Archive for September 2006

Slippery Shimon

September 29, 2006

During a trip to London, Vice Premier Shimon Peres offered these thoughts about the feasibility of further Israel withdrawals from the West Bank:

“The government cannot evacuate more settlements in Judea and Samaria…“There is natural growth of settlements. The government does not fund this, it is privately financed. We cannot stop the children [of settlers from] building homes for themselves.”

But when pressed by a reporter about whether he was condoning the expansion of settlements in the West Bank Peres insisted that there was no such thing occurring.

Pardon my admitted ignorance, but this comment strikes me as disingenuous at best. One year ago Israel boldly implemented a policy of removing all settlers from Gaza. This policy included – yes Shimon – not only stopping “the children” from building homes for themselves but pulling them out of the homes they had already built. It was a necessary act of rational policy-making. So would further withdrawals from the West Bank.

What the Hell Are We Fighting For?

September 29, 2006

According to a new poll, over 60 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S. forces and over 70 percent want them out within a year or less. Most apparently believe that the U.S. presence is provoking more conflict than it is preventing. There would seem to be no better time to implement the Westbrook Doctrine.

It’s hard to know how to interpret these findings, just as it’s hard to interpret almost anything about Iraq. The figures contrast with anecdotal evidence that when troop levels in a given area are raised and those troops concentrate on projecting their presence rather than force protection, violence plummets and local Iraqis welcome the Americans (see here and here). But then again perhaps that’s not so much of a contradiction – it’s hardly surprising that the majority of Iraqis, who haven’t enjoyed the security and stability provided in those oases of quiet, would have little use for continued American deployment. Or it may be that the majority of Shiites and Kurds now feel their militias can suppress Sunni insurgents much more effectively (and brutally) on their own, without the Americans in the way.

There’s also a kind of bizarro-world schizophrenia that seems to dominate the Iraqi mentality: even those who welcome U.S. troops because they provide protection for their community often support insurgent attacks against those same troops; Iraqis say they want a strong central government but the Americans out within a year (though substituting “Sunni-murdering” for “strong” might clear up that particular discrepancy). Much of this is a product of Iraq being essentially an artificial state sprung from the brandy-soaked imagination of a cigar-chomping colonial official, a country whose fragile 1950’s-era moves toward liberal pluralism were thoroughly stamped out by decades of psychotic totalitarian rule.

In any event, as Iraqis continue to find new and horrific ways to kill each other and the Bush administration plays turtle, the whole endeavor is looking increasingly pointless. What’s the use of losing a war in slow motion? The only legitimate mandate I can now see for international intervention in Iraq is to protect civilians from slaughter, and since neither the American government nor the American public is willing to commit the troops, resources, patience and ruthlessness necessary to provide that protection the rest is just thumb-twiddling and spiralling atrocity. Not that I have much confidence that the Decider would be able to get the job done even with that commitment. This guy could fuck up a cup of coffee.

Liberal Anguish

September 26, 2006

The disheartening news out of Afghanistan yesterday that Safia Ama Jan, the southern provincial head of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was assassinated reminded me of a study released a few months back that has lingered in my mind ever since.

In June, the London-based Network for Education and Academic Rights issued a written statement saying that scientists, doctors, and university professors in Iraq were the targets of “a coordinated liquidation process.” Obviously, Iraq is not Afghanistan, but the targeting of Safia Ama Jan points to a larger issue: the systematic slaughter of liberal intellectuals in the two theatres of conflict where the United States is most aggressively engaged.

It must be said that the greatest threat to liberals in the Islamic world is the autocratic, thuggish, sometimes genocidal regimes who govern their societies. So, it is necessary to lament the “coordinated liquidation process” underway in Iraq, but it is equally important to remember that Saddam was the most fearsome enemy an Iraqi liberal could ever face. Simply put, he smothered, tortured, slaughtered, and damn-near completely extinguished any pulse of liberalism in Iraq.

The great hope was that with his toppling, liberalism would blosson in a far more hospitable, post-Saddam climate. The reality has been at best ghastly. One need look no further than the plight of Kenan Makiya, once thought of as the war’s great liberal hope, he now embodies the postwar debacle and the world’s abandonment of the promise of a liberal-democratic Iraq.

“It’s simply a nightmare,” an engineering professor at a Baghdad-area university told The Chronicle of Higher Education about the situation intellectuals face. “We are living in a jungle. You don’t know who is your enemy as you walk down the street. The idea is to exhaust Iraq of all its intellectuals. I’m planning to leave the country. I don’t want to leave this country; I love my people. But the situation is forcing me to do so.”

Access Denied

September 26, 2006

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a prominent critic of U.S. foreign policy, has been denied a visa by the U.S. government even though some rather flimsy-sounding charges against him of supporting terrorism have been dropped. In 2004, Ramadan accepted a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, rented a house in South Bend, Indiana and enrolled his children in school there, only to be barred from entering the country on the grounds that he allegedly “endorsed or espoused” terrorist activity.

Personally, I don’t see why expressing support for terrorism, as apposed to actually being connected to a terrorist conspiracy or knowingly providing terrorists with funds, should be considered anything other than protected free speech but the point is moot since the government subsequently dropped that charge anyway (indeed Ramadan insists that he abhors terrorism in all its forms).

Ramadan was able to enter the country on a temporary visa to lecture at Harvard that year but did not even get a response to his application for another temporary visa to lecture again the following year. Following an ACLU lawsuit, Ramadan learned that his application has been denied on the grounds that he allegedly provided “material support to a terrorist organisation.” The “material support” in question were donations made by Ramadan to what he and the ACLU say are legitimate French and Swiss charities that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The State Department refuses to discuss any further details. It’s hard to see this case as anything but a politically-motivated effort to muffle dissent, or the administration’s use of vague insinuations to banish its critics as anything but ominous.

Gunned Down in Kandahar

September 25, 2006

Safia Ama Jan, the southern provincial head of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was gunned down at the front gate of her Kandahar home today by two assassins riding on a motorbike. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Ama Jan was a forceful proponent for women’s rights in what was once a Taliban stronghold, establishing vocational schools for local women to help them start bakeries and textile businesses. Apparently it was this transgression of Islamic fundamentalist code for which she was murdered.

During the Taliban’s rule, women were forbidden education and employment and could not leave their homes without a male escort. Before the American-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in 2001, Ama Jan ran an underground school for girls from her home. She joins the growing number of victims of a revitalized Taliban insurgency and of the Bush administration’s disastrously short attention span.

Quote of the Day

September 18, 2006

“Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim.”

— Sheik Abubakar Hassan Malin, a radical cleric preaching to worshipers in Mogadishu on Friday. The cleric was speaking in response to Pope Benedict’s controversial comments about Islam earlier in the week.

Another Round?

September 15, 2006

In the forthcoming issue of The Journal of Labor Research (I eagerly await my copy each quarter) there is terrific news for all us those who insatiably thirst after the sweet, sweet nectar of alcoholic beverages. A study shows that people who consume alcohol earn significantly more at their jobs than non-drinkers. Apparently it is not the alcohol itself that makes you a better worker (though some may hold varying opinions on this point) but rather the “social capital” gained from drinking. “Social drinkers are out networking, building relationships, and adding contacts to their BlackBerries that result in bigger paychecks,” says Edward Stringham, an economics professor at San Jose State University and co-author of the study with fellow researcher Bethany Peters.

And for all you women out there (with out readership this may mean one or two) the effect of alcohol on your earning potential is even more significant. Whereas men who drink more can expect a 10 percent bump in salary over abstainer, women can expect to earn up to 14 percent more than their tee-totaling counterparts.