Monday, July 30, 2007

Your Autographed Copy of "Left Behind" Won't Get You Into Heaven Any More

Following up on last week's post about Christians Impatient for Armageddon, here's an article about a letter written by group of moderate Christian evangelical leaders who support the creation of a Palestinian state, and a more even-handed approach by the United States to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By "moderate," I simply mean that they don't subscribe to a brand of eschatology that mixes populist ressentiment with a plotline drawn from a prog-rock concept album, and that they believe Jesus probably wouldn't be in favor of Israel's colonization of Palestinian land, and the misery which this produces among the Palestinians.

CUFI's ruling cleric, Rev. John Hagee, responded:
"Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message.

"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason. What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?" Hagee said.

"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact," he said. "The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."

Now, of course, you can hear precisely this sort of thing from hardline preachers and demagogues on al Jazeera and Hezbollah-run al-Manar television all the time, in regard to the Jews and Israel: They have no legitimate claim to the land, Palestine is Islamic waqf, "true" Muslims reject compromise witht he Zionist entity, and so on. When Islamic leaders say these things, however, they are appropriately condemned in the U.S. media as extremists. When John Hagee says them, he is invited to the White House, embraced by the Republican leadership and AIPAC, and compared to Moses by Joe Lieberman.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reimagine This

Amongst the various commercials shown to me last night as I waited for the Simpsons movie to start was a five minute spot on the new Bionic Woman, which is apparently "getting the Battlestar Galactica treatment." That is, a hokey TV show of yore is being revamped, er, excuse me, "reimagined" as serious television. (This was obvious even before I learned that BSG's executive producer David Eick is producing the show.) At one point in the ad, actor Miguel Ferrer even said "This is not your parents' Bionic Woman," as was said by every other reviewer of BSG when it premiered. (No word yet whether Lindsay Wagner will be brought on to play a conniving politician with questionable loyalties.)*

Surely, there are a host of other TV series that could use the BSG treatment, shows which at the time were treated purely as escapist entertainment, the moral and political implications of their premises left woefully unexplored. Here are some possibilities:

The Beverly Hillbillies
In this "reimagining" of the beloved 60's series, Jed Clampett, a poor, humble farmer, strikes oil on his land, gets rich and moves to LA, where he and his family struggle with the pressures of newfound wealth and power. Jed becomes active in conservative politics, eventually buying a formerly liberal magazine and using it to call for war in the Middle East. Jethro and Elly Mae are almost destroyed by drugs and cliquishness at their new high school. With nothing left to do but sit around drinking, and steadily losing her sight from a lifetime of moonshine, Granny goes slowly senile, becoming an angry prophet of doom, her physical blindness a metaphor for the moral darkness which increasingly engulfs the Clampett family. This is not your grandparents' Beverly Hillbillies.

Knight Rider
Brilliantly anticipating the looming midlife crises of this show's original demographic, in this "reimagining" of the beloved early 80's car commercial, a mortally wounded good-looking cop in tight jeans is given a new name, a gooder-looking face, and even tighter jeans, as well as a souped-up, penis-shaped sports car, which goes 200 mph, has a full bar, and talks in the voice of Demi Moore. Michael Knight travels the country, arguing with his car/lover/self, saving young kids from gangs and drugs, and then bedding their mothers. The psychological dimensions and consequences of satyriasis are explored. This is not your older brother's Knight Rider.

The A-Team
In this "reimagining" of the beloved mid-80's Hollywood stuntman full-employment program, instead of Vietnam, the team served in Iraq. This is not your second cousin's A-Team.

In this "reimagining" of the beloved occasionally moderately funny 80's comedy series, a disillusioned high-powered executive, tired of a life of moral compromise, leaves Wall Street to run a cozy little hotel in a small Vermont town. His dream of rural tranquility is shattered when he runs afoul of Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, local psychotic inbred marijuana-smugglers who rule the town. While initially packing up his Benz and running for his life, Bob soon recognizes the clear moral choice before him, and is reborn as a shotgun-wielding avenger/hotelier in a place where violence is the only law, and everybody's baked. This is not your uncle from North Jersey's Newhart.

*My snark should not be taken to indicate that I will not totally be watching the new Bionic Woman.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

B.B. King.

Misunderstanding Muqtada

I have a new piece on Muqtada al-Sadr over at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who Would Jesus Ethnically Cleanse?

Max Blumenthal just posted this documentary taken at last week's Christians United for Israel rally in DC. As Blumenthal's footage makes abundantly clear, these people are extremists committed to bringing about the Apocalypse. Think I'm kidding? You really have to watch it to understand the bigotry, zealotry, and resentment which powers Christian Zionism. And then shudder at how many conservative leaders were in attendance.

Here's the text of Joe Lieberman's speech to the rally, in which he compares CUFI founder John Hagee to Moses. What do you think would be the response if a U.S. Senator had spoken before a gathering of Muslim fundamentalists who refused to recognize any Jewish claim to Palestine, who who claimed all of Palestine for Islam? An organization that was actively raising funds to support the expulsion of Jews from Palestine? Why do I think we'll never find out?

The mutually cynical relationship here is stark: The largely secular Israeli right cultivates support of loony American Christian fundamentalists in order to help maintain the unquestioning support of the U.S. Congress for the occupation. Loony American Christian fundamentalists support the expanionist policies of the Israeli right in order to speed the return of Jesus, at which time the Jews will be given the opportunity to convert, or go to hell. No, really, literally: Hell. At one point the rally organizers approach Blumenthal and request that he not engage attendees in discussions about eschatology, lest anyone out themselves as barking mad, I suppose. Oops, too late. In a brief interview with former Sharon adviser Dore Gold, Gold perfectly embodies Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit by denying that CUFI is at all concerned with "moving the clock of eschatology forward," claiming that "the only one who believes that [he can do that] is Mahmoud Ahmedinejad." Gold clearly knows what he's saying is false, he just doesn't care.

For the effects of the policies supported by CUFI, see this morning's Washington Post article on life in Israeli-occupied Hebron in the West Bank. Hebron provides us a view of the Israeli occupation in perfect miniature: Palestinians are coralled within a series of ghettoes, watching from behind barbed wire and concrete as their crops die, as their homes and lands are taken over by radical Jewish settlers, enduring daily harassment and violence by those settlers who are supported by the Israeli army. Any resistance by Palestinians is immediately labeled "terrorism," brutally suppressed, and used to justify more closures, stricter curfews, and the expropriation of more land. It's a considerable understatement to say that U.S. support for this sort of thing doesn't win us friends, at least not the friends that we want.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Helping the Enemy

Reading about President Bush's latest attempt to defend the Iraq war by presenting al-Qaeda as SPECTRE reminded me to link to this Abu Aardvark post from a couple weeks ago. In discussing the various groups fighting the US in Iraq, and criticizing the way that Bush and his flacks try to conflate them all into al-Qaeda ( i.e. "The folks who attacked us on September 11"), Marc Lynch made this point:
The real harm comes in the wider Arab and Muslim world, where the exaggeration of al-Qaeda's role works directly and devastatingly against American goals. It magnifies al-Qaeda's perceived power, strengthening its own media campaign and feeding its most powerful propaganda instrument. Attributing all these attacks to al-Qaeda certainly doesn't hurt al-Qaeda's image: Iraq is the one place where al-Qaeda's violence is actually widely supported in the Muslim world (a recent PIPA survey found that over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American civilians were against Islam and illegitimate, but over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American troops in Iraq were legitimate). The administration in effect claims more power and military success for al-Qaeda in Iraq than al-Qaeda claims for itself - for which the al-Qaeda leadership can only be bemusedly grateful. Forget al-Hurra - if you're looking for a real public diplomacy fiasco, you'll be hard pressed to do worse than the US acting as al-Qaeda's agent in promoting its Iraqi success.

We constantly hear conservatives condemning talk of withdrawal as "helping the enemy." We don't want to withdraw from Iraq and "hand bin Laden a propaganda victory," or some such. Leaving aside that it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, whenever that may occur, is not spun as a victory by Islamic extremists, as Lynch makes clear, the propaganda victory that Bush is handing al-Qaeda is not a matter of prediction. It is happening. By continuing to cling to and defend a failed policy by inflating al-Qaeda's power in Iraq, by treating al-Qaeda as a top-down organization with command and control capability, rather than a loosely affiliated ideological network, Bush is effectively waving al-Qaeda's flag for them. He got us into Iraq by misrepresenting Saddam Hussein's capabilities, and he's keeping us there by doing the same with al-Qaeda. We know the tragic consequences of the former; we haven't begun to grasp the consequences of the latter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging: Special Drums Edition

Buddy Rich vs. Animal.

This Has Been Tried Before

Charles Krauthammer:
Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.

Blackadder Goes Forth :
Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent a war in Europe, two super blocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast, opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way, there could never be a war.

Baldrick: Except, well, this is sort of a war, isn't it?

Blackadder: That's right, there was one tiny flaw in the plan.

George: Oh, what was that?

Blackadder: It was bollocks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Heads, He Wins; Tails, We Lose

While reinforcing my point from last week about Muqtada al-Sadr's significance in Iraqi politics, the deep roots of his movement, and the utter folly of attempting to stand up a government which doesn't accomodate it, this article in today's NY Times also sheds some light on Muqtada's "insider/outsider" strategy:
After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Mr. Sadr and his political allies have largely disengaged from government, contributing to the political paralysis noted in a White House report last week. That outsider status has enhanced Mr. Sadr’s appeal to Iraqis, who consider politics less and less relevant to their daily lives.

Mr. Sadr has been working tirelessly to build support at the grass-roots level, opening storefront offices across Baghdad and southern Iraq that dispense services that are not being provided by the government. In this he seems to be following the model established by Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shiite group, as well as Hamas in Gaza, with entwined social and military wings that serve as a parallel government.

The Sadrists exhibit a quiet confidence, and are pulling ever more supporters into their ranks. “The Sadr movement cannot be marginalized; it is the popular base,” said Sheik Salah al-Obaidi, the chief spokesman and a senior strategist for Mr. Sadr’s movement in Najaf. “We will not be affected by efforts to push us to one side because we are the people. We feel the people’s day-to-day sufferings.”

A number of working-class Shiites reflected that sentiment in conversations about the Mahdi militia and Mr. Sadr. Their relatives and neighbors work both for the Sadr offices and for the militia, blurring the line between social programs and paramilitary activity.

Mr. Sadr’s offices are accessible storefronts that dispense a little bit of everything: food, money, clothes, medicine and information. From just one office in Baghdad and one in Najaf in 2003, the Sadr operation has ballooned. It now has full-service offices in most provinces and nine in Baghdad, as well as several additional storefront centers. In some neighborhoods, the militiamen come around once a month to charge a nominal fee — about 5,000 Iraqi dinars, or $4 — for protection. In others, they control the fuel supply, and in some, where sectarian killings have gone on, they control the real estate market for empty houses.

Sadr essentially has the best of both worlds here. His staunch and consistent opposition to the U.S. presence and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, and the confrontational stance which the U.S. continues to take toward him, allows him to credibly criticize the failure of the government to deliver services and security. At the same time, his loyalists' control of the Health and Transportation ministries provides access to government funds and resources, which can then be distributed as patronage and charity under the banner of his movement. Clever.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Arafat, AIDS and the Clown Choir

The various bozos of the wingnut circus have had their little chortle about the rumor of Yasser Arafat's having died of AIDS (much like their sporadic concern for women's rights, wingers care deeply about homophobia if and when it can be used as a weapon against their political enemies), but leave it to Marty Peretz's Mini Me to go the extra mile and try to spin the story into a slander of the Palestinians in general. I give you James Kirchick:
Of course, no amount of evidence will convince the Palestinians that Arafat was a homosexual, or that his death was caused by anything other than Israel's machinations. I found this out a few weeks ago in the West Bank, where everyone I spoke to told me that Israel killed Arafat. The denials that will inevitably spill forth about the causes of Arafat's death will mirror the rejection of a two state solution: both are part and parcel of the Palestinians' self-delusion.

Yes, those silly, delusional Palestinians. It's amazing how people whose leaders have been assassinated by Israeli bullets, missiles, bombs in telephones, poisoning, and secret lethal injection ambush will believe any damn thing. Sure, Ariel Sharon had openly declared Israel's right to kill Arafat if Israel so desired, but to actually suspect Israel of having gone through with it? That's just another example of the conspiratorial anti-Semitism which infects Palestinian society. As for the Palestinian's "rejection of a two state solution," given the fact that a substantial majority of Palestinians have for over a decade been in favor of just that, I suggest that the thing that's actually mirrored here is James Kirchick's bigotry.

Rumours about Arafat's homosexuality have been around for a long time. A number of Israeli scholars I've spoken to over the years, as well as a few Palestinians, simply acknowledged it as fact. Obviously, if true, it would be very interesting to consider how this was kept secret, or at least mostly secret, for so long. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that quite a few people knew about it, but said nothing or ignored it because they considered Arafat's leadership indispensible.

To be sure, this particular story has a suspicious provenance. To say that I was initially wary of something that I first saw posted on the Corner after it had been picked up from Little Green Footballs is like saying I would be wary of eating a ring-ding that I first saw on the floor of the Newark bus station men's room after it had been transported through customs between Bill O'Reilly's ass cheeks. Ahmad Jibril, who apparently floated the rumor in an al-Manar TV interview translated by the hatefully anti-Palestinian MEMRI, and linked by LGF, is the head of the rejectionist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, a longtime rival of Fatah's, currently based in Damascus. It's easy to see why he might want to slander and discredit Arafat, and by extension the current Fatah leadership, by outing Arafat as having been "infected." That's not to say that the story isn't true, just that not one of the links in the chain is a source that I consider particularly, or even nearly, credible.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Misunderestimated, Again

Others have ably dismantled Kimberly Kagan's unconvincing defense of the Kagan Family Surgeshow, but I found this bit particularly amazing:
The larger aim of the new strategy is creating an opportunity for Iraq's leaders to negotiate a political settlement. These negotiations are underway. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to form a political coalition with Amar al-Hakim and Kurdish political leaders, but excluding Moqtada al-Sadr, and has invited Sunnis to participate. He has confronted Moqtada al-Sadr for promoting illegal militia activity, and has apparently prompted this so-called Iraqi nationalist to leave for Iran for the second time since January.

“So-called Iraqi nationalist”? Sadr is unique among Shi'i leaders in that his nationalist credentials are not in any serious dispute. His representatives relentlessly hammer at the fact that while many other Shi'i leaders, most notably the Hakims, chose the safety of exile, the Sadrs stayed in Iraq, and were executed for their activism. This is one of the main sources of Muqtada's political strength: He stayed and suffered with his fellow Iraqis. SCIRI was renamed SIIC and realigned away from Khameini and toward Sistani for exactly this reason, to make up for its nationalist deficit vis a vis Sadr, and combat the perception that it is an Iranian instrument.

I don't know how I can say this any more clearly: There will be no settlement in Iraq without Sadr. It's almost comical how many times Muqtada has gone to ground, and the usual suspects have declared him politically dead, over, dealt with. After four years of trying to marginalize Sadr, crowing every time he suffers a perceived setback, and running home for dinner every time he returns, stronger, more defiant, with bigger crowds, and even more juice than before, we must understand that A) Muqtada al-Sadr represents a genuine and extremely formidable Iraqi constitutency, one with organizational roots that go back decades, B) The survival of the Iraqi government, and probably of the Iraqi state, depends to a great extent on the government’s accommodation of that movement, and C) After four long years, the people defending Bush's Iraq policy apparently still don’t know very much about Iraq.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


There have been some reports that Israel is considering releasing Marwan Barghouti as part of an exchange for Gilad Shalit, to bolster Fatah against Hamas. While this should have been done years ago, it's certainly a positive development now.

Israel's Ha’aretz editorialized last month:
One of the leaders of the Palestinian people has been incarcerated for approximately five years now in Hadarim Prison, in central Israel. The time has come to release him. For years, Marwan Barghouti has tried to persuade Israelis to end the occupation through negotiation. He has gone from one Israeli party headquarters to the next, meeting with politicians across the political spectrum. He tried to persuade them in order to preempt the next confrontation.

During his years in prison, Barghouti has acted to restrain the armed struggle and bolster his people's moderate leadership, using envoys to achieve this goal. Barghouti never left his native West Bank, never took to the habits of power characteristic of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in Tunisia. He became a popular leader - especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser degree in the Gaza Strip.

Modern history - including Israel's - has known national leaders who turned to violence and were jailed for years, until they were released to become political leaders who marched their peoples toward independence peacefully. Nelson Mandela is one such example. The leaders of the Zionist undergrounds in prestate Israel are another. Now, Barghouti's turn has come.

The Mandela comparison is apt. Briefly, Marwan Barghouti is a leading figure among the Fatah "new guard" who came of age in the occupied Palestinian territories in the late 70's and 80's, and took a leading role in the first intifada. In 2004 he was convicted of plotting terror attacks, and received several life sentences. He has continued his activism in prison, and was one of the proponents of the 2006 "Prisoner’s Agreement” which sought conciliation between Palestinian factions.

Barghouti features prominently in Sari Nusseibeh's memoir, Once Upon a Country. A student of Nusseibeh's at Bir Zeit University, Barghouti was active in campus government, and was committed both to non-violently resisting the occupation, and to building institutions which would support a modern Palestinian state. Like countless others of his generation, Barghouti spent his youth in and out of Israeli prisons for the crime of being a Palestinian nationalist. Nusseibeh effectively uses Barghouti's increasingly militant stance, and his eventual embrace of violence in response to the continuing Israeli occupation and colonization, to track the growth of radicalism among young Palestinians.

Moshe Elad, writing in Yediot Ahronoth, condemns the idea of Barghouti's release. Elad writes:
The crowning era is over. Reality in the Territories shows that those released on the initiative of the Israeli government are tainted as collaborators and as such become a target for assassination or are destined to be forgotten. Alternately, such a person would become more radical than he was before just so he can clear the collaborator stain. The early release of Barghouti just because Israel is searching for an agreeable partner for negotiations on the future of the Territories would no doubt taint Barghouti as the "ultimate collaborator." In the early 1980s Israel already "crowned" the "Village Committees" in the West Bank and supported several local leaders and mayors.

The crowning era never existed, except in the minds of a few Israelis. The idea that Israel could install its chosen leaders over the Palestinians was always a fantasy. The Village Committees were, from their very beginning, undersood by Palestinians as an attempt by Israel to create leaders subservient to the goals of the Israeli occupation. The bitter irony that these committess almost directly reproduced British efforts to divide and control Palestinian activism during the mandate period was lost on no one, except perhaps the Israeli occupation authorities.

There is no doubt that some elements, hardline Islamists and motorcade-addicted Fatah officials, would try to tar Barghouti as a collaborator, but the fact is that he continues to enjoy more genuine support among Palestinians than any other leader. He combines nationalist credentials with a non-corrupt reputation, having eschewed the trappings of power which many other Fatah leaders embraced during the 1990's, and which led to Hamas's electoral victory in 2006. Barghouti is not a magician, and it's very possible that it's to late even for him to make a difference. It should also be understood, however, that if the occupation, house demolitions, and settlement construction continue unabated, it really doesn't matter who the Israelis release.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Wages of Flypaper Strategy

Quote of the day from Mohammad Bashar al Faidi, via Conflict Blotter:
"The Arabs went to Afganistan and got a masters in violent Jihad, but in Iraq they’re all getting PhDs."

Friday Guitar Blogging

Matt Murphy.