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29/06/2010

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | La vie des idees | The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Review of Books | Polityka | Magyar Narancs | Rue89 | El Pais Semanal | Das Magazin | openDemocracy | Merkur | Prospect


The New Yorker 05.07.2010 (USA)

Ken Auletta profiles Saad Mohseni, Afghanistan's first media mogul. Born in London, he returned home in 2002 to start up the Moby Group. He is convinced that the only reason his country has not "exploded" is because of the outlet offered by the media. But he has made himself plenty of enemies: the God-fearing, becuase he shows Indian soap operas; the Americans, because he shows images of Abu Ghraib; and the goverment, becuase he went public with the election fraud. "Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, describes the tension between Mohseni's values and those of Afghan traditionalists: 'The country is highly illiterate, highly religious, and highly traditional. And Saad is appealing to and creating a new young group of people in the urban areas. There's a brilliance to what he's doing, but it's also risky. It's a drama. I can't imagine any other country in the world where it would be played out with this much intensity." Mohsehni's entertainment programmes are even more influential than the political ones, as Fazel Ahmad Manawi, the spokesman for the Ulema Council admits: "His two young daughters watch cartoons and children's shows, and he conceded that television often 'improves the way people behave. When my little daughter faces a problem, she calls out, 'Help.' She learned that from TV. Before, she would just cry.'"

Further articles: James Wood introduces David Mitchell's novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet". Peter Schjeldahl writes about an exhibition by the American painter Charles Burchfield in the Whitney Museum. David Denby went to the flicks to see James Mangold's action comedy "Knight and Day" with Tom Cruise – who managed to ruin the film – and Cameron Diaz, and Debra Granik's film "Winter's Bone". The "20 under 40" series continues with "The Erkling" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum as well as poems by Frederick Seidel and Rae Armantrout.


La vie des idees 28.06.2010 (France)

Nora Benkorich introduces the book "Les Arabes et la Shoah", by the Lebanese-French historian Gilbert Achcar, which examines the levels of support and opposition to the Nazi regime and anti-Semitism in the Arab world. In all, Benkorich writes, the book presents a much less extreme picture of the relationship between the Arabs and the Nazis than two German books that came out at the same time in France: "Djihad und Judenhass" (Jihad and Jew-hatred) by Matthias Küntzel and "Halbmond und Hakenkreuz" (crescent moon and swastika) by Martin Cüppers and Klaus-Michael Mallmann which, the critic says, project the collaboratio of Jerusalem's muftis with the Nazis onto the entire Islamic world, and play down other political tendencies which existed at that time. "In general, there were more Arabs fighting for the Allies or interred in Nazi concentration camps than there were volunteers for the Axis powers. This demonstrates, in line with Ashcar, that the aversion of the Arab world towards the Nazis was significant."


The Guardian 26.06.2010 (UK)

Historian Tariq Ali also speaks highly of Gilbert Achcar's book "The Arabs and the Holocaust": "Hillberg, Peter Novick, Tony Judt, Gabi Piterburg, Norman Finkelstein, Amira Hass and numerous others of Jewish origin have warned against the uses being made of the Holocaust in contemporary politics, and not just in Israel. It is short-sighted and counterproductive. It will not help towards a settlement in the region. Nor will official Israeli attempts, mimicked by their apologists in the west, to declare that all those who oppose Israel's repression in Gaza and the occupied territories are anti-semites. Crude propaganda of this sort, which debases history and politics, might even lead some to accept the label as a price to be paid for opposition to Israeli policies. Achcar's volume is a bold attempt to avoid partisanship."

Since leaving his native Colombia 14 years ago, Juan Gabriel Vasquez has been writing obsessively about his country. In an interview he talks to Maya Jaggi about his 2007 novel, 'The Secret History of Costaguana', published in English this month, which looks at the political intrigue surrounding the Panama canal: 'Two of my obsessions came together – a dark moment in Colombian history, and my literary god, who had written about my country, transforming and distorting it.' There is 'no concrete proof that Joseph Conrad even set foot in Colombia', he says. Yet for Vasquez, author of a short biography of Conrad in Spanish, 'The Man from Nowhere, Nostromo'[which is set in the fictional land of Costaguana] is by far the 'best book about Latin America written outside the Spanish language. Conrad realised the place wasn't to be narrated from a psychological realist point of view. It has an exaggerated quality.' Vasquez's novel reflects his obsession with the writing of history. 'History is a tale somebody has told us from a biased point of view; it's only one possibility among many.' Novels 'give another version, recover truths that have been repressed'. The task is to 'make Latin America's past come alive so we can gain some control over our future.'"


Elet es Irodalom 25.06.2010 (Hungary)

The Fidesz faction wants to take advantage of its two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament to change the constitution. In an interview, the jurist and former president of the national broadcasting association, Laszlo Majtenyi, defends the current constitution: "This constitution might be full of unfortunate technical errors due the imperfect expertise of the constitutional legislators who wrote it. But it is an incredibly strong and lively constitution which represents pristine, modern and European values. Now we are getting ready, as we suffer under our own powerlessness, under widespread corruption, to destroy this singular achievement. [...] How ironic that the former revolutionaries, the heroes who contributed to the collapse of communism, Victor Orban included, should be pushing forward this destruction and destroying themselves in the process. This is post-modern politics where the revolutionary destroys the system he created."


The New York Review of Books 15.07.2010 (USA)

Tim Parks cannot share the enthusiasm expressed by either Aleksandar Hemon in his anthology "Best European Fiction 2010" or Edith Grossman in her essay "Why Translation Matters" for the translation of international literature. He is annoyed by this form of literary anti-imperialism and points out that even in Germany, it is mostly American genre novels that get translated, to the detriment of literary diversity. "Each writer appeals confidently to an international liberal readership at the expense of provincial bigotry and hypocrisy. This is equally true where humor is renounced for more direct denunciation: Polish writer Michal Witowski recounts the fate of a Slovak rent boy in Vienna; Croatian Neven Usumovic tells of an illegal immigrant in Budapest tortured by local youths and eventually rescued by the local Chinese. It is as if literary fiction didn't so much reflect other cultures, obliging us to immerse ourselves in the exotic, but rather brought back news of shortcomings and injustices to an international community that could be relied upon to sympathize. These writers seem more like excellent foreign correspondents than foreigners. Across the globe, the literary frame of mind is growing more homogeneous."

It was painful enough that Ian Buruma had to witness his old friend Christopher Hitchens shedding his Trotzkyist anti-Vietnam sympathies in favour of the neo-con attire of the Iraq war supporter and the enemy of religion. Now, reading his memoirs "Hitch 22", he cannot stomach Hitchens' penchant for polemics: "Politicians and people Hitchens disapproves of are never simply mentioned by name; it is always the 'habitual and professional liar Clinton,' 'he pious born-again creep Jimmy Carter,' Nixon's 'indescribably loathsome deputy Henry Kissinger,' the 'subhuman character'Jorge Videla, and so on. What this suggests is that to Hitchens politics is essentially a matter of character. Politicians do bad things, because they are bad men. The idea that good men can do terrible things (even for good reasons), and bad men good things, does not enter into this particular moral universe."


Polityka 23.06.2010 (Poland)

Two weeks ago the writer Andrzej Stasiuk explained in Przekroj why he had no interest in the presidential elections in Poland. (Salon has since translated the article into English). He even shook his head at his own mother's interest in politics. The majority of Poles, however, see things like Madame Stasiuk, according to Janina Paradowska (here in German): "Despite all the complaining about the lacklustre election campaign, Poles took to the polls in historic numbers. A 55 percent turnout in the first round is almost unheard of. This is one of the biggest surprises in these elections and at the same time, it proves that the citizens sensed that these elections were extremely important, perhaps the most important they have been for years – even if in the run up to the first round, there seemed to be little to differentiate between the candiates.


Magyar Narancs 17.06.2010 (Hungary)

Iceland is working on a law that will create a sort of "free media haven" (more here) for the press. In Hungary, the exact opposite is happening, according to Miklos Haraszti in an interview about the Hungarian media laws. When asked whether it is possible to stand up against the state, Haraszti answers: "This is entirely dependent on the press. ... When a new electoral law was introduced in Slovakia, the papers protested by leaving their front pages blank; this has also happened in Italy and Kyrgyzstan. There is enormous power in the outrage that collects when the press and the internet come under siege, when radio and TV is suppressed, when the public broadcaster is humiliated, when the public are taken for fools - and enormous moral power when you have all this behind you."


Rue89 27.06.2010 (France)

"It is the reader who decides on a newspaper's independence", and not its owner, according to the media historian Patrick Eveno in an interview conducted on the eve of the impending takeover of Le Monde by a consortium of bidders. Eveno also goes into details about the French media which date back to WWII, when the newspapers were handed over to political groups to secure their futures with state rather than private funds. He gives the example of Le Figaro, which lost 80 percent of its readers between 1924 and 1934. "What I find so amazing about this, is that it shows that not the shareholders but the readers secure the independence of a newspaper. If the public wants a paper it will buy it, if not, it will stop buying it. ... The French find it so hard to grasp this concept because they mistrust capital. People in France believe that capital determines editorial decisions. First of all, you must demonstrate that editorial decisions determine the power of a paper. Being a good journalist is not only about making friends. This is how you secure independence."


El Pais Semanal 27.06.2010 (Spain)

Javier Cercas
ponders the difference between separatist and state nationalism: "Catalan nationalism, Basque nationalism, Spanish nationalism – deep down they are all convinced that on the seventh day, God did not rest but set to work creating their respective nations instead. As for the practical difference between the various strains of nationalism: if one strain of separatist nationalism gets out of hand then one terrorist group will go after the another; but if state nationalism gets out of hand, it will destroy the whole country, as happened in Spain, or half the continent –  in the case of German nationalism. But there is no use fighting nationalism with another form of nationalism. It must be approached like any other irrational belief: with common sense. And this will immediately spot the wooden beam in its own nationalist eye."


Das Magazin
26.06.2010 (Switzerland)

Miklos Gimes reports back from his travels through Hungary, where he saw nothing but paralysis and identity crisis. And the politicians he talked to had a hand in this. Vice President and Jobbik chairman Elöd Novak ("Too much fuss is made of the Holocaust") wants to tackle the "gypsy question" first of all; Orban aide Zoltan Baloch talks about plans to introduced a three-strike law ("But we'll throw a few lefties into jail first"); and the disillusioned Socialist Ferenc Gyurcsany (No other European country has made such a mess of things. We've told nothing but lies for the past 18 months) is immersing himself in social-psychology books to explain his defeat and to steel himself for "eight to ten years in opposition". The situation today reminds him of the Forties: "We are suddenly seeing the country's dark underside, something I never knew existed and which must have been hidden by the Iron Curtain. Roma are being attacked and shot in Hungarian villages, mostly while they sleep. And on the TV, you see men in black uniforms marching through the street like the Hungarian Nazis who deported the Roma. You see a famous Jewish journalist being mobbed at a rally in front of parliament. 'String him up!' the people shout. 'Into the freight wagon with him!' an old woman screams into the cameras."


OpenDemocracy 26.06.2010 (UK)

In a dizzying cascade of questions, science historian Lisbet Rausing shares her concerns about about the future of the library in an age where 80 percent of American college students turn to Google before their university catalogue: "As the Open Web movement has it, an old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The 'new technology' means that the marginal costs of electronic replicas are now nearly zero, triggering a gloriously chaotic disintermediation. Think only of Kindle / Amazon, Google Books, the Expresso Machine, or Mills & Boon's e-books. But the role that the 'old tradition' will play in this arrangement is less often discussed. Scholars publish without direct pay, for the sake of knowledge, with peer recognition and social utility as their reward. In practice, peer recognition reigns foremost. Most scholars are only mildly interested in widening their audiences. This matters, for scholars run archives and libraries, and they run them according to their lights. These institutions do a fine job collecting, but the truth is that their guardians mostly grant access to, well, fellow scholars."

Cas Mudde explains the Geert Wilders phenomenon to the non-Dutch: "The only point on which Geert Wilders truly stands out from the other Dutch parties is his Islamophobia. However, here it is not so much the issue itself, which is widely shared by the Dutch elite and masses (particularly on the right) but its intensity. Wilders, who has lived under twenty-four-hour security protection for several years, has developed tunnel-vision in which everything links to Islam and jihadists are able to do everything they want."


Merkur
29.06.2010 (Germany)

Sociologist Walter Hollstein sets out to reinstate the men who, in books by Albert Camus or George Simmel, demonstrated qualities like courage, care, and will-power instead of only power, violence and abuse today. Refreshingly, Hollstein does not blame it all on feminism. "The power debate in society has dominiated public discussion so thoroughly that other facts have been swept under the carpet. Discrimination against men in many areas of the law, including divorce, custody and alimony gets as little currency in public discourse as the gender-specific inequalities in the military service, pension schemes or safety in the workplace, to name but a few. Men are overrepresented at both ends of the social pyramid. The bulk of the unemployed, unskilled labour, the homeless or the chronically ill are men and yet no one has seen reason to regard this as social injustice."


Prospect 22.06.2010 (UK)

Evgeni Morozov (blog) reviews the book version of Nicholas Carr's infamous "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" article, which has been published as "The Shallows". He thinks Carr's fear that technology is eroding our brains is missing the point; the dangers of social-networking lie elsewhere: "Erosion of privacy; the triumph of the collective mind over the individual and the uncertain future of criticism; the customisation of the web; the blossoming of narcissism; the worsening addiction to technology". And furthermore: "It's not clear how people will cultivate independent taste in such a collectivist environment. Film and restaurant criticism has already been superseded by automated one-line reviews culled from the internet. Judging by the health of the media industry, serious book criticism is also on the way out, clearing the way for Amazon's anonymous reviewers. Overall the internet's effects on critics and intellectuals is little examined—and yet, such issues have far-reaching implications for social and political life."
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