Editorial: Lessons From Katrina

In a head-scratchingly dumb editorial, the Arab News rather outdoes itself.

In the same way that Americans started to think differently about defense and terrorism after 9/11, there is every possibility that Hurricane Katrina’s destructive rampage will alter views about climate change. Until now there has been no stimulus to rethink ideas. There were no home-based massive natural disasters to bring the American media, the American public and American politicians face to face with the erratic weather patterns that are the consequences of global warming and which have had such disastrous impact elsewhere on the planet. In the US, it has been a glorious summer, just like summers have always been. True, last winter saw massive snow storms across the eastern United States, but the violent weather then did not threaten to destroy one of America’s most famous cities, did not leave a bill of $25 billion.

Of course, Washington’s belief that global warming is a myth and its opposition to the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions are well-known. Given Washington’s determination to turn a blind eye to all the evidence of global warming and a deaf ear to the loud international concern about it, it would be a miracle if the Bush administration suddenly changed its tune now, regardless of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But the American pubic? The American media? That may be a different matter. This time, hit in the pocket where it matters, ordinary Americans may now think differently about what the weather is doing, and why.

It joins a chorus of the ill-informed–but highly opinionated–voices in trying to draw a link between Hurricane Katrina, which devastated large parts of the American South and global warming. The US National Hurricane Center does not believe that global warming is having any effect on hurricanes and expresses considerable doubt that any model currently in use can accurately project such an outcome. In a somewhat technical discussion, it notes that

There is no evidence to suggest tropical cyclones will have any major changes in WHERE they form or occur. The Hurricane Research Center of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Preliminary analyses hint that only small to no change in the NUMBER of tropical cyclones may occur, and that regionally there may be areas that have small increases or small decreases in frequency.

The PEAK INTENSITY of tropical cyclones may increase by 5-10% in wind speeds, but this may be an overestimate because of simplifications in the calculations.

Little is known as to how the AVERAGE INTENSITY or SIZE of tropical cyclones may change due to global warming.

Overall, these suggested changes are quite small compared to the observed large natural variability of hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones. However, more study is needed to better understand the complex interaction between these storms and the tropical atmosphere/ocean.

The editorial appears to be ignorant of long-term cycles in hurricanes, though they’ve been written about widely. The University of Toronto, Canada (not kn0wn to be among Bush supporters) says about long-term cycles, “There is no strong evidence to support the hypothesis that hurricanes will become more frequent or severe, though some support this theory.”

The editorial errs also in claiming that the US Government believes that there is no global warming. That’s simply not the case. The government has acknowledged global warming as a fact. What this editorial misses completely is that there is very strong argument about how much of an effect–if any–human actions are having on global warming. It is for this reason that the US Government–starting with the Clinton administration–has refused to sign the Kyoto Agreement. It’s also the reason other nations are backing away from Kyoto after having already signed it.

August:30:2005 - 22:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi dissident shuts down site

BBC–London: A Saudi exile facing calls for his deportation from Britain has closed parts of his controversial website. Dr Muhammed al-Massari’s site has shown images of suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq in the past, as well as messages from supporters of al-Qaeda.

He said the decision to shut down was his own, but that the site was a victim of the murder of freedom of expression.

The home Secretary recently set out the grounds on which those promoting terrorism can be excluded from the UK.

Dr al-Massari, 58, is thought to be one of a number of people being looked at as part of the government’s drive to deport those it says glorify or promote terrorism.

Despite Saudi government requests, the British government has tolerated the presence of Al-Massa’ari and his Committee for the Defense of Civil Rights in Arabia for over ten years. Now that the British are showing signs of getting ready to expell him, Al-Massa’ari is finding it convenient to both close down his pro-jihadist website and start criticizing the new rulings. He says, with no sense of irony whatsoever,

“Unfortunately we had to suspend big parts of our electronic site until this inquisition blows over or until I move to a country that allows an acceptable degree of free speech.

What Massa’ari seeks is a place where he gets free speech, but anyone who disagrees gets to be called a “kafir.” He hasn’t yet realized that freedom is a two-way street and that it always includes responsibility.

August:29:2005 - 21:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Bomb Mastermind Killed
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 28 August 2005 — The US military in Iraq yesterday said that a Saudi man who supplied and coordinated suicide bombers in Iraq had been shot dead along with another unidentified “terrorist” in the northern city of Mosul.

“Coalition forces killed Abu Khaled, a major facilitator of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in northern Iraq, during operations in Mosul” on Thursday, the US military said in a statement.

The Saudi government isn’t yet confirming the identity of “Abu Khaled,” noting that many terrorists take on assumed names. But the US military believes this one to be behind many of the suicide bombings against coalition troops and Iraqis. Also according to this article, detainees captured recently may be identifying the individual Saudis who are funding terror and recruiting young Saudis to go to Iraq. Let’s hope for more details, soon.

August:27:2005 - 20:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: Wrong Message

While Iraqis are still seeking agreement on their constitution, many Sunni Muslims are becoming increasingly uneasy that the original intent that the interests of all communities be fairly represented is being pushed aside. The demonstrations in Baquba last week displayed the increasing level of concern. The protests ought to have been designed to impress upon the constitutional negotiators in Baghdad the depth of Sunni anger and dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, they, as held, probably did more harm than good.

According to this Arab News editorial, the Sunnis in Baquba, Iraq may have some valid points in their protests about the hotly debated Iraqi constitution. Their method of protest, however, is counterproductive, to say the least. In praising Saddam Hussein, the Sunnis are showing utter ignorance of how Saddam is perceived by the majority of Iraqis–people for whom the constitution will become the governing document. Anything calling on Saddam Hussein as a model is instantly discredited, instantly dismissed. The paper note,

Maybe the most telling observation that could be made to the demonstrators in Baquba is how they imagine their protests would have been handled by Saddam’s policemen. The very fact that they were able to take to the streets and voice their views, however shortsighted, is a sign of how Iraq has improved.

August:27:2005 - 20:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Terror Attack Foiled With Arrest of 41
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 August 2005 — Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that its security forces had foiled a major terrorist attack in the capital Riyadh by Al-Qaeda militants and arrested 41 terror suspects of various nationalities.

“Security forces managed to prevent an imminent terrorist attack in Riyadh, when they targeted militant hideouts in Riyadh, Madinah and the northern town of Arar on Aug. 18,” the Interior Ministry said.

The Arab News usefully provides a big picture of the arrests and killings of Saudi terrorists last week in giving the context of the events. While it doesn’t make a direct linkage between them and the threats that caused the US Embassy and Consulates to close–and other Western embassies to issue warnings to their citizens–it certainly points that way. Perhaps the US State Department or FBI will connect those dots explicitly.

Also interesting to note is that the arrests in Arar, on the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border, closed down one route through which jihadists were infiltrating Iraq.

August:26:2005 - 21:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

Reformist Cartoons – Part I Condemning Terrorism

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has been paying atention to reform in the Middle East for the past couple of years. They now post an article on anti-terror cartoons appearing in Arab papers that condemn terrorism, many of them from Saudi papers.

Editorial cartoons in the Arab world have the power that American cartoons had starting in the late 19th C. and continuing into the middle of the 20th C. Arab cartoonists, in fact, find themselves in trouble–if not killed–for their efforts far more often (proportionately) than writers.

Take a look at the cartoons. You don’t have to be able to read Arabic to get what they’re saying–there’s still a high illiteracy rate in much of the Arab world, so cartoons have to be drawn with the illiterate in mind. The word most often appearing in the cartoons is “Irhab,” the word for “terrorism.”

August:26:2005 - 10:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Can Hughes Repair US Image?
Barbara Ferguson, Arab News

WASHINGTON, 26 August 2005 — Two years ago a US task force concluded that hostility toward the United States has reached “shocking levels,” but only this week has Karen Hughes finally taken up office at State Department as the new Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy.

Why the delay by the Bush confident? She resigned in 2002 to move back to Texas until her son finished high school — he finished this Spring, but Hughes then said she wanted to prepare him for college (he’s off to Stanford) and then she wanted pack up the house and then move back to DC…

All of which indicates a surprising lack of urgency for an Administration, and president, who’ve reached their lowest poll ratings ever.

I try to refrain from posting on stories in the Saudi media that come from American or British journalists, particularly those that are just republications. Barbara Ferguson, though, writes directly for Arab News from Washington and therefore stands as an interpreter of America to Saudis. She gets things so wrong, so often, though, that sometimes her pieces merit attention.

Here, for instance, she concludes that because Pres. Bush has held the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy open for about 18 months means that it’s not considered important. A more accurate–and, actually rather obvious–reason would be that he wants the best person possible in that job. If Karen Hughes was delayed in her ability to fill the position, it would have been less than smart to put an inferior person into a critical position.

In working with the US Information Agency and then the Dept. of State which took over much of the public diplomacy effort when USIA was incorporated into it in 1999, I’ve worked with good leaders and weak leaders. For most of my 25-year career there, leadership was sorely wanting.

During my career, there was one Director of the Agency who understood what he was doing and who, through his personal relationship with the President, was able to disturb the status quo, to come up with and to execute new programs. That was Charles Z. Wick, the longest serving Director the Agency ever had. He was succeeded by a series of affable people selected for their political connections–none nearly as good as Wick’s. During his successors tenure, the Agency’s staffing was cut by 35% and its budget by 25%.

These reductions weren’t the direct result of actions taken by these Directors. Rather, they were the result of these Directors’ inability to fight in the bureaucratic trenches coupled with their utter inefficacy as managers of an agency filled with gifted foreign service officers. Whether they came from industry (Bruce Gelb, who came from the pharmaceuticals industy), academia (Joseph Duffy, a university president), broadcasting (Henry Cato, who was deeply involved in TV and radio in Texas), or advertising (Charlotte Beers, a marketing marvel from New York).

USIA lost its authority under these Directors (Beers actually lead the first Public Diplomacy Bureau at State, after the 1999 consolidation). The agency never lost its mission or its rationale, but it had no one to point out to Congress that it had shifted its priorities and operations with the changing times. USIA was identified as a “Cold War” agency, whose sole rationale was to counter the Soviet Union. In fact, it never was that completely, though it certainly did take that mission seriously. In the end, though, because it was perceived as unnecessary, it became easy for it to become marginalized out of existence.

Being merged into State Dept. in a hostile takeover did not serve the mission of Public Diplomacy. It became an awkward relative that somehow had to be fit into the family. USIA Regional Bureau Directors–with the powers of State’s Assistant Secretaries–were gravely demoted to the level of Office Directors. State officers, who had no idea of how public and traditional diplomacy differed, were suddenly tasked with running Public Diplomacy programs and–even worse, trying to come up with them. This was a marriage made in hell.

Four years in State taught me a few lessons. The first was that the mission of State isn’t to conduct the foreign policy of the USA. Instead, it’s to make sure that the department receives full congressional funding, to keep Congress off the Secretary of State’s back, and to make sure that every penny and every comma is accounted for. USIA, on the other hand, while still needing to get congressional funding of course, was much better at thinking outside the box. It kept up with changing technologies, ranging from Bulletin Board Systems, to the Internet, to satellite TV. Each one of those technologies scared State because they implied loss of control by senior managers.

USIA came up with inventive programs that strayed outside the coloring book lines of bureaucracy, empowering even junior officers to make commitments to inventive and good programs. It dealt with issues immediately, not refering them back to committees, panels, and boards. Most importantly, having recruited good officers, it let them do their jobs to the best of their abilities, not to the best of what was “safe.”

Hughes brings to Public Diplomacy an “outside the box” way of thinking. She also brings a deep friendship with President Bush and holds his respect. That can only be a good thing. There are very few others in the US that have that combination of abilities. I, too, wish that Hughes could have come on board earlier. She would have had terrific impact if she’d been in the job in 2001, onward. But she’s now running the Bureau of Public Diplomacy. Let’s let her have a chance to show what she can do before we adjudge her a failure.

August:25:2005 - 21:24 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Editorial: Robertson’s Call

THE call by the founder of the Christian Coalition and a staunch backer of the Bush White House, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez be assassinated deserves to be condemned by all right-thinking people. Television personality Pat Robertson, an icon of the politically powerful religious right in America, expressed this shocking view during a live TV broadcast.

It was inevitable that as soon as Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, popped off about assassinating the President of Venezuela that many would start drawing parallels to the war against terrorism. The Arab News didn’t let us down. It offers this editorial, generally filled with specious arguments and demonstrating a lack of knowledge about American First Amendment rights. There’s certainly a large dose of schadenfreude involved, too, as it’s always fun to watch someone slip on a banana peel.

Robertson does play the buffoon well. That’s why he and the Coalition become more and more marginalized in American politics as each day passes. But the First Amendment does guarantee free speech, with only very narrow limits. It even permits people–high and low–to make complete fools of themselves.

The editorial notes that his comments would likely be illegal under the new British anti-terror laws. That well could be, but it’s rather immaterial. Robertson spoke under a different set of laws. Had he been a person with a record of action following stupid remarks, he might find himself in legal trouble. Had a follower taken up the quest to kill the Venezuelan president, then he most certainly would. But since everyone–including law enforcement–realizes that he’s a pompous idiot, bloviating for the sake of bloviation, he will pay a different penalty: public ridicule. And for one with an ego as large as Robertson’s, that’s probably the harshest penalty available.

August:24:2005 - 23:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Why Multiculturalism Has Failed in Britain
Gilles Kepel, The Independent

Before leaving on holiday, Tony Blair announced a series of anti-terror measures that signified a radical departure from the traditional British policy toward its Islamist community. The policy of “Londonistan” — a place where political asylum was given to radical ideologists in return for keeping Britain a sanctuary from violence — was buried for good. The measures, ranging from the expulsion of fanatical clerics (as in France and Spain) to the closure of religious centers where “extremism ferments”, herald a new age of conscious integration in place of a general atmosphere of laissez-faire.

All this, of course, has thrown British liberals, denouncing the plans as posing a deadly threat to traditional freedoms of their society, into turmoil. But, if one looks beyond the controversy, it is clear that the abandonment of the Londonistan policy poses more profound and complex questions regarding the model of multicultural society.

Gilles Keper, author of The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, wrote an excellent opinion piece for the UK’s The Independent. Even more excellent is that the piece was picked up by the Arab News, which has a long history of republishing leftist diatribes from writers in papers like The Guardian. Articles such as this one–more, please–serve as an eye-opener for readers of the Arab News who have been misled to believe that socialist values dominate Western thinking, that anything “conservative” must be irrational and radical and somehow opposed to “progressive thought”.

Kepel makes the case very well that countries that had elevated multiculturalism to the pinnacle of civilization are now having to reappraise that elevation primarily because the social “deal” has broken down. Multiculturalism works if it permits the society to thrive. It fails miserably if it results in citizens being killed.

Kepel, who is French, notes that France actually has a much tougher stance toward multiculturalism. Acts such as banning religious clothing in the schoolroom have a point, they’re not just acts of petty meanness. They serve to enforce the concept that countries work when all citizens see themselves as part of the same entity, not as inhabitants of an identity ghetto. Do read the whole piece.

August:23:2005 - 20:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat newspaper, the largest circulating Arabic language daily, has two interesting op-ed pieces today. Both are worth your attention.

Abdul Raham Al-Rashed, Managing Director of Al-Arabiya TV, writes “The Damaging Parade,” [Link no longer available.] criticizing the diehard rejectionists for their attempt to claim “success” in the Israeli withdrawal. Instead, he says,

…The international press noted that Sharon had fulfilled his promise while Abbas has done nothing but delivered speeches and made promises.

The Palestinians have lost much in the past because of divisions among their factions that serve various external quarters, from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, or the Soviet Union. Today, the divisions are among local leaders who wish to compete for power, an audience, and selfish interests.

These groups appeared before the world as if they were eager for a fight at a time when the civilized Israeli side was protesting with its women and children , who held tight to their homes and were carried by their arms and legs out of Gaza. The Palestinian fighters, masked, intimidating, and armed, looked as if they were an extension of the photos of Al-Qaeda and the gangs in Iraq.

They were the worst sight that the world saw on the day of withdrawal….

In a similar tone, Ahmed Al-Rabei–a regular columnist for the paper–points directly at Hamas and Jihad as groups who are banging a drum with a broken head. His piece,

I would like to hear a single statement from the leaders of Hamas or the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, or even from one of the minor cadres concerning rebuilding, development, education, or the improvement of health care. In short, I would like to hear a statement regarding improving the living conditions of the people.

Whenever one of the leaders appears in the media, he speaks of death and martyrdom saying, “we will shake the ground under the enemy’s feet”. Despite the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza raising hopes for the future and for more negotiations with Israel to withdraw from the other occupied territories, the language of war, violence, and verbal defiance still prevails and is dominant in their words.

Both understand–and tell their readers worldwide–that right now the problem in Palestine is certain Palestinians, not Israel.

While you’re at Asharq Alawsat, you might want to take a look, too, at piece written by British Prime Minister Blair for the paper. He talks of his determination to continue welcoming immigrants who want to become part of Britain, but to not tolerate those who bring nothing but hate and violence to the country.

August:23:2005 - 16:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink


Rania Al-Baz to Host Show on Al-Arabiya
Maha Akeel, Arab News

Rania Al-Baz

Saudi host Rania Al-Baz on the set
of Al-Arabiya’s morning show,
Sabah Al-Arabiya, in Dubai recently.
(Courtesy of Al-Arabiya)

JEDDAH, 16 August 2005 — Rania Al-Baz, the TV presenter who became the poster face for abused women in Saudi Arabia after her ex-husband beat her almost to death last year, is starting a new chapter in her life.

Rania is co-hosting Al-Arabiya satellite news channel’s morning program “Sabah Al-Arabiya” for ten days until Aug. 24. Although she still has two more major plastic surgeries to do on her face to repair the multiple fractures she suffered from having her face brutally smashed by her ex-husband Mohammed Fallata, she is putting on a brave new face for the audience she loves.

Here’s an interesting turn in the story of Rania Al-Baz, the Saudi broadcast journalist whose brutal beating at the hands of her husband raised the flag on spousal abuse in Saudi Arabia.

Ms. Al-Baz has taken a job with Al-Arabia TV as co-host of a popular morning program, at least temporarily. She’s not quite finished with her plastic surgery, but is more than capable of carrying the workload. What’s quite interesting is her take on the “Oprah” program that featured her last month in a survey of women around the world. The Saudi media, including the journalist who had interviewed Al-Baz, were outraged at the placement of the excerpted interview, seeing it as a slap at Saudi society. The piece on Al-Baz, they point out, was the only one dealing with violence toward women; the others focused more on successful businesswomen. Al-Baz herself isn’t very perturbed, however. She says,

“I’m satisfied with the episode, I don’t think that Oprah and her producers were mistaken,” said Rania. “I think we are too sensitive about anyone criticizing us and this is our problem. Oprah has presented many episodes before on abused women in the US and other parts of the world. The US is more advanced than us in terms of human rights. Yes, they have higher rates of crime but they accept criticism. Those of us who have traveled to the US, studied there or worked there, know that the American people are very warm and friendly and not biased, so we should not make judgments of people just because we don’t agree with their government’s policies.”

UPDATE 08/23/05: Asharq Alawsat newspaper runs an interview with Rania Al-Baz that’s worth taking a look at. Her involvement with NGOs dealing with battered women is noteworthy, as is her defense of the Oprah Winfrey Show’s treatment of her interview with them.]

August:23:2005 - 14:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink


I’ve reviewed John R. Bradley’s Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis on my Books review page.

The book is excellent in providing details about individual Saudis, individual regions, and individual attitudes. It is weak, however, in its overall analysis of what it all means. Bradley is stuck on the idea that the country is awash in regional separatism, with the masses just waiting for the disappearance of the Al-Saud. While he certainly finds individuals to support that view, it is not nearly as widespread as he believes. I think he listened to too small a group of Saudi liberals from Jeddah and not enough to ordinary people across the country. He embarrasses himself too, I think, in making much of the “plight” of Saad Al-Faqih who was recently added to the US list of supporters of terrorism. That addition came after the book’s publication, so a certain amount of slack can be given, but it is a pretty strong statement about Bradley’s ability to analyse accurately.

I recommend the book for those interested in seeing just how complicated a place Saudi Arabia is. Bradley gives an excellent snapshot of many aspects of life there that have simply not been reported before. But be very wary when it comes to his attempt to tell us “what it all means.”

[UPDATE 08/23/05: You can read an interview with John Bradley at Eurabian Times, which is also linked at Winds of Change, where John expands on some of his points and answers some criticisms.]

August:23:2005 - 13:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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