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19/07/2005

Magazine Roundup

L'Espresso | Outlook India | Der Spiegel | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Spectator | Elet es Irodalom | The New Yorker | The Times Literary Supplement | Ozon | Le Nouvel Observateur | London Review of Books | Heti Vilaggazdasag | The New York Times


L'Espresso, 21.07.2005 (Italy)

Relativism, Fundamentalism, Integrationism: Umberto Eco tries to bring some clarity to the present debates about evolution, God and the world and explains why these problems are not being caused by Catholics at the moment. "There can be no such thing as Catholic fundamentalism – which was at issue in the debates during the Reformation – because the Catholics leave the interpretation of the scriptures to the church. Even among the Church fathers there were discussions between the supporters of scriptural literalism and a more open interpretation like the one by Augustin, who had no problems recognizing that the Bible often talks in metaphors and allegories. He didn't have a problem with the idea that the seven days of creation could have taken seven thousand years. And the church has accepted this position."


Outlook India, 25.07.2005 (India)

Sanjay Suri is not surprised that the London bombers were Pakistanis and tries to open the eyes of the naive British to the immense differences within the community generally referred to as "British Asian": "Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis occupy very different worlds behind that smokescreen. The Pakistani world particularly is like no other," argues Suri. Above all, Suri says that the Pakistanis shouldn't be confused with successful Indians. "School results regularly show Pakistanis down at the bottom of the table, at the opposite end to Indians. 'The national average is 50 per cent of students getting the top five grades in GCSE exams,' Prof Muhammed Anwar from the Centre of Research in Ethnic Relations at Warwick University told Outlook. 'For Pakistani and Bangladeshi students it is just 30 per cent, for Indian and Chinese students it's much higher than the national average.'"

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was guilty of a "suicidal lack of political correctness" when he was awarded an honorary doctorate at Oxford University on July 8th. In his acceptance speech he praised the benefits of British colonial rule, sparking considerable debate among historians. Sheela Reddy summarized the arguments.


Der Spiegel, 18.07.2005 (Germany)

In his most recent novel "Saturday", british author Ian McEwan describes a demonstration in London against the Iraq war. As the protagonist's daughter stands among the demonstrators, her father is annoyed by their egocentricity. McEwan explains in an interview why he can identify with the father: "The discussion was not just over the question of war or peace. What was being debated was the continuation of torture, genocide and the abuse of human rights in a fascist state. The peace camp disregarded this. I agreed that the Americans probably didn't have an ideal conception of how to rebuild a nation, but when one thought about what it would mean to leave Saddam in power... I see a moral problem in the fact that hundreds of thousands took to the streets to prevent a war against a fascist state and felt good doing so."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 16.07.2005 (Poland)

"We try too hard to rationalize the behaviour and thought processes of the terrorists", says French Islam observer Olivier Roy in an interview with the Polish daily. "Of course, now they say they acted because of the occupation of Iraq as a way of legitimising their attacks and winning the support of Muslims.... but the terrorists don't want to take their revenge, and they don't want to punish us for what we are. Their aggression is an attempt to stop themselves becoming like us. They live in the West, in the cage of western values and laws that they cannot identify with. What we have been dealing with for the past quarter of a century is a revolutionary chaos, a generational conflict in the Muslim world. It's also the globalisation of Islam." Roy also takes the time to allay the fears of his Polish interlocutor. "With all due respect for Warsaw – your city is not prominent enough to make it a worthwhile target."


The Spectator, 16.07.2005 (GB)

Boris Johnson has no idea what motivated the London bombers. But he believes the West made a mistake: the attempt to sell the Iraq war as a war against terror. "To the paranoid Muslim mind, the obvious bogusness of the ‘war on terror' — in so far as it applied to Iraq — suggested that the war was really about something else: about oil, about humiliating and dominating the Islamic world; and because they make no separation between religion and politics, the bogus 'war on terror' seemed to imply an undeclared war on Islam, and that was an impression that neither Bush nor Blair properly corrected. If the neocon project means democracy throughout the Middle East, and Starbucks, and women being able to drive, then I am an ardent neocon. Just don't call it war."


Elet es Irodalom, 15.07.2005 (Hungary)

The writer Istvan Eörsi says that global terrorism is not the result of religious or ideological conflicts but poverty in the Third World. "We have to recognize that there is a perspective beyond our European-American viewpoint, a perspective that self-defence is justified. Maybe we recoil at their methods, maybe we despise their fanaticism, but we should remember one thing: our methods are no better, our lucrative cynicism is perhaps more entertaining but it is by no means more moral than this murderous fanaticism."

Literary critic Laszlo Bedecs praises "Bumgartesz", the new novel by Vienna-based Jehan Calvus, a writer from the multiethnic region of Transylvania. Calvus has written a novel in the shadow of Jorge Luis Borges, a "novel in essayistic form about the search for the ideal language". The reviewer is clearly happy to lose himself in the labyrinth of associations "from the studios of painters of the Middle Ages to futuristic train stations", because "in this extensive and dense prose the author ironically leaves every sentence unfinished, every thought incomplete and every question incompletely posited. ... The novel's images conjure up the colourful, overfilled, almost surreal world of the films of Peter Greenaway, the extensive graphics, calligraphy and puppet photos lay down a challenge to the muse-like, essayistic and simultaneously playful and ironic text."


The New Yorker, 25.07.2005 (USA)

The unstoppable Seymour Hersh is on the 'money trail' again, this time uncovering campaign spending by certain departments within the American government in support of the Iraqi presidential candidate Ijad Allawi. President Bush officially denied any inolvement: "A former senior intelligence official told me, 'The election clock was running down, and people were panicking. The polls showed that the Shiites were going to run off with the store. The Administration had to do something. How?' By then, the men in charge of the C.I.A. were 'dying to help out, and make sure the election went the right way,' the recently retired C.I.A. official recalled. It was known inside the intelligence community, he added, that the Iranians and others were providing under-the-table assistance to various factions. The concern, he said, was that 'the bad guys would win.'"


The Times Literary Supplement, 15.07.2005 (GB)

It's like a comet hitting earth or Wittgenstein's impact on academic Philosophy. That's the effect that British writer and philosopher Roger Scruton predicts Richard Taruskin's six-volume "History of Western Music" will have on musicology. "Old life is extinguished, new life promoted, and the landscape for ever transformed," he says, "For this is not just a work of academic musicology. It is also, and primarily, a work of cultural criticism, which places Western music in its full historical and literary context. With confident succinctness, Taruskin evokes the time and place of each composer, the currents of thought and feeling that animated the society in which he lived, and the artistic and spiritual expressions that give retrospective form and meaning to his epoch. Envisage Heinrich Wölfflin's art-historical imagination, Donald Tovey's analytical genius and Hugo Riemann's understanding of harmonic function, all deployed by a critical intelligence of the order of T. S. Eliot. And imagine the combination brought entirely up to date, with a sceptical grasp of all the fashionable mantras, from 'metanarratives' to 'the hermeneutics of suspicion'. That, roughly speaking, is Taruskin."


Ozon, 14.07.2005 (Poland)

"I don't know what to make of Tony Blair", confesses Jacek Karnowski in the Polish magazine Ozon. "I just can't figure him out. Just as I think I've worked out who he is, something unpredictable happens that puts him in a completely different light. Even British commentators and the nation itself don't really know what to make of him. Until recently, nobody could stand him. But thanks to the French and Dutch electorates, the IOC and Islamic terrorists he's once again become the leader of the nation."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 14.07.2005 (France)

The Nouvel Obs is starting a new summer series in its debate section: for six weeks scientists and researchers from five continents report on how opening up to other cultures and societies can benefit us. Its kicked off by former pupil and successor of Claude Levi-Strauss at the College de France, the ethnologist and social anthropologist Philippe Descola (more on his work here). In his piece he discussed his research trips to the Jivaros, an Amazonian tribe in Ecuador. Descola, who is mainly interested in the contradictions of nature and culture, writes "The difference between nature and culture is unique to us. (...) Other societies have divided the roles up differently. When a native Indian hunts an animal, it may well be that he's hunting an endangered species. But for a Jivaro the idea of saving an animal is just as absurd as protecting a neighbour. From what? The neighbour with whom he is fighting is simply there, that's all. He's not an endangered species." In the subsequent episodes there'll be reports from Japan, Africa, China, Australia and India.

Anyone who's up for it can do this year's totally demoralizing summer quiz on the French language. But at least you can find the solution in the same edition.


London Review of Books, 21.07.2005 (GB)

Very interesting and accurate is the verdict from Maya Jasanoff on Gautam Chakravarty's monograph "The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination" about events in 1957 and their portrayal in British history books and literature. Jasanoff is especially fascinated by the figure of the Brit dressed-up as an Indian, something the writer links to the British belief in their superiority. "You can almost hear the ‘culturally cross-dressed spy-hero' crying out to postcolonial theorists for analysis. To assess these characters Chakravarty invokes Homi Bhabha's influential essay 'Of Mimicry and Man', on the ways that colonised subjects emulated or adopted the culture of their colonisers. But where Bhabha's mimic men challenge imperial authority by making a mockery of it, Chakravarty argues that these Britons in disguise work to bolster imperial power, to play out a ‘fantasy of mastery and colonial knowledge'. Getting inside the skin of the Indians is the ultimate statement of dominance: knowing them better than they do themselves."


Heti Vilaggazdasag, 13.07.2005 (Hungary)

A large exhibition of Street Art has just opened in Budapest. Taking part are established international artists but also lesser-known groups such as M-City and Vlep(v)net from Poland, Ziga Aljaz from Slovenia, Romanian Stencil Archive and Guerrilla Propaganda from Hungary. Publicist Geza Hars takes the opportunity to break a lance for graffiti: "Why is it that nobody gets upset about the stupidity of giant billboards and subway advertising or the horrible aesthetics of some shop facades? There are fewer and fewer advertising-free spaces around us, and we are increasingly unable to look around us without finding someone trying to sell us something and trying to impose their taste and Weltanschauung on us. And then we get upset about the people who are trying to reclaim a piece of the space that advertising has stolen from us?"


The New York Times, 17.07.2005 (USA)

During the Presidential elections Michael Ignatieff was in Iran to give lectures on democracy and human rights. In the New York Times Magazine he recalls surprisingly self-confident interviewees, professors who just smiled at his godless belief in human rights, and students for whom his reform proposals were too cautious. "The women in the class were not happy with my suggestion that they should reform Shariah from within. 'There should be one law for everybody, not two systems, one of Islamic law and the other of secular law," one student argued. I agree, I said, but it's not obvious how you are going to get there in Iran. The students found this too defeatist. 'We are very glad that you come to our class, professor,' one said to me, 'but you are too nice to the Shariah law. It must be abolished. It cannot be changed.'"
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