Back to previous post: The creek’s dried up

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Against entropy

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

October 25, 2006

Big red dunce cap
Posted by Teresa at 08:29 AM *

Lawyers, Guns and Money has collected some remarkable specimens of stupidity about the history of the Middle East. My favorite:

Professor, I have read many of your books, a resource I use often in my classes. However, you and I both know the real problem with the Middle East. They haven’t ever tasted defeat, not in a way that European powers have. For a millenium, they have been beaten by the West, but have never faced the wages of their defeats. They have never (save for the Mongols in 1258) had a Dresden, Tenchtitlan, or Hiroshima.

Thus, they can live in their adolscence, pursuing dreams that an adult population would never contemplate. They can really believe that some day the caliphate will return, and even worse, that the one society they hate, the one with the true means to destroy them, will not act.

I’ve amused myself a bit in their comment thread.
Comments on Big red dunce cap:
#1 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 10:53 AM:

{also posted on the LGM thread}
I'd like to ask d and Teresa to reflect a bit on the implications of their support for the commenter's line of argument as applied to the Confederacy.

The argument is either dehumanizing nonsense, or it's not. If it's the former, then finding in oneself a readiness to apply it to the U.S. south ought to be a little unsettling.

I'm a white southerner, though far to the left of most of my demographic. I loathe the culture of resentment, the whole right-wing complex that feeds neo-confederate and white supremacist sympathies. I agree that something needed and still needs to happen for us to deal honestly with our history. But I can't agree that that something is crushing military defeat and devastation like that of Germany and Japan in 1945.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:10 AM:

I think that TNH's position is to the effect of "this argument is nonsense," using the Confederacy as an example of why it's nonsense, not in the sense of advocating that the proposed solution was/should have been applied to the Confederacy.

#3 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:14 AM:

"If we follow the logic of ..." does not, to me, imply agreement. It implies that whatever the logic is is based on faulty premises and the following chain of reasoning is how we can show it clearly.

#4 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:23 AM:

I don't see where you get that Teresa's statement reads as an endorsement of the commenter's position. (And I'm white, grew up in the South, and my family lives in Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida.) I detest anti-South bigotry. As far as I read it, she was underscoring the stupidity of the commenter, not agreeing with him.

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:32 AM:

The idea that the Muslim world hasn't been defeated enough, in spite of having been in retreat in the face of the West for three centuries (I would date the turning point as the Ottoman failure to take Vienna in 1683) is beyond absurd.

Maybe I should become a conservative pundit. I would be able to talk complete bollocks all day, not have to know anything about the subject on which I'm pontificating, and earn the respect and admiration of millions.

#6 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:52 AM:

Never mind burning Atlanta, we just need to change history so "The Lincoln Train" wins the Sidewise award.

#7 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 12:26 PM:

Being a proud citizen of the former CSA and an Israeli resident for several years, I can say that I'm really not sure how I'm being insulted, but I think I am, and I'm upset about it.

Someone will rise again. And as soon as I figure out who is insulting who, I'll let you know.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 01:05 PM:

David Manheim, I took that for a joke. It was a joke, right?

Nell, I think it's a stupid, immoral, ineffective proposal, no matter who's identified as the target. I added the bit about Sherman because there are a lot of "let's pacify Iraq by stomping them to flinders" types who are also neo-Confederate sympathizers. I figured it would get up their noses -- and so it should! As Jim Henley has very wisely pointed out, one of the biggest failures of American foreign policy is our inability to understand that other countries have rednecks too.

#9 ::: Anna in Portland (was Cairo) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 01:54 PM:

The main thing that is funny is the idea that the Muslim world has not suffered enough defeat.

And then to bring up the fall of Baghdad all by himself!

It's funny when a person's knowledge directly contradicts his own arguments yet he fails to be aware of it.

#10 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 02:18 PM:

#5
Fragano Ledgister, I am assuming that you left out the substantial increase in financial remuneration bloviating pundits receive, compared to mere college professors, because you're too high-minded to let mere cash sway you from your (so far) chosen field.

#8
TNH
As Jim Henley has very wisely pointed out, one of the biggest failures of American foreign policy is our inability to understand that other countries have rednecks too.

I'd light a candle in honor of Mr. Henley's insight, except it would set the fire alarms off. That's brilliant--obvious and brilliant both. I'll settle for waving the one clean handkerchief I have left, and cheering quietly.

#11 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 02:32 PM:

If I recall correctly, Hulagu Khan killed somewhere between 90,000-250,000 people when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258.

But I guess a quarter of a million dead people don't count as the wages of defeat.

Sherman, for all that he's been reviled, was probably the Civil War commander with the clearest understanding of what war really was (and is). When South Carolina broke away, he wrote a letter to a friend predicting almost exactly how the war would destroy the South, and everybody knows about his "War is hell" quote.

#12 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 02:33 PM:

There is another parallel between this kind of reasoning and the way that the Confederacy is used in argument by some.

The kind of argument cited is like looking at the racial politics in the South in the 1950's and discussing them only in light of the Civil War, without reference to anything that happened in the decades in between. Too many snap at the bait of the "stars and bars" without understanding the very different path the South took from the 1870's to the 1930's and how much racial strife in the 50's and 60's grew out of economic conflicts. Consider the role of African-Americans as economic scapegoats in 20th century Southern populism . . .

VDH and his commenters look to that "the world of the 7th century" or "the Islamic dark ages" while ignoring 1924. Actually understanding the more recent (and more relevant) roots of our current situation is not a matter of bashing Western Civilization, as some of these jokers seem to think -- it is a matter of keeping one's eye on the ball. Stop pontificating on the 7th Century and start studying the roots of the Musim Brotherhood in failed nationalism in Egypt. It would at least be a good start.

(I am really not sure what "the Islamic dark ages" means. If this term is what I suspect, VDH should lose what little academic standing he has, at least concerning anything happening after 400 CE.)

#13 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 02:57 PM:

What really bothers me... well, what really bothers me is two things. One of them is that, in the US, coverage for the Muslim world is a big fat vacancy in history texts, right up through 200-level college classes (which is as far as most non-majors are likely to go).

The other one is that, having gained almost all of my knowledge of modern Mesopotamia from the works of Agatha Christie, I somehow have a better grasp of the subject than the commentors in that blog.

#14 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 03:20 PM:

I'm often tempted to draw comparisons between the history of Christianity and the history of Islam (origins, development, factional wars, Catholicism Vs. Protestantism, etc.)... but maybe that's just too simplistic. History doesn't always repeat itself. Besides, the Vatican never had nukes.

"Iraq" has never been a nation to begin with: it's lines drawn on a map. Saddam Hussein ruled simply by force, not by consensus or constitution. You can't defeat a "nation" that doesn't exist.

Right now, the Sunnis and Shi'ites of "Iraq" do not consider the American troop presence the greatest enemy, but each other. (News flash: Everything doesn't revolve around America. There are conflicts much older than your young federation.)

Americans can't win this conflict, because it's not about them. Remember the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s? It was a proxy war on two levels: Saddam played the double part of proxy for both Sunni Islam (vs. Shi'ite Iran) and secular dictator (supported by the West, against Khomeini).

Now that Saddam's out (can't say I miss the bastard; he gassed Kurdish villages), are American troops going to play proxy for the Sunnis? Or the Shi'ites? Or the Kurds?

Or just stand back and watch the Sunnis and Shi'ites slaughter each other. There's no telling how long it's going to last... but the Iran-Iraq War lasted a decade. The Ayatollah Khomeini had kids running into minefields. Neither side won. 1 million casualties, nothing gained.

But... if you want to be cynical (go ahead, nobody's going to scold you), pull out of "Iraq" and let the bloodbath run its course. They're not finished killing each other by a long shot. It took Protestants and Catholics hundreds of years to get tired of endless slaughter (there I go again!).

Defeat? The Middle East has defeated itself before and will defeat itself again and again.


#15 ::: Jackie M. ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 03:29 PM:

Teresa, I liked your projection logic. Very cutting, with a smooth, bitter aftertaste.

#16 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Very cutting, with a smooth, bitter aftertaste.

Is this anything like the taste of revenge (as in Open Thread 70)?

#17 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 03:55 PM:

vegemite is a dish best served cold

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 04:20 PM:

Fidelio #10: Oh, absolutely! Er, what is the financial remuneration for bloviating? It seems to be a hell of a lot easier than actually having to know something....

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 04:23 PM:

A.R. Yngve #14: The Vatican never had nukes, but it did have Canossa. Islam, of course, never had a separation of mosque and state until recent times.

#20 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Fragano #5: yes, but the millions who would respect and adore you are the wilfully ignorant. Surely you don't want the money that much!

#21 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 05:05 PM:

#18

Judging by the quality of the suits worn, and the lifestyles enjoyed by those wearing them, if you've managed to make the cable news shows as a payroll member, it's better pay than anything short of an endowed Ivy League chair, and possible better than that. Then there are the book contracts, which almost always seem to include selection by book clubs, thus increasing the readership. Of course, since these people don't come in regular contact with people earning anything like the average American, let alone minimum wage, excepts as servitors, they are unaware that they are well-paid.

If nothing else, thoughts of your retirement should drive you towards this--what's TIAA compared to the rewards of a few years dedicated bloviation? You have Medicare Part D to cover, if you remain in this country, after all.

Of course, knowing your dedication towards education and the enlightenment of those left in the dark by their weary burden of ignorance, I'm sure such things as filthy lucre matter not to you at all, at all. But it would be remiss of me not to point them out to you, sir, inasmuch as your mind rests so firmly on higher things.

#22 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 05:06 PM:

Iraq is really, really, fucking simple. We invaded the place where writing, irrigation, and algebra were first developed. We went in fat and sloppy and stupid. We went in with too few troops and without anything resembling a plan.

We're getting our asses kicked, and anyone with the sense God gave a retarded hamster expected exactly what we're enduring now.

Alex

#23 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 05:20 PM:

#11:

The comment over on LGM actually says in parentheisis "(except for the mongols in 1258)", so apparently that doesn't count. Not recent enough? don't know. not explained by the poster.

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 05:53 PM:

#13 references Agatha Christie as a better source on Mesopotamia than the Republican pundits.

She wrote, and sold, far more books than they have. Her stories have been made into more films, and they make money.

If I were invited to place a bet on which of Anne Coulter and Agatha Christie had the right answer on a particular subject, I'd go with the little grey cells.

#25 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 06:26 PM:

mongols, middle east. ::mumble::

::shakes head::

#26 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 06:28 PM:

#23 Greg London:

In one of his tapes before the Iraq war, bin Laden compared Cheney and Powell to Hulagu Khan, so I guess 1258 is still recent enough for some people.

#27 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 06:40 PM:

Dave Bell, Agatha Christie's second husband was an archeologist in Mesopotamia. She spent a *lot* of time living there on dig sites, not as a tourist merely, and was able to capture the unglamorous and awful aspects *and* the beautiful and humane.

"They Came To Baghdad" is particularly chilling imo in how it lays out the neocon metaphysic and amoral dynamic of power-worship and machismo under the guise of Doing Good for Humanity, to the point of being RWA to start wars for The Ultimate Perfection Of The Species, some 50 years ago.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 06:40 PM:

TexAnne #20: When you put it that way...

I get infuriated by idiots like Hanson and Charles Krauthammer who, on the basis of invincible ignorance coupled with possesion of Ph.Ds in irrelevant subjects set themselves up as 'experts' who deserve attention.

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 06:45 PM:

Fidelio #21: One has, in the end, to live with oneself. I can't understand why people sell their souls.

#30 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 07:35 PM:

Wow. It is seldom one encounters such a pure concentration of delusion.

But I think there's a point worth discussing here; The Bad Example seems to believe that, because the "Middle East" (an ill-defined area that may not include Iraq) has not accepted defeat and made proper gestures of obesiance, they must be further abused until they do. (Apparently more than half a million dead in Iraq isn't enough abuse.) Yet the power fantasies of radical Islam are the predictable results of the despair of total, multi-generational defeat. No people sacrifices their children if they have any hope at all; the history of the 20th century has given TBE exactly what he has asked for.

...maybe it's not what he wanted, after all. A bit late to find that out.

#31 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 08:28 PM:

"the one society they hate, the one with the true means to destroy them"

Tricksey elveses, we hates them and their glowing stabsey swords!

Um, seriously, what a load of chauvanistic hogwash.

Do their power fantasies include a post-nuking-of-Mecca scene where all of the world's fundamentalist immams scream "Noooooohhhhh! and dissolve into dust? Followed by chanting masses gasping, shaking their heads, rubbing their eyes, and saying "Hey, what were we thinking?" before heading for town to set up outlet malls for tourists?

#32 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 10:22 PM:

I'm still troubled by the conflation of "no hope at all" and the clearly obvious prosperity and political independence of large swathes of (what I shall call for the sake of convenience) the Islamic world. Hopeless, shattered, ruined Dubai? Derelict Sharhjar? Poverty-ridden Kuwait? Devastated Brunei? Famine-stricken Saudi Arabia? I don't think so. Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Syria may not be democracies and they are certainly not wealthy by western standards, but if their governments are coweringly subject to the decrees of western overlords they dissemble it rather well. And then there's Iran...

You say "no hope at all", and I agree that there is manifestly a strain of opinion in all these places that the only reaction to the situation is to despair. In the face of the clear fact that, by and large, the Islamic world governs itself by its own lights and quite a bit of it is wealthy, or at least prosperous, this attitude seems untenable, in all reason.

So what is causing it?

#33 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:06 PM:

JonathanMoeller:

Sherman, for all that he's been reviled, was probably the Civil War commander with the clearest understanding of what war really was (and is). When South Carolina broke away, he wrote a letter to a friend predicting almost exactly how the war would destroy the South, and everybody knows about his "War is hell" quote.

Sherman was certainly clear on the concept, but I'd argue that Grant had as few illusions about the nobility of war...

#34 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:20 PM:

Bellatrys at #27 correctly points out why Agatha Christy, as Lady Max Mallowan, had reason to know Iraq; They Came To Bagdad is a good example of her thrillers with Iraqui settings. Come Tell Me Where You Live is a memoir of life in Mesopotamia, especially the plains of Mosul.

What I know of Iraq from reading Christie is that even the 20th century history and modern culture of the area is something most Americans, and perhaps most Westerners, are in near-complete ignorance.

#35 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2006, 11:41 PM:

Dave, I didn't say "no hope at all." But, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, all that the Central Asian & Middle Eastern Arab/Islamic world has had is at the sufferance of the great powers. Remember, if you like, that the House of Saud owes its ascendency to the British, and that all of the Middle East was colonized at the end of the Second World War. Then remember what the "Cold" War did to the region, with the USA and the Soviet Union fighting over the various regional governments.

They aren't doing so bad, but they're subject states, they know it, and they hate it.

#36 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 12:03 AM:

#35: Sounds about right to me. And where your rather-more-detailed-and-precise-than-my-handwavy-a-few-threads-ago political history here ends, volumes and volumes of postcolonial theory begin.
You cannot discuss the Middle East with any degree of sense--including the notion of calling it the "Middle East"--without confronting the history of European colonization.

#37 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 01:24 AM:

Randolf, you said: "No people sacrifices their children if they have any hope at all."

If they are indeed 'sacrificing their children' (which, to speak strictly, is yet to be proven, but which I think is admissable as rhetoric, and is, after all, your suggestion), then your words imply necessarily that they have no hope at all.

Further, you speak of a "people", singular. I take this to mean a whole culture, and not to individuals or a population within one.

What you appear to be saying, then, is that an entire culture has no hope at all, and is therefore sacrificing its children. I would not go so far, but would agree that there are some populations in the Islamic world who behave that way. If this is so, I cannot account for it on any rational ground.

You say that the states of the Middle East are "subject states". But does that describe actual reality? Their governments are capable of being influenced by some combination of powers from outside, of course. So is any government. But do they govern for the benefit of other nations? Hardly. OPEC, for example, just reduced the supply of petroleum, to keep the price up. Was this a craven cave-in to the economic interests of the west? I don't think so. And examples of total intransigence in the face of foreign attempts at pressure are legion.

I am therefore dubious about subjugation as a cause for this despair and rage. In fact, I cannot see a rational cause for it, and I am therefore forced to consider the irrational.

#38 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 01:30 AM:

My apologies, Randolph, for misspelling your name.

#39 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 05:36 AM:

"Do their power fantasies include a post-nuking-of-Mecca scene where all of the world's fundamentalist immams scream "Noooooohhhhh! and dissolve into dust? "

Why is it nobody ever wants to nuke Medina? What, not good enough? Not holy enough?

#40 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 06:21 AM:
Why is it nobody ever wants to nuke Medina? What, not good enough? Not holy enough?
Not famous enough is probably the answer.
#41 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 07:29 AM:

little light, thank you. At the risk of getting too technical (you may not want to discuss your work here), could I ask you to provide some references?

Dave, thanks for correcting the name. I mostly agree with your first part--there are factions within the Arab/Islamic world; some have done well in dealing with the "West"--the House of Saud being, indeed, the obvious example, others have done horribly--Iraq being an example. I do think, though, that the faction that uses suicide bombing as a tactic--with a depressingly large amount of popular support--may reasonably be said to be sacrificing their own children, since they use the rhetoric of sacrifice themselves; I am not putting words in the mounths of the imams and mullahs.

As to "subjugation," though, I don't agree; (I am quoting myself here) in the period between World War I and World War II, most borders in the region were drawn by the West and Russia, and all were drawn under Western and Russian influence. Thereafter the politics of the region was shaped by the Cold War, and the oil industry. Generally the West and especially the USA allied itself with Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, while the Soviets allied themselves with Egypt and Syria. The Iraqi and Afghan governments changed and changed again as the US and the Soviets played their global chess game. Some Middle Eastern states (notably Saudi Arabia) were able to play the two superpowers against each other, parlaying their oil into real wealth, but there never was any doubt that all successes ultimately were the result of persuading foreign powers--none of the major states in the area had power independent of the superpowers.

The poltics of the region pose difficult problems, both for foreign states, who after all rely on the region for energy, and for the people of the region itself, who want both self-determination and, at this point, are probably thoroughly sick of war, regardless of all radical rhetoric. I have often said the politics of the region are a moral swamp, and any high ground will have to be reclaimed. It is hard for me to imagine moral leadership that would bring peace to the region, yet it seems to me that is what is needed if, indeed, peace is desired.

#42 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 09:32 AM:

Re: #41, I think the point I took from Dave Luckett is that what you write of the Middle East is true of essentially the entire world. Most of the world was under the control of European colonists, most of the borders were drawn at least in part with an eye to European rivalries (saying "drawn under Western and Russian influence" implies "during the Cold War," which is usually about 20 to 100 years too late, depending on the border), most of the world was drawn into alliances or spheres of influence of the West and the East during the Cold War, etc., etc.

In fact, if you read some history of the region (I just finished Norwich's "A Short History of Byzantium," which takes many a foray into the "Middle East") you will find that the region has always been part of the struggle among superpowers (Byzantium, various Caliphates, the Mongols, the Angevins, the Holy Roman Empire, the Turks, the Persians, ad infinitum). Every nation has been part of the military, imperial and diplomatic dance for millenia. The nations of Islam are not unique in this respect: "Happy the nation which has no history!"

Hanson's history is (charitably) wrong; the idea that the West has been defeating the Islamic world for a millenium is laughable (the ghosts of Byzantium would disagree, just for starters). The idea that Islam has a complex of some sort about more recent history (and real past defeats) is certainly true, but then most countries do. When the delegations turned up at Versailles after WW1, they all came armed with maps showing their just demands for borders, and naturally these were always the maximum historical extent (real or imagined) of their domains at any time in the past. Bin Laden is serious when he talks about reclaiming al-Andalus, but he has his counterparts the world over.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Dave L #42: I would say (as someone who is *not* an expert on the Middle East, but does have to play one in the classroom from time to time) that the West and the Islamic world fought each other to a draw in the 16th century, after centuries in which Islam had the advantage over the West, and by the end of the 17th the advantage had swung to the West (but this requires that we include Russia in the West).

1,009 years ago, to take an example that Hanson probably has never heard of, an Islamic army raided one of the centres of Western Christendom and took away the cathedral bells. Doesn't sound like a defeat to me.

#44 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:45 AM:

Randolph, what you say is very right, but to my mind amounts to saying little more than that the countries you mention were shaped originally by outside forces, and then by the rivalries and interests of the Great Powers before and during the cold war. The same could be said of my own nation.

Some - not all - of them could then have been described as "client states", or at least their governments as "client regimes". I submit, however, that such a description today would really only apply to the Gulf States, and maybe not them. Nobody could call Syria, or Iran, or the Saudis, or Yemen, or Libya, or even Jordan or Egypt client states now, in all fairness, and this has been the case for a generation or longer. Some of them might co-operate in some ways with US policy, but more often they don't, and the same will apply to any future government in Iraq, if there ever is one. The US couldn't get its candidate up as President there, after all.

If terrorism were caused by despair over colonialism or exploitation by the West or loss of sovereignty, we would therefore expect that it would have reached its peak in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and then to have slowly died away as genuinely native governments with local populist power bases came into control and proceeded to thumb their noses at the West. But this has not happened. To the contrary, terrorism has burgeoned. This is why I don't think it can be explained by those causes.

I think the clue is given by the word you use to describe people strapping on bombs so as to kill themselves and as many random bystanders as possible: "sacrifice". It has a specifically and powerfully religious connotation, and as you say, it is used in that exact sense in the culture. That is one reason why I doubt that the motivation to do these things can be rational, or redressed by rational means. What means can be used I cannot tell. Superior ethics, perhaps, inadequate - even derisory - as that may sound.

#45 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 11:14 AM:

I recommend reading _Dying to Win_ (by Pape) for a bit more coverage of the real motivations of suicide attackers. This is one of those places where relying mainly on press reports in the US is really misleading. For example, at least as of the date when their data cut off (I think after 2001, but before the civil war started simmering in Iraq or the short-but-intense fight in Lebanon) the Tamil Tigers had done more suicide attacks than anyone else in the world, and while they have a religious difference with their enemies, the Tigers are apparently a secular movement.

Pape's explanation involved visibly foreign people (different religion and language made it easier for the people to be perceived as foreign) on your nation's soil, at least nominally democratic enemies that will likely respond to bloody terrorist attacks in some way other than by massacring your civilians. He didn't seem to have enough datapoints to make very strong statements, but his analysis did seem to explain a lot.

#46 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 11:55 AM:

This may be a stupid question, but the mention of OPEC up-thread triggered it:

What happens when the Middle Eastern oil producers pump out the final barrel? Am I right in thinking the supply is not infinite?

#47 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 12:20 PM:

Lori, you're right that the supply is not infinite (unless you're the Shrub, who probably believes that oil is created by drilling; my mother described him as being like the promoters who convinced people that 'rain follows the plow'). As to what will happen when the last easily-extractable barrel is pumped - I don't know.

#48 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 01:17 PM:

There are whole tribes of freeperville pinheads who have convinced themselves that the Earth naturally produces crude oil as a side effect of tectonic motion. The beauty of it is that Intelligent Design "theory" provides them with a readymade answer to the obvious question about why the Earth should always be producing it at precisely the [dynamically changing] rate of global crude oil consumption. I wish I were joking.

#49 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 01:31 PM:

Lori - I recommend googling on "Peak oil", the point at which global oil production peaks.

There's a persistent rumor that OPEC countries overestimated their reserves to have higher quotas, and Saudi Arabia is notably reticent to share statistics on their big oilfields. Because of this, there is a non-zero chance that we're already at the peak, but most estimates put it into the SF near future zone.

#50 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 01:39 PM:

What happens when the Middle Eastern oil producers pump out the final barrel?

If I'm alive, I will drink a toast that we (i.e. planet earth) survive the world wide correction that will occur as everyone's economies adjusts to a lack of cheap fuel and survive the "corrections" as backwards countries and dictatorships that are no longer propped up by massive oil exports.

Then I'll go to the basement and start counting ammunition, just in case.

#51 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 02:25 PM:

As the world approaches the 'peak oil' point, watch for the following: new extraction technologies, which will improve the percentage of recoverable oil reserves from fields; higher prices, which will make sub-economic discoveries profitable to exploit; more research into alternative energy supplies of all kinds; and more pressure to drill in previously 'off limits' areas, such as under wildlife refuges or cities.

While it is generally concluded that most of the largest discoveries have already been made, there are enough smaller discoveries still out there to continue a net growth in the industry for the next four to six decades (depending on who you talk to, and what they predict for demand/technology/access/etc.) What this means for the Gulf States and other oil-producing nations is a general timeline to diversify their business interests, so that when the inevitable fall does come (if it comes!) they'll not only not have all their eggs in one basket, but they'll have more than just eggs to put in their basket, and more baskets, besides.

If they're smart, anyway. And reasonable. And have the forethought to prepare. Nothing I've seen in the Middle East (or, for that matter, the West's big corporations) convinces me that any of these things are not available in adequate abundance. Willingness to follow through may be the sticking point, however.

YMMV.

#52 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 03:04 PM:

"There are whole tribes of freeperville pinheads who have convinced themselves that the Earth naturally produces crude oil . . ."

I ran into one of those at an SF convention nearly ten years ago. He was quite insistent. ("Your knowledge is DEFECTIVE!")

His smuggery reminded me of something from SF:

In Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, the travel-mad, energy-hungry last vestige of American civilization is dependent on gas and oil derived from Antarctic coal beds.

Scientists warn everyone that the stuff will eventually run out, but they are dismissed as alarmists. Other scientists, more willing to play along, come up with a theory that the coal beds are being replenished from below.

The stuff runs out. Civilization falls.

#53 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Randolph Fritz: No people sacrifices their children if they have any hope at all

This is not so much a problem in cultures that outlaw contraception, as children are then merely one more renewable resource.

#54 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Umm -- folks are already trying to get Congress to allow drilling in Arctic in one of the wildlife refuges there. Now, they've been saying it's because of high oil prices, but it sounds to me like there may be something they're not telling us.

"World wide correction?" Ah, everybody's financial markets are going to crash, like, all at once? Ouch.

#53 -- "children are then merely one more renewable resource"

Goddess -- this puts a whole new light on the Religious Right's anti-contraception stance, and a hellish one at that.

#55 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Alex #22: It's OK to simplify the facts and ignore most of the relevant information only if you come up with the right answer? Because it seems that that is what you are doing. I think there is a lot of history that is being ignored - and only some of it should be.

The important point is that people react based on the history they are aware of, and so in this case the most relevant historical facts are those surrounding the formation of Islam, those surrounding the formation of the current structure of the Middle east, and those that people know alive either remember, or were directly told about. With this, I think that we get a much clearer picture.

The despair over the fall of Islamic power from the middle ages, which every school child in the middle east surely learns about, feeds into the inferiority complex that the modern middle east seems to suffer from. The current state of affairs is one where colonialism ended historically recently, and has been replaced by a new cultural imperialism. This means that their alienation is worsened, and they have no global allies. While we refer to their "sins" of using the resources that they have against us (the resource of Oil, particularly,) we then turn around and say they refuse to embrace capitalism. It seems that they can do no right.

And so, Dave #44, we come to the point - it is the impossibility of them doing anyhting correct, ever, that leads to their despair and exploitation. (Religion, of course, is the universal method for dealing with that.) They are right, of course - as far as we are concerned, anything they do is stupid because it is self destructive, or evil because it is bad for us. So maybe, just maybe, the best option with someone who is faced with being stupid or self-destructive is to try to change things, and/or Embrace religion. And, as they have seen repeatedly, blowing yourself up seems to have an effect, in a way that nothing else does.

What else would you expect?

PS. Yes, Teresa, I was joking. I keep forgetting that whole "tone doesn't carry over into text, and people don't understand sarcasm easily without visual clues" thing.

#56 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 06:40 PM:

Lori Coulson @ #54:

The refuge is ANWR (Alaska Natural(?) Wildlife Refuge). It was set up in the mid-1900's, after WWII. There was drilling in and near the area before that time, and there is oil in the ground there, but that was assessed as being at sub-economic levels--for the time. Hence the refuge; the US Navy couldn't use it as petroleum reserves. With the price of oil around $60 US these days, those reserves are now looking profitable... and they're within US borders! Hallelujah for native production! No dang furriners to pay tolls, taxes, or profit shares to!

Except... terrain in tundra regions (which includes large swathes of ANWR) recovers from surface disturbance agonisingly slowly--decades is not uncommon. It would be horrifyingly easy to ruin the land--and didn't the Bush crowd relax the environmental protection laws already because they were getting in the way of businesses making the profits to which they wish to become accustomed...?

They don't have to hide. They just have to conveniently not tell all that they know.

#57 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 07:36 PM:

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Duh.

#58 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 08:23 PM:

"...to my mind amounts to saying little more than that the countries you mention were shaped originally by outside forces, and then by the rivalries and interests of the Great Powers before and during the cold war. The same could be said of my own nation."

Has your country been repeatedly invaded in the past 75 years? Had the KGB and the CIA foment revolutions and fund civil wars? Even had part of its land taken away and given to a refugee group, displacing 750,000 people in the process? Really, Dave, I doubt it.

"If terrorism were caused by despair over colonialism or exploitation by the West or loss of sovereignty, we would therefore expect that it would have reached its peak in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and then to have slowly died away as genuinely native governments with local populist power bases came into control and proceeded to thumb their noses at the West."

My impression is that--except for the conflict with Israel--Islamic radicalism was making something of a last stand before the invasion of Iraq; Iran, the most radical and anti-Western state, was liberalizing. It has made a resurgence since the invasion of Iraq has shown the world that, in fact, the USA will invade on a whim--no nose-thumbing required.

That said, I agree that despair and terrorism are irrational responses, and unlikely to improve matters. But nothing has, not in three generations, and that's the problem.

#59 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 08:27 PM:

Earl, that's a disgusting, bigoted remark.

#60 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Lori, the biggest thing you haven't heard about the ANWR is there isn't much oil there; about eight months supply at current usage rates.

Yes, oil fields do eventually play out--I think Renee's analysis is basically correct--and there is also plenty of coal. That said, it is important that we stop using fossil fuels, regardless of their availability. Climate change is real, and it doesn't care how much money we make or lose. New Orleans, by every analysis I am aware of, was only the beginning.

#61 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 08:40 PM:

Fragano Ledgister: The idea that the Muslim world hasn't been defeated enough, in spite of having been in retreat in the face of the West for three centuries (I would date the turning point as the Ottoman failure to take Vienna in 1683) is beyond absurd.

Of course it is-- and mere military defeat isn't what these puds are actually talking about. They don't want a battlefield victory, they want a gratuitous city-flattening event. A picturesque little genocide that suits their primary message to the rest of the world, which isn't "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" but rather, "How do you like that, huh? How do you fucking like that?"

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 09:50 PM:

Renee and others: Right now there are no stripper wells in all of Texas and Oklahoma which are not running and active. A "stripper well" is one which is so far depleted that until oil prices rise above a certain level, it is no longer economical to pump; at max, these wells will produce less than 10% of their previous peak output. There are stripper wells in this area which have been considered dead for 30 years or more... but as you drive thru the back-country today, you can see their pump levers going up and down. I haven't been thru Kansas and Iowa lately, but I'll bet they've got the same thing happening there.

Randolph (59): I would agree with you, except that as Lori points out in #54, Earl's statement also applies to the Christianist movement in America. Where do you think the thousands of replacement soldiers for the next 20 years in Iraq are supposed to come from? OUR children are also seen, by some political factions, as a "renewable resource".

#63 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:06 PM:

Scott Lynch #61: That is as good a definition of actively evil as any I've seen. It's almost as if someone wants to foment, encourage, initiate, stimulate the apocalypse -- in the expectation, of course, that as the 'good guys' they'll survive it.

#64 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:25 PM:

I'd add that a Europe which, twice in a half-century, waged multi-megadeath wars,
might be evidence that modern 'Christian' societies have been plenty eager to sacrifice their sons. I imagine that marching in formation through barbed wire, artillery and machinegun fire wasn't as quickly lethal as being a suicide bomber, but we're not talking a long and healthy life either way.

And, of course, the Confederacy lost a huge percentage of young white men for the Cause.

Sort of a fun game to play - lesseenow, Vietnam lost a lot of people fighting the French, Japanese, French again and the USA. They must be Buddhoislamocommunifascists, or something.

The Soviet Union lost 28 million people in WWII - they must be Communoislamocommunifascists. There *is* a crescent embedded within the hammer and sickle, of course....

#65 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:27 PM:

lee,

Randolph (59): I would agree with you, except that as Lori points out in #54, Earl's statement also applies to the Christianist movement in America. Where do you think the thousands of replacement soldiers for the next 20 years in Iraq are supposed to come from? OUR children are also seen, by some political factions, as a "renewable resource".

yeah, i understood that he was trying to implicate christianists as well, but it still really offends me (i'm ashamed that i didn't speak up as soon as i saw it). i mean, he does mean that people who don't practice birth control can't love their children like "we" do, right? (disclaimer: i have no children, thanks, i'm sure, to the birth control i am indeed grateful to have access to)

that would include practically the whole world, a hundred years ago, right? all of our ancestors saw their kids as cannon fodder (or some kind of fodder).

unless he means, somehow, people who don't practice birth control but don't know about it cherish their children, but as soon as they find out about birth control, they stopdoing so.

which i guess means he's not slandering my grandparents? but i am somehow still offended.

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 10:59 PM:

miriam beetle, the original quote was talking about societies that outlaw birth control. You're going well beyond that. A devout non-birth-control-using Roman Catholic in America is not an example. There's a huge difference between choosing not to practice birth control oneself and believing it should be outlawed entirely, and another huge difference between individuals believing it should be outlawed and the society having that as a policy.

I don't want to be in the position of defending that statement, but the grain of truth is that sometimes (sometimes) forbidding birth control is a means to population increase. I suppose it could well be used by monstrously cynical leaders in just that way: to guarantee cannon fodder for their wars.

#67 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 11:07 PM:

#13

What really bothers me... well, what really bothers me is two things. One of them is that, in the US, coverage for the Muslim world is a big fat vacancy in history texts, right up through 200-level college classes (which is as far as most non-majors are likely to go).

Uh, no. You can drop your bothers to one thing. Every "Western Civilization" textbook published in the present carries chapters or sub-chapters on Islam, since it's nonsensical to describe western Eurasia without it. Most, in fact, write a narrative along the lines of "the three heirs" (Franks/Catholics, Greco-Romans, i.e., Byzantines, and Muslims) to the Roman Empire. And the narrative that must be told to even have a story of "the West" includes the "contributions" of each civilization to the present, and so the textbooks give a litany of Arabo-Turko-Muslim contributions to "Western" thought and culture. (Some Orientalist tidbits remain, but many have been weeded out since the '90s.) These are 100 level books. Of course, you can lead a student to a textbook, but you can't make 'm read.

To get back to V.D. Hanson, his credibility as a commenter on the present was shot for me when he lumped himself, Greek hoplites, knightly warfare, blitzkrieg, and American paratroops into a single cultural phenomenon. "We Westerners like to have the fight, and then go home to dinner with our wives. It's the Western way of war." That kind of reasoning might suggest why he cannot fathom cultural differences of people who practice (in name) the same religion.

#68 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2006, 11:37 PM:

xopher,

I don't want to be in the position of defending that statement, but the grain of truth is that sometimes (sometimes) forbidding birth control is a means to population increase. I suppose it could well be used by monstrously cynical leaders in just that way: to guarantee cannon fodder for their wars.

that i can probably agree with. but i think it was hard to say, from earl's statements, & the discussion about suicide bombers before that, who exactly we're talking about who is banning birth control & also sees children as cannon fodder.

is it the governments of countries whose citizens become suicide bombers (no muslim country today has an official policy of training & sending out suicide bombers)? is it the religious sects, who may glorify "martyrs" & also preach against birth control among their followers? is it parents of suicide bombers, who may or may not have encouraged their children to be suicide bombers?

if leaders/governments:

you may say that leaders who wish to ban birth control see other peoples' children as cannon fodder. but i think they just both happen to be traits of an evil leader/government.

actually, rereading your argument, you seem to be saying that seeing children (probably not one's own, though) as cannon fodder can lead to banning birth control. which is easier for me to accept than the other way around, as earl, i believe, was arguing.

#69 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 12:00 AM:

Lee @62, it is, however, uneconomical to drill new wells in known deposits of Anadarko Deep Basin petroleum, although the possibility that it will be some day gets us an offer or two a year for my husband's family mineral rights.

#70 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 12:14 AM:

#67,

Strangely enough, the texts I've seen do not contain anything like comprehensive information on Islamic history; I've been quite consciously seeking it since my daughter was in eighth grade, studying mediaeval Europe, and no mention was made of the Muslim world beyond references to the Moors being driven from Spain, without any definition of the term nor information about how they got there to begin with. The college-level World History texts (sample copies with post-2001 copyright dates) she brought home when studying for AP tests were also silent on the subject of the Arab world between the Crusades and the 1974 OPEC boycott, and had no discussion of all of Indonesia, for instance.

At that, it's better than when I was in college, somewhat later than the current evil idiots in power, when I cannot remember any discussion of the history of Islam more sophisticated than that in my daughter's eighth grade text.

#71 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 02:27 AM:

Thus, they can live in their adolscence, pursuing dreams that an adult population would never contemplate. They can really believe that some day the caliphate will return, and even worse, that the one society they hate, the one with the true means to destroy them, will not act.

There's always an upsurge in this kind of "analysis" of the Muslim mind (sometimes with misspellings, sometimes not) just before we hit the poor bastards. Happened before Iraq, and we seem to be in the warm-up phase with Iran now.

Although we're going down to the wire on Iran and that October Surprise thing, it's not over till the Fat Man sings. Naval exercises in Persian Gulf on October 31st. No kidding. October surprise as Halloween nightmare? It couldn't possibly happen, could it? Can you spell LBJ?

#72 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 02:45 AM:

David #55:

While we refer to their "sins" of using the resources that they have against us (the resource of Oil, particularly,) we then turn around and say they refuse to embrace capitalism. It seems that they can do no right.

And so, Dave #44, we come to the point - it is the impossibility of them doing anyhting correct, ever, that leads to their despair and exploitation.

This assumes that the Islamic world cares what the West thinks. Which is true, of course, to a certain extent, but not nearly to the extent you're assuming. They're not looking to the West for a validation of their self-worth, that's for sure.

#73 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:08 AM:

Fragano (63): Google the term "Dominionist", and you will find that there are people, some of them with considerable influence in the current Administration, who desire exactly that. There are several websites keeping track of them -- http://www.talk2action.org, and the LiveJournal community dark_christian, are the two I'm most familiar with.

Miriam_beetle: Xopher made my argument pretty clearly, so I'll just mention that he got it right. As support for that argument, I offer (1) the increasing difficulty of getting safe, legal contraceptive drugs to be prescribed and/or dispensed anywhere outside of a major city, and (2) take a look at the list of who has done military service and who hasn't, in Congress and among the major political pundits. I'd include a link -- it's been floating around the net for a while -- but I can't seem to come up with it at the moment.

#74 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:53 AM:

Randolph: "Has your country been repeatedly invaded in the past 75 years? Had the KGB and the CIA foment revolutions and fund civil wars? Even had part of its land taken away and given to a refugee group, displacing 750,000 people in the process? Really, Dave, I doubt it."

Of course not, Randolph. But the same generally applies to the Middle East, unless you want to think of the whole of it, from Tripoli to Islamabad, as one 'country'. Invasions from outside the region, at least since WW2, have been failures, one and all, and attempts at actually fomenting revolutions dismally useless; and while there have been numerous coups, insurrections, massacres and civil wars, I don't think there was decisive foreign involvement in any. Foreigners would naturally favour one side over another, and provide some aid, but this does not amount to "funding civil wars". The attempts made by the west to favour one regime over another have usually blown up in its face. Consider the Shah in Iran, or the present regime (if you can call it that) in Iraq, or, God help us, Somalia.

But I think you have put your finger on the real reason for Muslim despair, in your third sentence.

#75 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 04:55 AM:

#54: Lori, I've heard that Margaret Sanger supported contraception partly because she thought people with smaller families would be less warlike. If she did, then contraception is the most successful piece of social engineering I've heard of.

That may sound funny at the moment, but it isn't. Americans are getting more and more resistant to the war in Iraq because of American military casualties in the low thousands. This is tiny compared to the big wars of the past century.

New topic: http://bombsite.com/argo-amanat/argo-amanat2.html may be of interest about the motivations of suicide bombers. After some careful sociology, the conclusion is that it's mostly about perceived humiliation, amplified in groups and by the Western media, and also that more punishment is *not* going to help the situation.

Aside from the humanitarian and practical objections to the "more punishment" strategy, it annoys me because it's non-falsifiable. There's no way in the theory to tell if you're making things worse.

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 07:37 AM:

Lee #73: That is deeply frightening -- both the criminality and the self-righteousness.

#77 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 09:35 AM:

#74

Invasions from outside the region, at least since WW2, have been failures, one and all, and attempts at actually fomenting revolutions dismally useless; and while there have been numerous coups, insurrections, massacres and civil wars, I don't think there was decisive foreign involvement in any. Foreigners would naturally favour one side over another, and provide some aid, but this does not amount to "funding civil wars". The attempts made by the west to favour one regime over another have usually blown up in its face. Consider the Shah in Iran, or the present regime (if you can call it that) in Iraq, or, God help us, Somalia.

What in hell are you talking about? One notable "successful foreign invasion" is the establishment of Israel, 1948. Nor do "foreign" (which I assume you mean to be European in origin) invasions have to be "decisive" to make a difference. That being said, there have been many "decisive" involvements, whether they classify as invasions, or not.

Where do you think the royal families of Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (all inter-related, by the way) got their first political appointments? Who do you think kept them in power (or in Iraq's case, restored to power after a coup) until the 1950s (or beyond)? The installation of the Shah in Iran (once to replace his dad, once to replace a prime minister who had thrown him out of office) was twice carried out by Western interests. You think 26 years of secret police didn't make a difference?! Look into it, at how the CIA was so astounded in the cheapness of removing of a government deemed unpleasant that they did it again in Guatemala, Indonesia, and, er, Cuba.

You take a preposterously Eurocentric point of view in thinking that if political attempts to install West-oriented governments failed to produce Western allies in the region, then these fomented rebellions had no impact on the people inside the countries. You might not try suggesting that to the families whose members appeared on lists of "communists" supplied by American intelligence officials to an Iraqi junta in the 1960s.

#78 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 11:00 AM:

Lee at #73 -- Your statement to miriam_beetle is exactly my point.

Even before Bush became President, there were so-called "Christian" pharmacists that were not only opposing dispensing the morning-after pill, but were resistant to selling regular birth control pills as well.

Note: I'm Pagan, but I do not consider the Religious Right in the US to be Christian, as they fail to follow their God's Prime Directive:
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

#79 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 01:37 PM:

Mr Durston, I believe you give the CIA far too much credit, if that is the word, and the State of Israel too little. I'm sorry we disagree.

#80 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:15 PM:

Dave, the history of the CIA toppling governments in the region is well-known, as is the US support of the Mujahadeen and Saddam Hussein. The State of Israel required a lot of support from Europe and the UN to come into being. I have only touched on the Soviet side of the matter; their support of Egypt, and their invasion of Afghanistan. It seems to me--but of this I am less sure--that the KGB had something to do with the formation of the PLO, as well.

"unless you want to think of the whole of it, from Tripoli to Islamabad, as one 'country'" It almost was, once--the Ottoman Empire reached to Baghdad. And Islam has long had the idea of a unified Islamic world--the Dar-al-Islam.

I think you pass by the scale of the problem; the reality is that everyone in region at least knows someone who knows someone who has died or been made homeless by the ongoing machinations. It's very personal--literally everyone's life has been affected.

#81 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:20 PM:

Randolph - the Abbasid caliphs come to mind. IIRC, at one time, the caliphate was (officially at least) from Spain (al-Andalus) to India, about the 9th and 10th centuries (western) or something like the second and third centuries AH.

#82 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:56 PM:

Randolph Fritz: Earl, that's a disgusting, bigoted remark.

My comment that cultures that ban contraception cause the devaluation of the lives of children was not meant to be bigoted. It was meant to be cynical and despairing.

#83 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 04:56 PM:

Lee #73:

Is it really true that it's now hard to get birth control legally outside of big cities? I have a lot of friends and family living far from big cities, including in rather conservative places like Missouri and Utah, who are obviously using birth control, and I've never heard anything about this. I've heard news stories about rare pharmacists refusing to fill such prescriptions, but my strong impression was that these were man-bites-dog stories, not reporting some commonplace experience. I've also heard repeatedly that it's hard for young, healthy women to find a doctor willing to tie their tubes--I'm not sure if that's for moral reasons or for lawsuit reasons.

IMO, one of the best research investments we could make would be reliably reversible sterilization surgery. Just go get that fertility turned off when you're 16, and back on when you're ready for kids.

#84 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 05:43 PM:

People don't talk about levelling Medina because it isn't seen as the seat of Islamic faith.

There are those (e.g. Boynton) who think Muslims to be idolater, and cultists, following a false god. They see this false god as living in Mecca (because that is the direction the faithful pray) and so levelling Mecca will show that thier idols are just that.

It's the same reason the Roundheads destroyed statuues and stained glass.

TK

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 07:15 PM:

Terry Karney #84: There's an irony in that the tradition of Christian iconoclasm (as it began in Byzantium back in the eighth century) was the result of Islamic influence.

#86 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 07:56 PM:

Fragano: Maybe. There's still a lot of debate on the subject, with people saying it was a money/power grab, that it was because of God's disfavor, that it was purely theological, and that it was a response to the rise/success of Islam (often tied into the disfavor rationale, as a tangible sign of same).

Part of the reason that I don't completely ascribe it to Muslim influence, is that one of the chief complaints against icons was from the Khalifa of Damascus. I can't really see the Emperor saying, "By jove, those islamic types are right, our ways of worship are wrong."

There was/is a long history of Christians who opposed the use of icons/relics/objects as foci of worship (e.g. the Paulicians) The Synod of Elvira (ca. 305 had a canon which prohibited icons and images in churches).

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 08:51 PM:

Terry Karney #86: I bow to your superior knowledge. It just seemed to me that the rise of Islam fuelled a particular puritanical streak in Byzantine Christianity.

And, if I recall correctly, the Iconoclasts replaced icons with an image of the cross which is as close to an abstract symbol as Christian symbology gets.

#88 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 09:54 PM:

#70
Not to be combative, but I just don't buy this:

The college-level World History texts (sample copies with post-2001 copyright dates) she brought home when studying for AP tests were also silent on the subject of the Arab world between the Crusades and the 1974 OPEC boycott, and had no discussion of all of Indonesia, for instance.

First of all, you've moved from "Muslim world" to "Arab world." And college-level textbooks all deal with Islamic cultures/peoples/empires between the 13th century and 1974. (In fact, most of them give a semi-patronizing account of the pillars, hadith, etc.; semi-patronizing I say since they don't do the same with Christianity, which would be helpful since few Christians have a freaking clue about the origins of their own faith.) Even if I reach to the second oldest world history textbook in my office (1966), it says: "The Moslem world was as advanced in its cultural achievements as in its religious policies*. The culture of the Moslem empires in the sixteenth century was rich, sophisticated, and varied." In the others you've got your foci on various Turks, Mongols, Mughals, Safavids, and West Africans (Mali and Songhai).

If you actually mean Arabs, then you may have more of a point, though I'd imagine they'd re-appear in the story, oh, I don't know, about 1948 rather than 1974. Since world history is usually structured along the framework of successive empires, then there was no singular large Arabic empire since the 13th century; massively big-time Muslim rulers since then have spoken different languages, and Arabs have been their subjects.

Strangely enough, the texts I've seen do not contain anything like comprehensive information on Islamic history;

You won't get comprehensive history of anything in a world history textbook.

*The belief that monotheism is more "advanced" than polytheism still reigns in contemporary texts.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 10:42 PM:

The belief that monotheism is more "advanced" than polytheism still reigns in contemporary texts.

This is one reason I'm loving Battlestar Galactica, where the polytheists are the good guys and the monotheists are the bad guys j/u/s/t/ /a/s/ /t/h/e/y/ /a/r/e/ /i/n/ /t/h/e/ /r/e/a/l/ /w/o/r/l/d/.

#90 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 10:53 PM:

Xopher: :P

(That's me sticking my tongue out at you. Hey! I spelled tongue right! I don't often do that!)

#91 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 11:06 PM:

In re #88,

First, I was making two points, there: the information about the Arab world in the texts I saw was inadequate; information about other parts of the Muslim world was essentially nonexistant.

In all of them, the information was limited to interaction of the Muslim world with Europe, and descriptions of the effects of those interactions was almost entirely limited to effects on relationships between Muslim countries and European countries. In one text, the effect of the Iranian Revolution was discussed almost entirely in terms of its effects on the American election.

I live in a school district with a growing Muslim population, where South East Asian and Indonesian Muslims were the first to arrive- the inadequacy of K-12 history/social studies textbooks and other teaching tools is something of a public issue right now. So is the relative ignorance about Islam in the pool of history and social studies teachers.

It's likely that our disagreement has more to do with our definitions of "adequate" than anything else; all I know is that both of my college-age offspring have learned substantially more about the Muslim faith and the ways in which it has influenced the modern world from PBS and the digital band of our cable service than from their academic studies through (the elder's) sophomore year in college.

And I know that even though I was the kind of student who took history classes in preference to other non-major studies, I was on my second BA before I encountered much serious discussion of any aspect of the Muslim world which was not directly related to its interaction with the European countries (and that was in a cultural anthropology class). I can't help but thinking that the lack of attention to that other part of the world during the education of the generation now in power is not unconnected with our tendency to screw up internationally.

#92 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 12:24 AM:

David Manheim wrote:

Alex #22: It's OK to simplify the facts and ignore most of the relevant information only if you come up with the right answer? Because it seems that that is what you are doing. I think there is a lot of history that is being ignored - and only some of it should be.

David, you're correct. I was simplifying outrageously, (I've gone on at some length about Iraq previously, though not at Making Light,) but what I wrote about seems to me like the essential issue of the present problem - the profound stupidity, arrogance, and ignorance displayed by the Administration. I'm not sure a successful occupation of Iraq was in the cards for anyone, however historically knowledgeable, but the Bush administration gave us one heck of a lesson what not to do.

Alex

#93 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 12:36 AM:

Earl, my apologies. I heard an echo in your words that was apparently not there. I'm sorry.

#94 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 01:46 AM:

Randolph, the CIA has long believed its own propaganda. I can only suggest that its trust in its abilities is misplaced, but it seems to have become common knowledge.

#95 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 04:05 AM:

albatross @83

IMO, one of the best research investments we could make would be reliably reversible sterilization surgery. Just go get that fertility turned off when you're 16, and back on when you're ready for kids.

And get your ears pierced when you do.

#96 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 06:20 AM:

Speaking of opinions worth noting, Gary Brecher (aka "War Nerd" in The Exile) has some unpleasant observations on the situation in Afghanistan. And, politically incorrect or not, he really drives home the point that "one of the biggest failures of American foreign policy is our inability to understand that other countries have rednecks too."

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 08:07 AM:

Something that was prompted by some channel-surfing last night...

There are a lot of more-or-less "Hollywood" movies set in exotic Eastern cultures, not just from Hollywood itself. Discounting the British Empire in India adventure stories, we have a plethora of Sinbads and other fake-Islamic adventurers.

But what was the last adventure movie centred on a turban-wearing good guy in the fantasy past of the Caliphs?

It doesn't seem all that likely that we'd see it today.

#98 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 10:25 AM:

#91

First, I was making two points, there: the information about the Arab world in the texts I saw was inadequate; information about other parts of the Muslim world was essentially nonexistant.... It's likely that our disagreement has more to do with our definitions of "adequate" than anything else.

You've gone from "silent" to "inadequate," and I'm sure I'd agree with you on that newer point with regard to some (or maybe even all) texts.

the inadequacy of K-12 history/social studies textbooks and other teaching tools is something of a public issue right now. So is the relative ignorance about Islam in the pool of history and social studies teachers.

How often does world history/cultures/geography come up K-12? (In the school systems I grew up in, we had but two years of that sort of education, one optional.) Like you, I'm sure the failures of past textbooks have had a hand in the inadequacies of present-day teachers (even on the most progressive) and politicians. I would argue, however, that college textbooks have gotten better with regards to coverage, scope, and bias.

#99 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 11:10 AM:

Xopher #89:

The belief that monotheism is more "advanced" than polytheism still reigns in contemporary texts.

This is one reason I'm loving Battlestar Galactica, where the polytheists are the good guys and the monotheists are the bad guys j/u/s/t/ /a/s/ /t/h/e/y/ /a/r/e/ /i/n/ /t/h/e/ /r/e/a/l/ /w/o/r/l/d/.

I am going to wait for a serial in which the good guys are atheists and the bad guys are theists, just as.... ;-)

#100 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 12:42 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #99: I am going to wait for a serial in which the good guys are atheists and the bad guys are theists [..]

Stargate SG-1 vs. the Goa'uld, the Ori?

#101 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 02:23 PM:

Dave the CIA's success in Iran is well documented (look up Operation Ajax), as is their intervention in Afghanistan, during which, indeed, they drove out the USSR...and created the Taliban; one of their young paramilitaries was a man named bin Laden. On the other side, look at the history of the USSR and Egypt, and the KGB and the PLO.

Thinking it over, I don't understand your objection; these are all well-documented history, not CIA brags.

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 05:20 PM:

Rob Rusick #100: You have a point, although both bad guys (the Goa'uld) and good guys (Asgard) are gods....

#103 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 06:42 PM:

Dave Bell #97: Disney's Aladdin? 1992, and I admit it's gifted with such less-than-obviously-cultural-precise lines as

'try your best to stay calm,
buck up your Sunday salaam'

The setting is, I think, explicitly Baghdad and fairly clearly at its height of power at the height of the Caliphate.

#104 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 06:47 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #102: You have a point, although both bad guys (the Goa'uld) and good guys (Asgard) are gods....

Taken for gods, but not really gods. I thought the Goa'uld might count as theists, as they actively promoted that they should be worshipped. I don't know how guilty the Asgard were by that measure.

Ascended beings, like the Ancients and the Ori, might be more god-like, but though perhaps transcendent, I don't believe we are to read them as supernatural. The Ori, again, promote that they should be worshipped.

Although this seems to stretch the meaning of the word “theist”. Are you really a theist if you say, “There is a god, and it's me! Worship me!”? Many Roman emperors were gods in a state religion, but were they really believed to have been gods?

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Rob Rusick #104: The emperors were certainly worshipped as gods. I don't know that that meant that they were generally considered to be gods.

Caligula, I think, really believed he was one.

#106 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Tom Womack #103: Along the same line in clinking lyrics, the singing muses in Disney's Hercules had a recurring line: “And that's the gospel truth.” Which when I heard it, made me think, “Wait, Hercules is in the Bible?”

#107 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2006, 11:24 PM:

Randolph, I regret the length of this. Your point requires detailed argument.

We are asked to believe that the CIA, with a small station staff in Teheran, spending less than a million dollars, managed to destroy the popular Mossadeq government by putting up wall posters, spreading propaganda, bribing some members of the Majlis, and funnelling money to the Zahidi brothers - about $50,000, it seems. I don't buy it.

Even Donald Wilber, who was personally in charge of the propaganda side, and who wrote the only primary source ("The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup") that I could find when I investigated this claim in another connection some years ago, never claimed that the CIA had done anything more than planning, organising in the sense of liaising with the various plotters, some propaganda, and funding. This was a military coup with populist - yes, populist - elements waiting to happen. It would almost certainly have happened anyway, and would probably have succeeded, or at least destroyed that government. Indeed, it is arguable that by organising it better, the CIA might have actually prevented a major bloodbath.

But Wilber could only have been expected to enlarge on the CIA's role. It was very much in his and the agency's interests to do so, just as it is very much in the interests of the current Teheran regime to blame it all on the Americans. It is the latter construction that has now become common knowledge. I don't believe it.

But all this is actually irrelevant to the question under discussion: why despair? You have said that an entire people are sending their children out because they have no hope at all. Even if I were to accept the version of events that you do, how does it give rise to despair? For whatever the US may or may not have done in 1953, it all came to pieces in 1979. Condign revenge was taken on the Americans for their interference. They were humiliated and brought to utter impotence. Their attempt at a military intervention failed resoundingly. A whole system of foreign thought was repudiated and expunged. Why would this cause despair, if you were proudly Iranian, Islamic and anti-western? Recall, if you will, that the suicide bomber has appeared as a major weapon of war since 1979.

And if there is despair about loss of sovereignty caused by western interference or actual conquest, subjugation and colonialism, why are the Saudi and Jordanian regimes not subject to home-grown popular revolt, with suicide bombers, random explosions and roadside mines? Al-queda dislikes them, true, and there have been some incidents, but nothing like on the scale of Iraq and the Israeli borders. Mr Durston implies that these regimes are as indebted to western intervention as was the Shah, a construction I do not deny, while not believing that it amounted to as much as is generally thought. So why no uprising, fuelled with the rhetoric of sacrifice and despair?

As for the Taliban, no offence, but I find the idea that they were created by the CIA far-fetched to say the least. They were deeply rooted and long extant. Yes, the CIA supplied funding, and the Pakistanis funnelled arms to them, using American money - to fight the Soviets. But even if I were to admit the claim that the CIA created them, however disgusting the Taliban might be, the last thing anybody could accuse them of is being westernised. They fought off the Soviets and set up a thoroughly native government that was certainly not much influenced by the west, to say the very least. How is this consistent with the claim that the west, by interfering with the sovereignty of popular governments in the region, has induced despair among its people?

No. It won't do. I think that if a whole people have lost all hope, and are moved by that to "sacrifice their children", we must look elsewhere for the cause.

#108 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 12:37 AM:

Re #107, Dave Luckett:   Iran sent waves of suicide charges against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the first Gulf War (preceding the American intervention on behalf of Kuwait). You may recall that Saddam Hussein was then being armed and supplied by the USA, back when that photo was taken of his happy handshake with Donald Rumsfeld.

Suicide bombers were stirred up among the Palestinians complaining of their treatment by American-supported Israel — and if they felt despair, is it any wonder?

#109 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 01:11 AM:

Re #109, Dave Luckett:

Raven, the war you mention was not the first Gulf War, but the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988....

That was the "Gulf War", the only one called that, before Desert Shield / Desert Storm.   See, e.g.:

Even when that is called the "Iran-Iraq War", and the 1990-1991 war is called "the Gulf War", as in "Australian involvement in the Gulf War (1990-91)", the clarification appears: "It is important to note that the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) is often referred to as the First Gulf War."   "The Gulf War 1990/1991" likewise notes, "Although we tend to call the 1990/91 conflict the Gulf War this was not the first Gulf war in this region. From 1980 to 1988 Iraqi fought a bloody war against its neighbor Iran."

Perhaps it's typical Western (and especially American) self-centeredness, abetted by widespread public unawareness of history outside the West, that tends to wipe the first Gulf War out of memory, and start counting only when the US-led coalition went in.

Sort of like "World War Two started when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941" — never mind what was going on in Europe and Asia before that.   "The US defeated Germany" as well, which left many Americans wondering what business the Soviets had being in East Germany and East Berlin.

#110 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 01:13 AM:

Raven, the war you mention was not the first Gulf War, but the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988 - post-1979, as I said. As you say, this was the first occasion (since the Japanese kamikaze attacks) when suicide bombers were used as a weapon. The first of them, famously, was a thirteen-year-old boy, today revered as a martyr and hero in Iran. He was a member of the juvenile "martyr brigades" despatched to the front by the Iranians, with the blessing of Khomeini. It was to this that Randolph was referring, I took it.

Saddam was mostly equipped by the Soviets, and then by the Russians, not by the US, though some minor western assistance was given. The French, for example, sold him helicopters and looked the other way when he armed them. His actual weapons were Soviet and iron curtain surplus, for example the famous (and over-touted) Scud missiles. Yes, Rumsfeld shook his hand.

I think you put your finger on the real reason for the rage and despair in the Islamic world, a catch-all term that I hesitate to use, but I agree that "Arab countries" or "Middle East" is not responsive or accurate. I don't think it is universal or even prevalent, but across the whole region, from Libya to Indonesia, from Chechnya to Sudan, there is a moiety that rages and despairs. The question is why, and I think you have answered it.

#111 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 01:14 AM:

I'm not only psychic (replying ahead of the text by Dave Luckett I'm responding to), but self-referential, since my #109 refers to post #109. What further wonders have I in store?

#112 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 01:47 AM:

Dave, I'll have to dig further to get you a better answer on Iran; primary sources can be quite misleading when one doesn't know a subject area very well already, and a single primary source never tells the whole story.

The Taliban grew out of the Afghan mujahadeen, created, financed, equipped, and trained to fight off the Soviet Union by the USA and Saudi Arabia (wikipedia adds the PRC and Pakistan to that list). The mujahadeen won and then proceeded to fight over the spoils, to the horror of the citizens of Afghanistan. One faction, the Taliban, emerged from the chaos, and came to rule with an iron hand. As far as I can tell the Taliban's cadres came from the original mujahadeen; their taliban (students) were the footsoldiers of the Taliban. And notice: the Afghan people were treated as disposible by the players of the greater game. As soon as the Soviet Union was beaten back, Afghanistan was allowed to devolve into warlordism, nor were the early horrors of the relgious tyranny of the Taliban in any way checked, despite many objections from human rights groups.

More after I get some sleep and get to do some real research.

#113 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 01:59 AM:

More for Dave Luckett:

Saddam was mostly equipped by the Soviets, and then by the Russians, not by the US, though some minor western assistance was given. The French, for example, sold him helicopters and looked the other way when he armed them. His actual weapons were Soviet and iron curtain surplus, for example the famous (and over-touted) Scud missiles. Yes, Rumsfeld shook his hand.   [emphasis added]
That boldfaced bit above is a baldfaced lie.
  • "Arming Iraq: A Chronology of U.S. Involvement"

    December, 1982. Hughes Aircraft ships 60 Defender helicopters to Iraq.

    1982-1988. Defense Intelligence Agency provides detailed information for Iraq on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb damage assessments.

    November, 1983. A National Security Directive states that the U.S would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing its war with Iran.

    November, 1983. Banca Nazionale del Lavoro of Italy and its Branch in Atlanta begin to funnel $5 billion in unreported loans to Iraq. Iraq, with the blessing and official approval of the US government, purchased computer controlled machine tools, computers, scientific instruments, special alloy steel and aluminum, chemicals, and other industrial goods for Iraq's missile, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

    October, 1983. The Reagan Administration begins secretly allowing Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt to transfer United States weapons, including Howitzers, Huey helicopters, and bombs to Iraq. These shipments violated the Arms Export Control Act.

    ... January 14, 1984. State Department memo acknowledges United States shipment of "dual-use" export hardware and technology. Dual use items are civilian items such as heavy trucks, armored ambulances and communications gear as well as industrial technology that can have a military application.

    ... May, 1986. The US Department of Commerce licenses 70 biological exports to Iraq between May of 1985 and 1989, including at least 21 batches of lethal strains of anthrax.

    May, 1986. US Department of Commerce approves shipment of weapons grade botulin poison to Iraq.

    ... April, 1988. US Department of Commerce approves shipment of chemicals used in manufacture of mustard gas.

    August, 1988. Four major battles were fought from April to August 1988, in which the Iraqis massively and effectively used chemical weapons to defeat the Iranians. Nerve gas and blister agents such as mustard gas are used. By this time the US Defense Intelligence Agency is heavily involved with Saddam Hussein in battle plan assistance, intelligence gathering and post battle debriefing. In the last major battle with of the war, 65,000 Iranians are killed, many with poison gas. Use of chemical weapons in war is in violation of the Geneva accords of 1925.

    August, 1988. Iraq and Iran declare a cease fire.

    August, 1988. Five days after the cease fire Saddam Hussein sends his planes and helicopters to northern Iraq to begin massive chemical attacks against the Kurds.

    September, 1988. US Department of Commerce approves shipment of weapons grade anthrax and botulinum to Iraq.

    December, 1988. Dow chemical sells $1.5 million in pesticides to Iraq despite knowledge that these would be used in chemical weapons. ...

  • "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup" (Washington Post) —

    The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait -- which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological precursors -- is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy. It is a world in which deals can be struck with dictators, human rights violations sometimes overlooked, and accommodations made with arms proliferators, all on the principle that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend."

    ... A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.

    ... Although U.S. arms manufacturers were not as deeply involved as German or British companies in selling weaponry to Iraq, the Reagan administration effectively turned a blind eye to the export of "dual use" items such as chemical precursors and steel tubes that can have military and civilian applications. According to several former officials, the State and Commerce departments promoted trade in such items as a way to boost U.S. exports and acquire political leverage over Hussein.

    When United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, they compiled long lists of chemicals, missile components, and computers from American suppliers, including such household names as Union Carbide and Honeywell, which were being used for military purposes.

    A 1994 investigation by the Senate Banking Committee turned up dozens of biological agents shipped to Iraq during the mid-'80s under license from the Commerce Department, including various strains of anthrax, subsequently identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program. The Commerce Department also approved the export of insecticides to Iraq, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.

  • More links if you need them.

#114 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 03:00 AM:

re: 83 and the difficulty of getting birth control outside the big cities...
While I think the original comment may have referred to the difficulty of getting the morning-after pill outside large cities, I wouldn't be surprised if people were having trouble getting regular contraception as well.

I went to college in the late 90's in a fairly small town in central Illinois where both of the hospitals were run by religious organizations. When I went to see my regular doctor (who was affiliated with the Catholic hospital) and mentioned the possibility of wanting to get started on the pill, the nurse told me that they didn't prescribe the pill unless I was having unusually severe cramping or in some other way NEEDED it medically. Then asked me if I was sure I wasn't having really bad cramping. Luckily, in a town with TWO universities, there was also a branch of Planned Parenthood where I finally went when I needed the prescription. Sure, I could have lied and said I had bad cramps, wink wink, and gotten the Rx, but why should I lie? The doctor at the Planned Parenthood clinic was nicer anyway.

#115 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 06:08 AM:

Yes, the Disney Aladdin seems a likely contender for the end of the Hollywood-style Arabian Fantasy Adventure. Being English, I tend to see that story as more Chinese, perhaps from the traditional pantomime version.

Which, in turn, might be seen as vaguely related to the Hope and Crosby Road movies in its relation to any reality.

These days, you'd probably have to go for a pre-Islamic world, centre it on Persia, and probably pay the usual Hollywood attention to history, with the Romans taking the place of the British as the generic bad guys.

Alright, so who mentioned Xena?

#116 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 06:26 AM:

Raven:

Helicopters. The Hughes Defenders, and the sundry others, were unarmed and said to be civilian versions, and Saddam's regime swore that they were for civil use. Supplying them was stupid, nevertheless.

Mustard gas. Precursor chemicals were supplied, though these chemicals have other uses. The gas was manufactured in Iraq and used. Supplying them was stupid. Using the gas was a war crime. So would using biological agents be, but apparently it never happened. I am appalled and staggered to read that the actual agents were provided, though I knew about the lab equipment. Saddam never succeeded in manufacture. Supplying any at all was rash, stupid, culpable and actually criminal, no argument. I did not know this had been done. It weakens me considerably, I confess.

Other military equipment was supplied in small quantities, not by the US, but by other nations in the region. Not stopping it was stupid, though it might have been difficult to prevent. The same for anything supplied by the subsidiaries of US companies in other countries.

Other items - trucks, ambulances, computer systems, steel tubes, alloys, lab equipment, pesticides - should not have been supplied, either, but they were not arms. They might have been used to manufacture arms, or supply armed forces, but they had legitimate civil uses. This is less culpable, in all reason.

Compared to the scale of Saddam's armaments supplied by the Soviets, this is still small. It's still wrong, still stupid, and still culpable, but it's small on the scale of national economies.

Saddam was fighting Iran. It was stupid, but inevitable, that the US should give him some covert support. I said, "Saddam was mostly equipped by the Soviets, and then by the Russians, not by the US, though some minor western assistance was given." I see that I should have said "not much by the US", and "some US and western assistance was given".

Nomenclature. I will not dispute the name of the war, so long as we can agree that it started after 1979. This means that the first use of suicide bombers was by Iraq after that nation had successfully destroyed the hated US influence and, if you like, the regime that the US had installed, and had done this without using its youth as "sacrifices". Why, then, is its subsequent use of suicide bombers against its regional neighbour ascribed to despair caused by western hegemony and defeat at the hands of the west?

#117 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 06:35 AM:

#116, Dave Luckett:

... the first use of suicide bombers was by Iraq ....   [emphasis added]
No, it was by Iran.

Please tell me that, unlike the President of the United States, you know the difference.

#118 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 06:46 AM:

Sorry, Raven. I mistyped. My apologies. I meant Iran, and I knew it was Iran. Honest.

#119 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 07:18 AM:

#107: Dave Luckett

I think that if a whole people have lost all hope, and are moved by that to "sacrifice their children", we must look elsewhere for the cause.

It isn't quite that simple--I listen to NPR a lot, and the range goes from parents who are proud of their suicide bomber children to parents who are horrified and sad that their kids were talked into suicide/murder.

Here's an article based on careful sociology about suicide bombers with a lot of interviews and surveys. (I can't remember if I've already posted the link here, and "show all by" isn't working.) If the article is correct, then ongoing insults in the media have a lot to do with suicide bombing, probably more than recent history does.

On the other hand, there's a quote from a Palestinian which partially backs up the "no hope" theory: "If we don't fight, we will suffer. If we do fight, we will suffer, but so will they."

#120 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Nancy: yes, people are quite variable; explaining it as an expression of despair is a way of expressing the median of a large group of motivations, and the motivations of the leaders are different from those of the parents, which are different than the motivations of the teenagers, who are largely manipulated into suicidal behavior (depressingly easy to do with teenagers). There are undoubtedly some teenagers who are simply depressed as well.

I like the article you cited very much. Some comments:

1. 'I think when you're facing something larger than you, something you cannot defeat, there is a different calculus for fighting. Rather than "I'll fight to win," a sort of rational cost-benefit strategy, the logic is moral-emotional: "I'll fight because it is the right thing to do; because what they are doing is wrong; because I cannot live with myself if I accept their actions."' is pretty much what I am getting at. For the bombers, it's a suicide note; one after all cannot live with oneself when one is dead. A community which believes it "cannot live with itself" without futily sacrificing its children is in a state of despair. What else might one reasonably call it?

2. Most Arab/Islamic mass media are controlled; there is not a free press in that part of the Islamic world--the public is shown what to react to.

3. People snicker at humiliation if they feel strong in themselves. But these people have been losing for generations--how could they feel strong?

#121 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Randolph (at 120),

A lot more people are willing to sacrifice someone else's children than their own. There are few if any wars that don't involve someone on each side deciding to make that sacrifice, and how many believe it futile? I suspect someone could easily have sat down in, oh, 1965 and talked about the futility of the Viet Cong's sacrifice, because there was no way that they could defeat the United States.

The parallels aren't exact, but they don't need to be: they only need to be visible enough that somone can decide, in 2006, that it's worth sacrificing his own life to kill foreign soldiers, because if he and enough other people do that, the foreign armies will leave.

#122 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Re #118, Dave Luckett: Fair enough, and credible since the rest of your statement fit Iran.

But then your #116's...

Why, then, is its subsequent use of suicide bombers against its regional neighbour ascribed to despair caused by western hegemony and defeat at the hands of the west?
... is inexplicably asked, because we've already discussed the answer.

As detailed above, Iraq was conducting CBW (chemical/biological warfare) against Iran, killing tens of thousands of Iranians, defeating them in battle with weapons acquired from "the West".

When saying ""Saddam was mostly equipped by the Soviets, and then by the Russians...", did you mean to exclude the Soviets/Russians from "the West"?   That would fit a Cold War viewpoint ("the Soviets" vs. "the West") — but not a Muslim viewpoint, to which the Soviets/Russians, Western and Eastern Europe, and the USA are all equally Ferengi (etymologically, "French").

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan also used CBW; it was another traumatic imposition by unbelievers upon Muslims, requiring jihad — which is (by definition) what the mujaheddin engaged in, from whom came al-Qaeda.

In a holy war, their religious authorities agree, martyrdom is surely blessed.   Is it surprising that devout Muslims might seek it, or that parents might want their children to be blessed?

Saddam Hussein's Baathist government was secular, not Islamic — even though its members were personally Muslims — thus it was a non-Islamic government imposed on Muslims, intolerable to the Islamists.   This is why Osama bin Laden, veteran of the Afghan anti-Soviet resistance, hated Saddam Hussein, and offered to help expel him from Kuwait.

But when the US-led coalition did it instead, American troops were left stationed in Saudi Arabia — also intolerable to someone like Osama bin Laden, himself a Wahhabi and expatriate of that "holy land".   This was the specific offense he cited in declaring jihad on America.   That made the 9/11 suicide missions "martyrdom".

I get the impression you think Israel is the central complaint of Islamists.   But it's merely one more (though glaring) example of non-Islamic intrusion — along with the overthrow of Iran's Mossadegh, the Soviets in Afghanistan, Iraq's Baathists vs Iran, and then the Americans in Saudi Arabia.

Until, of course, Bush "cut and ran" — withdrew American troops from Saudi Arabia — to boast thereafter that his heroic actions had prevented further attacks on American soil.

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 09:50 AM:

An AKCIF moment: my btother recalled seeing an Ali Baba movie were the thieves were scantily-clad women, pushing the limits for the time.

So can anyone identify it?

#124 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 09:59 AM:

Comment on my own

That would fit a Cold War viewpoint ("the Soviets" vs. "the West") — but not a Muslim viewpoint, to which the Soviets/Russians, Western and Eastern Europe, and the USA are all equally Ferengi (etymologically, "French").
I forgot to include this as a parallel:

A tourist from the USA goes down a street in Latin America with a local guide.   They pass a wall on which is painted in huge letters, "YANKEE GO HOME!"   The guide starts to apologize to the tourist — who interrupts to say, "Oh, don't worry, I completely agree, I'm from Dixie myself."

#125 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 11:23 AM:

Comments on who did or did not "arm" Iraq:
There's a short summary on the aptly titled Wikipedia page Arms Sales to Iraq 1973-1990, from one one can see that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact accounted for about 69% of the monetary total, follwed by France at 13% and China at 12%, with the US coming in at... 0.5%.

These numbers come from the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research, which itself has a page with some links to more detailed breakdowns here. From which you can find out exactly what Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, and Brazil sold Iraq, as well.

(These are all conventional weapons sales, though they do include the ambiguous "light helicopters," which in some cases were ordered for civilian use but then actually used by the Air Force.)

#126 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 11:40 AM:

Dave Bell said (#115):
Yes, the Disney Aladdin seems a likely contender for the end of the Hollywood-style Arabian Fantasy Adventure. Being English, I tend to see that story as more Chinese, perhaps from the traditional pantomime version.

For what it's worth, there was a TV (live-action) miniseries of "The Arabian Nights" broadcast in 2000, complete with Scheherzade frame story.[*] It was pretty much a standard Arabian Fantasy Adventure (well, more or less the way the original stories are). Slightly noteworthy was the fact that it took the notional "Chinese" setting[**] of the Aladin story somewhat seriously, casting Jason Scott Lee as Aladin and Vanessa Mae as the princess.

[*] Though they finessed the story and character of the king rather a lot, so that he was still vaguely sympathetic to a modern Western audience, and Scheherazde could fall in love with him and save him from his "madness," rather than just outwit and tame him.

[**] The original story does supposedly take place in China, though this is clearly a medieval Arabian "magical kingdom far, far away" setting rather than anything authentically Chinese.

#127 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 12:49 PM:

#121 - I suspect someone could easily have sat down in, oh, 1965 and talked about the futility of the Viet Cong's sacrifice, because there was no way that they could defeat the United States.

I read this, perhaps I'm mistaken, as begging the question of whether the Viet Cong's sacrifice was indeed futile.

Indeed any number of Americans who sympathized with the VC but not with the NVA talked about the futility in 1965 and in other times and places.

My own worm's eye view of the futility of the Viet Cong's sacrifice is that it was indeed futile - I analogize Tet to the Russian inspired rising by the Polish Home Army mostly in and around Warsaw - indigenous resistance forces were destroyed and so eased a subsequent invasion - in this case by the NVA leading to repression and boat people.

Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, currently not available, would be good source on the futility of sacrifice in the 1960's and 1970's in opposition to the Shah and later to other repression. His statement to the effect that when I saw what I had done I tried to make it right deserves to live.

As for sacrificing children tales of the Juggernaut are apocryphal, Moloch is ancient history told by opponents and for OBS sf see Asimov on child sacrifice in Carthage - likely some true believers thought it was for the child's good (like e.g. some of the things today I regard as mutilation).

#128 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 03:28 PM:

Re #125, Peter Erwin:

Comments on who did or did not "arm" Iraq: There's a short summary on the aptly titled Wikipedia page Arms Sales to Iraq 1973-1990, from one one can see that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact accounted for about 69% of the monetary total, follwed by France at 13% and China at 12%, with the US coming in at... 0.5%.
The tempting thing about CBW is the kills-to-costs ratio, compared to "conventional" weapons.   Mustard gas in the trenches, or sarin in the subways, the same incentives apply.   That's why all the pressure "civilized" governments and international bodies can bring to bear is needed to provide disincentives, starve the practice and the trade, stomp them both out.  But Reagan and Bush fed them under the table.

#129 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 03:47 PM:

And notice that the CBW provided is not covered at all in that table.   It addresses, as you noted, only "conventional weapons sales" — which very nicely excludes both CBW and the "dual use" equipment.   Don't you think those types of supplies were chosen with that in mind?   As for the previously-listed use of front groups, authorizing the release of stockpiled US weapons from other nations and NATO, bank manipulations, and other indirect assistance, under the counter — the Reagan/Bush team clearly understood both the need and the techniques for obfuscation and deniability.   As if the Iran-Contra and S&L scandals hadn't adequately demonstrated that.

#130 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 04:45 PM:

Raven (#129):
"Authorizing the release of stockpiled US weapons from other nations and NATO" would have been counted in those tables -- those are conventional weapons, after all. If you look at the more detailed breakdowns, it includes hidden sales via Egypt and Jordan. Not to mention the fact that Iraq would have found US/NATO weapons awkward to integrate into their military, which was overwhelmingly based on Soviet equipment.

The tables also show that while the first US sale to Iraq took place in 1983 (helicopters), various European countries started selling weapons to Iraq as early as 1980 -- except for France, which started selling them all sorts of things in the 1970s. It's a little difficult to attribute that to the cunning of Reagan/Bush, when they weren't even in office yet.

#131 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 04:47 PM:

I'd add to that last point that there is a difference between selling weapons and selling the factories to make the weapons. All the propaganda was based on the idea that Saddam had the chemical plant that could make these chemicals.

And who sold him that?

#132 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2006, 06:34 PM:

Dave Bell said (#131)
And who sold him that?

Ah, I believe that would be primarily the Germans. Also the French and the Austrians. (See, for example, here, particularly the linked graphic.)

#133 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 12:58 AM:

Raven, permit me a weary chuckle. If I, as a conservative, were to so far forget myself as to state, in effect, that the Muslim world is characterised by xenophobic ignorance, (a Muslim viewpoint, to which the Soviets/Russians, Western and Eastern Europe, and the USA are all equally Ferengi) bigotry (Saddam's Baathist regime was secular, and thus it was a non-Islamic government imposed on Muslims, intolerable to the Islamists.) and religious fanaticism (In a holy war, their religious authorities agree, martyrdom is surely blessed. Is it surprising that devout Muslims might seek it, or that parents might want their children to be blessed?), I would be pilloried.

I have no wish to be placed in the stocks again. I say nothing.

#134 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 09:37 AM:

The New York Times Magazine yesterday had an article on Islam & the Bomb that had some interesting things to say about the concept of martyrdom, etc.

#135 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 10:49 AM:

The bad people in history often seem a lot less bad when they're starting out. Not good people, but they do what's necessary to maintain order and make the trains run on time. And Saddam, as a secular counter to the religious extremism elsewhere in the Middle East, wasn't looking so bad in the Seventies.

But you let them get away with the small things, and you support them because you share some opponents, and maybe you've pencilled in Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson for the biopic, and it doesn't stop there.

It's an old pattern. And yet we never seem to recognise it until it is too late, and sometimes we see our attempts to restore the status quo making things worse.

We keep making strong dictators, who see themselves as above the law. We rerun the torture myth, even as history shows that it doesn't work.

Only this time the little tin-pot tyrant is called George Bush.

#136 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 02:11 PM:

OK, we're now up to "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" in 2003. Good points: he'd dealing wioth Eris. Bad points: they make him a Greek.

Which seems to sum up everything that matters.

#137 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 02:42 PM:

"A lot more people are willing to sacrifice someone else's children than their own.[...]"

It's a different situation; in the article Nancy linked the discussion is of the motivations within small close-knit villages. These are "their own" children. You reference the Viet Cong. But the VC were a military force, had a national base, a powerful international ally (the USSR), and well-known and effective strategies and tactics. I don't think there are many parallels there; the Palestinians are simply angry and hopeless.

(I haven't forgotten about Iran, but the discussion now requires me to visit a good research library.)

#138 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Faren@134 --- You may want to review Matthew Yglesias's commentary on the Feldman article --- he makes a pretty good case that it's logically and factually challenged on some significant points. (Among other things, Feldman pointedly ignores Israel's nukes when discussing remarks from Arab diplomats which were surely meant to include them, and then goes rummaging around Islamic tradition and writ searching for something that might be taken, out of context, as indicative of a peculiar propensity to use nukes not shared by cultures like our own --- never mind that the only culture to actually use them yet was, well... us).

It's not the first time I've seen addle-pated commentary from Feldman, so I'm not exactly surprised by the critique...

#139 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2006, 10:00 AM:

Charles -- thanks for the link. I did "read it blind," but I wasn't really focussing on the supposed nuclear implications in the Times article. The sidetracks into martyrdom interested me more (and made me think of fundamentalist Christian apocalypse-mania as a related syndrome). When thinking back to eras preceding the imperialists' trashing of the Middle East, what I always feel is regret for the fall of the relatively enlightened culture that built the Alhambra and pioneered in the arts and sciences while most of Europe was still in a post-Roman slump. Sure, it was flawed, but such achievements.... [Yeah, I'm a wimp who likes "distant" history a lot better than politics.]

#140 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2006, 07:51 AM:

Raven (#124):
"Oh, don't worry, I completely agree, I'm from Dixie myself."

Is that the new "safe" place for Americans traveling abroad to claim they're from? It used to be Texas, but Connecticut-born Bush II screwed that one up for the rest of us. What about Canada, is that still usable?

#141 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2006, 10:11 AM:

Earl, the way it was told to me (and I make no guarantee as to its accuracy) is that outside the USA, "Yankee" means any (US) American. In the US generally it means anyone from the north, but in the northern states outside New England, it means someone from New England. Within New England it means someone from New Hampshire or Vermont, while in New Hampshire or Vermont, it means someone who hails from Green Mountain, or very nearby.

Anybody from Dixi would be insulted to be called a Yankee. "Why, suh, Ah was fou'teen yeahs old befo' Ah knoo that dayum Yankee wus two woahds." Boo-boom.

#142 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2006, 11:21 AM:

Earl Cooley III, #140: Please don't claim to be Canadian, as that endangers innocent Canadian travellers.

In other news:

Last week, Iran's fiercely anti-U.S. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed opposition to a bill that would require Americans to be fingerprinted on arrival in Iran.
The bill, which passed a preliminary reading in the Iranian parliament earlier this month, was drafted by conservatives who sought to retaliate for U.S. requirements that Iranian visitors be fingerprinted. It has not been debated yet.

#143 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2006, 11:27 AM:

Speaking of nukes and such: any so-called "suitcase nukes" left over from the old Soviet Union are almost certainly inoperable by now.

#144 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2006, 01:06 PM:

143 Speaking of nukes and such and other wasting assets that fall into a use it or lose it category - I do wonder whether that's a good thing or an incitement to early use?

#145 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2006, 04:01 PM:

#126 Peter Erwin (and, earlier, Dave Bell):

Disney includes a tiny nod to the "Chinese" setting in their "Aladdin" -- among the sights Aladdin shows Princess Jasmine during the magic carpet sequence ("A Whole New World") are a Chinese pagoda and what appears to be a New Year's procession with dragon "puppet" and fireworks.

why, yes, my daughter did watch that essentially to memorization when she was a toddler.

#146 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 01:25 PM:

"143 Speaking of nukes and such and other wasting assets that fall into a use it or lose it category - I do wonder whether that's a good thing or an incitement to early use?"

Some guy in Chicago once said: nuke early and nuke often.

but he was drunk.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.