I honestly don’t read many blogs – severe lack of time being the primary reason. Hence, my blogroll remains stagnant unless one of my gentle readers comments and leads me back to their house. So, for Blog Day, I decided to highlight some blogs that I only get to read now and then but which all of you should be reading every day. The first one is desi-driven but all the rest are Iranian bloggers writing in English.

Here’s a Happy Blog Day to You. Enjoy the Punch.

Sunday Reading for Dog Days

Saw the 40 year old Virgin recently. Best abstinence propoganda ever made [only if the Xtian Right can overlook the nudity, insanely hilarious bad language and winking adoration of gays]. No reviews I read had pointed out the two desi scene-stealers [Shelly Malil and the awesome Gerry Bednob] who were like the anti-matter to Wes Anderson’s Kumar Pallana. Incidentally, am I wrong in thinking that Gerry Bednob was Babu’s friend on Seinfeld? And, Google proves me right!

  • Had a conversation recently with phdcs about Indian history textbooks – where I used the example of American History 101 textbook as a template. Intriguingly, Boston Globe directed me towards Robert Orill and Linn Shapiro’s From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education. The teaching of history is only as dear to my heart as history itself. I look forward to the debate on this at HNN.
  • Kathryn Hughes reviews Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Biography. Another commodity history. Leave something for me, please.
  • Martha Bayles talks about the Good, Bad and the Ugly Americans. American popular culture is no longer a beacon of freedom to huddled masses in closed societies. Instead, it’s a glut on the market and, absent any countervailing cultural diplomacy, our de facto ambassador to the world.
  • This plus this equals some Beckettian snark.
  • Alan Dershowitz, Norman Finklestein and writing the history of Holocaust in the Chicago Reader [pdf].
  • A few blog highlights: Raven at Reality Cafe had a post on Ludo which send me to the archive. So look forward to the history of parcheesi tomorrow. Baraka at Truth & Beauty had a post on her mother that is worth your time. Danial has a great post on Jama’at-i Islami, Madrasas, MQM and Karachi that is a must-read [in Urdu]. There is lots to say about it and I think I will in the coming week.
  • Speaking of Madrasas in Pakistan.
  • Finally, the endgame begins – for better or worse.

Unrelated: Go England!. Did I really just type that? I need therapy, stat.

Dear Mr. Brooks

In your 8/25 column, Divided They Stand, you conclude:

But when you get Galbraith and Gerecht in the same mood, you know something important has happened. The U.S. has orchestrated a document that is organically Iraqi.

It’s their country, after all.

However in your entire piece there is not a single quote from any actual Iraqi who may or may not have any opinion on the constitution. As I see it, you have demonstrated the myopia of the American enterprise in Iraq perfectly – American analysts talking about perceptions in the American media as counter spin in an American op-ed for American audience.

Since you couldn’t find any "IRAQI" to tell you anything about what that constitution means to them, I really fail to see your conclusion. I take your words of esteem for "Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia, and smart Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly of the C.I.A. and now at the American Enterprise Institute" but I doubt that they call Iraq their country.

If you would like to get the Baghdad street view of the Constitution, perhaps you can call someone who is 1. An Iraqi 2. In Baghdad 3. Involved in the Constitution making process. THEN, you can conclude whether the Iraqi constitution is organic or not.


Teaching Bytes

The air recently has that tinge of cold which I have dreaded my entire life. It means that school will soon start. Here at Chicago, we do not start until late, late September but a lot of places should already have begun the 05-06 school year. Shudder. I am not teaching this coming quarter but I know that some of my readers are; and I would like to get your thoughts on some matters related to pedagogy and technology. Let me preface by saying that here at Chicago, we pride ourselves on intimate, small classes taught by Nobel-prize winning economists. It works great, in general, but some untoward awkwardness does appear when the class in question is Introduction to Islamic Philosophy: al-Farabi to al-Sirhindi. In general, classes do not have any technological component in the humanities. The syllabi is distributed on paper; there is either E-Reserve at the library or a Reader at the copy center and the books are all the Sem Co-op. Some classes have a media component and they rent AV equipment for showing movies/clips.

Here is my recommendation for any class in the humanities:

  1. A class website with syllabi and reading lists [both in pdf and hyperlink formats].
  2. E-reserves of all articles/book chapters. If you can swing a password-protected site, you should host these locally.
  3. A listhost for class announcements.
  4. A class calendar online- also pdf.
  5. Online/offline resource link/bibliography [with good notations – that should tell the students what type of information it is and how valuable it is. If it extra-useful and online, archive a cache locally].
  6. Online maps – lots of maps – [but with notation] from the books or the internets.
  7. Lecture notes or outlines for each class, put on the class site before or right after each class.
  8. A blog/forum/bulletin-board.

All this may appear self-evident or superfluous to some. Allow me to make two arguments for such a setup. The first reason is archival. I am not at the point in my career where I have seven classes planned and lectured out. I found myself writing lectures right before class and then misplacing my lecture notes. So, for me, a class website is a great archive of all the information I need to teach a class – parts or whole of which I can use and re-use in the future. Second is access. A classroom is really a temporal and geographic block during which knowledge is deemed transferable from the teacher to the students. In good cases, such a flow of information takes place along all kinds of secondary and teritiary axis – usually, through discussion. A virtual classroom takes off the bounds of time and space. A student overcome by anxiety or the after-effects of too many pbrs the night before may not participate in your class but s/he can certainly have an opportunity to participate outside of class.

And that is basically my overarching point – that the instruments and tools of pedagogy should not stop when the time limit of the class is over. Discussion and interaction can and should take place outside of the classroom. Caleb, at Cliopatria, refers today the Gerald Graff interview in Common Ground [which also gave rise to my impetus for this post]. Caleb points that “even university professors who use websites, listservs, or course software like Blackboard still think of these tools either as bells and whistles–embellishments of classroom instruction rather than true extensions of the classroom–or as accommodations to some ill-defined “cyber-consciousness” that twenty-first century college students allegedly possess”. And that is exactly right. Technology that allows us to stretch the class outside of the classroom is, indeed, a boon. Pedagogy that directly engages with such advancements is, then, a must.

Of course, there are some mechanical and logistical details that have to be kinked out based on your teaching preferences, class type, institution type and, obviously, the subject. But, I cannot really postulate any class in the humanities that cannot be structured in the way described above. All faculty have access to a web server. Word files can be converted to pdfs with a click. Blogging software is easy and customizable. And many universities are starting to include wikis and blogs in their general offerings. There is always online help for the initial hurdles of setup. All that should not be of great deterence.

One last point re: blog. I don’t think blogging as it exists in the public sphere is the same as blogging within the classroom environment. It has to be structured – rigidly so, perhaps. There should be reasons to blog and reasons to comment and reasons to do group-work. That is, graded assignments. It isn’t that hard to come up with some. For example, in my last class, I divided the class into three small groups [small class]. Every week, one group had to post a response to the reading question. The second group had to post comments and questions to the response. And the third group would synthesize and post about the discussion. The groups staggered their roles next week. Then there were the individual assignements to post reading-responses and book reviews and campus talk summaries. In addition, I had people post links and comment on relevant historical references in the news feeds. For credit. Everything that they did, I gave them some credit. It did help those who were shy in class or not as verbally adept. The level of thought and expression was also healthy. I had a blast as well.

Should I stay

There is an undeclared civil war in Iraq. I am not talking just about the war over the drafting of the constitution, either. Kurds and Shi’a parties are busy writing while the Sunnis are reaching the breaking point. After reading this CSM report, I think that the outlook is grim that the US will be able to hold back full-scale civil war.

I think I am squarely in the get-out-of-Iraq camp. However, there is no rosy scenario that occurs should that happen. Civil war, maybe. Or maybe an independent Kurdistan along with a Shi’a led, Iran secured, Iraq constituting a militant Sunni presence. Uncle Sam babysitting. Juan Cole has a post today that lays out some proposals of segmented withdrawals. He concludes that “But I do think that, if taken together, they would allow us to get the ground troops out without risking a big civil war or a destabilization of the Middle East. Once Iraq can stand on its own feet, I am quite sure that the Grand Ayatollah in Najaf will just give a fatwa for complete US withdrawal, and the US will have to acquiesce, as it did in similar circumstances in the Philippines. The problem is, though, that should a civil war break out AFTER complete or partial withdrawal from Iraq, the US cannot be a silent partner. They will have to re-engage. Should I cool it or should I blow?/Should I stay or should I go now?/If I go there will be trouble/and if I stay there will be double?/So you gotta’ let me know!/Should I stay or should I go. Indeed.

So, as this summer of Iraqi discontent draws to a close, I am increasingly uncertain of my own thoughts. My only impulse is to reach for the bookshelf. Allow me to recommend to you, gentle reader, Hanna Batatu’s The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq – a pivotal work in Iraqi historiography. It is a massive work [1300 pages] and the class-based analysis has a peculiar datedness. But, make no mistake that this work is the most important work of social and political history of Iraq. I especially recommend Book 1 which undertakes an analysis of Iraqi classes under the monarchy and their interactions in politics and society. Here, we can learn more about the British Mandate or how simplistic it is to talk about Iraqi “Sunnis” or “Shi’a”.

This New Century

In 1892 The Century, a New York based quarterly magazine, published a small piece by one James S. Dennis. It was probably reprinted from another source. There is nothing special about this piece. Working in the archives of nineteenth century, one sees such writing everywhere. I chose this one almost at random and am recreating it almost completely.

Is Islam the Gospel for the Orient?

That command which Mohammed seemed to himself to hear in the depths of his serious and brooding soul, “Cry, cry in the name of Allah!” and which he interpreted as the voice of the angel Gabriel, inroduces us to a veritable dreamland of history. It is not, however, a land of dreams; rather of realities which have thrilled and torn the world, and strained the religious, social and political systems of men as with the throes of revolution. The good sword of Christendom never struck more telling blows than at Tours and Vienna, when it dashed to earth the Damascus blades of the Saracen and Turkish invaders sweeping into central Europe. Who could picture the course of history had the results been different? Who can estimate the world’s indebtedness to Charles Martel and Sobieski, and to the brave men who fought with them for the rescue of humanity from the Koran, the crescent, and the harem – the symbols of religious, political and social degradation? […]

The thought of our time seems ripening for a true and exact estimate of Islam. A kindly and generous but firm and inflexible judgement upon this historic problem is rapidly forming. Islam shall have all the credit it deserves; it shall be treated with fairness and calmness and courtesy: but never can it have the place of supremacy it claims; it can never even share the honors of Christianity; nor can it presume to be her handmaid in the regeneration of the East. It has done its work, and left its stamp upon the Orient. Its record is of the earth, earthy, althought it has cried and fought in the name of Allah. Its fountainhead is in the depths of the Arabian wilderness; it has flowed only in human channels; it has hardly risen above the ordinary level of religious standards in the Orient; its ethical and social code is only the rude and vulgar heritage of the desert. Its doctrine of one God, while it is the secret of its power and explains to a large extent its magic sway, has not saved it. It has given dignity and nobility to the Moslem creed; but a closer scrutiny reveals the broken, distorted, and inferior representation of the ineffable character of God which we have in Islam. It is God environed with human interpretations, modifications, and readjustrnents to meet the religious and social requirements of the East as understood by a representative Oriental. The Deity is made to sanction what he loathes, and to command a whole system of human formalism. The difference between the Bible and the Koran is the difference between the divine and the human.

Islam, however, is not simply a thing of the past, a relic which we dig up from the prolific dust of those ancient seats of Asiatic power. Islam is here; it is of the nineteenth century; it is a power in our generation; it is something to be studied and understood. It is a political factor in the Eastern question of the very first magnitude. What becomes at once, when opened, the burning question of the straits is usually at first the flash of Islamic fanaticism amidst the inflammable religious elements of the Levant. The government of Turkey has pledged itself to Europe again and again as guaranteeing absolute religious toleration and freedom; but let a Moslem attempt to claim his liberty of conscience to embrace Christianity, and before the ink is dry his doom is sealed. America, to be sure, has little concern with the politics of Europe; but American Christianity has a high mission and a noble field amidst the intellectual and spiritual struggles of down-trodden peoples. Her mission is one of sympathy, and help, and active philanthropy. An Arabic figure-of-speech designates a helpful and gracious ministry as something done by “a white hand”. American Christianity is reaching out her white hand of beneficence to the nations of the Orient. She has already carried to the teeming centers of Asiatic lite some of the highest and most helpful elements of our civilization, and is grafting into the intellectual and spiritual movements of the Old World that power which makes for righteousness, which both sweetens and glorifies human life, and gives it its noblest possible impulse and its highest possible destiny. There must be no Monroe doctrine in our American Christianity, bidding us hold aloof from this “white-handed” ministry to those who need so sorely the help of the favored nation whose happy lot has fallen under the light of the westward star a star which, we must not forget, first arose in the East.

America can do much, by wise effort, and cordial sympathy, and watchful interest, to establish throughout the world the precious principle of religious freedom. Her whole influence should be thrown on the side of religious toleration and liberty of conscience. This is a lesson yet to be learned by almost the entire Eastern world. The glow of American sympathy is to-day doing wonders for whole nations in the Orient. American philanthropy has already planted six colleges and seven hundred schools in the Turkish empire. Every prominent language of the East is throbbing with American literary and religious contributions. American missionaries have within a generation given the Word of God to Eastern peoples outnumbering many times over the population of the United States.

Let American hearts be interested in the welfare of Oriental nations, and enlisted in their behalf in the high services of human brotherhood. An example of national unselfishness as wide as the world and as deep as human want is yet to be given to them. Let America crown her greatness with the beauty and power of this example

Related, see Tebbit attacks ‘unreformed’ Islam, also Rushdie’s The Right Time for An Islamic Reformation. Also related, see White House on Iraq since 2002.