December 2009



Sir Flinders Petrie, Egyptologist

An Archic Sonnet

To know what man was, ere he wrote his name,
Inscribed the laws and precepts on the rock,
And sacrificed the best lamb of the flock,
We dig the mound, and wander o’er the plain.
To learn the mysteries of the past, we fain
Would search for hidden slabs, and keep in stock
The Relics we so love. Oh, to unlock
The door, and gain an entrance to the same! (more…)


Image of the Ayatollah from his Persian website

One of the most vocal opponents of the hardliners in the Islamic Revolution and of the recent election fixing by President Ahmadinejad was the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has died at the age of 87. Reports of the funeral in Qum are based on eyewitnesses, since the government of Iran has forbidden journalists to cover the burial. The New York Times has a lengthy article by Robert Wirth with the following general information:

Ayatollah Montazeri was widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran, and that gave his criticisms special potency, analysts say. His religious credentials also prevented the authorities from silencing or jailing him. Last month, he stunned many in Iran and abroad by apologizing for his role in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, which he called a mistake. Iran’s leaders celebrate the takeover every year as a foundational event of the Islamic revolution. (more…)

[Webshaykh’s note: Dr. Saad Sowayan, as the post below will explain, has been collecting, analyzing and documenting the oral poetic traditions of the Arabian Peninsula, especially his native Saudi Arabia, since his graduate research. He has now completed two major works, available for reading on the internet, but still in search of an appropriate publisher. I invite readers to look over his impressive documentation and analysis and communicate with Dr. Sowayan any ideas that may help forward his project.]

by Dr. Saad Sowayan, King Saud University

After 10 years of continuous hard work, I managed to finish the two books, which, taking the size and importance of each, I consider to be my lifetime projects.
A) Legends & Oral Historical Narrative from Northern Arabia (1131 pages)
B) The Arabian Desert: Its Poetry & Culture Across the Ages: An Anthropological Approach (820 pages).

The first work, as its title says, is a collection of Bedouin narratives and poems relating to tribal genealogies, camel marks, tribal territories, water wells, sheikhs, warriors, tribal judges, tribal poets, personal histories, as well as narratives relating to raids and counter raids amongst tribes and other events. All of these are told by competent narrators & reciters in the various tribal dialects and all go back to pre and early 20th century. I have been engaged in taping this voluminous material during the span of the 4 years extending from 1982 up to 1985. Since 1995 I have been engaged in archiving, indexing, transcribing and editing this taped material which came to a total of several hundred hours of recorded interviews. Legends & Oral Historical Narratives from Northern Arabia (1131 pages) is the result of this effort very carefully transcribed and edited in Arabic script with full voweling tashkeel. The work comes with a very detailed table of contents and an introduction explaining the nature of the material along with some linguistic remarks and explanation of the transcription method I used. All in all, the work is a primary source on Arabian nomadic tribal culture, oral literature and vernacular language. This work constitutes a compliment to the works of P. Marcel Kurpershoek published in English by Brill in Leiden. (more…)

by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Middle East Report Online, December 17, 2009

The on-camera martyrdom of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year old philosophy student shot dead during the protests after the fraudulent presidential election in Iran in June, caught the imagination of the world. But the post-election crackdown has two other victims whose fates better capture the radical shift in the country’s political culture. One victim was the protester Taraneh Mousavi, detained, reportedly raped and murdered in prison, and her body burned and discarded. The other is Majid Tavakoli, the student leader arrested on December 8, after a fiery speech denouncing dictatorship during the demonstrations on National Student Day.

Following his arrest, pro-government news agencies claimed Tavakoli had been caught trying to escape dressed as a woman and published a series of photographs showing him wearing a headscarf and chador — a common version of the “modest” garb (hejab) mandated for women by the Islamic Republic. Attempts at flight in such gender-bending disguises are a classic trope in Iranian political history. The best-known instance was when the first president of the Islamic Republic, Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr, after his deposition in 1981, allegedly fled the country in women’s dress — the Fars News Agency put a photo of him in a scarf next to that of Tavakoli. But in pre-revolutionary Iran clerics, too, such as Ayatollah Bayat, are said to have evaded the Shah’s authorities by concealing themselves beneath chadors, which pro-government media outlets now choose to ignore. (more…)

For those of us who grew up on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Mr. Peabody and his not-so-bright sidekick Sherman taught us the “real” story behind history. Mr Peabody has long since retired and I suspect Sherman is still working on his B.A. somewhere, but a new episode has appeared that explains how we got into the mess in Iraq. If, as Napoleon is credited with saying, history is a pack of lies agreed upon, one might as well agree with this as with the multiple official versions.

Check it out on Youtube.


Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, 1843-1921

[Webshaykh’s Note: As someone who grew up on the Scofield Bible, I offer this critique from the peanut gallery.]

Zionism’s un-Christian Bible
Scofield Bible made uncompromising Zionists out of tens of millions of Americans.

By Maidhc O. Cathail, Middle East Online, November 25, 2009

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions for Palestine campaign should widen its scope to target non-Israeli companies who contribute significantly to the oppression of Palestinians. As part of this broader strategy, priority should be given to one of the most egregious offenders, the prestigious British publisher, Oxford University Press. As unlikely as it may seem, the world’s largest university press is responsible for one of the greatest obstacles to justice for Palestinians – The Scofield Bible.

Since it was first published in 1909, the Scofield Reference Bible has made uncompromising Zionists out of tens of millions of Americans. When John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, said that “50 million evangelical bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel,” it was the Scofield Bible that he was talking about.

Although the Scofield Reference Bible contains the text of the King James Authorized Version, it is not the traditional Protestant bible but Cyrus I. Scofield’s annotated commentary that is the problem. More than any other factor, it is Scofield’s notes that induced generations of American evangelicals to believe that God demands their uncritical support for the modern State of Israel. (more…)


President’s new mosque in Sanaa, Yemen; photo by Arnaud Rat.

There is a short two-minute video taken recently by George Lewis in Sanaa, looking from the old city to the new mosque built by the president. To access this, click here.


President Obama speaking to the Nobel Prize Committee

As the season has arrived in which “Peace on Earth” fills the airwaves and resonates from church choirs, the recent choice of President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize becomes ironic as well as iconic. The icon is obvious, as no president since John F. Kennedy has elicited such fanfare at his entry into office. As the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, introduced President Obama, it was clear that in part the real choice was the man who pledged to reverse the isolationist and publicly entrenched private sectoring of George W. Bush. Had our previous president not been the bearer of two made-for-Hollywood wars in the guise of a nebulous “War on Terror,” Obama would have had to wait his turn. The irony is manifold. American dissatisfaction with the costly war in Iraq led to a political surge for the Democrats for a change; the man who pledged to end the war mongering is still saddled with the two wars he did not start. On the home front, the financial tsunami he inherited now tarnishes virtually every attempt to pull the economy out of its cross-the-boards harm from the combustable engine of Wall Street to the reckless drivers on Main Street.

The liberals and centrists who voted to give hope a chance have all too soon decided not to give it much of a chance. Those who actually prefer to call themselves liberals no doubt hoped that Obama was just politicking when he touted centrist positions to secure some of those Red State votes. But the man from Illinois, who kicked off his run with the symbolic capital of an earlier president-to-be from Illinois, is decidedly centrist, the mad ravings of vanity pouting Glenn Beck and publicity whoring Sarah Palin notwithstanding. If you want to probe the postmodern meaning of irony, just listen to what President Obama said about war in being honored as a man of peace: (more…)

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