Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me (so far….)

1.) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (I have returned to this novel again and again ever since I first read it in 7th grade.)

2.) The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche (First hooked me onto philosophy)

3.) Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (Determinative of my thinking on power, law and space)

4.) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (This book has lingered in my consciousness during my darkest hours)

5.) Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (I still haven’t full digested the full scope of this book’s ideas yet I keep going back to do so – he made me appreciate philosophy about Being, even if I didn’t share his intellectual framework and ideology.)

6.) Ulysses by James Joyce (first major avant-garde work I read – love his clever wordplay, extensive knowledge of various writing styles and his love for his characters)

7.) White Noise by Don DeLillo (It was this book that taught me to interrogate our postwar consumerist culture and economy – also sparked my lifelong love affair with postmodernism)

8.) Cities of Salt quintet by Abdel Rahman Munif (Only read the only three volumes that were available in translation but it still impressed me with its trenchant political critique of the impact of Gulf monarchies on the lives ordinary Arabs. Revived my interest in Arabic letters)

9.) Spectres of Marx by Jacques Derrida (re-oriented my ideology to the far-left – helped me become a Marxist, even though its approach is far from doctrinaire)

10.) In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (Pretentious choice I know and one that may not make complete sense to me at such a young age but from what I got – I have never read a work that gave a better insight into the struggles and anxieties of a young closeted homosexual man. It’s discussion of Belle Epoque social manners, hypocrisy, lesbianism, psychology and repressed desire speak to me on many levels. I wish to return to this novel again and again during my lifetime).

This is but a preliminary list for there is so much I have read and have yet to read that I don’t think a reading person can be most shaped by a set list of books over the course of a lifetime. Yet they have touched me the most so far and represent some of the most intellectually and aesthetically fulfilling reading I have ever done.

Meet Hamdeen Sabahi – reviving the Nasserist legacy

The historically significant Egyptian presidential elections are still going on and the race is as contentious as ever. While I think there’s more than enough commentary on the Islamist, liberal and Mubarak-era candidates, the man that catches my attention most is Hamdeen Sabahi. Sabahi’s significance lies in being perhaps the only candidate/leader in Egypt (if not in the Arab spring total) who is both a serious contender and a passionate advocate of the Nasserite tradition, believed by many western commmentators to be on the scrap heap of history. While many would suggest that the Arab spring is revolt first and foremost against the bureaucratic and autocratic tendencies characteristic of Nasserism, less discussed is the possibility of a successful synthesis between Nasserite social awareness and democratic principles. Sabahi sketches out this conjunction in a way compatible with the demands of post-Mubarak Egypt and its different constituencies.

http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/search-egypt’s-fifth-president-hamdeen-sabahi

Here’s a discussion of Sabahi, part of Al-Akhbar’s series on the presidential candidates.

Absence

I would like to extend an apology to my readers for my inexpliable absence this past week and a half. The demands of the job market have forced me to keep swimming, with no time to stop for reflection. And what a week for reflection it was, with the deaths of two major musical superstars, the savage repression of protests in Chicago and the 64th anniversary of what is practically one of the forgotten acts of national ethnic cleansing in the 20th century.

Coverage of Syriza in Media

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/world/europe/new-greek-elections-loom.html?pagewanted=1&hp

Now compare the commentary above with this:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c24d9b50-9aa9-11e1-9c98-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1usejKTxs

The Financial Times at least allows us the possibility of two different explanations for Syriza’s rise, minus uncritical adulation. But from the NYT’s perspective, Syriza is just another cooky anti-capitalist European leftist party that could potentially screw things up economically for Greece were it to have it’s way. And this is a paper that largely informs American public opinion of European politics, along with NPR.

 

Review of Hasana Sharp’s Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization

Interesting review of Hasana Sharp’s new book Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization. http://societyandspace.com/reviews/reviews-archive/hasana-sharp-spinoza-and-the-politics-of-renaturalization-reviewed-by-peter-gratton/

 

 “The book is split into two parts, “Reconfiguring the Human” and “Beyond the Image of Man”, and it should seen as moving through the dénouement of human sovereignty often depicted in modernity: first its sovereignty over itself, second over nature, and thirdly over the animals that they are. In the first part, Sharp sets out how Spinoza’s philosophy offers an antidote to the atomistic individual, while also countering those forms of hyperbolic ethics after Levinas that denote the asymmetry of self and other. On the one hand, Spinoza’s account of the self evinces “the lack of sovereignty in each and every one of us” (page 24), since we are embedded in webs of relations as “transindividuals”—she weds Spinoza and Simondon on this account—or collectivities among and beyond human beings. For this, she “seek[s] the nonhuman forces operating within everything we think is ours, or our own doing” (page 9). Here, Sharp works to shape a flatter ontology reminiscent of other neo-Spinozists such as Jane Bennett, whose “political ecology of things” in Vibrant Matter (see my review here) she cites approvingly. There is a positive, life-affirming upshot beyond this rethinking of nature, given that she urges us “to built a culture that affirms the necessity rather than the arbitrariness of the will in order to counter the hatred and sadness that arise from viewing ourselves and one another as uniquely responsible for our actions”; our bodies move not simply from the expression of the mind, but in response to other bodies—human and non-human alike (page 46). But just as Spinoza’s parallelism denies the sovereignty of the mind over the body, Sharp is also clear that Spinoza was not a naïve materialist wherein ideas are nothing but the concretion of our material conditions. Thus, she offers a corrective to many recent materialisms. “There is a danger that, in our time,” she warns, “the notion of natural determination may overwhelm the imagination, such that an invocation of the body eclipses any consideration of the mind” (page 49). Spinoza’s account of the ideas as having a force and self-perseverance unto themselves—the quick and loose analogy would be Richard Dawkins’ conception of “memes”—also challenges us to think how ideology operates, not in terms of domination and oppression, but in horizontal disseminations closer to the Foucauldian models of power. That is, the task is not just to think only bodies as caught in a chain of cause-and-effect relations, but the mind as well in terms of changes in affect that “points to the mind and body at once” in the dual languages of mind and extension irreducible to one another.”

Women and the Afghan War

Afghan women never cease to be a topic of interest for the English-language media. Recently, Al Jazeera English has reported on a new documentary  on the assertiveness on the part of Afghan women against the stark gender inequality ingrained in the country’s political system. The particular story being discussed concerns a young 15 year old girl named Sahar Gul who was savagely abused by her in-laws after refusing to work in the sex trade to financially assist her family. It’s but the latest in a series of harrowing stories that dispel any cheery notion we may have had 10 years ago about the emancipatory potential of the US overthrow of the Taliban. What is interesting in this piece however is this comment towards the middle of the article:

“The fear is that with the 2014 departure of NATO troops drawing ever closer, the plight of Afghan women could actually worsen rather than improve. Whatever else they may be held responsible for, those forces have tried to use their leverage to promote and protect women’s rights. When they go, any gains made could be reversed. Also likely to decrease is the foreign aid that pays for schools and clinics that have changed many lives. Afghan women dread being abandoned again by the rest of the world, as they were during the Taliban era.” (Al Jazeera English May 13, 2012)

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the standard line about how a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan would spell immediate disaster for Afghanistan’s women, including their abandonment to a new reign of misogynistic terror under the Taliban. Far be it from me to defend the former Taliban government’s record on womens’ rights (which was horrifying) but what disturbs me about most of these discussions (including the one above) is the implication that somehow womens rights have significantly improved under the Karzai government and that whatever may be wrong with the NATO mission, it’s support for Afghan women lends it moral ground. Not only does this argument fall into the usual category of imperial fictions legitimized by humanitarianism, it masks the abysmal and draconian  record of the Karzai government in that same department. Even as Karzai promises to build a stable Afghanistan with equality for all, free from the pernicious domination of the Taliban, he has simultaneously surrounded himself with  ultra reactionary politicians and clerics, the appointment of which portend little better for gender equality in the country. This was evident from Karzai’s Chief Justice appointment for the Afghan Supreme Court, who is said to have recognized only two rights for Afghan women under the Constitution: 1.) The right to obey her husband and 2.) The right to pray, though not in the mosque. Since then, the court has backed other controversial laws, including one that could be read as legalizing marital rape. International outrage however, forced Afghan lawmakers to modify the language of the law. Women’s activists like Malalai Joya or groups such as the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) in particular criticize the easy collaboration between the US and Karzai for locking Afghan women deeper into a brutal network of control and abuse that leaves them with fewer opportunities for emancipation or self-improvement. But back to the topic at hand.

Conceding all of this, pro-war pundits still argue that Afghan women are marginally better off under the imperfect Karzai administration than under the Taliban and that a NATO withdrawal will see conditions for women deteriorate. But does the current NATO occupation necessarily improve things for women? So far, the war has cost thousands of lives (men, women and children), not to mention emboldening a resurgent Taliban to wage a deadly insurgency to retake the country from an occupation with increasingly little legitimacy among the people of the country. Increased support for the end of the NATO mission coupled with disastrous acts such as the recent massacre of 17 Afghan villagers by (supposedly) one US marine earlier this year can only boost support for the insurgents, making the fear of a NATO withdrawal a self-fulfilling prophecy, in the sense of the resulting increased gender inequality.

However, enough from me. These are probably rather stale arguments in the anti-war discourse but their pertinence is still as strong as ever, given the discussions in pieces as recent as the one from Al Jazeera English above. Therefore I welcome an open discussion about the NATO mission and gender equality in the country. How strong are current gains for women right now and do they require a prolonged western military presence in order to be viable?

The Structure of Syria’s Revolution

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/201211313229137341.html

Larbi Sadiki’s piece on the professionalisation of the Syrian revolution has many interesting insights into protests’ hierarchy, the most notable being it’s analysis of moblization across sectarian and ethnic divisions, implying a contrast to the chaotic communalism surrounding the forced ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Also informative is it’s discussion of the specific groups that organize the contemporary protests in Syria,  including not just well known bodies like the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army but also the National Coordination Body, the various Local Coordination Committes and even the Muslim Brotherhood, whose organizational rigour and discipline in the face of autocratic repression have given it a sharp competitive edge over the failed secular democratic competition to Arab Nationalist parties such as the Ba’ath or the Free Officers movement in Egypt. Nevertheless, I still have reservations concerning it’s somewhat uncritical appreciation of some of these groups in relation to furthering the revolution’s goals. True this piece may not have been intended to perform an evaluative function but when crediting groups such as the National Council with giving the revolution organization and voice, it risks obscuring debates surrounding members links to the regime, corrupt political practices or even dubious priorities – factors that may be problematic for the revolution’s success.