Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What kind of a man was Shakespeare?

I've always thought," says Simon Callow ruminatively, "that Shakespeare was the kind of guy who goes to a party, nurses one glass, says nothing, and goes home with the prettiest girl in the room."
I imagine 1,000 biographers keeling over in horror. But Callow isn't joking. His new one-man show, which debuted last year in Edinburgh and is about to open at Trafalgar Studios in London, brings audiences face to face with the middle-class Midlands boy who grew up to be the world's most famous writer. The title is serious enough: it's called Being Shakespeare.
There is, however, a rival Bard in town. At the Young Vic, Patrick Stewart is reviving his performance as the playwright in Edward Bond's 1973 play Bingo – a revival that one critic praised for its "truly Shakespearian greatness". The Bardic battle is on: if they feel so inclined, Londoners will be able to do a direct compare-and-contrast.
Fictional representations of Shakespeare aren't unfamiliar: Anthony Burgess's 1964 novel Nothing Like the Sun spun a fantastical retelling of Shakespeare's love life, while the last story Rudyard Kipling ever wrote,Proofs of Holy Writ, worked up the eccentric theory that Shakespeare and Ben Jonson did an emergency rewrite of the King James Bible. Then, of course, there was 1998's Shakespeare in Love, which made an entire generation of moviegoers want to investigate Joseph Fiennes's codpiece...

How Gogol* Explains the Post-Soviet World (*And Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.) The case for (re)reading Russia's greatest literary classics.


Twenty years ago, 15 new states emerged from the wreck of the Soviet Union, uneven shards from a broken monolith. One story turned into 15. Most Soviet watchers have been struggling to keep up ever since. How to tell these multiple stories? In retrospect, it is evident that Western commentators failed to predict or explain what has happened to these countries: their lurches from one crisis to another, weird hybrid political systems, unstable stability.
Commentators have long tried to project models from the rest of the world ("transition to a market economy," "evolution of a party system") onto countries that have very different histories and cultural assumptions from the West and often from each other. I have read about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "ethnocentric patriotism," his "delegative democracy trap," and his building of a "neo-patrimonial state" -- all very intelligent stuff. What I take away from such jargon is a nicely constructed model or two (for both Putin and the political scientists), but not the insights I seek into a living society.
So here is a not entirely frivolous suggestion: How about skipping the political science textbooks when it comes to trying to understand the former Soviet Union and instead opening up the pages of Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky?
This is not just a thought experiment; the works these authors wrote in the 19th and early 20th centuries turn out to be surprisingly applicable to today's politics in a broad swath of the former Soviet space, whether it's the unexpected fragility of Putin's authoritarian rule in Russia or the perpetually failed efforts to modernize next-door Ukraine. There's a reason: Most of the former Soviet countries emerged from two centuries of Russian-dominated autocracy, an autocracy that just happened to have produced some of the greatest literature the world has ever seen. Some have argued that the one helped produce the other, that the rigors of tsarist-era censorship, the aridity of public service, and the educated classes' hunger for intellectual nourishment all helped stimulate great writing. Pushkin and Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky were more than just cultural commentators -- they were public celebrities and the key moral and intellectual voices of their age. They were idolized because they described the predicament readers found themselves in - and still do.
In her surprising 2010 bestseller, The Possessed, Elif Batuman makes the case for why Russian literature can be a guide to most of life's questions, big and small. "Tatyana and Onegin, Anna and Vronsky," she writes, recalling some of the Russian canon's most famous characters, "at every step, the riddle of human behavior and the nature of love appeared bound up with Russian."
My idea here is a little more modest: a brief sketch of how three great works of Russian literature can be mapped onto the stories of the three post-Soviet countries in which Western commentators take the keenest interest: Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. These classics, each more than a century old, provide both the specific detail and the grand panorama that are lacking in a shelf full of overmodeled political analysis. 
Russia as Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector
A great burden of Russia is that it has never rid itself of the habit of feudalism, of personalized power. Up until the late 19th century, enslaved serfs constituted a majority of the Russian population. Nor were the landowners who ruled the serfs independent -- they served the state and owned property at the mercy of the tsar. The Soviet system reconstituted that hierarchy, this time with centralized ownership of property and the monopoly of the Communist Party. In recent years, Putin has repackaged it yet again for the post-Soviet era, imposing a so-called "power vertical" even while allowing his citizens a much greater degree of private space.
But, as Putin has recently discovered, the system is surprisingly brittle...

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Occupy London camp evicted

Police and bailiffs have evicted anti-capitalist protesters and removed tents from the Occupy London camp at St Paul's CathedralThe operation, which began just after midnight, was mostly peaceful but there were 20 arrests.
A St Paul's spokesman said: "We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs." The City of London Corporation said it "regretted" that it had become necessary to evict the protesters. Occupy London, which campaigns against corporate greed, set up the camp on 15 October.
The campaigners were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceedThe Rev Giles Fraser, who resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul's in support of the protesters, said: "This is a sad day for the Church. "Riot police clearing the steps of St Paul's Cathedral was a terrible sight." The St Paul's spokesman said: "In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play.
"We are fully committed to continuing to promote these issues through our worship, teaching and Institute." Protesters in the square outside the cathedral stressed their action was far from over, but most did not resist police and bailiffs as they removed tents and other equipment from the site...

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.
Much like the experience of Wehr's subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. "It's not just the number of references - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge," Ekirch says.
During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps..

Monday, 27 February 2012

Book Review - David Kennedy’s Of War and Law

David Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006)
In an age when global conflicts have evolved into low intensity asymmetric affairs and taken center stage, modern conceptions of both law and war are of paramount importance to our ability to make informed decisions regarding our role in these conflicts. David Kennedy’s assertions in Of War and Law are a clear description of what occurs at the modern nexus of law and war. However, in the midst of a culture awash in images of casualties piped directly into modern living rooms (something he calls the “CNN effect”) Kennedy takes on the task of providing the realignment that seems all the more vital for the reeducation of both professionals and the wider public audience alike.

Of War and Law, starts out assaulting the traditional definition of war with the various phenomena upon which the label has been bestowed. Traditional wars of combat are contrasted with metaphorical wars, the cold war, international interventions, the 9/11 attacks, and even the notion that security is more a state of mind then a set of factual circumstances. While law is often seen as a means to avoid and constrain war, Of War and Law extirpates this notion from our minds refocusing our conception of both modern war and law. In the epilogue to Of War and Law David Kennedy states, “The hand of force animates the world of law.” It is this ultimate underpinning of law that reminds us of the intimate connection the law has with the use of force and its ultimate expression through the violence and chaos that fills our popular notion of war. It is with these thoughts that Kennedy prepares our conception of war before forging ahead to explore the relationship between war and law.

A Legal Context For War? Before launching into any detailed retelling of the historical relationship between law and war Kennedy clarifies the concept of war as a legal institution, providing us with a starting point by going back almost 200 years and paraphrasing Clausewitz, “war is still the continuation of politics by other means.” The reader is made aware of how an elite class of international professionals drawn from the ranks of military personnel and humanitarians with their respective skill sets and imperatives, participate in the discourse upon which the political and legal context for war is constructed. It becomes clear that this modern context has arisen through technological improvements in communication and the adoption of a common language based on law between and among the professionals. A seriously disconcerting assertion arising out of Kennedy’s context for war, at least for the general public, is that knowledge of the politics of these professions is required to understand the politics of war and peace...

Download the review:

The Emperor Uncrowned, The rise of Narendra Modi

Modi has turned the act of investing in what has long been one of India’s most business-friendly and industrialised states into a high-profile spectacle—and amplified the disclosure of annual investment inflows into singular triumphant announcements. In other words, Modi has successfully deployed the ancient mercantile and entrepreneurial energy of Gujarat to overhaul his own image.

Ten years after the anti-Muslim pogroms that killed more than 1,200 Gujaratis, Modi has managed to bury the past and resurrect his own extinct prospects for political advancement, replacing epithets like “fascist”, “mass murderer” and “Hindutva fanatic” with a title of his own choosing: Vikaas Purush, or Development Man. For the first families of Indian business, Modi is “the next leader of India”, “a visionary”, “the unstoppable horse”, and “the CEO who can lead the country”, to quote just a sampling of the effusive endorsements from men named Tata, Ambani and Mittal.. Read more:

GUJARAT RIOTS : A Beast Asleep?

Dear Narendrabhai, Could You Please...

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Climate change will shake the Earth

A changing climate isn't just about floods, droughts and heatwaves. It brings erupting volcanoes and catastrophic earthquakes too. The idea that a changing climate can persuade the ground to shake, volcanoes to rumble and tsunamis to crash on to unsuspecting coastlines seems, at first, to be bordering on the insane. How can what happens in the thin envelope of gas that shrouds and protects our world possibly influence the potentially Earth-shattering processes that operate deep beneath the surface? The fact that it does reflects a failure of our imagination and a limited understanding of the manner in which the different physical components of our planet – the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid Earth, or geosphere – intertwine and interact.

If we think about climate change at all, most of us do so in a very simplistic way: so, the weather might get a bit warmer; floods and droughts may become more of a problem and sea levels will slowly creep upwards. Evidence reveals, however, that our planet is an almost unimaginably complicated beast, which reacts to a dramatically changing climate in all manner of different ways; a few – like the aforementioned – straightforward and predictable; some surprising and others downright implausible. Into the latter category fall the manifold responses of the geosphere. The world we inhabit has an outer rind that is extraordinarily sensitive to change. While the Earth's crust may seem safe and secure, the geological calamities that happen with alarming regularity confirm that this is not the case...

WikiLeaks publishes millions of emails exposing the global trade in intelligence

WikiLeaks has begun releasing a cache of what it says are 5.5m emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a US-based intelligence gathering firm  with about 300,000 subscribers. The whistleblowing site has released 167 emails in its initial release. WikiLeaks says it has partnered with 25 media organisations around the world, including Rolling Stone, McClatchey, the Hindu and Russia Reporter.
Unlike previous WikiLeaks releases, this latest email cache was apparently obtained through a hacking attack on Stratfor by Anonymous in December 2011 rather than through a whistleblower. Anonymous published contact and credit card details from Stratfor and said at the time it had also obtained a large volume of emails for which it would arrange publication.
One of the largest Anonymous-linked accounts on Twitter, @AnonymousIRC, put out a series of tweets on Monday morning seemignly confirming it was the source of the WikiLeaks release. "We promised you those mails and now they'll finally be delivered. Five million (that's 5,000,000) emails at your pleasure," said the Anonymous account.
"There's a treasure trove of nasty details in those emails. We think there's something for everyone."
Stratfor describes itself as a provider of "strategic intelligence on global business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs". Guardian analysis of records published after the original Anonymous attack revealed the email account details of 221 UK military staff and 242 Nato officials (
WikiLeaks said the documents contained details of the inner workings of the private intelligence agency, links between government and private intelligence, and commentary on WikiLeaks itself. "The material contains privileged information about the US government's attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor's own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks.
"There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States." The email cache is said to contain information on measures taken to track activist and NGO activity for large companies, through media monitoring, and information on the financial sector. The hacking attack on Stratfor is subject to an FBI investigation. Several alleged members of Anonymous have been arrested by authorities in the US and UK as part of investigations.
Stratfor had not at the time of writing commented on the authenticity of the published material.
WikiLeaks and some of its media partners – including the Yes Men activists who target Dow Chemicals among others – are scheduled to hold a press conference discussing the release at noon on Monday at the Frontline Club in London.

Dow pays "strategic intelligence" firm to spy on Yes Men and grassroots activists. Takeaway: movement is on the right track! WikiLeaks begins to publish today over five million e-mails obtained by Anonymous from "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails, which reveal everything from sinister spy tactics to an insider trading scheme with Goldman Sachs (see below), also include several discussions of the Yes Men and Bhopal activists. (Bhopal activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India, that led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.)
Many of the Bhopal-related emails, addressed from Stratfor to Dow and Union Carbide public relations directors, reveal concern that, in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, the Bhopal issue might be expanded into an effective systemic critique of corporate rule, and speculate at length about why this hasn't yet happened - providing a fascinating window onto what at least some corporate types fear most from activists. "[Bhopal activists] have made a slight nod toward expanded activity, but never followed through on it—the idea of 'other Bhopals' that were the fault of Dow or others," mused Joseph de Feo, who is listed in one online source as a "Briefer" for Stratfor.

"Maybe the Yes Men were the pinnacle. They made an argument in their way on their terms—that this is a corporate problem and a part of the a [sic] larger whole," wrote Kathleen Morson, Stratfor's Director of Policy Analysis. "With less than a month to go [until the 25th anniversary], you'd think that the major players—especially Amnesty - would have branched out from Bhopal to make a broader set of issues. I don't see any evidence of it," wrote Bart Mongoven, Stratfor's Vice President, in November 2004. "If they can't manage to use the 25th anniversary to broaden the issue, they probably won't be able to."

Mongoven even speculates on coordination between various activist campaigns that had nothing to do with each other. "The Chevron campaign [in Ecuador] is remarkably similar [to the Dow campaign] in its unrealistic demand. Is it a follow up or an admission that the first thrust failed? Am I missing a node of activity or a major campaign that is to come? Has the Dow campaign been more successful than I think?" It's almost as if Mongoven assumes the two campaigns were directed from the same central activist headquarters.

Just as Wall Street has at times let slip their fear of the Occupy Wall Street movement, these leaks seem to show that corporate power is most afraid of whatever reveals "the larger whole" and "broader issues," i.e. whatever brings systemic criminal behavior to light. "Systemic critique could lead to policy changes that would challenge corporate power and profits in a really major way," noted Joseph Huff-Hannon, recently-promoted Director of Policy Analysis for the Yes Lab.

Among the millions of other leaked Stratfor emails are some that reveal dubious financial practices, including an apparent insider trading scheme with Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz, who joined Stratfor's board of directors and invested "substantially" more than $4 million in the scheme, called StratCap. "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor's intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments," wrote Stratfor CEO George Friedman in September 2011. StratCap was designed through a complex offshore share structure to appear legally independent, but Friedman assured Stratfor staff otherwise: "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you... We are already working on mock portfolios and trades." (StratCap has been due to launch in 2012, though that could now change.)

Other emails show Stratfor techniques of a truly creepy Spy vs. Spy sort: "[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control," wrote CEO Friedman recently to an employee, Reva Bhalla, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on Chavez's cancer. (Stratfor's "confidential intelligence services" clients include, besides Dow and Union Carbide, the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines, the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.)

Perhaps most entertainingly of all, the email trove reveals that Stratfor's "Confederation Partners"—an unethical alliance between Stratfor and a number of mainstream journalists—are referred to informally within Stratfor as its "Confed Fuck House." (Another discovery: Coca Cola was spying on PETA. More such gems are sure to surface as operatives sift through the 5.5 million emails.)

A number of the remaining Yes Men-related emails take the form of reports on public appearances by the Yes Men, such as one that describes one audience comprised of "art students on class assignments and free entertainment." Another notes that "The Yes Men tweeted about the US Chamber of Commerce 'plotting forged emails, documents to trick (AND smear) opponents,'" a reference to an apparent plot to discredit Chamber opponents using forged documents, as revealed when thousands of emails were recently leaked by Anonymous from cyber-security firm HB Gary. Yet another discusses Alessio Rastani, the Wall Street trader widely mistaken for Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, who proclaimed, live on the BBC, that "governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world."

"Rastani was right," said the real Andy Bichlbaum five months later. "But it's now very clear that it doesn't have to be that way anymore." The Yes Men and representatives from the Bhopal Medical Appeal will join Julian Assange of Wikileaks at a press conference at noon today, Feb. 27, at the Frontline Club in London.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Book review: biographies of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig

Joseph Roth: A Life in LettersTranslated & edited by Michael Hofmann
Three Lives, a Biography of Stefan ZweigOliver Matuschek; translated by Allan Blunden
Central Europe's "dark secret": "a universe of culture was destroyed." That culture was German and Jewish, and its destruction was the work of the two "industrious mass-murderers", Hitler and Stalin.
Writing in the Spectator in May 1989, G.M. Tamas, Hungarian philosopher, journalist, dissident, and briefly, after the collapse of Communism, a member of parliament, wrote about central Europe's "dark secret": "a universe of culture was destroyed." That culture was German and Jewish, and its destruction was the work of the two "industrious mass-murderers", Hitler and Stalin. Hitler exterminated the Jews, even though "the Jews, almost everywhere, were to all intents and purposes a peculiar German ethnic group", originally speaking Yiddish, a German dialect, but understanding, enjoying and ultimately transforming literary German. Then in 1945-46 Stalin murdered or expelled the Germans, and central Europe was bereft. Without the Germans and the Jews, Tamas wrote, "our supposed ‘common culture' does not make sense, and never will".
Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig belonged to that vanished common culture. They were Jews and they were German authors, both born as subjects of the Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph, Roth in the extreme east of the empire, Zweig in Vienna. Both were prolific writers, Zweig a very successful one, Roth the author of at least one masterpiece, The Radetzky March. Zweig was rich, Roth poor. Zweig lived for some years in a castle just outside Salzburg, Roth was a transient, moving with his two suitcases from city to city and hotel room to hotel room. Both were victims of Hitler's frenzy, if indirectly, Roth dying of liver failure in Paris in 1939, aged only 45, Zweig committing suicide along with his second wife in exile in Brazil a couple of years later. They were unlikely friends, but they were friends, and their friendship survived Roth's incessant borrowing, Zweig's letters full of good advice, Roth's dependency and inability to follow that advice, the exasperation each often provoked in the other. 
It is to Zweig's credit that he recognised Roth as the greater writer and wasn't jealous, and it is perhaps unfair that one finds it so much easier to warm to Roth than to Zweig. That said, many will find Oliver Matuschek's biography of Zweig enjoyable; only those who love and admire Roth's fiction and marvellous journalism will endure these letters with their litany of moans, complaints, insults and pleas for help. They are a record of a mismanaged life, almost as painful to read as it must have been to live.
Roth was doubly cursed. He was possessed of a wonderful clarity of vision about everything and everyone except himself. He saw the horrors in store for Germany and Europe even during the Weimar years. And he could not believe there was any way out..

Romance novels as feminist documents?

For all the scoffing from various quarters at the fairy-tale messages they contain, romances largely deal with practical, everyday matters; they're more like field guides for resolving the real-life difficulties women face.. 

"The underlying philosophy of the novels of Mills & Boon is that love is omnipotent—it is the point of life. It is the solution to all problems, and it is peculiarly feminine. Men have to be taught how to love; women are born with the innate ability to love."
Romance fiction is widely reckoned to be a very low form of literature. Maybe the lowest, if we're not counting the writing at Groupon, or on Splenda packets. Romance fiction: probably the worst! An addictive, absurd, unintellectual literature, literature for nonreaders, literature for stupid people—literature for women! Books Just For Her!
Low or not, romance is by far the most popular and lucrative genre in American publishing, with over $1.35 billion in revenues estimated in 2010. That is a little less than twice the size of the mystery genre, almost exactly twice that of science fiction/fantasy, and nearly three times the size of the market for classic/literary fiction, according to Simba Information data published at the Romance Writers of America website.
It would be crazy to fail to pay close attention when that many people are devoted to something.
So, what is in all these hundreds of millions of books? What is their strange allure? As it happens I am in a position to say, because I read and love romance fiction. It's one of the genre things I collect sporadically; I have a particular fetish for Mills & Boon and Harlequin romances of the period between the late 1930s and 1980, what I think of as their Golden Age. During this time, the two houses produced an immense and vastly entertaining body of writing with a unique function and value in American life. Or Anglophone life, to be more exact, since Mills & Boon was founded in London (Whitcomb Street, W.1.) in 1908. Harlequin, which came much later, is a Canadian firm.
Romance novels are feminist documents. They're written almost exclusively by women, for women, and are concerned with women: their relations in family, love and marriage, their place in society and the world, and their dreams for the future. Romances of the Golden Age are rife with the sociopolitical limitations of their period, it must be said. They're exclusively hetero, and exclusively white, for example. Even so, they can be strangely sublime.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex (1949) "[Woman] is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute — she is the Other." In romance fiction this formula is reversed, as scholar and former Mills & Boon editor jay Dixon (who spells her name with a lower-case "j") observes in her book The Romantic Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1995. Woman is the Subject, man the Other...

Friday, 24 February 2012

Lines of Control Symposium at Cornell

Lines of Control: Also showing three films by Amar Kanwar: A Season Outside, To Remember and A Night of Prophecy at the Johnson Museum of Art Symposium: Saturday, March 3, 4:00–6:00 pm, and Sunday, March 4, 9:00 am–5:00 pm Ithaca, NY 14853
Tuesdays–Sundays, 10 am–5 pm  
The Lines of Control symposium is organized with the exhibition Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space at Cornell University's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. The project was initiated by Green Cardamom, a London-based nonprofit arts organization, in 2005, and is an exhibition-led inquiry into the formative and ongoing dilemmas of the nation-state in the modern and contemporary era. It investigates the notion of partition- and border-making practices, where nations are formed through forging new identities, producing new histories, reconfiguring memories, and the patrolling of physical and psychological borders.
Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space is on view at the Johnson Museum of Art through April 1, 2012. Co-organized by Green Cardamom and the Johnson Museum, the exhibition is curated by Hammad Nasar, Iftikhar Dadi, and Ellen Avril, with assistance from Nada Raza. Artists represented in the Lines of Control exhibition are Bani Abidi, Francis Alÿs, Sarnath Banerjee, Farida Batool, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Muhanned Cader, Duncan Campbell, Iftikhar Dadi, DAAR, Anita Dube, Taghreed Elsanhouri, Sophie Ernst, Gauri Gill, Shilpa Gupta, Zarina Hashmi, Emily Jacir, Ahsan Jamal, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Amar Kanwar, Noa Lidor, Mario Mabor, Nalini Malani, Naeem Mohaiemen, Tom Molloy, Rashid Rana, Raqs Media Collective, Jolene Rickard, Hrair Sarkissian, Seher Shah, Surekha, Hajra Waheed, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, and Muhammad Zeeshan
SYMPOSIUM REGISTRATION IS FREE BUT SEATING IS LIMITED. TO RESERVE A SPACE OR FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Elizabeth Saggese, Johnson Museum of Art, 607 254-4642, or by e-mail: Registration deadline is Friday, February 24. Saturday, March 3, 2012 4:00–6:00pm
Curators Hammad Nasar, Iftikhar Dadi, and Ellen Avril, introductionJolene Rickard, Cornell University, Indigenous Borders Visualized in the AmericasArtist Amar Kanwar in conversation with curator Hammad Nasar Sunday, March 4, 2012 10:00am–12:00 noon
Salah Hassan, Cornell University, Sudan: Partition or Secession? Sumathi Ramaswamy, Duke University, Midnight's Line Seher Shah, artist presentation 1:30–3:30 pmAamir Mufti, UCLA, No Place like Home Sandhini Poddar, Guggenheim Museum, Desiring-Machines Naeem Mohaiemen, artist presentation 3:45–5:00 pm Saloni Mathur, UCLA, Partition and the Historiography of Art Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Raqs Media Collective, artist presentation

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Bangladesh: Coup Bid Reveals Extremism Within Army

The January coup attempt against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has exposed lurking religious extremism within its ranks. On Jan. 19, the army brass disclosed that it had foiled a coup attempt masterminded by some mid-ranking army officers and that several have been either confined or put under the scanner. At a rare press conference in the Dhaka cantonment, Brig. Gen. Masud Razzaque, flanked by senior officers, said: "Specific evidence has been unearthed that a group of retired and serving officers have been involved in the conspiracy to topple the democratic government through use of the armed forces." 

Razzaque said two of the alleged conspirators had admitted to having connections with the outlawed political party, Hizbut-Tahrir (HuT), suggesting that religious extremists continue to maintain links within the country’s armed forces. The HuT 
website openly urges army officers to "Remove Hasina, the killer of your brothers and establish the Khilafah to save yourselves and the Ummah from subjugation to U.S.-India."

"Initial investigations suggest that links with non-resident Bangladeshis could not be ruled out," Razzaque said, hinting that forces inimical to Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation from Pakistani rule were at work and may also have had a hand in the coup conspiracy. The HuT is known to have strong links with Bangladeshi expatriates in Britain along with other Islamist groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) opposed to the professed secularism of the AL and to the 1971 liberation.
This was the first time that the defence establishment has admitted to extremists in its midst, though the country has seen a series of coups, starting with the one in which Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of Bangladesh and father of Sheikh Hasina was killed. Indeed the army is known for the deep divide that exists between officers who fought for Bangladesh’s liberation and those who did not and this has fomented no less than 19 coup attempts. Significantly, the January coup attempt follows the execution of a number of officers convicted for the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur, 40 years ago... Read more:

Praveen Swami on India's new theocracy

Salman Rushdie's censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India's secular state. Islamist clerics first pressured the state to stop Mr. Rushdie from entering India; on realising he could not stop, he was scared off with a dubious assassination threat. Fear is an effective censor: the writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, who sought to read out passages from The Satanic Verses as a gesture of solidarity, were stopped from doing so by the festival's organisers.
In a 1989 essay, Ahmad Deedat, an influential neo-fundamentalist who starred in the first phases of the anti-Rushdie campaign, hoped the writer would “die a coward's death, a hundred times a day, and eventually when death catches up with him, may he simmer in hell for all eternity.” He thanked Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for his “sagacious” decision to ban The Satanic Verses. Now, another Indian Prime Minister has helped further Mr. Deedat's dream.
The betrayal of secular India in Jaipur, though, is just part of a far wider treason: one that doesn't have to do with Muslim clerics alone, but a state that has turned god into a public-sector undertaking... 
Underwriting faith
Few Indians understand the extent to which the state underwrites the practice of their faith. The case of the Maha Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik, is a case in point. The 2001 Mela in Allahabad, activist John Dayal has noted in a stinging essay, involved state spending of over Rs.1.2 billion — 12,000 taps that supplied 50.4 million litres of drinking water; 450 kilometres of electric lines and 15,000 streetlights; 70,000 toilets; 7,100 sanitation workers, 11 post offices and 3,000 phone lines; 4,000 buses and trains.
That isn't counting the rent that ought to have been paid on the 15,000 hectares of land used for the festival — nor the salaries of the hundreds of government servants administering the Kumbh.
Last year, the Uttar Pradesh police sought a staggering Rs.2.66 billion to pay for the swathe of electronic technologies, helicopters and 30,000 personnel which will be needed to guard the next Mela in 2013. There are no publicly available figures on precisely how much the government will spend on other infrastructure — but it is instructive to note that an encephalitis epidemic that has claimed over 500 children's lives this winter drew a Central aid of just Rs.0.28 billion.
The State's subsidies to the Kumbh Mela, sadly, aren't an exception. Muslims wishing to make the Haj pilgrimage receive state support; so, too, do Sikhs travelling to Gurdwaras of historic importance in Pakistan. Hindus receive identical kinds of largesse, in larger amounts. The state helps underwrite dozens of pilgrimages, from Amarnath to Kailash Mansarovar. Early in the last decade, higher education funds were committed to teaching pseudo-sciences like astrology; in 2001, the Gujarat government even began paying salaries to temple priests...