Monday, November 5, 2012

Still writing, but more about sports

I admittedly feel a bit strange about making a big deal of writing about sports. Because on one hand sports are pointless and stupid, and on the other hand points are pointless and stupid. I'm not trying to make salient points, I'm just, y'know, chattin' about the big game and all. But since sports are meaningless, I get to try things out and see how receptive people are to it. Because sports are meaningless, people will respond and tell me if I'm an idiot. So there's a lot of plusses to wasting everyone's goshdang time.

I may be writing about sports more in the future, if things go to plan. There's a lot to be written and I may be the fella to write it. One of my many criticisms of sports coverage is how it is used to delineate white male conformity. That ol' article about Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero is probably the best example of how sportswriting commands a lot of people who don't read much else how to think and feel. It's all pretty gross, and it is kind of fun to be on the other side of it.

So since people like Grantland and ESPN (which: same thing!) are terrified to write about foreigners playing sports in ways that aren't demeaning, childish, and just plain wrong, I've taken it upon myself to do pretty much that. I got to write about Turkey for The Classical. They are real rad folks: led by David Roth the writer and lots of other great folks, they do post-punk sports journalism and seem to be genuinely having fun destroying narratives and writing about how much fun sports are. I particularly enjoyed writing this, because I got to take Rick Reilly, one of the all-time sniveling conniving white pride jackasses at ESPN (which is really saying something) to task. He wrote about how gosh-darn scary Turkey is, so I get to write about how gosh-darn awesome Turkey is.

So if you're interested in basketball or minority life in Turkey or just me, check out the article. Sorry this isn't well-written, for I have lots of other writing to do tonight.

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Architectural Defense Against Drones

This past Spring semester, I took a class in the Sam Fox School over on the other side of Wash U. The class was "Extreme Architecture" and in it, Prof. Fraser pushed us to investigate extreme environments. I could think of no environment more extreme than the one presented to us by drone warfare.

Much has been made about how to correctly use drones. Journalistic hemming coincides with academic hawing as the American people try to understand what they can and should do with the tremendous power of remote-controlled death.

None of these people have considered how to defend themselves from drones, only how to better control them.

I propose that no jurisprudence, no sociology, and no anthropology is currently prepared to understand how to live under the threat of drones. I propose that architecture is the only field that can properly define the outer limits of this fear and how to interact with it while trying to maintain a semblance of normality in the life someone else is trying to end. Fear, normality, defense, and safety are matters for architecture. A solution must be welcoming and cozy, but also bristling in a defensive posture.

The project is linked here. You know where to find me if you're looking for more questions or answers. Welcome to Shura City.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Walter Russell Mead Went to Yale

I sure don't know what else he has done. He has three books listed on his Wikipedia entry:
  1. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World.
  2. Power, Terror, Peace and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk.
  3. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World
I know that authors don't choose their titles often, but wow, have you seen a more White Apologist list of titles? Mead's dripping, treacly Yale-ness oozes over everything he writes, up to and including his pseudo-Latin titled blog, Via Meadia. He writes lots of stupid things there, the most fascinating of which is his fascination with Iran and Turkey going to war.

Mead is an example of the epidemic of Yale-ness spread through and through American decision-making. He has, of course, no expertise in Turkey, Iran, Islam, non-Arabs and the Arab World, or literally anything else he is writing about. In any subject; housing, education, employment, South Asia...he has no background whatsoever. He is literally making things up as he goes along. I can not overemphasize this point. Me, a law student in the midwest who has but a brief background in the history of Iran but has never read a book exclusively about modern Iran or Iranian history can tell that he is making things up. But he gets a pedestal because He Went to Yale.

Let us begin:
For 400 of the past 500 years, Turkey has dominated Mesopotamia and struggled for power and riches with Iran, which could never quite push the Ottomans out of the Fertile Crescent.
I guess he's starting from Yavuz I Selim, which is cool. Except that Selim didn't fight the Safavids in  Mesopotamia, he fought the Mamluks and Abbasids. And the Ottoman and Safavid Empires are so structurally, institutionally, linguistically, and any other adverb different from the modern republics of Turkey and Iran so as to be completely alien to them. It would be like comparing the Navajo and Cherokee to Arizona and Oklahoma. And that one hundred years not included would be, I assume the 20th century. Where KIND OF LOTS OF THINGS HAPPENED W/R/T MESOPOTAMIA. So every word is factually and heuristically incorrect and we haven't even left the premise. Great.
Turkish economic power is the most important weapon of the Turkish pushback.
He block-quotes the vast majority of his analysis from a Bill Spindle piece in the Wall Street Journal. It is important to note that Spindle is WSJ's Arab correspondent. Read does not use anything from Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak, or Emre Peker in Turkey, all of whom may know a great deal more about Turkey's business community. Calling Turkish economic power a "weapon" in a "pushback" is a bit strange. Iraq - especially Kurdistan - wanted things built and Turkey had the industrial base to build them. Why is this a weapon? It's not like Iran has sprawling concrete factories and innumerable civil engineers to compete; they've all been sanctioned and bombed out of commission, respectively.
However, the sectarian divide between Iraq’s Shiite government and moderately Sunni Turkey is a big obstacle to the expansion of Turkish influence in Iraq. 
Didn't you just say that Turkish companies were making hee-yuuuge piles of money in Iraq? So no, there is no big obstacle. There may be occasional political quarrels, but that's literally what countries do all the time. Canada wants its citizens taken out of Guantanamo, but they're not exactly about to shut-down the border.
Now facing economic sanctions, Iran is having a hard time keeping up with its historical Turkish rivals. Turkish companies can often offer better products at better prices, and the Iranian banking system is hobbled by international sanctions.
Hooray! Facts. Well, except for that "historic Turkish rival" thing which is the linchpin of this two-sentence paragraph. They're such bitter rivals as to have visa-free travel and deep enough trading ties for Turkey to lobby against said hobbling international sanctions.  Because shared economic interests may, possibly, be more important than a few wars a few centuries ago (SEE: British-French relations historically as compared to currently).

 The Turkish businesses that benefit most from the newly opened Iraqi market are Anatolian businesses, many of which are allied with the ruling moderate Islamists in Ankara. The big businesses based in Istanbul are primarily linked to Western and European markets. They aren’t benefiting as much from Iraqi ties as their Anatolian counterparts — something that only confirms Turkey’s Islamist politicians in their belief that Turkey’s prosperity should be sought in its old Ottoman-era provinces to the south and east.
I'm honestly very curious who told them this, because it's comically misleading. Do me a favor: picture a map of Turkey in your head. If you didn't feel like the Google Image Search (Mead sure didn't), here's the first result. Note where Istanbul is. Note where Iraq is. Note where Anatolia is. Do you see how Anatolia is that huge landmass between Istanbul and Iraq? Do you think that, if I was an Iraqi buying concrete from Turkey, I would buy it from the folks thousands of kilometer closer to me? And if I was German, I would buy concrete from Istanbul? And do you think that, to borrow a phrase from Live Aid, concrete knows it's Ramadan?

As for "Turkey's prosperity", well, I could find 2010 data in a 5-second search. It's on page 6 here. You can see that 42%(!!!) of Turkey's trade is with the EU. From there, it's Russia, China, and the U.S. Fifth place is Iran, that ancient enemy, with 3.6% (or about one-twelfth of the EU). Iraq is next with 2.5% of trade, or two-thirds of trade with Iran. Then there's a bunch of "old Ottoman-era provinces"...but not until 6, 10, 11, 13, 15: UAE, Saudi, Algeria, and Israel all in the 1% area. That's right, Israel, proud Jews and therefore enemies of this "Islamicist" government, still does big business with Turkey. 

Turkey does business with pretty much anyone with cash. They should be heralded as free-market wizards by these wizened Yalie Friedmanites. And more on-point to this column and to bury the lede hopelessly: Turkey does vastly more business with their "ancient enemy" than with their "new prosperity", and both of which are negligible compared to EU-related trade. Literally everything you, Mr. Mead, have written is drastically and horrifically incorrect and could be proven so with a very brief moment of research.
Neo-Ottoman Turks can now foresee a time when Syria and Iraq, once key Ottoman provinces, once again come into a Turkish sphere of influence. For other countries in the region, that isn’t good news. Look for Saudi Arabia to start worrying about Turkey in much the same way it now worries about Iran. Egypt, too, isn’t sure it wants to see Turkey take its place as the dominant player in the Middle East.
These are just words. Why are these countries scared of an "ascendant Turkey" if they are going to be doing business with 'em as suggested in the paragraph right above? Why are they worried? What are they worried about? Can you honestly name two adjectives describing Turkey, Mr. Read? Even if I spot you "Muslim"?
The Mesopotamian Game of Thrones continues — much as it has for the last 6000 years.
Nope nope nope nope nope. I appreciate your attempts to launch into pop-culture buzzwords -- you must have an intern! -- but literally none of this has anything to do with Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, or any of that. Turks came into Mesopotamia for the first time 500 years ago, as you just said. Persians came in well before then; but even if we're polite enough to call Medians both Persian and an empire, we're still only talking 2,600 years ago (or less than half of that stupid number you picked because it fits Christian eschatology). And one of the unique aspects of Turkey's relationship with Iraq (I know less about Iran's, to be blunt) is that Turkey and Iraq negotiate at arm's length; Turkey does not attempt to exert force over Iraq. They're certainly not going to let thousands of their soldiers die for it, like you want them to.

Every fact, premise, assertion, and conclusion in this piece is completely, categorically, inexplicably and indubitably incorrect. If I turned this in for any of my classes in undergraduate, I would fail. I know you didn't take any of these classes, and you probably would turn up your nose if I told you they were at a lowly state school.

Yale and Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge are still seen as the ultimate vetting processes that delineate smart from stupid, worth listening to from ignorable. Hay has been made of the fact that all of the Supreme Court Justices went to either Yale or Harvard, and that they have all been taught by the same teachers, to the exclusion of the vast majority of American jurisprudence theory. The Supreme Court has come to judicially incoherent, if not outright nihilistic, conclusions in some cases simply because they have no idea what they are talking about. I'm sure anyone can thing of their favorite few cases, but in what I'm dealing with now, jurisdiction over Indian Country, the case history is full of capricious rulings because none of the justices had ever encountered Indian Law before they came to the bench. This wouldn't be a big deal, of course, were it not for the fact that American Indians are still here and still citizens of this country.

You don't just get the right to spout your white mouth because Providence has granted you a degree from Harvard. I certainly have to live with the consequences if you do. As do the thousands of people you are openly hoping to kill each other. Please remember that the next time you lick your lips lasciviously at the thought of inter-confessional war to make Northern Ireland (which, you know, involved Christians) look like the Yale-Harvard Boat Race.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boom City

I wrote this to get published, but nobody's really interested in Fourth of July stories once you get past the Fifth of July. So nothing ever really came of it. Still, it was fun writing it, so maybe you'll find it fun reading it. Who knows?

Boom City is aptly named. There are few open-air markets left in the United States
whose smoke can be seen from the interstate and whose explosions go off with palpituous
irregularity, but a Reservation just north of Seattle holds the biggest one. The pop-up market for
fireworks revolves around Fourth of July celebrations – independence and explosions go hand in
hand – but there is perhaps nothing more American than this parking lot that gets a free-market
makeover in time for summer every year.

Fireworks are one of the more joyous celebrations of state rights. Every part of the
United States gets to choose how and why to regulate what explosives can be sold to the local
pyromaniacs and teenagers (as if those are separate groups). Indian Reservations are the rump
states of empires across the land and, as befitting rump states, are allowed a degree of autonomy.
How large a degree is the source of mountains of litigation and oceans of ink, but in today’s
world Indian Nations have made money on fireworks and gambling. This is largely due to
historical circumstances where prime farmland, harbors, and mineral deposits have been taken
out of Indian hands. Indian Tribes’ greatest competitive advantage, for acknowledged better or
worse, is in the sorts of things state governments don’t like:. fireworks and gambling. The ones
here are a bit livelier than most.

And “lively” or one of its sister words - vivacious, teeming, buzzing - seems apt. The
smell of gunpowder is in the air and even on a rainy day people are hollering. The “city” is a
gravel lot full of plywood shacks containing fearsome amounts of light explosives. The first
impression is that of a Renn Fest, that this is the domain of a small subgroup finally welcome
among their own. But the demographics and fashion really don’t bear that out. One gets the
sense after a few minutes that they’re in a mall, just one temporarily situated on a gravel lot.
Tweens in Beiber haircuts or clip-on earrings chase each other around or watch languorously
from tables. It’s hardly a lawless event, and the orange vested security keeps a lid on any illicit
sales or trades. But there certainly is a mischievous air as kids snap caps at each others’ feet
while their parents try to drive a hard bargain fifty feet away.

The bargaining, of course, is another reminder that this isn’t a megaplex but a real city.
The salesfolk fully embrace their hucksterishness and will latch on to anyone who happens to
make eye contact. Any pun or pop culture reference is fair game; a sign promising The Matrix:
Reloadable Explosives sells well even if the movie it claims a (tenuous) relation to did not.
Superheroes are always a big draw, as are explosives that embrace their militant roots. One
shop, “Captain Kirk’s Enterprise,” is run by a real-live veteran who has successfully placed
himself at the crux of these markets and has the line outside his stand to show for it. Though one
suspects the innumerable hand-painted signs for him - and, to be fair, his competitors - certainly
don’t hurt.

Like any good bazaar, the most interesting action goes on outside. Food stalls are set up
for both festival fare (hot dogs, burgers, lemonade) and Native favorites (fry bread, fish stew, hot
dogs, burgers, lemonade). Past this is the testing range full of showmen with fake grins and
children with real ones. Even further are the train cars full of cardboard boxes from China.
Unlike inside the city, these men are not the loud, puckish, shills but their calm, collected,
counterparts. In between runs of boxes they will make it very clear that they don’t sell out of the
train cars and (but?) are happy to talk if you want to meet elsewhere. These human calculators
are as sinister as the show may get, but even that is in a coldly capitalistic sense. Those who run
the show at Boom City are interested in big enough explosions to rake in the cash, but no further.

A day at Boom City is equal parts carnival and arms bazaar. The older folks complain
about how things were better in the good ol’ days when you could buy tennis balls filled with
gunpowder and when the kids weren’t preoccupied by the First Nations Snowboarding Team
kiosk that came all the way from British Columbia. They’ll also complain that too many Tribal
Members rely on Boom City for their year’s income, and that a cloudy July 4, like the one this
year, means the same thing that a bad salmon run used to. Of course, now the salmon runs are all
bad and the Independence Days are only getting sunnier (and warmer). The Earth may change its
ways and the Nation may change its means, but in the end the men and women of Boom City
will survive and thrive through both the bangs and fizzles.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Indian Reservations (the Weirdness Thereof)

For those that don't know, I am doing land titling/land use/development/one of those oddly titled and proportioned jobs on an American Indian Reservation this summer. It's interesting stuff and I am enjoying most every minute of it. But sometimes, weird things happen.

On this reservation, much of the waterfront property is owned by non-Indians. Most of them are friendly folk, here in their second homes or in a family home while they work in Everett or enjoy the retired life. It's a bit odd (read: very odd) to see proudly flown Union Jacks on an Indian Reservation, but hey, you don't choose your ancestry.

They are, however, the most tenacious defenders of their private property I've ever seen. High walls, prickly bushes, and every other machination to separate their land from the rest of the Reservation and even each other. It's charming to see all of these little compounds-by-the-shore, they are quite beautiful. But I wish that their guard dogs didn't bark and chase me down the street for a quarter mile every time I jog past their house on my lunch-break run.

It's a strange dichotomy. Most of the Tribal property on the Reservation is communal; the admin building, the school, the homeless shelter, the retirement home, and yes, the casino, the gas station, and the smoke shop. Most of the non-Indian property is gated off within an inch of its borders. Even outside of these borders are the guard dogs, patrolling the street for interlopers. The waterwards boundaries of these properties are even more interesting; armored with bulkheads and revetments to prevent the loss of property to the sea. Bulkheads may stop your property from erosion, but they force waves to chew through beaches and destroy habitats, spitting out the sand (and the energy) next door. The neighbor then buys a bulkhead to push the problem on his neighbor.

It's not a Tragedy of the Commons, it's a simple fear of public space. Public space - the road and the beach - are where danger happens. Instead of turning them into communal areas, the houses turn their backs to them. It isn't because of crime, it's because of the specter of crime.

These ownership policies aren't destroying Reservations. A century and a half of misuse, drug abuse, lack of access to education, and a whole laundry list of "what else" have far more to do with that. But dang, it's not really helping, now, is it? If a kid can't jog down a street without the fear of getting bitten, why should we listen when your lawyers tell us you want to work with the Tribe to help "community members"? And why aren't we included in the list of "community members"?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Syria and Turkey: REAL FOCUSED on America Right Now

I should start off by saying: I really like Joshua Foust. I cut my teeth on Registan and would like to go back there semi-eventually, and Mr. Foust was one of the first people to get me to start thinking critically about news and news cycles. He has the memory of an elephant and the analyses of a....well, an animal that can think real well.

All that said, I am not a huge fan of his latest piece for PBS on Turkey and Syria. I was surprised to see the byline because to my knowledge Mr. Foust hasn't written about the Middle East or Turkey before. His game is in Central Asia. And I was immediately skeptical, because I knew when I first stumbled into Central Asia that there was a whole lot to dig through before I could form my own intelligent opinions. It's a minefield few tread tactfully in.

And anyways, Yigal Schleifer already wrote the bullet-point version of the Turkey/Syria weirdness, so what else was there to write?

Long story short; Mr. Foust uses exactly two Turkish sources, both Today's Zaman from a few years ago talking about the bright happy days when Syria and Turkey were working together (it was about the same time, by the way, that the State Department was sending American kids to Syria for Arabic Language courses, so it's not exactly like we're dealing with The Perfidious Turks here). Everything else is CNN, NYT, or some other white boy explaining how things work over there, without letting the workers explain it themselves.

If Mr. Foust was doing one of his traditional "Here's what the American press is saying, and here's why it's stupid" pieces, this would be fantastic. Unfortunately, it isn't, and it isn't.

Saying that Turkey is "claiming the incident is an attack not just on Turkey but also on the whole of NATO" and that this is "a gambit Ankara has been pushing for months" doesn't seem to quite mesh. Turkey's government has been a soul of caution throughout the whole Syrian implosion; it does not want any more refugees than it can currently handle and does not want to be the home to a humanitarian crisis as it was after Gulf War One. At the same time, Erdoğan has taken Assad's perfidy as a personal insult and will harbor no good will for the man like he did when waffling on Ghaddafi. Turkey's government wants an end to the bloodshed, but does not want that end to be tens of thousands of homeless Syrians staying on Turkish soil.

*I wish I could find some citations for all of this but its late and I don't feel like going through terribly-designed Turkish Newspaper Archives at the moment. Please forgive me and call me out on any specifics you don't like.


I haven't heard anybody talk about Article 4 and Article 5 of NATO's Treaty outside of Washington, DC. It seems like the sort of thing poli sci majors take to Twitter about to high-five each other on their knowledge of things, but that's not the sort of thing sweeping the Turkish public. It's arcana, and I'm not sure its relevant to anyone outside of DC (or maybe Brussels).

Also, again, the only people talking about conflict between Turkey and Syria seem to be the Americans who are openly licking their lips at Muslims killing Muslims. Syria and Turkey seem to have acknowledged a cluster-fuck on Syria's part. Likely there is an out of work Air Traffic Controller in Syria this week. But it's not like Erdoğan getting his yell on is a new event, he does this literally every week for something else (abortion, building canals in Istanbul, building ugly space-age mosques in Istanbul, tearing down ugly statues of Armenian-Turkish friendship, and that's all off the top of my head). There is a lot of laviscious lip-licking and hope that Turkey will take down the Assadian menace. I'm not sure what proof there is for this other than the hope that they'll start killing each other. It's like the Underpants Gnomes' sadistic sisters or something.

Finally, comparing Syria to Kurdistan is a bit strange. Talabani and Maliki have both seem to come to some sort of agreement with Turkey that allows the Turkish military to go in and take out presumed PKK members if the intelligence is good enough. There is certainly high-level intelligence sharing between the two countries, not to mention the millions of dollars of construction and infrastructure that Turkey is contributing to the Iraqi economy. There is no Iraq without Turkey, I don't think, and Iraq has comfitted itself with treating some dead Kurds with quietude if the money keeps rolling in. It's a situation very similar to US/Pakistan in that regard, but with much smaller stakes. Unless you happen to be the wrong smuggler on the wrong road at the wrong time, of course.

Turkey, of course, almost invaded Syria in 1998. Papa Assad was forced to kick Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK, out of Syria after working together for a few years (even using the PKK to initiate strikes in Hatay, which is still a part of Syria in most 20th century Syrian maps). The two countries' relationship can be described as uneasy at best; when they can use each other, they do, and when they can't, the teeth get bared. This is not unusual in the long history of international relations, from what I gather.

That is the point-by-point takedown. The conclusion I've come to is pretty much opposite of Mr. Foust's:

In short, Turkey has run out of patience over the Syrian civil war, and has done almost all it can short of military action to bring the fighting to a close. While it remains unwise to involve NATO in a response, Turkey is certainly within its rights to want to prevent fighting next door from adve butrsely affecting the country.
Even intervening directly in Syria is not without precedent, but Turkey should exercise caution. Dragging NATO into a conflict with Syria might not safeguard Turkish interests. And a Turkish-Syrian war could have resounding regional implications far beyond the plight of massacred Syrian civilians
The phrase "short of military action" is one that always bothered me, because it's never true. Really? Turkey's done everything? Of course not. They haven't done a blockade, they haven't even tried rapproachment with Russia and Syria, they haven't trained the insurgency...shoot, they haven't even decided what to do about Syrian Kurds. Turkey still aims to become the peacemakers and to have a large foot in post-Assad Syria. They've noticed that people don't like other people's soldiers and would rather not play that game. This isn't hopelessness and this isn't NATO.

The problem I see in this piece is usually the sorts of problems Mr. Foust counteracts. It comes from a blithely American point of view and elides the point that neither Syria nor Turkey really care what the United States thinks about the downed airplane. I personally couldn't help but guffaw at the SecState "We express condemnation and concern" sorts of things...they don't mean anything. Syria and Turkey are not looking up to NATO like two fighting siblings, they're gonna try to handle this on their own. The Turkish populace will get lathered up, certainly, but nobody is itching for a war with no easy nor obvious exit. Except for Americans hoping to see old-enemy-Syria and new-enemy-for-reasons-we're-still-not-quite-sure-about-Turkey start shooting each other. 

Such "well, what can we do?" sort of statements belong better from Claire Berlinski or whatever journalist-bro is in charge of Pajamas Media these days. It simply doesn't seem like something that Mr. Foust would usually write, because he's usually way more into second-order thinking. What can Turkey get from killing some Syrians in revenge for a downed plane? What can Syria get from intentionally taking down the plane as an act of war to begin with? Trying to forge a pattern from a few years of history while ignoring the facts that don't fit just isn't becoming.

So that's my response to that. Hopefully Mr. Foust won't be too upset with this because as I said, I really admire the guy, and I just don't think this is his best work as he makes a foray away from Central Asia. These things are complicated, and they deserve the grace to be treated as so. And of course, Erdoğan could always change tack entirely and make me look like a fool. This is an eventuality we all must prepare for, even, if reports are accurate, Abdullah Gül.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Minor Tragedy on I-5

Driving home today, I passed an overturned truck. Rotten horse parts were falling out of it. My eye was particularly caught by a head that was staring at me, unencumbered by a body.

Then I drove on.

Pretty perfect metaphor for modern life, right? During our daily tasks we get struck with the sheer horror of our actions but then move on, unable to discuss what just happened with anybody except for the anonymous internet.

Geez.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Islamic Theology: In Etsy Form

I'll be updating this blog and Scribd with all of the papers I've written in the past semester. None of them are particularly well-written, but there is enough good information out there that I feel ought to be shared.

One of the courses I took was Islamic Theology. It was lots and lots of things I did not know. Now it is just lots of things I am unsure if I know or not. I'll be posting about the paper I wrote later on. It was on Islamic Liberation Theology. There's lots of cool stuff there.

I also made a chart of the first few centuries of Islamic Theology. I did not have the time or patience to make one as an Illustrator or Prezi file, so instead I did it the old fashioned way. This means the sole copy of it is already turned in to the professor. But at least there's pictures!

Overview

Proto-Shi'i

Mu'tazali

So, you know, there's that.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Law School, White Privilege, and 21st Century Taxonomy


What follows is a moderately-edited version of a short essay I wrote for a Critical Jurisprudence class. One of these days I'm gonna write a 4,000 word essay on what it is to be hairy and American, aiming to Take Back the Swart. Until then, here's this.      

      A legal education is a factory of privilege. In the same way an English commoner could turn unwieldy gains into a baronetcy or lordship in the 18th Century, Americans today can choose to give large sums of money to a school in exchange for a title. Imperialism of any sort requires a cocky bureaucracy. Hopefully a job as well, but the past few years have given promise to an excuse to hold one's head high, not an expansive house full of down pillows on which to rest it. The legal education system exists not just to train us but to transform us, to form a corporate bureaucracy of middle-aged white men, in thought if not in features. As the son of a lawyer who has met many a leery and leering firm partner, I thought I would be prepared. I was not.
            Intersession is home to the most overt of the indoctrination. Not home of classes per se, but rather home to auditorium talks on topics such as “Professionalism in the Law” and “Ethics in Daily Life.” Prim and overeager guides explain to the moon-faced masses on how to pass. One must drink. One must talk sports or shopping, depending on target's gender. I recall my relief at avoiding and shame in recognizing a woman's tightrope between slut-shaming and enforced enthusiastic attractiveness. The rules of the game are long and arcane, but I'd have been much better at remembering them if I knew my identity within the system. I'll admit that unfortunately, I knew no such thing.
            I realized not long after the category was reified in the fall of 2001 that I fell into the raggedly-determined class of Swarthy-American. With olive skin and a nose like a scimitar (even our hypocatastases get shipped out to the Far East), a stranger would seem to need to engage in conversation to get to know me. The polite Tennessean wanted to make sure that didn't have to happen.
            “Keep your hair short, and make sure you never have a beard.” Okay, this is easy enough. “Do you drink?” Well, from time to time... “Then great! Keep a beer in your hand. Wouldn't want people to jump to conclusions!” Wait, who wouldn't? What people? Which conclusions? The kicker, however, was the clincher. “Never do anything in front of a client you wouldn't do at an airport.” Ah, so I figured it out. I must assuage their guilt of association while letting them brag about meeting an Exotic.
            Was this a bad time to mention that I avoid ties, as they are symbols of Western Masculine Imperialism? Of course it was, but at least I got to leave the conversation with my head up high, observing the letter of the first law while violating all of its assumed prescriptions. I was late to the realization, much to my eventual depression, that I wasn't being interviewed for what made me unique. I was being taxonomized, with the passive tense construction very much emphasized. The interviewing process was not to learn about my taste in music or self-styled skill in the kitchen, it was done to pin me on the wall as Juris swarthica, to prove my worth on the right collector's tableau and to emphasize my harmlessness in the tap room as opposed to my prowess in the courtroom.

            Ian Haney Lopez is a professor of race and constitutional law at Boalt Hall. Haney Lopez wrote “The Social Construction of Race” in 1994, before the political creation of the Swarthy-American. Back then, my grandmother said I looked Mexican instead of making the airport security jokes she would a decade later. Haney Lopez would certainly enjoy the further vivisection of race that the new century has given us. Lebanese Christians are welcome into the fold and can become mayors of major midwestern metropolises without a thought. Lebanese Shi'a will receive more references to Khomeini and Nasrallah in their profiles than Daley or Giuliani, politics be damned. In re: Halladjian, from 1909, is telling. It’s the story of Armenians trying to circumvent the United States’ race-based immigration quotas of the early 20th century by asserting that they are white and European, not swarthy and Asiatic. They succeeded. Hailing from the Caucasus, which we now know to most emphatically not be the homeland of the white race, they would seem to be a shoo-in case in 1909. Would they be the same in 2014? Many will tell you the difference between an Armenian or an Iranian, a Georgian or a Turk, an Azeri or a Kurd isn't biological but theological. If those immigrants had the wrong God, would they have the right race?
            The taxonomy I experienced was at the heart of the practice of scientific racism that gave a veil of approbation to last century's imperialism. Haney Lopez' historical discussion of the formation and perception of a Mexican race is telling; they were only formed negatively and construed in relation to their peers in subservience. La Raza Cosmica only came later. His social construction theory still relies on an extrinsic force, a need for sorting through a rainbow of rank-and-file to allow the lily-white cream to rise to the top. Haney Lopez would probably be curious to hear a good friend of mine who works at a church nearby. She looks eerily like me but has never, for whatever reason, been subject to this century's imperialism and its racial profiling. In a similar setting to mine, would she be told to show some arm and to live her life hat-free? Or would the very act of earning her bread at a house of Jesus act as a get-out-of-Guantanamo card? She admittedly has a better smile than I. Is my scowl a shot across the majoritarian bow?
            The very fact that I must ask these questions, that I am discomfited by the orders given to me in school show the cracks in the square-peg system. Haney Lopez’s article discusses the failures of a race-based system in dealing with shades of grey. He talks of passing, of the ability to go between races via a Clark Kent phonebooth. He hints of the shame that this brings, of the moment one realizes that the true self is not going to get the job.  The New York that Haney Lopez grew up in is not the city it is today. He would likely cackle with glee if he of Dosa Hunt. If he knew that a South Asian Musician-led tour of the city's South Asian food would include a Mexican collaborator solely because Alan Palomo's band is named Neon Indian. I would like to tell Haney Lopez that within the Swarthy community, we light the racial barriers on fire. He would likely reply that unfortunately, we are still kept in the barn made for us by the folks like the aforementioned Tennessean, who haven't yet decided if they can trust us.

            Peggy McIntosh’s famous “White Privilege and Male Privilege” explicitly describes what is received by the individuals fortunate enough to be beyond race and past gender. The article is in many ways a laundry list of what we students hope to earn by completing JD coursework. McIntosh might say that the intersession classes were not there to only tell us what to do and say for promotion and acceptance, but also in order for us to ascend to our roles as Privileged White People with grace and aplomb. We may not be the Landed Class of centuries before, but we aspire to act like them, to be the Privileged Class of today.
            Admittedly, I have no need of ascension, I came here from the suburban land, where I played lacrosse and rowed crew. From my perspective, McIntosh's article is a clarification of my feelings of shame and hints on how I could use these feelings for an appropriate cause. It is more interesting to use McIntosh's article to study the Tennessean's perspective.
            The taxonomist saw me and saw a stubbly-faced man in an ill-fitting jacket. She believed that when she was telling me to act White, she was doing me a favor.  She wanted to aid me in dressing for success, for the job I want to have, and all the such and sundry delimitations of action. The Tennessean, McIntosh could say, was giving me a glimpse through the keyhole of the Secret Garden that lay ahead of me if I could keep up the act. Maybe she had read some pop literature, she may have intoned that perhaps Rhonda Byrne's true Secret is that if I act white, people will treat me as if I am white and I will be able to accrue privilege. It is a privilege, not a right, to avoid security hassles, to not be asked where I'm really from. And if I act like I “deserve” whiteness, McIntosh would say, then I might just “earn” it. All of these scare quotes are sadly necessary.
            While reading her article, I took my usual frenetic and navel-gazing notes. These included my name in four different scripts, part of my frantic investigation on what is appropriate for me. Haney Lopez says that it doesn't matter which, that it is all up to chance anyways. McIntosh might agree, but she'd emphasize how much it darn matters to everyone who looks at me. It’s hardly a rough-and-tumble world out there for a young man with a law degree. I will not make any pretensions towards the contrary. The bottom has dropped out of the markets of legal employ, however, and we are all careening towards the abyss. The only ones who disagree with this are our Career Services offices. As we tumble down, our White Privileges can do as much to save us as our class rank or legal aptitude. Today we have to choose between resignation to the Empire or a prison of debt. A beard and open collar is the garb of only the most honorable of fools.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fethullahci (Gulen) Movement and Moral Panic

Back-to-back articles on the impending scariness of the Gulen Movement. It'd almost be enough to make you think it's a trend if the stories were keyed by a common event. The only real shared storyline, however, is white women discovering with trepiduous fear that such a thing exists. Sharon Higgins remarks on Gulen schools in the United States, Margaret Speigelbaum on the same in Istanbul, Turkey. Neither have anything new to say, and neither have anything to share besides dog-whistle Islamophobia.

I'll be the first to admit I'm an utterly disinterested party. I don't have much to say about any education debate, in the US or in Turkey. It's not that I don't care, it's that I don't have any background knowledge and can't say much more than my gut opinion. So I won't.

I do know about about the Fethullahcilar. I never heard the Americanized name until a contact at the US State Department came up to me and gushed, "Ooooh! Tell me about the Gulenists!" I said the same thing to that person as I'd say right now; they're basically Jesuits in Muslim form. They've been very good at getting very good education to historically underserved areas. There's lots of them, and in any group numbering in the thousands, there will be some dummies involved. This all deserves a shrug and a blog post.

But why are they so much fun to pick on? Because they're connected with the two things the whitefolk who write for the Beast and the Post are afraid of most: Class and Islam.

Starting with class, quick history: Turkey's been ruled by the White Turks since 1923, there's never been any debate about that. The military elite, the people at the Right Schools in Istanbul and Ankara, those are the ones that do the necessary deeds. The millions of others should be left to their goat-killing and I dunno, whatever else they do.

In 1980, Turgut Ozal changed all of that. I've written about this before:
One of [Erdogan's] better political masterstrokes was taking on the suit of American-based neoliberalism. Taking Ozal’s Kucuk Amerika one step further, he promoted business and worked closely with chambers of commerce, particularly in the “Anatolian Tiger” cities east of Izmir and Istanbul. These cities, not so coincidentally, were full of more religiously conservative folks in their business communities and were not controlled by the traditionally secular monopolies. AKP created a new Nouveau Riche class distinct from the White Turks and used them to move their agenda forward, culminating in their political takeover in 2002.
Erdogan turned the class system of Turkey on its head. I compared him to Michael Jordan in that, but perhaps a similar argument could be made for a Toussaint L'Ouverture comparison. His partnership with Gulen came from this; AKP needed technical bureaucrats and Gulen was happy to fund their educations.

The conspiracy theories, the journalist-mugging, and much of the theatrics of the past couple of years have been a bit rich. But what Erdogan imagined and Gulen bankrolled was nothing short of class warfare.

It's been successful, and from a certain perspective, dangit, those hilljacks Gulen educated haven't gotten around to thinking like White Turks. This is where the Islam comes to play and the Moral Panic sets in.

If Speigelman writes her piece from a Jesuit school, it's laughed away at everything but the fringest of fringey internets. If I heard "Nonetheless, my oldest classes (fourth grade) invariably were dominated by loud, aggressive boys, while girls rarely spoke up. I was discouraged by how often teachers had to shout to be heard, and by the way quieter students (mostly girls) were generally left out" from a Teach for America friend of mine, I would not compare it to Iran. I would compare it to my fourth grade. Gender roles and their general fucked-up-itiness are no stranger to any of our lives.

If you genuinely believe that Islam is the reason behind lackadaisical education, lack of rights for women, and every single social ill you can imagine then congrats! You're racist slim and you should probably x-out of this page and go google Pamela Geller. Hang out with her. You'll like it more over there.

If you think that development is tough, that countries don't turn on dimes and that things are certainly better for Turks and for Turkey then they were ten, twenty, thirty years ago, then you have to wonder why we're getting so upset over education. Are the Fethullahcilar perfect? Of course not. I don't think any individual in the movement would call themselves that.

The Movement, like any movement, wants more power. I haven't yet read Sik's or Sener's books and I'm not going to comment on them because of that. You will not find a more stringent believer in press freedom, in political checks-and-balances, then me. But placing the Movement at the center of conspiracy because of some ugly stuff isn't reportage, its Dan Brown conspiracy, and it doesn't belong.

The stubbly hordes of Islam are not knocking down the doors of America, acting in concert. They aren't even knocking down the doors of Turkey, they're merely standing up where they sat down ten years ago. It's heart-breaking to see people using the sort of Class Talk and God Talk that would be mocked in America to cast aspersions on something they're afraid of. Any discourse that sounds closer to Jim Crow senators then to factual reporting should be treated as such, even if we're just talking about a new demographic to feel strong emotions towards. Don't bark up to the Daily Beast or Washington Post. Don't express concern about baroque machinations of state. Think, "dang, did I really just get angry at these people for being uppity?"

And don't say "Gulenist." It's like a password for "US Foreign Service Officer or cross-eyed fear mongerer" and odds are you ain't the former.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Turkish Soccer (or: Being a Treatise on the Footballing Sport in the Far Realms of the Mother Continent)

Run of Play has a new look and a new home on the internet. It still has Brian Phillips and the rest of the aesthete crew, though. They were kind enough to allow me to write an awful lot about soccer in Turkey, and if this seems like something you're in to, you can have your way with it.
Football was bestowed here, as it was in so many other places around the world, by bored Britishers. In 1904, the Istanbul Sunday League was formed between four teams, unsurprisingly named after an English ship, the dockyard neighborhood, the expatriate neighborhood, and a Greek mythological being, respectively. By the 1910’s the familiars Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe would take up trading the championship in their intercontinental derby, save for a two-year period where the wonderfully named Altinordu Idman Yurdu — literally “The Golden Horde’s House of Exercise” — would take the crown. They par would be joined by Beşiktaş in the 1930s and thus, the Turkish league was born.
They didn't hyperlink everything I would've wanted hyperlinked, but there's a decent enough start to get you well on your way to "alt" cred as the guy on your street who knows a lot about the sixth, maybe seventh best league in Europe.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Legalistic Aspirations and Realities in Kyrgyzstan

I'm going to use this blog in conjunction with Scribd to start posting some of my work. It allows you open access to valuable (or at least interesting (or at least legible)) information and it allows me some critique on my writing and presenting.

The first will be a paper I wrote last semester on Kyrgyzstan's new constitution. The constitution, I argue, is deliberately out of touch with some realities of life in Kyrgyzstan as it is written for a double audience; the international community and local elites. It leans heavily on Weapons of the Wealthy, Registan.net, Eurasianet and I'm sure others. Let me know what you think, or use it to further your own research.

An excerpt:

During the drafting process, Nurlan Sadykov stated that in the new Constitution, “[t]he prime minister will be accountable to the parliament and the parliament will be accountable to the electorate, the people.” This paper will demonstrate how the aspirational Constitution of Kyrgyzstan is not quite able to answer Sadykov‟s proposition. The paper begins by looking at the construction of civil society in order to display the vibrancy of non-governmental life in the country. Then, this paper will briefly survey the elite class of Kyrgyzstan, demonstrating that the same actors in power at the fall of the USSR are still in power today through an explicit combination of cooperative measures and exclusionary tactics. Finally, this paper will look at governmental accountability in two parts, as posited in Sadykov‟s above quote. First, it will examine the legal and illegal means through which parliament keeps a check on the head of state. Second, it will examine the relationship between parliament (called “Jogorku Kenesh” in Kyrgyz, a term that will be used interchangeably with “Parliament” in this paper) and the Kyrgyzstani people, showing how repression interplays with binding ties to create something well short of pure accountability.
Simply put, the legal norms in Kyrgyzstan are not quite level with its Constitution. By exhibiting the difference between civil society‟s and the elite players‟ methods of self governance, this paper will demonstrate the carrying conceptions and selective enforcement of rule of law. By testing intra-governmental and intra-state accountability, this paper hopes to show that though the underpinnings of a parliamentary democracy exist, the finished product is not quite where it purports to be. The Constitution is used throughout the paper to reflect and diverge from the range of anthropological, sociological, journalistic, and analytical accounts collated to construct an image of Kyrgyzstani life. By comparing Constitutional articles to the Kyrgyzstani reality, the gap between the two can be more accurately defined.


Another link.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Internetting While Muslim: The Jamshid Muhtorov Case is Unsurprisingly Weak.

Joshua Kucera over at the Bug Pit cited me, Registan, and Central Asia analyst extraordinaire Eric McGlinchy in a somewhat incredulous look at Jamshid Muhtorov's arrest and any possible links to Karimov, NDN, and what have you. He seems to agree with me for the most part; it's very difficult to prove or disprove a link, but it's something interesting to postulate and keep an eye on.

It seems that  Catherine Fitzpatrick disagrees, though, with one post with a title replete with exclamation marks and then another which very helpfully includes .pdf copies of the criminal complaint and indictment for "Material Support of a Designated Terrorist Organization and Attempt to do the Same." I appreciate the legwork because hey, this is just a blogspot blog and I hold myself to no journalistic standards of doing research. I'm just typing stuff before going on a Saturday run. I would wish she spelled the blog name right, though. I think our main cleavage is that I approach this from a legal background whereas she's approaching it from a regional writer perspective. I'm going to naturally lean towards my current state's motto and say "Show Me." And the complaint definitely doesn't.

The prosecution has some perfectly acceptable yet kind of skeevy tactics, like calling Muhtorov "Abumumin Turkistony" to make him sound more Muzzleem. The complaint is made up wholly of an FBI agent's statement that is literally exactly what you'd expect some FBI bro who couldn't find Uzbekistan on a map if you spotted him the Caspian. The background is mostly cribbed from the NCTC (ah, law, where you have to cite for journals but not for criminal matters) and talks about all the terrible things that the IJU has done. Well, at least both of them. Well, at least one attempted attack by two German guys and one attack that the only one who says they did it is the Government of Uzbekistan, which wanted counter-terrorism goodies from the US. But that's a different blog post.

There is some more smelly stuff in graf 9: A) Turkey seized weapons of IJU operatives in Turkey, B) The group claimed responsibility for attacks, and C) LINKS TO AL-QAEDA OMG BIN LADEN BIN LADEN PAGEVIEWS

At least the IJU has a website. And Muhtorov was a big fan of this website, Sodiqlar. He made internet friends with the webmaster, and talked about politics with other friends. There is also a claim of Bay'ah by Muhtorov. Bay'ah is a weird word used often to align with Sufi orders and others. Much like how a wed couple says "death do we part," Muhtorov said "any task, even with the risk of dying." But ok.

Then more talk, some arguments between Muhtorov and his wife, and my personal favorites: the presupposition of IJU used in a passive voice throughout the complaint. Muhtorov books a flight to Turkey, says goodbye to his family, and gets into an internet slapfight over some people, using real internet-dude words like "we have the best antivirus, the Koran" which is like the nerdiest thing I've ever heard. I suppose the whole graf 27 is the crux, that Muhtorov was going to go out and kill these two commentors on Sodiqlar because they disagreed about some things. The rest of the complaint is why they need warrants to go through the rest of Muhtorov's files.

So I perhaps should add full disclosure at this point: I'm an internet nerd myself, I spend way too much time on a Cincinnati Reds blog. I've said awful things about players, coaches, and other commentors on the blog. I've shared e-mails with friends I've made on the blog written entirely in inside jokes that sound weird/awful out of context.

Look, maybe Muhtorov was really going to fly to Istanbul and kill a couple guys for disagreeing on matters of Istihan. Maybe he was going there for a wedding. Maybe he was going to be in a medrese. Maybe he fell in love with a woman online and was leaving his family. There are thousands of Uzbeks living in Turkey; as workers, as refugees, whatever. The Emniyet in Istanbul is always full of them. Whatever it is, it's not outlined in the complaint. The criminal complaint is being used as leverage to go through the rest of his internet life in hopes of finding something that actually looks like support of a terrorist organization.

If there was actually good grounds, well, remember that graf 9 about Turkey being involved in investigating IJU? If he was going to Turkey to be involved with the IJU, you can bet that MIT would've been involved in it. Instead, this is the equivalent of frisking a dude in a black neighborhood and hoping that you find a pipe.

I'm hardly going to use this as a pedestal to complain about internet security. But I made an offhand joke earlier this week about "Internetting while Muslim being the new Driving While Black" and I think it absolutely holds.

What I'm most curious about is how Muhtorov was singled out. I honestly don't think there's anything as sinister as the Uzbek Foreign Minister saying to Ms. Clinton, "You want to use our country for a highway? Here's a list of people you have to arrest." What I do think is that "closer security ties" are a requirement for anything the US does nowadays, and that Uzbekistan gave a list of people in the US they were interested in. Muhtorov was on this list, and his internet persona got him a lot more interest than he may have expected.

A little bit of skepticism goes a long way when dealing with the Uzbek government's list of baddies. The IJU as a paper tiger is not a new or novel thought. Ambassador Murray has called them a hoax (whatever you think of Amb. Murray) and Joshua Foust was writing about them back in 2009, saying:
...when you take into account the Uzbek’s history of inventing phantom Islamic resistance movements to justify its police state, the lack of sources actually discussing the group (the sources in that Jihadica post and paper are all secondary and tertiary, and even reposted Wikipedia entries, except for the one website which isn’t even written in Uzbek), and everyone’s inability to name a single member aside from that one guy in the videos who wasn’t around in 2002 when the group was invented… well, it just doesn’t add up.
 The entire experience reminds me of XKCD's citogenesis. There are fake facts repeated until they're true. This, combined with the spectre of al-Qaeda, really conceptually awful insinuations about Islam, and a few snippets of conversation with friends and family are the backbone of this case.

Even if they eventually find something, like maybe a bomb-making .doc on his computer that will get him arrested, isn't an absolution of the conduct here. The procedurally-correct and jurisprudentially-awful judicial system, spoken to at length by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker allows for these sorts of abuses. That is a different story, and besides, I won't write it better than Mr. Gopnik.

There's no actual proof anywhere yet, just the same few aspersions cast over and over. I would just be casting aspersions of my own over the US Government if I was to claim that the arrest of Muhtorov is quid-pro-quo for the opening of the NDN, I admit. But at this point, that's all the case deserves, a black mark and lots of tut-tutting.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Was the Uzbek Opposition Sold Out for the NDN? Jamshid Muhtorov as a Case Study

Approximately two months ago, the United States chose to re-engage with Uzbekistan after Pakistan decided to shut down US military transit into Afghanistan. There was lots of teeth-gnashing about this; how to/if it was fair to equivocate "engagement" with "legitimizing"and whether not engaging was actually an effective strategy. My take was that emphasizing the NDN through Uzbekistan would 1) increase costs and create massive opportunities for corruption and 2) make US interests in Uzbekistan (human rights, increased openness, etc.) subservient to US interests in Afghanistan.

I'm going to focus on #2 here. My worry was - and still is - that Uzbekistan is a tricky enough country as it is. The US won't ever be all do-rah regime change about it and likely shouldn't be. But to view the country as a highway that requires protection is the mother of conflation. The new interest (NDN) is now the first and foremost interest, and protecting it and Afghanistan are more important than understanding what avenues forward exist in Uzbekistan. It gives an excuse to not care about Uzbekistan other than as a way to get out of Afghanistan successfully.

"Assessing the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is a tricky business." Joshua Foust writes,  "No one argues with the very basic fact that the Karimov regime is one of the most horrific rights abusers on the planet." Now I'm not sure what the US would do without the NDN, but ever since the new rapprochement there has certainly been no formal complaints about human rights issues, even when real and/or fake people were being punished for Facebook activism. But this week it's gotten far worse.

Three Germans (or people who temporarily lived in Germany, it's all a bit unclear) have been charged with being members of terrorism groups. Two for IMU, one for IJU. That's weird, but hey, people become terrorists, it happens.

Weirder still is the story of Jamshid Muhtorov. Immediately after the story of "man arrested for hanging out on the wrong side of the internet," Sarah Kendzior noted that a man of the same name was a refugee from Uzbekistan for his work as a human rights activist. Her and many others are questioning the FBI's assertions here, and for full disclosure, I'm one of them.

The further reading one does, the more it seems like Muhtorov was arrested for having a beard and an internet connection. The subtitle for the local story is ""Jamshid Muhtorov Grew Beard, Stopped Wearing Western Clothes"and quotes a federal complaint (a legal document purporting evidence required to arrest) saying "'wedding' is code for terrorist event or attack." Muhtorov was on his way to Turkey.

Let it be known that there are far more Uzbeks in Turkey (some of which happen to get married) then terrorists in Turkey. If there was strong enough evidence to arrest Muhtorov in the US, I am very surprised that the US didn't want to follow him up the string to see who he met with in Turkey. The MIT after all is probably very interested in pursuing nasty folk in its territory, as they were victim to al-Qaeda bombings more recently than the US has been. It's more likely that the evidence wasn't strong enough to get Turkey to act or to give more names to pursue, so they just kept him in the US.

The FBI is claiming that Muhtorov gave material support to the Islamic Jihad Union mentioned above, but there's a slight problem. The IJU may not exist. I've written about them before, how the Uzbek government initially blamed them for the Andijon massacre before word got out that this is a terrible thing to say. My nutshell version is:
So all in all, we still don't know what the IJU is about after looking into assertions on what the IJU is about. It's certainly possible that they want to turn the entire Dar al-Islam into a caliphate capitaled at Samarkand. It's also entirely possible that they only exist in the failed state between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that any pan-Turanian branding is just that, branding. 
Everything in the entire Muhtorov story is ill-defined, and instead of pursuing the man to give shape to it and to see just precisely what sort of crimes we're talking about, we're just going to arrest a man for internet perusal and un-American fashion activities.

Muhtorov is certainly the prime - and most widely-covered - example. But since ratcheting ties with Uzbekistan, the US government has arrested one and put the hit out on three others for being anti-Karimov. This is not enough to make a pattern, I admit. But it is absolutely frightening to think that as part of the NDN bargain , the US has decided to begin rolling up on anti-Karimov individuals.

Who is Muhtorov likely to know? Other dissident Uzbeks, to be sure. Any implication by him suddenly cracks into the entire Uzbek opposition in exile and links them to a terrorist group. Any communication, exchange of money, or organization with Muhtorov will be considered liaising with a terrorist in the eyes of the United States if Muhtorov is found guilty. These arrests are worth being followed skeptically. The US counter-terrorism establishment could be given carte-blanche to destroy or at least de-legitamize an opposition movement against a man and an apparatus that "...is one of the most horrific rights abusers on the planet."

It's not there yet but it's worth keeping an eye on. And it's a hell of a bargain for the rights to use a highway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Credulity at Arm's Length - The Met and Islamic Art

Long overdue, of course. Over winter break I spent some time in New York, where I have friends, family, and a 1-year-old niece that supersedes either category. New York is also home to the new exhibit of the Metropolitan Museum. I know it's an exhibit of Islamic art, you know it's an exhibit of Islamic art. But there, it's titled "New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia." The title is indicative of the whole experience. The folks at the Met tried real hard to do something big here - they saw it as their onus to bridge West and East in some way. The metaphor I think of initially is a first date; the Met made sure their hair was just so, they were wearing the shirt that brings out their eyes, all of that. But they spent so much time thinking of how it would make the Met appear that they forgot that the purpose is to educate the audience and elucidate aspects of the exhibited culture. And there they missed on what could've been a great opportunity.

The biggest problem with the Met is that it isn't the Aga Khan. The Met doesn't have the Aga Khan Museums' resources, networks, or devotion to a single purpose, and it shows. Rather than AG's devoted galleries and lengthy contextualizations, we have square rooms and flash cards in New York. Everything is segmented and instead of seeing the breadth and depth of Islamic Art, we shuffle from room to room to stare and nod in approval.

It's difficult to get too upset about it. After all, the Met is handcuffed by their environment and their donors. There's only works from where the Met could get works: lots of Iran, a little bit of North Africa. And although there is a small room to describe the collectors, there should really be more. What were they doing in Iran? How did they get these things? What is the provenance, what are the storylines? Instead of those stories, we get...flashcards. It's de rigeur, I suppose, but it could've been much more.

There are two stars to the collection. The first is a copy of Ferdowsi's Shahname which, while impressive, lacks the dynamism of Aga Khan's version. The Aga Khan used page flip technology, had translations in English, Turkish, and Arabic, and had wall-sized screens to turn the miniatures into tangible parts of life. The Met had postcards.

The second star is more telling - the Damascus courtyard in the center of the exhibit. Unlike the rest of the works, the courtyard has context and a story: workers coming into New York to build it out of stone, the importance of a courtyard in traditional life. It had pictures, videos, and lots of context...but not a lick of historicity. And yet its the one getting most of the critical (or at least pop critical) attention.

This may all sound a bit critical of "art for arts sake" and the like, but what I'm trying to do is ask what the museum sees its purpose as. This is a question that my sister could handle far better than me, but I'll still try to answer it.

If the Met only wanted to throw some works on its walls, that's precisely what it would do - and precisely what it has done for other exhibits. Was this new exhibit on Islamic Art supposed to be something new? Something unique? If so, it likely failed. It is perhaps the most sophisticated permanent exhibit in the Met and the most credulous Islamic Art exhibit in the US. But all the same, the art is kept at arm's length. The audience is handcuffed into a system of pointing and gawking rather than interacting with the art or personalizing it. Who are these artists? Why did they feel compelled to create? Meh.

The killer is that the Met knows what they're doing. The neighboring exhibit on Indian painters was incredible. It introduced its audience to the individual painters and their styles, allowing us to see how they portrayed scenes and why those scenes were chosen. Fascinating stuff to be certain.

But the Islamic Art exhibit? If you can't get out of the US, then by all means, its worthwhile. But Toronto's just a short flight away. Check out the AK instead.