Old Orleans

While Katrina was on approach, I was somewhat bemused, thinking to myself that the dire predictions all over the media were just the usual blowhard fear-mongery. Storm surge! breaking levees! A toxic lake! The storm passed 50 miles to the east, the winds didn't push the water into Lake Ponchatrain, the levees for the most part held. This morning, the news was all about "hey, so when can the Louisianans start heading home?" and "keep tuned right here for the latest news on when I-10 is re-opened at US 641."

I think I was wrong (video link courtesy WWLTV). Some hasty transcription:

80% of our city underwater

some sections, water as deep as 20 feet

incredible amount of water in the city - both airports are under water

the twin spans in new orleans east have been totally destroyed - they're gone

oil tanker run aground, leaking oil

serious levee break at 17th street canal, place where orleans and jefferson parish both drain... causing waters to continue to rise in certain sections of the city

houses literally picked up off their foundations and moved

if you drive on the high rise we are not sure of the structural soundness, it appears as though a barge has hit one of the main structures of the high rise

gas leaks that have sprung up throughout the city, and even when underwater, you will see flame shooting out of the water

These comments were spoken by the Mayor appearing live on WWLTV, he was reading off a list given to him at a FEMA briefing. Other tidbits from the WWLTV website:

Residents of Jefferson Parish will probably be allowed back in town in a week, with identification only, but only to get essentials and clothing. They will then be asked to leave and not come back for one month.

Looting is rampant, and parts of the city are under marshal law.

Helicopters are trying to stem breaches in levees by dropping 3,000 pound sandbags.

Here is an AP photo gallery. Look at #27, #36, #38, #49, #77, #97, #99.

Finally, there's also a Latest Updates Blog at the site which has all sorts of detailed information, including some bright bits of news - for example, classes at LSU will be starting next Tuesday. Overall though, this is beginning to look nothing like the city had "dodged a bullet". New Orleans was not spared.

Also: a blog from the Times-Picayune. Unbelievable narratives.

UPDATE: The Governor of Louisiana has decreed that the whole city must evacuate. Text from AP/WWLTV:

Governor says entire city needs to be evacuated

03:29 PM CDT on Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Associated Press

With conditions in the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans rapidly deteriorating, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday that people now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers need to be evacuated.

"The situation is untenable," Blanco said during a news conference. "It's just heartbreaking."

Because of two levees that broke Tuesday, the city was rapidly filling with water and the prospect of having power was a long time off, the governor said. She also said the storm severed a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.

The governor said that at midnight, all of the boat operators trying to rescue people from rooftops were told to take a break.

"They refused. They couldn't do it," Blanco said.

Blanco said some people who were stranded in a tall building, but rescuers couldn't get to that building because of the large number of people "calling to them and jumping from rooftops."

UPDATE 2: The French Quarter is now flooding.

I'll stop updating this post now.


Bohra soldier killed in Iraq

The Dawoodi Bohra muslim community lost one of its own in Iraq last week. Hatim Kathiriya of Fort Worth, Texas was killed in a rocket attack in Baghdad. The official DoD announcement reports that he was a logistical specialist assigned to the 703rd Forward Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, GA.

InnaLillahi Wa inna Ilahi Raji'un

Hatim was born in Gujrat, and came to the US seeking a better life for himself, as do so many members of the Bohra community. The report in the Dallas Morning News has some detail about his surviving family:

Spc. Kathiria is survived by his father, Siraj Kathiria; mother, Shirin Kathiria; and two sisters, Kahdija Kathiria and Habiba Kathiria, all of Dahod, India.

Spc. Kathiria was born July 1, 1982, in Dahod in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Spc. Kathiria's uncle, Nuruddin Kathiria of Fort Worth, said that Spc. Kathiria was a bright, energetic and ambitious young man who came to the United States in June 2003 determined to enter service in the U.S. military.

Spc. Kathiria enlisted in the Army in November 2003. He obtained his U.S. citizenship in January 2004. Mr. Kathiria said Spc. Kathiria was in the process of obtaining a military secrecy clearance.

Mr. Kathiria said his nephew had a bachelor's degree in computer science and wanted to pursue a master's degree.

"It looked like a good future for him. He was progressing pretty fast, but it ended pretty fast," Mr. Kathiria said. "That's what shocked us."

I am in the process of trying to reach Nuruddin bhai in the Dallas jamaat to get some more information about Hatimbhai.

There is also a piece in the Times of India that goes into more detail about Hatim's ambitions. He was still an Indian citizen, who joined the Army in the hope that he could fund his studies and pursue the American dream. I know of only a few other Bohras serving in the armed forces, but Hatim bhai exemplified the spirit of my community.

Hatim also shares the distinction with Sergeant Uday Singh, a Sikh, of being one of two Indian nationals to have been killed in active duty in the US Armed Forces. Sergeant Singh was cremated with full military honors in his native Punjab and the ashes interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.


Going back to the Meccan well....

(guest post by Razib Khan, of the Gene Expression blog)

I have been reading some chapters of A History of Islamic Societies recently, and I noticed something interesting. My conception of the emergence of a urban literate santri (orthodox Muslims) in Indonesia was that it was an inevitable result of a closer reading of the source texts and traditions of Islam, the Koran and the Hadiths. In other words, santri Muslims were simply more Muslim than the typical Indonesian Muslim (an increase in the magnitude of the same vector).

But, as some know, I have also expressed skepticism at too close of a reliance on texts as determinative on the pathway of social and cultural development. In the chapters in the above book on 19th century Indian Islam I noted something interesting: reformist neo-orthodox movements are repeatedly attributed to hajjiis, those who made the pilgrimage to Mecca, in particular those who had resided in the city for long periods of time. The prestige that they attained upon their return resulted in their initiation of "reforms" to bring local practices (often loosely classified as "Sufi") into line with Meccan norms. The same "reforms" were initiated by Hui who had returned from Mecca. And sure enough, the chapter on Southeast Asian Islam notes that the modernist reformist Muslims who rose to challenge the traditional expressions of Javanese Islam were also inspired by movements founded by hajjiis!

In The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore characterizes some individuals as "meme fountains." It seems clear to me that the hajjiis were operating as meme fountains when they returned from Arabia and the sacred physical heart of Islam, Mecca. The practices of Meccan Islam are in some ways unchallengeably normative, and so the hajjiis had the moral authority to "reform" local practices which deviated from the Meccan norm. The standard model promoted by many is that the Koran and Hadiths serve as a template. I dissent from this view because my own reading of cognitive science suggests that religious texts are easily warped and distorted by "learned consensus" or personal self-interest. They do not exhibit the transparent inferential characteristics of mathematical axioms, ergo, the often strained verbal gymnastics of the religious "sciences." Rather, I am suggesting that the template is more likely to be the norms espoused by the Muslims of Mecca.

This has an implications: the hajj is far more common today than it was in the past. There are millions of hajjiis every year (the Saudi government even has to limit it). In synergy with communication technologies that implies that the number of meme fountains might be far greater than in the past (though the more mundane nature of the hajj because of modern transporation might mitigate the influence of hajjiis). Efforts to tailor or accommodate Islam to local norms must be balanced against the conformist tendencies of the meme fountain generator that is Mecca. Additionally, the character of Meccan Islam is partly dictated by the Saudi state, which frowns upon non-Wahhabi or Salafist practices (though Meccan Muslims resist the Saudi orthodoxy).

In the past the Dar-al-Islam was an idea that appealed to elites, for only elites were literate and practiced an Islam which was characterized by punctilious adherence to the norms of sharia (this is more true of the non-Arab world). Today many regions of the Muslim world are modernizing (eg; Malaysia) and literacy and access to source texts is spreading. With it is an attempt to generate a common set of Islamic norms. But I think it is important not to neglect the physical presence of hajjiis throughout the Muslim world and their direct experience and understanding of how Islam is practiced in the city of Muhammed.

Cross-posted in longer form over at Gene Expression.


Michael Yon - a martyr

Michael Yon is the best journalist in Iraq - and his writing is the most gripping and addictive reporting out of Iraq that you'll find. It makes the mass media - and the punditocracy, on both sides of the partisan fence - utterly irrelevant.

I highlight one passage out of one of many, many posts. This passage I choose because it highlights the depth of his wisdom and clarity. From his reprinted post, Battle for Mosul II:

The word martyr is derived from the word "to witness." It is used to describe a person who is killed because of a belief or principle. Given the choice to recant, martyrs chose instead to face their murderers and stand in witness to their beliefs. True martyrs do not kill themselves, but stand their ground and fight in the face of death to demonstrate the power of their convictions, sometimes dying as a result, but preferably surviving.

The only martyrs I know about in Iraq are the fathers and brothers who see a better future coming, and so they act on their beliefs and assemble outside police stations whenever recruitment notices are posted. They line up in ever increasing numbers, knowing that insurgents can also read these notices. The men stand in longer and longer lines, making ever bigger targets of themselves. Some volunteer to to earn a living. This, too, is honorable. But others take these risks because they believe that a better future is possible only if Iraqi men of principle stand up for their own values, for their country, for their families. Theses are the true martyrs, the true heroes of Iraq and of Islam. I meet these martyrs frequently. They are brave men, worthy of respect.

emphasis mine - because Michael Yon stands up for his beliefs, is attacked daily for them, and faces death for his convictions. I pray for his safety and his survival, as I do for all the men in Deuce Four, and all the men in our military who serve so that I may be free.

And I demand that you add Michael Yon to your daily reading, if you care a whit about the future of freedom in Iraq.

UPDATE: Dean has an excerpt from Yon's latest post. It's compelling narrative that puts Tom Clancy to shame - and it's real.


Murdering de Menezes

Remember the tragic shooting of a man in the London subway the day after the attempted bombings on 7/22? The police story was that the man, Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, was dressed in a bulky jacket, ran from police, and jumped the turnstiles to get on the train. He was followed and shot in the head under a policy publicized by the London police that sought to prevent suicide bombers from detonating their loads.

Well, the London police lied.

The young Brazilian shot dead by police on a London tube train in mistake for a suicide bomber had already been overpowered by a surveillance officer before he was killed, according to secret documents revealed last night…

It has now emerged that Mr de Menezes:

· was never properly identified because a police officer was relieving himself at the very moment he was leaving his home;

· was unaware he was being followed;

· was not wearing a heavy padded jacket or belt as reports at the time suggested;

· never ran from the police;

· and did not jump the ticket barrier.

But the revelation that will prove most uncomfortable for Scotland Yard was that the 27-year-old electrician had already been restrained by a surveillance officer before being shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

The documents reveal that a member of the surveillance team, who sat nearby, grabbed Mr de Menezes before he was shot: “I heard shouting which included the word ‘police’ and turned to face the male in the denim jacket.

“He immediately stood up and advanced towards me and the CO19 [firearms squad] officers … I grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around his torso, pinning his arms to his side. I then pushed him back on to the seat where he had been previously sitting … I then heard a gun shot very close to my left ear and was dragged away on to the floor of the carriage.”

The issue here is whether law enforcement authorities are justified in invoking security to change their normal rules of engagement. There is always a tension between police and the public, because professional police organizations always strive to increase their authority. It's no surprise that police organizations supported the policy worldwide:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An international organization representing police chiefs has broadened its policy for the use of deadly force by telling officers to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head.

The muslim community in London was fearful of the implications of such expanded police powers - not because of any sentiment for terror, but because of genuine concern that such powers would be used without due diligence:

BRITISH Muslims fear police are operating under a “shoot to kill” policy after a man was gunned down at an Underground train station following a second wave of bomb attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain called on police to explain why the Asian man, reported as a “suspected suicide bomber” by Sky News, was shot dead at Stockwell station in south London.

Police have confirmed officers pursued and shot a man, who was pronounced dead at the scene, but have offered no explanation for the shooting. The incident came a day after another apparent wave of would-be bombers hit London’s mass transport system, two weeks after four suspected Islamists blew themselves up on trains and a bus, killing 56 people.

A Muslim Council spokesman said Muslims were “jumpy and nervous”, and feared reprisal attacks. “I have just had one phone call saying: ‘What if I was carrying a rucksack?’” Inayat Bunglawala said, referring to the rucksack bombs used in the London attacks.

“It’s vital the police give a statement about what occurred (at Stockwell) and explain why the man was shot dead,” Mr Bunglawala said. “We are getting phone calls from quite a lot of Muslims who are distressed about what may be a shoot-to-kill policy.”

For mockery of such fears, see the usual suspects.

However, there's a very real danger when we surrender our oversight to police - and other governmental enforcement entities. That danger is that we stand to lose more than we would from terror attacks. The muslim community in the UK (and to a somewhat lesser extent, in America) has a legitimate concerns about profiling, and aggressive extra-judicial enforcement being abused. The case of de Menezes is tragic - but also unsurprising, as a natural outcome of what happens when we absolve our public servants of the responsibility they have to the highest ideal of our law: innocent until proven guilty. That ideal is protected by the normal infrsatructure of our legal system, which we should turn to for support during difficult time,s not turn away from. As a wiser man than me said - in true conservative fashion:

"The ordinary processes of law." [trevino]
These apply, of course, to both wartime and peacetime.
Posted at 08/05/2005 07:49:43 PM EST

(thought-provoking commentary on the Menezes case from Edward at Obsidian Wings, and Scott Kirwin at Dean's World).


The Iraqi Nation

This is the sort of post that gets me takfir-email and accusations of secret Zionist sympathies (as opposed to the other sort of post where I am accused of blood libel). But I believe across all axes of my identity as a muslim, a liberal, and an American, I have a genuine self-interest in seeing the great Iraq experiment succeed. For good or ill, we are upon this path, so let us pray that it is not for ill.

And via Pejman at Red State comes the kind of news from Iraq that (unlike painted schools) actually has relevance to the outcome of where Iraq is ultimately headed: Iraqi Sunnis Battle To Defend Shiites.

Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi's guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

The leaders of four of Iraq's Sunni tribes had rallied their fighters in response to warnings posted in mosques by followers of Zarqawi. The postings ordered Ramadi's roughly 3,000 Shiites to leave the city of more than 200,000 in the area called the Sunni Triangle. The order to leave within 48 hours came in retaliation for alleged expulsions by Shiite militias of Sunnis living in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq.

"We have had enough of his nonsense," said Sheik Ahmad Khanjar, leader of the Albu Ali clan, referring to Zarqawi. "We don't accept that a non-Iraqi should try to enforce his control over Iraqis, regardless of their sect -- whether Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs or Kurds.''

Note that this particular Good News is being reported by the dreaded Mainstream Media. Now why do you suppose that is, if the MSM is dedicated to seeing America fail?

Of course, there is bad news - while the Iraqi people rise to the occassion, the Administration's commitment to liberty in fact (rather than mere rhetorical lip service) is further discredited:

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

I guess that's the kind of Bad News which all the MSM critics like to point to as evidence of the 5th column. Or sixth, after you include the liberals, or maybe we are up to seven by now.

So, Iraqis rise, the Administration weasels, and who shall we blame if it all goes wrong in the end?



Last year I almost visited Hiroshima. I had completed a conference in Kyoto and had a choice of going to Tokyo (especially Akihabara district), or taking a day trip out to Hiroshima. The two are at opposite ends of the island, with Kyoto in the middle, so there was no way to combine both.

I chose Tokyo. Partly out of geekdom - after all, Akihabara is the Mecca of technology. But also partly out of a sense of cowardice. I can't really label it any other thing, because I firmly believe that dropping the bomb on Japan was the right decision, but I also firmly believe that the right decision is not always the moral one. Targeting innocents for death is immoral, period, and no theory of just war can offer a rhetorical escape or loophole. None.

So, I support an immoral action in history. I accept responsibility as an American for the actions of my nation and unlike other atrocities by my nation (such as Dresden, at the macrolevel, or Abu Ghraib at the microlevel) or my co-religionists (such as 9-11 or attacks upon Israeli children) the bombing of Hiroshima was done in my name. I bear responsibility for it in a way that I do not for the other things. I owe an apology to any survivor of Hiroshima, or the families of the victims, because of my nationality and my allegiance and my belief that it was the right course of action.

So, simply put, I didn't want to go face that responsibility, and decided instead to gallivant around in geek heaven.

Why do I think the Hiroshima bombing was right? Via Dean, here's a post from the neo-neocon blog that pretty much sumarizes the basic argument (which I have heard before) of why a "demonstratory" strike on an unsettled area of Japan would not have ended the war. The argument hinges on the facts 1. that we only had two bombs, 2. we were not 100% sure they would both work (let alone one), and 3. that the Japanese leadership were not frightened by death. And here's what really seals the deal in my mind:

In May 1945, four distinguished physicists who served as advisers to the interim committee met in Los Alamos to consider the proposed "demonstration" theories. They were Arthur H. Compton, Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence and Robert Oppenheimer. After the meeting they concluded: "We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use."



sepoy says it again - and as usual, says it better:

Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is not a religion of war. Islam is not this or that and here or there. Islam is a living tradition with a complex history of fourteen centuries. Islam did not stop evolving in the 7th century. It actually has a history of transformations - grave transformations. It has a history of secessions and renewals and new modalities. Start here and work back. I condemn terrorism with all of my rational, moral and ethical being. I do not need to be a Muslim to do it. I just need to be a human. The jihadists are waging a political war. They do not need to be Muslims to do it. They just need to believe in their own twisted cause.

The point here is that Islam is what it is - and terrorists are what they are. While teh press-release strategy of groups like the Free Muslims certainly make for good community relations, they are simply too apologetic for crimes not of their own making. Groups like the Progressive Muslims Association go even further and try to deny that Islam is a religion of Faith at all. For those who follow American muslim internal politics, the resignation of Dr. Muqtedar Khan from the PMUNA board is a landmark event:

My close interaction with PMU has taught me three things, (1) that clearly I am not sufficiently indifferent to the teachings of Quran and the traditions of the Islamic heritage to be a "good Progressive Muslim"; (2) I was too gullible to believe in its empty claims of openness and tolerance for different perspectives. And (3) I have also learned that I am completely opposite in nature to most of the members of PMU. For example I believe that a rational argument precedes the moral judgment.

PMU is operating with a set of moral principles randomly acquired from Marxism and/or postmodern cultural trends and is treating them as absolutely moral truths, and are now looking for arguments [hopefully with some Islamic content] to justify them. PMU members unleash fanatical rage when this is questioned and resort to abuse, distortion, false accusations as a substitute to argument.

I can understand, sympathize and participate in exercises of Ijtihad that seek to reassess "human understanding" of Islam. I have been advocating this for over a decade. My website Ijtihad was launched in 1999. But not to observe Islamic values after recognizing them as such to me is a sin. I cannot for example in good conscience approve of alcohol consumption by those who acknowledge it as forbidden. To demand that I do so in order to remain a member of the community is exactly the kind of oppression that I though we had come together to fight.

(also see this good analysis by Haroon, who beat me to blogging about it :)

We aren't going to "do our part" as American muslims by rejecting our faith. We can "do our part" by living as good citizens as we have always done, and continue to protect our traditions and culture from all assaults - internal and external alike.

Nowhere is the intellectual void of "progressive mslims" made more apparent by the recent declaration by Progressive Muslim Union Chair Omid Safi - that Irshad Mannji is not a (Progressive) Muslim! As the PMUNADebate blog points out, this is because Progressive Muslims place more value on "Progressive" than on "Muslim" - and in so doing are far more like the radical mullahs, takfir fatwas and all, than they are intellectually capable of realizing.

I do not weep for Bamiyan

for my loss is greater:

Whereas proposals for high-rise developments in Jerusalem have prompted a worldwide outcry and the Taliban's demolition of the Bamiyan buddhas was condemned by Unicef, Mecca's busy bulldozers have barely raised a whisper of protest.

Some holy places yet remain beyond the reach of the bulldozers, however. For it to remain so, the success of the mission in Iraq is essential (the issue of how we got involved in Iraq aside). That's the sole reason that I don't support an otherwise airtight argument for calculated withdrawal. The planned cut and run that we will inevitably see before 2006 however is far worse concern.

I had some comments on Bamiyan earlier. FWIW, I count their destruction as a tragic loss to humankind's heritage. But hardly the most tragic loss.