Writer, researcher, and Middle East scholar Derek Davison is writing an ongoing series on "a very bare bones, 'just the facts' history of Islam" at his blog, and that’s the way it was. In the introduction, he writes: "I'm going to stick as closely as possible to the most commonly accepted historical narrative, for two reasons: one, because the field is refined to the point where what is widely accepted is probably a fairly good approximation of what really happened, and two, because the commonly accepted narrative (particular for the origins of the faith) is what most people learn and therefore what animates their behavior today." [more inside]
Why Turkey is bombing the Kurds more than Islamic State - "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bombing campaign — capitalizing on the nationalist, anti-Kurd sentiment that has been steadily growing inside Turkey — could help him regain his AKP party's absolute majority in parliament now that coalition talks have failed and snap elections are likely." [more inside]
With oil prices low and unlikely to rise, Saudi Arabia is in severe trouble, facing existential crisis by the end of the decade if the oil futures market is right. [more inside]
"Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight." --a comprehensive piece by Eliza Griswold (SLNYTMP.)
"More than sixty years have passed since Israel started its nuclear venture and almost half a century has elapsed since it crossed the nuclear weapons threshold. Yet Israel's nuclear history still lacks a voice of its own: Israel has never issued an authorized and official nuclear history; no insiders have ever been authorized to tell the story from within. Unlike all seven other nuclear weapons states, Israel's nuclear policy is essentially one of non-acknowledgement. Israel believes that nuclear silence is golden, referring to its nuclear code of conduct as the policy of amimut ("opacity" in Hebrew)." A special collection of declassified documents was published by the National Security Archive this Wednesday, that sheds some light on How Israel Hid Its Secret Nuclear Weapons Program.
Syrian Journey: Choose your own escape route.
The Syrian conflict has torn the country apart, leaving thousands dead and driving millions to flee their homes. Many seek refuge in neighbouring countries but others pay traffickers to take them to Europe - risking death, capture and deportation. If you were fleeing Syria for Europe, what choices would you make for you and your family? Take our journey to understand the real dilemmas the migrants face.
Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has fled the country as Saudi Arabia initiates a bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels. A ground invasion by Egypt and other members of Saudi Arabia's 10-country coalition is apparently to follow the bombing. The United States has withdrawn its special operations forces from Yemeni territory with a potential civil war looming. [more inside]
Historians of war and society would like to believe that military conflicts have fixed beginnings and ends. Conventional depictions of the Lebanese civil war are no exception and typically confine that conflict within the notional temporal parameters of 1975–90. But the key aggravating features generally identified with the events of the Lebanese civil war—class resentments, echoes of the Arab-Israeli conflict on a regional scale, domestic geographical inequalities, sectarian rancor, and political infighting across the Lebanese scene—had been accumulating since 1948, and even earlier. [more inside]
In terms of sheer devastation, Syria today is worse off than Germany at the end of World War II. [more inside]
If you climb into a taxi in Doha, capital of Qatar, and Arab music is on the driver’s radio, the station may well be 99.0, Sawt al-Khaleej, one of the most popular and powerful radio and digital streaming broadcast networks in the region. Based in Doha, its name translates to “Voice of the Gulf”—a fitting name for a network that seeks to appeal to a broad, Arabic-speaking audience with pan-Arab popular music up and down the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, from Kuwait to Oman. [more inside]
The great Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab died fifty years ago today, on December 24, 1964. [more inside]
41 men targeted, but 1,147 people killed: New analysis of data conducted by the human rights group Reprieve raises questions about the accuracy of intelligence guiding 'precise' drone strikes.
Al-Mutanabbi is an open book, bearing symbols that are deeply etched into the body of today’s Baghdad. The street has no endpoint. [more inside]
It sounds like a jet approaching, and all of you, for a matter of instants, stare at one another, your words stifled in your mouths; but it’s only a gate that slides and shuts. A hatchet chopping firewood is a burst from a Kalashnikov; the step of a woman’s heel, a sniper shot. We look normal, in Aleppo. Fear is a cancer that wears us out only from within. [more inside]
Violent upheaval in the Middle East has recently spawned all manner of maps purporting to explain how the region got this way. Here, instead, are 15 maps that don’t claim as much. Or rather, they do not seek, like many other maps, to capture some fixed set of core facts about the region. Instead, these maps provide a more fluid perspective on the Middle East, often by showing what didn’t happen as opposed to what did. But for all these maps don’t show, they do illustrate one thing: the sobering fact that no one map—or even set of maps—can ever explain the region’s complex history and politics.
"In peace or war, the ultimate refuge—the sanctuary of all that is humane—lies distilled within the warmth of the kitchen." Journalist Paul Salopek pauses in the middle of his 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk from Africa to South America -- Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego -- to reflect on the food shared with him during his time in Israel and Palestine. "Watching the women of Nablus move briskly, efficiently, purposefully about their tasks, chatting, often joking (about men, politics, life), I am reminded of all the meals that admitted me briefly into the conflicted lives of Israelis and Palestinians." [more inside]
From his time in Cairo, Lawrence was aware of the extravagant promises the British government had made to Hussein in order to raise the Arab Revolt: full independence for virtually the entire Arab world..............His first act of sedition — and by most any standards, a treasonous one — was to inform Faisal of the existence of Sykes-Picot.....The True Story of Lawrence of Arabia . Previously and Previously
The militant Sunni group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders," its spokesman warns. Standing on a border sign he threatens to "break the borders" of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. [more inside]
On Tuesday, a group of Islamic militants that were thrown out of al-Qaeda for being too violent took over Iraq's second largest city. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (abbreviated as ISIS) kicked the Iraqi Army out of Mosul, a wealthy city in northwestern Iraq. Today, ISIS secured another northern city, Tikrit. It currently controls an area "the size of Belgium," according to Jason Lyall, a Yale University political scientist who studies insurgencies. [more inside]
Forty maps that explain the Middle East. Includes sections on Middle East history, the region today, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and oil, Iraq and Libya, and "points of light." [more inside]
The Corona Atlas of the Middle East uses spy satellite imagery to reveal as many as 10,000 previously unknown archaeological sites.
Saudi Arabia's royal family are planning to demolish a library sitting on the remains of Prophet Muhammad's birth home to make way for the imam's residence and a presidential palace. The Saudi royal family are adherents of Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam; by their beliefs, they have destroyed many Islamic heritage sites as they consider the preservation of relics of Muhammad's life to be akin to idolatry.
Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died at a hospital near Tel Aviv last night, aged 85, after spending eight years in a coma. He was one of Israel's more popular leaders as a fierce defender of the Jewish nation, but was loathed by Palestinians and other regional powers who dubbed him the "the Butcher of Beirut". Israel is in mourning. Twitter is reacting. NPR reflects on his life as being one of a warrior's journey to peace.
In two weeks of blood and fire, one of the greatest intellectual and cultural legacies the world had ever seen came to an end. Crushed under the hooves of a mighty foe (in one case literally), a dynasty, an empire, a city, and a library all disappeared. It was perhaps the swiftest and most complete collapse of a civilization ever, still felt to this day. Now, how about for some context? [more inside]
The Saudi Arabian government has been tight-lipped about the spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a disease first discovered in 2012 that has "killed more than half of those who contracted it", "responding slowly to requests for information and preventing outside researchers from publishing their findings about the syndrome. [more inside]
In 2011, the CIA declassified documents admitting its involvement in the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran's elected government and installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, details of which were first first disclosed by the New York Times in 2000. Timeline. However, they refused to release them to the public. Today, the National Security Archive research institute has (after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit) obtained and made the 21 documents public. "Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States' role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq's ouster has long been public knowledge, but today's posting includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup. [more inside]
It became necessary to finish this thing. A U.S.-funded 'ally' has carried out one of the largest massacres of protesters since the 1989 assault on Tiananmen Square. At least 525 people (and counting and counting) have been killed since Egypt's police and army attacked two sit-ins in support of ousted president Muhammad Morsi on August 14th. Armored cars, police officers, and soldiers marched on the protests in Nasr City and Giza, opening fire with birdshot, tear gas, and live ammunition. It only gets worse from here. [more inside]
Iran has a new president, Hasan Rouhani, does that mean there might be hope for a thawing in diplomatic relations? In his inaugral speech Roughani urges an end to sanctions and promises a new era. While the White House response seems cautiously optimisitic US Senators have been pressing for tougher sanctions.
On the 15 May, Max Fisher of the Washington Post penned an article titled A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries. Fisher surmised that Anglo and Latin American countries are the most tolerant, linking racism to economic freedom based off of a study by two Swedish economists. Siddhartha Mitter responds, who, in The Cartography of Bullshit writes, "Although the results don’t pass the sniff test in the first place, I took a look at the data as well, in an effort to identify the exact problems at play..." [more inside]
Since the end of March, the Wall Street Journal's new Middle East Real Time blog has written about Turkey's "unstoppable" export boom in soap operas, Saudi Arabia's "life after jihad" rehab program, the persistence of obviously fraudulent bomb detectors across Iraq, YouTube branding discussions among Syrian rebel factions, a rising media star Sunni cleric in Lebanon, a post-revolutionary Cairo arts festival, and attempts to overcome conservative objections and change the Saudi Thursday-Friday weekend to match the rest of the business world. Previous non-paywalled WSJ Real Time blogs include Korea, China, Canada, India, Brussels, Emerging Europe, Japan.
The Smell of Orange Groves. This short story by Lavie Tidhar (author of Osama: A Novel) is part of his Central Station story cycle, taking place in or around Tel Aviv’s Central Station neighborhood sometime in the future. [more inside]
Amid the social and political transformations reshaping the Middle East, can King Abdullah II, the region's most pro-American Arab leader, liberalize Jordan, modernize its economy, and save his kingdom from capture by Islamist radicals? - Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic
I feel creatively emboldened to personally say something on the subjects that I am documenting. In terms of how it is produced, intellectually I am more excited than I have been in years. I am envisioning so many more possibilities for the work ... I feel for first time empowered on my own terms. We are calling our own shots and have created somewhat of our own institution.An interview with the six-woman Middle Eastern documentary photography collective Rawiya, whose name means "female narrator" in Arabic. [more inside]
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney said. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” Zinni, sitting right next to Cheney’s lectern, says he “literally bolted” when he heard the vice president’s comments. “In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD [weapons of mass destruction], through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.” Rachel Maddow hosts Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War, a documentary special, based on the eponymous book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, that will air Monday, February 18 on MSNBC at 9 p.m.
Cairobserver is the start of a conversation about Cairo’s architecture and building, urban fabric and city life. A well curated blog about Cairo featuring both Arabic and English essays. [more inside]
"To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortunate to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battuta excels." Thus begins the book, "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" published by Routledge and Kegan Paul. Step into the world of "the first tourist" who made his mark as the world's greatest traveler before the age of steam. [more inside]
Time magazine has selected its best wire photojournalist. (Warning: many very disturbing photos.) He is Marco Longari, whose vivid photos of telling moments are almost all from the Middle East. Bonus: Time has also posted Pete Souza's "Portrait of a Presidency."
Since he became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader last June, Morsi has displayed both extraordinary political acumen and a tone-deafness that has plunged his country into deeper unrest. In November, he deftly helped negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, averting a bloody ground war in the Gaza Strip. Days later, he lost much of the goodwill he had earned by issuing an edict that awarded his office near-dictatorial powers. Sometimes, Morsi can seem like the inspiring guardian of Egyptian democracy—such as when he courageously dismissed the military junta that had claimed the right to rule post–Hosni Mubarak Egypt. At other times, he can seem like a mouthpiece for the deeply conservative Muslim Brotherhood—declaring women unfit for high office and advocating for an international law to ban religious insults. (And sometimes he simply seems awkward, such as when he sat down for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard in September at the United Nations and proceeded, for several excruciating seconds, to publicly adjust his genitals.) So far, the only certainty about Morsi is that his ultimate intentions remain unknown. - The New Republic, Understanding Mohamed Morsi: His journey from farm boy to most powerful man in the Middle East.
From the BBC blog of documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis: "Save Your Kisses For Me: How the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Israeli Right became co-dependents in an abusive relationship." Includes images / film clips from the BBC news archive. [more inside]
Hamas militants have launched a rocket on Jerusalem - the first time the holy city has been targeted in decades - and the first such attack from Gaza. [more inside]
"The Ideology of Hatred": An interview with Niza Yanay - "Once we understand how hatred operates as an apparatus of power relations, and particularly how the discourse of hatred is motivated and mobilised in national conflicts, serious questions about misrecognition, veiled desires and symptomatic expressions arise. These questions have, to a large extent, been left unaddressed in studies of hatred between groups in conflict." [more inside]
Nina Paley's take on This Land Is Mine You will never be able to think of this song the same way again. (SLYT)
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy sacks the head of the Army. Hussein Tantawi (head of the Egyptian Army and SCAF) has been dismissed as the Egyptian president asserts his power over the traditionally dominant military. Morsy has also cancelled the SCAF memorandum keeping legislative powers with the military council, and it's widely thought that the fight over that will end up at the constitutional court again. If the cancellation stands, Morsi will also have almost complete control of the constitutional drafting process.
SOFEX: The Business of War (video, ad). VICE magazine reports on 'experiencing the military-industrial complex's trade show' [more inside]
Dalal al-Mutairi, the senior book censor for the Kuwaiti government, sits down for a chat about her job and what it entails.
"I get up every morning at 5, go for a half-hour walk in the desert, come home and have a cup of coffee, sit down at the desk and ask myself what I would say if I were him, and what I would do if I were her. I think curiosity is actually a moral virtue. I think a person who is curious is slightly more moral than one who is not curious, because sometimes he enters into the skin of another. I think a curious person is even a better lover than one who is not curious. Even my political approach to the Palestinian question, for example, sprang from curiosity. I am not a Middle East expert or a historian or a strategist. I simply asked myself, at a very young age, what it would be like if I were one of them. So, that’s what I do − get up in the morning and ask myself: What if?" - Israeli writer Amos Oz reflects on his life, on Israel, on writing, and discusses his newest work [more inside]
M.I.A. has released a new single called Bad Girls. The music video, another collaboration with Romain Gavras (previously on Metafilter), features a Middle Eastern style of drifting called hagwalah and a see-through glow-in-the-dark car inspired by Prabhu Deva dancing on a see-through bus in the Tamil film Kadhalan. Some believe M.I.A. is making a statement against the Saudi Arabian law banning women from driving, others see it as a relatively positive view of today's Middle East, and still others fear M.I.A. is misappropriating stereotypes for the sake of creating controversy. But maybe you'd just like some more lighthearted information on the making of the video. M.I.A. herself delivers. (More M.I.A. on Metafilter: 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, most recently)
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid has died on assignment. (NYTimes) Shadid, 43, died of an asthma attack while reporting in Syria. His colleague, photographer Tyler Hicks, carried his body over the border into Turkey. [more inside]