Monthly Archives: January 2006

Gas & Oil Pipelines in the Caucasus Region

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Map shows locations of some of the main gas and oil pipelines in the Caucasus region.

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Comments on the Hamas Victory by Beshara Doumani

Comments on the Hamas Victory

Jan. 26, 2006
Beshara Doumani

Dear Friends,

Some initial thoughts on the political earthquake of a sweeping Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections:

Today, January 26, 2006, marks the official end of a fifty-year long period during which the Palestinian national movement was dominated by secular political culture and the beginning of a new phase of unknown duration dominated by an Islamist political culture. The consequences are huge, not just for the Palestinians, but for the Middle East and for global movements of change as a whole. This is because the question of Palestine has become a fundamental symbolic icon of the dark side of the modern condition and a weathervane for the nature of politics in the twenty-first century.

Minutes ago, Hanna Nasser, head of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission announced that Hamas won 76 out of the 132 seats of the Palestinian Parliament, with Fatah, the movement that has dominated Palestinian national politics since the late 1960s garnering only 43 seats. The final results might change slightly, but the basic picture is clear. On the internal Palestinian level Hamas’s land slide victory means that it will take over most of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Hamas will set the political agenda for that segment of the Palestinian population living under foreign military rule. Its victory will also reinforce the already strong position (if not dominant) position of Islamist political movements in the other two major segments: Diaspora Palestinians, the world’s oldest refugee population; and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which constitute about fifth of the total Israeli population.

In terms of the relationship with Israel, nothing fundamental will change, but the mask will be off. Parliament and government are words that connote a sovereignty that is absent in reality. The “there is no partner for peace” mantra has been an iron clad law of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians since the days of the British Mandate. Sharon’s version was only the latest incarnation of “there are no Palestinians” of Golda Meir through “the PLO is a terrorist organization” of successive governments until Oslo in 1993, to “we will not negotiate with Arafat” of the post-Oslo era. Hamas did not just win, Abbas and Fatah were eviscerated by Israeli governments that engineered their failure of the “peace process” to produce any fruit, and by Fatah leadership’s own gluttony which blinded them to the consequences of their own failures. Still, the Hamas victory will make it much easier for Israel to sell the “no partner for peace” line.

On the regional level, Hamas’ victory is part of a larger trend of the ascendance of political Islam via the iconic vehicle of the secular liberal political order of the Enlightenment: the ballot box. The incredible scenes of women supporters of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt scaling walls in order to reach polling stations sealed off by police sent in to prevent a certain electoral defeat of the ruling government party, reveals a great deal about the determination of Islamist political parties that have swept to victories in many other countries, including Iraq and the limited municipal elections in Saudi Arabia.

The Hamas victory will lead to an even greater international isolation of the Palestinian national movement by governments in Europe and the United States and, potentially much more important, by the bulk of the international solidarity and civil society movements based, as they are, on the principles of secular humanism and non-violence. Ironically (again) Hamas won partly because it is the most effective organizer of grass roots civil society and self-help institutions, whereas Fatah depended too much on its ability to provide salaried jobs financed by regular contributions from donor countries. Well, the PA is already broke and the money transfers might very well dry up if the EU and the United States and Israel decide to impose a financial blockade. And even if the world deals with Hamas when it comes to the question of Palestine, little attention will be paid to changes on the social and cultural levels such as educational content in schools, personal status laws, public rituals of piety, and other forms of social discipline practiced through public control of the female body.

Elections are but a snap shot and there are a myriad of factors that can skew results. I can go on for a long time about specific case studies of what happened here and there. But there is a larger truth: Following Oslo, the daily life of Palestinians in the occupied territories has deteriorated to almost sub-human levels, largely due to Israeli policies. The best that people hope for is to keep their head above water and pray that their society will not suffer a complete and total collapse. At times like these, people turn to God and to each other. Hamas has helped them to do both, and they have something to show for it.

The saga continues.

Beshara Doumani ©2006

Beshara Doumani is a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book is Academic Freedom After September 11.
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The Reforms of ‘Umar bin Khattab

1. Establishment of Public Treasury.
2. Establishments of courts of Justice and appointment of Judges.
3. Placing the reserve army on the state’s Payroll and organization of
the War department.
4. Establishment of Postal service.
5. Establishment of the Land Revenue department.
6. Survey and assessment of lands.
7. Public census.
8. Punishment of those who practice Monopoly by exile to different lands.
9. Establishment of and use of Jails.
10. Building of Canals and Bridges.
11. Establishment of Public Rest Areas, hostels and Wudu (Ablution) Stations.
12. Fixing the date to the Start of the Migration of the Messenger.
13. Dividing the state and the conquered territories into provinces.
14. Founding of new cities (al-Amsar) such as Kufah, Basarah and Fustat.
15. Zakat on Produce of the sea, such as fish, Lobster, shrimp etc.,
and appointment of a responsible official.
16. Use of intelligence reports and specially designated emissaries to
provide first hand reports as what is really going on in different
provinces.
17. Salary for Imams, Mu’adhans (Callers to prayer) teachers and
public lectures.
18. Stipends for the poor among the Jews and Christians who lived in
conquered lands.
19. Punishment for drunkenness, written satires and lampoons.
20. Establishment of Guilds for certain trades.
21. Prohibition of the mention of women’s names in poetry.
22. Holding tarawih (Ramadan night prayers) in congregation, before
his time it was done individually.
23. Providing lighting in the Mosques at night.
24. Persuading Abu Bakr to collect the Qur’an in one book.
25. Establishment of Military bases at strategic points in the
different provinces.
26. Establishment of the Police department.
27. Formulation of the Principal of Qiyas (Analogical Reasoning.) for
determining rulings on newly encountered matters in Fiqh
(Jurisprudence.)
28. Establishment of a more exact system of calculation of the inheritance.
29. Limiting the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims.
30. Establishing a stable for the lost camels.
31. State intervention to control the price of merchandise.
32. First to enlarge the al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque) at Mecca. First
to place a cover on the Kaaba.
33. Discovered the place of Isra, Ascension of the Messenger to
heavens at Jerusalem.

Source: al-Qarashi, Ghalib A.K. Awaliyat al-Farooq fi al-Idara wal-Qada (Innovations (Lit. Introduced first) of the Farooq in
Administration and Judicial affairs), being a Ph.D. thesis, Muasast al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyah, Beirut, 1990.

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The Rise of Political Islam: The Palestinian Election and Democracy in the Middle East

The Rise of Political Islam
The Palestinian Election and Democracy in the Middle East

A longer version of this piece appears at Tomdispatch.com

Dilip Hiro
January 25 , 2006

By now, the voting will have begun in today’s Palestinian elections. It’s not clear how well Hamas — the Arabic acronym which stands for Movement of Islamic Resistance — will do, but opinion polls in the Palestinian territories show the Islamic organization pulling neck and neck with the ruling Fatah party. This is so even though Fatah strategists have plastered the territories with posters of Marwan Barghouti, the popular younger leader who is serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli jail.

This is but the latest manifestation of the rise of political Islam in the electoral politics of the Middle East, a development that — despite the Bush administration’s endless promotion of democratic reform in the region — is causing deep worry among top policy makers in Washington.

Last year began with Islamist candidates winning most of the seats in the first very limited municipal polls in Saudi Arabia and ended with the Iraqi religious parties — both Shiite and Sunni — performing handsomely in the December parliamentary elections. The official Iraqi results, announced on January 21, showed the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance winning almost 80% of the seats that should go to the majority Shiite community. Likewise the Islamic Iraq Party won 80% of the places to which the Sunni minority is entitled.

In between these polls, in a general election held last summer, Hizbollah emerged as the preeminent representative of Lebanese Shiites, the country’s largest sectarian group (which is grossly underrepresented in parliament). And in the first election for the legislative assembly not flagrantly rigged by Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood registered a nearly 60% success rate by winning 88 out of the 150 seats it contested. The Brotherhood certainly could have won many more, but its leadership deliberately decided to contest only a minority of seats in order not to provoke the regime of Egypt’s pro-American president and so create a situation in which he might be likely to strike out indiscriminately against the opposition.

Put all of this together and you have what looks like a single phenomenon sweeping the region. However, focus on these developments one by one and what you see is that the reasons for Islamist advances are not only different in each case but particular to each country.

Take Iraq. History shows that when an ethnic, racial, or social group is persecuted or overly oppressed, it tends to turn to religion to find solace. In the Americas, this was true, for instance, of the Africans brought in as slaves. It is not accidental that today African-Americans are still more religious than white Americans.

Once Iraq became part of the (Sunni) Ottoman Empire in 1638, Shiites were persecuted and discriminated against. Even after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, as King Faisal was installed by the British as Iraq’s ruler, little changed. He was Sunni, as were the leaders of the Baath Party that followed him to power. Mosque and religion became the last resort of Iraqi Shiites. Once the Baath Party was pulverized in the wake of the Bush administration’s invasion, the Shiite religious network emerged as the most cohesive and efficient organization in the country — and remains so today. In the late 1970s, following the fall of the secular regime of the Shah, Iran witnessed a similar phenomenon. As for the Sunnis, that long dominant minority, twelve years of UN economic sanctions hurt them as badly as non-Sunni Iraqis. Increased misery and growing impoverishment led the Sunni masses, too, to turn to Islam for consolation and support. So it is not surprising that once Sunnis decided to participate in the electoral process, most of them favored the Iraqi Islamic Party.

There is no evidence to suggest that, under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis were overwhelmingly secular to begin with. There were then no public opinion polls to discover the actual views of the Iraqi people. The Arab Baath Socialist Party was itself secular in the sense that one of its three founders, Michel Aflaq, the ideological guru of Saddam, was a Christian who moved from Beirut to Baghdad and died there in 1989.

Far more reliable, when it comes to the state of public opinion, is the confidential poll conducted in late July 2004 for the International Republican Institute, an offshoot of the U.S. Republican Party, and leaked to the press that September: Seven out of ten respondents said that the Sharia, or Islamic law, should be the “sole basis” of Iraqi laws, and the same proportion — 70% — preferred to live in a “religious state”; only 23% opted for a secular one. The two elections since then have only underlined the accuracy of this poll.

Egypt is the country where the Muslim Brotherhood was first established in 1928. By inflicting a swift and humiliating defeat on an Egypt ruled by President Gamal Abdul Nasser, a man wedded to “Arab socialism,” in June 1967, Israel delivered a near-fatal blow to the hopes for the development of secular Arab nationalism in the region. In that hour of their downfall most Egyptians attributed the Israeli victory to Jewish devotion to their religion and, in a similar spirit, turned to Islam for their own spiritual succor. It was at that point that the Muslim Brotherhood, though still an outlawed organization, began gaining popularity.

With Anwar Sadat (known to have been sympathetic to the Brotherhood earlier in his life) succeeding Nasser as president in 1970, pressure on the Brotherhood eased for a while. In more recent years, the failure of Hosni Mubarak’s rule to narrow the gap between a tiny, wealthy elite and the country’s impoverished masses has provided the Brotherhood with an ever richer soil in which to plant its utopian and increasingly appealing slogan, “Islam is the solution.”

Today, it is fair to say that the failure of both Arab socialism and American-style capitalism to deliver the goods to the bulk of the population, leaves a probable majority of Egyptians ready to try the Third Way of Islam.

The Palestinian case is altogether different. Israel’s 38-year-long military occupation, with its devastating impact on the everyday lives of the occupied, has spawned a politics that has no parallel elsewhere in the Arab world. Its salient features include: powerful tensions between local and long-exiled leaders; high political consciousness; a lack of distance between followers and leaders of a sort not found in long established states and regimes; and a turning to religion for solace.

The ruling Fatah movement suffers from tensions between local leaders and those who spent many years abroad before returning after the 1993 Oslo Accords. The leadership of Hamas, on the other hand, is almost wholly local.

Because the Palestinian state is not fully formed, followers in the ranks of such parties are able to exercise direct pressure on the leadership. As the governing party which has proved corrupt and inept in administering the Palestinian entity, Fatah has seen its standing wane. By contrast, Hamas has a history of providing free social services to the needy and is not tainted with a history of corruption and cronyism.

In short, while political Islam is ascendant in the emerging electoral politics of the Middle East, the reasons for its successes are varied and specific to each country. This is not a case of “one size fits all.” That is the least that those who mold public opinion in the United States ought to grasp.

As for the policy makers in the Bush administration, they will, sooner or later, have to face reality and deal with organizations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, as they have found themselves forced to play ball with the religious parties in an Iraq occupied by their troops.

Dilip Hiro is the author of Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After and The Iranian Labyrinth: Journeys Through Theocratic Iran and Its Furies, both published by Nation Books.

Copyright 2005 Dilip Hiro

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Encouragement and Deterrence

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali says in Kitab Kasr al-Shahwatayn:

“Know that man has been made subject to sexual desire for two beneficial reasons. The first of these is that by knowing its delight he is able to draw an analogy which suggests what the delight of the Afterlife must be like. For the delight of the sexual act, were it to last, would be the greatest pleasure of the body, just as the pain of a burn is the body’s greatest  agony. Encouragement and deterrance [al-targhib wa’l-tarhib], which drive people towards their saving happiness, can only be brought about by means of palpable pain and pleasure, since what cannot be perceived through experience will never be greatly desired. The second reason to that it allows the human race to continue and the world [‘alam] to abide. Such are its benefits.”

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What’s With All the Blind Clerics?

the blind bomber. Click image to expand.
Omar Abdel Rahman: the blind bomber

For those not familiar with the online magazine Slate (you’re missing out by the way), they have an “Explainer” section in which readers submit questions from a wide range of subjects; the most recent questions have focused on Ben Franklin’s birthday to the U.S. missile strike in Pakistan. This time, the focused on why there are so many blind ‘ulama in the Muslim world and also provided a list of some blind contemporary clerics.


What’s With All the Blind Clerics?
Vision and the Muslim world.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Friday, Jan. 20, 2006, at 7:30 PM ET

The Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri denied preaching racial hatred in a British courtroom on Thursday. Al-Masri has been linked to the would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid and stands accused of starting a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Most news reports also mention that al-Masri has only one eye and no hands. It seems like we’re always hearing about blind or half-blind Muslim clerics—what’s the deal?There is a pattern of the blind leading the not-blind in modern Islam. (For an annotated list of some important blind clerics, check out this sidebar.) A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Quranic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at this. Continue reading

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

An excellent resource for those occasions when you need to find the obscure literary reference.

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!?


The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, James Trefil

Third Edition: Completely Revised and Updated

The manifestation of one of the most influential modern educational theories, the 6,900 entries in this major new reference work form the touchstone of what it means to be not only just a literate American but an active citizen in our multicultural democracy

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