30 March, 2006

Cartoons, again.

The Islamic cartoon controversy seems to be getting its second wind. Normally I wouldn't bother with it, but I'm amazed to learn from my students that most of them haven't seen the cartoons in question. From my point of view, some are mildly funny, some are a little stupid, and most of them are too trivial to get worked up over. (The cartoons, that is--not the students.) Make up your own mind. The whole collection is on Wikipedia.

21 March, 2006

Zawahiri's advice

Following up on some ideas we discussed in class today, I recommend the Global Guerrillas blog as a place to find unconventional wisdom that is actually wisdom. In particular, the reference to Zawahiri's contribution to Al-Qaeda's grand strategy is here, and the original source of the interview he cites is here. A small sample:

...in late 1997 they decided to form a completely new strategy based on global and cosmic confrontation with America….

TM: What do you mean by “cosmic”?

SF: Global and full scale confrontation! They decided to conduct their actions relying not on their own resources but by manipulating those of their enemies. In short they decided to convert their enemy into a powerful tool for their own use...


...they decided that this idea of confronting the Americans in the Arabian Peninsula is not going to produce anything. Zawahiri impressed upon Bin Laden the importance of understanding the American mentality. The American mentality is a cowboy mentality-- if you confront them with their identity theoretically and practically they will react in an extreme manner. In other words, America with all its resources and establishments will shrink into a cowboy when irritated successfully. They will then elevate you and this will satisfy the Muslim longing for a leader who can successfully challenge the West. Zawahiri advised Bin Laden to forget about the 12 page statement as nobody had read it and instead issue a short statement identifying every American as a target. Even though this was controversial from an Islamic perspective, Zawahiri argued on pragmatic grounds that it had to be sanctioned. The statement in February 1998, which was only 3 or 4 lines, effectively sanctioned shedding the blood of every American.

TM: It seems that Zawahiri had a huge transformative effect on Bin Laden.

SF: Yes! If Bin Laden had persisted in solely attacking U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia he would have shared the destiny of those groups in South America and Africa that nobody cares to remember anymore. This challenge to American identity itself was a result of a huge transformation...

Read the whole thing. It's worth the time.

11 March, 2006

Everything you always wanted to know

...about Arab culture, that is, can be found in a very straightforward (and only occasionally stereotypical) handbook for U.S. troops. The original source is the U.S. Army, reprinted by the Federation of American Scientists. A sample:

  • Over 200 million Arabs worldwide.
  • To be an Arab, is not to come from a particular race or lineage.
  • To be an Arab, like an American, is a cultural trait rather than racial.
  • The Arab world includes Muslims, Christians and Jews.
  • Any person who adopts the Arabic language is typically called an Arab.
  • Arabic is the official and the original language of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book.
I can think of a lot of people who could find something of value in these factsheets.

08 March, 2006


According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the U.S. is shelving an extremely classified spaceplane, sometimes code-named "Blackstar". There have been rumors about this for years, but AWST is now going public with all that it knows and/or suspects. Read the details here.

Really, read it. Then I'll comment.

Commentary: Budget, my ass. The reasons to build this vehicle are just as real and significant now as they were twenty years ago. If this is being cancelled, what do they have to replace it?

05 March, 2006

An insider's perspective on nonproliferation

Issue as many resolutions like this as you want and make yourselves happy.

You can't prevent the progress of the Iranian nation.

-- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Should we call this intelligence?

There are still certain techniques and pieces of know-how that we do not believe that they have -- simply by the fact that they don't have a nuclear weapon yet.

-- U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, on Washington's evidence of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons capability.