Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 4:03 PM
America has become a cruel country. There are clear examples of this, which Jonathan Schell points to in an article for The Nation. Cheering for execution numbers, as happened in a recent Republican presidential campaign debate; celebrations in the streets following the killing of Osama bin Laden; the Bush administration’s torture, followed by the “brazenness” of both Bush and Cheney, who “publicly embraced their wrongdoing” on recent tours for their memoirs; Obama’s unwillingness to impose legal accountability on any in the Bush administration; and our country’s criminal justice system, including its use of the death penalty and solitary confinement. And though cruelty cannot be legislated, it “can be manifested in legislation,” Schell argues, pointing to a number of cuts “on the right-wing agenda.” Of that long list he writes, “It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut.”
“Cruelty is a close cousin to injustice, yet it is different,” Schell writes:
Injustice and its opposite, justice—perhaps the most commonly used standards for judging the health of the body politic—are political criteria par excellence, and apply above all to systems and their institutions. Cruelty and its opposites, kindness, compassion and decency, are more personal. They are apolitical qualities that nevertheless have political consequences. A country’s sense of decency stands outside and above its politics, checking and setting limits on abuses. An unjust society must reform its laws and institutions. A cruel society must reform itself.
Schell’s piece taken along side a post at utne.com today from Tom Engelhardt on the sad reality of what’s become of George W. Bush’s American Dream, paint a picture of a country that has lost its way. And while both pieces find cause for hope—the protesting of Troy Davis’ killing in the former and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the latter—it’s hard to see past the similar descriptions in both of a country so enamored with its own brute strength that it’s created a monster out of it. “Bush’s American Dream,” Engelhardt writes, “was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly.” While Shell describes the U.S. as “a country that seems to know of no remedy for social ills but punishment.”
Source: The Nation, TomDispatch
Image by Robert Couse-Baker, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 4:38 PM
With US troops marching out of Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike, it will be difficult for Barack Obama’s political enemies to characterize the president’s first-term performance on the international stage as indecisive, inexperienced, or weak-kneed—a strategy that helped unseat Carter and left Gore desperate for Florida’s electoral votes. Barring a domestic terror attack, in fact, hawkish Republicans will likely avoid serious foreign policy discussions and quietly cheer for the economy to continue its slumber.
The electoral ramifications notwithstanding, what worries Mark Lagon, International Relations and Security Chair at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, is that Obama’s seeming strength (and good fortune, I might add) betrays a lack of inventiveness and depth—especially when it comes to projecting soft power, that combination of diplomacy and nonmilitary coercion essential to enduring influence and stability.
Writing in the October issue of World Affairs, Logan notes that when Obama initially took office he “made fresh start statements, such as his June 2009 remarks in Cairo, and embraced political means like dialogue, respectful multilateralism, and the use of new media, suggesting that he felt the soft power to change minds, build legitimacy, and advance interests was the key element missing from the recent US approach to the world—and that he would quickly remedy that defect.”
Since then, Obama has embraced unilateral military actions, accelerated the use of unmanned drones—despite the risk of untold civilian casualties—and has continued a number of the Bush administration most unpopular policies, including rendition and the suspension of habeas corpus domestic and foreign. Consequently, the administration lacks credibility on those occasions it does choose to engage in statecraft.
To prove the point, Logan looks in detail at events in Iran, Russia, and Egypt during Obama’s first term; countries where a “meaningful” expression of soft power could “have made a difference not only for those countries but for American interests as well.”
“[Obama’s] reaction to the challenges these countries have posed to the US suggest that it is not soft power itself that Obama doubts,” Logan concludes, “but America’s moral standing to project it.”
Source: World Affairs
Image byThe U.S. Army, licensed under Creative Commons
Wednesday, November 02, 2011 2:59 PM
Many Americans, especially young Americans—those who came of age in the last three decades—have trouble associating terrorism with anything separate from those who carry out attacks in the name of Islam. This, writes Philip Jenkins in The American Conservative, is a product of a short national memory, one that forgets or dismisses the history of terrorism:
It’s remarkable to see how readily modern audiences credit suggestions about the novelty of international terrorism or its association with Islamist groups. Particularly startling is how thoroughly Americans have forgotten their own terrorist crisis of the mid-1970s.
Jenkins reminds readers of Abu Nidal—“as infamous in the 1970s and 1980s as Osama bin Laden has been in recent times”—who specialized in simultaneous attacks meant to keep his enemies discombobulated. With that in mind, one need look no further than the concurrent attacks on 9/11 and the confusion and speculation that followed to see Jenkins’ point that Nidal “wrote the playbook for al-Qaeda.” Far from carrying out attacks in the name of any religion, Nidal, Jenkins writes, “usually served Iraq’s secularist Ba’ath regime, which persecuted Islamists.”
Along with Nidal there have been terrorist organizations that run the gamut, “from Western anarchists and nihilists, from the Catholic IRA and Latin American urban guerrillas, from Communists and fascists, from Zionist Jews and Sri Lankan Hindus” and those who owe “much to the Marxist tradition—to Lenin, Guevara, and Mao—and next to nothing to Muslims.” And most of the tactics used today can be traced back to organizations having nothing to do with Islam. “Think for instance,” Jenkins writes,
of those unspeakable al-Qaeda videos depicting the ritualized execution of hostages in Iraq and elsewhere. To quote Olivier Roy, one of the most respected European scholars of Islamist terrorism, these videos are “a one-to-one re-enactment of the execution of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades [in Italy in 1978], with the organization’s banner and logo in the background, the hostage hand-cuffed and blind-folded, the mock trial with the reading of the sentence and the execution.”
Pointing to one race, color, or creed as exclusively holding the reigns of terror forgets the long history of modern terrorist tactics, fed by every type of human imaginable. Jenkins’ essay is a humbling read for anyone who has forgotten this history, or who never knew it, and one that reminds us just how short our memories can be.
Source: The American Conservative
Image by mattlemmon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:34 AM
For those who strive for inner peace but don’t take themselves too seriously: A list of 20 thoughts to think while pretending to meditate.
What does a real life superhero look like? Photographer Peter Tangen will show you.
Is the story of finding Osama bin Laden a cover for the real story?
Before the EPA was a “Job-Killer,” Michele Bachmann thought it could bring “long-term benefits to…the economy.”
A smart young woman launches an activist website to help her parents’ native country, Yemen, in its grassroots battle to oust 33-year-dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A 417 million-year-old oil deposit is drawing the oil industry to North Dakota, “the only state in the country that had more residents in 1930 than it does today,” Governing reports.
How fast fashion takes a toll on the earth.
High school girls earn ‘A’s for asexuality.
It’s no surprise that Kanye West and Jay-Z would make a collaborative album about how awesome they are. But, Grantland asks, is it any good?
Not to harsh your buzz, but Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is no longer the authoritative work of art on Ken Kesey’s psychedelic school bus ride.
From banjo to violin to blues guitar, street performers offer a primer on the art of busking.
Forget the book of love. Meet the kindly author who wrote the Book of Raunch.
With lots of enticing buttons, flashy animations, pop-ups, and hyperlinks, the Internet can be a pretty distracting place. How is anyone supposed to get any writing done? Answer: Head to QuietWrite, the web’s private writer’s nook.
Image by Drab Makyo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 05, 2011 11:48 AM
Check out this automated Japanese book xylophone.
Girl Scout cookies seem innocent enough, but they could be destroying irreplaceable rainforests.
Trippy, dude: Researchers are looking into the possible benefits of psychedelic drugs again.
Why is a 16-year-old suing the United States of America?
Are you afraid of natural disasters? If so—according to a new infographic that breaks down risk-by-region—you should move to Corvallis, Oregon.
The Daily Beast compiled a decade’s worth of bin Laden-based longform journalism.
A gallery shows the 150 or so covers of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita.
What’s like a spork, but badass? This thing.
Chainsaw Samaritans help homeowners dig out after the South’s devastating tornados in a poetic, moving short for the Oxford American’s SoLost video series.
Welcome to Disney World’s internship program, where flipping burgers isn’t food service, it’s magic.
Thursday, May 20, 2010 3:02 PM
Linguistic anthropologist Flagg Miller spent years transcribing the contents of Osama bin Laden’s personal cassette collection. In the May-June 2010 issue of Utne Reader, we reprinted an article on Miller’s work from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here’s an excerpt:
The tapes surfaced in December 2001, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, when CNN acquired them from a prominent family in bin Laden’s former neighborhood. CNN turned the tapes over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which eventually deemed them of limited intelligence value. The FBI then passed them along to the Afghan Media Project at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. That’s when Miller’s phone rang.
It made sense to call him. Miller, a linguistic anthropologist, is fluent in Arabic and was working on his first book, The Moral Resonance of Arab Media: Audiocassette Poetry and Culture in Yemen. When the bin Laden tapes arrived, they were dusty, poorly marked, and crammed haphazardly into cardboard boxes. Of the more than 1,500 tapes, 23 feature bin Laden himself; the rest are an assortment of sermons, lectures, and scripted melodramas. They were recorded at weddings, in mosques, and in the backs of taxicabs.
For several years, Miller would fly to Massachusetts and spend days transcribing, translating, trying to make sense of what he heard.
In this episode of the Utnecast, Utne Reader Editor in Chief David Schimke talks to Flagg Miller about the tapes and what he’s learned from them.
Flagg Miller on Osama bin Laden’s Cassette Collection (18:43)
Or download the podcast at iTunes or the UtneCast blog.
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