Dirty Work

Kristof, whom I do like, hasn’t thought this through. Let’s see if you can spot the mistake.

Normally, the Chinese government downplays security risks, but human rights groups argue persuasively that China is using concerns about Uighurs as an excuse to crack down on peaceful Uighur dissidents. After 9/11, China declared its own war on terror in Xinjiang, but Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented that this often has targeted Uighurs who are completely nonviolent.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has largely backed this Chinese version of the war on terror. Indeed, a Department of Justice report this month suggests that American troops softened up Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo Bay on behalf of visiting Chinese interrogators. The American troops starved the Uighurs and prevented them from sleeping, just before inviting in the Chinese interrogators.

That was disgraceful; we shouldn’t do China’s dirty work. It was one more example of the Bush administration allowing the war on terror to corrode our moral clarity.

We should encourage China to tolerate peaceful protesters even as it prosecutes terrorists. But instead of clarifying that distinction, in recent years we have helped China blur it. The risk of terrorism during the Olympics is real, but that shouldn’t force us to do violence to our principles.

Terrorist

Found this on openDemocracy

A comprehensive FBI report published recently has highlighted the threat from domestic, home-grown extremists from a variety of groups, including those on the “extreme fringes” of social movements such as the “Animal Liberation Front” (classified as “special-interest terrorism”) to far right groups which often take “racist and racial supremacy and embrace antigovernment, antiregulatory” platforms.

The toD verdict: Since 9/11 and the inception of the “war on terrorism”, the threat posed by “domestic terrorism” has been conflated with Muslims residing in the US. Yet, an astounding 23 out of 24 terorrist attacks domestic terrorist attacks that took place between 2002-2005 were carried out by ‘special interest’ terror groups. As the report points out, the greater threat arises from fascist, right wing groups.

On Racism and similar matters

Nicholas D. Kristof in a recent column pointed something out which should be pointed out time and again, but strangely enough isn’t:

Much of the time, blacks have a pretty good sense of what whites think, but whites are oblivious to common black perspectives.

This is applicable not only to blacks and ‘whites’ in America, it’s of course something that describes most majority/minority constellations in the West. An interesting area where this is applicable, as Archbishop Williams has pointed out in his thoughtful speech, is in Western discussions of Islam, terrorism, the Enlightenment etc. The sheer refusal to view an issue from the minorities’ point of view has taken on an aggressive shape when it comes to talking about Muslims.

The passive ‘not listening’ has slowly but surely turned into an aggressive droning on and on over increasingly loud voices of protest. This is not simply speaking: it’s preaching. It’s applying ideas such as ‘secularism’, freedom of the press, etc., which could be applied to many different disquieting events, to only this single religious group: Muslims. It appears as if something needs to be talked out of existence, something so alien that the usual rational discourse doesn’t appear to be appropriate any more.

The vehemence with which this version of ‘not listening’ is carried out is shocking sometimes to the humble writer of this blog. Yes, as a reasonably well read person, one is used to racist diatribes, but the fact that, these days, these diatribes, hateful in content and righteous in tone, are coming from educated, smart persons, sends shivers down my spine. These are the people who, for better or worse, make politics. If they are conquered by hate, where is this society headed? I’m worried.

Subliminal Racism?

Prof. Patterson in the NYTonline on the questionable red phone ad of Ms. Clinton’s:

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino.

Finally, Hillary Clinton appears, wearing a business suit at 3 a.m., answering the phone. The message: our loved ones are in grave danger and only Mrs. Clinton can save them. An Obama presidency would be dangerous — and not just because of his lack of experience. In my reading, the ad, in the insidious language of symbolism, says that Mr. Obama is himself the danger, the outsider within.

Did the message get through? Well, consider this: people who voted early went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama; those who made up their minds during the three days after the ad was broadcast voted heavily for Mrs. Clinton.

Almost two months ago, in a Slate commentary, Hitchens drew our attention to the Clintons’s questionable behaviour with respect to race:

How can one equal Bill Clinton for thuggery and opportunism when it comes to the so-called “race card”? And where does one even start with the breathtaking nastiness of his own conduct, and that of his supporters, in the last week?

Feminism & Language

A well reasoned mini-rant on the log attacking a common and tiresome position on feminism and how it destroys language.

[David Gelernter’s] claims are apocalyptic. Although English “used to belong to all its speakers and readers and writers” it has now been taken over by “arrogant ideologues” determined “to defend the borders of the New Feminist state.” A major “victory of propaganda over common sense” looms: “We have allowed ideologues to pocket a priceless property and walk away with it.” The language is on the brink of being lost, because although the “prime rule of writing is to keep it simple, concrete, concise”, today “virtually the whole educational establishment teaches the opposite”. This is the mild part. Soon he gets more seriously worked up, calling his opponents “style-smashers” and (I’m not kidding) “language rapists”, and claiming that “they were lying and knew it” when they did what they did.

What, then, is the terrible thing that the style-smashers have done? The following is (and I stress this) a complete list of all the facts about English usage he cites:

* Some writers now use either he or she, or singular they, or purportedly sex-neutral she, instead of purportedly sex-neutral he, to refer back to generic or quantified human antecedents that are not specifically marked as masculine.
* Some people recommend the words chairperson, humankind, and firefighter over chairman, mankind, and fireman.
* Some try to avoid using the phrases great man when speaking of a great person, or using brotherhood when making reference to fellow-feeling between human beings.

[…]

Gelernter insists on the beauty and clarity of “Shakespeare’s most perfect phrases”, calling them “miraculously simple and terse”; […]

Gelernter huffs and puffs a lot about the use of he or she, but this is only a prelude to something more serious: a furious condemnation of singular antecedents for they (“a student who lost their textbook”). In his telling of the story, the feminist language terrorists weren’t content with imposing he or she on us, a phrase that is merely clumsy; worse was to come when grammar itself “collapsed in a heap after agreement between subject and pronoun was declared to be optional”, i.e., they was permitted to have singular antecedents.

But his ignorance of the history of English literature on this point is breathtaking. It is quite clear that he has no idea Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents […]

Gelernter also specifically singles out Austen for praise: “The young Jane Austen is praised by her descendants for having written “pure simple English.” He obviously is not aware that Jane Austen is famous for her high frequency of use of of singular-anteceded they […].

Gelernter thinks singular they was invented by post-1970 feminist “ideologues”, rather than a use of pronouns having a continuous history going back as far as a thousand years. One might think it remarkable that someone this ignorant of the history and structure of English would nonetheless presume to pontificate, without having checked anything. But not if you read Language Log. We have noted many times the tendency to move straight to high dudgeon, skipping right over the stage where you check the reference books to make sure you have something to be in high dudgeon about. To take a random example, when Cullen Murphy accused three word-sense usages of being modern illiteratisms, Mark Liberman showed that in fact all three were the original meanings from long ago. And then a couple of months later Mark found John Powers had made an exactly analogous mistake with three other words. People just don’t look in reference books when it comes to language; they seem to think their status as writers combined with their emotion of anger gives them all the standing they need.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire (Remarks on Daniel Pipes)

This is always a fun game. Look at the truth and tweak it so it still looks like the truth, sharing most facts with it but is actually a malicious lie. People like Daniel Pipes, Oriana Fallaci and Henryk Broder are adept at this tactic when writing their hateful screeds against Islam. A case in point is Daniel Pipes’ treatment of the Westerhoff affair. While Angry White Man/columnist Christopher Hitchens uses the expression “alleged plot”, Daniel Pipes indulges in a bit of his usual hate informed tweaking and describes the affair thusly:

This month, Denmark’s police foiled a terrorist plot to murder Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew the strongest of the Muhammad pictures, prompting most of the country’s newspapers to reprint his cartoon as an act of solidarity and a signal to Islamists that their threats and violence will not succeed.

Nice. By the way, this is a different way to look at the affair

Virtually the entire media in Denmark reprinted the notorious caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on February 13.
The decision to re-print came just one day after three men, two Tunisians and a Danish national, were arrested for an alleged plot to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard. At least 15 papers across Denmark reprinted images of the cartoons, in what can only be described as a calculated provocation. Despite having no evidence regarding the guilt of the three detained, since the security service claimed it moved on suspicion and did not have enough grounds to charge the men, the Danish media raced to be first to print the cartoons, supposedly to underline their defence of “free speech.”

Funny, how the second statement fits in better with reports like amnesty international’s which claimed

In its report on Denmark, published in May, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed deep concern at worsening intolerance and xenophobia against refugees, asylum-seekers, minorities in general and Muslims in particular. ECRI noted with concern legislative provisions disproportionately restricting the ability of members of ethnic minorities to acquire Danish citizenship, to benefit from family reunification, and to access social protection. ECRI also highlighted an atmosphere of impunity, created by the low rate of prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred despite, among other things, inflammatory statements by some politicians and the media.

Funny, eh? Ah, it’s always the same. It’s just redundant to write about the likes of Pipes. So predictable (as I am, eh?). In contrast even someone like Hitchens, the “football hooligan of rational thought”, is refreshing in that he bashes Muslims but also bashes Christians, Jews etc. and he is not afraid of clobbering those who hold opinions close to his own.

Here’s a fitting exemplification of this. After digging around a bit I discovered this 2003 essay by Hitchens on Pipes and found it described the man well:

I am not myself a pacifist, and I believe that Islamic nihilism has to be combated with every weapon, intellectual and moral as well as military, which we possess or can acquire. But that is a position shared by a very wide spectrum of people. Pipes, however, uses this consensus to take a position somewhat to the right of Ariel Sharon, concerning a matter (the Israel-Palestine dispute) that actually can be settled by negotiation. And he employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him.

[…] To put it bluntly, I suspect that Pipes is so consumed by dislike that he will not recognize good news from the Islamic world even when it arrives. And this makes him dangerous and unreliable.

[…]

On more than one occasion, Pipes has called for the extension of Israel’s already ruthless policy of collective punishment, arguing that leveling Palestinian villages is justifiable if attacks are launched from among their inhabitants. It seems to me from observing his style that he came to this conclusion with rather more relish than regret.

You see? That’s why I’m suddenly beginning to like Hitchens. People like Pipes and Broder show me how much worse hateful polemicism can get. Hitchens isn’t racist, unlike Pipes et al. He’s just a wee bit daft, but I tell ye, I’ll take daft over racist anytime. If that were the choice, I’d say thank God for daft people.

Richard Flanagan: The Unknown Terrorist

Persons and actions of this story are invented. If the description of certain journalistic practices shows ressemblances to the practices of the Bild newspaper, that’s because these ressemblances are not intended nor accidental, they are inescapable

The Unknown Terrorist, Richard Flanagan’s novel, is, as he himself says at the back of his forgettable new book, a modern take on Böll’s Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum. And it is basically the same story. Woman fucks stranger, stranger is suspected of terrible crime, woman is suspected of being an accomplice. And I really like the Böll novel. Must be my favorite novel of his. So why was The Unknown Terrorist such a mess of a novel?

Can’t be the writing. Heinrich Böll is not a great stylist. What success his novels and stories have, style has nothing to do with that. Flanagan is, if anything, a better stylist. Much of the novel drags and much is functional at best, but there are outstanding passages as well. Can’t be the writing? Characters, maybe. That, actually, is the first problem. Although Böll’s characters are cliché characters, they need to be for the story to work in the little space that is allotted to them and Böll is a master in making even cliché come alive. Not so Flanagan. For one thing, he overdoes the cliché, adds many more layers of schlocky details. And then he just lets his characters get away with this. He doesn’t even try to make the characters believable. No Sir. When he slips his characters into the pockets of the story, he adds just the most necessary characterization. He sticks to the dolls (ironic, eh?) he constructed. Interaction between characters is unbelievable, as a rule.

But that is not his main error. The main problem with the novel is the old show-don’t-tell idea. He lets us know what people are thinking. Not just the protagonist, but also the journalist, the cops, and others. Every aspect of the story is examined and explained. It’s as if he was expecting his readers to be less smart than fourth graders. No guesswork for us. And this is where the novel goes terribly wrong. Yes, that’s tedious to read. But the political aspect of it is softened to an extent that is almost criminal. The hard criticism of mass media of Böll’s novel is softened to bad individuals who do know better but decide, greedily, to go ahead with the “story”. Whereas the only dedication of Flanagan is to David Hicks, a victim of misguided governmental policy, Böll’s reads like this:

Personen und Handlung dieser Erzählung sind frei erfunden. Sollten sich bei der Schilderung gewisser journalistischer Praktiken Ähnlichkeiten mit den Praktiken der Bild-Zeitung ergeben haben, so sind diese Ähnlichkeiten weder beabsichtigt noch zufällig, sondern unvermeidlich.

(Persons and actions of this story are invented. If the description of certain journalistic practices shows ressemblances to the practices of the Bild newspaper, that’s because these ressemblances are not intended nor accidental, they are inescapable). Lots of misguided governmental policies in his time, too. However, that’s plainly not his point. It’s about how the mass media distorts something if it conforms with certain bourgeois stereotypes.

This would have worked fine with The Unknown Terrorist, too. Slutty woman? Check. Arab terrorist? Check. Etc. And these stereotypes are seen to be at the basis of the journalist’s doing the story the way he does. However, it stops at this point. Richard Cody. And he does know better, but his greed for money and fame blinds him. Böll exposed the stereotypes that govern the press. Maybe a ‘real’ Richard Cody would not need the incentive of greed. The stereotypes alone are more than enough. This would have made an incisive commentary on the state of our nations. Look at the inane and inherently racist coverage of the remarks of Archbishop Williams, or check out the coverage in Danish newspapers of the alleged plot to kill the damn cartoonist. Or German newspapers covering that. Hell, mainstream coverage of muslims by privately owned media. Daily Express, anyone? Henryk M. Broder? Broder writes the stories Cody would write had he Broder’s erudition or style. Or check out how much of a deal it is that a photograph was published with Barack Hussein Obama wearing a turban.

No, The Unknown Terrorist is not tidy nor subtle. It doesn’t have to. It’s an angry book, wearing its moral indignation on its sleeve. But it is on this account, the political sphere, that it fails first and foremost. It attacks a government who uses a Patriot Act-like legislation to exert pressure on people. But the main protagonist’s life is not destroyed by that. It’s destroyed the hateful discourse taken up and whipped up by the press. Böll’s novel got him into a pickle with the press which launched a spite-and hateful campaign against the little indignant writer, a campaign that lasted years. No such chance with Flanagan, I presume. The boring little antepodean shit.
ISBN