October 2011


The Iraq war is finally over. And it marks a complete neocon defeat

by Jonathan Steele The Guardian, October 23, 2011

The Iraq war is over. Buried by the news from Libya, Barack Obama announced late on Friday that all US troops will leave Iraq by 31 December.

The president put a brave face on it, claiming he was fulfilling an election promise to end the war, though he had actually been supporting the Pentagon’s effort to make a deal with Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep US bases and several thousand troops there indefinitely.

The talks broke down because Moqtada al-Sadr’s members of parliament and other Iraqi nationalists insisted that US troops be subject to Iraqi law. In every country where they are based the US insists on legal immunity and refuses to let troops be tried by foreigners. In Iraq the issue is especially sensitive after numerous US murders of civilians and the Abu Ghraib scandal in which Iraqi prisoners were sexually humiliated. In almost every case where US courts tried US troops, soldiers were acquitted or received relatively brief prison sentences.

The final troop withdrawal marks a complete defeat for Bush’s Iraq project. The neocons’ grand plan to use the 2003 invasion to turn the country into a secure pro-western democracy and a garrison for US bases that could put pressure on Syria and Iran lies in tatters.

Their hopes of making Iraq a democratic model for the Middle East have been tipped on their head. (more…)


Note: The Qur’an can be divided into thirty equal parts. One part takes only twenty-four reading minutes, and the whole Book requires 12 reading hours. There are 114 chapters, and 6,236 Arabic verses (Abu ‘Amr Al-Dani in his book Al-Bayan), containing 77,439 Arabic words (reported by Al-Fadl bin Shadhan) made up of 371,180 Arabic letters (Abdullah b. Kathir reporting Mujahid, although there are different accounts). By contrast the King James Version of the Christian Bible (OT and NT) has 783,137 words and 3,566,480 letters. Muslims believe the Quran in Arabic is the actual Word of God given to Muhammad through a series of revelations from 610-632 C.E. and not written down as a “book” until after Muhammad died.

Given the general ignorance in American society of Islam, especially the theology based on the teachings in the Quran, it is important to go back to the beginning, the essence, the opening, the words that are by definition significant to all Muslims. This eloquent key is the opening (fatiha) of the text, a set of verses as repeated by Muslims daily as the Lord’s Prayer is by Christians. (more…)

There are quite a few classic Arabic movies available in full on Youtube, if you search by the Arabic name. An example is the early Youssef Chahine film Bâb al-Hadîd (Cairo Station in English) in the original Arabic without subtitles.


You may remember that May 21, 2011 was supposed to be the day the music stopped, well at least Gospel songs, since all the “real” Christians were supposed to be raptured into the air so that all hell could finally break loose here on earth. This was one of several predictions of the apocalypse by Rev. Harold Camping, who runs a “Family Radio” Bible-debasing empire. When May 21 passed, Rev. Camping when back to the numbers and lo and behold there was a new date of October 21, 2011. As he put it on his website, which has not been changed in the past several days:

Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.

Mr. Camping and his followers are still here, so either the date is wrong again or perhaps the truth is that all the “real” Christians were indeed raptured out of this world but in fact there were none left, even Billy Graham, for the big event. There are a number of Christian groups who insist other Christian groups are not really Christian, such as the attack on Mitt Romney as a heretic Mormon or the man who on the day after the world was supposed to end disrupted a canonization ceremony in the Vatican and burned a Bible. Given that there are also Muslim groups which insist certain other Muslim groups are not really Muslim, perhaps there are no “real” believers at all, at least not in the narrow sense of the Campings and Ibn Taymiyas of this world.

This time around, without the “Family Radio” media campaign on billboards, there were other important news items; there were actually plenty of important news items back on May 21 as well, but this time there were no annoying reminders on Facebook that the secular jig was up. There will be more dates proposed and no doubt more gullible individuals will stand ready to be beamed up to Beulah Land. Camping might take some note of hope in the fact that Turkey has just experienced an earthquake, although it came a couple of days after the “for sure” Biblical date. And, after all, Turkey is mainly a Muslim country. But then we had a quake here on the east coast a month or so ago (perhaps Camping believes our President is secretly a Muslim, like some 20% of Americans and 30% of Republicans apparently think).

You might be wondering why yet another failed end-of-the-world prediction by a Bible-belabored Christian who thinks he is one of the few “real” Christians is worth a commentary on a blog devoted to thoughts on Islam and the Middle East. For most Americans, even the bulk of self-styled “evangelicals,” Camping represents a lunatic fringe. As the votes are being tallied in Tunisia, Egypt prepares for a vote, Libya begins the process of picking up the pieces after Qaddafi’s exit and Yemen is still waiting for Godot (I mean Ali Abdullah Salih) to go, there is a fear among many Americans that after the dictators another form of lunacy will take hold: Muslims who argue that only “their” way of being Muslim is valid. Actually, this problem is quite widespread and it is not as simple as Sunni vs. Shi’a, although that is an old and convenient fault line. (more…)



“Art as Cultural Diplomacy – performance and talk with Heather Raffo”
Wednesday 10/26, 8PM in the Cultural Center Theater
as part of the Day of Dialogue

Celebrated actress and Playwright Heather Raffo comes to Hofstra University for discussion about the role theater plays in our understanding of contemporary war. Through the performance and discussion of selected monologues from her acclaimed play 9 Parts of Desire about the lives of Iraqi women, Raffo, takes the audience deep into the heart of why theater can best communicate the complex issues still facing Iraq and America today.

Heather Raffo is the recipient of a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship for her play 9 Parts of Desire. Most recently she has received a 2005 Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo show as well as an Outer Critics Circle Nomination and a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Performance. Premiering in 2003 in, Edinburgh, the play then moved to London, where critics hailed it as one of the five best plays in London in late 2003. It ran for nine sold out months in New York City before touring the U.S. and internationally. Heather has also performed widely in a range of celebrated productions in NY and beyond, earning a Drama League Nomination among other accolades. She has also offered discussion-presentations in a variety of educational settings. She received her BA from the University of Michigan, her MFA from the University of San Diego and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Originally from Michigan, Heather now lives in New York. Her father is from Iraq and her mother is American. For more information, see http://www.heatherraffo.com/

Co-sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department, Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Program (MECA), The Center for Civic Engagement, Comparative Literature and Languages, and Dance and Drama

One of the most important German geographers of the late 19th century was Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), whose three-volume Völkerkunde (Leipzig and Vienna, Bibliographisches Institut, 1890) is one of those encyclopedia cultural accounts that circulated just as the discipline of anthropology was getting off (in this case literally “on”) the ground. While now a text for curiosity rather than critical scholarship on peoples and cultures, Ratzel’s work is still a fascinating portrayal of cultures being colonized for both revealing the biases of the day and the then-contemporary illustrations of people and material culture. My university library recently divested itself of uncirculated books in storage and one of these was an 1890 edition of the third volume on “Die Kulturvölker der Alten und Neuen Welt.” Whether it was the eye-watering althochdeutsch script of the volume or the mere fact it was written in German, no student or professor at Hofstra ever checked this volume out.

In salvaging a third of Ratzel’s opus for a mere dollar, I could not help but be drawn to the illustrations, mostly lithographs but with a few beautiful color plates. (more…)


On Monday, October 24, 2011, I will be delivering a lecture entitled “What’s Happening in Yemen?” at the Portland campus of the University of New England in WCHP Lecture Hall at 6 pm. For more details click here.

This talk will focus on the impact of the “Arab Spring” political protests that started in Yemen, located at the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, in February. These led to unrest that brought the country to the brink of civil war and economic collapse. Yemen has been ruled by a military leader, Ali Abdullah Salih, who came to power in 1978. In 1990, North and South Yemen were united, followed by a brief civil war in 1993. Before the recent protests there was a secessionist movement in Yemen’s south and an open tribal rebellion near the border with Saudi Arabia. In the past decade the United States has given millions of dollars in aid to President Salih to theoretically combat al-Qaida in Yemen. Questions addressed include the influence of conservative Saudi-backed salafism, the nature of Yemeni tribalism, the role of youth and students in protesting for their own future in a democratic Yemen, and the exaggerated fears about Yemen as a terrorist haven. President Salih once remarked that ruling Yemen was like dancing on the heads of snakes. Now that the snakes have bitten, what is next?


There is a phrase in Latin that seems to have been invented for the free fall of dictators in this year’s Arab Spring. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi mentioned it when commenting on the death of Libya’s Qaddafi. Sic gloria mundi transit: the glory or fame in this world is fleeting. The man once styled the king of African kings is dead; long live an alternative to the agony and bloodshed that military coups and foreign meddling create. The killing of Qaddafi is a celebration for those who were brutalized during his regime of more than four decades and understandably so. But vengeance and reprisals need to be transit, in the Latin sense, as well. The focus of positive hate must be to change the system of corruption that allows any single person to have such absolute power. Countries do not need dictatorial “fathers” and citizens are not children to be ordered about or slaves to be disposed of at the whim of a self-styled master.

There is a deeper lesson in the Latin phrase, a poignant reminder that Rome had its Nero and Caligula. Every age and every place has its would-be masters, who have a tendency it seems to become delusional when there are no checks on their ability to control wealth and weaponry. The Abbasid caliph Mansur, for example, attempted to exterminate his main opposition of Shi’a who questioned the legitimacy of his caliphate. The story is told that after his death, his annointed heir and son al-Mahdi found a locked room in which there were carefully placed the mummified bodies of all the prominent Shi’a men that his father had killed, each with a name plate attached; all of this monstrous monument enmeshed in a trove of gems, precious jewelry and dinars. The gloria of the Roman Empire and of the Abbasid Empire (and the list goes on and on and will never end) is fleeting in hindsight, but not, of course, to those who fell victim to the brutalities or lived to mourn the atrocities.

All eyes are on Libya now to see what will come out of the ashes of a madman’s playground. Hail to the Libyan people but hell to the would-be caesars…

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