Tuesday, December 13, 2005

239: Denigration of the State: Orhan Pamuk

The novelist Orhan Pamuk is currently being prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for daring to raise the question of the historical persecution of Armenians and Kurds. In this recently translated article he expresses his uneasiness with the virulent nationalism of his detractors and the imperfect understanding of his overseas supporters

Orhan Pamuk

My detractors were not motivated just by personal animosity, nor were they expressing hostility to me alone; I already knew that my case was a matter worthy of discussion in both Turkey and the outside world. This was partly because I believed that what stained a country’s “honor” was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all. But it was also because I believed that in today’s Turkey the prohibition against discussing the Ottoman Armenians was a prohibition against freedom of expression, and that the two matters were inextricably linked. Comforted as I was by the interest in my predicament and by the generous gestures of support, there were also times when I felt uneasy about finding myself caught between my country and the rest of the world.

The hardest thing was to explain why a country officially committed to entry in the European Union would wish to imprison an author whose books were well known in Europe, and why it felt compelled to play out this drama (as Conrad might have said) “under Western eyes.” This paradox cannot be explained away as simple ignorance, jealousy, or intolerance, and it is not the only paradox. What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats? What is the logic behind a state that complains that its enemies spread false reports about the Ottoman legacy all over the globe while it prosecutes and imprisons one writer after another, thus propagating the image of the Terrible Turk worldwide? When I think of the professor whom the state asked to give his ideas on Turkey’s minorities, and who, having produced a report that failed to please, was prosecuted, or the news that between the time I began this essay and embarked on the sentence you are now reading five more writers and journalists were charged under Article 301, I imagine that Flaubert and Nerval, the two godfathers of Orientalism, would call these incidents bizarreries, and rightly so.

That said, the drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.

V. S. Naipaul was one of the first writers to describe the private lives of the ruthless, murderous non-Western ruling élites of the post-colonial era. Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country’s armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo. The intolerance shown by the Russian state toward the Chechens and other minorities and civil-rights groups, the attacks on freedom of expression by Hindu nationalists in India, and China’s discreet ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs—all are nourished by the same contradictions.

As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression. But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.

(Translated, from the Turkish, by Maureen Freely.)

-- the article can be read in full at 'The New Yorker'

Saturday, December 10, 2005

238. Art, Truth and Politics

Having just been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, the ailing British playwright Harold Pinter unleashed a devastating attack on US foreign policy in a video-taped speech of acceptance. Lengthy extracts from the speech follow below. To access the complete text click here.

In 1958 I wrote the following:

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

(He explains how he writes his plays and gives several examples)

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in forty-five minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11, 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as "low intensity conflict." Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued--or beaten to death, the same thing--and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

(He goes on to discuss the situation in Nicaragua during the 1980s in some detail, including a meeting at the US Embassy in London at which he was present).

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American Presidents on television say the words, "the American people," as in the sentence, "I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their President in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people."

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words "the American people" provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guántanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the "international community." This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be "the leader of the free world."

Do we think about the inhabitants of Guántanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally--a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: To criticize our conduct in Guantánamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading--as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves--as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it "bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East."

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. "We don't do body counts," said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. "A grateful child," said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another 4-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. '"When do I get my arms back?" he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

(He quotes a poem of Pablo Neruda as a "Powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians").

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as "full spectrum dominance." That is not my term, it is theirs. "Full spectrum dominance" means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with fifteen minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity--the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons--is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force-- yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

"God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it."

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection--unless you lie--in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

(He quotes a poem of his own called 'Death').

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror--for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us--the dignity of man.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

127. Pearl Harbour - 64 Years On

Battleship Row under attack Posted by Hello

This attack was the 9/11 of our grandparents' generation - it came as just as much a shock to an inward-looking America in 1941 as the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was to do sixty years later.

The main difference between the two events was that the attack on Pearl Harbour was an act of war by a hostile sovereign state, whereas the 9/11 attack was the brainchild of a shadowy group of international Islamist ideologues. Afghanistan and then Iraq took the brunt of America's outraged response to 9/11, although it would seem that the real perpetrators of the airliner assaults were citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Islamist Al Quaida group and one of the presumed planners of the attack, had taken refuge with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This helps to explain why America decided to attack that country, but it does not clarify why the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq before the campaign in Afghanistan was completed and before bin Laden was apprehended. He is still at large. He sends out provocative videos and audio tapes from time to time, and this enhances his stature as a rebel hero among young and gullible elements in the Arabic and wider Muslim world: in this way he is actually winning the propaganda war in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

USS Shaw explodes Posted by Hello

In December 1941, however, the enemy was clearly identified as the government of Japan and America declared war on that country without delay. Nazi Germany obliged President Roosevelt by declaring war on America (as did Mussolini's Italy) shortly afterward, thus solving Roosevelt's problem of how to involve his reluctant and previously isolationist countrymen in the war against the Axis Powers in Europe. In fact, most US resources were directed toward the war in Europe; until late 1944 the war against Japan was largely conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps.

Life Magazine - 15 Dec 1941 Posted by Hello

The attack on Pearl Harbour was a brilliant tactical success for the Japanese - even though they missed the aircraft carriers which happened to be out at sea - since it effectively knocked the US Navy out of the Pacific for a period of about six months. Having secured nearly total surprise,their losses in planes and pilots were negligible. At the same time, and rather typical of Japanese military thinking, the detailed tactical planning was faultless but the overall strategic concept was based on false assumptions about America, a terrible blunder, in fact, which was to lead to the near-destruction of the Japanese home islands and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japanese Combined Fleet Staff (Admiral Yamamoto is 2nd from left) Posted by Hello

Why did they do it? What did they hope to accomplish by rousing the sleeping giant of the United States?

The view from Japan

Every country has a tendency to view the rest of the world through the prism of its own self-image (tainted history) and self-interest. Japan in the 1930s was a particularly self-absorbed and intensely patriotic society bent on extending its reach overseas to create a Greater Japanese Empire following the model of the 19th century European powers, but this at a time when the idea of empire had lost any former support in the home countries and had passed into rapid decline, particularly in the aftermath of the First World War. Japan had come late to the game of industrial power and military might, but it was eager to catch up with a world which had moved on in the meantime.

Since the 1870s Japan had transformed itself from an exotic feudal backwater to become the leading military and industrial power in Asia. It had waged successful wars against China and Russia and had annexed, along the way, both Taiwan and Korea. Its armies had recently taken over Manchuria which it was busily exploiting for its natural resources. Japan was eager to assert its newly created power, no matter how late it had come to the imperial table.

Creating an empire at the expense of its neighbours went deeper than a simple display of national pride and martial vigour. Japan held a population in excess of 100 million in a narrow, mountainous, archipelago smaller in area than the state of California. It had no natural resources to speak of and its fledgling export market had been cruelly hit by the Great Depression. The political unrest which brought the militarists to power in the mid-1930s had in part been driven by appalling conditions of near starvation in the countryside (from which the Army drew most of its recruits).

Japan was hungry for land, fuel and resources - first in Manchuria and then in China, which it attacked in 1937. The war in China went well at first with Japanese forces seizing Shanghai and all of the Chinese coastal provinces. It was only when the Army moved inland that the vastness of the land engulfed them. They had superior firepower, better equipment, air support, and well-trained troops: they never actually lost any battle or failed in any siege of a city (Nanking is one telling example) but they were unable to secure the lands they overran and came under constant attack from both the Communists under Mao-tse-tung and the American-backed Nationalists (Kuomintang) under Chiang-kai-shek. (More of the former than of the latter, it should be remarked). Casualties mounted on the Japanese side -- the Chinese suffered far worse -- and the war became increasingly brutal.

To Be Continued ... if time permits. December is always a crazily busy month!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

237. A Reminder

Have you ever noticed
how nation-states
and empires in particular
politicize everyday
life, mess with your head?

Believe this, don't
believe that; listen
to what we say; don't
dare investigate
our slimy secrets?

A filthy dictatorship
is good for your soul
evil in black and white
decent people
to righteous resistance.

You know where you stand.

At home, among friends,
in the half light
and the hypocricy,
amid the general confusion
and a childish wish to believe
in Santa, measured
against moderate
disapproval of extremes,
the sleepless
ambitious manipulators
find the room to play
with our illusions,
our good faith,
our laziness,
and so insist
we support them,
even collaborate
in their will to power,
their urge to kill.

War is always
a bad sign: outer-directed
violence soon redirects
upon the home population:
keep a weather eye
on the process of detention
(habeas corpus!!)
as the hardwon rights
of several centuries
melt away
in spite of your careless
sense of safety.

Nobody is safe.

You won't be flying today, ma'am.
Excuse me? Why not?
I'm not allowed to tell you.

Sooner or later
we can anticipate
for political opposition,
perhaps even
judicial executions.

Never, never happen here!!!!!
Don't be stupid.
Check out the real history
of so-called
"national emergencies"
starting with
The Civil War.

The government
doesn't need a legal basis
to come after you.
It will when it wants to.

The Molly Maguires,
the Spanish-American war,
the Wobblies (International Workers of the World),
Eugene Debs,
the First World War,
the Red Scare of 1919,
World War Two,
the McCarthy hearings,
Daniel Ellsberg,
and now ....
direct from Washington
brought to your own living room --
The Global (boom)
War (boom)
on Terror!!! (cymbals, boom).

Here we go
Here we go

Saturday, December 03, 2005

236. EFL (English as a Foreign Language)

This gap-toothed
grinning baboon
runs a chain of schools
and sucks in
two million
each year
out of which
he seems to be willing
to pay me
2000 bucks a month
(before deductions)
if I meet
his rather
Mister Bobby, he says,
but my friends
just call me Bob
(and you can call me Robert).
No, no, Mister Bobby,
nice and fliendly, students like,
I like, his gold teeth
gleam, a wide smile
dazzles but never reaches
his flat
blackcurrant eyes.
We have many girl
so we need handsome boy,
tall, blue eye, you know?
As I said, Mister Sato,
I have a Master's degree
in English, seven years
of experience
teaching EFL
in Spain, Russia
and Saudi Arabia.
Oh -- ho ho ho ho ho !
Very good, very good,
you never date girls, OK?
Excuse me?
You teach, no touch,
no go outside, OK?
You mean my students?
Hai, hai, hai!!
Girl maybe like you, come school,
but you nevah nevah nevah
For businessmens
we have
blonde American ladies
with big, haha,
(he juggles his chest)
but no touch, no see
outside, same
like you, OK?
I begin
to understand
the intellectual
of this business.
You no join union
(a spit and a hiss)
you give me also
your passport
I take care
No Ploblem.
Big smile.
Sweaty handshake.
I need a job.
I'm broke.
I'm in debt to the guys
who have let me crash
in their tiny Tokyo apartment.
I must get a job,
I must get a job
but hang on ....
wait a second!