September 22, 2008
September 22, 2008
The admired Scots-Pakistani novelist Suhayl Saadi and his wife, Alina Mirza, who runs a Pakistani film festival in Glasgow, are dear friends. They got married at the Marriot in Islamabad, just bombed by Islamicist murderers who sent in a delivery of lethal explosives in a lorry, during Ramadan. Nice work, guys. Allah will surely reward you aplenty for the slaughter of the blameless, sent off with less ceremony than goats and chickens who, at least, are prayed for as their throats are cut. Ah but they only razed a temple of Western decadence, and many Muslims who worked or went there weren’t “real” Muslims, only Shias and disobedient women, reprobates and sinners for sure.
The couple are devastated, rendered hopeless – for the first time that I can remember. For years, in spite of Pakistan’s many failures, they have kept up a fierce optimism, as if heartfelt belief would, one day, drive away the evil forces that circulate and in parts overrun their ancestral homeland.
There are many more like them, Pakistani-Britons who are proud of the culture of Pakistan, its creative movers and shakers, and millions of extraordinary, generous people. But their pride and idealism are fast draining away.
My father came from Karachi. He fled the place in the 1920s and went back only once, a fortnight before he died in 1970. He never recovered from the experience. It was as if his heart gave up. The country was in the grip of the military again and savagery ruled. It still does. I have never felt the desire to go look for cousins, aunts and uncles.
The newly elected President, Asif Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, new best friend of the United States, is one of that nation’s dodgiest characters. He replaced a military dictator, who replaced another allegedly corrupt politician, Nawaz Sharif, now a big player in the latest political configuration.
Armageddon is on its way as Pakistan dissolves at its north-western borders into that lawless territory that is Afghanistan. American interventions, demands and military incontinence in the region bolster Islamic reactionaries and guerrillas.
India meanwhile, with many similar endemic problems and ruthless governance in Kashmir, nevertheless flowers economically and still holds on to democracy and fundamental freedoms. Sadly Pakistan “proves” what the rest of the world believes, and not without reason, that Muslims are incapable of decent leadership or progressive politics and move instinctively to political and personal tyranny.
Look around and the evidence punches you in both eyes. Saudi Arabia, Iran and various nations in the Middle East and most “Islamic” states elsewhere are failing entities where the people are either afraid or oppressing others. I, a Muslim who fights daily against the unjust treatment of Muslims in the West, have to face the blinding truth that although we have serious external enemies, more Muslims are hurt, wounded, killed and denied by other Muslims who feel themselves to be virtuous.
Lest our detractors rub their hands with satisfaction, I tell them loud and clear, this is not exoneration of Guantanamo Bay, the destruction of Iraq, Belmarsh, Israel’s criminal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, the fascists in Cologne who tried this week to run an anti-Islam rally, the viciously anti-Muslim BNP and the many ways Europe humiliates us Muslims.
But I am saying that Muslims enthusiastically participate in “rendition”, torture co-religionists in prisons, bomb fellow-worshippers from Iraq to Pakistan and beyond, subjugate their women, cut off hands and necks, keep their young cowering or brainwash them to the point when they are unfit to inhabit this century. If we respect and care for our own so little why should the rest of the world give a damn?
September 22, 2008
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany’s biggest and most infamous death camp in Poland, faces the danger of catastrophic flooding unless urgent action is taken to protect it, an expert has warned.
Andrzej Telka, a specialist in flood protection, said that the camp, which is now a museum and memorial to the millions who perished there during the Holocaust, faces the growing risk of flooding from the nearby River Vistula.
“If the unusual weather patterns we have seen continue a tragedy is going to happen,” he said.
Mr Telka, who is also a former mayor of Oswiecim, the Polish town closest to camp, added that at particular risk is the section of Auschwitz-Birkenau where pyres once consumed the countless victims, and a serious flood could wash away the victims’ ashes.
He has called for the instigation of a flood-protection plan, drawn up after in 1998 after serious flooding in Poland the year before. Under the scheme, which Mr Telka claimed has been hampered and blocked by environmentalists, the current system of dykes running along the River Vistula would be raised and strengthened.
A local councillor and board member of the Auschwitz Museum trust, Stanislaw Rydzon, has added his voice to calls for greater protection, saying that the camp was almost flooded 2001 when the Vistula almost burst its banks following days of torrential rain.
A spokesman from the Malopolska regional council said they had plans to renovate the dykes, but conceded that the work may not start until 2010.
The flooding fears come as another source of concern over the upkeep of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which attracts around 500,000 visitors each year.
Piotr Cywinski, the museum’s director, has said that a number of pre-war brick buildings in the Auschwitz section of the camp could collapse owing to subsidence, and there are perpetual worries over the state of the flimsy wooden barracks that once housed hundreds of thousands of inmates at Birkenau.
The director has said that renovation costs could come to £48 million, twenty times his annual budget from the state.
The threats to the camp have spread alarm among Holocaust survivors.
“If anything happened to the camp it would be a tragedy as so much would be lost for future generations,” said former Auschwitz inmate Ziggy Shipper.
“There are other camps, like Belsen, that are visited but they don’t compare to Auschwitz because they were destroyed; there is nothing really there, nothing to tell you that there was concentration camp.”
September 22, 2008
Barack Obama’s nomination is a historical event, a watershed in the long saga of America’s racial agony. We seem to have been waiting 150 years for this moment. So why isn’t he sweeping all before him?
The place of blacks in American society, of course, is a narrative extending far back to Colonial days. The Civil War was fought over it. Revisionist historians occasionally try to point to economics factors or the inherent antagonisms between an agrarian and industrial society, but any memoir of the era will tell you that the war was fought over slavery. After the freeing of the slaves, America became a caste society, with “Negroes” confined to a distinctly limited role — and suffering threats and violence if they tried to step out of line.
These Jim Crow barriers began breaking down in the 1960s and African-Americans have since won an ever-widening place in American society. There is still racism and great inequalities, but it is hard to argue that America is not an open society that is earnestly trying to open itself to blacks and other minorities.
Now comes Obama as an apotheosis of this vision — an African-American bidding to lead the country. Yet there is more than just equal opportunity at stake. Obama is a child of mixed race, with a white mother and an African father. He is not just a tale of realized ambition but the actual melding of the races. It is hard not to think this is where he gets his messianic vision. “We are the change we have been waiting for,” he says, obviously seeing himself as a physical embodiment of racial reconciliation.
So were does that leave us? Will the election of Obama mean that America’s racial narrative has finally reached its conclusion? Or conversely, would his defeat mean that America has reverted to being a racist society?
I DON’T THINK this is the main issue in the election. On the contrary, the real question is whether race is the only important issue or whether there are other equally compelling narratives at this time.
Here are a few others that are competing for attention:
The Frontier. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner published a seminal essay in which he argued that having an open frontier on our westward boundary had been a decisive influence in shaping the American character. The frontier experience had leveled the class traditions from Europe, proffered opportunity to the common individual, and created a spirit of independence that had constantly posed a challenge to entrenched Eastern elites. Populist movements that had continually reinvigorated American politics had all arisen on the frontier.
It is no accident that this year the two Republican candidates come from thinly populated Western frontier states. Sarah Palin perfectly embodies this frontier spirit and both candidates are considered “mavericks,” earning their spurs by taking on entrenched interests. Obama, on the other hand — though he may not realize it — draws his strongest support from Eastern colleges and established hierarchical institutions. He is the candidate of the non-profit sector, that odd hybrid of a capitalist society in which educated people try to claim money from profit-making institutions and “turn it to good use,” usually following their own proclivities.
Government versus free enterprise. Government intervention in the economy is as old as the pharaohs. The pyramids were the first public works project. Free enterprise only evolved later, always at great risk from government takeover. A turning point in early American history was the Jacksonian Revolution, where small tradesmen and entrepreneurs rebelled again Eastern elites who were trying to establish a European-style economy by government charter. Andrew Jackson was a “Democrat” in the true sense of the word that he led the common people against established interests.
All this reversed in the 20th century when aristocratic and academic forces spearheaded an effort to have government seize control of the economy and choke off free enterprise. Typically it was Franklin Roosevelt, a scion of landed wealth, who led the charge. This vision has been the soul of the Democratic Party ever since. Jimmy Carter (who tried to nationalize the energy industry), Walter Mondale (who celebrated his desire to raise taxes), Michael Dukakis (who carried Swedish planning manuals for beach reading), and Bill Clinton (who despaired at discovering the government must borrow money on the bond market) all came out of the same mold. Barack Obama — who sees government as the great equalizer of incomes — follows right out of this tradition.
America as a defender of freedom. Ever since our beginnings, America has been thrust into the role of being a “city on the hill,” living as an example to other cultures and nations. Thomas Jefferson spoke for all mankind when he wrote, “All men are created equal.” The writers of the Constitution debated with full awareness that they were “representatives of all mankind.” America was a reluctant participant in world affairs in the 19th century but our military power and moral might made participation unavoidable in the 20th. We rescued Europe in two World Wars and enthusiastically became the leading adversary — and eventual victor over — world Communism.
Now in the 21st century, we have become the unwilling adversaries of another chiliastic movement — Islamic terrorism. President Bush — rightly — has cast this in the mold of modern democracy versus tradition-bound oligarchies. John McCain’s whole career evolves out of America playing a forceful role in history. Obama, on the other hand, represents a post-modern, post-European, semiotic view of the world in which everything can be settled by dialogue, symbols, appropriate gestures and “community organizing.” As Palin said in her acceptance speech, “This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn’t just need an organizer.”
All these and many others are legitimate narratives of the American experience. Not surprisingly, all of them are also up for grabs in this election. If Barack Obama is not elected President, it will not be because America has reverted to being a racist society. It will be because there were other important issues at stake as well.
September 22, 2008
…It is these poor cultural orphans, for whom “information retrieval” online is the only kind of reading they know, who are the main concern of Mark Bauerlein in his new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. One would think that a whole future in jeopardy would be too serious a matter for the flippancy of the rest of the subtitle: Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30. But Professor Bauerlein, who teaches English at Emory University and is a former director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, is not always sure just how much a matter of mirth “the dumbest generation” is, or isn’t. After all, it is not really their fault if, as he says, they have been “betrayed” by the mentors who should have taught them better. Yet he seems to agree with Nicholas Carr that what we are witnessing is not just an educational breakdown but a deformation of the very idea of intelligence…
The more tests emphasize “learned content” such as vocabulary, math techniques, and cultural knowledge, the less the Flynn Effect shows up. The more they involve “culturally reduced” material, puzzles and pictures that require no historical or verbal context, the more the gains surface. Moreover, the significance of those gains apart from the test itself diminishes. “We know people solve problems on IQ tests; we suspect those problems are so detached, or so abstracted from reality,” Flynn remarked, “that the ability to solve them can diverge over time from the real-world problem-solving ability called intelligence…”