This is a (slightly adapted) version of a lecture Kanan Makiya gave last week at the University of New Hampshire. Makiya contrasts the relative progress made by Iraq’s victims-become-citizens with the dithering (and worse) of the country’s political class. His unillusioned, yet undespairing analysis clarifies the situation on the ground. It also hints why Makiya himself may one day be remembered – against all odds – as the intellectual father of the democracy struggling to be born in Iraq. The following passage gets right to the heart of the matter:
Both of Iraq’s national elections in 2005 and 2010 were in the end about that most fundamental of all political questions: “Who am I?” And how could it be otherwise in the new post-Saddam world that had so suddenly thrust itself upon the people of Iraq. Having been subjected to the gravest of depredations, and scarred by a brutal dictatorship unmatched in its capacity for cruelty, the Iraqi people entered political life in 2003, thanks to the United States and its allies, as an unknown quantity, unknown even to themselves…To be sure the men and women who took their lives in their hands as they went out to vote in 2005, when quite literally they were being targeted by al-Qaeda as they lined up at polling places, were heroes. They were heroes in a way that it is difficult for outsiders who have not been subjected to such sustained decades-long abuse and intimidation to understand. But they were also victims, and they carried the scars of that victim-hood in their hearts and minds; victim-hood is not something that can be erased overnight. And, in spite of what so much of Arab political culture has been trying to persuade us of in recent years – and not only Arab culture – it has to be emphasized there is no virtue in victim-hood; it is a terrible affliction, not a moral quality. It degrades us as citizens and as human beings. And so the question arises: How did these victims-become-citizens handle themselves in the two elections under consideration?
Michael Berube, The Left at War, New York University Press
The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, Semiotexte
Tom McDonough, ed., The Situationists and the City, Verso
The three works under consideration here – the first, a survey of assorted leftist interventions from the past couple of decades, the second, a political sensation from a couple of years ago, the third, an assemblage of texts from the 50s and 60s – have nothing to do with anything in the news now. But, taken together, they tell us enough about where we are. It isn’t good.
Prologue: New York Story
I went in for the matzo ball soup and ended up married to a Muslim. I met my wife-to-be while she was working as a hostess at Carnegie Deli. Her New York immigrant story has been in my head as I’ve read political narratives about the “Ground Zero” mosque. I might have given New Republic editor Martin Peretz the benefit of doubt when he wondered whether he should “honor” the people behind the mosque by “pretending they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment when I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse it.” But I knew in my gut he was out to lunch once he’d spelled out his own bias in his now notorious statement: “[F]rankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” When I read that line, I flashed on my wife leading me around a Senegalese Sufi cemetery on a blindingly hot day in search of her beloved grandmother’s grave.
Tony Judt lost his courageous battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Shortly before his death, he appeared on the Charlie Rose program, strapped to a chair, speaking through an enabling device with astonishing force and clarity on a wide range of subjects. I can’t imagine anyone, whether critic or admirer, unmoved by the scene.
Politics in the United States and Great Britain are again marked by intense hostility toward the expanded role of modern liberal states. Since most opponents of public investment are simultaneously enthusiastic consumers of many of its results—for example, public education—the feebleness of most defenses of public investment is usually hard to understand. But not always, because it is notoriously difficult to persuade people one cannot be bothered to understand, or toward whom one is visibly contemptuous.
Carmelita Estrellita has a dozen songs in the new “First of the Year: 2010”. Here’s a snap-shot of her life and times and five bonus tracks.
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
Robin D. G. Kelley
THE PARK PLAZA CHRONICLES OF VINCENT LIVELLI
Introduction by Robert Farris Thompson
Park Plaza essay by Vincent Livelli
Postscript by Pablo E. Yglesias
Edited by Robert Farris Thompson and Pablo E. Yglesias
When Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng missed his second of two free throws with two seconds remaining and his team leading 108-106 in the third game of the Chicago-Cleveland first round NBA playoff series, it was clear LeBron James would not have an overtime period of five minutes in which to add to his total of 39 points.
A week is a long time in politics, as Tip O’Neil once said.
Rudolph Wurlitzer’s novels have moved a generation of writers and rockers. He’s carried his themes and dreams along the “celluoid trail,” writing screenplays for memorable movies such as “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Little Buddha,” “Walker” and “Candy Mountain.” His latest novel, “The Drop Edge of Yonder,” is a book (as per Patti Smith) “you watch as you read, cast the film as you reread, and create a sequel as you sleep.” Scott Spencer has wondered at “Yonder” too: “I have never read anything like it. Every page transports the reader from the cerebral to the visceral and back again, until you start to feel that in the end there is no difference between the two.” Take the following chapters from Wurlitzer’s soulful trip as an invite to get “Yonder” .
Willie Mitchell: 1928-2010
Willie Mitchell slipped away this January 5 just past. Trumpet player, bandleader, songwriter, he was foremost a producer. Not a celebrity producer, he was better than that.
In 2007, in the midst of a glut of anti-Iraq-War plays, experimental theatre venue P.S. 122 presented the most challenging piece of political theatre that I’ve seen performed in New York in my lifetime: Young Jean Lee’s Church.
Fifty years ago, the Israeli film industry was largely churning out pro-Zionist propaganda films (Ephraim Kishon being the rare exception). To represent its face to the world in 2010, Israel brought to the Academy Awards an Arab-language flick co-directed by a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli, focusing largely on inter-Arab issues; Ajami was one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category.
The Palestinian co-director has been called a collaborator. Israel’s nominating committee has been demonized as a pack of lefties. But something is changing on the streets of Jaffa, whose citizens have been given, in Ajami, both a mirror in which to behold their own community and an international voice.