Sunday, August 31, 2008

John Tirman: Ten Fallacies about the Violence in Iraq

Ten Fallacies about the Violence in Iraq
By John Tirman, AlterNet, November 28, 2006


November 28, 2006

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Here are ten of the worst myths being spread in the media.

The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

1. The U.S. is a buffer against more violence. This is perhaps the most resilient conjecture that has no basis in fact.

Iraqis themselves do not believe it. In a State Department poll published in September, huge majorities say the U.S. is directly responsible for the violence. The upsurge of bloodshed in Baghdad seems to confirm the Iraqis' view, at least by inference. The much-publicized U.S. effort to bring troops to Baghdad to quell sectarian killing has accompanied a period of increased mortality in the city.

2. The killers do it to influence U.S. politics. This was the mantra of right-wing bloggers and cable blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted time and again before November 7 that the violence was a "Tet offensive" designed to tarnish Bush and convince Americans to vote for Democrats. This is American solipsism, at which the right wing excels. If anything, the violence has grown since November 7. English-language sources have more than 1,000 dead since the Bush rejection at the polls. Bill, are the Iraqi fighters now aiming at the Iowa caucuses in '08?

3. The "Lancet" numbers are bogus. Since the only scientific survey of deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet in early October, the discourse on Iraqi casualties has changed. But many in media and policy circles are still in denial about the scale of mayhem.

Anthony Cordesman, Fred Kaplan, and Michael O'Hanlon, among many others, fail to understand the method of the survey -- widely used and praised by leading epidemiologists -- which concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict. One knowledegable commentator describes the Lancet survey as "flypaper for innumerates," and the deniers indeed look foolishly innumerate when they state that there was "no way" there could be more than 65,000 or 100,000 deaths. As soon as that bit of ignorance rolled off their lips, the Iraq Health Ministry admitted to 150,000 civilians killed by Sunni insurgents alone, which would be in the Lancet ballpark. Much other evidence suggests the Lancet numbers are about right. (See "The Human cost of the War in Iraq" []; fyi, I commissioned the study. More on this another time.)

4. Syria and Iran are behind the violence. There is no compelling reason why the two neighbors would foment large-scale violence that could spill over to threaten their regimes. Iran is in the driver's seat -- as everyone not blinded by neo-con fantasies knew in advance -- with its Shia cousins in power; Syria has its own regime stability problems and does not need the large influx of refugees or potential jihadis. That both are happy to make life hard for the U.S. is not a secret (call it their Monroe Doctrine). But are they organizing the extreme and destabilizing violence we've seen this year? Doubtful. And, there's very little evidence to support this piece of blame-someone-else.

5. The "Go Big" strategy of the Pentagon could work. The Pentagon apparently is about to forward three options to Bush for a retreat: "Go Big," meaning more troops for a short time, "Go Long," a gradual withdrawal while training Iraqis, and "Go Home," acknowledging defeat and getting out. Go Big is what McCain and Zinni and others are proposing, as if adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops will do the trick. The argument about more troops, which speaks also to the "incompetence dodge" (i.e., that the war wasn't wrong, just badly managed), has one problem: no one can convincing prove that modest increments in troop strength will change the security situation in Iraq (see #1 above). One would need 300,000 or more troops to have a chance of pacifying Iraq, and that is neither politically feasible or logistically possible, and is therefore a nonstarter. So is "Go Big."

6. Foreign fighters, especially jihadis, are fueling the violence. This was largely discredited but is making a comeback as Washington's search for scapegoats intensifies. By most estimates, including the Pentagon's, foreign fighters make up a small fraction of violent actors in Iraq -- perhaps 10 percent overall. (This is based on identifying people arrested as fighters.) Some of the more spectacular attacks have been carried out by al Qaeda or its imitators, but overall the violence is due to three forces: U.S. military, Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents, and Shia militia, with minor parts played by Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and the foreign bad boys.

7. If we do not defeat the violent actors there, they will follow us here. This is now the sole remaining justification for U.S. involvement in the war. If the numbers about foreign fighters are correct, then it is plainly wrong. The main anatgonists are Iraqis, and they will remain there to fight it out for many years. That does not mean we have not created many "terrorists" who would do us harm, as U.S. intelligence agencies assert, but killing them in Iraq is not a plausible option. It's too difficult; aggressive counterinsurgency creates more fighters the longer we stay and harder we try; and they might not be there.

8. The violence is about Sunni-Shia mutual loathing; a pox on both their houses. This is the emerging "moral clarity" of the right wing, that we gave it our best, we handed the tools of freedom to Iraqis, and they'd rather kill each other. That there was longstanding antagonism, stemming from decades of Sunni Arab domination and repression, is well known. But the truly horrifying scale of violence we see now took many months to brew, and is built on the violence begun by the U.S. military and the lack of economic stability, political participation, etc., that the occupation wrought. Equally as important, sectarian killing found its political justification in the constitution fashioned by U.S. advisers that essentially split the country into three factions, giving them a very solid set of incentives to go to war with each other.

9. The war is an Iraqi affair, and the best we can do now is train them to enforce security. This is the more upbeat version of #8, the "Go Long" strategy that sees training as a panacea. Despite three years of serious attempts, the U.S. training programs are bogged down by the sectarian violence itself, or by incompetence all round. No one who has looked at this carefully believes that training Iraqis is a near-term solution. It's a useful ruse as an exit strategy, blaming the victims for violence and failure.

10. Trust the same people who caused or endorsed the war to tell us what to do next. We know who they are: Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other cronies; the neo-cons now increasingly on the periphery of power but still bleating (Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Adelman, Lieberman), the liberal hawks, and the right-wing media (Krauthamer, Fox News, Glenn Beck, phalangist bloggers, et al). They say, "just finish the job." Just finish the job... at a human cost of how many more dead? How many lives ruined? How much more damage to U.S.-Arab relations? How much anti-Muslim racism fomented to justify the killing?

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Yesterday there was a report about 100 widows a day being created in Iraq. A Times of London report from last summer notes that gravediggers in one Baghdad cemetery are handling 200 bodies daily, compared with 60 before the war. The situation of the displaced is becoming a humanitarian crisis that will soon rival the worst African cases; the middle and upper classes have fled, leaving the poor to cope. So the poor from the U.S. go to beat up the poor in Iraq, or stand by helplessly as the Iraqi poor ravage each other.

That is the harsh reality of violence in Iraq. A half million dead. More than two million displaced. No end in sight.

Beware the delusions.

Iraq: Not Civil War, Occupation

Iraq: Not Civil War, Occupation
By Sami Ramadani, Open Democracy, December 7, 2006


The Iraq Study Group has still not understood what people in Iraq well know, says Sami Ramadani: that it is the United States military occupation of Iraq itself that is fuelling the violence there.

When he was asked by the BBC whether he thought Iraq was going through a civil war, United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan said that clashes in Lebanon and elsewhere in the past were described as civil war and that the situation in Iraq "is worse than civil war."

I don't know what Kofi Annan had in mind as to what exactly is going on in Iraq, but it is clear to me that it is certainly worse than a civil war. However, I must swiftly add that it is not a communal civil war. Civil wars come in all shapes and sizes, and some are more brutal than others. The 15th century English "wars of the roses" were a series of civil wars, and so were the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions. The clashes in the Lebanon of the 1970s and 1980s, the implosion of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s all had strong elements of a communal civil war.

But we don't describe the war in Vietnam from the 1950s to the 1970s as a civil war, even though it had aspects of civil war, because the National Liberation Front (NLF) was fighting against the South Vietnamese government forces, numbering well over one million soldiers, backed by United States forces. The US policy to withdraw from Vietnam - following the 1968 Tet offensive, the withdrawal of President Johnson from the presidential election race, and the election of Richard M Nixon - went through a process of strengthening the South Vietnamese forces and relying on them to fight the NLF. It was known as "Vietnamisation".

It took the US seven more years finally to admit defeat and withdraw - and only after its "exit strategy" included a massive escalation of the war, bombing Hanoi, spreading the war into Laos and carpet-bombing Cambodia. Most Vietnamese people and their supporters called it a war of liberation (and in Vietnam's historiography it is designated the "American war"). The US media called it the "war in Vietnam" or the "war against communism".

With the blood of the innocent being spilt abundantly in many parts of Iraq, all this might sound like a scholastic exercise and an argument about semantics. Widely used terms, however, can inform and help us to understand, while misused or abused terms have the power to misinform and confuse. They can also mislead the public into supporting or acquiescing in policies on vital matters.

If the global public sees the war as a "war on terrorism" coupled with an Iraqi communal civil war (raging now or threatening to do so) then it is unlikely to demand the swift withdrawal of the troops. If, however, the public sees the war for what it really is, it will probably demand the immediate withdrawal of the troops. And that is why the argument about how to describe the war in Iraq and what exactly is the nature of this war become immensely important. Furthermore, correctly diagnosing what goes in Iraq, and going beyond the expressions of sympathetic platitudes, is an essential first step to finding a solution for the bloody tragedy engulfing the people of Iraq.

The terms "Iraqisation" and "Iraqi-isation" were introduced about two years ago, following Pentagon efforts to involve more Iraqis in the fighting; neither has caught on. They are wholly unable to address the vital questions that remain: what is the nature of the war in Iraq, and what is the way out for the Iraqi people?

How it started

Despite suggestions to the contrary, the answer to the first question hasn't changed ever since the United States-led forces occupied Iraq in March-April 2003: a war of bullets and politics between the occupying powers and most of the Iraqi people who want them out. The feelings of the Iraqi people towards the occupation became abundantly clear within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad to United States tanks on 9 April 2003.

According to the BBC, about 4 million people from all over Iraq marched on to Karbala to commemorate the anniversary of Islam's (particularly Shi'a Islam's) most famous martyr, Imam Hussain. The most popular slogans on that march, which was boosted by people from all religions and none, must have sent alarm bells ringing in Washington and London. For several days they chanted Kalla, Kalla Amreeka - Kalla, Kalla Saddam ("No to America, no to Saddam"). If this is how the Shi'a felt, how would the Sunni, not to mention the atheists?!

From that moment on most of the Iraqi people never ceased making their feelings clear towards the occupation. First they used words and engaged in peaceful protests, which quickly led to using bullets too. The latter Rubicon was crossed on 28 April 2003, one week after the march on Karbala, when US soldiers opened fire on parents and children who gathered in front of a primary school in Fallujah demanding the US forces stop using it as an outpost and to allow their children to go back to school. They killed eighteen of them in cold blood and injured about sixty others.

Until the killing of those demonstrators, not a single bullet had been fired at US soldiers in Fallujah or any of the cities north of Baghdad. This was the event that reverberated across Iraq and sparked the armed resistance to occupation. Fallujah being a predominantly Sunni town, and the occupation authorities' having a keen eye for attempting to split the opposition, led to the production of a myth as big as the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deception that launched the invasion and occupation of Iraq: the fiction that the armed resistance is predominantly Sunni and that they are in a fight against the Shi'a.

The US-led forces responded by using even more bombs, bullets, warm words, and money to reverse the popular odds piling up against them. But within six months of the occupation the CIA boldly warned, "the resistance is broad, strong and getting stronger." Despite attempts to muddy the waters of what is going on in Iraq, it is clear that the resistance is even broader, stronger and getting stronger with every passing day.

What of the mindless violence, terrorism and sectarian murders? This is where the occupation authorities and the establishment media have succeeded in convincing most of the public in the US and Britain that, after thousands of years of living together without even a whiff of communal civil war in their history, the people of Mesopotamia don't want to "live and let live" anymore, but have decided to kill each other instead. Add to this scenario the exaggerated presence of foreign terrorists led by al-Qaida, trying to take control of Iraq's oil according to George W Bush, and you have a distorted and highly misleading picture of Iraq. It appears that an old colonial frame of mind has taken root in relation to Iraq; for some, the natives are at it again. In this mindset, the occupation forces are made to appear as a benign, almost virtuous presence in the middle of raging sectarian violence.

As a result, it has become easier for the White House and Downing Street to appear concerned and reasonable when they argue that the troops should stay in Iraq, until such time as the "job is done", "democracy is established", "the terrorists are defeated", "the Iraqis could be in charge of security" or "security is restored".

Of course they talk less of democracy nowadays, for the natives are not ready for it. There is even more talk - as there has been since the very start of the occupation - of backing a "strong man". (Someone like Saddam perhaps?) Indeed, an image of Iraq imploding and generating even greater levels of bloodshed, once the troops withdraw, has convinced even some anti-war writers and most of the anti-war public that the troops should not be withdrawn too quickly.

How it must end

The long-awaited and much-leaked Iraq Study Group report (under the direction of James A Baker and Lee Hamilton) is likely to feed into this falsehood. It suggests reducing the troops and relying more on Iraqis to do the killing (more "Iraqisation"). And to appear even more concerned and reasonable, they suggest asking Syria and Iran to help restore peace in Iraq. They do not even dare to go as far as the chief-of-staff of the British army, Richard Dannatt, and suggest that the occupation forces, which "kicked the door in", are "exasperating" the situation and creating more violence. They do not tell us about some of the disturbing facts on the ground.

They do not tell us about the "Salvador option" and the presence in Iraq of US death-squads, trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Israel, nor will they spill the beans (as US generals have started to do).

They do not tell us about the secret militias trained and financed by the US, partly uncovered by the Wall Street Journal (in February 2005), but in any case common knowledge in Iraq.

They do not tell us why the occupying power should secretly smuggle 200,000 Kalashnikovs and tons of explosives into Iraq from Bosnia within one year (2004-05); nor to whom these weapons were supplied.

They do not tell us about the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on covert political operations and the backing of proxy political forces.

They do not tell us about continuing work on building the biggest US embassy in the world in Baghdad's Green Zone embassy (fortress), about the roughly fourteen permanent military bases (including four massive ones) being constructed.

They do not tell us about the post-Abu Ghraib contracting-out of most of the torture to the Iraqi state, the backing of Iraqi state-sponsored violence against civilians.

They do not tell us - last but very from least - about the silent killers of Iraqi people.

Some Iraqi doctors think that more people are dying prematurely because of other occupation-related factors than from the violence itself. More than 654,000 Iraqis are estimated (by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) to have been killed since the US-led invasion. But the silent killers are claiming lives almost unnoticed.

The country's infrastructure has all but been destroyed; people are exposed to the health danger of depleted uranium from US and British military ordnance; the health service is near collapse and hospitals have been reduced to impotence in the face of mounting injuries and disease, particularly water-born diseases affecting children. The electricity shortage is affecting the sewage plants, which are pumping raw sewage into the rivers.

About 300 of the country's leading academics and scientists have been assassinated and its educational system is approaching collapse. How much more should the Iraqi people be subjected to for Bush and Blair to have their chosen puppets firmly installed in Baghdad?

There is another striking aspect of the war that gets rarely reported, and which I think is vitally important to bring to the attention of the public outside Iraq. There is near unanimity amongst Iraqis, outside the ruling circles and parties, particularly amongst the people most affected by the terrorist violence, that the indiscriminate violence is generated and backed or turned a blind eye to by the occupation authorities.

Anyone who cares to track the daily footage of scenes of murder and mayhem in Baghdad and elsewhere in the aftermath of terrorist atrocities would immediately notice this attitude. The raw film, broadcast by Iraqi and Arab satellite stations, is striking for the anger expressed by the injured and their families against the occupation. Some of this carnage is shown on British TV but always stripped of the comments made by the angry crowds and the injured.

It appears to be alright to state, without any evidence, that Sunni this and Shi'a that caused the explosions but it would be highly speculative to broadcast the opinions of the victims of the violence.

In reality, and this is also backed by the latest large-scale opinion poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, most Iraqis see the occupation as the poison running through the veins of Iraqi society. Whether it is the heightened sectarian tensions, the occupation violence or the indiscriminate atrocities, the occupation's tentacles are perceived to be behind it by the people that matter: the battered and bloodied Iraqi people.

No way out of the tragedy is feasible without looking at the occupation itself and identifying it for what it is: the source of and magnet for most of the violence and antagonistic divisions. Moreover, if the US-led occupation forces are not fully and swiftly withdrawn from Iraq, then the US 'exit strategy' will mushroom into new, devastating wars against Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

Iraq will not be suddenly turned into a bed of roses once the occupation ends. Some of the violence might also continue. But the Iraqi people will get the chance to resolve their own problems without the presence of a United States-led occupation in their midst. It's called the right to self-determination.

Naomi Klein: The battle the US wants to provoke

The battle the US wants to provoke
Bremer is deliberately pushing Iraq's Shia south into all-out chaos

Naomi Klein, The Guardian, April 6 2004


I heard the sound of freedom in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the famous plaza where the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled one year ago. It sounds like machine-gun fire.

On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers, trained and controlled by coalition forces, opened fire on a demonstration here. As the protesters returned to their homes in the poor neighbourhood of Sadr City, the US army followed with tanks, helicopters and planes, firing at random on homes, shops, streets, even ambulances. According to local hospitals, 47 people were killed and many more injured. In Najaf, the day was also bloody: 20 demonstrators dead, more than 150 injured.

In Sadr City yesterday, funeral marches passed by US military tanks and the hospitals were overflowing with the injured. By afternoon, clashes had resumed.

Make no mistake: this is not the "civil war" that Washington has been predicting will break out between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. Rather, it is a war provoked by the US occupation authority and waged by its forces against the growing number of Shia who support Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr is the younger, more radical rival of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and portrayed by his supporters as a cross between Ayatollah Khomeini and Che Guevara. He blames the US for attacks on civilians; compares the US occupation chief, Paul Bremer, to Saddam Hussein; aligns himself with Hamas and Hizbullah; and has called for a jihad against the controversial interim constitution. His Iraq might look a lot like Iran.

And it's a message with a market. With Sistani concentrating on lobbying the UN rather than on confronting the US-led occupation, many Shia are turning to the more militant tactics preached by Sadr. Some have joined the Mahdi, his black-clad army, which claims hundreds of thousands of members.

At first, Bremer responded to Sadr's growing strength by ignoring him; now he is attempting to provoke him into all-out battle. The trouble began when he closed down Sadr's newspaper last week, sparking a wave of peaceful demonstrations. On Saturday, Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Sadr's house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate protests in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. At the end of the day on Sunday, Sadr called on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations and urged them to employ unnamed "other ways" to resist the occupation - a statement many interpreted as a call to arms.

On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Falluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle?

Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council.

But by sending the new Iraqi army to fire on the people they are supposed to be protecting, Bremer has destroyed what slim hope they had of gaining credibility with an already highly mistrustful population. On Sunday, before storming the unarmed demonstrators, the soldiers could be seen pulling on ski masks, so they would not be recognised in their neighbourhoods later.

The coalition provisional authority is increasingly being compared on the streets to Saddam, who also didn't much like peaceful protests, or critical newspapers.

In an interview yesterday, Iraq's minister of communication, Haider al-Abadi, blasted the act that started the current wave of violence: the closing of Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawzah. Abadi, who is supposedly in charge of media in Iraq, says he was not even informed of the plan. Meanwhile, the man at the centre of it all - Moqtada al-Sadr - is having his hero status amplified by the hour.

On Sunday, all these explosive forces came together when thousands of demonstrators filled Firdos Square. On one side of the plaza, a couple of kids climbed to the top of a building and took a knife to a billboard advertising Iraq's new army. On the other side, US forces pointed tanks at the crowd while a loudspeaker told them that "demonstrations are an important part of democracy but blocking traffic will not be permitted".

At the front of the square was the statue that the Americans put up in place of the toppled one of Saddam. Its faceless figures are supposed to represent the liberation of the Iraqi people. Today they are plastered with photographs of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Dahr Jamail: Samarra Bombings - Who Benefits?

Samarra Bombings - Who Benefits?

Dahr Jamail, February 24, 2006


The most important question to ask regarding the bombings of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on the 22nd is: who benefits?

Prior to asking this question, let us note the timing of the bombing. The last weeks in Iraq have been a PR disaster for the occupiers.

First, the negative publicity of the video of British soldiers beating and abusing young Iraqis has generated a backlash for British occupation forces they’ve yet to face in Iraq.

Indicative of this, Abdul Jabbar Waheed, the head of the Misan provincial council in southern Iraq, announced his councils’ decision to lift the immunity British forces have enjoyed, so that the soldiers who beat the young Iraqis can be tried in Iraqi courts. Former U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer had issued an order granting all occupation soldiers and western contractors immunity to Iraqi law when he was head of the CPA…but this province has now decided to lift that so the British soldiers can be investigated and tried under Iraqi law.

This deeply meaningful event, if replicated around Iraq, will generate a huge rift between the occupiers and local governments. A rift which, of course, the puppet government in Baghdad will be unable to mend.

The other huge event which drew Iraqis into greater solidarity with one another was more photos and video aired depicting atrocities within Abu Ghraib at the hands of U.S. occupation forces.

The inherent desecration of Islam and shaming of the Iraqi people shown in these images enrages all Iraqis.

In a recent press conference, the aforementioned Waheed urged the Brits to allow members of the provincial committee to visit a local jail to check on detainees; perhaps Waheed is alarmed as to what their condition may be after seeing more photos and videos from Abu Ghraib.

Waheed also warned British forces that if they didn’t not comply with the demands of the council, all British political, security and reconstruction initiatives will be boycotted.

Basra province has already taken similar steps, and similar machinations are occurring in Kerbala.

Basra and Misan provinces, for example, refused to raise the cost of petrol when the puppet government in Baghdad, following orders from the IMF, decided to recently raise the cost of Iraqi petrol at the pumps several times last December.

The horrific attack which destroyed much of the Golden Mosque generated sectarian outrage which led to attacks on over 50 Sunni mosques. Many Sunni mosques in Baghdad were shot, burnt, or taken over. Three Imans were killed, along with scores of others in widespread violence.

This is what was shown by western corporate media.

As quickly as these horrible events began, they were called to an end and replaced by acts of solidarity between Sunni and Shia across Iraq.

This, however, was not shown by western corporate media.

The Sunnis were the first to go to demonstrations of solidarity with Shia in Samarra, as well as to condemn the mosque bombings. Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunni and Shia went off over all of Iraq: in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah al-Din.

Thousands of Shia marched shouting anti-American slogans through Sadr City, the huge Shia slum area of Baghdad, which is home to nearly half the population of the capital city. Meanwhile, in the primarily Shia city of Kut, south of Baghdad, thousands marched while shouting slogans against America and Israel and burning U.S. and Israeli flags.

Baghdad had huge demonstrations of solidarity, following announcements by several Shia religious leaders not to attack Sunni mosques.

Attacks stopped after these announcements, coupled with those from Sadr, which I’ll discuss shortly.

Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, shortly after the Golden Mosque was attacked, called for “easing things down and not attacking any Sunni mosques and shrines,” as Sunni religious authorities called for a truce and invited everyone to block the way of those trying to generate a sectarian war.

Sistani’s office issued this statement: “We call upon believers to express their protest … through peaceful means. The extent of their sorrow and shock should not drag them into taking actions that serve the enemies who have been working to lead Iraq into sectarian strife.”

Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr warned of the emergence of a sectarian strife “that terrorists want to ignite between the Iraqis” by the bombings and said, “The Iraqi Shiite authority strenuously denied that Sunnis could have done this work.”

He also said, “Of course it is not Sunnis who did this work; it is the terrorists who are the enemies of the Shiites and Sunni, Muslims and non Muslims. They are the enemies of all religions; terrorism does not have a religion.”

He warned against touching any Sunni Mosque, saying, “our Sunni brothers’ mosques must be protected and we must all stand against terrorism and sabotage.” He added: ‘The two shrines are located in the Samarra region, which [is] predominantly Sunni. They have been protecting, using and guarding the mosques for years, it is not them but terrorism that targeted the mosques…”

He ruled out the possibility of a civil war while telling a reporter, “I don’t believe there will a civil or religious war in Iraq; thank God that our Sunni and Shiite references are urging everyone to not respond to these terrorist and sabotage acts. We are aware of their attempts as are our people; Sistani had issued many statements [regarding this issue] just as we did.”

The other, and more prominent Sadr, Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has already lead two uprisings against occupation forces, held Takfiris [those who regard other Muslims as infidels], Ba’thists, and especially the foreign occupation responsible for the bombing attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

Sadr, who suspended his visit to Lebanon and cancelled his meeting with the president there, promptly returned to Iraq in order to call on the Iraqi parliament to vote on the request for the departure of the occupation forces from Iraq.

“It was not the Sunnis who attacked the shrine of Imam Al-Hadi, God’s peace be upon him, but rather the occupation [forces] and Ba’athists…God damn them. We should not attack Sunni mosques. I ordered Al-Mahdi Army to protect the Shi’i and Sunni shrines.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, urged Iraqi Shia not to seek revenge against Sunni Muslims, saying there were definite plots “to force the Shia to attack the mosques and other properties respected by the Sunni. Any measure to contribute to that direction is helping the enemies of Islam and is forbidden by sharia.”

Instead, he blamed the intelligence services of the U.S. and Israel for being behind the bombs at the Golden Mosque.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that those who committed the attack on the Golden Mosque “have only one motive: to create a violent sedition between the Sunnis and the Shiites in order to derail the Iraqi rising democracy from its path.”

Well said Mr. Blair, particularly when we keep in mind the fact that less than a year ago in Basra, two undercover British SAS soldiers were detained by Iraqi security forces whilst traveling in a car full of bombs and remote detonators.

Jailed and accused by Muqtada al-Sadr and others of attempting to generate sectarian conflict by planting bombs in mosques, they were broken out of the Iraqi jail by the British military before they could be tried.

Review: Descent into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid

A few reviews of the latest book by Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (2008). Below I copy some insightful passages.

Khaled Ahmed, Daily Times, Aug 31, 2008

"Meanwhile, Musharraf had taken over in Pakistan with the help of his three corps commanders, Mehmood, Aziz and Usmani. After 9/11, Musharraf convinced the three Islamists that Pakistan had to align with America or go under to India. A reference to India is enough to make the Pakistani military mind dysfunctional. The plan was to ‘only partially accept the US demands’ to be able to oust India from the arena (p.29).

The ‘partial acceptance’ in the above reference was to protect the policy on the Taliban against resolutions by the UN. Corps commander Peshawar General Imtiaz Shaheen was removed by Musharraf when he demanded change in the Taliban policy. All proposals of change of policy were blocked by generals Mehmood and Aziz. The ISI had funded the JUI of Fazlur Rehman to hold its grand International Deobandi Conference near Peshawar in April 2001 during which a message from Osama bin Laden was also allowed to be read out. The ISI got Lashkar-e Tayba to hold another conference in Lahore, send the UN the message that Pakistan would not kowtow to its resolutions (p.53). UN envoy Brahimi was mentioned as working for the Indians in the planted stories in the Pakistani press.

After 9/11, US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld put in practice the neo-con plan to conquer Al Qaeda without putting troops on the ground and without ‘nation-building’ (reconstruction) (p.173). The plan was to buy off the warlords, isolate Al Qaeda and get Osama bin Laden through paid agents. Warlords Fahim, Rasul Sayyaf and Rashid Dostam got around $14 million and Fahim got $5 million directly from General Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander who later botched the Tora Bora operation and let Osama bin Laden escape with the help of Pakistani Pashtuns — who received $1200 per person for 800 Arabs — simply because the American troops were thin on the ground. When NATO wanted to send troops, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz said no thanks (p.65 and 98). Thus Bin Laden landed up in Parachinar, the Shia-majority headquarters of Kurram Agency, and laid the foundation of what is today known as the big sectarian slaughter (p.155).

Ahmed Rashid is fair when he says Musharraf didn’t let go of his policy of backing the Taliban and through them domination of Afghanistan because he thought Americans would cut and run soon enough, leaving Pakistan holding the bag. Rumsfeld was proving him right all the time (p.335). This was the situation when the US got Pakistan to send a delegation to Mullah Umar in Kandahar to warn him to surrender Osama bin Laden or be prepared to face invasion. The ISI delegation led by General Mehmood and containing Mufti Shamzai instead told Mullah Umar to hold fast and face off the invasion. The CIA got to know that General Mehmood was playing a double game. The ISI told Musharraf that US would not commit ground troops and that the Taliban would carry on from the mountains even if ousted from the cities. This convinced Musharraf to double-deal with the US (p.77).

When the invasion came, Musharraf did not abide by his promise to withdraw the elements of his army from Afghanistan. Dozens of FC men stayed on the side of Taliban helping them prepare defences and sending intelligence back to the ISI whose excuse for the double-cross was fear of India coming in riding the Northern Alliance."

Raymond Bonner, NY Times, Aug 10, 2008

"The current political situation is unstable. The Bush administration considered Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, indispensable, and so did not push for democratic reforms, Rashid observes. But given the record of civilian governments in Pakistan, might this have been a reasonable conclusion? For most of the decade before Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were the prime ministers. Their governments were marked by enormous corruption (Bhutto’s more so than Sharif’s) and ineffectiveness. Today, the most powerful civilian leaders in the country are Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and Sharif, whom Rashid describes as “right-wing, anti-American and close to the Islamic parties.”

Clearly, we need to have a debate about America’s strategic interests in the region. We want to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming havens for terrorist groups, and that may require limited military assistance. But as Rashid suggests, the next administration will have to make a major diplomatic effort as well."

Kim Sengupta, The Independent, July 11, 2008

"Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan is tied in with its great rivalry with India. The military sees Afghanistan as offering a hinterland, "strategic depth", and also training facilities for a future conflict. India also cannot escape blame. The world's second most populous country, desperate to be seen as a great power, still sees foreign policy through the prism of the feud with its neighbour. India's huge aid programme in Afghanistan, Rashid points out, adds to Pakistan's paranoia.

Not just Afghanistan, but Pakistan, has been damaged in the process. Rashid reminds us just how much the West, America in particular, was culpable in creating this incendiary scenario, with their unstinting support for generals who deposed elected governments, impirsoned politicians and nurtured fundamentalist Islamist parties. Billions of dollars were sent from Washington to the military as supporters in the Cold War, and significant funds to Muslim fundamentalists.

General Musharraf, Rashid points out, was just the latest military strongman successfully to manipulate Washington. He received huge funds and weaponry while being portrayed, by both himself and the US, as a staunch ally in the "war on terror". It was only belatedly that US officials began to complain that the Pakistanis were not only doing little to pursue al-Qa'ida and the Taliban, but senior officials were complicit in harbouring them.

Elections have now taken place while the assassination of Benazir Bhutto shows just how fragile the situation remains. Rashid believes that the emergence of civil society in Pakistan and a dissipation in the influence of the military may help to heal the violent fractures in the region. But events since this book was written do not support such optimism. As the New York Times pointed out last week, four months after the election Pakistan remains in leaderless drift while the military and ISI carry out their private deals with the Islamists."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Irene Khan: Where are the disappeared?

Where are the disappeared?
By Irene Khan, DAWN, Aug 30, 2008


PAKISTAN’S new ruling coalition may have successfully forced Pervez Musharraf to resign but it still has not done much to reverse his administration’s abusive human rights legacy.

Twenty-five years since the International Day of the Disappeared was launched on Aug 30, Pakistan has joined the list of nations practising enforced disappearances as a direct consequence of its alliance with the US-led ‘war on terror.’

This particularly painful legacy of the Musharraf era has subjected hundreds, if not thousands, to enforced disappearances — the practice under which people are kidnapped, held in secret locations outside any judicial or legal system, and often tortured, sometimes to the point of death.

Pakistan not only shamefully helped fill the wire cages at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray and the secret prisons of the CIA by handing some of the detainees to the US authorities but also incarcerated many secretly in Pakistan itself. Held out of sight and without charge, with no word to their families and loved ones (much less lawyers), the fate of many of them remains unknown to this day.

In Sept 2006, after Amnesty International published its first report on the disappeared in Pakistan, I wrote to President Musharraf and in January 2007 met the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to urge the government to investigate and end the appalling practice of abduction and secret detention. I never received a satisfactory response.

If the leaders of the ruling coalition want to demonstrate they are serious about changing Musharraf’s policies, they should immediately reveal details of where the hundreds of disappeared are being held. And then they must begin the process of establishing some control and accountability over the country’s notorious security agencies, chief among them the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which, allegedly, carried out these enforced disappearances.

Amnesty International’s recent report Denying the Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan, used official court records and affidavits of victims and witnesses of enforced disappearances to show how government officials, especially from the security and intelligence agencies, obstructed attempts to trace those who had disappeared. The report reveals a pattern of security or other forces arbitrarily detaining people (some of them children, in one case a nine-year-old boy), blindfolding them, and moving them around various detention centres so they become difficult to trace.

Take the case of Dr Imran Munir, a Malaysian citizen of Pakistani origin, who was arrested in July 2006 and whose whereabouts remained unknown until Pakistan’s Supreme Court demanded information from Pakistani authorities. After the Supreme Court took up regular hearings of cases about the disappeared in late 2006, around 100 disappeared persons were traced, having either been released or found in recognised places of detention. Dr Munir was one those lucky ones; during the course of hearings on his case, it became apparent that various security agencies had tried to hide him even after the Supreme Court had ordered his appearance in court.

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry became impatient with such obfuscation and denial and announced in Oct 2007 that it would summon the heads of the intelligence agencies to explain their role in enforced disappearances and would initiate legal action against those found responsible.

Dr Munir was set to record his statement regarding his enforced disappearance, as well as information about others subjected to enforced disappearance, when the hearing was disrupted by Musharraf’s imposition of the state of emergency in November last year and the unlawful deposing of independent-minded judges.

Musharraf’s declaration of emergency expressed his indignation succinctly when it spoke of “judicial interference” in the government’s fight against terrorism. The sacking of the judges, clearly and crucially in anticipation of a negative decision in respect of the eligibility of Musharraf to the office of the presidency, got rid of this irritant.

Not surprisingly, the new judges of the Supreme Court have not found it necessary — or opportune — to resume hearings about the hundreds of petitions relating to disappeared persons. A confrontation with those responsible for enforced disappearances, including Pakistan’s notorious intelligence services, apparently takes more determination, grit and political will than one appears able to muster.

Thus the fate of the disappeared has become closely entwined with that of Pakistan’s higher judiciary. It seems unlikely that the disappeared will receive appropriate judicial scrutiny for the time being, given the controversy over the reinstatement of deposed judges.

But the new government need not await judicial pressure to shed light on the fate of the disappeared. The government can use its executive authority to demand that the ISI and other security agencies provide information about those subjected to enforced disappearance. As a first step, the government should immediately gather and publicise a list of all those in government detention. It’s good record-keeping; it’s basic law enforcement; it’s also the law.

In April 2008, shortly after the elections, Law Minister Farooq Naek stated that the government was collecting details of disappeared persons and pledged that all would be released. Now is the time to go public with that information.

Providing information about the fate of the disappeared would bring some solace to hundreds of families — thousands of people — who continue to fear for the lives of their loved ones, aware that torture and other ill-treatment are routine in Pakistani places of detention.

By abducting and detaining terrorist suspects in secret hiding places, or failing to investigate and reveal the fate of the disappeared the government violates human rights and does little to counter terrorism. By arresting and prosecuting those suspected of terrorism in accordance with the rule of law the government can show its commitment to both human rights and fighting terrorism.

It would also send a clear, immediate signal of a radical break with the Musharraf era, and at very little cost — something very important to the fractious new government as it faces the many woes besetting the country such as a slumping economy, high fuel costs and a growing Taliban insurgency in the areas bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s new government has a clear choice: it can continue the bankrupt and brutal anti-human rights practices of the Musharraf regime or it can counter terror with justice and put the country on the path of the rule of law and human rights.

The writer is secretary general of Amnesty International.

Also see:
Documentary (24 min): Missing in Pakistan by Ziad Zafar

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dahr Jamail: The myth of sectarianism

The myth of sectarianism

The policy is divide to rule

By DAHR JAMAIL, January 2008


IF THE U.S. leaves Iraq, the violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shia will worsen. This is what Republicans and Democrats alike will have us believe. This key piece of rhetoric is used to justify the continuance of the occupation of Iraq.

This propaganda, like others of its ilk, gains ground, substance, and reality due largely to the ignorance of those ingesting it. The snow job by the corporate media on the issue of sectarianism in Iraq has ensured that the public buys into the line that the Sunni and Shia will dice one another up into little pieces if the occupation ends.

It may be worthwhile to consider that prior to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq there had never been open warfare between the two groups and certainly not a civil war. In terms of organization and convention, Iraqis are a tribal society and some of the largest tribes in the country comprise Sunni and Shia. Intermarriages between the two sects are not uncommon either.

Soon after arriving in Iraq in November 2003, I learned that it was considered rude and socially graceless to enquire after an individual’s sect. If in ignorance or under compulsion I did pose the question the most common answer I would receive was, “I am Muslim, and I am Iraqi.” On occasion there were more telling responses like the one I received from an older woman, “My mother is a Shia and my father a Sunni, so can you tell which half of me is which?” The accompanying smile said it all.

Large mixed neighborhoods were the norm in Baghdad. Sunni and Shia prayed in one another’s mosques. Secular Iraqis could form lifelong associations with others without overt concern about their chosen sect. How did such a well-integrated society erupt into vicious fighting, violent sectarianism, and segregated neighborhoods? How is one to explain the millions in Iraq displaced from their homes simply because they were the wrong sect in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Back in December 2003 Sheikh Adnan, a Friday speaker at his mosque, had recounted a recent experience to me. During the first weeks of the occupation, a U.S. military commander had showed up in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province located roughly twenty-five miles northeast of Baghdad with a mixed Sunni-Shia population. He had asked to meet with all the tribal and religious leaders. On the appointed day the assembled leaders were perplexed when the commander instructed them to divide themselves, “Shia on one side of the room, Sunni on the other.”

It would not be amiss, perhaps, to read in this account an implanting of a deliberate policy of “divide and rule” by the Anglo-American invaders from the early days of the occupation.

There have been no statistical surveys in recent years to determine the sectarian composition of Iraq. However, when the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Paul Bremer, formed the first puppet Iraqi government, a precedent was set. The twenty-five seats in the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), were assigned strictly along sectarian lines based on the assumption that 60 percent of the population is Shia, 20 percent Sunni, and 20 percent Kurds, who are mostly Sunni. For good measure, a couple of Turkoman and a Christian were thrown in.

It is evident that this puppet troupe deployed at the onset of “democracy” in Iraq was mandated to establish to the population that it was in the larger interest to begin thinking, at least politically, along sectarian and ethnic lines. Inevitably, political power struggles ensued and were cemented and exacerbated with the January 30, 2005, elections.

Mild surface scratching reveals a darker, largely unreported aspect of the divisive U.S. plan. A UN report released in September 2005 held Iraqi interior ministry forces responsible for an organized campaign of detention, torture, and killing of fellow Iraqis. These special police commando units were recruited from the Shia Badr Organization and Mehdi Army militias. [Editor IS: Not sure how to take this bit. It's hard to imagine the Badr and Mehdi militias working along with each other.]

In Baghdad during November and December 2004, I heard widespread accounts of death squads assassinating Sunni resistance leaders and their key sympathizers. It was after the failure of Operation Phantom Fury, as the U.S. siege of Fallujah that November was named, that the Iraqi resistance spread across Iraq like wildfire. Death squads were set up to quell this fire by eliminating the leadership of this growing resistance.

The firefighting team had at its helm the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, ably assisted by retired Colonel James Steele, adviser to Iraqi security forces. In 1984–86 Steele had been commander of the U.S. military advisory group in El Salvador. Between 1981 and 1985 Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to neighboring Honduras. In 1994 the Honduras Commission on Human Rights charged him with extensive human rights violations, reporting the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers. A CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the U.S. role in Honduras has placed on record documents admitting that the operations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured, and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas. Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for close to a year from June 2004.

The only public mention of any of this I have seen was in Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2005. It quotes Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. secretary of defense at the time, who discussed the use of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq. It compared the strategy being planned for Iraq to the one used in Central America during the Reagan administration:

Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported “nationalist” forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

U.S.-backed sectarian death squads have become the foremost generator of death in Iraq, even surpassing the U.S. military machine, infamous for its capacity for industrial-scale slaughter. It is no secret in Baghdad that the U.S. military would regularly cordon off pro-resistance areas like the al-Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad and allow “Iraqi police” and “Iraqi army” personnel, masked in black balaclavas, through their checkpoints to carry out abductions and assassinations in the neighborhood.

Consequently, almost all of Baghdad and much of Iraq is now segregated. The flipside is that violence in the capital city has subsided somewhat of late now that the endgame of forming the death squads, that of fragmenting the population, has been mostly accomplished.

Baghdad resident, retired General Waleed al-Ubaidy told my Iraqi colleague recently, “I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine, but the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.” Baghdad today is a divided city.

Ahmad Ali, chief engineer from one of Baghdad’s municipalities told my colleague, Ali al-Fadhily, “Baghdad has been torn into two cities and many towns and neighborhoods. There is now the Shia Baghdad and the Sunni Baghdad to start with. Each is divided into little town-like pieces of the hundreds of thousands who had to leave their homes.” Al-Adhamiyah, on the Russafa side of Tigris River, is now entirely Sunni, the other areas are all Shia. The al-Karkh side of the river is purely Sunni except for Shula, Hurriya, and small strips of Aamil which are dominated by Shia militias.

Not being privy to the U.S. machinations, Iraqis in Baghdad blame the Iraqi police and Iraqi army for the sectarian assassinations and wonder why the U.S. military does little or nothing to stop them. “The Americans ask [Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki to stop the sectarian assassinations knowing full well that his ministers are ordering the sectarian cleansing,” says Mahmood Farhan of the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni group.

A more recent manifestation of the divisive U.S. policy has been the “purchase” of members of the largely Sunni resistance in Baghdad and in al-Anbar province that constitutes one-third of the geographic area of Iraq. Payments made by the U.S. military to collaborating tribal sheikhs already amount to $17 million. The money passes directly into the hands of fighters who in many cases were engaged in launching attacks against the occupiers less than two weeks ago. Tribal fighters are being paid $300 per month to patrol their areas, particularly against foreign mercenaries. Today the military refers to these men as “concerned local citizens,” “awakening force,” or simply “volunteers.”

Arguably, violence in the area has temporarily declined. “Those Americans thought they would decrease the resistance attacks by separating the people of Iraq into sects and tribes,” announced a thirty-two-year-old man from Ramadi, who spoke with al-Fadhily on terms of anonymity, “They know they are sinking deeper into the shifting sand, but the collaborators are fooling the Americans right now, and will in the end use this strategy against them.” By the end of November 2007, the U.S. military had enlisted 77,000 of these fighters, and hopes to add another 10,000. Eighty-two percent of the fighters are Sunni.

Politically, the U.S. administration maintains its support of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The fallout has been blatantly clear. On the first of December, Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Accordance Front, which is the Sunni political bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, was placed under house arrest by Iraqi and U.S. security forces in the Adil neighborhood, west of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces also detained his son Makki and forty-five of his guards. They were accused of manufacturing car bombs and killing Sunni militia members in the neighborhood who have been working with the U.S. military. Members of the Accordance Front, which holds 44 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, promptly walked out. Maliki has, several times in the last several weeks, hurled public accusations and criticisms at al-Dulaimi, sending political and sectarian shock waves, further crippling the crumbling political process.

It is important to mention that Maliki, a U.S. puppet par excellence, acts only as told. After the January 2005 elections, the government that came into power had chosen Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its prime minister. When Jaafari refused to toe the U.S./UK line, Condoleezza Rice and her UK counterpart Jack Straw flew to Baghdad, and before their short trip ended Jaafari was out and Maliki was in as prime minister.

In the context of these facts let us now return to the big question: Will Iraq descend further into a sectarian nightmare if the occupation ends?

An indicator of how things will likely resolve themselves upon the departure of foreign troops may be drawn from the southern city of Basra. In early September, 500 British troops left one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in the heart of the city and ceased to conduct regular foot patrols. According to the British military, the overall level of violence in the city has decreased 90 percent since then.

This may or may not be a guarantee of a drop in sectarianism upon the departure of the invading armies, but it does prove that when the primary cause of the violence, sectarian strife, instability, and chaos is removed from the equation of Iraq, things are bound to improve rapidly.

Are we still going to believe that the occupation is holding Iraq together?

Also see:
The spectre of sectarianism by Ghassan Al-Atiyah (Al-Ahram)
Identity politics by Hussein Shabaan (Al-Ahram)

Islamabad: Children stage protest for peace in Parachinar

Govt asked to restore peace in Parachinar
Dawn News


RAWALPINDI, Aug 28: Children belonging to the restive Kurram Agency and now living in the federal capital staged a protest demonstration outside the Parliament House on Thursday, calling upon rulers to restore normalcy in Parachinar and play their role in stopping the ongoing bloodshed.

The children, majority of them in the age group of four, were wearing shrouds inscribed with slogans like ‘Uncle Zardari take notice of our plight’ and ‘Uncle Gilani treat us like you treat your own children’. They urged the government to open the roads that had been blocked by militants.

The otherwise peaceful and scenic Kurram Agency has been gripped by violence since November last year after some militants took their positions on Tal-Parachinar Road and started shooting passengers belonging to the opposite sect.

Since then, the road has been closed to all kinds of transport, which has resulted in serious shortage of essential items and life-saving drugs in the hospitals.

So far hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between rival tribes. Despite repeated calls for peace, there is no let up in the violence. The people from the area say that some hidden hands are involved in the unrest.

“We have not gone homes for our summer vacations. Why little children are not safe in Parachinar. Our religion teaches us that women and children should not be killed during war. But we are being slaughtered without discrimination,” the children were heard expressing their ordeals in front of the Parliament House. Senators Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, Kulsoom Parveen, Gulshan Saeed and Abbas Kumeli sympathised with the protesting children.

The protest of the little children is in fact a stark reminder to the authorities about the prevailing sense of insecurity in the country and many other issues that have engulfed the country particularly the tribal areas.

Ali Abbas, five, was one of the unfortunate children in the protest who had lost three older brothers in the ongoing clashes. His parents had to flee the area and hire a home in Islamabad to save the lives of their other sons.

“I would not be able to travel to Parachinar until the violence is over. They (militants) kill children equally. They are bad people. I am scared,” he told this reporter when he was asked why he was participating in the protest.

Haider Abbas, a parent, said his sister lost her life in the hospital mainly because there were no life-saving drugs due to the blockade of the main Tal-Parachinar Road by the militants.

“Both Shia and Sunni want peace in Parachinar but I wonder as to who is fuelling the fire when both the warring tribes are desperate for peace. I am sure that foreigners are involved in the tension,” he asserted.

The children urged the government to take mercy on the plight of the people of Parachinar and immediately open the roads blocked by militants to ensure availability of essential items during Ramazan.

Also see:
Coffin-clad children from Kurram stage sit-in

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What is really happening in the Kurram Agency, Pakistan?

Around 400 people have been killed in the Kurram Agency in the last two weeks. Thousand others have been badly wounded in what appears to be a tribal conflict between two groups. At least, this is how it appears to the general audience watching the media coverage in Pakistan. The ground reality, however, is much more complicated.

One, this is not a conflict between two symmetrical powers. For over 15 months now, the Taliban militants from within Pakistan and across the Afghan border have actively supported the criminal elements belonging to a few tribes in the Kurram agency against the residents of Parachinar and its surrounding. The Tal-Parachinar road that connects this remote area to the rest of Pakistan has been effectively blocked by these criminal elements for more than 10 months. A group that tried to travel through this road was literally slaughtered on 19 June, 2008. The people of Parachinar and its surrounding, mostly from the Turi tribal and Shia Muslim background, have continuously pleaded to the government and the army to come to their support, but to no avail so far. The residents are forced to cross the border into Afghanistan to get their basic supplies of food and medicine, and to get to Peshawar. According to news reports, at least fourteen innocent children have died due to shortage of medicine. For several months now, the criminal elements have subjected these people to a protracted, low-intensity ethnic cleansing. It was only under these adverse conditions that the Turi/Shia tribesmen decided to respond forcefully. But their capacities are nothing compared to the organized terror machinery of their opponents.

Two, this is not a tribal or sectarian conflict per se. Rather it is a conflict instigated by the Taliban militants and supported by local criminal elements. (The Taliban militants who fled from other agencies of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) are also re-grouping in the Kurram agency.) The tribal and sectarian differences are being used for fueling the conflict. But the real reason is that the Taliban want an easy access from Kurram agency to various provinces in Afghanistan. Parachinar is the best route for that purpose. (The NY Times did a story on this issue on July 26, 2008. See here) However, the Parachinar people would not to allow that, not only because they do not want to support these criminals but also because they would become a target of NATO bombardment (like the case in other areas of FATA).

The furious Taliban militants and their local supporters are therefore subjecting the non-cooperating tribes in Kurram agency to this protracted torment, with the goal of either making them surrender to their demands or forcing them out of their ancestral lands. As one can see, the underlying logic of this conflict is power and dominance. What needs to be emphasized here is that the common people as well as many leaders of the local tribes from all sides do not want to fight. Many believe that this conflict has been imposed on them by 'external hands'. The common people just want peace and security.

Three, it is very unfortunate that the rogue elements within the intelligence agencies are also involved in these crimes. Their continued connection with the Taliban is widely known (see, for example, here). Without their support, it is hard to imagine that these fringed militants would have spread far and wide, not only across the FATA region but also to Peshawar and D.I. Khan, even Karachi, (and, of course, the Afghan areas), when they are actively hunted by the Pakistan Army, FC, and NATO forces. Any serious efforts to rescue the Kurram agency from these militants would require that the state also control the hidden hands behind these criminals.

Among the immediate things that the government should do: End the humanitarian crisis in Parachinar by freeing the Tal-Parachinar road from the militants and ensuring the safety of the passengers. Put a halt on Taliban movement from other agencies to this area. Reinstate the Kurram militia, comprising of local residents from different tribes and sectarian backgrounds, which used to safeguard this region before. Set up an independent commission to investigate the complicity of the state officials and intelligence agencies and estimate the level of damage and destruction. Pay due compensation to the aggrieved families and help them re-settle in their hometowns.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Specter of Talibanization in Karachi

The author of the widely acclaimed Military Inc. writes an insightful column in today's Dawn (Aug 15): State of the State.

Ayesha Siddiqa's theoretical discussion at the beginning on states and their need for centralization is intriguing. However, it should be noted also that how states 'have' historically developed in the Western European experience is one thing. How states in other parts of the world 'ought' to exist and function is quite another.

In the later half of that piece, she takes a critical look at the recent specter of "Talibanization" in Karachi. Her points are insightful and demand immediate attention.

I quote from that piece: "Regarding the MQM’s move, there appears to be no entity to challenge the party’s assumption regarding the increase of Talibanisation in the city, which many believe is not happening but is merely an excuse to checkmate the movement of people, especially those from the Frontier province to Karachi. Given the increased insecurity in the Frontier, there is a demographic shift with people moving to other cities, Karachi being one which offers greater opportunities.

Also, there is a sizeable community of Pathans already living in the city which attracts a similar kind to the city. Surely, there is a difference in the style of living and social conditions of the Pathan and the Mohajirs whom MQM claims to represent. However, this does not mean that the new migrants are Talibanising the metropolis.

So, what does one make of MQM’s claim? The party probably wants to stop the flow of Pathans or any other community into Karachi which would challenge the current demographics of the city and have an impact on MQM’s political authority. However, it is also a fact that some banned militant outfits have resurfaced in the city resulting in the setting up of defence committees by MQM. Is it that those who control the militant outfits and are part of the state are connected with MQM?"

Ayesha Siddiqa is not the only person who has raised concerns about the convoluted politics surrounding the so-called Talibanization threat in Karachi. A number of informed sources in Karachi have, for quite some months now, warned that certain ethnic groups may be targeted in the name of talibanization. The Shias would be forced to be at the forefront of what is an ethnic conflict, but which would be perceived and represented in the media as a "sectarian" conflict - that is, the Taliban on the one hand and Shias and perhaps one or two sects within Sunnis on the other. This is how general Shias and Sunnis would also perceive this conflict. This warning was given long before the SSP did the provocative wall chalking in a few Shia populated areas of Karachi recently, indicating its return, and before Musharraf's weakness became very apparent to everyone.

Scholars also suggest identifying the interests of other political players in this game, the interests that would be affected or challenged by increasing turmoil in Karachi.

One opinion is that the Karachi port delivers 85 percent of the logistic support to NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to Bruce Reidel at the Brookings Institution. The US is simultaneously pressurizing the security establishment on certain demands, related to their control in the country (vis-a-vis the civilian government) and the nuclear issue. The establishment would gain some leverage against the US by allowing the militant elements - sectarian or ethnic - to carry out their agenda and cause turmoil in Karachi.

Yet, looking at it from another perspective, an increase in trouble in the region also allows the powers-that-be in Washington to keep on shifting the focus (in the media and elsewhere) from the failures in Iraq to the Afghan-Pakistan region. Polls in the US support a surge in Afghanistan. Because the specter of Taliban in this region is seen to be locally and 'internally' developed, a Star Wars kind of morality tale could be easily constructed where it is the duty of the good, civilized people from the other end of the world to come to this end to fight the 'evil' and make the wrong right.

The policy decisions made in the next few months and their outcomes are going to shape the possibilities and constraints for the new administration in the White House. The Georgia fiasco along with the escalation in Afghan-Pakistan region violence indicates that this region would be in high focus for years to come. Pakistan's own future is deeply tied to this geo-strategic politics. The choices that Washington makes in how it deals with the civilian government as well as the establishment in Pakistan will have long term consequences for the people in this region.

In addition to external influence, the policies of the security establishment have done no good to Pakistan either (under both General Zia and General Musharraf). Their policies have bred the terror that it wants to fight off now. Their misadventures - like the Red Mosque incident last year - continue to polarize the Pakistani society and multiply extremism. George Bush's 'war on terror' is doing a similar job, albeit on a much larger scale, around the world.

Back to the situation in Karachi. It seems that the coming months are going to be very challenging. As various local and international powers in Pakistan may be pursuing their interests - not necessarily in active coordination with (or knowledge of) each other - one wonders, who is there to protect the common people?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review: Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution

By S. N. Eisenstadt. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Review by Charles Tilly, History & Theory, Feb2001, Vol. 40, Issue 1


Pittsburgh, the Iron City, gives me the blues. Cleaner and quieter than when tall smokestacks filled its valleys with yellow-brown haze, the city now stands as a nostalgic reminder of salty politicians, tough tycoons, rough mill workers, and fixed capital. Such heavy industrial cities of another age inspired the bottom-up social history of my youth, with its reductive assignment of interests, organization, and action to whole categories of people--not only social classes, but also neighborhoods, religious affiliations, and citizens at large. That sort of categorical history by no means excluded attention to leaders, personal influence, and mobilization processes. However great its simplifications and reifications, in fact, it reeked of individual and collective agency. Whence my tempered nostalgia for the Iron City.

S. N. Eisenstadt has a very different vision of historical processes. Except for autonomous intellectuals, few efficacious individuals and categories figure in his accounts. In general, his consequential actors are civilizations and societies. Civilizations and societies react to changes besetting them from inside and outside, thus transforming the lives of people who inhabit those civilizations and societies. The trope is familiar, but its logic is not self-evident.

Anyone who proposes to make civilizations and societies major actors in human history must at a minimum provide visibly viable identifications of three elements:

• boundaries separating each such unit and its member population from other such units and their populations;

• distinctive culture--shared understandings and their representations in objects and practices, operating within those boundaries and throughout their extent;

• self-regulating processes--likewise within those boundaries and throughout their extent.

These elements need not be absolute. Boundaries may consist of interstitial zones rather than sharp lines; cultural affinities and exchanges may connect adjacent units; self-regulating processes may leave some people, places, or activities within the boundaries untouched; and so on. Nevertheless, to the extent that proposed units lack any of the three elements, describing and explaining social life in terms of civilizations and societies introduces more confusion than comprehension. Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution has many virtues, but with respect to the three crucial elements it sows confusion.

Across a long career inspired by a Weberian vision of comparative history, S. N. Eisenstadt has repeatedly tried to pack large-scale social phenomena such as imperial expansion and revolution into self-contained civilizations and societies, explaining those phenomena chiefly as responses to problems and tensions originating within the same civilizations and societies. When he first attracted international attention with his magisterial Political Systems of Empires (1963), that line of argument belonged to a widely practiced genre. Pitirim Sorokin, Talcott Parsons, and Arnold Toynbee had all recently published widely read schematic comparative histories, translations of Max Weber's historical comparisons were proceeding apace, and Karl Marx's historical-comparative writings were likewise receiving an English-language airing. Since then, historians and social scientists have become more skeptical about the autonomy and priority of societies and civilizations. From one side, world historians have challenged the self-containment and self-regulation of such social units. From the other, proponents of microfoundations and analysts of such cross-cutting social processes as migration and technological diffusion have raised doubts about societal and civilizational explanations of social phenomena. While occasionally gesturing toward the gathering dissent, however, Eisenstadt has continued to practice large-scale comparative history on the assumption that societies and civilizations do, indeed, constitute distinct, self-regulating units.

Eisenstadt does not shrink from large topics. In addition to his work on empires, he has produced influential books on modernization, European civilization, Jewish civilization, revolutions, inequality, immigration, protest movements, and a half dozen other major subjects. He moves comfortably among philosophy, religion, intellectual history, political theory, and contemporary social processes. While drawing on an enormous range of knowledge, he refrains from daunting readers with his erudition. He never stops thinking--and writing-about important issues.

In Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution, Eisenstadt concentrates on twentieth-century mobilizations against modernism within Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Far from constituting atavistic affirmations of older traditions, he argues, the fundamentalist and sectarian movements in question emerge directly from tensions of modernization. Indeed, they promote a search for transcendental utopias as escapes from modernity. They adopt, furthermore, Jacobin programs characterized by a strong emphasis on social and cultural activism; on the ability of man to reconstruct society according to some transcendental visions; with the closely connected strong tendency to the absolutization of the major dimensions of human experience as well as of the major constituents or components of social order; and with the concomitant ideologization of politics. (73)

Eisenstadt distinguishes among three varieties of reactive sectarianism: proto-fundamentalist, fundamentalist, and communal-national.

How do the three differ? Proto-fundamentalist reactions pursued utopian hopes to restore pristine features of their religious traditions. Arising chiefly in monotheistic civilizations before the modern era, they resembled their modern counterparts in strident rejection of established practices, but lacked the Jacobin urge to reconstruct state, society, and individual through political means. Modern fundamentalism adds just such political programs to utopian ideals. Fundamentalism's Jacobin programs enlist fight discipline, modern communications, and modern discourse on behalf of reactionary objectives. Social movements translate those programs into political action. Communal-national movements, according to Eisenstadt, differ from both proto-fundamentalist and fundamentalist mobilizations in being both particularistic and primordial; instead of declaring a universal vision available in principle to all humanity, they stress the eternal uniqueness of their own communities. They resemble fundamentalist movements, nevertheless, in combining tight discipline, efficient communications, modern discourse, and organization in the style of secular social movements.

Eisenstadt goes on at length about general features of his categories, but offers little sustained evidence in the form of case histories or specific comparisons. Only two concrete examples of movements occupy more than a page at a stretch anywhere in the book: Israeli ultra-Orthodox sects and India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Neither treatment does much more than assimilate the case to Eisenstadt's categories. Instead of offering his own descriptions and explanations of particular cases, furthermore, Eisenstadt often identifies families of movements, then relies for their characterization on extensive quotations from other people's summaries. He offers, for example, a roughly 700-word extract from Nilufer Gole's treatment of Turkish Islamic fundamentalism (104-105), followed by a 1000-word extract from the same source (143-145). Eisenstadt's own extended descriptions do not concern particular movements (or, for that matter, whole civilizations) but national histories, notably those of Japan, India, and the United States. Japan, furthermore, serves chiefly as a negative case: a modernizing country in which neither fundamentalism nor communal-national movements have had much impact. Nor does Eisenstadt support his arguments with sustained comparisons of Japan, India, and the United States. In short, the book centers on an illustrated typology and a set of general assertions concerning relations between modernization and the emergence of organized alternatives to modernity.

Eisenstadt develops his argument with hardly a reference to abundant literatures that deal concretely with his subject matter--most obviously literatures on nationalism, social movements, and ethnic conflict. His bibliography omits Benedict Anderson, Rogers Brubaker, Ted Gurr, Ernst Haas, Donald Horowitz, Sudhir Kakar, Hanspeter Kriesi, David Laitin, Gdrard Noiriel, Beth Roy, Anthony Smith, and Alain Touraine. Although Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm do appear in citations, their books on nationalism do not. The bibliography does include scattered publications on contemporary social movements, but they have had little apparent impact on Eisenstadt's analysis. As represented by footnotes and bibliography, Eisenstadt's published sources concentrate on religion, revolution, national histories, and social change in general. That selective approach to relevant literature allows him to ignore the prevalent constructivist and entrepreneurial emphases of recent work on nationalism, the current dominance of political process approaches to social movements, and the anti-primordialism of most contemporary specialists in ethnic conflict.

Eisenstadt sees modernization as a creation of Western civilization, which he identifies mainly with Europe and the United States. Modernization, in his view, involved the spread of three interdependent complexes: 1) transformation of social relations by urbanization, industrialization, communications growth, structural differentiation, and other changes documented by students of social development, including Eisenstadt himself, following World War II; 2) "new institutional formations, of the modern nation-state, of modern especially national collectivities, of new and above all capitalist-political economies" (197); 3) a cultural program centering on perfection of humanity by means of knowledge applied to social arrangements. Unlike many previous analysts of modernization, Eisenstadt neither treats the cultural program as a response to the first two sets of changes nor claims that stress generated by those changes promoted reactionary movements. (At the book's very end, he inserts those standard explanations into his summary statement, but they play almost no part in the dense discussions of the previous two hundred pages.) Instead, he locates the crucial causes within the cultural program itself.

Eisenstadt asserts two sorts of "tensions": between the modernist cultural program and previously established traditions of the various countries that adopted it, on one side, and between contradictory elements of the program itself. Among the latter he cites

• pluralistic versus totalizing (i.e. Jacobin) approaches to transformation;
• normal versus revolutionary politics;
• reflexivity versus active construction of nature and society;
• autonomy versus control;
• reconstruction of self versus reconstruction of society;
• liberty versus equality;
• autonomy of civil society versus charismatization of state power;
• civil versus utopian components of the cultural and political program;
• freedom versus utopian emancipation;
• procedural versus charismatic legitimation. (199)

Roughly speaking, the dichotomies pit liberal against extremist programs. Fundamentalism and communal-national movements, in this perspective, reject liberalism in favor of extremism. Under what conditions, how, and why they do so set the book's central problems.

Eisenstadt's proposed solutions to those problems, alas, take excessively abstract forms. In general, Eisenstadt avoids causal language. Elements and processes are "closely related" or are "shaped by" some list of factors, but their causal priorities and mechanisms remain unclear. As a consequence, readers must work the cause-effect relations out for themselves. The sketchiness of Eisenstadt's illustrative cases and the opacity of his explanatory passages make the effort risky.

Let me nevertheless try to summarize Eisenstadt's argument as a causal story, suppressing qualms and questions about the story as it unfolds. Civilizations operate as weak systems, sustaining distinctive values and beliefs but not otherwise controlling the lives of people within them. Because of cultural affinities, innovations in values, beliefs, and practices enacting those values and beliefs diffuse more easily within civilizations than across them. The spread of modernity is simply a special case of that diffusion.

Societies operate as strong systems, exerting extensive control over people, activities, and resources within their limits. At the level of societies, institutionalized values, beliefs, and practices significantly constrain social action. Modern societies create widespread commitments to transform and improve social life through centrally coordinated intervention. But mass pursuit of those commitments uncovers cultural contradictions.

When contradictions become visible, the story continues, intellectual entrepreneurs divide. Some choose one programmatic alternative, others espouse a second alternative, and still others devise new possibilities within limits set by the society's broadest commitments. Intellectual entrepreneurs vary considerably in their success, but some attract substantial followings, or social movements. Thus competing movements form around alternative cultural programs, and their followers struggle for power to implement those programs. Where the values and beliefs of modernity have spread widely, some of those alternative cultural programs take the form of fundamentalism, which shares the end of social transformation but rejects the means of existing secular institutions. Where age-old solidarities have survived the onslaught of modernity, alternative cultural programs more often take the form of communal-national movements, which reject modernity's universalism in favor of primordial particularism.

Would Eisenstadt endorse this summary? I am not sure. But it makes most of his detailed argumentation consistent, if not necessarily persuasive. Eisenstadt falls far short of providing sufficient evidence to establish such an argument. But is it plausible in the light of already available evidence? Let us divide the question in two: How well does the general explanatory strategy hold up? Whatever the general strategy, does the analysis help explain contemporary extremist mobilizations? My answer to the first part is: badly. My answer to the second: the book's descriptions and explanations do not go far enough to revise existing understandings of their subject matter, but they suggest lines of inquiry that deserve further attention.

On the general strategy, consider the essential elements of civilizational and societal explanations: boundaries, distinctive culture, and self-regulating processes. Eisenstadt identifies civilizations with cosmologies, especially those of ancient Israel, Second Commonwealth Judaism, Christianity, ancient Greece, Persian Zoroastrianism, early imperial China, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Despite deploying the language of center and periphery, he proposes no criteria whatsoever for bounding such civilizations. He does not even say whether he regards them as territorially continuous or organizationally connected. He thereby sidesteps the problems of diasporas and enclaves--in or out? Not a promising start.

As for societies, Eisenstadt generally accepts the geographical boundaries of states and empires. His explicitly mentioned societies include not only Japan, India, and the United States, but also Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Burma, Canada, China (a civilization-sized society), Egypt, England, France, Guinea, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Roman Empire, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, the Soviet Union, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam. Regions such as Latin America and "tribes" such as Mongols occupy uncertain positions in Eisenstadt's taxonomy. As recognized polities, of course, these entities did or do exist. As candidates for autonomous, self-regulating systems, however, they stretch credibility. In any case, Eisenstadt makes no effort to establish their qualifications as coherent units that commit themselves collectively to cultural programs, whether modern or antimodern. Thus he lays down enormous barriers to verification or falsification of his most general arguments.

What of distinctive culture? Eisenstadt makes a deep commitment to cosmological or ontological determinism: the "basic premise" of any civilization underlies and permeates its collective life. Presumably one could support such a commitment by means of three demonstrations. First, one might show that within ostensibly unconnected segments of a given civilization or society the same understandings and practices prevail. Second, one might demonstrate that as innovations appear from inside or outside the social unit a strong selection process occurs, such that only innovations compatible with the basic premise flourish while others never take hold. Third, one might offer evidence that on those rare occasions when basic premises do change, alterations occur rapidly within each segment of the civilization or society. Eisenstadt directs no effort toward any of the three demonstrations. His failure to set out criteria for boundaries, furthermore, compounds the difficulty of verifying or falsifying his claims about the influence of ontological premises.

Nor does the book offer much help with self-regulating processes. The one program-generating mechanism Eisenstadt does specify--the formulation of new programs by dissident and autonomous intellectuals--does not look in the least like a self-regulating process. On the contrary, it harks back to Max Weber's idea of charisma's unpredictable irruption into history. Nor does Eisenstadt's portrayal of governmental action bespeak much self-regulation; when governments appear in his accounts, they are almost always divided and engaged in struggle. We might try to salvage self-regulation by retrieving the old Toynbee-Sorokin idea of dominant cultural patterns whose possibilities members of a society or civilization eventually use up, whereupon the unit either collapses or renews itself. Despite beginning with ontological premises, however, Eisenstadt does not follow that dubious path. When it comes to general explanatory strategies, Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution has little to recommend it.

As a source of concrete insights, hypotheses, facts, and unexpected parallels, the book offers a mixed bag. Its accounts of fundamentalism and nationalism suffer from a neglect of politics. The book ignores, for example, the regularity with which Western rulers from 1789 onward imposed state-sanctioned cultural standards, including national languages, on their subject populations, thus generating resistance and rebellion in the names of culturally distinct minorities. Despite passing references to such leaders as Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Mahatma Gandhi, and Ruholla Khomeini, the national studies say little about how cultural entrepreneurs actually do their work. Given the bad name Francois Furet and other French Revolution revisionists have bestowed on the Jacobins, Eisenstadt might have chosen a less loaded term for the programs that he rejects. Yet Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution does rightly deconstruct the claims of fundamentalists and communal-national activists to forsake today's corruption and retrieve an earlier, purer way of life. It does correctly deny the common portrayal of fundamentalism and communal nationalism as atavism. It does shrewdly point out the extent to which successful leaders of such movements borrow the techniques and organizational forms of the very politics they deplore. Hence my advice for reading the book: blow up the ungainly conceptual apparatus, then mine the text for gems amid the rubble.