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01/05/2007

Magazine Roundup

Al Hayat | Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | Merkur | The New Statesman | Le Nouvel Observateur | Gazeta Wyborcza | Il Foglio | The Spectator | Nepszabadsag | Artnet | The Economist | Le point | HVG | De Groene Amsterdammer | Outlook India | Magyar Hirlap | The New York Times


Al Hayat 29.04.2007 (Lebanon)

Dalal al-Bizri reports of a debate surrounding the unlawful decision of an Egyptian school principal to insist that head scarves be worn by Muslim and Christian female students. Even the Muslim brothers are appalled, asserting that the young women would of course opt to wear the headscarf voluntarily. Bizri objects. "The saying 'the headscarf is a question of personal choice' could – with caution – be applied to Muslim women who wear the headscarf in the West – who feel no pressure from the family or community, the school or the mosque and are able to decide for themselves and who see in the headscarf an answer to what they perceive as an attack of Western civilization. But anyone here in the Orient talking about the scarf as a sign of personal freedom is obviously unaware of the enormous pressure that's exerted here to view the scarf as a religious duty and to damn unveiled women. (.) Are we to wait until armed militias appear in the streets and kill all the unveiled – Muslims and Christians? Until pamphlets are being handed out: 'veil or death' as is the case in the 'Islamic emirate' of Iraq, as the Islamicists call it?"

Really we should be laughing about the current trial of the two Syrian opposition members Anwar al-Bunni and Michel Kilo, writes Nahla al-Shahal. But as indescribably absurd as the accusations may be, the example of other members of the opposition teaches us better. "When they finally came out of jail, their lives and families were utterly destroyed – it was a real death sentence, nothing less."


Prospect 01.05.2007 (U.K.)

The problems in the Near and Middle East are being exaggerated, says Edward Luttwak, military expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. The Israel-Palestine conflict is unfortunate but limited and oil is not going to get more expensive. And it's impossible to help the other Islamic countries anyway. "The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognize that backward societies must be left alone, as the French now wisely leave Corsica to its own devices, as the Italians quietly learned to do in Sicily, once they recognised that maxi-trials merely handed over control to a newer and smarter mafia of doctors and lawyers. With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them."

"What is wrong with the modern literary novel? Why is it so worthy and dull? Why is it so anxious? Why is it so bloody boring?", asks author Julian Gough and provides the answer: because we think mistakenly that the tragedy is superior to comedy. The Greeks knew better...


Tygodnik Powszechny 29.04.2007 (Poland)

All of Poland is talking about a new five-year plan: by the time of the European soccer championships of 2012, colourful stadiums, broad highways and countless hotels are supposed to go up. Journalist Marek Bienczyk shares the enthusiasm: "At this point, the future is opening to us. Suddenly we're getting excited about what's coming, everything makes sense again. The plans, this technological Messiah, our traditional belief dressed digital allows us to work towards fulfillment. We're already talking about a national achievement, the myth of instant modernisation has its five minutes..." Already it's clear, Bienczyk warns: There are going to be alarmist warnings, investments are going to remain virtual and the second subway line in Warsaw is going to be a tram but, "It's going to work, it's going to work somehow."



Merkur
01.05.2007 (Germany)

Klaus Laermann considers the changing function of writing. He sees in all the graffiti, printed T-shirts and omnipresent labels a regressive attitude to the written form. "This new indifference to writing presents itself as carefree or aggravated nonsense which doesn't expect to be anything more. There seems to be a collective sense, at times cheery, at times furious, that there is no such thing as meaning. Writing has become an accessory to the loss in meaning, not lamenting the phenomenon but rather allowing itself to be reduced to its signal effect as an attention-getter, introducing a new form of speechlessness."


The New Statesman 30.04.2007 (U.K.)

The cover story is devoted to Pakistan, where militant Islamicists are gathering ever more steam. Ziauddin Sardar reports of a new generation of Taliban which rules over several parts of the country. "The new generation of militants are all Pakistani; they emerged after the US invasion of Afghanistan and represent a revolt against the government's support for the US. Mostly unemployed, not all of them are madrasa-educated. They are led by young mullahs who, unlike the original Taliban, are technology- and media-savvy, and are also influenced by various indigenous tribal nationalisms, honouring the tribal codes that govern social life in Pakistan's rural areas."

Other articles: Author Kamila Shamsie tries to make sense of the fundamentalists who kidnap supposedly immoral Pakistanis and threaten them. William Dalrymple presents a foundation of Pakistani business people, The Citizens Foundation, which is trying to provide Pakistani children with a good and secular education. Journalist Brian Cathcart considers the popular genre of obituaries as one of the greatest accomplishments of British journalism: "... the newspaper obituary is experiencing a golden age, so that if you are distinguished or interesting in any way, there has never been a better time to die".


Le Nouvel Observateur 26.04.2007 (France)

During a quite amicable chat about the "other Europe," Andrzej Stasiuk suddenly flew into a rage when two journalists from the Nouvel Obs asked him if there was a "yearning for Europe“ in ex-communist countries: "But Communism is a purely European reality! It was invented here, and it was here that they tried to implement it. It's just not possible to say that Communism was over there, and Europe was over here. That's just another Iron Curtain in European minds – this belief that Communism was 'somewhere else.' It was here, among us, and so it is just as much a part of the European heritage as the Renaissance, the Baroque period and the castles on the Loire. And on top of that, I don't quite get what you mean by 'yearning for Europe.' Is that supposed to mean that we wish you'd come here to civilize us? So we can learn how to wash ourselves, to cut our hair, and represent a laicistic and liberal world view?"

Also in the Nouvel Obs: The anti-liberal essayist Michel Onfray, who runs a very biting blog against Nicolas Sarkozy, reports on a fundamentally flawed debate that the two were supposed to conduct for a magazine.


Gazeta Wyborcza 28.04.2007 (Poland)

"After 1989, the knowledge of German history and present and society was an advantage for Poland in its bilateral relations. Today this knowledge is being challenged for political reasons. Deep trenches that have been caused by off-the-cuff remarks and false accusations are making it difficult to talk about an easy future for German-Polish neighbourhood," writes political scientist Anna Wolff-Poweska. She is particularly concerned about the negative stigmatisation of a part of the liberal elite which supports bilateral reconciliation and understanding. The developments of the last 17 years are being re-assessed and the politics with the neighbours are being called "too soft." Wolff-Poweska hopes that attempts will be made to understand Germany rather than simply raising fears of it.

Poland is also hosting a debate about the legacy of communism. A new law is likely to usher in a wave of new street names, and some prominent figures in Polish culture may lose their memorials or their place in school names and the like - due to their proximity to the communists or their origins. Pawel Smolenski refers to a "cleansing of the landscape", which will be driven to conclusion by the conservative revolution. Already in 1990, the joke did the rounds that the head of the Dscherschinski monument in Warsaw could be removed and a Sienkiewicz monument would be pretty much done."


Il Foglio 28.04.2007 (Italy)

Camillo Langone considers "Terra matta", the autobiography of the widely-traveled, chaotic and orthographically creative Sicilian adventurer Vincenzo Rabito to be the essence of Italianness. "Florence 1920: and so we soldiers are stationed in Palazzo Vecchio. We have to defend this palace. If the communists come with their red flags, we have to shoot them and if the fascists come and raise their black flags, we have to shoot them. Basically, we're in the middle of two revolutions."

In New Zealand, Ugo Bertone witnesses a deep attachment to the Fiat Cinquecento, which is called "snow kitty" (the 500 is very beloved in Liechtenstein). Carlo Panella considers the beheading of those kidnapped in Iraq to be a new ritual of Islamicism and not just an execution.


The Spectator 28.04.2007 (U.K.)

Christopher Howse meets the 86 year old anthropologist Mary Douglas, who has a lot to say about terrorists based on her studies of society's value systems. "'Enclavists have formed a group of like-minded friends who reject the rankings, formalities and inequalities of the outside society. Their culture is radical and angry.' Al-Qa'eda and its extremist predecessors are examples of enclavists in action. They might become dangerous when the enclave leaves mainstream society - like Mohammed shaking the dust of Mecca from his feet and setting off with the faithful remnant for Medina and the beginning of a new era."

Two articles that the continental European reads with bewilderment: Liam Byrne, Minister of immigration and citizenship calls on the English (not the British!) to do more against the threat of Scottish independence. And Hywell Williams, after analyzing the Welsh Labour government which he thinks has done nothing good for his country, suggests independence for Wales as well. Shouldn't the threat of a dissolution of the United Kingdom be cause for a larger debate – between the English, the Welsh and the Scottish? Are we missing something here?


Nepszabadsag 28.04.2007 (Hungary)

After loud protests over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from the centre of Tallinn the Estonian government has announced that the memorial will be re-erected in a war cemetery. Estonia was annexed by the USSR in 1940 under the terms of the Hitler Stalin pact. In 1941, Estonia was occupied by the German army and then re-conquered by the Soviet army in 1944. Many Estonians claim that the Soviet occupation was worse than the German one. Gabor Miklos comments: "Middle Europe is full of controversial monuments. Germany is the only country where nobody seems to be bothered by them. In all the other countries, a lot of people say that Soviet memorials are unacceptable. The protests in Tallinn and the criticism from Moscow show that politicians want to manipulate not only history books but also people's feelings... On the one hand, there's a major power and on the other, a little republic, even if it's supported by the West. The real victim of the debate are the Russians in Estonia, a minority in a country that wants to experience a national renaissance."


Artnet 26.04.2007 (Germany)

Only three artists have been confirmed officially by documenta so far, writes Ludwig Seyfarth, but of course he knows more and suggests categorization into official and publicly recognized artists, as well as between silent and likely participants. "Official means, in the broadest sense of the word, something like 'confirmed.' Public and silent participants will also have received 'official' confirmations from documenta, which are not communicated openly. In that respect, they are actually official, but in this sense silent participants. And then there are still artists whose names cannot be officially released because no one recognizes their names – take for example an anonymous Persian painter of miniatures from the 14th century." Of course, the most interesting aspect of Seyfarth's article is the list of artists: From Saadane Afif to Gerhard Richter, from J.D. Okhai Ojeikere and Ai Wei Wei to Artur Zmijewski.


The Economist 26.04.2007 (U.K.)

If it remains so dry in Australia, the farmers around the Murray Darling River will not be able to irrigate their fields, writes the Economist, which is now looking at how climate change will affect the fifth continent. "The drought knocked one percentage point off Australia's growth rate last year, by the government's reckoning. It is paying out A$2m ($1.7m) a day in drought-relief to farmers. If mature vines and fruit trees die in the coming months through the lack of water, the economic fallout will be more serious and lasting. Most alarming of all, the Murray-Darling's troubles are likely to worsen. As Australia's population continues to grow, so does demand for water in the cities and for the crops that grow in the river basin. Meanwhile, global warming appears to be heating the basin up and drying it out."


Le point 26.04.2007 (France)

Of course the magazine is dominated by the French elections. In his column, Bernard-Henri Levy examines the marginalization of the extreme left among the French socialists, as it moves towards „Godesbergization“ (the Godesburg Program of the German Social Democratic Party officially rejected Marxist ideology in 1959): "Michel Rocard, Bernard Kouchner and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were right, if perhaps too quick. If on one hand you look at the breakthrough of Francois Bayrou and on the other hand the breakdown of the extreme left wing, a conclusion emerges: there no longer is a left governmental majority that enjoys the support of the far left. The strategies of the 'gauche plurielle' or even the 'union de la gauche' are things of the past. To put it another way: The left can continue to win, but only if it aligns itself with a third – centrist – party."

The same issue features a long discussion with the great historian of ideas, Jean Starobinski, who is producing a book about "The Gift."


HVG 25.04.2007 (Hungary)

Russia is turning into a dictatorship, says opposition politician Irina Chakamada, vice president of the National Democratic Union of Russia, in an interview with Moscow correspondent Andras Nemeth. "Officially there may be several parties, but there is no competition between them. It is always clear that the governing party wins the election. We live under constant pressure; the regime does not tolerate other opinions. There are no real political alternatives, there are no political platforms in Parliament, you cannot found oppositional parties – in essence, we've established the Russian version of China." But the Russians "are not Chinese, we don't have a Confucian tradition. We are Europeans, even if some people call that into question."


De Groene Amsterdammer 28.04.2007 (Netherlands)

Yves Desmet, head of the award winning Belgian newspaper De Morgen, puts his Dutch neighbor on the analyst's couch. "The old feeling of dominance has cracked. Since then, another side of the Dutch psyche, their assertiveness, has surfaced." Holland, so open and tolerant before the fated year of 2002, has turned into the land of raw debates, a land where, according to Desmet, "everything has to be thought over and stated." But actually the difference is smaller than it first appears: "It has something to do with the fundamentalism genetically anchored in the Dutch people's souls, through the Protestant faith. If the Dutch decide that they will be the most tolerant country in the world, then that is what they are. And if they decide that it's enough – then it really is enough."


Outlook India 07.05.2007 (India)

The publisher of the Indian edition of Marie Claire, Shefalee Vasudev, criticizes a supreme court decision whereby withholding of sexual relations is a "mental cruelty" and therefor ground for divorce: "The judgement seems to suggest that anyone who denies sex in marriage can only do so if he or she has a physically valid reason. Sex, the most volatile of exchanges in marriage, and perhaps the most complex, now has a charter to live up to. What's also surprising about this ruling is that it does not regard 'mere coldness, lack of affection, jealousy, selfishness or possessiveness' as cruelty. It adds: 'Even less can mere incompatibility or differences in temperament, personality or opinion be elevated to the grounds of divorce.'" Vasudev finds that the new sensitization of the law regarding divorce, and paradoxically also regarding forced sex within marriage, shoots way past the mark.

Furthermore: An excerpt from Ramachandra Guha's book, "India After Gandhi," serves as an opener to the 60th birthday of the country on 15 August. The book tells the history of the world's largest democracy. In another contribution, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promotes "religious harmony" instead of mere tolerance. And Pavan K. Varma celebrates the compositions of Khushwant Singh, translated from the Urdu.


Magyar Hirlap 25.04.2007 (Hungary)

The year 1989 was not a "system change" – the current term used in Hungary for the fall of the Communist state. Rather, it was merely a transition, says lawyer Peter Techet. "To us, system change means a complete separation from the previous system. But 1989 was only a constitutional transition: from one political system accepted as legal, to a new one based on the legitimation of the previous system. If there was a real break, then it only lasted a few seconds, when Matyas Szürös, the first president of the newly formed Republic, called it into being on 23 October 1989. Of course that does not mean that we continue to live under communism today. The former system dissolved itself gradually in the early 1980s, transitioning to an unbridled capitalism through a formal act, without a real break. Either we accept the constitutional transition with the consequences that we have experienced over the last 17 years or we have to try to find a completely new moral basis for a new politics."

Which is the main tourist attraction of Central Europe – Prague or Budapest? Prague won that contest long ago, writes the paper. To catch up, Budapest plans to spend 800 million euro by 2013 for the modernization of inner-city districts. "Prague is way ahead of Budapest, and we're still mulling over how to take it from here."


The New York Times 29.04.2007 (USA)

In the New York Times magazine, Jon Mooallem introduces the successful fetish website Kink.com, amazed by the self-confidence of the online porn industry: For most employees, it's a career like any other. "Later that afternoon, waiting for Wild Bill to be fitted with a gag, Cohen told me that a disproportionate number of Kink employees, himself included, graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. 'And that’s funny,' he said, because he felt the faculty there was trapped in a very 1970s, anti porn mind-set. Another, more recent Santa Cruz grad overheard our conversation and disagreed. The two debated it. Cohen told her that all of his professors had read way too much Andrea Dworkin. 'Everything there is like a Marxist-feminist analysis,' he said dismissively."

James Traub delves deep into the world of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Their religion is moderate, he says, their politics sensible - as long as you don't mention Israel. "But the Muslim Brotherhood, for all its rhetorical support of Hamas, could well be precisely the kind of moderate Islamic body that the administration says it seeks. And as with Islamist parties in Turkey and Morocco, the experience of practical politics has made the brotherhood more pragmatic, less doctrinaire. Finally, foreign policy is no longer a rarefied game of elites: public opinion shapes the world within which policy makers operate, and the refusal to deal with Hamas or Hezbollah has made publics in the Islamic world dismiss the whole idea of democracy promotion. Even a wary acceptance of the brotherhood, by contrast, would demonstrate that we take seriously the democratic preferences of Arab voters."

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