Last Tuesday night, the Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani gave a speech at Columbia University, where he is a professor, saying that Palestine has not yet reached its “South African moment.” [ . . . ]
“The end of apartheid was a negotiated settlement,” Mamdani said. The South African anti-apartheid struggle did not succeed by military resistance so much as by education, bringing whites to understand that they would only be safe if they ceased to be settlers. They [eventually] came to agree. In Israel and Palestine, the work is also educational. Israeli Jews and their western supporters have been indoctrinated in the wake of the Holocaust to believe that Jews will only be safe with a Jewish state. [ . . . ]
The opposite is the case. Jews can have a homeland in the Middle East, but their safety can only be achieved by dismantling the Jewish state, Mamdani said. His speech was a political challenge to Jewish anti-Zionists, now just a splinter, to launch a political struggle inside the Jewish community to liberate it from Zionism.
The notion of universality that I associate with cosmopolitan humanism contains no implication that persons, peoples, and civilizations should conform to a single model of life or that universality can be imposed by means of political engineering. It may be helpful to contrast genuine universality with a type of universalism that today is particularly common and influential in the United States. I am referring to an ideologically intense variant of the Enlightenment mindset that assumes a single political system is desirable and even mandatory for all societies and should be everywhere installed, through military means if necessary. I have called this ideology the new Jacobinism. The French Jacobins summarized their putatively universal principles in the slogan “freedom, equality, and brotherhood.” They saw France as the redeemer of nations. The new Jacobins speak of “freedom” and “democracy,” and they have anointed the United States.
Claes G. Ryn argues for a very different universality, one that welcomes the endlessly diverse particulars of people and place and is ready to acknowledge and celebrate virtue wherever it may be found. Continue reading
Psychological androgyny is a much wider concept, referring to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities. It is not surprising that creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.
The early months of 2003 always struck me as the apogée of geopolitical incoherence. Here’s today’s headlines from Antiwar.com:
Then there’s this remarkable photograph (courtesy The Christian Science Monitor).
The shot (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters) shows “Shiite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, take part in field training in the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad.”
The only possible good news is that Russia and the Ukrainian crisis have (presumably temporarily) been shunted to the inside pages.
I fell asleep last night to Nina Simone’s husky, haunting “I Love You, Porgy”.
It capped a deeply satisfying discussion of Simone and her troubled life and times between Phillip Adams and Claudia Roth Pierpont.
In this marvellous essay, Jesse McCarthy puzzles over why there is “a bloody knot in the social fabric that is as vivid in Ferguson, Missouri today as it was in Baldwin’s Harlem half a century ago.”
He starts with “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem”, James Baldwin’s essay from 1960.
It is hard on the other hand to blame the policeman… he too, believes in good intentions and is astounded and offended when they are not taken for the deed… He moves through Harlem, therefore, like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country; which is precisely what, and where, he is. … He can retreat from his unease in only one direction: into a callousness which very shortly becomes second nature. He becomes more callous, the population becomes more hostile, the situation grows more tense, and the police force is increased. One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. Before the dust has settled or the blood congealed, editorials, speeches and civil-rights commissions are loud in the land, demanding to know what happened. What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like men.
“Want to be treated like men.” That wish, together with all its many ramifications, is in McCarthy’s view ground zero. Continue reading
In the afterword to his new novel, “The Zone of Interest”, Martin Amis tries to make sense of the man who he describes as “stand[ing] alone as a source of lasting and unanimous incomprehension.”
An edited version is now in the FT Magazine, titled “Martin Amis on Hitler and the nature of evil”.
The question of “Why” pervades the essay from the first:
Newly detrained at Auschwitz in February 1944, and newly stripped, showered, sheared, tattooed, and reclothed in random rags (and nursing a four-day thirst), Primo Levi and his fellow Italian prisoners were packed into a vacant shed and told to wait. This famous passage continues:
. . . I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.
One can argue about the success of the attempt but the journey is worthwhile: Continue reading