Our living room, Joseph misbehaving. Probably throwing stuff.
Joseph: No, good!
...that starts out as humorous account of Labash's encounter with Christopher Hitches in Kuwait City, Hitchens demanding that Labash get him into Iraq yesterday...
You can tell how at ease a man is in the world from the scarcity of possessions he lugs around with him. When I came here, it was with large backpacks and overstuffed duffels, extraneous tote bags, pouches, and carry-ons. But Hitchens showed up at my door with nothing more than a firm handshake and a half-smoked pack of Rothman's. As he stood there, rumpled and slightly jetlagged in blue jeans and a black leather jacket, he looked sort of like the Fonz--if the Fonz had been a British former socialist who could pinch large swaths of Auden from memory.
...and ends with the heart-rending, chaotic, desperate scene at their destination - Safwan, transported there as part of a Red Crescent aid convoy:
It is understandable, then, if their actions and emotions aren't easily classified--if they don't look too happy at all these journalists piling off buses like Great White Santas on safari. They love the help, and hate that they need it. While I passed out candy and toys to children, on more than one occasion, an adult stepped in and waved me off. One shot me an assassin's glare and offered a stern admonition. When I asked a relief worker what was said, he explained, "He is ashamed of his...conditions. They are proud. This is not who they are. They do not want outsiders coming here and seeing them this way."
With the gates of Baghdad in sight, Best Laid Plans now ponders two things. First, as Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton has pointed out, is that the deaths of Iraqi combatants, whom U.S. and British units are now slaying--as they must--with great efficiency, ought to be cause for sorrow.
Though valid military targets, most Iraqi combatants are forced conscripts who want no fight. They're poorly trained and poorly equipped, with almost no chance of survival should they be foolish enough to discharge any weapon: The U.S. military locates and obliterates sources of fire with almost robotic competence. Most Iraqi combatants are in uniform not through voluntary choice, as is the case with all U.S. and British combatants, but because they were impressed. Iraqi men cannot refuse conscription, and face summary execution if they try to return to their families. It's awful when even one Iraqi civilian dies, but civilian deaths are occurring in small numbers by the standards of warfare. Iraqi combatants are dying en masse. This conflict must end soon so that the United States can stop doing what is, by the logic of war, entirely legal, proper, fair, and necessary--killing Iraqi soldiers.
The second thought that comes to mind at this moment is that though the assault on Iraq is going extremely well and U.S. and British forces are conducting themselves with exemplary honor, we should not see this for anything more than it is. Iraq was a sitting duck. Relative to an attacker, few nations have ever been more vulnerable.
To everyone's great relief, no anti-Christian violence has erupted in the Muslim world as a result of the Iraq war:
These were not just idle warnings. In Pakistan, after the American strikes in Afghanistan following 9/11, some 25 Christians were killed and dozens more injured in a string of church bombings by Islamic extremists.
To find out if this clash of cultures was actually happening, I contacted Christian and Muslim leaders in places where relations between the two faiths were already strained: Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Palestine. I have been in regular conversation with Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of the Latin Rite Catholic Church in Baghdad. I’ve also consulted with people who track anti-Christian persecution from both Rome and Washington.
So far, there simply is no anti-Christian backlash.
In many places, observers say that Muslim/Christian ties have never been so strong, as followers of both religions make common cause against what they see as an American, rather than a Christian, war. All sources concur that a principal factor has been the strong anti-war line of John Paul II, which has received extensive coverage in the Arab press and praise from Islamic leaders.
There are other factors. Pre-existing Muslim-Christian dialogues have helped keep the peace. Other Christian leaders, including the local Catholic hierarchy in most places, have also spoken against the war. Several of the nations in the frontline of opposition, such as France and Germany, are historically Christian, undercutting the notion of a Christian crusade. Moreover, many Muslims are not sympathetic to Saddam Hussein.
Yet most observers believe John Paul’s role has been decisive. Muslim leader Mohammad Sammak, who lives in Beirut, told me that the pope’s statements on the war are being translated into Arabic there and are proclaimed from the mosques during Friday prayers.
And, among other notes, a most fascinating tidbit about dialogue between the Latin Rite and the Assyrian Church of the East:
The agreement provides for inter-communion between the Assyrian Church of the East and its parallel Eastern rite Catholic church, the Chaldean Catholic Church. In so doing, the Vatican accepted the Eucharistic prayer used by the Assyrians, called the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, even though it does not contain an “institution narrative.” These are the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “Take this, all of you, and eat it,” etc.
Taft calls the agreement “the most remarkable Catholic magisterial document since Vatican II.” He believes that by treating consecration as something accomplished by the entire liturgical prayer, and not by an isolated set of “magic words,” the Vatican has repudiated a quasi-mechanistic understanding that “seriously warped popular Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.”
You might also note Cardinal Stafford's words on what "freedom" seems to mean in the United States.
Fort Bliss, built before the days of Pancho Villa as a cavalry outpost to protect the border, became the US Army's air defence centre during World War II. With increased attention focused on the Middle East, its desert conditions and surrounding military bases have increased the post's importance to both the US military and its allies. Thirty-one allied nations train here, said Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt. Only Germany, however, has used US facilities to house permanent military installations. German officials say they reap a number of benefits from being in Texas, from the ease of purchasing US weapons systems to the arid weather. German troops have their own school, church and social club, and have long forged close friendships with US residents and military officials. Postings to Fort Bliss, which often last three years, are seen as plum assignments, leading some Germans to break their ties with the military and move to El Paso permanently.