Monday, October 30, 2006

Michael J. Totten on many subjects...

If anybody has the right to say "Been there...done that" it has to be Totten. After following his travels and writing all over the Levant and Egypt I couldn't help feeling relieved when he finally got his careless self back to North America where he might be safer. I'm sure he would say he doesn't take chances, that he's very cautious about where he goes and who he gets into cars with, but anyone who has read his stuff knows better. As for credibility...I can't think of anyone who's candor is more grounded in experience.

His blog is a great read.

This reminds me of something I learned last time I went to Iraqi Kurdistan, as a consultant not a journalist. A friend on the Council of Ministers told me one of my blog essays, Iraq Without a Gun, was translated into Kurdish and published in Erbil's daily newspaper. This was news to me. (The concept of intellectual copyright has not made its way to the Middle East yet.)

In that essay I mentioned the lying cheating bastard Mr. Araz who picked me up from the airport. His company wanted to charge me 350 dollars a day for a driver and translator, about twice the going rate. And to make sure I hired a driver every day he told me it was dangerous to go anywhere by myself.

It isn't dangerous in the Kurdish autonomous region. More people are killed from violence in Oregon, where the crime rate is low, than in Northern Iraq. But Mr. Araz played up it up for all it was worth, hoping I would pay extortionist rates to stay safe. (Needless to say, he did not get the job and I was not kidnapped or killed.)

I had no idea when I wrote that piece that it would be translated into Kurdish and published in Mr. Araz's hometown. I had no idea I would instrumental in ruining him, that I would publicly "shame" him in his conservative Muslim society that prides itself on hospitality and friendship with Americans. But that's exactly what I learned had happened.

Bigotry against Muslims in general, rather than hostility to terrorists and fanatics in particular, is a bit of an issue in the rightosphere....and occasionally even in my own comments section. It's a problem I should probably mention more than I do.

The inverse is easily as big a problem. Bogus claims of "Islamophobia" are trotted out just as often by the bigots' evil twins.

I want to publicly commend Dean Esmay for challenging right-wing bigotry (you heard me) against Muslims. It ought to go without saying that I am not referring to opponents, peaceful or otherwise, of Al Qaeda, Hamas, The Taliban, Hezbollah, Wahhabism, Algerian Salafism, etc., ad nauseum. I am referring here to those who demonize a billion people -- including my wonderful old West Beirut neighbors, as well as the Iraqi Kurds who love us more than anyone else in the world -- as mortal enemies.

See also his comments about Nabih Berri. I've been looking at that guy's role in the whole Israel/Lebanon mess for some time, waiting for him to make a move. Looks like that might be happening. Or maybe not. In any case, it illustrates the complexity of the issues in that part of the world that Americans think are about as complicated as an opinion poll deciding who might win a World Series.

Uh, don't miss the comments thread. Unlike many such places, there is a lot of meat to be found there.

Berri is indeed one of the most corrupt politicians out there. He's by no means a "good guy" on account of mentioning peace with Israel. More than likely, this is maneuvering on his part. Berri has been adept over the past 3 decades at reinventing himself in order to maintain his power (read ability to steal money by being in power). He hitched a ride on the Syrian bandwagon for years. That bandwagon has been quickly fading, since 2003, and Berri, being the sly individual he is, has most likely recognized that fact and is looking for a new bandwagon to hitch himself to. He's one of those guys that sides with whoever he believes will be the winner.

In today's middle east (and this is the point I've been trying to make for a few months now), there appears to be an increasing push for a reconciliation (or at the very least a thawing) between the moderate Arab states (US allies like Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and Israel, to counter a common enemy: the extremism coming out of Iran (and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas). As Zvi pointed out, it is probably no coincidence that Berri made these comments on the heals of a visit to Saudi Arabia. Berri, most likely, sees that the Syrian bandwagon is going nowhere, and that the future lies in the moderate Arab camp (i.e Saudi Arabia and Egypt).

Posted by: bad vilbel at October 24, 2006 06:33 PM

Finally, it's time to add another neologism to my vocabulary: Jafi.
Short for "just another frothing Islamophobe" as coined by Aziz Poonawalla, whom I haven't been reading lately but need to get caught up.

This post is getting rather long, but this one link has to be last but not least. Ali Eteraz, according to Totten, is a moderate American Muslim who writes with Dean Esmay. This vignette is better than a YouTube video.
Go Read.
“Where is Ali Eteraz?” said the amazing Jafi. “Where is the one Muslim who knows moderation? Tell me, is the anomalous Ali around or should I leave? I don’t have much time. If he is not around I will be forced to find another moderate Muslim and that will be a very difficult task because Islam does not produce very many Muslim moderates. Does someone have Irshad Manji’s number?”

In his underwear because he was enjoying the company of a delicious white girl, Ali Eteraz came running to the Jafi. “Sir, I am here, a moderate at your service. I hope I have not kept you waiting.”

The Jafi looked at Eteraz and smiled. “What’s with the gettup?”

“I was sitting around waiting for you to come by and ask me to demonstrate my moderation and I saw this woman and thought why the hell not. Besides, having grown up in repressed Muslim environments I have never truly been exposed to such openness in matters sexual. Sir, did you like my casual use of the euphemis: ‘why the hell not’? I am trying to be more American.”

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