31 October 2006

A Vlach, Impaled

When they ordered Radisav to lie down, he hesitated a moment and then, looking past the gipsies and guards as if they were not there, came close up to the man from Plevlje and said almost confidentially as if speaking to a friend, softly and heavily:

'Listen, by this world and the next, do your best to pierce me well so that I may not suffer like a dog.'

The man from Plevlje started and shouted at him, as if defending himself from that too intimate approach:

'March, Vlach! You who are so great a hero as to destroy the Sultan's work now beg for mercy like a woman. It will be as it has been ordered and as you have deserved.'

Radisav bent his head still lower and the gipsies came up and began to strip off his cloak and his shirt. On his chest the wounds from the chains stood out, red and swollen. Without another word the peasant lay down as he had been ordered, face downward. The gipsies approached and the first bound his hands behind his back; then they attached a cord to each of his legs, around the ankles. Then they pulled outwards and to the side, stretching his legs wide apart. Meanwhile Merdjan placed the stake on two small wooden chocks so that it pointed between the peasant's legs. Then he took from his belt a short broad knife, knelt beside the stretched-out man and leant over him to cut away the cloth of his trousers and to widen the opening through which the stake would enter his body. This most terrible part of the bloody task was, luckily, invisible to the onlookers. They could only see the bound body shudder at the short and unexpected prick of the knife, then half rise as if it were going to stand up, only to fall back again at once, striking dully against the planks. As soon as he had finished. the gipsy leapt up, took the wooden mallet and with slow measured blows began to strike the lower blunt end of the stake. Between each two blows he would stop for a moment and look first at the body in which the stake was penetrating and then at the two gipsies, reminding them to pull slowly and evenly. The body of the peasant, spreadeagled, writhed convulsively; at each blow of the mallet his spine twisted and bent, but the cords pulled at it and kept it straight. The silence from both banks of the river was such that not only every blow but even its echo from somewhere along the steep bank could be clearly heard. Those nearest could hear how the man beat with his forehead against the planks and, even more, another and unusual sound, that was neither a scream, nor a wail, nor a groan, nor anything human; that stretched and twisted body emitted a sort of creaking and cracking like a fence that is breaking down or a tree that is being felled. At every second blow the gipsy went over to the stretched-out body and leant over it to see whether the stake was going in the right direction and when he had satisfied himself that it had not touched any of the more important internal organs, he returned and went on with his work.

From the banks all this could scarcely be heard and still less seen, but all stood there trembling, their faces blanched and their fingers chilled with cold.

For a moment the hammering ceased. Merdjan now saw that close to the right shoulder muscles the skin was stretched and swollen. He went forward quickly and cut the swollen place with two crossed cuts. Pale blood flowed out, at first slowly then faster and faster. Two or three more blows, light and careful, and the iron-shod point of the stake began to break through at the place where he had cut. He struck a few more times until the point of the stake reached level with the right ear. The man was impaled on the stake as a lamb on the spit, only that the tip did not come through the mouth but in the back and had not seriously damaged the intestines, the heart or the lungs. Then Merdjan threw down the mallet and came nearer. He looked at the unmoving body, avoiding the blood which poured out of the places where the stake had entered and had come out again and was gathering in little pools on the planks. The two gipsies turned the stiffened body on its back and began to bind the legs to the foot of the stake. Meanwhile Merdjan looked to see if the man were still alive and carefully examined the face that had suddenly become swollen, wider and larger. The eyes were wide open and restless, but the eyelids were unmoving, the mouth was wide open but the two lips stiff and contracted and between them the clenched teeth shone white. Since the man could no longer control some of his facial muscles the face looked like a mask. But the heart beat heavily and the lungs worked with short, quickened breath. The two gipsies began to lift him up like a sheep on a spit. Merdjan shouted to them to take care and not shake the body; he himself went to help them. Then they embedded the lower, thicker end of the stake between two beams and fixed it there with huge nails and then behind, at the same height, buttressed the whole thing with a short strut which was nailed both to the stake and to a beam on the staging.

When that too had been done, the gipsies climbed down and joined the guards, and on that open space, raised a full eight feet upright, stiff and bare to the waist, the man on the stake remained alone. From a distance it could only be guessed that the stake to which his legs had been bound at the ankles passed right through his body. So that the people saw him as a statue, high up in the air on the very edge of the staging, high above the river.
SOURCE: The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andrić (U. Chicago Press, 1977), pp. 48-50 (Reviewed here and here.)

Okay, that's the last in this series of gruesome Halloween treats.

29 October 2006

Dracula vs. the Transylvanian Germans

In the winter of 1459 Dracula organized one of his most devastating raids on Transylvanian soil, with the clear intention of trying to seize Dan III and his supporters. [The Drăculeşti and the Dăneşti were two factions contending for the crown of Wallachia.] Advancing along the valley of the Prahova River, he delivered his first blows in the vicinity of Braşov [German Kronstadt], where he burned villages, forts, and towns, burned the crops to deprive the population of food, and killed men, women, and children as he progressed. He focused his attention on the exposed Braşovian suburbs, especially the Spenghi and Prund areas, which were located outside the walls of the fortress. This was the Romanian section of town, where Dan III and his dissident boyars resided. Under cover of darkness Dracula's men burst across the lightly fortified wooden palisade surrounding the section. He then proceeded to burn the whole suburb, including the old chapel of Saint Jacob, built in 1342, located at the foot of Tîmpa Hill; it was never restored. He took as many captives as he could find and impaled them "lengthwise and crosswise," according to Beheim's narrative. Their bodies were strung on Tîmpa Hill above the chapel. Dracula meanwhile was seated at a table having his meal; he seemed to enjoy the gruesome scenario of his butchers cutting off the limbs of many of his victims. Beheim tells us the additional detail that the prince "dipped his bread in the blood of the victims," since "watching human blood flow gave him courage." The stage was thus set for Dracula's later reputation as a blood drinker or vampire, and his subsequent fictional reincarnation as Count Dracula. As we will see, this episode at Tîmpa Hill did more to damage Dracula's reputation than any other act in his whole career. On this occasion Dracula also displayed the perverted black humor that is attributed to him in Russian narratives. A boyar attending the Braşov festivity, apparently unable to endure any longer the smell of coagulating blood, had the misfortune to hold up his nose and express a gesture of revulsion. Dracula immediately ordered an unusually long stake prepared for the would-be victim and presented it to him with the cynical remark: "You live up there yonder, where the stench cannot reach you." The boyar was immediately impaled....

But these raids and accompanying atrocities against the Germans of Transylvania during the years 1457 and 1460 were to have a long-range impact that reached far beyond the borders of Romanian countries. Those German Catholic monks who were fortunate enough to escape from their monasteries, which had been reduced to ashes, brought with them to the west what in essence became the first Dracula "horror stories." Thus, Dracula in his own lifetime became a subject of horror literature. At the monastery of Saint Gall in Switzerland, at Lambach near Salzburg, and at the Melk Abbey on the Danube River in Lower Austria — all Benedictine houses — these refugees related their harrowing escapes to the other monks. These stories were copied down, mostly by scribes, and in turn used at the opportune moment as propaganda against the prince by the Hungarian chancellery. Among the refugees who had fled Dracula's terror was a Bernardine lay brother who is simply referred to as "Brother Jacob." He was to become the chief informant to the Swabian minnesinger Michael Beheim. Among the later German texts that included Beheim's account, one printed at Strassburg in 1500 was prefaced by a woodcut showing Dracula seated at a table surrounded by rows of impaled cadavers. This image suggests clearly that the bloodthirsty Count Dracula of fiction and movies was born from the loins of the bloody practitioner of terror in Transylania.
SOURCE: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times, by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally (Back Bay, 1989), pp. 120, 123-124

Photo: Fresh snow on the town square of old Braşov, viewed from Mt. Tâmpa, 29 April 1984. The Council House is in the plaza, with the Black Church to its left.

27 October 2006

San Juan Capistrano, Defender of Belgrade, 1456

Saint John of Capistrano ... was an extraordinary survivor of an earlier period of Medieval crusading (the likes of which was not seen again in Europe until the siege of Vienna in 1683). John of Capistrano, whose imposing bust still adorns the main facade of Saint Stephen's Dom in Vienna, certainly looked the part of a Peter the Hermit, the crusading leader of the eleventh century. Small of stature, with an emaciated frame, hollow cheeks, deep-set eyes, and parched skin, he had the countenance and stature of a mystic as he gathered the faithful around him in the city of Györ in Hungary and preached the crusade to the common man in Latin. No one understood his exact words, but the tone of the message was unmistakable as he thundered: "God wills it that we chase the Turks out of Europe and for whosoever follows me, I will obtain plenary indulgence for him and his family." It was more a matter of heart than rational thinking that induced a ragtag army of some 8,000 inexperienced and poorly equipped peasants, lower burghers, students, and clergymen to follow John on his southeastward march. They had gathered all the crude weapons they could assemble: slings, cudgels, scythes, pitchforks, stakes, and other farm implements. It was, however, their determination and fanaticism that proved more than a match for the holy war proclaimed by the sultan and the tried military talent of the Turks and janissaries. The generals and the diplomats who attended John's demagogic harangue at Györ — Hunyadi, his son László, János Vitéz, Vlad Dracula, even Pope Calixtus III's legate, Juan Cardinal de Carvajal — were not impressed by what they regarded as a "mob." In the end, though, these leaders found they had underestimated the power of faith to move men.

At a meeting summoned by Hunyadi at Hunedoara on January 13, 1456 [three years after the fall of Constantinople], basic strategies for the impending campaign were laid out and assignments to the military leaders given with little reference to John of Capistrano's crusaders, who worked essentially as an independent force. Dracula, with an army composed mostly of Romanian mercenaries, was instructed by Hunyadi to stay at Sibiu and watch the Transylvanian passes. In addition, his young protégé was given to understand that he could proceed with the offensive against Vladislav II at whatever time he would deem appropriate, thus to relieve pressure at Belgrade by compelling the Turks to keep a body of troops on the Danube. In essence, Dracula's mission was part of the overall strategy in protecting the eastern flank of the Belgrade defensive operation. In turn, Dracula's cousin Stephen of Moldavia, also in Hunyadi's entourage, was waiting for an opportunity to overthrow the other Turkish vassal, Petru III Aaron. By June 1456, in the words of the historian János Thuróczi "as the grain began to ripen, a vast army, accompanied by 300 siege guns and 27 enormous cannons, followed by the fleet on the Danube, moved northward, capturing on the way a number of Serbian cities that had maintained a precarious autonomy under Turkish rule. Hunyadi sent the customary diplomatic appeals to the west by means of his intermediary János Vitéz; as usual, there was no response.

The greatest achievement of John Hunyadi and John of Capistrano, unlikely allies that they were, was breaking through the ring of Turkish land forces, as well as the chains of Turkish flotillas that blocked access to the city, to effect a juncture with the city's defenders. On July 21, having finally penetrated the outer defenses and moats, Mehmed gave orders for a final assault. In desperation, the sultan tried to arouse enthusiasm in his troops by joining the melée in person, only to be wounded in the thigh for his pains. Though the Turkish army had penetrated the city, it was unable to capture the fortress on the hill, defended by 16,000 men evenly divided between John of Capistrano's crusaders and Hunyadi's professionals. For Mehmed, who lost as many as 24,000 of his best soldiers and whose sailors colored the blue Danube red, it was a disastrous defeat. The relief of Belgrade was described as a "miracle" by Bernhard von Kraiburg, chancellor of the archbishop of Salzburg, in which "8,000 simple people" had defeated a vastly overwhelming Turkish force. In retreating toward Sofia, the ailing sultan was so angry that he wounded a number of his generals with his own sword and later had them executed. When the successful defense of Belgrade was reported to Rome, Eugenius IV called it "the happiest event of my life"; believing that a miracle had truly occurred, the pope made preparations for the beatification of John of Capistrano.
SOURCE: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times, by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally (Back Bay, 1989), pp. 79-80

Before the year was out, Hunyadi, Capistrano, and many others had died of the plague. (Photo, October 1984: The bottom panel on the painted monastery at Moldoviţa in Suceava County, Romania, depicts a Byzantine victory at Constantinople. It must date from 1453 or earlier.)

26 October 2006

Missionary POWs of the Japanese, 1940s

On Monday, December 8, [Max] Garrott was riding a local train to the home of Northern Baptist missionary William Axling when he learned that war had erupted between Japan and the United States. He saw the shocking headlines on a newspaper that a fellow passenger was reading. The next morning Garrott was interned ("for your own protection," the police told him) at Sumire Girls' School, a Catholic school and orphanage in Den'enchofu, Tokyo. He was assigned to a room with 12 other American men, a room barely large enough for the cots and beds wedged into it. "Safe, well, profitably interned," wrote Max to [his wife] Dorothy through the good offices of the Swiss Red Cross. Though some missionaries were tortured by police interrogators during those early months of the war, Max was not mistreated. He even had the use of his piano, which kind officials had transported from his house to the school. They also had brought a picture of his wife. Since the internees were allowed to buy food in addition to what was served them by the authorities, and some talented cooks were among them, Max soon gained back the 10 pounds he had lost doing his own cooking after Dorothy's departure. The next spring he and his fellow Americans had strawberry shortcake "running out of their ears."

Humanitarian treatment was also the lot of Floryne Miller in Shanghai, who though an enemy alien was allowed to continue her teaching until February 1943. "Wouldn't it be fun," she wrote to her family in January 1942, "if this should get to you one of these days." The letter was delivered. In 1943, while awaiting repatriation, she spent seven months in Chapel Civil Assembly Center, an internment camp outside Shanghai. "Everyone is so good to us," she reported through the Red Cross. Words to the contrary would have been ill-advised, of course.

Far less fortunate were those who had transferred to the South China Mission. Oz Quick was in Hong Kong when the city fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941. He had gone there for medical treatment after falling ill with appendicitis at Kweilin. Quick was committed to Stanley Prison with about 300 Americans, including four other Southern Baptist missionaries and [Mission] Secretary Rankin. They had no furniture or furnishings of any kind, and food was so scarce that Rankin, already trim, lost 30 pounds during the half-year's confinement.

The Robert Dyers were among eight Southern Baptist missionaries interned in the Philippines with about 500 American and British civilians. One of the eight was Rufus Gray, who was judged a spy because he had taken many pictures while in Peking (photography was his hobby) and had made friends among the Chinese. He died under torture by a Japanese intelligence unit. Bob Dyer was taken twice to the "house of horror" for interrogation, an ordeal that has haunted him ever since. As orderly to the sick in the camp's makeshift hospital and undertaker to those who succumbed to malnutrition and disease, Bob lived with the specter of death day after day. Mary Dyer helped to boost the morale of the living with her magnificent renderings of hymns, wedding songs, and "God Bless America." In 1944 the internees were transferred to Manila's infamous Bilibid Prison, from which they were liberated by American forces in February 1945. Most were on the verge of starvation. After returning to the United States the Dyers resigned from the Board. Bob taught religion at Wake Forest University until his retirement in 1983, and Mary gave private voice and piano lessons.

In June 1942 Max Garrott was put aboard the SS Asama Maru for repatriation to his homeland in the first of two prisoner exchanges arranged through the medium of the Swiss government. The ship left Yokohama with about 430 passengers, mostly notably U.S. ambassador Joseph P. Grew and Mrs. Grew (she had refused evacuation with other dependents). At Hong Kong it picked up 370 more Americans, including Oz Quick and Theron Rankin. The exchange ship had large crosses painted bow and stern for identification, but because of a large Japanese flag painted in the center, the vessel was nearly torpedoed by an American submarine when off course.

After a second stop at Saigon, the Asama Maru proceeded to Singapore for a rendezvous with the Conte Verde, an Italian ship under Japanese control that carried 600 passengers from Shanghai. The two ships steamed to the Portuguese port of Lourenço Marques in Mozambique, where 1,500 Japanese from the United States were waiting aboard the SS Gripsholm, a Swedish vessel leased for this trip by the American Export Line. The Japanese exchanged ships by marching from bow to bow, while the Americans moved from stern to stern. Among the 1,500 Americans, just under 600 were missionaries and their families. Forty of the missionaries were Southern Baptists, 39 from China and one--Garrott--from Japan. One of the China missionaries, Pearl Todd, later served in Japan.

The trip from Japan to America took 10 weeks, half of them on the Gripsholm. The fixed price per person was $575, regardless of what accommodations one had. This made for some irritation on the overcrowded Gripsholm, but all were delighted with the sumptuous American meals, showers, fresh sheets, recent news from the homeland, and the delicious atmosphere of freedom.

After one stop en route, at Rio de Janeiro, the Gripsholm reached New York on August 25, 1942. Passengers without diplomatic status had to be screened for loyalty to the United States, a process that took several days. Three intelligence officers--from the FBI, Army, and Navy--examined each passenger, using dossiers prepared from earlier inquiries made of family members and acquaintances. Garrott met with difficulty because of his conviction that he could not take part in the war effort. He endured several hours of interrogation before he was permitted to go ashore.
SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 165-167

25 October 2006

The Real Dracula's Contemporaries

The real Dracula, who ruled the territories that now constitute Romania, was born in 1431, the year that Joan of Arc was burned as a witch at the stake in Rouen, France. He died in 1476, two years before Spain was united as a kingdom under the rule of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. He was very much the by-product of the Europe of his day — the Renaissance, essentially a period of transition....

It was in the age of Dracula that the notion was introduced of Balkan crusading, the efforts of the lands on the fringes of the Ottoman conquest, the borderlands of Europe, to resist the power of Islam in the name of the cross. It represented a struggle in defense of Europe quite as significant as the Spanish resistance to the Moors, which had preceded it....

One of the more tragic aspects of the Turkish onslaught on Europe was the western powers' reluctance to defend the frontiers of their culture in eastern Europe. This extraordinary failure of moral fortitude was not intelligible in the fifteenth century, since French ruling families had originally consolidated the Polish and Hungarian states; Venetians, Pisans, Genoese, and Spaniards ruled in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas; and countless western adventurers occupied a string of threatened colonies along the disputed eastern coast and on the islands near what are now Yugoslavia and Greece.

The pretexts for the fifteenth-century failure of the west to respond to successive crusading appeals were no different from those that had awakened such deep emotional response during the heyday of the crusades, in the age of faith. Charles VII, king of France, the oldest daughter of the Catholic church and foremost crusading power, had just emerged from one of the most crucial conflicts in his country's history, the Hundred Years' War. He and his soon-to-be successor, Louis XI, "the Spider King," who had a predilection for hanging young boys from the branches of trees and placing his enemies in cages to consolidate royal power, had just liberated their country from the English. The French kings were also busy fighting the dukes of Burgundy for supremacy in the French state. The semiroyal dukes of Burgundy were in fact the only rulers within the actual territories of what is now France who for a time remained true to the crusading tradition. Their generous participation in Dracula's father's crusade in 1446 atoned somewhat for the ineffectiveness of their cousins in Paris.

England was to be no more closely drawn than France into fighting the Muslims; the traditions of Richard the Lionhearted were entirely forgotten. Two rival families there were locked in a desperate struggle for survival, the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485). (The white rose was the symbol of the followers of the Duke of York and the red rose represented the House of Lancaster.) This last of England's feudal wars dragged on throughout Dracula's lifetime. The only Englishmen connected in any way to our plot were individual soldiers of fortune who enrolled as volunteers in various crusading armies. (One of these veterans, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, later used the impalement technique that he had learned in eastern Europe to kill his Lancastrian enemies. He was executed for his crimes.) ...

Of the lands of the future Kingdom of Spain, only Aragon faces eastward. In particular, the Catalans of Barcelona, an important Mediterranean port, were concerned by the Turkish menace, because it threatened ancient commercial routes and their appetite for eastern expansion. Even before Dracula's time, an effective group of military adventurers had been formed, the famous Catalan Company, to defend the Byzantine emperors against all their enemies, though in effect the Catalans fought for themselves. The Aragonese wished, through Balkan crusading, to forge commercial and political contacts with the Aegean, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea. The ambitions of the Aragonese king, Alfonso V, are best exemplified by the decision of his bastard son Ferrante to make Naples — closer to the eastern theater of war — the center of his power. Ferrante managed to perpetuate his rule through the use of terror: having killed most of his political opponents, he had his victims mummified and placed in the royal museum, where they were shown to his guests.

Fifteenth-century Italy was the headquarters of the Renaissance. Although Niccolo Machiavelli was not born until 1469, the amoral principles he would set out in The Prince (1517) were being applied well ahead of publication. There was certainly little evidence then of Italian patriotism among the warring republics and city-states of northern Italy, and less evidence of crusading spirit, though the straits of Otranto, at the heel of the peninsula, separate Italy from the Balkans by only some thirty miles....

It was the pontificate (1458–1464) of Enea Silvio de' Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II, that most closely coincided with Dracula's reign. Piccolomini began his career as a libertine not devoid of literary talent and changed his ways only when he became a priest in 1446. He was enough of a medievalist to understand the threat inherent in the Ottoman expansion. From 1459 onward the Pope repeatedly appealed to the Christian powers to join in a common crusade, and he raised the monies to subsidize such a concerted movement. Indeed, Pius II, although a "Europeanist," saw the Ottoman menace not merely as a danger for eastern Europe but for Christianity itself. Dracula alone responded to his call.
SOURCE: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times, by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally (Back Bay, 1989), pp. 13, 15, 20-21, 23-24

UPDATE: This book is certainly filling in a lot of gaps in my heretofore rather superficial Draculalogy, as well as my understanding of Romanian medieval history more generally. Although I had encountered during my Fulbright year there in 1983-84 many of the famous names in Romanian history—like Ştefan cel Mare, Mircea cel Bătrân, Vlad Dracul, and Dracula—I had not realized that Mircea the Elder (1386-1418), Vlad Dracul (r. 1436-1442), and Vlad Dracula (r. 1448, 1456-1462, 1476) were Father, Son, and the Unholy Impaler; nor that Vlad Dracul acquired his epithet from being named to the crusading Order of the Dragon (not Devil) by the Holy Roman Emperor, in whose court at Nuremberg he served as page; nor that Vlad the Impaler impaled almost as many Transylvanian Germans as he did Turks; nor that the Impaler may have been born in Sighişoara (pictured above, from our visit in 1984), but held court at Târgovişte, on the Wallachian side of the Carpathians and upriver from Bucharest.

24 October 2006

Iran: The Modern Face of Islam

The Islamic revolution is today a spent force in Iran, and the Islamic Republic is a tired dictatorship facing pressures to change.... Iran more than any other society in the Muslim world is a place where fundamentals are under scrutiny and open to questioning and new thinking.

No other country in the Muslim world is so rife with intellectual fervor and cultural experimentation at all levels of society, and in no place in the Muslim world is modernity and its various cultural, political, and economic instruments examined as seriously and thoroughly as in Iran. The cultural dynamism of the country will also be a force that will define the Shia revival. The hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims who travel to Iraq along the highway from Tehran to Najaf are also a conduit for ideas, investments, and broader social and economic ties. They visit shrines and clerics but also fill the bazaars of shrine cities, and many buy property in anticipation of a boom in pilgrimage and business. The outcome of debates in Iran will bear on the character of the Shia revival and are being influenced by forces that the changes in Iraq have unleashed.

In many regards Iran presents the modern face of Islam. Persian is now the third most popular language on the Internet (after English and Mandarin Chinese), where one can surf more than 80,000 Iranian blogs. Iranians are actively engaged in discussions about Western thought. There have been more translations of Immanuel Kant into Persian in the past decade than into any other language (and these have gone into multiple printings); one of them is by the current conservative speaker of the Iranian parliament. In some areas of mathematics and physics, such as string theory, Iranian research centers rank among the best in the world; and Iranian cinema has in recent years become a powerful force, with films such as Abbas Kiarostami's existential drama A Taste of Cherry attracting global notice.

This cultural dynamism has even left its mark on the Iranian religious establishment. Since the Khomeini revolution, Shia centers of learning in Iran, especially in the city of Qom, have prospered. There are large new libraries in Mashad and Qom, each housing millions of books and manuscripts, electronically catalogued with searchable databases and the latest technology for retrieving and maintaining them. A visitor to the Library of the Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashad or the Ayatollah Marashi Library in Qom cannot fail to be impressed by the size of the collections, the scale of the services provided, and the care that has been given to infrastructure and the use of technology. The achievement is as much in furthering Shia studies by making rare manuscripts and archaic texts available to eager clerics and seminarians as it is in promoting library science by creating the means to manage such vast collections. Ancient manuscripts commingle with computer terminals and high-tech restoration and preservation labs. The vast libraries are full of turbaned seminarians, some buried in theological texts, others absorbed in managing the collections on their computer terminals.
OURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 212-214

23 October 2006

Was Hungary the Last Revolution in Europe?

In a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined The Hungarian Revolution: impotent, poignant, personal, Hungarian novelist Peter Nádas recalls events in Hungary fifty years ago, and then at the responses and nonresponses of other governments to those events.
The Hungarian Revolution was the last European revolution. A bloody end of the romantic and idealist history of the long age of revolutions, an end painful and embarrassing for everyone. The age is over, and this is why the Hungarian Revolution is dead no matter how many monuments the Hungarians raise to celebrate its memory. And it remains dead. It had survived the years of retributions but not the false illusion of peaceful coexistence. In this sense, it's not just a substantial caesura but also a substantial loss for the political thinking of Europe. In the absence of the tradition of revolutionary changes, we are left with the European tradition of conformity and opportunism, with court poetry and mannerism.

With some exaggeration, one could say that in October 1956 the peoples of Europe and North America, together with their legitimate governments, decided to put an end, once and for all, to the age of revolutionary change. And they were right to do so. To avoid another world war, the existing orders had to integrate, in some way or another, the social and political dissatisfaction of the age; this became the supreme commandment of the day. Expressing deep regrets, with bleeding heart and being fully conscious of their responsibility, they opted not to support the headless and 150-years-late Hungarian Revolution either by diplomatic means, or by sending volunteers or weapons.

I say this without any pathetic overtones or sadness: My life has passed in the context of this double bloodletting. Since those days, I have hated despotism. But I also find it difficult to turn my head silently at the sight of the weaknesses, cheap little farces, self-endangering prejudices and overall vulnerability of the republic and democracy.
In April 2005, I also blogged a few pieces of a fascinating article about China's role in the Hungarian revolt.

The Restless Shia of Bahrain

Bahraini Shias reacted somewhat differently from their cousins in Iraq and Lebanon. They constitute more than 70 percent of their tiny island country's population of 700,000 and consider themselves to be the salt of the earth ruled by a minority of Sunni settlers who invaded from Qatar in the eighteenth century. Since Bahrain gained its independence in 1970, Shias have been heavily involved in every coup attempt, street agitation, uprising, and reform movement in the Persian Gulf emirate. Trouble began in earnest in 1994 as the poor and politically marginalized Bahraini Shias protested their lack of jobs and rights. The government reacted brutally, jailing and exiling political and religious leaders and perpetuating the cycle of violence and repression.

In 1999 the country's new ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, decided to open up the political system. This happened at a time of Shia agitation that led to the imprisonment of the Shia leader, Sheikh Abdul-Amir al-Jamri. Eager to consolidate his rule in the face of unrest, the emir called for elections to give the country's population a voice in governance. What he had in mind was not democracy but a parliament of notables that would allow him to control the population by coopting their leaders—"a cooptation of the effendis," as Bahrainis called it dismissively. Many Bahrainis boycotted the 2002 elections, especially the restless Shia youth and those Shia activists who were enamored of the Iranian revolution and followed religious parties such as the al-Wifaq (the Accord) movement and the Front for Islamic Revolution in Bahrain (Al-Jibha al-Islamiya li'l-Tahrir al-Bahrayn). These voices instead called for a complete opening of the political system. Unhappy with limited access to power and the growing prominence of the Wahhabi brand of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood among Sunnis, the more radical elements in al-Wifaq and the Front began to agitate. The boycott allowed the minority Sunnis to take twenty-seven of the forty seats in the parliament, which only aggravated the situation.

Thus when the second Gulf war came, Bahrain was already restless. The Shia youth, jobless and resentful, looked like the youth of Sadr City. What they lacked was a Bahraini Muqtada al-Sadr. Pictures of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei and Lebanon's Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah adorned shops and homes. When a local newspaper printed an unflattering cartoon of Ayatollah Khamenei in July 2005, large crowds marched in the capital, Manama, chanting, "Labeik Khamenei" (we are responding to your call, Khamenei). Bahraini young people were not keen to follow the leadership of their traditional elders, and less keen to heed their call for calmness and patience. Revolutionary fervor began to give place to democratic hope after Sistani began to clamor for "one person, one vote" and the Shia won the January 30 Iraq elections. As a measure of how closely Bahrainis now followed Iraq, in May 2004 large crowds protested the fighting between U.S. troops and the Mahdi Army in Najaf and Karbala. The mass of Bahraini Shias took the example of Iraq to heart and began to demand real democracy, which would mean a transfer of power to Shias and not just a "House of Lords" to legitimate the Sunni monarchy. In March and June 2005, thousands poured into the streets to ask for full-fledged democracy. They wanted what their numbers warranted, that is, to rule Bahrain just as their cosectarians were now ruling Iraq. Bahrain's sectarian troubles will bear directly on Shia-Sunni relations in the UAE, Kuwait, and, most important, Saudi Arabia, whose Eastern Province sits a stone's throw from the causeway that links Bahrain to the Arabian mainland.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 234-236

22 October 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Ha‘i, Puana

Listening the other night to the incomparable Auntie Genoa Keawe singing a Hawaiian song in a style often called female falsetto, I got curious about two things: the possible distinctive features of Hawaiian falsetto, and the exact meaning of a phrase that is ubiquitous in Hawaiian-language songs: Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana. So I looked both of them up.

Ha‘i 'break, snap' - Honolulu Star-Bulletin music critic John Berger explains it in an April 2002 story headlined That LeAnn Rimes yodel translates to Hawaiian ha‘i.
First, about ha'i. The relevant translation relates to a style in which singers voice a break when moving between their lower register ("chest voice") and upper register ("head voice"). Hawaiian falsetto singers use this technique to emphasize or add emotional intensity to a phrase or passage, whereas traditional European-American falsetto singers try to eliminate any hint of it.

"When I was studying musical theory (in college), my voice teacher and I spent five years trying to smooth that break out," [Amy Hanaiali'i] Gilliom said.

Certain women, like LeAnn Rimes, sing ha'i, she said, singing a few bars of Rimes' hit "Blue" to prove her point.

Keawe agreed. "I've heard that recording and I hear her singing, and she sings like us with the ha'i. You can sing ha'i in any language."
Puana 'refrain, theme, or keynote of a song' - Puana is the key word in the phrase, Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana. Pukui & Elbert's Hawaiian Dictionary (1986) defines puana thus:
Attack or beginning of a song; in music, the tonic or keynote; to begin a song; summary refrain, as of a song, usually at or near the beginning of a song; theme of a song.
The whole phrase is rather awkwardly translated as
tell the summary refrain (this line followed by the refrain is at the end of many songs or precedes the name of the person in whose honor the song was composed).

Convert NK to a US Client State? No, Thanks.

Last week, China Matters carried a long analytical post on the deteriorating relations between North Korea and its last remaining patron, China. It ends off with a bizarre suggestion.
What I believe China wants is a North Korean regime that is profoundly isolated, helpless, and totally reliant on Chinese good offices to survive.

Right now, Kim Jung Il—and the United States and Japan—are pretty much doing China’s work for it.

For China, all that’s needed now is patience—and ruthlessness.

Beijing has offered North Korea no verbal consolation, either at the diplomatic level or in its media. Hu Jintao dispatched a special envoy to meet with President Bush and, I expect, assure the United States of China’s sincere desire to put a lid on the North Korean nuclear program.

And certain Chinese actions are speaking louder than words.

The fence is going up along the Yalu to further isolate North Korea’s export trade—both licit and illicit--from the crucial Manchurian economy. Anecdotal reports in Ming Pao and the South Korean press indicate that Chinese banks are declining to remit money to North Korea, and North Korean guest workers are not receiving visa extensions.

If North Korea detonates another device, all China has to do stand aside and let foreign investment and trade—the key to the regime’s survival as an independent nation—dry up.

Ironically, by this reading, the United States could profit from the estrangement between China and North Korea by embarking on a swift rapprochement with Pyongyang.

Instead, we are doing everything within our power to force North Korea under China’s heel and, in the process, perpetuate the existence of the same failed North Korean system—and regime--that we have sworn to destroy.
What role would the cynical Kim Family Regime play in all this? They're the parties who most want North Korea to remain isolated and under their control. Not China. If Kim Jong-il were to become another Baby Doc ruling a U.S. client state as helpless as Haiti, South Korea would scream even louder about U.S. imperialism on the peninsula--and China would laugh all the way to the bank.

20 October 2006

Iraqi Sunni vs. Shia Memories of the War with Iran

Sunnis associated growing Shia power with Iran. Sunni leaders, especially those with Ba'thist ties, even accused the Shia point-blank of being tools in a nefarious campaign to subjugate and control Iraq. Hazem Shaalan, who served as defense minister in the interim government of the secular Shia prime minister Iyad Allawi, called Iran Iraq's enemy number one and claimed that Tehran was responsible for most of the violence in the country. Shaalan hoped to prevent emerging ties between Iraq's Shias and Iran from determining the course of Iraqi politics. This became clearer when he characterized the election list of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) as the "cat's paw of Iran." Shaalan's views were a reflection of the way that many Iraqi Sunnis and some secular Shias saw the UIA and the government that it would form after winning the January 2005 elections. It was not only openly Shia but was led by men who had maintained close ties with Iran since the 1980s. Many Sunnis spoke of it with bitter derision as "the Safavid government."

When, during the ensuing constitutional debates, elements of the UIA called for federalism and a Shia autonomous zone in the south, Sunnis were quick to dismiss the idea as an Iranian plot to dismember Iraq. All this underlined the strikingly different notions of identity, and also perceptions of the Iran-Iraq war, that were at play among the Sunni and the Shia. Whereas Sunnis emphasized the Arab-Iranian and Iraqi-Iranian divide and still saw Iran through the blood-coated lenses of the 1980s, Shias felt an attachment to the religious identity that they shared with Iranians, who were their only source of support in the aftermath of their ill-fated 1991 uprising. They saw the war as Saddam's sin, in which Shias from both sides of the border were caught up as combatant-victims. In the minds of Iranians and many Iraqi Shias, the Iran-Iraq war became the Iran-Saddam war. Shia soldiers on both sides fought for faith and country, but they were wrapped into a Sunni dictator's war of ambition and fear. With Saddam gone, the memory of the war unites rather than divides Shias in the two countries.

That Shias would vote for leaders such as Ibrahim Jaafari and Abdul-Aziz Hakim, who had spent the war years living in Tehran and whom many Sunnis saw as traitors, showed the widening gulf between the two communities. This became more evident after Prime Minister Jaafari opened diplomatic ties with Iran and expressed regret for Iraq's conduct during the war.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 198-200

On the State of Shia Civil Society

The Shia universe of discourse is now the site of the entire Muslim world's most interesting and thorough debates about Islam's relationship with democracy and economic growth, and indeed about Islam's situation vis-à-vis modernity. In heavily Shia Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, popular political discourse and debate are far more concerned with modernity and democracy than is the case in Sunni-dominated countries.

The Shia, in other words, are both an objective and a subjective democratic force. Their rise in relative power is injecting a robust element of real pluralism into the too-often Sunni-dominated political life of the Muslim world, and many Shias are also fmding democracy appealing as an idea in itself, not merely as an episodically useful vehicle for their power and ambitions.

In Iran, the theocratic character of the Islamic Republic obscures the reality that electoral considerations play an important role in politics. Since the Shah's fall in 1979, there have been nine presidential and seven parliamentary elections. Although the elections are open only to candidates approved by the clerical leadership, the campaigning and voting are taken seriously by the population. In 1997 a reformist cleric, Muhammad Khatami, won the election in a landslide after the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, openly endorsed Khatami's conservative opponent. Iran is the only country in the Middle East where a former head of state has stepped down from power at the end of his constitutionally mandated term of office and continues to live peacefully in his own home. The undeniable and serious flaws in their country's electoral process have not prevented Iranians from learning about democratic practices and internalizing democracy-friendly values. Indeed, the debate over democracy has been near the heart of Iranian politics for a decade now....

Also in Lebanon, Hezbollah's 1980s "oracle," Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, has over the past decade taken a more moderate tack. He has distanced himself from the Khomeini legacy and now argues that no Shia religious leader, not even Khomeini and definitely not his successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a monopoly on the truth. Like all other believers, says Fadlallah, leaders are fallible and open to criticism. Fadlallah has also deviated from Hezbollah and Iran's positions on a host of other social issues, including the role of women in society and politics. He first endorsed Sistani, rather than Khamenei, as the source of emulation for Shias in matters of religion, and then claimed that role for himself.

For the past decade Fadlallah has been holding meetings once a month at the mosque attached to the shrine of Zaynab in Damascus. Shias from Lebanon, Iraq, and especially Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia—many with secular leanings—go to these sessions. Fadlallah combines progressive social views with anti-American rhetoric and criticism of Iranian and Hezbollah theocracy. Iran's regime has bitterly denounced him, and some of the attacks emanating from Qom, Iran's religious capital, have caustically questioned his religious credentials. Fadlallah's case, along with those of Montazeri and his fellow Iranian reformists, highlights how much things have changed since Khomeini's death and reveals how strongly the debate over ideology, politics, democracy, and reform has gripped the Shia world.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 179-182

19 October 2006

Differing Perceptions of the Threat of NK in the US and SK

Balbina Hwang, who was recently interviewed on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, has a long essay at the Heritage Foundation entitled The U.S.-Korea Alliance on the Rocks: Shaken, Not Stirred, which nicely encapsulates the different perceptions the two testy allies have of the threat posed by North Korea.
Most Americans tend to attribute the strategic dissonance in the alliance to the dissipation of the “North Korean threat” altogether in South Korea. They cite the Sunshine Policy, the emergence of a younger generation with no first-hand experience of the Korean War, and a government in Seoul seemingly limitless in its willingness to accommo­date the Pyongyang regime, including the omission of the official label “enemy” from its national Defense White Paper and even the refusal to dis­cuss human rights abuses.

But as many South Koreans (both young and old) are quick to point out, they do feel threatened by the North, only the threat has metamorphosed into a completely different kind of peril than that perceived by Americans. Today, the majority of South Koreans no longer view North Korea as an invincible, evil enemy intent on conquering the South. Rather, the greatest threat posed by the North is the instability of the regime which could lead to a collapse (whether through implosion or explosion), thereby devastating the South’s eco­nomic, political, and social systems. What explains South Korea’s sudden shift to fearing the North’s weakness rather than that regime’s strengths?

The Sunshine Policy and the ensuing historic summit between the two Korean leaders in June 2000 marks the proximate symbol of a profound shift on the Korean peninsula, but the true causes are more complex and lie in the previous decade. They include the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of China in the early 1990s, as well as the devastating floods and famines of 1994–1995 that produced shocking pictures of starving, skele­tal North Korean children. These images “human­ized” a traditional enemy and caused South Koreans to feel a connection to what they see as poor, starving, and weak brethren, who at best are victims of a bad regime and at worst are misguided, but certainly have neither the capability nor intent to truly harm their Southern relatives. Most impor­tantly, they were viewed as fellow Koreans.

The significance of this psychological mind-shift cannot and should not be underestimated. After all, who can blame South Koreans both young and old? They are tired of being the last remaining victims of the Cold War, and they too want to reap the “peace dividend” that the rest of the world enjoyed. South Koreans now want the freedom to not fear that their very way of life is in constant danger, a life that is built on prosperity, material well-being, physical comfort, and freedom.

The problem is that for the United States and many others in the region (including Japan and Australia), North Korea largely remains an unchanged Cold War threat based on its continued pursuit of a military-first policy despite mass star­vation and a failed economy; its pursuit of nuclear weapons, missile proliferation, and illicit activities including counterfeiting; its record of state-spon­sored terrorism; its continued hostile stance toward the South and other countries in the region; and even its continued brutality toward its own people through widespread human rights violations.

For the United States, the source of the threat lies in the strength of the North Korean regime, while for South Korea, the threat now lies in the regime’s fundamental weakness and its potential for collapse. Given this vastly different assessment, the diver­gence in policy prescriptions is predictable. Seoul wants to mitigate the potential for greater instabili­ty by engaging the Pyongyang regime in the hope of coaxing it gradually toward positive regime trans­formation. Washington, in contrast, views engage­ment efforts as part of the problem if it contributes to augmenting the regime’s existing strengths rather than seeking ways to further weaken it.
via The Marmot's Hole

The Saudi Global Counterrevolution

The cross-fertilization of ideas between Wahhabism and other brands of Islamic fundamentalism began in the 1960s as part of Saudi Arabia's strategy of strengthening Islamic identity as a bulwark against secular Arab nationalism.

Thus bonds that had been forged to stop Nasser and the other Arab nationalists could be mobilized to thwart Khomeini. Far from lacking religious legitimacy, Saudi Arabia in fact had impressive ideational and organizational resources at its disposal. To counter Shia fundamentalism, the House of Saud could mobilize Sunni fundamentalism. In fact, the Saudi regime saw an opportunity in containing Shia resurgence to turn the sharp edge of the rising religious extremism inside the kingdom—which manifested itself not only in the seizure of the Grand Mosque but in the growing number of Saudi youth trekking to Afghanistan to join the jihad against the Soviets—away from the ruling regime and toward defending Sunni power.

The implications of the Saudi-Iranian—or Sunni-Shia—divide for Muslim-world politics became clear in 1982, when the Alawi regime of Hafez al-Asad in Syria crushed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama, killings tens of thousands. Iran had built an alliance with Syria around the two countries' opposition to Saddam's regime in Iraq. Sunnis such as the Muslim Brothers often reviled Alawis as beyond the pale of Islam and therefore not fit to rule Muslims. This belief only gave greater intensity to their rebellion against the Asad regime. Khomeini's refusal to support the Muslim Brotherhood during the Hama uprising earned him the Brotherhood's lasting contempt and showed that despite his eagerness to pose as a pan-Islamic leader, relations between Shia and Sunni fundamentalists were breaking down along familiar sectarian lines. When it came to choosing between a nominal Shia ally such as Asad and the militantly Sunni Brotherhood, Khomeini had not hesitated to stick with the former.

As rising oil prices poured untold billions into Saudi coffers from 1974 on, the kingdom began to subsidize various Islamic causes through charities and funds such as the Islamic World League (Rabita al-Alam al-Islami). This was a facet of the Saudis' growing confidence and claim to leadership of the Islamic world. A portion of the money went to propagating Wahhabism. Once upon a time, Wahhabi tribesmen had invaded Arabian cities to spread their faith. Now that work became the task of financial institutions funded by the Saudi state and Wahhabi ulama. Thousands of aspiring preachers, Islamic scholars, and activists from Nigeria to Indonesia went to Saudi Arabia to study, and many more joined Saudi-funded think tanks and research institutions.

Muslim Brotherhood activists were joined by Jamaat-e Islami thinkers and leaders from South Asia as well as many more Islamic activists from Africa and Southeast Asia. Saudi Arabia did not just sponsor Islamic activism but facilitated its ideological growth. Many of those who studied and worked in Saudi Arabia then spread throughout the Muslim world to teach and work at Saudi-funded universities, schools, mosques, and research institutions. Today ambitious ventures such as the International Islamic Universities in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are staffed by men who were trained in the kingdom. These de facto ambassadors for the Saudi viewpoint, influenced by the harsh simplicities of Wahhabi theology and fmancially dependent on Saudi patronage, work not only to entrench conservative attitudes in communities from Kano, Nigeria, to Jakarta, Indonesia, but also to defend Saudi Arabia's interests and legitimacy....

Governments from Nigeria to Bahrain, Indonesia, and Malaysia sought to drive wedges between Sunnism and Shiism, casting the former as "true" Islam—and the incumbent government as its defender—while branding the latter as obscurantist extremism. In 1998 the Nigerian government of General Sani Abacha accused the Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zak Zaki of being a Shia just before he went on trial for antigovernment activism. In the 1990s the government of Bahrain repeatedly dismissed calls for political reform by labeling them as Shia plots. In Malaysia in the 1980s, the government routinely arrested Islamic activists on the pretext that they were Shias, thus avoiding the appearance of clamping down on Islamic activism while projecting an image as Sunnism's champion against subversive activities.

In India and Pakistan, Sunni ulama confronted the Khomeini challenge head-on, branding his vitriol against the House of Saud as a species of fitna (sedition) wielded against the Muslim community. The Saudi rulers, conversely, were routinely painted as Sunnism's greatest defenders and the symbols of its resistance to Shia attempts at "usurpation" in a historical context stretching all the way back to the early Shia rebellions against the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. The Shia-Sunni struggles for the soul of Islam that had punctuated Islamic history were thus reenacted in the late twentieth century, with the Saudi princes in the caliphs' role.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 154-157

18 October 2006

Khomeini as the Head and Face of Islam

For a while the Iranian revolution looked as if it would create a Shia "papacy." The Shia religious establishment had always resembled the Catholic hierarchy. The only difference was that Shiism did not have a pope to enforce doctrine and define the hierarchy, and it was the congregation rather than the hierarchy that decided how prominent an ayatollah was. Khomeini's assumption of the title imam and his claim to be the supreme religious authority in Shiism clearly pointed to his aim to be recognized as the supreme Shia leader.

Khomeini's ambitions also extended beyond Shiism. He wanted to be accepted as the leader of the Muslim world, period. At its core, his drive for power was yet another Shia challenge for leadership of the Islamic world. He defined his revolution not as a Shia one but an Islamic one, and saw the Islamic Republic of Iran as the base for a global Islamic movement, in much the same way that Lenin and Trotsky had seen Russia as the springboard country of what was meant to be a global communist revolution. Khomeini rose rapidly as a Shia leader because he appealed to Shia myths and popular beliefs, but he found it difficult to transform himself into an Islamic leader acceptable to the Sunni world.

Outside Shia contexts, Khomeini sought to downplay his Shia image. He posed as a champion of Islamic revival, and presented the Iranian revolution as the Islamic revolution that the Sunni thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e Islami had been claiming was necessary if Islam's fortunes were to be restored. Iran, the bastion of Shiism, was also the vanguard of the global Islamic revolution. This was a hard sell, and most Sunnis were not buying. Although many Islamic activists in the Sunni world admired Khomeini and sought to emulate his example, still they were reluctant to accept his leadership. Khomeini sought to address this problem by focusing on secular issues that united all Muslims rather than on religious questions that were likely to divide them. He became the tireless foe of imperialism, and more anti-Israeli than the Arabs. He sought to focus Islamic activism on these issues—the battle against outsiders—rather than on Islamic concerns. His anti-Americanism had roots in Iranian history but was in many regards a byproduct of his ambition to be recognized as the leader of all Muslims, to find a cause that would unite Shias and Sunnis under his cloak.

Idealism is contagious, and Khomeini and his followers captured the imagination of many. However, although Iran inspired Islamic activism and forever changed the politics of the Muslim world, the final impact of the revolution would be far from what Khomeini had hoped for. He failed to achieve Muslim unity and the leadership position that went with it, but he managed to escalate anti-Americanism and inculcate fear and distrust toward Islam in the West as his glowering visage became the virtual face of Islam in Western popular culture.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 136-138

17 October 2006

Is China Debating Regime Change in NK?

The Australian on 16 October ran a report from The Sunday Times suggesting that China is contemplating regime change in North Korea in the wake of the latest nuclear test.
THE Chinese are openly debating "regime change" in Pyongyang after last week's nuclear test by their confrontational neighbour....

The Chinese Government has been ultra-cautious in its reaction. However, since Monday, Foreign Ministry officials have started to make a point of distinguishing between the North Korean people and their Government in conversations with diplomats.

Ahead of yesterday's Security Council vote, some in Beijing argued against heavy sanctions on North Korea for fear that these would destroy what remains of a pro-Chinese "reformist" faction inside the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"In today's DPRK Government, there are two factions, sinophile and royalist," one Chinese analyst wrote online. "The objective of the sinophiles is reform, Chinese-style, and then to bring down Kim Jong-il's royal family. That's why Kim is against reform. He's not stupid."

More than one Chinese academic agreed that China yearned for an uprising similar to the one that swept away the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and replaced him with communist reformers and generals. The Chinese made an intense political study of the Romanian revolution and even questioned president Ion Iliescu, who took over, about how it was done and what roles were played by the KGB and by Russia.

Mr Kim, for his part, ordered North Korean leaders to watch videos of the swift and chaotic trial and execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, the vice-prime minister, as a salutary exercise.

The balance of risk between reform and chaos dominated arguments within China's ruling elite. The Chinese have also permitted an astonishing range of vituperative internet comment about an ally with which Beijing maintains a treaty of friendship and co-operation. Academic Wu Jianguo published an article in a Singapore newspaper - available online in China - bluntly saying: "I suggest China should make an end of Kim's Government."
Anne Applebaum in today's Washington Post argues that North Korea is primarily China's problem. I think the Romania angle is worth considering, but I regard nearly everything said for public consumption about North Korea as propaganda talking points rather than serious analysis.

16 October 2006

New Favorite Nautical Term: Tumblehome

I recently scored for a pittance--I'd like to say two pieces of eight--a castaway copy of a gem of a book, The Encyclopedia of Ships, in which I've been browsing around during lunchtime at work. I've always been intrigued by ships and sea tales and nautical terminology, but this book taught me a lovely old English term not found in abbreviated dictionaries: tumblehome, a word that fairly tumbles off the tongue, as if invented by A. A. Milne or J.R.R. Tolkien. Does anyone know the French, Dutch, Portuguese, or Japanese equivalent? It describes the inward curve of a ship's side above the waterline, at one time designed to make room for projections at deck level to clear the wharf, or to make boats easier to paddle, but also found in vessels like submarines designed to slice through the waves rather than ride over them. Its opposite is the V-shaped flare hull, like the bow of an aircraft carrier.

Another opposition of historical interest is that between clinker (or lapstrake) and carvel (or strip) planking in hulls, the former typical of northern Europe (like Viking ships), the latter spreading north from Iberia.
In the form that we would recognize it, ["carvel"] first appears in northern European languages to describe flush planking in the late 14th/early 15th century, at the same time that Iberian caravelas started visiting northern ports on a regular basis. When northern shipwrights started building ships with flush planks (c. 1430-1440) they referred to the new ships as "carvel-built" or just as "carvels" (or its equivalents). The Dutch "karviel-nagels" ... are derived this way. In late medieval Dutch, "karviel" or "karveel" referred to boats built in this new way, and was the same word applied to ships coming from Portugal or Britanny with salt and wine. It may have entered English via the Dutch, but the origin is ultimately the small seagoing craft of the Iberian coast.

On the matter of clinker planking, it is almost always caulked, either with tarred animal hair or moss. In Nordic ships, the caulking (usually hair) is laid into a groove in the seam when the planks are assembled, while in cogs and other Low German craft, the caulking is driven into the interior side of the seam, above the nails (there is a relatively wide overlap).

One reason that clinker was abandoned for large vessels in favor of carvel was purely a matter of expense. Eliminating the thousands of clinker nails (rivets) reduced the expense considerably. Something like 20% of the material cost of a cog (which only had clinker sides) was in the iron for it, mostly clinker nails, according to building accounts from the Netherlands in the late 1200s. Wood could also be used more efficiently, as carvel construction did not depend on such high quality wood and it could be more efficiently sawn from the log into plank. Not to mention the savings in labor from not having to drill and drive all the clinker nails. In boatbuilding practice, fitting clinker planks is not appreciably harder or more time-consuming than it is in carvel construction - the total amount of contact surface is about the same - and most of the other tasks are about the same in terms of time and difficulty, but eliminating the rivets saves a great deal in material and labor cost. These savings were more dramatic in larger vessels, and so it is no surprise that carvel construction first took hold in big ships and then trickled down to smaller craft. In Norway, clinker continued in use in bigger vessels until the early 20th century, when it became clear that it was not compatible with diesel engine power (rivets don't take the vibration so well).
Reader Aidan Kehoe notes that the French term for tumblehome is encabanement. Language Hat has further discussion.

13 October 2006

Pakistan's Transition from Shia to Sunni Leadership

Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was an Ismaili by birth and a Twelver Shia by confession, though not a religiously observant man. He had studied at the Inns of Court in London and was better versed in English law than in Shia jurisprudence, was never seen at an Ashoura procession, and favored a wardrobe that often smacked as much of Savile Row as of South Asia. Yet insofar as he was Muslim and a spokesman for Muslim nationalism, it was as a Shia. His coreligionists played an important role in his movement, and over the years many of Pakistan's leaders were Shias, including one the country's first governor-generals, three of its first prime ministers, two of its military leaders (Generals Iskandar Mirza and Yahya Khan), and many other of its leading public officials, landowners, industrialists, artists, and intellectuals. Two later prime ministers, the ill-fated Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Radcliffe-educated, currently exiled daughter, Benazir Bhutto, were also Shia. Feeling the wind shift in the 1990s, Benazir styled herself a Sunni, but her Iranian mother, her husband from a big Shia landowning family, and her father's name, the name of Ali's twin-bladed sword, make her Shia roots quite visible. In a way, Benazir's self-reinvention as a Sunni tells the tale of how secular nationalism's once solid-seeming promise has given way like a rotten plank beneath the feet of contemporary Pakistan's beleaguered Shia minority.

Benazir's father came from a family of large Shia landowners who could afford to send him for schooling to the University of California at Berkeley and to Oxford. He cut a dashing figure. Ambitious, intelligent, and secular, he was a brilliant speaker, with the ability, it is said, to make a crowd of a million people dance and then cry. His oratory manipulated public emotion as the best of Shia preachers could, and his call for social justice resonated with Shia values. His party's flag conveniently displayed the colors of Shiism: black, red, and green. Although he never openly flaunted his Shia background, he commanded the loyalty of Pakistan's Shia multitudes, around a fifth of the population. What he lacked in the area of regular religious observance he made up for with his zeal for Sufi saints and shrines, especially that of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the widely popular Sufi saint of Shia extraction whose tomb is a major shrine in southern Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's years in power (1971–77) marked the pinnacle of Shia power in Pakistan and the high point of the promise of an inclusive Muslim nationalism. But the country that Jinnah built and Bhutto ruled had over time become increasingly Sunni in its self-perception. The Sunni identity that was sweeping Pakistan was not of the irenic Sufi kind, moreover, but of a strident and intolerant brand. Bhutto's Shia-supported mix of secularism and populism—sullied by corruption and his ruthless authoritarianism—fell to a military coup led by pious Sunni generals under the influence of hard-eyed Sunni fundamentalists. In April 1979, the state hanged Bhutto on questionable murder charges. A Sunni general, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, strongly backed by Sunni fundamentalist parties, personally ordered that the death sentence be carried out, even after Pakistan's highest court recommended commutation to life imprisonment.

The coup of 1977 ended the Pakistani experiment with inclusive Muslim nationalism. Shia politicians, generals, and business leaders remained on the scene, but a steadily "Islamizing" (read "Sunnifying") Pakistan came to look more and more like the Arab world, with Sunnis on top and Shias gradually pushed out. Pakistan in many regards captures the essence of the political challenge that the Shia have faced. The promise of the modern state has eluded them as secular nationalism has been colonized from within by Sunni hegemony.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 88-90

12 October 2006

Shia Diversity: Twelvers, Fivers, Seveners

As Shiism spread over time and space it became culturally diverse. This enriched Shia life and thought and added new dimensions to the faith's historical development that went beyond its roots in the Arab heartland of Islam. The practice of the faith itself adapted to new cultures as its message spread eastward from the Arab lands to Iran and India. Succession crises through the ages led to offshoots that broke away from the main body of Shiism—also known as Twelvers, for recognizing twelve imams. Following the death of the fourth imam in the eighth century; a minority followed one claimant to the imamate who rose in rebellion against the Umayyads. They are known as Zaydis (named after Zayd ibn Ali), or Fivers, for following only five imams. Today most Zaydis live in Yemen and are closer to Sunnism in their practice of Islam.

A graver schism occurred after the death of the sixth imam, the law codifier Jafar al-Sadiq, in 765 C.E. Jafar's eldest son, Ismail, had died before his father. A group of Shias claimed that Ismail had inherited his father's religious charisma while both men were still alive. Others disputed this and located the succession in a living younger son. Those who affirmed the charisma of Ismail came to be known as Ismailis or Seveners, for breaking off from the main body of Shiism after the seventh imam.

Ismailis remained a small denomination, but one that accentuated the cult of the imams and emphasized their function of revealing the inner meaning of Islam. They had an esoteric bent and became immersed in philosophy and mystical practices, eventually breaking with some of the fundamental teachings of Shiism and even Islam. In the tenth century, Ismailis rose to power in Egypt and founded the Fatimid dynasty (909–1171). The Fatimids left an imprint not only on Cairo's Islamic architecture but also on Islam in Egypt, where the level of special devotion to the Prophet's family is more intense than anywhere else in the Sunni world. The Ismailis also produced the cult of the Assassins in the twelfth century, when Ismaili warriors terrorized Iran's then Sunni leadership.

The descendants of Ismail and the Fatimids continue to serve as living imams of that community. The current imam is Prince Karim Aga Khan, who looks after his community's welfare from his seat in Paris. Ismailis pay tithe to the Aga Khan, who in turn oversees his flock, guiding them in religious matters as well as ensuring their material prosperity. The Aga Khan has built universities, schools, and hospitals in Ismaili communities and used his influence with kings and presidents, generals and businessmen to further the interests of Ismailis wherever they live.

There are Arab Ismaili communities—for instance, in the remote Najran province of Saudi Arabia—but in recent centuries Ismailis have largely been an Indo-Iranian community. Most Ismailis have traditionally lived in a circular pattern of settlement that runs from India into western China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, and back down into Pakistan. The fall of the Soviet Union and certain openings in China have allowed the Ismailis to form renewed ties across this vast arc and the many international borders that it traverses. Under the British Raj, India's Ismaili merchants did well and often migrated along imperial trade routes. Many settled in British East Africa and formed the merchant classes of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Africanization campaigns in that region in the 1970s—the worst one was part of the reign of terror that gripped Uganda under the dictator Idi Amin—sent many Afro-Indian Ismailis into exile. Some went to the United States or Britain, but most migrated to Canada. Over the centuries Ismailis have spun off smaller communities, including the Bohras of India, and have deeply influenced other small offshoots of Shiism, such as the Druze of the Levant, the Yezidis of Iraq, and the Alawi of Syria and Alevis of Turkey.
SOURCE: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 75-77

Retrospective on Orhan Pamuk's Snow

Last March I blogged a few passages from (now) Nobel-prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow.Eamonn at Rainy Day also posts a tribute to Pamuk, ending with the comment:
No fiction writer in recent years has come near Orhan Pamuk in his depiction of the spiritual fragility of the Islamic world and its rage against the "godless West".
I don't know. I think you could just as well say that no fiction writer in recent years has come near Orhan Pamuk in his depiction of the spiritual incomprehension that pervades the secular West and its intolerance of religious expression in the public sphere. (I share the spiritual incomprehension, but not the intolerance of religious expression.) Pamuk engages religion and tries to understand its motivations; he doesn't just dismiss it as benighted.

UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens in October's Atlantic also seems to regard Pamuk's Snow as an indictment of Turkey's morally bankrupt secularism, more than an indictment of Islamism.
In contrast, the Muslim fanatics are generally presented in a favorable or lenient light. A shadowy "insurgent" leader, incongruously named "Blue," is a man of bravery and charm, who may or may not have played a heroic role in the fighting in Chechnya and Bosnia. (Among these and many other contemporary references, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are never mentioned.) The girls who immolate themselves for the right to wear head-covering are shown as if they had been pushed by the pitiless state, or by their gruesome menfolk, to the limits of endurance. They are, in other words, veiled quasi-feminists. The militant boys of their age are tormented souls seeking the good life in the spiritual sense. The Islamist ranks have their share of fools and knaves, but these tend to be ex-leftists who have switched sides in an ingratiating manner. Ka himself is boiling with guilt, about the "European" character that he has acquired in exile in Frankfurt, and about the realization that the Istanbul bourgeoisie, from which he originates, generally welcomes military coups without asking too many questions.
via LaurenceJarvikOnline

11 October 2006

Betraying the Black Citizens of Greenville, MS, in 1927

On May 31 [1927], [MS Senator] LeRoy [Percy], Will [Percy], and the mayor [of Greenville, Mississippi] called an extraordinary mass meeting at City Hall, extraordinary because both races were explicitly urged to attend. A city councilman announced that the city had exhausted its financial resources buying sandbags and other materials to close the protection levee. It had no money to pay laborers. But it intended to have them if it required bayonets. The city council then voted a resolution: "We propose to close the gaps in the protection levee before the coming rise. To do this free labor is required. We hope to do the work with volunteers which will be asked for tonight. If, however, sufficient volunteers do not appear available then conscription means must be used."

Only blacks would be conscripted. Those in attendance stiffened in protest. John McMiller, a black man who ran a burial association, rose. "The guns are the problem," he said. "All the white folks carry guns. If you put the guns away, we'll have a thousand colored men on the levee in the morning."...

Sunday morning nearly 1,000 black men appeared on the levee, along with several dozen whites overseeing the work. One white man whom blacks already distrusted wore a pistol. McMiller told W. E. Elam, the engineer in charge, "I kept my promise. You didn't keep yours." Elam walked over to the man with the gun, pulled it out of its holster, and threw it into the water.

The blacks went to work. Every day they went to work, hundreds at a time, twenty-four hours a day, day after day. For eight days they sweated in the fetid heat, driving piling by hand, filling sandbags, building tramways to carry the sandbags to the gaps, working off two barges.

On the eighth day the levee was sealed and topped. They finished just as the water began rising. It reached four sacks high on the protection levee—two feet higher than the levee itself. But the levee held. In the long struggle of man against the river that year, the closing of the Greenville protection levee marked man's only victory.

On June 7 the city celebrated at the Saenger Theater. Both black and white were invited. Red Cross stocks were combed for meat, flour, canned peaches, and even rare and valuable sugar, and hotel kitchens and restaurants prepared food. There was music and comedy on stage, laughter off it. It was the closest the city had come to pleasant relaxation since the flood fight began in March. Whites heaped praise on the black community. Will spoke. But he had become irrelevant. His speech went unreported in the paper even though the paper was run by one of his committee members. A resolution passed by the city council was read, thanking "our colored citizens for their very valuable services, so willingly rendered the citizens of Greenville, in their work on the Protection Levee. Their citizenship has been commendable." Hazlewood Farish, a prominent attorney, told the blacks: "You have the undying thanks of the people of Greenville.... Here in the Delta, and especially in Washington County, there has always been perfect harmony between the races and there will never be anything else. The Mississippi Delta is the best home the negro could find. Here the white people will protect your interests and care for your homes. We want you always to have the same feeling of cooperation as has existed for the last few days."...

BUT THE CITY had exhausted itself and the strains did not ease. Life was actually becoming harsher. L. O. Crosby, the state's flood dictator, suggested to [Commerce Secretary and national flood czar Herbert] Hoover, "Believe food and feed rations for refugees and animals should be cut in half while water is up and no work to do." The recommendation stunned Hoover, brought back to him that Mississippi was a different world. He vetoed cutting food for people but approved cutting feed to animals. Nonetheless, worried about having enough Red Cross money to survive the winter, rations were trimmed back. All refugee camps in Mississippi spent an average of 21 cents a day per capita on food; in Washington County camps spent 15 cents. Whites kept the good Red Cross food for themselves. Giving any to blacks, said one man, would "simply teach them a lot of expensive habits and there was no sense in giving them anything which they had not had before."
SOURCE: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry (Touchstone, 1998), pp. 325-328

The patrician Senator Percy had until then tried to treat his black constituents decently. He had supported their right to vote, provided some of the best black schools in the South, confronted race-baiting politicians, and even defeated the Klan in Washington County (p. 308). But he needed black labor both to battle the flood and to reconstruct afterwards, so he engineered the reversal of a decision by the local Red Cross committee (headed by his own son Will) to evacuate black citizens along with the whites, keeping the former as labor conscripts guarded by armed white private citizens and National Guard troops. This was the last straw. The stream of blacks flowing upriver turned into a flood. The black population of Chicago grew from 44,103 in 1910, to 109,458 in 1920, to 233,903 in 1930 (p. 417).

UPDATE: The most recent issue of Southeastern Geographer has an article entitled "Black Homeplace Migration to the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta: Ambiguous Journeys, Uncertain Outcomes" (Project Muse subscription required). Here's the abstract:
Between 1910 and 1970, African Americans moved out of the southeastern U.S. in one of the largest movements in human history. Some estimates hold that more than 9 million black Southerners left the South for new lives in the North and West. The migration reached its peak in the 1950s, and began to slow in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, these black migrants and their descendants began coming home to the South, a trend that continues today. This study looks at one region to which many African Americans have returned, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Regions like the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta have been largely ignored in black return migration studies. Much of the work that has been done to document the return migration of blacks to the South has focused on the South's urban areas. What has been neglected is the fact that there is also a significant return of African Americans to the rural South, a region of chronic economic stagnation. While the U.S. Census Bureau collects information on its long forms that can lead the researcher to a better understanding of African American migration processes and place attachments, the data are imperfect and can only provide the backbone of understanding. In an attempt to dig beneath the available data, we employ ethnographic methodology in this study. We focus on the geographic life history of Mrs. Dorothy Mae Scott.
A surprising proportion of the "returnees" seem to be youths born and raised elsewhere who have ancestors or relatives from the Delta region. The primary case study involves a destitute lady who brought neither skills nor capital--only nostalgia--back with her.

09 October 2006

DPRK: Obvious and Not So Obvious Reasons

As expected, The Marmot is all over the North Korean nuclear story, but one of the more intriguing pieces of counterconventional wisdom on why the DPRK is going nuclear can be found at DPRK Studies:
The obvious reason is for deterrence of an attack or invasion from a U.S. seeking regime change. However, military action by the U.S. was already extremely unlikely as any such action would put Seoul, South Korea’s capital, in danger of being hit by the thousands of artillery pieces just north of the border and well within range. That’s aside from the U.S. being overextend[ed] in Iraq. So a nuclear deterrent is only another level of deterrence.

The not so obvious reason is that North Korea has been implementing a strategy of disengagement since 4 October 2002, when then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly [was] in Pyongyang meeting North Korean Deputy Foreign Minster Kang Seok-Ju. When confronted with U.S. evidence, Kang admitted that North Korea had secretly continued a nuclear-weapons development program.

After that the words “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” became a part of the U.S. negotiating lexicon concerning denuclearization, which caused a shift in North Korean strategy from Regime survival by Extortion of Concessions to Regime survival by Strategic Disengagement.

North Korea cannot accept engagement for two primary reasons. First, invasive inspections would make the regime look weak internally and risk control of the military. Second, inspections on the scale that would be required for any new package deal would likely bring in an unprecedented influx of foreigners, something North Korea does not want.

This is because the legitimacy of the regime is build on a cult mythology that would be in jeopardy if outside information were to reach the isolated and misinformed North Korea population. The exposure of the North Korean people to reality vis-à-vis the cult is an enormous vulnerability for the regime.
via Peaktalk

A Shocking Marriage: Frances Fulghum & Uehara Nobuaki

The Mission was still reeling from the [missionary resignation] shock of 1925 when Sarah Frances Fulghum dropped a bombshell as unexpected as the resignation of the three couples. On May 29, 1927, her 37th birthday, Fulghum visited the Doziers with Uehara Nobuaki, a 23-year-old medical student. "We are engaged to be married," she announced. The one-time fiancée of Norman Williamson was widely known and highly respected as principal of Maizuru Kindergarten, where she resided, and founder-director of Seinan Gakuin's celebrated glee club. Uehara was a member of an English Bible class that Fulghum taught in her home. He was not a Christian, and his family strongly opposed his marrying the middle-aged foreigner.

Shocked and dismayed, the Doziers thought it their duty to share so consequential a matter with the other members of the Mission. The news triggered a barrage of criticism on Fulghum. Grace Mills, herself a single missionary for 12 years, wrote Frances that her relationship with Uehara embarrassed all single women who taught Japanese men in their homes and that the scandal might lead to the closure of Maizuru Kindergarten (it did not). Florence Walne censured her behavior as "selfish and unworthy beyond words." In rebuttal, Fulghum insisted that she was "not any longer a baby" and "it will all blow over if the Mission will only keep its head." But missionaries and Japanese alike urged her to return home for talks with her distressed mother before entangling herself with a Japanese mother-in-law. The Board offered to pay her travel expenses back to the States and asked her to indicate by telegram whether she would come. Her telegram read: NO.

Fulghum resigned from the Board and took a teaching position in Fukuoka's Kaho Middle School. She moved from her Mission residence to a small private house and made preparations for her marriage to Uehara. "They are acting in such a way," Kelsey Dozier told his diary, ''as to disgust any sensible people." The wedding took place on June 30, 1928, and the bride took the name Uehara Ranko. "Ran," a component of the name Frances as pronounced in Japanese, was written with a Chinese character meaning Dutch or Western [蘭 also 'orchid']. The "ko," meaning child [子], is the most common ending for a woman's name.

Uehara Nobuaki finished medical school at Kyushu University in 1929. Later he ran a small hospital in Wakayama, specializing in internal medicine and skin diseases. Though the hospital bore a Christian name, Immanuel, Uehara remained aloof from the church and was never baptized. During the Pacific War, Ranko suffered hardship and discrimination as a spy suspect. After the war , when the [Southern Baptist] Convention opened work in Wakayama, she helped with the Sunday school and worship services as organist, pianist, and soloist, until she was too feeble to attend. Upon her death in 1973 at the age of 82, funeral services were held in the Wakayama church. Ranko was survived by her husband and by two daughters and three grandchildren who were living in California and New Jersey.
SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 121-122