June 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
This is part one of a two party documentary about the history of imperial intervention, military and diplomatic, in Afghanistan. It is hosted by Rory Stewart, one of the very few western commentators who are knowledgeable about the region and have empathy for its people. I would also encourage viewers to read Stewart’s superb book The Places In Between.
April 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This is an excerpt from a review, published at Chapati Mystery, of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. Click here to read the review at CM.
More sophisticated readers of the New York Times’ editorial pages have, for years, fumed at Thomas Friedman’s inane musings. Even less sophisticated readers, some of which write book reviews and essays for online magazines named after mysterious flatbreads, have bristled at Friedman’s claims, prose and weak reasoning.
There are times, in fact, that one might suspect the Times’ Editorial Board is putting Friedman over on the public as some sort of Onion-style goof, a la Jackie Harvey.
Some readers have an automatic, visceral dislike of his face, alone: the suburban-mall Glamour-Shots photograph accompanying his crimes against logic calls for snarky comment; in it, he appears smug, self-satisfied and eager to be taken as the thinker of deep thoughts that, in The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, Belen Fernandez proves he is not.
January 17, 2012 § 3 Comments
by Mohamad Junaid
[This essay is a response to the emerging discussions over the ‘appropriateness’ of the use of the word ‘genocide’ in the context of the Indian military occupation in Kashmir on PulseMedia and elsewhere on Facebook.]
But, which language? Which one language expresses all joyous, exhilarating, or traumatic experiences?
When Kashmiris are told to be precise in their language there are largely two positions involved: one, a sympathetic (if inadequate and self-censorious) one, which suggests that following ‘the convention’ will allow for legalistic interpretation and some form of retributive or ‘restorative’ justice. Often such a position traps itself in legal discourse, and by seeking to bottle people’s experiences into tight categories, fetishizes those categories, and in the end reduces the depth of traumatic experiences to mere data points on the grid of classification. This compliant and self-disciplining position forgets the origins of law in violence (and the inverse), and how ‘law’ serves to maintain ‘order’—which is, in other words, the systematized, legally endorsed structure of oppression. The peculiar claim to universalism (to create a universal system of law) that drives this position pays no heed to where, and for whom, these supposedly ‘universal’ categories of law are created, and what connection law has with power or ‘international’ law with the empire. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The following excerpt is from Derrick O’Keefe’s Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?, recently released by Verso as part of its Counterblasts series. The book has been described as a “forensic critique of the influential liberal [and] his opposition to fundamental human rights, the extension of democracy and the pursuit of economic equality”.
The excerpt deals with Ignatieff’s initial cheerleading for the war on terror.
Click here to read a new interview with O’Keefe at the New Left Project.
It would be wrong to treat Ignatieff’s judgment on Iraq merely as “a mistake.” In fact, it flowed inexorably from his near-total identification with U.S. military power. In Empire Lite (2003), Ignatieff takes up an old family business — propagandizing for imperialism. Lamentably, the good old days of his great grandfathers Nicholas Ignatieff and George Monro Grant were long gone, but the great-grandson still came out swinging: “Imperialism used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect.”
Empire Lite is heavy on these sorts of pithy, in-your-face, politically incorrect phrases. No effete, overly intellectual constructions from this teller of hard truths. Ignatieff sought to rouse the complacent American liberal conscience to its historical duty.
America’s entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism. This may come as a shock to Americans, who don’t like to think of their country as an empire. But what else can you call America’s legions of soldiers, spooks and Special Forces straddling the globe? These garrisons are by no means temporary. Terror can’t be controlled unless order is built in the anarchic zones where terrorists find shelter.
There were plenty of new battles to be fought — weak-kneed fools be damned. And the new rationales for military intervention that Ignatieff and others had been road-testing in the 1990s were more sought-after commodities than ever before. Newly ensconced at Harvard, Ignatieff was well positioned to be in the frontline of the battle of ideas over the war on terror.
In the early days after 9/11, Ignatieff was quick to stake out a hawkish position, writing in the Guardian that the terror attacks on the United States were an act of “apocalyptic nihilism,” outside the realm of politics. Those who believed that “the terrorists’ hatreds must be understood, and that what they hate must be changed so that they will hate no more” were dismissed as naïve and foolhardy. “Since the politics of reason cannot defeat apocalyptic nihilism, we must fight,” he thundered.
November 30, 2011 § 3 Comments
by Amjad Majid
When you are away
I see the night running
away with my days
In oblivion seasons change
and tell me it is time
to harvest and gather.
From orchard to orchard,
I strain my poise in gloom,
branches pat my head,
consoling me obtrusively,
as I garner what they bear,
morosely I am stealing
what some call taking
for the giving,
but not for the sale…
August 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
On my first day in Cuba, in 1967, I waited in a bus queue that was really a conga line. Ahead of me were two large, funny females resplendent in frills of blinding yellow; one of them had an especially long bongo under her arm. When the bus arrived, painted in Cuba’s colours for its inaugural service, they announced that the gringo had not long arrived from London and was therefore personally responsible for this breach in the American blockade. It was an honour I could not refuse.
The bus was a Leyland, made in Lancashire, one of 400 shipped to Cuba in defiance of Washington, which had declared war on the revolution of Fidel Castro. With the Internationale and Love Me Do played to a bongo beat – the Beatles having been “admitted to the Revolution” – we lurched through Havana’s crooked streets. Such a fond memory now accompanies me on my return to Cuba; yet looking back at what I wrote then, I find I used the word “melancholy” more than once. For all the natural warmth of Cubans, the hardship of their imposed isolation left smiles diminished and eyes averted once the music had stopped.
Beyond the nationalised American department stores – the windows empty except for electric fires from China of which Cubans had no need – and the flickering necklace of lights of an almost deserted port, there was the silhouette of an American spy ship, USS Oxford, policing Cuba’s punishment. In 1968, the revolution added its own folly by summarily banning all small businesses, including the paladares, Havana’s lively bars and restaurants. The Soviet era had begun.
April 15, 2011 § 13 Comments
By Huma Dar
Of Civilities and Dignities
On 22 June 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, asserted that burqas (or the burqa-clad?) are “not welcome” in France, adding that “[i]n our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity” and that “the veils reduced dignity.” France’s Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at six-million-strong. And this is just an approximation, as the French Republic implicitly claims to be post-race and post-religion via a prohibition on any census that would take into account the race or religion of its citizens. (This anxiety mirrors the brouhaha in Indian media àpropos the much-contested enumeration of OBCs or Other Backward Castes in the Indian census surveys of 2011, or the urgency to declare some spaces post-caste, post-feminist, and post-racist while casteism, patriarchy and racism continue unabated.)
February 27, 2011 § 4 Comments
By Huma Dar
Rakhshanda Jalil writes in The Hindu, 27 February 2011, about “that elusive connect with India when she was least expecting it” on a visit to Karachi, Pakistan. The title of her piece is “A city not unlike home.”
I am always amused when Indians are surprised and taken aback by Pakistanis (whether in Karachi or Lahore or elsewhere) who “speak Urdu and English with almost equal aplomb” or by their “silk sarees and natty blazers” or by their possible cosmopolitanism!!! (Class is class, unfortunately, and the élite exhibit their privileges in similar ways all over the region!) Does it not, if just remotely, smack of the loaded “praise”: “Gee! Obama is so articulate!” — also known as “the racism of lowered expectation”? Why would Indians expect otherwise from their class-affiliates on the other side of the border? Or is it that Bollywood’s Pakistan-bashing fantasies are actually swallowed uncritically — hook, line, and sinker – even (or perhaps especially) by the educated Indians, eliciting “fears about Kalashnikov-toting Taliban and marauding Muhajirs.”
And by the way, Pakistanis are not all “tall, well-built, good-looking people,” especially under the normative definition of “good-looking” in South Asia (fair-skinned or with a “wheatish complexion”) — thank god for the latter! Sadly, the former two ascriptions, of course, too easily go awry given malnutrition due to poverty. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
by Wislawa Szymborska
You scarcely move your foot when out of nowhere spring
the Aborigines, O Marcus Aemilius.
Your heel’s mired in the very midst of Rutulians.
In Sabines, and Latins you’re sinking up to your knees.
You’re up to your waist, your neck, your nostrils
in Aequians and Volscians, O Lucius Fabius.
These small peoples are thick as flies, to the point of irritation,
satiation and nausea, O Quintus Decius.
One town, another, the hundred seventieth.
The stubbornness of Fidenates. The ill-will of the Faliscans.
The blindness of Ecetrans. The vacillation of the
The studied animosity of the Lavicanians, the Pelignians.
That’s what drives us benevolent men to harshness
beyond each new hill, o Gaius Cloelius.
If only they weren’t in our way, but they are,
the Auruncians, the Marsians, O Spurius Manlius.
The Tarquinians from here and there, the Etruscans from
The Volsinians besides. The Veientins to boot.
Beyond all reason the Aulercians. Ditto the Sapinians
beyond all human patience, O Sextus Oppius.
Small peoples have small understanding.
Stupidity surrounds us in an ever-widening circle.
Objectionable customs. Benighted laws.
Ineffectual gods, O Titus Vilius.
Mounds of Hernicians. Swarms of Marrucianians.
An insect-like multitude of Vestians, of Samnites.
The farther you go the more there are, O Servius Follius.
Deplorable are small peoples.
Their irresponsibility bears close watching
beyond each new river, O Aulus Junius.
I feel threatened by every new horizon.
That’s how I see the problem, O Hostius Melius.
To that I, Hostius Melius, reply to you,
O Appius Pappius: Forward. Somewhere out there the world
must have an end.
- Wislawa Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1996. Poem courtesy of Andrew Bacevich.
February 17, 2011 § 7 Comments
by Huma Dar
On Thursday, 27th of January, 2011, while the world was busy watching — or ignoring, as the case might be — the inspiring Egyptian Revolution, in broad daylight, in a very busy part of Lahore (Pakistan), in front of hundreds of eye-witnesses, American contractor, Raymond Davis, murders two or by some accounts even three people: Muhammad Faheem (aka Faheem Shamshad?) (age 26), Faizan Haider (age 22), and Ibad-ur-Rehman. Davis shoots the former two, who had allegedly threatened to rob him, from within his locked car, with seven bullets — each bullet expertly and fatally finding its mark. The windshield shows the piercing trajectory of the fatal bullets, but otherwise remains miraculously unshattered. Davis, then, emerges calmly from his well-equipped car (see descriptions below), shoots Faizan from the back while Faizan was running away (how “dangerous” is that?! does the excuse of “self-defence” hold when one of the victims was running away?), takes photographs and videos of both his victims with his cellphone, gets back into his car, and drives off unruffled, to flee the scene. Faizan Haider was still alive — he expired later in the hospital. What an act of “responsibility” from a “diplomat” of the self-ascribed global policeman!