Saturday, October 21, 2006

Baratha Mosque Bombing

A soldier on guard inside Buratha mosque after today's bombingI've often been inside this mosque which was targetted by another suicide bomber today. It's very beautiful - and very tranquil. I first went there as a child. What was a Christian kid doing there? I was brought there on a pilgrimage when we were posted to Lebanon. Our parish priest organised a pilgrimage to the "place abundant with palms" for the children of the parish.

Many people, Christian and Muslim alike, believe that the Virgin Mary stayed there and that a spring sprang forth at her touch. It's a major pilgrmage site for Muslims - many consider it the fifth most sacred place in the world. The reason for that is that after the battle of Al- Nahrawan Imam Ali visited it. He and his son prayed there along with 100,000 believers and he is said to have dug the well which stands at the source of the holy spring.

The original mosque was built about 100 years before the founding of Baghdad. It and the well were restored recently. The water from the well, rather like Lourdes in the Western tradition is believed to confer healing and blessings (baraka.) I managed to get there during my last trip to Iraq and it was very noticeable that many of the people there were Christian pilgrims coming from Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and that they were mingling freely with Muslim pilgrims from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bahrain .... That's why it's attacked so often. It's an island of tolerance in a sea of hate.


Fadlullah On The role of the UNIFIL

Full text of release:

The Weakness of the European Union Encourages the American Administration to Persist in Its Aggressive Foreign Policy

Fadlullah: The role of the UNIFIL is to protect Israel; and it is the Lebanese people’s right to be cautious towards it

The Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, issued a statement in which he warned the International Community against condoning the American policy's stands that continue to violate the world's legitimate rights.

He added that the entire world is facing a problem because the American Administration continues to push the world to the edge of the abyss and drive it to adopt the choice of armament and violence, having targeted the countries and parties that oppose her policy, through conspiring on them or directly attacking them.

His Eminence said that the weakness of the European countries in front of the American offense that attacks human rights in more than one country in the world, especially, in the Middle East, represents a kind of encouragement for the American Administration to persist in its random and aggressive policy against our people, which can lead to another stage of American violence in the region. Unfortunately, the countries of the European Union have been driven out from the sphere of real independence and have also become the hostage of the American Administration in its general policy that it adopted in the Middle East or the United Nations …. This will also agitate the turmoil in the region, especially, in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries that will certainly be affected by it.

His Eminence added that: The current American Administration does not want stability in the region, because it aims at implementing its plot that is based on "violence and chaos". This administration is hypocritical when it tells the Arabs that it is going to revive the so called "peace process", especially, in Palestine. That is because the American Administration's new project is to explode the Palestinian situation and give Israel another chance to impose its conditions on the Palestinians. On the other hand, it paves the way for the Arabs to form an anti-Iranian axis, while at the same time, it calms down the situation between the Arab countries and Israel.

Fadlullah also said: Some say that Iran and Syria are intervening in the affairs of some countries in the region such as Lebanon and Iraq. But, although we do not encourage any one to intervene in our affairs for the purpose of agitating the situation in the region, the question that imposes itself is that: Why does no one talk about the American intervention in the region, whether, in Lebanon, Iraq, or any other country? It is as if they are saying: Why you are intervening to disturb the American policy? Just as if they want America to be free in disturbing the situation in Lebanon and Palestine and to continue its occupation of Iraq, while, they do not want America to be disturbed at all.

His Eminence also affirmed that the sanctions that are imposed on the countries and regimes, whether, by the United Nations or by the politically and economically powerful states in the world… these sanctions do not follow the path of the international justice, and do not adopt the objectives of the so-called "International law" which has become a weapon in the hands of the arrogant countries that drive it according to their interests…. Moreover, the Sayyed said that the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq during the era of Saddam, and that made the Iraqi people die of hunger and killed thousands of hundreds of children, are similar to the new sanction projects that represent new starvation projects and collective sanctions against other peoples. Therefore, the countries that claim to respect the human being should reexamine their stands concerning those sanctions that deeply affect human rights.

Fadlullah considered that the widening of the scope of Israeli violations in the South and other areas in Lebanon under the eyes of UNIFIL that does not interfere to stop these violations ... confirm that these forces have come here to protect Israel, not Lebanon, especially that they do not cooperate effectively with the Lebanese army. Therefore, it is the Lebanese people's right to put a question mark over the UNIFIL's role and to be cautious towards it in order to deal with it in a way that would protect in the first place Lebanon's security and peace.

Source [English]

See also the Sayyed's second Friday Sermon last week which can be found here you will need to scroll down to the text that reads: "The American Arrogance and the World"


Friday, October 20, 2006

Tayib - A History Lesson For Badger

In his posting Tale of two so-called "nations" "Badger" says:

"The writer explains that in pre-Islamic times, there was a ceremony of washing the hands in perfume (Tayib) before making important alliances, and there are aspects of the old stories that apply here, supposedly giving the name resonance and importance. (If I could follow the details I would offer them here, but I fear getting it wrong)."
It's a good posting and it covers a good article, so perhaps you should take the time to read it. But I want to use for something else. It is a perfect example of the difficulty faced by translators from and to Arabic (or indeed any other language.) Sometimes you need to know a lot of context and or history. So here, as you read his posting, covering the article in Al-Ghad is what you need to know. Once you know it the article makes even more sense. As I say 'though - I want to make a larger point though and I do so at the end of this posting:

The Tribe Of Quraish

The Quraish were descended from the Prophet Ishmael. About 400 years after Jesus' death a man from this tribe called Ksay, married Hubba, the daughter of Hulayl who was chief of the Khuza'ah. Hulayl was killed in a skirmish that was resolved through arbitration. Inter alia The parties agreed as follows:

  1. Ksay should become the new governor of Makkahh.
  2. Ksay should become the custodian of the Ka'ba.

Ksay's family then settled them near the Ka'ba. Amongst the members of Ksay's family were:

  1. His brother Zuhra.
  2. His uncle Taym.
  3. His cousin named Makhzum.
  4. Various other cousins but the three people above were the most significant.

Those three together with their families became known as the "Quraish of the Valley." The more distant members of his family settled themselves outside Makkah in the surrounding hills and glens and became known as the "Quraish of the Outskirts."

The House Of Assembly

Ksay governed fairly and seems to have been genuinely loved by his people. He took being the custodian of the Sacred House very seriously and instituted several reforms. The most important of these was that he raised the standard of living of those who tended the Sacred Houseby replacing their tents with permanent dwellings. He also built a spacious house for himself in which he conducted the tribal meetings. The house was also used for other important events (such as weddings) it also became a point of departure for caravans. This is why Ksay's house became known as "The House of Assembly."

Provision For Pilgrims

Pilgrims came each year to Makkah to offer their pilgrimage. Clearly amongst them would have been many very needy people. As custodian Ksay was responsible for ensuring that their needs were met. Specifically that should neither suffer hunger nor thirst. While he was wealthy his wealth proved insufficient to cope with the ever increasing number of pilgrims. He therefore called a meeting at which he asked the people of Makkah to pledge a small annual contribution based upon the worth of their flocks. The Makkahns agreed to this and the arrangement ensured that when the pilgrims arrived for the Greater Pilgrimage there was enough food and water to meet their needs.

Ksay was determined to do the best he could for the pilgrims. So he also commissioned a trough made of leather at Mina. I don't have time to check exactly how many kilometres Mina is from Makkah but it lies on the route to Makkah and is in a particularly arid part of the desert.

The income raised through the pledge was more than adequate to meet the pilgrim's needs. The excess was used to purchase the first covering for the Ka'ba from fine Yemeni cloth. That's important because:

  1. It is a further indication of the centrality of the Ka'ba in Arabian life.
  2. Archaelogical and historical evidence both indicate that Yemen was very prosperous and had achieved a high level of cultural and economic sophistication by this period. (The Yemenis are the people referred to as the Sabaeans.)

The Succession

Ksay had four sons all of them very capable leaders, of these however Abdu Manaf was particularly capable and determined. However Ksay chose the eldest of his sons Abd Ad-Dharr to succeed him. There are various speculations as to why did this but the one that many Westerners settle for, primogeniture - the succession of the eldest - is plainly wrong as that wasn't ever used in Arabia at that time.

Before he died Ksay called for Abd Ad-Dharr and gave him the House of Assembly. He told Abd Ad-Dharr that he was going to decree, inter alia, that:

  1. Nobody was to be allowed to enter Ka'ba unless Abd Ad-Dharr opened it for them.
  2. No pilgrim was to be allowed to draw water in Makkah unless Abd Ad-Dharr permitted them to do so.
  3. Abd Ad-Dharr and Abd Ad-Dharr alone was to provide food for the pilgrims were to eat.

Adu Manaf's Obedience To His Father's Wishes

When Ksay died Abdu Manaf complied with his father's decree and accepted Abd Ad-Dharr as the new governor so for the first generation the succession ran smoothly. Discord about the succession arose during the next generation:

Discord In The Second Generation

In the next generation of Quraish dissatisfaction arose and was expressed by Zuhra's and Taym's descendants. The believed that Abdu Manaf's son Hashim was more capable and should have the rights transferred to him. The dissatisfaction spread and matters reached the point that ultimately only:

  1. The Mahkzum.
  2. A few distant relatives.
  3. Abd Ad-Dharr's near relatives.

Supported Abd Ad-Dharr.


Hashim and his supporters met in theKa'ba precincts. During the meeting Abdu Manaf's daughters prepared a bowl of perfume [perfume was very expensive so this represented a major sacrifice] and placed it before Ka'ba. Each of Hashim's supporters then dipped their hands into the bowl of perfume and as they did so swore an oath to never abandon one another. To reinforce and seal this pact each of them then rubbed his perfumed hands over the Ka'ba's stones. From that time onward they were referred to as the "Perfumed Ones".

The Alliance Of The Confederates

Abd Ad-Dharr's supporters likewise swore an oath of allegiance they are the people who became known as the "Confederates".

The Ka'ba's Sanctity And The Sanctity Of Its Precincts

The divisions deepened and becoame more embittered. Matters reached the point where it was clear that soon the two factions would be involved in a fight to the death. In the society of that time this was unthinkable because:

  1. The Ka'ba and its surrounding area (the perimeters of the sacred area extended for several kilometres) had always been held sacred.
  2. Fighting within sacred zone had been strictly forbidden from the time of the Prophets Abraham and Ishmael.
In order to prevent what would be both a spiritual and material calamity a compromise was proposed as follows:
  1. Abd Ad-Dharr should retain the keys to Ka'ba together with its rights.
  2. Abd Ad-Dharr should retain the House of Assembly as his home.
  3. Abd Ad-Dharr relinquished the right to collect the pledged contributions for welfare of pilgrims. The right to do this was henceforth vested to Hashim.

Afterword: The source for all of this is a quickly done translation into English* of my schoolboy history notes, and that's the point - schoolboy - granted it was a very good school, and granted that as the only westerner and only non-Muslim in that school that my teachers made special efforts with me to help me "get up to speed" nevertheless any reasonably well educated Arab would get the references and the point of the symbolism being invoked immediately. This is what makes translation such a difficult job and why if the two cultures are to co-exist we in the west need to get very serious indeed about studying other cultures with respect and, as far as possible, without preconceptions.

My compliments to Badger it's a good posting covering an important article in an important newspaper. I especially liked that when he didn't know enough to comment he said so. In my experience and I know that I can speak for markfromireland also when I say this:

Many, perhaps even most so called western "Experts" know just enough to get things dangerously wrong. A few weeks ago dad (mfi) got into a discussion with a historian who on the basis of a one year course studying excerpts not even the whole texts just excerpts and excerpts in translation not even in Arabic, felt that he was competent to pontificate on Sayyid Qutb. Once he'd admitted this, (and at least he was honest enough to admit it) Dad lost interest in further discussions. Life is too short to waste time on people like that. But all of us need to think about this, because it is a symptom of something that is terrifying, the man was arguing from almost total ignorance on one of the major sources of violent Islamist ideology and he was arguing on the basis of fragmentary and derivative knowledge. The frightening thing is that that man probably knows more than most so-called analysts and commentators.


* Or to put it another way I translated from one foreign language into another. Growing up multi-lingual has it's good points :-)

Update:I have made some corrections to the text. Blogger is having a lot of problems tonight so I have backed up and republished the entire blog.

Hospitals Now A Battleground In The Bloody Civil War

Patrick Cockburn: Hospitals now a battleground in the bloody civil war

Published: 20 October 2006

Iraqi hospitals are dangerous places. Policemen and soldiers carry their wounded comrades into operating theatres and demand immediate treatment, forcing doctors at gunpoint to abandon operations on civilians before they are completed. The hospital system is not a haven from the war. The Health Ministry is controlled by the supporters of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who did well in the elections in December.

Intelligence officers claim hospitals are now being used by al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia as its headquarters and hospital basements are used as prisons.

Sunni Arabs are nervous of even going to the central Baghdad morgue to look for their dead because they fear they may be targeted by Shia gunmen. One Sunni who took his brother to the morgue was asked: "Do you know who killed him?" When he answered: "Yes" he was immediately shot dead. Many people with bullet wounds fear entering a hospital on the grounds that they will be accused of being an insurgent.

Once I saw several badly wounded police commandos carried into Yarmouk hospital in west Baghdad. Even those bleeding badly refused to be parted from their machine-guns and would not allow doctors to take off their black face masks.

The Iraqi health system is breaking down. Thirty years ago, it was one of the best in the Middle East. But ever since 1980, the country's oil revenues have all been devoted to buying military equipment. Almost no new hospitals were built. From the start of UN economic sanctions against Iraq in 1990, medical care plummeted further.

Old medical equipment broke down and was not replaced. Once, when travelling north of Baghdad, I was besieged by local farmers who thought I was a foreign doctor and demanded I look at their children. Many of them were carrying dusty old X-rays taken years earlier. The local medical centre had closed.

At another old hospital on the outskirts of Baghdad, the hospital forecourt was packed with vehicles - ambulances and trucks - that no longer moved. Many were without wheels or tyres. The doctors were desperate to obtain an oxygen tank but they had no vehicle to pick it up from another part of the capital.

Doctors were paid very little and only kept going buy opening private clinics. Their pay went up after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the facilities in which they worked were dilapidated. It was only possible to reach the front door of one of the main children's hospitals in Baghdad by jumping over a stream of raw sewage. Iraqis who were well off increasingly went to Jordan for treatment.

Doctors faced another threat. They were prime targets for kidnappers because they were known to have some money. They had to operate more or less openly even if the doors of their clinics were heavily barred. They were also targets for assassination. Many clinics were closed as doctors fled abroad. By this summer, 220 doctors had been killed and more than 1,000 had fled Iraq.

One friend who had a toothache rang dentist after dentist to ask for an appointment. Either the phone was not answered or he was told that the dentist had left the country.

It is not just the decline in the medical system that has hit Iraqi health. It is the rise in general impoverishment. The Ministry of Labour says that the level of poverty is up by 35 per cent since 2003 and 5.6 million Iraqis live below the poverty line: "At least 40 per cent of this number is living in absolutely desperate conditions."

Three years ago, half the country's population had access to drinkable water. The figure now has dropped to 32 per cent.


Medics Beg For Help As Iraqis Die Needlessly

Medics beg for help as Iraqis die needlessly

Half of all deaths preventable, say country's medics
Reconstruction seen as disaster
More than 2,000 doctors and nurses are killed
18,000 more leave the nation
Even the most basic treatments are lacking
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Published: 20 October 2006

The disintegration of Iraq's health service is leaving its civilians defenceless in the continuing violence that is rocking the country, Iraqi doctors warn today.

As many as half of the civilian deaths, calculated at 655,000 since the 2003 invasion, might have been avoided if proper medical care had been provided to the victims, they say.

In separate appeals, the doctors beg for help to stem the soaring death rate and ease the suffering of injured families and children. They say governments and the international medical community are ignoring their plight.

In the first 14 months after the 2003 invasion almost $20bn (£11bn) was spent on reconstruction by the British and American funds, including hundreds of millions on rebuilding and re-equipping the country's network of 180 hospitals and clinics.

But billions went missing because of a combination of criminal activity, corruption, and incompetence, leaving Iraqis without even the essentials for basic medical care.

The violence for which the Allied forces failed to plan has meant a $200m reconstruction project for building 142 primary care centres ran out of cash earlier this year with just 20 on course to be completed, an outcome the World Health Organisation described as "shocking".

In March,the campaign group Medact said 18,000 physicians had left the country since 2003, an estimated 250 of those that remained had been kidnapped and, in 2005 alone, 65 killed.

Medact also said "easily treatable conditions such as diarrhoea and respiratory illness caused 70 per cent of all child deaths", and that " of the 180 health clinics the US hoped to build by the end of 2005, only four have been completed and none opened".

Writing in the British Medical Journal today, Dr Basssim Al Sheibani and two colleagues from the Diwaniyah College of Medicine in Iraq says that, as the violence escalates, "the reality is we cannot provide any treatment for many of the victims."

"Emergency departments are staffed by doctors who do not have the proper experience or skills to manage emergency cases. Medical staff ... admit that more than half of those killed could have been saved if trained and experienced staff were available."

They say equipment, supplies and drugs are in many cases unobtainable. " Many emergency departments are no more than halls with beds, fluid suckers and oxygen bottles."

They add: "Our experience has taught us that poor emergency medicine services are more disastrous than the disaster itself. But despite the daily violence that is crushing Iraq, the international medical community is doing little more than looking on"

The shortages were graphically highlighted in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary made by GuardianFilms, and broadcast in February. It revealed that children with diarrhoeal disease were dying of dehydration because hospitals lacked the right sized needles to inject them with fluids.

In Diwaniyah children's hospital, doctors were shown struggling to give drugs by ventilation to a two-day old girl, Zehara, who was born with underdeveloped lungs, because they had the wrong sized plastic mask. Masks costs pennies but, like all other equipment, are in short supply.

Zehara's father was dispatched on to the streets to try to buy Vitamin K on the black market, urgently needed for an injection. But it was too late - by the time he returned, she was dead and her twin brother also passed away shortly afterwards.

In a separate report yesterday, Peter Kandela, an Iraqi doctor who has practised as a GP in Surrey for 30 years, travelled through Jordan and Syria interviewing Iraqi medical staff who had escaped the violence.

"The current Iraqi brain drain is the worst the country has seen in its modern history," he writes

"In the new Iraq there is a price tag linked to your position and status. Those doctors who have stayed in the country know what they are worth in kidnapping terms and ensure their relatives have easy access to the necessary funds to secure their speedy release if they are taken."

He describes a kidney surgeon seized by a group of armed men, despite the presence of security guards who he had hired to protect himself, whose first act was to go through his contacts book for other potential victims. " They had the audacity to suggest that in return for receiving better treatment inn captivity I should recommend others for kidnapping", the surgeon said.

He was released unharmed after a ransom of $250,000 was paid by his wife.

In Baghdad where no one can escape violence, hospitals provided the last refuge. But they are now unsafe and Iraqis are avoiding them. Public hospitals in the city are controlled by Shiia - who have come under suspicion for allowing death squads to enter them to kill Sunnis.

Abu Nasr, the cousin of a man injured in a car bomb who was dragged from his hospital bed and riddled with bullets, told the Washington Post: "We would prefer now to die instead of going to the hospitals. I will never go back to one, never. The hospitals have become killing fields."

Medical notes

34,000 The number of Iraqi physicians registered before the 2003 war.

18,000 The estimated number of Iraqi physicians who have left since the 2003 invasion.

2,000 The estimated number of Iraqi physicians murdered since 2003.

250 The number of Iraqi physicians kidnapped.

34 The number of reconstructive surgeons in Iraq before the 2003 invasion.

20 The number who have either been murdered of fled. 72 per cent of Iraqis needing reconstructive surgery are suffering from gunshot or blast wounds.

164 The number of nurses murdered - 77 wounded.

$243,000,000 The amount of money set aside by US administration to build 142 private health clinics in post-invastion Iraq.

20 The number of such clinics built by April 2006.

$0 The amount of money left over.

$1bn The amount of money the US administration has spent on Iraq's healthcare system.

$8bn The amount of money needed over the next 4 years to fund the health care system

70 the percentage of deaths among children caused by "easily treatable conditions" such as diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses.

270,000 The number of children born after 2003 who have had no immunisations.


68 per cent of Iraqis with no access to safe drinking water.

19 per cent of Iraqis with sewerage access.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


I'm starting to see this a lot: 600,000 as the figure for the "Lancet Study"

Wrong wrong wrong. The figurre is 654,965 not 600,000.

  1. The statistically most likely figure is 654,965.
  2. The lower boundary in the range is 392,979.
  3. The upper boundary in the range is 942,636.
  4. The upper and lower boundaries have the same statistical probability level.

If you're going to round figures, you should round to the nearest order. Thus 400,000 to 900,000.


And incidentally remember that that study is three months old and there's been a massive surge in violence and death since then. For heaven's sake get your figures right and don't cheapen either the deaths of your fellow human beings or the suffering of those who loved them.


Congratulations Bush et al

"We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons -- with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?


Let's pretend the 600,000+ number is all wrong and that the minimum is the correct number: nearly 400,000. Is that better? Prior to the war, the Bush administration kept claiming that Saddam killed 300,000 Iraqis over 24 years. After this latest report published in The Lancet, 300,000 is looking quite modest and tame. Congratulations Bush et al."

Riverbend's full posting, the first for a long time, is here.


What happened in "Pacified" Dora Today?

20061019 girl being treated for shrapnel wounds in yarmouk hospital baghdad thursday oct 19 2006

This happened.

The child seen here being treated for shrapnel wounds in Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital was of the thirteen people wounded in the roadside bombings this morning in Dora. Dora (al-Doura) has been repeatedly "pacified." Apparently the occupiers find this sort of thing "disheartening."

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - The two-month-old U.S.-Iraqi bid to crush violence in the Iraqi capital has not met "overall expectations," as attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of Ramadan, the U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.

The spike in bloodshed during the Islamic holy month of fasting was "disheartening" and the Americans were working with Iraqi authorities to "refocus" security measures, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said"

General there's a cure for your disheartenment. - Leave.


If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport

If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport

Politicians and media have turned a debate about integration into an ugly drumbeat of hysteria against British Muslims

Jonathan Freedland
Wednesday October 18, 2006
The Guardian

I've been trying to imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim in Britain. I guess there's a sense of dread about switching on the radio or television, even about walking into a newsagents. What will they be saying about us today? Will we be under assault for the way we dress? Or the schools we go to, or the mosques we build? Who will be on the front page: a terror suspect, a woman in a veil or, the best of both worlds, a veiled terror suspect.

Don't laugh. Last week the Times splashed on "Suspect in terror hunt used veil to evade arrest". That sat alongside yesterday's lead in the Daily Express: "Veil should be banned say 98%". Nearly all those who rang the Express agreed that "a restriction would help to safeguard racial harmony and improve communication". At the weekend the Sunday Telegraph led on "Tories accuse Muslims of 'creating apartheid by shutting themselves off' ".

That's how it's been almost every day since Jack Straw raised the matter of the veil nearly two weeks ago. Even before, Muslims could barely open a paper without seeing themselves on the front of it. David Cameron's speech to the Tories a week earlier was trailed in advance as an appeal for Muslims to open up their single-faith schools: "Ban Muslim ghettos" was one headline.

Taken alone, each one of these topics could be the topic of a thoughtful, nuanced debate. The veil, for example, has found feminists among both its champions and critics, proving that it's no straightforward matter. There should be nothing automatically anti-Muslim about raising the subject, not least since many Muslim women question the niqab themselves.

Similarly, Ruth Kelly was hardly out of line in suggesting, as she did last week, that the government needs to be careful about which Muslim groups it funds and with whom it engages, ensuring it leans towards those who are actively "tackling extremism". Other things being equal, that was a perfectly sensible thing to say.

Except other things are not equal. Each one of these perfectly rational subjects, taken together, has created a perfectly irrational mood: a kind of drumbeat of hysteria in which both politicians and media have turned again and again on a single, small minority, first prodding them, then pounding them as if they represented the single biggest problem in national life.

The result is turning ugly and has, predictably, spilled on to the streets. Muslim organisations report a surge in physical and verbal attacks on Muslims; women have had their head coverings removed by force. A mosque in Falkirk was firebombed while another in Preston was attacked by a gang throwing bricks and concrete blocks.


The foundation is fear. Many Britons have since 9/11, and especially since July 7, come to fear their Muslim neighbours: they worry that the young man next to them on the train might have more than an extra sweater in his backpack. Next comes ignorance, a simple lack of knowledge about Muslim life which leaves non-Muslims open to all kinds of misconceptions. That feeds into a simple discomfort, personified, in its most extreme form, by a woman whose face we cannot see.

What's more, the set of issues that Islam raises for Britain are ones that do not break down on the usual ideological lines, allowing liberals and traditional anti-racists reflexively to line up alongside Muslims. The veil, and the queasiness it stirs in many feminists, is one example. Faith schools are another, prompting the ardent secularist to feel a sympathy for the government position that ordinarily would come more slowly. The result is that the Muslim community finds itself suddenly friendless. When it came to opposing the war in Iraq, British Muslims had no shortage of allies, but they face the latest bombardment virtually alone.


Right now, we're getting it badly wrong - bombarding Muslims with pressure and prejudice, laying one social problem after another at their door. I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of headlines substituted the word "Jew" for "Muslim": Jews creating apartheid, Jews whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn't just feel frightened. I would be looking for my passport.

The full text of Freedland's article is here.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Boy Holding The Feet Of His Father Baquba Hospital Morgue October 18 2006

Boy Holding The Feet Of His Father Baquba Hospital Morgue October 18 2006
Sometimes there's just nothing you can say.


In Which The Gorilla Loses It Completely

This rather curt story in Aswataliraq doesn't do justice to what happened in Iraq today. Yahoo news has a longer story from AFP here which you should read for background. I'm going to stick with what an Iraqi journalist writing for Iraqis has to say. The key point in Aswataliraq's story is this line:

the release of Alsaidi came at the request of the Prime Minister, Mr. Nouri Al-Maliki."

The writer obviously has the somewhat sardonic Iraqi sense of humour in full measure because the report ends with the shriekingly funny line that the US forces arrested the Sheikh (and six other Sadrists) in Shula at dawn yesterday "for unknown reasons." Feel free to call me insensitive, lambaste me for my somewhat dark sense of humour, or whatever you like. But that's damn well hilarious and I lost it completely. Every single one of those Internet acronymns about falling off the chair, rolling round on the floor laughing, coffee coming down my nostrils at high speed, you name it, they all well and truly applied to me when I read that.

I've written about the American animosity towards al-Sadr repeatedly they've been determined to get him from the moment he started to actively resist the occupation, and remain deeply unhappy at the June and August 2004 cease-fires brokered by al-Sistani. But there's just one problem. It's the problem faced by all losers. It's not up to them anymore. The single most powerful man in Iraq today is al-Sadr. He has enough power that he was able to force al-Sistani from politics and the fact that he and al-Maliki travelled to Najaf today doesn't change that fact.

One of these men is fighting for his life and one isn'tMaliki's chance to unify Iraqis came at the start of his term. If (big if) he had demanded that US troops leave his country, he might (big might) have been able to gather enough support to be able to face down al-Sadr and al-Hakim. Instead as we know he was forced to publicly throw in lot with the hated occupiers. Today (Aswataliraq Arabic Language) he was reduced to denying that his government came to power "on the back of a tank." Take a good long look at the photograph to the left taken in Najaf today. One of these men is fighting for his life and one isn't [see. "Dead Man Walking."] Their facial expressions show very clearly which one is which.


Update: Khaleej times has picked up the AFP report, so if the Yahoo link throws a 404 use the following link: Iraq orders US to release Shia activist(AFP) - mfi

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fundamentally Dishonest Codswallop

I don't link to Iraq Body Count and I don't cite their figures. There's a reason for that, and the reason is that I regard them as so flawed as to be worse than useless. Now they're at it again, defending their turf that is. Nobody, but nobody, should trespass on their turf. Especially not people who know what they're doing. I've long regarded Iraq Body Count as little better than fraudulent. This fundamentally dishonest press release merely confirms me in that opinion. They don't dare try to attack the methodology, about which one could raise questions, so instead they resort to "examining a number of implications" which they describe as "anomalous." Ergo the study can be dismissed. This type of thing is called "circular reasoning" and is the sort of logical fallacy for which, aged 14, I would have been sent out of the classroom in disgrace had I attempted to engage in it.

I'm very short of time this week but this sort fundamentally dishonest codswallop and shameful parasitism upon the misery of the people of Iraq shouldn't be allowed stand. There will be no postings on Friday, and probably not on Saturday either, I'll be too busy going over this deeply dishonest document and pointing out what's wrong with it. In the meantime if you want to know what an epidemiologist with wide experience of conflict mortality thinks of the study I'll refer you this from Francesco Cecchi published on Reuters Alertnet which I reproduce below in full.



Francesco Checchi, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, looks at the lambasting a new report on Iraq deaths has got from hostile governments. He has worked on mortality surveys in Angola, Darfur, Thailand and Uganda, and written a publication "Interpreting and using mortality data in humanitarian emergencies" for the Humanitarian Practice Network.

Reaction to the latest estimates of conflict-related death toll in post-invasion Iraq - about 655,000 according to a study published by a joint U.S.-Iraqi team in the eminent medical journal The Lancet - re-confirms a worryingly unscientific trend in reporting and discussion of the effects of modern conflict on human health.

Commenting on mortality estimates, especially when they suggest that a war initiated on disputed grounds has resulted - and continues to result - in catastrophic loss of life, should be done with the greatest caution.

Unfortunately, this is far from the case. As soon as the Lancet went online, U.S. critics dismissed the study, designed by reputable academics, as "politics".

Meanwhile, the U.S. president stated that he believes that the study methodology "is pretty well discredited", and added: "I stand by the figure a lot of innocent people have lost their life. Six hundred thousand - whatever they guessed at - is just not credible."

The British government issued a response very much similar to that which followed release of the first Lancet survey in 2004: "The problem with this is they're using an extrapolation technique from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq which isn't representative of the country as a whole".

The Australian PM stated that the estimate is "not plausible, it's not based on anything other than a house to house survey".

Answering back

Much of the above is either arbitrary, or needs urgent rectification. For example:

  • The choice of method is anything but controversial. In theory, representative household surveys are always a better approach than body counts, which, as Burnham et al. point out in their interesting discussion, have always turned out to significantly under-estimate true death tolls. There's nothing wrong about estimation per se, so long as one provides a confidence range (which in this case we have); provided that the sample size is reasonable (it is), the only risk is to incur in some error unrelated to sample size (bias), such as, for example, systematically interviewing households that were particularly affected by violence, or getting distorted information from interviewees.
  • The Lancet survey does not perform "extrapolation" from a small sample, as the British government claims. It estimates a death rate, and merely applies it to the time period, and population, within which that death rate was measured - a statistically transparent procedure, given that the survey covered the entire country with the exception of two Governorates.
  • It is not the case that every point in the confidence interval range is equally likely. In fact, assuming that there was little bias, the true death toll is much more likely to be close to the point estimate (655,000) than to the lower (393,000) and upper (943,000) bounds of the confidence range. It isn't a dartboard.

I too find the survey's estimates shockingly high: while the trend of increasing violence seems indisputable, the sheer death toll seems at first glance inconsistent with even the most pessimistic rule of thumb guesses, at least from an outsider perspective.

However, dismissing Burnham et al.'s work simply on gut feeling grounds seems more than irrational. A very similar methodology is routinely applied in many other settings for the same purpose.

The Lancet's publication approach, while obviously prone to human error, is designed to identify only the most scientifically solid medical research, thanks to the anonymous review of recognised experts in the field.

The survey features a lot of compelling aspects - for example, reported deaths were certifiable; non-violent death rates were broadly consistent with pre-war conditions, suggesting no over-reporting by families; the profile and typology of violent deaths reflects what is expected; and, crucially, findings mirrored closely those of a previous Hopkins/Mustansiriya survey in 2004.

No study is perfect

Of course, no study is perfect, all the more so when conducted in the most insecure country on Earth - so insecure, in fact, that carrying around a harmless GPS unit so as to randomly select households to be interviewed places one at risk of being mistaken for a bomb detonator, as Burnham et al. point out.

Indeed, not being able to use GPS for sampling, the research team settled for a less ideal approach based on a random selection of residential streets, which is probably more prone to bias.

But therein lies the rub - that in Iraq today, insecurity has made it almost inhumanly difficult to conduct proper research on the harms and benefits of war. Indeed, what both media and pundits seem to never highlight as a deeply troubling anomaly is that, were it not for the work of a few courageous researchers such as the Hopkins/Mustansiriya University team, or the painstaking work of concerned members of the citizenry such as the Iraqi Body Count project, quantifying the effects of the U.S.-led intervention on human health would largely be a matter of divination.

Twenty-four hours later, the Lancet study is fast disappearing off the news headlines. Dismissing and, worse, ignoring this and other alarming findings simply because "they sound wrong" is no way to move forward - if they can't be proven wrong (or partly wrong) on scientific grounds, they must certainly stand, until better evidence emerges.

Indeed, coalition powers should, in the interest of public accountability and the very success of their mission in Iraq, promote and facilitate more accurate and transparent monitoring of all humanitarian law violations, and of the true effects of violence on Iraqi civilian health.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Reuters.

It Was Nice While It Lasted

Read this from Juan Cole first:

The End of Press Freedom in Iraq? Then toddle along and read this Azzaman stands tall. Badger has it right.


Highly Amazing If True

Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys Go Feral!
Threaten to Pelt Peretz with Shankleesh!
(Highly amazing if true.)

Hat Tip Sasa


Update: There's a hysterically funny (because of it's tone of ill-concealed hysteria) report on Debka

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Italy to sell Lebanon sophisticated ground-to-air Aster 15 missiles to stop Israel’s aerial surveillance of hostile movementsOctober 17, 2006, 12:26 PM (GMT+02:00)According to DEBKAfile’s Rome sources, prime minister Romano Prodi has instructed his defense ministry to negotiate with the Fouad Siniora government the quick sale of an Aster 15 battery, the only Western surface-to-air missile with an active guidance system capable of last-minute corrections of targeting at the moment of interception.More...
No URI for it yet it's one of their dippy little javascript popup jobs so you have to go their main page and click the "more" link. While you're at you might as well read:
  1. Syria Is Stirring Up Lebanese Civil Strife, Stoking Two Anti-Israel Warfronts


  2. Syrian Downing of Israeli drone Raises Specter of Syrian Scuds

So let's see .... they launch yet another one of their grabby water wars, they commit one war crime after another, and now they're griping that their victims (a) kicked the crap out of them and (b) are being provided with the means to force them to behave like civilised people and (c) they're blaming everyone other than themselves.

Gee colour me both unsympathetic and unsurprised.


During the reported period, IOF killed 6 Palestinians, including a child

"During the reported period, IOF killed 6 Palestinians, including a child In the West Bank, IOF killed 4 Palestinians in Nablus. On Sunday morning, 8 October 2006, IOF killed a Palestinian militant during an incursion into Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus."

Full Report (PDF)

Link to all the reports in the series. [The reports are in both HTMl and PDF formats.]


Monday, October 16, 2006

Free Image Tool For Bloggers And Other Webby Folk

This posting is inspired by a comment from reader Sophia on my posting "Cloudy Autumn Day" below. One of the banes of a webmaster's existence is images. Yes they're wonderful, I well remember the early "text only" web, in fact I remember when the web consisted of DARPANET and JANET (yes I'm that old). But a lot of images slow a page down dramatically.

What to do? Well there's lots you can do. But the first thing to do is to reduce the amount of data in the image. Most bloggers don't realise, because they haven't been told, that they can greatly reduce the amount of time an image takes to download without ruining the quality.

Dynamic Drive have a free, on-line, and excellent service that does this for you. It works like this:

  1. You go to the page.
  2. You upload your image.
  3. You pick the image that in your opinion gives the best trade-off between quality and file-size.
  4. You save that image to your computer.
  5. You post that image to your blog.

You can see a screen-shot that shows a typical saving in filesize and therefore the speed at which an image will load:

Free Image hosting by ImageSnap


Link to Dynamic Drive's free service: Dynamic Drive Online Image Optimizer- GIF, JPG, and PNG


Basra is a 'safe zone' no more - revisited

20061016_Basra boy throws a rock at a burning British consulate vehicle after RPG attack

This photo amply illustrates the situation in Basra. The car is a British consulate SUV - the "consulate" is in fact occupation headquarters for Southern Iraq. I've written about Basra repeatedly. Try running a site search here for Basra to see how "peaceful" Southern Iraq is. British readers might be particularly interested in this posting and this one British Brass Express Unease .


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cold Comfort

I'll leave it to others to summarise today's reported happenings in Iraq. It makes for grim reading. What I'm feeling right now is relief that it wasn't a hell of a lot worse. Today there was a huge number of pilgrims in Najaf commemorating Imam Ali's death. Had those ceremonies been attacked the consequences are too apalling to contemplate - even by the standards of American occupied Iraq.

Cold comfort, but today have been a hell of a lot worse.


Moimen Yasir

Moimen Yasir is six years old. His entire immediate family were killed today Sunday Oct. 15, 2006, in one of the seven car bombings in Kirkuk


Cloudy Autumn Day

Cloudy Autumn Day Ireland