March 2011

With all the protests making the news about Yemen, it is important to remember why Sanaa is such an extraordinary city. There is a fascinating 360º view of the old part of the old city of Sanaa in Yemen. Check it out at There are also several other panoramic views of Yemen on the site, including scenes of Jibla, Shibam Hadramawt, Rayyan Beach along the Gulf of Aden coast, and of the Dragon’s Blood tree in Socotra.

My thanks to Dr. Mohammed Jarhoum for pointing out this site.

As millions of dollars worth of U.S. and NATO military weapons are now raining down on the millions of dollars worth of weapons in Libyan leader Qaddafi’s recently expanded arsenal, there is a scenario that must make all the arms manufacturers of the world unite in smugness. Over a month ago Der Spiegel ran an article with the following news:

Helicopters from Italy, communication technology from Germany: When the arms embargo against Libya was lifted in 2004, the country’s dictator Moammar Gadhafi went on a shopping spree in the European Union. Now he is using those weapons against his own people — to the EU’s shame… According to an EU report, European Union member states provided the dictator with defense equipment worth €344 million ($474 million) in 2009 alone.

It must be a bit easier to destroy Qaddafi’s military machine, since the ones now destroying it are the ones responsible for creating it. One used to hear the fatalistic mantra: the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It seems that the EU and NATO have replaced the Lord these days. I am not in any way defending Qaddafi, a brutal maniac who has plundered Libya for over four decades. Nor am I convinced one way or the other if the no-fly-in-the ointment strategy will work. But I recall the poignant words of author Jean Makdisi in her brilliant Beirut Fragments (Persea Books, 1990, p. 45):

“I ponder, for the ten thousandth time since this damnable war began, on the happiness of the manufacturers and salesmen of arms and ammunition. Every roar, whistle, and crash translates itself in my mind to the sound of a cash register, the tinkle of champagne glasses, and the hum of conversation at a very expensive restaurant somewhere. The glisten of shrapnel, the smoke billowing out of someone’s ruined home, the rumble of the big guns, are all echoed in my imagination as the glitter of jewelry, the smoke of cigars lazily puffed out of appreciative lips, and the rolling of drums for a hip-swinging, carefree dance. The screams of a terrified, burning child become the laughter of those who reap the gains of this havoc.”

Abdullah Hamiddaddin will be providing a lecture entitle “Whither Yemen” on Thursday, March 31, 2011 at Columbia University in 208 Knox Hall from 12:30-2:00 pm. the discussion will be about how to frame the current struggle in Yemen, the importance of tribal politics, and the overrated threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This is sponsored by Columbia’s Middle East Institute.

For more details, click here:

Top: Victorie Pisa from Japan, ridden by Mirco Demuro, middle, crosses the finish line of $ 10,000,000 Dubai World Cup race, the world’s richest horse race, followed by 2nd place Transcend , right, from Japan and 3rd place Monterosso from Great Britain, 2nd right. (The Associated Press); bottom:Libyan rebels on top of a captured tank

As I write this, the media are reporting major advances of the Libyan resistance to Qaddafi, supported in large part by the surgical air strikes of the U.S. and NATO aircraft. Qaddafi has bunkered down, vowing to fight until his last drop of blood, but as the race to Tripoli proceeds, more and more defections from his military are inevitable. It is hard to predict when this will end. In general I think most ruthless dictators are cowards at heart, which is why they need such massive security to perpetuate their narcissistic hold on power. But Qaddafi is deluded enough to go down with guns blazing, like Errol Flynn in Custer’s Last Stand.

Debate over the wisdom of U.S. involvement in the Libyan no-fly-plus zone has reached a level of feverish political overtones. Obama’s opponents, those lock-step GOP stalwarts who never challenged Bush when we foolishly entered into a ground war in Iraq, now seem concerned about the costs of tomahawk missiles (I suspect those senators with large arms manufacturers in their home states are biting their tongues as they speak). Winging it, a la Bush, is the American way in their mind and damn what any other civilized nation thinks. Actually forging a coalition with U.N. and some Arab country backing is heralded as weakness. Much of the debate swirling between the talking security expert heads is really an end-around around the end-game criticism. (more…)

Islamic Studies building, McGill University, Montreal

[I post here a letter from Richard Martin on the passing of Charles Adams.]

Dear Colleagues,

It is with great sadness that I learned yesterday that Charles J. Adams died in Mesa, Arizona on March 23 of this year. During his final years he lived in retirement in Arizona, suffering from the steady deteriorating effects of Parkinson’s Disease, which affected his body but not his clear, sharp mind. I had the good fortune to be able to visit Charles three weeks before his demise in his retirement village in Mesa, Arizona, where he lived with a friend and companion who looked after him in recent years. We had lunch together and got out books and reminisced about the evolution of the field of Islamic Studies during our lifetime, over which he had exerted such great influence through his many student and writings. He nonetheless felt sad and helpless that in his declining state of health he was powerless to any longer be a voice in the academic study of religion in the current climate of suspicion, fear and hate about Islam in the public sphere. (more…)

Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Salih

The BBC has footage of Friday’s protests and President’s Salih’s rival rally in Yemen. Check it out here.

First, something positive: there is an excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times by Greg Johnson on the situation in Yemen.

And now for something completely different… Now the “duh” moment. Here is a headline that deserves all the possible bad things one can say about an ignorant and stupid headline:
“Yemen’s Government Poised to Fall to the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda ?” The source I consulted is the Right Side News, where “right” certainly does not make “right”. It would be quite a major event if Yemen was taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, since it does not have any kind of presence there. Of course if most Muslims are radical and all radical Muslims are the same, it hardly matters to someone like the ludicrous ranting of someone like Robert Spencer (whose Islamophobic magazine rag is the ultimate source of this story). The article was posted Wednesday at 5:38, but over a full day later the prediction that Ali Abdullah Salih would be ousted in 24 hours was unfulfilled. Back to the drawing board or the Book of Daniel, perhaps? Is this regime change supposed to be before or after all the bible believing Christians are raptured away? (more…)

by Anouar Majid, Tingis Redux, March 16, 2011

Many years ago, while sitting with a friend in a café in the Moroccan city of Tangier, I expressed my unfailing admiration for Mohamed Choukri, author of the acclaimed memoir For Bread Alone (al-khubz al-hafi) and its sequel Streetwise (the somewhat inexplicale translation of what should have been The Time of Error, or zamanu al-akhta’). I told my friend, a Ministry of Justice official on his way up to a judgeship, that what I liked most about Choukri was his literary courage (al jur’a al-adabiya). My friend, a conservative man with a classical education in Islamic Studies, dismissed such courage as mere silliness, the ranting of a down-and-out man seeking attention and literary fame. Our society, my friend pronounced, was light years away from appreciating such openness and candor. We trade in appearances, not in existential truths. We reward conformity and punish daring acts of individualism.

Things have changed since then, and Choukri is now universally acclaimed across Morocco and much of the Arab world. The die-hard Tangerian is long gone, too, as is my friend, who, one day, collapsed in Fez and never got up. Yet I now find myself asking the same question about the mesmerizing memoir of a Moroccan woman that kept me engrossed for two days straight. The more I read into Wafa Faith Hallam’s The Road from Morocco, the more I realized I was holding a book that—if all literary lights are not dimmed by convention—should become an instant classic. (more…)

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