Engage Iran

Here are the things I think I know about Iran.

Iran has a legitimate need for nuclear energy, because even though it has oil resources, it's not enough for true economic independence.

The Iranian regime at present sees acquiring nuclear weapons as a means of survival - an attitude that is not helped by the facts on the ground (see map, via Needlenose). The Iranian public is strongly nationalistic and sees nuclear weapons as a national point of pride, just as India and Pakistan did.

China and Iran are developing close economic ties. Iran will sell gas to China for 25 years. China will be allowed to develop oil resources in the Persian Gulf. The EU meanwhile is offering Iran a nice deal on economic incentives in return for a freeze on uranium enrichment.

A mock wargaming excercise sponsored by The Atlantic Monthly and run by some retired military and intelligence types concluded that Iran will likely develop nuclear weapons, and that a full-scale preventive invasion is not really feasible (even assuming no budget or resources allocated for post-war policing). Airstrikes by Israel analogous to the Osirak reactor bombing in Iraq are not going to work, the Iranian program is decentralized and underground.

That's what we know. So what should we do? Here's my take.

Iran is building economic ties to the EU and China - and the carrot of nuclear power is one we can wave to get on board and compete for that market. The only reason the mullahs are likely to pursue nuclear power is because of perceived threat from America - but if we become an economic partner (and compete with China and the EU) then the incentive for nukes lessens.

Despite boilerplate mullah rhetoric, I don't think that a nuclear Iran would be suicidal enough to attack Israel. Mutually assured destruction, after all. Why would the Iranian regime be so interested in long-term economic alliances if they were really intent on all-out armageddon? I wouldn't be surprised if Iran simply copies Israel's own "strategic denial" policy on nuke capabilities.

I think that N. Korea is the country that we must stop at all costs from acdquiring nukes, because it's far more unstable (and irrational) leadership.

The best thing that can happen is for Iran to succeed in building economic ties to the West. That will lead to a middle class, increase in per-capita GDP, and quality of life. The mullahcracy will stay in power but be forced to incrementally liberalize, in much the same way that China is doing. In many ways the analogy is a close one between the two, and their close relationship only underscores the likelihood that the mullahs will see economic liberalization as the key to maintaing power without descending into North Korea-esque disaster. The Iranian theocracy is much more reality-based, and the enormous youth population virtually guarantees that some accomodation has to be made on their part.

In other words, we should at the very least do nothing. At the very most, we should actively engage Iran with trade (there's a huge population of youth there hungry for our blue jeans and sneakers!), hold Iran accountable to its promises and IAEA oversight (already much more stringent than anything Iraq agreed to), and help Iran with its energy crisis (as Kerry proposed during the campaign). And of course, military containment of Iran should continue - though with a non-threatening posture, so that the nuke incentive remains low.

Iran, like China, is a civilization in its own right - and liberal freedom is likely going to precede democracy there. Unless we intervene militarily as we did in Iraq.

ADDENDUM. Note that Kenneth Pollack's new book on Iran makes much the same general recommendations (though in a more roundabout way). Praktike summarizes Pollack's prescription as follows: 1. Hold Open the Prospect of the Grand Bargain, 2. A True Carrot-and-Stick Approach, and 3. Preparing for a New Containment Regime.


The story of Fallujah is yet to be written

Without question, the military offensive into Fallujah had a cost in innocent human life. That is a genuine tragedy and a genuine burden of conscience that all Americans must bear. However, I believe with genuine conviction that the Fallujah offensive was the lesser of two evils.

Some of the civilian refugees from Falluja are beginning to tell their stories, and the media coverage does not seek to minimize the terror that they experienced caught between the fighting. For example, aBoston Globe article begins with the face of innocence - a girl wounded in the fighting. I see my own daughter's face in hers. The article also describes how civilians had mostly fled the city, but one journalist embedded with the Marines stumbled inside a house to find a woman huddled in fear with her children as bombs exploded outside.

However, these refugees have been finding that the role of saviour and oppressor have not been as black and white as they were led to believe. Here's another anecdote from the Globe article:

Salehma Mahmoud, 43, and her four daughters fled Fallujah on Tuesday after her husband was killed fighting against the Americans. They walked 4 miles only to be confronted by Iraqi soldiers who insulted and harassed them, grabbing at Mahmoud's oldest daughter.

"He grabbed Fatima's hand and tried to kiss her. I was trying to stop him with all I had," she said. "He beat me and pushed me to the ground, and his friends were laughing at us loud. He tore the right sleeve of my daughter's dress and lay her on the ground."

To Mahmoud's surprise -- because she had been told that US troops would beat and rape her -- a US patrol rescued them. An American soldier pulled the Iraqi soldier away and yelled at him.

Mahmoud's daughter, who speaks some English, told her that the American called the Iraqi names and said, "If you had really come to save the people of this city, you would not have done such a thing."

The reality of life in Fallujah was not an idyllic paradise, free from Amereican oppression. It's clear from reports like this from the Times of London that the girl in the photo may now have a more positive future, despite her present pain:

Mutilated bodies dumped on Fallujah's bombed out streets today painted a harrowing picture of eight months of rebel rule.

As US and Iraqi troops mopped up the last vestiges of resistance in the city after a week of bombardment and fighting, residents who stayed on through last week's offensive were emerging and telling harrowing tales of the brutality they endured.

Flyposters still litter the walls bearing all manner of decrees from insurgent commanders, to be heeded on pain of death.
Another poster in the ruins of the souk bears testament to the strict brand of Sunni Islam imposed by the council, fronted by hardline cleric Abdullah Junabi. The decree warns all women that they must cover up from head to toe outdoors, or face execution by the armed militants who controlled the streets.

Two female bodies found yesterday suggest such threats were far from idle. An Arab woman, in a violet nightdress, lay in a post-mortem embrace with a male corpse in the middle of the street. Both bodies had died from bullets to the head.

For individual liberty to truly take root in Iraq, the tyranny of extremists over the civilians of Iraq must end. Such liberation cannot occur without cost. I am a classical liberal when it comes to human liberty - and Thomas Jefferson's legendary dictum "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure" is an expression of pragmatic principle, not vacant idealism, so neccessary to success in the endeavour at hand.

The girl in the photo above is a patriot of Iraq. Margaret Hassan (see sidebar) is a martyr of Iraq. Both patriots and martyrs cannot be in short supply if Iraq is to become free.
Margaret Hassan's murder by foreign insurgents, widely denounced by the Iraqi people, inspires moral clarity in the Arab News, commenting, "Humanity, Islam and brotherhood � the appeal fell on deaf ears." However, for Robert Fisk, the question of who murdered her remains unanswered. Fisk, unlike the Arab News writer, cannot conceive that evil plays a role in this conflict, firmly in denial that those who oppose marauding American myrmidons might not be pure of motive.

The truth is, however, that this evil predates Islam, it is the evil against which Islam itself was founded to fight against and against which we must all (muslim or otherwise) maintain vigilant jihad.

I am honest enough to admit that my support for these policies means I share the burdden of blame for the sufferring of innocents. But those who repeatedly reserve their concern for civilian Iraqis until only after American operations begin have far worse crises of conscience than I to face in the mirror.

ADDENDUM. Juan Cole, no friend to the Bush Administration or booster of the Iraq War, comments with crystal moral clarity:

the Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.

To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then killed her is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing...

...the basic idea of attacking the guerrillas holding up in that city is not in and of itself criminal or irresponsible. A significant proportion of the absolutely horrible car bombings that have killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis, especially Shiites, were planned and executed from Fallujah. There were serious and heavily armed forces in Fallujah planning out ways of killing hundreds to prevent elections from being held in January. These are mass murderers, serial murderers. If they were fighting only to defend Fallujah, that would be one thing; even the Marines would respect them for that. They aren't, or at least, a significant proportion of them aren't. They are killing civilians elsewhere in order to throw Iraq into chaos and avoid the enfranchisement of the Kurds and Shiites.

Those who seek to equate the mission of the Marines who liberated Fallujah and the Islamist thugs who tyrannized the city and all of Iraq beyond, are the same ones who breathlessly invoke the Lancet study purporting 100,000 civilian deaths because of the US occupation, having been utterly silent during the genocide against the Shi'a during Saddam's rule. To them, I have nothing to say. Their agenda is quite clear, and it has nothing to do with true compassion for the citizens of Iraq.


get Firefox! surf, don't suffer, the web

Get Firefox!I was a bit puzzled by some of the feedback I've been getting on the site layout from people, until I realized that this pure-CSS layout likely looks a bit broken in Internet Explorer. IE is notorious for making Bad Decisions when it comes to rendering valid HTML and CSS. It pains me to know that my lovely layout is being mangled, so I'm going to repeat my call to all to switch to Firefox v1.0. Try it, its simple to switch and you'll literally rediscover the web.

Need convincing? In Firefox, you have a built-in and extensible search function that lets you easily query Amazon, Google, EBay, IMDB, whatever you want. It has much more sophisticated pop-up blockeres and cookie management. It protects you from web-borne viruses that exploit holes and flaws in IE. And wait until you discover tabbed browsing! You have to try this.

And last but not least, start appreciating City of Brass the way it was meant to be seen!


Islam and Freedom

I've argued many times before (with examples) that Islam is actually the mechanism through which liberty can be brought to the Arab world, and the false-dichotomy of the "Clash of Civilizations" worldview articulated by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. The Clash hypothesis is what animates foreign policy in the Bush Administration, and its defenders are forced to resort to condescension towards Islam and Arab culture to make their case.

Michael Hersh now has a detailed essay on Bernard Lewis and his influence upon policy, especially his persona grata status with Vice President Cheney (who sits like Shelob at the nexus of all policy decisions in the Administration). The following lengthy excerpt is the key to understanding the alternative school of thought to which I also subscribe (which you could call "muscular Wilsonianism"):

At least until the Iraq war, most present-day Arabs didn't think in the stark clash-of-civilization terms Lewis prefers. Bin Laden likes to vilify Western Crusaders, but until relatively recently, he was still seen by much of the Arab establishment as a marginal figure. To most Arabs before 9/11, the Crusades were history as ancient as they are to us in the West. Modern Arab anger and frustration is, in fact, less than a hundred years old. As bin Laden knows very well, this anger is a function not of Islam's humiliation at the Treaty of Carlowitz of 1699�the sort of long-ago defeat that Lewis highlights in his bestselling What Went Wrong�but of much more recent developments. These include the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement by which the British and French agreed to divvy up the Arabic-speaking countries after World War I; the subsequent creation, by the Europeans, of corrupt, kleptocratic tyrannies in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan; the endemic poverty and underdevelopment that resulted for most of the 20th century; the U.N.-imposed creation of Israel in 1948; and finally, in recent decades, American support for the bleak status quo.

Yet as Bulliet writes, over the longer reach of history, Islam and the West have been far more culturally integrated than most people realized; there is a far better case for "Islamo-Christian civilization" than there is for the clash of civilizations. "There are two narratives here," says Fawaz Gerges, an intellectual ally of Bulliet's at Sarah Lawrence University. "One is Bernard Lewis. But the other narrative is that in historical terms, there have been so many inter-alliances between world of Islam and the West. There has never been a Muslim umma, or community, except for 23 years during the time of Mohammed. Except in the theoretical minds of the jihadists, the Muslim world was always split. Many Muslim leaders even allied themselves with the Crusaders."

Today, progress in the Arab world will not come by secularizing it from above (Bulliet's chapter dealing with Chalabi is called �Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places�) but by rediscovering this more tolerant Islam, which actually predates radicalism and, contra Ataturk, is an ineluctable part of Arab self-identity that must be accommodated. For centuries, Bulliet argues, comparative stability prevailed in the Islamic world not (as Lewis maintains) because of the Ottomans' success, but because Islam was playing its traditional role of constraining tyranny. "The collectivity of religious scholars acted at least theoretically as a countervailing force against tyranny. You had the implicit notion that if Islam is pushed out of the public sphere, tyranny will increase, and if that happens, people will look to Islam to redress the tyranny." This began to play out during the period that Lewis hails as the modernization era of the 19th century, when Western legal structures and armies were created. "What Lewis never talks about is the concomitant removal of Islam from the center of public life, the devalidation of Islamic education and Islamic law, the marginalization of Islamic scholars," Bulliet told me. Instead of modernization, what ensued was what Muslim clerics had long feared, tyranny that conforms precisely with some theories of Islamic political development, notes Bulliet. What the Arab world should have seen was "not an increase in modernization so much as an increase in tyranny. By the 1960s, that prophecy was fulfilled. You had dictatorships in most of the Islamic world." Egypt's Gamel Nasser, Syria's Hafez Assad, and others came in the guise of Arab nationalists, but they were nothing more than tyrants.

Yet there was no longer a legitimate force to oppose this trend. In the place of traditional Islamic learning�which had once allowed, even encouraged, science and advancement�there was nothing. The old religious authorities had been hounded out of public life, back into the mosque. The Caliphate was dead; when Ataturk destroyed it in Turkey, he also removed it from the rest of the Islamic world. Into that vacuum roared a fundamentalist reaction led by brilliant but aberrant amateurs like Egypt's Sayyid Qutb, the founding philosopher of Ayman Zawahiri's brand of Islamic radicalism who was hanged by al-Nasser, and later, Osama bin Laden, who grew up infected by the Saudis' extreme version of Wahhabism. Even the creator of Wahhabism, the 18th-century thinker Mohammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, was outside the mainstream, notorious for vandalizing shrines and "denounced" by theologians across the Islamic world in his time for his "doctrinal mediocrity and illegitimacy," as the scholar Abdelwahab Meddeb writes in another new book that rebuts Lewis, Islam and its Discontents.[1]

Now, I've been making my way through Fareed Zakaria's book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, and I've found that it's very much in tune with the perspective above. Zakaria makes the essential point that the rise of teh Catholic Church was really the catalyst for freedom in Europe, even though the Church itself was often not liberal at all. As Bill Allison has been saying for some time now, the Reformation was not a "progressive" vision of faith, if anything Luther sought a return to more strict orthodoxy. Zakaria calls this the Paradox of Catholicism and it's a topic on which I will blog more in the near future.

The bottom line here is that the goal is a liberal democracy - and that liberal freedoms often (in fact, nearly always) precede democracy. The absence of Islam from the public sphere has meant a lack of a counter-balancing check upon the power of the state in the Arab world - and into that void has rushed extremist ideology that ultimately enters symbiosis with the state itself. Nowhere is this more true than in Saudi Arabia.

The urgency of this debate centers on Iran. The neocon position is that we must invade to liberate. But if you see Islam as an ally, then there is a way to play catalyst to internal liberalization. That will lead to a far more stable sprig of liberty than one imposed (as the Iraq example shows).

The Future of Freedom is a compelling book and together with Gary Hart's The Fourth Power essentially is the foundation of my foreign policy views. The present neoconservative view in charge of policy, however, is unable to recognize that Islam is the key, not the obstacle.

[1] The book Islam and its Discontents is not yet on Amazon, but you can read an excerpt from the book online.



via Laura, I came across Jeanne's reaction to a photo of American soldiers occupying a Falluja masjid. She calls it a desecration, and asks herself how she'd feel if it were her church. I can probably shed some light on the question - were it MY masjid, I'd be angry indeed. Then again, that's because in MY masjid, in Houston USA, we do not as a rule store bombs, weapons caches, or fire upon police from the minaret. So, the presence of American soldiers in MY masjid would be cause for great anger, yes.

However, what makes me genuinely furious, rather than merely angry, is the desecration of another masjid illustrated at right. The militia of Muqtada Sadr occupied the Kufa masjid, the site of the martyrdom of Imam Ali As himself, and used it for their crude and clumsy political ends. And it happened in MY masjid, too - the Kufa masjid was renovated (under UNESCO's auspices) with contributions from Dawoodi Bohra muslims around the world, including my family's. The Kufa masjid is an icon of my faith and part of the fabric of my community's practices and traditions - and history. Where is the outrage?

Oh yes, there certainly are desecrations of masjids to be angered about. But the desecration of the masjid that Jeanne speaks about happenned well before the soldiers arrived there.

In fact, perhaps it is cleansing in some way for that masjid to now host the forces of liberation rather than oppression.

UPDATE: Bill Allison finds a link I'd meant to add as context for this post but had lost - as usual we are on much the same wavelength. Excerpt:

As US and Iraqi troops mopped up the last vestiges of resistance in the city after a week of bombardment and fighting, residents who stayed on through last week's offensive were emerging and telling harrowing tales of the brutality they endured.

Flyposters still litter the walls bearing all manner of decrees from insurgent commanders, to be heeded on pain of death. Amid the rubble of the main shopping street, one decree bearing the insurgents' insignia - two Kalashnikovs propped together - and dated November 1 gives vendors three days to remove nine market stalls from outside the city's library or face execution.

The pretext given is that the rebels wanted to convert the building into a headquarters for the "Mujahidin Advisory Council" through which they ran the city.

Another poster in the ruins of the souk bears testament to the strict brand of Sunni Islam imposed by the council, fronted by hardline cleric Abdullah Junabi. The decree warns all women that they must cover up from head to toe outdoors, or face execution by the armed militants who controlled the streets.

Two female bodies found yesterday suggest such threats were far from idle. An Arab woman, in a violet nightdress, lay in a post-mortem embrace with a male corpse in the middle of the street. Both bodies had died from bullets to the head.

Much of the offense taken by Muslims about the sanctity of mosques is almost transparently situational. I think that we muslims who have the good fortune to live in a place like Houston, rather than one like Falluja, have an obligation towards perspective. If there is self-deception, I believe it to be unintentional, and the blame can largely be placed at the feet of the false concept of Dar ul-Islam as a trans-national entity to which muslims should show some kind of allegiance. Clearly, in the case of Fallujah, membership in Dar ul-Islam is not something any western muslim would tolerate, having grown used to liberty.

Oh, and as for the template, I'm working on it :) You won't recognize the place, trust me, after I'm done...

Da Vinci Code: anti-Passion?

It's official - Tom Hanks will star in the movie version of The DaVinci Code.

What intrigues me about this, more than just the fact that it was an engrossing and thought-provoking book, is the possible reaction from the newly-empowered religious right.

Now, I should clarify something. The idea that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene is at much at odds with my own religious theological framework as it is for Catholics (though, understandably, the Catholic faith is more directly threatened by the content). Ultimately, the key to appreciating The DaVinci Code is for what it reveals about DaVinci's personal beliefs through his paintings, not about Jesus's life.

The book has inspired an entire industry of Christian counter-propaganda, attempting to debunk or deny what they see as a threat to their faith. However, it is clear that the book represents a decidely non-conformist interpretation of DaVinci's beliefs, and the underlying message of his art. Regardless of whether you agree or not with that interpetation, it is clear that The Last Supper is a complex, subversive work and not one that seamlessly jibes with mainstream Christian views.

However, DaVinci has been co-opted by the religious right as a comrade in belief, and representations and derivative works of his paintings often completely obfuscate the subversive elements. Most notably, the diembodied hand and the gender of the person at Jesus's right-hand. In recreations (both painted and live-action) I observe that the hand becomes attached, somewhat awkwardly, to the figure peering leftwards, and the figure at Jesus's right is much more masculine. The fact that Leonardo deliberately bent gender identities in other paintings (not least of which is Mona Lisa / Amon Li) only adds to the mystery of that figure, and certainly isn't an argument in defense of the traditional religious interpretation of the painting.

So, it will be intriguing to see the reaction from the religious right to the release of this movie. It may well be the anti-Passion of the Christ. I have a feeling that we will see coordinated boycott campaigns, pressure upon movie theaters chains to stop the film, and a DaVinci-debunk-umentary on Sinclair-owned television stations.

I fully expect to see the right attempt to consolidate its influence and strive to enact actual social policy during Bush's second term. I hope I am proven wrong, but already even supposedly mainstream, big-tent Republican groups are interpreting Bush's mandate as a stimulus for sustained jihad against pro-choice GOP politicians and trial balloons about banning divorce (an action whose inherent misogyny would put the Taliban to shame). The war on choice has expanded to a war on birth control. And don't think for a moment it stops there - the self-styled architects of Bush's re-election, the ones who delivered the I-4 Corridor in Florida and the balance of power in Ohio, are suddenly conspicously public, and reminding the President that they expect their due this term. (UPDATE: More on Mullah Dobson here).

I think that The DaVinci Code, as a movie, will become a rallying-point. For both sides in the culture war that the religious right seeks to provoke.

UPDATE: I thought I was quite clear in the post above, but judging from some of the reaction in comments, trackback, and email, I guess not. The DaVinci Code is indeed a work of fiction, and is indeed based on historical fact and art history. The fiction part is the global conspiracy to hide the living descendants of Jesus Christ. The factual truth part is the description of details in Leonardo's works of art that do not jibe with mainstream Christian interpretation. Believe or not, you can not deny that The Last Supper, and The Mona Lisa, are subversive works, despite the varnish of orthodoxy applied to them in subsequent centuries.

Look at The Last Supper yourself. I have cropped the image at high res (see at right) to focus on Jesus, Mary/John, and the disembodied knife. Note that the character whose hand slashes across Mary/John's troat is the one usually depicted as holding the knife, but if you look carefully, it's impossible, because both his hands are accounted for already. One is slashing the throat of Mary/John. The other is actually holding the wrist of the disembodied hand! There is a character in the foreground between the Slasher and Mary/John, but both his hands are accounted for (see annotated figure). It's possible that the hand belongs to Mary/John, but from my viewing it seems to far away for it to be anatomically possible. And why would either Mary or John want to have a knife at the table? The figure to the left of the hand also has his hands accounted for. That hand truly is disembodied. It's creepy.

Now, you could argue, so what? creepy hand with knife floating around - it IS a painting that foretells Jesus's betrayal, after all. But the point is that the disembodied nature of that hand has been systematically erased from all other versions post-Leonardo. I've seen countless reproductions of The Last Supper since reading The DaVinci Code, from websites to Wal Mart, and they all without exception attach the hand to Slasher.

This isn't any kind of proof that Jesus married Mary, or that the figure at the table is Mary, or anything else. It's just proof that Leonardo had layers of meaning and symbolism that are well beyond the boundaries of the orthodox view. Where The DaVinci Code excels is in generating a renewed interest in the art, and is forcing the viewer to ponder not just The Last Supper but also The Mona Lisa, The Virgin of the Rocks, and many others in more detail. That's something to laud Dan Brown for, regardless of your beliefs.

UPDATE: I seem to have really ticked this guy off. Still, given his civil dialog with this other guy who criticizes his book, he seems a decent fellow. He seems strangely defensive to the phrase "religious right" and perceives a critique of the Bush Administration in my post, which baffles me. Maybe if he returns the courtesy and reads a bit more of my blog he'll see I'm not quite the stereotype muslim for whom "Dan Brown = Salman Rushdie" would be an illuminating analogy.



It was the best movie I've seen all year, with the exception of Return of the King. Must pre-order my copies of both.

Meanwhile, dour progressives insist on extracting every last drop of righteous offense they can. Blood from a stone indeed. That's the same mentality as the people who tried to provoke me into being offended by Lord of the Ring's "Easterners" as the bad guys vs The Men of the West. Listen, pal, count me firmly among the Valinor on that one.


religious beliefs informing abortion views?

At Dean Nation, I've commented on the phenomenon of pharmacists refusing to fill birth-control prescriptions, citing their pro-life religious beliefs. Fundamentally, being anti-birth-control is completely at odds with the pro-life position, because birth control prevents undesired pregnancy, obviating the need for abortions (the exception is the morning-after type pills, which could legitimately be interpreted as an abortion pill if you define life as beginning at conception).

It's tempting to ascribe the religious Christian right's self-defeating take on birth control as stemming from their religious attitudes towards human sexuality. I have very little knowledge on this topic, but the stereotype of the Christian faith is a Puritan attitude, where sex is a sinful act. The repressive attitude towards the topic may even account for the profusion of cabarets and erotic clubs in the South - when I moved from Boston to Houston, I was struck by how much more blatant these types of establishments are in their advertising and presence.

As I confessed, though, I simply don't know enough about Christian theology to have an informed opinion on the real religious impetus behind why this hostility towards birth control arises from the pro-life crowd. I do know that in Islam, sex between married couples is considered a religious act, and earns the man and woman blessings. The specific issue of whether birth control is valid or not was one i was previously unaware had any controversy attached (though I laughed along with everyone else at the "every sperm is sacred" skit in Monty Python, I didn't think that was actually practiced).

What are the religious justifications for a ban on birth control? I can't answer, and I suspect that there might well be none. Ultimately, this issue is probably driven more by political extremism (complete with purifying litmus-test jihad) than by any rational adherence to religious precepts or a sincere desire to reduce abortions overall.

Certainly, if reduction of abortion was the real goal, then methods like birth control that actively promote the desired results would not be under attack. That they are, I think, suggests something.


Fallujah: for the children

The issue of whether we should invade Fallujah is the wrong question. The right question is, why is it now neccessary to invade? The answer is, because of poor decisions by the Administration, most notably in the knee-jerk decision to disband the Iraqi Army and the mismanagement of the reconstruction funds.

But go in, I believe, we now must, mainly because as long as Falluja remains a foreign insurgent power base, then the future of liberal freedoms in Iraq is threatened. This is why:

Several people in Jolan said that the foreign fighters�Saudis, Tunisians, Moroccans, Yemenis, and Lebanese, directed by Syrian militants�had been crucial to the defense of the neighborhood. The groups of mujahideen who hung around mosques included men who looked to me like Arabs from the Gulf. Most of them were dark, with angular features, and they had long, well-groomed beards. Their dishdashas were short, in the Wahhabi style, ending a little below their knees. Friends of mine who had been held by mujahideen told me they had heard men speaking with accents from the Gulf, Syria, and North Africa.

The foreign mujahideen still in Jolan imposed strict Islamic codes of behavior on the neighborhood. They harassed Iraqis who smoked cigarettes or drank water using their left hand, which is considered impure. They banned alcohol, Western films, makeup, hairdressers, �behaving like women��i.e., homosexuality�and even dominoes in the coffeehouses. Men found publicly drunk had been flogged, and I was told of a dozen men who had been beaten and imprisoned for selling drugs.

These grafs are excerpted from Nir Rosen's compelling and exhaustively investigative reporting from Falluja, for the New Yorker magazine. The point here is that liberal freedoms are being curtailed by Islamicists who seek to turn all of Iraq into an explicitly Taliban-modeled nightmare state.

Of course, the selective blindness of the far left with regard to human freedom continues. One acquaintance sent me this typically-overwrought excerpt from Counterpunch.org:

Hush. Enough chatter about the stupid American election. I'm trying to listen to Fallujah right now.
I'm trying to hear the sounds of their helicopters overhead, trying to feel the rattle in my bones as chop, chop, chop, over Falluja, they draft the very air into war.
Chinaview reports (8 hours ago) that two have been killed and six injured in Fallujah, but we know since reading last Friday's article in the Lancet (editor's note: methodology completely discredited) that we have to multiply these numbers times ten.

So shush that grating talk about how we're all soon back together in some conspiracy of imperial purpose, all hailing the chief.

I'm listening for the still-born child, the heart attack, the stroke. The sound a little person makes when she covers her head with her bare hands.

Please mute that electoral count recap, would you?

I've got to listen to Falluja right now.

This is of course an elaborately crafted piece of propaganda that completely evades any attempt at discussing the merits of our post-war reconstruction policies, to try and simply score some theatrical points on emotion. To which, I respond with this:

November 5, 2004
Release Number: 04-11-12

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq � An Army unit assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force, discovered and defused an explosive-laden youth center in Ramadi Nov. 4, which was rigged by insurgents to detonate and potentially kill dozens of Iraqi children. They also discovered more than two tons of explosives hidden in a mosque.

The discoveries were made during a sweep of the city looking for improvised explosive devices.

After a thorough investigation of the youth center, the Soldiers discovered that the explosives were rigged to detonate three ways: through a light switch, a remote control and by wiring that ran from the youth center to the nearby Al-Haq Mosque, where the unit discovered the firing mechanism.

At another mosque, a search yielded the discovery of more than two tons of ammunition, explosives, mortar systems and RPGs. Artillery rounds; assault rifles and various IED-making materials were found, as well. Fifty suspected insurgents were also detained during the sweep.

Mosques are granted protective status due to their religious and cultural significance. However, when insurgents violate the sanctity of the mosque by using the structure for military purposes, the site loses its protective status.

Ultimately, it's fundamentally dishonest to criticize a foreign policy or a military action on humanitarian grounds when the application of moral righteousness is so transparently one-sided. Anyone with genuine concern for the children of Fallujah have to concede, if they possess any intellectual integrity, that the future of those children is brighter under an elected Iraqi government rather than a Taliban-inspired city-state.

UPDATE: an email correspondent writes:

I couldn't agree with you more on the lines you conclude your argument with. In the minds of many who disagree with you, however, they stand out in stark
contradiction to some of your opening lines:

"But go in, I believe, we now must, mainly because as long as Falluja
remains a foreign insurgent power base"

The WE who are going into Falluja now were also instrumental in creating the
Taliban who have now run amuck. And the WE are also *foreign* fighters who
have supported Saddam historically. The WE were also complicit, a hair short
of encouraging, in Saddam's butchering of Shiite Kurds.

The issue has never been that anyone suppports the Taliban, or their brutish
ways. The problem has been the credibility of the occupying force. How can
you, per your own words, apply moral values so one-sidedly in favor of this
occupying force?

There's a fallacy here, of conflating all American foreign policy interventions as one monolithic bloc. You have to recognize that the realpolitik foreign policy doctrine of the Reagan Administration is completely different from the neo-conservative/PNAC doctrine animating the present one.

As I argued in the first paragraph, the fact that invading Fallujah is neccessary is a direct result of post-war incompetence by the present Administration. Extending causality beyond that is a pointless excercise, otherwise you might as well blame the British for creating Iraq in the first place.

I simply don't agree that the "credibility" of the occupying force is an issue. The bottom line is that the Taliban-lite DO control Falluja, that they DO want to control all of Iraq, and that they ARE a barrier to free elections in January. In other words, Falluja is an obstacle to both Iraqi and American self-interest. The self-interest of the Iraqi people is the primary objective, and the self-interest of America derives as a secondary measure from that one.

The question above has a certain idealistic tinge, that all motives must be pure, which I reject. Self-interest is a valid, even neccessary, requirement of policy. Whatever America's historical role may have been, this nation evolves much like any other. And so do their relationships, such as the enmity-turned-alliance of Germany and Japan with us today. Or America and Britain.

The important point here to construct our policy upon is to look forward, towards an alliance with a free Iraq (an invasion I did not support but whose outcome now I am committed to seeing succeed).

The invasion of Fallujah serves to liberate its inhabitants from the mini-Taliban, whom the "many who disagree with me" refuse to address.

As a liberal humanist, I believe that we must use our strength to liberate the oppressed whenever possible. There are cases where military power alone will not suffice however, such as Iran, a nation that invading would only hamper, rather than encourage, liberal reform. In Falluja, however, the course is clear, and there are no other options.


less politics

wondering why I haven't commented on the election, predicted the outcome, endorsed a candidate officially? That's because I'm making a concerted effort to shift all political discussion to Dean Nation. Go there if my opinion on suchlike matters, I've thrown down a gauntlet of sorts there recently.

Here, no more politics (unless I get REALLY provoked). Foriegn policy, religion, philosophy, tech, everything else, but no more politics.

Oh, and I'm moving to a new blog, and shutting UNMEDIA down. Time for some change, a fresh look, and a new name. Details to follow...

UPDATE: ok, I'm just going to rename the blog, not shut it down. The new URL, if all goes well, will be http://cityofbrass.blogspot.com. Hopefully the archives will transfer intact...

UPDATE 2: Seems to be working... one snafu is that the way in which I moved the blog means that all permalinks to old entries are probably (but not neccessarily) broken. However those entries are still here under the new URL, cityofbrass.blogspot.com instead of unmedia.blogspot.com, so if you just swap out "unmedia" with "cityofbrass" then you'll get to it.

Yeah, the template is inconsistent.. will do that later, since it's much more involved.


Muslim, wake up!

Truly astonishing column at MWU arguing that muslims should vote for Nader.

Astonishing because it actually assumes that a Nader vote would lend Muslims more political clout. The basic thesis is completely backwards - voting Nader and contributing to another squeaker win of Bush over his opponent would essentially make the Muslim community a pariah. By handing the election to Bush in 2000, Nader's entire relevance has plummeted. To those who call for a muslim voting bloc and dream of excercising influence upon the process, voting Nader is an anathema.

You want political clout? Deliver Michigan to Kerry. And watch both parties come begging in 2008 to your doorstep.

(Not that I don't have serious issues with the alliance of Muslim identity with progressive liberal politics, but that's a separate issue).