Saturday, November 28, 2009
Mustafa Tlas was Hafiz al-Asad’s right hand man from the early days when he and a select few Ba’athist officers plotted their ascent to power until Asad passed away. In fact, Tlas served as the Syrian Defense Minister for over three decades. He was one of only a handful of people that were privy to the inner workings of Hafiz’s presidency.
For these reasons, al-Farabi has long sought to read his memoir, Mir'at Hayati (The Mirror of My Life). The book rather resembles an encyclopedia in length. Now, even if this book was available in al-Farabi’s native tongue of English reading it cover to cover would be a herculean task. Attempting to read in a second language without complete fluency is bordering on the impossible. The copy sitting on my bookshelf has collected dust since the day I retained it from a friend. The friend is fully aware he will probably never receive it back as it may take years before I bolster enough courage to complete it.
Netherlands Ambassador Nikolaos van Dam should be lauded for not only reading the well over 3,000 page memoir (yes, you read that right, THREE THOUSAND PAGES!!), but for providing an incredibly concise review. Go read it right now. Word of warning: Van Dam’s review will leave you begging for more details. You may even go on and purchase a copy yourself. But, don’t kid yourself about finishing it.
As for myself, I have finally brushed off the dust and began reading Mir’at Hayati, at least the part covering the June 1967 War. Always a fascinating subject.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Oh just the former Muslim chaplain at the George Washington University. That and an Al-Qaeda recruiter, a spiritual advisor to the Fort Hood shooter, and the imam for two of the 9/11 hijackers, who's currently on the run from the FBI. No big deal. (Heavy sarcasm.)
And if that isn't enough, here is his manifesto. This guy is out there, eh? Yet from time to time this kind of stuff is good to listen to because it helps us understand the Salafi-Jihadi mentality. I like to think of it as something like a spruced up version of 7th century "war of the worlds" Arabia. (Hmm. I wonder what he would think about me surfing with Hassan Nasrallah? I'm just askin'...)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Like any new kid on the block, Al-Farabi is in need of Casbah cred. Not the kind that Marv Albert gained from his faux-tussle with 50 cent, but the kind that’s earned from successfully navigating a foreign society and bringing insightful analysis back to this blog. Shukran (thank you) to my fellow Casbah writers for adding a spot to their already strong roster. I do plan to blog much about Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for the first one out of the hopper I have Iraq on my mind. Alright, enough with the pleasantries, it’s time to bring it…
The U.S. media focused on Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi ‘s veto of the election law last week, but what’s really holding up the parliamentary elections in Iraq is the question of Kirkuk. Indeed, the political tugging over the status of Kirkuk can be felt all the way from Washington, with the Obama administration pressuring Iraqis to solve this issue ASAP.
Iraqi Arabs and Turkmen accuse Kurds of fixing the electoral registers. The Kurds take a hard-line position on Kirkuk pushing for the most updated reflection of demographics favoring their disposition. Recently, the Kurds threatened to boycott the election if it remains unresolved. This is almost certainly political posturing, but indicative of where the fight lies.
The fight over Kirkuk, which is really a battle over control of oil resources, reminds me of a Syrian proverb: Trees full of fruit attract many stones.
Kirkuk may very well be the source of tension for years to come. Kicking the can down the road will not serve the interests of Iraq. Better to clear the stones while American troops can still pacify an Arab-Kurdish conflagration.
What to expect after the elections? Al-Farabi anticipates significant political fragmentation. Iraqi politicians will find it extremely difficult to form a government. It’s unlikely the Kurds will play kingmakers this time around which is why KRG President Masoud Barzani is against the open list system. Before the ballots come in, I leave it up to the creative minds at the Casbah to solve: How to move forward on Kirkuk? Will the Kurds agree to share oil revenues? What level of autonomy might they request for such a concession? What about the “dubious status” idea floated around in the vetoed election law? No doubt these questions are being debated in Erbil and Baghdad.
Our new right hand man will do a much better job than I explaining what it is that he will blog about. But one thing that I think is tremendously cool and inline with The Casbah is that he plans to do a research project in Syria, where he will be sharing some fun insights, revelations and generally bogus experiences that inevitably come with being an American in Syria. (Like a few months ago I was hauled into the police station because I "fit the description." Wrong guy of course. But I guess any old gringo would do.)
So here we go on Afghanistan. I was reading my local paper (Santa Barbara News Press) this morning and read Trudy Rubin's re-printed column, Bypassing the Karzi problem, from her recent trip to Afghanistan.
Granted she is a columnist and her job is to write about current events, but I question her background with Central Asia? Why? Well, because she keeps stressing this idea that we need to “get around Karzi corruption” and start to deal with “local governors” (many she knows only from riding around with in armed convoys on a kind of journalist excursion).
My question to Trudy Rubin: Clearly there is a corruption problem in Afghanistan. But what makes you so sure that what we call “corruption” isn't just the natural state of "secular government" in a traditional Muslim territory (let’s call it what it is for a change) like Afghanistan? What if this is really just how this part of the world works? Personal dealings and rolodex-style connections are as central to day-to-day life as they are to its governance. Afghans often feel uncomfortable and alien to Western-style bureaucratic state institutions—and for good reason, too.
So, it seems this whole “getting around Karzi" issue misses an understanding of how traditional, tribal and feudal Afghanistan really is. Like other governors would not be the same as Karzi by our Western standard? Corrupt and self-motivated. Why? Because they said they wouldn’t in educated British English?
Look, I’m all for some kind of "bottom-up strategy." But I think it is important to remember that Rubin is writing as one of these visitors-for-the-moment who has rationalized a solution for a piece of writing; not for the realities of a traditional Muslim society, not for the realities of Afghanistan.
Update: This is also good and on point.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In sharing all this with As-Salibi (who is currently living in Bethlehem) he said with a blunt stiff lip:
"haha yet we report that as standard sports news"
Anyway, I thought it was all just too funny. The world really does think the Palestinians are a bunch of Kalashnikov-wielding, intifada craving, maniacs who have some kind of lustful love for violence.
Allow me to re-introduce myself: I am Abu Guerrilla, the founder of Blogging The Casbah. It gives me great pleasure to write to the readership, as I have been on a sort of surfing vacation in Mexico for the past few weeks. But now I am back at my laptop. And it looks like our crew—The Rooster, Wastafarian and As-Salibi---have kept this dusty old Casbah full of fun, spicy, interesting posts. I am proud, and also in the process of vetting another Casbah guerrilla to the team, so expect this place to start a-rockin’ (re-watch The Clash video, Rockin’ the Casbah on the links page if you are in the dark on this one).
A little history? Sure. Why not? Commo no? Lish-La? I started this blog a few years ago as a way to throw around a few ideas and keep connected to a devoted community of Middle East junkies. It soon grew. And now we have a diverse team of bloggers—some who are currently somewhere in the Middle East—who star in fresh perspectives and unsolicited analysis. (I’ll let the info of each blogger fill in from here.)
So mothers call in your children, because this gang of terrible has woken, ready to bombard the blogosphere with all things Middle East. Tis our calling guerrillas. Abu G is back.