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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Indispensable Men

A 70’s piece on The Uses of James Baldwin by Benjamin DeMott takes on a new resonance after a viewing of No Direction Home. Baldwin figures in the Dylan documentary because he was a presence in Greenwich Village during the 50s and 60s, but these two bohemian culture heroes shared more than a social context as the opening lines of DeMott’s article suggest:

Pity spokesman: their lot is hard. The movement of their ideas is looked at differently, studied for clues and confirmations, seems unindividual – less a result of personal growth than of cultural upsurge.

DeMott defined a range of difficulties faced by any artist who went public in the 60s including one problem having “to do with expense of spirit”:

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Bad Faith

Start with Katha Pollitt. In the April 18 issue of The Nation, she unsurprisingly holds forth (unsurprisingly) on the controversy surrounding Theresa Schindler Schiavo. She comes down, of course, on the side of pulling the tube (or as she nicely says, “Schiavo’s feeding tube was withdrawn”). There’s no real argument offered, but she makes it clear that she’s not happy with what she sees on the other side:

The Terri Schiavo freak show is so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism.[1]

It’s all there. Contrary arguments are “crazy” and needn’t be engaged. Religion is “religiosity.” Hypocrisy is this: juxtapose two facts, assume dishonesty, and you’re set. Tabloid sensationalism is the other guy discussing a hot story; what Pollitt does is “debate.”

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Back in the Day

When we were boys
We called each other “Man”
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise

We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments
Shiny Florsheim or Stacy Adams shoes
Carried our dancing gait
And flashed our challenge

Breathing our aspirations into words
We harmonized our yearnings to the night
And when old folks on porches dared complain
We cussed them out
under our breaths
And walked away
and once a block away
Held learned speculations
About the character of their relations
With their mothers

It’s true
That every now and then
We killed each other
Borrowed a stranger’s car
Burned down a house
But most boys went to jail
For knocking up a girl
He really             truly             deeply             loved
really             truly             deeply

But was too young
Too stupid, poor, or scared
To marry

Since then I’ve learned
Some things don’t never change:
The breakfast chatter of the newly met
Our disappointment
With the world as given

News and amusements
Filled with automatic fire
Misspelled alarms
Sullen posturings and bellowed anthems
Our scholars say
Young people doubt tomorrow
This afternoon I watched
A group of young men
Or tall boys
Handsome and shining with the strength of futures
Africa’s stubborn present
To a declining white man’s land
As boys always did and do
Time be moving on
Some things don’t never change
And how
back in the day
things were somehow better

They laughed and jived
Slapped hands
And called each other “Dog”

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A Hard Case

Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace by Ralph Peters

Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World by Ralph Peters

Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? by Ralph Peters

Flames of Heaven: A Novel of the End of the Soviet Union by Ralph Peters

The Perfect Soldier by Ralph Peters

The Devil’s Garden by Ralph Peters

Traitor by Ralph Peters

Faded Coat of Blue by Owen Parry

…the Cold War deformed American strategic thought and our applied values beyond recognition. From the amoral defender of Europe’s rotten empires, we descended to an immoral propping up of every soulless dictator who preferred our payments to those offered by Moscow. We utterly rejected our professed values, consistently struggling against genuine national liberation movements because we saw the hand of Moscow wherever a poor man reached out for food or asked for dignity. At our worst in the Middle East, we unreservedly supported–or enthroned–medieval despots who suppressed popular liberalization efforts, thus driving moderate dissidents into the arms of fanatics. From our diplomatic personnel held hostage in Iran a generation ago, to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, we have suffered for our support of repressive, “stable” regimes that radicalized their own impoverished citizens. In the interests of stability, we looked the other way while secret police tortured and shabby armies massacred their own people, from Iran to Guatemala. But the shah always falls.

Would that we could tattoo that on the back of every diplomat’s hand: The shah always falls.

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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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