The Republic of False Truths (book review)

December 6th, 2021

by CHRISTOPHER SHRIMPTON

IMAGE/Good Reads

Alaa Al Aswany’s new novel explores the turbulence, personal and political, of Egypt’s 2011 revolution and its aftermath.

“Most Egyptians have no idea how to think for themselves. The Egyptian people is like a child: if you leave it to decide for itself, it will do itself harm.” So speaks General Ahmad Alwany in the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s The Republic of False Truths. It is 2011 and the revolution has begun: the people have finally decided for themselves. Egyptians from different backgrounds have gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to peacefully demonstrate against government corruption and police brutality, in an uprising which ultimately led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power. The Republic of False Truths captures the uneasy emotions of a society mid-change: the idealism of youth, the ambivalence of the majority, and the machinations of the powers-that-be.

The novel begins as Alwany awakens to the dawn prayer. “He’d lie on his back in bed, eyes open, repeating the words of the call in a whisper.” While a faultlessly observant Muslim – teetotal, married, charitable – he allows himself certain pleasures: luxurious breakfasts, expensive clothing and adult entertainment. “Some might ask, ‘How could a God-fearing Muslim like General Alwany watch pornographic films?”’ the narrator poses, sarcastically.

Far worse is what Alwany allows in support of the regime. From the mosque, he heads straight to a darkened room where he leads in the torture of a young dissident. Al Aswany’s main target is religious hypocrisy, and the sheen of rectitude it gives to the unscrupulous. The novel supplies a cast of contemptible graspers. Sheikh Shamel, the fraudulent host of the Godliness Channel, and Nourhan, his exploitative co-host, are the two most obvious hucksters – but also under fire are the petty-minded wives and businessmen with interests to protect.

A large part of the heat generated by this impassioned novel comes from the friction of cross-generational conflict. Alwany’s beloved daughter Danya becomes involved in the protests through her relationship with the lower class Khaled. Many pay the price for reaching out a hand in friendship, as the aristocratic character Ashraf observes: “In Egypt, a person inherits his circumstances and it’s very difficult for him to change them.” The revolution marks a wilful change, a levelling of societal barriers.

The Republic of False Truths contains multiple love stories. Sadly, when the romantic mood takes him Aswany rather lets himself down. Meaningful relationships we are meant to invest in are expressed in bland exposition or overripe sentiment: “Ikram pouted her delectable lips…She had now become unbearably sexy.” There is a persistent lustfulness which often veers into crudity. This could, in part, be down to the translation, which is often flat and limited with certain phrases appearing all too regularly (“Silence reigned” is a great favourite).

NewHumanist for more

A 76-year-old essay teaches us how to be free

December 6th, 2021

by JOHN STOEHR

PHOTO/United States Information Agency staff photographer – Stephen Winick (June 2, 2017). Ralph Ellison, Invisible Folklorist. Folklife Today. Library of Congress.https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/files/2017/05/Ralph_Ellison_photo_portrait_seated.jpgThe image is originally from NARA (reference number 306-PSA-61-8989)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=654328

I think we need to think about the meaning of freedom, and how the meaning is so often colored by the right-flank of history.

I think we need to think about it, because the fact that we don’t is why all of us, including liberals, spend so much time talking about “positive” versus “negative” freedom, as if an “active” or “passive” government were really on the minds of ordinary citizens.

It’s also why we all of us, including liberals, spend so much time talking about freedom as if it’s doing whatever I want to whomever I want and whether doing whatever I want to whomever I want is good or bad.

I think we don’t think about the meaning of freedom for a couple of reasons. One, those who have inhabited the right-flank of the history of the United States have tended to be white elites with the most money to spend and the most time to spend the most money on influencing how the rest of us think, about freedom, but much more.

The other reason is more subtle. Most people in America are white. I think whiteness has a kind of pacifying effect on many of us such that problems appear to be problems when and usually only when someone somewhere, usually non-white, brings white people’s attention to it. In ways large and small, these forces conspire to create conditions in which freedom is conceived so narrowly as to be virtually invisible.

This is bad for nonwhite people. Their suffering ends up constituting the “freedom” white people feel. But it’s also bad for white people. I think many of us don’t feel free, because we have not used the feeling of being free to pursue more sophisticated feelings of freedom. We haven’t pursued those feelings because white elites would rather we didn’t. (Thinking is dangerous to the political order.) We haven’t pursued those feelings, because whiteness pacifies many of us.

Alternet for more

Child workers and workplace accidents: What was the price paid for industrializing America?

December 6th, 2021

by ALLEN CORNWELL

It was Friday morning the 28th of August, 1885 and Michael Markham, age 30, was eager to get to work. He was proud of his job at the screw factory in New Britain, Connecticut. Michael was a loyal and experienced employee, and he had worked his way up to be in charge of the largest machine in the factory called the nail heading machine. Soon after arriving that morning, however, he was involved in a terrible accident. This is how the Boston Herald reported what happened, “He was bending down to see how it was running, and his head was caught between the balance wheel and bent over sides breaking his neck.” Before others could switch off the machine, Michael’s body was badly mangled and he died quickly. He was survived by his widowed mother and a sister. Michael was the family’s only source of income. The paper stated, “he lost his life from an over assurance of his ability.” The New York Times said that the worker’s death was due to his own “carelessness.” Other news articles echoed similar condemnation – – that Michael Markham accidentally killed himself.

In industrial America, the story of Michael Markham was one of many frequent tales of blaming the victim. Ten men were killed in a mining accident in Hibbing, Minnesota and the local headline was “Company Not Blamed for the Clark Mine Disaster, One of the Victims Was Probably Responsible.” The hastily prepared Commissioners Report determined, and without any proof, that one of the miners was probably smoking near dynamite. Placing blame, especially publicly, was part of a system of protecting the industrial bosses from having to deal with workers’ problems. More importantly, the system was structured to dehumanize workers. By erasing their human value, the worker was reduced to nothing more than a commodity, the same as the raw materials used in the factories. If a commodity was damaged or destroyed, it was discarded and forgotten. In industrial America, workers had no voice in the workplace. Public pressure was the enemy to the industrialist.Taking care of workers would be expensive, possibly disastrous; and a door industry bosses were determined to keep closed. There were no required safety standards and employers generally were held harmless when accidents or injuries occurred. The success of the industries depended on that silence, and the laws of the land practically guaranteed it.

Our Great American Heritage for more

Weekend Edition

December 3rd, 2021

Modi repeals farm laws

December 3rd, 2021

by B. R. GOWANI

Farmers protesting against new agricultural laws march near Ambala, India, on Nov. 26. PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images/The Correspondent PK
VIDEO/The Print

in September 2020, Modi government imposed three farm laws

neither the farmers were consulted nor the opposition

the excuse given for the laws was farmers’ welfare

in fact, it was for the wealthfare of the corporate wolves

after over a year’s protest and much loss of life,

pending elections accomplished what farmers could not

he agreed to repeal these unfair laws under the facade of humility

IMF’s Gita Gopinath expressed her pleasure in carefully chosen words:

“These particular farm laws were in the area of marketing. It was widening the market for farmers. Being able to sell to multiple outlets besides the mandis without having to pay a tax. And this had the potential to raise, in our view, farmers’ incomes.”

once the farm sector is thrown to the “market,” i.e., corporations

there is no way farmers will have a say or income increase

Gopinath acknowledged this as “transition costs”:

“That said, every time a reform is put in place, there are transition costs. One has to make sure and pay close attention that it’s not harming vulnerable farmers, to make sure that the social safety net is provided. Clearly there is a discussion right now and we’ll see what comes out if it.”

it is the farmers who’ll pay the transition costs — i.e., total ruination

Narendra Modi will then go on to introduce more neoliberal “reforms”

the farming sector, of course, needs reforms but not neoliberalism

Sukhdev Singh Kokri, a farmer, told BBC Punjabi service last year:

“This is a death warrant for small and marginalised farmers. This is aimed at destroying them by handing over agriculture and market to the big corporates. They want to snatch away our land. But we will not let them do this.”

farmers protested enduring all hardships — COVID-19, brutal winter, …

Modi regime used all the dirty tricks to malign and break farmer unity

the protesting farmers were labelled anti-national and “terrorists”

but kudos to farmers who, despite so many adversities, didn’t give up

with determination and over 600 deaths kept fighting for more than a year

P. Sainath reminds us that Modi made 7 trips abroad, just this year alone

however, he neither visited nor listened to farmers’ grievances

nor consoled them …

there are two great benefits of foreign visits:

you can take lots of selfies, which Modi is fond of, with foreign leaders

you don’t have to think/see/hear about your people you’ve badly screwed

after over a year, Modi relented and repealed the three farm laws

Modi’s record is one of extreme ruthlessness and impulsive decisions

Ashique Ali T points out:

“In the seven years since Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power, they have usually responded to democratic dissent with brutal repression and violence by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) vigilantes rather than pull back from their legislative plans. The protests against the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 bore witness to this trend.

“The protracted farmers’ protest has broken the pattern. It tamed the institutional violence of the Indian state and the Hindutva far right by forging a broad unity of social forces that were otherwise staunch adversaries in a society marked by graded caste hierarchies and social polarization. Landholding Jats, landless Dalit agricultural laborers, and the “arthiyas” (agrarian intermediaries) came together against big corporate actors and the BJP government.”

on November 19, 2021, Modi gave a speech to the nation to that effect

with a very serious face and humble voice, in pure Hindi

(as he avoids Urdu words that are common to both sister languages

Urdu is labelled as a “Muslim” language; bad for Hindu Modi’s health)

Modi repealed the 3 bills in a speech littered with lies

Modi ended his speech thus:

“While apologising to the countrymen, today I want to say sincerely that perhaps there must have been some deficiency in our penance [tapasya] that we could not explain the truth like the light of the lamp to the farmer brothers.

“Today is the holy festival of Prakash Purab of Guru Nanak Dev ji. This is not the time to blame anyone. Today I want to tell you, the entire country, that we have decided to repeal all three agricultural laws. We will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws in the Parliament session that begins later this month.”

“Our government has been working in the interest of farmers and will continue to do so. I will end my speech in the spirit of Guru Gobind Singh ji.

“O Goddess, grant me this boon that I will never back down from doing good deeds.

“Whatever I did, I did for the farmers and whatever I am doing, I am doing for the country. With your blessings, there was no deficiency in my hard work even earlier. Today I assure you that I will work harder now so that your dreams can come true, the dreams of the country can come true.”

(italics are mine)

who can beat Modi’s acting and his speech-writer’s words

“deficiency in penance”? pure bullshit

“this is not the time to blame anyone”

why not?

he implied: I don’t blame you, you don’t blame me

but …

although …

he has no reason or justification to blame the protesting farmers

the farmers on the other hand …

have very many reasons to blame Modi …

but Modi doesn’t want anyone to condemn him at this juncture

there are going to be state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh

which his party BJP has to win at any cost

because that will somewhat ease the path to 2024 Modi reelection win

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said it without mincing words:

If you want to make Modiji PM [prime minister] again in 2024, then in 2022 you will have to make [Yogi Adiyanath] Yogiji CM [chief minister] once again.

Modi has played a cunning destructive game during his tenure …

this defeat was long in coming ..

and at great cost to farmers …

six hundred precious farmer lives lost and the subsequent

devastating effects on the already impoverished families

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

In India, boy meets girl, proposes — and gets accused of jihad

December 3rd, 2021

by LAUREN FRAYER

A civil rights activist holds a placard during a 2020 demonstration in Bengaluru, India, condemning the proposal in several states of laws against so-called “love jihad.” That’s an unfounded conspiracy theory spread by Hindu nationalists who accuse Muslim men of wooing Hindu women in order to force them to convert to Islam. PHOTO/Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images

Inside a former army barracks, Simran Sagar sings a Hindi love song as she makes tea for her fiancé on what they hoped would be their wedding day. But their marriage keeps getting delayed.

Her voice echoes off the cold cement walls. “Like a shooting star that falls from the sky, our lives fell apart, darling,” the lyrics go.

This is not how they imagined their first home together: a mattress on the floor, a hot plate to cook on and a police guard stationed out front. It’s a secret safe house in India’s capital, 200 miles from the village where they grew up.

Sagar, 22, is from India’s Hindu majority, and her 26-year-old fiancé Mohammed Shameem is Muslim. They’reamong hundreds or possibly thousands of interfaith couples who’ve crossed state lines in recent months to try to marry far from home, according to activists helping them.

The couples are fleeing laws that prohibit “unlawful” religious conversion in the context of marriage. Hard-line Hindu conservatives have labeled it “love jihad” — a conspiracy theory accusing Muslim men of wooing Hindu women to force them to convert to Islam.

National Public Radio for more

Prime Minister Imran Khan promised ‘new Pakistan’ but members of his inner circle secretly moved millions offshore

December 3rd, 2021

by MARGOT GIBBS & MALIA POLITZER

Imran Khan at an anti-government rally in Lahore in 2016, shortly after the Panama Papers caused uproar in Pakistan. PHOTO/Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images

Leak shows a key ally tried to bypass tax authorities and political and military elites bought luxury apartments and set up shell companies.

In 2018, Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketing legend turned anti-corruption campaigner finally broke through.

After more than two decades in the political wilderness, the charismatic Oxford-educated media star seized on the publication of the Panama Papers, the 2016 journalistic exposé that revealed the offshore secrets of the global elite. Among the findings: The children of Pakistan’s sitting prime minister secretly owned a string of luxury London apartments.

Riding a wave of public outrage, Khan led protests around the country and a sit-in at the residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, demanding that he step down. With the support of the military establishment, Khan propelled his reformist party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Movement for Justice, past its rivals in the 2018 national elections and propelled himself into the prime minister’s office in Islamabad.

In a televised victory speech, Khan promised a new era.

“We will establish supremacy of the law,” he said. “Whoever violates the law, we will act against them. Our state institutions will be so strong that they will stop corruption. Accountability will start with me, then my ministers, and then it will go from there.”

Now leaked documents reveal that key members of Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers, their families and major financial backers have secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth. Military leaders have been implicated as well. The documents contain no suggestion that Khan himself owns offshore companies.

Among those whose holdings have been exposed are Khan’s finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and his family, and the son of Khan’s former adviser for finance and revenue, Waqar Masood Khan. The records also reveal the offshore dealings of a top PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing fraud charges in the United States.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for more

The world’s best mayor is a French communist

December 2nd, 2021

by DAVID BRODER

Philippe Rio, the Communist mayor of Grigny, France, was voted the world’s best mayor. PHOTO/Jacques Paquier / Flickr

Philippe Rio from Grigny, south of Paris, has been voted the world’s best mayor. He told Jacobin about the local social programs that have made his Communist administration a global success story.

Grigny isn’t often in the news for good reasons. The poorest city in France, this banlieue south of Paris is marked by massive unemployment and abandoned housing estates. For much of French media, Grigny is the very image of a “no-go zone”: one of its sons, Amedy Coulibaly, murdered four people at a Kosher supermarket in the 2015 terrorist attacks.

Yet there is also a fight to save the city from its plight — led by local mayor Philippe Rio, a member of the French Communist Party. In 2017, he organized the “Appeal from Grigny,” signed by hundreds of other mayors calling for investment in the banlieues. His innovative social programs and a COVID response based on locally issued emergency food vouchers this year saw him handed the biennial “best mayor in the world” award.

The prize given by the World Mayor Foundation hadn’t gone to a Communist before (and even this time around it was co-awarded to Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, a member of the Dutch Labour Party). But Philippe Rio’s administration has also had a wider impact in his homeland, especially through its lifelong education programs and its success in geothermal energy production, which has slashed residents’ bills.

Jacobin’s David Broder spoke to the mayor about life in Grigny, his political engagement, and the lessons of French municipal communism.

DB

You’ve been named the world’s best mayor after being nominated by Grigny residents and other elected officials. What does this recognition mean for you — and the city you represent?

PR

First, we had the surprise to be recognized among thirty-two cities, including Washington, Milwaukee, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, and New Delhi, as a city that had taken a lot of action during COVID-19 and in fighting poverty — both themes the London foundation focused on. Then, to be elected the world’s best mayor — well, that was something we never dreamed of.

We’re one of those areas that some wrongly call “no-go zones,” but which in truth express this country’s extreme inequalities. France has many billionaires, but Paris also has pockets of deep poverty and social and spatial segregation. In Grigny, half the population is under thirty and half the population is below the poverty line. This is France’s poorest city.

During the lockdown, we did what every town hall in France had to do — we reacted. And I emphasize the “we.” A mayor isn’t a superhero — we acted collectively to serve the public. During the onset of the pandemic, we built up a barrier against the incoming tsunami. Here the health care crisis immediately meant a social crisis; whenever there are economic setbacks, it’s us who suffer it quickest, and it takes time to pick ourselves back up again. It was the same with the 2008 subprime crisis: we’ve recovered from it somewhat, but we still aren’t at the level of before.

So, faced with an abrupt shock, we simply did our job: distributing masks, being in contact with the population, dealing with the food crisis.

Areas like ours are always at the heart of French political debate, and always being mistreated by the media — Éric Zemmour’s always banging on about the banlieues, security, and immigration. But it’s communities like ours that are building France’s future. So folks who live in Grigny suffer these fascist politicians’ messages that seek to exclude whole sections of the population.

When there’s Olympic champions or actors from the banlieue who make it in the United States, people clap. But as for the rest, we’re insulted and mistreated. So this award lifted our hearts, people called me up saying we’re the world champions. Life is hard here. But we’ve succeeded in our efforts and been recognized for them internationally. Even if the French media present us negatively, what they say about us isn’t true. That’s a tribute to Grigny as a working-class city, but also to the banlieues more generally. They, too, can be proud of our success.

Jacobin for more

China must lead the new industrial revolution

December 2nd, 2021

As a national mandate, the 19th National People’s Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2017 announced its“Two Centennial Goals”: the first is to complete building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way in China, which is to be achieved at the 100th anniversary of the CPC in 2021, and the second is to build the People’s Republic of China into a modern socialist power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of its founding.

There are a number of characteristics of a modern country. One is that China’s GDP per capita should reach at least half of that of the United States, the other most powerful country. 

China is a large country, which includes the eastern coastal regions with relatively high income levels and the central and western regions with relatively low income levels. The GDP per capita in more developed Chinese provinces and cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong, which have a total population of 350 million, is at the same level as that of the US. 

When two economies have the same level of GDP per capita and the same size of population, their technology and industrial achievement should also be at the same levels. Therefore, when the second centennial goal is achieved, the industry and technology in China’s more developed regions with a population of the size of the US will be at the same level as the US.

The fourth industrial revolution has now begun, and 2049 will mark an era in which new industries prevail. New industries in the Chinese regions with 350 million people should keep pace with those in the United States. The US has already changed its relations with China from a partner during the reform-and-opening-up era to that of a competitor. 

Since the US became the world’s largest and strongest economy in the late 19th century, it has repeatedly suppressed the world’s second-largest economies that reached 60% of its GDP in order to prevent them from threatening its economic status. A recent example is Japan in the 1980s. At that time, Japan had an economic scale of more than 60% of the US and it surpassed the US in terms of GDP per capita. It was a world leader in the emerging semiconductor sector. As the world’s number one power, the US used its hegemonic advantages to suppress Japan’s semiconductor industry. Japan’s GDP per capita has now declined to 63% of the US while its GDP is only 24% of the US.

Based on market exchange rates, China’s economic scale has now reached 70% of the US. China’s 5G technology has become the world leader in the new industrial revolution. In the past few years, the US has repeated its old tricks and suppressed Chinese companies with groundless accusations, using all of its national resources. If the US succeeds in suppressing China by means of a blockade in the new industrial revolution, China will not be able to achieve its second centennial goal.

How can China break through the US blockade? It can only do this by working hard to lead the new industrial revolution. Then it will not be blocked, but will reach the technological level of the United States in its developed provinces, and achieve a national per capita GDP equal to half of that of the US by 2049. Therefore, it is a necessity for China to lead the new industrial revolution in order to achieve its second centennial goal by 2049.

China’s capability to lead the new industrial revolution

In order to achieve this great goal of national rejuvenation, it is necessary for China to lead the new industrial revolution. But are the conditions there to accomplish this?

Menafn for more

The missing key to mental health

December 2nd, 2021

by ELITSA DERMENDZHIYSKA

IMAGE/h heyerlein

We don’t need more information. It’s imagination that we lack.

In 2016, I left my tech business to study mental health. Like so many in the industry, I was burning out, but looking back now, I know the issue ran deeper than that. My discomfort grew out of a crisis in faith — I wondered if the bits of code we were pushing out on the world were really changing it for the better, if the long days, the lousy sleep and constant anxieties meant anything to anyone.

Looking back, I probably needed therapy but I wasn’t ready to be helped. Instead, I decided to learn as much as I possibly could about the reasons people struggle and how they bounce back. I spent many months talking to various professionals, creatives and entrepreneurs, I interviewed health experts and psychotherapists, and pored over any research I could get my hands on.

Mental health apps — turns out, we’re just not interested

One thing jumped out at me during these talks. People would gush about some mental health app that was supposedly really great and helpful, but when I asked them if they were using it, they’d say “no”. Surprised, I’d ask what they did when they were struggling.

A large number of people told me “I play video games.”

Remarkably, it wasn’t just about escapism; in fact, many felt that video games helped them cope. More clues came from the therapists I spoke with. One had noticed that his most successful clients, the ones who recovered faster, had one thing in common: a good imagination. Another said that despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get through to some people: they seemed “frozen in a bad story.”

This was all unexpected to me. Yet I couldn’t argue with the clear pattern that emerged from my research: there was something about play, story, creativity and imagination that made them key to mental health. But what?

Gaming and story — the hidden paths to the psyche

Over the last two years, I’ve been working with therapist Hazel Gale and fiction author Natalia Theodoridou (2018 World Fantasy Award winner) to find out. We studied what makes games so compelling for over 3 billion people on the planet and used those elements to develop Betwixt — an immersive journaling app that teaches you to self-reflect.

We combined tools and techniques from psychology research and therapeutic practice into an immersive choose-your-own-adventure story for smartphones that includes a journey through a dreamlike reality and a face-off with your monster.

This project has given me a new appreciation for the power of story over the human psyche and the enormous potential of using our imagination and creativity as engines of personal growth. I’m now convinced that, as Jonathan Gottschall writes, in his book “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human”,

“Fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems.”

And not just simulating problems, I’ll add, but also helping us to overcome them. Having observed our users engage with Betwixt and talking to them about their experience, we’ve learned three key lessons about the importance of story and imagination in achieving better wellbeing and improving your ability to cope with the curveballs life throws at you.

1. A safe space to explore your mind

We humans are driven to avoid pain. This means it can be daunting to engage with negative thoughts or destructive feelings. Any creative activity that allows you to approach your problems in a less direct way can be extremely powerful. Fiction and games can create a safe remove from life and allow you to explore your inner reality in a playful, low-stakes environment.

Medium for more