Sunday, February 20, 2011

BBC Map Guide to Middle East Unrest

If you are looking for Libyan War maps see our on-going series of creating and collecting the best maps on the internet.

The BBC has an interactive map guide to unrest in the Middle East and the sociodemographic factors that have contributed to the unrest.

Strangely missing is anything on Lebanon which actually was the first real case of unrest in the Middle East this year.  Hezbollah managed a political coup in January by managing to replace the Sunni position of Prime Minister.  The Sunni Future Movement and pro-Western Christians tried to stop this action both in parliament and in the streets but the fact that Hezbollah still defies United Nations regulations by being an armed group crushed any hopes of stopping the Hezbollah action.

Another thing to note is that Iraq's protests are limited to Shiite internally displaced persons demanding more services for their camps around Baghdad.  There is no mass anti-government protests in democratic Iraq.  Violence levels are even down to 1980s-1990s levels as the al Qaeda insurgency is dead and all that remains are criminal groups who try to stroke sectarian violence like the Ku Klux Klan did after the Civil War.

An Afghan Comments on Wisconsin Democratic Rule

Afghan:  So everyone was elected?

Me: Yes.

Afghan:  And so Obama's party just leave because they don't like their chances at the vote?

Me:  Yes.

Afghan:  That's not very democratic.

Me:  No.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Afghan Diary: "A dumb ally is worse than a smart adversary"

"A dumb ally is worse than a smart adversary." -Pashtun Proverb

Many American soldiers out here probably would nod their head in agreement when they discuss the actions and inactions of soldiers from other countries.  While some countries stand and fight others with the best of the Americans others like the Poles have surrendered much Ghazni Province to the Taliban without a fight, Canadian soldiers fight tough but their commanders shut down after every causality, and the Germans refuse to fight.  Time Magazine has a good article on this subject.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Muhammad, Christians, and Afghan Antisemitism

I have been able to have many great conservations with Afghans dealing with religion.  Unlike places in the Middle East, where the furthest I ever got was being told I should be Muslim (translation: I like you but you are a dirty infidel), Afghans seem much more open to discuss religion with non-Muslims.  Perhaps this is because in Afghanistan Christianity is a distant "other" rather than a close, potential threat that many in the Middle East see it as.  I cannot say for sure why Afghans are more open but both Shia Sufis and Sunnis have been more than interested in hearing me talk about Catholicism, Protestantism, similarities between Sufi and Catholic saints, and what I know about Islam.

It was during one of these talks that I was told a story which offers deep reflections into Afghan cultural schooling of both Christianity and Judaism.  One elder asked me if I knew the story about how a priest saved Muhammad's life.  I knew of several early encounter stories of Muhammad and Christians including the Nestorian or Arian monk Bahira and Muhammad's relative, the Ebionite priest Waraqah ibn Nawfal, but I had not heard the story of a priest saving Muhammad's life.  So I asked to hear the story.

A Priest Saves Muhammad (Paraphrased by me)

When Muhammad was born his father had already had died.  His mother gave him to an Arab Bedioun tribe as was the custom of Meccan Arabs, in order for Arab children to start off their lives growing strong.  When Mohammad was a baby a Christian priest told Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb, his foster mother, to take care of the children because he was special and destined for great things.  The priest made special note telling Hamlimah to beware of Jews who would be looking for the child.

Later, when Mohammad was still very young, a group of Jews came to the Bedouin camp and started asking questions about young children who demonstrated "signs."  The Jews found Halimah and began telling her how they believed Mohammad was the "one they were looking for."  The Jews then asked where the boy's father was.  Hamlimah, remembering what the priest had told her, pointed to her husband and said he was the boy's father.  The Jews then sighed and said Mohammad seemed to be the one they were looking for but the child they were looking for had a deceased father.  Hamlimah could tell the Jews were there looking for Mohammad in order to kill him.

The Afghans I was with all nodded while the story was being recited and one even told me he had learned the story while in school.

I have tried researching the story but I can find it no place else.  It seems to combine elements of a version of Bahria, who warned adults to protect Muhammad from the Jews, and extra-Biblical stories about Jesus' childhood and signs of his greatness.  The story also plays Christians in a good light, God-fearers who are looking for the truth.  While I have had access only to a select portion of Afghans, all of them have made points to remark on the shared values of Christians and Muslims, something which Muslims in the Middle East that I have encountered to do not mention.  There, I have been told Christianity is corrupted truth and that only Islam holds the answer.

The saddest part of the story is the antisemitism.  Nearly five hundred years had passed between the destruction of organized, Temple Judaism and the birth of Muhammad.  Sadly, the complete lack of Judaism's ability to pull off the logistics required to do any giant "hunt down the chosen one" operation does not enter anyone's mind here.  Instead, stories about how bad Jews are continue.  When I tried mentioning my doubts about an organized Jewish plot against Muhammad the elder just started listing off prophets killed by "the Jews."

My conservations with Muslims have been very rewarding.  They have asked to have parts of my Bible and works by Saint Josemaria Escriva translated so they can "read God's word and works to others."  However, for all these good moments it is disheartening to see dark hates lurk in the hearts and minds of good religious people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Geography Books Read in 2010

While a bit late here's a rundown of geography-related books I read in 2010.  For more recommendations check out my 2009 four great read list and the books section of the blog.

Afghanistan-Pakistan

Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central AsiaDescent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia - Good people make good countries.  Bad people make Pakistan... and Pakistan is a cancer.

Greetings From Afghanistan, Send More Ammo: Dispatches from Taliban CountryGreetings From Afghanistan, Send More Ammo: Dispatches from Taliban Country - One soldier's adventures and cultural observations in Afghanistan.

The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless FrontierThe Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier - A very, very, very detailed book about the Waziristan War.

The Places In Between The Places In Between - Rory Stewart's walking journal of his trip from Herat to Kabul right after the Fall of the Taliban.

The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the TalibanThe Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban - A good book when it discusses corruption in Afghanistan. However, Ms. Chayes is so hell bent against one warlord that she goes on rants while ignoring national government corruption until it is too late.

Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al QaedaSeeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda - Everyone in Afghanistan uses the drug trade and the farmers are their slaves. 

Africa

A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics)A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 - Wow.  Probably the best book of the year.  Multiple parts show the lost world of the Pied-Noir, French internal politics, and the Algerian War.  No matter how bad Vietnam was for the United States, it never got as bad as Algeria did for the French.

Coffee Table

Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made itLost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made it  - A fun look at proposed states, both fanciful and almost would have beens.  (GT Review)

Eurasia


The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the CaucasusThe Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus - A good introduction for those who want to know more about the pre-liberation days of the Caucasus.  Read it for pre-1989 history.



A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the WestA Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West - A brief look at the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and how Russia played Georgia.

Europe

Geography, empire and National Revolution in Vichy France [An article from: Political Geography]Geography, empire and National Revolution in Vichy France [An article from: Political Geography]  - Monarchists, fascists, and neosocialists united struggle to remake the field of geography in Vichy France.



No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 - A book that does a wonderful job not only taking a new look at the European Front but also showing just how small the Western Front was compared to the Eastern Front. (GT Review)


Geography and Education


Global Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for GeographyGlobal Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for Geography - A detailed investigation how in England and the United States geography has been replaced by a "global perspectives" subject which radically differs from true geography. (GT Review and Author Interview)


Latin America

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern MexicoGeo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico - Want to know more about Mexico?  Read this book. (GT Review)


Middle East

Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi ArabiaInside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia - A look, both past and present, at the machine that is Saudi Arabia.  I read it before I traveled to The Kingdom and was able to make sense out of some things I saw.

Lawrence and the Arabs - The books is one of the first accuarte-ish accounts of T.E. Lawrence's time in Arabia and at the Paris Peace conference.  It ends with a powerful warning about Wahabbis.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the PresentPower, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present - A long but fascinating read into the long-time relationship between the United States and the Middle East.

Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948 (Honorable Mention for the Albert Hourani Award, Middle Eastern Studies Association)Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948 - While not perfect and a bit dry, a good overview of the destruction of the Arab landscape after 1948, the legal battles over property rights, and current sites of tension.

War on Terrorism

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big OneThe Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One - A comparison of small wars around the world and potential answers to them.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001  - Looming Tower from the West's perspective.  This book does a good job talking about the geopolitics of the pre-9/11 world's battle in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda.

The IslamistThe Islamist  - A personal look how Islamists try to create a new denomination of Islam, how they act, and why they differ from other forms of Islam.

Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants KillTerror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill  - First half of the book is a great examination into religious violence. Second half can be skipped as it is a "this is how al Qaeda works" book.

World

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the WorldThe Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World - I wonder what he would say about happy "Iceland" now that their money train has stopped.  But an interesting look at happiness in certain parts of the world.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide -While I don't agree with all the stated solutions, a good read on the current state of women around the world.

Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The TimesLight of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times  - The Pope's look at the world's problems and some potential solutions.

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global ChristianityThe Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity - Liberal theologies beware.  The future is a theologically conservative Catholic and Pentecostal faith that will rip through anything which stands in its way.  The now for all purposes defunct Anglican Communion and the United Methodist Church are feeling this now.

Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Reshaped the WorldVanished Ocean: How Tethys Reshaped the World - Will be properly reviewed when I get back to the states.  A good read into the geology of the forming earth and the giant Tethys Ocean.