Friday, May 28, 2004

I am curious to learn about more blogs by Orthodox/ ultra-Orthodox/ Hasidic Jews. I've stumbled across quite a few by journeying from other people's blogrolls (and I've highlighted some of them in my blog), but I'd like to find more. So if any of you, my readers, can point me in useful directions, please let me know via comments or e-mail. I'll post notices about the interesting blogs I find this way. (Oh, and by the way, I apparently misidentified Hasidic Rebbele's gender -- he is male, not female, as I originally thought. I think I was misled by my own unconscious prejudices -- he posts quite a lot about childrearing, which I must obviously have identified as primarily a woman's concern when trying to figure out the blogger's gender).
I'm visiting family and friends in the Boston area right now, and went (of course) to the Harvard Coop and spent a very pleasant afternoon browsing and reading. I came away with an interesting book by Victor Klemperer, a German Jewish writer who is best known for the publication of the diaries he kept during the Nazi era from 1933-1945: I will bear witness. His book on Nazi language has recently been translated into English under the title The Language of the Third Reich: LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist's Notebook. The book was originally published in Germany in 1957, and translated and published in English in 2002 (presumably after the success of the English translation of the diaries). It has many amazing insights into the Nazi misuse of language and the way that such official misuse can simply enter into one's ordinary linguistic usage without even thinking. I'll post some examples when I get the chance.
Through Blogger, I found my way to another interesting blog, this one from Jerusalem: Jerusalem Wanderings, by a woman who immigrated to Israel from America, has five kids and is living the usual crazy Israeli life. One thing that caught my eye was her mention of Emek Refaim, my favorite street in Jerusalem.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

An amazing story about seven Iraqis, former prisoners under Saddam Hussein whose hands were amputated in Abu Ghraib prison -- For Seven Iraqis, A Vital Part of Life Is Restored). One of the seven men says,
Al Fadhly said that, after a year in hellish prisons and five months in Abu Ghraib, he was almost relieved when he heard he and the eight other merchants were going to be freed after having their hands amputated. "We were the lucky ones," Al Fadhly said. "Others stayed in prison much longer. Thirty thousand in Abu Ghraib went to the hangman's noose." Their trial lasted 30 minutes. Al Fadhly said all nine men believe they were scapegoated by Hussein because his economy was collapsing after the Persian Gulf War, and U.S. currency was anathema to him. Two weeks after the men lost their hands, they said, the law banning trade in foreign currency was thrown out. Hussein had the nine hands brought to him, to be sure the sentence was carried out, said Farhad Taha, an attending physician at the amputations who was later interviewed by Al Fadhly, who now works for the media network.

Amnesty International estimates that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqis had their hands amputated for similar crimes.
What American soldiers did in Abu Ghraib to Iraqi prisoners was horrible and disgusting -- but nonetheless Iraqis have been freed from a monstrous regime.
Hmm. According to U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina), it's Israel's and the Jews' fault that the U.S. invaded Iraq -- Bush's failed Mideast policy is creating more terrorism. And who are the Jews to blame? Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Defense Secretary), Richard Perle (former assistant sec'y of defense under President Reagan, former chair of the Defense Policy Board), and Charles Krauthammer. Wow, that gives a lot of power to one conservative Jewish newspaper columnist! Funny that Senator Hollings picks out the Jewish names and doesn't refer to more obvious (and more powerful) non-Jewish figures -- Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, both of whom were also eager to invade Iraq. On this topic, see also, Not so gentle rhetoric from the gentleman from South Carolina.

Well, here's where Hollings digs himself in even deeper -- Sen. Hollings' Floor Statement Setting the Record Straight on his Mideast Newspaper Column. Here's a truly bizarre part of his statement: "The papers are the ones that pointed out Wolfowitz, Pearle, and Charles Krauthammer were of the Jewish faith. They are the ones who brought all this Semitism in there." I must say, I haven't read the word "Semitism" standing on its own since the news a year or so back about the conference on "Semitism" held at the (now defunct) Zayed Center.
It's not bad enough that American bombs destroyed a wedding party in Iraq , not a "safehouse for foreign fighters," but we also have to lie about it in the face of clear contrary evidence? What have we become? And the evidence keeps coming in that it was not just army reservists who humiliated and abused Iraqi prisoners on their own, but that there were orders from military intelligence to behave in disgusting ways towards prisoners -- and yet people are still blaming only those reservists.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

More interesting blogs that I've recently been reading: Heimishtown, subtitled, "Thoughts, rants, and other junk from a veibel on the net," by an Orthodox woman. Her most recent posting is on the current controversy over human hair sheitels (wigs) from India that many Orthodox women wear, which may contravene the prohibition against benefiting from idolatry (the hair may be cut as part of a Hindu ritual). (For more information, see the New York Times on this topic: "Rabbis' Rules and Indian Wigs Stir Crisis in Orthodox Brooklyn." A follow-up article tells about burning the wigs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: "Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn Burn Banned Wigs."

Hasidic Rebbele is also from an Orthodox woman (I think), who also addresses the sheitel question. The Shaigetz - Doing it maai vey, from an Orthodox man in Britain, also addresses the sheitel controversy, this time from a man's perspective. Hirhurim - Musings is a blog from an Orthodox rabbi on various halakhic questions, who also discusses the sheitel issue.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

More new and interesting blogs -- veiled4allah, by a Muslim woman who, among other things, has an ad for a Muslim site called Hug a Jew. She argues for the use of nonviolent tactics by Palestinians and talks about her own life as a Muslim paralegal, and many other things as well. One incident she reported on was quite disturbing -- when she was entering a building for a job interview, a woman passing harassed her. "Annoyingly, as I was coming up to the building, this woman passing by looked at me and said loudly 'Shame on you'. How rude."

I got to the veiled4allah site from the Velveteen Rabbi's blogroll. Velveteen Rabbi's latest posting is about gay marriage and the interpretation of Leviticus 18:22 -- how to interpret it in such a way as not to condemn gay relationships and sexuality. Well worth reading.

The other new blog that I've started reading is Baraita who writes in a very amusing way about Jewish and academic life. I don't know where she teaches -- she calls her place of employment "Boondoggle University" and the synagogues she goes to "Temple Boondoggle" (Reform) and "Congregation Beth Boondoggle" (Conservative).

Sunday, May 16, 2004

More torture in the middle east, this time in Saudi Arabia, via 60 Minutes last week -- Saudi Justice?. This is an account of several westerners accused falsely of setting off car bombs in Saudi Arabia, who were tortured and falsely confessed. Only when Al Qaeda attacked western compounds in Riyadh last summer were the Saudi authorities willing to admit that it was not westerners who were the attacker, it was their fellow Saudis. More details in The Strange Saga of the Booze Bombers by the Religious Policeman, a dissident Saudi.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Go to the Genocide Watch web site to learn more about what is going on both in Darfur, Sudan, and in Ethiopia, where another group of people is being exterminated by its own government while no one else is watching -- the Anuak, since at least the early 1980s (I had never heard about this). As their web page on the international campaign to end genocide says, "'Never again' has turned into 'Again and again.' Again and again, the response to genocide has been too little and too late."
T acitus on the empty cry of "Never again" and what the world should do in Darfur. I don't know if his prescription for what to do is correct, but his analysis is correct.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nick Berg's beheading

Mahmood Al-Yousif, in a posting on Nick Berg's beheading, says:
I'm not shocked at all about the manner of Nick Berg's death. The sub-humans who carried out this crime bring shame on all of humanity, let alone Islam. And the whole of humanity should strike back. These extremists no matter what they call themselves should be dealt with.

If we as Muslims stay quiet about this situation, then we too shall join the ranks of sub-humanity and will be completely culpable.

My heartfelt condolences to Nick's family and friends. Although this could never be consolation to his family, if there is a definition of martyr, then surely Nick is one.
Mahmood, thank you for these sentiments.
Will we stand idly by while yet another genocide occurs in Africa -- Idle on Darfur -- this time in the Sudan?

When I teach my introduction to Judaism class in the Spring, in addition to covering basic Jewish beliefs and practices, I often include other important issues. Last year and the year before we discussed the Holocaust, in particular Jewish religious responses to it. A year ago we read Elie Wiesel's Night, which I read when I was 13 or 14 and still find devastating. In this segment of the course we also discuss issues of memory and memorialization, and I ask the students -- why is necessary to remember the Holocaust? A few people will mention grandparents who are survivors of the Shoah, and the need to remember accurately what happened, especially to fight against those who deny that the Holocaust occurred.

Most people will say it's necessary to remember "so that it won't happen again." I ask them what that means -- that it shouldn't happen again to Jews? Or to anyone? At that point they start to mumble, since when they learned about the necessity to remember in Hebrew School (most of the students are Jewish), they were never really taught why, or what it means to remember something. At that point I ask them if there have been genocides committed since the end of World War II. A few might mention Cambodia, and maybe one person will mention Bosnia or Rwanda. I then point out to them that the genocide in Rwanda occurred after they were born (at this point, when they were from 8 to 10 years old), and that then also the world -- including the U.S. and the U.N. -- stood idly by and watched as 800,000 people were massacred in 100 days. Then I try to ask them again what the purpose of saying "never again" is, if, in fact, there have been several genocides since the Holocaust. They don't say much in return.

So why is it that we say "never again," and what is it that we mean when we say it? Personally, I think this phrase should be retired until we (i.e., the U.S. and the U.N.) actually start to act consistently to prevent and halt genocide. Until then, saying "never again" is just an exercise in hypocrisy.

"What would you do?"

This is a wise column by Anne Applebau on What Would You Do? if you were placed in the same position as the soldiers in the military police unit at Abu Ghraib prison. Would you abuse prisoners or refuse to do so?
The lesson, if there is one, is that no one's behavior in extreme circumstances is predictable. Childhood poverty is no more an excuse or an explanation for villainy than it is a necessary component of heroism. Neither love of thunderstorm [Pfc. Lynndie R. England, photographed with naked Iraqi prisoners] nor a penchant for destroying paper towel dispensers [Spec. Joseph M. Darby, whose sworn statement set off the investigation] provides a clue to how a person will behave when, as at Abu Ghraib, all of the rules are removed. Evil is a mystery. So is heroism.
I hope that thinking about circumstances like these ahead of time and trying to think about what you would do is can prepare you -- but as she says, "the only possible answer to the question 'What would you do' in such a situation has to be: 'I don't know.'"

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I decided that I was getting tired of my old blog template, so I chose a new one from Blogger, and after some tweaking, added my own links to the left (including new blogs and news sources). I'm still not sure if I'm completely happy with this template -- the background color is a bit dark for my taste, and I think the font size is a little smaller than I would like -- but it looks cooler to me than the previous template.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I have to say that I am surprised by this George Will op-ed in the Washington Post -- No Flinching From the Facts, but he says all the right things, and asks all the right questions, about what we're doing in Iraq right now.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Attentive readers of this blog may have noticed that I have strayed far away from mysticism, and that politics has overtaken the blog. Now that the semester is over I do plan to start mentioning my research and other items relevant to both mysticism and magic. Chakira has posted an amusing message about Lubavitch and the use of amulets -- My Blog is a Segulah For Both Literacy and Laziness. I also would mention that the cover story in last week's New Republic was about how Kabbalah goes Hollywood. Yossi Klein Halevi writes about the pop kabbalah that has intrigued the likes of Madonna -- the Kabbalah Centres spread by Rabbi Philip Berg.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Gary Farber at Amygdala is expressing some of my own thoughts. He argues that the U.S. government should hold elections in Iraq ASAP -- "We should now hold those elections, flawed as they will be, in the next two months, and follow the desires of that government. If we don't, I have no truck with what our government does in Iraq, I will not honor it, and I will not stand by it."

Elections would certainly help, but I am starting to feel that what is happening in Iraq now has irredeemably ruined any good intentions that we had. I feel taken for a fool by my government. Rumsfeld and Rice and the President still feel that we should trust them to do what's best in Iraq. But why? They planned the invasion brilliantly, but almost everything that's happened since then has been a disaster. And now this. Why didn't Rumsfeld insist on knowing what was happening in those prisons? Why didn't he tell the President, for heaven's sake?

I think I know the reason -- he didn't care. It simply didn't matter to him what happened to some imprisoned Iraqis. And it doesn't seem to have mattered to any other powerful figures in the administration until the photographs came out. I don't know if they're reacting now out of any true feeling of indignation, or if all they care about is saving their own rear ends. And what's happening in all of the other prisons we've set up for the war on terrorism -- in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo?

A couple of weeks ago I was watching PBS's Frontline, and they were interviewing a man who had been on the side of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan until he realized that what they were about was murdering innocent people. (His family lived in Canada). Then he turned on them, and eventually began working for the CIA. The CIA wanted to learn what the prisoners in Guantanamo were saying to each other in private, so they convinced him to go there (as a fake prisoner) to listen in on their conversations. He had a horrible experience. He was tied up for ten days at Bagram airbase (sitting for hours and hours with his hands tied behind his back, hooded, etc.), thrown on a plane, and brought to Cuba. There he was in with the general population of prisoners. He finally told his CIA bosses that he had to get out. He said that his ten days in Afghanistan as a prisoner on his way to Guantanamo had broken him. He was put into more comfortable quarters in Guantanamo and finally released -- without being paid the money the CIA had promised him. Now he is back in Canada, shunned by his family and other Muslims. He totally disagrees with the jihad philosophy his own father had espoused.

One thing he said in the interview was that "The worst part of these 10 days is the flight. Since they took us out from our rooms, washed us up and put us on the ground. There was points, you know, I just … in my heart I wished to God that one of these MPs would go crazy and then shoot me. Just get up and shoot me. I was so depressed. I was so sick of anything. You lose hope sometimes of everything, you know. You go to Allah, you just try everything around you and then you lose hope of everything. … I just wished for a bullet. … I was like, please God, do something but just take away my life, you know. It was a horrible experience. …"

We should not be doing this to people, even those whom we suspect are terrorists. It's inhuman, it's wrong, and it's ruining us.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Well, as unlikely as it may seem, Bush Apologizes for Iraq Abuse, although he still backs Rumsfeld, whom I hope will be forced to resign soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

An excellent Washington Post editorial on A System of Abuse ( in the detention of suspected terrorists since 2001.

Another excellent column by Anne Appelbaum, Willing Torturers (, about American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. She says, "In fact, it is not difficult to create a situation in which ordinary soldiers of any nationality feel entitled to mistreat prisoners of war. All that is needed is a sense that the ordinary rules don't apply, a situation more formally known as the absence of the rule of law. In totalitarian societies, the rule of law is always absent, by definition. But even in democracies, the rule of law is often suspended during wartime." And this is just as true for women who happen to have power in these situations as it is for men (although women are far less likely to have that power, and far more likely instead to be victims).

A brilliant piece by Debra Dickerson in The Washington Monthly about the women involved in abusing Iraqi prisoners. She says, "As surprised as I was to learn that GIs were abusing prisoners, nothing floored me as much as seeing the grinning faces of women gleefully celebrating torture of the helpless (however complicit in terrorism they might be). I take pride in being an unapologetic feminist (why not? The world is unapologetically sexist.) but maybe I shouldn’t. Without those photos, not only would I have been difficult to convince that the abuse happened, I would never have believed that women participated. So perhaps the problem isn’t the military’s feminization but its lack of it."

I'm appalled by women's participation in this abuse, but not surprised -- women are not essentially more moral than men, despite the arguments of some feminists. Women simply haven't been able to engage in such abuse because we haven't had the power to do so.

MSNBC has published the full U.S. Army report on Iraqi prisoner abuse authored by Major General Antonio Taguba. As Andrew Sullivan says, "We can make necessary distinctions between this abuse and the horrifying torture of Saddam's rule, but they cannot obliterate the sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. Those of us who believe in the moral necessity of this war should be, perhaps, the most offended. These goons have defiled something important and noble; they have wrought awful damage on Western prestige; they have tarnished the vast majority of servicemembers who do an amazing job; and they have done something incontrovertibly disgusting and wrong."

He calls for the President to go to Abu Ghraib prison, "to witness the place where these abuses occurred and swear that the culprits will be punished and that it will not happen again." I'm not holding my breath. I used to believe that the President had a moral compass that was not necessarily connected to his own political advantage, which does not mean that I always (or even often) agreed with his moral positions. The way that this administration, however, has botched the occupation of Iraq, and the way that it has obstructed time and again the work of the 9/11 commission, is leading me more and more to doubt that the President and his chief officials have any higher moral standard than trying to cover up their mistakes and seek their own political advantage.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

While cruising around the web, I found that the FBI has posted its hate crime report from 2002 as a pdf file and it has some very interesting results. From p. 16 of the report, we learn that of the total 8,832 offenses reported that were motivated by some kind of bias, 2,967 were against Black people (34%), 1,039 were against Jews (12%), and 957 (11%) were against gay men. Each of these groups was the largest in number in its category of racial, religious, or sexual orientation motivation.

Of the crimes against persons, the statistics also break out in interesting ways. The most common offenses against Black people (2110 in all) were aggravated assault (390, 18%), simple assault (608, 29%), and intimidation (1,107, 52%). The most common offenses against Jews (485 in all) were intimidation (433, 89%), followed by aggravated assault (17, 3.5%) and simple assault (35, 7%). The most common offenses against gay men (734 in all) were aggravated assault (138, 19%), simple assault (279, 38%), and intimidation (311, 42%). Gay men and Black people are thus much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes because of their identity than Jews are.

Of the crimes against property, the majority in all three cases fell into the "destruction/damage/vandalism" category -- Blacks (755), Jews (524), and gay men (163). Gay men were also significantly more likely to be robbed than the other groups (36 for them vs. 2 Jews and 13 Blacks).

Of the other single religious groups (excluding the catch-all "other religion" category), Muslims were the next most likely to be victims of a bias-motivated crime, with a total of 170 offenses. This included 12 aggravated assaults, 22 simple assaults, and 66 cases of intimidation. Of the crimes against property, the category of "destruction/damage/vandalism" was also the largest, with 55 offenses.

Of those killed for bias-motivated reasons in 2002 (11 in all), 3 were Black, 1 was white, one belonged to the "other religion" category, 4 were gay men, and 2 were Hispanic.

If you're interested in more details, you can download your very own copy by cruising to Uniform Crime Reports. They have the hate crime statistics from 1995-2002.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

An interesting comment by Mahmood: Gulf demands punishment of U.S. torturers (while ignoring demands to do likewise to theirs!). I am glad that he feels this way -- "I'm not holding my breath for the other Gulf States to take a bit of their own medicine here, and that is bringing their very own torturers to trial, but I hope that Bahrain, being a founding member of the GCC should now repeal it's controvertial Law 56 before making such a demand!" The fact that the gulf states engage in torture does not, however, make me feel any better that my country does the same!

I was just reminded of another issue about Iraq -- the question of whether the returning coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq should be photographed and published or otherwise shown in the U.S. media. I think that they should. Whether or not one agrees that the war in Iraq is justified, we have to know what the cost is (or, I would rather say, part of the cost is -- since many Iraqis have been killed and injured, either fighting against the U.S., as innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire between U.S./U.K. soldiers and insurgents, or as victims of terrorist attacks inside Iraq). I also think that it is a way to honor those who have died. I feel the same way about Ted Koppel's decision to read the names of all those killed in Iraq on Nightline Friday night. This honors those who died and gives names to them. The same is true for the Lehrer Report on PBS -- every night at the end of the news they broadcast the names of photographs of those who had died. If those of us who support the war cannot even stand to listen to the names or look at the faces of those who have died on our behalf, what does that make us?

Good comments by Roger L. Simon on "egregious mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by US and British troops. Even if this only represents a small number of our personnel, it absolutely cannot be countenanced any more than the delusional statements and violent attacks on Westerners and Jews by people on the other side can be accepted. Both are a repulsive denial of humanity. This is not what we are fighting for and we all know it."

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Here's another interesting Arab blog -- Healing Iraq, "Daily news and comments on the situation in post Saddam Iraq by an Iraqi dentist".

I have been a supporter of the Iraq War -- but this is simply disgusting: Allegations of Abuse Lead to Shakeup at Iraqi Prison. Apparently this story broke on Wednesday on CBS News -- which I didn't watch. Here's another very disturbing article, to be published in tomorrow's NY Times. If one of the points of the Iraq War was to stop the human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein, what the hell are we doing there now? Why not just let him out of jail and let him run the whole show again? I'm disgusted.

Thanks to Gary Farber for waking me up to this.