Thursday, January 31, 2008

Afghan Reporter Asks Questions, Must Die:
Afghanistan Court, House, Senate, Defend Islam Against Discussion

"Afghan reporter to die for insulting Islam"

The first two paragraphs of this AP story, posted on WTOL-TV, Toledo, Ohio:

"Afghanistan's upper house of parliament lauded the death sentence handed down against a local journalist who was found guilty of insulting Islam, an official said Wednesday.

"In a statement signed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the chamber's chairman, the Senate also condemned what it called "international interference" to have the sentence annulled, spokesman Aminuddin Muzafari said."

Please consider this post more "international interference."

The journalist with the death sentence is Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh. He's a 23-year-old journalism student, from what I can gather from the news.

He's guilty of passing around an article he found on the Internet. He gave the copies to journalism students and teachers at Balkh University.

The article raised an interesting question: since Islam (according to Islamic fundamentalists, anyway) allows men to have four wives, why can't wives have four husbands?

I suspect that the article's being from a Farsi website didn't help Sayed's chances of survival.

I'm no expert on Afghani or Islamic law, but the case seems open-and-shut. Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh raised a question about Islam that encourages thought and discussion. From what I've seen, a simple death sentence is a mild and humane judgment under Islamic law.

That doesn't mean that I approve of the sentence. Human rights groups across the world are protesting the sentence: a gutsy position, considering that they're 'attacking Islam' in the process.

One of them is the U.K. "Independent." has an online petition (, asking the British Foreign Office to "put all possible pressure on the Afghan government to prevent the execution of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh."

The Press Gazette (U.K.) offers an explanation for this outburst of Islamic passion: The Institute of War and Peace Reporting says that the Kaambakhsh case was arranged by Northern Afghanistan warlords. The target is the young reporter's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, another journalist. Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi's investigative reports have exposed human rights abuses.

I mentioned this outburst of Islamic sensitivity in Afghanistan before, in "With Friends Like These, Does Islam Need Enemies?"

I keep trying to believe that America's infidel president was right, when he said that "Islam is a peaceful religion." The actions of Muslims and their application of Islamic law make this increasingly difficulty to do.
(Balkh University is Afghanistan's second-largest.)

Internet Cables Cut, Outages From Egypt to Bangladesh

"India and Mideast struggle with Internet outages" International Herald Tribune (January 31, 2008)

Two undersea cables, north of Egypt, got cut yesterday. Users from Egypt to Bangladesh lost their Internet connections. Indian companies are trying to find out how many service calls got lost in the process.

I think this article shows how tightly interconnected we are, these days.

(This post repeated on "Apathetic Lemming of the North."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

China: Toxic Toys and Dubious Dumplings Aren't Signs of Terrorism

During 2007, I started to think that China might be a sort of stealth partner in the War on Terror.

Don't laugh: China has developed a reputation as a major exporter of poison
  • Pet Food
  • Toothpaste
  • Seafood (remember the puffer fish labeled "monkfish?" Tasty, but the tetrodotoxin is toxic)
  • Food, including April, 2007's
    • salted bean curd cubes in brine with chili and sesame oil
    • Dried apples
    • Dried peaches
    • Dried pears
    • Dried round bean curds
    • Dried mushrooms
    • Olives
    • Frozen bay scallops
    • Frozen Pacific cod
    • Sardines
    • Frozen seafood mix
    • Fermented bean curd
  • Cough syrup (remember those dead Panamanians?)
  • Toys
I considered the possibility that China was systematically and deliberately poisoning Americans.

It sounds crazy, but the idea had merit. In warfare, it can be better to wound, not kill, enemy soldiers. For example, landmines are presumably designed, not to kill, but to maim: "because more resources are used caring for an injured soldier than a dead soldier."

It was possible, if unlikely, that China was engaged in a risky strategy of draining foreign resources by lacing exports with various poisons - and hadn't counted on foreigners having the forensic tools necessary to tell where the poison came from.

China and Islam have been in contact at least since a Tang Dynasty emperor ordered a mosque built, over a thousand years ago. Considering the unlikely allies in the Axis, a China-Radical Islam cooperation isn't inconceivable.

It's not likely, though.

It's hard to see what China has to gain by helping madcap Muslims and their beheading brigades. Particularly since neither sharia nor Hanafi law would likely be a good fit with Chinese law or custom.

Besides, China relies on exports of low-cost products, much as Japan did before establishing its reputation in the automotive and electronics industries. And poisoning one's customers isn't good for sales.

China is acting as if it wants to detoxify its products. Last August, when poisonous Sesame Street toys were traced back to lead-laced paint used by the Lee Der Industrial Company, one of the owners "committed suicide." Over in China, disgraced officials are more likely to kill themselves, than demand golden-parachute severance packages. And Cheung Shu-hung had made the mistake of getting poison paint from a good friend of his.

The same month, China declared a four-month program to restore the reputation of its products: and, presumably, stop dropping toxins into what it exports.

The program may be a success: only eight people in Japan got desperately sick from insecticide-flavored Chinese dumplings. One of them, a five-year-old girl, is still in a coma.

The impression I get is that China is like a third-world country the size of an empire. China isn't trying to poison foreigners: It's struggling to make the transition from a traditional system of bribery and favoritism to one in which objective standards apply. (Yes, I know: China was "second world" during the Cold War.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Something Different:
Afghan Women Want American Back

"Afghan Women Protest American Kidnapping"

About 500 or 600 women, quite a few wearing burqas, got together in Kandahar. That's a southern Afghani province, and a rather conservative one. The women want American teacher Cyd Mizell back. Mizell and her driver, Abdul Hadi, were kidnapped Saturday.

Those Afghan women want the kidnappers found: and want the Afghan government to be quite clear about that point. They also urged the kidnappers to let Mizell go.

Even though Cyd Mizell was wearing a burqa when she was snatched, I can see why Islamic hardliners might want her out of the way. Not only was she teaching English at Kandahar University and giving embroidery lessons at a girls' school: She was finding ways to export the embroidery.

That embroidery export could have given women an opportunity to start small businesses, built around Afghan embroidery. Women? Making money? Running businesses? That's the sort of thing that many Muslims seem to see as very un-Islamic. That, and women being able to read and write.

The Taliban in Afghanistan isn't saying whether any of their men were in on the snatch. I don't blame them: Grabbing Mizell seems to be having the same sort of success, maintaining the Islamic status quo, as Al Qaeda's serial beheadings in Iraq.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oopsie! Saddam Hussein
Didn't Count on Cowboy Diplomacy

"Interrogator: Invasion Surprised Saddam"

"(CBS) Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen. The Iraqi dictator revealed this thinking to George Piro, the FBI agent assigned to interrogate him after his capture."

(That link includes a video clip.)

In a "60 Minutes" interview, Prio said: "He told me he initially miscalculated... President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998...a four-day aerial attack,"

"He survived that one and he was willing to accept that type of attack."

"He didn't believe the U.S. would invade?" the interviewer asked "No, not initially" Piro replied.

So that's why it looked like Iraq had nuclear weapons. Hussein wanted Iran to be afraid of his non-existent nukes, and didn't think America would do more than a repeat of the 1998 bombardment.

Maybe America should have left Saddam and his party-boy sons in charge of Iraq. Okay, the FBI interrogator who interviewed Hussein said that the ex-dictator planned to re-start his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD ... to reconstitute his entire WMD program," was the way Piro put it.

That doesn't mean that Saddam Hussein actually would have.

Despite the embarrassment of
  • A surge that worked
  • An Iraq in the hands of a relatively representative government
  • Iraqi infrastructure being rebuilt after decades of neglect
  • Hospitals and schools being repaired, and used for something other than backdrops for video clips and sound bites
... on the whole, I think it's just as well that we'll never find out what Saddam would have done with nukes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Eating Chickens Leads to Global Warming and Terrorism?

An ad, promoting Dubai-based Al-Arabiya's news, reveals that ordering chicken leads to:
  • Chickens being raised in Brazil, leading to
  • Grain being stored, leading to
  • A cargo ship spewing smoke, leading to
  • An iceberg melting, leading to
  • Islands sinking, leading to
  • Islanders in refugee camps, leading to
  • Terrorists, which lead to
  • Disruption of green soybeans for chickens, leading to
  • " chicken today."
There's more, at "Al Arabiya 'Chickens-to-Terror' Promo Ad Is a Head-Scratcher," including a link to a video of the commercial, with translation.

I'm trying to remember that we may be looking at some very culture-specific humor here, but my first impression is that either someone in Al-Arabiya's marketing department is a few chunks short of a full kebab, or parts of Arabia's culture are getting as ditsy as parts of America's.

What if Islamic Hackers Turned Out the Lights in America?

Hackers put out the lights in several cities recently, all of them outside America. Utilities engineers learned this from a senior CIA analyst, Tom Donahue, at a trade conference.

Last March, the "Aurora Generator Test" showed that a hole in software used by American utilities could let a hacker destroy a large electrical generator, creating a fireworks display in the process. That particular hole has been patched, but there could be others.

And, it's possible that Islamic terrorists will cut power in American cities.

If they do, the jihadists may do an unintended favor for those people who are upset about Muslim communities having babies faster than their non-Muslim neighbors.

The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, and others in 1977 and 2003, resulted in millions of people having time on their hands, with no electronic distractions. I understand that there was a distinct spike in the birthrate in blacked-out areas, nine months after the outages.

Unintended Consequences? The West May be Getting Over Hiroshima

I've been wondering how long this would take.

"Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told" "The Guardian," January 22, 2008.

For over six decades, ever since August 6, 1945, the west in general and America in particular have been on a sort of guilt trip over the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The period of self-flagellation may be nearly over. We've got quite a few outfits to thank for this change in attitude:
  • Al Qaeda
  • the Taliban
  • Other Islamic activists
  • Iran and its "civilian" nuclear program
  • Russia
  • North Korea
The Islamic contribution should be obvious, after that little series of incidents on September 11, 2001.

What Islamic terrorists may have thought would be a crippling blow to the decadent west didn't do much more than:
  1. Kill several thousand innocent people
    (Professor Churchill's views notwithstanding)
  2. Close the New York Stock Exchange for about a week
  3. Put a crimp in airline industry growth for a while, and
  4. Encourage American and other Western leaders to take a fresh look at how they deal with lethal threats
Including Russia in that list may seem like an atavistic reversion to America's McCarthy era. However, the world may have been safer with the Soviet Union's comparatively civilized nuclear doctrine. The current regime has made it quite clear that they'll use nukes if they think they're threatened. Considering how little it takes to convince Russian commanders that they're threatened 1, everyone dealing with Russia should be concerned.

About North Korea: I'd like to believe that Kim Jong Il's on-again/off-again nuclear program is simply a tool for extorting goods and services from western nations. It's hardly unthinkable, though, that "Dear Leader" might decide to use or export nuclear weapons.

We're living in a world where Islamic warriors, jittery Russians, and a lobster-chomping dictator are jostling for first place in the 'who scares us most' race.

Five very senior western military officers and strategists put their heads together:
  • General John Shalikashvili
    • Former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff
    • Nato's ex-supreme commander in Europe
  • General Klaus Naumann
    • Former top soldier
    • Ex-chairman of NATO's military committee
  • General Henk van den Breemen
    The Netherlands:
    • Former Dutch chief of staff
  • Admiral Jacques Lanxade
    • Former French chief of staff
  • Lord Inge
    The United Kingdom
    • Field marshal
    • Ex-chief of the general staff and the defense staff
They say that there is "simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world". Because of this, a "first strike" nuclear option remains an "indispensable instrument" for NATO, the European Union, and America.

This reminds me of the time, about seven centuries back, when gunpowder was a cutting-edge military technology in Europe. There were well-meaning efforts to ban or at least contain the spread of this new weapon: but they failed. Switching cultural gears, once a genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to get the critter back in.

I applaud that committee of five for taking a hard look at an unpleasant situation. And, for publicly saying something that's not very popular.

Eventually there will be a choice between using nuclear weapons to stop an attack, or accepting horrendous losses - on all sides. My guess is that an Islamic group with nuclear weapons and America will be the two major players.

My hope is that whoever is leading the west when that happens will have the guts to make the same decision that America's President Truman made, back in 1945.

What happened to those two cities was terrible. But the policies of the Empire of Japan could not be tolerated - and ending the war by a conventional invasion would have involved massive losses on both sides, along with much more widespread destruction than the obliteration of two cities.

I'm one of the people who is alive today because of Truman's decision. My guess is that quite a few people in Japan also are aware of forebears who would not have survived to be their grandparents and parents, if Truman had taken a 'no nukes' approach. And, all of us owe much of our current prosperity to the way that World War II ended.

So: I think it's long past time for the west and America to stop apologizing for saving thousands (tens of thousands?) of lives - Japanese, American, and other - and get on with dealing with the problems of the 21st century.
1 Korean Air's Flight 902 in 1978 and Flight 007 in 1983 are rather dramatic examples of Russia's response to threats real and imagined in the days of the Soviet Union. I'm not convinced that much has changed since then.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

British Experts Protect Muslims from
"The Three Little Cowboy Builders"

I am not making this up.

A re-telling of the three little pigs, "The Three Little Cowboy Builders," might offend Muslims. And builders.

Because they're pigs.

The 'offensive' story is an animated virtual book, made by a small company, and was intended for primary school children.

Muslims were protected from this particular attack on Isam by the Bett awards. That's a British institution, supported by Becta, the Government’s technology agency for schools.

Here's part of what the Bett judges said: "Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?

"The idea of taking a traditional tale and retelling a story is fine, but it should not alienate parts of the workforce. Judges would not recommend this product to the Muslim community in particular."

Oddly, these particular defenders of inclusiveness didn't think the story was anti-Semitic. I suppose that accusation is getting old-hat.

Now that their bizarre decision-making process is public knowledge, the Bett bunch says that there were lots of other reasons why they rejected the story.

This reminds me of the the story of Sambo and the Tigers: If you're old enough, you may remember this tale of a boy who liked pancakes. Attacked by tigers, he showed great presence of mind and
  • Saved himself
  • Destroyed the tigers (a very real threat to his family)
  • Brought home a generous supply of butter into the bargain
Since Sambo had dark skin, the story was racist and demeaning. And was banned for decades.

If Muslims in general are that sensitive, I'd say that the solution to the issue of their reaction to re-tellings of "The Three Little Pigs" wouldn't be removing pigs (and dogs, and wine, and beer, and women's faces) from every society in which Muslims live. It would be an attempt (desperate and hopeless at it may seem) to teach Muslims how to live in a world where everyone isn't exactly like them.

If followers of Islam aren't, generally, so weirdly hypersensitive, I think they, and their reputation, would be best served by less 'protection.'

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

De Facto Censorship?

There's a very opinionated blogger who may be the victim of a very hard-to-prove sort of censorship. You may not agree with him, but anyone with an opinion should pay attention to his situation:

"Foehammer: Anvil Outage Caused by Islamist DDOS Attacks" "I’ve been telling LunarPages to check for ddos attacks for weeks; someone finally listened:" the blogger then displays a copy of an email from his blog's host.

So what?

The "Foehammer" post could be written off as the raving of a hotheaded blogger with issues about his blog host's service.

It could be just that, but this is a period in which a British blogger may face time behind bars for having the wrong opinion (see "Which Needs Protecting: People's Feelings, or Freedom of Speech?" in another blog).

Freedom of speech or expression exists as long as people with unapproved opinions are able to speak or publish. Taking a page from America's civil rights movement, censorship can take two forms: de jure and de facto.

De jure censorship happens when the law says that some ideas may not be expressed. An example is Turkey's law that no one may insult the country's founder or "Turkishness." De jure censorship, like de jure discrimination, is pretty easy to spot: It's carefully recorded in the law books.

De facto censorship is harder to spot. The law may say that all ideas and opinions are to be treated equally, but in practice some are encouraged, and some are not.

America has pretty good legal protections for free speech. In theory, a very wide range of opinions may be expressed. In practice, I'm becoming concerned that some opinions are being treated less equally than others.

In the case of "Foehammer," the blogger has presented a pretty good case for being the victim of deliberate neglect from his blog host, possibly acting in concert with third parties who subject his blog to DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks.

If his fears are true, Foehammer has a serious problem with his right to free expression.

If other politically incorrect bloggers are being subjected to this sort of de facto censorship, we've all got a serious problem. Our opinions may be on the approved list today, but ideological fashions could change tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

With Friends Like These, Does Islam Need Enemies?

Osama bin Laden may not succeed in what his son calls "defending the Arab people and stop anyone from hurting the Arab or Muslim people any place in the world." He has, however, made people in the west a great deal more aware of Islam, and countries where Muslims are a majority. So far this week, these countries have been in the news:

Country Major Religion Form of Government
Afghanistan80% Sunni Muslim
19% Shi'a Muslim
Islamic republic
Malaysia60.4% Muslimconstitutional monarchy
Turkey99.8% Muslimrepublican parliamentary democracy
  • The Malaysian state of Kelantan is the only one run by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. As part of a policy to support Islamic values, the Islamic Party is strictly enforcing boy-girl segregation of checkout lines. That's "to safeguard the ladies," according to Chief Minister Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
  • Meanwhile, Turkey has blocked YouTube. It seems that there's a video there that insults Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If that sounds familiar, you're paying attention. Last March, Greeks and Turks had been posting insults at each other on YouTube. These included videos insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It's a crime to insult Ataturk in Turkey. It's also criminal to insult "Turkishness:" and both offenses can lead to a prison sentence. So, the Turkish court was perfectly justified in shutting down access to YouTube in Turkey. Justified by Turkish standards, that is.
  • More seriously, an Afghan court sentenced a journalism student, Sayad Parwez Kambaksh, to death. Due process (for Islamic Afghanistan) was followed by the three-judge panel in Balkh, a province in northern Afghanistan. They say that Mr. Kambaksh published a paper that "humiliated Islam," as the northern Afghan province's chief judge, Fazel Wahab, said.
National Journalists Union of Afghanistan's head says that the death sentence is legal, under Article 130 of Afghanistan's constitution. It says that if a court runs into an issue that isn't covered by a constitutional law, a court should use Hanafi law. Hanafi is a Sunni Muslim set of rules used in southern and central Asia.

It seems to me that nobody, journalism student or not, needs to humiliate Islam. Islam's defenders, and the leadership of Islamic countries, are doing that on their own.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Freedom of Speech and "Human Rights"

"Ezra Levant Takes Down Canadian 'Human Rights' Commission"

You may not agree with what this lawyer says, but you should be interested in that post and its videos. Particularly if you have opinions, and want to discuss them in public.

"Ezra Levant is a lawyer, blogger, and journalist who was recently compelled to appear before a “human rights” commission in Alberta, Canada, to account for his decision to publish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in Western Standard Magazine. Full details on his battle for freedom of speech and the press in Canada are on Ezra Levant’s blog." (

What's in the post:

Videos of the interview: (also on YouTube)
  • Opening statement (print version available)
  • What was your intent?
  • The real violence in Edmonton
  • I don’t answer to the state
  • Entitled to my opinion?
  • How does the commission make decisions?
  • Closing argument
  • Details of the complaint
Free speech for the counterjihad: Why we are all in this together

This post repeated on "Apathetic Lemming of the North."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Russian Official Declares First-Strike Nuke Policy: Why?

If you were running Russia, which would be a bigger concern: western aggression; or Ayatollahs with nuclear cruise missiles?

Today, Russia's military chief of staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, said that Russia will launch preemptive nuclear attacks to defend itself. ("We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons")

The policy isn't new: Russia has said it would use nukes first since 2000.

What is a bit unusual is that an official specifically mentioned nuclear weapons. Russian leaders usually aren't quite that open.

The Associated Press story, following journalistic custom, quotes experts to express opinions. Apparently, we're supposed to see Baluyevsky's remarks as a re-statement of Russian policy: a policy born out of concern over the threat of western aggression.
  • Retired General Vladimir Dvorkin
    ("He was restating the doctrine in his own words")
  • Alexander Golts
    ("Baluyevsky's statement means that, as before, we cannot count on our conventional forces to counter aggression ... as before, the main factor in containing aggression against Russia is nuclear weapons")
  • Pavel Felgenhauer
    ("We threaten the West that in any kind of serious conflict, we'll go nuclear almost immediately")
This focus on "western aggression" is familiar to me: I was born in the fifties, well into the Cold War. It was hard to miss an ideological conflict that was a major part of world affairs for most of the 20th century.

This is 2008, though, almost a decade into the 21st century, and a little over sixteen years since the Cold War ended. (I'm marking the end of the Cold War as the dissolution of the Soviet Union: December 25, when Boris Yeltsin called the White House, or December 31, 1991, when the Kremlin's hammer and sickle came down for the last time.)

I suppose that Russia may believe that "western aggression" is a real threat. The Associated Press may see the global situation in Cold War terms, too.

However, I think that at least some Russian leaders may recognize that they've got a problem a little more immediate than invasion by capitalistic, imperialistic, warmonger Yankee aggressors.

The Russian government has been helping Iran with their "civilian" nuclear program. People over there must have a pretty good idea of how much, or how little, it would take for the Ayatollahs to start building nuclear bombs.

Although Russia doesn't share a border with Iran, there's nothing but Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, or Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. If I were a Russian, and responsible for that nation's security, I'd be concerned that the Islamic leaders of Iran might decide that it was time for Russia to convert or die.

Since Iran has a cruise missile (the X-55 LACM) with a range of 3,000 kilometers, quite a bit of southern Russia could be hit by Iran. Once Iran has the 10,000 kilometer Shahab-6 in its inventory, Muscovites would have a more personal interest in Iranian nukes.

Call me biased, but I don't assume that America and the west are always the first thing that people think about.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hooves for Peace? Horse Race Across North Africa
Planned by bin Laden

Omar Osama(1) bin Laden, that is. He's a son of "the" Osama bin Laden.

The Associated Press article says that Omar Osama bin Laden "bears a striking resemblance to his notorious father - " although, judging by the photos, I wouldn't have much trouble telling the two apart. For starters, the younger bin Laden's dreadlocks and black leather biker jacket aren't quite what you'd expect the leader of Al Qaeda to wear. Besides, Omar Osama bin Laden is 26. his father is 51.

Omar and his 52-year-old British wife (her age is not a typo) hope that the 3,000-mile race will draw attention to their effort to negotiate peace between Muslims and the west.

Although I think it's fine that they want peace, I think they may not understand what's actually been going on since September 11, 2001.

Omar said three things that caught my attention:
  1. "My father thinks he will be good for defending the Arab people and stop anyone from hurting the Arab or Muslim people any place in the world," adding that western governments didn't object when his father fought the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s.(2)
  2. "My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction."
  3. "It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind. A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Usama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth."
I can agree with the last of those three points. As for the rest:
  1. The Associated Press said that "Omar doesn't criticize his father and says Usama bin Laden is just trying to defend the Islamic world."

    I don't know that the Islamic world needed defending from the West, and in particular America, until Omar's father arranged for airliners to crash into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and whatever target Flight 93 was headed for.

    It's possible that Omar may have been thinking of a more subtle threat than military force. Much of the Islamic world seems to have opted out of technological and cultural change almost a thousand years ago. (3)

    The Arab / Islamic world was able to stay out of the mainstream for quite a while. Even during the time when European nations had world-spanning empires, determined leaders could insulate their holdings with some success.

    Mass production, air travel, and telecommunications have put Mickey Mouse® and Coca-Cola®, Rambo and the Rolling Stones, and all the rest of Western culture, in just about every region of the world. Including the Islamic world.

    Going through about seven centuries of cultural and technological change in a generation must have been a terrible shock.

    I'm none to happy about quite a bit of the contemporary culture: right now, Britney Spears is a pretty good example. But my wife and I defend our beliefs by teaching our children what we believe, and why. Omar's father and his fellow-terrorists seem to think that Islam is best defended by:
    • Destroying office buildings, killing thousands of people in the process
    • Blowing up irreplaceable artworks (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas?)
    • Beheading people they don't agree with
    • Killing teens for wearing trousers.
    Although I'll admit to being biased, I think our way is better.

    In the Arab / Islamic world, it's easy to see the West as the cause of all problems. That doesn't mean that it's true.

    I think that the defenders of Islam need to decide what they're defending: the teachings of Mohammed, or practices that have as much of a place in today's world as the my ancestors' ritual human sacrifices(4).
  2. "My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction."


    I must be missing something here. America and the rest of the coalition are fighting Osama bin Laden and other terrorists because they're a very real and present danger to anyone who isn't Islamic enough - by burqa-and-burnoose standards. Respect has nothing to do with it.

    This isn't some chivalrous duel from Europe's antiquity, where noble knights face off in a clearing. Civilized people around the world are trying to protect themselves from a relatively small, but rabidly active, group of religious zealots who are convinced that their god is telling them to kill infidels.
  3. "... A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Usama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth."

    Omar as a very good point here. The dismissive "they're all Muslims" attitude doesn't help America and the west in general, any more than it helped one candidate's campaign.

    I don't have evidence to back this up, but I strongly suspect that most people in the Arab world, if they knew about western culture and beliefs, would be content to go to their jobs, raise their families, worship in their mosques, and forget about suicide vests and car bombs.
I'd like to think that Omar's horse race will help end the war on terror. But, unless he and his backers learn about the West in general, and America in particular, I don't think it will work.

Not as a doorway to peace.

As a horse race, though, that 3,000-mile trans-African marathon should be quite a media event.
(1)Why do I use the "Osama" spelling? As of about four months ago, it was the more commonly-used Latinization of Sheik bin Laden's name on the Web. (The name's أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن (Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden), but he's usually called "Osama bin Laden in America. Or, "Usama bin Laden.") I wrote a little more about that name, and why I settled on "Osama," in "" (September 21, 2007)

(2) We're not likely to forget the Mujahideen - they seem to be the standard-issue example of American error these days. Apparently Iran-Contra Affair is passé.


If you don't like history, stop reading here.

The Crusades, from the 11th to the 13th century, were an intensely unpleasant experience for the Arab/Islamic world. Ignoring the outside world, or at least having nothing to do with foreign ideas, must have seemed like a very good idea at the time.

(Europe had a somewhat parallel experience, when the Huns had a shot at adding the west end or Eurasia to their holdings. "Attila the Hun" is still still a name that can be used to describe a particularly violent and dangerous person, at least in America, just as "Crusader" is still, I understand, an epithet in the Arab world. In contrast, "Attila" is a moderately popular name in Turkey, and "Crusader" was a positive term in English, or at any rate American English, until 'sensitivity' became fashionable.)

It's ironic that Arab/Islamic culture and technology was superior to what Europe had to offer during the Crusades. My ancestors were, in fact, little more than "barbarians" at the time, according to the 19th-century Lewis Henry Morgan / Edward B. Tylor model of cultural evolution.

But, they were smart barbarians, learned a great deal while in the east, and brought as much of the technology and ideas as they could back with them.

So, for the next seven centuries or so, Europeans developed new technologies. They also started tearing their society apart, and putting it back together: a process that loosened up the top-down feudal system, and led to a series of revolutions.

Arabic numerals replaced the Roman system for mathematics: paving the way for the sort of math needed in the Industrial and Information Revolutions.

The Magna Carta of 1215 was the first of several radical changes in the status quo.

I'm going to restrain myself, and boil everything that's happened in the last 10 centuries into this sentence: While the Arab / Islamic world generally worked hard to keep things just the way they were, Europeans developed global trade networks, movable type, space ships, the Beatles, and email.

So today, the culture of camels and burqas is dealing with the culture of SUVs and bikinis: and having a hard time adjusting.

(4)I'm half Norwegian: and sacrifices to Odin were recorded as recently as the 11th century in Scandinavia. My Irish ancestors probably were involved in human sacrifice, too, since neolithic buildings tended to include fresh corpses in the foundations. We don't do that sort of thing now, though: so it's quite safe to visit Scandinavia or Minnesota.

Censorship, Freedom of Speech, and Blogs:
Heads Up!

Censorship on the Web, from

"Online Radio Tonight - Thursday, January 17

Political Vindication show

'An assault on free Speech'

Show starts at 9pm Eastern & UK time 2am"

You may not agree with what he says, but the powers that be seem to want "Lionheart" off the Web. That's censorship, and it should concern everyone with a blog, a website, or an opinion.

I wrote about Lionheart before: "Which Needs Protecting: People's Feelings, or Freedom of Speech?" (January 5, 2008).
This post repeated on "Apathetic Lemming of the North."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sarah and Amina Said: Murdered Teens' Father Still Missing

Two weeks ago, Sarah and Amina Yaser Said were shot and left for dead in their father's taxi. A capital murder warrant has been issued for Yaser Abdul Said, 50. He's still missing. A reasonable assumption is that he's back in Egypt, his homeland.

It's possible that this wasn't an honor killing. But, when two Muslim girls, whose father didn't like their relationship with infidels, turn up not-quite-dead, it's hard not to think of that quaint Middle Eastern/Islamic custom.

Yaser's wife, Patricia, and their son, plan to stay out of sight until he's caught. There's a $10,000 reward for the arrest and indictment of Said. There's more detail at MyFox Dallas Fort Worth: "Police Release Disturbing 911 Call from Dying Teen"

So What?

The Muslim community on the north side of Dallas didn't condone this double murder. They, their Christian neighbors, and apparently just about everyone else in the area, joined to mourn Sarah and Amina.

It would be prudent to remember that the War on Terror is a war on terrorists: not on our neighbors who are Muslims.

Previous posts on this situation: Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Juashaunna Kelly's Track Suit Disqualifies her: Islamophobia? an Official on a Power Trip? or Bureaucratic Cluelessness?

I vote for Bureaucratic Cluelessness.

Juashaunna Kelly is a Senior in Washington, D.C.'s Theodore Roosevelt High School. She's also the fastest runner this winter in her district, for girls' mile and two-mile.

And, she's been disqualified because her track suit accomodates her Islamic standards, not what an official says the rules mean.

A track meet director said that her suit violated National Federation of State High School Associations standards, since it (allegedly) wasn't "a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches."

The official says that it's a simple matter of uniform rules. Juashaunna Kelly's mother says that it's not that simple: "First, they said she had to take her hood off," Sarah Kelly said. "Then, they said she can't have anything with logos displayed. Then, they said she had to turn it inside out. When I told them that there weren't any logos on it, they said she had to put a plain white T-shirt on over it."

There's a decent photo of Juashaunna Kelly and her track suit at I'll admit that it doesn't look like the hot pants and clingy tops that those long-stemmed high school track girls usually wear.

And, it wasn't one color.

It's possible that the Kellys decided to spark a confrontation by putting that suit together.

I think it's more likely that this track wonder was trying to accommodate the needs of a foot race and her Islamic standards: and missed the monochrome requirement.

I also think that it's not likely that the track meet director, and other officials involved, were displaying an anti-Islam bias. It's possible, of course, but if even part of what what Juashaunna's mother is accurate, this sounds more like a bureaucratic snafu. To me, at least.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Mark Deli Siljander: Former Congressman,
United Nations Delegate, and
Possibly a Shill for Terrorists

I think that respect should be extended to people in public office, as a recognition of the importance of their position.

I also think that members of Congress should not hide behind the 'separation of powers' principle. They're as likely, or unlikely, to commit crimes as anyone else.

And with the access to sensitive information and high-level contacts they've got, a rogue member of Congress can be a very big problem.

Remember, in the months after September 11, 2001, how classified information just happened to show up in the news after members of Congress got their hands on it? And the fuss lawmakers raised, when the FBI asked them to take polygraph tests?

I understand how important it is to keep one branch of the federal government from interfering with another. I also think that somebody's got to be able to check up on members of Congress.

For example, there's Mark Deli Siljander. He represented Michigan as a Republican in the House Representatives from 1981 to 1987. Then President Reagan made him a United Nations delegate for a year.

Mr. Siljander seems to have been busy since then. He's been charged with
  • Money laundering
  • Conspiracy
  • Obstructing justice
Just because he allegedly lied about taking money for lobbying senators for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA). The problem isn't that the IARA is Islamic: it's that they're most likely sending money to terrorists. The IARA gave money to Mr. Siljander, too: including $50,000 that was stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

So What?

Being a member of Congress doesn't protect people from making bad decisions: and it shouldn't protect them from being subject to the laws that they, and the Supreme Court, make up for the rest of us.

Flight 93 Memorial - Why Isn't This an Issue?

Updated September 11, 2008

The Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania is a cluster of coincidences. This memorial to the passengers and crew of Flight 93, who died while trying to regaining control of their airliner on September 11, 2001, just happens to:
  • Feature a crescent of trees
  • Be pointed more exactly at Mecca than many mosques
  • Be called the Flight 93 'Crescent of Embrace' - before enough people raised a stink
And now, it seems that someone who criticized it has been fired: "Blogburst: Pentagon not the only department letting Muslims cover up terror threats." That post's lead paragraph reads: "The military’s top expert on jihad ideology was fired last week at the behest of a Muslim aide to Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England. The aide is a friend to the grand-daddy of all modern Islamic terror groups, the Muslim Brotherhood. His influence is penetration of the top levels of the Pentagon by our terror war enemies."

I'm not convinced that Paul Murdoch Architects' Flight 93 Memorial is a stealth mosque. On the other hand, I'm concerned that this peculiar set of coincidences, public knowledge for years, seems to be a non-issue.

I would have thought the possibility that a memorial to victims of Islamic terrorists being, in effect, a huge mosque, would be a newsworthy issue. Possible explanations include:
  • The use of an attackers' symbol in a war memorial (equivalent to a WWII American memorial having trees planted in the shape of a swastika) is such a trivial matter that it doesn't warrant attention
  • The matter has been discussed in the news media, back in 2005, and so is 'old news'
  • The desire of people in public positions to be seen as 'tolerant' is so strong, that any criticism of non-western symbols is literally unthinkable
I've written about this before: "Flight 93 Memorial: There's a Bad Smell Here" (October 1, 2007).

In fairness, the Paul Murdoch Architects "FLIGHT 93 NATIONAL MEMORIAL" description (with pictures) looks very nice. Neither the pictures, nor the descriptions, seem to be particularly 'Islamic.' A feature that appealed to me was a tower containing 40 wind chimes.
September 11, 2008

Looking back on my posts on this topic, and the research I did, I still can't decide what was going on. Whether the designers were:
  1. Tone-deaf to how people outside Los Angeles might react to a war memorial with a "crescent of embrace"
  2. Unaware that the crescent was an important symbol in Islam
  3. Thoughtlessly multicultural
  4. Tools of Islamic radicals
  5. Lucky - or unlucky - enough to have part of the memorial design pointed at Mecca
Or, some combination: maybe including points the list missed.

I'd be surprised if numbers 2 or 4 were right.

Islam is a major world religion, and it's about as likely that designers wouldn't know about the Islamic crescent, as that they wouldn't know that white is a color of mourning in Japan.

There may be tools of Islamic radicals in America, but the odds that a team of architects and designers, who were chosen to design the Flight 93 memorial, were also a team of Muslim secret agents can't be very high.

Numbers 1 and 3 aren't, I think, all that unlikely. People tend to know their own sub-cultures best, and sometimes have difficulty understanding how outsiders think and feel. In a way, I applaud what may have been an effort at inclusiveness. If the "crescent of embrace" was intended to reach out to Muslims who weren't trying to kill people they don't like, it represented a fine sentiment. And, one presented at the wrong time.

Bottom line? I doubt that the Flight 93 memorial is some kind of Islamic plot. I'm bothered by the goofy way the design was presented, and a little troubled by the alignment with Mecca, but weird coincidences do happen.

And, it looks like it'll be a beautiful place.

Tamil Terror? Bomb Blows up Bus in Sri Lanka

Terrorist attacks aren't a Middle Eastern monopoly. A bomb killed 23 people and wounded 67 in southeastern Sri Lanka Wednesday. (I'm writing this late Tuesday, so it's already Wednesday in Sri Lanka.)

This is a terrorist attack, but the odds are that Muslims aren't involved. For starters, there aren't that many Muslims in Sri Lanka. That island nation, off India's coast, is about
  • 69.1% Buddhist
  • 7.6% Muslim
  • 7.1% Hindu
  • 6.2% Christian
  • 10% something else.
Among Sri Lanka's problems are Tamil rebels, who want an independent homeland. The Sri Lankan government has withdrawn from a less-than-satisfactory cease fire with the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE).

The Sri Lankan Tamil people are about 80% Hindu. 90% of Indian Tamils are Hindus. So, if there is any religious component in the Tamil rebels' motives, it's probably inspired by Hindi beliefs.

So What?

Not all terrorists are Muslims. And, terrorism is a global problem: not limited to the Middle East, Europe, and America.

Terrorism East of Lahore

Posts about terrorism in and east of Pakistan, and south of Egypt: About This Blog's Focus

"Another War on Terror Blog" focuses, as the title says, on the War on Terror: which I see as the struggle between Jihadist Muslims and anyone they think isn't sufficiently Islamic. As far as I can tell, the Islam of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded organizations wants to impose its values and customs on the Islamic world: and to convert or destroy the rest.

Like it or not, what's at stake are the guarantees of individual liberty which began in 13th century Europe with the Magna Carta, and became global concerns after 18th century American and European revolutions.

The greatest obstacle to fundamentalist Islam, and the best chance we have of preserving individual freedom, is the United States of America. I am afraid that there is no other country with both the willingness to deal with the realities of this 21st century jihad, and the power to both defeat the Islamic zealots and help the victims of terrorism rebuild their countries.

That, and my being an American, will keep this blog focused on terrorism in and connected to the Middle East or Islam.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Indonesian Deradicalization Program Working: In Indonesia, at Least

Good news from Indonesia: "Indonesia's success: using terrorists to fight terrorism."

At least, that's what that an op-ed piece in the "Los Angeles Times," repeated in "The Baltimore Sun," says. The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing changed Indonesia's problem with Islamic terrorism from a regional problem to a global issue for the largest Muslim nation on Earth. Now, Indonesia seems to have a solution to their internal security - and public relations - problem.

And Joshua Kurlantzick, the author, says Indonesia's approach could be used elsewhere. He could be right.

Jemaah Islamiah (JI) is a major problem in Indonesia. The country has been dealing with day-to-day terrorist threats with good police work. "Backed by U.S. training and high-end surveillance equipment, Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism squad has established an effective internal intelligence network, relying on informants to point the way to terrorist hide-outs and arresting hundreds of JI members."

Indonesia is also trying to cut off the supply of terrorists. They're sending people into prisons, to convince inmates that Islam doesn't support (most) terrorism. As the op-ed piece put it: "These are men like Nasir Abas, once a Jemaah Islamiah leader, who have sworn off most types of violence. Former fighters who agree to help the deradicalization program often receive incentives, such as reduced sentences or assistance for their families."

Success in the Islamic world

Sounds good, and the program seems to be working. Reports of Indonesian internal terrorist activity are on the way down. Indonesia isn't the only place with programs like the one Nasir Abas is involved in. The op-ed piece cites deradicalization programs, with the catchy title "enactEd Reeducation strategies," in:
  • Egypt
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Jordan
  • Yemen
These deradicalization programs seem to be working. Sort of. Again, from the op-ed:

"Saudi officials say the program has been very successful. Major terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia have plummeted compared with 2004. The Saudi plan also appears to have a broader regional impact. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has said that the Saudi initiative may be one reason for the sharp decline in the number of foreign fighters coming into Iraq."

That's good news, as far as it goes. And, I'm glad to see that the Saudi jihad rehab program may be having an effect outside Saudi Arabia.

I think that the idea of intervening in the lives of at-risk people before they join the "death to America! death to the Jews!" crowd is a good idea. I also think that someone who used to support terrorism, and doesn't any more, is in a powerful position to argue for a less violent flavor of Islam.

As the author put it, "Even Western nations facing radical threats seem to be learning" (A condescending attitude??). He cites programs and policies in:
  • The Netherlands
  • Britain
As usual, government spending is taken as a measure of sincerity: The Netherlands is spending $40 million to start its deradicalization program.

But what the op ed doesn't mention is that the Saudi jihad rehab considers terrorists rehabilitated when they promise to lay off violent attacks on the Arabian Peninsula. That's great for the house of Saud, not so much for infidel nations. (I wrote about this earlier, in "Saudi Breakthrough! Jihadists Reformed!! Al Qaeda Members Promise No More Jihad*!!!" (November 27, 2007).)

I think it's one thing for a Muslim nation to convince Muslim terrorists that they shouldn't attack local Muslims: particularly when the country has an Islamic government.

I have doubts about how effective such a program would be in a secular, largely non-Muslim country like America. Or The Netherlands, or England, for that matter.

Besides, I can easily imagine the indignant protests that would happen in America, if a government program tried to interfere with the religious liberties and civil rights of Muslim inmates, and the Imams who visit them.

Particularly since most Muslim prison chaplains in America are certified by The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) or the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). You won't find the GSISS now: It's in Ashburn, Virginia, now, and renamed itself Cordoba University in 2005.

Those outfits follow the Wahhabi version of Islam, and are being investigated by the American government for ties to terrorism.

So What?

Hats off to Indonesia and their prison intervention program. It confirms my opinion that Islam can tolerate a culture which allows women to vote, and hold jobs other than "cultural performers" or 'sex industry professionals.'

Intervention programs like Indonesia's are promising developments. However, I take the glowing description of the Indonesian "enactEd Reeducation strategies," and Saudi Arabia's jihad rehab program with a pinch of salt. Make that a handful.

The Saudi program considers a terrorist rehabilitated when he promises not to attack people on the Arabian Peninsula. The op-ed piece doesn't mention that vital detail, which makes me slightly dubious about how wide-ranging Indonesia's reform goes.

Consider the cautiously-phrased description of the reformed terrorists as "men like Nasir Abas, once a Jemaah Islamiah leader, who have sworn off most types of violence." (emphasis mine) I can't help wonder if the author feels uncomfortable about mentioning how conditional a non-western nation's commitment to eradicating terrorism is, when the terrorists are Muslims.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"You Will Explode" Hormuz Transmission:
Not From Iranian Boats?

More about the shenanigans of those Iraqi speedboats at the Strait of Hormuz:

That "you will explode" radio transmission may, or may not, have come from one of the boats.

The "Navy Times" wrote that "American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of 'Filipino Monkey,' likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets."

As spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain said: "We don’t know for sure where they came from," referring to the threatening words. "It could have been a shore station."

I don't think this lets Iran off the hook. Even without that "you will explode" transmission, playing chicken with part of the U.S. 5th Fleet isn't a friendly act - or a smart one.

Besides, arranging for a shore station or another ship to transmit that threat would give Iran plausible deniability.

Or, the "Filipino Monkey" may be an independent nut case, or a bowlful of assorted nuts, who saw what the boats were doing, and decided to have some fun.

"Objective" Study of Iraq: You Get What You Pay For?

'Everybody knows,' at least in the self-defined better circles, that the war in Iraq is an unqualified disaster. And, a study published last year in "The Lancet," a medical publication, proves it.

It should. George Soros, a 77-year-old billionaire who is as anti-war as any sixties campus activist, paid for about half of that study. And, just to make sure that the Lancet study came up with the right results, Columbia University's Les Roberts was in charge. Roberts seems to have been against the war from the get-go.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (home of the The MIT Anti-War Coalition) commissioned the study.

The Soros-Roberts study 'discovered' that 10 times as many people had died as a result of the Iraq war than "consensus estimates" of fatalities. Even "The New England Journal of Medicine" couldn't dig up more that 151,000 people killed in the war. That's less than the number that "The Lancet" study came up with.

Roberts says that his study wasn't at all affected by the anti-war billionaire's bankroll. I can't say that I blame him. Admitting that he was a researcher for hire would probably have a bad effect on his credibility - and career.

This could all be a coincidence: It's (barely) possible that a study that
  • Just happened to come up with a wildly high estimate of war dead
  • Just happened to have about half its expenses paid by an anti-war billionaire
  • Just happened to be led by a researcher who didn't approve of the war
  • Just happened to keep their sugar daddy under wraps until somebody found the money trail
There are too many "just happeneds" there for my comfort.

To be fair, there's nothing in the rules that says that MIT and all the rest have to tell us who pays for results like that.

"Anti-war Soros funded Iraq study," in the Sunday, January 13, 2008 "" (UK) has more details.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Censorship? Or Really Bad Luck?

"Foehammer’s Anvil website taken down - again!" is the latest post about "Foehammer's" struggle to keep his (politically-incorrect) website online.

I don't necessarily support his views, but I'm very, very concerned about the possibility that his hosting service is not accident-prone.

I went on at more length, in "It Can Happen Here: "Hate Speech" and Censorship," on another blog.

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Iraq is Nowhere Near Perfect

A comment on this blog's previous post encouraged me to look up Iraq's "Awakening Councils:" those groups in Sunni areas, whose members got royally fed up with Al Qaeda. There's about 80,000 or so "Awakening" members now, and they're a force to be reckoned with.

They could also be big trouble. They're armed and organized. Right now, they have to be, to clean up their neighborhoods. Later, when there aren't foreign terrorists to deal with, there's the danger that they'll try to force their views on others.

This possibility is obviously on the minds of the Iraqi national leaders, and the American news media.

"Shiite Praises Anti-Insurgent Militias" "The New York Times" (January 4, 2008)

"The American-backed groups, with nearly 80,000 members, are credited with routing Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist militants from many areas and helping to sharply reduce American deaths. Many militia members used to attack American troops, before deciding to join forces with them.

"While the rise of these groups has been the most promising development for the American military, the partnership has drawn deep skepticism from the Shiite-dominated central government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The Shiites fear the Americans have created an armed parallel force that one day could turn against the official Iraqi security forces, which are dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Last month, the government declared that it would eventually disband the groups, though it has said it would integrate some members into the official security forces."

"Top Iraqi official offers surprising praise of Sunni groups" "International Herald-Tribune (January 4, 2008)

"The head of Iraq's most influential Shiite political party offered surprisingly conciliatory remarks on Thursday about the former insurgents and other Sunnis who have banded together into militias now working with American forces, stating that the groups had helped improve security and should be continued.

"The Sunni groups, known as "Awakening Councils," emerged in 2006 in Sunni-dominated western Iraq, and last year spread to mixed Sunni-Shiite areas around Baghdad. Numbering close to 80,000, the American-backed groups are credited with driving out Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other militants from many areas and helping to reduce the American death toll sharply. Many militia members used to attack U.S. troops, before joining forces with them."

I may be over-sensitive, but I think I see a hint of the angle that future news about the Awakening Councils will be in that last sentence: "Many militia members used to attack U.S. troops, before joining forces with them."

That statement is quite true. Many people in the Awakening Councils did attack U.S. troops in Iraq. It's their country: And they thought, based on information that filtered through to them, that coalition forces, and Americans in particular, were imperialistic warmongers, bent on the subjugation of Iraq.

Then, when the 'occupying forces' were right there in their neighborhoods, they noticed that Al Qaeda was torturing and beheading Iraqis, while Americans were rebuilding power plants, hospitals, and roads.

It must have been around that point that Awakening Councils started growing.

I don't feel good about individuals who attacked, and killed, Americans being part of an organization that now has common interests with America. But I believe I understand their motives.

Here's a prediction:
  • Sometime, within the next year, there will be an incident involving an Awakening Council
  • When it happens, someone will recall the Mujahideen in Afghanistan
  • American support of the Mujahideen, while they were fighting Soviet Union forces in their country, will be compared to American support of the Awakening Councils
The more avant-garde news outlets will probably imply, or openly state, that the situations are identical.

We'll see if that prediction pans out.

So What?

I think that the Awakening Councils are a useful symbol for a great deal that's going on in Iraq, and around the world, today.

The Awakening Councils are a good news/bad news situation: They've helped Iraq get rid of foreign terrorists, but may become armed vigilantes. Or, worse, may try to take over at least part of the country.

Iraq is a mess. That shouldn't be any surprise, considering what the place has been through:
  • Three-plus decades of rule by a dictator whose priorities lay more with lavish interior design than with the welfare of his subjects
  • A series of wars, including the one that liberated Iraq
  • Religious fanatics trying to make Iraq a place that they can control - unstable and poor
  • Ethnic and religious differences threating to split the country three ways, at least
Still, there's hope. I think Iraq's leaders have a chance to make their country a good place to live. And, I think that it's a mistake to focus exclusively on what's going wrong.

Remember the commercial, showing the town of Perfect? "Of course, we don't live anywhere near Perfect. we don't live anywhere near Perfect. So there's Walgreens. That's life. This is Walgreens."

Iraq isn't anywhere near perfect. That's life.

Good News: Anbar Province is Just About Ready for Hand-Over

Marine Major General Walter E. Gaskin says that between less violence in Anbar, and Iraqi security forces who are ready to take over, Anbar is ready to get handed back to Iraqi control.

So far, half of the 18 Iraqi provinces have gone back to Iraqi control. It's gone slower than President Bush wanted: but it's happening.

The latest province to go back to Iraqi control is where the "Anbar Awakening" happened. I think there's a lesson to be learned here: When people get fed up with a problem, it gets solved. Al Qaeda was certainly a problem in Anbar, and the people got fed up, and - with quite a bit of help - the people of Anbar are getting their province back.

Strait of Hormuz, Day 5: Iran's Got a Video, Too

Iran released a video that shows a nice, peaceful Iranian boat at least 100 yards away from the big American warships. An Iranian crewman is holding a microphone. A later release of the video had nice, peaceful words, too.

An official with the Pentagon said that the video seemed to have been taken around the time of the Sunday incident. The part where Iranian boats played chicken with the American warships seems to have been edited out.

Iran's video of their version of what happened has been aired:
  • Iran's own Press TV, a government-run English-language channel - its signal is often blocked inside Iran
  • Another state-run channel, Alalam - an Arabic-language channel
Since Al-Alam's English-language site says, "Alalam News website reflects the policies of Alalam satellite television.
"Launched on August 15, 2006, the website is trying to disseminate news in a sincere and impartial manner by keeping up a moderate line. In its coverage of events, Alalam News is trying to avoid stirring religious and ethnic strife."

It's pretty obvious to anyone outside some of the groovier Philosophy departments that someone's not telling the truth. The Iranian and American versions of the Sunday morning incident in the Strait of Hormuz are quite incompatible.

I'm inclined to believe the American version. Even if I were to assume that both governments were equally reliable, there's the matter of the two videos -
  • The Americans would have had to do a top-rate special effects job: Faking several minutes of hand-held video
  • Iran's government could easily have recorded their video while the boats were at a distance, then dubbed the audio in
And, there's the matter of witnesses.
  • The Americans have the crews of three ships: those who were above decks, at any rate
It's conceivable that they could all be ordered to lie about what they saw - but I doubt it.

And yes, I'm biased. I remember how this lot got control of Iran, and I'm not all that impressed with how they've run the place since.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Unintended Consequences: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner

There's good news, and bad news, about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And, it's the same news:
  • Good news: The Dreamliner's control system is so sophisticated and so integrated that passengers can plug in their laptops and connect to the world
  • Bad news: The Dreamliner's control system could be hacked
According to The Times (UK): "The technology used by the new generation of aircraft is now so advanced that aviation officials fear that terrorists could use it to fly the plane."

The FAA says it won't certify Boeing's Dreamliner until data connections in the cabin don't allow someone with a laptop to hack into the airliner's control system. A ZDNet blog (cited below) brings up a very good question: How did Boeing, six years after the 9/11 attack, let the Dreamliner get this close to rollout with a potentially-lethal glitch?

There's a slightly technical discussion of the Boeing 787 control system issue at "Boeing 787 at risk of in-flight hacking" ZDNet, January 5, 2008.

Iran's Gambit in the Strait of Hormuz: "Don't Do It" Again

Those Iranian speedboats that Iran says didn't do anything unusual in the Strait of Hormuz weren't blown out of the water. As it turns out, the American Navy's commanders' decision not to open fire was the right one.

Next time, the outcome could be different.

America's President Bush said that "all options are on the table" when protecting U.S. ships. About the boats: They "were very provocative and it was a dangerous gesture on their part. ... And they know our position, and that is: There will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple. And my advice to them is don't do it."

President Bush's "don't do it" is quite blunt, direct, even monosyllabic. Particularly with a presidential election going on, I'd say it won't be long before someone says "cowboy diplomacy."

Wikipedia's definition of cowboy diplomacy, "a term used by critics to describe the resolution of international conflicts through brash risk-taking, intimidation, military deployment, or a combination of such tactics," is a pretty good fit with President Bush's statement. Apart from the "brash" part, in my opinion.

Diplomacy, in the form of interminable speeches, discussions of what shape a conference table should be, and exquisitely-worded letters, is a valuable tool for resolving differences.

But, that sort of diplomacy has its limitations. It seems to work best, when all parties in a dispute share a commitment to compromise and the peaceful resolution of disagreements.

With "death to Israel! Death to America!" Iran in the mix, I don't place much confidence in the gentile end of diplomacy. There's too great a chance that what gets dropped overboard the next time will be explosive, and not Sunday's harmless boxes.

I'd say that, right now, the Strait of Hormuz is a place better suited to the diplomacy that uses phrases like, "step away from the gun!"
Despite my views on the use of force as a diplomatic tool, I have a great deal of respect for pacifists. It takes a rare sort of courage to reject physical confrontation, and accept
  • Defeat
  • Death
  • The destruction of cherished
    • Objects
    • People
    • Institutions
    • Laws and customs
I feel that pacifism is a philosophy which will thrive: as long as there are non-pacifists to defend its followers.

Iranian Government Says American Video Fake:
Did Anyone NOT See This Coming?

The American military released recordings of small, fast Iranian boats zipping around U.S. Navy ships Sunday morning.

An officer of Iran's Revolutionary Guard says the video, and audio, are fake.

No big surprise there. Particularly since the Iranian line is that the nice little boats were just minding their own business, asking the great big warships who they were and what they were doing.

The video and audio show speedboats playing chicken with the three warships, and airing threats ("you will explode" - a threat, yes?). After violating quite few rules of the road (seas, rather), and dropping boxes, the Iranian crews went back to whatever they do on shore.

That was just as well, because at least on of the warship commanders was close to giving the 'open fire' order.

Iran could wind up with perforated boats and scrambled Guards is they try that stunt again. I doubt that the American military is willing to risk another USS Cole.

I hear that the American military re-released the video and audio, with quite a bit of the static and crackle taken out. The 'you will explode' dialog is much easier to hear now.

Could it have been faked? Maybe. As I wrote yesterday, the audio could easily be a fake. The video would have been harder to fake. It's one thing to make a crystal-clear special effects shot, and quite another to produce something with the haze, jiggle, foreground figures,and all the rest that we saw in the video.

But I suspect that the country that produced the special effects artists and technicians behind Steven Spielberg and George Lucas could have faked the video.

Getting the officers and crews of three American Navy ships to lie about what happened isn't so likely. I know that a tiny percentage of the American military's officers and enlisted personnel have, at one time or another, lied: generally to cover up some crime they committed. That's one of the things courts martial are around for.

But this time, a lot of people are involved: and I simply don't believe that the conspiracy explanation is true.

However, I'm pretty sure that this isn't Iran's last word. And, I'm even more sure that Iran's 'we were just minding our own business' claim will be taken very, very seriously.

Playing Chicken in the Strait of Hormuz

Sunday morning, in the Strait of Hormuz, the USS Port Royal, the USS Hopper and the USS Ingraham had a close encounter with at least five small, fast boats from Iran. There's a Department of Defense video on CNN that shows several minutes of the 20-minute-plus incident.

Although Iran has a different version of what happened, I think the question isn't what happened: it's why it happened.

Here's a selection of what was said and done, according to another news story:
  • U.S. Navy ship: "Inbound small craft, you are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known and your intentions are unclear.Request you alter course immediately to remain clear."
  • Iraqi boat radio reply: "You will explode in a couple of minutes."
  • At some point, the Iranian boats dumped boxes overboard.
  • The boats sped between the navy ships, crossing the wake of at least one.
The Strait of Hormuz is 34 miles across at its narrowest point, where there is a six-mile-wide navigable channel: two miles for northbound traffic, two for southbound, and a two-mile buffer between them. Two miles doesn't leave much rooms for ships like the Port Royal, Hopper and Ingraham to maneuver.

Iran and America don't agree on how serious an event this is: at least, not officially.
  • America ("President Bush Participates in Video Teleconference with Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Leaders and Brigade Combat Commanders," White House, January 8, 2008):

    Q Mr. President, what do you make of the incident in the Strait of Hormuz with Iran on Sunday? Do you think they were trying to provoke a fight with the U.S.?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, Mark, we viewed it as a provocative act. It is a dangerous situation, and they should not have done it, pure and simple.

    Q What do you think they were up to?

    THE PRESIDENT: I don't know what I think -- what their thinking was, but I'm telling you what I think it was. I think it was a provocative act.

    Q What will your message be to the Fifth Fleet when you're there in Bahrain?

    THE PRESIDENT: My message is, thanks for serving the United States of America; we're proud of you. And my message today to the Iranians is, they shouldn't have done what they did.

  • Iran (FM spokesman says act taken in connection with US ship is normal," IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency) January 7, 2008):

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said on Monday the act taken in connection with an American navy ship is something normal.

    In an exclusive interview with IRNA on Monday, Hosseini said, "That's something normal taking place every now and then for each party and it (the problem) is settled after identification of the two parties."
    He recalled that the case had happened in the past too and finalized as the two parts identified each other.

    He said, "The case happening on Saturday was similar to the past ones and it was a regular and natural issue."
    Some western media late Monday quoted US officials as claiming that several Iranian speedboats had neared several US navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

    The US officials also claimed that during the incident warnings had been exchanged between the two sides.
I'm sure that the Iranian point of view will be solemnly considered, but I think Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman is factually challenged in this matter.

About the Iranian boats needing to identify the U.S. naval ships:
  • The commander of U.S. 5th Fleet said the American vessels had been identified by Iranian authorities before the boats started playing chicken with the U.S. Navy ships. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, reported in USA Today: "The group had been successfully queried by an Iranian ship, possibly a Revolutionary Guards ship, and two or three Iranian (shore) stations and an Omani station," Cosgriff said. Besides, the ships were marked - those oversize numbers that naval ships wear.
  • As for "Some western media late Monday quoted US officials as claiming that several Iranian speedboats had neared several US navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz." - that video the Navy released might have been absolutely top-notch special effects, processed to look like it had been recorded inside a Naval vessel, the officers and crew of all three ships could be lying through their teeth, and the recorded ship-to-ship dialog could be a fake. But I don't think so.
An answer we may not learn for years - if ever - is why this incident happened.

It's possible that about a dozen Iranians, who had access to those fancy boats, decided that it would be fun to see how close they could come to getting killed. That explanation would be more likely, if Islam allowed boozing.

I think it's much more likely that Iran arranged this incident. If this is the case, whoever gave the order must have seen a really big payoff. Playing chicken with the U.S. Navy could have been expensive: those boats, similar to cigarette boats, aren't cheap, and their crews presumably represent an investment in training.

Iran may have been trying to send a "political message," as Riad Kahwaji, an Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis member, said. The Associated Press quoted his speculation that Iran was showing how dangerous military confrontation would be. "When somebody gets so close to a big ship then he's very likely asking for trouble or trying to provoke something," he said. "Opening fire means sparking a war. ... Does anyone really want to take that risk?"

Or, as crazy as it seems, Iran may have hoped to draw the United States into a shooting war with Iran. It's not too hard to imagine that the ayatollahs decided that Allah wouldn't let them lose.

I think it's more likely that Iran hoped for fatalities, or at least casualties. I'm no expert in Middle East political society, but I strongly suspect that shot-up and Muslims killed by infidels would have given Iran an opportunity to play the victim. The sympathy might have been enough to make their neighbors stop fussing about the nuclear weapons that Iran may or may not be developing.

Sunday's encounter reminds me, in a way, of the USS Vincennes and Iran Air Flight 655, back in 1988. The American naval vessel shot down an unarmed airliner with 290 people aboard. There were no survivors.

I did a little checking, and found a copy of declassified sections of the Pentagon report on what happened. It was posted by someone who added comments with a distinct attitude.

The Iran-Iraq war had been going on for years, with Iran attacking shipping in the area.
  • Kuwait had asked for - and gotten - help from America to defend their ships
  • In May of 1987, an Iraqi Mirage F-1 launched two missiles that hit the USS Stark, killing 37 sailors
  • in April 1988 the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts hit an Iranian mine
  • That was about the time that the Vincennes was deployed to the area
The Vincennes had a new defense system: the AEGIS combat system. Dealing with new technology is hard enough. Doing so when people are trying to kill you doesn't add a bit to a person's tranquility.

Apparently, Iran Air Flight 655, a routinely scheduled flight, took off and followed a course which would have taken it directly over the Vincennes. The Iranian military hadn't

The American government's explanation was that an inexperienced crew, under very stressful circumstances, made a series of fatal mistakes.

The Iranian government said that the Yankees did it on purpose.

I'm willing to accept the idea that Flight 655 was shot down by accident. However, there are some disturbing points.
  • The Iranian military didn't tell the pilot that the flight would be passing over foreign warships
  • If I'm reading the report right, flight 655 was picked up by the Vincennes radar at an altitude of 900 feet. A minute later, another ship picked Flight 655 at 1500 feet.
1500 feet is where the airliner should have been. To the Vincennes crew, a blip 900 feet above the water, flying straight at them, would have looked a lot like an attacking war plane.

For some reason, Flight 655's transponder seems to have 400 feet off. The transponder is a device that determines altitude based on air pressure, and broadcasts the altitude when it receives a signal. If somone had "interrogated" Flight 655's transponder while it was on the runway, it would have reported that the airliner was 40 stories underground. It looks like the Vincennes got its altitude data from the transponder.

Whether the Vincennes/Flight 655 incident was an accident, or a very well-set-up trap, the results were the same: America paid reparations to Iran, the International Court of Justice said that it was America's fault, and people had opportunities to explain in detail why and how America was at fault. (There's a pretty good summary in Wikipedia's "Independent Sources" section of its Iran Air Flight 655 article.)

I can't help think that Iran may have been trying to relive its Flight 655 aftermath successes.

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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.