Archive for the 'africana' Category

Oh, This Is Just Blissful

February 25th, 2011

From A Proposal for Expanding the Dialogue around the Ideas of Muammar Qadhafi [pdf available through this page]:

2: Additional Expert Visits The project will include further visits of key experts for direct conversations with Muammar Qadhafi. For example:

• Benjamin Barber will return to clarify several questions from previous conversations with Muammar Qadhafi, including the problems with the Western term ‘civil society’ which suggests a separate, autonomous sphere separate from the sovereignty of the people.

• Lord Anthony Giddens will visit to deepen understanding of the merits and problems of direct democracy vs. representative democracy

• Frank Fukuyama remains very enthusiastic about the project and could be invited for a future visit to talk further about the challenges of direct democracy and Libya’s approach.

• We will also arrange additional visits by new experts. We have had positive preliminary conversations with Professor Cass Sunstein (Constitutional Advisor to Barack Obama) and others.

H/t CB.

The Webbs on the Show Trials

February 23rd, 2011

In honour of Anthony Giddens’ fine essay from the New Statesman in 2006 on “The Colonel and his Third Way“, I repost my favourite passage from the second edition of the Webbs’ Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation — the edition for which, famously, the question-mark was removed from the book’s original title:

“To many people in Great Britain, the outstanding feature of the record since 1934 is the series of trials of highly-placed Soviet citizens for high treason. That so many men in high official positions, mostly active participants in the revolution of 1917 and some of them companions of Lenin, should have committed such crimes has seemed to Western observers almost incredible. That in the course of the customary private investigations prior to the judicial trials the defendants should one and all have made full and detailed confessions unreservedly repeated in open court of the guilt not only of themselves but also of their fellow criminals seemed to raise the tragic story to the fantastic madness of a nightmare; it seemed that the confessions must have been forced on the prisoners by torture or the threat of torture.

“A distinguished Irishman hints that what needs explanation is the British procedure in criminal prosecutions, which differs so remarkably from that of all the other nations of Europe. In his view, the conduct of the prisoners in these Russian trials is in full accord with the Russian character. In England, our friend remarks, a prisoner indicted for treason is practically forced to go through a legal routine of defence. He pleads not guilty; his counsel assumes for him an attitude of injured innocence, demanding legitimate proof of every statement and setting up a hypothesis as to what actually happened which is consistent with the prisoner’s innocence. The judge compliments the counsel on the brilliant ability with which he has conducted his case. He points out to the jury that the hypothesis is manifestly fictitious and the prisoner obviously guilty. The jury finds the necessary verdict. The judge then, congratulating the prisoner on having been so ably defended and fairly tried, sentences him to death and commends him to the mercy of his God.

“May not this procedure, which seems so natural and inevitable to us, very intelligibly strike a Russian as a farce tolerated because our rules of evidence and forms of trial have never been systematically revised on rational lines? Why should a conspirator who is caught out by the Government, and who knows that he is caught out and that no denials or hypothetical fairy tales will help him to escape – why should he degrade himself uselessly by a mock defence, instead of at once facing the facts and discussing his part in them quite candidly with his captors? There is a possibility of moving them by such a friendly course: in a mock defence there is none. Our candid friend submits that the Russian prisoners simply behave naturally and sensibly, as Englishmen would were they not virtually compelled not to by their highly artificial legal system. What possible good could it do them to behave otherwise? Why should they waste the time of the court and disgrace themselves by prevaricating like pickpockets merely to employ the barristers? Our friend suggests that some of us are so obsessed with our national routine that the candour of the Russian conspirators seems grotesque and insane. Which of the two courses, viewed by an impartial visitor from Mars, would appear the saner?

“Nevertheless the staging of the successive trials, and the summary executions in which they ended appeared strangely inconsistent with the other actions of the Soviet Government. It must have been foreseen that this whole series of trials, the numerous shootings to which they led, the publicity and popular absue of the defendants which the Government apparently organised and encouraged, and especially the malignity with which Leon Trotsky, safe in far-off Mexico, was assailed, would produce a set-back in the international appreciation which the Soviet Union was increasingly receiving. The Soviet Government must have had strong grounds for the action, which has involved such unwelcome consequences.”

Source: Soviet Communism – A New Civilisation by Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Victor Gollancz, 1937), Postscript to the second edition.

Darfur

March 5th, 2007

I think Mahmood Mamdani’s essay in the LRB is well worth a read. I say “I think”, because I don’t really know a great deal about the history and politics of Sudan, or what’s likely to make things better or worse in Darfur in the near future. But it seemed interesting to me, in a gloomy kind of a way.

Press Release of the Day

February 1st, 2007

From Amnesty International:

Amnesty International today called for the immediate and unconditional release of Karim Amer, the first Egyptian blogger to be tried for writing blogs criticizing Egypt’s al-Azhar religious authorities, President Husni Mubarak and Islam.

Karim Amer, a former al-Azhar University student and blogger, is facing up to 10 years in prison for his writings in a trial that resumes today. Charges against him include “spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country‚s reputation”, “incitement to hate Islam” and “defaming the President of the Republic”.

“Karim Amer’s trial appears intended as a warning by the authorities to other bloggers who dare criticize the government or use their blogs to spread information considered harmful to Egypt‚s reputation,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. “This is particularly worrying as bloggers have increasingly been posting information about human rights abuses in Egypt, including torture and police violence against peaceful protesters.”

The trial opened on 18 January 2007 before Maharram Bek Court in Alexandria. Karim Amer was charged under Articles 102, 176 and 179 of Egypt’s Penal Code. Amnesty International has been urging the Egyptian authorities to review or abolish this and other legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for the mere exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion.

“Amnesty International considers Karim Amer to be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views about Islam and the al-Azhar religious authorities. We are calling for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Committees Everywhere!

September 13th, 2006

I’m moving offices at the moment, which means, among other things, going through old boxes of stuff. Here’s something I found in one of them, a label from a Libyan bottle of mineral water:

Joke

December 15th, 2005

An old one, but I’ll use last month’s 40th anniversary of UDI as the spurious peg to hang it on and justify recirculation:

Q: Why is Rhodesia like Oklahoma!?

A: It’s Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top.

In the News, #1

October 20th, 2005

Class Worrier Raj shares his opinions on land reform with the readers of yesterday’s South Africa Mercury.

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