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Bumming Around Puerto Rico

I’m back from Puerto Rico and apologize for being lazy before I started blogging again. When I go on vacation it takes a while to decompress. But after spending several days in a row bumming around Old San Juan and sitting barefoot on the beach it takes yet another few days to ease back into my work routine.

I don’t have a travel essay for you, mostly because I don’t have a travel narrative to wrap one around. That was on purpose. I didn’t want this trip to be an adventure. I wanted to do very little of anything. So I that’s all I did.

I do, however, have some photos and nuggets of commentary.

San Juan.jpg

When I first went to Quebec City a few years ago I was envious at what Canada had. Ooh, I thought. Why can’t we have a 400-year old European-looking American city? But we do. We have Old San Juan. Since Puerto Rico isn’t a state – even though it’s part of America – I often forget all about it. You’re looking at it, though. There it is: a 400-year old European-style American city. It’s not French, though, it’s Spanish, which is even better.

A cab driver told me about an executive from Intel he had just picked up from the airport. “This guy told me he had no trouble with immigration after he landed.”

“He flew here from the states?” I said.

“He flew here from the states,” he said and laughed. “It gets worse, though. I told him Puerto Rico is part of the United States so of course there was no immigration. I don’t think he understood. Next he asked me what kind of currency we use on the island.”

I’ll say this in a meager defense of the ignorant man from Intel. Puerto Rico doesn’t look or feel like the U.S. at all. It really is culturally Latin American. Except for the American-style shopping malls in the suburbs and the Miami-style hotels on the beach, it reminded more of Costa Rica than anywhere else.

San Juan Alley.jpg

Costa Rica does not, however, have much in the way of Spanish colonial architecture. The buildings and houses are mostly modern and block-like, just as they are in San Juan. But the walled city of Old San Juan is a jewel of narrow cobble-stoned streets, plazas, outdoor cafes, and wrought-iron balconies. If I ever decide to move to Puerto Rico, this is definitely where I will live.

San Juan Tapas Restaurant.jpg

Every single meal I had on the island was excellent. Not only are Puerto Ricans masters of their own Caribean-style cuisine, they invent ingenious experimental concoctions that don’t exist anywhere else. One restaurant in Old San Juan billed itself as Indo-Latino. But it was much more even than that. Dishes weren’t merely a fusion of Carribean and Indian food. They threw Middle Eastern and East Asian ingredients into the mix, too.

El Convento.jpg

Shelly and I stayed at the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan. I don’t recommend it. Their Web site makes it look like it’s an okay place, but it’s as charmless as a hospital or a cruise ship. We should have stayed at El Convento. Now that’s a fine Spanish hotel. As you can guess, it was a convent back in the day. Unlike the Hotel Milano, the inside is as charming and warm as the outside.

Columbus Statue.jpg

Several outdoor cafes ring the plaza around the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Asesino de Indios.jpg

But look closer. Not everyone is a fan of Columbus these days.

La Perla.jpg

La Perla is said to be the most colorful slum in the world. That may be. But it looks to me like “slum” is a bit of an overstatement. I’ve seen some horrific Latin American slums in my day. The worst are in Guatemala and Mexico. Just looking at pictures of Brazilian favelas is enough to depress me. But La Perla is nothing like that. I wouldn’t say it’s a nice place. It’s basically a pile of houses wedged between the north wall of the old city, an old Spanish cemetary, and the Atlantic. It doesn’t appear on a single tourism map. But still. You’re looking at it right now. It doesn’t look any worse up close in real life. If this is still considered a slum, life is definitely better than it once was in Puerto Rico. There are many many worse places in the world than this.

El Yunque.jpg

Not only do I frequently forget that we have a 400-year old European-style city inside our borders, I also forget we have a tropical rain forest, too. This is El Yunque, known in English as the Carribean National Forest. It’s the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. (We do have a temperate rain forest, however – the only one in the world – on Washington state’s Olympic Penninsula.)

El Yunque Creek.jpg

I’ve tromped around the rain forests and jungles of three Central American countries. Each is its own place. They’re dramaticaly different even though they’re all so close together. But they do have one thing in common: I swore that I would never camp overnight in a tent in any of them. I’m used to the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest. Tropical forests are different; they are manifestly hostile. Razor-toothed crocodiles, malarial mosquitoes, flesh-ripping jaguars, poisonous snakes, and the vicious little biting insect bastards can have the place to themselves when I’m not on a day trip. El Yunque, though, isn’t like that at all. There are no crocodiles, no jaguars, no poisonous snakes, and no insects that I was aware of. There was enough shade from the sun that it was not even hot in midafternoon. I’d love to camp in that tropical paradise. I wished when I was there that I had a tent. It’s truly benign, and if Earth has an Eden it must be El Yunque.

El Yunque Mountain.jpg

The forest begins at sea level and rises to the top of a mountain. If you drive or walk all the way up you’ll pass through four distinct ecosystems as you rise in elevation. The top is so windy, so high, and so cool that the jungle aspect entirely vanishes and the trees are reduced to dwarfs.

Karst2.jpg

Northwestern Puerto Rico is karst country. Karst is a rare land formation found only in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the former Yugoslavia. The would-be flat landscape is violently scoured with gigantic sinkholes created by centuries of rain water dissolving the limestone.

Areciba.jpg

Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope, was built at the bottom of one of those pits. It looks smallish in pictures, but it’s way too big to fit in a photograph. I’ve seen pictures of it before and had absolutely no idea how big it really is. I took one look at it and said “holy shit!” — a common reaction, I’m sure. The receiver alone is almost the size of a cruise ship.

Culebra.jpg

The island of Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Rico is, in geologic terms, a part of the Virgin Islands. It is not what I would have expected in the Carribean. It doesn’t look or feel like the tropics. It looks and feels Mediterranean. El Yunque is only twenty miles away across the water. Somehow, apparently, it steals most of the rain that would otherwise fall on Culebra.

Dewey.jpg

There’s only one town on Culebra. Officially its name is Dewey, named after Admiral George Dewey in the Spanish-American war. The locals defiantly call the town Puebla. But don’t take that the wrong way. They’re sweet and hospitable people. If they harbor a grudge against gringos and yanks they sure do know how to hide it.

The “mainland” island is unbelievably crowded. If you want to get away from it all, go to Vieques. And if Vieques is too much for you, to go Culebra. The island is small. You can walk across it the long way in an afternoon. You can walk across it the short way in only an hour. The one town of Dewey/Puebla is miniscule. There are no large hotels and no corporate chain restaurants or stores of any kind. It’s more laid back and lethargic than even Belize.

Mamacitas.jpg

The most popular bar is Mamacita’s. Everyone who works there is an “expat.” (I’m putting “expat” in quotes because Culebra is a part of the United States. But it’s culture is so distinctly Latin American it feels as foreign as anywhere in South or Central America.)

Playa Flamenco.jpg

The Travel Channel recently named Flamenco Beach the second most beautiful in the world. (The single most beautiful supposedly is in Hawaii.) Well, they ought to know. They’ve been to plenty more beaches than I have. Flamenco Beach is certainly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The waves are gentle, the water is turquoise, the shape is a perfect horseshoe. The sand is soft and white. Best of all, it’s a Carribean beach with almost no people on it at all. It almost didn’t even seem real. How could such a beautiful place be so empty of people? I felt like a lucky bastard to be there, and I doubt its seclusion will last. (I realize I am not helping by posting about it.)

Playa Tortuga.jpg

If Flamenco Beach ever does get too crowded you can always go to Isla Culebrita’s Playa Tortuga. That’s where you go when you’re sick of “the crush” on Culebra and really want to get away from it all. It’s an island off the coast of an island off the coast of an island. It is totally uninhabited and will likely remain so for a very long time. The Carribean may be crowded, but it isn’t yet full.

Thanks to Mary and Jeremy for filling in for me while I lazily bumming around far from my laptop.

(All images copyright Michael J. Totten)

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Posted by Mary Madigan

I thought Michael was supposed to be back by now. Has he wandered off somewhere new? He keeps doing that.

I hope he comes back soon because I’m running out of stuff to say. All I have for you today is some pictures of orange curtains flapping in Central Park.

It’s not much, and Jeremy and Eric have done better coverage of the Gates issue. But, as you know I like to avoid expressing strong or offensive opinions.

If Michael ever does return, I’d just like to say, many thanks to everyone for listening to and making such great comments about my blather; many thanks to Jeremy for sharing the responsibility of guest-blogging and tons of thanks to Michael for the opportunity to speak to the very large audience that he has done a lot of hard work and excellent writing to attract.

Now, I’ll get back to my curtains. Oh, and don’t forget, I’m still blogging at Exit Zero and with the crew at Dean’s World. (that’s another reason why women have a hard time in the blogosphere. We’re so humble).

I Think He’s Around the Corner

Posted by Jeremy Brown (Am I not in your blogroll? Mary either? You will? Thanks!)

Yes, I’m pretty sure Michael is coming back soon, so we should really straighten up a little around here, spit out our gum, open our notebooks, look busy, straighten some hangers, re-stack the kiwis, rebuild the canned peach pyramid, switch the presets back to Michael’s favorite stations, get the fig Newton crumbs off of the Berkline rocker-recliner, top off the tank with 93 octane, erase the word ‘vacation’ from next to Michael’s name on the whiteboard, clean out the litter box one last time, leave the Movable Type password under that fake rock next to the front stoop…

And let me once again thank Michael for this opportunity. And my thanks to Mary whose first rate posts (and strong opinions) have made me look good by association, and to all you Totten readers and commenters who made us both feel so welcome and who added depth, breadth, and weight to the discussions on this blog. It was, once again, great fun.

Now, for the love of God, read my blog, or at least blogroll it…please? (if I meet you on the street I promise not to quiz you to test whether you’ve been reading). Now that my stint here is over, I will stop neglecting my own blog. And In just an hour or so you will find the latest installment of my weekly satire feature; it will be a guaranteed socially pertinent yuk-fest for the whole family.

Catch you all later…

Update: one more link before Michael takes back the microphone: I have an exclusive lead on yet another 20 year old private conversation with George W. Bush that is now being revealed. My source tells me this is ‘not serious but true.’

The Kurds’ War for Oil?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Did you read that long article in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday? The one about the Kurds? My title for this post should tip you off to the fact that I read it and did not much like what I read.

What I normally do, when I’ve tiptoed into the mudroom of a long article and taken an immediate dislike to the smells drifting in from the kitchen (if you know what I mean), is that I will read the first paragraph and then read the last paragraph. A good and rigorously objective journalist ought to work both sides of the street — if there are two sides — at least to some extent, within a long news piece on an important subject. So I’m not one to skim for outrageous ideas and make easy assumptions about reportorial or editorial bias (or I often am one to do that, but in any case I not this time.)

But you can generally go by the first and last paragraphs (and if you’re trying that trick on this post it may already be too late, but let me assure you that I did this time read the paragraphs in between).

Here, then, is the bulk of the introductory paragraph to Nir Rosen’s piece on the Kurds:

Nir Rosen, a freelance journalist, spent the days before the election among Kirkuk’s bitterly contentious political parties. He says the election was not about ideas, or even politics, but was a blatant grab for power. “The people you saw dancing in the streets were Kurds, dancing to Kurdish national music, and waving the flag of Kurdistan,” Rosen says. Now, with their all-but-assured control over Kirkuk, the Kurds will be emboldened in their ambition to establish an independent Kurdish state, which includes Kirkuk and its oil.”

Welcome to the mental streetcorner at which I was pausing when I came up with this post’s title.

Now here’s the last paragraph:

It appears that Kirkuk has become a place where an oil field has to have a ”commander” and where that commander thinks of himself not as an Iraqi, but as a Kurd.

Was it fair of me to conclude that this Nir Rosen — whose name was naggingly thought only distantly familiar — was trying to tell Sunday readers of the New York Times that it was all going to turn to shit in Iraq, and that those American allies, the Kurds, were just in it for the oil?

I’ll share some of the stuff that came between the first and last paragraph.

I should point out that Rosen does remind readers that the Kurds suffered horribly under Saddam, citing a Human Rights Watch figure of 100,000 Kurds killed during Saddam’s Anfal campaign of 1987 which, he owns, was “widely considered a genocidal offensive.” It was; that’s true. But in the previous paragraph Rosen had introduced the topic of Saddam’s treatment of the Kurds this way:

Turkmens and Kurds alike were suppressed by the aggressive Arabism of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Official ”Arabization” began in the 1960′s and accelerated significantly in 1975, when the Iraqi regime began forcibly removing tens of thousands of Kurds, Turkmens and Assyrian Christians from Kirkuk and bringing in Arabs to take their place. This Arabization was chiefly motivated by the government’s wish to consolidate its grip on the oil-rich and fertile region — and to pre-empt a gradual demographic takeover of the city by the Kurds.

And again, I don’t mean to nitpick. The Kurds were suppressed by aggressive Arabism. True enough. I don’t need Rosen to get elegiac or emotional about this stuff. The facts will suffice. The trouble is that just a few paragraphs down you almost — if you didn’t know any better — would get the feeling that the Kurds were a bit scarier, a bit more ‘aggressive’ than Saddam’s Baathists:

During the war to oust Saddam Hussein that began in March 2003, United States Special Forces soldiers fought alongside Kurdish guerrilla fighters. Together they descended on Kirkuk on April 10, and the vengeful Kurds — with Mam Rostam as their commander — looted many of the city’s government buildings and shops, and convoys of Kurdish vehicles could be seen carrying the booty back to the north. Thousands of Arabs fled in advance of the Kurdish and American-led coalition forces; those who remained were subject to a campaign of intimidation. Many were warned to abandon their homes, which the Kurdish militias were seizing for themselves or awarding to the families of peshmerga casualties.

Did you notice the language-use as compared with the way he chose to describe the Baathist (some would say) genocide against the Kurds? Let’s recap: ‘guerilla fighters’, descended on Kirkuk’, ‘the vengeful Kurds’, ‘looted’, ‘carrying the booty back to the north’, ‘Thousands of Arabs fled’, ‘campaign of intimidation’, ‘warned to abandon their homes.’

Almost makes you nostalgic for that aggressive Arabism (which, anyway, was ancient history as compared with this Kurdish and American onslaught that happened just this past year).

Am I saying that Nir Rosen is anti-Kurd? Upon reflection…no. Not exactly. Let me cut to the chase: Rosen is trying to induce in you, the reader, the idea (and you are to think it was your own) that as bad a man as Saddam was, things are going to get much worse than ever in Iraq. And very soon. Why focus on the Kurds? Because they are the most closely allied with the U.S. And because people have a tendency to, well, like them, or at least to fear them less than the Shia and, certainly, less than the Sunnis.

For Rosen there are only scary factions in Iraq. Thus the walls of the Shiite mosque Rosen visits…

“…were lined with posters featuring a who’s who of radical Shiism:

Ayatollah Khomeini, Moktada al-Sadr and his revered martyred uncle, Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, the father of political Shiism in Iraq. One poster, showing Moktada al-Sadr beside a masked man wielding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, announced, ”The Mahdi army supports Muslims and protects the religious sites for Iraqis.” Another declared that al-Sadr was on the battlefield against the Americans…

And the Sunni sheik Rosen chooses to tell us about explains to Rosen why he named his son ‘Osama’: “‘I named him after Osama bin Laden,’ the sheik said, smiling. ‘Bin Laden is a good man.”’

Right. I get it. Iraq was far better off before the war, before the election.

But I would be remiss in not sharing the Israeli connection, especially since it will make a nice segue, as you’ll soon see (if you would indulge me a little further):

…the rotund and eternally tired chief of the traffic police, settled into a chair, removing his Israeli automatic pistol, which he said was a special gift from a benefactor he refused to name. The chief of security for this neighborhood, a handsome man, freshly shaved and with a permanent smile, refused to give his name or have his picture taken. Asked about reports that Israeli intelligence agents were training the Kurds, he said Iraqi Jews have the right to return to Kurdistan.

”Better to have Israelis than Arabs!”

So it all comes together nicely. While refraining from telling anyone what to think — but does he have to, since the facts speak for themselves? — Rosen finds himself in the midst of what one can only reasonably conclude is a nightmare about to be visited upon Iraq by Kurds and Americans wielding Israeli weapons acquired God only knows how, from some sinister Mossad deepthroat (Our Man in Halabja?)

But who in the hell am I, a lowly blogger, to criticize the work of a journalist who has risked his life to report this story and others? Let me say that I do respect his willingness to put his neck on the line to report this stuff. And I am grateful for any firsthand descriptions of the people, the cultures, the dangers in Iraq, however uneven or misleadingly applied any given account of these things may be.

I don’t, however, respect how this man and others like him have used his unique access to pass his smugly subjective opinions off as if they were courageously dispassionate journalism. It’s selfish and dangerous.

But my final paragraph approaches. I’ll let Nir Rosen, a native of Israel, have the last word. What follows is from a piece he published last year in Counterpunch and on a website called “Dissident Voice” (and this was why his name was so familiar to me):

The sanctions that cripple Iraq and starve its people do nothing to the dictator whom they did not choose and cannot remove. Israelis on the other hand chose the war criminal that leads them, voted for the bloody policies of their government, and half of them support the “transfer” (the Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from the occupied territories. So I find myself in the unique and painful position of calling for international sanctions against Israel and wondering if a punitive bombing of Tel Aviv, the city I love, until it complies with international law, might be a good (albeit quixotic) idea.

Free Mojtaba and Arash

Posted by Mary Madigan

From the Committee to Protect Bloggers

Today is Free Mojtaba and Arash Day in honor of the two Iranian bloggers currently incarcerated by the Iranian government.

Read about Arash and Mojtaba.

Here is what you can do. With additional contact information.

Let’s make a difference today. Freedom of speech is not a partisan issue, not an issue of culture or ethnicity, it is a bloggers’ issue and a human issue.

More about the dangers of blogging in Iran.

[Links thanks to Kesher Talk]

UPDATE – Via Buzzmachine: This issue is getting attention.

An online protest Tuesday of Iran’s crackdown against bloggers made an impact–even on Iranian officials.

So says a leader of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the group that organized the effort to decry the jailings of Iranian bloggers Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad.

Reuters on Tuesday reported that Sigarchi was jailed for 14 years on charges ranging from espionage to insulting the country’s leaders, a move probably linked in part to the timing of the protest, said Curt Hopkins, the committee’s director. “I think there’s got to be some connection,” Hopkins said.

A message left with the Iranian mission to the United Nations was not immediately returned…

According to Reuters, Sigarchi is a newspaper editor and blogger who was arrested last month. A member of the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Tehran told Reuters that the charges against him are political and journalistic.

According to the group Reporters Without Borders, Sigarchi was arrested for keeping a banned blog called Panhjareh Eltehab (The Window of Anxiety), in which he reported the arrests of cyber-journalists and bloggers….

…Blogging has emerged in the past year or so as a powerful tool to make a difference in society. Hopkins said his group’s next step may go beyond simply raising awareness about free-speech issues. The organization may seek to set up special server computers that would make it harder for a government to crack down on those speaking through blogs.

Rethinking

MJT’s new Tech Central Station column is up: Second Thoughts in Both Directions: Iraq has made morons out of a lot of people, as perhaps it should..

Get Well, Helen!

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Congratulations to Helen and Glenn on the news of Helen’s successful heart surgery. We all wish you a speedy recovery and the much needed peace of mind we hope this amazing medical technology will bring.

Where are the moderate Muslims?

Posted by Mary Madigan

Free Muslims against terrorism respond to the Freedom House Investigation (posted at Dean’s World)

Muslim-bashing. That’s the accusation many of my fellow Muslims now hurl at the various news outlets for their news stories about a Freedom House investigation that found extremist Islamic literature in some leading American mosques. This name-calling is unfortunate.

Since 1980, the Muslim world has experienced an enormous growth of religious fanaticism and extremism the likes of which Islam has not experienced in its 1,400 years. This movement continues to grow because of the spread of Wahhabi Islam; a sect that used to number no more than one percent of all Muslims, but because of money and technology, has spread to more areas around the world…

..Will Muslims wake up before it is too late? Or will we continue blaming an imaginary Jewish conspiracy and entities like The Dallas Morning News for all our problems? The blaming of all Muslim problems on others is a cancer that is destroying Muslim society. And it must stop.

Muslims must wake up, look inward and put a stop to many of our religious leaders who spend most of their sermons teaching hatred, intolerance and violent jihad. We should not be afraid to admit that as Muslims we have a problem with violent extremism. We should not be afraid to admit that so many of our religious leaders belong behind bars, and not behind a pulpit.

Free Muslims against Terrorism was “created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.”

Moderate Muslims are also here, here, here and here.

Ideological strangulation

Posted by Mary Madigan

In May, 2004, Asra Q. Nomani wrote about how her local mosque was being taken over by extremists:

“Not long ago in my little mosque around the corner from a McDonald’s, a student from the university here delivered a sermon. To love the Prophet Muhammad, he said, “is to hate those who hate him.” He railed against man-made doctrines that replace Islamic law, and excoriated the “enemies of Islam” who deny strict adherence to Sunnah, or the ways of Muhammad. While he wasn’t espousing violence, his words echoed the extremist vocabulary of Wahhabism, used by some followers to breed militant attitudes.”

Near Chicago, the Bridgeview mosque was also overtaken by extremists. It became a political outreach center for local extremists and supporters of Hamas. The moderates fought the extremists for control of the Bridgeview mosque and lost.

Moderate Muslims still pray at the mosque, but some say conservatives have created an environment that is overly political, too rigid in its interpretation of Islam and resistant to open debate. These members also worry that the Muslim Brotherhood, a controversial group with a violent past, has an undue influence over the mosque. Despite these concerns, the critics largely remain silent, fearful of being called “unIslamic” by mosque leaders.

Connections between Saudi-influenced mosques and terrorist groups have been made in the Netherlands, after the killing of Theo Van Gogh, and in Spain after the 3/11 attacks. According to Sufi scholar Hisham Kabbani more than 80 per cent of American mosques are “controlled by extremists”. Most of those extremist mosques are supported and funded by Saudi charities.

The Center For Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, founded

more than sixty years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and other pro-democracy Americans, studied the influence of hate propaganda in America by the government of Saudi Arabia.

This project * was started after many Muslims requested the Center’s help in exposing Saudi extremism “in the hope of freeing their communities from ideological strangulation”

Their report concluded that:

..the Saudi government propaganda reflected a “totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to violence,” and the fact that it is “being mainstreamed within our borders through the efforts of a foreign government, namely Saudi Arabia, demands our urgent attention.” The report finds: “Not only does the government of Saudi Arabia not have a right — under the First Amendment or any other legal document — to spread hate ideology within U.S. borders, it is committing a human rights violation by doing so.”

The press had a variety of responses to this story. From the Houston Chronicle:

To be clear, Freedom House’s study is not comprehensive. It examined a small number of U.S. mosques, choosing the larger and more influential ones. It would be unfair to conclude that these findings represent all American mosques, or for that matter all American Muslims. The Saudis are the real villains in this study.

Still, these findings are alarming. The report identifies the spread of Wahhabist thought in this country as a national security threat. The war for the hearts and minds of Muslims is being fought here, too. The U.S. government allows the foreign enemies of freedom and tolerance to spread jihad ideology on the home front. Why?

From the Chicago Tribune:

Are there Muslims who espouse bigoted views? The answer to that question is `yes,’ just like any other minority of any other faith,” said Tabbara. “What Freedom House is doing is unfortunately smearing all mosques in the United States and all mosque-goers by extension.”

If the researchers broadened their study, controversial literature would likely also turn up in other houses of worship, Kaiseruddin suggested.

“We are aware that there are books written with a little inflammatory language,” he said. “I don’t think books on Islam have a monopoly on those. There are books on other faiths that use inflammatory language. I don’t know that they can be classified as promoting hate.

[if there are books on other faiths that say things similar to these Saudi statements:

  • Jews "are worse than donkeys." They are the corrupting force "behind materialism, bestiality, the destruction of the family, and the dissolution of society."
  • Muslims who convert to another religion "should be killed because [they] have denied the Koran.”

  • Democracy is “responsible for all the horrible wars” of the 20th century, and for spreading “ignorance, moral decadence, and drugs.”

..I’d like to see them too.]

“The only thing we’ve received from Saudi Arabia is a package of dates during the month of Ramadan,” [Kaiseruddin] added. “We don’t reject that. We distribute it and we eat them. I don’t know that promotes any hatred among anybody.”

From the Boston Globe:

It is important to note that most Muslims do not share the xenophobic Wahhabi dogma. Freedom House undertook its study in part because ”many Muslims . . . requested our help in exposing Saudi extremism in the hope of freeing their communities from ideological strangulation.” Now that Freedom House has done so, it is up to moderate American Muslims to purge their mosques of the Saudi toxin, and to ostracize the extremists.

And it is up to Washington to end the pretense of US-Saudi harmony. President Bush last week referred to Saudi Arabia as one of ”our friends” in the Middle East. But friends don’t flood friends’ houses of worship with hateful religious propaganda. We are in a war against radical Islamist terrorism, and Saudi Arabia supplies the ideology on which the terrorists feed. Until that incitement is stifled, the Saudis are no friends of ours.

According to Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Washington Times:

Worshippers at Al Farooq are told, “If a person says I believe in Allah alone and confirms the truth of everything from Muhammad, except in his forbidding fornication, he becomes a disbeliever. For that, it would be lawful for Muslims to spill his blood and to take his money.”

The Brooklyn mosque was a favorite of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, on his fund-raising tours in the late 1980s. Several co-conspirators in the Landmark bomb plot (whose targets were the United Nations and New York City’s tunnels) also used Al Farooq as a safe meeting place.

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 along with nine followers of conspiring to bomb the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan and several other buildings, bridges and tunnels in New York preached at the popular Al Salam mosque in Jersey City.

Joel Mowbray, (the only journalist who has ever been detained by the US government for asking the wrong questions about the Saudi/State Department Visa Express program) also notes the connection between extremist mosques and extremist activity:

The former imam at the El-Tawheed Islamic Center in Jersey City, Alaa Al-Sadawi, was convicted in 2003 of attempting to smuggle more than $650,000 to the terrorist organization Global Relief Fund in Egypt.

One of Al-Sadawi’s former spiritual followers murdered in the name of Allah. Alim Hassan, then 31, killed his pregnant wife, her mother, and her sister on July 30, 2002. He reportedly stabbed the women more than 20 times each because they refused to convert to Islam. According to reports, Hassan prayed regularly at El-Tawheed.

Mowbray notes a possible connection between this extremist influence and the recent murders of the Armanious family in Jersey City. This possible connection was also noted by ABC news a few days after the murders.

But ABC News has learned that a cousin of the slain family has been a translator working for the prosecution in the trial of Lynne Stewart [link added by ed]. She is the radical lawyer accused of smuggling messages from imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, to terrorist cell members and associates

In any case, it’s pretty clear that the Saudi government is exporting more than dates to American mosques. According to the Freedom House report, moderate Muslims have been watching their religion get shanghaied by extremists for years. Has our government been listening to them, or have they been listening to Wahhabi-sponsored groups like CAIR?

The problem is not getting better. The question is, what does the government plan to do about it?

* View the full report (pdf)

Blogger Broadcasting

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Earlier this evening I caught the very tail end of Jeff Jarvis, Roger L. Simon, and Matthew Yglesias on Kudlow & Co. So I’m afraid I missed the juciy bits, if there were juicy bits. And I missed Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Wonkette, etc. on Charlie Rose (I’m going to have to break down and order the video).

My point? Just that the bloggers are increasingly becoming kings and queens of all media. And also, that I managed to make a crude recording of Norm Geras‘ brief interview on BBC radio last week. It’s not the best quality because my sound card was on the fritz. And the interviewer kept Norm anchored to the rudiments (why do you blog? No, but why do you bother to blog? No, I mean, why would anyone bother to blog?) but the interview was by no means hostile and the tension of all those naive questions actually may have created a good space for Norm to give a good account of a certain part of his story as a blogger.

In any event, you don’t hear this professor on radio or TV often, so here’s your opportunity (.mp3, approximately 5MB).

Hear Ye, Fast Zombies

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I am a Gullible Ass

To put it another way: I am still a daily reader of the New York Times. I tell myself I’ve learned to separate the wheat from the chaff and the chaff from the manure. But a few days ago I let one piece of manure slip by me.

The offending kaka missile emerged from that recent NYT piece on how we pajama-clad bloggers are tearing across the country — at high-speed, just like those fast zombies in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead — forsaking our sheltered nests out in places like Kansas and Iowa to invade the streets of New York City and rip out the hearts of our betters, namely people like Dan Rather and Eason Jordan.

Yes, well that sort of view is basically fine. It’s fairly funny, really. But the article quotes Jeff Jarvis in a very misleading way:

But while the bloggers are feeling empowered, some in their ranks are openly questioning where they are headed. One was Jeff Jarvis, the head of the Internet arm of Advance Publications, who publishes a blog at buzzmachine.com. Mr. Jarvis said bloggers should keep their real target in mind. “I wish our goal were not taking off heads but digging up truth,” he cautioned.

To which Jeff responds on his blog:

And, of course, that makes it look as if I’m wringing my hands over the morals of my fellow bloggers when, in fact, I’m worried about precisely what The Times is doing here: using this episode to call us a lynch mob. Here’s what I said after that line:

We don’t want to be positioned as the news lynch mob — which is where a radio interview yesterday tried to go — but as the press of the people. Of course, big media can be a lynch mob, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s an example we should follow.

What a handy ‘snip.’

My initial reaction after reading the Times article on Monday was to reaffirm my solidarity with the opinions of one Jeff Jarvis as against those of the Jeff Jarvis with whom I bitterly disagreed in the NYT article. But, it seems, the latter Jeff Jarvis was an invention of the NYT reporters. Anyway, I feel I owe the real JJ an apology for thinking that straw effigy was him. Sorry about that.

My take on the Eason Jordan affair is that it’s a simple matter of accountability. And in this regard we the blogs are just a kind of community coalition taking media accountability into our own hands, the same way traditional community groups have taken it upon themselves to police the police or to put a small flame to the buttocks of their political representatives, etc. We the citizens are the boss of the police, of the courts, of the government and, ultimately, of the press. We literally own the broadcast spectrum, for one thing, so why wouldn’t we feel free to make a noise when a high ranking executive of a TV news network makes a serious charge without evidence, one that his network has not reported. All we wanted was to know what the hell had happened, what the man really meant. I don’t recall many bloggers calling for Jordan’s head on a pike. But so what if some had?

It wasn’t bloggers, or readers who fired Eason Jordan. CNN fired Eason Jordan (or accepted his resignation, as the case may be). Why? We don’t know, do we, since they won’t tell us. CNN seems quite happy to hide behind the cover of this bloggers-as-lynch-mob idea. Do we really have the power to defenestrate journalists we happen not to care for? I almost wouldn’t mind if we did. Bang! There goes Dowd, pumping gas. Pow! There’s Krugman scooping ice cream. Kablamachunk! Chomsky’s long-windedly explaining the Tilt-a-Whirl’s height requirement to a dazed Belgian child at Euro Disney.

But alas, bloggers don’t actually have that kind of juice.

Brent Bozell (hat tip: Captain’s Quarters) sums this up well:

Amazingly, most of the major “news” media avoided this news — especially CNN. So when Jordan resigned, it made the blogs seem so powerful that liberals started attacking them for recklessly destroying Jordan’s career, even using goofy terms like “cyber-McCarthyism” to denounce it. But what the bloggers did here was deliver information and accountability, the same things the major media purport to be providing — unless it’s one of their own in the hot seat.

An interesting footnote, via Jeff Jarvis, is this change in the headline of the NYT article cited above. It was, when I read it, “Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters” but it was subsequently changed to, “Resignation at CNN Shows the Growing Influence of Blogs.”

What happens in America stays in America..

Posted by Mary Madigan

According to David Brooks, when some American politicians go to Europe, they leave the Left/Right bickering at home..

There were Democrats and Republicans in this delegation, but you couldn’t tell who was who by listening to their speeches.

Instead, what you heard were pretty specific, productive suggestions on winning the war against Islamist extremism. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lobbied for ways to use NATO troops to protect a larger U.N. presence in Iraq. Democratic Representative Jane Harman was pushing the Europeans to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Hillary Clinton suggested ways to strengthen the U.N., while also blasting its absurdities. Clinton affirmed that the U.S. preferred to work within the U.N., but she toughened her speech with ad-libs, warning, “Sometimes we have to act with few or no allies.”

.. McCain sat on a panel with officials from Russia, Egypt and Iran. He began his talk with suggestions on how to use NATO troops in the Middle East. Then it was time for a little straight talk. He ripped the Egyptians for arresting opposition leaders. (The Egyptian foreign minister held his brow, as if in grief.) He condemned the Iranians for supporting terror. (The Iranian hunched over like someone in a hailstorm.) He criticized Russia for embracing electoral fraud in Ukraine. In the land of the summiteers, this was in-your-face behavior…

I heard the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, in his soaring, stratospheric mode, declaring that we need the “creation of a grand design, a strategic consensus across the Atlantic.” We need a “social Magna Carta” to bind the globe. His chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, proposed a vague commission to rebuild or replace NATO. His president, Horst Köhler, insisted, “Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive.”

Global poverty is mostly the result of tyranny; it’s hard to tackle one without confronting the other.

Brooks believes that our representatives’ close contact with (or experience as?) combat veterans is responsible for their more confrontational style.

[Link thanks to Solomonia and Roger L. Simon]

Smash Nazimarching

Posted by Mary Madigan

I’ve often wondered — whatever happened to the anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian left?

They’re in the former GDR, and they call themselves the “Antifa”, or Anti-fascists.

From an Antifa post, (Feb. 2003) Why I won’t be at the Peace March

Almost everybody seems to agree: The left and the neo-nazis, the whole of Germany and the Islamic world: A group of evil, callous, cynical powermongers, obsessed with ruling the world have nothing else on their mind than bombing innocent civilians and sacrificing their own youth in their quest for oil and wold domination. For this they use their propaganda machinery, fake and forge and lie. Against this all the decent people(s) of the world should stand up and mobilise against the ‘tyrants’. We’ll all get another opportunity to show our strength as a civil society on february 15 — and march alongside Hamas sympathisers shouting ‘Jews to the gas!’.

Like this we can serve the imperialist ambitions of EU-Germany trying to position itself directly against the US in its slow but steady process of becoming one of the big players again. Germany who has the most investments in Iraq, whose chemical companies supplied Iraq with raw materials. For poison gas that Iraq intends to use against Israel.

It’s true that the US/UK alliance have come up with insufficient proof for some of the claims they’ve made. Nevertheless it should be clear to any half-intelligent person that they are probably right in most of their claims, and that they are certainly right in the assessment of the Ba’th party regime as a fascist dictatorship where human life and basic liberties are worthless or non-existent…

…Of course pacifists will logically prefer fascism to war.

But neither the Islamists, nor the neo-nazis, nor the Germans, nor the ‘left’ who are against this war are usually pacifists (with the exception of a segment of the left, and some christians). So we have to assume that they follow another agenda. An agenda that in this context means that they don’t give a f-ck about the victims of a fascist dictatorship and only care about positioning themslves against America.

I found the most unbiased description of the Antifa group in this quirky academic study of “Collective German Masculinities” in post-GDR Germany.

A self-described “cosmopolitan communist,” Fischer is an activist and publicist for the so-called “Anti-Deutsch,” or radically anti-German , pro-Israeli, pro-American position, a minority view among the range of mostly anti-American radical left subject positions in Germany. He had rejected the traditional pro-Palestinian view of the German left (and of the GDR) by adopting a historical narrative of the postwar German state as incurably anti-semitic and potentially (again) genocidal. This is a position that defends the U.S. as the primary ally to Israel, views the September 11th attacks as essentially anti-semitic, accepts the U.S. war in Iraq as necessary to eliminate the “fascist dictator” Saddam Hussein, and believes that “communism can come only after full bourgeois freedom (simply: liberalism) has been spread worldwide.”[xii]

In the Antifa universe, Lisa Simpson rules.

I’d never heard of this group until yesterday, when I was reading about the Neo-Nazi rally that disrupted the Dresden memorial: *

From the Guardian: “Addressing the rally, the [neo-Nazi National Party of Germany]’s leader in the Saxon parliament, Holger Apfel, launched an attack on what he called the “gangster politics of the British and Americans”.

He said: “They have left a trail of blood from the past to the present, via Dresden, Korea, Vietnam, Baghdad and – tomorrow possibly – Tehran. Terror and war have a name. And that name is the United States of America.”

The so-called anti-war, anti-terror Neo-Nazis were confronted by anti-Fascist marchers, who waved US and Israeli flags and carried white roses.

Harry’s Place commenter Frank said that the anti-Fascist marchers must be Anti-Deutsch. [Antifa] According to Anti-Deutsch for Beginners, this group’s primary interest is to prevent renewed imperialist ambitions in Germany.

It cannot be completely excluded that considerable resistance against renewed super power ambitions will develop in Germany sometime; however the experiences of the anti-war movement during the war in Kosovo and later don’t justify such a hope. At present it is obvious that a German peace movement will be formed particularly against the imperialistic competitor USA, not against present and future German wars.

For now, they seems to be more interested in fighting local German Nazis, who are gaining power in the government. Someone’s got to do it, and the ‘anti-war’ Left has no interest.

In fact, I’m sure these liberal, anti-totalitarian Leftists confuse the standard Left to no end. And for that, they deserve our thanks.

* Most links thanks to the commenters at Harry’s Place.

Iraqi Election Results

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I don’t know about you, but I’m delighted — and, I admit, pleasantly surprised — by the results of the Iraqi election as announced this weekend.

In short, it appears that the Shiite parties (the United Iraqi Alliance) have won the expected majority, but only, amazingly, by a hair with 48 percent of the vote. This means they lack the two thirds majority they’d have needed to unilaterally (if you can apply that word to the concept of a two thirds majority) install a government of their choice. The Kurdish parties (the Kurdistan Alliance) won an amazing 28% of the vote, and Allawi’s Iraqi List got a little under 14%. What does this very likely mean? The answer deserves its own paragraph:

Democracy not theocracy!

Even if, like me, you were cautiously optimistic that Sistani was not blowing sunshine up our collective asses about Iraqi Shiites having no intention of installing an Iran-style theocracy, I don’t mind at all that they’re going to have to build partnerships with Kurds, secular leaders and, yes, Sunnis in order to put together a government and a constitution. As we say in my country: Yee haw!

Here’s the New York Times’ account of the results. Notice the opening phrase: “A broad Shiite alliance led by two Iran-backed religious parties…” They almost seem to be saying that you need only bother reading any further if you really have nothing better to do with your day. But the article delivers the goods in spite of its first line.

See also this coverage by Jeff Weintraub at Normblog. (I’m assuming that Jeff’s account of the Shiite UIA not getting a majority is now out of date. The NYT explains that they squeezed by with their majority because of a complex system whereby votes were weighted after being tallied. Saved by the bell curve, I guess.) Here’s Jeff’s conclusion:

“Successfully holding the election was itself a remarkable triumph (under the circumstances); and the results give the Iraqis just about the best possible chance they could have gotten to put together a decently acceptable political future for the country – if they don’t blow it, of course.”

And here’s a happy Kurdish man, whose gesture will make Britons laugh immediately and Americans like me laugh a few seconds later (via Hak, who I’ve come to count on for inspiring pictures of Iraqis gesturing with their fingers):

irqgtyaa.jpg

UPDATE: A commenter worries, reasonably, about the low Sunni voter turnout. I had meant to include in this post my other perception, namely that the slim Shiite margin of majority will make it clear to Sunni voters how much more powerful their votes would have been and indeed will be in the Spring. I can think of no better way to demonstrate how participating in the new democracy will benefit Sunnis. They’ll come to the polls next time, don’t you think?

UPDATE: Early readers of this post who may now be re-reading it might have noticed an edit up above regarding things being blown places or not by Sistani. I realized that I meant sunshine, not smoke. We can’t afford to be imprecise in these matters.

I’m Off

I’m leaving for Puerto Rico tonight. Mary and Jeremy will take care of your opinionated blather needs while I’m away. Keep an eye on the mainland for me and be nice to the guest-bloggers. See you in ten days.

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