July 15, 2010

Gallows Humor

One thing I like about the Middle East is its pitch black sense of humor.

Here's an example from a New York Times piece about Yemen, via the Happy Arab News Service.

Beneath the familiar Arab iconography, like pictures of the president that hang in every shop, there is a wildness about the place, a feeling that things might come apart at any moment. A narcotic haze descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent - would explode into rebellion.

[…]

Last year I expected to see at least a few government soldiers when I visited the ancient city of Shibam in Hadramawt, the vast eastern province where Osama bin Laden's father was born. A few months earlier, four South Korean tourists were blown up by a suicide bomber as they admired the view of Shibam from across the valley. I was a little nervous. "Don't worry," my guide said, patting my shoulder as we walked up to the ridge where the Koreans died. "Ever since the bombing they have put this place on high security." But when we got to the top of the ridge there was not a single soldier or policeman to be seen. We gazed out over the valley in silence. A sign stood nearby, showing a pair of binoculars and the words in English "Discover Islam." As we began to leave, my guide smiled broadly and gestured at the sign. "The Koreans - they discovered Islam," he said, giggling at his joke.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 15, 2010 4:44 PM
Comments
That is one thing that crosses the Blue Line: Dark Savage Humor.

Israelis with the Shoah.

Lebanese with the Civil War.
Posted by: Abu Guerrilla at July 15, 2010 11:29 pm
And chutzpah--and the Jews aren't the only group to have it in spades: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3920791,00.html

Israel was right to refuse to apologize for the flotilla incident. It should be the Turkish government that should apologize!
Posted by: semite5000 at July 16, 2010 5:44 am
http://www.gloria-center.org/gloria/2010/07/what-really-happend-on-the-mavi-marmara
Posted by: semite5000 at July 16, 2010 7:08 am
Mavi-Marmara
The USA knows a lot about the Mavi-Marmara and is collecting more and more information. When will they open it? Where is the investigative reporters who will tell us about the personal files in draweres of the Turkish Police & Army? What about the post mortum reports that for some reasons are not avaiable?. Seemingly some body in Turkey is lowering the demands while the PM is still talking. Strange things can be read between the lines in some Turkish papers. The story is not over at all.
Posted by: Rani at July 16, 2010 9:32 am
Brings to mind the "soma" drug in Brave New World.
Posted by: Toady at July 16, 2010 9:46 am
that Yemen NYT article is fantastic.
Posted by: Mike R at July 16, 2010 9:55 am
"the opiate of khat"??

Opiate has a VERY specific meaning – a drug derived from the opium poppy. Khat is a stimulant and has nothing to do with opium.
Posted by: Stephen at July 16, 2010 10:28 am
" What about the post mortum reports that for some reasons are not avaiable?. Seemingly some body in Turkey is lowering the demands while the PM is still talking. Strange things can be read between the lines in some Turkish papers. The story is not over at all."

I did read that the Turkish doctor who performed the autopsies unwittingly proved the Israelis case about the ratbags having guns abroad the ship. He declared that at least one of those killed had more gunshot entry wounds in his back than in front of his body. The videos showed the Israeli who was doing the shooting to be bottled up against the side of the ship between the ratbags and wounded Israelis. The rat bag was probably killed by other ratbags.

Maybe this is why the autopsies are not available.
Posted by: davod at July 16, 2010 10:59 am
PS:

WRT to US intelligence on the blockade breakers.
There was enough open spource intelligence to show the ratbags were going to play up.

Why then did the Administration act so coyly.

Either the US intelligence services were pretty ignorant about an area which is supposed to the key to the Administrations attempts to make peace in the Middle-East (Israeli-Palestinan peace agreement will bring terrorists out of the cold) or the White House ignored the intelligence.
Posted by: davod at July 16, 2010 11:05 am
Opiate has a VERY specific meaning – a drug derived from the opium poppy. Khat is a stimulant and has nothing to do with opium.

There's also a VERY specific definition for someone who apparently hasn't read any books: illiterate.
Posted by: Edgar at July 16, 2010 5:32 pm
S-5000, we already knew that. The question seems to be what Erdogan told the Israelis before the ship left and what he actually knew. I smell a set up which would even more than the Turkish Press have dared to speculate. There is much that the intelligence services haven't coughed up yet.

http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=181602

No surprises so far....yes, "that's a some a soma"
Posted by: Maxtrue at July 16, 2010 7:39 pm
Stephan,

Khat may be a stimulant to the body, but it functions as an opiate on the users as a community in that it is addictive and functions to delete accomplishment. Much the same could be said about radical Islamism, or radical academia, for that matter. Khat addicts, radical Islamists, and radical academic elitists all accomplish little of lasting value, although the latter two groups try to do so while making a lot of noise.
Posted by: Patricik S Lasswell at July 17, 2010 12:57 am
The photos in the NYT article are beautiful. you can "see the place" without risk of being killed.
Posted by: Joe at July 17, 2010 2:33 am
And for humor: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/Taliban-training-monkeys-for-Jihad/articleshow/6168798.cms
Posted by: Maxtrue at July 17, 2010 5:43 am
Maxtrue, can I have a face-palm to go please?
Posted by: miscellaenous at July 17, 2010 8:18 am
I have no sympathy for tourists when they're killed or captured in Yemen or Iraq or Afghanistan or any of these horrible places no one decent should go; or any sympathy, while I'm at it, for Europeans who find themselves on the wrong size of the moral code in Dubai or any other Muslim country. Maybe you could be forgiven naivete in the 1800s but not now.
Posted by: Hatfield at July 17, 2010 1:01 pm
"I have no sympathy for tourists when they're killed or captured in Yemen or Iraq or Afghanistan or any of these horrible places no one decent should go; or any sympathy, while I'm at it, for Europeans who find themselves on the wrong size of the moral code in Dubai or any other Muslim country. Maybe you could be forgiven naivete in the 1800s but not now."

You have no idea how stupid you sound. Do you realize that Iraq gets something like 1 million tourists a year. Many of them Shiites from countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and America?

Afghanistan gets tourists in the North, West, and Kabul. Although, tourists should probably not visit Zabul or Kandahar. [unless you know family there, who can take care of you. International NGOs and internationals still operate in Kandahar for all its problems, go figure.]

Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, has a huge international NGO community. It's not all good, with the way the NGO industrial complex distorts the Afghan economy [driving up rental, construction and utility prices, not to mention local wages. All of which has made Afghan exports too expensive for foreigners to buy.]

None of these places are "horrible."

You do realize, of course, that Washington DC has a much higher per capita violent death rate than the nation of Iraq has at present. Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and South Africa all have higher per capita violent death rates than Iraq.

What is important, however, is not to be a stupid tourist. For example, if you are an international working for a Chinese or Brazilian energy company, you should probably stick to your hotel in Najaf, versus run around by yourself in a dangerous Iraqi neighborhood.

From what I have been told, many international business people now rent rooms in Najaf hotels. [Since Najaf has its own international airport, and is a relatively safe province, many business people and their Iraqi interlocutors prefer to do business in Najaf. I have been told by Iraqis and Iraqi expatriates that Najaf has the best and most professional police in Iraq. Its also a tourist madhouse.]
Posted by: anan at July 17, 2010 3:57 pm
While I have sympathy for any innocent person caught up in the nightmare of having been kidnapped in any of the places mentioned by Hatfield, I will agree that such people are absolutely stupid for going to those places. There are so many places to visit in the world, why go to a places notorious for kidnapping Western tourists?
Posted by: semite5000 at July 17, 2010 5:31 pm
Guys, I've been to Iraq seven times.

I disagree with Anand. It is a terrible place. If you haven't been there, don't argue with me. Aside from some parts of Kurdistan, no honest person who has been there will tell you it's a nice place.

So while I partly agree with those who say it's stupid for tourists to go there, I couldn't disagree more with people who have no sympathy for those who get kidnapped. I could get kidnapped myself. I know plenty of people who think I'm stupid for going there, and I'm getting a little tired of hearing it.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 17, 2010 5:51 pm
Ok anand. Why haven't you been there, then, or why don't you go to your "tourist madhouse" (I like that phrase - thank you for it) soon? When you do, be sure to write its wonders.

Separately, I agree with semite5000 about western tourists, kidnapped. Sympathy for anyone kidnapped, and for their friends and family is appropriate - but not jimmycarterish handwringing.
Posted by: del at July 17, 2010 8:00 pm
Isn't going foolishly to stupidly dangerous places a journalist's job? I mean, if you're only hanging out with soft-headed politicians and celebrities, hiding in hotel rooms, and cozening up to ideological fellow travelers, what good are you? What are you reporting?
Posted by: Squires at July 17, 2010 11:35 pm
Discover Islam

Lol!! I love it!
Posted by: jonorose at July 18, 2010 12:11 am
Michael: I said tourists, not NGO workers or reporters. We all benefit greatly from reporting from these areas and it is greatly appreciated. Of course, you're crazy to choose these places as a beat. Seattle quilters might be much safer, but that's your choice. As for tourists, however, I don't think our government should expend anything to get them back safely. If they want to risk committing suicide, like those Koreans in Yemen or the hikers in eastern Iraq or the women who decided to slip into North Korea, or even the Westerners who think Abu Dabai is just like London, why save fools from themselves?

As for anan, hey, you're entitled to your opinion. I've never been to these hellholes and absolutely intend never to visit them, which includes absolutely every Muslim country. I read quite a bit about them. Granted there are decent people there, and I pity them hugely, but hellholes they remain.
Posted by: Hatfield at July 18, 2010 7:13 am
I was also a bit shocked by the "opiate of khat" reference. The times I have tried it (4) it has basically been a mild ephedrine buzz, a bit like coffee. While its true that some seem to go psychotic of continual chewing, I have never seen anyone tripping to the extent of "driving in circles".

As for sympathy: I think the blogs author says it best. I vaguely knew Hans Kristian Ostrø who got nabbed in Kashmir in 95. He was a hippie and a figure-theater enthusiast, got his head chopped off. A journo friend of mine had been there just before got nicked. Was he naive going into Kashmir? yes. But mainly he was very unlucky. Be careful about becoming trolls folks. Empathy is not a sin.
Posted by: Fnord at July 18, 2010 7:16 am
...and an off topic comment to an earlier posting: Seen Mark Lynch on Paul Berman and Ramadan?

http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/06/24/debating_non_violent_islamism
Posted by: Fnord at July 18, 2010 7:52 am
MJT,

You went there as a professional for reasons related to the work you do. I'm referring to tourists.
Posted by: semite5000 at July 18, 2010 9:24 am
If you are not shia or do not want to look/dress/mascarade/pretend to be one or do not have shia connections there dont go to Najef. !
Pilgrim and tourist are not the same thing.
Posted by: Rani at July 18, 2010 9:51 am
Hatfield: I've never been to these hellholes and absolutely intend never to visit them, which includes absolutely every Muslim country. I read quite a bit about them. Granted there are decent people there, and I pity them hugely, but hellholes they remain.

I'm not going to tell you where you ought to go on vacation, but you should at least be aware of the fact that many people, including me, think Istanbul (for instance) is one of the greatest cities to visit in the entire world.

Tunisia is also lovely, as are Lebanon and (so I hear) Morocco.

I also really like Sarajevo. It was a hellhole then, but it isn't now.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 18, 2010 11:50 am
Indonesia and Malaysia aren't dangerous either.
Posted by: semite5000 at July 18, 2010 12:17 pm
"None of these places are "horrible." "

You mean "don't tell them you're Jewish Michael LOL" Afghanistan? Not surprising that anand would love a place where you get tortured and murdered for being Jewish. Then he rips Israel for not sending soldiers there.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at July 18, 2010 12:23 pm
"I was also a bit shocked by the "opiate of khat" reference. The times I have tried it (4)"

My guess would have been every time you post here.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at July 18, 2010 12:25 pm
I have heard that about Istanbul; not so much about Tunisia. Turkey is complicated; it's moving in a bad direction; it has so much to answer for in its past. The absolute inability to even look at its past tells me it is a dysfunctional society. It's current treatment of Jews is not so good, as I understand it. Since my first focus in college was Byzantium, I would like to see that area but....

I know I paint things with a broad, hyperventilated brush. But mostly because of what I see as contradictions in Muslim societies (a religion that preaches hatred of Jews...the Koran is devoted to that); weird and dangerous attitudes about gay people and women, I see them as dangerous places, tinderboxes, really. All that potential energy just waiting to explode.

A friend of mine was stationed in Jeddah during the Hajj many years ago (he was an airline steward on the Israeli airline Tower Air which was always hired by the Saudis to ferry pilgrims; go figure!). Anyway, being hot as hell, he went out for a walk in shorts. He noticed lots of stares and finally a bus driver stopped and told him to get in, or he might face some problems. He was showing too much leg, of all things.

That kind of pent-up sexual feeling combined with sexual suppression, gender issues, strong religious hatreds, make for a difficult place to be.

Still, Tunisia...hmm...maybe next autumn.
Posted by: Hatfield at July 18, 2010 2:02 pm
Hatfield: Turkey is complicated; it's moving in a bad direction

Yes, politically it is, but Istanbul is still one of the best places in the world to go as a tourist.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 18, 2010 3:01 pm
Michael Yon mentioned this:
Oh, those randy Brits...

"UAE arrest hotspot for holidaying Brits"
http://tinyurl.com/332ff5n

"DUBAI - The UAE has the second-highest arrest rate for Britons in the world, after Thailand...It is illegal to have sex or cohabit outside marriage, including in hotels,” the report warned. “Pregnancy outside marriage can lead to imprisonment. Adultery, cross-dressing and homosexual behaviour are illegal.”

Now, there's law, and then there's enforcement. I've never been there, so I'm more curious about the enforcement part.
Posted by: Paul S. at July 18, 2010 3:24 pm
Anan - “You do realize, of course, that Washington DC has a much higher per capita violent death rate than the nation of Iraq has at present. Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and South Africa all have higher per capita violent death rates than Iraq”

==

R – How odd. I've been in and around the DC region since 1974 and the only car bombing I can think of happened way back in 1976. I cannot recall seeing or hearing about even one suicide bombing, Rocket Propelled Grenade, or mortar being used in a crime in the DC region, ever.

As of July 16th 2010, 65 people have been murdered in DC.

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1239,q,561242,mpdcNav_GID,1523,mpdcNav,%7C.asp

On July 17th 2010 suicide bombers killed 43 people in Baghdad. On July 13th 2010 suicide bombs killed 7 people in Baghdad. On July 9th a suicide bomber killed six people in Baghdad. On July 8th, 2010 an IED killed five people in Baghdad. On July 7th, 2010 a suicide bomber killed 32 people in Baghdad. On July 6th 2010 mortar and bomb attacks killed 6 people in Baghdad.

http://www.longwarjournal.org/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?tag=Iraq&blog_id=7

That's all just in Baghdad this month, not Iraq as a whole.

Can't speak for Venezuela, Columbia, or Mexico but I can point out the obvious. All three have on-going insurgencies and heavily armed drug wars. DC's drug war ended the day the mayor, a liberal Democrat, got busted smoking crack on video.

=

Fnord: In Norway qat is classified as a narcotic drug and is illegal to use, sell and possess. Are you admitting to having committed a crime multiple times?

EXPLAINING
EVERYTHING,
R
Posted by: Render at July 18, 2010 5:44 pm
Re: Mexico:

"Car bomb in Mexican drug war changes ground rules"
http://tinyurl.com/3xjlrhb

Thanks again to Michael Yon for the link.

"CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Mexican drug traffickers' first car-bomb attack against police...Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said city authorities will have to change the way we operate...Reyes Ferriz said at least 14 police officers or other law enforcement officials have been killed in the last few weeks in and around the city."
Posted by: Paul S. at July 18, 2010 6:20 pm
"Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with more than 4,000 people killed since the beginning of 2009."

ONE OF the most dangerous cities...I wonder which city has the dubious distinction of being at the top of the list? Stories such as this make me feel embarassed to complain about anything where I am.

Not that I couldn't find something.
;-)
Posted by: Paul S. at July 18, 2010 6:29 pm
Reminds me of tourists who had recently lived in Japan asking me if San Francisco was a safe city. A little puzzled and curious (they were Americans), I asked where they were from originally. "Miami," they replied.
Posted by: Paul S. at July 18, 2010 6:51 pm
Heh, Render, yes I am. To contextualize, it was in a period where we ran a studio in the somalian part of Oslo (wich is about 5 blocks) and went to visit a few of the local khat clubs in order to make our face known to the locals and gain some burglary insurance. Anyways, use has been effectively decriminalized, with posession of even large quantities leading to a minor fine. Ive broken the law in worse ways both before and since ;-)
Posted by: Fnord at July 19, 2010 2:56 am
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