Thursday, April 22, 2004


Ok, alot has happened since my last post. The death of Rantissi, the proposed pullout from Gaza continued violence in the Shia south and Falluja etc. I Don't know that I have really made sense of it all yet, so I won't try and synthesize it all right now. Mostly, I will attempt to focus only on a very general swath of analysis.

Hosni Bubarak and Prince Abdullah, two of our closest Arab allies, have recently stated that anti-American sentiment is at an all time high. This is of course to be expected. However, what does this translate to? The historic shift in policy vis-a-vis the Palestine question is of course indicative of the problem. Moreover, there seems to be no hesitation on the part of the administration to effectively condone extra-judicial killings by the Israeli Defence Force. I may have intimated that the events of May (the rise of al-SAdr, the Spanish bombings, the Yassin assasination) marked a turning point in the so called war on terror, and now we are starting to see the what this shift effectively entails. For one, the shift seems to be leading to a radical approach to the Palestinian question. Never before has such a decision as the pullout in Gaza been undertaken without the PA even being at the table. Ultimately, this, combined with the assassinations of Yassin and Rantisi, will lead to a further disintegration of Arafat's popular power, and the increased influence of Hamas. One can speculate then, that this decision to sideline the participation of the Palestinian Authority is strategic, aiming at the delegitimization of the potential central organizing premise (HAMAS) thus ensuring that popular leadership in Palestine is left out altogether. If the PA can't protect the Palestinians from the diplomatic backroom maneuvors of Bush and Sharon, Hamas will retake a central role in both poltical enterprise as well as armed resistance, thus rendering them personna non grata at the negotiating table. It is unlikey that Hamas, in light of recent events, will soon show a Sinn Fein type of character and find some way to access diplomatic arrangements.

More later . . .

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


As I remarked in my previous post, there is a seige in Falluja. Many of you probably know that the occupation is currently positioning to do the same thing in Najaf, the holiest site in the Shiite tradition. Now clearly, this is where things get a bit dicey. I won't go into details about what this seige might mean if it goes badly. I would prefer to wait and see. However, I would like to share a bit of history. One of the things about a lot of Americans (myself included) is that I don't imagine we have a very good understanding of Islam, either religiously or historically. This may be obvious, but rather than simply point to the bare-faced reasons for our ignorance, allow me to take a moment to shed to a little light:

"The valley that Abraham wanted to buy is called the Valley of Peace (Wadiu's-Salaam), and it is related on the authority of the first Imam, that Ali once said that this ValIey of Peace is part of Heaven and that there is not a single one of the believers in the world, whether he dies in the east or west, but his soul will come to this Paradise to rest.2 "As there is nothing hidden in this world from my eyes," Ali went on to say, "I see all the believers seated - here in groups and talking with one another."

How Najaf was given its name is explained in the tradition. At first there was a mountain there, and when one of the sons of Noah refused to enter the Ark, he said that he would sit on this mountain until he would see where the water would come. A revelation came therefore to the mountain, "Do you undertake to protect this son of mine from punishment?" And all at once the mountain fell. to pieces and the son of Noah was drowned. In place of the mountain a large river appeared, but after a few years the river dried up, and the place was called Nay-Jaff, meaning, "the dried river."3

And so as per the prediction of Abraham, Imam Ali was buried here.

this is taken from a website, "History of the shrine of Imam Ali ibn muhammad"

Monday, April 12, 2004


Just a few quick words. As you may have noticed, the idea here is to make some sense of the current global crisis, particularly as it applies to the war in Iraq. The kind of analysis that I hope to offer depends largely on the broader historical moments rather than the ever-present news flash of casualty numbers or fire fights.

I do want to say a couple things about the current siege at Falluja. Reports are emerging that suggest that the Marine battalion laying siege to the Sunni "stronghold" claim that the over 600 dead are bodies of militants. Of course, the doctors and attendants at the local clinics claim otherwise.

I am not going to overstate the obvious here. The situation on the ground and its eventual evolution into either chaos or pacification will bear out the truth. What I would like to point out is something that Virilio has suggested in "Strategy of Deception," in the context of the Kosovo conflict. That in both cold-war conflicts and those since the collapse of the USSR, military interventions by the United States often distinguish themselves from the "traditional" idea of warfare in as much as there is a disproportion between civilian and military casualties. The amount of dead US soldiers in the Vietnam conflict rings in the ears of all who lived through those times, though rarely do we here of the 2-3 million Vietnamese civilians who lost there lives. Virilio suggests that the concept of mutually assured destruction that was inaugurated by Hiroshima and intimated at in a different way by the holocaust suggested that the Clausewitzian vision of war as an extension of politics means war against civilian populations. We are seeing this nightmare scenario played out in Iraq, magnified in the siege of Falluja, in which the people who we seek to liberate, now fall victim to the guns of the liberators. I

Some would love to suggest that the conflagration is the result of bad Pentagon planning. I would say the probably was planning any of this at all. You don't need a Pentagon meeting to understand that occupation is a bad idea. Even if you believed in spreading western democracy, only a fool would be so regressive as to put American boots on soil that had hardly cleared the footprints of the British. Falluja will come to symbolize the lesson that seems all too hard for the West to learn: Occupation is a losing venture. Forget about the fact that we are currently attempting to occupy a country in place and time that has had long enough to realize that Western powers no longer can afford or even sustain empires as they once did.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Whatcha say about my imam?

Ok, sorry for the goofy title.

Just a few brief comments. Apparently the narcoleptic is turning into my Iraq war journal. I won't apologize, simply write.

The current insurgency across the south of the country, the continued siege in Falluja, are disheartening certainly. As much as I might like to jump to conclusions and tell you the country is on the brink of a Vietnam-like war of attrition, it is still a bit early to tell. As I have mentioned before, Ayat-allah Sistani provides the barometer. Grand Ayat-allahs are sort of like a cross between a high court judge and a theologian. These guys have patience and they have wisdom, and certainly do not make flippant remarks or actions. Moqtada al-Sadr derives his authority from lineage only, not possessing any of the usual credentials. That was just for clarification.

So as I said, Sistani is the barometer. When he condemns occupation aggression, and not Sadr's actions this is measured. With this, he retains credibility and unity with the most despondent of Shia. The action is similar to Arafat's reaction to Hamas in the past, in which he understood that full fledged allegiance would mean trouble, yet outright condemnation was worse. Sistani may well be the most important man in that country, and even after the handover of power, he will remain the one who decides the immediate future vision of Iraq.

And here is where the handover date is really key. If the level of violence between now and June 30 remains static or decreases, it is likely that Sistani will be able to continue relying upon political pressure rather than force to assert influence. If the level of violence increases, his moderate position may lose steam. The true test comes when Sistani determines the legitimacy of the new power structure. He knows that if he wants the occupation ended, it will end. He is just being patient, like a proper ayat-allah knows how.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I just tried to post a new entry and the website screwed up. So rather than re-type it, i will save it for a little later. In the meantime, go check out Naomi Klein's article on the guardian uk website. its a good one.
strong>Bushwhackin' Ayat-allahs

Its really late. I just finished catching up on the news.

Excellent article by Naomi Klein (NO LOGO) on the Guardian website. Its a worthwhile read for perspective on the worsening situation in Iraq.

I should have said something a long time ago. It was apparent from the beginning of the war, that stability among the Shia was vital to any level of success. Well, at risk of sounding like a doomsayer, it seems that a bad situation is getting worse. It is hard to tell at this point just how persistent a nag al-Sadr will be. However, the fact that al-Sistani has hitherto refrained from an outright condemnation is troublesome. It seems that al-Sadr is here to stay. In fact, perhaps the only people at this point who can effectively deal with him are individuals like the elder shiite leaders who yield broad support. In the meantime, the occupation will now have to deal with both shia militias and sunni holdouts.

Concerning civil war: The occupation forces are put in an increasingly compromised position. Persistent violence can only be met in kind, and that is hardly going to have the effect of creating the type of stability required to adapt and develop democratic institutions. With what seems like the resumption of military operations, the administration will have to deal with a crisis of great proportion. That crisis stems increasingly from the insistence of the turnover date of 30 June. That means you have to pacify a country where the enemies seem to be increasing rather than the opposite, and then hope that the apparatus you constructed for governance actually has not only the means, but the will and the mandate to keep various factions from disintegrating the national fabric.

Recipe for disaster seems an understatement. Of course, I shouldn't make too many predictions. Yet it seems unlikely that the distrust felt among many Iraqis at this point vis-a-vis the CPA will suddenly disappear when the governing council takes over. What is more likely, is that the natural schisms that already exist within the governing council will increasingly come to reflect the population at large. Sistani is key in all this, as his continued moderate stance constitutes the single hope of preventing a full scale shia uprising.

Didn't anybody think of any of this before we started dropping bombs?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

I think I had some idea that this was going to be largely about my opinions and thoughts concerning foreign affairs. I still intend for it to be a large part of this project. However, I think I should embrace this kind blog mentality of spontaneity and write whatever happens to be coming to the surface at the moment.

To that effect, I just want to say a couple things about Tagore.

As Indian culture becomes an increasingly prevalent substrate in the American cultural makeup, I want to point to certain nodes which may otherwise be glossed over, both by the average American, and the average Indian alike.

I would suspect that most of the dining experiences people have, when they go out to eat Indian food, they are eating north Indian Cuisine. This may not be entirely true, but for someone who has eaten at a lot of Indian restaurants, this seems to be the case. Also, the two most popular transmissions of culture seem to be bhangra and Bollywood. No knockin either of those.

I have found that in my own experience, the two of the most amazing artistic efforts in India have both come from Bengal. I am referring to the work of filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and poet Rabindranath Tagore.

I will save a more detailed analysis for another time. Suffice to say, these two represent what individuals like Godard or Celan might represent in America. I know I just said a bunch of stuff that requires justification. I will get to that later.

The main issue I am attempting to address here, is how post-colonial cultures really gain prominence on the international scene as a coefficient of marketability. As a result, developing states are thought of as having legitimate cultural production based on the availability and visibility of pop-cultural events. Bollywood is significant because it has a star system that mimics that of hollywood, bhangra succeeds because of its crossover with hip hop and garage culture. These are legitimate, no doubt. Nonetheless, they have the effect of doing what any other market based art form has; that of subsuming avant-garde moments in native cultures or, in the case of Tagore populist moments. Those of us familiar with the western film canon will surely mark the importance of the nouvelle vague, but when Bollywood comes to the fore, how many are prepared to discuss the contribution of the APU TRILOGY?

I am not sure what the end of this is, but it seems to me to go to that question which has not yet been answered: How do developing, post-colonial cultures define themselves in a way that can reduce the reliance on Western modes of transmitibility to determine what is constitutive or foundational, and what is derivative. This may drive towards a problem of authenticity, I admit. Though it may equally reveal why it is that these post-colonial cultures are best known in the west by the demands of the market.

I leave it open for now