Thursday, August 24, 2006

Class Prep

Sorry for the blogging break, Abu 'Skandar is out of town for an extended period so I have all the childcare, plus the cooking, and its time to do the prep for the new semester.

Although I'm teaching a course on contemporary world issues in the Muslim world for the nineth time, its always a lot of prep because things in the Middle East are changing so fast. It's a draining class because the students come in knowing so little and they have so much to learn. Every semester feels like a new mountain to climb, and thanks to the politics of the current administration, the journey just keeps getting steeper and steeper.

I plan on having the class listen to Terry Gross' interview with Ahmed Rashid next week. It aired on Fresh Air today.

The class will try not only to make sense of Pakistani politics, jihadist groups, al-Qaeda, Afghanistan and the resurgent Taliban, they will also have to understand the war in Iraq and Israel/Palestine, Syria/Lebanon/Hizbollah, and oh yeah, there's Iran too! But hey, if George Bush can do it, so can an undergrad . . . oh wait . . . oh, nevermind.

I should be back to blogging regularly next week.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Peace Poems from Gush Shalom

Although the cease-fire seems to be holding, I wanted to share a few more of the peace/protest poems published in Haaretz by Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc. I find the condensed language of poetry very moving and strangely appropriate for the confused world we live in.

From Monday:

The politicians will
Blame each other.
The generals will
Blame each other.
The politicians will
Accuse the generals.
The generals will accuse
The politicians.

Nothing of this
Will help
The dead.

Ad published in Haaretz, August 14, 2006

Of all the Gush Shalom peace poems, that one (above) is the most timeless with a rhythm and cadence (in English anyway) that I find very moving.

On Tuesday, they returned to the more immediate theme of a need for a political settlement:

The last victim
Of this war
Has not yet
Been buried -
and the chief of
Army Intelligence
Already announces
That he expects
Another war
in Lebanon.

Could there be
A more striking
Confirmation of the fact
That there is
No military solution?

Ad published in Haaretz, August 15, 2006

As the Lebanon crisis turns from bombs back to speeches and politics, I think that it is important to remember the dead from both sides. Juan Cole posted a letter from Todd Hasak-Lowy on the death of David Grossman's son, Uri, a solider in the conflict. Please go read the whole letter to learn more about writer and peace activist David Grossman here. But I want to highlight this passage from Hasak-Lowry that lingers in my mind even days later much like the poems of Gush Shalom:
But maybe now's the time to stop, to really stop and think about how each death on every side draws a ring around itself to include another dozen or so people, family members and life-long friends, who never fully recover from their mourning. Maybe now's the time to realize, if you're willing to do the horribly simple math, that for some time now every Palestinian and every Israeli has likely found him or herself, and in many cases more than once, drawn reluctantly into someone's now obliterated circle, leaving a conflict between two nations of mourners.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Works for Me Wednesday: Corelle

Its Wednesday and once again I want to join Shannon at Rocks in the Dryer for "Works for Me Wednesday." I know it might feel jarring to have household tips adjacent to discussions of war or politics but that's how life is. I love grappling with big ideas and current events but there's always the laundry to do and the thousand and one ordinary necessities of life.

Today, I want to talk dishes! I know that many people love stoneware for daily use but I find it heavy and awkward. I love Corelle! Thin, lightweight, durable. Here's how they do it:
Corelle glass dinnerware is made through a hub lamination process that thermally bonds three layers of glass: core glass in the middle, with top and bottom layers of very clear skin or glaze glass. The process creates a lightweight, durable, multi-layered product. In addition, the unique enamels used during the decorating process actually become part of the glass, so the patterns last as long as the plate.

Corelle was first introduced in 1970 and my family must have been among the first to buy it. One of my earliest memories is going to Sears with my father to buy a set. When we got back my little sister got hold of a bowl from her highchair and promptly threw it to the ground. As promised, the Corelle did not break! It made quite an impression on me; its one of my few memories from before my brother was born in 1971.

On my own after college, one of my first purchases was a set of sleek white Corelle dishes. I still use them today and my mom still has most of the pieces from that 1970s set (now a vintage pattern, good old snowflake blue.)

In addition to its durability, I think that my favorite feature is that I can reach into the dishwasher with one hand and pick up five plates simultaneously! Whoo-hoo! Anything that helps empty the dishwasher more quickly.

Now, Corelle comes in some amazing new patterns and even a thicker style and a stoneware version too! Not to mention funky square plates! But I still love the original Livingware. Although I am tempted to add a new pattern to mix in with my white plates.

Lightweight, durable, pretty and I've forgotten to mention, affordable! Works for me!

Back to School

Well, the cease-fire seems to be holding. Although a comprehensive peace does not seem to be in the works, a cease-fire is an improvement over bombardment. So, today I am going to turn back to a more immediate interest: back-to-school.

Yesterday, my older two went back to school. I am happy for them but it is a little bittersweet. As I wrote a friend,
"I'm excited for them, we all love school and the new activities it brings, but yes, it reveals the passage of time for them and for me. The years are going by . . . I think that never will I be more loved, seen as more powerful, imagined more wise, felt more strong, than I am in these years of intensive, hands-on parenting. The kids still belong to me more than they belong to themselves and I mourn that ending. My mom did too. Of course, it is a tremendous blessing to have healthy strong kids who will start to pull away and become wonderful adults . . . but there's a loss too and the beginning of the school year is when I feel it a little, can see that shape of it in the future, sigh.

Its hard and often exhausting to be at the center of your children's world. But in the end, its such a short amount of time and it goes by so quickly. The oldest, the eponymous 'Skandar, is in third grade now and although it hasn't happened yet, I know that soon the struggle to individuate oneself and pull away from family will begin.

The real challenge is to not to short-circuit that process by pulling away first. Some wise person, perhaps, Mary at Owlhaven, had a post about this months ago. About the need for parents to be there, and stay there, as children enter the tweens and teen years. To let them pull away as they are ready rather than jump-start the process for them. I'm not quite ready to read this book yet, but it has to go on the reading list in a year or two. Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence by Laura Stepp. The Amazon description includes this quote:
"Early adolescence is partly about loss," writes author Laura Sessions Stepp. "Parents lose their children's unquestioning adoration; kids lose their innocence, and sometimes their faith in adults."
That is the challenge that lies ahead, the vague outlines are just barely visible on the horizon as school starts again.

Edited to add: It was Mary but at her Ethiopian adoption blog! She has some very wise words and a book to recommend.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Women on Iran & Terror

I'm feeling sleepy today, must be the extra early morning to get everyone off to the first day of school. So, I've been reading lots of blogs with the baby sleeping in my lap this morning but I have little inclination to write much.

Lots of smart people are blogging about Seymour Hersh's latest piece in the New Yorker about Lebanon as a Bush adminstration dress rehersal for an attack on Iran. Juan Cole, Joshua Landis, and Billmon all weigh in but for my money this morning the best analysis comes from Helena Cobban at Just World News. She writes:
Hersh's piece reveals a number of significant things about strategic decision-making inside both Israel and the Bush administration.

First, and most evident, is that the Israeli "plan" for taking down Hizbullah was one that relied almost totally on the use of airpower and other forms of stand-off weaponry (ship-launched missiles, drones, etc). This would clearly be the most plannable way in which the Bushites might be planning to attack Ira, since the US, like Israel, harbors an intense wariness to getting bogged down in a ground war.

But of course the "airpower plan" developed and used by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz failed miserably at taking down Hizbullah's military capacity-- even while it had the entirely predictable political effect of uniting the Lebanese population more firmly around Hizbullah than it had been for the past three or four years.

Interesting results for the "field-test" of tactics that might be used against Iran, huh?

She notes that most Iranian exiles, commentators, and ordinary citizens say that the quickest way to derail the Iranian opposition and unite all elements of Iranian society would be for the US to attack it. As she puts it so clearly:
Honestly, though, I don't think anyone needed a "field test" of the use of widespread anti-infrastructure bombing tactics to be able to reach the conclusion that they would be (a) politically extremely counter-productive, as well as (b) of limited operational value against a well-prepared opponent. My parents stayed in London for much of the Blitz: Bush and Cheney had only to talk to members of the older generation of Londoners (or indeed, of Dresdeners) to find out that air bombardment by foreigners causes a population to rally ever closer round the national flag, not to seek that particular moment in history to rally for deepseated political change.

Why do politicos not get this? Why would massive bombings and the complete disruption of society make people suddenly more willing to engage in political experiments? Intuitively, I would think that most people would fall back on what they know and greatly distrust anything coming from the folks who are bombing you!

Bitch Ph.D must also be busy or sleepy today, no update. If you need a kick from a smart sassy women, then check out the piece on living with terror in today's Daily Kos from SusanG. Very funny.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Terror Threats & Police Work

Please read the always wise and informed Juan Cole on the links to Pakistan in the current "liquid bomb plot."

Highlights include his speculation that the US may have been kept in the dark:
US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.

This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.

So pathetically sad if this is true. Once again, the administration that sells itself as "tough on terror" turns out to be attuned to nothing but its own political advantage. Must stop this line of thought now as its too depressing to continue. If you want more try Billmon.

Juan Cole points out that this plot was uncovered through old-fashioned police work, the "knife" that is required to excise terrorists from the surrounding society without injurying innocents whose deaths creates new recruits to the very cause we need to undermine.
If this operation is as advertised, then it underlines again the importance of plain old fashioned counter-terrorism and police work. An army of 136,000 men in the field can't stop bombs from going off in Iraq every day. What stopped the liquid bomb plot was something superior, a tool fitted to the task.

Juan Cole also directs us to another wise man, John Tirman, with six important insights to be drawn from the current plot. Where are the wise women you might ask? Well, that would be Helena Cobban but she's travelling and has yet to weigh in on the latest news. Her peice on Lebanon is well-worth reading. For amused outrage, try Susie at Suburban Guerrilla.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Peace Poems from Gush Shalom

Since July 21, 2006, Gush Shalom, the Peace Party in Israel, has been placing ads protesting the war in the newspaper Haaretz. Translated into English the text of the ads sound like little poems. Not sure if they have the same effect in Hebrew but I find them remarkable. Here is the one for today, August 4, 2006:

This war has
Only one aim left:

To save the prestige of
And Halutz.

All the other aims
Have gone up in smoke.

There is no military solution.

Tomorrow, Saturday, 6 pm, in Tel-Aviv, we shall take part in a march of all the peace organizations against the war.
Starting from Ben-Zion Boulevard corner King George, we shall march to Magen David Square. JOIN!

Ad published in Haaretz, August 4, 2006

No need to wonder just how the American media will cover the peace protest, I would guess that there will be no coverage of it at all.

Here is another:

After the war,
The situation will be
As it was before.

A hundred speeches
Of Olmert
Will not change that.

There is no military solution.
Only a political settlement.

Ad published in Haaretz, August 4, 2006

I'm captivated by their haiku-like quality but I would guess that they probably rhyme in Hebrew. Would any American organization ever protest through poetry? Here is their ad after Qana:
"We warned them
And called on them
To escape!"

That is disgusting

Because we have:
Bombed the roads.
Destroyed the bridges.
Cut off the supply of gasoline.
Killed whole families on the way.

There is only one way
Of preventing more such disasters,
Which turn us into monsters:
T O S T O P!

There is no military solution!

Ad published in Haaretz, August 1, 2006

Read them all and find more information about the peace movement in Israel on their website.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lincoln Group Loses PR Contract

In case you missed it, Free Press brings us news of our old friends the Lincoln Group from the Washington Post, July 19, 2006:

The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, including one District-based company that ran into controversy last year for planting pro-U.S. articles in Iraqi newspapers.

The firms, plus a third company that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television spots intended for use in Iraq and in other nations where the United States is combating terrorism. Unlike the reports that the District-based Lincoln Group distributed to the Iraqi press which looked to be written by independent Iraqi journalists the commander in charge of the new spots said yesterday that he wants their origins made clear.

"Certainly we would intend to accept attribution for the spots," said Col. Jack Summe, commander of the Tampa-based Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. "We will not place things under someone else's name, trying to fool people into thinking it's a true news item."

So that job for social scientists in Iraq . . . probably a no go now.

The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp.

But officials with the military's Special Operations Command decided this spring that they would be better off with just one contractor. They exercised their option to continue SYColeman's contract but not the other two. Military officials say the decision had nothing to do with last year's controversy over the Lincoln Group.

See, look how well the military can do spin and damage control all on their own without those Lincoln Group PR pros!

"We learned that working with three companies increases expenditures in both time and money and does not provide best value to the government," said Lt. Col. David Farlow, spokesman for the military's psychological operations unit.

To get a sense of what many in the military really thought of Lincoln Group and their efforts in Iraq look at the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review and an article titled "Mind Games" by Daniel Schulman.

Before the Lincoln Group's covert campaign began sometime in early 2005, the firm (then operating as Iraqex) had been chosen to carry out a p.r. contract, worth more than $5 million, that was overseen by the coalition's public affairs staff in Baghdad. An army officer, who was involved in selecting the Lincoln Group for the contract and who worked extensively with its employees when they arrived in Iraq in November 2004, told me it had initially been hired to provide basic communications support, such as polling and media analysis, not for the clandestine placement of news stories or paying off the Iraqi press.

"In terms of their proposal, they were head and shoulders above everybody," the officer said. "The problem was they couldn't do a third of what they said they were going to do." He continued, "They were my little Frankensteins. They were sending guys over there that had absolutely no knowledge of Iraqis whatsoever. It was like the Young Republican fucking group, some guy who was working for the governor-elect in Michigan, a guy from the Beltway who was part of some Republicans for Democracy group, not a fucking clue. It was a scheme written up on a cocktail napkin in D.C. They were just completely inept." The public affairs staff became increasingly frustrated with the contractor. Some officers, including two brigadier generals, refused even to work with them. "That's when they moved under IO," the officer said. Eventually, the Lincoln Group was responsible for planting hundreds of stories in Iraqi newspapers.

I recommend reading the entire article. In it the Lincoln Group emerges not just as a bunch of inept hacks but part of a broader effort spearheaded by Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration to muddy the longstanding military divide between psychological warfare (waged on the enemy, not the citizens at home) and the public affairs office. So contractor-created proproganda enters our news as well as the Iraqus. And democracy is sabatoged on all fronts!

In the CJR Shulman quotes a senior Public Affairs Officer recently returned from Iraq:

"Perhaps Iraq is a unique situation, but I think some of our IO efforts may have hurt our overall efforts at supporting an elected government and democratic, free institutions. Saddam fed the people propaganda for decades, should we continue to feed them propaganda and expect them to support us and/or their elected officials?"

Schulman also touches on the deeper question, what good is our proproganda when our policies and the truth on ground those policies create inflame out enemies? Abu Ghraib, Haditha, prisons without a hearing in Guantanamo Bay. Now, there's something worth pondering, something worth getting worked up over.

Please go read the whole article.

Still can't get enough of the Lincoln Group? Try these!

US urged to stop paying Iraqi Reporters - International Herald-Tribune

Iraqi clerics on Lincoln payroll, clerics a key target for proproganda efforts - International Herald-Tribune

And just for laughs try Wonkette on the Lincoln Group

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Baghdad's Qana: Amiriya Shelter 1991

I've written about the disaster in Qana 2006 and my experience of the first Qana massacre in 1996. People around the world are remembering Qana and their own Qana's; places where civilians seeking shelter from war died in large numbers yet where the world seemed to forget or to never even know of the crime in the first place.

Treasure of Baghdad is one of the very best Iraqi bloggers. The deaths in Qana make him remember Baghdad's Qana, the Amiriya Shelter 1991:
The crime's TV footage and pictures posted on the internet reminded Iraqis with a similar crime happened in 1991 when the U.S. decided to punish Saddam for his invasion to Kuwait by killing his country's civilians. Amiriya Shelter crime was never forgotten. On February 13, 1991 at 4 in the morning it was hit by two American bombs, which incinerated the building, including all but ten of the 400 women and children seeking refuge inside of it. Despite severe looting to the shelter after the U.S.-led invasion, pictures of many of the victims remain, which includes several entire families who died in the slaughter. Shadows of women who died have been burned into the walls, similar to the infamous shadow of a man flash-imprinted into concrete as he was vaporized by the atomic bomb of Hiroshima.

I was 10 years-old when the crime happened. I still remember the footage of the men and women who were weeping for their families and relatives at the metal fence of the shelter. Their eyes were red as if they were crying blood instead of tears. Twenty-five years passed and I still see the same footage but this time in Lebanon. Lebanese civilians were crying blood for the loss of their relatives and friends in Qana.

Treasure of Baghdad, July 31, 2006

Americans were at fault then. Apparently, the intelligence was wrong; it wasn't a military site but a shelter of civilians. I want to believe that the military didn't target it knowingly. "We're human, we goofed!" is what I wanted to say at the time. How inadequate is that response. But its is barely mentioned in our histories of the war, America has never had to account for it morally or in any other fashion. I will admit that I had completely forgotten it and even after reading Treasure of Baghdad could recall only vague memories from 1991 of hearing it briefly on the news.

We say it was first a shelter for high-ranking officials. They say it was opened to the general public. We say there are no innocents, everyone is implicated. (Didn't they know Saddam was a bad guy? Vaporized into shadow-prints? that's what happens to people who associate with Saddam -- Can't you almost hear Cheney saying that?).

Over and over, I hear this. The children in Qana should have known Hezbollah was launching missiles nearby (Don't they know they are bad guys?). Somehow, people want want to believe that the unjustly dead were not truly innocent. Because then what? We owe compensation and need to accept guilt and possibly punishment. But if they were implicated, in on the violence, the attack, the threat in some way, well, then, it is all part of war.

In Amiriya, they should have known we would target government sites, they are not truly innocent. Even Bin Laden invokes it about the Trade Center, they should have known what the government has done in their name. They are not truly innocent.

Is anyone ever innocent anymore? Is any war death a simple tragedy? Is compensation ever offered? Prosecution for war crimes ever made? Decades of painstaking work in establishing the Geneva Conventions, the Internation Criminal Court, establishing rules for the conduct of war and the protection of civilians and we all throw it away. I don't want to die for my blue passport some day. I don't want anyone to die for their lack of innocence, for the coincidences of life, and identity, and circumstance, that put them in the range of either madmen or the madly rational governments who try to take them out. Enough!

Another memory of mine now: pictures of the civilians killed (including small children) when President Reagan bombed Libya posted in permanent display cases in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. I walked past those pictures of limp, bloody toddlers and felt a pang, a pang of guilt and implication every time. But really, those pictures weren't for me, weren't meant to shame the few Americans in Damascus. They were meant for the Syrians, for fellow Arabs, to demonstrate their current powerlessness and rouse them to further action.

My students have a hard time grasping this, why people would cling to a moment of defeat, of humiliation, of loss, why would they would stubbornly remember? Until I say two words: Remember the Alamo! The nascent Republic of Texas lost at the Alamo, lost completely. But they fought valiantly (or so we are told). And that loss became the rallying cry that led more men to fight. No one remembers the Battle of San Jacinto, the overwhelming victory that led to Texas' independence from "the tyrant Mexico." Had the defeat at the Alamo been less total perhaps there would have been less urgency to sign up and fight. Hell, a tactical victory at the Alamo might have doomed the whole Republic of Texas project!

Remember Qana, someone is saying somewhere. Remember Amiriya!

Somewhere else someone is saying, Remember the Marines in Beirut 1983! Remember the Trade Center!

And on and on. I say, remember when children and women and old men were innocents, remember when we all signed treaties and defined war crimes and pledged to uphold human rights?

Because right now, my toddler is sleeping. And somewhere in Pakistan a toddler is awakening. And in Kashmir, and Iraq, and Lebanon, and Israel, and Chechneya, and Darfur, and Somalia, and Congo, and Libya, and Guatemala and New York City, there are toddlers. And they are all innocent tonight.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Works for Me Wednesday: Story Tapes

Its Wednesday and even though the balance here between mommy blog and political blog has been leaning strongly towards politics these days I want to join Rocks in the Dryer for Works for me Wednesday! In part, because it is the everyday mundane activities of motherhood that keep me grounded and sane enough to contemplate world affairs and in part because each week I've gotten several good tips from the WFMW folks that make my life easier.

One thing that works for our family is story tapes at bedtime. I nurse my babies to sleep, then with toddlers nurse and read books at bedtime, eventually, we just snuggle and read aloud. But its often hard making that transition at age 4 or so to falling asleep on one's own. Story tapes fill that gap. We still read aloud at bedtime (and my husband is a master of made-up tales) but story tapes (or CDs) after our reading is done give us more time in the evening and still let the bigger kids drift off peacefully.

Chinaberry is a great place to get wonderful story tapes. A Cricket in Times Square has to be my kids' all time favorite. They will listen to it night after night. Jim Weiss is another treasure. He is a storyteller who has a whole series of tales and peaceful images designed to help kids fall asleep. They work on adults too (the winter cabin with the hot chocolate and the sleighbells makes me nod right off).

Peaceful bedtime, works for me!

First-person: Qana 1996

In the spring of 1996 I was living in Damascus, conducting research for my dissertation, when a UN post filled with women and children who were seeking refugee from the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah was hit with an Israeli missile.

The date was April 18, 1996. 106 civilians were killed and 116 injured. Most of the dead were women and children. The pictures on television were horrifying. I can still see the images in my mind: white headscarves stained with blood, the limp bodies of toddlers, the torn blue and white banners of the UN. Over and over again, the images were broadcast: dead children, crying women, outraged men, pools of blood amid sacks of flour stamped with the UN emblem.

The atmosphere in Damascus was, how to describe it? People were frozen with disbelief and horror. In the days after 9/11, in those immediate, horrible days, when conversations were hushed, and dread and sorrow filled everyone's eyes, I felt a vague sense of familiarity. Where had I been where the atmosphere was the same? I finally remembered. It felt like Damascus after the attack in Qana.

The horror and shame were particularly acute because the dead had been killed while seeking the protection of the UN but not even the status of the United Nations could protect them or even lead to international outrage. The US accepted the Israeli government contention that it was an accident and with that the world let it go.

Syrians, like Arabs elsewhere, felt that the massacre reinforced what they already knew, that the world did not value their lives, the lives of their children as it did others. How many times did I hear people say that if it had been reversed, if a Hezbollah missile had hit an Israeli shelter and killed 106 people, over half of them children, would the world accept it was an accident? "Israel would kill us all," said one friend gesturing to the city around him.

I did not know what to say. I knew that the attack barely registered for most Americans and I felt ashamed to admit it to my friends and neighbors who were hurting so badly. I will never forget how deeply and profoundly the violent deaths in Qana affected ordinary Syrians.