February 28, 2005

The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein

The Iraqi Truth Project has released a DVD documentary called Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein. One of my favorite historians, Victor Davis Hanson, and one of the best up-and-coming documentary film-makers, Evan Coyne Maloney, both had a hand in this film. It will be shown at the war crimes trials of both “Chemical” Ali and Saddam Hussein.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I did watch the trailer. It damn near knocked me out of my chair. I knew right away I had to order this movie at once. I’ve been back to watch the trailer several times already. It’s an incredibly powerful minute-and-a-half of footage and music.

(I fell in love with Arab music when I went to Tunisia and heard it constantly for two weeks. The problem is I usually didn’t know which musicians were playing. If anyone knows who recorded the piece of music used in this trailer, please let me know. I want to own it.)

I already own the movie. I’m just waiting for it to show up in my mailbox. It looks like something that should not be missed, so go take a look. The link to the trailer is at the top of the page.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:43 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 27, 2005

Bumming Around Puerto Rico

I’m back from Puerto Rico and apologize for being lazy before I started blogging again. When I go on vacation it takes a while to decompress. But after spending several days in a row bumming around Old San Juan and sitting barefoot on the beach it takes yet another few days to ease back into my work routine.

I don’t have a travel essay for you, mostly because I don’t have a travel narrative to wrap one around. That was on purpose. I didn’t want this trip to be an adventure. I wanted to do very little of anything. So I that’s all I did.

I do, however, have some photos and nuggets of commentary.


San Juan.jpg

When I first went to Quebec City a few years ago I was envious at what Canada had. Ooh, I thought. Why can’t we have a 400-year old European-looking American city? But we do. We have Old San Juan. Since Puerto Rico isn’t a state - even though it’s part of America - I often forget all about it. You’re looking at it, though. There it is: a 400-year old European-style American city. It’s not French, though, it’s Spanish, which is even better.

A cab driver told me about an executive from Intel he had just picked up from the airport. “This guy told me he had no trouble with immigration after he landed.”

“He flew here from the states?” I said.

“He flew here from the states,” he said and laughed. “It gets worse, though. I told him Puerto Rico is part of the United States so of course there was no immigration. I don’t think he understood. Next he asked me what kind of currency we use on the island.”

I’ll say this in a meager defense of the ignorant man from Intel. Puerto Rico doesn’t look or feel like the U.S. at all. It really is culturally Latin American. Except for the American-style shopping malls in the suburbs and the Miami-style hotels on the beach, it reminded more of Costa Rica than anywhere else.


San Juan Alley.jpg

Costa Rica does not, however, have much in the way of Spanish colonial architecture. The buildings and houses are mostly modern and block-like, just as they are in San Juan. But the walled city of Old San Juan is a jewel of narrow cobble-stoned streets, plazas, outdoor cafes, and wrought-iron balconies. If I ever decide to move to Puerto Rico, this is definitely where I will live.


San Juan Tapas Restaurant.jpg

Every single meal I had on the island was excellent. Not only are Puerto Ricans masters of their own Caribean-style cuisine, they invent ingenious experimental concoctions that don’t exist anywhere else. One restaurant in Old San Juan billed itself as Indo-Latino. But it was much more even than that. Dishes weren’t merely a fusion of Carribean and Indian food. They threw Middle Eastern and East Asian ingredients into the mix, too.


El Convento.jpg

Shelly and I stayed at the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan. I don’t recommend it. Their Web site makes it look like it’s an okay place, but it’s as charmless as a hospital or a cruise ship. We should have stayed at El Convento. Now that’s a fine Spanish hotel. As you can guess, it was a convent back in the day. Unlike the Hotel Milano, the inside is as charming and warm as the outside.


Columbus Statue.jpg

Several outdoor cafes ring the plaza around the statue of Christopher Columbus.


Asesino de Indios.jpg

But look closer. Not everyone is a fan of Columbus these days.


La Perla.jpg

La Perla is said to be the most colorful slum in the world. That may be. But it looks to me like “slum” is a bit of an overstatement. I’ve seen some horrific Latin American slums in my day. The worst are in Guatemala and Mexico. Just looking at pictures of Brazilian favelas is enough to depress me. But La Perla is nothing like that. I wouldn’t say it’s a nice place. It’s basically a pile of houses wedged between the north wall of the old city, an old Spanish cemetary, and the Atlantic. It doesn’t appear on a single tourism map. But still. You’re looking at it right now. It doesn’t look any worse up close in real life. If this is still considered a slum, life is definitely better than it once was in Puerto Rico. There are many many worse places in the world than this.


El Yunque.jpg

Not only do I frequently forget that we have a 400-year old European-style city inside our borders, I also forget we have a tropical rain forest, too. This is El Yunque, known in English as the Carribean National Forest. It’s the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. (We do have a temperate rain forest, however - the only one in the world - on Washington state’s Olympic Penninsula.)


El Yunque Creek.jpg

I’ve tromped around the rain forests and jungles of three Central American countries. Each is its own place. They’re dramaticaly different even though they’re all so close together. But they do have one thing in common: I swore that I would never camp overnight in a tent in any of them. I’m used to the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest. Tropical forests are different; they are manifestly hostile. Razor-toothed crocodiles, malarial mosquitoes, flesh-ripping jaguars, poisonous snakes, and the vicious little biting insect bastards can have the place to themselves when I’m not on a day trip. El Yunque, though, isn’t like that at all. There are no crocodiles, no jaguars, no poisonous snakes, and no insects that I was aware of. There was enough shade from the sun that it was not even hot in midafternoon. I’d love to camp in that tropical paradise. I wished when I was there that I had a tent. It’s truly benign, and if Earth has an Eden it must be El Yunque.


El Yunque Mountain.jpg

The forest begins at sea level and rises to the top of a mountain. If you drive or walk all the way up you’ll pass through four distinct ecosystems as you rise in elevation. The top is so windy, so high, and so cool that the jungle aspect entirely vanishes and the trees are reduced to dwarfs.


Karst2.jpg

Northwestern Puerto Rico is karst country. Karst is a rare land formation found only in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the former Yugoslavia. The would-be flat landscape is violently scoured with gigantic sinkholes created by centuries of rain water dissolving the limestone.


Areciba.jpg

Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope, was built at the bottom of one of those pits. It looks smallish in pictures, but it’s way too big to fit in a photograph. I’ve seen pictures of it before and had absolutely no idea how big it really is. I took one look at it and said “holy shit!” – a common reaction, I’m sure. The receiver alone is almost the size of a cruise ship.


Culebra.jpg

The island of Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Rico is, in geologic terms, a part of the Virgin Islands. It is not what I would have expected in the Carribean. It doesn’t look or feel like the tropics. It looks and feels Mediterranean. El Yunque is only twenty miles away across the water. Somehow, apparently, it steals most of the rain that would otherwise fall on Culebra.


Dewey.jpg

There’s only one town on Culebra. Officially its name is Dewey, named after Admiral George Dewey in the Spanish-American war. The locals defiantly call the town Puebla. But don’t take that the wrong way. They’re sweet and hospitable people. If they harbor a grudge against gringos and yanks they sure do know how to hide it.

The “mainland” island is unbelievably crowded. If you want to get away from it all, go to Vieques. And if Vieques is too much for you, to go Culebra. The island is small. You can walk across it the long way in an afternoon. You can walk across it the short way in only an hour. The one town of Dewey/Puebla is miniscule. There are no large hotels and no corporate chain restaurants or stores of any kind. It’s more laid back and lethargic than even Belize.


Mamacitas.jpg

The most popular bar is Mamacita’s. Everyone who works there is an “expat.” (I’m putting “expat” in quotes because Culebra is a part of the United States. But it’s culture is so distinctly Latin American it feels as foreign as anywhere in South or Central America.)


Playa Flamenco.jpg

The Travel Channel recently named Flamenco Beach the second most beautiful in the world. (The single most beautiful supposedly is in Hawaii.) Well, they ought to know. They’ve been to plenty more beaches than I have. Flamenco Beach is certainly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The waves are gentle, the water is turquoise, the shape is a perfect horseshoe. The sand is soft and white. Best of all, it’s a Carribean beach with almost no people on it at all. It almost didn’t even seem real. How could such a beautiful place be so empty of people? I felt like a lucky bastard to be there, and I doubt its seclusion will last. (I realize I am not helping by posting about it.)


Playa Tortuga.jpg

If Flamenco Beach ever does get too crowded you can always go to Isla Culebrita’s Playa Tortuga. That’s where you go when you’re sick of “the crush” on Culebra and really want to get away from it all. It’s an island off the coast of an island off the coast of an island. It is totally uninhabited and will likely remain so for a very long time. The Carribean may be crowded, but it isn’t yet full.

Thanks to Mary and Jeremy for filling in for me while I lazily bumming around far from my laptop.

(All images copyright Michael J. Totten)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:05 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 25, 2005

I Think He’s Around the Corner

Posted by Jeremy Brown (Am I not in your blogroll? Mary either? You will? Thanks!)

Yes, I'm pretty sure Michael is coming back soon, so we should really straighten up a little around here, spit out our gum, open our notebooks, look busy, straighten some hangers, re-stack the kiwis, rebuild the canned peach pyramid, switch the presets back to Michael's favorite stations, get the fig Newton crumbs off of the Berkline rocker-recliner, top off the tank with 93 octane, erase the word 'vacation' from next to Michael's name on the whiteboard, clean out the litter box one last time, leave the Movable Type password under that fake rock next to the front stoop...

And let me once again thank Michael for this opportunity. And my thanks to Mary whose first rate posts (and strong opinions) have made me look good by association, and to all you Totten readers and commenters who made us both feel so welcome and who added depth, breadth, and weight to the discussions on this blog. It was, once again, great fun.

Now, for the love of God, read my blog, or at least blogroll it...please? (if I meet you on the street I promise not to quiz you to test whether you've been reading). Now that my stint here is over, I will stop neglecting my own blog. And In just an hour or so you will find the latest installment of my weekly satire feature; it will be a guaranteed socially pertinent yuk-fest for the whole family.

Catch you all later...

Update: one more link before Michael takes back the microphone: I have an exclusive lead on yet another 20 year old private conversation with George W. Bush that is now being revealed. My source tells me this is 'not serious but true.'

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 7:10 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Posted by Mary Madigan

I thought Michael was supposed to be back by now. Has he wandered off somewhere new? He keeps doing that.

I hope he comes back soon because I’m running out of stuff to say. All I have for you today is some pictures of orange curtains flapping in Central Park.

It’s not much, and Jeremy and Eric have done better coverage of the Gates issue. But, as you know I like to avoid expressing strong or offensive opinions.

If Michael ever does return, I’d just like to say, many thanks to everyone for listening to and making such great comments about my blather; many thanks to Jeremy for sharing the responsibility of guest-blogging and tons of thanks to Michael for the opportunity to speak to the very large audience that he has done a lot of hard work and excellent writing to attract.

Now, I'll get back to my curtains. Oh, and don't forget, I'm still blogging at Exit Zero and with the crew at Dean's World. (that's another reason why women have a hard time in the blogosphere. We're so humble).

Posted by Mary Madigan at 5:35 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 23, 2005

The Kurds’ War for Oil?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Did you read that long article in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday? The one about the Kurds? My title for this post should tip you off to the fact that I read it and did not much like what I read.

What I normally do, when I've tiptoed into the mudroom of a long article and taken an immediate dislike to the smells drifting in from the kitchen (if you know what I mean), is that I will read the first paragraph and then read the last paragraph. A good and rigorously objective journalist ought to work both sides of the street -- if there are two sides -- at least to some extent, within a long news piece on an important subject. So I'm not one to skim for outrageous ideas and make easy assumptions about reportorial or editorial bias (or I often am one to do that, but in any case I not this time.)

But you can generally go by the first and last paragraphs (and if you're trying that trick on this post it may already be too late, but let me assure you that I did this time read the paragraphs in between).

Here, then, is the bulk of the introductory paragraph to Nir Rosen's piece on the Kurds:

Nir Rosen, a freelance journalist, spent the days before the election among Kirkuk’s bitterly contentious political parties. He says the election was not about ideas, or even politics, but was a blatant grab for power. “The people you saw dancing in the streets were Kurds, dancing to Kurdish national music, and waving the flag of Kurdistan,” Rosen says. Now, with their all-but-assured control over Kirkuk, the Kurds will be emboldened in their ambition to establish an independent Kurdish state, which includes Kirkuk and its oil.”

Welcome to the mental streetcorner at which I was pausing when I came up with this post's title.

Now here's the last paragraph:

It appears that Kirkuk has become a place where an oil field has to have a ''commander'' and where that commander thinks of himself not as an Iraqi, but as a Kurd.

Was it fair of me to conclude that this Nir Rosen -- whose name was naggingly thought only distantly familiar -- was trying to tell Sunday readers of the New York Times that it was all going to turn to shit in Iraq, and that those American allies, the Kurds, were just in it for the oil?

I'll share some of the stuff that came between the first and last paragraph.

I should point out that Rosen does remind readers that the Kurds suffered horribly under Saddam, citing a Human Rights Watch figure of 100,000 Kurds killed during Saddam's Anfal campaign of 1987 which, he owns, was "widely considered a genocidal offensive." It was; that's true. But in the previous paragraph Rosen had introduced the topic of Saddam's treatment of the Kurds this way:

Turkmens and Kurds alike were suppressed by the aggressive Arabism of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Official ''Arabization'' began in the 1960's and accelerated significantly in 1975, when the Iraqi regime began forcibly removing tens of thousands of Kurds, Turkmens and Assyrian Christians from Kirkuk and bringing in Arabs to take their place. This Arabization was chiefly motivated by the government's wish to consolidate its grip on the oil-rich and fertile region -- and to pre-empt a gradual demographic takeover of the city by the Kurds.

And again, I don't mean to nitpick. The Kurds were suppressed by aggressive Arabism. True enough. I don't need Rosen to get elegiac or emotional about this stuff. The facts will suffice. The trouble is that just a few paragraphs down you almost -- if you didn't know any better -- would get the feeling that the Kurds were a bit scarier, a bit more 'aggressive' than Saddam's Baathists:

During the war to oust Saddam Hussein that began in March 2003, United States Special Forces soldiers fought alongside Kurdish guerrilla fighters. Together they descended on Kirkuk on April 10, and the vengeful Kurds -- with Mam Rostam as their commander -- looted many of the city's government buildings and shops, and convoys of Kurdish vehicles could be seen carrying the booty back to the north. Thousands of Arabs fled in advance of the Kurdish and American-led coalition forces; those who remained were subject to a campaign of intimidation. Many were warned to abandon their homes, which the Kurdish militias were seizing for themselves or awarding to the families of peshmerga casualties.

Did you notice the language-use as compared with the way he chose to describe the Baathist (some would say) genocide against the Kurds? Let's recap: 'guerilla fighters', descended on Kirkuk', 'the vengeful Kurds', 'looted', 'carrying the booty back to the north', 'Thousands of Arabs fled', 'campaign of intimidation', 'warned to abandon their homes.'

Almost makes you nostalgic for that aggressive Arabism (which, anyway, was ancient history as compared with this Kurdish and American onslaught that happened just this past year).

Am I saying that Nir Rosen is anti-Kurd? Upon reflection...no. Not exactly. Let me cut to the chase: Rosen is trying to induce in you, the reader, the idea (and you are to think it was your own) that as bad a man as Saddam was, things are going to get much worse than ever in Iraq. And very soon. Why focus on the Kurds? Because they are the most closely allied with the U.S. And because people have a tendency to, well, like them, or at least to fear them less than the Shia and, certainly, less than the Sunnis.

For Rosen there are only scary factions in Iraq. Thus the walls of the Shiite mosque Rosen visits...

"...were lined with posters featuring a who's who of radical Shiism:

Ayatollah Khomeini, Moktada al-Sadr and his revered martyred uncle, Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, the father of political Shiism in Iraq. One poster, showing Moktada al-Sadr beside a masked man wielding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, announced, ''The Mahdi army supports Muslims and protects the religious sites for Iraqis.'' Another declared that al-Sadr was on the battlefield against the Americans...

And the Sunni sheik Rosen chooses to tell us about explains to Rosen why he named his son 'Osama': "'I named him after Osama bin Laden,' the sheik said, smiling. 'Bin Laden is a good man.'''

Right. I get it. Iraq was far better off before the war, before the election.

But I would be remiss in not sharing the Israeli connection, especially since it will make a nice segue, as you'll soon see (if you would indulge me a little further):

...the rotund and eternally tired chief of the traffic police, settled into a chair, removing his Israeli automatic pistol, which he said was a special gift from a benefactor he refused to name. The chief of security for this neighborhood, a handsome man, freshly shaved and with a permanent smile, refused to give his name or have his picture taken. Asked about reports that Israeli intelligence agents were training the Kurds, he said Iraqi Jews have the right to return to Kurdistan.

''Better to have Israelis than Arabs!''

So it all comes together nicely. While refraining from telling anyone what to think -- but does he have to, since the facts speak for themselves? -- Rosen finds himself in the midst of what one can only reasonably conclude is a nightmare about to be visited upon Iraq by Kurds and Americans wielding Israeli weapons acquired God only knows how, from some sinister Mossad deepthroat (Our Man in Halabja?)

But who in the hell am I, a lowly blogger, to criticize the work of a journalist who has risked his life to report this story and others? Let me say that I do respect his willingness to put his neck on the line to report this stuff. And I am grateful for any firsthand descriptions of the people, the cultures, the dangers in Iraq, however uneven or misleadingly applied any given account of these things may be.

I don't, however, respect how this man and others like him have used his unique access to pass his smugly subjective opinions off as if they were courageously dispassionate journalism. It's selfish and dangerous.

But my final paragraph approaches. I'll let Nir Rosen, a native of Israel, have the last word. What follows is from a piece he published last year in Counterpunch and on a website called "Dissident Voice" (and this was why his name was so familiar to me):

The sanctions that cripple Iraq and starve its people do nothing to the dictator whom they did not choose and cannot remove. Israelis on the other hand chose the war criminal that leads them, voted for the bloody policies of their government, and half of them support the "transfer" (the Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from the occupied territories. So I find myself in the unique and painful position of calling for international sanctions against Israel and wondering if a punitive bombing of Tel Aviv, the city I love, until it complies with international law, might be a good (albeit quixotic) idea.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 22, 2005

Free Mojtaba and Arash

Posted by Mary Madigan

From the Committee to Protect Bloggers

Today is Free Mojtaba and Arash Day in honor of the two Iranian bloggers currently incarcerated by the Iranian government.

Read about Arash and Mojtaba.

Here is what you can do. With additional contact information.

Let's make a difference today. Freedom of speech is not a partisan issue, not an issue of culture or ethnicity, it is a bloggers' issue and a human issue.

More about the dangers of blogging in Iran.

[Links thanks to Kesher Talk]

UPDATE - Via Buzzmachine: This issue is getting attention.

An online protest Tuesday of Iran's crackdown against bloggers made an impact--even on Iranian officials.

So says a leader of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the group that organized the effort to decry the jailings of Iranian bloggers Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad.

Reuters on Tuesday reported that Sigarchi was jailed for 14 years on charges ranging from espionage to insulting the country's leaders, a move probably linked in part to the timing of the protest, said Curt Hopkins, the committee's director. "I think there's got to be some connection," Hopkins said.

A message left with the Iranian mission to the United Nations was not immediately returned...

...According to Reuters, Sigarchi is a newspaper editor and blogger who was arrested last month. A member of the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Tehran told Reuters that the charges against him are political and journalistic.

According to the group Reporters Without Borders, Sigarchi was arrested for keeping a banned blog called Panhjareh Eltehab (The Window of Anxiety), in which he reported the arrests of cyber-journalists and bloggers....

...Blogging has emerged in the past year or so as a powerful tool to make a difference in society. Hopkins said his group's next step may go beyond simply raising awareness about free-speech issues. The organization may seek to set up special server computers that would make it harder for a government to crack down on those speaking through blogs.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 21, 2005

Rethinking

MJT’s new Tech Central Station column is up: Second Thoughts in Both Directions: Iraq has made morons out of a lot of people, as perhaps it should..

Posted by Mary Madigan at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Where are the moderate Muslims?

Posted by Mary Madigan

Free Muslims against terrorism respond to the Freedom House Investigation (posted at Dean's World)

Muslim-bashing. That's the accusation many of my fellow Muslims now hurl at the various news outlets for their news stories about a Freedom House investigation that found extremist Islamic literature in some leading American mosques. This name-calling is unfortunate.

Since 1980, the Muslim world has experienced an enormous growth of religious fanaticism and extremism the likes of which Islam has not experienced in its 1,400 years. This movement continues to grow because of the spread of Wahhabi Islam; a sect that used to number no more than one percent of all Muslims, but because of money and technology, has spread to more areas around the world…

..Will Muslims wake up before it is too late? Or will we continue blaming an imaginary Jewish conspiracy and entities like The Dallas Morning News for all our problems? The blaming of all Muslim problems on others is a cancer that is destroying Muslim society. And it must stop.

Muslims must wake up, look inward and put a stop to many of our religious leaders who spend most of their sermons teaching hatred, intolerance and violent jihad. We should not be afraid to admit that as Muslims we have a problem with violent extremism. We should not be afraid to admit that so many of our religious leaders belong behind bars, and not behind a pulpit.

Free Muslims against Terrorism was "created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts."

Moderate Muslims are also here, here, here and here.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Get Well, Helen!

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Congratulations to Helen and Glenn on the news of Helen's successful heart surgery. We all wish you a speedy recovery and the much needed peace of mind we hope this amazing medical technology will bring.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 7:00 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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