December 2005

In a matter of hours the year 2005 will be fodder for the historians. It was a typical year in many respects, full of violence, murder, poverty, hatred and natural disasters. There were also glimmers of hope or at least rumors of hope, but these were overshadowed by the continued human tragedies and political stalemating. What else is new? For those who follow events in the Middle East and regarding the world’s one billion plus Muslim population, there is little to be thankful for apart from hope-tinged rumors. The impacts of tsunami, earthquakes, suicide bombs, airplane strikes, political rhetoric and cultural insensitivity seem to have had free reign last year. Does anyone really expect much of a change this coming year? (more…)

Most Americans know little about the country of Yemen, located beneath (geographically and metaphorically for many foreign policy makers) America’s oil-friendly ally Saudi Arabia. I have been going to Yemen since 1978, when I lived for over a year as an ethnographer in a highland tribal village northwest of the capital Sanaa. Since that time my academic career has focused largely on the history and culture of Yemen. I edited a bulletin (Yemen Update) devoted to all aspects of Yemeni Studies for a decade, and I have returned frequently as researcher and development consultant. Over the years there have been very few news articles about Yemen by American correspondents. The few that have appeared are generally so full of stereotypes and misinformation that I often turn the paper aside in disgust. The major 3-part article begun last weekend (Dec. 18, 19, 20) by David Finkel on a democracy development project in Yemen for the Washington Post is sadly yet another ignorant and dangerous posting that needs a reality check. (more…)

The current politicized fracas over the renewal of the Patriot Act has reached the boiling point. A filibuster in the senate seeks to draw attention to provisions in the current bill that many Americans see as a stealth attack on civil liberties. The President and his surrogates insist that they have a right to act outside the law in order to respond to new threats of terrorism. Meanwhile the spin doctors in all media outlets are doing their job at dizzying speed. The seasonal message of “Peace on Earth,” routine as we come to expect it, has been drowned out in the past few days by finger pointing and alibi giving. Beyond the posturing on both sides of the congressional aisle and in the White House over the merits of the Patriot Act, we need someone to read the Riot Act to government officials who are more interested in justifying the Iraq War than saving the lives that mount up daily. (more…)

“The United States and many other countries are waging a war against terrorism.”

This is the battle cry announced today to the media by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just before leaving on a diplomatic salvage salvo to Europe. If indeed we are to view recent attacks against U.S. and Western interests worldwide as a “war,” then it is an ongoing war with no real beginning and no predictable end. The Gospels remind us that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but another constant in human history has been the human potential for atrocities. Such potential is today labeled as “terrorism” when it flaunts regard for human rights and the Geneva Convention wisdom of how to wage war cleanly. But Rice is not going to Germany and France to sell war bonds; she has to explain why the United States has substituted the basic American value of civil liberty with an eye-for-an-eye counter-terrorism that comes dangerously close to combating terrorism with yet another form of terrorism. (more…)