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 06:43 PM | Comments (158)

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 | Comments (71)

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 07:10 AM | Comments (42)

Are you thinking what Im 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 05:35 AM | Comments (25)

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 | Comments (77)

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 | Comments (45)

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 | Comments (92)

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 | Comments (55)

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 07:00 AM | Comments (18)

February 20, 2005

Ideological strangulation

Posted by Mary Madigan

In May, 2004, Asra Q. Nomani wrote about how her local mosque was being taken over by extremists:

"Not long ago in my little mosque around the corner from a McDonald’s, a student from the university here delivered a sermon. To love the Prophet Muhammad, he said, "is to hate those who hate him." He railed against man-made doctrines that replace Islamic law, and excoriated the "enemies of Islam" who deny strict adherence to Sunnah, or the ways of Muhammad. While he wasn’t espousing violence, his words echoed the extremist vocabulary of Wahhabism, used by some followers to breed militant attitudes."
Near Chicago, the Bridgeview mosque was also overtaken by extremists. It became a political outreach center for local extremists and supporters of Hamas. The moderates fought the extremists for control of the Bridgeview mosque and lost.
Moderate Muslims still pray at the mosque, but some say conservatives have created an environment that is overly political, too rigid in its interpretation of Islam and resistant to open debate. These members also worry that the Muslim Brotherhood, a controversial group with a violent past, has an undue influence over the mosque. Despite these concerns, the critics largely remain silent, fearful of being called "unIslamic" by mosque leaders.
Connections between Saudi-influenced mosques and terrorist groups have been made in the Netherlands, after the killing of Theo Van Gogh, and in Spain after the 3/11 attacks. According to Sufi scholar Hisham Kabbani more than 80 per cent of American mosques are "controlled by extremists". Most of those extremist mosques are supported and funded by Saudi charities.

The Center For Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, founded
more than sixty years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and other pro-democracy Americans, studied the influence of hate propaganda in America by the government of Saudi Arabia.

This project * was started after many Muslims requested the Center’s help in exposing Saudi extremism "in the hope of freeing their communities from ideological strangulation"

Their report concluded that:

..the Saudi government propaganda reflected a "totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to violence," and the fact that it is "being mainstreamed within our borders through the efforts of a foreign government, namely Saudi Arabia, demands our urgent attention." The report finds: "Not only does the government of Saudi Arabia not have a right – under the First Amendment or any other legal document – to spread hate ideology within U.S. borders, it is committing a human rights violation by doing so."
The press had a variety of responses to this story. From the Houston Chronicle:
To be clear, Freedom House's study is not comprehensive. It examined a small number of U.S. mosques, choosing the larger and more influential ones. It would be unfair to conclude that these findings represent all American mosques, or for that matter all American Muslims. The Saudis are the real villains in this study.

Still, these findings are alarming. The report identifies the spread of Wahhabist thought in this country as a national security threat. The war for the hearts and minds of Muslims is being fought here, too. The U.S. government allows the foreign enemies of freedom and tolerance to spread jihad ideology on the home front. Why?

From the Chicago Tribune:
Are there Muslims who espouse bigoted views? The answer to that question is `yes,' just like any other minority of any other faith," said Tabbara. "What Freedom House is doing is unfortunately smearing all mosques in the United States and all mosque-goers by extension."

If the researchers broadened their study, controversial literature would likely also turn up in other houses of worship, Kaiseruddin suggested.

"We are aware that there are books written with a little inflammatory language," he said. "I don't think books on Islam have a monopoly on those. There are books on other faiths that use inflammatory language. I don't know that they can be classified as promoting hate.

[if there are books on other faiths that say things similar to these Saudi statements:
  • Jews "are worse than donkeys." They are the corrupting force "behind materialism, bestiality, the destruction of the family, and the dissolution of society."

  • Muslims who convert to another religion "should be killed because [they] have denied the Koran."

  • Democracy is "responsible for all the horrible wars" of the 20th century, and for spreading "ignorance, moral decadence, and drugs."
..I'd like to see them too.]
"The only thing we've received from Saudi Arabia is a package of dates during the month of Ramadan," [Kaiseruddin] added. "We don't reject that. We distribute it and we eat them. I don't know that promotes any hatred among anybody."
From the Boston Globe:
It is important to note that most Muslims do not share the xenophobic Wahhabi dogma. Freedom House undertook its study in part because ''many Muslims . . . requested our help in exposing Saudi extremism in the hope of freeing their communities from ideological strangulation." Now that Freedom House has done so, it is up to moderate American Muslims to purge their mosques of the Saudi toxin, and to ostracize the extremists.

And it is up to Washington to end the pretense of US-Saudi harmony. President Bush last week referred to Saudi Arabia as one of ''our friends" in the Middle East. But friends don't flood friends' houses of worship with hateful religious propaganda. We are in a war against radical Islamist terrorism, and Saudi Arabia supplies the ideology on which the terrorists feed. Until that incitement is stifled, the Saudis are no friends of ours.

According to Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Washington Times:
Worshippers at Al Farooq are told, "If a person says I believe in Allah alone and confirms the truth of everything from Muhammad, except in his forbidding fornication, he becomes a disbeliever. For that, it would be lawful for Muslims to spill his blood and to take his money."

The Brooklyn mosque was a favorite of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, on his fund-raising tours in the late 1980s. Several co-conspirators in the Landmark bomb plot (whose targets were the United Nations and New York City's tunnels) also used Al Farooq as a safe meeting place.

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 along with nine followers of conspiring to bomb the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan and several other buildings, bridges and tunnels in New York preached at the popular Al Salam mosque in Jersey City.

Joel Mowbray, (the only journalist who has ever been detained by the US government for asking the wrong questions about the Saudi/State Department Visa Express program) also notes the connection between extremist mosques and extremist activity:

The former imam at the El-Tawheed Islamic Center in Jersey City, Alaa Al-Sadawi, was convicted in 2003 of attempting to smuggle more than $650,000 to the terrorist organization Global Relief Fund in Egypt.

One of Al-Sadawi’s former spiritual followers murdered in the name of Allah. Alim Hassan, then 31, killed his pregnant wife, her mother, and her sister on July 30, 2002. He reportedly stabbed the women more than 20 times each because they refused to convert to Islam. According to reports, Hassan prayed regularly at El-Tawheed.

Mowbray notes a possible connection between this extremist influence and the recent murders of the Armanious family in Jersey City. This possible connection was also noted by ABC news a few days after the murders.
But ABC News has learned that a cousin of the slain family has been a translator working for the prosecution in the trial of Lynne Stewart [link added by ed]. She is the radical lawyer accused of smuggling messages from imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, to terrorist cell members and associates
In any case, it’s pretty clear that the Saudi government is exporting more than dates to American mosques. According to the Freedom House report, moderate Muslims have been watching their religion get shanghaied by extremists for years. Has our government been listening to them, or have they been listening to Wahhabi-sponsored groups like CAIR?

The problem is not getting better. The question is, what does the government plan to do about it?

* View the full report (pdf)

Posted by Mary Madigan at 09:42 AM | Comments (76)

February 18, 2005

Blogger Broadcasting

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Earlier this evening I caught the very tail end of Jeff Jarvis, Roger L. Simon, and Matthew Yglesias on Kudlow & Co. So I'm afraid I missed the juciy bits, if there were juicy bits. And I missed Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Wonkette, etc. on Charlie Rose (I'm going to have to break down and order the video).

My point? Just that the bloggers are increasingly becoming kings and queens of all media. And also, that I managed to make a crude recording of Norm Geras' brief interview on BBC radio last week. It's not the best quality because my sound card was on the fritz. And the interviewer kept Norm anchored to the rudiments (why do you blog? No, but why do you bother to blog? No, I mean, why would anyone bother to blog?) but the interview was by no means hostile and the tension of all those naive questions actually may have created a good space for Norm to give a good account of a certain part of his story as a blogger.

In any event, you don't hear this professor on radio or TV often, so here's your opportunity (.mp3, approximately 5MB).

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:25 PM | Comments (38)

February 17, 2005

Hear Ye, Fast Zombies

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I am a Gullible Ass

To put it another way: I am still a daily reader of the New York Times. I tell myself I’ve learned to separate the wheat from the chaff and the chaff from the manure. But a few days ago I let one piece of manure slip by me.

The offending kaka missile emerged from that recent NYT piece on how we pajama-clad bloggers are tearing across the country – at high-speed, just like those fast zombies in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead – forsaking our sheltered nests out in places like Kansas and Iowa to invade the streets of New York City and rip out the hearts of our betters, namely people like Dan Rather and Eason Jordan.

Yes, well that sort of view is basically fine. It’s fairly funny, really. But the article quotes Jeff Jarvis in a very misleading way:

But while the bloggers are feeling empowered, some in their ranks are openly questioning where they are headed. One was Jeff Jarvis, the head of the Internet arm of Advance Publications, who publishes a blog at buzzmachine.com. Mr. Jarvis said bloggers should keep their real target in mind. "I wish our goal were not taking off heads but digging up truth," he cautioned.

To which Jeff responds on his blog:

And, of course, that makes it look as if I'm wringing my hands over the morals of my fellow bloggers when, in fact, I'm worried about precisely what The Times is doing here: using this episode to call us a lynch mob. Here's what I said after that line:

We don't want to be positioned as the news lynch mob -- which is where a radio interview yesterday tried to go -- but as the press of the people. Of course, big media can be a lynch mob, too. But that doesn't mean it's an example we should follow.

What a handy 'snip.'

My initial reaction after reading the Times article on Monday was to reaffirm my solidarity with the opinions of one Jeff Jarvis as against those of the Jeff Jarvis with whom I bitterly disagreed in the NYT article. But, it seems, the latter Jeff Jarvis was an invention of the NYT reporters. Anyway, I feel I owe the real JJ an apology for thinking that straw effigy was him. Sorry about that.

My take on the Eason Jordan affair is that it’s a simple matter of accountability. And in this regard we the blogs are just a kind of community coalition taking media accountability into our own hands, the same way traditional community groups have taken it upon themselves to police the police or to put a small flame to the buttocks of their political representatives, etc. We the citizens are the boss of the police, of the courts, of the government and, ultimately, of the press. We literally own the broadcast spectrum, for one thing, so why wouldn’t we feel free to make a noise when a high ranking executive of a TV news network makes a serious charge without evidence, one that his network has not reported. All we wanted was to know what the hell had happened, what the man really meant. I don’t recall many bloggers calling for Jordan’s head on a pike. But so what if some had?

It wasn’t bloggers, or readers who fired Eason Jordan. CNN fired Eason Jordan (or accepted his resignation, as the case may be). Why? We don’t know, do we, since they won’t tell us. CNN seems quite happy to hide behind the cover of this bloggers-as-lynch-mob idea. Do we really have the power to defenestrate journalists we happen not to care for? I almost wouldn’t mind if we did. Bang! There goes Dowd, pumping gas. Pow! There’s Krugman scooping ice cream. Kablamachunk! Chomsky’s long-windedly explaining the Tilt-a-Whirl’s height requirement to a dazed Belgian child at Euro Disney.

But alas, bloggers don’t actually have that kind of juice.

Brent Bozell (hat tip: Captain’s Quarters) sums this up well:

Amazingly, most of the major "news" media avoided this news -- especially CNN. So when Jordan resigned, it made the blogs seem so powerful that liberals started attacking them for recklessly destroying Jordan's career, even using goofy terms like "cyber-McCarthyism" to denounce it. But what the bloggers did here was deliver information and accountability, the same things the major media purport to be providing -- unless it's one of their own in the hot seat.

An interesting footnote, via Jeff Jarvis, is this change in the headline of the NYT article cited above. It was, when I read it, “Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters” but it was subsequently changed to, “Resignation at CNN Shows the Growing Influence of Blogs.”

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 10:10 PM | Comments (64)

February 16, 2005

What happens in America stays in America..

Posted by Mary Madigan

According to David Brooks, when some American politicians go to Europe, they leave the Left/Right bickering at home..

There were Democrats and Republicans in this delegation, but you couldn't tell who was who by listening to their speeches.

Instead, what you heard were pretty specific, productive suggestions on winning the war against Islamist extremism. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lobbied for ways to use NATO troops to protect a larger U.N. presence in Iraq. Democratic Representative Jane Harman was pushing the Europeans to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Hillary Clinton suggested ways to strengthen the U.N., while also blasting its absurdities. Clinton affirmed that the U.S. preferred to work within the U.N., but she toughened her speech with ad-libs, warning, "Sometimes we have to act with few or no allies."

.. McCain sat on a panel with officials from Russia, Egypt and Iran. He began his talk with suggestions on how to use NATO troops in the Middle East. Then it was time for a little straight talk. He ripped the Egyptians for arresting opposition leaders. (The Egyptian foreign minister held his brow, as if in grief.) He condemned the Iranians for supporting terror. (The Iranian hunched over like someone in a hailstorm.) He criticized Russia for embracing electoral fraud in Ukraine. In the land of the summiteers, this was in-your-face behavior…

I heard the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, in his soaring, stratospheric mode, declaring that we need the "creation of a grand design, a strategic consensus across the Atlantic." We need a "social Magna Carta" to bind the globe. His chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, proposed a vague commission to rebuild or replace NATO. His president, Horst Köhler, insisted, "Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive."

Global poverty is mostly the result of tyranny; it's hard to tackle one without confronting the other.

Brooks believes that our representatives’ close contact with (or experience as?) combat veterans is responsible for their more confrontational style.

[Link thanks to Solomonia and Roger L. Simon]

Posted by Mary Madigan at 11:58 AM | Comments (83)

February 15, 2005

Smash Nazimarching

Posted by Mary Madigan

I’ve often wondered – whatever happened to the anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian left?

They’re in the former GDR, and they call themselves the "Antifa", or Anti-fascists.

From an Antifa post, (Feb. 2003) Why I won’t be at the Peace March

Almost everybody seems to agree: The left and the neo-nazis, the whole of Germany and the Islamic world: A group of evil, callous, cynical powermongers, obsessed with ruling the world have nothing else on their mind than bombing innocent civilians and sacrificing their own youth in their quest for oil and wold domination. For this they use their propaganda machinery, fake and forge and lie. Against this all the decent people(s) of the world should stand up and mobilise against the ‚tyrants’. We’ll all get another opportunity to show our strength as a civil society on february 15 – and march alongside Hamas sympathisers shouting ‚Jews to the gas!’.

Like this we can serve the imperialist ambitions of EU-Germany trying to position itself directly against the US in its slow but steady process of becoming one of the big players again. Germany who has the most investments in Iraq, whose chemical companies supplied Iraq with raw materials. For poison gas that Iraq intends to use against Israel.

It’s true that the US/UK alliance have come up with insufficient proof for some of the claims they’ve made. Nevertheless it should be clear to any half-intelligent person that they are probably right in most of their claims, and that they are certainly right in the assessment of the Ba’th party regime as a fascist dictatorship where human life and basic liberties are worthless or non-existent…

…Of course pacifists will logically prefer fascism to war.

But neither the Islamists, nor the neo-nazis, nor the Germans, nor the ‚left’ who are against this war are usually pacifists (with the exception of a segment of the left, and some christians). So we have to assume that they follow another agenda. An agenda that in this context means that they don’t give a f-ck about the victims of a fascist dictatorship and only care about positioning themslves against America.

I found the most unbiased description of the Antifa group in this quirky academic study of "Collective German Masculinities" in post-GDR Germany.
A self-described "cosmopolitan communist," Fischer is an activist and publicist for the so-called "Anti-Deutsch," or radically anti-German , pro-Israeli, pro-American position, a minority view among the range of mostly anti-American radical left subject positions in Germany. He had rejected the traditional pro-Palestinian view of the German left (and of the GDR) by adopting a historical narrative of the postwar German state as incurably anti-semitic and potentially (again) genocidal. This is a position that defends the U.S. as the primary ally to Israel, views the September 11th attacks as essentially anti-semitic, accepts the U.S. war in Iraq as necessary to eliminate the "fascist dictator" Saddam Hussein, and believes that "communism can come only after full bourgeois freedom (simply: liberalism) has been spread worldwide."[xii]
In the Antifa universe, Lisa Simpson rules.

I’d never heard of this group until yesterday, when I was reading about the Neo-Nazi rally that disrupted the Dresden memorial: *

From the Guardian: "Addressing the rally, the [neo-Nazi National Party of Germany]’s leader in the Saxon parliament, Holger Apfel, launched an attack on what he called the "gangster politics of the British and Americans".

He said: "They have left a trail of blood from the past to the present, via Dresden, Korea, Vietnam, Baghdad and - tomorrow possibly - Tehran. Terror and war have a name. And that name is the United States of America."

The so-called anti-war, anti-terror Neo-Nazis were confronted by anti-Fascist marchers, who waved US and Israeli flags and carried white roses.

Harry's Place commenter Frank said that the anti-Fascist marchers must be Anti-Deutsch. [Antifa] According to Anti-Deutsch for Beginners, this group's primary interest is to prevent renewed imperialist ambitions in Germany.

It cannot be completely excluded that considerable resistance against renewed super power ambitions will develop in Germany sometime; however the experiences of the anti-war movement during the war in Kosovo and later don't justify such a hope. At present it is obvious that a German peace movement will be formed particularly against the imperialistic competitor USA, not against present and future German wars.
For now, they seems to be more interested in fighting local German Nazis, who are gaining power in the government. Someone’s got to do it, and the 'anti-war' Left has no interest.

In fact, I’m sure these liberal, anti-totalitarian Leftists confuse the standard Left to no end. And for that, they deserve our thanks.

* Most links thanks to the commenters at Harry's Place.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 08:43 AM | Comments (194)

February 14, 2005

Iraqi Election Results

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I don't know about you, but I'm delighted -- and, I admit, pleasantly surprised -- by the results of the Iraqi election as announced this weekend.

In short, it appears that the Shiite parties (the United Iraqi Alliance) have won the expected majority, but only, amazingly, by a hair with 48 percent of the vote. This means they lack the two thirds majority they'd have needed to unilaterally (if you can apply that word to the concept of a two thirds majority) install a government of their choice. The Kurdish parties (the Kurdistan Alliance) won an amazing 28% of the vote, and Allawi's Iraqi List got a little under 14%. What does this very likely mean? The answer deserves its own paragraph:

Democracy not theocracy!

Even if, like me, you were cautiously optimistic that Sistani was not blowing sunshine up our collective asses about Iraqi Shiites having no intention of installing an Iran-style theocracy, I don't mind at all that they're going to have to build partnerships with Kurds, secular leaders and, yes, Sunnis in order to put together a government and a constitution. As we say in my country: Yee haw!

Here's the New York Times' account of the results. Notice the opening phrase: "A broad Shiite alliance led by two Iran-backed religious parties..." They almost seem to be saying that you need only bother reading any further if you really have nothing better to do with your day. But the article delivers the goods in spite of its first line.

See also this coverage by Jeff Weintraub at Normblog. (I'm assuming that Jeff's account of the Shiite UIA not getting a majority is now out of date. The NYT explains that they squeezed by with their majority because of a complex system whereby votes were weighted after being tallied. Saved by the bell curve, I guess.) Here's Jeff's conclusion:

"Successfully holding the election was itself a remarkable triumph (under the circumstances); and the results give the Iraqis just about the best possible chance they could have gotten to put together a decently acceptable political future for the country - if they don't blow it, of course."

And here's a happy Kurdish man, whose gesture will make Britons laugh immediately and Americans like me laugh a few seconds later (via Hak, who I've come to count on for inspiring pictures of Iraqis gesturing with their fingers):

irqgtyaa.jpg

UPDATE: A commenter worries, reasonably, about the low Sunni voter turnout. I had meant to include in this post my other perception, namely that the slim Shiite margin of majority will make it clear to Sunni voters how much more powerful their votes would have been and indeed will be in the Spring. I can think of no better way to demonstrate how participating in the new democracy will benefit Sunnis. They'll come to the polls next time, don't you think?

UPDATE: Early readers of this post who may now be re-reading it might have noticed an edit up above regarding things being blown places or not by Sistani. I realized that I meant sunshine, not smoke. We can't afford to be imprecise in these matters.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:47 AM | Comments (96)

February 13, 2005

I'm Off

I'm leaving for Puerto Rico tonight. Mary and Jeremy will take care of your opinionated blather needs while I'm away. Keep an eye on the mainland for me and be nice to the guest-bloggers. See you in ten days.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 07:10 PM | Comments (81)

February 11, 2005

Where's Eason?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

We're all news junkies here, right? And, while you might not be a big fan of CNN as a news source, you do browse the CNN news site fairly frequently. Fair to say? So if CNN's exectuive vice president were to resign after causing a scandal (that'll teach him to ruffle the feathers of conservative bloggers like Barney Frank) then you wouldn't have too much difficulty spotting the headline about said resignation on the aforementioned CNN homepage. True?

Well, you tell me. I have posted a facsimilie of CNN's homepage as of about ten o'clock on Friday February 11th. I promise you the story link is there. Advice: do what you need to do first -- bathroom, sandwich, smoke a cigarette -- then settle down in a comfy chair. OK? Now click here.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:57 PM | Comments (95)

Bat Yeor at Columbia

Posted by Mary Madigan

I went to hear Egyptian scholar Bat Ye’or speak at Columbia University on Tuesday. Yes, the pro-Israel Ye’or walked directly into the belly of Columbia's leftist beast. Despite the documented anti-Israel attitudes of some of Columbia’s Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department, there were no sign-waving activists protesting her appearance. The crowd was mostly low-key and graying. The room was so crowded that a few professorial types had to sit on the floor.

Before the talk began, two journalists who, to all outward appearances were liberal (one even had a grey ponytail) admitted that the many "breaches of journalistic ethics" that the New York Times had committed since 9/11 had convinced them not to read the Times anymore. They agreed that New York Sun was the best alternative.

I discovered Ms. Ye’or’s work when I read this article, Culture of Hate, about a year after 9/11. Her description of the current Islamist culture of jihad, "a racism which denies the history and sufferings of its victims" was confirmed by what I knew about the bias, inequality and brutality that ruled terror-supporting nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Sudan.

Under Shariah, non-Muslims, or dhimmis, are legally classified as less than human.

Before reading Culture of Hate, I knew that bin Laden was inspired by a philosophy of hate, Wahhabism. But I also thought that al Qaeda was one of the few organizations that used mass-murder to express that hate. Ms. Ye’or made it clear that, not only was this culture of hate murdering and enslaving non-believers around the world, the hatred for non-believers was based on established laws that prohibited the idea of equal rights.

The petite Ms. Ye’or had a talent for seeing the big picture. I couldn’t wait to hear her talk.

She discussed her new book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis which concerns:

..the transformation of Europe into Eurabia, a cultural and political appendage of the Arab/Muslim world. Eurabia is fundamentally anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Semitic. The institution responsible for this transformation, and that continues to propagate its ideological message, is the Euro-Arab Dialogue, developed by European and Arab politicians and intellectuals over the past thirty years.
According to Ms. Ye'or, this Arab/European alliance was motivated primarily by anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and a desire to import oil and cheap labor.

More information about this organization can be found at Arab/European alliace website, Medea.

Ye'or didn't go into the details of why an organization that was founded in the interests of subjugating the future of western culture in the interests of "multiculturalism" and opposition to America would name itself after the tragic story of a woman who murdered her own children out of jealousy and spite.

The main points of the book, according to Ye’or:

  • The concept of Eurabia began in the Universities. It has been influenced by Edward Said's book, Orientalism. Said sought to discredit all Western analysis of the Middle East, since, in his words, "every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric."

  • Many Europeans agree with Said’s theories. Many don’t believe that their culture is worth preserving.

  • The policies of the EU towards Israel mirror Arab policies.

  • This multicultural 'alliance' is currently cemented by European fear of terrorism.

  • Europe seems to accept its current dhimmi status, and does not seem to be willing to defend traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values.

  • In Europe and in the UK, Muslim gangs are a threat and anti-Semitic attacks are increasing
Despite Columbia’s famed leftist leanings, the question and answer session was surprisingly balanced. But, as is usual in academic settings, the ‘questions’ were usually short lectures disguised as questions.

Questions:

  • The moderator found it hard to believe that Europeans wouldn’t defend themselves.

  • A man whose sister had converted to Islam and married a Muslim said that, while his sister was happily married and he loved his brother in law, he was shocked by their attitudes. The sister, a westerner raised in America, believed that Salman Rushdie should die for what he said about Islam. His brother in law told him that eventually, the state of Israel will not exist. "We are a patient people" his brother-in-law said.

  • A woman sitting next to me asked Ye'or about the influence of Arab money on American colleges. Given that the concept of Eurabia originated in European Universities, and given that our Universities, particularly Columbia, are heavily influenced by Saudi money, I though that was a good question. Ms. Ye'or agreed that this was a threat.

  • One man who identified himself as Muslim asked Ye'or "What is your problem with Muslims?" (Obviously he’s never read Culture of Hate) Ms. Ye’or said that she would have no problem with Muslims if they were willing to recognize that Dhimmis should have equal rights. "Unfortunately," she said "they’re not willing to recognize that" Most of the room applauded her answer.

    Humiliated, the questioner shook his head in disbelief and said "I don’t understand, but then again, I’m just a dirty Muslim"

  • The student said "I am an Arab, we are a Semitic people, so you can’t accuse me of being an anti-Semite." The crowd reacted with sarcastic laughter, and the quality of the student’s question went downhill from there. Ms. Ye'or's response was, basically, "you have a lot to learn."

  • One questioner said that she believed Europe was doomed, and asked if America could be saved. Ms. Ye’or’s believed that George Bush’s policies offer the only reasonable alternative to European dhimmitude. This brought a predictable number of boos.
Will Europe continue to accept this Euro-Arab alliance, and the resulting anti-Semitism? Will academics in America encourage the same sort of alliance? The situation, as described by those who have been paying attention to these things, does not look good. Once again, it seems that Bat Ye’or sees the big picture.

UPDATE – An important point made by Ye'or (and commenter Vanya); This European/Arab alliance was the brainchild of the European academic and political elites – not the European people or the Arabs.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 06:42 AM | Comments (283)

February 10, 2005

Programming Note

This Sunday I'm going to Puerto Rico for ten days. I've been travelling more than ever lately. I went to both Europe and North Africa twice in three months, and I went to the East Coast twice in one week. But this time Shelly and I are going on an actual vacation. You know, sun, sand, sleeping in, dining out, hiking, snorkeling, that sort of thing.

Mary Madigan and Jeremy Brown will guest-blog while I'm lounging around on the beach. They're welcome to post before I leave, too, so watch for their bylines.

fortalezastreet1.jpg

fisheye1.jpg

Isla_Culebrita1.jpg

(Photos by Lonely Planet and PuertoRicoPhotoStock.com.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 03:56 PM | Comments (10)

February 09, 2005

The Post He Never Wanted to Write

Those of us who supported regime-change in Iraq are obligated to go on record in opposition to torture – assuming we really do oppose torture, that is. Anti-war liberals can’t be expected to fight it all by themselves.

Republicans have a partly overlapping, but also somewhat unique, obligation. Sebastian Holsclaw, who calls himself a conservative, explains that obligation over at Red State. If you’re a Republican, this is today’s required reading. I know I'm telling you to eat your peas here, but this is important.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:22 PM | Comments (181)

February 08, 2005

Reality-Check Time

Steve Silver posted a must-read essay in defense of the dreaded three-letter acronym known as the "MSM." He has been a professional journalist for five years and a blogger for three. He knows both worlds well, and what makes his defense of the mainstream media better than most is that he knows very well what really is wrong with it. In other words, this ain't no whitewash.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 07:06 PM | Comments (144)

Purple Finger, Worthy Cause

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Following up on a previous post of mine, you can now get yourself some merchandise bearing that "give fascism the finger" logo.

"Proceeds ($2 per mug, and $1 per badge/magnet) will be split between the IFTU and the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party."

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:03 PM | Comments (18)

February 07, 2005

Activistists Revisited

My new Tech Central Station column is up: They March for Themselves.

UPDATE: After you read my piece, read Patrick Lasswell. He was standing right next to me during one of the incidents I recall in the article.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:06 PM | Comments (126)

Ayatollah Sistani and His List

The United Iraqi Alliance will most likely be the winner in Iraq’s election once the votes are all counted. The party (or “list” of candidates) was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sistani.

The nature of this political party is crucial. It can help us determine what the majority of Iraqis really want, as well as the direction the country is likely to take during the next couple of years.

I’m hardly an expert on the United Iraqi Alliance. Far from it. Iraq has as many political parties as it has opinions, and I’m nowhere near being able to keep all of them straight.

On that note, here are a few articles that suggest in broad brushstrokes what we might expect.

The first is an AP article from Hamza Hendawi that appeared just before the election. Much of this is encouraging.
The candidate list endorsed by Iraq's top Shiite cleric is likely to emerge as the dominant political group in Sunday's election. But his followers said Monday they aren't looking to create a cleric-led Islamic state, and expectations are they won't be strong enough to govern on their own.

The bloc backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani probably will have to negotiate a governing coalition with other political groups, including rival Sunni Arabs, a minority that long dominated Iraq's Shiite majority.

At a news conference, politicians running on the al-Sistani-endorsed ticket, the United Iraqi Alliance, sought to ease any fears the bloc wants to install an Iranian-style Shiite state. Hanin Mohammed Qaddou, a Sunni Muslim on the ticket, said the issue of religious government was "not part of the program and it will not be in the near future."

Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric allied with al-Sistani, said the United Iraqi Alliance has many members who oppose mixing Islam and politics. "Had this been our intention we wouldn't have let them join our list," he said.

Al-Sistani, whose views are influential with most Shiites in Iraq, is known to oppose the idea that clergy have a right to rule. He is, however, expected to insist that the constitution drawn up by the new National Assembly upholds Iraq's Muslim traditions and not include freedoms or practices violating the faith's basic tenets.

Alliance leaders also vowed not to seek revenge for violence by Sunni extremists, who make up most of the country's insurgency.
Emphasis added by me.

If what the article says is indeed true, our two biggest concerns can be laid to rest. 1) The majority of Iraqis did not wish to establish theocracy. 2) The majority of Shi’ites do not want a civil war with the Sunni Arab minority.

So far so good.

One of the Iraqis I spoke to in Washington last weekend (I’m sorry, but I don’t remember exactly who it was) said he thought Ayatollah Sistani’s endorsement of one list over the others is bad for both Iraq and Sistani himself. That may be. It tells us something useful, even so. Since Sistani endorsed who appear to be the victors, knowing who Sistani himself is tells us something about the likely victors, as well. I think it's reasonable to assume he endorsed people who share his basic philosophy.

Now is a good time to revisit an article Johann Hari published a few months ago in Britain’s Independent.
A democratic ayatollah? At first, the idea sounds preposterous, like a black Ku Klux Klansman, a Jewish Nazi or an intellectual member of the Bush family. The Ayatollah Khomeini is still the West's mental template, a tyrannical theocrat who slaughtered more than a million Iranians and issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

But democratic instincts spring up in the strangest of places. Many Shias insisted that Khomeini was an anomaly, a radical departure from the millennium-old Shia tradition of "quietist" clerics who did not seek personal political power. I was always pretty sceptical, and I'm instinctively hostile to religious authorities - but the behaviour of Sistani since the fall of Saddam has proved them right. From his home in Najaf, Sistani has been an absolutely consistent campaigner for a free and democratic Iraq, while scrupulously avoiding any temptation to seek power for himself.

[…]

Read his book A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West. It is - in Muslim terms - a startlingly progressive text. Sistani stresses the importance of respecting democracy, arguing that Muslims should participate in electoral politics - as voters and candidates - on an equal basis with non-Muslims. This might sound like a platitude, but compare it with the message preached across the Arab world by Islamofascist groups like al-Muhajaroun, who argue, "Muslims must not vote for anyone in elections... It is idol-worship. There is no legislator but Allah, and the only law should be Sharia".

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right - but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani's philosophical arguments for democracy are "almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy." Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.
Thank Allah for Ayatollah Sistani. I didn’t know what to make of him for some time. But I’ve slowly come to trust him, and he hasn’t let me down yet.

If I were Iraqi I almost certainly would vote for a more secular party to the left of the United Iraqi Alliance. I’m instinctively distrustful of religious parties, even when they’re democratic. Still, Iraq can do a lot worse than having a democratic small-c conservative party like Ayatollah Sistani’s running the show. Iraqis could have voted for war and dictatorship – and they didn’t.

Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves – as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead. It looks like they probably cleared that hurdle, and the case for optimism is now higher than it recently was.

UPDATE: Mary Madigan thinks Sistani might be an Islamist. She cites evidence from her archives (1, 2, 3, 4), but it's all older than what I cited. Hmm. I wish I knew more about him than I do.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:39 PM | Comments (108)

February 06, 2005

Drinking with Christopher Hitchens and the Iraqis

As many of you already know, I was on TV with Christopher Hitchens last weekend. Jim Hake of Spirit of America asked me to come out to Washington DC at the very last minute to be a part of the Iraqi election coverage program on C-SPAN. I had no idea until I got there that the Hitch was scheduled to be a part of it, too.

Christopher Hitchens.jpg

(If you missed the broadcast, you can still watch it here.)

I’ve received a whole gaggle of emails asking for details and stories about what happened at dinner after the show. So for all of you who asked, here we go. (CAVEAT: I did not take notes. This is all from memory, and I was drunk part of the time.)

We went to The Palm in downtown Washington. “We” included the following big-shots, along with little-shot me: Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, and cantankerous polemicist; Andrew Apostolou, Director of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Ahman Al Rikaby, former Director of Radio Free Iraq and current Director of Iraq's Radio Dijla; Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Ghassan Atiyyah, Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; and Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Andrew Apostolou wasn’t part of our news program, but he’s been a long-distance friend of mine for a while now. I had never actually met him in person, and I had to invite him. I figured he’d fit right in, and he did. Andrew is a bona fide expert on Iraq who seems to know just about everybody. The minute he showed up nearly all the Iraqis recognized him on sight and wanted to shake his hand. He gave me a little lapel pin in the shape of the Kurdistan flag. I stuck it on my collar. When Hitch showed up he was wearing one, too. And he noticed mine.

We all met in the bar while the restaurant staff prepared the big table. It was a tense scene from the get-go. Ghassan Atiyyah was none too impressed with Christopher Hitchens and his gung-ho enthusiasm. And let’s just say he didn’t keep that to himself. (Dr. Atiyyah was the notoriously doom-and-gloom grouch who pissed all over the election on camera.) He hated Hitchens on sight. And when I say “hate,” I mean white-hot, wide-eyed hate with flaring-nostrils.

Hitchens took it in stride. When the staff moved us all to our table, he addressed Atiyyah politely. “Sir,” he said. “Perhaps there is something in your personal story that some of us here don’t know about that might help explain where you’re coming from.”

Atiyyah just sat there, smoldering, and gave Hitchens the evil eye.

I had little interest in him. I had coffee with him that morning and he seemed like a reasonable, if slightly patronizing, person. But now he was distinctly unpleasant. He had no defenders at the table.

I’m not sure what happened next. I didn’t show up at that dinner to fight, nor did I feel like watching a fight. I get enough of that in my comments section. So I struck up a conversation with Hitchens’ wife who sat next to me.

We talked about Marc Cooper because he’s a friend we both have in common. She has been friends with him for a very long time – most of her life if I remember correctly. I’ve been friends with him for only a short time. But he worked as a conversation starter. As it turns out, Marc and I were considering hanging out in Las Vegas together that very weekend, but neither of us were actually able to be there. (I went to Washington on short notice, and he had to move his own Vegas trip up a couple of days.) She said Marc taught her how to play blackjack, and that she later won some big-shot tournament as a result. Marc loves Vegas and blackjack, and his latest book, The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas, is a terrific read even if you’re the type of person who can’t stand the city. He knows how to make the place fun and seem slightly less ridiculous than it actually is.

Despite my little sidetrack discussion, I was drawn back into the argument at the table.

Christopher Hitchens said to Ghassan Atiyyah: “If the Iraqis were to elect either a Sunni or Shia Taliban, we would not let them take power.” And of course he was right. We didn’t invade Iraq so we could midwife the birth of yet another despicable tyranny. “One man, one vote, one time” isn’t anything remotely like a democracy.

But Atiyyah would have none of that. He exploded in furious rage. “So you’re my colonial master now, eh?!” You have to understand – this man’s voice really carries.

Suddenly, Atiyyah did have defenders at the table. I could see that coming in the shocked expressions on the faces of the other Iraqis when they heard what Hitchens said. Ahman al Rikaby, intriguingly, was an exception. He just looked at Atiyyah with a cold and sober stoicism. But Hitchens had a defender, too. He had me.

“I agree with Christopher,” I said. “We didn’t invade Iraq to let it turn into another Iran.” I knew damn well all the Iraqis at the table were staunch opponents of religious fascism. This shouldn’t have been a point of contention. But, boy, was it ever.

“Who the hell are you?” Atiyyah said to Hitchens as if I weren’t the last one to speak. “Some Brit who lives in New York!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but it wasn’t up to me where I was born,” Hitchens said.

“What do you mean when you say we?” Hassan Mneimneh said to me.

“I mean the US and Britain,” I said, “along with – hopefully – everyone here at this table.”

“Who are you to tell us what to do!?”

I didn’t like this one bit. It wasn’t an argument. Hell, I love an argument. This was a fight. And it was a fight between Americans and Iraqis who were all supposed to be on the same side. The merest slip and/or misunderstanding instantly fractured our happy alliance. Believe me, you don’t know what a tense political fight feels like until the person yelling at you is from a country you recently bombed and currently occupy. The Bush versus Kerry arguments got nothin’ on this. It was really quite horrible and I desperately wanted to make it stop. I had to answer Mneimneh’s question honestly and – hopefully – in a way that he could understand.

This, basically, is what I said to him: “First of all, it is our business if Iraqis or anyone else wants to put a Taliban government into power. People like that murdered thousands in our country and thousands more in countries all over the world - including Iraq. Second, I can assure that you Christopher and I would do everything we possibly could to prevent any Taliban-like force from taking power in our own country, as well as in yours. This has nothing to do with us telling you what to do and everything to do with fighting fascism wherever in the world it exists. And as long as Iraqis aren’t our enemy, I don’t care what they do. It’s none of my business. I certainly don’t want to rule over you or anyone else.”

There was so much yelling and interrupting and cross-talk going on I’m not sure Mneimneh heard even half of what I said. Nor do I remember what he said next. But I do remember that his facial expression and body language softened dramatically. Something I said must have got through to him, and thank God for that. He and I – truly – were on the same side. I knew it, and I’m pretty certain he knew it too. I did not want to fight with him, and I don’t think he enjoyed the experience any more than I did.

I looked over at Hitchens, who was sitting right next to me. He wasn’t rattled at all. He sat with his arms crossed and his legs sticking straight out in front of him, still battling it out with Dr. Atiyyah. He literally, physically, dug his heels into the floor.

“If you wanted more Iraqi support,” Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens,” you should have given us more money and food once you got there!”

“So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought,” Hitchens shot back.

I put my face in my hands. None of this was what I wanted to hear, and it dragged on longer than I’m making it seem in the re-telling.

Eventually, Jim Hake’s indispensable Web developer Donovan Janus pulled up a chair and had a long, quiet one-on-one talk with Dr. Atiyyah. I have no idea what they talked about. Donovan is an eminently reasonable person (he grew up in Holland), and whatever he said did the trick. The fight was diffused. The night’s tense opening was finished and we spent the rest of the evening as friends. We all could eat, drink, and smoke while genuinely enjoying each other’s company and learning from our different perspectives. Solidarity was back, and I felt certain it would not crack again. (I was right.)

Perhaps that fight needed to happen. Maybe there was no way to avoid the tension wrought by invasion and occupation, and the air just had to be cleared. Perhaps our Iraqi guests felt, on a subconscious level, like they needed to test us. Maybe they really didn’t (and don’t) completely understand how we differ from the colonialists and imperialists of the past. Perhaps their pride really is wounded, not just by Saddam but also by us. Maybe all these things are true at the same time. And surely there is more to it than that, things I might never be in a position to understand.

Friendly Arabs are the easiest people to bond with I’ve ever met. It takes no time at all to forge friendship if they’re willing – and they so often are. Despite our spat with the Iraqis (and who knows, perhaps in part because of that fight) I felt like those of us at the table were like old friends. Thank God and Allah for that. It gave me hope for the future, not only for our individual countries, but also hope for a future Iraqi-American alliance untainted by any distorted neo-imperial arrangement.

I respected them more, too, because they stood up to me and Christopher Hitchens. They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone’s puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they’re great to have on your side.

We raised our glasses in a toast to the new free Iraq.

*

One-by-one people left.

Entifadh Qanbar asked me to please email him the photo of the veiled Iraqi voter with a tear in her eye. “I saw that picture and wept,” he said. “It is incredibly moving.”

Tears_of_Joy.jpg

On his way out the door I invited Andrew Apostolou to breakfast the next morning, where he showed up and had French toast and coffee with my bleary-eyed hung-over self.

Eventually it was down to just five of us – Christopher Hitchens, Ahman al-Rikaby, Jim Hake, Donovan Janus, and me.

Our waiter kindly gave us the boot at 11:00 p.m.

“Well,” Hitchens said. “I’m off. I have to get up in the morning and continue the fight on CNN.

“Oh, come on, Christopher,” I said. “You’re the one who’s supposed to keep us up all night.”

I could almost see the good angel on one shoulder getting the crap kicked out of him by the devil hovering over the other. It was the world’s shortest fight ever.

“Okay,” he said. “But this is downtown Washington on a Sunday. Nothing is open. We have to go back to my house. It never closes.”

“You left New York City for this?” I said.

He nodded and rolled his eyes.

“The bar at our hotel is open,” Jim said. “It stays open until 2:00.”

“Are you sure?” Hitchens said. He was highly suspicious.

I went to New York two weeks ago and wished I lived there instead of in Portland. But Washington made me happy as hell that I live where I live. There is absolutely no shortage of things to do and places to hang out in at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday.

Jim turned out to be right. Our hotel bar was open, and it was a fine one – dim lighting, cozy tables, warm wood paneling, the works.

“Shall we get a bottle of wine?” someone (I think it was Jim) asked.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Red or white,” he asked.

“Wine. Is. Red!” Hitchens said, and I couldn’t agree more. I had a 24-hour hangover from cheap white wine in a box when I was 14 years old. I haven’t been able to touch the stuff since. Even the thought of the taste of white wine makes my stomach do somersaults.

What a treat it is to talk politics and shop with Christopher Hitchens. When I yak about politics with most people we can’t get past fundamentals. But if Hitchens says “Kurdistan” or “Kissinger” I know exactly what he means and where he’s coming from. He needs say no more. We’re instantly on the same page on multiple levels all at once. We can talk about the finer points without getting bogged down in spats about imperialism, pacifism, and Bush.

But I did argue with him. And, no, I couldn’t beat him. I was too drunk and he was too smart and prepared.

Ahman al-Rikaby mentioned capital punishment. “I’m against it,” he said. “But at least for the next few months I will hope we execute Saddam Hussein.”

“Here’s to that,” I said.

Hitchens said no, as I knew he would.

“The core of the insurgency,” Ahman said, “are his Baathists. We have to defeat them. And we have to kill Saddam Hussein so they know there is no way they can go back.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s the difference between Saddam and Ted Bundy. Bundy didn’t have fanatical killers running around loose in the streets cutting off heads in his name. He was harmless there in his cage. Saddam Hussein isn’t harmless as long as he’s breathing.”

“When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia,” Hitchens said, “they murdered the czar, his wife, and his children…so there would be no going back. Are you sure that’s what you want?"

I sighed. It was a hell of a point, and I was too drunk to come up with a response. But for the most part I was able to keep up with the conversation. Usually when I’m drunk - which doesn’t happen too often - I can hardly manage a sentence without being stupid. That night I felt like if the conversation reached a lull for even ten seconds I would be finished. Whatever tenuous grip I still had on logic and clarity would just evaporate and I’d float hopelessly away in a drunken fog for the rest of the night. I got up to use the restroom and felt like an utter fool when I nearly fell into Jim Hake’s lap. When I came back I stepped ever so gingerly back to my seat.

At one point, apropos of something I can’t remember, Ahman said to me: “I can tell you in one sentence how my country feels about your country.”

“Really?” I said. “Can you really boil it down to one sentence?”

“Yes,” he said. “And it is this: Thank you for coming, now please leave and take us with you.”

I laughed because it seemed totally contradictory and totally right.

The bartender came by and asked Hitchens if he wanted another drink. “Thank you so much,” Hitchens said, “you’re a perfect gentleman.” It’s funny. He’s exactly the same in person as he is on TV. The only difference is that he has a drink in one hand and a Rothmans cigarette in the other. What you see on TV is what you get. His persona isn’t a shtick, it’s his real personality.

I asked him if he reads blogs.

“No,” he said. “Not really. I could spend all day reading blogs and not get anything done.”

“You can’t afford not to read blogs,” I said. “Because of who you are and what you do for a living, you’ll be hopelessly behind if you don’t.”

“Yes,” he said. “I know, I know,” but I wasn’t sure he really meant it.

Later he told me he recently saw “that little weasel” Juan Cole speak in public.

“You know about that flap he had with Omar and Mohammed from Friends of Democracy?” (I am referring here to Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model. They also founded Friends of Democracy.)

I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t.

“He floated some conspiracy theory about how Omar and Mohammed, whom you spoke to over the phone on C-SPAN today, are possibly CIA plants.”

He stared at me gape-mouthed.

“He completely disgraced himself,” I said. “Most of the blogosphere piled on. You should have seen it.”

“You mean I stood right there in front of both him and his fans without that ammunition?”

He looked despondent. I felt triumphant.

“Like I said, Christopher,” I told him. “You can’t afford to be unplugged from the blogosphere."

“Angel,” he said. “Can I call you angel?”

“Of course,” I said. (Did he actually say that? – ed. I think so, but keep in mind I was drunk.)

“I want to exploit your knowledge of blogs,” he said.

“Email me,” I said. “You know where to find me.”

(He did email me. I showed him all of my favorites. And I showed him Juan Cole’s lunatic post.)

After the bar closed he gave Ahman al-Rikaby a bear hug.

He shook my hand. “Well met,” he said. “Well met.” I was the one who was supposed to say that.

Jim Hake’s cell phone rang. It was his wife.

“Christopher,” he said. “Will you talk to my wife for a second? She really wished she could meet you tonight.”

“Of course,” he said as Jim handed the phone over to him.

“Hello, my dear,” Hitchens said. “We missed you this evening.”

He may be a ruthless and scrappy polemicist. But he is also a perfect gentleman.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:53 PM | Comments (285)

February 05, 2005

Hypocrisy by hypocrites

Posted by Mary Madigan

Writing for Open Democracy, Dominic Hilton explains why anti-Americanism is "as derisorily fashionable as those ludicrous woolly boots everyone’s presently sporting".

Biggest reason - deriding evil capitalist America is profitable:

Unlike back in ‘68, "I hate America" is now "organised". Not organised in the leftist sense, I mean organised in the Ben and Jerry’s sense. Attractively-packaged, nice tasting, creamy, chocolaty, cookie-dough anti-Americanism that clogs the arteries and numbs the brain.

Fashion trumps sophistication. America’s insignia are ubiquitous – from Ralph Lauren jumpers to Primal Scream album covers to the end of a flaming match in the Arab Street, looking modish even when being burned. I’ve seen kids on TV in Osama bin Laden t-shirts and New York Yankees’ baseball caps (Hello? You don’t see the irony?). I’ve watched young British men in the nondescript north-of-London town of Luton clad in "New York" sweatshirts holding up banners of the extremist Islamic group al-Muhajiroun.

Our rebels are American. So are our anti-Americans. Michael Moore is one of America’s biggest exports. America makes anti-Americanism profitable for America. What a country!

After all, it’s hard to make a buck in a Euro-socialist paradise.

What can we do about it? More 'we’re sorry' photos? More parodies of 'we’re sorry' photos?

Hilton says it best:

America is not the panacea, nor is it the devil. Our problems are generally our problems. The world would do well to be a little more like America, a tad more insular, self-involved.
Good idea. Europe, for example, has a few problems of its own to work on. Let’s make it a new trend for the summer season; something to replace those ludicrous woolly boots.

[link thanks to Harry at Harry’s Place]

Posted by Mary Madigan at 06:38 AM | Comments (98)

February 03, 2005

A Long Hard Look in the Funhouse Mirror

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Sometimes a journalist gets so homesick for the truth he's willing to meet it half way, as narrated in this case by Tina Brown in the Washington Post (via Judith Weiss):

Even reporters on the ground in Iraq could hardly believe what they were living through as they watched the power of an idea transmute into the living, breathing form of black-clad women, Marsh Arabs and throngs of Kurdish mountaineers festively making their way to the polls. The father of a young reporter who has spent most of the last two years in Iraq shared with me his son's e-mail from Baghdad. "We journalists are all sitting round and asking each other how we missed what's clearly a far deeper drive for political and societal change than we realized.

Baby steps. But we'll refrain from answering what, unfortunately, seems to be a rhetorical question. The point is, this guy got there. Or did he, exactly?

"It is a measure of our isolation here -- and also, I think, a measure of how the violence and humiliation of the occupation has masked people's very genuine feelings."

Oh brother. Tina Brown is noticing a trend, for the moment, wherein anti-Bush liberals, seeing the touching success of the Iraqi election are trying to find ways to not be so angry. Or something. Where's it going to lead? I think the best we can hope for is that it will lead toward that place where, in the event of a successful Iraqi journey toward stability and increasing democratic freedom, the anti-war crowd will stop saying the word (you know, 'Iraq.')

I think Judith has it right:

"...Iraqis' desires for freedom and national unity were right there in front of you, not masked at all, ready to be noticed and reported on.

But you didn't want to see it."

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 09:07 PM | Comments (181)

February 02, 2005

Fun With Polls

Posted by Michael J. Totten


You're going to war. Who do you want next to you in the trench?
George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and Christopher Hitchens
John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Kucinich, Jacques Chirac, and Maureen Dowd
  

Free polls from Pollhost.com

It ought to go without saying that this poll is as unscientific as creationism, astrology, and Miss Cleo all roled into one.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:38 PM | Comments (102)

The full picture?

Posted by Mary Madigan

In October 2002, CNN’s news chief Eason Jordan told Franklin Foer of The New Republic that his network gave "a full picture" of Saddam’s regime." He challenged Foer to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam's horrors.

In April 2003, Jordan admitted in a New York Times op-ed that CNN had learned some "awful things" about the Saddam’s regime that they were afraid to print for fear of losing access to live camera feeds.

Jordan, who downplayed the crimes of Saddam’s regime, is now speculating, without any proof, in a very public forum, that members of the American military targeted and murdered a dozen journalists.

According to Rony Abovitz

During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others.

Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters.

Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real "sh--storm". What intensified the problem was the fact that the session was a public forum being taped on camera, in front of an international crowd.

Hugh Hewitt has more..

While Jordan’s statement may not cause as much damage as Noam Chomsky’s statement that the U.S. intended to ‘casually starve’ a million Afghans to death in a "silent genocide", it seems to come from the same impulse. Downplaying the crimes of dictators while exaggerating, or making up 'facts' about crimes committed by the United States is passive aggressive form of attack that some seem to find habit-forming.

UPDATE: According to Instapundit, foreign journalists aren't corroborating Jordan.

Of course, the Guardian has a history of repeating what Jordan says, verbatim, but they’ll believe anything.

As to the question of why established professionals like Eason feel that they have to make stuff up, commenter ZF says:

The common thread, it seems to me, is that these are all 60's liberal white males having some sort of mid-life crisis which has impelled them to invent a grandiose, exaggerated and heroic version of their past. Maybe we should look at this as a male version of cosmetic surgery?
Sounds about right..
Posted by Mary Madigan at 03:26 PM | Comments (49)

Reclaiming the Word 'Martyr'

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Salim Yacoubi bent over to kiss the purple ink stain on his twin brother's right index finger, gone cold with death.

"You can see the finger with which he voted," Shukur Jasim, a friend of the dead man, said as he cast a tearful gaze on the body, sprawled across a washer's concrete slab. "He's a martyr now."

[...]

"It's not the man who exploded himself who's a martyr," Mr. Jasim said as the body washer wiped away dried blood. "He wasn't a true Muslim. This is the martyr. What religion asks people to blow themselves up? It's not written in the Koran."

Mr. Aziz, the neighbor, nodded.

"This is the courage of Iraqis," he said of Mr. Yacoubi's decision to vote, "and we will change the face of history. This is our message to the countries of the world, especially those that are still under a dictatorship and want to walk the same road as the Iraqis."

[...]

In the dusty lot outside the washing rooms, another family strapped a coffin holding the body of a policeman, Adil al-Nassar, onto the roof of a blue minivan. He had just been cleaned. Now it was time to take him to the golden-domed Shrine of Ali for his final blessings. He was not the first policeman to be brought here.

Officer Nassar, 40, died after tackling a man who had leapt into a line of women waiting to vote at Osama bin Zaid Primary School, said Kadhum al-Hashim, the officer's father-in-law.

"There were many people, and Adil was just guiding the voters into the school when the terrorist jumped into the line of women," Mr. Hashim said. Several others died in the explosion, he added.

The victim's brother, Muhammad al-Nassar, wiped away tears with a white scarf.

Adil al-Nassar had joined the new police force just a year ago, his brother said. He had a family to feed: a wife and three children, the eldest an 8-year-old son.

"He's a martyr now," Mr. Nassar said. "He saved many lives for the greater good."

(By Edward Wong, New York Times)
Posted by Jeremy Brown at 08:05 AM | Comments (33)

February 01, 2005

Still Celebrating

by Jeremy Brown

Yes, I know; it’s been a couple of days since the Iraqi election. It’s time for people like me to tone down our unseemly enthusiasm and give the slouching, frowning pessimists, cynics, and tut-tutters their chance to sit up tall, straighten their lapels and give us their side of the story. Actually, they’ve been pretty much doing that all along, haven’t they? Then I guess you won’t mind that I’m still celebrating. Just one more post before I wipe this naive smile off my face and reacquaint myself with ‘reality.’

I’ve been reading blogs across the political spectrum and I would like to share some of my findings with you.

My thesis is this: separating things into Left and Right tells you less than dividing them between 'them what gets it' and 'them what don’t.'

What Don’t:

I won’t dwell on these, frankly, but here’s a taste. Take my word that there are plenty on the ostensible Right who feel this way too (hat tip: Todd Pearson)

Eric Alterman: "I don’t have a lot to say about the Iraqi elections . . ."

Tom Tomorrow: "I don't have a lot to say about the elections right now . . ."

What Do:

Don’t let them tell you you’re a fascist for wanting to celebrate Iraqi liberation or that you're a Stalinist because you have hope for a better world and will not tolerate tyranny from either the Left or the Right:

People who live in countries where liberal democracy is far too easily taken for granted - and even, appallingly, sneered at by the converging elitists of the right and the pseudo-left, who imagine that they could do much better if only the masses would turn to them - are in no position to carp at the courage and determination of those who voted in Iraq on Sunday, a day that will be right up there in the history of political progress with Christmas Day 1989, when Romanians risked their lives to get rid of their own Stalinist dictatorship. It’s one more nail in the coffin of dictatorship, and, for the deranged apologists of fascism and terrorism, who have read too little Marx and not understood even what they have read, one more kick up the backside (where their brains appear to be located). (-SIAW)

And post this on your site, courtesy of a Lefty black cat from Australia:

finger.gif

And let’s start saving the word “progressive” for those who are truly interested in the progress of democratic freedom in the world:

Today the bigots lost. The bigots that say that "Arabs don’t want to vote" or "Islam cant support Democracy" are now scratching their heads like the bigots did when they confronted in the 1940's with the reality of "lowly black men" flying P-51's with great proficiency. 10 years after Tuskeegee, those same black men wanted not only to vote but that their sons and daughters should go to school on an equal basis with the sons and daughters of white men. 40 years later in the same week that Iraqis became citizens overcoming 5,000 years of oppression, a black mans daughter became Secretary of State in the most powerful country the world has ever seen (Varifrank)

And then there’s this from Zeyad:

Hold your head up high, Remember that you are Iraqi.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled depressive resignation (or perhaps, when the voice of defeatism tries to reclaim our fealty, we’ll give it the old purple finger).

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 01:11 PM | Comments (100)