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Category Archives: Middle east

Culture and rationality: or why South Asian call centres can be so infuriating

I recently read Kenneth Pollack’s Ph.D dissertation on The Influence of Arab culture on Arab Military Effectiveness (which later became a book). It is a very fine piece of social science which, alas, I doubt any important member of either the Obama or Bush II Administrations has read. The burden of his analysis is that Arab culture strongly […]

Quantity, physicality, source — the origins of currency names

The terms we use for units of currency–when they are not named after historical figures, terms for money or items once used as money–often come from one of three origins: quantity (number or, more commonly, weight); physicality (shape or content); or source. That pound (as in pound sterling, the oldest currency still in use) is originally a weight term is obvious–as it still is a weight […]

The good people syndrome

I doubt that there is any more corrupting element in contemporary public debate than the good people syndrome: talking heads who say things, not because they have any knowledge or understanding, but because it is what good people say. There are forms of it on a wide range of issues, and on all sides of politics, but it seems unlikely […]

The eternal now of conservatism (1)

In a paper on how to reliably measure political (i.e. economic and social) conservatism, psychologist Jim Everett makes a useful distinction: authoritarianism and conservatism are distinct because authoritarianism focuses on aversion to difference across space (i.e. diversity of people and beliefs at the present time), while conservatism reflects aversion to difference over time (i.e. change). As […]

In a nutshell

I can summarise my previous long post on the Middle East very simply: Palestinians are currently Jim Crow-era Southern blacks for whom the only sufficiently acceptable peace outcome is that they become Jim Crow-era Southern whites. Given that Israel lacks the power to change the Palestinian mindset–which predates the creation of Israel–and the Palestinians lack the power to […]

What a difference framing makes

The current turmoil in the Middle East is, amongst other things, one long vindication of Zionism. Given that, to many folk, Zionism has no meaning other than “Israelis being nasty to Palestinians”, some explanation is in order. European Zionism Zionism was founded by Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl (1860-1904). Observing the trial of French officer Alfred Dreyfus and the rampant Jew-hatred in […]

Gee, can I be a Guardian pundit?

A US former special ops officer argues that ISIS is just using tactics (via) that al-Qaeda had previously used, which work against Arab forces, but not Western ones: AQI/ISIL quickly learned to never use these tactics on the Americans. They regretted it in 2005 when they carried out a complex multi-prong attack on Abu Ghuraib prison – it […]

On not seeing the Middle East

Two now well-established anti-Israel lines of rhetoric are that the Jewish State is “Nazi-like” (Zionism=Nazism) and the Jewish State is “an apartheid state“. What these lines of rhetoric have in common is that they attack Israel invoking comparisons which resonate in the West and Western political rhetoric, invoking comparisons which have no specific connection to […]

ISIS, ibn Khaldun and patterns in history

One of the benefits of reading Ira Lapidus’s A History of Islamic Societies (which I review here and here) is understanding how much Islamic history shows recurring patterns. For example, how conflict between modernisers (we should learn from others), traditionalists (we should practice the religion as it is handed down to us) and reformists (we need to recover the purity of original Islam) is a […]

Modernity struggles: how priests and clerics are unreliable moral guides

Priests and clerics tend to be unreliable moral guides, because their interests are served by complexity and differentiation. Which is not to deny that, for example, Christianity has been a major factor in the distinctive achievement of Western civilisation. The ambivalent civilisation The late Kenneth Minogue argued that (via) the Enlightenment saw a shift among Western intellectuals from belief that […]