May 2011



The crucible of Yemen

The two opposing forces of unity and disunity are helping to shape the future of the struggle against Saleh in Yemen.
by Larbi Sadiki, Al Jazeera, May 22, 2011

There has never been a single Yemen, and maybe there will never be one. What is nonetheless exceptional about the revolt engulfing Yemen is that it represents a united stand, a cry for freedom and dignity. Thus it echoes the cry for freedom in Tunis’ Habib Bourguiba Avenue and Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

However, Yemen presents a prominent specificity; it’s a unity-disunity pairing that shapes and re-shapes the current moment of popular empowerment, constantly stirring the politics concocted within the Yemeni crucible.

Note that Yemenis feel insulted by the brand of nepotism and dynasticism engineered by Saleh and his ilk. The fissiparous forces which Saleh controlled, kept in check or used to his own ends through cunning, money, and even violence, are today largely rallied against him.

He dropped them like hot potatoes when political expediency demanded it. Now they are returning the favour. In this, Saleh’s foes seem to be united.

The interplay of unity and disunity are responsible for both Yemen’s moment of popular empowerment and weakness, as far as democratic protest and change are concerned.

One Yemen, many Yemens

In every sense, Yemen is breathtaking. It is a quilt of colours, climes, landscapes, regions, sects, tribes, customs, ideologies, histories and identities. Anthropologists would have a field day exploring it. But not so if one approaches Yemen with a narrow political science set of lenses. The risk to miss the “Archimedean point” - wherever that might be - is greatest here. (more…)


Rembrandt’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ (1635)

Mene mene tekal upharsin. Some two and a half millennia ago it did not take King Belshazzar of Babylon too long to get this Aramaic message. Here is the gist, as recorded in the biblical book of Daniel (5:25-28):

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

The ink on this populist uprising, with over 100 days of signs held aloft in Yemeni protests saying “irhal ya Ali”, has long since dried and Ali Abdullah Salih has been dilly dallying all along. The latest deal, brokered by the GCC with the U.S. and E.U. seals of approval, was signed yesterday by the opposition parties and Salih was supposed to sign today. (more…)


John J. Mearsheimer

by John J. Mearsheimer, Pink Tank, May 19, 2011

Barack Obama gave a major speech on the Middle East today and it is clear from the subsequent commentary that he impressed few people. The main reason is that he did not say much new or indicate that there would be any serious changes in US policy in the region. It was essentially more of the same with the some tweaking here and there. Nevertheless, he did manage to anger some people. For example, Israel’s hard-line supporters were outraged that he said, “Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” For them, the 1967 borders are “Auschwitz borders” and thus can never serve as a basis for negotiations.

Many Palestinians, on the other hand, did not like Obama’s assertion that it made little sense for them to go to the UN General Assembly this September and win recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Surely they also noticed that shortly after saying that “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself,” the president said that the Palestinians would have to be content with “a sovereign non-militarized state,” which means that they will not be able to defend themselves against Israel or any other state for that matter. Hypocrisy appears to be wired into the DNA of American foreign-policy makers. (more…)


If you are reading this post today, one of two things may happen in the next day (May 21, 2011): (A) the Rapture will occur and you will not be chosen, or (B) the Rapture will be miscalculated yet again. I suppose the Rapture could happen and no one will be chosen; things are rather evil these days so maybe this time the Godhead will be totally pissed off and we are all on our way to hellfire and brimstone.

So let’s assume, for insanity’s sake, that it is option B. Move over Bishop Ussher, the alpha and the omega have been revised again. Bishop Ussher was the Irish prelate who in 1654 published a tract that calculated the creation of the world commencing October 23, 4004 BCE. This was the date that became embedded in many editions of the KJV, although there were other counts of the biblical begats that came up with different dates. You would think that a loving God would at least give his creation an exact time rather than this “one day is as a thousand years” nonsense. Bishop Ussher sure thought that.

Now one of the current daze of judgment scenarios making the rounds among bibliolaters of this age is for May 21, 2011, tomorrow by my reckoning, but I do hope God is using the Gregorian and not the Julian calendar. The folks at ebiblefellowship.com have pushed creation back to 11,013 BC, bumped the birth of Jesus back to 7 BC, initiated the “great tribulation” back in 1988 (the year the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was released) and now predict the rapture for May 21, 2011. I, for one, will be checking their website on May 22 to see what I might have missed, since I do not have reservations myself for the Last Trump (and I do not mean the Donald). I can’t even get Broadway tickets for “The Book of Mormon” before mid-June. (more…)

[Webshaykh’s Note: There is a definite frost on the Arab Spring in Syria. Read the chilling report by reporter Dorothy Parviz, who was detained and describes the horrors of those held in detention and beaten.]

Inside Syria’s secret prisons

by Dorothy Parviz, Al Jazeera, May 18, 2011

I was standing in two fist-sized pools of smeared, sticky blood, trying to sort out why there were seven angry Syrians yelling at me. Only one of them - who I came to know as Mr Shut Up during my three days in a detention center, where so many Syrians ‘disappeared’ are being kept - spoke English.

Watching them searching my bags, and observing the set of handcuffs hanging from the bunk bed wedged behind the desk in the middle of the room, I guessed that I was being arrested - or, at the very least, processed for detention.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“Shut up! SHUT UP!” said Mr Shut Up.

I’d arrived there moments before, dragged by a handful of hair from a car where I’d been wedged between two armed men. They’d tried to convince me that they were taking me to my hotel, but, of course, I knew that there was no way plain-clothed security personnel would be kind enough to escort me to my accommodation.

I did, however, manage to resist being forced to wear a blindfold, figuring that if they were going to shoot me, they really didn’t need a reason to do so.

After about 20 minutes, we pulled off the highway and through two checkpoints. By this point, the rather handsy security guard to my left had pulled my scarf over my eyes. (more…)


For both a delightful read and a handy recipe book I suggest Ziryab: Authentic Arab Cuisine by Farouk Mardam-Bey and illustrations by Odile Alliet. This was published in 2002 by Ici La Press.

Here is a selection from the foreword:

Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Nafi’ was born in Iraq in 789 C.C. His family, however most likely originated in Persia. With a melodious voice, dark skin, and gentle manners, he was nicknamed Ziryab, the name of the harmoniously mellow black bird. He received a solid education in the humanities and sciences, especially in geography and astronomy, and eventually became the favorite disciple of Ishaq al-Mawsili, the Abbasid court’s most famous musician and singer. Nevertheless, resentment replaced the preferential treatment he received by his master Ishaq al Mawsili who became envious of Ziryab’s immense success with the great caliph Harun al Rashid to whom he had introduced his protègè. As a result, Ziryab had to leave his country when he was just thirty years old. (more…)


[Webshaykh’s Note: The pseudoscientific nonsense of Harun Yahya has upended the recent burqa controversy. It is one thing to cover one’s body from head to toe, and quite another to cover one’s mind from the consensus of all contemporary science. In a sense arguing that only atheists accept “evolution” is not unlike those who insist that a woman’s body must be totally taken out of view. Both do a disservice to Islam by only encouraging the negative stereotyping so prevalent against Muslims in the West.]

Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor, Reuters, May 16, 2011

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) - Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

At a Muslim junior high school in this north Paris suburb, about 100 pupils — boys seated on the right, girls on the left — listened as two Turks from Harun Yahya’s headquarters in Istanbul denounced evolution as a theory Muslims should shun.

“We didn’t descend from the apes,” lecturer Ali Sadun told the giggling youngsters. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, he said, was “the scientific basis to defend atheism.” (more…)



Spiritus, by Sami Rifai, Lebanon, Micheal-Angelo white Marble, 133×40x40 cmby, 1988

Ghazal 98: News From Abroad
by Hafiz, translated by A. Z. Foreman

Last night, the wind brought wind of one I love who’d gone away.
I too shall yield my heart unto the wind, now. Come what may.

At length my love has come to this: I can confide in none
but blazing lightnings every night and dawn winds every day.

Defenseless in your deep curled locks, and out of me, my heart
never once said “Let me recall the body where I lay”

Today, I see my friends were wise to counsel against lovefall.
Elate my counselors’ souls, O Lord, for all the truth they say.

Remembering you, my heart was bloodstruck every time wind blew
open the rosebud’s robe out on the grass in gentle play.

My weakened being leaked out through my fingertips till dawn,
whose wind blew hope of you, and brought the life back to my clay.

Your spirit of good will, Hafiz, will earn you what you yearn for.
When good-willed men cry out, all souls are ransomed to obey.

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