Friday, May 13, 2005

WWII, Nasrallah, Pack Rats, Chalabi, Iraq Arch, Kingdom of Heaven

1) This is a nice editorial on WWWII:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1481793,00.html

Forward to VE Day
Our memory wars will never end, but a common future is
possible

Timothy Garton Ash in Warsaw
Thursday May 12, 2005
The Guardian

After a continent-wide round of commemorations to mark
the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world
war in Europe, it's clear that the peoples of Europe
have a shared past, but not a common one.
Sixty years on, the memory of war here in Warsaw is
still irreconcilable with that in Moscow. But it's
also utterly different from London's low-key festival
of "We'll meet again" nostalgia. Only in the
recollections of former inmates of the Japanese
prisoner-of-war camps does British memory approach the
horrors of daily degradation that are the stuff of
everyday Polish or Russian memory...


2) This is a nice bio of Nasrallah, translated into
English by one of the readers of this list:

Le Monde | May 2nd 2005

Portrait

Hassan Nasrallah: man of the Party of God

By Patrice Claude

Bad omens in Lebanon. From $200 a piece on the black
market at the beginning of January, the price of a
Kalashnikov has recently risen to “close to 700”,
according to a newspaper in Beirut. In the void and
confusion that rule over Lebanon since the Syrian
withdrawal, the man who receives us is, in the phrase
of Samir Qassir, a Beiruti academic, “the one who
holds in his hands the keys of peace or war in
Lebanon”. One word from this small, stocky, bearded
man and this country of 4 million inhabitants could
plunge into another bloody civil war, like the one
that took place between 1975 and 1990 (146,000
victims).

The power of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is not illusory.
He is the uncontested chief of what the Americans, the
Israelis and many others consider a “terrorist
organisation”. The man who “guides” Hezbollah is by
contrast celebrated in Lebanon as a genuine resistance
fighter. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites vow him
admiration and obedience. The whole political class,
divided and quarrelsome as it may be, from Christians
to Sunnis by way of the Druze, regularly laud his
“charisma, his political intelligence, his genius for
organisation, and his statesman-like temperament”.
This does not mean that the man of the black turban,
whose portrait decorates thousands of houses, shops,
streets, schools and clinics in Lebanon’s Shiite
regions—they make up 40% of the population—has no
enemies.

Inside the country, those who do not like him denounce
the “diabolical ability” of a politician who arranges
things so that he can weigh in the conduct of affairs
without ever taking direct responsibility for them.
Other critics, secular and numerous in Lebanon, reject
above all what he represents: a shadowy and powerful
religious nationalism, complete with regiments of
disciplined devotees. On the outside, his principal
enemy is called Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime
minister, who regularly warns anyone “who might want
to give this terrorist life insurance”.

Hassan Nasrallah—whose surname means “Victory of God”
in Arabic—is a targeted man. And he knows it. “I am
not losing sleep over it”, he affirms. But those who
want to approach him might find it a difficult task.
Surrounded 24 hours a day by a Praetorian guard of
young, suspicious men uniformly dressed in grey or
black, he never forgot how his “brother, friend and
mentor” Abbas al-Moussaoui was killed, along with his
wife and three-year-old daughter, on February 16th
1992 by an American Hellfire missile fired from an
Israeli helicopter which was lurking for him at a bend
on a mountain road.

“It was perhaps the only time we saw the sheikh weep”,
an old friend remembers. A few weeks later, Hassan
Nasrallah, at 32, replaced the deceased leader in one
of the most dangerous political functions in the
Middle East: secretary general of Hezbollah, the Party
of God.

Having been elected by his peers to a consecutive
fifth term in office in August 2004, Nasrallah lives
in semi-reclusion, appearing only occasionally and
never announced. His address in Beirut, assuming he
has only one, is one of the best-kept secrets in a
country that talks too much. Apart from a few
relatives, no one knows what his wife looks like, or,
for that matter, his three children, aged 25, 20 and
15. Also unknown are the likenesses of his eight
brothers and sisters, and those of his mother and
father, we do not even know if they are dead or alive.

This personality, which Farid Khazen, professor of
political sciences at the American University of
Beirut, considers as “the best known and most popular
Shiite figure of the Arab World”, remains an enigma
for the majority of his compatriots. Did he keep only
friends from the years 1976-78 when he was studying at
the seminary in Najaf, the holy city of world Shiism?
One encounter at least has changed him for ever, that
with the “spiritual master” who at the time was a
refugee in Najaf: Ayatollah Khomeini. “His presence
radiated,” remembers Nasrallah, “in his company, time
and space became immaterial.”

For the young student of theology, 18 years old at the
time, it was a revelation. Even today, in Lebanon, the
teachings and portraits of the Iranian Guide of world
Islamic revolution dominate the intellectual and urban
landscapes of Hezbollah. Without Khomeini, his advice,
his weapons, the millions of dollars and the hundreds
of revolutionary guards he dispatched to Lebanon after
the Israeli invasion of 1982, the Party of God would
have never seen the light of day. From that troubled
period Nasrallah has kept “an old dream”: to become
one day an ayatollah, a mujtahid, that is a recognised
interpreter of the divine word, and even—why not?—a
marji, a supreme religious guide and “source of
imitation” for millions of practicing Shiites.

After the death of Khomeini in 1989, Hezbollah
endorsed his successor on the spiritual throne of the
Iranian theocracy, Ayatollah Khamenei. Yet, even
though the creation in Lebanon of an Islamic
government à l’iranienne is still a declared aim of
the party in its official manifesto of 1985, Secretary
General Nasrallah is no less keen to repeat that,
because of the “religious diversity particular to
Lebanon”, an Islamic state, “which in any case cannot
be imposed by force, is not on the agenda”.

In Najaf, another marji, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, who belongs to the quietist school of
Shiism, which refuses to “squander” religion in the
exercise of temporal power, is on the same line. On
many occasions since the American intervention in Iraq
in 2003, Nasrallah, full of his aura in the region,
called for “the defence” of the old ayatollah and for
“respecting his word”. The two men, however, are
neither exactly on the same wavelength—the Lebanese
hardly appreciate the cooperation of Iraqi Shiites
with America and would have certainly preferred that
Ali Sistani call for Jihad against the invaders—nor
are they from the same world.

As much as his men like systematically to give him his
title as a presumed descendant of the prophet, “His
Eminence Sayyed Nasrallah” does not belong to the
Shiite religious aristocracy. Unlike the Sistani,
Khoei or Sadr families that have dominated world
Shiism for generations, Hassan Nasrallah was born in
obscure poverty, to a grocer father and mother of a
large family—nine children—who were generally ignorant
of religion.

How this miserable boy, born in August 1960 in a slum
of Beirut, came to be noticed by a theologian called
Muhammad al-Gharawi remains a mystery. His peers say
that, while his schoolmates played football, young
Hassan “spent his times reading complex religious
treaties”. The story is that, armed with a written
recommendation from Gharawi, the young Hassan landed
at the seminary in Najaf without a penny in his
pocket.

He was 16 and already had some political experience as
an activist in Amal, a Shiite movement founded in
Lebanon by a distant member of the Sadr family, Imam
Moussa al-Sadr. In Najaf Nasrallah was presented to
the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who
founded the Islamic Dawa (“Call”) party which spread
to Lebanon in the 1970s and which is in power in Iraq
today through its local chief Ibrahim al-Jaaferi, the
prime minister. Al-Sadr took the poor young Lebanese
into his seminary and entrusted him to another of his
Lebanese disciples: Abbas al-Moussaoui. This latter,
as we have seen, would become the boss of Hezbollah
until his assignation by Israel.

In 1978, like thousands of foreign Shiite students,
Nasrallah had to flee Najaf. Saddam Hussein had
launched his witch-hunt of religious clergy. Many of
Nasrallah’s fellow students were arrested, tortured,
killed. Khomeini was expelled to France and Muhammad
Baqir al-Sadr would be executed two years later.

Nasrallah returned to Lebanon. The civil war which
began in 1975 was still raging. Between 1982 and 1985,
bloody years in which mysterious small groups calling
themselves the Islamic Jihad, the Disinherited of the
Earth or the Organisation for Revolutionary Justice
organised attacks and hostage-takings, we lose his
trace. Some secret services believe that these groups,
many of which kidnapped Westerners, were the
“predecessors of Hezbollah”. Walid Charara and
Frédéric Domon point out in their political analysis
(“Hezbollah, un mouvement islamo-nationaliste”,
published by Fayard) that the settlement of these
affairs always ended up serving Iran’s interests. They
revisit in detail that troubled period. Although he
came from the ranks of fighters, Nasrallah, who is not
simply a man of religion but also a redoubtable
warlord, did not play any known role in the events of
those years. The official line is that he kept himself
busy studying and teaching at a Hezbollah seminary in
southern Lebanon.

Today, before us, he goes as far as denying any
responsibility for his party in the double suicide
bombing that killed 58 French soldiers and 241 us
Marines in Beirut in October 1983. “Never since its
creation was Hezbollah ever implicated in an attack
against America,” he affirms. He cleverly dates the
foundation of Hezbollah to 1985, when its first
manifesto was published, not to the end of 1982 as is
generally accepted. “During those years there were
many groups on the margins of the party,” he says.
“They were autonomous, they did not depend on us and
they had nothing to do with us. They refused to submit
and refused to restrict themselves, as we did, to the
fight against Israeli occupation forces”.

Which explanation is evidently contested in
Washington. “Between Hezbollah and us,” says Richard
Armitage, number two of the State Department in 2001,
“there is a debt of blood that will have to be paid
one day”. After the attacks of September 11th, which
Nasrallah condemned without reserve—Ben Laden’s Sunni
Wahhabism is enemy to the “Shiite heresy”—Richard
Armitage went even further, describing Hezbollah as
“the a-Team of terror”, putting it even before
al-Qaeda. Historians will decide on this one.
Nasrallah will no doubt maintain his account. This man
is tenacious and obstinate. He already proved it, for
example at the death of his first born son, Hadi, in
1997.

In that year the young man was killed in a raid of the
Islamic Resistance—the armed wing of Hezbollah—on a
position of the Israeli occupation force. He was 18
and the sheikh adored him. Yet Nasrallah refused even
to change his schedule for the day, never showed his
pain; on the contrary, he declared himself “proud to
be, like many Lebanese, the father of a martyr”. Only
much later would he admit how much he “misses” his
son.

The Lebanese, who have grown accustomed during the war
to their elite’s putting their off spring out of
harm’s way in Europe, admired him. And they would
admire him even more in May 2000, when the Israeli
army, which lost 900 soldiers in battles with the
Islamic Resistance since 1982, abandoned South Lebanon
after 22 years of occupation.

Hassan Nasrallah was seen as the hero of the year. His
aura grew even more in 2004 with the most spectacular
exchange of prisoners the region has seen in decades.
The bodies of three Israeli soldiers killed in combat
in 2000 and a reserve colonel captured alive in 2001
were sent home. In return, Hezbollah obtained from
Israel the release of 30 Lebanese prisoners and 420
Palestinian detainees, in addition to the bodies of 60
Lebanese militants killed in combat and complete
military maps of the mine fields the Israeli army had
planted in Lebanon.

The Arab World exalted him. Feted like a statesman,
Nasrallah delivered a speech from behind bullet-proof
glass to a million Lebanese. The politician is all
over the headlines, but we still know so little about
the man.

Today one thing is certain: under his direction, the
Hezbollah of the new century has little in common with
that of the 1980s. The general opinion in Lebanon is
that the organisation has succeeded in its mutation
from resistance movement to political party. The most
powerful and disciplined in the country no doubt. Its
chief, however, will “never” become minister. “A
member of government has to be able to travel freely.
I can’t, the Israelis are waiting for me. Between them
and me,” he says with one last smile, “is a long
history of vengeance”.


3) Mother of all packrats:

http://us.rd.yahoo.com/mymod/rss/z/15441/sty/SIG=11o9rcmlj/EXP=1115864816/*http%3A//www.randomthink.net/misc/ebay/



4) Chalabi Bio:

Iraq's deputy PM over $300m bank fraud



Iraq's deputy PM over $300m bank fraud

By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad

11 May 2005

King Abdullah of Jordan has agreed to pardon Ahmed
Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi political leader, who
was sentenced to 22 years in prison for fraud after
his bank collapsed with $300m (£160m) in missing
deposits in 1989.

Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, asked the king to
resolve the differences between Jordan and Mr Chalabi,
now Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, during a visit to
Ammanthis week.

Latif Rashid, the Iraqi minister of water resources,
said Mr Talabani confirmed to him that King Abdullah
had promised, in effect, to quash the conviction. He
expected there would first be a meeting between
Jordanian officials and Mr Chalabi "who has some
questions of his own."

The expected pardon, is the latest twist in the
extraordinary career of Mr Chalabi, now again in the
ascendant as an important member of the Shia coalition
and the new Iraqi government. Only a year ago US
soldiers raided his house in Baghdad, put a gun to his
head, arrested two of his supporters and seized
papers. He was accused of passing intelligence
information to Iran.

Previously an ally of the neoconservatives and of the
civilians in the Pentagon whom he managed to convince
of the need to topple Saddam Hussein, Mr Chalabi
sought new friends. He cultivated Muqtada al-Sadr, the
Shia clergyman whose militia the US Army was trying to
destroy. He became a leader of one of the main
factions in the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia
coalition which triumphed in the election on 30
January.

Again Mr Chalabi has escaped not only political
annihilation, but has emerged from a crisis with his
power enhanced.

He was born into one of the wealthiest families in
Iraq, adept under the monarchy at turning political
influence into economic gain and vice versa. When the
monarchy fell in 1958 the Chalabis moved to Lebanon
where they married into important Shia families. Even
as a child Mr Chalabi was ambitious. A cousin recalled
that when he was at school he would throw a tantrum if
he got nine marks in a test and someone else got 10.

In 1970, he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and collected a PhD in mathematics from the
University of Chicago at the age of 22. In 1977, he
moved to Jordan and set up the Petra Bank and in a
decade made it the second biggest bank in the country.
It was linked with family banks and investment
companies in Beirut, Geneva and Washington.

In 1989, Petra was taken over by the Jordanian banking
authorities after all Jordanian banks were told to
deposit 30 per cent of their foreign exchange in the
central bank. Petra could not come up with the money.
Mr Chalabi hurriedly left the country - in the boot of
a friend's car according to one report. In April 1992,
he was sentenced in absentia by a military court to 22
years in prison. An audit by Arthur Andersen showed
that Petra, far from having a net balance of $40m had
a deficit of at least $215m. The military prosecutors
said that $72m listed as assets were in fact
fictitious accounts. Other sums had allegedly been
diverted into private accounts or had disappeared in
bad loans to other Chalabi companies.

Unbowed, Mr Chalabi switched to politics. He headed
the CIA-funded Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella
group for opponents of Saddam Hussein. He tried to
foment a coup against Saddam from Kurdistan in 1995.
When this failed, and after quarrelling with the CIA,
he moved to Washington and courted the
neo-conservatives and the Republican right to persuade
them to seek the overthrow of Saddam. In the wake of
9/11 he got his wish.

* Gunmen have kidnapped Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi,
governor of Iraq's Anbar province, and told his family
that he will not be released until US forces withdraw
from Qaim, the scene of a major offensive against
insurgents.

How Chalabi rose, fell, and rose again

* 1977: Chalabi sets up second biggest bank in Jordan,
Petra Bank.

* 1989: Petra collapses and Chalabi is accused of
multimillion-pound fraud.

* 1992: Chalabi is convicted of embezzlement and
sentenced in absentia to 22 years. He flees Jordan and
sets up Iraqi National Congress (INC).

* 1995: INC offensive against Saddam Hussein's troops
fails.

* 1996: Chalabi forced to flee Iraq after Saddam's
army overruns INC base.

* 2003: Chalabi, backed by the Pentagon, returns to
Iraq during invasion to consolidate political base.

* August 2004: An arrest warrant is issued on charges
of counterfeiting.

* September 2004: Charges are dropped for lack of
evidence.

* January 2005: Chalabi's party, the United Iraqi
Alliance, sweeps to victory in Iraqi elections.

* April 2005: Chalabi is appointed the deputy prime
minister of the Iraqi government


5) I do not agree with this fellow at all, but here it
is for your perusal:

http://www.techcentralstation.com/051005B.html

The Iraq Museum, Reloaded
By Alexander H. Joffe Published 05/10/2005

Archaeology is once again making news in Iraq. Iraqi
archaeologists trained in England have returned home
to begin excavations of mass graves. More mass graves
are being discovered weekly, including those of
Kuwaitis murdered during the first Gulf War. And on
March 8th Dr. Sinje Stoyke of the German group
Archaeologists for Human Rights was honored with the
Human Rights Award of the Kurdish Regional Government
for her group's work on the mass graves and missing
persons issue in Kurdistan. But there is more
traditional archaeological news as well.


6)

Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven

I saw Kingdom of Heaven Sunday. The film has many
virtues, with its attention to costume and scene. I
could quibble. Medieval European swords of the 1100s
could not be wielded in the way they were shown here;
they were very heavy. And I doubt that whatever the
catapults were throwing in the way of fiery material
would explode like bombshells on impact. Even
bombshells didn't explode until the 18th century, as I
recall. The history is not entirely wrong, though
predictably liberties are taken.

I'll have something to say with regard to history in a
moment. Here let me complain about the lack of
character development. There is no reason why, in an
epic, character has to be kept constant. Characters
can learn and change even in the midst of large scale
change. Nobody in this film seems to. Everyone ends
the film as they began it. Instead, we are given a
medieval morality play where each character is a
virtue or vice and stays that way throughout.

The highly unlikely Balian of Ebilin presented here,
as a bastard ironsmith belatedly recognized by his
noble father, the previous lord of Ebilin, is used to
represent Humanism. (That is, the loss of faith
without a concomitant loss of ethical values).
Tiberias represents loyalty. Baldwin IV represents
resignation in the face of tragic fate (his leprosy).
Saladin, as in most of the medieval chronicles,
represents chivalry. Etc.

Some historians have complained that cynicism about
religion and humanism of the sort Balian professed did
not exist in the 1100s in Europe. I disagree. You see
it in the young Abelard, I think. And in Muslim
figures such as Omar Khayyam and Hafez the poet.

With regard to history, I thought that Scott and his
screen writer, William Monahan, seem to me to have
missed a great opportunity. The fact is that Saladin,
no less than his Christian rivals in Jerusalem, was
less interested in fighting for a faith than in
consolidating power. So, he spent a lot of time and
energy taking (Muslim-ruled) Aleppo and subduing
(Muslim-ruled) Mosul when he could have put the energy
into defeating the Crusaders.

Although the divisions among the Christians are shown,
they remain somewhat vague. Raymond III of Tripoli was
not a complacent courtier of Guy de Lusignan, but a
major rival who had his own power base. Moreover,
Raymond III of Tripoli made an alliance with Saladin
against his Christian enemies in Jerusalem.

If the film had shown Saladin giving the Christians
breathing space while he attacked the Muslim ruler of
Aleppo, and had been clearer about Raymond III's
alliance with Saladin, it could have cut across the
Islam/Christianity binary division and showed the
warriors as human beings rather than as members of a
particular religion.

Indeed, the really big opportunity missed here was of
making Saladin the protagonist. He comes across as the
most admirable figure in the film, as it is.

Come to think of it, that last is a real
accomplishment given the atmosphere in the US
nowadays, and makes up for a lot of the film's flaws.

posted by Juan @ 5/9/2005 06:18:00 AM

7) Now, here's my [Nabil] thoughts on Kingdom of
Heaven:

1) the credits were retarded, because they didn't tell
you what actor played what role until the very end.

2) Jerusalem is not in a desert, and looks more like
the area presented as France than the area presented
as Jerusalem.

3) All the interior design elements and Arabic accents
were North African rather than Levantine.

4) On the whole, it was not as good or entertaining a
film as Gladiator was.

5) While I agreed wholeheartedly with its politics, it
came out a bit muddled somehow -- not really a clear
message to remember, more of a hazy tolerance message

6) It's not all that accurate in its message. The
Crusader kingdom types in reality tended to be either
zealots (presented in the film) or self-aggrandizing
corrupt politician types (the ones presented nobly in
this film).

7) What's that about the French dude showing the
locals how to dig a well? I mean, hadn't they been
there like 1000's of years? I think they would have
been showing HIM how to dig a well...





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