December 2006

The news this morning after Christmas is more bad news, especially for the Horn of Africa. As if the Darfur debacle in Sudan is not bad enough, the civil war in Somalia has escalated beyond the borders. Yesterday Ethiopia dispatched a fighter plane to briefly strafe the international airport in Mogadishu. This was not exactly shock-and-awe, but then Mogadishu is not Baghdad and the self-styled “Islamists” in more-or-less control of the capital are not a trained and disciplined army.


[Note: The following Islamophobic/Christophilic piece was written by the early 20th century missionary Samuel Zwemer and his wife Amy for Christian children. The overt Orientalism seen here through a virtually complete opposing of Arab Muslims to “civilized” American Christians is chilling; unfortunately it still resonates and not only with conservative Evangelicals intent on converting Muslims to their own brand of Christendom. I offer the following selection (the whole cloth is preserved at Project Gutenberg) as a reminder that the so-called “clash of civilizations” has deep roots. So on this Christmas Eve, as you count your blessings, consider also the many curses you can find in the following excerpt as a Muslim reader. A century or so after this book was written, a different kind of mission embroils Baghdad. On this Christmas Eve, for President Bush, mission not accomplished; for Samuel Zwemer, prayer not answered. For Iraqi Muslims the world has indeed been turned downside up. ]

The story of mission work in Arabia is not very long, but it is full of interest. From the day when Mohammed proclaimed himself an apostle in Mecca until about sixteen years ago when Ion Keith Falconer came to Aden as a missionary, all of Topsy-turvy Land lay in darkness as regards the gospel. For thirteen hundred years Mohammed had it all his own way in Arabia. Now his dominion over the hearts of men, is in dispute, and there is no doubt that the final, full victory will rest with Jesus the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.


[Pick your triangle and move to square one…]Our self-effusive politicians lie rather than admit mistakes. Our soldiers keep dying and these same politicians talk about sending more into harm’s way in Baghdad. The military death toll is now only 60 off the 3000 mark, one we are sure to reach in early January. Yesterday the Department of Defense released the names of the last nine on this list: they were Joe, Matthew, Henry, Kevin, Nicklas, David, Matthew, Seth and Luke. Tomorrow new names will be added. “Regretable but acceptable,” argue the rhetorical warriors against international terrorism.

It seems like everyday we are back to square one. (more…)

The Critics
by Ceyhun Atuf Kansu (1919-78)

They know their English:
The Victorian Age,
Eliot schmeliot
Are complete on their shelves.

They know their French:
From its origins to the present
The grasshopper and the ant
From La Fontaine to our day.

I am not even mentioning
Those who know Italian or German
The erudite scholars
Those who did it the American way.


[Donny George at Iraqi exhibition of pre-Islamic antiquties.]

Muslims Need to be Sensitised to their Own Material Past
By Alastair Northedge, The Art Newspaper, November 2006

At the end of August, The Art Newspaper revealed the stunning news that Donny George, president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, had been forced to flee the country in fear of his life and take refuge in Damascus. In recent months, Dr George sealed up the treasures of the National Museum in Baghdad behind concrete walls, as it was too dangerous to leave them exposed. He was replaced by a relation of the Minister of Tourism, who comes from the party of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric and leader of the resistance movement. (more…)

In a candid moment near the start of the Iraq War (pre-civil, civil or post-civil), then Secretary of State Colin Powell told President Bush exactly what the Iraq Study Group has now reminded him three years later. We broke Iraq and now we own the problem. We have been paying, of course, all along in lives and billions of dollars that might have served a useful purpose rather than taking more lives. Now encoded in mediaspeak as the “Pottery Barn rule,” the label sticks even though the commercial Pottery Barn does not have such a rule. The fact that the situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating,” as the Iraq Study Group bluntly states, shows that the current war and occupation have indeed gone to pot. Leave it to ten former politicians and continuing public personas to hash[ish] it out and exhume the failed policy for all to see. (more…)

Map is not territory, as historian of religion J. Z. Smith reminded us several decades ago. But neither is there a territorial monopoly on maps in printed atlases and underutilized map rooms. If you like maps, especially vintage variety, of the Middle East, there is a curious collection at a most anachronistically named website:

As the name implies, this is not a site put out by Muslims. In fact it is a poorly disguised Christian missionary site trying to convert Muslims back into the earlier fold. (more…)

Speakers of every human language use words or phrases pragmatically, as discourse markers. Some of these discourse markers (for example, English “mm-hmm”) can be used by a listener to tell a speaker that he is paying attention to what is being said and understands it. This is what linguists call a “back-channel” marker. It tells the principle speaker that he may go on talking. Other discourse markers can be used by the principle speaker to prompt the listener to speak briefly without taking center stage in the discussion. Such prompts – for example, English “y’know what I’m saying?” – elicit a short backchannel response from the listener (ex. “uh-huh…”) but do not invite him to take a full turn in the conversation. (more…)

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