Iraq War

I have been wondering for some time if there is any profession in the world more disgraceful and pathetic than that of being a politician. I realize that there have been and are decent people that get elected to public office and even some good intentioned folk who gain power through other means. I am also aware that every profession has its crazies and I have known my fair share of academics who fit that characterization. But two things came across my Facebook radar today that are too absurd not to call for a commentary. One is an elected official, the Tea Party Wunderkind Tom Cotton, who in only a few months appears to have been drinking something far stronger than the tea of the party that elected him. Given his fast start out of the gate of congress, I am tempted to think he signed a Hollywood movie contract before he ran for office. Perhaps Arnold has already been pegged to play him. Cotton has been having a ball acting like a boll weevil on a Fox News feeding frenzy. Managing to convince 40-odd fellow senators to sign on to a letter that is in some sense an act of treason for anyone who does care about the Constitution was certainly an opening act hard to duplicate. Our allies are surely excited to know that one section of our government has little intention of honoring what the president is authorized to do before he even does it.

But more pathetic than this silly letter, which surely must frighten Iran into accepting everything a tea partyer might dream up, is his Rambo attitude towards his fellow citizens, assuming he considers a large portion (perhaps that percentage noted by Romney in the last election) citizens. I can see the logic here. The bulk of our military today relies on poorer individuals, lots of Hispanics and Blacks. So if we increase the military he must think we will get these potential criminals off the streets where the white folk live. As for those who do not enlist or who return to discover there are few decent jobs for war veterans (unless they are rightwing enough to run for congress), we will obviously need a lot more prisons to hold them all. Perhaps if we invade another country (Iran or some evil state like that) we could set up a penal colony and deport the unwanted. I am sure a select committee in congress could fashion a comprehensive bill defining who deserves to stay in America and who should be sent packing. I can see a possible motto for the act: “America, leave it now whether you love it or not because we hate you.” The list could start by deporting anyone who ever received food stamps and that would make it easier to close down the Food Stamp program.

But then perhaps I am being unfair. If al-Qaida allies with the Mexican drug lords, then we will see shariah law west of the Pecos. If East Coast liberals continue to push for gay marriage (and the Presbyterian Church USA just moved to perform gay marriages), then our population will decline so drastically that the Republicans will never have a chance to rule the country into the ground forever. Then there are those hippies in San Francisco who need to be weeded out (same goes for Coloradans and all those other psychedelic states). If we start the draft again (I remember how popular it was when I was of draft age but I think it would be better to have it run by annual income rather than birth date to make sure only the lower class goes off to fight), then these druggies can go off somewhere, kill our enemies (which are everywhere) and get high all they want on the drugs overseas. We could send more to Afghan and give them first dibs on the poppy fields.

Then there is Egypt. It seems that a notorious belly dancer wants to run for parliament. I think there is no fear that she would harbor any sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. One of her music videos could be a rather effective campaign message. Imagine a politician who can shake her belly and not just fill it up with bribes. The world needs more female politicians for sure, so who would not support this candidate.

So who should be a politician? It seems that the more bizarre you are, the more incentive there is to run for office. But I think I have been asking the wrong question. The real question is who should be a voter that elects politicians? If the majority of those elected is a representative sample, then it may be that no one should vote. Sorry Athens, but democracy is just too dangerous to promote any more. Now with Cotton in congress and Sama al-Masri attempting to dangle both her zaina in Sisi’s newly formed Egyptian parliament, the new model for government should be Sparta. Hail Leonidas.

When you watch an ISIS online video, remember who is the inspiration.

ISIS or Da’ash or whatever you want to call the latest reality internet show from the Middle East has an active propaganda machine right out of the playbook of Herr Goebbels. If it is not choreographed beheadings or other atrocities meant to cause terror, it is trying to efface and erase the past. The area that ISIS appears to have nominal control over is one of the most extensive archaeological mine fields in the world, with lots of object on display in museums. One of the latest videos is of the bashing of statues in the Mosul Museum. At first glance one can only shake one’s head (and perhaps use the index finger raised in an appropriate gesture) at such a destructive act. But as in all propaganda, the shame factor is the elephant in the display room. Fortunately for the real objects, the hammers are smithereening plaster casts for the most part. Unless ISIS slithers its way into Baghdad, which may require a Mahdi or two to accomplish, the real finds are safe thus far. This does not mean that there has not been irreplaceable damage done to historical objects and sites already.

The current game plan of the primary actors in the conflict, apart from those who seem to delight in mayhem, is to bomb ISIS one pick-up truck at a time and to drone in on leaders from satellite data. This may take some time, no matter how many planes are sent on missions over a rather vast stretch of territory. Some day the local armies on “our” side will have sufficient training and resources (to replenish those taken without much resistance by ISIS) to go in and battle the militants directly. In the meantime (and it is a very mean time indeed), another major front is the propaganda war broadcast digitally. The toppling of a plaster cast of Ashurbanipal, the long-dead Assyrian king, is not likely to bring any converts to Islam, but it may resonate with disaffected youth who see a chance to leave their video game warcraft and get a taste of the “real” thing. I do not think those of us who are appalled by such acts need to watch these intentionally propagandic videos. They are meant to fan the flames of Islamophobia and thus to attract more radicals. The best way to counter such propaganda is not to make an issue out of it, which is the Fox News feed-the-hate approach. It helps to expose the artificiality of it, but that is secondary.

In videos like the one on the Mosul Museum bashing I recommend calculated not benign neglect. I debated whether to even write this post, as I have certainly had enough of the mountain of commentary on ISIS already. If you do watch the video, know what you are seeing and why the makers want you to see it. And remember who the real inspiration is behind such outrageous outreach. But if you can avoid seeing it altogether, the propaganda value may be diminished by at least one person at a time.

Conservative backlash against President Obama, which has not ceased from the first day he was elected, has stooped so low as to claim, a la former Mayor Giuliani, that the President does not love his country. Apparently for Giuliani, the Rush-Limbaugh to judgment is that only Republicans, perhaps even certain kinds of Republicans, can love their country. This seems to be a case of misplaced tough love; Giuliani finds it tough to love someone he disagrees with. I suppose it also depends on what country there is to be loved. The country of Giuliani’s imagination is not very loving. The CIA torture authorized illegally and committed during the Bush era is not something I love. I don’t think Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine would have loved it either, if you want to get colonial about it. On Monday the New York Times took the courageous step of joining the call for criminal charges to be brought against former Vice-President Dick Cheney and those who caused, directly and indirectly, not only torture of innocent victims but death. Do I love the fact, and it is a fact, that my country violated not only its own moral principles but also the international protocol on torture? No. Does this mean I do not love my country? No. Love, tough love, is not about denial; love is about admitting mistakes and justice.

No one is calling for a firing squad. The NYT makes it clear that the issue is about not sweeping illegal acts under the rug. (more…)

This stupidity needs to end: Why the Atlantic & NY Post are clueless about Islam

Pundits claiming that ISIS is emblematic of Islam ignore the intellectual traditions at the heart of the religion
by H.A. Hellyer, Salon, Februrary 20, 2015

This week, President Obama hosted a summit on countering “violent extremism,” where he received criticism from some on the rightwing over his refusal to call such violence “Islamic.” American media outlets, particularly the Atlantic and the New York Post, have struck a similar chord of late. All of this happens against a rather poignant backdrop: Only a few days ago, ISIS released a video showing the killing of 21 Coptic Egyptians in Libya. The group expressed what it considered to be Islamic justification for its actions. Long after the summit, specialists in the field of counter-extremism will continue to ask the question: Is ISIS actually representative in some way of Islam? And what, really, is the relationship between the group that calls itself the “Islamic State” and the world’s second largest religion?

There will be those that will insist that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or religion in general — that ISIS is primarily a social and political phenomenon, bereft of ideology entirely, or simply using Islam as a superficial justification. Counterterrorism studies indicate that for very many people in the broader radical Islamist universe, non-ideological factors certainly play magnificently important roles. At the same time, it is also the case that for radical Islamists, an ideological component not only exists, but is crucial in understanding their world views. In some shape or form, for ISIS supporters, religion certainly plays a role. But what religion, precisely?

The easy answer is to say “Islam” – but it is also a rather lazy answer. There are around 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. The vast, overwhelming majority of them, needless to say, are not members of ISIS — and, in fact, Muslims actually make up the majority of ISIS’s victims, its most active enemies on the battlefield, and its most prominent detractors. (more…)

President Hadi of Yemen, left; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, right

In the space of 24 hours two countries on the Arabian Peninsula have seen a change, or at least anticipated change, in leadership. Yesterday President Hadi of Yemen, his Prime Minister Khaled Baha and the entire cabinet resigned after bowing to demands made by the Huthi leadership. The complicated political system ensures or at least suggests that he must remain in power for at least three months, although what power he actually has is severely limited. Not long after midnight King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away at the estimated age of 90. The new Saudi monarch is Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is 79, with Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz as the new crown prince. Given the fact that Sultan Qabus of Oman is in his mid 70s further change is possible as the years roll by. Qatar and the Emirates have relatively young rulers, so their stability does not appear to be in question.

Yemen is in free fall politically. The Huthis have taken control of most of the northern highlands and the capital city Sanaa, while they continue to battle local tribes in Marib and the Jawf. Hirak has, at least in spirit, seceded from the once-touted wahda. Al-Qaeda continues its attacks on Yemen’s military and the Huthis, while there are now reports that ISIS/ISIL is trying to muscle into Yemen as well. Hadramawt has also removed itself from any central authority. Only Socotra remains isolated from the potential for violence. This political quagmire is even murkier due to the behind-the-scenes (and at times quite overt) maneuvering of former President Ali Abdullah Salih, who remains a potent force and appears to have ambitions of regaining power. Yemen has no functioning government, the economy has ground to a halt, foreign aid from the Saudis has all but ceased and there are daily clashes that take the lives of ordinary Yemeni citizens. Yemen has not become another Iraq or Syria, but it is teetering on the brink. (more…)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins the classic Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written over a century and a half ago. The two cities in question were revolutionary Paris and Dickens’ own squalor-laden London. As fiction it was an unpacking of black-and-white, good and evil, wealth and poverty, kindness and cruelty. But as Dickens wryly noted from the start, such a period of stark contrast “was so far like the present” that it cried out for comparison. When I came across the two images juxtaposed above, the title of Dickens’ novel raced into my mind. What can one say about these two images, the iconic “American” image of the pick-up in the current political maelstrom that plagues the Middle East. What is this tale of two trucks?

So what do we see in both these images? Young men out for a thrill, one group actively seeking to kill. The top image reflects the top of the economic ladder, these young men of the UAE in a country that boasts a GDP (in 2012) of 383.80 billion dollars, representing .62% of the world’s economy. The rock-hard bottom is apparent in the bottom image of ISIS fighters. As for ISIS between Syria and Iraq, the GDP for Syria in 2012 was 73.67 billion dollars, while war-torn Iraq is elevated to 223 billion in 2013. God bless the hands that pump the oil. What would the region be without its black baraka? (more…)

by Kathryn Zyskowski, Cultural Anthropology

Click here to read the five articles and interviews with the authors.

This collection gathers together five articles previously published in Cultural Anthropology, by Naveeda Khan, Hayder Al-Mohammad, Carolyn Rouse and Janet Hoskins, Kenneth George, and Arzoo Osanloo. The collection also includes interviews with the authors, who reflect on their work, as well a commentary on the whole collection from Charles Hirschkind. The articles engage with everyday aspects of living, negotiating, and constructing the world among contemporary Muslims. Moving beyond a focus on the aesthetics of dress, gender relations, or the text in Islam, the collection crosses national boundaries and thematic areas, touching on the immense diversity of nations, peoples, languages, and ideas that fall under the category of Islam. A broad array of ethnographic material is included in the collection: gathering to eat soul food in Los Angeles, navigating a kidnapping in post-invasion Iraq, a child’s relationship to a jinn (spirit/ghost) during sectarian violence in Karachi, discourses around justice in media and conversation surrounding a young man’s death sentence in Iran, and debates about the production of Islamic art in Indonesia.

Apocalypse has gone digital in a big way. A Google search will open up more prophetic doomsayers than you can shake a Schofield Bible at. One of my favorites (perhaps not the right term for what I actually think about such sites) is the slick Youtube “Armageddon News.” The voice is that of the standard digital female used in a host of amateur cartoon videos. There is no obvious reference to who puts the site out, so my first reaction was that it could be satire. But in this case the real thing is probably more satirical than any satire could be. The Youtube channel presents 23 videos. One of the more bizarre videos links the “mark of the Beast” and the number 666 in the biblical book of Revelation to Islam in a rather ingenious way. Of all the conspiracy theories out there about Bible prophecy and Islam, this one takes the proverbial cake. Do check it out on Youtube.

So here is the gematric plot, as devised by Satan, of course. In the Greek of the book of Revelation the number 666 is spelled out in Greek letters. Guess what? If you do a little angle (not angel) shifting you will have the bismillah alongside the cross swords. John left a clue some two millennia ago for anyone with a vivid imagination. But there is more. If you look at the ornamental marks on Allahu Akbar, they are all 6s. How more specific can you get? (more…)

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