Monday, March 31, 2008

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor: American Hero

It's a movie cliché: grenade falls among soldiers; designated Hero flings self on grenade; grenade goes off; cue mood music.

It's also something that actually happens.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor receives the Congressional Medal of Honor1 posthumously, for saving the lives of others by sacrificing his own.

Monsoor was with a SEAL team, working with Iraqi soldiers to provide sniper security in Ramadi, when a grenade bounced off his chest and landed near him. He dropped on the grenade. Two SEALs near him were injured, another, about a dozen feet away, wasn't.
  • "He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it," ... "He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives, and we owe him."
    (a lieutenant who got shrapnel wounds to both legs that day)
  • "Petty Officer Monsoor distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on Sept. 29, 2006"
    (presidential press secretary Dana Perino)
  • "He was just a fun-loving guy," ... "Always got something funny to say, always got a little mischievous look on his face."
    (a petty officer 2nd class who went through SEAL training with Monsoor) gives a sort of thumbnail biography of Michael A. Nomsoor: "Other SEALS described the Garden Grove, Calif., native as a modest and humble man who drew strength from his family and his faith. His father and brother are former Marines, said a 31-year-old petty officer 2nd class.
"Prior to his death, Monsoor had already demonstrated courage under fire. He has been posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions May 9 in Ramadi, when he and another SEAL pulled a team member shot in the leg to safety while bullets pinged off the ground around them."

There's more detail at - Michael A. Monsoor.

"Monsoor" joins thousands of other American names in the list of Medal of Honor recipients, including:
Update April 1, 2008
(No, this is not an April Fool prank.)

I've been more aware of the surname "Monsoor" since writing this post, and have noticed some references to Michael Monsoor's background on the Web. For the most part, these have been quite positive, and sometimes curious.

One which caught my attention was a comment left on another blog's post: "I am moved by Michael Monsoor's bravery in combat and my condolences go out to his family.
"Monsoor is a Muslim name. I would like to know if Michael Monsoor was, or his family is, Muslim."

The person who wrote this expressed a reasonable curiosity about Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor's family and background. "Monsoor is a Muslim name," however, shows what I believe to be a common misunderstanding of Islam, Muslims, and culture.

Monsoor is a Middle Eastern family name. There are Monsoors in Lebanon, for example.

Although many Muslims are in Lebanon, that doesn't make Monsoor a Muslim name. For example, Schmidt is a German name. Quite a few Germans are Christians. That doesn't make "Schmidt" a Christian name, although some might assume that a Schmidt would be Christian.

Why does the name Monsoor 'sound' Muslim? Islam has been identified with Middle Eastern nationalities and ethnic groups. That doesn't necessarily mean that all people with Middle Eastern names are Muslims, though.

Back to Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor: His given name is "Michael." That name is traced back to Hebrew, and in the Christian Bible is the name of one of the archangels. Offhand, I'd say that it's an odd name for a Muslim to have.

But, stranger things have happened.

And all of this misses an important point. Monsoor is an American family name: just like O'Hare, Schwinghammer, Nguyen, Nakamura, Corradino, Bashir, and Rangasammy. And, of course, Smith.

It doesn't matter what sort of service was done at Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor's funeral. He's an American, and Americans can all be proud to be part of his country.
Quotes from Medal of Honor background from 1The Congressional Medal of Honor: the highest military award in America. Congress created the Medal of Honor in 1862, and tweaked it in 1918 and 1963.

New post on Michael A. Monsoor, at "Michael Monsoor to Receive Posthumus Medal of Honor" (April 2, 2008)

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

"I will kill you, Bush, because that is your fate..."
That's a Kiddie Show, Folks

President Bush orphaned the child, so it's okay: he's avenging his father.

This charming kiddie show, on Hamas TV (Al-Aqsa TV, more properly), aired yesterday.

At this time, a video is available, at (Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project (March 30, 2008)). There's some editing (which could have been done before the video was aired), but what's left is hardly a "sound bite." It's a lengthy (4:45) puppet drama.

The video has its original soundtrack, with English subtitles.

I suppose this could be
  1. Another one of those 'CIA plots:' like
    • Blowing up New York City's World Trade Center to give Bush an excuse to invade Iraq
    • Creating AIDS to kill black people
  2. Another example of anti-American propaganda
  3. An insightful and symbolic portrayal of the effect of a male-dominated, authoritarian, hierarchal anglo-American power structure's imperialistic tendencies on emergent psycho-social developmental paradigms
I vote for option 2.

What's remarkable is that there seem to be quite a few people in America who seem to think along the lines of this puppet show. It's not the same thing, of course: they speak English, and don't have the child-puppet's flair for expression.

All the News We Feel Like Printing

What's also remarkable is that this over-the-top video isn't news. At least, to date I haven't been able to find it on 'mainstream,' traditional news sources. On the other hand, it has shown up in the blogosphere, and on two news services that aren't of the old alphabet-soup ABC/NBC/CBS/PBS fraternity:

"Puppet Show From Hamas TV Shows Child Stabbing Bush"
FOXNews (March 31, 2008)

" 'Bush killed' in Palestinian kids TV show
Repeatedly stabbed after White House 'turned into a great mosque' "
FOXNews (March 31, 2008)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More - What Else? - Dreadful News from Iraq

About a week ago, the Iraqi government decided to attack the Mehdi Army, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's enforcers. Last Friday, a major news network told America how things are going.

I don't think anyone was surprised at the headline: "Analysis: Iraqis' Basra fight not going well"
CNN (March 28, 2008)

The body of the analysis was routine, too. Excerpts:

"The Iraqi military push into the southern city of Basra is not going as well as American officials had hoped, despite President Bush's high praise for the operation, several U.S. officials said Friday. ...."

"The president also hailed the operation as a sign of progress, emphasizing that the decision to mount the offensive was al-Maliki's."

"But since the beginning of the government offensive four days ago, violence also has picked up in a wide area of southern Iraq, including in Baghdad's International Zone -- also known as the Green Zone -- which has been targeted by rocket and mortar attacks."

Familiar Pattern: Military Force Doesn't Work

I recognize the pattern of thought, or association: America (or, in this case, a surrogate for America)
  • Faces threat from armed and ideologically driven force
  • Ignores opportunities to continue negotiations, talks, and talks about negotiations
  • Decides to use military force against the armed ideologues
  • The armed ideologues fight back
  • Thus proving the dangers of using military force
Even today's headline isn't hopeful, once you read the article:

"Al-Sadr calls off fighting, orders compliance with Iraqi security"
CNN (March 30, 2008)

"Al-Sadr calls off fighting?" That sounds like good news. The first four paragraphs show that there's a catch:
  1. "Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on followers to stop shooting and cooperate with Iraqi security forces Sunday, a move Iraq's government praised as a step toward ending six days of fighting that has left hundreds dead.
  2. " 'We announce our disavowal from anyone who carries weapons and targets government institutions, charities and political party offices,' al-Sadr said in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.
  3. "The statement was accompanied by demands that the Iraqi government issue a general amnesty to his followers and release any being held. The statement was distributed across Iraq and posted on the Internet.
  4. "The move was welcomed by Iraq's government, whose forces have been fighting al-Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, in six days of clashes with so-called "outlaws" who had taken control of much of the southern city of Basra. U.S. and coalition troops have been supporting the Iraqi offensive."
That's right: not surrender, another cease-fire.

And, the cease-fire is curiously limited. al-Sadr says his enforcers won't hit government institutions, charities and political party offices. That leaves a lot of potential targets.

Military Force, America, Iraq, and a Dangerous Cleric

So, the Iraqi government's use of military force is a failure, right?

Not necessarily.

Here's another analysis, from an international source, published today.

"New Shiite battle is a marked shift from the past"
International Herald Tribune (March 30, 2008)

This discusses the situation two days after the first analysis, but I think there's more than the developments of 48 hours involved here.


"For starters, the Shiite rebels are mainly fighting Iraqi soldiers, not American 'infidels.' Their leader, Moktada al-Sadr [!], is not defending against attacks from a redoubt inside the country's most sacred shrine, but is issuing orders with a tarnished reputation from an undisclosed location. And Iraq's prime minister, a Shiite who Americans had all but despaired would ever act against militias of his own sect, is taking them on fiercely.

"The differences represent a shift in the war, whose early years were punctuated by uprisings against Americans by a vast, devoted group of Sadr's followers, who were largely respected by Shiites. As their tactics veered into protection rackets, oil smuggling and other scams, Sadr's followers began to resemble Mafia thugs more than religious warriors, splintering and forming their own gangs and networks, many beyond Sadr's direct control."

Military force isn't the only factor here. Muqtada al-Sadr made the same sort of mistake Al Qaeda did: bullying the people he depends on for support. But military had an effect.

Anti-War Enthusiasts Notwithstanding, There's Hope

Something like the al-Sadr/Basra situation happened last year.

Then, tribal leaders, fed up with Al Qaeda's treatment of Iraqis, formed groups like the Anbar Awakening. Meanwhile:
  • The Surge made performing acts of terrorism inconvenient, at best
  • Demonstrated to Iraqis and the Iraqi government that
    • The coalition was able and willing to act against terrorists
    • Military action against terrorists was possible, and produced terrorists who were no longer able to terrorize
I think that there's a lesson or two here.
  • Military force can stop bad people from doing bad things
  • The surge worked
    • Giving the Iraqi military time to prepare for action
    • Showing that terrorists can be defeated
  • Diplomacy, defined here as unending talks, isn't effective against someone who doesn't want to give up
Finally, here's a pair of observations, and a thought.

Tribal leaders in Iraq, at considerable personal risk, formed organizations like the Anbar Awakening. As a result, Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorists now have a much harder time spreading death and destruction.

A religious leader, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army, can reasonably be defined as a terrorist/crime lord and his enforcers.

Religious leaders have their place in any culture. That place is not a secular leaders.

'By Jove, I Think They've Got it!'
Muslims Urged to Boycott, not Bomb:
The Fitna Follies Continue

It finally happened: Angered and insulted by Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilder's film, Fitna, a prominent voice in the Islamic world has called for all Muslims to rise up against the Netherlands.

In the Malay-language Utusan Malaysiaormer, Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said: "If Muslims unite, it will be easy to take action."

Muslims Called to Action: A New Wrinkle?

He's calling for a boycott of Dutch products, in an effort to punish Dutch merchants, business owners, and their employees, for the psychological and cinematographic failings of one member of the Dutch parliament.
  • On one hand, boycotts have been criticized because they often hurt people who have no direct connection to, and no control over, whatever sparked the protest.
  • On the other hand, boycotts are a very concrete way of expressing an opinion. And I understand the desire to avoid contact with, and implicit support for, businesses that are associated with an unacceptable policy.
Whether the boycott is good or bad, effective or ineffective, misses the most important point.

A prominent Muslim has spoken, calling on all followers of Islam to rise up and: boycott.

Not bomb, not behead, not burn: boycott.

I don't think this is the sort of response Geert Wilders expected - or hoped for.

It also was pretty obviously not the sort of response that European and other leaders feared from the Muslims.

There's more, at "Report: Mahathir urges Muslims to boycott Dutch products"
CNN (March 30, 2008)

I've written before, about my opinion that Islam's reputation for being a bloodthirsty cult is at least as much a matter of culture as religion (in "Sudan Defends Islam Against Blasphemous Teddy Bear").

That would explain why Muslims are
  • So often out of step with the contemporary world in places where regional cultures were old, and old-fashioned, in the days when Rashidun Caliph Umar and Raja Rasil disputed whether the land between the Thar Desert, Kirthar Mountains, and the Arabian Sea would be called Sindh or Sind
  • Reacting to an extreme insult with a civilized call to action in a part of the world where people learned how to adapt to changing times.
The International Herald Tribune reported: "The film has sparked noisy street protests in many Islamic nations — but not in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the country's 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims.

"Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said in a statement late Saturday that Wilders 'must bear full responsibility over the release of the movie and the consequences of his action.'

" 'Portraying Islam as a religion advocating extremism is not only misleading and erroneous, but also blatant disregard and utter disrespect for Islam and the sensitiveness of the Muslim world,' he said."

More at "Report: Malaysia's Mahathir urges Muslims to boycott Dutch products"
International Herald Tribune (March 30, 2008)

From the Department of Unintended Consequences

Geert Wilders' Fitna has encouraged some Muslims to act in all-too-familiar ways. But it has also drawn attention to a leader in the Islamic world who seems to be far from the stereotypical Islamic radical.

Final (?) Word on Fitna

I try to look at all sides of a situation. That's been difficult in the case of Geert Wilders' movie, Fitna. Just about everyone, except (presumably) for the people in Geer Wilders' party, and those who voted for him, seems to loathe the film.

However, after a bit of digging, I finally found someone who had something good to say about Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders's uber-hyped film, "Fitna." The author of an online op-ed piece said that he sort of liked a cool trick in Fitna's closing title.

"I guess the thing he can be credited with is upping the sound quality. Also the transubstantiation of "Fitna" into "Fin" at the end was pretty cool." (Excerpt from "The Fitna farce" The Guardian (UK), Comment is free (March 28, 2008).)

Aside from the Fitna > Fin gimmick, Ali Eteraz's op ed piece was eloquently contemptuous about Fitna: "My initial reaction is a yawn. ... Quick tip to future demagogues: when trying to incite riots, try not to use musical pieces that are based on Georgian lullabies. ... an insult to the legacy of Grieg and Tchaikovsky ... What the film really shows to me is that Wilders doesn't know the difference between Islam and Islamism - and when it comes to the latter he is completely lost."

Related Posts: In the news:
March 31, 2008

"Fitna the Movie: Geert Wilders' film about the Quran"
Muslims Against Sharia (April 10, 2008 (sic!))

Excerpt: "Muslims Against Sharia Offer $10,000 Reward for Information Leading to the Arrest and Conviction of anyone who threatens any person associated with production or distribution if (!) 'Fitna'."

Generalizers of the world, take note: Not all Muslims are terrorists.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fitna Gone Again: Someone had a Chat With the Host

Fitna is off the Web. All it took was a few threats.

I'm not blaming the company that yanked the film. It's good to see an employer caring about the employees' welfare.

" Film critical of Islam dropped from Web site"
CNN (March 28, 2008)

"A London-based Web site has dropped a Dutch lawmaker's film that features disturbing images of terrorist acts juxtaposed with verses from the Quran to paint Islam as a threat to Western society, citing threats to its staff.

" said in a statement Friday that it decided to remove the film a day after it was posted 'following threats to our staff of a very serious nature.' "

On Thursday, I was more hopeful about the response to Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders' fifteen-minute film. ("Fitna Fizzles: Online Today, No Fires" (March 27, 2008)

CNN reported, "Some in the Muslim community rejected the film as nothing more than dangerous anti-Islamic propaganda.

" 'This film is a direct attempt to incite violence from Muslims and help fan the flames of Islamophobia,' Arsalan Iftikhar, a contributor to Washington-based Islamica Magazine, told CNN on Thursday. 'Any reasonable person can see this is meant to spit in the face of Muslims and insult our religion.' "

I won't argue with Arsalan Iftikhar, that Fitna was calculated to insult Islam. On the other hand, threatening the staff of a company to get the film off the Web isn't "fanning the flames of Islamophobia," as the article put it -

It's pouring lighter fluid on them: in some quarters, at least.

I said in an earlier post, a contributor to the Washington-based Islamica Magazine, Arsalan Iftikhar, told CNN that "he doubted the film would spark the same type of violence that followed the caricature of Mohammed, adding, 'We in the global community learned a lot from the Danish cartoon controversy ... I don't think it will be anything remotely like that.' " [emphasis mine]

I hope that what the "global community" learned from the Danish cartoon controversy was to respond to insults with reasonable words: not lean on some London company, until the boss decides that it's better to lose the movie, than lose some staff.

The War on Terror: It's Not Just the Middle East

Just a reminder: The war on terror isn't limited to the Middle East. There's trouble all over. And, the situation is complicated. These are excerpts: headlines and the first two or three paragraphs from today's news.

"Somalia sinks into greater chaos as Islamist insurgents gain ground"
International Herald Tribune (March 28, 2008)

"MOGADISHU, Somalia: The trouble started when government soldiers went to the market and, at gunpoint, began helping themselves to sacks of grain.

"Islamist insurgents poured into the streets to defend the merchants. The government troops got hammered, taking heavy casualties and retreating all the way back to the presidential palace, supposedly the most secure place in the city. It, too, came under fire."
"For victims of Tibet riots, a complex fate"
International Herald Tribune (March 28, 2008)

"SHANGHAI: In life, the five young women who burned to death in a Chinese clothing store during rioting in Tibet on March 14 were not the types who would make headlines.

"One had received permission from her family to follow her fiancé to Lhasa; another sent home most of her wages to support 13 relatives; several sent text messages in the minutes before they died, warning loved ones to stay indoors as violence erupted.

"In death, though, the women are being treated as martyrs. The Chinese government has been using their deaths to support its version of what happened on "3/14," when Tibet experienced its worst day of violence in 20 years. In that version, broadcast by state-controlled media, ethnic Tibetans took to Lhasa's streets, unprovoked, burning and looting shops that were owned by Han Chinese."

(I think that China is going to be involved in the war on terror, if it isn't already. The Chinese government has much to gain by exploiting instability in its part of the world. I doubt that Chinese leaders will ignore the opportunity.)
"Hollywood stars help sustain Darfur aid flights-WFP"
Reuters (March 28, 2008)

"GENEVA, March 28 (Reuters) - Money from Europe and a charity co-founded by Hollywood actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle will help maintain humanitarian flights in Darfur through April, the United Nations said on Friday.

"The $6 million donated by Ireland, the European Union and the Clooney-backed Not On Our Watch will allow the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) to hire helicopters and aircraft to ferry aid workers to Sudan's war-torn region for 30 days."

Darfur, Sudan's western region, is a mess. I wrote about it, back in November of 2007. It doesn't look like much has changed: except that some Hollywood celebrities collected enough money to fly food to people there for another month. Which does help.
As I said: the war on terror isn't just in the Middle East.

Last year, Sudan's Islamic leaders seemed more focused on a blasphemous teddy bear, than on the chronic disaster in Darfur.

Today, Somalia is still without anything that could be called a stable government. Or a "government," period. So, Somalis have a situation where "government" soldiers loot grain, and insurgents try to protect the merchants from the soldiers.

Meanwhile, China is trying to look as if it isn't the overlord of an unwilling Tibet. There aren't any Muslims involved: but I'm still inclined to see that situation as part of the current global conflict.

Friday, March 28, 2008

CAIR Connection in Congressional Baghdad Trip Politely Ignored

Don't look for this in traditional, mainstream media.

"Ex-CAIR chief indicted for 'Baghdad Jim' junket"
World Net Daily (March 27, 2008)

A former head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan branch, Muthanna Al-Hanooti, an Iraqi-American, was indicted yesterday. He's accused of setting up a visit by three congressmen.

That's not what got him indicted. It's that he
  • Set up a visit to Baghdad
  • During the run-up to the war
  • Got money for the visit from
    Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency
  • And was paid with 2 million barrels of oil
    by Iraqi intelligence officials
I'm no expert, but that does look suspicious.

What strikes me is not that an American organization's former chief would covertly subvert the 'Oil for Food' program, to the tune of two billion dollars gross, and launder Saddam Hussein's money to pay for a little trip to Baghdad.

It's that the organization is a major civil rights advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): and that none of the mainstream national news media is mentioning the fact. Not even to absolve CAIR of any connection.

That could be a remarkable case of polite reticence. Or it could be a case of news media not wanting to appear biased, or racist, or to be engaged in Islamophobia. I'm inclined to favor the second possibility. There's reason to believe that news media in America, and globally, print all the news they feel like printing.

The end users of Hussein's largess were U.S. Representatives
  • Jim McDermott (Washington)
  • David Bonior (Michigan)
  • Mike Thompson (California)
There's no published evidence that they knew who was bankrolling their trip.

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

2001 Anthrax Attack: 'Lies' at Fort Detrick

'Everybody knows' that the military, and particularly the American military, lies all the time.

Like now, when a commander at Fort Detrick said that the Army didn't use powdered anthrax for experiments: just the liquid form.

I don't think the commander was lying. But it's not likely that what he said was true, either.

Let's back up a little. Back in 2001, quite a few people got letters with anthrax inside: in powder form. Five died.

'We Got Us A Suspect!'

Steven Hatfill was fingered as a 'person of interest' very early in the investigation. He's got a lawsuit going about that, now: and I don't blame him. He was a virology researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. He had a flamboyant personality, and had shown up at a hangout called Charley's Place with some guys who were bodyguards for Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan: and that seemed to be all the real evidence there was against him.

After that embarrassing debacle, the FBI started a calmer investigation, following the Sherlock Holmes principle of elimination. ("It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.")

The trail led to Fort Detrick, and at least three scientists.

Anthrax, Lies, and E-mail

As I said before, I don't think that the commander at Fort Detrick lied.

It looks like somebody lied to him.

Here's why: "In December 2001, an Army commander tried to dispel the possibility of a connection to Fort Detrick by taking the media on a rare tour of the base. The commander said the Army used only liquid anthrax, not powder, for its experiments.

" 'I would say that it does not come from our stocks, because we do not use that dry material,' Maj. Gen. John Parker said. The letters that were mailed to the media and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy all contained powdered anthrax.

"But in an e-mail obtained by FOX News, scientists at Fort Detrick openly discussed how the anthrax powder they were asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues.

" 'Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared ... to duplicate the letter material,' the e-mail reads. 'Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same … his knees got shaky and he sputtered, "But I told the General we didn't make spore powder!"' " [emphasis mine]
FOXNews (March 28, 2008)

"But I told the General we didn't make spore powder!"

Oopsie. I feel sorry for [name redacted], in a way. The poor shmoo at Fort Detrick
  • Makes powdered anthrax - with a particular signature
  • Anthrax powder just like his kills five people in a terror attack
  • He tells "the General" that nobody at Fort Detrick makes "spore powder"
  • That lie gets repeated by a commander, to reporters
    • And is published
  • The lie is exposed
Someone was lying, all right: but it wasn't 'the military.'

It was a scientist, following the schoolboy impulse of lying to cover an embarrassing fact.

Wake Up! There's a War on!

I'm afraid that the [name redacted]s out there, the ones who aren't knowingly helping terrorists, haven't caught on yet. Like it or not:
  • The War on Terror is real
  • Islamic terrorists are trying to kill Americans, and anyone else who doesn't live up (or down) to their notion of what a Muslim should be
  • Lying to cover your butt isn't just a personal offense - it can affect everybody

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Freedom of Speech: It's Protected in America

There seem to be all sorts of people who follow Islam.
  • Talking about Fitna, a contributor to the Washington-based Islamica Magazine, Arsalan Iftikhar, told CNN that "he doubted the film would spark the same type of violence that followed the caricature of Mohammed, adding, 'We in the global community learned a lot from the Danish cartoon controversy ... I don't think it will be anything remotely like that.' " [emphasis mine] " Dutch lawmaker's film criticizing Islam finds Web host" (March 27, 2008).
  • Then, there's Joseph Cohen. He born in a Jewish family in America, went to an Orthodox Rabbinical school, decided that it was a "racist cult," converted to Islam and started calling himself al-Khattab.
    His website,, is discussed in "U.S. Based Revolution Muslim Website Spreading Messages of Hate" FOXNews (March 26, 2008). Content on the website changes rapidly, and has included
    • The Statue of Liberty, with an ax blade cutting through her side
    • Video mocking the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, entitled "Daniel Pearl I am Happy Your Dead :) "
    • Video of a puppet show lampooning U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq
    • The latest speech from Sheikh Abdullah Faisal, an extremist Muslim cleric convicted in the UK and later deported for soliciting the murder of non-Muslims
    He operates his website out of his home in the New York City Borough of Queens, and says he doesn't support terrorism. He also says:
    • 9/11 was an "inside job"
    • U.S. foreign policy is to blame for the 9/11 attacks
    And what he says is free speech, defended by the First Amendment.
    He launched his website with the intention of
    • "Preserving Islamic culture"
    • "Calling people to the oneness of God"
    • Asking people to "support the beloved Sheik Abdullah Faisal, who’s preaching the religion of Islam and serving as a spiritual guide."
Sheik Abdullah Faisal may sound familiar: he's the spiritual leader in the United Kingdom who taught racial hatred and urged his followers to kill Jews, Hindus and Westerners. It seems he broke a law doing this. He was convicted of his crimes in 2003.

I think that al-Khattab's website is, to say the least, distasteful. I also am dubious about his claim that he does not support terrorism. I suppose it depends in part on what he means by the term.

But this is what freedom of speech is about: allowing someone to express his opinions. Even if you don't agree with them; even if they aren't popular in Berkeley, or in Saline, Michigan, for that matter.

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

Fitna Fizzles: Online Today, No Fires

So far, anyway.

Fitna, that short subject by Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders, is available online: thanks to a "London-based Web site," CNN reports.

"Dutch lawmaker's film criticizing Islam finds Web host" CNN (March 27, 2008) says: "The film opens with a controversial caricature of Islam's prophet, Mohammed -- one of those that prompted demonstrations in early 2006 after newspapers published the images -- followed by translated portions of the Quran.

"The passages are followed by graphic images of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States juxtaposed with audio from 911 calls made by the victims trapped inside the World Trade Center in New York." And it goes on for fifteen minutes.

And: "Some in the Muslim community rejected the film as nothing more than dangerous anti-Islamic propaganda.

" 'This film is a direct attempt to incite violence from Muslims and help fan the flames of Islamophobia,' Arsalan Iftikhar, a contributor to Washington-based Islamica Magazine, told CNN on Thursday. 'Any reasonable person can see this is meant to spit in the face of Muslims and insult our religion.'

"However, he called on Muslim leaders to react peacefully: 'Calmer heads should prevail.' "

So far, calmer heads in the Islamic world seem to be on top. The film has been out for over five hours now ("Anti-Koran film post on Internet" International Herald Tribune (March 27, 2008 - 5 hours ago)). As another headline said, "First Reactions to Dutch Anti-Quran Film Are Muted" FOXNews (March 27, 2008 - 4 hours ago at the time of this post).

On the other hand, "Dutch fear Muslim anger as anti-Koran film hits Web" Reuters (March 27, 2008 - 11:10pm GMT, 3 hours ago at the time of this post). Reuters has an interesting editorial policy, as I've mentioned before.

More, at

TSA: Our Tax Dollars at Work; Protecting the Flying Public from Nipple Rings

I am not making this up.

"Traveler says she was forced to remove nipple ring"
CNN (March 27, 2008)

Mandi Hamlin's nipple rings set off metal detectors when she was trying to get on a flight from Lubbock to Dallas.

The TSA agents got a look at them, and could see that they were the usual sort of nipple piercings. Then they said that she'd have to take them off. Or, rather, out. One came out with relatively little trouble. The other took a pliers to pull out.

Then the agents let her on the plane, even though she was still wearing a belly button ring.

Given how the TSA agents apparently thought, that was a major blunder. She might have pulled that ring, and blown up her belly!

Maybe the TSA should consider placing employees with twelve brain cells or less in management positions, where they will be comparatively harmless.

Or maybe Congress should appoint a special committee to determine whether nipple rings are deadly weapons. If they aren't dangerous, perhaps a costly training program might get the point across to those people at the airport checkpoints.

Seriously, I hope that the majority of people who operate those security checkpoints are intelligent, reasonable, people. The minority (I hope) of alternatively competent ones make me profoundly glad that I'm unlikely to use commercial airlines again.

I have two artificial hips, and don't want to think about what it would take to remove them in an airport.
Update March 29, 2008

"Nipple ring search procedures faulty, TSA admits"

CNN (March 28, 2008)

You don't say.

More seriously, TSA's statement that the nipple ring incident resulted from TSA officers following an established protocol makes the situation worse. Earlier this week, I could think that we might be looking at a few irresponsible agents.

Now, I'm reminded of what an Israeli said, several years ago, comparing Israeli and American air travel security system: 'We have a system for detecting terrorists. You have a system for annoying people.'

Hey! Look at the Babe With the Rings!

Excerpts from the article:

"More officers were called over, and the group grew to four male and two female TSA officers, according to Hamlin. Also, a small crowd of onlookers had started to gather. ..."

"She eventually was taken to a private area behind a curtain to remove the piercings, Allred [Hamlin's lawyer] said. One came out easily, but the other would not, and she called to an officer that she was having trouble and would need pliers. She was handed a large pair, Allred said.

" 'As Ms. Hamlin struggled to remove the piercing, behind the curtain she could hear a growing number of predominately male TSA officers snickering in the background,' Allred said in the letter [to the TSA]."

"Afterward, Hamlin underwent another scan, but realized she had forgotten to remove her navel ring. She offered to remove it, Allred said, but an officer told her it was not necessary because he could see it. Hamlin wondered why a similar visual inspection of her nipple rings would not have sufficed, Allred said."

Fear Not! The TSA is On Watch!

And I do mean "watch," snicker-snicker.

"... the TSA said it 'is well aware of terrorists' interest in hiding dangerous items in sensitive areas of the body. Therefore, we have a duty to the American public to resolve any alarm that we discover.'

"TSA included in its statement a picture of a prototype training device it will use to simulate a "bra bomb" in training and testing its officers.

" ... 'People who are pierced should not be snickered at, should not become the object of ridicule, should not be singled out for special and uneven and unequal treatment,' Allred said. 'They should be respected just like everybody else.' "

I've personally regarded piercing as a silly, and remarkably long-running, fad. But, that said: "They should be respected just like everybody else." is spot on.

Good News, but Not Very Good

One idea I salvaged from the wreckage of this collision between a bureaucracy's procedures and the real world was the knowledge that the TSA is considering the possibility of changing its ways.

Or, at least, willing to say that it is.

There's no question that terrorists are getting more sophisticated about hiding explosives and weapons on, and probably in, people. I'm relieved to hear that the TSA is aware of this: and seems to be actively pursuing a response to the terrorists' new tactics.

On the other hand, I'd have hoped that the TSA would have considered the possibility that it was necessary to train its agents to distinguish between a woman's breasts, and a bomb.

Finally, I find the behavior of the TSA crew that Hamlin ran into appalling. Calling the guys over to, ah, look over the situation, might be understandable, if the girl TSA agent was the crew's junior member. But, snickering as a woman removes nipple rings is something else.

It wouldn't be particularly surprising behavior from some frat boys and one of their girlfriends.

Snickering TSA agents is another matter.

Quite aside from giving the public more reason to dislike federal agencies, it makes me wonder about the competence of TSA planners.

If the TSA procedures encourage, or require, TSA officers to turn an airport screening into a girlie show, and TSA hires people who enjoy treating women like that, the TSA needs to change, or be changed.

After this incident, if I were a terrorist planning an attack, I'd seriously consider using a pierced woman as a decoy. It's possible that she could distract and detain the agents enough, so that the next several passengers wouldn't be quite so carefully screened.

Particularly if they had low entertainment value.

The "Liberty City Seven" - American Nitwits and Al Qaeda

Here we go again. People are on trial because it looks like they killed someone, or planned to. And, because of their ethnicity, there's a charge of "profiling."
Trials for crimes which may be related to terrorism are going on now, or will be soon. Many or all of the defendants are Muslims.

This is an Outrage, and an Insult to the Muslim Community

At least, that's what the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) seems to think.

Speaking about the idea that there may be Americans who have decided to kill innocent people, CAIR had this to say:

" 'The solution is not to treat the whole Muslim community as a suspect community,' says Hussam Ayloush, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 'This is not about ignoring a threat, but this ... should not be about exaggerating any threat in a way that promotes certain political agendas.' "

Back to the top

Get a Grip! "The Whole Muslim Community" isn't Suspect

Just the wannabe mass murderers.

Not many people thought that the Feds were suspecting the white community, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were tried. Even though both were white, were influenced by "The Turner Diaries," and "embarked on a flirtation with" the American (right-wing) militia movement. That would have been silly.

Of course, that was different.

That CAIR quote is from an article titled "Jihad USA: Confronting the Threat of Homegrown Terror" FOXNews (March 27, 2008). It leads with: " Law enforcement officials and security experts are warning against the threat of homegrown terrorism as several cases involving alleged American jihadists enter the courts."

Major terror-related cases in the courts, or coming soon include:
  • Liberty City Seven - a retrial in Florida for six of the defendants, who got a mistrial the first time around
  • Pakistani-American Naveed Haq - Washington state is trying him because he allegedly shot up Seattle's Jewish Federation Building, killing one woman and wounding five others
    • Haq allegedly said he did it because he was mad about the Jews and how they were running the country
      (I believe him - that sort of self-expression is fairly routine in Israel)
  • Houssein Zorkot, a Lebanese-born medical student at Wayne State University in Detroit - arrested just because he
    • Posted on his Web site that he was launching a personal jihad
    • Showed up in a nearby park
      • Wearing camouflage paint
      • Holding a loaded AK-47
  • Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed, two University of South Florida students - South Carolina is trying them, just because police "say" they were
    • Screaming down U.S. Highway 176
    • Near the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig and a naval weapons station
    • With explosive devices
      • Bomb Squad technicians identified the devices as pipe bombs
That South Carolina case was an obvious case of racial profiling, according to the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa: More at "SC Navy Base, Explosives, and Staying Calm" (August 6, 2007).

Of those cases, the one that seems to have gotten the most attention, and the one which seems to be the most 'obvious' case of racial profiling and/or Islamophobia is that of the Liberty City Seven.

The legend seems to be that these innocent Muslims were framed by cruel, calculating, racist, Islamophobic FBI agents, just because they were Muslims.

If that were true, accusing them would be wrong: and stupid.

The Council for Islamic-American Relations seems to see government racial profiling whether or not there are facts available,

I try to find out what's actually happening, before putting a foot in my mouth.

Back to the top

The "Liberty City Seven" - Victims!

The Liberty City Seven case sounded, at first, like a massive FBI foul-up. Here were seven young men, with no apparent connection to Al Qaeda, and no explosives, accused of planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Here's what Reuters - hardly a rabid pro-American news service - had to say about the Liberty City Seven.

"The Liberty City Seven, named for the depressed part of Miami where they gathered in a rundown warehouse, were arrested in 2006 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government and blow up the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, along with several FBI offices and the Miami federal court complex where they were tried." [emphasis mine]

Notice the phrases, "depressed part" and "rundown warehouse:" Class warfare implied? Maybe not. Moving on -
American government officials and agents, about the arrests
  • An important victory - unnamed "government officials"
  • The attacks were hoped to be "just as good or greater than 9/11" - the indictment
  • The plans were "aspirational rather than operational" - Deputy FBI Director John Pistole
  • Those arrested were not a real threat "because they had no actual Al Qaeda contacts or means of carrying out attacks" - Reuters' paraphrase of "other government agents"
Who are the Liberty City Seven?
  • Narseal Batiste - Accused ringleader
    • Patrick Abraham
    • Stanley Grant Phanor
    • Naudimar Herrera
    • Burson Augustin
    • Lyglenson Lemorin
    • Rotschild Augustine
Were the Liberty City Seven affiliated with Al Qaeda?
  • Narseal Batiste's testimony, paraphrased
    • 'I never asked Al Qaeda for money'
    • 'I made up stories about plotting to destroy the Sears Tower, to con government informants - who were posing as Middle Eastern contacts - out of $50,000'
    • 'I wanted the money to build a nonprofit religious organization and community outreach program in Liberty City'
  • Government's evidence
    • 15,000 audio and videotaped conversations made by paid FBI informants
Were the Liberty City Seven Islamic extremists?
  • The defendants had names for the warehouse where they met
    • "The temple"
    • "The embassy"
  • The defendants' lawyers "scoffed" at the idea that the Liberty City Seven were Islamic extremists
Back to the top

Victims! Of World-Class Poor Judgment

I think that, given the available public information on the Liberty City Seven, that they are victims: of monumental, mind-numbingly profound, lack of judgment.

Either they were trying to out-do 9/11, or they thought they were conning Al Qaeda.

If they wanted to blow up the Sears Tower, they should have made sure that the men they were talking to really were Al Qaeda agents. Before laying out their plan.

If they really had no intention of blowing up anything, and were trying to con a terrorist organization out of $50,000 to build a - get this - nonprofit religious organization and community outreach program - they should be locked up for their own protection.

The next people they try to rip off might be real terrorists: and I doubt that Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or any other similar outfit, would take kindly to losing that much money to a half-dozen American nitwits.

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

China's Military: This Can't Safely be Ignored

"China’s 2008 Defense Budget"
American Interests (March , 2008)

This is a brief, but detailed, discussion of China's military growth. It's reasonable to assume, given what China is doing, that Chinese leaders have global, not just regional, plans and ambitions.

As I've said before, the present conflict may be more a 'war for freedom,' than a 'war on terror.'

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Showdown at Basra

The British turned Basra over to Iraqi authorities in December, 2007, leaving the new government to deal with a three-way ongoing shootout.

Bad News in Basra

"CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Gen. Don Shepperd said the intra-Shiite struggles will have an impact on stability in Iraq, particularly in Basra.

" 'I think you're going to see significant combat in a very highly populated area of Basra. And, you're going to see a lot of innocent civilians killed as the militias war against Iraqi security forces. This is going to be ugly for the people of Basra.' "
(from "Iraqi forces battle militia fighters" CNN (March 26, 2008))

It sounds like some Shiite militias - or maybe militants - are settling disputes with other Shiites the old-fashioned way: by shooting people.

About 100 so far.

There's a New Sheriff in Town

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said the Shiite militants 72 hours to turn in their weapons. The situation reminds me of that scene in westerns, where the sheriff says something like, "Ah'm givin' you until sunset to get outa town, Bart."

According the American military, those "outlaws" or "rogue" militia members that Iraqi troops are fighting aren't Muqtada al-Sadr's militias. If they were, the 'cease fire' that's been on between the Sadr city Shiite and Iraq's government would be over.

And that would be trouble. Obviously.

I'm no expert, but my guess is that those "rogue" militia members are as likely to give up their weapons as Bart is to quietly leave town. Which means that this is going to be a bad weekend in Basra, and elsewhere.

I suppose that Prime Minister al-Maliki's 72-hour ultimatum could be seen as an example of cowboy diplomacy.

After all, the situation in Basra is supposed to be a three-way power struggle between
  • Sadrists
    (that's Muqtada al-Sadr's bunch)
  • The Fadhila party
    (short for Fadhila Islamia (Islamic Virtue), an Islamist group)
  • Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
    (ISCI - a group with an interesting history)1
Conventional wisdom, in some quarters at least, would say that in a complex situation like this, the authorities should engage in meaningful dialog with representatives of the parties involved: Even if the talks were to discuss why the fighting is still going on.

Instead of that enlightened policy, al-Maliki's government has given the people who are killing each other, and Iraqis who get in their way, an ultimatum.

That isn't very "diplomatic." But it might work.

I don't mean to imply that what's going on in Basra is simple. It isn't.

The International Crisis Group ("Working to Prevent Conflict Worldwide") points out that ISCI has changed from "Iranian proxy militia to Iraqi governing party," and opines that the Bush administration is following a dangerous course by supporting them as a counter to Sadr's forces. The same group said that America "should take advantage of its privileged ties with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) to moderate the party’s behaviour and curb its sectarian practices rather than use it as an instrument to confront the Sadrists." Reuters (November 15, 2007)

A post at "Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty" points out that, although the situation is dangerous, the Basra mess is an opportunity for the Iraqi government to show its strength and competence in dealing with a crisis. Problem is, if the Iraq's government doesn't succeed, there's likely going to be another round of assassinations, bombings, beheadings, and whatever other mayhem the various parties can dream up. ("Iraq: Al-Basrah Clashes Could Prove Ominous" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, contributing analyst Sumedha Senanayake (March 26, 2008).

Showdown at Basra: Taming a Wild Town

But, complicated or not, I think that the first step to sorting out the mess is for the Iraqi government to establish order: or at least a situation where people can walk down the street without getting perforated.
1The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq used to be the "Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Al-Majlis al-'Aala li al-Thawra al-Islamiya fi-l-Iraq) - in 2007, it dropped "Revolution" and became the much nicer-sounding Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Al-Majlis al-'Aala al-Islami al-Iraqi)
Update March 27, 2008

" International Zone under curfew as attacks continue" CNN (March 27, 2008)

International Zone is another name for the Green Zone that's often in the news from Baghdad.

Among other people, an American government official has been killed in the recent attacks.

One thing that jumps out at me is that quite a few people in the Iraqi and American governments seem to be bending over backwards to make it look like Muqtada al-Sadr's militias aren't involved in the fighting.

CNN reports: "Fighting between Iraqi government troops and what officials call rogue or outlaw members of Shiite militias has spread through southern Iraq's Shiite heartland to Baghdad since the launch of a government crackdown in Basra on Tuesday." In context, the "officials" are probably Iraqi officials.

American's State Department's director of Iraq affairs, Richard Schmierer, said that Sadr's cease-fire wasn't collapsing, and blamed the violence on "marginal extremist elements" who've made themselves part of the Sadrist movement.

On the other hand, "dozens of gunmen kidnapped the spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, Tahseen Sheikhly. Three of his guards were killed and his house burned in the attack, which an Interior Ministry official said was carried out by "outlaws," a reference to al-Sadr's militia."

The only things that seems certain is that the situation in Iraq is complicated, and that there's going to be more fighting.

Code Pink Disrupts "The Sedition Report" Release

My guess is that you didn't read this in the news.

Not unless you read "Violent Attacks By Anti-War Radicals Against Military Recruiting Centers" in Newsblaze (Folsom, California).

Here's more of what I think should have been headline news, but wasn't: "... Then, midway through the news conference, members of Code Pink, International ANSWER and Global Exchange start heckling, screaming, yelling."
From the Duke" March 14, 2008)

'All the news we want to print.'

I wrote more about traditional news media's habit of not publishing what they don't want us to know in "Embrace Peace or I'll Kill You! Violent Peace Lovers (Not) in the News" (March 26, 2008)

Embrace Peace or I'll Kill You! Violent Peace Lovers (Not) in the News

You won't see this in the news.

No, that's not true. I did read about "The Sedition Report" in the news: "Report Cites Increase in Attacks on Military Recruiting Centers" FOXNews (March 26, 2008). But I've learned that for many people, FOX News isn't news, it's ultra-right-wing radical propaganda.

Mainstream, or Traditional, News

So, I checked a more 'reputable' source, looking for articles about attacks on military recruiting centers, or peace protesters, and found this: One of them wasn't even about peace protesters in America: but it showed up in my 'peace protester' search. Apparently, the only violence against a recruiting center is a bomb that happened to go off in Times Square.

As for peace protesters, "College students from New Jersey to North Dakota have planned walkouts, while students at the University of Minnesota vowed to shut down military recruiting offices on campus." They are nobly motivated, these peace protesters: "Craig Etchison, 62, a retired college professor from Cumberland, Maryland, and a Vietnam veteran, said he has been protesting the war for years.

" 'I've watched with horror as Bush has lied about this war,' he said in front of the building. "I'm appalled at the number of civilians we've killed just as we did in Vietnam.' " CNN (March 19, 2008).

Now that's news!

CNN shows their "real" America: anti-war protesters demonstrating for peace and social justice, earnestly striving to educate the masses and sway an uncaring establishment with cries of "Out of Iraq," "No war, no warming," and "No blood for Oil!".

And, best of all, a reference to Vietnam!

It's enough to warm the heart of any child of the sixties.

The problem is that this is the 21st century.

It's not just CNN. They're just one of the more successful - and, for the most part, a-political - of the traditional news outlets.

Wake Up! It's 2008!

Quite a bit has changed in the last forty years, but at least two things haven't:
  • "Peace," or "anti-war," protesters
  • How they are handled in traditional news media
Although many peace protesters are content with carrying signs and giving fuzz the one-finger salute, some carry their anti-war fever further, setting off bombs in their efforts to achieve world peace.

Odd, how people who advocate military action on terrorists, with the intent of bringing peace to a region, are 'hypocrites,' while people who hate violence and bomb military recruiting offices - aren't.

I know the excuse: the anti-war bombers aren't trying to kill anyone. But get real: sooner or later, there'll be collateral damage in one of those attacks.

But wait: There's only been that one attack, in Times Square, and maybe another one someplace else, right?


Anti-Military Activist Violence: Not Ripped From the Headlines

"The Sedition Report" is "a report of the numerous anti-military acts committed by groups right here in the United States. This list is constantly being updated ..." This report is the work of Move America Forward, "a non-partisan, not-for-profit charitable organization committed to supporting America’s efforts to defeat terrorism and supporting the brave men and women of our Armed Forces." (Talk about radical!)

Move America Forward's executive director, Catherine Moy, and a military spokesperson were quoted by FOXNews, commenting on the report:

" 'We hope that people will see the report and see that this is not just one or two incidents,' Moy said. 'They are attacking these institutions to try to stop the war even as we are winning the war.'

"Moy continued: 'These people will stop at nothing.'

"The Pentagon reviewed the report but couldn't confirm that the more than 50 incidents listed were actual 'attacks.'

" 'Beyond incidents of vandalism, it's obviously difficult to count non-violent protests as an actual attack since these demonstrations usually do not result in deliberate acts against the U.S. military,' said Paul Boyce, a U.S. Army spokesman at the Pentagon."

The Pentagon, as usual, was very cautious in its statement. However, I'd say that the following might be considered attacks, even by the Pentagon's narrow definition:
  • Broken windows
    (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 19)
  • Broken Recruiting center, from a bombing
    (New York City, New York, March 6)
  • More broken windows
    (Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 22)
  • $1,000 worth of damage
    (Beaumont, Texas, January 1, 2008)
And that's just a selection from the thirteen incidents listed so far this year.

Where Shall We go? What Shall We Do?

Unlike Rhett, I do care about those questions. I've read people saying that they'll leave the country, if some candidate wins the election. I don't think that's a good idea, if you're already in America.

I've thought seriously, a few times in my life, about moving: and each time, after serious research, I couldn't find a better place to live. Particularly when it came to being allowed to express opinions that aren't officially approved.
If Running Away is Out - What's Left?
Use your head. We live in the Information Age: Exploit those (information) resources.
  1. Realize that traditional, or "main stream," news outlets publish 'all the news we feel like printing.'
    • Their news isn't going to include anything that doesn't agree with their notion of what the world should be like.
  2. Think when you read and listen.
  3. Research topics that interest or concern you.
    • Services like Google are a great help, as long as you remember the difference between an assertion and a fact.
  4. Use your brain, not your endocrine system, to make choices.
    • Emotions are great for motivating us, but lousy for making rational decisions.
And vote. But that's a topic for another post.

I've written about paradoxical peace protesters before: "Embrace Peace or I'll Kill You! More Violent Peace Lovers" (March 7, 2008)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Civil Disobedience, Iraqi Style: And American Troops Teach Freedom of Speech

Muqtada al-Sadr is that Iraqi Shiite cleric who rules "Sadr City," a Baghdad slum, and who hasn't been heard from since he magnanimously, or prudently, extended a cease-fire.

He's back.

The headline is "Peaceful Iraq protests spark clashes; 50 reported dead" CNN (March 25, 2008).

"Fighting between Iraqi security forces and supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left 50 dead in the southern city of Basra and spread to several Baghdad districts Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.

"The fighting erupted as al-Sadr's political organization launched a nationwide civil disobedience movement to protest recent arrests of its members.

"The discord threatens to unravel a much-praised cease-fire by the cleric's militia, the Mehdi Army, which U.S. commanders have credited with helping ease the sectarian warfare that gripped Iraq in 2006."

An official in al-Sadr's political organization, Nassar al-Rubaie, says he knows who caused the violence. There are provincial elections scheduled for October 1. "The police and army forces are used for political reasons," he said. He could be right.

There's trouble elsewhere, too. "Residents of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and its major oil port, held demonstrations earlier this month to demand better security. Kidnappings, murders and thefts have risen since British troops handed over responsibility for the province to Iraqi soldiers and police in December and withdrew to a base at the city's airport."

I think that Iraqi agencies will be able to take care of their own country. Eventually.

I also think that today's Basra is a good preview of what will happen, if America decides to scuttle the coalition and leave Iraq without giving the Iraqi government time to sort itself out from the crooks and wannabe warlords.

Meanwhile, there's what I think is good news. American soldiers are showing Iraqis what "freedom of speech" means to Americans.

"In the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Disher, news footage showed empty streets, closed stores and empty schools, and a few dozen protesters were seen taking to the streets. Signs reading 'Yes yes Iraq' and 'No no America' were tacked up on walls, as was a sign saying 'no' to government militias, a reference to the Badr Brigade.

"Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said American commanders don't frown on such a civil disobedience campaign 'as long as it's peaceful.'

" 'We have no problem with that,' Boylan said. 'Shouting is OK. Shooting is not.' "

"Shouting is OK. Shooting is not." Well said.

Cleaning Up the Town

"Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal" gives a look at Iraq and other places that you won't find in traditional news media.

For example: "The Dungeon of Fallujah -- Upgraded

"Last month I published a piece here called The Dungeon of Fallujah about my visit to the wretched jail in the city. As it turns out, the place was worse than I thought. Prisoners had to supply their own food or starve. I didn't report that detail because I didn't know it. But Marine Major General John Kelly (whom I don't think I met) read my report, investigated the jail, and fixed it. ..."

'Was it worth it?'

Was it worth it, helping Japan get back on its feet after WWII? Today we have a trade partner and occasional ally. That wouldn't have happened, if we'd pulled out early.

A half-century from now, I'd rather have my descendants dealing with a prosperous and stable Iraq, than with the mess that's likely to result if America decides to abandon the country and region.

Major Snafu Strikes Again: Taiwan Gets Nuclear Missile Parts


A few years ago, Taiwan's government asked for helicopter batteries. The American military sent them packages that the Taiwanese military stored in a warehouse.

Recently, someone broke open one of the packages. Surprise! Instead of helicopter batteries, they found four intercontinental ballistic missile nose-cone fuses.
  • Good news:
    There wasn't any fissile material - the stuff that provides the flash and boom of a nuclear bomb - in the packages
  • More Good News:
    The missile parts are obsolete: 1960s tech made for Minuteman missiles.
  • Bad News:
    This was a really big mistake: one that shouldn't have happened. Those missile parts might not be cutting-edge technology, but there is no way that somebody should have been able to mistake them for helicopter batteries and ship them overseas.
  • More Bad News:
    If this sounds familiar, it should. It was August, 2007, when "a B-52 bomber mistakenly carried six nuclear warheads from North Dakota to Louisiana. A six-week investigation uncovered a 'lackadaisical' attention to detail in day-to-day operations at the air bases involved"
Dumb! Really dumb! Also embarrassing.

This looks like the work of Major Snafu. We should be glad it wasn't his superior officer, General Disaster.

Global Patriot Reporting: Anti-American Bias? Could Be

If you believed the news, an American warship opened fire on innocent Egyptians recently. A merchant whose only thought was to sell cigarettes was killed.

I'm pretty sure that people around the world are angry about this heartless act by America. One of them took the time to leave a comment of my post , "U.S. Warship Kills Innocent Egyptian!! No Wonder Everybody Hates America!!!" (March 24, 2008).

Given how world events are covered, I'm not surprised that so many people hate America, and America's military. Early coverage of the Global Patriot incident is a good example of false reporting and omitted facts: possibly done to maintain anti-American sentiments.

Why Write about the Global Patriot Incident?

"No man is an island...."1 The death of Mohammed Fouad affects me because "I am involved in mankind". What happens in the Middle East, or Siberia, or anywhere else in the world, affects me: directly or (more often) indirectly.

The reason for yesterday' "U.S. Warship Kills..." post is that the Global Patriot incident:
  • Has potential for becoming a major international fracas
  • Offered an opportunity to display news media bias
It might be more fair to call what I saw not "news media bias," but news media assumptions. Last night, as this story was breaking, these are the four headlines I found: This is how much of the English-speaking world first saw the incident. All four headlines identified the ship:
  • "U.S. warship"
  • "US-flagged ship"
  • "US military ship"
  • "US warship"
More accurately, Three out of four articles mis-identify Global Patriot as an American military ship: a warship. The fourth accurately identifies it as a "US-flagged ship".
A Reporter's Lot is Not a Happy One
News outlets need to get stories out promptly, and sometimes this leaves little room for research. That's probably why the International Herald Tribune identified the ship as sailing under the American flag: a rather generic description.

However, International Herald Tribune was able to track a "Global Patriot" to an American shipping firm, and place that ship in the Middle East.

The venerable and esteemed Reuters decided that Global Patriot was a "U.S. warship," and published that.
False Reporting: Conspiracy? Mental Blinders? Sloppy Journalism?
Why publish false information? Possibly:
  • Reuters and company wanted people around the world to believe that American sailors gunned down a poor Egyptian merchant
  • 'American military kills innocent civilian' was what editors of the three inaccurate stories imagined - and they decided that their assumptions must be true
  • That's what their sources said, and it never occurred to them that verifying the claim might be a good idea
The International Herald Tribune stands out as the only news resource that gave the impression of having made a few phone calls and a Web search.
Conspiracy, No: Mental Blinders, Yes
I don't think that there's a vast global conspiracy of editors, seeking to defame America.

I do think that many editors and reporters have a world view which includes the assumption that America is the source of the world's problems, and that the American military goes around the world, intentionally gunning down innocent civilians. And, believing that, don't bother to check anti-American claims, any more than they would check to see if the sky is, indeed, blue.

Back to top

Do I Defend Global Patriot's Crew?

It's too early to tell what actually happened. From today's (American) news:

"Egypt's state-run news agency and other media reports say one person was killed and at least two others wounded on Monday when the U.S. security team aboard the vessel fired on a small boat that approached it.

"But the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and a military spokeswoman said they had no reports of casualties, noting that they had accounted for all warning shots fired at the small boat." CNN (March 25, 2008)

And, about the three boats that were approaching the Global Patriot:

" 'The boats were hailed and warned by a native Arabic speaker using a bullhorn to warn them to turn away,' the embassy statement said.

"After a warning flare was fired, one of the small boats continued to approach the ship, prompting the U.S. forces on board to fire two sets of warning shots which landed in the water, about 20 yards to 30 yards in front of the boat.

" 'All shots were accounted for as they entered the water,' the statement said.

"The senior U.S. military official said an armed military security team was on board for the canal transit, but it was not clear if the team was made up of U.S. Marines or sailors." CNN (March 25, 2008)

Do I defend the crew that fired those shots? Let's put it this way: I don't assume that they're guilty.

This isn't because they're Americans. There are reasons for being cautious about convicting them.

The International Herald Tribune pointed out that it was after sunset when the incident occurred. Take a look at the situation from the point of Global Patriot's senior officer on deck.
  • You're on a ship in a part of the world where excitable people have been known to come up to foreigners and explode
  • It's after sunset
  • Three boats are coming right for your ship
  • Your crew tells them to stop - in their language - and fire flares
  • Two boats turn aside
  • One keeps coming
  • The decisions you make in the next few seconds are a matter of life or death
Remember the U.S.S. Cole? I doubt that sailors in Middle Eastern waters have forgotten how a boat approached the Cole and blew up: leaving the Cole missing some of her hull, together with over a dozen of her crew.

In circumstances like that, with the prospect of becoming part of a shredded hull and crew, opening fire on an unknown craft which has demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate might not be the dumbest move possible.

As far as claims that the crew were drunk, or otherwise incompetent, I found that unlikely. When I heard that the shots were fired by an American military security team, that assessment went up to "wildly unlikely."

I've known Marines and other people in the American armed forces. For the most part, they've been far from harmless: but utterly reliable.

This incident has to be investigated, and I'm sure that it will be.

I'm also pretty sure that, unless the entire Global Patriot crew is tortured, beheaded, burned, and their families hunted down and killed, there will be cries that "justice" wasn't served.

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Who Was Killed? Why Wasn't He Named?

The International Herald Tribune, the only news service to get the identity of Global Patriot right yesterday, was also the only one to name the victim. Today, The head of the Suez seaman's union, Abbas al-Amrikani, says that Mohammed Fouad, a 27-year-old father of three, was killed. "The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side," he apparently said, adding detail to his account. As I said yesterday, the thoughts and prayers of my family are with them.

The three news outlets claiming that Global Patriot was a warship didn't give Mohammed Fouad's name. They may not have known his name. Or, they may have believed that by identifying him simply as an Egyptian, a man trying to sell cigarettes to foreigners, he'd be perceived not simply as a man, but as a metaphor for all Egyptians.

That way, the shooting on a boat on what might have been a suicide attack becomes more than an individual's death. It's an attack on all Egypt.

That doesn't cover everything brought up in yesterday's comments, but I have to stop somewhere.

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1"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
excerpt from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: XVII. MEDITATION, John Donne (Project Gutenberg ebook)

Monday, March 24, 2008

U.S. Warship Kills Innocent Egyptian!! No Wonder Everybody Hates America!!!

("Global Patriot Reporting: Anti-American Bias? Could Be" (March 25, 2008) focuses on how Reuters and others handled the Global Patriot incident.)
People all around the world hate America. I keep reading that.

Specifically, they hate America because the American military goes around killing innocent people. I keep reading that, too.

Something happened very recently that's probably going to help people around the world keep hating America.

An American warship heartlessly gunned down an innocent Egyptian merchant who was just trying to sell cigarettes!!!!

Reality Check, Please:
Global Patriot in the Suez Something-or-Other

Fact: gunfire from a ship carrying the American flag in the Suez Gulf, or maybe Canal, killed Mohammed Fouad.

Also fact: it's early days, and news services don't seem to have their story straight yet. Except for the 'important' part, I suspect.
American Warship Guns Down Innocent Egyptian! Now That's News!
Let's see what the news has to say, headline and first three paragraphs of the four news articles I found earlier in Google's top 10, and the Google news search service. I used these search terms: ( Egypt "Global Patriot" Suez)
  1. "U.S. warship fires on Egyptian craft, killing one
    Reuters Africa (March 24, 2008)
    "A U.S. warship fired on a motor boat in the Gulf of Suez on Monday, killing one Egyptian and wounding two others, Egyptian security sources and witnesses said.
    "The U.S. ship Global Patriot fired on the Egyptian vessel after it ignored calls to stay away, the sources said.
    "The Egyptian vessel was carrying goods to sell to ships passing through the Suez Canal, a transit for U.S. ships heading to the Gulf, the sources said."
  2. "US-flagged ship involved in Suez canal shooting death: Egyptian officials"
    International Herald Tribune (March 24, 2008)
    "An Egyptian man was shot dead and two others wounded in an incident involving a U.S.-flagged cargo ship transversing the Suez Canal in the direction of the Mediterannean [!] Sea, reported security officials late Monday.
    "After sunset, a motor boat carrying three Egyptians approached the "Global Patriot" with the intent of selling products when the ship opened fire on it with tracer bullets killing Mohammed Fouad and wounding the other two occupants, said an Egyptian navy official on customary condition of anonymity.
    "A police official in Cairo, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident, adding that some hundred other boat vendors had since gathered near the cargo ship and were demanding an investigation into the shooting."
  3. "Egyptian killed by US military ship: security source"
    AFP (March 24, 2008)
    "A US military ship about to cross the Suez Canal opened fire Monday on barges of hawkers that approached their boat, killing one Egyptian and wounding two others, a security source said.
    "The ship, Global Patriot, had arrived from the Red Sea and was waiting in the Gulf of Suez to sail to the Mediterranean when a group of Egyptians seeking to sell merchandise approached the boat on small barges, the source said.
    "Americans on board told the barges to stop and opened fire when they continued to approach."
  4. "Egyptian killed by US warship: security source"
    IC Publications - AFRICAN BUSINESS NEW AFRICAN THE MIDDLE EAST (March 24, 2008) (or March 25, 2008 - both dates were associated with the article)
    "One Egyptian was killed and two wounded when a US military ship about to cross the Suez Canal opened fire on barges of hawkers that approached their boat on Monday, a security source told AFP.
    "The ship, Global Patriot, was preparing to travel from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean when a group of Egyptians seeking to sell merchandise approached the boat on small barges, the source said.
    "Americans on board told the barges to stop and opened fire when they continued to approach."
Let's see what they all have in common:
  • The ship
    • Sailed under the American flag
    • Was named Global Patriot
  • An Egyptian was killed
  • This happened in the Suez something - Gulf or Canal
  • Global Patriot's crew had communicated with the Egyptian's boat before opening fire
Here's where it gets interesting. The ship was first referred to variously, as:
  • "U.S. warship"
  • "US-flagged ship"
  • "US military ship"
  • "US warship"
Three out of four articles identify Global Patriot as an American military ship: a warship. 'Obviously,' this is yet another case of the uncaring, violent, dangerous American military going around, killing innocent civilians.
Global Patriot is a Warship? Let's Take a Closer Look
One of the news outlets, the International Herald-Tribune, had a reporter who did a little research. "There is a 'Global Patriot' registered to the New York-based Global Container Lines and, according to the company Web site, the vessel trades between the United States, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the East Africa."

Granted, a company representative didn't know about the incident, and neither did a U.S. Fifth Fleet spokesperson. I don't think this indicates that the Global Patriot involved in the Mr. Fouad's death isn't the cargo ship registered to Global Container Lines. The last I heard, omniscience isn't part of American officer's training, and isn't required for civilian jobs, either.

The International Herald Tribune also reports that "the ship had sailed from Dubai and was transporting used military equipment." I suppose that a cargo ship carrying used military equipment could be considered a "warship:" as long as a semi trailer carrying used Corvettes could be considered a sports car.

By the way, the International Herald Tribune's is the only article that mentioned the name of the deceased: Mohammed Fouad.
What Was Mohammed Fouad doing in that boat?
Apparently, local merchants are in the habit of taking boats out to ships passing through Suez (Canal or Gulf), with the purpose of exchanging cigarettes and other items for foreign currency.

All the news articles agree that there was some sort of communication between Global Patriot's crew and Mr. Fouad's boat. It looks like they said "stop!" and instead of stopping, the boat kept coming. Then Global Patriot opened fire.

Now, I'm sorry that Mr. Foaud is dead. The thoughts and prayers of my family are with him and his survivors. But those news stories, with one exception, left out a very important detail.

It Was After Sunset When Foaud's Boat Made a Run at Global Patriot. Okay, 'didn't stop.' Take a look at the situation from the point of Global Patriot's senior officer on deck.

Here's a ship, in a part of the world where excitable people have been known to come up to foreigners and explode. It's after sunset. A boat is coming right for your ship. You tell it to stop. It doesn't. It keeps coming.

Remember the U.S.S. Cole? You may not, but I doubt that sailors in Middle Eastern waters have forgotten how a boat approached the Cole and blew up: leaving the Cole missing some of her hull, together with over a dozen of her crew.

In circumstances like that, with the prospect of getting up close and personal with high-velocity pieces of shredded hull, opening fire on an unknown craft which has demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate might not be the dumbest move possible.

One thing that bothers me is why Mr. Fouad's boat didn't stop. There are quite a few possibilities, including:
  • Nobody on the boat knew English (approaching a ship with an American flag, trying to sell something, without knowing English?!)
  • Everyone on the boat was deaf - and blind, so they couldn't see signals
  • The throttle stuck (so far, this is the least-unlikely explanation)
  • The people on the boat got into an argument, distracting them from Global Patriot's call to stop
  • Someone on the boat wanted Global Patriot to open fire
That last is, I think, a very real and quite terrible possibility.

Once in a while, here in America, someone will decide that his life isn't worth living. I'm not being sexist: it's nearly always a man. He confronts police, threatens someone, and does his level best to get shot. It's called "suicide by cop."

I don't think it's beyond belief that someone on Mr. Fouad's boat had decided to be a martyr, and discredit America in the process. If that's what happened, he's had help.

Why Will This Help People Hate America?

Because Global Patriot was a U.S. military ship. A warship. a US military ship. 'It must be true: they said so in the news.'

I know that news is a business, and that part of the idea is to make events as dramatic as possible.

But I'd say that calling what is probably a cargo ship a "warship" is sloppy reporting, at best. At worst, it's a deliberate attempt to whip up more anti-American sentiment.

Freedom of Speech: America and Dubai

Dubai seems to be a quite charming part of the world. I've posted about some of the remarkable architectural projects there in another blog.

But, all things considered, I'd rather deal with Minnesota winters, than Dubai's benevolent dictatorship.

I learned that FLCKR is banned there: and that at least part of GO! Smell the Flowers got banned. The GO! ban might have been in China, though, since the 'objectionable' material involved Tibet: or "Xizang," as China likes to call the 'province' they conquered in the fifties.

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

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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.