film for me? Not really. I mean, did you see Xerxes? That dude was huuuuuge.

Anecdotally, I find it interesting that quite a few people I've spoken to have criticized the movie's representation of the Persians in terms that that I can only describe as Saidian. That is, they recognize the role that popular culture plays in reinforcing assumptions about the Other, and the way that these assumptions service certain political ideologies. The fact that some tech dudes at a party, who had never heard of Edward Said, were casually pointing these things out to me between tequila shots can, I think, be seen as a victory for the better parts of Said's work.

Of course, the majority of people who see the film will not be not over-educated, pointy-headed liberal types who sit around increasingly-drunkenly discussing representations of the East. (That is a pleasure to be found only in select regions of this country.) I suspect more will see it in Victor Davis Hanson's terms, freedom versus tyranny, even if it is only the freedom to discard one's imperfect children and raise the rest as killing machines/sperm donors in a proto-fascist nightmare society, and will fold the film's negative portrayal of the Persians into their pre-existing anti-Iranian paranoia. The vast majority, however, will see it as simply a bloody good time at the movies, which it is, even if it didn't quite gel, in my opinion. Like a soupy merengue, though, it's still really tasty.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Flypaper Update

This 60 Minutes segment on Hassan Butt, a former militant jihadi fund raiser who now speaks out against violent Islamism, is well worth the time. Butt gives a fascinating account of how young British Muslims like himself are being recruited into the network, how the network raises funds, and how he now feels that Islam is being misused.

I think it's obviously in our interest to support those who challenge the Koranic justification of terrorism. There's a lot in the segment to discuss, but I found the following very interesting in regard to the question of whether U.S. involvement in Iraq is helping their work, aiding the promotion of democracy, or bolstering our security in any way. It's not encouraging:
The London bombings changed him. He began asking questions of his handlers, theological questions. He wanted to know whether the bombings could ever be justified in Islam. He waited and waited for answers. Months later, he was summoned by his handlers to a meeting in the Middle East. But he wasn’t given answers, only new orders.

"They were trying to force me into Iraq to fight basically," Butt says.

"So, to summarize, you're asking, basically, why should we be killing innocent people?" Simon asks.

"That's correct," Butt replies.

"And the answer you eventually received is go to Iraq and perhaps carry out a suicide mission?" Simon asks.

"Go to Iraq to basically – the actual word that they used was that I needed 'reprogramming.' And Iraq would give me the opportunity to basically be reprogrammed for what I needed I mean. I was quite shocked at the analogy," Butt says. "To think that will, firstly, I'm neither a computer nor a robot. And I don't know on your say so, I do on God's say so. And if you can't justify to me or prove to me that this is what God wants, then I'm gonna have to go my separate ways."

Despite Bob Simon's suggestion, I find it unlikely that al Qaeda would send one of their top fundraisers, a person in whom they'd already invested considerable training and resources, to Iraq just to kill himself, though I suppose that is possible. More likely, they wanted him to go to Iraq to experience their jihad up close, to get his head straight and recommit himself to the struggle, and his particular role in it, as a result of linking up and forming relationships with comrades in arms. In other words, Iraq has become like a Boy Scout Jamboree, except instead of vague Christianity and Pinewood Derby, it's militant Islamism and IEDs. Come to Iraq, get fired up, go back home to carry on the fight.

To point out the staggeringly obvious, this represents (yet)a(nother) significant failure in the Iraq strategy. Flypaper Theory held that the war in Iraq would serve as a shiny object to distract terrorists intending to attack inside America: They would go to Iraq, and they would never leave. Instead, Iraq has become a terrorist training camp and proving ground, an anvil upon which new militant jihadis are being forged every day. The reverberations of this, as with the similarly galvanizing events which took place in Afghanistan in the 1980s, will be felt for decades, as these highly motivated and trained activists return to their home countries, in the Middle East and beyond.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Right of Return

Very interesting article in today's Times about how many Palestinians have accepted the reality that the vast majority of them will not be able to exercise their right of return to homes inside Israel.
The right of return "is my right, which I have inherited from my parents and grandparents," said Maha Bseis, 39, a Palestinian whose family comes from Jerusalem. "But if I have the right, I will not return because I was born and grew up here [in Jordan]."

In 2003, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in one of the most comprehensive surveys conducted on the subject, found that most Palestinians would be unlikely to move if they were granted the right of return.

"Once the Palestinian narrative is assured, then the tactical issue of where they will go becomes easy to approach," said Khalil Shikaki, who directs the center. "Everybody wants the emotional question addressed; everybody is happy with the likely modalities."

He added, "The novel aspect of the survey is, once we gave assurances about the right of return, the other issues became very resolvable," meaning that many said they would take compensation and would not move.

More important to many of the refugees than returning to the land and homes that were stolen from them, homes to which the keys are often passed down as heirlooms, is recognition by Israel that al-Nakba took place, that a crime was actually committed, that the Palestinians were, in fact, driven from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries in 1948, and didn't just all happen to spontaneously flee en masse, either to the 7-11 to get cigarettes, or at the urging of fictional Arab radio broadcasts.

Add to this the polling that shows that, at least since the mid-90s, a majority of Palestinians has favored a two-state solution to the conflict, and you effectively dynamite the hasbarist claim that the Palestinians will never accept a Jewish state as their neighbor. They will, and most of them already have. In this respect, both the Palestinian and the Israeli electorates are far out in front of their respective governments, both of which are currently controlled by extremists, largely as a result of the policies and actions of the other side's extremists.

Even though most Palestinians and Israelis seem to have a similar understanding of the contours of an eventual peace agreement, it's important to grasp the moral disparity in the concessions which each side is expected to make. In the formula that is often described, Palestinians will give up the right of return, and Israel will give up the large majority of settlements on the West Bank. These are not remotely equivalent concessions. Palestinians agree to relinquish an internationally recognized legal and human right; Israel agrees to withdraw from colonies which are recognized, even among a majority of Israelis, as illegitimate and illegal from their inception. This goes to the base cynicism which has always powered the settlement enterprise, which involves the creation, through whatever means and whatever the cost to the Palestinians, of facts on the ground to serve as future bargaining chips.

That the Palestinians surely understand this, and yet a majority of them are willing to effectively reward Israel's settlement strategy by relinquishing the very same right of return which Zionists claim for themselves, speaks to the importance of having one's history affirmed. Yes, fine, keep our houses, many Palestinians seem to be saying, just stop telling us we don't exist as a people, stop telling us we voluntarily fled the homes and land on which we'd lived and raised families for generations, and, at long last, stop telling us, and the world, that this was a land without people when you arrived.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Steve Cropper.

Cropper is among the small handful of players who really defined the role and sound of the electric guitar in pop music. You won't see a lot of footage of Cropper taking extended solos, but he can say more with one perfectly placed double stop bend as most chumps can with fifteen minutes and a bank of effects. I heard an interview once where Cropper explained how, as a kid, he got guitar lessons for half price: His friend took the lesson, ran home to show Steve what he'd learned that day, and they split the cost.

With Booker T. and the MGs, Cropper played (and wrote and engineered and produced) for one of the legendary studio bands of the pop era, performing on hundreds of Stax sessions. At a time in American history when that sort of thing could get you hurt, the band was integrated, both racially and musically. Booker T. Jones' gospel-influenced organ playing, Cropper's country-blues picking, Donald Dunn's McCartney-inspired counter-melodic chug, and Al Jackson, Jr.'s impeccable time combined to create something uniquely funky, uniquely Southern, and uniquely American.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Return of the Son of It Came from the Dumb

The Dumb, it came for me. There was Glenn Beck, who appeals, I can only guess, to the type of person who is turned off by the intellectual rigor of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, interviewing Joel Mowbray, who has the distinction of being perhaps the only member of the conservative young guard with even less journalistic substance than Jonah Goldberg, on the state of the political left in America as evidenced by Rosie O'Donnell's behaviour on The View. Friends, the Dumb was literally pouring out of my television screen and onto the floor. I had to run and grab a broom and sweep it out on to the porch before it soaked into the rug, and even then I was fighting back the urge to watch Home Improvement for the next few hours. Close.

Damn Proud

That's how John Bolton says he feels about his successful efforts as UN ambassador to delay a cease-fire during last summer's Lebanon War. Bolton says it was "perfectly legitimate...and good politics" for Israel to continue a bombing campaign which ended up killing over 1000 Lebanese civilians, as well as destroying power stations and water treatment facilities, gutting entire neighborhoods, and displacing over 700,000 people. Heckuva job, Johnny.

Oh, but there's more. As a result of their not being wiped out, Hezbollah emerged from the conflict with credibility massively enhanced, and have established themselves in the eyes of many as the new vanguard of Arab resistance. The displaying of Nasrallah's picture alongside Nasser's, the face of militant Arab Shi'ism next to the face of pan-Arab socialism, represents the most significant development in Middle East politics since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, probably even longer. Does this improve Israel's security, or diminish it? Is this better for democracy in the Middle East, or worse?

Heckuva job, Johnny.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Strip Search: It's How We Say Shalom!

Apropos of David Frum's despicable chuckling over Palestinian humiliation at Israeli checkpoints ("Sounds like an ordinary morning at Dulles Airport"), here's Alison Weir, founder of the excellent website If Americans Knew, on the Israeli practice of strip-searching non-Jewish women and children.
Sometimes mothers and children are strip-searched together, at other times little girls are taken from their parents and strip-searched alone. Women are required to remove sanitary napkins, sometimes with small daughters at their side. Sometimes women are strip searched in the presence of their young sons.

All report deep feelings of humiliation. Many describe weeping at the degradation they felt.

"I remember crying and pleading with my mother," Gaza journalist Laila El-Haddad recalls of an experience when she was 12-years-old, hoping that her mother could convince the Israeli official to allow her to keep her undershirt on. But parents are unable to shield their children, El-Haddad and others report.

"They had machine guns," El-Haddad explains. "We just had to submit." El-Haddad, who holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, believes that the intention of the strip searches is to humiliate Palestinians so that they won't return to Palestine.

Oregon attorney Hala Gores remembers being strip-searched at the age of 10. Her family, Palestinian Christians from Nazareth, were leaving Israel because of Israeli discrimination against Christians. Gores has never returned to her family's ancestral home in Nazareth, she says, in part because she does not want to repeat the experience of having no control over what is done to her.


Israeli practices vary and seem to be applied randomly, from elderly women to small children. In some instances women are taken into a room alone and are left sitting naked for hours. At other times they are strip-searched in groups, their clothes thrown in a pile. When they are finally allowed to get dressed, they describe having to rummage through the heap of clothing, naked and barefoot, to find their own garments.

Does this resemble David Frum's experience at Dulles? Has his wife ever been forced to remove her sanitary pad, and then left to sit for hours in a pool of her own menstrual blood, as happened to Palestinian-American Maysoon Zayid? If so, as I wrote before, he should consider filing a complaint.

Today's Clown Show

Marty Peretz, confusing the words "analogy" and "libel":
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is in the news again. The first time I'd heard of this group was when it picketed our old offices on 19th St, NW, for perhaps a week. I don't recall exactly what provoked them. But, hey, this is a free country: Let them picket to their hearts' content. OK, they made it a bit uncomfortable for staff to get in the building, and the other tenants suffered through dull, rhythmic sloganeering. One thing you know is that any country for which CAIR cares would have locked up the picketers and maybe even tortured them, just for the hell of it.

Since that time, we've run a few articles warning that this is not the ADL of the Muslims. A more apt analogy, though dated, would be the German American Bund to the Nazis or the Labor Youth League to the Comintern. Here, and here.

Now The New York Times has run a story about CAIR and its ties to Hamas and Hezbollah. Not a conclusive article. But still ... .

But still...nothing. Nothing in the Times article which supports Peretz's contention in he slightest. From the article:
A debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two.


Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.

“Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares,” said Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005.

But still...nothing. The only thing that the Times story had to say about CAIR's "ties to Hamas and Hezbollah" is that they are constantly asserted by CAIR's critics, and remain completely unproven by anyone. So the article actually is pretty conclusive that there's nothing to the defamatory accusations which Peretz is trying to keep alive through the clever use of ellipsis.

Compounding his dishonesty, Peretz instalinks to two TNR articles by Joseph Braude as if they made his case, when in fact they undercut it. The first is an article about Abdurahman Alamoudi, the head of an entirely different organization, and mentions CAIR only briefly; the second is about the response of various Muslim groups to the July 2005 London bombings, and notes only that CAIR issued an immediate and unqualified condemnation of the attack. But still...Nazis and Communists, according to Marty Peretz.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How It Works, pt. CDLVII

Providing a wonderful example of how right-wing Israeli propaganda works in this country, David Frum cherry picks one seemingly innocuous passage from Jamil Hamad's essay about checkpoints, and uses it to minimize the daily brutalities and the intentionally humiliating structure of the Israeli occupation:
Time magazine's Jamil Hamad angrily denounces the latest indignity inflicted upon the Palestinians. In order to enter Israel, they have to ... put their possessions through a scanner.

"Some days they make me take off my jacket, other days, my shoes or my belt. It's very frustrating, especially when you get behind a woman with lots of earrings and bracelets who doesn't know how the machine works — and there are hundreds of people pushing and shoving behind you."

Sounds like an ordinary morning at Dulles Airport.

Right, and when kids had to trap rodents to feed their starving families in South African Bantustans, it was just like Cub Scout Camp. People frantically hiding in latrines during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto? Hide and go seek!

I've been through Dulles Airport many times, and maybe I've just been lucky, but I've never been held at the security check for six hours while the shift boss ate lunch and took a nap, leaving his underlings to make cruel ethnic, religious, and sexual remarks to me and my family as they took turns trying to lift my wife's dress with the barrels of their rifles. If this has been Frum's experience at Dulles, he really should consider writing a letter.

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's All Chanting to Them

Jordan's King Abdullah spoke before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, pleading for greater U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation process. I won't get into the reasonableness of what he had to say, or how it reflects precisely what Bush has repeatedly been told by almost everyone remotely knowledgeable about the conflict (as well as by his own hand-picked goodwill ambassador Karen Hughes), or how delivering a speech on the subject of Israel and Palestine without referencing every single act of Palestinian violence since the riots of 1920 apparently equals anti-Semitism as far as many of our AIPAC-educated legislators are concerned, but I am interested in this exchange, which so far I've only seen reported by Fox News:
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison is the first Muslim member of Congress. Upon Abdullah's recognition, he shook hands with his seated neighbors, Reps. John Lewis, Rahm Emanuel and Hoyer.

At the end of the speech when the king offered a traditional Arabic greeting for peace, Ellison vocally responded in kind. He was the only attendee to do so and gave an embarrassed laugh as people turned to look at him.

As-salaam alaikum (Peace be upon you.) Wa alaikum salaam. (And upon you, peace.)

I wish I could've seen the look on Virgil Goode's face.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sadr and Iran

Babak Rahimi on new developments in Muqtada's relationship with Iran.

Also, be sure to read Spencer Ackerman's dispatches from Iraq.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Robert Fripp.