31/10/2006

Magazine Roundup

Magazine Roundup, which appears every Tuesday at 12 p.m., is originally published by Perlentaucher.

The New Republic | Le point | Outlook India | Merkur | London Review of Books | The New Yorker | NRC Handelsblad | The Spectator | Il Foglio | The Guardian | Gazeta Wyborcza | Le Nouvel Observateur | al-Sharq al-Awsat | The New York Times Book Review


The New Republic, 06.11.2006 (U.S.A.)


Philip H. Gordon & Omer Taspinar consider the French law that criminalises the denial of the Armenian genocide a dangerous step on a slippery slope. "Indeed, the new French legislation is just the latest illiberal policy in Europe masquerading as liberalism. Since the end of World War II, a number of European countries, including Germany, Austria, and France, have passed laws against Holocaust denial. Proponents of the laws argue that they allow these nations to atone politically for their past sins, while working to ensure that Holocaust deniers could not foster the same sort of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust in the first place. Now, however, they could also serve as inspiration to scores of different ethnic and religious groups that wish to win legal acknowledgement of their own past suffering and historical grievances, as the Armenians have. But parliaments across Europe would be better off taking the current legislation off the books than giving equal treatment to every group's claims. Do we really want the government to start deciding that some historical views are acceptable but others merit prison sentences?"


Le point, 27.10.2006 (France)

In what up to now has been a rather loose debate, national differences are reemerging when it comes to bans, controls and laws. The English do not like it if the validity of another religion is questioned, the French take tough measures against denial of either the Holocaust or the genocide against the Armenians. In a controversial interview with journalist Elisabeth Levy about integration and interactions with Islamism, British-Dutch writer Ian Buruma gives multiculturalism another chance. At the same time he condemns the "watchdog mentality" of the west and urges more respect in general regarding Islam as a religion, and regarding adherents to the faith. "The French discourse deliberately denies the existence of differences, in the name of the principle of 'equal rights for all.' When it comes to classical multiculturalism, it can be summed up in one sentence: Live and let live. Whether they go to the mosque or develop their own culture, as long as they obey the law, we do not have to clash."

In his Bloc-notes column, Bernard-Henry Levy again pleads for a law that criminalizes denial of the genocide against Armenians. He implicitly addresses the polemic of British historian Timothy Garton Ash, who made fun of him last week in the Guardian and referred to the position that even Holocaust denial must be allowed, in the name of freedom of opinion and freedom of scientific research. Levy asks – not unlike Buruma in relation to Islam – whether "a little dose of political correctness" wouldn't be nice. He alludes to a recent argument expressed by Claude Lanzmann in "Temps modernes": "Lanzmann recalls that in the Shoah, negation was part of the crime. Murdering and erasing the traces of the killing were one and the same act. I believe one must take a stand against this argument, which in principle functions exactly as the crime itself functioned."


Outlook India, 06.11.2006 (India)

Payal Kapadia takes a close look at beauty salons in the slums of Bombay and Delhi which are sprouting up like mushrooms. " Running a parlour in the city's poorest areas is challenging. The rate list must be kept modest: only Rs 10 for threading eyebrows, a basic haircut for Rs 50. Competition is cut-throat, calling for savvy marketing through mobile phones, and strategic undercutting of each others' prices. Anu Salunkhe, owner-proprietor of Diksha Beauty Parlour, does eyebrows for Rs 7 to lure away customers from other parlours in Dharavi. Thrift and recycling are a way of life here: freshly cut hair makes its way, not into garbage bins, but—at a price—to other women who make braids and hair-switches for a living. There are thugs to ward off too, the taporis who harass parlour owners."

In a furious commentary, Saba Naqvi Bhaumik condemns the repression of women in Muslim segments of society with a vehemence seldom to be heard in the West. "The stances such Muslim 'leaders' take are frighteningly medieval, but the irony is we play along, to protect 'minority rights'. "

Merkur, 01.11.2006 (Germany)

Siegfried Kohlhammer examines the cultural underpinnings of economic success, and points a finger at integration. He suggests that, for example, some immigrant groups have trouble integrating not because their opportunities are limited or because of discrimination, but rather because of their own cultural orientation, including family structures. “One decisive factor is a culture's readiness to learn, its receptivity to other cultures. Traditional Islamic society sees itself as the best of all societies, with nothing to learn from other cultures. This cultural arrogance presents a serious obstacle to integration and also has negative economic results. True, many traditional Muslim families have a positive orientation to school and study, but only of orthodox, approved content that transmits and affirms their own culture and religion, whether regarding the Koran, the words of the Prophets and Islamic learning, or about the glorious Arabic or Turkish history."


London Review of Books, 02.11.2006 (U.K.)

Neal Asherson presents Gunter Grass' memoirs to the British public and summaries the controversy that was unleashed in Germany by Grass' late admission that he was a member of the Waffen SS. He also gives some thought to why it took Grass so long to speak. "In the postwar decades, foreigners were upset by the apparent inability of many Germans to grasp the suffering their nation had inflicted on others. But somebody – perhaps it was Grass – wrote recently that this silence was really the continuation of another, earlier silence: their reluctance to be open about what they themselves had suffered."


The New Yorker, 06.11.2006 (U.S.A.)

John Seabrook portrays Will Wright, the inventor of the world's most successful, non-violent (even among women) computer game: Sims. He also takes the opportunity to recount the history of the computer game scene. Will has thought up a new project, that could have success comparable to Sims: Spore. It involves playing through a species, be it a one-celled organism or a highly sophisticated astronaut. What interested Will most about the development of the game is the history of astro-biology. "Wright has also introduced weapons and conquest. The violence isn’t gratuitous—in some cases, you have to kill to survive—but it isn’t sugar-coated, either. Not only do you kill other creatures in Spore but you have to eat them."


NRC Handelsblad, 30.10.2006 (Netherlands)

Is it OK for an "embedded journalist" to shoot at Taliban fighters? Vik Franke did just that. The documentary filmmaker, who accompanied the Dutch ISAF troops in Uruzgan, tells Jaus Müller how he came to exchange his camera for a gun: "We fell into an ambush. The attack began with the detonation of an explosive that ripped an Afghan soldier into pieces. I saw his severed arm lying on the embankment. Another person was shot while a medic was attending to him. Seven other Afghan soldiers were wounded. They were around us everywhere and shot at us with Kalashnikovs and rocket grenades. It was unbelievable. I filmed and photographed and documented everything until the batteries were dry." Then, when he saw a gun lying in the grass, he grabbed it and "did his part." He did not feel any moral scruples or worry about his journalistic independence: "I did not shoot to kill, but to survive. At this moment I had only one thought: to shoot as much lead as possible into this cornfield."

Anil Ramdas recommends "Reporting Religion" on BBC-World, calling it the "most fantastic show I know" (listen to it here, as an Audiostream). Early Sunday morning, an "ever joyous reporter for God" delivers the news about world religions. "You will not cease to be amazed. The Bishop of the Sudan, who now takes a stand for peace in his country, was a child soldier. Believe me, you will not be able to fall asleep; thousands of question will race through your head. You see the small boy dragging around a giant gun and shooting at people, or slitting throats with a knife. You see him taking drugs, looting and pillaging – and then suddenly he is a bishop. From murderer to priest, in one person's life: that's what I call a meteoric ascent. And by comparison, the dishwasher-to-millionaire story is nothing."


The Spectator, 28.10.2006 (U.K.)

Boris Johnson is astonished by how cheerful, nice and smart the kids who were born in the Thatcher years are, who are now university grads looking for jobs. Twenty years ago, things looked different. "Where is the anger? It’s all iPods and jeans around yer hips and chill, man. We had rock stars called Sid Vicious and people who bit the heads off pigeons and electrocuted their girlfriends in the bath. Nowadays we’ve got the beany-hatted James Blunt, pouring his genius treacle into our ears. He’s brilliant, but he’s not exactly a rebel, is he?" Maggie's kids are super-nice, super-clever and don't ever have to worry about not finding a job. Johnson concludes, "she can’t have been such a bad little mother after all".


Il Foglio, 28.10.2006 (Italy)


Ibn Warraq, pseudonymous author of "Why I am not a Muslim," comments on Giulio Meotti Umberto Eco's 1995 essay about "Eternal Fascism". Warraq sharply criticizes Eco's eagerly forgiving attitude toward Islamism. "I ask Eco: Should the west abandon the freedom of opinion for which thousands have given their lives? Be proud, don't apologize for anything. Do you have to beg pardon for Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe? And Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? And Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh, Galileo, Copernicus and Newton? And penicillin and the computer? And human rights and parliamentary democracy? The west does not need any lessons from a society that represses women, cuts off their clitorises, stones adulteresses and throws acid in their faces."


The Guardian, 28.10.2006 (U.K.)

Oliver Burkeman visits literary critic and political commentator Christopher Hitchens and is deeply impressed by his total indifference to critics who refuse to forgive him for supporting the Iraq war. "He welcomes being attacked as a drinker 'because I always think it's a sign of victory when they move on to the ad hominem.' He drinks, he says, 'because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.'"


Gazeta Wyborcza, 28.10.2006 (Poland)

"Like every revolution, the Hungarian revolution had two faces: the joyous – the temporary triumph of freedom and truth; and the ubly – the explosion of hate and barbarity." On the anniversary of the Hungarian uprising, Adam Michnik remembers that back then it was the Poles who forewent heroism and showed some concessions toward the regime. But later the celebrated party chief and hero Gomulka tightened the screws so that the "goulash communism" under Kadar emerged as the more liberal system. At the top, Michnik shares his personal recollections: "I was ten when the revolution broke out. I clearly remember the sadness in my parents' house, which prompted me to donate all my saved pocket money for Hungary. It was the first political act of my life."

In an interview, former Knesset President and Ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, compares the situation in the Middle East with that in Central Europe: "The right of return of the Palestinian refugees is as unrealistic as the return of Germans to Silesia and Pomerania. For Israel it would be like attacking itself." Weiss considers it "definitely better, to give up dreams of political dominance and come to an arrangement with our neighbors. In Poland, Jerzy Giedroyc did this, but in Israel there is no one like this."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 26.10.2006 (France)

Portuguese communist Jose Saramago - winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature – explains again what is worth preserving in democracy. In an interview on the occasion of the publication of his new book, "Seeing" in France (,,La Lucidite", Seuil) Saramago illuminates the thesis expressed throughout his novel, that democracy is at an end and ultimately is "a lie." "Western democracies are only political facades of economic power. A colorful facade, with flags and endless discourses about democracy. We live in a time in which one can discuss everything, with one exception: democracy. It exists, it is a given. Just don't touch, like in museums. But one should open a debate, a broad, worldwide debate about democracy, before it is too late."


al-Sharq al-Awsat, 25.10.2006 (Saudi Arabia)

In Egypt, a "peoples'" edition of the book "My Egyptian Homeland" by the late Nobel Prize winner in literature Nagib Mahfus has been published. The book, says Khalid Sulayman, is based on discussions between Mahfus and his trusted friend Muhammad Salmawy. They cover the biggest themes: Egypt as the cradle of humanity, the presentation of death in ancient Egypt, the meaning of the Islamic conquest of the land. But it is also biographical: "My mother played a very large role in my life. Aside from visiting friends and cemeteries, she also loved to visit great architectural monuments. She was an elderly lady, illiterate, and from another epoch, but such trips meant a lot to her. Dozens of times I visited the pyramids and the Sphinx with her, and she would stand there as if infatuated, in a state of adoration. With my mother, I visited all the Coptic antiquities; there were numerous trips to the Church of Mar Girgis that I still remember clearly. My mother loved these trips – I have no idea where she got this passion. I was only four years old when I started accompanying her on her wanderings. All my siblings, both the boys and the girls, were married, and so there was no one at home but me."

Osama Alaysa reports from Jerusalem about a new tourist attraction that takes visitors on a virtual journey to the time of the Umayyad Dynasty. In a computer animation model, one can stroll through the streets and buildings of Old Jerusalem as they must have appeared in the 8th century, under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphs. The project is supported by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which leads Alaysa to the conclusion that Israel has begun to make peace with the Islamic heritage of the city – but not without thereby pursuing its own interests. In the end, says Alaysa, the model project offers another opportunity to remember the destroyed Jewish temple under the Dome of the Rock.


The New York Times Book Review, 29.10.2006 (U.S.A.)


Google is everywhere. Even intellectuals should give some thought to this, writes Steven Johnson. Anyone looking to influence the definition of something needs to have the right search terms: "Let’s say you’re a law professor who is trying to build a reputation as an expert on affirmative action. In the past, you’d build that reputation by publishing articles in various high-profile publications, or journals with scholarly credentials. Many of those articles would show up in a Google search using the key words “affirmative action,” of course, but they’d be scattered all over the results. Because Google considers links to be a kind of vote endorsing the content of a given page, if you created a specific page called “affirmative action” — where your various articles and thoughts were collected — and encouraged others to link to that page, you could very quickly “own” affirmative action in Google. (Right now, none of the top results are associated with an individual, and most are intended as neutral, dictionary-style definitions and discussions. But that needn’t be the case.) And of course, once your page made it to the Top 10, positive feedback would be likely to propel your page higher in the rankings, as more people linked to the page, having found it originally via Google. " (Might we take this opportuninty to mention that Perlentaucher builds websites? For academics as well.)

In a large and unsettling essay, the constitutional legal expert Noah Feldman (who worked on the Iraqi consitution), considers what would happen if Iran has atomic bombs. "If Iran is going to get the bomb, its neighbors will have no choice but to keep up. North Korea, now protected by its own bomb, has threatened proliferation — and in the Middle East it would find a number of willing buyers. Small principalities with huge U.S. Air Force bases, like Qatar, might choose to rely on an American protective umbrella. But Saudi Arabia, which has always seen Iran as a threatening competitor, will not be willing to place its nuclear security entirely in American hands. Once the Saudis are in the hunt, Egypt will need nuclear weapons to keep it from becoming irrelevant to the regional power balance — and sure enough, last month Gamal Mubarak, President Mubarak’s son and Egypt’s heir apparent, very publicly announced that Egypt should pursue a nuclear program."

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