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The Daily Journal: January 17, 2007

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Mecca Freezes Over
Saudi Troops in Iraq?

In Iraq, the macabre has replaced the sorrowful and the pitiful. The question every day is now longer what will they all do to try to fix the situation. It's what will they do next to make it even worse. President Bush came through with a very tough act top follow with his “fuck you all” speech last week. The Iraqis tried to top it with that string of bombings today in Baghdad, although killing 100 civilians at a time no longer ranks anywhere near the spectacular. Thewy'll have to do more than thatg to impress Bush. The Saudis, bless their duplicitous hearts of black gold, with the ever-ready apoligist for flame-throwers and inbcompetents Condi Rice at their side, may very well have done so. From NBC News:

Saudi Arabia believes the Iraqi government is not up to the challenge and has told the United States that it is prepared to move its own forces into Iraq should the violence there degenerate into chaos, a senior U.S. official told NBC News on Tuesday. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal made no effort to mask his skepticism Tuesday about President Bush’s proposal to send 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to stem sectarian fighting. “We agree with the full objectives set by the new plan,” Saud said at a joint news conference in Riyadh with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling in the region selling Bush’s plan. [...] Saudi leaders are privately “deeply skeptical” that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could implement the U.S. plan, the senior U.S. official said. [...] The Saudi government has signaled in the past that it would oppose an early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, fearing it would leave minority Sunni Muslims at the mercy of Shiite Muslim militias. The Saudis’ primary concern is the Sunni population of Anbar province, the senior U.S. official. The official said the Saudis had informed Washington that they were considering a plan to send troops into the province if Bush’s plan failed. A White House spokesman declined to comment on the report, which Rice downplayed during a briefing for reporters. She said such a scenario was why it was important for the U.S. plan to produce a unified Iraq.”

Regional war, anyone?

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Joanie Loves Chachi, Arab Version
Egypt Loves Insurgents

Prime time fare

From the Christian Science Monitor: "Al Zawraa television station, the face of Iraq's Sunni insurgency, shows roadside bombs blowing up American tanks, dead and bloody Iraqi children, and insurgent snipers taking aim and firing. And all this blatant anti-Americanism is broadcasting 24/7 on an Egyptian government-controlled satellite provider from one of Washington's closest allies. Even though Iraq and the US have asked Egypt to pull the plug, the station remains on the air. The question is, why? While Nilesat, which broadcasts Al Zawraa, argues that it's airing the channel for purely commercial reasons, analysts point to the political benefits for Egypt. Some say the country's reluctance to shut down the channel shows that Egypt, predominantly Sunni, may be taking a stand against what it sees as the unjust aggressiveness of Iraq's Shiite-led government and the dangers of Iran's influence there. [...] Egypt's decision to keep Al Zawraa on the air plays into the Sunni-Shiite cold war that has descended on the region, caused largely by sectarian bloodshed in Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions. In essence [...] it's a show of support for fellow Sunnis. American officials have reportedly called the station "utterly offensive," saying that closing it down is a priority. [...] Egypt has a history, though, of arresting bloggers and journalists and violently dispersing protests critical of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government. On Saturday, Egyptian authorities detained an Al Jazeera journalist for allegedly fabricating scenes of torture in Egyptian police stations. The journalist was later released. If Nilesat should buckle under US pressure, however, Al Zawraa will soon have other venues. Station owner Mishan al-Jabouri says he's just signed contracts with Paris-based satellite provider Hot Bird and Emirates-based Arabsat. He also hopes to sign a contract soon with an American satellite company, which he didn't want to name, and to open new studios in Paris. American subtitles, too, are in the offing, he says.” The full story...

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Ecrasez L’Infâme!
Let's Burn the Burqa

Oppression’s fashion

Taslima Nasrin in Outlook India: “My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother's house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah. And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn't wear the burqa. She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him. As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don't you suffocate in this veil? Don't you feel all dark inside? Don't you feel breathless? Don't you feel angry? Don't you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn't do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away. The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.” Read the rest...

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Why Are British Sex Scandals So Much Better Than Ours?

James Wolcott's latest in Vanity Fair: “When I read the flirty e-mails and instant messages from Congressman Mark Foley to assorted cuddle buns of the male denomination, I was embarrassed, truly embarrassed—not only for Mr. Foley, but for myself, as an American. This is the best we can do? This is what it's come to? It was bad enough when the cheesy details of President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky's bobble-head ministrations leered from the pages of Ken Starr's report, and we learned that the former intern resuscitated the commander in chief up only to the point of release, whereupon he withdrew and finished himself off in a bathroom sink, like some unhousebroken Martin Amis character. The president of the United States masturbating into a sink—it doesn't get more plaintive than that. Or so I believed. But the Mark Foley congressional-page scandal took the Washington sexcapade to its ultimate dry point of diminuendo: It was a sex scandal without any actual sex. It unfurled almost entirely in the phantom zone where fantasy and virtual reality overlap. What could be more tacky or poignant than a middle-aged sad sack quizzing a former teenage page if he had spanked his Oscar Meyer that weekend—"it must feel great spirting on the towel" (further evidence of how cyberprose degrades spelling ability)—and mooching kisses from another playmate before a vote on a war-appropriations bill? When a grown man traffics in smiley-face emoticons, it's time to fold up the cot. From Bill Clinton seeking body warmth in Lewinsky's pillowy embrace to Foley batting his eyelashes online, to poor old jowly chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wilbur Mills making a ripe fool of himself with stripper "Fanne Fox, the Argentine Firecracker," the high-profile Washington sex scandal is marked by desperate lunging, not lusty abandon. A hot flash of male menopause, it's more of a cry for help and a prelude to rehab than a yelp of pleasure. Washington should steal a tabloid page from its closest and horniest ally, Great Britain. When it comes to whipping up a political sex scandal into a donnybrook, the Brits have us beat—they really know how to make the bedsheets billow. British sex scandals, like ours, are often rooted in a dolor of middle-aged malaise, but they're also animated by spite, spicy details, vanity, revenge, bitter comedy, and bawdy excess—the complete Jacobean pantry.” Read the rest...

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A Lebanese Immortal Dies
Pepe, 1910-2007

This story may mean nothing to most readers here; it almost means nothing to me: the memories are that dim. But no one growing up in the Lebanon of the 1970s could have driven by Byblos—or anywhere along Lebanon's shore—without at some point hearing something, or meeting, Pepe. He owned the Acapulco Club in Jnah, where I have my very first memories of beach-bumming it in Lebanon. I vaguely remember excursions with my late father Fouad that featured Pepe, either in stories or in the flesh. It may very well be that it was at Pepe's restaurtant that my father took me to explain the facts of life to me the first time (it took more tha once for it to take), a ritual I think he went through with my two brothers as well: the trip to Pepe's restaurant, the seafood (oysters? Could my father have been that daring? Of course he could, and with Pepe egging him on...). No wonder something about Pepe's storied life triggers distantly delicious nimbuses of nostalgia. I have no idea what year exactly he was born, but 1910 is as good as any. Whether I knew him or not, he was part of that childhood that died bit by bit, even in memories. This is from Lebanon's Daily Star:

BYBLOS—He was a legend in his day - an adventurer, an explorer, an entrepreneur and a ladies man. A consummate host of the likes of Marlon Brando and Brigitte Bardot, he was the epitome of Lebanon's golden age and an institution in his own right. And now, he is gone. After 50 years of pioneering Lebanon's tourist potential with the Acapulco beach club in Jnah, the Bacchus hotel and nightclub in Beirut, the Admiral's Club in Tyre, the Hacienda in Amshit and his personal refuge, the Byblos Fishing Club, Youssef Gergi Abed - known to all as Pepe - passed away last month. He was in his mid-90s. With his death, Lebanon lost the gloss on its nostalgia for what Pepe so often referred to as la dolce vita, the local spin on the sweet life. "He was more than a restaurant owner," says Pepe's son, Roger Abed, now in his 50s, as he walks a reporter through the nooks and crannies of the Fishing Club on a cold and quiet afternoon. "He was a very important man. Some people they build. Some people they destroy. Pepe built. He made cities. He promoted Lebanon. He inspired people with the good life, the good food. Of Lebanon people used to know Pepe and Baalbek. The tourists used to call him the king." There are few tourists in Byblos these days, their absence due to the winter weather or the recent war. But the most notable absence is Pepe, with his yachtsman's cap, seafarer's jacket, bushy eyebrows and easy smile. He lives on, however, in the thousands of old photographs adorning the walls of the Fishing Club, in the hundreds of press clippings about his heyday that are collected in meticulously bound and labeled notebooks, in the labyrinthine rooms of the Pepe Foundation that was established in 1997, and in the winding street that hugs the Byblos harbor, named in Pepe's honor two weeks ago. Though he was born in Rmeil and one of his forebears was the mayor of Medawar, Pepe spent much of his time as a child and young adult in Mexico. As the story goes, a millionaire cousin named Miguel enlisted Pepe as his personal secretary and whisked him all over the world. In the early 1950s, Pepe, who was by that time a jeweler, returned to Lebanon to see family.” See the full story...

Byblos in 1893, courtesy, where you can see many more pictures of Lebanon at the turn of the last century



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Artist for the Ages
Monet, We Hardly Knew You
From the Times: “An exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., shows that the Impressionist painter wasn’t the anti-draftsman he led the public to believe.” See the full story...
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