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Before you all get tired of me (don’t worry – I remember that I actually graduated), I wanted to post these two things, for anyone out there who gets a feed from this blog.
First, for all of you interested in the Middle East region, I am currently living out here in Zahle, Lebanon, and in my free time I have been blogging a great deal. I am growing increasingly more in contact with the Lebanese and Syrian blogospheres and some others, and am trying to expand out into different Arab countries. So give The Curve a look.
Second and last is that the new website for the NGO Bridging The Divide is now up and running. There are a few kinks of course, but it is 99% functioning, and growing all the time. Please check it out.
Have a nice summer everyone,
As some of you may know, I’m spending all of academic year 2010-2011 abroad in the middle east. In an act that can be characterized as nothing else but a total cliche, I’ll be keeping a blog. If you should be so inclined as to follow my travels and regional political commentary, look no further:
This whole business about housing units in Jerusalem strikes me as more ridiculous than usual, and worse yet is the fallout, which is downright unsettling.
The headlines of most important newspapers (like this one)today have included Netanyahu’s stubborn resistance on the subject of housing construction for Jews in East Jerusalem, most importantly, his speech in front of AIPAC. While these articles have focused on the fretting over fraying Israeli-American ties, any discussion of why this fretting is taking place has been conspicuously absent. What Obama and Hillary have been saying about Israeli settlements is true, plain and simple: the decision to construct housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem is provocative and works counter to the peace process with Palestinians; for the United States - a country which has taken it upon itself to act as an arbiter between Israel and the Palestinian people – to say that this is out of line and that it does not support this decision is in no way unexpected. Well, it is, just not for the normal reasons – it’s unusual for US administrations to be blatantly critical of Israeli policies, even if they aren’t so wise.
But what frustrates me is this worry over the future of Israeli-American relations, as if the two are never allowed to disagree, as if it were absolutely necessary for Hillary to repeat ad nauseum that America will always stand behind Israel. Whether or not we are allies, it is wrong for us to be sending the statement that an ally of ours, whom we support financially and militarily, can act so unilaterally against our interests and yet still receive undying support. That is simply not a healthy diplomatic (or social) relationship. Mutual support is built on mutual interest, and its our interests (and those of the Palestinians, and thus the peace process) that are currently going by the wayside in this issue.
So all debate over Israel’s legacy and the influence of a Jewish lobby aside, we need to stop this unconditional support business: it is shooting ourselves in the foot, and the Palestinians as well.
Over at MERIP, an interesting piece by Mustapha Bayoumi just appeared, in which he takes a look at race in a post 9/11, post Obama era America. The piece starts off with an amusing quote from this Dean Obeidallah skit, but then starts to dig deeper into recent pop culture representations of Arabs in American media. At the heart of the piece is the question of how African Americans and Arab American/Muslims are being represented in mainstream American culture and what work these racial identities are doing when performed in front of a white audience. Very interesting piece, and as always, would love to know what any of you think.
Well, it looks like people out there are reading the blog. I was recently contacted by Matt Trevithick, who runs the Middle East Alliance out of the American University in Iraq. The website provides an overview on the Middle Eastern blogosphere, with updates on stories that Matt thinks are especially interesting. The portal of the website contains a nice interface that allows you on to click on individual countries to see what bloggers there have been posting recently. While Matt noted in his email to me that target audience is largely the foreign policy crowd in DC, the site is definitely useful for the rest of us as well. Thanks Matt! Looks like a great site. My only suggestion would be to add blogs in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish, but maybe that will come in time . .
It may have been a downright depressing week in the region, but all you Midd-east junkies should check out Foreign Policy Magazine’s new Middle East Channel blog. Contributors include Marc Lynch, Daniel Levy, Amjad Atallah and anothers.
To the Israeli Government: Thanks a Million
Dearest and Most Esteemed Government of Israel,
I just wanted to write and let you know that I think you guys are doing a great job. No, really, I think that the decisions you’ve made lately have been fantastic. Starting with that Hamas leader’s assassination in Dubai- like, cool! Totally James Bond! Who cares if the assassination violated international law in approximately 79 different ways, and exacerbated tensions with the virtually all of the rest of the Middle East? And don’t worry about those middling countries like Great Britain and Australia, who for some reason seem not to be thrilled by the fact that the assassins used forged passports from their countries to carry out the hit. Weird, huh?
Anyway, shake it off, guys, who needs ‘em? After all, Israel’s all set in the Middle East, thanks to its close alliance with Turkey. Yes, there have been some tensions with Turkey lately, but Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon dealt with that issue quite nicely in his meeting with Turkey’s Ambassador Oguz Celikkol, aimed at addressing those tensions. “Note how there is an Israeli flag on the table and not a Turkish flag,” Ayalon told reporters, also drawing their attention to the fact that he had deliberately seated the Turkish dignitary in a lower seat. Ha! Wowee! Dan, man, that is what I call clever diplomacy. Tell ‘em who is boss! That’s just the way to mend a fraying friendship. I do have a suggestion, though: next time you meet with Celikkol- or any foreign dignitary, for that matter- maybe ask him to shine your shoes? Or, no, no, wait! How about this: Have him wear a clown hat. Although maybe you’ve already humiliated this Celikkol fellow enough that he won’t even want to meet again. Whatever. Muslims Shmuslims, right?
So, maybe things are strained with Turkey, and England and a few Arabs here and there, but no big deal: Israel’s all set in the world, thanks to its close alliance with the United States! I mean, Vice President Joe Biden just came for a visit to declare America’s unending support for Israel, right? Although, I thought I remembered his visit have some other purpose, also… Oh yeah, right, to promote the new round of US-backed peace negotiations with the, um, what are they called again? Palistilians? Paleontilians? Whatever. You know who I’m talking about: those guys whose land Israel has been, like, “occupying” for the last 43 years. Negotiations, shmegotiations, though, right? You guys did a fantastic job of signaling to the Vice President that you weren’t so interested in hearing what he had to say about Palistipitans or “peace processes” by announcing the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem- which the Pallistallians seem to think needs to be the capital of their future “state”- the day after Mr. Biden arrived! Brilliant strategy, guys, I mean, bravo. I don’t know that I would have thought of doing it myself, but I must say, good move! Why stop at humiliating Dubai and Turkey and Great Britain and the Paslsitoneons? Hey, Joe, here’s a clown hat for you too! Allies Shmallies!
Wow oh wow. I could go on for ages about all the things you guys are doing well. I mean, allowing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman -truly a personal hero of mine: so smooth, and dignified, and tolerant- to make incendiary remarks to Syria? Great move. Bring it on, Bashar. And Bibi, declaring Hebron to be a national Jewish heritage site? What timing! What finesse! Riots in Jerusalem are not enough to bring about a third intifada? Let’s see what other avenues Israel can explore to expedite the process! And the list goes on, but I’ll try to save some glowing praise for my next letter. Mostly, I just wanted to express how grateful I am that Israel has such prudent, pragmatic, peace-pursuing politicians at its helm. It really helps me sleep easy at night knowing that you guys are busy doing all that you can to ensure that the place I was born is becoming increasingly isolated from the world, and that my dream for peace is becoming ever more dream-like.
So, thanks, really.
Ever So Sincerely,
I am enjoying reading the conversation between Ali and Sam about Syria, but don’t have anything to add to it myself. I would, however, like to point to this recent interview in Haaretz with cultural theorist and philosopher Judith Butler. Butler, whose work I am not personally familiar with though I know its reputation and influence, has written foundational works on gender and society in the past decades (her work was very influential on Saba Mahmood, for those of you who have read Politics of Piety). She is also a liberal American Jew who teaches at Berkeley. What is of interest here are especially her comments on how she understands the BDS movement in America, and her take on the one-state, two-state debate. If anyone has time to read the whole piece, I’d be interested to know what they think.
A fairly uninspiring blog I read, The Beirut Spring, ran an unusually interesting post about the use of language in Lebanon – specifically, the use of Arabic – and how that is tied to identity, among other things. This is of distinct interest to me for two reasons: first, as an Arab-American I form a strong link between language and identity (one has better access to a community via language than otherwise, etc); second, in my time abroad I picked up on some serious strains between Arab countries on what it meant “to be Arab.” I was told matter-of-factly by many Egyptians that Lebanese are barely Arab, and language was way up there on the laundry list of reasons.
I didn’t quite agree with the article – or at least, I didn’t feel that it reached a useful conclusion. This is mostly because it is a pretty partisan blog so there wasn’t much in the way of discussion on the topic, and I was wondering if I could get some of that here. What would not retaining formal Arabic training mean in Lebanon? Does it mean anything at all? Let’s remember that Lebanon has gone through similar language-related crises, such as proposed alphabet reforms under Said Akl, which have sparked controversy. Also, what could this mean for other Arab countries?
My computer died this week, so I’m operating from backup and scrambling to keep up. But this story did grab my attention. The English typing Egyptian blogosphere (here’s looking at you Arabist and Beheyya) have both been paying close attention to the return of Muhammad ElBaradei to Egypt and to his nascent campaign for presidency. I’ll leave it to those of you who actually know something about Egyptian politics to explain the details of why this is interesting, but a few things strike even me right off the bat: Egyptian politics has been caught in a rather stale face-off between Mubarak’s military absolutist rule and the (un)official opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood. But Mubarak is getting on and while there is speculation about him trying to get his son to get the president gig, last I checked there was also simply a great amount of uncertainty about what is going to happen when he leaves the stage. Until now, he has been quite adept at undermining potential opposition movements and candidates (after all, Egypt is nominally a democracy) but ElBaradei presents a special challenge for the Mubarak regime. ElBaradei has street cred not only in Egypt but also internationally due to his 12 year tenure heading the IAEA, during which he and the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize (for Wikipedia’s take on the man see here), and did a pretty good job of not letting himself be used politically in the case of Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Of course, the US, especially under Bush, was not happy with ElBaradei as he didn’t give them what they wanted in terms of isolating Iran, and so I’m not sure what Obama’s administration is going to do, if anything, in terms of working behind the scenes to help ensure that Egyptians actually get a reasonably fair election in 2011.
Ok, I admit that after a long day of reading about Islam in the seventh century, or developments in Christology in eighth century Christian Iberia, a little Hollywood eye-candy begins to look attractive to me. What can I say? After all, I enjoyed The Kingdom when I watched it, even though it wasn’t a very good film at all. More recently, I watched and really liked The Hurt Locker—the Oscar buzz is much deserved in my book, despite the accusations, probably justified, that it is inaccurate in many of its details.
So, I was tickled to see over at Ted Swedenborg’s blog (for those of you who don’t know his work, he has written important pieces on the social and cultural politics of music in the Middle East, as well as on Palestine in the 1930s) that Paul Greengrass has made a fictional version of Imperial Life in the Emerald City entitled Green Zone, starring Matt Damon. Guilty Pleasure indeed. Note that Swedenborg is primarily interested in the fashion statement Damon is making by sporting a kufiya.
I’d like to hear thoughts from more informed people about our new ambassador to Syria, where we are reestablishing ties after withdrawing in 2005 over the controversy of Hariri’s assassination.
My favorite, Stephen Walt, is at it again. Smugly, as is his style, he asserts that he has come across more proof, this time in the form of an interview with Tony Blair, that Israel and the Jews were responsible for leading the largely innocent, and easily-manipulated (um…) United States into the Iraq war: i_dont_mean_to_say_i_told_you_so_but
John B. Judis responds here, pointing out some major flaws in Walt’s (to borrow a term from a Said book I just finished browsing through:) spurious scholarship, such as the fact that a survey of American Jews before the war showed Jews to be LESS in support of the war than the American national average, or the fact that, well, that’s simply not what Blair said: rinse-wash-repeat-0i_dont_mean_to_say_i_told_you_so_but
“I woke up this morning to a world of fun,” said Israeli citizen Melvyn Adam Mildiner whose name was released today by the Dubai police as one of the suspects in the bizarre assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai last month- but here’s the kicker: the picture doesn’t match, and this Melvyn Adam Mildiner has never been to Dubai. See article here:
The passports were fake, according to Al Jazeera’s report: 2010216152630833241.html
Most opinions are that the whole bit was a Mossad-gig; nonetheless, the story continues to get stranger and stranger.
Ok, I’ll stop after this post for the next while, but this is just too crazy. There are some times when reality seems to move beyond irony into the grotesque. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is currently moving forth with building a Museum of Tolerance on a 12th century Palestinian cemetery in Jerusalem. For an interview with Rashid Khalidi, acclaimed professor at Columbia, who has ancestors buried in this cemetery see Democracy Now here. The story has been ongoing since 2004, and most recently has been in the press in several sources, including at the Guardian, here.
One of the less told stories regarding the effects of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was that a great deal of Palestinian material culture and artistic production, including early Palestinian films, was lost when the IDF drove the PLO from Beirut (background on this can be found here). Only a few copies of some of these early Palestinian films remain today. I stumbled upon one of them: Mustafa Abu Ali’s Laysa lahum Wujud, which took its title from Golda Meir’s infamous remark that the Palestinians didn’t exist. The entire film, or what is left of it, is online and can be found here. It is striking to watch, a mixture of documentary and what I take to be (though I could be wrong) somewhat staged sequences surrounding quite real footage of Israel’s bombing of the Nabatiya refugee camp in 1974.
Over at Tabsir there’s a fascinating interview with Ziba Mir-Hosseini on the current state of Islamic feminism and some of the developments that are currently taking place at what she calls the periphery of the Muslim world (specifically Indonesia and Malaysia, but her remarks are relevant for movements in Iran and the Arab world). A couple of things struck me here, but what I found most valuable was how she discusses the contingent nature of advances in gaining for rights for women in the Muslims world. As Mir-Hosseini puts it, it’s not about whether Sunni or Shi’a Islam is more favorable to reinterpreting legal and theological tenets as it is about the interest of individual political regimes in supporting incremental change. In any case, for those of you who have seen her films or read her work, an interesting piece to read. Btw, Mir-Hosseini has been involved in the past few years in creating the group Musawa that is putting forth an actual platform of action to achieve the kinds of aspirational goals she is arguing for here.
I sat out J-term in terms of blogging, being bogged down in teaching my course on Orientalism, but as the Spring term begins I have convinced myself that I have time to procrastinate creatively again. In the last few days I have run across two different blogs that have taken issue with the Times’ coverage of the Middle East. The first comes off a new blog on Yemen (itself replacing the lamented Waq al-Waq, Gregory Johnsen has decided that he should probably finish his PhD instead of educating the rest about Yemen, but his co-blogger Brian O’Neill has struck out on his own). Here Brian O’Neill rips into Thomas Friedman’s recent op-ed on Yemen, not in itself a difficult task, but being a journalist himself, Brian pays close attention to Friedman’s rhetoric.
A different affair is that of the debate surrounding Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Times. Over at The Angry Arab, Asad Abukhalil’s blog (a Lebanese Anarchist/secularist who teaches at UC Stanislaus, and a bitter critic of Israel) there was an interesting exchange between him and Ethan Bronner a while back about the lack of Arabic speaking reporters at the Times. See here.
More recently (in the last few days), however the story of Ethan Bronner’s son serving in the IDF has surfaced, and this has occasioned commentary in the blogosphere by Abukhalil, Abunimah who also has a post over at Mondoweiss.
I’m just reading up on all this myself, but think that the whole debate raises important questions about the presuppositions that US journalists bring with them when they report on the Middle East.
Here in egypt, tonight is the epic rematch of Algeria and Egypt. Anyone wearing green today is likely to be scolded during the day, and depending on the end of the game wearing green at night could actually threaten your safety.
The National continues to impress me with very interesting angles on recent events, such as Palestinian soccer sympathies. I’d check it out.
Well, we all thought the “dating” scene at Midd was bad… This article on urfi marriages in Egypt details how far young couples have to go to hide their relationships from conservative families. The danger here is, of course, if the girl gets pregnant.
The tragedy of the past decade, the tentative hope of the next.
I was 11 years old, and it was my first time back to Israel since my family had left, when I was five. We decided to visit the Wall, and I remember, clearly, being surprised by how many soldiers there were, by the flood of olive green around the ancient, cool sandstone. I asked my parents about the soldiers and they shrugged and responded, “That’s just how it is in Israel.” It was 11:00 in the morning, and the date was September 28th, 2000. It was the day I began to be conscious of the political reality that gripped my birthplace, and it was also the day that the Second Intifada began. I began my personal struggle to understand and make sense of Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians in what was arguably the worst decade in the history of the conflict. True, they have all been pretty bad, but what made this past decade so painful was that it followed the 1990s, its glow of optimism and potential and hope shattered by violence- and not only violence, but violence laced with despair. But, that confusing September day at the Wall prompted me to begin to learn more, and to care more, my hopes for peace were born right about when much of the world’s died.
The past decade was marred by the blood and brutality of military raids and suicide bombs, by men with guns and murdered infants, by hopelessness and fury. The past decade was torn by war: war with the Palestinians, war with Hizballah, threats of war with Syria and talks of war with Iran, seemingly incessant war culminating in the horrors of the Gaza crisis, one year ago. The past decade was one of desperate half-fixes, of incomplete withdrawals, of separation barriers, and of flawed reliance on the fake panacea of democratic elections. The past decade was one of international polarization, of increased talking and decreased listening, of formulas of right and wrong, at fault and blameless. The past decade was one of American complacency, of Israeli repression, of Palestinian radicalization. The past decade was one of misery and of tragedy. And yet I refuse to believe that “That’s just how it is in Israel.” Or in Palestine. Or in our world.
We must enter this new decade not swaddled in nearly giddy hope, as many were at the beginning of the past decade, but rather cautiously hopeful, tentatively optimistic. Allow me, in a burst of such tentative optimism, to paint a picture of the potential the next decade- and indeed the next year- holds. Obama and Mitchell are preparing for a new, revised and strengthened effort to get the process moving in January. Bibi Netanyahu, to the surprise of many, seems somewhat serious about making peace. Moreover, [speaking very optimistically,] talks between Hamas and Israel over the release of Gilad Shalit could progress, and lead to a landslide of potential: Gilad would be released in exchange for about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. With his release, the Israeli government would lose their central rationale for the morally odious and strategically blind blockade of Gaza. (1138809.html) Moreover, chances are high that Marwan Barghouti would likely be released as one of the Palestinian prisoners. A reformed revolutionary with immense Palestinian street cred, there is a high chance he would take the reigns of the faltering Fatah. Barghouti also has a better shot than perhaps any Palestinian leader at forging a unity government between Hamas and Fatah- and only with such a unity government could Hamas be brought into the process as a negotiating party, and not a deal-breaker. Avigdor Lieberman, arguably the most internationally loathed figure in the Israeli ruling coalition today, is currently on trial for complex corruption charges: his removal would be have an impact both symbolically and politically, as he is the beating heart of his rightist, nationalist party. Negotiations with Syria, under already existent frameworks, could lead to peace between the two countries, and shift the dynamics of the region greatly. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process could get back underway, and perhaps this is the decade in which the dream of an independent Palestine and a safe, non-occupying Israel could finally be realized.
The aforementioned laundry list of positive potential, as a whole, is not staggeringly likely, but all of the developments mentioned are within the realm of possible, and the main point is that there is positive potential in the region for the new decade. If you are interested in learning more about this potential, or about the immense problems in its way, or simply continuing the conversation about the issues affecting Israel and Palestine, we are starting a new group on campus, J Street Middlebury. The group’s primary goal will be focused and sustained education, through meetings, an email list, programming, student and faculty presentations and discussion. Email me if you would like to join (email@example.com) and help shape this new group, the discussion on this campus, and perhaps the region itself.
Let nation not lift up sword against nation, may we learn war no more. Happy New Year, and may this decade be better and more peaceful than the last.
Addendum: I just discovered that on January 1st, the op-ed I wrote entitled “I am a Zionist,” was article.php?id=22400&ref=search.php published on the official English language website of the Muslim Brotherhood. How’s that for breaking expectations to start off a new decade?
Anthony Shadid’s brief piece here made me chuckle.
In the wake of the Christmas Day plot that targeted a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Yemen’s presence in the Western media has skyrocketed. In his latest post, Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy has an excellent piece about why overly hawkish responses to the attempted plot would be a grave mistake on the part of the Western World. Yemen is a country of destitute poverty. Its oil reserves will run dry by 2016, and its supply of potable water is dripping to a standstill. Moreover, it is a very conservative country that is extraordinarily tribal in nature. It is highly suspicious of its own government in Sana’a(rightfully so, Ali Abdullah Saleh has been the veritable “prince” of Yemen since 1990 and ruled North Yemen from 1978 onward), let alone that of the United States. I’ll leave it to Lynch to get into the nitty gritty about why entangling ourselves in Yemen or only providing military aid will further alienate the West from Yemen and exacerbate the tension there.
Matthew Yglesias also has a quick post on recurring attacks on the Obama administration’s response to the Yemen situation by Hawks in the US. He says we should discredit them. Aren’t their policies of intervention and hawkish dialogue the very same ones that have been widely discredited by the academic community, the american people, and international consensus?
Ayatollah Montazeri, one of Iran’s most respected religious scholars, passed away on Saturday. This is big news for several reasons. Montazeri was a fierce critic of the current Iranian government and had disagreed with Khomeini during the latter’s lifetime. His funeral may well kick off a new round of protests. See here for BBC coverage and here for Fatemeh Keshavarz’s overview of the significance of his passing (with clips of demonstrations from inside Iran).
An excellent piece by Gershom Gorenberg on the question, in which he posits that the future of peace negotiations will in many ways determine our read on the past.
A Palestinian “terrorist” interviewed by Sacha Baron Cohen is suing him for defamation. Depending on how this case works out, this could actually be a relatively interesting case, especially if it leads to a debate over the definition of terrorism. I haven’t seen “Bruno,” but would not be surprised if Cohen had taken some liberties with the interview.
Interesting thought, right? Read Bradley Burston (my boy) on the subject: It’s a stretch, but there are some very valuable thoughts embedded in the op-ed: 1133342.html
However, the Golan and (obviously) Jerusalem, are going to be more complicated (The Knesset just approved the first stage of a bill that would require a national referendum to pullout of East J’lem and the Golan: 2009129132730663827.html
So, public opinion is going to matter a lot, and if we get closer, J Street and co. are going to need to kick up the ‘convincing’ strategy.
Anyway, neither Syria nor Golan activists have responded with particular fervor: Satellite?cid=1260181033196&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
The Golan is a complicated issue, and has a different status in the greater Israeli consciousness than the rest of the Occupied Territories, due both to its huge strategic and security relevance, and its less “occupation-y” of occupation.
The idea of a pullout from the Goland is not popular among Israelis, but to give an idea of what I think needs to happen, I will quote from a paper I wrote last year:
The central point in negotiations between Syria and Israel was, is and will remain the status of the Golan Heights. Resolution of the status of the Palestinians is also indubitably a critical issue for the Syrian side, but it is not a sine qua non for a peace treaty with Israel…
al-Asad, promulgating his father’s Israel policies and thus a quest for regaining Syria’s honor, will accept nothing less than a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights…
[However] it is quite obvious that there will be no peace with Syria unless Israeli security concerns are addressed, which could then result in a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. And despite its reservations, Israel seems to recognize that reality. This recognition was epitomized by the formerly right-wing former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in an interview with Israeli Newspaper Yediot Achronot: “I’d like to know if there’s a serious person in the state of Israel who believes that we can make peace with the Syrians without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights.” Moreover, negotiations have reached points in the past -despite Israeli qualms and Syrian stubbornness- in which there existed a “considerable overlap of positions,” (Hinnebusch, page 52).
With so much else going on in the Middle East, and Morocco in general having the reputation in America and Europe, the fate of the Western Sahara fails to attract much attention. Ever since the Green March, launched by Hasan II (father of the current ruler of Morocco, Muhammad VI) in 1975, Morocco has occupied/controlled the former Spanish colony to its south. While not internationally recognized as part of Morocco, de facto it is, though travel there for foreigners (and many Moroccans) is difficult at best. The Green March, in which Hasan II called upon Moroccans to march en masse into the Western Sahara and claim it for Morocco, was one of the diplomatic masterstrokes of the previous Moroccan monarch, who often ruled his country with a rather heavy hand (to say the least). It garnered him a great deal of internal popularity (for a while), even as it engendered a long running low level war with an armed group known as the Polisario, who advocated for the independence of the Western Sahara. The Polisario were in turn backed by Algeria, one of the many reasons why relations between Morocco and its eastern neighbor have long been chilly. With so much ink spilled over the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it is worth remembering that other relatively new nation states in the Middle East are also perceived by minorities within their borders as engaging in occupation (Kurds in Iraq/Turkey/Iran, Berbers throughout North Africa, Nubians in Egypt, Soqotris and Mahris in Yemen, etc.). The Western Sahara for its part has been in the news in the last few days after a longtime activist for Western Saharan independence was refused entry to Morocco by Moroccan authorities. See here for one account.
The situation in Iraq (for those still watching, it has become the “other war” to Afghanistan) has been of some interest in the past few days. Over at historiae, Reidar Visser has a good overview of the passing of the election law, which should now open the path to elections in the coming year.
Visser’s piece needs to be read against Adam Silverman’s take on the same situation, posted over at Informed Comment. Silverman was involved with the US military’s Human Terrain System program in Iraq, and while I’m not a fan of the program, shows a good understanding of the situation on the ground.
While Afghanistan has been dominating the US media, a lot has been going on in other parts of the Middle East. Today was National Student Day in Iran and a new wave of protests rolled across Iran (for an overview of the last big protests, November 4, al-Quds Day see Fatemeh Keshavarz’s blog here and here). Over at Scott Lucas’ blog Enduring America, Josh Shahryar has an overview of the days events. A few things are striking here. First of all, the protests continue, as does government repression. It’s unclear to me how things will play out in the long run in Iran, but it does seem that despite the government’s initial ability to face down the opposition after the botched election of Ahmadinejad, and to jail and torture its opponents, the protests continue. Who would have thought a year ago that Khamenei would face such public protests and be addressed with the same chants that the Shah faced 30 years ago?
In a sobering but fascinating story, David Ignatius reports on the outcome of a role playing session where foreign policy experts took on the roles of the main countries involved in order to see how successful the US will be at containing Iran’s atomic ambitions (at Gary Sick’s blog here (Sick got to play Iran)). Spoiler: not very.
One of my friends, who is sadly not an MES major, asked me yesterday, “So… have we caught bin Laden yet?”
In her defense, its easy to forget about that hairy man who is probably still hiding in a cave somewhere in Central/South Asia. Especially since he’s taken the backseat to Saddam Hussein, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and even Maj Nadal Hassan in recent years.
But where is he? We really just don’t know, says US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
So I know this is not concerning the Middle East, we were talking about “Muslim music” in one of my (to-remain-unnamed) classes. And I thought this might be interesting to share.
Does President Obama’s decision-making process leading up to the surge in Afghanistan give you hope in the mission and the administration?
Battle on the Times op-ed page between our friend Tom Friedman and our graduation speaker Nick Kristof highlights the difficulty of the Afghanistan decision. Friedman advocates for a lighter footprint while Kristof argues that nation-building is essential.
Friedman’s logic makes no sense to me – folks on both sides of the aisle agree that continuing to “muddle through” this mission is the worst possible tack. For the past eight years we’ve simply been losing ground – and lives – because our military presence was insufficient. The Taliban are decentralized, tactically brilliant, have local footholds and operate across very difficult terrain. Friedman points out that we were able to topple the Taliban with the help of a few tribal leaders, but it has become obvious from watching both Afghanistan and Iraq that while this can be relatively easy it takes a lot more to actually defeat an insurgency. Here’s where Kristof comes in; he advocates for, say, building schools rather than focusing on a military campaign. This sounds great to me, except that it is difficult to provide such services without basic security. Building the size and capacity of the Afghan National Army is a crucial first step. Furthermore, many would caution against patronage (a word that Obama used in his speech) and keep in mind that such structures are much more sustainable if the movement to build them comes from within.
Both of these positions, and everything in between, are popular among foreign policy wonks right now – and every recommendation has flaws. This was not an easy decision.
For those of you who watched President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last night here is a response claiming that he did not sufficiently address the issue of Pakistan. I’m inclined to agree – the President cited the Pakistani Army’s mission against the Taliban groups in Swat as evidence that Pakistan and the US are fighting the same war, but this is sort of misleading given that the Taliban groups ISAF is combating are located elsewhere along the border (not in Swat) and are known to receive support from Pakistan’s army and spy service. (This is all very complicated.) President Obama claimed that “the Taliban” pose a grave threat to Pakistan – which is true, but again, that is a different Taliban group from the one that the US is fighting in Afghanistan. Maybe it seems too complicated to differentiate between these two groups but they are very different – the Pak army is supporting one and fighting the other – and I think conflating them to make it seem like we are working in perfect partnership with Pakistan could be dangerous.
Perhaps a bigger issue is that the timeline of 18 months gives Pakistan greater incentive to hedge its bets by supporting the Taliban militants that ISAF is combating, which will only make that fight more difficult. As explained by Ahmed Rashid, a respected Pakistani writer, “Is it in Pakistan’s interest to antagonize the Afghan Taliban now, if they will be in power two or three years down the road?”
Iran’s latest move to overhaul their economy by lifting subsidies that have been in place for decades is inciting panic. Politicians as well as shopkeepers forecast a crime wave as a possible repercussion. Even though it is acknowledged that Iran’s current economic situation is hardly sustainable as it fosters dependence on imports and costs the government $100 billion annually, this type of drastic recovery makes folks nervous. The article points out that there are also some clear political motivations for Ahmadinejad’s new policy as it would effect the urban middle class most significantly, a sector of society rife with his political opponents.
Also, Iraqi director Yahya al-Allaq screened his film “Ahlam,” meaning “Dreams,” against the backdrop of the devastated Justice Ministry which endured attacks in October of this year. Though the film has won international acclaim, Iraqis themselves are still unfamiliar with it due to the decrepit state of most movie theaters. A poignant nod to artistic expression in defiance of the continuing violence.
As of 1 December, the International Atomic Energy Association has a new director general — Japanese diplomat Yukia Amano, taking over from Mohammed El-Baradei. BBC calls Mr. Amano a “reserved technocrat,” a bit of an opposite to his sometimes outspoken predecessor.
It’s no secret he’s stepping into his new position amidst a storm of new nuclear weapons/facilities/Iranian secrets, and to be honest it’s kind of hard not to suspect Iran’s announcement concerning plans to construct ten new nuclear sites was intended to coincide with the changing of the IAEA guard. It’s not too far a leap to speculate that Iran may be looking to see just how far they can stretch the leash with the new head of the IAEA — given his personality and “style,” BBC quotes analysts who predict Yukia Amano will “attempt to defuse and de-politicise” the situation. I’m not entirely sure whose approach will be better — El-Baradei’s confrontational methodology, or Amano’s expectedly restrained one.
Muslims in Switzerland and abroad are disappointed in a recent move by the Swiss Government to ban the building of minarets.
Tom Friedman claims that the pervading narrative in the Arab and Muslim world is the unfair misperception that the US is at war with Islam.
I take issue with this piece on several levels. First of all, Friedman has made simplistic arguments about Islam – namely that it is a static religion, stuck in the ancient world and exemplified by a few violent fanatics. This is false, and exactly the type of stereotyping that Friedman is criticizing here. Furthermore, it’s disingenuous to claim that our foreign policy seeks especially to help Muslims. It took years to intervene in Bosnia, and no one prevented Srebrenica; our missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia are driven by the threat of terrorism, not humanitarian purposes; and Darfur received little attention until 2004-5, and even since then many believe that the genocide (now “remnants of genocide” as Special Envoy Scott Gration puts it) has not been made a high enough priority. Though their methods are horrific and reprehensible, militants who protest against US involvement in the Middle East often claim a genuine beef: about our oil companies or military bases in the Gulf states; about botched invasions; even about our support for Israel through some of its more objectionable actions. I don’t doubt that there are lots of crazies out there, and I could obviously never condone – and I hope to prevent – any of the actions that such ideology produces, but much of the anger at the United States can be rationalized in real political qualms.
More than his remarks about our kindness to Muslims, though, Friedman’s generalization really bothers me. A quote from one Jordanian academic is not gospel, and protests about an offensive cartoon do not prove that the acts of a few radicals represent an entire religious community. Maybe he’s just trying to bait more moderate elements, but this is an odd way to go about it. It also seems wrong to write a piece like this without any mention of the misperceptions in the US about Islam – I guess some of those stereotypes have affected even Friedman.
[While I realize that Afghanistan is technically not part of the Middle East, the US involvement in Afghanistan is currently influencing both our presence in Iraq as well as our larger Middle East policy. Discussing the present quandary regarding how to proceed in Afghanistan is thus of relevance here.]
William Polk, veteran US diplomat and Middle East specialist, has written an insightful letter arguing for the US to pull out of Afghanistan. Unlike much of the commentary that I’ve seen elsewhere, he plays through the potential aftermath in detail. I find his arguments persuasive, and hope that Obama will at least address them in whatever decision he comes to.
Good piece in the Times on the opposition of Ayatollah Montazeri to Khamenei. After the elections this past summer, there was a flurry of writing on Iran and a little earlier in the year MERIP put together a excellent (print, unfortunately, but see here) issue looking at the past 30 years since the revolution. Of late, however, interest in Iran has flagged somewhat as the crisis in Afghanistan has become more prominent and as Ahmadinejad’s “win” in the elections has become fact, despite the ongoing (if muted) protests. If the political/religious framework that is going to continue to define Iran’s future is that of vilayet al-faqih, then Montazeri’s take on the question—he was one of the original architects—will be of some interest.
Over at altmuslim.com Raouf Ebeid has an interesting piece on the changing social status of women in the Arab Middle East. In many ways though, while it would be hard to disagree with the fact that Egypt hasn’t been investing enough in education in the past thirty years or so, this article raises more questions than it answers, and seems to continue to define women’s rights according to a secular, liberal model, disregarding alternate forms of agency that women might achieve through becoming active within an Islamic movement (for example). Despite this shortcoming—forgivable in part when one considers the brevity of the article—there are some interesting tidbits in this piece, including the example of two female Kuwaiti parlamentarians who, after refusing to wear a headscarf, faced down a ‘alim who called for them to resign from the parliament, and the construction of a massive new university in Saudi Arabia where men and women will study together.
In the past few months political scientists and historians (I’m thinking of Mark Lynch and Juan Cole, but the point has been made be many others) have argued that the window for a two state solution in Israel/Palestine is rapidly closing if not already gone. In brief, Israel has succeeded so well in colonizing the West Bank with settlements since 1967 that it is hard to envision—especially with the growing power of the religious right in Israel—that the Palestinians would ever have a contiguous area of land in which to base a state, even if they ever achieved any kind of sovereignty over this land. A visual depiction of the dilemma might help:
With the likelihood of a two state solution rapidly decreasing, it is interesting to consider one vision of what a one state solution would look like. Here, Ali Abunimah, one of the founders of the site Electronic Intifada argues that a one state solution will come, if Palestinians can articulate what a democratic one state solution would look like and stick to that vision. His rationale for this is based on a close reading of how the South African white minority continued to reject ending apartheid right up until the moment it ended. While the parallel with apartheid may be a controversial one for some, from the point of view of political comparisons in recent history to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, there aren’t many more accurate ones that come to mind. It is, in any case, an interesting piece to read. For my part, I continue to hope against hope that a two state solution would be possible, but fear that the facts on the ground have changed so much since ’67 that it won’t be possible.
While the American military is in the midst of pulling out of Iraq, The Economist sees its ambitious neighbors – Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – moving in. Iran, needless to say, has antagonized the American operation by supporting opposing militants, but could turn instead to the burgeoning Shiite political groups. A leader among them, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric-turned insurgent-turned political leader, made a visit to Turkey a few months ago to discuss the secular Sunni state’s relationship with Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s ties to the US are obvious, and might complicate Iraq’s efforts as a newborn democracy in the Middle East – it would be a shame to see talk of the Iran-Saudi proxy war being fought in Yemen start including Iraq as well. This article’s final point is that whatever international actions evolve in Iraq, the US will no longer dominate them.
One of the troubling aspects of blogging for me, as an academic who studies events and intellectual
developments in the pre-modern period, is that by its very nature blogging tends to take up current events and tends to neglect more purely historical subjects. As an attempt to buck this trend I would like to draw attention to a recent interview with George Saliba, professor at Columbia in which he talks about his book Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance.
It’s an engaging and easily accessible overview of Saliba’s exploration of why certain societies take up supporting the sciences at a specific moment. More precisely, he talks about why the sciences experienced such a boom in Abbasid Baghdad on the one hand, and towards the end of the interview addresses why he thinks that modern science emerged in Europe when it did. Fascinating stuff for me, especially as it’s informing my own current work on how jurists, theologians, and Sufis considered the natural sciences in the early modern period.
For those of you who want to watch Saliba debate Toby Huff, who wrote a widely read book on why modern science
emerged in Europe and not in China or the Middle East, see here, here, and here. Who doesn’t love a good academic tiff?
The Jerusalem Post is reporting tonight that smuggling between Egypt and Gaza, via underground tunnels, has equaled if not exceeded its levels pre-Operation Cast Lead. From the article itself, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly where these reports are coming from, or what degree of certainty has been achieved (given the inherent nature of illegal smuggling, I’m somewhat skeptical of the numbers cited here). That being said, according to the authors, the Israeli military establishment is not uncomfortable with the idea of other future military strikes against Hamas in the Gaza strip, and the smuggling is framed as one of several factors that could affect that decision. Of course, the suggestion may just be a flexing of military muscle, just as the figures for smuggling seem like “diplomatic leverage” the Post wants to use to provoke tougher US and Egyptian stances against smuggling.
A few years back when reality TV first really began edging into the ridiculous, someone in LA must have said:
“Hey, why don’t we have a show where Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists compete for atheists to
join their faith. That would be really cool.” A silence may have followed and then someone may have said:
“Nah, let’s do another season of Survivor instead.” Meanwhile in Turkey, they’ve gone ahead with live
religious competition for the souls of atheists. That the show’s founder is a transsexual pop star named Sisi
just makes this story perfect.
In recent days more and more stories have been appearing linking the Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan to a radical Yemeni scholar who used to live in Virginia. The Post had an interesting interview with the scholar yesterday, who, most interestingly, maintains that did not urge Hasan to carry out these acts (though he appears to approve of them).
Last month Egypt’s government passed a measure banning sheesha (water-pipe) in Khan al-Khalili market place in Cairo, treading on a popular social pastime for Egyptians of all social classes. Although this measure was not effectively enforced, it does place the tobacco habit of Egyptians within the immediate political arena. In the past couple years this issue has been getting more national attention as anti-smoking campaings have picked up some traction. Capitalizing on the paranoia surrounding the H1N1 epidemic, Egyptian officials spread rumors that the banning of sheesha was a preventative measure agaisnt the spread of H1N1. It seems this measure may have had a larger effect on smokers then health warnings on the dire health effects of smoking. So although the culling of pigs in Egypt aggravated sectarian tensions between Copts and Muslims earlier this year, it seems H1N1 paranoia may have has some positive results in encouraging Egyptians to take a temporary break from their much loved sheesha.
Der Spiegel has been publishing some pretty amazing articles on Syria his past year, thanks to equally amazing reporting by Erich Follath. This summer the German Newspaper featured a piece on Rafik Hariri’s assassination, and was brave enough to point a few fingers–most notably at Hezbollah. The piece made some major noise in Lebanon, and most Lebanese political leaders (Christian, Shia, Sunni and Druze) blamed a Zionist conspiracy to be behind an article that could only be composed of such falsehoods. When I told a Shia cab driver that I was interning with a newspaper he said “I hope its not the Spiegel, because otherwise we’d be taking a trip to the Dahiyeh”
I finally got around to reading Der Spiegel’s amazing chronology of the run-up to the Israeli bombing of the al-Kibar reactor this Summer. The article is almost out of Tom Clancy: hacked Syrian intelligence, defecting Iranian generals, North Korean arms dealers, and the Mossad proving that its one of , if not the the most capable intelligence agency in the world.
Attorney General Eric J. Holder Jr. announced yesterday that the United States would initiate criminal proceedings against, and eventually seek the death penalty for, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and four alleged co-conspirators involved in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in federal court — in New York City.
This is a bold move for the Obama Administration — while President Obama did make it clear he would utilize both civilian courts and (altered) military tribunals to prosecute those held in Guantanamo Bay, the choice of Sheikh Muhammad could be characterised as “risky,” if not perhaps an attempt to garner more public support for the current administration from human rights organizations concerned with the legality of military tribunals and current detention practices. Muhammad, amongst others, has been reportedly subjected to waterboarding, and it is now more than likely that even more of the US government’s dirty laundry will be aired in court, with some unsavory tidbits of information becoming a matter of public record. This is, of course, bound to make some people very angry, with lots of pointed fingers and accusations to fly (anyone else remember the row over the CIA’s secret hit program this past summer?).
It is obvious that defense attorneys will argue that evidence gathered by means of coercion cannot be trusted, but then again, it can hardly be said that public support is behind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his fellows (not to mention Muhammad’s previous statement to al-Jazeera TV prior to his capture in Pakistan in 2003 that he orchestrated the attacks in the US). I wonder if it is possible to guarantee Guantanamo detainees a “fair and free trial” on US soil — on the other hand, where else would they go? Keeping them hovering in limbo is hardly an effective use of taxpayer dollars.
There is also the issue of the protections awarded to US citizens being given to said detainees. Organizations representing the victims of 9/11 are apparently outraged, along with some Republicans and, more than likely, a few quiet Democrats. AG Holder will be walking a very, very interesting line with these cases, defending all of his decisions from all corners of the ring.
Also, as a side note, it would be a shame to miss the debate that has now been ignited over whether or not prosecuting Muhammad in NYC is a smart security move or if it is too much of a thumb in the eye for al-Qaeda. Are more attacks on the Big Apple likely, now? More rhetoric is more probable, in my opinion. We’ll see how much panic sets in in the next few weeks, on both sides of the table.
Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y. (New York Times)
New York 9/11 trial ignites row (BBC News)
9/11 suspects face New York trial (Al-Jazeera)
Analysis: New York trial for 9/11 mastermind risky but bold (Telegraph.co.uk)
Robin Creswell, grad student in comp lit at NYU, has an excellent overview of recent translations of the great Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish.
Insightful interview with Gary Sick on Iran (as well as some interesting remarks on Iraq). Sick served in Carter’s administration during the Iranian revolution.
This could complicate the peace process even further. I don’t know much about Lebanon – anyone else have thoughts on this issue?
Today, after several months and ridiculous drama, Saad Hariri finally formed Lebanon’s second cabinet since the Syrian withdrawal and the “Cedar Revolution” in 2005. The 30-member cabinet consists of 15 seats for the Majority coalition, 10 for the opposition, and 5 who are appointed by the president to act as a buffer between the two.
In pure Lebanese fashion, the government almost collapsed moments after its inception, but the threats were only the theatrics familiar to Lebanese politics.
The Cabinet Breakdown: (via Qifa Nabki, a Lebanese politics blog)
- –Future (Sunni): 7
- –PSP (Druze): 3
- –Lebanese Forces (Christian):2
- –Kata’eb/Phalange (Christian) : 1
- –Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform (Christian): 5
- –Amal (Shi’a):3
- –Hezbollah (Shi’a):2
The situation in Yemen, which I have been posting about intermittently over the past few weeks,
continues to go downhill. There’s a piece on today’s Times about how Saudi Arabia has now gotten involved in the action, with my friend Toby Jones getting quoted about how this does not bode well for anyone.
The folks over at Waq Waq are following this closely and have links to actual video of Saudi Arabia carrying out the bombings.
I had the opportunity to give a guest lecture in IS101 this past week on Sunni-Shi’a relations in Iraq and when it came to talking about recent events (the last year or so), I suddenly realized I hadn’t the faintest. After all, Iraq has drifted off the national news scene and Afghanistan has come to take its place. Luckily for me, Reidar Visser had my back. Here is a great series of posts on the recent creation of inter-confessional political alliances in the run up to the coming January elections(on the UIA,
on the State of Law list and on INA). Most recently, he has an informative post on what’s going on with
the revised election law and the status of Kirkuk.
In the coming months, as Obama makes up his mind about a way forward in Afghanistan, Iraq is likely is continue to be conspicuously absent in the US media. Sad, when the US continues to have so many troops there and when Iraq’s ultimate stability remains of central importance to US foreign policy objectives.
Many Egyptians dream of working abroad and undertake drastic measure to realize their goals. Smugglers capitalize on this and charge outlandish amounts that desperate unemployed graduates are willing to pay, some not even surviving the strenuous voyage from Africa’s northern coast to Europe. This results in increases in illegal immigration in Europe and other areas, as well as a depleted Egyptian intelligentsia. Why Egypt\'s Young Dream of Life Abroad- BBC
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will not run for President again in 2010. He seemingly based this decision on the lack of progress in peace negotiations, and expressed particular disappointment in the Obama administration.
Abbas’ has been receiving backlash from supporters for his wavering stance on the Goldstone Report, some people suggest this may play a role in his decision. However, he mainly stressed the inability to reach a feasible resolution, even with President Obama’s attempts. The greatest disappointment, he mentions, is the US’s inability to stop illegal Israeli settlements. Despite all this, he maintains a belief that a peace deal is still attainable.
He emphasized that his decision was not a “compromise or a maneuver” on his part, but suspicions remain. This decision not to run follows Abbas’ presidential decree that elections would be held this coming January. This move is a difficult one, considering Hamas has shown no indication of cooperating with these elections in Gaza. There have been protests against Abbas’ decision, making the situation even more complicated since the people are already dissatisfied with a new president. On that point, who can the Palestinian people (or at least those of the West Bank) look to for future leadership?
(published in the campus, although without the post script):
I am a Zionist and therefore I am pro peace: Reflections after J Street’s first national conference.
Having just returned from the J Street conference, I want to add my voice to the media controversy surrounding the new Pro Israel Pro Peace organization and its first conference in DC. I am writing from the perspective of a student, a connected Jew, a liberal, an Israeli citizen, and an American citizen when I say “finally.” Finally, a Pro Israel organization that does not deny or turn a blind eye to the immense suffering of the Palestinian people and the deep legitimacy of their narrative. Finally, a Pro Peace organization that does not demonize Israel and grossly oversimplify the situation with labels like colonialism and apartheid. Finally, an organization that proudly declares its support for Israel as a Jewish State, and that proudly emphasizes the need for the creation of a viable Palestinian State. Finally, an organization that embraces neither AIPAC’s dangerous and simplistic approach of unquestioning support for each and every Israeli policy, nor the ignorant, self-congratulatory tactics of the “Boycott Divestment Solidarity” movement. Finally.
J Street has shown its ability to provide an organizational voice to people like myself, people who love and are deeply connected to Israel, and who are immensely frustrated with and critical of many Israeli policies. But perhaps most importantly, J Street has represents a chance for people like myself to reclaim Zionism. The word Zionism has taken on such a pejorative connotation in the liberal world that many, myself included, have been hesitant to use it to self-describe. This hesitance has been compounded by the fact that the majority of those loudly proclaiming to be “Zionist” are from the expansionist, extremist Settler movement, which cares nothing about the plight or rights of the Palestinian people. I vehemently disagree with the latter group, but I am a Zionist. I believe in Israel, and I believe in Israel as a Jewish state. I believe in a Jewish state based on the best ideals Judaism has to offer, ideals of justice and repairing the world, ideals of tolerance and equality, ideals of hope. I believe in a Jewish state that acts as a “light unto the nations.” Do I see the Israel of today as embodying the best ideals of Judaism, as acting a light unto the nations? No, I do not. But that does not mean that I should abandon my ideals, my goals and my dreams as to what the Jewish State should and indeed could be. Does the fact that the American system has left so many disenfranchised and suffering mean that we should give up on America and American democracy, or that we should work to change and better America, bringing it closer to its foundational ideals?
Returning to the subject of what Zionism means, my attendance at the J Street conference reemphasized something that I have always believed: Zionism, while a clearly a Jewish movement, has profoundly universalist implications. Zionism was a movement formed from communal longing, from religious and cultural dedication, from historical roots and from the desire that Jewish people be safe, secure and able to flourish. Thus, it is in fact through the very lens of Zionism that I am best able to understand the Palestinians desire for independence, for national self-determination and for freedom from the oppression and repression they have suffered throughout history. As such, it is through this reclaimed paradigm of Zionism that I aim to struggle for two viable and independent states, for the sake of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and for the sake of Palestine and the Palestinians.
Finally, the J Street reaffirmed that the best way for me to support Israel and to assure that Israel is the type of Jewish state that I and many others long for it to be is not silence nor is it reactionary defensiveness. The best way for me, a Jew, a liberal, a student, an Israeli, an American, and a Zionist to support Israel and fight for the ideals of Zionism is to speak out, loudly, strongly and with conviction, when the Israeli state carries out unjust, immoral policies, actions and war. For indeed, such policies (the Occupation, for example) are, in a sense, anti-Zionist, both in their negative effects on the possibility of a democratic, Jewish state and in their inconsistency with core Jewish and Zionist values.(Post Script):
It is with that last point in mind that I would like to conclude with a critique a recent op-ed: My own, a few weeks ago, on the Goldstone report. I maintain that the Goldstone report had many flaws, indeed Goldstone himself has stated that many of the findings in the report “would not hold up in a court of law.” I maintain that the UN, and especially the UN Human Rights Council, has a deep bias against Israel, and singles it out far more than other states that carry out worse violations. However. The fact that the Goldstone report has many flaws, that its mandate was skewed, that the UN does not press Libya the way that it presses Israel, does not give the Israeli government the right to write off the report in its entirety and to refuse to cooperate and conduct an in-depth investigation, as the report recommends. Goldstone stated in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that he would be happy if some of the findings were proven wrong; so would I and all supporters of Israel. But there is no way to prove the findings wrong without an investigation. And if, after investigation, some of the findings prove to be accurate, that is something that Israel and the Israeli people, and supporters of Israel must reckon with, just as the United States had to reckon with Abu Ghraib. So, were I to rewrite my op-ed, I would maintain a criticism of the UN’s bias, the report’s flawed mandate and execution, but would emphasize that the onus is now on the Israeli government to address the report, and to conduct an investigation.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whatever one may think of him, is one of the most important and independent legal minds in the Muslim world. He recently published a much anticipated work on jihad. Considering his controversial statements (controversial in differing quarters) justifying American Muslims fighting against the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and the legitimacy of martyrdom operations in occupied Palestine, many will be interested in what he has to say in this much more extensive treatment of the issue. Over at Jihadica they have an initial review. See also Part Two and Three.
We can always count on the Journal to bring it home. This seems simplistic; if the US appears at all supportive of the movement won’t it lend false credibility to the claims – which are already being made – that it is the work of foreign forces?
It’s interesting that Ayatollah Montazeri, who was in the original revolutionary club, condemned the 1979 embassy takeover. I know he has become pretty outspoken but to criticize one of the Republic’s most seminal and proud moments seems particularly incendiary. It raises the question of to what extent the regime – and not just the elections – is being challenged.
Today echoes the Quds Day protests, directed inwards instead of at Israel (which is traditionally demonstrated against throughout the day) – despite recent disputes.
Remember when Turkey’s President Erdogan stormed out on Israeli President Peres in the wake of Gaza? It’s interesting to see Turkey’s recent shift in focus towards the Middle East after years of attempting to join the EU, and especially in the context of the peace process. Any thoughts on how this will affect regional dynamics?
Two very well put -and different- opinions on the report and its implications.
A producer of the Lord of the Rings is planning a Hollywood epic about the life of Muhammad. This aims to educate people about Islam, although its certainly debatable how effective Hollywood glamor will be at conveying any sort of comprehensive understanding of Islam. Also, as Muhammad can not be depicted on film, I wonder if American audiences will be interested in the subject of the film with no Brad Pitt or Matt Daemon as a lead… Epic Muhammad Movie in Pipeline
I continue to do a blog round-up for today: First, here’s a firsthand account of the situation in Sa’dah, in northern Yemen, where the government continues to carry out an extensive anti-insurgency campaign.
Second, an inspirational story about an Iranian student confronting the country’s spiritual leader at a public Q&A, and—so-far—not being arrested for it.
Insightful post on qat use and water in Yemen by Dan Varisco, who will be coming to Middlebury in January to lecture on his recent book on Orientalism.
Foreign Policy released an article on Turkey this week following a warming up to Syria. This is a comes in the shadow of Turkish military exercises this October, from which the Israeli military’s invitation was rescinded. Captagay writes,
“A mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy, and the foundation of Turkey’s 60-year-old military and political cooperation with the West may be eroding.”
If there’s any truth to this argument it would be a large shift that Obama would have to deal with–including the large plate he already has on the peace process.
I can’t get my hands on a working link, but Mustapha Barghouti was on The Daily Show tonight.
Its good to know that Professor Stearns Always has my back. Here is the link.
Also, according to Mondoweiss (a lefty Jewish blog), the heckler in the audience was the first the Daily Show has ever had. Adam Horowitz also has a personal account of viewing on the show, which is lengthy but there’s a some good reflection.
I’ve been blogging too much today, but there are so many fascinating pieces out there. This one
was recently published in MERIP and outlines how Israel’s ultra-orthodox population is coming
to dominate both Israeli politics and the IDF.
Striking if dismaying pictures from Yemen, which now has an internal refugee problem due to the fighting in the North, and is dealing with refugees from Somalia who are landing on its southern coast.
While the trial is taking place in Germany, it is receiving a good deal of attention in the Middle East as well,
so I thought it was worthy mentioning here. See the BBC coverage for an overview if you missed it when it actually happened. I still find
the whole affair quite mystifying, not to mention unspeakably tragic.
Here’s today coverage in al-Hayat,
and a good piece in the (English version) of Spiegel online.
Today Syria Comment posted a letter written by the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. sent to the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic. Ambassador Moustapha took issue with the way in which the magazine depicted Syria in its November article Shadowland by Don Belt. The Ambassador attacks the author of the article saying he “did not approach this project with objectivity… rather came with a preset thesis.” His furious critique is intriguing when read alongside the article itself (it’s hyperlinked on the blog page). His rage serves as a reminder of our responsibility, when depicting the Middle East through journalism or other media, to be wary of portraying it as a stagnant monolith, as the ambassador’s criticisms lie in the author’s inability to perceive Syria as a dynamic and evolving place.
No, not quite a food fight… though I’m sure falafels falling from the sky could not be that bad. There’s definitely enough hummus to fuel one, though.
This past weekend, Lebanon prepared over two tons (2036kg) of hummus to declare their ownership of the Middle Eastern dish. This hummus race is more than just a matter of size, though. Its all about the ownership and origin of the dish. The record was previously held by Israel, whom Lebanon is fighting for culinary rights. The Association of Lebanese Industrialists used this event to affirm the Lebanese origin of the popular dish, and to push for the registration of this dish as authentically Lebanese- like Feta cheese for the Greeks.
Hmm, I wonder what they do with all the food when they’re done proving their point…?
Oh and apparently, there was a tabbouleh war, too… 3538kg of tabbouleh…
The Maghrib generally gets short shrift in MENA discussions, and as someone whose work is deeply
rooted in North Africa, it is easy to feel left out. Recently I’ve stumbled upon two blogs that
take a look at current affairs in Morocco and Algeria, and here they are (unfortunately though
understandably they are in French, though the first has an English portal as well):
But one is continually pulled back to the East (easy for an Orientalist, no?), and here’s a blog on
Lebanon that might be of interest to some:
The New Hostage Crisis in Iran: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/23/the_new_hostage_crisis?page=0,0
I’m part of a little discussion group on campus and this weekend we focused on Iran. By the end of the conversation most participants had agreed that an acceptable way – perhaps the only way – to resolve the nuclear quagmire is to move towards normalizing relations with Iran so that when and if it gets the bomb it will not pose as much of a threat, much the way that we can sleep at night being cognizant the arsenals in China and Russia. Maybe – maybe – I would have conceded this a few months ago, but it’s difficult enough to condone an oppressive, abhorrent regime; now that it is being challenged in unprecedented ways (and being oppressive and abhorrent in unprecedented ways), I find this plan even harder to swallow.
And then there’s the question of if it’s even possible, especially given what seems to be a one-year time frame and the extent to which the regime defines itself in opposition to The Great Satan…
I am off to the first ever J Street conference, which begins this Sunday, October 25th. As some of you may have heard, the conference has been the cause of much controversy and heated exchange within the Jewish community.
I’m Jewish. And I like them. And I like Israel. Controversy solved.
On a serious note, I will be be live blogging from the conference, and will post the link to the site as soon as it goes up. It should certainly be interesting, and I am looking forward to a conferencing filled with voices that take refreshingly nuanced and complex stances on this polarized, polarized issue.
As Fergie’s single, “My Humps” blares from loud speakers, the bikini portion of the Abu Dhabi Beauty Contest is about to begin. Ok, maybe they don’t go quite like that. But as in many Western beauty contests, the legs are long, the eyes are big, the bodies curvaceous. Saudi Arabia has never entered a contestant in the Mrs. Universe competition, buy maybe Donald Trump was just looking for contestants in the wrong places. By initiating beauty contests that didn’t discriminate between species, maybe we could finally start bridging the cultural gaps between Arab and Western societies.
Here’s a article from the most recent Economist on education in the Middle East; I thought it would be of interest given the college’s program with Alexandria University. Might want to check this out before you decide to mention Darwin when you’re abroad-
Cairo, Egypt was recently the site of President Obama’s “outreach” speech to the Middle East, signifying the importance of the state in the Middle Eastern political sphere. While it is certainly important to keep an eye on the ever-tense Israel-Palestine conflict, Egyptian internal politics should not fall by the wayside. Looking to the 2011 Elections, one wonders how much longer President Mubarak will retain his tight grip on power.
Questions of succession after 28 years of President Mubarak’s reign, or regime, if you will, loom in the distance. An interesting BBC piece covers ground with some of the opposition:
Even though the US and Israeli governments were able to convince the Palestinian Authority to bury the Goldstone Report in the hopes of keeping it quiet,the 500+ page report still continues to make a lot of noise. Abbas’s silence continues to hurt his credibility to the point that he’s getting shoes thrown at pictures of him–something traditionally reserved for Arab heroes like George W. Bush. Goldstone himself is not staying quiet, rebutting accusations that his report hurt the peace process, going as far to say that there is no peace process: “What peace process are they talking about? There isn’t one.”
But most interestingly is the recent reaction of the Israeli government. According to the JTA, Netanyahu instructed his government to look into proposing changes to the rules of war:
“In Lebanon, in Gaza and in other places, weapons are being piled up around us with the sole aim of firing them at the citizens of the State of Israel. I want to make it clear to everyone: No one will undermine our ability and right to defend our children, our citizens and our communities.”
If the point of the Goldstone report–or any UN Human Rights investigation in general–is encourage abiding by rules of war, its definitely working. But this is probably not in the way that Goldstone and the Human Rights Council imagined.
Photo: Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum, which took place following the Gaza war. Credit: Flikr/worldeconomicforum
I thought it’d be nice to start out blogging with something positive. Burston is one of my favorite journalists, he has a an excellent op-ed section in the English language version of Haaretz, a left-leaning Israeli newspaper. So, let’s keep praying.
What with Hamas generally been depicted as political Islamists, it’s interesting to think about how they are facing internal problems within Gaza with an important although still small opposition from representatives of a more global jihadism. The good folks over at Jihadica are on the case:
One of the main reasons I think that it is interesting to think about this situation as it should help discourage us from lumping all political islamists together (I know, I know, we have been told countless times not to do this, but the ongoing media representations of political islamist movements isn’t helping).
Just ran across this a few days ago. An intriguing view of what will be happening in the next century in the Middle East by one of the region’s most prominent American historians: