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June review catch-up 2

Some quickies.

star30 star30star30  1. Ed Gaffney, Enemy Combatant (2008)

A good courtroom drama with a strong post 9/11 twist. It may be improbable, but not so improbable as to not make you wonder “What if?” See also Thoughts On "Enemy Combatant" by Ed Gaffney.

star30star30star30star30  2. Susanna Gregory, To Kill or Cure (2007)

I haven’t read many in the Medieval Whodunnit genre. This one is sufficiently entertaining and informative. See also Euro Crime.

star30star30star30star30star30 3. 1945: The Year That Changed the World (DVD 2008)

This series (2 DVDs) is excellent. There are contributions from first-rate historians, one of whom, Ian Nish, taught me Japanese and Chinese history in 1962! Yes he is rather older now. If you check YouTube you will find it well represented.

star30star30star30star30 4. Frontier: Worse than Slavery Itself (DVD 1997)

Famous so-called “Black Armband” presentation of Indigenous Australia and European settlement 1830 – 1860, based on the work of Henry Reynolds. I was particularly struck, of course, by the NSW material which focussed on the Dangar family of the Hunter/New England areas, and on some of the better documented massacres of those years. The series still stands up well despite the reaction to aspects of it from the likes of Keith Windschuttle. It really is good on the role of evangelical thought as a conscience of the times.

It is interesting to compare the more recent SBS series First Australians (2008). Its episode dealing with NSW in the early to mid 19th century drew attention to another settler family, the Suttors of Brucedale, whose relations with the Aboriginal people were comparatively enlightened.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in best viewing 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, History, Indigenous Australians, reading, Thriller

 

Jim Belshaw’s new project

I was fascinated by Jim’s post today.

Yesterday morning I finished my target 300 words on the current book. This was written between the time I left the house and my arrival at Parramatta.

I was trying to think through the the impact of the arrival of Europeans on Aboriginal thought. To start getting my mind around this, I took the device of a young man of the Daingatti Aboriginal language group. This group occupied the Macleay Valley.

Sounds like a worthwhile exercise to me. I’d buy one…

The exercise in empathy is also producing a rethink. I can recall wandering around the city trying to visualise what it must have been like for my convict ancestor Jacob in 1821 to around 1840, as follower’s of Ninglun’s Specials may recall. It’s good to do. Except I wasn’t writing a book.

 

Book reviews as promised…

Fiction

Certainly Siddon Rock has many fine moments and does evoke a rural setting and its period (the 1940s) very well, even if Persia is referred to as Iran and Pakistan, then non-existent, mentioned. Perhaps too I am tiring of magic realism, or, in our Australian context, the Wintonesque; when people wander around with blue spots floating above their heads I tend to turn off. Nonetheless, the novel is well worth reading.

Cut Her Dead is an effective crime fiction, but the best of this lot is the witty T is for Trespass.

Non-fiction

In a field where pseudohistory is rampant – think Da Vinci Code – this intelligent, well-written introduction is a must read. It is so refreshingly no-nonsense.

Excerpt:

Introduction: Recouping Our Losses

It may be difficult to imagine a religious phenomenon more diverse than modern-day Christianity. There are Catholic missionaries in developing countries who devote themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of others, and evangelical televangelists who run twelve-step programs to ensure financial success. There are New England Presbyterians and Appalachian snake handlers. There are Greek Orthodox priests committed to the liturgical service of God, replete with set prayers, incantations, and incense, and fundamentalist preachers who view high-church liturgy as a demonic invention. There are liberal Methodist political activists intent on transforming society, and Pentecostals who think that society will soon come to a crashing halt with the return of Jesus. And there are the followers of David Koresh — still today — who think the world has already started to end, beginning with the events at Waco, a fulfillment of prophecies from Revelation. Many of these Christian groups, of course, refuse to consider other such groups Christian.

All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.

What could be more diverse than this variegated phenomenon, Christianity in the modern world? In fact, there may be an answer: Christianity in the ancient world. As historians have come to realize, during the first three Christian centuries, the practices and beliefs found among people who called themselves Christian were so varied that the differences between Roman Catholics, Primitive Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists pale by comparison.

Most of these ancient forms of Christianity are unknown to people in the world today, since they eventually came to be reformed or stamped out. As a result, the sacred texts that some ancient Christians used to support their religious perspectives came to be proscribed, destroyed, or forgotten — in one way or another lost. Many of these texts claimed to be written by Jesus’ closest followers. Opponents of these texts claimed they had been forged.

This book is about these texts and the lost forms of Christianity they tried to authorize…

It is worth the price of admission for Chapter 4 alone, on Morton Smith and the “Secret Gospel of Mark”. Is it a forgery, and if so, whodunnit? Fascinating, whatever your own religious views. Ehrman delivers an open verdict.

See also Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith by Anthony Grafton in The Nation January 7, 2009. “The sexual undertones of the document have led some to suggest, explicitly or by innuendo, that Smith, a gay man, forged the text for personal reasons…”. From Grafton’s article:

In 1973, Morton Smith, professor of ancient history at Columbia University, shook the world–or at least the world of scholars who work on early Christianity. Fifteen years before, Smith had found an unknown document in the Mar Saba Greek Orthodox monastery, fifteen kilometers southeast of Jerusalem–an ancient Christian text that no one before him had ever mentioned. A letter in Greek, originally composed in the second century by a church father, Clement of Alexandria, and addressed to one Theodore, it was handwritten in ink, in an eighteenth-century hand, on the blank end pages of a seventeenth-century printed book. Less than a thousand words long but rich in detail, the text attacked one of the wonderfully named sects that made the early centuries of Christianity so complex–the followers of Carpocrates, or Carpocratians. These heretics, as Clement and Theodore saw them, claimed that they possessed a secret version of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, they believed, had taught his followers that they were freed from the law and could do whatever they wanted without sinning. According to one of their Christian critics, Irenaeus, they actually thought they earned salvation by "doing all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of, nay, which we must not even conceive in our thoughts."

Clement assured Theodore that he had been right to silence these "unspeakable teachings." But he also admitted that there was a secret version of Mark’s Gospel–a version that the Church of Alexandria made available only to initiates. In a passage that Clement quoted, Jesus raised a rich young man from the dead in Bethany. "And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan"–a passage that suggests a libertine interpretation of its own, at least to the twenty-first-century reader. At the same time, Clement denied that an inflammatory phrase, "naked man with naked man," which the Carpocratians had cited, came from the true secret Gospel. The evil Carpocrates had obtained a copy of the text and "polluted" it with lies.

It was an astonishing discovery…

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Christianity, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, History, OzLit, reading

 

China looks back

History Today has a retrospective on the official history of China: China’s Interesting Times.

…the series of anniversaries rolling out this year in China are a good example of how history is not merely a matter of the past. Some will not be recalled, at least officially, among them the Great Famine in which officials showed the hollowness of the concern for the people proclaimed by the regime. The Cultural Revolution is admitted to have been a mistake but Mao is still judged to have been 70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad. June 4th, 1989, is remembered in coded messages using the date or, officially, as a moment when the People’s Liberation Army saved China from the subversion of ‘black hand’ agents working for foreign interests. Tibet will remain sensitive for so long as its clergy and much of the native population refuse to accept Chinese rule. Taiwan will remain autonomous. The legacy of May 4th will remain with intellectuals and dissidents who dream of a democratic China in which the rule of law pertains and the Communist party no longer claims a monopoly of the Mandate of Heaven. On both sides of the debates about where China is heading, and where it should be heading, history has its part to play and anniversaries are part and parcel of that.

Last week The Sydney Morning Herald had a fascinating story about China and Tibet: Exposed: Beijing’s failure in Tibet.

A SCATHING new report, perhaps the first of its kind from inside China since Tibet was brutally locked down in March last year, describes how Beijing’s efforts to pour rivers of money into Tibet since 1989 to ensure "stability" have been spectacularly counter-productive.

The report, which is controversial for having been written by a group of Beijing scholars, says private-sector jobs went to ethnic Han Chinese from other provinces, and public money flowed into the pockets of a new elite which systematically portrayed community discontent as "separatism".

"They use every opportunity to play the separatism card," says Phun Tshogs Dbang Rjyal, a founder of the Communist Party in Tibet, who is quoted in the report.

"And they will try hard to apportion responsibility on ‘overseas hostile forces’ because this is the way to consolidate their interests and status and eventually bring them more power and resources."

The fieldwork was conducted by four Peking University journalism students who travelled to Lhasa and a Tibetan region of Gansu province in July.

It was written and recently published on the internet by the Open Constitution Initiative, a non-government organisation run by lawyers and intellectuals in Beijing….

Xu Zhiyong, a human rights lawyer who helped prepare the report, said he hoped it would be picked up by Chinese media, but he held little hope that it would influence government officials.

But ethnic Tibetans are nevertheless heartened that a balanced account of the causes of last year’s uprising can now exist in China.

"As a Tibetan I feel this report is very important," said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing. "This is a rare and treasured report under the current circumstances of one-sided official propaganda."…

Some rethinking in Beijing would certainly be good.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2009 in Chinese and China, current affairs, History

 

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Tiananmen and all that – 20 years on

Today there is a fascinating story in The Australian: Zhao Ziyang memoir reveals truth on massacre.

THE 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has been rocked by the emergence of a memoir by former Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang claiming the decision to send in troops caused deep division among the country’s leaders.

The book – painstakingly reconstructed from hours of tape recordings smuggled out by supporters of the late Zhao – will enrage today’s leaders because of his assertion that Western-style democracy was essential if China was to avoid future bloodbaths.

The book raises difficult questions for Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was at Zhao’s side as he emotionally urged students to break up their protest in the days before the crackdown.

The record made by Zhao – who resigned, was purged and held under house arrest for almost 16 years before he died in 2005 – is to be published this month as Prisoner of the State: the Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang.

So sensitive is the document that its existence was kept secret until days before publication. Speculation had been rife during his house arrest and after his death as to whether the man with the most intimate knowledge of the machinations that led to the crackdown on June 3-4, 1989, had provided his own account of the dramatic days.

Zhao’s account confirms the bitter power struggle as students occupied Tiananmen Square, and the deep rivalries between reformists and hardliners, as well as the crucial role played by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the decision to use force.

After listening to the arguments of moderates such as Zhao, Deng summarily imposed martial law without even calling a vote of China’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

The army was called in. On the evening of June 3 and into the next day the tanks rolled into the centre of Beijing towards Tiananmen Square, where protests had been growing since the death of liberal leader Hu Yaobang. The troops opened fire on students and civilians, murdering hundreds of people and injuring an unknown number…

zhao_ziyang_and_wen_jiabao

Zhao Ziyang (with loud hailer) in Tianamen Square.

Jiang Qisheng, one of the student leaders in 1989, who served 5 1/2 years in prison, said: "When Zhao Ziyang was dismissed, he had a strong defence for himself, and never admitted wrongdoing (as the party would have liked). It was unusual for a Communist Party cadre. In his 15 years of house arrest, he had thorough rethinking: what is democracy, does China need democracy? The depth of his thinking goes beyond any leader of the Communist Party of China, and the current leadership are far left behind by him.

"The current leadership will pretend to be dumb deaf to his memoir, they will not comment nor attack but try to block his voice. But Zhao has many sympathisers in the party, who have similar opinions with him. They will stand out at a certain time."

Most young people in China only know vaguely of the massacre. The country’s internet censorship infrastructure blocks all mention of the event…

Less well known is what happened in Shanghai. See Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ‘89 Student Movement and on the same blog a somewhat apologetic account by a “guest blogger” Mark Anthony Jones: Sorting fact from fiction – Tiananmen revisited (Part 1). “Fool’s Mountain (愚公移山) is a collaborative effort amongst writers focused on Chinese issues. Through our blog, we publish regular English-language articles and essays for both a Western and Chinese audience. All articles represent only the opinion of the individual writer, and may not reflect the opinions and views of other contributors. All contributors write on a voluntary basis with no compensation; those who write are driven to do so by their conscience, and nothing else. We are completely unaffiliated with any government, political party, or movement.”

Back to Shanghai. At the time this appeared in The New York Times: CHINESE EXECUTE 3 IN PUBLIC DISPLAY FOR PROTEST ROLE. I didn’t register this at the time.

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20’s or perhaps early 30’s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Someone I know well witnessed the events at the station. Not only that but one of the police responsible for leading the arrests was this person’s friend. The two argued afterwards about the correctness of this action. I might add that from what I have been told by this eyewitness The New York Times report is very accurate, except that the three were, as I recall, arrested at the scene. 

Of course I didn’t meet this person until 1990, by which time he was in Australia, like the many other Chinese students I was teaching in a language college, one of whom, a Beijinger, told me in tears one day: “I used to believe in the Communist Party until I saw them killing their own people. I’ve just had a letter from my mother telling me not to come home…” Another student’s first English sentence to me was “My best friend killed in Tiananmen.” Later she explained the circumstances. Another I have met ferried the wounded to hospital. The family of a student of mine at SBHS was sent to Gansu Province (internal exile) because his grandmother, who was in the Ministry of Culture in Beijing, publicly resigned from the Communist Party in protest. Obviously a supporter of Zhao Ziyang, if not necessarily of all the students’ ideas. Later on I met one of the Tiananmen hunger strikers. So I was rather bemused by some Australian communist friends – good friends too – who visited Beijing around July 1989 and came back convinced nothing much had happened there, having swallowed the Party Line whole.

Update

I have revised this entry to further disguise my Shanghainese informant’s identity; I thought that wise on reflection.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2009 in Chinese and China, events, History, human rights, memory

 

On the Western Front 1917-1918

0425  0425 002

0425 001

Sydney Anzac Day Parade 2009

Good move

One of the current government’s better decisions has been to support The Anzac Trail.

Australians will soon be able to trace the footsteps of World War I diggers who fought on the Western Front using a new tourist trail meandering through northern France and Belgium.

The Australian government will spend $10 million over the next four years developing the Anzac Trail, which will take visitors to seven sites where Australian diggers fought in key battles and suffered heavy losses.

While detailed plans for the trail are yet to be finalised, part of the money will be spent on improving museums dedicated to the diggers who fought at Villers-Bretonneux, Fromelles and Bullecourt in the Somme as well as linking various battlefield trails through other parts of France and Belgium.

A new interpretive centre to help visitors understand the Australian troops’ part in the conflict will also be built at the small rural village of Pozieres. In mid-1916 Australian forces suffered a massive 23,000 casualties in six weeks on the Pozieres battlefields as they fought to push the Germans out.

The town, where tanks were used for the first time in battle, already features a handful of memorials to the diggers including the remains of a German concrete bunker the Australians captured and which was later nicknamed Gibraltar.

The trail replaces a $30 million plan by the Howard government to build an interpretative centre at the Australian National Memorial near the French town of Villers-Bretonneux, where the second annual Anzac Day dawn service honouring diggers who fought on the Western Front will be held on Saturday…

There was a documentary on ABC on Thursday on the Polygon Wood and the identification and subsequent military burial of some Australian soldiers who died there in 1917: Lost in Flanders.

An overview of the role of Australians on the Western Front.

Family Connection

ken

Kenneth Ross Whitfield 1897 – 1967

Age 20

I remember Uncle Ken in Shellharbour as a remarkably calm and steady old man with white hair, even if I now realise for some of that time he was rather younger than I am now! He talked little about World War I (or World War II in which he also served.)

It turns out he was in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Reinforcement embarking on board HMAT A14 Euripides in Sydney on 31 October 1917. He would have arrived, then, in time for the events following the battles described in the documentary I saw on Thursday.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, events, History, memory, personal

 

Some non-fiction read recently: 2a

See also Some non-fiction read recently: 1.

The first two books have led to much thinking – to that degree they are both good books. The thinking is so profound – in the sense that I am exploring again some important territory, not in the sense that I can offer great depth – that it will lead to post 2b in the near future. I will attempt there to draw out some ideas and will relate them to some things I have said before. I have also downloaded a video I found while looking for something else; it turns out to be a document, in a way, from my own recent past – or at least I know and have spent much time with some who feature in it. It is a video that will knock the socks off some readers. It is related to the issues in the following two books.

star30 star30star30star30star30 Madeleine Albright, The Mighty & the Almighty: Reflections on Power, God, and World Affairs, Macmillan 2006.

Yes, that Madeleine Albright. The thesis is that while there is a place for the military in the struggles that engage us, the more important struggle is in the world of ideas, and that must include a recognition of the significance of religion to the majority of the people in the world. I find this a very wise and persuasive book. Some of the policy moves the Obama administration has made in recent times are less surprising in the light of this book.

Albright was involved too with the Changing Course – A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim WorldReport of the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement September 2008 (SECOND PRINTING, WITH A NEW PREFACE AND ENDORSEMENTS February 2009). You can download a PDF copy here; I strongly urge you to do so.

See also Madeleine Albright’s Take on Religion and Politics by Jim Zogby on Muslim Media Network.

star30star30star30 Michael Burleigh, Blood & Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, Harper 2008

This isn’t really a cultural history of its subject, but rather a series of narratives of selected terrorist movements from 19th century Fenians through Russian Nihilists to of course the current phenomenon of terrorists who claim to be advancing the cause of Islam – a long-winded expression I have devised as more satisfactory than alternatives such as Islamists, Jihadists, or Islamofascists. The last one Burleigh also rejects, and he makes fairly careful use of the first two. He prefers another term that is unlikely to catch on: jihadi-salafist. On p.353 he compares the world of Islam to a series of concentric circles. The largest, outer circle “includes the world’s one and a half billion Muslims, divided into Sunni, Shia, and hundreds of other sects…” He doesn’t have a problem with most in that circle. The next circle inside the larger one includes “Islamists” – people who want Muslim states to introduce or maintain Islamic law. These too are in the main not terrorists. The next and smaller circle are the Salafi, but even there while “most [violent] jihadists are salafists, not all salafists are jihadists.” The final smallest circle Burleigh seems to forget about, but clearly it is those who actually embrace terror.

Now that isn’t too bad, really, as a kind of model. I had approached the book with dread, since he does at one point tell us that John Howard was the world’s most successful conservative leader. He is, on the other hand, not very fond of Rumsfeld and Cheney, it would appear, but does speak fairly kindly of George Bush. The book was after all written in the rarefied atmosphere of the Hoover Institution.

One of the book’s most annoying features is the author’s habit of parading his Aunt Sallys, his King Charles’ Heads, his hobbyhorses, rather too often and sometimes too smugly. You can almost guess what they might be. But the book is not quite as bad as some left reviewers have made out, nor nearly as good as Quadrant thought. Its great strength is that he tells his stories very well, when he’s not doing the right-wing whinging bits, and those stories are fascinating and disturbing enough, and I believe, going on the ones I already knew about, the telling is accurate enough. So the book really is informative. To his credit, too, Burleigh is firmly opposed to torture, and cognisant of right-wing terrorism.

See also a Google search. Especially look at Those who live by the bomb (Jason Burke) and Shadows of the gunmen (Giles Foden). Historian Fred Halliday is particularly pissed off in Blood and Rage, By Michael Burleigh.

Blood and Rage proclaims itself to be a "cultural history of terrorism". In eight far-ranging and fluently written chapters, it covers the Fenians in 19th-century Ireland, Russian nihilists, American anarchists, ETA, the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany and Red Brigades in Italy, as well as the ANC, Black September and – in a long concluding chapter – more recent Islamist groups. All are, for Burleigh, examples of one phenomonon, a cult of death and destruction that has little anchorage in politics and is more the product of "a pre-existing chemical mix" that is set to explode.

The first thing that strikes the reader of this book is its mediocrity. All is based on secondary material, and the main stories, events and characters are well known. Despite the fact that most episodes involve people who are still alive, or who lived through them, Burleigh never sees fit to interview anyone. The overall analytic framework is weak, and unoriginal. We never learn what a "cultural history" means, as if there could be such a thing. Compared to some major works on terrorism, by authors such as Walter Laqueur, Conor Gearty or Gerard Chaliand – who, without any shred of indulgence, do seek political causes, and recognise political context – Burleigh’s account is lacking. Equally, in his discussion of Islamist guerrilla groups, he has nothing to add to the works of such writers as Jason Burke, Fawaz Gerges, Olivier Roy, Malise Ruthven or Steven Simon….

Rushed opinion is buttressed by arrogance, not least towards former colleagues and institutions in which the author worked. A reference to the students of his former institution, the LSE, whom I have had the pleasure of teaching these past 25 years, has them described as "Eurotrash and Americans doing ‘Let’s See Europe’". At one point he sneers at fellow-participants at a conference in Madrid in 2005 on the dialogue of civilisations, "the usual obsfuscatory cloud of ecumenical goodwill". He fails to note that some of those who participated, such as the Egyptian Nasser Abu Zaid, had suffered at first hand from Islamist violence and knew far more than he about the matter.

In predictable vein, the final sections launch a general offensive against academics who write on terrorism for failing to engage with the reality of suffering involved. A survey of books shows, Burleigh tells us, "how unserious academics have become as a group". This would be as much a surprise to the Laqueurs and Geartys of this world as it is to those of us who have worked, over decades, on the Middle East. Bashing academics, the stock-in-trade of the sometimes virulently anti-intellectual Robert Fisk, is best left to others….

And there’s more. I agree about Jason Burke and Malise Ruthven, as I have read them. On the other hand, I did learn quite a bit from Blood & Rage.

star30star30star30star30 James  M McPherson (ed), The American Presidents, DK Publishing 2004 (revised).

This is a set of essays on all the US Presidents up to George W, each essay more or less of equal length and each by a different historian. Considering I knew so little about some of them I found the book worth reading. Some of the essays are brilliant. In the back you’ll find all the Inaugural Speeches. It is lavishly illustrated.

Now I am not promising Part B for tomorrow. I have a lot of thinking to do. But you may in the meantime be interested in this rather Marxist essay: Terry Eagleton, Culture & Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism.

Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God? Who would have expected theology to rear its head once more in the technocratic twenty-first century, almost as surprisingly as some mass revival of Zoroastrianism? Why is it that my local bookshop has suddenly sprouted a section labeled “Atheism,” hosting anti-God manifestos by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others, and might even now be contemplating another marked “Congenital Skeptic with Mild Baptist Leanings”? Why, just as we were confidently moving into a posttheological, postmetaphysical, even posthistorical era, has the God question broken out anew?

Can one simply put it down to falling towers and fanatical Islamists? I don’t really think we can. Certainly the New Atheists’ disdain for religion did not sprout from the ruins of the World Trade Center. While some of the debate took its cue from there, 9/11 was not really about religion, any more than the thirty-year-long conflict in Northern Ireland was over papal infallibility. In fact, radical Islam generally understands exceedingly little about its own religious faith, and there is good evidence to suggest that its actions are, for the most part, politically driven.

That does not mean these actions have no religious impact or significance. Islamic fundamentalism confronts Western civilization with the contradiction between the West’s own need to believe and its chronic incapacity to do so. The West now stands eyeball-to-eyeball with a full-blooded “metaphysical” foe for whom absolute truths and foundations pose no problem at all-and this at just the point when a Western civilization in the throes of late modernity, or postmodernity if you prefer, has to skate by on believing as little as it decently can…

Eagleton always writes well.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2009 in America, Best read of 2009, book reviews, fundamentalism and extremism, generational change, History, Islam, Middle East, politics, right wing politics, terrorism, USA