April 5, 2013 // by admin

March 2, 2005:

If you apply for a job then you’re an “agent” and if you want to see democracy and freedom in your country then you’re an “infidel” and if you say that resistance is terrorism then you’re a “traitor”.

In all cases your blood is cheap and you have to die.

This is the philosophy of the criminal gangs we’re facing and this morning they declared it again in the bloodiest way they could find.

— Omar at Iraq the Model

Iraqi Bloggers Central has other reactions to the bombing at Hilla.  Read them all.

Gross!  “Chemical” Ali’s still living up to his name.


Racial profiling in the U.K.?

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April 5, 2013 // by admin

Note:  After a brief blogging-hiatus to complete some (paying) assignments (as in this month’s Reason, where I have an article on a topic only tangentially related to Iraq), I’ve decided to make some changes in Redzone’s format.  Less original material, more links.  Easier to read, easier to write, more user- and producer-friendly, etc.  In addition, I’ll post material all through the day, to satisfy that web-surfing itch of mine, and no doubt yours.

And now, onto the day’s events…

Like reading too much Wahhabi propaganda

Everybody makes mistakes.

— Ahmd Omar Abu Ali, in a letter written to his parents from a Saudi Arabian prison.

As we know, the U.S. government has charged Mr. Abu Ali with plotting to assassinate President Bush and to carry out other terrorist attacks.  According to FBI agent Barry Cole, the 23 year-old confessed to him while Saudi custody that he had joined an Al Qaeda cell and planned to hi-jack an airliner to use in a manner similar to 9-11.  He allegedly gave Mr. Cole a letter to his parents, who live in Falls Church, Virginia, in which he acknowledged he would probably be sent to jail because of the terrorism charges.

For more thoughts on the Abu Ali case, see my post onChester.


Shiite happens

Maybe now, after all that has happened in Iraq, we will take something political from the story of Hussein.  Now the issue will take another route, because Shiites have started the growth of their political culture.

— Saudi Shiite Nabih al-Ibrahim

(Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times)

The headline for MacFarquhar’s article says it all:  “Saudi Shiites, Long Kept Down, Look to Iraq and Assert Rights.”  This may yet prove the most pregnant turn of events in the post-Jan. 30 environment.  For my take on “Shia power,” go here  and here.


Remember, it wasn’t easy in 1775 either

The plan is to open the national assembly next week [between March 6 and 10]. We will open the parliament whether or not there is an agreement.

— Jawad al-Maliky, deputy to Shiite candidate for Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari.

(Al Jareeza)


With the business end of an M-16

The language used by the White House indicates a campaign similar to the one that preceded the attack on Iraq.  We are essential for the peace process, for Iraq.  Look, perhaps one day the Americans will come and knock on our door.

— Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica

(Eli Lake, New York Sun)


Too late

Things are starting to change.  When the Sunnis talk to us now, they insist they are separate from the terrorists because they don’t want Iraqi blood on their hands.

— United Iraqi Alliance member Salama Al-Khafji

(Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal)

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Every day is Ashura

April 5, 2013 // by admin

Every day is Ashura, and every land is Karbala…

So say the Shia.  Ashura is their Eastertide, the festival of mourning in which Shiites commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain at Karbala in 680 AD.  Although devotionalists observed Ashua late last month, photographs of its various worldwide incarnations are still appearing on the web.  To get an idea of what this amazing–and not a little disquieting–event looks like, check out these photos from Karachi.

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March 29, 2005 // by admin

No picnic

They say freedom means they can do what they want. This is not freedom. Freedom does not mean you can transgress traditions. There are traditions and rules in an Eastern society that are different from a Western society. Every Iraqi has a right to act against these transgressions.

— Heider Jabari, spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr

They focused on the women.  They were beating them viciously.

— Basra student Osama Adnan

(Anthony Shadid, Washington Post)

Thus the reaction from Moqtada al-Sadr’s religious goon squad to a gathering of some 700 students in a Basra park on March 15.  Outraged at the sight of young people picnicking, listening to music and freely intermingling–worse, many women were not wearing hejab–between 20-40 of Sadr’s blackshirts attacked the Springtime fete with guns, sticks and heavy electrical cables, injuring and robbing several, hauling at least 10 away in pick-up trucks.

The assault triggered several days of protests by students and their families, who demanded an apology and the disbanding of the school’s morality police.  Surprised at the public outcry, Sadr’s office issued an apology–of sorts.  “There was a mistake in our execution, but we had the right to intervene,” said Mr. Jabari.

Mr. Shadid notes that despite the fright and injuries the students suffered in the melee, they have

managed what no local party or politician has yet done:  They interrupted, if briefly, a tide of religious conservatism that has shuttered liquor stores in a city that once had dozens, meted out arbitrary justice and encouraged women to wear a veil and dress in a way considered modest.

“The students broke through the barriers of fear,” said Ali Abbas Khafif, a 55-year-old writer and union organizer jailed for 23 years under former president Saddam Hussein. “This was the first mass response to religious power.”

Still, unlike what we’ve seen across the Middle East (I refer you to my piece in Monday’s National Review Online), the Basra students’ rebellion against tribal Islam may be fleeting “in a city,” Mr. Shadid writes, “where Islamic activism and guns go hand in hand.  Even in their moment of triumph, many secular students acknowledge they are fighting a losing battle; some suggest it is already lost.”

(Beginning next month I will be in Basra, where I will observe and report on these developments first hand.)

But let’s parse these events and see what we can make of them.   Oppression thrives in secret; exposure to the light of public scrutiny reveals the true face of illegitimate power and constellates perhaps the most potent and revolutionary reaction to its brutality–revulsion.   No doubt many Basrans and Iraqis view Sadr’s actions as necessary, if not admirable.  But most, I’ll wager, interpret the sight of masked armed men publicly beating helpless students–helpless female students–as despicable, contemptible, pathetic.  The noble and strong do not act this way; the craven and cowardly do.  Cravenness, cowardice–these are taboo, psychic stains to be avoided.  Despite being armed with guns, truncheons and public sentiment that was hostile to civil rights, the reactionaries lost on the day that Bull Connor unleashed his dogs on peaceful marchers of Birmingham.  Moqtada al-Sadr has taken another step into the barren wastes of Connor Country.  It will take time, but he, like the Alabama sheriff and his ilk, will shrivel and die as well.

Nor should we overlook the fact that his Al Mahdi Army seized the opportunity to exercise their righteous might on females.  More than a vile display of bullying, these actions expose the misogyny that lies at the base of religious oppression.  The image of the park, the spring weather, the relaxed and natural fellowship among young people and the intimations of erotic interplay between them–disrupted suddenly by black-clad men brandishing weapons and spouting religious slogans:  it is, in a microcosm, the very essence of the patriarchal psyche that structures its existence, power and raison d’etre on the suppression of the female spirit. They call it tradition, they call it religious piety, but strip away the moralistic cant and intimidating rhetoric and its true nature becomes clear: fear and loathing of women.

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March 28, 2005 // by admin

Not sure where or why this idea originated, but there’s some sort of quickie lit-quiz bouncing around the blogosphere, and evidently ’tis my turn to reply.  Since I’ve been “tagged” by superblogger Arthur Chrenkoff, I shan’t question the particulars nor tarry long ere I respond.    Besides, I’m a sucker for surveys.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Since Tim Blair beat me to Michael Moore–and I figure time and historical neglect will justly consume the collected wisdom of Ted Rall–I should be mature about this and answer something like Protocol of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf orThe Turner Diaries.  But the childish part of me wants to say James Joyce’s Ulysses, just to spare future generations of undergrads the horrors of reading that inexplicably overrated novel.

Unless this question means which book do I want tomemorize.   In that case, the Odyssey–Homer’s Ulysses.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Sure.  Mary Jane Watson.  I mean John Romita’s Mary Jane, going back to the “Face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot!” era all the way to today.  Forget that pale washed-out Kirsten Dunst.  She couldn’t even hold a candle to Gwen, let alone the real MJ.  Oh wait, this question was about a fictional character, wasn’t it…?

The last book you bought is:

Edwin Black’s Banking on Baghdad, as I prepare for my next trip to Iraq.  Other than Middle East-oriented tomes, I think my latest purchase was George Marsden’s biography of Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards.

The last book you read:

The Edwards bio and a 1992 history of Shiite revolutionary movements in Iraq, the name of which escapes me.  And yes, I think there are thematic connections between the two.

What are you currently reading?

I have a terrible habit of serial-reading.  At the moment, I am immersed in Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part I, Ross King’s novel Domino, Gavin Young’s Return to the Marshes, Gibbon’sDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and one or two other books about Arab and Islamic history.  Usually I finish everything, given enough time.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

Besides wilderness survival guides, textbooks on hut- and ship-building, a first aid manual and Signal Flares for Dummies? Besides, as well, the Encyclopedia Britannica (1968 version), Shakespeare’s collected works and the Bible?  My quintet would be:

Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow
Virgil’s Aenead (+ my Latin dictionary, is that cheating?)
Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil 
The I Ching 
and a collected volume of Marvel’s Silver Age comics, preferably selections from Ditko’s Spider-Man and Kirby’s Thor and FF–especially FF 48-50, the Galactus trilogy.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Chester, because he’s been kind enough to allow me to contribute to his blog;
Jeff Harrell because he did a bang-up interview with me forITRZ (as did Arthur); and
Solomon, because I like his site’s graphics almost as much as his viewpoint.  Have fun, guys.

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March 26, 2005 // by admin

More than just a physiological function, memory has its moral injunctions, as well.  To remember–the word is derived from the Latin word rememorari, “to be mindful of”–enjoins us not to forget, not to let slip into oblivion, but to maintain a space in our thoughts for the presence of something, or someone.  This space can range from celebrating the 4th of July to solemnly vowing before the gates of Auschwitz, “Never again.”  At the same time, the word connotes the opposite of dis-member, implying that the act of memory is also an act of reconstruction, of piecing together again, of making what is now broken, or perhaps dissipated, whole again.

Traditionally, war memorials serve this purpose.  Not the celebrations of victory–the Iwo Jima statue, for example, or Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza–but rather the more somber monuments, like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, or photographs of Khmer Rouge victims displayed in the former detention center of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia.  These momuments in particular combine the injunctions not to forget, of “Never again,” with a yearning to somehow conjure the missing, imagine their presence, be cognizant of their names, or at least their human form.  In short, to put together, re-create, re-cognize and re-member the dead.

How to do this in our current war?  How do we memorialize not the soldiers fallen in battles from Kandahar to Mosul, but the estimated 20,000 civilians a year murdered in airliners, skycrapers, buses, nightclubs, train stations, in their homes, in traffic, on the street?  As I wrote in In the Red Zone, one of the most obscene aspects of terrorism is that it induces us to turn our face from mourning the victims for fear of confronting the depravity that killed them.  We comfort ourselves with the belief that terrorism is not evil but a reasonable, if extreme, response to the evil we have inflicted upon others.  At the same time, we mourn the loss of our soldiers through a morose and psychologically suspect obsession with mortality counts–while the death toll of civilians slaughtered by terrorist continues to mount, untallied.

Some people want to change this.  In the March 20th New York Times, Glenn Collins writes of how many families of those killed on 9-11 are reaching out “to make common cause with thousands of other international victims, not only to foster mutual support, but also to discredit global terrorism itself.”  Through this communal act of remembering, of “being mindful of” the dead, “they hope to challenge the terrorists’ attempts to stereotype vicims as infidels, capitalist tools or ciphers lacking humanity” and make it “more embarrassing, or even impossible, to romanticize or legitimize terrorist acts.”  Or, as Mr. Collins writes,

Some in victims’ groups said they hoped they could help stop what they see as the news media’s fascination with terrorists, who, they charged, are rewarded with attention for their attacks.

Last February, the second International Congress of Victims of Terrorism met in Bogota, Colombia.  Here, Collins tells us, four member of 9-11 Families groups, in addition to representatives from Oklahoma City bombing victims organizations–spoke at a conference “attended by those who experienced terrorist attacks in Colombia, Indonesia, Israel, Spain, Northern Ireland, Chile, Argentina and Beslan, Russia.”

“There is no good terrorism or bad terrorism,” Collins quotes William Frazier, director of the Northern Ireland-based Families Acting for Innocent Relatives.  “The activity itself must be labelled despicable; it is only about death.”

A movement to de-legitimize terrorism by focusing on the identities of those extinguished by its obscenity will take time to develop, of course, and will follow whatever organic channels and internal structures of growth such a meme requires.  The internet, this powerful tool of global consciousness, can help, however—if in no other way than insuring that marches, such as the one which took place on March 24 in Baghdad receive more than this paltry notice.  Like all evil, terrorism thrives by turning human beings into objects, things, devoid of individuality and soul.  Memory is but a consolation for the presence of loved ones who have been lost, but it can, at least, insure that the terrorists will not have the final claim on their legacy.  Memory re-claims, as well.

I write this on Holy Saturday.  For Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, this day falls close to their commemoration of divine sacrifice, Ashura.  In both cases, men obedient to God were mutilated by ignorance and moral blindness.  Centuries later, we still re-member these men, performing in our minds the miracle of re-creation that Muslims see manifested in the living power of their faith and that Christians believe actually occurred in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  The lesson is the same, either way:  to remember is to re-claim, re-store, make whole again.  It is the path not of insurrection, but–at least in the realm of the spirit–re-surrection.

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March 25, 2005 // by admin

The deadly snicker

Bullets and explosives may kill anti-Iraqi fascists, intelligence may round up and imprison their cells.  But the most lethal weapon–the power that corrodes, weakens and will eventually break their morale–is laughter.  When the world, especially the Muslim world, ceases to perceive Islamoterrorists with admiration and fear, but with ridicule and contempt, the ability of the reactionaries to inspire, recruit and execute plans–and people–will diminish and fade, like a desert wind.

And so it is with much curiosity and hope that we read this article by Steve Negus and Dhiya Rasan in yesterday’sFinancial Times.  The headline and first few grafs say it all:

Television helps break mystique of holy warrior

Say the word mujahid–or holy warrior–these days and many inhabitants of Baghdad are likely to snigger.

An appellation once worn as a badge of pride by anti-American insurgents has now become street slang for homosexuals, after men claiming to be captured Islamist guerrillas confessed that they were holding gay orgies in the popular Iraqi TV programme Terror in the Hands of Justice.

For Iraqis opposed to the predominantly Sunni Islamist insurgency [the show] has broken the mystique of a force that used to strike terror into the hearts of anyone working with the Americans or the new government.

Adds Mr. Negus:

One long-bearded preacher known as Abu Tabarek confessed recently that guerrillas had held orgies in his mosques, knowing their status as holy warriors would win them forgiveness of sins.

This is the end.  Of course, the anti-Iraqi criminals will continue to kill–as evident by their attacks yesterday on police and female translators.  But the psychic engine driving Iraqis to enlist in the so-called “insurgency” has been honor-shame dynamic.  Shamed by their swift fall from power, many Sunni Arab men seek to rehabilitate their sense of masculinity, self-esteem and social status by inflicting pain upon those who humiliated them:  America and her allies.  But when participation in the “insurgency” no longer absolves shame, but stains the reputation even further, the other psychic obstacles to maintaining a futile insurrection will prove increasingly difficult to surmount.  When your older brother is accused of holding sexual orgies in mosques, how willing will you and your friends be to follow his footsteps into the “insurgency?”

This shame-honor dynamic is less operative with the foreignjihadists who comport to to fantasies of omnipotence and godhood.  Accordingly, we will probably witness a slow diminution of home-grown Iraqis in the fascist ranks, replaced by increasing numbers of ever-more fanatic minions of Mssrs. Zarqawi and bin Laden.

Lastly, the shame-honor dynamic concerning the “insurgency” combined with outbreaks of feminine erotic energy (see below) suggest a fundamental shift in the psychic orientation in the Middle East.  It’s too early to make sweeping predictions, of course.  And its possible that I am only focusing on a few fledgling shoots of new growth, ignoring the withered, blasted fig trees of tribal-religious repression that have stood for centuries, casting their long shadows over the region.  Deserts are not known for rapid change.  But hope, like waters from  the well of Zamzam, springs eternal.

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March 18, 2005 // by admin

Present at the Creation

We are witnessing the genesis of two momentous memes.  The first is women + eroticism + sexual freedom = democracy.  This was one of the daemons that infused rock and roll (beforeSgt. Pepper killed it) with such infernal energy and exploded into the Sexual Revolution 40 years ago.  Message to the Middle East:  hold on tight, folks. You’re on the edge of something deep and wild.

The other is the end of the Iraq War.  I know I’m anticipating, and there are certain to be disappointments to come.  But a meme is not a prediction.  It is in part the formulation of a general consensus–ijma’, for you Islamic scholars out there–that, if adopted, germinates, spreads, infects and inspires, eventually forming the way we view reality.  Does the way we view reality determine reality?  I’ll leave that to better minds than mine to hash out.  I should add, though, that meme-wise, not only is the Iraq War ending–but, Juan Cole and Daily Kos and Moveon and CODEPINK notwithstanding, the good guys evidently won.

The meme to push now:  Islamofascism is ludicrous, pathetic, contemptible and worse, no fun.  It’s so, like, yesterday, solooo-ser.  Why follow the teachings of some bearded boogeyman who looks like his face would crack if he laughed, when you can party in downtown Beirut with the “Babes of Democracy”?  Perhaps we should break out the old slogans and offer them to the Middle East – you know:  “Make love, not war” and “War is not good for children and other living things”?  How about:  “Make a World at Peace, not a World in Pieces?”  Just a thought.

But really, you have to ask yourself, how can your basic theocratic regime run by sexually repressed and repressivemujtahids survive when it faces problems like these acts ofwidespread sinfulness taking place at Iranian celebrationsof Ashura?  Doesn’t anyone recall that Mohammad maintained at least 14 wives and innumerable slave girls (at least one of whom he “visited” each night)–and that beautiful women and perfume were the Prophet’s (pbuh) particular passions?  And doesn’t the situation in Iran today seem like America in, oh, say, 1954?  (Having been in Iran in 2000, I vouch for that observation.)  Yes, yes! I see him now!  Striding across the plains of Persepolis, oud in one hand, a copy of Rumi in the other, curling that insouciant lip and swiveling them slender hips–ladies and gentlemen, the Persian Elvis! 

Update:  What would The King, er, Shah (Caliph?) think of thislegislative proposal?

Update II:  Apparently, dissatisfaction with the turban-headsis not restricted to the young and restless.  (The news is a little old, but have we heard about this?)  Oh, and Happy Noruz to you Persians out there.

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They ‘shura like being there

March 18, 2005 // by admin

They ‘shura like being there

Images via Discarded Lies of the ungodly goings-on at theHussainiyya Hullabaloo in Tehran.  (See below)





Look what happens when the authorities allow the sexes to intermingle!  Obviously this sort of irreligious behavior must stop.  Instead, let us return to more traditional means of observing Ashura, without the dangerous distractions of carnal thoughts, flirtation and women.




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Democratic Divas

March 17, 2005 // by admin


Ah, the inscrutable East.  Or in this case, Middle East.  In Baghdad, I’d often go down to my hotel lobby to find men seated before the television set smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, watching with rapt attention as some dark-eyed hourishimmied in come-and-get-me lasciviousness to the strains of an Arabic pop song.  Fifty feet past the lobby and its luxurious canopy of air conditioning, Iraqi women trudged down the street in blinding sun and 130-degree-heat, their bodies encased in stifling head-to-toe black robes.  The only bumps-and-grinds they were going to experience were from the bundles in their hands, the kids on their arms and the grit in their eyes from the noisome Baghdad smog.


The contrast between fantasy and reality seemed lost on the men, enthralled as they were by the latest music video from Lebanon or Egypt.  And they weren’t the only ones, it seems.  These erotic–highly erotic, when you consider the puritanism of the surrounding Muslim society–images of female pop stars are becoming increasingly popular.  So much so, in fact, that in an article in Tuesday’s Financial TimesCairo-based reporter Heba Saleh notes a backlash is forming.  Or, as she quotes Mohammed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood member of the Egyptian parliament:

Music videos are a tool for moral destruction.  There is no doubt about that.  They are against our religion and our morals.

Seeing–but not often, I assure you–the nihilistic dreck that passes for “entertainment” on MTV, I’m not disinclined to agree with Mr. Mursi.

But we’ve already gone through our sexual revolution, and are now in our Thermidor phase.  The Middle East has yet to storm the Bastille of sexual repression and tribal-religious domination of women; this is one reason (besides the obvious) why the coarsely named “babe revolution” in Lebanon has seized the world’s attention. Encoded in those images of attractive, laughing women, arms outstretched in gestures of freedom, is a visual language that spells more than just political freedom–butsexual liberation, as well.

Cairo University student Mohammed Wagdi explains his fascination with images of performers like Lebanon’s Nancy Ajram, Elissa and Haifa Wahby, in addition to the Egyptian star Ruby.

I like music vidoes, because they introduce me to fashion.  Not all of them are indecent.  I like watching the spectacle, though the music is not always that good.  But there should be no censorship, whoever wants to watch should be able to.  Just like on the internet.

That last line is interesting.  Someday, an enterprising scholar will have to research the impact of online pornography on the socio-political thinking of young Arab males (hint:  check the bookmarked sites on any Middle Eastern internet cafe that doesn’t have blockers.)  But I digress…

Notes Khaled Agha, marketing director for Rotana, the region’s largest music producer,

The success of the music video industry is a kind of reaction against sexual repression in the Arab world.  But the degree of openness that exists now has allowed some people who have no musical talents, but who look good, to become singers.

The same might be said of all the cookie-cutter bubbleheads who prance across the collective pop culture screen of America, but it’s different in the Middle East.  Here, Ashlee Simpson exists mainly to introduce young girls into the soft-core delights of Capitalist society; there, Ruby and Nancy Ajram are awakening young men and women to the revolutionary power of women, sexual freedom and democracy.  There, the video is the political; the revolution is being televised.

But then there’s the aforementioned backlash.  Apparently, a video of Ruby performing on an exercise bike created such outrage in Egypt that the country’s musicians union tried to ban her from singing; Egyptian TV does not broadcast the singer’s songs.  And one video was pulled from circulation, Ms. Saleh writes, for depicting “what was considered an indecent image of a horse.”   One can only wonder…

Ms. Saleh closes her interesting piece with a quote from Amina Khairy, a “social commentator” for Egypt’s Al-Hayat newspaper.

Music videos present an ideal world full of beautiful girls.  Most of them are shot in fantastic houses with wonderful gardens.  It’s a virtual world, which fascinates just like American movies used to fascinate, but this one is closer because it is peopled by Arabs.

Today, however, with images of real women–many of them “beautiful girls”–seeming to blossom in the massive pro-democracy rallies in real-life downtown Beirut, this fascinating world of feminity, fashion, eroticism, excitement, a quickening of the pulse and spirit is moving from the video screen into real life.   As in the West during the 1960s, pop culture is becoming political.  We can only hope that they avoid the mistakes that we made, and that women in the region can someday feel free to throw off those obscene abiyas, chadors, burkhas and what have you, and finally feel the sun and breeze on their uncovered skin.

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