Truth and fiction in Elie Wiesel’s “Night”

October 30th, 2014

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

President Barack Obama hugging Elie Wiesel PHOTO/Reuters/Haaretz

When in trouble, head for Auschwitz, preferably in the company of Elie Wiesel. It’s as foolproof a character reference as is available today, at least within the Judeo-Christian sphere of moral influence. One can easily see why Oprah Winfrey and her advisers saw an Auschwitz excursion in the company of Wiesel as a sure-fire antidote to salve the wounds sustained by Oprah’s Book Club when it turned out that James Frey had faked significant slabs of his own supposedly autobiographical saga of moral regeneration, A Million Little Pieces.

But hardly had Frey been cast down from the eminence of Amazon.com’s top bestseller before he was replaced at number one by the new pick of Oprah’s Book Club, Elie Wiesel’s Night, which had the good fortune to see republication at this fraught moment in Oprah’s literary affairs. Simultaneous with the Night selection came news that Oprah Winfrey and Elie Wiesel would shortly be visiting Auschwitz together, from which vantage point Oprah, with the lugubrious Wiesel at her side, could emphasize for her ABC-TV audience that there is truth and there is fiction, that Auschwitz is historical truth at its bleakest and most terrifying, that Night is a truthful account and that Wiesel is the human embodiment of truthful witness.

The trouble here is that in its central, most crucial scene, Night isn’t historically true, and at least two other important episodes are almost certainly fiction. Below, I cite views, vigorously expressed to me in recent weeks by a concentration camp survivor, Eli Pfefferkorn, who worked with Wiesel for many years; also by Raul Hilberg. Hilberg is the world’s leading authority on the Nazi Holocaust. An expanded version of his classic three-volume study, The Destruction of the European Jews, was recently reissued by Yale University Press. Wiesel personally enlisted Hilberg to be the historical expert on the United States Holocaust Commission.

Counterpunch for more

Life in War, Afghanistan – in pictures (photos by Majid Saeedi)

October 30th, 2014

Two Afghan girls play with an artificial hand, south of Kabul PHOTO/Majid Saeedi/Guardian

Psychichiatric patients in a mental hospital in Herat PHOTO/Majid Saeedi/Guardian

(Thanks to Pritam Rohila

New campaign to Stop Female Genital Mutilation in Africa builds traction

October 30th, 2014

by EFUA DORKENOO

Masaai mothers in Kenya go through the ‘Reconciliation Ceremony’ as they celebrate the decision with their daughters to reject FGM. The Tasaru Rescue Center in the Narok region of Kenya now holds this yearly rite as a ‘rite of passage’ ceremony instead for girls in the region under a program called the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative. PHOTO/Paul Mununu

But how can the push to protect these girls and completely stop FGM happen?

“The term ‘female genital mutilation’ (also called ‘female genital cutting’ and ‘female genital mutilation/cutting’) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world are estimated to have undergone such procedures, and 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year. Female genital mutilation has been reported to occur in all parts of the world, but it is most prevalent in: the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe,” says the United Nations sponsored World Health Organization.

The reasons given for the procedure vary but some families say the custom will enable their daughters to “stay safe” and away from early sexual activity. It is also thought in some communities that FGM allows daughters to find an ‘approving’ husband once they have reached what a village considers to be marriageable age, since ancient local customs have pushed for girls’ virginity before marriage.

Women News Network for ore

Ali Mazrui (1933-2014)

October 29th, 2014

An intellectual giant: Ali Mazrui (1933-2014)

by HATEM BAZIAN

Ali Mazrui PHOTO/Al Jazeera

For the past 50 years, Ali Mazrui dominated the field of African Studies through 26 internationally acclaimed books and hundreds of articles, essays, interviews, and appearances on radio and television programmes. On October 13, the world lost an intellectual giant who helped shape academic and scholarly understandings of Africa during a critical period for not just the continent but global history as well.

Mazrui’s books include the classics “Towards a Pax Africana” (1967) and “The Political Sociology of the English Language” (1975), along with a utopian novel set in heaven entitled, “The Trial of Christopher Okigbo” (1971). His research interests, which ranged from African politics to international political culture, as well as North-South relations, are reflected in his works “Africa’s International Relations” (1977), “Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa” (1978) and “The Political Culture of Language: Swahili, Society, and the State”, co-authored with Alamin M. Mazrui. Two additional influential books were “A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective” (1976) and “Cultural Forces in World Politics” (1990).

When examining Mazrui’s contributions, we arrive at an epistemology grounded in pan-Africanist, anti-colonial, and transnational perspectives, which together informed and shaped his scholarly production. Before the 1960s, the field of African Studies was dominated by colonial discourses, and the work of scholars like Mazrui helped us arrive at a different examination of the history of Africa and its present circumstances.

Al Jazeera for more

Ali Mazrui obituary

AHMED RAJAB

Ali Mazrui entertained a number of intriguing ideas such as his pet concept of ‘Afrabia’ – the merging of Africa and the Arab world

The Kenyan political thinker Ali Mazrui, who has died aged 81, was best known in the west for writing and presenting a groundbreaking television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage (1986). In the nine-part documentary, co-produced by the BBC and the US Public Broadcasting Service in association with the Nigerian Television Authority, Mazrui set out to explore wide-ranging aspects of African culture and society “from the inside”. Episodes focused on subjects including nature, the family, exploitation, conflict and political instability.

The common theme of the series was the impact on the continent of three distinct influences: indigenous African culture, Islam and Christianity. Drawing on a thesis first put forward by the Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, Mazrui argued that this mix of non-traditional religious ideals and sentiments had made it difficult to identify an authentically African way of doing things. He painted a forceful picture of the damage done by colonialism, and touched on issues such as the potential benefits to Africans of closer links with the Arab world and the possibility that “black Africa” would soon possess nuclear weapons.

Though greeted with generally respectful reviews, the series also proved provocative, particularly in the US. The National Endowment for the Humanities, which had contributed $600,000 to the production costs, demanded the removal of its name from the credits, and the organisation’s then chair, Lynne Cheney, dismissed it as an “anti-western diatribe” that blamed “all the moral, economic and technological problems of Africa on the west”.

The Guardian for more

The Humanism of Ali Mazrui

by HORACE G. CAMPBELL

Ali A. Mazrui the great humanist joined the ancestors on Sunday October 12, 2014 in Binghamton, New York where he had lived since 1989. He had been living with his family and working as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Mazrui led a life that was controversial for the establishment and the boldness of his outlook was reflected at the prayers that were held for him at the Mosque in Binghamton on Monday afternoon at 5pm.

The controversy for some was that at the prayers held over the mortal remains of Ali Mazrui, three women were speakers at this mosque. After the performance of the Salat al-Janazah by the Imam and the men in front standing in three rows, the three women were called forward to speak. The speakers were Professors Betty Wambui, Professor Ousseina Alido and Professor Florence Margai. After the second female speaker paid tribute to Mazrui and his contribution to the struggles of women, the host, Professor Ricardo Laremont had to comment that although there were many in the prayer who were raising eyebrows about the departure from the ‘tradition,’ this mixed gender prayer was consistent with what Ali Mazrui stood for.

There are now many tributes pouring in from all over the world for Professor Ali Mazrui whose mortal remains will be interred at the historical monument of Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya this weekend. Ali Mazrui was born in Mombasa, on February 24, 1933 and he will be buried next to his family. Ali was a prodigious writer who was the author or coauthor of more than 35 books, numerous book chapters, and hundreds of scholarly articles, magazine and newspaper commentaries and the host of the TV series the Triple Heritage. Mazrui toiled as an international scholar in every continent and he can be claimed as a great Pan Africanist, a great African, and a great East African, but for this tribute I want to hail Ali Mazrui as a great humanist.

Counterpunch for more

Prof Ali Mazrui was a true Kenyan hero

by YASH PAL GHAI

Ali’s achievement as a scholar was remarkable; he was a giant in his field. The range of his interests was wide; his knowledge of theory and practice was remarkable; and his ability to weave insights from many disciplines into new perspectives was unusual.

He was a scholar in the finest traditions of great scholars: devoted completely to his vocation; searching analysis of broad relationships between religions, ideologies, and state systems.

Early on in his work, before the subject became popular, he drew attention to the impact of globalisation on developing countries and their relationship with the more economically advanced west. Starting as a liberal, he saw the discrimination against and suffering of the people in the US and other places, and became a champion of social justice.

Ali never lost sight of the relevance of scholarship to policy, with forays into public debates. He was welcomed by numerous heads of state who sought his advice—though he did not have to be asked, as Obote, Idi Amin and Mugabe learnt to their cost!

Pambazuka News for more

Foreskin, the play: Circumcision as art for a Turkish playwright

October 29th, 2014

by IGAL AVIDAN

Image in Istanbul of an 18th century circumcision ceremony of Sultan Ahmed III’s sons.

A quiet New Year’s Eve in the maternity ward of a Berlin hospital. The doctor, a woman of Turkish descent, pours sparkling wine for herself and a blonde nurse. But the quiet ends when a fit, young, undershirt-clad macho man arrives pushing his pregnant wife Ela in a wheelchair. His name is Abraham B. Schneider. Pronounced in German, B. Schneider comes out as Beschneider, meaning “circumcisor.”

His brother-in-law, an elegantly dressed real estate mogul named Mohammed Habibi Nassir, enters with them. Before the baby boy is even born, both men are vigorously insisting that he must be circumcised, after being pressured to do so by Ela’s domineering Turkish mother Elif. When the only German family member, Christian Eichelmann [another pun, Eichel meaning "glans"] arrives, the other men try to bribe him into a pro-circumcision stance. Eichel, though, feels he has to defend “Europe’s last firewall” and “the oppression of the German majority.”

Is this comedy playing at a Berlin theater payback for the national debate that took place two years ago about forbidding circumcision? At the time, a German court ruled that when carried out for purely religious reasons, circumcision was an act of bodily harm. After further discussions and deliberations, the country’s national parliament passed by a wide margin a regulation stating that parents had the right to have their sons circumcised shortly after birth, but only if certain standards are observed and if a religious circumcisor can carry out the procedure

World Crunch & Die Welt

A common terror pool

October 29th, 2014

by JAWED ANAND

In his Haj sermon on October 4 to the nearly two million Muslim pilgrims from across the globe assembled in Mecca, the Saudi Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, proclaimed that the killing of innocent human beings is the worst fitna (strife) and is strictly forbidden in Islam. Moving on from the general to the specific, he described the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the “enemy number one” of Islam and humanity.

Sounds good, but it’s hardly good enough. Along with some other Sunni-majority Muslim countries in the region, Saudi Arabia is now part of the US-led coalition ostensibly committed to “degrading” and “destroying” the very monster they had until recently collectively nurtured in Syria and Iraq. Given the long-standing, mutually legitimising relationship between the Saudi royal family and the country’s ulema, the Grand Mufti’s belated discovery of Islam’s message of peace and the denunciation of the ISIS was only to be expected.

But it does not address the uncomfortable question Muslims, including many from within the Arab world, are asking: How can those who are part of the problem be part of the solution? Who can deny that the Saudi royalty and clergy on one hand, and the ISIS on the other, are part of the same theo-genetic pool as they all draw inspiration from the same “Shaikhul Islam”, Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab?

The Asian Age for more

via SACW

Gospel of Jesus’ wife

October 28th, 2014

WOMEN OF HISTORY

 

In September 2012, Harvard’s Hollis Chair of Divinity Karen L. King announced the discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment that includes the text “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” After an extended silence while the papyrus was subjected to extensive scientific tests, Harvard’s Divinity School announced that “testing indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ papyrus fragment to be ancient,” following the April 2014 issue of Harvard Theological Review’s (HTR) publication of carbon-14, paleographical, spectroscopy and other scientific analyses. Harvard Divinity School’s website includes updated images, Q & A and other resources on the papyrus.
However, the subject is still open for debate. In the second postscript to his forward in the same issue of HTR, Brown University’s Leo Depuydt writes, “All this still leaves me personally 100% convinced that the Wife of Jesus Fragment is a forgery.”
Just when the debate regarding the authenticity of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” reached a fevered pitch, it was silenced. The Harvard Theological Review pulled King’s article, and Smithsonian suspended the airing of a documentary about the papyrus. HTR announced that the fragment would undergo testing, though the lack of specific information frustrated interested scholars and journalists (see: Bible History Daily: Is the Harvard Theological Review a Coward).

Women of History for more

Spanish police beat African migrants at border

October 28th, 2014

FRANCE 24

Many African migrants, like Danny (in the centre of the photo), regularly try to scale the three fences separating Morocco from Melilla. Screen grab from a video filmed by the NGO Prodein (Pro Derechos de la Infancia) on October 15.

A video has emerged showing police beating up African migrants at the Spanish border. About 200 African migrants who were trying to get into Melilla – a Spanish enclave in northwest Morocco – were reportedly beaten up by Spain’s Guardia Civil (police) on October 15.

Nearly all of them were then illegally sent back to Morocco.

The immigrants, who hail from Sub-Saharan Africa, had tried to get past the triple fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave at about 6 am. Two men were beaten particularly badly by the Spanish Guardia Civil, including one named Danny, aged 23, from Cameroon. On a video broadcast by Prodein, a children’s rights NGO, policemen can be seen beating the young man with their batons as he climbs down a ladder. After being beaten over the head, Danny falls to the ground. He is then dragged off by the police, apparently unconscious.

“The images could not be clearer or more appalling,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, after viewing the film.

France 24 for more and to watch video

Political Islam: An evolutionary history

October 28th, 2014

NADEEM F. PARACHA

12th century Islamic thinker, Imam Ghazali, who advocated an end to ‘ijtihad’ (independent reasoning) with the view that Islamic thought had reached completion.

The term ‘Political Islam’ is an academic concoction. It works as an analytical umbrella under which political analysts club together various political tendencies that claim to be using Muslim scriptures and historical traditions to achieve modern political goals.

The term most probably emerged in the 1940s in Europe, to define anti-colonial movements that described themselves as Islamic in orientation. It is a 20th century construct and its first prominent expression is believed to be Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, formed in 1927.

Even though as a political tendency, Political Islam covers a wide range of movements involving various Muslim sects, sub-sects, nationalities, leftist as well as rightist rhetoric and narratives; it is the commonalities in these varied movements that make analysts study them as a single ideological entity.

The earliest manifestations of Political Islam were the so-called Islamic Fundamentalism, Pan-Islamism and Muslim Nationalism.

‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ is a vague term. It is largely associated with various radical and militant tendencies found in the Muslim world, nut critics of this definition claim that it only means the following of the ritual fundamentals of Islam.

So, though usually attributed to the beliefs of modern-day extremist movements in the Muslim world, Islamic Fundamentalism is basically a firm belief in the theological musings of classical Islamic jurists and traditions.

The ‘political roots’ of this tendency, however, lie in the 12th century, when after three hundred years of open debate in the Islamic world between traditionalists and rationalists (Mu’tazilites), influential Muslim thinkers such as Imam Ghazali insisted that a perfect synthesis (between the two) had been reached and that Islam’s social and spiritual philosophy had achieved completion.

Dawn for more

Democracy, identity and political mobilization

October 27th, 2014

AKEEL BILGRAMI interviewed by NINA ZU FURSTENBERG

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