Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Kafir and the Believer

“I’m a kafir,” I said to my Somali friend as we sat and talked around the swimming pool last evening, “Because I don’t believe Muhammad was a Prophet of God. The Quran says I’m going to hell.”

“No, no,” he protested vehemently. “You are not a kafir. Kafirs are people like Buddhists and Hindus, those with made up religions. You are a Christian, right? You are one of the People of the Book. Christians and Jews are not kafirs.”

A year ago, that would have been the end of the conversation. Was he right, was I right, who knows? It’s true that some of the Quran’s most poetic language is devoted to the suffering of the kafirs in hell, whose skin is burned off only to be replaced by new skin which is again burned off (4:56), but would I be one of them? Or was it only the poor Hindus?

To find the answer, I would have had to search the Quran, or the many volumes containing the thousands of hadith, or scour the 815 pages of Ibn Ishaq’s “The Life of Muhammad”. Not anymore. The Center for the Study of Political Islam has published accurate but condensed copies of these books. Ibn Ishaq’s masterpiece is an easily readable 160 pages. And it only took me a minute to find the answer on page 74:

“There were three tribes of Jews in Medina . The Banu Qaynuqa were goldsmiths and lived in a stronghold. Mohammad said they had broken the treaty signed when Mohammad came to Medina . How they did this is unclear.

Mohammad assembled the Jews in their market and said, “O Jews, be careful that Allah does not bring vengeance upon you the way he did to the Quraysh. Become Muslims. You know that I am the prophet that was sent to you. You will find that in your Scriptures.”

They replied, “O Mohammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Don’t fool yourself. You may have killed a few merchants of the Quraysh, but we are men of war and real men.”

Allah's instructions to Muhammad in the Quran were, “Say to the kafirs, “Soon you will be defeated and thrown into Hell, a wretched home!”

So...the People of the Book are kafirs and bound for hell, according to the Quran. I’ll have the answer for my friend in our next conversation. I still need to do some research, however, for the next subject that came up. I commented that Muslim men were allowed to marry Jewish and Christian women, according to Muhammad, but Muslim women could not marry Christian men. “Not so,” he quickly replied, “The Prophet didn’t say it was permitted but he also didn’t forbid it. Lots of Somali women marry foreigners. Didn’t Iman marry David Bowie?” I didn’t have a ready answer for that one.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All Night Long

I wouldn’t have known about Africa Day at the Ethiopian Embassy if the Sudanese clerk at my Lebanese dentist hadn’t asked if I was going. She said tickets were available from Mr. Yaqoub at the Cameroon Embassy, so the next day I strolled over. Compared to the American Embassy guarded by tanks, concrete barriers, and layers of armed guards, it was amazing to enter a facility with no protection at all. I walked past the unmanned guardhouse, up the stairs into Mr. Yaqoub’s office, and got my ticket. The formal invitation stated that the African Heads of Mission in Riyadh invited me to the May 25 celebration of Africa Day from 8:30 to 10:30 PM, but the dental clerk told me they danced till dawn.

There were multitudes in attendance from every country in Africa. Little girls wore brightly colored dresses, teenagers were cool in their jeans and baseball caps, and adults proudly showed off their national costumes. My favorite were the Tuareg of north-western Africa with bright blue robes and elaborate turbans. One side of the embassy was lined with stalls where each country sold local crafts from boa skins to homemade jewelry, and the other side boasted the food court. We had to wait for the emirs and ambassadors to give their obligatory speeches before everybody could dive for the food. I thought I might be able to wander around from table to table sampling a little of each country’s specialty, but it didn’t work that way. As soon as I approached the Burkina Faso table the hostess piled my plate with vegetables, meatballs, and a finely ground brown grain. I did have enough room left for some Moroccan couscous and apricot dessert.

At midnight they started tuning the electric guitars, beginning with some traditional dances. In one Sudanese act the performers wore large bull horns. I left about one, when the stage was filled with dancing teenage boys. Perhaps the girls joined later.

To my surprise, I was almost the only white person there. It felt like the time I went to see Jesse Jackson in Augusta , Georgia . When I mentioned this to my Arabic instructor the following day, he merely signed and replied, “Al Afriqiya mansiyan” ( Africa has been forgotten).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Required Reading

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that a Sioux Indian chief living in South Dakota in the mid-1800’s would have a different perspective of “the Great American Move Westward” than a captain in the American Calvary. Or that the child of a Georgia plantation owner would see life differently than the son of one of the slaves.

Somehow, perhaps because I’m neither a brain surgeon nor a rocket scientist, that never crossed my mind when I studied Islamic history 30 years ago. We thought that the Copts in Egypt , whose church was founded by St. Mark and who have monasteries still vibrant after 1700 years, somehow welcomed the Arab invaders who came to “open” their land to Islam (the word “fataha” meaning “open” is used to describe these conquests). We weren’t told that the tongues of Egyptians heard speaking Coptic were cut out.

We were taught that the interaction of Arab traders with the local populations as they moved down the east and west coasts of Africa produced the new language of Swahili. Our professors forgot to mention they were slave traders. And we heard it was the magnitude of Islam that allowed the peoples living along the Silk Road to continue speaking their own languages rather than Arabic. We didn’t learn that the only reason Persians still speak Farsi and Turks Turkish is because they were strong enough to resist Arabization. They were more fortunate than the Berbers of North Africa whose original languages are now confined to mountainous regions and coastal enclaves. And we certainly didn’t learn what happened to the oldest Buddhist community in the world that had lived in Afghanistan since Alexander the Great. They vanished from history long before their statues were blown up by the Taliban a few years ago.

Not much has changed in the past thirty years. If you have Muslim professors or attend a university where the Islamic Studies Department is funded by Saudi princes and Gulf emirs, you are unfortunately probably still receiving the well-burnished view of Islamic history that I did back then. It would be well worth your investing a few dollars to purchase the Primary Doctrine Books published by the Center for the Study of Political Islam. It’s probably less expensive than the reading list for your Islamic History class. And you’ll at least learn what happened to the Buddhists in Afghanistan .

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Difference Between Us Is One Dot

The placement of dots above and below the letter is the only difference between numerous letters in the Arabic alphabet. Only one dot separates the word “Arab” from “the West”. A creative but disgruntled poet exploited this feature in the following poem that is winding its way through Arabic websites in cyberspace. The only difference between the key word in the two main phrases of each verse is one dot. That is lost in translation, but the message still comes through:

They are the West and we are the Arabs
And the difference between us is one dot.

They reach agreement through dialogue, and we by mooing
And the difference between us is one dot.

They live together in unity, and we in diversity
And the difference between us is one dot.

They are linked by the pen and inkwell
And we by our intelligence services
And the difference between us is one dot.

They enjoy 100 percent citizenship
And we are 100 percent chained together
And the difference between us is one dot.

Their citizens form a strong fortress
And ours are still in kindergarten
And the difference between us is one dot.

When their leaders make a mistake, they are embarrassed
When our leaders err, they expel people
And the difference between us is one dot.

Their rulers are concerned about the liberty of their people
And our rulers are interested in exploiting people
And the difference between us is one dot.

The future of their children is wealth
And the future of ours is anxiety
And the difference between us is one dot.

They manufacture tanks
And we are afraid of flies
And the difference between us is one dot.

They take pride in their knowledge
And we are proud of our soup spoons
And the difference between us is one dot.

They have become the chosen people of God
And we are still the confused people of God
And the difference between us is one dot.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

jihad and JIHAAD

Last December in Jerusalem I enjoyed an interesting conversation with an Israeli member of the Women in Black, who publicly demonstrate to end the occupation of the West Bank. She did not believe jihad was a threat to Israel, she told me, because "the real meaning of jihad is a struggle to improve oneself spiritually".

This of course is taken from the hadith where Muhammad commented that there was a "greater jihad" and a "lesser jihad". The greater jihad is spiritual improvement, and the lesser jihad is fighting unbelievers. This hadith has been given much airtime in the West. What is not usually mentioned is that it is a "weak" hadith, meaning Muslim scholars either do not believe it is authentic or give it little significance. It also stands in opposition to the entire Book of Jihad in the most reputable collection of Sahih Al-Bukhari.

My Israeli interlocutor probably didn't get a chance to read the detailed analysis of the meaning of jihad, both in its grammatical analysis and in its use in the Quran, that appeared recently in the online edition of Pakistan Daily. That is because it was quickly removed, although not before I was able to print a copy. In page after page the author analyzed the use of the word in its every appearance in the Quran and showed without any doubt that its primary meaning is to fight non-Muslims.

For the one in a million who is interested in the minutae of Arabic grammar, there is something even the author missed. For a brief introduction, a single Arabic verb such as JAHADA can appear in as many as ten forms. Each form has a slightly different grammatical structure as well as a specific meaning that is associated with that form. Form 3 verbs add an "a" after the first syllable, and have the meaning of "to attempt to do something in respect to another object or person". The root word JAHADA appears in form three as JAAHADA and has the root meaning of to struggle against an object or entity.

Each verb form has an associated noun, meaning to do the action of the verb. These nouns are also specific in structure, so if you know the verb you can predict the noun. For a few examples, HAAWALA means to try. The noun for an attempt is MUHAWALA. KAALAMA means to speak, and the word for conversation is MUKALAMA. FAATAHA means to open a conversation, and the opening of the conversation is MUFATAHA. JAAHADA means to struggle, and the meaning of a struggle is......MUJAHADA, right?

You would be wrong, and this is what the author failed to notice. There are several form three verbs, all related to physical struggle or combat, that have a unique noun structure. Rather than MUJAHADA (which does exist in the dictionary but is much less commonly used), the verb form for JAAHADA is JIHAAD (with the second "a" dropped in English). Here are a few other examples of verbs associated with violence sharing the same noun form. The form three verb QAATALA means to try to kill. Its noun is QITAAL. The verb SARA'A means to wrestle. Its noun is SIRAA'. The word KAAFAHA also means to fight (this is the verb commonly used with the precedent anti- as in "anti-drug forces". Its noun is KIFAAH.

Even this grammatical detail gives evidence that the primary meaning of the word jihad is a physical struggle against a known enemy.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Churches in the Land of Al-Jazeera

Sometimes people you admire and respect say something you disagree with. For me this was the case when the people at were critical of the new churches being built in Qatar. The fact that these buildings do not display crosses, according to jihadwatch, indicates their "cowering dhimmi character".

In 1969 I was with a group of friends travelling overland from Europe to India. While stopping in Kabul for a few days, we were hosted by Dr. Christy Wilson who founded the School of the Blind in Kabul. He was also a missionary, and was planning construction of the first Christian Church building in the country. With great enthusiasm he described the pews, organ, church bell, and steeple that were all being shipped out from the States.

I was just a 22-year old kid who knew nothing about anything, but I remember distinctly thinking, "This is not a good idea and it's not going to work." You don't build the replica of an Augusta, Georgia, Southern Baptist Church building in Kabul, Afghanistan.

And I was right; it didn't work. Soon after construction of the building began, local opponents razed it to the ground and the project was never started again.

In India I saw a different model. An Indian Christian leader named Bakht Singh didn't agree with Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist missionaries constructing buildings that looked exactly like Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches back home and where they only sang covers of translated Western hymns. They were a mismatch in every way to the national culture. Bakht Singh constructed simple pandals, open-sided buildings where people sat on mats on the floor. They wrote their own songs in their local languages, accompanied by musicians playing the harmonium and tubla. The idea spread like wildfire, and within years there were hundreds of these simple assemblies scattered all over India. Tens of thousands of people worshipped together every Sunday. Hindus and Muslims often visited the services, attracted by the local flavor and not turned off by Western imitation. And there wasn't a cross in sight.

Here in Riyadh, we're really excited about the churches being built in Qatar. We've just sent them five thousands dollars to help with the project. Africans, Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Western expats will be able to worship at a central location. The facilities are spacious enough for smaller groups to meet separately and conduct their worship in their own languages. It doesn't bother us one bit that there's not a big cross out front. Christianity did just fine its first 400 years without them.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Genesis in the Quran, Part 2

What would happen if men sitting around the campfire repeated for generations the story of a sexually unsatisfied wife of the ruler trying to seduce the handsome young man who worked in her household? It doesn't take much imagination to realize that details would become more salacious and accounts more vivid with the passing of years.

To see this in action, compare the accounts of Joseph in Genesis and Yusuf in the Quran. The original Biblical account, while not quite boring, is pretty straight-forward. A handsome 17-year old boy is sold by his jealous brothers as a slave in Egypt. He catches the eye of his master's wife, who tries to seduce him. He refuses and leaves the house, but makes the mistake of leaving behind an item of clothing. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned was as true thousands of years ago as it is today. She tells her husband that Joseph tried to rape her and that the shirt is the proof, and the furious husband throws Joseph in jail.

Fast-forward hundreds of years, where a young Meccan boy on a camel caravan hears these ancient stories at nighttime from Jewish and Christian merchants from destinations as far away as Jerusalem, Damascus, and Constantine. He later recounts many of them but they have a different, spicier, flavor. Here's an abridged story of Yusuf in Sura 12 of the Quran, beginning with the first mention of his interaction with his master's wife:

She closed the door and said, "Come on, come on!"

"I can't," he replied, "Wrong people like you will never be successful."

She really wanted him, and he would have responded to her if WE (Allah) had not protected him because he is one of our chosen, guided slaves. So she and Yusuf raced each other to the door and she ripped the shirt from his back. He flung open the door, and there stood the husband!

"Help!" she screamed, "He tried to rape me! What are you going to do to the man who tried to rape your poor wife? At least throw him in prison or torture him."

"No!" Yusuf replied, "She tried to seduce me."

The husband didn't know what to do. But then one of the other household servants came up with a brilliant idea. "Look at the shirt," he said. "If it's torn from the front, she's telling the truth and he's a liar. If it's ripped from the back, she is the liar and he's telling the truth."

They looked at the shirt and, sure enough, it was torn from the back. "Oh, you nasty woman," said the husband. "You are a schemer. Yusuf, stay away from this troublemaker. And you, conniving lady, say you're sorry."

Well, word got around and soon all the women in the city were talking. "She's trying to seduce her young slave," they said. "She's so in love with him, but she's plain wrong."

The wife heard about this and thought of a plan. She prepared a big dinner and invited all the ladies. She gave each of them a sharp knife to cut the food. Then she commanded Yusuf to come into the room and let them see him for themselves. As soon as they saw him they lost control of themselves and in their amazement cut their hands with their knives! "He is so handsome," they said, "He's not a man, he's an angel!"

"So now you understand?" she said. "You see? And you were blaming me because I wanted to sleep with him? But he turned me down. If he refuses me again, I'm going to have him thrown into prison."

But Yusuf turned her down once again and off to prison he went.

A Muslim, of course, would strongly disagree with my suggestion that Muhammad's rendition of the story was anything other than the angel Gabriel directly speaking the words of Allah into his ear. The Quranic account is the perfect, unalterable, word of Allah because....well, just because it is.

Genesis in the Quran

The Bible paints the flaws of its characters so vividly it has been accused of being a violent and pornographic text. From Moses burying the body of a slain enemy in the sand to Samson cavorting with prostitutes, few details are left out.

The Quran is different. Muslims believe that Allah protects Prophets from ever committing such gross sins. The Arabic word used to describe this situation, "ma'sum", carries the connotation of infallability that Catholics attribute to the Pope when he is speaking ex cathedra. The Quran extends this idea to include the Prophet's entire life. Descriptions such as the failings of King David, where he engaged in sexual relations with a married woman and then had her husband killed so he could marry her, are what have led Muslims to conclude that unsavory Jews must have altered the original Biblical texts. To them it is inconceivable that a Prophet would do such a thing.

I thought of this last evening while watching a Quranic-based documentary on the life of Lot. The Bible presents him as a rather pitiful man. Greed drove him to Sodom, even though he did not share its homosexual lifestyle. He hosted angels in the form of men who came to warn him that God was going to destroy the city. When the men of the city surrounded his house demanding that he give them sexual access to the angel guests, Lot pleaded with the men to take his daughters instead. The Bible quotes him as saying, " I have two daughters who are virgins; take them and do anything you want with them, but please do nothing to my guests." Lot did at least honor the Middle Eastern tradition of protecting one's guests.

The clerics who explained the story on TV last evening saw it quite differently. It would be inconceivable for a Prophet to stoop so low as to throw his daughters out to a gang of rapists. In their account, Lot tried to persuade the men of the village to become heterosexual and renounce their homosexual activity. He was telling them, in essence, "Why don't you change, and marry women such as my daughters?"

In the study of history, older texts are usually granted greater authority. If a book written 400 years ago claimed that William Shakespeare was born near London and an author who lived 200 years ago claimed that Shakespeare's birthplace was Brussels, no-one would give any credit to the later claim. It is only in Islam that credit is always given to the later text.

You Gotta Shop Around

The macadamias, almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts and walnuts found at the local Timimi or Carrefour grocery story are incredible, not to add that each variety is available raw, smoked, cheese-flavor, salted, or laced with garlic. It's hard to walk past the selection without buying a kilo. But I chomped down too hard on one of them the other week, dislodging a filling, and had an appointment made for me at the ABC Dental Facility (name changed to protect the guilty).

I was quoted the reasonable price of between one and two hundred dollars for a filling, and thought it might be a good opportunity to have some other dental work done. Years ago in Morocco, I wore braces. The dentist pulled out two of my pre-molars to give space for my teeth to grow back. He then took off the braces, saying my teeth were fine and leaving me with the gaps where the pre-molars had been (I know you're saying, That's way more information than I need to know!). Anyhow, I thought I've check into the prices for a bridge.

The filling ended up being closer to $300, and the quote for all the other work was close to $4,000. I thought I'd better check around before making a committment, and emailed a friend who's been in country for a few years. His reply was, "So they got you too!" He'd had a similar experience at the ABC. He said many expats go there because the ABC girls enjoy, shall we say, a certain reputation. After his visit, my friend's wife told him he should get checked for AIDS.

So I shopped around and learned about Dr. Rose. She's a Lebanese dentist who's been in country for several years. I had my first appointment this morning. Her examination was so thorough that I came away thinking each of my teeth had a character and personality of its own. And the price will be a lot less than four thousand dollars.

Most of you are probably way too young to remember Smokey Robinson, but the message of "You Gotta Shop Around" still holds true.

You gotta get yourself a bargain son
Don't be sold on the very first one
Pretty girls come a dime a dozen
Try to find one who's gonna give you true loving.
My mama told me, You gotta shop around.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Aisha is Important

“Dr. Al-Faruqi,” asked my I-refuse-to-be-a-dhimmi Jewish classmate one day when we were learning about the “ideal relationship” between the Prophet and his favorite wife, “Wasn’t Aisha only nine years old when Muhammad married her?”

It was the only time I ever saw my Professor look flustered. He cleared his throat a few times and then replied slowly, enunciating almost every word, “You must remember that in the Middle East women mature younger than in the West.”

Dr. Al-Faruqi knew Islam. Among his many academic achievements was the translation into English of Muhammad Haykal’s “The Life of Muhammad”. He was well aware of how old Aisha was when she left the swing at her mother’s home to go to the house of the Prophet where she and her friends played with dolls on his floor.

Thanks to the internet, you can now know almost as much about the child bride in a few minutes as Dr. Al-Faruqi learned in a lifetime. Just google “Aisha” or “Ayesha” and read the results. Information that was available about her in Arabic for over 1200 years is there for you to see. You can read the numerous hadith in the Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim collections that refer to her engagement at the age of six and the consummation of the marriage three years later. You can read the stories about her swing and her dolls that I noted above.

Not only Dr. Al-Faruqi, but many other Islamic scholars regularly acknowledge the young age of Aisha. So why do modern, young, Western-educated Muslim writers such as Reza Aslan and Ed Husayn tell us differently? In “No god but God” Reza states that she “did not consummate her marriage to Muhammad until reaching puberty”. He gave no evidence for that conclusion, probably realizing that few of his Western readers would even question the assertion. In a London debate with Aayan Hirsi Ali, Ed addressed the issue as follows, “Something that you and others talk about repeatedly is that the Prophet married a girl who was nine years old. He didn’t, and I hope that somehow tonight it’s rectified and it’s not repeated again. In the Battle of Badr, which took place after the Prophet and his Companions moved to Medina from Mecca, Aisha took part in that battle. Those who took part in the battle were all adults, post-pubescent. There’s a very strong narrative to say that this girl, who the Prophet allegedly married, was not nine, but may very well have been post-pubescent, perhaps 15 or 16.”

Follow Ed’s thinking:
1. Aisha was at the Battle of Badr that occurred within a year or two of her marriage.
2. Only people fifteen or older could take part in Muhammad’s battles.
3. Aisha therefore must have been a young adult.

That is the logic of, “All bananas are yellow, this is yellow, so this is a banana.” The more unpalatable probability for Western Muslims to accept is that Aisha was at Badr not as a teenage Ninja warrior but as a much younger nighttime companion to her husband. She herself gives evidence of this in Ibn Ishaq’s “The Life of the Prophet”. On p. 494 he records Aisha saying, “When the apostle intended to go on an expedition, he cast lots between his wives which of them should accompany him. He did this on the occasion of the raid on Beni Al-Mustaliq and the lot fell on me, so the apostle took me out.” Aisha then went on to explain that in these situations the wives would not eat much, so they would not be overly heavy and a burden to the men who had to lift their howdah onto the camel. The clear image given is not of her and Muhammad’s other wives accompanying him as warriors, but as companions.

It’s easy to understand why Reza and Ed deny the young age of Aisha. Not being Muslim, I’m not sure what they think of a 54-year old religious Prophet ejaculating into a nine-year old girl, but they certainly know that it makes many Western non-Muslims feel very uncomfortable

Monday, May 19, 2008

Words and Attitudes

I've always communicated to my children my belief that attitudes are more important than the words used to express those attitudes. I'm concerned if you have a lack of respect for another person. Whether you express that disrespect by calling that person a "stupid idiot" or a "f***ing a**hole" is irrelevant to me (I can hear my kids saying, "He never told us THAT!").

The reason I've been thinking about this lately is that both Arabs and Westerners are using new vocabulary to avoid offending the other. The State Department has instructed diplomats to no longer call jihadis jihadis. "Moderate Muslims" apparently informed the Department that "Extremist Muslim" was a more appropriate term.

Last night on Arabic TV two Muslim clerics pointed out that the expressions "al-muslim al-mu'tadil" (moderate Muslim) and "al-muslim al-mutatarrif" (extremist Muslim) do not even exist in Islamic theology but are Western inventions. The Quran and the sunna use no such terms. If you want to classify Muslims according to Islamic thinking, I am aware of two possibilities. The first is to make a distinction between the first Muslims in Mecca (where Islam was weak and propagated by preaching), and the Muslims in Medina (where Islam became strong and spread by jihad). The second is to classify Muslims by how carefully they follow Islamic teachings. Arabic calls these "multizim" (committed) or "ghayr multizim" (non-committed). It is similar to the Western concept of someone being a practicing or non-practicing Christian or an observant or non-observant Jew.

This is a lot more challenging and demands more serious study then merely using Western standards to arbitrarily decide whether a Muslim is moderate or extremist. How many US government or law enforcement officials could prove from the texts of Islam that Usama Bin Ladin is not a good Muslim committed to the teachings of Muhammad? What about Yusuf Al-Qaradawi who uses Islamic history and Quranic texts to justify Palestinian suicide bombings? On what basis do we call them extreme?

Americans are not the only ones changing their vocabulary; Muslims in the Middle East are also doing the same. I've noticed a few recent examples in the Arab media and there are probably dozens more. Saudi anthropologist Sa'd Al-Suwayan has suggested the Saudi government remove the swords from their flag because people might associate them with violence. I heard another cleric say that Muslims should not use the Quranic expression "the house of war and the house of submission" to describe humanity because it can give a bad impression. He prefers "the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world". Even Dr. Al-Qaradawi has gotten into the act. He explained recently that he prefers the more neutral term "non-Muslim" to the Quranic words "kafir" and "dhimmi".

The problem is that merely changing vocabulary does not indicate a corresp0nding change of belief. I'm not talking so much about the Americans who have no idea what jihad is as described in the Quran and the hadith, but about the other side. Sa'd Al-Suwayan might want to remove the swords from the Saudi flag, but is he willing to excise the famous "sword verses" from the Quran? Does the cleric who prefers "non-Muslim world" to "house of war" renounce any attempts to ever replace Western freedoms and democracy with Islam and Islamic law? And what does Dr. Al-Qaradawi really think about the kafir? He certainly knows the Quran well enough to realize that almost every reference to them in the Holy Book is negative.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Arguing About Rafah

I just listened to an hour long TV slugfest between two Arab protagonists that was so intense it left my head spinning. Palestinian activist Ibrahim Hamami in London and Egyptian professor Jihad Audah in Cairo were arguing about Egypt ’s unwillingness to open the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza . You might remember that a few months ago thousands of Palestinians stormed the border into Egypt at the town of Rafah . Egypt is determined this will not happen again.

In the midst of ad hominem personal attacks “I can’t believe you are a university professor” and “I can’t believe you are sitting up there in London rather than in Gaza with your people”, each man tried to outshout the other. Audah argued that border agreements had been reached by the major parties involved, including the Egyptians, Americans, Israelis and the Palestinian government of Mahmud Abbas. Why should Egypt risk its security by opening the border to the renegade Hamas government in Gaza ? There were other Israeli-controlled borders the Palestinians could go through if they wanted access to Egypt .

Hamami countered that the Palestinians posed no threat to Egyptian security, and the Abbas government was not an honest representative of the Palestinian people. He thought Egypt should bypass all the other parties and reach a direct border agreement with the people living in Gaza .

There were a lot of things that struck me about what was both said and left unsaid by the two men. Here are three of them:

1. They used nuances to avoid real communication. When Hamami claimed that Audah could not point out one example of a Palestinian threatening Egyptian security, the Egyptian responded by noting the tunnels dug under the border which are notorious for weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza. Rather than discuss the tunnels, Hamami ignored the issue. His unstated assumption was that since the weapons were intended for use against Israel , they posed no security problem for Egypt .

2. Audah was unwilling to state that Egypt shares major economic interests with Israel , including long-term multi-billion dollar natural gas agreements, that are stronger than Egypt ’s willingness to go against Israel and provide assistance for the Palestinians in Gaza . No Egyptian would ever publicly admit this, but it is true.

3. Hamami sees Israel as the enemy that is determined to harm the Palestinian people at any cost. He’s mad at the Egyptians, but he’s really angry at the Israelis. I know it's a popular view held by most Palestinians and supporters, but I just don’t see it that way. I think the key to peace is a major change of heart by the Palestinians and not the Israelis. I believe a sincere move towards peace by the Palestinians would be met in kind.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Muslim View of History

I knew I was interested in the Middle East even before arriving at Temple University in 1978. At the time Temple did not offer a major in Middle East Studies or in Arabic. I signed up for the only Arabic classes available, taught by a Syrian Druze named Fauzi whose real job was working as a waiter in a South Philly Arab restaurant. My options for a major were to choose a field in which I could take as many courses related to theMiddle East as possible. Politics did not interest me, and neither did geography nor history. I concluded that the heart of the Middle East was Islam, and decided to major in religion.

I've never regretted that choice. My two main professors were Dr. Ismail Al-Faruqi and Sayyed Hussein Nasr. Dr. Al-Faruqi was a Sunni Palestinian who at the time was one of America's best known Islamic professors. Muslim students from all over the world came to get their PhDs with him. He was a hard-liner, and in some of the graduate seminars I audited he openly called for the complete demolition of Israel. When he and his wife were murdered in their home one night a few years later, rumors were it was the Jewish Defense League but the police report said it was a robbery attempt.

Dr. Nasr, who has since become perhaps America's most eloquent apologist for Islam, had just arrived in America as a refugee from Iran, forced out by the Islamic revolution. An Iranian Shia Sufi, he was in many ways the opposite of Dr. Al-Faruqi. Even then I thought it was ironic that a Muslim scholar would be forced to leave his country by a Muslim government.

They were both fascinating lecturers, and I looked forward to every class. But even with them, I noticed a few things that I've since seen repeated dozens of times and that I think are symptomatic of how Muslims view history. The first was in Dr. Al-Faruqi's class, when mention was made of Philip Hitti's book "The History of the Arabs". I thought the book was a standard reference, but my professor did not agree. It was impossible that Philip Hitti could write an accurate account of Arab history, according to Dr. Al-Faruqi, because he was not a Muslim. My impression was that a non-Muslim might be more objective in writing history than a believer, but Dr. Al-Faruq saw it differently. A non-Muslim writing Arab history was not to be trusted.

The second thing was in Dr. Nasr's class. He was talking one day about non-Muslims living in Muslim society. A Jewish classmate asked him about the rule in Tunis that a Jew needed to dismount from his donkey when a Muslim approached on foot because the Jew could not be higher than the Muslim. To the surprise of both my classmate and myself, Dr. Nasr had never heard of this. To his credit he did not deny it, as many Muslim apologists might have done, but simply admitted he knew nothing about it.

The reason he did not know, of course, was because his studies of Islam did not include the histories of Jews and Christians living under Islam as told in their own words. I was reminded of this again the other day in a Riyadh bookshop when I picked up a book entitled "The Rights of Non-Muslims in the Islamic World", published by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. It was a glowing treatise of the wonderful treatment of these "people with a protected status". The author has probably never even heard of Bat Yeor and her research into the real lives of Jews and Christians living under Islam. It is certain that the young Saudis who read his book never will.


I am a 60-year-old mid-level government employee. Many of my coworkers are young enough to be my children. Those who are my age seem to be ambassadors, department heads, or retired. Sometimes I hear of people coming on as “new hires” for about the same salary I make after 25 years. Many of those “ex-CIA agents” or “former Foreign Service Officers” or “previous special Presidential envoys” or “retired military officers” that you see CNN and FOX as special correspondents or subject matter experts are younger than me. There will soon be two ex-Presidents about my age.

But I’m not complaining. People who rise through the ranks are sometimes gifted, but at other times merely those who plan their careers in accordance with their ambitions. One hears expressions such as “checking off all the checkpoints,” or “sitting around the flagpole until I get my next promotion,” that I’ve never found attractive. I enjoy good health and have a great family. My 84-year old father, who has always been healthy, is recovering from his first major surgery and looking forward to getting back to his morning laps at the YMCA. My children have picked up my love for overseas life and are all arranging their studies and future careers with working abroad as possibilities. Most days I still enjoy going to work.

There are advantages to growing older. Some temptations become weaker and addictions less likely. I can enjoy a fine Cuban cigar accompanied by a Jack Daniels and coke without worrying about becoming addicted to smoking or an alcoholic. One of my favorite authors, Susan Howatch (The Heartbreaker, the High Flyer, etc) had a character musing about how when you first meet someone the thought flashes into your mind for a few seconds, “I wonder how she (or he) would be in bed.” Unless he is rich, famous, or powerful, that doesn’t happen when the person being met is a 60-year-old graying man. I’m pretty sure that women who meet me don’t waste a single second fantasizing about my sexual prowess. All in all, that’s probably a good thing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ikhwan As-Sharmuta

The commemoration of An-Nakbah (see yesterday’s post) has given Arab leaders a renewed opportunity to reaffirm their everlasting support for the Palestinians. Whenever I hear it, I am reminded of a conversation last December with a young taxi driver in Bethlehem .

I’d just arrived from a week in Dubai , the emirate of superlatives. It has the world’s most expensive hotel, communities built on man-made islands, and indoor ski slopes. Earth’s tallest building is being constructed in such a way that if anyone ever builds anything higher they can extend.

The taxis are brand new and spotlessly clean, driven by well-groomed young men in white shirts and dress slacks. It’s when you speak to them that you realize life is more than meets the eye. They work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, sleep on a cot in a crowded apartment or dormitory, and make 400 dollars a month. As much as they can, they send home. But the job market in the Gulf is still a lot better than in Kerala, Kolkuta, or Karachi , so they keep coming.

The taxi waiting after I crossed the checkpoint in Bethlehem was certainly not new, and the driver would not be considered well-dressed. If I’d known the center of town was less than ten-minutes away I would have walked, but tourists are tourists everywhere. The same holds true for taxi drivers, at least in Israel and the West Bank . Both Jewish and Palestinian cabbies talk your ear off about how bad the economy is and how hard it is to make a living. And they both try to get as many shekels as they can for a five-minute ride.

I said to the young man, “I’ve just come from Dubai , where they hire thousands of taxi drivers from India and Pakistan . If they are so concerned about you, why don’t they hire Palestinian taxi drivers?”

His answer was short and to the point. “They don’t care about us,” he said, “They are ‘ikhwan as-sharmuta’ (our brothers from the whore).”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


While the rest of the world was celebrating Israel ’s 60th birthday, the Arab and Muslim media was bemoaning 60 years of “an-nakbah”. The word means disaster, but has come to take on a definition of its own; the displacement of Palestinians from their homes.

I watched a recent interview with Salman Abu Sittah, director of the Right to Return Organization. With dozens of maps he showed that the majority of the land evacuated by the Palestinians is relatively unpopulated even today. Most Israelis live in or near northern cities, and the majority of Palestinians were from the southern part of the country. Abu Sittah claimed that the Palestinians could return to their original homes and villages with little disruption of national life.

It’s an interesting idea, but it’s not going to happen. To understand why, here’s an Idiot’s Guide to the last 60 years of another country in the region, Lebanon :

1. The French leave Beirut , but not before drawing up a constitution that guarantees political representation to all the Lebanese factions. Maronite Christians, Catholics, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and the Druze all play a part.

2. To everyone’s amazement, it works. The economy is booming and tourists flock to the Paris of the Middle East . The beaches are beautiful, the women gorgeous, and the night-clubs stay open till dawn.

3. Yasir Arafat (yes, the same Abu Umar who later received the Nobel Peace Prize) flexes his muscles one too many times in Jordan and King Hussein gives him the boot. Arafat and his militias arrive in Beirut and use it as a staging ground for their operations against Israel .

4. The Lebanese army reacts against Arafat, the Lebanese factions take sides, and the country plunges into civil war. Arafat, booted out once again, watches it all from his villas in Tunisia . I still remember seeing his black Mercedes careening through the streets of Tunis , bodyguards hanging out the windows waving their AK-47s.

5. Lebanon crawls out of its civil war. Led by smart, forward-thinking businessmen such as Rafiq Al-Harari, it begins to once again make progress.

6. But there are new players. Syria applies pressure from the north, and supports Hizballah in the south. Hizballah wants more power and influence. Al-Harari is assassinated, Hizballah instigates another war with Israel , is further emboldened to challenge the Lebanese government, and all hell breaks loose.

Substitute “Lebanese Christians” with “Israeli Jews”, and “Hizballah” with “Hamas”, and you can imagine the picture in Israel in twenty years.

Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah has been all over the TV screen the last few days. He has a lisp that turns his r’s into w’s, so that “al-tariq” becomes “al-tawiq”, and makes him difficult for a non-native to understand. Fortunately, his two favorite words do not contain r’s so even I can follow him. They are “difah” and “dahiyah”. “We only fight in self-defense, and we are always victims.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Full-Page Ad

I don’t see many full-page ads in the Middle East ’s largest English-language paper. But money talks, here as everywhere else, which explains the spread accompanied by a photograph of his truly. The title read, “Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation, representing Kingdom Foundation, awarded the Pontifical Medal by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican .”

Underneath was written, “This is very much in tune with HRH’s abiding commitment to the promotion of mutual understanding, knowledge, tolerance and coexistence among adherents of the various faiths, as exemplified by his generous support to Alwaleed Bin Talal Christian & Muslims Center for Understanding at Georgetown University, Alwaleed Bin Talal program for Islamic Studies at Harvard University, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World at the University of Edinburgh, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Alwaleed Bin Talal Hall of Islamic Arts in the Louvre Museum, as well as many other philanthropic, educational and humanitarian contributions.”

Money not only talks, it corrupts and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I’m not talking about the Prince, but the universities and professors who receive millions of his money. You don’t have to be in the Kingdom very long to realize that expats who work for powerful and wealthy local sponsors walk a thin line. Cross that line and you can be on the next plane out. As one person put it last week, “You walk out of the office carrying your head under your arm.” I would imagine that the organizations mentioned above are very careful to teach a view of Islam that HRH (His Royal Highness) would approve.

It’s hard to imagine any Black Studies program at an American university without a course about the role of white Americans in slavery. I wonder how many of the universities who are beneficiaries of Prince Alwaleed seriously study, as one example among many, the history of Arab slave trade in Africa . To someone who would counter that this has nothing to do with Islam, I would reply that everything in the Middle East goes back to Islam. It was Muhammad who told his followers that along with their four wives they could also possess their female slaves.

It was years after I studied at Temple University with two of America ’s most famous Islamic professors that I learned that probably over one hundred million Africans were killed on the Arab slave routes. Of those who survived, eleven million were shipped across the Atlantic, and fourteen million were sent to the Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East . The highest prices on the auction blocks of Istanbul were paid for white, blonde European women. And they weren’t going there to work as nannies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Palestinians and Israelis Together

I recently had an interesting conversation with a young Palestinian who was born in Qatar but now holds Saudi citizenship and runs a successful company here.

At one point in the conversation I mentioned that I thought that if the Palestinians and Israelis could learn to work together, they would form an economic, political, and social dynamic that would be the envy of the entire Middle East . I thought I would be starting an argument, but to my surprise he agreed. He talked about how impressed he had been with the Jewish students who were his classmates when he studied engineering in Munich .

I then said I thought Hamas could have peace with Israel tomorrow if they really wanted to. When I mentioned that at an anti-Israel rally last year in Monterey , California , I almost started a riot. But he again agreed, making a few comments about the Hamas leaders in Gaza that I won’t repeat here.

I know it’s possible he just wanted to be agreeable with a man who could be his father’s age, but I don’t think that was the case. It was encouraging to meet a kindred spirit (there don’t seem to be many), and of all places a Palestinian living in Saudi Arabia .

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Lover and the Beloved

I was talking the other night to an expat who has been in country for many years. He said that his wife used to be here with him, but decided she would rather live in their home country without him than be here with him. They are still married, and he misses her and longs for his vacations when they can be together. He then commented, “In every relationship, there is the lover and there is the person loved. It doesn’t go both ways.”

Someone else then joined the conversation. He had been here for a short time several years ago. Every time he talked to his wife during that time, he had the distinct realization that she was not eager for him to come home. She requested a divorce after he did return, and he was now engaged to be married to someone else. His present fiancée is calling him every day, telling him how much she misses him and can’t wait for him to come home. The veteran said, “You see, that proves my point. In the first marriage, you were the lover and she was the beloved. In this relationship, she is the lover and you are the beloved.”

I’d never thought of this concept before, but it caught my attention. Anyone out there have any ideas about it?

Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out

I knew I wanted this book as soon as I heard it was being published and, thanks to the miracle of and the blessing of an international APO address, the other day I was tearing open the package. I could hardly put it down until I finished reading it. Now Christians, atheists, Buddhists, or unsure of what they believe and what’s next, these are the stories of courageous people who took a bold stand. They are courageous because, unlike Moses, Jesus or Buddha, Muhammad’s opinion of them was short and to the point, “If anyone leaves Islam, kill them.”

On the other hand, speaking of books, a coworker last week gave me a biography of Sayyid Qutb. Qutb is the Egyptian academic widely credited with “founding” the modern jihadi movement of radical Islam. I couldn’t get into the book; to me it was boring. It was just another story of an unhappy person unsuccessful in love who rejected an American culture he could not understand and found solace in rediscovering the values of his religion. I put the word “founding” above in quotes because to me Qutb didn’t found or create anything. A gifted writer, he merely took 1400 year old teachings and expressed them in a way that caught people’s attention and gained a following. There’s nothing new about his writings at all.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

She Visited her Father's Killer

Most people wouldn't call me very emotional, but there was something in this Arab News story that brought tears to my eyes. Priyanka Vadra, the granddaughter of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and daughter of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi paid a secret prison visit last month to the woman involved in her father's murder. It was only later that the media found out about the visit.

When asked about this action, Priyanka said, "It was purely a personal visit on my own initiative, which must be respected. I do not believe in anger or violence, and I refuse to let it overpower me. Meeting (the prisoner) Nalini was my way of coming to terms with my father's death." Priyanka added she had asked Nalini why her father was killed, and said the grievances could have been solved through talks.

Although her brother did not accompany Priyanka to the prison, he commented, "We don't carry hatred. We don't carry anger. It's not an exercise. She felt that she wanted to go and see the person. She has been feeling it for some time."

I find it interesting that in the Middle East where I live, not exactly known for non-violence and peaceful responses, this story was carried on the front page of the Arab News. I wonder if any American newspapers did that?

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's Not Hypocrisy

Last night I overheard a conversation that probably every expat living in this part of the world has heard or been involved in. It's the idea that Arabs are "hypocritical" because of two perceived standards of behavior. Examples usually given are women who take off their abayas as soon as their airplane takes off for the West, men who drink alcohol in Bahrain or the UAE while never partaking of it at home, young people frequenting night clubs in London who don't even talk to members of the opposite sex back home, or political and religious leaders who say one thing in English when speaking to Westerners and something quite different to their own people on Al-Jazeera.

I also read an interesting sentence about young Saudi women yesterday in the Gulf Marketing Review. In an article entitled "Saudi Arabia's Eve-olution" author Sarah Abdullah wrote, "In addition there is a dichotomy between the personal and social life, espcially among women. The social dynamic in Saudi Arabia is such that women have to have two faces: a personal face, completely reserved for only their closest companions and the public face, far removed from her true self.

Without getting too philosophical or analytical, I think the "two faces" noted by Sarah has a much wider application than merely to young Saudi women. It's a duality that is at the heart of Arab thinking and that stretches back to the very roots of Islam. There is the Quran and the hadith, the Meccan suras and the Medinan suras (the two parts of the Quran with quite different emphases given when Muhammad lived in those two cities), the believer and the unbeliever, the House of Islam and the House of War, public behavior and private behavior, and Islam as a religion and as a social system.

I don't think we understand this very well in the West, but I think we need to put more effort into trying to. It's not that Arabs are hypocritical, but it is a different way of thinking.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Reconciliation: One Word, Two Meanings

Reconciliation is the buzzword in Iraq these days. Almost everyone is trying to reconcile almost everyone to almost everyone. Government leaders, military generals, Sunni tribal shaykhs, and Shia insurgents are all involved.

Last year an Anglican bishop from Rwanda visited a church in California. He spoke about the reconciliation process taking place between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes there where a 1994 uprising resulted in the deaths of close to a million people. In order to be reconciled, a person had to first publicly acknowledge what he had done. He next had to express sincere sorrow for his actions to the family or families he had harmed. The final step was to find out from them if there was anything he could do to compensate for or repay the damage he had caused. Only after doing all this would an individual be considered reconciled.

This is a far cry from the meaning of reconciliation in Iraq. It's hard to even imagine someone there going through that process. The Arabic word for reconciliation "musalahah" is closely related to the word for self-interest "masalih". As far as I can tell, the meaning of reconciliation in Iraq is to protect one's self-interests while trying to reach an agreement with an enemy that will prevent his attacking you. In practical terms, this means that American military officers are telling Iraqi tribal shaykhs, "I'll give you lots of money and weapons if you stop killing my people and start killing my enemies." More than one soldier and journalist have reported on the strange feeling they have giving money and weapons to former enemies who have now become "friends".

When the Experts are Wrong

Soon after I started working for the federal government in the early 80’s I took an introductory course on the Middle East . My instructor was one of those many people who considered himself a Middle East expert. He liked to punctuate his lectures with comments such as “Shuf habibi” (Look, buddy) to impress us with his knowledge of Arabic.

At one point he told us that our final grade depended solely on a paper we were to write. At the time the Iraqis and the Iranians were in the middle of the Iraq-Iran war. The Iranians had just bombed the only Iraqi access to the Arab Gulf , giving Iraq no way to export its oil. Looking at a map one day, I noticed that the only thing preventing Iraq from unfettered access to the Gulf was Kuwait (which had been placed there by the Brits who drew up the borders for that very purpose). I thought, “What would happen if Iraq ever invaded Kuwait ? How would America respond? What would be the reaction of the Soviet Union ?”

I did a little research and discovered that the territory now called Kuwait had been disputed for centuries. Long before the discovery of oil, tribal leaders in southern Iraq were laying claim to the area controlled by the Al-Sabah family (the current rulers of Kuwait ).

And so I wrote and handed in a little paper in which I simply asked the question of what would happen if Iraq ever invaded Kuwait . A few days later I got a call from the instructor. “Ed,” he said, “I can’t accept your paper. Your idea is preposterous. You’re going to have to write another paper if you want to pass the course.” A day or so later I received my paper that he had sent back to me. There were large red lines slashed through it. I still remember the line in capital letters THE ARAB LEAGUE WOULD NEVER ALLOW THIS. So I ran the paper through the shredder and wrote another stupid little paper about a subject in which I had no interest. A day or so later I got another call. “That was a great paper,” my instructor said. “I’m going to give you an A for the course.” Of course we all know that several years later Iraq did indeed invade Kuwait , igniting the first Gulf War. The expert had been wrong.

A decade later my family was moving to Augusta , Georgia , to begin another life after living nine years in North Africa and Saudi Arabia . During that time I had saved about $35,000. I had the money safely in low-yield bonds, but was thinking about putting it in the stock market. On my way to work one day, I was listening to a Christian financial advisor named Larry Burkett who had a radio show called Money Matters. He had just written a book entitled The Coming Economic Earthquake. The theme of the book was pretty simple. God was really angry at America for its waywardness and was going to punish it by crashing the stock market. Larry advised people to pull their money out of stocks because this was going to happen in the next six months.

I thought, “Well, if this is going to happen I’d better not put my money in stocks. He’s an expert and knows more than I do. Besides, he’s a Christian leader with a direct line to God.” So I kept my money in the low-yield account for the next five years. If anyone remembers, these were the years of the Clinton administration in which they balanced the budget and stock yields were about 20 percent per year. If I would have followed my first inclination, I could have doubled my money during that time. Again, the expert was wrong.

I guess it’s just who I am, the first-born submissive child and all that, but I still want to believe the experts. When General Petraeus says we are making progress in Iraq , and Condolezza Rice tells us that if we just do the right things there will be an independent Palestinian state by the end of the year, I still want to believe they are right. But my experience tells me that sometimes the experts are wrong.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

As Long as Allah Wants It To

In an email exchange once with Noni Darwish, author of the wonderful book “Now They Call Me Infidel”, she commented that she doesn’t like to watch Arabic news because it is too depressing.

I understand the sentiment, but to me it’s more like a love-hate relationship. There’s nothing I enjoy more in my spare time then working through an Arabic interview, trying to understand the viewpoint of the person being interviewed. On the other hand, Noni is correct; it can be really depressing.

I just listened to an hour interview with Dr. Ibrahim al-Shamari, spokesperson for the Islamic Army in Iraq . The stated goal of his army is short and to the point; to kill as many Americans as they can until American forces leave Iraq .

The first thing that hits me when people like him speak is the intensity of their belief. They really believe that American intentions are evil and they are very serious about killing as many as they can. The second thing is the things they claim are true that I know are lies. When the interviewer asked him about the suicide bombings and carbombs that kill thousands of Iraqis, Ibrahim replied that the Americans did all this. When the interviewer expressed doubt that the Americans could persuade people to blow themselves up in suicide operations, Ibrahim replied that the Israeli Mossad and other intelligence agencies were also active in Iraq . It was these agencies that caused the vast percentage of the killing.

A third thing that caught my attention was that Ibrahim and his associates believe that the “Iranian occupation of Iraq ” is even worse than the American occupation. They know that as the Americans move out, the Iranians will move in and there won’t even be a pretense of that being a temporary state of being. So the fighting will continue even after Americans leave Iraq . When asked how long the resistance would continue, Ibrahim’s answer was revealing, “It will last until Allah who commanded us to jihad chooses to stop it.”

What most Americans probably don’t distinguish is that the Islamic Army in Iraq is not even Al-Qaidah. They are enemies of Al-Qaidah for several reasons including that Al-Qaidah in Iraq is led by non-Iraqis, and Al-Qaidah follows the practice of “takfir” or declaring that other Muslims who do not follow them are not true Muslims and can therefore be killed. So even if the American military wiped out Al-Qaidah (which is unlikely), groups such as these are waiting in the wings. The strategy might be slightly different, but the jihadi ideology is the same.

These guys are all Sunnis. During the month of April, 2008, fifty more American soldiers were killed, the highest number in seven months, but these deaths were not even caused by the Sunni groups noted above. Americans have recently been fighting the Jaysh Al-Mahdi on the Shia side of the house. These are the people whose favorite method of execution is to tie peoples’ hands behind their backs, drill electric drills into their brains, then shoot them in the back and dump their bodies on the street.

The Sunni resistance groups are just biding their time and planning their next strategy. They are fighting the current Al-Malaki government as well as the Shia Militias as well as the Iranians as well as the Americans, so it’s all a long ways from over.

There was one part of the interview I found humorous. The Iranians and Shia have a practice called “mitah” (enjoyment) marriage” in which a man can “marry” a woman for a temporary period of time. It’s basically a legalized form of prostitution, although the relationship can continue as long as both parties agree. When Ibrahim was describing the relationship between the Al-Malaki government and Iran , he said, “I don’t know whether it’s going to be a “mitah” marriage the Iranian way, or a Catholic marriage the American way.” Even the terrorists know the Pope does not look kindly on divorce!

Once last year before heading back to Baghdad I stopped in at a bar in Washington DC . I told the bartender I needed a final beer because I was going back to Iraq the next day. She said, “So you work in Iraq ? Can I ask you a couple of questions?” I replied, “Sure.” She said, “There are people over there who are called Sunnis, right?” I replied that was correct. “And there are other people who are called Shia, right?” Again I replied she was correct. “And they are fighting each other, right?” Once again I said she was correct. Her next question was, “So what the fuck are we doing there?” I still haven’t heard a good answer to that one.