November 2005


Having just returned from the annual conference of MESA (Middle East Studies Association) in Washington, D.C., my eyes are still glazed from all the new titles in the book exhibits. I doubt there was a major publisher represented that did not have a new offering with “Jihad,” “Post 9/11,” “Islamism” or just plain “Terrorism” on prominent display. The pundits are having a field day, embedded journalist and intrepid academics alike. The greatest volume of texts by a single author went to Bernard Lewis, who had so many titles on display at the Oxford booth that this reputable forum might be in danger of becoming the Oxford-Lewis University Press. Several books back, not that the content varies much, Lewis hit the market right after 9/11 with his What Went Wrong?,a typical Lewisite (following the common media usage of Shiite) rehash lamenting the fact “they” are not as curious about “us” as “we” are about “them.” There are many valuable books now available that counter this iconic neocon imagination of the Middle East. But one book that I fear may be lost in the constant shuffle of new titles is historian Richard Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization (Columbia University Press, 2004).



If the Muslim World fit the blurred binary vision of columnist Thomas Friedman, the problems of the Middle East could easily be reduced to a choice of words that start with the letter s. In his Wednesday, November 16, 2005 op-ed piece in The New York Times, Mr. Friedman beseeches a silent Sunni majority to ask the question, “why anyone?” He correctly notes that “Suicide bombs taint the heart of Islam.” Given ongoing suicide bombing inside and outside liberated-and-now-occupied Iraq, we are reminded, “‘Here’s Ahmed – he blew up 52 Muslims at a wedding.’ ‘Here’s Muhammad – he blew up 25 Shiites at a funeral.'” Tell us ‘taint so’ Ahmed. Tell Muhammad’s children that Abu just went straight to hell. “So why don’t more people in the Sunni world speak out against the Sunni Arabs doing this?” he asks, not really expecting an answer. (more…)

When a tough ex-marine says our military strategy in Iraq is flawed, it is worth standing at attention. Today Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania joined other Democrats and a clear majority of the American people in courageously calling for the President and his neoconclave to stop waving the red flag of bull in front of Iraqis and Americans alike. “There’s a difference between supporting the troops and continuing to support a failed policy,” observed this conservative veteran legislator. “It’s up to the president to clearly define the goals and objectives of what constitutes success in Iraq. The American people deserve this. Even more important, the troops deserve to hear what the policy is.” (more…)

The picture that flashed around the media world this morning was of a Muslim woman opening her abaya to reveal a midriff fixed with a failed explosive device. It was also one of those rare tabloid days when both the New York Post and Daily News ran the same exploitative headline: “Dressed to Kill.” American audiences are more used to seeing an “Oriental” woman dressed to thrill, a belly dancer or an odalisque. Muslim women are enjoined in the Quran to be modest and cover their adornments. But it is hard to imagine that such advice from above covers an incendiary device rather than the body parts that immodest men look to for vice. (more…)

In 1978 Hollywood released Halloween. It was destined to become a cult classic with more cinematic lives than Star Wars. This was a ghoulish film about imaginable terror in an unimaginable way. A psychotic murderer named Michael Myers gets loose and reaks mindless havoc. Later he stalks the character of Jamie Lee Curtis in a hospital. In yet another sequel it takes back-to-back films to be thwarted in a plot to kill his seven year old niece. Next, the niece is kidnapped and raped by evil druids, then the shape of Michael returns again to stalk his favorite victim’s son. The finale, ominously subtitled Resurrection, has a group of college kids streamed into cyberspace as they try to escape the killer’s haunted house.

What does all this have to do with the current spate of suicide bombings in Jordan and Iraq? (more…)

How do you profile a Muslim Terrorist? Some leave clues, a few even record video epitaphs. For the last two years a day has probably not gone by without a suicide bomber pulling a string and blowing himself and those around him to bits or driving a car to explode the lives of innocent bystanders. Is there a way to predict who such a bomber might be, or who builds the bombs and plans the operations? Logic fails, at least the logic that says something has to be very special to die for and even more special to make other people die for a cause just because you believe in it. (more…)

For almost two weeks the nights in parts of Paris and other cities in France have belonged to rioters, who seem intent on taking out parked cars (more than 6000 at last count) rather than fellow French citizens. Then tonite flames rose from three luxury hotels in Amman, Jordan with scores dead in the early reports. Although the blasts in Amman occurred in heavily touristed hotels, they are venues just as frequented by well-to-do Jordanians. In the Raddison a suicide bomber apparently set himself off in the midst of a Jordanian wedding. (more…)

On Sunday, Nov. 6 at 9 pm EST The History Channel will resurrect the era of the Crusades with a special program called “The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross.” I have not seen the program, so I cannot comment on its historical accuracy, fairhandedness or cinematic quality. Were it to air (I am tempted to say err) on Fox News, I would make every effort not to see it. But my academic bent idealistically treats “The History Channel” as National Geographic with substance.

I have, unfortunately, seen the advertisement for this program gracing the back of my recently arrived November Smithsonian magazine. I repeat “unfortunately” because either the ad maker has no clue what the program is trying to say (this is my hope) or else this special might as well be on Fox.

Let’s start with the hook. “CAN A PRESIDENT FINISH WHAT A KING, A SULTAN AND A POPE BEGAN?” Just about everything in this question (I do so hope it is meant to be rhetorical) is backwards. Surely, this program is not going to argue that Bush’s well-oiled but poorly thought out war in Iraq is a new crusade. Yes, our president uttered the inappropriate c-word (I am thinking of the non-sexual one here) soon after 9/11, but I do not think the Pentagon got its game-plan from Rev. Franklin Graham. I can only wonder what “King” will be targeted as the royal jump-starter for the Crusades? Unless this is a subliminal plug for Larry King Live on another channel. Nor do I remember any sultan in the Middle East or yet-to-be occupied Constantinople making a preemptive strike on Christendom. Why save the Pope for last, since Pope Urban’s fiery speech in 1095 C.E. is what historians used to cite as kindling the flame? (more…)