Sunday, May 30, 2004

Sharia in Canada

Ontario has authorized the use of sharia law in civil arbitrations. A group calling itself the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice will hold tribunals in which marriage, family, and business disputes can be settled according to fundamentalist religious law.

The rules that allow this go back to 1991, when Ontario sought to divert some of its civil caseload into arbitration tribunals. Tribunals, some run by religious groups (Hassidic Jews, Catholics, Ismaili Muslims), now handle divorces, child custody battles, and inheritance cases. Most are run by professionals trained in dispute resolution.

But sharia is different.

Sharia law is based on the Koran, which provides divine rules for behavior. It is strongly patriarchal, which is hardly surprising, considering it dates from 700 to 1000 C.E. No law, divine or not, codified in that era had anything like gender equality. Women who are "feared" to be "disobedient" may be cast out of the husband's bed (and he can take another in her place), and beaten. In Nigeria, it has been invoked to justify death by stoning.

Canada's Muslim population numbers more than 600,000, and the Toronto "Globe and Mail" reports that "many Muslims live in self-contained enclaves where there is little interaction with the outside world." Muslim women in Canada, even those who have been there for decades, often don't speak English, are poorly educated, and remain dependent on their families. They have no idea of their rights under Canadian law. Especially at risk are young immigrants, who come from the Middle East or North Africa, where sharia law and has been applied relentlessly. They know nothing else.

As the Globe and Mail put it, "The arbitrators can be imams, Muslim elders or lawyers. In theory, their decisions aren't supposed to conflict with Canadian civil law. But because there is no third-party oversight, and no duty to report decisions, no outsider will ever know if they do. These decisions can be appealed to the regular courts. But for Muslim women, the pressures to abide by the precepts of sharia are overwhelming. To reject sharia is, quite simply, to be a bad Muslim."

Indeed, the driving force behind the court is a lawyer and scholar named Syed Mumtaz Ali, who is quoted as saying "to be a good Muslim," all Muslims must use these sharia courts.

"There are safeguards built into the act," said Brendan Crawley, the provincial attorney-general's spokesman. "Participation must be voluntary by both parties and there is recourse if a decision doesn't abide by Canadian law. They can appeal to the courts."

But some Muslim women in and around Toronto have heard this before, and they're having none of it.

One of them is Homa Arjomand. "I chose to come to Canada because of multiculturalism," she said. "But when I came here, I realized how much damage multiculturalism is doing to women. I'm against it strongly now. It has become a barrier to women's rights."

Arjomand lived under sharia law in Iran. In 1989 someone tipped her off that she was about to be arrested and imprisoned. Many of her activist friends had already been tried and executed. She and her husband paid $15,000 to smugglers, then they and two small children (the youngest barely 1) escaped to Turkey through the mountains, riding on horseback, sleeping in barns.

Two years later, the onetime professor of medical physics arrived in Canada as a refugee. And how grateful she was to be in a secular country, where female equality was the law. All -— all —- of the women's activists she worked with in Tehran have been executed.

"The last thing I expected in Canada, the last thing I want, is sharia law," Arjomand says. "Women are not equal under it."

"In a straight disagreement between a husband and wife, the husband's testimony will prevail. That is sharia. Even those women who know they can appeal will not challenge an arbitration decision for fear of the consequences."

She tells of things she already sees in Toronto, in her work helping immigrant women in trouble. Battered Muslim who don't dare go to the authorities. Bigamy. She tells of two 14-year-old girls who were married last year to older men, in defiance of Ontario law prohibiting marriage before age 16.

"These girls were born in Canada," she said. "I want to tell them to leave and get them into group homes, but if they do they'll be disavowed and isolated."

Another is Alia Hogben, Indian-born president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. The council was never consulted about the new sharia courts, and it strongly opposes them. "A lot of money is being poured into North America from very traditional groups from Saudi Arabia and Libya," Hogben said. These groups are known for their intolerance to other versions of Islam.

The tribunals have set off a fierce debate in Toronto. Even the "Toronto Star," which usually seems far more outraged by U.S. attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein than by repression of women in the Middle East, has come out with concerns about this, though they do not oppose it.

In an June 3 op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, she laid out her group's opposition to the tribunals. Like Irshad Manji, another brave Canadian Muslim woman, the CCMW members are true to their faith. Like Americans and Canadians of many, and no, religion, they choose to practice privately in a secular society.

In Canada, we can live fully as Muslims because of the values of fairness, social justice and acceptance of diversity. We should work with our fellow citizens when faced with injustices rather than segregating ourselves in fragmented communities.

But they have gone public in opposition to the government's plan, even though they anguish over the sad fact that doing so likely will bring disapproval on Canadian Muslims generally, among those who do not, or will not, make distinctions.

We fear that this discussion may increase anti-Muslim hostility, which, sadly, would be injurious for us as individuals and as a community. However, the issue is too important because it is about women's human rights and our treatment under the laws of Canada.

Hogben's article also draws an important distinction between "sharia," "Islamic," and "Muslim," and shows how the advocates of the tribunals exploit the terminology.

Sharia is an encompassing, value-laden term, and literally means the beaten path to the water, and metaphorically describes the way Muslims are to live. It is far more profound than mere jurisprudence, (fiqh) or Muslim law.

The term "Islamic" connotes the teachings of the faith, while "Muslim" relates to matters of the believers. Muslim family law is the human interpretation, over centuries, of Islamic guidance and is not divinely ordained, as some would have us believe.

The proponents of these tribunals are deliberately using the term Sharia, knowing that this will silence discussion and give them "Islamic" legitimacy in the eyes of some believers. They play into the fears of us, newer Canadians, arguing that we need identity markers to remain Muslim. They are belittling the rights provided under Canadian laws and presenting an idealized version of Muslim law.

Please support Alia Hogben and the other women who are standing up for the freedom of living in an open, secular society.

Well, they're conservatives; what's the difference?

We picked up a huge AP article on "militia subculture" in northwest Pennsylvania. This expose is keyed to "the six-member Christian American Patriots Survivalists." AP's sense of proportions sometimes seems as far off as the stage sets in "This is Spinal Tap."

Even the usual experts -- who make a living (or at least get their jollies) off presenting their topic as a Big Problem -- couldn't manage to work up a head of enthusiasm. “Their numbers are almost certainly very small," one said. "Dozens. I don’t think we’re necessarily even talking hundreds — and we’re certainly not talking thousands.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center bases its fundraising on scaring Northern liberal people in comfortable suburban communities with lurid tales of the kind of "Deliverance" ghouls who still haunt the rural heartland.

But even they weren't much help. According to SPLC, the number of "militia or militia-type groups" -- active militias -- has tumbled from 858 in 1996 to a mere 171 today. And the one the AP had picked as the hook for its article wasn't even on their list.

But you can bet it will be on next year's fund-raising appeal -- even though the members are feckless, scattered, and many of them will be in jail by then.

The real jaw-dropper, for me, in this story was to see the four Pennsylvania groups that ARE on the SPLC militia list. One's the Pittsburgh John Birchers -- senescent paleo-conservatives, but no more dangerous than Pat Buchanan. The other is the Constitution Party, based right here in Lancaster.

We know these folks. The head of the party is a local lawyer, Jim Clymer. He's well-liked around the newsroom -- yes, even my uber-liberal colleagues admire him because, for a politician, he's frank. He tells you what he really thinks, and what he really plans to do. He, and his party, are old-school social conservatives: anti-abortion, Christian-based. They are pro-Second Amendment -- Clymer says so in the article -- but so are a lot of people, and it's hardly the heart of their message or their platform. Their gubernatorial candidate was a mom and day-care center founder from Johnstown. It's frankly a slander to call such people a "militia."

Friday, May 28, 2004

Ernie Pyle

During the Iraq invasion, war critics blamed the American media for declining to focus their coverage on al-Jazeera-style footage of American dead and civilian casualties. Some of them evoked the ghost of World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, who wrote unflinchingly about the brutality and death of battle, about "friendly fire" casualties and blundering bureaucracies. They reminded us that Pyle won his Pulitzer for a column that described the glamorless death of a U.S. Army captain.

Those people should have read more Ernie Pyle, or read him more carefully. Perhaps people already have forgotten that Pyle was the model the U.S. military held up to refractory Vietnam War correspondents for how a well-behaved war reporter ought to write.

The itch behind the call for more blood in the Iraq coverage is a desire to turn people's stomachs, and turn their loyalties away from the war to liberate Iraq and now the struggle to rebuild it. That was not where Pyle would have been. I can only imagine what he would have made of the Michael Moore call for more American corpses.

There are no more Ernie Pyles because our wars now take place on television. There is a world of difference between what Pyle did with his Corona typewriter and what a camera does as it pans across an embattled city street. It is the difference between Pyle's abstract, if unflinching, description of the dead in Italy and the torn-open bodies oozing blood in the Mideast dust. Pyle said he wanted "to make people see what I see." But Arthur Miller wrote that Pyle "told as much of what he saw as people could read without vomiting," which is probably closer to the truth.

Pyle and the World War II correspondents who worked in his vein "gave Americans about all the realism they wanted," James Tobin wrote in "Ernie Pyle's War" [1997]. "To tell much more was to risk shock, anger, rejection, not to mention censorship. To weave a myth of sacrificial suffering instead was to do one's bit for the war. Pyle's G.I. myth -- not an untruth, but a way of bending reality into a sensible and bearable shape -- helped Americans through history's most grotesque and deadly ordeal ..."

[Another difference between Pyle's war and ours is that the media, which now means TV, is global. There is no notion of "doing one's bit" among the camera crews, because CNN is competing for market shares in a world audience, not informing a domestic one. If there are Ernie Pyles left anywhere, they are among the magazine correspondents. One of them, Michael Kelly, left dispatches worthy of Pyle before he died in Iraq.]

It was a balanced path. If Pyle stood one step back from the untellable horror of war, he also kept a footing in its gritty reality. Pyle never published a single sentence tainted by blind jingoism. If he had, it would have been scorned by the soldiers whom he moved among and derided by his fellow war correspondents. It would have disappointed most of the people who read him at home, who relied on him to show them "their" war.

But Pyle could write as he did, grimly and honestly, because no one ever doubted whose side he was on. No one ever doubted whether he thought America ought to persevere, or to win. The deaths of so many good young men were a god-damned sin. But he never hinted that they died for nothing. Pyle didn't have to say in so many words that our cause is just, nor did he dehumanize the enemy.

He wrote about the ordinary GI, with an unabashed and unglamorized manly affection for that class of solider. The everyday bravery and decency of the soldiers, which Pyle, too, embodied, is what we like to see in ourselves. "Ernie and his G.I.'s had made America look good," Tobin wrote. "The Common Man Triumphant, the warrior-with-a-heart-of-gold -- this was the self-image Americans carried into the post-war era."

I picked an Ernie Pyle column, almost at random, and found one that has many contemporary echoes. It's unusual in that in it he takes a broader view of the war. He is reporting to America that the campaign underway is tougher than they think, that casualties are higher than they know. That the people they think they are liberating in many cases resent them and that there are many relics of the old regime left, stirring up trouble.

Political Situation in Africa Was Ticklish and Confusing

ALGERIA, JANUARY, 1943: Men who bring our convoys from America, some of whom have just recently arrived, tell me the people at home don't have a correct impression of things over here.

Merchant Marine officers who have been here a couple of days are astonished by the difference between what they thought the situation was and what it actually is. They say people at home think the North African campaign is a walkaway and will be over quickly; that our losses have been practically nil; that the French here love us to death, and that all German influence has been cleaned out.

If you think that, it is because we newspapermen here have failed at getting the finer points over to you.

Because this campaign at first was as much diplomatic as military the powers that be didn't permit our itchy typewriter fingers to delve into things internationally, which were ticklish enough without that. I believe misconceptions at home must have grown out of some missing part of the picture.

It would be very bad for another wave of extreme optimism to sweep over the United States. So maybe I can explain a little bit about why things over here, though all right for the long run, are not all strawberries and cream right now.

IN TUNISIA, for instance, we seem to be stalemated for the moment. The reasons are two. Our Army is a green army, and most of our Tunisian troops are in actual battle for the first time against seasoned troops and commanders. It will take us months of fighting to gain the experience our enemies start with.

In the second place, nobody knew exactly how much resistance the French would put up here, so we had to be set for full resistance. That meant, when the French capitulated in three days, we had to move eastward at once, or leave the Germans unhampered to build a big force in Tunisia.

So we moved several hundred miles and, with the British, began fighting. But we simply didn't have enough stuff on hand to knock the Germans out instantly. Nobody is to blame for this. I think our Army is doing wonderfully -- both in fighting with what we have and in getting more here -- but we are fighting an army as tough in spirit as ours, vastly more experienced, and more easily supplied.

So you must expect to wait a while before Tunisia is cleared and Rommel jumps into the sea.

OUR LOSSES IN MEN so far are not appalling by any means, but we are losing men. The other day an American ship brought the first newspaper from home I had seen since the occupation, and it said only 12 men were lost in taking Oran.

The losses, in fact, were not great, but they were a good many twelves times 12.

Most of our convalescent wounded have been sent to England. Some newly arrived American feel that, if more of the wounded were sent home it would put new grim vigor into the America people. We aren't the sort of people from whom wounded men have to be concealed.

THE BIGGEST PUZZLE to us who are on the scene is our policy of dealing with Axis agents and sympathizers in North Africa. We have taken into custody only the most out-and-out Axis agents, such as the German armistice missions and a few others. That done, we have turned the authority of arrest back to the French.

The procedure is that we investigate, and they arrest. As it winds up, we investigate period.

Our policy is still appeasement. It stems from what might be called the national hodgepodge of French emotions. Frenchmen today think and feel in lots of different directions. We moved softly at first, in order to capture as many French hearts as French square miles. Now that phase is over. We are here in full swing. We occupy countries and pretend not to. We are tender in order to avoid offending our friends, the French, in line with the policy of interfering as little as possible with French municipal life.

WE HAVE LEFT in office most of the small-fry officials put there by the Germans before we came. We are permitting Fascist societies to continue to exist. Actual sniping has been stopped, but there is still sabotage.

The loyal French see this and wonder what manner of people we are. They are used to force, and expect us to use it against the common enemy which includes the French Nazis. Our enemies see it, laugh, and call us soft.

Both sides are puzzled by a country at war which lets enemies run loose to work against it.

THERE ARE AN astonishing number of Axis sympathizers among the French in North Africa. Not a majority, of course, but more than you would imagine. This in itself is a great puzzle to me. I can't fathom the thought processes of a Frenchman who prefers German victory and perpetual domination rather than a temporary occupation resulting in eventual French freedom.

But there are such people and they are hindering us, and we over here think you folks at home should know three things:

That the going will be tough and probably long before we have cleaned up Africa and are ready to move to bigger fronts. That the French are fundamentally behind us, but that a strange, illegal stratum is against us. And that our fundamental policy still is one of soft-glowing snakes in our midst.

Notice, too, what he doesn't write. Nowhere, for instance, does he insinuate that Roosevelt's re-election hinges on success in North Africa.

Solomon has a thoughtful piece on the difference between Pyle and modern war correspondents.

Today's journalists tend to take a top-down approach. Every reporter thinks it's his or her own duty to make us question anew what it's all about. Only after they present this framework do they tell us about what our guys and gals are doing -- how tough they have it, how much they're sacrificing. That's the framework. First the questioning, then the story of strife. They say they want us to support our troops, but the dissonance is strong. How can you support our guys, really, truly give them the moral support they need when you don't really support what they're doing? It shows through. You can feel it like a sickness creeping into even the best-intended articles.

No, the feeling we get is one of pity rather than exultation. It's cause to falter, to question, and to turn against the mission. For today's journalist, the troops aren't the story, they're the excuse. They're the wedge to make the point the author really wants to make. They may be the subjects of any given story, but for many of today's writers, they're just props for the real performance.

Which is right on, except I'd go even further and say, at least at this point in the Iraq struggle, the guys and gals in uniform on our side have disappeared from the coverage entirely. You want to see the difference between Ernie Pyle and today? Here's a chunk of today's "New York Times" story out of Najaf:

"The agreements in Fallujah and Najaf appear to reflect the Bush administration's urgency to bring a measure of at least apparent calm to the country for the June 30 handover."

And I'm sure, had the U.S. military done what it was fully capable of, and continued to pick apart those insurgents with lethal efficiency, we would pick up the Times today and read something like: "The show of force in Fallujah and Najaf appears to reflect the Bush administration's urgency to quell the uprisings before the June 30 handover."

But what's amazing about both the "Times" and AP versions of these stories is, they quote U.S. generals in Baghdad, and al-Sadr's militiamen in Najaf. Where are the G.I.s? The exact people Pyle put at the center of everything he wrote. The people most Americans are most interested in. The ones who performed splendidly, picking off the thugs without putting a scratch in the precious Shi'ite mosques. Where are they? There's not one of them in these stories.

Doug Patton imagines what Pyle would have written if he had been a modern TV war correspondent:

Dateline London – 6 June 1944
“This is Ernie Pyle, reporting for CNN from the front here at Omaha Beach. An unprecedented -– and some say unjustified –- invasion of France is under way at this hour. As you can see from the carnage behind me, American boys are dying on the beaches of Normandy –- perhaps your boy, Mr. and Mrs. America. This reporter can confirm that American troops are sustaining massive casualties, here and on Utah Beach, against heavily armed German fortifications. Of course, the question that will be asked is “why?” Why did it have to come to this? Why was it necessary to sacrifice so many young men –- the bright and shining future of America –- in an invasion that many said didn’t need to happen. Meanwhile, on the home front, Republican members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the intelligence failures that led to the Navy’s inability to prepare for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This is Ernie Pyle, reporting from the front, for CNN.”

"Not an untruth, but a way of bending reality into a sensible and bearable shape." That's a poignant and pregnant phrase. Everyday heroes are not all that we are -- Pyle could be aggressive and irritable. He had mood swings. He cheated on his wife. He drank too much. So what? It does not taint the work he did to know that about the man. We're human. We do the best we can. Sometimes, to paraphrase Hemingway, we do better than we can. Tragically or not, those times often happen in war. Ernie Pyle knew that.

He also knew that the reporter on the ground ought to tell the story in front of him, not ignore it and imagine what is going on in the opinion polls half a world away.


Ernie Pyle, however, likely would not have overlooked Marine Capt. Brian R. Chontosh. What's amazing, to me, is that we all can name at least three of the Abu Ghraib prison abusers, because their pictures and names have been in the news for weeks now. But nobody knows Capt. Chontosh, because his name hasn't been in the New York Times or the Philadelphia Inquirer, or my newspaper. Here's his story:

While leading his platoon north on Highway 1 toward Ad Diwaniyah, Chontosh's platoon moved into a coordinated ambush of mortars, rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire. With coalitions tanks blocking the road ahead, he realized his platoon was caught in a kill zone.

He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, Chontosh ordered the driver to advanced directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy.

He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rifle and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack.

When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers.

When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.

Ernie would have told it straight, not much more than that. But he would have found a twist here and a touch there and brought a tear to your eye even as he took your breath away.

Mea culpa

Gore rants to Moveon.Org. Dang. And to think I actually voted for Al Gore. It was him or Nader, and my then-GF talked me out of Nader. But that seems a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

The Boston Herald has the right response:

He never mentioned Nicholas Berg. Or Daniel Pearl. Or a single person killed in the World Trade Center. Nor did former Vice President Al Gore talk of any soldier by name who has given his life in Iraq. And he has the audacity to condemn the Bush administration for having "twisted values?"

Gore spent the bulk of a speech before the liberal group Wednesday bemoaning Abu Ghraib and denouncing President Bush's departure from the "long successful strategy of containment."

Yes, the very same strategy that, under Gore's leadership, allowed al-Qaeda operatives to plan the horror of Sept. 11 for years, while moving freely within our borders.

Gore even had the audacity to defend the perpetrators of the prison abuse -- by name -- while denouncing President Bush for "humiliating" our nation.

How dare he. How dare a former vice president of the United States go beyond disagreeing with the current president's policies -- a right of anyone in this free country -- and denounce Bush as "incompetent."

How dare Gore say that Americans have an "innate vulnerability to temptation... to use power to abuse others." And that our own "internal system of checks and balances cannot be relied upon" to curb such abuse.

And this man -- who apparently has so much disdain for the nature of the American people -- wanted to be elected to lead it?

It is Gore who has brought dishonor to his party and to his party's nominee. The real disgrace is that this repugnant human being once held the second highest office in this great land.

And the real scary thing is that he was about 550 votes away from holding the highest. He's still in that galaxy far away. He's on the side that doesn't believe we're at war. This is how that side thinks and how it lashes out after watching the rest of us wage a war they refuse to admit exists.

Kerry speaks

John Kerry gave his long-promised "major foreign policy address" tonight in Seattle. And he did finally say one thing I have been waiting to hear from him. Addressing the terrorists, he said:

"Let there be not doubt -- this country is united in its determination to destroy you. As commander in chief, I will bring the full force of our nation's power to bear on finding and crushing your networks."

And he said, "As president, my number one security goal will be to prevent the terrorists from gaining weapons of mass murder. Because al Qaeda is a network with many branches, we must take the fight to the enemy on every continent and enlist other countries in that cause."

And a hearty cheer for all that.

But I am still waiting for the next part. What's he going to do that will improve on what Bush has done? Fighting terrorists and blocking their access to WMD? That's what we've been doing since 9-11. Much of the rest of what he described -- modernizing the military, better use of intelligence -- that's on the Bush agenda, too. Hell, it would be on any sane candidate's agenda.

He talked much of bringing back multilateralism. "There is still a powerful yearning around the world for an America that listens and leads again -- an America that is respected, and not just feared." Of Bush's administration: "They looked to force before exhausting diplomacy. They bullied when they should have persuaded. They have gone it alone when they should have assembled a team."

There's something disconcerting about that. Does he realize there are, in fact, allies working with us in Iraq? Important ones, too -- Britain, Australia, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Italy. Does he realize that leaders in these nations, as well as much of their populations and all of their military services, took a risk to stand beside the United States? How would it increase our "respectability" in the world today to pitch them overboard now in a rush to embrace France, Germany, and Belgium? Especially when those nations likely would be no improvement, militarily, over what we now have.

"The stakes in Iraq couldn't be higher," Kerry said. "If President Bush doesn't change course and doesn't secure new support from our allies, we will, once again feel the consequences of a foreign policy that has divided the world instead of uniting it."

"Once again?" We'll once again feel what? The awful tragedy of our crushing military defeat in Iraq because we didn't have the French by our side? Or does he mean the humiliation of being ridiculed in the pages of Der Spiegel? Oh, that's been going on for 30 years.

Two things that pleased me in his laundry list: freeing America from its "dangerous dependence" on Middle East oil and standing up to Saudi Arabia. But details on those were wanting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Iraqi Humiliation

It's more complicated than you think, and it does not necessarily involve Abu Ghraib. LOSING THE COMMON MAN, by Amir Taheri is an excellent critique (published in the New York Post) of some of the little -- and not so little -- things the Coalition has done to alienate Iraqis.

Many of these are relatively easy to fix (compared to systematic problems such as Abu Ghraib). Why not get on this list and win back some hearts and minds?

The Medias Touch

Wow. The AP actually ran some (mostly) positive news from Iraq last night, and my newspaper actually ran it this morning.

Officials: Rebuilding of Iraq Progresses

Tue May 25, 4:42 PM ET

By ANWAR FARUQI, Associated Press Writer

DOHA, Qatar - Oil production and electricity supplies are up in Iraq there are more telephone lines and schools have been renovated, but Iraqi reconstruction is still hobbled by a lack of security, officials said Tuesday at a conference of international donors.

While the usual litany of problems is cited, which is fair, the article does not stint in reporting the good news.

[Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi] Hafedh said that despite problems with security, there were a number of achievements. Power generation has surpassed levels before last year's U.S.-led invasion, as have oil exports, now averaging 1.5 million barrels a day, he said. According to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the average peak electricity production in the first seven days of May was 3,376 megawatts.

... Hafedh said 2,500 schools have been renovated, telephone lines had increased 20 percent, and some 1,500 hospitals and clinics were operational. He said that Iraqi students would get $40 million worth of new textbooks in the coming academic year after the first grant agreement was signed two weeks ago with the World Bank to release donor funds.

Ross Mountain, the resident U.N. coordinator on Iraq, appealed to donors to look beyond headlines about violence to see what has been achieved. "Amid the daily media diet of bombs and slaughter, we here need to recognize that there are significant positive developments being accomplished by Iraqis, including with their international partners," Mountain said. Col. Robert S. Ferrell, of the U.S.-led coalition's program management office, said 73 development projects are under way, and many more would start in June. He said $2.3 billion worth of construction was taking place in the electricity and oil sectors.

And so forth. So am I ready to eat my words about biased media? Not quite. For one, yes, we ran the story, but we buried it deep, on page A4, below the fold. And for some mind-boggling reason, we illustrated this story with this photo:

which carries the caption: U.S. Army soldiers rush to evacuate an injured comrade in the center of Baghdad, Iraq after thunderous explosions at the capital, Tuesday.

Really, could this be more clear? Why not run a story saying "meat protein is good for you" and illustrate it with a picture of a man choking to death on a hot dog.

Still, I suppose even that would be more fairandbalanced than the work of l'Agence France-Presse. Here's the lede to their version of the same story:

DOHA (AFP) - Iraq issued a cry for urgent help from donor countries as aid only trickles through and violence rages ahead of the US-led coalition's June 30 deadline for the handover of power.

Good Lord, are they really talking about the same meeting? You have to wade through 11 paragraphs of horror stories (none of them fresh) and bland background to get to the good news.

But the minister also listed achievements such as opening 2,400 schools, 240 hospitals, 1,200 clinics and one million telephone lines -- 20 percent more than under the ousted Baathist regime.

UN special representative for Iraq Ross Mountain noted progress in the field -- several hundred schools rehabilitated, five million children vaccinated against measles in March and April, 11,000 Iraqi refugees helped to return home from Iran and Saudi Arabia, nine million litres of water tankered to Baghdad, Basra and Fallujah daily at peak, 40,000 people employed mainly in water and sanitation schemes.

And then it's back to the gloom and doom.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

More Good News They Didn't Tell You

The Marji'iyah (senior Shia clerics) of the Najaf Hawza issued a joint resolution over the weekend in response to Hassan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Lebanese Hezbollah, who lashed out against the coalition in his Friday sermon over the situation in Karbala and Najaf. The statement was signed by the collective "Ulemma of the Hawza Al-Ilmiyyah of Najaf and Karbala" and excerpts from it were published in Azzaman. An English translation was posted courtesy of Zeyad at Healing Iraq.

Although it addresses Nasrallah's statements, it also stands as a clear statement of where the Shia leaders lay the blame for the current crisis, down to the details of who put the holes in the dome of the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. In terms of the hearts-and-minds struggle, this is serious good news for the coalition. But I saw nary a word about it on any of the U.S. wire services.

1. It is the movement of Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr that is losing legitimacy in the strictest sense, and not the one led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, the overall, most learned and assidious Marji' of Iraq and not the rest of the Marji's, not even Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhum Al-Ha'eri, nor other people of fortitude and experience in the field of politics who are seared by the fire of the Iraqi crisis and its complications wrought by Muslim brethren from well-known Islamic political movements and organizations, nor others besides them, people of judgement, experience and education, engaged in political affairs.

2. It is the movement of Sayyid Muqtada that has encouraged the occupiers to cross the red lines. And as aside from that, the American occupiers while storming into Iraq and marching towards Baghdad through Najaf and Karbala did not commit the stupidities and insolence with regard to the sanctities in the two holy cities they have committed now.

3. And it is clear that the organization of Sayyid Muqtada - and whoever follows the Sadrist movement - were the first to violate the sanctity of the yard of Haydari Shareef (Imam Ali's shrine in Najaf) when they fired shots inside it at Sayyid Abdul Majeed Al-Kho'ei and killed Sayyid Yasiri within it and wounded Sayyid Majeed and killed Sayyid Hayder Al-Kelidar afterwards. And they are the very same who ignited the fuse of the bloody fight, whose victims among gathered believers were sacrificed over control of the shrine of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him), and it is possible for our lord [Nasrallah] to verify the former by asking his Excellence the Marji' Ayatollah Sheikh Ishaq Al-Fayyadh and from the sons of his Excellence the Marji' Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa'eed Al-Hakim and the latter with the help of his Excellence Sheikh 'Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbala'i, the representative of the Marji'iyah in Karbala and from his Excellence Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Al-Sistani [the son of Grand Ayatollah Sistani] in person.

4. The organization of Sayyid Muqtada is now carrying out intimidation of the general public and arrests of citizens, not only those whom they call collaborators with the occupation, the police, owners of stores selling foodstuffs to occupiers and others, but also students of religious sciences opposed to them and some of the members of the Badr organization [SCIRI], in addition to raiding offices of the Da'wa party in Kufa, and you can verify the former by asking his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Al-Asifi, his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Hadi Al Radhi, and his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Al-Yaqubi, and the latter by asking his Excellence Sayyid Omar Al-Hakim and Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari [GC member].

5. The firing of shots at the great dome of the shrine of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) [in Najaf], according to some specialists was most likely from the weapons of Sayyid Muqtada's followers and not from the weapons of others, inasmuch as the time of shooting was the day fighting flared up in the Valley of Peace cemetery, and there wasn't any fighting from the side of Alnabi street, whereas you claimed in your important sermon that the direction of the shooting was from the side of the Qibla gate [to the shrine], which is the side of Alnabi street.

6. The strike on the home and office of his Excellence Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani happened within the security perimeter whose every span was controlled by the organization of Sayyid Muqtada, and the office of Marji' Ali [Sistani] was in the immediate proximity to the center of the security perimeter of Sayyid Muqtada's organization [office], well guarded, and especially so in the vicinity of both of their offices, and so how can it be conceived - and you being an expert in these matters - that this stringent security perimeter was breached by an unknown organization, which carried out a protracted strike on the home of the Sayyid Marji' [Sistani] and then retreated without the cognizance of the organization of Sayyid Muqtada.

Rolling Democracy

Mark Steyn is on the bandwagon for 'rolling elections' in Iraq; let those places where stability reigns begin the process of running the nation.

There are some 8,000 towns and villages in the country. How many do you hear about on the news? For a week, it's all Fallujah all the time. Then it's Najaf, and nada for anywhere else. Currently, 90 percent of Iraqi coverage is about one lousy building: Abu Ghraib. So what's going on in the other 7,997 dots on the map? In the Shia province of Dhi Qar, a couple hundred miles southeast of Baghdad, 16 of the biggest 20 cities plus many smaller towns will have elected councils by June. These were the first free elections in Dhi Qar's history and "in almost every case, secular independents and representatives of nonreligious parties did better than the Islamists." That assessment is from the anti-war anti-Bush anti-Blair Euro-lefties at the Guardian, by the way.

That policy of ad hoc, incremental, rolling devolution needs to be accelerated. Towns and provinces should have as much sovereignty as they can handle, on the obvious principle that the constituent parts of ramshackle federations rarely progress at the same pace. In the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia is now an advanced Western economy, Kosovo is a U.N. slum housing project. If one were to cast the situation in rough British terms, the Kurdish areas are broadly analogous to Scotland, Dhi Qar and other Shia provinces are Wales, and the Sunni Triangle is Northern Ireland.

Even in the Sunni Triangle, remove Fallujah and the remaining 95 percent is relatively calm. And, while Fallujah hasn't been removed, it has been more or less quarantined. There have been fewer lethal attacks in Baghdad in recent weeks in part because many of the perpetrators were Fallujah residents who used to drive up to the capital for a little light RPG work in the evening. Now they're pinned down in their hometown.

We need more of that. The best bulwark against tyranny is a population that knows the benefits of freedom, as the Iraqi Kurds do. Don't make the mistake of turning Iraq into a dysfunctional American public school, where the smart guys get held down to the low standards of the misfits and in the end they all get the same social promotion anyway. Let's get on with giving the Kurdish and Shia areas elected governors and practical sovereignty, province by province.

Important to note that even many anti-Bush pundits, who haven't completely lost their head and can't think about anything except American defeat, are in favor of this idea. I was hoping Bush would say something about it in Carlisle last night, but if he did, I missed it.


Jason van Steenwyk has a damning round-up of the way the big media played Gen. Mattis' quote about not having to apologize for the conduct of his troops in Iraq. I already provided a link to the press conference where the quote originated, but here's the relevant section of it:

Unnamed Reporter: What happened yesterday at 3 a.m. in Al Qaim? Was there a wedding on? A wedding celebration?

Gen. Mattis: You joined us a little late, as I said to the young lady here, I said how many people how many people go to the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border and hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization? Over two-dozen military-aged males ... let's not be naïve. Let's leave it at that.

(Question unintelligible)

Gen. Mattis: I can't ... I've seen the pictures, but I can't ... bad things happened. Generally ... in Fallujah, I never saw a Marine hide behind a woman or a child or hold them in their house and fire out of the building. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my Marines.

Garbles aside, it's clear that a reporter asked a question about the wedding tragedy in Al Qaim, to which Mattis answered, in part, "let's not be naïve." Mattis then took another question, probably about the footage from that attack, which he responded to by making several attempts to frame an answer, including uttering the partial sentence "bad things happenED" [emphasis added].

He then tried to give context (or else change the subject somewhat) by making reference to the fighting in Fallujah, and he described the way the U.S. Marines fought THERE, and what they didn't do THERE (presumably by comparison to what their attackers did, and suggesting, perhaps, that this is what happened in Al Qaim). And in reference to THAT -- to Marine behavior in Fallujah -- he said, "I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my Marines."

It is possible that Mattis meant that he didn't have to apologize for Al Qaim. But that is not at all clear from the context. He had changed the topic and was talking about Fallujah, not Al Qaim, right before he said that. If reporters were going to peg their stories on that quote, they should have followed up and asked the general exactly what he meant. But they did something entirely different and devious.

Here's how this quote turns out in a sampling of major media:

In "The Independent":

"These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive," Major General James Mattis, commander of the US 1st Marine Division, said. But he had no explanation of where the dead women and children in the video came from. "I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars," he said cryptically. "I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men."

In the "New York Times":

At a news conference in Falluja, west of Baghdad, he [Mattis] said that two dozen men of military age were among those killed.

"Let's not be naive," he said. "Bad things happen in wars."

"I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men," he added.

In the "Guardian":

Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was scathing of those who suggested a wedding party had been hit. "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."

When reporters asked him about footage on Arabic television of a child's body being lowered into a grave, he replied: "I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men."

In Reuters:

"How many people go to the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" Mattis said in Falluja.
"These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive ... Bad things happen in wars.

"I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men."

In the Toronto "Globe and Mail":

"Bad things happen in wars," said Major-General James Mattis, the U.S. Marine commander in charge of occupation forces in western Iraq.

"These were more than two dozen military-age males. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men."

It's unclear how many of these papers were even at the news conference. They seem in some cases to be quoting one another. What is clear is that the money line about "not apologizing" is explicitly connected to the Al Qaim footage, without any indication that Mattis had changed the subject and was talking about Fallujah. In some cases bits of what he said in answer to two different questions are jammed together as if they were a single statement, without even the necessary elipsis (...) to indicate omitted material.

When you read a sentence or passage in a newspaper, with a quotation mark at one end and a quotation mark at the other, you should be safe in assuming that the person to whom the quote is attributed said all that, at one time, and nothing more or less, with no one else introducing new questions or comments in the process.

If you assumed that about the Reuters, "Guardian," or "Globe and Mail" articles quoted above, you'd be wrong. And it wouldn't be your fault. They deceived you. They broke a cardinal rule of journalism.

The "Independent" weaseled through the quote by the tactic of placing the attributions at the key places where they skipped material. Having a "he said" breaks up a quote. So technically, they haven't broken the rules. But if you go right back into the source's quote, as they do, without a paragraph break, without indicating that the topic has changed, then you've, at best, severely warped the rules in the direction of deceiving the reader.

The "New York Times" accomplishes the same thing by breaking up the key quotes into two short paragraphs, each ending with a close-quote. Now, the NYT is no friend of brief paragraphs; theirs often run a yard and a half without taking a breath. Their sudden use of the device here is more than suspicious. It allows them to be technically accurate, and still highly misleading.

[Reuters seems to have aimed for the same effect, since the "apology" line is a new paragraph, but the absence of a close-quote at the end of the graph above it makes it read as a continuation of that sentence. Whether they tried to stay on the right side of the "legitimacy" line or not, Reuters failed.]

Not changing a quote is the prime directive of news writing. I wouldn't let a junior high school newspaper get away with what the "Guardian" did, if I were its advisor. My old editors would have told me any reporter who twists a quote like that has no business in this business. But evidently it's OK -- in the right circumstances -- for the big media.

The difference between this war and World War II is, Bush is no Roosevelt, and the media is determined to present the war in the worst possible light for the American side. I can just imagine what the "Battle of the Bulge" would have looked like if covered by the modern "New York Times" and the "Guardian" and Reuters.

(so can Allahpundit)

Meanwhile, the president made a major speech, and the networks didn't cover it. I can recall them tuning out a president like that before, I think they did it to Clinton at least once, but this smelled like a deliberate snub. Yet the more I read about it, the more it seems like something more subtle. As I understand it, the White House didn't request airtime. The networks could have covered the Carlisle speech anyway, of course. But this seems actually to jibe with the Bush strategy of marginalizing the big media. Other people have proposed this as the administration's strategy. If so, it's working. After 9-11, I tuned in to the major world media every day to learn what was happening and why. By now, I can't read an AP or Reuters story on Iraq without shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer ignorance and bias of the writing. I get my information online. I haven't watched TV in years.


Sometimes I waver in my commitment to the whole Iraq project. Sometimes it seems the Bush administration is just too incompetent to do the job and the American media is openly committed to defeat and failure, and that combination is too much to overcome, even for the best intentions. Sometimes I think my girlfriend is right, that I'm a hopeless idealist. Then I read the indispensible Mohammed at Iraq the Model and remember who we're doing this for, and why we're doing it:

This reminds me of a friend of mine, whose house was the target for a grenade attack a few days ago (we thank God, no one was hurt) just because he works to build this country with the coalition. He said “Ok, I’m ready to leave this job, but those who attacked my house, what are they going to offer as an alternative? They just want to see everyone paralyzed with fear and hate.”

Love is another subject. It demands that you think a lot, fight against what you are told about "the others" and to give a lot for others. Building love takes more time and keeping the faith in it requires patience and sacrifices and a vision that exceeds the limits of today or tomorrow, and this is what the losers can’t afford. That’s why they chose the easier road of hollow criticism that lacks the spirit and creativity and this would be obvious if you looked closer at the nature of the efforts that counteract the changing process: they provide no alternatives at all, or sometimes, with great foolishness, try to compare the current situation with the previous one or to go back to it saying that things were better then.

Some say that the US must withdraw from Iraq right now for the best of Iraqis; I say, Ok, the US withdrew from Somalia long time ago and what was the result? What’s Somalia like now?

Humanity, in its nature, has an inclination to move forwards and those people are acting against this nature and once again I tell you that their job is very easy and it won’t need much to be done while my job is a hard one that needs a lot but I’m not giving it up.

A prosperous and democratic Iraq will be a reality; it’s just a matter of time. Everyone should believe in this, more than this, we should start to feel it from this moment and the obstacles we’re facing right now will be a history that we would only discuss in the future to get some lessons from.

Finally, I have a question to the anti-change and to our friends in the biased media wherever they might be; if all your stories were true and if we were wrong about everything we did, what suggestions would you offer to make things better? what are your plans?

What?! What did you say? I'm listening.

What indeed? And before you proposed the United Nations at the savior of Iraq, consider what you'd be sending in:

Teenage rape victims fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being sexually exploited by the United Nations peace-keeping troops sent to the stop their suffering. (Don't look for repeated images of that on the world news, of course. No Americans were involved.)

Or try this:

Michael A. Sells reports, in "The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia," that "in the summer of 1992, U.N. peacekeepers under the command of Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie frequented the rape camp known as Sonja's Kon-Tiki, in the town of Vogosca near Sarajevo. Even after they learned that the women at the Kon-Tiki were Muslim captives held against their will, abused, and sometimes killed, U.N. peacekeepers continued to take advantage of the women there and to fraternize with their nationalist Serb captors."

Tuesday round-up

Victor Davis Hanson gives the Iraq war a report card. The results: Strategy, A; tactics, B-; message, D.

Have there been mistakes? Of course. Admit them and confess they were errors of omission, not commission—of misplaced leniency, not excessive brutality. The Iraqi army should have been weeded from within rather than destroyed outright. The first wave of looters whose crimes led to a rampage that stole six months of Iraq’s future and wrecked the country should have been shot. Abu Ghraib should have been exploded on liberation in front of world television as testament to its Baathist horror, an iconic act of our resolve to end the mass murder.

But all that is in the past. Our strategy is still inspired and our military is superb. But we need to let them win and then tell the world why. And if we don’t, we may very well lose.

Andrew Sullivan does the necessary work of fisking Susan Sontag's NYT/Guardian Abu Ghraib piece.

Sontag asserts that the core of the U.S. and coalition mission in Iraq is imperial conquest. This is demonstrably untrue. The motives of the French and Belgians in nineteenth and twentieth century imperialism were utterly different than the Bush administration's attempt to pre-empt Islamist terror in the wake of 9/11. The goal from the beginning of the Iraq war has been to set up a democratic and stable Iraq and to move toward U.S. withdrawal. No imperialist would be insisting upon a June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty, as President Bush did last night. The conflation of these two distinct endeavors is absurd: mere rhetoric, not argument. Was American intervention in Bosnia, of which Sontag approved, "imperialist"? It saved Muslims from a totalitarian, genocidal monster as well. And we still have troops there. If Sontag wants to make a distinction between the two wars, it would be interesting to read. But none is there. She is venting, not arguing.

Charles Krauthammer agrees that we need more expensive gas, not cheaper gas.

The idea is for the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline, say $3 a gallon. If the world price were to rise above $3, the tax would be zero. What we need is anything that will act as a brake on consumption. Since America consumes 45 percent of the world's gasoline, a significant reduction here would bring down the world price.

But the key is to then keep the tax. Indeed, let it increase to capture all of a price reduction. Consumers still pay $3, but the Saudis keep getting lower and lower world prices. The U.S. economy keeps the rest in the form of taxes -- which should immediately be cycled back to consumers by a corresponding cut in, say, payroll or income taxes.

Keep gasoline prices high and American consumers will once again start demanding and buying lighter and more fuel-efficient cars -- exactly as they did in the late '70s and early '80s. Prices will continue to drop, and the U.S. economy will capture the difference.

It's a perfectly virtuous circle. It requires only a modicum of political courage. Which is why it does not stand a chance of happening.

Monday, May 24, 2004


Dissident Frogman quotes a French legislator in the EU as advocating nuclear armament of Arab nations. And claiming that the present instability of the Mideast is a result of the thwarting of France's efforts in the '70s to do just that.

There is, however, another serious imbalance for which we are in part responsible, namely the imbalance of forces. I have no hesitation in saying that we must consider giving the Arab side a large enough force, including a large enough nuclear force, to persuade Israel that it cannot simply do whatever it wants. That is the policy my country [i.e., France] pursued in the 1970s when it gave Iraq a nuclear force. We have now destroyed it. So we will carry on with our policy of imbalance and what is happening today is merely the annoying but inevitable result of our collective blindness and cowardice.

Palme pilot

Someone who watched it on TV said it was like watching a bad wreck happen. You knew what was coming, you wanted to do something to stop it, but you just sat helpless as it happened right in front of you. And when the smoke cleared Monday in Cannes, Michael Moore held a Palme D'Or in his mitt.

Anti-war people love Michael Moore because he is make the blood boil in their enemies' veins. He does, I admit it. Moore is a "professional defiler" (this from a California film professor who is praising Moore in an AP article). He is a talented film-editor, maybe the best around, but that's a devious business, and the films he makes are a combination of Michael Moore paean and political commercials.

They do not deserve to be called "documentaries" if they twist facts. I don't mean they must include all facts or all points of views. They can talk about "X" and ignore "Y." But if they call an "X" a "G," that's lying. And he's done that in every film.

If the French wish to debase their cultural history to the point where they award their highest honor for artistic achievement in film to a bit of cleverly edited political propaganda, that's their business. Truly, though, it's a sign of the death knell of an art when the political content outweighs any other consideration.

My favorite quote about Moore, by the way, is off the "comments" section of one of the Web sites I read, paraphrasing Henry II: "Is there no chicken sandwich to rid me of this Mamma Cass?"

Do I want to see smirking Moore on the cover of "Time" and "Newsweek," proclaimed "America's kingmaker"? Do I want to endure four years of the French film industry knowing it can pick the next president of the United States?

Seriously, do I want the terrorists to believe, as they certainly will, that footage of dead civilians and dead Americans can accomplish their purpose, as it did in Spain; can defeat the greatest national power in the world at the cost of a handful of "martyrs"?

My politics this year summed up by "Anyone but Bush, any time but now." In other words, if you're John Kerry, you have to convince me to come over. Given the way the polls stand now, you'd think a vote like mine (and there are many of us) would be important to the Democrats. Someone who supports the birth of democracy in Iraq, without being at all convinced that the current administration is willing and able to accomplish it.

Given the threat of Nader to draw off the pure "bring them home now" anti-war vote, you'd think the Democrats would be even more interested in having my support.

And frankly, people like Moore just stand in the way. I feel my bile rise every time I see the bloated image of the man who boasts of the success of the Iraqi "Minutemen" and calls for them to slaughter more Americans "until enough blood has been let that maybe -- just maybe -- God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end." It may please the anti-Bush people to know I despise him, but do they realize how much more difficult that makes it for me to think about pulling the Kerry lever?

Disassociating himself from Moore's sleazebag filmmaking -- and from the French intellectual class at the same time -- would be a lovely move for Kerry right now. But I've just about given up on hoping for things like that from him.

Meanwhile, for all their infatuation with Moore's work, some European intellectuals have begun to realize that the man himself is not the antidote to what they hate about America; he's the embodiment of it: a powerful, wealthy, selfish, vainglorious lout.

What I think, after my short time in his company, is that Moore is a man you would not want as an opponent, but also one you'd think twice about calling a friend. Though a talented film-maker and a clever showman, a populist who knows how to play the maverick, he is too often both big-headed and small-minded. In his desire to be seen as the decent man telling truth to power, he is too ready to blame those less powerful than himself for his shortcomings. He was justly revered in the Palais, but out on the street no one had a kind word to say about him. At Cannes, Moore may have been the star but he was not, it seems, the man of the people.

This assessment, from "The Spectator," is not about Moore per se but about European anti-Americanism in general. But, of course, he is the star of that show; the poor man's Chomsky.

I considered, not for the first time, the real character of this indiscriminate America bashing. It's like what Michael Moore dishes up -- comfort food for people who want to feel good about feeling bad toward America. Droves of Europeans seem to be craving this junk. A writer for the German weekly Der Spiegel told me during the Iraq debate not to take offense at the crude anti-American covers of the magazine such as the ugly, bearded, drooling Rambo figure it used to show the typical GI in Iraq. "We're just trying to please our million readers," he explained.

UPDATE: Here's another who calls Moore a slandering liar, and has cause to know of what he speaks.

Shocked, shocked!

The Mahdi Army, Moqtadr al-Sadr's thug gang, has essentially withdrawn from Karbala under fire, in part from Iraqi soldiers trained by the U.S. Special Forces. The Shi'ite holy city is back in coalition hands, its sacred sites intact, its population eager to get back to business.

But the opinion-makers in the official Saudi media continually number Karbala among the many "war crimes" they impute to the Americans in Iraq.

This might be the time to remind them of their own history. The Wahhabi-Saudi state, as one of its first acts, marched up to Shi'i territory and sacked Karbala and massacred its population. Wahhabis had the unusual tendency to refer only to themselves as "Muslims." That put all other Muslims outside the protective circle of dar-al-islam and made them legitimate targets for jihad, robbery, and enslavement. Shi'ites were special targets of the Wahhabist purification; their veneration of holy sites like the tomb of Husayn in Karbala earned them a virulent attack, unprovoked.

The raid on Karbala came in 1802 (year 1217 of the Islamic calendar), even before the Wahhabi-Saudis had conquered Mecca and Medina. This account is from the Saudi chronicler 'Uthman bin 'Abdullah bin Bishr:

In the year 1216, Sa'ud [son of Saudi ruler 'Abd al-'Aziz] set out with his divinely supported army and cavalry that he had recruited from both the citydwellers and nomads of Najd, from the south, from the Hijaz, Tihama and elsewhere. He made for Karbala and began hostilities against the people of the city of al-Husayn. This was in the month of Dhu'l-Qa'da. The Muslims [i.e., the Wahhabis] scaled the walls, entered the city by force, and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. Then they destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn by those who believe in such things. They took whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings. They took the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels. They took everything they found in the town: different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qu'ran, as well as much else -- more than can be enumerated. They stayed in Karbala for no more than a morning, leaving around midday with all the property they had gathered and having killed about two thousand people. Then Sa'ud departed by way of al-Ma' al-Abyad. He had the booty assembled in front of him. He deducted one fifth for himself and then distributed the rest among the Muslims [i.e., the Wahhabis], giving a single share to each footsoldier and a double share to each horseman. Then he returned home." ['Unwad al-Majd," pp. 121-122, quoted in "Wahhabism," by Hamid Algar, Islamic Publications International, 2002]

They presumably consigned to the fire all the precious book other than the Qu'ran, as they did later than year when they overran the town of Ta'if.


Coalition military leaders and Iraqis describe the situation in Fallujah; how the cooperation came about and how it's holding up. This is a fascinating story, still playing out, that is pregnant with potential for the future of the whole Iraq liberation effort. Yes, of course, you won't read about this in your hometown newspaper, at least not if your town is the same as mine. Not to blame the wire desk here: AP and NYT aren't anywhere near this story.

Gen Mattis: I wouldn't be happy to do that. The only way you build trust out here is for us to work together. We've seen it in Husaybah, where we had a dickens of a fight and literally a couple days later, things had changed... (tape garbled) RPGs. We're finding out people with IED making material. They way you break down distrust is by getting together and even if someone doesn't like the big issues, they don't like American foreign policy, we don't like certain things, when you work together, you sweat together, you try to focus on things where we have common cause, like sometimes the Iraqi police department, they don't have to like us.

Please take time to read the whole transcript.

Media bias by the numbers

According to "Editor & Publisher," the official publication of the U.S. news media, the proportion of self-defined "liberals" in newsrooms is increasing much faster tyhan that of self-defined "conservatives," and the ratio is well out of proportion to the nation as a whole:

NEW YORK Those convinced that liberals make up a disproportionate share of newsroom workers have long relied on Pew Research Center surveys to confirm this view, and they will not be disappointed by the results of Pew's latest study released today.

While most of the journalists, like many Americans, describe themselves as "moderate," a far higher number are "liberal" than in the general population.

At national organizations (which includes print, TV and radio), the numbers break down like this: 34% liberal, 7% conservative. At local outlets: 23% liberal, 12% conservative. At Web sites: 27% call themselves liberals, 13% conservatives.

This contrasts with the self-assessment of the general public: 20% liberal, 33% conservative.

And as for the shift over time, since 1995, Pew found at national outlets that the liberal segment has climbed from 22% to 34% while conservatives have only inched up from 5% to 7%.

It's important to remember that this is a self-assessment. And, from my experience, the majority of journalists who describe themselves as "moderates" actually break toward the left on most issues. If you consider the schism between newsrooms and the rest of the U.S., it's not surprising that a "moderate" in the subculture will be a "liberal" in the larger culture.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Art work

My son, Luke, took some pictures today with Amy's new digital camera. Check 'em out.

Friday, May 21, 2004


This article is an interview with a fighter in an indigenous Sunni Islamist group, apparently based in Baaqouba, Iraq, which claims responsibility for attacks on Coalition targets.

In answer to one question, he sums up what the U.N. has to look forward to when it returns to Iraq:

IWPR: What is your position regarding the explosion at the United Nations? [August 19, 2003 attack on UN, claimed by a group calling itself the “Armed Vanguards of the Second Army of Mohammed”]

Jaysh Muhammed: There is no real United Nations. It is an organisation completely controlled by the United States and its resolutions always serve US interests.

This after he's already approved the kidnapping of foreigners.

Do the Math

Newsroom editor's remark tonight (condensed, but essentially accurate): "My hairdresser turned me off today. She said if she were president she would just kill all the Muslims. That explains why people support Bush."

OK, let's follow this. If I want to see Arabs dead, I support the administration and its war in Iraq.

According to Iraq Body Count, the number of civilian casualties in the year since the U.S. attacked Saddam's regime has been between 8,730 and 10,781. Civilian casualties are elusive numbers in the atmosphere over there, and perhaps IBC errs on the anti-war side, but at least they're counting (unlike our government), so let their numbers stand for now.

Because the Human Rights Center in Kadhimiya, Iraq, which is run by Iraqis (not Coalition leaders), combed through the Baathist secret archives and projected that, if the invasion had not happened, Saddam would have killed 70,000 people in that same period.

So, if I want to see a lot of dead Arabs, I'm not getting my money's worth from GWB and friends. They're only one-seventh as effective, at best, as the previous management.

Ah, sic transit gloria. But, nostalgia notwithstanding, it's too late to bring back Saddam, dust off his uniform, and prop him back up. Now we have a choice between Bush and Kerry. And I can't quite figure out what the latter wants to do in Iraq. Sometimes he talks about sending even more U.S. troops over there. But our essential work of killing all the Arabs (as my co-worker sees it) is going so slowly that I hardly think more troops will be an improvement. More of the same? No, please.

However, he also talks sometimes about turning the country over to the United Nations. Now there's a dog that will hunt, you bet!

The U.N. undertook to run Somalia in 1993. Thanks to its best efforts at nation-building, Somalia isn't even a country anymore. They're still waiting for a government. Hah! And we Americans are getting all knotted up about June 30. Give the job to the U.N.: they measure their deadlines in decades.

The U.N. went on a peacekeeping jaunt to Cambodia in 1993, and actually managed to hold an election. The organization touts this as "a model and shining example" of what it can do -- despite the fact that Hun Sen promptly siezed power after losing at the ballot box.

And look what fine work the U.N. does while watching nations melt back into a state of nature. According to the U.N. itself, its peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia in the mid-'90s, the U.N. declared safe areas for Muslims and let them become killing fields. Serbs slaughtered thousands in Srebrenica and thousands more elsewhere. The mass graves still are being excavated. The U.N. troops, so far from helping, became hostages to the Serbs to deter a U.S.-led military action.

No, the facts are inescapable. George Bush is just no damn good at killing Ay-rabs on a grand scale. For that kind of job, better call the blue helmets.

Most of us know which candidate in the U.S. is most eager to give them the chance. I expect even my co-worker's hairdresser could see the logic in that, if I explained it to her. I doubt my editor co-worker could, though.

Bowling for Sarin

Blaster's Blog has been my indispensible source for sorting out the sarin shell episode. Reading it is like sitting around the bar with a bunch of military ordnance men who know what they're talking about, and can peel back the confusion in the media to get at the pith of the story. By comparison, the AP coverage reads like it was written by a blind hippie.

But it's also a sprawling discussion, and for those who don't want to absorb the whole, thing, Smash has thoughtfully provided a boiled-down version of what it means. Among his conclusions:

  • Sometime between 1988-95, Saddam developed and manufactured sophisticated, “mix-in-flight” binary chemical weapons.

  • He failed to declare these weapons, as required, to UN weapons inspectors.

  • Iraq did not destroy all of its chemical weapons.

  • A stockpile of artillery shells, including at least some that contain chemical warheads, has been found by “insurgents” in Iraq.

He also parses an alternate theory by Scott Ritter. Check it out. This story is much bigger than what you've likely been reading or seeing. It just doesn't have pictures of smirking dumbass prison guards pointing at the genitals of naked men.

He shoots ... he scores


So far we know as much about the Oil-for-Food mess as we do the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal. Other than the sensational pictorial evidence from the prisons, the only difference in the respective ongoing audits is that the U.S. military is fully investigating its own while the U.N. is stonewalling. But if dozens of Iraqis may have been humiliated and perhaps even tortured by renegade American soldiers, tens of thousands of women and children faced starvation while corrupt U.N. officials at the highest levels knew about billions of needed dollars in illegal kickbacks skimmed off hand-in-glove with a mass murderer.

Victor Davis Hanson, "Season of Apologies"


3. Begin your first paragraph with a grandiose sentence and end with a terse, startlingly unexpected contradiction:

a. The future of civilization depends upon open communication between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon. If the two don’t speak to each other, the world edges closer to the precipice of total war. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, Israelis could soon be celebrating Seders in Saudi Arabia. But for now, the two men can’t speak. Why? You can’t make a collect call from Bethlehem.

Write your own Thomas Friedman column!


Consider this: to fly a jet plane into a building, blow yourself up along with a bus full of people, or personally slice the head from a living human being requires more than misguided ideology, misreading of religious canon, or a lack of job opportunities. These acts are catalyzed by prolonged immersion in cults of hatred and demonization - cults with many sources, and many manifestations. We’ll be examining the ingredients and expressions of these cults of hatred in our monthly briefing.

"Hatewatch," a new feature at "Winds of Change


Gentlemen, I believe we have it down. We will stuff the rooms with banal games that provide less than 30 seconds of entertainment for a token, meaning that the kids will leap from one machine to the other like nits on a hotplate. We have chosen as our mascot a particularly odious form of rodent based directly on Mortimer, the annoying mouse who not only courted Minnie, but showed Minnie to be somewhat of a roundheels: she’s impressed by the guy. We will have a scary anamatronic Chuck E. at each locale. And I do not mean the rapper. We will have Tvs playing the Chuck E. Cheese show, in which a wide variety of post-childhood generational archetypes are ridiculed, interspersed with skits featuring obvious Muppet knockoffs. Are we missing anything that would make it all an experience parents are loathe to repeat?

(coughs, murmurs)

"Uh – sir? Johnson here."

Yes, Jackson. What?

"Uh – we make the pizza an inedible simulacrum of the worst pizza ever served to sentient beings?

Exactly! Bravo, son. Bravo!"

Lileks imagines the "meeting of the consultants who came up with the original concept for Chuck E. Cheeses"

Sex Edition


A German couple who went to a fertility clinic after eight years of marriage have found out why they are still childless - they weren't having sex.

Childless couple told to try sex


Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex could prove the most effective way of curbing teenage pregnancy rates, a government study has found. Pupils under 16 who were taught to consider other forms of 'intimacy' such as oral sex were significantly less likely to engage in full intercourse, it was revealed.

Oral sex lessons to cut rates of teenage pregnancy

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Fish in a barrel

I read this fascinating interview with the wonderful Irshad Manji in the "Independent."

She is frustrated that more moderate Muslims do not fight. "At all of the public events I've done to promote this book, not once have I seen a moderate Muslim stand up and look an extremist in the eye and say, 'I'm Muslim too. I disagree with your perspective. Now let's hash it out publicly.' Yes, after the event people tip-toe up to me and say, 'Thank you for what you are doing.' And there are times when I really want to say, 'Where was your support when it mattered? Not for my ego. But to show the extremists that they are not going to walk away with the show.'"

I wrote to the newspaper's editor complaining about an obvious missing word or garble in another important quote:

"I asked, 'Do these women realise that the very groups and individuals whom they are defending are the very people who, if they were in power here, would frankly their daughters particularly of their right to be at Oxford at all?' "

While I was at it, I informed the editor that Matthew Shepherd was not, as he was described parenthetically in the same story, "a young gay man who was recent crucified and burned to death in Texas."

He was a young gay man beaten and tied to a fence, dying of injuries and exposure, in Wyoming, in 1998.

But I guess, when you're the "Independent," it makes better Bush-baiting if he was crucified and burned in Texas. Fact-checking? We don't need no stinkin' fact-checking.

What, media bias?

Another editor and I were discussing media bias, anti-war activism, and related topics this week. I said, "I know a lot of right-wingers who were furious at Clinton over Kosovo, but I don't recall any of them cheering American casualties or rooting for American defeat, like many on the anti-war left do now." He instantly challenged me to name some and the first name that rolled off my tongue was "Michael Moore."

I guess it hit the mark because he was willing to believe it of Moore (I was ready to prove it, if he was unconvinced). But my fellow editor dismissed Moore as the lunatic fringe of the anti-war crowd, "just like Rush is on the other side. They cancel each other out, and I don't pay any attention to either one."

I let that stand and moved on, but it occurred to me, later, that even if it is so in our minds, it's not so in our profession.

The last story our newspaper ran about Rush was about how he had said something stupid, downplaying the Abu Ghraib tortures. The story (AP) originated with one of the anti-Rush groups that monitors his programs and alerts the media when it thinks he's said something egregious.

Our last Michael Moore story (AP) was about how Moore has been "censored" by Disney, which refused to distribute his virulent 9-11 movie, and the article contained Moore's dark mutterings about how Disney feared losing its tax breaks from Bush's brother, the Florida governor. The source of the story was, Michael Moore. It wasn't even until the write-through, several hours later, that the AP included a quote from Jeb Bush pointing out that Disney got no tax breaks from him.

And when it transpired, a day or so later, that this was not news, that Disney had told Moore of its intentions in March 2003, not a word was printed to that effect. But the "New York Times" did run an editorial in support of Moore, blasting "craven" Disney.

Meanwhile, when Moore boasts that the Iraqi insurgents are going to win, and calls for more American deaths, it doesn't make news in the mainstream media.

As of today, by the way, Moore's Web site still links to the "Guardian" story puffing up the now-exposed phony photo(shop)graphs of alleged British abuse of Iraqi detainees. Moore's commitment to the "free media" evidently means "I'm free to use all media to lie my ass off if it busts on anyone I dislike."

[Hitchens parsed Moore and his fawning Euro-fans nicely the other day: "But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities."]

Just so, almost all Pat Robertson stories in our newspaper originate with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or some group like them. I belong to that group. I believe in much of what it does. But I think it's absurd for a media that doesn't pay attention to the entirety of a public figure like Rush or Robertson to rely on their sworn enemies as the sole directors for what to cover and when.

News flash: We lose

From today's "Independent," here's another Chatterati who wants an American defeat in Iraq so bad he can taste it. This is the guy who writes the "Mars-Venus" books. I suppose that qualifies him as an expert on international relations, to the "Independent." This is the same "philosopher" whose academic credentials were exposed by bloggers as fraudulent. He threatened to sue one of them in response. But at least he's dropped the "Dr."

The title of the article is "Power and vainglory: Iraq isn't another Vietnam - it's much worse. The images of abused prisoners demonstrate not just American depravity, says the philosopher John Gray, but the folly of waging war as a moral crusade" Fasten your seatbelts. The Vietnam identifications vomit forth from this guy with a force that makes Ted Kennedy look like a sober historian.

Misguided from the start, the war in Iraq is spiralling out of control. Any legitimacy the occupying forces may ever have possessed has been destroyed, and there are signs that Iraqi insurgents are coming together to mount a movement of resistance that could render the country ungovernable. With even more damning images likely to find their way into the public realm in the near future, the United States is facing an historic defeat in Iraq - a blow to American power more damaging than it suffered in Vietnam, and far larger in its global implications.

The inescapable implication of currently available evidence is that the use of torture by US forces was not an aberration, but a practice sanctioned at the highest levels. Undoubtedly there were serious breaches of discipline, and the blank failure to understand that they had done anything wrong displayed by some of the abusers does not speak well for the levels of training of sections of the US military.

He compares the "resistance mounted by the Iraqi insurgents" to "the anti-colonial liberation struggles of the 1950s," and declares that U.S. forces have been "plunged into a type of conflict for which they are supremely ill equipped." And that is fighting in an Iraq where "the enemy comprises much of the population."

He decries the U.S. because it "unilaterally declared members of terrorist organisations to be illegal combatants who are not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention." I suppose, though he does not say this, we should have "multilaterally" negotiated their status with al Qaida. I don't know about Mars and Venus, but I detect an influence of the Moon there.

Gray has been predicting an imminent U.S. "cut-and-run" from Iraq since last summer. He's still predicting it:

The US cannot afford an ongoing war in Iraq, but the price of a quick exit will be high. Even so, it looks clear that that is exactly what is about to happen. After the torture revelations, 'staying the course' is no longer feasible. This is not because the American public has reacted with massive revulsion to evidence of the systematic abuse of Iraqis - as has been the case in Britain and other European countries. Rather, Iraq and its people are now viewed with a mix of bafflement and hatred, and a mood of despair about the war has set in. Most Americans want out - and soon.

Now, this might be a good point to mention that there is not a single number of any sort in the entire Gray piece (except for "1950s"). That's right; this pontificating palace of power-prose ("vainglory ... destroyed ... historic defeat") is built without a scintilla of proof for its foundation.

This might also be the right point to note that Gray is flat-out wrong. The most recent comprehensive survey of Americans (by the Pew Research Center, released May 12), even after the horrible last few weeks, shows that, so far from most of us wanting "out -- and soon," 53 percent favor keeping the troops in Iraq, versus 42 percent who said the troops should be brought home. The poll's error rate was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

From his armchair in London, Gray reads a "coming together" of the resistance and a "historic defeat" of the Americans. His "currently available evidence" leads to "inescapable" conclusions about the structure of the U.S. military and (as he reports later) the "trailer-park mentality" of American recruits.

He swivels in his chair and turns his all-seeing Sauron eye across the Atlantic, and discerns that, to Americans, "the Iraqi people ... are now viewed as virtually subhuman."

And he reports that the U.S. didn't merely overthrow a dictator; it "destroyed the Iraqi state, with the result that the country is now in a condition of semi-anarchy."

The artist formerly known as "Dr. John Gray" may be shy of numbers, but I am not. Here are a few examples of the "semi-anarchy," the "historic defeat," and the Americans' "subhuman" contempt:

  • "In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month." In Baghdad, "American authorities created nine district councils ... with representatives sent by 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The district councils, in turn, sent representatives to the Baghdad City Advisory Council to work with the American administration." [Washington Post]

  • Salaries are rising, employment is rising, and retired government employees are finally getting decent pensions.

  • "We have rehabilitated the orphanages, the centres for the handicapped and special needs institutions in Iraq, as well as the institutions for the deaf and blind. Work is on to accommodate all the homeless and orphaned children and ensure the needs of the handicapped. In addition, we have opened 28 offices for the ministry in different parts of the country to accept applications of Iraqi citizens in search of employment and job training."

  • "More than five million Iraqi students are back in school and more than 51 million new Ba'ath-free textbooks are in circulation" [CPA]. Some 100,000 healthcare professionals are working in 240 re-opened hospitals and 1,200 clinics.

  • "Iraqi crude oil sales since last year's U.S.-led invasion hit more than $9 billion ... The Coalition Provisional Authority had deposited a total of $9.28 billion in its Development Fund for Iraq."

  • "Some 20,000 contractors are doing business in the country with relatively few security problems ... Most are sharing in the $18.4 billion that has been allocated by the U.S. government to rebuild roads, public utilities, schools, housing and other parts of the Iraq economy."

  • The Army Corps of Engineers has been restoring oil infrastructure. It also is building and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq. As reported below, villages that never had clean drinking water now have their own filtration plants.

  • Overall "about 2,200 different [reconstruction] projects worth around $2.5 billion were under way, with 18,000 already completed. Targets had been met with oil production, which was back to 2.3 million barrels a day, clean drinking water and power."

  • Thanks to the generosity of U.S. civilians, Spirit of America has donated 10,000 school supply kits and three tons of medical supplies, as well as Frisbees and soccer balls, which are being given to Iraqis by the Marines "as gifts of friendship from the American people."

  • In late April, USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll of 3,444 Iraqis asked "Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US/British invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?" Some 61 percent said it was worth it. In the Shia areas, 74 percent.

  • The Kurdish third of the nation is living in unparalleled peace and prosperity and freedom. The Sunni region is quieter than it has been since the end of the war. In Fallujah, as reported below, U.S.-appointed retired major-general Mohammed Abdul-Latif seems to be getting the job done. "We can make [the US] use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," he told "a gathering of more than 40 sheikhs, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb .... As he spoke, many sheikhs nodded in approval and listened with reverence. Later, they clasped his hands and patted him on the back."

  • In the Shia region, the thuggish al-Sadr is isolated and increasingly despised. The silent majority of Shiites have not heeded his call to rise up. The real ayatollahs will be leaders, and they are men like Sistani, who has made it clear that religious leaders should not be in charge of the state.

  • Marsh Arabs, whose homeland was destroyed by Saddam as collective punishment for their 1991 rebellion, are reclaiming their ancient way of life. As Saddam's dams come down, the marshes reflood and the ecosystem revives, along with the the way of life they brought.

  • All of which leaves aside the predictions of the doomsayers from a year ago, which never materialized: millions of refugees, tens of thousands of American dead, millions of Iraqi dead, chemical attacks, nukes over Tel Aviv, the Arab street in revolt and moderate governments overthrown, oil fields up in smoke.

"In the US," Gray reports, "American withdrawal will be represented as a reward for a job well done. The rest of the world will recognise it as a humiliating defeat, and it is here that the analogy of Vietnam is inadequate. The Iraq war has been lost far more quickly than that in South-east Asia, and the impact on the world is potentially much greater."

"The full implications of such a blow to American power cannot be foreseen," Gray concludes. He doesn't even try to foresee them. Instead he goes on to gloat over the impending death of "liberal imperialism" and to cackle at Tony Blair.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he really means all this, and really thinks America is devastated by its defeat and forever discredited as a superpower. Do you think he'd pause for a moment to consider the implications of this for the world. Or, if he really doesn't care much about that, how about the implications for his own sorry ass? Or maybe for the millions of people who put the money in his pockets by buying his book? For the civilization that allows his psychological puffery to flourish?

Don't you think he'd pause, for a moment, and consider whether this impending "historic defeat" is a good thing or not, and, if not, what he ought to be doing right now besides celebrating it prematurely?