Known Unknowns


Known Unknowns
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Imperial Watch

Basmati Rice

I had no idea that Pakistan was important BEFORE Sep 11, 2001. Listen to Rice's testimony: "America's Al Qaida policy wasn't working because our Afghanistan policy wasn't working, and our Afghanistan policy wasn't working because our Pakistan policy wasn't working." In fact Pakistan was mentioned 27 times by Rice, while Iraq only got 26 shout-outs. so there. In fact, the WTC in '93, the embassy bombings in Kenya, the Cole attack in the Persian Gulf, the Khartoum fiasco, it all did NOT result in a comprehensive Al Qaida strategy because America had shoved Pakistan under the rug since 1989. Indeed. I am becoming a big fan of the various domino scenarios the administration brings out. Pakistan / Afghanistan / Taliban or Iraq / Syria / Iran / restofthemiddleeast. States capitulate and change course because the comprehensive game plan of the administration leaves them no recourse. When is Iraq inviting Syria and Iran for democracy sleep-overs? more later. and welcome to


From Wired, comes an article on the adoption of computers in Madrasas in Lahore. A couple of weeks ago, Boston Globe ran an article that also tackled the modernization of syllabus in Deobandi madrasas in India. Both of these articles point towards external and internal reform pressures on the madrasa system. The impression is that the madrasas teach nothing besides the rote memorization of the Qur'an (picture boys in caps on floor swaying back and forth). The further implication is that the madrasa system in Pakistan is a breeding ground of terror and extremism. Hence, reform must come by reforming the curriculum of these schools. As Bush/Musharraf spoke in a2002 press conference:

PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me first -- and I'd like the President to speak on this, basically on the madrasa school issue in Pakistan. One of the things that most impressed me about President Musharraf, that gives me confidence in his vision, is that the last time we met in New York City, we spent a fair amount of time talking about education reform. And the President has placed a very intriguing and very interesting woman in charge of the education system in Pakistan. She used to work in rural areas, a rural province of the country. He's elevated her to Cabinet position because she's a reformer. She understands the modern world requires an education system that trains children in basic sciences and reading and math and the history of Pakistan. [snip] PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Madrasas, we must understand, are basically -- there are about 600,000 to 800,000 students here in madrasas. Now, the positive aspect of the madrasa -- which I did lay out in my speech also, I would like to highlight for everyone to hear -- is that they are a welfare -- they have a welfare and humanitarian aspect to them. They feed and house the poorest of the poor children. So this is the positive aspect of their providing free board and lodge to the poorest of the poor. Now, the weaknesses of some of the madrasas only teaching religious -- giving religious education to the children has to be removed. And the children in these madrasas need to be brought into the mainstream of life. And that is what we are doing.
The word "Madrasa" comes from the same arabic root as "dars" which means a lesson or a lecture. With the famous dictum to "pursue knowledge, even if it takes you to China", the role of education has been central in any Islamic polity. Madrasa, as traditionally constructed in Islam, is an institution where any one of the four schools of religion in Islam - the madhhab - along with Arabic grammar, the traditions of the Prophet -hadith, history, literature, rhetoric, mathematics, and astronomy are taught. They emerged in the early tenth century in Iran although we have reports as early as 'Abdul Malik (c.685-705) of Quranic teachings done in two type of settings: - The first was the maktab which was geared towards the illiterate and primarily to teach the Qur'an. This was done anywhere - private house, shop etc. presided over by an alim. - The second was the majlis, which rose out of a gathering of scholars in the mosque and was dedicated to more specialized study. There are the famous examples of funded institutions of higher learning such as al-Rashid's (c.764≠809) Bait ul Hikmah (house of wisdom). Other examples are the Jami'a Masjids - large mosques - that served as centers of learning. The chief among them being the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca that was seen as the most sacred institute. Figures such as Shah Waliullah, Abdul Wahab, Ubaidullah Sindhi studied here in the early 19th century. The establishment of the current model of the madrasa can be traced to Nizam ul Mulk (c.1018≠92), the Grand Vizier under two Seljuk Sultans. He wrote the influential Siyasat Namah - The Book of Government and founded a series of madrasas all over Iraq and Khurusan (Iran). The biggest of the them was the Nazimiya in Baghdad (c.1065). In his book, as in the establishment of these madrasas, Nizam ul Mulk sought to train a cadre of intellectuals and theologians that would guide the Sultans in their governance over the Muslim lands. Nizam ul Mulk's reforms instituted a state-funded (through waqf - land endownment) institute of higher learning that was responsible for creating a new elite. The madrasa system spread throughout Fatimid and Mamluk Egypt, Iraq, Safavid Iran and India. In India, the Delhi sultanate and the Mughals continued their patronage of madrasas all over the land. They served as counter-balances in some areas (such as Bengal) to the ever-popular Sufi Khanaqas (communal housing and learning centers). The importance of fiqh (religious law), history, sciences was well established by the 16th and 17th centuries. The 'alims who came out of these madrasas were polyglot, erudite intellectuals who sought high offices. The British in India were responsible for both the diminuation of the syllabi of madrasas as well as their spread as a counter-British institution. After the 1857 war, the language of the courts was shifted from Persian to English. The Muslim elites who were trained at home and in madrasas in the "classical" subjects were loathe to join the english grammar schools. While people like Syed Ahmed Khan, argued for a modernization of the Islamic knowledge systems and founded Aligarh University in 1864. Others like Thanawi, Maududi, Nanotovi etc. opted for enshrining Arabic and the Qur'an at the heart of any system of Muslim knowledge in India. The effect was the growth of two separate strains of Muslim thought in India. In pre-colonial India, the 'alim had to know fiqh, history, sciences, archery etc. to be an effective administrator or jurist, but the colonial counterpart needed only English language and English Law. As a reult, the curriculums in the madrasas deteriorated down to just religious law. Children were sent to madrasas in their earliest age to learn to read the Qur'an and other religious rituals. A minority, only those persuing a religious living, went on to studying fiqh etc. and the rest went to public or private secular schools. The madrasas existed not in competition with secular Urdu, Hindi or English medium schools but as optional supplements. In the 80s, the Afghani conflict forced the migration of millions of refugees into Pakistan. The madrasas were one venue where children and young adults found refuge. The got home and boarding and were schooled in Qur'an and Arabic. This is the time-frame where the politicization and militarization of the madrasas in rural and semi-urban regions of Pakistan. It was NOT a uniform phenomenon and neither was it a programmed one. Many have pointed to Zia ul Haq's Islamization as responsible for this but I would like to differ mainly because the state control over these institutions has been virtually negligible. There is no doubt though that, in the 90s, hardline jihadi talk was gaining momentum in the madrasas in Pakistan - this time due to the Kashmiri conflict. Today, the majority of madrasas in Pakistan are tiny nickle and dime operations. Led by one solitary imam in a neighborhood, housed inside a mosque, they are the maktabs of early Islam. The powerhouses, like the Jamia Ashrafia are too prominent to openly preach jihad. The culprits are the madrasas run by jihadist organizations themselves. To stop them, one needs to root out the organizations such as Jaish Muhammad etc. It is common knowledge which are of the madrasas that are the radical ones. Taking away the funding of such organizations will do enough to break such madrasas. The neighborhood ones will never have the funds or personnel to "modernize". They exist not to trains jihadists but to teach children Arabic and the Qur'an. They are regulated in the sense that the neighborhood hires the imam who leads the prayer and teaches there. These imams have to conform to the local standards and ideologies and radical ones are often booted out -- at least in Lahore. ok. i am out of breath now.

Freedoms Denied

Today brings news of two deeply saddening events in Pakistan to the international media. First is the bomb blast in a Shi'a mosque in Karachi. Just yesterday, I was giving my class some data on sectarian conflicts in Pakistan and the role played by print culture and madrasa system in that conflict. This blast occured, as well, at a madrassa which had both Sunni and Shi'a mosques associated with it. The other news event is the rape of 2 young girls at the behest of a panchaiyat (jury of 5 village elders). This is a shameful example of rapine and killing carried out in the name of "honor" in rural Pakistan. Neither of these events is unique and one must look at their tortured historical past in Pakistan. Shi'a-Sunni Conflict in Pakistan Who will lead the Muslim community? That question of political authority and legitimacy split the nascent Muslim world right after the death of the Prophet. For the Shi'a, the Companions of the Prophet conspired to disposses 'Ali (his son-in-law) of his rightful claim as the First Caliph. The Sunni majority - that revered the Companions - feels that political succession of the Prophet went as God intended. The history of Islam bears witness to these two strains developing and solidifying ideologically and politically in various parts of the world. In Pakistan, by a rough estimate, the Shi'a community is 20% of the population. Sectarian conflict did not become the issue it is today until the Islamization processes of Gen. Zia ul Haq (1977-1988) the Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan. In 1980, as a response to his Islamization policy (and the fear that the Hanafi fiqh will pre-dominate), the Shi'a community began political mobilization. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran was a great ideological boon to the community. The organization at the forefront of this mobilization was Tahrik-i Nifaaz Fiqaah Ja'fariyya or Tahrik-i Ja'fariyya (Movement for the Implementation of Ja'faria Law - TJP). Created largely to protect Shi'a community from unfair Islamization laws, the TJP quickly expanded into a full-fledged movement for the Shi'a in Pakistan. Its confrontational style sowed seeds of dismay in the Sunni majority. It's second leader Allama 'Arif Husain al-Husaini was assassinated in 1988. One of their manifesto items was the creation of an army of followers ready to defend the community. In 1991, that army (or youth group) splintered into the Sipah-i Muhammad (Muhammad's Soldiers). Based out of Thokar Niaz Baig, it participated heavily in the Afghanistan conflict raging against the Soviets as well as Kashmir. The recruitment and training of young men happened mostly in madrasas associated with the organization. Since its inception, this organization has been involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence in Karachi and Punjab. The Sunni counterpart is the Sipah-i Sahaba (Soldiers of the Companions) established in 1985 in Punjab. It was constructed explicitly to combat Shi'a power in Pakistan and to make Sunni Islam the official religion of the state. For example, to counter the Muharram processions, it tried to celebrate the death anniversaries of the first four caliphs. This organization was militarized as well in the Afghanistani and Kashmiri conflicts. Beginning in the rural centers, these organization spread to the urban populations in the mid-90s and brought with them their militant sectarianism. There were over 1800 events of sectarian violence between 1984-2003 with deaths and injuries of considerable population. There are further splinter groups of these organizations as well (most have been tagged 'terrorist' by Gen. Musharraf). The flare-ups happen largely around Muharram with one or the other organization attacking mosques or neighborhoods with drive-by shootings. The suicide bomb that caused this latest incident seems to be a new development. A particularly shameful chapter in this bloody history was the assassinations of Shi'a medical professionals in Karachi in 2002. They had a hitlist of doctors with Shi'a sounding names who were stalked and shot. The retaliation by the Shi'a resulted in the assassination of Maulana Azim Tariq (a leader of the Sipah Sahaba) in 2003. Which caused further retaliation. As long as Pakistan continues to yolk itself to any conception of an Islamic State, it will have no recourse against those willing to hijack the whole bus. Zia's Islamization (Nizam-i Mustafa as he called it) may have been the catalyst for militarization of such groups, but the subsequent "civilian" governments did nothing to stop the madness. In fact, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif continued to promote relationships with these organizations to get access to local legitimacy. I am afraid that the only way out is to remove the shroud of Islam from the state mantle. Honor Crimes: Let's go from the evils of state and religion to the evils of class and culture. Honor crimes are not Pakistani or Islamic in nature (ever read Shakespeare?). They are crimes against women in every patriarchical, feudal society. They arise out of cultures and histories where women are possessions. In Pakistan, according to an editorial by Munnu Bhai in today's Jang Daily, there were 1261 incidents of honor crimes in 2003. The pre-dominant cases involve the landed elite of the village raping and killing the lower classes and imposing their terror upon that society. In this case, as well, the Zamindar (land owner) claimed an individual had illicit relations with his daughter and as compensation demanded the right to rape the two sisters of that individual. He was given the right to do so by a Panchiayat - a group of five elders who traditionally play the role of judge and jury in rural villages. In fact, the Panchiayats are nothing more than rubber stamps of the evil will of the landowners. The "wise elders" in this case are on the lam from the law as is the rapist. Will they be bought to justice? I think so. The best way to get things done right in Pakistan nowadays is to get international media involved. Still, the root of the problem remains. Feudal landlords who rule over their dominion like mini-Stalins. I have an even more prepostorous solution for that: Land Reform and a viable movement to better the role of women in Pakistani society ESPECIALLY in the rural areas. sigh. i want happy news. someone?

Weight of Freedom

Take up the White Man's burden-- Ye dare not stoop to less-- Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness; By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do, The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you. -- Rudyard Kipling's The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands. McClure's Magazine, February 1899. I gave this poem to my South Asia Civ class in the Fall and asked for their response. Most had heard of the phrase "The White Man's Burden". Most had a negative opinion of this poem after reading it, despite having little knowledge of the conquest of Philippines or the historical debate on Imperialism produced in the aftermath of that savage war. Listening to George Bush's press conference, I was reminded of that debate and how similiar it is to the War on Terror/War for Freedom rhetoric nowadays. Just as the War on Terror masks wars on civil liberties or constitutional rights or sovereign nations, the calls for Freedom railroads the actual meaning of that term. The French are horrible because they are free to choose and they choose to be against us. The Spanish should hand the Iberian peninsula back to the Moors because they elected to get out of Iraq. You are free to choose as long as you choose what we want you to choose. Freedom, indeed, is a genuine human right as Bush eloquently puts it:

>Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free, that if you're Muslim or perhaps brown skinned, you can't be self-governing and free. I strongly disagree with that. I reject that because I believe freedom is the deepest need of every human soul. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern. And if given a chance, the Iraqi people will be not only self-governing, but a stable and free society.
In fact, then, shall we ask WHY did he throw away decades of [the semblance of] US neutrality in Israel-Palestine conflict?? Don't the Palestinians deserve a fair chance to choose a solution for themselves? Those "facts on the ground" may be "Israeli population clusters" to Bush-cons but they represent colonial and imperial hegemony to the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians. You cannot decide it FOR them. The silent, sullen peoples [who] shall weigh your gods and you are the same ones that you want to win the hearts and minds of. oh hell. why do i bother? people, if we don't get john kerry elected AND get the Senate, we are through. And the We is not the royal we. It is the We, The Sane, The Few, The Free We.

Identify Yourself

Britain is rolling out the I.D. cards in London. This is a voluntary trial but by 2012 it will be compulsary. Funnily enough, Muslim women will be exempt from this trial presumably because it fringes on their religious practice to veil. Mind you, Britain is a police state already. There are cameras every 10 feet in london and I am sure the MI-5 learned a trick or two from the K.G.B. The backlash specifically counters the claim [pdf] that ID cards will deter terrorists (I have yet to hear about terrorists faking identities). I remember Dean taking all kinds of flack because he mentioned something about a National ID card. In Pakistan, we have had ID cards forever (as in most of Europe and Asia) and I know that my uncles had about 6 a piece - with different names and pictures. My uncles were no terrorists. They are not even shady. The multiple ID cards were used to get out of parking tickets and cast multiple votes in student elections in their college. Of course, that was long ago and the new NID card in Pakistan has some biometric (?) data and a spiffy website. So, presumably, that kind of abuse no longer takes place. I think that National ID card will debut very soon after the Bush re-election. Larry Ellison is chomping at the bits to put his Oracle db to the backend and have a national ID. Ashcroft, who hated the idea of gun owners having to register, is on board. My small contribution to this debate is to merge the CAPPS II rating system with the ID card. Look at your driver's license. On the front, it has a "class" listing which pertains to whether you use corrective lenses. That should be the terrorist rating you get from the CAPPS II. Help the police out. I am AAB, btw, which means I get checked manually on the terror list each time I board a plane. But I do NOT get body cavity search. WOO HOO.


The Iraqi prisoner abuse story is extremely significant. It is a devastating blow to any notion of winning the hearts and minds of Arabs in or outside of Iraq. Most newspapers are carrying stories on outrage in Cairo, UAE, Bahrain. The scandal has now spread to British soldiers as well. What is the significance? In the Islamic world, home to dictatorships and police regimes, this is not newsworthy solely because it happened. Instead, it has immense symbolic power because the perpetrators are those that have had the rhetoric of "good" vs evil. Those that claimed that it is civilization they bring to the people. And freedom, of course. Even more than that, is the content of these pictures. If there is one thing valued higher than life, it is honor. The pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners in a pile or in sexual position, and being ridiculed by a white female soldier screams to the Arab and muslim public that their honor has been stripped bare. Shame is in the unveiling. updated A world that knows it has been militarily, economically, culturally and politically dominated by the West, now stares at pictures confirming their worst fears. The power of images need not be overly stressed as images like the little vietnamese girl, or the Tiananmen Square man etc. are stark examples of visceral impact on the public mood. In the Arab psyche, the humility of 1967 was far greater than the military defeat of 1967. Similar was the symbolic shame of having non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia defending Mecca from Saddam for certain Muslims. These images have the potential to wreck the same havoc. And no, I am not reading TOO much into it. And no, it is NOT worse than Saddam's "rape houses" - as our president is fond of saying. It is NOT. I am talking about cultural memory and self-image. This war on terrah is a war for the hearts and minds, no? The uprising in Najaf, Fallujah, the attacks in Saudi Arabia and this...the battle for Iraq may have been won, but the war on terrah is being lost. Just got my hands on Seymour Hersh's piece in the NewYorker, Torture at Abu Gharib, that is chilling in its details.

The photographs tell it all. In one, Private England, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over his head, as he masturbates. Three other hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners are shown, hands reflexively crossed over their genitals. A fifth prisoner has his hands at his sides. In another, England stands arm in arm with Specialist Graner; both are grinning and giving the thumbs-up behind a cluster of perhaps seven naked Iraqis, knees bent, piled clumsily on top of each other in a pyramid. There is another photograph of a cluster of naked prisoners, again piled in a pyramid. Near them stands Graner, smiling, his arms crossed; a woman soldier stands in front of him, bending over, and she, too, is smiling. Then, there is another cluster of hooded bodies, with a female soldier standing in front, taking photographs. Yet another photograph shows a kneeling, naked, unhooded male prisoner, head momentarily turned away from the camera, posed to make it appear that he is performing oral sex on another male prisoner, who is naked and hooded. Such dehumanization is unacceptable in any culture, but it is especially so in the Arab world. Homosexual acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University, explained. "Being put on top of each other and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each other, it's all a form of torture," Haykel said.

Dear Robin

You are a good journalist. You have been to the Middle East, to Iran, to all the other "hot spots". I usually agree with your articles and you are one of the better talking heads on MSNBC. So, when I saw your piece in today's WaPo [r.r.] entitled Turning Points: Will the Modern Era Come Undone in Iraq?, I clicked on it immediately. Girl. You need some happy pills.

The stakes in Iraq -- for which the Abu Ghraib prison has tragically become the metaphor -- are not just the future of a fragile oil-rich country or America's credibility in the world, even among close allies. The issues are not simply whether the Pentagon has systemic problems or whether Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon brass or even the Bush administration can survive The Pictures. And the costs are not merely the billions from the U.S. Treasury to foot the Iraq bills today or the danger that Mideast oil becomes a political weapon during tumultuous days down the road. The stakes are instead how the final phase of the Modern Era plays out . That 500-year period, marked by the age of exploration, the creation of nations and the Enlightenment that unleashed ideologies designed to empower the individual, faces its last great challenge in the 50 disparate countries that constitute the Islamic world -- ruled by the last bloc of authoritarian monarchs, dictators and leaders-for-life. The Iraq war was supposed to produce a new model for democratic transformation, a catalyst after which the United States and its allies could launch an ambitious initiative for regional change. But now, whatever America's good intentions may have been , that historic moment may be lost for a long time to come.
[emphasis added]
Say what? End of Enlightenement? You think this will "also spur an intense clash of civilizations, a prospect I had until very recently rejected. "? Wow. Not you too! Iraq war was stupidly launched. Iraq war was stupidly managed. Iraq war will generate hundreds more terrorist wanna-be playas. I agree with all those whole-heartedly. But, to say that the Project of Enlightenement itself will perish!? I have news for you, Ms. Wright. The Project of Enlightenement is gasping for breath in the United States, itself. Your President talks to God. Your Congress fears Gay Union will end Civilization. Your country is holding hundreds of people without any recourse to legal aid and in extreme duress. It incarcerates more people than any other society on the planet. Racial or sexual equality is still a "goal" for the society. Your last election was stolen by a junta. I mean, I can go on here but you get the picture. Don't start crying about this precious Enlightenement that launched the Modern Era and will perish because of some Arab tyrannts. You want to save a clash of civilization? One clue: It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. How about we try a whole new appoach? How about we stop messing with the progress of Modern Era by upholding dictators and commanding policy? How about we actually try to give Palestinians a homeland and aid to build a society after 60 years? How about we let Islamic governments be Islamic governments and not think that all theocracies are created equal. Because, the truth is Robin, there are many Enlightenements and many Modern Eras. The one being exported by the barrel of a gun in Iraq is not gonna be the one the Iraqis live with in 2 years or 5. They will construct their own. So, please, be hopeful. Make your government answer to its people. Let the Iraqis answer to themselves.

Chalabi Hits The Fan

I am in the midst of reading a book that is blowing my mind away [review later]. As a historian, I am trained to eschew the individual-centered approach to history - to focus, instead, on processes and ideas. However, the book and the scandal swiveling around Ahmad Chalabi are a keen reminder of the role played by individuals as both instruments of change and inertia. Ahmad Chalabi is a '69 Mathematics PhD from UChicago [where he studied with Albert Wohlstetter], a founder of Petra Bank in Jordan accused of swindling $200 millions from the Jordanians [he escaped in the trunk of a palace limo], a man who sold Iraqi resistance to a wide-eyed Congress in 1998 and got hundreds of millions to fund it, and an installed President of the Iraqi Governing Council widely thought to be elected first President of Iraq [without any popular support]. And now, on Paul Bremer's shit list. So, how did Mr. Chalabi do all that? He was the right man at the right moment with the right pipe-dream. To Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Doug Feith, sweating the Dark Ages during the Clinton Years, he was a former classmate who could deliver Iraq to them. So they latched on to him with a religious fervor, knowing that he will point to the WMDs. Sure that he had the inside scoop on Iraqi Freedom Fighters. In the post-war, they knew he can be trusted to lead Iraq as the First Democracy while remaining true to the First Empire. As Bernard Lewis, the current intellectual fountainhead for the neo-cons, wrote in a WSJ editorial in 2003, he is the only hope for Iraq. Ahmad Chalabi is a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Iran, says the US now. Surely, this "accusation" comes from ComCent. Is it a squeeze? Was he about to go public with some WMD after being shoved aside for U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi? I am inclined to think that this is a pre-emptive strike to discredit him and cast his "revelations" as a disgruntled ex-employee. The question is, When Will he Sing? He is headed back to Washington to confront his "critics". He will have some words for Dick Cheney's ears. And, once he realizes that his con is truly up, he will start the endgame: a 60 Minutes Special... update: CIA is spreading the word that Chalabi was an Iranian agent who used US to bring Shi'a rule in Iraq. The Great Satan a tool? BadaBing! [thanks moacir] update 2:Oh. this will get pretty soon...from newsweek:
One Bush administration official said that in addition to harboring suspicions that Chalabi had been leaking sensitive U.S. information to Iran both before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, some U.S. officials also believe that Chalabi had collected and maintained files of potentially damaging information on U.S. officials with whom he had or was going to interact for the purpose of influencing them. Some officials said that when Iraqi authorities raided Chalabiπs offices, one of the things American officials hoped they would look for was Chalabiπs cache of information he had gathered on Americans.
[via talkingpointsmemo]

Islamophobia Calling

The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia delivered its report today. This report is a followup to the 1997 Islamophobia report [pdf] which found systematic hysteria against Islam in the British society. As a result of that study, a new Commission was created and today they released their findings:
The cumulative effect of Islamophobiaπs various features, exacerbated by the contextual factors mentioned above, is that Muslims are made to feel that they do not truly belong here ≠ they feel that they are not truly accepted, let alone welcomed, as full members of British society. On the contrary, they are seen as "an enemy within" or "a fifth column" and they feel that they are under constant siege. This is bad for society as well as for Muslims themselves. Moreover, time-bombs are being primed that are likely to explode in the future ≠ both Muslim and non-Muslim commentators have pointed out that a young generation of British Muslims is developing that feels increasingly disaffected, alienated and bitter. Itπs in the interests of non-Muslims as well as Muslims, therefore, that Islamophobia should be rigorously challenged, reduced and removed. The time to act is now, not some time in the future.
British society has had a stranger path to integration than most. On the one hand, the metropolis was always open for the "bright" natives who came to get civilized and educated. On the other hand, the natives were there to get civilized and educated - which meant not being so uncouth as to dress or act differently from the OxCam crowd. The massive Indian immigration after WWII (and Indian independence) though was a different affair. The migrants during the booming reconstruction of 50s and 60s Britain duly felt themselves to be "second class citizens" and congregated in socially cohesive neighborhoods. The subsequent generations of British Indians or Pakistanis have had intermittent successes in integrating. Sure, everyone in Britain loves curry and kababs, the English novel is saved bybrown people, bhangra is king BUT there is no integration of the wider ethnic communities into British life. Hence, it is not surprising that the British Muslim youth find themselves at loggerhead with their homeland. The hate-preachers have a receptive audience and a welcoming, universal identity for these kids. The racism, though, has a even deadlier consequence that the Report highlighted:
The most subtle and for Muslims perilous consequence of Islamophobic actions,π a Muslim scholar has observed, åis the silencing of self-criticism and the slide into defending the indefensible. Muslims decline to be openly critical of fellow Muslims, their ideas, activities and rhetoric in mixed company, lest this be seen as giving aid and comfort to the extensive forces of condemnation. Brotherhood, fellow feeling, sisterhood are genuine and authentic reflexes of Islam. But Islam is supremely a critical, reasoning and ethical frameworkä [It] cannot, or rather ought not to, be manipulated into ≥my fellow Muslim right or wrong≤.π She goes on to remark that Islamophobia provides åthe perfect rationale for modern Muslims to become reactive, addicted to a culture of complaint and blame that serves only to increase the powerlessness, impotence and frustration of being a Muslim.
And that, to me, is the gravest danger facing Muslim emigrant communities in Europe and the US. How to deal with that dilemma?

Color Patriotic

Disney released its wartime propoganda films on DVD. Like all other industries, during the Great War, the Movie Studios turned themselves over to the Pentagon for the war efforts (hey, we got a Great Communicator out of it). Disney was perhaps the most effective of all wartime propoganda machines. These shorts have not been released since the end of the war, and I don't know why Eisner is releasing them now. They are patriotic, duh, and also figure gross carcicatures of the enemy, both Jap and Nazi. Disney's talents were considered essential in the war effort as was their talent in making evil, evil:
None do so more viciously than the aforementioned Der FuehrerÔøΩs Face (which imagines Donald Duck as a swastika-bedecked Nazi manufacturing munitions while heiling Hitler about every other second) and the somber Education for Death (the biography of a blond German boy who devolves from wide-eyed innocent to Hitler Youth to a graveyard). In both films, Japanese are portrayed as green-skinned fops and Germans function as little better than human bulldogs.
While, this war is getting bogged down in pesky "torture" issues. It's good to buy for your children stories of a war where evil was truly evil and good, well, cartoonishly good. September, 2005 Update: Jeremy Boggs has a great site of wartime japanese propoganda.


Once the dust is settled in Iraq, The Daily Show, should release a compilation DVD of their Iraqi coverage[.mov link]. Besides Jon Stewart, very few journalists have been on my must-read list when it comes to Iraq but Anthony Shadid and Rajiv Chandrasekaran of WaPo are tops of that list. Today, there is the first of three long, lets-look-at-this-mess-clearly reports filed by Chandrasekaran which is a must, must read. Some excerpts:

In many ways, the occupation appears to have transformed the occupier more than the occupied. Iraqis continue to endure blackouts, lengthy gas lines, rampant unemployment and the uncertain political future that began when U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad. But American officials who once roamed the country to share their sense of mission with Iraqis now face such mortal danger that they are largely confined to compounds surrounded by concrete walls topped with razor wire. Iraqis who come to meet them must show two forms of identification and be searched three times. - The Iraqi army is one-third the size U.S. officials promised it would be by now. Seventy percent of police officers have not received training. - On the eve of its dissolution, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure in the eyes of most Iraqis. - Several current and former CPA officials contended that key decisions by Bremer favored a grandiose vision over Iraqi realities and reflected the perceived prerogatives of a military victor. - "We were supposed to leave them with a permanent constitution," a senior CPA official said. "Then we decided to leave them with a temporary constitution. Now we're leaving them with a temporary constitution that the majority dislikes.". Life inside the high-security Green Zone -- what some CPA staffers jokingly call the Emerald City -- bears little resemblance to that in the rest of Baghdad. The power is always on. Shiny shuttle buses zip passengers around. Outdoor cafes stay open late into the night. There is little effort to comply with Islamic traditions. Beer flows freely at restaurants. Women walk around in shorts. Bacon cheeseburgers are on the CPA's lunch menu. "It's like a different planet," said an Iraqi American who has a senior position in the CPA and lives in the Green Zone but regularly ventures out to see relatives. "It's cut off from the real Iraq." [emphasis added]
More coming....

Capturing Osama

Bush Administration dropped mentioning OBL around late 2002 (just from my recollection - if I was in the library I'd Lexis-Nexis that) as the focus of War on Terror moved towards Iraq. Actually, I just saw this great page, Flip-Flopper-In-Chief where you can read # 14 yourself. Why was OBL dropped as Public Enemy #1? Because Bush wanted Saddam? Let's assume that the truth is more complex than that. The rhetoric from the Bush administration about the War on Terror has been that this is a "new" reality that has "fundamentally changed" the world. However, their actions belie that rhetoric. Remember, that the Bush thinkforce pre-dominantly contains Cold War veterans and Soviet "experts". The reigning model for world conflict for the past 60 years has been aggression by the State which will need a superior power to counteract or counterbalance. In Winter 2001, that idea held on - there was a direct relationship between the Taliban (the State) and al-Qaeda (the nonstate actor) - and Afghanistan was invaded. Now, if the War on Terror was indeed a "new" mode of operation, the Bush administration would have shifted their focus to combating various terrorist organizations through economic, clandestine and military-coop ways in various countries. Perhaps build a new coalition agency (like the Interpol) that could operate internationally and develop legislations in various countries to effectively combat terrorism. The thinking should have been that these nonstate actors may take funds from certain States, they may even operate in those States but they do not represent the interests of any given State. Their agenda is their own and unique and it may dovetail here or there with a State but that is coincidental not conspiratorial. But the Bush Administration went on with the same-old Cold War mentalitÈ. Invade Iraq because they supported al-Qaeda is the latest iteration of that rationale. It remains just as false as the WMD claim but that is not what I want to quibble with here. According to the Statist model, it makes sense that Osama is not a priority. What difference does it make whether he is captured or not. Unless, of course, the difference is between getting Mr. Bush re-elected. The New Republic has a report entitled July Surprise, that claims that the Bush administration has been pressuring Pakistan to deliver a High Value target (HVT) before November -in fact - during the Democratic Convention:
A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
That Osama's capture will increase Bush's chance of re-election is a dubious claim. And from the way things have been going in Wana, it is highly debatable that Musharraf can deliver Osama on such a timetable. Regardless, the larger War on Terror remains mired in the Cold War context - looking for dark enemies in every nook and cranny (remember the Axis of Evil?). Can Kerry promise a truly new way?

Keep Out

As long as we are talking about censorship, I wanted to quickly comment on the Tariq Ramadan case. You may or may not be aware of him - a European intellectual whose work negotiates the twin worlds of European secularism and Islamic philosophy. For all necessary information about him and the charges of anti-Semitism against him, please see this post at Muslim WakeUp!. The State Dept. had earlier given him a visa to teach at Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for Peace Studies but, last week, after a tip from DHS, they revoked the visa citing, "aliens who have used a position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity" cannot enter the US. Mr. Ramadan is a well-published, well-scrutinized, public figure. If he had any ties to terrorists or was a terrorist, there would be clear evidence. There is not a whiff of that. What he is, is a liberal (or progressive or modern or whatever) Islamic intellectual - and, oh boy, there are about 4 of those around. For a debate on Ramadan's Islamic cred see Abu Aadvark [click through to his earlier posts]. The general take on all this is that Daniel Pipes [scholar of peace] and his ilk ( raised alarms and someone in DHS bought that nonsense. I don't know enough about that. Pipes did write a favorable review of Ramadan's book in 2000 and disavows having anything to do in this matter. Whoever or whatever group did it - it amounts to plain and simple censorship and suppression of ideas. All that summarization to make one simple point: Which voices of Islam are legitimate in the US public sphere? Who does the DHS think should be allowed to speak or teach about Islam? Who can criticize Israel and not be branded anti-Semitic terrorist? Where can DHS find a Muslim voice they approve of? As an academic, all I can gather from this episode is that the only legitimate form of discourse on Islam is one that is lopsidedly critical, bereft of any substantive engagement with modern political realities and praiseworthy of US imperial designs. I am disgusted. Ramadan was supposed to speak at next month's ISNA gathering and I was all psyched to go attend. It would have been my first ISNA. There were a few other public lectures that he was giving...oh well. As long as we win the War on Terror. update:Tariq Ramadan replies. I am pasting it below the fold. What you fear is not who I am By†TARIQ RAMADAN Globe and Mail Update POSTED AT 1:18 AM EDT Monday, Aug 30, 2004. In my 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining and recognizing "the truth." Descartes put it simply: "A clear and obvious idea is true"; Kant aptly added "consistency" as a needed element. My life experience over the past 15 years enabled me to appreciate yet another definition. In today's world of communication and mass media, truth is not firstly based on coherence and clarity, but rather on frequency. Here, a repeated hypothesis or suspicion becomes a truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because "it is obvious"; after all, "we have heard it many times" and "it is being said everywhere." Lately, I have been going through an interesting experience. I am constantly being told "the truth" about who I am: "You are a controversial figure"; "you engage in double-talk, delivering a gentle message in French and English, and a radical - even extremist - one in Arabic, or to a Muslim audience in private"; "you have links with extremists, you are an anti-Semite"; "you despise women" etc. When I ask about the source of this information, invariably the response is: This is well-known, it is everywhere, check the Internet and you will find thousands of pages referring to this. A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals quoting each other, conclusively reporting and infinitely repeating what others said yesterday, with caveats. Rather than using this as an occasion for reflection, the response to this finding is usually: "Well, there has to be some truth in all that." Strange truth, indeed! I have written more than 20 books and about 800 articles; 170 tapes of lectures are circulating, and I keep asking my detractors: Have you read or listened to any of my material? Can you prove your allegations? To repeat them is not to prove. Where is the evidence of my double-talk? Have you read any of the numerous articles where I call on Muslims to unequivocally condemn radical views and acts of extremism? How about my statements of Sept. 13, 2001, calling on Muslims to speak out, to condemn the terrorist attacks and acknowledge that some fellow Muslims are betraying the Islamic message? What about the articles in which I condemn anti-Semitism, criticizing those Muslims who do not differentiate between the political Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the unacceptable temptation to reject the Jews simply because they are Jews? Are you familiar with my chapters and taped lectures promoting women's rights and a revival leading to an Islamic feminism, and rejecting every kind of mistreatment (domestic violence, forced marriage, female circumcision etc.) and all sorts of discrimination? Finally, are you acquainted with my extensive study of the Islamic scriptural sources and efforts to promote a new understanding, a new way for Muslims to remain faithful to their principles and, at the same time, able to face the challenges of the contemporary world? To seek "the truth," one must read, listen carefully, check and recheck for clarity and consistency, and be willing, if for a moment, to be decentred. Very often, even within the academic field, I encounter individuals who are not familiar with my writings. When this becomes obvious in the course of discussion, their final argument is: "Well, aren't you the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood?" As if this was sufficient proof of all the allegations. My response is: So what? And what do you really know about him and his life history anyway? Furthermore, are one's thoughts genetically transmitted or do one's morals and ethics descend from the vices or virtues of one's pedigree? This obsession with my genealogy is frankly disconcerting, for it is dismissive. Those so focused on my genealogy should examine my intellectual pedigree, which along with my grandfather and father includes Descartes, Kant and Nietzsche. They should know my academic contributions and the years I spent travelling and working in partnership and on the ground with Dom Helder Camara, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Abbot Pierre and the countless ordinary people from Canada, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and America; Christians and Jews; agnostics and atheists. For 20 years, each has educated me, touched my heart, nourished my soul, shaped my mind and strengthened my faith and conviction. That, and not my genetic heritage, is my life's legacy. Along the way, I have learnt that something was missing in Descartes's way of speaking about truth. Clarity and consistency are not enough: The quest for truth requires deep humility and uncompromising effort. My experience of living with people of different religions, origins and cultures taught me that one will never be at peace with the other if one is at war with oneself. This simple truth is the essence of my message to Muslims throughout the world: Know who you are, who you want to be, and start talking and working with whom you are not. Find common values and build with your fellow citizens a society based on diversity and equality. The very moment you understand that there are no contradictions between being a Muslim and being an American or a European, you enrich your society. Promote, from where you are, the universal principles of justice and freedom and leave the societies elsewhere to find their own model of democracy based on their collective psychology and cultural heritage. The path ahead is long and difficult, but there is no other way to succeed except to break our intellectual ghettos, to work together beyond our narrow belonging, and to foster mutual trust in the absence of which living together is nearly impossible. The quest for truth individually and collectively demands research, never judging without studying, clarity, consistency, trust, humility and perseverance. My move to America and my post at the University of Notre Dame were to enable me to promote and to share this message with Muslim communities and fellow citizens: Is this a threatening contribution? Is it not a needed and urgent message in America in the post-Sept. 11 world? Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies and philosophy at Fribourg University in Switzerland, is author of To Be a European Muslim and Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. He has been described by Time magazine as one of the 100 most likely innovators of the 21st century.

Empire Struck Back

Is it wrong of me to think that Arundhati Roy is super cute? I think it is. Anyways, she is visiting US (I guess they forgot to cancel her visa) and gave a speech entitled Public Power in the Age of Empire. The speech, in line with her recent public discourse, is largely a challenge to both global capitalism and liberal democracy. They talking about a revolution? you ask. But, of course:
So when we speak of "Public Power in the Age of Empire," I hope it's not presumptuous to assume that the only thing that is worth discussing seriously is the power of a dissenting public. A public which disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public which has set itself against incumbent power - international, national, regional, or provincial governments and institutions that support and service empire. What are the avenues of protest available to people who wish to resist empire? By resist I don't mean only to express dissent, but to effectively force change. Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. You know the check book and the cruise missile. For poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in very local avatars - losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. All this overseen by the repressive machinery of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is to further entrench and exacerbate already existing inequalities.
And what would Roy do if she couldn't stir some righteous controversy?
There is no discussion taking place in the world today that is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance. And the choice of strategy is not entirely in the hands of the public. It is also in the hands of sarkar. After all, when the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq in the way it has done, with such overwhelming military force, can the resistance be expected to be a conventional military one? (Of course, even if it were conventional, it would still be called terrorist.) In a strange sense, the U.S. government's arsenal of weapons and unrivalled air and fire power makes terrorism an all-but-inescapable response. What people lack in wealth and power, they will make up with stealth and strategy. In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government's condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by to nonviolent dissent. But instead nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed. Any kind of mass political mobilization or organization is being bought off, or broken, or simply ignored.
Now the thing is that Roy is one of the chief idealogues of the protest movements on the left (Zinn, Chomsky etc. has-beens) and I know that this speech is all over the various email lists that are congregating people to NYC for next week. I don't always agree with Roy but hers is a voice that needs to be heard and understood. So, please go read the speech.

The Realm of Ideas

Via Abu Aardvark, I learned about A Practical Guide to Winning the War on Terrorism. As our fearless leader recently said that we may never win the war on terror, I was curious to see what this here practical guide was all about (yeah, it's a cheap shot, move on). The guide is indeed filled with notables like Dale Eickleman, Muqtedar Khan, Prince Talal (my lil'est brother was named after him!), Martin Kramer, Olivier Roy, and Amir Taheri. Oh, I forgot to mention Stephen P. Cohen. It is this gentleman who wrote the piece on Pakistan, entitled, With Allies Like This: Pakistan and the War on Terrorism. Dr. Cohen is the author of 5000 books and articles about homistan (remind me some other time to tell you all about the 5000 year joke). He is the "expert". I would call him the Bernard Lewis of South Asia. Yeah, that lame. I have no idea what he is saying half the time but I know that people listen to him, people in power. People in Pakistan hate him because he is pro-India. People in India hate him because he is pro-Pakistan. People in Pakistan love him because he is pro-Pakistan. People in India love him because he is pro-India. They all can cite profusely from his work as evidence for their like/dislike. I am dead serious. updated below the fold How did Dr. Cohen get to such expertitude heights? He got his M.A. in 1959 (or A.M. as we call it) from UChicago with a thesis on US Foreign Policy and Unconditional Surrender. In 1967, he got his Ph.D. from UWisc-Madison on Indian military during the British period. It is unclear to me if he even knows hindi or urdu from glancing at the abstract for his dissertation (his bio says he knows hindi but does not mention urdu which qualifies him to read bupkuss printed in his major field of expertise). He taught at UIUC for a while and then parlayed all that into a successful career with the state dept. and various right-center-right think tanks. He churned out books on India, Indian military, Pakistan, Pakistan military and the rise of the Indian Tiger against the Chinese Dragon (can he get more orientalist?). Now, the reason I am telling you all about Dr. Cohen is that after the sub-continent went nuclear in 1999, he became the goto guy. On every talk show, in every op-ed we could find him telling us, what it all means. After 9/11, Dr. Cohen's level of expertise rose from military Pakistan to terrorist Pakistan. He has a lot to say and it is mostly, if not entirely, full of horseradish. He is the quintessential Occidental "expert" who can pontificate from afar with his cadre of native informants and translators (his collaborator on this piece is a Mr. Moeed Yusuf, a consultant with SDPI). He has no insight. It is half-ass statements and vague generalities ("tie US support of the military with their performance in human rights"). This current piece was filled with all that. US should continue to support the Pakistani military dictator BUT promote democracy. Wow. How exactly does that work? It works by promoting secular education and fighting the war on terror in the realm of ideas!
Finally, Washington must take seriously the fact that Pakistan is an important arena of ideas. Most educated Pakistanis are not ideologically anti-American, but they are angry with the United States for changing the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting President Musharraf. There is no one telling Americaís side of the story or engaging its critics in the realm of ideas and public discourse. American information programs in the country are practically nonexistent; these programs need to be revived and vastly expanded, and private organizations must be encouraged to increase their exchange and cultural programs, especially with younger Pakistanis, academics, journalists, and opinion leaders. In the long run the greatest challenge to the United States in Pakistan is in the realm of ideasóthe field must not be abandoned to Islamic radicals or those who see the United States as an inherently evil state.
So, instead of yanking on the General's chain or stop treating the country as your backyard in the proxy war on terrorISM, the US should convince the critics otherwise by hiring their own native experts. Sheesh! Here is an idea: How about we actually PROMOTE democracy by not propping dictators whenever it suits our needs. I have had it with these experts. [/end rant]. I look forward to reading his new book coming out on Pakistan, The Idea of Pakistan. Nitin has a synopsis. Actually, I don't really want to read it. I do think Sunil Khilnani should get royalty check for the title. update: I must be in a really bad mood but wtf is up with the cover art for the Idea of Pakistan?? Is Pakistan a Mughal State? Is the Idea of Pakistan some medieval army charge? Compare that to Khilnani's cover. continuing with the rant... What is up with covers of all recents books on Pakistan? Check this and this and this and this. guns. beards. scowls. lovely. in retrospect, I thank Dr. Cohen for his cover.

Scholar Combatant

Historians usually study the past. Or the immediate past. They sometimes peek out of their professional masks to say something about current events (or maintain a blog). Rarely, though, do they make history. Of course, let me be a geek historian here and name check Juvaini, Rashid ud Din Ibn Rushd, Abu Fazl, Herodotus, etc. who were active participants in making history. But, lately, we don't have that many examples. Except for Bernard Lewis. An Ottomanist who has written 684 bestselling books on Islam and Arabs, defined a foreign policy framework, and, uh, invaded a country. Though, he did say that the Iraqis would greet us with baklavah. I saw Bernard Lewis on Charlie Rose a few months ago. Right after the Ahmed Chalabi soupan exploded all over nightly news. Lewis, who was the cheerleader-in-charge of Chalabi since forever, defended Chalabi brilliantly - saying his detractors were ignorant pups and evil masterminds in the State Dept. who were working behind the scenes to sabotage the potential Kamal Ataturk of Iraq. After laughing for a solid minute, I cried for an hour. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you would like one man to blame for Iraq: blame the eminent historian Bernard Lewis. A few months after 9/11, he lectured a gathering of disciples at the VP residence about the Muslims, Koran and What to Do? What did he tell them? Michael Hirsh's piece in the Washington Monthly lays it all out:
Iraq and its poster villain, Saddam Hussein, offered a unique opportunity for achieving this transformation in one bold stroke (remember "shock and awe"?) while regaining the offensive against the terrorists. So, it was no surprise that in the critical months of 2002 and 2003, while the Bush administration shunned deep thinking and banned State Department Arabists from its councils of power, Bernard Lewis was persona grata, delivering spine-stiffening lectures to Cheney over dinner in undisclosed locations. Abandoning his former scholarly caution, Lewis was among the earliest prominent voices after September 11 to press for a confrontation with Saddam, doing so in a series of op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal with titles like A War of Resolve and Time for Toppling. An official who sat in on some of the Lewis-Cheney discussions recalled, 'His view was: 'Get on with it. Don't dither.'
Doug Feith, Richard Perle, Condi Rice, Dick Cheney sitting around a camp fire while Bernard Lewis puts on a shadow-puppet show about the decline and fall of Islamic civilization and the violent response of bearded men to modernity and Britney Spears. And the savior, Ahmed Chalabi. The role of the academy in the three crucial US-Islam encounters of the long 21st century - Islamic Revolution 1979, Gulf War I 1991, September 11, 2001 - will be the task for future historians. Edward Said called the war-championing academics in 1991 as the Scholar-Combatants. Bernard Lewis, a veteran of WWII, is the prototype (Fouad Ajami being the poor man's version). Michael Hirsh points that many Arabists are now setting out to debunk Lewis (like Said never did that) and writing about the cooperation of civilizations instead of clash of civilizations. These critics of Lewis claim that his scholarship is medieval and ossified and he has misread most of Islamic history (if, that is, he actually read it). That he generalizes wrongly and injects his own twisted worldviews without looking at the sources; that he is intent to psychoanalyze a diverse world. So, who is this historian who can have such influence on the elite as well as the public? I have never doubted that Lewis knows his history. I am sure he knows more than I do. So, I won't critique his Islamic history (though, I can and, yes, it is quite easy). Instead, let me just talk about his involvement in the imperial project and explain why Edward Said called him the new "Orientalist". Bernard Lewis is a Empirist looking for a King to champion. The end of British Empire after WWII was a greater loss for that generation of British men who served it proudly. Lewis was a wartime British Military Intelligence officer who must have had some cool George Smiley (or T.E. Lawrence) adventures. His posting at Princeton in 1974 timed with the US interests in Iran. During the Carter administration, he devised The Bernard Lewis Plan - implemented under the supervision of Zbigniew Brzezinski. And what did the Bernard Lewis Plan entail? Not frequent flyer miles. The plan was based on his idea of an "Arc of Crisis" created around the southern borders of Soviet Union by empowering Muslim radicals to rebel against the communists to bring about the fall of the Soviet Empire. But why Islamic fundamentalists? Why not empower Islamic satirists and engineers? Because, Bernard Lewis has been fascinated with the dull-eyed muslim killing robot remotely controlled by a long-bearded Master all his academic life. This weird obsession with Islamic militarism (and millinasim) goes back to his publication of The Assassins in 1967. The book is a strange work that seems to praise and condemn the Ismaili fanatics at the same time. In a way, he has been talking about wigged-out, fundamentalists clashing with Crusader knights for the last 40 years. Only now, people are listening. After the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, the policy wonks needed a new bogey man. In a massively read and cited piece, The Roots of Muslim Rage, published in September of 1990 in the Atlantic Monthly, Lewis gave them one by unveiling the "hatred directed against us" in the Muslim world. Just Muslim - not Arab, Indian, Chinese, Caucasian, whatever - Muslim Rage. In it, he first declared that "they hate us" [with no corroboration] and then ran through a litany of almost-explanations: Nazism, Marxism, anti-Semitism, Racism, anti-Imperialism. It is an ingeniously constructed argument, where he listed all of the above reason, gave them some credence but moved on to the next one, finally ending with "a clash of civilizations" [Sam Huntington borrowed it]. The reader, by this time, had almost identified Muslims with nazis, marxists and racists. Which would be enough, you'd think. But there is a grand narrative about to unfold:
There is something in the religious culture of Islam which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equalled in other civilizations. And yet, in moments of upheavel and disruptions, when the deeper passions are stirred, this dignity and courtesy toward others can give way to an explosive mixture of rage and hatred which impels even the government of an ancient and civilized country - even the spokesman of a great spiritual and ethical religion - to espouse kidnapping and assassination, and try to find, in the life of their Prophet, approval and indeed precedent for such actions. [...]It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations - the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. [emphasis mine]
A deep, deep passion against those backhanded compliments and essentializations is stirring in the heart of this plebian. Gulf War I was a catalyst for Middle Eastern scholars to come into the limelight and kick those Cold War polisci profs back to their cubicles. NYT published full page pieces on "Books to Read" to understand the region and its people (and their irrational minds). Bernard Lewis got some books out of all that. In 1992, he performed autopsy on the Arab world in the pages of Foreign Affairs called Rethinking the Middle East. In it, he declared that Gulf War I was the end of pan-Arabism. Arabs are finally going to have to wake up and decide that they have unique interests (what about the monolithic civilization?). But what could attract them in the absence of pan-Arabism? Islamic fundamentalism. And that could go hand in hand with, what Lewis called, "Lebanonization" whereby Middle East states will collapse "into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions and parties." [aside: Ever wonder why The Chosen One says "freedom" all the time? In this piece Lewis tells us that the word "freedom" is a good word in Arab history synonymous with independence but the word "democracy" is a bad word synonymous with sham parliamentary regimes]. The only way out, Lewis wrote, is to do as the Turks did (Turks are not Arabs, he wisely pointed out) and embrace democracy. But, the way to spread the democracy is through regional security alliances and staunch support of Israel. But Saddam Hussein had survived. How can the Arabs have democracy if Saddam is there? The obsession of neo-cons with Iraq and remaking the Middle East is well documented elsewhere (and on CM) and the man who provided them insights into the Arab mind was always Bernard Lewis. In 1998, Lewis was one of the signatories of a letter asking President Clinton to invade Iraq and install a provisional government there. For a sense of dej√° vu, please read the other names. And while dawn must have appeared far in the Clinton night, they toiled on. Which brings us back to the Michael Hirsh piece that started this journey. Go read it because the rest, as they unwittingly say, is history.

Operation Next

Iraq is not over yet but with the Jan 30 election approaching, the administration can bolt with a straight face. But, where to go? I mean, we have half-a million soldiers waiting to kick some ass, general. Let us revisit Jan 29, 2002's SOTU address:
Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. †Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. †But we know their true nature. †North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. †The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. †This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. †This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. †By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. †They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. †They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. †In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. [emphasis mine]
In May 2002, John Bolton, the UnderSecretary of State, added Cuba, Libya and Syria to the Axis. Libya knocked itself off the list by proving, once and for all, its irrelevance. Cuba, with the election over, is worthless for the next 3 years. I projected that Iran will be next in the crosshairs. If you remember a few months ago (in Aug/Sep), there was some talk of al-Qaeda regrouping in Iran and that Iranians were sending massive aid to insurgents in Baghdad and were even hosting al-Qaeda [forget the whole rabid anti-Shi'ism professed by UBL]. Ironically, Iran was also recently accused by King Abdullah of sending in a million voters to subvert the Iraqi elections [doesn't that prove that democracy has a foothold in Iran!]. Mansoor Ijaz, my favorite Terrorism Expert at Fox News, has been yelling "Osama is in Iran" for a long while. See this from Nov 2003 or this from Jan 2004. Add the Chalabi factor - the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK). As Reza Aslan wrote in LAT a few days back:
Ever since the invasion of Iraq, the MEK (and its Paris-based political front, the National Council of Resistance in Iran) has tried to establish itself as the Iranian equivalent of Ahmad Chalabi's "government in exile," the Iraqi National Congress ó and not without success. Like the INC before the war, the MEK has advocates in the highest levels of government. And like the INC, the MEK has been inundating the U.S. intelligence community with uncorroborated and, according to some intelligence officials, highly suspect information meant to encourage the White House to carry out the same policy of regime change in Iran that it did in Iraq. But the United States will probably discover that the MEK ó just like the INC ó can't be trusted.
All this led me to conclude that Iran would indeed be the next target and I have been teaching Persian cuss words to my draftable friends in prepration. But, a surprise development just threw off my prognostication powers. US and Iraq have started mentioning Syria and the Ba'athists lately. Today Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol finally revealed Operation Next:
By Bush Doctrine standards, Syria is a hostile regime. It is permitting and encouraging activities that are killing not just our Iraqi friends but also, and quite directly, American troops. So we have a real Syria problem. Of course we also have--the world also has--an Iran problem, and a Saudi problem, and lots of other problems. The Iran and Saudi problems may ultimately be more serious than the Syria problem. But the Syria problem is urgent: It is Bashar Assad's regime that seems to be doing more than any other, right now, to help Baathists and terrorists kill Americans in the central front of the war on terror. [...]We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities in Iraq
Here comes 2005.


Many friends have forwarded emails asking not to spend a dime today or turn my back or stand upside my head. Lot of hoopla over the $40 million tag, lot about the corporation money flowing into the ceremonies, lot on the lameness of the celebrities. Here on campus, there are elaborate counter-Inauguration talks and happening. At first, I admit to being befuddled. What matters? He got elected. THAT was the crucial part. This is just a ritual. Why is everyone so worked up about this? Why are the Repubs spending so much money? Why the lunatic left send me mass emails? Come on, people, it's just Inauguration Day! Then I got to thinking about why people would be worked up over this. The Inauguration Day is an essential ritual of this, or any, republic. The pomp and circumstance is designed to construct the very mythology of consensus among the people. The ritual is structured by populism so that we, the people, can identify with the political regime. It gives the necessary means to unify the electorate after a contentious election. It grants the president-elect the symbolic power to rule. Its forebearer, the coronation, similarly granted the divine power to rule. Since I am currently re-reading Kantorowicz's King's Two Bodies, I sought the description of the ceremonies of the day and thought it would be amusing for all of you to compare them to some other reginal coronations. The ancient to medieval Hindu kingship rituals were collectively referred to as raja-karma [royal rituals]. The ceremony had to be held on the proper day and time with respect to the kings heavenly charts and the stars etc. Before the actual day of the ceremony, an elaborate ritual of purification and pacification of evil spirits etc. was performed at the site. The king, who must have fasted and abstained from sexual intercourse the night before shows up in brand new clothes at the break of dawn and looks for omens in the morning sky. After that the ceremony starts [note that throughout the ceremonies, there is constant recitation of various mantras]:
  • The king goes to a small hutch and sits on an ordinary bench. The priests purifies fifteen parts of the king's body with clay from the appropriate parts of the earth's surface [for example, head with clay from top of mountain, heart with clay from the royal palace, stomach with clay from where two rivers meet, loins with clay from a courtesan's doorway]
  • After this the king is bathed from a golden jar to which five products of the cow have been added.
  • Next, he is bathed in clear water.
  • The king is then seated on a throne made from a fig tree and gilded with copper and gold. Four Brahmanas take up positions at the four corners. Over the king's head, one pours butter out of a golden pot, one pours sweetened milk out of a silver pot, one pours thickened milk out of a copper pot and the last ones baptizes the king's feet with water from a clay pot.
  • The king is then dressed in dry clothes and sat on his throne. He touches the royal bow and arrow, circumabulates the fire, and bows to his elders. He then gets on the royal horse and leaves to walls of the palace to visit his city and temples.
  • The king takes on the Royal crown at his return1.
Within the medieval European context, the coronation is also the site where heavenly power transfers into the earthly vessel and the king becomes an instrument of god's will. For example, here is the Tudor ceremony:
  • The king enters Westminster Abbey and is recognized by the people.
  • The king is led to the high altar where he makes an offering of a pall and a pound of gold.
  • A sermon is preached by a bishop.
  • The archbishop administers the oath.
  • The king lies prostrate before the altar while prayers are said over him.
  • The king is anointed.
  • The archbishop blesses the ornaments and insignia one by one, and the king is invested with them in turn. They consist of the long tunic, buskins, sandals, spurs, girdle, sword, armils, mantle, crown, ring, gloves, sceptre, and rod.
  • The king is led to his throne and homage is paid.
  • The mass is celebrated.
  • The king is taken to St. Edwards divested of his robes and ornaments and revested with others2
Among the Nigerian Umundri, the coronation ceremony transforms the man into a king with divine powers. He is chosen from among the royal families by the ancestral spirits (a dry wall of his compound falls for no discernable reason). He has to be an orphan. The ceremony opens with the ritual of death. This account was observed in the early 20th century.
  • The king is lowered into a grave. A plank is thrown across and dirt over him. He remains buried for some hours
  • He is taken out at sunset and washed in the river. His body, including the hair of his head, is whitened with clay and water. His wife undergoes similar treatment.
  • He discards all clothes and may only wear white or blue from now on.
  • Next, the king, his wife and an entourage begin the clockwise circumabulation of his land.
  • In various towns, he sits on a throne and eats white clay.
  • He ends the journey in his new capital where the new palace is built. He never leaves the capital.3.
-- 1. Inden, Ronald. Ritual, Authority and Cyclic Time in Hindu Kingship. 2. Bayne, C.G. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. 3. Jeffreys, M.D.W. The Divine Umundri King

As the Wolfowitz Turns

In a move apparently designed to give instant aneurysm to anarchists everywhere, The Chosen One announced that Wolfowitz shall head the World Bank. There are many ways to read this development. The first, and most obvious, reading is that this is a deliberate road-block thrown to subvert the pre-ordained beatification of Bono. The White House had to have been worried sick about the true heart of Bono forgiving all loans to Africa or something. In Wolfowitz, they have found someone who won't just raise the interest rate but invade Africa to collect from World-Bank-loan-defaultin'-Mercedes-driving-Warrior-Kings. The second, more nuanced, reading is that the Bush Doctrine is undergoing metamorphosis. From a hungry, hungry caterpillar of war to a sweet, little butterfly of democracy. The softening on Iran and the carrot/stick on Syria could presumably be seen as signs of non-aggression. We all know that Wolfowitz wanted Syria and Iran. If those invasions were still on the table, there is no way that Wolfowitz, the intellectual commander, could leave. But why? Well. About three weeks after the second inauguration, every President hears the word Legacy. Bushies, working on their own beatification project, are looking at a monotonous insurgency in Iraq, trillionish deficits and a Social Security Reform that is as popular with comedians as Clinton's Health Care Reform. So how does The Chosen One cement a lasting Rooseveltian legacy? Have freedom march across Middle East, yo. Go all tough diplomacy. James Bolton to UN; Basmati to State; and pack Wolfowitz off to glitzy dinners. But, I can't even begin to do a real analysis. Y'all should go see Praktike or Caleb. They will have the dope stuff. Lately, the only thing I can think of is the 'Insha literature in thirteenth century India. You guys want to hear about rasail, maktubat, mufawazat, manshur, fath-nama? Me neither. Yet, I have to write this damn chapter/conference paper which has to be delivered on Monday to the founding members of American Orientalist Society [1842]. I am a proud and recent member of said organization. You are allowed to be jealous. Also, on tap are some changes for CM. Be forewarned. update: Praktike and Caleb come through like the champions of blogging that they are. Also, from inside the beltway came word that this post was mentioned on CNN TV. Anyone? Oh. I found the transcript. Larry King, I am free friday night.