Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Iraq Shrine Crisis - Aftermath

Mohammed at Iraq the Model reports that "Life is coming back to normal in Baghdad" after Iraq's political leaders reaffirmed the need for unity in the wake of the disorders that followed the destruction of the Imam Ali shrine in Iraq. My opinion:
Mohammed, I think it is safe to say that the New Iraq has passed a very important test: its new institutions have held firm under great social and political strength. I am a little surprised and very pleased.

I also think the time has come for the militias to disband. And the chance of this happening now is greater than ever. Not just because it is the right thing to do; I guess that Iraq's political leaders now trust each other enough to regard separate religious militias as a hindrance rather than an aid to their individual political ambitions.

At moments like this, isn't democracy simply the best?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Sandmonkey Takes a Break

One of my favorite bloggers, the Egyptian Sandmonkey, is finding things tough:

I have been having a serious case of apathy/writer's block/ depression/ annoyance/boredom/ Life just sucks syndrome lately...

This sandmonkey is tired. He is tired of ranting, tired of explaining, tired of fighting a lost battle. My energy is depleted, and I have been running on empty for a while now, and i am this close to giving up. I need some rest.

SM, you did right. I have a prescription for writer's block: if you can't write about what you originally wanted to, write about something else that motivates you.

A tale of one such writer: he graduated from college in the 80s determined to be taken very seriously. He wanted to write a very serious novel about nuclear war, the military-industrial complex, and how crazy the whole system of Mutually Assured Destruction was. He felt he was doing his part to convince the American people not to support Ronald Reagan in America's struggle against the "Evil Empire".

After many months he finishes his novel and shops it around. Publisher after publisher rejects him!

Finally, even his girlfriend dumps him. In a fit of complete lunatic madness he scribbles out a two hundred page rant: One Hundred Ways to Kill Your Girlfriend's Cat.

Would-be author goes to the office of the last publisher on his list:

"Well, I've skimmed your war novel. We don't think we can make it sell."

"I'll take it back, then!"

"There you go. Hey, all this stuff dropped out of your briefcase!"

Publisher glances at pages, starts reading, cracks up. "Hey, this is great! We'll take it!"

[I think this is the book!] So would-be "serious" writer became known as the best-selling author about how to kill your girlfriend's cat. (But he never managed to publish the "serious" novel he slaved away for months on.)


The Sandmonkey assures us he will return to blogging eventually. I look forward to it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What is to be done?

I was ten years old when my home exploded around me, burying me under the rubble and leaving me to drink my blood to survive, as the perpetrators shouted “Allah Akbar!” My only crime was that I was a Christian living in a Christian town. At 10 years old, I learned the meaning of the word "infidel."

...Under the banner of Islam "la, ilaha illa allah, muhammad rasoulu allah," (None is god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah) they murdered Jewish children in Israel, massacred Christians in Lebanon, killed Copts in Egypt, Assyrians in Syria, Hindus in India, and expelled almost 900,000 Jews from Muslim lands. We Middle Eastern infidels paid the price then. Now infidels worldwide are paying the price for indifference and shortsightedness.

Tolerating evil is a crime. Appeasing murderers doesn't buy protection...

Read it all. I fear we may have much less time left than most people think.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Public Diplomacy: The Transformational Approach

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has recently announced the first major shift in State Department strategy in decades: Transformational Diplomacy:
Rice has described the notion of transformational diplomacy as a shift from merely reporting on events to influencing them to foster the growth of democratic states worldwide.

Under the plan outlined yesterday, Rice will expand the U.S. presence by encouraging the spread of new one-person diplomatic outposts, now located in a few cities such as Alexandria, Egypt, and Medan, Indonesia.

"There are nearly 200 cities worldwide with over 1 million people in which the United States has no formal diplomatic presence," Rice said. "This is where the action is today."

These reassignments may be painfully disruptive to many State Department personnel. Diplomats may be a bit puzzled as to exactly what their mission will be, as the plan is for many of them to be left alone without protection in their new posts. It doesn't help that these changes have been announced with all of the tact, clarity, and delicacy usually associated with the Bush Administration.

So I guess it's up to me, an ordinary American, to tell our diplomats what I think their new core specialty and specific mission should be:

Your job is now Public Diplomacy. Your mission is to free the minds of the people where you are posted.

The primary function of the executive branch is to protect the country from external attack. Al-Qaeda relies less upon specific governments than upon the conspiracy mentality of the Middle East, a mentality that can be manipulated by militants of all stripes to turn, as Daniel Pipes has written, "the merest sign of good will...into collusion."

These peoples accept conspiracy because truth is so rare in their experience, and most have little power to affect the everyday injustices imposed by corrupt authoritarian or dictatorial rule, and very little sense of true nationhood. They then clutch at any idea that will allow them to feel powerful in their own minds, and thus become easy pickings to even more charismatic and violent power-seeking individuals - for violence itself is an expression of power.

Over time, democracy allows power-seekers to reach for power nonviolently, but the process can take decades and rarely works without an educated electorate. People may not grasp that they are free, and can remain wrapped up in the twisted threads of wide-eyed conspiracy theories and untruths for decades.

That's where the new Public Diplomacy comes in. Traditional Public Relations techniques won't work in the conspiracy environment. Whether you run capture-bin-Laden ads on television or matchbooks won't prevent people from thinking that the U.S. is trying to accomplish something else. Speaking in public to a large crowd about the big issues only pushes the ball of string back and forth or pulls the knots even tighter. And in the Middle East, it is the statements leaders make in public, not to diplomats in private, that really make the difference.

So you are to go out and work the streets, souks, and senses of the Middle East. You will be protected only by your tongue, not any bodyguard. You will learn the local language fluently, even idiomatically, for your mission cannot succeed if it looks like your message can be manipulated through your translator; if such a person is an American, you are only a puppet of the CIA; if the translator is supplied locally, you are being manipulated by and implicitly supporting the local dictatorship.

Your do not accomplish your mission by talking about the big issues of war and peace - at least not at first. You are not missionaries of any religion, or even of any political system. Your function is DETHREADING, untangling the threads that keep peoples' minds tied up in knots.

Does this sound like you are being asked to accomplish the impossible? I suppose so, if you think big. That's because success in this endeavor isn't accomplished by thinking big. It is accomplished by thinking small.

Let us suppose that you are a diplomat working a hostile crowd. You are assaulted with questions from every side: Israel, Crusaders, bin Laden, Mubarak, Denmark. (Where did THAT come from? Welcome to the Middle East.) No security is present, indeed, not a single friendly face is in sight. What do you do? How do you even stay alive?

All of these assaults have a common foundation: conspiracy, the twisted doubt of American motives, which is founded by the powerlessness of the accuser in the face of the seemingly all-powerful United States. Believe it or not, your job is to make people - the people throwing mean words or even mean weapons at you - comfortable!

Suppose someone throws out "It's all a Zionist/[substitute appropriate "enemy"] conspiracy!" Relax. Smile. Forget everything you may have learned about standard PR and engage the speaker personally. Don't bother affirming or denying such statements. Instead, invite the speaker forward. Ask him if he thinks he is a "Zionist". Or the person next to him? Work your way progressively through the room -- hostiles first. You retain control of the situation and the crowd accepts this because you are defining people and bringing order to their lives, shedding light in dark corners. Some of these people believed that they are literally surrounded by "Zionists". You are showing them that they are not, and they will love you for it.

And suppose you find a "Zionist/enemy" in the room? Command the crowd to back off. Let him tell his story if he wishes, or if he is too frightened, point out to the crowd that the person is very frightened and should be given the benefit of protection. Surely he -- or even a sizable number of such in the room -- cannot pose an immediate threat to everyone else, because so many people have defined themselves as not the "Zionist/enemy." It's all O.K., because you're just here to talk.

You do not talk about war and peace. You do not talk about the politically controversial. You reach into their culture and talk about little things of common interest, the little choices people can make under any regime.

Food is a good choice: what sort of pickles are available? Why do you choose one type over another? What candy do you prefer? Do you make your own ice-cream, or do you prefer buying from the store? (Caveat: Don't make the mistake I once did, as a white American talking about the merits of different watermelons to a student from Swaziland.)

Or interior decoration: Did you build that furniture yourself? Who thought to make that window sill such a pretty color?

What you are doing is making people comfortable with you. You are limiting discussion to a sphere where they are just as competent to discuss matters as you, if not more so. They have genuine power of choice in these matters, and the threads will start to untangle.

You will also be in a better position to realize the range of freedoms and choices available to the populace. (There is little point to them taking a pro "Zionist/enemy" position on things if that means they will get their heads cut off, is that not so?)

Keep matters light throughout, and end on a friendly note of mutual non-commitment. If your new "friends" try to "convert" you respond with a polite but immediate no -- you are, after all, a diplomat out to represent the best of your country. The same sort of folksy good neighborliness that U.S. troops have won hearts and minds with throughout the world, but without the accompanying guns and battles. And for that you will get paid far more than the soldiers do, eat better meals, and sleep in a comfortable bed every night.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Truffle-Hunters of Arabia!

Strange facts I never knew. Truffles without oaks? Aramco claims that Arabs don't use dogs or pigs to scout for the fungus, but brave land mines instead. (More on desert truffles here and here.)

Who gives a d--n about Arab oil? Oil can be found elsewhere. I WANT THESE TRUFFLES!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The dog did not bark -

- or at least, not very much.

There are 500 Danish troops in Iraq, but only one hundred Iraqis marched at this protest. Those few Danes must be really, really repressive!

Did anyone ever think that it is because the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan have direct experience with Western troops as "occupiers" is the reason why reaction in these countries to the Cartoon War is comparitively muted? By subtracting a national dictator to compel the population, adding a pro-democracy campaign plus an effective anti-terrorist war, and topping it all off with benign contact with Western troops we create a recipe for a better world: the desire for violence is much diminished, and the opportunities for peoples' freedom and happiness much increased.

Those "occupied" by Western troops remain Muslims. But they no longer need submit themselves to the will of a dictator; they can choose only to submit themselves to G-d.

That, my friends, is LIBERATION, not "occupation".

We shouldn't have to leave all the hard work in these matters up to Western soldiers. Hello, State Department? Where are you?

The Dhimmi Post

In its Saturday editorial, "Democracy's Consequences", The Washington Post asserts:
...But more extreme measures by Israel, Egypt or others to prevent the formation of a Hamas cabinet, or strangle the Palestinian territories with a cutoff of tax revenue or essential services, would likely only strengthen the Islamists or trigger a resumption of terrorism.

Oh, really? As if giving money to the terrorists won't encourage them? My opinion on this matter was stated over a year ago: Nothing for the Palestinians! There are plenty of newspaper articles around (just look at last week's NY Times article describing tunnelling-for-dollars) that make it clear that the Arabs of Palestine support terrorism partly out of profit; indeed, other avenues of material gain are cut off, unless the terrorists receive a share of the revenues.

As long as external funds and materiel - for the U.N. agencies and "non-governmental organizations" have long been compromised and penetrated by terrorists - undermine a "normal" market economy, the Palestinians will remain rent-seeking welfare addicts with machine guns. Even if Hamas continued to demand a rake-off on Arab business, they would then have to concentrate on increasing trade, rather than warring upon Arabs and Jews.

Later on, the Post adds:
Democratization in the Middle East will inevitably mean that Islamists and others with anti-Western agendas will have the chance to compete for power -- and occasionally to govern. If so they will be forced to choose, as Hamas now will, between ideology and pragmatic success, and suffer democracy's consequences if they fail.

What are "democracy's consequences"? The Post doesn't elaborate. Advocating a cutoff of aid makes perfect sense.

Unless, of course, you are a newspaper with reporters on the scene. Don't you want to cover a war zone without your reporters getting kidnaped and executed? So the dhimmi editors of the Washington Post may be writing as they do just to ensure profits and secure their personnel. I doubt they tell themselves that; they just whip up justifications to make themselves look better, no matter what logical contradictions and ethical conflicts are involved. The result is that the public is misinformed and reasoning becomes confused.


Winston Churchill survived as a newspaper columnist and parliamentarian between the two world wars. Although it would have benefited him financially, he never accepted Hitler's invitations for an interview.

Churchill knew what Hitler was well enough. If Churchill's audience went badly, he would have been accused of poisoning British-German relations. If the meeting went well, Churchill would have had to support Hitler's agenda; at the very least he would have appeared in a photograph exercising good manners with a monster and lending him legitimacy.

Throughout his interwar period, Churchill strove to maintain moral clarity. Do the reporters and editors of the mainstream media today even understand this concept?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Wisdom of The Religious Policeman

Solomon2 sometimes tries to achieve wisdom by stepping back and examining from the outside. He steeps himself in history so each society of today can be analyzed the same way history analyzes ancient Spartans or medeval Normans.

Much more difficult is the task of The Religious Policeman for he does so from within:

Imagine that in the West, you had a school system which sat the children down each day and fed them a tumbler of whisky. They might not like it at first, but they would eventually get used to it. Later on, they would start to look forward to it. By the time they left school, a fair proportion of them would be alcoholics. Perhaps not a problem if they kept it to themselves, but the ones who went out and drove over people or otherwise killed them would start to be a concern. So you would have to start a program of drying-out clinics, to cure them. And they might be successful, although there's no such thing as a cured alcoholic, just one who hasn't had a drink for a length of time. And you might just question the wisdom of spending money and effort creating alcoholics, only to have to spend more money and effort to cure them later.

In Saudi Arabia, we don't feed our children alcohol. Instead, we feed them race hate. It's a progressive thing, building up layer by layer, using the material you see above. Thankfully, many forget it, just like we all forget algebra and bits of history. But there is a proportion for whom it sticks. They are our "alcoholics". And their hatred extends not only to Jews worldwide, but also the countries that are seen to support them - North America, Europe, Australasia. And a proportion of these decide to do something about it, and sign up with the terrorist groups. Eventually they might get caught, and repatriated. And we have our own "drying-out clinics". It's a program where we get people to talk them round, to see the error of their ways, to be rehabilitated. And unlike a drying-out clinic, we keep them in prison in between times, so you can imagine that the "success rate" is a lot higher. It's documented here...

Perhaps. But Saudi Arabia's rulers face a brutal contradiction: If they don't quit sponsoring terrorism, they risk diplomatic, military, and even economic alienation from the West. Yet if they quit sponsoring hatred and terrorism, their subjects may realize that they were tricked into hatred and terrorism in the first place because it distracted them from realizing that they were being dominated, disenfranchised, and deprived of their human rights by a self-serving ruling minority.

Rather than face this dilemma squarely, are the Saudis are seeking a different way out? Building up contacts with China, India, and other newly-developed countries will lessen Saudi Arabia's vulnerability to Western markets and possibly offer a way to counterbalance America's overwhelming military might, or at least neutralize it diplomatically. So if the West ever again suffers a terrorist attack that creates mass casualties by the hands of Saudi citizens, the fate of Saudi Arabia's rulers will remain secure.

In the meantime, Saudi rulers can resume educating their citizens to despise and attack Westerners, Jews, Ba'hais, etc., and thus keep their subject population under effective control just as they did before September 11th, 2001.