In the following interview, Peter Linebaugh speaks about his book, The Magna Carta Manifesto. Linebaugh explains how Magna Carta contained two charters: the Charter of Liberties and the Charter of the Forest. The most important aspect of Linebaugh’s book is that it brings new light to the largely forgotten Charter of the Forest. While the Charter of Liberties existed to protect people’s rights the Charter of the Forest existed to protect the commons, which guaranteed the subsistance of the people, against a tyrannical, privitising king.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=of3pDXFHJwA]
Month: November 2012
Fascinating footage of Palestine from 1896
Fascinating footage of Muslims, Christians and Jews coexisting under Ottoman rule. (Via my friend Ninon Aprea)
Hawking Women’s Rights
Considering the amount of uninformed commentary that has been proliferating on Pakistan, readers might want to check out Tanqeed, an important new initiative started by a group of progressive Pakistani academics, writers and journalists. The trigger was a typically obtuse ‘debate’ on New York Times about the recent assassination attempt on a school-girl in Swat. In response Tanqeed (which means ‘criticism’) asked 6 Pakistani writers to present a less ideologically skewed take on the same event (and its broader context). You can find the result here. The following is my contribution:
For advocacy to be successful, it has to come from a place of empathy rather than superiority. Many of the most vocal advocates of women’s rights in Pakistan today are also known for their sanguine views on the “war on terror.” It is, therefore, doubtful that their new self-image as the deliverers of women from patriarchal tyranny will gain much purchase among the sufferers.
Women have doubtless borne the brunt of the dislocation and insecurity occasioned by the “war on terror.” But, to treat women’s rights in isolation from the general malaise merely serves to put the concern under a pall of suspicion. Women’s rights have been long used as a pretext for imperial aggression. Far from bringing relief, their invocation by the apologists for war merely helps obscurantist criminals, like the TTP, elevate misogyny into an anti-imperial expression.
The situation in Pakistan’s troubled northwest is no doubt ugly. From the indiscriminate violence of the Taliban, the gratuitous butchery of sectarian criminals, the bombing of girls’schools, the targeting of children, to the threats against the media, it is a predicament that is begging for a visionary political solution.
Books which are published by small publishing houses are rarely reviewed by big newspapers, and this is a shame, because small publishing houses often publish excellent work. One example is “The Madman of Freedom Square” by the brilliant Hassan Blasim, published by Comma Press. Another is “Nod”, by Adrian Barnes.
The plot is a grand metaphor worthy of Jose Saramago. For no apparent reason (though people scramble for political and spiritual explanations) people stop sleeping. Only about one in ten thousand people are spared the insomnia plague, and these quickly become victims of an anti-sleeper mass frenzy. The Awakened, as they become known, suffer gradual degeneration through irritability and clumsiness, detachment and madness, to death. Our narrator, a writer of obscure books on obscure words and phrases, is one of the remaining sleepers. Being an expert on words, he reminds us that ‘Nod’ has two somewhat contradictory meanings – both the pleasant sleepy land we send children to, and the land of Nod, the barren desolation to which God sent Cain. The narrator has to watch as his long-term girlfriend and just about everyone else around him degenerate.
The Revolution Becomes More Islamist
Like ‘armed gangs’, armed Islamists are one of the Syrian regime’s self-fulfilling prophecies. Most grassroots organisers and fighters are secularists or moderate Islamists, but the numbers, organisational power and ideological fervor of more extreme and sectarian Islamists are steadily rising. So why is the revolution taking on an increasingly Islamist hue? Here are some points in order of importance.
First, the brute fact of extreme violence. As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Not only is faith intensified by death and the threat of death, and by the pain and humiliation of torture, but tribal and sectarian identities are reinforced. We want to feel like we when in death’s presence, not like I, because I is small and easily erased. So in Syria at the moment many Sunnis are identifying more strongly as Sunnis, Alawis as Alawis, Kurds as Kurds, and so on. This is very sad and it immeasurably complicates the future task of building a civil state for all, but it is inevitable in the circumstances. The violence was started by the regime, and the regime is still by far the greatest perpetrator of violence, including aerial bombardment of villages and cities, and now the liberal use of child-killing cluster bombs.
Second, beyond patriotic feelings for Palestine and Iraq and an unarticulated sense that their government was corrupt, two years ago most men in the armed resistance were apolitical. Finding themselves having to fight, and suddenly entered onto the political stage, they search for an ideology within which to frame their exciting and terrifying new experience. At present, the most immediately available and simplest ideology on offer is Salafism. As well as for their stark message, Salafists are winning recruits because of their organisational and warfaring skills honed in Iraq and elsewhere, and because of their access to private funds from the Gulf. If this were the sixties, the revolutionaries growing beards would have had Che Guevara in mind (and if much of the ‘left’ in the world were not writing off the revolution as a NATO/Saudi/Zionist conspiracy, the left might have more traction). At present, Salafism is in the air. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the historical moment. And why were all these young men apolitical before the revolution? Why hadn’t they learned more of debate and compromise? Simply put: because politics was banned in Asad’s Syria.