22 February 2008

"The Riches"

I just started watching the first season of the FX show "The Riches" and I have to say that I like it very much. The basic premise is a family of American gypsies (who get by as con-men) are forced out of their community and through a series of events end up taking over the lives of a couple who die in a car accident on their way to their new home.

They pick up a theme of "stealing the American Dream" and while that may seem corny the way it develops (at least in the three episodes that I've watched) is one member of the family buying into the American Dream at a time out of spite from people saying they can't have things. And when you think about it, that is what the American dream is built on. People fighting for the things they are told they can't have.

Also it stars Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver, Shannon Marie Woodward, Noel Fisher, and Aidan Mitchel three good child actors. Izzard brings his usual talent to the screen (although dressed as a man in this production).

Izzard is at his best when he is the con man with no hook on his audience, making up random things as he goes and slowly sucking people into it. Check it out.

18 February 2008

Supporting Kosovo

The United States and European Union need to support the newly independent republic of Kosovo. The situation is politically tricky but there are good practical reasons for doing so.

The essential question is not can Kosovo become independent? Instead the question must be, what other options are there. The conflict and war crimes that occurred in Kosovo killed any sense of kinship Kosovar Albanians had with Serbia. Additionally eight years of forced separation by the 15,000 international troops that make up NATO's Kosovo Force make reintegration to Serbia unlikely.

In order for Kosovo to return to Serbian control the Serbian governement would have to reenter the region and assert sovereignty. Sovereignty is the monopolization of legitimate force within a geographical region. I can see no conditions where the Serbian assertion of force to legitimize political control is going to be well or peacefully accepted. Allowing it to happen would be inviting further violence in a region that has a history of ethnic and religious tension dating back centuries.

When you consider these facts I feel that it is clear that independence in Kosovo is in the best interests of both parties. However the resistance to Kosovar independence is not just about Kosovo. The countries in Europe withholding their support of independence are Russia, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and obviously Serbia.

Russia, Cyprus, Romania and Spain are hesitant or outright refusing to recognize independence in Kosovo because they have ongoing problems with nationalist secessionist movements in their own country (Chechnya, Cypriot Turks, Hungarian and Basque respectively). Greece is tightly bound into the problems in Cyprus.

Bulgaria is withholding support because they just signed a deal with Russia to build an oil pipeline and do not wish to anger a country with a history of turning off the flow of energy to Russia.

Slovakia is in the awkward position of being a main supply route for NATO equipment into Kosovo. Additionally Slovakia has national elections scheduled for 21 April in which their support of NATO is already an issue that threatens to unseat the current government.

With all of these facts considered there are several steps that can be taken to ensure that the situation comes to a positive outcome for all parties. Primarily western governments need to provide justification based on human rights and the unique historical conditions. Secondly they need to continue to ensure the security situation which includes protection for Serbia as well as protection of Serbians living in Kosovo.

The primary justification for the recognition of Kosovo needs to be the promotion of human rights and the prevention of the human rights abuses that are bound to occur on both sides of the conflict if Serbia reasserts their sovereignty in Kosovo. This is something well within the capacity of the NATO force already in place.

Additionally the EU and U.S. should work with the UN, Serbia and Kosovo to provides money and assistance with the voluntary resettlement of people to either side of the border. This is a show of good faith and would be a trust building exercise for both countries. Additionally it is a gesture that extends the principles of self determination and personal freedom to the lowest levels.

Most importantly the U.S. and EU must emphasize that support of Kosovo is not a precedent for other nationalist separatist movements around the world. This needs to be stated vocally and likely included in any Security Council resolution in order to gain the support of Russia.

Kosovo is a special case for several reasons. First there are unique historical conditions of conflict and separation in the past eight years. Second Kosovo has formed an orderly, civil government that has seats reserved in their assembly for ethnic Serbians and another block of seats for other ethnic minorities. Third they have trained a police force under international supervision to keep the peace while ensuring that they remain professional in respecting minority rights. Additionally the two years of talks that have ended in frustration should be shown as clear signs that a reunified state is unlikely.

To my knowledge no other separatist group can claim this set of conditions. With that considered hopefully support can be gained by enough key players that the situation is peacefully and prosperously resolved.

06 February 2008

Very tennative projected delegate counts:

I'm putting this up real fast based on results from RealClearPolitics.com. Only two states on the list that I see as changing would be California, Utah, New Mexico, possibly Arizona. There was no data for West Virginia and Montana. Still even if these numbers hold close to this its going to be a good day in the Obama camp. 185 delegates is a big gain.

State Delegates Clinton Obama Reporting Clinton Delegate Estimate Obama Delegate Estimate
California 370 55% 33% 17% 203 122
New York 232 57% 40% 99% 132 92
Illinois 153 34% 64% 91% 52 97
Georgia 103 34% 64% 94% 35 65
New Jersey 107 54% 44% 98% 57 47
Missouri 72 48% 49% 98% 34 35
Tennessee 68 54% 41% 98% 36 27
Massachusetts 93 56% 41% 94% 52 38
Arizona 56 51% 41% 66% 28 22
Alabama 52 42% 56% 97% 21 29
Connecticut 48 47% 51% 95% 22 24
Oklahoma 38 55% 31% 100% 20 11
Minnesota 72 32% 67% 74% 23 48
Arkansas 35 73% 24% 75% 25 8
Delaware 15 43% 53% 100% 6 7
Utah 23 42% 51% 29% 9 11
North Dakota 21 37% 61% 100% 7 12
Colorado 71 32% 66% 98% 22 46
Kansas 21 27% 73% 96% 5 15
Idaho 12 17% 81% 87% 2 9
New Mexico 26 42% 38% 1% 10 9
Alaska 18 27% 73% 60% 4 13

602 787

05 February 2008

Synopsis and Analysis of the essay "Loyalty and Enmity: an Inherited Doctrine and a Lost Reality" by Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Part 1 - Introduction

This document is intended to be a summary and analysis of the essay "Loyalty and Enmity: an Inherited Doctrine and a Lost Reality" by Ayman Al-Zawahiri as translated by Raymond Ibrahim in The Al-Qaeda Reader. The first portion of the essay is an introduction.

The introduction begins by explaining that all of Islamic history can be viewed as a conflict between those who believe in Islam and those seeking the destruction of Islam. The American "War on Terror" is simply the latest version of the attacks on Islam. The remainder of the introduction explains why it is important to maintain, reinforce and understand the understanding of the doctrine of "Loyalty and Enmity". In short the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity is the belief that a true Muslim will maintain friendship with all other Muslims while at the same time maintaining hatred to all nonbelievers.

Al-Zawahiri states that the strategy of the United States is to:

"...patch up the tattered fabric that represents the reigning regimes in our lands- in all their corruption and power to corrupt, and their submission to the international, tyrannical powers of the Crusaders and the Jews. The campaign means to wipe out the dividing line between truth and falsehood, till even friend and foe are intermingled."

This statement is not so much an attack against the United States as it is against pluralism religions and ideological pluralism. Pluralism was first written into the European historical framework at the end of the Thirty Years War in the Peace of Westphalia. The war fought over who had the capacity to determine what religion a state and its people would follow and who could declare who and apostate. There were also other political considerations that caused the war.

The Peace of Westphalia extends the previous Treaty of Augsburg and states that the ruler of a state has the capacity to establish what the religion of his state would be so long as they allow for believers of other creeds to worship as they wish. At the time they were referring only to the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist faiths but the idea has been expanded greatly in the growth of liberalism and finds most powerful expression in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Once again the right to determine apostasy is in question. Al-Zawahiri comes out clearly for the belief that the legalistic nature of the Koran and the Sharia allow for the clerical establishment to determine correct belief and practice of the Muslim faith, which is the only acceptable faith.

The author continues by
listing several examples to demonstrate how the injection of pluralism is occurring in the present. Examples given in this writing include:

  • The Saudi subservience to America while still claiming to be the guardians of the faith through their control of Mecca and Medina.
  • The creation of secular rules and constitutions in Islamic lands.
  • Normalization of relations with Israel
  • Competitions to memorize the Koran in schools that forbid females to wear the veil. I believe that this is a reference Turkey
  • The Northern Alliance fighting against the mujahidin in Afghanistan then "sanctify themselves with the clothes of the martyred mujahidin and the soil about their graves!!"
  • "And we have seen the most sever scourgers and tormentors of Muslims performing the greater and lesser pilgrimages." It is unclear to me who this is referring too.

In addition to these contemporary references there are also four historical references that are used in order to demonstrate that attacks of this manner are not new events in the history of Islam. Two of the references refer to the time in the early growth and height of the Muslim empire after the death of Muhammad. The last two references come directly from the Koran.

The first historical reference the author makes is to draw comparison between the current regimes in the Islamic world and the Murji'ites of old. The Murji'ites were a sect of Islam in the early days of Islam. The translator leaves a note briefly explaining their history.

The Murji'ites, or "Postponers," were an early Muslim sect, subsequently deemed heretical, who believed that all judgment should be postponed and that believers were answerable only to Allah and thus need not hold to the principles or be subjected to the penalties of the sharia. Moreover, faith alone was enough to safeguard against the fires of hell even if believers lead sinful lives.

The second historical reference that the Author makes is to the Tatars. The author quotes Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya who wrote:

"The people have even seen them [Tatars] praise an area and then seize all possessions therein. They have then seen them heap praise upon a man and seek his blessings - only to snatch the clothes off his back, violate his women, and then subject him to a form of torments the likes of which are only exercised by the most unjust and depraved of peoples. The interpreter of religion punishes only those whom he considers disobedient to the faith. And yet they [Tatars] glory in the religion of the one they punish, saying that he is more obedient [to Allah] then they: so what justification is left to them?"

More information on Taymiyya is available here. The quote is made in reference to the Northern Alliance displacement of the Taliban in Afghanistan and as far as I can tell the quote is meant to lend credence to the opinion that if one Muslim attacks another then the attacker must not be a Muslim at all. It is important to note that Taymiyya held a particular dislike for the Tatars because his family had been driven from their homeland by the Tatars. This makes the situation of Taymiyya very similar to al-Zawahiri's experience with the Northern Alliance.

Al-Zawahiri then concludes with two stories from the Koran itself. He sites 9:46-47 and 33:12-13. I am not by any means a Koranic scholar but this is what I can gather from reading the passages and what surrounds them. Please correct me if I have erred I truly seek enlightenment on this.

Sura 9 is titled "The Immunity" and consists of 3 discourses. The cited verses come from the second discourse in which "...the Believers were urged to take active part in Jihad, and the shirkers were severely rebuked for holding back their wealth and for hesitation to sacrifice their lives in the way of Allah because of their hypocrisy, weak faith or negligence." (Cite)

Here is the extended quotation from the Sura that appears to be relevant:

"9.38": O you who believe! What (excuse) have you that when it is said to you: Go forth in Allah's way, you should incline heavily to earth; are you contented with this world's life instead of the hereafter? But the provision of this world's life compared with the hereafter is but little.

"9.39": If you do not go forth, He will chastise you with a painful chastisement and bring in your place a people other than you, and you will do Him no harm; and Allah has power over all things.

"9.40": If you will not aid him, Allah certainly aided him when those who disbelieved expelled him, he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion: Grieve not, surely Allah is with us. So Allah sent down His tranquility upon him and strengthened him with hosts which you did not see, and made lowest the word of those who disbelieved; and the word of Allah, that is the highest; and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

"9.41": Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah's way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know.

"9.42": Had it been a near advantage and a short journey, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by Allah: If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you; they cause their own souls to perish, and Allah knows that they are most surely

"9.43": Allah pardons you! Why did you give them leave until those who spoke the truth had become manifest to you and you had known the liars?

"9.44": They do not ask leave of you who believe in Allah and the latter day (to stay away) from striving hard with their property and their persons, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil).

"9.45": They only ask leave of you who do not believe in Allah and the latter day and their hearts are in doubt, so in their doubt do they waver.

"9.46": And if they had intended to go forth, they would certainly have provided equipment for it, but Allah did not like their going forth, so He withheld them, and it was said (to them): Hold back with those who hold back.

"9.47": Had they gone forth with you, they would not have added to you aught save corruption, and they would certainly have hurried about among you seeking (to sow) dissension among you, and among you there are those who hearken for their sake; and Allah knows the unjust.

"9.48": Certainly they sought (to sow) dissension before, and they meditated plots against you until the truth came, and Allah's commandment prevailed although they were averse (from it).

"9.49": And among them there is he who says: Allow me and do not try me. Surely into trial have they already tumbled down, and most surely hell encompasses the unbelievers.

"9.50": If good befalls you, it grieves them, and if hardship afflicts you, they say: Indeed we had taken care of our affair before; and they turn back and are glad.

"9.51": Say: Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us; He is our Patron; and on Allah let the believers rely.

The narrow quote by the author leaves out what seem to be important sections on the fact that Allah will pass judgment on them when they die. Later in the sura it is directed no longer to accept the alms from these people, placing them outside of society. However there does not appear to be a directive to kill them. However if you apply the logic of "Loyalty and Enmity" circularly then anyone outside of the Islamic community would be the infidels (unless they become dihimi and pay the poor tax, which is not to be accepted). Being unable to be Muslim or dihimi then the only state that remains is infidel. And infidels are killed, stolen from and harassed at every available opportunity.

The second sura quoted is number 33 "The Clans" verses 12 and 13.

[33.12] And when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts was a disease began to say: Allah and His Apostle did not promise us (victory) but only to deceive.
[33.13] And when a party of them said: O people of Yasrib! there IS no place to stand for you (here), therefore go back; and a party of them asked permission of the prophet, saying. Surely our houses are exposed; and they were not exposed; they only desired to fly away.

This citation is intended to make it clear that the behavior "hypocrites and those in whose hearts was a disease" will make excuses and will be weak in the face of the sacrifices that are needed to secure victory.

The section of sura 33 that this quote is drawn from is referring to the Battle of the Trench in 627 C.E. Reza Aslan in his book "No god but God" states that the Jewish Qurayza clan was the only remaining clan inside the protective trench around Medina. During the siege they sided and supported the attacking army. After the battle was over Muhammad had Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, who was the leader of a mostly neutral group pass judgment on what should be done with the Qurayza. His decision was "'I pass judgment on them,' Sa'd declared, 'that their fighters shall be killed and their children [and wives] made captives and that their property shall be divided.'" (p. 92) This is not stated in Al-Zawhiri's text but would likely be a well known historical fact to educated Muslims.

After this the introduction closes by stating that there will be rest of the paper will be in three sections.
"Part One: The basis of Loyalty and Enmity in Islam
Part Two: Various deviations from the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity
Conclusion: Main points we wish to emphasize."

These sections will be summarized individually in posts to follow.