Friday, July 21, 2006

Shi'ism and the News

Rememember Nixon!

That's my motto in watching news coverage of any event. The Daily Telegraph is, by far, the most Conservative British newspaper. It is also very pro-Israel. But the British upper-middle class British values a much wider divergence of opinion than exists in the US. That is where to look for angles you may not have thought of.

Here is an very informative view on the Shia-Sunni conflict from today's Telegraph.


Exiled radical Islamic preacher Omar Bakri was turned away from a Royal Navy ship evacuating Britons from war-torn Beirut, it emerged today.
The Muslim cleric, who left Britain for Lebanon abruptly in August last year, tried to board the British ship yesterday. He also claimed he had written to the British embassy asking to be allowed to back on "humanitarian grounds".

The Guardian, today.

There is a Yiddish word for what this guy has: Chutzpah. [Defined by example by Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish. A man kills both his parents: he pleads to the judge for mercy on the grounds he is an orphan.]

This does not seem the time....

...for Israel to be commemorating a famous terrorist act against the British Mandate government in Palestine. Sixty years ago the Irgun Zvi Leumi blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 91 people were killed. Now there is a celebration.

At a time when, unlike French or Russian leader, Britain's Prime Minister is vocally supporting Israel, this seems a little strange.

Oh My G-d

This is what America is watching!

Don't be upset. Brits made "Run Rabbit, Run, Run, Run" a hit in WW II.


At Slate

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The War Today

It was very odd today. I was worring like crazy [C-R-A-Z-Y] about being ill, but my doctor is of Lebanese Christian origin.

When I went in, and said how upset I was very upset about what was going on. He seemed surprised that any of his patients would even care (or know, I suppose, this being Jacksonville FL and not Dearborn MI). It turns out all his family is in Lebanon, although (thankfully), mostly in the north.

I, of course, like Israel, but find myself hopeless before men of violence: I could imagine being angry on both sides. I simply cannot imagine myself firing a weapon to kill children.

I hope, if I am ever presented with the choice, that I cut my own throat.

What Would Jesus Do? Can anyone imagine him firing a Kassem rocket into Israel? Or dropping a bomb on South Beirut?

What would you do?

The "Iranian Picture"

Rarely is the hatred of homosexuals, which flourishes within many of the world's fundamentalist religions, seen so starkly. If the Old Testament, a font of three of the world's major faiths, is the inerrant Word of God, then why should these images trouble you? For God, in Leviticus, says that the killing of homosexuals is justice and pleasing to him.

But if the images trouble the conscience nonetheless, then the viewer finds himself in exactly the position of every gay person who has wrestled with traditional morality and its often harsh absolutes. You find within yourself a moral consciousness that is wider than the wellspring of ancient religion. It is a dizzying sensation of liberation, and its power pulses through every line written by Walt Whitman. But it is, for many, a terrifying thought, and so images are suppressed. And the wasted lives of two young men are ignored by all except those who, through the strange ether of the Internet, feel a powerful kinship with them.


Protests against Iranian Attacks on Gays

The Iranian regime is the among the most homophobic in the world. In the past day or so, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, TG people, and associated queers have organized protests around the world in connection with the judical murder of two gay Iranian teenagers a on July 19 2005.

Andrew Sullivan is keeping tabs on this, as is an old acquaintance of mine, Michael Petrelis.

See also a Washington Post article [ Pictures From An Execution Come Into Focus ] on these protests, and the state murder of these guys.


Perhaps the saddest thing about these pictures is that no major news organization outside Iran has tracked down what really happened. The final indignity of these boys' short lives was that they didn't matter enough to spark a serious investigation. And yet, even with the particular facts of the alleged crimes in dispute, the images have haunted gay people in the West and become part of a larger debate about the political alignment of gay rights groups. Should Western activists engage with gay rights issues across cultural and religious borders? And do they risk being dragged into a crude anti-Islamic fervor popular among some fundamentalist Christians (who are no friends to gay people) and right-wing political groups?

Rob Anderson, 23, organized the Dupont Circle protest of about 40 people. He is a researcher and reporter for the New Republic, and he describes himself as part of a "network of lefty friends" who have no interest in the idea of war with Iran. But when the images of the hangings went up last year on the Internet, he printed them out and put them up near his desk. He says that all the friends he's shown the pictures to have had "a shift in consciousness," a realization that they live sheltered lives, that evil exists in the world and that despite the vast cultural difference between Iran and the United States, there have to be moral absolutes. And killing children for homosexuality is one thing that is absolutely wrong.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

News Analysis of the Current Conflict

Currant news commentators seem to be on the money about the basic Sunni vs Shia conflict going on in the Middle East. I'm a little uneasy though.

There is real reason for taking Sunni-Shia conflict seriously. It has created long lasting religious war frequently in the past. In fact, even beyond the early divisions, there have been a number of periods of intense Sunni-Shia conflict.

  • By Sunni Muslims (especially the Seljuk Turks) against the Fatamid Caliphate (10th-12th centuries in Egypt). The descendants of the Fatamid Caliphate are "Sevener" of Ismaili Shia (the Aga Khan is the current leader of the group). The Druze also seem to be descendants of the Fatamids, but of a heretical group which proclaimed the Fatamid Caliph Hakim as God. (Hakim, by the way was responsible for the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in the early 11th century, and event later used in Crusader propaganda).
  • Between the Ottoman Turks and the Safavid dynasty (which was Turkish, but ruled in Iran from the 16th to 18th century). This last one was fought explicitly by the Ottomans as a religious war, and indeed only Armenians were allowed to travel between the two empires (the border was roughly that of modern Iran).
  • There is continual religious violence between Shia and Sunni in Pakistan (remember India/Pakistan/Bangladesh contain around half the world's Muslims)
  • Iran is run by Twelver Shia (i.e. they believe in the descent of infallible Imams up until the 12th Imam, who is now in hiding, but who speaks through the Shia Ulema [religious judges - more like Orthodox rabbis than Catholic priests]). They account for around 80% of world Shia, and are also the dominant group in Iraq. Hezbollah is a Twelver group.

    One can see why Sunni Muslims might be worried.

    But there are problems with a merely religious analysis of what is going on.

  • Syria is mostly Sunni, but the Assad dynasty belongs to a group called the Alawites, who are not regarded as Muslims by most other Muslims, either Twelvers or Sunnis. The Alawites are defined by the others as extremists because they seem to have regarded 'Ali as a kind of incarnation of God. (This is a little unsure because most Alawites don't know the tenets of the faith: like the Druze these doctrines are kept as esoteric knowledge by a small group of older males.) There is no real reason for the Shia in Iran to regard the Alawites as allies.
  • In Hama/Homs in 1982, Bashir's father killed around 20,000 members of the very distinctly Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (the number includes bystanders) when the rose against his secularist Ba'ath Party (founded jointly by an Eastern Orthodox and a Sunni).

    The odd things here are.

  • Why is Syria supporting Hezbollah, when, as Twelvers, they are not in line with most of the Syrian population?
  • Why is Syria supporting HAMAS. HAMAS (the acronym comes from "Islamic Salvation Front) is simply the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (the same group that the Assads' massacre in 1982.

    I have no conclusions here. Merely that the analysis going on right now seems simplistic. Most commentators seem to assume there is just "Islamic radicalism" with understanding the vast difference between Sunnis and Shia. And even those who understand that do not seem to grasp that Syria is a Sunni country with a minority leadership whose sect is not considered Muslim by either Sunni or Shia ulema.


    Andrew Sullivan points to a Slate magazine article on this topic.
  • Bulls and Cows

    To cow (v. intrans.) or the act of cowing:

    To list data (or perform operations) without awareness of, or comment upon, the contexts, frames of reference, or points of observation which determine the origin, nature, and meaning of the data *(or procedures). To write on the assumption that "a fact is a fact." To present evidence of hard work as a substitute for understanding, without any intent to deceive.

    To bull (v. intrans.) or the act of bulling:

    To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content.

    Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts

    This is great!

    This link was posted on the Mediev-l list in response to the "Defining History" documents. If you understand it you can do great history, if not, you can't. It's as simple as that.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Vader Sessions

    Darth at Youtube

    Life after Forty

    anyone who says that life begins at forty is full of crap! As people get older their bodies begin to decay. They get sick. They forget things. What's good about that?

    Bette Davis

    Unclaimed Territory

    Interesting comments (linked to by Andrew Sullivan)on right wing blogs -
    Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: The thug and intimidation tactics of the Far Right go mainstream

    Way to Go, Fox News!

    I never thought I'd write that line!

    This video is going viral

    Youtube: Fox Anchor vs. Westboro Baptist Church

    I never really liked Julie Banderas before. In some respects this may be the best fight since Krystal vs. Alexis on Dynasty.

    Defining History 2

    Having read the law referred to below, it strikes me less as a right wing plot, and more like student wish-fulfillment.

    No matter how many times you try to teach/show students that history is a matter of investigation (Greek: 'istoria), narrative (French, etc.: histoire), and interpretation, many of the dear little ones often seem to want to be bored (in what they consider a useless required subject). They really would prefer a list of facts they could just remember.

    I was at a store the other day, talking to a guy, and I mentioned (when he asked why I was in the US) that I had come to study for a doctorate in history. He then asked what use was that unless I wanted to teach? I asked him in return what use it was learning how to plumb unless he wanted to be a plumber?

    He was gob-smacked, as we would say in Manchester.

    [of course plumbers make more.]

    Defining History

    as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.”

    Robert Jensen, 07.17.06: "Florida’s fear of history: New law undermines critical thinking."

    This is quite incredible. Thanks to James.

    UPDATE: I had been more than a little surprised by the story above. But it seems to be be quite legitimate.

  • Tampa Tribune
  • History News Network
  • LA Times
  • Daily Kos

    The Bill itself is at
  • Talk About Bad Timing

    Possibly the worst timed club opening in recent history:
    Paddy Cochrane, the nephew of Sursock doyenne Lady Cochrane, celebrated the opening of his new nightlife venue in Gemmayzeh on Friday night. Gauche Caviar - so named in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the first wave of reveling gentrifiers who paved the way for this quaintly residential and traditional neighborhood to become Beirut's latest hipster enclave - is located on Gemmayzeh's main drag, Gouraud Street. Unlike most of the nearby bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs, Gauche Caviar is notably spacious, thanks in no small part to a winning design by architect Mazen Khatib. The launch party welcomed a roster of high-profile guests.

    Daily Star, Beirut, July 12