Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Soul of Amarji the Heretic

A Syrian exile shares his inner torment, perhaps seeking an answer, or at least a reply:
Guilt is a would-be messiah’s constant companion, so, naturally, as a man mired in messianic expectations, - and how could a liberal heretic working within the context of a traditional Arab-Muslim society not be so afflicted? – I am riddled with basic motivation was my constant obsession in remaining true to myself. But in doing this, and in following the dictates of my conscience and taking them to their logical conclusions, a process that took me on a long journey through different modes of religiosity and heresy, I ended up turning my back on the very foundations of my culture. I have made myself irrelevant to the very people that I sought, and seek still, to change. Somehow, and in being true to who I am, I stopped being true to my people and to my calling. But then, can I really be true to my people on their own terms? How can be a messiah then? How can I save the world?

For yes, even a secular heretic like me can still speak of a calling, of salvation...Yes, you can actually take faith out of the Arab. His Messiah Complex, however, is a completely different matter -

My response:
This is deep. To be so self-honest must have been very draining. I am honored that you choose to share your soul with us.

the whole point of messianic aspirations is to be able to belong somewhere, at some point in time, somehow, to something that you can believe in, because you have built it yourself.

In this respect, both the sociopolitical liberals and the religious and nationalist radicals are the same.

What if you managed to displace Asad from his throne? Could you accept being kicked out by the ballot box, as American presidents do? Could you accept that the people, who may not share your vision, might want to kick you out? Or if you choose to stay despite losing, which means you will always have to fear others seeking your weaknesses for a chance to become messiahs themselves?

I realized the limitations of my messianism: I cannot save the world, at least not at that point, but I can save my family, not to mention myself.

Perhaps it is not for us to save the world, but rather for us to enable it to be saved by enabling the people to save themselves without a messiah: through education, democratic party politics, freedom of speech and thought, etc.

But that's rather unsatisfying, isn't it? Not much room for messiahs that way. Yet the Western Experience has shown that this is the true way to liberate the people, to allow souls to make their own choices - even if we consider them to be bad ones, like wearing bikinis or chadors or changing religion or listening to bad music.

I have to be relevant to both worlds, I have to belong to both, I have to breathe my soul into both, and I have to save both, save me from both and save both from me. I have to be a multi-faceted messiah, it seems, to make all this work.

So my question is, do you believe in yourself, or in the values you believe will save your people?

On the one side is "Saddam", on the other is "Havel". If you choose "Saddam", then you are a messiah and we have seen you must deal with guilt or deny guilt entirely. If you choose Havel, there is disappointment and frustration, yet guilt is replaced by a quiet moral serenity.

The choice is yours; the fate is that of your people.

Addendum: Perhaps the Winston Churchill approach is a kind of middle ground:
“Every man can be a hero in this great struggle. Not since civilization sprang up between The Rivers 5,000 years ago has there been a crisis, and I say, an opportunity, like this. Allah has joined the fight on our side. He sent the Americans to destroy Saddam, but only we, my brothers, we Iraqis, we citizens, can win this war and throw out the evil from among us.

“When the history of our land is written 50 years from now, 500 years from now, 1000 years from now, people will ask what did their ancestors do in the Great War Against Evil? Every man who wields a rifle will be remembered. Every man who identifies the evil ones will be remembered. Their deeds recorded. Their contribution acknowledged. Your posterity will look back with pride and say, ‘Yes, my Fathers, my ancestors, honored their family and their clan and drove out the evil in this great battle of civilizations.’

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Golda Meir, President Kennedy, & Terrorism

Flashbacks from the fascinating declassified archives of the U.S. State Department:
121. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Palm Beach, Florida, December 27, 1962, 10 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.13/12-2762. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Talbot and approved in the White House on January 18, 1963. A summary of this memorandum of conversation was sent to certain posts in circular telegram 1168, January 4, 1963. (Ibid., 611.84A/1-463)


Conversation with Israel Foreign Minister Meir

The President
Foreign Minister Golda Meir of Israel
Ambassador Harman of Israel
Myer Feldman, Deputy Special Counsel to the President [middle]
Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary of State for NEA
Robert Komer, White House Staff

Initiating a 70 minute discussion, Foreign Minister Meir said she brought greetings to the President from the Prime Minister of Israel. All the people of Israel, she said, have been watching with joy what the President has been doing, especially the way in which he handled the Cuban crisis. Israel saw it not just as a Cuba-US issue but as a big problem affecting the world, and is delighted at the way it came out.

Israel, she continued, has never questioned whether it should be in the free world. Its path is clear. Thus it appreciates US actions and has gained much encouragement from American concern with its security and from American friendship and understanding. She was glad that this talk was taking place after the meeting of the General Assembly, and would like to convey to the President the Israeli feelings about their area and their neighbors.

She is not really surprised when people do not see Israel's security problems as the Israelis do, Mrs. Meir said, but she does ask that others try to understand Israeli views. Israel is not anti-Arab. From the beginning it has been Israel's desire to live at peace with the Arabs. There is an identity in the kind of developments the US and Israel would like to see in the Middle East, i.e. each wishes an area in which every country is independent, free of fear and free to concentrate on its own development. Israel is sometimes called the only democratic country in the Middle East. Israelis would like to see all the countries in the area both democratic and rapidly developing. Their region should be one of cooperation among the countries for the common good. The area is underdeveloped, but Israel believes that it has possibilities and that Arabs would not suffer from cooperating with Israel in the direction of development.

Israel is perfectly prepared to live within its present borders. It doesn't want more land; it doesn't need, for example, Jordanian sand. On Israel's borders are four Arab countries. Israel has never had real trouble with Lebanon. Cows occasionally wander over the border from Lebanon and are sent back. Girls in the Israeli army may get lost and wander across the Lebanese border, but they are very politely returned. None of the incidents are serious...

Then, Mrs. Meir went on, there is the refugee problem. She asked the President to understand that Israel wants to see this problem solved. In 1949 it had said it would take up to 100,000 refugees back. Even though there was no peace, close to 40,000 came back. There are 230,000 to 240,000 Arabs living in Israel, about 11% of the population. Not all of them are peaceful citizens. For example, as development programs go forward peoples' houses sometimes have to be moved for new roads or other facilities. Although no one likes his house to be destroyed, Jewish citizens accept it even if they don't like it. But a few months ago when a new road was to be cut through an Arab village, there was a quite different reaction. We were accused of taking something away from the Arabs. They said they would put their women and children right in front of any bulldozers brought in. This is the sort of line they always take.

The question is this: even if Israel is to accept a very small number of Arabs, for what purposes would they be coming in? In the United Nations the Arabs repeat frankly and openly for hours and hours the one refrain that Israel has no right to exist and must disappear. This is the situation. Israel knows about Arab plans to bring Arabs back to Israel and then to make an Algeria out of Israel. They would create difficulties within the country; then when the Israeli Government would do what any state would have to do under the circumstances, the Arab countries would come to the help of these returning Arab refugees.

The Government is Israel has two responsibilities, Mrs. Meir said. On the one hand it is responsible for the security and welfare of the people. But in this generation the leaders of Israel have another responsibility. Twice before in history there has been Jewish sovereignty, but both times the country was occupied and the people dispersed. This generation has tried for the third time to establish a sovereign state, and this could be the last time. The whole world remembers what happened in Europe...If something happens again so that the Jews are dispersed from Israel, this could be the last time. That is not a happy idea...

In response the President said that he appreciated Mrs. Meir's full statement. In considering the problems of the world we should think of the future and especially of the next year or two. Her last point was particularly important: the burden which the United States carries for the free world. No other country carries the same responsibility for distant countries, for Korea, South Vietnam, India and Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Our concern is in maintaining the balance of power in the interest of the free world. This is why we find ourselves involved in issues between the Somalis and Ethiopians, Indians and Pakistanis, Cambodians and Thais, and so many other disputes which are not part of what we see as the central struggle, i.e. the struggle of free peoples...

The United States, the President said, has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs. But for us to play properly the role we are called upon to play, we cannot afford the luxury of identifying Israel--or Pakistan, or certain other countries--as our exclusive friends, hewing to the line of close and intimate allies (for we feel that about Israel though it is not a formal ally) and letting other countries go. If we pulled out of the Arab Middle East and maintained our ties only with Israel this would not be in Israel's interest.

To be effective in our own interest and to help Israel, the President continued, we have to maintain our position in the Middle East generally. Our interest is best served if there is a group of sovereign countries associated with the West. We are in a position then to make clear to the Arabs that we will maintain our friendship with Israel and our security guarantees...

Those were the days. I note that although Israel's geography, politics, international standing, and leadership has changed, the attitude of the United States to the Israeli-Arab conflict remains the same, while Arabs are increasingly returning to the rejectionist position of forty years ago, now armed with Western weapons and anti-Israel media sympathy.

Yet such events as the repeated Israeli invasions of Lebanon were not unexpected, as one post-Munich cable noted [caps in original]:

Even with the mainstream media on their side, do "Arab diplomatic efforts" really have more credibility today?

The cable continues. Why America's "Arab Friends" continue to support Black September seems to be a puzzle to the writer:

Yes, even in the early 70s the U.S. government realized that the platitude, "There is no connection between 'respectable' fedayeen and those practicing terrorism" against their own people was a myth! A stroke of wisdom that ought to be remembered today, by Arabs and Americans alike. For as long as enough Arabs value the "dignity" of "resistance" over the courage necessary to establish a decent government with self-critical democratic values and goodwill towards its neighbors, isn't it certain such terrorism will continue?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Why We Rarely Hear From Moderate Muslims

Here is what can happen if a Muslim writes a letter to the local newspaper denouncing Al-Qaeda (h/t LGF):

"You have written bad things about Muslims in your article, and you can't say anything bad about Muslims in front of non-believers." Several members of his mosque threatened him: "They had all intentions of causing harm to me."

Update, 11/28/06: Eteraz interviews the author:
"Jihad doesn't mean fighting. Honest earning can be Jihad. I have four kids and a wife. If I go and work and bring honest food for them out of my hard work. That is Jihad. Now, Bin Laden and Zawahiri, they are somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the Muslims there have to realize that these guys are not Champions of Islam and all they need to do is hand them over to the law. That is Jihad."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Material Spirituality

We are not just born to shop, nor are we merely born to pray:

The former attitude leads inexorably to the notion that the highest ideals of society should be to encourage poverty, homelessness, nudity, and hunger. From the perspective of the "spiritualists", malnourished children in societies of mud huts wearing rags and owning nothing- would be the epitome of human existence. The Madonna attitude, on the other end of the dialectic, condemns us to meaningless and empty lives given over in pursuit of meaningless and empty things.

But human beings are not either spiritual or material. They are both these things at all times. [Dr. Sanity]
...when some success-hating commentator condemns America for being the world's leading consumer, tell him that he is evading the underlying fact: that this country is the world's leading producer. And then, as you sit down to dinner, celebrate the spiritual significance of the holiday by raising a toast to the virtue of your own productive ability and to America's productive giants, past and present. [Dr. Gary Hull, Capitalism Magazine]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Colorado Bows to the Saudis

One well-known weakness of the U.S. is that we have difficulty paying attention to more than one foreign crisis at a time. So while Hezbollah is getting Lebanon ready to burn - a subject I've been commenting about on various Lebanon-oriented blogs, especially Michael Totten's - I thought it might be a good idea to peek outside the tent to see what was going on elsewhere.

John Burgess blogged about the return today of Colorado's Attorney General from Saudi Arabia, where he was subject to several days of "aggressive questioning" - that is, interrogation - by the Saudi King and lesser persons of importance on the conviction of Homaidan Al-Turki for the enslavement and rape of his Indonesian maid:
In what I consider to be a nice piece of public diplomacy, Colorado Attorney General Suthers went to Saudi Arabia to explain the process by which Homaidan Al-Turki was convicted...At the very least, in defending the American judicial system he made it clear that Americans stand behind and respect that system.

I was not pleased:
I watched the video. Suthers actually said that he was certain he didn't change any minds. He also discovered, in the course of sessions of "aggressive questioning" by the Saudi King and his advisors, and again by the Interior minister, that his interlocutors were poorly briefed as to the specifics of the case - they simply didn't do their homework.

The stumbling block here was Saudi sexist and racist prejudice: the word of an Indonesian maid (no matter what her religion is) isn't to be believed over that of a Saudi male, so the only possible explanation must be anti-Muslim prejudice. So the defendant's family tried to shield their boy by equating his fate to that of all Muslims.

The key revelation to the Saudis was that they didn't know that two other maids had also testified that they had been sexually assaulted by the defendant. In Islam, a woman's testimony is half a man's, correct? Therefore the testimony of three women is superior to that of one male.

A measure of Saudi embarassment may be found in the total absence of this story from Saudi newspapers since this Arab News article of November 17th. That story described Suthers' meeting with the defendant's relatives and the Saudi Human Rights Commission. Gee, how many AGs look forward to meeting the relatives of people they convicted away from their home turf, at the total mercy of their hosts, surrounded by people primed to accuse them of violating the defendant's human rights?

Maybe this is a PR triumph, but you would have to be a diplomat to understand that. It does not appear to be a case of reciprocation: has any Saudi prosecutor ever flown to the U.S. to be grilled by a Congressional committee for failure to prosecute, or keep in prison, known terrorists? I can't see that attorney generals all over the country haven't received another message entirely: that ultimately they can be held accountable to the Saudi royal family, not their elected constituency.

To dispel this negative impression, the Saudi government could release a statement assuring Americans that they will never ask that this sort of episode be repeated ever again, and if they have future questions on such matters, they will be handled on U.S. soil just like everybody else.

As the Rocky Mountain News wrote:
Did it really need a personal trip to the Saudi King?...Foreign nationals are convicted in Colorado courts on a regular basis. Surely Al-Turki's friends and relations are not the first to consider their loved one a victim of alleged American intolerance and bias. Shall we dispatch the AG on a lengthy mission to smooth ruffled feathers and justify our legal system every time these suspicions surface - or only when they involve a monarch presiding over one of the most reactionary autocracies on Earth?

I'm quite upset that one question the AG had to deal with was if President Bush could issue a pardon to al-Turki. Suthers had to personally deny that the president had jurisdiction over this case. We've seen how Clinton abused his pardoning authority; clearly, the Saudi King was expecting something similar from President Bush.

The implication is that Suthers' trip to Saudi Arabia was necessary to explain the excuse for the president's inactivity on behalf of a well-connected Saudi family. As if President Bush needed a note from his mother to tell his teacher that the dog ate his homework. [Linked at The Carnival of the Insanities]

Addendum: All federal charges - labor and immigration violations - against al-Turki were dropped in September, the U.S. attorney saying that prosecution wasn't necessary after the state case.

Update, 11/23: Debbie Schlussel was kind enough to provide this link to a detailed story in the Rocky Mountain News:
For all of the coverage the case has received, Suthers said Saudi officials seemed surprised at two aspects that had not been reported there. They did not know that two other women had testified at the trial as having experienced similar treatment. They also did not realize that Al-Turki did not testify during the trial.

While that choice is a defendant's right in an American court, it carries a different impact in Saudi Arabia, Suthers said.

"In the Saudi system, the failure to testify is very significant. When somebody makes an accusation, you're expected to respond," he said.

David Harsani has also penned an interesting commentary in today's Denver Post: Saudis need a mirror to see injustice.

Update, 11/29/06: It appears that Homaidan al-Turki's family connections are a carefully guarded secret. While the names of his wife and children are publicized, his parents, aunts, and uncles are simply referred to as "influential relatives", even by those Americans who have met them.

There is a Lieutenant-General Mansour al-Turki who is the director of the Haj affairs department in the directorate of public security and is the Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jeddah is Saleh Al-Turki, an Abdul-Aziz Al-Turki is Secretary General of the Organization of Arab Oil Exporting States, and of course the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. is also named al-Turki. There is nothing beyond the names to suggest a connection.

However, Abdullah Al-Turki is Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, a religious organization of some influence which publishes books for worldwide distribution - and Homaidan al-Turki's business, Al-Basheer Publications, may have sold some of these. The connection would seem tenuous save for the fact that Suthers emphasized the al-Turki family's religious influence: "His father is an imam".

In the meantime, the case of Hamaidan al-Turki has vanished from the Saudi and American press entirely, in keeping with Suthers' contention that Homaidan al-Turki's "family has a lot of clout with the press over there."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Lebanon Model

We're back to what I wrote over a year ago: the Cedar Revolution will die unless the Lebanese ultimately confront Hezbollah.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Siniora broke from Hezbollah completely and appealed to the U.N. to start disarming Hezbollah by force? Everyone here tells me it can't be done - Hezb is too thoroughly integrated into the Shia population. I suppose it would mean war.

Yet wouldn't such a war be preferable to the nightmare that seems sure to follow if Siniora doesn't make such an appeal? I think Nasrallah is counting on the fact that Lebanese would rather sit back and let their democracy wither than stand up and risk conflict. All of Lebanon appears to be his hostage, more today than during the Israel-Hezbollah war because there is no such conflict to divert Hezbollah's energies from domestic matters.

The danger for the West is that Lebanon is becoming a perfect model for turning a democracy into a religious dictatorship - nearly the opposite of what the U.S. is trying to to in Iraq. The steps are simple enough:

1) Infiltrate or organize the Muslim population;
2) Concentrate your followers geographically so they can control the local government;
3) Arm your followers to take control of local families throught terror and local governement through the ballot box;
4) Seek state power under the pretext of avoiding a confrontation with the outside community;
5) Start a conflict with a designated "enemy", trumpeting armed followers as "patriots".
6) Label the outside, mostly unarmed community "traitors" and use inside knowledge of government and armed followers to overthrow the government.

There seems to be no reason why the "Lebanon Model" couldn't work in any country where the citizenry possesses the values demonstrated by the majority of Lebanese citizens: valuing peace, prosperity, "group rights" and order over the rule of law and personal freedom.

UPDATE: Michael Totten has a plan:
I am suggesting a changing of targets. Lightly hitting Syria instead of massively hitting Lebanon is a plea to tone down the belligerence and channel what remains in a more productive direction.

I replied something like this (a glitch wiped out my original comment):

If Israel hits Syria, do you think the international community would show Israel sympathy and understanding?Or would efforts to arm the Gazans redouble and calls for jihad increase? I see Jordan recalling its ambassador and closing borders. I see Egypt renouncing the Camp David accords and vowing belligerence with Israel (without, of course, giving back the territory Camp David yielded to Egypt). I see Syria reveling in its role of "victim" and Asad collecting Saudi cash for arms and terrorism. I see Iraqis goaded into attacking U.S. troops, lest their families be attacked by death squads and militias.

And while the U.S. is busy trying to dampen fires in the MidEast, Hezbollah will be bolder than ever in its campaign to subvert Lebanon's democracy, because it knows no one will be looking, and if they are Hezbollah can use Israel's "aggression" to justify its own dastardly deeds.

MJT, please do not persist believing in the fantasy that that "Israel bombing Syria" is the action that will start Lebanon down the road to solving its problems.

UPDATE: Abu Kais accuses Hezbollah of treason. Oh, really?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Islamic Plague

Killing Little Children for the Cause:
[S]ince Islam was founded on the use of violence to spread the faith, and enforce discipline among followers, there's no end to this custom of conjuring up imaginary threats, and then getting violent over the issue.

What is this issue this time? Is it the dastardly effects of the Global War on Terror? No, it's telling The Faithful that polio vaccine shots will sterilize them. A rash of polio cases among Muslims has been the result:
WHO and its partners had to give up their goal of eradicating polio globally by 2005. Responding to the cascade of outbreaks caused by Nigeria cost an extra $200 million last year alone, said Heymann.

I suppose the U.S. pays about one-third of that amount. Tens of millions of taxpayers dollars all to treat people deluded by their "Islamic" leaders.

Worse, the fiction is spreading internationally:
Pakistan, a recent court petition — citing Nigerian documents that claim the vaccine contains estrogen — asks the government to end the polio eradication program. In the past, polio vaccinators in Quetta have been stoned and chased out by angry locals.

The misinformation battle can take place anywhere. Let's not ignore it.

After all, who cared what the Taliban taught in Afghanistan before 9-11? Last year Quetta was alleged to be the headquarters for the Taliban's General Staff! Thus, to accept the propagation of falsehoods, even those seemingly unrelated to the War on Terror, can work to serve the enemy's purposes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Hezbolli Speaks

Over at Michael Totten:
Mr. Totten, let me be incredibly honest; I have read your blog for some time, but have refrained from commenting. I can say that I find your views abhorrable, in so far as they (more often than not) justify murder based on Israel's right to self-defense. Mr. Totten, if Israel wanted to defend itself, if Israel believed we were on an equal footing as human beings, if Israel believed in human rights, if Israel believed in the real rules of war, let it fight on the battlefield, let it invade and snatch our rocket launchers from us. To hide behind F-16s and then make unsubstantiated accusations that we hide amongst civilians...

The Hezbolli believes he is entitled to his own facts. He continues:

why does it not give us the patch of land that we are demanding?

Because the U.N. says it isn't yours.

these prisoners were supposed to be exchanged as per an understanding

It was Hezbollah who violated the "understandings" by not even providing information about the state of health of Israeli prisoners. In the most recent conflict, the cessation-of-hostilities agreement called for the unconditional release of Israeli "abductees" - another treaty promise that Hezbollah decided to violate.

it is not just the issue of land or prisoners, but the maps of minefields

Not a major obstacle, I think.

Fourth, we did not attack Israel. Our targeting (given that we merely have a ceasefire between us) of the soldiers was legitimate -

Exactly backwards.

There's no moral or legal argument left for you, Hezbolli. Why should anyone listen to you? Do they not endanger their very souls by following you? And are you not lost yourself, until you seek redemption by submission?

His reply:
They listen because they believe wholeheartedly in the justice of our arguments and cause. They listen because we are one and the same: Hizbullah is the people, and the people are Hizbullah. We are from the people and for the people. We are from the people and for the people. Our history attests to this. We have given Lebanon more martyrs and restored its dignity more than any other party. We have restored the lost pride of the Arab and Muslim peoples. We do not need anyone to listen to us. We believe, and we act. The rest are incidental byproducts, rather than deliberately sought after. We are not lost; we have shown those who were lost, the way. And we have proven time and again that we stand by our word. Our honesty and faith are our keys to success in our struggle for liberation and against injustice.

And if they didn't agree, you have the guns to convince or kill them, don't you? The Nazis and the Communists were exactly the same.
We are not much different in that respect from nations that take pride...We want and demand treatment on equal terms, not as inferiors. That is the root of our struggle against America.

There it is. He's grown up in a tough neighborhood where the big and strong always bully the weaker into obedience. In such an environment big bullies are defeated when others bullies gang up on them, and there's no better way to inspire bullies to band together than to propose taking down the biggest "bullies" in the neighborhood - Israel and the United States.

The idea that there could be someone big and strong out there who isn't primarily interested in fighting is quite a foreign concept, something to be rejected outright even if understood, for he would still feel small and weak. He's projecting his values upon law-abiding free nations and using that to justify his attacks.

For the Hezbolli, this isn't about security or religion. It's about pride and power. In the West he'd be in jail, intensive therapy, or a CEO. Such structure is not available to him, or simply is not desired because it is so at odds with his indoctrination.

We are resisting all oppressors, be they local or foreign; we are resisting all those who wish to see us be slaves to American policies and interests (including those who are already slaves, like the KSA, and all other Arab countries); we are resisting those who wish to see our waters appropriated by Israel. We are resisting all those who wish to take us back to our past position of deprivation and humiliation...Why should we recognize Israel in return for nothing? Israel does not recognize our legitimacy, or the legitimacy of our people's grievances and their right to resist the occupation.

Compare to:

...With the occupation of the Ruhr, France had accomplished a conspicuous breach of the Versailles Treaty. In so doing, she had also put herself in conflict with a number of signatory powers, and especially with England and Italy. France could no longer hope for any support on the part of these states for her own selfish campaign of plunder. She herself, therefore, had to bring the adventure - and that is what it was at first - to some happy conclusion. For a national German government there could be but a single course, that which honor prescribed. It was certain that for the present France could not be opposed by active force of arms; but we had to realize clearly that any negotiations, unless backed by power, would be absurd and fruitless. Without the possibility of active resistance, it was absurd to adopt the standpoint 'We shall enter into no negotiations'; but it was even more senseless to end by entering into negotiations after all, without having meanwhile equipped ourselves with power.

- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

This dialogue is not over yet...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moping & Hoping

Moping is how I spent last night. In front of the computer screen, gaping at the returns. I knew they would be bad for the Republicans, but I didn't realize just how bad.

Some people are praising the Democrats today for their "restraint". That's incorrect. The Democrats simply weren't prepared for the size of their victory. They were prepared to crow about their gains and to vow to keep attacking the Republican control of Congress for the remainder of Bush's term. Now they're the ones running the show.

Paradoxically, that gives me hope. Democrats have to choose between sabotaging everything or working with the President. If they choose sabotage, they may well spoil their chances for winning the presidency in 2008. If they choose cooperation, then as the party beloved by the mainstream media, the President's policies - whatever they will be - will have greater public support than before.

Nevertheless, there is still the danger that the Class of '06 will be a reprise of the Class of '74, which was noted for cutting off all funding for military operations in Indochina, thus dooming South Vietnam when North Vietnam mounted a full-scale ground invasion. The media blamed the defeat on President Nixon, who was also on the track to impeachment before he resigned. The mistrust of Republicans and government in general was then leveraged into winning Jimmy Carter the Presidency in 1976.

The era of Jimmy Carter's presidency is widely referred to as "the age of malaise", yet Democrats consider it the high point of post-Kennedy liberalism. A large slice of the Democratic Party believes Iraq is unwinnable and wishes to pull out of the country as soon as possible. Even before the election, there was talk that if the Democrats would win, impeachment proceedings would be next.

Will the Democrats repeat the same course of action? I think not. George W. Bush is not the sullen, unpersonable, and physically unattractive person Richard Nixon was. George W. Bush has no real "Watergate" hiding in the wings -- all allegations against him so far are make-believe. The War on Terror threatens the U.S. directly, not just an country obscure to most Americans. Finally, the country doesn't really want another Watergate agony, and I think the moderate side of the Democratic Party is wise enough to realize that.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Saudi Educational Reforms

Retired diplomat John Burgess reports in detail on the 15th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference held in D.C. last week:

Dr. Khalil Al-Khalil, Member of the Majlis Al-Shoura and Professor at Imam Mohammed ibn Saud Univ. spoke next about educational reform in the Kingdom. He gave a history of education in the KSA, noting that its first curriculum and textbooks were Egyptian (this in the 1920s and 30s) and provided statistics about the numbers of schools and students in the KSA. He pointed out that the United States remains the first choice for Saudi students who wish to study abroad, even with the hassles over visas.

Education reforms are real and they are really taking place, he said. But reforms take time; they don't happen overnight. He said that it would take 3, 4, even 5 years before their effect is felt.

Dr. Eleanor Abdella Doumato spoke next on "Teaching Islam". She noted that there are still problems in the texts used in teaching religion. Curiously, though, she said, the textbooks used to teach "civics" (oddly, only to male students), is far more global in its lessons, telling students that they need to work on cooperative behavior, they need to work hard, and they need to work with kindness. Textbooks used in the 10th Grade discuss relations between countries and the need for tolerance. She found these texts to be a strength upon which the Ministry of Education could build and certainly should be teaching in the girls' schools as well.

Dr. Doumato took exception to some of the widely published reports on Saudi education that have run through the American media, singling out the Freedom House report of 2005 (recently rehashed in 2006). She found misreprentation and factually false statements, as when the report said that Saudi texts don't recognize Israel when, in fact, they do. On the same page the report criticized, she found both caption to a map and text on the page that acknowledged Israel.

It is striking that five years after 9-11 Saudi educators are still concentrating their discussions on reforms at the high-school textbook stage. Was any feedback or studies of the effects of reform presented? Any reports from students about the differences reforms have made? Did no one point out that the weak emphasis on global "civics" only comes after 10 years of an education known to promote a highly negative view of non-Muslims? Is the plan is for younger children to keep receiving such biased instruction? By the time such children reach high school any other form of instruction may fall on deaf ears.

I note that in 2004 TashMaTash broadcast an episode that poked fun at the reforms, showing that at the highest levels of the educational establishment the reforms were intended to be ignored. This episode of TashMaTash was NOT condemned by the clergy. The implication is that "reforms" are mere window dressing intended to stifle Western or reformist criticism. Did Doumato's presentation do anything to dispel such fears? The examples Doumato cited of Freedom House errors seem too minor to matter.

Finally, Saudi Arabia exports or subsidizes religious instruction and textbooks to many Arab and non-Arab Muslim schools around the world. Are there steps to revise these curricula as well or will the "hate lessons" within them remain unchanged?

Linked to Carnival of the Insanities