Friday, August 28, 2009


There are some serious changes taking place at 'Understanding the Middle East and Islam'.

First, Understanding the Middle East and Islam is no more: I will now be posting at 'The Talibatan' ( so change your homepages.

Second, as the new blog title suggests to you Arabic speakers (for those who don't: talibatan means 'the two students' (female) in Arabic) I will be one of two posting at this blog. My close friend and fellow Middle East and Arabic enthusiast/scholar, Andrea, will also write on the new site. Double trouble.

The blog will be on all things Middle East as this one was, but will also include Andrea's brilliant musings, and dispatches from me from Suleimaniya, Iraq where I am moving this Sunday, Sept 6. I will be working at the American University of Iraq at Suleimaniya, AUIS.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Match Made in Heaven (Hell)

Reports coming out reveal that the CIA hired Blackwater to kill/ assassinate Al Qaeda figures.

Somehow, the vision of the modern day Richard the Lionheart in charge of hunting terr'ists worries me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Augustus Apologia.

Postings for the month of August have been sparse, I know, for two reasons:

1. I have been doing a lot of crap to prepare for leaving for Iraq on Sept 6. These errands and activities have limited the time I usually spend reading and writing on my blog.

2. August is a lazy, lazy month. I'll admit there have been times I have not been engaged in the aforementioned Iraq preparations that I could have posted and did not.

Please don't abandon me, readers, I will return to my usual consistency soon. And when I do, I will also be including reports from Suleimaniya, Iraq. Exciting for me and you. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Eric Prince manslaughter charge in federal court = Swift kick in ass to resume writing blog

It's just too good to be true.

There is nothing, nothing, like reading that Erik Prince (founder, Blackwater among other skeezy and sketchy operations) "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe" and "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life" to bring this gal back into the blogosphere after a brief weeks' hiatus. That these charges were brought in a federal court makes it oh so the much better.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ray's the Vultures.

So, yes, this is a blog about the Middle East, but you all have known me to tangent over to discussions of steak, red wine and food on occasion.

This is one of those posts.

Considering my love of red meat and red wine, Rays' the Steaks was a natural selection for my 30th birthday celebration. My mom and 8 of my closest friends ventured out to Northern Va (eek!) with the highest expectations. But Ray's the Steaks did all they could to try to spoil by entrance into the third decade of my life! Fortunately the company and conversation were so awesome that they did not succeed, but they sure did try....and here's how: (You might find a similar review on the Wash Post (abbreviated), Yelp, and anywhere else I can post it.)

I have lived in DC for years now, grew up here, and eat out a lot (I mean a lot). I also spend a totally inappropriately insane amount of time researching and carefully selecting restaurants. All my friends think I’m a bit obsessive about it, but they take my advice! I have had some negative experiences but have never written about any of them…until now. My favorite meal consists of steak and red wine (I even write about steak on my blog which is really supposed to be on the Middle East!) so after much contemplation, I selected Ray’s the Steaks for my 30th birthday celebration. I will admit that, hands down, it was the best steak I have ever had. But the service did not match the steak; it was deplorable. We were a party of 10, including my mom and closest friends (some meeting for the first time ) and we had a 6:30 reservation. Almost immediately after we sat down, we were ‘ordered’ to order. Interesting role reversal that was. Exact words of the waiter, in total, impolite, seriousness, “I’m going to need to take your order”. We were then informed about the party of 20 that was coming in right after us. Why we were told this is still beyond me. I’m sorry, but my mom is about to drop hundreds of dollars at your restaurant, so I’m not really concerned with who is coming in next. Unprofessional; inappropriate…and it only got worse. By 8:15 Rays’ the Steaks had turned into Ray’s the Vultures; the waiters and hosts swarmed the tables like buzzards removing glasses and plates and offering sides with our boxes to sweeten up the sweep out the door. They then dumped (literally dumped is the right verb here) four mousses on the table, forgetting about the personalized and lovely cake my mom had left with them at the start of the meal. We had also clearly become the mortal enemy of the waiter by the end of the night; the man who had been Mr. McFriendly for the first hour, literally by 8:00 would not speak to us or look at us, words were replaced by annoyed looks and rolling eyes, echoed by the hostess. By 8:45 the vultures were so intense they succeeded in their plot to make it so awkward and miserable for us that the pressure would literally force us from our chairs and out the door. I had to finish my wine on my ‘plank’ walk (literally I left it on the host stand), then we had to finish the unfinished evening outside. It was an all out eviction. Full disclosure: 2 of my friends were very late. This was the *excuse* the restaurant manager used when we complained about said eviction. I’m sorry again, but this is a load No. 2: It did not matter that my friends were late because we did not (we were not allowed) to wait for them. Their tardiness had no impact on the meal and when we ordered. The biggest problem in my mind was the manager’s other ‘explanation’: for a table of 10, they allow 2 to 2.5 hours. This is totally unreasonable for a high quality, expensive restaurant to assume. And even if they do, and a party goes over its assigned ‘time-limit’, they should reorganize to accommodate their paying customers (my mom, for example) and move to a plan B. We had several bottles of wine (it would have been more had we not been shoveled out), appetizers, many, many steaks and a rather forced dessert and did not deserve this disappointing treatment. I had the highest expectations, and left with the lowest regard.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


From Arabic Media Shack:

"Alberto Fernandez, one of the few high-level US Foreign Service Officers who knows Arabic well enough to speak it on TV is being assigned to Equatorial Guinea. Some people have speculated that his 2006 on-air comment during an al-Jazeera interview that the US was “stupid and arrogant“ in Iraq got him reassigned to Sudan. On another note, I can’t remember hearing a US government official on either BBC Arabic or al-Jazeera in well over a year. I don’t know what explains this gap but ever since Fernadez went to Sudan there has been a notable absence of US officials on the Arabic airwaves."

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Chasers.

WHY on earth did I JUST find out about these guys?

Better question, can I come along next time, please? These guys are taking 'calling out' to a while new level!

I mean dude is standing Gitmo style on the desk in the middle of John Yoo's Constitional (constitutional my ass...) Law class.

(By the way, the fact that Berkley hasn't given him the boot, that they even have him on staff is a disgrace.)

If anyone could change my mind on Afghanistan, it's Sarah Chayes.

Even though (or maybe because of the fact that?) I am a humanitarian in heart and mind, I have always been skeptical about American efforts in Afghanistan, whether we are hurting more than helping, creating more enemies than fighting, endangering more civilians than we are protecting.

I have failed to consider, however, that the person who serves (unknowingly) as my role model in life tends to side on the other side, however for some different reasons than most.

Sarah Chayes has lived in Afghanistan since she decided to leave her job at NPR that took her to that country in 2001. For years she has lived and worked with local population in Khandahar running a cooperative, and generally participating in indigenous life there. This has given her unique insight on Afghan society whci she has shared in a book, on Bill Moyers, with Charlie Rose, and in countless articles, including one fairly recently for the LATimes called many for the LATimes.

Chayes' main goal is helping the people of Afghanistan to rebuild and live prosperous, healthy lives in safety and secruity. (As opposed to many who might have US security interests first and foremost in mind, as those who directed the surge in Iraq were first and foremost looking for a US exit strategy. Fortunately said exit strategy included first and foremost protecitng the population. SO here again, COIN and humanitarian 'ideology coincide...kind of. By the way, I did not write the previous sentences in a critical light, everyone has a right to have their own interests and priorities and look at the world and situations like Afghanistan and Iraq from different perspectives; we need them all.) So considering Chayes' aforementioned perspective and goals, the fact that she titled her last article in the LATimes "'Lower your sights' is the wrong vision for Afghanistan" makes me think twice (well, a gagillion times) about blindly leaping into the Bacevich - Rory Sewart camp. She is also currently serving as an advisor to NATO and US led forces. I know she was in communication with Patraeus and no doubt the same is now true to McChrystal.

Stalker moment:
1. Sarah Chayes and I both served in the Peace Corps in Morocco.
2. Sarah Chayes and I both have a MA in Middle East History. (Full disclosure: her Harvard, me UVA)
3. I really want to be Iraq's Sarah Chayes.
4. Sarah Chayes might actually occupy my No. 1 person in the world spot. Close runners up: Karen Armstrong, Noam Chomsky, George Packer, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, Steve Coll, Andrea Turpin, Andrew Sullivan, Crooks and Liars, Marc Lynch

Sarah, if you are reading this, which you aren't, please don't be scared by my stalker moment, I'm not crazy. I swear the fact that I want to be just like you is totally harmless. Pure admiration! (Call me k?)

Excerpt from LATimes article:

"The answer is not to lower the bar but to raise it. What is needed is some of that patented Obama "Yes, we can!" energy.

We can, for example, work to ensure not just the security of the upcoming Afghan elections but a modicum of integrity, by observing, reporting and sanctioning instances of abuse and by distancing ourselves from those Afghan officials illegally exploiting their offices to ensure a Karzai reelection. We can insist on accountability on the part of Afghan officials, especially regarding the expenditure of international funds.

We can help Afghans give teeth to what is perhaps the most important feature of American democracy -- one that was signally ignored by the Bush administration's Afghan design: checks-and-balances mechanisms.

Additional troops are desperately needed, and they should be deployed to protect the population rather than focused on hunting high-value targets or trying to seal off Afghanistan's borders. Development assistance, well targeted and monitored, is also crucial. But only with a concurrent full-court press on governance can the most limited U.S. goals in the region be accomplished.

The sudden appetite for Afghanistan in Washington, and the real attention being devoted there, allows me to argue to my cooperative members that the "lower your sights" rhetoric is just that -- rhetoric. This time, I try to assure them, our actions will outstrip our words. May I be telling the truth."

Saad Eddin Ibrahim on political reform, Middle East style and Egyptian and Iranian cooperation.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim (top Egyptian political/ human rights reform advocate and dissident) has a great article , "The Mideast's New Spring Freedom", on Iran and how it is just one of many exmaples of cases in the region in which moderate democractic Islamist (and non Islamist) parties are making major ground: "...the events in Iran are symptomatic of a larger change in the political landscape of the Middle East -- the revival of a regional freedom movement, which stalled in 2006 after the election of Hamas in Palestine."

Ibrahim points out in the article how 'new media' and these gains toward moderation and democratic values are creating cooperation among populations of different countries in the region, such as Egypt and Iran:

"Regardless of the gains of the Middle Eastern moderates, Islamists will continue to be an integral part of the region's political landscape. But they should neither be pathologically feared nor cavalierly excluded. Rather, they should be actively engaged and encouraged to evolve into Muslim democratic parties akin to the Christian Democrats in Europe. By implicitly recognizing Hamas, President Obama may be leaning in this direction.

The next major test for democracy will be the upcoming elections in Egypt, the most populous Arab country and a strategic U.S. ally. Egyptian bloggers have made their Web sites and Twitter accounts available to their Iranian counterparts after the mullahs disrupted Iran's Internet. The youth's use of information technology has proven to be a surprising match to the brutal autocrats and rigid theocrats they oppose. The Egyptians' display of solidarity with the Iranians proves their commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cheney's policies come back to bite us in the ass.

Juan Cole has a reveals what Andrew Sullivan called an "uncomfortable truth" on his blog today weith regard to the US condemnation of the video released of the US soldier captured in Afghanistan:

"But I fear that the argument that the public humiliation of prisoners is against international law won't take the US very far after 8 years of Bush-Cheney.

After the evidence surfaced that the US military took all those humiliating pictures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to blackmail them by threatening to make them public, the US assertion of support for this principle of the Geneva Conventions will be met with, well, let us say substantial skepticism.

In fact, as I was reminded by a former ambassador, the Bush-Cheney-Yoo-Armitage gutting of US conformance with the Geneva Conventions really makes it difficult for Washington credibly to complain about the treatment of any of our captured soldiers. The Taliban could hold the soldier hostage forever if they follow the principle put forward by Sen. Lindsey Graham. They could (God forbid) put him in stress positions naked and threaten to release the pictures to his family, and they would have done nothing that Rumsfeld's Pentagon had not done routinely and on a vast scale.

The US refusal to so much as investigate American officials implicated in torture and breaking international law also does not help us gain credibility on seeing to it that those who mistreat our troops are tried on those charges. We even have Dick Cheney defending waterboarding, for which Japanese generals were tried and executed after WW II. It is disgusting.

You obey the Geneva Conventions and the rest of international law on the treatment of captives because it gives you the moral high ground with regard to the treatment of our troops. Not doing so endangers every single one of our men and women in uniform. The chickenhawks who called such international agreements 'quaint' and outmoded should be drafted and sent to the front."

Senate does the right thing with the F-22.

The Senate (despite the efforts of Lieberman, Kerry and Kennedy) does the right thing by voting against inclusion of the F-22 in the military spending bill. This would have wasted 1.75 billion dollars, money that can now be used for technology and equipment that the military actually needs in today's battles.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Counterpoint on Afghanistan.

Peter Bergen on why Afghanistan is worth it.

Would be a good read alongside Rory Stewart's argument against a major commitment there.

Badakhshan, Afghanistan.

Interesting article on the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan.

The province is unique for many reasons; for example, in recent years poppy fields were eradicated. Its geography has prevented Taliban and extremist infiltration. This has not left it without problems, however, namely a lack of jobs and income from said poppy eradication.

Quote that stayed with me: "We need a strong Muslim leader, a real mujahed, to bring us jobs and justice" - Abdul Samad, an elder in Kesham district.

Roger Cohen on Iran in NY Review Books.

This is what I know is going to be a great article on Iran by Roger Cohen in the current NY Review of Books when I get around to reading it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Military might: The real source of power in Iran.

There is a tremendously revealing article on who is really in charge in Iran in the NYTimes today.

Michael Slackman makes it very clear that the real power - economic, political - lies with the Revolutionary Guard rather than the Ayatollahs. Evidence in the article, as well as recent protests, should make us question whether Iran's 'religious' regime would exist without the muscle of the Rev Guard and basij forces behind it?

Most importantly, this situation as it stands is a taint on the face of 'Islamic' governance, as it is merely serving to legitimize the corrupt dictatorial power of the forces that maintain it.

(I do understand that Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei do have support among the pop - people did vote for 'tinyjad in the last election. But who were these voters? And why did they vote for him? Is it because of the vast security apparatus? The article counts Basij recruits in the millions, which could make for a a tremendous voting block.)

Rasool Nafisi, expert in Iranian affairs, calls out the regime for the pervasive role of the Rev Guard in Iranian society, economy and government in an "exhaustive study" he co-authored for RAND and in Slackman's article: “It is not a theocracy anymore...It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

Please refer to the article and the study linked to above for details about the Rev Guard's networks of power in Iran. Briefly, in terms of political power, Rev Guard alum hold "dozens' of seats in Parliament and occupy many top government positions. In terms of the economy, "Revolutionary Guards have been awarded more than 750 government contracts in construction and oil and gas projects." Slackman even claims that the reason behind Iran's silence on the Muslim Uighurs is the Rev Guard's economic ties to China. (Once again, Muslim solidarity prevails!) In addition, "The corps has become a vast military-based conglomerate, with control of Iran’s missile batteries, oversight of its nuclear program and a multibillion-dollar business empire that reaches into nearly every sector of the economy. It runs laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling..."

Bacevich v. Kilcullen on Afghanistan.

In the ring: Bacevich v. Kilcullen.

If Bacevich had a tag team, it would be Rory Stewart;. in Killcullen's corner would be Patraeus.

I've got the defense budget on Bacevich.

Congress and DHS's Dirty Deeds.

Congress needs to put the smack down on F-22s; not only are not even used on today's battlefields, their renewal make troops less safe by diverting money (1.75 BILLION DOLLARS)away from other needed technology. I mean for pete's sake, the Secretary of Defense doesn't even want them! It is disappointing but politically typical to see Ted Kennedy and John Kerry supporting the F-22 inclusion in the military spending bill but not surprising that the fair-weather spineless necon Joe Lieberman supports them. Obama has promised to veto the bill if the F-22s are included.

A recent decsion by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to extend 287(g), a nefarious and unjust Bush administration program in which law enforcement officers target and arrest illegal immigrants, is totally incomprehensible to me. It has created monsters of some law enforcement officials - inflating their jobs with too much power - and forced others to do a job they don't feel they should be doing. In my humble opinion, this was one of the most disgusting programs of the Bush administration; and we all know there were a lot. But this one, like the torture programs, treats human beings in such an unbelievably unjust manner simply because they are not American. What kind of message does this send to our own citizens? And to the world? Here's a telling editorial on the impacts of the program on families from last year.

Assumption based case against the Uighurs.

Instead of evidence, an assumption, that any Uighur in Afghanistan was there for a terrorist training camp, landed Uighurs in Guantanamo; Richard Bernstein breaks down this assumption in an article in the NYTimes.

"But the reality is quite different, said Alim Seytoff, the vice president of the Uighur-American Association. Over the years, he said by telephone, many young Uighur men, fearing political persecution and also needing jobs, have tried to go overland from Xinjiang to other countries, with Turkey, whose language the Uighurs can understand, a highly desired destination. Many of them, unable to get visas to Turkey, have ended up in Afghanistan, which shares a strip of border with Xinjiang, living in a village that has been wrongly portrayed as a terrorist training camp — a portrayal very much encouraged by China."

I like it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who started it? And why the Uighurs ain't got a chance in China.

Reading the International Herald Tribune (basically select articles from the NYTimes) here in Essaouira, Morocco, I stumbled across two informative articles that give some background to the Uighur conflict in China instead of just blaming the violence on ethnic hatred.

Clearly, threre have been tensions between Uighurs and the Chinese state. The first article claims that, as in Tibet, the Chinese government has slowly but surely disenfranchised Uighurs from civil service positions as well as their language and religion form daily life. Not so clear is if this disenfrachisement has caused tensions to trickle down to the population level - between Uighur population and the Han population? Just because a government oppresses a group doesn't necessarily mean that the population feels and acts the same way.

This first article also does a good job at explaining, or actually giving several different possible explanations for, the spark of the violence - a brawl at a toy facotory that employed both Uighurs and Han Chinese. Some sources say it was over a silly little rumor - one that turned out to be false - about Uighur men raping a Han woman. Another explanation is that tensions arose of long days at work, little pay exacerated differences between the two groups. Chinese officials say it was because of radical outsiders who support Xinjiang separatism. Unfortunately, due to Chinese government, the real story, which can only be reached through interviewing those who participated, won't be told anytime soon.

The Chinese government is notoriously oppressive when it comes to the plight of minority groups or any dissent, opposition groups in their Empire. Their treatment of the Uighurs is nothing new or unique, says Philip Bowring in this NYTimes op-ed. The small to big difference is the religion factor, Uighurs being Muslim. But Bowring points out that regional Muslim powers who in perfect world would pressure China never will because each of them treat their own minority groups the same way.

Rafsanjani's hairy back.

Elaine Sciolino raises the issue Rafsanjani's Khamanei-Ahmadinejad like past in discussing the meaning and significance of his current stance in today's NYTimes.

While Rafsanjani's sermon at Friday prayers evoked the just governing style of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ayatollah Khomenei's focus on the people's will, though that was more of a saying than a reality under his rule, Sciolino argues that "Still, it would be wrong to say that Mr. Rafsanjani has suddenly become a proponent of justice, human rights and freedom." He has a checkered past; for example, the speech he gave after the 1999 student protests as well as his violent stance against the protestors resemble Khamenei's speech and the reaction of the Basij against demonstrations today.

His past considered, what are Rafsanjani's purpose and goals today?

Here are some of the other points about Rafsanjani's hairy back:

"In the summer of 1999, after all, when the government crushed student demonstrations at Tehran University, he delivered a harsh sermon in the same place as he did on Friday. Back then, he blamed “enemies of the revolution” and “sources outside the country” for the unrest. He praised the use of force by the state."

During much of his earlier eight-year presidency, many Iranians were executed, including political dissidents, drug offenders, Communists, Kurds, Bahais, even clerics.

Politically, Mr. Rafsanjani was humiliated twice: in 2000 when he ran for Parliament and came in 30th and last place in Tehran (amid charges of ballot fraud in his favor), and again in 2005, when he performed dismally in his bid to regain the presidency.

But unlike many political figures, and certainly unlike most clerics, Mr. Rafsanjani is the consummate politician. He refuses to abandon the political battlefield in a country in which silence in the face of defeat is the norm.

He also knows how to shift gears. A campaign photograph in the 2000 campaign showed him without his turban. He must have thought that a clerical uniform had become a liability."

If I go to Iraq and come down with...

swine flu, I am going to be pissed.

"In a statement to Rudaw newspaper, KRG Minister of Health Dr. Zrian Osman expressed concern that half the population of the Iraqi Kurdistan region may be at risk of infection by the H1N1 virus this coming autumn and winter. Osman added that the central government’s health minister had informed him of 16 swine flu cases in other areas of Iraq, one of whom died. Osman stated there were nine cases detected in the KRG, three of whom were foreigners."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rafsanjani - The Opening at the Top?

I was going to take a hiatus from my blog while in Essaouira, besides of course posting many, many pictures of my lovely life here in my room with a view, but could not restrain myself after reading reports on Andrew Sullivan's blog on what is going down in Iran.

Briefly, Rafsanjani gave Friday prayers today and with his words surprised I think even those who predicted critical rhetoric from him. After reading the available excerpts from his sermon, his focus seesms to be on the people, that the people have been betrayed, and that the legitimacy of the nation comes from the people, according to Islam. While Nico Pitney warns us not to get toooo carried away in a Rafsanjani Daydream, as many among the progressive masses think of him as a sellout to the regime they are fighting, he clearly aligned himself with the people today and with a system based on Islamic and democratic principles, and against Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Could he be the opening at the top that Iranian protestors need?

I suggest that ALL read (and watch the videos) on Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney and NIAC (National Iranian American Council) and Tehran Bureau blogs immediately and straight away! Here are a few excerpts. (All of the following are Rafsanjani quotations from Sullivan’s blog with the exception of the first which is from Pitney and the second from the NIAC.)

- "The Imam [Khomeini] would always quote the Prophet [Muhammad] who would say to Ali [Muhammad's successor]: leave the people if they do not want you"

- *** "...very unusual event occurred before Rafsanjani’s speech, when the head of the organization that oversees the Friday prayers (Taqavi) spoke. In Friday prayers, people are supposed to repeat what the speakers chant. Today, it was different. When Taqavi said “Death to America,” people responded “Death to Russia” or “Death to China” instead. Also, when he said “The blood in our veins, is a gift to our leader,” people said “The blood in our veins, is a gift to our nation.” According to our witness, “whenever Taqavi mentioned the name of the Supreme Leader, people would whistle and boo.” Typically, when the Supreme Leader’s name is mentioned people chant “salavat” (a phrase in Arabic meaning “peace be upon Prophet Mohammad).

- "Islamic = the people choose"

- "Which ever of those elements of our governance (Islamic or Republic) is not respected, then we have failed our revolution."

- "People shouldn't be in prison. Let them get back to their families. Our enemies are laughing at us (b/c we have put our people in prison). Don't limit the media if they operate within the law."

- This post is live twittering during Rafsanjani's sermon (REALLY INTERESTING)

- "13:41 Rafsanjani is getting teary. “The prophet respected the rights of all those under his rule.” He brings an example from the end of the prophet’s life where the prophet comes to the people and asks that if he ever treated anyone unfairly, they speak up and let him know."

- "13:44 The prophet felt, during the last years of his life, that animosity was brewing amongst his people [he is crying now]. The prophet felt that his old friends are now enemies."

- "13:46 The prophet went to Baghi [where his old friends were buried] and said to them: you are lucky that you are no longer here to see that your old brothers are killing and destroying one another."

- Thousands are demonstrating in the street A LOT of tear gas everywhere
- Reported stabbing of women outside Tehran U.
- female HR activist Shadi Sadr beaten and whisked away
- Mousavi was present at prayers
- Karroubi was attacked during protests to the point his turban fell off
- First time in history tear gas and violence used by regime during Friday prayers

What is on Iranian TV:
1) a discussion on havij bastani (an Iranian desert with carrots and ice cream)
2) a 1986 Japanese cartoon
3) an Indian movie
4) an even cheesier Iranian movie
5) a documentary on the Iran-Iraq war

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where is that you ask? Oh, that's only my hotel room!

My view and my room.

Essaouira, Morocco. (Riad Mimouna)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Castles in the Sand.

It's time for another trip. Tomorrow morning we leave for Essaouira, an awesome town on the beach about two hours west of Marrakech, Arabic teachers in tow. Yellah!! Alls I know is that we will be staying in a zween (phat in Arabic) Riad, Riad Mimouna, and I will have a zween room overlooking the sea all to myself.

Everyone loves Essaouira: Europeans, surfers, hippies, Jimi Hendrix, Moroccans, you name 'em. All the buildings in the town are white with blue detail. There is a beach, not really a zween beach, but a beach all the same. Here are some interesting facts about Essaouira:

1. Essaouira is the windsurfing capital of North Africa.
2. Essaouira has very fresh seafood, especially sardines. (See me and my friend Saadia enjoying some below.)
3. Essaouira is home to the annual Gnaoua Festival. (It also has a restaurant with Gnaoua music which I once danced, see right.)
4. Essaouira is the only place in the world Argan trees grow. (Picture at right is of one of the women's cooperatives which has organized to help local women benefit from producing Argan products which range from a delicious salad dressing to the most effective, sought-after facial moisturizers out there. In pic is a woman from the coop, my friend Saadia from Peace Corps days, and my mom.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brainstorming for a New Blog Title

For the past few months I have been trying every now and then to brainstorm about a new, catchy, blog title. "Understanding the ME and Islam" just can't compete with Abu Muqawama and Abu Ardvark. I'm better than this.

When I started this here blog about a year or so ago, I didn't really put a lot of thought into the title, because I didn't really think I would end up using it so much. Now it has really become one of the biggest parts of my life, along with my dog Hazel, my mom,
Ethan, deep in thought.
ribeye steak, cheeseburgers with American cheese and mayonnaise, artichokes, charcuterie, the quest for restaurants with sweetbreads and veal chops and bone marrow flan, any kind of cheek or belly cut (veal, beef, pork, salmon), sushi, good full bodied red wine, cheese, and last but not least, Pellegrino orange soda (currently substituted by Moroccan Orangina).

The part I settled on months ago was using either 'Om' (mother) or 'Okht' (sister). I have not been able to think of a perfectly suitable second word. My co-group leader on this Morocco trip, Ethan Morton-Jerome (see picture above, and, yeah I know, he doesn't look like someone to be trusted...) suggested 'shoe' in reference to 'shoe-tosser' this morning. I liked tih ssuggestion, but the classical Arabic, Qthf (throw), al Hthiya (shoe), is not catchy, if anyone has a better, colloquial term, please write me or comment below. So many, though not all, of my posts are aimed at calling people out for writing inaccurate babble about anything concerning the Middle East; or in other words, throwing shoes at them. This is why I liked the shoe throwing idea.
Please send in suggestions in the comments below.

Jason Jones' Iran Rap.

Jason Jones plays football (American style) and hooks up with Iranian hip hop artist Hich Kas in this Daily Show episode.

I haven't heard back from you, Jason, with regard to my last proposal, but I just wanted to let you know, it still stands, and I've made up my own rap songs and dances before too.

Bousra Exchange on Palin-Qaddafi connection.

Several of the top blogs on the Middle East - Middle East Institute, The Arabist - have introduced The Bousra Exchange in past days. I definitely need to try to get a shout out from them asap.

Funniest post from Bousra Exchange: "Sarah Palin is basically the Muammar Qaddafi of American Politics" Hilarious ya Bousra!

Marc Lynch to 'Moderate' Arab leaders: Get off your patouches!

I am on a Marc Lynch kick. (See two posts below.) He wrote an important article in The National, "Don't Just Watch", this week encouraging "so-called moderate Arab leaders" not to "get too comfortable" and instead to be proactive in taking advantage of recent developments, "with Obama reaching out to the Muslim world from Cairo and battling with the Israeli government over settlements, Iran imploding over its contested electoral outcome, and Hezbollah failing to unseat the March 14 coalition in Lebanon".

Arab leaders can not just sit back and relax as Obama does the work. They must reciprocate; for example, prepare for negotiations with Israel, fill the void in Iraq, develop productive, engaging, rather than confrontational, policies toward Iran.

In the end, solutions must come from within, or at least seem to come mostly from them, for them to last.

Important new book on jihad.

Marc Lynch reports here on Yusuf al-Qardawi's new book, Fiqh al Jihad or the Jurisprudence of Jihad, which refutes Al Qaeda's vision of jihad as a "mad declaration of war upon the world." (Lynch names Qardawi as "the most influential living Sunni Islamist figure"; he is the founder of Islamonline, host of Al Jazeera's Sharia and Life, and Chariman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.)

Marc Lynch defects to CNAS.

Marc Lynch or Abu Ardvark, who many of you know is my most favorite Middle East scholar, has joined CNAS (Center for a New American Security) as a non resident scholar. CNAS, COIN Mecca, has come to be essentially the Obama Administration's think tank. Lynch is now also head of the Middle East Institute of GWU. I am not sure if he will still blog from Foreign Policy or switch over to CNAS blog with Abu Muqawama. Either way, he is not someone who has necessarily taken to COIN's power to 'fix' Iraq and Afghanistan, so his perspective will be an important counterbalance.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Arabs.

Who knows what is going to happen with the Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. I just hope they can keep it together so I can get on with my life. (I am going to work at the American University of Iraq-Suleimaniya (AUIS) in September.) Ok, that sounded selfish, I also hope they can get it together for the sake of the Iraqi population, and the students of AUIS.

Two recent reports out on the situation. One by Susan Khalil for Brookings , "Stability in Kurdistan: Reality of Mirage?" and one from International Crisis Group, "Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line."

Article today in the NYTimes on Kurds snubbing the Iraq Government by moving forward with the radification of their own constitution which gives them rights on contended land and oil.


The Arabist introduced a great news source on the Middle East: Majlis. It seems like a great site that does their own projects and collects articles and reports on the region from other outlets.

For example, Majlis put together a map of recent violence in Iraq. (Since June 1, 361 killed and 859 wounded in Iraq.) They also ran a clever compilation of Netanyahu's recent foibles: he revealed Israel wants to keep Golan Heights, compared the world asking Jews to leave the West Bank (settlements) to Nazi strategy, and called Rahm Emmanuel a self-hating Jew. Touche.

Gnaoua music night

With Gnaoua group after their performance.
Posted by Picasa

New movie on Iraq.

Maybe it's because I am in Morocco, but I just found about "Hurt Locker", a new movie on Iraq and thought I'd spread the word. It received a positive review here in the Post.

Rory Stewart: Cut the Crap in Afghanistan

Warning: This post is much longer than usual due to outakes from the article. I won't make a habit of it.

“The Irresistible Illusion”, by Rory Stewart Afghanistan in the most recent London Review of Books, is a must read article about our erroneous policies in Afghanistan. His ‘what is do’ is basically what not to do, which is basically almost everything that the US is doing.
(Stewart is well known in many circles and has written extensively in newspapers and other sources on Afghanistan. He is
the author of the best-selling Places in Between about his travels on foot across Afghanistan and Prince of the Marshes about his time as a commander of the British forces in Basra. He is the Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard and founder of the Turquoise Mountain, a project that helps to rebuild and revive bazaars and assisting merchants in Kabul.)

Using his extensive knowledge of Afghan history, culture, politics, economy and general policy and military strategy (counterinsurgency and reconstruction) he formulates a realistic approach to Afghanistan, rather than the inflated, ambiguous inapplicable plan of the Obama administration. (Sorry Obama, you know I love you.) I am in agreement with his perspective. The vision of Afghanistan as put forth by the US, Britain and other organizations in the international community might make us feel good inside – safe and warm due to all the talk of democracy and governance and a strong state and killing extremists and the Taliban and AQ – and serve to quell conservatives and neocons ready to attack at any perceived weakness to ‘terror’, but it is neither attainable nor sustainable, especially when it is the vision only of foreign forces.

Stewart starts with 2 eloquent and unbelievably on point paragraphs about the ambiguity and inapplicability of the US policy, and language surrounding the policy, in Afghanistan. It’s so stinkin’ good, I had to re-print it here:

“When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. BEST LINE: All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists. It assumes that Afghanistan is predictable. It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate. Afghanistan, however, is the graveyard of predictions. None of the experts in 1988 predicted that the Russian-backed President Najibullah would survive for two and a half years after the Soviet withdrawal. And no one predicted at the beginning of 1994 that the famous commanders of the jihad, Hekmatyar and Masud, then fighting a civil war in the centre of Kabul, could be swept aside by an unknown group of madrassah students called the Taliban. Or that the Taliban would, in a few months, conquer 90 per cent of the country, eliminate much corruption, restore security on the roads and host al-Qaida."

Stewart refutes the viability of the US vision in Afghanistan: a strong, centralized state. “It is impossible for Britain and its allies to build an Afghan state. They have no clear picture of this promised ‘state’, and such a thing could come only from an Afghan national movement, not as a gift from foreigners. Is a centralised state, in any case, an appropriate model for a mountainous country, with strong traditions of local self-government and autonomy, significant ethnic differences, but strong shared moral values? And even were stronger central institutions to emerge, would they assist Western national security objectives?” Moreover, the existence of a state, or state-building strategy, is not an effective counter terrorism approach. The planning and execution of terrorist attacks, Stewart reminds us, have s occurred all over the world, in up and running nations, like the US and Britain and Germany.

The means to reach this goal are ‘state-building’, promoting systems (more like ideas…) of ‘rule of law’ and ‘governance’. First of all, these ideas, in practice, currently mean one thing to us and another thing to Afghans. Moreover, whatever they mean to both parties, they are not realistic goals, especially with the resources at our disposal. Stewart asks: “What is this thing ‘governance’, which Afghans (or we) need to build, and which can also be transparent, stable, regulated, competent, representative, coercive?”

Counterinsurgency (COIN), like state-building, is not a solution. It guarantees nothing, Stewart argues: "…there are no self-evident connections between the key objectives of counter-terrorism, development, democracy/ state-building and counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. You could create a stable legitimate state without winning a counter-insurgency campaign (India, which is far more stable and legitimate than Afghanistan, is still fighting several long counter-insurgency campaigns from Assam to Kashmir). You could win a counter-insurgency campaign without creating a stable state (if such a state also required the rule of law and a legitimate domestic economy).”

As for what is in store for Afghanistan, Stewart first points to a somewhat likely, yet less appealing, reality: that Afghanistan ends up like one of the neighborhood Stans, or Iran. He then details why no one will win in Afghanistan: Neither the Taliban nor the US. He gives convincing, historical evidence. For example, that the Taliban would no longer have the Pakistani government to support them, for example. Populations that hated them before are wealthier and more powerful. As for the US, there are no coherent tribes for the US to work with, no political parties, for starters. We don’t have enough troops to have the proper proportion to Afghan population.

So, what, should we do????

Well for starters, it’s what I call “Cut the Crap.” We’ve got to get rid of our current policy that “…rests on misleading ideas about moral obligation, our capacity, the strength of our adversaries, the threat posed by Afghanistan, the relations between our different objectives, and the value of a state.” Our lofty language that makes us feel good, “does not help us to declare the limits to our power and capacity; to concede that we can do less than we pretend or that our enemies can do less than we pretend; to confess how little we know about a country like Afghanistan or how little we can predict about its future; or to acknowledge that we might be unwelcome or that our presence might be perceived as illegitimate or that it might make things worse.” Specifically no more mindless dribble about state-building because “we don’t know exactly what that means.”

After cutting the crap, goals must be narrowed. The US and Britain must create a realistic, applicable, appropriate, relevant historically, culturally, politically, accurate policy. Stewart makes this a two part policy. First, about 20,000 foreign troops should be left in Afghanistan to root out extremists and gather intelligence. They should be accompanied by small scale practical development projects.

He ends with an excellent analogy to the British predicament in Afghanistan in the late 19th Century. They realized what their fate would be if they stayed in Afghanistan, if they set their goals too high, or set any goals at all, and decided to leave. Even Sir John Lawrence, imperialist leader and viceroy of India, knew that Afghanistan was not just ‘not worth the wait’, but that the wait would never end.

Stewart concedes that “such arguments seem strained, unrealistic, counter-intuitive and unappealing. They appear to betray the hopes of Afghans who trusted us and to allow the Taliban to abuse district towns. No politician wants to be perceived to have underestimated, or failed to address, a terrorist threat; or to write off the ‘blood and treasure’ that we have sunk into Afghanistan; or to admit defeat. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble; Obama’s motto is not ‘no we can’t’; soldiers are not trained to admit defeat or to say a mission is impossible. And to suggest that what worked in Iraq won’t work in Afghanistan (or that what worked in postwar West Germany or 1950s South Korea won’t work in Afghanistan) requires a detailed knowledge of each country’s past, a bold analysis of the causes of development and a rigorous exposition of the differences, for which few have patience.”

If Obama was to wear the same thinking cap he wears when he makes other decisions, he would agree with Rory Stewart. He is someone who makes decisions thoughtfully, with patience, consulting experts – academic, policy, political – examining the nuances of situations. What is inhibiting him from wearing his proper thinking cap is the fact that he does not want to seem weak on national security, in short, politics as usual. If he is seen as ‘abandoning Afghanistan’ the place ‘where 9/11 was planned’, instantly he is a weak, whimpy Democrat. Obama must rise above these politics as usual and invite Andrew Bacevich (see my post on his most recent articles just below) and Rory Stewart to dinner at the White House. Oh, and me, he should invite me too.

Andrew Bacevich Poking Holes in Policies.

Rory Stewart and Prof. Andrew Bacevich, both of military and academic minds, have recently come out with articles questioning the Obama administration’s policies in Afghanistan. Both, among many other points, point to the inapplicability of the policies and their problematic use of morality to justify them. Below is a brief analysis of Bacevich’s articles. Please look for my post on Rory Stewart’s later today. It is significantly longer and has taken me more time to dissect.

Professor Andrew Bacevich (one of my most favorite people) has been an outspoken opponent of US use of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is respected and listened to in the usually insular military circles because he is a retired Colonel. He has recently come out with two important articles.

In one article in the LA Times he begs the administration to consider alternatives to its current course, which will fail in Afghanistan as it failed in Iraq. He draws historical analogy to the British during WWI: As Churchill asked 1915, "Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders?" so should we ask "Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to choke on the dust of Iraq and Afghanistan?" There are, he argues. The US must be guided by "matter of strategy and politics" rather than "tactical and operational concerns" for starters. Obama needs to add an element of principle to his pragmatism: "... pragmatism devoid of principle will perpetuate the strategic void that Obama inherited. The urgent need is for the administration to articulate a concrete set of organizing precepts -- not simply cliches -- to frame basic U.S. policy going forward." He then outlines principles which should guide any US decision to use military force in the future. Bacevich has written many articles on how having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq can no more solve local problems than our own. He would agree with Rory Stewart's advice in the most recent London Review of Books. (Look for a post on this later today.) Both urge Obama to drop ambiguous language and cliches and look for a more realistic approach.

His second article in the World Affairs Journal is a rebuke of Washington's pretentious 'narcisistic' attitude via a tribute to Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Thank God he says, we have Jon Stewart's to 'puncture' holes in the arrogance and insularity of politicians and policy makers. The article recounts the story line in Greene's novel, then moves on to the situation today. It is fairly long, but these are, I think, his two most important points:

Greene points out, as does Rory Stewart, about the inapplicability of our policies and takes issue with the fact that our policy formation draws legitimacy from moral righteousness, not reality: "Righteousness induces blindness. The acknowledgment of guilt enables the blind to see. To press the point further, the statesman who assumes that “we” are good while “they” are evil—think George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11—will almost necessarily misinterpret the problem at hand and underestimate the complexity and costs entailed in trying to solve it. In this sense, an awareness of one’s own failings and foibles not only contributes to moral clarity but can help guard against strategic folly."

He warns that we must not allow the surge to "...obviate[s] any need to revisit questions about the war’s purpose and justification..." While it "...mesh[es] nicely with the Obama administration’s inclination simply to have done with Iraq and move on", to use the imagined 'success' in Iraq to justify new policies in Afghanistan will be detrimental to the US. We were not successful in Iraq, nor will we be successful in Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Injustice served: Marwa el Sherbini, Egyptian woman, stabbed in German Court. Why? And why isn't the backstory in the news?

Yet another stunning example of 'justice' Muslims receive in this world - inside or outside the Middle East, inside or outside courtrooms.

I can't believe the story of the Marwa el Sherbini, the Egyptian woman stabbed 18 times in a German court isn't getting more press, well I actually can believe it given how devoid main stream media is of actual news.

Marwa, 3 months pregnant, was murdered just after winning a verdict against a man who verbally assaulted her for wearing the veil. Her 3 year old son watched the murder, and her husband was shot while trying to save her.

Here is a summary of what happened and here is an analysis of the lack of press coverage , explaining why Marwa hasn't been in the news, and juxtaposing her death with that of Neda, the Iranian woman shot by Basij who became a symbol of the demonstrations. Here is Hicham Maged's, Egyptian blogger, analysis of the tragedy. In it he goes down the 'what if' path. What if, for example, it was a western woman stabbed by a Muslim 'extremist'? Maged continues his analysis here with a piece entitled "De-Stereotyping the Image". Here, Michael Collins Dunn, Editor of Middle East Journal and blogger extraordinaire, has a great compilation of reports from a variety of Egyptian and Arab news sources.

Murshida update.

I will be posting on last night's Murshida meeting and lecture later today.

In addition, I will be going with some the students from the group on Monday to observe one of the Murshida's counseling sessions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meeting with Murshida tonight!!!!!!!!!!

I am so incredibly excited: tonight, one of the instructors at the American Language Center (ALC) here in Marrakech here has organized for a Murshida to come speak our group.

I wrote here about the Wash Post article about the Murshida here in Morocco about a month ago. Murshida are basically religious social workers/ preachers, female imams, who counsel troubled women - those abused or imprisoned, for example. They are schooled in Islam as well as social work.

An article in Time magazine framed the Murshida as a tool against terror. That's one way of looking at it. The instructor here at the ALC also informed me that that the Moroccan government developed the Murshida in response to the Casablanca bombings and their subsequent realization that an 'extemist' 'radical' element of Islam was entering Morocco, that included the spread of Wahhabism. Those familiar with the terrorist scene know that there exists Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ('Maghreb' refers to Morocco but also to North Africa as a whole, as it does here), and that yes, some suicide bombers and resistance fighters that have popped up in Afghanistan and Iraq have Moroccan passports. So here we see something extremely important, Muslims, and governments in Muslim countries, taking responsiblilty for 'taking back their religion' from those who pervert and corrupt it.

(Sidenote: Any of you who know me or read this blog, know that I am of the school that thinks that Islam, religion in general play little role in violence and terrorism. Yes Islam serves to legitimize acts, but it surely does not motivate them. it is not a root cause of these acts.)

When you take away all the terrorist talk, these women are also, and maybe most importantly, helping women in need in Morocco. And, it is a government funded, governemtn legislated, program. They are also doing inside, rather than outside of Islam. That Murshida are indigenous and associated with Islam gives them and the program legitimacy in the eyes of the people, the women it helps and those around them. A husband, for example, might be more willing to allow a Murshida, a religious scholar, into his home rather than a woman known to be from a NGO that receives foreign funding. (No offense, NGOs do great work, but we all know how they are perceived in the eyes of local population, especially in the eyes of men when they deal with women’s rights issues.)

This kind of program represents the kind of steps governments in the region need to take to provide their populations with social services. It is the government (with hopefully eventually some wholesome help from a private sector) that needs to initiate these programs, not international NGOs with a USAID grant.

Here is the Wash Post article on Murshida.
Here is another recent article in Wash Post about social and political developments in Morocco.

I am planning on applying for a Fulbright in the Fall to study Murshida. If any of you have ideas or suggestions please let me know.

No calm after the storm in Iran.

Instead of calm after the storm, it seems there is definitely some bad weather in middle and upper levels in the Iranian system.

Massive demonstrations of past weeks have created, or exposed, cracks at the middle level, for example, among clerics in Qom who two days ago sent a letter calling the government illegitimate, and, to a lesser extent but albeit important way at the top in the Assembly of Experts. Karroubi (reformist candidate in recent elections) Khatami and Moussavi are the most visible representatives of this camp. The NYTimes reported on all of this today. Other news sources have also been reporting on it here and there.

This is not to say they have the upper hand or are alone in expressing feelings on the election. Hard liners and conservatives have been vocal in validating the elections. Qom seminary Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadai called the election 'case closed'. Ayatollah Muhammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's spiritual leader, has dismissed the elections as 'window dressing'; they didn't, and don't, really matter in a religious system like the one in Iran. Or at least the one he envisions in Iran; the people most probably disagree with this vision. Here he mistakes the legitimacy of a government as purely religious, when Iranians seem to see legitimacy come from other sources, like their own will, their voice, popular elections.

Either way, the Iranian regime - Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad - has lost a great deal of legitimacy. I found myself raising my eyebrows and a 'yeah right, good luck with that' smirk on my face when reading that the regime might arrest and try Moussavi and Khatami and other outspoken reformists who they call terrorists. What power do they have to do this, I thought to myself. Their loss of, and desperate struggle for, legitimacy is also visible in their attempts to dismiss protestors as foreign agents, an attempt to remove their legitimacy and return it to the Assembly taking their legitimacy and return to its 'proper' owners. (Please excuse excessive use and abuse of the word 'legitimacy' in this post and paragraph.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Col. Crazy's (Michael Steele) massacre in Iraq

"Kill Company" by Raffi Khatchadourian in the recent New Yorker is a damning, disturbing, devastating, and depressing portrayal of Col. Michael Steele and the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne. I found myself full of anger, close to tears, about their treatment of Iraqis, as I did while reading Shadid's Night Draws Near, or Hedges' and al Arian's America's War Against Iraqi Civilians. Reading it was also frustrating; Steele's strategy, if you can call it that, was detrimental to the US objectives there.

The article focuses on Steele's general approach to fighting insurgents in Samarra, Salah ad Din province in and around 2006. The approach was completely and totally centered around killing, thus the name 'Kill Company'. His men were to root out and slaughter 'insurgents' at any cost; shoot first, think later. Insurgents, for example, were NOT to be brought in for questioning, better dead, Steele believed. Another colonel in Samarra serving with Steele was stopped only at the last minute from parading a body of a dead insurgent through the town. Imagine the cultural implications of this 'tactic' that would create tens if not hundreds of more 'insurgents.' In another incident displaying Steel and Co.'s brilliant methodology, they bombed a house in which an insurgent was hiding...alongside a pregnant woman. They refused to apologize to her family. Houses of and stores of suspected insurgents were razed a la Israel. Reconstruction were not part of Steele's approach. In fact, he refused to spend any funds on such projects.

Khatchadourian juxtaposes Col. Crazy's (who clearly has serious issues leftover from losing men in Somalia, not surprising the army didn't realize this and sent him back out) strategy with that of Col. Chiarelli who understood the importance of building relationships with Iraqis, mutual respect, working together, and electricity, water, health and education projects. The article also draws broader points about how detrimental Col Crazy's strategy was to US mission in Iraq. His story is a microcosm of the major reason why we failed in Iraq. Collective punishment. Disrespect. Lack of cultural understanding. These 'tactics' turned Iraqis that may have fought for their country into the camps of extremists. For example it refers to a map which showed the insurgency was low in areas where there was electricity, plumbing, good social services. Col Crazy refused to spend any money on reconstruction projects in his fiefdom in Salah ad Din.

Reading the article while reading Shadid's Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War made it particularly more poignant and meaningful and made Steele's actions seem all the more harmful. Shadid details, through his own unique countless firsthand accounts (while he was raised in American he is Arab (Lebanese) and speaks Arabic), throughout the book how Iraqis perceived American soldiers and their actions; his conversations seem to address the exact actions of Steele and his men. While this article shows the US perspective on kicking in doors and razing houses, Shadid shows how these actions affected Iraqis and most importantly directly created hundreds more of the insurgents for Steele to kill. So, Steele, and other military men of his mindset, created insurgents, many previously innocent hardworking Iraqis, then killed them. He created his own little Iraq War game. From the sound of it, seems like he liked this a lot.

(I am currently working on a longer post on Shadid's book, look for it in coming days.)

Unfortunately, this article requires a New Yorker subscription for the moment. Fortunately, a reader posted a link to a pdf file, see comment below. THANK YOU, whoever you are.

Weight of a Mustardseed

I just finished reading The Weight of a Mustardseed by Wendell Steavenson, a female British journalist. The book focuses on the life of Kemal Sachet, one of Saddam's top Revolutionary Guard generals who fell from his grace, as so many did. He was killed by Saddam's boys in 1999, but she pieces his life, personal and professional, together well through countless interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Many in Iraq, many in Damascus, Beirut, Amman and London. Her research also allowed her to intertwines life stories, again, personal and professional, of other generals and high level officials in Saddam's regime.

The book follows Iraq through the unbelievable devastation of the war with Iran in the 80s, the unrelenting suffering caused by the sanctions of the 90s, and shots of Sachet family's reaction to the US invasion.

It has much to offer and opens many doors to the inner thinkings of Saddam's generals and the inner workings of the regime; the way some enforced policies and the ways others' legitimized and/or believed in them, in varying degrees. Steavenson states she is looking for a glimmer of regret in each of these men, sometimes she finds it, most times she doesn't, and she never finds it to the extent one would hope.

At the same time, the book leaves much to be discovered. I put the book down fulfilled, but at the same time with countless questions swirling in my mind. I want to know more about the topics she focused on - the high level Baath officials and RG generals - why they did what they did; and much more about the topics she uses as context: the Iran Iraq War, which so shaped a generation, those who fought and those who didn't; the impact of sanctions, Steavenson states that the 90s was the most dire in Iraq (even afte the horror of the Iran war!).

We know that many, many Baath party members, most really, those among the population simply signed a sheet of paper to receive a higher salary, or keep a job - the military (different than the Revolutionary Guard), teachers, lawyers, shopkeepers. But this book seeks to understand the rationale behind those who gave the orders.

In the end, Steavenson's research seems to show that these people, in varying degrees, believed in their mission, or Saddam's mission, or Saddam's Iraq. If they had moral compasses they only worked on occasion, and in specific circumstances. Sachet, for example, thought draining the marshes was going too far. Executions of deserters or general who failed at mission during the Iran Iraq War were also usually frowned upon by those she interviews. But these same men excuse Halabja, if they admit knowledge of it.

The book also raises absolutely critical points about the detrimental effects of Saddam's regime on the Iraqi mind and the Iraqi citizen. What I mean is that Saddam's regime - the dictatorship, the fear, the torture, the violence, the suffering - not only affected an individual's personal life, psyche, but also destroyed their ability or desire to participate in society as a citizen - socially, politically. She also weaves in parts and pieces about Iraq women - the few she discusses wore sundresses in the 70s, but were veiled in the 90s. Again, here Steavenson only scratches the surface; there is much more to be done here. If you're up for another look, Wendell, and need some help, I'm your girl.

New Yorker book club on it here.

Here in NYTimes review.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

OOC in Sahara and Ait Attou.

I have been totally OOC (Out Of Commission) (also known to be used as Out Of Control) for over a week now, and forgot to give notice before I left. I apologize for this, but don't feel that bad because I'm not really sure anyone really noticed.

After spending a couple days down in the Sahara with my group of students, camel rides and all , down the the Zagora province of Morocco, I split off from my group for 3 days to visit my Peace Corps village and friends and family there.

Travel wise, it was a miserable, miserable experience. Buses in Morocco stop, oh, about every 30 minutes, making what could be a 3 hours trip 6 hours. Reasons to stop: 1.To let someone off in the middle of nowhere or a town. 2. Driver is hungry or thuirsty and decides everyone in the bus should have a THIRTY minute lunch or dinner break. 3. It's a legitimate stop on the way. A 30 minute stop is made in a town to let off passenger and let others on. This time could be used also for food and drink. Not so. Another stop is made about 15 minutes later. The way stops are done reflects the general inefficiency of this country. (Ok to be fair, there could be a actually reason this is done that I do not know about. There ususally is a method behind what appears to an ajenebi (foreigner), madness.)

Anyway, had to rant about that after the ten hour overnight bus ride - over mountains - I took Wednesday evening.
Depart Rich:8:00pm (Rich is the closest bigger town near my village, Ait Attou)
Arrive Marrakech: 6:30am
AC: none
Stops: 352

But it was great to see my friends and family, this is actually the third time I have been back to visit since leaving Peace Corps in 2005. I will post some pictures asap.

But now I am back in Marrakech, the students are back in Arabic classes at the American Langauge Center here. We will be here for 11 more days before a week in Essaouira (teacher sin town; students still have classes!) and then back to Marrakech for 3 days. Back to the States July 26, at which point I will quickly (quickly) resume by Friday night Ribeye steak posting.

More later on Palin, and other news, just a brief update on me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Improbable American"

This is the most inspiring thing I have seen since reading Paul Farmer's Mountains Beyond Mountains about PIH's - Partners in Health - health work in Haiti. (Oh, and since Greg Mortensen and Three Cups of Tea.)

The NYTimes video about a musician, Tom Shays (spelling? sorry) (no college degree, no background in this line of work) who after 9/11 volunteered to do disaster relief work, and ended up in Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people. He decided to stay and started a health clinic that treated 100,000 patients last year.

The video captures his work well and shows how one individual - no matter who he or she is or what his or her background - can impact the lives of others around the world.

He really reminds me exactly of Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, and founder of Central Asia Institute which educates and employs thousands of locals, mostly women, in some of the most remote areas Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He also reminds me of Sarah Chayes.

These are the people that will fix this world and that region.

(If the link above doesn't work, just go here, to the NYTimes video site, and then look for the "Improbable American.")

Rami Khouri on Arab reaction to Iran.

Rami Khoury writes an broad yet important synopsis of reactions in the Arab world to the situation in Iran. Sad, but true.

Jason Jones, will you marry me?

Jason Jones has had some truly spectacularly awesome reports from Iran this week on the Daily Show. Wednesday night's segment, in which he juxtaposed questions posed to Americans with similar ones posed to Iranians was particularly witty, hilarious, telling...and embarrassing if you're an American.

It's a must watch.

Can someone please set up a debate between John "The Iranian situation is all about American values" McCain and this guy???

Excellent interview with Iranian-American Hooman Majd that Andrew Sullivan posted here earlier today. Here is the interview in its entirety on Majd is someone whose advice should be trusted and followed, to name just a few of his credentials: he translated for Khatami and Ahmadinejad, is the grandson of an Ayatollah, and his father was a diplomat for the shah. A friend once told him that he was "...the only person he knew who was both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian."

Some amazing quotes from the interview:

But this is an internal matter. For the U.S. to get involved in any way is a huge mistake in my opinion. It makes Iranians very suspicious. One reason they were able to get 3 million people out on the streets from a broad socioeconomic spectrum across all political lines -- you don't get 3 million people on the streets of Tehran if they're all students like in 2003 -- is because the lower class, the middle class, the upper class, students, old people, families, religious families, women in chadors, men in beards, they all came out. These people also voted against Ahmadinejad or felt the vote wasn't fair.

The neocons know nothing about Iran, nothing about the culture of Iran. They have no interest in understanding Iran, in speaking to any Iranian other than Iranian exiles who support the idea of invasions -- I'll call them Iranian Chalabis. It's offensive, even to an Iranian American like me. These are people who would have actually preferred to have Ahmadinejad as president so they could continue to demonize him and were worried, as some wrote in Op-Eds, that Mousavi would be a distraction and would make it easier for Iranians to build a nuclear weapon and now all of a sudden they want to be on his side? Go away.

I'm not saying Obama is the most knowledgeable person on Iran, but he's obviously getting good advice right now. He understands way more about the culture of the Middle East than any of the neocons. For them to be lecturing President Obama is a joke. I have criticized Obama; for instance, I criticized him for having a patronizing tone in his Persian New Year message. But right now I think he's doing a good job. The John McCains of the world, they're Ahmadinejad's useful idiots. They're doing a great job for him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't cry for me Argentina!!

Mark Sanford is a liar and an adulterer, but worst in my book, he is a dirty, dirty hypocrit. He has always been Jimmy Judgy about the sex lives of others, voting to impeach Clinton and against same sex marraige and civil unions. Also he is a filthy hypocrit-weasel for cloaking his blubbering confession words in a veil of religious rhetoric. Shuma Aleik, as they would say here in Morocco, or shame on you.

Souqs in Marrakech.

The souqs, where I will be spending a significant amount of time.
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Jm3 al Fna.

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Kotubia Mosque, Marrakech.

Kotubia mosque, Marrakech.
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Arabic students' group.

I am the group leader for this fine group of Arabic students here in Marrakech.
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Best reason to build a lake ever; Berbers are brilliant.

I learned the coolest piece of history today: The pool/lake at the Menara in Marrakech was built in the 11th Century by the first Berber dynasty, the Merabats, to learn how to swim in preparation for their voyage over Andalus to assist Muslim popualtion here. Definitely the best reason to build a lake I have ever heard.
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Me in Marrakech.

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Hired hands for the Iranian regime...

Andrew Sullivan just reported here that The Guardian has this firsthand account that the men carrying out these massacres are hired hands, paid by the Iranian regime to beat protestors to death.

Massacres in Tehran.

Andrew Sullivan, The Guardian, CNN, Huffington Post, and several other news sources are reporting that there were massacres last night and today in Iran. Many reports are about one that occurred at Baharaestan Square during which hundreds of men armed with clubs emerged and beat demonstrators mercilessly. See Andrew Sullivan's post on this here; it includes a recording of a phone call from a woman who called CNN from Iran about the violence. Hundreds are reported to have been beaten and shot (some severely, some fatally) by the Rev Guard and Basij. You can also read the firsthand accounts here at the Guardian blog.

Hospital workers are providing many of the accounts, which the government has tried tirelessly to prevent them from doing, read one here at The Guardian.

Mullahs protesting in Iran.

CNN is reporting that mullahs are joining the protests. An important development.

Obama 1 million; Nico Pitney 1 million; Regular Press 0.

Obama is just too good at this and this.

Fred Barnes needs to go read an Iranian history book, or talk to an Iranian, and then come back and talk about Iran.

This is a great exchange between Fred Barnes (who clearly has NEVER asked an Iranian if they remember 1953 and furthermore understands little about US-Iran dynamics or about successful revolutions and social and politcal movements in the current Middle East/ Iranian context) and a woman with the last name Powers who I think is Samantha but who they list as Kristen. (I found this on Andrew Sullivan's blog.)

(Also note that Henry Kissinger supports Obama's approach to Iran.)

POWERS: I haven't heard that and I have seen many people come out, including Henry Kissinger, saying that he handled this very well, and that, in fact, it would be bad for the United States to get involved in this.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It is not a question of getting involved. We're not going to send troops there or anything like that.
The question was whether we would support the democratic voices and condemn the regime — a tyrannical regime — as Kirsten said, no question about that.
Obama has gotten better, I'll have to say, over the weekend. He got better. His statements are a little stronger, but really not strong enough yet.
And it was clear from the beginning what he was trying to do. I think it was probably clear to Mousavi and the demonstrators and the democratic forces in Iran, too. He tried to protect whatever relationship he has with Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Khamenei because he thinks somehow he is going to get some grand bargain that they will back away from nuclear weapons.
They're not going to do that. They're the people who are not going to do it.
Mousavi might be. Mousavi is different on nuclear weapons too. He has said we will have nuclear power, but whether we have nuclear weapons or not, that's negotiable. That's the opposite of what the other regime has said.
He, also, is representing — I'm not sure how pro-American he is, but all of a sudden he represents the forces in Iran that are pro-American.
And then when you see, you know Obama has used — the most pathetic thing is to say, gee, well, we were involved in 1953 — 1953! This is an extremely young society. You think those demonstrators are thinking, well, we hope the U.S. stays out because they were involved in 1953? That's total nonsense.
POWERS: I think there is a history there.
BARNES: 1953?
POWERS: They do remember the United States meddling.
BARNES: No, they don't. [REALLY FRED???]
POWERS: I think the reason Obama didn't get involved I don't think is because of what you just said. I think it is because he truly believed that meddling in it would make them be able to come out and justify the repression...
BAIER: Very quickly, Kirsten, do we hear a different tone from the president at his news conference tomorrow in the Rose Garden?
POWERS: Well, I think we already started to hear a different tone. And I think he feels that he has to at least acknowledge that we do not condone this kind of behavior. But I think at the end of the day he still does not want to be seen as somebody who is propping up this revolt.
BARNES: But there is no way he can prop up demonstrators. All they want is expressions of support.
These democratic revolutions — wait a minute — these democratic revolutions, whether it is in Poland or the Philippines or South Korea or Indonesia or South Africa, they have always wanted international support. And it has always been important. [Did you ever think about the fact that the current (anti American foreign policy) context in the MENA region might counteract this??]
POWERS: But is there any doubt where Obama stands in this? Does anybody doubt that?
BARNES: Yes, there is great doubt. Of course there is doubt.
POWERS: Do you think the people of Iran don't know he stands behind them? Do you think he's on the side of Ahmadinejad?

Ideological, simplistic nonsense from McCain.

McCain: "I don't consider it meddling when you stand on the side of the principles that made our nation the greatest..."

What a bunch of ideological, simplistic nonsense. I'm sorry, but what does this have to do with Iran? How does it address Iranians concerns?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I second that!

“They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders,” he said. “This tired strategy of using tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran, and the future that they, and only they, will choose.”

(Obama today)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brzezinski on neocon/ Ahmadinejad parallel

Zigbiniew Brzezinski drew an accurate parallel on Fareed Zakaria's show on CNN; he compared Ahmadinejad and his cronies to U.S. neocons. "And there are those who are supporting the regime, who in many respects are like our neocons -- very similar to our neocons." Both groups thrive on a aggressive hawkish black and white view of the world, where might makes right and bold words and provacative ideological statements define of foreign and domestic policy.

Brzezenski goes on to reveal why these neocons actually want Ahmadinejad in power:
"One of the paradoxes here domestically is that many of the people who call for the most energetic involvement by Obama in the process, they simply would prefer to have an American-Iranian showdown."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Successful revolutions always have a friend at the top.

I think a really, really key point here is that in successful revolutions, protestors, the masses, always have a friend at the top. This friend opens the gates to the governing structure, allowing the protestors to access power from within.

The masses seems to have several friends at the top right now in Iran in Ali Larijani, Rafsanjani and Montazeri. The last two names are powerful members of the Assembly of Experts and are reported to be trying to persuade other members of the Assembly top join their reformist team.

Ex reformist president Khatami is also clearly on the side of the protestors.

Parallel between 1979 and 2009. (Oh and, just for kicks, between Khamenei/ Ahmadinejad and the Republican party in the US.)

I think an interesting parallel exists between the 1979 Revolution and the current situation in Iran.

In 1979, there existed a great distance between the Shah and the Iranian people. By distance, I mean, generally speaking, he was not in touch with the needs of his people. To name just a few, he did not address the needs of the merchants, of the new working class in cities, of the religious parties. (I will elaborate on this more later, I am in a bit of a hurry right now.)

Similarly, today, a great distance exists between Khamenei and the Iranian people, especially those out in the streets. Sure, a bunch of old conservative clerics support him, but they do not represent the people of Iran of today. The represent only a small segment of society. It was so interesting watching a video of Ahmadinejad supporters and the crowd at a Khamenei speech...all religious old Iranian men. (Ok they were a few chicks at Ahmadinejad's rallies.) but little diversity. It kind of reminded me of watching the Republican Party convention last summer.

The Iran of today is diverse, the majority of students are women, just like the majority of protesters are reportedly women; they are currently equal to men in practice but not by law. This is what Iranians are on the streets - their rights - right to have a vote, for women's rights.
(For example, h
ere is the story and words on the revolution of one woman who has a law degree but can't practice.)