Native Orientalists at the Daily Times

November 30, 2009 § 8 Comments

M. Shahid Alam

The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the foremost minds of the ruled class, the more stable and dangerous becomes its rule.
–Karl Marx

A few days back, I received a ‘Dear friends’ email from Mr. Najam Sethi, ex editor-in-chief of Daily Times, Pakistan, announcing that he, together with several of his colleagues, had resigned from their positions in the newspaper.

In his email, Mr. Sethi thanked his ‘friends’ for their “support and encouragement…in making Daily Times a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’” Wistfully, he added, “I hope it will be able to live up to your expectations and mine in time to come.”

I am not sure why Mr. Sethi had chosen me for this dubious honor. Certainly, I did not deserve it. I could not count myself among his ‘friends’ who had given “support and encouragement” to the mission that DT had chosen for itself in Pakistan’s media and politics.

Contrary to its slogan, it was never DT’s mission to be a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’ The DT had dredged its voice from the colonial past; it had only altered its pitch and delivery to serve the new US-Zionist overlords. Many of the writers for DT aspire to the office of the native informers of the colonial era. They are heirs to the brown Sahibs, home-grown Orientalists, who see their own world (if it is theirs in any meaningful sense) through the lens created for them by their spiritual mentors, the Western Orientalists.

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Reinterpreting War

November 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Chris Hedges discusses war and writing on NPR’s On the Media.

Chris Hedges

Vasily Grossman covered the Eastern Front of WWII for the Soviet Union and fictionalized his reporting as the novel “Life and Fate.” Curzio Malaparte covered the Eastern Front for the Axis Powers and fictionalized his reporting as the novel “Kaputt.” Veteran correspondent Chris Hedges talks about the two books and why he thinks fiction is the better way to capture the full scope of war.

Preachers & ‘Terrorists’

November 30, 2009 § 1 Comment

Aisha Ghani on Overlooking ‘Overlooking’

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announcing on Friday that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be prosecuted in federal court in New York.

 

Saturday, Nov 14th – Today I learn that conversations in delis are political. All I ordered that morning was a cup of coffee. The guy at the register, perhaps dedicated to the idea of service, gives me that and something I’m still having trouble digesting. He had been talking to customers about Eric Holder’s 9/11 trials announcement.

Addressing me although talking to the customer in front of me, he announces with palpable disdain, “Terrorists don’t deserve a fair trial.” Unable to respond, I hand him cash and receive, once again, surplus. Seventy-five cents and a question directed at me, but not to me,  “What do you guys think?” Sensing that my response would not be the ‘right’ answer, I leave, saying nothing or perhaps everything.

“Terrorists don’t deserve a fair trial.” Six words, delivered with the kind of alacrity that indicates honesty, compel this question: when we are confronted by such a statement, what kinds of things must we negate or ‘overlook,’ in order to enable their coherence? And, importantly, how and why does this overlooking take place?

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The danger of a single story

November 29, 2009 § 4 Comments

This is a superb presentation by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Also see Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to write about Africa“, and Uzodinma Iweala’s “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa“. (thanks Rabee’ah)

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

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The Honduran Coup: A Graphic History

November 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Media creativity in the aftermath of the 28 June coup against Honduran President Mel Zelaya has generally been limited to such things as CNN’s classification of the military coup as “military-led,” Honduran media classification of tomorrow’s illegitimate elections as a “fiesta cívica,” and the publication of articles in mainstream Honduran newspapers with titles like “Zelayista Guerrillas Train in Nicaragua.” This particular article, published by El Heraldo on 2 August, is accompanied by a photograph of a ragtag group of joggers—some of them barefoot, one in a cowboy hat, and one in all pink—and bears a caption announcing that “Manuel Zelaya’s followers have begun military exercises in fields in Nicaragua.”

More substantive creative endeavors have been undertaken by Dan Archer and Nikil Saval, who have put together a graphic history of the Honduran coup in two parts thus far. The latter part is based on Joseph Shansky’s piece “Smashing the Silence: Community Defiance in Honduras,” first published on PULSE, and can be viewed below (note: all annotations appear in the original version). The first part of the graphic history can additionally be viewed here, and information on other projects can be found on Archer’s website.

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The End of the Arabs?

November 27, 2009 § 1 Comment

In 2007 I read Peter W. Galbraith’s “The End of Iraq“, which suggests cutting Iraq into three mini-states, and then responded in two parts. The first part criticises Galbraith’s thesis, and the second part criticises the failures of Arabism. Both are merged below. More recently it has been revealed that Galbraith actually stood to gain financially from the dismantlement of Iraq.

explosion at Baghdad's Mutanabi Street book market

Peter W. Galbraith’s book ‘The End of Iraq’ argues the initially persuasive thesis that Iraqis have already divided themselves into three separate countries roughly corresponding to the Ottoman provinces of Basra (the Shii Arab south), Baghdad (the Sunni Arab centre) and Mosul (the Kurdish north), and that American attempts to keep the country unified are bound to fail. I agree wholeheartedly with Galbraith’s call for America to withdraw from Iraq – America is incapable of stopping the civil war, and is in fact exacerbating it. (update: I stick by this. The civil war has to some extent calmed because of internal Iraqi dynamics, not because of the US ’surge’ – the Sunni forces turned on al-Qaida, and also realised that they had lost the battle for Baghdad and national power. Some groups then allied with the US for a variety of reasons to do with self-preservation). The rest of Galbraith’s argument is much more debatable.

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Visiting the Great Satan

November 26, 2009 § 1 Comment

Notre Dame University

I’ve never before visited the USA. Like everybody else in the world, I’ve had it come to me. Its approach has been unstoppable, for good and for ill. For good first: the incredible achievement of American prose, which leaves British writing of the last century far behind. I am astounded by Faulkner, Bellow, Updike and Roth (when they’re good), Cheever, Scott Fitzgerald, and now Joshua Ferris. Formulaic Hollywood switches me off, but I can’t get enough Spike Lee or Martin Scorcese. I love Bob Dylan, Public Enemy and Miles Davis, just for starters. Jazz and particularly hip hop are American art forms which have travelled very well indeed. These two came originally from the black poor, and it’s the heterogeneity of America, and the possibility of marginalised genres and people being heard, which is so appealing. America is a continent-sized country of mixed-up Africans, Jews, Italians, Irish, Latinos, French, Wasps, and everyone else. It should be the most globally-minded and tolerant country in the world.

It isn’t of course. A narrow hyper-nationalism, the shaping of public discourse by corporations and lobbies, and a stupifying media and public education system have seen to that. Which brings us to the ill: America’s homogenising rage, which has ravaged first its own main streets (so Naomi Klein says in No Logo) and then the high streets of the world; its humourless TV gum; its advertising culture of false smiles and sugary platitudes; its racism, wars, military bases, aircraft carriers, support for dictators and apartheid regimes. These are the reasons why the US is known in some parts as the Great Satan, standing behind most of the little satans sitting on Asian and African thrones. In Muscat, Damascus, Shiraz and London I’ve met many people who have been made refugees by the USA.

America is the empire, admittedly in decline. In one sense, therefore, I haven’t needed to visit to know it. But last week I visited nevertheless, for a conference at Notre Dame University which I enjoyed very much.

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