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My Yakoubian Cairo

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1/ Manial
2/ My Arab godson
3/ Al-Ahram
4/ Bringing down the Brotherhood
5/ Sisi – Muhammad Ali redux

1/ Manial 

I stumbled into Cairo after Tashkent, where I had stumbled across Islam, courtesy of dictator Islam Karimov, who – despite his name – persecuted brave Muslims mercilessly, and impelled me to recite the shuhada, at first, more as a sign of solidarity. I was now determined to learn Arabic, read the Quran, experience Muslim culture first-hand and test my enthusiasm for Islam.

I found the Fajr Centre for the Arabic Language, founded in Cairo in 1995, online. The new session was beginning in January 2007. Fajr (dawn) is for new enthusiasts and prospective imams, affiliated to the Egyptian Ministry of Education and al-Azhar, and located in Medina Nasser (Nasser City), which I was to discover is a sprawling suburban near the airport. Transportation in Cairo is a nightmare, be it by taxi or public transit. Virtually all Fajr students share digs near the 'institute', which is modest to say the least, but I immediately liked it, despite the anonymous suburban clutter. The administrators and my teacher were clearly devout Muslims, and warm, friendly people. This was not for rich secular westerners, who studied at the AUC or one of many private institutes down town, at three times the cost.

I heard of a Canadian-Egyptian artist who lived in Manial, the southern-most large island of Cairo, perched just upstream from more upscale Zamalek. Anna responded to my query, offering the vacant apartment next door. The 'apartment' was one of two shacks atop a 9-storey genteel 1930s apartment building on the east shore of the island of Manial, with a channel of the Nile and the Corniche directly underneath, in the heart of Cairo. Straight out of The Yacubian Building (2002), the current best-seller by Egyptian author (and dentist) Alaa el-Aswany, made into a film as I was packing my bags for Egypt in 2006, and into a TV series in 2007. A good omen, I thought, and it became a kind of Bible for me, where I learned my Arabic watching the daily episodes, along with other musalsal (tv soap operas) over the few years, like a textbook, as I struggled with Arabic. It is set in a real-life, dowdy, but still elegant Art Deco-style 1930s apartment building in downtown Cairo, much like the one I was to call home for the next six years, populated by a bizarre cross-section of Egypt.

My rooftop eyrie, eerie with its ghosts of past rooftop dwellers, was a scaled-down version. The real thing was a whole village, crammed onto the roof. The book-movie is a biting condemnation of a nation that has squandered its promise and which has been forced to compromise its own principles, resulting in a corrupt and undemocratic political system dominated by a single party (the fictitious "Patriotic Party", a thinly veiled version of Egypt's National Democratic Party under Mubarak), a society whose most talented members abandon the country for promising careers abroad, and an increasingly disenchanted and restive populace that has no loyalty to the government and which sees extremist Islam as one of the few viable options to counter growing poverty, economic stagnation, moral degradation and social alienation. Despite its unremittingly devastating dissection of Cairo, its colourful characters make it a compelling, heart-warming read. I visited the real Yacoubian Building on Talaat Harb Street (still referred to by its old name, Suleiman Pasha, Muhammad Ali's  French-born general). It hasn't changed much over the years, but its entrance gate is more securely locked than mine in Manial against gawkers like me.

One look at the panorama of the Nile below my eerie and I was determined to rough it out. It sounds great in retrospect, but over time, proved less and less a place to actually live. My eccentric rooftop neighbour Anna Boughiguian, the Armenian Egyptian author of Anna's Egypt: an artist's journey (2003),  herself spent months at a time visiting artist friends in Germany, following the trail of the Dalai Lama, whatever. Her flat was more a studio/ storage shack. The lock on the iron gate at the entrance was mostly broken or left unlocked, which made it convenient for visitors, both expected and unwanted. She was a militant secularist, representing the large and frightened class of westernized bourgeois who thrived under Sadat-Mubarak. She had no use for either Nasser's national socialism or the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), both of which I cherished. Over time, I came across many such Egyptians.

Manial's claim to fame on its north end is the Manial Palace, built by Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik (1875―1955), the uncle of King Farouk, between 1899 and 1929, in a style integrating Art Nouveau, Rococo and Islamic architecture styles. It was endlessly under repair when I lived there, now mostly just a nice bit of greenery without a sidewalk accessible by pedestrians, hence, a rare stretch of the Corniche without garbage thoughtlessly tossed down the embankment. Much of the palace land was requisitioned to build a Meridian hotel. On the south end of Manial there is  the Nilometer, original dating from 861 AD, but the modern structure is just an anachronism, after the completion of the Aswan Dam in 1970, as the water level of the Nile is now regulated. The dams on the Nile, the first built by the British in 1902 and the monumental Aswan Dam in 1970, built by the Soviet Union, dominate Egypt-Cairo's life, having tamed the Nile, with all the advantages and problems that dams entail.

The students I met at the Fajr Institute mostly ended up just conversing in English, French, Russian, Bengali, etc., while diligently parsing difficult classical Arabic grammar and memorizing passages. Most could read Arabic script fluently, as they were mostly Muslim by birth and had attended Muslim classes to learn to read the script, but without any understanding. That was not what i had in mind. I wanted not only to understand what I read, but to gain enough fluency to function socially. The six-week course at Fajr taught very little grammar, and no conversational skills, but it was a start. The textbooks were Saudi – big, shiny, very multicultural. My class was level one, a wonderful group of nine, mostly from the former Soviet Union, which meant we spoke more Russian than Arabic after class.

I marvelled that as I was being politely expelled from Uzbekistan (dictators steer clear of western passports) and preparing to go to Cairo, these eight fellows were scraping together funds and finagling visas from Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (no Uzbeks made it), resulting in our meeting in this spartan, drafty classroom far from our far-flung homes, wearing our winter jackets and gloves in the chilly Cairo winter. I connected immediately with Abu Bakir from Chechnya, and we talked politics (in Russian). He insisted I take a Muslim name, 'christening' me Ali, and he instructed me on the intricacies of Muslim praying – the times, the Arabic expressions, the ablutions, the Tashahhud prayer. I was expecting to hear words of anger for the horrors of Chechnya inflicted by the Russians, and a desire for revenge, but was surprised when he told me, "Ali, it was not so bad in the Soviet Union. I was a trader and lived the high life. We got along fine with Russians. We lived better than they did! The collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy. That's when the trouble began, with crazy plans for independence. The Russians will never let Chechnya go. Yes, the killing is terrible, but it will stop and things will settle down. Life will be good for my kids. We can worship freely. That's what's important. When I go home, I will bring my children up to be good Muslims. No need to keep fighting." Abu Bakir had lost everything since 1991, including many of his relatives, but I could tell he was a go-getter and would succeed wherever he was, secure in his faith, well educated, universal in outlook. He had taken the best of Soviet life and was letting go of the bad of 'independence'.

"Welcome to Egypt!" I have heard this many times during my four hours of crowded, stuffy buses each day. People from all walks of life, most of whom don't know another word in English: the policeman calmly flashing a toothy leer at a chaotic intersection between Medina el-Gadida (New City) and Medina Nasser, who stopped traffic to scrawl instructions; the helpful bus traveller flashing his toothy, yellow smile as I haltingly ask which buses go there for future reference; the long-suffering, bored bus driver who promised to tell me when to get off and promptly forgot, graciously allowing me to ride back free and stopping till I did.

My thirst for Muslim experiences led me to an American Sufi, a American University in Cairo sociology prof, Abu Hai Naq, who related the numeric significance of the Semitic scripts on our hour-long car ride to a Thursday evening zikr. An 11th century mosque in Aleppo was built according to the the architect's wife's name. The builder was a Sufi and the dimensions derived from her name. I was skeptical of this magic totemism but Naq argued that just speaking the ancient sounds brings one closer to God. Idris Shah counters this in Learning How to Learn: Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way (1996) by saying prayers by rote, without understanding, is useless. I wanted to side with Idris Shah, but my own fascination and obsession with learning Arabic suggests the sounds have a special quality. I want to articulate (even by rote) the sounds the prophet used to transmit the message from beyond. But just as important, to understand them. My enthusiasm for real understanding of Islam just by learning Arabic flirts with misplaced concreteness, but is a blessing as well. The blessing being the challenge of the arcane text, forcing me to be creative in deconstructing the text, fashioning the meaning based on reason and study, a kind of ijtihad. There is no excuse for intellectual laziness in Islam, but true understanding requires going beyond mere words, whether in Arabic or English.

The zikr was at a spooky Ottoman mosque/ graveyard buried among modern blocks of flats. Sufism is generally frowned upon in mainstream Egyptian society, and there are only a few mosques which allow zikrs 'after hours', so it was an adventure. The Shia-like chanting, reaching an ecstatic state with clapping and singing, was followed by a tasty repast. The Sufism of Cairo is the Naqshibandi tariqa (path), which dominated religious life during the middle of the 19th century in Egypt. This colourful mysticism was frowned on by the British occupiers, Nasser and, since the 1970s, the secular establishment and Salafi. The Turkish Cypriot Sufi Muslim Sheikh Nazim is the spiritual leader of the Naqshbandi tariqa, and on my ride home, French-speaking Fazil urged me to "venez avec mois a un festival cet ete avec Sheikh Nazim en Chypre." We were listening to Cairo radio's Chopin hour (syrupy nocturnes), driving on the spaghetti expressways weaving through Cairo in his Lexus, and I thought: nice and cultured as Fazil was (we went to a bridge club a few times), I was not here to listen to hackneyed Chopin, play bridge, or to flit off to Cyprus to follow the guru of westernized Muslims. This is not the Cairo I'm looking for.

Omar, a Surinamese, born in Holland,  befriended me on the bus near Fajr one day, and invited me to iftar in his digs (with five other students) and prayers at the nearby mosque. “We must love each other as Muslims. We must share equally.” Much like my teacher Fuad says, “I teach you because I love you as one Muslim loves another.” A fascinating variation on the Christian 'fundies' I have experienced in Canada. I use this diminutive not as a slight, but rather to suggest the refreshing naivete of the best of both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists. My US cousins in Minneapolis are evangelicals, never missing a Sunday service, and attending a Bible study group every week. They volunteer for charity work (mostly with the elderly rather than the poor). But they are literalists, reading the Bible like Omar reads the Quran and sunnah. There is no sense that one must wrestle with the scriptures to make sense out of them in today's world. They mean well, but this bad epistemology is sterile, if not downright dangerous.

What a contrast with the very westernized Sufis I’ve encountered here, though the Sufis strike me as naive in a different way, following a guru, justifying their bourgeois lifestyle with ecstatic zikrs, but also disconnected from the social, political and economic challenges of the world around them.

And then there are the westernized lumpen Egyptians, more cynical than naive. Waiting for the creaking rusty trolley in a car-infested suburbia across from a stately mosque, I spotted a teenage girl in an orange headscarf with a tight, black t-shirt barely containing her hanging breasts with “Love Boat Have the Girls” emblazoned in complementary orange caps, chewing her bubblegum. An act of defiant protest, though the angry girl doesn't know against what.

My touristy activity in Cairo was attending jummah at different mosques, the most imposing ones luckily within walking distance or a short "marshrut" (van-bus) ride from Manial. My favourite was the Salah al-Din mosque, a 19th century tribute to 'Saladin', on the west side of Manial at the bridge to Giza. The al-Rifai Mosque (1869–1912) is across the Nile, visible from my eerie, named after the medieval era Islamic saint (1118–1182), founder of the Rifai Sufi order, born in present-day Iraq. With a touch of 20th century irony, it contains the tomb of the Shah of Iran, who Sadat invited as the Shah was wandering the world, abandoned by his patron the US, dying of cancer in 1979. This homage is a conflicted one, only a modest posy of flowers at its base when I visited, attracting a few westerners and stray Iranian emigres, the shah's legacy as an abandoned US puppet having no more than curiosity value today.

Also within walking distance was the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, originally built in 642 AD as the centre of the newly founded capital of Egypt, Fustat. The original structure was the first mosque built in Egypt, the site of the tent of the commander of the Muslim army, general, a companion of the Prophet and credited with the conquest of Egypt in 640. One corner of the mosque contains the tomb of his son, Abd Allah ibn Amr ibn al-As, but the rest is the result of reconstruction over the centuries. A visit during Ramadan in 2009 to pray was awesome, feeling the weight of history, the mosque bright, spacious and packed. Unfortunately, there is little greenery around any of these places of worship, only clogged roads and crowded sidewalks.  I also prayed at the more modest prayer halls dotting the streets, small narrow rooms wedged between stores and residences. It was delightful to just slip in to one when the muezzin called to prayer, like a social instinct, kept in tune by the thousands of centres scattered everywhere.

I found I was not really welcome beyond superficial polite hellos in my building. My shack's previous tenant (French) was a bit of a scandal, using it as a bachelor's flop house, as Anna explained later during one of our few interludes of truce. I never came to know many of the building tenants. Occasionally on the lift, I would greet a Saudi in full regalia, and learned that several of the flats were used by vacationing Saudis. But they are even more aloof with foreigners than Egyptians. Thousands of Saudis spend months in Egypt, mostly in the summer, Egypt's furnace being a refreshing relief from the Saudi furnace. It is a chance to unwind, drink booze, and wallow in decadent quasi-Muslim culture. Cairenes have a love-hate relation with Saudis, envious of their wealth, but secretly contemptuous of their boorishness, lack of culture, seeing Saudi Arabia as a kind of rich purgatory, best reserved for the haj. Egypt is tied to Saudi's purse strings, and Egyptians bridle at the Saudis flaunting of wealth, their love of prostitutes and the purchase of young Egyptian brides. The protests over Egyptian President Sisi's 'gift' of the Tiran island to the Saudis in 2017 highlights the widespread resentment―and Egypt's dilemma―a rare example of public protest in today's Egypt.

Internet cafes dot Manial, and being without a computer, I made daily excursions to one or another of them, still looking for a silver bullet for learning Arabic and deciphering Cairo. The Fajr programme was oblivious to the use of Arabic as a lingua franca. An American woman I met later at al-Ahram, Julie, told me, "I studied four years of classical Arabic at university in the US, came to Cairo, and asked where I could buy a fishing rod, and was greeted by shock and laughter." (It struck me they may have found her request just as bizarre as her Fus-ha.) I already sensed that, and found a lead to the University of Cairo, which I discovered (stumbled upon) just across the Nile in Giza.

2/ My Arab godson

This time my stumbling landed me at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Cairo University, offering Arabic and Hebrew, though only Arabic seemed to be taught, located in a small, dilapidated palace of a princess near the Cairo Zoo (one of my few concessions to tourism was taking visitors to the zoo as you would to the CN Tower in Toronto or the London Eye). I registered for a month, joining the last half of a class of Korean students. It used the same wooden, tedious methodology of Fajr, guaranteed not to result in any ability to speak Arabic. But with advantages: 1/ it was nearby, a  must in Cairo, where a normal commute takes one and a half hours, 2/ with a friendly young office clerk, a new father, Mahmoud, who I quickly befriended and convince to teach me colloquial Arabic at home. This was strictly forbidden–no private coaching–but we made a secret pact, and a blind eye was turned (if it saw anything), as Mahmoud's salary skyrocketed from $8 a month, most of which went to pay for three marshrut from his village Nikla, 20 miles north in the delta.

I felt like my real voyage of discovery of Cairo and Islam had finally begun. Mahmoud Shaaban more or less adopted me (his father had died of Nile liver disease at age 40). He spoke little English, though he had studied it all through school and college, which helped us without him constantly breaking the spell of my thinking in Arabic. For the next five years, Mahmoud would slip away twice a week after work (as a school, the Centre ended its workday at 3pm) with a cardboard container of foul (beans) and chipsty (freshly made potato chips) from a street kiosk. When in season, he would bring artichokes, which he tore into and ate raw, with relish.

For a Muslim, to 'sign up' a convert puts you on the fast track to jannah, so Mahmoud insisted on taking me to al-Azhar one day to the department for registering new Muslims in the Office of the Grand Imam, where I recited the Shuhada and Fatihah and signed on the dotted line. It was almost worth becoming a Muslim just to feel the joy in Mahmoud, his family and the Azhar sheikh.

Cairo has the world's second-oldest university, al-Azhar University, founded in 970 by Sunni Egypt's Fatimids, a now forgotten historical footnote. You might think it makes Egypt the perfect intermediary in Sunni-Shia understanding, and indeed, al-Azhar recognizes not only the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, but the Shia Jafari school. However, virtually all Egyptians are disdainful of Shia, both the devout – suspicious that they are trying to convert Sunnis with their veneration of Ali and Hussain, and the secularists – fearing Iran as a dangerous example for Egypt's Islamists, intent, so they assume, on creating a genuine Islamic state.
Today, despite British, Nasserist, Soviet, American and now Sisi-ist pressures, al-Azhar is still the centre of Arabic culture and Islamic learning in the world, and sponsor of the Fajr Institute, where I planned to study. In 1961, under secularist Nasser, additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum, keeping to the Muslim belief that science and religion are indelibly linked. Its ulamas render fatwas on disputes submitted to them from all over the Sunni Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals and societies, published on its website. Al-Azhar also trains Egyptian government-appointed preachers in proselytizing (dawa). It has a more colourful history than might be expected. The 19th century reformer, the Persian Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, a Freemason but also an Islamist, was a frequent guest of his Egyptian collaborator and fellow Freemason, al-Azhar chief mufti Muhammad Abduh. Abduh was promoted by the British in Egypt and eventually was appointed chief mufti in 1899 until his death in 1905, deftly manoeuvring between the British, the Khedive, the nationalists and Islamists.

Mahmoud and I also went to the theatre, which I didn't really understand, but knew was 'good for me', and Mahmoud enjoyed himself immensely and would explain the plot. He had never been to the theatre, and his life with me was a new life, challenging his beliefs, as he imparted his own deep faith and gave me insight into his life as a poor young Egyptian villager, struggling with the temptations of cosmopolitan Cairo. Our attempts to travel beyond Cairo and his own village were not much success. Neither of us were tourists and Egypt is not tourist-friendly for simple people or free spirit middle-aged hawagas. The 2-3-hour trips to his village Nikla were exhausting (what isn't exhausting in Cairo, in the chilly, unheated winters, and blistering, merciless summers?), though the last bumpy, crowded hour out of Cairo was at least dotted with brilliant green fields of sugar cane or vegetables, a view of the Great Pyramid, and felaheen toiling away. But also passing through cluttered, unkempt villages, where garbage was piled randomly and stagnant canals were full of slime.

Always a tasty meal, served modestly by Mahmoud's lovely wife Nagla, with his daughter Miriam and son Abdul-Rahman crawling over us. Usually just Mahmoud and me, but sometimes his closest friend and nephew, Muhammad, and others. I met one of his six brothers once, another Muhammad, who was a bit of a rake and offered me a toke, much to Mahmoud's dismay. Mahmoud later confessed he smoked dope on occasion, but considered it haram and refused to help me obtain any. "I can't be a corrupter of you. That would mean I'm doing Satan's bidding." I suspect Mahmoud didn't really want to share me with anyone else, or maybe his brothers were suspicious of this hawaga friend.

My life with Mahmoud encapsulated much of Cairo with all its contradictions for me. Sincerity of belief, abiding friendship, politeness with foreigners, but hunger for the promise that western media held out and that I symbolized, suspicion, resentment, disdain ... It's hard to put my finger on it. I suspect it's the traveller-writer's bane: you never really integrate, you are grateful to find and cultivate a friend or two.

One evening after our lesson, I walked Mahmoud to the bus stop and we chatted, waiting at least 10 minutes. No bus. He was hurrying to the pre-wedding party of his younger sister. A 10 year old girl heard my stumbling Arabic and started staring at me as if I were an animal in a zoo, whispering to her black hijab-wearing mother. I stared back, irritated after an exhausting 3 hours of speaking Arabic, and embarrassed. Mahmoud was uncomfortable and decided the next bus would do and I walked off to buy some food. It was sunset and the bakery that I like to frequent, humble and good quality, was already shuttered. I walked on and there was Mohammad, the fruit drink seller, shuttering his shop.

"Ali, where have you been? Come to prayers... Have you prayed today?"
As it happened, I had. Fajr (3 hours late), zuhr, asra (with Mahmoud). Mohammad smiled to hear that. We were joined by his 2 young cousins and an older brother and wound our way through the twisting back allies to the 18th century Ottoman mosque, open in the middle with the sky glowing above, with solid stone walls and ornamental painting on the lofty ceiling. It was angled, almost triangular in shape, making it seem even more unworldly than usual, with jallaba-clad men lined up with blue-jeaned youth in t-shirts. We first made our ablutions in the clean but very wet washing room. Then I went with a young cousin to pray and ended up beside a handsome, modest teen, who was not embarrassed by physical contact of feet and shoulders with this odd visitor, as Muslims are instructed to do during prayer, though on my other side, the fellow did not touch, and seemed resentful of my invasion of his world.

These thousands of men of all walks of life all touching as we prayed tonight in the majestic cathedral mosque in the dirt poor neighbourhood aren’t just having the second-hand brief spark of experience that, say, we achieved at a suburban United Church in Ontario. They do this five times a day and really believe it. They have conserved their spirit, inculcated since childhood and maintained through the years by the constant prayer, gruelling fast and intense celebrations that characterize Islam. Hence the naivete of Muslims and lack of Judeo smarts, despite the common monotheistic, semitic heritage. That’s why they can’t seem to make the real world work to their advantage. It’s just not important enough. Their real life is on another plane, and their crass political leaders are the real chumps (fat cats though they be).

The subtlety of determining how intimate your fellow supplicants want to be is perhaps a secret chance to share a moment of spiritual connection, with only Allah observing. I marvelled as I wandered out of this magical journey into another dimension, and put my sandals back on with Mohammad, that Muslim men have a wonderful channel for intimacy, alien to western secular behaviour, which dehumanizes, reduces everything to sex and money, creating slots for humanity, be they race, class, sexuality. I often think of Malcolm X's epiphany at Mecca in 1964. In letters from his trip, he described scenes of unimagined interracial harmony among “tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans.” His greatest struggle was to bow down and touch his forehead to the ground in humility. He got up and shed his hatred of whites, embracing Islam and equality of all peoples.

Another high, talking about Sufism, Islam, Handel's Messiah, and glimpses of heaven, as medical student Haitham and I leisurely crossed the Nile on the Gamaa bridge from Giza to Manial, watching lovers leaning over the rail, the ferries floating past, the cool, clean night wind blowing in our faces, the wedding cortege (clap-trap b/w taxis) with young Egyptians hanging out the windows by their knees, hooting and waving. There is no end to the wildness and chaos, the joie-de-vivre here, all sans alcohol. Such a sense of grubby, but real civilization, without the sexy ads celebrating the drunkenness that is so ingrained in partying in Canada.

Recovering from the usual hawaga digestion problems, I decided to risk a lunch of qushari (lentils and macaroni) yesterday. I wanted the nice half-litre plastic container for my kitchen set, and the meal costs only LE2 (LE Egyptian pounds). The server stood at the raised counter like a high priest surrounded by huge vats of lentils, chickpeas, macaroni and crispy fried onions, like the percussionist in an orchestra surrounded by his shiny timpani and kettle drums. Before I could catch my breath, he had scooped up the macaroni, flourished a dollop of lentils and threw a large spoonful of chickpeas and onions in the air, catching them expertly in the container, dropping in pouches (plastic of course) of hot sauce and vinegar as he smiled at me. A magic trick, an offering to the gods (just joking). Speaking of which (another day’s topic) you don’t joke about religion here. From starving street persons to fabulously rich businessmen, this is indeed sacred (even secularists are careful), tho I’m constantly flummoxed by the unbelievable disparity in incomes. Only the MB addresses the economic disparities, and of course is harshly persecuted as a result.

3/ Al-Ahram

My life was up for grabs after Fajr. I was still 'full time' enough at the University of Cairo to extend my visa for a year, thanks to Mubarak-era lax visa requirements. Could I aspire to study Islam at al-Azhar University? No. Prospective students from abroad spent at least two years intensively studying classical Arabic, as I had witnessed at Fajr. After two years, they still couldn't converse easily on the street, and that was my priority. My love of writing (and adventure) trumped my desire for a scholarly background in Islam. With no income, my only hope of staying was to work. In the past, I had worked as a freelance journalist in Moscow and Tashkent, and as a translator of books, and English stylist at  newspapers, but that was from Russian to English. My Arabic would never be good enough for translations, but there were at least three English-language newspapers, and I made the rounds over the next month, stumbling–again–across a copy of al-Ahram Weekly, which I found buried among the Arabic newspapers of a street hawker in Giza, near the university. You never see foreign language newspapers as a rule, so my sojourn at the university was a lucky stroke. Ahram means ruins, as in pyramids, which is the newspaper's emblem, fitting in more ways than one, as the leading newspaper in Egypt, home of the pyramids and a country in ruins. Al-Ahram was founded in 1875, and is the most widely circulating Egyptian daily newspaper since Nasser, state-owned.

There was an email address on the editorial page, and without any expectations, I fired off a letter touting my credentials and availability. The next day at the internet cafe, I was pleasantly surprised to see an answer, asking me to come immediately for an interview. Chapter 2 of my life in Cairo was beginning, as I took the metro to Urabi station and queried my way to the imposing 12-storey Ahram buildings (I & II) on Galaa St. The English edition (founded in 1991) was on the ninth floor of the old building, and I entered its mini-labyrinth, had several interviews, and was given a trial, along with the other prospect, who had already been interviewed. I had sent my application just in time to give editor-in-chief Assam el-Kirsh and managing editor Galal Nasser a choice. My competition was Mel Frykberg, a tough-as-nails South African/ Australian journalist (like me, of Swedish descent), who had already lived and worked for eight years as a correspondent in Israel. Sounded like a walk-over for Mel, but I had to have this plum job. Did I have a chance? We were asked to work in tandem, writing something for the paper, and editing some copy of the local journalists, who all wrote in passable English. Despite her many years experience, Mel knew less Arabic than I did, and my Cambridge degree (and gender, as 80% of the staff were women) tipped the balance with these secular Anglophiles.

The Weekly staff was in two camps: militant secularists and a smaller contingent of quiet, devout Muslims, who lived peaceably, respecting the differences, with a surprising lack of censorship, though the limits of the state-owned paper were more or less clear. Most of the women were sans hijab, pampered children of the old secular elite, though a couple would flirt with hijab from time to time, more as a fashion statement. I moved between the two groups, my disputes being with the secularists, who viewed my praying in the hallway with the believers with curiosity and even amusement. I sometimes missed the adhan, hard at work with a deadline. The praying staff were a minority, mostly the errand boys/men and other service staff, but with some journalists. There was a prayer cubby hole in the waiting room for women and others who disdained the mostly plebeians praying by the elevator.

The secularists accepted that I was still a plus, despite my eccentricity, there being only one other hawaga on staff, the pompous Brit Nigel, who was even more eccentric, my secular nemesis, now a recluse, refusing to come to work, sending in his style editing from home. I reluctantly entered a Paul Bowles world of the decadent expat, who relies on his passport and foreign chicness, his violation of the status quo tolerated more for his entertainment value than his productivity. There was more in common between myself and the secularists in tastes and life style, though that changed over time. The chain-smoking atheist culture editor, Yousef Rakha, gave me free rein on book reviews, my articles on culture clash, reading the Quran, and western converts to Islam, and my obit for Osama Bin Laden. As long as it was readable and intelligent, he was happy. We even squared off on Judaism vs Islam.

Nigel was the culture hawaga, a cynical secularist, so he was not happy with me horning in on his territory, but perhaps my Islamic bent was seen as providing the balance that was sorely lacking at the Weekly. Instead of feeling threatened, he made use of me as a stop-gap, disappearing into Sinai to write a novel, where he lived in a cabin on a mountain side during my last two years at the Weekly. He would have been out the door in a western paper, but this was Egypt, where socialism survives, if only in terms of job security, though Assam never seemed to get around to giving me a contract, leaving me at the whim of management. I sensed that I was not indispensable if someone else showed up, but who knows? However, relations remained friendly, and in the end, it was my choice to leave.

Friendly except for one snag. My office mate -- divorced, withdrawn, depressive Raya, a 40ish overweight, mournful woman, who had lived her youth in Tripoli, where many Egyptian scientists worked for the high salaries of oil-rich Libya, holding their noses and saving money for their return to Egypt. Libya was a rarefied atmosphere of paranoia and isolation, but a much higher material standard of living that Cairo offered. I asked Raya shortly after arriving: "If you could choose an era in Egypt's history to live in, what would it be?" I thought she would say Nasser or Sadat or even King Farouk. She lit up: "The era of Muhammad Ali, when Egypt was opening to the West, catching up on the enlightenment." Perhaps Raya decided I was her ticket out of Egypt, which was not to be, and when it became clear I was not in the market, things became as icy as the frigid a/c and as dreary as the windowless prison we were forced to share. I saw the wisdom of Islam's segregation of the sexes, or merely of Nigel's routine, showing up less and less at work, doing my writing at home or scheduling my office visits to avoid the friction, much to the displeasure of the editor, who refused to move me.

Despite Raya, the Weekly was a godsend for me, as I was soon promoted to the 'American correspondent', writing about  Canada, the US and Palestinian-Israeli issues, which are inevitably American issues. My patron was Gamal Nkrumah, son of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, ally and soulmate of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, heir to the heady secular socialist project of African and Arab unity and socialism. Gamal, like his father, is a larger than life persona, living in the family mansion on the Nile in Helwan, built by Nasser on the southern outskirts of Cairo for Kwame Nkrumah's family after he was toppled in the 1966 coup. Gamal liked my anti-imperialist credentials, my love of socialism, the Soviet Union and third world liberation – my earlier incarnation. He was a reluctant Muslim, divorced with two young sons. He never saw his father after the coup, spirited out of Ghana on a military plane which Nasser sent for the Nkrumahs. Kwame chose to go into his own exile, first to Guinea and then on to Romania, where he died in 1972. Gamal was the foreign news editor and was happy to unload much of the foreign news onto me, more interested in doing restaurant reviewing, interviews with visiting media stars, and culture pieces.

The Soviet Union was Egypt-Cairo's third motherland, replacing France and Britain, as Egypt's sponsor under Nasser, but very much the unloved stepmother. The engineers who came to build the Aswan dam were watched by their KGB minders, and Nasser was a reluctant Soviet ally, wanting the financial and economic support, but also wanting his own version of a socialist Arab nationalism – Nasserism, and control of Middle East politics. It's hard to say what would have happened if Nasser had been more obedient as a Soviet ally. He was caught between the MB, whom he ruthlessly repressed, and the nationalist westernizers, who were mostly cynical about his socialism, but happy to promote Egypt as the head of the Arab world, abiding his dictatorial regime, as it kept the Islamists in check. When the shock of the 1967 defeat by Israel receded, Egyptians felt betrayed by their socialist stepmother, and when Nasser died in 1970, his successor Anwar el-Sadat maintained the Soviet alliance only long enough to get the arms necessary to launch a replay against Israel in 1973 to regain Sinai.

Gamal and I often bemoaned the loss of the socialist ideal of pan-Africanism, and Sadat's embrace of the US as the new stepmother. Working at the Weekly was ironically much like my time at Moscow News from 1989 to 1992, the dying days of the Soviet Union, where full time jobs were really part time jobs with the appropriate part time pay, and no one took news or media seriously.

Over the next five years, I wrote mostly about politics, mobilized by Gamal to write weekly on whatever crisis was brewing or breaking. But that veered into Islamic politics and during Ramadan, articles celebrating Islamic history and culture, including Iran, in defiance of the overwhelmingly negative view or just absence of Iran in Egyptian news and thinking. To me, despite its ostracism as the only Shia country, Iran is at the heart of modern day Islamic affairs. This was not a popular stand in Egypt and secular al-Ahram, but when events conspired, I made a point of supporting the Iranian revolution and its importance to Palestine and to the anti-imperialist struggle. After all, my new name is Ali. (I suspect my Chechen friend at Fajr, Abu Bakr, saw me as an odd-man-out when he chose it for me.)

Much like the other secularists on staff, Gamal found my bumbling efforts to be a Muslim amusing, recounting his own earlier attempts. "The only time I was able to fast, was in London in the 1970s, when the day was only six hours long." Like me, he had Christian parents, his mother, an Coptic Egyptian beauty, a lowly bank clerk in 1950s who caught the eye of his father, a secularist with both native and Catholic religious background, who Kwame had met on a visit to Egypt shortly after Ghana achieved independence in 1957. It was a political marriage but a successful one. Gamal had accepted Islam only as a matter of protocol when he married. Being a lapsed Christian (Coptic) was not a plus on his resume and passport, and he had lost any Muslim fervor as his marriage disintegrated, enjoying his drink and occasional pork.

I was in awe of his legendary father, and was delighted to make a second home at his villa on the Nile in Helwan, where he grew up, attending the elite English-language Victoria College. Gamal is a tantalizing mix of Ghanaian high forehead and afro hair, the flashing eyes, jolly humour, wild laugh, resonant voice, regal paunch, and the Copt oval face, large round eyes, romantic character. His own biography is populated by large-than-life events – studies in London and Zimbabwe, before settling into his position at al-Ahram.

He teased me about what he saw as my infatuation with Islam. At lunch in the al-Ahram restaurant-cafeteria one day, with two women on our staff, both Muslims, he probed my sincerity.
"Do you fast in Ramadan?"
"The doctor said my weak stomach excused me from fasting, though I go without lunch and wait till sundown to eat," I replied.
"Ha, ha. Nice one. How about five daily prayers?"
"Always in the morning and at night, but I admit I miss out often during working hours."
"And you drink wine and coffee! You're not much of a Musli," Gamal guffawed triumphantly.
Over time, I improved my fasting, though in Canada in the summer, 18-hour summer days are gruelling. The doctor was right about my stomach, and I don't feel guilty anymore. Besides, in another 15 years the fasting days will be short in Canada. Without a hectic work regime, the prayers are in place, so I can say I'm getting there, still on the road.

My debut as a anti-imperialism correspondent was an account of the sixth (and last) international Cairo Conference against Imperialism and Zionism in 2008. Egypt was in the dying days of dictator Hosni Mubarak's regime, caught between the anti-imperialism and socialism of Nasser and his pro-American successor Anwar el-Sadat. Sadat, to his credit, was trying to move forward when he made peace with the enemy in 1979. But his embrace of Israel and US neoliberalism won him no supporters, and his assassination in 1981 resulted in no outpouring of grief, unlike the death of his beloved predecessor in 1970. His plodding successor, Hosni Mubarak continued Sadat's policies, Egypt regaining membership and headquarters of the Arab League in 1987, and maintaining a pseudo-democracy under US tutelage, where real opposition (the Muslim Brotherhood or MB) was repressed.

Gamal took me to the conference at the Journalists' Union building near al-Ahram and introduced me to some of his Egyptian colleagues, but slipped out to do a restaurant review (i.e., gorge himself), commissioning me to write up the conference. I was overwhelmed with the cacophony of the cross-section of the Egyptian opposition. (No officials from the government were there.) The conference featured children of jailed Muslim Brothers, bravely pleading for public awareness about their fathers being tortured and robbed. Egyptians are uniformly hostile to Israel, the cause of unending tragedy, not only for Palestinians, but for Egyptians, so holding the conference was good politics for the unpopular Mubarak, despite its strong anti-US tone, the presence of major Egyptian opposition representatives, and the lack of any Mubarak supporters.

Fourteen members of the Canadian Peace Alliance and from student organizations represented Canada. Delegates to this and the previous Cairo conference were attacked in the National Post and Ottawa Citizen for consorting with "terrorists", and "shouldn't be surprised if they come under scrutiny of the Canadian security services", simply for their willingness to dialogue with Muslims fighting the various wars now being inflicted on them. My article "Zionism in Canada: Political poison" prompted a reference to me in the Canadian National Post as a "terrorist", and derided my comparison of the struggle of Canada's natives and Palestinians. My reply to the Post was not printed, nor did I get an acknowledgment, but my first thrust into Middle East and the world of Islam had had some ripples, which was encouraging (but also put me on Homeland Security's hitlist. Not nice.). It convinced no one that I was a danger, but gave me a platform and an incentive to continue the battle for Palestine. These were the fraught days before the whirlwind of 2011, after which open defiance of imperialism and popular support for the MB and Palestine blossomed. Halcyon days before an even more brutal dictatorship emerged, when no public expressions of anti-imperialist and pro-Palestinian sentiment were possible anymore. It turned out Mubarak got the last laugh.

Mubarak days are remembered now with nostalgia by the intellectual elite. Life was boring but safe. Mubarak was a wonderfully unifying force, making unlikely allies of secularists and devout Muslims on the staff, while not torturing as much as Nasser or Sisi.

Once the Arab Spring exploded, militant secularists had a field day, shouting their promises and demands loudly. The Muslims were quietly using the vacuum in society to rebuild their forces, jails now emptied of MBers, even while daily crises grew, to which only the MB had a tradition of grassroots help, from doctors, to school books, to meals for the destitute. I witnessed this frequently outside my apartment building in relatively prosperous Manial, where tables were set up, and school books and notepads were distributed. In 2012, the MB mobilized its cadres to clean up the worst trash in the streets, for which they were derided by the secularists. There were many such local activities across Egypt in villages, unheralded or at best ridiculed in the negative press. Any such altruistic efforts to follow the teachings of Islam were greeted with scornful taunts of “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide!”, conjuring the spectre of Iran.

4/ Bringing down the Brotherhood

The Egyptian revolution was brought down by an unholy alliance of 'foloul' (beans, remnants, referring to the old guard), the army, and so-called liberals. The latter loathed the Muslim Brotherhood in the first place, the old guard second, the army a bit less, and despised the people, thinking they could use them, despite the clear evidence in repeated elections since 2011, that they would elect an Islamic government. Given the collapse of authority in 2011, this was a recipe for disaster. The MB was elected, but its government was sabotaged by the bureaucracy, army, police and liberals, most of whom were eager to abandon the fragile democracy. 'Better dead than Islamic.'

The fanatical Islamophobe at al-Ahram turned out to be Khaled Dawoud, whose (second, and short-lived) wedding I attended at the ritzy Shepheard Hotel in 2008. A former CNN stringer, he became spokesman of the Constitution Party of Egypt in 2011, and later for the National Salvation Front (NSF), hastily thrown together in November 2012 to overthrow the MB government. He resigned from his political life in August 2013 in protest at the police violence against Morsi supporters, and was stabbed by a Morsi supporter on 4 October 2013, but survived and still works at the Weekly.

The liberal star of the coup was a stand up comic, a young doctor, Bassem Youssef, who used YouTube to launch El-Bernameg. ("You are watching the program The Program!" opened each show.) It ran from 2011 to 2013, uncensored despite its increasingly ad hominem attacks on Egypt's first democratically elected president, promoting the opposition's distorted exaggerations of actual events, claiming that Morsi was becoming a dictator. As the campaign of subversion intensified on all fronts, Youssef (dubbed the Jon Stewart of the Arab world) let his program, fresh from witnessing the overthrow of a real dictator (Mubarak), set the stage for a new, more vicious dictator, what the army had intended all along, from the opening shots of January 2011.

The army hated Mubarak as much as anyone, and let the revolution of 2011 proceed under their control, though they had no use for either the liberals or the Brotherhood. The plan was to give the Brotherhood some rope and then take charge and hang them (metaphorically and literally), responding to the vengefulness of the old guard and the naive, screaming liberals. The liberals were weak, and could be conned into supporting a coup, and then easily brought to heel with a few arrests and massacres.

Youssef, nominally a Muslim, was sponsored by Egypt's top billionaire, the secular Copt Naguib Sawiris, mobile phone magnate and owner of ONTV. Youssef's parodies originally targeted genuine buffoons like  TV show host Tawfik Okasha, minor figures like Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, and even respected liberals such as Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and onetime presidential candidate. In June 2012, Jon Stewart invited Youssef to The Daily Show in New York. Youssef recorded one of the highest viewership ratings in the world on both TV and internet, with 40 million viewers on TV and more than 184 million combined views for his show on YouTube alone. He was a political power by social media.

But Youssef also alienated his new TV sponsor CBC with insults to the management and they cancelled one program, a warning of what was to come. Caught up in his ego trip and adulation of the US, he emulated Stewart, his hero, through increasingly outrageous skits ridiculing Morsi and the vision of an Islamic government. Instead of using his immense popularity to help calm waters and to support the fledgling democracy, he used these few precious months of disorganized 'freedom' to discredit and bring down the democratically elected Brotherhood and Egypt's first legitimate president. Brotherhood criticism of Youssef was muted. He was never arrested. The Brotherhood did not control the media, and his program continued unhindered, to whip up ever great anger and protests.

As the coup loomed on the horizon in June 2013, Youssef appeared again on The Daily Show in New York, and Stewart came to Cairo as a supposed terrorist on The Program. As the coup took place, Youssef, like my Ahram colleague Khaled, watching, first ecstatic, then as if in surprise, in shock, as thousands of devout Muslims were mowed down and the Brotherhood leaders arrested and condemned to death, much like I had witnessed in Uzbekistan in 2005. His Program was closed after 2 post-coup episodes. He managed a few more Programs on satellite MBCMasr before a suit by CBC (claiming his contract was broken for not providing acceptable content) was decided in CBC's favour, and Youssef was ordered to pay $1 million dollars.

As thousands were killed, tortured, left in prison limbo, Youssef fled Cairo, and in the venerable tradition for pro-US dissidents, was given an appointment at Harvard's Institute for Politics. In an adulatory documentary Tickling Giants (2017), he is clearly shaken but insists (feebly) that "If I could it do to again, I would do the same." In 2013, Youssef was named one of the "100 most influential people in the world" by Time magazine and one of Foreign Policy magazine's 100 Leading Global Thinkers. In November 2013, he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I watched Youssef on TV before I myself fled the growing nightmare of Cairo in 2012, but he didn't really register with me or Mahmoud. Humour in another language is always difficult, and petulant stand up comedy mocking politics never appealed to me, attacking personal foibles, actually diverting the listener from serious political issues. The writing was on the wall as Egypt descended into chaos and experienced a collective mental breakdown, laughed at by satirist Youssef et al, and I left in bitter disillusion. As much as I had come to love Egypt, it was not my breakdown. Hawagas were more and more seen as at best irrelevant and nosy parasites, at worst, traitors and spies.

Stewart pushes limits, but US culture can stand it. He's a gadfly, even courted by budding US politicians, willing to make fun of themselves and social silliness, Stewart's clowning of no consequence. But this American-style humour is poisonous in a conflicted Muslim society lacking democratic foundations. Youssef was naive, and used his cold-blooded skills as a doctor to inject Egypt with US cultural poison, handing Morsi's head to Sisi, a kind of Lady Macbeth, who incited the murder of the king out of lust for power.  Morsi's death sentence has not been carried out – yet.  But Egypt's latter day Lady Macbeth lives a happy life—in the US—apparently without any compulsion to wash his hands of blood.

5/ Sisi - Muhammad Ali redux

From my rooftop, I often sat watching the dusk transform the Mohamed Ali Citadel, the 12th century citadel build by Salah al-Din, containing the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, built between 1828 and 1848, perched on the summit of the citadel. As a new Muslim, I watched the phases of the moon, like a slow-moving backwards clock, from my perch in Manial, unhindered by clouds. It's hard to imagine anything more magical that the full moon rising behind the minarets of the sprawling mosque on the Muqatam hills.  Even more magical was a crescent moon at midnight, feeling the power of the lunar calendar in action, the spiritual timepiece of Muslim worship.

The Citadel was fortified by the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din (Saladin) between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect it from the Crusaders, and was the seat of government until Khedive Ismail moved to his newly built Abdin Palace in the 1860s. The Ottoman mosque was built in memory of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali's second son who died in 1816. However, it also represents Muhammad Ali's efforts to erase symbols of the Mamluk dynasty that he 'replaced', and to keep Egypt's image firmly Muslim, even as the British and French were taking control, and as the Ottoman Caliphate was giving way to the new imperial high-tech world. The Citadel is the most popular tourist site in Cairo after the pyramids, with Japanese cameras casually documenting worshippers at prayer. There is a small museum of Muhammad Ali's collection of paintings and artifacts, and a very large museum of Egyptian military history, which–until 201–featuring a massive mural with Mubarak as father of the people.

When friends visited, we would make the excursion to the Citadel, and nearby al-Azhar Park, another hilltop fort lavishly restored with funds of Aga Khan IV, a descendant of the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs who ruled from Cairo in the 11–12th centuries. But I was a very poor tourist, never actually standing at the foot of the Giza pyramids or in line at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, though I passed it hundreds of times. I did visit Saqqara, thanks to my USAID friend Robert, who came to Cairo to see how I was faring. Robert reserved a taxi for the day and invited me along. The tourist shtick of Giza was too much when we stopped there, a gaggle of sloppily dressed Russians haranguing a camel driver. Saqqara was much better, if only because it is far from downtown Cairo, with no metro stop, so gets fewer and more serious visitors.  To my shame, I never did the Luxor pilgrimage to the Valley of the Kings, not even the tourist's de rigueur camp-out on an oasis. When you live somewhere, suddenly you're not a tourist, and touristy things are for 'them'. None of my friends had any interest in them. I avoided falling into the expat rut of English-language NGO and diplomatic parties and excursions. I was in Cairo to learn Arabic, experience Muslim life in the flesh, to see and feel the real Egypt-Cairo, to take the local pulse. Each day spent with an expat was a day wasted. When Egypt collapsed/ rose up in 2011, that put touristy things even lower on the totem pole. My balconies were my daily dose of Egyptian history (the opposite balcony faced the Giza pyramid, though it was rarely visible in the smog).

Sisi is beginning to take on traits associated with this 19th dictator-pasha Muhammad Ali, beloved of Ahram Raya. She no doubt saw the parallel between Sisi's slaughter of thousands of Muslims, and Muhammad Ali's  clever invitation of all his Mamluk rivals to his citadel, where he proceeded to slaughter a thousand of them to consolidate his rule.

A legend of the pasha was that he had 300,000 street children rounded up and shipped to Aswan where they were taught skills and became assets to his construction of a new Egypt. Sisi launched just such a program "Homeless Children" in May 2017, planning to gather up street waifs and whisk them to an army camp for training. This nostalgia for the secular past is perhaps a stab at taking the wind out of the ISIS types, yearning for the caliphate, but is just as misguided as ISIS itself. That was what the MB could have tackled, but not a secular dictator persecuting devout Muslims. On the contrary, terrorism has increased dramatically since 2013.

Another bright idea to model a compliant youth is the Ministry of Education's decision to airbrush the whole revolution-coup experience out of Egyptian history. They decreed that the revolutions of January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013 will no longer be mentioned in high school history textbooks. This followed protests over an exam question: “How would things be if Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had never given the June 30 speech?” Countering incredulous protests, Mamdouh Qadri, history adviser for the Ministry of Education, said the answer to the question is clearly defined in the curriculum, and that students were only asked to stick to the textbook without giving any political reasoning or personal analysis. Only the most hardened Sisiphiles could swallow that. Better 'out of sight, out of mind.' The Egyptian revolution and 2013 coup no longer exist. "Welcome to Egypt!"

Critical Muslim

My Yakoubian Cairo


My Arab godson


Bringing down the Brotherhood

Sisi – Muhammad Ali redux


I stumbled into Cairo after Tashkent, where I had stumbled across Islam, courtesy of dictator Islam Karimov, who – despite his name – persecuted brave Muslims mercilessly, and impelled me to recite the shuhada, at first, more as a sign of solidarity. I was now determined to learn Arabic, read the Quran, experience Muslim culture first-hand and test my enthusiasm for Islam.

I found the Fajr Centre for the Arabic Language, founded in Cairo in 1995, online. The new session was beginning in January 2007. Fajr (dawn) is for new enthusiasts and prospective imams, affiliated to the Egyptian Ministry of Education and al-Azhar, and located in Medina Nasser (Nasser City), which I was to discover is a sprawling suburban near the airport. Transportation in Cairo is a nightmare, be it by taxi or public transit. Virtually all Fajr students share digs near the 'institute', which is modest to say the least, but I immediately liked it, despite the anonymous suburban clutter. The administrators and my teacher were clearly devout Muslims, and warm, friendly people. This was not for rich secular westerners, who studied at the AUC or one of many private institutes down town, at three times the cost.

I heard of a Canadian-Egyptian artist who lived in Manial, the southern-most large island of Cairo, perched just upstream from more upscale Zamalek. Anna responded to my query, offering the vacant apartment next door. The 'apartment' was one of two shacks atop a 9-storey genteel 1930s apartment building on the east shore of the island of Manial, with a channel of the Nile and the Corniche directly underneath, in the heart of Cairo. Straight out of The Yacubian Building (2002), the current best-seller by Egyptian author (and dentist) Alaa el-Aswany, made into a film as I was packing my bags for Egypt in 2006, and into a TV series in 2007. A good omen, I thought, and it became a kind of Bible for me, where I learned my Arabic watching the daily episodes, along with other musalsal (tv soap operas) over the few years, like a textbook, as I struggled with Arabic. It is set in a real-life, dowdy, but still elegant Art Deco-style 1930s apartment building in downtown Cairo, much like the one I was to call home for the next six years, populated by a bizarre cross-section of Egypt.

My rooftop eerie with its ghosts of past rooftop dwellers, was a scaled-down version. The real thing was a whole village, crammed onto the roof. The book-movie is a biting condemnation of a nation that has squandered its promise and which has been forced to compromise its own principles, resulting in a corrupt and undemocratic political system dominated by a single party (the fictitious "Patriotic Party", a thinly veiled version of Egypt's National Democratic Party under Mubarak), a society whose most talented members abandon the country for promising careers abroad, and an increasingly disenchanted and restive populace that has no loyalty to the government and which sees extremist Islam as one of the few viable options to counter growing poverty, economic stagnation, moral degradation and social alienation. Despite its unremittingly devastating dissection of Cairo, its colourful characters make it a compelling, heart-warming read. I visited the real Yacoubian Building on Talaat Harb Street (still referred to by its old name, Suleiman Pasha, Muhammad Ali's  French-born general). It hasn't changed much over the years, but its entrance gate is more securely locked than mine in Manial against gawkers like me.

One look at the panorama of the Nile below my eerie and I was determined to rough it out. It sounds great in retrospect, but over time, proved less and less a place to actually live. My eccentric rooftop neighbour Anna Boughiguian, the Armenian Egyptian author of Anna's Egypt: an artist's journey (2003),  herself spent months at a time visiting artist friends in Germany, following the trail of the Dalai Lama, whatever. Her flat was more a studio/ storage shack. The lock on the iron gate at the entrance was mostly broken or left unlocked, which made it convenient for visitors, both expected and unwanted. She was a militant secularist, representing the large and frightened class of westernized bourgeois who thrived under Sadat-Mubarak. She had no use for either Nasser's national socialism or the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), both of which I cherished. Over time, I came across many such Egyptians.


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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

From Books

  • Fernandez's second book could be called The imperial messenger: Thomas Friedman at work Part II, or This is Not a Travel Book. The subject of her first book delightfully keeps popping up at conferences, interviewing American puppets, his spirit haunting her from the New York Times opeds exhorting Africans to tend their gardens, saluting Colombian ex-president Uribe.*

    Her observations are often laced with strychnine, since, for all her revulsion at the empire, she can't avoid its footprint. It is everywhere, often ridiculous, all too often lethal, tragic,

    the global superpower that has specialized in making much of the planet an unfit abode for its inhabitants via a combination of perennial war, environmental despoliation, and punitive economic policies resulting in mass migration. Despite being founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, it presents itself as the global model for greatness—a position that is unilaterally interpreted as a carte blanche to bomb, invade, and otherwise enlighten the rest of the world as it sees fit.

    Every few pages, a lightbulb moment.

  • Matt Farwell, Michael Ames, American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Penguin, 2019.

    Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

    He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, my journey through a turbulent world, St Martin’s, 2016.

    The art of autobiography is a slippery one, “a review of a life from a particular moment in time.”* Whatever truths are revealed here by Khalilzad in 2016, they are by definition personal truths, confessions, with lots of caveats.

    The Afghan version of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, Zalmay Khalilzad (ZKh) began life in a remote village, riding a horse to school. He brags of winning a race by taking a short cut through a farmer’s melon field, crushing the precious fruit but bragging to mommy upon reaching home. No remorse for collateral damage. No punishment. He would go on to repeat his success as ambassador and hitman in first Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Afghanistan, then the UN.

    He is a staunch Republican, so he disappeared into private consultancyland under Obama, president of Khalilzad Associates. In September 2018 he was rehabilitated, hired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as a special envoy to Afghanistan. Good timing with the autobio, Zal.

  • Linh Dinh, Postcards from the End of America, Seven Stories, 2017.

    A masterly saga of a broken nation, Linh writes his Postcards from the End of America as he moves from town to town by rail and bus, with lots of walking, each one anchored by a theme, sort of, though what stands out are the deftly sketched portraits of mostly down-and-out survivors of the pressure cooker America, seething and occasionally exploding in violence and collapse.

    What is powerful is the intensely personal look inside the beast. Linh calls himself "a Unapoet",* a "PayPal-buttoned, reader-supported blogger". He writes with care and at the same time, abandon, occasionally losing it with angry Unabomber** diatribes.  But given the subject matter, it’s hard to fault him. In an interview with Diacritics, he calls it "a diary of America’s ongoing collapse, and I’ve learnt much from roaming around." A kind of Unatourism.

  • Review Ed. Cynthia McKinney, How the US Creates “Sh*thole” Countries, Clarity, 2018.

    Bravo to Cynthia McKinney, former US Congresswoman and Green Party nominee for president, for taking this offhand remark by Trump and running with it.

    The Forward is by Senator Mike Gravel, an unsung hero of American democracy, whose life is colourful to say the least. McKinney’s book is worth it to rediscover some of the hopeful signs for change, with Gravel in first place.
  • The 17th century hangs heavy over the ‘heartland’ of Georgian Bay, the twin peninsula to ‘the Bruce’ to the west. Both, of course were the home of natives, who were forced to cede about 98% of their land to the white settlers in the 18-19th cc. Even much of whatever shoreline is in the remaining 2% was/ is leased to the present day colonists, who flock to the  sandy shores in the summers. Georgian Bay’s history is a dramatic example of how this happened.

    The 17th century was the killer, literally. Measles, influenza and smallpox killed 15,000 of the 25,000 Hurons. The Iroquois, head of the confederation of five nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, sealed their fate, ‘winning’ the Beaver Wars throughout the St. Lawrence River valley and the lower Great Lakes region, killing most of the rest.  But who ‘traded’ them guns for the (then) valuable furs to play the now lethal war games? The Dutch.

  • 7:20am Union Station. 12 hours door to door to door. Six hours of travel hassles, 6 hours of fine biking, visiting childhood haunts in Eden Mills and Guelph from 1951 to 1969.

    To get there, a 2 1/2 hr milk run Go bus from Union Station to Guelph University. First, parachuting down Gordon St to inaugurate the adventure, over the Speed river, through town, to the library for the weather report. Promises no rain. Chilly and overcast. Perfect biking weather.

  • The weekend before I left, every moment I was thinking about the trip, imagining the long haul on the bike, neck pain, sweating, muscles operating at full capacity hour after hour, adventures, getting lost and found, a challenge with many rewards. Southern Georgian Bay is (or at least was) idyllic. Good farmland but not on the way anywhere, so still relaxed. Worth three days of biking, and accessible by bus for cyclists.

    It wasn’t the same worry as 2 yrs ago from Kingston to Cornwall or the Orillia Gravenhurst jaunt, more just a delicious anticipation of the (reasonable) challenge. My search at couchsurfing: 5 requests, within an hour, an invite from Josh from Collingwood, my supposed destination. ‘I am teaching in Russia, but home for the summer.’ yes!

    Everything went like clockwork till the usual ‘getting lost’ clicked in north of Barrie. But looking back, I realized I’d actually found a good route, avoiding the dreaded highway #26, stumbling on Horseshoe Valley road and eventually Flos rd 4 through the Minesing wetlands, the only road through, (wonderfully) forgotten, with a narrow one-lane rusty old bridge. The perfect bike route.

  • 1) How do you asses Iran’s presence in the region? Could we say the major reason for American hostility against Iran is its strong position in the Middle East?

    Iran has played a vital role in the Middle East, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Palestinians lost their superpower support, which had meant that the UN had a balanced voice to counter, at least to some extent, the US imperial objectives of world dominance, and Israel's objective to dominance in the Middle East, serving as a proxy for US interests.

    In 1975, the Soviet Union and third world countries sponsored a UN resolution calling Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination”, outraging Israel. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it was revoked under US pressure.

    The struggle to liberate Palestine suffered defeat after defeat since then,
  • I feared Kristen Ghodsee’s Red Hangover: Legacies of 20th century Communism (2017) would be yet another dumping on the sad ending to the world’s socialist experiment, or at best a boring collection of footnotes. I was wrong. It is full of ironies, twists, incisive exposes of the venality of the whole process of ‘liberation’. And some biting Bulgarian barbs.* Oh, and women have twice as many orgasms under socialism.

    Like Feffer in Aftershock, also published in 2017, Ghodsee uses her travels, studies, lectures to audiences east and west to test the waters of eastern Europe today. This fresh approach to documenting history through the eyes of both participants and sympathetic observers is more like reading a page-turner spy novel, full of often misunderstood heroes and villains, crafty confidence tricksters and lots and lots of victims. Who needs fiction? You enter the theatre of life, feel its pulse.

    Sleuthing in Sofya

    Ghodsee, always the researcher, saw a heap of documents in a garbage can on a trip to Bulgaria in 1997, and on an impulse started putting them in her bag. A pathetic homeless guy, clearly a drug addict, accosted her, always on the lookout for something to hawk. She told him she was CIA and he fled. Safely back at Duke University, she started perusing them.

    The  files were of agronomist Andreev, who rose in the 1950s to be Mr. Cucumber, responsible eventually for importing Dutch seeds and planting them in government greenhouses to feed the nation, with some for export to other socialist countries in COMECON. He had been awarded a golden badge of honour. It appeared his life was tranquil, successful, that he was a model citizen who didn’t worry about ‘profit’, though he no doubt was key to determining the production, distribution and pricing of cukes.
  • Toronto cyclists know how hard it is to get beyond the roller coaster nightmare of Toronto traffic to Elysium fields. Ok, dreary fields of GMO corn and soybeans, but it’s a step up from strip malls. Relying on The Canadian Cycling Association’s Complete Guide to Bicycle Touring in Canada (1994), I fashioned a trip to meet the litmus test:
    1/ no car headache to take you to some distant starting point,
    2/ some sites worthy of the name,
    3/ no mass of tourists, either biped or bipedal.

    Lake Simcoe is tantalizingly close, more friendly than big Lake Ontario, but featuring a tightly packed string of cottages possessing every bit of lake front available.

    Undaunted, I thought it was worth a try. The rapidly expanding Go bus/train system reaches as far as Barrie,
  • For a complex and critical examination of the relationship between Canada, Israel, Judaism, and Zionism, Eric Walberg’s new work The Canada-Israel Nexus provides a challenging perspective.

    It is challenging in several ways.  Primarily, the most important ideas are the critical lines of thought towards the impact of Zionism within Canada. This includes the influences on the media, academics and academia, and the political. The latter mostly affects Canada’s foreign affairs position as a sycophant of the U.S. empire, but in many ways as a leading vocal supporter of Israeli Zionism and its colonial-settler policies.
  • Feffer’s Aftershock: A journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams documents how the brown shirts moved into the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. (Part I is at Review Aftershock)

    East Europeans are making good use of their new proportional representative democracy, allowing protest movements to gain access to parliament. Poland’s Andrzej Lepper founded Samoobrona (Self defense) in 1990 to help indebted farmers, the unemployed and pensioners, and quickly had 15%  of the popular vote. In 2005 he became minister of agriculture and deputy prime minister in the Law and Justice government, which is similar to the other east European rightist parties -- a brown-red coalition, conservative culturally, vaguely socialist in economics.

    Recipe: Collapse, discredit socialism, discredit liberalism -> fascism. Again Hungary does the counter-reformation with flair. A leader of the 1989 overthrow of socialism, Viktor Orban soon regretted the mess that he helped throw Hungary into, and founded a "national conservative" party Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats), rising to  prime minister from 1998 to 2002 and 2010 to the present, now with a 'super majority' which he uses to amend the constitution in the face of EU protests over his policies.

    In 2003, Orban stated that liberalism has fulfilled its historic mission, that there is no need for further destruction. In 2014, Orban announced his plans to create “a new Hungarian state” that adopts political economic systems in Singapore, Russia, China, India and Turkey. He shocked both left and right by suggesting Russia was the more natural partner than the EU. He angered his 'alt-right' cousins in the rest of Europe by supporting the Turkish bid to join the EU, being a devotee of turanism linking Turks and Hungarians, though he has hounded Soros for “attempting to destroy the Hungarian nation and Europe's Christian identity by promoting the settlement of millions of Muslim migrants.

  • John Feffer’s Aftershock: A journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (Zed, 2017) is an epic tour through the remains of the Warsaw Pact countries, history through the eyes of those both making and enduring it. It’s full of surprising twists, with chameleons changing colours, marauding western bullies, lots of nostalgia for ‘real existing socialism’, hints of new political seeds pushing through what is now a bleak wasteland with nodes of renewal.

    Feffer is one of the new breed of journalist-historians, postmodern in his goal of seeing history through the eyes of those living it. His inspiration is surely the Belarussian Svetlana Alexievich, awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". Her equally epic Second-hand Time follows hundreds of Russian and other (ex)soviet interviewees from the 1980s to the 2010s.

  • Review of Jordan Peterson, 12 rules for Life: An antidote to chaos, Random House, 2018.

    Over the past year, Peterson shot into the public eye with his jihad against political correctness, using YouTube, the new medium for getting one’s beliefs broadcast without corporations, governments and media gatekeepers censuring and burying one’s new ideas.  And his ideas are radical, but more radically old than new. To him, cherished beliefs are mostly cherished because they’ve worked for millennia, some actually hardwired in us, and we abandon them at our peril.

    He asserts what he argues is his male, rational energy, taking no prisoners as he fights to save the English language from attempts to substitute gender neutral terms with orwellesque ‘they’s and ‘zhe’s and then forcing one and all (provincial premiers and profs included) to bow to the new golden calf. Language is important, as is marriage and respect for sex (not the amorphous ‘gender’). That is just part of his message, and he is now riding an angry, bucking herd of politically correct broncos. Peterson stares them down unapologetically.

    Prairie boy makes good

    Peterson grew up in a tiny village in northern Alberta, and gives a fascinating account of his youthful friendships, looking at his early life now through his psychiatrist lenses. His own maturing led from socialism till he turned 18 (he grew disenchanted with the NDP due to what he saw as a preponderance of "the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist" who "didn't like the poor; they just hated the rich") to … well, some kind of conservatism, but not the neoliberalism which has poisoned both conservative and liberal politics. He also moved from a limp protestantism to a kind of spiritual agnosticism, though his conservative bent will please Catholics.

  • My life journey as a peacenik took me to Moscow in 1989 to see Gorbachev's 'socialism with a human face', his attempt to combine materialist communism with ... it wasn't clear exactly what Gorbachev had in mind, but it certainly wasn't a wholesale sell out of what had been built over the previous 70 years. However, the rickety structure that the Soviet Union had become, a tired society always under pressure from the capitalist West, final collapsed. Or rather was pushed over by a well-planned conspiracy―begun in 1979 under Carter but greatly expanded under Reagan―to destroy the last socialist revolution, in Afghanistan, next door to Uzbekistan. The tragedy of Afghanistan put Uzbekistan on my radar. A remote part of the world shrouded in mystery and now convulsed in war. Sounded interesting to the young adventurer devoted to world peace.

    I had come to Moscow at the invitation of Moscow News. From my editor's office on Pushkin Square, I watched on TV the last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan and arrive in Uzbekistan, retreating across the Amudarya River on the Friendship Bridge (built in 1982 to ferry Soviet troops into Afghanistan). Even as the troops retreated, mujahideen snipers continued to target them, with US arms still being poured into what was already a powder keg. I was intrigued by this little-known part of the world, and remembered a dream-like trip as a Russian language student in 1980 to Tashkent, with its elegant opera house and its bountiful fruits, soaring mountains and hospitable people.

    After five years in Moscow, working as an editor at Moscow News and then as a Greenpeace activist-administrator, I had had enough of a Moscow in upheaval, where food was scarce and expensive, and people were losing their laid-back Soviet ways and embracing the worst features of the West. I was robbed more than once (once by the train police waiting in a suburban station on the way to Uzbekistan), and remember gun shots in the Vikhino apartment building entrance one night, told the next day someone had been found murdered just a few feet away from me.

    Moscow had lost its charm. I yearned to try living in a Muslim society. Uzbekistan seemed to be the most developed, cultured of the Soviet 'stans' and a short hop away from
  • 9 minute interview with Phil Taylor on University of Toronto radio

  • 1/ Manial
    2/ My Arab godson
    3/ Al-Ahram
    4/ Bringing down the Brotherhood
    5/ Sisi – Muhammad Ali redux

    1/ Manial 

    I stumbled into Cairo after Tashkent, where I had stumbled across Islam, courtesy of dictator Islam Karimov, who – despite his name – persecuted brave Muslims mercilessly, and impelled me to recite the shuhada, at first, more as a sign of solidarity. I was now determined to learn Arabic, read the Quran, experience Muslim culture first-hand and test my enthusiasm for Islam.

    I found the Fajr Centre for the Arabic Language, founded in Cairo in 1995, online. The new session was beginning in January 2007. Fajr (dawn) is for new enthusiasts and prospective imams, affiliated to the Egyptian Ministry of Education and al-Azhar, and located in Medina Nasser (Nasser City), which I was to discover is a sprawling suburban near the airport. Transportation in Cairo is a nightmare, be it by taxi or public transit. Virtually all Fajr students share digs near the 'institute', which is modest to say the least, but I immediately liked it, despite the anonymous suburban clutter. The administrators and my teacher were clearly devout Muslims, and warm, friendly people. This was not for rich secular westerners, who studied at the AUC or one of many private institutes down town, at three times the cost.

    I heard of a Canadian-Egyptian artist who lived in Manial, the southern-most large island of Cairo, perched just upstream from more upscale Zamalek. Anna responded to my query,
  • Reading Rabkin's What is Modern Israel  (2016), you can only marvel that Israel continues to exist at all, given its unending criminal behaviour, from the 1920s, while it was still just a dream, until the present, the only change being in the details, the full scale wars of expansion giving way to smaller scale invasions of occupied territories and Gaza (there's no more land to conquer), and ever new bureaucratic torture techniques intended to drive the Palestinians either crazy or into voluntary exile. Even the latter, a soft version of the 1948 ethnic cleansing, is made difficult, as the Palestinians can only leave via Jordan, at the mercy of Israel. Why does the world, especially the US, which could bring Israel to heel overnight, let the horror continue?

    Rabkin delves deep into the Russian Yiddish roots of Israel and brings together many startling facts which suggest that there was a much better option for Palestine and the Jews, one which was scuttled by secular Jewish fanatics inspired by their experiences before and after the Russian revolution. What is Modern Israel is packed with fascinating quotes and historical tidbits. Some of Rabkin's insights from his book and a podcast interview :

    *He decries the use of 'holocaust' in depicting the tragedy of WWII, as it is a religious symbol, and the deaths were hardly a burnt offering to some god. Rabkin uses 'genocide'. He also insists that it is not the "Jewish lobby" and "Jewish state", but the Zionist lobby/ state, as most Jews are not Zionists, certainly not approving of Israel's bombings, invasions, and illegal settlements. The lesson of the genocide for Zionists was 'be strong and kill and hound suspected antisemites.' For Rabkin, it is the opposite: a rejection of Zionism and Israel as a Jewish state.
  • Review of Graeme Wood, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State, Random House, 2016.

    Wood is the most prominent media star exposing ISIS today. A Yale professor, Council of Foreign Relations guru, his articles on ISIS have appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and on and on. He has an ambitious agenda, instructing the lay reader in Islamic theology and jurisprudence as he travels from one leading ISIS supporter or fellow traveller to another around the world. While providing a wealth of detail, his American slant, almost entirely overlooking the US as the chief culprit in abetting terrorism, is evident. But his book is worth reading, giving the reader a window into the people behind ISIS. None of them are monsters, but all of them challenge Muslims to better understand Islam and Islamic history.

    Wood poses throughout his research as a possible convert to Islam and apparently fools one and all. This deception he would no doubt rationalize using a quote from the Quran about lying being okay in a time of war (taqiyya), but he used it in Egypt merely to string along a modest tailor, Hesham, who was sincerely trying to convert Wood, and believed Wood was genuine. This gave him otherwise forbidden access to Hesham's personal life, ridiculing him in the account. Others Wood interviewed were not so naive, but politely answered his questions, though his agenda was seen for what it is: a report for use by western academics, media and security forces to better 'fight the beast'.

    Some of his interviews are revealing and colourful. He met multiple times with larger-than-life Muslims based in the West, both pro-ISIS and anti-ISIS activists and theorists. His professionalism as a researcher and writer produced a good overview of the different movements and actors in western radical Islamic circles, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda factions, and their visions of revolution and apocalypse. He interviews leading western Muslim scholars and activists, mostly American converts, including  the Sufi Yusuf Hamza, the Salafi Yasir Qadhi for their critical analysis of ISIS (they are both targeted as apostates by ISIS), and Yahya Michot, who lies somewhere in between.
  • Reviews of James Petras, The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Clarity, 2016

    Jeremy Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Worldview, 2016

    It is time to assess the legacy that President Obama bequeaths us. These two timely books contribute to this, Hammond focusing on the “special relationship”, Petras, more broadly on US imperialism. Both are pessimistic about the possibility of any change without an active, articulate citizens' movement that has staying power, thereby creating the conditions for a political renewal.

    Hammond's work is detailed, documenting the period starting with Obama's 2008 victory and Israel's immediate response: its invasion of Gaza in December. Throwing down the gauntlet, which president-elect Obama refused to pick up.

    There were more such attacks to come, involving seizing aid flotillas headed for Gaza, culminating in a repeat of that full scale invasion of Gaza in 2014, both killing thousands of innocents. Hammond's main point is to separate Obama's weak, nice words -- "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines" -- with his inability to move towards fulfilling them.

  • Okay, by bicycle ‘express’. But that was how i saw myself, galloping along the St Lawrence, a watchful eye out for the enemy yonder across the mighty river. The dirt road is now a bicycle lane (sometimes more, sometimes less) that followed--by a stretch of the imagination--the 18th century trail that once bound Canada together.

    Forget the mindless 401 hurtling by, for the most part, out of sight and sound. Enjoy the exotic roadside wild flowers shouting “I’m alive and bigger and more beautiful than you!” Some otherwise grueling stretches of highway are transformed into zany public gardens, complete with giant monsters and noxious invaders.

    Life in the womb of Upper Canada

  • Azizi Ansari's runaway bestseller Modern Romance is the perfect self-help book. Lots of data, thoughtful interviews with psychologists and 'victims', funny. The celebrated stand-up comic confirms the truth in the oxymoron, "the wise fool". And surprisingly, finds that humans pretty well figured things romantic out long before computers.

    A few nuggets

    Experiments on rats show the "uncertainty principle" in rewards: reward the rat when it presses the knob till s/he figures out it must press the lever to get the treat, but after that, only reward it intermittently. Their reward dopamine levels increase beyond the level when they always get rewarded for knob-pushing, like they're "being coked up". We are rats: in the human version of the experiment, women are most attracted to those guys who are in the 'uncertain' group, those who rated them high are second rate. No doubt this works the same for men.
  • The Gaspé  is considered one of the top hiking spots in the world, after the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Swiss Alps. There are 6,000 km of trails, and a range of vistas from mountains to cliffs facing the mouth of the St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. And best of all, it is hardly known outside Quebec—a spectacular, untouched place right in our own backyard.

    For the past decade, hundreds of cross-country skiers—nearly all of them Quebeckers—have come for a six-day, 100-mile-plus ski odyssey through the winter wonderland at the eastern edge of Canada’s largest province. After an article in the New York Times in 2013, 100 Yanks showed up, but as yet, very few Anglo-Canadians. Two years ago, hardy hikers started coming at the end of September to see the fall colours and the caribou, and I opted to join them this year.

    Saturday – The 8-hour 'trek' from Toronto to Montreal brought me to the bus to Gaspé at 5am, just in time. Our guide to Gaspé, Gilbert, was one of the many volunteers, a physiotherapist by profession, our residential doctor for sore feet. He is a joker, and over the microphone acted the voice of an airline pilot explaining to brace ourselves for the 2-hour climb that evening on arrival in Gaspé "to reach the hotel". Ìn line for coffee I met Robert, who is a Montreal-based fundraiser for nonprofit organizations and hospitals, a charmer, well in tune with his profession. We settled in for the 10-hour trip to Carleton-sur-Mer, on the south coast, before moving northeast to Gaspé and then east to Percé.
  • Eric Walberg has now written three books on the topic of Islamic culture in relation to Western geo-politics and world events. He is a prolific journalist and scholar who has lived in Central Asia and the Middle East (1).

    In Walberg's third book, “Islamic Resistance to Imperialism” (2015, Clarity Press, 304 pages), he presents a view of the world most people in the West, especially those exposed to a diet of mainstream media may not be familiar with or sympathetic to. Issues that deal with religion, culture and geo-politics are inherently complex. Even worse, disinformation is intentionally promulgated by Western governments and their lapdogs in the media to mislead the public into supporting the West's “war on terror.”

    The constant drumbeat in the media is that Muslims are “terrorists” and that America needs to police the world to rid this evil. Since communist-totalitarianism in its most overt form fell in the East, a new boogie man needed to to be invented in order to justify the military industrial complex. The gradual demonisation of Muslims in the Hollywood media (See the documentary: “Reel Bad Arabs”) culminated in what I believe was a false flag terror attack on 911. The myth of the Muslim Terrorist was born.

    For this reason, Walberg's book is a healthy antidote to our largely uninformed and biased views on the world's largest growing religious grouping.

  • Eric Walberg is a Canadian journalist who converted to Islam and has been covering the Middle East for a number of years. I do not know whether there are other books about Islam by converts, but this one is written by someone who is fiercely political and who sees Islam as a remedy to the world's ills.[tag]

    Although Walberg does not say so explicitly, the notion of resistance to imperialism has been basic to Islam since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle against Great Britain in the nineteenth century. After the creation of Israel, Iran, Lebanon and Syria became known as 'frontline states' in that resistance (see my review of http://click here).

    This is an ambitious book that may suffer from being at once an argument for Islam as the solution to the woes of the modern world and an analysis of the various aspects of Islamism as well as a history of Islamism's progress or lack thereof by country.

    The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet - growing faster, according to Time magazine, than the population - notwithstanding Islamophobia - suggests that its appeal is fundamentally different from that of other religions, and Walberg makes that point eloquently, quoting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, on the Iranian revolution:

    "Young people believe Islam is the solution to the ills in society after the failure of western democracy, socialism and communism to address the political and socio-economic difficulties." It prompted Saudi rebels to occupy the Kaaba that same year in an attempt to spark revolution, Syrian Muslims to rise against their secular dictator Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and future Al-Qaeda leader Aymin Zawahiri to conspire to assassinate Egyptian president Sadat in 1981."

  • Kevin Barrett has become a legend in the US as a fearless journalist who cuts to the quick, his political and analytic skills leading to provocative, truthful explanations of our mostly inexplicable reality. He has written several books dealing with 9/11, and is currently an editor at Veterans Today, and pundit at Press TV, Russia Today, al-Etejah and other international channels. His website is TruthJihad.com. He builds on a well-established American journalistic tradition of brave exposers of government misdoings. Bill Blum and Seymour Hirsh are best known, but there are hundreds more.

    Great American tradition

    Blum is a legend from the 1960s, as the first to amass detailed proof of false flags by the US government. If you still have any trust in the US government's foreign policy, you haven't read Blum's Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since WWII (2004), which documents more than 50 blatant US overthrows of democratic government in the 3rd world, though溶ote溶one occurred in the US (Pearl Harbor is suspicious but no slam-dunk).

    There's no question that the false flag experts in the US government weren't aware of the greatest terrorist event in US history. There are a string of whistle-blowers that show how evidence was ignored or buried building up to the event, evidence which if properly shared by the intelligence agencies, with their special al-Qaeda and Taliban watch groups, could have prevented 9/11. David Shipler interviews several of these forgotten heroes in Freedom of Speech:Mightier Than the Sword (2015). 

  • In Islam, the first two adjectival "most beautiful names" of God are al-Rahman al-Rahim, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. (Or, in Michael Sells' translation, "the Compassionate, the Caring.") The Arabic root of both words derives from "womb" and connotes the kind of outrageously generous love and compassion a mother feels for her children.

    These days, the Western discourse on Islam “especially political Islam“ is not exactly overflowing with compassion and generosity. As the French-Algerian Jew Albert Memmi wrote in The Coloniser and the Colonized, colonizers typically take a very ungenerous view of the people they are attacking, occupying, brutalizing and exploiting. If they admitted the humanity of their victims, they would look in the mirror and see a brutish criminal. So to avoid facing the truth, they project their own criminal brutality on the colonized victim.

    Memmi notes that Western colonizers typically refuse to acknowledge the positive traits of colonized Muslims. Even an admirable virtue such as generosity “ a notable feature of Islamic cultures“ is made into a vice: "Those crazy Muslims don't know the value of money; accept their hospitality, and they'll feed you a meal that costs a month of their salary, and offer you a gift worth ten times that. They're just not frugal!"
  • Book review

    Ken Ballen, Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals, Free Press, 2011.

    This is a strange book—a racy title, documenting the way six jihadis turned to al-Qaeda and its spin-offs in desperation to find some kind of fulfilment in life. There are several Romeo and Juliette stories, though the author seems oblivious to the fact that the 'love' in the title is mostly about devotion to God, however mistaken.

    Ballen is president and founder of Terror Free Tomorrow, “a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that investigates the causes of extremism”. Ballen's CV suggests “nonpartisan” can be taken with a grain of salt, as he spent two decades in law enforcement and intelligence, and was given grudging accommodation by the Pakistani ISI intelligence, and free access to the Saudi Ministry of Intelligence (MOI) Care Center, where captured jihadis are sent for rehabilitation.

    As well as his extended interviews in Saudi Arabia, he gained access to several jihadis still on the run, and relates a truly remarkable story—if he is to be believed—of a Saudi royal son who discovers he is gay and has a passionate affair with his cousin before joining the jihad.

  • Canadian journalist Eric Walberg has produced two very impressive works that between them cover most of what is politically relevant today: Post-Modern Imperialism: Geopolitics and The Great Games, the games being those played on the world political chessboard, and From Post-Modernism to Post-Secularism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization, both from Clarity Press.

    Walberg admits that the internet made his task easier, but without a very thorough grounding in political theory and history, they could not have been written. Walberg who has a degree in economic from Cambridge and has lived in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia, specializes in the Middle East. His Great Games are labelled GGI (pre-Russian revolution), GGII (the Cold War era) and today's on-going GG III, which he sees as a US-British-Israeli campaign for world dominance. Walberg shows globalization's brutality, and with theory to back him up, lays it squarely at imperialism's door.

    The scope of this work is vast, but I have chosen one quote that is particularly relevant to current events. Since 2008, the European Union, built up painstakingly after two world wars devastated the continent, has been teetering on collapse, and I have often affirmed that it is a deliberate American policy to destroy that elaborate welfare state. Walberg's confirmation is stunning:

  • Review of Morten Storm with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014.
    ISBN 978-0-8021-2314-5

    Summary: As IS continues to confound the West with its consolidation of a Salafist-inspired resurrection of a ‘caliphate’, the Danish mole responsible for leading the CIA to Anwar Awlaki has caused a scandal by publishing his memoirs of life “inside al Qaeda and the CIA”.

    Recruiting Muslims has not been easy for western ‘intelligence’. The New York Police Department has tried for decades to recruit Muslim immigrants, and was finally embarrassed by a 2013 ACLU lawsuit to disband its most public recruiting unit, which essentially blackmailed anyone with a Muslim name arrested on any pretext, including parking tickets.

    The most successful double agent prior to Morten Storm was Omar Nasiri (b. 1960s), the pseudonym of a Moroccan spy who infiltrated al-Qaeda, attending training camps in Afghanistan and passing information to the UK and French intelligence services. He revealed all in his fascinating memoirs Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda A Spy’s Story in 2006.

  • Thoughts on From Postmodernism to Postsecularism

    Chandra Muzaffar in dialogue with Eric Walberg

    Muzaffar: Eric Walberg’s new book From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergII.html is a stimulating and informative survey of both Islamic history and reformist thought, culminating in an analysis of the ongoing upheavals in WANA.

    The book is an extensive exposition on Islamic Civilization itself. It covers the whole spectrum of dynasties, major episodes and personalities which is why the book should be an important reference for students of the civilization.

    You are right, Eric, in arguing that for Islam the goal has always been “to nurture a morally sound community based on the Quran…” (p28). There have been endeavours in that direction in the past—some successes, many failures. In this regard, I am wondering why you did not mention specifically the moral indictment of Muawiyyah by Abu-Dharr Al-Giffari who some would view as the first major critic of the creeping injustices in early Muslim leadership?

  • In his introduction, Eric Walberg states, “The main purpose of this book is to help the reader to understand the alternative map which Islam offers.” This is both a literal and figural map, an alternative to the imperial and neocolonial boundaries that divide the Islamic world, and an alternative viewpoint to that of the imperial driver of capitalism. This offer includes “realigning ourselves with Nature, and rediscovering humanities’ spiritual evolutionary path…without abandoning the vital role of reason.”

    This path along this alternate view is created strongly, with an obvious sympathy for the parts of Islam that are little known to the capitalist imperial view. It is a fully comprehensive path, leading the reader through time and through not just the Middle East, but on into Northern Africa, the Sahel, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    The path always interacts with the imperial capitalist landscape ranging from the original European nationalist empires of France, Britain, Spain, and Holland on through to the hegemonic empire of the United States that has subordinated the previous empires into its fold. This has been done through military backing of corporate enterprises and many financial maneuverings that have – up until now – managed to stretch this empire into a full global span.

    The first chapter, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, explains the nature of the Koran without the political prejudice brought on by imperial reaction (blowback) to occupation and creation of the ‘evil’ other. Following that, it presents a broad history of Islam up until the era of the First World War. While the interactions with Christianity were often violent, Islamic expansion eastward generally tended to be accomplished more peacefully through trade and missionaries – the latter of course being against the military corporate interests of the west.

  • Forging a Socialist-Islamist Alliance
    Review of Eric Walberg's From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization, Clarity Press, 2013

    By William T. Hathaway

    Most western Middle East experts see Islam as a problem for the West -- a source of terrorism, religious fanaticism, unwanted immigrants -- and they see their job as helping to change the Middle East so it's no longer a problem for us. Eric Walberg, however, recognizes that this is another instance of the Big Lie.

    The actual problem is the multifaceted aggression the West has been inflicting on the Middle East for decades and is determined to continue, no matter what the cost to them and us will be. His books and articles present the empirical evidence for this with scholarly precision and compassionate concern for the human damage done by our imperialism.

  • Brain research and social psychology have made astounding advances in understanding the mind. These two books will blow yours. The implications for western 'civilization' are profound. Here are some notes.

    Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Doubleday, 2011.
    -heuristic (system 1 rule of thumb) biases -overconfident (first impression), resemblance, ease of memory search, emotion (sympathy for psychopathic charm), halo effect (exaggerate emotional reaction), WYSIATI (what you see is all there is), treating problems in isolation (not integrate variables), framing effects (context, importance of first impression, including page layout etc), priming (thinking about x -> x), endowment effect (owning x appears to increase its value)
    -fallacies re human nature -rational, emotions such as fear, affection and hatred explain departures from rationality
    -rather systmatic errors in thinking due to design of machinery of cognition rather than the corruption of thought by emotion. luck plays large role in success. accurate intuitions of experts better explained by skill and practice incorporated into heuristics. (variant of reason/ faith dialectic)
    -system 1 (fast thinking) -automatic operations (associative memory, automatic mental activities (perception and memory), unconscious/ conscious skills incorporated from system 2 as automatic, -> heuristic
    -system 2 -controlled operations -both self-contol and cognitive effort (allocates attention to effortful mental activities when demanded requiring choice and concentration, can reprogram normally automatic funs of attention and memory)
    -also experiencing vs remembering self (a construct of system 2 but incorporating (fast) associative memories of system 1) -what makes experiencing self happy not same as what satisfies remembering self -need to balance using system 2 slow thinking. -memory both system 1&2 and system 2 can adjust system 1 experiencing/ associative memories (ie, counterintuitive steering out of icy skid)

  • Lawrence Wright, Twins: and What They Tell Us About Who We Are, John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

    These notes summarize the main findings of twinning studies during the past century which lead to some startling conclusions.

    -behaviorism (BFSkinner) argued all behavior genetically based (we are the product of natural selection) but can be programmed in the individual. he denied special genes for altruism/ criminality/ other character trait -what our genes give us is the capacity to adapt to our environment. we are not innately good/ bad, rather determined by our environment. there is no individual responsibility. to change behavior we must design a different environment.
    -but twin studies suggests genetic basis to behavior (approximately 50%, ie, 1/2 determined, 1/2 'free will' which we develop by creating our own environment as we mature and become more self-aware)

  • In August 2013, Marxism Leninism Today editor Zoltan Zigedy reviewed Eric Walberg’s new book From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization

    Zoltan Zigedy summarized Walberg’s writing in the following terms

    1. The last great secular social justice project — socialism — has failed with the demise of the Soviet Union.
    2. Islam and its attendant political-social-economic doctrines are viable alternative routes to social justice.
    3. Islam is the only alternative that can deliver social justice. Therefore, Islam is the universal way to social justice.

    My -comments to Zoltan's >points:

    >the rise of Islamic civilization that Walberg foresaw was dashed on the rocks of divisiveness and foreign intervention

    -I see this 'Islamic awakening' as coming in waves. the 2013 coup in Egypt is a trough, but the process of evolution/ revolution continues. the openness and experience of the Islamists cannot be put back in the djin's bottle.
    I recall young Egyptian friends who were 'politicized' after the 2011 uprising. they didn't join secular groups, but the Muslim Brotherhood -- a huge move by millions of Egyptian youth. this has never been mentioned anywhere in the press. the ongoing demonstrations are courageous and principled, and deserve our respect and support.

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.it/daniele-scalea/islam-vs-capitalismo_b_4095817.html

    summary: Islam has a complete social doctrine which opposes the exploitation of man by man and lending at interest. For this reason, Islam is, in the contemporary world after the end of communism, the great alternative to capitalism. Massimo Campanini, one of the leading Italian scholars of the field, in his History of the Middle East, confirms that Islam stands as challenge to the idea of "end of history". But this challenge is not extremist Islam and terrorism, which in his opinion is already defeated, but two other "Islamists".

  • Resisting The Modernist Nightmare: Islam As Road To Peace?  by Richard Wilcox

    Following the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was supposed to have been a “peace dividend” which would have allowed the world to stop wasting money on arms manufacturing and explore roads toward peace and commerce. However, the Cold War itself may have been a ruse to some extent in order to justify the growth of global totalitarian government and corporate power in both the West and East, and as a result a peaceful world was never achieved.

    Even the most naïve observer could see that something was very odd, given that at the same moment that the Russian enemy was tamed and the Berlin Wall had fallen, a new, even more nefarious enemy was born: the Muslim Terrorist. This seamless transition that benefited the military industrial complex and zionist warmongers was practically lifted out of a Hollywood script. In fact, Hollywood played an important role in creating the caricature and stereotype of the “evil Muslim” through innumerable anti-Muslim Hollywood propaganda films.

  • This book is a continuation of my earlier work, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games (2011), though it stands on its own. My purpose in Postmodern Imperialism was to give a picture of the world from the viewpoint of those on the receiving end of imperialism. It traces the manipulation of Islamists by imperialism, and poses the question: What are the implications of the revival of Islamic thought and activism for the western imperial project?

    The subject of this work is the expansion of Islam since the seventh century, when revelations delivered to the Prophet Muhammad led to its consolidation as the renewal and culmination of Abrahamic monotheism. It looks at the parallels between the Muslim world today and past crises in Islamic civilization, which gave impetus to reforms and renewal from within, relying on the Quran and hadiths,1 and attempts to interpret recent history from the viewpoint of the Muslim world—how it sees the imposition on it of western systems and beliefs, and how it is dealing with this.

    The period up to and including the occupation of the Muslim world by the western imperialists corresponds to Postmodern Imperialism’s Great Game I (GGI). For Asians, the most important event heralding the possibility of a new post-GGI ‘game’ was the Japanese victory in 1905 over Russia. Japan had successfully reformed via the Meiji Restoration in 1868, inspiring all Asia, including China and the Muslim world, which saw Japan’s determination to develop independently of the imperial powers as a way out of the colonial trap that they were rapidly falling into.

  • European Journal of American Studies review of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games

    (March 2012)

    Recent history for even the casual observer of international affairs has been plagued by wars and conflicts in specific regions of the world.  The wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, seem to indicate the latest machinations in the imperial designs of the USA.  For many, using the term imperialism and connecting it to the USA is at best inappropriate.  For others, American interventions in particular countries or specific regions of the world represent the practices of a hegemonic power and the expansion of an American empire.  Some even argue that the nature of American imperialism is utterly novel, and deserving of a new label:  ‘postmodern imperialism.’  As the title of Eric Walberg’s book, his examination of the trajectories of contemporary imperialism includes scrutiny of the geopolitical interests of the USA and its “new developments in financial and military-political strategies to ensure control over the world’s resources” (27-28).  While Postmodern Imperialism primarily focuses on key aspects of imperialism, geopolitical analysis and commentary forms the foundation of Walberg’s narrative.

  • Robert Wright, Nonzero: the logic of human destiny (2000)

    -organic evolution tends to create more complex forms of life, raising overall entropy but concentrating order locally
    -Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, the thinking envelope of the Earth
    -throughout nature, main trend is the increase in capacity for information processing, storage and analysis. DNA not just data, but data processor.
    -the function of the energy marshaled by an organism or society not just to sustain and protect structure, but to guide the marshaling.
    -secret of life not DNA but zero sum (zs)/ nonzero sum (nzs) games (to better pass on one’s DNA - the ‘meaning of life’).
    ‘laws of nature’:

  • Review of Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Sharia Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World,

    Sadakat Kadri

    New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

    There are 50 Muslim-majority states in the world; 11 of them, including Egypt, have constitutions that acknowledge Islam as a source of national law. In Heaven on Earth, Sadakat Kadri, an English barrister and New York attorney, provides a much-needed and highly readable overview of Islamic legal history and an entertaining survey of the state of Islamic law today, full of fascinating anecdotes.

    For instance, have you heard the one about the eleventh-century Sufi mystic whose prayers were interrupted by a familiar voice: "Oh, Abu Al-Hasan!" it boomed. "Do you want me to tell people what I know about your sins, so that they stone you to death?" "Oh, Lord," Al-Hasan whispered back. "Do you want me to tell people what I know about your mercy, so that none will ever feel obliged to bow down to you again?" "Keep your secret," came God's conspiratorial reply. "And I will keep mine."

    Such risqué offerings aside, Kadri looks at the development of Islamic law from the time of the Prophet, focussing on attitudes to war, criminal justice, religious tolerance, and movements of reform through history. He provides valuable background for all those concerned and/or excited about today's resurgence of Islam. As the fastest growing religion, second only to Christianity in numbers (and surely first in terms of sincere practitioners), Islam is an increasingly powerful force not only in the world of religion, but in the realms of culture, politics and even economics.
  • Guided missives

    Ard ard (Surface-to-surface): The story of a graffiti revolution
    Sherif Abdel-Megid
    Egyptian Association for Books 2011
    ISBN 978-977-207-102-9

    Graffiti -- the art of the masses, by the masses, for the masses -- has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and arguably to Pharaonic Egypt. Sherif Abdel-Megid, a writer who works for Egyptian television, boasts that Egypt's revolution and the explosion of popular art that followed it finds its roots in the decay of the Sixth dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom, following the reign of Pepi II (2278-2184 BC), credited with having the longest reign of any monarch in history at 94 years (Mubarak, eat your heart out). His own decline paralleled the disintegration of the kingdom and it is thanks to Pharaonic graffiti that we know about it.

  • I confess that I cringe when I see the word “post-modern.” This word has obscured more discussions, confused more gullible readers, and conned more writers than any word since “existential” and its “-ism.” For the most part, it has served as a kind of fashionable linguistic operator that signals something radical and profound will follow. Almost always, what follows disappoints.

    Eric Walberg’s book, Postmodern Imperialism (Clarity Press, 2011), doesn’t change my general opinion of the word, though what follows the title certainly doesn’t disappoint.

    Walberg has offered a welcome taxonomy of imperialism from its nineteenth century genesis until today; he has given a plausible explanation of imperialism’s contours since the exit of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism from the world stage; and he has convincingly described Israel’s unique role in the continuing reshaping of imperialism’s grasp for world domination.

  •  I. Let the Games Begin…Again…and Again

    The great disaffected masses tell us that history is on the march and, as usual, guns and butter are the simpler issues. In America, support dwindles for a war that has lasted a decade. Drone missiles, each costing $100,000, kill “terrorists” in gutturally named, chicken-scratch places bewilderingly far from America’s hometowns, whose simple citizens ask where their taxes go. Costs of the Afghanistan war this year are the highest ever, $119.4 billion and counting.[1] Polls show historically deep disaffection with The System. The mask of America-First patriotism is falling, revealing an intoxicated self-grandiosity and will to power by renascent Bush-era neocons and cynical manipulations by the CEO caste and other one-percenters for more and more wealth, and whose sense of entitlement the victims of class warfare, lumpen proles and petit bourgeoisie alike, seem unable to stomach any longer.[2] Approval of the Republican led-by-gridlock Congress hovers around fifteen percent.[3] Ever-larger protests in other cities in America and internationally have extended those on Wall Street – protests even a year ago one would never have predicted – and “class warfare – rich against poor” appears on the protestors’ signs.

    The disaffected might also ask why the US, as Eric Walberg notes in his extraordinary new book, has 730 American military bases in fifty countries around the globe, and why the US share of the world’s military expenditures is 42.8% while, by comparison, China’s is 7.3% and Russia’s 3.6%. The unavoidable irony is that the Pax Americana seems to be requiring endless war with no particular rationale behind it – and truly astonishing numbers of dollars are spent on behalf of war rather than at home. What may be fatally undermining credibility in America’s “transcendent values” has been the sense that as the facts filter down to the masses, the Empire’s new clothes appear to be the same as that of past empires. All empires have births and deaths – the US Empire will be no different. Internal contradictions of the US efforts to control the globe seem now to be sending things spiraling out of control.[4]

  • Eric Walberg’s acute insights into the contemporary global order raise many questions about the continued viability of the American and Israeli focus on wealth and power. Perhaps understandably, his interests and insights inspired by the Islamic world make him a penetrating commentator on peoples who are a product of Christian and Jewish tradition.

    Walberg is a Canadian authority on the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia who writes for Al Ahram, the best known English language newspaper in the Middle East.

  • Though the number of critical voices concerning Israel, Zionism and Jewish power is growing steadily, a clear distinction can be made on the one hand between contributors who operate within the discourse and are politically oriented, and others who transcend themselves above and beyond any given political paradigm.

    The former category refers to writers and scholars who operate 'within the box,' accepting the restrictive measures of a given political and intellectual discourse. A thinker who operates within such a framework would initially identify the boundaries of the discourse, and then shape his or her ideas to fit in accordingly. The latter category refers to a far more challenging intellectual attempt: it includes those very few who operate within a post-political realm, those who defy the dictatorship of 'political-correctness', or any given 'party-line'. It relates to those minds that think 'out of the box'. And it is actually those who, like artists, plant the seeds of a possible conceptual and consciousness shift.

  • The Wandering Who? A study of Jewish identity politics, gives a unique insider’s view of the Israeli mind. Its author explains to Eric Walberg that you can take the girl out of Jezebel, but you can’t take Jezebel out of the girl

    Gilad Atzmon is a world citizen who calls London his home. He was born a sabra, and served as a paramedic in the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1982 Lebanon War, when he realised that “I was part of a colonial state, the result of plundering and ethnic cleansing.” He has wandered far since then, become a novelist, philosopher, one of the world’s best jazz saxophonists, and at the same time, one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause, supporting their right of return and the one-state solution. He now defines himself as a “proud self-hating Jew” and “a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. In 2009 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quoted Atzmon during a debate with Israeli president Shimon Peres, telling him at the World Economic Forum that “Israeli barbarity is far beyond even ordinary cruelty.”

  • Three books recently published by the American radical publisher Clarity Press reflect different aspects of racism in the US, which even under a black president is unfortunately alive and well, promoted in US policy at home and abroad -- if not officially:

    Devon Mihesua, American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities

    Stephen Sheehi, Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims

    Francis Boyle, The Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law

  • -secular thinkers imagine they have left religion behind, but have only exchanged religion for a humanist faith in progress

    -Joseph Roth worried about spread of ideas of national self-determination. Monarchy was more tolerant. A society can be civilized without recognizing rights, while one based on rights may be tainted with barbarism (Austria-Hungary abolished torture in 1776)

    -torture is Enlightenment tradition, 'progress' a legacy of Christianity (salvation in battle between good and evil Zoroastra). 'God defeats evil' translated into secular terms. also meliorism of liberal humanists. Enlightenment hostile to Christianity but used Christian framework.

  • -US enriched rather than impoverished by the two world wars and by their outcome, nothing in common with Britain -> still glorifies military, sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945.

    -in Europe, dominant sentiment relief at "final closing of a long, unhappy chapter" vs in US - story recorded in a triumphalist key. war works. thus remains the first option, vs last resort

    -20th c rise and fall of the state. welfare state a cross-party 20th c consensus implemented by liberals or conservatives not as first stage of 20th c socialism but culmination of late-19th c reformist liberalism, prerequisites of a stable civil order. p10

    -citizens lost gnawing sentiment of insecurity and fear that had dominated political life between 1914 and 1945. forgot this fear -> neoliberalism. now fear reemerging [-> neofascism], fear that not only we but those 'in authority' have lost control of forces beyond their reach [implicitly acknowledging the cabal of international bankers/ military industrial complex (mic) that conspire above governments, tho Judt would be the first to dismiss this p20]

  • Clarity Press June 2011

    advanced purchase http://www.claritypress.com/Walberg.html


    To young people today, the world as a global village appears as a given, a ready-made order, as if human evolution all along was logically moving towards our high-tech, market-driven society, dominated by the wealthy United States. To bring the world to order, the US must bear the burden of oversize defense spending, capture terrorists, eliminate dictators, and warn ungrateful nations like China and Russia to adjust their policies so as not to hinder the US in its altruistic mission civilatrice.

    The reality is something else entirely, the only truth in the above characterization being the overwhelming military dominance of the US in the world today. The US itself is the source of much of the world’s terrorism, its 1.6 million troops in over a thousand bases around the world the most egregious terrorists, leaving the Osama bin Ladens in the shade, and other lesser critics of US policies worried about their job prospects.

    My own realization of the true nature of the world order began with my journey to England to study economics at Cambridge University in September 1973. I decided to take the luxury SS France ocean liner which offered a student rate of a few hundred dollars (and unlimited luggage), where I met American students on Marshall and Rhodes scholarships (I had the less prestigious Mackenzie King scholarship), and used my wiles to enjoy the perks of first class. The ship was a microcosm of society, a benign one. The world was my oyster and I wanted to share my joy with everyone.

    But I was in for a shock.

  • How green is your deen?

    Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, San Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2010

    Muslim Americans are slowly beginning to make their mark on their very conflicted society. There are more Muslims than Jews in the US now -- approximately 5 million. They are the most diverse of all American believers, 35 per cent born in the US (25 per cent Afro-American), the rest -- immigrants from southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Traditionally they have voted Republican, but have shifted to Democrat and Green parties in recent years.

  • Three new publications from the leading radical British press are the tip of a growing iceberg of passionate pleas for sanity in international affairs. Most of us prefer to stick our heads in the sand as the world goes to hell in a hand-basket, but there are works that can fascinate and uplift, perhaps even inspire us to do something before it is too late.

  • -the attempt to fuse the public and private lies behind Plato’s attempt to answer the q “Why is it in one’s interest to be just?” and Christianity’s claim that perfect self-realization can be attained through service to others. [capitalism proposes the invisible hand, soc – class consciousness and state-sanctioned ideology, Rorty’s vision – soc demo and  metaphors]

  • -ecology - 19th c term - investigation of interrelationships between animals, plants, and their inorganic environment - dynamic balance of nature, interdependence of living and nonliving things. vs environmentalism (natural engineering)

     -social ecology - dialectical unfolding of life-forms from simple to complex. (history of phenomenon is the phenomenon itself) human-made universe is 'second nature'. society = institutionalized communities. philosophy of evolution. must synthesize these 2 natures into a 3rd. process of achieving wholeness by means of unity thru diversity, complementarity (vs homogeneous monocultural oneness of cap).

  • -x preferred schoolgirls because less complicated, less real than adult women, as dream less complicated than reality.

    paradox of sex - always seems to be offering more than it can deliver.
  • Time and its discontents

    -Latin words for culture = agriculture/ domestication AND translation from Greek terms for spatial image of time. We are 'time-binders', creating a symbolic class of life, an artificial world -> control over nature. Time becomes real because it has consequences. Flow of time 'the distinction between what one needs and what one has, the incipience of regret' (Guyau (1890) Carpe diem, but civ(ilization) forces us to mortgage the present to the future.

  • -worldatlarge dangerous and threatening. It didn't like the Jews (Js) because they were clever, quick-witted, successful, but also because they were noisy and push. It didn't like what we were doing here in the Land of Israel either, because it begrudged us even this meager strip of marshland, boulders, and desert. Out there in the world all the walls were covered with graffiti: yids, go back to Palestine, so we came back to Palestine and now the worldatlarge shouts at us: Yids, get out of Palestine.

Purchase Eric Walberg's Books

Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html