Monthly Archives: February 2009

Read This Other Guy’s Blog Post

I’ve been avoiding posting anything about the recent horrific wife-killing that was all over the news and blogs recently. I feel like I keep saying the same thing and making the same points in various comments and threads around the internet and am becoming a one-trick pony on the subject.

But once again Mantiq al-Tayr has taken on the tough issue so I don’t have to. Please see his post over here.

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Filed under arabist, miscellaneous

I’m Comfortable with This

Your morality is 8% in line with that of the bible.


Damn you heathen! Your book learnin’ has done warped your mind. You shall not be invited next time I sacrifice a goat.

Do You Have Biblical Morals?
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I only scored 8% because they asked what I considered to be an unanswerable question. Remember in Blade Runner when they ran that annoying test on people they suspected of being replicants? “You’re in the desert. You see a tortoise on its back, struggling to get up, but you don’t help it. Why?”


Filed under off-topic, quiz

Allah’s Fire by Chuck Holton and Gayle Roper

This is not a review, just a series of observations.

I expected this book to be full of misinformation about Arabs and Islam. Well, it had a good deal of that, but I did not anticipate how much Christian glurge there would be. As for the romance novel aspect, by the end of the book all the romantic protagonists have done is exchange “a kiss that kept her warm all night.”

There’s weird inconsistency in the few Arabic phrases the authors include. They get some short and basic Lebanese phrases right, but they write “Allah Ak’bar” with a totally gratuitous apostrophe and, as mentioned in a previous post, were amusingly wrong about how one would say, “The followers of God’s will.” (Ansar Inshallah is not it).

Inshallah is a complete sentence. It means “If God wills,” but someone probably told the authors it meant “God’s will.” If there really were an Arab terrorist group with “inshallah” as part of its name, imagine how that would play into the hands of zealous FBI and CIA agents. Everyone who said “Inshallah” would be a terror suspect. What am I saying? That’s how it is already.

The Arabs in this book are mostly residents of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Each and every male character among them would rather kill his daughter with his bare hands (or the scimitar he assuredly must carry everywhere–he’s Muslim, right?) than see her get an education.

The female protagonist, Liz, who is surprisingly, offensively ignorant of Islam despite having spent half her life in Beirut, laughably compares women’s role in Islam unfavorably to women’s role in Christianity. She offers no cites for her misapprehensions.

Liz herself is a grown woman who refers to herself a girl in her email address and likes her mom best when her mom is doing traditional womanly things like making tea and serving baklava.

Liz believes that God and Allah are two completely different things, and that Allah is bloodthirsty and full of hate. It puts me in mind of the paradigm in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia novels, where the dark-skinned, scimitar-wielding, crescent-afficionado Calormen worship the evil god Tash, and the virtuous, light-skinned Narnians worship the noble Aslan; but if there should be such a thing as a Calorman who isn’t evil and violent, he’s really worshipping Aslan, while if a Narnian is a bad boy, he’s really worshipping Tash–even though they don’t know it.

Except to Liz, even if you’re a sweet and virtuous young person, if you worship Allah, you’re wrong wrong wrong.

I had to resort to Wikipedia to refresh my memory on the Narnia books, and in doing so I found this page, Medieval Christian View of Muhammad. Lots of good stuff here.

Facts such as the Muslim belief that [Muhammad] was unlettered, that he married a wealthy widow, that in his later life he had several wives, that he ruled over a human community and was therefore involved in several wars, and that he died like an ordinary person in contrast to the Christian belief in the supernatural end of Christ’s earthly life were all interpreted in the worst possible light.[1]

Medieval scholars and churchmen held that Islam was the work of Muhammad who in turn was inspired by Satan. Muhammad was frequently calumnized and made a subject of legends taught by preachers as fact.[9] For example, in order to show that Muhammad was the anti-Christ, it was asserted that Muhammad died not in the year 632 but in the year 666 – the number of the beast – in another variation on the theme the number “666” was also used to represent the period of time Muslims would hold sway of the land.[8] A verbal expression of Christian contempt for Islam was expressed in turning his name from Muhammad to Mahound, the “devil incarnate”.[10] Others usually confirmed to pious Christians that Muhammad had come to a bad end.[9] According to one version after falling into a drunken stupor he had been eaten by a herd of swine, and this was ascribed to the reason why Muslims proscribed consumption of liquor and pork.[9]

Ha! Muslims ruled Spain alone longer than that (781 years). Take that, medieval Christians.

Speaking of 666, there is someone currently trying to convince credulous audiences that it was never the number of the beast at all, but a vision of the written word “God” in Arabic that was revealed to John of Patmos. None other than fake person Walid Shoebat. I won’t link to anything that could possibly benefit him, but here’s a blog with more info. There are people who take this seriously.

And now I’ve found a whole bunch of blogs to peruse. What a lot of different points of view there are out there.

What some Christians think Allah looks like

What some Christians think "Allah" looks like


Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, bigoted idiots, books, Islamic relations, language, religious conflict, translation

Rest in Peace, Socks Clinton

Socks Clinton dies; ex-First Cat known for sleeping was 20

Word tonight that Socks Clinton, the one-time Arkansas stray adopted by the Clintons who rose to international prominence and literary fame as sole feline inhabitant of the White House, died today.


Filed under animals

Law-Talking Guy* Makes Good Case

Today’s LA Times had more information on Iraqi icon Muntazar al-Zaidi’s case in court. His lawyers have good arguments.

Zaidi’s legal team, more than 20 lawyers who jostled for space around the pen, cited two principal reasons why their client should not have been charged.

Bush was a drop-in guest, they said, not an official visitor to Iraq, hence he should not face charges of assaulting a visiting dignitary. Second, they maintained that because the act occurred in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, Bush was not technically visiting Iraq at the time.

To back up that first assertion, here’s an AP article from last year:

On a whirlwind trip shrouded in secrecy and marred by dissent, President George W. Bush on Sunday hailed progress in the wars that define his presidency and got a size-10 reminder of his unpopularity when a man hurled two shoes at him during a news conference in Iraq.

Back to the LA Times article:

It was the hottest ticket in town. It drew spectators from as far off as Sweden and sparked a scramble for choice seats. Police formed human chains to block crowds that surged forward to glimpse the star attraction: a defiant-looking man in black loafers.

As the defendant entered the courtroom, applause erupted and most spectators stood up, either to get a better look or to express support. Zaidi glanced at the crowd but remained poker-faced.

Pandemonium erupted when the session adjourned. Friends and relatives rushed to the pen, hoping to touch or kiss Zaidi. Courtroom guards yelled at the crowd to behave and leave the room.

In the corridor outside, police linked arms and formed human chains to prevent hundreds of onlookers from closing in on Zaidi. He waved at the mostly cheering crowd and raised his fist in the air before disappearing down the staircase, surrounded by guards.

I am staying tuned for future developments.

*Simpsons reference.
Hutz: I move for a bad court thingy.
Judge Snyder [modeled on Robert Bork]: You mean a mistrial.
Hutz: Right!! That’s why you’re the judge and I’m the law-talking guy.
Judge: You mean the lawyer?
Hutz: Right.

Er, your honor...

"Er, your honor..."

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Filed under arab, ululating, War in Iraq

Shoe-Thrower’s Trial Postponed

The man with the golden arm, Muntazar al-Zaidi, was in court yesterday.

In his first public appearance since his arrest, Mr Zaidi was met in court by applause, ululating and chanting.

He appeared fit and well, despite reports from friends and family that he was badly beaten shortly after his arrest.

But a BBC reporter who saw Mr Zaidi at close quarters said his right front tooth was missing.

The Iraqi TV reporter achieved global notoriety by his actions, which were celebrated across the Arab world.

Not just the Arab world. And as of today, he has 43,353 fans on Facebook.

In court in Baghdad, Mr Zaidi requested two more lawyers to be added to his already huge defence team, and the judge ordered a short break to consider the request.

The judge later adjourned the trial until 12 March, saying the court needs time to ask the Iraqi cabinet whether Mr Bush’s visit was “formal or informal”, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The trial is not expected to last long, as the sequence of events is not in dispute.

Mr Zaidi threw two shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on 15 December.

He shouted that Mr Bush was “a dog” and the shoes were “a farewell kiss” from those who had been killed, orphaned or widowed in Iraq.

Mr Zaidi was arrested and has been held in custody ever since.

His actions were condemned by the Iraqi government as “shameful”, but he was celebrated as a hero by thousands in the Arab world, who called for his immediate release from prison.

The longer they keep him in jail, the more they add to his glory and make a hero of him. Now people are copying him in other countries,” he said.

Update: now he has 43,581 fans on Facebook.

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Filed under arab, War in Iraq

How Does This Guy Know My Cat?

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Filed under animals, off-topic

Iraqi Govt Minister Quits in Disgust

What’s going on in Iraq these days is something I don’t pay enough attention to. So this news story took me by surprise.

This is the entire article:

February 12, 2009
Reporting from Baghdad — It sounded like a dream job: $10,000 a month, a fleet of fancy cars, a house and best of all, said Nawal Samarai, a chance to improve the lives of widows and millions of other Iraqi women affected by the U.S.-led invasion and its aftermath.
By Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed

But in a rare show of public muscle-flexing by an Iraqi woman in a high-profile role, Samarai has quit in a rage, saying she had been given a Potemkin Cabinet post created to fill a quota for Sunni Arab lawmakers such as herself, and make it appear that the Shiite Muslim-dominated government cares about women’s issues.

I tried. I tried hard, but every time I asked for authority they’d tell me it’s not a real ministry, it’s just an office,” the former parliament member said Monday, four days after submitting her resignation as minister of state for women’s affairs.

Samarai and lawmakers who supported her efforts to wield more power say the post to which she was appointed last summer was nothing more than an 11th-floor room in the run-down Council of Ministers building in the fortified International Zone, also known as the Green Zone. Because she was a “minister of state,” Samarai lacked the power of Cabinet members with full portfolios. There are 11 such ministers of state, holding posts that critics say were created to satisfy demands for Cabinet positions from various sectarian and ethnic groups.

One thing the US has going for it is that we don’t isolate people into groups and then grant political power according to a formula. I mean, we don’t do it inside the US. We do export the idea, though, and impose it on other people.

“It’s not a real ministry,” said Nada Ibrahim, a Sunni Arab member of parliament. “It’s one room with a woman, no budget, no staff. It’s a trick.”

Unlike other Cabinet members, the ministers of state do not get advisors or budgets to open provincial offices.

Samarai’s resignation underscores the sectarian tensions that remain within the government, where Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party stands to cement its power in the wake of last month’s provincial elections. Candidates from Maliki’s bloc won the most provincial council seats in nine of 14 provinces, according to results announced Thursday.

It also highlights what many women say is the lip service paid them by the Shiite conservatives loyal to Dawa and other Shiite parties dominant in parliament. In August, Inaam Jawwadi, a female member of parliament from the Shiite bloc, called for Samarai’s ministry to be turned into a Cabinet portfolio, but the proposal went nowhere.

Political analyst Ibrahim Sumaidaiee said state ministries were created to satisfy the “thirst for power” among political blocs angling for impressive titles and positions in government. But he had little sympathy for Samarai, who he said must have known what she was getting into.

“This is a fake ministry,” he said.

Instead of complaining about her lack of clout, he said, Samarai should have worked with full ministries such as labor and social welfare to create programs for women.

Samarai, a doctor from the northern city of Mosul, blamed the situation partly on sectarianism and partly on sexism.

When she would complain to Maliki about her inability to do anything with a monthly budget of $7,500 — slashed to $1,500 in January — she said he would look away or smile.

In the meantime, Samarai was facing criticism for the government’s failure to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of women widowed since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq seized on women’s desperate plight to recruit some as suicide bombers. The number of female suicide bombers grew to more than 30 last year from eight in 2007.

Samarai in September appealed for funds for programs to prevent destitute women from being recruited by insurgents. She also asked for money to open offices in provinces. Working without assistance from inside the International Zone, or IZ, kept her out of reach of most women, Samarai said Monday in an interview.

Her eyes glistened with tears as she described the frustration of confronting widows and not being able to offer them anything beyond promises that she would try to help. She found herself sitting in her small office appealing to nongovernmental organizations for money to launch the programs she had envisioned when she took the position in July.

Tears of anger, that is.

“It’s shameful for me in Iraq, a rich country, to have to ask NGOs for money,” Samarai said.

The government has stayed silent on the issue. Its spokesman did not return phone calls for comment Monday or Tuesday.

Officials have denied allegations that women’s rights have eroded since the rise of the Shiite power structure. They point out that 25% of seats for the newly elected provincial councils are reserved for women, and that 33% of seats in the parliament were set aside for women after the last national election in 2005.

But women’s advocates say female lawmakers have little real power and are not taken seriously on the floor of parliament.

Parliament member Ibrahim said government officials had asked her to take Samarai’s job since the resignation, but that she refused. Without a staff of advisors, a budget and the clout to press for legislation, she said, it would be a waste of time.

Because minister of state positions come with generous salaries and perks, those in the posts generally do not complain about the lack of power. But Samarai said she preferred to go back to Mosul and return to her medical practice.

“Take it. Take the salary, take the cars,” she said. “It’s better than sitting here in the IZ on the 11th floor, waiting for money from NGOs.”

I’m not crazy about quotas, but isn’t it interesting that in Iraq 25% of seats for the newly elected provincial councils are reserved for women, and 33% of seats in the parliament were set aside for women, but in the United States the congress and senate are less than 17% women?

Women are represented more in the military than in our houses of congress. About twenty percent of the military today is female, and that’s with a large portion of military jobs out of their reach. It would be nice to see a lot of those female veterans get elected to office in the coming years.

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Filed under arab, War in Iraq

Enjoy Pix of World’s Cutest Animal

Life is short and nobody knows what’ll happen tomorrow, so here are some pictures of the cutest animal in the world, the fennec fox:

This first one is just a youngun.

And one more:

I had been holding off on posting the adorable animal pictures, because I’m not trying to lure people to my blog under false pretenses, and I’d like to know who comes here to read about Arabs in popular culture, but I recently read and saw something really dismaying. And I don’t want to be Captain Bringdown here, but in the interests of getting information out there, here’s the unhappy story of the frolicksome zoo animals at that Gaza zoo who were killed in the recent Israeli offensive against Gaza.

If you’re sensitive about the plight of cute creatures and you haven’t quit reading yet, you should quit now. The sad story is that among the animals killed were several fennec foxes.

The Gaza zoo has had it hard. They had to smuggle some animals in, using those smuggling tunnels that Israel would have you believe are used solely for smuggling weaponry, not food or medicine.

(There are going to be tunnels as long as there are walls. For, Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, as they say).

And check this out. In 2005 someone stole the Gaza zoo’s lion, Sabrina. Click the link to see a photo of Sabrina sitting in a Hyundai hatchback. The good news is she was returned in 2007.

The bad news is that Gaza zoo animals were also killed in an Israeli attack in 2004.
Let me add for new readers that the fennec fox is a native of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.


Filed under animals, outrages

Iraq Ruins Falling to Ruin

This is a shame.

By the time Iraq settles down enough for me to vacation there, there may not be much left to the most exciting historic sites.

Nimrud, Iraq – The carved stone reliefs lined the entrance to a great palace, a testament to one of the most powerful kings the world has known. The ancient works of art have stood for 3,000 years but for the past 20 they’ve been threatened by the lack of a corrugated steel roof.

One of the prizes of archaeology, the excavated palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud, is in peril. The World Monuments Fund lists Nimrud as one of its most endangered sites.

Here on the banks of the Tigris River, King Ashurnasirpal II built a six-acre palace of cedar and exotic woods. The walls were lined with glazed and painted seven-foot-high stone bas reliefs of his epic battles. Inside, furniture was inlaid with the most delicate ivory carvings. When the palace was completed around 869 BC, 70,000 guests attended a feast that lasted 10 days.

Outside, the soft stone of a huge, intricately carved winged bull guarding the entrance to the palace has been pockmarked by rain coming in from gaps in the makeshift metal roof and by blowing sand. Mold creeps from cracks in some of the carvings.

From 883 to 859 BC, King Ashurnasirpal ruled an empire that included Iraq, lower Egypt, the Levant, and parts of Turkey and Iran.

“It’s a place that’s just been neglected,” says the Iraqi site manager. Despite improving security in the area, he says he’s afraid to give his name. “Before, there was more attention paid to it. From the occupation to date, there has been no renovation at all – there’s no money.”

For nearly 20 years, there’s been little money for upkeep. Under United Nations sanctions following Iraq’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was barred from importing even rudimentary conservation materials. That’s when the site began to fall into disrepair. After the US invasion in 2003, thieves sawed off two large pieces of the reliefs.

Nimrud and other Assyrian capitals have been on the World Monuments Fund list of most endangered sites since 2002. The fund says looting, lack of conservation, and an economic crisis have placed them in jeopardy of eradication.

Known in the Bible as Calah, Nimrud is believed to have first been settled in 5000 BC.

At its height, 60,000 people lived in the royal city, which was surrounded by five miles of walls and contained parks and gardens. Most of the spectacular panels found in the excavated throne room in the mid-1800s were taken away to the British Museum. Smaller pieces were sold to collectors – a common custom at the time.

But the most dazzling find – unearthed in the late 1980s – is one of archaeological legend. An excavation led by Iraqi archaeologist Muzahim Mahmood came across a royal tomb the British archaeologists had missed. Crawling deep into a hidden vaulted room, he discovered one of the spectacular treasure troves of the last century – hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry and ceremonial objects for an Assyrian queen.

“The whole of Nimrud is a treasure in and of itself,” says Dr. Mahmood, who dreams of excavating more of the 95 percent of the royal capital still underground.

It kind of surprises me that there isn’t more of an outcry about stories such as these. Archaeology is popular with the masses, if Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure, The Librarian, The Last Templar, etc. are anything to go on.

Admittedly, it’s less important than human suffering and warfare and ethnic cleansing. But still. Darn it.

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Filed under arab, arabian, arabist, Tigris, War in Iraq