Baghdad: Liberated for the Iraqis, but ?? for Us

noose sledgehammer
marines flag
chain saddam

ABC News

Chin, of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, says he was just following orders in the minutes before the statue was pulled to the ground in a joint effort by jubilant Iraqis and U.S. troops. “I was just trying my best to get the chain around his neck and put the flag on his head,” Chin told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America. “Pretty much at the moment I was just doing what I was told to do by my commanding officer,” he said.

The flag was flying at the Pentagon on Sept 11

The American flag that briefly covered the face on a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad this week came from a Marine from Laconia, N.H. Marine Lt. Tim McLaughlin was working in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and was given the flag that day. He carried it with him to Iraq, and it became part of history on Wednesday when McLaughlin sat atop his tank and watched as a fellow Marine scaled the statue and draped the flag over its head.

The Los Angeles Times Poll. April 2-3, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein bears any responsibility for the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or does he bear no responsibility?” If Yes: “Does he bear all of the responsibility, or most of the responsibility, or some of the responsibility, or hardly any responsibility for the September 11th attacks?”

None All Most Some Hardly Any Don’t Know
22% 6% 11% 42% 3% 16%

CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. March 14-15, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks, or not?”

Yes, Involved No, Not Involved No Opinion
3/03 51% 41% 8%
8/02 53% 34% 13%

CBS News/New York Times Poll. March 7-9, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?”

Yes No Don’t Know
3/03 45% 40% 15%
2/03 42% 42% 16%
9/02 51% 33% 16%

Knight Ridder poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Jan. 3-6, 2003.

“As far as you know, how many of the September 11th terrorist hijackers were Iraqi citizens: most of them, some of them, just one, or none?”

Most of them 21%
Some of them 23%
Just one 6%
None 17%
Don’t know 33%

I am happy today for the Iraqi people, but I am sad for us Americans. These opinions and these photos will circulate for a long time and they will show to the world that doesn’t have a good opnion of the US already that Americans reacted to September 11 by attacking Iraq. The Arab equivalent of FoxNews will make sure to stereotype Americans as we stereotype the French today. This is only a small step in the PR and diplomacy disaster that is the Bush administration. I hope for our sake and others’ that they do better, much better. Time alone will tell.

Why couldn’t the Marines let the Iraqi people take down the statue? After all, the Iraqis wanted to! Imagine if US soldiers stationed in West Germany had taken down the Berlin Wall instead of ordinary Germans. Would the effect have been the same?

Book Review: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam

I finished reading Gilles Kepel’s Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam recently. The author is French with a number of previous works in the area. This book was originally written in French in 2000 and was translated after the September 11 terrorist attacks with small changes incorporating them. The main thesis of Kepel is that the rise of political Islam was the result of the failure of the nationalist, post-colonial governments as well as of changing demographics (a huge increase in the number of urban educated poor youth, for example). He divides the book into two parts: Expansion until the end of the 1980s; and Decline in the 1990s. He considers the September 11 attacks as the acts of desperation of a failing extremist movement.

In spite of what many hasty commentators contended in its immediate aftermath, the attack on the United States was a desperate symbol of the isolation, fragmentation, and decline of the Islamist movement, not a sign of its strength and irrepressible might. The jihadist-salfists who belonged to bin Laden’s mysterious Al Qaeda network imagined themselves as the spark that would ignite the volatile frustration of the disenchanted ones in the Muslim world and stoke a firestorm. They had no patience for the slow building of a movement that would reach out to the masses, mobilize them, and guide them on the path for power.

I think he is mostly right in his opinion, though it is still too early to tell what the effect of Al Qaeda combined with the general anti-Americanism around the world will be.

Kepel discusses political Islam in a class framework: urban poor, devout middle class and the intellectuals. Though it is sometimes a valid way to look at the picture, I don’t think it applies generally to all the cases he discusses. He also describes the repressive measures of the governments, like in Algeria and Egypt, with not even a hint of disapproval. I am a bit disturbed by that.

Regarding the decline of the Islamists, he notices the appeals to democracy and civil and economic rights of political Islamic parties (see, for example, this post of mine).

We should bear all this in mind when we attempt to analyze the new directions taken by those militants and former militants who now, in the name of democracy and human rights, are looking for common ground with the secular middle class. They have put aside the radical ideology of Qutb, Mawdudi, and Khomeini; they consider the jihadist-salafist doctrines developed in the camps of Afghanistan a source of horror, and they celebrate the “democratic essense” of Islam. Islamists defending the tights of the individual stand shoulder to shoulder with secular democrats in confronting repressive and authoritarian governments. Choosing to wear the veil is no longer trumpeted as a sign of respect for an injunction of the sharia but is viewed as an exercise of the human right of individuals to freedom of expression.

[…]Some people viewed this development as a cynical maneuver, like that of the modern communist parties, which used the parlance of democracy now and then, the better to dupe the “useful idiots” they needed to enlarge their baseand their political networks, especially among the intelligentsia. When the Soviet Bloc was still relatively powerful, this stratey produced excellent results, attracting many sincere democrats who were seduced by the messianic aura of the workers’ movement. On the other hand, with the coming of the crisis that was to sweep away the Eastern Bloc and its confederates, these currents of exchange began to favor the defection of communist militants, notably the managers and agents whose democratic contacts offered possibilities of re-conversion in various civil institutions and associations outside party circles.

This was one — but not the only one — of the possible outcomes of a dialogue between the Islamists (now less sure of themselves) and the secular democrats of the Muslim world.

One topic which I might discuss in detail later is Islamic feminism which is becoming quite common among young educated urban religious Muslim women in a number of countries. These women wear the veil of their own accord and consider equal rights for women an important part of their ideas (Al-Muhajabah, have you written anything on the topic?). Here’s what Kepel says:

Paradoxically, the Islamist experience itself has produced some of the conditions that have led to its own obsolescence. In the ranks of veiled female militants demanding the application of the sharia, we see, in many cases, the first generation of women to speak in public outside their homes and beyond their domestic role. In doing this, they have collided with male militants bent on confining these women to a subordinate role in Muslim society. Some women, most notably in Turkey and Iran, have reacted by creating a form of “Islamist feminism” to counter the machismo that prevails in the movement. These protests may represent the first stirrings of tomorrow’s Muslim democracy.

Kepel thinks that democracy is the only solution and I agree.

All this goes against the blinkered vision of those who make the doctrine of Islam itself an obstacle to the implantation of democracy in any of the countries where it is the dominant religion, and also to those who attribute to that doctrine a “democratic essence.” Islam, like any other religion, is a way of life, one that is given its shape and form by Muslim men and women.

[…]Today, as Muslim societies emerge from the Islamist era, it is through openness to the world and to democracy that they will construct their future. There is no longer any real alternative.

[…]But this march to democracy must face an obstacle that has nothing religious about it: the various sovereign states, as well as the elites that rule them, must also be prepared to make their modes of government democratic. […]If these leaders neglected reform and drew immediate, selfish profit from Islamism’s decline, then the Muslim world would very soon face a new crisis — expressed as either Islamist, ethnic, racial, religious, or populist.

And that is one of the reasons I am very happy at the fall of Saddam.

UPDATE: Also see my post about what Kepel has to say about Maudoodi.

Stupid Security Measures

Privacy International has come up with a list of the stupidest security measures all over the world. They have divided them into five categories:

Here are a few of the choice measures:

  • Last September 2002, I was flying through Heathrow Airport. Just ahead of me in the queue at the hand luggage X-Ray checkpoint was an elderly gentleman of Mediterranean appearance whose bag contained some items of interest to the security staff.

    Firstly they found about a dozen disposable butane gas cigarette lighters, which they confiscated on the grounds that these were not allowed as either hand or hold luggage. Why are these lighters sold at airports ?

    Then they found about 4 small screwdrivers of the sort used to fit plugs to electrical devices, still in their cardboard and plastic blister packs. These were allowed, provided that the gentleman went downstairs and checked his bag in as hold luggage. Are these small screwdrivers more of a risk than the cutlery and glassware and glass bottles available on any flight ?

    The third item was a dual quarter pound cellophane wrapped cardboard package of loose leaf Chinese tea. Unfortunately, it was of a well known variety known as Gunpowder Tea, and had this printed on the packaging.

    Obviously this was of such importance, that, despite already forcing the passenger to check his hand bag as hold luggage, it was decided that the tea was allowed, but that the evil word “Gunpowder” was not. Consequently the security staff then rummaged around (thereby delaying me and the rest of the queue) and found a plastic bag into which they decanted the fragrant tea leaves, and confiscated the cardboard packaging !

  • Briefly, commuters from the island of Bornholm (here for a map. … Bornholm is the island all the way to the right) are as of 7 February required a fingerprint scan to board the boat to mainland Denmark.

    When buying a 30-day card for the boat commuters will have their fingerprint scanned and stored in a memory chip on a personal card. On boarding commuters are then required to insert the card and place their finger on a scanner verify their identity. These measures are taken in order to make sure that the card is only used by one person.

    In the rest of Denmark we use a picture ID system.

    I find these biometric measures to identification quite worrying for something as simple as using public transportation.

    … something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Via Winds of Change.

Mountains in Pakistan

I promised some time ago to write about interesting non-political stuff in Pakistan. This is the first post in that series. I hope that I can continue this series for some time.

We’ll start with the mountains. The northern part of Pakistan is mountainous and there are three main mountain ranges there: Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. Pakistan has the world’s second tallest peak K-2 (some pictures here). Pakistan has 6 out of 22 peaks worldwide that are over 8000m. A total of 37 of the top 100 peaks are in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan has 410 peaks taller than Mt McKinley (6193m).

Here are some more links to photographs:

Next up: I have no idea! If you have any ideas or want to read about something particular, please let me know.

Book Review: Neuromancer

I finished reading Neuromancer by William Gibson this weekend. I am a big fan of science fiction, but don’t particularly like cyberpunk. Hence, this book was a surprise for me. I liked it a lot. It definitely grabs your attention. I read it in two sessions, on the way to Jersey and back. And guess what: William Gibson has a blog.

Next on my SF reading list: Either Gibson’s Pattern Recognition or Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.


If you are wondering why the posting recently has been sparse. Wonder no more.

Spring semester winds up May 2. My teaching assistantship is more demanding work during the last month of the semester as the project is assigned and then graded in multiple steps. We usually break up the project into multiple steps so that we can provide feedback to the students.

Another reason is my upcoming oral examination for the Ph.D. proposal. Traditionally, the proposal has been done by students later than it should be and I am no exception. I submitted my written report at the end of February and am now waiting for my committee to schedule a date for the oral. In the meantime, I am working on preparing a 45 minute presentation.

Postings on alternate weekends are also light because of my frequent travel to Jersey to be with my wife. This weekend, we went to Akbar Restaurant in Edison, NJ. It is a nice Indian restaurant. The food was pretty good, though spicy (we asked for mild spices, so I can only wonder what the spicy version would taste like). We also saw the movie Phone Booth. It’s a good movie which keeps you on the edge throughout. It’s also pretty short (80 minutes). But I think it wouldn’t have made sense to drag the story out.

A Small Accident

I had a somewhat weird accident in my car a couple of days ago. A pedestrian hit my car. My losses: the driver’s side mirror. His losses: none.

I was turning left on an intersection with a traffic signal at night. When I had almost completed my turn, something crashed into the front pillar of the car on my side. It was a guy who was running and couldn’t stop in time. It was dark there and I hadn’t seen him. Plus I was very slow. Fortunately, he was OK.