I've never felt so much like an unreconstructed base-determines-superstructure Marxist as I have when reading about the events in Egypt these last few weeks.
A vanishingly small number of press stories report how badly food insecurity has gotten in Egypt these last few years (go through THIS SLIDE SHOW by the World Food Programme for statistics, including the fact that 31% of Egyptian children in 2011 are stunted due to insufficient caloric intake), and even less about how this is in part the result of the leading edge of global warming caused environmental catastrophe which, given the inaction of the world's polluters these last few decades, is certain to get much worse.
Superstructure debates about constitutions, islamism, majoritarian "democracy," etc. are essential (please take time to see the kid to right if you haven't). But unless people have enough food, they can lead to a misunderstanding about what must be done. The problem is that when someone's child is in danger of starving, they have absolutely nothing to lose, and when enough people have nothing to lose all bets are off.
When American reporters talk about "economic stagnation" in Europe, readers are likely to think of their 401k's losing value and their home values decreasing, not about inability to feed their kids (though that happens here too, just not to the average reader of the Wall Street Journal).
Historically, massive food insecurity produces a set of horrible options: (1) wars to attempt to steal other people's resources and that also function to kill off the hungry populations, (2) revolutions that usually lead to (1) (this happened in France from the food riots under Louis the XVIth leading inexorably to Napoleon), or (3) a state that uses so much violence that people with dying kids are convinced they in fact still have something to lose (Ireland, China, the Soviet Union).
These kinds of factors seem to me to have far more power historically than the kinds of debates being covered in the American press. This is particularly galling because if we discussed these things honestly there might be some realization that the United States would do much better to send food and agricultural help, and to do something about global warming. But instead we send weapons.
you could do much worse than Graham Harman's blog (the American Press, as well as Al Jazeera, are pretty hopeless thus-far).
In addition to what's happening outside of his window, his posts today have links to the most important twitter feeds of people out and about in the protests. The twitter posts also have some really good links to long-form essays explaining what's been going on.
Rens Bod calls my attention to the disaster occuring in Timbuktu (Mali). While the barbarism of the Islamist insurgents is surely to blame most, Western neglect and -- as Bod reminds us -- European "prejudices" help explain why these manuscripts had not been digitized yet.
So, at the age of 32, I uncapped my pen to create a concept that could
be popular in the East and the West. I would go back to the very sources
from which others took violent and hateful messages and offer messages
of tolerance and peace in their place. I would give my heroes a Trojan
horse in the form of THE 99. Islam was my Helen. I wanted her back.
THE 99 references the 99 attributes of Allah - generosity, mercy, wisdom
and dozens of others not used to describe Islam in the media when you
were growing up. But if I am successful, by the time you read this, you
will not believe that such an era could have ever existed.
Knowing that children will learn vicariously from THE 99 to be tolerant
of all who believe in doing unto others as we would have them do unto
us, makes me very proud.--Naif Al-Mutawa (Exerpted from here).
I was asked to do a short presentation yesterday for "Revolutionary Renditions," the culminating event in a spring-semester series sponsored by the International Studies program at LSU reflecting on the 2011 "Arab Spring." I chose the "duel of anthems" scene from Casablanca and commented on three aspects of La Marseillaise (in itself and as depicted in the movie) with regard to the intertwining of the affective, the semantic, and the pragmatic: 1) collective embodiment in music; 2) the temporality of revolutionary solidarity; 3) the universality of the values of the French Revolution and the “rights of man.” First the clip, then below the fold my (roughly sketched) notes for the discussion:
"Mutawa’s 99 embody and promote tolerance, kindness, generosity, and fighting for justice. Don’t’ we need more of that in the world? Asking the extreme Right on either side of the planet to see past the red cape of faith that puts them in charge is as productive as asking the Pope not to pray. If the heroes of "The 99" can in fact begin to empower Muslim children of the world to promote peace, kindness, and justice, and stand up against those who would have them embrace martyrdom for their own purposes, and if the introduction of new pop culture motifs into the western perceptions of Islam can diversify the conversation, then Mutawa’s project could be the start of a shift in our modern global history. That shift would lessen the power of extremists. No wonder they are terrified." (For more of the story here.)
"The media don't only reflect reality; they create reality. And by focusing their energy on demonizing Muslims, we are missing an opportunity to positively influence the next generation. After all, if you tell children they're stupid enough times, they start to believe they're stupid. And if you tell them they're terrorists enough times, they start to believe they're terrorists. We live in an age when children are learning the alphabet from Rihanna's "S&M" and French from Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night." Surely Muslim protagonists need not be anathema to American entertainment. Portrayals of Muslim doctors and teachers and parents, Muslim heroes and superheroes, and just ordinary Muslims may well help save a generation." More here.
I have no insight whatsoever into the extraordinary courage of war correspondents. For the last few months I've been watching Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, Andrew Simmons, James Bays, and Sue Torton (w/ cameraperson Justine Okins) follow rebels across Libya, often reporting in the middle of heated battles.
Dan Levine posted the following comment on the discussion of queering the analytic/continental distinction. I thought it was important enough to have it's own thread. In the first comment I explain a bit of my thinking, but I have very little of substance to add.
Dan Levine wrote:
I hope this isn't a thread-jack, but your post has put me in mind of worries I have about 'sociological' divides beyond the analytic/synthetic one. So, take African philosophy (I suspect similar things apply to things like Native American philosophy, etc. but I'm not familiar with them). As I know Mark knows, I'm off to an African uni for a semester, and I'm bringing with me a stack of books requested for their department - and it turns out what they requested was 95% African philosophy, by which I mean not "philosophy that happens to be written by Africans or African-Americans," but "ditto, plus self-consciously on 'African' themes and with little discussion of European philosophical traditions." In addition, I've been asked by them in my time of contact for advice on Ph.D. programs in the US, which has often been awkward, since they've mostly wanted advice for students who want to study African philosophy (in the same sense), which is not well-represented at most departments I know of.
All of this leads to a similar sort of ghettoization of African philosophy that you talk about for continental (or "continental"). There are a few solid philosophers who just happen to be African (like Appiah) and a few who write mostly on issues that might be "African philosophy" in this sense but are in substantial contact with other traditions (like West), but lots and lots of folks who are writing almost entirely within a proscribed sphere with limited engagement with the broader philosophical community.
On the one hand, I think most of us are going to quickly agree that this is a problematic situation, for everyone involved. On the other, I can see why there would be some impulse from the African philosophy side to maintain it - I was at a conference, in Ghana, with about 90% African attendees, where one session looked like it might come to blows (seriously, like, shouting and making threatening body language) over the speaker's suggestion that Senghor and Nkrumah ought to be read as "real" political philosophers alongside Locke and Rousseau. So I could see, e.g., if I was really into Senghor, mostly wanting to hang out with the other folks into Senghor and not bothering to read much Rawls, let alone try to go talk to the Rawlsians about differences/similarities.
Given my "other hand" concern, I'm not sure what the best approach is for trying to bridge the gap. It seems reasonable to want to build up a sort of in-group of folks who share your concerns and respect for a non-mainstream set of philosophers, to improve your footing when you tilt with folks in the wider world. But it also seems really hard to avoid a sort of entrenchment/ghettoization or relegation of your work to doing a sort of history of philosophy status.
(Granted, I think this is similar but different from the state of continental philosophy in the US/Europe - there's enough weight, both in terms of writing readily available and folks working on it, to make it harder to justify someone wanting to circle the wagons around continental philosophy).
Harman's review is itself a great capsule history of the earth shaking events of January 25 through February 11, 2011. He concludes with:
It is often said that good authors disappear and allow us to focus only on the scenes they describe. If the same can be said of good editors, then Nunns and Idle clearly pass the test. With their excellent selection of tweets and the light touch of their editorial voiceovers, they succeeded in allowing this reviewer to forget he was reading a book at all, and simply to relive the Revolution as it unfolded.
Man this book looks excellent; I'm amazoning it tonight.
Many of you have already probably seen that there is a new law under consideration in Uganda that carries imprisonment and even the death penalty for homosexuality. The bill was scheduled to be discussed in parliament yesterday, but eventually was dropped off the agenda, to a great extent due to international pressure. But this is just a small victory; as reported by the Avaaz site, which runs a petition against the bill,
The Pressure is Working -- the bill did not come to a vote today! But the anti-gay movement is fighting to bring it back in an emergency session on Friday. Our signatures are being delivered directly to Uganda's Parliament and media across the world are reporting on our campaign. Let's ramp up the pressure - if we can stop a vote on the bill this week -- we'll win this!
In other words, signatures are still much needed, and if you haven't signed the petition yet, please do so now by going here. And to give this campaign a human face, here is a picture of gay rights activist David Kato, murdered in his own home a few months ago.
Footage from protesters seizure of Cairo's state security building. Before leaving, the police were shredding everything in sight, clearly in an effort to protect themselves from prosecution by a new government. According to Harman, one of the files they didn't manage to shred showed that they are still keeping tabs on Wael Ghonim, who everybody besides the state police in Egypt rightfully regards as a hero. Also, the protesters were amazed to find that there were six underground floors in the building.
I think one of the really interesting things about cell phone cameras and web 2.0 here is the surprisingly positive effect of lots of people being conscious of being watched by lots of other people. Not only do people get to craft a narrative in opposition to the reigning ideologies, but they also get to be actors in their own representations of the actualization of this counternarrative. This has always been part of revolutionary politics, with underground newspapers and such, but I think it's a much more powerful force now, one we don't fully understand yet.
Essam Sharaf has stepped up as a new caretaker prime minister, and is empowered to select a new cabinet. See Harman's posts HERE and HERE. This is fantastic news, the best evidence yet those in the Army who would serve the people have the upper hand.
One of my Egyptian friends told me this week that the guy standing behind Suleiman during his resignation speech was actually Egyptian army Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Shari, who had been empowered to arrest Suleiman if he veered from the speech. Apparently Mubarak had changed his speech while it was running live, and the reason Shari looks so incredibly grim in the photo was the the possibility that there might be an attempted counterrevolution during the speech. He really risked the threat of people loyal to Mubarak or Suleiman trying to kill him, and this was a reasonable concern after Mubarak's truculent speech the night before. The more of the story that emerges, the more you appreciate how the revolution required all of these people like Shari to do the right thing in the face of their own possible death. It really amazes me.
Also according ot my friend, the other big rumor going around Cairo is that Mubarak actually did order a Tienenman but that the troops on the ground mutineed. My friend had family members in Tahir Square who told her that there was this incredibly strange moment when all of the tank commanders simultaneously took off their helmets as if they contained hornets, some of them throwing the helmets away from themselves. Supposedly, they have walkie talkies in their helmets and the order had come all the way from Mubarak to massacre the protesters.
I just tried to verify this on-line, and it turns out that Robert Fisk of the Independent claimed that this did in fact happen:
the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.
Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.
That Mubarak ordered this (if he did) is not the amazing thing. The amazing thing to me again is that all of these people made incredibly dangerous moral choices. I don't know; I have to say that I continue to feel much better about my species after seeing what it is capable of in Egypt.
Amazingly, Barber continues to extoll the academic credentials of Gaddafi JR ("Oxford University Press, which contracted to publish the two extraordinary books Saif wrote on civil society and democratic reform in the developing world, will presumably now cancel publication".) Of course, as Brian Leiter noted, Saif Gaddafi bought a degree from LSE for a plagiarized dissertation.
Now the buying and selling of degrees is as old as the academy. (My favorite example is Christiaan Huygens' law degree bought from the University of Angers by his important dad, known to philosophers as a sometime correspondent of Descartes.) Yet, it looks as if LSE will not suffer any reputational damage nor will the academics involved (presumably influential gate-keepers within philosophy and political theory) suffer any consequences. (It is nice to read that Fred Halliday objected to the course of events.)
To be clear: I am not against universities accepting tainted/blood money. (Most universities will have a building or a scholarship named after terrible human beings.) But there should be a clear barrier between the academic degrees and the corrupt source. All to maintain the useful fiction that we are engaged in a noble enterprise.
Most of the country stretching from the outskirts of Tripoli east toward Egypt is now in the hands of popular committees allied with local security forces that have defected from the dictator. Even to Tripoli’s west, the rebellion had spread to some small towns. Qaddafi is increasingly left only with a sullen and sanguinary Tripoli, about 1 million people, where the streets are ghostly and marauding security forces hotrod it through the streets, sometimes firing indiscriminately.
Aljazeera Arabic is making the point that a lot hinges on the Libyan tribes’ response to the crisis. The reporter says that the officer corps is actually an assemblage of tribal notables cultivated by Qaddafi over the years, and in the end tribal loyalties may win out. The BBC concurs.
News from Libya is incredibly scary. Some of the larger Eastern tribal affiliations, representing hundreds of thousands of people, have moved decisively against Quaddafi, and his government is responding by using the Navy and Air Force to bomb cities throughout Libya and also having foreign mercenaries indiscriminantly shoot and hack to death what look to be as of now thousands of people on the street.
Several Libyan diplomats who have resigned in protest today explicitly raised the spectre of an unfolding genocide. But I'm not seeing anything near the kind of decisive international movement justified by such credible warnings. Any student of genocide will recognize that the ethnic divisions combined with use of foreign mercenaries combined with the rhetoric and actions of the Libyan government is taking us into incredibly, incredibly dangerous territory. How many times does the human race have to go down this road?
On the good side, representatives of the Arab League are supposedly going into an emergency meeting. The United States government continues to issue vague pleas. . .
Al Jazeera Live in English is HERE. The live blog on Libya is HERE. Graham Harman's blog (HERE) remains an indispensible source of links and analysis about the Arab Spring. The President of the University of Cairo, whose own research involves some of the related issues, was actually quoted today by Al Jazeera as saying that there is a very strong danger of civil war in Libya now.
"Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent," says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa. "Their histories have been intertwined for millennia. Some Egyptians may not feel they are Africans, but that is neither here nor there. They are part of the heritage of the continent."
And, just like much of the rest of the world, Africans watched events unfold in Cairo with great interest. "There is little doubt that people [in Africa] are watching with enthusiasm what is going on in the Middle East, and drawing inspiration from that for their own struggles," says Manji.
He argues that globalisation and the accompanying economic liberalisation has created circumstances in which the people of the global South share very similar experiences: "Increasing pauperisation, growing unemployment, declining power to hold their governments to account, declining income from agricultural production, increasing accumulation by dispossession - something that is growing on a vast scale - and increasing willingness of governments to comply with the political and economic wishes of the North.
"In that sense, people in Africa recognise the experiences of citizens in the Middle East. There is enormous potential for solidarity to grow out from that. In any case, where does Africa end and the Middle East begin?"
We are all thrilled that Mubarak has finally understood that his days are over, and that there seems to be real progress in Egypt (although... certainly not clear that there has been sufficient change). But let us not forget that many other Arabic countries are still fighting for more political freedom; we are nowhere near a point where we can breath and relax with the thought that the tipping point has been reached. I've just seen the distressing news that the Gadhafi forces fired on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters in Lybia, killing at least 15 people. There is still a long way to go.
As many commentators have noted, rising prices for staple products (food, energy, etc) have contributed to civil unrest in the Arab world. (What is unclear is if this inflation is largely due to growth in so-called BRIC countries or the quantitative easing of the FED and European Central Banks, or both.) The old men with guns are being confronted with demands for economic and political reforms from a youthful population. What is worth noting is that the political unrest in Egypt comes on the heels of a thirty year period of rising income per head and a twenty year period of significant, uninterrupted real growth. Rising expectations are dangerous times for dictatorships.
Of course, Egypt is not the only important country where the military doesn't merely run politics but has also focused on rent-seeking self-enrichment via control over crucial aspects of the liberalizing economy. Pakistan, and China readily come to mind. (Russia, too.) In particular, I bet that the Chinese leadership is watching events in Tahrir square with more than unusual attention. I wouldn't be surprised, alas, if it is sending encouraging noises about the consequences of a crackdown.
The most sublime moment occurred when Muslims and Coptic Christiansengaged in common prayer on Cairo's Tahrir Square, chanting "We are one!" – providing the best answer to the sectarian religious violence. Those neocons who criticise multiculturalism on behalf of the universal values of freedom and democracy are now confronting their moment of truth: you want universal freedom and democracy? This is what people demand in Egypt, so why are the neocons uneasy? Is it because the protesters in Egypt mention freedom and dignity in the same breath as social and economic justice?...
Although combative, the message of the protesters has not been one of killing. The demand was for Mubarak to go, and thus open up the space for freedom in Egypt, a freedom from which no one is excluded – the protesters' call to the army, and even the hated police, was not "Death to you!", but "We are brothers! Join us!". This feature clearly distinguishes an emancipatory demonstration from a rightwing populist one: although the right's mobilisation proclaims the organic unity of the people, it is a unity sustained by a call to annihilate the designated enemy (Jews, traitors)....
Then we saw a well-planned operation to kidnap the revolution. The obscenity of this was breathtaking: the new vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a former secret police chief responsible for mass tortures, presented himself as the "human face" of the regime, the person to oversee the transition to democracy....
When President Obama welcomed the uprising as a legitimate expression of opinion that needs to be acknowledged by the government, the confusion was total: the crowds in Cairo and Alexandria did not want their demands to be acknowledged by the government, they denied the very legitimacy of the government. They didn't want the Mubarak regime as a partner in a dialogue, they wanted Mubarak to go. They didn't simply want a new government that would listen to their opinion, they wanted to reshape the entire state. They don't have an opinion, they are the truth of the situation in Egypt....
One of the cruellest ironies of the current situation is the west's concern that the transition should proceed in a "lawful" way – as if Egypt had the rule of law until now. Are we already forgetting that, for many long years,Egypt was in a permanent state of emergency? Mubarak suspended the rule of law, keeping the entire country in a state of political immobility, stifling genuine political life. It makes sense that so many people on the streets of Cairo claim that they now feel alive for the first time in their lives.* Whatever happens next, what is crucial is that this sense of "feeling alive"** is not buried by cynical realpolitik.
*. **: emphasis added to this wonderful expression of political affect
From Al Jazeera's Lisa Hajjar (read the whole thing about Mubarak's lackey and the CIA's man in Egypt HERE):
In Egypt [in 2001], as [Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mamdouh] Habib recounts in his memoir, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman.
Prior to Mubarak's surreal speech (see analyses HERE and HERE) this was the tweet of the day. How sad that the antecedent is yet to be made true.
Many of the people I talk and e-mail with who also love Harman's books don't know that he is the Vice Provost for Research at the American University in Cairo.
Harman's blog is HERE. And if you have some tears to spare, read his tributes to some of the heroic dead. Recent reports state that the death toll could very well eclipse the number killed in Tienenman Square.
The story is HERE. It cannot be stated enough that the new Vice President Suleiman has been implicated in torture as a state policy. He was centrally involved in the extraordinary rendition program set up by Clinton and then vastly expanded by Bush. Indeed, and now even while receiving support as an "interim leader" by the Obama administration, he refuses to even countenance revoking the thirty year old "emergency law" that allows such treatment.
Here's Pearl Jam doing a credible cover of the Dead Kennedys punk rock anti-torture anthem "Bleed for Me." They updated the lyrics so that the song deals with Bush. How utterly distressing that all signs point to the necessity of writing a new version for President Obama.
The four videos subtitled at NYTimes make up the entirety of the Wael Ghonim interview that was on the private Egyptian channel Dream TV last night. They are well worth watching in their entirety. At the end of the fourth video you will find yourself weeping with Mr. Ghonim. I think all of Egypt is.
Al Jazeera English says that hundreds of thousands more people throughout Egypt are protesting after watching last night. In Cairo alone, Liberation Square has overflowed with pro-democracy protestors. Graham Harman has blogged that there is now a protest in front of the Prime Minister's office and that the Suez Canal workers are also protesting. Anyhow, please take the time to watch all four of the videos linked to above. The translation cuts out a little bit in the third and fourth ones, but returns after thirty seconds or so.