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Uncle Gulliver

By Callimachus

“They apprehended my breaking loose, that my Diet would be very expensive, and might cause a Famine. Sometimes they determined to starve me, or at least to shoot me in the Face and Hands with poisoned Arrows, which would soon dispatch me: But again they considered, that the Stench of so large a Carcass might produce a Plague in the Metropolis, and probably spread through the whole Kingdom.” Jonathan Swift, “A Voyage to Lilliput,” in Gulliver’s Travels

Uncle Sam, the American Gulliver, peers down at edgy Europe in “Überpower: The Imperial Temptation of America,” a new book by Josef Joffe, editor of the scrupulously centrist German newspaper “Die Zeit.” The book gets a review by William Grimes here (and last time I checked the review had not been banished behind the subscription wall). Joffe gets an essential truth out in the open that is too often forgotten.

It does not matter what the United States does, Mr. Joffe argues. The mere fact that it can act with impunity causes alarm. To Europeans, the new United States looks like Gulliver did to the Lilliputians: a giant whose intentions are uncertain and whom they would prefer to see bound by a thousand little ropes. “Their motto is: let him be strong as long as he is in harness, be it self-chosen or imposed,” he writes.

Understanding that could help a lot of us here in America grasp the otherwise (to us) baffling poll results that show whomping majorities in Europe find America a greater threat to peace than Iran or North Korea. It also explains the perverse rooting for American failure in Iraq among many Europeans who ought to know better. Joffe seems to agree:

European opposition to the current Iraq war, in this analysis, becomes clearer. France and Germany, joined by Russia and China, joined forces to frustrate American designs, not simply on the merits of the case, but also as a matter of principle or instinct. Success in Iraq would only make the United States more powerful and therefore more unpredictable and threatening: “America’s triumph would grant yet more power to the one and only superpower — and this on a stage where it had already reduced France and Russia, the E.U. and the U.N., to bit players,” Mr. Joffe writes.

There’s a danger, of course, in treating Gulliver psychology as though it explains everything. One may oppose the American experiment in Iraq on perfectly principled grounds, or even out of a genuine love for the United States. More likely, based on my discussions with European friends, Gulliver syndrome and principled arguments are so woven into each other they’re a seamless fabric.

My German friends especially tell me to just get used to the fact that America is going to be hated and resented, rationally or not, simply because it is powerful. But the taint of irrationality makes the resentment too easy to dismiss. Joffe expresses it well:

Anti-Americanism, Mr. Joffe argues, can sometimes be as complex, paranoid and all-encompassing as anti-Semitism. “Like the Jews who were simultaneously denounced as capitalist bloodsuckers and communist subversives, America gets it coming and going,” he writes. It is puritanical and self-indulgent, philistine and elitist, ultrareligious and materialist. When it does not intervene, say, in Rwanda, it is wrong. When it does intervene, it is accused of naked imperialism.

Or, as the “Telegraph” put it in a recent editorial:

Americans find themselves damned either way. If they remain within their own borders, they are isolationist hicks who are shirking their responsibilities. If they intervene, they are rapacious imperialists.

Indeed, many of their detractors manage to hold these two ideas in their heads simultaneously. Yet a moment’s thought should reveal that they are both unfair.

The Telegraph editorial was written in response to a recent poll in Britain which reveal the utter contempt most of them have for most of us:

In answer to other questions, a majority of the Britons questions described Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured and in the most overwhelming result (90 percent of respondents) dominated by big business.

Which might sting, but only if you don’t know your history. In the 18th century Thomas Jefferson had to work hard to rebut Comte de Buffon’s scietific assertion that American mammals — including, according to some of Buffon’s French naturalist followers, Americans themselves — were degenerate runts. Ninteenth century British publications poured out invective on everything they deigned to notice from the United States. The usual practice of British authors was to take every slander of one American by another in a hot political campaign as an absolute truth, and to present the most degraded characters from the frontier or the slum as the typical inhabitant of the United States.

“Both the travelers and the literary journalists of [England],” wrote Timothy Dwight the elder, “have, for reasons which it would be idle to inquire after and useless to allege, thought it proper to caricature the Americans. Their pens have been dipped in gall, and their representations have been, almost merely, a mixture of malevolence and falsehood.”

And this was long before America threatened anyone else’s sense of national security. The hatred was strong enough to overpower logic, even then. In 1863 the Very Rev. Henry Alford, DD, dean of Canterbury, wrote a “Plea for the Queen’s English” which decried the “deterioration” of English in American mouths. He warned Englishmen to hold aloof from the American way with the language and compared the state of English in America to “the character and history of the nation”:

its blunted sense of moral obligations and duties to man; its open disregard of conventional right when aggrandizement is to be obtained; and I may now say, its reckless and fruitless maintenance of the most cruel and unprincipled war in the history of the world.

It was the familiar list of crimes and vices and hypocrisies. Every learned Englishman could rehearse it and many of the finest writers, such as Coleridge and Sydney Smith, bent their considerable talents to spelling it out at length. Except that, coming in the middle of the American Civil War, Alford’s screed replaced a now-doubtful entry in the catalogue of American vice with a freshly minted one. As H.L. Mencken noted, “Smith had denounced slavery, whereas Alford, by a tremendous feat of moral virtuosity, was now denouncing the war to put it down.”

Eventually America, emerging into a world power, found itself in a world shaped — or unshaped — by 300 years of European dominance: Artificial nations strewn across the map of Africa and the Middle East, dysfunctional ex-colonies, all that seething resentment of “the West” in Arab and Asian peoples. Joffe picks up the plot:

The United States is on top for the foreseeable future, in Mr. Joffe’s view. That is its inescapable fate. “America has interests everywhere; it cannot withdraw into indifference or isolation, and so all the world’s troubles land on its plate,” he writes. The problem, as Henry A. Kissinger put it recently, is how to translate power into consensus. Without it, the United States can act, but it cannot succeed.

Kissinger’s dilemma seems impossible to solve. How can you convince people they agree with you because they want to, when they — and you — know perfectly well you can act without them, or coerce them, or even force them.

But we could do better at it than we have, and we should try. What should the Lilliputians try in return? How about trying to swallow some of the stupid and senseless expressions of contempt. As the “Telegraph” Editorial puts it:

To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts.

Welcome Callimachus

Some things you do for love. Other things you do for money. Right now I’m working on a temporary consulting job (not writing-related) that is taking up most of my time and all of my energy. I haven’t had a normal 9-5 “job” for more than two years, so once in a while I do random side projects like this one to keep my bank account solvent.

The job won’t last very long, but long enough that I don’t want the blog to suffer too much while I’m mentally consumed with something else.

So I’ve asked Callimachus to help me out around here in the meantime. “Callimachus,” for those of you won’t don’t know him already, is the editor-in-chief of a daily American newspaper. He writes on his blog Done With Mirrors using a pseudonym because the publisher of his newspaper believes journalists are not supposed to have opinions. Like all human beings, though, Callimachus has opinions. Unlike most publicly opinionated people these days, Callimachus doesn’t fit into anyone’s convenient “left” or “right” box.

He is also a historian and one of the best writers in blogland. I’m happy to have his help around here. Please be nice to him in the comments.

I’ll be back soon enough, and I’ll post what I can until then.

Moderate Islamists Found

I wrote a shorter version of this piece for one of the largest American newspapers, one that gets a hefty dose of criticism almost every day. The editor rejected it because it wasn’t “groundbreaking enough.” I wish he would have been honest with me. Genuinely moderate Islamists are about as hard to find as Zoroastrians in Nebraska. So I rewrote the piece – in blog narrative style instead of newspaper style – and published it here. I don’t have time to submit it to other editors right now, but I do think it should get out into the world rather than languish unread on my computer. Please hit the Pay Pal link at the bottom so I can justify my decision to give it to you for free.

SULEIMANIYA, IRAQ – When I went to the Middle East for a six-month extended visit I wanted to see if I could find a genuinely moderate Islamist political party, one that not only practices democracy but also believes in it. There was a slight chance Hezbollah might fit that description. Lebanon’s Party of God has mellowed somewhat with age and participates in elections. But Hezbollah, unfortunately, is psychotic as ever. Hassan Nasrallah and his goon squad are instinctively belligerent and authoritarian even if Lebanon’s post-war democratic culture keeps them in check. Hezbollah is liberal and even pacifist compared with Hamas and Al Qaeda, but they nevertheless are a violent warmongering proxy militia for two despotic regimes in the Middle East.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is better. They aren’t armed, they don’t even try to kill Israeli soldiers (let alone civilians), and they at least pretend to be opposed to terrorism. But they are only moderate compared with their violent fellow Islamists. Ideologically they don’t differ much.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union, though, does seem to be genuinely moderate. Its leaders appear to have more in common with conservative Christian Democrats in Europe than with any terrorist organization or Middle Eastern religious dictatorship.

I met with Ali Muhammad, Director of the Suleimaniya bureau of the KIU, Iraqi Kurdistan’s third largest (and growing) political party, in his office. He provided his own in-house translator, a plump woman in a dark brown abaya. My own translator, because he was a stranger, was not to be trusted.

Ali looked to be in his sixties. He wore a trimmed beard, glasses, and a distinctly unfashionable Western suit and tie. He greeted me warmly in English. I greeted him and thanked him in Kurdish. Then we spoke to each other through our translator.

“How do you feel about the U.S. occupation of Iraq?” I said.

“We blame Saddam for the occupation,” he said. “Life is much better here now. But of course no one wants his country to be occupied.”

“Do you think the U.S. soldiers should leave now?” I said. “Or would it be better if they waited until later?”

“It is better to wait until the Iraqi army is strong and the country is calm,” he said.

“What do you think of the West in general?” I said.

“The West is a successful civilization,” he said. “But we think it is too materialistic and technological. If the Islamic East united with the civilized West, all of humanity would benefit.”

Isn’t materialism a problem in the Middle East, too? Saddam’s palaces, the skyscrapers and malls in Dubai…

“When I talked about materialism, I did not mean wealth,” he said. “I mean that humans need both the material and spiritual sides of existence. Each civilization has a material side and a soul side. Western people are missing parts of the soul side. But the soul side in the West isn’t zero. Human rights are much more respected there than here.” His translator spoke slowly and gave me time to write everything down. “Islam is the medium between socialism and capitalism. In socialism everything is soulless. In capitalism there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. In Islam we can possess things, but not with such a huge distance between the rich and the poor.”

One of Ali Muhammad’s office assistants brought me hot milk in a Turkish coffee glass, a tall thin can of 7-UP with a straw, and a plate of fresh fruit.

Ali Muhammad wanted to keep talking, so I let him.

“In the West there is absolute freedom,” he said. “In Islam there is not. Our freedom as individuals is combined with the freedom of the whole society. General customs must be regarded in Islam. Our families are stronger than yours. There are many problems in the West when young people leave home at 18.” (Middle Easterners tend to leave home when they are closer to 30.) “You have unmarried mothers. Abortion. Crime. Gay marriage. These things are completely against the soul of human beings. They reduce the brightness of the West.”

“Are you opposed to Western culture then?” I said.

“The West is not an enemy,” he said. “We think about Western Civilization as part of the whole human experience. We would like to help you reform it, but we do not want to destroy it. We are not violent. We support civil mechanisms for change.”

“What do you think about Sayyid Qutb and the Hideous Schizophrenia?” I said. Sayyid Qutb is considered the founder of modern Islamism and the intellect behind Al Qaeda theology. He believed – until he was executed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the dungeons of Egypt – that the liberal post-Christian West threatens Islamic civilization because it promotes, among other things, the separation of religion and the state. Qutb believed this separation triggered an epidemic psychological breakdown in the West that he dubbed the Hideous Schizophrenia, and that this breakdown is spreading to the Middle East.

“Qutb was wrong,” he said, parting ways with Osama bin Laden on the most elementary level. “Compare Islam and Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Christians were burning scientists. Then Muslims had a great civilization. The Christians were theocratic then. Muslims were not. We do not believe in a theocratic government that rules the people in the name of Allah. Power should come from the people. Christianity wasn’t weakened because it was separate from the state. Christianity was weakened when it supported oppressive states. The same thing is happening in Iran. Iranians are turning against the religion itself along with the theocratic oppressive state.”

“Are you opposed to theocracy then?” I said. “If you win power in Kurdistan will you not govern according to Islamic law?”

“In Islam we have stable things and changeable things,” he said. “80 percent of Islam is changeable things.” Say what you will about Islamists. Ali Muhammad’s religious-political ideology is a long way from the iron rule of 7th Century Taliban.

“Should alcohol be legal or banned?” I said. When I asked this question of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essem El-Erian he refused to give me a straight answer.

“In Islam it is prohibited to drink alcohol in public,” Ali Muhammad said. “Drinking at home is fine. If someone wants to buy alcohol and drink it in his house, we should not chase him. We prefer to treat alcohol the same way we treat cigarettes when we create non-smoking sections.”

“Should women be required to wear the hijab over their hair?” I said, referring to the modest Islamic headscarf worn by conservative women in public.

“We don’t force people to wear the hijab,” he said. “There are two types of Islamic rules: personal and general. Individual matters are advised, not required. Advisements by Islam should not be imposed. Islam prohibits only things that harm an entire society.”

Ali Muhammad believes this is the right balance, that Islam is therefore superior to Judaism and Christianity.

“The Koran includes both regulation and advice,” he said. “The Torah included only regulation. The New Testament included only advice.”

Whether the Koran advises certain behaviors or imposes them is a matter of debate within the Islamic world. Most Kurds are conservative compared with, say, Lebanese, Turks, and Tunisians. But their religious tradition, the thing they are conserving, is more lenient than the traditions in some parts of the Middle East. Kurdistan is a blessedly undogmatic place. My translator Birzo Abdulkadir seemed to speak for many when he explained why, despite Kurdistan’s conservatism, it isn’t a backwater like some other places I’ve been: “I have read the Koran in its original language. I know it’s more flexible than most Arab imams admit.”

“There is nothing about Islam that we should be afraid to talk about,” Ali Muhammad said. “It is the best system. But there are and have been problems. We don’t deny that.”

I started to ask another question, and he changed the subject. He wanted to make sure I heard the following and wrote it down:

“We have five members in our leadership committee who are women,” he said. “They were elected, and we do not use quotas. We also have a woman in our political bureau. Women and men work together. Below the leadership level, the numbers of men and women are the same.”

I looked at our translator, a woman, in the eye. There was no need for me to say what I was thinking, to ask the obvious question. She knew. And she nodded. What Ali Muhammad just told me was true.

Assuming Ali Muhammad was honest with me, the very existence of the Kurdistan Islamic Union is a relief. Osama bin Laden will never calm down and become a mainstream religious conservative. He will be a radical and a fascist until somebody punches his ticket. But if the KIU can find a way to reconcile an authoritarian religion with modern democracy there is no reason other similar moderately conservative political parties can’t form elsewhere to compete with the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the theocratic Iranian state.

I do believe Ali Muhammad was sincere in his moderation, that he wasn’t just jerking me around for good press. It was painfully obvious that Essam El-Erian of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was concealing his real opinions from me so I wouldn’t expose him and his organization as radical nutjobs.

As a reality check, though, I asked my translator Alan Atoof in Suleimaniya about the KIU. Alan is a secular liberal whose family is from the part of Iraqi Kurdistan that was besieged by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam until U.S. Special Forces and the Peshmerga drove them into Iran three years ago. You have to look long and hard to find someone more opposed to violent jihadists. He simply will not put up with these people, and I wanted to know what he thought of the Kurdistan Islamic Union. Do they practice taqiyya? Are they Salafists or Wahhabis in moderate drag?

Not according to Alan, they aren’t. His uncle is a member of the KIU, and he knows them well and in person. He confirms that they are genuinely moderate and reasonable people who don’t pose a threat to Kurdistan’s secular culture and politics.

Before leaving his office I asked Ali Muhammad if he could recommend a nice restaurant for dinner. He suggested what he thought of as a “Western” restaurant (it wasn’t) in suburban Suleimaniya. And he sent his son Iqbal Ali Muhammad to pick me up at my hotel, take me to the restaurant, and continue discussing religion and politics.

So Iqbal met me in the lobby of the Suleimaniya Palace hotel, a shabby place whose name is a ridiculous lie. At first Iqbal was fantastically uptight and humorless, a grim caricature of an Islamist in a blue suit and tie. He was Scandinavian in his stiffness and in his unwillingness to smile or laugh or show human warmth. Most Kurds are outgoing and gregarious, but this guy acted like he was dropped from outer space. Well, I thought, he is an Islamist.

As it turned out, though, he wasn’t uptight at all. He was just a bit shy. He drove us to the restaurant in his SUV, ordered us fresh fish from one of Kurdistan’s lakes, and loosened up as though we were sharing a bottle of wine. We did not share a bottle of wine even though it was available. He would have said nothing if I ordered a glass for myself. But I did not wish to be rude so I ordered a soft drink instead.

He was less interested in politics than his father. Mostly we talked about more casual matters. It was a conversation, not an interview, so I didn’t bust out my notebook and grill him. But he was a smart young man – a lawyer – and I did jot down a few things he said.

“We will go to war with Christians against Muslims if the Muslims are on the wrong side,” he said. That’s exactly what the Kurds did when they sided with the United States against Saddam Hussein, just as the U.S. sided with Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims against Slobo and his exterminationist regime in Belgrade. This casual comment by Iqbal, a self-identifying Islamist, was perhaps the most poignant refutation of the “clash of civilizations” idea I have yet heard.

Iqbal did turn out to be a bit of a bigot, but not in an anti-Western or anti-American way. “The Arab, he is wild,” he said. “He is not a civilized person.”

I tried to defend Arabs generally. He knew I lived in Beirut at the time, that I had experienced a different side of Arab culture than he had. He smiled patiently while I sat there picking the bones out of my fish and sounding like a self-conscious politically correct American naif. But I wasn’t naive. I knew very well what Saddam Hussein and his Baath regime did to the Kurds. Iqbal Ali Muhammad was born in Halabja. He was six years old when the Anfal Campaign reached his home town, when Saddam Hussein doused him and his family with chemical weapons. He still has a hard time breathing when walking up stairs. And he would not let me convince him that most Arabs are more civilized than those who nearly killed him.

Just as I was beginning to think he and his father had no good reason to refer to themselves as Islamists, that the Kurds therefore really – truly! – are different, out came the sadly typical (for the region) paranoid comment: “I think America let Osama bin Laden go free on purpose.”

Look, I said. He killed thousands of Americans. We don’t let a guy like that get away. Just because we have not killed or captured him yet doesn’t mean that’s by design.

So many Middle Easterners think the United States is so all-powerful that we can do anything at any time, that nothing is beyond our capabilities, that everything wrong is therefore designed to be wrong on purpose.

I explained to him that the U.S. is a powerful country, but it’s still just one country. Americans are flawed and limited humans just like the Kurds. He took me seriously, and he was willing to climb down from his crazy position much faster and more completely than I expected.

“It is good that we are having this conversation,” he said. “We can tell each other when we are wrong.”

Iqbal Ali Muhammad.jpg

Iqbal Ali Muhammad

If all the world’s Islamists were like these mellow Kurdish Islamists there would be no Terror War and there would be no talk of any clash of civilizations. It’s no accident, nor is it merely a convenience, that the Kurds of Iraq are American allies.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, obviously. Most people in the world know that much at least. It’s also apparently true that not all Islamists are terrorists or even extremists. These guys made me rethink my idea of what an Islamist even is. Call me foolish if you like. But Iqbal repeated the same refrain I heard over and over again in Iraqi Kurdistan, something I almost never hear in Arab countries: “Extremes are bad. The middle is better.”

Postscript: Please don’t forget to hit the tip jar. I went all the way to Iraq to get this interview and – let’s be honest – you probably never would have heard of these people if I hadn’t done that.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don’t want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Thanks so much to all of you who encouraged me to get a PO box. And thanks once again to everyone who helps out through Pay Pal. Your donations are the only reason this kind of blogging is possible.

Featured in Reason Magazine

I have a long feature article with photos in the next issue of Reason magazine about the slow breaking away of Northern Iraqi Kurdistan.

Reason Cover.jpg

Reason Spread.jpg

Reason doesn’t publish articles online until after the print version is off the shelves. So if you aren’t a subscriber, look for the August/September issue in bookstores. A lot of the material in The Kurds Go Their Own Way did not appear on this blog.

Israeli Warplanes Say Hello to Assad

Syria’s Bashar Assad was home when Israel sonic boomed his house in Latakiyya. He only continues to breathe because Israel feels like letting him continue to breathe. It must be nice to have morally superior enemies.

UPDATE: Speaking of morally superior enemies, Israel has arrested 60 Hamas members, including ministers in the Palestinian government. The French foreign minister condemned the arrests, but he’s just posturing. When you murder civilians this is what happens to you if you’re lucky. France wouldn’t treat an anti-French terrorist organization so lightly, and neither would any other country. France deports imams for far lesser offenses. Russia is gearing up for a “hunt and destroy” mission in Iraq.

The al-Aksa Martyr’s Brigades says they fired a chemical weapon at Israel, which Israel denies. Israelis could, if they felt like it, use that as a pretext for a brutal response. But they aren’t.

51 Facts About Me

(And now for something completely different. I need to mix it up every once in a while. We will return to our regular programming shortly.)

When I was ten years old my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “English teacher.”

When I was a kid I never went through a “girls have germs” phase. I always liked girls and had simultaneous crushes on two of them in kindergarten.

I have been a news junkie since I was 12 years old and had a paper route.

I had another paper route in college so I could buy beer and cds.

I lived with two girlfriends before I got married.

My wife and I bought a house a year and a half before we were married and six months after we met.

I got terrible grades in high school, including in English class, and “they” put me into the advanced English class anyway. I thought “they” were crazy. I no longer do.

I got excellent grades in college.

I have contempt for stupid people.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with smoking marijuana (in moderation) and I think it should be legalized immediately. Although I almost never smoke it myself and I don’t intend to smoke it if it does become legal. (And no, I am not lying about the last part.)

My wife and I saw a live sex show in Amsterdam, but we have never watched pornography together.

I love spicy food. The only food too spicy for me is a habanero pepper all by itself.

I love to argue for sport and don’t take arguments personally as long as my opponent isn’t an asshole.

I almost always vote Democrat, but I am not a “liberal” and I am not afraid to vote for Republicans or members of the weird parties. (Nader yes, Perot no.)

I was baptized Catholic and raised Protestant.

My father is a life-long atheist.

I am not religious.

My mother is a squishy liberal.

My father is a Republican In Name Only.

My brother has been to all seven continents, including Antarctica – the bastard. I made it to South America and the Middle East first, though.

I would like to be a libertarian, but too many of them are crazy and the party itself is an even bigger joke than our two major parties.

My favorite move is Blade Runner.

My favorite author is William Shakespeare.

My favorite American cities are New York and Chicago.

I hate onions. I mean, I really hate them and I can’t understand why on earth anyone eats them.

I can’t stand it when people pretend to like bad art just to be nice. If it’s bad and the artist is talentless you look like a bufoon if you say you think otherwise.

I am not, and will never become, a vegetarian.

I think the NRA is kooky, but I have no problem with firearms.

I hate sharing the road with SUVs. I can’t see around, over, or through them.

I like loud music and my wife and I constantly struggle over control of the car stereo volume.

Homicide: Life on the Street is the best TV show ever.

I generally do not like TV.

I prefer beer and (red) wine to hard alcohol. I can’t tell you what is in any mixed drink.

Contrary to most Americans, I would rather visit Latin America or the Middle East than Europe. The people – especially Arabs and Kurds – are more pleasant to be around.

I am morbidly fascinated by totalitarian regimes.

I want to visit North Korea. My wife wants to visit North Korea even more badly than I do.

I never intend to visit Cancun unless somebody else pays my way.

I have been to every state in the West except New Mexico. New Mexico has not been skipped for any particular reason.

I have never visited a single southern state, again for no particular reason.

My favorite country to visit is Lebanon. My second favorite country is Chile.

I speak Spanish badly.

I can kinda sorta slightly read French, but I have no idea how to pronounce it and I don’t understand it when it is spoken.

I can say some things in Arabic, and I can understand some spoken Arabic, but I cannot construct sentences from scratch.

I like goth music, but I was never even close to being a “goth” when I was young.

My favorite musician is Lisa Gerrard. She has no peer.

If your computer is broken and anyone can fix it, I can fix it.

I can fall asleep instantly except one night every couple of months when I can’t sleep at all.

It takes me 45 minutes to wake up in the morning. Waking up is a process, not an event.

I love road trips, but I don’t think I can ever top my spontaneous road trip to Iraq with Sean. So now it’s all downhill from here.

I can play the piano.

When I was 17 years old I faced a decision: I will become a writer or I will become a musician. You know which one I chose.

Interview with Islamists on the Way

I’m still busy, sorry. Soon, though, I’ll publish an interview from Northern Iraq with one of the leaders of an Islamist political party called the Kurdistan Islamic Union. This is another story that fell through the cracks and still needs to get out into the world. The interview will, I think, surprise a lot of people. It sure surprised me, so watch for it here.

Yes, It’s Fun, Really

Lots of people I know have a hard time believing me when I say Beirut is a good time, that it’s a terrific destination for tourists, that I haven’t turned myself into one of those morbid “war tourism” types who goes to disaster zones for cheap thrills.

I’m far from the only one. Here’s an excerpt from a Daily Star article on Beirut’s rave scene:

John Askew – who is returning to Lebanon for a gig with Van Dyk on July 8 – started it all when he headlined the Monot Music Festival in June 2002. It remains one of his favorite nights.

“Beirut was nuts,” he says. “There were all these really dressed-up, sexy, affluent-looking clubbers going crazy and yet in every direction you looked there were buildings riddled with bullet holes. [I was] a little apprehensive, but it’s an amazing place. Mental. Wicked party scene.”

Beirut has been fun longer than I’ve been alive. It’s even fun when it’s (almost) at it’s worst.

Lebanon.Profile recently filed this on a visit to the U.S.

The driver picked me up from the airport.

He asked, “Where you coming from?”

I said, “Lebanon.”

He said, “Tell me. Is the St. George Hotel still there?”

Stunned, I said, “Yes, but it’s not been repaired or renovated since the war. Are you Lebanese?”

He said, “No, no. I served in the US Navy and was sent to Lebanon in 1958. The whole 6th fleet was there. From the beach, it was battleships, boats, and aircraft carriers as far as the eye could see. We boarded the beach and there were all these women in bikinis all over and guys selling stuff. We didn’t see any war going on. All we saw were people enjoying themselves. We couldn’t tell who the enemy was. From our view, it didn’t seem like there were any.

“I got one of those checkered things in a shopping district near the St. George.”

Busy Again, Alas

I’m swamped all of a sudden with unexpected non-writing related work I need to stay on top of. Blogging may be slow. I’ll be back with more as soon as possible.

Feel free to sound off about whatever in the comments. Just remember to be nice to your fellow humans.

Lebanon Hurts Those Who Love Her

My wife and I honeymooned in Spain. It is our favorite country in Europe. We stayed in the Hotel Murillo in old Sevilla and I read to her passages from Jan Morris’s breathtakingly beautiful book Spain. Morris wrote of an España that no longer is, when it was an enchanting yet troubled country desperately clawing its way out of the Franoist hole dug by the Falange.

I’ll never forget one of the Spaniards she quoted. “Spain hurts me,” he said. “It hurts me.”

I knew what this Spaniard meant, though I couldn’t feel it. Shelly and I fell in love with Spain almost on contact. But it never hurt us. It’s a modern prosperous European democracy now. The Spain of Jan Morris was the same place, but it was also a different place. Just as beautiful, just as romantic, and even more still exotic. But also dark and despondent with a tortured past and a precarious future. I almost wished I could have seen the old Spain and knew what it felt like to fall for such a place.

Now I know what it feels like.

When I first arrived in Beirut more than a year ago I thought, amazed, how dramatically different the city is from the one depicted in Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem:

Beirut was never just a city. It was an idea – an idea that meant something not only to the Lebanese but to the entire Arab world. While today just the word “Beirut” evokes images of hell on earth, for years Beirut represented – maybe dishonestly – something quite different, something almost gentle; the idea of coexistence and the spirit of tolerance, the idea that diverse religious communities – Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and Druze – could live together, and even thrive, in one city and one country without having to abandon altogether their individual identities.

[...]

Many Lebanese were either too young to remember or too poor to have ever tasted the cosmopolitan life of the Beirut city center, so they never mourned its passing. But for those members of the Christian and Muslim bourgeoisie who really exploited the beautiful side of Beirut, life will never be quite the same again without it. True, they had never paid much attention to the Shiite, Palestinian, and even Christian underclasses upon whose backs Beirut’s joie de vivre rested, and they believed in the fantasy of Lebanese democracy much more than they ever should have, but they were my friends and I happened to be a witness when their world was murdered.

Long after the civil war began, many of these true Beirutis kept the addresses of their offices in the ravaged city center on their stationary as symbols of solidarity with the past and hope for the future. As the years went by, some of them emigrated, unable to tolerate a Beirut in which Christians and Muslims were being forced to live in separate, isolated ghettos. But many of them stayed, and today they form a whole new class of Beirut refugees. They are existential refugees, homeless souls, internal exiles. They are still sitting in their old apartments with bucolic paintings of the Lebanese countryside decorating the walls, in their favorite chairs with their favorite slippers – but they are no longer at home and never will be again.

The longer I stayed, the more I realized the city in some ways has hardly changed at all. Friedman is often accused of trafficking in cliches. And it’s true, he often does. That’s partly because he managed to distil the place down to its basics.

There’s no war in Beirut any more. But Beirut is what it is, and refugees are its biggest export.

If you read the Lebanese bloggers in the diaspora you’ll come across the same painful cry of the Spaniard who told Jan Morris that his country hurts him. You might have noticed the same sort of sentiment expressed in my own writing, although never so anguished or pointed, where – at least while I lived there – my dispatches were sometimes swooning, other times frustrated, and still other times filled with despair. Lebanon is like that. I have never been anywhere in the world as fun and exciting and as endlessly, bottomlessly, fascinating as Beirut. And yet it’s a damaged place that could, if the locals are to be believed, fly into pieces at any moment. I have more faith in their country than they do, but they know it better than I. Is my own judgement more objective or more naive? I ask myself that question a lot, and I don’t know the answer. Perhaps I am a bit of both.

One of the best Lebanese bloggers is Abu Kais. He left his country and now lives in Washington. I nearly choked up when I read one of the recent posts on his blog From Beirut to the Beltway. He captures the dysfunctional relationship perfectly:

It used to be I saw an article in a Lebanese newspaper, or watched something on television that got my juices flowing, prompting a post or two. Alas, last Tuesday, after hearing [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah’s red lines speech, in which he declared himself and his followers an independent island within the sectarian archipelago that is Lebanon, what flowed were not my words, but my tears. I am ashamed to say that Hassan Nasrallah’s red lines, and Michel Aoun’s burning solutions made me cry.

[...]

Am I living a false promise by believing that Lebanon will one day succeed? When I decided that I could no longer live in my country, it was out of fear of self-destruction, much like Amal did in the video. I was too old to keep battling the thorns of Lebanese society, and not live my life to the fullest where I can. But look at me now. I may have left Lebanon physically, but I am still there in spirit. On Tuesday, the thorns managed to hurt again and caused my heart to bleed, despite the distance. For there was a person on television speaking on my behalf, setting limits I did not believe in, and reinforcing a reality that I chose to leave to him to shape. Do I even have the right to complain, let alone cry over a country I left behind? It makes no difference, for my actions then and now are the same, and the feeling cannot be helped, whether I am here or there. Lebanon is etched in my heart and my mind. My dreams are still set in my old Beirut apartment, where I grew up amid a bloody war. Every night, I go back to my old school that overlooked a Syrian missile launcher. And I sit in class listening to my favorite teachers as the explosions rock my classroom, and then I wait outside for my father to take me to shelter. And then I forget myself in my comic books, amid superheroes and infallible beings. And when reality beckons, I dive into biographies of great ones.

In 34 years, I have turned myself into an idealist from an evil, self-destructive world that haunts him no matter how much he tries to get away.

That is my predicament, and this is my blog.

Nineteen Eighty Four

Yafawi in the comments section linked to a photo gallery of North Korea. Many of the pictures are illegal.

Here are two of them.

North Korea Streets.jpg

Crossing the street is illegal because you just might get hit by a car.

North Korea Beach.jpg

That’s an electrified barbed wire fence on the beach to prevent North Koreans from swimming away in the ocean.

Here are the rest.

“The Israelis Live Over There, So I Don’t Have to Forgive Them!”

Mount Lebanon Region.JPG

I intended to publish this essay last year, but it got bumped and put into cold storage. Here it is after a too-long delay. — MJT

MOUNT LEBANON – Photojournalist Dan and I hitchhiked from the broiling and humid Mediterranean shore to the cool heights of the Mount Lebanon region where we could walk, breathe, and hang out in the sun without feeling like we had been dipped in a hot tub with our clothes on.

Dan wanted to go sight-seeing in comfort. I had other reasons for going. It would have been extraordinarily irresponsible to spend six months in Lebanon and get all my information from more or less like-minded people in the cosmopolitan core of Beirut. So I talked to random individuals on the street, in bars, and in cafes. I met with Hezbollah and attended one of their events. I spoke to people in the mountains and villages to get a read on the provinces.

It only takes one or two minutes to flag down a ride in Lebanon’s mountains, even if you’re an obvious foreigner. So Dan and I stuck out our thumbs (our open hands, actually) and hailed down two young mountain men in their convertible Jeep.

Roman Bridge Lebanon.jpg

Roman bridge over the Dog River

“Get in the back, guys,” the driver said.

Dan and I hopped in the back and sat on a pile of guns.

“I’m Firas,” said the driver with the Che Guevara style beard.

“I’m Joe,” said his buddy in the passenger seat. (Joe? His name was Joe?) Both spoke English with Arabic accents.

Firas hit the gas and spun around hair-raising mountain turns as though he were playing bumper cars at an amusement park. I tried in vain to get comfortable while sitting on five or six rifles, and tried in vain to pretend Firas knew how to drive like an adult.

“No Taliban here,” Firas said. “Only Hezbollah, ha ha. Too bad for you…we’re going to kill you now.”

Dan and I laughed out loud and introduced ourselves.

“Okay,” Firas said. “We promise not to kill you.”

“We can’t, man,” Joe said. “They’re sitting on the guns.”

“Oh shit,” Firas said.

I pulled the notebook out of my pocket and did my best to write down the dialogue while Firas damn near careened us over cliffs and into the river.

Lebanese River.jpg

His driving was ferociously bad even for Lebanon. I suspected he was trying to impress me and Dan. Like most Lebanese, he had ripped the seatbelts out of his car.

“Where are you from?” Firas said.

“We’re Americans,” Dan said.

“I’ve met lots of Americans,” Firas said. “I recently got back from Iraq.”

“You were in Iraq?” I said. “Doing what? Killing the infidel?”

“Ha ha, no,” he said. “Working in the Green Zone. I made a lot of money. A lot of money. But I’m glad to be back in Lebanon. It is beautiful here, yes? This is the Valley of Pain. Adonis was killed here and his blood made the river.”

I foolishly had forgotten my camera. Dan had his professional camera with him, but he rarely takes pictures of scenery. The pictures shown here were taken on similar roads on other trips.

“Show them the picture of the fish, dude,” Firas said.

Joe fished the digital camera out of his pocket and browsed through the photos. “Here it is,” he said and passed the camera to me and Dan in the back. Firas was shown holding a fish in his mouth by its head.

“You took this picture today?” I said.

“Yesterday,” Firas said. “We went camping. We’re on our way home now.”

Lebanon Forest.jpg

“Man, I haven’t had a cigarette for two days!” Joe said.

“Do you go camping a lot?” Dan said.

“We do,” Joe said. “I want to meet an Americans woman who wants to go with me into the mountains to hunt. But American women never want to come with me. They think it is silly.”

“Nature is my religion,” Firas said. “I make love with the wolf and the sky.”

*

One of the real pleasures of traveling in the Middle East is the almost embarrassingly generous offers of friendship and hospitality from total strangers, especially in the small towns and villages.

Dan and I had spent most of the afternoon lolling around with a random family in the town of Yachouch. We had been trying to make our way to Aqfa, but we ended up on the wrong road and went far astray. A nice man dropped us off in Yachouch on his way home, and the instant we stepped out of the car a family having lunch in their front yard invited us to join them. We accepted, of course.

Christian Village Mount Lebanon.JPG

A Christian village, Metn region, Mount Lebanon

The oldest daughter, a Christian, had a Muslim boyfriend. She told us that every boyfriend she ever had was a Muslim and that her parents didn’t mind as long as she found a Christian to marry.

Her mother was addicted to politics, as most people in Lebanon are. She had her very own conspiracy theory revolving around American neoconservatives that would make an International ANSWER activist blush. As Dan and I left to head back to Beirut, she told me in no uncertain terms that I must bring my wife back to their house to celebrate Christmas.

So by the time Firas and Joe pulled the jeep into their village, the sun was going down and the air was getting cold.

“Time for beer!” Firas said and screeched the jeep to a halt in front of a grocery shack set back from the road. He opened the doors and gestured at a plastic table and four plastic chairs under a grand tree that was older than the republic. “Have a seat.”

Dan and I settled in two plastic chairs. What a relief to get off the guns.

Firas and Joe went into the store and rummaged through the refrigerator. They came back with four green bottles of locally brewed Almaza beer with the caps already popped.

“Cheers!” Firas said and we clinked our bottles and began to drink.

“Tell me something, guys,” Joe said. “Lots of Americans come here and think we like Hezbollah. Why? We hate Hezbollah!”

I tried to explain that most Americans don’t know much about Lebanon, just as most Lebanese don’t know much about the U.S. Some Americans who do go to Lebanon can’t quite believe that Sunni Muslims and Druze have as hard a time with Hezbollah as the Christians. It just doesn’t compute.

“Do you guys want peace with Israel then?” I said.

“So the embassy sent you!” Joe only half-jokingly said.

“Making peace between states is not the same as making peace between people,” Firas said. “We may be sitting here as friends at this moment, but I am thinking of the time in the future when I will kill you.” Then he checked himself. “I am not talking about us, this is just a general example of what sometimes happens.”

“Why do we have to be at war with Israel all the time?” Joe said to Firas.

“Don’t say it, dude,” Firas said.

“I know people from the south who did very well under the Israeli occupation,” Joe said. “They made money, they were safe, and they were happy. Under Hezbollah it is hell.”

“Those are just personal stories,” Firas said.

“Don’t believe everything you read, dude,” Joe said.

Firas took off his shirt, walked over to the jeep, and pulled out a rifle.

“Shoot this gun,” he said and tried to hand it over to Dan.

“I don’t want to,” Dan said. “It’s dark and I can’t see.”

It was pretty dark now. And we were inside a village. It really wasn’t the best time and place to fire a rifle.

“He is afraid,” Joe said.

“Just shoot at the mountain, dude,” Firas said to Dan. “You won’t hit anybody.”

Dan is a nice liberal from the American Midwest with a low opinion of weapons. I’m from ideologically ambiguous Oregon, where Republicans smoke pot and liberals shoot guns.

“I’ll shoot it,” I said to Firas, “if you shoot it first.”

“I want Dan to shoot it,” Firas said.

They went round and round for several minutes.

“Come on!” Firas said. “Just point the rifle up and shoot at the mountain!”

“It’s night,” Dan said, getting annoyed. “And we’re in a town.”

Urban Village Mount Lebanon.jpg

Most Lebanese “villages” are actually small semi-vertical towns

Firas finally just pointed the thing at the night sky and BANG fired a round into the dark side the mountain.

“Hey!” someone yelled from a house down the street.

Firas wordlessly put his gun back in the jeep. Dan was off the hook, and I did not get to shoot it.

“There sure are a lot of guns in this country,” I said.

Firas, still shirtless, returned to his plastic chair. “We all have guns,” he said. “Lebanese women are tough, too. My mother can shoot any weapon at all with one hand.”

Joe and Firas invited me and Dan to go camping with them next weekend.

“If you come with us I’ll bring my M-16,” Joe said.

“You have an M-16?” I said.

“Yes,” Joe said. “It is normal.”

I asked him now normal it is for Christians and Muslims to date and to marry. I was slightly surprised a young Christian woman from higher up on the mountain had only dated young Muslim men.

“My girlfriend is Muslim,” Joe said. “We have no future. I don’t care about her religion. She doesn’t care about my religion. Only our parents care.”

“Have you met her parents?” I said.

Joe laughed. “What am I supposed to say? Hi I’m Joe and wait for her dad to get his gun?”

Inter-religious marriages are becoming slightly more common, mostly among the urban elite and middle class. But civil marriage doesn’t exist in Lebanon yet. If a Muslim wants to marry a Christian they have to go to Cyprus where secular marriage is legal — a real irony considering Muslim-Christian relations (actually Turkish-Greek relations) are far worse on Cyprus right now than they are in Lebanon.

“Why doesn’t Lebanon have civil marriage yet?” I said.

“It’s Lebanon, man,” Firas said. “We will have another war soon. Every 15 or 20 years we have to have a war.”

“Do you want a war?” I said.

“Lebanese people are always ready for anything,” Firas said. “If you lead us to peace, we are ready for peace. If you lead us to war, we are ready for war.”

Joe was more certain that he wanted peace. Many of his family members had been brutally massacred by Palestinian gunmen in Damour south of Beirut. Every Christian house in that town was destroyed on January 20, 1976. The inhabitants were murdered, mutilated, and raped.

Damour Massacre.JPG

Damour at the time of the massacre

Both Joe and Firas forgive their old Palestinian enemies as well as their old enemies the Druze in the Chouf mountains. Some of the worst rounds of fighting during the entire war were between Christians and Druze for control of the mountains.

“Why did you forgive the Druze but not the Israelis?” I said to Firas.

Chouf War Damage.jpg

Leftover destruction from the war of the Chouf.

The Druze were the fiercest fighters of any nationality or sect during the war. They believe in reincarnation, and they believe they will be reborn as Druze. Druze don’t even think of surrender. No group of warriors terrified other Lebanese militias quite like the Druze. “Eat with the Druze, but sleep with the Christians,” is a Lebanese saying that persists to this day, based on the (not reasonable) fear that a Druze might cut your throat in your sleep.

Beirut 1982.JPG

West Beirut during the Israeli invasion in 1982

“I forgive the Druze because I don’t have any choice,” Firas said as he hardened the muscles in his jaw line. “Because…they live here.” His voice sounded anguished now as though he were remembering horrors I can only imagine, horrors that he tried not to think about but could never ever forget. “The Israelis don’t live here. The Israelis live over there so I don’t have to forgive them!

Post-script: I’m trying to put together enough money for trips to Iran (if the mullahs let me in), Afghanistan, and Algeria — the most under-reported post-Islamist place in the world. Please hit the tip jar and make this all possible. And thanks so much for your help so far.

Weekend Reading

I’ll have more original material from Lebanon on Monday, material that got put into deep freeze for too long. In the meantime, Alan Johnson interviewed Paul Berman for Democratiya. It’s loooooong, but it’s the weekend, so read the whole thing.

People with views like mine tried to say, ‘OK, Bush is screwing things up, and we must warn against what might be the results. But, meanwhile, we want to propose actions of our own. We don’t want to just say “no.”‘ In Terror and Liberalism I tried to revive the idea of Leon Blum, the French socialist, from the 1940s. He proposed what in the US would be called cold-war liberalism, but was in his case cold war socialism – my grandfather’s position, by the way. Blum wanted to resist the Communists but he wanted to do it from the left not the right, in the belief that a leftwing opposition was bound to be more effective. Therefore he supported the socialists, and the social democrats, and the trade unionists, and he opposed Communism by being in favour of democratic reforms. My effort in Terror and Liberalism was to revive that sort of idea, in regard to the Ba’athism and Islamism of our own time. People who criticised this idea described it as a ‘liberalism for Bush,’ but that was never the idea.

In our version of the Third Force we recognised that the Bush administration was not going about things correctly, and so we called for an alternative. Totalitarian movements are fundamentally ideological movements — they are driven by ideas. The ideas they are driven by are modern ideas, even if they are presented as exotic and are clothed in seventh century Muslim robes. If the ideas are modern we can argue against them, just as we could argue against fascists and communists. Winning the argument is actually the only victory that can be obtained. We are facing a mass movement with a huge number of adherents. There is no way we can defeat such a movement with Police or Military force. The only way to defeat such a movement is to convince its adherents and sympathisers, and potential sympathisers, that the ideas of that movement are wrong and ought to be abandoned in favour of better ideas. Now this sounds preposterous to some people who can’t imagine that anything can be won by force of persuasion. But what finally caused Communism to collapse was that the Communists themselves recognised that they were wrong and that their own ideas were not worth defending.

In the present case it’s more difficult still because these movements are not dependent on states, and the ideas can be held by people in civil society. The possibility of crushing these movements by force does not exist. We have to win by persuasion. That means the central thing that should be going on is a war of ideas – even if, at times, there is also a need for a war of weapons.

The left and the intellectuals in the Western countries ought to throw themselves into these debates and criticisms. But look what has happened. The left, in its great majority, has remained unengaged. It conducts itself as if the only struggle is between Bush and his enemies. You can see this in the last couple of months in the rise of tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme. The more Ahmadinejad threatened to obliterate Israel and build nuclear weapons the more people around the world wrote about…Bush! ‘Oh, no! What is Bush going to do?’ As if the problem here was Bush! Bush may well be a problem, but the first problem has surely got to be Ahmadinejad. A great campaign should arise to persuade the Iranians and their supporters not to think along these lines. And this is what should have been done with the Islamists and the Ba’athists. But it has not been done.

The crucial place for this war of ideas, by the way, is Europe. In so much of the Arab world, and Iran, it is very difficult to have a serious debate because the conditions don’t exist. In Europe they do. And in Europe there is a vast Arab and Muslim population. In fact many of the deep underlying ideas of radical Islamism, Ba’athism, and radical Pan-Arabism were European ideas to begin with. Not all of the ideas, but some of the crucial ones. So the debate should be taking place in London and Paris and Berlin and Madrid. It should be a very forceful debate. We see a right-wing version of it in which there is prejudice and racism against Muslims and against an ancient and noble religion, Islam – which only bolsters the Ba’athist and Islamist arguments. But the left-wing antitotalitarian contribution to this debate we hardly see. It’s like a unilateral disarmament on the part of the liberal left and the intellectuals has taken place.

Bush isn’t going to do it. He does not want to do it and even if he did, he does not have the talent. It should be done on the left. It should be done by us engaging our fellow thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world (who are becoming ever more visible) and by arguing against the various champions of what I call the Muslim totalitarian idea in its different forms. A Third Force should put its greatest emphasis on that. Military actions and police actions may well be necessary. But they should be put in their place. They are ultimately less important than this battle of ideas.

Totalitarian movements have regularly been greeted by the blindness to which liberalism is prone, and even by apologetics. Hitler, and not just Stalin, had his apologists. Without these apologists neither one of those dictators would have been able to get as far as he did. And what we are seeing now is something exactly parallel. There are only a few screwballs defending Al Qaeda, or Zarqawi in Iraq, or applauding Saddam. But the people who really matter are those (many more numerous) who find some way to say either that these totalitarian movements are normal, natural, rational, or, in any case, that they should be ignored because we should focus our attention on defeating Bush. In these ways, the adherents of the totalitarian movements are not given much opposition and sometimes are even given a back-handed support. So, naturally, the movements prosper.

Alan Johnson : In the meantime, the Muslin democrats who desperately need our support are often ignored. There are very few solidarity movements with the beleaguered Muslim democrats.

Paul Berman: Exactly. And you and I both know that there is nothing more fashionable than to look at some Iraqi liberal democrat and sneer.

UPDATE: Nouri, the Moor Next Door, adds in the comments:

That bottom exchange is so true. I have observed this many times. For instance, I live about 5 minutes away form Yale University by foot, and most book stores in town are frequented by Yalis. I was at the Yale Barnes and Noble one day and overheard a discussion about Islam and democracy and women between several students, one was wearing a keffiyeh the others were average looking college students. The keffiyeh wearing one went and on about how Arabs are mad because they’re not united (ha!) and the other nodded noting that Muslim women are not oppressed at all and how culture is relative. I approached them and asked where they got this drivel (more like “Who told you this?”) and they said it was obvious from how Arabs have flocked to Iraq, and that pan Arabism is alive and well, blah, and how they heard it (gasp!) from their professor. I said that I, as an “Arab” did not agree and they basically began to yell at me, “no” “no” “no”. The one in the keffiyeh called me a “fake Arab” because I was not some semi-totalitarian Baathist. I challenged the idea that Arabs “don’t want democracy” using classic liberal arguments, to which they responded were “right wing junk”. I told them that Saddam was a prick, that he was a thug, a creton, and that he disrespected minority and majority rights. They wouldn’t have it, because you know, Saddam’s regime handed out PhDs like there was no tomorrow. I have an aunt (in law) that works at the State Department who tells me that this attitude is really prevelent among diplomats and analists because they deal mainly with elites that are hostile to any sort of democratization. It’s a real bougie type of attitude, that I still don’t fully understand.

Hang On

I’m coming back soon, I promise. When I get here I’ll have a story from the Lebanese mountains. I intended to publish it months ago but it got bumped and put into cold storage. You will, I hope, find it entertaining as well as revealing of a certain mindset.

In the meantime, here is something from the AP worth noting:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since last week’s killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed during those actions, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the raids were carried out nationwide and led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches.

He said 255 of the raids were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone. The raids also resulted in the captures of 759 “anti-Iraqi elements.”

Filler

I have been dealing with non-stop Middle East related bureaucracy for two days (even at four in the morning, for God’s sake) and I’m mentally exhausted. It has just been one of those weeks so far. Can’t blog properly. Sorry.

This partly explains my lazy post yesterday, written in haste as filler. Now you get this thrilling post as filler part two. (Is filler better than nothing? I don’t know. Maybe!)

I do have more Middle East material from my notebooks that never got turned into proper articles. As soon as I am able to recharge myself I’ll see what I can do with it.

If you feel like hanging out in the comments section lounge, consider this an open thread. Just be nice to your fellow humans. I don’t need any blog world screaming today. And neither does anyone else, really. It’s bad for you.

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