Saturday, November 07, 2015

Joseph and the Pyramids

Ben Carson is hardly the first person to claim the the pyramids were Joseph's granaries.  It was exceptionally common during the Middle Ages, before modern archaeology.  Jason Colavito runs down the history of the idea.  Here is what he says about the Islamic world:
The oldest Islamic attestation of the granaries myth that I know of is Al-Idrisi’s History of the Pyramids (c. 1150 CE), which was likely reporting it from a Christian source; however, I have read that earlier Islamic authors dismissed the granaries claim as unfounded. Prior to that, Islamic lore generally considered the pyramids to be antediluvian structures, or at least vastly ancient, and the storehouses to be much more recent.
The most common Islamic theory about the pyramids is actually that they were built by the prophet Idris (Enoch) as storehouses to preserve knowledge and treasure from the coming Great Flood.  The medieval Egyptians knew their contents, for we read in travel accounts that digging for treasures there was a common occupation in Cairo and its antecedents.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Last week, The National ran an article on archaeological work at Buraimi in Oman, which is believed to be the site of medieval Islamic Tuw'am:
For Power the site is important not just because it is at risk, but also because he believes it sheds light on a period when a local, and now largely overlooked, Wajihid dynasty held sway over a vast territory that extended from the Arabian Gulf to Yemen and all the way to Multan, in modern day Pakistan...
"It’s when the Abbasids established Baghdad as a crucible of Islamic civilisation and created new forms of material culture that were exported across the Indian Ocean and beyond – and that’s what we have here in Buraimi."
One of the main questions for Power and his collaborators on the project, such as Nasser Al Jahwari of Sultan Qaboos University, is to establish the age and size of the site.
“A mosque and a falaj and a cluster of quite large and well-built houses, a reasonable ninth or 10th century village, was found on the site of the new Sheikh Khalifa Mosque in Al Ain by Dr Walid Al Tikriti, and our site lies directly to the east of that.
“There is the possibility that they are a part of the same settlement. The question is whether this is a low-density settlement spread out over a large area with lots of little discrete villages and hamlets or a single settlement that’s quite densely built up all the way through.”
Power also notes the significance of Tuw'am (or Tawam) going back to pre-Islamic times, and says that the identification of Tuw'am with the al-Ain/Buraimi oasis cluster is conjecture.  I admit I am guilty of assuming it was more than that.  Power's study of the primary sources has led him to believe that it was actually a regional term extending all the way to the sea, with a specific settlement by that name within it.  This is a well-known pattern in Gulf history, seen in the components of the UAE in modern times and also in Kazima, the medieval Persian of Kuwait which I have been involved in researching.

The article, though, is unusually well-done for media reporting on historical scholarship.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iraq Reform Protests

Perhaps because so many journalists are based in Beirut, I'm seeing a lot of coverage of protests in Lebanon.  Iraq, however, is also witnessing a sustained, nationwide popular movement against corruption:
The capital and many southern cities have witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks calling for provision of basic services, the trial of corrupt politicians, and the shakeup of a system riddled with graft and incompetence.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday in what a senior security official called the biggest protest of the summer. Thousands more rallied in Najaf, Basra and other cities across the Shi'ite southern heartland following a call from powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Protesters' demands, which initially aimed at improving power supply amid a sweltering heatwave, have focused more on encouraging Abadi to accelerate reforms, put corrupt officials on trial and loosen the grip of powerful parties over the state...
(Prime Minister) Abadi ordered on Friday the formation of a legal committee to review the ownership of state properties and return illegally gained assets to the state. Critics say some officials have abused their authority to appropriate state-owned properties for personal use.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Medieval Islamic History Syllabus

Here, bereft of bureaucratic language, is the syllabus for the current incarnation of my medieval Islamic world survey:

HIS 339: The Central Islamic Lands, 500-1700
202 Dauphin Humanities Center, MWF 10:00 a.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

Required Texts:
Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History, Ira Lapidus
The Formation of Islam, Jonathan Berkey
Islam and the Muslim Community, Frederick Denny
Book of Travels, Nasir-i Khusraw
Electronic reserves found on D2L
Course Overview

This course will cover the regions where Islam was a significant presence either culturally or politically from its origins until the period of the “Gunpowder Empires” in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The first half of the course will deal with the elaboration of Islamic doctrines and practices in the Middle Eastern imperial context, with close attention to the debates and issues surrounding the primary sources for the period.  The second will focus on the way such doctrines and practices shaped and were shaped by the society, politics, and economy of later centuries, as well as the spread of Islam to new geographic regions.  This course’s contribution to an integrated history curriculum includes an awareness of issues in approaching premodern primary sources, the nature of premodern polities, and the way time periods and regions are often bounded in ways contingent on particular themes and questions.

This course will feature two exams combining IDs and essays.  On November 2, students will submit an essay on Nasir-i Khusraw’s Book of Travels.  Students will also complete a study of an academic monograph as a project from conception to reception (“Book Project”).  Pop quizzes will occasionally check reading, and paragraph writing assignments will occasionally ask you to engage with readings.  Quizzes and some paragraph writing assignments cannot be made up, but the lowest grade in that section will be dropped from the final calculation.  A student may receive credit for handing an assignment in on time by sending an e-mailed copy before the time the assignment was due, but must still hand in a hard copy for grading.  Attendance in class is mandatory, and 5% will be deducted from students’ participation grades for each class missed over three.  Participation, however, is more than just attendance.

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

August 24 – Course Intro
August 26 – Denny, 12-5; Lapidus, pp. 1-25; Berkey, 3-9 (Late Antiquity I)
August 28 – Berkey, pp. 10-39, 50-3; Chronicle of Zuqnin, Part III, pp. 94-99. (Late Antiquity II)

August 31 – Lapidus, pp. 31-8; Berkey, pp. 39-49; Aziz al-Azmeh, The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 126-33; James Lindsay, “Traditional Arabic  Naming System,” Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2005), pp. 173-178. (Pre-Islamic Arabia)
September 2 – Denny, pp. 23-37; Berkey, pp. 50-60; Chase Robinson, “Origins,” Islamic Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 2003), pp. 1-17   (Historiographical issues)
September 4 – Lapidus, pp. 39-54, 183-5; Ma’mar b. Rashid, “The Incident Concerning the Clan of al-Nadir,” The Expeditions, trans. Sean Anthony (New York: New York University Press, 2014), pp.  66-75; “Reconstructing the Historical Muhammad” and three posts linked to at bottom of that page (Muhammad)

September 7 – LABOR DAY
September 9 – Denny, pp. 40-64 (Islam I)
September 11 – Denny, pp. 77-88, 98-106; Asma Afsaruddin, “The Concept of Jihad,” The First Muslims: History and Memory (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008), pp. 108-120; Ethar El-Katatney, “To Mecca and Back Again” (web link) (Islam II)

September 14 – Lapidus, pp. 58-65; Robert Hoyland, In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 56-65; Fred Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing  (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1998), pp. 174-82. (Early Conquests)
September 16 – Lapidus, pp. 66-83; Berkey, pp. 61-75 (End of “Rightly Guided Caliphate”)
September 18 – Lapidus, pp. 83-6, 114-22; Berkey, pp. 76-82; Fred Donner, “Umayyad Efforts at Legitimation: The Umayyads Silent Heritage,” Umayyad Legacies: Medieval Memories from Syria to Spain, ed. Antoine Borrut and Paul Cobb (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 187-212 (Second Civil War and Islam)

September 21 – Berkey, pp. 83-90; Tabari, Vol. 19, pp. 65-74 (Shi’ism)
September 23 – Lapidus, pp. 122-25, 149-53; Berkey, pp. 91-101; Gregor Schoeler, “The  Relationship of Literacy and Memory in the Second/Eighth Century,” The Development of Arabic as a Written Language, ed. M.C.A. Macdonald (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010), pp. 121-126.  (Marwanid Period)
September 25 – Lapidus, pp. 87-90; Berkey, pp. 102-110; Tabari, Vol. 27, pp. 61-70; Steven C. Judd, "Medieval Explanations for the Fall of the Umayyads," Umayyad Legacies: Medieval Memories from Syria to Spain, ed. Antoine Borrut and Paul Cobb (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 89-104 (Abbasid Revolution)

September 28 –Lapidus, pp. 91-104; Berkey, pp. 113-123 (Abbasid Empire)
September 30 – Lapidus, 105-13, 126-34; Berkey, pp. 124-9 (Ninth Century)
October 2 – Denny, pp. 64-70; Lapidus, pp. 153-67; Berkey, pp. 141-151 (Sunnism and shari’a)

October 5 – Lapidus, pp.174-80; Berkey, pp. 130-40; Antoine Borrut, “Remembering Karbala: The Construction of an Early Islamic Site of Memory,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 42 (2015), pp. 249-82. (Shi’ite Sects)
October 7 – Denny, pp. 71-76; Lapidus, pp. 167-73; Berkey, pp. 152-158 (Origins of Sufism)
October 9 – Berkey, pp. 159-175; Michael Morony, “The Age of Conversions: A Reassessment,” Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Michael Gervers and Ramzi Jibran Bikhazi, (Toronto: PIMS, 1990), pp. 135-150 (Non-Muslims and Conversion)

October 12 – FALL BREAK
October 14 – Exam I ID Section
October 16 – Exam II Essay Section

October 19 – Ronnie Ellenblum, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 3-11, 76-87, 240-8. (“Big Chill”)
October 21 – Berkey, pp. 179-88; Lapidus, pp. 225-33; Michael Chamberlain, “Military Patronage States and the Political Economy of the Frontier, 1000-1250,” A Companion to the History of the Middle East, ed. Youssef M. Choueiri, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 235-53 (Seljuqs)
October 23 – Lapidus, pp. 134-6, 254-63, 315-9; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 1-12 (Persian culture)

October 26 – Lapidus, pp. 271-3; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 13-48 (Random)
October 28 – Lapidus, pp. 238-43; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 48-81 (Fatimids)
October 30 – Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 81-133 (Hajj, Arabia, Basra, Iran)

November 2 – Lapidus, pp. 243-54; Berkey, pp. 189-216 (Military patronage states and Islam) (Nasir-i Khusraw Essay due)
November 4 – Lapidus, pp. 306-13; Berkey, pp. 216-230, Leonor Fernandes, “The Foundation of Baybars al-Jashankir: Its Waqf, History, and Architecture,” Muqarnas 4 (1987): 21-42.  (ulama)
November 6 – Lapidus, pp. 302-15; Berkey, pp. 231-247 (Sufism institutionalized) 

November 9 – Lapidus, pp. 321-4; Berkey, pp. 248-257; Patricia Crone, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 472-88. (Popular religion)
November 11 – Lapidus, pp. 264-71; Ibn Abdun, “The Market Inspector at Seville”; Women in  Islam and the Middle East: A Reader, ed. Ruth Roded (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999): TBA (Society in the High Middle Period)
November 13 – Lapidus, pp. 369-406 (North Africa and Spain)

November 16 – Lapidus, pp. 588-606 (West Africa)
November 18 – Lapidus, pp. 507-21; Richard M. Eaton, “Sufi Folk Literature and the Expansion of Indian Islam,” History of Religions 14 (1974): 117-27 (South Asia)
November 20 – Lapidus, pp. 561-6; Geoff Wade, “Early Muslim Expansion in South-East Asia, Eighth to Fifteenth Centuries,” The New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 379-403. (Southeast Asia)

November 25 - THANKSGIVING
November 27 - THANKSGIVING

November 30 – Lapidus, pp. 233-8; 490-506 (Ilkhans and Safavids) (Book Project due)
December 2 – Lapidus, pp. 427-62 (Ottoman Empire)
December 4 – Lapidus, pp.  521-35, 538-42 (Mughal Empire)

Final Exam: Monday, December 7, 10:30 a.m.

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Algerian Army

In a carefully reasoned post, Riccardo Fabiani argues that contrary to some analysis, recent years' political shuffling in Algeria have not displaced the army from a privileged position in that country's regime:
Does the evolving balance of power between regime clans mean that a civilian regime is finally in the making for Algeria, as Bouteflika's mouthpieces have been claiming? After decades of military interference in politics, the presidential clan has been quick to assert that the recent reshuffle within the DRS marks the end of this and the birth of a civilian regime – a narrative that many inside and outside Algeria have repeated. Stripped of many of its powers, the DRS has lost influence, leading the government to claim that the decline of this institution is the end of military meddling into politics.
However, the picture is more complex than the one the presidential clan has painted. The much-rumored decline of the janvieristes and General Mediene, coupled with the rise of a new business class, is only half of the story. While it is undeniable that "civilian" actors play a much more influential role than twenty years ago and that the generals have lost their stranglehold over the decision-making process, the truth is that the army continues to be a key stakeholder of the current political system. It is thanks to General Gaid Salah's consent that Bouteflika has managed to sideline General Mediene – specifically through the Special Commission on Security. Without the army's support for this decision, Bouteflika would have probably never attempted to marginalize General Mediene.
In this context, while the army has lost the dominance over politics that it had in the 1990s, the military still remains a pillar of regime stability. The continuity between the Ben Bella and Boumedienne years and the latest evolution of the Algerian regime under Bouteflika cannot be mistaken: the army is still the backbone of the system and, despite the rise of new factions and competitors for power, these challenges are a weak match to the military. The difference lies in the Bouteflika clan's ability to maneuver around the army to strengthen its own power and in the heavy legacy of the 1990s, which makes the army's direct intervention into politics very difficult given the adverse domestic and international environment (unless exceptional political or security circumstances were to justify such an extreme move again).


Monday, July 27, 2015

C-14 Dates for Qur'ans

In contrast to the press hype, scholars of early Islam have not been bowled over by the Birmingham Qur'an fragments carbon-dated to 645 CE or before.  This is partly because, as Juan Cole noted, we have much more complete seventh-century manuscripts in Yemen.  Beyond that, however, C-14 dating provides a date for parchment, not the text on the parchment, and there are reasons to believe the text was regularly later.  To quote Qur'ans of the Umayyads by Francois Deroche:

"The famous “Qurʾan of the Nurse” is one of the best-documented manuscripts at hand.  Its colophon and its deed of waqf allow us to know that the copy was completed in 410/1020.  An analysis performed on a piece of parchment taken from the manuscript helped to evaluate the accuracy of the measurements.  A French laboratory determined the radio carbon age of the parchment as BP 1130±30.  This result was then calibrated and gave a date range comprised between 871 and 986 AD, with a probability of 95%.  The most probable dates, arranged in decreasing order of probability were 937, 895 and 785 AD.  The closest result, that is to say 937 AD, is separated by eighty-three years from the date provided by the colophon.  If we use the upper limit of the date range,that is to say 986 AD, the difference still amounts to fifty-four years, that is to say half a century."

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Five Recent Arabian History Books

In linking to Ron Hawker's "5 Great Books on Archaeology in the UAE," the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia asks after other people's favorite books on Arabian history.  In thinking about this, I found myself adding some limits.  I considered books only on periods before the first Saudi state and omitted those dealing specifically with Muhammad and the internal politics of the rightly guided caliphs.  I also considered only English, for while I can think of both Arabic and French titles that have influenced me, I can't say I really keep up with historiography in those languages except when the latter are published by Brill.  (Most recent German works I can think of fall into the excluded categories, and I know nothing about works in Russian except that they exist.)

What I then realized is that the past five years have seen several path-breaking books bringing innovative insights to the Arabian past.  Here, in order of publication, are the five which leaped out at me:

1.) Ibadism: Origins and Early Development in Oman, by J.C. Wilkinson

I keep encountering people who don't realize how this book has material relevant to their own work.  This book is a masterpiece which serves in many ways as a history of Oman for around a thousand years from around 200 until 1200.  As in his earlier work, Wilkinson situates religion and politics in a material context, and skillfully develops the tribal framework which was crucial to the historical actors.  His overview of Omani source material is also the best available.

2.) Imperial Power and Maritime Trade: Mecca and Cairo in the Later Middle Ages, by John Meloy

The Arabia of what Islamicists call the "High Middle Period" is still among the most neglected eras, but Meloy has done an excellent job at bringing local history sources and epigraphy to bear alongside Mamluk sources to portray the political economy of the Hejaz during the 15th century.  A key factor was the wealth from the Indian Ocean trade, which the sherifs of Mecca controlled and distributed to their advantage in maintaining influence with the population while also acting in a dynamic power relationship with the Mamluk sultains in Cairo.  In its focus on the practice of politics in late pre-Ottoman Islamic states and the role of maritime commerce in the Indian Ocean littoral, it is also the rare book published on Arabia that contributes meaningfully to questions important to scholars working on other areas.

3.) Sea of Pearls: Seven Thousand Years of the Industry that Shaped the Gulf, by Robert Carter

I actually reviewed this on my blog last year.  This is an excellent book which sets out to be a comprehensive overview of the Gulf's pearling industry and an argument that this industry is the most significant element in Gulf history.  Although the author does not read the languages of the region, the information it includes is impressive, and both the overarching argument about significance and lesser ones along the way are thought-provoking.  Any historian studying the Gulf in any period, including modern times, should be familiar with it.

4.) The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500-1000, by Timothy Power

Also important to broader questions is this book by Timothy Power.  I reviewed it for the Journal of Arabian Studies in 2013, and found it a solid contribution which culminates the developing field of Red Sea Studies up to that point in time and situating it within the broader narratives of regional and even world history.  A strength is that Power capably combines both written and archaeological evidence to shed light on, for example, the development of the Islamic state and the economy of the caliphate.  One thing I don't understand, though, is why the title says "500-1000," since the book actually starts with 315 CE.

5.) The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity: Allah and His People, by Aziz al-Azmeh

This book is not for the faint of heart, as I've been through it twice and don't feel I've fully digested it.  It is on the list because the third and fourth of its long chapters represent the best available synthesis of the current state of knowledge about late pre-Islamic Arabia, which is usefully set in a wider regional context in the rest of the book in tune with the author's aim to explain the rise of Islam as both religion and empire.  It is one of those books where even if you don't agree with everything in it, you will still find much to like and many references you might not otherwise encounter.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Patricia Crone (1945-2015)

Yesterday Patricia Crone died at the age of 70.  I mention this because she is clearly her generation's most significant scholar of early Islamic history, for even though many of her early conclusions from the 1970's and 1980's look shaky with time, she set the agenda within which all other scholars in the field have had to work.  Something like this point was made by Fred Donner in a retrospective review of Hagarism, a book she co-wrote with Michael Cook, in a MESA publication published near the middle of last decade.  What he said was more or less that while the authors did not arrive at the right conclusions, they asked the right questions, pushing both against the idea that the Arabic primary sources from the 800's are unproblematic tools for reconstructing the history of the 600's and recognizing that Islam arose in the conquest of the late antique Middle East rather than being a sort of out-of-nowhere bolt of remote Arabian lightning.

On the latter point, it is now customary for books on the medieval Islamic world to dedicate increasing space to the Middle East before Islam. Ira Lapidus's A History of Islamic Societies dedicates 18 pages to the topic out of about 450 on Islamic history before 1800.  Jonathan Berkey's The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800 has 53 of its 269 pages before Muhammad, and that title is misleading since only a brief epilogue goes past 1500.  Historians studying the 7th and 8th centuries today must take account not only of Arabic sources, but of Syriac, as well.

A good overview of her influence is found in Chase Robinson's essay "Crone and the End of Orienatilism," available online here and published earlier this year in a collection of essays in Crone's honor.  Building off Robinsin, I would like to highlight one point.  Among Crone's works is Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World, which I have often used in world history classes, to both the profit and anguish of students.  As Robinson notes, in this we can see part of her background in asking based on general patterns of history what made the Islamic world distinct.  My related point is that in important ways, it and its relationship to her other work shows how she represents an advance over her predecessor as a scholarly trendsetter, Marshall Hodgson.  Hodgson's magnum opus was the three-volume The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization.  It is this civilization model of history which Crone helped Islamic Studies to transcend.  As seen most clearly in her last book, the award-winning, Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism, her conception of historical communities is less bounded and more comparative.  What a previous generation saw as distinct civilizations are porous both spatially and temporally, and Maori preachers and evolues of the French colonial empire might be points of comparison as easily as Judaism and Christianity.  This is a modern development found in many areas of history which have abandoned civilizational analysis, but in Islamic history, it is Crone's ratting the set consensus that made it both necessary and possible.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Mongol Impact on Islamic Jurisprudence

One of the more important recent books in Middle East Studies is Guy Burak's The Second Formation of Islamic Law.  From its origins until the period of the Mamluks, Islamic law was a highly flexible body of rulings based on often creative individual application of its principles of jurisprudence to reach what in the eyes of the jurisprudents were appropriate conclusions.  However, the Ottoman dynasty began exercising a tighter control over it, appointing official muftis whose rulings became normative throughout their realm, as well as approving official texts for legal education and reference.

Most of Burak's book is taken up with how this process played out, but in his conclusion he steps back and takes a longer view both chronologically and geographically and argues that the Ottomans were simply one case of a post-Mongol shift in approaches to Islamic jurisprudence.  Burak notes that other Eurasian polities, notably the Mughals, Timurids, and Uzbeks, followed similar Islamic law policies to those of the Ottomans.  He traces this back to Mongol views of Chinggis Khan as a divinely chosen legislator, noting how dynasties which followed the Mongols developed their own legal theories based in part on Mongol ideas.  In the Ottoman case, their shaping of Islamic jurisprudence took place through kanun, or dynastic law, a term similar to and sometimes used interchangeably with the Central Asian tora and yasa.

The origins of the Ottoman Empire are tied to the wreckage of the Mongols as much as the Byzantines, and even though they claimed to have arrived in Anatolia fleeing the Mongols, there is evidence they were actually at one time subservient to the Mongols.  It is also a little-known fact in the West that all male members of the dynasty had the title "sultan" before their names, and which distinguished the actual ruler was the Central Asian title "khan" after it.  My friend Timothy May has written a book on the myriad ways the Mongol conquests changed the Eastern Hemisphere and set the stage for the encounter with the Western.  It wouldn't surprise me if Burak's ideas turned up in a future edition.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Lebanese Guest Workers Organize

I don't know much about Lebanon, but apparently it has the same restrictive guest worker system as the Gulf states. They have formed a union to work for improved conditions:
But inside (the Migrant Community Center), walls are plastered with fliers about upcoming educational events for migrant workers, and "Know Your Rights" pamphlets are liberally displayed. Recently, the centre has become a meeting space for the Domestic Workers Union, a fledgling organisation that is the first of its kind in the Middle East.
Founded in January, the union - intended as a voice for Lebanon's approximately 250,000 migrant domestic workers, who comprise about five percent of the country's population - made its first public appearance in early May, with a march in downtown Beirut to commemorate International Labour Day. Members used the event to call upon Lebanon's labour ministry to formally recognise the union...
The Domestic Workers Union has a number of demands, including a minimum wage and a maximum number of work hours per week. The union is also calling for an end to the kafala system, under which employers can prevent workers from changing jobs or leaving the country...
But the labour ministry has still not formally recognised the union. Lebanese Labour Minister Sejaan Azzi threatened to have security forces disrupt the union's founding congress, and in a statement to the media shortly after the congress, he deemed the union "illegal".


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Bedouin Dogs' Ritual Purity

Last year, I blogged about the change in urban Middle Eastern Muslims' views of dogs, when in the early 1800's they went from valued contributors to human society to ritually and clinically unclean beasts who needed to be driven away.  In his The Arab of the Desert, Harold Dickson, the former British political agent in Kuwait, wrote that among Kuwaiti Bedouin, whether the dog was ritually pure depended on what type of dog it was.

According to Dickson, the greyhounds called in Arabic saluqis, which were widely used for hunting, were considered clean, while the watch dogs who guarded the tents and livestock were not.  Because of their ritual impurity, the watch dogs were never allowed in the tents, while the saluqis could even sleep in the women's quarters  Saluqis were also prevented from interbreeding with other dogs.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Things Moshe Dayan Said

According to Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (p. 478), Moshe Dayan said the following about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:
The situation between us is like the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the young girl he has taken against her wishes.  But when their children are born, they will see the man as their father and the woman as their mother.  The initial act will mean nothing to them.  You, the Palestinians, as a nation, do not want us today, but we will change your attitude by imposing our presence upon you.
In other words, Israel was raping the Palestinians, but it was somehow a good kind of rape.  Nice and creepy, that.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pro-Assad Foreign Fighters

This article brings home the fact that even though foreign fighters among Syria's rebels get more press, the Assad regime is probably more dependent on them, starting with Hizbullah:
The Assad family dictatorship is running out of soldiers and is becoming increasingly reliant on mercenaries...
In order to prevent the collapse of Syrian government forces, experienced units from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah began fighting for Assad as early as 2012. Later, they were joined by Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis -- Shiites from all over, on whom the regime is increasingly dependent. But the longer the war continues without victory, the more difficult it has become for Assad's allies to justify the growing body count. In 2013, for example, Hezbollah lost 130 fighters as it captured the city of Qusair and has lost many more than that trying to hold on to it. Indeed, Hezbollah has begun writing "traffic accident" as the cause of death on death certificates of its fighters who fall in Syria.
The Iraqis have almost all returned home. Rather than fighting themselves, they largely control the operations from the background. The Iraqi militia Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, for example, organizes the deployment of Pakistani volunteers in Syria. But no ethnic group is represented on all of the regime's fronts to the degree that the Afghan Hazara are. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but some 700 of them are thought to have lost their lives in Aleppo and Daraa alone. What's worse, most of them don't come completely of their own free will.
Up to 2 million Hazara live in Iran, most of them as illegal immigrants. It is an inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate, from which the Pasdars -- as Iran's Revolutionary Guards are called -- have recruited thousands for the war in Syria over the last year and a half.