Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Remember the Lazers?

Pentagon showcases new laser system

from cnn online

WASHINGTON (AP) -- From 1,500 feet above southeast Washington on a hazy Tuesday, you didn't have to look hard to notice a bright red-and-green flashing light among the clutter of treetops, rooftops, the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

That's the idea. When pilots see the light, it means they've flown into restricted airspace. They are to fly away from the light -- fast -- and contact air traffic control.

please read the whole article, and then check out:

Laser injures Delta pilot's eye

The Navy recently turned down an appeal from the Defense Department inspector general to award Cmdr. Daly a Purple Heart for the incident. Cmdr. Daly, who retired from the service last year, continues to suffer eye pain and deteriorating vision.
During congressional testimony in 1999, he warned of laser threats to pilots.
"Numerous documented cases regarding the use of lasers against aircraft, civilians and military personnel exist, as well as does an all-too-lengthy list of the injuries that have resulted from the accidental and intentional misuse of these devices," Cmdr. Daly told a House Armed Services subcommittee.
He noted that incidents of lasers being directed at commercial airliners during takeoff and landings have raised fears that "this in fact may be a new form of terrorism."
"Lasers are easily obtainable and can be self-manufactured weapons in the terrorist arsenal, which essentially can effect a soft-kill solution and leave virtually no detectable evidence," he said.


Official: No laser, terrorism link

On November 22 (2004), the FBI and Department of Homeland Security alerted police agencies that terrorist groups have shown an interest in using laser beams to try to bring down flights.

"In certain circumstances, if laser weapons adversely affect the eyesight of both pilot and co-pilot during a non-instrument approach, there is a risk of airliner crash," the bulletin said.

President Eisenhower forewarned "Beware the military industrial complex."

If we look carefully, we can find out why...

Afghanistan's Children of War

All that we understand about the universe is derived through culture. The human mind possesses a miraculous ability to transform the raw information of the universe into a meaningful reality. Through this creative function, humans have invented economies, mythologies, languages, and art. It takes a social network of human minds to perpetuate these and the many other facets of culture. But what is culture?

The definition of the word culture with respect to human nature is not easy to pin down. This single word represents a vast universe of meaning, and yet it embodies the very essence of human existence. Every human on Earth is the product of culture, yet every culture is simultaneously recognized and maintained by a resonant human mind. If the human brain functions in a neurological manner analogous to a modern computing system, then the information of culture functions in a manner analogous to the software that drives the behavior of the computer. Through this metaphor, it becomes easy to see that one can’t function successfully without the other. All humans are children of culture. Cultures reflect the subjective reality of their human constituents, and cultures die when the human populations that maintain them die. In this manner, a symbiotic relationship between the human and his culture sustains the existence of both.

In the urban centers and rural villages of Afghanistan’s dynamic landscape, Islamic theology schools, called madrassas in the Arabic languages, have been the center of cultural education for centuries. Historically, Afghanistan’s predominately Sunni Hanafi sect of Sunni Islam practiced a liberal interpretation of Islamic law. The madrassas system promoted theological study, but it also provided an education in reading, writing, history, mathematics, medicine, and the language arts. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, Afghanistan’s madrassas system underwent radical changes. The foundations of traditional Afghan culture, generated by the madrassas, have all but disappeared in the violence of war. The development of the madrassa as a nucleus for extreme fundamentalist ideology is the direct byproduct of a people who have lost their sense of historical identity. A better understanding of how this cultural shift occurred can be reached by examining both the current and historical social functions of the madrassa.

children of afghanistan

Afghanistan is a nation of people reflecting a mosaic of ethnic diversity ruggedly shaped by the extreme conditions of the natural environment. The rocky Hindu Kush mountain range breaks Afghanistan’s northern and eastern borders and splits the country into regionally isolated ecological zones. Communities of diverse ethnic origins dot the landscape and manage lifestyles that take advantage of what few resources the land provides. Afghanistan’s harsh environment demands intensive labor for community subsistence, especially for the majority populations living in rural areas. In the mountain regions of the Hindu Kush, nomadic pastoral communities migrate between upper and lower altitudes depending on the needs of the flocks they tend. Agricultural communities in the valleys and lowlands grow fruits and nuts for subsistence, and meat and dairy foods are produced from free-range grazing animals like goats and sheep.

Culturally, Afghanistan is a “patchwork” of tribal ethnic zones. Turkish, Tajik, Nuristani, Hazara, and Uzbek ethnic groups, among other smaller groups, punctuate the mountainous northern regions, while a broad Pushtun majority occupies the country’s southern regions. Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic landscape has made the establishment of state government difficult, and although Afghans consistently resist political conformity, they devotedly share a united cultural identity under Islam. This is exemplified by the presence of a mosque, an Islamic house of worship, as a cultural centerpiece in every village and urban neighborhood.

children of god

Inside the mosques, Muslims of the surrounding community gather to pray and listen to a mullah, a “giver” of Koranic knowledge, Islamic scholar and religious leader. The Mullah provides important services to the community. He leads prayers, interprets Koranic scripture, officiates rites-of-passage ceremonies, and advises on political or social issues. He oversees the management of economic and subsistence resources provided through charity by the surrounding community. A cycle of reciprocity enhances the relationship between the mullah and the community he serves. The Mullah provides the framework for the community to practice religious faith, and the community reciprocates with charitable gifts. These gifts support the religious infrastructures of the Mosque system, which in turn provides employment, hope, and an education for the people of the local community. In addition to these social functions, The mullah establishes and maintains the madrassa theology schools and actively participates in the education of the students.

The students of the madrassas are identified as talib, or “seeker(s)” of Koranic knowledge. The talib learns how to read the Koran and interpret Sharia (Islamic) law. The madrassa functions as a significant generator of cultural knowledge, and provides the foundation of Afghanistan’s civil architecture. Students of the madrassa study and sleep within its walls. They spend years living and learning inside the madrassa, and upon completion, the students typically fulfill social needs as qazis (judges) and mufti ( Sharia canon lawyers). These legal interpreters and political policy makers represent the highest form of social authority outside of the mullahs. Afghanistan’s myriad of tribal societies are governed, in this manner from the tribal center downward. Political and social issues are debated during loya jirgas, a council of tribal chiefs. Within the loya jirgas, social policies are outlined and established that shape the organization of tribal society. The loya jirga as a traditional structure for social organization legitimates the function of tribal autonomy and provides a resistance to any centralized governing body, such as an Afghan monarchy or state government. The significance of the madrassa system with respect to Afghan tribal organization can not be under estimated. The madrassas transform typically poor and illiterate children into powerful and highly respected leaders of the tribal community. These leaders, in turn, shape Afghanistan’s future and perpetuate the functions of tribal culture.

children of earth

Outside of the madrassa system, social enculturation, or cultural learning, assumes the form of oral traditions communicated between family relatives. Histories of tribal patrilineal descent outline the kinship of male relatives. Fathers teach their sons the tribal customs of subsistence that allow each family to live off the land. Afghan men are responsible for legal and market exchanges, and they provide manual labor for construction and agricultural projects. Mothers teach their daughters how to tend to children, assist in the harvest of crops, manage domestic animals, and manufacture textiles for personal and market use. Afghan markets represent a forum of exchange for material goods like fruit, nuts, wool garments, and exotic goods from international markets, as well as ideas and opportunities for social gossip and mythic storytelling. With the modernization of Afghanistan’s urban centers came opportunities for progressive reformation and a homogenization of Afghan national identity.

children of knowledge

During the 1960’s, a brief period of state funded public schools provided an education to boys and girls during the years of late childhood. The modernization of the urban communities in Afghanistan displaced the emphasis of enculturation, or cultural learning, away from the focus of the madrassa and towards an increasingly centralized public system. With modernization came social demands for scientific, technological, and historical knowledge. Women taught lessons in mathematics, history, geography, reading and writing. Boys entered the public school system to learn in preparation for university studies or within the theological studies of the madrassa. Although the madrassa was temporarily displaced as a central generator of cultural knowledge, it adapted to the demands of a modernized society by providing a widespread outlet for academic and political publication. The decade of the 1960’s witnessed a cultural awakening in all aspects of culture, however, this was a short-lived renaissance. At the close of the 1970’s, a dark cloud of war descended upon the people of Afghanistan.

children of faith

In the years leading up to the Soviet invasion, Communist political parties wielded influence in Afghanistan’s state government. The Soviet influence of state authority removed from religious structure represented a threat to the primarily rural tribal bodies that were still loosely organized under the model of the loya jirga . Effectively, this undermined the tribal power of the mullahs within the madrassa system and negated the relevance of Sharia law. In this way, the Soviet influence symbolized a threat to the followers and practitioners of Islamic faith. Afghan mullahs in the rural countryside began crying for jihad, or an engagement in the struggle to maintain one’s duty to family and Islam. Jihad, according to Ahmed Rashid, in his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, is “the inner struggle of the Muslim to become a better human being.” Rashid adds, “Jihad is also a testing ground for obedience to God and implementing His command on earth".

The imposition of an atheistic state authority weakened the influence of Sharia law and compelled the followers of the jihad to forcibly resist the Communist expansion. In 1979, the Soviet Red Army rolled through Afghanistan’s countryside and violently engaged the jihadist resistance. The followers of tribal jihadist ideology emerged from the vast diversity of tribal bodies and established a unified and pugnacious resistance under Islamic supreme identity .

children of war

The Mujihedin are the “soldiers” of Islam. They are the students of madrassa education, trained in specialized military camps to wage a counter insurgency against an occupying military power. They come from families of farmers and nomadic animal herders. They are the sons of wealthy tribal mullahs, and the orphans of war. During a brutal decade of guerrilla warfare against the Soviet occupation forces, the Mujihedin represented a body of highly enculturated men. They could recant tribal lineages and tell historical narratives. Their leaders consisted of tribal mullahs and high-ranking students and graduates of the madrassa system. Although the guerrilla armies of the Mujihedin fought an enemy of vastly superior technology, they waged a strategically superior war that had expelled the Soviets from Afghanistan and fatally crippled the Soviet war machine.

In retaliation to guerrilla attacks by the unified mujihedin, the Soviet military systematically destroyed irrigation canals, crops, and civil institutions. Soviet troops kidnapped Afghan boys and girls and sent them to Soviet schools for Communist re-enculturation. Families were broken up and driven from their homes. All across the country, Afghans fled to the border regions for safety. Tribal refugees traveled across the mountainous border regions to find shelter in Iran, and Pakistan. Pastun refugee camps flourished along the Afghanistan- Pakistan border, and madrassas became the core nucleus of Afghan Islamic enculturation for boys and young men. In the madrassa, usually just a tent and pillows, the boys of lost families studied Koranic scripture and prayed. For most, this would be the only education they would receive. The trauma of war had stripped the madrassa of its historical context. The lessons of writing and literary arts, cultural pluralism, and mathematics were replaced by a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The mullahs and instructors of the makeshift madrassas were themselves barely literate. The madrassa culture, both during and after the Soviet War, developed a radically conservative interpretation of Sharia law. This provided the function of perpetuating jihadist ideology amidst the extreme conditions of industrial warfare.

While native Afghans fled the chaos of the Soviet War, new immigrants from madrassa schools in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan hurried to the frontlines in the name of jihad. The sudden population shift changed the cultural face of Afghan society. This influx of Mujihedin fighters and the subsequent deaths of the highly educated jihadists, coupled with the simultaneous outflow of native cultures would shift the religious tendency of Afghans away from the liberal Sunni Hanafi interpretation of Islamic law towards the radical fundamentalist ideologies of the refugee madrassas.

The atrocities endured by the Afghan people during Communist rule enflamed the convictions of the Muslim faithful who perceived the Soviet War as a Holy War to defend an Islamic nation. The victory of the Mujihedin over the powerful Imperial Red Army inspired Muslims in Afghanistan and around the world who believed God would honor the righteous. However, the sudden power vacuum fractured the tribal alliance of jihadist rebellion, and Afghan society descended into civil war.

Regionally segmented tribes of mujihedin turned against one another as tribal warlords “jockeyed” for national power. This feud was further complicated by the influence of outside parties and the destruction of natural resources. The Soviets had littered agricultural and commercial land with mines, thus rendering them useless to the returning refugees. As an alternative, farmers increased the production of opium, a substantial cash crop that requires very little water for growth. A vast drug trade emerged and Afghan farmers compromised strict Islamic prohibition for practical subsistence. The lucrative drug trade was a catalyst for the segmentation of jihadist ideology into regionally oriented warring factions. The old traditions of ethnic kinship vanished in the fires of war, and community identity focused on regional territories alone. This, multiplied by an overabundance of military firearms, tilted the liberated Afghanistan into civil war. Eventually, an extreme fundamentalist Pashtun sect of the jihadist movement, sponsored by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia emerged to fill the vacuum of power and bring the warring tribes under control. The Taliban, the “students” of the madrassa, would become the new face of the jihadist movement in Afghanistan.

The Taliban believe in returning Afghan society to a level of order following the teachings and examples of the Prophet Muhammad. In their quest to shut out modernity, the Taliban enforced strict codes of dress and behavior, and banned facets of western cultural influence. The Taliban believed that women tempted men away from the path of Islamic duty, and this belief is a byproduct of the male-only madrassa system. The Taliban restricted the presence of women in society, and invoked radical punishments to anyone who stepped outside their law. Taliban rule was brutal and enforced through fear and coercion, but the stability they brought to Afghan society was better than the chaos of civil war, and the Afghan people succumbed to the radical fundamentalist rule.

The next stage in the evolution of the jihadist movement is represented in the formation of Al Qeada, a global network of Mujihedin that have adapted the use of communications technology in the formation of structural integration. Fueled by the neofundamentalism of the radical madrassa culture, Al Qeada jihadists wage a war to defend the sanctity of Islamic law against the influences of Western secularism. Today, the jihadist movement has drawn yet another imperial occupation force to the Afghan homeland. Thus, the cycle of violence perpetuates itself and the men of the jihadist movement find meaning in the only thing that they know how to do: wage war.

children of history

The reconstruction of Afghanistan’s educational institutions is essential to mending the wounds of war and minimizing the influence of neo fundamentalism. Kimberly McCloud, in her article entitled Education, Education, Education…, suggests that “for the past fifteen years… the lack of education in Afghanistan (is) the primary factor inhibiting the development of a truly democratic political culture.” The reconstruction of Afghanistan’s social infrastructure is hampered by security problems, economic disparities, and human right’s abuses. Contemporary Afghan culture still carries the baggage of war. The radical transformation of the madrassa culture in Afghanistan provides an excellent example of what happens when a culture’s history is wiped out by war. It remains to be seen whether or not the Afghan people can pick up the pieces of their shattered cultural identities and lay the foundations for a stable future. This is something only they can do, and any foreign interference compounds the process of cultural awakening. The rebirth of Afghanistan’s classical, or independent, state identity will be a multigenerational force, and it can only flourish under the stability of peace.


1) Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. United States: Yale University Press. 2000

2) Anonymous. Imperial Hubris: Why the West is losing the War on Terror.
United States: Brassey’s, Inc. 2004

3) Magnus, Ralph H, and Eden Naby. Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx, and Mujahid.
United States: Westview Press. 2002

4) Mackenzie, Richard. “Afghanistan’s Uneasy Peace.” National Geographic.
Vol. 184, No. 4. October, 1993.

5) Denker, Debra. “Along Afghanistan’s War-Torn Frontier. National Geographic.
Vol. 167, No. 6. June, 1985

6) Najibullah, Farangis.
“Afghanistan: Women Still Struggling for Rights To Education, Work.” May, 2003. Global Security. Date of access: April 19,

7) McCloud, Kimberly. “Education, Education, Education…”
July, 2003. Date of access: April 19, 2005. GlobalSecurity


I'm shifting the focus of this blog away from skeptical rants and shallow "link" reviews (although I certainly won't abstain from such expressions) and toward a more socially "legitimate" form of semantic discourse.

For example, the following post is a research paper I wrote for school. It is fully notated with a supplememental bibliography. The paper is long, but I hope people (like you) read it because I think it provides (if only briefly), an historical overview of the hidden nature of America's political conflicts in the Middle East.

I will follow this up with other papers, as well as random daily thoughts and philosophical musings. Keep watching this space, and as always, feel free to communicate your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mic Check

Test... 1,2,3.

Hey, is this thing on?

Hello world. I'm back after a lengthy, school-induced hiatus. Woe be the institutions of thought, how I loathe thee. It is my belief that when one registers for school, the course schedule should come with a Surgeon General's Warning stating that school impaires creative thought and may lead to early-life burnout and consumer zombification. It's so true.

This was my school experience, in sum:








And this is my future:


Congrats! I earned my degree! Now I get to "plug in" to the insanity of the "real world" and be one of the mainstreamers! ( with it's hypertension, ADD, bipolar, depressed, and schizophrenic disorders). And guess what? Human curiousity, compounded by a belligerent male-dominant ethos, has perpetuated the expansion of nuclear weapons! But, hey, at least I have a degree.

Well, not yet. I'm still working on that one. The truth is I have a love-hate relationship with school. I love the learning- I hate the "school". I mean, what's the point anyway, when a "good education" hasn't helped our nation's power brokers realize the historic resonance of their errors? (more on this later)

For now, school is done, and I've decided to take the summer off to reconnect with my creative side. The shaman in me has prescribed heavy doses of music composition, semantic expression, as well as daily trips into the book realm. Sounds like fun.

Coming Soon:

Guerrilla Philosophy

keep watching this space.