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26/09/2006

Magazine Roundup

Outlook India | Le Nouvel Observateur | Nepszabadsag | Elet es Irodalom | The Times Literary Supplement | Al Ahram Weekly | Le point | Le Figaro | The New York Review of Books


Outlook India, 02.10.2006 (India)

In a very personal interview with Sheela Reddy, Indian best-seller autor Vikram Seth ("A suitable boy") explains his fight for the abolition of paragraph 377, which makes homosexuality punishable by law: "A crazy law like this has no place on our books. And of course a law that is selectively used is in one aspect even worse than a law that is generally used because it puts a lot of power in individuals' hands and makes government a rule not of laws but of people. Now you ask me whether this directly affected me. Yes. When I realised that I had feelings for men as well as women, at first I was worried and frightened, and there was a certain amount of Who am I? Am I a criminal? and so on. It took me a long time to come to terms with myself."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 21.09.2006 (France)

A hundred and fifty years ago, on October 1, 1856, a preprint of Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary" appeared in the Revue de Paris. To mark the occasion, Julian Barnes, "the most Flaubertian of British writers" has written a story exclusively for the Nouvel Obs, in which Emma Bovary doesn't die but rather tells the story of how her life continued after she and her husband left Yonville. "The mushrooms didn't contain enough poison. I survived. I'm sorry to have botched the story but facts are facts. I don't kill myself out of desperation; rather, I nearly died from my emotionality."


Nepszabadsag, 23.09.2006 (Hungary)

In an interview with Zsolt Greczy, Peter Esterhazy defends the secret speech of Prime Minister Gyurcsany, in which he admitted to his party that he had lied to voters during the election campaign. The publication of the speech caused massive unrest in Hungary. "We would be lying to ourselves if we were to pretend that we didn't know that politicians lie. We know that, we almost expect it. We would like to see reality a bit nicer than it is. Hungarian society missed the opportunity to create an atmosphere in which truthfulness is honoured – evidence is to be found in how we deal with our Stasi past. I don't want to sound cynical but the moral questions of truth and lies are valued differently in politics than among individuals." Esterhazy is not sure what the demonstrators actually want to accomplish. "For weeks, the students in Paris demonstrated for something that seems like a detail from the Budapest perspective. They accomplished it, part of society solved a partial problem that was afflicting it. But the demonstrators in Budapest are demanding a new republic – where is the consensus for that?"

In a television interview with Sandor Friderikusz, excerpts of which were printed in the paper on September 21, the writer Peter Nadas likewise defends the secret speech of Prime Minister Gyurcsany. The objective formulated in the speech was to do away with "the feudal, socialistic system of privileges according to which the country has been ruled for the last 16 years." The governments thus far "have given out what was not theirs to give out. That's not acceptable in the European context. Hungary needs not an austerity package but a comprehensive reform of the national budget, which would include combating corruption and a reduction of privileges." In the election campaign, the major opposition party Fidesz "drafted a socialist system of distribution, even though it is the national conservative party. The situation of Hungary would be significantly worse if the Gyurcsany government were to be toppled."


Elet es Irodalom, 22.09.2006 (Hungary)

Janos Szeky criticises the news reporting by the American news broadcaster CNN on the riots in Budapest: "On Wednesday night, Nic Robertson stood in Rakoczi street, and told the world exitedly that the young men running past him were angry at the lies of the Prime Minister, whose office was at the end of the street behind him (did he mean the railway station or the East-West shopping centre?).... We are obliged to note that not even CNN's exceedingly well-financed CNN London office has experts who can explain to the reporter what a Budapest football hooligan looks like, or the contents of Hungarian president Solyom's current press statement, condemning acts of violence as criminal offences, and underlining the responsibility of demonstrators who looked on as others rioted (this last information was left out of almost all press reports – why?)."


The Times Literary Supplement, 22.09.2006 (UK)

Kenneth Anderson is not convinced by Francis Fukuyama's book "After the Neocons," but he is intrigued by Fukuyama's explanation for why Iraq was the wrong location for the war on terror. "Even assuming that the transformative strategy managed to stabilize Iraq, he argues, the social precursors of terrorism are not to be found there. They are drawn from places we cannot attack with military force – Hamburg, London, the Parisian banlieues. Thus the phenomenon of Islamist terror is not a regional, political or even sociological problem; it is, rather, the accumulation of individual psychologies, massed together in shared and yet still highly individual narratives of resentment, exclusion and the search for Muslim social and economic integration, and particularly Muslim middle-class integration, within European pluralist modernity. Even if the birthplaces of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, this argument runs, their jihadist spiritual formation was in Western Europe. The Bush administration launched, on this account, a war that missed the point, targeting the wrong region and the wrong country."


Al Ahram Weekly, 21.09.2006 (Egypt)

Gihan Shahine puts Pope Benedict XVI's statements criticising Islam (more here) down to political calculation: "The very timing of Pope Benedict's remarks has lent them political significance. They came on the heels of Israeli massacres in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and after a recent statement by US President George Bush describing Muslims as 'fascists'.... The pontiff's remarks were interpreted, in the words of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, as 'the latest link in the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade.' By putting Islam and terror in the same basket, many analysts agree with El-Awa's belief that the 'pope was giving a green light for US troops to go on with their occupation plans in the Middle East, while mobilising the West against Muslims living in Europe'."


Le point, 21.09.2006 (France)

The Pope is right," writes Bernard-Henri Levy in his "notebook" column. For Levy, "intellectual terrorism is not only unacceptable, it is also worrying. By that I mean the terrorism which tries to prevent non-Muslims from expressing even the smallest comment on Islam.... And the people here in the West who internalise and defend this argumentation, who accept and even make excuses for the worst excrescences of paranoia are not only worrying, but also ludicrous.... And the spectacle of all the commentators who see the notorious 'Arab street' as a court of law whose judgements we are bound to accept are not only ludicrous, but downright loathsome."


Le Figaro, 25.09.2006 (France)

It's the sensation of the "Rentree litteraire": Jonathan Littell's 900-page novel "Les bieveillantes" has already sold 170,000 copies in France. The story of how the book came to exist is wacky enough. An unknown Jewish American author writes the fictitious memoirs of an SS man in French, offers them to Gallimard and the book is snatched up despite the high fee he is asking! Le Figaro litteraire writes this week that the book is considered a top runner for almost every literary prize this autumn, and reports that it has caused "real tensions" between people at the the Prix Femina and the Prix Goncourt, two of France's most prestigious awards: "Something like this has only happened once before. That was in 1959, when Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel 'Dernier des justes' was the clear favourite for the Goncourt. However the people there feared the women at Femina would jump the gun on them, so they awarded the prize two weeks before the planned date."

This week the Nouvel Observateur dedicates its title dossier to the book. However as the dossier is unfortunately not online, we provide links to a review in Telerama, a review in The Independent and a short interview with Littell in Le Monde.

And in an interview, Umberto Eco praises the European "sense for history," which he opposes to the American "loss of collective memory." After Jürgen Habermas (see our feature here), Eco is the second major European intellectual to sketch a critique of the Internet: "The rule of the Internet, which delivers a mass of non-hierarchisable elements, only aggravates the loss of the historical perspective. Too much information can be just as dangerous as not enough." (In other words, the Bibliotheque nationale, with restricted entry for certified researchers, is better than Google Book Search!)


The New York Review of Books, 05.10.2006 (USA)

Timothy Garton Ash presents Ian Buruma's "Murder in Amsterdam" and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book of essays "The Caged Virgin" (which shows in his view how Hirsi Ali has transformed from Islamic fundamentalist to Enlightenment fundamentalist). And he has this to say about Islam in Europe: "A recent Pew poll found that the top concern among Muslims in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain was unemployment. In view of the historic sluggishness of job creation in Europe, fierce competition from low-cost skilled labor in Asia, and the reflexes of xenophobic discrimination in many European countries, this is easier said than done. Housing conditions are another major source of grievance... Europe's problem with its Muslims of immigrant origin, the pathology of the Inbetween People, would exist even if there were an independent, flourishing Palestinian state, and if the United States, Britain, and some other European countries had not invaded Iraq." (The same poll also reveals that in Europe, Germany is the sole country where the majority views Muslim immigration as something negative.)
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