OK, Then. I May Wind Up Eating Some Crow On This…

I’ve argued for a while that Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons are almost certainly ongoing, but that we had a reasonably long runway before the threat became – wait for it – imminent.

That may not be the case:

The U.N. atomic agency found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian site linked to the country’s defense ministry, diplomats said Friday, adding to concerns that Tehran was hiding activities aimed at making nuclear arms.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for revealing the confidential information, said the findings were preliminary and still had to be confirmed through other lab tests.

Initially, they said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later a well-placed diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level.

Still, they said, further analysis could show that the find matches others established to have come from abroad. The IAEA determined earlier traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity discovered just over three years ago.

So now we have a more interesting and sudden problem. Note that the facts are asserted and not yet proven, so we’ve got a small bridge to cross before we get to a conclusive answer.

I don’t think it fundamentally changes the dynamic of what we need to do; but I do think that the responses to this in London and Paris are going to very much worth watching.

I Always Thought Constructivists Were Painters

Abu Aardvark is someone I’ve read for quite a while – since he and I had a kind of inconclusive debate here some time ago.

Recently, he posted an interesting – worth powering through the academic jargon – post on the ‘war of ideas,’ which he explains as a “constructivist” strategy (for more on constructivism).

His post/article is a framing document and a program for further research – which I certainly think would be a good idea.

I’ll suggest that his concern that Al Quieda is dominating the ‘construction’ of meaning around the conflict is somewhat pessimistic; the actions of AQ that attract a small population also risk repelling a larger one (sort of like the “netroots” in Democratic party politics).

But fracturing the perceived unity of reaction by the Muslim world is Job #1 in my view, and anything that contributes to it is a Really Good Thing.

Blegging for Video Services

I’ve got a kind of wacky but possibly interesting idea (not business – activism).

I don’t want to go into it at length here, but it will involve shooting some video. It will have to be shot on Sat the 20th in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and I’d like to get a group of six people (three teams) together; we’ll need three decent cameras and someone who can help out with editing.

If you can help out with any of those things, please email me. If I can pull it together, I’ll explain to everyone what we’re doing, and do some more blegging as we take it and run.

Well, It Looks Like That’s getting Cleared Up.

OK, here’s an interesting update on the meaning of the letter (from the Iranian “Islamic Republic News Agency”):

President says his letter to President Bush was invitation to Islam
Jakarta, May 11, IRNA

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said here Thursday that his letter to President George W. Bush did not concern the nuclear dossier, but rather was an invitation to Islam and the prophets culture.

He made the above remarks in reply to a reporter while attending press conference on his letter to President Bush in Jakarta in the afternoon of the third day of his stay in Jakarta.

Again, I’d love it if some Farsi speakers could go look and give their sense of this in the original.

As it sits here, it kinda amplifies the point I saw in the translation, though.

Here’s what reads to me a like a crux phrase: when he says “And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. Marium.” it seems clear that he’s calling on Bush to serve Allah – not to join in a mutual worship of their respective single Gods.

Egypt – Let Our Bloggers Go

I’ve been remiss in not posting about Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fatah, of the Egyptian blog aggregator Manalaa who was detained at a peaceful protest on behalf of an independent Egyptian judiciary.

It’s useful to remember what a real police state is like. And that we in the U.S. are writing the checks to keep the guards paid.

Bloggers have been encouraging their readers to sign an online petition, which will automatically generate emails to Egypt’s US ambassador, the Egyptian PM, and the Egyptian Minister of the Interior as well as to email David Welch (nea-ela@state.gov), the Assistant Secretary and head of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

The best site is at www.freealaa.blogspot.com. Another is the ever-useful Global Voices site.

The NY Times On The Letter

Here’s the New York Times first read of the letter I discuss below:

The 18-page letter, whose text was made available to The New York Times by United Nations diplomats on Tuesday, did not offer any concrete proposals for dealing with the crisis, but suggested that the United States give up its liberal, democratic, secular system and turn more toward religion.

The question is, of course, which one?

I’m not locked into the interpretation that Ahmadinejad’s letter proposes that Bush convert to Islam – but there’s a clear reading that certainly suggests it, and I’m interested in the fact that the question appears nowhere in the Times article.

On Serving God – Details From The Letter

OK, in light of the earlier discussion on translation, let me pick a section of the Le Monde translation (I’d love a link to a Farsi original – if anyone has it (I looked on Iran News but couldn;t igure it out) to ask some questions about and let’s see if we can generate a consensus about what was said and what it means.

Here’s the official Iran News translation, with some comments of mine interspersed (note that this isn’t meant to be a Fisking):

We believe a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvation. I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (PBUH) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth.

OK, he’s asserting that they are both religious.

We also believe that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was one of the great prophets of the Almighty. He has been repeatedly praised in the Koran. Jesus (PBUH) has been quoted in Koran as well: [19.36] And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. Marium.

Here’s what reads to me a like a crux phrase: when he says “And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. Marium.” it seems clear that he’s calling on Bush to serve Allah – not to join in a mutual worship of their respective single Gods.

Service to and obedience of the Almighty is the credo of all divine messengers.

The God of all people in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the Pacific and the rest of the world is one. He is the Almighty who wants to guide and give dignity to all His servants. He has given greatness to Humans.

He’s asserting that there is one God – now this can be taken in a Unitarian sense, or in the literal sense that there is only one diety.

We again read in the Holy Book: “The Almighty God sent His prophets with miracles and clear signs to guide the people and show them divine signs and purify them from sins and pollutions. And He sent the Book and the balance so that the people display justice and avoid the rebellious”.

I’m interpreting him to say ‘the Book’ to mean the Koran.

All of the above verses can be seen, one way or the other, in the Good Book as well.

Does the Good Book mean the Bible?

Divine prophets have promised: The day will come when all humans will congregate before the court of the Almighty, so that their deeds are examined. The good will be directed towards Haven and evildoers will meet divine retribution. I trust both of us believe in such a day, but it will not be easy to calculate the actions of rulers, because we must be answerable to our nations and all others whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by our actions.

OK, this is pretty clear – we’re all accountable in Heaven, but rulers are answerable here on Earth.

All prophets, speak of peace and tranquility for man — based on monotheism, justice and respect for human dignity.

OK, seems clear.

Do you not think that if all of us come to believe in and abide by these principles, that is, monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day, we can overcome the present problems of the world — that are the result of disobedience to the Almighty and the teachings of prophets – and improve our performance?

Here again we have the question of the specific God or the general one? Is believing in God enough, or do we have to believe in the same one?

Do you not think that belief in these principles promotes and guarantees peace, friendship and justice?

There are two principles conflated here. One is that having principles in abstract – separate from the content of the principles – implies that principled people who may disagree can better come together in peace and understanding. It is in essence, pluralist. The other imples that when we all agree on principles, we will be able to do so.

Do you not think that the aforementioned written or unwritten principles are universally respected?

The answer depends on whether the princples are particular or abstract, no?

Will you not accept this invitation? That is, a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?

Again, when he talks about the Almighty is he talking about Allah? Is it a fundamentalist Allah, or an Allah who would be comfortable taking worship in a Unitarian church?

Let’s discuss, because I think a lot depends on the answer.

Professor Narcissus


Lots of people in the blogs are commenting on Dr. Diana York Blaine – the USC adjunct who among other things has people primarily focussing on her physical assets (go look for the nekkid pictures yourself). But I want to take a moment and comment on her inner self. Regardless of what you think of her ourter self, her inner self is frighteningly ugly:

Yesterday my father’s doctor and I were discussing dad’s imminent death from kidney failure. We spoke of the need for acceptance and letting go; we spoke of the need to span from bodies and pus to grace and light. We held one another and shared our experiences and cried. Then she got out a pad and prescribed me John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Needless to say it wasn’t your usual doctor visit. Then again in case you can’t tell I don’t exactly live a usual life.

She told me she was impressed with my depth and my humanity and my intellect. She also told me repeatedly that I was physically beautiful. I told her that I had learned through hard spiritual work to own these gifts of mine, that humility includes both acknowledging strengths as well as weaknesses. Anything less would be to spit in the face of the magical powers that made us.

Coincidentally (?), my husband, an English Renaissance scholar, had been speaking to me of these exact issues the night before and had brought up Milton as well. Wow. Don’t have to tell me thrice. It’s clearly time to get out that anthology I tore through in college in order to pass the tests and actually listen and learn with humility and gratitude from that seventeenth-century Christian visionary.

Oh. My. God.

Actually, this reminds me of one of my favorite stories. In college, or shortly thereafter, I was at dinner with two dear friends as we listened to a would-be seducer talk to his dinner companion. He said:

Actually, what I want is someone I can sit in fromt of the fire with, drinking red wine and discussing the warm humanitarianism in Wittgenstein.

Yeah, I bet he was almost as impressed with his depth and humanity and intellect as Dr. Blaine is with hers.

Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter…

Le Monde has an English translation of Mahmood Ahmadi-Najad’s letter to George Bush.

It doesn’t have a lot to do with diplomacy, not as we practice it.

And, as always, since it’s a translation – note the post below on the issues with good translations.

I’ll just quote the closing lines:

Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.

We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point – that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: “Do you not want to join them?

Mr President,

Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.

Vasalam Ala Man Ataba’al hoda

Mahmood Ahmadi-Najad
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran