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Arabic Diglossia Again (and Again, and Again)

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

People keep rediscovering what we all know:  a SOAS Ph.D. candidate enlightens Slate on a subject we’ve talked about extensively: “Is Arabic Just One Language?”

Since this will be the 43rd blogpost here with the tag “diglossia,” it won’t be that big a piece of news to most of you. It’s mostly well-enough informed (we can all find quibbles) and perhaps some will learn from it.
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Comment on Iraq: Are Sunni Arabs of Kirkuk Province Turning on ISIL? by Juan Cole

September 23rd, 2014 No comments
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Comment on The Arab Political Crisis: It isn’t a Matter of Civilization and it isn’t Unique by Saleh Mneina

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Thank you Professor Cole.
“How difficult it would be to live without the reprieve of hope” Arabic Proverb.

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The Huthis, Zaydis,and Trying to Get the Yemen Story Right

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Though overshadowed by events elsewhere, major developments have taken place in Yemen. TheHouthi or huthis movement, after years of resistance to the Transitional Government in Sana‘a’, has signed a peace agreement, and now seem to have fully occupied the Yemen capital.

For general background, see my MEI Colleague Charles Schmitz’ “The Huthi Asccnt to Power,” which covers the basics. But I also want to revisit a point I made over five years ago in a post about he Huthis and Zaydism in August 2009: If you insist on interpreting Yemen in dualist Sunni/Shi‘ite terms,ou’re going to mislead. For years media analysis interpreted the struggle between the Huthis and President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih’s regime in precisely those terms, though like the Huthis, Dalih was a Zaydi. He was a republican Zaydi but a Zaydi nonetheless.

And Zaydis are Shi‘ites in the sene that traditional Zaydis insist on rule by the Sada, the descendants of the Prophet (they are called “Fiver” Shi‘ites by some, but generslly do not restrict the Imamate to a single line), but they are not Twelver Shi‘ites like Iranians, Iraqis, and Lebanese and Bahrainis. I’m not a Yemen specialist and have never even set foot in the country, but the tendency to identify the Huthi struggle as a simple Sunni versus Shi‘ite dichotomy is just wrong. Saudi Arabia has long had a somewhat excessive focus on Yemen, and separately and for different reasons on Twelver Shi‘ism, and I suspect the Saudi perspective has influenced much of the media commentary.

Now that the Huthis seem to have taken over the capital, we’ll see what comes next, but Yemen is a mix of Zaydi revivalists (the Huthis), Zaydi traditionalists, Sunni Salafis, Sunni secular republicans, and even jihadis like AQAP. It doesn’t resolve itself into neat sectarian dichotomies.
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Comment on Iraq: Are Sunni Arabs of Kirkuk Province Turning on ISIL? by AlyAkb

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Are you saying there is a difference between Wahhabi and Salafi?

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Refugee Tsunami and Mysteries of Hostage Release Focus World Attenrtion on Turkish Border

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

The huge tide of over 130,000 Syrian refugees crossing the Turkish border, combined with other rapidly shifting developments, is focusing the world’s attention on the Turkish border, Where the US and other Western countries are also seeking to stem the flow of arms and recruits to ISIS and other radical groups, with the bulk of such recruits believed to be entering via Turkey.

Adding to the sheer size of the refugee flow is the fact that most of the refugees are Syrian Kurds, with longstanding ties to the Turkish PKK and thus seen by Turkey as a potential threat, while at the same time thre have been clashes with PKK supporters seeking to enter Syria to relieve the siege  of Kobanê.

Despite Western pressure, Turkey’s government remains aloof from the US-led coalition, for a varity of reasons, well-stated by Henri Barkey at Foreign Policy in “How the Islamic State Took Turkey Hostage.”

One bit of mystery was the sudden freeing of the 49 hostages (43 Turks and three Iraqis) held by ISIS since the fall of Mosul in June. When released a few days ago, the Turkish government credited a “rescue operation” conceived by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), with some ill-defined “diplomatic” role and a staunch denial that any ransom had been paid. A lot of eyebrows were justifiably raised. The Turkish military also claimed  role.

An article at Al-Monitor by Metin Turcan, “How and Why were 46 Turkish Hostages Freed?”  I obviously cant testify to its accuracy, but among the assertions is this:

Three plans were developed for the rescue of the hostages: a military operation, persuasion through contacts with IS or paying ransom. Turkish intelligence officials were in close contact with IS in Mosul, with the Army of Naqshbandi dominated by former Baath cadres and with the Council of Mosul Tribes. The plan for a military operation was shelved after establishing close contacts with influential Sunni Arab tribes in Mosul who have been friendly to Turkey for many years. Turkey’s close liaison with the Mosul tribes was never a secret.

 On the curious alliance between ex-Baathists, the Naqshbandi Order, and ISIS, see my earlier post, “Strange Bedfellows: ‘Izzat Ibrahim, the Naqshbandi Order, and ISIS.” I have no idea how accurate the report is, but clearly it’s these sort of links between Turkey and rather sketchy elements inside Syria and that bothers many in the West.
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Comment on NYC Climate Demo: Top 5 Massive Rallies that had no Effect by Juan Cole

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Yes, yes, and yes.

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Comment on NYC Climate Demo: Top 5 Massive Rallies that had no Effect by R.A.

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

As I said, “If our democratic system had not been bought by monied interests…” But it has been. It takes enormouns amounts of money to run for federal office these days–quite beyond the resources of average citizens. And meeting with congress people is generally a waste of time unless you can pay the piper. Do you really think environmental activists have not lobbied congress before? Of course they have, but they are being grossly outspent by corporate oligarchs. This is why making PACs and meeting with reps is not enough.

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Comment on NYC Climate Demo: Top 5 Massive Rallies that had no Effect by gmoke

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Yes, march. Yes, lobby your representatives every chance you get. But yes, do something, anything to advance the issue every day. That can be changing lightbulbs, weatherstripping a window or door, writing a letter to the editor (musician Warren Senders has been writing a LtE every day for about the last three years). Daily activity towards a climate goal is a necessity, especially for a strategy of non-violence. We need a solar swadeshi, an analogue to the spinning wheel that Gandhi turned an hour each day to illustrate how swadeshi, local production, can deepen political commitment and help build a non-violent economy, his ultimate goal (and one that we’ve lost sight of).

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‘We’ll have to ally with Bashar al-Assad’

September 22nd, 2014 No comments

“… If our failure to build an army capable of stabilizing Iraq after our departure looks like a pure tragedy, then the arm-the-rebels gambit in Syria has more than a whiff of farce. But really it’s a studied evasion, a way for this administration to pretend that we don’t face a set of deeply unpleasant options in our quest to contain or crush the caliphate.
The first realistic, non-farcical option is the one that the president seemed to choose initially, when he launched limited airstrikes to rescue the embattled Kurds last month. This would basically be a strategy of containment and attrition, oriented around the current lines of battle in Iraq, in which we see if the Kurds and those Iraqi Army units that didn’t collapse can push the front westward, see if a post-Maliki government can woo local Sunni leaders, and use our air power to degrade the caliphate’s fighting capacity while letting its internal weaknesses degrade it from within.
The trouble with containment is that it would leave the Islamic State in control of a great deal of territory (with more beheading videos, no doubt) for months and years to come. Hence the administration’s pivot to Syria; hence the strategic dream palace that is our arm-the-rebels strategy.
The cold reality, though, is that defeating ISIS outright in Syria will take something more substantial than dropping a few bombs in support of a few U.S.-trained moderates. Either the American military will have to intervene in force (including with substantial ground troops) or we’ll have to ally, in a very un-American display of machtpolitik, with Bashar al-Assad….”


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