Putting Cruelty First

Alan Johnson – editor of the online journal, Democratiya, conducted an interview with Kanan Makiya in December of 2005. Following on from two previous postings here at our website (See “What’s Going On” and “Inside the Whale”), this interview amounts to the next chapter in Makiya’s on-the-fly history of the Iraq “project.”

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Stop Breaking Down

One of the cartoons which my local newspaper has refused to print shows two veiled women, their staring round eyes, all that can be seen of their faces, expressing alarm, while a bearded man, apparently the Prophet, with a bar obscuring his eyes, his features otherwise visible, radiates a chilling and furious certainty. It is a pretty good cartoon: it raises the question of who is blinded, and to what, and who has been silenced, and how. It does this with remarkable economy, and with compassionate if mirthless wit. As economical if mirthless jokes go, it isn’t a patch on the one represented by the editors, academics and politicians who claim that reproducing that cartoon is a mistake more or less equivalent to threatening to murder whoever drew it.

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What’s Going On

Kanan Makiya held a press conference in mid-October in Washington D.C. We’ve adapted and excerpted his opening statement and a few of the more pointed exchanges between Makiya and his interlocutors. Makiya’s comments on the Baathist ‘resistance’, the constitutional process and the issues raised by Ayatolla Sistani’s fatwa provide deep background for understanding current and future developments in Iraq.

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Reality Bites

Paul Berman tells some pretty good stories, but you have to wait for the punch line. No one will be astonished to learn that Breyten Breytenbach, the celebrated South African novelist and homme de gauche, last year published (in Le Monde) an open letter to Sharon, and began with the now-rote observation that when any criticism of Israeli policy is vilified as anti-Semitism, free speech is imperiled. You may be mildly surprised to learn that Breytenbach thinks the Israelis, a people with a notorious tin ear for the way they sound to foreigners, are nonetheless manipulating American public opinion with fantastic success. But read on in the Breytenbach letter, and you will be diverted to learn that the “used-car salesman doppelganger, Netanyahu, ploys this craft of crude propaganda more openly, as if he were a dirty finger tweaking the clitoris of a swooning American public opinion.” While this sort of language does evoke the bad old days, one can look on the bright side: Breytenbach’s trope arguably bolsters the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Even sixty years ago, few people implied that assimilationist Jewish fingers, however dirty they might be when probing and manipulating literal or metaphorical gentile women, were also prehensile. As for Zionists–uniquely blessed with the ability to tweak things with a single finger–well, who knew?

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Inside the Whale

Kanan Makiya–author of “Republic of Fear” and “Cruelty and Silence”–spoke about the future of Iraq on a panel organized by NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism Program and the Center for War, Peace and the News Media on November 22, 2002. Arguing against other speakers at the forum, Makiya made a moral case for American intervention in the course of explaining recent developments in the relationship between the Bush administration and Iraqi dissidents. An edited version of his remarks follows along with an exchange between Makiya and Mansour Farhang (who was Iranian ambassador to the UN until he was forced to flee Iran after the fall of the Bani-Sadir government in 1981).

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A Palestinian Gandhi

We asked George Lakey – a longtime proponent of nonviolent direct action – to interview Mubarak Awad – a Palestinian Christian psychologist who organized a nonviolent resistance movement against occupation of Palestinian lands at the end of the 1980’s. Israel expelled him to the United States where he currently runs an NGO based in Washington D.C. – Nonviolence International.

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Al Is Conscience and Tendre Hearte

A couple of days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, a number of NYU students were wearing white ribbons in solidarity with the dead firemen. A friend who teaches there was fascinated to see undergraduates singing “God Bless America” in Washington Square Park, a spectacle she could not have imagined forty-eight hours before. Maybe it helped to be able to smell the fires that were still consuming the dead – you could do this from Washington Square Park. At approximately the same time, at a college a bit over the city line, where the dead could neither be smelt nor, perhaps, fully imagined, white ribbons instead signaled solidarity with those “faculty and students of color” who felt unsafe in the face of American racist violence.

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