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21/08/2007

Magazine Roundup

The New York Times | al-Sharq al-Awsat | Outlook India | The Economist | Gazeta Wyborcza | HVG | Il Foglio | The Guardian | Le Nouvel Observateur | Merkur


The New York Times 19.08.2007 (USA)

In an expansive essay in the New York Times Magazine (in fact, an excerpt from his coming book "The Stillborn God - Religion, Politics and the Modern West") Mark Lilla (more) joins other great Anglo Saxon intellectuals (including Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash) in asserting that only Tariq Ramadan (more) can direct European Islam towards integration. Lilla's essay addresses "political theology" which was also virulent in Christianity until recently and demonstrates that a liberalisation of theology, such as is being recommended by Bassam Tibi (more) is not nearly as attractive. "We prefer speaking with the Islamic liberalizers because they share our language: they accept the intellectual presuppositions of the Great Separation and simply want maximum room given for religious and cultural expression. They do not practice political theology. But the prospects of enduring political change through renewal are probably much greater than through liberalization. By speaking from within the community of the faithful, renovators give believers compelling theological reasons for accepting new ways as authentic reinterpretations of the faith."


Asharq al-Awsat 20.08.2007 (Saudi Arabia/UK)

In an interview, Syrian philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-Azm (more) looks back at the Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel in 1967 and discusses what conclusions are to be drawn from it. Al-Azm's book "Self critique after the defeat" is considered a milestone in Arabic political literature. "We are still suffering from the consequences of defeat. Right up to the present, it has not been possible to look at the root causes of this defeat. First it would be necessary to reform social structures, education and training structures. That's what would be necessary – not military reform." The call for a self-critical look at the own society will not be heeded until the standard of academic research is improved. Al-Azm cites as an example the Israeli Weizmann Institute.


Outlook India 27.08.2007 (India)

Saba Naqvi Bhaumik explains what lead to the attack of author Taslima Nasreen a few weeks ago in Hyderabad. It was provoked by an article by Nasreen in which she explained why she moved to West Bengal, which used to be part of her homeland Bangladesh. "But the origins of the Taslima-bashing episode lie not just in the writer's image. It is also linked to the politics of Hyderabad. This is one fast-developing cyber city where Muslims count because of their sheer numbers. Of the city's 43 per cent Muslims, about one-fourth live in the Old City. This is MIM territory, which the Owaisi family has run like a fiefdom. The family's origins lie in the Razakar movement that had violently opposed merger with the Indian Union."


The Economist 17.08.2007 (UK)

A comprehensive history of the CIA doesn't have much good to say about the American intelligence agency. "Many books have sought to show how badly the Central Intelligence Agency behaves. In this thorough and persuasive study, Tim Weiner describes how poorly it does its job. As a New York Times journalist who has covered espionage for many years, Mr Weiner knows what he is talking about. He does not play down the seamier side—for example, the opening of letters, snooping on critics, trying out drugs on Russian prisoners, plotting to kill foreign leaders and so on. Yet illegality and immorality are secondary concerns. His principal charge is incompetence, and this he pursues with the zeal of a prosecutor. The most powerful country in the world, he complains, has yet to develop 'a first-rate spy service'."


Gazeta Wyborcza 18.08.2007 (Poland)

Anthropologist Joanna Tokarska-Bakir explains why the Kaczynski government would like to orient itself to Israel in its policy on history. "Prime Minister Kaczynski has often expressed his sympathy for this little country, which has achieved so much in so few decades. Israel's symbolic capital is based on the martyrdom of a nation for which the entire world feels responsible. Should we then be surprised that a country that lost several million people in the same war – the same people to a large degree – wants to imitate Israel's well-practiced methods in improving its image?" The flipside of this strategy is the individual appropriation of suffering through state policies that prevent a real working through of national traumata at the national level.


HVG 16.08.2007 (Hungary)

In the 1960s, Hungarian filmmaker Miklos Jancso became famous internationally for his idiosyncratic camera work and his expressionist image compositions. Since the end of communism, he has mostly made angry comedies. You cannot but laugh about the present, says Jancso in an interview with Tamas Vajna. "Admittedly, cutting a caper is also age-related. When you're a child, you think you are going to live forever and you take yourself extremely seriously. When the end of your life is in sight, you wonder what it was all about." In the meantime, films have become part of everyday culture, continues Jancso, and filming has become an elementary cultural skill: "The language of films has become an everyday form of expression. The camera has acquired the meaning that used to belong to the pen. What Alexandre Astruc, a representative of the French Nouvelle Vague, predicted has indeed come true. Last year, Kapolcs hosted the first festival which showed nothing but films made on cell phones."


Il Foglio 18.08.2007 (Italy)

Tommaso Piffer tells the story of Roberto Anderson, an Italian engineer, who emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1924. Anderson was one of hundreds of Italians whose communist convictions led them to flee the Mussolini regime. In the Soviet Union, however, they found themselves in an awkward position. "Emilio Guarneschelli, for instance, a native of Turin, emigrated first to France, then to Belgium and eventually to the USSR, where he attended courses in Marxism-Leninism, the history of class struggle and the Communist Party. His courage to call a spade a spade cost him his life. Pompeo Nale, in contrast, had been active in the socialist party since his early youth; he had been involved in the assassination of a fascist before emigrating to the UdSSR. When he was arrested and charged with Trotzkism, he was accused of having organised the murder in order to appear as an anti-fascist while really being nothing but a spy. He was shot in Butovo in March 1934. And then there is Aldo Gorelli from Milan, whom Antonio Roasio called 'morally sick' and 'dissatisfied'. His remains can be found at the local cemetery of Kommunaeka."


The Guardian 18.08.2007 (UK)

Feminist literary scholar Germaine Greer has written a controversial book on Shakespeare's often ridiculed wife, Ann Hathaway, which will be published at the beginning of September. The Guardian presents a pre-print, in which Greer wonders whether Hathaway may have read Shakespeare's sonnets: "There are some who want to believe that Ann reproached her husband for blazoning abroad his infidelities, others that she nagged and railed and drove him further out of her life. She is as likely to have refused to read the sonnets or to have them read to her. She was, after all, part of his reality, not his fantasy. My own feeling is that she was indeed given a copy of the sonnets and not by her husband, that at first she scorned to read them behind his back, and when she did begin to read them, she was shaken, moved and impressed. Some she would have seen before, but not all. Then she would have tucked the little book deep inside the coffer where she kept her own possessions, opened her Bible and prayed for them both."


Le Nouvel Observateur 16.08.2007 (France)

In a dossier on philosophers and women, the Nouvel Obs examines how great thinkers from the Greeks onwards have struggled with the so-called feminine mystique. Asked whether male thinkers from Plato to Derrida were ultimately mysogenous, (female) philosopher Francoise Collin explains why the other sex has so often been degraded or misunderstood. "There are neither 'evil' nor 'good' philosophers. But no one really looks for an explanation of the fact that women are considered a minority even though they outnumber men. Except Marx, of course, who believes that sexism will disappear once capitalism is overcome. What is striking is the fact that all of them, despite often contrary assumptions, arrive at the same justification for female inferiority. ... Aristotle is often considered the sexist par excellence."


Merkur 20.08. 2007 (Germany)

The new special issue of Merkur is entitled "No Will to Power. Decadence." In their introduction, the editors explain that they are not interested in traditional European theories of decadence that are modelled on decline and fall. "What we are interested in are topical and historical descriptions of specific symptoms of cultural depression; symptoms whose perception did not require the writings of Islamic fundamentalist propaganda to become perceptible."

Karsten Fischer's article shows that looking at Islamic fundamentalist writings nonetheless doesn't hurt. Fischer describes Western anti-liberalism as an "export hit": "The contemporary virulent fundamentalistic discourse on decadence is fed by nothing else but this occidentalist anti-liberalism. The Islamic fundamentalist ideologist Sayyid Qutb assumes a central position in this debate, and his contemporary influence can hardly be overestimated, extending as far as Osama Bin Laden. Qutb's thinking is obsessed with phantasmagorias of an omnipresent decadence - in the Orient as a precondition for colonialism, in the Occident as its incentive. Even Roman antiquity was marked by a civilian religious quest for prosperity that is characteristic of Western thinking. Qutb counters this tendency by proclaiming a jihad to reconstitute God's sovereignty and authority. This way, the discourse on decadence undergoes a secondary sacralisation by Islamic fundamentalism; all concise terms of fundamentalistic cultural critique, it turns out, are sacralised political terms."
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