Saturday, November 29, 2003

SHORTER VERSIONS: Summarizing the recent orgy of, well, idiocy.

Shorter Daniel Pipes: Surrender, Mohammedans. Give your Mohammedan women equal rights and we shall reward you Mohammedans with close scruttiny because of the faith you practice.

Shorter Mark Steyn: We should've invaded Iraq back in June of 2002, so we wouldn't have encountered the post-war mess we are encountering now. But the currently critical situation in Iraq, created by Jacques Chirac and the anti-war movement, really taught me a lesson: let's invade 5 more countries!

Shorter Tom Friedman: Look, I agree with the war but disagree with Bush. Why is the left protesting Bush? Can't they vindicate me and protest Bush at the same time?

Shorter Diane West: The censure of a report on anti-Semitism is a very bad thing, but two censured anti-Islamic books of bigotry will likely solve the problem.

GIVING THANKS: Well, the Taliban were certainly good at two things: beating women and squashing opium-production. This time, however, they're lovin' the opposite.

Don't forget to read the Thanksgiving letter from the Post's Dana Milbank in Kabul.

Friday, November 28, 2003

OVERREACTION: Well, Tacitus wasn't the only one in overreacting to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's objections to the CPA and Governing Council's plan to handover power. The New York Times, with its half-ass reporting, is partly guilty of misleading its readers into thinking that Sistani is out to set up the Americans, install Muqtada Sadr ("Muqty") as the leading ayatollah and create another Khomeinist-theocracy. The Post has a far better balanced report on this. The Financial Times confirms what Iwrote yesterday: that the Shiites are afraid of the secularization of Iraq.

(Speaking of the Post, it seems that Andrew Sullivan is quite angered by Dana Milbank's reporting on Bush's flight to Iraq, calling her "one of the most ferociously anti-Bush White House reporters." That's the same Milbank who broke the Lewinsky-story. It's called objectivity and accountability, Andrew. Furthermore, Walter Pincus is an excellent reporter. Just because he cares about accountability [he co-authored the "16 words" stories] doesn't make him a bad writer nor anti-Bush. Address the substance, don't attack the writers.)

The indispensable Juan Cole summarizes all the reports including from the Arab press.

I'll be on top of this story for the coming days. I also found out that Tacitus has been fooling himself all this time (see the comments section) by suggesting that an "Islamic character" won't be a part of the new Iraq. But that flies smack into the face of reality. Because Islam will be a part of the new Iraq, no matter what. It's what we call in America "the will of the people."

Thursday, November 27, 2003

TRODDING DOWN THE PATH OF DEMOCRACY: Tacitus is nice enough to offer a "few brief observations" from Nairobi:

I'm disgusted with the continuing ability of the Ayatollah Sistani to jerk around the CPA [...] are we really hitting a snag because our plans don't recognize Iraq's Islamic character? The hell with that -- no American should have to fight and die to establish an Islamic state. We already trod that path, to our eternal shame, in Afghanistan; doing the same in Iraq would be catastrophic both to our honor and to our dreams of a truly free Middle East.
Do me a favor: read the Times article on Sistani "jerking around the CPA." The major problem is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani insisting that a directly chosen electorate write the constitution instead of an un-elected and unrepresentative interim government, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan. Tacitus elaborates in the comments section:
We shouldn't consent to the establishment of Islamic Republics even in principle. It's contrary to our own values, and certainly has brought nothing but grief to those who live under them.
Who the hell cares what American values are? Ahmed Chalabi doesn't and an overwhelming majority of Iraqis certainly don't either. Nor was I aware of the notion that we came to Iraq to implement American values in Iraq. If Iraqis want an Afghan-style Islamic Republic, than shouldn't we give it to them? Isn't that what democracy, according to President Bush, is about? It seems that Tacitus is simply opposed to the will of the people.

You can interpret the "Islamic character"-line in a couple of ways, but here is my take on it. Sistani, along with a lot other Iraqi Muslims, is afraid, and rightfully so, that the new interim government is going to, either a) secularize Iraq and be handpicked by the Americans, b) secularize Iraq and decide according to the developments surrounding the 2004 elections or c) secularize Iraq and act as American puppets.

(Ahmed Chalabi explains option B: "The whole thing was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on.")

But if you want to ignore what I just wrote and listen to Tacitus, than go ahead and damn those hate-filled Islamic clerics. In my view, Tacitus delivered a sermon that totally misinterprets the situation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

FORGOTTEN, NOT LEFT BEHIND: Short commentary on Matthew's post from yesterday on Afghanistan. The title of the post ("A DAY LATE AND A BUCK SHORT") is far more appropriate than the post itself. In it, Matt argues:

we're already gone from Afghanistan. We shouldn't have left but it seems to me that it would be very awkward politically to go invade again just for the sake of getting it right the second time. Moreover, there's the small problem that our army is now in Iraq. My guess would be that forces will be substantially withdrawn from Iraq well before any liberals, armed or otherwise, get to have any say in the matter anyways.
I don't think that we have left Afghanistan. Abandoned? Not that either. We're right up there with 11,000 troops at Bagram Airport and a U.S.-backed interim government led by Hamid Karzai. It seems to me, at least, that we've forgotten Afghanistan.

I accept the premise that American troops are there to fight the al-Qaeda-Taliban-Gulbudding insurgency and unavailable for nation-buidling (although, after the developments in Iraq, I'm perplexed by Bush's blatant hypocricy). More than 400 Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians have been killed in the current insurgency. The Taliban holds several provinces in Paktika and the U.N. refugee and mining agency have left. The security situation is dire, especially in the south. Bottom line: we're not doing enough fighting. We need to fight more, harder, better and faster. We also need to fight diplomatically, because we need Pakistan to act.

The secondary problem is funding and reconstruction, but nevertheless important. Those who promised to deliver--Arab countries, but especially the Europeans and Japan--aren't. A prime example is the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, which Bush hopes is going to be finished by the end of this year. To have it finished by 2005, we're only providing one layer instead of the usual three, so it won't be of any use anyway. (SPECIAL NOTE TO THE EUROPEANS: Come on! Get off your lazy asses and deliver.)

We need to get serious--before it's too late for the American people and the Afghans themselves.

KING AHMED: I almost forgot to note a fascinating piece from yesterday's Post on Ahmed Chalabi. It's a bit hostile, but rightly so.

Lang raises the question of the millions that were appropriated by Congress for the Iraqi National Congress primarily because Chalabi lobbied for it. "Where did it go?" he asks.

State Department officials have suggested that Chalabi ran off with the money, according to several sources. The State Department conducted an audit that found nothing to indicate the money had been misused, but found few receipts to show how it had been spent. But then, according to a State Department staffer, word filtered down from the White House: no more audits of Chalabi. That infuriated the people at State.
Trust me, this article has lots of ammunition for us anti-Chalabis. And it seems that both Paul Wolfowitz and Bush himself aren't satisfied with King Ahmed either.
After the meeting with Rice, Chalabi reports that it went well but that Rice told him his "message has to be better." A senior administration official says that Wolfowitz also "read him the riot act." Clearly the White House was still irritated by his statement at the U.N. siding with the French.

[...] Jordan's King Abdullah didn't help matters: When he met with Bush recently, he is said to have delivered a broadside against his old nemesis, who was convicted of embezzling millions from a Jordanian bank. According to a friend of Abdullah's, the president reacted to the information with outrage at Chalabi.
I don't think he's not being the puppet the Pentagon wants him to be, but he's just corrupt and out for himself. It's not like he's switched sides. Not by a long shot.

EID-AL FITR: Eid Mubarak! The month of Ramadan was a time in which Muslims strenghten their faith and spirituality while developing their sense of social justice. Ramadan also involves acts of solidarity. In France, they have the "cousciyse de l'amitie" where food is provided on university campuses to vulnerable people like the unemployed and homeless. For American Muslims, these acts have developed in the Muslim consciousness of being at home in the West of serving their community. These activities also help Muslims come in contact with everday people, whether helping local groups fight against violence, drugs and illiteracy. Anything to improve the quality of life, even those who want to restart their lifes in prison. The commitment to solidarity toward the whole society, with Muslims or non-Muslims as partners, is growing, especially here in America. And that, of course, is a good thing.

Coverage of Ramadan in the media has been about increased violence during this month, but other positive stories aren't covered. One such story is of a young black female named Yaphett who led a life of partying, drinking and drugs. The local Muslims here in the area somehow got in touch (via some sort of program) with Yaphett and helped her lead the straight path. Six months later, Yaphett visited the local mosque and converted to Islam to everybody's surprise. No more partying, no more drinking and no more drugs. There are so many stories like thse, but it's one of those stories that you won't here about.

NOTE: No worry, I'll start blogging on Afghanistan again soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

NO BIGOT BUT NOT FUNNY EITHER: Nathan Hamm responds to my post on Johnny Hart's cartoon. I won't put away the crack pipe just yet, but I still don't know whether it was a veiled attack on Muslims or a cartoon that simply wasn't funny and unworthy of being published in 1,600 newspapers. At least we can agree that he wasn't funny. I wouldn't even have noticed the stupid cartoon if it wasn't for the Post article and the “SLAM” between the first and second frame.

Changing subjects here. If you're bored, you should visit a blog called "Three-Toed Sloth" and read all the articles the author links to. The author also comments on the public reaction after the killing of U.N. worker that I wrote about a couple of days ago:

Hospitable, sentimental, vengeful, fundamentally decent but hopelessly, hopeless disorganized: that sounds like the Afghans I know.
Sounds about right.

JFK REMEMBERED: I really hate to Middle-Easternize John F. Kennedy. What I mean by that is that I don't want to judge him on his accomplishments in the Middle East, because he was much, much bigger than that. He was big--and big on a world scale. Anyway, I spent some time in the local library and I stumbled on reactions on his assassination from different sources. It must be noted that the perception of the Unites States was largely positive; and JFK was seen in the Arab world as a progressive with no grudge or hostile intent to Arab nationalism. His tragic assassination, however, briefly united Middle Eastern adversaries. So here's a list of reactions from the Middle-East:

- Egyptian President Nasser was at a loss for what to do with himself and walked into his office. He reacted by saying "My God, why have I dressed, why have I come here? There is nothing any of us can do about it." A book for condolences left out by the American Embassy in Cairo for three days was signed by more than a thousand people, including Vice President Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian army chief of Staff General Amr, as did the foreign ministers of Yemen and Algeria who were in town that day. Enite staffs of many embassies stopped by. Nasser al-Din Nashashibi, a rabidly anti-American columnist, delivered a ten-minute eulogy on television. Cairo television showed Kennedy's funeral in its entirety four times. One Egyptian wrote to the American embassy that he had names his new son Kennedy, even enclosing a copy of the birth certificate; another man apologized for the delay in his note of condolences, explaining that his only son had died days earlier. Cairo's Joseph Cathedral, which can seat only 600, somehow managed to cram in more than 4,000.
- In Tehran, Navab Street, which ran from the downtown to Mehrabad Airport was renamed after the late President.
- In Basra, the southern Iraqi city, hundreds of Iraqis crowded the streets in silence during memorial services for Kennedy.
- In Beirut, flags flew at half-mast and the long-planned anniversary of the celebrations of the founding of the Phalange were cancelled and replaced by a session of eulogies for the late President. The headmistress of Beirut's College Protestant des Jeunes Files wrote on her blackboard: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
- King Abdullah was the first person to call the American embassy in Amman; the government Yemen closed all their offices on November 24 and 25 in honor of JFK.
- Algeria had a special relationship with the President because of his 1957 Senate speech in which he backed Algerian independence. The Algerian government sent its foreign minister to Washington for the funeral and flew flags at half-staff for a week. President Ahmed Ben Bella renamed the main square in Algiers "Place John Kennedy."
- In Saudi Arabia, there was a crowd waiting to sign the embassy condolence; one man had come all the way from Medina. An ailing finance minister, Shaykh Abdullah Sulayman had to be carried as he signed the book.

And the Middle East may have been the first place where conspiracy theories began to crisscross the region, long before the Warren Commission and Oliver Stone's movie. Most blamed it on segregationists, or "les partisans de la segregation raciale as Ben Bella claimed, or Communists. Even Zionists were blamed, mostly in Palestinian territories.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

COMMON CAUSE: I am happy to see Ariel Sharon join forces with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their effort to denounce the Geneva accords. What I find odd is that Sharon finds the real enemy in the struggle against terrorism--the Israel left. But I guess the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? (By the way, Sharon described the Accords as treacherous; Hamas and IJ called it a betrayal.)

Thousands of Palestinian militants protested in the Gaza Strip and West Bank on Friday against the Geneva Accords, calling the peace initiative a "betrayal."

"Foreign occupation is destined to be erased, as is the monstrous Geneva Agreement," Islamic Jihad chief Mohammed al-Hindi said during a mass Gaza rally called to denounce the document named after its Swiss mediators. "The cause of Palestine is a cause of refugees and any solution that does not secure our return will not be accepted," said a resident of Gaza's Jabalya camp which hosted the rally.

CENSORED REPORTS: Some conservative bloggers went into a frenzy today because the much-hated European Union shelved report on anti-Semitism. A bad thing, no doubt. But the outrage over a report by the U.N.--one that was shelved too--that found that "9% of Palestinian children under the age of five suffer some form of brain damage because of chronic malnutrition" was notably absent.

Friday, November 21, 2003

ADULT CONTENT: I have a question: why is the AP taking pictures of half-naked Afghans? I appreciate the coverage, but this may a bit over the top. Just a bit...

BUT I TOOK A SHOWER THIS MORNING: I hadn’t heard of Johnny Hart before, but this morning I found out who he was. He’s a cartoonist famous for “B.C.," a widely read comic and one published in the Washington Post. The cartoon below was published on November 10:

I don’t know what the hell the joke is, and it's quite vague too, but it has “SLAM” between the first and second frame, and 6 crescent moons. And there’s that last frame which asks “"Is it just me, or does it stink in here?" Either Johnny Hart is dimwitted or a bigot. After reading the Post’s article on the fuzz that was created by his cartoon, I’d go for the latter.

UPDATE: My commentators explain:
A moon and stars were used in colonial times to designate the sex of the outhouses. Originally the moon was for women and the star was for the men. But the men's outhouse was usually in such disrepair, everyone wanted to use the women's outhouse., eventually they quit using the stars altogether.
Thanks for the clarification and the cartoon is now downgraded from "bigotted" to "simply not funny." And I blame the Post article for thowing me off.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

BUNCH OF MAD AFGHANS: Maybe Sullivan is right. Maybe liberation did work in Afghanistan. Just read this Washington Post article on the murder of French U.N. worker Bettina Goislard and, especially, the reaction to it.

(And again, compare and contrast the Times and Post pieces. The Post outdoes the Times as it has been doing for, well, a long time ago. The Post, though, still has the always reliable Pamela Constable in Afghanistan.)

[Goislard's] slaying unleashed a wave of highly emotional and even violent reactions by people in Ghazni, according to Afghan and U.N. officials. Bystanders and shopkeepers leaped on her assailants and tried to beat them to death, officials said. Police intervened, but one attacker had to be hospitalized.

Over the next 48 hours, the officials said, angry residents tried to burn down the houses of the assailants, who were quickly identified, and a mob surrounded the jail where they were being held, demanding that they be summarily executed in public. Meanwhile, a caravan of 80 vehicles spontaneously followed officials carrying Goislard's body to Kabul.

Afghan officials said that President Hamid Karzai personally intervened to deter the violence, repeatedly telephoning Ghazni officials and insisting that the attackers be protected from mob revenge and brought to formal justice. "As the news spread, crowds gathered. They wanted the two men, and they wanted their families banished from the area," said Jawad Luddin, Karzai's chief spokesman. "The president spoke with the governor and told him not to allow it. Justice has to be served in the proper legal manner."

On the other hand, Luddin said, the public outrage over Goislard's slaying "shows there is a very clear difference between the terrorists and the people." The convoy that followed the aid worker's body to Kabul, he said, was a "significant gesture of solidarity," especially because it occurred during an evening in Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

[...]"The people beat them a lot. They wanted to burn their houses, and then they had a big demonstration and they wanted us to kill the prisoners right away," he said. "I agreed with them, because this was a very big crime and we have our tribal laws in Afghanistan. But the president called me many times and ordered that they have to go to trial. That's why they are still alive."
Goislard has been buried in a British embassy in Kabul, the AP reports. Reuters has pictures.

Anyhow, Sullivan is wrong on one poll he links to. He rightly claims that 83% think they are better off, but
The aid groups stressed the survey does not necessarily represent the views of all Afghans, because security concerns prevented them from getting the opinions of those living in the most dangerous areas. But they said the responses showed progress is being made in areas where security has been improved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

AL-JAZEERA AT ITS BEST: There's liberal bias. There's conservative bias. And there's funny bias. Is Al-Jazeera funny or what? First take a look at their top story. That picture is just Priceless.

And, of course, they have the news on Michael Jackson's warrant for alleged child molesting. (Big deal. Who's more mportant? Molester of a child or molester of the Middle East?) The caption under the Jackson's second picture? "The former child star who thinks he is Peter Pan."

NO WHISKEY TODAY: Hey, look. Glenn Reynolds is using the "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" line again. Yawn. How would that line hold up in, say, Afghanistan? It wouldn't.

The United Nations refugee agency announced Tuesday that it was temporarily pulling 30 foreign staff members out of large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan and closing refugee reception centers in four provinces, officials said.
The poor French lady had told friends and family that if she'd die, she wanted to be buried in Afghanistan. And the fact that the U.N. Mine Action Centre has fled Ghazni too has somehow gone unmentioned. Most aid agencies fled some southern (mostly border) provinces, or at least districts of, some months ago, because of the Taliban resurgency.

Speaking of that, the New York Times quotes Administration officials fearing that the regurgency pose new threats to the stability. It's a shame that it took 'em 400 dead Afghan soldiers and police officers to realize it.

My question is and remains, of course, what it decides to about it. "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" in Afghanistan? More like "Theocracy! Opium! Misogyny!" to me. (And credit for that line goes to Aziz Poonawalla.)

UPDATE: How paranoid can you get? Yesterday's Reuters quotes the Taliban spokesperson:
"Yes, we did that. Our guerrillas were involved in killing that Christian woman. We have confirmed information that most of the foreigners working in our country are American agents and have no sympathy for Afghanistan.

"We will not spare them," the Taliban spokesman said. "They are not doing anything for common Afghans but are preaching Christianity in Afghanistan or spying against the Taliban."
Fighthing evangelists? This guy is more delusional than Ann Coulter on a bad day.

Monday, November 17, 2003

A BITTER CLARK: I still haven't decided on which Presidentail candidate to back, but Kevin Drum notes this Fox News interview with Wesley Clark.

Fox: On Meet the Press you said the following: "President Bush has said [the war in Iraq] is the centerpiece for the war on terror. It isn't. It's a sideshow. It's simply their easiest means of access to attack American soldiers. That's all it is."

Do you really think Iraq is only a sideshow?

Clark: The war on terror is a terrible distraction. We should have gone directly after Osama bin Laden....We should be putting a full court press on finding Osama bin Laden....

Fox: While our men and women are dying in Iraq, is it proper to call it a sideshow?

Clark: Our men and women in Iraq are doing a fabulous job....Don't you dare twist word into disrespect for our men and women in uniform....You better take my words the right way....
A Democrat with a backbone--that's a first.

LANAT UPON THE HARABISTS: They don't care anymore. Al-Qaeda is ready and they aren't sparing anyone. Jews, Christians, Muslims, secularists. Anyone that doesn't agree to their twisted and misguided form of Islam is a target.

A bit of history here, Turkish Jews are the descendants of communities who fled the Reconquista and the Inquisition of Spain. They left the Iberian Peninsula along with Arabs and Muslims with whom they lived for centuries. They were persecuted by Christians, when its institutions were managed by ruthless theocracies. It was a Muslim Caliph who opened his lands to them. The highest Islamic institution, the Caliphate granted the authority to accept the Jews on Muslim lands. The Ottoman Sultan granted them political asylum and the right to live in security. And Muslims today should continue to do so.

UPDATE: Whatever my beef and huge disagreements with Chris Hitchens (he doesn't like to be called "Chris" I've heard), he basically adds to what I wrote earlier:

Whatever its faults, Turkey is a society with many elements of pluralism and democracy. (Just last week, in accordance with its expressed desire to conform with EU rules, it abolished capital punishment.) It also has a tradition of hospitality, offered in traditional Islamic terms, to the Jewish people. When expelled and dispossessed by Christian Europe, the Sephardim found refuge under the protection of the Caliph, in dominions of Islam as far apart as Bosnia and Baghdad. From this latest outrage, then, we can see how false the Bin Ladenists are, even to their own expressed reverence for a lost Muslim empire. The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews. Their Turkish neighbors were casually murdered as "collateral damage."
I still think Hitchens is dissillusional. He tries so incredibly hard to tie Hussein's Baathism to al-Qaeda's "Islamofascism," as he does in today's Slate.
In recent attacks from those gangs who have been busily fusing Saddamism with Bin Ladenism...
Just take a look at this Salon recountof the debate between Hitchens and journalist Mark Danner. As the article notes, he's become a party hack; he's lost grip on reality.

He's a loss though. Sigh.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

NEWS ROUND-UP: Several Afghan newspapers have been reporting that there were student protests at Balkh University against the new draft of the constitution. The protestors walked through the streets of the Mazer-E-Sharif, stopping at the office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and than demanded that a) Uzbek should be recognized as the official language of the country alongside Dari and Pashto b) balance among the languages should be applied as far as the national anthem, banknotes and military ranks c) the title of "Father of the Nation" (granted to the king Zahir Shah) should be given to a person who has made some achievements d) primary and higher education should be available free of charge to the people as in the past e) the process of elections should be monitored by the United Nations f) a national of Afghanistan should be called "Afghanistani" rather than "Afghan" g) the first language of the country should be determined by people's votes. Good news and very interesting, to say the least.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on the voters' registration for the 2004 election, on Wednesday. The decree set up rules for voter registration and creates the Joint Election Office to monitor and registrate voters. Registration is set to begin on December 1 and will continue into the middle of next year. The office's deputy Afran Abdul-Rahman of Mauritius, issued a special plea Thursday, asking Afghanistan's women to turn out for the registration and voting.

RFE/RL's Amin Tarzi has an analyse on women rights and the use of force under the draft of the new constitution. He also has the latest from Afghanistan.

Friday, November 14, 2003

ALL HAIL THE NY TIMES: A standing ovation for the New York Times, please. The paper has been notably absent on the Afghan front and they haven't been the only one. In Saturday's edition we find an excellent op-ed by Nicholas Kristof. I was ready to fisk it, but Kristof got everything right. The second op-ed focuses on the draft of the new constitution. It addresses " troubling aspects" and I tend to agree with some of the points.

[I]t says the members of the Supreme Court should be educated in either civil law or Islamic law, a provision that raises the possibility of more judges who base their rulings on the Koran rather than civil law. Finally, although women would become part of the government, there is no separate acknowledgment of rights for women, a basic need for a country with Afghanistan's painful history.
I already touched upon the Supreme Court, not because it bases rulings on the Qu'ran but since it has the ability to interpret the laws coming out of the Parliament.

The previous Afghan constitutions have basically said the same thing about women rights as this draft--nothing. They all speak of the rights of the "people;" not male or female. So I'm not quite sure if it would be feasible to be inserted in the final version.

One other thing I what bothered me was the degree of power that has been given to the provinces and districts. Numbers of provinces or districts have not been decided. The draft establishes 'Provincial Councils' headed by a chairman. It is not clear whether this chairman is to take up administrative tasks of the provincial government or serves as a head of the legislature. For example, if he is given executive powers then he is practically the governor of the province. In this case he would be wearing two hats, which is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. If Provincial Councils are legislatures, then the document should say so and expound on their responsibilities. It should then define the executive power for the province as well. A better system of distribution of power would have been giving the provinces the right to elect their own executives and the Provincial Councils to serve as local legislative assemblies.

BLAIR'S BETRAYAL: Sidney Blumenthal's column appeared in today's Guardian (originally read on and revealed the following:

Abu Mazen was scheduled to come to Washington to meet Bush a month later. For his political survival, he desperately required US pressure on the Sharon government to make concessions on building settlements on the West Bank. Abu Mazen sent a secret emissary to the White House: Khalil Shikaki. I met Shikaki in Ramallah, where he gave his account of this urgent trip. He met Elliot Abrams and laid out what support was needed from Bush if Abu Mazen - and therefore the road map - were to survive. Abrams told him, he says, that Bush "could not agree to anything" due to domestic political considerations: Bush's reliance on the religious right, his refusal to offend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the demands of the upcoming election. Shikaki pleaded that Abu Mazen presented "a window of opportunity" and could not go on without US help. "He has to show he's capable of doing it himself," Abrams answered dismissively.

Inside the NSC, those in favour of the road map - CIA analysts Flynt Leverett and Ben Miller among others - were forced out. On September 6, Abu Mazen resigned, and the road map collapsed.
Two thing to note here: First, I'm simply astounded that Abbas would send someone like Shikaki as his envoy. Shikaki is widely hated in the occupied territories for misinterpreting polls it sure looks like Abbas could trust no one.

Secondly, note Elliot Abrams' role in undermining the road map. He's one to look out for in the future.

40 HOURS OF DEBATE AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT: An Washington Post reporters' account of the 39-hour talkathon:

7:05 -- Downstairs, in the Mansfield Room, the Democrats are holding a pep rally for supporters, some of whom wear T-shirts that read: "We Confirmed 98% of Bush's Judges And All We Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt." Pumping his pasty fist into the air, Ted Kennedy bellows, "We are not going to be a rubber stamp for right-wing ideological judges."
From the same Style section...
"She probably needs to get laid." -- Britney Spears, offering an obsolete prescription for Kendel Ehrlich, pregnant wife of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, as reported by the New York Post. In October, Kendel made an off-the-cuff remark about shooting the singer.
Congress and Britney: today's rollmodels.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

HIGH ON HEROIN: Even though the Qu'ran strongly forbids Muslims from producing or imbibing intoxicants (5:91, 92, and 2:219), the Taliban provided a safe haven for poppy farmers. The cultivation of opium, as stated by Abdul Rashid, the then-anti-drugs control force in Kandahar, was permissible only "because it is consumed by kafirs [unbelievers] in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans." Rashid knew well that by making sure that farmers could freely cultivate their poppies, heroin would be cheaper on the streets of New York. It also made sure that people wouldn't rebel against the Taliban.

The Taliban had quickly realized the need to formalize the drugs economy in order to raise revenue. After capturing Kandahar, the Taliban quickly began colleting Islamic tax, or zakar, on all farmers and dealers moving opium, but the Taliban had no religious qualms in collect 20% of the value of a truckload. It made Pakistani dealers rich and helped Taliban fund weapons, ammunition and fuel.

The cultivation of poppies was also a tool for blackmail. Between 1997 and 1999, the Taliban repeatedly offered to substitute poppies for cash crop if the United States and United Nations would give it international recognition. The huge increase in drug trafficking and addicts in neighboring Asian countries prompted the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) to conclude an agreement after 6 months of negotiating in October of 1997. The Taliban would squash opium cultivation if the international community would help substitute it for crops. The deal was welcomed optimistically, but the deal was never implemented. The Taliban failed to live up to its obligations, the international agency failed to back it with a bigger UNDCP-budget and U.N. agencies pulled out in 1998.

THE AFGHAN OPIUM BOOM: Yesterday, Afghan foreign minister Dr. Abdullah was at the Voice of America where he gave interviews to the Dari and Pashto services. I met and spoke to him briefly. He raised his concerns on the re-emergence of the Taliban and instability caused by the former in the southern provinces; he blamed Pakistani for ignoring the Taliban activity inside its borders. In the interviews, he also addressed the concern of poppy production.

On Monday, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released a report in which it expected that Afghanistan was to produce 3,960 tons of opium worth about $2.3 billion, which is equal to half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. No wonder the Afghan economy is in full bloom. I sympathize with the average Joe Mohammad, who cultivates poppies to make a living, to support his family and to survive. As this Washington Post article stresses, most poppy cultivators are simply small farmers. It's hard for the average Afghan farmer to ditch opium and live an honest earning, simply because there's a limited amount of alternatives. Unfortunately, it also feeds social ills and undermines the reconstruction. There's no easy solution and there won't be one for a while.

CONSTITUTION BRIEFING: What follows is a transcript of a press briefing by Dr. Farooq Wardak, Director of the Constitutional Commission Secretariat, in Kabul last Sunday. It might be of interest to some of you.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to be with you. Thank you all for attending this meeting and thank you to UNAMA for arranging this facility which is one of the best to inform the international community about different important programmes, including the Constitution making process.

The draft Constitution was released on 3 November. So far, we have produced 7,000 official copies, of which 5,500 were distributed to the post office yesterday to be sent to all the provinces and districts. Each province will get 30 copies and each district will get 10 copies. Another 15,000 copies of our official publication, Asasi Qanoon, which contains both the draft and the report, will be sent out. Five thousand of these will go to regional and provincial offices and the remaining 10,000 will be distributed to embassies, ministries and different institutions. Another 100,000 copies are being printed which are in two sizes, a book size and a passport size. Out of this, 40,000 will be distributed by Killeed and Mursal, while the remaining 60,000 will be distributed by our own regional offices and the regional offices of UNAMA.

We have devised a comprehensive public education programme involving the offices of the Secretariat and the Commission. The Commission has assigned four committees, which are made up of members of the Commission. The first committee is media monitoring. This monitors all aspects of media reporting, collects information on the constitution, and briefs the Commission. The second is the rapid response unit, which explains the points that are under question or which need more clarity. The third is the writing of a book on the Constitution to orient the members of the Constitutional Loya Jirga.

The fourth committee, consisting of eight members, is responsible for going to the regional offices to educate voters during the election stage. Registration, which is the pre-requisite for the election, was completed on 5 November in all 32 provinces. This started on 21 September. So far, we have 73.2 percent of the voters registered and registration is taking place in our own offices and will go on up to five days before the election begins. This percentage that I have given you does not include data on Nangarhar, Kabul and Kandahar. It will be added later today to the percentage, which may then go up to 75 percent. Elections in two provinces, Badakhshan and Ghor, were already conducted and they went very well. Elections for special categories are going according to the timetable. Elections for women were completed yesterday for 15 provinces and in the remaining provinces it is on going. For the other four categories, such as refugees, internally displaced people, nomads and minorities, the election is going on in four different stages. The first is the composition of a national advisory committee, which is completed for all categories. The second is the identification of election zones for each of the categories as per the population of these people. Then there are phase one elections and phase two elections. A phase one election is an election for electors, and phase two is for the candidates. For all five categories, the first three stages have been completed, which means establishment of the advisory committees, identification of election zones and first phase elections. For some of the categories, the second phase of the election has been completed.

We have been faced with some problems, some intimidation and some security problems. I am sure you have been informed that in the Ghor election, a deputy minister of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs was elected. We did not know that he was sitting and a functioning deputy minister. After it was noted, we had to cancel his election and the re-election took place the day before yesterday in a successful way. There were other security incidents, which have been tackled in
adequate ways by the office of the Secretariat.

If there are any questions, I would be more than happy to respond.

Question: What has been the most frequent question on the draft constitution so far?

Dr. Wardak: We have been getting two types of comments. One type of comment that we have been getting from the majority of the people is praise for the Constitution, saying that it is really balanced and takes into account the hopes and needs of Afghanistan today and in the future. And of course we are getting some negative views from different parts as you may know. From some parts of the country we are getting, for example, questions as to why Pashtu is not the
national language. And from some parts they want a restoration of the monarchy. And some other places they were going for federalism. These are the three major types of comments that we are getting.

Question: You mentioned the security problems in Ghor when the election had to be redone but I understand there was a more serious security problem in Badakhshan with physical threats against the candidates? Do you know anything about that?

Dr. Wardak: Nothing of that nature has been reported to us by the international observers provided by UNAMA and the non-governmental organizations. No one has formally reported any serious intimidation in Badakhshan. Rather everyone has been speaking about it very well and that it took place in a very peaceful environment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

MUST-READS FOR TODAY: I usually don't link to blogposts without giving some context or commenting myself, but here are some things you should read today: Brian Ulrich has a story on the struggle of Afghan Hindus, and he also fisks Martin Kramer.

Dan Darling has an excellent analysis on the situation in Saudi Arabia. And finally, Aziz has a post on the meaning of jihad and the abuse of the term. He also links to an older comment piece written by him, and one I'm glad I have read, on what terrorism really is; harabah, and not jihad; making the perpetrators of terrorism harabists and not jihadists. From now on, I will refer to calls for jihad by bin Laden and ilk as hirabah and refer to those who answer the call as harabists.

BIRD EYE'S VIEW: From the Afghan newspaper Ayina-e Zan

The text of the draft constitution of the country which is based on tenets of the holy religion of Islam, social justice, national sovereignty and democracy has been presented to the people after keeping them waiting for months.

What will be people's judgment about the text of the draft constitution is a separate issue, but the fact that the respectable Review Commission of the Constitution still says that the draft is not finalized and is asking for more views is a considerable issue.

How much have the members of the commission incorporated the views of the people in the existing draft? Although, the draft presents a law which is feasible in the current situation of Afghanistan, what will be the solution to differences between the president and the parliament once a parliament is formed and political parties are represented in it? This issue is vague and the draft constitution does not provide an answer to it. As long as fundamental rights and duties of citizens are concerned there are good articles about them and it is overall an appropriate law.

It merits a mention that due to a number of reasons this national document was handed over to the president secretly without holding a formal ceremony and in the absence of the Father of Nation (the former king Mohammad Zaher Shah), senior government officials and representatives of the diplomatic corps. What differences were brought to first draft after it was submitted to the head of state cannot be explained. But let us hope for the prosperity of the nation and welfare of the society. Otherwise, this national document will lose its quality and value and according to an analyst it will only be a piece of paper blackened.

Monday, November 10, 2003

THE CONTROVERSY OVER MISS AFGHANISTAN: You might be interested in what I have to say on Vida Samadzai, better known as Afghanistan. Ms. Samadazai will be the first person in more than 30 years to compete in the Miss Earth pageant next week. From burqa to bikini! "AMERICA 100, TALIBAN 0: This says it all," Glenn Reynolds enthusiastically proclaimed. But do I think this--an Afghan and Muslim woman to show off in a bikini in front of so many people--is a good thing? Yes and no. First off, a little bit of background on Islam in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, it didn't matter whether you were rich or poor, king or mujahedin, Marxist or tribe leader: Afghans of all ways of life are Muslims. I acknowledge that I'm biased on this position, but Islam in Afghanistan has been traditionally tolerant. Tolerant to other faiths and tolerant to other sects. Until 1992, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews played a significant role in the country's economy. (Hindus and Sikhs arrived in Afghanistan with the British as camp followers in the 19th century. Afghan Jewry dates back 2,700 years.) Islam has deep roots in Afghanistan because Sharia governed the legal process until 1925, after which King Amanullah introduced civil legal code. Around 80% of Afghans belong to the Hanafi school of though, the more liberal of the four schools. Shiite Islam is predominant amongst the Hazaras, a handful of Pashtun tribes, and a few Tajik clans.

Another moderating factor for Islam in Afghanistan was the popularity of Sufism, the trend of mystical Islam. The two main Sufi orders, the Naqshbandiyah and Qaderiyah, both played major role in the jihad against Soviets. The main Sufi resistance leader and the only remaining member of his family, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, teamed up with King Zahir Shah to form the Mahaz-e-Mili, but were sidelined by the CIA and the Pakistani ISI. Instead, both chose for far extremists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and later the Taliban.

Moderation was standard, even throughout the jihad, until 1992. After 1992, brutal civil war destroyed moderation and consensus. The war divided Islamic sects, ethnic groups and tribes in a way never experienced before. In 1995, Ahmed Shah Massoud massacred Hazaras in Kabul; Hazaras and Tajik were massacred likewise by the Taliban in 1997; and Taliban did so likewise to Uzbeks in 1998. No side was left unharmed. These events and years of oppressive rule by the Taliban have left Afghanistan as one of the most conservative Muslim societies in the world. In addition to the religious norm, there's also the cultural norm. One such example is purdah: the concept of keeping women shrouded from unrelated men.

So it shouldn't be a surprising that the minister of women's affairs, the Supreme Court and the Kabul religious scholars' committee condemned Ms. Samadazai. Today's Afghan society does disapprove of Ms. Samadazai, but society should not decide a woman's freedom. Ms. Samadazai can go to the beach in a bikini, but she should not represent Afghanistan at the Miss Earth pageant. At least, not for now. Afghanistan will be ready for things like feminism and Miss Earth pageants. Women walking in high heels and skirts are not unprecedented and Zohra Daoud was the last Miss Afghanistan in 1972. There is, however, a middle ground between freedom and things like Joe Millionaire or Average Joe. Right now, women in bikinis will just give ammunition to the conservatives and slow the empowerment of women in Afghanistan.

There's a religious and cultural minefield in Afghanistan. And it will take a while until that field is safe to travel over.

NOTE: The Supreme Court's attempt to charge her with a non-existing (or some vaguely-described) crime is totally ridiculous. They should spent their time condeming and charging murderers--more than enough of those in Afghanistan.

CHARLES OF ARABIA: The Middle East Forum's (yes, the one started by Daniel Pipes) claims it aim is "to define and promote American interests in the Middle East." Their latest assessment of the least radical Islamic threat? Prince Charles may have converted to Islam. Imagine the horror.

TUMBS DOWN FROM NRO: Hmmm. The National Review Online's verdict on the new Afghan constitution? "Taliban-lite".

BAD MUSLIM VS BAD MUSLIM: I couldn't pass without discussing this weekends' bombings in Riyadh, which Tacitus mischaracterizes as a battle between "fanatical extremists" on both sides. No doubt that al-Qaeda's terrorists are fanatical extremists, but I think he's wrong when he paints the House of Sa'ud as fanatical extremists. A majority of Saudi princes are all Westernized, modernized, pro-capitalist, pro-American members of al-Sa'ud. Hence they are no different than the infidel Americans, in bin Laden's view. However, al-Qaeda isn't the only Islamic extremist enemy the Saudis have faced. The Ikhwan turned against King Abd-al-Aziz in 1930 because of continued modernization and the increased number of non-Muslims in the Kingdom. Sound familiar? The only reason the Saudis signed a deal with Osama bin Laden, the devil himself, was because of his continued criticism of the House of Sa'ud and increased popularity. Al-Qaeda's attempt to bring insecurity in the Kingdown, by targeting soft targets such as the Al-Nahkeel district, is also an attempt to bring down the House of Sa'ud.

The significance of this event is big. The BBC has a summary of responses to the bombings by Saudi and Arab newspapers. Some Saudi princes are asking the same questions we are asking. Islamists have condemned the bombing, including the Muslim Brotherhood. They've turned their biggest supporters into their worst enemy.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

IRAQ LOYA JIRGA: Progress in Iraq has no limits. Apparently our colonial puppets the Iraqi Governing Council isn't functioning as we would like. And I don't blame them. What? You didn't think people like Ahmed Chalabi would be lining their pockets? Well, I don't blame you for being naive either.

The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added. "We're unhappy with all of them. They're not acting as a legislative or governing body, and we need to get moving," said a well-placed U.S. official who spoke on the condition anonymity. "They just don't make decisions when they need to."

Ambassador Robert Blackwill, the new National Security Council official overseeing Iraq's political transition, begins an unannounced trip this weekend to Iraq to meet with Iraqi politicians to drive home that point. He is also discussing U.S. options with L. Paul Bremer, civilian administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, U.S. officials said.
And you know that things are really going bad when they consider something the French proposed...or even worse: something we're doing in Afghanistan!
The United States is even considering a French proposal, earlier rejected, to create an interim Iraqi leadership that would emulate the Afghan model, according to U.S. and French officials. During the debate before the new United Nations resolution on postwar Iraq was passed Oct. 17, France and other Security Council members had proposed holding a national conference -- like the Afghan loya jirga -- to select a provisional government that would have the rights of sovereignty.

Among several options, the administration is also considering changing the order of the transition if it looks as though it could drag on much longer than the United States had planned. The United States has long insisted that a new constitution was the essential first step and elections the final phase in handing over power.

But now U.S. officials are exploring the possibility, again backed by other Security Council members, of creating a provisional government with effective sovereignty to govern until a new constitution is written and elections held. This is again similar to Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai has governed while a new national charter is written. Elections are due there next June, two years after the fall of the Taliban.
I'm completely unfamiliar with the tribal culture and system in Iraq, so I'm unable to judge if an Iraqi Loya Jirga is an option. (Cue to Juan Cole!)

UPDATE: This Post article on what's happening on the road between Baghdad and Tehran has the following sub-heading: "Road From Baghdad Is Paved With Upheaval and Uncertainty." They should be happy: the road between Kabul and Kandahar is so heavily damaged that we needed the Saudis in helping us paving it! And by the way, the road is getting only one layer instead of the usual three. It has to be finished by the end of the year so President Bush can gloat over the accomplishments he's made in Afghanistan: a finished but unusable highway.

ROBERT SPENCER UNVEILED: Robert Spencer, anti-Islamic "expert" and author of books with titles as "Islam Unveiled" (in which he spends most of his time quoting Khomeini), has a blog up called "Jihad Watch" to wage his own jihad (or is it crusade?) against Islam. He wrote the following in response to President Bush's speech on democracy in Muslim countries:

[T]he problem with the states he mentioned [Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Albania, Niger, Sierra Leone], although each is quite different from the other, is that none of them are "Islamic democracies." .... All have stepped away from Sharia in varying degrees in order to establish, insofar as they have, democratic rule.
This, as convincing as it sounds, is not true. Sharia is practiced in Indonesia's family courts and in Aceh's criminal courts. Instead of moving away, Indonesia has moved towards Sharia. But you wouldn't learn that from Robert Spencer.

Islamic democracies are a new brand of democracy. There's no guarantee that they'll be pro-Western or liberal democracies as known in the West. That analogy--and I'm sure it's going to be made in the future--is a false one.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

MOROCCO AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS: On Thursday, I expressed skepticism at political reforms in the Arab world. But Morocco's King Mohammed VI has a pretty solid record.

Today, reports that, for the first time, a woman gave a religious lecture before an audience of scholars and theologians.

For the first time in the history of Morocco, a woman has given a religious lecture at the traditional lectures organized every Ramadan (fasting month) by the king of Morocco.

Rajaa Naji Mekkaoui, a university teacher, presented her lecture before King Mohammed VI at the royal palace in Rabat, which serves as a venue for such event. Her lecture before an audience of scholars and theologians from the Muslim World was entitled "The universality of the family structure in a world of multiple distinctive features." In her analysis, Mrs Mekkaoui congratulated the monarch for his "great role" in reforming the family code that gives women more rights.

The Ramadan religious lectures were instituted by the late king Hassan II in the eighties. They are attended by members of the government, high ranking military officials, foreign ambassadors accredited to Rabat and guests from the Muslim World.
Excellent news, to say the least. And hopefully permanent.

This is unrelated but interestingly, the Riyadh Daily is reporting that the Arab League will sent a delegation to Iraq next week.

AFGHAN CONSTITUTION: Brian Ulrich has some comments on the draft constitution and he plays down the hype about a "Taliban-lite" regime. Several people have responded differently to the heavier Islamic tone, in contrast to earlier constitutions, that this draft caries. An Iranian friend of mine was heavily disappointed and told me he'd absolutely wanted to make sure that Iran's future government would be one with a separation between state and mosque. All by all, I disagree with Brian. It's much fuzz, although seriously legitimate fuzz, about little. Keep an eye, though, on the Supreme Court, which has the ability to interpret the laws coming out of the legislative organ. (If Iran comes to your mind, there's a valid reason for it.)

Anyway, this Economist article is spot on (although I disagree that "the 1964 constitution... set the country on the path to 23 years of war") and much in sync with Amin Tarzi's analyse.

The constitution will also lay out the framework for next year's elections (likely to be pushed back now, from summer to autumn). The monarchy is out for good, though the present king will keep his title of "Father of the Country". In the monarch's place will be a directly elected president and a bicameral legislature. The constitution differs from its American model in being avowedly centralised. Afghanistan is too weak, the drafters think, to tolerate federalism just yet.

How might all this play out? The finer points of the draft will probably be the subject of wearisome debate by December, as different groups ready themselves for the elections. Politicking has already begun, which is perhaps good news in a country where disputes have for so long been solved by violence. The ex-communists will rebrand themselves on the left. A monarchist party will appear on the right. In the centre will be a loose movement of self-styled 'national unity' headed by Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president. The only credible threat to this centrist block might come from the possible creation of a jihadi party made up of former anti-Soviet guerrillas with conservative social views, bankrolled by Tajiks and headed by a sellable Pushtun.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

GULBUDDIN: There are unconfirmed reports that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has teamed up with Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters against the Afghan government, has recentely had secret talks with Hezb-E-Islami Jamiat-E Islami leader Burhanuddin Rabbani. Reports allege that Gulbuddin would reach a deal and lend support to the Northern Alliance. More on this later.

UPDATE: Thanks to Zack for pointing out that Rabbani heads the Jamiat-E-Islami party (largely Northern Alliance); Gulbuddin of course leads Hezb-E-Islami. A quick note: Rabbani and Gulbuddin aren't unfamiliar to each other. Gulbuddin once served as Rabbani's Prime Minister; later they fought together against Abdul Rashid Dostum and the Taliban. Most of the time I ignore these kinds of rumors, but these may not be totally fabricated. I wouldn't be surprised if it really did happen.

GOOD DICTATORS, BAD DICTATORS: President Bush discussed "freedom in Iraq and the Middle East" at the National Endowment for Democracy. In his speech, he praised Morocco, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In Saudi Arabia, the reforms are presented as a step toward new political openness, with partial municipal elections plan-ned by the end of 2004. In Egypt, the son (and likely succesor) of President Hosni Mubarak promised reform that would allow more freedom to political parties and unions. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has proposed a multi-stage process of local council elections within a framework of other reforms that have been stalled since terrorist bombings in May. In Jordan, King Abdullah II has called for the establishment of a Centre for Human Rights, a Higher Media Council and revived parliament after a two-year hiatus. In Kuwait, there is an extensive debate in both the legislature and society at large about a women's bill of rights, as well as other reforms.

So how much reform are we really talking about in the Arab countries? A gift given is a gift that can be taken back. Arab regimes that are offering a small degree of political openness are doing this not as a matter of citizens' rights, but as a "noble" act of generosity done at the pleasure of Washington. The United states remains the guarantor of the survival of the old repressive Arab order, whose keepers will continue to use security and the excuse of conflict with Israel to delay real political and economic reform at home. As one unnamed Arab diplomat said: ''His treatment of the various governments reflects their policy towards the United States. The more you applaud him, the more democratic you are. It's transparent and it's ridiculous.''

The United States disregards human rights records in favor of praising pro-American dictators. What message does this send to the liberals and reformers?

UPDATE: Abu Aardvark agrees...

[T]he US has not often been on the side of democracy in the Middle East, and there is very little sign that this is changing. The fundamental problem has always been that real democracy could bring to power popular groups which are not supportive of American foreign policy. And faced with a choice between Arab democracy and national interests, the US has almost always chosen the latter, for better or for worse. That's the reality, which no amount of Presidential spin can change. And the complete collapse of public support for the US among Arab public opinion attests to the overwhelming skepticism about American intentions.
... and delivers these hard-hitting words.
If Bush genuinely wants to promote Arab change and democracy, great - and I really mean that. But look at the deeds, and see if they match the words. Arabs do. What does Bush actually say, and what does he actually do? There is, despite everything, absolutely nothing in the speech that suggests a serious willingness to prioritize democracy over support for American foreign policy goals. And, quite frankly, there is nothing in Bush's foreign policy team to suggest that they prioritize democracy (although I might make a partial exception for Paul Wolfowitz, for reasons I might get into later).
Did I tell you that Abu's blog is a must-read?

THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS: The race for the Presidency of Afghanistan has started. No, really. Apparently, the constitutional commision had prepared a fundamentally different consitution than the one that was presented on Monday. The Northern Alliance had presented a system with a President, Prime Minister and a parliament, in which parliament would have significantly more power. Apparently, Karzai and his cabinet nixed the idea and instead adopted a strong Presidency; one with a vice-President and less parlimanentary power. One Jamiat-e-Islami official described it as a "second dictatorship."

Here's an editorial from the Afghan newspaper Ayine-e Zan titled "Civilian or Military? It is your choice" from a week or so ago.

After the transitional government of Afghanistan identified the newly formed coalition of armed mojahedin in the north, it approved and promulgated the new law on political parties. It is beyond doubt that the said law is a baby born before his mother if we take an analytical look at it. It is due to the fact that our constitution is still undergoing a review process and the law on political parties needs to complete its implementation stage. Secondly, a number of political circles convinced the transitional government and its international friends that the 2004 elections should be held in a secure and transparent environment to achieve overall satisfaction. Afghanistan is a country that has constantly throughout its history experienced a bitter situation after suffering from an internal problem, therefore, the leaders of Afghanistan are required to promulgate the best laws. The new law on political parties can be considered a complete plan aimed at ending political, factional and military crisis. However, concerns about the implementation of such good laws remain. Will the political and military leaders who constitute 85 per cent of Mr Karzai's cabinet automatically adopt happy civilian faces by tearing up their membership cards? Or will it lead to another situation where not two but several water melons have to be held in one hand?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS IT IS NOT: A short follow-up on my first post on whether this is a clash of civilizations, which I think it is not.

One of the reasons there are so many pundits and prominent academics who think that we are engaged, or will so in the future, in a war, a clash, of civilizations is the overestimation of the role of religion—[militant] Islam—in today’s international affairs. It must be realized that the West’s political and cultural experiences do not serve as a universal model; other forms of political and cultural organizations may be just as valid and functional. A Muslim country's rejection of a liberal and secular government doesn't mean it’s anachronism for the past. The West grasps it only dimly because it’s rooted in a close connection between religions and politics; a connection the West does not make and/or finds uncomfortable. The same goes for the concept of Jihad. Both grossly mischaracterized and misinterpreted by dictionaries and so-called experts alike.

Until we don’t accept this perspective, we won’t be able to defend ourselves. And until we change our ways in this troubled part of the world, the Islamic world’s grievances against the United States will remain a dogma for Osama bin Laden.

MUQTADA AL-STREET THUG: Juan Cole translates an article from last Sunday's al-Zaman, an Iraqi newspaper, after I tipped him off via e-mail.

The prominent Shiite Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr called upon the American troops in his country to spare lives, and called them to unity and brotherhood with the Iraqi people. He affrimed that "Saddam Hussein and his followers are the enemies of Iraq, not the Americans." In a statement distributed in Najaf, excerpts of which were published in the newspaper al-Sabah [Saturday], he characterized the presence of US troops in Iraq as "that of guests", and described the Americans as a "peace-loving people." He described Saddam as a "sinful aggressor." He said, "The Iraqi people want only good for the Americans, and there is no enemy of Iraq except Saddam and his followers."
Sadr's popularity is driven by three his populist rhetoric against the U.S. occupation, personal charisma and his father's legacy. Maybe it's a sign that Sadr's influence and power may be tapering off. Maybe not.

THE ISLAMIC MATRIX CONNECTION: Via the AP's The Matrix timeline:

2080-85 — Rioting and violence against machines prompts robots to flee major cities and establish their own community — known as Zero One — in a remote part of the Middle East.
That would explain their obsession with destroying Zion, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

SOME BREAKING NEWS HERE: Today we're having local elections here in Virginia. Our county, Fairfax Country, purchased 1,000 electronic voting machines of which around 950 went into use today. Local news just reported that more than a handful of these simply broke down and they were taking to the County Board where it was to be fixed. However, law prevents such action--moving the machines that is. Now get this: Republicans filed suit in court today this afternoon.

Flori-duh indeed.

(Local news also reported that a first-grade teacher left a bomb-threat at an elementary school. I kid you not.)

AFGHAN CONSTITUTION: You can read the English translation of the draft in Word here.

Monday, November 03, 2003

IRAQ AND VIETNAM AFGHANISTAN: The title of this Slate article seems far more appropriate than what some Democrats and even Republicans have been saying.

THREE HOORAYS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST: In addition to being the only newspaper that has its eye on the ball (the ball being Afghanistan, of course), it's now publishing editorials on Pakistan's continued support for the Taliban--from inside Pakistan. And they're quoting Ahmed Rashid:

THE PAKISTANI CITY of Quetta lately has become more than a provincial capital; it might also be described as the new headquarters of the extremist Taliban movement, which ruled Afghanistan and sheltered Osama bin Laden until two years ago. According to one recent report by the respected Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, "Thousands of Taliban fighters reside in mosques and madrassas with the full support of a provincial ruling party and militant Pakistani groups. Taliban leaders wanted by the U.S. and Kabul governments are living openly in nearby villages." Mr. Rashid quoted the provincial government's information minister as saying, "Only the Taliban can constitute the real government of Afghanistan." During a recent visit, The Post's John Lancaster met with a Taliban recruiter who described how he traveled with 14 other Pakistanis across the border into Afghanistan last summer to wage war against U.S. and Afghan government forces. "It's no problem at all to cross back and forth," the recruiter said.
So when will the liberal media start calling Quetta the "spiritual capital of the Taliban?"

AFGHAN CONSTITUTION: The draft of the Afghan constitution has finally been unveiled to the public. It will be published in Afghan newspapers on Tuesday and Wednesday. More on this soon.

A WAR OF CIVILIZATIONS: Are we in a war of civilizations? It's a topic of recent discussion and here's my attempt to answer the question:

First of, what does Osama bin Laden think? "This is a matter of religion and creed... there is no way to forget the hostility between us and the infidels. It is ideological." Pretty clear-cut, right? His effective melding of religious fervor, Muslim piety and a profound sense of grievances into his ideological force is an undeniable accomplishment. So does bin Laden hate Western-style democracy? Yes. Does he hate equality for women? Does he hate Jews and Christians? Does he hate American secularism? The answer is yes. But he has never said these things. Instead he has used the most selective and unpopular policies which have affected the Arab and Islamic world. The troops in Saudi Arabia, support for Israel's harsh policies against the Palestinians, sanctions against Iraq, the bombing of Iraq, the trigger happiness in attacking Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan, controlling the Islamic worlds resources, and support for the Muslims world's absolutist kings and dictators. These are the average Muslim's and Arab's grievances against the United States. But it's not bin Laden's reason to order the mass-murdering of 3,000 Americans. The speeches he gives, in which he cites these "justifications," are to garner support for his aims. These are also ways to recruit the angry Muslim, may they be in the living along the southwestern Highway 16 in the Asir province of Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen or the Islamophobia-plagued streets of Brussels, the melting pot that keeps getting colder and colder.

Here's the best way to put it: there are two types of people who want to see America go down. There's type A; the average lower-class Arab/Muslims who directly experiences the actions of his government and its American support. Then there's type B; the anti-modernist and the anti-Westerner, who simply hates us for what the West is, does, and acts. Type A is where bin Laden gets his support and type B are the actual terrorists. Type B are usually brainwashed and radicalized; and Mohammad Atta is the ultimate example. He was a middle-class Egyptian who became an extremist in a Berlin mosque, not a Cairo mosque.

One more thing: a "war of civilizations" implies that two civilizations are each trying to destroy the other, not one civilization under attack. Islamofascism is not a civilization. Neither is Wahhabism or al-Qaeda. Sidenote: Assuming the West is out to destroy Islam and its believers, it would, well, impossible. Try invading 57 countries with growing, if not exploding, birth-rates. We're everywhere and growing faster than any other religion.

UPDATE: Aziz agrees.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

GETTING MORE DESPERATE BY THE MINUTE: The Iraqi insurgents were so desperate this morning that they decided to shoot down a chopper, killing 15. Let me list the accomplishments and progress we've made in the last week: Paul Wolfowitz was targeted in the al-Rasheed hotel; the Red cross was targeted; 3 police stations were targetted; the deputy mayor of Baghdad was assassinated; a car-bomb killed 6 in Faluja; U.S. forces fought a two-day battle against guerillas in Abu Gharib; a U.S. military train shipment was partially blown up and looted; and 12 soldiers have died in the last 7 days excluding the chopper-attack. Two days into November, we've already lost 18 soldiers.

Progress? Tell that to the boys' families.

REFLECTIONS ON RABIN AND THE "PEACE" PROCESS: Many things have happened since Yitzhak Rabin has died, yet we've achieved so little. I was a staunch believer and supporter of the Oslo accords, but Oslo was, to put it very bluntly, a lie.

The Oslo accords's failure to address the causes of the conflict--the occupation itself, borders, settlements, the right of return and the settlements--attribute to the bloodshed going on today. A lot of people attribute the failures of Oslo to the Palestinians, alleging that they turned to violence instead of negotiating. But the Palestinian attacks don't occur in a vacuum. Instead of something similar to a workable Palestinian state, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank grew to 400,000; in the Jordan Valley, 5,000 Jewish settlers consumed 75% of the water, leaving the remainder for two million Palestinians; by 2000, Israel had built 250 miles of bypass roads ("Jew-only" roads) on Palestinian land to connect settlements and Israel; Israel's control over people's movement and goods increased.

Why should the Palestinians and Israelis waste their time on a political process that serves neither and only causes future problems? Reality comes down to this: attacks on Israeli civilians are unlikely to end until the conditions which encourage them are removed. It's a harsh reality but one that should be considered; not necessarily accepted.

So what's the peace-plan for the future? How to end the suffering for both people?

First of, Yasser Arafat is not a miracle worker. Neither is Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Queria or any other Abu you'll find. You need to deal with the issues and root causes. The current roadmap lacks a destination. Freeze the settlements? Alright. Ending terrorism? Of course. So what comes next? What about Jerusalem? How do the millions of refugees end up? How are you going to deal with the wall? What are the borders going to be? How are we going to guarantee to security? If none of these issues are addressed, we're going to end up in destination "unknown." Yeah, we all know that worked right? The Roadmap is a continuation of Oslo. Let's start with giving Ariel Sharon and Sheikh Yassin a Nobel Peace Prize! How about dodging issues and wishfully thinking than they will magically disappear?

Start dealing with the issues. The Geneva accords sounds nice and I'm sure it's workable. If issues aren't solved, you are left with a process without substance and a roadmap to nowhere.

ZIONIST HATE BRIGADE: Interested in reading an anti-Islamic rant? Go here. You may have heard the story about man in Sudan claiming that they lost their penises after shaking hands with foreigners. Funny, right? I thought so to! But Mark Steyn goes from missing Islamic victimhood? Even though Sudan is overwhelmingly Muslim, the story identifies the men only as "merchants." How do you think the response would be if something strange happened in, say, Israel and the a columnist would start speaking of "Jewish crimes?" Anyways, I shouldn't pay attention to somebody as disengenuous as Steyn. In fact, I should never devote any attention to plagarists.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

AFGHAN CONSTITUTION: The draft for the Afghan constitution is set to be released next week and I have received a copy. (It's in Dari; I yet have to receive an English translation of it.) A brief review of what I noted:

First, it has a far more Islamic tone to it than any of the previous consitutions. There are a couple of vague descriptions of religious freedom. What has to be noted is that Afghanistan has always been an moderately Islamic country, but its population has been subjected to severe Soviet mistreatment and the influence of the Taliban. It's almost inevitable to have small group of radicalized Afghans with large influence.

Secondly and last, the form of government seems to be modeled after the American system with a President and Vice President; and two parliaments. Rumor was that in the new system, the government would have a President, who would have a symbolic role, and a Prime Minister, who would actually rule the country.

Anyways, I'd rather wait until the draft is officialy released. Meanwhile, let's hope that a constitutional monarchy doesn't become any more popular than it already is.