Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, May 09, 2008

New Column: What Happened in Basra?

So I finally got around to writing a new column. My editors are indeed saints for the patience they've shown after an absense of six months. I guess my only excuse is that I've been stuck doing new strategic math, such as the import of Russia's aggressive engagement all over the Middle East, including finding channels to the jihadists. I've also been spending a lot of time learning about and traveling around Turkey and the Ottoman imperial legacy.

I should also update my profile since I am now a 'contributing editor' rather than a columnist for the New York Sun, and I'm done writing for the Prospect. The Prospect gave me a column for a year, and it was a great opportunity to get exposure to a European audience through a prestigious magazine, but I believed that as Iraq stabilized the Iraq story would become too boring to warrant a monthly column. I look forward to writing longer pieces for them in the future. I will also post my Prospect columns on Talisman Gate when I get around to it.

My new column is: What Happened in Basra?

Regarding the unique corporate identity of 'original' Basrans, one should consider the case of the Bani Tamim tribe: Basra was founded as both a military base, and a social one for Islam in a land infested with Jews, Christians and Manichean peasants, all of various Semitic extractions, as well as the human flotsam of whatever ancient empire has raped and raided through Mesopotamia. It is debatable whether founding a garrison town was a conscious effort towards preserving ethnic homogeneity, but what is clear is that Basra pivoted Arab troops towards future campaign to sweep up Persia. One of the tribes that were settled in the new metropolis were the Bani Tamim, today they constitute the second largest tribe in Basra Province, after those initial settlers played host to subsequent migrations of their kinsmen out of arid Arabia into greener pastures.

Those first Tamimis eventually absorbed countless natives and bestowed their tribal affiliation, and protection, upon them. They even absorbed a large number of Persian mercenaries, brought in and paid for as cavalrymen in the service of the new, martial faith bent on imperial expansion. Some Tamimis moved on as the borderlands shifted north and east, forgotten in some geographical recess in Central Asia or the Caucases, forgetting who they are as they themselves were absorbed into native affiliations.

Throughout most of these 1400 years, the Tamimis of Basra remained Sunni—or whatever counted as the ruling state’s orthodoxy—as did most of the town proper and the hinterland around them. But they must have been swayed by the various heresies and rebellions that were sparked in their midst, or erupted all around them, led by gypsies, slaves and mystics. And within the mishmash of Portuguese and Philippino ancestry, and Hindu worship, and pagan deities refashioned as Muslim saints, and the chaos left as central authority receded, the pure-bred Arabs of the Bani Tamim and the other tribes that settled south of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers confluence, were infected with dissent, and turned Shiite in larger numbers in the last two centuries or so.

'Basrawi' identity was centuries in the making.

It is therefore interesting that the Tamimis were the first to respond to Maliki's call to arms. These 'original' Basrans rallied to the government's side against the newly arrived 'squatters' who form the bulk of Sadrist support in Basra and elsewhere; new in the sense that they've only been around for less than a century.

One of my column's un-PC points is that whereas civic pride and sense of self among native Basrans was solid, these transplants from Amara into the slums of Basra and Sadr City suffered from a muddled identity. Therefore, when the Iranians relied on the Sadrists they were placing their bets on ghetto thugs rather than ideologues in the cut of Hezbollah; being a Sadrist was more akin to joining the Crips or the Bloods rather than marching in the civil rights movement. That’s why the presence of so unconvincing a leader as Mr. al-Sadr at the helm didn’t really matter: he himself was irrelevant since this wasn’t a revolution, but his last name gave the progeny of those ‘shroogis’ their gang colors.

On Abu Hamza al-Muhajir: I'm still waiting for word from Mosul, but I just want to re-iterate: Abu Hamza al-Muhajir is not necessarily one and the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, since this association is basely solely on the conjecture of US intelligence agencies. It may be correct, but there's still a large margin for surprises. This is what I wrote back in February 2007:

BTW: I ready to acknowlegde this now: al-Muhajir, although speaking in classical Arabic, pronounces some words with a muted Egyptian accent. I have been reluctant to belief that he's actually Abu Ayyub al-Masri, as claimed by US intelligence, and that for a variety of reasons; I'm warming up to the idea at this point, or at least the idea that he's originally from Egypt.


Blogger bg said...


re: Abu Ayyub al-Masri

just posted this below..

here we go again..

US military denies Iraqi claims of al-Qaida leader's arrest

hmm, think i'm going to stick with the premise that it's
not wise to alert ones enemies as to your advantage..


1:45 PM, May 09, 2008

Anonymous Alan Furman said...

"In big concession, militia agrees to let Iraqi troops into Sadr City"

You may now proceed with your Snoopy dance, NK

7:14 PM, May 09, 2008

Anonymous Michael said...

Pardon me Nibras. I normally like your informed opinion, even if in disagreement with some issues.

But I found your Basrah was "infested" comment out insulting.

As an editor, multi-lingual, you know the definition of this word, yes? It has very negative connotations of "diseased" as in the Christians or Jews spread their disease to the area. I recognzie this is usually a Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or extremist radical Islamic type statement.

Would you say Basrah is "infested" today by Arabs, Shia, Sunni? I do not think so. You would qualify with terrorist or tyrants.

I can understand something along the lines of "infested" by hooligans, thieves, mafia, terrorist.

But not Jews or Christians peasants. As Iraq then, 1400 years until today is filled with "peasants" of all backgrounds, mostly Islamic peasants. But you would not label Muslims as "infesting" Basrah, would you?

Shall we say Dearborn today is infested by Muslims? Would you not find that to be an insult?

I noticed you did not use this word in your NYS article. In fact your article was well written. Instead, you utilized the words; "boast" and "minority" for current tribes and Christians in Basrah. This is a positive statement.

What changed? money? Are there no Christian peasants today in Basrah? Surely there are, just as there are Islamic peasants.

Do you see your mistake now? The Poor or peasantry is still alive today.

Why not use "infested" in NYS? Maybe the publication would not allow it?

Just curious. I have a hard time thinking you do not undertand the definition or the ramifications of using "infested" against ethnic tribes like the Jews, religious bodies like Christians and others.

And it is rather telling you did not use it in the New York Sun for todays purposes. Why not?

Is Iraq still "infested" today by Christians? I read recently where 700 signed up to join the Iraqi Army.

"Peasants" does not make the context any better either.

Your statement suprises me. As today, a majority Christian nation is freeing Iraqi citizens from the true "infestation" or "infection" of terrorist, thieves, and tyrannical led thugs.

That would be a better context.

Jews and Christians are helping in all areas. From financing Iraq rebuilding, healthcare, etc., to putting their lives on the line to protect Iraqis of all beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

Does that mean Iraq is being infested by today by new Christians and Jews?

This is very bad use of the word in relation to ethnic groups and religious groups. Unless you use it in context to terrorist and radicals I see no purpose. Were the Christians and Jews back in history of Basrah terrorist and radicals as opposed to Arabs and Mohammedeans? Maybe you can expand on it. I like learning history of which I am not familiar to.

We could as easily say Islam "infested" the Middle East. Or that Mohammed "infested" the Middle East. Correct? In fact, it would have more contextual evidence in relation today in relation to poverty, peasants and corrupt governments. Da?

I hope you see this as a polite challenge to your statement that appears very biased in judgement.

Like I say, I normally enjoy youer articles and insight, plus connections on the ground in Iraq. But this little twist surprised me.

10:47 PM, May 09, 2008

Anonymous Joshua said...

I forgot to quote the exact line and paragraph from the article:

"Basra was founded by the Arabs who invaded the city 1,400 years ago. They used it as an operating base against the Persian Empire. It became a military base in a land teaming with Jews, Christians, and Manichean peasants, all of various Semitic extractions."

You replaced "infested" with "teaming."

10:50 PM, May 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think hanna batatu's analysis of this was spot-on, and much less culturalist. you emphasize that too much, as the expense of economy. bad son of marxists. err, actually, probably precisely what happens with sons of marxists.

10:52 PM, May 09, 2008

Blogger bg said...


Michael @ 10:47 PM..

i totally agree (besides, he wasn't even there).. "inhabited"
would have been a preferentially mature description imo..


11:17 PM, May 09, 2008

Anonymous rob e said...

That use of language ("infested") is so out of place that one can't help but wonder if much of your other analysis is distorted by viewing recent developments through the same looking glass. Disappointing.

You've been my favorite commentator on the web, but this gives pause.

7:31 AM, May 10, 2008

Blogger BrianFH said...

"Shall we say Dearborn today is infested by Muslims? " Probably most native Dearbornians would.

"teaming with Jews, Christians, and Manichean peasants, all of various Semitic extractions."

"You replaced "infested" with "teaming.""

And even that's wrong. The word is "teeming". "Team" is never a verb; it means one side in a game.

In any case, in the original context the word 'infest' is somewhat "neutralized", since it connotes both influx and something of the possible attitude of the other locals to them, not necessarily Nibras'.

NK has given us a very valuable key here to the local attitudes and dynamics.

It's not altogether reassuring to think of Sadrists as analogous to Crips and Bloods, though. They are proving to be very resilient and capable of "infesting" areas far from their home bases in LA.

7:33 AM, May 10, 2008

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

In my column, I don't mention the instinct of the Arab armies to preserve ethnic homogeneity as I do in my blog post, that's why the use of the word "infested" is warranted to describe how these invading Arabs--Semites themselves--looked upon the "Others", who happened to be their semitic cousins.

But if your intent is to parse my words in search of my inner self, and in doing so expressing disappointment with my analysis, then let me tell you from the get-go that I am a racist, an elitist, a narcissist, a chauvinist, and an anti-social, arrogant, self-righteous, empathy-deficient and snobbish jerk who would be capable of the darkest evil had he not been so cowardly.

So now that we've established who I am and what my motivations are, I still hope that some of you out there would find use for my analysis, especially on the few occassions when I get it right.

I want to be very clear and very mean: I'm writing for people of a certain intellectual level, and anyone falling below this level is not part of my target audience. I'm not out for fame or popularity; through this blog, I intend to address serious issues in the Middle East that are killing people and are likely to kill more people, and how the west should understand these issues.

This blog is not for the Kumbaya crowd, nor is it for the "Islam is evil" cranks. This blog is for people who get it, and can do something about it. And if you can't get it then there's nothing I can do about it.



8:46 AM, May 10, 2008

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

And just to clarify a point to the anonymous poster who's just discovered Hanna Batatu:

My parents were not "Marxists", they were hard-core Communists. There's a big difference between a fuddy-duddy 'intellectual' operating within safe confines and having the luxury of being wrought with over-thought, and a 'comrade' risking life and limb for one's cause. As Batatu makes clear, those Iraqi communists were more about a secular, non-sectarian society than they were for a dictatorship of the proletariat.



8:58 AM, May 10, 2008

Anonymous amagi said...

Go, Nibras, go!

10:15 AM, May 10, 2008

Anonymous rob e said...

And now these same assorted peasants are infesting your very own blog as well. That must be upsetting.

But, on the issue at hand, using the dodge that you are writing for those of a certain intellectual level isn't "mean," as you seemed to intend. It's simply unpersuasive, pretentious, and a bit childish as well.

I'll just take you at your word that you're a racist, etc, etc, and leave it at that.

10:21 AM, May 10, 2008

Anonymous long time fan said...

Nibras: you got it right once again. I just re-read what you wrote a month and a half ago and everything you said was going to happen happened just as you said it would. I hope that our leaders making decisions on America's behalf are reading you as closely as I am. Keep up the fight!!!

11:02 AM, May 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...


More from the proudly, fiercely, wildly wrong Jamie Glanz.

Notice his biggest criticism of Cockburn's book: not enough about what makes Moqtada tick, not enough info about Moqtada the man. Glanz plainly admires the thug, and like a starstruck adolescent, wants more personal information.

5:25 AM, May 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spencer Ackerman has hit the left's moral rock bottom. This is Ackerman's feedback on Glanz's review:

"Moqtada Sadr is the new Che Guevara. Bring on the t-shirts for every sophomoric lefty college student."


Ackerman always posts the death notices of US soldiers in Iraq as if he is the voice of moral authority. Yet he champions SADR in whose name many Americans have been killed. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

Is it me or does his blog's name ATTACKERMAN sound like the creepy handle of a serial rapist?

1:10 PM, May 11, 2008

Anonymous AGA said...

I am a racist, an elitist, a narcissist, a chauvinist, and an anti-social, arrogant, self-righteous, empathy-deficient and snobbish jerk who would be capable of the darkest evil had he not been so cowardly.

I would add "young" to the list. :)

1:23 PM, May 11, 2008

Anonymous gj said...

and "obsessive shia-shrine-visiting Aries"

3:38 PM, May 11, 2008

Anonymous Tom D said...

Actually "team" can be a verb as in "team up" with or join others in a venture. "Teaming" can also be a verb in the sense of a gerund or participle.

Forty years ago Basra was an interesting place, far more so than Khoramshahr or Abadan across the river in Iran. All of those old Gulf ports had been inhabited "forever", meaning before history as we know it presently. It was very much like some of the southern
Spanish, Italian, and French ports and undoubtedly like Karachi. Trade had gone between India/Pakistan and Spain and the Maghreb for millennia. Old ship wrecks in the Gulf and Mediterranean are turning up all the time and extending knowledge.

All the ethnic and racial goups our host mentioned were present plus some from northern Europe via what became Russia.

I used to sneak over to Basra sometimes because it was such a contrast to even Pahlavi Iran's mental and legal strictures. It was far more modern and secular in outlook, or perhaps just ancient after all is said and done.

It was so sad that sophisticated modern secular Iraq became a battleground because of Ba'athist thuggery and the destructive decline into religiosity, another form of thuggery.

8:46 AM, May 20, 2008

Blogger AM said...

A new report tracking the decline in Islamist terrorism around the world will be launched at the UN tomorrow 1100 EST.

9:38 PM, May 20, 2008

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