9/30/2004

Iraq partition watch

My earlier pessimistic outlook on Iraq's future still seems mostly applicable. The new wrinkle is that things are so bad there that the southern provinces are considering secession:

Iraq's oil-rich southern provinces are considering plans to set up an autonomous region - a move that reflects their growing frustration with the central government in Baghdad and could pose a threat to the unity of the country.

Members of the municipal council of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, have been holding talks with officials from councils in two neighbouring provinces on establishing a federal region in the south, following the example of the Kurdish north.

The three provinces - Basra, Missan and Dhiqar - account for more than 80 per cent of the proved oil reserves of the country's 18 provinces and provide a large share of the national income.

The talks are a political challenge to the embattled interim Iraqi government which is fighting a fierce insurgency in Sunni Arab areas, continued unrest in an impoverished Shia suburb of Baghdad and militant gangs bent on disrupting the country's reconstruction.

Diplomats familiar with the talks, recently reported by Iraqi media, say the three provinces have felt marginalised in new government institutions, including the consultative assembly that advises the government. They believe they are not receiving a fair share of economic resources.

The cabinet led by Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, includes only one representative from the three provinces.


It's likely that Iran is also encouraging the secessionist movement, as the article notes further down. There also is surely impetus for this due to the special dispensation given the Kurdish region, whose extra autonomy was hard-coded into the transitional constitution and will likely remain. The Shi'a of the south have a right to ask, if the Kurds can be essentially independent, why can't we?

There will definitely be feedback between the southern secession and the northern secession, as each feels emboldened by teh other's claims. Turkey is desperate to avoid a free Kurdistan, for fear of their own Kurdish minority attempting to breakaway and join (and like Bill Allison, I confess to great sympathy for the Kurds' desire for a state of their own. They certainly have composed themselves with Polish-levels of honor under brutal sufferring and oppression, in marked contrast to the Palestinians).

Turkey therefore has an interest in seeing the southern part of Iraq also remain part of a unified Iraq; were the south to break free, the reduced viability of the remaining Iraq would make the Kurdish breakaway all that more likely.

Iran has an interest in seeing the south secede, because they want to play the same proxy-state game that they have seen the colonial powers of Britain and America play in the previous century. The Iranian theocratic regime likely sees a free Shi'a state as a nagtural ally, but I wonder if they are overestimating the Shi'a populace's willingness to submit to Sadr's brand of theocratic rule (witness the large demonstrations in Najaf and Sistani's influence).

Ultimately, the Sunni center is the one that concerns American national security the most, because that's the most fertile ground for Al Qaeda. It's hard not to see some merit i the idea of partition, therefore - we'd have Kurdistan in the north, likely to be an ally. We'd have a stable Shi'a state in the south, which would pose some risk of collusion with Iran but also might be a better influence on Iran than we realize. And the Sunni center could be contained more effectively by concentrating there our limited troop resources, allowing for more probability of success in building a stable, democratic state.

But thats the rosy view, one which neocons might embrace, but which more honest appraisers have to concede may be far messier in reality. Just a reminder from history - when India was partitioned, the median of the death toll estimates is 500,000 people. Careful planning and a wiser hand at the helm of US foreign policy is required if Iraq partition becomes inevitable.

Ultimately, if the Shi'a state secedes and becomes democratic, it may well align itself with Iran. A true commitment to freedom means that we have to support democratization regardless of that risk, rather than try to install a puppet regime (as the Bush administration does, cloaking its essentially realpolitik approach with a veneer of freedom rhetoric).

UPDATE: tragedy beyond belief:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 30 -- Separate bomb blasts across Iraq Thursday killed more than 40 people, most of them children, in a dramatic escalation of the country's violent insurgency that also injured hundreds of Iraqis and numerous American troops.

The most lethal attack appeared to be directed at a government-sponsored ceremony marking the reopening of a water treatment plant in the Baghdad neighborhood of Bayaa. But among the victims were at least 34 children, who had gathered excitedly in anticipation of candy and cake being handed out by U.S. troops, according to people on the scene.


The Iraqi civil war has already begun.

9/27/2004

The Debate debate

A good friend forwarded me this review of the new book, "No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates" by George Farah:

The central point of George Farah�s book is that since 1988 they�ve
been aided and abetted in this by the Commission on Presidential
Debates, which he considers a front for the two major parties and thus
something of a fraud. His argument is that the CPD is really a
bipartisan group, not a nonpartisan one, intent on preserving the
two-party structure and working hard to deny third-party candidates a
forum. In the process, he suggests, it has been able, in �secret� and
�covert� ways, to turn control of the debates over to the major parties
because the media collectively have either been asleep at the switch or
quietly applauding the effort.
[...]
He approaches the issue from many
different vantage points, all of them ending with the same conclusion �
that the commission has hijacked the debates from the public and turned
them over to the major parties, allowing the candidates to set most of
the rules. Most importantly, it has managed � with the exception of
Ross Perot in 1996 � to exclude third-party candidates completely.


I think this is a red herring. The fact that Perot was included in 1992 essentially disproves the conspiratorial accusation - clearly, if a candidate like Perot can break the third-party glass ceiling and pose a real threat of winning (and Nader never came close in 2000 to Perot's success), then the debate commission is forced to respond.

The third party candidates argue that debate access is a chance to air their opinion. But that's not how they would use that access - they would use it instead to try and paint both candidates as the same, and argue that only they themselves are a real choice. Thats exactly the strategem Nader employed in 2000 and the result was that a critical number of people actually believed him - and voted for Bush thinking that Gore would be no different.

Millions of lost jobs, an assault on our civil liberties, one just war left half-fought, one completely spurious war successfully won and then completely mismanaged, spurning of our allies when we most need their cooperation, a grotesque inflation of Medicare, a labyrinthine assault on the public school system, rampant Wall Street corruption, and the biggest intelligence failure of all time later... these guys still think they are doing a service for democracy?

More bluntly - lying for personal political gain about your opponents - in this case, arguing that the Two Big Guys are the Same Thing when they are clearly NOT - is not okay just because you're the underdog. so stop wrapping yourself in the flag as you do it. And if you want to build your third party, do it the old-fashioned way: at teh state and local level, one race at a time. Doing so requires the courage of your convictions rather than desperate envy of the Big Boys' media time.

The book does have make a point I agree with strongly, that the current debates, controlled by the political parties as they are, seek to shield the candidates from the voters. The review continues:

Farah is the executive director of an organization called Open
Debates, which wants to wrest control of the debates away from the
current sponsors and replace them with a new organization called the
Citizens Debate Commission.
[...]
Their goal is not just to open up the debates to serious minority
party candidates, but to turn them into real debates. The current
format, with no direct candidate-to-candidate questioning, with limited
follow-up questioning, with limited rebuttals, and with limited
response times, has resulted less in real debates than in what have
been described as �nationally televised joint appearances.�
[...]
The Commission on Presidential Debates was created in 1987 by Frank J.
Fahrenkopf Jr., then the head of the Republican National Committee, and
Paul G. Kirk Jr., then the head of the Democratic National Committee,
who remain the co-chairs. The stated goal was to ensure that
presidential debates would continue to be a part of every general
election. The unstated goal was to take control away from the League of
Women Voters, which had organized and managed the debates in 1976,
1980, and 1984. The major parties had become annoyed at the league
because it had pushed the candidates into debate formats that they had
resisted, had insisted on including John Anderson in a 1980 debate, and
had tried to subject the candidates to questioning by reporters the
candidates didn�t want asking the questions.


Now, I would love to see a real Lincoln-Douglas style debate (archived for posterity), one that lasts three hours instead of 90 minutes. But there's an element of pragmatism here - obviously the parties have a vested interest in avoiding that. But you have to acknowledge that the debate commission at present is not as docile as you'd think - they recently refused to sign the Bush campaign's demanded agreement for the unprecedented measures they want to shield Bush. The commission may be over-protective, but it's NOT meek, and it does take its duty seriously.

Further, I think they are going about it all wrong. Why not launch the Citizen's commission themselves and invite the candidates? (answer: because only the indies would show up, and it would descend into farce). Like it or not, you have to exclude the third-parties, and then just try to build a coalition of interests so compelling that the candidates don't dare say no.

This year, the crowds at Bush's campaign stops have been pre-screened and required to sign loyalty oaths. Its telling that Bush wants to avoid the "town hall" debate. Bring it on!! This isnt the year to care about third parties' debate access, its about convincing people that Bush is the worst president in american history (with the possible exception of McKinley).

A more relevant book to read right now is the meticulously-researched "When Presidents Lie" by Eric Alterman. The chapter on FDR's lie about Yalta is illuminating indeed...

a political war

What is better, a leader who never admits he's wrong or one who can recognize a mistake and change ocurse to adapt? Bush's campaign would have you believe the latter is a "flip flopper." The former, however, borders on insanity.

Note that the link is being touted by others in the liberal blogsphere for Bush's astonishing statement that he'd dress up in a flght suit and prance on an aircraft carrier and say "mission accomplished" all over again. Forget about the technical truth of the statement (though all must admit that the invasion of Iraq, unlike the subsequent occupation, was a masterful affair).

What struck me far more than that however was this statement by Bush on Falluja:

But Bush said he also did not regret the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the rebel stronghold of Falluja earlier this year because he believed the conflict there could have jeopardized the June handover of sovereignty to Iraqis.

"A lot of people on the ground there thought that if we'd have gone into Falluja at the time, the interim government would not have been established," Bush said.


Look, I'm no military expert, but I do know that Falluja is a mini-Taliban state at present. And Bush flip-flopped in the worst possible way - first ordering the invasion, the rescinding it, for purely political purposes (Kevin Drum nicely summarizes Bush's Plans A - D). That indescision, imposed upon our troops from above, surely gave the sunni fanatics there "Aid and Comfort". After being lectured on the evil of Clinton's Somalia moment for years by rabid Bush partisans, I should think that at least some iota of intellectual honesty would compel more widespread outrage. Sadly, no.

9/24/2004

yes, a puppet

Glenn takes the Karry campaign to task for calling Iyad Allawi, installed Prime Minister of Iraq and former Baathist/Mukhabarat ally of Saddam Hussein, a puppet.

Judge for yourself. Allawi was interviewed by Jim Lehrer on PBS. Cue the transcript:

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to somebody in the United States who questions whether or not getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the cost of more than a thousand lives now and billions and billions of U.S. dollars?

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I assure you if Saddam was still there, terrorists will be hitting there again at Washington and New York, as they did in the murderous attack in September; they'll be hitting also on other places in Europe and the Middle East.


Clearly Allawi has no scruples about repeating a long-discredited lie (about Saddam's link to 9-11) in service of Bush-Cheney '04 re-election efforts (Cheney: vote for us or die). And he seem to have forgotten Beslan, Madrid, Bali...

but hey, he's our sonofabitch.

Meanwhile, back in reality, Gary Hart speaks.

9/23/2004

Hey, he's never lost an election before

Why settle for the lesser evil (Allawi) when you can have the real thing?

Saddam to Declare Candidacy for Iraqi Elections

Overthrown Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was arrested by US forces last December, reportedly plans to run as a candidate in the Iraqi elections scheduled for January 2005.

Saddam's lawyer Giovanni di Stefano told Denmark's B.T. newspaper that Saddam decided during one of their discussions that he would declare his candidacy for the elections.

Stefano said that there was no law that prevented Saddam from appearing on the ballot. He added that Saddam hopes to regain his presidency and palaces via the democratic process.

Contrary to the statements of Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Stefano claims, "Saddam has no chance to be tried before the elections. Moreover, no international law prevents him from coming forward."

Saddam's lawyer defends that the ambiguity in Iraq will favor Saddam at the polls. Stefano remarked that a recent Gallup poll indicates that 42 percent of the Iraqi people want their former leader back.


Hey, Saddam was OUR sonafabitch long before Allawi was our sonofabitch. And Daniel Pipes, President Bush's official representative to the Muslim world, does think Iraq needs a strongman...

This whole war would have been a lot cheaper if we'd just given Saddam $100 billion.

Tertiary Phase broadcasts today!

I missed the broadcast on Tuesday but the first episode will be re-broadcast at 11:00 PM GMT, which is 5PM central time in the US. The episode will then be available for online streaming for seven days afterwards.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/newseries.shtml

9/22/2004

9/16/2004

Flip floppers

"I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we'd have had to hunt him down. And once we'd done that and we'd gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we'd have had to put another government in its place.

What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi'i government or a Kurdish government or Ba'athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it's my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq."


-- Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Soref Symposium April 29, 1991

Cheney's assessment was accurate back then, but does not by itself invalidate the decision to go to war. However, this quote from Dick Cheney from March 16th 2003 on Meet the Press reveals a change in Cheney's thinking:

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we�re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don�t think it�s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. [...] The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.


That quote by Cheney is essentially the founding assumption of the Iraq War. And why, in retrospect, even if it needed to be fought, it should not have been fought by this president or this administration.

9/15/2004

maximizing human potential

I had a recent discussion with friends about whether bike helmet laws for children are a good or bad thing. I ended up takingth eposition that they probably do violate individual's liberty, but that it's difficult to argue with the fact that 30,000 children die each year. In formulating my position though I realized that there's a broader principle at work which I felt compelled to elaborate on. note, this is not neccessarily an endorsement of helmet laws. Its a statement of general principle, the reason I call myself a liberal, and it's a principle whose application to real-life must of course be tempered with pragmatic concerns (and the often-contradictory demands of other, equally important principles, such as the rghts of an indvidual).

But there is immense value in one human life. Not to say that the death penalty, abortion, or euthanasia should be illegal, or that we should never allow "collateral damage" in war - there are always going to be times when we must kill for the sake of defending our community or preserving our person.

A single human life is a potential revolution. A single human can change the world. Looking at all those single lives that have done, one is struck by how chance intervened to save each from having been removed from the stage well-before they ever could exert their will upon the world and our global civilization.

Sometimes that single indvidual changes the world for the better. Sometimes for evil. Sometimes they just change the direction of the world without any possible assessment of good or bad - but still profound. Examples are Pasteur, Hitler, and Alexander, respectively.

But as a liberal, I believe that it's essential that we as a society try to maximize that human potential. Doing so means that we have to start with a baseline minimum nutriition to every baby, health to every child, and education to every adult. Doing so means we have to encourage innovation and risk, by removing barriers to entrepeneurship and enterprise. Doing so means we have to ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to compete on the field by virtue of their race, religion, ethnicity... or any other superficial difference.

As a liberal, I desire a true meritocracy - where people succeed on eth basis of their effort and skill. But all people need to be given the opportunity to begin that race with the same tools as everyone else. That, society can guarantee. What you build with the tools, however, society should not guarantee (though a safety net is also needed for those who fail, so as to encourage people to take the risk and hope for success).

So, 30,000 preventable deaths of young children due to lack of bike helmets is a tragedy, far worse than 9-11. It's a human tragedy because of the immense loss of human potential. Should we infringe on liberty to mandate bike helmets? Probably not, but it's hard to argue that point on pure ideological grounds without losing some of your humanity in the process. A better solution is to argue for education of future parents in high school, so that they at least have some general knowledge of the risks. Or innovative policies like requiring by law that all bikes marketed to children under 18 come packaged with a safety helmet, or a coupon for one so the child can also find one they like and be "cool".

It's not enough to say that liberty trumps all other concerns. We have a civilization herem one built the hard way - through the toil of individuals, one at a time, a whole far greater than the sum of its parts., Each loss is a deep wound to our future. We need to retain our affinity for the human side of these issues, not just relegate them to the level of a theoretical excercise in law.

UPDATE: Several have written to point out that the annual number of deaths due to no helmets is much less than 30,000. That's useful information, though somewhat irrelevant to my larger point about the statement of principle which informs, but does not dictate (pace Araven) my view on the matter. I still think that the preventable deaths of even a few hundred children is a greater tragedy than 9-11 in terms of the unrealized human potential it subtracts from our collective future.

9/12/2004

The Days of Ascent and Elevation

Friday was the day the Prophet Mohammed SAW ascended to Heaven from the site now covered by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Saturday was the day that Muhammad was elevated to the status of Prophet, beginning with the Revelation of the first verse of the Qur'an. For more information about these and other important religious events during the month of Shere ul-Rajab, visit this site.

To commemorate these events, all members of my community fasted until sunset - including, I add with immense father's pride, my daughter. May Allah elevate us all in stature by virtue of our deeds.

Saturday was also the third anniversary of 9-11, but this year it didn't really register. I hope I never live to see another day like 9-11 again. I haven't forgotten it, and never will. But this year, the weekend was one of celebration of faith, and spiritual hope. There will be many anniversaries of 9-11 ahead, and I will give it it's due then. But not this year.

UPDATE: Imshin lectures those of us who did not "rend our garments." I agree with jonathan - it's been three years, and the emotion has matured over time. I don't think there's more that needs to be said, apart from, Don't presume we don't remember. We always will.

9/09/2004

What Would Kerry Do?

Red State looks at the "evidence" and draws the conclusion that Kerry won't prosecute the war on terror in his first term, whereas Bush will begin to in his second term. Tacitus is intellectually honest to admit that Bush hasn't been prosecuting said war very effectively until this point (of course, the definition of "prosecute the WOT" is itself open to legitimate debate).

The opinion ultimately boils down to a question of faith, in your party's strength and righteousness, or more accurately in the case of Red State, the Other party's craven weakness.

I don't believe it is intellectually rigorous to support Bush in 2004 on the basis of actions he will (may) do but has not yet done. I see this election as a referendum on the incumbent's performance. The right to vote, if not excercised punitively against leadership who fail to meet expectation, is ultimately wasted.

The reason that I think Bush won't do a good job in a second term is NOT because I'm some frothing lefty who holds Republicans in contempt. Ratherm it's because I evaluate Bush on his record so far and find him wanting - an assessment with which Tacitus also agrees, in sum if not on specifics.

Further, my evaluation of Kerry wrt the WOT is positive not because I think Democrats are saints, but because I think that a Kerry Administration is more likely to see American power from a multi-pole perspective. I am heavily influenced by Gary Hart's vision laid out in his book, The Fourth Power, and also his comments in this recent interview. I believe Liberty is hard and that our foreign policy under Bush and the neoconservative school assume it to be easy.

But I may of course be wrong and Kerry may pursue a philosophy towards foreign policy and the war on terror completely opposed to the Hart school of conservative-neo-Wilsonianism. In that case, I will be pulling the lever for Kerry's opponent in 2008. It's as simple as that.

A referendum on the incumbent, if consistently applied, will make all incumbents that much more inclined to listen to the power of the people. A rubber stamp of approval for failure is almost an innoculation against success.

UPDATE: Tacitus takes some offense at my characterization, with justification. I've edited my first sentence accordingly. In addition, Tacitus drew a distinction between the war on terror and the war in Iraq - I would have agreed with that distinction prior to our invasion, but today they are for better or for worse one and the same. Also, he backtracks from his prior multiple, angry, critical assertions of Bush's failure in prosecution of the war, saying now only that Bush has been lackluster. In this post, he concludes,

"If the choice is between creeping defeat and outright surrender coupled with craven self-abnegation, well, give me the former. Therein, at least, lies a fighting chance. Therein lies the possibility, however faint, of a change of course. What remains is for us to make that change happen. This is gut-check time for Republicans, and particularly for Republicans on the Hill. Are we in it for the Administration? Or are we in it for America".


Hardly a ringing endorsement of success, though technically not an outright accusation of failure in specific terms. And his evidence for the supposed craven self-abnegation of John Kerry remains thin gruel. Which is why I initially used the word "partisan" in my first sentence to describe his conclusion - because the evidence of Tacitus' own words still suggest an a-priori conclusion rather than one arrived at by objective analysis.

9/07/2004

Arrival Day

Jonathan Edelstein is hosting the annual Arrival Day blogburst, celebrating 350 years of Jewish presence in America. I am honored to participate.

I had originally planned to write something about the large role that Jews have played in shaping the immigrant experience, in which I see strong parallels to the Indian-American community to which I belong. But recent events have caused me to shift my focus.

Instead, I want to write about the example set by the Jews in terms of surviving systematic cultural bigotry. It's not unfair to accuse German society circa 1930-1940 of a cultural flaw, one that abetted the systematic scapegoating of Jews for society's ills (of which perhaps the most infamous example is the Dolchsto�legende). Likewise, it's not unfair to accuse modern Arab society of the same malaise, given how strongly anti-Semitism has taken root in those societies. In both cases, the Jew is used as a distraction by the ruling tyranny to distract the public from their own failures, but the willingness of the general public to believe it is a black mark on those cultures.

I fear the same thing may happen to my own American conservative culture. I call myself a cultural conservative, because of my religious convictions. I also call myself a social liberal, because those convictions are voluntary and I draw a distinction between virtue and lack of sin. I claim therefore membership in the culture which I accuse. Not that I do not critique conservatives as individuals, but rather the broader culture itself.

As my many recent posts on the matter have shown, there is a rising tide of anti-muslim sentiment in this country since 9-11. In many ways, it is worse now than immediately after the attacks. But the Cowboys incident is different because it was a mass event, not an individual one.

If the war on Terror drifts too far from the immediate goal of removing threats to our nation and ends up fulfilling Osama bin Laden's desire for a true clash of civilizations, then I fear that this tide may manifest into something more threatening than being booed at a football game. The process by which this occurs is a slow one. But it can be inexorable if it is not recognized. Note that it has happenned before - the internment of Japanese Americans is a black mark on our history that even today, polemicists within the conservative culture are seeking to rationalize, with an explicit eye towards today's conflicts.

America is not today comparable to pre-war Germany or to the Arab world. I can state that unequivocally. But the lesson that the Jewish people have to teach my community is that things change. The wise course of action for American m,uslims is to seek American Jews out and forge strong bonds with them, so that together they are stronger. Organizations like CAIR need to find a way to work together with the ADL and the NAACP to ensure that ethnic and religious divisions do not impede the common interest. And ultimately, it has to be our shared identity as Americans that we rely on to defend against the encroaching hate.

Letter to the Editor of the Dallas Morning News

My friend Hujefa has written the following letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News, in response to the incident at the Cowboys game to which I referred earlier.

Dear Mr. Blow,

I wanted to take a moment of your time to respond to your article in the DMN from Thursday, Sept. 2. You see, my wife and I were the Muslim couple that everyone including yourself is referring to from the Cowboy game.

My name is Hujefa Vora. I am a physician at Arlington Memorial Hospital. My wife is an elementary school teacher. Your article refers to us as a "Middle Eastern couple," when in fact I'm American-born and my wife is Canadian-born. We would refer to ourselves as Muslim-Americans.

My wife Insiyah and I have been loyal Cowboy fans for many years. We go to several games a season. I always wear my topi (religious hat) and my wife has a specially-designed and self-made Dallas Cowboy rida (covering). The Monday night game against the Titans was the first time we have ever made it to the JumboTron. We were elated.

In reality, we didn't hear the "booing and hissing" at the game. We were sitting in Section 24, and when the people around us saw our picture on the JumboTron, they cheered and applauded rabidly for us to win. That's really the great thing about all the Cowboy games we've been to. The fans have always embraced us as Cowboy fans. We have never felt "different."

We first heard the "booing and hissing" stories from several of our friends who were sitting in other parts of the stadium. The stories were confirmed by the letter to the editor from Wednesday and your article on Thursday. There was also a segment about the incident on SportsRadio 1310 on Wednesday morning. Your article was very well-written, and I believe the point was very well-made.

My wife and I were appalled by what we've heard/read. We have always felt very safe from racism at Cowboy games. Being a fan gives you something in common with everyone else at the game, everyone is rooting together for America's team.

I would like something positive to come of all this. I want people to know that we are Muslim, but we are also Americans. We are very proud Americans. This land is a nation of immigrants. My parents came to this country more than 30 years ago in search of a better life. They found it here. They raised me to love this country. At every game, we stand with everyone else when the national anthem is sung. We salute our flag every morning.

As Dawoodhi-Bohra Muslims, we are taught by our religious leader to be tolerant of everyone around us. We are taught to embrace the countries we live in, and the people we live with. I love this country and am a very proud Muslim-American. Our diversity makes us all Americans. Our ability to embrace our differences and respect each other's individuality makes us Americans. Being an American, this is the tie that binds us all together, regardless of race, religion, creed, sex, etc.

I think that this is an important point to make. I don't want the Cowboys organization to think twice about putting someone of different race, religion, etc. onto their broadcasts. They too should embrace the diversity of their fan-base. We were very proud to appear on the JumboTron that day. We would do it again if they'd let us. The booing and hissing is a symptom of a bigger problem in America. People don't seem to view Muslims as Americans. To some degree, all of the media outlets (including your article) have referred to my wife and I as outsiders. We are not outsiders. We are everyday Americans who decided on a whim to spend an evening at Texas Stadium watching our favorite team. We were honored to be chosen to appear on the JumboTron with a woman holding a sign and a group of American soldiers. We're proud that the soldiers won the contest. We too gave them a standing ovation. They deserve it. They work hard to defend and preserve our freedom, our right to watch a football game in peace.

I would like to discuss this further with you if at all possible. I would like there to be something even more positive to come of this. I would like people to see Muslims as Americans, not something different.

Thank you for your time, and your article.

Sincerely yours, Hujefa Y. Vora, MD Dallas, TX

9/06/2004

please tell me this didn't happen

I don't want to believe this. But I have to. Because the man and woman described here are my friends, Hujefa and Insiyah, of the Bohra community in Dallas.

08:42 PM CDT on Thursday, September 2, 2004
By STEVE BLOW / The Dallas Morning News

In case you missed it, this happened at the Cowboys game Monday night.

During a break in the game, Texas Stadium cameras showed various fans and the stadium announcer urged the crowd to select a "fan of the game" by cheers and applause.

The camera first showed three men in military uniform. Naturally, the crowd cheered loudly. Some people stood and clapped. It was a nice tribute to our troops.

Next, a woman with a sign of some sort was shown � to scattered applause.

And then, incredibly, the stadium cameras were trained on a man and woman in Middle Eastern attire of some sort � turban and head scarf, along with Cowboys garb, too. And the crowd began to boo and hiss.

Our letter writer was rightly mortified.

Then, to make matters worse, the whole process was repeated � big cheers for the soldiers, polite applause for the sign-toting woman, boos and hisses for the Middle Eastern couple.

And I want to say: Please tell me that didn't really happen.

Even by the low standards of a football crowd, that is just numskull behavior.

First, how did anyone in the Cowboys organization think it would be fun to match some U.S. troops against an innocent Middle Eastern couple in a crowd popularity contest?
[...]
Are there really so many simpletons who think our enemy is anyone in a headscarf?

If so, our war on terror is doing more harm than good.

So far I haven't found much to like about either campaign in this presidential race. But a real low has been Vice President Dick Cheney's mocking of John Kerry for saying he would wage a more "sensitive" war on terrorism.

Sure, it makes for some easy tough-guy posturing. But as it turns out, Mr. Cheney's boss � the president � has used the very same word in talking about fighting terrorism effectively.

And both the president and Mr. Kerry are right.

It may not be as much fun as booing and hissing, but we're going to need lots of sensitivity to win this war on terrorism.

In the good old days of past wars, it probably made sense to demonize a whole race or nation as our enemy.

When I was growing up in the years after World War II, we spent a lot of time "playing war." And that meant fighting "Krauts" and "Japs."

But we don't have the luxury of such mindless, broad-brush hate this time around.

This war on terrorism is really more about ideas and attitudes than bombs and bullets. It's a war to win hearts and minds, as is often said. And in a way, we're all combatants in that war.

Once, supporting the war effort back home just meant rolling bandages or rationing sugar.

If only it were that easy now. Fighting this war on the home front means digging deep and learning about world affairs and our own foreign policy. It means stretching to understand cultures very different from our own. And it requires real sophistication in understanding who are enemies are and who they aren't.

I'm afraid that in a few thoughtless minutes Monday night, we lost a skirmish in our war on terrorism.

And lots of people proved themselves unfit for combat.


I'm at a loss for words, not just because it happenned to my friend, one of the best friends I have. It's because it happened. Please, someone tell me it didn't. But it did.

Massive assault on Najaf?

what the heck is going on -

US warplanes pound Iraq's holy city
From correspondents in Najaf
September 6, 2004

US warplanes spearheaded a massive two-pronged assault to crush a Shiite Muslim uprising in Iraq's city of Najaf.

Jets screeched overhead as massive explosions and tank and machine-gun fire boomed through the city and smoke engulfed its historic centre, home to the Imam Ali shrine, revered by Shiites all over the world.

Thousands of US forces, backed by Iraqi police and national guard, mounted a pincer movement to trap Moqtada Sadr's fighters in the heart of the city, before going on to raid the militia leader's empty home.

Iraqi and US troops sealed approaches to the mausoleum, as hundreds of terrified residents, urged on by attacking forces and the city's mosques, fled through the dusty streets.

"Leave the city. Help coalition forces and do not fire at them," one announcement instructed in Arabic. "We are here to liberate the city."


wasn't the Sadr issue defused due to intervention by Sistani? If so, it will need to be re-defused after this.

Google News reveals that only international outlets are carrying the story. At present, domestic media hasn't caught up.

9/04/2004

Al Jazeera to launch English-language channel

intriguing news:

The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, denounced and bombed by the US and banned by the Iraqi government, has begun recruiting staff for a channel in English that will show news and documentaries.

"The brief is emphatically not to do an English translation of the Arabic channel," said Nigel Parsons, the project manager. "It will have international appeal and fill a lot of gaps in existing output."

The original Arabic news channel, established in 1996 and funded by the emir of Qatar, not only bucked the trend towards frivolity and light entertainment but broke many taboos, interviewing Israeli politicians and allowing debate of a kind rarely seen on Arab television.
[...]
The English channel's target audience is worldwide - "not just Muslims who don't speak Arabic", Mr Parsons said. "I think we might have a ready audience there, but it is not going to be an anti-western or anti-American channel. Absolutely not."

The aim will be to fill a gap in the market vacated by other channels.

"If you take CNN, in the [United] States, they have been dragged to the right by Fox. Internationally, they definitely had a bad war in the Gulf. They have lost some credibility on the international stage.

"Where the BBC would come into the equation is that there has been a definite retreat ... on the news channels. Levels of coverage of the developing world are 40% of what they were when Michael Buerk first did the Ethiopian famine."


Surely Al-J can never silence its critics with regard to bias. Given that scrupulously fair news organizations like NPR get hammered by left and right alike, and that Fox news is passionately defended as a bastion of objectivity by its fans, I think that arguing about bias is a fools' errand.

What is more important is that al-J provides an authentically independent voice - free of control from either the Arab regimes or the Bush Administration, both of whom hate al-J for essentially the same reason. The ideal of free speech is served well by a media that is accountable to none and that is aggressive about airing all points of view.

Keep in mind that in addition to airing bin Laden's rants, they also provided more hours of convention coverage (both DNC and RNC) than all the domestic channels combined. The audiences of Al-Jazeera are getting both sides indeed - and I think that our side, not bin Laden's, fares better in the comparison.

Al-Jazeera will be an element in the eventual reclamation of true political liberty in the Middle East. The authentic, hard-fought, springs-from-within kind.

I've previously blogged on Al-Jazeera, in a series examining how the channel has been systematically targeted for silencing here in the US, from DNS attacks on its website to being banned from the NYSE (one, two, three). The trend continued at the Democratic convention, where al-J was forbidden to show its logo on its skybox (unlike other media outlets). The RNC, however, had no problem. Kudos to the RNC, and shame on the Democrats.

perspective

On our recent flight to Chicago, flying standby, I was resigned to being pulled aside after checking our luggage for a full-body search. The TSA employees were respectful and patient (there wasn't much of a crowd) and they were doing the jobs quickly if brusquely. I did my best to be affable and responsive to their instructions as I always do, and displayed immense patience, even when the screener casually placed my religious cap on my shoes.

However, they then decided it was neccessary to search my sleeping two-year-old daughter. She had to be roused from sleep and forced to stand with arms apart while they ran the metal-detector over her, and refused to let me hold her during the scan. Fellow parents of two-year-olds can easily imagine the result on her temperament. Did I mention it was 6am and freezing cold in the terminal?

This news, however, gives me a deeper reservoir of patience for such measures. And appreciation for their rarity at present. That rarity is, I think, fragile.

Matthew nicely summarizes the response paradox. And do dwell at this intelligent discussion, whose rationality owes much to the fact that it's Russia-Chechnya being discussed rather than Israel-Palestine. The parallels are extremely strong, however - and carry fair warning for America-Iraq. But the brutality of the events simply drowns any policy analysis.

9/03/2004

Liberty is hard

I've been "flooding the zone" about Tariq Ramadan recently, and here's a brief recap. Tariq Ramadan is a respected Muslim moderate in Europe who advocates assimilation of Muslims into the Western mainstream, and has authored a book advising European Muslims on asserting their Western identity (and links the western and muslim identities into a cohesive whole). Ramadan has explicitly denounced muslim anti-Semitism, and urges muslims to take heed of the moral lessons of the Holocaust.

Recently invited as a guest lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, he found that his visa was suddenly revoked by the Department of Homeland Security.

Daniel Pipes is a commentator on Islam who had built a reputation for honesty. However, after 9-11, he descended into outright bigotry against Islam, and while he claims he wants to promote and encourage the moderate muslim (which would make him a natural ally of Tariq Ramadan), his prescriptions for doing so invariably require muslims to reject Islam's basic tenets and become watered-down (and religiously sterile) secularists. Pipes was appointed by President Bush to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, ostensibly charged with formulating policy towards the Muslim world. To get a sense of where Pipe's convictions lay, he recently argued for the need of a "strongman" in Iraq, to replace Saddam Hussein.

via Thomas Nephew, I see that Daniel Pipes has responded to (and essentially confirmed) Tariq Ramadan's suggestion that Pipes influenced the decision to revoke Ramadan's visa to the US. Daniel Pipes lays out a case, linking largely to French-language sources, that the denial is justified because of alleged ties to terrorists. Scott Martens, who speaks French, takes the time to exhaustively visit each of Pipes' links and systematically demonstrates the low regard Pipes has for his readers, as well as Pipe's own intellectual laziness. Martens concludes,

Daniel Pipes thinks we�re all either to stupid or too scared to actually question the nonsense he passes off as scholarship. He relies on an American audience that is unable to check his sources, because when they do, they find out that Daniel Pipes is an empty suit.

This isn�t just about whether or not Tariq Ramadan is okay. It is about Daniel Pipes and his allies and how, should someone arise who might actually express themself in English and offer a counternarrative to their blantant hate speech, they feel compelled to slander them.

Pipes doesn�t just dislike Islam. He doesn�t just think that he is right and Muslims are wrong. There is a prospect for reconciliation when both sides merely think they are right. Pipes doesn�t like Muslims. He is a bigot. And for my American readers, don�t forget, this man has been appointed by your government to a public office.

Monolingualism has costs. Eugene Volokh, for example, has posted a link to Pipes� piece but says that he does not know the facts of the case well enough to judge. Ted over at Crooked Timber makes the same claim to uncertainty. But, a cursory look at the French articles cited makes Pipes� case worse than contestable - it�s embarrassing. There is no need to actually investigate Ramadan to know that Pipes cannot be trusted here. And remember, Pipes is George Bush�s man on Middle Eastern policy.

Never underestimate the value of knowing a foreign language. It might be the only way to know you�re being sold a bill of goods, or that a so-called scholar is a complete fraud.


The bottom line is that Tariq Ramadan's alleged ties to Osama bin Laden are weaker than George W. Bush's. Daniel Pipes has absolutely zero credibility - he is a bigot, whose monomania on the issue of Islam has reduced him to an embarrassment.

Though, as Thomas mentions, the damage is already done:

Glenn Reynolds thinks "Unless there's more to this story than we know so far, I'd say that it's not a good idea." Martens and Reynolds both point to separate Volokh posts about Ramadan; Volokh says that the government is right to bar aliens "simply on suspicion of connections with terrorists," and should not have to obtain "proof in court of criminal conduct" to do so -- and thus illustrates the power of the Pipes smear.


And that brings me to my larger point - though American Muslims must not ally themselves unthinkingly with the Left (whose concept of secular fundamentalism is antithetical to our values and our freedom to practice our faith), there is a compelling argument to vote against Bush in 2004 from a strictly Muslim-American self-interested perspective.

I've previously argued that Muslims should not vote on the basis of an idealistic "good of the Ummah" rationale, because I feel that such a concept is an illusion and often counter-productive to our own interests as American Muslims. It arises because of the false division of the world into "Dar ul-Islam" - which Tariq Ramadan has spoken eloquently against:

The concept of Dar al-Islam is a hindrance today within the Muslim world. [...] It does not allow us to feel that we are part of the Western societies, that we are sharing with others our values and belonging.


Bush's appointment of Pipes to the USIP betrays his high-flying rhetoric about freedom in Iraq. It suggests that the true agenda of the Bush Administration towards the muslim world, speeches on primetime television aside, is a return to proxy states ruled with an iron hand by "our son of a bitch".

Will Kerry be any different? There's at least a 50% chance, especially since one of Kerry's advisers is Gary Hart, whose new book The Fourth Power speaks explicitly of using true American values of freedom as the basis for our foreign policy abroad. While Kerry has thus far largely avoided the rhetoric of democratization as foreign policy in his speeches, he has committed himself to security and stability within Iraq (and frames his critiques of Bush's policy along those lines). Meanwhile, Bush speaks a great deal about freedom, but by how own admission "miscalculated" the commitment in terms of manpower and post-war planning required to bring it about. Only upon a foundation of stability can the delicate tracery of liberty be erected.

Sure, the Iraqis are free of Saddam, and are grateful for that liberation. But liberation is not liberty. RedState interviewed Zainab al-Suwaji at the RNC convention in New York, and she had many tales of Iraqi gratitude, the proliferation of satellite dishes, etc. But in response to the political question by RS whether she agrees with Kerry's critique that the President hasn�t done enough to reach out to Muslims in America and abroad, she focuses in her answer only on Muslims in America. She completely ignores the issue of Muslims abroad, and the perception of America by muslims worldwide - the immense moral capital that we have squandered and lost. And tellingly, her praise is completely at odds with the reality of Daniel Pipes. Al-Suwaji states: "I think Iraqis are capable of democracy. They have educated, qualified people. And I think they will reach what they wish for." That is the correct attitude and the message of hope. Daniel Pipes, appointed by President Bush, however says:

I hope the Iraqi population benefits from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and can make a fresh start, while I reject the rehabilitation of Iraq as the standard by which to judge the American venture there.

The American military machine is not an instrument for social work, nor for remaking the world. It is, rather, the primary means by which Americans protect themselves from external violent threats. The U.S. goal cannot be a free Iraq, but an Iraq that does not endanger Americans.


I wonder what Zainab al-Suwaji would have said if asked by RedState about this viewpoint, held by President Bush's shosen appointee to chart the course of relations with the Islamic world?

The point here is that liberty is hard. It's not supposed to be as easy as Bush wants it to be. It's not something that can be installed like a software application but something that requires serious commitment. Democrats have demonstrated their understanding of the multi-pole nature of American power. Gary Hart explicitly includes those other poles - our economy, our values, our alliances - into the equation so that any democracy we end up midwifing towards birth stands on as firm a ground as ours does, now over 200 years old and still going strong (as witness: the 2000 election).

Liberty is hard. And it's the hard that makes it great. Bush's appointment of people like Daniel "strongman" Pipes, and the Administrayion's military approach to democracy building has been a failure. We need fresh ideas, both more principled and more pragmatic, to achieve success in the largergoal of showing Muslims worldwide the way to seize freedom for themselves. In so doing, our own long-term security is guaranteed. It's time to give John Kerry the reins and to hope for the best. There are promising signs that a foreign policy under Kerry will be able to more effectively tap into the multipole sources of American power, and thus be able to better meet the challenges of stateless terror networks who seek to attack us - as opposed to Bush, who still remains fixated on missile defense.

There are no guarantees. But we can't reward failure. And we can hold Kerry to the same high standard - with the same accountability in 2008 as we hold Bush in 2004.

9/01/2004

MWU interviews Tariq Ramadan

MWU's Ahmed Nassef scores an exclusive interview with Tariq Ramadan. To get a taste for his moderation, here's one Q and A about the French ban on headscarves:

MWU!: Explain the differences in how the hijab controversy is viewed in Europe as opposed to the US. In France, it seems that most liberal and progressive non-Muslims very much support the law and see it as a protection of secularism.

Tariq Ramadan: Actually, this is an especially French phenomenon, because of the country's very specific history. When you look at the 1905 Reference Law, you find that there is no problem for Muslims to live as Muslims in France. We say that France should just implement this law and enforce it strictly and equally. But this new law is a step backward. In 1989, the State Council said there is nothing in the scarf which is against secularism. We have to be careful about those using secularism as an ideology, confusing secularism with no religion at all. The atmosphere in France is very passionate, as if we are touching the sense of French identity. Becaue there are more than 5 million Muslims in France, their presence raises questions about the future identity of the country. But if you go to other European countries, the scarf is less of an obsession.


I should point out that my position on the headscarf ban is more conservative than Ramadan's, in that I think it's a trampling of free expression. But my position is informed by my American identity, and my belief in the Bil of Rights (notable the First Amendment), which does not strictly exist in Europe. As Ramadan points out, Europe (and esepcially France) have a different concept of identity. Ramadan's work generally addresses Muslims in the West but his focus is on Europe, whereas my focus is on America. I respect his position therefore and concede that the headscarf ban may be acceptable to European muslims on the basis of French identity, but I'd be against it if it happenned here.

Falun gone

With all the surrealism in New York (inclusing, but not limited to, the convention), there are some nuggets of actual meaning and message. Matthew Yglesias finds one, a protest by members of the Falun Gong, calling attention to the human-rights crisis in China.

Jimmy Carter deserves credit for being the first President to tie human rights to foreign policy. And Gary Hart deserves credit for extending that concept into a coherent foreign policy vision in his book, The Fourth Power. If a Presidential candidate came along with a true commitment to these principles, they'd have my vote, regardless of Party. Still, given that the Democrats are the only ones who are articulating this kind of view, there's more likelihood of this kind of policy being implemented under a Democratic administration.