Monday, 29 January 2007

Why We Couldn't Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

Sometimes I hate being right.

Back, way back in 2003 when the U.S. war machine was bearing down on the tottering Saddam regime, I had a conversation with R., a good friend, and fellow worrier about global politics.

The gist of my part of the conversation was that while the Americans would occupy Iraq easily enough, they wouldn’t be able to put humpty-dumpty back together again. There would be serious resentment amongst the population and anger at the American forces (yes, even I failed to see the size and bloodiness of the “insurgency” that would unfold over the next 4 years) and the Americans would find that instead of creating their imagined haven of peace and democracy in the Middle East, there would be bloodshed, attacks on the Americans and bombings aimed at fracturing the tottering state. The American public would lose interest in Bush’s mission, the anti-war protestors would gather, and the money for reconstruction would grind to a halt. The Grand Enterprise would be abandoned and there would be two major effects that would reverberate throughout global politics:

The first would be the descent of Iraq into anarchy, with all the consequent hatred, violence, anti-Americanism and resentment that would bleed into the rest of the world.

Second, American justifications would only confirm their own myths. Instead of critically looking at American power and how it is being used globally, the blame would fall on the ‘nature’ of Islam and the Arabs. Inevitably those same self-fulfilling prophecies of difference based on ‘Ideology’ would come to the fore. It will be said that it was because Islam is anti-democratic, or irrational, or barbaric, that Iraq could not become a democratic nation as America decreed it should be….

Sometimes I hate being right.


Whats in A Fatwa?

Thomas Friedman another 'New York Times Best-selling author' and much admired columnist has made a lucrative career out of being an "expert" on the Middle-East. But for someone who is supposed to be a pundit on matters Islamic, he seems to display a curious ignorance of newsworthy middle-eastern goings-on. In an article in the New York Times, back in July 2005 he fumed "To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."

This is an often-heard theme, repeated time and time again. From atop his marvellously hypocritical high-horse Dan Simmons thundered on this very same theme when calling for religious genocide:
Most of the world, especially since 9/11, has been waiting for a rousing and unqualified renouncement of suicide bombings, jihad, persecution of infidels, fatwas, honor killings, and other Muslim atrocities from the silent majority of Muslim clerics and devout Muslims.

Now Dan Simmons' fulminations may be, well if not excused, at least absolved of the expectation of intelligence given that his understanding of life, the universe and everything is based primarily on the neo-librel or neo-fascist writings of chest-thumping, arm-chair, poli-sci majors who know neither history, nor journalism, nor indeed reality outside the confines of their dens. However, Thomas Friedman's bald lies really should be seen in a much more serious light. After all, as the most renowned writer in the best-selling AND most respected newspaper in the United States he has a duty to at least know what he is writing about. Alas this proves not to be the case.

Juan Cole provided a very good round-up of some of the major Muslim clerics who have issued rulings about Osama bin Laden. I suppose its difficult for many people to figure out the value or importance of these fatwas. But some of them are from some very major figures. What was interesting was the statement declaring that all 8 schools of Islamic jurisprudence are equally 'Islamic' and that none have the right to declare adherents to any other as unIslamic. That's a major step in the right direction. The only problem is that it doesn't go far enough in my opinion... what about Qadiyanis or others who might not fall inside the 8 schools?


Saturday, 27 January 2007

Combatting Fascism

Reading widely on the web one comes across so many things...

There's this quote from the author Martin Amis:
There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. . . . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. . . . They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.

Its quoted in an article by everyone's favourite Briton-turned-American and lefty-turned-righty Christopher Hitchens. Mr Hitchens then goes on to quote "my fellow atheist" Sam Harris, the author of 'The End of Faith':
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
Sam Harris seems to have gained himself a fan club of sorts. "New York Times Best-selling Author" Dan Simmons mentions his book in an article defending his short story where a time traveller from the future journeys back to the present to extol the 'West' to lose its forgiving and tolerant ways, inculcate ruthlessness and launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Islamic world:

“Your enemies have gathered and struck and continue to strike and you, the innocents of 2006 and beyond, fight among yourselves, chew and rip at your own bellies, blame your brothers and yourselves and your institutions of the Enlightenment – law, tolerance, science, democracy – even while your enemies grow stronger.”

“How are we supposed to know who our enemies are?” I turned and growled at him. “The world is a complex place. Morality is a complex thing.”

“Your enemy is he who will give his life to kill you,” said the Time Traveler. “Your enemies are they that wish you and your children and your grandchildren dead and who are willing to sacrifice themselves, or support those fanatics who will sacrifice themselves, to see you and your institutions destroyed. You haven’t figured that out yet – the majority of you fat, sleeping, smug, infinitely stupid Americans and Europeans.”

He stood and set the Scotch glass back in its place on my sideboard. “How, we wonder in my time,” he said softly, “can you ignore the better part of a billion people who say aloud that they are willing to kill your children . . . or condone and celebrate the killing of them? And ignore them as they act on what they say? We do not understand you.”

I still had not turned to face him, but was looking over my shoulder at him.

“The world, as it turns out,” continued the Time Traveler, “is not nearly so complex a place as your liberal and gentle minds sought to make it.”

For sheer vitriol little can beat Simmons' article. He's also quoted the entire pantheon of pseudo-fascist writers and 'Clash of Civilization' hacks. All objections to the reduction of 2000 years of complex history to the clash of monolithic 'ideologies' that exist more on the pages of neoliberal political science best-sellers than in reality are brushed aside as 'materialist' (read here the old bogeyman: Marxist). Wow, if only they had read some sociology somewhere in the last 120 years, they would have found in the writings of Max Weber a 'ideological' theory of social change that was far more formidable and nuanced than their cartoonesque formulation of history.

I mean, I guess I'm one of the billion people Mr. Simmons is talking about, and I haven't ever really felt like killing anyone... not even Mr. Simmons.

But lets take that last paragraph in that quote: “How, we wonder in my time, can you ignore the better part of a billion people who say aloud that they are willing to kill your children . . . or condone and celebrate the killing of them? And ignore them as they act on what they say?"

I suppose these are questions I too should ask myself, since Mr. Simmons' alter-ego is essentially saying that he is willing to kill my (as yet unborn) children or at the least condone and celebrate the killing of them. What would my answer be?

1. Sorry, but your understanding of the world is woefully disconnected from reality, though I realise that as your deluded myth of confrontation infects ever growing numbers of people the danger of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy grows. Did you know that your much-cherished 'Clash of Civilizations' has been a best-seller in Iran, Pakistan and China?

2. Instead of advocating genocide I repudiate your whole agenda and way of thinking and will do my utmost to defuse this growing threat of 'justifiable genocide' under whatever cloak it wears (liberal-fascist or Islamo-fascist or whatever) by promoting through teaching humanism the very values you feel need to be discarded at a drop of the hat.

3. And why don't you put your time-travelling ass to good use and go help people like in Quantum Leap or something, you bum!


Friday, 26 January 2007

Movie Impressions: Sonatine

Sonatine is the third 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano movie that I have seen. It shares thematic and cinematic similarities with 'Hana-Bi' (Fireworks) and 'Brother', even though both of those were made after his near-death experience in a motorcycle accident that film critics claim mark a division in his movie themes.

If I had to compare them, I'd say that 'Sonatine' was more accessible than 'Hana-Bi' and more coherent and emotionally compelling than 'Brother'. On its own terms, I would say its brilliant.

There's a beauty to Kitano's visual compositions, an unsettling quality to his drawn-out close-ups of emotionless faces and a powerful resonance to the punctuation of long, sedate, contemplative sequences with shattering moments of violence.

The outbreaks of violence are not the carefully choreographed, spectacularly shot ballets of blood and bullets, flames and carnage that we have come to associate with action movies, nor are they dwelt upon with a journalistic eye, recording for the audience death in all its awful glory. Instead the scenes are messy, shabby, and confusing as almost comically stiff figures cramped for room fall away in an instant, expiring with ignominious sounds and in unflattering postures. Surely there is no less 'cool' shoot-out scene in gangster cinema than the shoot-out in the elevator in Sonatine? Two characters who we have become attached to through the previous hour or so expire in moments. We blink, their friend doesn't as he continues to shoot at their assailants. A moment later, the carnage in the elevator is left behind. That's that.

Because of the nature of the film, perhaps the violence comes to dominate the rest of the movie in one's mind, even though the barest fraction of the movie has violence in it. But if there is a scene where it captures the heart, it takes place on the beach.... Perhaps where Sonatine most confounds expectations, is that for almost half its length, its about a bunch of gangsters hanging out and amusing themselves at the beach... the title of the movie might just as well be yakuza beach trip... days of gorgeous sunshine shining on lush-green grass-covered hills overlooking white beaches roll one into the other as 5 yakuza gangsters hang out at a traditional beach house. They play frisbee, wear tropical hawain shirts, read comics, make a cardboard wrestling game, and once they tire of that they have mock sumo fights and dress up as geisha and try and dance after dinner. They play tricks on each other, play with fireworks... they are boys having fun at the beach, while all the time death's shadow looms over the proceedings, as their suspicions that they have been double-crossed grow and eventually turn out to be true.

But that is typical Kitano's style. The marriage of contemplation and action; an all-encompassing restraint which occasionally slips its leash. In 'Fireworks', the scenes of domestic comfort (bliss seems too strong a word for what Kitano's character and his terminally-ill wife share together in their understated Japanese way... comfort may be the better word) are punctuated, almost like fireworks going off, by the violence of attempts on his life by his yakuza pursuers. But ultimately, Kitano allows us to understand that it is we ourselves who are fireworks, our lives the briefest of moments in eternity where we can hope to bloom into something beautiful... Sonatine perhaps shares some of that philosophy, though from a slightly different angle. In many ways the yakuza, with their straight-laced, emotionless faces as they pursue their predestined roles are stand ins for the soulless suits of corporate Japan. Only when they put aside their prescribed roles and suits and go play and horse around on the beach does their warmth and humanity come out. Only then do we connect with them as people, and only then do they connect with each other.


My Blog Meets His Maker!

Dear Blog,

Please do not allow my arrival to disturb your repose. I mean you no harm, and in point of fact, I hope that in the fullness of times we shall be great friends.

We are new to each other, and, I am sure I can speak for the both of us when I say that this, our first meeting, is fraught with so many concerns, so many fears and so many pitfalls that may well bring our newfound acquaintance to naught. But, dear blog, this may also be the start of something new and something renewing, for both of us.

I know you have many, many questions blog, but in this, the first meeting of a potentially mighty repository of thoughts and imaginings and he who might give them shape, let me just deal with one.

The first question. The beginning of all things, and perhaps the end: Why are you here?

Dear blog, dear child cast forth into the murky unknown of the blogosphere, puny atlas who bears upon its fragile shoulders so many dreams, I have come to you this day to inform you of your purpose and place in this world.

I, the misanthrope, wish to be known. I wish to mingle my own thoughts with those of others. I wish to bring forth those thoughts that lie half-formed in the depths of my soul, cast them into wondrous shapes and let them take wing.

In short, I wish to create, dear blog, and I wish to look upon my creations and have others look upon them. And you, are to be the instrument of these desires.

Let us see know, together what we can do...