Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pakistan: Better Than I Feared

Things are going better in Pakistan than I feared. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in now President Musharraf, period. Not General and President Musharraf.

He promised to quit his military role, and be a civilian leader, and delivered: not on the timetable he originally gave, but he did quit.

Maybe he'll end emergency rule by December 16, as he says he will, and restore the Pakistani constitution in time for the January elections, too.

Musharraf has two former prime ministers back in Pakistan now. He's let them know that things are going to be okay with the election, and that he expects them to participate. "Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have come back, and a level playing field has been given to (their parties). Now it is the responsibility of these and other parties to prepare for the elections, and participate fully," is how he put it.

The two former PMs have threatened to boycott the election. I suppose there's a point to trying not to win an election you want to win - like when the election is obviously rigged.

Musharraf's recent rounding up of political opponents, and now holding an election with very little lead time, seems perilously close to "rigging."

Bin Laden's Back -
New Audio, Same Old Message

Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda may be learning a lesson from American media personalities: If you haven't been in the news since last week, you're last week's news.

Al-Jazeera released brief excerpts from an upcoming bin Laden audio, "Message to the European Peoples, which Al Qaeda says will be available: probably on the Islamic militant websites that Al Qaeda favors as its media outlets.

Here's part of what bin Laden had to say:

"The events of Manhattan were retaliation against the American-Israeli alliance's aggression against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, and I am the only one responsible for it. The Afghan people and government knew nothing about it. America knows that,"

Apparently, Osama bin Laden doesn't blame European nations for getting involved in America's invasion of Afghanistan. He says they had no choice, but now it's time to get back to good, old-fashioned anti-Americanism.

"The American tide is ebbing, with God's help, and they will leave back to their countries," he said, to Europeans. "Therefore it is better for you to stand against your leaders who are dropping in on the White House, and to work seriously to lift the injustice against the believers."

"All your victims from bombings were children and women, and you know that women do not fight, but you target them even when they are celebrating to break their morale," he said: which raises an interesting point.

Iran's president Ahmadinejad said that there aren't any homosexuals in Iran, now bin Laden is saying that all the victims from (American-directed) bombings were children and women. I've been watching news video from the Middle East - and some of those women and children had rather thick beards.

Come on! Are people in the Middle East that different from everyone else? I think it's obvious that this 'the great Satan America kills only women and children' stuff just standard-issue hyperbole - but I'm afraid that quite a few people will believe bin Laden.

This will be bin Laden's third message since September - a burst of activity, after a year's silence.

Al Qaeda has stepped up its media campaign, too, doubling its 2006 productivity. The Islamic terrorist group has been releasing an average of one message every three days in 2007.

Same Old, Same Old

Bin Laden fans won't see it this way, but except for Al Qaeda's increasing media savvy, this is the same old thing: America is evil, anyone who works with America is a tool or an infidel, and the big, bad west should stop helping people in the Middle East set up independent, terrorist-free, nations.

If leaders around the world keep taking this sort of propaganda seriously, this is going to be a long war.

Sudan Court Defends Islam: Teacher Found Guilty of "Inciting Religious Hatred"

Inciting Religious Hatred - With a Teddy Bear??!

British school teacher Gillian Gibbons is guilty of "inciting religious hatred" by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear "Mohammed."

Apparently, it's okay to name boys "Mohammed," but it's not okay to name a teddy bear "Mohammed." That's because Muslims aren't supposed to depict the prophet. And, apparently naming a teddy bear "Mohammed" is depicting the prophet, and naming a boy "Mohammed" isn't.

Being a non-Muslim, I suppose I can't be expected to understand?

If Gillian Gibbons can survive 15 days in a Sudanese prison, odds are that she'll be home free. Today, the Sudanese court said that she'd get 15 days, and then be deported. Tomorrow, who knows what the Sudanese court will decide?

We got a good look at Islamic justice, Sudan style, in this trial.
  • The judge demanded that the prosecution bring the person who originally complained about Gibbons.
  • The defense lawyer for Gibbons had to "scuffle" with police before he could get into the courtroom.
  • British diplomats were barred from the courtroom - they were eventually allowed to enter.
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Beyond the Teddy Bear: Sudan, the Darfur Genocide, and Islam

That Gillian Gibbons, a British school teacher, being likely to get 40 lashes - more, if a judge feels like it - is serious. Particularly since the Sudanese government seems to bent on making an example of this dangerous infidel.

People in a moderate Sufi sect were distributing leaflets in Khartoum's Arab market, by the city's Great Mosque. They want the (Muslim) faithful to protest.
"What has been done by this infidel lady is considered a matter of contempt and an insult to Muslims' feelings and also the pollution of children’s mentality as an attempt to wipe their identity," is what the leaflet says.
That "moderate Sufi sect" wants a million people to protest in the streets after prayers tomorrow.

Stay tuned?

Sixteen hours ago, as I'm writing this, another blogger posted "Gillian Gibbons and Sudan - why is nobody mentioning Darfur?" I followed the link (, and got a "Page Not Found" message. Checking the blog confirmed that yesterday's post has been removed.

2 questions:
  1. Why was that blog post removed?
  2. Why isn't Darfur being discussed, in connection with the blasphemous teddy bear?
Although I'd love to cook up some wild conspiracy theory, it's much more likely that the blogger who posted that Gibbons - Sudan - Darfur piece wasn't forced to delete it. I generally write offline, check what I've written, and then post a finished work. Not everyone works that way, and I've occasionally posted in haste: then repented (and re-written) at comparative leisure.

Bill, the blogger whose post I wrote about, left a comment a little while ago. He explained what happened, and told me where to find that post. Here is the new, improved, and - now - correct link: Gillian Gibbons and Sudan - why is nobody mentioning Darfur?. Thanks for the help, Bill!

Why isn't Darfur being discussed in articles about Gillian Gibbons and the terrible teddy bear?

My guess is that it's very, very, hard for many people to think about the connection. Particularly people in the 'better' and 'more intelligent' circles.

I'll get back to that, after a little background about Sudan.

Darfur? Sudan? Where's That?

Since Darfur, and for that matter, Sudan, aren't among the best-known places in the world, Here's some background. The following facts are from The CIA's "The World Factbook." That document is a great deal more detailed - and polite - than my summary.

Sudan lies south of Egypt, with borders on Egypt, the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Lybia. Sudan's capital is Khartoum. Darfur is a border region of Sudan, bordering Chad and the Central African Republic.

Northern Sudan is mostly Muslim, Arab, and hasn't been doing too well, economically. Southern Sudan is mostly Non-Muslim, Non-Arab, and has been relatively prosperous. The country got independence from Britain in 1956.

Since then, there have been a string of military regimes with Islamic leanings and/or Islamic governments in Sudan. Also, two major civil wars: mostly over the unfair (?) way that non-Muslims were doing better than Muslims. (My comment - with Sudanese Muslims focusing their energies on saving Islam from things like teddy bears, is it any wonder that non-Muslims make more money in Sudan?)

Having an Islamic (Sudan style) government may help one facet of the Sudanese economy, though.
"Sudan is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation; Sudan may also be a transit and destination country for Ethiopian women trafficked for domestic servitude; boys are trafficked to the Middle East, particularly Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for use as camel jockeys; small numbers of girls are reportedly trafficked within Sudan for domestic servitude as well as for commercial sexual exploitation in small brothels in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps...."
Here's a list of religious beliefs in Sudan:
  • 70% Sunni Muslim (in north)
  • 5% Christian(mostly in south and Khartoum)
  • 25% indigenous beliefs

The Darfur Genocide: a Non-Crisis that Never Happened?

I could be mistaken, but it seems that the Darfur genocide was ignored until 2004, when then- U. S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said
"that genocide has occurred in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be continuing." Following that, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, unanimously declared "that the atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, are genocide."
Around that point, the genocide became a non-crisis that wasn't happening, and an American plot. Some anonymous USAID workers cited in "The Guardian" (UK) said that the Americans were using the wrong numbers. The UN World Food Programme used a survey and decided that, although people were going hungry, the crisis (non-crisis?) was being handled well. And, that USAID head Andrew Natsios, who told UN officials that "We estimate right now, if we get relief in we'll lose a third of a million people and, if we don't, the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people." was lying.

Later, the USAID assistant administrator, Roger Winter, told foreign journalists that the numbers were 30,000 killed during the 'on-going crisis in Darfur,' on top of 50,000 people dying from malnutrition and disease. He still said that the situation was a "humanitarian disaster of the first magnatude."

"The Guardian" had an explanation, and an insinuation:
"Under the Bush administration, the work of USAID has become increasingly politicised. But over Sudan, in particular, two of its most senior officials have long held strong personal views. Both Natsios, a former vice-president of the Christian charity World Vision, and Winter have long been hostile to the Sudanese government."
You hear that? "Christian charity World Vision! Maybe those Christians are part of the plot against Islam. You know, the one that Gillian Gibbons and the blasphemous teddy bear are in on.

I'd prefer to be wrong about this, but I think that there's much better than even odds that the Darfur genocide isn't getting much attention because mostly-Muslim and Arab outfits are killing mostly-non-Muslim, non-Arab people. Worse yet, quite a few of the non-Muslims are Christian. And African. Black.

That leaves traditional news media on the horns of a dilemma. Blacks are being slaughtered and starved to death by Caucasians. That's news!

But, these Caucasians aren't the European sort. They're Arabs: and as non-Europeans, aren't part of the oppressor class. In fact, they're part of the oppressed class. Just ask the Palestinians. (I know: the Middle Eastern situation isn't that simple - just like someone from the sovereign state of Georgia might not appreciate being called a Yankee.)

With such a confusion of oppressors and oppressees, I'm afraid that it's 'way too easy for me to see the Darfur genocide as a tragedy that got ignored because it doesn't fit the standard western-oppression editorial model.

Back to the Teddy Bear

My guess is that Gilliam Gibbons, and Mohammed the Teddy Bear, will be back in the news tomorrow, when a massive spontaneous demonstration is planned in Khartoum.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New on the Blogroll:
American Islamic Congress

"American Islamic Congress" is my latest addition to the blogroll. From AIC's home page:

"Our organization grew out of the ashes of September 11. We believe American Muslims must take the lead in building tolerance and fostering a respect for human rights and social justice at home and throughout the Muslim world. Within the Muslim community, we are building a coalition around the agenda of unequivocal denunciation of terrorism, extremism, and hate speech. Reaching out to all people of conscience, we promote genuine interfaith dialogue and educate about the diversity within Islam."

This isn't bin Laden's Islam!

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Sudan Defends Islam Against Blasphemous Teddy Bear

Sudan got around to charging Gilliam Gibbons. She's the British school teacher who blasphemed the prophet you-know-who, by - get this - letting a boy in her class suggest the name "Mohammed," which is his name.

Oops. By using you-know-who's name, I probably committed blasphemy, too. At least by Sudanese standards. Forget it. I don't live in Sudan, thank God. It's easier to write out "Mohammed,"1 than dance around it.

A few more details about Gibbons' "offense" came up in "The New York Post" today.
  • Sudan authorities say that she's guilty of inciting religious hatred. If she's found guilty (and how unlikely is that?), she'll most likely get 40 lashes. Unless Sudan follows Saudi Arabia's lead, and adds extra lashes.
  • The name "Mohammed" was suggested by one of the class - a boy in her class named Mohammed.
    • It seems that giving the name "Mohammed" to a teddy bear is blasphemous, but giving it to a boy isn't: Unless young "Mohammed" is going to have lashed and/or stoned and/or beheaded parents soon.
  • Gibbons is being charged under article 125 of the Sudanese legal code
    • This is significant, since it shows that Sudan uses a written legal code - this bizarre accusation isn't being made up out of thin air by some Sudanese official who forgot to take his medication
  • Besides lashes, Gibbons may be facing six months jail time and a fine
  • This imbroglio started when some of her pupil's parents complained about the teddy Mohammed.
  • The British government is involved. Their officials are talking with Sudanese officials. (Let's hope no British officials are accused of blasphemy.)
The Sudanese government claims that being attacked for doing something that Muslims don't like is an isolated incident. Given all the people who have been hurt and killed, from the 1972 Munich Olympics to 9/11 and the present, that's a little hard to believe.

At least the recent attacks have been over genuinely spiritual values, like the naming of teddy bears.

The Teddy Bear Conspiracy

Sudanese clerics have earned more of my respect, by clearly stating what's going on. Here's the situation, from their point of view:
  • Naming that teddy bear "Mohammed" is part of a larger Western "plot" against Islam.
  • Naming the teddy bear was intentional blasphemy.
    • "What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam."
      "It is part of the campaign of the so-called war against terrorism and the intense media campaign against Islam."
      From a statement by the Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas. (Ulemas: "the body of professional theologians who are regarded as the authority on religious law.")
  • The Muslim Council of Britain urged the Sudanese government to intervene. (Which side the Muslim Council of Britain is taking isn't clear in "The New York Post" article.)
In a way the Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas has a point. Western news media seems to have gotten over its reluctance to report atrocities committed by non-western societies, and that isn't making Islam look good. The fairly steady trickle of reports on lashings, stonings, and beheadings, in Islamic nations doesn't paint a flattering picture.

On the other hand, the recurring theme of women being lashed and stoned for peccadilloes suggests that contemporary Islam might be a tolerant and nurturing home for people who follow the practices and philosophy of the late Marquis de Sade.

Religion - or Culture?

It's easy to say that Islam is the common thread connecting burqas, beheadings, and honor killings. Particularly since the Muslims who commit these atrocities say that they're doing what Mohammed told them to, and are following the will of Allah.

There's something else that most of these expressions of sadistic jurisprudence have in common. They happen in "Islamic" countries in the Middle East and northern Africa.

The largest Islamic country in the world, in terms of numbers of Muslims, is Indonesia. That country's home to a little upwards of 200,000,000 Muslims. Even percentage-wise, Indonesia is more Islamic than America is Christian: 86% Muslim for Indonesia; 78% Christian for America, including Mormons.

Indonesia, a very Islamic country, isn't flogging women for not wearing a burqa, or beheading people for being insufficiently Islamic. In fact, the Bali nightclub bombing, back in 2002, is just one incident in continuing fight Indonesia has with Islamic groups like Jemaah Islamiyah, and Al Qaeda affiliates that want Indonesia to be an Islamic state like northern Sudan or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

There's no question, I think, that something is terribly wrong with places like Saudi Arabia and northern Sudan.

Living in Fast-Forward, Culture Shock, and All That

I don't think that the problem is necessarily Islam. Look at the map, and look at the relatively uniform culture of the countries in northern Africa and the Middle East. The impression I get is that these are places where men were living comfortably in a mosaic of tribes, living their lives in much the same way that their ancestors had since the time of Abraham.

Then, a few centuries ago, European colonial powers dragged them into the
  • Age of nation-states
  • Age of Reason
  • Age of Enlightenment
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Cold War
  • Space Race
  • Information Revolution
To people still accustomed to burqas and Sharia, a world of Barbies and sports cars must be terrifying. It's no wonder that they go a little crazy, trying to adjust.

Non-Muslims might consider the possibility that the insanely intolerant, violent, behavior of "Islamic" countries doesn't stem from Islam. The traditional cultures of many of these places were old-fashioned when Rome ruled the Mediterranean, and hadn't been forced to deal with outside ideas until the last few generations.

1 Why not "Muhammed," or one of the other Latinized spellings? I'm using an Associated Press stylebook, and that resource says that "Mohammed" is the way that the Prophet of Islam's name is spelled in English. It's one of a number of commonly-used efforts to bring that name into a language that uses the Latin alphabet.

(Thanks to "The Sudanese Name Game" for steering me to "The New York Post" article, and to "American Islamic Congress Slams Sudanese Government over Teddy Bear Case, Demands British Teacher Be Freed Immediately")

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A Father Honors Fallen Son

The photo shows two Marines holding the United States Marine Corps flag against a wall. Under the flag are the words, "some gave all so others may live - USMC," and four names: Strain, Lucente, Stokes, and Krissof.

Those four were the war dead of Nevada County, California. "The Union" of Grass Valley, CA, shared information about Marine Lance Corporal Adam Strain, Marine Lance Corporal John Lucente, Marine 1st Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff, and Corporal Sean Stokes.

One of them, Marine 1st Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff, died on December 9, 2006, after a roadside bombing a roadside bombing in Anbar Province. Coping with his death wasn't easy for his brother, Marine 2nd Lieutenant Austin Krissoff, or his parents.Christine and Dr. Bill Krissoff.

"We are proud of him," Dr. Krisoff said in "The Union." "He believed in fighting terrorism. It was important to him. He was deeply affected by 9/11."

Marine 1st Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff's father thought for several months, about how he could best honor his son. On consideration, he decided that his best course was to join the United States Navy as a combat surgeon.

There was a problem: at 61, he needed an age waiver to join the service. His application's paperwork was moving slowly, at best, until August. That's when President Bush met with several families who had lost people in Iraq. Dr. Krisoff was there.

The president went around the room, asking if there was anything he could do. Dr. Krissoff remembers that when Bush got to him, "I said, 'Yah, there is one thing. I want to join the Navy medical corps and I gotta get some help here.' "

Three days later, the Navy called Dr. Krissoff. The paperwork was taken care of, and his waver was granted.

Bill Krissoff is a lieutenant commander, attached to the 4th Medical Battalion. He hopes to join a combat surgical team and serve in Iraq.

That may not be heroism, but I think it'll do until something better comes along.

Facts and photo link from:
"The Union"
"Marines honor local war dead"
"Soldiers' stories"
"Muskegon Chronicle"
"Father joins Navy to honor fallen son"

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Saudi Breakthrough! Jihadists Reformed!! Al Qaeda Members Promise No More Jihad*!!!

*on the Arabian Peninsula, that is.

Saudi Crackdown on Terrorists Bears Fruit

I can't be sure, but this sounds like the terrorist rehabilitation program I wrote about in "Jihad Rehab" (August 22, 2007). "The New York Sun" article, "1,500 Qaeda Members Freed After Counseling," quotes Muhammad al-Nujaimi, a man on the special committee to reform jihadists in the Saudi kingdom:

"The committee has met around 5,000 times to offer counseling to 3,200 people, who were accused of embracing the takfir ideology. The committee has successfully completed reforming 1,500 people," which sounds like wonderful news.

I'm underwhelmed by this achievement. The terrorists promised to lay off their violent ways - on the Arabian Peninsula. There's not much on the Arabian Peninsula, except Saudi Arabia.

In other words, the kingdom whose people provided most of the 9/11 hijackers and many of the foreigners who have been jailed in Iraq for trying to overthrow the Iraqi government, now has extracted a promise from members of a terrorist group that they will not attack Saudi Arabia.

This is a great accomplishment?!

For the House of Saud, I suppose so. For all the rest of us infidels and insufficiently-Islamic people, not so much.


I always dig up more facts than I use, when writing these posts. This time, I have an unusually big pile of stuff that didn't quite fit into the body of the post: and some of the pieces are too interesting to file or forget -

Saudi Sensibilities

Saudi Arabia is a marvelous kingdom. Its foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, hadn't wanted to go to the peace conference at Annapolis. He knew that there might be at least one Jew there, and al-Faisal did not want to be forced into a position where he might have to shake the Israeli prime minister's hand.

Patriotism can make people do personally repugnant things: Saud al-Faisal said he'd go to the Annapolis conference anyway, to see about getting back territory that Israel has held since 1967.


There isn't all that much on Takfir ideology on the Web. I take what I find on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but that's where I found the least suspect/most detailed discussion. Here's how the Wikipedia article on Takfir started:

"In Shia terminology, "takfir" is the practice of crossing the arms when standing upright during salat (or takattuf, called qabd by Sunnis).

"In Islamic law, takfir or takfeer (تكفير) is the practice of declaring unbeliever or kafir (pl. kuffār), an individual or a group previously considered Muslim. The act which precipitates takfir is termed the mukaffir."

1967 and Unintended Consequences

The year 1967 shows up quite often in Middle East news. That's the year when the Arab world rose as one and drove the Jews into the sea. That was the original idea. What actually happened is that Israel refused to cooperate, pushed back, and held some territory it deemed to be strategically or tactically important.

There are more delicate ways of describing the Six Day War, but that seems to be the gist of it.

Another Resource

There's an interesting discussion of Takfir ideology and other ideas in Jordan, at "The Jordanian Regime Fights the War of Ideas."

I found this at the Hudson Institute: Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World. What caught my eye was the word "and" in the title. In this context, that's a very hopeful word.

Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, and other bastions of the the world as it was a millennium ago may not be Islam's best representatives. The Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World discusses an exciting development in Islam, which the organization claims got more serious attention after the 9/11 attack.

The Center seems to believe that Islam, and the social/political reforms that started with the Magna Carta in Europe, can exist side-by-side. The leap from tribal mores and autocratic regional authority to the 18th century philosophies of systematic thinking and individual rights is huge. However, I think that there are people in the Muslim world with the brains and the guts to make the leap.

Middle East Leaders, Bush,
Aim for the Stars in Annapolis

Compromise was once defined as an outcome that leaves everyone dissatisfied. There's something to this.

Judging from demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel, what's happening in Annapolis could be a compromise. I'm looking at news video of Palestinians and Israelis making it clear that they don't like what's going on on the other side of the Atlantic.

Not all Palestinians and Israelis: the demonstrations seem to be a sort of joint Hamas/Israeli right-winger effort.

In a weird way, this could be seen as an early victory for the peace conference: Hamas and die hard Israeli zealots agree on something.

There's some more realistic good news in an Associated Press article:
  • Two states are okay - but the Palestinians and Arab states don't want the place with all those infidels to be called a "Jewish state
  • Palestinians want the phrase, "ending the occupation that started in 1967," to be in the agreement - American and Israeli delegates aren't so keen on the idea
  • Palestinians want things to be wrapped up in a year
From what I just heard, in President Bush's speech at Annapolis, the Americans are okay with the one-year schedule.

I see what's going on in Annapolis as good news.
  • Thanks to good security, nobody's gotten killed at the conference so far
  • "Death to Israel!" doesn't seem to be on the table
  • There may be a tight, but plausible, deadline in play
  • Hamas doesn't like what's going on
  • Israelis who don't like their own government's policies don't like what's going on
But, I'm not getting too excited. I remember when the Arab world rose up and tried to push the Jews into the sea, back in 1967: and the 'Mideast peace processes' that followed.

Four decades later, some Palestinians are still killing Jews, some Israelis are still putting buildings up where they aren't supposed to, and the Jewish state shows now sign of being willing to declare open season on its citizens.

But, again, what's happening in Annapolis is a good thing.

And this time it may work.

I think that bad news elsewhere may help things along here. I doubt that non-Shiite (and some Shiite) Muslims are particularly comfortable with Iran having nuclear weapons, and missiles to deliver them to Middle Eastern countries.

Enlightened self-interest in these conditions would encourage Arab leaders to sort out the gap between Palestinian desires and reality, leaving time for more vital concerns.

Back to the goal of wrapping this matter up in a year? I think it's a good idea to aim high. At least, it might encourage the parties to take the ideas seriously: and reduce the hope that the American presidential election next year will put someone with a taste for interminable diplomacy in the Oval Office.

British Archbishop on World Affairs:
British Empire = Good
American Defense of Freedom = Bad

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams is all the rage in the British Parliament, it seems. It's easy to see why.

The Times (UK) repeated what the (Anglican) Archbishop said in a Emel magazine. Muslim magazine, that is.

"It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what the British Empire did – in India, for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together – Iraq, for example."

I think I've got that.
  • British colonization of India was a good thing, because England occupied India for generations.
  • American efforts to help Iraqis weed terrorists out of their country and set up an independent government is bad
If he keeps this up, the good archbishop may even get a Nobel Peace Prize.

It's true that England poured resources into India. It's also true that, from the founding of the East India Company in 1600 to 1947, when Mahatma Gandhi convinced England to get out of his country, the British Empire brought law, order, and guidance to India - and all they asked for in return was tons of tea the the Kohinoor. "Asked" might not be quite the right word.

Back to the archbishop: He's certainly got the right, and responsibility, to point out evil where he sees it. He also has the right to be wrong.

Islam vs. the Blasphemous Teddy Bear

Gillian Gibbons discovered that Sudan isn't Liverpool. She
committed blasphemy
, by letting her class of seven-year-olds name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

She was teaching in a private school, teaching Muslims and Christians.

Is This What It'll Take to Get Along?

I think I have a way for western women teaching in Islamic regions to avoid committing blasphemy.
  • Put a cloth over your head, hemmed to reach the ground
  • Say nothing
  • Do nothing
  • Hope that you're mistaken for a coat rack
Unless coat racks are blasphemous, too.

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New Leadership in Australia: Kevin Rudd Wins with Old Ideas

Kevin Rudd won Australia's election last weekend. Soon, he'll be Australia's Prime Minister. The outgoing Australian, John Howard, was renowned, or notorious, depending on your point of view, for actively resisting terrorism, and not doing what environmentalists and civil rights supporters told him to.

Kevin Rudd will almost certainly change that. He's promised to He's already renewed his promise to apologize to indigenous Aborigines, and I suspect that he'll deliver on that, and other promises.

Traditional news outlets are already praising Rudd. "Doors open for Australia as Rudd era starts" is how the New Zealand Herald put it.

With my biases, I find the old-school journalistic line moderately amusing.

Being sensitive to thin-skinned minorities, saving the Earth from humanity, and being anti-war no matter what was, like, you know, the grooviest: in the sixties. Even though Robert Redford's "All the President's Men" is still available, on DVD, the world has changed since Watergate became a rallying cry.

Australia will, I think, eventually get back to fighting terrorism. Reality has a way of intruding into ideological flower gardens and crash pads.

Reading American Interests' post, "Australia went into reverse gear today," I learned that the better people in Australia aren't very different from their American counterparts. Apparently, the prosperity enjoyed by Australians happened because "... Howard ruled in an ere of serendipity". Apparently Rudd supporters believe that the Asian financial crisis, bird flu pandemic preparations, and Australians being blown up in Bali are good things for their country.

Here in America, I expect a similar situation in a year. Next November's presidential election has no candidate that I can think of who is likely to continue a tough-minded policy toward Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded terrorists.

It's been over six years since 9/11, and Americans in general have notoriously short attention spans.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture
and the War on Terror

Posts on Islam, Christianity, Religion, and Culture:

Islam, Christianity, Culture, and Kooks

"The Islamic world" is a handy label for that swath of territory and people from Turkey to Indonesia.

As the followers of Mohammed preached and hacked their way across Asia and Africa, they set up quite a wide variety of "Islamic" cultures. I'm aware that I'm over-simplifying here: This post is long as it is, without going into detail on what's happened in the last fourteen centuries, since Mohammed's conquest of Mecca in 630.

(The founder of Islam has my respect, if for nothing else than for raising an army, marching on a city, conquering that city with minimal bloodshed, and then refraining from slaughtering the inhabitants. Such a high level of humanitarianism has been rare in human history.)

(And, about the spelling of the Prophet's name. There's a variety of ways to take his name from the Arabic alphabet and drop it into the Latin alphabet as used in English. I'm going to use Mohammed, since that's what the standard set in the Associated Press style book I use. Exceptions will be situations where I'm quoting from a source, or where I make a mistake.)

Islamic Unity??

Since Islam is a sort of roll-your-own religion, with no central authority to define what's so and what's not, there are many varieties of Islam. I'm going to take a glance at three "Islamic" countries, and "Christian" America, and try to make some sense of what's out there.

Indonesia is just over 86% Muslim, compared to
  • 70% Sunni Muslim for Sudan
    (with 5% Christian - mostly in south and Khartoum -
    and 25% indigenous beliefs)
  • 100% Muslim for Saudi Arabia
For comparison, America is about 78% Christian, if you include Mormons:
  • 52% Protestant
  • 24% Roman Catholic
  • 2% Mormon
  • 1% Jewish
  • 1% Muslim
  • 10% Other
  • 10% None
Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country, in terms of raw numbers, and is more "Muslim" than America is "Christian."

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia owns and controls Mecca, and is virtually all Muslim.

And, in addition to being about as far away from each other geographically as any other two Islamic countries are, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are very far away from each other in terms of their on-the-street, practical, Islamic beliefs.

Islam: Saudi Style

She's known as the "Girl from Qatif." She's a 19-year-old who was raped by about a half-dozen men, and (so far) sentenced to 200 lashes and prison time. The Saudi Justice Ministry's latest story is that she's guilty of adultery. And that's why she'll be flogged.

It makes sense, since what passes for justice in Saudi Arabia is run by a collection of Islamic courts and judges appointed by the king. The royal opinion has access to the opinion of Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judicial Council. The whole mess uses Sharia Law as the foundation for their decisions.

A little oddity in this case: The Saudi Justice Ministry's current story is that the "Girl from Qatif" was with a high school friend, recovering a photo that showed the two of them together. "Then they were spotted by the other defendants as the woman was in an indecent condition as she had tossed away her clothes, then the assault occurred on her and the man," is how the Houston Chronicle reported the latest Saudi story.

That sentence of prison and lashes, that the 19-year-old got after an appeal? It was legal, according to the Saudi ministry, and followed the "the book of God and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad."

Speaking of Mohammed, here's an example of

Islam: Sudan Style

A British school teacher has been sentenced to 40 lashes. She's guilty of a serious crime. She allowed her class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." The vote was 20 for "Muhammad," 3 for other names.

British Embassy in Khartoum said that it still doesn't know whether the teacher has been charged. Formally, that is. "We are following it up with the authorities and trying to meet her in person," said the embassy.

I'm impressed at how laid back Sudanese authorities are, about getting around to formal charges. Not favorably impressed, but I am impressed.

The teacher was following a British National Curriculum course for teaching about animals and their habitats. The animal this year was the bear.

After naming the teddy bear, each student could have the bear for a weekend. They were supposed to record what they did with the bear. Then each account was put in a book, with "My name is Muhammad" on the cover.

This apparently is an insult to the prophet of Islam. And, more to the point, regarded as an insult by the prophet's lash-happy followers in Sudan.

Sudanese police now want to question the 7-year-old girl who brought in the teddy bear.

Posts on "British Teacher Home from Sudan: Gillian Gibbons, Muslim Clerics, and a Teddy Bear named Mohammed"

Islam, Indonesian Style

Since the Indonesian judicial system isn't based on Sharia Law, it wouldn't be entirely fair to use Indonesian court decisions as an example of Islam in action.

Christians have been executed in Indonesia: For example, the three Christians who were convicted of leading a militia that killed at least 70 Muslims during 1999-2002. After that, Indonesia sentenced a dozen Christian men to terms of up to 14 years: Because they beat two Muslims to death, and beheaded them. The nominal Christians were exacting vengeance for the earlier death sentences.

Christianity, American Style

America is less "Christian" than any of these three Islamic nations is "Muslim." And, America's judicial system, like Indonesia's, isn't based (directly) on a set of religious laws.

For both countries, I'm sure that the religious faiths of those who drew up the laws had something to do with what the laws dictate. I think, though, that America can take credit for putting more distance between traditional religious beliefs and actual judicial practice.

Religious Values: or Cultural Values?

Islam isn't the only religion where decisions about the faith are made on a regional or local level. Protestant Christianity is very democratic in the way that its lack of a central authority demands that groups decide for themselves what they believe.

In the case of large denominations, like the Lutheran or Baptist churches, we don't often see beliefs preached that stray very far from the dominant culture.

At the other end of the scale, we've got outfits like the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. (Not the Westboro Baptist Church of Westboro, Ontario, which has nothing in common with the Kansas outfit, apart from the name.) I discussed this outfit's notions about the American military being part of a homosexual plot in "Tolerance Only Goes So Far" and "Does Free Speech Include Disrupting Funerals?."

Then, there's the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK. They're not a religious group, but their beliefs include disapproval of the existence of Catholics and Jews in their neighborhood. Or anywhere, I gather. And, their habit of burning crosses has seared the idea into people's minds that they're a Christian splinter group.

I'm no expert, but it looks like "The Islamic World" is nowhere near being a unified entity. From Saudi Arabia, where religious fanatics seem to be running the judiciary, to Indonesia, where religious fanatics are trying to topple the government for not being Islamic enough, there's at least as much of a divide as between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who want to kill infidels in America, and elsewhere; and the infidels, who, by and large, would rather not be killed.

Certainly not for offenses like wearing pants.

The impression I get is that many of these "Islamic" countries are what America would be like, if the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka ran the show.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fanatics: Not an Islamic Monopoly

Iraqi kooks are in the news again. This time three people, presumably connected with Al Qaeda, killed their uncle and his wife, forcing the couple's children to watch the execution. The uncle was an infidel, it seems, because he wore western trousers, and didn't pray.

This story could be handled quite a few ways in the news, or in blogs:
  • Gender equality
    • Two of the killers are sisters, showing that Islamic culture is willing to give women equal access to culturally-significant roles
    • Islamic clothing standards apply both men and women: Women must wear burqas, men mustn't wear pants
  • Western guilt
    • Oppressive American dominance of global culture forced the uncle to wear trousers, resulting in his death
    • Western oppression of Islam forced the three Muslims to defend their faith
  • Islamic guilt
    • Islam's rigid dress code claimed more victims
    • Islam forces Muslims into an intolerant, hate-filled lifestyle
There are more possibilities, of course, many more sensible than what's in that list. Including what I think this terrible incident, and others like it, mean.

I think, and hope, that the nominal Muslims who committed these and other atrocities ("It's Arabic, Is It Islamic?" (November 21, 2007)) are as typical of Islam as the "Westboro Baptist Church" is of Christianity ("Does Free Speech Include Disrupting Funerals?" (October 26, 200)).

In the news:

War on Terror and Travel Technology

The U.S. government was plodding along with the job of upgrading passports. I suspect that if 9/11 hadn't happened, the next generation of passports would have been ready at about the same time that people started needing passports to Mars.

As it is, the new, high-tech passports, with embedded software and data chips, are ready now. "U.S. Allies Begin Issuing High-Tech Passports for Travelers" gives more detail on the smart passports.

The immediate plus here is that, since other countries which are not likely to support terrorism are using the new, more efficient, passports too, it will be possible to concentrate on higher-risk travelers.

A next step now, according to that article, is to deal with how personal information can leak out of the new system. Apparently, it wouldn't be too difficult to commit identity theft with the new system: providing that the thief was tech-savvy.

I don't see the identity-theft issue as a reason to abandon the new technology. If our ancestors had been that sensitive about using new tools, we'd probably still be discussing property rights with cave bears.

Iraqi Shiites to Iran: 'Get Out of Our Country'

"Petition condemns Iran for "disorder" in S.Iraq"

This Reuters article lead paragraphs read:

"More than 300,000 Iraqis including 600 Shi'ite tribal leaders have signed a petition accusing Iran of sowing "disorder" in southern Iraq, a group of sheikhs involved in the campaign said.

"The sheikhs showed Reuters two thick bundles of notes which contained original signatures. The sheikhs said more than 300,000 people had signed the pages."

This is a genuinely big deal. Iran is Shiite (Shi'ite, in the Reuters article). The Iraqis signing the petition are Shiite. Apparently, Iran has been messing with Iraq so much that they've managed to alienate their fellow-Shiites.

One of the comments on this story makes, I think, a point that the writer may not have intended: "If this is such a solid story, why wasn't it given wider play when the MeK was last pushing it in June? Then, the number claimed were 450,000 signatures."

It's quite possible to argue that covering this apparently massive public outcry against Iran's meddling in the affairs of Iraq would require an admission that the U.S. military's claim that Iran has been meddling in the affairs of Iraq - and that this admission would be against the editorial policy of most traditional western news outlets.
Shi'te? Shiite? As usual, I've selected one of the Roman alphabet versions of a word which comes from a language using another alphabet. I could write شيعة (sia or shia, more or less), but since the rest of these posts is in English, and since that's the only language I am truly fluent in, I'm sticking with "Shiite," for the most part.

Thanksgiving, the War on Terror, and the American Traveler

The four-day Thanksgiving weekend is a big day for traveling, if you're an American. Travel inside the United States hasn't been affected much by the 9/11 reality check, but what's needed for travel to other countries is changing.

The last time I went to Canada, decades ago, crossing the border was no more than an opportunity to stop for a few minutes, have a short chat about why I was crossing the border, and what I had in the car.

Now, things aren't quite so easy. The U.S. Department of State Consular Information Sheet for Canada shows requirements that are tighter than I remember. I'm not going to try to sort out what's written there, but it looks like Americans need some sort of photo ID to get back into America. And, the Canadian Embassy has a few words on the subject, too. I see that, starting January 31, 2008, the U.S. government will require documents for people coming in from Canada.

I'm not upset by any of this. Even in this small town, I've had to show documentation to prove I am who I say I am (that drier's license is a handy document).

I'm not happy, either. The open Canadian-American border was something to be proud of.

Population density being what it is up here though, in practice the border is still open.

Providing that someone is willing to walk in, or take an ATV.

And then, be prepared to
  • Survive in the lake country of Northern Minnesota
    (wonderful place: but underdeveloped and swampy)
  • Trek across North Dakota or Montana
  • Or have a go at cross-country mountain climbing further west

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's Arabic, Is It Islamic?

Islam sometimes seems to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia contains Mecca, the city all Muslims must visit at least once, if possible. And Saudi Arabia is one of the most prominently and proudly Islamic country in the world.

Islam is closely identified with the Arab world, and the Middle East.

That may be why it's so hard to sort out what's Islamic and what's Arabic, or Middle Eastern.

I think it's important to figure out where Islam ends and Middle Eastern cultural standards begin. It's easy to assume that
  • Outfits like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which claim to be defending Islam, represent typical Islamic beliefs
  • Saudi Arabia represents the best and brightest that Islam has to offer, in terms of a government following Islamic beliefs
I sincerely hope that these assumptions are not true. Here's why:
  • Not long ago, the local Taliban told a teenage boy in Afghanistan was told to stop teaching English after school. When he disobeyed them, the Taliban members dragged him into the street and executed him. Unpleasantly.
    • The Taliban have killed teachers and students before, for attending government-run schools. The Taliban think those schools are un-Islamic.
  • Meanwhile, back in Saudi Arabia, a young woman was raped. She's going to be lashed 200 times, and do jail time.
    • It took "six heavily-armed men" - maybe seven - to carry off the assault. They were sentenced to between one and five years.
    • The young woman was sentenced to 90 lashes first, for being in a car with a man who isn't an immediate relative. The 200 lashes came after she talked to the press about what was being done to her.
    • To be fair, the rapists' sentences were increased, too: Now they're supposed to serve two to nine years.
    • Shiite Muslims aren't happy about this little matter. She's Shiite. The rapists are Sunni. Sunni Muslims run Saudi Arabia.
I hope that executing teenagers for teaching English and flogging rape victims is not part of Islamic belief. I want to believe that this sort of barbarity is a cultural quirk, not something supported by the five pillars of Islam.

I'll be back to this topic again.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Baghdad, Iraq: A Map, a Strategy, and Being Right

A hand-drawn map, made by the late Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, didn't get destroyed in time. It showed up in an Al Qaeda safe house almost a year ago, giving American military planners details on how Al Qaeda controlled Baghdad.

That helped force Al Qaeda out of Baghdad, to Baquba. And, into the desert, where they were even more vulnerable.

Here's a copy of the map (.pdf): "Battle of the Baghdad Belt."

The troop surge, announced January 10, involved more than just dropping more American troops into Iraq. Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno decided to make a risky move. Instead of keeping American forces concentrated in relatively defensible main base camps, they sent American soldiers to small patrol stations. Iraqis and Americans served together in these stations, so the Americans were essentially living among the citizens of Baghdad.

This arrangement made American troops easier targets, but it also put them where they could communicate with Iraqis. Iraqis learned to trust the Americans, and American troops began getting useful intelligence from the Iraqis.

The strategy seems to have worked. The New York Times says that the rate of suicide bombings in Baghdad is half what it was last summer, other forms of violence are down, and people in Baghdad are, for the first time in two years, able to move freely around their city.

I think this shows what can happen, when American leaders accept the idea that military force can be part of a successful foreign policy, and that it's possible for the American military to communicate with their counterparts, and with civilians, in other countries.

It may still be too early to talk about victory in Iraq, but what's been happening in and around Baghdad is certainly good news.

Facts from
"Zarqawi Map Aided Successes Against Iraqi Insurgency" (November 20, 2007)
"Baghdad’s Weary Start to Exhale as Security Improves" (November 20, 2007)

Monday, November 19, 2007

There are Heroes

"U.S. Soldier Re-Enlists Hours After Being Seriously Wounded in Iraq IED Attack" tells about Specialist Christopher Hoyt, an infantryman who decided to re-enlist for another four years, after two of his fellow-soldiers were killed in the IED explosion that left cuts on his legs and body.

The top non-commissioned officer of Hoyt's brigade, Command Sergeant Major John Troxell, said: "It takes a person of very strong character to go through an incident where another soldier five feet away was killed, and he was severally wounded, and still say 'I believe in what we are doing and I want to stay on the team. I want to support the United States Army and my country,' "

I was in college in the seventies, so I'm aware of the sort of psychobabble about survivor's guilt, at least, that can be invoked to explain Hoyt's decision. I'm inclined to agree with Sergeant Major Troxell, though.

Like the Iraqi shieks whose determination to save their country became stronger when fanatics killed one of them, I believe that Specialist Hoyt made a rational choice, based on good sense and bravery.

I'm not "conservative," in the American political sense, but I am one of those people who believe that courage exists, and that there still are heroes. And that the soldiers like Specialist Christopher Hoyt, who decide to make sacrifices for their country and fellow-citizens, are heroes.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

I am Not Making This Up:
New York DMV Bans Anti-Osama Plate

I think I understand why the New York DMV is protecting the good name of Osama bin Laden. That's not the same as agreeing with what they're doing.

Arno Herwerth, a retired NYPD sergeant from Hauppauge, NY, has been billed for his $68 ($43 over standard cost) for vanity license plates saying "GETOSAMA." He's got the plates, but not the registration.

The New York Post quotes DMV spokesman Nick Cantiello's explanation for refusing to update the sergeant's vehicle registration. The " 'GETOSAMA' plates violate a regulation that bans any tag that is 'obscene, lewd, lascivious, derogatory to a particular ethnic or other group or patently offensive.' "

Why were the plates stamped and sent? "The plates were inadvertently given out," and the agency expects Herwerth to return them.

Funny thing. Herwerth pointed out that for about two years, "the DMV did nothing about a controversial vanity plate they issued him - 'STOPCCRB,' a dig at the Citizens Complaint Review Board, the city agency that monitors the conduct of NYPD cops."

On the surface, this sounds like whoever is enforcing the rules is a few sheets short of a quarterly report: but the NY DMV is actually being perfectly reasonable, by their standards.

The rules state that license plates can't have words that are "obscene, lewd, lascivious, derogatory to a particular ethnic or other group or patently offensive." "GETOSAMA" is almost certainly offensive to the mastermind of the 9/11 attack.

And, since he's from a non-European ethnic group, "GETOSAMA" might, by a (wild) stretch of the imagination, be considered offensive to everyone between Turkey and India. Except for the Jews, but they don't matter in this case.

Given the personal dig at a master terrorist, who is part of an ethnic group that apparently has the right to be hypersensitive these days, what the DMV makes sense.

If you accept the insane PC standards that are considered "normal" in some circles.

Out here, I think it's somewhere between absurd and obscene that the New York State DMV is protecting the good name of a terrorist with a $25 million price on his head.

But, what do I know? I don't even live in a "flyover state." Minnesota is well north of the major Los Angeles-New York-Washington air routes. We don't, generally, even see airliners from Chicago, unless they're on a trans-polar route.

And, I've got this peculiar idea that the people who killed about 3,000 people in the New York Trade Center
  • Aren't nice
  • Aren't through killing infidels
  • And should be stopped
Can you imagine an American during WWII being forbidden to criticize Hitler?

Mistakes Happen: USAID Aids Terrorists

Each year, USAID, an American government agency, hands out billions of dollars. The money is supposed to be used for
  • Humanitarian aid
  • Disaster relief
  • Pro-democracy programs
USAID is definitely not supposed to give money to
  • Terrorists
But a report, "Audit of the Adequacy of USAID's Antiterrorism Vetting Procedures," dated November 6, says that "policies, procedures, and controls are not adequate to reasonably ensure against providing assistance to terrorists."

In other words, American tax dollars are probably going to terrorists as I'm writing this.

If true, this is dumb, really dumb.

For example, "Palestinian police found several Iranian agents and an Iranian general teaching the students in the U.S.-funded chemistry lab how to make suicide bombs." The punch line is that the Iranian agents and general were using the basement of Gaza Islamic University, one of the institutions that my taxes have been supporting.

Again: dumb, really, really dumb.

I hope that USAID gets its act together.
Now, a minor item: I scrambled my schedule today, and don't have the post I was preparing ready. Eventually, I'll get that done.

Happily, my foul-ups don't have very serious consequences. Except, occasionally, to me and my family.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pakistan: Still a Mess

I don't know what to make of Pakistan's General / President / leader Pervez Musharraf, and what's going on in that country.

It's too easy to think of Pakistan in terms of the "banana republics." We've got
  • A military ruler who calls himself a president
  • A popular, exiled leader who is welcomed back by the generalissimo - presumably to help him by adding her prestige to his power
  • She narrowly escapes death when her convoy is attacked - and by curious coincidence
    • Power fails in the city, darkening the street
    • Telephone communications goes out at the same time, making it hard to call for help
    • The generalissimo blames the returning exile for the attack
  • The generalissimo suspends the constitution and declares martial law - in order to defend against the Taliban and other Islamic radicals - then locks up
    • His political opponents
    • People who support his political opponents
    • Lawyers who disapprove of his suspension of the constitution
    Shuts down television stations, including one in Dubai"
And that's just in the last several weeks.

On the other hand, Musharraf's army raided a radical mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan's captial. That may have been a good idea, but Muslims who prefer Osama bin Laden-style Islam hit back. They seem to have control of a scenic valley, called Swat, a hundred miles from the capital.

That made the Swat valley too hot for tourists. The tourist destination is now more of caliphate under the likes of pro-Taliban Maulana Fazlullah.

And, Musharraf wants it back.

A Pakistani general said that the Swat people generally aren't fired up about killing infidels, many of whom were coming to stay at recently-built upscale hotels there. I'm inclined to believe it. It's my opinion that, given a choice, most people - wherever they live - would rather open a business, or get a better job, than sign up for suicide missions.

As I said, I don't know what to think of what's happening in Pakistan.

Maybe Pakistan another country with a military dictator trying to look "democratic."

Or, maybe the Pakistani Regime is just trying to get control of its territory, even if that means upsetting the religious nut jobs who seem to run the frontier - and locking up political opponents.

Those aren't either-or notions. Both could be true.

Or, Musharraf may actually have a reason for acting like a tinhorn dictator.

We'll probably have a better idea as to what Musharraf is up to, if his army stamps out the Islamic radicals in the Swat valley.

More About "Pro-War" Cambridge Boy Scouts

"Local Boy Scouts Accused of Being Too 'Pro-War'" - A paragraph telling how Cambridge narrowly escaped supporting American troops, plus a video.

Those Cambridge Boy Scouts have two strikes against them.

First, they put those "Pro-War" donation boxes at Cambridge, Massachusetts, poling places. The provocative phrase "Support Our Troops" seems to have been on the containers.

Second, the Boy Scouts (who are known uniform-wearers) did not get permission from the election board to set up the donation boxes. Out here in Reality, where I live, that might be a valid point.

Even though the Cambridge Boy Scouts affronted the sensibilities of Cambridge's culture, I noted that they had made an effort to fit in:
  • The donation boxes were diverse - brown and white, cardboard and plastic, in peaceful co-existence
  • When interviewed, the Boy Scouts, well-known for their militaristic practice of wearing uniforms, wore ordinary-looking civilian clothing
Yes, I'm being facetious.

The idea of disrespecting the Boy Scouts because they wear uniforms is ridiculous.

So is calling donation boxes with "Support our Troops" on them pro-war. In my opinion, at least.

Related post:
"You Have Got to be Kidding: Boy Scout Care Packages to US Troops Banned in Cambridge"
(November 16, 2007)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meanwhile, in Washington:
No Money for the Troops

I heard this on the news, a few minutes ago: The American congress failed to vote on funding for U.S. troops. No money. Layoffs will likely start soon (for support staff, I'd assume). Nancy Pelosi has stated that the next vote will be in January.

This isn't a political blog. I'm not for or against any party or politico here.

But, I'm very concerned about the effect those jokers on capital hill have on the rest of the country. It's hard to shake the feeling that, faced with the apparent success of a troop surge in Iraq, and improvements, albeit limited, in the political situation in Iraq, some of America's leadership is desperately trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
And yes, I've written about Washington's apparent aversion to victory before:

You Have Got to be Kidding: Boy Scout Care Packages to US Troops Banned in Cambridge

"Cambridge votes down scouts' aid for Iraq GIs" sums up what happened. The Boston Herald reported that:
"Big-hearted Boy Scouts collecting donations for care packages for U.S. troops are still scratching their heads after being sent packing from polling stations when Cambridge officials ruled their generous effort 'political.'

" 'We just wanted to make a lot of troops happy,' said Scout Patrick O'Connor, 16. 'I was devastated that someone would think to take (the donation boxes) out,' he said."
(Boston Herald)
Collection boxes for the Scouts' project were at Cambridge polling places on election day. Someone said that the boxes were a "political statement," and out they went.

I sincerely hope that hate-the-military doesn't become fashionable again. I remember the Vietnam War period, and the virulent hatred of the 'baby killers,' as American GIs were sometimes called. That part of the 'good old days' I don't want to revisit.

In fact, I've been impressed at how those who oppose American efforts to use military force in dealing with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist entities have not descended to the standards set in the sixties and seventies.

Of course, this is Cambridge: home of Harvard and MIT.

I can understand why it's sometimes called the "People's Republic of Cambridge." Here's a little of what I found, on And, I found out a little about the city that's home to Harvard and MIT. From one point of view, it must be a wonderful place: It's the community About being 'diverse' - those facts are part of the selection that Wikipedia used to show how diverse Cambridge was.

Living in a small town in central Minnesota, I'm not quite so excited about having working-class families and immigrants living nearby. We've got both, but I doubt that we're likely to be called 'diverse.'

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Play it Safe: Join the American Armed Forces

"Government Report: More Military Deaths in Some Years of Peace Than War" (November 14, 2007)

The two samples were two years in the 1980s, and two years in the period of hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Congressional Research Service, of all organizations, came up with this information.

The 1980s deaths were GIs on active duty, just like the War on Terror deaths.

The director of has an explanation: "It's safer to be in the military because your accidental death rate has gone down; it's safer to be in the military because if you get wounded, you'll probably survive." "Getting killed on the battlefield is one way that people in the military wind up dying, but it's not the main way."

Whaddaya know!

I may have missed something, but this little item hasn't made it into the traditional, mainstream news outlets.

Perhaps I should say the 'official' news outlets?

Or is that being mean?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Barbary Pirates, Tribute, and Tripoli

Why aren't the Barbary pirates, Tripoli, and Algeria being cited in discussions about the War on Terror?

Contemporary culture, in America at least, has what I'd call historical myopia. I get the impression that, for most people, anything that happened BB (Before Beatles) seems to be ancient history, and anything before James Dean is roughly contemporaneous with the last ice age.

Many people's "well of the past" is hardly more than a muddy puddle. That may explain why the Barbary pirates aren't part of the public debate on the war on terror.

The Barbary pirates had a good thing going for over two and a half centuries. Operating from seaports in present-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, they made piracy pay from about 1550 to 1816. At first, they were conventional pirates, simply attacking and robbing ships that passed through their territory. The Ottoman Empire claimed to hold those lands, but sea rovers or corsairs - classy pirates - actually controlled the Barbary Coast

European shipping in the Mediterranean suffered from this piracy, until 1662. That's when England revived the ancient custom of paying tribute. This application of practical diplomacy was an immediate success. England paid the corsairs gold, jewels, arms, and supplies: and the corsairs didn't hit English ships.

Paying tribute caught on, and it wasn't long before all countries trading in the Mediterranean were employing this diplomatic means of avoiding conflict.

England paid tribute for the North American British colonies until they became the United States of America. The Dey of Algiers seized an American ship in 1785: and jailed its crew for nonpayment of tribute.

The United States didn't pay tribute at first, but the Dey of Algiers seemed willing to wait for his money. He found that it was profitable - and fairly safe - to capture American ships, since the new country didn't have much of a navy. His forces plundered eleven American ships and held one hundred and nineteen survivors for ransom in the next nine years.
That situation reminds me of the sixties and early seventies, when terrorists routinely took hostages, made demands, and got what they wanted. That golden age of terrorism ended, in my opinion, when a particularly exuberant group murdered a number of young athletes in Munich.

That exercise left a very bad taste, and a little later, in 1973, America settled on a 'no concessions policy. The immediate trigger for that decision was the murder of two diplomats.
Back to the Barbary pirates.

President Washington tried to find a diplomatic solution, but the corsairs were happy with things as they were, and the European powers ridiculed America's efforts to free the captives.

That was the late 1700s: Not much has changed, has it?

When John Adams became president, he followed the wisdom of the older European powers, and paid tribute to Algiers.

Then, Tunis and Tripoli demanded tribute. And got it. Remember, the American policy was one of diplomatic engagement: finding out what the Barbary pirates wanted, and giving it to them.

By the time Thomas Jefferson became president, about a fifth of the American government's income was going to the Barbary states. America developed a new strategy: trying to stop the pirates by military force.

That was 1801. Although there had been some victories, including the one that inspired the "Shores of Tripoli" song. The job was far from over when the war between England and America (1812-1814) sidetracked anti-piracy efforts. Besides, after 1812, there wasn't much of an American navy.

In 1815, America formally declared hostilities against Algiers. Algiers fell. Tunis was next on the list. The Dey of Tunis, groomimg his beard with a diamond-encrusted comb, complained "Why do they send wild young men to treat for peace with the old powers?" He also paid $46,000 to the Americans, who went away. Remember: that's 46 grand in early-nineteenth-century money.

The "old powers" didn't get any more tribute from America. And, seeing what America had done, European nations decided that they didn't need to bankroll the Barbary states, either.
The War on Terror isn't a re-run of the conflict with the Barbary states, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda aren't corsairs.

Just the same, there's something to be learned from the Barbary confrontation.
  • Diplomacy and concession work, for a while
  • Using military force doesn't always result in disaster
  • Things take time
"Things take time" may be the most important lesson. Dealing with the Barbary pirates took about 14 years: 12, if you take out the War of 1812.

I'll be surprised if the War of Terror is over that soon: but I've been wrong before.

There's a pretty good recounting of the Barbary pirates in American history in "Terrorism In Early America The U.S. Wages War Against The Barbary States To End International Blackmail and Terrorism" - and there's a virtually identical article at Also, a pretty good timeline at (what else?) "Timeline of Piracy."
Last week I Said that I'd cut back to one post a week, on Monday, unless "something genuinely major happens." Well, I couldn't resist the temptation on Friday, or Sunday, or today. We'll see what happens this week.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.