Friday, May 30, 2008

Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi‘ite Messianism and the Policies of the Islamic Republic

Poster inside the Muslim American Youth Academy, a private elementary school attached to the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States (and a Twelver Shi'i one) located in Dearborn, Michigan.

Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi‘ite Messianism
and the Policies of the Islamic Republic

By Ze’ev Maghen

Middle East Journal (Vol. 62, No. 2: April 2008)

This article examines the assertion, widespread in both media and academia, that the Islamic Republic of Iran — and especially the current government under Mahmud Ahmadinejad — is actuated by a powerful, Shi‘ite-based messianism. Much evidence appears at first glance to support this assessment: not only the statements and actions of the charismatic President, many of which reference the imminent return of the Hidden Imam, but also, and more fundamentally, the widespread perception of Shi‘ism — the state religion of Iran and spiritual force behind the Islamic Revolution — as an endemically and fervently apocalyptic creed. These two factors have combined with the agenda-ridden punditry of many lay-people and even specialists to create the pervasive impression that Iran’s rulers live on the brink of the Eschaton, and seek to expedite its arrival by initiating a worldwide cataclysm. The author rejects the validity of this outlook, arguing instead that religio-historical developments in the medieval and modern periods gradually turned Twelver Shi‘ism into the most resolutely anti-messianic movement in Islam, and perhaps in the world. While it remains imperative, in the author’s view, that the international community strive to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear capabilities, this is not due to any inherent “End of Days” outlook informing Iranian policy. This alternative view harbors significant implications for the West’s present and future dealings with Shi‘ism in general and with Iran in particular.

[Note: The notion of a foreign policy with "Shi'ism" is pretty ridiculous, as speaking of a foreign policy with "Judaism" or "Catholicism" would also be.]

Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, President Ahmadinejad's religious teacher and a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts, the governmental body responsible for electing and supervising the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran (currently Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei).

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (center) at congregational prayer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Commentary: The Future of Hizbu'llah in Lebanon; PLUS A Breakdown of Lebanon's Political Power Players

Lebanon's political powerbrokers in happier days: (from left) AMAL leader Nabih Berri, Future Movement (Tayyar al-Mustaqbal)/Hariri Inc. leader Sa'd al-Hariri, and (in black turban) Hizbu'llah secretary general Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.
Note: Below is an op-ed piece by veteran Lebanon reporter Nicholas Blanford which I think captures the current political situation in that country well and in an even-handed manner. I have added a few in-text comments in places where I agree or wish to highlight an issue.
Now We Move On to Hizbu'llah's Future
Commentary by Nicholas Blanford
May 27, 2008
The last-minute Qatar-mediated agreement among Lebanon's top leaders not only ended a debilitating 19-month political deadlock that brought Lebanon close to civil war, it has also demonstrated that Hizbullah holds both the political and military balance of power in the country.

The Hizbullah-led opposition won key concessions from the Lebanese government and its supporters in the March 14 parliamentary coalition, chiefly winning its long-standing demand to secure a one-third share of Cabinet seats in the next government, thus granting it veto power over unfavorable decisions.

The outcome would suggest a blow to the administration of US President George W. Bush that, throughout the months of crisis, has consistently encouraged its allies in the Lebanese government not to yield to Hizbullah's dictates. Indeed, the United States adopted a curiously ambivalent and muted stance during the recent street battles in Beirut, offering little other than verbal gestures of support for the beleaguered government. Whether this was an indication of the limitations of US influence in Lebanon or hid some broader ulterior agenda it is too soon to tell. Still, few in the Middle East will consider it a coincidence that on the same day the Doha agreement was born, Israel and Syria announced that they had been engaged in secret Turkish-brokered peace talks for over a year.

But Hizbullah's political gains have come at a price. The lightening seizure of western Beirut by Hizbullah fighters has created a potentially dangerous backlash among Lebanon's angry, frightened and humiliated Sunnis. It undermined the moderate Sunni leadership, particularly that of Saad Hariri, the head of the Future Movement, underscoring the military weakness of the community. [Note: The Future Movement, the political child of Hariri Inc., is far from moderate. It has reportedly financed Sunni Salafi militants in Lebanon in a bid to counterbalance the Shi'i parties of AMAL and Hizbu'llah] Sunni supporters of the Future Movement have been clamoring for weapons and training to confront the threat posed by the Shiite Hizbullah, but the leadership remains reluctant to embark on such a fraught course.

A period of stability engendered by the Doha agreement notwithstanding, aggrieved Lebanese Sunnis may shift away from a hesitant moderate leadership in favor of radicalism, finding in Al-Qaeda-inspired groups a source of communal empowerment and protection against Hizbullah.
Al-Qaeda itself may sense an opening in Lebanon, especially with the organization's declining options in Iraq. Recent statements by Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have focused on Lebanon, Hizbullah and the "crusaders" of the United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon. Already, there are indications in North Lebanon that militant Sunnis are stirring, having previously maintained a low profile. [Note: As I have noted in the recent past...]

Hizbullah has expended considerable political capital in the past two years to build alliances with Sunni leaders and groups that share its antipathy to Israel and Western designs on the Middle East. But in the wake of the Beirut battles and the threat posed by a potential mobilization of Al-Qaeda-style groups, Hizbullah will have to work hard to ensure that its existing Sunni allies do not drift away in deference to Sunni hostility toward the Shiite group, while simultaneously reaching out to moderate Sunnis.

Furthermore, Hizbullah's strong-arm tactics in Beirut have delivered a serious blow to the carefully nurtured image of nobility surrounding the "resistance" against Israel. Hizbullah's leaders have always maintained that its military wing was directed against Israel and that its weapons would never be used internally against domestic opponents. True, Hizbullah has also warned repeatedly of a tough response to any attempts to emasculate its military wing, but, for most Lebanese, the sanctity of resistance today rings hollow after watching Hizbullah men battling Sunnis in Beirut and Druze in the Aley district.

The Doha agreement calls for a dialogue on Hizbullah's weapons to be hosted by President Michel Suleiman, who was elected on Sunday. For the March 14 coalition, smarting from the blow inflicted by Hizbullah in Beirut, finding a means of hobbling the Shiite party's ability to employ its weapons tops the political agenda in the coming weeks. But the March 14 bloc has little margin for maneuver before a Hizbullah that resolutely refuses to disarm and has demonstrated in stunning fashion a willingness to use force to protect its resistance
priority. Hizbullah will continue to evoke its argument that its military wing remains a vital component in a national defense strategy against Israeli aggression, and that while it is willing to coordinate with the Lebanese Army it must retain its own chain of command.

Nonetheless, there is potential for compromises if both sides show a degree of flexibility. A useful first step would be to implement the agreement reached during the 2006 national dialogue sessions to regulate the arms held by Palestinian groups. That would mean shutting down the handful of military bases, mainly in the Bekaa Valley, manned by pro-Damascus groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah Intifada. Hizbullah would earn itself some valuable good will if it agreed not to block such a move.

Nicholas Blanford is a Beirut-based journalist and author of "Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and Its Impact on the Middle East."
Lebanese prime minister and Hariri Inc. lackey Fuad Siniora shakes hands with the Neoconservative U.S. Secretary of State, Soviet specialist Condoleeza Rice.
Lebanon: The Major Political Parties
*2 Major factions:
(1) March 14 Movement. Pro-government and backed politically and financially by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other Sunni Arab autocracies.
(2) March 8 National Opposition coalition. Opposed to the current Lebanese government majority (the March 14 coalition). The three largest parties in the coalition are Hizbu'llah, AMAL, and the Free Patriotic Movement.
Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), the political party of Hariri Inc. Backbone party of the March 14 Movement (the U.S. and Saudi-backed pro-government faction.)
Hizbu'llah, the largest Shi'i party headed by Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. One of the backbones, with AMAL, of the March 8 National Opposition movement.
Lebanese Forces, militant Maronite party headed by convicted war criminal Samir Ja'Ja; formerly a faction in the Phalange Party of the Gemayel family, who conspired with Israel to set up a pro-Israeli Maronite government in Lebanon. Member of the March 14 pro-government coalition.
AMAL (Afwaaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyya), the Shi'i party founded under the auspices of Imam Musa al-Sadr in 1975 and currently headed by Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Backbone, with Hizbu'llah, of the March 8 National Opposition coalition.

Free Patriotic Movement, headed by former General Michel Aoun, a powerful Maronite politician. Member of the March 8 National Opposition coalition.

Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Member of the March 8 National Opposition coalition.

Progressive Socialist Party, the largest and most powerful Druze political party headed by the Hobbit, Walid Jumblatt who is currently anti-Syria. In the past, he has been very much pro-Syrian. Jumblatt is an adept politician and switches alliances frequently. Member of the March 14 pro-government coalition.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Tribes of al-Anbar, Iraq: A Study

An in-depth study of the Sunni Arab tribes of al-Anbar province in Iraq completed in 2006, available HERE.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Attack on Middle East Studies: A Historical Perspective

The Attack on Middle East Studies: A Historical Perspective

Lawrence Davidson

Dr. Davidson is professor of Middle East history at West Chester University.

Throughout American history, the population has periodically indulged in episodes of self- abuse. The abuse usually entails one group of citizens attacking another with the charge of undermining American security and values. These outbursts are usually triggered by war or some imagined foreign threat. One of the more striking aspects of these episodes is their contradictory nature: the very attacks in the name of national values systematically violate the nation's values by undermining the rights and freedoms (such as the right of open dissent) of those subject to attack. These episodes, just a few historical examples of which are given below, occur with something approaching regularity, about once every other generation. They expose a dark aspect of the American culture, lying just beneath the surface and ever ready to erupt.

These episodes began as early as 1798 with the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts. Involved in an undeclared war with France, the U.S. government, then controlled by the Federalist party, passed laws that allowed officials to arrest, hold and deport aliens who were considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." It also allowed the imprisonment of those who published "false, scandalous and malicious writings" against the government and its officials. The legislation and subsequent government actions were used to shut down opposition to the government's policies and thus, in the name of protecting the values of American democracy, those values were systematically violated. This contradictory position was recognized at the time by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom prepared formal statements of protest and fought continuously against these unconstitutional acts. Nonetheless, it took a change of administration to successfully check the oppression, and by then much damage had been done. Many residents of French nationality or alleged French sympathizers had fled the country, and a significant number of newspaper editors and journalists, including Benjamin Franklin's grandson, had been arrested and imprisoned.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Grand Ayatullah al-Sistani: Is He Succumbing to Pressure from Iraqi Shi'i Radicals?

Will Sistani Declare Jihad on U.S.?
Juan Cole (May 23, 2008)

Informed Comment (

" [Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-] Sistani...follows American politics, and he knows that the US is transitioning away from Bush, so he may see an opportunity to push the new administration in a different direction. I have all along believed that Sistani would ultimately issue a fatwa saying that it was illegitimate for there to continue to be foreign troops on Iraqi soil. I think he would have gone in that direction if Bush had not given in on the January, 2005, elections. But he had been concerned about a resurgence of the Baath, about the rise of the Salafi Jihadis (radical Sunnis, which are in my view mistakenly called 'al-Qaeda'), and about the weakness of the Shiite government.Ironically, the more success the Americans have in reducing sectarian violence and strengthening the Iraqi state, the more likely it is that Sistani will put his foot down about the foreign military presence.

This likelihood is one reason I find it difficult to take seriously the plans of the Pentagon and the American Right for a long-term US military presence in Iraq. I just don't think the Shiites will put up with it. And, the constant bombardment of the small British contingent down at the Basra airport likely points to the fate of any division of US troops left in the country.

Those tempted to dismiss the possibility that a frail old man in Najaf can get up a social movement powerful enough to thwart US plans should read Michael Schwartz's essay at on the way Iraqi popular movements got in the way of the Project for a New American Century."

[Taken from Prof. Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment;
Read the entire post here.]

Juan R. I. Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan. His award-winning daily blog, Informed Comment, is a must-read for those interested in the modern Middle East. I check it every day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hizbu'llah Plan Sunday Rally to Commemorate the 2000 Israeli Withdrawal

"May 1948: The Catastrophe
May 2000: The Victory
25 May 2008: Celebration/Festival of Resistance and Liberation"

On its official web site (withheld) the Lebanese Shi'i political party and paramilitary organization Hizbu'llah announces a rally to be held Sunday, May 25 beginning at 6 p.m. in the Dahiyah, the southern suburbs of Beirut, a party stronghold devastated during the summer 2006 war by the Israeli airforce. The celebration (عيد), according to the announcement, will commemorate the eighth anniversary of the retreat of the Israeli army from Lebanon in the dead of night on May 24, 2000.

The day's events will also commemorate the deaths and blood (ووفاءً لدماء الشهداء) of the party's fighters (martyrs) killed in battle with the Israeli military during the latter's occupation of a large chunk of southern Lebanon from 1982 to May 24, 2000.

Hizbu'llah nasheed (religious music) video commemorating the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal/retreat from Lebanon, which the party sees as having been a great victory for its nearly 20 years of resistance and targeting of the Israeli military in Lebanon and its Lebanese proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army (militia).

SLA members, most of whom had to remain in Lebanon, were tried but most received light, token prison sentences (1-2 years or less.) The senior leaders, such as Antoine Lahad, fled to Israel. Lahad now runs a Lebanese restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Monday, May 19, 2008

'In the Name of the Imam: The Shi'i 'Ulama, Nationalism, and the State in the Contemporary Middle East,' (My MEHAT Presentation/Paper Notes)

Hizbu'llah (Lebanon) Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.

Iran's supreme leader, Sayyid 'Ali Khamanei, leads congregational prayers in the country's capital city, Tehran.

Billboard in Iraq showing the Iraqi al-Sadr family, one of modern Twelver Shi'ism's most illustrious. From left to right: the first martyr (al-Shahid al-Sadr al-Awal), Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr; Muqtada al-Sadr; and the second martyr (al-Shahid al-Sadr al-Thani), Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.

● Despite the popular belief that all Twelver Shi‘i Islamic socio-political movements behave in the same manner, these movements are neither monolithic nor unresponsive to the modern world. An overview of Shi‘i political thought throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with primary focus on three of its modern manifestations: the first in 1970s revolutionary Iran, the second in 1980s sectarian Lebanon, and the third in Iraq during and shortly after Ba‘th Party rule, reveal a shift away from centuries of previous political quietism by a growing segment of ‘ulama.

● All three cases of modern political Shi‘ism have pursued ultimately nationalist goals despite allegations of a pan-Shi‘i political program. Shi‘i socio-political movements have taken into account national concerns in designing their political platforms and modus operandi.

●In the modern period, scholarship is no longer the deciding factor of who holds religious authority. Shi‘i leaders need to actively participate in the politics of the modern nation-state in order to remain relevant. Shi‘i ‘ulama in Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq have recognized that these challenges require a rethinking of their role in a twenty-first century, if they want to remain a relevant social force. They are being challenged by activists with fewer or no traditional scholastic credentials who are seeking to redefine Shi‘i political thought and practice.

Taken from the introduction to my talk notes for a paper/article draft which I presented at the 23rd Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference at the University of Chicago, 9-10 May 2008.

My complete notes may be accessed here.

These notes form the basis of my current (and ongoing) research project on Twelver Shi'i religious leadership, political movements, and the clerical evolution in the modern period with a particular focus on the contemporary Middle East.

By publishing them here I hope to (A) Share an update as to my current research with readers, friends, and family and (B) Document my copyright of the material, much of which is taken verbatim from my longer article draft, as I will be e-mailing this to several conference attendees soon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

'Toward a Cultural Understanding of Israeli Anti-Iran Phobias,' (Haggai Ram)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad photographed with commanders of the Basij, a large semiofficial paramilitary whose several million members and officers are seen as a key constituency of the president.

Held since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual event traditionally dedicated to the eternal themes of love, peace, and harmony. Yet Israelis asked to pick a song for the 2007 contest in Helsinki paid little heed to these themes. Instead, they settled for “Push the Button,” a controversial number by an Israeli punk group called Teapacks; the song is generally understood as a description of life under the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran with its “crazy rulers.” Meanwhile, an Israeli fashion house (Dan Cassidy) commissioned a series of photos at a construction site in southern Tel Aviv that showed a topless model lying in a pit. The project was designed as a warning against the “holocaust” that would follow Iran's possible nuclear attack on Israel; the pit, as the project's creative director explained, represented “the mass grave of complacent Tel Aviv residents.”
Haggai Ram is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Middle East Studies, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel

In: International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 40: Issue 2 (May 2008), 249-268.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Contending Polemics on Palestine/Israel: Massad & Karsh plus Israel's New Historians

Columbia University Associate Professor Joseph Massad, a Palestinian academic from a family who fled to Jordan.

Resisting the Nakba
Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 897 (May 15-21, 2008)

One of the most difficult things to grasp in the modern history of Palestine and the Palestinians is the meaning of the Nakba. Is the Nakba to be seen as a discrete event that took place and ended in 1948, or is it something else? What are the political stakes in reifying the Nakba as a past event, in commemorating it annually, in bowing before its awesome symbolism? What are the effects of making the Nakba a finite historical episode that one bemoans but must ultimately accept as a fact of history?

I will suggest to you that there is much at stake in all of this, in rendering the Nakba an event of the past, a fact on the ground that one cannot but accept, admit, and finally transcend; indeed that in order to move forward, one must leave the Nakba behind. Some have even suggested that if Israel acknowledges and apologises for the Nakba, the Palestinians would forgive and forget, and the effects of the Nakba would be relegated to historical commemorations, not unlike the one we are having this year.

In my view, the Nakba is none of these things, and the attempt to make this year the 60th anniversary of the Nakba's life and death is a grave error. The Nakba is in fact much older than 60 years and it is still with us, pulsating with life and coursing through history by piling up more calamities upon the Palestinian people. I hold that the Nakba is a historical epoch that is 127 years old and is ongoing. The year 1881 is the date when Jewish colonisation of Palestine started and, as everyone knows, it has never ended. READ THE FULL EDITORIAL HERE.

Buy a collection of Prof. Massad's seminal essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, including an essay on the Mizrahim ("eastern" Jews), The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, here.

Right-wing Israeli academic Efraim Karsh, professor at King's College, London

The 60-Year War for Israel's History
inFocus, a publication of the right wing Jewish Policy Center think tank
(Spring 2008)

Since Israel's founding in 1948, there have been two Arab-Israeli conflicts. The first one is military in nature. Played out on the battlefield, it has heroes, villains, martyrs, and victims. The second conflict, less bloody but no less incendiary, is the battle over the historical culpability for the 1948 war and the displacement of large numbers of Palestinian Arabs.

The Israeli narrative views the Palestinian tragedy as primarily self-inflicted, resulting from their vehement rejection of the 1947 United Nations resolution calling for two states in Palestine, and the violent attempt by regional Arab states to abort the Jewish state at birth. By contrast, Palestinians view the episode as one in which they fell victim to a Zionist strategy that dispossessed them from their patrimony. READ THE REST OF THE EDITORIAL HERE.

Comment: Notice how Karsh tries to dishonestly argue that New Historian Benny Morris' alleged mistake in one of his books somehow "disproves" everything that he has written and the work of the rest of the Israeli New Historians. Ironically, Morris is the New Historian who has remained closest to the founding Zionist narrative myth of the establishment of Israel, a modern state. Morris is also the most dismissive of the Palestinians. Although he acknowledges the Zionists' role in creating the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948, Morris approves of their actions claiming inaccurately that they were the complete result of war. Today, Morris has basically become a right-wing Israeli academic, making his feud with Karsh all the more bizarre and entertaining.

Karsh, who basically steers the official line of the early Israeli state, is best viewed as a "state historian" in that he parrots the state's official founding myth. He also argues that the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians have not been suppressed by their Israeli occupiers. Karsh has even argued that the Palestinian Territories are not occupied.
Unfortunately for Karsh and his pals (and fortunately for everyone else), the work of the Israeli New Historians has proven to be a pathbreaking contribution to modern Middle East historiography. The New Historians, particularly those who have continuously challenged the official Israeli Zionist narrative (Ilan Pappé, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, and to a lesser extent Morris), are to be commended. Half of them (Shlaim and Pappé) teach in Great Britain and a third (Segev) does not work in the Israeli academe.

Seminal Works of Israel's New Historians

Ilan Pappé

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Buy here)

The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (Buy here)


The Iron War: Israel and the Arab World (Buy here)

The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, 2nd Edition, ed. (Buy here)


The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisted, 2nd Edition (Buy here)


The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (Buy here)

1949: The First Israelis (Buy here)

Elvis in Jerusalem: Post-Zionism and the Americanization of Israel (Buy here)

1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (Buy here)

*A welcome counterbalance to Michael Oren's book which steers much closer to the official Israeli state narrative of the 1967 war.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Unipolar Power, Gaza, Covert Politics, & the 60th Anniversary/Nakba in Palestine: 3 New Articles

Fatah gunmen loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a powerful official in the party and a former security chief, parade in Gaza City.

The Gaza Bombshell

By David Rose, Vanity Fair, April 2008

After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever. READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

Rashid Khalid, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies & Director of the Middle East Institute, Columbia University.

Palestine: Liberation Deferred
By Rashid Khalidi, The Nation (May 8, 2008)

The "Palestine Question" has been with us for sixty years. During this time it has become a running sore, its solution appearing ever more distant. Whether the events sixty years ago that created this question solved the previously perennial "Jewish Question" is once again open to debate. This is the case after many years when the apparent triumph of Zionism stilled doubts and drowned out the protests of those who argued that what purported to be the solution to one problem had created an entirely different one.

It is considered by some to be a slur on Israel and Zionism, and indeed even tantamount to anti-Semitism, to suggest that these events sixty years ago should be the subject of anything but unmitigated joy. Commemoration, or even analysis, of what Palestinians call their national catastrophe, al-Nakba--the expulsion, flight and loss of their homes by a majority of their people sixty years ago--is thus considered not in terms of this seminal event's meaning to at least 8 million Palestinians today (some estimates are over 10 million) but only because it is directly related to the founding of Israel. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Buy Prof. Khalidi's must-read book Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East here.

Avi Shlaim, professor of international studies at St. Antony's College, Oxford. He is one of the Israeli "New Historians" who revolutionized Israeli historiography by critically examining the nation's founding stories through a careful analysis of newly (in the 1980s) declassified Israeli government archives. Shlaim, a dual Israeli-British citizen from an Iraqi Jewish family, wrote the seminal book Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine in which he exposed the level of agreement between Abdullah I of Jordan and David Ben-Gurion over the quashing of Palestinian nationalism and a split of British Mandatory Palestine between the new state of Israel and the newly formed Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan.

A Somber Anniversary

By Avi Shlaim, The Nation (May 8, 2008)

Israelis approach the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of their state in a subdued and somber mood. Israeli society is deeply divided, and there is no consensus on how to mark the milestone. On the one hand, Israel can boast some stunning successes: a democratic polity with universal suffrage; a highly developed, some might say overdeveloped, multiparty system; an independent judiciary; a vibrant cultural scene; progressive educational and health services; a high standard of living; and a per capita GDP almost the size of Britain's. .................

On the other hand, some failures can be noted. The most pronounced one has been the failure to resolve the conflict with the Arabs, which has accompanied the Zionist enterprise from the very beginning. That conflict involved neighboring Arab states, but in origin and in essence it was a clash between two movements for national liberation: the Jewish one and the Palestinian one. In 1948 the Zionist movement realized its aim of Jewish national self-determination in Palestine. Israel's War of Independence was the Palestinians' catastrophe, al-Nakba in Arabic. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Buy Prof. Shlaim's seminal book The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arabs here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Civil War Brews in Lebanon: Hariri Inc.'s Militias, Not Reported by U.S. Media

Fighters loyal to the government flash a "V" sign in a Sunni neighborhood during heavy fighting with pro-Syrian fighters allied with Hezbollah at the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 16 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Comment: The recent inter-communal violence in Lebanon has pitted the Shi'i Hizbu'llah (Party of God) party and its allies in the AMAL movement and smaller Alawi communities in the north against the government headed by the Sunni prime minister, Fuad Siniora, and Sa'd al-Hariri's party, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), or as I call it "Hariri Inc." Despite the seeming religious nature of the conflict, appearances are deceiving. The current conflict is political in nature and revolves around control of the central government. For most of its participants the conflict is not religious.

However, for a currently small but growing segment of Lebanon's Sunnis, the conflict may be seen more and more as a religious "Sunni vs. Shi'i" conflict. Hariri Inc. has reportedly poured money into radical Sunni Salafi groups such as Jund al-Sham which are more likely to view Shi'is as bad or even non-Muslims. Hariri Inc. has done so in order to offset the political and military power of Hizbu'llah and its Shi'i ally, AMAL, the party of the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.

It is often claimed in the U.S. press that the current fighting is largely one-sided. This is false. Hariri Inc. and pro-government forces also have militias which have been fighting running battles with Hizbu'llah and its allies. However, the Sunni and Druze militias in Beirut and the Shouf Mountains are inferior when compared with the better armed and trained paramilitaries of Hizbu'llah and AMAL. The opposite seems to be true in the north near the city of Tripoli. The Christians, of which there are numerous sects in Lebanon, have largely remained at the sidelines despite many of their parties belonging to either the pro-government or National Opposition faction.

You will notice how the AP captions, which I have left intact, refer to Hizbu'llah and its allies as "Syrian-backed." In other U.S. media outlets the party is also referred to as "Iranian and Syrian-backed" or "pro-Iranian and Syrian." This is not incorrect. Indeed Hizbu'llah receives substantial financial and military aid from Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, which largely serves as a political ally. Let's say that the parties have a "special relationship" akin to the U.S. government's relationship with Israel. However, notice also how the foreign backers of Hariri Inc., Siniora, and their allies (the Hobbit Walid Jumblatt and the convicted war criminal Samir Ja'Ja) are often not mentioned or are called by the ambiguous name "the West." Rarely is it mentioned that Hariri Inc. & Co. receive significant financial and military aid and political prodding from the Bush Administration, the virulently anti-Shi'i Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Arab autocrats (like Egypt's decrepit pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak.) Saudi Arabia in particular must be happy about the growing popularity of militant Salafism among Lebanon's Sunnis, many of whom fear growing Lebanese Shi'i power. The Lebanese Shi'a make up between 40-45% (estimated) of the country's total population. Although not all back Hizbu'llah's domestic political platform, most respect the party for defending them against abuses by other Lebanese factions and more importantly the Israelis who occupied large swaths of the country's south from 1982 to May 2000.

A Sunni gunman stands guard during clashes in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out between government supporters and opponents Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 11 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said.
(AP Photo)

Comment: Notice in the background the black flag with the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith; "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." The placement of this flag with the Sunni paramilitary in this photograph brings into question if he possibly belongs to one of these neo-Salafi factions supported by and nominally loyal to Hariri Inc.

Fighters loyal to the government gather in a Sunni neighborhood during heavy fighting with pro-Syrian fighters allied with Hezbollah at the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out between government supporters and opponents Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 16 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said.
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

This seems to be a good time to bring up an old post in which I briefly blogged about Saudi Arabia's backing and support for Hariri Inc. Notice how this pro-government, pro-Hariri protestor back in January 2007 is confronting Lebanese Army soldiers holding the flag of the virulently anti-Shi'i Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Strange how this photograph was never published in an American newspaper or magazine....Well, perhaps it's not so strange.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Einstein: Nothing 'chosen' about the Jews, Bible 'childish' legends

Albert Einstein, writing in 1954, dismissed Judaism and other religions as "an incarnation of the most childish superstitions," though he said he gladly belonged to the Jewish people and felt a deep affinity for the Jews' "mentality," excerpts published on Tuesday showed. Einstein also said he saw nothing "chosen" about the Jews, and that they were no better than other peoples "although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power."
The renowned physicist, who died a little more than a year after writing the letter, also had tough words for God and the Bible, according to the text published by the British The Guardian daily. "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish," the letter was quoted as saying. "No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."
The letter, written in German in January, 1954 to philosopher Eric Gutkind, is to be auctioned in London on Thursday, the paper said. Written in Einstein's hand, the letter, which has been in private hands for more than half a century, reportedly could sell for as much as 8,000 pounds sterling. Turning to Judaism, Einstein wrote that "For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. "As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them."
Comment: The feedback on the Ha'aretz web site, particularly those from religious Jews, is hilarious(ly sad.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers in Islam

From the web site of his eminence Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah quoting a well-known and often-repeated hadith, an oral tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, which appears in several major collections, among them the one below. There are many more of such sayings. Happy mother's day.
A man once consulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about taking part in a military campaign. The Prophet asked the man if his mother was still living. When told that she was alive, the Prophet (PBUH) said: "(Then) stay with her, for Paradise is at her feet." (Al-Tirmidhi)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Artist Spotlight: Boyce Avenue

My favorite new band of late, Boyce Avenue.

Boyce Avenue, a Florida-based band popular for its strong acoustic roots and constant drive toward a melody- and harmony-driven rock sound, consists of the three brothers Alejandro, Fabian, and Daniel Manzano, and Stephen Hatker. The band first came together in 2000, when Alejandro (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Fabian (guitar, vocals), then 14 and 16 years old, respectively, started playing guitar. Within 3 months, Alejandro and Fabian took to the stage with their older brother Daniel (bass, percussion, vocals), then 20 years old, to perform before an audience of over 350 at a Pine View High School show. This would be the first of many public performances for the band at the school where its members had all been students together throughout their childhoods.

Upon Alejandro's graduation from high school, he joined Fabian at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, where the band refined its signature sound playing out in traditional venues like Market Street and Side Bar, primarily with the help of drummer-friend Stephen Hatker, formerly of Code 55. In October of 2006 and the months that followed, the band recorded its first three singles at Nickel and Dime Studios near Atlanta, Georgia. The band qualified as a Southeast Semifinalist in the 2007 IMWS competition; "All The While" was selected as a Semi-Finalist in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition, and as one of twelve Lennon Award Winners in the 2007 John Lennon Songwriting Contest; and "Find Me" was selected as a Finalist in the Pop category for the U.S.A. Songwriting Competition.

Their debut album, titled “All You’re Meant To Be,” was released by Boyce Avenue on March 25, 2008, and the physical version is available worldwide exclusively through, while the download versions can be found on iTunes/

[Source: Boyce Avenue's official MySpace artist page]

Download their music here:

Buy their debut album here:

View the video promo for Boyce Avenue's new album.

View Boyce Avenue's acoustic cover of Linkin Park's song "Shadow of the Day," which is much better than the original with regard to the vocals (no surprise.)


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Arab & Jew: A Short Film

Watch this film. Go to

Monday, May 05, 2008

John Bolton: Not Just Funny-looking to Us

The comedic mustache and face of John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Neoconservative, apparently isn't just funny to Americans. In the video clip below, Hizbu'llah chief Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah discusses Bolton's sad hound dog expression in some detail:

Go to to view the video clip now.

Sunday, May 04, 2008