RSS

Category Archives: Europe

Friday poem 15 & For the fifty million dead — 2: W H Auden

It has to be at this time seventy years later: W H Auden’sSeptember 1 1939”.

Auden and Isherwood sailed to New York in January 1939, entering on temporary visas. Their departure from Britain was later seen by many there as a betrayal and Auden’s reputation suffered. In April 1939 Isherwood moved to California, and he and Auden saw each other only intermittently in later years. Around this time, Auden met the poet Chester Kallman, who became his lover for the next two years (Auden described their relation as a "marriage" that began with a cross-country "honeymoon" journey). In 1941 Kallman ended their sexual relations because he could not accept Auden’s insistence on a mutual faithful relationship, but he and Auden remained companions for the rest of Auden’s life, sharing houses and apartments from 1953 until Auden’s death. Auden dedicated both editions of his collected poetry (1945/50 and 1966) to Isherwood and Kallman.

Here are the first and last three stanzas:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
***
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 4, 2009 in British, Europe, events, poets and poetry, writers

 

Tags: ,

Conflicting perspectives

That is an HSC English topic much exercising me of late, but it is also an interesting thing to explore.

Take President Sarkozy and his recent speech. There is an interesting Australian Muslim perspective on Crikey: Sarkozy’s proposed burqua ban is a blunt instrument.

…Last year, I spent a few days in Paris with a French friend of Moroccan background. She and her family and friends related stories of almost routine discrimination  — of elderly relatives being rejected as unworthy for citizenship after fifty years of law-abiding, tax-paying residence, of always having to strive that little bit harder in work and study in order to prove yourself to your non-Muslim colleagues, of the banning of religious symbols in public schools, which was seen as particularly targeting Muslim girls wearing hijab.

My friend now lives in Sydney, and said that she felt a sense of resignation in the face of Sarkozy’s speech. “It’s just another chapter. The kind of events that are almost unthinkable in Australia are commonplace in France. It’s supposed to be about the burqua, but it’s really about something deeper  — about attitudes to Muslims.”

Many Muslim women, including many hijabis, are deeply uncomfortable with face-covering. It is so vanishingly rare among Muslims in the West that many observant Muslims have only encountered it at a distance.

In Australia, a disproportionate number of the women who observe this practice seem to be converts. Their stated commitment to face-covering as their “personal choice” is rendered problematic by the fact that many of them don’t believe that personal choice over dress standards should be extended to women in Muslim-majority societies. While they believe that covering the face is commendable rather than obligatory, they defend the mandatory covering of women’s hair in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But as Sarkozy’s speech illustrates, they are not the only ones who think that choice is a one-way street  — you can choose, so long as you choose what I tell you to choose. There is no single experience of face-covering, just as there is no single experience of the bikini. Some Muslim women describe face-covering as providing a sense of privacy and comfort…

Not quite unthinkable in Australia of course, but the outcome was more commendable.

In helping one of my coachees towards a definition of “conflicting perspectives” for HSC purposes earlier this week I raised the question in the following way: “I suppose at your school there are heaps of girls wearing hijab…” “Yes,” he replied. “Does anyone take any notice of it?” “No,” he said. Then I asked if he knew what the French President had been saying recently. He did. We then explored what perspective he might have been operating from – and I was as objective and non-judgemental about it as possible, the point not being whether Sarkozy was right or wrong, or whether he was playing dog whistle politics – a term the French do not have according to that Crikey post. We went through a number of historical and cultural factors. We did conclude that making an issue of such things – and similar things like Sikhs who have to wear turbans – tends to exacerbate the conflict of perspectives.

And Bruce, from an atheist perspective, comes in practice to similar conclusions. (I have to say I am bemused by the sectarianism that leads to charges of “accomodationism” or “Uncle Tom atheism”. A bit “holier than thou” isn’t it, if you get my drift?)

…Harris is famed for championing a reduced form of intolerance, which I think most of the people where I come from would just call criticism. Maybe it’s an antipodean thing, but intolerance to me seems more a matter of civics than of intellectual conduct. Maybe its an Australian thing – I think we and Canada have done better with these kinds of concepts, at least in practice, than the US or any of Europe (you will notice that as the primary architects of multiculturalism in practice, neither Australia nor Canada fell for the mockery of human rights that was the Durban Review Conference – so much for the culpability of multicultural tolerance in that mess.*)

I think Harris falls into a deadly rhetorical trap for even associating the criticism of religion with intolerance. It’s not “conversational intolerance.” It’s not intolerance at all!

Intolerance is kicking a kid out of school for wearing a burqa. It isn’t intolerant to opine that the burqa, when forced upon someone, is oppressive. Or to opine that theological reasons for the burqa are sophistry.

Does the fact that I’m against banning the burqa in schools make me an accommodationist? Even given what I think of it? Please do make a distinction between my applied civics and my intellectual position – just because I think something is a bad idea doesn’t mean that I don’t think intervention would be worse…

I certainly endorse that conclusion.

 

Three thought provokers

These have come my way via Arts & Letters Daily.

1. "The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan" by Nicholas Schmidle (Foreign Policy March 2009)

After eight years of a White House that often seemed blinkered by the threats posed by Pakistan, the Obama administration seems to grasp the severity of the myriad crises affecting the South Asian state. The media has followed suit and increased its presence and reporting, a trend confirmed by CNN’s decision to set up a bureau in Islamabad last year.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up…

2. "Human Nature" by Mark Dowie (Guernica Magazine May 2009) — in the paradox and unexpected consequences department.

Is modern conservation linked with ethnic cleansing? In an excerpt from his new book, the investigative historian explores the concepts of wilderness and nature, and argues that the removal of aboriginal people from their homeland to create wilderness is a charade.

"One way to guarantee a conversation without a conclusion is to ask a group of people what nature is." —Rebecca Solnit, University of California…

3. "Fear masquerading as tolerance" by Christopher Caldwell (Prospect May 2009).

This article has resonance for Australia, but I suspect our experience with immigration and multiculturalism has been different from Europe’s in significant ways. Nonetheless I add this to paradox and unexpected consequences too.

…The Europe into which immigrants began arriving in the 1950s was reeling in horror from the second world war and preoccupied with building the institutions to forestall any repetition of it. Nato was the most important of these institutions. The EU was the most ambitious. The war supplied European thinkers with all their moral categories and benchmarks. Avoiding another explosion meant purging Europe’s individual countries of nationalism, with ‘‘nationalism’’ understood to include all vestiges of racism, militarism, and cultural chauvinism—but also patriotism, pride, and unseemly competitiveness. The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.

Prompted by the US, which was addressing its own race problem at the time, and with the threat of communism concentrating their minds, Europeans began to articulate a code of ‘‘European values’’ such as individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were never defined with much precision. Yet they seemed to permit social cohesion, and their embrace coincided with 60 years of peace.

Europe was an attractive place for immigrants. But attraction and admiration are not synonyms. The Ottoman empire and China both had a ‘‘power of attraction’’ for westerners in the 19th century. But it was not out of any admiration for their systems of government or their ideals of human rights that Europeans signed treaties with, settled in, and disrupted the national lives of those two countries. It was because they were rich places too weak to look out for themselves.

The EU was not dreamt up with immigrants in mind, but it wound up setting the rules under which they were welcomed. Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance—a mindset that has been praised as anti-racism and anti-fascism, and ridiculed as political correctness. Our interest here is neither to defend it as common sense nor reject it as claptrap. It is to understand, first, what Europe was thinking when it welcomed immigrants in such numbers—something it would not have done at any previous moment in history—and, second, what grounds Europe had for dealing with newcomers in the often naive and overindulgent way it did…

 

Tags:

My “Irish Correspondent” is very sad…

And who can blame him?

I am not a fan of the UK myself.

But this does not mean that I get myself a gun and go out at night shooting British soldiers or policemen. It makes no sense at all to behave in such a way. And anyone who claims that the cruel murders committed by a number of Irishmen on Saturday evening at the gate of the British Army’s Massereene Barracks (home base of the 38th Regiment, Royal Engineers) in Co. Antrim (north of Belfast) have anything whatsoever to do with politics or the Irish desire for self-determination and a united Irish nation is both a fool and a liar.

Read the rest of his post: Back to the ‘Bad Old Days’?

The romance of revolution has, we must always remember, its dark side: it inevitably becomes a blood feud. Where that ends no-one ever knows. Ireland has so recently recovered from its painful past, and has enough problems, as we all do, dealing with a very different painful present.

No-one expected things to be perfect, or to be without plenty of ‘teething problems’. But after the strongest exponents from both Northern communities – the former arch enemies DUP and Sinn Féin – managed to bury the hatchet and work together constructively in the Stormont administration, even the most serious sceptics began to think that there could be a peaceful future for the Six Counties.

The dream lasted for 22 months, and with every day the hopes for normality and prosperity grew a little larger.

But then came last weekend, and with it the return of guns – and the nutters who use them – to the North of Ireland.

What is encouraging is the tide of revulsion. See Dignified defiance as Belfast falls silent after killings in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

420nireland1203

Note

Since I wrote this the Irish Correspondent has updated.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 12, 2009 in current affairs, Europe, Irish

 

We also had Media Watch on ABC last night…

The subject, naturally enough, was how the media had behaved in the past week, and generally there was a thumbs up for a job well done: Reporting the Bushfires. But there were exceptions.

The last few minutes of the program were reserved for the most savage attack. I have to admit I too had been appalled by The Devine One but mentioned it only in passing rather than dignify it; I also pointed in a comment to a rebuttal. But Media Watch went for the jugular.

…Plenty of others, last week, were pointing the finger at policies that they claim have discouraged preventive burning, and the clearing of bush around houses.

But only Miranda Devine came up with a sentence like this:

If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 12th February, 2009

That’s not opinion-writing, Miranda. That’s hate-mongering.

You and your paper, which saw fit to blazon your ugly piece across the front page of its website, should both be ashamed of yourselves.

I should say, once again, that there’s been plenty of fine reporting this week under harrowing circumstances.

Rab in Indonesia also expressed concerns I share about Facebook vigilantes: Facebook, Suppression Orders, and Arsonists.

The problem with the Facebook groups is that they violate the suppression order. It is not a difficult argument to make that the Facebook groups would fall under the suppression order even if Facebook is not considered to be traditional media. If this was indeed to be made out then Facebook might find itself in contempt of court as the publisher, along with the author. And, the lawyers would undoubtedly be arguing that their client cannot get a fair trial because of the exposure.

I can understand that people need to vent their anger after such a tragic loss of life and property. However, in the aftermath I would also imagine that people would like to see justice done, and perhaps not vigilante justice, but that kind of justice that sees the perpetrator do the time for his crimes. If this is the case, then it is a risky proposition to breach the suppression order. Sometimes we just have to have faith in our judicial system that it will work and work well.

I think the point is that none of us ought to destroy our hard-won if imperfect rule of law because righteous anger possesses us for the moment. In its own way this is as destructive as the bushfires themselves.

See also what Legal Eagle said, noted here yesterday.

And the spirit of the age, in tandem with economic conditions, is a fertile ground for monsters, alas. There are so many instances I have been noting, but draw your attention to a chilling sentence from Culture Matters — Gomorra and Frozen River.

Gomorra, by contrast, is full of victims, villains and heroes, and seems to be very much in sync with Italy’s current political trends that are more anti-immigrant, anti-South (I mean Italy’s South) and pro-strongman than probably at any time since World War II.

Watch this space, as they say. Not good. Europe seems often to be a very backward place in some respects.

 
Comments Off on We also had Media Watch on ABC last night…

Posted by on February 17, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, best viewing 2009, current affairs, Europe, events, other blogs, right wing politics, TV

 

Tags:

The Fascist Impulse « Jon Taplin’s Blog on Georgia, and Vanity Fair on Mugabe

I haven’t said much about the Russia/Georgia thing. Truthdig’s Robert Scheer is on ABC’s Unleashed with a conspiracy theory which grossly overestimates the importance of the USA, paradoxically. Sure, the US has had a role here, and Russian paranoia about US-NATO missile shields and the sense of encirclement generated by this and US support for Georgia have played their part in what otherwise is an old-fashioned, but very dangerous, bit of territorial/nationalist brinkmanship, as has the world’s addiction to oil. But I really don’t buy the “it’s all about the US elections” line Scheer takes. The Fascist Impulse « Jon Taplin’s Blog offers another take, and he discusses the matter on a number of other posts as well.

…I have always been fascinated by the bully boys who are attracted to the military solution to every problem, but would never think of joining the Army themselves. The British historian Hobsbawm described them as ” a relatively small, but absolutely numerous, minority for whom uniform and discipline, sacrifice-of self and others- and blood arms and power were what made masculine life worth living.”…

…Russia, like almost every country in the world (including Iran) relies on the international capital markets to finance it’s growth. The power of the West to modify Russia’s behavior lies in it’s willingness to impose capital sanctions, not in the fools errand of starting a new war in the Caucuses.Russian companies and individuals have billions stashed in Western banks and they need Wall Street and London financing desperately…

I am well aware that John McCain and his handlers think that all this saber rattling plays to his advantage. But once the Berlin Wall fell, Russia became as dependant on the capital markets as the U.S. The bully boys don’t want to think that their simplistic solution (send in the Marines to Georgia) is not the smart solution.

The discussion in the comment thread which follows fully justifies your visiting.

And yes, I think we have all been wonder-struck as Len in Texas was on his Quote of the day on Friday:

“Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” — Republican George W. Bush, August 15, 2008.

Meanwhile an issue I do visit here from time to time: Robert Mugabe. There is an excellent article in Vanity Fair, again offered in the Arts & Letters Daily: “Day of the Crocodile” by Peter Godwin.

Mugabe’s party is divided now between hawks and doves, between hard-liners and conciliators, and it is riven as well by rival succession candidates. Mugabe’s clan totem is Gushungo—meaning “crocodile” in Shona, the language of most Zimbabweans—and on the occasion of his 83rd birthday, last year, a giant stuffed crocodile was presented to him as a symbol of his “majestic authority.” But even the wiliest crocodiles eventually tire and die, and the word on the street was that he had been stung by the extent of his defeat, and that his young wife, Grace, had urged him to step down and enjoy his last years with their three children in his 25-bedroom mansion. The mood in Harare was expectant, even giddy.

I grew up and was educated in Zimbabwe, served as a conscript, and maintain close ties to the country. Because of these roots I have been able to live and travel there even at times, such as the present, when other foreign journalists have been expelled. In Harare that afternoon I spent time with friends as the hours wore on. Finally an old school chum called to say that “the General”—his uncle, a politburo member and a former guerrilla commander—had at last emerged from Jongwe House, and that the meeting was over.

The General, Solomon Mujuru, is now considered a “moderate,” but he was not ever thus. Twenty-five years ago, not long after the end of the war of liberation, the General had once put a gun to my heart and threatened to kill me. The gun was a Russian-made Tokarev with a mother-of-pearl handle. Odd how you remember such details. The General had been working his way through a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label at the time, but his grip was steady.

This was in 1984, during the Matabeleland massacres, when Mugabe unleashed his fearsome North Korea–trained Fifth Brigade into that southern province to crush the opposition. I had written about the massacres for a British newspaper, which is what prompted the General to draw his gun when our paths crossed.

But now, on April 4, the General had bad news to report. In the end Mugabe had decided that he intended to do everything necessary to retain his powers. Behind the scenes the presidential ballot boxes would be effectively stuffed to indicate that Morgan Tsvangirai, though still winning more votes than Mugabe, had not achieved the 50 percent threshold necessary for election. (This was possible because there had been a third candidate in the race.) Further, in the weeks leading up to the runoff, Mugabe would wage a campaign of bloody intimidation to ensure that Zimbabwe’s voters understood where their self-interest lay. Indeed, a secret battle plan was actually drawn up, in detail. A leaked copy dated April 9 was shown to me; the key section carried the heading “Covert Operations to Decompose the Opposition.”

Do read it. Just in case the link ceases to work, I have uploaded a PDF copy: Day of the Crocodile.

 
Comments Off on The Fascist Impulse « Jon Taplin’s Blog on Georgia, and Vanity Fair on Mugabe

Posted by on August 17, 2008 in Africa, America, current affairs, Europe, magazines, other blogs, politics, USA

 

Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Aust Crime Fiction –  Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist reviews this 2004 (English 2007) Swedish vampire novel. I am not a great reader of vampire novels, but I do endorse that review of this one:

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Comments Off on Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Posted by on July 4, 2008 in Best read of 2008, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, Europe, Fiction, reading