Category Archives: Egypt

Pallywood in Egypt: What does this tell us about what “they” think of “us”?

First consider the following photograph:

behind the factory 1

This was taken at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. The day that Al Durah was shot on film by Talal Abu Rahma. The picture was made public by AP. I use it in lectures to introduce Pallywood.

The closer you look, the less the picture makes sense. Who are these people and what are they doing? Running from what? Ducking from what? Fire? From where? What kind? And why aren’t the people behind them ducking or running?

And what happens when you realize that the building in the upper left shields this entire area from Israeli fire which could only come from their position behind that building, and which they never left that day?

001-netzarim up diagonal include twin

 

The scene we’re looking at takes place along the road to the bottom left. The building we see in the background is labeled in Hebrew in red (“the factory”), and the Israeli position is behind it, labeled in blue (Magan 3).

In other words, the entire scene is staged, and all these figures are playing for the camera. Indeed, one might phrase it that they are reacting to camera fire.

Now none of that really makes sense to us in the West. When I show this to audiences, people try hard to read the picture as real, not staged. It can’t be that an entire street full of people are involved in such stuff. (James Fallows fall back on al Durah being staged is that it couldn’t happen without someone leaking the story, as if Palestinian culture were identical to ours in these matters of dissent.)

It’s precisely our desire not to believe that Palestinians or Arabs would be so blatantly deceptive that makes us so gullible to a major element of their cogwar against us, namely the manipulation of the (inexcusably) credulous Western news media to create sympathy among the (excusably, if stupidly) empathic Western public, eager to side with the (perceived) underdog.

So now we have serious, comic evidence of Pallywood at work in the Morsi camp in Egypt.

And here’s more of the same, although (a tiny bit) less obvious, from Syria.

What does this tell us about what they think of us, that such patent fakes could conceivably move Western public opinion (note the English signs), and, say, help convince the US government that it should cut off aid to Egypt in reprisal for the behavior of the current ruling group?

That we’re stupid? Unquestionably. The sad thing is, they may well be right. After all, our policy-makers seem to have their major offices on rekaB Street.

The Egyptians Get It: A bullet kills a man, a lying camera kills a nation.

Just as the suicide bombing that Arab Muslims cheered eagerly when the Israelis were the target has since been turned against them (in far greater numbers), so now the cognitive warfare so acceptable when Israel was the target has begun to upset the Egyptians when it targets them, especially from an Arab news agency like Al Jazeera.  Here are two examples of the way they fight back. (Both pictures include the logo of Al Jazeera.)

egyptian pamphlet2 against al jazeera

 

egyptian pamphlet1 against al jazeera

The Disturbing Arab Decade: Fisking Tom Friedman’s Retraction

The Arab Quarter Century

By 
Published: April 9, 2013 210 Comments

I guess it’s official now: The term “Arab Spring” has to be retired.

Now? About two years late.

There is nothing springlike going on. The broader, but still vaguely hopeful, “Arab Awakening” also no longer seems valid, given all that has been awakened.

The operative word here is “Arab” awakening. The riots of 1936-39, in which “awakening” Arabs killed almost as many of their own people as their formal enemies, the British and the Jews, was also billed as an Arab Awakening.

And so the strategist Anthony Cordesman is probably right when he argues: It’s best we now speak of the “Arab Decade” or the “Arab Quarter Century” — a long period of intrastate and intraregional instability, in which a struggle for both the future of Islam and the future of the individual Arab nations blend together into a “clash within a civilization.”

When the Arab Spring first emerged, the easy analogy was the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Easy for a liberal cognitive egocentrist. The other “easy” analogy was the revolutions of 1848 (which were short-term failures and long-term successes).

It appears that the right analogy is a different central European event — the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century — an awful of mix of religious and political conflict, which eventually produced a new state order.

The first part is good. Warfare in pre-modern Europe. The end of it, the Westphalian State System, inaugurates the modern world of national sovereignties and the beginning of secular politics. The Thirty Years War was the last overtly “religious” conflict in European history. But again, Friedman may be jumping the gun and imagining the secular outcome because he takes that “rational” secular shift as an obvious, even inevitable direction (his own Weberian sociology). It could be the Hundred Years War, which went on between England and France for more than a century.

Some will say: “I told you so. You never should have hoped for this Arab Spring.”

That would be me and many others.

Nonsense. The corrupt autocracies that gave us the previous 50 years of “stability” were just slow-motion disasters.

And the 500 years before that? The idea that the last fifty years are somehow special in the life of Arab political culture is a product of the modern Western developments. What we find intolerable is actually the norm for most pre-modern cultures.

Read the U.N.’s 2002 Arab Human Development Report about what deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge did to Arab peoples over the last 50 years. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria are not falling apart today because their leaders were toppled. Their leaders were toppled because for too many years they failed too many of their people. Half the women in Egypt still can’t read. That’s what the stability of the last 50 years bought.

This is amazing stuff. As if in 1950 or 1960 women’s literacy were the higher and the “failure” of the leadership somehow pushed them backwards. If there’s anything here that fits within the pattern of Western history, it’s that the Arab world, after kicking out their Jews were like the 16th century Spaniards – all that money pouring through their system like a flash flood in a desert.

Also, “we” did not unleash the Arab Spring, and “we” could not have stopped it. These uprisings began with fearless, authentic quests for dignity by Arab youths, seeking the tools and freedom to realize their full potential in a world where they could see how everyone else was living.

But no sooner did they blow the lids off their societies, seeking governments grounded in real citizenship, than they found themselves competing with other aspirations set loose — aspirations to be more Islamist, more sectarian or to restore the status quo ante.

And you really had no idea of the strength of these “other” aspirations?

Still, two things surprise me. The first is how incompetent the Muslim Brotherhood has been. In Egypt, the Brotherhood has presided over an economic death spiral and a judiciary caught up in idiocies like investigating the comedian Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, for allegedly insulting President Mohamed Morsi. (See Stewart’s perfect takedown of Morsi.)

My take on the role of honor-shame in this incident here.

Every time the Brotherhood had a choice of acting in an inclusive way or seizing more power, it seized more power, depriving it now of the broad base needed to make necessary but painful economic reforms.

This is normal pre-modern political behavior: rule or be ruled. What’s surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist organization from its inception, would choose this political path. Did you believe the line about their “moderation”? Why do you think modern, Western, positive-sum behavior is some kind of default norm?

The second surprise? How weak the democratic opposition has been. The tragedy of the Arab center-left is a complicated story, notes Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University and the author of “The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East.” Many of the more secular, more pro-Western Egyptian political elites who could lead new center-left parties, he said, had been “co-opted by the old regime” for its own semiofficial parties and therefore “were widely discredited in the eyes of the public.” That left youngsters who had never organized a party, or a grab bag of expatriates, former regime officials, Nasserites and liberal Islamists, whose only shared idea was that the old regime must go.

It could also be because what we consider “secular, pro-Western, liberals” young and old, are only honor-shame facsimiles, who look like and mimic well our Western style, but they’re still prisoners of the world they inhabit, without the “purchase” in individuality to take the road less taken – giving up, for example, the inveterate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism of their culture.

Since taking power in Egypt, “the Brotherhood has presided over economic failure and political collapse,” said Lynch.

Try reading David Goldman’s analyses to understand that the economic failure was there from the outset. The most sophisticated economic managers would have had an uphill battle.

“They have lost the center, they are feuding with the Salafists, and they are now down to their core 25 percent of support. There is no way they should win a fair election, which is why the opposition should be running in — not boycotting — the next parliamentary elections.” The old line that you have to wait on elections until a moderate civil society can be built is a proven failure. “You can’t teach someone to be a great basketball player by showing them videos,” he said. “They have to play — and the opposition will not become effective until they compete and lose and win again.”

Building democracy by starting with elections is like building a house starting with the roof.

The old sources of stability that held this region together are gone. No iron-fisted outside powers want to occupy these countries anymore, because all you win today is a bill. No iron-fisted dictators can control these countries anymore, because their people have lost their fear.

Nonsense. They lost their fear momentarily. These are societies built on fear.

The first elected governments — led by the Muslim Brotherhood — have the wrong ideas. More Islam is not the answer. More of the Arab Human Development Report is the answer. But the democratic opposition youths don’t yet have leaders to galvanize their people around that vision.

This is more of the “I prefer politics because it moves faster” kind of thinking that I discussed at the time of Romney’s comments on culture. Politics over culture because politics is faster. Start with the roof because… it’s easier?

Given all this, America’s least bad option is to use its economic clout to insist on democratic constitutional rules, regular elections and political openness, and to do all it can to encourage moderate opposition leaders to run for office.

Yeah. Build your democratic towers on sand.

We should support anyone who wants to implement the Arab Human Development Report and oppose anyone who doesn’t. That is the only way these societies can give birth to their only hope: a new generation of decent leaders who can ensure that this “Arab Quarter Century” ends better than it began.

That’s your only hope, not theirs.

Stewart, Youssef, Mursi: A Study in Honor-Shame dynamics

[For those who come here from a link at Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly blog, please click here to get to my response to him.]

There’s been a serious brouhahahaha about John Stewart’s takedown of Egypt’s “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi’s for imprisoning Egyptian fellow political satirist, Bassem Youssef for making fun of the president. The take down is pretty devastating – from a Western point of view, and even received an endorsing tweet from the US Embassy in Cairo (oops).  The Tablet has a nice summary of some of the issues (HT: Elsie).

I’d like to discuss two honor-shame aspects to this affair, one obvious, the other less so, but both, I think, closely linked.

The first, obvious one, is the reaction of an honor-shame driven leader to having the mickey taken out of him publicly. Associating his own face with both his office and his religion, Mursi took the mockery as a direct assault on the legitimacy of the state. (Psychologists call this ego inflation.) This is classic behavior and explains, among other things, why fascists, who strive to regain the virility that modern values (like free speech) deny them, use the power of the state to suppress dissent.

Note the difference between Bush (Stewart’s target) and Mursi. Although even otherwise highly intelligent people could not stop accusing Bush of (incipient) fascism, somehow we can’t use the appropriate term “Islamofascism” because… it might hurt Mursi’s feelings.

The second aspect concerns one of Stewart’s “gotcha” moments. At one point he shows an earnest Mursi assuring an eagerly attentive Wolf Blitzer that when he’s president, he’ll embrace the whole Egyptian family, and wouldn’t dream of suppressing criticism. Stewart’s implication and our “reading”: what a ludicrous hypocrite.

Here I’d like to introduce an alternative reading. Mursi would not recognize himself as a hypocrite here. When he spoke with Blitzer he was perfectly sincere, and doing what he should do – please the audience by telling them what they want to hear. He was, to coin a term, “polishing his face” in the eyes of the West. In the West we would call this “lying to save face.” Had he told the truth, he would have lost face with his Western audience. But, as my father (definitely of the intergity-guilt school) often put it, “sincerity is the cheapest of virtues.”

However, when confronted with the painful experience of having his personal vanities mocked – the hat! – a different audience and different set of concerns, that cheap virtue proved unbearably light in the face of public mockery. My bet is that if you showed Mursi the interview with Blitzer and asked about Youssef, he wouldn’t see the connection. That’s not what he meant when he made his assurances to CNN and his American audience.

This kind of emotionally-driven dissonance between two different performances is a ubiquitous element of much Arab-West contact. (All of this, of course, analysis forbidden to post-Orientalists.) When Sari Nusseibeh indignantly denounces suicide terror before a Western audience and then praises the mother of a martyr for her son’s sacrifice, he’s sincere both ways. When Islamists deny the Holocaust ever happened and then accuse Israel of being the new Nazis bringing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, they do not see the contradiction. Both statements blacken Israel’s face and strengthen theirs; both offer immense emotional satisfaction and (alas for civil society), a strong resonance with Western infidels who apparently also find such debasing formulas about Jews almost irresistibly attractive.

Such a lack of concern for what would strike Westerners as hypocrisy is not because Mursi doesn’t know about hypocrisy. On the contrary, he and his defenders will readily use the term to accuse foes, including, I’m sure by now, John Stewart and Wolf Blitzer (those Jews who control the Western media). Public hypocrites are quick to throw stones.

But in some cultures where “face” is paramount, the term has a different meaning. I’m told in China, the term is the equivalent of “politeness.” And while Mursi was being polite with Wolff – it was a smashing interview – he expected the same politeness from his public and from his “friends” at the US Embassy. So when they tweeted the take-down, they extended the rude humiliation. (And to think that the field of international diplomacy has a very limited discussion of issues of honor and shame.)

From the perspective of an honor-shame culture (i.e., one in which it is permissible, expected, even required, that a “man” can lie, and even shed blood for the sake of his honor), the hypocrisy is all on Blitzer and Stewart (two of those “Jews who control the media”): from his perspective Blitzer was polite when it suited him, then Stewart stabbed Mursi in the back with Blitzer’s tape. At some level, there is a recognition that this criticism is true. Otherwise it wouldn’t hurt.

But the hurt, the embarrassment, are more powerful than any impartial commitment to equal standards, to conscience.

Which leads me to my final reflection. Why are people who are so easily hurt, so bent of hurting, and why, oh why, do so many Westerners, especially among the elites, cheering them on?

The Mursi-Stewart Controversy: An “Honor-Shame” Guide

There’s been a serious brouhahahaha about John Stewart’s takedown of Egypt’s “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi’s for imprisoning Egyptian fellow political satirist, Bassem Youssef for making fun of the president. The take down is pretty devastating – from a Western point of view, and even received an endorsing tweet from the US Embassy in Cairo (oops).  The Tablet has a nice summary of some of the issues (HT: Elsie).

I’d like to discuss two honor-shame aspects to this affair, one obvious, the other less so, but both, I think, closely linked.

The first, obvious one, is the reaction of an honor-shame driven leader to having the mickey taken out of him publicly. Associating his own face with both his office and his religion, Mursi took the mockery as a direct assault on the legitimacy of the state. (Psychologists call this ego inflation.) This is classic behavior and explains, among other things, why fascists, who strive to regain the virility that modern values (like free speech) deny them, use the power of the state to suppress dissent.

Note the difference between Bush (Stewart’s target) and Mursi. Although even otherwise highly intelligent people could not stop accusing Bush of (incipient) fascism, somehow we can’t use the appropriate term “Islamofascism” because… it might hurt Mursi’s feelings.

The second aspect concerns one of Stewart’s “gotcha” moments. At one point he shows an earnest Mursi assuring an eagerly attentive Wolf Blitzer that when he’s president, he’ll embrace the whole Egyptian family, and wouldn’t dream of suppressing criticism. Stewart’s implication and our “reading”: what a ludicrous hypocrite.

Here I’d like to introduce an alternative reading. Mursi would not recognize himself as a hypocrite here. When he spoke with Blitzer he was perfectly sincere, and doing what he should do – please the audience by telling them what they want to hear. He was, to coin a term, “polishing his face” in the eyes of the West. In the West we would call this “lying to save face.” Had he told the truth, he would have lost face with his Western audience. But, as my father (definitely of the intergity-guilt school) often put it, “sincerity is the cheapest of virtues.”

However, when confronted with the painful experience of having his personal vanities mocked – the hat! – a different audience and different set of concerns, that cheap virtue proved unbearably light in the face of public mockery. My bet is that if you showed Mursi the interview with Blitzer and asked about Youssef, he wouldn’t see the connection. That’s not what he meant when he made his assurances to CNN and his American audience.

This kind of emotionally-driven dissonance between two different performances is a ubiquitous element of much Arab-West contact. (All of this, of course, analysis forbidden to post-Orientalists.) When Sari Nusseibeh indignantly denounces suicide terror before a Western audience and then praises the mother of a martyr for her son’s sacrifice, he’s sincere both ways. Both positions enhance his stature or save face.

When Islamists deny the Holocaust ever happened and then accuse Israel of being the new Nazis bringing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, they see no contradiction. Both statements blacken Israel’s face and strengthen theirs; both offer immense emotional satisfaction and (alas for civil society), a strong resonance with Western infidels who apparently also find such debasing formulas about Jews almost irresistibly attractive.

Such a lack of concern for what would strike Westerners as  is this because Mursi doesn’t know about hypocrisy. On the contrary, he and his defenders will readily use the term to accuse foes, including, I’m sure by now, John Stewart and Wolf Blitzer (those Jews who control the Western media). Public hypocrites are quick to throw stones.

But in some cultures where “face” is paramount, the term has a different meaning. I’m told in China, the term is the equivalent of “politeness.” And while Mursi was being polite with Wolff – it was a smashing interview – he expected the same politeness from his public and from his “friends” at the US Embassy. So when they tweeted the take-down, they extended the rude humiliation. (And to think that the field of international diplomacy has a very limited discussion of issues of honor and shame.)

From the perspective of an honor-shame culture (i.e., one in which it is permissible, expected, even required, that a “man” can lie, and even shed blood for the sake of his honor, Mursi’s just done what anyone would do. We’re the ones with the high expectations, which is good, and the inability to understand those who don’t have them, which

Cowardice and Honor: Mubarak’s Trial and the Pathologies of the Arab World

One of the most depressing things I read about honor-killings – a pretty depressing topic – was that, at least in Jordan, on suspicion of having done something wrong, the family kills the daughter (after all, the crime is blackening the family’s honor, which is about reputation, not deeds). Then you find out at the autopsy if she’s a virgin. If yes, the matter ends there; if no, you go after the suspected lover.

What this means in the clan context is, since the daughter’s own clan (her “protectors”) kill her, there’s no fear of retaliation. No one (not even international feminists) are going to defend her. The male lover is a bigger problem: he and his clan might retaliate for an unjustified killing; so you have to be more careful. As an articulation of a pathological honor-shame world, in which you concern for family honor is so great that it overrides any affection for the daughter, or even concern about whether she’s guilty or not, it’s those without protection who suffer most cruelly. A coward’s rage.

I thought of this today when I read the following analysis by Zvi Mazel about the trial of Mubarak.

Analysis: Mubarak’s trial is about the future of Egypt
By ZVI MAZEL
08/07/2011 01:49
Will the image of an old, ailing man on a stretcher in a cage become the defining event setting Egypt on a new path?

On the first day of Hosni Mubarak’s trial last week, after the whole world had seen the ousted Egyptian president brought on a stretcher and his emaciated face peering through the bars of a huge cage, representatives of all political movements in Egypt enthused about what they called a momentous historic event.

In their own ways, they hailed justice being done and the triumph of the people of Egypt over corruption and abuse.

On behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Saad Katatani emphasized that the trial ushers the phase of reconstruction and development of his country.

For the Wafd, Issam Sheikha, a member of the party’s Supreme Council, stressed that this was not vengeance but a public display of justice and a clear warning to all those who would rule Egypt in the future.

Women, Journalism, and Violence in the Middle East

The Grey Lady reports on the Egyptian demonstrators’ assault on Laura Logan in Tahrir Square last month and the issue of both violence against women and against journalists in the Middle East (except, of course, Israel, which despite being better by far on these issues, is somehow viewed as worse). Logan shows great courage in discussing these matters, even if she reveals an amazing naivete. (HT: NBH)

CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Lara Logan, a CBS News reporter, was sexually assaulted while working in Cairo on Feb. 11.

By 
Published: April 28, 2011
Her experience in Cairo underscored the fact that female journalists often face a different kind of violence. While other forms of physical violence affecting journalists are widely covered — the traumatic brain injurysuffered by the ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq in 2006 was a front-page story at that time — sexual threats against women are rarely talked about within journalistic circles or in the news media.

There are huge areas of violence and intimidation against journalists that are not reported. We didn’t hear for months that NYT reporter David Rhode had been kidnapped in Afghanistan; and we don’t have any idea how often reporters are abducted in places like Iraq, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, etc., for a few hours and then released, thoroughly intimidated (including about speaking about what happened) into the mainstream pool to then report back to us about “what’s going on.”

Gleanings, 06.03.11

Mark Steyn: Arid Uka’s Gratitude (MUST READ)

The nations that built the modern world decided to outsource their future. In simple economic terms, the arithmetic is stark: In America, the boomers have condemned their shrunken progeny to the certainty of poorer, meaner lives. In sociocultural terms, the transformation will be even greater. Bismarck, so shrewd and cynical about the backward Balkans, was also the father of the modern welfare state: When he introduced the old-age pension, you had to be 65 to collect and Prussian life expectancy was 45 [that, presumably is from birth; once one had survived childhood, life expectancy for adults was much higher -rl]. Now life expectancy has near doubled, you get your pension a decade earlier, and, in a vain attempt to make that deformed math add up, Bismarck’s successors moved the old East/West faultline from the Balkans to the main street of every German city.  Americans sometimes wonder why, two decades after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the U.S. Army still lives in Germany. The day is approaching when they will move out — if only to avoid any more “tragic events” “taking place.”

Barry Rubin: Egypt: American Know-Nothings Play With the Lives of Millions of People

I have never seen an issue on which the American political-intellectual elite has been so insanely stupid and inaccurate. Easily ascertainable facts are simply ignored and censored out of the mass media. What is happening now makes the Western misreading of fascism in the 1930s and Communism in the 1940s look like a picnic. Some of us at least—who, as punishment, will essentially be denied access to any major American newspaper or television show to explain reality—remember the past consequences of those mistakes.

Daniel Pipes: Democratic Iraq?

While Middle Easterners from Morocco to Iran are agitating for more say in the governance of their countries, guess where the leadership is acquiring more power? … These developments confirm my expectation that the vast American-led effort to create a “free and prosperous” Iraq will end in failure.

[FB. Note]: Arabs’ natural tendency.

Evelyn Gordon: Egypt’s Renegotiation Threat

And while “renegotiating” the treaty may sound less threatening than scrapping it altogether, it isn’t. For the two items most Egyptians want to renegotiate are precisely those that made the treaty viable for Israel: one essential to its economic security, and one to its physical security … “Renegotiation” is thus a euphemism for gutting the treaty of everything that made it viable for Israel. As such, it’s worse than abrogation, since for that, Egypt would be blamed. But if Israel refused to amend the treaty, a world chronically unsympathetic to its security needs would blame it for failing to support Egypt’s fledgling democracy.

Jonathan Freedland: Antisemitism: the hatred that refuses to go away

John Galliano’s antisemitic diatribes and a glut of recent claims that there is a Jewish conspiracy will be dismissed as eccentric. But they are symptoms of a deeper malaise … All this might prompt the conclusion that antisemitism is making a sudden and unwelcome return. The trouble is, it never really went away. What’s more, it is not confined to the celebrity wackos and eccentrics who have let the mask slip in recent days. It is more widespread than that – contrary to those who like to pretend antisemitism is a historical phenomenon, one that faded away with the Third Reich.

Praveen Swami: Turning a blind eye to the blood-thirsty clerics

Pakistan is being swamped by a rising tide of religious hatred, while its political leaders remain silent, writes Praveen Swami … Pakistan’s blasphemy laws demonstrate to its people that real power lies with the clerics, and their military backers – not the politicians they elect. In 2008, when he was elected to office, Mr Zardari had a real opportunity to lay the foundations for a durable, functional democracy. His failure to act has led Pakistan one step closer to the precipice.

Benny Morris: The West, the Arabs, and the Real Qaddafi

Which reminds me of a story a fine, young journalist once told me about her experiences in Tripoli. It was in the 1980s, I think. She had come to interview Qaddafi. She was ushered into the famous tent. Qaddafi sent his aides away and the two of them shared lunch. And then Qaddafi tried to caress her. Flustered, she got up to leave. He then chased her around the table, bent on rape. She was brave and apparently fit; she outran him, at least long enough for his aides to rush in at the sound of her screams. Rape averted … It is a shame journalists did not usually publish their impressions of and experiences with Qaddafi. This no doubt facilitated Western and Arab acceptance of cooperation with this almost unique, base specimen of humanity (perhaps Saddam Hussein came closest).

Israel Matzav: As America builds mosques, Islamic countries destroy churches

But while mosques continue to be built in America, Christian communities dwindle in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is almost impossible to build churches in Islamic countries (forget synagogues – there are almost no Jews left in most Islamic countries).

Selected Readings February 13, 2011

HT:oao

I’ll be trying, with oao’s help to put up a list of good links daily. Anyone who wants to send me links to include, by all means. (And if you want to add a paragraph of introduction, I’d appreciate it.)

Niall Ferguson: Wanted: A Grand Strategy for America (MUST READ)

Spengler: Chinese weather on Tahrir Square (MUST READ)

Yoram Ettinger: Impact of Mideast Turmoil on Israel’s Security Requirements

Little Green Footballs: Egyptian Protestors Hate on Israel

“CrossTalk”: The Great and Small Satan

Roya Hakakian: Egypt Through the Lens of Iran’s 1979 Revolution

The Telegraph: Arab Revolutions and European Future

John Rosenthal, Mubarak and Anti-Semitism: A Boomerang Effect?
American pundits say that the deposed Egyptian president fomented anti-Semitism in Egyptian society. But on closer examination, the charges again reveal that it was the anti-Semitism of the opposition that toppled him.

The Supernova of 1006: Chinese vs. Monotheist responses

I just gave a lecture here at the Internationale Kolleg für Geisteswissenschaftliche Forschungen (IKGF) in Erlangen. The scholars here are a wonderful combination of Sinologist (primarily Chinese religion) and Western medievalists.

In preparing my talk on the year 1000, I went back to an astronomical incident seen round the world, which had an enormous impact on Arab Islam and Christendom, and, with the help of my Sinologist colleagues here, found the contrast with how it affected China quite instructive — the Supernova of May 1006.

Put briefly, the spectacular celestial phenomenon triggered feverish apocalyptic expectation – what, in my book, I call an “apocalyptic moment” – both among Muslims and Christians, while in China, a wisely advised emperor managed to calm his people.

Let’s begin with the incident, starting with a definition of a supernova.

A supernova (plural supernovae) is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span. The explosion expels much or all of a star’s material at a velocity of up to 30,000 km/s (10% of the speed of light), driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium. This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.

In May of 1006, the most spectacular Supernova ever to be visible from earth occurred 2,700 light years away from earth. It was the brightest apparent magnitude stellar event in recorded history, reaching an estimated -7.5 visual magnitude. A thousand years later, the Hubble Telescope photographed the still-expanding shock-wave created by this explosion.

This picture represents the shock-wave of gases emanating from the explosion in all directions, 1000 years after the explosion.

Arab economy and political culture: Insights into Egypt in turmoil

Spengler (aka David Goodman) has an insightful piece about the nature of Egypt, and more broadly the Arab world, which is well worth considering when thinking about the current turmoil. (Bold mine, comments interspersed.)

Food and failed Arab states Spengler
Even Islamists have to eat. It is unclear whether President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will survive, or whether his nationalist regime will be replaced by an Islamist, democratic, or authoritarian state. What is certain is that it will be a failed state. Amid the speculation about the shape of Arab politics to come, a handful of observers, for example economist Nourel Roubini, have pointed to the obvious: Wheat prices have almost doubled in the past year.
Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, beholden to foreign providers for nearly half its total food consumption. Half of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day. Food comprises almost half the country’s consumer price index, and much more than half of spending for the poorer half of the country. This will get worse, not better.

This explains why when the border between Gaza and Egypt was briefly open, one of the main imports to Gaza was “brides” hoping to live a better life.

Not the destitute, to be sure, but the aspiring and frustrated young, confronted the riot police and army on the streets of Egyptian cities last week. The uprising in Egypt and Tunisia were not food riots; only in Jordan have demonstrators made food the main issue. Rather, the jump in food prices was the wheat-stalk that broke the camel’s back. The regime’s weakness, in turn, reflects the dysfunctional character of the country. 35% of all Egyptians, and 45% of Egyptian women can’t read.
Nine out of ten Egyptian women suffer genital mutilation. US President Barack Obama said Jan. 29, “The right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny … are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” Does Obama think that genital mutilation is a human rights violation?

If he follows the more radical post-modern feminists (the “other” is always right) then, no, it’s a violation of human rights to oppose it, and Ayan Hirsi Ali is a neo-con reactionary. But I suspect it’s a different calculus… the same “realpolitik” that has him push Mubarak out, when he said nothing about the contested elections in Iran. Pressure your friends, show deference to your enemies to show that you’re not a “my side right or wrong” kind of person.