Why are Roses Red?

When ships are launched, they pour water or more bubbly stuff to ask the gods to bless it. When Books are launched, the gods are less likely to be pleased if water is poured on it.

On Monday, Aug 26th, at 7pm, we will be launching Where The Wild Frontiers Are at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York with Amitava Kumar and Vijay Prashad.

It would please me immensely to have you attend. Ask inappropriate questions. Please. (From AK and VP, of course)

@The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
110-112 West 27th Street, 6th Floor
Between 6th and 7th Avenues
Buzzer 600

Meanwhile, Back Home

Holy Jesus, Moses and Muhammad.

The power-points, I urge you to drop everything and just stare at them, are amazing. They really are. They show, quite clearly, the mental acuity of a 12 year old child when confronted with a newspaper. There is reading comprehension, of course, and even retention and maybe some kind of a inner monologue. But it is not making sense. No sir.

My dear friend Babu (oft. mentioned here) jotted off this passionate and erudite response to his Senator and I reproduce with his permission:

To: Senator Richard J. Durbin

RE: The FBI and Counterterrorism

Dear Senator Durbin,

As a resident of Chicago, and now Evanston, for the last twelve years, I have been extremely proud to have you as my Senator. Indeed, I have almost never felt the need to contact your office with gripes and concerns about policy, largely because every time I get worked up about something I look into it and find that you are almost always on the right side of the issue. This, indeed, is why I write to you today, hoping that you can help sound the alarm about some deeply troubling recent revelations about alleged “counterterrorism” briefings being given to FBI agents presently in the field.

Even from what little we already know, I can tell you that these briefings have come from some exceedingly dubious — indeed dangerous — sources: including, astonishingly, the openly Islamophobic blogger Robert Spencer (a favorite author of the right-wing Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik), and William Gawthrop.The details of these briefings are only coming to light thanks to the diligent reporting of Spencer Ackerman at WIRED magazine. Ackerman notes that Gawthrop had told the website WorldNetDaily, that in his opinion “Muhammad’s mindset is a source for terrorism”. WorldNetDaily, Ackerman says, “would later distinguish itself as a leader of the ‘birther’ movement.”
Continue reading Meanwhile, Back Home

If You See Something Say Something III

I am rather stuck on the fliegender Teppich in the NPD ad. I want to continue the link I made between Hans Schweitzer’s anti-Semitic cartoons and the NPD flying-carpet by focusing on this particular relationship between orientalism and anti-Semitism.

The 1926 Lotte Reiniger movie Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed was one of the first “animated” films and revolved around the story from 1001 Nights of Prince Ahmed and Pari Banu. 1001 Nights, properly entered Europe via Antoine Galland‘s French translation in the early years of the eighteenth century. Some of the tales, Sindbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin, found their ways into various other languages and became part of the Brother Grimm collection of children stories in the mid nineteenth century (perhaps through Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall‘s translation, but really, such texts were in relatively wide circulation as pamphlets, and small etchbooks). The flying carpet was in many of these tales, most prominently in Drei Prinzen und zwei Frauen (which features the adventures of Prince Ahmed, and Aladdin). The flying carpet – as the most potent symbol of Orient was seemingly everywhere in the late nineteenth century onwards. Nowadays, one can routinely see it in travel bureau ads as well as nice yogurt brands which transport you to other havens of delight.

The flying carpet in the NPD ad is more than an orientalizing gesture which evokes an image familiar to every German child (and subsequent adult). It is crucially the link between anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe and the Orient – for Johann Gottfried Herder, Jews were the “Asiatics of Europe”. The connection of Jews of Germany with the Orient was widespread in the nineteenth century Europe. Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791) was one key biblical exegete who commented extensively on the dangers facing Germany by the Oriental Jews:

As an expert on ancient Judaism, Michaelis also took an interest in contemporary Jewry. In a review of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Die Juden (1749), a drama that broke with tradition to present a Jew as a noble character, Michaelis complained that finding nobility of character in a Jew was utterly impossible. .. In his critique of Dohm’s proposals for Jewish emancipation in 1782, Michaelis stuck by his original views, claiming that both Judaism and the Jews’ character were incompatible with citizenship. Citing their moral corruption, proclivities toward crime, and the clannish nature of Judaism as insurmountable obstacles to integrating Jews into the modern state, he claimed that granting them rights would risk transforming Germany into a “defenseless, despicable Jewish state”.1

The solution for Michaelis lay in colonial expansion – specifically to the “southern” climate of the “sugar islands” which was suited to the “southern” Jew. The Orient of Michaelis as Jonathan Hess shows in his essay, “Johann David Michaelis and the Colonial Imaginary: Orientalism and the Emergence of Racial Antisemitism in Eighteenth-Century Germany” (2000) was never the Orient of Islam or Muslims – it was the Israelites and the Jews of his contemporary society. To access both that ancient past, and illuminate his current world, Michaelis sought to study the “contemporary Near East” as analogue. Such anachronism, as Said has argued, rest in the very bones of Orientalist formulation of knowledges. In the case of Michaelis, the contemporary travel accounts, the translation of Arabic epics, histories and poetry (as from Mosaic law). For Michaelis, the connection to folklore and children’s tales was another way of cementing his understanding Jewish danger. Hess notes that Michaelis also commissioned studies of Arabia Felix and the accounts were used by both Kant and Blumenbach in their anthropological writings. He further points out that Kant’s reliance on Arabian and Indian accounts for his racial classification in On the Various Races of Human Beings (1775). Blumenbach, while putting Jews and Arabs in the “caucasian” wrote, “The Jewish race .. can easily be recognized everywhere by their eyes alone, which breathe of the East“:

For Blumenbach, Jews mark an irreversible aberration from the original human variety that inhabited the southern slope of Mount Caucasus. Michaelis’s adaptation of this scenario similarly leaves no doubt as to the superiority of the “northern” Europeans over the “southern”race of the Jews. With its hegemony over the Orient secured in this manner, Christian Europe can safely lose all anxiety about the power and influence of its Oriental origins in religion and jurisprudence. In this way, racial theory secures for Michaelis precisely that which his Mosaisches Recht strove for: a vision of Europe as already de- Orientalized. Seeing the Jews as racial degenerates one might deport to German sugar islands does not merely envision Germany as a self-sufficient colonial power much like England or France; it also emancipates Christian Europe once and for all from the burdens of its Oriental heritage, allowing Michaelis’s northern European peers to gain complete ascendancy over their Oriental Jewish childhood.2

Such racializing of the Jews – look, again at that NPD poster – thus married the production of knowledge about the Orient with the political question of the “other” within. The fantasies of the Orient rendered onto the topography of France, Germany and England in the nineteenth century are hence most clearly visible in anti-Semitic writings of most great Enlightenment figures. I don’t want to go much further into Voltaire and the other founding figures of Enlightenment and their views on “tolerance” but it needs to be noted specifically for Germany that the popular play of Oriental tropes and the vilification of its own Jewish community went hand-in-hand. The Jews of Germany were simply not “volk” and you can check that with Fichte. In 1794, Saul Ascher who lived in Berlin and was a proponent of Jewish rights, wrote that Fichte’s writings were “a quite new species of opponents, armed with more dreadful weapons than their predecessors. If the Jewish nation had until now political and religious opponents, it is now moral antagonists who are arranged against them”3

The moral argument against Jews, the political argument against their participation in German military or society is now seen most clearly in the moral and political arguments against the Turks, and against Islam. In deadly comparison to the nineteenth century, the tropes of the Orientalized other – the beaked nose, the veil, the black-face – both familiarizes the sight and the hatred in the German viewer. The viewer has no need to confront the knowledge that contemporary German society is irrevocably tied to production of its “immigrant” community or that the state is working breathlessly to argue for more “ausländer” to come to Germany to teach, to work, to live.

The flying carpet is not a simple gesture of the Europe’s Orient. It is a gesture linking the history of anti-Semitism and imperialism and racial theorization in Germany with the present day Turkish and Arab Muslims. It provides one window on processes such as which Said called “orientalism” but which focused on Christianity’s relationship to Judaism and Germany’s political relationship to its Jewish population. The Orientalism that manifests itself in today’s hatred against Arabs, Turks and Islam is, I would argue, a culmination of both these strands of Orientalism – the gaze outwards and the “trouble” inwards. The history of Jews, along with the Roma and the homosexual, in Germany is then precisely the framework in which we need to place this xenophobia and Islamophobia.

———
  1. Jonathan M. Hess, “Johann David Michaelis”, in Richard S. Levy, ed., Antisemitism: a historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution (2005): 458 []
  2. ibid., p. 91 []
  3. quoted in Paul R. Sweet, “Fichte and the Jews: A Case of Tension between Civil Rights and Human Rights”, German Studies Review, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), pp. 37-48 []

If You See Something, Say Something II

Ich bin ein Ausländer doch Berlin ist mein zu Hause
meine Heimat meine stadt hier kriegst du auch mal auf die Schnauze
– Alpa Gun

There is a recessed walkway leading up to the side entrance of a building which bears the plaque that Albert Einstein worked here after moving to Berlin in 1914. Ehrenbergstraße 33 was also his first residence in Berlin from March until November 1914 – following his divorce he moved to the hip part of town near Fehrbelliner Platz in Wilmersdorf. He probably walked or biked up Briennerstraße 9, on his way to work, where the Ahmadis built the first mosque in 1928. I am sure he noticed a mosque going up within a five minute walk from his residence. His third residence in Berlin was in Schöneberg near Bayerisher Platz. These three residential areas – Dahlem, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg – had a significant Jewish population. The plaque noticed that Einstein never returned to Germany after leaving on a trip to the United States in 1932. Before he left, he would have seen the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda rags of Goebbles in Berlin – Gau Berlin and Der Angriff – which operated precisely during the time that the party was banned in Berlin. In the pages of Der Angriff were the anti-Semitic cartoons of Hans Schweitzer.

My office is just a five minute walk from Ehrenbergstraße. I used to live two minutes from Fehrbelliner pltz and I live now, very near Bayerisher. As I noted in my earlier post, these are the very areas in which anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim posters have appeared. Today, I saw scores more – this time for the NPD party (Security, Rights, Order):

Photo on 9-14-11 at 10.47 AM

Have a nice flight home. Here is a better version so that you can see the cartoon – “a Turk”, a hijabi woman and “an African”.


Continue reading If You See Something, Say Something II

The end is coming soon


The wind blows cold outside your door/it whispers words I’ve tried before
But you don’t hear me anymore/your pride’s just too demanding
The end is coming soon, it’s plain/a warm bed just ain’t worth the pain
- Tower Song, Townes van Zandt

Two things I know about Houston – my Babu hails from that town and is known to cheer for the Astros. And that Townes Van Zandt came from Houston. Ok, I guess, I listened to some DJ Screw a while ago. And I remember that thing w/ Two Gallants. But seriously, that is absolutely it.

I am eager, very eager, to remedy this.

I will be giving a talk next Monday at Rice University – on the topic of Prophecy and end times and Pakistan. Do come and say hi!

Talk in Houston

Prepositional Phrases

When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism;it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”  Halford E. Luccock, Keeping Life Out of Confusion

Before

Times were good for many Americans—or, at least, times were good if appearances were to be believed. Even some of our sharper minds were deluded. After stapling the 1960’s and 1980’s in place with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities, journalist-by-novel Tom Wolfe addressed the impending aughts with the historically inapt essay, What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World, from Hooking Up.

Wolfe employs a Proletarian air-conditioning “mechanic” as everyAmerican—the sort of character David Brooks would later clothe in madras shorts and pop-neurology for the purpose of contriving New Yorker columns explaining his we to us. Wolfe’s pen is nimbler than Brooks’ iPad, but An American’s World still suffers from Ozymandian conceits, exemplified by messes like:

…[H]is own country, the United States, was now the mightiest power on earth, as omnipotent as Macedon under Alexander the Great, Rome under Julius Caesar, Mongolia under Genghis Khan, Turkey under Mohammed II, or Britain under Queen Victoria. His country was so powerful, it had begun to invade or rain missiles upon small nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for no other reason than that their leaders were lording it over their subjects at home…

Which was true, far as it went. Everyone was getting mad-rich and feeling tres sexy, thank you very much—we told ourselves, and we believed us when we heard: these are the good old days. Yet, as Wolfe’s mechanic cavorts in St. Kitts among the ruins of Marxism, one detects a whiff of regret among the words, as though the writer is struggling to find a narrative peg on which he might hang a complaint:

…[I]t was standard practice for the successful chief executive officer of a corporation to shuck his wife of two to three decades’ standing for the simple reason that her subcutaneous packing was deteriorating, her shoulders and upper back were thickening like a shot-putter’s—in short, she was no longer sexy… the [new wife] and her big CEO catch were invited to all the parties, as though nothing had happened.

Many of us had similar misgivings at the time, I think. I remember scholar, blogger and writer Paul Kerschen giving a first-listen report on Radiohead’s 2000 release, Kid A that folded the nameless nagging into useful context: “It’s like two hours,” he said, “—an excellent two hours, understand, but two hours—of rain drizzling on the rusted shroud of a semi-functional HVAC unit. Things are not OK.”
Continue reading Prepositional Phrases

A Jaundiced Eye

Jacob Silverman, Where the Wild Frontiers Are: America comes up short in South Asia, Sep 2, 2011, The National:

A worthwhile political blogger doesn’t have to always be right, but he or she should be able to remain sober in the emotional maelstrom of politics or amidst national trauma. Ahmed repeatedly does this, particularly when he summarises the problems with the commentary appearing after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. “There is never a hint of any legislative or political legacy, any economic or social accomplishment,” he writes. “She is being remembered for who she was.” Potentially unpopular, this analysis is also shrewd and penetratingly precise. Our world could use more of it.

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There will be an “official launch” of the book in NYC on the 26th of Sep. Details soon. Everyone is invited.