Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The piece I wrote on the threats against Christians in Charsadda, Pakistan was picked up by both the 121st Catholic Carnival and the 174th Christian Carnival, I am happy to report. So go over to Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering and Parableman and check out the carnies and the blogs.

best wishes,

Monday, May 28, 2007

for and against the theatres of violence

"i do not understand my own actions. for i do not do what i want but i do the very thing which i hate."
-paul the apostle, letter to the romans 7:15 (c.65 AD)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side" (2001)

john milbank has written that perhaps the greatest violence we perpetuate against others is the violence of the spectator. it is the violence present in the inability to turn our heads from the car wreck in horror-fascination. it is the violence of watching the plane crash over and over again on cnn. he is right to a degree, but the spectacle also renders the spectator inert before its power. it creates a field in which one relates to the event as something purely given. early christian criticisms of the theater traveled along this double line recognizing that one was both completely impotent and motionless before the spectacle and yet, at the same time, by one's sitting actively affirmed its power.

this is the place in which we now find ourselves so often: sitting at the window, in front of the tv, watching a disaster unfold that is not of our making but which was, at the same time, authored by no one else but us. we are caught in the double violence which renders us powerless to stop its unfolding, and thus at the same time constitutes us as the active and free agents of its realization. that which is external to us becomes the truth of who we are.

in the attitude we adopt toward the spectacle we become other to ourselves. caught in this dangerous theater we come to wear the mask which is assigned us, demanded of us, and the truth of who we are and what we will becomes immaterial. in watching the drama unfold, we are ourselves made actors. the drama, which we recognize to be a thing outside us, is transformed from inert to having a dynamic inertial power. the action makes us passive and our passivity becomes our action.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

wahid (one)

Robert Ryman, "Ledger" (1982)

to the uninitiated, many of the beauties of the desert are difficult to impart. our first year in saudi arabia was wet and the desert bloomed. outbursts of green and color, sleeping beneath the arid beige, were unleashed upon the world for a short span. the rains were overwhelming at times. four members of a boy scout troop, camping in the wadi al-batin, were caught in a flash flood and died. often the winds would kick up before the storm and a wall of sand would sweep across the compound, only to be overtaken by the rain. when this would happen the rain would fall heavy and dark, coating everything in a sheet of mud, while serenading everyone with its virtuoso percussion.

but one could not count on rain. driving through desert, as we often did hunting for stones suitable for my mother's lapidary hobby, we would pass bedouin camps. tents made of heavy material would be planted in the desert, a stalk-like television antenna sprouting out its center, a generator bulging from the side. beside it would be the near omni-present toyota short pick-ups which the king gave to every boy when he reached age. and beside that would be the mercedes benz tank-truck which carried water: the vehicle of life. like the desert itself, they were warm people. the toyota blew up a cloud of sand and approached us, and though we shared no common language we were invited in for tea. the men sat with us as we drank the hot drink; a girl, who was probably younger than i was, brought the pot, while the women sat in another part of the large tent, peering from around a curtain in their black, veiled faces. we talked to each other with a friendly lack-of-understanding, and they smiled, talked among themselves and laughed.

but the real beauty of the desert was in its barren simplicity underneath a sun that stripped everything of what was inessential. in its persistence, light would gradually grind down any shadow and reveal it for the nothing that it was. shadow has no positive reality, it is a lack of light, and the light will not be denied for it is the only thing that is real. in the height of the day, the distinction between heaven and earth passed away, there was no longer any horizon, and we were all one.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

more from charsadda and nwfp

It appears there was a grenade attack on Monday against yet another music store in NWFP, this time in Sherpao. This is a continuation of similarly themed attacks that have been ongoing in the area. The story also reports that vendors in Charsadda said that they had been warned to stop selling such items for fear of Taliban attacks. It is not clear from the article if the warning came from local magistrates interested in their safety or as threat from someone.

I bring up the story for two reasons. First, I cannot find this news story on anywhere near as many news outlets. Even the Pakistani English-language newspaper, the Daily Times, only has a brief article on it. Clearly actual attacks against private business owners who are, presumably, Muslim is not as news worthy in the eyes of the BBC, et alia, as anonymous letters sent to "threaten the Christians of Pakistan" (play melodramatic music here). This despite the fact that one of the persons responsible for the attack was reportedly apprehended. Who were they? Is it Taliban related? Is it the wife's brother's cousins getting back at the husband for having an affair? Enquiring minds want to know. I want to know.

Second, just to continue the fun of trying to trace down the truth concerning the threatening letters understaken in yesterday's post, this timeline of events in the North West Frontier Province, which is actually quite handy, does not mention letters at all, but says instead that the threats against Christians were chalked onto the side of a local Church in Charsadda. I am going to rule the chalk-theory out on the basis of the picture which the AP provided, even though, given all the contradictions in the reporting, I am still going out on a limb since I can not read Urdu and if they put up the same picture and told me it was the grocery list his wife had given him that morning i would have to believe them. *sigh*

good luck with your news reading,

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

trying to read the news from pakistan

Puck, "The Evil Spirits of Modern Daily News" (1888)

[All links provided at the end of the post.]

Last week, in a post on the challenges facing religious minorities in Pakistan, Saliha linked a BBC article concerning threats that were made against Christians in the town of Charsadda by means of an anonymous letter. Saif responded in the comments to Saliha’s post that the article struck him as a bit of propaganda, and I must admit that my first response was very similar to Saif’s. I actually thought Saliha’s post was very good and that she had made much much(!!) better use of the story than any of the news outlets that were reporting the story.

Several things bothered me about the way the media approached the story. I will begin with the BBC article in particular but then move on to look at broader coverage of the story in the U.S., U.K., Pakistan and elsewhere.

1. I think the number one thing that bothered me about the BBC article was the way in which the anonymous nature of the letter did not give the BBC one moment of pause. No one signed the letter and no one has claimed responsibility for the letter and thus one really has no way of judging the letter itself. For all the BBC knows, this was a couple of guys out on an all night bender that thought scaring some Christians would be funny. Now, this is not to say that as a Catholic if I were in Charsadda I would not be concerned. I would indeed be very troubled and no doubt frightened by such threats especially given the bomb attacks that had already occurred in the area.

2. But the inability to evaluate the significance of the letter was not important to the BBC and it is passed over in silence. This is a news story in their eyes, and does not need any such evaluation, because it confirms to them and to their presumed readers, the preconceptions of Pakistanis and Islam that they already have. As Saif points out, no legitimate religious authority would support such a letter, yet, despite this fact, you have no indication from the BBC that they even tried to get a response from one of the local Imam’s or even a cleric in Islamabad. The function of the story is simply to remind us how violent and uncivilized Pakistanis and Muslims are.

3. Factual inaccuracies: I do not know what they mean when they say John Michael, a Christian member of the Pakistani parliament, is the head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, but as far as I can tell he is not a Roman Catholic bishop. Also, as far as I can tell, the head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan is still the Archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence Saldahna.

4. This brings us into the realm of more much more troubling challenges that face us as readers of the media. How can we tell what is going on? Who do we rely upon? One of the things I usually try to do with stories like this one, a half a world away with sketchy information, is try and see what other media outlets are saying. When I did that in this case, it was like I had fallen into a spider web and the more I tried to free myself (i.e. find the actual truth of the story) the more deeply I became entangled in the web.

- Let us start with the letter itself. The BBC report indicates only one letter. They show a picture (purchased from the AP) of a man, a cross behind him, holding the letter up for the camera to see. Yet other news agencies indicate that a number of letters were sent to various churches containing the threat, others that it was a mix of churches and homes (FOX, picking up the AP, reports 2 churches and several homes). An Indian outlet reports that the letters were received not only in Charsadda, but also in Mardan. It is in fact one of the Pakistani outlets that seems most helpful, if their information is presumed to be reliable. They report that the letters were photocopies of a hand-written note, written in rather crude Urdu. But this would seem to be contradicted by a Christian news outlet (whose sources are unspecified) that reports that the various letters received by different parties were not identical [Note that this same news agency has a bit from the 21 May edition calling Jerry Falwell a “cultural hero”].

- Then one has to deal with the threat itself. The BBC article, in its opening paragraph, written in bold print just so you don’t miss it, reports that the Christians are threatened with bomb attacks if they do not convert within the allotted 10 days. Christian Today puts a whole phrase about dire consequences and bombs in quotes, as if they were quoting the letter (or some other unnamed source). AsiaNews headline says that the Christians have been told to convert or die. These claims - the BBC, Christian Today and AsiaNews - seem to be untrue. Most news agencies are reporting that the threats are unspecific, noting only that there will be consequences if they do not convert. The above mentioned Christian news agency says that there are definitely letters that do not specify consequences but it is “reported” that some letters contain bomb threats. That is true insofar as the BBC is reporting that there are bomb threats, but no one seems to have any actual letter – unless the BBC knows something no one else knows, in which case they need to be clearer in their article. The AP provides the only translation of the letter that I could find. In its earliest article (from 12 May – oddly its 16 May article is much more inflammatory and for all intents and purposes says the Taliban wrote the letters), in the above mentioned picture taken by Muhammed Zubair, the following translation is provided:
{"Inform all Christians to covert to Islam or to leave this place. Otherwise you will be in trouble."
Thursday, May 10, 2007 in Charsadda, near Peshawar, Pakistan.}

- Another British outlet, the TimesOnline, reports that as a result of the letters "Christians have fled their homes". Now this is arguably important because it provides a way of judging whether or not Christians believe that the letters represent an escalated or new level of danger for them. Now I suppose, technically, in order for the TimesOnline claim to be true, one would only need at least two Christians to leave their home as a result of the threat. But clearly the opening sentence of the article is meant to imply that Christians have decided to make an exodus from the area. This seems false. Most outlets are reporting that a few Christians have left, but the vast majority are staying put. The BBC, who at least has the decency to provide a reporters name for the story, has Barbara Plett telling us that a few families have left but most are simply “living in fear”. Melodramatic, and not particularly helpful since it turns out that Ms Plett is reporting on the story from Islamabad and thus clearly has no way of confirming for us that what is being said is true. One Pakistani outlet, not surprisingly perhaps, is reporting that no one(!) has left as a result of the letters. This is stated by the local police chief and confirmed by a Christian source. While I find it improbable that a couple of people did not at least say to themselves, “I have not seen Auntie Mary down in Lahore in a long time; now would be a good time to visit”, it also seems unlikely that Christians have caused a traffic jam on the road south out of Charsadda: especially since the number of Christians we are talking about seems to be between approximately 500 and 600 people depending on which news organization you ask (the Middle Eastern Times reports, e.g., 50 families). Moreover at least this outlet has been responsible enough to provide two independent sources for the fact it is reporting and provided names for both of their sources. Clearly this is a revolutionary idea for modern journalism. They also note that the Associated Press had reported migration from the area and give the name of the AP source. I swear, it is almost like they know what responsible journalism is. Maybe the BBC should take notes.

- And then there is the matter of who is actually delivering the threat. The AP wire, picked up by FOX (FOX picks up the feed without the picture or the translation of the letter, interestingly), among others, opens its 12 May report with the claim that the letter is the work of “extremists” even though a few paragraphs later they admit that the letter was unsigned. It’s 16 May report goes even further, virtually declaring the Taliban party the author. The ironically named Christian news outlet, WorthyNews, declares in its headline that “Militants” are “forcing” Christians to convert and shutting down their churches. Besides ignoring the fact that the letters were anonymous, it makes it sound like armed militants are on the streets compelling Christians to say the shahada while they nail-shut the doors of local churches. Perhaps the most egregious offence on this score is from the Indian media outlet, The Times of India, which unambiguously identifies the letter-senders as the Taliban.

- The official response is another matter that is extremely unclear. If you are to believe the AsiaNews, which is a news service aimed at Catholic readers, the authorities are treating the letters as a “joke” and the Christians of Charsadda are callously being ignored. One can see how they might have inferred this, since a Pakistani outlet reports that the chief of police called the letters “immature” and said that the Taliban were much more sophisticated in their methods. But to say that he does not think that the letters are the work of the Taliban and to say that he is going to do nothing is two different things. And he goes on to say that special measures are being taken to ensure the security of Christians and churches. Now it might also be the case, at the very same time, that Christians do not feel secure despite whatever measures are available to the police. And this seems to be implied by the BBC story and others. But even the BBC notes that police have been stationed near Christian interests.

- Now, while I think it is fair to cut them a break, especially when talking about headlines where they are forced to conserve space and be economic with their words while at the same time trying to inspire you to want to read the story, I think it is also important to notice the way in which the words Christian and Pakistan(i) are used in these articles. Over and over again Christians are mentioned in the headlines as if all Christians of Pakistan were being threatened, and not 500 to 600 in a portion of NWFP. Moreover Pakistan is often used in the headlines in a way that could suggest that it is the Pakistani government or some official authority that is attempting to compel this mass conversion. Clearly Pakistan, if that word refers to the country and its powers, are not complelling anyone to convert, and the letters did not come from Pakistan.

- And, finally, to take up Saif’s complaint, which I believe is a relatively legitimate one. Only the news services, like the Middle Eastern News, which picked up the AFP feed and the quote from Shabaz Bhatti, have any statements denouncing the letter and claiming that they violate the spirit of Islam. Even that paragraph is not terribly clear in the AFP feed and it is not clear who is speaking, who the “Alliance” is, and whether or not the speaker is Muslim. A better version of this article (perhaps the original full version, I can not tell) is found at ChristianToday, where one learns that the Alliance is the “All Pakistan Minority Alliance”. Moreover, I presume that the All Pakistan Minority Alliance is a private organization, but who they are and what they do is unstated. Unfortunately, the Christian Today article fails to mention Shabaz Bhatti by name, so I have to put those two pieces together from two different articles. Another thing that the Christian Today article does well is link this event with broader events affecting religious minorities in Pakistan, mentioning the recent failed legislation that was brought before Parliament for the equal treatment of blasphemy no matter which religion was involved. Saliha has also provided us a very useful post on that topic. The 12 May AP report is also one of the few (the only one?) that provides a quote from Pakistani authorities insisting that religious minorities in Pakistan have the right to practice their religion and that their rights will be protected by the Pakistani government. This statement disappears from nearly ALL subsequent reports from other news agencies. Moreover no one seems to have gone to the “trouble” of attempting to interview religious leaders in Peshawar or Islamabad or anywhere else to get their reaction. Meanwhile we have statements from Christian leaders in Islambad and Lahore, as well as foreign Christian figures denouncing the threat to Christians. This is the point at which the articles, especially from the Western media come very very close to being propaganda. They refuse to even acknowledge the need to seek the opinion of Muslim voices. The presumably Muslim voice of the letter(s) is the only voice they can hear. Whether or not it is self-consciously propaganda, it is Yellow Journalism by any standard.


The following provides, I believe, a complete list of the all the links that were referenced in this post, beginning with Saliha Shah's two wonderful posts on religious minorities and the freedom of religion found at

Saliha Shah, "A Step Back for Religious Freedom"

Saliha Shah, "Why Protect Religious Minorities?"

AP - 12 May (includes translation of letter), "Pakistan Christians Receive Threatening Letters Urging Conversion"

see FOXNews version of same article here

BBC (as already linked by Saliha Shah), "Pakistan Christians Demand Help"

Middle Eastern Times (picking up the AFP feed), "Christians in Pakistan Ordered to Convert"

The TimesOnline, "Christians in Pakistan Told to Convert"

AsiaNews, "Christians Threatened: Convert to Islam or Die"

The Times of India, "Pak Bishop Slams Taliban Threats"

Worthy News, "Pakistan Militants Force Christians to Convert to Islam and Shut Churches"

The Daily Times, "Threatening Letter to Christians in Charsadda: Police Guarding Homes and Churches"

Assist News Service (ANS) [A Christian News Outlet], "Letters Threaten Pakistani Christians to Convert to Islam"

Christian Today, "Christians Have 10 Days to Convert to Islam in Pakistan"

AP - 16 May, "Pakistani Christians Warned to Convert"


Monday, May 21, 2007

working through liberalism

MC Escher, "Liberation" (1955)

The Enlightenment, which was to deliver us from our tutelage and minority, operated on the principle that traditions and social stratifications that had been taken for natural were in fact unfounded human conventions. Having denaturalized that old feudal order the liberal revolution of freedom, equality and universal fraternity could be brought about. Yet, this political emancipation, as Marx called it, only affected persons at the most formal level, while leaving the very real divisions of civil life intact. Thus, it is no surprise in the face of the ubiquity of Late Capitalism that once again society is confronted with large scale social stratification that is effectively feudal-aristocratic insofar as one’s economic possibilities are largely a function of one’s ‘accident of birth’. At the same time, humanity is inundated with the frantic insistence on the naturalness of the liberal tradition itself, the universal desire for democracy and of course the natural rationality and freedom of capitalism.

It is no wonder, then, that among those who do not wish to enlist in the Crusade for democratic-capitalism, a position which has ironically taken on the role of a conservative ideology (Fukayama), there is a tendency to call for a renewal or completion of the Enlightenment (Habermas): in other words, a repetition of the strategy to denaturalize and revolutionize for the sake of freedom in order to overturn the lingering sources of stratification, division and alienation. Yet this is the very program of abstraction and formalization which brought about the current order.

Others, like John Milbank, suggest that the Enlightenment be abandoned in favor of a hierarchical but non-alienated society, one that can embody hierarchical difference without violence. While such a position does grasp the essential role hierarchy plays in current societal organization, and its ties to any attempt to discern the Good in the present moment, it ignores that the hierarchies themselves feed off alienation and violence in order to fulfill their educative function. As Milbank’s own mentor, Augustine, would have taught him, Cogito (knowledge) cannot loose itself from Cogo (power); hierarchies only ever exist because of sin.

Finally, then, ought one not see the possibilities of politics as present within the contradictions and alienations of political liberalism? This would mean not looking for some new solution, which would be nothing but the raising up of some new idol, one which would be judged by capitalism in any case. Instead by insisting on non-closure and relativity of this historical moment and the persistence of the desire for something other than what is, one is open to the New which is our salvation. Only in this way can politics legitimately be the work of the people (liturgy).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

W(h)ither Fascism?

If one were to continue to propose entries for Milan Kundera’s “A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words”, certainly, today, one would need to add FASCISM. It seems to me there must be at least two components in place to have a genuinely fascist government, party, organization or movement. First, and probably most importantly, there must be a desire to rally the citizenry and organize the political realm around the idea of the nation-family: some common racial, or ethnic heritage, some common, natural, language, possibly, within which the cultural inheritance is passed down across the generations. There must be, then, a very rigorous form of nationalism, where the idea of the nation is taken quite literally: nation as a reference to our natus, or birth.

Secondly, fascism relates to the economic reorganization of the nation along the lines of a state capitalism in order to revitalize the productivity of the worker, but also to provide security for that same worker. Ernst Jünger, one of the economic theorists of fascism, argued in ¬The Worker (1932), for instance, that the revitalization of German industry was linked to the revitalization of German men, warrior-men, and thus the strength of Germany itself.

In both cases, what one sees is the nostalgia for roots in the midst of an uncertain, and economically unstable world, where one found one’s identity through conformity to one’s nature, one’s nation, one’s natus. Oswald Spengler’s “conservative revolution” was premised on the politics of natus, against the internationalism of liberalism and Marxism, and for Jünger, freedom was only found in giving oneself over in obedience to serving and protecting one’s natus. In both cases there was a longing for a strong leader who would rally and lead the people in this new nationalism.

From this it ought to be immediately clear that Islam is stridently anti-fascist. The Ummah, the unity of those who submit to God, is a unity of all peoples without regards to race, nation, or ethnicity. Politically speaking mainstream Islam has taken a variety of political forms, but none of them have been fascist: one could point to imperial or monarchical (with roots in the tribal organization) as perhaps the most common.

But of course this is not the way fascism is being used; instead it has been used to focus attention on elements at the Right extreme of Islam: Al-Qaeda, etc. Islamo-fascism: the enemies of liberalism. Now it is true, as already mentioned, that fascism was anti-liberal. Rightists from Spengler to Heidegger saw liberalism as decadent, promoting mediocrity and weakness. But this in and of itself is hardly fascist, it is a position shared by many Rightists. There is an abiding emphasis on the Ummah within Al-Qaeda, bringing together Arabs and Pakistanis and Afghanis and Southeast Asians in a way that is not always seen due to racial tensions that do persist among the various groups. Moreover the criticism of Anglo and Continental governments, the criticism of their decadence, is entirely religious in its basis, not nationalistic, and the same could be said for the criticism that one sees from the militant parties within Islam against certain Middle Eastern governments themselves, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Finally one must say that there is nearly no economic component to the critique or the ideological thrust of the militants.

The Islamists seem to have two basic goals: the re-establishment of the caliphate and the universal extension of shariah law. With that in mind, one is left to wonder why we do not call them what they are, virulently anti-liberal, imperialistic theocrats, instead of the terribly inaccurate “fascists”.

Is there, then, a rise of fascism today? If so, it must certainly not be where the Anglo and Continental governments have wanted to identify it. There has also been a tendency amongst the Left, following the initial impulses of persons like Michel Foucault, to identify the universal penetration of Anglo and Continental life by the forces of Late Capital, what Adorno would have called the Culture Industry, as fascist because of the surreptitious conformity it evokes in its citizenry, its ability to extend control. But again one must point out the antithetical nature of Late Capitalism, and really one should say Capitalism generally, and fascism, due to its universal aims and its reliance, in cohort with political liberalism, on universal ideas of nature and human nature that unite everyone of all races and creeds under the natural law of rights (and thus competition). Indeed one would have to say that those who oppose the globalizing impulse behind Late Capitalism are indeed the more significant regressive forces, and insofar as those concerned with distributive justice, whether liberal or Leftist, have been willing to accept such arguments within their ranks, they undermine the cause of freedom and equity which they pursue.

Likewise there is a tendency on the Right to identify, rather haphazardly, all liberalism as socialism and all socialism as fascism. One must say, within the American context at any rate, there seems to be no real socialism and certainly no Marxism that is politically effective. No one in the mainstream of American political life is engaged in a critique that points the historicity of the liberal-capitalist complex, nor possesses any sense that Capitalism might collapse under its own success. There is nothing in American politics that suggests that the dominance of Late-Capital and the accumulation of private property ought to be or can be disturbed. There is simply a preservation and management of what is apparently seen as the natural order. Moreover, even if there were a genuine Marxism in this country, one would be forced to point out that no two groups hated each other more than the Marxists and the fascists: Marxism insisted on a universal conception of freedom in which no one could be free unless all were free, while fascist nationalism sought only a local definition of freedom and believed that Marxism undermined the natural order of things. This is why Marxism was able to make common cause with liberalism against fascism in the form of the Popular Front: both Marxism and liberalism, in different ways supported a universal conception of freedom and equity.

One should grant, in passing, one significant point here, to the Right. The economic reforms of the post-depression era, not only in America, but throughout the liberal world, were largely inspired by fascism’s economic success. But one also has to say, knocking on wood, that fascism has no real soil in which to take root in America, as it might in Europe. America for Americans is almost laughable, compared to France for the French, or Germany for Germans. Who would those Americans be? There is no common natus, no common language or culture, around which Americans would be able to rally. This is the cause of Heidegger’s judgment that American’s could never be authentic: they are, by definition, a people without roots. And indeed fascism had far less success and support in the United States than it ever did in Europe.

One might ask then, one last time, whither fascism? Is there any sort of fascist revival going on in the contemporary world? I would suggest that there is though neither in the United States nor in the Islamic world, but once again on the Continent of Europe where it had its appeal to begin with. For many years countries like France and the Netherlands have prided themselves on being bastions of liberalism with a very generous immigration policy built around the Enlightenment ideal of cosmopolitanism. Yet in the wake of the instability in the Middle East and threats of terrorism primarily from Muslim groups and several incidents of violence, one has seen nationalism reasserting itself on the Continent.

The re-emergence of the Right, in the personage of the late Pim Fortuyn, for instance, was a clear sign of tidal change on the once liberal Continent. This was followed in France by the restriction of immigration, vigorous debate on the standards of citizenship, and a highly controversial law which banned religious attire in schools and government offices (while it affected many different groups in minor ways, it was aimed primarily at the elimination of girls wearing hijab to school). Finally, there are new and recent incidents in Germany, which has been suffering under a well publicized resurgence of Neo-Nazism in the public arena. Using a law dating which dated back to the Nazi regime itself, German law enforcement made the decision to arrest a Baptist woman for the crime of home-schooling her children. The mother, who remains under arrest, is now separated from her family; the father took the children and fled to Austria. Nor is the mother's case unique as the German government seems intent to crack down on home-schoolers, many of which are Christian. Meanwhile there was the infamous case of the Moroccan woman who was told that since she was from Morocco she should expect subhuman treatment at the hands of her husband and that German government would not get involved in any extraordinary way.

I would suggest that the real place we need to fear the resurgence of fascism is among our N.A.T.O. neighbors. The debates over immigration, citizenship and identity, the legal decisions that have been made recently in Germany and France are disturbing signs. The motivation in all cases has been a renunciation of liberal values and the demand that the people of the nation conform to some idea of the natural cultural identity of the nation-family and that all forces that run counter to that ideal must be suppressed in this time of crisis. Crisis was always the excuse of Rightists from the time of Oswald Spengler forward.

The mis-identification of fascism does not help us to understand the extreme problems and challenges that are faced in the Islamic world, while at the same time it blinds us to the regressive threats to liberalism much closer to home.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

on one being told she is still young enough to have more children

William Bouguereau, "Charity" (1878)

He but throws them from his belly.
In this simplest of couplings
the egg comes to fruition, unwasted.
The uterus is not a cardboard cutout,
an organ meant to remain unfilled,
a chalice dry.

The value of the woman is
her uterine potential. How
can two arms be full with
only one child? At least
two plump babies to grow
in holding each hand.
At least two to fulfill
the empty hours of a
woman's biology, to
maintain her honor in
a world bent toward
the aggression of both sexes:

This is the ideal,
the prize of all time:
radiant mother, beyond
maidenhood but years from
the wise, silent crone.

The swaying of hips,
the arch of bent necks
and upturned pinkies?
The gentle knowledge
of years and the scientifically
applied art of nurturing?

Not to waste, not to waste!

Do not let too many years
pass in between births.
Beauty and wisdom
in the female of the species
are merely tools to be
used in nurturing creation.

Time remains.

Legitimacy lies in numbers.
Lie down and prepare
to push.

-DRG (see her full blog at Insufferable Know It All)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

:from munirah

we write this to you from the desert
the letters forming: light on sand
while you wait for
the air conditioner to turn off
inside your cape cod cottage:
new england in june and the electricity costs so much

each grain of sand here is a moment of infinity
each one calls out to you
in the way only infinity can
while you turn up the tv
in order to avoid that revelation

you say, the desert is a liar:
illusions of water, the blurring of distinctions; it will kill if it can
i will stay on solid ground, in the reality of
shopping malls, dairy queens and the marketing machine
but we say, the sun is the only truth
and every grain of sand, its prism


Friday, May 4, 2007

eros (an excerpt from hypatia's lost commentary on plato's phaedrus)

Gail Foster, "Passage" (2005) [acrylic on canvas]

A desire for the caress, to be touched by another - erotics: the pursuit of proximity and tenderness, the pilgrimage to the border of one's being, to the border beyond which the beloved lies.

The lover and the beloved, together in sex do not seek identity; love of the lover is never an attempt to cross the border - to have power over the body, an act of aggression, commission of violence, rape - instead it is the acknowledgment of the gift of peace (providence itself). Giving oneself over to pure vulnerability, laying down one's arms, exposure.

The erotic finds its end, not in the beloved (who is always the theme) but, in rapture and ecstasy itself. The coming together is the denouncement of identification, which would, in truth, entail the loss of identity. Ecstasy is not a passage between borders,

(for the space between us is only the necessary counter-moment to the sensuousness, voluptuousness, nakedness of the body)

but a doxology sung to that which holds the very difference between our borders inviolable: the apocalyptic shudder that promises a final end to violence will come. It commands not only 'thou shalt not kill' but also 'love one another'.