King Abdullah University of Science and Technology!

27 10 2007

Groundbreaking of KAUST, Oct 27On October 22 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new university in Thawal called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

With one of the largest university endowments in the world, KAUST is using MIT as a model and is aiming to be world-class in every respect – students, faculty, facilities. The website is also quite impressive.

I am jumping-off-the-walls excited about this. One hindrance to development in the Arab world is the lack of original research going on at the universities. A lot of countries have an awful brain-drain effect going on, and as a result the academic community is generally not thriving.

So a university like this, which has the potential to keep some of the brain power of the Middle East in the Middle East, is a big deal. It’s very exciting.

KAUST will be co-ed – a fact that is pretty significant in Saudi Arabia. It will be the first co-ed university in the country.

Saudis can be hardcore conservatives–The Saudi national motto is the Shahadah.  And very conservative Saudis are often less than approving of their royal family, who sometimes appear to be pretending conservatism to avoid revolt. It’s inevitable that King Abdullah will face criticism from within the kingdom for this – probably harsh criticism.

Anyway, it might be very difficult for KAUST to attract non-Saudi women, Muslim or otherwise. Living in Saudi Arabia as a single woman with no family would be damned near impossible, even if the university you were attending was progressive.

More on KAUST:


The PKK and Turkey

24 10 2007

I apologize for my extended and unannounced hiatus. I was sick and also incredibly busy. If this were a real blog that people read I probably couldn’t get away with that, but fortunately it is not.

I’m going to start with the gigantic news that’s all over the U.S. press -that Turkey wants to cross its border with Iraq to take out the PKK.

This is not a real countryThe PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. For the uninitiated, there is, in fact, no official Kurdistan – Kurds are spread out over Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and a little bit of Syria and Russia.

Kurds have been campaigning for their sovereignty since the early 20th century, and the PKK functions somewhat like the Irish Republican Army. Their activities are primarily focused on obtaining the independence of Kurdistan, and they sometimes engage in terrorism to that end.

As you can see on the map there, a significant portion of the Kurdish population lives in what is officially Turkey, and there has historically been a lot of tension between Turkey and Kurdish nationalists.

So, some Iraqi members of the PKK crossed the Iraq-Turkey border and killed several Turkish soldiers. I think it was 12. And Turkey wants to cross the border and retaliate.

The problem for the U.S. is that the Kurds are our only friends in Iraq, and we would prefer not to piss them off. It’s a pickle.

Places that are not Iran or Palestine

4 10 2007

If you take a look at the tag cloud over there you’ll notice that I’ve been disproportionately addressing Iran, Palestine and Israel. I figure that’s inevitable – those are places with a lot of conflict (Iraq obviously has conflict, too, but I avoid writing about it as much because it’s incredibly depressing). Also, the only person who has ever commented here is Iranian, and I have to address my audience’s interests. But I thought maybe today I could switch it up and see what’s going on in other places.

According to al-Jazeera there have been more than 200 forest fires in Lebanon over the past two days – they think someone set the fires deliberately, either to obtain coal as a cheaper source of fuel (most likely) or for political reasons.

In Saudi Arabia there’s apparently been a little loosening of taboos over women driving – that is, they’re discussing it. There was a question about this on my Reporting exam yesterday, and I missed it, which is maybe another reason why I should check out news in other countries.

Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country (a lot of the time pundits in the United States take laws or customs from Saudi Arabia and erroneously behave as if they apply to the whole Muslim world, which is annoying), so it’s always good to hear about taboos breaking down there.

Kuwait is predictably a little boring. The big headline on Kuwait Times today is that the king made a speech about how the legislative and executive branches should work ‘hand-in-hand’ for Kuwait’s future. Which means, as far as I can tell, exactly nothing. I suspect Kuwait Times is a government newspaper, because government newspapers love to report on boring speeches made by government officials.

And finally, almost a month after the fact, Israel has admitted to attacking northern Syria on September 6. Israeli officials had refused to confirm or deny that the attack had even taken place, but when the Syrian president went on record yesterday to say that the attacks had indeed happened, Israel had to say something. They wouldn’t say why they did it – the U.S. press is speculating that North Korea was shipping some kind of nuclear technology to the area, but a lot of people think Israel was targeting arms headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Everybody’s a terrorist

1 10 2007

A couple of months ago the U.S. Senate voted to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (a segment of the Iranian military) as a terrorist unit. I’m not sure what the surface defense for this was, but the underlying logic is obvious: we can do dirtier things to organizations we label “terrorist” than we can to state-sponsored militaries.

The word “terrorist” is already being thrown around so much by pundits it hardly means anything anymore – it’s the new “Nazi,” in that you can use it to describe anyone whose politics you don’t like. But we have to remember that it’s still a politically charged word, even while its definition is becoming broader. This vote in the U.S. Senate had bi-partisan support despite its inanity – why do you think that is?

Because every politician in the room knew that if he voted against it he could be accused of supporting terrorists, despite the fact that the organization in question is very obviously not a terrorist organization.

If we move away from the specific definition of terrorism they teach you in political science classes – attacks carried out by non-state actors against civilians, typically in order to coerce states into enacting a desired policy – the word loses meaning all together. We already have words for when states use force to coerce their own citizens – military rule, despotism, ‘police state.’ If Congress wants to propose acting against a state for such reasons it should go ahead, but it should use the correct and specific word. To label the IRGC – reprehensible though it may often be – a terrorist organization, is to lie.

Having said that, you can imagine how delighted I was to read about this:

Iran says CIA is ‘terrorist’ agency(al-Jazeera)
The Iranian Parliament has voted to classify the CIA as a terrorist agency, and the U.S. Army as a terrorist organization.

The parliament said the two organisations were terrorists for a number of reasons.

It said they were involved in dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in World War II and used depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It also said they supported the killings of Palestinians by Israel, bombed and killed Iraqi civilians and tortured terror suspects in prisons.

The resolution urges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s, the Iranian president, government to treat the two as terrorist organisations.

It also paves the way for the resolution to become legislation which, if ratified by the country’s constitutional watchdog, would become law.