Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farmers on the move, 8000 BCE

This blog is called Muhlberger's Early History for a good reason: I'm often making a connection between things that happened centuries ago and things that our neighbors are doing somewhere in the world today. In the classroom I love talking about remote origins. If I were teaching ancient history now, you'd bet this would be included ( exceerpt from the UK's Daily Mail):

European farming began around 9,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent - a region extending from the eastern coast to the Persian Gulf and which includes modern day Iraq, Syria, and southeast .

The region was the cradle of civilisation and home to the Babylonia, Sumer and Assyrian empires.

The development of farming allowed people to settle down for the first time - and to produce more food than they needed, leading to trade and the freedom to develop new skills such as metal working, building and writing.

Some archaeologists have argued that some of these early farmers travelled around the world - settling new lands and bringing farming skills with them.

But others have insisted that the skills were passed on by word of mouth, and not by mass migration.

The new study suggests the farmers routinely upped sticks and moved west when their villages became too crowded, eventually reaching Britain and .

The waves of migrants brought their new skills with them. Some settled down with local tribes and taught them how to farm, the researchers believe.

'When the expansion happened these men had a reproductive advantage because they were able to grow more food so they were more attractive to women and had more offspring,' said Prof Jobling.

'In total more than 80 per cent of European men have Y chromosomes which descend from incoming farmers.

'It seems odd to think that the majority of men in Ireland have fore fathers from the near East and that British people have forefathers from the near East.'

The findings are published in the science journal PLoS Biology.

Dr Patricia Balaresque, a co-author of the study, said: 'This means that more than 80 per cent of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers.'

In contrast, other studies have shown that DNA passed down from mothers to daughters can be traced by to hunter-gatherers in Europe, she said.

'To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer,' she said.

I don't think anyone had a clue about this 20 years ago when I first taught Ancient Civilizations. What fun!

(And let's hear it for SE Turkey getting proper credit.)

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Religious development is not just a matter of chronology


Kamal Al-Solaylee's Yemeni family is a lot more conservative now than it was in 1975, when the picture above was taken. Al-Solaylee talks about this in a Globe and Mail article.

Isn't this about the time a teenaged Osama bin Laden was touring Sweden?

Juan Cole has an interesting post
on outright radicalization, namely the radicalization of Humam al-Balaw, the double agent who killed a number of CIA operatives in Afghanistan. No surprise to me that a figure with his background -- educated Jordanian-Palestinian -- would be hostile to American policy. Quotation from Cole (bold is my emphasis):

What is fascinating is the way al-Balawi's grievances tie together the Iraq War, the ongoing Gaza atrocity, and the Western military presence in the Pushtun regions-- the geography of the Bush 'war on terror' was inscribed on his tortured mind.

Morally speaking, al-Qaeda is twisted and evil, and has committed mass murder. Neither the US nor Israel is morally responsible for violent crackpots being violent crackpots. Al-Qaeda or a Taliban affiliate turned al-Balawi to the dark side. Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us the proper response to social injustice (and it should not be forgotten that Gandhi had a significant following among the Pashtuns). But from a social science, explanatory point of view, what we have to remember is that there can be a handful of al-Balawis, or there can be thousands or hundreds of thousands. It depends on how many Abu Ghraibs, Fallujahs, Lebanons and Gazas the United States initiates or supports to the hilt. Unjust wars and occupations radicalize people. The American Right wing secretly knows this, but likes the vicious circle it produces. Wars make profits for the military-industrial complex, and the resulting terrorism terrifies the clueless US public and helps hawks win elections, allowing them to pursue further wars. And so it goes, until the Republic is bankrupted and in ruins and its unemployed have to live in tent cities.

So, yes, this al-Balawi person was going to help Jordan and the US find al-Qaeda leaders Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Sure he was. Walmart does better background checks on its store clerks than the CIA and Jordanian intelligence did on this guy.

You also may want to read the comments to that post.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Israel's 10 worst errors of the decade

Can you name them? A columnist at Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, will give you a hand.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The end of American exceptionalism

Mark LeVine says:
The awarding of the Peace Prize to Obama reads like a desperate attempt to resuscitate the discredited idea of a "Great Man" of history ushering in a new era. It is an understandable fantasy, given the magnitude of the problems the world confronts.

But it distracts from the reality that it will be movements from below, however imperfect and irrational they can be, that will create, in Obama's words, "the world that ought to be," not leaders from above, however audacious their rhetoric.

In that regard, perhaps the most historically significant aspect of Obama's speech is its irrelevance on the ground.

Around the world people who once looked to the US for inspiration or support are taking matters into their own hands. No one is waiting for the US to save or even support them anymore.

More here.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

They thought Minoan art was cool!

Not an unusual feeling, but this still evokes in me a "well, wow!" reaction:

The remains of a Minoan-style wall painting, recognizable by a blue background, the first of its kind to be found in Israel, was discovered in the course of the recent excavation season at Tel Kabri. This fresco joins others of Aegean style that have been uncovered during earlier seasons at the Canaanite palace in Kabri. "It was, without doubt, a conscious decision made by the city's rulers who wished to associate with Mediterranean culture and not adopt Syrian and Mesopotamian styles of art like other cities in Canaan did. The Canaanites were living in the Levant and wanted to feel European," explains Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavations.


Thanks to David Meadows at Explorator for the heads-up.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Polling on Israeli attitudes about war and peace

Bernard Avishai analyzes a recent poll at TPMCafe. Veterans of my Islamic Civilization course may yet be struck by the contradictions and difficulties revealed here.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fragmentary: the Palestinian Territories of the "West Bank," imagined as an archipelago



From Strange Maps, which quotes the creator, Julien Bousac:

The map is not about ‘drowning’ or ‘flooding’ the Israeli population, nor dividing territories along ethnic lines, even less a suggestion of how to resolve the conflict.


And SM says further:

Mr Boussac took advantage of the resulting archipelago effect “to use typical tourist maps codes (mainly icons) to sharpen the contrast between the fantasies raised by seemingly paradise-like islands and the Palestinian Territories grim reality.” The map does have a strong vacationy vibe to it – but whether that is because of the archipelago-shaped subject matter, or due to the cheerful colour scheme is a matter for debate.

Those colours, incidentally, denote urban areas (orange), nature reserves (shaded), zones of partial autonomy (dark green) and of total autonomy (light green). Totally fanciful are of course the dotted lines symbolising shipping links, the palm trees signifying protected beachland, and the purple symbols representing various aspects of seaside pleasure. The blue icon, labelled Zone sous surveillance (‘Zone under surveillance’) has some bearing on reality, as the locations of the warships match those of permanent Israeli checkpoints.

Some of the paradisiacally named islands include Ile au Miel (Honey Island), Ile aux Oliviers (Isle of the Olive Trees), Ile Sainte (Holy Island) and Ile aux Moutons (Sheep Island), although the naming of Ile sous le Mur (Island beneath the Wall) constitutes a relapse into the grimness of the area’s reality.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

One sentence that says so much about the Middle East


Concluding an article published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Given current regional trends, the fight to reconstruct Gaza is a contest that Israel, Fatah and Washington cannot afford to lose.
In other words, on the issue of who controls reconstruction funds, these three are allies against Hamas.

Image: Gaza damage.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Even smaller wars wreck lots of things

Two discouraging stories from McClatchy news service:

The first is a video report on the lack of services in Iraq, with show and tell. Highly recommended. You will learn a lot about the modern world, and life on the Planet of Slums.

Then there is this:
Israeli soldiers say army rabbis framed Gaza as religious war.

Rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and "get rid of the gentiles" — effectively turning the 22-day Israeli intervention into a religious war, according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza.

Literature passed out to soldiers by the army's rabbinate "had a clear message — we are the people of Israel, we came by a miracle to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, now we need to struggle to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land," the soldier told a forum of Gaza veterans in mid-February, just weeks after the conflict ended.

A transcript of the testimony given at an Israeli military academy at the Oranim college on Feb. 13 was obtained on Friday by McClatchy and also published in Haaretz, one of Israel's leading dailies. The soldier, identified as "Ram," a pseudonym to protect his identity, gave a scathing description of the atmosphere as the Israeli army went to war.

Just what we needed, more holy warriors.

Image: work on a sewage treatment plant in Falluja, October 2008, not going well.
Among many other reasons: ""The project file lacked any documentation to support that the provisional Iraqi government wanted this project in the first place," [instead of even more pressing needs]. Rather, it appears that occupation authorities conceived of this project "for the Iraqis."

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Iran's complexities


I owe it to Laura Rozen at War and Piece for directing my attention to this article.

A New York Times op-ed columnist named Roger Cohen wrote an article recently describing the situation of Iranian Jews. He immediately was criticized in a number of places for painting all too rosy a picture. His reply -- that he knows a number of things about Iran, some good some bad -- is here. It contains this important sentence:

I return to this subject because behind the Jewish issue in Iran lies a critical one — the U.S. propensity to fixate on and demonize a country through a one-dimensional lens, with a sometimes disastrous chain of results.
I hope that will tempt you to read the rest.

Image: view of Isfahan (click for a bigger view).

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gaza as a domestic Iranian issue


From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Iran Report:
One man who telephoned RFE/RL's Radio Farda from Isfahan said that authorities "are really killing us" with their efforts to drive home the Gaza crisis and express solidarity with Hamas. "All the programs on Iran's television channels, from channel one to channel seven, it's all about the people of Gaza and support for Hamas," the man said. "Why is it like this in Iran? Why are we caring so much about Gaza? Why we don't care about ourselves?"

A Tehran-based journalist, who spoke anonymously due to what he described as the "sensitivity" of the issue, told RFE/RL that people in Iran are far from indifferent to the deaths of civilians in conflicts. Many people think the international response in the Gaza crisis has been insufficient, he noted.

But, he said, some also believe the government is exploiting the crisis to divert domestic attention from Iran's worsening economic situation, including spiraling inflation and growing unemployment.

Another recent caller to Radio Farda claimed "the mullahs" use Palestine and other Middle East flashpoints for their own political ends.

"They've created a stick out of Palestine to give a response to all of the people's questions and demands -- whoever says something will be [silenced]," the caller said. "Otherwise we're a country like other countries, we should mind our own business and solve our own problems. Has there ever been a president who has asked, 'How's our country doing regarding issues like health, electricity, unemployment, poverty?'.... All they speak about is Palestine and Lebanon."

See also the comments to the story.

Image: Anti-Israel demo in Tehran.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Everybody's losing in Gaza

Excerpts from an opinion piece at TPMCafe, by M.J. Rosenberg:

It is obvious who is losing the Gaza war. But who is winning?

First the losers. Hamas is losing. It made the mistake of believing its own propaganda about Israelis having lost the determination to fight for their state....

But the biggest loser of all is not Hamas (I wish it was), but the people of Gaza. The conservative Israeli daily Ma'ariv quotes "Israeli sources" who say that "of the approximately 550 fatalities in the operation," only 200 "are linked to the warfare by affiliation or by the manner in which they were killed." This means, Ma'ariv reports, that "that the harm to Hamas members . . . is apparently much smaller than the number of unarmed people who were killed."...

The Israelis have also lost. The people of southern Israel have been living in terror for years. Anyone who knows small children understands how little it takes to startle and terrify them. Imagine how they react to the endless crashing of incoming Kassams, which reduce adults to quivering and tears.

Israel has also lost politically. ...

Even among those who think there was no alternative to war, few are remotely happy about it. They may believe that the war is justifiable, but they hate the idea that Gaza's kids are the victims. On the other hand, they argue, the war could destroy Hamas. Wouldn't that be a good thing? Maybe.

Bringing Hamas to power is one of the most horrific legacies of the Bush administration. In retrospect, the decision to oust Arafat (who had demonstrated the ability to thwart terrorism, and had reduced it to almost zero between 1997 and 2000) was a blunder. The administration's subsequent stingy support for Mahmoud Abbas was incomprehensible and its decision to force the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power--and which Israel and Abbas opposed--was about as benighted a foreign policy move as any in history.

Nonetheless, Hamas' possible successors as rulers of Gaza would likely be worse. Forget about the idea of Abu Mazen riding in triumph back into Gaza following the Israeli troops. One, he wouldn't do it. Two, if he did, he would be viewed as an Israeli stooge.

No, Hamas' likely successors would be Al Qaeda--and its allies--which already have cells in Gaza. Hamas and Al Qaeda hate each other for many reasons, most of which are of interest only to students of Islam. The one that matters to us is that Hamas is willing to compromise with its enemies.

Al Qaeda and its ilk are at permanent war with the West, a war which cannot end until either AQ or the infidels are destroyed. Al Qaeda is not fighting for political goals but to create a pan-national Islamic State that would supplant not only Israel but all the Arab states.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood, limits its ambitions to achieving a state in Palestine. It believes in compromise, if only as a stop gap. That is why it could sign a ceasefire agreement with Israel and, according to even Israeli sources, observe it until it decided that Israel was not living up to its end of the deal. It has even raised the idea of a 15 or 20 year ceasefire with the Jewish state.

All this is anathema to groups like Al Qaeda, for whom the destruction of the World Trade Center was a triumph--although it advanced no political goals. AQ has none, just as the terrorists in Mumbai killed for killing's sake.

And these are the people who could make Gaza--a few miles from Tel Aviv--its ultimate base of operations.

Writing in the London Jewish Chronicle, reporter Jonathan Freedland predicts, "Gaza could become a vacuum, rapidly descending into Somalia, a lawless badland of warlords and clans. . . . And from the rubble of Gaza, the attacks on Israel will surely resume."

He then quotes Mideast expert Rashid Khalidi, "There would be no Hamas leadership--with undeniable discipline over its forces and the pragmatism to see the benefits of a ceasefire--to rein in these new, angry fighters. The great irony is that Israel may well decapitate Hamas--only to regret the passing of a Palestinian administration with sufficient stature to bring order."

That is another reason for a ceasefire now. The first is to stop the killing. The second is to ensure that a year or two from now we are not all wishing that Hamas was still in charge.

After all, who would think that we would miss Arafat?

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Friday, January 09, 2009

The Gaza War in a wider context

In our last Islamic Civilization class we talked about French colonialism in Algeria. Today Juan Cole refers to that history in connection with events in Gaza. This is a long quote, but I urge you to go to Informed Comment and read the whole thing (especially the remarks of an American veteran of the Iraq war that precede this section):

The difference between Israeli military action in Gaza and most US operations in Iraq is not a matter of national character or some other essentialist attribute. It is the difference between imperial occupation for specific purposes and settler colonialism. The Israelis are both an army and a settler movement. The US never considered flooding Iraq with colonists from Alabama and Mississippi.

When threatened by an indigenous population trying to expel it, settler colonialism is vicious. It is after all facing an existential threat. The US can withdraw from Iraq with no dire consequences to the US. In 1954-1962, the French killed at least half a million, and maybe as much as 800,000 Algerians, out of a population of 11 million. That is between nearly 5 percent and nearly 10 percent! The French military had been enlisted to fight for the interests of the colonists, who were in danger of losing everything. (In the end they did lose almost everything, being forced to return to Europe, or choosing to do so rather than face the prospect of living under independent Algerian rule).

The brutality with which the British put down the Mau-Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s is another example of massive human rights violations on behalf of a settler population.

This latest sanguinary episode is a further manifestation of Israel's insecure brand of settler colonialism, in which the lives of the indigenous population are viewed as worthless before the interests of the colonists. The Israelis have not killed on the French scale, but I would argue that they kill, and disregard civilian life, for much the same reasons as the French did in Algeria.

Settler colonialism is unstable in the contemporary world because of the facilities subject populations have for mobilization and resistance. Conflict between colonizer and colonized has only ended in one of three ways: 1) The expulsion of the colonists, as in Algeria; 2) the integration of the colonists into a nation that includes the indigenous population, as happened in South Africa; or 3) the expulsion of the indigenous population, as with the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth-century United States.

Bob Simon told Charlie Rose that the 'two-state solution' in Israel-Palestine is dead, which is likely correct. He suggested that the most likely outcome is Apartheid. However, I would argue that Apartheid is a phase and its itself an unstable situation, and that only one of the above three outcomes is actually permanent. Given that the Arabs are becoming more technologically sophisticated and wealthier over time, and given their demographic advantage, I do not expect a transferist or trail of tears policy to be implemented or succeed. In the long term, over several decades, I think either there will be a gradual outflow of Israeli emigrants that leaves Jews a plurality in Israel. Or there will eventually be a single state. The other possibilities, of either a century-long Apartheid or another expulsion of Palestinians a la 1948 seem to me less likely. The Gaza operation is intended to extend the life of an incipient Apartheid. But that is sort of like giving a heart transplant to a man diagnosed with terminal cancer.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Meanwhile, back in Gaza

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bombs over Israel and Gaza...


...and the people they hit. The Big Picture shows us the weapons, the explosions, the blood and the terror.

To leaven this with some good news, see Juan Cole's New Year's article, Top Ten Good News Stories in the Muslim World, 2008 (That Nobody Noticed).

Image: a firefighter tries to douse a medical warehouse (!).

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza: Like casino chips

An Arab-American analyst gives Laura Rozen at War and Piece an anonymous interpretation of what is behind the Gaza situation (my word, which shocks me with its bloodlessness):

There are two domestic agendas here. The Israeli one is very familiar... But what people are not asking and is at least as important: what are the f**** rocket firers hoping to do? ... If you look at what people are saying, there is a disconnect between what Haniyah and people in Gaza are saying, and what Nasrallah and Meshal and regional actors say. ... The Hamas leadership in Gaza is saying, we want a ceasefire on our terms. What Nasrallah and Meshal and Iran are saying: Egyptians, rise up ... What’s missing in every analysis I see is that Egypt is the prize, the low hanging fruit ...

Sketch out the regional scenario: two unsympathetic forces hinged by Hamas. You have the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Iraqi Islamist parties on the one hand, on one side of the hinge. ... And you’ve got the Muslim Brotherhood regional project for overthrowing [moderate Arab regime] governments on the other.

The hinge is Hamas. Because Hamas is a core member of Leninist-style collection of national Muslim Brotherhood parties. It is also the only Sunni member of the pro Iranian alliance because of the money it gets through Khaled Meshal. Hamas is a hinge, Syria is a hinge. You've got Meshal in Damascus who gets lots of money from Iran. Hamas is not neutral in the moderate Arab regimes vs. Iranian alliance rivalry.

Both stand to benefit here. One project advances [unrest] in Egypt to the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood. And while that is not something to be overjoyed for for Nasrallah, it's very helpful if it advances the Islamist agenda to destabilize your enemies.

It's limited ultimately. It's very unlikely to result in direct destabilization of Egypt. But they shoot for it, and hope that it contributes to the discreditation of all the [moderate, pro American] Arab regimes [egypt, jordan, saudi arabia] and in that sense, shows that there is an authentic movement in the region that has two manifestations, the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood, who are resistant to the regional order and the status quo. ...

What you end up with here are two groups of political actors with domestic and internal motivations that largely don’t have to do with Gaza. And they are using the lives of these people like casino chips...

More from the Globe and Mail.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saladin's hummus?


A couple of weeks ago, a correspondent on MEDIEV-L sent the rest of us a link to this article from the Guardian, which discusses the efforts of the state of Lebanon to prevent Israel from claiming hummus and tabouleh as its own, when by all rights they should be knowledge this traditional dishes of Lebanon. Does this mean that they only want Lebanese produced hummus to be labeled as such? Where would that leave Canadian hummus? (Which is likely produced from Lebanese recipes.)

The article also mentions a legend that Saladin, the famous Muslim leader of the 12th century, invented hummus. Now that's what I call ridiculous. Some man invented hummus? I assert with complete confidence that the dish was invented by two women working together, probably grandmother and granddaughter, some time well before the first wall was raised around Jericho. Where they were when they did it, I'm not saying.

Image: A Greek version of hummus with tahini, just to complicate things.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

I will give a fig for it


When it is appropriate to do so, I love talking about food and the origin of various crops in my history classes -- in the past, this has generally meant world history and ancient history courses. Ancient Middle Eastern crops came out in discussing the background to early Islamic history a couple of weeks ago, and I had a fair amount to say about dates, a very important crop in Iraq at any time in its history. Soon after, I ran across this National Public Radio piece on figs as one of the earliest crops, a possibility revealed by new explorations near ancient Jericho, which rated a mention in my discussions of early towns and agriculture. I promised a link to the Islamic history class, and here it is!

Image: from NPR, showing an ancient fig (L) next to modern Iranian and Turkish figs (R).

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Monday, July 14, 2008

What Iran wants

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An attack on Iran?

Monday, April 28, 2008

More on Saladin and the Arab view of the Crusades

About a year and a half ago, I reproduced an interesting short discussion by Andrew Larsen of Saladin's modern reputation as a hero of anti-crusade resistance. What Andrew said, and he accurately reproduced the scholarly consensus, is that Saladin became an Islamic hero only in recent times. Insofar as there was a popular hero of the Crusades in the Middle East before the 19th or 20th century, it was Baibars, a Mamluk Sultan.

That post has become one of the most popular attractions on this blog, in large part because of the nifty picture I pasted into it. How many read the post, I don't know. At least one person did -- he/she was incensed by the idea that Saladin could ever have been forgotten by the Arabs. Even if he was a Kurd.

Just recently a friend of mine sent me his masters thesis for his degree in Middle Eastern studies. John Chamberlain, a skilled Arab linguist, wrote on the evolution of Arab historiography of the Crusades, with emphasis on printed books written since 1800 (or rather, since about 1850). (In other words, he didn't investigate newspapers or journal articles.) Even with my recent reading on the Islamic views of the Crusades, past and present, I was amazed at how recent most of the Arabic writing on the Crusades has been. The real upswing began in 1947, when Palestine was first slated for partition.

If you want to look for yourself, Chamberlain's conclusions are available in two different forms on the Web. A short version appears in the journal Strategic Insights here.
If you want the whole thing, that's here.

Update: Links now work.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Middle East at the end of 2007


For any of my readers who might be interesting in summaries of what the Middle East is actually like at the moment -- since just following the headlines, whether or not they are honestly composed, is not very helpful -- I have two recommendations.

The first is from Juan Cole, who posts on Informed Comment a count-down list of Top 10 Challenges Facing the US in the Middle East, 2008. Though formally composed as recommendations to Americans, the analysis is less US-centric that most US political discussions, which focus on "the horserace," i.e., which American political actor is ahead in which media-defined race. Cole actually discusses what foreigners want.

For Iraq, I recommend the last few entries from the blog Inside Iraq by the Iraqi correspondents of the US McClatchy news service. There is a tiny bit of good news, but my non-expert impression is that the civil war is about half over and I have no idea how it will end up.

Image: "The grim world of Warhammer." If only great big hammers were the worst we had to worry about!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Samaritans

I promised the Ancient Civilizations students a link to the recent Globe and Mail article on the ancient and still-surviving Samaritans, descendents of the ancient Israelites. The Globe article is behind the paywall but I found another site for it.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Six Day War, 40 years on

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, which as much as any single event created the Middle East situation we now live with.

There are many retrospectives around the Web, but I've decided to link to one at Le Monde Diplomatique (in English) to give a perspective that may not be familiar to North American readers. The link is to just one of several articles in a feature called Forty Years of Conflict in the Middle East; related articles can be seen listed on the left.

These articles bring back a time when France was Israel's most important international supporter.

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