Sunday, February 26, 2006

"Baghdad Burning"

An Iraqi blogger's account of the situation.

"No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…

People are scared and watchful. We can only pray."

Rallying the Believers

Iraq's Grand Ayatolla Sistani is organizing a sectarian militia.

The purpose of the militia will be to protect Shiite holy sites, which have been under attack for the last several days. This move seems particularly out of character to me. Not once in the last two years have I ever read of Sistani even mentioning the use of physical force as a means to accomplish an objective. He has been as committed to nonviolence as Ghandi was. Further, Juan Cole seems to think that there is great risk in the establishment of militias, because they inevitably end up catalyzing more conflict than they prevent; I'm sure most Iraqis know this.

The most powerful force preventing an Iraqi civil war up to now (Sistani) has just made a tactical 180 degree turn. I don't find that to be very encouraging.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Iraq is cracking.

Shrine Bombing.

Someone has bombed what is probably the holiest Shia shrine in Iraq. The best comparison that I've read is that it would be like a Protestant bombing St. Peters in Rome. Al Qaeda is the usual suspect. Most of their objectives for Iraq have failed. The Iraqi people hate them, most Muslims in the Middle East have started to deplore their actions, they haven't driven the Americans out, and they haven't stopped the political process.

The only thing Al Qaeda has had any success in is their attempt to provoke a civil war. It hasn't worked yet, thanks to the Shia Grand Ayatolla Sistani, who has so far restrained his followers from responding. But I have to question whether even Sistani has enough influence to prevent a civil war after these latest events.

If Iraq can get through this in one piece, it can get through anything. Heres hoping.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Why is this news?

There are two explanations for the Cheney incident. Either the Vice President purposefully shot a 78 year old fellow Republican and friend, or it was an accident. There was no duel, so I'm going to go with the latter theory. Who cares how the news was released? People are acting like there was some conspiracy to cover the incident up. Why would he need one? It was an accident.

Maybe if certain groups of people spent their time actually coming up with real solutions to our problems, rather than blowing irrelevant incidents completely out of proportion, they might win more elections. Just a thought.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Game over for Al Qaeda in Iraq

The local population evidently doesn't appreciate it when you murder their leader. Ramadi, in the Sunni-Arab dominated Anbar province, has been a major stronghold for the insurgency. Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Zarqawi, had much of the support of the locals up until lately. After killing local Sunni police recruits, and now their revered leader, the locals have had enough. They are turning on Al Qaeda. This doesn't guarentee that they will seek peace with the Iraqi government or America, but it certainly makes it more likely.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Boston Globe doesn't get it

The Boston Globe recently ran an editorial concerning the Muhammed cartoons. The final paragraph:

"Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. That is why the Danish cartoons will not be reproduced on these pages."

The cartoons are offensive? You dont say! That isn't the issue here. The issue here is that we should be allowed to express an opinion without the fear of violent reprisal. If I drew and published Nazi-like caricatures of Jews, that would make me an asshole. However, I could still do it without fear of being attacked or killed in response. I find it ironic that the left has been making this huge fuss about Bush infringing on our freedoms lately, yet they are condemning the European newspapers for publishing these cartoons. Evidently, the freedom of speech is less important than the freedom to make international phone calls to terrorists without being wiretapped.

The threat of violence is becoming ever greater as well. These images from a protest in London are extremely disturbing to me. Some of the phrases on the protestors' signs read, "Be prepared for the real holocaust", "Europe you will pay. Your 9/11 is coming", and "Exterminate those who slander Islam". Seriously, who says these sorts of things?

There is no way that the West can back down on this issue. To do so would imply to those fanatics who distort Islam that massive threats of violence and protest will push the West to do anything. It is a slippery slope that we cannot start down. They can be oppressive and overly sensitive in their own cultures if they want, but they shouldn't be telling us how to act.

The US State Department issued a response. The US is condemning the cartoonists. Ideologically, I am strongly opposed to this statement, but strategically I am regretfully supportive. The US is deeply involved with four Muslim nations/groups right now; we are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and negotiating with Iran and Hamas. Each of these precarious situations seems to be on a knife's edge. I'd hate to see this cartoon controversy push each of those situations over the bad side.

Andrew Sullivan posted a reader comment that I found comforting as well:

The State Department's comment on the Danish cartoons was brilliant. This is a European problem and we owe Europe nothing. The comment a) gave us a small chance to look good to Muslims (even if the comment was admittedly bullshit) b) allowed the focus of the anger to remain on the Europeans which will only reinforce the truth that Islamic extremism is a threat to the entire West, not just the United States and c) frankly, it was a nice "fuck you" to Europe. I LOVED it. Of course, given that it was the State Department, they probably had none of these things in mind, but hey, whatever.

A final thing I wanted to mention is this growing awareness that there are three particularly insulting cartoons that appeared out of nowhere. For example, one of them shows Muhammed involved in a sexual act with an animal. None of these three mysterious comics was drawn by the Danish cartoonists, yet they are being widely circulated around the Middle East with the original 12 Danish cartoons. I wonder where they came from? Who would benefit from such extremely insulting comics being included in the controversy? Perhaps, a group that wants to see the drama escalate into a clash of civilizations. Right-wing elements in Europe and Al Qaeda both have that bet is that an extremist group, potentially on either side, is behind them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hands off my Wikipedia!!

Now Wikipedia is being pushed to censor their entry concerning the Danish Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Wikipedia is perhaps my favorite website, and I'll be damned if its going to start getting censored by people who take life way too seriously. This will be a two part piece; I want to briefly support Muslims first, and the West second.

1) Where the Muslims went right:

It is already considered bad to depict the Prophet visually; to draw a cartoon that is making a mockery of him would be a slap in the face. In this sense, I understand the anger of Muslims worldwide who are infuriated that their Prophet is being slandered. Certainly, this isn't something that they are used to seeing. I would expect more consideration and tact from the Danes.

Parts of the Muslim response are acceptable to me. If the offense is so great, then the leaders of Muslim countries can recall their ambassadors from Denmark until the Danes stop insulting the Prophet. This of course has already happened with Lybia, Pakistan, and a couple others. It is certainly a reasonable option, although I personally think its a bit much.

In my opinion, organizing a boycott (started in Saudi Arabia) was a great idea and I encourage that sort of behavior. The language of the West is economics. If you don't like what someone says or does, you hit them where it hurts - the wallet. I've read that the boycott has been extremely effective. If it was to continue, domestic economic pressure might force the newspaper to apologize and refrain from insulting the Prophet in the future.

2) Where the Muslims went really really wrong:

My first big problem with part of the Muslim response is that they are demanding hate-speech legislation that would prevent such action in the future. Let me say that again. The Muslims in the Middle East want hate speech to be outlawed. Does this strike anyone else as extremely hypocritical? Where is the outrage when a Muslim leader calls for the eradication of Israel? Or is that not hate speech? What about when Jews are referred to as pigs, and Americans are referred to as dogs? It amazes me that they would presume to tell us who we can and cannot insult, when they certainly don't pull any punches regarding a group they dislike.

My second problem with the Muslim response is the most important. I take issue very much with the threats of violence that have been issued towards those that have insulted Islam. Some of these threats have been followed up by actual violence. I don't care what the cartoon depicted, you absolutely do not threaten people, not in the West, for having an opinion. You can threaten us because we support Israel, or because we install corrupt dictators to further our interests. Threaten us because we invaded Iraq, or bombed civilians in Pakistan. But do not threaten us for having an opinion. Attacking our (alleged) imperialist tendencies is one thing, but directly attacking our freedom of speech is quite something else.

The Europeans agree with me. Newspapers all around Europe are re-printing the cartoons out of spite, to prove that they will not be intimidated.

My conclusions? Had those in the Middle East pursued a purely diplomatic and/or economic route, I would completely side with them and also call for the Danes to be more considerate. Unfortunately, I cannot take that position. I will not take that position, because I don't want those few Muslims who have threatened or perpetuated violence to think their methods at all worked. I want the message to those in the world who would act in violence to be clear - we will not be intimidated into silence, not now, not ever.