September 2007

On Thursday Newsday (p. 2) published the latest in the loose-neocon-cannon-fodder remarks of Rep. Peter King, from Seaford, Long Island, New York. He remarked on a blogged video ( that there are “too many mosques in this country, there’s too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam.” Before I read this in the morning, I had just returned from teaching a class on the Peoples of the Middle East when I found a request to discuss Rep. King’s comments with New York’s Eyewitness News Channel 7. The reporter arrived in less than an hour and I provided the context on why Muslims, especially on Long Island, take offense at these kinds of remarks. About 10 seconds of my commentary (although not the part directly relevant) made the evening news. Later in the afternoon I was contacted by a New York Times reporter who was following the same story. My comments to him did not make the brief “Metro Note” on King in today’s edition. With the daily rags telling Ahmadinejad to “Drop Dead” for daring to ask to lay a wreathe at the 9/11 site and Rudy vaunting that he would set Iran back “five or 10 years” if they dare develop nukes, the King’s comments seem to be but an echo of the more newsworthy Islamophobia on display. (more…)

I just finished watching Bush’s press conference on Thursday. At one point Bush said (and this is paraphrased a bit from memory), “It’s like I tell Condi. Look at who is the c-student and look at who is the Ph.D. . Now, look at who is the President and who is the advisor.” This was followed by lots of laughter from the press corps. Leaving aside that George W. Bush seems to think he could have attained the presidency as a c-student if he was not a DKE, a millionaire, and the son of a president I am tired of hearing higher education derided by people in power.

I think we need to defend the concept of the Ph.D., especially with regard to the study of Islam. (more…)

King Feisal, center, with Colonel Lawrence next to him to the right

[Given the surge in bad news from Iraq these days, it may be useful to reflect on the assessment of the British involvement in Iraq as a mandate almost nine decades ago. The words of T. E. Lawrence resonate with the situation today.]

22 August, 1920
A Report on Mesopotamia by T.E. Lawrence
Ex.-Lieut.-Col. T.E. Lawrence,
The Sunday Times, 22 August 1920

[Mr. Lawrence, whose organization and direction of the Hedjaz against the Turks was one of the outstanding romances of the war, has written this article at our request in order that the public may be fully informed of our Mesopotamian commitments.]

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster. (more…)

by Richard W. Bulliet

January 21, 2009

Congratulations on your inauguration. May history remember your term in
office as the greatest political turn-around in American history.

Now to Iraq, the puzzle your predecessor has left for you to solve:

1. Compounding one botched war in Iraq with a second one in Iran would
sink your presidency before it starts. President Ahmadinejad of the
Islamic Republic of Iran will be up for reelection in seven months (August
2009). The Iranian people must be given an unfettered opportunity to
retire him to private life and elect someone of more liberal temperament.
His unpopularity in Iran already points in that direction. So, the United
States should do nothing that would enhance his prospects of reelection.
Diplomacy must replace saber rattling, and the “axis of evil” rhetoric
must be retired. Let us do what we can to give the Iranians a chance to
change leaders through their own electoral system.

2. Begin immediately the relocation of combat units to bases outside the
major cities of Iraq as a first step toward the withdrawal of ground
forces from the country. Announce that combat operations will henceforth
be restricted to fighting against those who attack American troops, supply
lines, or physical assets. Open negotiations with the Iraqi government
about the possibility of leaving a small number of combat units in the
country for a fixed and limited period to interdict the infiltration of
foreign fighters and — in joint operations with the Iraqi army — combat
groups that both the United States and the Iraqi government agree are
primarily composed of foreign terrorists. (more…)

[The Cedars of Lebanon, steel engraving by J. D. Harding after C. Barry, 1835]

Lebanon is laid waste.
I need no bible-toting prophet to remind me
that someone’s long silent God gave the order
to saw through the last cedars.

The litany of woes crosses the Litani
but no bridge is left behind to burn,
just the kindling of ersatz-born leaflets that first say “Flee”
then demand “Stop,”
but really mean “Do not breathe, we own the air.” (more…)

[Note: This is the fourth in a series of translations of selected letters of the noted Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.]

Letter #4 (3/25/1954)
The Directorate of Imported Funds, Baghdad, Iraq

My Kind and Respected Brother, Dr. (Suheil) Idres,

Sweet greetings to you.

The kind letter that you sent me has had a deep effect on my soul. It bears witness anew to the nobility of your spirit, the vastness of your heart, and the sincerity of the pledge that you have assumed in the service of the Arab community and its literature which is advancing towards the light. I have made an elite group of friends, writers, and lovers of literature aware of your letter so they are informed of the biased uproar that a group of “preachers” have attempted to create.

It appears that Divine Justice has wished numerous, simultaneous events to occur so that the truth could become evident. Your letter to me and to our brother, Kathim (Jawad), arrived at the same time that the magazine, al-Adeeb, came out displaying a photograph of the “Preacher of Modern Poetry.” “The preacher” had dedicated the photograph to “the great poet, Albert Adeeb!!” This appeared along with a discussion on the great international poets such as Nathem Hikmat, Pablo Neruda and Aragone!! Is there more falsehood than this? (more…)

[Illustration: The ka‘ba in Mecca during the period of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamit II.]

[Editor’s Note: As the holiest location in the Muslim World, the Arabian city of Mecca is prohibited territory for any non-Muslim. Over the years a number of travelers disguised themselves and visited the sacred enclosure of the ka’ba, most notably Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), who made his overture in 1812, and Richard Burton in 1853. In 1877 an Englishman named John Keane entered Mecca. His travel account is available online. Here is the story of that surreptitious visit, as told by Robin Bidwell.]

John Fryer Keane was the son of a clergyman and had run away to sea at the age of twelve. He spent most of the next nine years among Muslims, mainly as an officer on ships with Indian crews. He arrived at Jedda, attached himself to the suite of an Indian prince and after six weeks in Mecca felt as completely at home as if he had been there all his life. No one commented upon his fair skin for, as he said, the visitors were so varied that it looked like Madame Tussaud’s out for a walk and the spectacle of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a mitre would really have caused no comment. He wandered around happily, peering in through a school window to see the boys having the soles of their feet beaten in batches of five and chattering with a Muslim lady who, as Miss McIntosh, had been taken prisoner during the Indian Mutiny.

He was deeply impressed by the religious sincerity of the pilgrims and the deep spirituality that it engendered, but he cared much less for the resident population. (more…)

[Photograph from]

Love makes the wheels go round…

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