Sunday, August 14, 2005

Political Islam

I've recently started a new book (they're so much easier to start than to finish sometimes) called Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel. Kepel is a French academic who, it seems to me, does a good job on laying out the political and intellectual framework of militant Islam, or maybe I should call it extremist political Islam. I've also recently read his "War for Muslim Minds" which details the various ideologies and philosophies vying for the hearts and minds of Muslims in the middle east and Europe. I recommend the latter book for a look at what exactly those philosophies are and by whom they are espoused.
I've heard Islamic extremism called both fascist and nihilist in the press and I think that up till now those have both been pretty good description. The methods of the ideology and the groups that espouse them do seem very fascist to me. The draw of suicide attackers, like those responsible for 9-11 seem very nihilistic. In the introduction to Jihad Kepel points out that the 19 hijackers of September 11th did not fit the expected fundamentalist model. They appeared largely as westernized educated youth, not turbaned and bearded fundamentalists. They, and those responsible for the recent London tube bombings, sought only to strike a great blow, to destroy and be nothing more than that destruction. Maybe the 19 hijackers thought they would somehow be igniting the catalyst for the reformation of the middle east into their Islamic ideal, but they must of at least had some doubts that such a thing would work, which is where nihilism would have kicked in. The London bombers, who seemed to have acted separately from any of the big political Islam theorists, almost certainly knew that their attacks could bring about nothing but destruction and mayhem.
Kepel and others argue that 9-11 represented a last ditch effort for those who wished to violently remake the middle east into the image of the glorified days of Mohammed. All other options had failed. Afghanistan was a victory, but Algeria, Egypt, Bosnia, all causes had failed to mobalize the masses to the banned of political Islam.
Al of that is very interesting and well laid out by Kepel and others. My question now is, what will become of political Islam in the face of Iraq. I greatly hope that the fascist factions of Islamic extremist recognize 9-11 as a failure that greatly harmed their cause (they lost the "righteous" government of the Taliban and failed to gain mass support) and don't kill more innocents here. But I fear that while 9-11 might have weakened them, Iraq is strengthening them and encouraging them. The very chaos of the situation there may serve to push people towards a strong leader who may emerge. Continued sectarian strife could well create more than one such leader.
The constitution will, I predict, do absolutely nothing. A nation given a deadline and told to write a constitution by that time, my God, can anything be more ridiculous? The great constitutions of the world were developed when people decided to write them and recognized when it was time to do so. This makes me worry that things will get worse there before they get better.

About an interest of mine

As those who know me will tell you, my main area of interest and specialty is the politics and recent history of the middle east. I'm frequently asked why I have so much interest in the region. Well, by frequently I mean whenever I choose to discuss the subject, which isn't too often since I have a lot of opinions and thoughts on the matter and don't like to seem to drone on about controversial or, worst, boring issues. I guess that's what blogs are for, eh?
Anyway, the reason for my interest in the middle east is that it's such a dynamic area. I mean, many of the governments have been stagnant for the past 50 years, but if you look on it with the only slightly larger scale of 100 years there have been amazing changes. The transition from the at least nominally united Ottoman Empire to colonial mandates and protectorates to the various independent nations has been a rocky one, and quite intellectually intriguing. What really sucked me into the area was reading about the Iranian revolution. There are not a huge amount of real popular revolutions in the history of mankind, and to see one in action (I would argue that it is far from over) is very educational.
There is still much change ahead for the region. It is both a powder keg and a place with great potential and hope. For these reasons, and others, I am captivated by the middle east. So I cannot help but to make it one of the main focuses of my writing here. Of course, as an American, I'll likely often focus on American policies in the region. I'm sure that at times I'll sound like a leftist who wants to blame all the regions problems on American actions. I must protest in advance that it will only seem so. As an American I feel that it is America's policies that it is my place to criticize. One recent NY Times editorial really angered me in its advising of Iraqis on how to write their constitution. What place is it of theirs to tell Iraqis what type of government they should have. Not that anyone writing the constitution would probably be looking to the Times for advice on the matter. I can see in the meeting "Well, what are we going to do about the enforcement of national law in the semi-autonomous north?," "Hmm, I was reading the Times today, you know Chalabi's mouthpiece, and they've got some great advise." I bet that's not happening. But my point is that I comment on American policies because that where I live. Oh yeah, and I'm certain to sound like a leftist.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Who's Who

Try this informal survey at work. First, ask your co-workers if they know who won the last American Idol contest. Some of them will probably be able to tell you what the last song they sang was, too. Next, ask them what they can tell you about 'Ayman Zwahiri. I'm very curious to know how many people, or what percentage of the American population can identify this man.
Zwahiri, if you don't know, which is understandable because he doesn't get quite as much press as an American Idol contestant might, is Bin Laden's right hand man. Some call him his mentor. I guess the best way to put it, as far as I can understand it, is that he's the guy who supplies Bin Laden with the "intellectual" underpinnings of Al Qaeda's actions.
What bothers me is that people don't know who he is. It seems to me that if you're at all gung-ho about the War-On-Terror, I'm sorry, the struggle against international extremism (see next post), you should probably be aware of some of the players involved. If people did know a little bit more about what was going on in this mess, maybe we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Perhaps if people start now to understand who's who, we can avoid future debacles.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No Nuclear Weapons Material

So, Tierney's Nadagate continues, and it seems to me that with all the back and forth bickering about whether what Rove, now that we've established him as the leak, did was treasonous or patriotic, the press seems to be forgetting that the presidents claims were based on forged documents and Saddam had received no uranium from Niger. Ambassadors Wilson's claims that the president was presenting faulty information were correct. Rove and Novak's attempts to poison the well by pointing out that Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by his wife don't affect his points, indeed, it's one of the classic fallacious arguments.
This issue will fade away. Fitzgeralds case will come to nothing. Bush will fire no one. Judith Miller will get out of jail and return to writing articles like the one she wrote before the war began saying that not only would the smoking gun evidence of WMDs be found in Iraq, but a silver bullet (which I guess is a way of saying the evidence is even more compelling?)

That reminds me, I wonder what Chalabi is up to these days. It was he who, while giving fuel to the neo-cons convinced the Times (via Miller) and the Post that there was good reason for the invasion. Then he fell out of US favor a year and a half ago, was accused of counterfeiting Iraqi money, then found religion and was in some group linked to Muqtada al-Sadr. That guy's got real talent. I'm sure we've not seen the last of him.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


"Trajan was ambitious of fame; and as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst for military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters"

-Gibbon v.1p35

Vicissitude of Fortune

"The forests and morasses of Germany were filled with a hardy race of barbarians, who despised life when it was separated from freedom; and thought on the first attack, they seemed to yield to the weight of Roman power, they soon, by a single act of despair, regained their independence and reminded Augustus of the vicissitude of fortune."
-Gibbon v.1p32

Edward Gibbon

I've just started reading Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Some of the sentences I've come across thus far are amazing so I've decided to post them here.


In today's New York Times columnist John Tierney suggests Nadagate as a title for the scandal I discuss bellow. A label for "a scandal that's not scandalous" he says. If he's correct, than we have on our hands the most scandalous non-scandalous-scandal ever (I sound like Rumsfeld here). If the courts have gone so far as to send someone to jail for contempt in refusing to break sworn confidentiality when the case involves no real crimes, I think that's sort of scandalous. When the Whitehouse declares that its ridiculous to say Karl Rove had anything to do with the leaking of a CIA agents name and then its later discovered that he had been discussing that very subject with various members of the press, then that might qualify as scandalous. When a country is led to war on false pretenses, misleading statements and outright lies, then that's certainly scandalous. I think that is the larger issue that is being lost sight of in all the questions about the investigation. I really hope that peoples' attentions are once again being drawn to the presidents preverications about the war.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kow Tow

Recently a federal prosecutor was able to cajole Time magazine into submitting to the court the notes of its reporter, Matt Cooper, thereby revealing his confidential sources for a story he wrote. Time Inc. felt that it was better to comply with a court order than to protect the integrity of their employees and their company. Time's Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine explained his decision saying "I think it sets a bad precedent for journalists to think they are above the law, it leads to anarchy. That is one of the reasons the press is held in such low esteem." Indeed, the press is held in low esteem, but not because reporters think themselves 'above the law'. The press is poorly thought of because for the entire Bush presidency they've done nothing but tow the administration line.
Take, for example, the events that brought us to this current imbroglio. In his State of the Union address in the lead up to the occupation of Iraq, Bush claimed that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase yellowcake from Niger to produce nuclear bombs. Before he decided to bring this statement before our nation as causi bellum, it had already been discredited. Did the press aggressively scrutinize the president's claims? No, they let it pass, calling his bluff only after the war had begun. It was the same way for Bush's other claim that Saddam was buying aluminum tubes for use in a centrifuge. Again, after the war the fourth estate was kind enough to inform us that the materials in question could not be used to produce nuclear weapons.
The press is held in low esteem because they seem to have no voice of their own. Now, when two reporters attempt to bravely protect what little voice they've left, one of their editors under-cuts them, and capitulates to the governments demands. We very much need the press to question the policies and actions of this administration, not go along with and do whatever it says.