28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for April 2012

Fixing the rial

with 2 comments

Since March, when I last posted (“Iranian oil empire?”) about the currency war in Iran, things have visibly and significantly cooled. But just because there are no pipeline explosions, naval exercises, or military threats doesn’t mean the situation hasn’t progressed. Let’s start where we left off, with an Iran inconvenienced by sanctions, but essentially unfettered in its oil production and export capabilities—especially in transactions with the BRICS.

Chris Cook, former director of the International Petroleum Exchange, suggests that the sanctions on Iran may not just be ineffective, but counterproductive; and that Iran is actually better off (as March 20th might have suggested) without a market for dollars. Anyone who can foster a good relationship with an off-market Iran will now have incentive to buy discounted crude (relative to global prices) for refining and resale at a profit.

Even more significant is the possible end result of a developing energy voucher system in Iran designed to decrease domestic demand and wasteful energy use.

Taken to its logical conclusion, where this policy leads is for Iran’s Central Bank simply to fix a new rial – with several zeroes removed – to a suitable unit of energy, and for energy prices to be set against this unit. This could be implemented in a similar way that a deficit-based abstract currency unit was fixed to participating European currencies at the launch of the euro.

The transition process would need to be properly and transparently managed by a monetary authority – probably the Central Bank – in close liaison with the oil and gas complex. The outcome of adopting an “energy standard” and an energy dividend in this way would be to rapidly reduce profligate use of energy at the same time as addressing the problem of inflation.

Instead of debasing Iran’s rial entirely, the U.S. may only be encouraging Iran to rethink its currency in new, energy-based terms. If this becomes reality, the Iranian rial would effectively become a hedge against volatile global crude oil prices and dollar-denominated market manipulation. Put simply: If each rial in your reserves guarantees a fixed amount of Iranian oil, free from market volatility, you’re going to buy more rials.

I don’t think that’s what Obama intended.

Advertisements

Written by M. James

April 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

L.A.: Little Armenia

leave a comment »

Little Armenia

“‘Shame on Turkey! 1915 never again!’ Said the mass amassed about me. All I needed was some dish soap, but instead I got engulfed in a genocide protest march.”

It’s the 96th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, which has apparently not been forgotten.

A source living in Los Angeles’s Little Armenia kindly forwarded the adjacent picture after escaping a march through the neighborhood. This is just another example of Armenian tenacity on the issue of the genocide, nearly a century on.

Not too long ago, we saw a similar example in France’s parliament. It seems that any place with a sizeable Armenian immigrant population, including parts of the United States, can be confronted with these tentacles of Turkish politics.

I think it is safe to say that the reason for Armenians’ tenacity is Turkey’s obstinacy. Turkey has, traditionally, been unwilling to accept the genocide as a historical fact. Until they do, the French—and the Angelinos—will have to get used to dodging protest marches.

Written by M. James

April 24, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Fighting Iran with Kurds

leave a comment »

What follows is a must-read analysis of Turkey’s new Kurdish problem by M. K. Bhadrakumar. With a few crucial twists and turns, it all boils down to the U.S.-Iran conflict—with Turkey as a beneficiary. Read the whole article (here):

U.S., Turkey, and Iraqi Kurds join hands
M. K. Bhadrakumar; Asia Times Online; Apr. 23, 2012

The tensions between Turkey and Iraq have been steadily building up, and of late they have sharply escalated. The “crisis in Iraq” referred to in the Turkish statement is Maliki’s ongoing political battle with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, which has taken a sectarian Shi’ite-Sunni dimension. In sum, Turkey has waded into Iraq’s sectarian politics and is positioning itself on the side of the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Conceivably, Washington and Ankara are acting in tandem and there is close coordination of the US and Turkish policies toward Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. For both, the ultimate objective is to weaken Iran’s regional influence. The Obama administration hopes that Turkey’s efforts against the PKK are successful and is providing intelligence support for the military operations.

Written by M. James

April 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm

A Response to Robert R. Reilly

leave a comment »

Robert R. Reilly (AFPC)

Robert R. Reilly pleads insanity on behalf of Sunni Islam.

When I read this post by Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, I intended to respond to it, as it did not make sense based on what I had read of Sunni Ash’arite theology. But after my written request to post a response on The Catholic Thing was ignored, I convinced myself that it was simply not worth responding to.

Since then, I have been finding Reilly’s view—that today’s Islam is inherently unreasonable—more prevalent, and thereby more worthy of attention.

I would first like to emphasize, before addressing his argument, that my response is not a philosophical vindication of Sunni Ash’arite theology but a practical endeavor. The practical implications of the view that Sunni Islam is unreasonable is that the ideas and actions that result from it are incoherent—unexplainable. If we accept this, then there is no use in trying to explain or justify anything that the Muslim world does. Suddenly, all the things that we cannot understand are not even worth understanding. Suddenly, the proximate cause of everything (disagreeable) that happens in the Islamic world becomes misguided fundamentalism. Consciously or not, Reilly is justifying the ultra-expedient “talking to a wall” mentality that has pervaded Western foreign policy—and the violence that naturally comes with it. The additional fact that he “has taught at the National Defense University and served in the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense” is telling, and perhaps worrying.

For the sake of space, I will provide no synopsis of Reilly’s post, so before I continue, I encourage the reader to read his argument.

Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram

In his post, Robert Reilly is seeking to explain the murderous practices of Boko Haram, an Islamist group in northern Nigeria. He does so by describing their practices as consistent with the theology of Sunni Islam—specifically the dominant Ash’arite school. The implication of this consistency is, significantly, that mainstream Islam is supportive of the terrorism of Boko Haram and organizations like it. But Reilly bases this supposed consistency on two troublesome premises: (1) an oversimplification of Ash’arite theology and (2) an unprecedented assumption.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey: Syrian refugee limbo

leave a comment »

An uncommon glimpse into the politics of the refugee camps on the Turkey-Syria border:

Syria, Turkey, and the camp cover-up
Erin Banco & Sophia Jones; Asia Times Online; Apr. 19, 2012

It’s like a well-choreographed play that Turkish officials have spent countless hours rehearsing. First, they helped form “committees” inside every camp to speak on behalf of the refugees. Now, they carefully scrub down the facilities only before admitting visitors, deny access to most media outlets, and even handpick refugees to speak with the press and outside organizations.

Read more.

Written by M. James

April 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Projected TAGP volume suggests a future TCGP

leave a comment »

Anatolian gas pipeline may expand fourfold
Robert M. Cutler; Asia Times Online; Apr. 18, 2012

MONTREAL – The president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Rovnag Abdullaev, has announced that the US$8 billion-plus Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline may be expanded four-fold from its initially planned volume of 8-16 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) to as much as 60 bcm/y.

SOCAR will build the pipeline (known by the acronym TAGP and also TANAP from its initials in Turkish) from the Georgian-Turkish border to the Turkish-Bulgarian border, with the participation of the Turkish firms BOTAS and TPAO. The initially estimated cost for its construction was $5 billion, but this has already risen informally to $6-8 billion, and the final cost will be known only after the conclusion of the actual construction contracts.

Abdullaev’s statement represents new formal support for the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) project to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan under the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and onwards to Europe. The European Union has been participating in talks towards this end jointly with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, and has stated its readiness to purchase 30 bcm/y from Turkmenistan.

That is the volume usually cited as necessary to make the TCGP commercially viable. For its part, Turkmenistan has stated its readiness to sell up to 40 bcm/y. According to Abdullaev, however, it is only “after the EU and Turkmenistan agree” that Azerbaijan can “think of which territory can be allocated for transit”.

Read more.

Written by M. James

April 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

Khan: Freedom to interpret Shari‘ah

with 2 comments

In Khaled Abou El Fadl’s collection of essays, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, which I reviewed here, there was one essay response in particular that I thought worth posting. That was M. A. Muqtedar Khan’s “Primacy of Political Philosophy,” as it is titled in the collection. In a slightly more primitive form than in the book (from Khan’s website), it is reproduced below.

I recommend reading the original post as well as Abou El Fadl’s essay before continuing.

Instead of saying that liberal values are at the heart of Shari’ah, and potentially leaving it up to government jurists (ulema) to decide what that means, Khan gets rid of the jurists entirely, forcing the demos to interpret Shari’ah for themselves—individually. Khan maintains that if the jurists aren’t kicked out, there will be an inevitable regression to a government where the jurists, the privileged interpreters of Shari’ah, rule. The only answer is to remove them from government.

It is tempting to read Khan’s argument as “Shari’ah is not necessary for Islam, so let’s get rid of Shari’ah and make way for democracy.” Unfortunately, Khan is careless, perhaps relying on Abou El Fadl’s prior explanation of Shari’ah. So to understand Khan’s argument, one must think of Shari’ah as unquestionably divine and perfect, notwithstanding its earthly interpretation and practice. Indeed, its earthly interpretation and practice is what Khan takes issue with, claiming that when there is a monopoly on interpretation of Shari’ah, democracy is not possible. Instead, there must be individual freedom to interpret Shari’ah. Unlike Abou El Fadl, who attempted to liberalize Shari’ah itself for the sake of assigning rights (acting all the while as a jurist), Khan encourages the liberalization of interpretation.

In the space permitted, I think that Khan makes a good case for not only (1) the necessity of individual freedom of interpretation for the success of democracy, but also (2) the Islamic precedent for individual freedom of interpretation. But it’s about time I allow Khan to speak for himself, and the reader to decide.

The Priority of Politics: A Response to “Islam and the Challenge of Democracy”
M. A. Muqtedar Khan; Boston Review; Apr./May 2003

The Tyranny of Legalism

The Islamic intellectual tradition—which includes Islamic legal thought (Usul al-fiqh and fiqh), theology (Kalam), mysticism (Tasawwuf) and philosophy (falsafa)—is one of the most developed and profound traditions of human knowledge. In the area of political philosophy, however, this intellectual heritage remains strikingly underdeveloped. Read the rest of this entry »