Monthly Archives: August 2006

Back to the Balkans: No Victory, No Justice?

This Sunday’s lesson in international humility comes via The Rhine River, who quotes a sobering excerpt from an article entitled “Milošević in Retrospect” by David Rieff in the Summer 2006 issue of Virginia Quarterly Review:

Milošević’s death accomplished what all his delaying tactics and coutroom antics could never do–cement perception of the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugolsavia’s failure….

But this is not to say that victors’ justice can never succeed; what it cannot do is succeed in a political vacuum or when the outcome on the battlefield has been indecisive….

And in Serbia, this is emphatically not the case. Even in Bosnia, nationalism burns almost as fiercely in the Serb areas as it ever did, and certainly few ordinary Serbs, let alone the former leadership, feel any remorse for Srebrenica or the siege of Sarajevo. In Serbia proper, the current government, while not extreme itself, depends on the support of Milošević’s Socialist Party in order to remain in power. Under those circumstances, it is almost impossible to imagine that had Milošević lived and been convicted, the Tribunal’s judgement would have seemed legitimate to many Serbs. With his death, one more name has been added to the martyrology of extreme Serb nationalism–a victim, in this accound, of a kangaroo court whose pretensions of delivering justice ring hollow.

On Thursday, the BBC also included some retrospection in its report on forensic experts exhuming bodies from the largest mass grave yet from the war in Bosnia.

The team unearthed 144 complete and 1,009 partial skeletons at the site in Kamenica, a village in eastern Bosnia near the border with Serbia.

The grave contained victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops.

The bodies had been brought to Kamenica from elsewhere to conceal the evidence.

“Kamenica is the biggest mass grave” found since the 1992-1995 war, said Murat Hurtic, a member of the forensic team.

The massacre is the only event from the Bosnian war classified as genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The two men accused of masterminding the massacre, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, remain at large.

The forensic team found documents in the mass grave indicating that the victims died in the massacre, the Associated Press reports.

Bullets and bindings around the victims’ arms were also found there.

In July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica, where tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians had taken refuge from earlier Serb offensives.

The Serb forces later separated thousands of men and boys from the women and killed them, dumping the bodies in mass graves.

Is anyone intimidated by international war crimes tribunals? Two alleged “masterminds” of mass slaughter in Bosnia have been at large for over a decade, most probably in the mountains of Serbia. If they are indeed guilty, better they should die in battles decisively lost than to be hauled before an unconvincing international court. And the same goes for other alleged war-criminal “masterminds” who may still be at large in the mountains of Pakistan.

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Surviving Nine Months Adrift at Sea

This Sunday’s inspirational reading comes from a story that appeared last Thursday on

Three Mexican fishermen who disappeared in the Pacific Ocean nine months ago have been rescued nearly 8,000 kilometres from their home, saying they survived by eating seagulls, drinking rainwater and reading the Bible.

A Taiwanese tuna boat scooped the men out of the water about halfway between Hawaii and Australia on Aug. 9. They had drifted all the way from San Blas, a fishing village about 160 kilometres north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were last seen in late October or early November, 2005….

Crew members aboard a Taiwanese trawler spotted the men’s small boat and realized they were alive, said Eugene Muller, manager of Koo’s Fishing Company Ltd.

“They seemed to be in very good health, given what they just went through,” Mr. Muller said in an interview from Majuro, the capital city of the Marshall Islands. “Other than being very hungry and having lost a lot of weight, our crew said they didn’t need any medical attention.”

The survivors told a Mexican radio station that it rained nearly every day of their ordeal, providing them with fresh water to drink. One of the men had a watch that kept track of the days. They passed time by reading a copy of the Bible one of the men brought along.

“We ate raw fish, ducks and seagulls. We took down any bird that landed on our boat and we ate it like that, raw,” Mr. Vidana, 27, said from aboard the trawler. He said they frequently saw ships during their months at sea, but were lucky to be picked up because they were asleep when trawler’s crew saw them.

“We never lost hope,” Mr. Vidana said. “They passed us by, but we kept on seeing them. Every week or so, sometimes we’d go a month without seeing one, but we always saw them so we never lost hope.”

via Althouse via Bizzyblog

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kimoi, Muzui, Mendoi, Omoroi, Uzai

Over dinner recently, the Far Outliers were talking about ways to describe food with a visiting Japanese college student (the niece of old friends) here for a bit of English immersion. The only Japanese equivalent for gross or yucky that came readily to mind was kimochi warui ‘unpleasant feeling’, which she shortened to kimoi.

(“Kimochi warui” is how my feistiest niece’s kindergarten classmates in Japan described her blue Irish eyes. “Your blue eyes give me the willies!” She always fought back when teased or excluded—and still does to this day.)

When I googled “kimoi”, I found an interesting set of similar terms on the sci.lang.japan FAQ wiki.

  • kimochi warui ‘feeling bad/unpleasant’
  • muzukashii ‘difficult’
  • mendoo kusai ‘troublesome’ (lit. ‘stinking of trouble’)
  • omoshiroi ‘interesting, funny’ (written ‘whitefaced’)

I don’t think you can describe these shortenings in strictly mechanical terms, especially when you include the final member of the set: uzai for urusai ‘noisy, aggressive, bossy’. (“Urusai!” is what people yell at loud revellers to tell them to pipe down.) In the other cases, the shortening rule seems to be to keep just enough syllables (or moras) to turn the compound into what sounds like a one-word adjective ending in -i in the present tense and -katta in the past. I suspect omoroshiroi ‘interesting’ would have ended up omoi were it not for the inconvenient homophone omoi ‘heavy’.

Mezurashii (‘strange, curious’), ne?

UPDATE: Two commenters who are far more kuwashii than me on Japanese have suggested that uzai is most likely short for uzattai, not urusai. That makes the shortening look a little more regular.

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Looking East from Berlin in the 1920s

At twenty-one, Lev had a young writer’s classic lucky break: perhaps through the Pasternaks, he got an introduction to Die Literarische Welt‘s powerful editor, Willy Haas. In no time he was one of the favorites, part of the inner circle around the charismatic Haas, who gave Lev top billing when most of the columnists were twice his age or older. Haas called him the paper’s “expert on the East,” and that was a timely thing to be. Whatever the reason for Haas’s initial patronage—and spotting an improbable hurricane of talent and energy had to have been the main thing—Lev, or rather “Essad Bey,” became one of the journal’s three most prolific contributors.

Lev’s first article, appropriately enough, was “From the East,” in 1926—a discussion of newspaper journalism in Malaysia and Azerbaijan. His contributions would range from a consideration of the poetry of Genghis Khan (Genghis got a positive review) to “Film and the Prestige of the White Race,” a seemingly frivolous but actually prescient consideration of how images of European and American immorality were lowering the status of the West in the eyes of Easterners, Muslims in particular. Lev prescribed some positive images of Western culture on the double, if the “white race” did not want to permanently lose the respect of the increasingly independence-minded peoples of Asia. He reported on curiosities like “The Eunuch Congress,” describing how the former palace and harem eunuchs of the Ottoman sultan had recently held a trade organization meeting in Constantinople. And he wrote a positive review of the first German biography of Ataturk, concluding that Mustafa Kemal is the “least Turkish of all Turks, who aided the victory of the West with Eastern methods, with cunning, tyranny and deception.”

In these early pieces, Lev pays particular attention to Eastern leaders who know how to use the West to their advantage, like Ataturk and, later, Reza Shah Pahlavi, who becomes a subject of particular fascination. During the 1930s Lev would become obsessed with Peter the Great, the monarch who, more than any other, united East and West in his realignment of Russia to absorb the European Enlightenment. Lev loved and hated Peter, but in the end he was overwhelmed by his subject and could not finish the book. For another author that might have meant wasted years; for Lev it meant bringing his study of Peter to biographies of Czar Nicholas and Reza Shah. (Lev believed that the dictator of Persia came much closer to ruling like Peter the Great than the last czar, Nicholas, ever did.) But in a droller vein, Lev also covered the glamour of the East. In one feature, “Buchara at the Hotel Adlon: The Last Emir, Fairytales from 1,001 Nights in the 20th Century,” he describes in amusing detail how the royal courts of Central Asia, defeated by the Bolsheviks, are now living rather well in the heart of the Potsdamer Platz, entertaining and going to formal parties.

The series of articles Lev wrote for Die Literarische Welt and other papers about the visit of the dynamic Afghan monarch King Amanullah to the German capital in 1928 allowed him to combine his nose for East-meets-West drama with critical political analysis. Though the articles paint a picture of the bleakness of both the geographical and social climate of Afghanistan (it “is inhabited by wild, mutually alien clans … who hate everything foreign [and] patrol their borders on small ugly horses, stare greedily at the armed caravans that come from far away, and show them pyramids of skulls that until recently marked the borders”), Lev also conveys the bright hope that characterized Afghanistan in the twenties, where “in contrast with the other Islamic countries that found a rather humble present on a glorious past, it is a country without a past but with a great future.”

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 206-208

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Education of Essad Bay Nousimbaoum, Orientalist

On October 17, 1922, Lev enrolled as a student in classes in Turkish and Arabic in the Seminar for Oriental Languages at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. On his application, he wrote his name as “Essad Bey Nousimbaoum,” from Georgia. This was the first recorded official use of his new name—which was essentially “Mr. Leo Nussimbaum” transposed into Turkish. (However, the word “Bey” had connotations of Turkish nobility, and his new name helped build the impression that Lev was of princely origin.)

The inconvenient detail that Lev had not yet graduated from high school was not mentioned, and it became his great secret for the next year and a half. At first he was slightly disturbed by the university lectures, for he found that “the professors spoke about their subject matter as though they were speaking about completely ordinary things.” But gradually, he understood that the professors saw the Orient as a professional pursuit, while he was driven by “a mysterious compulsion.” Lev started to figure something out—a neat trick, in fact; a mental survival skill. He found that his love of ancient crumbling walls and winding souks was a guiding light he could shine on almost any landscape, no matter how bleak and intimidating it might seem. He would learn to carry a portable “Orient” inside him, one that he could unpack whenever he found a comfortable spot and the right audience.

He began to keep a crazy schedule. He was determined that no one in the Russian gymnasium find out that he was attending the university (under false pretenses), and at the same time no one at the university must realize that he was still in high school. At 6 a.m. each day, he set out from Charlottenburg and walked all the way to the other side of the city to the university. He would spend the morning in seminars while the gymnasium was still full of German girls. When the Russian school opened, at 3 p.m., he would be there just as if he had been loafing all day like his classmates. “While the teacher was explaining a geometric theorem, the Arabic grammar lay on my knees.”…

Lev’s capacity for hard work and mental focus was something that would drive the rest of his short life. The emigre writers were known for drinking and working like fiends, but Lev would soon astound even them. His clandestine academic activities made him feel at times like he was in an “exclusive club,” and at other times as though he lived in another world. He was glad to have a reason for being separate, however. Both the work and the schedule were a sort of emotional survival strategy. “Most likely I would have perished from this leap into poverty, if it had not been for the love of the ancient Orient that kept me going,” he recalled. Lev also found he enjoyed having a secret life. He was different, he knew, because of what he had done and what he was doing. He was now an Orientalist….

On the day of his final examination at the Russian gymnasium, Lev felt lost and hopeless. He had spent far too much time at night school, studying Arabic, Turkish dialects, and Uzbek geography. There was no hope he could pass in his basic subjects—especially Latin and mathematics. He felt a fool and imagined how his and his father’s prospects would become even worse when he flunked the exam. He would not be able to face the old man, who had experienced so much hardship. It would be more than he could bear.

The chairman of the examination committee, a wrinkled old Romanov prince with a monocle sunk impossibly deep into his face, seemed to take barely any notice of Lev during his exam. Then Lev saw he had written on his pad, “in his melancholy aristocratic handwriting” next to the name Nussimbaum, “a very poor candidate.” During the history examination, the old chairman practically seemed asleep as Lev was quizzed, sitting there indifferently and gazing off into the distance. Suddenly, he raised his head, fixed Lev through his monocle, and said: “Tell us something about the dominion of the Tartars and Mongols over Russia.”

The question would already have been the ultimate gift to Lev, even if he wasn’t in his third semester at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität.

“I saw before us the wide Mongolian steppes and the horsemen … and there was no stopping me,” Lev recalled. I think I even forgot that I was in the middle of the examination. I spoke and spoke, I quoted Arabic, Turkish, Persian authors in the original languages. Indeed, I even knew some Mongolian. The committee was dumbstruck—the prince dropped his monocle. Then suddenly he started posing questions, and lo and behold!—he posed questions in Persian, in Mongolian, he even quoted the classics of Oriental literature…. Only later did I find out that the prince was one of the most renowned Orientalists of Russia. The examination committee sweated; the whole thing went beyond their imagination. The teacher suddenly looked like a little schoolboy. What started out as an examination turned into a discussion in all different languages about all sorts of Oriental problems. I think it lasted two hours and it would have continued into the evening if the person sitting next to the prince, a former Russian privy councilor, hadn’t given him a nudge.

The discussion saved Lev. Whatever other mistakes he made on his examinations, the old prince saw his talent and would not let him fail. In place of “a very poor candidate,” the chairman made sure that all his examiners marked Lev as “average.” He could graduate.

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 193-194, 198-199

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Weimar–Soviet Alliance, 1920s

At the world economic conference in Italy, [German Foreign Minister Walther] Rathenau charmed and negotiated around the clock, trying everything to press the Allies for some concessions on reparations. He wanted Germany to deal with the West, but France was adamantly opposed—and Rathenau was not the sort of man to let the company collapse just because it was unsuccessful in one market. If the Western democracies would not help Germany, he was determined to “play the Russian card.” In a midnight phone call with the Russian delegation, Rathenau arranged a secret meeting in the nearby seaside town of Rapallo. There, he entered into negotiations with none other than Leonid Krasin, the elegant bomb-maker of Baku … Krasin’s terrorist days were over, and he was now helping bolshevism with his smooth negotiating skills and wide knowledge of the oil business. (In fact, his main brief was to sell Baku oil concessions to Western companies on behalf of the new Bolshevik regime …)

The new special relationship between Germany and Soviet Russia was based on their purely negative common affinity—a hatred for the West and the “victors of Versailles”—and would have terrible unforeseen consequences. Its secret codicils would allow the German Army to illegally rearm and train on Russian territory throughout the twenties and thirties. Tens of thousands of German “work commandos” would come to Russia in 1923 and begin experimenting in the new, still theoretical technique of the blitzkrieg, the idea that small, high-quality, mobile forces backed by airpower could overcome a country before it could react. Under the treaty, the Germans built aircraft outside Moscow and manufactured poison gas in a plant in the Russian provinces. Red and German armies trained their aviators and tank officers together at a series of new schools throughout the Soviet Union. Thus, the armies that would slaughter each other in the 1940s in the most massive mechanized battles in history trained together in the 1920s.

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), p. 183

A great many alliances based on “purely negative common affinity” seem to have “terrible unforeseen consequences.”

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Human Rights Interventions: Principles vs. Practices

During the Kosovo conflict, the human rights consensus seemed particularly powerful to those who sought to question the policies forwarded by the advocates of rights intervention. Kirsten Sellars noted that questioning the altruistic motives behind the Kosovo bombing campaign was regarded as ‘heresy’: ‘The consensus rules that anything done in the name of human rights is right, and any criticism is not just wrong but tantamount to supporting murder, torture and rape.’ The use of available facts to challenge the case for war, found relatively little support or media space in this climate of consensus. This was true whether the issue at hand was the manipulation of the Rambouillet talks by US officials, to cut short peace negotiations by demanding Nato freedom of manoeuvre across the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; or the fabricated stories during the bombing campaign of alleged evidence of planned genocide and fake German Defence Ministry documentation of ‘Operation Horseshoe‘. For critical factual coverage of the conflict many people turned to non-Western media sources, where strongly researched articles were published in many countries, including Russia, China, India, Greece, Egypt and Israel. It seemed that the facts on the ground mattered less to the Western advocates of intervention than the principle that a stand must be made on the side of the human rights cause.

This would appear to be confirmed in the responses of commentators to the revelations, in the years since the Kosovo war, that the claims of mass slaughter or genocide of Kosovo Albanians, which were the media focus during the bombing campaign, were an exaggeration. In August 2000, the ICTY put the preliminary body count of Serbs and ethnic Albanians that died in the civil conflict at between 2,000 and 3,000, raising doubts over the alleged ‘proportionality‘ of the Nato military response of 12,000 high-altitude bombing raids, including the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions over heavily populated areas and destruction of much of the civilian economy of the region. The leading British liberal broadsheet, the Guardian, editorialised in response that, yes, Nato may have ‘lied’ about its bombing campaign, and yes, massacre claims may have been ‘exaggerated’ and ‘manipulated’: ‘Yet the sum of all these criticisms does not change the central issue. Was intervention needed?’ What the Guardian sought to defend was that ‘the principle of intervention was right’ rather than the practice of it or its outcome. It appears that once the discussion of international relations revolves around ‘principles’ rather than ‘practices’ the existing consensus on human rights activism can all too easily sidestep factual criticism.

This confidence in the justice of the cause of the Nato bombers, and of the principle they were seen to be acting on, reflected a profound transformation in the perception of international priorities. In fact, the most common criticisms of the Nato campaign, from human rights activists, were that it should have been launched earlier or that it should have been extended (against US opposition) to send troops in on the ground and to the Nato occupation of Serbia itself. Back in 1990, few people would have imagined that, within the decade, the international human rights community would be advocating the military occupation of independent countries on human rights grounds, the establishment of long-term protectorates, or the bombing of major European cities on a humanitarian basis.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 15-16

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The Showa War: Japan’s Poor Grasp of Global Trends

The Daily Yomiuri, Japan’s largest newspaper (and a far cry from the Daily Worker), has been running a series of historical retrospectives leading up to the August 15 shusen kinenbi ‘end-war memorial-day’. Notice that they call the war that lasted from 1931 until 1945 the Showa War, named for the third emperor of modern Japan, known outside Japan as Hirohito. Here’s the 18th instalment, about Japan’s poor grasp of global trends as several regional wars mutated into a global conflagration.

What should we learn from Showa War?

Many people who experienced the Showa War have died in the 61 years since the curtain came down on the fighting. To younger generations, the war is a distant event.

The Yomiuri Shimbun’s War Responsibility Verification Committee attempted to determine the truth behind the hostilities, examined the facts and found many lessons that can be learned. To close the committee’s yearlong verification process, we summarize the mistakes made by the political and military leaders:

A nation’s future will teeter on a knife-edge if it cannot accurately read the balance of power among nations and global trends. After World War I, Japan found itself in such a situation.

Japan’s first mistake was the Manchurian Incident.

At the Washington Naval Conference held in Washington from late 1921 to 1922, the Nine-Power Treaty, whose signatories agreed to respect China’s sovereignty, and the Five-Power Treaty that limited tonnage of aircraft carriers and capital ships by the United States, Britain, Japan, France and Italy, were concluded. The invasion by the Kwantung Army into Manchuria challenged these treaties, which formed the backbone of the international order at the time.

The expansion of the Imperial Japanese Army into Manchuria provoked a fierce response from the United States, the country that advocated compliance with international agreements, nonintervention in domestic politics of other countries, market liberalization and equal opportunities. The reaction led to the Stimson Doctrine of January 1932, named after U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson. The doctrine said the United States would not recognize any territorial or administrative changes imposed on China by Japan through the use of military force.

Japan’s growing isolation from the international community was highlighted by its withdrawal from the League of Nations in March 1933. Less than seven months later, Adolf Hitler’s Germany also left the league.

Japan’s plan to seek closer ties with Germany exacerbated this isolationism. The plan to conclude the Tripartite Alliance with Germany and Italy was once dropped due to circumstances in Europe described as “complicated and mysterious” by Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma. However, dazzled by Germany’s string of victories in Europe, Japan finally concluded the Tripartite Treaty in September 1940.

Conclusion of the pact meant Japan was allied with the nation bombing London. This was a fatal choice.

The Japanese military, whose leaders mostly were pro-Germany at that time, were unaware of the repercussions the treaty would have on the Sino-Japanese War. Britain had further clarified its stance of assisting Chiang Kai-shek, and the United States also promised substantial assistance. Japan had, accidentally, internationalized the Sino-Japanese War.

Japanese military and government leaders at that time failed to accurately grasp the international situation. They did not understand the rise of nationalism in China that set the foundations for the country’s unification after the Chinese Revolution of 1911.

At the heart of the problem was the common perception in Japan in those days that “Shina [China] isn’t a country.” Japan justified its invasion into China by claiming that China was a “society of marauding bandits.” The prevailing view in Japan at that time was that Chinese people lacked the ability to establish a modern state.

Of course, a few politicians, such as Tsuyoshi Inukai, clearly understood the nationalism in China. However, such politicians were shunted from the political stage early on during the Showa War by acts of terrorism by the military, making it impossible for them to influence Japan’s policy toward China.

Furthermore, army officials who should have played important roles in policy toward China instead became “an advanced group” to lay the groundwork for invading China. Dubbed “army China specialists,” they included Kenji Dohihara, chief of the Mukden Special Service Agency, and Takashi Sakai, chief of staff of the China Expeditionary Force. As military advisers to warlords possessing territories in China, they used conspiracies and various tactics as if they were real-life characters from the “Three Kingdom Saga.”

They ignored moves by Chiang Kai-shek and other leaders of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the rapidly rising Communist Party led by Mao Zedong. They also failed to consider the united national front of the Kuomintang and Communists that would later determine China’s destiny.

The leaders lost a balanced perspective of the international situation because Japan analyzed only one-sided data collected from Germany in Europe and warlords in China.

In the Imperial rescript on the declaration of war against the United States, as well as Britain, Emperor Showa said the war was for “self-existence and self-defense.” However, Japan changed the purpose of the war to create the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere after the war started. This was based on the concept of dividing the world geopolitically into four spheres–East Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Soviet Union–in which Tokyo planned to create a self-sufficient bloc of Asian nations led by Japan and free of Western powers.

However, this concept ignored the existence of China and focused too much on ideology. Consequently, it opened the door to an almost limitless expansion of the battle, although Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, who played an important role in wartime diplomacy, took steps such as holding the Greater East Asia Conference in November 1943.

As Japan sought to bring an end to the war, it asked the Soviet Union, which had remained a virtual enemy of Japan, to serve as a mediator in peace negotiations. Japan’s leaders were unaware that the Soviet Union had pledged in a secret agreement at the Yalta Conference to enter the war against Japan within 90 days of Germany’s defeat, the U.S. success in developing atomic weapons and the U.S.-Soviet tug-of-war for the postwar global political leadership. In the end, Japan suffered two atomic bombings and was attacked by Soviet forces in the final days of the conflict, which led to the incarceration of many Japanese in Siberian internment camps after the war.

via Foreign Dispatches, who comments:

The day that Korea’s largest newspapers are capable of such candor about the less than glorious aspects of their country’s past is the day that I’ll know there are more than two true liberal democracies in East Asia (Taiwan being the other apart from Japan). As for China – well, I won’t expect any such thing in my lifetime …

UPDATE: Taiwan urges Japan to ‘face history

UPDATE 2: As commenter Peter North observes, this piece is far from hard-hitting. Instead, it reads like a wishy-washy committee report. The other instalments I’ve read are similar in that regard.

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Ataturk and the Last Caliph, 1922–24

After the disastrous Young Turk flirtation with Germany, the last Ottomans were in fact cosmopolitan and progressive. The brief “jazz years” of Constantinople saw the throne reject its recent disastrous leap into ethnic nationalism and resurrect its centuries-old tradition of tolerance. The city got a Kurdish chief of police and a flowering of Kurdish newspapers. The Armenians were left in peace. Women’s hemlines were rising and the veils were falling. Yet these last Ottomans were enormously unpopular. It was not that the Turkish people weren’t ready for liberalization of all kinds, as Ataturk would prove shortly thereafter. It was rather that the last Ottomans had shown a love for all things modern, liberal, and Western—fast cars, fast women, “high life,” as Mr. Osman called it—just as their empire was being picked apart by the European powers. They were seen, quite simply, as traitors.

Ataturk was firmly in control of the “new” nation of Turkey by 1922, though it was unclear what his official position was. He had moved the seat of government to Ankara, a small, barren city in Anatolia, in order to insulate Turkish politics from the intrigues of Constantinople. He had removed the temporal rights from the Ottoman throne—that is, detached the title of sultan from caliph—turning the position, for the first time in history, into a purely religious one, but he was not prepared to abolish it yet. To end the caliphate at the same time as the sultanate might have been too much for the hidebound Turks, especially the religious establishment. Ataturk did not want a civil war, so he ended the sultanate first, and then looked around for the cleverest, most honorable Osman to become caliph.

He chose … Abdul Mejid, who was a serious-minded Renaissance man—an accomplished scholar, painter, musician, and poet—and perhaps the most progressive ruler ever to have sat on the throne. An American magazine profile in 1924 noted that the caliph “read a great deal … German and French philosophers … he regretted his inability to read English well enough to understand the English philosophers. He found politics distasteful, because it is ‘the cause of so much hardship and unhappiness.'” Mr. Mejid had told the magazine that he counted on foreigners to come to Turkey. “Their coming here should be of great assistance to this country,” he said. “Their money will enable us to build schools and enlighten the people of this unfortunate nation, who until now have been nothing but excellent warriors, though they have all the aptitudes for becoming philosophers and scientists.”

Most astonishingly, perhaps, the spiritual leader of all the world’s Sunni Muslims flatly denied the superiority of Islam. The scholar-sultan told the American reporter that he dreamed of a world “where all human beings will call one another brothers, racial and religious considerations will disappear, and people will live obeying the true word of God as it was brought to them by His prophets, Moses, Christ, Confucius, Buddha and Mahomet.”

Then, on March 3, 1924, Ataturk suddenly abolished the position of caliph, a little more than a year after convincing the enlightened Mr. Mejid to take the job. On March 23, the vali of Constantinople, a sort of lord high chamberlain, received instructions from Ankara that “the Caliph should be treated with utmost courtesy but must be out of Turkey before dawn.” All male descendants of the Osmans were to be given twenty-four hours to leave. Princesses and others had three days. The caliph would receive $7,500 in cash, and $500 each would go to the other members of the Osman family. The Osmans had never handled money before, as their servants had always had unlimited access to the country’s treasury on behalf of their material wishes. Many barely knew how to dress themselves. The family’s passports were to be stamped to bar them from ever returning to Turkey; they were to be permitted to live wherever they chose in the West, but no Osman was to take up residence in a Muslim country, for fear that he could resurrect himself as either sultan or caliph.

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 117-118

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The Head Heeb on the UN Peace Plan for Lebanon

The resolutely level-headed Head Heeb offers a positive take on the latest Franco-American UNSC resolution on Lebanon.

The compromise reportedly has the backing of all five permanent Security Council measures, which if true will make it virtually certain to pass. The Israeli and Lebanese governments have both been consulted, and although the IDF brass may be reluctant to give up on the planned push to the Litani and Lebanon is wary of an expanded French role, it would be politically unfeasible for either country to reject the United Nations’ terms. The real question mark is Hizbullah, which would have to accept three conditions that it had vehemently rejected up to today: a ceasefire with IDF troops still on Lebanese soil, an augmented international force south of the Litani, and the loss of its military presence in the border region.

The decisive vote in this respect may be neither the United States nor France but Qatar. Qatar is the sole Arab country currently sitting in the UNSC, and as such has spoken for the Arab world and been the focus of the Arab League’s crisis diplomacy. If the Qatari delegate votes in favor rather than abstaining or dissenting, then Hizbullah could only say no at the price of bucking the United Nations, its own national government and the Arab world. It might be willing to chance the first two, but probably not all three.

If all these hurdles are overcome, then the Israel-Hizbullah war will end on terms that allow everyone to gain something. Israel will have weakened Hizbullah and will get a stable northern border for the first time in more than 30 years, Hizbullah will be able to claim that it fought the IDF to the end, and the Lebanese government will obtain sovereignty over the entire country as well as a chance to resolve its outstanding disputes with Israel. France, as Lebanon’s once and future patron, will increase its regional influence, and even the United States will (against all odds) have played a critical role in brokering the settlement.

This means that the proposed resolution is, at this point, about the best possible end that can be imagined for the whole sorry mess. A war in which all parties can claim achievements is one that is less likely to fester and more likely to provide a foundation upon which the underlying issues can be settled. As Israel has learned from bitter experience, a draw that leads to a resolution of the root conflict is preferable to a victory that doesn’t – the Yom Kippur War ultimately resulted in peace with Egypt while the Six Day War led to nothing but an endless nightmare of occupation. If this war, like the war of 1973, leaves all parties proud but chastened, the not-defeat may have better results in the long term than an unequivocal battlefield victory.

UPDATE: The half-life of hope about anything that involves the combination of the Middle East and UN resolutions is about equal to that of ununoctium.

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