Across the Bay

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Consolidation and Scapegoating

You've already heard about the leaks about Mustapha Hamdan (head of the presidential guard) and his interrogation by the UN investigative team. Hamdan is likely to be assassinated soon, and he's being dangled as a threat to Bashar, telling him that this can go higher.

As if on cue, Ghazi Kanaan is now said to be leaving the Ministry of the Interior. This move may well be sold to the Americans as a sign that Bashar is cooperating. In fact, I had a feeling this was going to happen (not necessarily with Ghazi) when Patrick Seale wrote a few weeks ago in the Daily Star counseling Bashar to punish anyone in his intelligence apparatus that turns out to have had a hand in the Hariri assassination. Bashar also blamed the assassination on his intelligence apparatus in his meeting with Prince Abdullah. The move with Ghazi is likely not linked to this, but it may be sold as such, given that he was at one point responsible for Lebanon. Yet, as we all know, Rustum was the one running the show, with Bashar's backing. That he's not being removed is indicative, and this is where the investigation (and potentially, Hamdan's testimony) can be valuable. The move to remove Ghazi is set to further empower Asef Shawkat, Bashar's in-law, who has been in charge for a while now anyway.

Farouq Sharaa is also leaving, as well as the head of Bashar's personal guard. These are also part of Bashar's consolidation campaign, which has so far slashed Khaddam and Bahjat Suleiman. Khaddam is rumored to have left the country, and so has Tlass. It's likely that the Hawi assassination is linked to this purge because of his ties with Khaddam and people in the interior, although I've heard a rumor that Hawi was sent by Jumblat to the Syrians to reopen channels. The Syrians responded bluntly.

Josh also remarked that a friend in Washington told him the Pentagon may be preparing for a punitive strike. I think this is long overdue. Bashar has been carrying out a proxy war in defiance of both the EU and the US. He killed Hariri and has practically paid no price for it, so he's quite emboldened. He needs to be hurt and cut down to size. The EU can hurt him economically, and they have been making statements to that effect and freezing the signing of the trade deals. But apparently he doesn't care much. This is not the price. Therefore, the EU has to decide whether to back a punitive strike or not, because this cannot be used by Bashar to split the EU and the US. This split is looking less likely now after the border fiasco. Ali Hamade in a column a couple of days ago said that the EU is mighty pissed with Syria. Therefore, they may end up supporting a limited strike.

This is the only thing that Bashar will understand. You cannot cut a deal with him now. It would be disastrous. You hit him hard first. Hurt him. Make him understand that such behavior will result in a painful hit. See a tangible reaction, then start talking with him on the strict basis of aide for reform and a change in foreign policy. This phrasing is almost identical to the EU line on Syria lately, including change in the regional policy (and not just internal reforms).

If Bashar is smart, he'll use the scapegoating wisely and toe that line (the scapegoating alone won't be enough to convince the EU and the US). However, it is imperative that he not be let off the hook so easily by simply scapegoating Ghazi or even Rustum. This is very important, because if not, he'll be emboldened to keep killing people with virtually no or little consequence. That would be disastrous. He should be hit hard. Then, should he make the decision to change policies, internally and externally, they can talk to him.

Update: The Lebanese Bloggers pick up on this topic and the related topic of the UN investigation. I posted a comment to their post, where I elaborated on and explained this post further.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Chief Inspector Cole

Martin Kramer impales Cole on facts regarding the perpetrators of the London attacks. Cole (aka. the Pavlover of the parallels) got everything wrong to begin with, as I've shown on this blog a few days ago, and continues to dig himself a deeper hole. That hole has now come to be known as the Cole mine.

Take a look, but be warned: this is a very serious matter, and everyone in this ruem is under the suspicions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hariri Criticizes Syria

Hostile Syrian behavior continues as Syria refuses to release the remaining seven fishermen. Syria had released two of the initial nine, only the two it released were Syrian nationals.

Zghorta MP and Hariri ally Nayla Moawwad issued a statement criticizing the Syrians, and Hariri himself criticized the Syrians, saying that the border measures were aimed at "imposing a blockade on Lebanon."

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim told LBCI that "Syrians feel bitter and let down after what happened in Lebanon," indirectly revealing some of the real sentiments behind the blockade.

My heart bleeds for Muallim... These people never cease to amaze me. Like I said before, the Syrian regime has a gift for picking the shittiest, bitchiest people for public office. It's truly remarkable. And it's not just in Syria. They did it in Lebanon too. I mean, who else would've unearthed that cockroach Naser Qandil? Needless to say, this applies to the "new guard" as well. Remember Bouthaina Shaaban? Muallim himself isn't lacking anything either. He's the one Also, Naji Otari called the Lebanese abductees languishing in Syrian prisons, "terrorists."

In the words of Paul Vitti: "God bless you, you've got a fuckin' gift! Yes you do!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's France's Fault!

Just when you think the Syrians have said it all, they come at you with more! The Syrian regime has a talent for that, as I've mentioned before. Listen to this, from the BBC monitoring services:

July 18, 2005, Monday

HEADLINE: Syrian agency reports traffic normal at Lebanese border crossing

SOURCE: SANA news agency web site, Damascus in English 17 Jul 05

Text of report in English by Syrian News Agency SANA web site

Al-Dabbusiyah, 17 July: Syrian and Lebanese ordinary people and drivers stressed that they crossed Al-Dabbusiyah border point with the sisterly Lebanon to and from Lebanon, adding that the Syrian authorities provide them with all possible facilities and deal in a flexible way with all arriving and departing passengers.

SANA staff reporters who visited the Al-Dabbusiyah area several times said there was an ordinary crossing traffic on both sides, and all the personnel there were working very hard to alleviate traffic jams on the borders with Lebanon, particularly the trucks coming from Lebanon.

Director of the Syrian Customs in the area Abd-al-Hadi Darwish said the main reason for the jam is the bridge used for the two-way border crossing is narrow and was originally built under the French mandate on Syrian and Lebanon.

He added that there are ongoing preparations on the Syrian side of Al-Dabbusiyah to expand and modernize this crossing point.


Meanwhile, as I mentioned in my last post, the French (who apprently are to blame for building too narrow a crossing!), are threatening not to sign an EU cooperation agreement with Syria if they continue this type of behavior in Lebanon, but also in Iraq and with regard to supporting terrorist groups in the region as a whole.

The Naharnet story has another interesting angle. It notes that Terje Roed-Larsen raised the border demarcation issue between Lebanon and Syria. I happen to believe that this is a very important point, especially with regard to Shebaa and the Deir el-Asheyir Syrian military base.

Ghassan Tueni raised this issue in his latest op-ed (English synopsis here). He also remarked that the marine borders should also be demarcated. He notes that under the Syria hegemony, this topic was taboo. He also claims that this may very well be related to possible underwater oil wells. According to Tueni, everytime someone in Lebanon dared to raise this issue of digging for oil in the Tripoli waters, the attempt would be shut down inexplicably. Whether he's being conspiratorial or not I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit. In fact, I'd say that was typical behavior under the Syrians.

I mean, afterall, is it crazier than blaming the French for the border blockade, and simultaneously denying the entire crisis in the same precis!?

Shiite Farmers Blast Syria

While Hassan Nasrallah smooched Rustum Ghazaleh a little while back, his co-religionist farmers, whose livelihood is being threatened by Syria, expressed rather different sentiments:

Ali Antar, who owns a citrus fruit orchard on the Sidon-Tyre road, expressed his disbelief at Syria's course of action, describing it as an unjustified attempt to pressure the government.

"These attempts are doomed to failure," he said, calling on the Lebanese authorities to take measures on the basis of reciprocal treatment.
"This measure [the border restrictions] is stupid and full of revenge," Ismail said, adding that it would negatively affect relations between the two countries.

"In the South, we are used to hearing that fishermen have been arrested by Israeli boats, but today we hear that fishermen are arrested by Syrians," he said.

Ismail was equally critical of the Lebanese state which he said was "incapable of finding a solution to this problem," describing some officials as "cowards."

So, the Shiite farmers are not only likening Syria to Israel, they're calling for their government to stand up to Syria, and to apply reciprocal treatment, should the Syrians persist in their spiteful bullying behavior. In the meantime, the Lebanese are looking for alternative routes.

Meanwhile, the French have accused the Syrians of deliberately blockading the border, and waved the possibility that no deal will be signed between the EU and Syria if they don't stop their disruptive in Lebanon, and start contributing to "regional stability," including in Iraq. Let's see if that deters Bashar, or if he'll slap the Euros, and the French, in the face... again!

Also, the UN envoy Larsen has renewed calls for Hizbullah to merge their weapons with the Lebanese Armed Forces, a proposal that HA naturally rejected. Moreover, HA maybe trying to haggle with the US on the matter of their weapons, through outgoing Labor and Agriculture Minister Trad Hamade, who is closely linked to the party, but is not an actual member. The Agriculture portfolio will in all likelihood go to a Shiite once again in the upcoming cabinet. Not that he'll have the unpleasant task of dealing with the Syrian blockade.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Absent Presence

The Angry Hair AbuKhalil has managed, in a single sentence, to summarize and effectively validate Martin Kramer's critical assessment of the state of modern ME studies, and the role Edward Said and his legacy played in that regard.

As'ad wrote (and please, hold your nose as you run through the chin-rubbing profundity of the first part of the paragraph):

I told Maryam Said (Edward Said's widow) in Beirut two weeks ago that what I miss about Edward the most is his...presence. His very presence powerfully discouraged those Arabs in the US who so badly wanted to mimic Fouad Ajami.

You tell me what that last part means.

In that chapter linked above, Kramer quotes Maxime Rodinson and P. J. Vatikiotis:

"Unaware perhaps," wrote P. J. Vatikiotis (attacked by Said in Orientalism), "Said introduced McCarthyism into Middle Eastern studies — at least in the United States." Rodinson (praised in Orientalism) preferred another analogy, describing the book as "a polemic against orientalism written in a style that was a bit Stalinist." Both comparisons pointed to the very same effect.

We should perhaps add the Hair's testimony as well.

Laying Tiles in the Sea

Syria's war on Lebanon continues. After abducting nine fishermen, and blocking trade routes, the Syrians have now declared that they want compensation for the 35 Syrian workers that were killed in Lebanon in the aftermath of Hariri's assassination (by the Syrians!).

I have no problem with that, as long as an investigation is undertaken to determine the true numbers and identities of those killed. Then a similar request will be handed to the Syrians demanding compensation for 30 years of pillaging, racketeering, torture, murder, and imprisonment. This should be accompanied by a formal apology by Bashar. Then, before any dime is handed over to the Syrians, all Lebanese prisoners still held in Syria are to be released, compensated, and with a written apology to their families. Needless to say, should the investigations into the recent political assassinations (or revelations about the older ones) point to Damascus, we would like to see trials as well.

Until those conditions are met, the Syrians can go and "lay tiles at the bottom of the sea" as we say in Lebanon (ballto il-baHr).

Friday, July 15, 2005

Debating Bashar

Take a look at this roundtable on Bashar, Syria, and Lebanon. Obviously, it includes the ubiquitous Flynt Leverett whose nonsense is really getting to be irritating as hell. I mean listen to this nonsense: "One thing that I take as an indicator-a confirmation of his reformist impulses--is the woman he married. ... I think that the fact that Bashar proposed to someone like that, over his family's objections, says something about where his impulses lie." I mean, come on... Flynt's argument is laughable. No wonder he's out of government, no matter how hard he's trying to get back in with this Bashar schtick.

I believe Jreidini is right. Bashar is an ideological hardliner. That's what I've been saying all along. I also related what Dennis Ross had written in the Washington Quarterly, particularly his note about Bashar's admiration of Hassan Nasrallah.

Despite what my buddy Josh writes, I believe this assessment is correct. Let's put it this way, as Barry Rubin did: we haven't seen any evidence to the contrary. In fact, everything we've seen supports the other view. The testimony of people in Lebanon who've had to deal with him in one way or another (like Hariri's former aide and others) portray not just a hardliner, but a thug with a temper.

Syrian Spite

Nick Blanford explains the border crisis between Lebanon and Syria:

Syria is making a "political statement that it is a strong adversary, if not an 'enemy' of the 'new Lebanon' that came out of the ballot boxes after the era of Syrian tutelage," wrote Nassir Asaad, a columnist for Lebanon's Al Mustaqbal newspaper.

I've been meaning to write about this, but the London attacks as well as piles of work have prevented me from doing so.

An-Nahar's Ali Hamade also wrote a couple of sharp articles about it that are worth taking a look at.

I'll be back to my Lebanon analysis soon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

London Bombers

Give the Professor a call. The London terrorists are all believed to have been British, confirming fears and speculations that "outraged" Cole.

The suspects came from the Pakistani-dominant West Yorkshire region, and they are of Pakistani origin. At least one of the four is suspected to have died in the Aldgate attack.

So much for Cole's pontifical assertion: "Britain's South Asian Muslim community is almost certainly not the origin of this attack."

My question is, did he get anything right on the London attack?!

Update: What do Cole and notorious extremist Islamist Azzam Tamimi have in common? You decide.

Update 2: Now Cole writes this: "Either the two Arabic-language claims of responsibility for the bombings posted to jihadi web sites last week are frauds, or the Leeds cell was working on behalf of an Arab one."

Oh really!? Why didn't he posit such possibilities earlier when he wrote that pathetic philological nonsense? As I wrote in my "InterCole" post, it was not only illogical, but incredibly superficial and narrow, leaving out all kinds of possibilities, including the ones currently cited by Cole such as the possibility of disinformation, or the "foot soldiers" not being the ones who actually wrote the statement, etc. Let alone the fact that he based his entire analysis (and his credibility) on poor philology and nonsensical assertions, and he left out forensics and actual investigation! Why, to use his own words, didn't he "scratch deeper"?

But this is an important point. Why did he shoot from the hip, running out of the gate so pompously and assertively and getting it exactly wrong!? Forget the caveat in his logic, that the perpetrators were unlikely to be British, only if his philological anlysis is correct. That's the escape hatch. The assertions behind it, that they were not British born or South Asian, were the blinding a priori premises. He was so eager to assert that premise that he gambled his credibility and lost. He got everything wrong, and now he's trying to tidy up the mess. But this being Cole, his ego cannot permit him to fully acknowledge error (we've yet to hear about that Jenin flop). So even after everything he's said turned out to be exactly wrong, he still has to add the following: "A Guardian poll last year showed that British Muslims were angered by "the war on terror" and the Iraq War, that many were deserting the Labour Party en masse, and that about a quarter (up from a sixth) believed British Muslims were too integrated into UK society." Or this: "Since 9/11, many Pakistanis have faced an increase in racism, especially young men, who are now more likely to be stopped and searched than any other ethnic minority group. They feel that people now view them as terrorists and that the media has become anti-Muslim. Thus in the current political climate, UK born Pakistanis can be more radical and into Islam than those born in Pakistan." I.e., after error comes justification.

Then Cole writes this: "But, obviously, the cult these young men joined managed to manipulate their minds to the point where they were no longer capable of thinking about the consequences of their actions for their loved ones, or for the victims, for that matter." Really, Professor? Thanks for the info. But you being the supposed expert on these movements and all, probably should've guessed that! Anyway, forget the consequences on their loved ones. What about the consequences on those who died or were injured, and their families, and the entire country and the EU as a whole?

"Cults avoid scrutiny by harassing critics and whistleblowers," writes the Professor. Yes, they also avoid scrutiny when Western "experts" immediately become "outraged" when investigators and commentators start voicing fears about the "chilling possibility" that terrorists may be in our midst, and when these "experts" dismiss them out of hand and point in an entirely different direction.

The conclusion is, thank God Cole and his ilk aren't leading the investigation!

Update 3: Readers looking for a seriously hilarious reply to "the grand Imam of Cole-abad's" (© Rich the Caveman) "vanishing" fatwa against Kramer, should check out Martin's latest. I'm still wiping the tears from my eyes!

Also, it seems even the British tabloid The Sun beats Cole when it comes to analysis on the London attacks, ain' it?. Hactually, I might get more "Informed Comment" from Ali G. Bouyakasha. Respect!

Update 4: Welcome Instapundit, Michael Totten, Tim Blair, Daimnation, and Austin Bay readers.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Ikhwan Cole: Arabism and Islamism

I raised this issue in my "Terror and the Experts" post in response to some of Cole's assertions. Cole wrote:

By the way, if the communique issued by Qaeda al-Jihad in Europe is authentic, then this attack cannot be linked to Zarqawi. They say they are taking revenge for British troops' "massacres" of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Zarqawi's Salafi group would never celebrate "Arabism" or speak of "heroes" (abtal) when referring to the "holy warriors" or mujahidin. Urubah and batal, Arabism and hero, are typical of the vocabulary of secular Arab nationalism-- in, say, the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser. That message is coming from a group of terrorists that is much more comfortable with this language than are typically the extremist Salafis like Zarqawi. "Hero" would sem a term of humanistic pride to them, and Arabism would seem narrow and idolatrous as a competitor with Islam. There are Muslim thinkers who meld political Islam and Arabism-- this is common in Egypt, e.g. But they belong to a different religious and intellectual tradition than Zarqawi.

Typical of secular Arab nationalism and belonging to a different religious and intellectual tradition than Zarqawi!? Really!? Let's see.

A friend sent me this link to the al-Islah ("reform") forum where a statement is posted by radical Islamic ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian, labeling al-Zarqawi, his former student, not just "al-batal" (hero) but "al-batal al-mujahid". This goes to show that the sharp distinction Cole has been trying to maintain between "secular Arabism" and Islamism and their terminologies really doesn't hold water. If one wishes to push this further, one could argue that just like "the nation of Islam and the nation of Arabism" were combined in that first statement, "al-batal" and "al-mujahid" were combined here. I'm not going to load this point with much more than it can carry, but the point is clear: Juan has no clue what he's talking about in this instance, and the proof is in the pudding as they say.

I also mentioned in my "Terror and the Experts" post that Hizbullah, also an Islamist group, has long been using the mixed language of Islam and Arabism, which is why Chuck Freund and I came up with the labels "Pan-Arabist Islam/ism" or "Arabo-centric Islam" (see also Matt Frost, who has an interest in this particular subject. Cf. Lee Smith's old article in Slate, and, Josh Landis' excellent post on the Baath and whether it's "secular"). In fact, speaking of Nasser, that's precisely the sort of image Hassan Nasrallah has been projecting: a Shiite Nasser.

If you take a look at Avi Jorisch's Beacon of Hatred, you'll see in the accompanying DVD-Rom the various propaganda clips on Al-Manar which reach out to the Arabs, as Arabs, often using the term "ummat al-Arab" (the Arab Nation), to combat Israel.

In fact, as I showed in my "Lieven Let Die" post, this amalgamation has a long history. I also recently found this review of Bashir M. Nafi's Arabism, Islamism, and the Palestine Question, 1908-1941: A Political History. The reviewer writes:

Although several major studies were written on Hassan al-Banna and the Ikhwan, no study highlights Banna's indebtedness to Arabist ideas as Nafi does in his book. [10] Nafi contends that Banna's Pan Islamic and Arabist ideas developed from his serious intellectual and political contact with several Syrian émigrés in Egypt, especially Rashid Rida and Muhib al-Din al-Khatib. Banna was then able to express Arabism in 'an Islamic framework' (p. 161).

See the other Arab thinkers I highlighted in my "Lieven Let Die" post, including Rashid Rida.

So Juan's approach is not only overly dogmatic (and unfortunately, a dominant paradigm in ME studies), it's outdated, and simply inadequate for understanding these more recent phenomena we're facing. In other words, as shown above, he's dead wrong.

Update: Via Mark Liberman, I came across this site which had done a Google search on ummat al-'urubah. The search turned up several hits juxtaposing ummat al-Islam and ummat al-'urubah.

This one is by a female who hopes to become a "martyr" and her call for Jihad repeatedly mixes the two terms, "Nation of Islam" and "Nation of Arabism."

This one comes from the Palestinian magazine Al-Bayader As-Siyassi. It is not a call for Jihad, but a holiday greeting of sorts (for al-Adha). It mixes Palestinian nationalism with Arab nationalism and Islam. "Peace upon our people [Palestinian people], peace upon our umma, peace upon the nation [umma] of 'urubah and Islam on this holiday."

This one from IslamOnline perhaps gives the perfect example of the dominant discourse that can easily be found in Hizbullah's rhetoric as well. It's written by Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, who is identified as the VP of the European Council for Religious Edicts [ifta'] and Research. "The issue is that America used the [Iraqi] regime as an excuse to strike all of Iraq's people, buildings and institutions, so that through it it would be able to strike the nation of 'urubah and Islam, and will thus be able to rule the world on its own. Therefore, we must take the stance dictated by our religion, and to which our nation [ummah] aspires, which is the rejection and resistance of the American invasion, no matter the excuses."

You get the point.

Update 2: Take a look at this important article in Prospect Magazine. It shows how problematic and misleading Cole's assertions regarding Arabness and Islam really are:

So far afield in this case, that for many second-generation British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs held more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture. Three times removed from a durable sense of identity, the energised extra-national worldview of radical Islam became one available identity for second-generation Pakistanis. The few who took it did so with the convert's zeal: plus Arabe que les Arabes.
no nation matters save the Islamic nation and its Arab culture. Butt spoke passionately about Arabia and wants to go there. "I believe the Arabic language will give me that key to have access to those things I don't have access to at the moment." Again, that yearning for Islam to fill the gaps in his own identity.

The sentiments are echoed in V. S. Naipaul's Among the Believers.

The InterCole

I'm sorry but the Professor is just priceless. Once again he's whistling the Arabism vs. Islamism tune (see "Terror and the Experts" below). Listen to this, the ora-cole hath spoken:

CNN ran a piece Saturday in the US with Peter Bergen, speculating on the "chilling" possibility that the bombers were Muslim British subjects with UK passports. I have to say that I was outraged and appalled by this piece of potentially destructive speculation.
The statement was probably not written by a second-generation Arab Briton or even by a long-term, integrated Arab Briton resident.

So, if the statement is a guide to the identity of the attackers, this bombing could not have emanated from the British Muslim community.

I did a keyword search in OCLC Worldcat, an electronic database with 40 million volumes, for `urubah and Islam. Virtually all of the hits came from Egyptian Muslim thinkers publishing in Cairo and Giza during the past 30 years, roughly in a Muslim Brotherhood tradition.

Are you freakin' kidding me?! The (non)logic is baffling. Let's for a moment take his reasoning at face value. What about Abu Hamza al-Masri (i.e., "the Egyptian") and his people? What about, as Ash-Sharq al-Awsat noted yesterday, Abu Hafs al-Masri? Or, speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood, how about Abu Musab as-Suri, as noted by the same paper? Two of these have been residents of Britain, and one of them (Abu Hamza), has been so for the longest time, and they have followers. Which leads to the primary point, the basic naive premise around which Cole builds the entire thesis: the idea that the people who wrote the statement were the very same people who perpetrated the attacks! Suppose an Egyptian or Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated leader commanded non-Egyptian foot soldiers and wrote the statement post factum! There are several other possibilities of course, but Cole wants us to believe that his philological hunch trumps everything else (including what the former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens wrote, that those responsible "will almost certainly prove to be British born and bred.") What nonsensical tripe, especially when clothed in such an authoritative garb.

No, Cole needs to beat up commentators for daring to suggest that we may have home grown terror cells in Britain! (A propos, see here.) He, as the saying goes, needs to be more royal than the king in his supposed "outrage" over the accusation. That is why he also took a swipe at Tom Friedman:

Tom Friedman is a Middle East expert who knows a lot about Islam. Why, then, does he keep saying misleading things? He wrote in his latest column, "To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."
As for Friedman's main point, that Muslims haven't done a good job of fighting jihadi ideology and terrorism, it is bizarre. The Algerian government fought a virtual civil war to put down political Islam, in which over 100,000 persons died. The Egyptians jailed 20,000 or 30,000 radicals for thought crimes and killed 1500 in running street battles in the 1990s and early zeroes. Al-Qaeda can't easily strike in the Middle East precisely because Syria, Egypt, Algeria, etc. have their number and have undertaken massive actions against them. What does Friedman want? And, besides, he is wrong that this is only a Muslim problem. In the global age all problems are everybody's. That's part of flat world, too, Tom.

Notice how Cole disingenuously falls back on the authoritarian regimes (which, by the way, are the "secular pan-Arabist" regimes) to make his point, which is totally different from what Friedman was saying (but again, see "Terror and the Experts" below to see Cole's praise of these regimes on this issue.). But keep that in mind and then read what Lebanese Sunni intellectual and Professor of Islamics Radwan as-Sayyed wrote in yesterday's Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat.

He not only was not angered by Friedman's article, he understood exactly where it's coming from and agreed with its premise. And while he did point out that Muslims, like the Azhar sheikh and other scholars in Saudi Arabia did condemn Bin Laden, he made an additional remark, which not only vindicates Friedman, but also shows how shrill Cole is. He noted that while "scholars at al-Azhar and scholars in Saudi Arabia did [condemn Bin Laden] repeatedly," no one listened. He explained why: "That is because in the major Arab countries, Islamic religious institutions have been integrated into the state more than 50 years ago, in such a way that their voices can longer be discerned. As a consequence, large chunks of the masses stopped listening." He added that the younger fundamentalists started claiming religious status and challenged the authority of the traditional establishment, which was marred by its connection to the state. The establishment also shied away before the fundamentalists. The result was that "fatwas and stature (marja'iyyat) were lost, and the voices were mixed, and became an undistinguished noise."

As-Sayyed talked about what we would call moderates. "On this particular issue (condeming violence and extremism in the name of Islam)", Sayyed wrote, "their condemnations are no longer effective or influential. For from the beginning they never considered this violence and extremism as caused by internal dynamics within Islam; instead, they considered it a reaction against the injustice of the world order, and the occupation of Palestine, and the causes of Muslims in Kashmir, Chechnya, and Xinjiang... etc."

As-Sayyed felt that this was dishonest and dangerous, and wrote that he feels "there is no relationship between the Bin Laden terrorists and other extremists and the causes of Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya."

Finally, he laments: "I wasn't expecting that moderates as well as extremists in the West would be convinced neither by the discourse of the apologists nor by the condemnations of the religious institutions."

The rest of the piece is also worth reading. But compare what Sayyed said and what Cole said, and, consequently, what Sayyed thinks of Cole's position (on Cole and Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, etc. see "Terror and the Experts.")!

One can also add the voice of Egyptian journalist Mona el-Tahawi:

The statements from Muslim groups and leaders that we read whenever a terrorist attack is carried out are getting old and repetitive and I do not know if anyone is listening anymore.

I am worried that London will not believe the condemnations that begin with “Islam is against these kinds of attacks that target innocent people” and end with “but we must place them in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan and (any other place you think Muslims have suffered an injustice)”. That “but” will always be our worst enemy.
What are we going to do with these unelected representatives of Islam?

In essence, Mona is asking the exact same question as Friedman. But who are these guys compared to the Majestic One? He knows best.

Addendum: A reader by the name of Muhammad Amin left a comment to Radwan As-Sayyed's piece. It reads as follows: "Friedman in his article was encouraging our ruling regimes to repress us so that the West may enjoy luxury and the good life. I.e., that our rulers be the guardians of the West so that no harm should befall it as it robs our resources, while we are not allowed to protest."

As a matter of fact, that is not Friedman's argument. However, based on the quotes above and in my "Terror and the Experts" post, it can be argued that this is Cole's implication! What else are we supposed to think when Cole says that Arab regimes have been fighting terror, and, e.g. (there's more), "Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones"? Cole never considers the cost (let alone the policy of exporting these terrorists to the West, and other shadowy practices, such as the Syrian regime's dance with such groups) and methods used (but he goes nuts over Gitmo) and its effects on the lives of people in the ME. Hypocrisy? You tell me.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cole-Slaw and Sleazeballs

Martin Kramer comes back with a right hook and knocks Cole out, properly citing the 9/11 report to debunk all of Cole's claims, and giving a chronologically sound account.

As you may have noticed, the beacon of integrity known as John "Juan" Cole went back and tidied up his scandalous reference to Jenin as a motivator for 9/11 (it happened months after 9/11!). Obviously, the Majestic Pseudo-Hispanic didn't feel the need to apologize for the screaming error, or errors for that matter. For more see my "Terror and the Experts" post below.

Kramer, knowing the way Cole operates, had saved the original posting:

Addendum: Experienced Cole-watchers know that when he makes a mistake, he just goes back and tidies up his postings. So he's purged the Jenin reference. Instead, he writes that Bin Laden wanted to move up the operation "in response to Sharon's crackdown in spring of 2001." That's not what the 9/11 report says. It says Bin Laden may have considered speeding up the operation up to coincide with a planned Sharon visit to the White House (p. 250).

Knowing Cole's habits, I saved the original posting. It's here. (And at the time of this posting, Google's cache still records the original version.) The doctored version is here. Blogger etiquette demands that substantive errors be fixed by adding or posting an explicit correction. Cole exempts himself, as he must, given the gross inaccuracies that plague his weblog. So you quote him at your peril: his words might change under your feet. Here, for example, is a poor Cole admirer from Pakistan who quoted Cole Sahib's Jenin revelation. I don't have the heart to notify him that his hero got it wrong.

Further reading: See my Cole archive, where I revisit some of Cole's wackier interpretations of Al-Qaeda. See especially the entry entitled "Dial 911-COLE," which unearths his comparison of the 9/11 perpetrators to the Applegate people--UFO nuts. A year after 9/11, he dismissed Al-Qaeda as "an odd assortment of crackpots, petty thieves, obsessed graduate students, would-be mercenaries, and eccentric millionnaires." No wonder Cole has had so much trouble digesting the 9/11 report.

Take a look, it's a classic.

In his reply on June 22, the Montgolfiere of self-puffery huffed:

I don't usually bother to reply at any length to my Neocon critics. Mostly this is because they are simply insincere, and say what they say maliciously and in knowledge of its falsehood. ... What Neocon has come out and said, "Oops, we were wrong." ... The Neocons cannot for the most part imagine such a thing as a fraught internal debate over ethics on the part of the individual. This because they are mostly, quite frankly, sleazeballs. (Emphasis mine.)

Somehow I have a feeling the Majestic One won't be replying to these latest "Neocon" criticisms, and will instead "let them slide" into oblivion! That's why Cole's words right above describe him like nothing else.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Juan More Time

I just spotted this entry at Martin Kramer's Sandbox. Turns out Cole responded (without providing a link or ever mentioning Kramer by name, using instead the convenient "Neocon critics") to Kramer's knock-out post exposing Cole's dishonest backtracking on the Iraq war (see my own recent post on the matter here, and the older one here).

Cole used the word "sleazeballs" in reference to these anonymous "Neocons," which I thought was a remarkably interesting choice of words considering the slippery nature of his own response. Let me explain.

The Montgolfiere of self-puffery, to quote a friend of mine, invokes Isaiah Berlin in order to sell his new schtick (what, no more Star Wars analogies?):

Berlin is saying that in the real world, there are situations in which you can only have the one or the other. The truth is ugly, and the prettied up beautiful story is false. So then you have to decide, do you want the truth? Or do you want beauty?

In the run-up to the Iraq War, I had two values. One was justice I believed that the Saddam regime was genocidal and that the international community had a responsibility for doing something about it. That is why I said that removing Saddam would be a noble enterprise. In and of itself, it was, and I stand by that.

But the other value is the rule of law. The United States is signatory to the UN charter, and can't just get up in the morning and decide to go about invading other countries. I all along maintained that an Iraq war would be legitimate only if there were a UN Security Council resolution authorizing it.

Up until early March of 2003, I was not forced to choose between Justice and the Rule of Law because it appeared entirely plausible that the UNSC would pass a resolution authorizing the war, or that a majority, at least, would vote for it. It was during that period that I said I could not bring myself to protest the building war. It was because I knew Saddam's mass murders, and thought there was still a chance that he could be removed within the framework of international law.

So the new spin is that his rejection of the war was a matter of legality!

The problem is that this was not Cole's point! Cole's point was based on the possible risks of the war, which according to him include scenarios such as this:

Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority
population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems). What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of
resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?

As a matter of fact, the piece where this quote comes from was used by Cole in his first response, almost a year ago, and used as evidence of him "knowing his own history." The thing is, the words "UN," or "international law" don't even appear in the piece! The argument wasn't about legality, or at the very least, wasn't just about legality.

Cole's post-war spiel was that the Iraq war was a "diversion" from the real war on Al-Qaeda that has created more enemies ("Bush dropped the ball, left the fight against al-Qaeda half-finished, and ran off to the Iraq quagmire."). It was that the administration lied about its reasons for going to war. It was the US being duped by Ariel Sharon to fighting a war on behalf of Israel ("The hawks just wanted to defang Iraq as a favor to Ariel Sharon in Israel, and appear not even to have known much about who lived in Iraq or what it is actually like." Or, "'Make it good for Ariel Sharon' appears to have been the real marching orders with regard to the Iraq war."). It was that the people in charge and the pro-war "pundits" were "ignorant" abotu Iraq ("Corporate media bring in a parade of so-called 'experts' [often lacking credentials and saying ridiculous things] from 'think tanks,' in Washington and New York instead of letting academics speak."). It was that the US was going to establish another pliant dictatorship, and not democracy. etc.

There are countless other posts and statements. In other words, Cole had a million shifts and a million stories, this "justice vs. legality" spiel being the latest acrobatic spin in a long line of slippery sleaze. I would say "quit while you're ahead," but he'd have to be ahead first. Just see my post right below.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terror and the Experts

Michael Young stole a page from Juan Cole's prophecy book and predicted how "self-styled interpreters" will flood us with the "Palestine factor" in their attempts at explaining the latest horrific terrorist attack in London. The only difference is while Cole is almost invariably wrong, Michael was right. For the Majestic Pseudo-Hispanic had already not wasted time, and "informed" us about the reasons behind the attack.

My condolences to the families of those innocent people who were killed for no reason other than just being there when these lunatics decided to kill as many people as they could.

Addendum: Christopher Hitchens explains why he thinks the attack is not motivated by the Iraq war either.

Update: The Majestic One outdoes himself. In his haste to blame Israel, the informed historian does away with chronology and writes:

In his response, Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that September 11 had not come in response to any Western attack, and was itself in part responsible for the Iraq War. Straw seems unaware that according to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready. As for Straw's contention that September 11 caused the Iraq war, he should be reminded that Paul O'Neil reported that the very first Bush cabinet meeting he attended, in late January 2001, was "all about Iraq" and that the 9/11 Commission found no evidence for operational cooperation between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda. (Emphasis added)

Unfortunately for the Pontiff, Jenin happened in 2002! I repeat, how can anyone take this poseur seriously?

Update 2: In a typically gassy piece in, Don Juan bends over backwards in order to shove Israel into the statement by the Islamist group claiming responsibility for the attack:

The attack, the terrorists proclaimed, was an act of sacred revenge for British "massacres" in "Afghanistan and Iraq," and a punishment of the United Kingdom for its "Zionism" (i.e., support of Israel).

This would be hilarious if it weren't so disingenuous. The statement makes no mention of Palestine or Israel. But that would kill Juan's entire premise. So he has to reinterpret the standard formula "the crusader zionists" to mean "punishment for the UK for its Zionism, i.e., support for Israel." First distortion: the statement doesn't say that the UK is being punished for its Zionism. It says, using the formulaic statement, that "now is the time for revenge against the crusader zionist British government." Cole not only deceptively alters that, he actually picks out the "Zionist" part, and reinterprets it as "support for Israel" in order to stick the Israel element in a statement that makes no mention of it. This is called pure dishonesty.

As if that weren't enough, he adds this:

the statement condemns what it calls "massacres" by "Zionist" British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of them Muslim lands under Western military occupation (and, it is implied, similar in this regard to Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli control).

This is outrageous. First, the statement nowhere calls the troops Zionist. It reads: "In response to the massacres perpetrated by Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan." Needless to say, the stupid alleged implication about Gaza and the West Bank exists only in Cole's dishonest mind.

Cole, in other words, is consciously misleading his readers.

Update 3: Some more hypocritical tripe. Cole writes:

After Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, many Muslims felt that Bin Laden's dire warnings to them that the United States wanted to occupy their countries, rape their women, humiliate their men, and steal their assets had been vindicated.

These claims were not credited by most of the world's Muslims before the Iraq war.

Oh, really!? Who is he kidding? Before Iraq it was Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir, to name but a few. In fact, here's Cole himself:

On the other hand, the US should strong-arm India and Pakistan into a final settlement of the Kashmir issue. Al-Zawahiri attempted to use Musharraf's lack of progress in helping the Muslims of that Indian state as a justification for his overthrow. The Kashmir issue generates far more terrorism, and even the threat of nuclear war, than Iraq ever did.

Wait, there's more:

Iraq is actually hostile territory for al-Qaeda, and without Iraqi sympathizers it cannot succeed there. By moving quickly to Iraqi sovereignty and improvement of Iraqi lives, the US may be able to get Iraqis on its side, so that they turn in the foreigners.
The thing to keep in mind is that Sunni Arab nationalists and Baathists and local Sunni radicals are likely to remain far more dangerous to the US in Iraq than al-Qaeda infiltrators, and it would be dangerous to take one's eyes off the former ball.

Am I missing something? Here's more on Kashmir: "The Kashmir issue is a major source of terrorism, and is now a nuclear flashpoint." Or try this: "To this litany of Occupations that produce radical Muslim terrorism, Chechnya and Kashmir can be added. ... So it is the combination of Western occupation and weak states that produced the conditions for radical Muslim terrorism. ... You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. ... The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop."

That post by the way is the one that praised authoritarian ME regimes: "In contrast, authoritarian governments like that of Iraq and Syria, while they might use terror for their own purposes from time to time, did not produce large-scale indepdendent terrorist organizations that struck itnernational targets. Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones."

And it's where this gem of a statement can be found: "I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation."

Update 4: I loved this hilarious cliche. It reveals so much about a premise still dominant in ME studies, and one which I have often criticized on this blog (e.g., in my post on Anatol Lieven):

The communiqué on the London bombing is unusual in appealing both to the Muslim community and to the "community of Arabism." "Urubah," or Arabism, is a secular nationalist ideal. The diction suggests that the bombers are from a younger generation of activists who have not lived in non-Arab Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and think of Arabism and Islam as overlapping rather than alternatives to one another. The text makes relatively few references to religion, reading more as a statement of Muslim nationalism than of piety.

This is truly remarkable. This is the only conclusion he draws! Not, for instance, that there is a synthesis of Pan-Arabism and Islamism, which by the way can be found very clearly in Hizbullah's rhetoric, and which I have called "Arabist Islam," or "Pan-Arabist Islam" and which Chuck Freund has called "Pan-Arabist Islamism." I am also reminded of a BBC article that my friend Matt Frost brought to my attention a while ago that said it best:

"Bin Laden, assumed to be in hiding - possibly in Pakistan - with his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahri, remains a powerful figurehead for those favouring global Islamic revolution or, as some analysts believe, a global resurgence of Arab influence on the back of the call to Islam." (Emphasis added.)

Also see Matt's latest post for more related issues. It's far more convenient to maintain the sacrosanct dogmas of the field, which remains subservient to the myth of "Secular Pan-Arabism" (witness Michael Hudson's latestprophecies from Damascus and Beirut.)

The funny part is after negating the religious aspect, Cole goes on to write this: "symbology helps explain why the City of London subway stops were especially targeted, since it is the economic center of London. A "raid" such as the Muslim bombings is considered not just a military action but also a religious ritual."

It's ok. We just don't understand the "complexity" of the matter as Juan does.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ethnohistory, Ideology, and Modern Politics

You may or may not have heard about the most recent stink up involving Rashid Khalidi. To make a long story short, Khalidi lent his byline to this bad polemical history of Jerusalem. Turns out, large segments of it were swiped from an equally bad polemical article by Kamil Asali. So the question was raised whether that constituted plagiarism. Khalidi denied it claiming he didn't write the article, and that a web article doesn't really qualify as a "publication" in any "real sense of the word."

But then came the bizarre cover-up. Khalidi, as mentioned right above, denied writing the article and said that it was "wrongly attributed to him" by someone at a "defunct organization." Of course, he didn't mention that he was the president of that organization at the time the article was published! Anyway, the "defunct organization" changed the byline to read "compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources." But, Khalidi's byline was still accessible through Wayback Machine, as evident from the second link above! Like I said, the whole thing stinks of fish!

But I'm not particularly interested in the plagiarism charge. I'm more interested in some of the claims the article makes, such as:

The oldest recorded name of the city, "Urusalem" is Amoritic. "Shalem" or "Salem" is the name of a Canaanite-Amorite god; "uru", means "founded by." The names of the two oldest rulers of the city, Saz Anu and Yaqir Ammo, were identified by the American archaeologist W.F. Albright as Amoritic. The Amorites had the same language as the Canaanites and were of the same Semitic stock. Many historians believe that they were an offshoot of the Canaanites, who came originally from the Arabian Peninsula. The Bible concurs that the Amorites are the original people of the land of Canaan.


In the second millenium BC, Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe, and the culture of the city was Canaanite. The Jebusites built a fortress, "Zion", in Jerusalem. Zion is a Canaanite word meaning "hill" or "height." Jerusalem was also known as Jebus. Canaanite society flourished for two thousand years, and many aspects of Canaanite culture and religion were later borrowed by the Hebrews.

According to a number of historians and scholars, many of the Arabs of Jerusalem today, indeed the majority of Palestinian Arabs, are descendants of the ancient Jebusites and Canaanites. In 1902, the British anthropologist Sir James Frazer wrote in his book The Golden Bough: "The Arabic-speaking peasants of Palestine are the progeny of the tribes which settled in the country before the Israelite invasion. They are still adhering to the land. They never left it and were never uprooted from it."

There are other errors, cliches, annoying inaccuracies, and an overall dominating ideological ine, but I'm not really interested in deconstructing every little detail.

The two quotes above, however, are telling in more ways than one. In fact, the ideological line and its "facts" seem to be something of a conventional wisdom for some of the leading lights of ME Studies, including Khalidi's compadre Joseph Massad, and MESA president Juan Cole. You may remember my posts on Cole (see also the note on the 14 centuries of Islamic rule in the Khalidi/Asali piece) and Massad ("the Ancient Palestinian Hebrews") and their journeys to the Ancient Near East. Compare those to the article that carried Khalidi's byline (with which arguments, I think it's fair to assume, Khalidi agrees).

The first quote contains one of the most prevalent myths of Arabist revisionism, and that is that the "Arab" origin of the Canaanites. Readers might've come across this theory in reference to the Phoenicians. Helen Sader comments on the theory of Arab invasion: “First of all, there’s no proof of an early invasion from either the Arab peninsula or the Sinai. Of course, there has always been a certain interaction and fusion between people in the region, but the whole concept of invasion is but a projection of the 7th-century Arab invasion onto earlier times." There are variants on this theory, in terms of population movement etc., but the whole thing is outdated and faulty.

But the whole handling of the term "Canaanites" and the idea of Amorites as "offshoots" really reflects poor scholarship, historically and ethnohistorically. The terms have separate layered histories and their referents change across time. For instance, in the Late Bronze Age Canaan and Amurru were two separate geopolitical entities, with Amurru being a kingdom in south western Syria/northern Lebanon. In other words, it was north of the district of Canaan, which was a whole other area! An earlier (Middle Bronze Age) kingdom by the name of Amurru also existed in the west, perhaps on the Mediterranean, that may have been the ancestor (in name) of the LB Age one. But that too was north of Canaan.

The term Amurru itself is older, and in Akkadian amurrû (Sumerian MAR.TU) simply means "Westerners," that is, from the vantage point of people in Mesopotamia. They appear especially in late 3rd millenium-2nd millenium texts as tribal pastoral groups that become integrated with the populations of Mesopotamian cities and assimilated into the Sumero-Babylonian culture. Then in the 2nd millenium, "Amorites" (people with "Amorite names") become leaders of the major cities of Mesopotamia (for a handy brief history, see Robert Whiting's article "Amorite Tribes and Nations of Second Millenium Western Asia" in Jack Sasson (ed.) Civilizations of the Ancient Near East vol. 2 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000] pp. 1231-1242. See also, Kathryn Kamp and Norman Yoffee, "Ethnicity in Ancient Western Asia during the Early Second Millennium B.C.: Archaeological Assessments and Ethnoarchaeological Prospectives." Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 237 [1980]:85-103.) Here is a paragraph from the introduction that should give you an idea about the complexity of the matter:

What we know of the Amorites comes from references to them in the written records of other peoples, primarily from Mesopotamian or Syrian cuneiform documents, but also to a lesser extent from Egyptian and other sources. Nontextual sources are even less rewarding. The archaeological evidence for the Amorites is scanty and not to be separated from the artifacts of other ethnolinguistic groups with which they shared the area. No one has yet been able to identify an Amorite pot or weapon with certainty. Therefore, the reconstruction of the ethnolinguistic group known as the Amorites is based on snippets of information, often contradictory... (p. 1231)

Much of the theories about them in the mid-20th c. were based on the assumptions that "Amorite" represented not just (a) particular social group(s) but also a language. The latter assumption took on a life of its own and simply became an umbrella term for what is now known as "Western Semitic" (as opposed to, say, Akkadian which constitutes "Eastern Semitic"). It became a catchword for the linguistic ancestor of later Northwest Semitic dialects. The problem is we don't have a single text in that supposed language or, better, cluster of dialects. All the texts were written in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the time. All we have are names and a few words that differ from standard Akkadian onomastics and grammar, and those come from Syria (i.e., the "west"), such as the Middle Bronze Age city of Mari, modern Tell Hariri on the middle Euphrates (there's a massive archive of texts from Mari and its vicinity). One of the foremost authorities on Akkadian, Prof. Shlomo Izre'el explains why basing the notion of a dialect continuum on scanty evidence involving personal names (PN) and scattered features is problematic:

(1) PNs may well stem form a specific language, but they are not necessarily indicative of the vernacular. Trying to learn about the vernacular's features from analyzing PNs is wrong methodologically, in my opinion. When we have loanwords or some interferences in syntax or morphology, only then we can learn something substantial on the interfering language, which may be the case at Mari. I wouldn't call it Amorite, though, but just "the substratum of the OB of Mari" or the like...
(2) Amorite for me, if I am to use it at all, is not a language. It would be a cluster of virtual vernaculars used during a large span of time and throughout a large georgaphical space, dialects about which we have no data at all as regards their contemporary use. This is why I call it a myth. This myth suggests that there actually was a dialect or a continuum of dialects (i.e., a language) that we know something of. I don't think there is such a thing.

So this is the point: we have very little data to base the notion of a "language" on. What we have are some West Semitic features which might indicate, as Prof. Izre'el noted, a set of substrata in each location. To attempt an identification of this "language" and a correlative ethnic group is bad methodology. Prof. Izre'el clarifies:

First one decides, on the basis of insufficient evidence that there was such a language, Amurrite, of which dialects are spread in Mesopotamia in the OB times. Then this becomes a truism, and a language mentioned once in a fragmentary context is then referred to as one of its dialects on the analogy of the mentioning of Am/wnanu as related to Amurrites in another place. If this is no myth, what is a myth? Linguistic affiliation cannot be derived by analogy of tribal affiliation.

The error is aggravated when we mix categories like "Ugaritic" and "Canaanite" with "Amoritic" as is often done.

Furthermore, these "Amorites" didn't call themselves that. For instance, as Whiting writes, "rather than calling themselves 'Amorites,' the tribal elements around Mari were known as Khaneans. The earliest record of an Amorite ruling Mari comes from an inscription of Yakhdun-Lim, son of Yaggid-Lim, who calls himself 'King of Mari, Tuttul, and the land of Khana'." (p. 1235). "Khana" actually means "tent dwellers". A comprehensive study of the tribal, pastoralist, and political terminology used in the Mari letters is Daniel Fleming's excellent 2004 book, Democracy's Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance. The link allows you to search within the book. Here are the instances where Fleming discusses "Amorrites." See especially p. 39 (through 43, esp. 42):

Unlike the tribal categories binū yamina and binū sim'al, "children of the right (hand)" and "children of the left (hand)," amurrûm is not a self-given name. The "right" and "left" may even refer to south and north, as they do in ancient Hebrew, facing the rising sun, but these are entirely different names. Individual persons do not identify themselves as "Yaminite" or "Sim'alite," but rather by the tribal units below these two umbrella categories. Nevertheless, the attribution of tribes to these two divisions is made by the people themselves. By origin, the word "Amorrite" is entirely different, and this difference should be kept in mind when we follow its common use in modern scholarly literature. Because "Amorrite" designates a category of outsiders, this naming will be unconscious of native identities and therefore both inaccurate in whom it groups together and liable to carry negative overtones. In its primary Mesopotamian use, it describes a certain sort of people who come from regions to the west, evidently somewhere in Syria, and the term has little use in discussion of contemporary peoples and events in areas further west, north, and south. There is no sharp break of unfamiliarity, but rather a gradual loss of precision.

Regardless of the Middle Bronze Age situation, the relationship with the later Late Bronze Age kingdom of Amurru, or the even later references in the Bible to the 'ĕmōrî ("Amorite") are far from clear or linear. The development of an "Amorite" ethnic identity in any one period is also unclear (though not necessarily non-existent), let alone the continuity of such an identity, and the cohesiveness of its members. But to jump from that ambiguity to a facile equation of "Canaanite," "Amorite" and "Jebusite" is plain ridiculous.

I won't dwell on the term Canaanite. Those interested can consult Anson Rainey's article "Who is a Canaanite? A Review of the Textual Evidence" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304 (1996): 1-15. Rainey's survey however deals only with the Late Bronze Age material. The article is a critical response to Niels Peter Lemche's 1991 volume, The Canaanites and their Land: The Tradition of the Canaanites.

I'm more interested in the term "Jebusites." Clearly, this term is at the heart of the argument. This Palestinian identity advocated (or, created) by the Khalidi/Asali article is built around the Jebusites' possession of Jerusalem prior to David's takeover of the city. But there are interesting implications in picking this particular term/group.

The article identifies the Jebusites as a Canaanite tribe. Here's the problem. The only place where the term Jebusite appears is the Bible. II Samuel 5:6 recounts the episode of David's takeover of Jerusalem. There, the Jebusites are simply called "the inhabitants of the land." They are mentioned in the "table of nations" in Gen 10 and Gen 15. They are listed among the various peoples of the land in Exod 3:8 (along with the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, and Hivites). Elsewhere, Jebus (Yebus) is equated with Jerusalem (Judg 19:10-11; I Chron 11:4-5). However, Jerusalem is not known by that name outside the Bible (for an excellent article on Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age Jerusalem, see Nadav Na'aman's "The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem's Political Position in the Tenth Century B. C. E., Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304 (1996): 17-27). But other than this, absolutely nothing is known of this group (and, on a related note, the fact that they're listed alongside the Canaanites would lead one to believe that they were a separate group, also from the Amorites for that matter, but it's not clear whether they were an ethnic group, or whether they themselves used the term Jebusite, etc.). How can anyone build any theory whatsoever on such poor evidence?!

Here's where a whole set of interesting questions can be raised. In recent years, Palestinian nationalist scholars like Said, Khalidi and Massad, found wonderful allies in a group of biblical scholars/historians like Keith Whitelam, Thomas Thompson and others like them. Keith Whitelam for instance, wrote a book called The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History. The book was given a glowing review by Said in the Times Literary Supplement, and dubbed a "courageous" book. Said was also returning a favor, so to speak, as he was the singlemost cited reference in Whitelam's book. Needless to say, the book became the Bible of Palestinian nationalists. It was translated into Arabic, and is hailed as the "real story" that the imperial West sought to hide (as evident from the subtitle of the book itself). In fact, if you do a Google search for Keith Whitelam, you'll see the book pop up on several Palestinian websites, along with similar characterizations as the ones I mentioned. For reviews, you could also do a search for some that are available online. A short review in MEQ can be found here (scroll down). Another review in a more "sympathetic" journal (though the review isn't by any means laudatory) is the one by Edward Fox in the Journal for Palestine Studies 26.2 (1997):102-103.

One of the ironies of the book is that Whitelam accuses 19th c. and early-mid 20th c. biblical scholars of thinking about Ancient Israel in terms of the modern state of Israel (alongside their own religious beliefs). Yet in conflating all the other non-Israelite ancient peoples of the region with the term "Palestinian" he commits the exact same error, only from the other side! But here you can see where Massad's "Ancient Palestinian Hebrews" comes from, even if it mixes up even Whitelam's thesis! But hey, that's Massad after all, so don't be harsh! He also thought the Hebrews spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew, and that dhimmi was an Orientalist racist trope.

Whitelam's book is an offshoot (excuse the pun) of Edward Said's Orientalism. In fact, a veritable industry of how archaeology in Israel is another form of colonialism (etc.) has come to life in recent years. Correlative to that is the rise of Palestinian archaeology. An excellent article on these matters is Alexander Joffe and Rachel Hallote's "The Politics of Israeli Archaeology: Between 'Nationalism' and 'Science' in the Age of the Second Republic," Israel Studies 7.3 (2002): 84-116. Joffe himself has reviewed many a volume dealing with archaeology and politics in several academic journals, mostly in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Here's a quick relevant quote from a footnote in the article co-authored with Hallote:

Departments of Archaeology exist in most Palestinian universities and an official Palestinian Department of Antiquities was established as part of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Tourism and consciousness raising are the stated goals of the Palestinian archaeological enterprise (interview with Department of Antiquities director Hamdan Taha, Palestine Report, July 16 1999). The aims of the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology and Journal of Palestinian Archaeology at Bir Zeit University include the "shaping Palestinian historical consciousness" and "relevant independent answers, methodological or ideological, to questions concerning their cultural heritage and country:" (see A full analysis of the Palestinian archaeological enterprise is beyond the scope of the present study. An impression gathered from the few sources available to us is that initially (late 1980s to early 1990s) Palestinian 'versions' or 'narratives' tended to elide over the topics of ancient Israel and Jews generally, treating them minimally or in a somewhat tortuously neutral fashion. Emphasis appears to have been placed on the alleged neglect of Islamic sites and periods, and on contextualizing ancient Israel, and Biblical archaeology as a whole, as merely episodes in much longer frameworks. This approach followed the lead of Glock. More recently (mid 1990s to present) the tendency has been to discount, excise, or wholly revise the questions of ancient Israel and any Jewish presence. Elite promotion of the ideas that Palestinians were descended from Canaanites, Philistines, or third millennium B.C.E. Arabian migrants, has been considerable, despite the lack of evidence or logic to support these claims, and their inherent contradiction with Islamic mythology. See "A historical battleground," Jerusalem Report, September 30, 1997. See also the important study by Nimrod Hurvitz, "Muhibb ad-Din al-Khatib's Semitic Wave Theory and Pan-Arabism," Middle Eastern Studies, 29 (1993): 118-34. Palestinian revisionism has not surprisingly coincided with Palestinian denial of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, an issue which, as noted by Shlomo Ben-Ami, manifest strongly during negotiations during 2000. See "End of a journey," Ha'aretz, September 14, 2001. Some measure of inspiration for these latter developments has been derived from continuing academic debates over the historicity of the Bible, and the strong divisions between the unfortunately labeled 'maximalist' and 'minimalist' factions. Strongly anti-Zionist books by Biblical scholars Keith W. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History, (London, 1996) and Thomas L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, (New York, 1999) stand out. The intellectual influence of Hayden White and Edward Said might also be considered in this respect, along of course with the specific efforts of revisionist Israeli historians (e.g., Ilan Pappé, "Biblical Narratives, Review of Western Scholarship and the History of Palestine," Journal of Palestine Studies, 29 (2000):102. These latest efforts to generate Palestinian identity in 'real time' should be understood in their historical context, as the intersection of ethnogenesis, Arab nationalism, and the continued spread of Western intellectual thought. See lately Baruch Kimmerling, "The Formation of Palestinian Collective Identities: The Ottoman and Mandatory Periods," Middle Eastern Studies, 36 (2000): 48-81. (pp. 112-113)

Another important figure in this business was the late Michael Prior. He, like Whitelam made no bones about his politics. Thompson on the other hand, has shied away from such public and overt political identification. However, the appearence of an article by him in Prior's pseudo-academic anti-Zionist journal, Holy Land Studies, makes that identification rather clear. The aim of the journal is described here. Regular contributors include luminaries like Ilan Pappe and (co-founding editor) Nur Masalha. The title of Thompson's article: "Is the Bible Historical? The Challenge of ‘Minimalism’ for Biblical Scholars and Historians."

The title reflects a crucial point. The entire premise of Whitelam's book (and indeed Thompson's and other so-called minimalists) is the historical unreliability of the Bible as a source for writing the history of Canaan. For online essays on the debate, see here.

This premise is behind Cole's statement (see link above):

[I]t is worth noting that the Assyrian and other ancient scribes, who wrote down everything that happened in the Middle East in the 900s BC, even mentioning obscure little rulers, never heard of David or his kingdom, and for all we know he was actually a bedouin chieftain later mythologized into a king with a city.

If you take the time to read Na'aman's article mentioned above, you'll get a much more "informed" picture. For more of Cole's statements, see here, and peruse here. This statement comes from the first link: "I just saw someone question Palestinian descent from the ancient peoples of Palestine. But we are all descended from the Moabites, and Palestinians and Jews are more likely to have the traces of that descent in their mitochondria and Y chromosomes than the rest of us (we're all cousins of a sort, but they are closer to being first cousins)." The statement is almost laughable (we are all descended from the Moabites!?), but the mish-mash of putative ancestors (Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, and now Moabites) is indicative. I have refrained from entering into the genetics debate, but if you read my post on Cole linked above, you'll realize his racialist/biological premises when approaching ethnicity.

But here's the screaming paradox as far as the Khalidi/Asali article, and the whole Jebusites-as-Palestinians theory are concerned: the only historical mention of the Jebusites comes exclusively from the Bible! So, David's historicity is unreliable, but the Jebusites' is!? Furthermore, as noted before, the Bible does not elaborate at all on the Jebusites. How can we speak of an ethnic identity if we know absolutely nothing about the Jebusites!? What exactly is it that ties the Palestinians to the Jebusites, besides of course, the claim to Jerusalem? What is the narrative (see this volume edited by Spickard and Burroughs, esp. Stephen Cornell's article and Spickard and Burroughs' concluding essay)? As Joffe and Hallote noted, and as the Cole post and the Khalidi/Asali article indicate, the narrative void (and that's what it is) is filled with Arab-Islamic history. That's why both Cole and Khalidi/Asali end up making the same remark about the 13-14 centuries of Islamic rule over Jerusalem.

Another delicious paradox lies in the list of scholars Khalidi/Asali rely on: Frazer and Albright. In other words, they (esp. Albright) are the hated "Orientalists" who are mercilessly attacked by Thompson, Whitelam, et al.! But by creating the Jebusite identity, Khalidi/Asali are falling back on the same premises, only with infinitely poorer scholarship!

Far more interesting scholarship was written in the early 20th c. by the giant orientalist Gustav Dalman, whose multi-volume magnum opus Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina remains a classic and an invaluable enormous source of information on the customs and language of Palestinian peasants. Dalman's philological work on the similarity in the language used in the Talmud and the Bible and by Palestinian peasants is fascinating, and at one point in my graduate career I wrote several papers on weather terminology and its usage in biblical mythology and popular proverbs. The works of the Palestinian Toufic Canaan (German-trained orientalist) on the folk-religions of Palestinians were used by Albright and others. His works mirror similar endeavors in Lebanon by people like Msgr. Michel Feghali or Anis Frayha. Even the 18th-19th c. travel literature such as the work of W. M. Thompson, viciously attacked by the Said acolytes today as part of the colonization of Palestine (or, as a marriage of missionary activity and empire, see, e.g., this article on Edward Robinson. No one by the way, is denying these guys' biases or what have you.), is far more useful than this Jebusites-as-Palestinians political stuff.

That brings up yet another hypocrisy, which is something I noted in my post on Cole. If it is Palestinian nationalism, it's ok. Israeli nationalism however, is another story. In fact, one may add Phoenicianism here. Phoenicianism, though built on much, much more than what the Jebusite theory is built on (we have texts, artifacts, sites, etc.), is brutally ridiculed by those same Arab nationalists. Yet somehow, if the Palestinians concoct a Jebusite identity based on little more than thin air, it's solid. The funny part is that this identity is completely alien to most Palestinians, as noted by Joffe and Hallote. Unlike Lebanon, (but also Egypt and Iraq in varying degrees. On Assyrian identity, see this excellent article by noted Assyrianist Simo Parpola [PDF]) there is no well-established and pervasive pre-Arabo-Islamic narrative. On that, see Asher Kaufman's excellent Reviving Phoenicia. I must bring up once more Kaufman's deliciously ironic remark on As'ad AbuKhalil's horrible introduction to his Historical Dictionary (which I posted on here). Kaufman noted that the fact that AbuKhalil is at pains to ridicule and minimize or eliminate any validity to Lebanon's Phoenician heritage and the Phoenicianist narrative, proves just how pervasive it really is. Furthermore, AbuKhalil ends up beginning Lebanese history with the Canaanites!!

At the end of the day, is all this another variation on "Palestine-first"? Who knows. But as far as Khalidi's article is concerned, nevermind the plagiarism charge. The substance is far fishier.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Seniora's Appointment

For now, I have little to add to Jonathan's excellent post on the matter. Check it out (as well as the comment thread on Stacey's site that he links to).

I would just add a side note about deconfessionalization. We've been hearing Jumblatt repeating it like he used to repeat the Syrian formulae. That alone should tell you that it's fake. Common sense should take care of the rest. Now Seniora repeated it, and that too is to be taken with an iceberg of salt.

We may know why Jumblat is saying this, and it may be for the same reason that Seniora said it (and he's the first from the Hariri bloc to mention it, as far as I can tell). Or, it may be to signal that now the Taif accord will be implemented in full (and it stipulates that a committee be formed to discuss the possibility of eliminating the sectarian system). But if this is supposed to be taken as a wink in Nasrallah's direction (Berri would be presumably pleased with the reference to "new electoral law" and "decentralization"), I think it's quite useless. Are we to believe that a promise of thinking about deconfessionalization is supposed to make Nasrallah give up his weapons? Come on. Again, that's all variable and not guaranteed, as Jonathan also noted. Furthermore, like I wrote a couple of posts ago, I'm not even sure if a deconfessionalized system will be desirable for Hizbullah once their weapons are gone and their networks have been weakened by increased development in the South and the Bekaa, and with a new law for political parties, and the rise of alternatives and rivals on the Shiite scene, etc. In that type of arrangement, not forgetting their Islamist baggage, they might become, as Jonathan put it, a "permanent minority party."

This leads us to the second point: decentralization, which is what Berri has been trumpeting recently. I am starting to think that this word is quickly becoming the acceptable substitute for "federalism." Jonathan and Stacey briefly debated that on her site, and Jonathan believes that they might end up going for that if all else fails. I am leaning in that direction too. Sarkis Naoum of An-Nahar has been whistling that tune over a couple of op-eds lately (so has Jihad Zein). Naoum spoke to an anonymous "top-most Lebanese Shiite Islamist religious reference (marja')", which may or may not be Fadlallah. And that cleric told him that "we are not going to an institutionalized federalism, in the sense of partition, if federalism means partition [ed.'s note: this is why a subsstitute word is in order, because federalism has become another word for partition in Lebanon, because of the history in the 80's.]. However, we are going towards a de facto sectarian federalism. Perhaps what has opened this window on sectarianism is the Taif Accord, because we know that the 1943 pact considered sectarian allotments an non-written agreement ('urf), and not a law. But the Taif Accord made it into law. Which means that sectarianism is now part of Lebanese law. If there are those talking about deconfessionalization, we realize that the time has not yet arrived for the Lebanese to discuss abolishing political sectarianism."

Naoum's talk with the cleric continues today. So I think we might see more movement toward decentralization in the hopes of Amal and Hizbullah maintaining a grip on the South and the Bekaa. But if things work as they should, then even with decentralization, their grip will weaken on several fronts. But all that remains to be seen.

Another couple of things that An-Nahar highlighted are the issue of Christian representation in the cabinet, and the issue of holding together the alliance (which both Stacey and Jonathan believed will fall apart) and the 2/3rd majority. The first question revolves around whether the Christian allies in the Hariri bloc (QS and LF) will get screwed, and correlative to that, how much will Aoun get, and indeed, as Jonathan noted, how much will Lahoud get? Aoun has so far been flexible, but we'll see.

One of the most curious things is reading about Berri's appearence on a popular Lebanese talk show, and what he said. It's so funny to hear him talk about Syria now that they're out, admitting that they "made mistakes." He added, in what I thought was a surprising jab at Hizbullah, "Amal was fought in the past municipal elections by the security services, including the Syrians" and how he supposedly "was the first to ask for proper diplomatic relations with Syria," stressing that "while Lebanon may not be ruled from Syria, it cannot be used to wage war against Syria." And reacting to Seniora receiving 126 votes out of 128, he described it as "a restoration by the Lebanese of their own decision-making, which is not necessarily antagonistic to others, but we must not waste this opportunity."

Watching Berri maneuver, as disgusting as he is, is fascinating!! As he put it, "I play open politics, nothing covert." "We are one with Hasan Nasrallah," he said. "We are represented together." You could almost hear Nasrallah cringe. But he needs him now. Forget Nasrallah, Berri is still the Shiite top dog.

Rusty and Ghazi

The US is apparently freezing the assests of Rustum Ghazali and Ghazi Kanaan in the US. The action is "intended to financially isolate bad actors supporting Syria's efforts to destabilize its neighbors."

Before this came out, Josh Landis didn't think it would make too much of a difference. He told Annia Ciezadlo (yes, her! You may roll your eyes!): "It would hurt them a little bit, on a personal level, if their houses in Virginia Beach were taken away and their kids couldn't go to American universities." "But the regime would tough it out. They have toughed out much worse than that. These guys don't have to go to America--they can go to Paris."

While I'm sure there are other places they could stash their assests (not necessarily France), the move is still symbolically significant. In fact, if you read Ciezadlo's article and the recommendations of all the opposition activists she spoke to, they believe that there needs to be a distinction in US policy between the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people (even if the Kurds are already sympathetic). Such a move, as opposed to full-blown sanctions, makes such a distinction clear, if nothing else.

Needless to say, Imad Mustapha will be asking for "clarifications." So, be warned, should you be flipping through channels and you fall upon Imad giving one of his painful performances. Also, I would watch out for an epic op-ed by Bouthi Shaaban somewhere. Speaking of which, she has gotten a beating lately in the Kuwaiti press from Ahmad al-Jarallah -- see also here -- and Fouad al-Hashem. But honestly, who can blame them? She's insufferable.