Wednesday, June 30, 2004

For all the information you would want on Darfur, go to this site, Sudan: The Passion of the Present, which describes the genocide and what actions people are trying to take to stop it.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Another inspiringNicholas Kristof editorial piece on Darfur. Why should the U.S. do more to stop genocide there? As he says, "Moreover, apart from our obligation to act under the Genocide Convention, acquiescence only encourages more genocide — hence the question attributed to Hitler, 'Who today remembers the Armenian extermination?'"

Friday, June 25, 2004

Interestingly enough, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now addressed the Darfur issue on Wednesday -- Sudan Facing Worst Humanitarian Disaster in the World. They also gave a briefer report on May 24: Sudan: 350,000 May Die in Worsening Crisis. Despite her criticism that this conflict "is rarely mentioned, especially by the US media," Nicholas Kristof got onto the issue long before she did. The earliest story of his that I found in the New York Times online archive was from March 24, 2004. The earliest NPR story that I was able to find was on the Tavis Smiley show on May 7, 2004. Talk of the Nation discussed the issue on May 19, 2004. Thus two other US media operations, certainly bigger than Democracy Now, discussed the issue before Amy Goodman.
This morning's NPR report finally aired a major story on genocide in Darfur -- although, like the U.S. government, they waffled on whether that term should be used. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was interviewed, and he had no problem in calling it genocide -- but went on to make the more important point that the U.S. should be doing much more to stop the Sudanese government from sending out the Janjaweed militia to kill, rape, and drive out villagers. The story began by saying that Secretary of State Colin Powell is going to Africa for a couple of days to consider this issue. Apparently, our government is engaging in the same kind of reluctance to name what's going in Darfur as genocide as the Clinton administration did with Rwanda in 1994, in an effort, one would presume, to avoid doing anything, as we avoided doing anything then. I'm tired of seeing memorials to the victims of genocide. This time, we should do something to prevent further killing, as well as sending in massive amounts of humanitarian aid for the people already chased from their homes to Chad.

Kristof, in a posting on his web site, recommends the following aid groups to give money to:

Readers keep asking me what they can do about the genocide unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, or who they can write to. I'm in the reporting business, not the lobbying business. But for those readers desperate for some ideas, here are some that have been passed on to me:

For readers who want to contribute financially, one of the main aid organizations active in Darfur itself is Doctors Without Borders. Another key group is the International Rescue Committee, which was building wells in one of the areas that I visited.

For readers who want to engage their member of Congress or pursue the matter politically can find more information at this link from the International Crisis Group.

In addition, Africa Action is sponsoring an on-line petition calling for tougher action against the killings in Darfur.

Human Rights Watch has produced superb reports on the crisis here.

Finally, for those who want to stay informed about the crisis in Darfur, there are several websites that have regular updates of news there. One is http://www.gurtong.com , another is http://www.reliefweb.it and another is http://www.allafrica.com/sudan/

This is just a small sampling of what's out there. Most big aid groups, including all the major faith-based ones, are helping, from Catholic Relief Services (http://www.catholicrelief.org) to Friends of the World Food Programme (http://www.friendsofwfp.org/) to World Vision (http://www.worldvision.org) to American Jewish World Service (http://www.ajws.org). Indeed, one of the big gaps has been Islamic charities, which have tended -- inexcusably -- to show sympathy for Sudan's Arab government. So the sad and ironic outcome is that the people of Darfur, who are virtually all Muslims, are getting significant help from Christians and Jews but almost nothing from fellow Muslims. I hope some Muslim aid groups will quickly remedy that.



In a later posting, Kristof gave information about Muslim charities that are involved in helping people in Darfur:

After scolding Muslims for not doing more to help the people of Darfur, I got this email from Zeeshan in California:

    I am a muslim and ashamed to see yet another instance of muslims committing genocide on other muslims. I am originally from Bangladesh, and we are familiar with religion being hijacked for political agendas - we were subject to a genocide in 1971 by the erstwhile ruling West Pakistanis. Darfur is being covered by a muslim charity that I donate to. Here's the link: http://www.irw.org/ or http://www.irw.org/sudan . I would appreciate posting this link as a proof that not all muslims are turning a blind eye towards such a heart-breaking tragedy.

That link is for Islamic Relief, a major charity. I didn’t come across its people on my visits to the Chad/Sudan border, but its website shows it to be commendably active on the issue. There are lots of other Muslim charities – the Islamic obligation to give zakat, or alms to the needy, has nurtured many aid groups – and they do fine work in poor countries. I hope more become active in Darfur. They could play a particularly useful role because they would be more trusted by Sudan and might get better access, and they might also have more Arabic speakers on staff (most of the victims in Darfur speak a tribal language as their mother tongue, and then Arabic as a second language, making communication a big problem).

Another interesting review of Michael Moore's flick by Jeff Jarvis. Closer to Hitchens than Scott. It opens tomorrow night here in the hinterland. I think maybe I'll go by myself sometime so I avoid loud arguments with acquaintances about it. It's starting to feel like yet another social task -- like seeing Gibson's move -- not a pleasure to look forward to. (Unlike Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I want to see again. Soon!)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

For those interested in the Hitchens vs. Moore fight, there are some interesting comments on Michael J. Totten's blog. I personally side with the pro-Hitchens voices on the comments.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The New York Times reviewer of'Fahrenheit 9/11': Unruly Scorn Leaves Room for Restraint, but Not a Lot gives a more favorable impression of the movie than Christopher Hitchens, arguing that one should see it (whether or not one agrees with Moore's political views).
I have been considering going to see Michael Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11" (by the way, Ray Bradbury has objected to Moore riffing on the title of his book, Fahrenheit 451, without any acknowledgement), but this review by Christopher Hitchens, Unfairenheit 9/11 - The lies of Michael Moore does give me pause. I live in one of the centers of unreflective leftism in this country, so I'm sure most of my friends will see this film and love it -- but I have the feeling, after this review, that the film will make me so angry that I'll walk out part way through.
While reading a blog called Chiddushim, I came across a reference to a site that provides access to the Vilna edition edition of the Talmud page by page in .gif format. Very cool.
A disturbing article by Dr. Mark Geller of University College, London, on anti-semitic accusations against him and Shaul Shaked made by the director of research of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Donny George. Both Geller and Shaked are well-respected researchers of the Babylonian magical bowls, many of which remain in the Iraq Museum, where Jewish researchers cannot get access to them, even though in many cases they provide invaluable information about Jewish life in Babylonia in late antiquity.
More on pop kabbalah -- A Jewish Madonna? Is That a Mystery?. When I next teach my Jewish mysticism class, next spring, I will definitely have to discuss this phenomenon with the students....This is a decent article, but why does the New York Times insist on spelling the word "cabala," as if they're writing about some modern New Age sect?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Nicholas Kristof asks, Dare We Call It Genocide? He writes:

ALONG THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER — The Bush administration says it is exploring whether to describe the mass murder and rape in the Darfur region of Sudan as "genocide." I suggest that President Bush invite to the White House a real expert, Magboula Muhammad Khattar, a 24-year-old widow huddled under a tree here.

The world has acquiesced shamefully in the Darfur genocide, perhaps because 320,000 deaths this year (a best-case projection from the U.S. Agency for International Development) seems like one more boring statistic. So listen to Ms. Khattar's story, multiply it by hundreds of thousands, and let's see if we still want to look the other way....


Are we going to act as we did in Rwanda, and look the other way, or this time will we admit that genocide is being committed before our eyes?

Friday, June 11, 2004

I haven't said anything about the death of Ronald Reagan in this blog because, frankly, I voted against him twice and did not like most of his policies (although from the reading I've done this week about him I am becoming persuaded that he had a major role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, something which I am very grateful for). When he was stricken with Alzheimer's, however, I had great sympathy for him and his family. My grandmother died of Alzheimer's, and it is a horrible disease. Al-Muhajabah, a Muslim blogger whom I've referred to before, has a moving post about this:

I think that Reagan's passing must have been a mercy for him and for his family; his mind had already gone on to somewhere that nobody else could follow, and I've always felt that's a terribly sad way to end one's days. My grandmother, who's about the same age as Reagan was, doesn't have the specific Alzheimer's disease, but for her too, she's more gone than there. I think that one of the worst aspects would be to be aware of what's happened to you but unable to communicate it to anybody. I hope that Reagan had passed beyond that stage and my grandmother as well.


She has this useful suggestion:

To me, one of the best ways to honor Reagan's memory in a way that does also something good for others, is to donate for Alzheimer's research and care. The Alzheimer's Association is accepting donations in honor of Reagan and I encourage everybody who can spare some change to make a donation tomorrow on the day of mourning for Reagan. Whether you're a liberal or a conservative and whatever you think of his presidential legacy, he and his family have done a tremendous amount to help other victims of Alzheimer's and that's something we can all feel good about supporting. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

This story from the AP reports that Western Airliners May Be al-Qaida Target. But why o why does it persist in calling the al Qaida terrorists "militants," for example in this paragraph, "Militants have stepped up attacks on foreigners in Saudi Arabia in past weeks, most recently in a shooting Sunday that killed an Irish cameraman and wounded a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter." The article is willing to call al Qaida "the terror network," so wouldn't it make sense that those who belong to the "terror network" would be terrorists? And isn't the essence of terrorism to attack and kill civilians, as occurred in this latest attack? There's such a thing as being *too careful* in one's speech.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Once again, if you're interested in knowing more of what's going on in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, read the Religious Policeman and Mahmood's Den. I have been reading an interesting (but perhaps not very good) book on the entanglement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia by Robert Baer, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington sold our soul for Saudi crude. It's written rather in the style of a thriller, and doesn't go nearly into the depth I'd like into the history and social analysis of Saudi Arabia, but it's interesting as a first book to read on the U.S.-Saudi relationship. If anyone has some better recommendations on Saudi Arabia and the U.S. relationship with it, I'd like to take a look at them.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

And now, a poem from a real poet, my friend Ben Greenberg -- Night and Day.
A poem I wrote in January, while visiting Jerusalem.

In the middle of life

Looking at myself in the mirror,
hair pulled back from my face,
wisps of hair flying out on the left –
a few strands of grey.
I look at the darker hollows under my eyes
the dark under my chin.

This body is so fragile.
What hidden in it now will kill me?
Or maybe my death will come from outside – not an illness,
heart, or lungs, or breasts,
but a fall down the stairs,
a broken hip,
a speeding car,
or something more violent –
a bullet
a bomb?

My mother died at age 48.
My aunt just died at 73.
Tobacco smoke seared their lungs.
The sacred leaf that the Indians smoked only at holy times
ended my mother’s life and her sister’s.

Now at this time of my life, age 47,
life seems so short to enjoy
between the parentheses of eternity
or of forgetfulness.

It’s commonplace to say it –
but when I was younger, life stretched out before me
into the indefinite future.
I didn’t see its end.
(Although when I was much younger, I didn’t think I’d survive 30;
underneath my daily life was always the thought: we will all die in the great conflagration. But we didn’t. Instead the Berlin Wall fell, and the bombers with their world-destroying weight stopped circling the earth).

Now I wonder how much more time is left to me?
Today I sat in Caffit
the table closest to the door
drank my cappuchino with katzefet and powdered chocolate,
ate my croissant with chocolate paste smeared in its middle
and wondered every time someone passed by –
is he a bomber coming with
the explosives bound around his belly?
like the one who came here before,
whose nerves and sweat betrayed him
before he had a chance to touch the detonator?

But that’s an old fear, death by violence –
more likely I think is the slow passage of time
and the illnesses it brings,
the dangers we carry around in our bodies every day,
the deadly freight of living.

Jerusalem, 12/28/03
I signed up with Zogby International (a well-known political polling organization) to answer polls whenever they sent them to me. (I can't remember how I got onto their web site -- I think it was ultimately from a blog). The first poll was rather boring -- market research, but today I got to participate in a political poll on the presidential campaign. From what I can tell from reading the site, my responses won't count into their regular tracking poll (for those, they make phone calls), but I appreciated being asked (although I wonder how they will use the results of this poll). I always feel frustrated when I read about political polls because I have, personally, never been called by one of them -- and unlike many people, I would be happy to answer the questions!
In response to my request for information about Orthodox blogs, I've received a few interesting replies. One reader recommended Joe Schick's blog, which I took a look at. As she commented, however, he talks more about Israeli politics than about the Orthodox world. Dreaming of S/Zion is written by a ba'al teshuvah haredi man who is now studying in yeshiva in Israel. Home Beis is written by another ba'al teshuvah studying at yeshiva in Jerusalem. MOChassid is written by a man who refers to himself as a "Modern Orthodox Chassid." My thanks to those who replied, and any more recommendations are welcomed.
This is a truly frightening article on what has happened to UC Berkeley in the last several years -- Berkeley Intifada: As students embrace the Palestinian cause, UC Berkeley has lost whatever reputation it may once have had for tolerance. The article details horrifying anti-semitic incidents and attitudes. (Via Gary Farber). I find this very disheartening as a Jewish academic. My institution has fortunately (thank God!) not been subjected to anything like what has happened at Berkeley. There is a variety of viewpoints about what should happen in the Israel-Palestinian conflict but people have generally (at least in my experience of the last three years) avoided making wildly offensive and inflammatory statements in public.

On the other hand, we haven't been entirely free of completely unnecessary and inflammatory political rhetoric on other issues. As I wrote about in this blog previously, earlier this year some students brought an exhibit to campus called the "Genocide Awareness Project" -- a series of big posters with pictures of aborted fetuses next to photographs of piles of bodies of victims of the Shoah, the World Trade Center burning, etc. In an article in the student newspaper they claimed that their intention was to promote dialogue on the issue of abortion, but of course this tactic merely polarized the discussion, and disgusted many people who were offended by their coopting of our emotions about the Holocaust, the September 11 terrorist attacks, etc. If there must discussions on campus about abortion, then please let them be rational. (I personally am not sure it's worth having discussions about abortion, because everyone's mind seems to be made up).

Thursday, June 03, 2004

And here's a really interesting blog written by a woman from Bahrain now studying in Canada -- Reflections from Canada. She seems to know Mahmoud al-Yousif (of Mahmood's Den) as they frequently discuss back and forth in the comments. I must say that reading these blogs from the Arab world (the Religious Policeman, Mahmood's Den, and now this blog) really does give me hope for the future of the Middle East.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I just started reading Bloghead, another good new blog by a former guest blogger at Protocols, Miriam Shaviv.