Monday, 31 October 2011

Shrilal Shukla, author of Raag Darbari, passes away

Shrilal Shukla was born in 1925, graduated from Allahabad University, and was a UP PCS officer before being elevated to the IAS. His first novel, Sooni Ghati Ka Sooraj, published in 1957, made him the youngest Hindi writer at that time to win the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1970. Sociologist Shyama Charan Dube had once said that study of the Indian society is incomplete without referring to Raag Darbaari, which was turned into a TV series for Doordarshan.” Widely considered to be among the best Hindi novels of the last century with a grand national narrative, Raag Darbaari portrayed a feudal, crumbling Shivpalganj — the archetypal village of the Hindi heartland with its politico-cultural tensions and administrative neglect. Shukla delved upon almost everything that was decadent in the system, but stopped short of making a moral statement.  “The remarkable thing about Raag Darbaari is that he decried the system in spite of being an instrumental part of it,” said another close friend of Shukla’s, former DGP Mahesh Chandra Dwivedi, an author in his own right.. It was ironical that the man famous for his sharp commentary on governance and administration should receive his final recognition, the Jnanpith Award, on his deathbed.

NB: We can only imagine what he might have said about this belated bureaucratic recognition by the servants of the public..

Gregory Bateson: From Versailles to Cybernetics (1966)

This lecture by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson blending themes in history & mythology with modern cybernetics is not only profoundly insightful about the consequences of human deception but is also prophetic about the possibilities & dangers of the age of information technology. It is a neglected masterpiece which is worth a hundred volumes of scholarship - Aseem Shrivastava. 

NB - Gregory Bateson (1904 -1980) was an English anthropologistsocial scientistlinguistvisual anthropologistsemiotician & cyberneticist. He was married to Margaret Mead. In the 1940s he helped extend systems theory/cybernetics to the social/behavioral sciences, and spent the last decade of his life developing a "meta-science" of epistemology.. his most noted writings are Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Mind and Nature.

Extract: I have to talk about recent history as it appears to me in my generation and to you in yours and, as I flew in this morning, words began to echo in my mind. These were phrases more thunderous than any I might be able to compose. One of these groups of words was, "The fathers have eaten bitter fruit and the children's teeth are set on edge." Another was the statement of Joyce that "history is that nightmare from which there is no awakening." Another was, "The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children even to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me." And lastly, not so immediately relevant, but still I think relevant to the problem of social  mechanism, "He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer."

We are talking about serious things. I call this lecture From Versailles to Cybernetics, naming the two historic events of the twentieth century. The word "cybernetics" is familiar, is it not? But how many of you know what happened at Versailles in 1919?The question is, what is going to count as important in the history of the last sixty years? I am sixty-two, and, as I began to think about what I have seen of history in my lifetime, it seemed to me that I had really only seen two moments that would rate as really important from an anthropologist's point of view. One was the events leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, and the other was the cybernetic breakthrough. You may be surprised or shocked that I have not mentioned the A-bomb, or even World War II. I have not mentioned the spread of the automobile, nor of the radio and TV, nor many other things that have occurred in the last sixty years. Let me state my criterion of historical importance...

Most of you probably hardly know how the Treaty of Versailles came into being. The story is very simple. World War I dragged on and on; the Germans were rather obviously losing. At this point, George Creel, a public relations man—and I want you not to forget that this man was a granddaddy of modern public relations—had an idea: the idea was that maybe the Germans would surrender if we offered them soft armistice terms. He therefore drew up a set of soft terms, according to which there would be no punitive measures. These terms were drawn up in fourteen points. These Fourteen Points he passed on to President Wilson. If you are going to deceive somebody, you had better get an honest man to carry the message. President Wilson was an almost pathologically honest man and a humanitarian. He elaborated the points in a number of speeches: there were to be "no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages ..." and so on. And the Germans surrendered... Read on:

Jean Ziegler: Brussels is unspeakably hypocritical

'The current European Commission is made up of fully fledged mercenaries in the service of monster corporations in the agri-food business. The power of lobbies in Brussels is incredible. If they wanted to do it they could put an end to agricultural dumping tomorrow..'
Vice-president of the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, Jean Ziegler has just published Destruction massive. Géopolitique de la faim (“Mass Destruction: the Geopolitics of Hunger” published in France by Seuil). In this essay, the Swiss socialogist recounts his experience as the  United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2000 to 2008, and analyses the reasons for the current global death toll from malnutrition, which kills 36 million people every year.
Why are people still dying of hunger?
There are five major reasons: first and foremost, financial speculation in in raw materials for food, which have resulted in soaring prices in recent years and made it almost impossible for aid agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) to fulfill the needs of malnourished populations. Then we have bio-fuels, which have diverted farmland and crops from food production. Thirdly, there is the problem of external debt, which has a stranglehold over the poorest countries and prevents them from investing in subsistence agriculture. Then there is the dumping of agricultural surpluses, which has resulted in the sale of fruit and poultry from countries like France, Greece, Portugal and Germany etc. on markets in places like Dakar and Cotonou, at a third or half the cost of locally produced African products. Finally, there is the monopolisation of land by investment funds and major multinationals, who drive out local farmers to cultivate products that are exclusively destined for western markets.
Is the EU responsible?
It is 100% responsible for agricultural dumping, which is actively supported by France. In 2005, on the occasion of WTO talks in Hong Kong, the Secretary General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, proposed to progressively eliminate export subsidies over a five-year period. And this proposal met with vigorous opposition from France, which is in favour of sustaining export subsidies, notably because of the political influence of agricultural chambers of commerce. And so the dumping has continued in Africa, which is under populated even though it has an extraordinary peasant class… but this class has been decimated because farmers are unable to sell their produce. Read on..

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Censorship in Pakistani Urdu Textbooks : Ajmal Kamal

The authorities’ initiative to impose censorship through legislative means dates back to the Public Safety Act Ordinance imposed in October 1948, and later, in 1952, ratified by the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan as the Safety Act. Apart from numberless political workers, newspapers, and periodicals, the leading literary journals too fell victim to this oppressive piece of legislation which was only the first in a long series of such laws. In fact, Savera (Lahore) has the dubious honor of being the first periodical of any kind to be banned, in 1948..

The infamous Safety Act had well-known literary people on both sides. On the one hand, literary critics such as Muhammad Hasan Askari found the law perfectly justifiable...On the other hand, there were writers and editors who were prosecuted under this law, Saadat Hasan Manto perhaps being the most prominent among them. (For details of Manto’s trials, see his Lazzat-e Sang, Lahore: Naya Idara, 1956.) Manto’s writing had had a history of attracting the wrath of the authorities for its downright honest and realistic portrayal of life and its stinging moral and political comment. He had been prosecuted under the British colonial government for publishing the short stories “Dhuvan” and “Kali Shalvar.”.

A particularly harmful expression of this intolerant and myopic policy has been felt in the field of education, more specifically in the preparation and dispensation of textbooks for Pakistani students...In his commendable work, aptly named The Murder of History in Pakistan, Dr. Aziz has painstakingly carried out a detailed analysis of the revolting mixture of half-truths, distorted facts, harrowing omissions, blatant lies, and ugly governmental propaganda dished out as “history” to scores of unsuspecting students...In an ideological state such as Pakistan, the revision of history to further the aims of those who happen to be in power at a given time should surprise no one. The rewriting of texts is not limited to the technically non-existent subject of “history” alone. It frequently spills over into other fields as well—for instance, literature. Needless to say, the respectable compilers and editors, contracted by the Board for the purpose, tacitly know what is expected of them, their submissive and unquestioning cooperation matched only by officials working for government departments..

I would like to give three significant examples of this process of officially sanctioned revisionism—two examples that appear in Part I of the Gulzar, and one more, in some detail, from Part II. My aim is to show that literary texts are unhesitatingly censored, without any kind of indication or explanation, to make them conform to the official outlook.

In Part I, Premchand, who was included in the textbook for Class XI before it was revised, has been dropped altogether. Given his pioneering contribution to the development of modern Urdu fiction, one can think of no reason for Premchand’s exclusion except that he was a non-Muslim. This exclusion may be regarded as analogous to attempts made by several literary historians and critics who, ashamed or unable to accept a Hindu as the first short story writer of Urdu, have replaced him with a writer of more acceptable beliefs, if not of comparable merit. Lacking both the means and the intention to defend Premchand against these learned efforts, I would nevertheless point to his more secure status as the first Urdu fiction writer of any consequence. The other victim of the revisionist hatchet in Part I is Khvaja Hasan Niizmi. In his case, certain key words and phrases have been unwarrantedly removed from his piece “Thhele-wala Shahzada.” .. Read more at :<>

More articles on ideological censorship and propaganda in Pakistan:
The ideology of thought control: <>
Pakistan: When hatred seeps into classrooms <>
Textbooks as primers for extremism <>

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Eric Joseph Simeon, born October 29, 1918

Farewell to Thee! But not farewell -
To all my fondest thoughts of Thee;
Within my heart they still shall dwell
And they shall cheer and comfort me

Lt Col Eric Joseph Simeon in Sainik School Kunjpura circa 1962

Life seems more sweet that Thou didst live 
And men more true that Thou wert one; 
Nothing is lost that Thou didst give
Nothing destroyed that Thou hast done

(Anne Bronte)

My dear father was born this day, 93 years ago, in Allahabad. 
He passed away in 2007, after a fulfilling life. This photograph was taken circa 1962.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Paul Celan : After The Disaster

Stephen Mitchelmore explores the post-Holocaust poetry of Paul Celan
"Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we 
drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue 
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on us he grants us a grave in the air 
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from 
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith
Paul Celan
...It troubled Celan that the man he saw as one of the greatest of modern thinkers, so close to his own work, was a Nazi. One cannot even say 'had been a Nazi' because he never said anything that amounted to a renunciation. Late in life, Heidegger became interested in Celan's work. He recognised him as the only living equal of Hölderlin. He attended public readings given by the poet, and in 1967 even invited him to his famous Black Forest retreat at Todtnauberg. Celan accepted. This was a significant move as Celan had developed an intense sensitivity (one might say 'anxiety') toward anti-Semitic tendencies in post-war Europe. When his dedicated publishers re-issued the work of a poet popular in the Nazi years, he left for another, and when German literary authorities exonerated him over plagiarism charges, he regarded it as a humiliation to be even under investigation. Yet here he was meeting a man in his most intimate home, a home in which, it is said, he had once run Nazi indoctrination sessions. Perhaps Celan never knew the full extent of Heidegger's culpability.
Generally, not much is known about Celan's reasons for accepting the invitation, nor what happened during the visit, but very soon after Celan wrote a poem called 'Todtnauberg'. The title reference is explicit; the place name is synonymous with the philosopher..
As Pierre Joris points out in his exceptional analysis of the various translations of the poem, 'Todtnauberg' is barely a poem than single sentence divided into eight stanzas. The first of the three above display Celan's extraordinary eye for nature, as noted earlier in "Nocturnally Pouting". Arnica and Eyebright are flowers noted for their healing qualities, so right from the start there is the sense of what the meeting is all about. In the third, the poet signs the visitors book and makes plain his awareness of who might have signed it before - Germans being indoctrinated into Nazi ideology perhaps. He hopes for a word in the heart of the great man. Did the word reveal itself? ..
Almost certainly not. The two men walked across woodland each in his isolation: an orchid and an orchid. And the poem remained isolated as far as Heidegger was concerned. He displayed his special copy of the poem proudly to subsequent visitors to the cottage, seemingly unaware of its implications. Perhaps this is enough to indicate the blindness of a man, even one with genius, rooted in his familiar landscape - brought out here in Hamburger's translation of log-paths as 'fascine', a word so close to 'fascist', the etymological origin coming, as Joris says, from the Latin 'fasces' - a bundle of wooden rods - the symbol of fascism.
'Todtnauberg' , therefore, cannot be regarded as a coded accusation, or as a shy expression of bitterness, or sentimental regret, or of pompous self-definition in contrast to a supposed intellectual superior, but rather the very openness Heidegger apparently lacked. As Celan once said: "Poetry does not impose itself, it exposes." The lack of a second 'itself' in this sentence exposes.. 

Magic and guilt

The electric and torturous correspondence between Germany's legendary poets, Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, has now been released in book form for the first time. Ina Hartwig on what was probably the most complicated love story in post-war Germany. Take a deep breath and prepare to sweep away all the jargon and highfalutin that has built up around Ingeborg Bachmannand Paul Celan over the years. It's a unique opportunity to start from scratch.


The legendary correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan which was originally intended to be kept under wraps until 2023, has been released by their heirs and editedby Suhrkamp Verlag with appropriate thoroughness. And here they are - almost 200 documents, letters, dedications, telegrams, postcards which open the door onto a huge, difficult relationship between two individuals, who were nothing less than hurled into each others' arms by affinity, poetic calling, erotic attraction and mourning for events of the past. The documents date from the period before fame towered over the two poets in a way that seemed more destructive than protective. Indeed the need for protection and the feeling of woundedness thread through their letters like a leitmotif.

UN: World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion young people

The world is in danger of missing a golden opportunity for development and economic growth, a "demographic dividend", as the largest cohort of young people ever known see their most economically productive years wasted, a major UN population report warned on Wednesday. The potential economic benefits of having such a large global population of young people will go unfulfilled, as a generation suffers from a lack of education, and investment in infrastructure and job creation, the authors said...
The report found a "vicious cycle" of extreme poverty, food insecurity and inequality leading to high death rates, that in turn encourages high birth rates. Only by investing in health and education for women and girls can countries break the cycle, as improving living conditions will allow parents to be more confident that their children will survive, and therefore have smaller families.
Crucial to this will be allowing women and girls greater freedom and equality, in order to make their own choices about fertility. Hundreds of millions of women would prefer to have smaller families, but are unable to exercise this preference owing to a culture of repression.
"Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies and information that women need to exercise their reproductive rights," said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA. 

Mukul Kesavan - Delhi University and the purging of Ramanujan

'The essay is a marvellous account of the hundreds of ways in which the Ramayana has been told, complete with examples of this narrative diversity. I can’t imagine that the vice-chancellor, a member of that urbane cohort, the Class of ’75, wanted the essay removed because he agreed with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad goons who first agitated on the issue three years ago. They did this by trashing the department of history and physically assaulting the head of the department. This happened during the tenure of the previous vice-chancellor, but no holder of this office could possibly wish to further the work of thugs who seek to violently limit the intellectual freedom of a university. So that couldn’t be the reason.

The essay by AK Ramanujan censored by DU's Academic Council

Nor could it be expert opinion. The expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the matter had four members, three of whom endorsed Ramanujan’s essay without reservation. The fourth, while praising the essay’s scholarship, came to the conclusion that it would be difficult for college lecturers to teach with sufficient context, especially those who weren’t Hindu.

Now, one of the assumptions behind the idea of a university education is that people learn about things they didn’t know before. Then, if they so choose, they become teachers themselves and pass that knowledge on to others. If our fitness to teach a subject was predicated on the cultural context into which we were born, we wouldn’t have universities as we know them today. I teach history at Jamia Millia Islamia. For years, I taught a course called ‘The History of Islam in India’. My department had many distinguished historians who happened to be Muslim, but not one of them was crass enough to suggest that my being non-Muslim rendered me unfit to teach that course.

This is, in essence, the objection of the solitary dissenting expert to Ramanujan’s essay being a part of the BA syllabus: it can’t be properly taught by college teachers who aren’t Hindu. I can’t bring myself to believe that university teachers (and the vice-chancellor and the members of the academic council are, first and last, academics) voted to banish “Three Hundred Ramayanas” on grounds that would effectively destroy the rationale and foundation of university education...'

by Mukul Kesavan. Read on..

Society of Facebook

NBBoth the content and style of the text below are taken from:
Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, available on Marxist Internet Archive and here:

But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. 
Feuerbach, Preface to the 2nd edition of The Essence of Christianity

# 1: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of networks. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
# 2: The faces detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be re-established. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of faces of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous face, where the liar has lied to himself. Facebook in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.
# 3: Facebook presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.
# 4: Facebook is not a collection of faces, but a social relation among people, mediated by faces.
# 6 : Facebook grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, Facebook is the present model of socially dominant life...

# 167: This society which eliminates geographical distance reproduces distance internally as networked separation.

# 215: Facebook is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in its fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negation of real life. Facebook is materially “the expression of the separation and estrangement between man and man.” Through the “new power of fraud,” concentrated at the base of Facebook in this production, “the new domain of alien beings to whom man is subservient... grows coextensively with the mass of objects.” It is the highest stage of an expansion which has turned need against life. “The need for money is thus the real need produced by political economy, and the only need it produces” (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). Facebook extends to all social life the principle which Hegel (in the Realphilosophie of Jena) conceives as the principle of money: it is “the life of what is dead, moving within itself.”
NB: Interesting ideas. The author's name is unavailable, as far as I can tell. The website is elusive, and I now discover that it has disappeared from the Net. I'll try and recover it! DS

To add to the terms used here, such as 
'generalized separation', 
'the deceived gaze', 
'the unrealism of the real'; and 
'the world of the autonomous face, where the liar has lied to himself'; 
here are some other words & expressions come to mind when I think about Facebook-style networks:  'frenetic inertia'; 'narcissism'; 'ventriloquism'; 'ellipse' and 'tailored personae.
Also the term: 'capitalisation of anxiety'

Every mouse-click by known/unknown/little-known persons (potentially) affects our emotions, and can cast a spell over our everyday lives. It has an addictive pull, that increases the time spent on FB, that in turn augments FB's databank and ad-exposure. This is why FB encourages us to keep increasing our 'friends' circles and sub-circles. This is not to imply a wholly negative judgement of FB, but to point to an ever-present element within it. 

Also see: 
Guy Debord: Society of the Spectacle
Is Facebook Making Us Lonely
The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future
Vagueness: the linguistic virus in spoken language in the late 20th century
Nice Nihilism

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Vagueness: the linguistic virus in spoken language in the late 20th century

The decline and fall of American English, and stuff
I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. “And he was like, you know, ‘Helloooo, what are you looking at?’ and stuff, and I’m like, you know, ‘Can I, like, pick you up?,’ and he goes, like, ‘Brrrp brrrp brrrp,’ and I’m like, you know, ‘Whoa, that is so wow!’ ” She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.. In the spring of 1987 came the all-interrogative interview. I asked a candidate where she went to school.

“Columbia?” she replied. Or asked.
“And you’re majoring in . . .”

All her answers sounded like questions. Several other students did the same thing, ending declarative sentences with an interrogative rise. Something odd was happening. Was it guerrilla grammar? Had college kids fallen under the spell of some mad guru of verbal chaos? I began taking notes and mailed a letter to William Safire at the New York Times, urging him to do a column on the devolution of coherent speech. Undergraduates, I said, seemed to be shifting the burden of communication from speaker to listener. Ambiguity, evasion, and body language, such as air quotes—using fingers as quotation marks to indicate clichés—were transforming college English into a coded sign language in which speakers worked hard to avoid saying anything definite. I called it Vagueness.

By autumn 1987, the job interviews revealed that “like” was no longer a mere slang usage. It had mutated from hip preposition into the verbal milfoil that still clogs spoken English today. Vagueness was on the march... read more:

Condemned to Joy: the Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise

Extracts from Pascal Bruckner:
"..In  the 1960s, two major shifts transformed the right to happiness into the duty of happiness. The first was a shift in the nature of capitalism, which had long revolved around production and the deferral of gratification, but now focused on making us all good consumers. Working no longer sufficed; buying was also necessary for the industrial machine to run at full capacity. To make this shift possible, an ingenious invention had appeared not long before, first in America in the 1930s and then in Europe in the 1950s: credit. In an earlier time, anyone who wanted to buy a car, some furniture, or a house followed a rule that now seems almost unknown: he waited, setting aside his nickels and dimes. But credit changed everything; frustration became intolerable and satisfaction normal; to do without seemed absurd. We would live well in the present and pay back later. Today, we’re all aware of the excesses that resulted from this system, since the financial meltdown in the United States was the direct consequence of too many people living on credit, to the point of borrowing hundreds of times the real value of their possessions.

The second shift was the rise of individualism. Since nothing opposed our fulfillment any longer—neither church nor party nor social class—we became solely responsible for what happened to us. It proved an awesome burden: if I don’t feel happy, I can blame no one but myself. So it was no surprise that a vast number of fulfillment industries arose, ranging from cosmetic surgery to diet pills to innumerable styles of therapy, all promising reconciliation with ourselves and full realization of our potential. “Become your own best friend, learn self-esteem, think positive, dare to live in harmony,” we were told by so many self-help books, though their very number suggested that these were not such easy tasks. The idea of fulfillment, though the successor to a more demanding ethic, became a demand itself. The dominant order no longer condemns us to privation; it offers us paths to self-realization with a kind of maternal solicitude.

This generosity is by no means a liberation in every respect. In fact, a kind of charitable coercion engenders the malaise from which it then strives to deliver us. The statistics that it publicizes and the models that it holds up produce a new race of guilty parties, no longer sybarites or libertines but killjoys. Sadness is the disease of a society of obligatory well-being that penalizes those who do not attain it. Happiness is no longer a matter of chance or a heavenly gift, an amazing grace that blesses our monotonous days. We now owe it to ourselves to be happy, and we are expected to display our happiness far and wide.. Thus happiness becomes not only the biggest industry of the age but also a new moral order. We now find ourselves guilty of not being well, a failing for which we must answer to everyone and to our own consciences..

..What is needed is a renewed humility. We are not the masters of the sources of happiness; they ever elude the appointments we make with them, springing up when we least expect them and fleeing when we would hold them close. The excessive ambition to expunge all that is weak or broken in body or mind, to control moods and states of soul, sadness, chagrin, moments of emptiness—all this runs up against our finitude, against the inertia of the human species, which we cannot manipulate like some raw material. We have the power to avoid or to heal certain evils, yes, but we cannot order happiness as if it were a meal in a restaurant.

The Western cult of happiness is indeed a strange adventure, something like a collective intoxication. In the guise of emancipation, it transforms a high ideal into its opposite. Condemned to joy, we must be happy or lose all standing in society. It is not a question of knowing whether we are more or less happy than our ancestors; our conception of the thing itself has changed, and we are probably the first society in history to make people unhappy for not being happy..." Read more:

NB: A more complex reflection on the same theme is provided by the American philosopher Stanley Rosen in an essay named Sad Reason (1999). In this, he speaks of one of the consequences of the postponement of gratification, as being "..the simultaneous stimulation and stupefaction of our spiritual faculties that is induced by the endless pursuit of happiness. In slightly different terms, the residents of modernity alternate between radical new proposals for the attainment of happiness and admissions of temporary failure. The result is that while we anticipate happiness, we experience sadness directly. This anticipation is easily confused with happiness, especially because of the intensity with which we throw ourselves into revolutionary enterprises. With apologies to the psychiatrists, I call this manic depression, and this, I suggest, is the peculiar feature of late-modern sadness.." (Italics added- DS)

China to step up social media censorship

China has vowed to intensify controls on social media and instant messaging tools, in the highest-level official response to the extraordinary surge in microblogging in the country. The communique from the Communist party central committee follows growing boldness among users, who have discussed sensitive topics, highlighted scandals and attacked official abuses or inefficiency. This summer's high-speed rail crash in Wenzhou led to an outpouring of fury on microblogs about the handling of the disaster. That spilled over into mainstream media.
China already has the most extensive and sophisticated internet control system in the world. But censors have struggled to keep up with the flow of information on popular microblogs. The number of registered users on domestic services reached 195 million by the end of June, triple the figure of six months earlier, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.
"This [communique] is what we have been waiting for; there have been signs for weeks now," said David Bandurski, of Hong Kong University's China Media Project. "It is important, but it does not tell us exactly what's going to happen. It sends the signal: 'Everyone watch out'. "Usually [these kind of directives] are followed by some more concrete actions, but it's often very difficult to draw a line between a government policy flare like this and a particular action because control is a constant in China."
Communiques are a way for senior leaders to stress their priorities. "Strengthen guidance and administration of social internet services and instant communications tools, and regulate the orderly dissemination of information," said the document, carried in the official People's Daily newspaper and by the state news agency Xinhua. "Apply the law to sternly punish the dissemination of harmful information."
Microbloggers reacted with predictable disdain. One, using the name Luse Zhuren, wrote: "Good culture will all disappear if opinion keeps being guided." Another, Wu Sanfan, warned: "I faintly feel that weibo (microblogging services), this big tea house where ordinary people speak with freedom, will hang a wooden board up saying 'No talk about the country's politics'." Content is already blocked or deleted from services. But censors have found it hard to match the speed at which news can spread on microblogs or the way that users evade controls, such as by using euphemisms or homophones to refer to sensitive issues.

Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa

Statement For Immediate Release - 27 October 2011


76 secularists and human rights campaigners, including Mina Ahadi, Nawal El Sadaawi, Marieme Helie Lucas, Hameeda Hussein, Ayesha Imam, Maryam Jamil, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Farida Shaheed, Fatou Sow, and Stasa Zajovic have signed on to a Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa.

In light of the recent pronouncements of the unelected Libyan Transitional Council for ‘Sharia laws’, the signatories of the manifesto vehemently oppose the hijacking of the protests by Islamism or US-led militarism and unequivocally support the call for freedom and secularism made by citizens and particularly women in the region. Secularism is a minimum precondition for a free and secular Middle East and for the recognition of women’s rights and equality. 

We call on world citizens to support this important campaign by signing on to our petition:

We also ask that supporters click ‘like’ on our Facebook page to support this important campaign:!/pages/A-Free-and-Secular-Middle-East-and-North-Africa/271164176261820 and Tweet: #freesecularMENA in support of a free and secular Middle East and North Africa.

For more information, contact:
 Marieme Helie Lucas
 Maryam Namazie
 Telephone: +44 (0) 7719166731
 For a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa
 Email: secularMENA
 BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK

Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa

The 2009 protests in Iran followed by the Arab Spring have the potential to herald a new dawn for the people of the region and the world. The protests have clearly shown that people in the region, like people everywhere, want to live 21st century lives. We, the undersigned, emphasise their modern and human dimension and wholeheartedly welcome this immense and historical development. We are vehemently opposed to their hijacking by Islamism or US-led militarism and support the call for a free and secular Middle East and North Africa made by citizens and particularly women in the region.

Secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom & equality of all citizens & includes:
 1. Complete separation of religion from the state.
 2. Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes.
 3. Separation of religion from the educational system.
 4. Freedom of religion and atheism as private beliefs.
 5. Prohibition of sex apartheid and compulsory veiling.


 1. Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committees against Stoning and Execution, Iran/Germany
 2. Marieme Helie Lucas, Sociologist, Founder and former international coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue, Algeria/France
 3. Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
 4. Shahla Abghari, University Professor, Iran/USA
 5. Siavash Abghari, Esmail Khoi Foundation, Iran/USA
 6. Ahlam Akram, Palestinian Peace and Human Rights Writer and Campaigner, Palestine/UK
 7. Sargul Ahmad, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
 8. Mahin Alipour, Coordinator, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/Sweden
 9. Reza Alkrami, Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
 10. Farideh Arman, Coordinator, Committee to Defend Women’s Rights, Iran/Sweden
 11. Sultana Begum, Regional Gender Adviser, Diakonia Asia, Bangladesh
 12. Djemila Benhabib, Writer, Algeria/Canada
 13. Codou Bop, Journalist and Director of GREFELS, Dakar, Senegal
 14. Ariane Brunet, co-founder Urgent Action Fund, Québec, Canada
 15. Micheline Carrier, Sisyphe, Québec, Canada
 16. Patty Debonitas, Iran Solidarity, UK
 17. Denise Deliège Femmes En Noir, Belgium
 18. Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Sweden
 19. Fanny Filosof, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
 20. Mersedeh Ghaedi, New Channel TV Programme host, Iran/Norway
 21. Groupe de recherche sur les femmes et les lois, Dakar, Senegal
 22. Laura Guidetti, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
 23. Zeinabou Hadari, Centre Reines Daura, Niger
 24. Anissa Hélie, Historian, Algeria/France/USA
 25. Rohini Henssman, Human Rights Activist, India
 26. Hameeda Hossein, Chairperson Ain o Salish Kendra, Dhaka, Bangladesh
 27. Khayal Ibrahim, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
 28. Leo Igwe, Founder, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
 29. Ayesha Imam, Women’s Human Rights and Democracy Activist, Nigeria/Senegal
 30. International Campaign in Defence of Women’s Rights in Iran, Sweden
 31. International Committee against Execution, Germany
 32. International Committee against Stoning, Germany
 33. Iran Solidarity, Iran/UK
 34. Maryam Jamil, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq
 35. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra and
Chairperson Transparency International, Bangladesh
 36. Abbas Kamil, Unity Against Unemployment in Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq
 37. Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web, India
 38. Akbar Karimian, Human Rights Activist, Iran/UK
 39. Cherifa Kheddar, President of Djazairouna, Algeria
 40. Monica Lanfranco, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
 41. Houzan Mahmoud, Representative of Organisation of Women’s Freedom
in Iraq, Iraq/UK
 42. Nahla Elgaali Mahmoud, Biologist, Sudan/UK
 43. Anwar Mir Sattari, Human rights Activist, Iran/Belgium
 44. Amena Mohsin, Professor, Dept. International Relations Dhaka
University, Bangladesh
 45. Khawar Mumtaz, Director Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
 46. Taslima Nasrin, Writer and Activist, Bangladesh
 47. U. M. Habibun Nessa, President, Naripokkho, Bangladesh
 48. Partow Nooriala, Poet, Writer and Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
 49. Asghar Nosrati, Human Rights Activist, Iran/Sweden
 50. One Law for All, UK
 51. Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK
 52. Fariborz Pooya, Iranian Secular Society, Iran/UK
 53. Protagora, Zagreb, Croatia
 54. Hassan Radwan, Activist, Egypt/UK
 55. Mary Jane Real, Women’s Human Rights Coalition, Manila, The Philippines
 56. Edith Rubinstein, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
 57. Nawal El Sadaawi, Writer, Egypt
 58. Fahimeh Sadeghi, Coordinator, International Federation of Iranian
Refugees, Iran/Canada
 59. Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space, UK
 60. Nina Sankari, Secularist and Feminist, Poland
 61. Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (International Network)
 62. Aisha Lee Shaheed, London, UK
 63. Farida Shaheed, Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
 64. Siba Shakib, Filmmaker, Writer and Activist, Iran/USA
 65. Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Iran/UK
 66. Issam Shukri, Head, Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
 67. Southall Black Sisters, UK
 68. Fatou Sow, Sociologist CNRS, Dakar, Senegal
 69. Afsaneh Vahdat, Coordinator, International Campaign for Women’s
Rights in Iran, Iran/Sweden
 70. Lino Veljak, Professor of Philosophy, Zagreb University, Croatia
 71. Fauzia Viqar, Director Advocacy and Communications, Shirkat Gah
Women’s Resource Centre, Lahore, Pakistan
 72. Anne Marie Waters, One Law for All, UK
 73. Vivienne Wee, anthropologist, feminist and human rights activist,
Singapore and Hong Kong, China
 74. Women In Black, Belgrade, Serbia
 75. Sara Zaker, Theatre Director, Bangladesh
 76. Stasa Zajovic, spokesperson Women in Black, Belgrade, Serbia