Monday, March 14, 2005

Ramadi Madness, Nabih Berri, Naomi Klein, Donors, Israeli Bombs, Barbary Folks

1) From Juan Cole's Blog :

"The Ramadi Madness Video showing abusive behavior by
US troops. The ACLU continues to call for a Special
Counsel, apparently convinced that the tone of
behavior of some US military units in Iraq toward
captured Iraqis was set by the civilians who run the
Department of Defense. The Palm Beach Post has
acquired some of the Ramadi Madness video and posted
it to its web site:"

2) This one's great, also from Juan Cole's blog.
Basically, after Blair expressed dismay that Lebanon's
parliament reinstated Syria-friendly Karami as PM,
Berry stated that much of Lebanon's population would
have liked to provide input on the UK's choice of
Prime Minister. I couldn't agree more:

"What do you Do if Democracies Defy You?

The US and British support for democratization in the
Middle East is a deeply contradictory policy, since
Washington and London also want friendly regimes that
agree with their policies and crack down on radicals.

The contradiction was pitched ironically by Lebanese
Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, a Shiite leader of
the Amal Party, on Friday. UK Foreign Minister Jack
Straw expressed dismay that the president of Lebanon,
Emile Lahoud, had reappointed Omar Karami as prime
minister. Berri sent a telegram to Straw informing him
that the president cannot unilaterally appoint a prime
minister in Lebanon, but must consult with parliament
(to ensure that the PM has enough votes to survive a
vote of no confindence).

Berri ironically suggested that since Straw disliked
parliament's choice, he should please appoint a prime
minister for Lebanon.

Berri went on to make other suggestions, saying he
spoke out because "the appointment of the prime
minister in Lebanon is in the hands of Parliament, not
the president, and second because we hope we would be
able to express our opinion in naming the British
prime minister."

The Daily Star notes, ' Berri concluded his telegram
by expressing his "thanks for the planned democracy
for our region," in reference to U.S., British and
European efforts to establish democracy throughout the
Middle East. ' I suppose we now know what some
experienced parliamentarians in the region think of
Bush's 'democratization.'"

3) Naomi Klein comments on Bush's boosterism for
Middle East democracy:,12271,1436984,00.html

Brand USA is in trouble, so take a lesson from Big Mac

Instead of changing his foreign policy, President Bush
is changing the story

Naomi Klein
Monday March 14, 2005
The Guardian

Last Tuesday, George Bush delivered a major address on
his plan to fight terrorism with democracy in the Arab
world. On the same day, McDonald's launched a massive
advertising campaign urging Americans to fight obesity
by eating healthily and exercising. Any similarities
between McDonald's "Go Active! American Challenge" and
Bush's "Go Democratic! Arabian Challenge" are purely
Sure, there is a certain irony in being urged to get
off the couch by the company that popularised the
"drive-thru", helpfully allowing customers to consume
a bagged heart attack without having to get out of the
car and walk to the counter. And there is a similar
irony to Bush urging the people of the Middle East to
remove "the mask of fear" because "fear is the
foundation of every dictatorial regime", when that
fear is the direct result of US decisions to install
and arm the regimes that have systematically
terrorised for decades. But since both campaigns are
exercises in rebranding, that means facts are besides
the point.

The Bush administration has long been enamoured of the
idea that it can solve complex policy challenges by
borrowing cutting-edge communications tools from its
heroes in the corporate world. The Irish rock star
Bono has recently been winning unlikely fans in the
White House by framing world poverty as an opportunity
for US politicians to become better marketers. "Brand
USA is in trouble ... it's a problem for business,"
Bono warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The
solution is "to redescribe ourselves to a world that
is unsure of our values".

The Bush administration wholeheartedly agrees, as
evidenced by the orgy of redescription that now passes
for American foreign policy. Faced with an Arab world
enraged by the US occupation of Iraq and its blind
support for Israel, the solution is not to change
these brutal policies: it is to "change the story".

Brand USA's latest story was launched on January 30,
the day of the Iraqi elections, complete with a catchy
tag line ("purple power"), instantly iconic imagery
(purple fingers) and, of course, a new narrative about
America's role in the world, helpfully told and retold
by the White House's unofficial brand manager, the New
York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "Iraq has been
reframed from a story about Iraqi 'insurgents' trying
to liberate their country from American occupiers and
their Iraqi 'stooges' to a story of the overwhelming
Iraqi majority trying to build a democracy, with US
help, against the wishes of Iraqi Ba'athist fascists
and jihadists."

This new story is so contagious, we are told, that it
has set off a domino effect akin to the fall of the
Berlin wall and the collapse of communism. (Although
in the "Arabian spring" the only wall in sight -
Israel's apartheid wall - pointedly stays up.) As with
all branding campaigns, the power is in the
repetition, not in the details. Obvious non sequiturs
(is Bush taking credit for Arafat's death?) and
screeching hypocrisies (occupiers against occupation!)
just mean it's time to tell the story again, only
louder and more slowly, obnoxious-tourist style. Even
so, with Bush now claiming that "Iran and other
nations have an example in Iraq", it seems worth
focusing on the reality of the Iraqi example.

The state of emergency was just renewed for its fifth
month and Human Rights Watch reports that torture is
"systematic" in Iraqi jails. The Italian journalist
Giuliana Sgrena's double nightmare provides a window
into the pincer of terror in which average Iraqis are
trapped: daily life is a navigation between the fear
of being kidnapped or killed by fellow Iraqis and the
fear of being gunned down at a US checkpoint.

Meanwhile, the ongoing wrangling over who will form
Iraq's next government, despite the United Iraqi
Alliance being the clear winner, points to an
electoral system designed by Washington that is less
than democratic. Terrified at the prospect of an Iraq
ruled by the majority of Iraqis, the former chief US
envoy, Paul Bremer, wrote election rules that gave the
US-friendly Kurds 27% of the seats in the national
assembly, even though they make up just 15% of the

Skewing matters further, the US-authored interim
constitution requires that all major decisions have
the support of two-thirds or, in some cases,
three-quarters of the assembly - an absurdly high
figure that gives the Kurds the power to block any
call for foreign troop withdrawal, any attempt to roll
back Bremer's economic orders, and any part of a new

Iraqi Kurds have a legitimate claim to independence,
as well as very real fears of being ethnically
targeted. But through its alliance with the Kurds, the
Bush administration has effectively given itself a
veto over Iraq's democracy - and it appears to be
using it to secure a contingency plan should Iraqis
demand an end to occupation.

Talks to form a government are stalled over the
Kurdish demand for control over Kirkuk. If they get
it, Kirkuk's huge oil fields would fall under Kurdish
control. That means that if foreign troops are kicked
out of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan can be broken off and
Washington will still end up with a dependent,
oil-rich regime - even if it's smaller than the one
originally envisioned by the war's architects.

Meanwhile, Bush's freedom triumphalism glossed over
the fact that, in the two years since the invasion,
the power of political Islam has increased
exponentially, while Iraq's deep secular traditions
have been greatly eroded. In part, this has to do with
the deadly decision to "embed" secularism and women's
rights in the military invasion. Whenever Bremer
needed a good-news hit, he had his picture taken at a
newly opened women's centre, handily equating feminism
with the hated occupation. (The women's centres are
now mostly closed, and hundreds of Iraqis who worked
with the coalition in local councils have been
executed.) But the problem for secularism is not just
guilt by association. It's also that the Bush
definition of liberation robs democratic forces of
their most potent tools.

The only idea that has ever stood up to kings, tyrants
and mullahs in the Middle East is the promise of
economic justice, brought about through nationalist
and socialist policies of agrarian reform and state
control over oil. But there is no room for such ideas
in the Bush narrative, in which free people are only
free to choose so-called free trade. That leaves
democrats with little to offer, but empty talk of
"human rights" - a weedy weapon against the powerful
swords of ethnic glory and eternal salvation.

But we shouldn't be surprised that the Bush
administration, despite telling stories about its
commitment to freedom, continues to actively sabotage
democracy in the very countries it claims to have
liberated. Rumour has it McDonald's also continues to
serve Big Macs.

4) Just in case you were curious what political
parties your neighbors support... Type in a zip code,
and all the names (linked to addresses, phone numbers,
etc) appear with the amounts each person donated to
which presidential candidate. On the one hand, this
is a great way to watch who backs which candidate. On
the other hand, it's a bit scary what's public
information these days...:

4) Israeli contingency plans for using bunker-buster
[ie mini-nuclear?] bombs to attack Iranian nuclear
power plant facilities appear to be under development.
One wonders where they got those bombs:,,2089-1522978,00.html

5) Volume LVII, Number 2 William and Mary Quarterly
Review of Books:

 2000 by Omohundro Institute of Early American
History and Culture

White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of
American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Edited and with
an introduction by Paul Baepler. (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 310.
$19.00 paper.)

The Barbary captivity tale, with stock images of
Christian men forced to row Algerian galleys
and Christian women forced into the Pacha's harem,
formed a popular staple in European culture, from
Cervantes's "Il Cautivo" in Don Quixote to Mozart's
"Abduction from the Seraglio." In this collection,
Paul Baepler has selected nine representative excerpts
from the American versions of the genre.

Baepler's collection begins with Cotton Mather's 1703
sermon, "The Glory of Goodness," recounting the
redemption of Bostonian Joshua Gee from Moroccan
captivity. It ends with Ion Perdicaris's account of
his kidnaping in Morocco two centuries later and his
release on the demand of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In between are seven stories from the period of
greatest contact between Americans and North Africa,
1785 to 1820, when more than 700 Americans were taken
hostage by Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and Morocco, and
the United States fought wars against Tripoli and

Baepler's introduction puts these stories into context
for both historians and literary scholars, and his
appendix lists twenty different narratives, which had
a total of 149 editions. In redeeming these stories
from the musty clutches of the microfilm machine,
Baepler has performed a great service to scholars of
American culture.

Of the seven individuals included other than Gee and
Perdicaris, James Leander Cathcart and John Foss were
captives in Algiers in the 1790s; Jonathan Cowdery and
William Ray were prisoners of war in Tripoli between
1803 and 1805; Robert Adams was shipwrecked in the
Western Sahara coast in 1810, and Eliza Bradley and
Maria Martin probably never existed at all. The books
of all but Cathcart and Ray were popular in their own
day. Cathcart's was not published until 1899, and
though Ray's poetry from Tripoli was published in
American newspapers while he was still a prisoner, his
Horrors of Slavery had a single printing. The other
volumes enjoyed impressive publishing histories: Maria
Martin's novel went through twelve editions between
1806 and 1818, Robert Adams's memoir appeared in
London, Paris, Stockholm, and Amsterdam, and was
reprinted in a popular 1840s anthology, Robinson
Crusoe's Own Book.

Baepler has not included the most important and
influential of all American Barbary narratives, James
Riley's Loss of the American Brig Commerce. Riley's
work forms the connecting link between the Puritan
captivity narrative and the American slave narrative.
First published in 1817, Riley's book went through
twenty-five editions before the Civil War and spawned
a children's edition with eight printings and a sequel
published in 1851. Riley also undertook to publish
crew member Archibald Robbins''s Journal, which had
thirty-one printings by 1851, and Judah Paddock's
Narrative, which had three printings in 1818. Riley,
then, accounts for nearly half of the 149 captivity
editions listed in Baepler's appendix. Widely read,
Riley's book also had a profound impact. When Henry
David Thoreau traversed the sand dunes of Cape Cod, he
thought of Riley's descriptions of the Sahara. Abraham
Lincoln put Riley's book, along with the Bible,
Aesop's Fables, Plutarch's Lives, Pilgrim's Progress,
and Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, on the list of
readings that had most influenced his life. Riley's
book stands apart from the other captivity narratives
in its calling into question the presumption of
American moral rectitude. If slavery was wrong for a
Connecticut sea captain in Africa, Riley made plain,
it was wrong for people of African descent in America.
Redemption from slavery among the Arabs transformed
Riley into an advocate for emancipation.

Perhaps Baepler was wise to omit leave Riley rather
than publish a mere excerpt. Riley's book, which
deserves a new edition. So, too, do scholars of
American history deserve a chance to reconsider the
role of the Barbary narratives in the construction of
American culture. The works included in Baepler's
anthology offer opportunities to begin this study
anew. We can trace here the relationships among
literary genres, as writers of fiction and nonfiction
liberally borrowed from one another. Captives such as
William Ray, an aspiring poet who signed on as a
marine aboard the U.S.S. Philadelphia when an editing
position fell through, wrote a volume of poetry about
Tripoli during his captivity there, some of it
published in American papers even while he remained a
captive. His memoir drew on the long literary
tradition of the Barbary captivity narrative and
conjured up lurid images of Muslim corruption and
tyranny. Eliza Bradley's so-called Authentic Narrative
took more literally from a predecessor; this fictional
account is largely a plagiarism of Riley. John Foss's
Journal contains long excerpts from Mathew Carey's
Short Account of Algiers (1795), and Maria Martin's
novel was a revised version of the equally fictional
captivity tale of Mary Velnet (1800). Such recycling
of stereotypes characterizes Barbary narratives in the
United States almost from the start; in his novel The
Algerine Captive (1797), Royall Tyler lampooned the
whole genre of captivity tales for their exaggerations
and misrepresentations.

The captivity tale, fictional and otherwise, was
founded on the long history of Western relations with
Islam. The American narratives differ from the
European tales in presenting a free America certain to
prevail over the tyranny of Islam. Cotton Mather's
sermon credits the prayers of Bostonians for
delivering Joshua from the hands of the "Filthy
Disciples of Mahomet" (p. 59) in Morocco. Ion
Perdicaris's story, two centuries later, tells of
redemptive power of a different kind. Seeing the
frigates Brooklyn and Olympia at anchor in Tangier,
Perdicaris exclaimed "Thank Heaven, it is that flag,
and that people--aye, and that President, behind those
frigates, thousands of miles away, who have had me dug
out from amongst these Kabyles! That flag and no
other!" (p. 301).

>From the power of God to the power of the American
flag, these captivity narratives help us trace a
transition in the way Americans considered themselves
and their country. Riley's narrative stands almost
alone in questioning the moral efficacy of the
American republic. The rest reveal a fictional Islam
strikingly similar to the one depicted by Cervantes
and Mozart. The Americans who wrote and read these
captivity narratives not only constructed an imaginary
Islamic world. They also believed they had created a
nation that could successfully challenge that world.
Such ethnocentric hubris continues to affect United
States relations with diverse Islamic societies, from
Iran to Indonesia, to this day.

Suffolk University Robert J. Allison

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