27 February 2006

Another good Iraqi blog

I have said how much I admire Zeyad the Dentist and his 'HealingIraq' blog. My second favorite Iraqi blog is by a young woman who calls herself Riverbend. Her blog is 'Baghdad Burning' - and yes, she used that phrase long before Paul Bremer wrote his famous first sentence in his memoir/apologia. Riverbend is profoundly opposed to the Americans in Iraq and to the new government. Her writing is excellent though and her insights invaluable. Here is a sample of her recent work:

"The sounds of shooting and explosions usually begin at dawn, at least that's when I first sense them, and they don't really subside until well into the night. There was a small gunfight on the main road near our area the day before yesterday, but with the exception of the local mosque being fired upon, and a corpse found at dawn three streets down, things have been relatively quiet.

Some of the neighbors have been discussing the possibility of the men setting up a neighborhood watch. We did this during the war and during the chaos immediately after the war. The problem this time is that the Iraqi security forces are as much to fear as the black-clad and hooded men attacking mosques, houses and each other."

Oddly, she seems more hopeful of avoiding a civil war than Zeyad, at least at the moment.

"It does not feel like civil war because Sunnis and Shia have been showing solidarity these last few days in a big way. I don't mean the clerics or the religious zealots or the politicians- but the average person. Our neighborhood is mixed and Sunnis and Shia alike have been outraged with the attacks on mosques and shrines. The telephones have been down, but we've agreed upon a very primitive communication arrangement. Should any house in the area come under siege, someone would fire in the air three times. If firing in the air isn't an option, then someone inside the house would have to try to communicate trouble from the rooftop."

Nevertheless, she is realistic about the possibility of disaster.

"I'm reading, and hearing, about the possibility of civil war. The possibility. Yet I'm sitting here wondering if this is actually what civil war is like. Has it become a reality? Will we look back at this in one year, two years, ten and say, "It began in February 2006"? It is like a nightmare in tharealizeon’t realise it’s a nightmare while having it- only later, after waking up with your heart throbbing, and your eyes searching the dark for a pinpoint of light, do you realise it was a nightmare."

However you feel about the cause of the war and the Bush administration, we owe these people a lot. We destroyed their government, their police, their army. Now they are prey to the worst forces within any society and all we seem able to do is stand back, watch and hope for the best. About the only thing we can do for Riverbend, is to buy her book! Yes, her blog has been collected and published and is available from Amazon, or any other internet bookmonger. Give it a shot. If you are a teacher, assign it to your class.

Several reviewers at Amazon have raised serious doubts about the authenticity of Riverbend, claiming that she has been traced back to an IP in Canada, writes too well and too often. Much of this seems to be based on the fact that they do not like what she is saying. Perhaps they are right, so caveat emptor. I delayed several days in posting this while I thought it over. For the moment I think it is legit. In the meantime I have put Inspector Clovis, ace computer whiz, and his faithful assistant Otis L. Gato on the case. I'll report the results here.

BTW, does anyone out there know any more about this? I would ask Zeyad but he seems a bit busy right now.


The Iraqi blogger Zeyad has resumed blogging after being off for several months. I have missed him. His link is one I have permanently linked to (just to the right column). I think he is the very best of the Iraqi bloggers in English. If you have any interest whatsoever in Iraq you must read him, and as many of the other Iraqi blogs he links to you have time for.

Here is a sample of his prose - his English is very good:
Fierce streetfighting at my doorstep for the last 3 hours. Rumor in the neighbourhood is that men in black are trying to enter the area. Some armed kids defending the local mosque three blocks away are splattering bullets at everything that moves, and someone in the street was shouting for people to prepare for defending themselves.

There's supposed to be a curfew, but it doesn't look like it. My net connection is erratic, so I'll try to update again if possible. The news from other areas in Baghdad are horrible. I don't think it's being reported anywhere.

My father and uncle are agitatedly walking back and forth in the hallway, asking me what we should do if the mob or Interior ministry forces try to attack us in our homes? I have no answer for them.

When he first began blogging he was optimistic about the results of the American invasion, but now he seems to have lost all faith and all hope:
What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation kills its intellectuals and academics, its doctors and healers, its women and children, its clerics and preachers? What kind of nation blows up churches and mosques, hotels and schools, funerals and weddings? We have left nothing sacred. Yet we have the insolence to accuse others of offending us, of vilifying us. I announce today that we have proved ourselves worthy of that vilification. Ten years ago, I denounced religion and disavowed Islam. I do not want to be forced to disavow my country and nation today, but with every new day, I’m afraid I am getting closer to it.

There is not much any commentary from me can add. Just get to his page and start reading. Check out all the links, but ignore the comments section. It has been taken over by about a half dozen twits who add nothing useful. But Zeyad is the gold standard for blogging in the midst of history.

26 February 2006

Perspective on the Muslim World

As the news comes in today it is easy to become discouraged - or even hateful - when thinking about the Muslim world: mosque bombings, death squads, rage and intolerance everywhere. An unsympathetic observer might think that Islam somehow is to blame. If that were true, then it would be true whenever and wherever there was Islam.

So let's look at one episode in the vast story of Islam, as recounted in William Dalrymple's review of Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity in the New York Review of Books.

At the end of the sixteenth century the Mughal Emperor Akbar built a new capital, Fatehpur Sikri. There he delighted in listening to the debates of the holy men and scholars of different faiths.

Holy men from all of India's different religions were invited to the city to make the case for their particular understanding of the metaphysical. In this way Akbar set up the earliest know multireligious discussion group, where representatives of Muslims (Sunni and Shia as well as Sufi), Hindus (both Shaivite and Vaishnavite), Christians, Jains, Jews, and Zoroastrian Parsees came together to discuss where and why they differed, and how they could live together. There was also a party of atheists represented in the discussion...

[This] astonished many more orthodox Muslim contemporaries such as the Sheikh
Nur al-Haqq: "Learned men from Khorasan and Iraq and Transoxiana and India, both doctors and theologians, Sh'ia and Sunnis, Christians, philosophers and Brahmins all assembled together at the sublime court . . . Here they discussed the
rational and traditional methods of discourse, travel, and histories as well as each other's prophecies. They widened the circle of debate and each attempted to prove his own claim and desired the propagation of his school. Outstanding thinkers appeared . . . The lofty Lord [Akbar] declared before the people: 'Oh learned ones! Our purpose is to seek the truth . . . "

18 February 2006

Cheney, guns, and the missed story

Last night on PBS I watched Mark Shields and Rich Lowry (the designated adult at NRO) discussing the possible repercussions of the Cheney hunting accident. Lowry used the age-old tactic of defending by distracting: it was the media who were going into an unjustified fit! But I was left with the feeling that neither, nor anyone else I have read or heard, was getting to the really disturbing part of the story. Hunting accidents happen, people do stupid things, and politicians try to hide things. None of that is really new.

What disturbs me, however, is the fact that we have two classes of people now. The powerful and the commoners, or as it was put in the Late Roman Empire, the Potentiores and the Humiliores, the Powerful and the Humble as Gibbon would tell us.

If you or I, or any other humiliores, were to shoot someone under any circumstance we would have to talk to the local police immediately. But when you are a Dick Cheney, on the estate of one of the richest people within god-knows how many miles, you get to make arrangements for the sheriff to visit at your convenience. As did, by the way, the parents of poor Jon Benet, if you remember. So we are a nation of laws, and we are all equal before the law, but some are more equal than others and can pay for first class service.

It is very likely that the increasing distance between the power and wealth of the Potentiores and the Humiliores was a major cause for the collapse of the Roman political order.

Your most humble, and most obedient, servant,

Curious little monkies?

I have linked to a new blog. This one is by a student of linguistics, one of my favorite hobby topics (as opposed to the ones I have to know something about in order to earn my bread). She seems to write well, and to have a mind that produces something worth writing about. I don't ask for much.

Anyway, what got me interested today was a post she had about The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures on the Air by Steven Clayman and John Heritage. She posts two interesting quotes from it, detailing an attitude towards interviewing that I for one would endorse. It is good during the Bush years, was good in the Clinton years, and will be good when the Greenland glaciers are gone and my Florida relatives have to come live with me in the mountains:
"The working hypothesis almost universally shared among correspondents is that politicians are suspect; their public images are probably false, their public statements disingenuous, their moral pronouncements hypocritical, their motives self-serving, and their promises ephemeral." (Epstein 1973: 215)

Jeremy Paxman of BBc Television's Newsnight: "When he started as a young man on The Times Louis Heren was given a piece of advice by an old hack. He was told you should always ask yourself when talking to a politician: "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?" I think that is quite a sound principle from which to operate."

13 February 2006

Gun Safety

As one who never shot at anything bigger than a squirrel, which fell out of the tree, popped up and ran away laughing at me, I admit that I know nothing of gun safety. So I will take Mary Matalin at her word when she says in regard to Dick Cheney's unfortunate gunning down of a friend:
'He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand he was not careless or incautious ... He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do.'
Since I am an admitted klutz when it comes to hunting, though, I think we should also consult the people who literally wrote the book: The NRA in its gun safety rules:
'Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction... Know your target and what is beyond. Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap.
Mull on that for a bit.

06 February 2006

And now another (Islamic) opinion

In case my last post was a little depressing, check out this from Ibn Warraq. I don't know if he speaks for any significant body of opinion but I would like to find out.

ps: Let's hope I've finally figured out how to do links.
Just checked: I can't (I can't read German either). Once again, try to access it through Andrew Sullivan and look under 'Freedom and Islam' 06 Feb 2006.

04 February 2006

A Call for Respect and Understanding

Here is a post that shows the sentiments of some London Muslims about having their feelings hurt so brutally by the Western press. I'll link to it without comment.

Thanks to Michelle Malkin (I can't believe I just wrote those words).

BTW, in case you missed it, our state department just caved in to people like this.

Gibbon on State of the Union Addresses

In talking about the military campaigns of Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king of Italy in the sixth century, Gibbon in speaking of one of his sources says:
"Theodoric's march is supplied and illustrated by Ennodius .... when the bombast of the oration is translated into the language of common sense.'
Ennodius was a Roman politician who delivered a speech, a type of 'state of the kingdom' oration, telling Theodoric how wonderful everything was under his rule ... even though he was a filthy barbarian and an heretic to boot. He was king, which meant Ennodius' career was on the line.

BTW, don't you think that all the applause, especially the faux applause complete with standing ovation by the Democrats when Bush mentioned the failure of his Social Security reform, was a bit... oh, childish?