On liberalsm and subversive facts

Another  random choice from Downtown Carnegie Library’s shelves that proved to be quite a smart  one:  Timothy Garton Ash – Facts Are Subversive .

The author is a well known historian and political author , currently teaching European Studies Studies at Oxford University, who wrote in the past for two prestigious newspapers – the Independent and the Guardian. The book – he calls it a feuilleton, you may call it a collection of political essays – is centered on the premise that beyond the postmodernist claim – that everything is subjective and therefore to be interpreted – there are indeed facts and it is our duty to establish them. His point is that no matter what ideology we embrace and in spite of our biases and idiosyncrasies, we  have to consider the facts – and we shall consider the facts with an open mind and critical eye. Because, in the end, it is the reality – facts – that may prove to be subversive and not other people and/or their ideologies.

Timothy Garton Ash makes a very good case for subversive facts. Whether he writes about post-communist East Europe, Islam , Aung San Suu Kyi’s  NLD or George Orwell , all essays are well documented and researched , explicit on the matter of personal bias – up to the requirements of solid academic work. His style however is crisp and clear and he makes sure that each essay is accessible to a broad, very diverse group of readers – well beyond the Academia.

However, at times his own point of view raises qestions about the honesty of an objective approach to facts – the author is himself, subject to personal and cultural bias. He cuts straight lines between the west and the rest , lines that might cause some readers feel – to put it mildly – uncomfortable. But he notes, in a honest way, that democratic societies and countries will only be built from within the not-so-Western cultures and nations. Referring to post-Milošević Serbia he notes that it  …”poses a great challenge to the West, but above all to Europe – and specifically to the European Union”(p. 24, Ash T.G. 2010) [1] .

From a personal point of view , Facts Are Subversive, was an opportunity to get familiar with major political events that occurred around the world ( and in East Europe in particular) during 2004- 2009 – a period in which I was working hard on adjusting to U.S. culture and therefore I ignored most events that hadn’t  much to do directly with the U.S. – events such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. I had also the opportunity to verify my own opinion according to which liberal/liberalism is a bad word in the United States [2]. ” Liberalism has become a pejorative term denoting – to put the matter a tad frivolously – some unholy marriage of big government and fornication” (p. 252, Ash T.G. 2010).

Yet one of my favorite essays is not about the US or East Europe, but about Islam. In Respect?  Ash articulates, and he does it  so much better than I do, the rationale beyond my religious choice ( I am a practicing Christian ) and my political one ( I am a progressive liberal). It is not silliness or the outcome of a confuse mind, but a rational position. I was raised as a Christian and I firmly believed that  Christ was the Son of God , begotten and not made, and that He died in order to redeem humankind.  As a rational person I am very much aware of the shortfalls and misdeeds  of Christianity during the history, as much as I am aware about its core role in the development of the modern state under a secular law – a law that protects our freedom to utter loudly our opinions about religion and government. As a liberal  I do respect (and I demand respect for) any religious  belief  as well as the lack of it, as long as it does not become ideology. And it is because  Ash ( an agnostic or atheist?)and I ( a Christian) are both liberals that we are at odds with those who dismiss religious belief as a mere system of superstitions and claim that any chance for a country to become a democracy is for its people to embrace atheism.  An ideology that does not respect everybody’s freedom to choose what is that they believe in and to speak freely about it and gather with those among their peers who share the same beliefs is not a liberal ideology. And, argues Ash , it will not lead to a democratic ruling as it is to be considered a fundamentalist ideology in its own right.

 

Notes:

[1] As a former citizen of  the Balkans , I consider the fact that he mentioned  the West  first (and often as separate entity from Europe) as “that British bias” – because they might’ve got it right before the East , they think they have to teach the rest of the world how to do it as if we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves (given the right amount of time, resources, national independence and cultural freedom)

Quotes are from this edition:

Ash, T.G. – Facts Are Subversive, Yale University Press, 2010.

 

A few notes on “Footnotes To Gaza”

Sometimes the books I enjoy the most are not recommended by a friend or carefully selected from my “to read” list. They are, like “Footnotes in Gaza” by Joe Sacco, random picks from a library or bookstore shelf. I was not even looking at books for myself, I was in the graphic books section searching for something that will rather entertain my oldest son, when I spotted the title that arose my interest. The author’s name seemed vaguely familiar as well. Perhaps I read it in some magazine before -I  am not sure. But the fact that he published in some of my favorites, such as Times and Harper’s , spoke well for the author and  I knew that I had to borrow “Footnotes in Gaza” . I started reading it as soon as  I got home and  I got so absorbed by its lecture that I congratulated myself for following my instincts…

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Yes history is actual, and perhaps there is no place better than Palestine and the Gaza Strip to look at as we try to understand how current events unfold from the old ones. How current conflicts are rooted in old wounds. Sacco notes in his foreword to the book the comment of an witness: « ” I still remember the wailing and tears of my father other his brother;” he said. “I couldn’t sleep for many months after that …It left a wound in my heart that can never heal. [...] [T]hey planted hatred in our hearts.”» (p. ix, para. II).The witness was Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi , a senior official of Hamas, the political wing of the Palestinian resistance movement that is often blamed (and culpable) for terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Terrorist attacks leading Israelis to intensify their efforts to eliminate the armed militants from Gaza Strip and destroy their connections with the outside world – the paths they use to bring in weapons and  send suicide bombers into Israel. And since rockets and bullets do not make a difference between civilians and militants – the more aggressive are the Israeli attacks,  the more likely to hurt Palestinian civilians.And given that the isolation enforced on the overpopulated Gaza Strip  leads to  less employment and trade opportunities and therefore  more poverty… With each genetation there are more victims, more wounded hearts, more hatred…

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On personal note, one question is following me since I finished reading “Footnotes to Gaza” : How comes  that so many IDF soldiers showed cruelty or at best indifference and lack of human compassion towards civilians? Yes, some where potential enemy soldiers or murderers -yet many of them were old men or boys as young as 15, they were teachers and merchants , some of them were peacemakers, and some had been  living exemplary lives.  Considering the year when the killings happen : 1956, 11 years after the end of WWII  and the average age of active soldiers in the IDF , the Israeli soldiers had to remember the years of Holocaust as something that happened in their own time. The memory of those times when they, the people of Israel, could have faced , and some of them had faced perhaps , humiliation and death. Just because everybody whith those religious beliefs, anyone who belonged to their nation was “the enemy”. No matter what they had done or how they lived as individuals. I think that memory had to be alive in their minds and hearts. And one hopes that the people who belong to a nation surviving so much harm, so much injustice are more likely to act humanly: showing mercy, compassion, acting justly and avoiding the gratuitous humiliation and violence against their prisoners. Yet, in spite of one what might hope, there is perhaps a harsher reality -most of us recall the fear instead. The thought that if they are acting too softly instead of being aggressively in offensive,  they may end up being those oppressed, those victimized… the hopeless ones.

A complete book review is available on my “artsy” blog/page : Anaïs

Happiness with you was a cry of despair

A new pomegranate via Anaïs :

Panic within

the full poetic story starting August 1 on the 3:15 Experiment page. Each year since 1999,  during the month of August, a handful of poets and apprentices set their alarms for 3:15 am and attempt to write poetry in a half-awake, half-asleep state … They are encouraged to let the poems “settle” in their notebooks and only edit them later in order to gain as much awareness of differences from their usual writings, learn their new voices…

My 3:15 am voice came from a raw, more emotional place than ever. I had to try so hard to keep my pen from falling down and my brain from returning to the heaviness of sleep and dreams that all I could capture was the “now”, the raw moment …there is no longer a  previously debated with myself concept, message or an intent, a moral to my writing.

Because in August  I chose to mold the way I felt, the way I acted, what I have done and what I had left undone around that “you”  one can read all nine poems as chapters in a story. I did not intend to write ” a story” – at first there where these short, post-it type notes I was scribbling in a dreamy state of mind. But as this hot summer came to an end I had to cross beyond a finish line….

One line only “my man with his cubicled heart” was edited with the clear intent to stress a connection between the earliest poems and the last three (21,28,31) and the title – my story – was added later. All other editing focused on language and language effects only.

 

 

cubicled (August 2)

( …in a cubicled land with my man.

My man with his cubicled heart)

You and I were living on the brink to illusion.

Else, all was shadow.

Farewell(s)

Seguì siendo y seguiendo (1)
The friend the lover’s portrait,
of whom his friend his lover was fondest, (2)

Mon coeur,
comme de la poussière,
se soulevait derrière vos pas. (3)

The darkness smelled of rain of damp grass
and leaves the gray light
drizzling like rain the honeysuckle coming up
in damp waves, (4)

Note
(1) Pablo Neruda – Adioses
(2) Walt Whitman – Recorders Ages Hence
(3)  Gustave Flaubert – L’Education sentimentale
(4) William Faulkner – The sound and the fury / Quentin’s story