Syria & the Arab Uprisings: An Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar has been called “one of the best analysts of the contemporary Arab world” (Le Monde) and “the preeminent Marxist scholar of the region” (CounterPunch). He is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London. His many books include:

Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror

The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder

Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy (dialogues with Noam Chomsky)

The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives

Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism

The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

We recently had the pleasure of hosting Professor Achcar at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies for a stimulating series of lectures, forums and panel discussions about his recent work. During his visit, I recorded the following interview with him for our CMES Conversations series.

We took his book The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising as a starting point from which to examine the roots of the Syrian uprising, the nature of the Assad regime, the different shapes of the uprisings across the region, and the fate of Syria. Here it is:

Stephen Walt: Changes since The Israel Lobby book

Presentation at the National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel “Special Relationship” on March 7, 2014 at the National Press Club.

Stephen M. Walt is professor of International Affairs at Harvard University; previously taught at Princeton University, University of Chicago.

Geoffrey Wawro – Quicksand

The above is a presentation at the National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel “Special Relationship” on March 7, 2014 at the National Press Club.

Dr. Geoffrey Wawro is Professor of History and Director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas in the Dallas Metroplex. Wawro’s book Quicksand is a history of American involvement in the Middle East. Quicksand is in the ListMuse Best 100 History Books of All Time list.

The Hat of Invisibility

salehBostjan Videmsek interviews Yassin al-Haj Saleh, former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals, on ‘civil war’, sectarianism, and the geo-political conspiracy theories which render the people of the Middle East invisible.

Three years and three months into the conflict, Syria and its people have more or less been forgotten by international community, the media, even NGOs. How does this effect life on the ground and the conflict itself?
I do not approve of words like ‘conflict’ and ‘crisis’ in describing our struggle. The connotations of these terms cover up the responsibilities of the terrible situation in Syria, that of a regime that had been ruling the country for 41 years when the revolution started 38 months ago, and that killed perhaps 40,000 Syrians in a previous generation (between 1979 and 1982). There are many ways to forget the Syrian struggle; one of them is to refer to a vague and distant conflict. I think the sort of symptomatic forgetfulness you refer to in the question is only a continuation by different means of the coverage which speaks about ‘conflict’ and ‘crisis’.
Having said that that, life on the ground is affected by barrel bombs thrown from helicopters over civilian neighborhoods in Aleppo, by chlorine gas bombs thrown over people in Kafr Zeta near Hama, and by fighter jets bombing towns of the eastern Ghouta near Damascus. This affects life more than being forgotten by the international community, the media, and NGOs. People are not killed because they are forgotten. They were always forgotten in the past, then they revolted against their masters, and decided to remind all the world of their existence. They are being killed because they revolted, and they are being punished for their insistence on visibility by being forgotten again.

Continue reading “The Hat of Invisibility”

Ha-Joon Chang on Economics

In the following video Ha-Joon Chang gives a lecture on his latest book, which is an introduction to economics, titled Economics: The User’s Guide. As an introductory text it covers all the main areas of the field. Rather usefully at the end of each chapter it has a further reading section. This gives an idea of the basic books the Cambridge professor would recommend to cover the whole discipline of economics. The books from this section have been compiled into a list titled Ha-Joon Chang’s Introduction to Economics Book List.

Teaching John Stuart Mill in Iran: A Conversation with Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein is of course best known for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—his bookslectures and media interviews on the subject over the last three decades—and for the considerable controversy it has generated.
 
Less known is that for many years he also taught political theory. It might come as something of a surprise that among his favorite works is John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. This might come as a surprise since Finkelstein is well to the left of most admirers of the iconic nineteenth-century liberal thinker. Of course Mill was also a socialist and a feminist—indeed an early one (see Martha Nussbaum’s comments at the end of this interview). But in postcolonial studies Mill is widely regarded as an imperialist and a racist. An ambiguous and contested legacy, to be sure—which is part of Mill’s enduring hold on us.
 
Finkelstein recently taught a short course on Mill’s On Liberty in Iran. There’s a whole literature devoted to this phenomenon. Norma Moruzzi has written about reading Hannah Arendt in Iran. Ali Paya and Mohammad Amin Ghaneirad have mapped the multiple spheres of influence that Jürgen Habermas enjoys in Iran. The Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo has published a book of conversations with Isaiah Berlin. (I myself have written a short book on Iran’s engagement with liberal thinkers.) When leading political thinkers (of varying persuasions) from Europe or North America—from Habermas and Antonio Negri to Richard Rorty and Immanuel Wallerstein—visit Iran, their lectures are major events and occasion considerable buzz. (For more on this, see Mehran Kamrava’s book Iran’s Intellectual Revolution, Farzin Vahdat’s God and Juggernaut: Iran’s Intellectual Encounter with Modernity, and Mehrzad Boroujerdi’s Iranian Intellectuals and the West.)
 
But Finkelstein did something a bit different. His students weren’t the usual liberal-minded suspects—who represent a significant swath of Iran’s educated classes, incidentally (a phenomenon that is underestimated and trivialized by many Western leftists, which I regard as a form of Left Orientalism).  It would have been easy for him to teach the depredations of U.S. and Israeli policy in such a context—but it also would have been incredibly boring. He did something far more interesting. He taught Mill to largely conservative-oriented students in an institution that cranks out apparatchiks for the Islamic Republic.
 
That is just wickedly cool. Here’s our recent conversation about that experience.
 
 
The interview was filmed on April 24, 2014, as part the series of conversations with our guest lecturers that our Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver produces.