Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Shootings in Ramel al-Ali

I know Ramel al-Ali reasonably well. It's in Southern Beirut you pass it on your way to to the airport using the old airport road which for a variety of reasons I prefer. It's a pretty poor neighbourhood there's a lot of support both for the Hizb and for Amal there. More importantly there's been a lot of illegal building going on there for years.

I would have to question why it was decided to mount an operation to clamp down on this building now. Who ordered the operation? And on whose behalf? There are conflicting accounts of what happened. What isn't in doubt is that ISF personnel were attacked with sticks and stones. Then they opened fire.

17-year-old Hassan Soueid was shot dead in Ramel al-AliAmongst those hit were 17 year old Hassan Soueid who died of his wounds. 14 year-old Mohammad Hussein Naji, Ali Al-Ouzyer aged 7, and 11 year old Khadar Ammar. According to Ahmad Talal the head of administration at Rasoul al-Azmaa Hospital they are seriously wounded and it isn't clear if they'll survive. The ISF say that the explosive bullets that killed and wounded aren't used by them. It's news to me that the ISF don't use explosive bullets.

As always in Lebanon who was not involved is as important as who was. Everybody - including the ISF themselves, says that who was not involved in the riot were either Hizbullah or Amal. And everybody - including the ISF themselves, says that who did calm the situation down were the local Hizb.From the reports it sound to me like this was a heavy handed operation of the old type and that local youths responded by rioting and that the ISF escalated massively. This isn't how the security forces of a prime minister who says "I am the Prime Minister of all the Lebanese" behave. If he wants to be the "Prime Minister of all the Lebanese" then he needs to tell his Haririte dominated ISF that the old days are over and that nobody wants to reignite the civil war



A goat in South Lebanon looking in the window of a butcher shop

Friday, October 06, 2006

E Pluribus Unum?

A father holding his dead son and a mother crying over her wounded child

This is what the American government does to the foreign lands it wants to rule. When it cannot manage to conquer them by its own strength it sets neighbour against neighbour. It starts a civil war. The Romans did it. The French did it. The Ottomans did it. The British did it. The Hapsburgs did it. All empires do it. Soon "Divide et impera" will replace "E pluribus Unum" on American coins.

Who is to blame for this?

The people who fired the shots that killed and wounded these children?


But they are not the only ones who are culpable.

The American people are also culpable. A people that is too lazy, too complacent, too morally arrogant, too greedy, too sated even to bother to vote. The tears of the father holding his dead son wrapped in a blanket and the tears of the mother and her wounded child as they waited for treatment at Baquoba hospital today can and should also be laid directly at the feet of the American people.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kfar Kila

Cartoon of Rice and leaders of March 14th movement kfar kila Most of our readers don't know Lebanon so I'll interpret. Kfar Kila is a border village in Southern Lebanon. Looking at the background to the photograph I would say that the photograph was taken at the approach to the "Fatima" gate. (You can tell from the uniforms that the two soldiers are Lebanese.) It's the poster that's interesting. Who is caricatured is plain enough. Or is it?

Actually Rice is the least important part of that poster. Even though she occupies most of the space.

Look at the top of the photograph. She's dazed and ready to faint. The symbols whirling around her head are Hizb and other resistance symbols. But the important message isn't Rice. Look at the bottom of the photo now. The little men holding on to her skirt and hiding behind her are the leaders of the March 14th. The "Cedar Revolution" people. This poster is very much saying that the present government is pro-America and does what America tells them to do. What this poster is saying is if you support March 14th then you are pro-America and anti-Lebanon. It's very powerful, it's very effective. It's also very witty.

Big thanks to Declan for emailing it to us.


If They Don't Get This Right They're Dead

I can never understand why people don't pay more attention to Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed. It's one of the few, the very few, Iraqi newspapers that is independent of any party line, it regularly "scoops" other papers, and it focusses on stories of interest to Iraqis. Government - all government, takes place with at least the acquiescence of the governed. When that is withdrawn then government becomes impossible. When a government fails to ensure the distribution of basic necessities it's lifespan is sharply limited. When I was a cadet our counter-insurgency lecturers regularly drummed into us the classic formulation that all societies are "Three meals away from revolution." My experiences in the field tells me they were right.

This (Arabic language) article in Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed covers one of the most important aspects of the failure of the American "government" in Iraq. - The failure to provide cooking fuel, not just cooking fuel, but heating fuel, and fuel for generators.

Summary: According to the article the American sponsored "government" in Iraq's Oil ministry has formed an "emergency room" to deal with the new gasoline crisis which began with the end of curfew that was imposed a few days ago in Baghdad. They're arranging for a fleet of 100 oil tankers to bring around 3,5 million liters of gasoline from the South to Baghdad and they hope to repeat this in a few days if refinery production returns to normal. The current crisis is really a "spike" in the ongoing crisis. The curfew created heavy demand for fuel for generators and simultaneously disrupted production of between "12-11" million liters per day moreover the blackouts disrupted not only production but distribution. The ministry has concluded new contracts for the importation of additional quantities of parafin for Baghdad and has stopped dragging its feet on the Iranian contract. Strong denials were issued that Iraq was exporting oil to Jordan at preferential rates.


Iraq's Christians At Risk Of Annihilation

Iraq's Christians at risk of annihilation


LONDON -- The world is consumed by fears that Iraq is degenerating into a civil war between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But in this looming war of all against all, it is Iraq's small community of Assyrian Christians that is at risk of annihilation.

Iraq's Christian communities are among the world's most ancient, practicing their faith in Mesopotamia almost since the time of Jesus Christ. The Assyrian Apostolic Church, for instance, traces its foundation back to 34 A.D. and St. Peter. Likewise, the Assyrian Church of the East dates to 33 A.D. and St. Thomas. The Aramaic that many of Iraq's Christians still speak is the language of those apostles -- and of Christ.

When tolerated by their Muslim rulers, Assyrian Christians contributed much to the societies in which they lived. Their scholars helped usher in the "Golden Age" of the Arab world by translating important works into Arabic from Greek and Syriac. But in recent times, toleration has scarcely existed.


In 1987, the Iraqi census listed 1.4 million Christians. Today, only about 600,000 to 800,000 remain in the country, most on the Nineveh plain.

As many as 60,000, and perhaps even more, have fled since the beginning of the insurgency that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Their exodus accelerated in August 2004, after the start of the terrorist bombing campaign against Christian churches by Islamists who accuse them of collaboration with the allies by virtue of their faith.

A recent U.N. report states that religious minorities in Iraq "have become the regular victims of discrimination, harassment, and, at times, persecution, with incidents ranging from intimidation to murder," and that "members of the Christian minority appear to be particularly targeted."


The full article in the Japan Times can be found here.


Lebanon's future "will not be built in embassies"

Oh the times they are a changing Maybe we should have a little contest. How about the March 13½ movement for example? Perhaps we should drop the 13 - yes that would work. The ½ movement.

Awn and Nasrullah - who ever could have imagined it?


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Little Bit Of British History

70 Years ago today Battle of Cable Street. Incidentally amongst the young East Enders resisting Moseley's fascist scum was Vidal Sassoon. Yes that Vidal Sassoon.


Cleaning Up Their Act?

I really hope this comes to something. But I'm not optimistic. According to Aswat al-Iraq [Arabic] during Caldwell's weekly press conference to today he announced that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior has decided to investigate the possible involvement of the 8th Brigade 2nd National Police with the death squads.

"the decision to open the investigation came in response to a joint assessment by General Peterson responsible for the training of brigades with Iraqi leaders and found that the training of the battalion is inadequate and will be transferred to outside Baghdad, as well as investigating the possible involvement or participation in the operations carried out by death squads. "

I'm getting this error message when I try to connect to the briefing:

Multi-National Force - Iraq

This site is temporarily unavailable.
Please bear with us while we work on the problem.


Feh - tables, this AP story from Yahoo News has a bit more. If, and it's a very big "if," there actually is going to be a serious effort to get to grips with the death squads that are running rife through the green zone government's forces. Then that is unambiguously good news. I'm going to keep an eye on this one and suggest you do likewise. I'm not optimistic, not on the basis of past performance, nevertheless it's worth keeping an eye on.


Update: Well well well ... who'd a thunked it - from Al Zaman [English]* this one was well and truly signalled as being in the works.

More than 7,000 security personnel sacked for 'corruption'

By Ali Al-Mawsawi Azzaman, September 27, 2006

More than 7,000 security personnel sacked for 'corruption'

By Ali Al-Mawsawi

Azzaman, September 27, 2006

The Ministry of Interior has fired more than 7,000 of its employees for involvement in 'corruptin.'

It is the largest purge in the ministry following accusations that Iraq's newly formed security forces are more corruptive than counterparts under former leader Saddam Hussein.

The purge comes in the aftermath of U.N. reports accusing the ministry's organs and forces of massive human rights violations.


Some of the ministry's forces have been blamed for large-scale atrocities reported in Sunni-dominated areas.


Hashem did not say whether the purge covered elements in the ministry who were reportedly involved in human rights violations and violence against the Sunnis.

But he said the purge included high-ranking officers some of them carrying the rank of lieutenant-general.

Emphasis added. They saved the kicker for the last paragraph:

Despite the seriousness of the allegation on the basis of which the sackings were made, it is apparent that none of them would face prosecution.

Yeah .... right. Sigh .............. Oh well .......... It was too good to be true. Fuck.


*Note to self: Check their English pages more often.

Baraka - Full Version

Full Runtime (1 hr 36 min 30 sec) It's hauntingly beautiful. Spend the time. You won't regret it.

"Baraka is an ancient Sufi word, which can be translated as "a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds." For many people Baraka is the definitive film in this style. Breathtaking shots from around the world show the beauty and destruction of nature and humans. Coupled with an incredible soundtrack including on site recordings of The Monks Of The Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery."

The google video page for this video is Here. Or you can watch it below.


Full Runtime



Non-Partisan Balanced Statement

Don't go to prison, you may have to shower with a Republican.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More Birth Pangs On The Way

"عبد الباري عطوان تبدأ السيدة كوندوليزا رايس وزيرة الخارجية الامريكية جولة في المنطقة العربية ظاهرهاالعربية ظاهرها احياء عملية السلام، وباطنها وضع اسس تحالف جديد يحمل اسم اتحاد الدول المعتدلة ، استعداداً للمواجهات العسكرية المتوقعة ضد اتحاد الدول المتطرفة اي ايران وسورية وحزب الله وحركتي حماس والجهاد الاسلامي، او ما تسميه امريكا بـ محور الشر .
السيدة رايس ستجتمع في القاهرة علي هامش زيارتها لمصر، بوزراء خارجية ثماني دول هي دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي الست، اضافة الي مصر والاردن، اي اعادة احياء منظومة دول اعلان دمشق التي تأسست بعد الاجتياح العراقي للكويت كبديل لجامعة الدول العربية، ورأس حربة العدوان علي العراق وفرض الحصار عليه، وتدمير قدراته العسكرية والاقتصادية، مع فارق جزئي ومنطقي اساسي، وهو خروج سورية ودخول الاردن.
التحالف الجديد يستند الي ايديولوجية العداء لايران وبرنامجها النووي، علي اعتبار ان الخطر الايراني علي دول الخليج والدول العربية المعتدلة اكبر بكثير من الخطر الاسرائيلي. فاسرائيل لا تنوي اقامة هلال شيعي وليست لها جاليات يهودية تشكل طابورا خامسا في الدول العربية، في اشارة الي الاقليات الشيعية في امارات الخليج، مثلما يروج حاليا مفكرو واعلاميو الاتحاد العربي ـ الاسرائيلي الجديد.
في الاطار نفسه، يمكن الاشارة الي ان الدول العربية لم تعد تتحدث بالقوة نفسها عن خطر المفاعل النووي الاسرائيلي وضرورة خلو المنطقة من جميع الاسلحة النووية، في كل مرة تثير فيها الولايات المتحدة مسألة المفاعل النووي الايراني الذي ما زال نطفة ، وبدأت تظهر نغمة جديدة تركز علي ادخال التكنولوجيا النووية في مصر، واليمن، وربما السعودية مستقبلا، وبايعاز ومباركة امريكيين، للإيحاء بان هذا الجهد هو الرد علي التكنولوجيا النووية الاسرائيلية، والانتقادات الموجهة الي هذه الدول العربية المركزية بالتقاعس عن دخول المجال النووي.
الاستراتيجية الامريكية ـ الاسرائيلية الجديدة تريد تقسيم العرب بشكل خاص، والمسلمين بشكل عام علي اسس طائفية، اي معسكر سني في مواجهة معسكر شيعي ، ونقل التجربتين الحاليتين في العراق ولبنان الي مختلف انحاء العالم الاسلامي، حيث يوجد هناك من يغذي الكراهية، ويحضر للصدام بين السنة والشيعة لإلهاء الطرفين عن الوجود الاسرائيلي واخطاره.
الادارة الامريكية استخدمت العامل الطائفي الشيعي بنجاح كبير للإطاحة بنظام سني في العراق علي حد توصيفها، وهي الآن تريد استخدام المحيط العربي السني لمساعدتها في الاطاحة بالنظام الشيعي في طهران وبما يخدم اسرائيل في نهاية المطاف في الحالين.
تسيبي ليفني وزيرة الخارجية الاسرائيلية عبرت بشكل واضح عن الاستراتيجية الجديدة في مقابلة مع صحيفة معاريف نشرت يوم الجمعة الماضي عندما قالت علي اسرائيل ان تتعاون مع الائتلاف السني لانه ليس بامكانها ان تكتفي بتحالفها مع واشنطن، اذا ارادت البقاء، والظروف الآن مهيأة لهذا التعاون .
الظروف الملائمة التي تشير اليها وزيرة الخارجية الاسرائيلية تتمثل في عملية الانفتاح الحالية، وغير المسبوقة، التي تمارسها الانظمة العربية، بضغط امريكي، تجاه الدولة العبرية، فاللقاءات الاسرائيلية ـ السعودية التي كانت من الكبائر حتي وقت قريب باتت حقيقة قائمة بعد تلاقي المصالح، التي بلغت ذروتها اثناء العدوان الاسرائيلي علي لبنان. وكشفت وزيرة الخارجية الاسرائيلية عن اجرائها لقاءات مع وزراء خارجية عشر دول عربية واسلامية علي هامش حضورها لدورة انعقاد الجمعية العامة للامم المتحدة، من بينهم وزراء خارجية قطر وسلطنة عمان ومصر والاردن والبحرين، كما استضافت مدينة العقبة الاردنية لقاء سريا لقادة مخابرات من مصر والاردن واسرائيل ودولتين خليجيتين لا تقيمان اي علاقات دبلوماسية، او تجارية، مع الدولة العبرية، علاوة علي السيد محمود عباس رئيس السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية، لوضع اسس تعاون استخباري شامل في مواجهة دول محور الشر العربية والتنظيمات المتحالفة معها اي حماس وحزب الله.
اسرائيل ستكون العضو التاسع في اتحاد الدول العربية المعتدلة ، والحليف الذي يمكن الاعتماد عليه في الحرب المقبلة ضد ايران اذا ما وصلت المفاوضات حول برنامجها النووي الي طريق مسدود، وهو الاحتمال الأرجح. ولتسهيل عملية الانضمام هذه، من المتوقع ان تنتزع السيدة كوندوليزا بعض التنازلات الشكلية من الدولة العبرية في جولتها الحالية، مثل تخفيف الحصار علي المناطق الفلسطينية، وفتح المعابر، والافراج عن بعض الأسري، وتسهيل وصول رزمة كبيرة من الاموال الي مكتب الرئيس عباس، واستئناف جزئي للمفاوضات بعد عقد لقاء قمة بين الأخير وايهود اولمرت رئيس الوزراء الاسرائيلي.
في المقابل سيتم تشديد الخناق علي الدول والمنظمات الاعضاء في محور الشر او اتحاد المتطرفين ، وهذا ما يفسر اعلان ايهود اولمرت عزمه الاحتفاظ بهضبة الجولان الي الأبد، ومعارضة ليفني وزيرة خارجيته اي مفاوضات مع سورية، وتهديد حالوتس رئيس هيئة اركان الجيش الاسرائيلي بشن حرب جديدة في لبنان للاجهاز علي حزب الله واعادة الهيبة للمؤسسة العسكرية الاسرائيلية، وتدفق الاسلحة علي الحرس الخاص الذي يقوم السيد عباس بتأسيسه للتصدي لحركة حماس وضبط المعابر بعد الاجتياح الاسرائيلي المتوقع لقطاع غزة في الايام او الاسابيع المقبلة، الذي يأمل اصحابه ان يسقط حكومة حماس وينهي وجودها المسلح كلياً ويفرج عن الجندي الاسير.
الادارة الامريكية باتت تدرك، وبعد حرب لبنان الأخيرة، ان فرص بقاء الدولة العبرية باتت موضع الكثير من علامات الاستفهام، ولذلك تعمل جاهدة علي اعادة تقديمها الي المنطقة بصورة مختلفة، اي دولة ناعمة متحالفة مع محيطها السني العربي ، تخوض حروبه ضد اعدائه في ايران. ويبدو ان صفقة ما جري عقدها في هذا الخصوص.
لم يكن من قبيل الصدفة ان تحتفي دول عربية عديدة بتصريحات المرجع الشيعي العراقي حسين المؤيد التي قال فيها ان ايران تتبني حاليا مشروعا قوميا يقوم علي احتقار العرب، والسيطرة علي المنطقة، وانها باتت اخطر علي العرب من امريكا واسرائيل. وهذا ما يفسر حالة السعار الحالية لإحياء القومية العربية من قبل دول وحكومات حاربت الاتجاه القومي بشراسة علي مدي الثلاثين عاما الماضية لصالح الاسلام الامريكي المعتدل .
زيارة السيدة رايس هي بداية توجه لاستخدام العرب السنة، للتصدي لايران لمصلحة المشروع الامريكي ـ الاسرائيلي، تماما مثلما استخدمت الامبراطورية البريطانية العرب السنة انفسهم، لتقويض الامبراطورية العثمانية الاسلامية السنية، وبما ادي الي قيام الدولة العبرية وتقسيم المنطقة العربية الي دويلات هزيلة.
من المفارقة ان مخطط اطاحة الامبراطورية العثمانية بدأ قبل مئة عام بالتمام والكمال، فالتاريخ يعيد نفسه، ولكن التواطؤ والغباء العربيين هما الثابت الوحيد. يتغير الممثلون ولكن المسرحية واحدة، والهدف واحد.

That's yesterday's editorial/opinion piece in Al Quds Al Arabi by their editor-in-chief Abdel-Beri Atwan. He's not impressed. I'm just going to cover one part of it.

What exactly does a "New Sectarian map" mean? It means this:

Composite image of 4 photographs shia family killed fleeing baquba

Diyala governorate of which Baquba is the capital has one of the most diverse populations in Iraq. It's more or less evenly divided between Sunnis and Shiites with a tiny minority of Kurds.

It's become one of the most violent places in Iraq. A "happy hunting ground" for death squads. In recent months the modus operandi has tended to be either kidnapping with no guarantee that you'll survive the kidnapping even if the ransom is paid. The photograph in the top-left panel in the graphic above was taken in Baquba today. Seven members of a family were kidnapped in Abu Seida (about 35 kilometers northeast of Baqouba) and then shot their bodies dumped on the street.

Or the victims receive a warning that if they do not leave their homes they will be killed. Very often in the second scenario they're killed as they flee. The remaining three panels also taken today are of just such killings. The family were warned to leave. They hired a truck. They and their driver were ambushed on the highway and slaughtered.

I used to know a fair number of families in the Al-Tahrir district. As it happened most of them were Shia. None of them now remain. It's getting harder and harder to get information out Iraq. As best I can determine most are now either dead or in refugee camps.

That's what a "New sectarian map" means. I rarely agree with Abdel-Beri Atwan and I don't necessarily agree with all of what he's said above. But there's no arguing with his last paragraph. Rice's visit is the start of an attempt to use the rulers of the Damascus Declaration States to further divide the region in favour of it and its local hegemon's interests. That is exactly the strategy used by the British to undermine the Ottomans, and history is indeed repeating itself. The sole constant is the complicity and stupidity of the region's rulers.

It's enough to make you weep.


The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr

He was a child of jihad, a teenage soldier in bin Laden's army. Captured on the battlefield when he was only fifteen, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past four years -- subjected to unspeakable abuse sanctioned by the president himself

Jeff Tietz

At Ab Khail, a sergeant later said, every U.S. soldier who walked by Omar longed to put a bullet in his head. But an American medic, working near the corpse of Sgt. Speer, saved Omar's life, and he was taken to a hospital at Bagram Air Base with a bullet-split chest and serious shrapnel wounds to the head and eye. U.S. intelligence officers began interrogating him as soon as he regained consciousness. At that moment, Omar entered the extralegal archipelago of torture chambers and detention cells that the Bush administration has erected to prosecute its War on Terror. He has remained there ever since.

At Bagram, he was repeatedly brought into interrogation rooms on stretchers, in great pain. Pain medication was withheld, apparently to induce cooperation. He was ordered to clean floors on his hands and knees while his wounds were still wet. When he could walk again, he was forced to stand for hours at a time with his hands tied above a door frame. Interrogators put a bag over his head and held him still while attack dogs leapt at his chest. Sometimes he was kept chained in an interrogation room for so long he urinated on himself.

An hour or two later they came back, checked the tautness of his chains and pushed him over on his stomach. Transfixed in his bonds, Omar toppled like a figurine. Again they left. Many hours had passed since Omar had been taken from his cell. He urinated on himself and on the floor. The MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body. Without altering his chains, they began dragging him by his feet through the mixture of urine and pine oil. Because his body had been so tightened, the new motion racked it. The MPs swung him around and around, the piss and solvent washing up into his face. The idea was to use him as a human mop. When the MPs felt they'd successfully pretended to soak up the liquid with his body, they uncuffed him and carried him back to his cell. He was not allowed a change of clothes for two days.

The design of Omar Khadr's life at Guantanamo Bay apparently began as a theory in the minds of Air Force researchers. After the Korean War, the Air Force created a program called SERE -- Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape -- to help captured pilots resist interrogation. SERE's founders wanted to know what kind of torture was most destructive to the human psyche so that they could train pilots to withstand it. In experiments, they held subjects in dummy POW camps and had them starved, stripped naked and partially drowned. Administrators carefully noted the subjects' reactions, often measuring the levels of stress hormones in their blood.

The most effective form of torture turned out to have two components. The first is pain and harm delivered in unpredictable, sometimes illusory environments -- an absolute denial of physical comfort and spatial-temporal orientation. The second is a removal of the inner comfort of identity -- achieved by artfully humiliating people and coercing them to commit offenses against their own religion, dignity and morality, until they become unrecognizable to and ashamed of themselves.

Several weeks later, a man who claimed to be Afghan interrogated Omar. He wore an American flag on his uniform pants. He said his name was Izmarai -- "lion" -- and he spoke in Farsi and occasionally in Pashto and English. Izmarai said a new prison was under construction in Afghanistan for uncooperative Guantanamo detainees. "In Afghanistan," Izmarai said, "they like small boys." He pulled out a photograph of Omar and wrote on it, in Pashto, "This detainee must be transferred to Bagram."

One military-intelligence officer, speaking anonymously, told a reporter that more than seventy-five percent of the detainees at Guantanamo are innocent. When the government recently prepared Summaries of Evidence for its 517 detainees in an attempt to justify its "enemy combatant" designation, only eight percent were "definitively identified" as Al Qaeda fighters. Sixty-six percent have no definitive connection to Al Qaeda at all. The detention camps of Guantanamo Bay are filled with shepherds, taxi drivers, farmers, small businessmen, drug addicts, homeless people and children.

The entire revolting saga of barbarity piled upon barbarity can be found in the nine page article "The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr" - here.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Stay On Your Side Of the Border Next Time

Israeli Flag Left Behind

When they withdrew the Israelis omitted to bring their flag from their outpost at Marwahin with them. Sometimes a picture is worth a lot more than a 1000 words. Stay on your side of the border.


Wallerstein On Benedict XVI's Vision

"Three Papal Strategies to Revive Christianity"

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech in his old university, Regensburg, in Germany. In this speech, he included a brief section in which he quoted an obscure 14th-century Byzantine emperor, who made a hostile analysis of Islam. This short section was very negatively received in the Islamic world and led to riots as well as multiple condemnations. The Pope has apologized, now four times, but only for causing so much consternation. He has stopped short of saying that the assessment of Islam was fundamentally wrong. Since this diplomatic flap, the world's analysts have been debating how someone so intelligent as the pope could have made such an "error." Perhaps it wasn't an error, but deliberate.

Consider the nature of the Roman Catholic Church. It has existed for almost 2000 years. It is a church that believes that it encompasses the truth - both about God and about the necessary role of the Church in the pursuit of God's ends. It believes that its role is to evangelize the entire world and to arrive at a world in which all persons, without exception, are practicing Roman Catholics.

Now consider its history as an institution. In the beginning, it was a church in expansion in terms of the number of adherents to the faith. It spread steadily, primarily throughout Europe and parts of the Middle East, for about a thousand years. Then it faced its first numerically significant schism in the eleventh century, that of the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic Church was as a result largely confined to western and central Europe. In the sixteenth century, the Church faced the Protestant Reformation, which led to the loss of most of northern Europe. And from the eighteenth century on, it began to lose practicing Catholics to what it saw as the cancer of secularism and free-thinking in Europe.

In the post-1945 period, the number of practicing Catholics in the pan-European world dropped dramatically because of the spread of secular values. Not only were Catholics not attending mass in countries the majority of whose populations were nominally Catholic - Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Quebec - but vocations to the priesthood also dropped dramatically. This was true to a lesser extent in largely Catholic Latin America, where however the Church began to lose some ground to evangelical Protestantism. In general, however, in the global South, Church membership was still expanding, because of the combination of higher birth rates there than in Europe and the lesser appeal of secularism. Hence, the Church was no longer primarily European; it was coming to have more members in the global South.

The Church's problem has not been that it was losing ground to other religions. Catholics were not converting to Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism. Nor were Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists converting to Catholicism. The Church's organizational problems were largely within the Christian world. The question for the church since 1945 has been how to react to this sudden and massive organizational shift. There have been three different Papal strategies to reinvigorate the position of the Catholic Church - those of John XXIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

John XXIII called for an aggiornamento of the Church, that is a "bringing the Church up to date." The ecumenical council he convened, Vatican II, made many changes in the practice of the Church: a more flexible view about salvation outside the Church, a liturgy that was less Latin-based, a greater role for the bishops collegially. These changes seemed primarily aimed at meeting the implicit and explicit critiques of Catholics in the European world, who wanted the Church to be less out of tune with contemporary Western values. Vatican II was coincident in time with the rise of so-called liberation theology within the Church, particularly in Latin America. Its objective seemed to be to counter the view that the Church had been partisan to ultra-conservative political views.

There was much criticism from within the Church that these reforms had "gone too far." John Paul II re-emphasized traditional Catholic values of sexuality, the role of women in the Church, and the subordination of the bishops to the pope. He attacked liberation theology, and replaced reformist bishops in the pan-European world with more traditionalist ones. His strategy for renewal seemed to focus on the potential for the Church in the global South. For this reason, he placed unusual emphasis on entering into dialogue with other religions. One result would be, he seemed to think, that there would be more access for the Church in non-European regions.

Benedict XVI clearly has a third vision. He agrees with John Paul II on reining in the aggiornamento. But he disagrees that the future of the Church depends on inter-religious dialogue. His strategy focuses on recapturing the traditional base of the Church - its European roots. The speech he gave in Regensburg is essentially an attack on European secularism, and an urgent plea for the revival of a full-throated Catholic doctrine and practice in Europe.

This fits in with his previous criticism of the possible entry of Turkey into the European Union, and his failed insistence that the proposed constitution of the European Union include an explicit reference to the central role of Christianity in Europe. In such a perspective, the use of the anti-Islamic statement of a Byzantine emperor fits in perfectly. It can be seen as a mode of consolidating Europe against an enemy, and thereby encouraging all Europeans to emphasize their Christian roots. He seemed to have been willing to risk Islamic anger in order to consolidate a European base.

Three strategies - aggiornamento, outreach to the global South abetted by ecumenicism, and consolidating a European base on traditional Catholic bases. Which, if any, will be fruitful in the century to come?

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Coup Or Hype?

Juan Cole has two excellent posts up today. One deals with the situation in Central Asia and all those bases the US is building there. You really should save a copy of that, better yet save it and print it. I want to address his other posting the one headed:

"Plot to Bomb Iraqi Gov't in Green Zone
Plan to Declare Islamic Emirate in Diyala
Saudis to Build Security Wall, Fear Civil war"


It's another keeper. So that's two I really strongly suggest you print and put into that ring binder of collected articles you keep, and if you don't keep one now's the time to start. Juan's posting is succinct and he asks all the right questions. I have a not entirely displeasing image of him sitting there snorting with disbelief as he read the various reports he linked to. It's what I did as I read them. Bless the man he's saved me a bunch of typing:

"That's the story. But I have questions. Severe questions. Isn't it odd that such a major plot was foiled by the arrest of seven or eight people? Wouldn't it have needed hundreds? Seven or eight people could have done some damage inside the Green Zone, but not really significant damage. So the rumours that it was a coup attempt make no sense given the scale of the arrests. Then the involvement of people so close to Dulaimi is very suspicious. Was this raid a shot across the bow of the Iraqi Accord Front, a slap on the wrist for having considered such a thing? (The US certainly listens to all Dulaimi's phone calls.) Does the US need the Sunni parliamentarians so much that they can largely overlook the involvement of their close associates in terrorist plots?

As for Diyala, it seems to be in the hands of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement already. Why would it matter if the guerrilla leaders make this declaration? How could some arrests stop them from doing so? There is something hyped about this story, too, though the apparent acknowledgement that there is an Islamist Emirate in Diyala is welcome."

(The remainder of his posting provides some much needed context including that the Saudis have manifestly gone beyond being nervous about their survival prospects and are now downright worried. Like I say it's one to "cut out and keep.")

Composite of three photograph showing children wounded over the wekend
As usual children have suffered terribly during the violence. The top panel shows a baby injured in Baquba on the 28th. The boy in the bottom left was wounded today in a bombing in Baghdad. The girl to the right was injured in a shootout between gunmen and Iraqi police at Baquba's bus station today.

What's interesting to me at any rate is the angle that Juan didn't get a chance to cover in all that much detail - the political fallout.

Aswat al-Iraq [Arabic text] have a interesting piece on it. The story covers a press conference given by Baha' al-A'raji early today. He's part of the Sadrist wing of the UIA, is well connected, and is generally a fairly good indicator of what they're thinking. According to him al-Maliki's government almost toppled over the last two days:

"Al-Maliki's government has survived a coup planned by Saddamists and Islamic extremists who wanted to send a clear message to the Iraqi government of their presence in Iraq,"

Not unsurprisingly he took the opportunity to demand a reshuffle and threatened to withdraw his support if one wasn't forthcoming. The Sadrist Bloc is the largest in the Iraqi Parliament.

His attack was pretty blunt, and downright personal. He said outright that there was a crisis of confidence in, and within, the Maliki government. That the failure to supply fuel had worsened the crisis, that the government had completely failed to improve security. He added that some of al-Maliki's deputies were involved in extremism, that some were Saddamists and that one had been involved in a bombing plot. He went onto to discuss the arrest of Dulaimi's bodyguard on Friday and openly made thinly veiled accusations against Kurdish politicians.

It's worth noting where he laid the ultimate blame for the current situation in Iraq:

"What has led to the deterioration in Iraq is the national unity, democratic and national reconciliation government brought about by the Americans and which included among its members some Islamic extremists,"

Not a point you'll find in, for example, this Reuters Report you will however find the obligatory references to al-A'raji being "an outspoken senior Shi'ite deputy … … … whose affiliation is to the fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr,"

Some day some reporter is going to point out that most successful politicians, and yes that includes al-Sadr, tend to be calculating rather than fiery and sub-editors the world over are going to drop like flies.

So a coup or Hype? Mostly hype, but only mostly. Al-Maliki as I've pointed out before is isolated by his American advisers, who control what information he gets to see and who he gets to meet. More to the point sooner or later some plotter is going to get lucky. They only have to get lucky once.


In Which The Gorilla Explores American Idiom

There are many fine and wonderful things about America. She has many fine and wonderful people. Colin Powell isn't one of them. Every few months I roll my eyes heaven heavenward and mutter to myself "Oh for crying out loud, here we go again, Colin Powell's making another effort at rehabilitating himself." April was the occasion of the last major "push:"

Powell: U.S. made 'serious mistakes' in Iraq Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday said the United States has made "serious mistakes" during the Iraq war that have led to the rising violence the country now faces. [snip] "We made some serious mistakes in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad," Powell told a crowd of thousands at the McCormick Place conference. "We didn't have enough troops on the ground. We didn't impose our will. And as a result, an insurgency got started, and . . . it got out of control." Now, American troops must "stick with the people of Iraq" until order is restored, he said. [snip] Powell, a retired four-star general, served as secretary of state under Bush from 2001 until 2005. [snip] Chicago Sun-Times April 9 2006 [cached page on gigablast] [Emphasis added - mfi]

Now the Washington Post is taking part in the "helping rehabilitate Colin" drive.

So what have we got here? We have Colin Powell who has made a lot of money and garnered a lot of adulation from having made a career out of targeting civilians. We have an undeniably effective and talented soldier who is famous for having a military doctrine named after him. He's got quite a record. Let's talk about My-Lai. In his autobiography - no I'm not going to link to it I've more self-respect than that, Powell talks about his role in the Vietnam War and makes excuses for targeting civilians by destroying their food and homes as follows:

"We burned the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters ... Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference does it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?"

With attitudes likes that it was no wonder he was involved (albeit peripherally) in the cover up:

"In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

His involvement in the cover up his willingness to please and his undeniable talent did his career no harm. But his attitude is disturbing as is his unwillingness to learn from history. In his book Powell fails to mention that this tactic was used by the Wehrmacht [PDF] throughout Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, and generally throughout the USSR. He also fails to mention that it led directly to an initially neutral or even pro-German population realising in short order what they were up against and flocking to join a previously tiny resistance. (Germany lost that one btw, just like American lost in Vietnam, and has lost in Iraq - Colin.)

And it is Iraq that is Powell's greatest failure. A failure of courage and a failure of integrity. His speech at the UN pressing the case for war was one "at which United Nations officials who heard it openly laughed" and was inaccurate in "almost every detail. [link]" Inaccurate is too kind - it was downright untruthful. The man lied through he his teeth and his lies mean that he bears a major portion of the blame for the blood-soaked hell hole that Iraq has become.

Why on earth did he permit himself to do it? I suspect the answer is that peculiar mixture of vanity and cowardice found amongst the latterday American military elite. The vanity is the notion that they and they alone are the superior and indispensable ones. The cowardice comes from their, increasingly partisan role in politics. He believed he was indispensable and superior. He wasn't then, he isn't now. He's a blood-soaked liar nothing more.

As I said at the start of this posting America has many fine and wonderful things and many fine and wonderful people. Powell isn't one of them. But one of the many fine and wonderful things about Americans is their use of idiom. It can be pithy, direct, truthful - and devastatingly accurate. Americans have the perfect idiomatic expression for such politically inspired movements to rehabilitate someone who has miserably and abjectly failed his country when she needed him most . They call it "putting lipstick … on a pig."

Putting lipstick on a pig