April 19, 2005

Freedom Vanishes

Posted by Michael J. Totten

The single biggest media disaster in the world right now is the Western reporting from Lebanon.

Callimachus explains what's happening here.

It is impossible for me to describe how infuriating it is for me to read that post while hanging out with, and writing about, the democratic opposition here in Beirut.

All the more reason to help the opposition's new Web site Pulse of Freedom get as much attention as possible. If the media won't report what they have to say, they are just going to have to say it themselves.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:07 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 18, 2005

Arabists vs. the Middle East

Posted by Mary Madigan

In his TNR (registration required) piece, Juan Cole's Bad Blog Efraim Karsh describes the prejudices that influence Cole's Informed Comment:

Cole suffers from many other common Arabist misconceptions that deeply prejudice and compromise his writing. Having done hardly any independent research on the twentieth-century Middle East, Cole's analysis of this era is essentially derivative, echoing the conventional wisdom among Arabists and Orientalists regarding Islamic and Arab history.. Worse, Cole's discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently veers toward conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This is hardly the "informed" commentary Cole claims it to be.

Orientalism is defined by Edward Said as "the western belief that there could be such a thing as an Islamic society, an Arab mind, an Oriental psyche. According to Said, no one “would dare talk about blacks or Jews using such essentialist cliché."

Said’s works are popular, for the most part, among Islamic fundamentalists and Western academics, whose agree with his views on the “violation of Islam and the Arabs by a predatory West.”

To Said’s fans, Orientalism is synonymous with colonialism and racism. To them, any criticism of Arabs or Islam is racism and aggression. Which is why they can, with a straight face, call critics of the Arab/Islamic tradition of enslaving blacks “racists”.

Cole responded to Karsh’s piece by calling the staff of TNR "colonialists". Reactionaries are so predicable.

What is an Arabist? Lebanese blogger Tony of Across the Bay defines the term:

It's replaying that tired Arab nationalist myth that Arabism protects Christians by providing a secular Arab identity. The flip side of course is that only Arab nationalism is a legitimate narrative in the region. Everything. Everything else is a fitna in the heart of the umma. (Both terms by the way are thoroughly Islamic, not that the stupid Christian Arab nationalists ever noticed!) That's why it's no coincidence that in every case of Arab/Muslim - "ethnic minority" tension, Israel and the West/US is brought in. Why? In the case of Israel, it's because it is the only other nationalism that managed to carve for itself a niche in the dominant Arab surrounding. That's why any other ethnic movement is seen as another potential Israel, and thus is painted with the same brush..

...This move, that lent credence to the historic lie that the region is exclusively "Arab", is at the heart of the problem. It not only led Edward Said, in his critique of reductionism, to reduce the entire Middle East to mean "the Arab world," it also led to an incredibly hostile and condescending attitude towards all non-Arab ethnicities and identities in the region, not only by the Arab nationalist regimes, but by sympathetic Western scholars, among whom Cole is but an example.

When describing Cole’s bias, Karsh of TNR notes the similarities between The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’s obsession with the imagined influence of "world Zionism" (and its corresponding ruthless Zionist cabal) and Cole’s similar obsession with the Jewish/Neocon/Likudnik cabal.

Although Cole claims to provide informed comment on the Middle East, it’s obvious that he does not express the views of the Jews who live there. He also does not express the views of pro-Independence Lebanese, Iraqis, Kurds, Jews, Arab Christians, liberal Arabs or moderate Muslims. Cole, the Arabist, expresses the views of Arab nationalists and their Islamist allies.

Cole expresses his Arabist views through words. Arab nationalists express their views through the use of terrorism, financial incentives and ethnic cleansing.

As Tony from Across the Bay says, Cole is but an example.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 16, 2005

Staying in Lebanon

I was scheduled to come home early next week, but things are heating up here in the Paris of the Middle East. I am going to stay for a couple more weeks.

Night Shot1.jpg

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Tent City at Night.jpg

I hope you're all reading my Lebanon coverage over at the Spirit of America site. And I hope you're all donating some money. The democracy movement needs every last nickel and dime it can get. Remember, the tent-city is ground zero for the Cedar Revolution. These people quit their jobs and dropped out of school to make it happen. They are not making money, but they desperately need it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:45 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 15, 2005

The Peace and Quiet Movement

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I have written often about the need of people like me -- who were once Left/liberal Latte drinkers (well, espresso in my case) and are now wandering in the rain like King Lear trying to comprehend that everything has fallen apart -- to start letting go of the Cold War concepts of 'Left' and 'Right.'

I keep thinking I've done that. But you'll notice I've described myself as 'Left/liberal.' Part of the problem is: how do you get a handle on what is going on in the world now?

There's a political humorist (among other things) named Jim Hightower who I used to think pretty highly of. These days I can't stand to listen to him or read his stuff. But back before 2001 I remember him saying that the politics of Left/Right was starting to recede into history and that it was being replaced by the simple politics of up vs. down. Class, privelage, access...these were what it was all about. This resonated with me and still does. This is Left wing populism. Where I think he's failed to take his own point is in his continuing practice of portraying the Republican party as the enemy.

So who's the enemy? (Must there even be an enemy? That's for the enemy to decide. The ball's in his court). The enemy is greed, wanton brutality, anti-democratic violence...there are a thousand ways to say it. Totalitarians both Left and Right (I know, I know) are the enemy.

Here in the U.S. there are power pimps in both parties, Republican and Democratic, just as there is a (small) populist wing in each. This is the up/down party line. And it's world wide.

But another manifestation of this is the 'speak out!'/'shut up' divide. This could not have been better exemplified than in Lebanon where hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, daring to tell Syria to get the hell out. Then the official counter protest designed to shut them the hell up. Then the counter-counter protest...followed by the amazing pro-democracy movement that Michael is narrating first hand as we speak.

This also manifests as the conflict between those who recognize that the world is being transformed by an era of unprecedented transparency (think both big and small: Oil-for-Food, Abu Ghraib, Dan Rather, Enron, even Michael Jackson. If you're counting on getting away with something because no one will find out, you might want to be careful) versus those of the 'see no evil' class.

It's along these lines that I got in the habit of referring to the contemporary anti-war crowd as the 'peace and quiet' movement. The fact that fascists were exterminating people in Afghanistan and Iraq was not a big talking point on the Left -- though it was OK to distribute pamphlets about starving Iraqi children because it was possible to blame that on American Imperialsm -- until the U.S. actually did something to stop it. Then it became fashionable to decry all the suffering. This is like not caring much that your neighbor down the street is beating his wife and kids to death to the extent that you don't know any of the parties involved. That's the Peace and Quiet movement.

And this cartoon by the Argentine cartoonist, Quino, though I doubt he agrees with my views lately, illustrates this point very nicely (click image for larger version):


Quino, whose real name is Joaquin S. Lavado, is a genius. The cartoon above came from a collection called 'The World of Quino.' It seems to be out of print, but you can buy it used.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 7:29 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 14, 2005

Hezbollah Blogging

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Lebanon still has some deadly serious problems aside from just the

Syrian dictatorship and the secret police. Hezbollah runs their own

terrorist state-within-a-state in the southern suburbs of Beirut. I

went down there yesterday and blogged about it - with photos - here.

It was, um, creepy to say the least.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:55 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 12, 2005

We have the technology

Posted by Mary Madigan

After 9/11, when it became apparent that oil producing nations in the Middle East just might have had something to do with the attacks, I believed that the best way for American civilians to fight terrorism was to develop alternative sources of energy.

That idea is catching on. Roger Simon is thinking about buying a hybrid.* He says:

I don't care if you define yourself as a "liberal" or a "conservative" (I gave up on that yawner some time ago), you shouldn't want to see the likes of Chavez and the House of Saud and the rest of the petro-scum continue to have leverage on all of us. I think one of the mistakes the administration made in fighting the War on Terror is underestimating the propaganda value alone in getting the public behind energy conservation. Is this area their critics are right.

Glenn Reynolds is also thinking about buying a hybrid – and he’s talking about Green Power. He says:

..everyone keeps telling me that hydrogen cars will be our salvation. The problem is that hydrogen isn't that easy to come by, and requires a lot of electricity to make. And if the electricity comes from big coal- or oil-fired plants, you haven't really done much. Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame is predicting a turnabout in attitudes:

Years ago, environmentalists hated cars and wanted to ban them. Then physicist Amory Lovins came along, saw that the automobile was the perfect leverage point for large-scale energy conservation, and set about designing and promoting drastically more efficient cars.

Gas-electric hybrid vehicles are now on the road, performing public good. The United States, Lovins says, can be the Saudi Arabia of nega-watts: Americans are so wasteful of energy that their conservation efforts can have an enormous effect. Single-handedly, Lovins converted the environmental movement from loathing of the auto industry to fruitful engagement with it.

Some Friends of the Earth are beginning to embrace technology – even nuclear technology. From Wired Magazine’s Green vs. Green:

From Greenpeace to the Green Party, some of the most prominent environmental groups today made their reputations in the 1970s as opponents of nuclear power. So it was no wonder that greens were vexed last summer when prime minister Tony Blair proposed a new generation of nuclear power plants for Britain to confront the problem of climate change. But what galled them even more was the response to Blair from Hugh Montefiore, a former Anglican bishop and longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth. Writing in the British journal The Tablet in October, Montefiore committed what colleagues viewed as the ultimate betrayal: "I have now come to the conclusion that the solution [to global warming] is to make more use of nuclear energy." When Montefiore told fellow trustees that he planned to speak out, they made him resign his post.

Montefiore isn't the only dyed-in-the-wool green who has been exiled for advocating nuclear power. Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore left the organization after embracing atomic energy. British biologist James Lovelock, whose Gaia theory was an environmental watchword before he turned pro-nuke, is now persona non grata within the movement. "There are members of my former organization who would agree with me but have not gone public about the matter," Montefiore laments. "If only we had a few more people who would stick their necks out, it would help."

In Wired’s Nuclear Now! authors Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss say:

We should be shooting to match France, which gets 77 percent of its electricity from nukes. It's past time for a decisive leap out of the hydrocarbon era, time to send King Coal and, soon after, Big Oil shambling off to their well-deserved final resting places - maybe on a nostalgic old steam locomotive.

Besides, wouldn't it be a blast to barrel down the freeway in a hydrogen Hummer with a clean conscience as your copilot? Or not to feel like a planet killer every time you flick on the A/C? That's how the future could be, if only we would get over our fear of the nuclear bogeyman and forge ahead - for real this time - into the atomic age.

The granola crowd likes to talk about conservation and efficiency, and surely substantial gains can be made in those areas. But energy is not a luxury people can do without, like a gym membership or hair gel. The developed world built its wealth on cheap power - burning firewood, coal, petroleum, and natural gas, with carbon emissions the inevitable byproduct.

Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk has been talking about Thermal depolymerization. She says:

TDP does the same thing the earth does when it turns organic matter into oil, but a lot faster, using standard refinery components and techniques. The technology is not quite competitive - barrel for barrel or ton for ton - with existing energy sources, but if all the secondary costs and benefits (transportation, waste disposal, pollution and disease control, compatibility with existing energy infrastructure, vulnerability to terrorism, etc.) were factored in, it would look more competitive than other energy alternatives:

If we factored in all of the costs, we would also have to factor in the costs of dealing with the Saudi support of terrorism (a net loss of many, many, many billions), and the costs of dealing with other oil-producing terror supporters, as well as regimes like Venuzuela’s Chavez. When compared with the costs of terror and the other uses of this geopolitical weapon, alternate energy sources are priceless.

Outside magazine is promoting the new techno-friendly environmentalism.

In the old days, trying to live with an environmental conscience could be tricky, if not downright unpleasant—filled with hard-to-find organic bulgur salads, tiresome carpools, and scratchy hemp ponchos. But there's good news for greenies everywhere: You no longer have to live like John the Baptist to contribute to a healthier planet. Being kind to the earth has never been more hip, luxe, delicious, and deprivation-free. Simply put, a growing commitment to do no harm is transforming culture and commerce, making it possible to play hard and live well while living responsibly.

What about traditional alternatives like conservation, solar and wind energy? I think we should work on developing many, alternatives, not just a few. If some technologies don’t work in America for one reason or another, they could work somewhere else. America has been protecting the world’s energy needs, not just our own. Any reduction in those needs is a good thing.

As Judith says:

TDP might be commercially feasible now in countries where oil is much more expensive, concerns about livestock waste are more pressing, and economic vulnerability to fluctuating oil prices is greater. Also, in many developing areas with poor infrastructure or transportation, local energy production makes more sense than importing oil or gas or coal. We are in a global economy, and any reduction in reliance on Middle East oil, anywhere, helps everybody.

Sharing these newly developed technologies is profitable for us, profitable for all consumers and bad for oil-producers like Chavez and the Sauds. Talk about a win-win situation.

• We’ve had a Prius since 2001. It's a great car – excellent milage, good handling, and it always impresses the parking lot attendants. As far as acceleration goes, don’t pull out in front of fast-moving trucks, but otherwise, it’s good on the highway.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 9:30 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 11, 2005

More Flawed Institutions in the News

Posted by Jeremy Brown

This take on flawed institution theory is different from the last. This time Tom Regan in the Christian Science Monitor tells a story whose moral seems to be that all corruption must be expunged from the planet before any steps are taken to expunge any corruption from the planet:

Iraq is becoming 'free fraud' zone

Corruption in Iraq under US-led CPA may dwarf UN oil-for-food scandal.


[Jeremy Brown reported that Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor reported that] Newsweek reported earlier this week that Frank Willis compared Iraq to the "wild west," and that with only $4.1 billion of the $18.7 billion that the US government set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq having been spent, the lack of action on the part of the government means "the corruption will only get worse."

Please believe me when I say I'd like for this to be thoroughly investigated. There's enough Lefty left in me that I don't doubt there are corrupt scumbags in every large corporation who would do this sort of thing (and, of course, in a post-Enron world you no longer have to be Left wing to harbor such cynical notions).

But the message driving this article seems to have less to do with the importance of exposing corruption than with making a case that, while global transparency is a nice idea, the United States is not free enough of sin to cast the first stone (though I'd be a bit surprised if we learn that Haliburton has been giving Saddam kickbacks -- a gold-plated shiv, or a brick of joes, or whatever it is incarcerated mass-murderers covet):

Rep. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, one of five panels probing the oil-for-food program, told CNN the United States was 'complicit in undermining' the UN sanctions on Iraq.

'How is it that you stand on a moral footing to go after the UN when they're responsible for 15 percent maybe of the ill-gotten gains, and we were part and complicit of him getting 85 percent of the money?" Menendez asked.

George W. Bush, to put it another way, has broken up the syndicate. I think this is a good thing. And yes, if he's not willing to expose any corruption that might continue to exist within the U.S. entities now in Iraq then it's the job of the press to expose such corruption.

But the interesting lede that's buried in this story is the fact that there are powerful people in the world whose response to news of U.N. corruption is to express resentment that the fun is over. I find this embarrassing.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 8:15 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 9, 2005

Actions speak louder..

Posted by Mary Madigan

The Mudville Gazette* posts on reports that a CBS Cameraman has been arrested in Iraq.

The Mudville Gazette links to CNN. CNN's homepage links to a report that the CBS cameraman has been arrested in Iraq as a suspected insurgent. According to the report his camera contained footage of an insurgent attack on American forces, authorities believe he was 'tipped off'.

[CBS's homepage reports that Bob Barker’s Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular will be featured tonight]

Via CNN:

A CBS stringer has been arrested as a suspected insurgent, U.S. military officials said Friday.

The video cameraman was wounded during a firefight in northeastern Mosul between U.S. troops and insurgents Tuesday.

U.S. military officials said the man's camera held footage of a number of roadside bomb attacks against American troops, and they believe he was tipped off to those attacks…

..In a written statement, the network said the man was referred to the network by a "fixer" in Tikrit "who has had a trusted relationship with CBS News for two years."

"It is common practice in Iraq for Western news organizations to hire local cameramen in places considered too dangerous for Westerners to work effectively," the network said.

"Common practice." Wasn’t it common practice a few years ago for certain Western news agencies to keep bad news about terror-supporting dictators to themselves due to fear of reprisals? It’s not yet clear what this CBS stringer’s involvement was, but one thing is clear – the common practices of western news agencies don't seem to be in the best interests of Iraqi citizens; Iraqi citizens like Hatem Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, Mahdi Sbeih and Samy Moussa, election officials who were dragged from their cars and shot dead by terrorists. An AP photographer snapped surprisingly well-framed, clearly focused photos of the murders. That photograper won a Pulizer Prize for his efforts.

According to the Mudville Gazette, important facts have been “left out” of CBS reports:

CBS original comment on the shooting was buried in another story on Iraq:

A soldier shot an Iraqi freelance reporter and cameraman employed by CBS News, Abdul Amir Younis Hussein, in northeastern Mosul while working. According to what the Pentagon told the CBS News bureau in Washington, Tuesday, Hussein was shot in the hip by a soldier who mistook his camera, which he was using at the time, for a weapon. Hussein is being treated and is expected to make a full recovery.

The original Reuters report:

The cameraman and reporter suffered minor injuries when he was shot while covering a firefight for CBS in Mosul, CBS News said. It asked that the man's name not be reported for his protection.

CBS then promptly released his name in their own report.

Reuters again:

The U.S. military said in a statement from Mosul released at the Pentagon that U.S. soldiers had been involved in an engagement with at least one suspected insurgent who was "waving an AK-47 (assault rifle) and inciting a crowd of civilians."

During the incident, "an individual that appeared to have a weapon who was standing near the insurgent was shot and injured. This individual turned out to be a reporter who was pointing a video camera," the military statement said.

Leaving out a fact that could be considered essential:

A US military statement said troops also shot and killed an insurgent who was waving an AK-47 assault rifle and inciting a crowd of civilians at the site of a suicide bombing in eastern Mosul.

That was left out of the CBS report too.

This report from an NBC affiliate attributed to AP adds this: The incident followed a car bombing in Mosul that injured five American soldiers.

According to the Guardian and ABC News International:

[Task Force Freedom, Capt. Mark Walter] said the reporter was detained immediately after the incident, in part because of statements from witnesses to the battle.

Witnesses that were, presumably, Iraqi citizens. The Iraqi people have defied the insurgent/terrorists by turning out by the thousands to protest terrorism, participating in elections, shooting insurgents and spitting on their dead bodies. Many of the insurgents aren’t Iraqis. By their actions, Iraqi citizens have shown that they do not support the terrorists who murder their neighbors and their children.

The phrase the press uses to explain themselves is "values-neutral."

[*Link thanks to dougf]

Posted by Mary Madigan at 9:36 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 8, 2005

Weekend Reading

Posted by Jeremy Brown

The weekend is a good time to catch up on those stories that the mainstream press is doing a lousy job of covering (meaning, I guess, stories not about the Pope or Michael Jackson). It seems to me that if we do nothing more than brief ourselves on Lebanon and Darfur then, as they say in my tribe, that would be a mitzvah.

You know where to get information and offer help regarding the democracy movement in Lebanon, right? Michael will keep you informed here.

When it comes to getting information on Darfur and Sudan I don't know of a better place than Sudan: The Passion of the Present. There we're reminded that Wednesday marked a disturbing anniversary:

On April 6, 1994, Habayarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were killed when their plane was shot down. The next day, Rwandan Armed Forces went house to house killing Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Thousands died. In response, the next day the RPF launched an offensive. But the genocide that would last three months had already gained ground.

The world powers debated whether or not to call the killings in Rwanda genocide. On April 30, the United Nations agreed on a resolution condemning the killings -- but it conveniently left out the g-word.

Remind you of anything? Read the whole thing.

But of course you won't be of much use to the world if you're reduced to a hopeless shell of despair. My advice is to get informed, decide on something you are willing and able to do about the issues of importance to you, then take care of your own soul.

Here's a story about something like the opposite of genocide -- a story about a tribe in India winning official recognition as descendents of one of the lost tribes of Israel:

The 6,000-strong 'Bnei Menashe' or children of Manasseh tribe spread across Mizoram and Manipur states have been officially recognised by sephardic or oriental chief rabbi Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem.

"We do not have words to express our joy," 48-year-old Peer Tlau, an engineer from Aizawl, told AFP by telephone. "We are now looking for the day when we can migrate to our promised land in Israel."


Apart from names, the tribals share many practices in common with traditional Jews -- keeping mezuzahs or parchment inscribed with verses of the Torah at the entrance to their homes, the men wearing a kippa during prayers.

And finally, there's a blog I think more people should be reading. If she had a column in the New Yorker, as she should, I'd subscribe again. Anne Cunningham writes brilliant posts and has honed a particular style in which she paints portraits of moments between people, or within people that you will one day think you read in a novel but will not be able to place which. Or maybe she'll write one, but meanwhile the stuff's here for free.

And of course we'll do our best to post some juicy stuff here too.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 7:30 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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