My Interview with Cultural Theorist Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)
Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

The recent death of the Bulgarian-French cultural theorist and historian of ideas Tzvetan Todorov at the age of 77 flew largely under the radar of the digital commons. Precious few obituaries have appeared in English. The New York Times ran a good one. The literary scholar Françoise Meltzer of the University of Chicago wrote a nice tribute for the blog of the journal Critical Inquiry. That’s about it as far as I can tell, at least as of yet. This is surprising, given Todorov’s enormous influence and voluminous output across a wide swath of fields and themes.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Todorov a decade ago for Critical Inquiry. I had wanted to interview him for some time. I pitched the idea to the journal’s editor, W. J. T. Mitchell, over dinner at the Ethiopian Diamond in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood after an event for his book What Do Pictures Want? Mitchell (who would later have his own exchange with Todorov) immediately gave me the green light, for which I remain deeply grateful. Todorov and I covered a range of questions, beginning with his intellectual biography and style, onto a series of political issues — ones that remain strikingly relevant today.

The full text of our interview can be found here.

The (literal) fascists who took Tulsi Gabbard to meet Assad

gabbard-assadIt has now been widely reported that Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the US House of Representatives from Hawaii, recently met with Bashar al-Assad during a ‘fact-finding’ mission to Syria. As The Daily Beast reported:

Gabbard initially declined to say who financed her trip to Syria. However, in a press release Wednesday Gabbard revealed her delegation (which also included former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich) had been “led and sponsored by” an outfit called the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS—Ohio). Her statement added she and the rest of the delegation had been accompanied by two men, Elie and Bassam Khawam.

The flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) is "patterned after that of the Nazis, with the red and black in opposite places and a helix with four blades in place of a swastika"
The flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) is “patterned after that of the Nazis, with the red and black in opposite places and a helix with four blades in place of a swastika”

The Khawam brothers, it turns out, are officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a fascist organization that actively supports the Assad regime and indeed “has dispatched its members to fight on [its] behalf,” reports The Guardian. Who exactly are the SSNP? The Daily Beast goes into some of the group’s history.

For a deeper dive into the ideological swamp Gabbard has waded into, here’s what Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London, wrote about the group in his 2011 book The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives:

Continue reading “The (literal) fascists who took Tulsi Gabbard to meet Assad”

To “leftist” admirers of Assad’s Syria

By Farouk Mardam-Bey

As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers — and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide — and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.

Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished ‘liberating’ Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian ‘cleansing’ continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.

That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum” — meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo — is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.

Continue reading “To “leftist” admirers of Assad’s Syria”

Russia, Trump and the New ‘McCarthyism in Reverse’

money-nuclear-weapons-and-the-kkk_large
Soviet propaganda: “Money, Nuclear Weapons and the KKK” (source: capl@washjeff.edu)

It is U.S. election season, 2016, and the extremely dumb baseline for presidential-year rhetoric has already been exceeded with gusto thanks to a fake-tanned reality TV blowhard now leading a white nationalist movement as the Republican Party’s nominee. “Could it get even more dangerously silly, though — the discourse?” asks a visitor from a planet yet to be discovered by terrestrial science. Well, this is America, my little green partner: you’re damned right it will.

The how, however, in “how this election will increase the urgency of our desire for an early demise” has come out of far left field. The banal idiocy of the liberal, centrist, and now alt-right debate has been answered by contrarian-left columnists and their invocation of the Cold War witch hunt against allegedly-traitorous alleged communists, except this time it is not right-wing anti-communists being called out for baiting anyone to the left of Joe McCarthy as a red. No, the Soviet Union having collapsed 25 years ago, the roles of left and right have been inverted, and so it is the left-of-center critics of a proto-fascist who risk being outed as rank McCarthyites for criticizing a billionaire’s ties to and fondness for a right-wing authoritarian (one on the verge of a formal partnership with the U.S. war machine).

And with that, the alien craft exits the solar system.

Donald J. Trump, the candidate citing the Cold War as the basis for a new, “ideological screening test” to be imposed on immigrants: a victim of anti-communism? The mere thought of the argument may dull the senses, but it’s an argument that, unlike the USSR, just will not die in the alt-reality of punditry. That matters, not just because bad arguments are bad (certainly they are, but not all are worth rebutting), but because world peace literally depends on it. If the left’s so singularly focused on the worst claim a liberal personality has to offer that it spends more time rebutting than  proposing—explaining that Vladimir Putin is not the head of the Illuminati—we’ll never get around to building a genuinely internationalist movement that rejects conspiracy for a consistent opposition to greedy capitalists and vicious imperialists wherever they may be.

In the meantime; instead: “Democrats Are Redbaiting Like It’s 1956,” informs the online magazine Current Affairs, for example, the article to which the headline is attached arguing that 2016 Democrats “have revived a long-dormant practice: accusing those to their left of being Kremlin operatives, and discrediting their political opponents with allegations of grand KGB conspiracies.”

But Russia isn’t red and neither is the Republican nominee for president. Still, though, we persist as if the KGB still exists, not because those engaging in the discourse are dumb, necessarily, but rather: we’re distracted by the dumbest arguments of the moment, and opposing them, to the point that we’re not making better arguments of our own. To wit: By suggesting, for instance, that Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee and leaked unflattering emails to harm a candidate the Russian government has reason to hate — conflated, for purposes of knocking a straw-argument out the park, with the decidedly less common belief that Trump is literally a Russian secret agent — liberal Democrats are “conspiratorially positing that those who disagree with them are either intentionally or unintentionally serving the interests of the Kremlin.”

That argument requires no conspiracy, though: Trump has proposed policies that would serve the interests of the Kremlin — which, like the United States, seeks to promote its interests abroad — just as he and others, like Hillary Clinton, have proposed policies that would serve the interests of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and other repressive governments. And, just as the U.S. notices when certain factions abroad are perceived as more amenable to its interests, Russia does as well. This isn’t chemtrails.

Continue reading “Russia, Trump and the New ‘McCarthyism in Reverse’”

“India,” “Secularism,” and Its Dissenting Authors Or “Der Āyad, Durust Āyad, but is this even an arrival”?

by Huma Dar

“Prominent writers in India are collectively protesting what they consider an increase in hostility and intolerance, which they argue has been allowed to fester under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by returning a prestigious literary award.”

Referring to attacks against Muslims, including the killing of a man who had been suspected of slaughtering a cow, he said, “This is not the country that our great leaders had envisioned.” (Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1975)
The newsfeed on most South Asian social media has been deluged by articles like the one in The New York Times above. However, one has to wonder what kept these literary “stars” from this praiseworthy gesture of returning their State-given awards when the Gujarat pogroms were going on in 2002, or against the pogroms that followed the demolition of Babri masjid in 1992/3, or against the genocide of Sikhs around 1984, or heck, against the ongoing genocide in Indian Occupied Kashmir or that of Dalits…
My apologies for this query, which despite seeming cynical at first blush, is actually a probing of the very problematic and exceptionalizing notions of “India as a nation” and “Indian secularism” that these authors and poets valorize, explicitly or implicitly, through this joint gesture of returning their awards or through their separate oeuvre at large. It is precisely these twin concepts of unprobed “Indian secularism” and even more foundationally, the unproblematized, dehistoricized, and normalized idea of “India as a nation” (see The Indian Ideology (2012) by Perry Anderson for a resounding deconstruction of this) that are the fecund incubating grounds of much violence – violence which is Brahminical, colonial, and Islamophobic at the core. This is true not only with regard to the acts of spectacular violence, like the mob lynching of Muhammad Ikhlaq in the current context of Dadri, at the contemporary moment of Modi-fied India, but also for the billion and one banal acts of quotidian casteist, colonial, and communal violence that fertilize the roots of the phenomenon in modern India. This is especially true for the comparably spectacular violence of the allegedly “secular” contexts – the genocidal violence of the Indian state in Kashmir, Punjab, Hyderabad, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, in every Dalit basti et al – that preceded the current Hindutva regime (and co-exist at any given time). In fact, it can be argued that the exceptionalization of India not only papers over much of this epistemic violence by making it invisible but actually enables it by helping it elide scrutiny. Thus no gesture of protest, however “well intentioned” it might be, will bear fruit until and unless the very problematic exceptionalism that undergirds the allegedly “secular India” is deconstructed.

Continue reading ““India,” “Secularism,” and Its Dissenting Authors Or “Der Āyad, Durust Āyad, but is this even an arrival”?”

Almost 200 Hollywood Celebrities Sign on to Israel’s Genocide of the Palestinian People

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 16.36.04

Today, [Creative Community for Peace] say, there is not a single musical act, from Justin Timberlake to the Rolling Stones to Alicia Keys, that they have not approached and coached in advance of their performance in Israel. ~Times of Israel

It’s no surprise that the genocidal Times of Israel is so eager to push anti-BDS initiatives. It’s also no surprise that one of Israel’s most well connected, elite whitewashing team, Creative Community for Peace [CCfP], is doing exactly what it vowed to do- whitewash genocide. However one might wonder about some of the names on the below statement that CCfP has published:Crceative Community For Peace Genocide

Continue reading “Almost 200 Hollywood Celebrities Sign on to Israel’s Genocide of the Palestinian People”

Let’s Talk About Genocide: The Case of Palestine

declaration made by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 96 (I) dated 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.  

Though still contentious in some circles even within the Palestine solidarity movement, I’d like to join the, Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pape and others [1,2] and put forth that Israel, typical of a colonialist entity, isn’t only guilty of war crimes, discrimination, and employing an apartheid system on the Palestinian people, but is actually committing genocide. Before the reader rules me out as another “extremist” and clicks on, I’d like to remind you that all these terms are legal terms. And though I’m by no means a legal expert, I intend to argue the legal points in this article, in hopes of not only proving that Israel is in fact committing the crime of genocide, but that legal professionals would refine these arguments and take them where they belong- International Criminal Court.

Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Genocide: The Case of Palestine”