September 2011

Land-Grabbing and Climate Change in Uganda: Nothing new here, unfortunately: statism and capitalism have a long relationship, indeed inter-penetration, that has often been most exemplified in the ‘developing world.’ The creation of a particular sort of market, and a particular sort of polity, with rules, regulations, and institutions that favor the lop-sided concentration of both wealth and power: these are not ‘natural’ or inevitable processes. They must be created and enforced, at the cost of human life and livelihood. In this case, land-grabbing- designed for the profit of a multi-national and for the benefit of Ugandan state-creation both- has as part of its ideological supporting structure the ideology and practices associated with the politics and economy of global climate change. This is hardly new, either, though of more recent origin than other ideologies of state and capital.

Companies Using Immigration Crack-Downs to Turn a Profit: Not really new, either. ‘Privatization’ schemes in which states farm out their coercive activities to others, who then turn a profit, are very old. The most recent batch of ‘privatization’ efforts have seen a heavy focus on incarceration; this is merely another, even more insidious example- as the ‘criminals’ in this instance are almost all ‘guilty’ of transgressing imaginary lines on the map, and nothing else.

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki: It’s not really surprising, I guess, that the drone warriors are killing Americans. The brilliance- from the point of the American state, of course- of drone warfare is the distance it places between the executing force and the state itself, not to mention domestic opinion. Warfare carried out at a great distance with minimal American personnel on the ground requires relatively little grooming of public opinion. Even if the targets are American citizens…

Grey Markets in Mexico: Oh no! What will state and capital do if people start ignoring them and creating their own markets and social spaces? Horror!

Empire of the Son: Despite the insane conspiracy theories of the right (Obama as secret liberation theology follower, Obama as secret Muslim, Obama as secret communist), the current American President is very much a product of the massive extension of American power and influence that took place during the Cold War, and continues apace today under different names and forms.

The following little story is related in al-Sharazuri’s entry on the famous exegete and  historian al-Tabari. As you could gather from the story, al-Tabari’s two most renowned works were his massive tafsir and his equally massive history (tarikh) of the world, with a particular emphasis upon the parts he knew best, of course (the image above is taken from a later, partially illumined copy of his history). As the humorous story below demonstrates, he could have made both far longer. That, at least, was the perception of later scholars (like al-Sharazuri, who lived hundreds of years after al-Tabari) who had come to see al-Tabari as one of the crowning jewels of Muslim scholarship- though, this story might also insinuate, such an ability might be more than ordinary scholars could handle…


Al-Qadi Abu ‘Umar ‘Ubid Allah ibn Ahmad al-Samsar and Abu al-Qasm ibn ‘Aqil al-Waraq said that once Abu Ja’afar al-Tabari said to his disciples: ‘Are you in the mood for commentary on the Qur’an (atanshatun li-tafsir al-Qur’an)?’ They replied: ‘How long is it going to be?’ He said: ‘Thirty thousand pages,’ to which they replied: ‘This would use up entire lifetimes before it could be completed!’ So he condensed it to approximately three thousand pages. Then he said to them: ‘How do you feel about a history of the world from the time of Adam up to our own time?’ They replied: ‘How long is it going to be?’ So he said what he had said about the commentary, and the replied in the same way, to which he said: ‘Good Lord! Ambition is dead.’ So he condensed it in the same fashion as he had condensed the commentary.

Al-Sharazuri, Ṭabaqāt al-Fuqahāʼ al-Shāfiʻīyah

Occupation of Wall Street: ‘Only time will tell which of the above two tendencies can capture popular imagination and become dominant in the near future. Also, at this point it is a matter of speculation if the protesters manage to get large numbers of people angry enough to, say, storm Wall Street, or just degenerate into a tourist curio (much like our parliament square campers) who have the feel-good factor of ‘protest’ but offer no means of self-empowerment or solutions to changing the present state of things.’

One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here: ‘People like Maddow and Schultz can make all the noises they want about “green jobs” and “walking softly on the earth.”  But it’s simply incompatible — as incompatible as matter with anti-matter — with the mid-twentieth century economic model of the Hoover Dam, the Interstate and the Detroit auto industry celebrated by people like her and Schultz.’

Venezuela From Below: This is in reality the old idea that somehow the liberation of the oppressed and exploited can be brought about from above by enlightened leaders controlling the state. What we see in the case of the Bolivarian Movement, on the other hand, is how these “revolutionary cadres” in control of the state work to coopt and control social movements. A self-managed socialist society is not likely if it isn’t a conquest won by self-managed mass organizations of the oppressed and exploited. Thus self-management has a dual character: self-management of struggles for change, and self-management of the gains won through struggle.

International Statement of Solidarity with Cuban Anti-Authoritarians: ‘Our Cuban comrades’ only sin is that they have the effrontery to contemplate (and change) their reality without waiting for promises from the Nanny State or Capital’s siren songs. They believe in a fuller life, in a community where the unhindered growth of each is the precondition and measure of the unhindered growth of all.’

More Secret US Drone Bases: ‘Instead, researchers are working on a number of software packages to take the “remote control” out of the picture and let the robots decide on their own who to lob missiles at. Researchers say this would be an important development because the robots would decide who to murder much faster than CIA targeters are liable to.

The Postville Immigration Raid: Not recent news, but worth watching. The war on migrants is one of the more disgusting aspects of state thuggery in the modern world.

The excerpt below is taken from the Ṭabaqāt al-Fuqahāʼ al-Shāfiʻīyah, compiled by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shahrazuri (1181-1245/577-643), a jurist and scholar of the Shafi’i ‘school’ (madhhab) who, while originally from what is now northern Iraq, spent most of his life in Damascus. Many of Shahrazur’s works deal with the theory and practice of fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence; among these is his tabaqat dealing with jurists of the Shafi’i school.

A tabaqat, which literally means ‘layers’, is a sort of biographical dictionary, usually focusing on a particular group of people, and arranged by generations. The genre was hardly limited to religious figures: there are tabaqat for poets and singers, as well as tabaqat concerning scholars and Sufis. However, across the genre there are certain generally consistent features. The entries tend to be short, and much of the information formalized. In a tabaqat dealing with scholars and other religious figures, such as this one compiled by al-Shahrazuri, there is usually an emphasis upon the other scholars and masters the person under consideration studies under, or received hadith from, or was licensed to copy a book, and so on. Other matters appear as well, including short antecdotes that emphasize some aspect of the person’s piety or scholarliness.

As al-Shahrazuri says in the introduction to his work, the purpose of these brief biographies is to ‘connect’ the reader with a whole community of scholars in the past, and to give examples for emulation. The following antecdote is an instance of this purpose of tabaqat; it also reveals a very small glimpse into one scholar’s life and thought. Two major themes of medieval Islamic scholarly life appear here: the centrality of travel in the pursuit of knowledge (travel which can be quite difficult, and often involves long distances), and the importance of dreams, both for the dreamer and for those who encounter them through narration or text.


[Muhammad ibn Ahmad Abu Zayd al-Marawzi] said: When I had resolved to return to Khurasan from Mekka, my heart was stiffened by the prospect, and I said: ‘When it happens- the distance is so long, I cannot bear the hardship- I am so advanced in years!’ Then I saw in my sleep as if the Messenger of God, peace and prayer be upon him, was sitting in the Sacred Mosque, with a young man (shab) at his right hand. So I said: ‘O Messenger of God! I have resolved to return to Khurusan, but the distance is so long!’ Then the Messenger of God, peace and prayers be upon him, turned to the young man, and said, ‘O spirit of God! Accompany him to his homeland.’

Abu Zayd said: So I saw that he was Gabriel, upon whom be peace, so I proceeded on to Merv, and I did not feel anything of the hardship of the journey.

Al-Sharazuri, Ṭabaqāt al-Fuqahāʼ al-Shāfiʻīyah

It is related that while going on a journey, if [Muslihuddin] Merkez [Efendi] were to see a peasant, he would go to him, ask ‘do you know the faith,’ and would explain the conditions and duties of prayer. He would then scatter the seeds of knowledge among the fields of his heart, saying things like: ‘The way to do it is so-and-so and such and such. It is prayer that separates Islam from unbelief, and one who neglects prayer is more useless than an unbeliever,’ and ‘Verily the prayers are incumbent on the believers in a fixed book,’ followed by the poem, ‘Upon the unbelievers the fixed book assigned prayers/ Those who don’t do it are detested in the two worlds,’ and ‘Beware, don’t let these farm animals lack for food, water or provisions; don’t load them with more than they can bear; don’t strike them with endless blows. To that the scholars say, “The striker of animals runs up a bill, it garners naught but its equal in the afterlife,’ and, ‘In this place full of seeds are walking around, your intent should be to revive empty land and to make it a benefit for the male and female believers…’

Sinaneddin ibn Yusuf ibn Ya’kub (d. 1581), Tezkiretu’l-Halvetiye, trans. by John J. Curry, in The Transformation of Muslim Mystical Thought in the Ottoman Empire: The Rise of the Halveti Order, 1350-1650

I posted this poem here in 2007- at the height of the US surge in Iraq, actually. It is still all too relevant four years later. I tried to write something to post today summing up my own very small and insignificant experience of the last ten years of war and everything that has gone with it; I wasn’t able to do it, at least not today, not in one sweep. Maybe I will try again soon, in smaller installments.

Dunya Mikhail says it better than I ever could, anyway.


How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
slings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
Some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing…
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)…
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newpapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

Dunya Mikhail, from The War Works Hard (2004)