Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mosaic TV: News Broadcasts from the Middle East (with English Translations)

[Thanks, Nikolai.]

Mosaic features selections from daily TV news programs produced by national broadcasters throughout the Middle East. The news reports are presented unedited and translated, when necessary, into English.

Mosaic includes television news broadcasts from selected national and regional entities listed on the left. Some of the broadcasters are state controlled and others are private networks, often affiliated with political factions. These news reports are regularly watched by 280 million people in 22 countries all over the Middle East.

Mosaic is supported by The Hewlett Foundation, which promotes the well-being of mankind by supporting selected charitable activities and organizations; and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which advances journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tragedy in Darfur: Understanding the Conflict

Tragedy in Darfur

By Alex De Waal
Boston Review [October/November 2004]

Alex de Waal is a researcher, writer and activist on African issues. He is a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative, Harvard; director of the Social Science Research Council program on AIDS and social transformation; and a director of Justice Africa in London.

De Waal completed his D.Phil. at Nuffield College, Oxford University in social anthropology. His dissertation was entitled "Understandings of Famine: The Case of Darfur, Sudan, 1984-1985."

Every genocide is hideous, each in its own grotesque way. Searching for the origins and distinctiveness of the genocidal violence that has convulsed the Sudanese region of Darfur in the last year—leaving tens of thousands dead and perhaps a million people displaced and in danger—we must go to the remotest desert-edge settlements in Northern Darfur near the border with Chad, to the basalt stubs of mountains that march southward until they fuse in the 10,000-foot Jebel Marra massif in the center of Darfur, and to Sudan’s capital in Khartoum, far to the east.

Geography helps to explain much. Darfur is huge and distant from the capital, and events in neighboring Chad and Libya have often exerted more influence over it than the national government, whose ignorance of its western region and indifference to the welfare of its inhabitants spurred a rebellion in 2003, organized by the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

This journey will introduce us to these Darfur rebels, including members of the Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit, and Tunjur ethnic groups, who have been the primary victims of the violence; to their neighbors, the Darfurian Arabs—including the branches of the northern Rizeigat (Jalul, Mahariya, and Ereigat), Beni Halba, and Salamat—some of whom have been recruited to the infamous Janjawiid militia, the perpetrator of the worst massacres in the conflict; and to the Sudanese Government itself, which has suppressed the rebellion with brutal tactics rehearsed in the recently concluded 21-year civil war with southern Sudan.

We will see that the story is not as simple as the conventional rendering in the news, which depicts a conflict between “Arabs” and “Africans.” The Zaghawa—one of the groups victimized by the violence and described in the mainstream press as “indigenous African”—are certainly indigenous, black and African: they share distant origins with the Berbers of Morocco and other ancient Saharan peoples. But the name of the “Bedeyat,” the Zaghawa’s close kin, should alert us to their true origins: pluralize in the more traditional Arab manner and we have “Bedeyiin” or Bedouins. Similarly, the Zaghawa’s adversaries in this war, the Darfurian Arabs, are “Arabs” in the ancient sense of “Bedouin,” meaning desert nomad, a sense that has only in the last few decades been used to describe the Arabs of the river Nile and the Fertile Crescent. Darfurian Arabs, too, are indigenous, black, and African. In fact there are no discernible racial or religious differences between the two: all have lived there for centuries; all are Muslims (Darfur’s non-Arabs are arguably more devout than the Arabs); and until very recently, conflict between these different groups was a matter of disputes over camel theft or grazing rights, not the systematic and ideological slaughter of one group by the other.

As we dig through the layers of causation of this complicated war, we will come to see it as a deeply sad story about the struggles of resilient people, poor even by Sudanese standards, who have been pitted against each other by a forbidding environment, a long history of political neglect, and a ruthless national government.


Read De Waal's criticisms of the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo's handling of the indictment of Sudanese president 'Umar al-Bashir HERE.

Islamist Violence and Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia

By Thomas Hegghammer
International Affairs, Chatham House [July 2008]

Thomas Hegghammer is an academic specializing in the study of violent Islamism. He is senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) in Oslo. He holds a PhD in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris and a BA and MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford University. His research focuses on the history and dynamics of violent Islamist movements, especially in Saudi Arabia. His current work centers on the internationalisation of Islamist militancy in the 1980s and 1990s. Hegghammer has two books in the making: one about jihadism in Saudi Arabia, the other about Abdallah Azzam and the history of the Arab Afghans.

ABSTRACT: Saudi Arabia, homeland of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11, 2001, experienced low levels of internal violence until 2003, when a terrorist campaign by 'Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula' (QAP) shook the world's leading oil producer. Based on primary sources and extensive fieldwork in the Kingdom, this article traces the history of the Saudi jihadist movement and explains the outbreak and failure of the QAP campaign. It argues that jihadism in Saudi Arabia differs from jihadism in the Arab republics in being driven primarily by extreme pan-Islamism and not socio-revolutionary ideology, and that this helps to explain its peculiar trajectory.

The article identifies two subcurrents of Saudi jihadism, 'classical' and 'global', and demonstrates that Al-Qaeda's global jihadism enjoyed very little support until 1999, when a number of factors coincided to boost dramatically Al-Qaeda recruitment. The article argues that the violence in 2003 was not the result of structural political or economic strains inside the Kingdom, but rather organizational developments within Al-Qaeda, notably the strategic decision taken by bin Laden in early 2002 to open a new front in Saudi Arabia.

The QAP campaign was made possible by the presence in 2002 of a critical mass of returnees from Afghanistan, a clever two-track strategy by Al-Qaeda, and systemic weaknesses in the Saudi security apparatus. The campaign failed because the militants, radicalized in Afghan camps, represented an alien element on the local Islamist scene and lacked popular support. The near-absence of violence in the Kingdom before 2003 was due to Al-Qaeda's weak infrastructure in the early 1990s and bin Laden's 1998 decision to suspend operations to preserve local networks. The Saudi regime is currently more stable and self-confident-and therefore less inclined to democratic reform-than it has been in many years.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Monday, July 28, 2008

Ripping Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor doesn't just want you to steal his new songs, he wants you to tear them up.

By James Hannaham,

Jul. 28, 2008 | While unknown bands try desperately to get record deals, famous bands often work just as hard to get out of them. Trent Reznor, the only official member of industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails, has chafed and waged war against his labels from the beginning of his 19-year career. When he discovered in 2007 that in Australia, the label had priced his album higher than other releases simply because his fans would pay more, he angrily encouraged a concert audience to download illegally. "Steal, steal and steal some more," he raged, "and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing."

For his latest album, "The Slip," fans won't have to steal anymore. It's available for free. "This one's on me," Reznor blogged -- although a physical version of the LP, including a DVD and a high-design booklet, in an edition of 250,000, is also available in stores. Predictably bleak and oddly simple, the new NIN record certainly isn't as well crafted as 2007's excellent high-concept "Year Zero," an imaginative tour through a dystopian America ruled by a totalitarian Christian regime, but Reznor created the new set of tracks for fans to download, remix and share on his Web site. So who cares if it isn't a great NIN record? "The Slip" could turn out to be one of your best albums.

When Reznor's obligation to Interscope Records ended in October 2007, it surprised no one that he decided to cut all his corporate ties and distribute his music online through his company, the Null Corp. He had already released a 36-song instrumental album, "Ghosts I-IV," through his Web site at various price levels, from a free download to a $300 "ultra-deluxe limited edition" of 2,500, which sold out. Other big stars in music had already leaned toward similar models: Last year, Radiohead offered their album "In Rainbows" on a pay-what-you-wish basis and created a splash. Most reports say the band sold 1.2 million copies, impressive in a diminished industry (though the real numbers might prove saggier).

Reznor is less a musical genius than a marketing genius. His contemporaries of late-'80s hard electronica, like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, have dissolved into obscurity, while Nine Inch Nails have maintained a large and devoted following, in part because Reznor fiercely believes that pleasing his audience is more important than keeping the corporate suits happy. Reznor approaches the promotion of his music with the sensibility and instincts of a fine artist, provocatively exploiting trends in technology, psychology and especially contemporary horror films, remaining abreast of the ways in which they're constantly reshaping youth culture. He's brilliant at going beyond his fans' expectations to keep his edge sharp, as he did by releasing a widely banned video for the 1992 song "Happiness in Slavery," featuring "supermasochist" performance artist Bob Flanagan, who enters a dungeonlike room and lies down on a gurney outfitted with a machine that engages in rough sex with him and then rips out his viscera. Ow.

In a way, Rezno's concept for "The Slip" recalls that masochistic ritual. Fan remixes have cropped up illegally for years, but few bankable music acts have sanctioned them, and none have ever offered up their basic tracks -- effectively the master tapes -- for amateurs to reimagine. With so much industry concern for the protection of intellectual property, Reznor's ploy must seem absurd to the average exec. Reconfiguring songs has always remained central to Reznor's thinking about music; he frequently follows official releases of NIN records with long-format remix albums. Before parting with Interscope, he fought with it to post the basic tracks from his songs on his site for his devotees to do with as they pleased. His emancipation has made that far easier, and already fans have begun posting their rearranged versions of songs from "The Slip."

To invite remixes is to ask for criticism. The concept of the remix does away with the idea that the official, "first" recording of a song represents the definitive version. Reznor has always had problems with authority. What better way to subvert his own influence than to encourage his fans to remix the new NIN record before it has really solidified in the public consciousness? If he allowed fans any closer to his process, they'd be writing the songs themselves. The likelihood is high that fans will add elements they feel are missing from the originals, flip their genres (there's a gospel version of "Heresy" on the site, technically a cover version, not a remix, but very amusing), insert catchier hooks, load them with livelier beats.

So the fact that "The Slip" sounds like pretty generic NIN fare serves the concept well. At least one of the songs, "Lights in the Sky," sounds like a purposefully bad mix -- Reznor submerges his vocals behind a boisterously out-of-tune piano. If "The Slip" felt as fully realized as "The Downward Spiral," the material might prove more difficult and intimidating for all but hardcore NIN-heads and producer manqués to mess with.

The album's concept is considerably looser than "Year Zero," touching on suicide in its various forms, both literal and figurative: through internal numbness, investing too much in a lover, abdicating political responsibility and denial, among other methods. For another artist with a less cultish following, letting fans complete an official release could turn into a kind of suicide: Imagine what might happen if Britney Spears tried it. Taken in another way, however, Reznor could also be working through some ambivalence toward his status as an aging rock star. "Got these lines/ On my face," he sings on "1,000,000." "After all this time/ And I still haven't found my place."

From the simplicity of some of the songs, built mostly on relatively unexciting breakbeats, distorted guitar chuffing and fuzzed-out vocals -- pretty standard for NIN -- it seems like Reznor's revisiting the more straightforward constructions of his early songs, or at least scaling back. Instead of using freaktified studio or laptop gimmicks and whiplash dynamics to add verve, he has opted for industrial ambience -- even on that badly mixed ballad "Lights in the Sky" and the final song, "Corona Radiata," which could be the soundtrack for a 7.5-minute slasher movie, complete with a sinister electronic heartbeat at its core. This minimal, familiar music has left lots of room for NIN fans to splice in their own musical DNA.

Some fans have already started giving him a run for his (free) money. NegodJaeff, taking the bait, brings Reznor's "Lights in the Sky" vocal way forward and pushes the screwy piano further back to create a prouder, more effective ballad. 15Steps concocts an infectious beat for "Echoplex," and Soundtweaker's grimy, hook-conscious version of "1,000,000" sounds considerably more fun than the "original." As you listen to streams of these remixes, the theme of suicide as escape from responsibility, expressed in the album's title, starts to make an eerier kind of sense. In the hands of remixers, few of whom take their reinventions too far outside the NIN universe, the lyrics grow more resonant -- "I'm safe in here/ Irrelevant," sings the cut-and-pasted Reznor, imprisoned by another 15Steps mix.

Eventually "The Slip" sounds like an audio stage dive, in which Reznor lets his body of work fall backward into a sea of admirers, with supreme confidence that they'll support him.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hizbu'llah: 'We Never Leave Our Detainees'

From Hizbu'llah's English-language web site

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Iraq: The Imageless War in the U.S. Media

Chris Hondros of Getty Images was with an army unit in Tal Afar on January 18, 2005, when its soldiers killed the parents of this blood-spattered girl at a checkpoint, and his photo was published around the world. Mr. Hondros was kicked out of the unit, though he soon became embedded with a unit in another city.
Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

In November 2004, Stefan Zaklin, a photographer then working for the European Pressphoto Agency, was embedded with a United States Army company. Mr. Zaklin photographed this soldier, who was shot and killed in Falluja, in a house used as a base by insurgents. The photograph ran in several European publications, and Mr. Zaklin was immediately banned from working with the unit.
Photo: Stefan Zaklin/European Pressphoto Agency

Zoriah Miller, the freelance photographer who took this image and others of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of Iraq. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine Corps commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq.
Photo: Zoriah Miller

Friday, July 25, 2008

Living in Arabic

The late, great Prof. Edward W. Said. Palestinian. American. Litterateur. Public Intellectual. Critic. Author. Activist. The world is a poorer place for his absence.

Living in Arabic

The debate on the need to reform Islam, the Arabs and their language -- by adopting demotic rather than classical Arabic -- continues. Before his death last September Edward Said argued such a debate reflects an extraordinary lack of the quotidian experience of living in Arabic.

Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 677
[February 12-18, 2004]

The word eloquence is not much in use today. What I have in mind is the s ense that it once conveyed of distinguished verbal (both written and spoken, but mainly the latter) practice, a skill with words that may be partly due to an innate gift but which also needs to be developed and schooled in ways that will mark an eloquent person as possessing something that others do not. Oratory comes to mind immediately, as does having a good memory. The unforgettably brilliant study of the art of memory by the late Frances Yates shows the connection, but shows also how much that kind of skill has more or less disappeared, or at least isn't taught as such any more. I've often wondered whether there was some implicit link in my own mind between my fascination with eloquence and the fact that Giambattista Vico, the 18th century Italian philosopher, has been such an important figure for me and that he was professionally a Professor of Rhetoric with a specialty in eloquence at the Unive rsity of Naples.

When today one reads Vico's almost comically antiquated work -- before he came out with the first version of The New Science in 1725 -- you quickly notice that most of it is taken up with the philological and historical study of how ancient authors used language formally in ways that could be detailed and subjected to minute scrutiny. For generations the humanistic study of language required a knowledge of rhetoric and all sorts of figures of speech that were taught as recently as three or four decades ago in the context of college, and maybe even school courses, of composition, as well as in curricula that tried to teach young men and women how to read and appreciate literature according to the tropes, figures of speech, and rhetorical devices that had very specific names and uses that originated in giving speeches of th

e kind that Vico himself gave, studied and wrote imitations of. There is no doubt that display and virtuosity are part of eloquence, although most classical rhetoricians, including Vico, warn against pompous or frivolous display for its own sake.

Awing your listener with your verbal cleverness, and even your sheer mastery of rhetorical technique, isn't quite the same thing as real eloquence. Vico has this to say in his autobiography about his own ideas concerning eloquence: in the teaching of his s

ubject Vico was always most interested in the progress of the young men, and to open their eyes and prevent them from being deceived by false doctors he was willing to incur the hostility of pedants. He never discussed matters pertaining to eloquence apart from wisdom, but would say that eloquence is nothing but wisdom speaking; that his chair [of rhetoric and eloquence] was the one that should give direction to minds and make them universal; that others were concerned with the various part of knowledge, but his should teach it as an integral whole in which each part accords with every other and gets its meaning from the whole. No matter what the subject, he showed in his lectures how by eloquence it was animated as it were by a single spirit drawing life from all the sciences that had any bearing upon it. (198-9).

This highly organic view of what eloquence is anticipates Romantic interest in poetic form, the topic of a great deal of Coleridge's writing on the role of the imagination, as well as similar concerns among his German contemporaries such as the Schlegel brothers. Vico's interest, however, is in a peculiar way highly antiquarian, or rather antiquarian and contemporary at the same time, and was enabled, I think, because his students were all assumed to have a working knowledge of an older non-demotic language, namely Latin. Perhaps one reason we have lost the capacity for appreciating that now seemingly old-fashioned eloquence is that Latin is no longer taught or assumed to have been learned as a pre-requisite for a well-rounded university education. No one today even tries to emulate the orotund, Latin

ate manner of Dr Johnson or Burke, except perhaps as a comic affectation. This is probably why there is such emphasis instead on communication, immediacy of persuasion, and the ability to "sell" ideas, and why the often stilted and grandiose manner of contemporary Southern orators such as Barbara Jordan or Billy Graham seems overdone and out of place, as if they are trying to do something verbally without adequate background or audience. The existence of a distant model, as well as one that is difficult to access without a considerable discipline of attention and rule-learning, illuminates the considerably ornate and elaborate verbal performances that Vico and his contemporaries considered eloquent.

There is a rough modern equivalent to all this in the practice of the speaking and writing of Arabic, which in the US (alas) is considered to be a highly controversial and quite fearsome language for entirely ideological reasons that have nothing to do with the way the language is lived in, deployed, and experienced by native speakers and users. I don't know where this conception of Arabic as a language essentially expressing blood- curdling and incomprehensible violence comes from, but surely all those 40's and 50's Hollywood screen villains in turbans who snarl at their victims with sadistic relish have something to do with it, as does the fixation on terrorism to the exclusion of everything else about the Arabs in the US media. To a modern educated Arab anywhere in the Arab world, eloquence in fact is much closer to what Vico experienced and talked about than it is for English-speakers.

Rhetoric and eloquence in the Arab literary tradition go back a millennium, to Abbasid writers like Al-Jahiz and Al-Jurjani, who devised incredibly complex schemes for understanding rhetoric, eloquence and tropes that seem startlingly modern. But all their work is based on classical written, not demotic spoken Arabic: in the case of the former, that is dominated by the presence of the Quran, which is both origin and model for everything linguistic that comes after it (as of course a great deal did). This needs some explanation, and is, I think, quite unfamiliar to users of the modern European languages, where there is a rough correspondence between spoken and literary versions, and where scripture has lost its verbal authority entirely.

All Arabs have a spoken colloquial that varies considerably between one region or country and another. The written language is quite different, however, and I will return to it in a moment. I grew up in a family whose spoken language was an amalgam of what was commonly spoken in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria: there were small variations between those three dialects (enough for one resident of the mashriq, as the Eastern Mediterranean Arab lands are known, to identify another resident as coming from either, say, Beirut or Jerusalem) but never enough to prevent easy and direct communication. But because I went to school in Cairo and spent most of my early youth there I also was fluent in that colloquial, a much faster, clipped and more elegant dialect than any of the others that I knew from my parents and relatives. Spoken Egyptian was made even more widespread by the fact that nearly all Arabic films, radio dramas and, later, TV serials, were made principally in Egypt, and thus their spoken idioms became familiar to and were learned by Arabs everywhere else; I remember very clearly that young people my age in Lebanon or Palestine could sing the ditties and mimic the patter of Egyptian comedians with considerable panache, even though of course they never sounded quite as fast and as funny as the originals.

During the 1970's and 1980's, as part of the oil boom of those years, TV dramas were made in other places as well, and they went in for spoken classical Arabic drama, which rarely caught on. For not only were they heavy costume dramas of the kind that were meant to be elevated and suitable for programmatically Muslim (and old- fashioned, usually more puritanical Christian) Arab tastes that might have been put off by the racy Cairo films, they were also designed to be beneficial in ways that to me at least seemed hopelessly unattractive. For the inveterate surfer of today, even the most hastily put together Egyptian mousalsal (or serial) is infinitely more fun to watch than the best of the best-regulated classical-language dramas. Only Egyptian dialect has this kind of currency. Thus, if I were to try to understand an Algerian I would get more or less nowhere, so different and widely varied are the colloquials from each other once one gets away from the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. The same would be true for me with an Iraqi, Moroccan, or even a deep Gulf dialect. And yet paradoxically, all Arabic news broadcasts, discussion programs, as well as documentaries, to say nothing of meetings, seminars, and oratorical occasions from mosque sermons to nationalist rallies, as well as daily encounters between citizens with hugely varying spoken languages are conducted in the modified and modernised version of the classical language, or an approximation of it which can be understood all across the Arab world, from the Gulf to Morocco.

The reason for that is that classical Arabic, like Latin for the European colloquial languages until a century ago, has maintained a living presence as the common language of literary expression despite the lively and readily-available resources of a whole host of spoken dialects which, except in the Egyptian case I mentioned earlier, have never attained much currency beyond the local. Moreover, these spoken dialects don't at all have the large literature in the classical lingua franca, despite the fact that in every Arab country there seems to be a substantial body of colloquial poetry, for instance, which is liked and often recited if only to other speakers of that colloquial.

Thus, even writers who are considered regional tend to use the modern classical language most of the time and only occasionally resort to colloquial Arabic to render not much more than snippets of dialogue. So in effect then, an educated person has two quite distinct linguistic personae in the mother-tongue. It's a common enough thing to be chatting with a newspaper or television reporter in the colloquial and then, when the recording is switched on, to modulate without transition into a streamlined version of the classical language, which is inherently more formal and polite. Thus "what do you want?" in Lebanese or Palestinian is, when addressed to a man, very informally, shoo bidak? In classical it would be madha to reed?

Not that there is no connection at all between the two idioms. There is of course -- letters are often the same, word order is roughly equivalent, and personal accents can be conveyed in the same tone. But words and pronunciation are quite different in that classical or educated Arabic as a standard version of the language loses every trace of the regional or local dialect and emerges as a sonorous, carefully modulated, heightened and extraordinarily inflected instrument capable of great, often (but not always) formulaic eloquence. Properly used, it is unmatched for precision of expression and for the amazing way in which individual letters within a word (but specially at endings) are varied to say quite distinct and different things.

It is also a language the centrality of which to a whole culture is matchless in that (as Jaroslav Stetkevych, author of the best modern book on the language itself has put it), "Venus-like, it was born in a perfect state of beauty, and it has preserved that beauty in spite of all the hazards of history and all the corrosive forces of time". To the Western student "Arabic suggests an idea of almost mathematical abstraction. The perfect system of the three radical consonants, the derived verb forms with their basic meanings, the precise formation of the verbal noun, of the participles -- everything is clarity, logic, system, and abstraction. The language is like a mathematical formula." But it is also a beautiful object to look at in its written form; hence the enduring centrality of calligraphy in Arabic, which is a combinatorial art of the highest complexity, ever closer to ornament and arabesque than to discursive explicitation.

And yet I have only known one person who actually spoke classical Arabic all the time, a Palestinian political scientist and politician whom my children used to describe as "the man who speaks like a book" or, on another occasion, as "the man who sounds like Shakespeare" -- a designation to Arabs not fluent in English symbolising the pinnacle of classical English, which of course Shakespeare was not, given the presence of so many clowns, peasants, sailors, and jokers in his plays. (Milton would be a better example of the weightily sonorous classical language). All of this Palestinian academic's friends used to ask him whether he made love in the classical language (which has always seemed an impossibility, as the spoken dialect is invariably the language of intimacy), but he afforded them no more than an enigmatic smile by way of response. Somehow there is an implicit pact that governs which Arabic is to be used, on which occasions, for how long, and so forth.

During the early days of the war in Afghanistan I watched the controversial Al-Jazeera Arabic- language satellite channel for discussion and news-reporting unavailable in the US media. What I found striking, quite apart from what was actually said, was the high level of eloquence among the more embattled and even repellent of the participants, Osama Bin Laden included. He is (or was) a soft-spoken, fluent speaker who neither hesitates nor makes the slightest linguistic slip, surely a factor in his apparent influence; but so too, on a lower level, are non-Arabs like Burhaneddine Rabbani and Hikmat Gulbandyar, who clearly know no colloquial Arabic but who pedal forward with remarkable ease in the classical (Quranic-based) tongue.

This is not to say that what has come to be called modern standard (ie modern classical) Arabic is exactly the same as that of the Quran, 14 centuries ago. It isn't the same: although the Quran remains a much-studied text, its language (as in the example of the classical speaker I gave above) is an antique, even stilted and for daily life unusable, and compared to the modern prose used everywhere today resembles a very "high" sounding prose-poetry.

The modern classical is the result mainly of a fascinating modernisation of the language that begins during the last decades of the 19th century -- the period of the Nahda, or renaissance -- carried out mainly by a group of men in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt (a striking number of them Christian) who set themselves the collective task of bringing Arabic as a language into the modern world by modifying and somewhat simplifying its syntax, through the process of Arabising (isti'rab) the 7th century original, that is introducing such words as "train" and "company" and "democracy" and "socialism" that couldn't have existed during the classical period, and by excavating the language's immense resources through the technical grammatical process of al-qiyas, or analogy (a subject brilliantly discussed by Stekevych who demonstrates in minute detail how Arabic's grammatical laws of derivation were mobilised by the Nahda reformers to absorb new words and concepts into the system without in any way upsetting it); thereby, in a sense, these men forced on classical Arabic a whole new vocabulary, which is roughly 60 per cent of today's classical standard language.

The Nahda brought freedom from the religious texts, and a surreptitiously introduced new secularism into what Arabs said and wrote. Thus contemporary complaints by New York Times idiot-savant Thomas Friedman and tired old Orientalists like Bernard Lewis who keep repeating the formula that Islam (and the Arabs) need a Reformation have no basis at all, since their knowledge of the language is so superficial and their use of it non-existent as they show no acquaintance whatever with actual Arabic usage where the traces of reformation in thought and practice are everywhere to be found.

Even some Arabs who for various reasons left the Arab world relatively early in life and now work in the West repeat the same nonsense, though in the same breath they admit to having no serious knowledge of the classical language. I was struck that Leila Ahmed, an Egyptian woman who was a close friend of my sisters in Cairo, went to the same English schools that we attended and came from an Arabic-speaking educated family, got her PhD in English Literature from Cambridge, wrote an interesting book on gender in Islam almost two decades ago, has now re-emerged as a campaigner against the classical language and, oddly enough, a Professor of religion (Islam in fact) at Harvard. In her memoir A Border Passage: From Cairo to America -- A Woman's Journey (1999), she waxes eloquent on the virtues of spoken Egyptian while admitting that she really doesn't know the fus-ha (classical Arabic) at all; this doesn't seem to have impeded her teaching of Islam at Harvard even though it scarcely needs repeating that Arabic is Islam and Islam Arabic at some very profound level.

Because of an extraordinary lack of quotidian experience or living in the language, it doesn't seem to occur to her that educated Arabs actually use both the demotic and the classical, and that this totally common practice neither prohibits naturalness and beauty of expression nor in and of itself does it automatically encourage a stilted and didactic tone as she seems to think. The two languages are porous and the user flows in and out of one into another as an essential aspect of what living in Arabic means. Reading Ahmed's pathetic tirade makes one feel sorry that she never bothered to learn her own language, an easy enough thing for her to have done if she had an open mind and was so inclined.

For the first 15 years of my life I lived exclusively in Arabic-speaking countries, although I went only to English-speaking colonial schools, administered either by one or other church missionary group or by the secular British Council. Classical Arabic was taught in my schools, of course, but it remained of the order of a local equivalent of Latin, ie a dead and forbidding language (and hence, the sense that Leila Ahmed had of it). I learned to speak Arabic and English at my mother's knee, simultaneously, and was always able to switch in and out of both, but my classical Arabic was soon outstripped by the much greater investment made in school by attention to English. During my early years the classical language was symbolic of parentally and institutionally enforced, not to say imprisoning, circumstances, where I would have to sit in church regaled by interminable sermons, or in all sorts of secular assemblies preached at by orators proclaiming a king's or a minister's or a doctor's or a student's virtue, and where as a form of resistance to the occasion I would tune out the droning and gradually come to gain a sort of dumb incomprehension. In practice, I knew passages from the hymnal, the Book of Common Prayer (including the Lord's Prayer) and such similar devotional material by heart, and even some (to me at the time) intolerably smarmy and usually patriotic odes in classical poetry, but it was only years later that I realised how the atmosphere of rote-learning, lamentably ungifted and repressive teachers and clergymen, and a sort of enforced "it's good for you" attitude against which I was in perpetual rebellion undermined the project altogether.

Arabic grammar is so sophisticated and logically appealing, I think, that it is perhaps best studied by an older pupil who can appreciate the niceties of its reasoning; as it is, ironically enough, the best Arabic teaching is done for non- Arabs at language institutes in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon and Vermont. What I never really easily mastered, however, was what I referred to above, the ability to switch from one mode to another, colloquial to classical, informal to formal linguistically speaking. So alienated was I from the layers of repressive authority blanketing my person as a child and teenager that rebellion took the form of keeping to the language of the streets, reserving the respectable classical language solely for use as all-purpose mockery, savage imitations of tedious pomposity, and imprecations against church, state and school.

But when, having already been in the US (with frequent visits to home in Cairo and Lebanon) since 1951, and having only studied European languages and literatures during my entire 16- year school and university career here, the 1967 Arab-Israeli war pushed me unwillingly into political engagement at a distance, the first thing that struck me is that politics weren't conducted in the 'amiya, or language of the general public, as colloquial Arabic is called, but more often in the rigorous and formal fus-ha (pronounced fuss- ha, the double "esses" and the "h" deriving from deep gutturals that have no European equivalent), or classical language. Recalling my childhood attitudes to the formal language I soon felt that, as presented at rallies or meetings, political analyses were made to sound more profound than they were, or that much of what was said in these rather-too-pedantic approximations of formal speech were based on models of eloquence that had been rote-learned as emulations of seriousness, rather than the thing itself. This, I discovered to my chagrin, was especially the case with approximations to Marxist and liberation-movement jargon at the time, in which descriptions of class, material interests, capital, and social struggle -- with all the trappings of contradiction, antithesis, and "wretched of the earth" that had been Fanon's legacy to us -- were Arabised and turned to use in long monologues addressed not to the people but to other sophisticated militants. In private, popular leaders like Arafat and Nasser, with some of whom I had contact, used the colloquial to much greater effect than the Marxists (who were also better educated than either the Palestinian or the Egyptian leader) I thought at the time; Nasser in particular did, in effect, address his masses of followers in the Egyptian dialect mixed with resounding phrases from the fus-ha. And, since eloquence in Arabic has a great deal to do with dramatic delivery, Arafat usually emerges in his rare public addresses as a below- average orator, his mispronunciations, hesitations and awkward circumlocutions seeming to an educated ear to be the equivalent of an elephant tramping aimlessly through a flower-patch.

In a few years I felt I had no alternative than to commit myself to a re-education in Arabic philology and grammar (incidentally, the word for grammar is the plural qawa'id, the singular form is qua'ida, also the word for a military base, as well as a rule, in the grammatical sense). I was fortunate in having an old friend of my father's, retired professor of Semitic Languages Anis Frayha at the American University of Beirut, as my tutor and who, like me, was an early riser; for almost a year between the morning hours of seven and ten he took me on daily explorations through the language without a text-book, but with hundreds of passages from the Quran, which at bottom is the foundation of Arabic usage, classical authors like Al-Ghazzali, Ibn Khaldun and Al-Mas'udi, and modern writers, from Ahmed Shawki to Mahfouz. An amazingly effective teacher, his tutorials disclosed the workings of the language for me in a way that suited my professional interests and philological training in Western comparative literature, in which roughly at just that time I was giving seminars on speculations about language (I called it the literature of language) by 18th and 19th century authors such as Vico, Rousseau, Herder, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Humboldt, Renan, Nietzsche, Freud and de Saussure. Thanks to Frayha I was introduced to, and later introduced into my own teaching and writing Arab grammarians and linguistic speculators, including Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad, Sebawayh, and Ibn Hazm, whose work antedated my European figures by seven centuries.

As illuminated and explained by Frayha, the passage between colloquial and classical Arabic was a riveting experience for me, especially as I made mental comparisons with vocabulary and grammar in French and English. In the first place, since Arabic is a minutely inflected language, one can learn the nine most commonly used formal derivations of a verb -- the core of the language -- from a three-consonant root, which syntactically makes available those commonly-used forms (most Arabic sentences begin with a verb) from which the writer-speaker must choose, although over time this becomes automatic. Then, secondly, Arabic vocabulary is the richest part of the language, since words can be formed by a dizzyingly logical method from roots, and roots of roots more or less endlessly, and with what seems to be perfect regularity. There are of course variations in expression that have occurred over time, but archaisms and modern slang in the classical discourse do not present the same problems they do in modern English or French, for example.

Classical Arabic, its rules, inflections, syntactical modes, and overpoweringly beautiful richness seems to exist in a sort of abiding simultaneity of existence that is quite unlike any other linguistic state that I know of, even though when colloquial conversations take a turn for the serious or complex one then resorts to it as a momentary or intermittent episode: the need for personal small talk like "pass the sugar," or "it's time for me to go" returns one to the demotic. But, on the occasions when it is declaimed at a public gathering that could be a business meeting or a seminar or an academic panel or lecture, speakers are transformed into the bearers of this other language, in which even expressions like "I am happy to be here today" or "I don't want to take too much of your time" can be rendered in classical formulas that function as an organic part of the whole discourse itself.

Parenthetically, I should mention that the Al- Jazeera channel, much maligned in the US media by pseudo-experts and which I can easily watch on my satellite dish receiver, not only conveys a far wider range of political opinions than any available in the mainstream US media, but because of the use of classical standard there is none of the dreadful verbal tough-guy vulgarity that disfigures talk-shows and panel discussions here, even when discussants hotly dispute major issues in politics and religion.

I have never escaped the amusingly dissonant jolt that comes with hearing a commonly used word that has totally incompatible meanings in the two languages. The name Sami, for example. In English one immediately thinks of Sam Weller, or Sammy Glick, a comic, or at least an inelegant nickname or a shortened, familiar form of the much grander "Samuel" with its biblical resonance not quite appropriate to our time. In Arabic Sami is also a common first name for a man (the feminine is Samia, which is also the word for "semitic"), but it derives from the word for "heaven", sama, and therefore means "high" or "heavenly" which is about as far from Sam or Sammy as one can get. They co-exist in the bilingual ear, unresolved, never at peace.

Unlike English, spoken Arabic -- either the standard or the local dialects -- is full of polite formulas that comprise what is called adab al lugha, or proper behavior in the language. An individual who is not a close friend is always addressed in the plural, and questions like "what is your name?" are always asked indirectly and with honorifics. Like Japanese and, to a lesser degree French, German, Italian and Spanish, Arabic users make all sorts of distinctions in tone and vocabulary as to how to address each other in given situations and on special subjects. The Quran is always referred to as al-Quran al- kareem, the honorable Quran, and after saying the Prophet Mohammed's name it is obligatory to say a phrase meaning, may God pray and deliver him; a slightly shorter version of the same phrase applies to Jesus, and in regular Arabic conversation God's name is invoked dozens of times in an extraordinarily varied arsenal of phrases that recall the Latin deo volente, or Spanish ojala, or English in God's name, but many times more.

When one is asked how one is feeling or doing, the immediate response is invariably al- hamdulillah, for example, and what can follow is a whole series of questions, also invoking God, that concern members of the family none of whom is usually referred to by name but by position of love and prestige (a son is not referred to by his name but as al-mahrouss, the one whom God preserves). I have an uncle who, when he worked as a bank executive, had a positive genius for going on and on with polite indirection for 15 minutes of courtly wool-gathering, unimaginable in English but learned early in life and concentrated for use in situations when there is more verbally to say than there is substance to treat. I always found it miraculously entertaining, particularly because I found it very hard to do myself, except for a moment or two.

One of my earliest memories of how much is expected of the classical Arabic speaker, or khatib, the word for orator, in a formal situation was a story told to me many years ago by my mother and my great aunt, a teacher of Arabic, after attending an academic speech in Cairo given by a well- known Egyptian personality, who might have been Taha Hussein or Ahmad Lutfi Al-Sayyid. The occasion may have been political or it may have been commemorative, I have forgotten which, but I do remember them saying that there were a number of Azhar sheikhs in attendance. Punctuating the very solemn and elaborate speech, my mother had noted, one or another sheikh would stand up and say "allahoma", then sit down immediately, the one word expression explained to me as showing approval (or disapproval) for fineness of expression (or a mistake in vocalisation).

The story itself illustrates the great significance attached to eloquence, or conversely, failures in it. It helps to know that Al-Azhar University in Cairo is not only the oldest institution of higher learning in the world, it is considered to be the seat of orthodoxy for Islam, its Rector being for Sunni Egypt the highest religious authority in the country. More important is that Al-Azhar essentially, but not exclusively, teaches Islamic learning of which the core is the Quran, and all that goes with it in terms of methods of interpretation, jurisprudence, hadith, language and grammar. Mastery of classical Arabic is thus clearly the very heart of Islamic teaching for Arabs and other Muslims at Al-Azhar since the language of the Quran -- which is considered to be the uncreated Word of God that "descended" (the Arabic word is munzal) in a series of revelations to Mohammed -- is sacred, with rules and paradigms in it that are considered obligatory and binding on users although, paradoxically enough, they cannot by doctrinal fiat (ijaz) be directly imitative of it or, as in the case of The Satanic Verses, in any way challenge its entirely divine provenance.

Sixty years ago orators were listened to and commented on endlessly for the correctness and felicity of their language as much as for what they had to say in it. I myself have never witnessed such an occurrence as the story told to me, even though I recall with some embarrassment that when I gave my first speech in Arabic (in Cairo again) two decades ago, and after years of speaking publicly in English and French but never in my own native language, a young relative of mine came up to me after I had finished to tell me how disappointed he was that I hadn't been more eloquent. But you understood what I said, I asked him plaintively, since being understood on some sensitive political and philosophical points was my main concern. Oh yes, of course, he replied dismissively, no problem: but you weren't rhetorical or eloquent enough. And that complaint still dogs me when I speak since I am unable to transform myself into a classical faseeh, or eloquent orator. I mix colloquial and classical idioms pragmatically, with results (I was once amiably told) that resembled someone who owned a Rolls Royce but preferred to use a Volkswagen. I'm still trying to sort the problem out because, as someone who works in several languages, I don't want to be accused of saying one thing in English that I don't say exactly the same way in Arabic.

I must say that, despite my pleading that my way of speaking avoids the circumlocution and ornamental preciosity (often consisting mostly of endless synonyms, and the use of either of "and" as a device for elaborating thoughts without regard for logic or development, or the use of an array of rote-learned formulae for indirection and euphemism of the kind that Orwell mocks in "Politics and the English Language," but which are to be found in every language) endemic to the decline of contemporary political, journalistic and critical writing in Arabic, it is also an excuse I use to cover my sense of still loitering on the fringes of the language rather than standing confidently at its centre.

It's only in the last ten or 15 years that I've discovered that the finest, leanest, most steely Arabic prose that I have either read or heard is produced by novelists (not critics) like Elias Khoury or Gamal El-Ghitany, or by two of our greatest living poets, Adonis and Mahmoud Darwish, each of whom in his odes soars to such lofty rhapsodic heights as to drive huge audiences into frenzies of enthusiastic rapture, but for whom each of which prose is a razor-sharp Aristotelian instrument the elegance of which resembles Empson's or Newman's. But their knowledge of the language is so virtuosic and natural that they can be both eloquent and clear by virtue of their gift for not needing fillers, or tiresome verbosity, or display for its own sake, whereas for a relative latecomer to the classical idiom such as myself -- someone who did not learn it as part of a specifically Islamic training, or in the national Arab (as opposed to colonial) school system -- I still have to think consciously about putting a classical sentence together correctly and clearly, with not always elegant results, to put it mildly.

Because Arabic and English are such different languages in the way they operate, and also because the ideal of eloquence in one language is not the same as in the other, a perfect bilingualism of the kind that I often dream about, and sometimes boldly think that I have almost achieved, is not really possible. There is a massive technical literature about bilingualism, but what I've seen of it simply cannot deal with the aspect of actually living in, as opposed to knowing, two languages from two different worlds and two different linguistic families. This isn't to say that one can't be somehow brilliant, as the Polish native Conrad was, in English, but the strangeness stays there forever. Besides, what does it mean to be perfectly, in a completely equal way, bilingual? Has anyone studied the ways in which each language creates barriers against other languages, just in case one might slip over into new territory?

I often find myself noting aspects of the experience and gathering evidence from around me that reinforces both the tantalising imperfection (for me) and the dynamic state of both languages, their perfect inequality that is, which is so much more satisfying than a frozen, completed but in the end only theoretical attainment such as the kind professional interpreters and translators seem to have but in my opinion don't since they cannot by definition be eloquent. Having left behind locales that have either been ruined by war or for other reasons no longer exist, and having very little by way of property and objects that come from my earlier life, I seem to have made of those two languages at play, as experiences, an environment that I can carry about within me, complete with timbre, pitch, and accent specific to the time, the place and the person. I remember and still listen to what people say, how they say it, what words carry the stress and exactly how and this, I think, is why in English poetry it is Hopkins and Shakespeare's comic characters who have marked my ears so indelibly.

I think of my earliest years, therefore, in terms both of striking images that seem as vivid to me now as they did then, and of states of language in Arabic and English that always begin in the intimacy of family: my mother's strangely accented and musical English, acquired in mission schools and a cultivated Palestinian milieu early in the century, her wonderfully expressive Arabic, vacillating charmingly between the demotic of her native Nazareth and Beirut, and that of her long later residence in Cairo, my father's eccentric Anglo-American dialect, his much poorer Jerusalem and Cairo melange, the sense he gave me both of admonishment and an often unsuccessful search for the right word in English as well as Arabic. And then, more recently, my wife Mariam's Arabic, a language learned naturally in national school without the disturbance of English and French at first, although both were acquired a little later. Hence her ease in moving back and forth between classical and colloquial, which I could never do as she does or feel as completely at home in as she does. And my son's amazing knowledge of the Arabic language as a magnificent, somehow self-conscious structure which he painstakingly got on his own at university and then through long residence in Cairo, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, noting down every new expression legal, Quranic, poetical, dialectical that he learned until he, a New York city kid now a lawyer whose obvious first language was English, has in effect become a learned user of his great-great-grandfather's (Mariam's grandfather) "matter," the Arabic language which he taught as a university professor in Beirut before World War One; or my daughter's perfect ear as accomplished actress and as a precociously early literary talent who, while she didn't do what her older brother did and go out and make herself master the strange quirks of our original Muttersprach, can mime the sounds exactly right, and has been called on (especially now) to play parts in commercial films, TV serials, and plays, roles that are of the "generic" Middle Eastern woman, and which has slowly led her to an interest in learning the common family language for the first time in her young life.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Resistance, Jihad, and Martyrdom in Contemporary Lebanese Shi‘i Discourse

An elderly Lebanese man walks under a poster of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah martyrs erected on the facade of a mosque in the village of Tiri in south Lebanon, 26 October 2006. The large text in the photo reads: "Men of God."

Resistance, Jihad, and Martyrdom in Contemporary
Lebanese Shi‘a Discourse

By Rola el-Husseini

The Middle East Journal, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer 2008)

Abstract: This article examines the contemporary Shi‘a understanding of jihad, martyrdom, and resistance through an analysis of the writings of two leading Lebanese Shi‘a scholars: Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah and Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din. This article shows the impact of their writings on resistance movements in the region. It maintains that their discourse is central to the ideological foundation of Hizbullah, and also has affected the development of Hamas and its adoption of tactics developed in Lebanon against Israel.

Excerpts: In recent years, the terms jihad and martyrdom have become synonymous in the Western media with that of terrorism. This simplistic conflation disregards the multiple meanings of these terms as they are used within their discourses of origin. This article aims to add conceptual clarity to this muddled language by examining the contemporary Shi‘a understanding of these concepts, and the closely related concept of resistance, through an analysis of the writings of two leading Lebanese Shi‘a scholars: Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah and Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din.A poster Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (L) is seen 26 October 2006 along with posters of Hezbollah martyrs erected at the entrance of the devastated town of Bint Jbeil in south Lebanon.

By scrutinizing four of their works published in Lebanon between 1998 and 2001, I will tease out their conceptions of jihad and martyrdom and articulate how these prominent Lebanese Ayatollahs base these concepts on their understanding of Shi‘a tradition. Specifically, in the tradition that Michael Fischer has dubbed “the Karbala paradigm,” which provides an exemplar for taking an active role and rebelling against injustice and tyranny, manifest in this case with the Israeli invasion and occupation.

In this article, I answer the following questions: What is the Shi‘a definition of jihad and of “Islamic resistance?” Are they one and the same? If so, are they to be understood as an exclusively armed form of resistance or can “Islamic resistance” be non-violent? And more importantly to a Western audience, who is the target of this resistance? More specifically, can “resistance” occur against local corrupt rulers or is it always directed against Israel, against the United States, or against what has locally been termed “Western Imperialism?”

I then examine the impact of these writings on resistance movements in the region and analyze their implications. I argue that the discourse of Fadlallah and Shams al-Din has influenced Hizbullah in Lebanon, and I contend that the Party of God incorporated this resistance discourse into its ethos and made it its defining attribute if not its raison d’être. I also maintain that through its influence on Hizbullah, this discourse has affected the development of Hamas in neighboring Palestine. What do Fadlallah and Shams al-Din mean by resistance? How do they define the concept, and in what ways do they link it to jihad?

.............A poster Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is seen 25 October 2006 in front of tent of a displaced family in the village of Yarin. The text reads, roughly, "Lebanon: Strong for its Resistance."

The discourse of Fadlallah and Shams al-Din in the 1980s and 1990s paved the way for the emergence of Hizbullah as a Shi‘a resistance force. The clerics’ writings and sermons on jihad, resistance, and martyrdom constituted the intellectual underpinnings of Hizbullah’s approach to these issues. Hizbullah borrowed the tactic of suicide bombings from secular leftist groups and endowed it with an Islamic character derived from the Iranian model of the Basijis: “Throughout the [Iran-Iraq] war, the main motive for the martyrdom of the Basijis was a desire to protect the threatened Islamic fatherland and to fight an Iraqi enemy supported and aided by Western Imperialism.” Indeed, the use of suicide attacks was first adopted by the Basijis during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988: They would run into areas covered by land mines, triggering them
in preparation for the advance of more conventional troops. The suicide missions assigned to the young Basijis were given religious sanction: The young men would be following in the steps of Imam Husayn.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing Through Obama: Suspicion in the Middle East of Obama's Promises of 'Change'

AMMAN, Jordan — For what feels like forever, Israelis and their Arab neighbors have been hopelessly deadlocked on how to resolve the Palestinian crisis. But there is one point they may now agree on: If elected president, Senator Barack Obama will not fundamentally recalibrate America’s relationship with Israel, or the Arab world.

From the religious center of Jerusalem to the rolling hills of Amman to the crowded streets of Cairo, dozens of interviews revealed a similar sentiment: the United States will ultimately support Israel over the Palestinians, no matter who the president is. That presumption promoted a degree of relief in Israel and resignation here in Jordan and in Israel’s other Arab neighbors.

“What we know is American presidents all support Israel,” said Muhammad Ibrahim, 23, a university student who works part time selling watermelons on the street in the southern part of this city. “It is hopeless. This one is like the other one. They are all the same. Nothing will change. Don’t expect change.”

Across the border, in Israel, Moshe Cohen could not have agreed more. “Jews there have influence,” Mr. Cohen said, as he sold lottery tickets along Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. “He’ll have to be good to Israel. If not, he won’t be re-elected to a second term.”

Mr. Obama, who will be here on Tuesday, has promised change. He has offered to begin dialogue where the current president has refused, in places like Syria and Iran. But when he stepped into the Middle East, he walked into a region where public expectations were long ago set. The Bush years have supercharged those sentiments, especially in the Arab world, where there is little faith that the United States can ever again serve as a fair broker between the sides.

In Israel, Mr. Bush was seen as the most supportive American president yet, and early opinion polls show a preference there for the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain.

But Mr. Obama gained ground — or lost it, depending on which side was reacting — when he spoke in June to a pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He said that Jerusalem “will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

He later qualified his comments, saying he meant that the two sides of Jerusalem should not be separated by walls or barbed wire. But the message had already been sent.

“The Arabs need America to be straight and unbiased, but anyway we feel, that American policy will not be changed too much,” said a Palestinian who identified himself by his nickname, Abu Fadi, a salesman in an electrical appliance store in downtown Arab East Jerusalem.

Behind this general agreement, there is a fundamental difference. In the Arab streets, there is a hope, perhaps limited, that this candidate might be different. He is black, his father was Muslim and his middle name is Hussein, so there is hope that he will be more sympathetic, though that hope is not joined to any expectation.

“There is optimism wrapped in cynicism,” said Hussein al-Shobokshy, a columnist in the pan-Arab Saudi-owned daily newspaper, Asharq Alawsat.

In Israel, the reverse is true, the lingering suspicion that he is saying what he needs to say to be elected.

Uri Savir, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and now president of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, said there were people who want peace, like himself, who “are quite excited about what Obama can bring.”

But, he acknowledged that his friends on the center-right were somewhat more ambivalent. “They ask, is he really a friend of Israel?” he said.

The answer here and in Cairo and elsewhere around the region is: Of course he will be a friend of Israel’s.

“He’s like a chameleon,” said Walid Ghalib, 50, as he bought meat from a butcher in the Jabal al Nasr neighborhood of east Amman. “One day he is with the Palestinian cause. One day he’s with Israel. We have a saying here: ‘What’s better, a black dog or a white dog?’ It’s all the same. For us, nothing will change.”

It was not always like this here, but the indifference is a lesson learned.

Eight years ago, many Arabs, leaders and citizens alike, rooted for Gov. George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore in the race for the presidency. There was an assumption that Mr. Bush would be like his father, who was seen as relatively Arab-friendly.

Nearly four years ago, there was hope among Arabs that Americans would have soured on President Bush and elect Senator John Kerry. President Bush had disappointed. Then American voters did, too.

“The Arab street has been here before,” said Mustafa Hamarneh, the former director of the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies. “We rooted for this and that, and nothing happened. Its déjà vu.”

“Unless the Americans realize that they really have to change and become more evenhanded and apply justice in the region, things will be the same,” he said.

Jordan is a small country, just six million people, half of whom are of Palestinian descent. It is without oil and without much water, and has been battered by the crises in the West Bank and Iraq. Mr. Obama will visit a city tense with politics and economics, which are inevitably intertwined. It is also conservative, clean and quiet.

Mr. Obama “will be no different than Bush,” said Moatasem Hussein, 34, who sold nuts from a shop on a street corner in east Amman.

“What’s going to be different?” said Jasser Shehadi, 40, who sold shoes in the shop next door. “They are all the same.”

Across the street, Muhammad al-Banna, 41, said: “Obama is excellent. He is direct. He is like the successor to J.F.K.”

Instantly, Khaled Attiat, a carpenter working in an open storefront, jumped into the conversation. “Oh, come on,” he shouted. “They are all as bad as each other.”

Mr. Banna replied, “Yes they are all bad, but still, Obama might be a little less bad.”

The reaction was similar in Egypt which, like Jordan, is one of America’s closest allies in the region.

“For me it doesn’t matter that he’s black or his name is Hussein,” said Ahmed Amin, 34, as he drank a beer in a downtown Cairo bar. “He’s an American, and so I disagree with most of what he says about the Arab world. I mean, Condoleezza Rice was black and poor, and she still invaded Iraq.”

There is, however, at least one positive lesson drawn by some in this region over Mr. Obama’s success. It has served to restore a bit of their faith in American-style democracy, which has been tarnished in recent years by the invasion of Iraq and by an administration that talked about promoting democracy but then seemed to backtrack on its promises, many people here said.

The United States, many said, may be a biased supporter of Zionism hostile to Muslims, and still be, for its citizens, a place of opportunity unknown here.

“I think it’s very impressive that someone can start very poor and reach the top like this,” said Hazen Haidar, 23, a gym clerk in Cairo. “It doesn’t happen in Egypt.”

Michael Slackman reported from Amman, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Amman, and Nadim Audi from Cairo.

Lieberman Praises Hagee, Says Support for Israel Outweighs Comments that Hitler was 'Hunter' doing God's Work

"Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says - Jeremiah writing ? 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel." [John Hagee]

Sen. Joe Lieberman praises pastor who s
aid Holocaust was God's work

[July 23, 2008]

One of John McCain's most prominent supporters on Tuesday praised an evangelical leader whom the Republican presidential candidate repudiated after a string of controversial remarks were made public.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who frequently campaigns with McCain, said pastor John Hagee's support for Israel outweighed the remarks that led McCain to reject his endorsement. Lieberman said he had been urged not to speak to Hagee's group, Christians United for Israel. "The bond that I feel with Pastor Hagee and each and every one of you is much stronger than that, and so I am proud to stand with you tonight," Lieberman told several thousand members of the group, which urges U.S. support for Israel. "I don't agree with everything that Pastor Hagee's done and said ... but there is so much more important than that that we agree on," Lieberman said.

McCain, in an effort to reach out to evangelicals who are among the most loyal Republican voters, accepted Hagee's endorsement in March but rejected him in May after learning that the Texas preacher once said that God allowed the Holocaust to happen because it led to the creation of Israel. McCain addressed Christians United for Israel last year. His campaign declined to comment.

Hagee, who heads the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, also was criticized for calling the Catholic Church "the Great Whore" and saying that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina for staging a gay-rights parade. He has since apologized to Catholics. Hagee said the spotlight had been unsettling and condemned what he said was misleading media coverage. "What will I say when I'm asked to endorse a presidential candidate? Never again," he told the cheering crowd, which waved American and Israeli flags.

Hagee has written that events in the Middle East point to an imminent apocalypse Christians should welcome, and in several books envisions a climactic battle in Israel leading to the second coming of Jesus. Christians United for Israel takes an uncompromising stance toward Israel's enemies and opposes giving land to the Palestinians.

Hagee said that it was up to Israelis to reach their own peace terms, and said the group was not trying to bring about a biblical apocalypse in the Middle East. "We don't believe that we can speed up the End of Days one second because we believe that God has shown that he will set the time," Hagee said.

A organization supporting a negotiated peace in the Middle East, J Street, said it had delivered a 40,000-signature petition to Lieberman's office urging him not to speak to Hagee's group.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Male Lion Reunited with Men Who Raised it in Africa

How Christian the Lion Became a YouTube Sensation

By Mark Celizic [July 22, 2008]

[Thanks, Le Prof. Marc...
Je t'aime beaucoup, tu es plus qu'une ami.]

The decades-old footage of a full-grown lion joyously embracing two young men like an affectionate house cat has made myriad eyes misty since it recently landed on YouTube. What is it about the old, grainy images of Christian the lion that has attracted some 3 million hits and counting?

Is it simply that a lion remembered the two men who raised it and then released it into the wild? Is it nostalgia for a simpler time 39 years ago, when you could walk into Harrods department store in London, stroll through the “exotic animals” section, and buy a live lion cub? Is it a longing for the swinging Austin Powers-era London of 1969, when you could take the animal home to a basement flat, play with it in a nearby churchyard, and even take it to dinner in swanky restaurants?

The answer may be all of the above. After all, people love animals, and there are few things as enthralling as a lion that could kill a person with one swipe of its paw acting like a pussycat with people who obviously love it. Top it off with Whitney Houston’s sentimental love song “I Will Always Love You” as background music, and you have keyboards shorting out all over America from the tears dripping on them.

TODAY played part of the video Tuesday with little comment or introduction, and when the grainy footage, originally shot on 16-mm film, was finished, Meredith Vieira was among the many in the studio wiping away tears.

Two hip Australians
The video is the work of Anthony “Ace” Bourke and John Rendall, two Australians living in the hip Chelsea section of London in 1969. According to published reports, a friend came back from a trip to Harrods and told them that you could buy exotic animals there.

The two friends went there out of curiosity and spotted a 35-pound lion cub in a small cage. The cub had been born in a zoo and sold to the department store, which wasn’t considered that unusual back then.

Bourke and Rendall felt sorry for the cub and bought it for 250 guineas. The store was glad to be rid of it, as the cub had broken out of its cage one night and wreaked havoc on a display of imported goatskin rugs.

Inspired by the Bible and a sense of irony, Rendall and Bourke named the lion “Christian,” a name that became even more appropriate when the Vicar of the St. John’s Church, which called itself the “Church at the World’s End,” gave the young men permission to exercise Christian in the churchyard.

The opening segments of the video show Rendall and Bourke romping with Christian and playing soccer with the lion. A lengthy story published by The Daily Mail newspaper last year said that the pair lived in a flat under the furniture store where they worked and ferried Christian about town in the back of a Bentley. Mick Jagger lived on the same street, and Christian became a local celebrity, even accompanying Rendall and Bourke into restaurants.

Growing pains
But after a year, the 35-pound cub had grown to 185 pounds. Feeding him was costing the friends 30 pounds a week, and in 1970, that was real money. They knew they couldn’t keep Christian, but didn’t know what to do with him.

As luck would have it, actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna dropped into the furniture store one day looking for a writing desk. The married couple had just finished filming “Born Free,” the inspirational story of Elsa, the lioness who is reintroduced to the wild, in which they played real-life naturalists George and Joy Adamson (Joy Adamson wrote the book on which the hit film was based). They suggested that Rendall and Bourke contact George Adamson in Kenya.

Rendall and Bourke flew with Christian to Kenya, where they and George Adamson introduced the lion to his natural habitat. When they felt sure he had a new family and a safe territory, the two friends went back to their lives in London. But they kept in touch with Adamson and made a few visits to Kenya to see Christian from afar.

But in 1974, Adamson lost touch with Christian for three months. When he told Rendall and Bourke, they decided to make one last trip to Kenya to attempt to say goodbye to Christian. The night before they landed, Adamson said, Christian suddenly reappeared and sat on a rock outside the naturalist’s camp — as if waiting for his pals.

Emotional reunion
The main part of the film shown on YouTube was shot the following day, when Bourke and Rendall went into the bush to attempt to see their old friend.

The color film has no sound. Subtitles tell the story, but they’re hardly needed. There are two

Christian's former owners had been told the lion wouldn't recognize them. But the video shows the lion's obvious joy at being reunited with the two men.

men in flared jeans and shaggy hair, and there is a lion. The huge carnivore approaches from a distance, slowly at first. Then recognition sets in, and soon everyone — men and beast — are hugging and crying.

Christian even brings one of the lionesses in his pride over to meet his former roommates. The Daily Mail story reports that the lioness was clearly not happy with Christian’s two-legged friends, and Adamson told Rendall and Bourke that it was time to leave. They went back to the camp, and Christian went with them, staying up late into the night as the humans partied with their friend.

The next day Christian walked back into the bush, where his lionesses were waiting. He was never seen again — but the power of the Internet guarantees that he will never be forgotten.

Obama Campaign Bans Green Clothing on Middle East Trip

A green dome marks the location of the Prophet Muhammad's tomb inside the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Green is the color associated with the family of the Prophet. The ban on wearing this color is rather silly; perhaps the Obama campaign should have also banned black (the color of Palestinian Islamic Jihad's flags), yellow (the predominant color of Hizbu'llah flags), and red (one of the colors of pan-Arab nationalism.) The campaign ban memo suggests that the Illinois senator needs some better informed advisers and researchers on staff. [Photograph Copyright by Christopher Anzalone]

Obama ban: What not to wear where?

By Carrie Budoff Brown & Ben Smith
Politico (July 22, 2008)

AMMAN, Jordan—An Obama campaign ban on green clothing during the candidate’s visits to Israel and Jordan has created wide puzzlement among observers of the Middle East.

In a memo to reporters, described as “a few guidelines we sent staff before departure to the Middle East,” Obama advance staffer Peter Newell laid out rules on attire for Jordan and Israel. First among them: “Do not wear green.”

An Obama aide explained to reporters that green is the color associated with the militant Palestinian group Hamas. But while the color does appear on Hamas banners, there is no particular symbolism to wearing green clothes, experts said. Moreover, green is more generally seen as a symbol of Islam.

“A ban on wearing green seems bizarre,” said Richard Bulliet, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Columbia University, who said the color is associated with the family of the Prophet Muhammed. “I would hazard the guess that the campaign's concern is more with distorted—and religiously inaccurate—reporting by Obama's detractors than with any actual signal that might be conveyed,” he said, referring to false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. “You don’t want to have some blogger come along and say ‘Obama is showing his true color.’” “I think they’re just being overcautious to a ridiculous degree,” Bulliet said.

Mohamad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, called the instruction “very strange.”

“I guess green is the ‘Hamas color’ — but it's also the color of Islam!” Bazzi said in an email from Beirut. “That's one way for the Obama campaign to alienate 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide.”

Though the campaign’s other sartorial instructions – directing women to dress demurely – are fairly standard, Bazzi said he’d never heard it suggested before that journalists not wear green while traveling in the Middle East, an observation echoed by other reporters. “I’ve been to the Middle East with Secretaries of State and on my own, and I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said [American conservative newspaper] New York Sun national security reporter Eli Lake.

Obama’s trip was organized independently of the State Department, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advised American embassies Thursday to avoid helping presidential campaigns with their foreign trips.

Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, flies a green flag, as do some other Islamist groups. But the color appears on a vast array of official symbols, including the Saudi flag. Jordan’s Queen Rania al-Abdullah has been pictured in green outfits.

Early images from Obama’s trip also suggested that the rule is being observed in the breech: One cameraman on the tarmac in Amman can be seen in a green checked shirt.