April 2007

Iraq is now a safari run amok, where there lurk soldiers, guards of various companies, mercenaries of variegate extractions, militias of any religious or political ideology, as well as many versions and perversions of al-Qaida mujahidin. All of them hunt the poor ordinary Iraqi dreaming only of a normal life, at least as normal as it could have been under the cruel Saddam. Saddam could handle a gun, as we know, but, from the prospective of the game, one hunter who is more or less predictable is better than many who shoot indiscriminately at anything that moves.

Day after day, Baghdad is stained in fresher blood than it had ever been before. (more…)

The Iraq War on its way to the record books as one of the longest wars in American history is at last, without any lingering doubt, up against a wall. One of the top stories today in the New York Times says it all: “U.S. Erects Baghdad Wall to Keep Sects Apart.” “American military commanders in Baghdad are trying a radical new strategy to quell the widening sectarian violence by building a 12-foot-high, three-mile-long wall separating a historic Sunni enclave from Shiite neighborhoods,” write reporters Edward Wong and David S. Cloud. In other words, when push comes to surge and surge comes up against a brick wall, then just go ahead and do something concrete, like building a wall. The new military strategy becomes ‘ where there is a wall, there is a way.’ (more…)

Father of Murdered Egyptian Virginia Tech Student: “they murdered the ambitions of my son”

Virginia, Asharq Al-Awsat, 19/04/2007

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed yesterday that one of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre was Egyptian post graduate student Waleed Mohamed Shaalan.

Shaalan, a native of the Nile Delta town of Zagazig, had gone to Virginia last year to study for a Ph.D. in civil engineering. He was hit by three bullets, including one in the head, while in a classroom building, according to Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency, MENA. (more…)

Benjamin Disraeli
(1804-1881) was one of the most colorful and literary of British Prime Ministers in the latter half of the 19th century. Among his novels was one about a young conservative English lord named Tancred who made a spiritual quest to the “Holy Land.” This is his Tancred, of The New Crusade, originally published in 1877. In the novel Tancred is disillusioned with the lack of morality in British politics. Instead of taking his inherited place in high society, he chooses instead to go on a quest for spiritual meaning to the land where his religion began. Disraeli, as novelist, uses the Levant as a backdrop for his psychological portrait of young Tancred, but it is as much about the foibles of the British political scene as it is an “Orientalist” rendering of the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The novel is full of intrigue, as adventure stories should be. It has not made canonization as a “great” work, but it is still worth a read (if you can find a copy). (more…)

[Illustration: Ronak Aziz, Iraqi artist.]

Tragedies should never be monopolized by reporters and analysts, nor should academics have the last expert-teased word. Baghdad, fabled city of Arabian Nights tales along a river that once flowed from Paradise, is once again hell on earth. To make sense of this senseless waste, we need to turn to the poets. One of the pioneers of modern Arabic poetry in free verse as well as freed spirit was Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, who was born in Iraq in 1926 and died in Damascus, Syria in 1999. He saw the violence that imperially and post-empirely devastated his native land and he wrote profoundly about love, death and exile. A collection of his poetry, in Arabic and English translation by Bassam K, Frangieh, appeared in 1990 (Love, Death and Exile: Poems Translated from the Arabic, Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Press, re-issued in 2004). More than politicians and journalists, native poets sense pain and foster hope long before anyone else notices. Al-Bayati is no exception. (more…)

Each day the New York Times has the courage to publish the names of American military personnel killed in Iraq. Today nine names are listed, the youngest at age 18. A Private first class from Paradise, California only found hell in serving his country in a war that even the most diehard (and these young men seem to die all too easily) neocons know cannot be won, only endured until the next election. These soldiers had first names of Shaun, Jesse, Mario, Aaron, Daniel, Joshua, Lucas, Steven and Brandon – a genealogical snapshot of America’s diversity. They grew up in Indiana, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri. They could have been studying at a college. But for the names of those dead you would need to flip through the pages to read about the victims of the student rampage massacre at Virginia Tech on Monday.

What do these two lists have in common? In each case young lives were taken and careers ended before they began. Families had to confront the horror of death close to home. There are new scars that will never heal. There are tears that can never stop flowing. There is the nagging question of how could this happen. (more…)

[Picture 1.]

Observations and Reflections on Shi’a Bodily Symbolism

Despite the fact that the Kingdom of Bahrain has experienced tremendous changes in its orientation toward cosmopolitan milieu, modernity, and liberation of economy, it is still dominated by traditional worldviews refracted and enacted in the ritual discourses of both Shi’a, locally called Baharna, and Sunna who show a deep devotion to the Prophet’s family, Al Al-Bayt. The Shi’a people constitute the majority, or two-thirds of the population. They believe that the great Imam ‘Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, is the rightful the successor of the prophet. Generally, people of Bahrain are very gentle and peaceful and rarely have I encountered any two people to argue in an odd or hostile manner. Even during the crowded parades (mawkabs) of the ten days of Muharram or ‘Ashura, I have never witnessed any sort of violence or aggression toward others. (more…)

According to all three major monotheisms even God needed time to take a rest and so the sabbath was created. With the spate of mosque bombings, torture of prisoners and outright mayhem dominating the news about the Middle East these days, it might help to sit back and read what the American humorist Mark Twain wrote about his Missouri-born creation Tom Sawyer set loose in the Holy Land more than a century ago. (more…)

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