The Invisible people

I wrote this 15 years ago when I was in Iraq and it is even more relevant  today. It is an indictment  of one aspect  of American culture. We are a great people but not perfect and our transitory friendships are one of the less than endearing qualities. As one cultural guru put it, we form instant friendships and a year later we  can’t remember their name.

An Iraqi friend of mine gave me an example. Her father who went to an An American university roomed with the same fellow for three years but after he returned to Iraq he never heard from him again.

Several times a day I walk past about 30 laborers who for the past month have been filling sandbags and stacking them and I have observed their interaction…or more precisely…lack of interaction with the Americans. One of the important things I have learned about the Arab world in my years living and working here is the vital importance of acknowledging the people. Whether they are the street sweeper or doorman at the apartment, or the minister in his office, one must extend a greeting or some sign of recognizing their align=”alignnone” width=”413″]102_0210  Iraqis protest terrorism in Baghdad[/caption]

During the day the Americans walk by seemingly oblivious to their presence, and vehicles by the score speed by with a pace that gives the impression that they may as well be stick people, sometimes running over sandbags just filled. I often wonder what these people, returning to their ramshackle shacks, tell their families and align=”alignnone” width=”455″]101_0159 Iraqis in Baghdad[/caption]

the Americans they see every day. Despite their lowly station in life, these laborers are perceptive people. I have found the Iraqis, whatever their level in society, to be very street smart, a necessary attribute to staying out of harms way during the Saddam years.

They sweep floors, drain septic tanks, fix plumbing, cook, and basically do everything to keep the Green Zone occupants living in relative comfort. I do wonder why we are unable to do some of these basic tasks ourselves. In Vietnam the officers of my battalion sandbagged their own tents. It was expected, as was basic housekeeping for one’s own area. I must only assume the frenetic pace of the CPA,  ( Coalition Provisional Authority) whether feigned or real, demands too much time.

When I first extended a greeting to these people in my Lebanese–accented Arabic, they first reacted with disbelief as if they were not sure it was directed at them. That was followed with massive smiles and a chorus of hello’s and responses in the many flowery forms for which Arabs are famous.

align=”alignnone” width=”564″]iz arm of hussein The Infamous Arm of Saddam now gone!!

I wondered when was the last time the civilian contractors went down to talk to these laborers, brought them some cigarettes, some highly-sugared tea? Do they ever ask them about their life, how they get to work, how their families are doing, and at the same time build up the authority of their Iraqi supervisor by extolling his leadership or, more importantly, ensuring that the supervisor is not abusing his authority as often happens in this part of the world? Do they have the translators say a few words to the laborers explaining why the authorities need to be protected from the Saddam thugs, rather than the current belief of most that they are simply toiling to make the new colonialists safe and comfortable? As Americans we have always had the notion that our egalitarianism and individual ideas of self-determination put us above the earlier European colonialists of this area of the world. In fact, the British were far more attuned to Arab culture than we are. Our assumption is that if we pay the Iraqis what we consider a decent wage and do not mistreat them all else should fall into place. We have become a people wedded to flow charts, personnel assets, laptop PowerPoint presentations…all of which are meaningless in this world. Quite rightly we speak of the vital importance of winning the respect and “hearts and minds” of these people and yet the ones who are seeing us closest of all, we disregard.

Norvell B. DeAtkine 26 Dec 2003

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Review: Debriefing the President: The interrogation of Saddam Hussein

imageIn this interesting book, the author tells you more about the politics and issues within the CIA than about Saddam.  The author, John  Nixon, relates a number of anecdotes and recollections of his conversations with Saddam Hussein in his prison cell before he was turned over to the Iraqi government.  Unlike some previous  books on CIA operations very little is deleted, redacted, (blacked out) , Which often is intended to give the book  more importance than probably deserved.  I enjoyed the book, reading about a   truly remarkable man in the same sense that Stalin and Hitler were remarkable.  Nixon provides some new information on he inner workings of the rings of security/companions  and advisors around Saddam. The most and probably only trusted one was his own family followed by his tribe members.  The second ring was the Himaya, (guards) his companions who escorted him about his domain.  The third and fourth rings were the  Special Guards and Special Escorts , mostly junior officers seconded from the Special Republican Guards and Special Security Organization.

If one were to sum up the substance of Nixon’s book it would be that Saddam was a monster, but sort of a likable monster,  and that while he was a menace to his own people he really had no quarrel with the U.S. Nixon rather ridiculously makes the claim that Saddam had given up his great power ambitions and had contented himself writing novels. As Nixon writes, “Was Saddam worth removing from power? I can only speak for myself when I say that the answer must be no. Saddam was busy writing a novel. Nixon also writes that this  endeavor was the reason he paid so little attention to the preparation for war with the United States. image Saddam’s last and most famous book Zabibah and the King

Nixon  fills the book with interesting anecdotes about Saddam, his powerful personality,   always manipulative and controlling.  By the way  Nixon  asserts there never was any Saddam double as so often portrayed by the  Western media. He provides insight into why…. as  one guest lecturer who came to my classes said…. that  Saddam was stronger than the State, meaning that without Saddam,  Iraq would fall apart….which to a large extent it did.  We learn from this book that Saddam was more interested in money than running the ship of state, at least toward the end, that there no insurgency planned and he had no part in the one that raged in Iraq for years.

But the portrayal of Saddam as gradually becoming uninterested in ruling does not hold up under historical analysis.   Nixon  apparently did not remember how Stalin kept the  State killing machines working full force while  giving personal detailed attention to conferences of artists and writers,  ensuring  the ideological  and politically correct content  of every piece of “art” and intellectual  work produced.  Hitler kept his methodical genocide running smoothly while discussing architecture, the rebuilding on the “new Berlin” with Albert Speer, and closely reviewing the latest German movies.

stalin and arts

Nixon  skewers the CIA, especially the leadership, branding them  as toadying bureaucrats, sucking up to the administration. In particular, George Tenet, the Director of the CIA is pictured as the consummate organization man, and many of the Bush policy-makers as well as George Bush himself are depicted in a very unflattering light. I spent a couple of years working as a contractor for the analytical branch of the CIA and I can relate to his criticisms. It is a ponderously bureaucratic organization and very political. As an Army intelligence officer ( at that time)  I  attended a number of the infamous  National Intelligence Estimates ( NIE), including the one that forecast the ability of the Shah of Iran to  quell the disorder in his country. I observed the efforts of the CIA architects of the Estimates to take all the sharp edges off the estimate to be submitted to the policy makers.  Their estimates were attended by all the various intelligence agencies in town. The CIA operatives that led these NIE’s had the job of smoothing out the different opinions. Their primary job was to ensure that the  CIA estimate was agreed to ( more or less) by all.  At times it was tolerated for an organization e.g. army intelligence, to put in a differing  opinion by way of a footnote to the text, but this was frowned on.  Generally the end product was vanilla pablum. Nixon in his book rightly makes fun of the CIA slogan “dare to be wrong.” In fact it always followed the line of least resistance.  As a contractor analyst making s predictions I realized that most of it was guess work, albeit by knowledgable people.

This is not always true however . After finishing my  work on a particular Arab country,  (Of  which I was very proud)  I was assigned to do military assessments on a Latin American country I knew  very little about.   I did the best I could with a mass of intelligence reports and when the product came out, it was beautifully edited with impressive charts, pictures, and graphs.  I was amazed by my own work!!!    So a word of warning: an intelligence assessment that looks like a work of art is not necessarily better than those on a scratch pad.

As  Nixon points out there has been a problem with CIA headquarters sending intelligence summaries that had been “dumbed down”. This is the inevitable result of the CIA’s low estimation of the political leadership’s understanding of the complexities of Middle East culture. It is one that I sympathize  with.  I remember one occasion distinctly when a visiting congressional delegation (“fact finding”) translated to mean  buying jewelry  for the wives, girlfriends, and staffers) came to Cairo and one member asked what language did they speak there.

I have to say working with CIA guys in the field I saw some of the most solid, patriotic and smart guys in government service. At the time I was working with them, many were ex-military and very mature, sensible folks without the fake aura of  amateur James Bond wannabees that some of the analytical people seem to take on.   I use to get a kick out of the CIA kids briefing my officer students from The Special Warfare Center, using coy references to conceal their identity……. as if anyone really cared.  They complained  about nosey neighbors wanting to know where they worked and their strenuous efforts to keep it a secret. These CIA guys I knew in the field  were  from the covert side of the CIA, in news media  “spies”. In reality they are more friends, shrinks, babysitters, and shoulders for the real spies to cry on. These CIA guys were handlers.  They were the best we produce. Handlers keep  real  spies, mostly  citizens of the particular  country,   content with the money or adventure,  always trying to convince  the spies that what they were doing was not treason, but for the good of mankind.  To the clandestine folks, analysts were second class citizens. I, that time , (early seventies) respected these analysts as true realistic scholars, but as time went on the CIA became  more politicized. And as the  American army recruiting efforts centered around  the slogan “let the army join you” the consequence of similar efforts by the CIA  to  become part of mainstream society led to diminished  capability ( and prestige). It is a fact lost on the present generation of leadership that  the CIA, like the military, must always, to some degree, remain counter cultural.   Killing and enticing others to commit treason are not part of the American way of life ( thankfully).  Competence, not political correctness and diversity, should be the goals.

My more recent observations of the millennial  working in the analytical field has convinced me that the problem is at the bottom s well as the top. Coming from our new educational and parental environment,  it has  imbued the young with the idea that they are indeed the smartest generation that has ever been on this earth, and that having graduated from some Middle East Studies Center they know pretty much all they need to know. I was assigned as a mentor to an Intelligence cell for six months within DOD and I found out that you can’t mentor people who do not think they require mentoring.  They were all very smart young folks, some had learned Arabic very well,  better than I, (with my artillery ears) after all my years in the Arab world.  They could recite the names of a hundred different insurgent groups, their leadership, their cell phone numbers, but nobody much seemed to know what to do with this massive amount of information.  Where did it go? Could the brightest minds assimilate all this information? What did it all mean? I doubt anyone really  knew.  None of these youngsters had extensive time on the ground nor did they care much for history or cultural studies.millennialsWhy do I have to read all those books and  write stuff?) I get all need  from Google  and Twitter

In terms of on the ground experience that might also apply to the author of this book. He was assigned to interrogate Saddam after only a few weeks in country. He apparently had a number of short visits to Iraq and  one longer one of eight months but as far as I could ascertain from his book  he had  no previous in country experience in any other Arab country, He  took International Studies at Georgetown university, in my politically incorrect view, a bastion of defending   Arab causes and  harboring professors with a very “understanding” approach to Islamism.   So perhaps some of that schooling lingered on in his world view.

As Nixon reiterates again and again,  invading Iraq was a tragic mistake, as he posed no real threat to American interests. This opinion, to anyone who has read the plethora of books and  articles on the Iraqi war, is hardly shattering news: quite the opposite in fact. It has become the mantra of academics, politicians, the usual set of leftist historians, Americaphobes,  and  journalists, many of whom,  spent most of their time in the “Green Zone” interviewing each other and finding the right Iraqis to say the appropriate things.

I did share Nixon’s experience in the “Green Zone” as being one of mostly boredom. I was in the Green zone at the same time as Nixon and during the time of Saddam’s capture. I did think some of his descriptions of the life in the Green Zone a bit embellished. The dining facility  was described as serving mostly “rice and potatoes.” Eating in the same dining hall my greatest fear was becoming fat on the generous amount of  food available. Nor do I remember the medical care as being as primitive as  Nixon described it. He might have also  exaggerated the danger within the Green Zone a bit.resting at psyops compoundDodging missiles and rockets in the Green  Reviewer in 2003.

I enjoyed the book as it brought back memories of my  times in Iraq and the good people I met, both Iraqis and Americans, and it was informative, but unfortunately he apparently deemed his knowledge of the Arab world and Iraq…limited as it was in my opinion,  as  sufficient to justify his broad characterizations of people and trends  in the war and his own organization.

I think it is very unhealthy, but typical of this era, that ex  CIA employees feel compelled to write their memoirs. This one is far less destructive and better than  the book by Donald Laux, Left of Boom, which between diatribes about our Syria policies and operations, laments his romantic problems. This millennial is probably the arch example of the arrogant know- it – all attitude of too many of our younger CIA and DOD analysts and operatives.

I have been involved in the Middle East since 1966 and I learn something new about the Middle East every day. Of course at my age I may have forgotten more than I learned. s. I learned from this book as well.  The Middle East and its culture is so complex that it seems every fundamental belief one develops about the region and its people are shattered by events. I  Just wish our officials would take themselves less seriously when they get outside their area of expertise.

Unfortunately George Bush had few supporters as the war dragged on with no end in sight, the people in his administration began pointing fingers at each other and few if any offered a defense.  Some, especially Bush, early on, also had  a string of incompetent military leaders  who let the insurgency grow without much understanding of Iraq, insurgency, or even basic strategy. Bush himself, offered no strong defense of the factors that led to the war.  Nor did he often and strongly defend the way it was fought.

With the elimination of the Islamist threat, at least for now, Iraq   is slowly mending, albeit with an  overseer Iranian regime that wants Iraq as a puppet state, a trend that will ultimately be resisted by the Shi’a as well as Sunni Arabs.  Iran’s money and miitary assistance  will only buy short term good will. Perhaps in revisionist  history some brave soul will endure the slings and arrows of politically correct history and venture a more positive alternative analysis of the war.

In summary, it is a book I would recommend be read and enjoyed but not likely to shed much light on the war  or its origins. It presents a human view of Saddam, much like Hitler’s table talk, but it does not really have any revelations on his  character or method of rule. There are interesting insights on his hatred of the Iranians, a characteristic held by most Sunni Arabs and his lack of interest in the Wahhabi/Salafi movement and his personal quirks. Saddam lies  continually and alternately bridles and gushes with conversation with his “de- briefers” just as any common criminal would. It is a reminder that thugs  with great strength of will and powerful personalities can inflicts misery on many millions but at the end they are shown to be just the thug they alwys were.

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The Ties that Bind: Families, Clans, and Hizballah’s Military Effectiveness

This is a paper written by my good friend and great Middle East scholar Mike Eisenstatdt and his colleague Kendall Bianchi . It reiterates and expands  in a more scholarly way the point I have been trying to make over the years ……that Arab fighting effectiveness is far greater when fighting in an unconventional or tribal environment. I hope Mike’s article gets the attention it deserves. He referenced me liberally in this piece and I am happy he did so.

BTW I have not posted since August. Mundane matters like selling our home and buying a new one in a different area, still in North Carolina,  but away from the beach, was an ordeal worse that taking enemy fire. The  phalanx  of realtors, mortgage lenders,  lawyers, potential buyers, and potential sellers is something I do not care to repeat.

Cheers and Happy New Year

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The toxic threat to Islam!

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Cartoon by Ziyad Nabil from Iraq

Synopsis: Many of the intellectual strata of the Muslim world have found that Islam as depicted by political Islamists is unworthy of trust and belief. There has been a gradual move away from all religions and move toward atheism.

Over the past few years the news media has focused on the threat of political Islam, or Islamism, as I prefer to call it. In many respects, it seeks to transform Islam from a religion to an ideology. Movements such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS), and the Muslim Brotherhood, or even Shia Hezbollah, are the tips of the Islamist spear. The most toxic aspect of Islamism is not the threat to the Western world but to the religion of Islam itself.


These kind of movements have undermined Islam and the Islamic community in several ways and caused some irreversible damage to the image of Islam not only in the western world but also inside Muslim countries. Many of the intellectual strata of the Muslim world have found Islam as depicted by the extremists as unworthy of trust and belief. There has been a gradual move away from all religions and move toward atheism.


Those who speak Arabic are probably familiar with how many social media accounts that are now promoting atheism openly. Such trend seems to echo the frustration of the Muslim community especially in countries where political Islam failed to improve people’s standards of living such as Iraq’s Dawa or Egypt’s Muslim Brothers.


This has had another adverse effect in that while the upper intellectual classes move away from Islam, the great mass of the poor and destitute, the homeless refugees, move closer to a more extreme version of Islam. They have nothing else to cling to.


Furthermore, with the illusion of a caliphate, an unattainable fantasy based on a tribal confederation 1300 years ago, Islamists are undermining the unity and patriotism of the modern state system. Even the dream of a unified Arab world, envisioned by the dreamers in the 1960s, has proven to be another chimera.


The way states have been ruled in much of the Islamic world has been execrable, but there is no viable substitute for the state concept. The problem has not been the concept of the state, but rather the authoritarianism inherent in the Arab/Islamic culture. Despite all the academic and journalistic blather forecasting the end of the state system, and erasure of the “colonial borders” it has not happened. States have shown amazing viability.


By constantly emphasizing the fantasy of a unified Umma (Islamic community) they seek to undermine the state system and secular leadership advocating some sort of rule by powerful clerics.


Equally, the Islamists and their hatred toward other religions, as well as Muslims of other Muslim sects, such as the Shia, Ahmadiya, Alawi, Druze, etc. have created a disunited sectarian society. Even Sunnis who do not follow the archaic rules and regulations of the Salafi/Wahhabi doctrine are considered not true Muslims.


The sectarian violence has been greatly exacerbated by the intolerance and selective use of hadiths and passages of the Quran to justify violence against those who refuse to conform to their totalitarian concepts. A recent example of this sectarian tension is the case of a well loved Kuwaiti comedian Abdul Hussien Abdul Ridha who was in a London hospital with a serious medical problem. On social media among the many hoping for his recovery there is also vicious vituperation hoping he dies, for the simple reason he is a Shia Muslim. Such hatred was ignited by extreme Sunni clerics from Saudi Arabia and even some Kuwaitis.


The status of women in most of the Islamic world has declined in the last 50 years. The women I knew in the Arab world in the 60’s and seventies do not have the freedom they once enjoyed. One could say that the women’s dress does not fully indicate their status. But in fact it does, From pants and short skirts to Abayas did not come about because of some mass religious fervor. It came about due to political, cultural pressure, the pressure exerted by the men and the all-important cultural factor, which dictates that the woman carries the honor of the family.


 For instance, take the case of an Egyptian female swimmer Farida Osaman who won Egypt’s first ever medal in an international swimming competition. Social media users were busy criticizing her “non-Islamic” swimsuit ignoring her winning events. Not surprisingly much of the criticism came from female users as one columnist observed.

 This is not surprising for many women are brainwashed from infancy by fathers and brothers, and then husbands, to believe they have only a specified role in society, but more importantly as carrier of the family honor.  A minor indiscretion can blacken a family’s reputation and lead to a drastic decline in the fortune and well being of the family.

Meanwhile, Islamist propaganda seeks to convince the young impressionable people that living within a cloistered extreme fundamentalist society will not prohibit any activities or enjoyments of the secular world such as Islamist female “Dear Abby” types that dispense advice on love, relationships, and especially sex, to create the impression that embracing Islamist ideals does not entail much sacrifice and loss of freedom. In fact such approach has been used ISIS lure young Muslim women in western countries for the purpose of recruitment. It has also been used widely to attract youthful local audiences by Egypt’s Islamists as well.

Few days ago I came cross a video that so many Egyptians ridiculed that it went viral. It showed a woman wearing Niqab while giving instructions on how to dance Zumba, for physical fitness. The Islamists’ total emphasis on the outward displays of religious piety, some based on dubious Islamic literature or disputed hadiths, actually ridicules the essence of Islam as many are debating nowadays in the Arab social media. This absorption in what color underwear men should wear or what the length of their beards should be, and the detailed proscriptions on women’s wear, etc,. trivializes Islam, creating it as a topic for jokes and cartoons, not only in the western world but also inside the Islamic community.


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Cultural Insights into the Middle East: Are Muslims or Arabs Racist?



Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965 World Heavyweight Title

Most famous black Muslim Mohammad Ali Clay

The newsworthiness political aspects of the Middle East have receded to a point where the general public, even those who closely follow international events, rarely become interested in the seemingly endless intramural bloodletting. A wide yawn and a shrug of the shoulders greet each (daily) recitation of mindless violence and sectarian murder. That may be unfortunate because we still have vital interests in the region and cannot withdraw into fortress America, mainly because fortress America no longer exists.

It has been my primary interest in the Middle East to examine the culture, especially the military culture of the Arab world, but in this post I am describing the Middle Eastern attitude toward race. Let us put that in the context of the Middle East, Arab, and Islamic world.

Race (and racism) is one of  those words bandied about so often by  left wing academics and political ideologues who dominate the public discourse. Reading the Western  press which has largely declined to a third world standard,  and listening to  a puerile sensationalist media,  one would think that racism is exclusive to the Western world, especially the United States. Self-flagellation by an elitist class of privileged  academics and their students, has become the epitome of the zeitgeist and most importantly, a really cool and academically safe thing to do.

As a soldier I have spent a lot of time in foreign countries. It was always my observation that Asian and Middle Eastern countries were far more race conscious than the American society, and I can say that as a southerner who went through a segregated school system and did not go to school with Black Americans until I went to West Point in 1955..

Serving in Vietnam I  observed how the elite women carefully protect themselves from the sun darkening their skin.  They were rarely without the their umbrellas and  I saw the same custom in Korea. Woman with dark skin were considered peasants, people who worked in the fields. I recently read that face bikinis are all the rage in China to protect women from darkening the skin from the sun.

But in terms of hypocrisy, the Arab world and the Islamic world, has to be the top example. For some reason Islam is often considered  a “religion of people of color.”  In the United States,  organizations line “Black Lives Matter” align themselves with extremist Islamist groups.  Islam, like Christianity,  has absolutely nothing to do with the modern connotation of racism. As many Orientalists, such as Bernard Lewis, aver   the Qu’ran expresses no racial or color preference.

In fact, when asked about what does Islam say about racism, many Muslims would recite a saying (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad that states: “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”

Nevertheless my  nearly  nine years of living and working in the Arab world convinced me that they are far more color  conscious than Americans: Particularly among women for which fair skin is a big plus.

Let me present some examples here:

I use to subscribe to a periodical called the Muslim World. There is a section in the magazine  for those seeking matrimony. The ads are presented by the parents, usually the father.  In the ad there is inevitably a phrase that describes the young lady as well educated, a pious Muslima, and “light skinned.”  Most of these subscribers were Indian or Pakistani .

I traveled in Egypt with a black American officer and he commented on the prejudice against those considered black by the Egyptians. He met one very beautiful young lady working in a store and commented that she would no doubt have many suitors. She  lamented  that such was not the case, as her black origins had condemned her to a lower class marriage.

Egypt is one of the most racist of the Arab counties I have lived in. As one columnist in a small Egyptian newspaper wrote, an Obama could never be elected president in Egypt. In fact many Egyptians especially those who were supporters of Nasser (The president Jamal Abdul Nasser) joked about his dark-skinned successor Anwar Al Sadat, who was ridiculed for years as “Nasser’s black poodle.” Sadat’s mother was Sudanese, and therefore he did not look Egyptian enough for them.

Sadat replaced Nasser as a president after the latter’s death due to a sudden heart attack. He wasn’t elected. Many Americans and westerners saw Sadat as a great Egyptian leader particularly following the peace-treaty with Israel which he initiated. Yet, when I arrived to Egypt in 1981 I was surprised by the animosity of the people toward him. His death was not lamented by many.

In fact, Sadat’s second wife, Jihan, said in a TV program on Al Jazeera4few years ago that “even though he was dark skinned, more than the average Egyptian,”  she thought he was “the most handsome man”.

After a documentary about the Egyptian army in which I appeared in and was aired on al Jazeera few months ago, a number of Egyptian soldiers emailed to thank me for helping  highlighting the execrable  treatment of the Egyptian soldiers in their armed forces.

One in particular, a Nubian of the south of Egypt, described how Nubian soldiers that were considered “African”  were systematically  mistreated. That was not a surprise as this has been well known to anyone who has spent considerable time with the Egyptian military.

This  aspect of  Egyptian society is repeated throughout the Middle East.  Jordan, Lebanon, and particularly Iraqi society  all evidence a history of exclusion and prejudice toward  those of African origin.  A few months ago on the social media was a poignant  appeal by a black Iraqi girl who lamented that she could never be a popular singer despite her excellent voice, because of prejudice toward people like her.

This is not an exception in the Iraqi society, in which some of the  sectarian and virulent prejudice of the Sunni toward the  mostly Shi’a southern  population is perhaps partly based on their supposed  intermixture with the descendants of the famous but little known,  “Zinj (African slave) Revolt.”


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Wahshi ibn Harb was a ٍZinj slave best known in the Islamic history for killing prophet Muhammad’s uncle Hamza at the order of his owner Hind bint Utbah. It is said that Muhammad told Wahshi that he does not want to see him ever again even after the latter became a Muslim.  (Scene from The Messenger/ 1976)

According to the great orientalist Theodore Noldeke, the Zinj rebellion was “the bloodiest and destructive which the history of western Asia records.” From 870 to 883 the war in the marsh lands of  southern Iraq raged. Hundreds of thousands  of  slaves, mostly Africans, were employed as slaves (Zanj or Zinj in Arabic) working salt mines near Basra.  They were led by an Arab professing the Kharajite doctrine, which like the ISIS of today, including the killing of all prisoners especially other Muslims. A detailed history and analysis of the revolt is found in Alexandre Popovic’s book, The Revolt of the African Slaves in Iraq.

In Arab history the concept of black became embedded with the  institution of slavery which  existed  until the 1940’s in Saudi Arabia. Bernard Lewis, the reknown American Orientalist, chronicled this history in his book, Race and Slavery in the Middle East .   Glubb Pasha in his book  War in the Desert refers frequently to the lot of slaves among the bedouin tribes being better than that of  black “free” persons in the city. He was writing of his time in the Arab Gulf in the  late 1920’s.

As he wrote, ” The tribes of Arabia were literally sprinkled with Negros , imported during the centuries from Africa as slaves. The lot of the slave of a prosperous family was one of the happiest of the bedouin community.” He goes on to write, “The Negro obtained reflected honor from the fame of his “uncle” (master) ; their interest and glory coincided. His race debarred him from leadership on his own merit.” In fact, as he wrote, the word “abid” in Arabic meaning the color black was also used to denote a slave.His book presents an excellent description of the Arab attitude toward blacks, and blackness in general.

Bernard Lewis wrote about the  famous black humorist , by the name of Nusayb, solicited the  promise of safety from  the great  Ummayed Caliph Abd al Malik by  denigrating his race saying,

“My color is black, my hair wooly, my appearance repulsive. I did not attain that which you have vouchsafed me by the honor of my father, or my mother, or my tribe. I attained it only by my mind and tongue.”  As  Bernard Lewis expounds, the passage, “vividly illustrates the association already accepted at the time of blackness, ugliness, and inferior station.” It also points out a salient point in the story of race and class in the Middle East.  In the Arab world, an individual reputation is based more on the reputation of his family than his/her individual  merits.   The skin color is not the basis of the distinction, but more on the assumption that he or she is descended  from a slave family.

When one looks at the portraits or depictions of the Arab notables they are always depicted with fair skin, with a white halo about them. A  particularly warm  compliment   is to say that a man has a “white shiny face.” I remember the Palestinians said this about Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian  movement.  A “white face” was a connotation of honesty and fairness in dealings.

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The Prophet Muhammed as a young man. A painting by an Iranian Woman

The extremist Islamist view of their heaven inhabited by houris, to satisfy their every need,  exhibits an extreme view of  fair skin. These houris, virgins awaiting the shahids, (martyrs) killed in battle against the Kufr (unbelievers)  are described as having skin so fair that their veins show through the skin.

Racial prejudices are present everywhere in the world, as I have indicated earlier and have arisen very early in history , a construct  of man and not his religion. In Galatians , (3:28)  it reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In the Qu’ran Chapter XLIX verse 13 it reads, “O people. We have created you from a male and female and have made you into confederacies and tribes so that you may know one another. The noblest among you in the eyes of God is the pious, for God is omniscient and well-informed,”

The point here is not to condemn the Arab world for racial attitudes that exist everywhere, but to dispel the illusion  that the Islamic/Arab world is color blind. They are not and far from it.  The hypocrisy  of recent ideological  movements to equate analyses of Islam and its relation to terrorism as “racism” is an example of the ignorance of history by so many who believe themselves to be the intelligentsia.While  many in the West lie out  tanning in the sun, the women of the East seek to shield themselves from the same sun. In race discussions no society has the right to cast the first stone.




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Blowback from the AlJazeera Video?

A friend in a position to know these things recently wrote and informed me that the   video al Jazeera ( My TV Interview with Al Jazeera put together on the Egyptian army in which I participated is one of the reasons the Egypt along with most Gulf states have broken ties with Qatar. Of course it was a very minor one…like the straw that broke the camels back. The main reason of course is the Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab leaders mostly all recognize, unlike many Western politicians, that the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist movement in sheep’s clothing., In the West it is al Qaeda in suits and ties.

Qatar is like Monte Carlo, a Middle East principality, with the difference that it has immense amounts of oil money, which it uses liberally to promote movements and organizations, which tickle the fancy of the Ruling family. The family has been in power since the early 19th century. Originally a Sheikhdom under the Al Thani family and a Wahhabi pirate state, it became a British protectorate following the demise of the Ottoman Empire. It has been lauded by the UN for its human rights development but a more descriptive fact about the State is that 80% of its inhabitants are not citizens, and with the exception of a few Western expats, few derive much from the oil and gas wealth. Most are little more than indentured servants.


Queen mother of Qatar. When she speaks people listen and look !!

Al Jazeera that originally was seen by the Western media as some sort of Arab media breakthrough, a independent media source, and it has done some good journalism. I consider the piece on the Egyptian army (in reality on the Arab armies) to have been done very well with an obvious point of view.   But one has to understand like most Arab media, it is just part of the State-run media. The irony is that although Arab armies are part of the State repressive system they usually enjoy popular appeal by the public. I did receive a number of text messages from active or former Egyptian soldiers expressing their appreciation for airing the video.


Sheikh Qarawadi Firebrand Islamic televangelist preaching  Islamic Sunni supremacy  and spreading the Muslim Brotherhood message. Close to the present Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

There is no doubt that Qatar has funded terrorism and Sunni supremacy organizations for years, and its wealthy citizens continue to do so. Including Hamas in the Gaza strip, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and of course the Muslim Brotherhood centers all over the world.   It also tends to cozy up to Iran, which of course infuriates most Arabs, and especially Saudi Arabia. It also hosts a huge American airbase, part of the Arab proclivity to have two opposing ideologies/ interests reside in harmony among them. Something we have a problem with, being unable to come to grips with this nuanced mentality.

Qatar map

Qatar:   proof that Size doesn’t count

On the video itself the military problems and issues depicted in the film are prevalent throughout the Arab world, In all their armies, Syria, Iraq, the North African states, and particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, despite the vast amounts of money these Gulf States have poured into the military they are unable to punch themselves out of a wet paper bag. But as I have written it l keeps our weapons assembly lines running.

I remember being in Qatar for about a week returning from Iraq during the 2004 holiday season, and the glass world of fancy malls with artificial Christmas trees. I found it to be a boring place, a world of illusionary reality, like a Matt Damon movie set. The large British community seemed to enjoy their lives there with plenty of beer, nice restaurants, and lot of hash house harriers, beer busts etc. Just not my cup of tea.

But the break with  the Arab states is more theatre  than real. So stand by for the next episode



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