Links March 30th to March 31st

Links from my account for March 30th through March 31st:

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Adam Shatz: Laptop Jihadi

21HZb%2B8aYSL.jpgAdam Shatz reviews a new biography of Abu Musab al-Suri, one of al-Qaeda's most important theoreticians - Laptop Jihadi:

Al-Suri’s world-view isn’t original, although it is no less chilling for that: a Qutbian brew of political grievances (Israeli atrocities in Palestine, the US sanctions against Iraq), toxic prejudice (non-Muslims, but especially Jews and crusaders) and sexual anxiety (he recommends killing tourists, ‘ambassadors of depravity, corruption, immorality and decadence’). He writes scornfully of moderate Islamists who talk with ‘the other’ and says there is no point in pursuing dialogue with ‘bacteria, epidemics and locusts’: ‘Only insecticides and medicines to kill bacteria’ were required. (Like the Professor in The Secret Agent, al-Suri’s ‘thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction’.) At the same time, he advises jihadis to avoid attacking ‘places of worship for any religion or faith’, including churches and synagogues, and, if possible, to spare women and children. How he reconciles this with his call for ‘inflicting as many human and material losses as possible on the interests of America and her allies’ – or with his regret that the planes on 11 September weren’t armed with weapons of mass destruction – is not something he explains.

But what’s most eerie about al-Suri’s book is not so much its content as its form. The Call is a military manual written in a strikingly secular – at times even avant-garde – idiom. His aim in writing is no different from what it was when he trained mujahedin at camps in Afghanistan: to produce better, smarter fighters, and to defeat the enemy. Most of his arguments, he emphasises, are not drawn from religious ‘doctrines or the laws about what is forbidden (haram) and permitted (halal)’ in Islam, but from ‘individual judgments based on lessons drawn from experience’: ‘Reality,’ not God, ‘is the greatest witness.’ Though he embroiders his arguments with the occasional quote from the Koran, he clearly prefers to discuss the modern literature of guerrilla warfare. Jihadis who fail to learn from Western sources are ridiculed for their inability to ‘think outside the box’. Just as weirdly familiar is al-Suri’s celebration of nomadic fighters, mobile armies, autonomous cells, individual actions and decentralisation, which recalls not only Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux, but the idiom of ‘flexible’ capitalism in the age of Google and call centres. His vision of jihadis training themselves in mobile camps and houses, presumably from their laptops, is not so far removed from our own off-site work world. Guerrilla life has rarely seemed so sterile, so anomic, so unlikely to promote esprit de corps. The constraints of the New World Order make jihad a rather grim, lonely crusade, a form of private combat cut off from the movement’s – mostly imagined – following. Al-Suri seems to acknowledge this when he says that the best kind of training occurs on the battlefield, which ‘has a particular fragrance’. On 31 October 2005, after breaking the Ramadan fast with a group of bearded men, he smelled that fragrance for the last time during a gunfight in Quetta with his former allies in Pakistan intelligence. At least one of al-Suri’s dinner companions was killed but he was unharmed. There had been strict orders from above: the Americans wanted to talk to him. He hasn’t been heard from since, and in spite of the objections of prosecutors like the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who was on to al-Suri long before the Americans had heard of him, the CIA refuses to say where he’s being held.

Read the full review which has some great bits about how al-Suri's ideology was borne out of contempt for the Syrian Muslim Brothers, who negotiated with the Assad regime after their takeover of Hama in 1982 before being crushed.

Also see this 2006 profile of al-Suri by Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker.

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Links February 27th to March 19th

(I had temporarily deactivated the script that takes the delicious links onto the blog, here is a month's worth -- but no recent links)  Links from my account for February 27th through March 19th:
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"Govts Ever More Draconian, Group Says"

How things are getting worse:

NEW YORK, Mar 27 (IPS) - One of the Arab world's most widely respected non-governmental organisations is charging that at least 14 Middle East and North African governments are systematically violating the civil liberties of their citizens -- and most of them are close U.S. allies in the war on terror.

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said that there have been "huge harassments of human rights organisations and defenders have been increasingly subject to abusive and suppressive actions by government actors... in the majority of Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia."

The group this week called upon the international community to "exert effective efforts to urge Arab governments to duly reconsider their legislation, policy and practices contravening their international obligations to protect freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to form associations, including non-governmental organisations."

It added that "Special attention should be awarded to providing protection to human rights defenders in the Arab World."

[From RIGHTS-MIDEAST: Govts Ever More Draconian, Group Says]
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US struggles to explain AFRICOM vision

US struggles to explain AFRICOM vision:

Gen Ward argued that AFRICOM 'recognises the essential relationship between security, stability, economic development, political advances, things that address the basic needs of the peoples of a region and, importantly, the requirement to do those efforts in as collaborative a way as possible - not to take over the work of others, but to ensure the work that is being done complements the work that others are doing in pursuit of those same endeavours'.

However, the presentations at RUSI that followed that of Gen Ward made it clear that the US track record of intervention in the 20th Century - in Africa as well as in Latin America and Southeast Asia - is making the promotion of AFRICOM as a benevolent force an uphill struggle.

'We cannot ignore the notion that AFRICOM will be used to prop up friendly regimes given how this has happened in the past,' said Dr David Francis, director of Bradford University's Africa Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Francis cited US support for the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965-97 in Zaire (to which the US was the third largest donor despite Mobutu's poor human rights record) and its close ties with Liberia during the 1980s (which the US saw as a bulwark against Marxist movements on the continent) as examples of how the US has pursued its own interests in Africa in the past.

The link above is only to a small part of the article, if anyone has access to the full thing, I'd appreciate an email...

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Bahaa Taher wins the "Arabic Booker"

Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher has won the "Arabic Booker" . Here's a 2002 profile of Taher, from the late lamented Cairo Times, after the jump.

(This is a pre-publication version of the article by Richard Woffenden. It has some differences from the published version, which is not available electronically, and may contain some uncorrected mistakes.)

Profile: Bahaa Taher

Since returning to Egypt in the 1990s when he retired, Bahaa Taher has stormed the cultural scene as though he never left. From championing writers like Alaa Al Aswani to getting involved in political debates or just by his presence on the cultural scene, Taher is one of the elder statesmen of Egyptian literature. He can often be seen sitting in one of the qahwas in Zamalek reading the paper. He may look very benign, but beware: this writer still has bite. The calm figure that sits reading can quite suddenly launch a broadside at the state of intellectual life in Egypt or the collapse of the social fabric in the country. Yet when he writes, he is calm and in control. His stories and novels convey the feeling that--as any good storyteller--Taher is steering the work with minute precision, taking his reader along a compelling journey.He started writing quite early but dismisses his early work--"Everyone has tried to write during the vacations, either poetry or so-called short stories."At university, Taher joined a literary association. It was 1952, revolutionary fervor was in the air, and his group was very active in politics. The group, which included people like Ragaa Al Naqash, Wahid Al Naqash, Kamel Ayoub and Muhammad Suleiman, leaned to the left and at first saw the Free Officers' seizure of power as a good thing. "It was initially welcomed, but then we became disappointed by its anti-democratic tendencies," remembers Taher. The group discussed literature from around the world, with different members introducing new writers. "Anyone who knew about something tried to let the others know," recalls Taher. The literary association was under suspicion by the police and there were always people attending to observe but nothing came of it. When it came to writing some authors tried to keep their politics out of their work but many, including himself, felt the two areas were inextricably linked. "I have always thought that you cannot separate politics from fiction," he says. "It is important to combine what is happening to ordinary people because what happens in the political field affects everyone. But I have never believed that a writer should be used as a political tool."It is a point that he took up in Love in Exile when Taher's protagonist wonders: "It occurred to me that in the past we knew the politicians thanks to the poets. We knew the rulers Seif Al Dawla and Kafur because of Mutanabbi, not vice versa. But today we want to know the poet through the politician. We kill out poets with silence and we kill them with forgetfulness. I wanted to ask Ibrahim, 'If it is true that poets are the nation's conscience, what is the fate of a nation that forgets its poets?'"This issue of the relationship between state and culture is one that was to become central to Taher's life. It affected him directly when he was prohibited from publishing under Anwar Sadat and indirectly as he perceived that his homeland was falling apart because of the government. He believes that many of his peers lost their way politically when they joined particular overtly political groups. "I have never been in favor of a writer being committed to certain causes to the extent that you forget what you believe in. Some of my colleagues, who were members of underground associations, they abolished the individual part of themselves and they just repeated what was good for the cause--little by little they lost their perspective." Taher survived this threat simply by being aware of the danger that it posed and believing that writing has to be of use to the people. The way he sees it, fiction must be fiction: "If I think that I have to speak about my problems then I should write a diary or poetry." Some of the group continued to write after university but it was a hard time for writers as it was very difficult to publish anything. Taher recalls that it was critic and director Sobhi Shafik--the wealthiest member of the group--who helped them publish a magazine called ++Al Marad (The Fairground). Although at the time the magazine provided a welcome breath of fresh air in the suffocating atmosphere of censorship, Taher doubts there are any copies now in existence of the two or three volumes that were published. But even censorship can have its silver lining. "During that time there was a lot of censorship and groups like ours were considered the opposition," he reflects. "But maybe it’s better in the long run as we didn't publish any naïve things." Taher considers the most important aspect to the group to be the literary discussions and typically for young people everywhere, they were "anti-everything." "We were against realism. While we adored Naguib Mahfouz and [Youssef] Idris, we did not want to write like them," he says, pointing out that at that time Mahfouz was only available in limited editions and Idris was not well known. The group made a point of not writing like these two figures, who were to become the giants of the Egyptian literary scene. Ironically, in 1964 Idris--unaware of the group's idiosyncratic commitment--wrote an introduction in the magazine ++Al Katib++ to Taher's first published short story called The Demonstration and described Taher as "a writer who imitates no one." Even after that first publication, making his work public was not easy for Taher. "I was very much afraid, and I am like that up until now. I don't publish easily what I write. I am afraid of my readers; afraid of disappointing them," he states. "I am very exact. I read it and re-read it till I am at least 50 percent satisfied. I will never be 100 percent satisfied."As time has passed, Taher has decided that his writing comes when it comes. He has no regularity in his writing life. He has tried forcing himself into a routine but found that all he did was "write silly things that I threw straight in the wastepaper basket."His first story--about football fans--received a strong positive critical response and was praised for its lack of rhetoric, the absence of introspection and complex characterization. The story of football fans was told in a very direct manner; as Taher puts it, it was "just reporting what is happening and that was very different from what was written at that time. "While the writing may have changed over the years, Taher has remained a favorite with critics such as Etidal Osman and Gaber Asfour. His critical popularity was converted to mass support when his novel ++Khalti Safiyya wa Al Dayr (Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery) was made into a TV serial. But he did not go through the traumatic experience that some authors do seeing their work adapted for the small screen."I try to separate myself from the things that are adapted--he [the director] may add, he may do whatever he wants. There is no emotional relationship with the work for me but I do go and see it," he explains. "Afterwards I make no comment whatsoever, except I might say it is very good. With ++Khalti Safiyya++ they asked me for my advice and I gave advice but they didn't take it." Generally, he is very positive about the effect of the TV series, recognizing that fiction has a very limited audience and that TV can bring his work to a much wider public--even if for most people, he is just the author of ++Khalti Safiyya++.When it comes to translations, however, Taher is much more demanding. "I am very meticulous. I revise every word of the English and French versions. If the translator accepts this, I think the result is always very good," he says. He adds that his style of writing is well suited to translation because of the lack of rhetoric and other linguistic stylization that is a feature of many other Arabic-language authors.While ++Khalti Safiyya is on several reading lists in the US, Taher is all too aware of the limited audience that the translations have. "Translated Arabic literature has no impact whatsoever. There is always a prejudice against writing from the Third World in general and Arab writers especially," he comments. "To get good distribution, you have to win a Nobel Prize or be killed by a terrorist. For example, Taslima Nasrin was persecuted by the fundamentalists and she was in the press and got distributed but she is a very bad writer."This problem exists not just abroad, but also in Egypt, he thinks. Although many young people attend discussions about his work, Taher sees a cultural crisis in the country. "If you are a student here, you don't know about the writers of your country except by chance," he sighs. "But when we were young it was part of the cultural way of life." He partly blames the writers for this. "I feel there is something wrong. Some writers are writing as if they are on Mars. They don't have their readers in mind--they are writing just to satisfy their aesthetic aspiration. It is all very sad as it helps widen the gap between intellectuals and the public."This gap is what Taher would like to see vanish. He sees that the loss of the ideals of social justice that were popular in the 1960s is a mistake and he strongly believes in the principles of the 1952 Revolution in Egypt, possibly more so now than he did at the time. "There were grave mistakes in the political leadership or even how they applied the ideas, but it is still valid," he insists. "Don't make the mistake of blaming the ideas for the faults of the implementers." He says that the biggest mistake was that the leadership wanted to do it all alone and there was a rejection of the intellectuals. "This meant there was no cultural aspect to it and therefore no long-term thinking." Taher argues that it is now time that the intellectuals get their credibility back--notably arguing that the media should play a role in getting these voices heard. "There is now no dogma at all--it is all political vacuum," he says of today's press. "There are so many papers and magazines now saying nothing but they flourish."His own experience of trying to establish a magazine seemed to confirm this to Taher. "If you try to set up a serious cultural magazine, you will fail," he warns. "We,--Shukri Ayad and I--tried to set up a magazine and for three years we presented our applications and in the end we went to the courts but we lost the case. They know what they are doing here. If you want to publish a magazine to say nothing you are most welcome, [but] if you want the contrary you had better stay at home. It is to their credit that they understand that culture is a real threat to them."It is perhaps that Taher was away in Geneva for such a long time that he was so depressed when he returned and found that the country he had left had been so profoundly changed. "It is my country and I love it. When I was living abroad for 20 years it was a temporary exile," he says. "When I returned I saw that the social fabric had disintegrated. I went to my village and saw how things had changed. The culture of the community that I wrote about in ++Khalti Safiyya++ doesn't exist anymore."Only if what Taher describes as the "head of the country" is restored--i.e. the intellectuals--does he believe that things will begin to improve. Although he describes himself as an old man and finds the fight tough, he cannot stop participating in the battle. "The infighting amongst the intellectuals is playing into the hands of the enemy and the enemies of the country. They have to fight as I have done," he states. "It is not easy to convince people that this is a real battle."
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A Shiite Tikriti

Hannah has a great post about a very coquette (and courageous) Shia Tikriti woman:

How on earth, I asked her, does a Shiite Tikriti living under control of the Mahdi Army get away with dressing as she does when these days even Christian women have begun to cover their hair to deflect attention?

K replied that she is simply tired of the fundamentalists who now rule Iraq, both in the government and in the streets, both Shiite and Sunni. The Mahdi Army doesn't mind if she drives, K said, but she has been warned by "concerned friends" about her exposed hair. Before the sectarian cleansing of her neighborhood, it was actually Sunni militants who were worse in their targeting of women, K said.

The threats got so numerous that one day she stopped caring. She went on about her daily routine, driving and dressing and praying as she wished, crediting only God with allowing her to survive each day.

"Remember when Zarqawi wrote that if you see a woman driving, kill her? Well, they might kill two or three to teach a lesson, but they can't kill all the women," K said casually, popping a pistachio candy in her mouth. She began to laugh triumphantly.

"And now what?" she asked. "Zarqawi is dead and I'm alive. I'm still here."

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More on Arab Satellite Charter

Arab Media & Society has translated the Arab League Satellite Broadcaster Charter revealed a few weeks ago and offers some analysis, with various experts weighing in on whether the charter may be a good thing in some respects (regulating hate speech, religious extremism, etc.) but judging from its contradictions and the track record of who'll be doing the implementation, we should not get too excited. Like a lot of rules in the Arab world, they are harsh on paper but the implementation can be very flexible -- so it's probably yet another tool to be deployed when necessary but not scrupulously enforced, especially as some of its measures seem illegal.

I do wish it would be used to regulate religious speech, though, starting with some of the stuff you hear on Islamic channels like Iqraa and the crazy Christian channels. But somehow I doubt they'll touch that one.

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Iraqi Voices in Cairo

Iraqi Voices in Cairo is a collection of accounts of Iraq refugees' lives in Egypt, where over 150,000 reside with few opportunities to remake their lives:

Approximately 150,000 refugees from Iraq are trapped in Cairo, Egypt, with little hope of integration and no home to return to. We are an association of reporters and researchers working together with the Iraqi community of Cairo to bring world attention to this unaddressed humanitarian crisis.

Check it out.

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Fouad Mourtada is free

The Moroccan who was jailed for putting up a fake profile of Prince Moulay Rashid has been freed. This is great news, and while it should have never gotten to this, better late than never. I suppose the king wanted to make sure the message got across that the royal family is a no-go area for satirists and critics.

CASABLANCA, March 18 - Fouad Mourtada was released from Oukacha Prison at approximately 8:00pm local time today, having received a royal pardon.Mr. Mourtada, a 26-year old IT engineer, was taken into custody on February 5th, 2008, and was questioned regarding a fake Facebook profile of King Mohammed VI’s younger brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, which he had created on January 15. During his interrogation, Mr. Mourtada reports that he was beaten, spat on and insulted.On February 22, Mr. Mourtada was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of $1350 for creating the fake profile. The official charge was identity fraud of an electronic document.Following Mr. Mourtada’s detention, an international online movement arose calling for his release and, following sentencing, for a full pardon. On Saturday, March 1, young activists used a Facebook group to organize worldwide protests opposing Mr. Mourtada’s imprisonment, which occurred in Rabat, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Washington DC, Montreal, Madrid, and London. A video of the protests was later posted on YouTube.Mentions by international news organizations, such as the BBC, encouraged Moroccan domestic media to take up the story, which increase pressure on the government to act.Tonight Mr. Mourtada is staying at the house of friend in Casablanca. He will retain to his family tomorrow.

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Economist blogs Iran's elections

A lot of goof stuff here, but I found this particularly funny:

I must still be groggy from the all-night travel. At my first attempt to use the phone, a Tokyo Rose voice intones in American English, “In the name of God, the number you have dialled does not exist. Please hang up and check the number.�

On the more serious side, on the many candidates blocked from eligibility:

D is among the 2,000-odd parliamentary candidates whose electoral bid was nipped in the bud by the Guardians’ Council, the 12-man, unelected body of senior clerics which takes upon itself the duty of vetting candidates for public office. D is particularly upset because he had taken special care to avoid being branded a reformist, and therefore automatically suspect in the eyes of the conservative Guardians.
Although relatively liberal in his views, he had been encouraged to run by several hard-line MPs. D had also quit a well-paying job, and invested much time and money in his campaign. “I would have thought I was exactly the kind of young face, committed to working inside the system, and not associated with any controversy, that they would have wanted to encourage,� he says.
Yet almost worse than the fact of the rejection is that he has no idea what grounds it was based on. He knows from neighbours that anonymous agents made inquiries about his general behaviour, such as whether he attended prayers regularly at the local mosque. Someone from the Guardians’ Council even called D to ask a few polite questions, such as where he got his MA degree (that qualification, newly introduced for this election, has been attacked as yet another obstacle intended to block competition, since sitting MPs, overwhelmingly conservative, are exempted from it). There was, he admits, a brief pause when he said it was from an American university.
After notice came of his disqualification, D was slightly mollified to receive a letter, informing him that it was his right to demand an official explanation. So far, the Guardians have not replied to any of his repeated requests. D even asked lawyer friends whether he could sue the council, not for disqualifying him but simply for failing to provide a reason. The advice was that this would be a bad idea. It would be taken as a hostile act, damaging to the reputation of the Islamic Republic.

That being said, still a more polite form of election rigging than what's going on right now in Egypt's municipal elections.

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On the recruitment of collaborators in pre-1948 Palestine:
In his groundbreaking book Army of Shadows, Hillel Cohen, a research fellow at Hebrew University's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, exposes this particularly nefarious side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cohen has spent years in numerous Israeli and British archives gathering information that many would pre fer to forget, and in Army of Shadows he sum mons his findings to document the actions of a seemingly endless number of Palestinian mukhtars (village leaders), land merchants, in formers, weapons dealers, journalists, busi nessmen, farmers and teachers who collaborated with the Jews between 1917 and 1948. By focusing on them, Army of Shadows chron icles a tragic chapter in the people's history of Palestine, one that many Arab scholars have refrained from writing because it contradicts the dominant ethos of Palestinian national unity. Zionists have ab stained from recording it as well because it undermines their claim that the Palestinians were able to unify and fight against the es tablishment of a Jewish state after the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947. Cohen reveals that many Palestinians signed pacts with the Zionists during the 1948 war and that some even fought with the Jews against the Arab armies.
Collaboration is a very thorny issue, primarily because of its corrosive blend of betrayal, exploitation and deceit, so it's not surprising that Army of Shadows created a stir when the Hebrew edition was published in 2004. Both liberal Jews and Palestinians found the book difficult to digest because each group found its side portrayed in unflattering terms. Many Jewish readers were upset by Cohen's revelation that the prestate Zionist intelligence agency, Shai, and the Jewish Agency's Arab bureau exploited almost every honest Jewish and Palestinian relationship to advance narrow Zionist interests. There were, Cohen notes, many Jews who desired only friendship or good business relations with Palestinians but were eventually identified by the Shai, which used them to collect information and enlist Palestinian collaborators. The Jewish Agency even helped establish and finance Neighborly Relations Committees, which initiated mutual visits and Jewish-Palestinian projects, ranging from pest control to the sending of joint petitions to the Mandatory government. The rationale for the creation of these committees was not only to enhance coexistence but also to recruit informers.
Ezra Danin, head of the Shai's Arab department from 1940 to 1948, identified twenty-five occupations and institutions in which Jews and Palestinians mixed company, among them trucking, shipping, train and telecommunications systems, journalism, Jewish-Arab municipalities, prisons and the offices of the British Administration. He proposed that the Jews in these walks of life enlist Arab collaborators, adding that "such activity should be similar to the way the Nazis worked in Denmark, Norway, and Holland--touching on every area of life." Cohen explains that this approach was different from that of British intelligence, which allowed only political and military organizations and subversive bodies to be targeted as pools for potential informers. This revelation, besides shedding light on some of the ruthless tactics employed by the intelligence agencies, helps explain why, from Zionism's very beginnings, it was almost impossible for many Jews to develop loyal relationships with indigenous Palestinians.

[From Shadowplays]

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Congress: 404 to 1 in giving Israel a free pass

This post is not about Ron Paul, since I am not a libertarian and do not agree with most of his views outside of foreign policy (specifically his argument for the end of American empire in the Middle East and major cuts in defense spending). But there is something deeply wrong with Congress when this kind of deeply flawed, lob-sided resolution can go through with only one vote against:

On Wednesday, March 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 951, which condemns the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, holding both Iran and Syria responsible for "sponsoring terror attacks." Additionally, the resolution claims that "those responsible for launching rocket attacks against Israel routinely embed their production facilities and launch sites amongst the Palestinian civilian population, utilizing them as human shields …". For the full text of House Resolution 951, please click here.

This resolution problematically includes a strong defense of the recent Israeli incursions in Gaza. The following is one such exert: "Whereas the inadvertent inflicting of civilian casualties as a result of defensive military operations aimed at military targets, while deeply regrettable, is not at all morally equivalent to the deliberate targeting of civilian populations as practiced by Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups…"

The resolution passed the House with an unequivocal majority of 404 to 1 with four representatives voting present and nineteen abstaining. Who was the lone Member of Congress to stand up to the Israel Lobby? Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) not only voted against HR 951, but also made a very strong statement explaining why he opposed such a biased pro-Israel statement.

Below is Rep. Paul's statement he gave to the House before the vote:

Mr. Speaker I rise in opposition to H. Res. 951, a resolution to condemn Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. As one who is consistently against war and violence, I obviously do not support the firing of rockets indiscriminately into civilian populations. I believe it is appalling that Palestinians are firing rockets that harm innocent Israelis, just as I believe it is appalling that Israel fires missiles into Palestinian areas where children and other non-combatants are killed and injured.

Unfortunately, legislation such as this is more likely to perpetuate violence in the Middle East than contribute to its abatement. It is our continued involvement and intervention - particularly when it appears to be one-sided - that reduces the incentive for opposing sides to reach a lasting peace agreement.

Additionally, this bill will continue the march toward war with Iran and Syria, as it contains provocative language targeting these countries. The legislation oversimplifies the Israel/Palestine conflict and the larger unrest in the Middle East by simply pointing the finger at Iran and Syria. This is another piece in a steady series of legislation passed in the House that intensifies enmity between the United States and Iran and Syria. My colleagues will recall that we saw a similar steady stream of provocative legislation against Iraq in the years before the US attack on that country.

I strongly believe that we must cease making proclamations involving conflicts that have nothing to do with the United States. We incur the wrath of those who feel slighted while doing very little to slow or stop the violence.

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Lego mujahideen

I love Legos. I would play for hours with them as a kid, building spaceships, forts, guard towers, supercars (that's right, they were super) and tons of other stuff. So I'm delighted that BrickArms, a company that provides accessories that Lego does not make, is updating the arsenal and look of Lego characters for today's kids. While the old-fashioned may go for the WW2 stuff, like the range of Nazi uniforms, I like the mujahideen look they've come up with (even if they tactfully call it "bandit"). It will go very well with the "colonial marine" character, and it's nice that the "bandits" come in three different shades of hoods so you can assign them to different sectarian groups and not get them confused. And the K9 Kop will come in handy for those interrogation sessions.


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Khouri on reconfiguration of state power

Rami Khouri has written a series of thoughtful articles about the restructuration of state power in the Arab world -- both the power shift away from the military towards the security services as well as wider issues of the failure of public institutions. His his latest piece he explores the subject further:

What is significant is that the centralized power of Arab states is slowly fraying or dissipating, even in strong states with emphatic central governments and efficient, self-assertive security organizations, such as Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
Power is decentralizing in many cases because governments simply do not have sufficient money to maintain the welfare, employment, subsidy and state-building services they provided very efficiently for half a century after the surprise of their own statehood in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
The decentralization and dissipation of state power into the hands of Islamicized urban quarters, armed militias, ethnic-based parties, neighborhood thugs, autonomous regional authorities, multinational corporations, and private sector commercial real estate firms is an important sign of several simultaneous phenomena: the fraying credibility of state authority, the determination of concerned citizens to take charge of their own life needs and well-being, and the enormous power of the globalized commercial marketplace.
As Arab power configurations evolve, it is critically important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past 75 years on authoritarian governance; instead, we must prod sensible statehood by consulting rather than ignoring the Arab citizen. Coming to grips with the evolving realities of power and authority requires much more honest, integrated and sophisticated analysis than has broadly pertained in recent years in the public discussions of what is wrong with our societies and how can we make things better. Much of this debate has been driven by ideological zealots, and a few naïve rascals in the Anglo-American-Israeli-dominated West, who tend mainly to focus on Islam and Arab violence -- or by elite Arab autocrats who are equally blind to the powerful currents of their own fellow citizens’ discontent and fear.
The reconfiguration of power and authority is the big, new, historic and pervasive macro-development now taking place in Arab society, as the prevailing power structure of the past 75 years reaches the limits of its abilities. Not surprisingly, concerned citizens, agile gangs and efficient businessmen alike are moving in to grab their share of power in those spaces where the state is retreating, or franchising its own legitimacy and authority. Handled wisely, this could be a heartening and positive development that allows Arab society to define itself according to the consensus views of its pluralistic citizens -- unless American, British, Israeli or other Western armies invade again and try to re-configure us to their liking, rather than to our rights and wishes.

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The Gaza Bombshell

I haven't had time to read the explosive Vanity Fair article on the US-Fatah coup attempt against Hamas yet, but from what I hear about it, it would confirm many of the allegations made around the time of Gaza takeover and that has been published in the Arabic press and elsewhere, not to mention some of the allusions made in the De Soto report leaked last year.

I was sent former Palestinian National Security Chief Mahmoud Dahlan's response to the article, which he obviously denies. Dahlan has long been said to be at the center of the US-Israeli-Fatah plot against Hamas.

Dahlan's response

More later.

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Boomtime for knights in Lebanon

The Lebanese authorities, like every country, issue out statistics on various economic indicators. Below is the chart that shows the number of employment permits issued for various professions between 2003 and 2005. Click to get a bigger image and look at under "specialized professions," where there is a category for "knight." A holdover from the Crusades?


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