Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

John Lee Hooker.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cultivating His Only Constituency

Following on last Saturday's "Put me in, Coach!" op-ed from Ayad Allawi, Iraq Slogger reports today that Allawi has retained Haley Barbour's lobbying firm in his bid to be installed as the Iraqi Pinochet. (As if Maliki hadn't gotten the message yet, yesterday Bush called him a "good man," putting Maliki in the august company of such political success stories as Bernie Kerik and Michael Brown.)

Juan Cole relays rumours of a coming coup, and a two-year security plan involving the installation of a "military commission," presumably to keep the lid on Iraq while Bush sallies forth into Iran, and even greater disaster.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Faithful

Last night's CNN documentary on Israeli religious extremists, and their Jewish and Christian supporters in the U.S., was something we don't often get in U.S. media: An honest look at institutionalized and systemic Israeli violence against Palestinians, and the way that violence is directly supported by American money, rhetoric, and policy. There's simply no credible argument for classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization, but not Gush Emunim.

The section on NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind surprised even me. Here's a man, a legislator, who openly and proudly raises money to expand and construct new illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in clear, blatant violation of U.S. law. If he were raising money for Palestinian kindergartens, you can bet the FBI would be all over him. But thanks to the double-standard which exists in regard to Israeli violence against Palestinians, as well as general American ignorance of the nature of the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, Hikind has no reason to fear any repercussions from going on national television and essentially declaring his support for ethnic cleansing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Special Scrutiny

Via Richard Silverstein, a play by play of the attack on Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Anyone familiar with the NY Post will be unsurprised to learn that the paper completely misrepresented the sequence of questions and answers given by Almontaser about the Arabic word "intifada" in the article which eventually led to her resignation. Anyone familiar with Daniel Pipes will be unsurprised to learn that the man is a shameless bigot:
The Arab-American community right now — and any Arabic language and culture school — should be subject to “special scrutiny,” [Pipes] said.

“I believe such a school requires scrutiny beyond that of any other group’s school, he said. “It fits into a larger pattern in which Muslim officials require greater scrutiny, whether they be chaplains [or] law enforcement officers. There is a tendency to sympathize with Islamism that we ignore at our peril. ... When law enforcement is looking for a rapist, it looks at men, not men and women. If you’re looking for terrorism you must give special scrutiny to this community.”


“What I am arguing for — special scrutiny — is often done,” he said. “But it’s done in an unofficial, underhanded way. It’s lying basically. It’s a disservice to Muslims who don’t believe law enforcement when they say you’re not being singled out.

“Let’s make it overt. Let’s say there is a difference. It would be healthy to have a debate about it.”

Asked if he would have favored “special scrutiny” of the immigrant Jewish community teeming with socialists, communists and anarchists on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century to deal with terrorist bombings by some anarchists during that period, Pipes replied, “I’m happy to apply this wherever it’s useful.”

Wow. You almost have to be impressed at the stones on someone who tries to present overt anti-Muslim prejudice as a service to Muslims.

People, It's Bad

Shorter cross-section of national security experts (as well as Daniel Pipes, who was disappointed that the poll contained no question like: How seditious are American Muslims? A) Very seditious; B) Extremely seditious indeed; C) Michelle Malkin is a half-stepper) polled for the Center for American Progress's latest Terrorism Index:
"Sh*t's all f'ed up!"

More later.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guilt by Assertion

Reporting from Iraq, Michael Totten writes about how Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi have infiltrated the Iraqi security services. Totten makes some interesting observations, talks to some Iraqis, but then gives us this:
The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.

The Iranians know what they’re doing. Lebanon was their proving ground. The Revolutionary Guards built Hezbollah from scratch along the border with Israel and in the suburbs south of Beirut during the chaos of civil war and Israeli occupation. In Iraq they’re simply repeating the formula, only this time more violently.

I've seen it repeatedly asserted that Sadr is an Iranian tool, usually by right-of-center types who are trying to gin up a war with Iran, but have never seen any evidence for it, and Totten offers none. Most of the reporting I've seen from Iraq doesn't support that contention, and my own research on Sadr and his movement strongly argues against Sadr's being an Iranian agent.

The problem here is that Totten throws his assertion into the middle of some actual reportage, and then Powerline parrots it, and on up the food chain until it's simply an article of faith among conservatives, just like the Saddam-al Qaeda connection and the WMDs to Syria nonsense, to be folded into the larger argument for war with whomever, all the time. (In one of those delightful examples of unintentional irony that continually crop up like leafy spurge amid the defiant know-nothingism of rightwing blogdom, a later Powerline post is entitled "Never let the facts stand in the way of a meme." Heh, indeed.)

I don't think it's correct that the Pasdaran (Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) built Hezbollah from scratch. The Pasdaran trained and indoctrinated several breakaway extremist Lebanese Shia factions which became Hizb 'Allah ("Party of God.") The claim is even less true of the Mahdi Army, which developed, like Muqtada's entire movement, out of the clerical activism of Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr. A central element of the elder Sadr's program, and now Muqtada's, is opposition to Iranian influence. While his pro-Arab nativist rhetoric has alienated Muqtada from a significant portion of Iraq's Shia clerical hierarchy, many of whom, including Grand Ayatollah Sistani, are of Persian origin, it has endeared him to Iraq's Arab Shia underclass, which is where he finds his greatest support.

If any group can be said to have been created by the Pasdaran "from scratch," it is the Badr Brigade, the militia wing of SIIC (formerly SCIRI), formed out of Iraqi exiles and defectors, and POWs from the Iran-Iraq War. It is the Badr Brigade that continues to serve as "Iran's major proxy" in Iraq, constantly battling the Mahdi Army for control of Shia neighborhoods in southern Iraq. However, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of SIIC (and former commander of the Badr), is now George W. Bush's friend , so it won't do to point this out.

This isn't to say that Sadr receives no Iranian support, he certainly does, as do various groups in Iraq, directly and through proxies. After their offers to help stabilize Iraq were rebuffed by the Bush administration, elements in the Iranian government clearly foresaw the coming chaos, and starting hedging their bets, getting their fingers into different pies, betting on various horses to win, and mixing every possible metaphor, as a way to produce the best possible outcome for Iran. It is true that Sadr admires and emulates Hezbollah. Like them, he has fashioned a political identity that combines sometimes contradictory elements of populism, nationalism, pro-Arabism, and pan-Shiism. The tendency of some to elide these elements in favor of a "Iranian tool" narrative indicates a failure to appreciate some of the complexities of Iraqi-Shia identity, and, of course, an attempt to gin up a war with Iran.

There is one thing Sadr and Iran undoubtedly do share, however. The U.S. has effectively done for Sadr in Iraq what we've done for Iran in the wider Gulf region: Pursued a series of policies which seem to have been designed in a lab to facilitate his becoming the dominant actor.

Update: Eric Martin has some other observations.

Be Very Afraid

Rob Farley takes a first look at Norman Podhoretz's...err, Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy manifesto in Foreign Affairs.
[The] piece offers a pretty faithful recitation of what I'll call the Neoconservative Romance. According to this narrative, the United States began the Cold War with a vigorous challenge to the Soviet Union that was made all the more pure by virtue of American beliefs in the evangelical power of "liberty." (The key elements to the romance would include, for example, the Truman Doctrine or the Berlin Airlift.) Over time, however, true believers watched as the nation's leaders fell into apostasy, drawing the nation farther from its Original Purpose; rather than challenging the Soviets directly, the US reigned itself to an unacceptable status quo that stifled the aspirations of half the planet. At the darkest hour, Ronald Reagan ascended to the presidency and retrieved history from the drainpipe.

It goes without saying that, in the neocon fairy tale of Good King Ronnie, the rescue of History Itself was not the culmination of decades of diplomacy, engagement, containment, negotiation, and occasional confrontation. (And don't even think of suggesting that it had anything to do with the inherent weaknesses of the Soviet system. What are you, some kind of historian?) Reagan's single-handed victory over the Evil Empire represented the repudiation of anything other than confrontation, and thus justifies the confrontation of all subsequent Evil Empires.

It's obvious why Rudy is embracing the very kinds of policies which have proven so disastrous in the last years: "Toughness" is all he has to run on, especially in the primary. It speaks volumes about the Big Strong Daddy issues of the evangelical Republican base that a thrice-married, occasionally cross-dressing, pro-choice New Yorker even has a chance, let alone is one of the top contenders.

The Vilification of Language

Last week I read this story about Debbie Almontaser, the principal of a new Arabic-language school in NYC, who, after having the bad form to discuss in public the actual meaning of the word "intifada," was mau-maued into first apologizing, and then resigning:
The principal of a new Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn resigned under pressure, days after she was quoted defending the use of the word “intifada” as a T-shirt slogan.

Debbie Almontaser, a veteran public school teacher, was hired to lead the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school that was scheduled to open this fall. An immediate replacement was not announced, and Ms. Almontaser’s abrupt exit left the future of the school in question.


The remarks that made her the focus of criticism were in response to questions from The New York Post over the phrase “Intifada NYC,” which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in Art and Media...

Here is The Post’s account of Ms. Almontaser’s comments:

“The word [intifada] basically means ’shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic,” she said.

“I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don’t believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City.

“I think it’s pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society … and shaking off oppression.”

Ms. Almontaser issued an apology the next day, saying that she regretted her remarks. “By minimizing the word’s historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence,” she said in a statement.

But the apology was followed by criticism from Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. Ms. Weingarten stopped short of calling for Ms. Almontaser’s resignation, but called the word intifada “something that ought to be denounced, not explained away.”

The Palestinian intifadas, which encompassed actions both violent (front page of the NY Times) and non-violent (tucked deep inside, if reported at all, as student boycotts and general strikes just don't sell papers like exploding pizzerias do), were uprisings against, the attempt to "shake off," what is widely recognized (everywhere but in the U.S., anyway) as an illegal, dehumanizing, and brutal Israeli military occupation. As with the term "jihad," right-wing elements have sought to define "intifada" solely in terms of its association with terrorist violence. Debbie Almontaser had the temerity to challenge these misrepresentations and misunderstandings, and to defend the term's proper use in the context of social activism. The fact that she has now had to resign over this, indeed that she felt she needed to apologize at all, indicates the almost complete dominance of the Israeli narrative in American media, and the ability of hardline pro-Israel and anti-Muslim activists to manipulate the ignorance and fear of Americans about Islam and Arabs to quell discussion and debate, and to make verboten the expression of certain ideas and opinions.

Speaking of ignorance and fear, here's Daniel Pipes:
Almontaser's departure, however welcome, does not change the rest of the problematic school's personnel, much less address the more basic problems implicit in an Arabic-language school: the tendency to Islamist and Arabist content and proselytizing.

To reiterate my initial assessment in March, the KGIA is in principle a great idea, for the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic-language instruction needs special scrutiny.

Bigotry rarely comes so blatant as this. Offering no evidence, because, of course, his audience requires none, Pipes simply asserts that an Arabic language school would obviously tend toward Islamist and Arabist proselytizing. This "madrassa," a term he employs as a pejorative, must be monitored for righthink. (I'm picturing Pipes sitting in a tiny little chair in a kindergarten classroom, pad and pen in hand, perpetual scowl on his face, as children learn the Arabic alphabet.) Yes, Pipes supports, in principle, the learning of Arabic language and culture (after all, we need spies, don't we?) provided there is nothing taught which might deviate from the Likud Party platform.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Standing Athwart the Center Wicket, Yelling Stop!

I'm troubled by this article, which describes the Xtreme-ization of the noble and wonderful game of croquet.
For the last two years, Jim Grupe has tried to stir up local interest in his favorite extreme sport. It’s not something you’ll come across while watching skateboarders or cyclists fall from the sky during the ongoing X Games.

Grupe’s game of choice, actually, is among the last you’d think would be suited to the sort of extremism that’s taking over so many established pastimes.

It’s croquet.

“I was looking for something new,” he says, “and this is what I found.”

Grupe, 60, is the founder and force behind the DC/MD/VA Extreme Croquet Club. Once a month, he invites folks to his home in Brookeville, Md., to take a whack at the new version of the old lawn game. His 17-acre spread has all the fixin’s that separate an extreme croquet course from that of its genteel predecessor, including a pond, a stream, lots of trees, lots of mud, and various livestock.

In my opinion, physical exertion (like, say, walking around on 17 acres) is anathema to the very spirit of croquet. No croquet field should be so big that you are ever, at any time, more than ten steps away from the makeshift bar or the cooler filled with beer. The beauty of croquet is that you can play it, and play it well, without spilling your drink. If polo is the sport of kings, croquet is the sport of kings' lazy, good-for-nothing brothers. Like vegetarian barbecue and smooth jazz, extreme croquet completely misses the point.

On the Beach

The battle over modern Muslim identity is being fought on the shores of the Mediterranean. This article in today’s International Herald Tribune about beaches in Egypt and the increasing pressure on women to dress more conservatively reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who lives in Turkey. He told me that many Turkish resorts are going Islamist, putting up curtains to divide the beach between men's and women's sides, or else simply requiring the head-to-toe burquini. These resorts aren't being forced into this, they're simply responding to the market, catering to an increasingly wealthy, and increasingly devout, Turkish middle class. As in Egypt, the number of beaches where women and women and men can swim together, and where women can wear Western-style bathing suits without fear of harassment, is growing smaller.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Nels Cline (w/ Wilco).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Denier for Hire

Following up on this article on the Armenian genocide lobbying war currently taking place in Congress, Michael Crowley blogged this video starring Clinton impeachment casualty Bob Livingston, who is now employed by the Republic of Turkey to lobby against official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide. Words really don't do justice to Livingston's pathetic, unprinicipled propagandizing ("Historians disagree...No one really knows...There were atrocities on all sides...") over what is, at this point, a rather overwhelmingly accepted historical fact: Between the years 1915 and 1918, around a million and a half Armenians were killed in an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing, transfer, and extermination by the Ottoman forces. It's certainly true that official recognition of this historical fact by Congress would seriously complicate the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a very important relationship which is on shaky ground right now because of Iraq, among other things, but I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for Livingston, which is to say I'd have some, if he'd just make that argument rather than attempting to "teach the controversy" over the systematic murder of 1.5 million human beings and the destruction of Turkey's Armenian community.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Angus Young.