Blog

31/3/12

My  piece on Iranian State Tv finally aired. We filmed it over a month ago during the AIPAC conference in Dc.  It doesn’t seem out of date from a content perspective, but I could do better by keeping my face and hands still when speaking. My segment starts at 15:40

How I ended up going on Double Standards with Afshin Rantasi is a pretty ridiculous story.  I was playing a charity Backgammon tournament in London and went outside to bum a cigarette between matches.  I got to chatting with a very friendly and savvy london art-scene, counter-culture type who took an interest in my Libya expertise and said I should meet his friend Afshin who runs a middle east focused TV program and would love to interview me.  I expressed my hesitancy to be on PressTV given a previous bad experience. My backgammon friend promised that Afshin was different and despite the cynical, anti-Western nature of the show that my words would not be twisted and we would have a good substantive discussion.  Well, he was right, we discuss the weighty issues of why federalism won’t work in Libya and how Obama will do everything in his power to avert an Israeli attack on Iran.  don’t be bothered by the crazy anti-Western tone of the rest of the Double Standards program.  It is meant to be satirical and not actually meant to be taken all that seriously.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqlYSMZQM6A&list=UU5gtqdJOvhGdh-6WRO2CTpw&ind%20ex=2&feature=plcp

27/3/12

The Economist seized upon Van Creveld’s paradigm that nuclear proliferation is not a big deal and may even bring stability in a recent article.  In so doing, they have adopt my reading of the threat of Syria turning into a failed state, how it could have a spillover effect onto the Iran situation, and how an Israeli attack on Iran would bring a global depression.

22/3/12

I presented my monograph in a lecture form at the Washington Institute to various media, state dept., business and think-tank people. The questions ranged from issues of oil, to institution building, to the state of the libyan national army, to federalism and more.  I hope to post the audio-recording shortly.  As for now, I learned about the arabic translation of the executive summary of my report.  If you are interested it is here.

في أعقاب الحرب: الصراع على ليبيا في مرحلة ما بعد القذافي

20/3/12

Finding a second publisher for an expanded version of our article was a piece of cake as Al Jazeera English liked the idea of having an Israeli military historian say that Bombing Iran would bring global depression…  And for this version I brought in some additional Libyan material to flesh out the regional picture

14/3/12

After trying a million publishers, finally Project Syndicate shows an interest in my my mini-magnum opus with Martin Van Creveld about why an Israeli attack on Iran would cause a global depression .  It becomes the second article to ever appear on their new ‘On-deck’ commentaries….  and initially when the page went up it had massive technical glitches…

but the most interesting part of the day is that the woman from Project syndicate who edited my article and reports to the prague office, happens to be based in Cambridge as her husband works at King’s College so after she processed edits of my article i took her out to coffee at Fitzbillies.  Small world, huh?  Oh and she went to the Madeira School like Haley… And also in sorting out the edits and glitches, I achieved a personal best on gmail of 47 messages as part of the same thread all written with one calendar day!  most of them were debating about the title and I am still not please with what they choose… “Hands On Syria, Hands Off Iran”, I prefer my original “Solve Syria, Don’t Provoke Iran”

8/2/2012

It appears the hesitancy to arm the Free Syrian army and the various militias of  the opposition in Syria is a product of the international communities disappointment with the fragmentation that the Libyan militias have brought to Libya post-Qadhafi.  It appears to me that I should write an article about this.  So if you are reading this an are an editor willing to commission something let me know.

12/1/2012

My recent article “In the Arab Spring, Watch Turkey”  in the NYT and CSMonitor has elicited a deluge of commentary, praise, and criticism. Click here to read some of it.

Cambridge, UK 5/1/2012

Publication of my article  “In the Arab Spring, Watch Turkey” in the New York Times entitled . It attacks the view that the West is involved in a Cold War with Iran as incorrect and demonstrates how Turkey is the primary victor of the Arab Spring, while introducing the concept of a Turkish-Iranian ‘soft’ partition of the Arab Republican regimes.

ERBIL, IRAQ 27/12/2011

KURDS LOOK TO OLD ENEMIES FOR SURVIVAL as The US withdrawal from Iraq leaves a void — Article by Jason Pack in the Australian [to view click here and scroll down and look to the right] ‘australia and the kurds

ERBIL, IRAQ 22/12/2011

Beauty meets the Beast – aka Nancy Ajram, the Lebanese bombshell and Britney Spears of the Middle East,  plays  post-conflict Kurdistan.     

Tonight was Nancy Ajram’s first and presumably last ever concert in Iraq.  Tickets were priced from $75 to $500, putting it within easy reach of the vast  Armani wearing uber-elites that congregate in the capital of oil-rich Kurdistan.

—-   My American companions and I arrived fashionably late because even though our house in the upscale Christian neighborhood of Ainkawa was a mere 10 minute walk from the concert, the cabbie we took to get there didn’t know where it was. Despite the fact that it was at the biggest banquet hall in Kurdistan and this concert is the biggest music happening the country has experience since Saddam’s fall, each time we asked for directions we got told to go in an entirely different direction, sometimes to different neighborhoods entirely.  Erbil –called Howler in Kurdish— is a city in which half the buildings are less than eight years old and many of the nicer restaurants and government offices have only been open a couple of months.  It was therefore, not that surprising that no one knows where anything is.

After arriving at the Galaxy hall and traversing an enormous dirt field, as the parking lot and roads leading to the hall are not yet built, we entered the brand-new, cavernous ball room and were haphazardly ushered to an empty table filled with half-eaten kabobs and soiled napkins.  The hall seated about 1500 people arranged in tables of 8. It was 90% full.  While listening to the debka style opening band, I approached a waiter and asked if we could have fresh kabobs (they were included in the ticket price).  Three hours later when Nancy was almost done our food arrived. In the intervening period, I chatted with every waiter in the place and got a whole range of responses about the likelyhood of our being served.  They ranged from a) your food will be out in five minutes to b) we are out of food as we only thought 1000 people would come but 1400 are here to c) everyone is being served sequentially and you are at the back of the room please just sit down and wait to d) I can’t bring you your food but go talk to the maitre d’ and maybe he can fix it.

Now, after waiting two hours during the hyper-repetitive opening act while starving, it was finally announced in Arabic that Nancy would be appearing if the audience just clapped and yelled loud enough.  Then, at the top of their lungs, all the young Howlerians howled and the MC announced Nancy and the curtain covering the side door swung open. Droves of men surged towards the stage with their smart phones held above their heads to film her entrance. Rather than appearing on cue, ten minutes later she appeared and started singing, but the miking was so poor you could only hear the band and not her voice.  Then, she stopped in the middle of the song to allow the MC to announce that everyone must return to their seats.  Now all official communication in the concert hall was in Arabic.  Advertisements, signs to the bathroom and backstage, the music sung by the warm up band, and of course the MCs communications to the audience.

It is unclear if this is the reason that stage commands were not heeded.  For many young Kurds who were educated after 1991, Arabic is their third or fourth language.  Generally, their native dialect of their regional or sectarian group is their first language (i.e. Kurmanji for northerners, Chaldean for Christians, Fayli for Shi’I Kurds, a nameless dialect for Yazidis, and some form of Sorani for most of the urban Sunni population etc.). Then their second language is Modern Standard Iraqi Sorani Kurdish which appears to be the official standardized language of the Kurdish Regional Government and is the official variant of the Sorani dialect traditionally prevalent in South Eastern Iraqi Kurdistan, which has increasingly become the literary language of Iraq Kurds over the last fifty years.  The universally taught foreign language in school is English.  Obviously, the American liberation/occupation and the Kurds’ position in the global economy makes English a necessity for individual success.  However, some Kurds who have returned from the Diaspora are more likely to know German or Swedish as those are the centers of the Kurdish Diaspora.  Arabic is, therefore, the fourth language of most of the Kurdish population and in some smaller towns, it is not spoken at all by people under thirty.

Yet it was in this language that Nancy was singing and that the MCs were trying to convey things to the crowd and encourage them to move back to their seats. For the next hour while Nancy tried in vain to sing the concert, the security failed to prevent people from standing up on chairs to take pictures, rushing towards the stage, blocking everyone’s view, and making so much noise that hearing her singing was impossible.  After an hour or more, Nancy’s manager came on stage and told her to embrace the unstoppable by asking select women and  men (particularly those with children or non-hijabed girlfriends and wives) to come on stage and have their picture taken with Nancy.  This created a degree of order as everyone knew if they behave well they might be picked.  But, the ruse only lasted about ten minutes as it became hyper-repetitive causing the natives to become restless.  It also prevented singing from actually happening.

After Nancy had kissed many babies and let many women get their pictures with her taken by their brothers on their iphones, she announced, “Hadha ghayr haflat taswir, hiyya haflat musiqa.  ‘Ibadu, ‘Ibadu min fadlaku wa khalni akun murtaha li ughani.” (This is not supposed to be a photo party but a concert, please give me some space so I can sing.)  At this moment she stepped backwards away from the front edge of the stage, now instead of having the desired effect of causing people to back away from the stage, as she moved further and further back her security people also backpeddled causing a gap to appear between the security and the mob.  With each step Nancy took backwards, the security also backpeddled and the mob  surged into the gap.  By the time Nancy was halfway back on the stage, scores of young Kurdish men were on the stage.  By the time she had fled to the back of the stage behind the drums and stage equipment, the security men (all wearing black suits and red ties) were overwhelmed by the mob. Pinned against the wall, Nancy then knelt on the floor and the remnants of her security force formed a box around her, to prevent her from being molested.  This worked for about a minute.  Then, new audience members mobbed the stage –apparently to see what was happening — preventing the initial mob from retreating or advancing.  After a few minutes of stalemate — during which time it was unclear what indignities she suffered — the concert lights were turned on and men in Peshmerga uniforms marched in from the back of the hall with AK-47s.  This created a distraction ‘pulling’ the attention of members of the crowd away from the stage and towards the back of the hall.  At this point, Nancy’s security team fought a rear-guard action to extricate her from the crowd by pushing and punching their way from the back of the stage to the side door.  After surviving this nearly ten minute siege,  Nancy was safely backstage, the lights were on, and the men with guns proceeded to clear out the concert hall.

At this point, the surreal began to turn into farce— the MC took the stage to address the mob as we exited the hall. Rather than berating the crowd members for being savages, a proof of Iraqi backwardness, the reason major Arab performers never come to Iraq, or an embarrassment to the Kurdish nation… The MC said ‘I see that Howler is very happy to have witnessed Nancy’s first concert in Iraq.  She was very happy to sing for you as well.  She apologizes that due to the crowd control and security issues that she will not be able to continue singing.  The concert is now over, we are all happy, it was a great show, and we hope you have a wonderful evening.  We apologize that Nancy did not get to sing the much anticipated premier of her new song in the Iraqi dialect which she hoped to unveil tonight.  Please be safe and go home.’

Now on the way out, I looked at people’s faces and they did not seem shocked or angry.  Then amidst the crowd, I noticed a woman in her mid forties that I recognized, she is the chief of staff to the Minister of Justice of the Kurdish Regional Government (The minister was the chief justice in the Saddam Trial, I do not mention her or his name so that this blog does not come up on searches about them.  They are both extremely kind, gracious, and knowledgeable individuals who are striving to build Kurdistan ).  As it happens, I had just had a meeting with the Justice Minister two days previously and had talked at length with his chief of staff, so I signaled her out of the crowd as someone who spoke excellent English and would be able to share with me her insight into the evening’s events.

I opened the discussion by asking her what she thought of the concert.  She responded that ‘People were very happy and it went very well.’  I told her I had the opposite impression.  She then said, ‘It was a great night for Kurdistan that Nancy Ajram, a cultural icon of the whole Middle East, visited Irbil and people were very happy and do not know how to behave in such situations.’  Taking us into decidedly undiplomatic territory, I probed ‘Is it really a great night for Kurdistan? If I were Kurdish I would be embarrassed at how many of my countrymen behaved, especially the wealthy young men in fancy western clothing.’  She said, ‘no not at all, People merely behaved normally and enjoyed themselves, they were relaxed and felt they were in their home. And could behave as they wanted to.  That is good.’  I wondered outloud if everyone got to enjoy themselves or if in fact some people enjoyed causing chaos and inconveniencing everyone else.  Her husband jumped in saying ‘It was a great night for Kurdistan, it is a shame that they had such a cheap security firm, they must not have been Kurds or they could have controlled the crowd better.  I used to live in London, I know this stuff happens all the time there when big stars like Michael Jackson play and they don’t have the best security. One hears of such incidents at concerts in Europe all the time.’

Later while walking out we met the maitre d’hotel who I had complained to about not getting served our food.  As a non-diplomat, he was slightly more open with me.  He explained that they expected 600 people, planned for 1000 and that 1400 showed.  He said it was a very sad day for him as he failed to serve everyone food and that the concert was a failure.  He wished it had never happened.  I commiserated with him, assuring him it wasn’t his fault and that I understand how hard it can be to manage such an event. I told him there will be other opportunities to get both the food and the crowd control right.  However, I doubt if I was Miss Ajram I would want to make a return visit anytime soon.

======  The Website Al-Bawaba.com describes the incident slightly differently, Stating ‘  Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram broke in hysterical tears during her recent concert in Irbil Iraq, after the audience forced themselves on stage and surrounded her from all sides. The singer became very scared during the concert, which did not go according to plans.What was considered to be very unusual during the incident is the fact that the security men assigned to protect Nancy from being attacked by fans also turned into fans and became preoccupied with trying to take pictures with her neglecting their assigned duties.  This neglect of the security men led the audience to go on stage knowing they would not be stopped. At this point, Nancy’s business manager Jiji Lamara, the organizer of the event and the band played the role of the security men and tried to protect the singer from being hurt and toppled by fans.  Nancy became terrified and began crying hysterically and as a result of the crowds of people pushing towards her was injured in her foot. It took Nancy over 15 minutes to get to her private car and flee the scene. Once she was able to escape, Nancy packed her bags and immediately left to go back home.’

from  http://m.albawaba.com/en/node/406827

22/11/11   Cambridge-UK

For some strange reason, I think everyone I know should have to memorize the names of the  Libyan cabinet ministers who have been announced today.  Attention Young ladies out there, you never know when you might be on a date and have the opportunity to land a contract by playing footsie with the new NTC minister for Industry Mohammad Mahmud al-Ftise, or be at a cocktail party and be asked if –based on name alone — you would be more likely to trust the current NTC deputy finance minister  Mrajaa Mgeg or the defected Gaddafian Foreign affairs minister Musa Kusa. I mean this is the kind of stuff that the 21st century man or woman about town trying to make it in consulting business has to keep in mind. To that effect, I want to share with you all my first ever humourous op-ed article in today’s The Australian

but before i paste the text of it below… I wanted to share with you my most serious and hard-hitting article about the capture of saif gaddafi and what it all means for libya  http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/11/21/abdullah_senussi_capture_libya
but now onto the fun  I wanted it to be titled ‘The Zintan Rebels Strike Back’ but they changed it!  Pls open the pdf below to see the article in colour..

21/10/11

BBC interview on the meaning of Qaddafi’s death. (Start at the 7:00 mark)

 Yesterday was a big day for me and I don’t mean because it was the first time I was on Iranian State Television (Press TV).  

Yes it has also been a big day for Libya, Nato, and the cause of liberation from fear. But looked at from my little perspective the larger than life, one-of-a-kind, much misunderstood, quite stylish, partially cuddly and partially genocidal, but certainly totally paranoid dictator that i have devoted the last three years of my life to understanding is no more.  I mean it is difficult to convey to you how much time i have spent mulling over the core tenets of his ideology, following his every utterance, anticipating his policy moves, and tracing the connections between his thought and that ofh Rousseau and ibn Khaldoun.
And now Gaddafi the philosopher, statesman, icon, tyrant, and sideshow freak is gone.

I feel a great void.  Yes, I am happy.  Yes, I know the world is a better place… but I feel that it has all happened too fast and I am just unsure what the changes this will mean for me and my ‘style’ of living.  I mean some people live the NFL. Others live the stock market.  I have lived Gaddafi.  I almost consider him a kind of twisted family member, he has always been at the dinner table even when you didn’t want him there and he embarrassed you.  And now he is gone.  RIP Q.  You bloody, bastard.

20/10/11

I thought they wouldn’t catch him for a long time.  Saddam took 7 months after the liberation of the whole country.  However, both were hiding underground in a tunnel near their home towns.  Interesting?  It strikes me that Q could have gotten away if he wanted to but that he wanted to fight to the end and be there in Sirte to rally his troops.  He believed in his ideology.  He said he would die in Libya.

He also said that Libya would be the world’s only popular (i.e. local) democracy without mediation through representative bodies.  And that has come about to an amazing extent.  Qaddafian ideology has culminated in his being killed like a rat by his people in their attempt to actualize a kind of freedom which resembles the freedom that Qaddafi preached but did not practice.

The World is an interesting and paradoxical place!

I discuss this more in  my FP article… but they truncated a lot of the best bits.. so i hope to figure out where i can restate more of my views on this point:   http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/20/qaddafi_s_legacy

——–

Crossing into Libya: How I survived interogation by the militias and sustainable development consultants

Miraculously, the 17 million documents stored at the Libyan Studies Centre concerning Libya’s 20th century history have all survived both the war and Gaddafi’s attempts to use and abuse history to buttress his claim to power.

20/9/2011

I visited the ruins of bab al-aziziyya, Gaddafi’s compound, today. Amidst the rubble, shattered glass, and miles of underground tunnels Libyan families by the thousands roam in an out of Gaddafi’s former palaces, drinking tea with almonds, writing graffiti on the walls, and taking pictures of themselves amidst the destroyed kitsh of their former dictator.

Weirdly, Libyan militia units storm into the place as a kind of ‘rite de passage’ where they climb the buildings, shoot celebratory fire into air, and take photos. I could see bab al-aziziyya becoming a kind of Libyan Masada or Gettysburg..

I hope to upload some pictures of this when I figure out how…

Also when one band of particularly rambunctious rebel soldiers fired into the air, I ran for cover underneath an archway … later they approached me and teased me for being the Arabic equivalent of a ‘scaredy-cat’. I explained that many people have died in Tripoli from bullets that were fired into the air and then fall back to earth with terminal velocity and I don’t want that to happen to me … so please don’t fire into the air all the time when you are happy. They told me I was wrong and that the NTC is propagating a myth about this to preserve ammunition.

Now if you are interested in the truth about the dangers of bullets fired into the air rather than the chatter amongst various Libyans then click here http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/04/episode_50_bullets_fired_up_vo.html

The upshot is that bullets fired perfectly straight up don’t kill people, but those at an angle do. Sadly, I have seen celebratory rebels shooting into the air … they tend to hold the gun between 65 and 85 degrees … and rarely do they ever fire at a perfect 90 degree angle. Consider the photo of these kids shooting celebratory fire that I took at bab al-aziziyya

____________________________________________________________

19/9/2011

I’m in Tripoli and I’m safe, for now… but I am afraid of all the gunfire into the air. I didn’t realize how big an issue this would be. All seems secure but I would hate to not get my doctorate cuz some f-cking rebel celebratory fire hits me while falling back to earth—

— Green/Martyrs’ Square is crazy crowded and there are lots of Islamists there (i.e. men with beards/guns/ and megaphones preaching)… as well as inflatable slides and popcorn vendors … and even women holding hands with men!!! As for the Islamists, I am not scared about them and I think they can and should be incorporated successfully into the political system. This may be a golden opportunity for the birth of a nationalist/Islamist/free-enterprise country that is not hostile to the west. I would be interested to explore the connections between what might happen here in Libya to what the would have happened in Algeria in 1991-92 if the US and France had not helped the Algerian military annul the election results which were a victory for the Islamists. In both cases, if the West had (in Algeria) or will (in Libya) side with the moderate Islamists, they would probably have kept away from al-Qaeda ties … whereas in the Algerian case, by siding against the Islamists the USA pushed them towards Al-Qaeda and the strengthening of AQIM …

Also there could be a fascinating study about how Saif’s rehabilitation programs for LIFG militants were actually successful in both leading to the toppling of the Qaddafi regime and also allowing for a new moderate Islamist ideology to be born which eschews jihadism.

____________________________________________________________

16/9/2011

TUNIS

In the birthplace of free North Africa, Tunisia, the late summer air is still humid and stagnant. Yet, when a refreshing breeze blows through the locals say that that wind is like revolution. Invigorating, calming, freeing, yet ephemeral.

The graffiti outside the media reads, ‘Freedom is something that you practice everyday’ (In Arabic this is a not-so-clever rhyme [Hurriyya, inta lazm tumarisha yomiyya]). More graffiti campaigns for public vigilance. Seeing the precious revolution as endangered, it proclaims, ‘Qaddafi at large, is a threat to the Tunisian Revolution.’

And yet wandering the streets all is as it once was. The cats paw at piles of reeking garbage. The soldiers inside the barbed wire barricade at the Prime Minister’s office wear their same uniforms and continue their service merely for different masters. I overheard them talk of sex and cigarettes – I asked if they had been conscripts under Ben Ali, all said yes.

At 5pm, young soldiers in flowing red and white capes emerge from the Ministry of Defense accompanied by a 10-piece marching band. Amidst pomp, circumstance, and some off-key playing, the young men in their outlandish capes proceed to the huge ceremonial flagpole in the center of the Place de la Gouvernement. After lowering the the large flag with laudable efficiency they have difficulty folding the flag in the wind.

After the recessional, I approach an Arab man in business casual attire who I have noticed filming the whole ceremony on his iPhone 4. I ask him in my ridiculously American-accented French, ‘Isn’t that the same hymn and ceremony from before the revolution?’ He answers me in perfect Parisian French, defending the need to preserve the culturally authentic Tunisian traditions.

I ask him, ‘but didn’t these traditions only start with Bourgiba and the independence regime [ie, from the late 1950s] and isn’t it essentially a colonial vestige to have a flag lowering ceremony daily with a French hymn played on bugles and drums?’

Impassioned he answers, ‘The flag is our heritage and we need continuation or we will be swallowed up by globalization. We must cling to our traditions. If we change our flag or our hymn we would have nothing to replace it with and it would surely be replaced by some Hollywood-inspired farce. We are proud to be Tunisian and we must not become cosmopolitan and abandon our roots merely because we seek freedom.’

Either he has elegantly hit the nail on the head demonstrating the cultural authenticity of the Tunisian revolution, or he has inadvertently revealed that there has been no revolution at all. My guess is the people at the top know that they had to change their figurehead to save themselves. Amazingly, they haven’t tried to conceal that development by at least changing the country’s slogans and ceremony a little bit.
This episode revealed to me that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings represent only small change at the top of the social pyrimad while the libyan revolution represents a much larger inversion of social and political order. how exciting that i happen to be studying libya!!!

+964 (0)770 443 0839.

في أعقاب الحرب: الصراع على ليبيا في مرحلة ما بعد القذافي