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18/04/2006

Magazine Roundup

The New Republic | L'Espresso | Nepszabadsag | Polityka | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | Le Monde diplomatique | The Spectator | Al Ahram Weekly | Die Weltwoche | Le point | The New York Times


The New Republic, 24.04.2006 (USA)

In a very interesting article on Iran, political scientist Matthias Küntzel explains what the fanatic Basiji – which represents President Ahmadinejad's most important bastion – is all about. These "storm troopers of the Islamic Revolution" are what became of the child soldiers that the Ayatollah Khomeini sent into the mine fields of the Iraq-Iran war. "The Basiji's cult of self-destruction would be chilling in any country. In the context of the Iranian nuclear program, however, its obsession with martyrdom amounts to a lit fuse. Nowadays, Basiji are sent not into the desert, but rather into the laboratory. Basij students are encouraged to enroll in technical and scientific disciplines. According to a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Guard, the aim is to use the 'technical factor' in order to augment 'national security.' What exactly does that mean? Consider that, in December 2001, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani explained that 'the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.' On the other hand, if Israel responded with its own nuclear weapons, it 'will only harm the Islamic world.'"


L'Espresso, 20.04.2006 (Italy)

Edmondo Berselli sees little cause for celebration following the narrow victory of Romano Prodi. Much is in disorder and the country is divided. "The final result is a reality check, which brings a few things to light. A dissolution of the middle-right camp has not taken place. And the two swing candidates Gianfranco Fini (AN) and Pier Ferdinando Casini (UDC) were able to protect their own. But what is more important: the political class is facing two Italies, divided by only a few votes and an abyss of hostility. For a long time, Italian society will be bearing the impact of an election which turned into a medieval tribal war and which has left behind traces that will be hard to eliminate."

Andrzej Stasiuk thinks of Belarus at night and the lost demonstrators in Minsk. "Imagine the loneliness of this little group which is protesting against the election fraud in Minsk. Imagine the coldness, the snow, the darkness, the hundreds of policemen, armed to the teeth who are lurking in the darkness. Imagine the absolute loneliness on the outer edge of our continent. They will never believe that they can win. They were certain that they would be brought to silence sooner or later. They don't want anything special, just new elections. They knew quite well that the dictator would win again this time, even without fraud."


Nepszabadsag, 17.04.2006 (Hungary)

A few days before the decisive run-off elections, the defeat of the conservative opposition party Fidesz seems ever more likely. Former supporters of the party blame its leader Viktor Orban and believe they have discovered leftist populism behind his arch-conservative, Euro-sceptical facade. One of the main figures in the National Roundtable talks of 1989, human rights activist and political scientist Peter Tölgyessy comments: "Viktor Orban was the mouthpiece of the anti-Western position of the traditional right-wing camp and the rural population. Rather than addressing the people's desire for a civic Hungary, he built on the instincts that had been fueled by the Kadar regime, the dark side of the Hungarian soul… Viktor Orban distanced himself from the civic ideals of 1989."

"The Hungarian people are not as wise and wonderful as some politicians like to claim, but also not as stupid as those same politicians think," writes Fidesz politician Andras Hont, who sharply criticises the party leader and head of the opposition, Viktor Orban. When Fidesz won the elections in 1998, "it wasn't a single person that won the confidence of the voters but rather an attitude, a mentality. People wanted more individual initiatives rather than national assistance, more creativity and action than the powerlessness and passivity of the Kadar regime, they voted for the citizen who took responsibility for himself and his environment rather than for the irresponsibility of the people in national socialism. Fidesz has forgotten all these ideals... only their appearance lives on."


Polityka, 15.04.2006 (Poland)


From iconoclasm to the Muhammad cartoons - journalist Adam Krzeminski traces the history of visual representations of the divine in Western culture up to the present day. Concerning the discussion about freedom of the press and religion, Krzeminski writes: "There is neither absolute freedom of expression nor an absolute protection of religious feelings. The limits of freedom are defined by the law, not by individual discretion or by extortion by an enraged crowd. In the West, the law is not and must not be the same as religious morality. Therefore the publications of cartoons, even bad ones, cannot be forbidden – which doesn't mean that one shouldn't be allowed to criticise and condemn them."

"In April 1986, the worst imaginable accident in an atomic reactor took place. And? And nothing. 31 people died, fewer than those killed by the caved-in roof at Kattowitz." (news story) Zbigniew Jaworowski, expert for radiation was, at the time, responsible for the protection of the Polish population from the results of the Chernobyl disaster. He considers the "major catastrophe" to be a myth. "In 2000, a UN report which was later confirmed by other UN authorities, certified that the impact of the accident on the incidence of cancer could not be proved. The reaction of the USSR was delayed and hysterical – if less had been done, if the 336,000 people had not been evacuated, less damage would have been done. I can confirm with absolute certainty that nobody in Poland was endangered by the catastrophe. The radiation that reached us had no repercussions on our health." (But the controversial UN report cites 4,000 deaths. Here an interview with Jaworowksi on the same subject and here a paper by him on radiation risk and ethics.)


The Times Literary Supplement, 15.04.2006 (USA)

"Is there such a thing as a British intellectual?" asks Michael Saler after reading Stefan Collini's "clever and entertaining revisionist history" entitled "Absent Minds." The book takes literally J.R. Seeley's famous phrase that the British acquired their Empire "in a fit of absence of mind". For Saler that is reason enough to look deeper into the matter. "Even in neighbouring Holland, the intellectual climate can appear warmer; the Dutch historian G. J. Renier was so perplexed by the rampant philistinism he encountered in England that in 1931 he was moved to write a book whose title says it all: The English: Are they human? Gilbert Adair expressed it no less trenchantly in 1993: 'What is it with this country and the brain?' 'British intellectual' can sound like an oxymoron (even the word can produce discomfort in the English, who are happier with the term 'thinker'), and the absence of 'real' intellectuals seems to be as recognizably a part of national life as warm beer, long queues, public transport and the stoic attitude that makes it possible to put up with them."

Further articles: Michael Caine refuses to see what all the fuss over the the reintroduction of ID cards in the United Kingdom is about: "They were such fun last time round – during the Second World War, that is, and for several years thereafter." Alastair Macaulay makes short work of the erroneous idea that Harold Pinter wrote about nothing but war, cancer and death: he was also interested in women and sex. And Katherine Duncan-Jones investigates Shakespeare's status anxiety.


The Economist, 14.04.2006 (UK)


There are European Muslims, but is there an European Islam? Or is there simply Islam in Europe? Despite isolated cases of fanaticism, the magazine cannot imagine that European Muslims will fail to transform Islam. "Europe's emerging Islam has not so far had any impact farther afield. But it is hard to believe that an Islam that is more open to democracy, sexual equality, and modernity would have no effect in the Middle East. And, uncertain and gradual as its gestation may be, that seems to be the Islam that European Muslims are trying to create."


Le Monde diplomatique, 13.04.2006 (France / Germany)

Lahouari Addi, professor of sociology in Lyon, takes a bitter look at how the referendum organised by the Algerian government, by means of which the aggressors have been given amnesty and the victims financial compensation. "The regime also wants to silence through judicial means the many initiatives taken by the families of those who disappeared. Since February 28, they have been deprived of legal support. The relevant paragraph forbids under threat of punishment 'all written declarations or other means that seek to use the wounds of the national tragedy to weaken the state, attack its institutions, tarnish the honour of its public representatives... or damage Algeria's international standing'... Only some commentators in independent newspapers looked askance at the measures taken by the government. In El Watan, Adlene Mehdi pointed out that paragraph 48 of the law of February 28 is incompatible with article 36 of the country's constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion."


The Spectator, 14.04.2006 (UK)


The weakness of Italy and France is basically a good thing for British EU policy, writes David Rennie. "A certain joy, it is true, fills the heart of all free-born Englishmen at the sight of a French government on the ropes." After all, strong governments on the continent heralded the end of Margaret Thatcher. But things are more complicated, Rennie argues. "When protesters across the continent are demanding that they be shielded from any hint of change or reform, a mighty street may just be worse" than a strong French government.

Other articles: Michael Moorcock, who moved to the USA many years ago, tells how he once admitted in a Texan bar that he had voted for the British Labour Party. The reaction of one "6ft6 cowboy" contributed to his decision to become an American citizen. And Peter Osborne has accompanied a canvasser for the British Nationalist Party, and found the party is now primarily attracting former Labour voters who felt neglected by their party.


Al Ahram Weekly, 13.04.2006 (Egypt)

After restoration in the USA, the 13 papyrus rolls of the "Gospel of Judas", are now going back to Egypt. Nevine El-Aref explains the precarious significance of the document written in Coptic in the 4th century, which may have been suppressed by the early church fathers. "The Gospel of Judas identifies Judas as Christ's favourite disciple and depicts his betrayal as the fulfilment of his mission to enable the crucifixion – and thus the Christian movement – to take place. The text quotes Jesus as saying to Judas: 'You will exceed all of them [the other disciples] for you will sacrifice the man who clothes me'."

And: Literary scholar Mohamed Enani discusses the perils of translating Shakespeare into Arabic. And Jill Kamil has visited the exhibition "American Contributions to Egyptian Archaeology" at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.


Die Weltwoche, 13.04.2006 (Switzerland)

Pierre Heumann and Alain Zucker contradict political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who had complained in an essay about the strength of the pro-Israel lobby in American foreign policy. The successes posted by lobbies such as Aipac are more like wishful thinking, they write: "If the pro-Israel lobby really did have such an influence, it would hardly make such a big thing of it... There are much more influential currents in Washington's merciless competition of ideas and interests. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the pro-Israeli side only donated six million dollars in the last election campaign. Here the Jews came up with more money than, for example, the American Muslims, but this was still far less than the oil industry (25 million), which also has a vital interest in the Middle East."


Le point, 13.04.2006 (France)


Not only Christians are being killed by the ruling Arab forces in the Darfur region in Sudan. Muslims of other tribes who in the eyes of the rulers have the disadvantage of being black are also under attack, writes Bernard-Henri Levy in his "notebook" column: "In a word, what's new here is the explanation by Juan Mendez, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. Mendez says that the policy of forcing the last NGOs to leave the region could signal that the regime has entered the last phase of its plan – and there can be no witnesses."


The New York Times, 16.04.2006 (USA)

In the New York Times Magazine, Rebecca Skloot looks into the obscure "afterlife" of human blood and tissue samples: "Today most Americans have their tissue on file somewhere. In 1999 the RAND Corporation published a report (the first and, so far, the last of its kind) with what it called a 'conservative estimate' that more than 307 million tissue samples from more than 178 million people were stored in the United States." Skloot tells the story of cancer patient John Moore, who discovered that his doctor had patented his cells: "Dr. Golde had not licensed the patent to anyone. But according to the lawsuit Moore eventually filed, Golde had entered into agreements with a biotech company that gave him stocks and financing worth more than three and a half million dollars to 'commercially develop' and 'scientifically investigate' the cell line. At that point, the market value of the Mo cell line was predicted to reach three billion dollars."
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