Thursday, November 29, 2007

Recognizing The Dubai Trap

I've seen two interesting documentaries in the past two weeks. The first was recommended to me by an acquaintance, and turned out to be by the same director of another favourite documentary of mine. Adam Curtis's "The Trap: What Happened To Our Dream of Freedom," is another BBC production, in his characteristic narrative style. I still have yet to watch parts of it, but essentially it tells a compelling story of how our idea of "freedom" in the West has become narrowed over the last 4 decades, and has become characterized by the freedom to satisfy one's own desires without interference from any other individual or power. The film explores how this idea of freedom came to dominate the West, and how the attempt to force this idea of freedom upon the developing world, particularly the Muslim world, has lead to a violent backlash against the ideas of liberalism and democracy that the West is ostensibly trying to teach them.

Instead, the filmmakers posit, people are drawn to an idea of freedom that defines itself by the ability of the individual to play a positive role in the future of his community - it is the idea that freedom does not have inherent value, but that freedom is for something, and that for it to really benefit mankind, it must have a purpose. The first episode of the movie is available on Google Video.

Shortly after starting into The Trap, I also watched Dubai: Miracle or Mirage? This documentary examines the history of the tiny sheikhdom, and what its successes and challenges have been.

I've flown through Dubai a few times, but never had much of a chance to see the city. The airport is gaudy and overdone, a massive shopping mall with airplanes parked outside, and cheezy decorations inside, epitomized by the concrete palm trees that crop up in sections. One thing that does catch the eye, however, are the newspapers, whose sole purpose is to glorify the the Maktoum family who run the place, and have turned the backwater port into a hub of commerce and the Las Vegas of real-estate speculation.

And now I come to the point that inspired this post, which was made by an Emirati political scientist who was interviewed for the film. Responding to a question about how locals have reacted to the growth of Dubai's nightlife, which includes racy night-clubs and a booming sex trade, he replied something to the effect of "If people want to do these things, that's their business. You don't have to go there. If you don't want to be involved in them, then there are plenty of mosques and places of prayer where people can go and spend time, if they wish. . . We have developed an Islam that is compatible with modernity, that is tolerant and forward-looking, and that we would like to see exported as the model for other Muslim countries to follow."

My non-Muslim readers probably think that this is quite a nice sentiment. I revile it. This sort of practice of Islam is so divorced from the principles of the Qur'an and the practice of the Prophets (peace be upon them all) that it gives me a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach to think that this is the model that the Muslim world should follow.

The suggestion is that religion can be separated from day-to-day life - that it is something that is only witnessed in masajid and mussullahs, not on the street where the prostitutes solicit. This is the trap! For what good is Islam if it doesn't change the life of the community, and fails to empower all individuals to have some influence on the society that surrounds them? Dubai is good at making money. Aside from providing very comfortable travel and accommodations, it hasn't proven, as a society, that it is good at much else.

Now, I don't say that Muslims need to be in the streets, declaring that all the prostitutes be stoned. I do, however, long for a world where they are the first to weep that disenfranchised women must resort to such a profession, and the first to explore and find solutions to the problem, instead of crawling back into their Mosques, oblivious to the purpose of freedom.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, November 25, 2007

How to boost your hit count:

Mention "Lockheed Martin" in a post.

And who is trolling the internets looking for mention of Lockheed Martin?

Why, Lockheed Martin, of course.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, November 22, 2007


"It is not righteousness
That ye turn your faces
Towards East or West;
But it is righteousness -
To believe in God,
And the Last Day,
And the Angels,
And the Book,
And the Messengers;
To spend of your substance,
Out of love for Him,
For your kin,
For orphans,
For the needy,
For the wayfarer,
For those who ask,
And for the ransom of slaves;
To be steadfast in prayer,
And practise regular charity;
To fulfill the contracts
Which ye have made;
And to be firm and patient,
In pain
And adversity,
And throughout all periods of panic.
Such are the people
Of truth, the God-fearing."

-Qur'an: SII v177, trans. A. Yusuf Ali.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 19, 2007

Somalia - The Logical Move

Somali insurgents are directing new attacks against Ugandan forces who are operating under under the AU mandate

African stories rarely receive the coverage they deserve - witness the ongoing war crimes in Darfur, or the civil conflict in the DR Congo - and I suspect that this is, sadly, because the people involved are black, and whose virtues, vices, victories, and victimhood do not carry the same inherent worth as anybody else's.

On the face of it, decontextualized from the last 2 years of conflict in Somalia, this sounds like an evil move, especially to those of us here in Canada who get the warm fuzzies every time the word "peacekeeper" is mentioned.

The fact is though, that this is the logical move, because the AU forces declared themselves the enemies of the ICU long before the ICU made war on anyone who didn't richly deserve it. More progress was achieved by the Islamic Courts Union in six months in Somalia than the provisional "government" (I use the term loosely) had managed in 10 years, holed up as it was in Baidoa, desperate for foreign assistance, powerless to govern the capital of Mogadishu while thuggish warlords divided up the city into an array of personal fiefdoms and protection rackets. It was certainly NOT the UN or the AU who kicked them out, united the city, and imposed something called "the rule of law." It certainly wasn't the US. And it certainly wasn't the Ethiopians, whose invasion of Somalia both the US and the AU openly supported.

And that's the rub - the ICU is still a more legitimate government than the Ethiopians, with more local support and a better chance of being interested in Somalia, as opposed to maintaining a the integrity of the Ethiopian state, which is probably the main concern (to be charitable) in Addis Ababa. By entering Somalia, the Ugandans under the AU are providing stability to an order that is inherently unstable, and propping up the power of an aggressor instead of helping a popular, egalitarian Somali political movement to govern Somalia.

I don't claim that the ICU is an ideal government - but they had a chance to give Somalia something it desperately needed: a real government, as opposed to a feudal, radically libertarian paradise where laws and public authority were completely unheard of. The Ugandans are doing the opposite - they are protecting the rule of the Ethiopians, through both brute military force and a totally dependent regime that went from being a pathetic, if sincere, attempt at a government to an outright puppet of foreign interests.

Now, one could argue that armed resistance, from a practical standpoint, might not bring any good to Somalia, and might prolong a conflict that might have been otherwise solved. That might be a valid claim. If, however, the Ugandans want to enforce Ethiopian rule by force of arms, and if the ICU is going to commit itself to the removal of the Ethiopians by the same methods, then targeting the Ugandans is, unfortunately, the logical move.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Unconditional Revulsion

What an evil government! What an un-Islamic nation! What disgusting, repulsive, merciless, debauched, sinful, cruel, malicious, pernicious, treacherous, wasteful, quisling state - that commits some of the most vile injustices imaginable in the name of Islam, and then turns around and begs the common enemies of the Muslim world for protection and support. Chauvanism of every kind in a state with so little to be proud of. It isn't "Saudi Arabia." It is "the land of the perversions of the ibn Saud."

But what if it isn't true? Newspapers in liberal "Western" countries report hoaxes as fact with the same audacity as media in tyrannical states - the major difference being that the lies are more subtle, and the population more unsuspecting. Editors with an agenda, and lazy, unscrupulous journalists are global phenomena.

In this case, though, it doesn't matter. The problem is that it is so believable - even if this were a lie, its untruth would never make up for the crimes of the ibn Saud, for the system they invented that makes this sort of thing even conceivable, all the while getting fatter and fatter as if the good Lord had put the oil in the ground just for their pleasure, and as if their monarchy was some sort of inherent good, as opposed to the anti-Islamic crime that it is. As the recent OPEC summit shows, they will do anything to keep themselves under the shade of Uncle Sam's wing, their only concern being lining their own pockets. The whims of some chauvanistic men - themselves to ignorant or too morally compromised to oppose the regime - are what passes for "justice."

God will bring them down, sooner or later, as He does with everyone. Until then, the only thing that the Proud Islamist can feel for the ibn Saud, who make such a thing even thinkable, is pure revulsion.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Some November 11th Poetry

When I was a teenager, I discovered a small hardcover book, dating back to my mother's school days, entitled "Palgrave's Golden Treasury." In it, I found some of the most spectacular poetry of the English language that I have ever encountered - written by men and women (mostly men, of the dead, white variety, I think) who could communicate abstract, complex ideas while maintaining the highest standards of rhythm and rhyme (not so much of this lazy, upstart "free verse" stuff that seems to dominate today).

This is probably not the most moving or descriptive poem ever written on the subject of war, but it illustrates something about humanity and inhumanity that I think applies more and more to people in non-military professions. It remains one of my favourites. Reed himself didn't see combat during his service in WWII, and so this isn't a way to remember people who give their lives for strangers. . . but anyways, here it is.

b. 1914
To Alan Michell

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria

LESSON II: Judging Distances:

Not only how far away, but the way that you say it
Is very important. Perhaps You may never get
The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know
How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The right of the arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,
And at least you know

That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army
Happens to be concerned-- the reason being,
Is one which need not delay us. Again, you know
There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,
And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly
That things only seem to be things.

A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,
Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.
You must never be over-sure. You must say, when reporting:
At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen
Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,
Don't call the bleeders sheep.

I am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,
The one at the end, asleep, endeavors to tell us
What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,
After first having come to attention. There to the west,
Of the fields of the summer sun and the shadows bestow
Vestments of purple and gold.

The white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,
And under the swaying elms a man and a woman
Lie gently together. Which is, perhaps, only to say
That there is a row of houses to the left of the arc,
And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans
Appear to be loving.

Well that, for an answer, is what we rightly call
Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,
Is that two things have been omitted, and those are very important.
The human beings, now: in what direction are they,
And how far away, would you say? And do not forget
There may be dead ground in between.

There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got
The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture
A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers,
(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)
At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance
Of about one year and a half.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Mainly because the targets are getting smaller

I was going through some old magazines, and came across this one that appeared in the 20th September 2006 Jane's Defense Weekly, on the back cover. I'm not a subscriber to JDW, but I do like to read it when I have the chance - the content bias aside, it's no worse a source for international news than the Economist, which is the fashionable magazine for Canadian university students and profs who like to feel well-informed. It should be retitled Am. J. Conventional Wisdom.

But I digress.

The SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod is a device that allows warplanes to clearly view, track, and identify distant targets, and can be configured to supply information in tandem with radar and satellite to all J-series ordnance. And, like the ad says, "Sniper is the only targeting pod that exceeds USAF ATP requirements. Sniper ATP. Battle proven. Best value."

"LOCKHEED MARTIN. We never forget who we're working for."

Awww! They're so sweet!

The ad, does, however, contain a grain of truth. As far as the USAF is concerned, the targets ARE getting smaller (the stakes are NOT getting higher, but understatement doesn't move merchandise) . While the US has to periodically contend with national governments who have actual armies, with ships and tanks and bases, the bulk of its fighting today is against people who travel in cars, on donkeys, or on foot. This is Vietnam, minus the jungle and the NVA. The power differential is huge - militarily, the US Army, Air Force, and Navy are unstoppable - victory for the US in any conventional war is assumed - Iraq in 1991 had the world's 4th largest army, and one that was battle-hardened over 8-years against Iran, yet it collapsed in 4 days. The Chinese might put up a fight, but that's purely hypothetical.

Today, however, the US finds itself struggling against an enemy that is without air power, without artillery, without fire-control systems, satellite intelligence, real-time battlefield management, and billions and billions and billions of dollars to sink into every project imaginable to squeeze every marginal advantage out of a combat situation.

So are they winning?

In military terms, the answer is yes. They take fewer casualties, control more territory, and have greater freedom of movement by air, land, and sea. Their operations have a much higher success rate than those of their adversaries.

That would only matter, though, if military victory mattered. As Hezbollah showed last summer, military victory doesn't matter - where everybody assumes that defeat is a foregone conclusion, being seen to have survived against the obviously superior opponent is victory in itself. It's amazing how few people learned that lesson from Vietnam.

Without making a moral judgment on the entire Western enterprise in the Muslim world (which I promise to do some other day), maybe the people reading these ads should ask themselves if Sniper ATP actually does provide the "Best value."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Where "Truth to Power" is no cliche

Pakistan has been in crisis ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan, limping along between insurgencies, inept military rule, and natural disasters. I wonder how those judges that took oath under the PCO rationalize their actions. 10 years from now, when all of this is history, how will they be able to look their colleagues in the eye?

For anyone out there who is fond of lawyer jokes, here's something to hold your tongue about:

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Flander's Fields - Time for a little iconoclasm

. . . Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw the torch
Be yours, to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep
Though poppies grow in Flander's Fields

Remembrance Day in Canada is fast approaching, and all across the country the poem of a Canadian officer in His Majesty's army will be recited and sung, set to a multitude of different tunes. I have sung it so many times that I know it by heart, and can sing it two different ways. I never really thought much about it - I have been a member of a couple of different amateur choirs, and it had little meaning to me. I didn't care much about the "Great War," but I liked the music well enough.

I was rehearsing it again this year, when I thought a little deeper about that verse. What exactly does it mean, anyways?

Take up our quarrel with the foe

Not to be trite, but why? This is a song about the first "World War." What exactly was our quarrel with the foe? The French Canadians who stayed home, those who refused to rush over to Belgium so that a British nobleman could tell them which machine gun they were to run in front, had the right idea. It wasn't cowardice - why would anyone want to deliberately involve themselves in a meaningless, brutal, badly fought clash of imperialist forces on the other side of the Atlantic? The presence of the Canadians, for all our self-flattery about Vimy ridge, was not going to settle it either way. If anything, our only motivation for laying down our lives was a slavish devotion to a global empire that had its own well-documented reputation for brutality and barbarism.

Of course, that's not how it would have been seen at the time, and maybe there is something to be said for alliances and sovereignty and all those noble ideals that are trotted out every time we are asked to go to war on someone else's behalf. So that's not actually my problem with Flander's Fields.

This, however, is:

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep

This is the kind of primitive thinking that I object to, but which is still so frequently used to justify the perpetuation of mindless killing. I'm not a vegetarian, and I believe that some killing of human beings can be morally justified, if conducted in the proper way with the right intentions. With that said, it makes no sense to do so in such a purely ritualistic fashion, just to please the dead and give meaning to their sacrifice, even if it was, in the end, entirely without purpose. Some torches ought to be dropped.

The mentality that underlies Flander's Fields is the same mentality that has driven powerful people, both before and since, to argue that wars should be continued, not because they serve morality, or protect the interests of those on whose behalf they are fought (which can also be evil, but can at least form the basis for a rational debate) but for the sake of those who have already fallen. It's the mentality that caused Gen. MacArthur to advocate, not for a negotiated end to the intractable and soul-numbingly brutal Korean War, but for the use of nuclear weapons against China. Why? Because no man of his was going to "die for a tie." Turn on the TV today, and you hear the same excuse being given.

But I'll probably still sing it anyways. . .

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Whereas you are full of crap . . .

I started out somewhat sympathetic towards Musharraf. He took power in 1999 in a bloodless coup, promising to be the only politician who wasn't on the take, after the sitting Prime Minister tried to force him out of the country. From September 2001 onwards, he was trying to run a country with two guns placed against either side of his head. I didn't really see it then - that Pakistan's army was still, as it has been before, a power junkie whose dealers sat either in Washington or in the country's pulpits. The junkie often bought from both at the same time. The junkie would never be strong enough to kick the habit on its own - Musharraf, and his banker friend Aziz never intended to stand up to the forces of illiteracy and backwardness when and where it counted, but contented themselves with bombing their own population at Uncle Sam's behest.

In the Supreme Court, however, the people of Pakistan found a glimmer of hope - Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry had the strength to stand on principle, and on the rule of law against the military. So when today, the Supreme Court declared that Musharraf did not have the constitutional right to re-elect himself from legislatures whose term was expired, the response was sadly predictable, especially to those who saw the truckloads of troops entering Islamabad earlier this week. The boldness of the nonsensical, ludicrously vindictive "Proclamation" of a "Provisional Constitutional Order" (translation: what Musharraf says, goes!) today, is also, sadly, not out of keeping.

"Whereas some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and
legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace"

It wasn't the Judiciary that made war on Pakistan. It wasn't the Judiciary that spent months appeasing the clerics of the Lal Masjid. It wasn't the Judiciary that neglected the country's public education system, letting government schools be abandoned as the defense budget grew to 25% of total federal spending. It wasn't the Judiciary that ran an army whose soldiers and field officers surrender en masse when confronted by Muslim insurgents, knowing that their masters are just not worth fighting for.

The failure has been entirely Musharraf's. This latest treason is just the icing on the already bloodied cake.

I ended my last post about Pakistan by saying,

"Now that Musharraf has put down this idiotic little rebellion, the country must now confront the next greatest threat to the rule of law:

Musharraf himself."

Whatever evil end this man meets he has brought it squarely upon himself.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 2, 2007

Gloomy, eh?

European countries are not increasing their defense budgets in proportion to overall spending, resulting in a reduced demand for weapons contracts.

You might think that was a good thing.

That's because you're not an arms contractor!

Otherwise, you would be concerned about the "Gloomy Outlook for Europe."

It's funny how being immersed in a particular work environment can warp your perception of good and bad. Whoever wrote that title almost certainly didn't think there was anything odd about it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar