January 14, 2018

POWs in Japan – Great War Remembrance – Marasesti I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Japan, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 13 Jan 2018

Ask your questions here: http://outofthetrenches.thegreatwar.tv

In today’s episode, Indy answers questions about the state of the prisoner of war camps in Japan, the ways in which WW1 is remembered in Germany and the food shortages in the Ottoman Empire, plus he takes a closer look at the Battle of Marasesti.

May 23, 2015

The rise of the Donair

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I first experienced a donair in Halifax in the summer of 1982. I won’t claim it was a life-changing experience, but it was a revelation that “street meat” didn’t have to be awful. At The Walrus, Omar Mouallem explains how the humble donair is on the verge of conquering the streets of Alberta:

Like shawarma and gyros, donairs are a meaty delicacy shaved from a rotisserie spit and wrapped in pitas — only spicier and sweeter. If you require further explanation, then you’re from neither the Maritimes (where they were invented, in the 1970s) nor Alberta (where they’re most consumed). Topped with a sweet, creamy sauce, they are a Canadian take on tzatziki-coated beef and lamb gyros, which themselves are a Greco-American take on centuries-old Turkish rotisserie lamb (a dish that also spawned a blander German variant called döner kebab). Adding to the cultural confusion, most donair operations are run by Lebanese immigrants such as Tawachi — or my father, Ahmed Mouallem, who introduced Athena’s product to my hometown of High Prairie, Alberta, in 1995. The town of 2,666 now supports four different restaurants that serve the food, but only three traffic lights.


No one, including John Kamoulakos, who with his brother Peter invented the street food in Halifax, is quite sure how donairs migrated from east to west. Aaron Tingley of Tony’s Meats (based in Antigonish, Nova Scotia), a supplier that purchased the Mr. Donair trademark and recipe from Kamoulakos in 2005, thinks Maritime labourers might have driven Alberta’s demand: “They want to experience a taste of home.”

That’s what Chawki El-Homeira was thinking in 1978, when he left Halifax to chase the Alberta oil patch. Only he was going to feed the workforce. The sixty-seven-year-old remembers his first encounter with the donair, in March 1976, as if it were yesterday. He’d arrived in Nova Scotia from Lebanon with neither family nor English and got a job washing dishes in a restaurant that served the delicacy. “Something attracted me to it,” he tells me. “It was close to our food: it’s pita bread and spicy, quality beef, like shawarma. I thought, someday I’m going to open my own donair shop.”

After watching Maritimers migrate to Fort McMurray, he packed his bags and followed. The timing was terrible. The oil patch dried up in 1980, before he could secure a lease (like a true Albertan, he blames Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program). So he drove a cab instead, first in Fort Mac, then in Edmonton, looking for commercial vacancies while the meter ran.

On a fellow cabbie’s tip, he purchased a submarine-sandwich shop on Whyte Avenue in 1982 (the same year Tawachi opened his) and introduced his Dartmouth recipe to Albertans one slice at a time, offering customers free samples. Word spread of “Charles Smart Donair” (his anglicized name and a poorly translated Arabic adjective), and soon he had a monopoly as a supplier to other Lebanese shop owners. Then his best customer tried to copy his technique and, he claims, sabotage his business by spreading rumours to his predominantly Muslim clientele that he, a Christian, spiked his product with pork.

If anyone knows of a good donair place in Toronto’s financial district, feel free to drop a hint in the comments…

March 2, 2015

Lebanon braces for the “attentions” of ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Michael Totten on the announcement by ISIS that Lebanon is their next expansion target:

The Lebanese army is one of the least effective in the Middle East — and that’s saying something in a region where the far more capable Syrian and Iraqi armies are utterly failing to safeguard what should be their own sovereign territory.

So France is going to send a three billion dollar package of weapons to Lebanon and the Saudis are going to pay for it. It won’t solve the problem any more than a full-body cast will cure cancer, but it beats standing around and not even trying.

It may seem surprising at first that Riyadh is willing to fund a Lebanese Maginot Line. Saudi Arabia is the most culturally conservative Arab country and Lebanon is the most liberal, partly because of its one-third Christian minority, but also because Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims are, for the most part, Mediterranean merchants rather than isolated desert-dwellers. They’ve been exposed to cosmopolitan ideas and culture for centuries while most Saudis outside the Hejaz region on the Red Sea have been hermetically sealed off from the wider world and its ways for millennia.


The Lebanese, of course, are in far more immediate danger. They can feel ISIS’ hot breath on their necks. The army has been scrapping with them along the Syrian border for some time now. A majority of Lebanon’s population is either Christian, Shia, or Druze, and all three populations rightly see ISIS as a potentially genocidal threat to their very existence. Even the Sunnis, though, fear and loathe ISIS. Other than the nominal sectarian sameness — ISIS also is Sunni — Lebanon’s culturally liberal Sunnis have little more in common with ISIS than the French or Italians do.

A serious invasion of Lebanon by ISIS could unleash a bloodbath that makes the civil war in Syria look like a bar fight with pool sticks and beer mugs. It would be tantamount to a Nazi invasion. Every family in Lebanon is armed to the gills thanks to the state being too weak and divided to provide basic security, but people anywhere in the world facing psychopathic mass-murderers will fight with kitchen knives and even their fingernails and teeth if they have to.

The only good thing that might emerge from an attempted ISIS invasion is that the eternally fractious Lebanese might finally realize they have enough in common with each other to band together for survival and kindle something that resembles a national identity for the first time in their history.

February 21, 2015

“… could stand to read” some history

Filed under: Africa, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Mark Steyn has read some history:

Before the civil war, Beirut was known as “the Paris of the east”. Then things got worse. As worse and worser as they got, however, it was not in-your-face genocidal, with regular global broadcasts of mass beheadings and live immolations. In that sense, the salient difference between Lebanon then and ISIS now is the mainstreaming of depravity. Which is why the analogies don’t apply. We are moving into a world of horrors beyond analogy.

A lot of things have gotten worse. If Beirut is no longer the Paris of the east, Paris is looking a lot like the Beirut of the west — with regular, violent, murderous sectarian attacks accepted as a feature of daily life. In such a world, we could all “stand to read” a little more history. But in Nigeria, when you’re in the middle of history class, Boko Haram kick the door down, seize you and your fellow schoolgirls and sell you into sex slavery. Boko Haram “could stand to read” a little history, but their very name comes from a corruption of the word “book” — as in “books are forbidden”, reading is forbidden, learning is forbidden, history is forbidden.

Well, Nigeria… Wild and crazy country, right? Oh, I don’t know. A half-century ago, it lived under English Common Law, more or less. In 1960 Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, second Governor-General of an independent Nigeria, was the first Nigerian to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Counsel. It wasn’t Surrey, but it wasn’t savagery.

Like Lebanon, Nigeria got worse, and it’s getting worser. That’s true of a lot of places. In the Middle East, once functioning states — whether dictatorial or reasonably benign — are imploding. In Yemen, the US has just abandoned its third embassy in the region. According to the President of Tunisia, one third of the population of Libya has fled to Tunisia. That’s two million people. According to the UN, just shy of four million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. In Iraq, Christians and other minorities are forming militias because they don’t have anywhere to flee (Syria? Saudia Arabia?) and their menfolk are facing extermination and their women gang-rapes and slavery.

These people “could stand to read” a little history, too. But they don’t have time to read history because they’re too busy living it: the disintegration of post-World War Two Libya; the erasure of the Anglo-French Arabian carve-up; the extinction of some of the oldest Christian communities on earth; the metastasizing of a new, very 21st-century evil combining some of the oldest barbarisms with a cutting-edge social-media search-engine optimization strategy.

July 17, 2014

Israel’s Iron Dome systems

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Austin Bay discusses the relative success of the Israeli anti-missile defence system called Iron Dome:

According to the Israeli government, in this latest round of Israel-Hamas combat, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has (so far) intercepted 90 percent of targeted incoming Hamas rockets.

Iron Dome is a very sophisticated tactical (short-range) anti-missile and anti-artillery projectile defense system. In terms of combat operations, Iron Dome’s “sensor-shooter” system is a drastically scaled-down strategic anti-missile defense system, a mini-ABM system in the mold of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In fact, Iron Dome is an SDI descendant and a cousin of the current U.S. Missile Defense program. I will return to the cousin connection in a moment.

For good reason the 2006 Israel-Lebanese Hezbollah War is also called “The Rocket War.” Hezbollah fired several thousand unguided rockets into Israeli territory.

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, accused Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces of launching “indiscriminate” attacks that killed civilians on both sides of the border. As usual, HRW’s legalistic accusations against Israel received more international media attention. Though Hezbollah rocketeers frequently fired from positions within civilian neighborhoods (as Hamas rocket teams are doing in 2014), HRW argued that the Israelis “failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets.” HRW berated the IDF for employing cluster munitions.

However, to its credit, HRW’s detailed 2007 investigation of Hezbollah confirmed the harsh but obvious conclusion that Hezbollah had “deliberately targeted” civilian areas within Israel. HRW’s report concluded that, “Hezbollah repeatedly fired rockets in the direction of civilian-populated areas in which there was no evident military target.”

An HRW press release summarizing the investigation said that indiscriminate rocket fire directed at densely populated civilian neighborhoods “killed or injured civilians in Jewish, Arab and mixed villages, towns and cities.” In other words, Hezbollah wanted to spill civilian blood — lots of blood — and if it happened to be Arab blood, so be it.


In the last two weeks, Iron Dome has demonstrated that it can successfully protect people. Several press reports have noted the Israeli claim that Iron Dome’s demonstrated capabilities have given the Israeli government something very precious in a crisis: time. Instead of facing demands to strike back immediately, the government can consider military and political options.

February 12, 2013

Palestine as a useful symbol, but Palestinians as inconvenient “guests”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

Strategy Page on the paradoxical Arab view of Palestine as worth fighting for, but actual living Palestinians as less-than-welcome pests (or worse):

While most Arabs will admit they hate Israel, they will also deny that this has anything to do with anti-Semitism and has everything to do with the Palestinians. This is not true, as Arabs have long demonstrated a hostility towards the Jews, something which is part of their religion. It’s in their scriptures, the stories of how Jews refused to support Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Long held grudges are popular in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, there are many more recent reasons for Arabs to dislike the Palestinians. When the state of Israel was established in 1947 there began a series of bad decisions by Arab governments that are setting records for failure. Although the UN tried to broker the creation of Israel, Arab nations misjudged their own power and told Arabs in Israel to flee their homes, so that the Arab armies could come in and kill all the Jews. When that didn’t work, the Arabs refused to absorb the 600,000 Arab refugees, and continues to treat (actually, mistreat) them as refugees. At the same time, the Arabs expelled 600,000 Jews who had been living among them for centuries. Most of these Jews went to Israel and become Israelis, and prospered.

Thus began decades of hostility between Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The Palestinians that fled to Lebanon proceeded to trigger a 15 year long civil war (1975-90) that devastated the country and left in place a Shia militia in the south (Hezbollah) that prevents the country from being truly united. The Palestinians that fled to Jordan eventually (1970) staged an uprising against the king, and were defeated and largely expelled. The Palestinians that went to Kuwait welcomed the Iraqi invasion of 1990 because Saddam Hussein had always been very loud about wanting to destroy Israel. When Arab and Western troops tossed Saddam out of Kuwait five months later, the Palestinians were forced to flee the vengeance of the Kuwaitis. The Palestinians that went to Iraq also had to flee in 2003, because they had helped Saddam terrorize the Shia and Kurdish majority and were, well, you know the story.

March 22, 2012

Syria is a “nation made up of little pieces, and they all are about to fall to the floor”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

Geoffrey Clarfield on the history of Syria and the possible future of the region:

From outside Syria, it appears that a government is waging war against citizens who are demanding change and democracy. That is certainly how many media outlets are reporting the ongoing violence in that country. But as many Syrians know, this war is about something else entirely. Something much larger.

A century ago, Syria was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Although the administrative sub-districts of what is now called Syria changed many times under the Turks, by the early 20th century they comprised a number of distinct administrative units that centred around key cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo. Beginning in 1874, they also included the areas around Jerusalem (which had a Jewish majority). The British called the area “the Levant.”

The area was, and still is, made up of a number of occasionally co-operating, occasionally competing ethnic groups: Sunni Arabs, Maronite Christians, Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians, Aramaic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Alawis, Muslim Gypsies, Armenians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurdish-speaking Sunnis and nomadic Sunni Bedouin — each with their own distinctive history, loyalties and competing interests.

[. . .]

As the Sunni Arab elites of Aleppo and Damascus clamoured for independence from the French, they became enamored with three overlapping ideologies. The first was that of Pan-Islam, which many rejected because it was seen as too similar as that of the defunct and discredited Ottoman Empire. The second was Pan Arabism, which held that the Arab world was once one country, and was destined to become one again. (This school of thought would survive until Nasser’s era in the 1950s and 1960s, but no one talks about it anymore.)

The third was “Greater Syria.” This theory held that the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean were all members of one unit — including present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and southwestern Turkey. Extreme versions of the “Greater Syria” ideology include Cyprus and the Sinai desert. In none of these worldviews is there any room for an independent Jewish homeland, a Christian Lebanon or, in the masimalist cases, even a Greek Orthodox Cyprus. Unlike Pan Arabism, the ideology of Greater Syria still has some resonance in the region.

February 13, 2011

Egypt’s long road to reform

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:50

Strategy Page lists some of the many difficulties facing Egypt:

Although deposed dictator Mubarak officially maintained the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Mubarak also had the state controlled media constantly criticize Israel for real and (mostly) imagined crimes against Moslems. Mubarak allowed Hamas to bring in Iranian weapons and cash (for an eventual attack on Israel). Mubarak did what any dictator does, he found an external enemy to blame things on. But all of Egypt’s problems are internal, mostly in the form of corrupt government officials and most of the economy controlled by a few hundred families. It’s as the Russian czar said once, when asked about his great power, “I do not run Russia, 10,000 clerks do.” It’s the same in Egypt (or any other country). Replacing enough of the several hundred thousand officials (government and business), to really be in power, will be difficult for any reform politicians. Replacing all the current “clerks” with honest ones will be impossible. Eliminating corruption takes a generation or more, assuming you really try. There are centuries of history with that sort of thing, but Arabs tend to consult their own special history book, one found in the fiction section, and full of tales of imaginary Arab accomplishments, and a long list of self-inflicted injuries blamed on others. The fact is that Egypt, like most Arab nations, has long neglected education and economic opportunity. Literacy is only 71 percent, and corrupt officials make it impossible to start a legal business. Economic activity is monopolized by the several hundred families who see nothing wrong with crippling the economy for their own gain. The wealthy have not hesitated to use thugs and death squads to maintain their power. While often at each other’s throats over business or personal matters, the several hundred thousand officials and business leaders will largely unite at any attempts to dismantle their economic arrangements. Bribes, threats and all sorts of enticements will be offered cripple the reform efforts. While most Egyptians demand reform, those benefitting from the current arrangements know that they have thousands of years of Egyptian history on their side. Occasionally, foreigners would take advantage of this culture of corruption, which extended to the army, and invade. But the Egyptian ruling class would soon absorb the invaders, and the business of running Egypt would return to its normal ways.

Israel knows well how corrupt the Egyptian armed forces are. Except for a few years before the 1973 war, when a highly efficient Anwar Sadat was running the army, the Egyptian armed forces have been allowed to wallow in their usual incompetent self-delusion. Peacetime armies have long been seen as perfect sources of wealth for corrupt politicians. Thus, in the last three decades, the Egyptian forces have done their job in this department. A new Egyptian government, seeking to gain domestic and foreign popularity by cancelling the peace treaty with Israel, would restore the threat of Egypt foolishly starting another war they would lose. Israel would have to redeploy its forces to deal with this. That would cost money, and weaken the edge Israel has in the north against Hezbollah and Syria. All this would not really change the balance of power. What might do that is reforms in the Egyptian military, to eliminate corruption and raise standards. Good luck with that.

Egypt may achieve reform, to include a sharp reduction in corruption and true rule of law. What is less certain is dealing with the effects of three decades of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda in the state controlled media. But the biggest problems are internal, and solving those are a long shot.

Many Egyptians have doubts that democracy will work in Egypt. They point to Lebanon and Iraq as examples of what happens when you allow Arabs to use democracy to rule themselves. The 22 year old Lebanese democracy fell apart in 1975, followed by fifteen years of civil war, then a peace deal that left the country divided into the “democratic” north, with the south ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship (Hezbollah) financed by Iran. Iraq has a barely functioning democracy that many Arabs despise because it was facilitated by an American/British invasion to remove an Arab dictator. What Arabs really find discouraging about Iraq’s democracy is that it reveals how difficult it is to run such a government. But as Westerners constantly point out, freedom isn’t free and democracy isn’t easy. If you want the goodies, you have to make the effort.

Update: Lawrence Solomon thinks that the path to democracy is even harder, and less likely to succeed:

In Egypt, the ends that democracy would bring are more likely death, submission and the pursuit of jihad, as defined by the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. “The Koran is our constitution, the Jihad is our way, and the Death for Allah is our most exalted wish,” it proclaims. The word Islam does mean “submission.”

Most Egyptians — three-quarters of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, public opinion polls say — want “strict imposition of Sharia law” and a larger proportion wants policies that most in the West would view as human rights abuses — 82% would stone adulterers and 84% want the death penalty for Muslims who leave their faith.

While most of the urban generation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square desires a modern Egyptian state of some kind, the Egyptian majority does not: 91% of Muslims want to keep “Western values out of Islamic countries.” For the vast majority outside the main cities, the outrages perpetrated by Mubarak lie mostly in his suppression of Islamic fundamentalist values, such as his ban on female genital mutilation and his moves to phase out polygamy and child brides. Most Muslim Egyptians not only oppose a modern Egyptian state, they would dismantle the existing Egyptian state, two-thirds wanting instead “to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”

But even with all of that said, he points out that things are not totally hopeless:

But traditional Egypt need not forever prevail. A poll just released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, taken between Feb. 5 and Feb. 8 of residents of Cairo and Alexandria, the two centres of protest, shows both how different the major cities are from the rest of the country, and how much hope there is for a modern Egypt in the future.

The protest was mostly driven by the economy, with 37% citing either “poor economic conditions” or “Unemployment/Job conditions.” Corruption came in next, at 22%, followed by “poor delivery of services like electricity and water” at 5%. The social causes touted by the Western media were all but non-existent: Just 3% cited “political repression/no democracy” and another 3% cited “abuses by security services/arrests/torture etc.” Neither are the populations in these urban centres motivated by fundamentalism. Only 4% complained of a “Regime not Islamic enough,” only 4% of a “Regime Too Connected to the U.S.,” and just 3% of a “Regime Too Supportive of Israel.” In a hypothetical election for president, one-third of the residents of these cities favoured either Mubarak (16%) or his vice-president, Omar Suleiman (17%), compared to 26% for Amr Musa, a prominent diplomat.

Mohammed ElBaradei, a diplomat endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood, would receive just 3% of the vote.

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