Central European classics

From The Telegraph:

Vizinczey-m_1639782f Just as rich people assume that they have nothing to learn from poor people, big nations assume that they have nothing to learn from small nations. This is not true of scientists, nor does it apply to the super-educated in general, but the majority of big nations know very little of the wider world, starting with their ignorance of any language but their own.

Here it is possible to graduate from a top university without having read, even in translation, the classic authors of France and Russia, let alone of Central Europe. As the insights of small, poor, oppressed nations do not come naturally to the British, many aspects of life remain a closed book to them. Which is why this new series of Central European Classics is important well beyond simply providing 'good reads’.

More here.

Dispatches From the Other

From The New York Times:

Beuv In 1946, when Simone de Beauvoir began to write her landmark study of women, “The Second Sex,” legislation allowing French women to vote was little more than a year old. Birth control would be legally denied them until 1967. Next door, in Switzerland, women would not be enfranchised until 1971. Such repressive circumstances account for both the fierce, often wrathful urgency of Beauvoir’s book and the vehement controversies this founding text of feminism aroused when it was first published in France in 1949 and in the United States in 1953. The Vatican placed it on the Index of Forbidden Books. Albert Camus complained that Beauvoir made Frenchmen look ridiculous. On these shores, the novelist Philip Wylie eulogized it as “one of the few great books of our era,” the psychiatrist Karl Menninger found it “pretentious” and “tiresome,” and a reviewer in The Atlantic Monthly faulted it for being “bespattered with the repulsive lingo of existentialism.”

In her splendid introduction to this new edition, Judith Thurman notes that Blanche Knopf, wife of Beauvoir’s American publisher, heard about the book on a scouting trip to France and was under the impression that it was a highbrow sex manual. Knopf asked for a reader’s report from a retired zoologist, Howard M. Parshley, who was then commissioned to do the translation. Knopf’s husband urged Parshley to condense it significantly, noting that Beauvoir seemed to suffer from “verbal diarrhea.” Parshley complied, providing the necessary Imodium by cutting 15 percent of the original 972 pages. And so it was this truncated text, translated by a scientist with a college undergraduate’s knowledge of French, that ushered two generations of women into the universe of feminist thought, inspiring pivotal later books like Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics.”

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier’s new translation of “The Second Sex” is the first English-language edition in almost 60 years, and the first to restore the material Parshley excised. In this passionate, awesomely erudite work, Beauvoir examines the reasons women have been forced to accept a place in society secondary to that of men, despite the fact that women constitute half the human race. Supporting her arguments with data from biology, physiology, ethnology, anthropology, mythology, folklore, philosophy and economics, she documents the status of women throughout history, from the age of hunter-gatherers to the mid-20th century. In one of her most interesting chapters, “The Married Woman” (a chapter Parshley particularly savaged), she offers numerous quotations from the novels and diaries of Virginia Woolf, Colette, Edith Wharton, Sophia Tolstoy and others. She also scrutinizes the manner in which various male authors, from Montaigne to Stendhal to D. H. Lawrence, have represented women (and, in many cases, how they treated their wives). Urging women to persevere in their efforts at emancipation, she emphasizes that they must also do so for the sake of men: “It is when the slavery of half of humanity is abolished and with it the whole hypocritical system it implies that the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its authentic meaning and the human couple will discover its true form.”

More here.

Saturday Poem

Storm on the Island

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast:you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortable down on the cliffs,
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is nothing that we fear.

by Seamus Heaney
from Death of a Naturalist,
Faber and Faber, 1999

Sister Margaret and the hierarchy of mostly aging men

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

Pope Benedict and Cardinals - Purple and Scarlet Sister Margaret made a difficult judgment in an emergency, saved a life and then was punished and humiliated by a lightning bolt from a bishop who spent 16 years living in Rome and who has devoted far less time to serving the downtrodden than Sister Margaret. Compare their two biographies, and Sister Margaret’s looks much more like Jesus’s than the bishop’s does.

“Everyone I know considers Sister Margaret to be the moral conscience of the hospital,” Dr. John Garvie, chief of gastroenterology at St. Joseph’s Hospital, wrote in a letter to the editor to The Arizona Republic. “She works tirelessly and selflessly as the living example and champion of compassionate, appropriate care for the sick and dying.”

Dr. Garvie later told me in an e-mail message that “saintly” was the right word for Sister Margaret and added: “Sister was the ‘living embodiment of God’ in our building. She always made sure we understood that we’re here to help the less fortunate. We really have no one to take her place.”

I’ve written several times about the gulf between Roman Catholic leaders at the top and the nuns, priests and laity who often live the Sermon on the Mount at the grass roots. They represent the great soul of the church, which isn’t about vestments but selflessness.

When a hierarchy of mostly aging men pounce on and excommunicate a revered nun who was merely trying to save a mother’s life, the church seems to me almost as out of touch as it was in the cruel and debauched days of the Borgias in the Renaissance.

More here.

Peter Beinart vs. the ADL

From the New York Review of Books:

Abraham H. Foxman:

Peter Beinart offers a conveniently impressionistic view of the American Jewish community to frame his critique of Israeli policy trends. He should know better than to fall into the trap of generalizing about the Jewish state without giving proper context for what is going on.

He sees an Israel that is clearly moving to the right, that has less regard for the “other,” no matter who that may be, and that is unwilling to take seriously efforts toward peace. Beinart seems to be suffering from the same problems we have seen in the Obama administration, ignoring what Israel has gone through over the last decade and thereby misreading what Israelis are thinking today.

Israelis, to a large extent, and this is shared by many in the American Jewish community (another of Beinart’s targets), feel frustrated that all their efforts toward changing the dynamic have been met with rejection and/or violence. Most Israelis understand that continuing to sit in the West Bank is not good ScreenHunter_02 May. 29 11.41 for the country. So at Camp David in 2000 they tried a solution of ending the conflict, which included withdrawing from 90 percent of the territories and eliminating the majority of settlements. They got a big no and suicide bombs…

Peter Beinart:

Abraham Foxman’s letter illustrates the problem my essay tries to describe: an American Jewish leadership that publicly defends the Israeli government, any Israeli government, rather than defending Israeli democracy, even when the former menaces the latter.

Obviously, as Foxman suggests, the Palestinians are not blameless. Yasser Arafat deserves history’s scorn for not responding more courageously to the chances for peace at Camp David and the much better ones put forward by Clinton in December 2000. And the election of Hamas was a tragedy, for both Israel and the Palestinians. But to suggest that Palestinian and Arab behavior fully explains the growing authoritarian, even racist, tendencies in Israeli politics is to don a moral blindfold, a blindfold that most young American Jews, to their credit, will not wear.

Firstly, Palestinian rejectionism cannot explain Avigdor Lieberman’s crusade to humiliate, disenfranchise, and perhaps even eventually expel Arab Israelis, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to be accepted as equal citizens in the country of their birth. Lieberman is not a marginal figure. He was Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff; he heads Israel’s third-largest party; he serves as foreign minister; and when Israel held mock elections in ten high schools last year, he won.

Nor are his views marginal. In 2008, in a poll cited by Yediot Ahronot, 40 percent of Jewish Israelis did not believe that Arab Israelis should be allowed to vote. Among Jewish Israeli high school students surveyed this March, the figure was 56 percent…

More here.

When the good amongst us go silent…

Adil Najam and Owais Mughal in All Things Pakistan:

ScreenHunter_01 May. 29 11.26 There can be nothing but rage and loathing for those who kill for the pleasure of killing. Who kill for the purpose of spreading terror and mayhem. Who kill to hide their own inadequacies of faith. Who breed in the fires of hate and kill as an expression of hate. These are the enemies of Pakistan. The enemies of the very religion they think they are safeguarding with venomous hate. They are, indeed, the enemies of humanity.

Ultimately, the person who is killed is not a Pakistani or Indian or American or even Muslim or Jew or Christian or even Barelvi or Ahmadi or Wahabi. Ultimately, the person killed is just another human. And the person who kills, is not. Because in the very act of killing for hate he has stripped himself of that distinction, of his own humanity.

Words escape us, once again. What can we say that we did not say about Karachi, about Quetta, about Swat, about Peshawar, about Islamabad, about Kohat – indeed about Lahore itself, again and again.

What can one add except to wipe the tears from ones eyes, to say a silent prayer – a silent prayer that society’s silence over these atrocities may break. Because when the good amongst us go silent, then only the hate of the bad resounds.

More here.

Why Pakistan needs the Separation of Religion and State

Juan Cole in Informed Comment:

The Pakistani military has been conducting a military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in the northern tribal area of South Waziristan since last fall, provoking retaliatory terrorist attacks by Pakistani Taliban on the cities of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.

What Friday’s attack suggests, if Geo is right, is that small networks of Punjabi fundamentalist vigilantes had gathered in Waziristan, from which they are now being expelled by the Pakistani military. They are attempting to take their revenge by destabilizing Pakistan. Hitting the Ahmadis, considered heretics by most Muslim Pakistanis, puts Pakistan’s politicians in the awkward position of having to defend them, and so cleverly tars the government with the brush of heresy itself.

Geo quoted a prominent Muslim cleric, Mufti Munib-ur-Rahman, who underlined that in a Muslim nation, the lives and property of non-Muslim citizens are sacrosanct. On the one hand, if this atrocity pushes the Pakistani elite to admit this crucial principle, that would be all to the good. On the other, the militants will use such statements to stir up fanatics.

The horrifying assault on the Ahmadi congregations underlines why Pakistan needs a separation of religion and state. The problem with using Islam as the state ideology (as the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah clearly foresaw) is that there is no generic Islam.

More here.

Dreaming of a Free Iran: Akbar Ganji’s Friedman Prize Acceptance Speech

Ganji_35.3_headshotIn the Boston Review:

I would like to start by thanking the CATO Institute for awarding me this prize, which I accept as a moral and ethical endorsement of Iran’s Green Movement. I very much hope that this award will facilitate our struggle for advancing democracy and human rights in Iran.

Human history has been interpreted in many ways. I read this history as a sustained course of struggle for liberty—the struggle of slaves, women, people of color, the poor, the disenfranchised, of religious minorities and dissidents of various sorts, to rid themselves of the tyranny they have endured. The history of emancipation movements in the United States is in fact a perfect example of such endeavors for liberty: the struggle against foreign domination, the revolt against slavery, the women’s rights movements, and the civil rights movement are all prime examples of such uprisings, which have in turn become inspirational for similar movements around the globe. The American tradition of struggling for freedom has been instrumental in spreading the culture of liberty and democracy throughout the world. Today the American people and their social institutions continue to help disseminating the same humane principles that inspired their own founding fathers.

Today one can see many societies that are reaping the benefits of these sustained struggles for liberty. There is no doubt that the relative freedom in these countries is the result of the institutionalization of a more-or-less acceptable degree of democracy; and needless to say, democracy is the result of a powerful civil society, and that is in turn contingent on the freedom to elect a representative government, which is itself predicated on freedom of expression, action, and organization. Good or bad, the fate of a people, however, is not entirely in their own hands. Appropriate international circumstances are also necessary preconditions for the empowerment of civil societies and a transition to a democratic system that is committed to popular sovereignty and human rights.

The misfortune of the people who live in the Middle East, the region from which I come, is that the international conditions have never been conducive to achieving democracy.

Plight of the Living Dead

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg Michael Atkinson on George Romero's zombies, in In These Times:

In the pop sphere, zombie may be the new vampire, but with the release of George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead, you have to truly wonder what in the gamey name of Lazarus is going on. This is, after all, the sixth zombie film from one filmmaker, amid a recent cataract that has included big-budget remakes of Romero’s older films (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead), loads of zombie indies (with titles like Dead and Breakfast), an upcoming TV series (Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead), and of course zombie farces (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland), the spry likes of which should’ve signaled the end of the genre’s new heyday.

Unfortunately, it shows no sign of waning, and it’s Romero’s doing. With 1968’s Night of the Living Dead—still a roughshod masterpiece of anxiety that may inadvertently be the best film “about” Vietnam made during the war—Romero introduced the flesh-eating, white-pupiled grave-stumbler, and the rather trite rules that apply to them. (Why only head shots? Why not?) Despite the success of his first sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), Romero and his living-dead paradigm spent more than 20 years in neutral, and then suddenly zombies became fashionable again, reemerging after 9/11. Coincidence or social unease? Are zombies—gross, easily killed people who aren’t really people anymore—our way of neutralizing the haunted experience of mass death on American soil?

China and India: Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay

Bardhan Over at Vox, an audio of the interview:

Pranab Bardhan of the University of California, Berkeley, talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his new book ‘Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India’. He argues that significant poverty reduction in both countries is mainly due to domestic factors – not global integration, as most would believe. The interview was recorded at the London School of Economics in May 2010.

Dispatches From the Other

Gray-t_CA0-articleInlineFrancine du Plessix Gray in the NYT:

How does Beauvoir’s book stand up more than a half-century later? And how does this new translation compare with the previous one? I’m sorry to report that “The Second Sex,” which I read with euphoric enthusiasm in my post-college years, now strikes me as being in many ways dated. Written in an era in which a minority of women were employed, its arguments for female participation in the work force seem particularly outmoded. And Beauvoir’s truly paranoid hostility toward the institutions of marriage and motherhood — another characteristic of early feminism — is so extreme as to be occasionally hilarious. Every aspect of the female reproductive system, from puberty to menopause, is approached with the same ferocious disdain. Females of all living species are “first violated . . . then alienated” by the process of fertilization. Derogatory phrases like “the servitude of maternity,” “woman’s absurd fertility,” the “exhausting servitude” of breast-feeding, abound. (How could they not, since the author sees heterosexual love in general as “a mortal danger?”) According to Beauvoir, a girl’s first menstruation, which many of us welcomed with excitement and pride, is met instead with “disgust and fear. ” It “ inspires horror” and “signifies illness, suffering and death.” Beauvoir doesn’t appear to have spent much time with children or teenagers: a first menses, in her view, leads the girl to be “disgusted by her too-carnal body, by menstrual blood, by adults’ sexual practices, by the male she is destined for.”

If Beauvoir’s ruminations on “the curse” are pessimistic (and pessimism runs through “The Second Sex” like a poisonous river) her reflections on sexual initiation and marriage make them sound like torture. She chooses the most brutal examples of deflorations — mostly rapes — to make her points. Wedding nights “transform the erotic experience into an ordeal” that “often dooms the woman to frigidity forever.” It isn’t surprising, she adds, “that ‘conjugal duties’ are often only a repugnant chore for the wife.” “No one,” she argues, “dreams of denying the tragedies and nastiness of married life.” Conjugal love, in Beauvoir’s view, is “a complex mixture of attachment, resentment, hatred, rules, resignation, laziness and hypocrisy.” Even marriages that “work well” suffer “a curse they rarely escape: boredom.”

The Unrepentant Whore


One day in the deep end of winter, 1998, it rained on Vancouver’s City Hall. It rained on the 6.9 Mercedes that pulled up to the entrance a little before noon. It rained on Jamie Lee Hamilton’s good swing coat as she emerged from the car and lugged out four bulging garbage bags. It rained on the fourteen media crews that watched her carry the bags up the steps, hair plastered to her face. It rained on all of them as she dumped sixty-seven pairs of stilettos at the city’s feet — one for every woman who she believed had gone missing from the Downtown Eastside. Nobody knew that this was the start of the largest serial killer case in Canada’s history; nor that Robert Pickton was still, then, taking women back to his pig farm on the outskirts of the city to mutilate and murder them; nor that, more than a decade later, in 2009, a constitutional appeal would argue that our country had systematically imperilled the lives of these women with brutal laws that forced them to work in untenable conditions. All Hamilton knew was that women — sex workers — were disappearing and nothing was being done.

more from Michael Harris at Walrus here.

the spectre of the niqab and the burqa


It has been condemned as sinister, frightening, misogynistic and oppressive. Indeed, nothing seems to provoke more suspicion of Europe’s 15 million Muslims than the face veil worn by a tiny minority of women. Even many followers of Islam are keen to disown and denounce it. In heated discussions with my own father over the past few weeks, I discovered that he is one of those who take a sterner line, describing the face veil as “un-Islamic and unnecessary”. “If not for anything else,” he told me, “it should be banned for security reasons.” I am no fan of the face veil, but I disagree with Dad. Moves to ban it will surely backfire. In recent months, several European governments have begun to legislate restrictions on both the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is usually combined with a full body covering, and the burqa, which covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. On 29 April, Belgium became the first European country to impose a nationwide ban on wearing a full face veil in public. Just three days earlier, the five-month-old government of the Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme had collapsed amid bitter feuding between the political parties, but legislators in the House of Representatives found time to push through the bill with almost unanimous support. Hostility towards the veil has united a divided nation.

more from Mehdi Hasan at The New Statesman here.

severed heads, etc.


Perched on Monte alle Croci, a hill just south of the Arno with sprawling views of Florence below and the Pistoian Apennines and Apuans due north, sits the Basilica of San Miniato. The church, which was built in three stages from 1018 to 1207, is more quietly stunning than Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and the Duomo; it is also older than these popular Florentine basilicas. Olivetan monks look after the San Miniato complex, which includes the church, a monastery, a bishop’s palace, a bell tower, and a cemetery. I have visited San Miniato often over the past several months, but have caught sight of the white-robed Olivetans only a handful of times and usually behind the raised counter of the little gift shop where they sell the elixirs, unguents, teas, honeys, and other products they make. Sometimes, as I walk the many steps that lead to the church, I imagine a lone monk peering at me sight unseen through the barred windows of the monastery that sits brown and heavy next to the church’s luminous white and green marble facade. He knows I will enter the church and sit in a pew set on the right side of the nave, the only place in this exquisite, thronged city where I can think clearly—or not at all, it is difficult to say which. The church is often empty in the morning and that’s when I like to walk from my apartment in the Oltrarno east along the river into the San Niccolò neighborhood and up the hill to San Miniato.

more from Suzanne Menghraj at Guernica here.

Friday Poem

Clock Factory Near the River

After a while, a man who works in a clock factory
begins mistaking the constant ticking
for the sound of water
dripping in a deep well
his great-grandfather
once spoke of.
And it is only after he has returned
his apron and his tools to his locker,
and come through the heavy doors
into evening,
and walked along the river with the other men,
that time and water are once again
separate things.

by Yehoshua November
from Adirondack Review, Spring 2010

The metabolic secrets of good runners

From Nature:

Fit A healthy heart and svelte physique are not the only physical changes wrought by exercise: researchers have also identified a host of metabolic changes that occur during exercise in physically fit athletes. These changes, described today in Science Translational Medicine, suggest that exercise revs up the pathways that break down stored sugars, lipids and amino acids, as well as improving blood-sugar control. The results might eventually lead to dietary supplements that boost athletic performance or invigorate patients suffering from debilitating diseases, says study author Robert Gerszten, a clinician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Metabolic profiling has lagged behind large-scale studies of gene and protein expression, in part because the collection of metabolites in the human body — sometimes referred to as the metabolome — is so complex. “The alphabet for the DNA world is four letters long, and for the protein world it's twenty amino acids,” says David Wishart, a metabolomics researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada who was not involved with the new work. “The alphabet for metabolites is about 8,000 different compounds, so it's a tough language to learn.” Gerszten and his colleagues assayed 210 of these metabolites to fill a gap in our understanding of the effects of exercise. “It's well known that exercise protects against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and predicts long-term survival,” says Gerszten. “But how exercise confers its salutary effects is less understood.”

More here.

Cyborg Soldiers and Militarised Masculinities

Masters_84x84Cristina Masters in Eurozine:

In “Fact and Fantasy: The Body of Desire in the Age of Posthumanism”, Renée C. Hoogland (2002: 214) argues that “in the increasingly technologized age of posthumanism, bodily matters are, quite simply, too substantial to be left to the 'empirically' inclined minds of natural scientists”, and therefore calls on cultural theorists to take up the weighty issue of bodily matters. Recent developments indicate, however, that bodily matters are more and more coming under the ambit of the “strategic” and “security” inclined minds populating military institutions and government administrative offices, in ways perhaps far more troubling and disturbing in all of its potential and real implications. In the post-9/11 context of the war on/of terror, one can scarcely overemphasize the dangerous possibilities signalled in this shift. Dangerous, in that bodily matters are being taken up by institutions primarily concerned with the defence and security of the nation-state in an increasingly biopolitical architecture of power.

For many, it is right that such matters should be taken up by the entity with which we have authorised to act in our name and in our defence – the state. Others, in particular critical theorists of international politics, have expressed grave concern over the deadly security practices at work in the US-led war on/of terror, including not only the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, but also and significantly, the new security measures around immigration and asylum, individual freedoms and liberties, search and seizure, and the power to detain indefinitely, to name but a few.

Feminists, as much as militarists, have pointed to the virtues of advanced technology in addressing some of the pressing issues of our day, whether explicitly those of identity politics or that of war. With regard to the latter, nowhere is this more apparent than in the US military, where technology has been lauded as the answer to the question of security and terrorism. With regard to the former, feminists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain (2003) have linked advanced military technology to just war practices, and a number of feminists have advanced arguments in favour of technology's transgressive potential both in terms of challenging the strictures of gendered regimes of power, and in support of women's participation in institutions such as the military.

Breaking the Cycle

QuantA conversation with Emanuel Derman in Edge:

[EMANUEL DERMAN:] One of the things I've been thinking about a lot, both in relation to the financial crisis and in relation to the way people understand the world in general, is the role of models in the world. There are a variety of different approaches to trying to understand the world, in all its facets, from the physical sciences to the social sciences and even one's personal life. I've categorized them in two ways: I like to distinguish what are called “theories” from “models”. Theories, in my view, really try to capture the essence of the world, as in physics in one short equation, or in other fields, in one short schema.

It seems to me you can't really act in the world without having some kind of model or theory of how the world is going to behave in the future.

Models are simpler to describe in that they are similar to metaphors or analogies: you try to understand something that is difficult to comprehend in terms of something else you already comprehend. You try to understand the brain, for example, and you say, well, the brain is a lot like a computer. Or you try to understand a computer, and you assume people understand the brain and then say a computer is a lot like a brain.

In the same way in finance one says stock prices behave a lot like smoke diffusing off the tip of a cigarette . These are models or metaphorical ways of describing the world that add insight but you can't really rely on them very substantially in the long run. I'll give some examples in a little while.

The other extreme is to use theories, which are really ways of directly apprehending the way the world or the universe works: examples are Freud, Einstein and Newton. Of course, theories can be right or wrong, but theories are different from models.


1274711938berman_052110_380pxB Christopher Hitchens reviews Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals, in Tablet:

“Look here upon this picture, and on this …” In the left frame, a privileged young Swiss-Egyptian academic, whose father and grandfather were pillars of the Muslim Brotherhood and who has expressed strong sympathy for the jihadist preachings—and social and moral precepts—of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, purveyor of fatwas and self-described “Mufti of martyrdom operations.” In the right frame, a young woman from Somalia who has endured genital mutilation and forced marriage, made her escape to Europe, spoken out for the rights of women, seen a colleague of hers murdered for the same advocacy, abandoned religion for the values of the European enlightenment, and now conducts her life under permanent police protection.

Which of these two individuals garners the most respectful attention from our liberal intellectuals? To phrase it more closely, which of them has attracted the sympathetic understanding, and which the contempt, of two of the contemporary writers who have best earned that title? I refer to Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma, who in the years during and after the Cold War did a great deal to enlarge our understanding of Eastern Europe and Asia, and to demonstrate the incompatibility of civilization with the principles of totalitarianism.

Ian Buruma has written a long profile of Tariq Ramadan (the picture in the left frame) and taken many of his claims to be a reformist and modernizer at their own face value. Timothy Garton Ash was helpful in getting Ramadan a position at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Both men have written disparagingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as if she were an intemperate extremist. Oh, and one more thing. Garton Ash has written that “It’s no disrespect to Ms. Ali to suggest that if she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.” Perhaps that statement is indeed free from any hint of disrespect, but can the same be said of Garton Ash’s judgment that for all her courage she is no more than a “slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist”? (The appellation “Enlightenment fundamentalist” is itself borrowed from Ian Buruma; I should perhaps declare at this stage that I find the ideas of the Enlightenment to be superb in their simplicity.) Meanwhile, it’s hardly possible to read of a media appearance with Tariq Ramadan that does not describe him as arrestingly handsome and charismatic. No disrespect, of course, but I’d be the first to agree that it can’t be his writing that draws the crowd.