18/03/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

Outlook India | Lettre International | The Middle East Quarterly | The New York Review of Books | Rue89 | Bookforum | Elet es Irodalom | The Spectator | Al Ahram Weekly | The Guardian | Nepszabadsag | The New York Times


Outlook India
24.03.2008 (India)

Ever more brilliant Indian engineering students are commiting suicide after leaving university, because they lack the necessary English skills to get a job, reports Anjali Puri. But help is on the way. "The British Council has redirected its energies in India into the training of Indian teacher-trainers in English and in engaging with corporate houses for English training, say the council's Kevin McLevine and Jill Coates. It's a shrewd move, comments linguist N.S. Prabhu, that will help British ideas, products, materials, specialists and institutions flow into the Indian market. British prime minister Gordon Brown, who believes that teaching English will become one of Britain's biggest exports, announced during his recent visit to India that Britain would train 7,50,000 Indian teachers of English over the next five years. The British tabloid The Sun called it 'PM Brown's English invasion'. (Yes, anti-colonial opposition to English is well and truly dead.)"


Lettre International 14.03.2008 (Germany)

Liao Yiwu conducted four interviews with ordinary Chinese people - a right-wing deviationist, a Guwuin master, a threefold girl ("hostesses who sing Karaoke, drink and sleep with their clients") and a corpse washer, who during the Cultural Revolution massaged a smile onto the face of a Red Guard leader who had been stabbed to death. "I put a toothbrush into his mouth and it hit a nest of worms, his tongue had already rotted away! I ran outside to get some fresh air. Eventually I came back inside again and cleaned his teeth and poured bucket-loads of disinfectant into him. You call that corpse grooming, it was more like cleaning the toilet! I spent an entire afternoon transforming his grim expression back into his old familiar smile. The Red Army was deeply moved by my conscientious work. They put a red band over my arm, intoned loudly, "Learn from the working class!" and made me a full member of their organisation."

The magazine prints an extract from the book "Glowa w mur Kremla" (hitting your head against the Kremlin wall) by Polish journalist Krystyna Kurczab-Redlich who spent years gathering evidence to prove that it was not Chechen terrorists but the Russian secret service FSB which was responsible for blowing up the apartment blocks in Russia in 1999.

And there are also three articles dating from 1968/69 by Milan Kundera (extract in German), Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera again, where they argue over the meaning of the Prague Spring for Czech and European history.


The Middle East Quarterly 14.03.2008 (USA)

This edition is all about radical Islam. The France-based Algerian journalist and author ("Mes freres assassins: Comment j'ai infiltre une cellule d'Al-Qaida") Mohamed Sifaoui explains in an interview, why he believes Islam is fascist and why he was opposed to the war in Iraq. "Between October 2002 and January 2003, I spent four months infiltrating an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell in France. Two months before the launching of the Iraq war, when I was in the midst of the group, one of the Islamists said, 'Now we are going to pray for George Bush to attack Iraq.' I was surprised and acted as if I were stupid: 'Really? Why do you want America to kill our brothers?' The most clever and elevated in Al-Qaeda's hierarchy, Amara Saïfi [the GSPC's emir in London] whispered to me, 'All over the world, our brothers are now praying for George Bush to attack Iraq. War between the Muslim world and the Western world is bound to happen. Unfortunately, Muslims are too divided. Far too many of them do not pray regularly and neglect religion and jihad. In order to unify and mobilize all these people, we have to continue what we initiated on 9-11.'"


The New York Review of Books 05.04.2008 (USA)

William Dalrymple returned from a journey through Pakistan with an astonishingly optimistic view of the situation there. "Pakistan is not about to fall apart, or implode, or break out into civil war, or become a Taliban state with truckfuls of mullahs pouring down on Islamabad from the Khyber Pass. It is not at all clear whether the members of Pakistan's flawed and corrupt political elite have the ability to govern the country and seize the democratic opportunity offered by this election, rather than simply use it as an opportunity for personal enrichment. But they are unlikely ever again to have such a good opportunity to redefine this crucial strategic country as a stable and moderate Islamic democracy that can work out its own version of India's remarkable economic and political success."

Further articles: For poet Charles Simic, Kosovo's independence bodes ill for the future of the Balkans. "As long as national identity is defined almost solely by the hatred of others, the unhappy will outnumber the happy among peoples in the region." And Richard Dorment visits the Jasper Johns exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum.


Rue89 16.03.2008 (France)

Russian journalist Oksana Chelysheva speaks in an interview about the precarious situation of the media in her country. As one of the last bastions of independent journalism, her newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which her murdered colleague Anna Politkovskaya also wrote for, now stands open to reprisals. Chelysheva explains: The government has has almost succeeded in eradicating the independent press. Even if they don't actually close down the Novaya Gazeta they have created an atmosphere of intimidation there which means that the journalists work in fear and censor themselves. (...) On the anniversary of Anna's death, all our computers were sequestered and we were charged with using illegal software. (...) In 2005 death-threat pamphlets were handed out in Nizhny Novgorod with my name and address on them, accusing me of supporting Chechen terrorists and betraying Russia."

Following the launch of the new net paper MediaPart (more here) a further article looks at how similar subscribtion-based projects are faring and whether they can survive without advertising.


Bookforum 17.03.2008 (USA)

James Gibbons praises the author Richard Price's arrestingly credible portrayal of the American underclass: "Richard Price's fictional North Jersey city of Dempsy has evolved, over the course of the novels 'Clockers' (1992), 'Freedomland' (1998), and 'Samaritan' (2003), into a kind of Yoknapatawpha County of postindustrial blight. A vividly detailed mosaic of littered boulevards, dingy fast-food joints, and snake-pit housing projects, Dempsy is a jittery banlieue of not-so-benign neglect, a no-go zone for all but its mostly African-American residents, the police, and the customers who effortlessly cop drugs from the project kids without ever leaving their cars. Both 'the city of my own imagination,' in Price's words, and a place meant 'to stand in for every urban mid-sized area in the country,' Dempsy is a fusion of elements daringly invented and those meticulously drawn from life."

Further articles: Nana Asfour introduces four new novels by Iranian women living in exile. To mark the publication of glossy new book about Rodolphe Töpfer, comic genius Chris Ware celebrates the Swiss artist as the father of the comic strip. And J. Hoberman pens an enthusiastic review of Marc Evanier's Jack Kirby biography which – Hoberman says – bears the fitting subtitle, "King of Comics."


Elet es Irodalom 14.03.2008 (Hungary)

In the Hungarian documentary scene, time has stood still since the 1990s, writes film critic Lorant Stöhr who, however, is pinning his hopes on the work of number of younger Hungarian documentary filmmakers which featured at this year's film festival in Budapest. "In the once experimental and now ossified world of Hungarian documentary film, feature film elements have always been taboo: the objective, distanced and serious, often sinister presentation of poverty should speak for itself, it was believed. And indeed, faces scarred by broken destinies, images of privation and destitution did speak for themselves for a while, but the flood of social horror stories on commercial TV today has immunised viewers to plain and simple images of adversity. Humour, personal tone and the adaptation of feature film tactics – these are the characteristics of the work of the younger artists who have freed themselves from the moral scruples of the sociological documentary. These stylistic elements might not guarantee quality but they can open the way to younger audiences who need to develop a taste for the documentary if the genre is to stay alive."

The Spectator 15.03.2008 (UK)

Ex-broker Venetia Thompson (more here and here) is bored out of her mind in Chelsea. She prefers to dance the Kizomba in Harlesden, a part of zone-3 North London famous for its gun toting – but soon finds herself in the middle of the crossfire in the Jet Set Club. She sought advice at the Operation Trident website and clicked on the link "Way out": "It tells me that I should 'stop talking like a gangster, acting like a gangster, and hanging out with gangsters.' I should 'find other things to do, other people to hang out with.'" But Thompson is not satisfied with this suggestion. She has a better idea: "Take the gangster out of gangland and you have yourself a lean, mean Sloane-scaring machine to take out on the town in Chelsea. He'd be particularly useful in dispersing the public school cocaine dealers that are somehow accepted in favourite hangouts of the young royals."

And Douglas Murray reports on the upcoming scandal in the Netherlands – Geert Wilders' film about the Koran.


Al Ahram Weekly 13.03.2008 (Egypt)

Nehad Selaiha has been thrown into confusion by the sudden flood of interesting theatre productions that has swept over Cairo: "Are we on the road to a real civil society? Has theatre, as socio-political/cultural practice, and not just 'entertainment', or a state-manipulated propagandist organ, finally broken free of state control and branched out on its own, multiple merry ways? At this moment I am inclined to gush, a remnant of an old malaise, and stoutly declare that the march of independent theatre will go on, no matter how many fall and are left bleeding on the roadside. But age, experience, and the remains of a rigorous academic training restrain me. From outside, the picture looks brilliant; but don't get too close. If you do, you may realise that it is all too chancy, a mere flash in the pan with nothing to support it or guarantee its survival in terms of enduring fundamental structures."


The Guardian 17.03.2008 (UK)

In an extract from his forthcoming book "Great Hatred, Little Room" Tony Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell remembers the historic Downing Street meeting of 1997 with the Sinn Fein leaders Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. "Tony met them as they came through the door and shook their hands. Martin McGuinness came round to our side of the table to shake my hand, but I guided the others round to the opposite side. A strong sense of the past hovered over the meeting. Before sitting down, McGuinness paused and observed: 'So this is where all the damage was done. 'We all froze, taken aback by this opening gambit, and I said: 'Yes, the mortars landed in the garden behind you. The Gulf war cabinet on this side of the table, including my brother Charles, the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, dived under the table, before retreating to the garden rooms below. The windows came in but no one was injured.' McGuinness looked hurt. 'No, I meant this was where Michael Collins signed the treaty in 1921.' We, with our shorter-term perspective, had been thinking of the IRA attack on Downing Street in 1991, while they, with their longer sense of historical grievance, had been thinking about the treaty of Irish independence signed with Lloyd George that had given rise to the Irish civil war."

""Religion has not gone away. Repressing it is like repressing sex," writes philosopher John Gray in a essay for the Book Review, in which he rails against Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and other atheists who believe they have the ""high ground, intellectually and morally." However, he writes, "the attempt to eradicate religion only leads to it reappearing in grotesque and degraded forms. A credulous belief in world revolution, universal democracy or the occult powers of mobile phones is more offensive to reason than the mysteries of religion, and less likely to survive in years to come."


Nepszabadsag 14.03.2008 (Hungary)

"East Central Europe," an expression coined by Jenö Szucs in the early 1980s, has passed its sell-by date, historian Maria Ormos tells Laszlo Hovanyecz in an interview. It's time to pursue new roads towards Central Europe. "Once upon a time the term 'East Central Europe' was an expression of the Central European. It indicated that Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary had never been part of the East under the Soviet Union, and that it never could be. It was warmly welcomed by the countries it described and also in western historian circles, yes, even politics adopted his term. But it is out of date now: it gives the impression that despite having joined the EU we are still different."


The New York Times 16.03.2008 (USA)

Noah Feldman, Harvard professor of law and foreign policy advisor, writes a lengthy essay in the Sunday magazine in support of moderate Muslim views on Shariah. "For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law." Feldman's essay which is taken from his forthcoming book, concludes with the following sentence: "Still, with all its risks and dangers, the Islamists' aspiration to renew old ideas of the rule of law while coming to terms with contemporary circumstances is bold and noble — and may represent a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world."

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