Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Youth in the Midst of War

Two Palestinian boys look through a bullet-shattered window in Gaza City, Palestine.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Over 15,000 Palestinian Refugees Flee Nahr al-Bared Camp in Northern Lebanon

Over 15,000 Palestinian refugees, half the population in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp outside of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, have fled intense fighting between the Lebanese army and a small militant group which calls itself Fatah al-Islam. The U.S. and Lebanese governments, who reportedly funded such groups late last year and early this year to counter balance the Shi'i parties Hizbu'llah and the secular AMAL along with the party of powerful Maronite ally Michel Aoun, claim that it has links to al-Qa'ida (doesn't everyone these days), which the group denies. According to press reports the majority of Palestinian refugees, Lebanese parties, and Palestinian political leaders support the Lebanese army though increasing civilian casualties, the result of Lebanese shelling of the camp, have resulted in protests.

Over 350,000 Palestinian refugees currently reside in Lebanon. They were forced to flee or are descendants of those forced to flee their homes in 1948 during the war which resulted in the formation of the state of Israel, originally by predominantly European Jews.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Battle Rages in Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon; Lebanese Army Fares Badly

Thousands of Palestinian refugees have fled the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp located outside of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in order to escape fierce fighting between the shadowy Fatah al-Islam militant group and the Lebanese army, which if not proved weak and inept last summer has been to date unable to subdue the militants in the camp. Over 40,000 people live in Nahr al-Bared and over 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, those remaining and their descendants who were forced into exile in 1948 with the creation of Israel.
As of yesterday 27 soldiers and nearly 20 Palestinian fighters had been killed. At least 57 civilians have been wounded and some have been killed though the exact number remains unknown because of restrictions on who may enter the camp placed by the Lebanese army. Palestinian political leaders and refugee public opinion largely supports the Lebanese army, though growing civilian casualties may hinder this support. All the major Lebanese factions including Hizbu'llah have backed the army as well.

Fatah al-Islam is reportedly one of the Sunni extremist groups which have received funding since last year from the Lebanese government, headed by the dinosaur bureaucrat Fu'ad Siniora and backed by the oily Sa'ad al-Hariri, son of the corrupt former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Where did these funds come from? Reportedly from an aid package sent to the Lebanese government by the U.S. in the hopes that if they supported Sunni groups they could chip away at the support of the Shi'i Lebanese party Hizbu'llah.

Sending money to Sunni radicals in the hopes that they will further one's political goals only to have it backfire on you...sounds familiar.

Leave Comments!

I encourage people to leave comments on my blog. However, I would ask that you leave them on the blog (there is a comment option at the bottom of each post) instead of "reply to the group" via e-mail. I would like to maintain a record of such comments and resulting discussions on the blog itself.

Thank you.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sderot & Gaza: Frontlines of a Failed Peace Process

Sderot, an Israeli town in the Negev Desert, has been hit with dozens of crudely made Qassem rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has retaliated over several days with airstrikes and targeted assassinations of Palestinians it says are responsible for the fire. Several Israeli civilians have been wounded in the recent attacks.
Dozens of Palestinian civilians have been wounded, many critically, in Israeli airstrikes.

Welcome to Gaza

What U.S.-made bombs do...destroy the target and several surrounding buildings.

Grief outside of al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City.

MESA Letter to Iranian President Protesting the Unjust Detention of Scholar

Copy of the letter sent to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the unjust detention of Haleh Esfandiari by Professor Zachary Lockman of New York University (Dept. of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies) who is the current president of the Middle East Studies Association, the largest academic organization of Middle East studies scholars and scholars-in-training (of which I am a proud member.)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our dismay over the harassment and subsequent detention of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Esfandiari was in Iran to visit her aging mother in December but was prevented from leaving the country and subsequently threatened, pressured, and repeatedly questioned by security authorities. Most recently, on May 8, 2007, she was arrested without charges and taken to Evin Prison.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The confiscation of Dr. Esfandiari's travel documents and her subsequent harassment contravenes Iranian laws and Iran's international commitments which guarantee the right of entry and exit to Iranians and other nationals. Further, her detention violates the constitution of Iran, which explicitly protects the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Article 23). The constitution also explicitly prohibits the exercise of punitive measures against individuals for the exercise of these guaranteed rights (Articles 2, 3). Further, your government's actions are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

Harassment and detention of scholars is always cause for grave concern, but in this case it should be noted that the scholar in question is widely respected both for her knowledge and ability to provide clear and dispassionate analysis. Her treatment sends a chilling message to scholars throughout the world.

We feel it is urgent that you take steps immediately to explain the reasons for her sudden detention, grant her access to legal counsel and family members, and allow her to return to her family in the United States as quickly as possible.

Zachary Lockman

cc: H.E. Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations Embassy of Pakistan, Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


Scholar Haleh Esfandiari Held Unjustly in Iran

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars and wife of George Mason University Robinson Professor of History Shaul Bakhash, was arrested without cause in late December 2006 and prevented from returning home to the United States. The willful intimidation of scholars by any government is unacceptable and must be vigorously opposed by all those who are in favor of open, scholarly dialogue. The Woodrow Wilson International Center, a non-partisan academic institution, has funded the research of numerous noted American Middle Eastern specialists.
Shirin Ebadi [above], Noble Peace Prize winner and a longtime lawyer and human rights advocate, has been denied access to Esfandiari, whom Ebadi said she would represent. Ebadi herself has been imprisoned numerous times for her political activism and stands for the human rights of political prisoners held by the present Iranian government, in most aspects a revolutionary 'ulama (religious scholars) oligarchy. It should be noted that many of the activists currently critiquing the government are members of the 'ulama, such as Mohsen Kadivar and Grand Ayatullah Husayn 'Ali Montazeri.
What follows is a slightly edited version of the May 10, 2007 press release from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Haleh Esfandiari [RIGHT], a dual Iranian-American national, was arrested in Tehran on May 8 and incarcerated in the Evin Prison. She traveled to Tehran in late December to visit her 93-year-old mother who was/is quite ill. On December 30, on her way to the airport to catch a flight back to Washington, the taxi in which Dr. Esfandiari was riding was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men. They took away her baggage and handbag, including her Iranian and American passports.

Four days later, when applying for replacement Iranian travel documents at the passport office, Esfandiari was invited to an ‘interview’ by a man who, it turned out, represented Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. This began a series of interrogations that stretched out over the next six weeks. These interrogations took place at two different locations, sometimes continuing for as many as four days a week, sometimes stretching across seven and eight hours in a single day. Although she went home every evening, the some 50 hours of questioning were unpleasant and not free from intimidation and threat. The questioning focused almost entirely on the activities and programs of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Esfandiari answered all questions fully; when she understandably could not remember details of programs stretching back five and even eight years, the staff at the Wilson Center provided her all the information requested. As a public organization, all Wilson Center activities are on the public record. In fact, the interrogators could have obtained virtually all the information they sought in a far less cumbersome way—by a few clicks on the Wilson Center website and through Wilson Center publications.

Repeatedly during the interrogation, Esfandiari was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part. On February 20th, Lee Hamilton, president and director of the Wilson Center, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about her case, in order to call to his attention the dire situation in which Esfandiari had been placed by elements of the government of which the president may not have been aware. He pointed out the obvious: that the Wilson Center’s mission is to provide a forum for the exchange of views; that the Wilson Center does not take positions on issues; and that it does not try to influence or to determine specific policies or directions of the Iranian government or any government in the Middle East.

Hamilton also pointed out that there is no “agenda” behind Wilson Center programs on the Middle East, including Iran; that he would not allow it; nor would Esfandiari. He asked President Ahmadinejad to use his good offices to help send her home. This letter was transmitted to Tehran by the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. President Ahmadinejad has yet to acknowledge or reply to it. Attempts to resolve this issue through various channels and without publicity were also not successful.

The lengthy interrogations stopped on February 14. Except for one threatening phone call on February 17, she has heard nothing from her interrogators for ten weeks. A few days ago, she was telephoned again. She was again invited to “cooperate.” In effect, she was being asked to make a confession. She refused to make the false statements apparently required of her.

On Monday, May 7th, she was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence once again. When she arrived for her appointment on Tuesday morning, she was put into a car and taken to Evin prison. She was allowed only one phone call to her mother. Her family has not heard from her since. This needless harassment and unwarranted action has placed great strain on Esfandiari’s family. Her mother, at 93, is in frail health. She herself needs to see her doctors and has been prevented from doing so by the withholding of her passport and, much worse, incarceration in Evin prison. Despite numerous quiet and diplomatic efforts by many countries, organizations, and individuals ever since she was robbed of her passports December 30, 2006 and prevented from leaving Iran, she has been unable to obtain permission to leave Iran and join her husband Shaul Bakhash [RIGHT] and family in the United States.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Peace is a Two-Way Street

The next person to say that "the" (i.e. some) Palestinians are the only ones who are not interested in a peace agreement will be referred to this photograph, which is relatively tame compared to many that exist. Questions? Visit Kiryat Arba.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh, Jerusalem! (Ha'aretz Commentary)

I don't normally post entire articles/commentaries from other publications (I that I've done it once before in 2 years), but I think that this piece on the issue of Jerusalem is a very good one. Truth in advertising, I believe that the holy city should either become an internationally-administered city where the rights of all would be fully protected or that the city should be divided into Palestinian and Israeli sections, more or less how it demographically is today. I know that some of my Israeli friends do not agree but hey, we're still friends so that has to count for something.

"If we conquer the Old City, when do we give it back and to whom?" asked Zalman Aran, then minister of education and culture. He posed the question during the cabinet meeting on Monday, June 5, 1967, at about 8 P.M., in the bomb shelter of the Knesset in Jerusalem. Interior minister Moshe Haim Shapira, shared Aran's questions and expressed, like his colleague, concerns about the diplomatic implications of the Israel Defense Forces' entry into the Old City. They thought it would be best for Israel not to hold onto East Jerusalem, but rather that it recommend that it have an international status for it. They were alone in this opinion. Most members of the cabinet were filled with a sense of a historic moment. They held a short deliberation (the Winograd Committee would have strongly chastised them for their decision-making process) and rallied behind the concluding statements of prime minister Levi Eshkol: The government will inform the IDF that it wishes for the Old City to be liberated, in response to the shelling of West Jerusalem by the Jordanian Legion; the decision of what will be done with the liberated territory will be made in the future.

The future arrived six days later: On June 11, the government decided to annex east Jerusalem. Again it was minister Zalman Aran who spoiled the party: He expressed concern that the world would force Israel to undo the unification of the city. "I remember [David] Ben-Gurion very well during Operation Kadesh [during the 1956 Suez Campaign] when he declared that we would not withdraw," Aran told his colleagues.
Police minister Eliyahu Sasson also warned that the Christian world would oppose the official declaration of annexation. Two ministers from Mapam, Israel Barzilai and Mordechai Bentov, joined those expressing reservations. Their arguments differed: They were not concerned about the world's reaction, but rather about the negative impact that the annexation would have on Israel's chances of achieving peace with the Arab states. The four ministers were in the minority.

The government assigned a special ministerial committee to formulate a proposal that would lead to the city's unification. On Tuesday, June 27, at about 7 P.M., the Knesset decided to annex east Jerusalem. The vast majority of MKs supported the bill, including Uri Avnery. Only the MKs of the Communist parties, Rakah and Maki, voted against it. Forty years later, it is appropriate to recall that decision and try to learn some lessons.

There is no doubt that when the Israeli leadership decided to unify Jerusalem it had good cause to believe that it was doing the right thing. The diplomatic and security-related conditions (the defeat of the Arab states and the international recognition that the Six-Day War was justified), the overall atmosphere in Israel (the sense that we had been saved from an existential threat and of sweet revenge for the arbitrary aggression of the Arab states), and the political situation (complete accord) offered the appropriate setting.

There is also no doubt that the country invested a great deal of its resources, physical and intellectual, to bring about the success of this endeavor: It redrew the city map to bolster its hold over it, it confiscated large tracks of land to strengthen Jewish presence there, it allocated human resources and much funding to develop it and to guarantee the security of its residents. It placed Jerusalem at the top of its priorities.

Nonetheless, the results speak for themselves: Jerusalem 2007 is a city whose residents are leaving it, where the number of Arabs living within its city limits has consistently risen and alters the demographic balance in the city to their favor, at a time in which most of the states of the world do not recognize Israel's sovereignty over it.

The process of annexation did not result in genuine unification of the city: Jews avoid entering the eastern part of the city and their access to it mostly revolves around visits to the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter. From an urban and an architectural point of view as well (including the environs of the Western Wall), the annexation is not a success story.

The conclusion: However banal it may be, the facts of reality are more powerful than the excitement of the heart. The justification that the State of Israel had for annexing East Jerusalem in 1967 could overcome the determination of the Arabs of the city to hold on to it. The Jewish claim over all of Jerusalem is unable to destroy the claim of the Muslim world to the city. In the world of 2007 there is no alternative but to recognize this. In June 1967, only a handful of ministers recognized this, and they were considered defeatists.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Palestine's Curse: Disfunctional Politicians

Bullet-riddled windshield and a view of a portrait of a smiling Yasir Arafat, former PLO chairman and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) president before his death in 2004. Factional fighting between militias loosely tied to Arafat's Fatah party, now headed by PNA President Mahmoud 'Abbas, and HAMAS, the largest Palestinian religious movement, have killed scores of people since late last year. Despite several ceasefire proclamations the leaderships of both parties have failed to reign in their paramilitary organizations/allies.

A Palestinian youth walks by a burning vehicle during clashes between Fatah and HAMAS gunmen in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian people deserve a better political leadership.

Alan Dershowitz Speaks

"[People who are] pro-Iraelis are often pro-Palestinian..."
-Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz
Harvard Institute of Politics Debate with Professor Noam Chomsky (2005)
de·lu·sion /dɪˈluʒən/
1. an act or instance of deluding.
2. the state of being deluded.
3. a false belief or opinion: delusions of grandeur.
4. Psychiatry. a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact: a paranoid delusion.
To watch the debate, go to:

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Samaritans: Portrait of an Ancient, Dying Religion in the Middle East

Samaritans, who split from Judaism over 2,000 years ago, hold prayers at dawn on top of Mount Gerizim near the northern Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus. The worshippers were celebrating the last day of their Passover. The central point of Samaritan religion is Mount Gezerim outside of Nablus and references in their version of the Torah refer to this mountain as opposed to Mount Moriah as the Torah used by Jews and later adopted by Christians does. An estimated 700-1,000 Samaritans are alive today and live primarily in and around Nablus.
[Photo: Reuters]

Cool New Toy/Tool: LibraryThing (revised)

http://www.librarything.com/...Allows you to design a library-style catalog of your personal library, which can be used in a variety of ways including creating a widget for use on a blog or another type of Internet site...For an example of how the widget looks, go to my blog site directly: http://occident.blogspot.com

Sunday, May 13, 2007

U.S., European Union Ambassadors to Skip 'Jerusalem Day'

From: Ha'aretz

U.S., EU ambassadors said set to skip Jerusalem Day ceremonies
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

The ambassadors from the United States and the European Union countries will not attend the celebrations Wednesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the Israeli media reported Sunday. According to Army Radio, the envoy from Germany declined the invitation in the name of all EU states due to a dispute over the status of East Jerusalem as part of the Israeli capital. A short time later, Israel Radio reported that American Ambassador Richard Jones will also not attend.....
All of the embassies in Israel are based in Tel Aviv, and not Jerusalem, due to the disputed status of the capital. The entire city fell under Israeli control during the 1967 Six-Day War, an event marked annually by Jerusalem Day. The Palestinians, however, want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state. On Friday, the [Israeli] Peace Now movement held an alternative event in Jerusalem to "protest against the continuation of the occupation and to create hope for a Jerusalem of peace."

Assorted Comments on the Ha'aretz comment board:
As I have noted in the past, I have never denied that radical statements are also run in the Arabic and Persian media. However, I have become tired of hearing that such radicalism is a one-way street. On any given day there are plenty more where these [below] came from for those who may be thinking, "well, the 'Arabs' do it more." Ha'aretz, for those who don't know, is also a left of center Israeli daily newspaper.
There is something positive to be said about real dialogue between people. I can attest to this from personal experience(s). It's somewhat more difficult to demonize and outright dismiss the "other" when you've actually taken the time to get to know some of the "other."

Neil (Joplin, USA)
Why don`t the Palestinians get supported by and move into the other Arab countries, since there are so many?! Where are the alternative locations for Jews to live? We belong at home where our fathers lived and died. [This statement shows woeful ignorance of the cultural diversity of the supposedly "Arab" identity...Questions? Compare Moroccans, Yemenis, and Omanis...their history, religious practice, cultural traditions, and even Arabic dialects...Good luck understanding a Moroccan or for that matter any North African dialect if you've studied Modern Standard Arabic, i.e. "the King's Arabic" to use an English metaphor.]

Jeremy (Oranit settlement, Palestinian West Bank)
The EU & USA may not realise it but denying the Jewish people`s right to Jerusalem as their eternal capitol is denying the Jewish people`s right to their religion & beliefs & hence dare I say it : pure anti-semitism. [What a jump...Anti-semitism? Having been called an anti-Semite recently, I can say this about this "argument", bollocks mate. As a matter of correcting one of the inaccuracies here, the boycott is not due to a "denial" of the Jewish people's right to Jerusalem. Certainly the Jewish people have a connection to this city, and I have long criticized those who say otherwise. However, if we use the "facts on the ground" analogy, the city has also become central to Muslims and Christians. If radicals on one side or the other want to convince 4 billion people otherwise, feel free and Godspeed.]

Mike (Jerusalem)
I understand that many talkbackers are upset at the US decision not to participate in jeruslaem Day celebrations. This slap in the face should not go unpunished, lobby your representaives and government leaders to reject any further aid from the US, and to even return the billions sent. that will show them Israel means business and will go it alone! [Yes, this makes perfect economic sense to me.....That will teach those Americans...]

Netanel (no city)
Is it any surprise that all the anti-semites posting from European countries wish to see Israel relax all security so the current state of Israel can turn into Gaza and Iraq? Not surprising. They want to see all our historic places bombed and they want to see us massacred, to wipe out the Jewish presence and history there. Advocating the relaxing of checkpoints is just advocating genocide against Jews and advocating the Arabs destroy all our history here, as they already have done with Joseph`s tomb, and tons of Temple Mount archaeology. Their evil will be repaid by Hashem. [Hashem=God]

Sam Weinstein (USA, no city)
Tell the US and the Europeans they have two years to transfer their embassy or they must leave Israel. This prooves they are nothing but backstabbers. [Yes, that will teach those Americans...]

[In response to a post about the billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel, much of it spent in quid pro quo at U.S. defense companies] Cool that`s fine since all of the military aid is actually spent in the US at US companies. I`m sure all those american workers will thank you for looseing their Jobs. I have always been a big propanant of Israel becoming Public on her Nukes both as a miltary defence option and a defense against any boycott since any boycott would be a threat on the survival of Israel. [Is it just me or is he inferring that nuclear weapons should be used against those "boycotting?"]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Religious Radicalism in All 'Flavors'....& Beauty

Below are two examples of extreme Israeli Jewish-Zionist and Palestinian Muslim rhetoric. Sometimes I wonder why I identify with a particular religion or any religion when most religious traditions have such bloody histories. However, then I think of the literature, poetry, art, and spirituality that religious traditions also inspire and I remember that religion is what the believer(s) make of it. Thus, it can be stunningly beautiful or horrificly evil. I have included an example of beauty at the end of this post.

Was planting Al Aqsa on The Holy of Holies a moral deed? NO!
Zvi-Hersch (Los Angeles, California)

From: Ha'aretz comment board to article
Your premise is wrong [about the West Bank being Palestinian.] Therefore, your argument is moot...Worthless.....Except to those who refuse to accept the fact that G-d gave the land, INCLUDING Samaria, to His people, Israel, ETERNALLY! If you refuse to accept or to like this fact, then go argue with G-d!This disgusting mosque was imposed upon the Jewish `Holy of Holies` which was bought and paid in full for, by King Solomon! The self-righteous muslims think that since it exists it is their right to keep it. Their perpetuating the defilement of this Holy place with their unlistened to worship and paganizing idolatry of their Mohammed, their so called prophet, who was a self-serving charlatan that twisted the essence of the Torah, only to deprecate it, and a murderer to boot, and one who made murder & living by the sword `holy`, who raped his sister & had a perverse proclivity for little girls, should be removed!Such is the destiny of the unholy!The Holy of Holies` is the land of the Jews, & their worship IS holy!

Shaykh Ahmad Bahr from HAMAS at a Friday sermon in Sudan:
Oh God, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh God, vanquish...their supporters. Oh God, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one. Oh God, show them a day of darkness. Oh God, who sent down His Book, the mover of the clouds, who defeated the enemies of the Prophet – defeat the Jews...and bring us victory over them.

Masnavi, Book I, lines 599-607 (Jalal ud-Din Rumi, 13th century Sufi mystic and poet) :
We are as the flute, and the music in us is from thee [God]; we are as the mountain and the echo in us is from thee. We are as pieces of chess engaged in victory and defeat: our victory and defeat is from thee, O thou whose qualities are comely! Who are we, O Thou soul of our souls, that we should remain in being beside thee? We and our existences are really non-existence; thou art the absolute Being which manifests the perishable. We all are lions, but lions on a banner: because of the wind they are rushing onward from moment to moment. Their onward rush is visible, and the wind is unseen: may that which is unseen not fail from us! Our wind whereby we are moved and our being are of thy gift; our whole existence is from thy bringing into being.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Koreans Separated by War Reunited One Last Time

After more than 50 years of separation, the reunions organised by the Korean Red Cross offer family members a final chance to see long-lost relatives before they die. In this picture 98-year-old South Korean Lee Myung-chul, (left) is reunited with North Korean members of his family. [GALLO/GETTY]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Israeli Government Plans Large New Settlement in Palestinian East Jerusalem

The Israeli government announced today that it is planning to build a large new settlement bloc in Palestinian East Jerusalem on land annexed after its conquest in June 1967. The new settlement, which may take several years to be approved by local municipal councils, will link two existing settlements in East Jerusalem and will be composed of roughly 20,000 residencies. These homes will be for "young Israeli couples," according to the government. Israeli settlements, partially funded through U.S. foreign aid, in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are one of the several major barriers to a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Every Israeli government for the past 37 years, to the left or to the right, has supported the construction and (lately) the expansion of settlements in order to create "facts on the ground," which will make any eventual pull-out much more difficult.

Apparently the inept Palestinian political leadership, whom I have criticized numerous times for years both in print and on Occident (and certainly will continue to), aren't the only ones who are not interested in a lasting peace agreement.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ethiopia & U.S.-backed Somalian Government Bans Veils; Fails to Bring 'Stability'

Somalian government forces have reportedly begun banning headscarves and the niqab face-covering, alleging that paramilitaries loyal to the ousted Islamic Courts Union movement have been carrying out attacks on the U.S. and Ethiopian-backed Somalian military and their foreign Ethiopian army allies. Early reports indicate that force has been used against Somalian women who refuse to obey government soldiers.

The Islamic Courts Union, which took over most of the country last year, was ousted during the winter of 2006 when the Ethiopian army invaded to aid the former Somalian government with the support and backing of the U.S. An insurgency (possibly in its "last throes" a la Rumsfeld) broke out fairly quickly and appears to involve both the Islamic Courts Union and (separately) the large Somalian Hawiye clan, the largest in and around the country's capital city of Mogadishu, unhappy with the continued Ethiopian occupation. Since the "stabilization" of the situation in Somalia by foreign forces over 1,000 civilians have been killed in battles between paramilitaries and the Ethiopian army and their Somalian allies.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

God Just Went 'Click'

Archaeologists Discover Tomb (maybe) of King Herod the Great

Archaeologists from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem believe that they may have found the burial site of King Herod the Great who ruled Judaea as a Roman client from 74 to 4 B.C.E. Excavations at Herodium, a lavish palace complex Herod built for himself in the present-day Palestinian West Bank.

Herod is famous for ordering the massacre of infants in Bethlehem while trying to find the infant Jesus. However, as was noted above, Herod died in 4 B.C.E./B.C. (Before Christ); though this is likely due to the errors in devising the Christian calendar centuries later.
Herod also ordered the expansion (and really reconstruction) of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, creating one of the ancient world's great Hellenistic-style structures. This temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. after the Jewish revolt which had been taken over by the Sicarii Zealots, known as such for the knives they carried which they used to assassinate Jewish leaders deemed traitors. A Roman army under Vespasian and his son Titus Flavius beseiged the city and eventually sacked and burned the temple to the ground. Before Roman troops entered the city, according to accounts from Josephus and other historians of the period, the Zealots had begun murdering their rivals during the city's defense.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Book Review: The 'Secret' History of al-Qa'ida

I've decided to occasionally publish book reviews that I've written for various journals/publications on "Occident." This serves as the inaugural such post.

The Secret History of al-Qa‘ida. By Abdel Bari Atwan. London: Saqi, 2006. Pp.256. ISBN 0863567606 (HB).

Originally Published in: The Muslim World Book Review (Volume 27, Issue 3; Spring 2007)

Even after being driven from its open bases in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Qa‘ida has remained a potent force in global affairs. The organization headed nominally by exiled Saudi Osama bin Laden and beholden to the ideological outlook of Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri saw its stock rise after the U.S. and British-led March 2003 toppling of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein with the rise of an ultra-violent, loosely-connected branch headed by the Jordanian Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi until his death in a June 2006 U.S. air strike. Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of the influential London-based Arabic language daily al-Quds al-Arabi, joins the ranks of fellow journalists Jason Burke and Peter Bergen in filling in the gaps for Western readers that no serious, book-length scholarly study has addressed.

Atwan, who in 1996 met and interviewed bin Laden and several top al-Qa‘ida leaders including then-military chief Muhammad ‘Atef (killed in 2001), is uniquely placed to offer an glimpse into not only the original organization’s militant and terrorist activities but also its sophisticated multimedia PR and propaganda campaign. His newspaper was long al-Qa‘ida’s primary outlet for releasing its statements and communiqués including the 1998 fatwa signed by bin Laden, al-Zawahri, and several radical Pakistani Sunni religious leaders declaring a global war against “crusaders and Jews.” Although some of his observations, such as the high level of education of many of the organization’s members and supporters, Atwan provides new, valuable analysis of al-Qa‘ida’s media saavy and the strategy and inner workings of its ultra-violent offshoots in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

As any al-Qa‘ida observer already knows the organization’s operatives make careful use of the Internet to post statements, videos, military instruction manuals, and ideological treatises. Dubbed the “cyber jihad” by some al-Qa‘ida members, this utilization of technology has greatly enhanced the organization’s capabilities to attract new members and deliver political points to foreign, primarily Western European and U.S. audiences. Atwan provides perhaps the most sophisticated, detailed overview of al-Qa‘ida uses the Internet while evading law enforcement and engaging in cyber warfare with its rivals, including independent Western hackers.

The chapters on al-Qa‘ida’s loosely-connected branches in Saudi Arabia and Iraq provide background information and operational details the reader would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Atwan is particularly adept at mapping out the brief but bloody history of al-Qa‘ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq), formerly Tawhid wa al-Jihad. Moving beyond the sound bytes about al-Zarqawi, Atwan pieces together how this former Jordanian common street criminal became the most wanted and feared radical Islamist militant leader in the world whose head carried a price equal to bin Laden’s.

There are a few factual errors in Atwan’s account, such as the labeling of ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, as a “grand ayatollah” (pgs. 200, 217, 218) when in fact he is a mid-level Shi‘i ‘alim (hujjat al-Islam). Atwan also occasionally makes generalized statements including describing the collapse of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 to the Mongol armies of Hulagu Khan “unthinkable,” (pg. 71) which considering the steadily declining fortunes of ‘Abbasid power since the early tenth century is an exaggeration at best. Medieval Hanbali jurist Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah is described as a “Salafi” (pg. 71) when in fact using such a term is anachronistic since that movement did not arise until the modern period, first in the reformist thought of Egyptian Muhammad Abduh before the moniker was seized by more puritanical elements within the Arabian Peninsula.

The book also suffers from a serious dearth in citations, a common problem in many journalistic accounts. These mild reservations aside, Atwan has produced one of the most up-to-date, thorough accounts of al-Qa‘ida, its strategy, and its offshoots and for this he should be commended.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Medicine, Anatomy, Optics, Mathematics, and Philosophy: The Lost Legacies of the Arabs

At the height of their power the Muslim 'Abbasid caliphs (rulers) in Baghdad were patrons of the arts, literature, poetry, and the sciences. Through caliphal patronage hundreds and even thousands of scholars from across the Middle East, Byzantium, and the east (India, Central Asia and beyond), both Muslim and non-Muslim, gathered in the city at a place of scholarship and scientific inquiry renowned in its time, Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom.)

These scholars left behind a rich legacy. Greek philosophical tracts from Aristotle and Plato were translated into Arabic as were ancient Persian and Indian "wisdom literature" texts.

'Abbasid scholars also made significant advances in mathematics, building upon earlier work by Indian, Iranian, and other Asian scholars. Parts of modern algebra, decimal fractions, exponents, and the numeral system are part of this rich legacy of scholarship.
In medicine, the human body, optics, and pharmaecology were studied intensely. The origins of the modern hospital can be traced to 'Abbasid Baghdad where patients were quarantined according to their symptoms. Arab doctors also pioneered early forms of surgery including a technique for removing cataracts.

Arab scientists developed a theory that illnesses were caused by small organisms and not by curses or bad omens as was believed in Europe at that time. Mental illness was treated as a disorder and not as possession.
'Abbasid Optical Texts
'Abbasid Herbal Pharmaecology Text
'Abbasid Anatomy Texts

Sophocles (left) pictured in an Arabic Translation Text

Aristotle pictured in an Arabic Translation Text

'Abbasid Geometry Text

An EXCELLENT source for further readings on the subjects described above: http://www.al-bab.com/arab/science.htm

Recommended Books

Islamic Sciences and the Making of the European Renaissance (Georges Saliba)

The Legacy of Islam: 2nd Edition (C.E. Bosworth; Joseph Schacht)

The Imaginary World of John McCain

"There are neighborhoods now in Baghdad where you and I could go for a stroll."
-U.S Senator John McCain (R-Arizona)
[Guarded by hundreds of elite U.S. troops, armored HUM-Vs, and helicopter gunships the last time he was in the Iraqi capital.]
de·lu·sion /dɪˈluʒən/
1. an act or instance of deluding.
2. the state of being deluded.
3. a false belief or opinion: delusions of grandeur.
See Time magazine Baghdad bureau chief and CNN contributor Michael Ware smack down McCain's ridiculous claim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6kzCR07PQ

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Iraq's Refugee Generations

Over three million Iraqi civilians have been displaced since the start of the American Neoconservative project that was Operation "Iraqi Freedom." Over 2.3 million have left the country and are refugees in Syria, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf states. An additional 1.9 million have been displaced internally due to increasing sectarian violence despite the fizzled "surge" by Coalition (i.e. American) forces.
Low estimates of civilian casualties since the war began four years ago exceed 50,000. From January 2006 until now over 16,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have been killed in action, disproving the often-cited "fact" that "the Iraqis aren't standing up."
Thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed during the invasion and after by Coalition forces, despicably termed "collateral damage," more than the casualty figures on September 11, 2001 by far. What would one say if the civilians who died in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon were "collateral damage"?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This Summer's Destination: Yemen

This summer, courtesy of "The Man," who is better known as the National Security Education Program of the U.S. Department of State, is allowing me to take an all-expenses paid scholarship trip to Yemen in order to continue my Arabic language studies. I have provided some links below for those who are interested in learning about this country, one of the Arab world's (and the world's) most culturally diverse and rich societies.

What the CIA says (of course they were wrong about Iraq): https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ym.html

Al-Bab.com: An Open Portal to the Arab World site: