religious art

Virgin-Mary-Ams.jpg So here we are in Antwerp, where it seems that the friendly face of the diamond trade is now a Russian with watermelon forearms and eyes like a three-day-dead fish. Passed on the diamond-rimed .357 pendant and hit the Koninklijk Museum for a bit of high-culture in low-land light. An hour of perusing paintings of martyrdom and judgment and I’d had my fill of the burning, hacking, drowning, beating and skewering (the kind of stuff New York Times pieces on Iraq report generically as “signs of torture�) that were, until relatively recently, the centerpiece of public diplomacy here. Back on the street, there was a heavily made-up lady busking in the shadow of the Gothic cathedral. She was pretending—quite credibly—to be a statue of the Virgin Mary (she even had a little Baby Jesus on her lap), except, when you tossed a coin in her plate, she came alive and blew you a kiss. This in the heartland of a vicious, protracted, sectarian conflict that took as a centerpiece Rome’s idolatry and venality. That smashed statues and people with equal abandon. Nice to see they’ve learned to crack a smile, toss a coin, and move on. And it only took five-hundred years, a few dozen major wars and a mountain range of corpses. There are a few more pics of my current European tour here.
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a plague upon them

One of the little devices that helps me get through the month is ticking up how many stories in the Atlantic Monthly annoy me. When I hit a certain number (yet to be determined), I'm going to cancel my subscription. This piece scored a tick. Headlined “Carriers of conflict� it outlines one of the unpleasant side effects of America’s most recent military adventure: the mass movement of people out of Iraq. Now, there’s some interesting factoids in the piece. 700,000 Iraqi refugees now in Jordan? A quick Google doesn't make it clear where this number comes from. UNHCR? Right. A year ago apparently they had recognized 800. Last year the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants put the number at 450,000 and noted the inflow was increasing. But anyway, there's a hell of a lot of them. The annoying part comes in the intro, where authors Dan Byman and Ken Pollack pontificate on the root cause of instability and violence in the Middle East:
where large numbers of refugees go, instability and war closely follow... Palestinian refugees, who with their descendants number in the millions, have been a source of regional violence and regime change for decades.
Ouch! According to the Byman and Pollock, these wanton troublemakers:
helped provoke the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars [then] turned against their hosts and catalyzed a civil war in Jordan (1970–71) and in Lebanon (1975–90) [and, like that wasn’t enough shit disturbing] … contributed to coups by militant Arab nationalists in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
Wow. Busy little pests those Palestinians. I think they caused the plumbing in my building to get all gummed up last week as well. Oddly, Israel is mentioned only once in the discussion of Palestinian refugees (as a victim of Palestinian aggression!) and the US is never mentioned at all in the discussion of Iraqi refugees. But on second thought, it's not really odd is it? Make that two ticks.
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the politics of offense

London.jpg Jack Straw mentions the palpably obvious—that, in London, covering your body from head to toe in an impenetrable black gown and peering at the world through a slit the size of a pack of cards tends to separate you from those around you—and is characterized as a racist anti-Muslim bigot. The irony, of course, is that the niqab is intended to separate. But that aside, the hullabaloo is a bit hard to understand at first, at least when you’re reading this stuff in Cairo. Here, where the idea of freedom of religion is a sour joke unless you’re a Sunni Muslim, where racism (anti-black, anti-Jewish primarily) enjoys easy acceptance and where turning up to a demo to denounce a government figure will get you a date with a frustrated little man in Lazoughly who thinks a rolled up magazine is sex toy. Now, Britain is replete with pasty-faced racists with angry little mouths who still spout the modern equivalent of "the WOGs begin at Dover." ("They hate our freedom" being one of the more popular these days). And maybe leaders like MCB General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari, who characterized Straw's remarks as part of a "barrage of demonization," see sparking a vigorous public debate on minority rights as a healthy way to define their constituency's position in a modern multicultural society and a contribution to making sure that Great Britain doesn’t become as antagonistic to diversity and dissent as, say for example, Egypt. But maybe, sadly, it's just that they’ve finally learned something from the ADL and AIPAC: take offense early, take offense often.
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fun with barbed wire

So the clash of civilizations turns into a bun-fight over a handicapped parking space. In this corner we have the Brotherhood and their new “just say no to Denemark [sic!]� campaign (just when we could get decent butter again!), while over in the far corner (but not far enough for my taste) we have the none-too-bright Christian fundie, and former Inquisitor Generalis, John Ashcroft saying stuff like this:
…those who violate the Geneva Conventions should not benefit from its provisions.
And
If the pope thought the Muslim faith were better than the Catholic faith, he’d be a Muslim.
It’s all there in the New York Times. And make sure you read all the way to the end:
Ashcroft: I make barbed-wire sculpture. NYT: Why barbed wire? Ashcroft: Because there was a surplus of it on my farm.
What would Jesus do about this man?
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nec plus ultra

soldier lecture.jpg Maybe you've graduated from Fox gun-camera footage to those yee-ha Iraq smackdown vids on Youtube.com (checked out that guard tower footage of Brit soldiers dragging the kids into their compound and beating the crap out of them?). If so, then this little vacation package might just be for you. It’s put on by a noble Israeli organization that seeks to do nothing but good in this world through … well, let’s let their web-blurb speak (a little polyvalently) for itself:
we are dedicated to providing legal representation and resources for the numerous courtroom struggles, which are being waged in the Israeli, American and European courts on behalf of the Jewish State.
The tour, billed as the "Ultimate Mission," is priced at around USD2,000 for an “intensive eight day exploration of Israel’s struggle for survival.� This includes “Live exhabition [sic] of penetration raids in Arab territory� and “Inside tour of … secret intelligence bases,� not to mention full (kosher) board, a knowledgeable guide and "Luxury bus transportation." While the website doesn’t say whether you actually get to place an Arab in a “stress position� or waterboard a Palestinian, you do get to meet “senior Cabinet Ministers� and stay at the Sheraton Plaza in Jerusalem. Quite how this dovetails with their noble mission of providing the put-upon state of Israel with legal assistance is unclear, but who cares? It’s yee-ha time!
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Cui bono?

Nice to see that the Daily Star Egypt, which has struggled to find its voice as a source of news on Egypt, has an extended, locally written, piece today on Talaat Sadat's bid to become the next opposition figure to be crushed and thrown into jail for opening up his mouth and saying things that the big boys find discomforting. Sadat has spoken out now on a number of occasions about the October 6 1981 assassination of his uncle Anwar, requesting a parliamentary investigation into the killing and on one occasion apparently telling a press agency that the whole thing was a coup by then vice-president, now president, Hosni Mubarak and the minister of defense. He has also said that Sadat's bodyguard made no attempt to shield him, were never investigated and have since done well in business. Now, many who have watched the video of the event have noted a certain, well, emphasis in the reaction of the security forces supposed to be guarding the president and his deputy (personally I can't see anything but screaming confusion, but maybe there's more footage?), and many others have drawn conclusions from Mubarak's reluctance to appoint a VP himself, but let's have a quick reality check. Considering the record of the Mubarak regime, can we really say that these are the sort of men who would kill each other just to wrap their fingers around a little more power?
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One part each

jimmy baker2.jpg According to a story in The Times, Bush and Rice "have finally noticed that [Iraq] is being partitioned by civil war" and are open to the notion of formal partition (under the guise of "federalization," mind you). According to the article, venerable Bush-crony James Baker, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group (sounds like something that meets in the library after class, doesn't it?) has already met with the Syrians and the Iranians–and the Turks?–and that within the ISG "there is a growing consensus that America can neither pour more soldiers into Iraq nor suffer mounting casualties without any sign of progress. For a clue what this refers to see today's Washington Post for an article on rising US casualties. So anyway, the theory seems to be that if they snip the country into three, at least the Kurds and the Shia'a will be quiet long enough for the troops to be brought home. Kind of turns that "cutting and running" phrase on its head.
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Losin' it

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The other Vanity Fair piece that’s worth a look-see this month is William Langewiesche’s piece on the November 2005 Haditha massacre. It too comes with a photo essay—portraits of Marines from the company alleged to have gone on a killing spree after a roadside bomb attack. Like the Andersen piece, it’s a great read. In vivid, dense packed and elegantly structured prose, Langewiesche explores the context of the killings and makes the case that there was really nothing very extra-ordinary about them, “just another shitty Anbar morning.� He even suggests that some of the killing may have been technically within the rules of engagement—at least those to which the Marines were accustomed. He calls this “...a baseline narrative that becomes the happiest possible version of the morning's events.� Some people are going to read this as an attempt to smear the morning's events into something palatable, and others will say that it is an attempt to normalize (for better or worse) civilian deaths. Neither will do justice to the nuance of the piece. Langewiesche notes that there is evidence that tells heavily against the Marines: photos and accounts that indicate that five Iraqi civilians who blundered upon the aftermath of the bomb attack were simply executed, and witnesses who say that subsequent killings were far less shadowed by the fog of war than participants later claimed. (Tim McGirk's May 19 story in Time goes into this in far more detail, however). The cumulative effect of his evocation of the horror of the killings weighs more heavily, however, than would a more fervent attempt to arrange fragments of evidence into a picture of indictable action. This is part of his “happiest possible version:�
Nine people had sheltered in that room, three generations of the same family, from an ancient man paralyzed by a stroke to an infant girl just three months old. When the grenade exploded, it blew some of them apart, wounded others with penetrating shrapnel, and littered the room with evil-smelling body parts. In the urgency of the moment the old man forgot that he was paralyzed and tried to stand up. He took rounds to the chest, vomited blood as he fell, and then lay on the floor twitching as he died.
The unfortunate part about this piece is that Langewiesche wants us to understand that it doesn’t really matter whether his blankly horrific “happiest possible version� is correct, or whether something nastier and colder happened that morning in Haditha. No, what matters is the PR disaster that the massacre (however the hell it happened) represents, and its strategic implications. This is him writing about a video that was shot just after the killings and used by McGirk to peer around the untruths of the marine press releases. The last line of this excerpt is the last line of the article. It is Langewiesche's last word in a major American magazine on an incident in which, it appears very likely that, unarmed civilians in a land far away were executed by heavily armed American soldiers.
A man cries, "This is an act denied by God. What did he do? To be executed in the closet? Those bastards! Even the Jews would not do such an act! Why? Why did they kill him this way? Look, this is his brain on the ground!" The boy continues to sob over the corpse on the floor. He shouts, "Father! I want my father!" Another man cries, "This is democracy?" Well yeah, well no, well actually this is Haditha. For the United States, it is what defeat looks like in this war.
The horror rings here the more clearly for the hard-edged shallowness of this conclusion, but is this Langewiesche’s intention? In my “happiest possible version� it is. But I have my doubts.
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Thar he blows

Pellegrin.jpg Vanity Fair has a couple of pieces on the Middle East right now. The first is a combined text / photo bit on Egypt headlined—a little disconcertingly for those of us who live around here—“Under Egypt’s Volcano� / “The Egypt you’re not supposed to see.� The pics are by Magnum photog Paolo Pellegrin, and at least 14 of the 17 are lovely, complicated things that amply reward time spent figuring out the light and the lines. The text is by Scott Andersen. He cuts back and forth between Al Arish (where he talks to relatives of “the notorious Flaifil brothers,� the Bedouin men alleged to have been at the center of the 2004 Taba bombings) and Beni Suef, where he meets with a long cultivated “friend� (read journalistic contact) and a shadowy (and way-sinister) Jihadi type. His point is, ultimately, slightly fatuous: Egypt is chock full of frustrated, broke young guys who are right on the edge of blowing up some serious shit. Never mind that though. This is Vanity Fair, after all. The piece is built on anecdote, and very nicely built it is. Andersen makes some very fair points about the inequities of life in Egypt and the violent repression of the security forces (see Hossam's bit on torture in Arish below), and the pressures that these create. There are also some great passages, as where Andersen writes about asking the concierge in his five-star hotel how to take a train to meet his friend.
… his look changed to bafflement when he heard my request. "You want to take a train to Bani Suweif? But there is no reason to go to Bani Suweif, sir." I explained I had a friend there. "An Egyptian friend? Then it is much better if he comes here." "But I want to go there," I said. With a frown of consternation, he picked up his telephone and spoke in hushed Arabic. He apparently heard good news, for his frown cleared, and he replaced the receiver with a relieved sigh. "I'm sorry, sir; very few trains go to Bani Suweif, and all the ones today are full. What is best is to arrange a minivan for you, with a driver and a guide." I knew this couldn't be true. Just 75 miles south of Cairo on the Nile, the town of Bani Suweif lay on Egypt's main rail line; there were probably dozens of trains every day, and they couldn't all be full. The real issue, I suspected, was that I had just run up against Big Nanny. In response to the terror attacks on foreigners in the 1990s, the Egyptian government now operates a vast internal-security apparatus designed to shield visitors from any potential unpleasantness or harm. Wander away from the demarcated and heavily protected tourist zones in the countryside and the ever present tourist police will try to herd you back; insist on proceeding and, more than likely, you will end up with your own bodyguard detail. The specific problem with Bani Suweif, I surmised, was that the nondescript industrial city, best known for the pall of white dust from its two cement factories, fell outside of any conceivable tourist zone. By stating my intention to go there, I had tripped the Big Nanny alarm bells—and those bells would continue to sound until I gave up or submitted to whatever minivan security package was arranged. Telling the concierge I would think things over, I wandered away. I then went down to the main railway station and caught the first train.
Fine stuff. And Andersen’s point about Big Nanny, which he plays off nicely against Big Brother, is well made. He can’t help coming off as a bit of a Big Khawaga, however, as he wanders about sniffing out “the angriest man in Egypt� and generally playing up some pretty threadbare stereotypes. Naïve, lovelorn Farouk from Beni Suef may go over just fine with the domestic readership, but we can practically see Andersen sitting crosslegged on the floor of his Marriott hotel room cutting the guy out with a pair of scissors. In one scene he has him pulling a bundle of postcards from a shoebox under his bed.
"From the girl I loved," Farouk said, untying the string. The girl, from eastern Canada, had been on vacation in Sharm al-Sheikh with her family when they had met. As he flipped through the postcards, Farouk described a chaste, almost pre-pubescent version of romance: strolls along the beachfront promenade, long talks in a secluded corner of the hotel gardens, a quick kiss or hug when they were sure no one was looking. "I loved her so much," he said, "and I thought she loved me, too, but … " He held out a postcard. "This is the last one from her."
Twang go my heartstrings for the lost world of innocence that the worldly journalist so thoughtfully illuminates for us here. And herein lies the problem with this piece. Evocative and compelling, it still deals in half a dozen paper cutouts rather than real people, and—because it is built on anecdote—these two dimensional little tokens are all we have to go on. A nice read, but it’s going to take more than this bit of Harlequin-on-the-Nile to convince me that the Talibanization of Egypt is just around the corner.
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... and welcome to Canada

arar_maher.jpg A man got beaten into a false confession. The internal security agency lied to the government and to the public to cover up their brutality and incompetence. The government lied to the public to cover up their culpability. When the man complained, government officials told lies to the press in an attempt to discredit him. Sure sounds familiar, but the country could come as a surprise: Canada. Maher Arar was picked up by US officials acting on intelligence ineptly gathered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (yep, the guys in the little red uniforms) while transiting the US on a Canadian passport and exported to Damascus for interrogation where (surprise!) he was tortured. After he returned to Canada and complained, as yet unnamed “government officials� started a campaign to smear him in the national press. Here, however, the parallels to countries closer to the home come to an end. See, we know all this because an independent commission was set up under a judge—a judge who was going to get his full salary whether or not he came up with the real facts of the matter—and that commission was able to impel the testimony of a range of key players and make most of its findings known. It’s unpleasant to be reminded that internal security operatives are a breed that transcends cultural and national identity, but here’s the silver lining: a willful, independent judiciary can be an effective counterweight. Something to remember next time there’s a demo outside the Judges' Club.
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Welcome to Egypt

Peekaboolite.jpg Remember the survey at the beginning of the summer that suggested tourists are unhappy with the way they’re treated in Egypt? If memory serves, it blamed overcharging service industry types for many visitors making Egypt a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After a weekend trip across the Sinai, though, I think there may be another culprit, and I think the little fellow behind his clipboard might know who it is. Snapped lounging at a highway check-stop making gestures all-too-familiar to women around Cairo, he didn’t want his picture to be taken and wasn’t about to offer his thoughts on the macro-economic implications of the country being overrun by half-trained goons, but I think his input is clear enough. I’m guessing that there are quite a few people in government here who are familiar enough with Europe—if only Switzerland—to understand that being openly harassed, be it by well-armed soldiers on street corners or by beltagui with guns stuffed into their jeans in the middle of the desert, isn’t something that is going to encourage tourists to make a return visit. Pity that taxi drivers and waiters are so much easier to blame.
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She’s not going to be quiet

shhhh.jpg Interested in Raed Jarrar’s adventure at JFK? You too can have your very own “I am a robber� (or whatever it says in that funny moon-man language) t-shirt. In fact, “we will not be silent� apparently comes from a Goethe-quoting German resistance group who distributed pamphlets in 1942 and 1943. Not clear where or when they used the phrase (anyone?), but their first pamphlet supposedly closed with a phrase that remains relevant today: “every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.� Anyway, the shirts are available in Arabic, Farsi and Spanish–with an English subtitle–from an American Artists Against War group. Purchase is by donation to their campaign (though what this entails other than pissing off Jet Blue employees and JFK mukhabarat is unclear) on their website.
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The good, the bad ... and the leftovers

lapham.jpgpretty in pink.jpgChe.jpg Lewis Lapham, erstwhile editor of Harper’s, is back after a couple of issues off with a classic lead editorial on the profitable business that is war in Iraq, George Galloway is sucking wind in the Guardian and Nassrallah calls on the anti-imperialist workers of the world to unite... or did he? The Lapham piece, unfortunately, isn’t online, and I'm not in the mood to retype the whole thing for the benefit of those who won’t fork out the measly fifteen bucks a year for the world’s best magazine-- well, one of them anyway--but I will offer a couple of teaser quotes. “For the friends of the free market operating in Iraq it doesn’t matter who gets killed or why; everyday is payday, and if from time to time events take a turn for the worst … back home in America with the flags and the executive compensation packages, the stock prices of our reliably patriotic corporations rise with the smoke from the car bombs exploding in Ramadi and Fallujah.� Quoting turn-of-the-century socialist Upton Sinclair on “‘those pecuniary standards of culture which estimate the excellence of a man by the amount of other people’s happiness he can possess and destroy’� Lapham remarks “Unfortunately, we live in a society that no longer remembers Sinclair’s name, forgets that since the days of the ancient Romans it has been on their way to war that men have found the road to wealth.� Lapham’s road to war leads him, in this battle, through a nicely calibrated argument that the current situation in Iraq looks pretty normal considered in the context of late Medieval and Renaissance history of mercenary military organizations and the related development of capitalism and corporations. He makes only one serious blunder that I can see, when he asserts that Machiavelli “codified� the use and practice of mercenary forces “rediscovering the military history of ancient Rome…� Machiavelli, in fact, argued repeatedly that Roman military success rested on the citizen army and begged the Medici, and later the leaders of the Florentine Republic, to emulate the model. But, whatever—his point stands and is a pleasure to read. Contrast Lapham with the overblown bandwagon bombast of George Galloway (seen above during an appearance on a Brit reality TV show) in today’s Guardian. Claiming to have just returned from Bint Jbeil, he puffs that “The myth of invincibility is a soufflé that cannot rise twice.� (Unlike, it seems, Galloway’s career of self promotion, which seems to rise more often than... well, do we need to go there?) “If there is no settlement there can only be war, war and more war,� trumpets this balding little Nasrallah wanna-be, “until one day it is Tel Aviv which is on fire and the Israeli leaders' intransigence brings the whole state down on their heads.� Good grief, why can't someone make him shut up? You can see him getting really excited toward the end. Thinks he’s Dashell Hammet. The Hizbullah press office has given him a piece of shrapnel or a chunk Katyusha and he’s using it as an ashtray—smoking like hell, knocking the ash into this thing, and pounding away at the keys as the whiskey inexorably goes to his head. “…make no mistake,� he crows “with the victory of Hizbullah, a terrible beauty is born.� Why is the Guardian printing this poo? So Hassan Nasrallah wants the socialists to join in the international war on imperialism, but they have to leave that "opiate of the masses" stuff behind, this according to an interview supposedly given to Turkish daily Evrensel and reproduced in English by Counterpunch. Lots of people saying it never happened and kind of hard to see where to go with it anyway--it's worth a chuckle, though. You think those Che posters are getting to him?
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Crap

crap.jpg
Fisk’s latest bit has an interesting fifth paragraph—he claims that Hizbullah is encouraging erstwhile residents of the now flattened southern suburbs of Beirut to rent, not buy. Seems that someone’s thinking tactically here, and has decided that there’s no point in rebuilding quite yet. Lebanon and Iraq are beginning to look like a giant fire sale, with Iran buying everything in sight, including the matches. Saad Ibrahim’s op-ed in the Washington Post is worthwhile complimentary reading. Ibrahim points out quite rightly that the White House and its clients are simply being outplayed by the Islamists, and declines to say that this is a bad thing. Not only does he manage to write about the Middle East without getting democracy and electoral politics hopelessly tangled up (check out Fred Kaplan’s “What a moronic presidential press conference� in Slate), but he even uses the word “inimical.� Kaplan meanwhile treats us to a classic bit of Bush fumble-mouthed idiocy, but is unfortunately disingenuous in his presentation. He claims that Bush is too stupid to understand that terrorism and "democracy" (which Kaplan unhappily conflates with electoral politics) can, and do, mix. Face it: Bush knows the difference between democracy and electoral politics (he’s made a career out of undermining the former with latter), and anybody who works with Karl Rove at home and "shock and awe" bombing campaigns in the great outdoors knows damn well how terrorism and electoral politicking go steel hand in velvet glove. Unfortunately, Kaplan owns up to this in his last para, where he switches from his thesis (that Bush is a moron who can’t grasp the basic flaw in his own spin) to admitting that it is in fact Bush’s refusal to discuss, rather than his failure to understand, that is getting his goat. In the end it looks like Kaplan who doesn’t see the tree for the forest. Seems apropos here, if late in the news cycle, to congratulate beleaguered Brit Deputy PM, Stetson wearing Big John Prescott, for his characterization of Bush's handling of the Middle East: “crap.�
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Greasy trigger fingers

Holy shit, look at that burger! Tell me this is an elaborate spoof. Two websites claim they can arrange delivery of pizza and burgers to IDF units on the Lebanese border and “around Gaza,� and boast that they coordinate with the security forces so that there’s no “security risk.� Imagine the hassle these guys could have saved in Lebanon—all that unloading from ships, piling into trucks, and jouncing down the highway only to be incinerated by an IAF missile when pizza and burgers were just a couple of mouse clicks away. Food's only the start of the fun, however. The chuckles really come rolling in once you get to the messages accompanying overseas orders—seems that the sites are set up for (mainly American) well-wishers who want to show their support. Check out this page of notes from a second grade class in Florida telling the boys to "stay safe and keep fighting." Or this mess of wackiness from just about all over (just try a keyword search on "chosen"). My favorite, however, is this thank-you letter from an IDF soldier who appears to have mixed up the words "supper" and "sniper." An understandeable slip-up when you're trying to write and peg one of those pesky little terrorists at the same time. (Footnote: 42 out of the 184 Palestinians killed by the IDF in Gaza since June 28th have been children, according to a recent UN report.) Anyway, I can see how this won't seem so funny if you've had these guys shooting up aid convoys and fast food outlets all around your country for the last month, or if you're feeling a little peckish in Gaza because the navy won't let you fish (same UN report), but look at it this way: a piping hot all-dressed with extra cheese and chili peppers is just a call (and $16.95) away. There's just one problem...
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Building dissent

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at Beirut’s Lebanese Arab University, got in a good sound bite in the New York Times today. Denying that Hizballah is a state within a state, she characterized the organization instead as “a state within a non-state.� The piece reports on Hizballah’s rebuilding activities in the south, casting it as some kind of Iranian outreach program. Saad-Ghorayeb provides some balance, noting that Hezballah’s message is “We’re going to reconstruct. This has happened before. We will deliver,� but signally fails to note the content of her comment: that it has happened before, and that Hizballah did deliver (during and after the IDF / SLA’s occupation of the south). Hizballah’s political organization is built on the provision of services (from schools to clinics to national defense) that were either not there in the first place or that the IAF and the IDF destroyed and that the Lebanese government failed to replace, and from this flows the political weight and staying power that no short term “torrent of money from oil-rich Iran� (as some NYT editor put it) could buy. This has direct relevance to Maria Golia’s piece below on “new formulas for peaceful dissent.� Large-scale peaceful protests aren’t going to happen spontaneously. Small demos may be an important showcase for state brutality, but they do not in themselves seem to be leading to anything bigger. Providing services, however, is one way forward. Filling in as and where the state crumbles into non-state by providing clean water or a clinic or whatever (there is no shortage of areas in which this state fails its citizens), means developing administrative and communication capacity and building credibility and legitimacy. It also means building a constituency and opening up the kinds of opportunities to mobilize and to educate that will be required if the current demos are not only to grow, but to grow without becoming mobs.
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Bombed again

According to a reader familiar with New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh and his nameless friends are at it again this month. If what Hersh reports being told by “a Middle East expert with knowledge� is correct, we have further evidence (like we needed it) of the crowded confusion that occupies Bush Jr.’s oval cuckoo’s nest. According to this expert, the invasion of Lebanon was a plan cooked up collaboratively with the White House, and one of the goals was to make the Lebanese government stronger. The best laugh, however, comes from a “U.S. consultant with close ties to Israel� who says “The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits … It would be a demo for [an American strike on] Iran.� Back in April Hersh wheeled the same anonymous cast on stage to assert that Cheney et al are forging ahead with plans bomb Iran back to the stone age, with nukes if at all possible. Hard to know what any of it’s worth when you don’t know who’s saying it, but a pleasant bit of echo-chamber reading for the pessimistic.
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Targeted vituperation

Thanks to the often amusing Angry Arab for the link to a little light summertime reading, to whit to Norm Finkelstein’s latest rhetorical head butt to Alan Dershowitz. Under the guise of taking apart Dershowitz’s political-legal analyses Finkelstein gets off some nice shots: his victim is a “notorious serial prevaricator� and “moral pervert� who “mounts his case from multiple angles, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, but always falsely.� Aaah, the sweet art of the ad hominem academic slapdown. Overall the piece is a lot of fun, and provides some nice ammo for after-dinner arguments. Finkelstein’s comments on civilian culpability and casualties, and the implications of blurring civilian/military distinctions are one high point. Another comes at the very end where, well, he answers the question raised in the title. In the same vein (readable, consumer level stuff on international law) Philippe Sands’s Lawless World provides a good clear primer on the political/judicial terrain over which Finkelstein and Dershowitz are punching each other’s lights out.
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