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):


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.

Where’s Eason?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

We’re all news junkies here, right? And, while you might not be a big fan of CNN as a news source, you do browse the CNN news site fairly frequently. Fair to say? So if CNN’s exectuive vice president were to resign after causing a scandal (that’ll teach him to ruffle the feathers of conservative bloggers like Barney Frank) then you wouldn’t have too much difficulty spotting the headline about said resignation on the aforementioned CNN homepage. True?

Well, you tell me. I have posted a facsimilie of CNN’s homepage as of about ten o’clock on Friday February 11th. I promise you the story link is there. Advice: do what you need to do first — bathroom, sandwich, smoke a cigarette — then settle down in a comfy chair. OK? Now click here.

Bat Ye’or at Columbia

Posted by Mary Madigan

I went to hear Egyptian scholar Bat Ye’or speak at Columbia University on Tuesday. Yes, the pro-Israel Ye’or walked directly into the belly of Columbia’s leftist beast. Despite the documented anti-Israel attitudes of some of Columbia’s Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department, there were no sign-waving activists protesting her appearance. The crowd was mostly low-key and graying. The room was so crowded that a few professorial types had to sit on the floor.

Before the talk began, two journalists who, to all outward appearances were liberal (one even had a grey ponytail) admitted that the many “breaches of journalistic ethics” that the New York Times had committed since 9/11 had convinced them not to read the Times anymore. They agreed that New York Sun was the best alternative.

I discovered Ms. Ye’or’s work when I read this article, Culture of Hate, about a year after 9/11. Her description of the current Islamist culture of jihad, “a racism which denies the history and sufferings of its victims” was confirmed by what I knew about the bias, inequality and brutality that ruled terror-supporting nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Sudan.

Under Shariah, non-Muslims, or dhimmis, are legally classified as less than human.

Before reading Culture of Hate, I knew that bin Laden was inspired by a philosophy of hate, Wahhabism. But I also thought that al Qaeda was one of the few organizations that used mass-murder to express that hate. Ms. Ye’or made it clear that, not only was this culture of hate murdering and enslaving non-believers around the world, the hatred for non-believers was based on established laws that prohibited the idea of equal rights.

The petite Ms. Ye’or had a talent for seeing the big picture. I couldn’t wait to hear her talk.

She discussed her new book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis which concerns:

..the transformation of Europe into Eurabia, a cultural and political appendage of the Arab/Muslim world. Eurabia is fundamentally anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Semitic. The institution responsible for this transformation, and that continues to propagate its ideological message, is the Euro-Arab Dialogue, developed by European and Arab politicians and intellectuals over the past thirty years.

According to Ms. Ye’or, this Arab/European alliance was motivated primarily by anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and a desire to import oil and cheap labor.

More information about this organization can be found at Arab/European alliace website, Medea.

Ye’or didn’t go into the details of why an organization that was founded in the interests of subjugating the future of western culture in the interests of “multiculturalism” and opposition to America would name itself after the tragic story of a woman who murdered her own children out of jealousy and spite.

The main points of the book, according to Ye’or:

  • The concept of Eurabia began in the Universities. It has been influenced by Edward Said’s book, Orientalism. Said sought to discredit all Western analysis of the Middle East, since, in his words, “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”
  • Many Europeans agree with Said’s theories. Many don’t believe that their culture is worth preserving.
  • The policies of the EU towards Israel mirror Arab policies.
  • This multicultural ‘alliance’ is currently cemented by European fear of terrorism.
  • Europe seems to accept its current dhimmi status, and does not seem to be willing to defend traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values.

  • In Europe and in the UK, Muslim gangs are a threat and anti-Semitic attacks are increasing

Despite Columbia’s famed leftist leanings, the question and answer session was surprisingly balanced. But, as is usual in academic settings, the ‘questions’ were usually short lectures disguised as questions.


  • The moderator found it hard to believe that Europeans wouldn’t defend themselves.
  • A man whose sister had converted to Islam and married a Muslim said that, while his sister was happily married and he loved his brother in law, he was shocked by their attitudes. The sister, a westerner raised in America, believed that Salman Rushdie should die for what he said about Islam. His brother in law told him that eventually, the state of Israel will not exist. “We are a patient people” his brother-in-law said.
  • A woman sitting next to me asked Ye’or about the influence of Arab money on American colleges. Given that the concept of Eurabia originated in European Universities, and given that our Universities, particularly Columbia, are heavily influenced by Saudi money, I though that was a good question. Ms. Ye’or agreed that this was a threat.
  • One man who identified himself as Muslim asked Ye’or “What is your problem with Muslims?” (Obviously he’s never read Culture of Hate) Ms. Ye’or said that she would have no problem with Muslims if they were willing to recognize that Dhimmis should have equal rights. “Unfortunately,” she said “they’re not willing to recognize that” Most of the room applauded her answer.

    Humiliated, the questioner shook his head in disbelief and said “I don’t understand, but then again, I’m just a dirty Muslim”

  • The student said “I am an Arab, we are a Semitic people, so you can’t accuse me of being an anti-Semite.” The crowd reacted with sarcastic laughter, and the quality of the student’s question went downhill from there. Ms. Ye’or’s response was, basically, “you have a lot to learn.”

  • One questioner said that she believed Europe was doomed, and asked if America could be saved. Ms. Ye’or’s believed that George Bush’s policies offer the only reasonable alternative to European dhimmitude. This brought a predictable number of boos.

Will Europe continue to accept this Euro-Arab alliance, and the resulting anti-Semitism? Will academics in America encourage the same sort of alliance? The situation, as described by those who have been paying attention to these things, does not look good. Once again, it seems that Bat Ye’or sees the big picture.

UPDATE — An important point made by Ye’or (and commenter Vanya); This European/Arab alliance was the brainchild of the European academic and political elites — not the European people or the Arabs.

Programming Note

This Sunday I’m going to Puerto Rico for ten days. I’ve been travelling more than ever lately. I went to both Europe and North Africa twice in three months, and I went to the East Coast twice in one week. But this time Shelly and I are going on an actual vacation. You know, sun, sand, sleeping in, dining out, hiking, snorkeling, that sort of thing.

Mary Madigan and Jeremy Brown will guest-blog while I’m lounging around on the beach. They’re welcome to post before I leave, too, so watch for their bylines.




(Photos by Lonely Planet and PuertoRicoPhotoStock.com.)

The Post He Never Wanted to Write

Those of us who supported regime-change in Iraq are obligated to go on record in opposition to torture — assuming we really do oppose torture, that is. Anti-war liberals can’t be expected to fight it all by themselves.

Republicans have a partly overlapping, but also somewhat unique, obligation. Sebastian Holsclaw, who calls himself a conservative, explains that obligation over at Red State. If you’re a Republican, this is today’s required reading. I know I’m telling you to eat your peas here, but this is important.

Reality-Check Time

Steve Silver posted a must-read essay in defense of the dreaded three-letter acronym known as the “MSM.” He has been a professional journalist for five years and a blogger for three. He knows both worlds well, and what makes his defense of the mainstream media better than most is that he knows very well what really is wrong with it. In other words, this ain’t no whitewash.

Purple Finger, Worthy Cause

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Following up on a previous post of mine, you can now get yourself some merchandise bearing that “give fascism the finger” logo.

“Proceeds ($2 per mug, and $1 per badge/magnet) will be split between the IFTU and the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party.”

Ayatollah Sistani and His List

The United Iraqi Alliance will most likely be the winner in Iraq’s election once the votes are all counted. The party (or “list” of candidates) was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sistani.

The nature of this political party is crucial. It can help us determine what the majority of Iraqis really want, as well as the direction the country is likely to take during the next couple of years.

I’m hardly an expert on the United Iraqi Alliance. Far from it. Iraq has as many political parties as it has opinions, and I’m nowhere near being able to keep all of them straight.

On that note, here are a few articles that suggest in broad brushstrokes what we might expect.

The first is an AP article from Hamza Hendawi that appeared just before the election. Much of this is encouraging.

The candidate list endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric is likely to emerge as the dominant political group in Sunday’s election. But his followers said Monday they aren’t looking to create a cleric-led Islamic state, and expectations are they won’t be strong enough to govern on their own.

The bloc backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani probably will have to negotiate a governing coalition with other political groups, including rival Sunni Arabs, a minority that long dominated Iraq’s Shiite majority.

At a news conference, politicians running on the al-Sistani-endorsed ticket, the United Iraqi Alliance, sought to ease any fears the bloc wants to install an Iranian-style Shiite state. Hanin Mohammed Qaddou, a Sunni Muslim on the ticket, said the issue of religious government was “not part of the program and it will not be in the near future.”

Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric allied with al-Sistani, said the United Iraqi Alliance has many members who oppose mixing Islam and politics. “Had this been our intention we wouldn’t have let them join our list,” he said.

Al-Sistani, whose views are influential with most Shiites in Iraq, is known to oppose the idea that clergy have a right to rule. He is, however, expected to insist that the constitution drawn up by the new National Assembly upholds Iraq’s Muslim traditions and not include freedoms or practices violating the faith’s basic tenets.

Alliance leaders also vowed not to seek revenge for violence by Sunni extremists, who make up most of the country’s insurgency.

Emphasis added by me.

If what the article says is indeed true, our two biggest concerns can be laid to rest. 1) The majority of Iraqis did not wish to establish theocracy. 2) The majority of Shi’ites do not want a civil war with the Sunni Arab minority.

So far so good.

One of the Iraqis I spoke to in Washington last weekend (I’m sorry, but I don’t remember exactly who it was) said he thought Ayatollah Sistani’s endorsement of one list over the others is bad for both Iraq and Sistani himself. That may be. It tells us something useful, even so. Since Sistani endorsed who appear to be the victors, knowing who Sistani himself is tells us something about the likely victors, as well. I think it’s reasonable to assume he endorsed people who share his basic philosophy.

Now is a good time to revisit an article Johann Hari published a few months ago in Britain’s Independent.

A democratic ayatollah? At first, the idea sounds preposterous, like a black Ku Klux Klansman, a Jewish Nazi or an intellectual member of the Bush family. The Ayatollah Khomeini is still the West’s mental template, a tyrannical theocrat who slaughtered more than a million Iranians and issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

But democratic instincts spring up in the strangest of places. Many Shias insisted that Khomeini was an anomaly, a radical departure from the millennium-old Shia tradition of “quietist” clerics who did not seek personal political power. I was always pretty sceptical, and I’m instinctively hostile to religious authorities – but the behaviour of Sistani since the fall of Saddam has proved them right. From his home in Najaf, Sistani has been an absolutely consistent campaigner for a free and democratic Iraq, while scrupulously avoiding any temptation to seek power for himself.


Read his book A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West. It is – in Muslim terms – a startlingly progressive text. Sistani stresses the importance of respecting democracy, arguing that Muslims should participate in electoral politics – as voters and candidates – on an equal basis with non-Muslims. This might sound like a platitude, but compare it with the message preached across the Arab world by Islamofascist groups like al-Muhajaroun, who argue, “Muslims must not vote for anyone in elections… It is idol-worship. There is no legislator but Allah, and the only law should be Sharia”.

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right – but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani’s philosophical arguments for democracy are “almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy.” Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.

Thank Allah for Ayatollah Sistani. I didn’t know what to make of him for some time. But I’ve slowly come to trust him, and he hasn’t let me down yet.

If I were Iraqi I almost certainly would vote for a more secular party to the left of the United Iraqi Alliance. I’m instinctively distrustful of religious parties, even when they’re democratic. Still, Iraq can do a lot worse than having a democratic small-c conservative party like Ayatollah Sistani’s running the show. Iraqis could have voted for war and dictatorship — and they didn’t.

Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves — as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead. It looks like they probably cleared that hurdle, and the case for optimism is now higher than it recently was.

UPDATE: Mary Madigan thinks Sistani might be an Islamist. She cites evidence from her archives (1, 2, 3, 4), but it’s all older than what I cited. Hmm. I wish I knew more about him than I do.

Activistists Revisited

My new Tech Central Station column is up: They March for Themselves.

UPDATE: After you read my piece, read Patrick Lasswell. He was standing right next to me during one of the incidents I recall in the article.

Drinking with Christopher Hitchens and the Iraqis

As many of you already know, I was on TV with Christopher Hitchens last weekend. Jim Hake of Spirit of America asked me to come out to Washington DC at the very last minute to be a part of the Iraqi election coverage program on C-SPAN. I had no idea until I got there that the Hitch was scheduled to be a part of it, too.

Christopher Hitchens.jpg

(If you missed the broadcast, you can still watch it here.)

I’ve received a whole gaggle of emails asking for details and stories about what happened at dinner after the show. So for all of you who asked, here we go. (CAVEAT: I did not take notes. This is all from memory, and I was drunk part of the time.)

We went to The Palm in downtown Washington. “We” included the following big-shots, along with little-shot me: Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, and cantankerous polemicist; Andrew Apostolou, Director of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Ahman Al Rikaby, former Director of Radio Free Iraq and current Director of Iraq’s Radio Dijla; Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Ghassan Atiyyah, Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; and Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Andrew Apostolou wasn’t part of our news program, but he’s been a long-distance friend of mine for a while now. I had never actually met him in person, and I had to invite him. I figured he’d fit right in, and he did. Andrew is a bona fide expert on Iraq who seems to know just about everybody. The minute he showed up nearly all the Iraqis recognized him on sight and wanted to shake his hand. He gave me a little lapel pin in the shape of the Kurdistan flag. I stuck it on my collar. When Hitch showed up he was wearing one, too. And he noticed mine.

We all met in the bar while the restaurant staff prepared the big table. It was a tense scene from the get-go. Ghassan Atiyyah was none too impressed with Christopher Hitchens and his gung-ho enthusiasm. And let’s just say he didn’t keep that to himself. (Dr. Atiyyah was the notoriously doom-and-gloom grouch who pissed all over the election on camera.) He hated Hitchens on sight. And when I say “hate,” I mean white-hot, wide-eyed hate with flaring-nostrils.

Hitchens took it in stride. When the staff moved us all to our table, he addressed Atiyyah politely. “Sir,” he said. “Perhaps there is something in your personal story that some of us here don’t know about that might help explain where you’re coming from.”

Atiyyah just sat there, smoldering, and gave Hitchens the evil eye.

I had little interest in him. I had coffee with him that morning and he seemed like a reasonable, if slightly patronizing, person. But now he was distinctly unpleasant. He had no defenders at the table.

I’m not sure what happened next. I didn’t show up at that dinner to fight, nor did I feel like watching a fight. I get enough of that in my comments section. So I struck up a conversation with Hitchens’ wife who sat next to me.

We talked about Marc Cooper because he’s a friend we both have in common. She has been friends with him for a very long time — most of her life if I remember correctly. I’ve been friends with him for only a short time. But he worked as a conversation starter. As it turns out, Marc and I were considering hanging out in Las Vegas together that very weekend, but neither of us were actually able to be there. (I went to Washington on short notice, and he had to move his own Vegas trip up a couple of days.) She said Marc taught her how to play blackjack, and that she later won some big-shot tournament as a result. Marc loves Vegas and blackjack, and his latest book, The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas, is a terrific read even if you’re the type of person who can’t stand the city. He knows how to make the place fun and seem slightly less ridiculous than it actually is.

Despite my little sidetrack discussion, I was drawn back into the argument at the table.

Christopher Hitchens said to Ghassan Atiyyah: “If the Iraqis were to elect either a Sunni or Shia Taliban, we would not let them take power.” And of course he was right. We didn’t invade Iraq so we could midwife the birth of yet another despicable tyranny. “One man, one vote, one time” isn’t anything remotely like a democracy.

But Atiyyah would have none of that. He exploded in furious rage. “So you’re my colonial master now, eh?!” You have to understand — this man’s voice really carries.

Suddenly, Atiyyah did have defenders at the table. I could see that coming in the shocked expressions on the faces of the other Iraqis when they heard what Hitchens said. Ahman al Rikaby, intriguingly, was an exception. He just looked at Atiyyah with a cold and sober stoicism. But Hitchens had a defender, too. He had me.

“I agree with Christopher,” I said. “We didn’t invade Iraq to let it turn into another Iran.” I knew damn well all the Iraqis at the table were staunch opponents of religious fascism. This shouldn’t have been a point of contention. But, boy, was it ever.

“Who the hell are you?” Atiyyah said to Hitchens as if I weren’t the last one to speak. “Some Brit who lives in New York!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but it wasn’t up to me where I was born,” Hitchens said.

“What do you mean when you say we?” Hassan Mneimneh said to me.

“I mean the US and Britain,” I said, “along with — hopefully — everyone here at this table.”

“Who are you to tell us what to do!?”

I didn’t like this one bit. It wasn’t an argument. Hell, I love an argument. This was a fight. And it was a fight between Americans and Iraqis who were all supposed to be on the same side. The merest slip and/or misunderstanding instantly fractured our happy alliance. Believe me, you don’t know what a tense political fight feels like until the person yelling at you is from a country you recently bombed and currently occupy. The Bush versus Kerry arguments got nothin’ on this. It was really quite horrible and I desperately wanted to make it stop. I had to answer Mneimneh’s question honestly and — hopefully — in a way that he could understand.

This, basically, is what I said to him: “First of all, it is our business if Iraqis or anyone else wants to put a Taliban government into power. People like that murdered thousands in our country and thousands more in countries all over the world – including Iraq. Second, I can assure that you Christopher and I would do everything we possibly could to prevent any Taliban-like force from taking power in our own country, as well as in yours. This has nothing to do with us telling you what to do and everything to do with fighting fascism wherever in the world it exists. And as long as Iraqis aren’t our enemy, I don’t care what they do. It’s none of my business. I certainly don’t want to rule over you or anyone else.”

There was so much yelling and interrupting and cross-talk going on I’m not sure Mneimneh heard even half of what I said. Nor do I remember what he said next. But I do remember that his facial expression and body language softened dramatically. Something I said must have got through to him, and thank God for that. He and I — truly — were on the same side. I knew it, and I’m pretty certain he knew it too. I did not want to fight with him, and I don’t think he enjoyed the experience any more than I did.

I looked over at Hitchens, who was sitting right next to me. He wasn’t rattled at all. He sat with his arms crossed and his legs sticking straight out in front of him, still battling it out with Dr. Atiyyah. He literally, physically, dug his heels into the floor.

“If you wanted more Iraqi support,” Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens,” you should have given us more money and food once you got there!”

“So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought,” Hitchens shot back.

I put my face in my hands. None of this was what I wanted to hear, and it dragged on longer than I’m making it seem in the re-telling.

Eventually, Jim Hake’s indispensable Web developer Donovan Janus pulled up a chair and had a long, quiet one-on-one talk with Dr. Atiyyah. I have no idea what they talked about. Donovan is an eminently reasonable person (he grew up in Holland), and whatever he said did the trick. The fight was diffused. The night’s tense opening was finished and we spent the rest of the evening as friends. We all could eat, drink, and smoke while genuinely enjoying each other’s company and learning from our different perspectives. Solidarity was back, and I felt certain it would not crack again. (I was right.)

Perhaps that fight needed to happen. Maybe there was no way to avoid the tension wrought by invasion and occupation, and the air just had to be cleared. Perhaps our Iraqi guests felt, on a subconscious level, like they needed to test us. Maybe they really didn’t (and don’t) completely understand how we differ from the colonialists and imperialists of the past. Perhaps their pride really is wounded, not just by Saddam but also by us. Maybe all these things are true at the same time. And surely there is more to it than that, things I might never be in a position to understand.

Friendly Arabs are the easiest people to bond with I’ve ever met. It takes no time at all to forge friendship if they’re willing — and they so often are. Despite our spat with the Iraqis (and who knows, perhaps in part because of that fight) I felt like those of us at the table were like old friends. Thank God and Allah for that. It gave me hope for the future, not only for our individual countries, but also hope for a future Iraqi-American alliance untainted by any distorted neo-imperial arrangement.

I respected them more, too, because they stood up to me and Christopher Hitchens. They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone’s puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they’re great to have on your side.

We raised our glasses in a toast to the new free Iraq.


One-by-one people left.

Entifadh Qanbar asked me to please email him the photo of the veiled Iraqi voter with a tear in her eye. “I saw that picture and wept,” he said. “It is incredibly moving.”


On his way out the door I invited Andrew Apostolou to breakfast the next morning, where he showed up and had French toast and coffee with my bleary-eyed hung-over self.

Eventually it was down to just five of us — Christopher Hitchens, Ahman al-Rikaby, Jim Hake, Donovan Janus, and me.

Our waiter kindly gave us the boot at 11:00 p.m.

“Well,” Hitchens said. “I’m off. I have to get up in the morning and continue the fight on CNN.”

“Oh, come on, Christopher,” I said. “You’re the one who’s supposed to keep us up all night.”

I could almost see the good angel on one shoulder getting the crap kicked out of him by the devil hovering over the other. It was the world’s shortest fight ever.

“Okay,” he said. “But this is downtown Washington on a Sunday. Nothing is open. We have to go back to my house. It never closes.”

“You left New York City for this?” I said.

He nodded and rolled his eyes.

“The bar at our hotel is open,” Jim said. “It stays open until 2:00.”

“Are you sure?” Hitchens said. He was highly suspicious.

I went to New York two weeks ago and wished I lived there instead of in Portland. But Washington made me happy as hell that I live where I live. There is absolutely no shortage of things to do and places to hang out in at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday.

Jim turned out to be right. Our hotel bar was open, and it was a fine one — dim lighting, cozy tables, warm wood paneling, the works.

“Shall we get a bottle of wine?” someone (I think it was Jim) asked.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Red or white,” he asked.

“Wine. Is. Red!” Hitchens said, and I couldn’t agree more. I had a 24-hour hangover from cheap white wine in a box when I was 14 years old. I haven’t been able to touch the stuff since. Even the thought of the taste of white wine makes my stomach do somersaults.

What a treat it is to talk politics and shop with Christopher Hitchens. When I yak about politics with most people we can’t get past fundamentals. But if Hitchens says “Kurdistan” or “Kissinger” I know exactly what he means and where he’s coming from. He needs say no more. We’re instantly on the same page on multiple levels all at once. We can talk about the finer points without getting bogged down in spats about imperialism, pacifism, and Bush.

But I did argue with him. And, no, I couldn’t beat him. I was too drunk and he was too smart and prepared.

Ahman al-Rikaby mentioned capital punishment. “I’m against it,” he said. “But at least for the next few months I will hope we execute Saddam Hussein.”

“Here’s to that,” I said.

Hitchens said no, as I knew he would.

“The core of the insurgency,” Ahman said, “are his Baathists. We have to defeat them. And we have to kill Saddam Hussein so they know there is no way they can go back.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s the difference between Saddam and Ted Bundy. Bundy didn’t have fanatical killers running around loose in the streets cutting off heads in his name. He was harmless there in his cage. Saddam Hussein isn’t harmless as long as he’s breathing.”

“When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia,” Hitchens said, “they murdered the czar, his wife, and his children…so there would be no going back. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

I sighed. It was a hell of a point, and I was too drunk to come up with a response. But for the most part I was able to keep up with the conversation. Usually when I’m drunk – which doesn’t happen too often – I can hardly manage a sentence without being stupid. That night I felt like if the conversation reached a lull for even ten seconds I would be finished. Whatever tenuous grip I still had on logic and clarity would just evaporate and I’d float hopelessly away in a drunken fog for the rest of the night. I got up to use the restroom and felt like an utter fool when I nearly fell into Jim Hake’s lap. When I came back I stepped ever so gingerly back to my seat.

At one point, apropos of something I can’t remember, Ahman said to me: “I can tell you in one sentence how my country feels about your country.”

“Really?” I said. “Can you really boil it down to one sentence?”

“Yes,” he said. “And it is this: Thank you for coming, now please leave and take us with you.”

I laughed because it seemed totally contradictory and totally right.

The bartender came by and asked Hitchens if he wanted another drink. “Thank you so much,” Hitchens said, “you’re a perfect gentleman.” It’s funny. He’s exactly the same in person as he is on TV. The only difference is that he has a drink in one hand and a Rothmans cigarette in the other. What you see on TV is what you get. His persona isn’t a shtick, it’s his real personality.

I asked him if he reads blogs.

“No,” he said. “Not really. I could spend all day reading blogs and not get anything done.”

“You can’t afford not to read blogs,” I said. “Because of who you are and what you do for a living, you’ll be hopelessly behind if you don’t.”

“Yes,” he said. “I know, I know,” but I wasn’t sure he really meant it.

Later he told me he recently saw “that little weasel” Juan Cole speak in public.

“You know about that flap he had with Omar and Mohammed from Friends of Democracy?” (I am referring here to Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model. They also founded Friends of Democracy.)

I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t.

“He floated some conspiracy theory about how Omar and Mohammed, whom you spoke to over the phone on C-SPAN today, are possibly CIA plants.”

He stared at me gape-mouthed.

“He completely disgraced himself,” I said. “Most of the blogosphere piled on. You should have seen it.”

“You mean I stood right there in front of both him and his fans without that ammunition?”

He looked despondent. I felt triumphant.

“Like I said, Christopher,” I told him. “You can’t afford to be unplugged from the blogosphere.”

“Angel,” he said. “Can I call you angel?”

“Of course,” I said. (Did he actually say that? — ed. I think so, but keep in mind I was drunk.)

“I want to exploit your knowledge of blogs,” he said.

“Email me,” I said. “You know where to find me.”

(He did email me. I showed him all of my favorites. And I showed him Juan Cole’s lunatic post.)

After the bar closed he gave Ahman al-Rikaby a bear hug.

He shook my hand. “Well met,” he said. “Well met.” I was the one who was supposed to say that.

Jim Hake’s cell phone rang. It was his wife.

“Christopher,” he said. “Will you talk to my wife for a second? She really wished she could meet you tonight.”

“Of course,” he said as Jim handed the phone over to him.

“Hello, my dear,” Hitchens said. “We missed you this evening.”

He may be a ruthless and scrappy polemicist. But he is also a perfect gentleman.


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