Weekend Edition

July 21st, 2017

Fantasy Caliph attacks Darwin

July 21st, 2017


Darwin visits Erdogan CARTOON/Cagle

many naive and intelligent people believe:
people take diverse religious routes
but they all lead to the same God

there’s no guarantee
they end up with the same God
perhaps they’ll all drift apart
disillusioned, as there is no such God

but what’s not inane
is the fact that:

several political leaders from around the world
as Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman
India’s Narendra Modi
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu
United States’ Donald Trump
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan
and several other leaders
with dissimilar religion/background/culture/ …

are all heading towards the same goal:
hoarding more and more power with fascistic authority

Erdogan, like many non-Western leaders,
uses the weapon of religion
because he lacks the weapon of “democracy”
that Western countries use to get what they want

Erdogan, who has “absolutely no value
for “democracy, freedom and rule of law”
and already has too much power
has now gone after Darwin

Erdogan has a dream to be the Caliph
of the Muslim Ummah or community
but that is not a possibility in today’s world
but, at least, he could be the Caliph of Turkey
that also a very backward looking Caliph
and he’s doing exactly that
school students won’t be taught theory of evolution because
“these subjects are beyond their comprehension”

from now on, a subject on jihad will be taught because
Jihad is an element in our religion; it is in our religion …”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Egyptian president ratifies transfer of two islands to Saudi Arabia

July 21st, 2017


Territory has been under administrative control of the North African state since 1906

As early as 1954, Egypt claimed its sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir before the United Nations Security Council, stating that the islands were part of the delimitation of territory dividing Egypt from the Ottoman Empire in 1906. The decision to hand over the two islands is clearly related to the financial support provided by Riyadh to Egypt in recent years.

Saudi Arabia has been given two islands which have been under Egyptian control since the early 20th century.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has endorsed the transfer of ownership of Tiran and Sanafir located on the southern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba.

The ceding of the two islands has prompted protests in Egypt since March 2016 when the idea was first made public by El-Sisi. An Egyptian Supreme Court decision rejected the proposal to relinquish ownership of the islands to Saudi Arabia ruling that Sanafir and Tiran were part of its national territory.

However, in June, the majority in the Parliament of Egypt sided with El-Sisi sending the legislation to the president for ratification. El-Sisi maintains that Egypt will still administer the islands although ownership will be turned over to Saudi Arabia.

Former Egyptian leaders Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser and the other Free Officers, took control of the government on July 23, 1952 overthrowing the monarchy. After consolidating power in 1954 with the removal of Naguib who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasser two years later in 1956 nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which was controlled by Britain and France.

In the immediate aftermath of the seizure of the canal, Egypt was invaded by Britain, France and Israel in an attempt to overthrow the government to replace Nasser with an administration that would be compliant to western imperialist interests. Nonetheless, the United States administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed the intervention and threatened to wreck London financially if the European and Israeli forces were not withdrawn.

Eisenhower viewed the move by his European counterparts as an attempt to reassert their colonial status during the post-World War II period. Washington had solidified its role as the sole dominant imperialist state after 1945 and was seeking to develop relations with emerging independent nations in Africa and Asia as a counterweight to the rapidly growing influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China.

As early as 1954, Egypt had claimed its sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir before the United Nations Security Council stating that the islands were part of the delimitation of territory dividing Egypt from the Ottoman Empire in 1906. During WWII Egyptian troops were stationed on the islands in order to protect the Suez Canal.

The decision to raise the issue of sovereignty over the two islands is clearly related to the financial support provided by Riyadh to Egypt in recent years. El-Sisi, a former Field Marshall in the Egyptian military, led the coup against the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) government of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Morsi, who still remains imprisoned four years after the coup, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which backed the FJP. The military takeover was never labeled as a coup by the U.S. under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Pambazuka for more

Ambedkar’s warning

July 21st, 2017


B.R. Ambedkar being sworn in as independent India’s first Law Minister as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru looks on

“If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.… Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost,” wrote B.R. Ambedkar in Pakistan or the Partition of India (1946, pages 354-355). He was against majoritarianism, which in the Indian context meant unbridled rule of the majority community, the Hindus.

Ambedkar wrote in a Memorandum on the Rights of States and Minorities, dated March 24, 1947, which he submitted to the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights set up by the Constituent Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, etc.: “Unfortunately for the minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which may be called the Divine Right of the Majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism, while the monopolising of the whole power by the majority is called nationalism. Guided by such political philosophy the majority is not prepared to allow the minorities to share political power, nor is it willing to respect any convention made in that behalf as is evident from their repudiation of the obligation (to include representatives of the minorities in the Cabinet) contained in the Instrument of Instructions issued to the Governors in the Government of India Act of 1935. Under these circumstances there is no way left but to have the rights of the Scheduled Castes embodied in the Constitution.” (B. Shiva Rao, Select Documents, volume 2, page 113).

He was not wrong. One of the finest minds of the Socialist movement, Prem Bhasin, wrote: “The ease with which a large number of Congressmen and women—small, big and bigger still—have walked into the RSS-BJP [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party] boat and sailed with it is not a matter of surprise. For, there has always been a certain affinity between the two. A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a united independent India. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai had, for instance, actually broken away from the Congress and founded the Nationalist Party which contested elections against the Congress in the mid-twenties. In later years, in the forties, even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was sometimes accused of being soft on the Hindu Revanchists, who believe in and practised tit-for-tat in that turbulent and fateful period.”

Events have proved the validity of Prem Bhasin’s assessment in an article entitled “The Congress-BJP Duo” in the Janata (Annual Number 1998). The weekly was founded by Jayaprakash Narayan and has been edited by his devoted follower, Dr. G.G. Parikh. The writer was one of a kind and so is the editor, who renders selfless service to an institution for rural uplift. Prem Babu lived in Aligarh and was general secretary of the Praja Socialist Party. A man of modest means, he would carefully peruse all the national dailies, in English and Hindi, besides magazines at a public library. He was, in this writer’s opinion, far and away the most insightful and honest commentator on the political scene.

Frontline for more

Can an English artist use classical Nigerian art as he likes?

July 20th, 2017


PHOTO/Damien Hirst

The insensitivity of many Westerners in the question of looted artefacts or artefacts acquired under dubious circumstances is astonishing. Hirst and other Western artists can derive inspiration from the looted artefacts kept in Western museums, which they can visit anytime they want. But where can African artists derive such inspiration when iconic African objects are all kept away in Western capitals they can’t visit?

‘For, not content with being a racial slanderer, one who did not hesitate to denigrate, in such uncompromisingly nihilistic terms, the ancestral fount of the black races – a belief which this ethnologist himself observed – Frobenius was also a notorious plunderer, one of a long line of European archaeological raiders. The museums of Europe testify to this insatiable lust of Europe, the frustrations of the Ministries of Culture of the Third World and of organizations like UNESCO are a continuing testimony to the tenacity, even recidivist nature of your routine receiver of stolen goods.’ Wole Soyinka – Nobel Lecture. [1]

There have been some very strong reactions, mainly on the part of Nigerians and other Africans, on the use/misuse, appropriation/misappropriation by the English artist, Damien Hirst, of the image of the famous Nigerian sculpture, the bronze head from Ife, Olokun, in his current exhibition at Venice, entitled ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

On the left is the cast brass head, Ori Olokun, an Ife head, in British Museum and on the right the sculpture by Damien Hirst, which he calls Golden Heads (Female).

Many have accused the English artist of copying Nigerian art; some said he had stolen Nigerian culture; and others accused him of plagiarizing Yoruba art. He has been called a thief, daylight robber, and many other names. [2] Very strong reactions came from the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor and the Nigerian painter Laolu Senbanjo.

For the first time, Nigeria is represented at Venice Biennale by the painter Victor Ehikhamenor, sculptor Peju Alatise and performance artiste Qudus Onikeku.

We reproduce in an annex below Laolu Senbanjo’s letter addressed to Damien Hirst because it discusses many aspects of the issues involved and deserves to be read by all. [3]

Damien Hirst is by no means the first European to have copied African art or, if you prefer, to have let himself be ‘inspired’ by African art. The great Pablo Picasso is a well-known example of Western artists benefitting from such inspiration as well as a whole lot of modern artists, the so-called avantgarde, Fernand Leger, Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Max Ernst, Constantin Brancusi, Amedeo Modigliani, Miro, Armand, etc. This ‘inspiration’ has been well discussed in several exhibitions and in the well-known book by William Rubin, Primitivism in 20th Century Art (1984).

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Comparing capitals

July 20th, 2017


Satellite view of Abuja, Nigeria, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), located just north of the confluence of the Niger and Benue River PHOTO/Bryn Pinzgauer/Nations Online

The main theoretical frame for analysing cities over the last two decades has been the notion of the ‘Global City’—an urban studies paradigm which runs in tandem with official, pseudo-scientific rankings of where is the most Global (is yours an Alpha or Beta Global City?). These cities, which usually grew out of imperial entrepôts—London, New York, Shanghai, Barcelona, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Lagos—are the spokes of global networks of media, tourism, ‘creativity’, property development and, most importantly, finance capital. Of that list, only one—London—is the capital city of a nation-state, although Rio is an ex-capital and Barcelona a devolved one. Göran Therborn’s Cities of Power, although it doesn’t let itself get bogged down in the issue, is explicitly a riposte to the idea of the Global City, and the peculiar Monocle-magazine vision of trans-national, interconnected, intangible (yet always apparently locally specific) capitalism that it serves to alternately describe and vindicate. The ‘economism’ of Global City studies, he argues in his introduction, ‘leaves out the power manifestations of the urban built environment itself. Even the most capitalist city imaginable is not only business offices and their connections to business offices elsewhere.’ [1] Cities of Power is instead an analysis solely of capital cities, as built and inhabited ‘forms of state formation and their consequences’. In an unusual move for a sociologist, Therborn pursues this study for the most part not through local economies or societies, but through the architectural and monumental practices of representation and expression of power.

This can’t entail a total break with the Global City narrative, given that some of the cities which feature heavily in the book fit both descriptions, loci at once of state formation and representation, and major centres of financial capitalism—London being the most obvious, but including also Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Cairo. Much of Cities of Power, however, devotes itself—in an era which, at its more goofily utopian times, likes to announce the abolition and irrelevance of nation-states—to cities which have been explicitly designed to serve solely as national capitals and embodiments of national culture and power: Washington, Canberra, Pretoria/Tshwane, Ottawa, Brasília, New Delhi, Islamabad, Abuja, The Hague, Beijing, and the heavily subsidized, relatively poor post-1989 German capital, Berlin. In keeping with Therborn’s work over the past twenty years, which has consistently employed the same framework, each of these cities is allocated to one of the four ‘pathways to modernity’ that make up the master typology of his sociological thought, as either European capitals, settler capitals, colonial capitals or capitals of ‘reactive modernization’, in societies that never succumbed to Western domination, but were forced to transform themselves to resist it. Modernity here is defined simply as an orientation to the present and the future, rather than to a traditional past, and a modern polity as any nation-state, of the kind first founded in America and France in the late eighteenth century. Distributed across these different zones, the various capitals are analysed in a dual optic, structural and symbolic, looking at their spatial layout, functionality (provision of basic services), patterning of buildings, architecture, monumentality (sculptures etc.), and toponomy. Throughout, attention will be paid to ‘closure’, ‘weight’, ‘size’, ‘distance’, ‘symmetry’, ‘verticality’, as key expressions of built power. [2]

New Left Review for more

How we learn to read another’s mind by looking into their eyes

July 20th, 2017


Portrait of Mary Brennan, suffragist and member of the National Womens Party, ca. 1910-1920 PHOTO/Library of Congress

Eyes play a prominent role in our daily social encounters and are sometimes metaphorically referred to as windows to our souls. There now is compelling evidence to support the notion that much information about another person’s mind can be gleaned from his or her eyes. In one proof of concept, the Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET), developed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his group at Cambridge University in the UK, has documented our ability to identify inner states from the eyes and the region surrounding the eyes. The extent of information that eyes communicate about other minds might be somewhat limited, yet evidence argues against the longheld view of philosophers in the skeptical tradition that the contents of other minds cannot be directly observed. Instead, human eyes form a bridge between self and other by providing direct access to another person’s inner state.

The phenomenon is unique to humans alone. Indeed, after comparison with nearly half of all primate species, the human eye has been shown to be morphologically and responsively unique. Humans not only show the greatest horizontal elongation of the eye outline and the largest amount of exposed tissue (called sclera) around the eyeball, but are also the only species with sclera that is white. When compared with our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees, we humans focus more steadily on the eye region when scanning faces. By 14 months of age, the human gaze follows eyes almost exclusively whereas other great apes rely more on head direction.

The sensitivity to eyes emerges early in human development. From birth, newborn infants show a preference for faces, despite their poor visual acuity. Human infants prefer to look at faces that have eyes open versus eyes closed. Newborns exhibit a preference for faces only with naturally appearing eyes, including black iris and white sclera, versus control faces with white iris and black sclera. And infants appear to glean emotional information about other minds by gazing at eyes, literally recruiting brain regions that, in adults, are involved in understanding another person’s mental state. Strikingly, by seven months of age, infants detect emotional cues and distinguish between direct and averted gaze solely on the basis of the eye whites.

The attachment neurohormone oxytocin modulates our response to eye cues. When the hormone is administered through nasal passages during studies, subjects viewing faces show increased fixation on eyes. Oxytocin also significantly enhances the recognition of emotional and mental states from eye cues.

Reduced sensitivity to eyes and eye cues has been described as one of the earliest identifiable warning signs in the development of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies show that, along the autism spectrum, orientation to eyes is initially present in young infants but later declines between two and six months of age. Characteristic differences in the brain responses to eye-gaze cues recorded at age six to 10 months predicted autism diagnosed at 36 months. Furthermore, older children with autism display enhanced brain responses to eye cues after intranasal oxytocin administration. The connection between oxytocin and mind-reading is nuanced indeed: research shows that genetic variations affecting oxytocin release and breastfeeding experience impact infants’ emotional response to eyes as early as seven months of age.

All in all, the ability to read other minds develops early in human infancy, and is deeply influenced by cues from the eyes. The phenomenon requires no explicit, conceptual grasp of other minds, but rather relies on direct experience of others’ emotional and mental states.

Aeon for more

Black marriage unshackled: An interview with historian Tera W. Hunter

July 19th, 2017


Bound in Wedlock is the first comprehensive history of African American marriage in the nineteenth century. Uncovering the experiences of African American spouses in plantation records, legal and court documents, and pension files, Tera W. Hunter reveals the myriad ways couples adopted, adapted, revised, and rejected white Christian ideas of marriage. Setting their own standards for conjugal relationships, enslaved husbands and wives were creative and, of necessity, practical in starting and supporting families under conditions of uncertainty and cruelty.

TCF: I love that you open Bound in Wedlock with your paternal great-great grandparents’ marriage certificate. So few historians center the personal even though our research is, in fact, deeply personal. How did you find this document and why did you decide to include it?

TWH: Most of the research of my paternal family lineage has been done by our family historian, my dad’s cousin Bruce Hunter, who is a retired engineer. He shared the marriage certificate with me many years ago, which I kept posted on my bulletin board for inspiration. He has been working on the family tree for decades, but his discoveries of the earlier ancestors before my great-great grandparents, Ellen and Moses Hunter, began to accelerate in more recent years, thanks to more records being digitized and available online, as well as DNA evidence.

As the tree began to fill in for the earlier generations, I was struck by the preponderance of interracial pairings before Ellen and Moses broke the trend as the first intraracial couple among my direct ancestors who were legally married. It started to dawn on me how much my own family history is evocative of the larger history I had been researching for my book. I have been awed by how these threads began to mesh. It only reinforces the value of the stories of so many other ordinary and little-known individuals in the book. My family history made my work more personal and tangible.

TCF: Your passion for the subject definitely shines through in the writing. You make a compelling argument about the relationship between race and marriage. Why do the two become so closely linked as slavery is codified?

TWH: There is a long legacy of racial discrimination that originated during slavery, which hardened as slavery was codified in the law. The rigidity began during in the colonial era as it became increasingly imperative to define slavery as a permanent, inheritable condition, to lock in a self-reproducing workforce. Laws were passed that restricted the intimate relationships of free blacks and defined slaves’ status based on their mothers’ status (partus sequitur ventrem) to ensure that slave owners maintained control over the reproduction of the enslaved. Marriage rights normally granted free couples control over women’s sexuality and labor and parental rights over children. But in order to perpetuate the status of slaves as laboring bodies and further the expansion of capital fueling the global market, those rights had to be denied to slaves. The property rights of enslavers were given the greatest priority. But race, and not just slavery, established the basis for denigrating intimate bonds. African Americans, regardless of status—Northern or Southern, free or slave—faced harsh reprisals from racist ideas and practices that impinged on their intimate relationships. This was because of the growing bifurcation of freedom being associated with whiteness and blackness with servitude, especially during the antebellum decades.

TCF: The Civil War is such a critical turning point in the book, and you chronicle this history in important new ways.

TWH: Yes, the war provided the first context in which fugitive slaves could start to formalize their relationships and gain legal standing. Missionaries and Army officials began to marry slaves “under the flag”—under U.S. authority, to stabilize the growing fugitive population and to prepare them for citizenship. Hence, it was in the context of the war that African Americans were encouraged, and sometimes coerced, to create formal, monogamous, marriages with legal standing. African Americans always reinforced the importance of their families in their encounters with the outside agents. This became especially pronounced after black men were allowed to enlist in the Army. African Americans from the beginning of the war perceived the war to be, and treated it as, a war for their liberation. The federal government came to understand that in order to encourage more men to enlist, they had to offer them protection for their wives and children and the only way to do that was to free them, to give legal recognition to their marriages and all the privileges that accompanied those new rights.

TCF: Willie Anne Grey’s and Chery Williams’s moving stories explain so much about the complexities of black intimacy after the war. How did you find these two women in the archive?

TWH: Both stories come from letters in the Freedmen’s Bureau records. These are remarkable documents, especially given that African Americans were just out of slavery and largely illiterate. Both women dictated letters addressed to husbands, which were then passed on through the networks of bureau agencies in hopes that they would ultimately reach the men. Many ex-slaves used this strategy to reunite their families postwar. Complex families were created out of the disruptions that enslaved people could not avert. And yet they went to great lengths to reconstitute their old ties, making themselves emotionally vulnerable in the hopes that their feelings would be reciprocated.

In Willie Anne Grey’s case, her marriage had been breached by the sale of her husband during slavery. She eventually remarried and had additional children. Her second husband died. After the war ended, she searched for her first love. Chery Williams had a different story. Her husband was a Civil War soldier. Before he left for service they shared a tender parting and he promised that, God willing, he would return to her after the fighting stopped. He survived, but he did not come home. She heard rumors that he was living nearby, which left her devastated and puzzled. Williams wrote a love letter, pouring out her soul, pleading for his return. But she also expressed a not so veiled threat, informing him that she had new legal rights as his rightful wife, which gave her the power to command his return.

TCF: You work with an impressive range of primary sources, and you treat your subjects with such care. It’s what I admire most about your scholarship. How do you approach archival research, knowing that black folks’ lived experiences are often distorted or omitted altogether?

Feminist Wire for more


July 19th, 2017


U.S. bombing of Baghdad in 2003 PHOTO/Screenshot/Common Dreams

“The pen is mightier than the sword,”
preaches an imam from the pulpit.

In our era such sermons lack virtue: Don’t
talk of a Muslim with a dagger, speak

instead of a Christian gunrunner who
smears a striving for truth as unholy.

Ask: If war is immoral for the East,
is it not so for the West, and if truth

is the path, why are Western blunders
burnished and those of Islam broadcast?

(Translated, from the original Urdu, by Rafiq Kathwari)

3 Quarks for more

Labiaplasty: Vaginal surgery ‘world’s fastest-growing cosmetic procedure’, say plastic surgeons

July 19th, 2017


The procedure was found to be the world’s fastest-growing type of cosmetic surgery PHOTO/Rex

Labiaplasty operations up 45 per cent year-on-year, international survey finds

A growing number of women around the world are going under the knife to change the appearance of their reproductive organs, plastic surgeons have said.

Labiaplasty, an operation to reduce the length of the inner folds of skin on either side of the vagina, was named the world’s fastest-growing type of cosmetic surgery in a new study.

In 2016, 45 per cent more labiaplasty procedures were carried out than in 2015, according to data gathered by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).

The news comes after concerns were raised last week over young girls choosing to have surgery on their genitals because of body insecurities that stem from social media and pornography.

Leading adolescent gynaecologist Dr Naomi Crouch told the BBC girls as young as nine were seeking the cosmetic procedure because they were distressed by the appearance of their vulva.

More than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS in 2015-16 – more than 150 of whom were under 15, according to the broadcaster.

ISAPS asked around 35,000 doctors in 106 countries to submit data on surgical and non-surgical procedures performed in 2016 as part of its annual survey.

The organisation found that breast enlargement surgery was the world’s most popular cosmetic procedure overall, followed by liposuction, eyelid surgery and nose jobs.

Independent for more