There is a nicely done satire by Sean McFate on how to take over a small country. Check it out here. Note: Only the rich may apply.

The photograph illustrates Luce Ben Aben, Moorish women preparing couscous, Algiers, Algeria.

There is a trove of old photographs from around the Middle East at the website

Kurds in national costumes

Young girl of Bethlehem. This color photochrome print was made between 1890 and 1900.

by Hasan Azad, al-Jazeera, July 11, 2014

What do the Islamic State, Boko Haram and the Taliban all have in common? Extremism? Caliphatism? Violence? All these things are merely incidental to these groups. What is essential to them is that they are all thoroughly modern formations. So what do I mean by this, given that they tend to strike us as the very antithesis of modernity?

First of all, it is crucial to ask ourselves what it is that we understand by modernity. We assume that modernity means reason, science, freedom, justice, racial, gender, and sexual equality. These are the assumptions. They are the ideals that are projected by a strident western discourse, where the West is seen as their progenitor and purveyor.

Perhaps it will strike the reader as a little odd if I say that these ideals are far from being realised within the West. That there are massive inequalities of sexualities, of genders and of races in the West. That western freedom, whether political, economic or consumerist, comes at the expense of the freedom of people living in non-western countries.

And this lack of freedom runs far and deep, reaching into the history of how non-European people were made to think during colonial times. For example, any serious study of the history of colonialism and its educational projects in its colonies reveals the extent to which Europe reconfigured indigenous modes of knowing with its own mode of thinking – a manner of thinking which has its roots in the Enlightenment, with its own idiosyncratic means of reasoning. (more…)

This photograph taken on May 2, 2013 shows Pakistan man, Abdul Razzaq holding the national identity card of his brother Amanatullah Ali, who has been detained for the last nine years in Bagram jail in Afghanistan, in Faisalabad. Guillaume Lavallee/AFP/Getty Images

Abu Zubaydah and the banality of ‘jihadism’

by Terry McDermott, al-Jazeera,December 19, 2013

The world is full of dangerous goofballs, but we can’t treat them all as threats to civilization

The Abu Zubaydah diaries recently made available to the public by Al Jazeera America might seem interesting only to security officials or 9/11 obsessives. To regard them as such would be a mistake, for they contain the most detailed portrait of the interior life of a dedicated jihadi that we have ever seen, and that we might ever see. They also help substantiate what should by now be clear: The U.S. has made significant, basic errors in its response to 9/11 and the threat of radical Islam.

Zubaydah, born in Palestine and raised in middle-class comfort in Saudi Arabia, rose through the 1990s — by what abilities it is not clear — to a position of some stature within radical Islam. He recorded his rise in hundreds of diary entries addressed to his future self. Written over two decades, the diaries track him from an early adulthood spent studying computer programming at a technical college in India through early 2002. Further diaries, written while he has been in U.S. custody, including at Guantánamo, have yet to be revealed.

Zubaydah was captured in the spring of 2002, the first significant Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist to be caught after 9/11. It turned out the link to Al-Qaeda was more tenuous than the U.S. government had imagined. For years, the U.S. government had viewed him as a major figure within the group, at one point even elevating him to the No. 3 position on what turned out to be a fanciful Al-Qaeda organizational chart. (more…)

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, ca 1500

War is hell and it was long before General Sherman figured that out. It helps to remember exactly what “hell” means. In 1741 the Protestant firebrand Jonathan Edwards gave a rather clear picture:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince…

Over five centuries ago, the painter Hieronymus Bosch gave an artistic rendering, as noted above. Had he known about poison gas, I suspect we would have seen a few canisters in his registers. In the hell that is war, a Dantean perspective would place the various poison gasses near the bottom level. It now seems that the United States is certain that Syria’s Assad has used poison gas, crossing the rhetorical line drawn by President Obama awhile ago. Foreign Policy is reporting new old evidence that our government is not so much concerned about the use of such poison gas as it is in who are the intended victims. We apparently knew in advance that Saddam would use such gas when we gave him logistical support to fight off the Iranians, whose country he had ruthlessly invaded. And, of course, we did nothing when he gassed the Kurds in Halabja.

The truth is that war has always been hell, since the first historical descriptions. In reality it is never the kind of supposedly heroic “give ‘m hell” bravado of John Wayne or Rambo. Gore trumps the vanity of glory. The problem is that hell is eternally present and not in some far-off ethereal realm. A further problem is that hell has no suitable escape hatch. Thus thousands have died in Syria and many more will be killed on all sides, no matter what the United States does next. The same goes for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and now, it seems, Egypt. Even those who think that by killing someone else because they are … (fill in the sectarian blank) they will go to an imagined heaven only deserve to end up in the hell they create for their victims.

Those of us far away from the fighting, only within Youtube range, may forget how close to hell we really are. The stench of dead bodies and the devastating odorless poison that snuffs out lives lightning quick are not part of the air we currently breathe, but we should not forget that hell is not a place but an attitude, an attitude that kills. It is also an attitude for which there is no real immunity in avoiding its reality. If only we could say “to hell with war,” but then that would be a tautology.

Area: 219,000 sq. mi
Population: 2,750,000
Government: Absolute Monarchy
Scenes: Morocco Leather; City of Morocco; Street Scene in Morocc

previous post I began a series on coffee advertising cards with Middle Eastern themes. One of the most colorful collections is that provided by the Arbuckle Coffee Company. In my great, great aunt’s album there were several Middle Eastern and North African nations represented, but she did not have all the cards. Here is a final potpourri from Arbuckle’s 1889 series, starting with Morocco above. (more…)

Afghan President Karzai explaining how large a bag he wants his CIA cash delivered in

Following the “revelation” that the CIA has been dropping off bags of cash to Afghan’s President Karzai, perhaps its acronym should also stand for Covert Insurance Allowance. What better way to spread democracy and freedom-loving among the Afghan people than to buy allegiance with greenbacks. After all, if Karzai is not supplied with freshly minted American dollars, how can he get the warlords to side with him. Let’s face it, the Taliban have stockpiled the opium, so Karzai needs some source of income for his fragile economy. As bribed supporters of American liberation, we can be assured that these warlords would never use any of that under-the-table funding to buy opium from the Taliban.

Many Americans are shocked that the CIA would provide clandestine aid to a foreign president who is pulled out on the kilim in public to be chided over Afghan’s notorious corruption. But rest assured that President Karzai gives America receipts for every dollar. These receipts are actually recycled and used as toilet paper back in CIA headquarters, resulting in a significant savings for the agency. The CIA can now cover its own shit without having to buy truckloads of Scots Tissues, much to the consternation of the Koch Brothers. Now that the shit has hit the fan, so to speak, more money will need to be provided to Karzai so that more receipts can make their way back to headquarters. There is plenty of cash available, despite sequestration, since so many of the other dictators that were getting genuine made-in-America bribes on the sly are gone. (more…)

A document attesting to the accounts of Abu Ishaq the Jew (1020-1021CE); The National Library of Israel

By Isabel Kershner, The New York Times, January 14, 2013

JERUSALEM — A batch of 1,000-year-old manuscripts from the mountainous northern reaches of war-torn Afghanistan, reportedly found in a cave inhabited by foxes, has revealed previously unknown details about the cultural, economic and religious life of a thriving but little understood Jewish society in a Persian part of the Muslim empire of the 11th century.

The texts are known collectively as the Afghan Geniza, a Hebrew term for a repository of sacred texts and objects.

The 29 paper pages, now encased in clear plastic and unveiled here this month at the National Library of Israel, are part of a trove of hundreds of documents discovered in the cave whose existence had been known for several years, with photographs circulating among experts. Remarkably well preserved, apparently because of the dry conditions there, the majority of the documents are now said to be in the hands of private dealers in Britain, Switzerland, and possibly the United States and the Middle East. (more…)

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