‘You don’t make music by listening to music,’ the French-Martinican trumpeter Jacques Coursil said. ‘You must listen to the world.’
Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the LRB, based in New York. He is working on a book about Frantz Fanon.
‘You don’t make music by listening to music,’ the French-Martinican trumpeter Jacques Coursil said. ‘You must listen to the world.’
George Floyd has rapidly achieved the status of an international martyr, a symbol of racial injustice like the Scottsboro Boys, wrongfully imprisoned for raping a white woman, or Emmett Till, the 14-year-old lynched in 1955 after allegedly whistling at a white woman. After 9/11, Le Monde declared: ‘Nous sommes tous américains.’ The headline is unimaginable today – who would want to be American now? – but America’s drift has only made Floyd’s killing reverberate more strongly. Holding posters of George Floyd, twenty thousand people marched against police brutality in Paris. Floyd’s image has been displayed in Iraq, Syria and Palestine – countries that have experienced first-hand the ruthlessness of American power. ‘We are the muthafuckin world,’ someone posted on Instagram. This remarkable demonstration of American soft power, which looked as if it had evaporated under Trump, belongs almost entirely to black America.
Two years ago, I asked the free jazz pianist Matthew Shipp if he would take part in a concert I was organising in remembrance of Cecil Taylor, who had just died. He said he’d be willing to give a talk, but not to perform. Taylor hadn’t influenced his work, and he didn’t want to encourage the notion that he had. I wasn’t surprised (I’ve known Shipp for more than twenty years). His feelings about Taylor were complicated, and the two men often jousted, especially on the subject of Bill Evans, whom Taylor disparaged as the great white hope of jazz piano, and Shipp reveres. Shipp had also been saddled with the ‘heir of Cecil Taylor’ label for three decades, even though the resemblances in their playing are superficial. The only comparison with Taylor that Shipp ever welcomed was made by a mutual friend, the saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, who told him: ‘You’re just like Cecil Taylor – you’re both bad motherfuckers.’
A global crisis ought to elicit a co-ordinated, global response. But such co-ordination has become unthinkable with the revival of authoritarian nationalist rule, which Washington has helped foster, and so each country has suffered, and tended to its victims, largely on its own. Covid-19 arrives at a moment when the ‘global village’ is a financial reality, but the faith that underpinned (or sanitised) it has crumbled. The interdependence of the village is a fact, but so are the cruel and immense disparities that allow it to run. The village’s ‘liberal’ features, such as elections and a free press, are mostly a privilege – a vanishing one – of those who happen to live in Western Europe and North America. Now half the village is indoors, the skies are empty of aircraft and clearer than ever, and the entire system is ‘on pause’.
In the winter of 2005, I was summoned by the French journalist Jean Daniel, who was in New York to promote his new book, The Jewish Prison. I had just published an admiring essay on his work in the New York Review of Books. Over a long lunch at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, he recalled his conversations with Ben Bella, Bourguiba, Ben-Gurion, Kennedy, Castro and Mitterrand. Daniel did not hesitate to drop names, but there was no denying that he’d won the confidence of some of history’s great men (they were nearly all men). I looked at my blazer and slacks and regretted that I hadn’t worn something more formal. Daniel was dressed in a suit and tie without a crease, and spoke with a solemnity that would have been easy to ridicule had it not been so spellbinding. I had the impression of speaking to a retired ambassador or foreign minister rather than a journalist.
At a recent event at the National Gallery in Washington, the painter Oliver Lee Jackson recalled hearing Charlie Parker and Max Roach play at nightclubs in the 1950s. Jackson, who was born in 1935, grew up during the Bebop revolution, and the kinetic language of his canvases echoes the freedom and spontaneity of jazz performance. But what most impressed him about the musicians he loved were...
Trump isn’t about to go to Tehran, not yet. For now, he is content to attack Iran inside Iraq, just as Iran is content to attack American interests in Iraq. (Seventeen years after the invasion, Iraq remains a theatre of war between its not-so-former occupier and its most powerful neighbour.) But those who imagined that Trump would oversee an American retreat from the Middle East should have been disabused of that illusion. While he ran on a promise to end America’s wars, he now seems determined to keep troops in Iraq, especially after the Iraqi parliament responded to Soleimani’s assassination by asking American forces to leave. Soleimani paid with his life for insulting Trump. ‘There is not one night we sleep without thinking of you,’ Soleimani said in July 2018 on Iranian television.
Lebanon has a history of taking in refugees: Armenian survivors of the genocide, Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948, Syrians fleeing the horrors of Assad and Islamic State. But on 30 December a different kind of fugitive arrived, a wealthy native son facing charges of financial wrongdoing abroad. At a press conference this afternoon, Carlos Ghosn protested his innocence and compared his arrest in Japan to the attack on Pearl Harbor. He wouldn’t say how he escaped (according to one of the more fanciful rumours, he was hidden in a musical instrument case). He entered Lebanon on his French passport, one of three he carries.
By killing Soleimani, Trump has not only supplied the Islamic Republic with a powerful casus belli, he has also reinforced its longstanding narrative of martyrdom at the hands of the Great Satan, and may well help to strengthen the supreme leader’s hand at the very moment that the regime is facing popular anti-Iranian protests in Iraq and Lebanon, and reeling from a series of revolts at home in which hundreds of Iranians were killed by security forces. Not for the first time, the American government has proved an objective ally of Iran’s hardliners.
David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the state of Israel, was brooding, explosive, often on the verge of collapse: every obstacle he faced was a ‘catastrophe’. He dabbled in mysticism, consulted fortune-tellers, claimed to see flying saucers, and lived according to his whims. At one point he went on an unannounced holiday from his duties as prime minister to take driving lessons...
In August 1943, Jean-Pierre Grumbach, a former soldier in the 71st artillery regiment in Fontainebleau, arrived in London. Grumbach, an Alsatian Jew from Paris, 25 years old, wanted to offer his services to the Forces Françaises Combattantes (FFC) – de Gaulle’s Free French. His journey had begun seven months earlier in Marseille, where he had distributed pamphlets for...
Israel’s legislative elections on 9 April were a tribute to Binyamin Netanyahu’s transformation of the political landscape. At no point were they discussed in terms of which candidates might be persuaded by (non-existent) American pressure, or the ‘international community’, to end the occupation. This time the question was which party leader could be trusted by...
In the spring of 1961, Frantz Fanon wrote to his publisher in Paris to suggest that he ask Jean-Paul Sartre for a preface to his anti-colonial manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth. ‘Tell him that every time I sit down at my desk, I think of him.’ For revolutionary intellectuals in the Third World, Sartre seemed miraculously uncontaminated by the paternalism – and hypocrisy...
Netanyahu, for the moment, seems exuberant, emboldened by his ties to Trump, the expansion of trade with Asia, and the complicity of the Sunni Arab regimes. Israel’s strategic position has never been stronger, or its neighbours’ weaker. But the scenes of unarmed protesters killed by Israeli snipers in Gaza are a reminder of the discontent that lies beneath the surface. Under Netanyahu, Israel has run up a substantial bill in blood and tears. Unlike his wife’s credit card, it will eventually have to be paid.
On 21 April 1930, a fire broke out in the state penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, a wretched, segregated prison where more than 4000 men were packed into a facility built to hold 1500. By the time it was extinguished, 322 prisoners lay dead, and the National Guard was called in to suppress rioting. Among the survivors was Chester Himes, a twenty-year-old black man serving a twenty-year...
America’s wartime transformation, and the emergence of the national security state, has cast a long, seemingly infinite shadow over peacetime. Perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether Trump can be stopped, but whether the system as a whole can be overhauled. ‘We have elevated the president to the position of a demigod, and then when he turns out to be Donald Trump, we’re shocked,’ Andrew Bacevich said to me. ‘But since Roosevelt we have vastly enhanced the power and prerogatives exercised by the president, and his ability to execute the nuclear war plan is just part of the package. Why have we entrusted this one imperfect individual with the power to blow up the planet?’
What, then, explains the paroxysms of Republican anti-racism in the face of Charlottesville? The purpose was not to expunge white supremacy from American life, but to expunge its naked expression, which Trump, to their embarrassment, has been reckless enough to encourage. Since the Nixon era, Republicans have understood that the party’s plans to favour the white ‘silent majority’ depend on coded language that everyone understands but which can be plausibly denied.
One of the great paradoxes of the Obama era is that it encouraged so many liberals, both black and white, to see the black experience in America not as a slow, arduous struggle for freedom culminating in the election of a black president – Obama’s version, not surprisingly – but as an unending nightmare. Not least among the reasons was that a black man of unerring self-discipline and caution, bipartisan to a fault, should have provoked such ferocious white resistance – fanned by the man who questioned the validity of his birth certificate and then succeeded him as president.
Adam Shatz’s article in this issue first appeared on the LRB blog. You can read it here.
Author of the anti-racist jeremiad Black Skin, White Masks; spokesman for the Algerian Revolution and author of The Wretched of the Earth, the ‘bible’ of decolonisation; inspiration to Third World revolutionaries from the refugee camps of Palestine to the back streets of Tehran and Beirut, Harlem and Oakland; founder, avant la lettre, of post-colonialism; hero to the alienated banlieusards of France, who feel as if the Battle of Algiers never ended, but simply moved to the cités: Frantz Fanon has been remembered in a lot of ways, but almost all of them have foregrounded his advocacy of resistance, especially violent resistance.
In 1966, a young writer named Patrick Modiano published his first short story, a satire set in a summer concentration camp called ‘Saint-Tropez-Ravensbrück’. Surrounded by ‘charming Kapos’, the inmates – ‘children of Himmler and Coca-Cola’ – are lulled into submission by LSD and hedonism. Paris’s leading artists and intellectuals...
‘I write in French to tell the French that I am not French,’ the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine once said. ‘The French language was and remains a trophy of war.’ In his novel Meursault, contre-enquête (a retelling of Camus’s L’Etranger), Kamel Daoud, one of Yacine’s most gifted heirs, slyly suggests that the coloniser's tongue is not so much...
Ahmad Tibi, a long-standing Arab member of the Knesset, once remarked that ‘Israel is democratic towards Jews, and Jewish towards Arabs.’ For many years, that soundbite nicely captured the contradictions of ‘Jewish democracy’: fair elections, press freedom, cantankerous debate and due process for some; land theft, administrative detention, curfews, assassinations and ‘muscular interrogations’ for others. Tibi meant to call attention to the hypocrisy of Israel’s claims to be a democratic state, but as he effectively admitted, Jewish democracy did work for Jews – even Jews radically opposed to the occupation.
Before the Lebanese civil war, Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East. Today, Paris looks more and more like the Beirut of Western Europe, a city of incendiary ethnic tension, hostage-taking and suicide bombs. Parisians have returned to the streets, and to their cafés, with the same commitment to normality that the Lebanese have almost miraculously exhibited since the mid-1970s. Même pas peur, they have declared with admirable defiance on posters, and on the walls of the place de la République. But the fear is pervasive, and it’s not confined to France.
‘One of the most baffling things about America,’ Amiri Baraka wrote in 1963, ‘is that despite its essentially vile profile, so much beauty continues to exist here.’ Perhaps, he wondered, ‘it is because of the vileness, or call it adversity, that such beauty does exist.’ Baraka made the observation in his liner notes to John Coltrane’s album Live at...
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to MoMA, where the sixty panels in Jacob Lawrence’s 1941 Migration series have at last been assembled in their entirety. As a 23-year-old black painter in Harlem, Lawrence chronicled the experiences of black Southerners who fled the Jim Crow South for the cities of the North. The North was far from the promised land: the slums where blacks...
Michel Houellebecq’s novel about a Muslim takeover of France is a melancholy tribute to the pleasure of surrender. It’s 2022, a charismatic Islamist politician called Mohammed Ben Abbes has become president, and France has fallen under his spell. Houellebecq’s timing could hardly have been better: Soumission was published on 7 January, the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The novel was hailed by the right as a prophetic warning, a fictional cousin of Eric Zemmour’s anti-Muslim tirade, Le Suicide français, and attacked by the left.
Before he went on his mass killing spree in 2011, Anders Behring Breivik was a regular at the Palace Grill in Oslo West. He looked harmless: another blond man trying to chat up women at the bar. ‘He came across as someone with a business degree,’ one woman recalled, ‘one of those West End boys in very conservative clothes.’ Indeed he had tried his hand at business, though he’d never completed a degree, or much of anything else. And he was a West End boy, a diplomat’s son. Yet there was the book he said he was writing, a ‘masterwork’ in a ‘genre the world has never seen before’.
Africa, it’s said, is the mother of modern civilisation, but it’s probably more accurate to say that Congo is. Consider your mobile phone. Before it was assembled in a Chinese factory, the coltan in its capacitors may have been dug by miners in the Eastern Congo, where millions have died in a series of wars over ‘conflict minerals’, though we give this no more thought than previous generations of Westerners gave to the Congolese origins of the ivory in their piano keys, the rubber in their tyres, the copper in their bullet casings or the uranium in their bombs.
By the time he was elected to the Académie française in 2004, Alain Robbe-Grillet had suffered a cruel fate: he had all the renown he could have hoped for but few readers to show for it. The literary movement he’d launched half a century earlier – the nouveau roman – had ground to a halt. The new novel – anti-psychological and anti-expressive, stripped of individualised characters, temporal continuity and meaning itself – was no longer new. Like the total serialism championed by his contemporary Pierre Boulez, it seemed all the more dated for heralding a future that had failed to arrive.
On the afternoon of Monday, 4 April 2011, Juliano Mer-Khamis walked out of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp and got into his old red Citroën. It was four o’clock, the sun was hot and the street crowded. He put his baby son, Jay, on his lap, placing the boy’s fingers on the steering wheel; the babysitter sat next to them. As he set off, a man in a balaclava came out of an alleyway and told him to stop. He had a gun. The babysitter told Juliano to keep driving, but he stopped. The gunman shot him five times, then walked back down the alley. He left his mask in the street.
On 4 July, the day after the army overthrew Mohamed Morsi and suspended the constitution, I got an email from a friend in Cairo. A photograph of the 30 June demonstrations in Tahrir Square was emblazoned with the words: ‘This is not a coup’. He didn’t say what else it might be, but soon enough others did. A second revolution, a ‘people’s coup’, a...
At the end of the Second World War, an anonymous pamphlet surfaced in the seminaries of Qom, the bastion of Shia learning. The Unveiling of Secrets accused Iran’s monarchy of treason: ‘In your European hats, you strolled the boulevards, ogling the naked girls, and thought yourselves fine fellows, unaware that foreigners were carting off the country’s patrimony and resources.’ Iran, it proposed, should be ruled by an assembly of religious jurists headed by a wise man. In such a state, there would be no need for elections or a parliament.
When we first meet the nameless narrator of Sonallah Ibrahim’s 1966 novella That Smell, he’s just been released from prison, but no one is there to greet him, and he’s in no mood to celebrate. He remains under house arrest, free to wander the streets of Cairo so long as he returns home by dusk, when his police minder has to sign off on his curfew. Things could be worse: he...
The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza.
‘Anyone reading these notes without knowing me,’ Jacques Derrida wrote in his diary in 1976, ‘without having read and understood everything of what I’ve written elsewhere, would remain blind and deaf to them, while he would finally feel that he was understanding easily.’ If you think you can understand me by reading my diaries, he might have been warning future biographers, think again. Derrida worried that the diaries might one day be privileged over his philosophical writing or, worse, used as a way of ‘finally’ steering through the obstacles he had consciously placed between himself and his readers.
During the first 19 years of Israel’s statehood, its leaders gave little thought to the Palestinian question. Two-thirds of the Palestinians were driven out in 1948; those who remained were placed under a draconian military government and didn’t cause much trouble. Then came the Six Day War of 1967. In a pre-emptive strike launched on 5 June, Israel inflicted a devastating defeat on...
During the long, bewildering week in which Egyptians waited for the results of their presidential election to be announced, I took a train from Cairo to Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood had declared that its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, by a million votes. The Brothers had collected signed tallies from all 16,000 polling stations, and their counts were said to be meticulous. (It turned out they were off by only 0.06 per cent.) But Shafiq had declared victory too, and in the last week of the campaign looked eerily confident, as if he knew the elections had been rigged in his favour.
The life of Claude Lanzmann, Claude Lanzmann declares at the beginning of his memoir, has been ‘a rich, multifaceted and unique story’. Self-flattery is characteristically Lanzmannian, but its truth in this case can hardly be denied. He has lived on a grand scale. A teenage fighter in the Resistance, he became Sartre’s protégé in the early 1950s as an editor at Les Temps modernes. He also became – with Sartre’s blessing – Beauvoir’s lover, ‘the only man with whom Simone de Beauvoir lived a quasi-marital existence’. He marched with the left against the wars in Algeria and Vietnam; moonlighted in Beijing as an unofficial conduit between Mao and de Gaulle; and fell under the spell of Frantz Fanon in Tunis.
Less than a year has passed since the uprising began, but the euphoria in Tahrir Square already seems like a distant memory. The young people who launched the revolution are still protesting, but they have been outflanked by the hard men, the soldiers and Islamist politicians now calling the shots. The Mubarak regime was replaced by a military junta, the 20-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), headed by Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi.The Scaf has all but declared war on Tahrir, assailing protesters calling for civilian rule as ‘enemies’ of the revolution which it perversely claims to embody. On 16 December, military police officers armed with electric prods and clubs, and assisted by thugs, moved into the square at dawn.
Austere, prickly, solitary, Claude Lévi-Strauss is the least fashionable, and most influential, of the postwar French theorists. Lévi-Straussians are a nearly extinct tribe in Anglo-American universities, far outnumbered by Foucauldians, Derrideans and Deleuzians. But, in a paradox he might have enjoyed, his imprint has been deeper. Like the Amerindian myths he anatomised in...
No one in the Arab world was watching the news more closely than the Palestinians during the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The first emotion they experienced was disbelief; the second – particularly when they saw Palestinian flags being raised in Tahrir Square – was relief that they were no longer alone. Arab lethargy has been a virtual article of faith among Palestinians, who felt that their neighbours had betrayed them in 1948 and had done nothing to help them since. The Palestinian national movement, which rose to prominence under Yasir Arafat’s leadership in the late 1960s, was defined in large part by its belief that Palestinians had to rely on themselves. Mahmoud Darwish was not the only one to note that during the siege of Beirut in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush the PLO, tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv but the Arabs were too busy watching the World Cup Final to take to the streets.
After the battle for Tahrir Square, the conceptual grid that Western officials have used to divide up the Islamic world into secular and religious forces, Western-friendly moderates and anti-Western extremists, good Muslims and bad Muslims, has never looked more inadequate, or more irrelevant. If the revolution in Egypt succeeds, it will have swept away not only a corrupt and autocratic regime, but the vocabulary, and the patterns of thought, that have underpinned Western policy in the greater Middle East for more than a half century.
The Mubarak regime – or some post-Mubarak continuation of it – may survive this challenge, but the illusions that have held it in place have crumbled. The protests in Tahrir Square are a message not only to Mubarak and the military regime that has ruled Egypt since the Free Officers coup of 1952; they are a message to all the region’s autocrats, particularly those supported by the West, and to Washington and Tel Aviv, which, after spending years lamenting the lack of democracy in the Muslim world, have responded with a mixture of trepidation, fear and hostility to the emergence of a pro-democracy movement in the Arab world’s largest country.
The ‘philosophy of desire’ was born in 1969, Serge Gainsbourg’s annéeérotique, when the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari met the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Today, it’s hard to imagine them not knowing each other, and easy to forget how unlikely their partnership was. François Dosse begins his biography of the two men with their first...
Israel is likely to launch a strike against uranium-enrichment sites in Iran within a year. Or so Jeffrey Goldberg reports in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly. If the Iranians continue to defy the International Atomic Energy Agency and Obama refuses to pursue a more muscular punishment, he warns, an Israeli attack is a ‘near certainty’. Tony Blair, we must assume, would...
Frustration, shame, humiliation: it does not take much for Egyptians to call up these feelings. It’s still often said that ‘what happens in Egypt affects the entire Arab world,’ but nothing much has happened there in years. Egypt has fallen behind Saudi Arabia – not to mention non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran – in regional leadership. Even tiny Qatar has a more independent foreign policy. Egypt is by far the largest Arab country, with 80 million inhabitants, yet it’s seen by most Arabs – and by the Egyptians themselves – as a client state of the United States and Israel, who depend on Mubarak to ensure regional ‘stability’ in the struggle with the ‘resistance front’ led by Iran.
When Amy Bishop was hired by the University of Alabama in Huntsville seven years ago, she appeared to have everything going for her: she was young, Harvard-trained, passionate about her field, a mother of four. But there were many things that her new colleagues didn’t know. They didn’t know her adviser at Harvard had forced her to resign her post-doctoral fellowship. They...
Who could resist the charms, or doubt the importance, of a liberal, secular, Turkish Muslim writing formally adventurous, learned novels about the passionate collision of East and West? Orhan Pamuk is frequently described as a bridge between two great civilisations, and his major theme is of a topicality, a significance, that it seems churlish to deny.
Imagine you’re confined to a dark, windowless space, and a piece of music you find especially disagreeable is piped into the room at a volume so piercing it seems to be throbbing inside you. You might call this excruciating. Now imagine the music on a round-the-clock loop, with no indication of when or whether it will stop, and no escape. You might call this torture.
The plot to kill Khalid Mishal was an extremely sensitive operation. Israel had signed a peace treaty with King Hussein in 1994, and the murder of a Palestinian leader in Amman would be sure to fuel speculation that Mossad had got the green light, and perhaps some helpful tips, from Jordan. This was no way to treat a friend, and the Israelis knew it. Unlike the flamboyant assassinations of the PFLP spokesman Ghassan Kanafani (killed in 1972 in a car bomb in Beirut) and Arafat’s top aide Khalil al-Wazir (gunned down in 1988 in his home in Tunis by Israeli commandos), Mishal’s murder had to be discreet and, if possible, invisible.
Barack Obama is the first American president who has made history simply by being elected. His Swahili first name – which is derived from the Arabic baraka, or spiritual wisdom – means ‘he who is blessed’, and the world seems to think he is. Obama’s victory, Bono said, is the realisation of ‘the Irish dream, the European dream, the African dream, the...
On 16 December, ten days into the unrest in Greece sparked by the killing of a 15-year-old boy by the police, a group of Greek students occupied the National Broadcasting Network. Interrupting a report on a parliamentary address by the prime minister, they raised a banner that read: ‘Stop Watching – Everyone on the Streets!’ Those who joined them would have missed the...
On 27 April 1950 a man whose passport identified him as Richard Armstrong flew from Amsterdam to Baghdad. He came as a representative of Near East Air Transport, an American charter company seeking to win a contract with Iraq’s prime minister, Tawfiq al-Suwaida, to fly Iraqi Jews to Cyprus. Only six weeks earlier, the Iraqi government had passed the Denaturalisation Act, which allowed Jews to emigrate provided they renounced their citizenship, and gave them a year to decide whether to do so. Al-Suwaida expected that between seven and ten thousand Jews would leave out of a community of about 125,000, but a mysterious bombing in Baghdad on the last day of Passover, near a café frequented by Jews, caused panic, and the numbers registering soon outstripped his estimate. The position of the Jews in Iraq had been deteriorating with alarming speed ever since the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948: they were seen as a stalking horse for the Zionists in Palestine, and were increasingly rewarded for their expressions of loyalty to Iraq with suspicion, threats and arbitrary physical assaults. By the spring of 1950 the question was when, not whether to leave, and on 9 May NEAT signed a contract with the Iraqi government to organise their departure.
If you live in an American swing state you may have received a copy of ‘Obsession’ in your Sunday paper. ‘Obsession’ isn’t a perfume: it’s a documentary about ‘radical Islam’s war against the West’. In the last two weeks of September, 28 million copies of the film were enclosed as an advertising supplement in 74 newspapers, including the
Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea living in Brooklyn, is one of 71 detainees to have died in the last four years in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An illegal immigrant confined to a detention centre after his green card application was rejected, Bah died after a fall that no one seems to have witnessed. ICE, which was set up by the Department of Homeland...
Abu Musab al-Suri never received an advance for his magnum opus, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, written in safe houses after the fall of the Taliban and published in December 2004 by a clandestine press. But a few weeks before his book appeared, the Bush administration bestowed an honour on him more valuable than anything the jihadi market had to offer: the announcement of a $5 million reward for his capture.
Shortly before the invasion of Iraq, George Bush’s economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, estimated that the war would cost $200 billion. ‘Baloney,’ Donald Rumsfeld fumed, offering a figure of $50-60 billion, some of which he said would be supplied by America’s friends. Andrew Natsios, the head of the Agency for International Development, told Ted Koppel on Nightline that...
Condoleezza Rice, like everyone else, is ‘worn down and discouraged by the war’, the New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her new biography (Random House, $27.95). Early morning work-outs on her ‘elliptical trainer’, shopping at expensive boutiques and American Idol provide some relief. But Rice has found her greatest ‘escape from the anxieties of...
In the early 1970s, Israeli officials began to take note of a disquieting phenomenon: the rise in pro-Palestinian sentiment on the European left, which in the aftermath of the Holocaust had been largely supportive of the Jewish state. The French youths who had declared ‘we are all German Jews’ after the arrest of the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, whose German Jewish parents...
“Khadra brings to the policier an unrivalled flair for capturing the coarse argot of the Algerian street, and an intimate knowledge of Algiers, from its opulent villas to the wretched slums where Islamic radicals rallied the poor, or the nightclubs popular among ‘high officials with a fondness for virgin boys – which is why one notices a surreptitious odour of Vaseline in the air.’ Inspector Llob, Khadra’s deadpan narrator, is a faithful husband, good Muslim and fierce patriot . . . Like his creator, he writes detective novels in his spare time, under the name of Yasmina Khadra . . . As a cop and a writer, he is doubly a target for the Islamists, who have turned Algiers into ‘a barbecue suspended between God’s hell and the purgatory of men.’”
In December, Okwui Enwezor wrote to me from Munich. He had leukemia. ‘What I miss most,’ he said, ‘is the noise of life humming out there. It’s much too quiet here.’ He died last Friday, aged 55. Since then it’s felt very quiet, both for those who knew him personally, and for the many people who admired his work as a curator and writer. Okwui had a deep, booming voice, and a purposeful one. When he spoke, you listened. It’s hard to imagine not hearing it.
In an interview with a French journalist, Joseph Jarman compared the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the avant-garde jazz quintet to which he belonged, to ‘a cake made from five ingredients: remove one of the ingredients and the cake no longer exists.’ Jarman, who died earlier this month, at 81, after a long illness, was the ingredient that made the band one of the most aesthetically adventurous groups of its era: he put the 'art' in Art Ensemble.
The last set is over, and the club is almost empty. The bassist has already gone home, the drummer is walking out the door. That leaves the saxophonist and the pianist, but they decide they're not done yet. They have more ideas to exchange, more confidences to share. They begin to play again, only this time just for themselves. Do most saxophone and piano duets start out this way? Surely not, and yet the best of them could fool you, with their intimate, nocturnal ambience, their exploration of 'songs of love and regret', as the saxophonist Marion Brown and the pianist Mal Waldron called their 1986 album. On Random Dances and (A)Tonalities, the new album by the pianist Aruán Ortiz and the reedman Don Byron, the music is unapologetically cerebral, like the title.
Five years ago, the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón was performing with his quartet at a club in Chicago when he was contacted by Julien Labro, a French accordionist based in Canada. Labro was in town making a record with Spektral, a Chicago-based string quartet that specialises in contemporary music. He had arranged a piece by Zenón, a racing tune called 'El Club de la Serpiente', for the session, and wanted to know if he would have any interest in recording it with them. Zenón went to the studio, and instantly clicked with the quartet. 'The guys from Spektral were really on top of the music, which made the session very fun and easy,' he told me. ('El Club de la Serpiente' appeared on Labro's 2014 album From This Point Forward.) When the Hyde Park Jazz Festival commissioned Zenón to write a work for local musicians, 'naturally I thought of Spektral.'
I’m in Europe this summer, though not in exile. I have not been driven to find sanctuary, much less thrown into a cage awaiting deportation, or forcibly separated from my child. When I fly home to New York, I will not be told that my name has 'randomly' appeared on a list, and taken aside to answer questions about the country of my ancestors, or my religious and political convictions. But for the first time in my life I'm not certain that this privilege, which ought to be simply a right, will last. By a strange twist of historical fate, people like me, Jews whose families fled to the US from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, became insiders, 'white ethnics', but the racism, intolerance and sheer vindictiveness that Donald Trump has helped bring into the mainstream are volatile forces, in constant search of new targets. For Muslims, Latinos, immigrants and black people, this has been the Summer of Hatred. Now we can add journalists to the list. Trump, the inciter-in-chief, called them 'enemies of the American people'. Five were killed in Maryland last week; they are unlikely to be the last.
Benjamin Netanyahu first met Donald Trump in 1986, when they were introduced by Ronald Lauder, the heir of the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune and a Republican donor. They became friendly, but Netanyahu, who was Israel’s ambassador to the UN at the time, doubted that the real-estate entrepreneur would be very useful to his future political aspirations. He added Trump to his handwritten list of millionaires to whom he might turn for favours, but ‘he was in the lowest category,’ Anshel Pfeffer writes in his new biography of Netanyahu, ‘indicating that he was good for an occasional favour, but not much more.’[*] Like many people, Netanyahu underestimated his new friend.
Anouar Brahem first heard jazz when he was studying the oud at the National Conservatory in Tunis in the 1970s. He was astonished that a youthful music of humble origins had evolved in a matter of decades into an art of extraordinary sophistication, through successive waves of innovation; Arabic music struck him as ‘caught in some sort of conformist conservatism in comparison’. He wanted to meld the traditions of the oud with other influences, and to create a vernacular modernism, like the jazz musicians he admired.
In 1962, Richard Abrams, a 32-year-old pianist on the South Side of Chicago, formed a rehearsal group called the Experimental Band. Its purpose was not so much to perform as to provide a laboratory of artistic research and development for young black musicians and composers working in jazz, or what Abrams preferred to call ‘creative music’. Abrams had been electrified by the free jazz revolution launched a few years earlier by Ornette Coleman. As Abrams saw it, the liberation from chord-based improvisation that Coleman had brought about was only a first step. Creative musicians would have to invent new structures to replace the old ones; they would have to re-examine their relationship not only to music, but to sound. Freedom, Coleman's gift, was also a challenge, even a burden: as exhilarating as free jazz was, the hard work of building on its liberties had only begun.
In late July, HBO unveiled plans for a new show set in an alternative reality, in which the Confederate South, led by General Robert E. Lee, has successfully seceded from the Union. D.B. Weiss, one of the producers of Confederate, explained the thinking behind the series: ‘What would the world have looked like if Lee had sacked DC, if the South had won – that just always fascinated me.’ Last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, Weiss got his answer, with the ‘Unite the Right’ demonstration against the planned removal of Lee’s statue in Emancipation Park (formerly known as Lee Park). This ‘pastoral scene of the gallant South’, as Billie Holiday might have described it, was open to anyone who hated black people and Jews (‘Jews will not replace us’ was one of the cries), from members of the Ku Klux Klan to neo-Nazis. Emboldened by having an ally in the highest office in the land, they came with Confederate flags, swastikas, medieval-looking wooden shields, torches and, of course, guns. They came to fight. One young woman in the counter-demonstration was murdered by a man who rammed his car into her, weaponising his vehicle just as jihadists have done in Nice and London. A helicopter surveilling the event crashed, killing the two officers inside. Dozens were injured. For the next two days, the world waited for Trump to denounce those responsible for the pogrom. The week before, he threatened North Korea with nuclear incineration (‘fire and fury’). Trump is so hollow a person, so impulsive a leader, that it’s easy to miss the great paradox of his presidency: that a cipher of a man has revealed the hidden depths, the ugly unmastered history, of the country he claims to lead.
Eric Rochant's TV series Le Bureau des légendes, known in English as The Bureau, is everything Homeland isn't: an understated, subtle and nuanced espionage drama. In the first season there are no explosions, the body count is negligible, and there's hardly any talk of patriotism. The hero, undercover agent Guillaume Debailly (played by Mathieu Kassovitz), has risen to the top of the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure, by adhering to a rigorous, almost ascetic set of principles, but these principles are more artisanal than patriotic, and he eventually finds himself forced to abandon them. The focus is on the work, and most of that work takes place in the cramped offices, and in front of the computer screens, of the DGSE.
On my first visit to Algiers, in 2002, I met a friend for dinner in the abattoir neighbourhood. The city's great slaughterhouses are among the oldest in North Africa. ‘There is nothing like the meat in the abattoirs,’ my friend insisted. We ate skewers of grilled lambs’ kidneys: rich, salty, succulent cubes of meat served with nothing but baguettes to wrap them in. The abattoirs are now the site of a future ruin, slated for destruction to make way for a new national assembly. In 2013, a group of artists circulated a petition calling on the government to turn them into an arts centre that would preserve their memory as part of Algeria’s cultural heritage. Hassen Ferhani, a young filmmaker, spent two months inside a slaughterhouse. The result is an oddly beautiful film, Dans ma tête un rond-point (‘A Roundabout in My Head’), which Ferhani presented last week at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.
Sean Spicer's take on the Final Solution has prompted much indignation (and a series of faltering apologies from the White House press secretary), but I doubt he's hiding any swastikas in his closet: the guy probably doesn't even know what a swastika is, any more than he knows what Zyklon B is.
In 1989, John Ahearn, a white artist living in the South Bronx, cast a group of local black and Latino people for a series of bronze sculptures commissioned by the city for an intersection outside a police station. As his models, he chose a drug addict, a hustler and a street kid. Ahearn thought that he was paying them homage, restoring the humanity of people who were often vilified in American society. His models found the work flattering, but some members of the community felt that he ought to have depicted more 'positive' representatives, while others were insulted that a white artist had been given such a commission in the first place, since only a genuine local – a black or Latino artist – had the right to represent the community. Ahearn eventually removed the sculptures. 'The issues were too hot for dialogue,' he reflected later. 'The critics said that people in the community have a right to positive images that their children can look up to. I agree that the installation did not serve that purpose.'
‘So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like … I can live with either one,’ Donald Trump said at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister appeared to exult in Trump’s presence, until the president suggested he hold off on building more settlements while Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states worked out a deal – a ‘bigger deal’, rather. The oldest conflict in the modern Middle East – it’s a century since the Balfour declaration – has become a quarrel over real estate.
A few months before Donald Trump was elected president, I was in Paris talking to an American political scientist, a specialist on North Africa who has made his home in France. Laxminarayan (not his real name) was sceptical of Trump’s chances. And even if he were to win, Laxminarayan added, it was very clear what would happen next. ‘Really?’ I said. ‘And what is that?’ ‘He will have to be removed from power by the deep state, or be assassinated.’
Donald Trump’s quasi-apocalyptic victory marks the end of American exceptionalism: a certain idea of America, as a model of democracy and freedom, is dead. Trump didn’t kill it; he declared it dead with a campaign that was as surreal as it was reactionary. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ a French friend wrote to me in an email. ‘It’s worse than a nightmare,’ I replied. ‘It’s reality.’
A few weeks ago, I played an album by the jazz saxophonist Henry Threadgill to a composer I know, and asked him to guess who wrote it. Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is an extended suite for an octet, and, like many of Threadgill's compositions, full of jagged rhythms and mind-teasing patterns. ‘Milton Babbitt?’ my friend suggested. Babbitt was an academic serialist composer and the author of a notorious article, ‘Who Cares if You Listen?’ But he also dabbled in jazz, or rather, in ‘Third Stream’ music. The Third Stream, a synthesis of classical music and jazz, was first dreamed up by the French horn player and composer Gunther Schuller, in a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University.
In No Name in the Street, James Baldwin describes how, not long after he settled in France in 1948, he ‘had watched the police, one sunny afternoon, beat an old, one-armed Arab peanut vendor senseless in the streets, and I had watched the unconcerned faces of the French on the café terraces, and the congested faces of the Arabs.’ With a ‘generous smile’, Baldwin's friends reassured him that he was different from the Arabs: ‘Le noir américain est très évolué, voyons!’ He found the response perplexing, given what he knew of French views about the United States, so he asked a ‘very cunning question’:
After 9/11, Le Monde declared: ‘Nous sommes tous Américains.’ The love affair was short-lived: as soon as the French declined to join the war against Iraq, American pundits called them ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ and French fries were renamed ‘freedom fries’. When Obama took office, relations warmed, but the tables were turned: the new administration in Washington shied from foreign adventures, while the Elysée adopted a muscular stance in Libya and Mali, and promoted a more aggressive response to Bashar al-Assad's assault on the Syrian rebellion. Neoconservatives who had vilified the surrender monkeys now looked at them with envy. Today a new cry can be heard among intellectuals in the US: ‘Je suis Charlie.’ It is a curious slogan, all the more so since few of the Americans reciting it had ever heard of, much less read, Charlie Hebdo before the 7 January massacre. What does it mean, exactly? Seen in the best light, it means simply that we abhor violence against people exercising their democratic right to express their views. But it may also be creating what the French would call an amalgame, or confusion, between Charlie Hebdo and the open society of the West. In this sense, the slogan ‘je suis Charlie’ is less an expression of outrage and sympathy than a declaration of allegiance, with the implication that those who aren't Charlie Hebdo are on the other side, with the killers, with the Islamic enemy that threatens life in the modern, democratic West, both from outside and from within.
The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, has achieved a rare distinction in contemporary classical music: it’s considered so dangerous by its critics that they'd like to have it banned. For its opponents – the Klinghoffer family, Daniel Pearl's father, conservative Jewish organisations, and now the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governor George Pataki, who took part in a noisy demonstration outside the Met last night – Klinghoffer is no less a sacrilege than The Satanic Verses was to Khomeini and his followers. They haven’t issued a fatwa, but they have done their best to sabotage the production ever since the Met announced it.
Nearly a half century ago, the New York Art Quartet had its debut at the Cellar Café on the Upper West Side. The occasion was the October Revolution, a four-day music festival curated by Bill Dixon, the visionary trumpeter, founder of the Jazz Composers Guild, and director of jazz programmes at the United Nations. The New York Art Quartet – the subject of Alan Roth's absorbing new documentary, The Breath Courses through Us – represented the next wave in avant-garde jazz after Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. One of the first leaderless, simultaneously improvising ensembles, it embodied what John Litweiler has called the 'freedom principle'. Yet it showed that freedom did not have to mean the propulsive 'fire music' that Coltrane's followers were playing, or the screaming, protopunk cacophony for which the label ESP became legendary. The New York Art Quartet's music was lyrical and somewhat elusive, open-ended in an orderly way, full of subtle effects that people didn't tend to associate with free jazz.
The Iraq war is not over; it never really ended. It just spilled into a new war, the war in Syria. We may one day speak of Iraq-Syria the way that we speak now of 'Af-Pak'.
In response to a wave of attacks by the al-Qaida group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the United States is supplying Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's embattled government with Hellfire missiles and drones. The Obama administration also wants congressional approval to lease (and eventually sell) six Apache helicopter gunships to the Iraqis, a plan held up by lawmakers who fear they will be used against Maliki's political opponents.
As reported by the New York Times, the arming of the Iraqi government is a story about instability inside Iraq, counter-terrorism and the effectiveness of drones. But the regional implications are much larger.
One evening in January at a hotel bar in Manhattan, I tried to ingratiate myself with an officer from Bahrain’s mission to the United Nations. Munira (not her real name) was a former student of a friend of mine. She was also a regime insider, close to Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, one of the royal family’s more reform-minded figures. I thought she might help me land a visa to Bahrain, which had all but shut out Western journalists since the crackdown at the Pearl Roundabout in February 2011. I can't have been very persuasive. She promised to 'assist your quest in any way', but soon stopped replying to my emails. My visa application was never answered.
One of the great misconceptions about Egypt today is that the army is a bulwark against the intrusions of religion in politics, a defender of state-mosque separation. (You can't defend something that doesn't exist.) This fable is widely believed in the West, and has been vigorously promoted by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's liberal supporters. But as David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh report in today's New York Times, in their campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi and his colleagues are invoking Islam as shamelessly as the movement they've driven underground.
So this is how it ends: with the army killing more than 600 protesters, and injuring thousands of others, in the name of restoring order and defeating 'terrorism'. The victims are Muslim Brothers and other supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, but the ultimate target of the massacres of 14 August is civilian rule. Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.
The defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood is a regional turning point. Mohammed Morsi's election was widely hailed as the birth of a new era of Sunni Islamist-led democracies in the Arab world, bankrolled by Qatar, sympathetically covered by al-Jazeera, and supported by Washington, Ankara and the Gulf. It was not to be. The Morsi presidency now looks to have been a turbulent and highly contested segue between two eras of military rule. Qatar, which invested heavily in the Brothers, has lost a major ally.
I'm on a train from Washington DC to New York, listening to 'The Long Goodbye', a brash, shimmering piece for vibraphone, reeds and electric guitar by the cornetist and composer Lawrence D. 'Butch' Morris, who just died of cancer, at 65. 'The Long Goodbye' appears on his record Dust to Dust, a series of pieces that Morris composed and conducted. Or rather, pieces that he composed in real time while conducting improvising musicians. He called them 'conductions'.
At 2.30 on Sunday morning, the Israeli army removed 250 Palestinians from Bab al-Shams, a village in the so-called E1 corridor: 13 square kilometres of undeveloped Palestinian land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank with a population of 40,000. Israel has had designs on E1 for more than a decade: colonising it would realise the vision of a 'Greater Jerusalem', and eliminate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. After the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would build 4000 new settler homes in E1. The high court issued a six-day injunction against his order to 'evacuate' Bab al-Shams, but Netanyahu was in no mood to wait. Once the Palestinians had been driven out, the land was declared a closed 'military zone'.
They called him the 'spare tyre', but he may become the next president of Egypt – the first president of the post-Mubarak order. Mohamed Morsi, the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, is a charmless man, doctrinaire in disposition and impatient with the reform-minded currents in his party. He became its candidate only after its more appealing first choice, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified from running by the Presidential Election Commission; hence the nickname. (The commission cited a Mubarak-era rule that those who have been in prison in the last six years are ineligible to run; El-Shater was released only in March 2011.) Yet Morsi had behind him the electoral machine of the Muslim Brotherhood, still the country's most significant political movement.
When the Israeli tent protests began, some of the movement’s fiercest critics – outside the Israeli government – were progressive Arab intellectuals and activists. The protests seem to draw inspiration, tactics and even slogans from Tahrir Square, but to many people in the region they look a lot like ‘Israeli falafel’: a bland imitation of the real thing. Omar Barghouti described the protesters' failure to target the illegal occupation of Palestinian land as a ‘hysterical denial of the colonial reality’. But the denial may not last. While the army raises the spectre of a ‘radical Islamic winter’, Israeli demonstrators and the press are beginning to ask tough questions about the corruption of the military-industrial elite.
On Sunday night, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak called a cabinet meeting to argue against going to war in Gaza. The meeting lasted four hours, as these unlikely doves made the case for 'restraint'. They were, in a sense, arguing against themselves. After the attack in Eilat last Thursday, in which eight Israelis, five of them civilians, were killed, Netanyahu and Barak had immediately blamed the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, an armed movement of militants from different factions. If they had any evidence of PRC involvement, they didn't share it: the best an IDF spokeswoman interviewed on the Real News could manage was that the attackers used Kalashnikovs. The PRC denied responsibility; Hamas was even more sheepish: the last thing it needed was another Operation Cast Lead. A more likely story was that the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants in the Sinai,
The revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world has caused no little stress in Washington, but until Wednesday (27 April), it was reassuring in at least one way: Palestine hardly figured among the protesters' list of complaints. For many Western journalists in Tahrir Square, this was a sign of a newfound Egyptian political 'maturity', as if it were immature for Egyptians to be concerned about a blockade of their Arab neighbours that was partly facilitated by their own government. True, the question of Palestine was not entirely absent – Egyptians made plain their displeasure with the blockade, and with the sale of natural gas to Israel at a discount by Hussein Salem, one of Mubarak’s cronies who has since fled the country – but it was not prominent, either.
The demonstrations that have rocked Egypt for the last 18 days have turned into a nation-wide street party, and it is impossible not to be moved by the scenes of Egyptians celebrating their victory. The dictator who ruled Egypt for the last 30 years has been forced from office by non-violent, civil disobedience on a scale not seen since the 1979 revolution in Iran. And the principal agent of change – until today, when Mubarak stood down and the army took over – has been the Arab citizen, a striking change in a region where the romanticised figure of 'resistance' has been the soldier, the guerilla and, at times, the suicide bomber. At the White House press conference today, Obama and his press officer Robert Gibbs insisted that Egypt's revolution was really just about Egypt, but they knew better: Washington's policy during the crisis had been driven by fear of regional instability, and by the fears whispered into the administration's ears by Israel and the Saudis, and shifted only when Mubarak became a clear liability to American interests.The success of the Egyptian revolutionary model will be studied closely, and its lessons applied. The realisation of the Egyptian dream is the nightmare of Arab despots, and of Binyamin Netanyahu. But the revolution in Egypt is not over: in fact, it has only begun.
Mahmoud, my driver in Cairo when I reported from Egypt last year, didn't talk much about politics, and – an understandable precaution – kept his views to himself unless he was asked a direct question. But when he dropped me off at the airport, he launched into a sharp attack on the Mubarak regime. 'The Egyptians are a very patient people by nature, but their patience is running out,' he said. 'They could explode.'
Last Sunday afternoon I was eating a pear – an overripe and dangerously juicy pear – on High Holborn, on my way to the gym. When the pear slipped from my hand onto the pavement I bent down to pick it up ('The streets are for people, not for trash,' my mother always said), only to be caught in the act by two old ladies who hadn't seen me eating it. One of them looked aghast as I fumbled with the pear, which by now had collected a fair amount of dirt. Transformed by her gaze into a bum, I became so self-conscious that the pear fell out of my hand again. Determined to bin it somewhere like a responsible citizen, I waited till they'd passed, and made one last, successful attempt to pick it up. Relief! Just then, she turned round to satisfy her curiosity and stared at the man furtively clasping a soiled, half-eaten pear. I was almost tempted to offer her a bite.
The Lebanese braced themselves – some in excitement, others in dread – when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit was announced. Since the early 1980s, when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard helped to set up Hizbullah, Lebanon has been ‘the lung through which Iran breathes’ in the Arab world, as the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, an early mentor to Hizbullah, famously put it. That lung has developed into a mini-regional power – the only Arab army to have forced Israel to withdraw from Arab land, as Hizbullah often brags – and a major player in Lebanon’s highly sectarian, highly volatile political system, adored by its Shia followers and resented by many Sunnis and Christians.
I understand why some people, including friends of mine, are confused; even I'm confused sometimes. (In some ways life must have been simpler when everyone was called John or Mary.) We have the same name, apart from that silent 'c', and we both like jazz. Not just jazz: the same kind of jazz. Adam Schatz is an avant-garde jazz promoter and concert organiser in New York. I used to cover that scene as a DJ at Columbia University and as a freelancer for the New York Times. Every so often I get emails praising my latest event; they make me wish I’d been there. Whether he also has an interest in Middle Eastern politics, or cooking, I'm too afraid to find out. Though I suppose I could: he's asked to be my friend on Facebook.
Sam Tanenhaus, reviewing Jonathan Franzen's Freedom in the New York Times Book Review, writes: Liberals, no less than conservatives — and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us — believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth. This is why a Ramsey Hill pioneer like Patty Berglund [one of Franzen's characters] will suffer torments of indecision when thinking how best to “respond when a poor person of color accused you of destroying her neighborhood.” If Tanenhaus weren't the editor of the Book Review, you'd wonder how this got past the editor.
It's been hardly a week since Tony Judt died, and Anglo-American intellectual life already feels poorer. He was diagnosed two years ago with amyotropic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; within a year he had been reduced, as he wrote, to a 'cockroach-like existence', unable to move. Yet he continued to write and stir things up, producing a flurry of probing autobiographical essays (which he was forced to dictate); delivering from his wheelchair a stunning lecture on social democracy at New York University, which left some members of the packed audience in tears; and publishing an expanded version of the lecture as a book, Ill Fares the Land, a robust critique of free market ideology. He was so visible, and so lively on the page – in the New York Review of Books, in the London Review, in the Guardian, in the New York Times – that his death still came as a shock.
Misperception, willful or naive, is to be expected in US commentary on the Middle East. But it's hard to think of an Arab figure as consistently misperceived as the Lebanese Shia cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who died on 4 July (a holiday you can be fairly sure he wasn't celebrating). In obituaries in the American press (and in poor Octavia Nasr's tweet, which cost her a job at CNN), Fadlallah was, as ever, described as the ‘spiritual leader' or ‘spiritual father' of Hezbollah: never mind that he'd been estranged from Hezbollah since the 1990s. And he was invariably portrayed as a dangerous extremist, if not a terrorist.
Melvyn Adam Mildiner, a 31-year-old British citizen who moved to Israel nine years ago, woke up on Monday morning to discover that he was wanted by Interpol for the murder of a high-ranking Hamas agent in Dubai - a country he'd never been to. Mildiner is one of seven Israelis with dual citizenship whose passports were forged by the team that killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room. The assassination has all the marks of a Mossad operation, and while the international press politely avoids rushing to judgment, in Israel Mossad’s responsibility is simply taken for granted, or flagrantly celebrated.
The other night I went out with a group of people to a private dinner club hidden away at the top of a residential building in Garden City, a middle-class area of Cairo where many foreign embassies are (with, not surprisingly, a very heavy security detail). A Sudanese waiter welcomed us into the vast, sumptuously appointed flat. It used to belong to Hoda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist leader, born in 1879, who wrote poetry in Arabic and French, and was the first Egyptian woman to remove her veil in public, in 1923. An oud player was performing in one room, while corny pop tunes – 'Feelings', 'Blue Moon' – blared from the stereo in another. We sat down, and were greeted by another Sudanese waiter. Was every waiter at the club Sudanese? 'They are Darfuris,' my host said, a homage, he explained, to old world colonial aesthetics (and hierarchy). Our waiter wore a name tag: R.
In early October the Palestinian Authority dropped its draft resolution calling for a discussion of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court. The 575-page report was, by all accounts, one of the most exhaustive and withering studies to date of Israeli war crimes. It also chastised the PA’s rival, Hamas, for firing rockets at Israeli civilians. The PA, which looked on at the Gaza war from distant Ramallah, would seem to have nothing to lose in light of the report's findings, and everything to gain. Yet the PA’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, was persuaded that going forward with its resolution would give the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a pretext to avoid resuming negotiations – and the resolution would, in any case, be vetoed by the Obama administration.
Barack Obama's speech in Cairo last week was, of course, addressed as much to Americans as to Cairenes (or for that matter Muslims). The crowd hardly needed to be reminded of their civilisation's accomplishments in maths, science and learning; but many Americans could surely benefit from the history lesson the president so succinctly and eloquently provided. Likewise, most Egyptians know that there are worse places to be Muslim than the US: that's why so many of them are desperate for American visas. Europeans, on the other hand, could learn something from American tolerance of the hijab.
Jeremy Harding and Adam Shatz look back at their pieces for the LRB reporting from North Africa and the Middle East.
Seymour Hersh talks to Adam Shatz about his career and his recent articles published in the LRB, on teh war in Syria and the death of Osama bin Laden.
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