Bangladesh: The Next Islamist Revolution?

“Bangladesh was supposed to be a model of democratic tolerance. But that was before militants like Bangla Bhai began their reigns of torture and the cry went up for a new Taliban.”

Elizabeth Griswold in the New York Times Magazine:

Last spring, Bangla Bhai, whose followers probably number around 10,000, decided to try an Islamist revolution in several provinces of Bangladesh that border on India. His name means ”Bangladeshi brother.” (At one point he said his real name was Azizur Rahman and more recently claimed it was Siddiqul Islam.) He has said that he acquired this nom de guerre while waging jihad in Afghanistan and that he was now going to bring about the Talibanization of his part of Bangladesh. Men were to grow beards, women to wear burkas. This was all rather new to the area, which was religiously diverse. But Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, as Bangla Bhai’s group is called (the name means Awakened Muslim Masses of Bangladesh), was determined and violent and seemed to have enough lightly armed adherents to make its rule stick.

More here.

Projekt30: Publicly juried art exhibition

Lara_marcantonio_1_sm This is an interesting site with a lot of visually arresting art. You may vote for or against a work of art by rating it on a scale of 1 to 5, determining whether it will be including in their February show:

There are two sections:

First, a full listing of all of the submissions we recieved is available for view to all.

Second, a randomly ordered list of all artists can be voted on for you to help determine which artists graduate to the February Exhibition, slated to open February 4, 2005.

To view all of the submissions we recieved, click “view submitted work” at left.

To jury a random ordering of all artists, click “jury the exhibition” at left.

Check it out here.

Michael Chabon on Sherlock Holmes

Michael Chabon reviews The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, and with an introduction by John le Carré, in the New York Review of Books:

Sherlock One hundred and seventeen years after his first appearance in print, in the pages of Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887, fans and nonbelievers alike seem to feel compelled to try to explain Sherlock Holmes’s lasting appeal, marveling or shaking their heads at it, or both, as if the stories of the adventures with Dr. Watson were a system, like semaphore or the pneumatic post, that ought long since to have been superseded. Such explanations make the case, with varying success, for clever and competent plotting, or the bourgeois thirst for tidy adventure, or nostalgia for a vanished age (Victorian, or adolescent), or the Holmes–Watson dynamic (analyzed perhaps in terms of Jungian or queer theory), or the underlying and still-palpable gentlemanliness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or even, of all things, for the quality of the writing itself, so much higher than it ever needed to be. Inherent in these explanations, buried or explicit, among apologists and critics alike, is a feeling that maybe the fifty-six stories and four short novels that make up the so-called canon (so-called by Sherlockians, about whom more later) are not worthy of such enduring admiration.

More here.

Syed Ali Raza, 1913-2005

Dr. Azra Raza (3 Quarks editor and my sister) writes in Karachi’s largest English language daily, Dawn:

Bhayya_smiling_in_white_sherwaniSyed Ali Raza, a retired director of the ministry of foreign affairs and a devotee of scholarship, died peacefully in his sleep in Karachi on January 6. The youngest of four children of Syed Zamarrud Hussain (1876-1932) and Hashmi Begum (1885-1956), he was born in Bijnor, India, on November 29, 1913.

By the time Ali Raza was four year old, his father had relocated the family to Lucknow. There after began two decades of a life full of economic hardship, but also full of deep family bonding, motivated by the ideals of intellectual and personal enhancement.

Because of his level of comfort in several languages, Ali Raza also acquired a reputation for translations from Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic. One of his finest accomplishments is the direct translation of Hazrat Ali’s Nahjul Balagha from Arabic into English, a publication which has undergone several printings, and remains in wide circulation not only in Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East, but is also found in libraries across Europe and America.

Other books translated from Arabic into English include Aqa-i-Syed Baqar Sadr Shaheed’s Bahas Haul-ul-wilaya, Hashim Maroof Hussaini’s Al Aimmatul Isna-ashr, Mohammad Jawwad Mughannia’s Al-mazahibul Khamsa, Aqae Abdul Hussain Sharful Moosvi’s Abu Huraira, Murtaza Askari’s Muqadmate Miratul Uqool, and Aqaey Mehdi Shamsuddin’s Al-zaroof-us-siyasat-us Shooratul Hussain.

The list of his translations from Urdu into English is too long, but some of his most beloved original contributions are those done at the request of his children such as a tashreeh of Josh Malihabadi’s Wahdat-i-Insani and Hussain aur Inqilab and Allama Iqbal’s Masjid-i-Qurtuba.

Despite the infirmities of his last two years, he was intellectually fully alert till the day he died, continuing to work several hours a day, engaged in reading, writing, editing and publishing.

Read the rest in Dawn here. For a longer and more detailed version of the obituary, including a longish family history, click here.

Syed Ali Raza was, of course, among other things, my father.

Our Novel

We wish a happy birthday to Don Quixote, who turned 400 this past Sunday. It is commonly observed that, after the Bible, Cervantes’s masterpiece is the world’s most translated and printed book. Yet, the importance and influence of the novel can hardly be estimated by so crudely quantitative a measure. Quixote brought about a new way of representing the world. Gone is the world of the romance, with its knight errantry and haunted landscapes. In its place is the ordinary world of mere mortals, with common longings and secular destinies. Quixote understood his life as a story. We do much the same thing, but our stories are more earthbound. Such is what it means to live in modernity, thanks in no small part to Cervantes.

“At that instant, a breeze of wind springing up, the great sails began to turn; which being perceived by Don Quixote, ‘Tho’ you wild, said he, ‘ more arms than ever belonged to the giant Briareus, we will make you pay for your insolence’. So saying, and heartily recommending himself to his lady Dulcinea, whom he implored to succour him in this emergency, bracing on his target, and setting his lance in the rest, he put his Rocinante to full speed, and assaulting the nearest windmill, thrust it into one of the sails, which was driven about by the wind with so much fury, that the lance was splintered to pieces, and both knight and steed whirled aloft, and overthrown in very bad plight upon the plain.”

Village doctors and Tsumani relief efforts

This piece in The New York Times details one indigenous disaster relief effort in Sri Lanka. 

“While foreign aid groups are helping, officials of the World Health Organization said in interviews that much of the organizing and the real work is being done by Sri Lankans themselves. The country is not rich, but it has a well-organized public health system, and medical officers like Dr. Sameem – he is one of 214 – have been running the day-to-day business of looking after health in the camps. Many, like Dr. Sameem, are local doctors in villages and small towns who have been suddenly thrust into the forefront of coping with this disaster and warding off epidemics.

Dr. Sameem has guided foreign medical teams to the areas in his region that need help most, and talked an aid group into providing a car to get his staff to the camps. (They initially turned him down.) He has deployed nurses, midwives, doctors and health inspectors to the camps to check on sanitary conditions, spray pesticides, disinfect wells, look for signs of disease, treat the sick and report their findings to the Ministry of Health.”

Pinker on Larry Summers’ and the Underrepresentation of women in math and sciences

Larry Summers’ suggestion that differences in apptitude between men and women could partly explain why women are underrepresented in math and sciences has predictably sparked a controversy–something that seems to happen to Summers all the time.  Steven Pinker offers some thoughts on the issue here.

“First, let’s be clear what the hypothesis is . . . the statistical distributions of men’s and women’s quantitative and spatial abilities are not identical—that the average for men may be a bit higher than the average for women, and that the variance for men might be a bit higher than the variance for women (both implying that there would be a slightly higher proportion of men at the high end of the scale). It does not mean that all men are better at quantitative abilities than all women! That’s why it would be immoral and illogical to discriminate against individual women even if it were shown that some of the statistidcal differences were innate.

Second, the hypothesis is that differences in abilities might be one out of several factors that explain differences in the statistical representation of men and women in various professions. It does not mean that it is the only factor.

. . .

Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is ‘offensive’ even to consider it?”

Distant Warblings

We are happy to see the publication this week of Daryl Hines’ new and much anticipated verse translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Chicago, 2005). Hesiod’s erotic and mythic pastorals strike a timely balance to his more epical and well-known contemporary Homer. For an age as weary of battle as ours, Hesiod seems newly relevant. Here is the creation of Pandora, vividly rendered as a punishment to our distant patron Prometheus:

Then cloud-gathering Zeus to Prometheus said in his anger:
“Iapetus’s brat, since you’re so much smarter than anyone else, you’re
Happy to outwit me, and rejoice in the fire you have stolen—
For yourself a calamity, also for men of the future.
For I shall give them a bad thing, too, in exchange for this fire, which
Heartily all may delight in, embracing a homegrown evil.”
Speaking, the father of gods and of mankind exploded in laughter.
Then he commanded Hephaestus, the world-famed craftsman, as soon as
Possible to mix water and earth, and infuse in it human
Speech, also strength, and to make it look like a goddess, and give it
Likewise a girl-like form that was pretty and lovesome. Athena
Would instruct her in handwork and weaving of intricate fabrics;
Furthermore, gold Aphrodite should drip charm over her head to
Cause heartsore longing, emotional anguish exhausting the body.
Zeus gave instructions to Hermes, the sure guide, slayer of Argus,
To put in her the heart of a bitch and a devious nature.
Then did the famed lame god manufacture at once from the earth a
Fair simulacrum of one shy maiden, according to Zeus’s will.
Next to her skin did the godlike Graces and gracious Persuasion
Carefully place gold necklaces; round her adorable head the
Hours who are gorgeously coiffed wove garlands of beautiful spring flowers.
Hermes, our sure guide, slayer of Argus, contrived in her breast
Lies and misleadingly false words joined to a devious nature,
At the behest of the deep-voiced thunderer, Zeus; and the herald
God of the gods then gave her a voice. And he called her Pandora,
Seeing how all who inhabit lofty Olympus had given
Something to pretty Pandora, that giant bane to industrious mankind.

Watching Hotel Congo in 2014?

Michael Kavanagh writes a disturbing piece some weeks ago about the crisis in Congo. It concludes:

“When will the world pay attention?” is the question the IRC poses in its report. It would be nice to answer by saying, “There’s always hope.” But instead I find myself thinking of a quote from Hotel Rwanda‘s Col. Oliver, Nick Nolte’s Romeo Dallaire-inspired character. In the first weeks of the genocide, when Rusesabagina suggests that the international peacekeepers will fly into Rwanda and save them, the colonel rebukes him: “We think you’re dirt,” he says. “You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”

This was the conclusion many Rwandans came to after 1994. Looking at the situation in eastern Congo 10 years later, there’s still little to disabuse them of this notion.

I would also direct your attention to a first person account of experiences in the Congo from our colleague Edward Rackley at Old Town Review.

The human catastrophe of Eastern Congo is, for visitors,         a bundle of numbness and raw nerves. In September, at the invitation of         a British think-tank, I visited the unstable region to assess the causes         of ongoing violence against civilians. With close to 15,000 peacekeepers         on the ground, a transitional government anticipating national elections         in six months, and well-funded efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate         combatants into civilian life—the “DDR process”—why         are civilians still being killed with such impunity? Scores of interviews         with humanitarian actors, UN staff, and Congolese revealed the usual suspects:         predatory governance, uncontrolled armed groups, endemic impunity, and         the inaccessibility of civilian populations due to ongoing combat.

None of these factors is particularly well understood         by outsiders; this opacity keeps the “heart of darkness” myth         alive. For insiders, Africa remains a Dark Continent by sole virtue of         its ability to generate degrees of suffering that surpass human comprehension.         Unfettered anarchy it is not. Recent African crises have birthed a new         truism: “If it looks like anarchy, then you don’t understand         what you see.” Eastern Congo fits the adage well: “chaos”         and “senseless tragedy” are the inevitable, indelible impressions         etched on any visitor’s memory. But behind the barrage of extreme         scarcity, mute agony, and feverish suspicion is a clear pursuit of economic         interest, a highly dexterous application of disorder as political instrument.       


A brief history of the memo

Like many, I’m taken by histories of things like footnotes, the number zero, small and convenient things which I largely related to functionally.  In the most recent Critical Inquiry, John Guillory has a piece on the memo and its place in modernity.

“The genre of the memo has attracted little attention as an object of study, because it would seem to lack the features of what in literary theory we like to call a ‘text.’ Individual memos are less representative of the genre in the very proportion that they are more interesting as texts. But the ubiquity of the memo belies its triviality, and raises questions about writing in modernity that cannot be answered by asking these questions only of figures such as Joyce, Freud, Darwin, or Heisenberg. We can begin to enrich the interpretive context of the memo by referring it to the theme of bureaucracy , a subject of longstanding sociological interest. Unsurprisingly, Weber observes in his great work, Economy and Society , that ‘the management of the modern office is based upon written documents (‘the files’),’ and that this form of writing is necessarily connected to the very idea of the office or ‘bureau,’ as the spatial means of organizing scribal labor.

. . .

[T]he memo emerged as a result of a new kind of managerial practice, and not as a development of rhetorical theory . On the contrary, the invention of the memo entailed a deliberate forgetting of rhetoric, an act of oblivion. The memorandum was not an evolution of the business letter but a new genre of writing. The term ‘memorandum’ in this new generic sense began to be used in the later 1870s and early 1880s, although it did not become common until the 1920s, by which time the form of the memo was in widespread use. (‘Memo,’ 497). The idea of the memorandum as a ‘note to oneself’ precisely captures the situation of internal communication within an organization. Hence [JoAnne] Yates speaks of the memo as constituting an ‘organizational’ memory.”

Varieties of National Style

Few intellectuals write as eloquently as Benedict Anderson, a thinker whose well-turned sentences surely belong in the tradition of Hume, Burke, and Ruskin. (Among late twentieth-century academics, perhaps only Said was his equal.) In this recent review, he considers topics as diverse as alien abduction and Irish pubs: “If one wished to see modern world history as an endless soap opera, in every country the one character centrally cast in each interminable episode would be one’s own nation. Newspapers everywhere are invariably divided between national news, on the one hand, and international and local news on the other. Television exhibits exactly the same morphology. A tyro visitor to the United States, absorbing the American mass media, will feel the terrifying force of every-minute ‘banal nationalism’, but for most nationals the cultural-political air will seem almost windless. There is nothing peculiarly American about this.”

Hobsbawm on how evolutionary biology can save history

The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has an interesting piece on truth in history and historiography.  He suggests that evolutionary biology can save “total history”.

It is time to re-establish the coalition of those who believe in history as a rational inquiry into the course of human transformations, against those who distort history for political purposes – and more generally, against relativists and postmodernists who deny this possibility. . .

The Marxist approach is a necessary component of this reconstruction of the front of reason. While postmodernists have denied the possibility of historical understanding, developments in the natural sciences have put an evolutionary history of humanity firmly back on the agenda.

Firstly, DNA analysis has established a firmer chronology of the spread of the species from its original African origin throughout the world, before the appearance of written sources.

. . .

[T]he DNA revolution calls for a specific, historical, method of studying the evolution of the human species. It also provides us with a rational framework for a world history. History is the continuance of the biological evolution of homo sapiens by other means.

Secondly, the new evolutionary biology eliminates the distinction between history and the natural sciences and bypasses the bogus debates on whether history is or is not a science.

Thirdly, it returns us to the basic approach to human evolution adopted by prehistorians, which is to study the modes of interaction between our species and its environment and its growing control over it.

. . .

However, the new perspectives on history should also return us to that essential, if never quite realisable, objective of those who study the past: “total history”.

Read some responses here. (Via normblog)

Even More on Social Security Privatization

I’m one who thinks that the space allotted to op-ed columns in The New York Times is too small for some issues.  One can, as Krugman does, have several columns on the same topic.  But it may work better with less frequent but longer pieces for each columnist, as Brad DeLong once suggested.  In either case, here’s a longer piece by Krugman on Social Security in The Economists’ Voice, the sort of thing I had in mind–though some may and do object to the focus on the motivations of the other side, seeing it as unfair filler by the opposition.

“As I’ve described it, the case for privatization is a mix of strange and inconsistent budget doctrines, bad economics, dubious political economy, and science fiction.  What’s wrong with these people?

The answer is definitely not that they are stupid. In fact, the case made by the privatizers is fiendishly ingenious in its Jesuitical logic, its persuasiveness to the unprepared mind.

But many of the people supporting privatization have to know better. Why, then, don’t they say so? Because Social Security privatization is a solution in search of a problem.”

Expected scientific discoveries, 2005

We here at 3QD like lists.  Here’s one from The Guardian, a list of scientific discoveries we should have made by the end of 2005.  Some of it’s rather strange.

4. How someone looks after a face transplant

A surgical team from Louisville, Kentucky, is hotly tipped to perform the world’s first face transplant this year, taking a face from a donor corpse and attaching it to a severely disfigured recipient.

The team, which includes bioethicists, submitted a detailed proposal to an ethics panel last May, and the lengthy approvals process concludes soon. In Britain, meanwhile, plans have been put on hold after a Royal College of Surgeons’ working party concluded that the risks outweighed the benefits.”

Also via Political Theory Daily Review.

Happy people are less well-connected to reality and what it may mean for the rest of us

Most explanations and explanatory frameworks in the social sciences ignore the role of emotions in determining human behavior.  Largely, this is a product of the fact that it’s hard to address emotions within a theoretical framework.  There have been attempts to systematically study the role of emotions in recent years.  I suspect that the events of the past few years will lead to a even great focus on things like a sense of humiliation, anger, envy, fear, etc. 

Here’s a study that reports the results of two experiments on the influence of mood on moral judgments. “[T]he data support other empirical research showing that individuals in a positive mood (here, happiness) tend to process information more superficially than those in a negative mood (here, anxiety).”

(Via Political Theory Daily Review)

Rorty’s Kripke

About ten years ago I picked up Kripke’s Naming and Necessity in the midst of lots of reading that centered on German Idealism and the Ancient Greeks. I didn’t really get the point of Kripke, I didn’t ‘feel the force’ of the philosophical problems except to notice that the emphasis on language’s relation to natural kinds seemed vaguely Aristotelian in an unpalatable sort of way.

Still, the urgency with which Kripke wrote also created the impression that something important was going on. In a way, that led me to a much deeper engagement with analytic philosophy and I’m thankful for that, even if much of the stuff is turgid scholasticism.

A lovely short tour through the Kripkean ‘revolution’ is Rorty’s review of Soames’ new tomb in the London Review of Books. If only more people could write like Rorty does about contemporary philosophy.

Before Kripke, most analytic philosophers would have said that all essences were merely nominal. That is, they thought that the question of whether water was ‘essentially’ H2O, or whether something with much the same properties but a different chemical composition might also be water, was uninteresting, because merely verbal. (This is also the view of most non-analytic philosophers: Heideggerians treat talk of real essences as part of the discredited onto-theological tradition, and Derrideans as a distressing symptom of phallogocentrism.) On a pre-Kripkean view, it may indeed be found convenient to find a word other than ‘water’ for the strange new substance, but there are no deeper reasons – nothing like what Kripke had dubbed ‘metaphysical necessity’.

Darwin was generally thought to have struck a blow against Aristotelian essentialism by showing that the lines between biological species had not been drawn by God, and that species kept mutating into different species. But Kripke argued that one could accept Darwin’s story but still say that ‘Whales are not fish’ is a necessary a posteriori truth. For whales would not be whales if they did not have a certain DNA sequence, just as water would not be water if it were not made of hydrogen and oxygen. Microstructure is a tip-off to intrinsic nature, not just a pragmatically useful redescription of things that were originally identified by their macrostructural properties.

Kripke thought that their refusal to take natural kinds seriously showed that everybody from Russell to Quine had been arrogantly turning their backs on what Soames calls ‘the great mass of ordinary, pre-philosophical convictions arising from common sense, science and other areas of inquiry’ – convictions that philosophy cannot ‘overturn wholesale’. A typical result of this arrogance was Quine’s claim that everything we talk about – water, electrons, numbers, mountains, you, me, the Olympian deities – is just a pragmatically convenient ‘posit’. This looked to Kripke, as it does to Soames, like frivolous paradox-mongering. The popularity of such frivolity in the winter of 1970 was, Soames thinks, a sign that analytic philosophy was in dire need of reform.

Tsunami Philosophicus

I suspected in a post here at 3Quarks just after we learned of the devastating Tsunami that such events do not occur without generating a little reflection about the meaning of it all. Terrible natural disasters are particularly difficult to accept without raising fundamental Kantian-themed questions about the relation between Nature and Freedom and the like. As I noted then, nothing shattered the confidence of the Enlightenment like the Lisbon earthquake.

In an offering from Leon Wieseltier at TNR, exactly that theme is expounded upon.

On the morning of November 1, 1755, an earthquake destroyed Lisbon. It lasted ten minutes, and concluded with a tsunami at the mouth of the Tagus River. Tens of thousands of people perished, and the philosophical confidence of Europe was forever shaken. When I began to grasp the magnitude of what the Asian ocean wreaked last week, it was to the Lisbon literature that I turned for assistance. I was in no mood to open a Bible. It is indecent to move immediately from catastrophe to theodicy. Evil should shock and disrupt. The humanity of the dead should be honored with the tribute of dissonance, the tribute of doubt. I do not see how a theistic view of the world cannot be embarrassed, or damaged, by such an event. If it is not possible to venerate nature for its goodness, then it is not possible to venerate the alleged author of nature for His goodness.

And Hendrik Herzberg muses in the New Yorker:

The terrible arbitrariness of the disaster has troubled clergymen of many persuasions. The Archbishop of Canterbury is among those newly struggling with the old question of how a just and loving God could permit, let alone will, such an undeserved horror. (Of course, there are also preachers, thankfully few, who hold that the horror is not only humanly deserved but divinely intended, on account of this or that sin or depredation.) The tsunami, like the city-size asteroid that, on September 29th, missed the earth by only four times the distance of the moon, is a reminder that, one way or another, this is the way the world ends. Man’s laws are proscriptive, nature’s merely descriptive.

Yet it is the very “meaninglessness” of the catastrophe—its lack of human agency, its failure to fit into any scheme of human reward and punishment—that has helped make possible the simple solidarity of the global response. President Reagan, to the exasperation of his aides, used to muse that human beings, faced with some mortal threat from beyond the skies, would put aside their differences in common cause. Something like that, on a very modest scale, appears to be happening as the world clamors to help the survivors of the destroyer from beneath the seas. Tsunamis have no politics.

Democratic Vistas

We observe this week the eagerly awaited translation of Giorgio Agemben’s State of Exception (Chicago, 2005). Among the most creative political theorists on the international scene, Agemben here takes stock of the fate of democracy in the post 9/11 era, placing the suspension of civil liberties in a long historical and philosophical context. Agemben describes the two-fold dimension of the argument in a recent interview in the German Law Journal as follows: “The first is a historical matter: the state  of exception or state of emergency has become a paradigm of government  today.  Originally understood as  something extraordinary,an exception, which should have validity only for a limited period of time, but a historical transformation has made it the normal form of governance.  I wanted to show the consequence of this  change for the state of the democracies in which we live.  The second is of a philosophical nature and  deals with the strange relationship of law and lawlessness, law and anomy.  The state of exception establishes a hidden  but fundamental relationship between law and the absence of law.  It is a void, a blank and this empty space  is constitutive of the legal system.”

Agemben received some attention stateside last year when he refused to take up a visiting position at NYU because traveling to the US would have required fingerprinting.

The System of World Literature

Few books in the literary humanities today have much of an impact outside their respective fields. Such is the fate of a discipline objectively in crisis. Even so, Pascale Casanova’s recently translated World Republic of Letters (Harvard, 2005) is making quite a mark. An analysis of “the global economy of prestige that ushers some authors into the international literary sphere while keeping others shut out,” Casanova’s study argues that the Parisian cultural establishment gives shape to national literatures far outside its geographical and linguistic purview.

Cultural Capital Volume Two

An analysis of the debate over the literary canon, John Guillory’s Cultural Capital (Chicago, 1993) was among the most widely cited and influential books published in the academic literary humanities in the 1990s: “the idea was to push the debate off the term ‘identity’, or social identity, and move it more in the direction of considering schools, institutions, language, the discourse of literature, the discourse of criticism.” In this recent interview, Guillory considers the impact that his book had and takes a look at the current state of the academic discipline of literary study. He also discusses what it was like to be a graduate student at Yale during the heyday of deconstruction and how his early Jesuitical training influenced his later, secular vocation as a critic.