The Morbid Eros of Warfare

April 29, 2006

The more optimistic would say that Afghanitan’s civil war ended barely a few years ago. By other accounts, it is still raging on.
Yet only a short time after that bloody episode (assuming that we are in the optimistic camp), and while its ruins and rubble is still scattered around us, the fascination with war and violence knows no end. We love it so much we are already missing it! Observe, if you will, an Afghan pre-teen in full military attire -on the day designated as the national holiday for education (جشن معارف)!

I am reminded of the title of Chris Hedges’s book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Hedges writes:
“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, and a reason for living.”

I think that there is more than just meaning to it. It gives us pleasure and satisfaction. There is eros in the experience of warfare, in its collective ritual. Think of it as an orgy. There is a seduction and lure to the blood, gore, violence, and carnage of war. It gives men the reassureance they lack, the same reassurance that they gain after a sexual encounter.
Yes, I have it, it is down there, and it works.
It works just fine.
Like the instinct to reproduce, it is hardwired into our primate brains, our animal instincts. What else could explain the enduring fascination with an anachronism that should have been abandoned around the same time as fire was discovered? And sure as hell the laws of aerodynamics is not the only thing behind the phallic resemblance of all rockets, missiles, and other military projectiles. And oh yes, let’s not forget the magnetism and charisma of the military uniform.

Beg enlighten me, what does a national holiday for education intend to accomplish? Celebrate education by cancelling classes?

Back for a Quickie

April 28, 2006

I called it “Taking Note of the Big Elephant.”

The good Robert Fisk has called it “Breaking the Last Taboo.”

Read Fisk’s excellent article on Mearsheimer & Walt’s study on the power of the Israel lobby in shaping the US foreign policy. For my kind Farsi readers, here is a BBC analysis of Fisk’s article:

“ايالات متحده اسراييل”
Here is a passage from Fisk’s essay:

“The two men (John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt) have caused one of the most extraordinary political storms over the Middle East in recent American history by stating what to many non-Americans is obvious: that the US has been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of Israel, that Israel is a liability in the “war on terror”, that the biggest Israeli lobby group, Aipac (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is in fact the agent of a foreign government and has a stranglehold on Congress – so much so that US policy towards Israel is not debated there – and that the lobby monitors and condemns academics who are critical of Israel.” Read more…

And now that that’s out of the way, yes, I am back for a quickie. In fact, I never did go away. Mea culpa. I admit it, I could not keep away from the blogosphere. Certain blogs have become an addiction: have GOT TO visit them at least once a day, even if in the middle of writing a 30-page long paper with 70 citations and 8 pages of charts and graphs.
Here are the ones I would hold most culpable of stealing me away from work at least once a day: Hatif, Kabulog, the Slug, Ethnically Incorrect, Home-in-Kabul, Nik-o-bad (I like how Y. Rasooli has borrowed Nietzche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” – love that man and his crazy books), Ghazalenow (which has been awfully inactive lately- I thirst for Saiidi’s ghazals), Dil-e-Naadan (source of helpful study prayers- my belief in them grow as the deadlines approach), the Destitute Rebel, Imaculate Info (Times have been good to his cause lately, power to the Nepali people!) , V.Pyjama (source of daily snapshots of life in Kabul- alongwith Kabulog, except that Pyjama -I think- is a Western expat and hence securely caged, and from what I read, unhappy about it), Rickshaw Diaries, Koonj, Iranian Truth, Mental Mayhem, and…
There, if you ever wondered what my favorites were- and I highly recommend them to you. I don’t feel like inserting links for all of these, so you are on your own -and chances are, you frequent them too.
On the schoolwork front, I am disappointed to report: 1 down, 2 to go. I did my Finance paper on “Finance & Growth: Examining the Relationship between Financial Development and Economic Growth.” Would be glad to send it off to all parties interested, just email me. The Afghanistan state building paper and the Afghanistan EconDev paper loom large on the horizon.
Lastly, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! to everyone for leaving kind comments and words of encouragement. I was touched and motivated.
A couple more weeks and I shall be a graduate, an alumni, a B.A. in International Political Economy, an intern, a hound for grad schools, and I promise, a much more active blogger. Man! so many shiny new shoes to fill!
In the mean time, I hope to write as life happens and work allows.


April 18, 2006

O.K., it’s about time I put a temporary moratorium on blogging – at least for the next couple of weeks. I will not be able to write here, visit blogs, respond to comments, or leave comments at the dozen or so of my favourite blogs (Farsi and English).
It will be hard, but I must do this.

The culprit?

You guessed it right: schoolwork. I have been working on three major projects for the better part of the last semester, and as the academic year -and my college career- is nearing to a close, I must devote undivided attention to these. The first one is my senior capstone project (in other words the fruit of my four years of labor here) and is situated within the thick of IR-theory and Comparative Politics. The latter two are related to Economic Development, my secondary emphasis.

1. A Year-Long Honors Research Thesis:
Titled: “State Formation, Governance, and Post-War Reconstruction in Afghanistan”

(This paper is a historical analysis of the [failed] state formation processes in Afghanistan beginning with the reign of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan and all the way down to the Bonn Process. It’s central argument is that there has never existed a functioning ‘state’ in the proper sense of the word throughout Afghanistan’s history – thanks to the three culprits of: rentierism, primordialism, and patrimonialism. I can post the abstract here if anybody is interested.)

2. An Independent Study Exploring Economic Development:
Tentative Title: “Prospects for Economic Development in Post-Taliban Afghanistan”

3. A Term-Paper for the course “Financial Markets & Institutions”:
Titled: “The Role of Financial Development in Economic Growth”

And so, as some of the more renegade-minded among us undergraduates would say, yet again schooling has proved to get in the way of my true and wholesome education! I bid you kind readers a temporary farewell, and hope that by the time I am back you will not have forgotten Safrang. I will miss our conversations and exchanges.

-Khuda Hafiz o Nasir!

Bono? Bill Clinton? Jeffrey Sachs? You?

April 17, 2006

Beware! another award post!

The Center for Global Development (website) gives away a “Committment to Development” award annualy. Past winners of the award include the Cancellor of the Echequer (fancy name for the British head of the treasury) Gordon Brown for last year, and Oxfam’s “Make Trade Fair” campaign for 2004. Nominations for 2006 are now open. It will take you just a few minutes to nominate your favorite development crusader/mujahid. To do so, click here.

My choice?
Not Sachs, not Easterly, not even Bono – in fact, none of the big-name celebrities.
I believe that at the end of the day, the award should pay tribute to the extra-ordinariness of ordinary people. From what I have read/heard/seen this year, nowhere has this been more possible in 2006 than through a neat new concept called Social Entrepreneurship. For this, I nominate the Ashoka Foundation, a leading organization for social entrepreneurship, and all of the “Ashoka Fellows” for the Committment to Development award in 2006. Ashoka Foundation, where “the most powerful force for change in the world is a new idea in the hands of a leading social entrepreneur.” Ashoka Foundation, where “social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

Who’s your pick?


How Serious are Wafa Sultan’s Polemics?

April 14, 2006

Wafa Sultan is the fiesty Syrian-American psychiatrist who has appeared on Al-Jazeera TV and debated Islamic scholars, most famously in late February (around the time of the caricatures controversy) when she gave a heated polemic on the clash of mentalities and eras, between “mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century.”
Thomas Friedman, ever so keen to discover ‘voices of reason’ from within the the Arab world, characteristically caught on with this line and wrote an op-ed, Dubai and Dunces in the NY Times. So did the group MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute,) who excerpted the debate (mostly only Ms. Sultan’s thundrous monologues) and put it on their website. I recommend that you watch it: it’s short, subtitled, simplistic and uncomplicated, and answers every question you ever had about Islamic backwardness -and it’s highly entertaining:

Here is a particularly interesting exchange:
Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete.
Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?
Wafa Sultan: Yes, that is what I mean.

(full transcript)
Well, I have a feeling that most of these illustrous and enlightened ex-Muslims who have emerged from the darkest depths of this faith are engaging in precisely that kind of behavior which they fight most bitterly against. Maybe I am wrong, but I truly hope that unlike some of the most dogmatic and fundamentalist of clerics of Islam, these critics of Islam do not feel that they need not explain their claims, or substantiate their charges, and that they should be followed unquestioningly. The Individual right to freedom of expression and to engaging in open debate is a worthy value that these illustrous critics of Islam have found in the West and have put to good use, but openness is not the only condition for productive debate. Debate should also be informed debate, otherwise it becomes unsubstantiated and hate-filled polemic. It should also be civic debate, otherwise it becomes a barrage of insults.

From Salman Rushdie, to Ayan Hirsi Ali, to Manji Irshad, and now to Wafa Sultan, the message that most ordinary Muslims around the world hear is this: that Muslims are all ignorant, backward, oppressive, violent, women-abusing, suicide-bombing, jew-hating, religious (bordering on/equivalent to superstitious), fundamentalist bunch -and they are bound to remain so by virtue of their religion.While I do not agree with these charges, or with the counter-productive method in which they are advanced, or with the over-generalized and simplistic mindsets that they are evidence of, I can tolerate them. I think that most ordinary Muslims would tolerate them too. They would not agree with it, they would not like it, they would have their feelings hurt, they would feel misunderstood and misrepresented, but they would not try to take an initiative to kill the people who said these things.

The answer to these charges, however, do not come from the ordinary Muslims. In a behavior that often seems to vindicate those charges, clerics and mullahs issue death sentences, and/or extremists try to kill them. Left in the middle are the ordinary people who have their feelings doubly hurt -first by the insults hurled at them by the first group, then by the injury added as the other group tries to kill the first. They don’t identify with either bunch, either with the flaming apostates and satirists of Islam, or with the most ardent and determined defenders of Islam. At least I don’t identify with either of these groups, and I beg you to tell me if this is a peculiar position: that I ought to be a real man and take a solid and unwavering position in favor of either.

And the award for the boldest movie of 2005 goes to…

April 9, 2006

THE YEAR 2005 has been a bold one for the movie industry. From exposing the criminal menage-a-trois between pharmaceutical corporations-aid agencies-Western governments in Africa; to providing an insight into the power of the oil lobby in Washington; to challenging the macho masculinity surrounding the image of the American Cowboy; to revealing the terror and trauma of Israeli vengeance; to opening up the world of the frustrated, humiliated, confused, and misguided Palestinian suicide bombers, to…

Perhaps the movie industry has finally caught up with the reality that surrounds life today. Or maybe movie-goers/watchers are becoming sophisticated and responding to narratives that inform and educate them rather than mere escapist entertainment that makes them feel good while insulting their intelligence. Or maybe the world is becoming such a shady place that everywhere you look there is something hidden to be exposed about the powerful doing awful things to the powerless. I am not sure what it is, but in an explicable way I don’t feel as bad watching movies anymore. I don’t even feel that I am being entertained only, rather, that I am witnessing things. All goes to make me feel less guilty about time spent away from schoolwork -all the better excuse for procrastination.

I just finished watching The Constant Gardener -yet another contender for the title of the boldest film of 2005. So far I am looking at a 5-way tie between the following titles, and I need help deciding. Maybe you kind readers of this blog can help in with picking the winner and the runner ups. Pitch in with your thoughts on who should we give away the honorific title of “SAFRANG’S BOLDEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR” to. Here are my preferences, in order:

1. The Constant Gardener
2. Paradise Now
3. Brokeback Mountain
4. Syriana
5. Munich

(You may not have watched all of these, in which case my advice to you is to rent them out over the next few weekends and watch them. Great and informative -and at times bloody depressing- entertainment!)

On apologists, islamophobes, this blog, and the Rwandan genocide

April 6, 2006

Among other things -like serving as a medium of punditry and as an occasional outlet for the author’s existential angst- this blog makes an effort at social criticism and commentary, regardless of who or what it is directed at. Its basic premise is the belief that as long as dogmas prevail and there are subjects that are treated as sacrosanct taboos, open discourse and dialogue are stifled. Where open exchange of ideas is lacking, the society as well as that which is made the subject of the taboo, both suffer. In this vein, this blog has on occasion raised questions about one of the most dogma-infused areas of life among Muslims, that is the subject of religion and how are we to understand and conceptualize its place in human society.

Recent events in the news have provided occasion enough for criticism. Whenever possible -i.e. during the semester downtimes- this blog has been quick to disapprove, condemn, and critique –and maybe even ridicule. Yet this blog does not solely concern itself with the negative. Amid the confluence of much of the mainstream news media around the globe on the subject of criticizing Islam and Muslims, at times gratuitously, this blog aims at pointing out those aspects of this faith that can make humanity better and more as well. In short, this blog hopes to be a small part of the middle ground, between the apologetics who seek to justify anything done in the name of Islam, and the Islamophobes who speak of its ‘inherent predispositions’ to terror and tyranny. Whenever it can, it aims to call things for what they are- the dark, dark, and the light, light.

Here is some light. A friend sent this my way today, and I admit I needed this for myself after all that has occupied my attention recently has been what you see in the last few posts in this blog. Here is a brief story of how in one of the darkest moments of mankind, faith saved a community from descending into the evil that surrounded it.

Religion in Rwanda (Courtesy of the NYTimes)