Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Africa Cursed: George B. N. Ayittey and the Curse of the Africanist

On January 21, 2006 (see archives) I drew your attention to one George B. (does that stand for "Baskervilles"?) N. Ayittey, an economist teaching at American University. Partly parodying his penchant for melodrama and his militant ignorance, I described him thus: "[Ayittey] is one of those morally grotesque and numbingly mediocre figures that the American Right has the uncanny talent for digging up. Every full moon he is unleashed from the dank caves of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation his rancid mouth awash with the latest racist pronouncement on Africa." Now it appears its high tide and the 'ound of the Baskervilles is abroad. In what he takes to be a response to the blog post, he offers a full-throated bay at the moon:


Your comment about my interview with Ray Suarez reeks of intellectual astigmatism and it is bereft of serious intellectual analysis. Desperate people who lack the facts to challenge a viewpoint resort to name-calling and ideological demagoguery.

Africa has been oppressed, exploited, enslaved and raped -- not just by the West -- but by Arabs and African leaders as well. If you cannot accept this, then you represent the OLD thinking, which had led Africa to our present quandary.

If you cannot admit of your own responsibility in causing a problem, then NOBODY can help you solve it. This is neither an ultra-right-wing conservative or leftist viewpoint but just plain common sense.

Another common sense principle is this: Before you write something critical about someone, do your own research about him or her and not just base your commentary on just one interview or article. You could have done a Google search on "George Ayittey." Did you?

Have a good day.

George Ayittey,
Washington, DC
March 19, 2006

E-mail:" (posted on Anawim, March 19, 2006).

My response:

Dear Professor Ayittey,

So let me get this straight:

1. On the one hand, you charge that the blog post "reeks of intellectual astigmatism" and "name-calling." On the other hand, you refer to the writer as "desperate" and refer to her/his writing as "ideological demagoguery."

2. On the one hand, you argue that the blog post is "bereft of serious intellectual analysis" and you claim that the writer lacks "the facts to challenge a viewpoint." On the other hand, you offer not one fact or argument defending your racist and Islamophobic claim that Arabs are not Africans and that Islam is a "foreign" religion in Africa. Why are the identities "Arab" and "Africans" mutually exclusive? Why is Islam a "foreign" religion to Africa?

3. On the one hand, you charge that the writer of the blog post lacks "the facts to challenge a viewpoint." On the other hand, you lied through your teeth to Ray Suarez when you claimed that "no other Arab country condemned that [1998 embassy] bombing." Fact: the Arab league condemned the attack; Fact: Tunisian President Zein al-Abidin Bin Ali condemned the attack; Fact: Morocco's King Hassan II condemned the attack; Fact: the Moslem Brotherhood of Egypt condemned the attack.

3. On the one hand, you lecture the writer on "the common sense principle" of Google searches. On the other hand, a simple google search could have availed to you the facts laid out above -- see here:

4. On the one hand, you charge the writer with "OLD thiking, which had [sic] led Africa to our present quandary." On the other hand, your fantasy of a racially pure Africa and a presumably authentic African religion is a regurgitation of eugenicist and Nazi politics.

5. On the one hand, you charge the writer with refusing to "accept" your allegation that "Africa has been oppressed, exploited, enslaved and raped -- not just by the West -- but by Arabs and African leaders as well." You continue: "If you cannot admit of your own responsibility in causing a problem, then NOBODY can help you solve it." On the other hand, you irresponsibly do not indicate where the writer argued otherwise.

6. On the one hand, you wish that that the writer would "have a good day." On the other hand, you have made that impossible with your racism, religious bigotry, and ignorant harangues.



Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Anawim: Iraq

Hate. Terror. Guilt. Grief. Anguish:

"What happened in the village of Isahaqi, north of Baghdad, on the Ides of March? The murk of war – the natural blur of unbuckled event, and its artificial augmentation by professional massagers – shrouds the details of the actual operation. But here is what we know.

We know that U.S. forces conducted a raid on a house in the village on March 15. We know that the Pentagon said the American troops were "targeting an individual suspected of supporting foreign fighters for the al-Qaeda in Iraq terror network," when their team came under fire, and that the troops "returned fire, utilizing both air and ground assets." We know that the Pentagon said that "only" one man, two women and one child were killed in the raid, which destroyed a house in the village.

We know from photographic evidence that the corpses of two men, four shrouded figure
s (women, according to the villagers), and five children – all of them apparently under the age of five, one as young as seven months – were pulled from the rubble of the house and laid out for burial beneath the bright, blank desert sky. We know that an Associated Press reporter on the scene saw the ruined house, and a photographer for Agence France Presse took the pictures of the bodies.

We know that two Iraqi police officials, Major Ali Ahmed and Colonel Farouq Hussein – both employed by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government – told Reuters that the 11 occupants of the house, including the five children, had been bound and shot in the head before the house was blown up. We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police told Reuters that an American helicopter landed on the roof in the early hours of the morning, then the house was blown up, and then the victims were discovered. We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said that an autopsy performed on the bodies found that "all the victims had gunshot wounds to the head." We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said they found "spent American-issue cartridges in the rubble."

We know that Ahmed Khalaf, brother of house's owner, told AP that nine of the victims were family members and two were visitors, adding, "the killed family was not part of the resistance, they were women and children. The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death."

We know from the photographs that one child, the youngest, the baby, has a gaping wound in his forehead. We ca
n see that one other child, a girl with a pink ribbon in her hair, is lying on her side and has blood oozing from the back of her head. The faces of the other children are turned upwards toward the sun; if they were shot, they were shot in the back of the head and their wounds are not evident. But we can see that their bodies, though covered with dust from the rubble, are otherwise unmarked; they were evidently not crushed in the collapse of the house during, say, a fierce firefight between U.S. forces and an "al Qaeda facilitator." They died in some other fashion.

We know from the photographs that two of the children – two girls, still in their pajamas – are lying with their dead eyes open. We can see that the light and tenderness that animate the eyes of every young child have vanished; nothing remains but the brute stare of nothingness into nothingness. We can see that the other three children have their eyes closed; two are limp, but the baby has one stiffened arm raised to his cheek, as if trying to ward off the blow that gashed and pulped his face so terribly.

These facts are what we know from American officials, American-backed Iraqi officials and reporters for Western press associations on the scene. This is probably all we will ever know for certain about what happened in Isahaqi on March 15. The rest will remain obscured by the murk instigated by U.S. military spokesmen, who are evidently not telling the truth about the body count of the raid, and by the natural confusion that must attend the villagers' description of an attack that struck without warning in the middle of the night. But beyond this cloud of unknowing, there are a few other facts relevant to the case that can be clearly established.

For instance, we know that the American troops who caused the deaths of these children – either by tying them up and shooting them, an unspeakable atrocity, or else "merely" by storming or bombing a house full of civilians in a night raid "with both air and ground assets" – were sent to Iraq on a demonstrably false mission to "disarm" weapons that did not exist and take revenge for 9/11 on a nation that had nothing to do with the attack. And we now know that the White House – and George W. Bush specifically – knew all along that the intelligence did not and could not support the public case he had made for the war.

We know that the only reason that this dead baby has his arm frozen to his lifeless face is that three years ago this week, George W. Bush gave the order to begin the unprovoked, unjust and unnecessary invasion of Iraq. He hasn't fired a single shot or launched a single missile; he hasn't tortured or killed any prisoners; he hasn't kidnapped or beheaded civilians or planted bombs along roadsides, in mosques or marketplaces. Yet every single atrocity of the war – on both sides – and every single death caused by the war, and every act of religious repression perpetrated by the extremist sects empowered by the war, is the direct result of the decision made by George W. Bush three years ago. Nothing he says can change this fact; nothing he does, or causes to be done, for good or ill, can wash the blood of these children – and the tens of thousands of other innocent civilians killed in the war – from his hands.

And anyone who knows these facts, who sees these facts, and fails to cry out against them – if only in your own heart – will be forever tainted by this same blood. " (Chris Floyd, "Children of Abraham: Death in the Desert," Empire Burlesque, March 19, 2006).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Defenders of Western Civilization (Or Our Judeo-Christian Heritage)

When he is not being the racist fascist that he is, Andrew Sullivan is doing his part in spreading the HIV virus:

"Andrew Sullivan, the conservative gay pundit, who is HIV-positive, has been found anonymously soliciting unprotected anal sex on AOL and the Web (bareback is the online term of art -- AOL's censoring of cruder words has helped create a new class of euphemisms).


The Sullivan scandal is about hypocrisy (he's a famous scold, regularly railing against the Clinton sexual misadventures as well as all manner of gay promiscuity) or, depending on who's debating, the right to privacy (the Sullivan case was being linked last week with the Bush twins' drinking episodes).


Sullivan is the former New Republic editor, the current "TRB" columnist, and a frequent New York Times Magazine contributor


There doesn't seem to be much doubt that both Sullivan and Christy have done what they're being accused of doing -- it's an element of any good scandal that the culprit be caught dead to rights.

In each instance, there was a kind of sting operation. Other gay journalists contacted Sullivan through his Web personals to confirm his identity (Sullivan has subsequently admitted to most of the gory details)....


In Sullivan's case, he was exposed for something that he discusses freely. He cruises. He's proud of being well known in gay bars across Washington. Before you know it, when you're with him, he'll be talking about leather stuff. He's written, too, about unprotected sex between HIV-positive partners -- he's in favor of it and has a strenuous point of view about its relative safety. He's not keeping many secrets. Of course, his enemies argue that he's intellectually dishonest -- but that's different from being actually dishonest.

Still, the in flagrante delicto Web pages, which were enterprisingly saved and reposted by his detractors, are a fleshy corpus: "killer muscle ass that loves to milk loads with my power glutes." Not exactly gay pride, but strong porn-writing skills. With pictures too: a fabulously muscled, thick-necked headless torso -- which will make an ideal book cover when the story is told. (We may just be on the verge of understanding what an incredible kink-catcher the Web can be -- a Web page becomes the misdelivered letter in a Restoration comedy.)" (Michael Wolff, "Strange Bedfellows," New York Magazine, June 18, 2001).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Gramsci, We Hardly Knew Ye!!

Prince Charles apparently pictures himself as a lonely dissident. The story's headline in the New York Times, from all appearances, was not intended to be ironic:

"Charles sued The Mail, claiming it had violated his privacy and was guilty of copyright infringement. He also hopes to prevent the paper from publishing seven similar reports he wrote after other trips, which were apparently leaked to it by a disgruntled former palace employee.

But the case is becoming less about copyright law and more about Charles's role in British politics. According to testimony by Mark Bolland, the prince's deputy private secretary from 1996 to 2002, the prince sees himself not as an aristocratic man of privilege, but rather as a "dissident working against the prevailing political consensus."

Charles, he wrote in a statement that is part of the newspaper's defense, had a habit of plying people — members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, influential acquaintances — with letters outlining his unsolicited "views of political matters and individual politicians at home and abroad and on international issues." (Sarah Lyall, "The Dissident Prince: Public, Prickly and Very Political," The New York Times, February 23, 2006).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Structure of Feeling

Gary Younge on the manufacture of a hegemonic structure of feeling:

"But to others Summers has become a martyr - a man "daring" enough to "challenge the pillars of political correctness", who caused "would-be feminists [to get] the vapours".

In other words Mr Summers's problem was not that he blundered, but that he was brave. Quite what is brave about suggesting women are not as clever as men, supporting the US army or hounding out a black academic is not clear. True Summers lost his job. But he went down defending privilege and power and the ideas that maintain them. In so doing he lost the support of his peers. Shot by his own troops, some are now nominating him for a medal of honour.

But the days when courage referred to those who take on the mighty against all odds and face the consequences are, apparently, over. For, when it comes to attacking the weak and backing the strong, "bravery" has somehow become the mot du jour. A couple of years ago a British journalist won a major award for columns supporting the Iraq war on the grounds that to do so was "brave". Whether the award was deserved is irrelevant; the judges' adjective is the issue.

What, after all, is "brave" about supporting the policies of both your government and the sole global superpower against a country that posed no threat? Likewise, when David Goodhart, the editor of Prospect magazine, published his blueprint for racial exclusion two years ago ("To put it bluntly," he wrote, "most of us prefer our own kind"), he was praised for being "bold". As though maligning diversity constituted an act of courage in a country where black people are overwhelmingly more likely to be stopped, searched, jailed, murdered in jail, unemployed and marginalised. It is not the validity of these arguments that is at issue here but the characterisation of those who make them as audacious that is problematic.

To align yourself with the powerful and then take aim at the powerless takes not one ounce of valour. To prop up prevailing hierarchies and orthodoxies rather than challenge them demands not a scintilla of bravery. True, like Summers, you may run into trouble. But just look who's covering your back. With the prevailing winds of war, prejudice or the state on your side, the odds are with you. Since the privileges you are defending are inherent in the commentariat - how many women, blacks, working-class people or Muslims get to speak, let alone be heard? - your worldview is constantly being reinforced.

It may still be the right thing to do - the weak should not be protected from criticism nor the strong denied praise solely on the grounds of their relative material strength. But those who choose Goliath's corner cannot then claim underdog status once David gets out his slingshot. Take the Danish cartoons. They were first printed in a country that supports the war in Iraq, where the far-right Danish People's party receives 13% of the vote and where, according to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, racially motivated crimes doubled between 2004 and 2005. Barely had the ink dried on sermons extolling western civilisation last month than scenes of colonial barbarism involving British troops beating Iraqis filled our screens. Soon after came more images from Abu Ghraib, showing a handcuffed Iraqi with mental-health problems taunted by US soldiers.

We saw him pounding his head on a cell door and hanging upside down from a top bunk, clothed only in his faeces. These cartoons did not appear in a vacuum. In publishing them the editor of Jyllands-Posten had illustrated not just an insensitive Islamophobic jibe but a racist mindset that has consequences for Muslims worldwide. He had a right to print them. But to do so in this context was an act of bigotry, not bravery. Underpinning this peculiar notion of courage is the feeble-minded obsession with political correctness - the ultimate refuge of the baseless argument and the clueless commentator.

Over the last month "political correctness" has been used in the British press on average 10 times a day - twice as frequently as "Islamophobia", three times as "homophobia" and four times as "sexism". Its ubiquity is due in no small part to its flexibility. During that period it has been used to refer to the ill-treatment of rabbits, the teaching of Gaelic, Mozart's opera La Clemenza di Tito, a flower show in Paris and the naming of the Mazda3 MPS. But it's most commonly evoked to suggest that honest conversations are being curtailed by a liberal establishment intent on imposing its ideological beliefs on an unwilling public.

Quite where this establishment resides (other than in the minds of the right), where it gets its power and how it exercises it is far from clear - given the reactionary state of the world it is doing a terrible job. Since only about 5% of daily newspapers bought by people in Britain could be described as progressive, there is plenty of room in the national discourse for rightwing people to say whatever they want. And they do. But once this straw man has been invented, you need only knock him down to earn your medal of valour. It is true that some ways of behaving and speaking that were once mainstream are no longer acceptable.

There was a time when such words as "darkie", "paki", "puff", "spastic" and "coloured" were common currency. We have abandoned them for the same reason we no longer burn witches at the stake or stick orphaned children in the poor house. We have moved on. That's not political correctness but social and political progress. Not imposed by liberal diktat, but established by civic consensus. Those who are unwilling or unable to move on are welcome to those words and views. But like anyone else who engages in antisocial behaviour, once they act on those impulses they must live with the consequences of those actions. They might be crude, crass or contrarian; insensitive, ignorant or in denial. But whatever else they are, they are not brave." (Gary Younge, "Take a Potshot at the Powerless, and You Too Can Win a Medal of Valour," Guardian Unlimited, March 6, 2006).


Jonathan Freedland on forgiveness:

"In Facing the Truth, victims and perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland met each other under the gentle gaze of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They told and heard stories to break the heart, and sometimes their eyes grew moist, but these men did not cry.

These remarkable films, shown over three successive nights, prompted a whole range of thoughts. First, they were a reminder of the sheer strangeness of the Troubles. Citizens of this country recalled their campaigns to kill each other; how they saw themselves and their targets as "soldiers", how they studied files, drawn up by self-styled "intelligence officers", telling them how to track down and murder their quarry. How they did this while pretending to live ordinary lives. Michael Stone, notorious for his 1988 killing spree at Milltown cemetery, used to rub dirt and sand into his clothes so that his wife would think he was a builder. One of his targets drove a Mother's Pride delivery van. Few described it this way at the time, but these programmes left little doubt: on the streets of the United Kingdom, there was a civil war.

Facing the Truth prompted a question: why has Northern Ireland not had its own truth and reconciliation commission, analogous to the one Archbishop Tutu chaired in South Africa? Why had it been left to television, to the BBC, to organise one? Watching, it became clear the province needs such a process: there is no shortage of pain or people yearning to bear witness.

But the programmes asked a larger question. For what was noticeable in several of the filmed encounters was a subtle, unstated pressure - not on the culprits to show contrition, but on the victims. Those who had lost limbs or loved ones were under pressure - to forgive.

Carefully and sensitively, the grieving relatives were led to a climax: how would they close the meeting? Would they be able to reach out and shake the hand of those who had wrought such havoc? There was something uncomfortable about this, for it is part of a larger pressure, not confined to this TV series, which demands that those who have suffered most must also be the most generous.

Which is why I feel for the Rev Julie Nicholson, the vicar who has quit her Bristol pulpit because she can no longer preach forgiveness - not after her daughter, Jenny, was killed in the July 7 bombings last year. As a Christian, Nicholson clearly felt under enormous pressure to say she could forgive Mohammed Sidique Khan, who had blown up himself and six others at Edgware Road station. But she could not do it.

And now I wonder why we ask such a thing of those who have been bereaved so cruelly. Of course, there are people who are able, somehow, to meet this challenge. The mother of Anthony Walker, the Liverpool teenager murdered by racist thugs wielding an ice axe, somehow emerged from the trial of her son's killers to declare: "I have got to forgive them. I still forgive them." Last year the mother of Abigail Witchells, stabbed in front of her toddler child, spoke of her "enormous sadness" on hearing of the suicide of her daughter's presumed attacker. She said his death was the "real tragedy of the story" - and that she had forgiven him.

I confess to being both in awe of and baffled by the compassion of such people. Of course, none of us can know how we would respond to so desperate a plight, but I struggle to understand how you could forgive the killer, or attempted killer, of your own child. I do not know how it would be possible to hold anything in your heart but rage and pain.

There are philosophical objections one could muster too. Surely the only person who can forgive a crime is its direct victim: Anthony Walker has the authority to forgive his killers - but he is not here. For believers, I have sympathy with those who say that if forgiveness is in the hands of anybody it is, like judgment, in the hands of God alone.

But these are not the prevailing or even popular assumptions. Instead, we exalt those who can forgive and regard those who cannot as guilty of a kind of moral weakness. We demand that those who have been brought low reach highest.

There might be a way through this - and it would begin with an attempt to define our terms. Forgiveness has entered casual parlance as a psychological term, shorthand for "moving on", for no longer holding a grudge, even for feelings of equanimity or empathy towards the person who hurt you.

"If it is that, it can't be done," says Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and author of Christianity and Violence. He dismisses the idea of "loving" the man who has harmed you or your family as "morally perverse, even if I understood what it meant. How could feelings of anger and loss coexist with that love?" That definition of forgiveness, the one we seem to demand from those who have suffered most, is little more than "cheap Christian rhetoric".

No, forgiveness should be a much more realistic, pragmatic business. In Fraser's eyes, to forgive someone is merely to vow that you will not respond to their crime in kind. If they have killed, you will not kill back: you will choose instead to end the cycle of violence. On this definition, forgiveness is the literal opposite of revenge.

This is a move that is much easier to imagine. Sylvia Hackett, whose husband Dermot was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, has clearly moved beyond wanting to do to Michael Stone what he and his comrades did to her. But on Monday night's programme she seemed to feel that was not enough; she forced herself to walk over to Stone and shake his hand. When he placed a second hand on hers, she recoiled and fled from the room. It was too much. She may not have wanted to kill Stone, but nor did she want to be his friend. Yet our present day notions of forgiveness confuse the two.

Not that the eschewing of revenge should be considered something small: it is not forgiveness lite. In most circumstances, we can give up our right to seek direct vengeance in favour of justice: we may not kill the killers, but at least we will see them behind bars. But in some places - Northern Ireland and South Africa among them - there is not even that comfort. Justice has been sacrificed in the pursuit of peace. That is why Michael Stone, originally sentenced to 684 years in jail, is now a free man, released under the Good Friday agreement.

So we should alter what we mean by forgiveness. It is not a syrupy inscription in a greetings card; it is a painful, practical step taken by those who want to end the killing. It is not some impossible ideal: it is, properly defined, achievable - and no less admirable for that." (Jonathan Freedland, "Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to love your husband's killer," The Guardian Unlimited, March 8, 2006).