Archive for the 'middle east' Category

Bonnie Honig writes to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

August 24th, 2014

[Letter by Bonnie Honig, hyperlinks added by CB]

Dear Chancellor Wise, (and Members of the Board of Trustees, and the UIUC community of faculty, staff, and students),

I wrote to you when I heard about the Steven Salaita case a couple of weeks ago and hoped you would reconsider. As I told you then, I am Jewish and was raised as a Zionist, and I was moved by the case. I write now in the hope that you might find some measure of empathy for this man. Please bear with me for 2 pages….

I do not know Prof. Salaita, but I must say that as I read about the case I was struck by what I can only describe as a certain smug and uncivil tone in his critics, who seemed very assured about what sort of speech is within the bounds of propriety, and what is not. To be clear: I do not grant that speech that lacks propriety justifies the treatment Prof Salaita has received. I leave that point aside since others — John Stuart Mill, Brian Leiter, others – have ably addressed it.

I want to draw your attention to the issue of “empathy.”

This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children’s teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

That is what I thought. I also, though, felt something. I felt that whoever wrote that tweet was tweeting his own pain. And I felt there was something very amiss when he was chided for his tone, by people who were safely distant from all of it, while he was watching people he maybe knew or felt connected to die as a result of military aggression. This, frankly, seemed evil. And then to have the major charge against him in the UIUC case be that he lacked empathy: now that seemed cruelly ironic. The real charge, it seems to me, is that he suffers from too much empathy.

What kind of a person would Prof Salaita be if he did not respond more or less as he did!? What kind of a teacher? What kind of community member?

Meantime, even under duress, he is careful about a key thing: His published tweets distinguish Zionism from Jews and others. In the one tweet about anti-Semitism, he puts that term in scare quotes. I don’t know if I would be as nuanced were I in the same situation. Certainly many of my Zionist or Netanyahu-supporting friends and relatives are not: they do not take the trouble to make the analogous distinctions in their commentaries on the situation.

Anyone involved in this case who is incapable of empathy for Salaita at the moment could themselves perhaps learn something about empathy from the very person who has been charged with lacking it. May I ask you: Surely you are not incapable of empathy for his plight, both now (stranded between institutions) and in July (watching from afar as people to whom he presumably feels connected die or are wounded)?

May I add, further, that, as befits the picture I have here painted, there is no actual evidence in the teaching record that Prof Salaita lacks the empathy and tolerance expected of teachers in the classroom. The repeatedly stated ‘concern’ that he is lacking in this way is not only unpersuasive. It is also painful because it may well stick: based on nothing but ignorant or self-serving fears, it may well have a lasting impact on a blameless person’s career and fortunes.

Can you not find a way to resolve the situation to the advantage of both UIUC AND Prof. Salaita? Decisions like this one are the sort that haunt the people who make them for years to come, so I hope you will indeed be able to open your heart in your consideration of the matter. It is not too late. At the very least I urge you and UIUC to stop charging Prof. Salaita with being wanting in vague and either irrelevant or personal ways. That just adds insult and injury to injury. Another irony there: your stated position is that words matter, so much so that other commitments must fall before them. So the responsibility to choose them carefully seems to me to land especially heavily on you and your institution. I do not see you rising to that challenge. This too, I want to suggest, should be hard to live with.

In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the thousands of academics worldwide who, regrettably, cannot accept invitations henceforth to speak at UIUC or to do any other sort of support work (tenure or promotion letters etc) for your institution. I say regrettably because I have been happy to visit in the past, as a keynote speaker and lecturer. I hope you can understand my position. Simply put, to act in any other way would be wrong.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor, Brown University, Providence, RI

“In 1994-95 Hannibal’s march on Rome was recreated, though using buses rather then elephants…”

August 17th, 2014

Josephine, over at the LRB blog.

One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

October 18th, 2013

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films – A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry —  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

The Internet Hasn’t Yet Made Up Its Mind Where It Was, Exactly

May 2nd, 2011

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.

Life imitates Python

March 28th, 2008

I’m so worried about what’s happening today, in the Middle East, you know / And I’m so worried about the baggage retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow.

The Full Monty

January 13th, 2008

From my Balliol colleague Adam Roberts’ valedictory lecture, on retiring from the Montague Burton chair in International Relations at Oxford (and reproduced in this week’s Oxford Magazine):

Montague Burton (1885-1952), the great pioneer of mass production tailoring and the benefactor of the chair, was an incurable believer in modernity. In his extensive travels, his notes on which he published privately in two volumes entitled Global Girdling, he demonstrated a love of the modern and, with only a few exceptions, a dislike of antiquity. Visiting the Middle East in the 1930s, he hated the Pyramids and the Wailing Wall. By contrast he loved the railway on which one could glide from Cairo to Tel Aviv and thence to Jerusalem – a symbol of modernity to him that now seems to us to belong to an era long gone. He praise the Jerusalem Electricity Works – and he had no higher terms of praise than this – as ‘reminiscent of Bourneville and Port Sunlight. He was a passionate believer in the League of Nations: 6,000 of the employees at his Leeds factory belonged to the Montague Burton Branch of the League of Nations Union. His progressivism itself looks charmingly antique – as does his belief that if you put all men in suits you would deliver a body blow to the class system. Indeed, he developed ingenious schemes whereby customers could buy not just the suit but all that goes with it – the shirt, the tie, even socks and shows. This is almost certainly the origin of the phrase ‘The Full Monty’. I was tempted to entitle this lecture ‘The Full Monty’, but I don’t believe in encouraging false expectations, especially as by a perverse irony, thanks to Peter Cattaneo’s memorable 1997 film, The Full Monty now means the exact opposite of what it did originally.

Red Tape and Murder

December 12th, 2007

Dan Hardie writes:

David Miliband is the Minister responsible for Government policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, including those in fear of their lives. In a recent webchat on the Number 10website, Mr Miliband was asked the following question by Justin McKeating:

‘I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary why the assistance being offered to locally employed staff in Iraq, who are being threatened with reprisals – including torture and death – from local militias, is being rationed according to length of service. Isn’t it perfectly possible for an Iraqi employee who has only been employed for five months to face the same dangers as a colleague who has been employed for twelve months or longer?’…

[Read the Foreign Secretary's reply, and more, over the fold.]

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Iraqi Employees: Letting Them Die

November 26th, 2007

Dan Hardie writes: I’ve had emails from three people who claim to be – and who almost certainly are- Iraqi former employees of the British Government. All three say that they and their former colleagues are still at risk of death for their ‘collaboration’.

We’ll call the first man Employee One. He worked for the British for three years: ‘I started in the beginning of the war with Commandos (in 30 of March 2003) then continued with 23 Pioneer Regt, and in 08 / 07 / 2003 I have joined the Labour Support Unit (LSU)’. His British friends knew him as Chris. The British Government has announced that he can apply for help if he can transport himself to the British base outside Basra, or to the Embassies in Syria or Jordan. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that there might be problems with this. I can email and telephone this man: so can any Foreign Office official. It should not be impossible to verify his story and then send him the funds he needs to get to a less unsafe Arab country. But that is not happening.

Go over the fold for Dan’s email exchange with Employee One, details of two more cases, and information about what you — what we — can be doing about this.

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Camels, Wheels and Martin Ignoramis

November 5th, 2007

Traffic has recently gone through the roof at the ironically-named Socialist Unity Blog, as Andy Newman has been giving us all invaluable blow-by-blow coverage of the split in the Respect coalition [now here and here]. And having built up a huge readership for the blog, it can finally turn its attention to the issues that matter — so Tawfiq Chahboune has been brooding on the issue that bugged me here and here, concerning Martin Amis, camels and wheels. Continue over the fold for the relevant portion, or visit the original over here.

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On One’s Urges To Deport Muslims, etc.

October 13th, 2007

There’s a helpful round-up of the recent Martin Amis kerfuffle over at Matt‘s place.

All I’ll add is that we need to see the remarks about his urges to stripsearch people who look as if they might be from Pakistan (etc.) in a slightly wider context. Amis is also someone who thinks he can discern murderous intentions towards his family in the glance of an Arab doing his job, who can write things like “the impulse towards rational inquiry is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male”, who seems to absorb Bernard Lewis-like explanations of historical problems when non-crazy explanations are readily available, who recycles inflammatory quotations from Hezbollah’s leader that circulate freely around the internet, but which no-one ever quite manages to trace back to an authentic-looking source, and so on.

(This last one strikes me as weird, because presumably it’s not too hard to find Hezbollah leaders saying offensive things, so why is the very-possibly-made-up quote the one that everyone’s heard somewhere or other?)

We can practice our careful reading skills as much as we like on that particular “urges” passage, and we can be as charitable towards him as we want to be (though we should also bear in mind that there’s a long history of people with really offensive views managing to present them in ways that aren’t quite so offensive on a charitable reading of their words). But Amis also has form here when it comes to saying the kinds of things about Muslims that the real crazies also like to say, and it’d be a shame to lose sight of that fact in the parsing of his words from the interview.

I’m not sure enough about what I really think is going on in Amis’s head (and I’m not interested enough in either him or his books to spend too much time on trying to work it out), but he seems to me to be somewhere on the slippery slope that has Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips festering at the bottom, and it doesn’t look to me as if he’s too anxious to be stepping off it any time soon. (But perhaps I’m being uncharitable.)

Tony Blair, Envoy

October 13th, 2007

This made me laugh, from tehgraun:

“Blair was really astonished and angry,” says the UN official who gave him a presentation on the devastating effects of Israel’s “security barrier”, settlements, checkpoints, and closures on the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. “He asked very smart questions, though I did think that someone who was prime minister for so long should already have known these facts.”

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