April 2015

Orientality is a biennial conference series developed by the Orientalist Museum, Doha.

The inaugural conference took place at Cambridge University in 2013. Subsequent conferences are scheduled for the National Portrait Gallery, London, 2015.

The only conference of its kind, Orientality gives international art and museum professionals an opportunity to come together and discuss the art, history, politics and future of the Orientalist art movement.

In the process it aims to develop understanding between east and west, and showcase the continued vibrancy of the Orientalist art movement in the 21st century.

To add to Yemen’s woes, yet another wannabe player in the maelstrom of Yemeni politics has entered the picture, this time announced through a Youtube video picture. Out in the desert in Yemen about a dozen or so masked militia men wielding full battle gear go through basic training maneuvers choreographed for the video. The leader, or at least the spokesman, stands in front of his men about half way through the exercise and pledges his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS caliph who is apparently wounded and perhaps not even alive anymore. Move over al-Qaida, Huthis and loyalists of Ali Abdullah Salih, there is now a small group of video performers somewhere out in the desert who have extended the caliphate to Yemen.

Caliphate allegiance groups are now the rave and not just in Yemen. The ISIS franchise marketing strategy is pure video, sometimes slick but at other times — as in this video — rather poorly done. Imagine a dozen guys with kalashnikovs in a couple of pick-up trucks rolling into Sanaa and terrorizing the Huthis. The problem that the creators of this video face is that not that many Yemenis can see their call due to the lack of electricity. If they are planning to attract disaffected American and European youth, a better format would be a hiphop or rap production, showing a MacDonalds or KFC Chicken or Pizza Hut in the background (there actually is a Pizza Hut in Sanaa, so that could be an incentive for the foreign fighters to take the capital for ISIS).

I think I have seen an earlier version of this video, but with a better ending. Check it out here also on Youtube…

For my post on the Arab youth views of democracy, click here.

Saudi Arabia has announced
that their Decisive Storm bombing campaign is over and they have accomplished their apparent goal of destroying any military capacity of Yemen. There is an old proverb in Arabic that states “ba’d kharab Basra” (after the destruction of Basra) and it is quite apt as a follow up to this news. The weapons destroyed can be replaced, and no doubt at some future date will be, but the lives lost and the mortal wounds to Yemen’s pride can never be restored even by a so-called “Restoration of Hope.” The Saudi offer to pay millions to rebuild Yemen pales in terms of what I assume must be measured by at least a billion or more in terms of the bombs dropped and resupplied. If instead of attacking Yemen from the air, the same amount of money had been given to build health clinics and schools, what a different outcome there would be. Instead, the stench of war is not about to be overcome by any monetary perfuming from abroad.

The damage inflicted by this ill-conceived war campaign is obvious. Forget the nonsense about an Iranian threat, which there never was. The Huthis never controlled anything; it was Salih’s former military supporters who were behind the takeover of Sanaa and the push to Aden. Try to remember the real threat inside Yemen, the one that energized the U.S. drone campaign: al-Qaida, known as Ansar Sharia, has more power and more sympathy now that at any other time. The south is basically in their control. There is little chance that they would welcome Hadi back. So the result of this bombing is a totally destabilized Yemen, a security nightmare, a humanitarian crisis that is not likely to be alleviated soon. (more…)

How Islamic is the Islamic State known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh and the new caliphate? To the extent that any group claims to be Islamic, quotes Quran and brandishes the rhetoric of the faith, ISIS is clearly presenting itself as an Islamic sect. To the extent that they have bastardized just about every other Islamic worldview, they are certainly not in the mainstream. Their appeal is not to Muslims who know the history of their faith, but to the disgruntled youth of the West and traumatized youth of the region. And, most importantly, ISIS is, ironically, the revenge of Saddam Hussein. This calculating and blood curdling group was formed not by madrasa-trained clerics but by former intelligence and military cronies of Saddam’s regime.

For the rest of this essay, click here.

There is a sense in which all wars are stupid wars. But some are more stupid than others. Invading Iraq, which posed no tangible danger to the United States but filled the brainless crania of a group of neocons, is a prime example. Can you imagine Iraq as an ally of Iran or as a breeding ground for extreme ISIS terrorists if Saddam or one of his cronies was still in command? This is not to praise a butcher like Saddam, but to point out that the unintended, even if quite predictable, outcomes of hastily made warmongering tend to take on lives, as they take out lives, on their own. So here is the current scorecard for Decisive Storm, as it nears a month of nightly bombing. Instead of weakening the unholy alliance between the Huthis and Ali Abdullah Salih, this group controls more territory than it did when the bombing started. The major shock from the “shock and awe” campaign thus far is that it is destroying Yemen’s infrastructure and formal military structure, but steadily gaining allies who resent the vast destruction being unleashed on their homeland. Many of those Yemenis who did not like the Huthis now hate the Saudis even more. In addition to the homeless and the dead, the pride of Yemeni nationalism has been seriously wounded, but it is nowhere near dying.

Once upon a time the enemy in Yemen was al-Qaida, the group that sparked our unending and unnerving “War on Terrorism.” It was self-styled as a war against the uncivilized, since in this case only the civilized could muster drones and sophisticated bomber planes. Under Obama’s watch a few al-Qaida operatives were eliminated, along with a larger number of civilians who get classified as collateral damage. The American people are still being told that al-Qaida is our main enemy. Remember the Alamo; remember 9/11. But no longer, it seems. (more…)

Since the start of the Saudi-led Decisive Storm campaign in Yemen, I have published two commentaries on the blog of the Center for Middle East Studies at Lund University and three interviews on The Real News. While the situation is changing daily, seemingly for the worse each day, I note these commentaries here:

Lund Blog:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/proxy-morons-the-demolition-of-yemen) March 27

Sliding Towards a Virtual Genocide in Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/sliding-towards-a-virtual-genocide-in-yemen) April 13

The Real News:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/1)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13565 April 4

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/2)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13636 April 12

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/3)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13639 April 13

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