August 27, 2011 § 3 Comments
by Medea Benjamin
The ceremonies for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC were kicked off on August 24 at an event billed as Honoring Global Leaders for Peace. But some of those honored are a far cry from King’s beloved community of the poor and oppressed. The tribute to peacemakers, organized by the MLK National Memorial Foundation, was mostly a night applauding warmakers, corporate profiteers and co-opted musicians.
The night started out with great promise when MC Andrea Mitchell mentioned Dr. King’s brilliant anti-war speech Beyond Vietnam as a key to understanding the real Dr. King. And sure, there were a few wonderful moments—a song by Stevie Wonder, a speech about nonviolence by the South African Ambassador and a quick appearance by Jesse Jackson in which he managed to spit out a call to “study war no more.”
But most of the evening’s speakers and guests of honor had little to do with peacemaking. One of the dignitaries thanked at the start of the program was Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, representing a country that uses $3 billion a year in precious U.S. tax dollars to commit war crimes against Palestinians.
Then came a parade of representatives of corporations that want to cleanse their image by being associated with Dr. King. The first was General Motors VP Eric Peterson. His company took billions from government coffers to keep it afloat, then showed its “generosity” by donating $10 million of our tax dollars to the memorial. Mr. Peterson gave a speech paying tribute to the company’s first black board member, Rev. Leon Sullivan. Peterson claimed that the Sullivan Principles, principles that established a social responsibility code for companies working in South Africa, helped abolish apartheid. The truth is that the Sullivan Principles ended up being a cover for U.S. corporations—like General Motors–to continue doing business in racist South Africa instead of respecting the international divestment campaign.
August 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Sasha Lilley of the highly erudite Against the Grain interviews Corey Robin, author of the brilliant Fear: The History of A Political Idea. Also check out Robin’s superb essay on Hannah Arendt, and his commentary on Barack Obama’s recent capitulation on the debt deal.
Fear dominates our society. Fear of crime, fear of the poor, fear of foreign terrorists, to which we might add fear of our government and fear of our bosses. For some liberal thinkers, fear serves a purpose. It’s supposed to pull us all together so we can find some kind of social solidarity in an atomized, alienated world. Corey Robin discusses the problems with that notion and talks about the places where fear truly lurks in our society.
July 9, 2011 § 5 Comments
Renowned anthropologist Laura Nader (sister of Ralph Nader) discusses how Arab/Muslim women perceived the west during their encounters in the past centuries.
Downloadprogram audio (mp3, 47.8 Mbytes)
Edward Said spent much of his distinguished career combatting Western stereotypes of the Arab world. Laura Nader explains what Said meant by “Orientalism,” and describes what Arabs who visited the West in past centuries came to think of Western practices. Also, Adel Iskandar talks about the volume in which Laura Nader’s article about Said appears.
Adel Iskandar & Hakem Rustom, eds., Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation UC Press, 2010.
May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
On May 15th, while thousands of people were getting shot and gassed in the streets, the Coen Brothers (and many others) took a million dollars from Tel Aviv University, in the form of the Dan David Prize. I’m sure someone would have cared to protest, had over 15 people not been killed and hundreds injured, during the Nakba Day commemoration demonstrations, that same day.
Update (17.5.11): 21 dead, and over 200 injured.
May 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Tony Judt’s Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents is an elegantly crafted elegy for the postwar consensus and a concise and erudite statement by a towering public intellectual of political wisdom accumulated over a lifetime of achivement. Its intended audience is ‘youths on both sides of Atlantic,’ who are too leery of civic engagement because of their disillusionment with politics and suspicion of government. Judt aims to invigorate their interest with challenging ideas and a practical project for political transformation. He offers no utopia, but an alternative that is ‘better than anything else to hand.’ He makes a case for social democracy, a form of government that can play an enhanced role without threatening liberties.
Judt begins with a diagnosis of the present malaise, a condition JK Galbraith described as ‘private wealth and public squalor.’ Judt finds something ‘profoundly wrong’ with an age which has made ‘a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest.’ Like Oscar Wilde’s cynics, he laments, ‘we know what things cost but have no idea of what they are worth.’ With ‘growth’ as the only index of progress, politicians have been able to claim success even as inequality has reached grotesque proportions. The decline began with Reagan and Thatcher’s assault on the welfare state, but has proceeded apace both in Britain and the US under successive Democratic and Labour governments. The result is a society marked by extreme inequality and broken communities. Judt draws on the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level, to show a correlation between the extreme inequality of the American and British society and its adverse consequences on health, crime, and social mobility.
April 15, 2011 § 14 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.)
April 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
Herbert Marcuse gained world renown during the 1960s as a philosopher, social theorist and political activist; his most famous work is One-Dimensional Man, which had a strong influence on the New Left. Here he’s interviewed by Bryan Magee on the Frankfurt School.
March 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The neutral Switzerland is about to host a yearly Culturescapes festival. Every year the festival focuses on a different country. This year- the most successful for cultural boycott, yet- it just had to play into Desmond Tutu’s hands and focus on Israel.
A Word about Culture
Culture is a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Israel’s Brand Israel campaign is focusing on PR apartheid; Hiding it’s atrocities as best it can, and highlighting it’s “advantages”:
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6 niches were identified in which Israel has a relative advantage… The 6 niches through which it is planned to promote Israel, in the world, are environment (with an emphases on desert agriculture); Science and technology (medicine, internet and hi-tech); Culture and art; Human variety and tradition; lifestyle and leisure culture; Tikun Olam [=Fixing the world] (support of populations of special needs).
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 13, 2011 § 15 Comments
by Huma Dar
Today is the first birth centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz: one of South Asia’s most beloved radical Urdu poets. Today is also, just two days after Mubarak’s resignation as a result of the inspiring revolution in Umm al-Duniya, Mother of the World, Egypt; and almost a month after Tunisia’s courageous revolution. How ecstatic would Faiz have been today?! Faiz, who had lived in Beirut, in exile from Pakistan — when ruled by the US-bolstered military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq. Faiz, who wrote a beautiful lullaby for a Palestinian child, and a poem for those who were martyred outside their beloved Palestine. Faiz, whose poem commonly mis-titled, “Ham Dekhenge,” is a battle-song for people fighting for social justice from Sindh, Pakistan to Kashmir to Chhattisgarh, India.
The title of this particular poem of Faiz is in Arabic: “Wa Yabqaa Wajhu Rabbika.” It is most often brushed aside as it does not fit the simplistic profile of the “avowed atheist” assigned to Faiz. Being a socialist does not preclude belief in Islam, but this nuance is lost on many who cannot easily imagine Faiz being a Muslim, leave alone leading a prayer in the mosque of his ancestral village, especially given the subtle Islamophobia that pervades élite political and literary discourses, both within and without South Asia. For some, even more difficult “to reconcile [is] the glowing tribute [that Faiz wrote] to Muhammad Ali Jinnah,” but this has to do with the rigorous demonology of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in Indian historiography, and its hegemonic status within South Asian Studies.