False Dichotomies


Archive for May, 2011

Almost Ready

There won’t be many updates this week, as I’m getting everything ready for my trip to India (via the Balkans). Once I hit the road, you can expect plenty of updates. In the meantime, you can check out the Highbury Gaon on David Lynch’s love of Lodz, and Benjamin on the Heretic and the Philosopher.

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Against Intactivism

Anti-circumcision activists, also known as ‘intactivists’, are celebrating on the west coast. In November, San Francisco residents will consider a proposal to ban the circumcision of male children. If the measure passes, circumcision will be banned among males under the age of 18, and will be punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to one year in jail. There will be no religious exemptions.

The bill has a minuscule chance of passing, but the intactivist movement should be taken seriously, for their arguments represent a particularly egregious form of liberalism, one that runs counter to pluralist values, and encourages a conformism that is more typical of totalitarian societies (it is no coincidence that circumcision for religious reasons, and infant baptism, was outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1924) than multicultural democracies. Read more


Favourite 30 Albums (Non Hip-Hop)

Favourite 30 Hip-Hop Albums here
30. Arab Strap – The Last RomanceFor its Kinsleyan sexuality and strident longings
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On Palestinian Non-Violence

On a windy and rainy Friday last autumn, I participated in a Combatants for Peace protest in the northern West Bank, not far from Nablus. The aim was to help local villagers plant trees in an area that had previously been the target of settler attacks. Like all other Combatants for Peace actions, this was unarmed and non-violent (I hope the reason for this tautology will become apparent in the next paragraph). Unfortunately, violence broke out between some local teenagers and the IDF. Stones and tear-gas canisters were soon being swapped between the two (I would not be able to state with any confidence which group used violence first). Before long, some settlers approached, and one or two fired their guns into the air. CFP’s response was unequivocal: the demonstration was called off, and we all withdrew. After buying us knafeh at a local cafe, representatives from the village apologised for the descent into violence.

As Billy Bragg sang, “The only way to disarm is to disarm.” Non-violence means non-violence. Unarmed means unarmed. If you hurl stones, however pathetic and ineffective you claim them to be, you are armed. A protest where people throw stones is not an unarmed protest. This was my argument earlier this week in a Twitfight with Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who spends much of his time chronicling the protest movement in West Bank villages that have had their land stolen by the Separation Barrier. This is how Dana describes the protests at places like Bilin and Nabi Saleh: “I go to demos on a regular basis. Sometimes they are violent with stones and sometimes they are non-violent without stones. Always unarmed. To my suggestion that someone with a stone could be considered armed, he replied: “If you think a stone in the face of the world’s 4th strongest army is considered ‘armed’ having an honest discussion is out of the question.” Read more


Ain’t No Best

“Ain’t no best,” Nas says, weighing in on the question of who’s the greatest rapper of all time. It’s a truism, of course, and one worth remembering when thinking about the soap opera provided by contemporary literary awards. 

The latest literary prize to cause controversy is the awarding of the 2011 International Man Booker (awarded bi-annually to a writer for their collective body of work, as opposed to the single novel award of the Commonwealth-based Booker Prize) to America’s finest, Philip Roth. Following the decision, author and publisher Carmen Callil withdrew from the judging panel, arguing that “he [Roth] goes on and on about the same subject in almost every book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.” The first charge seems rather banal, and could be levelled at most great authors, while the second seems to be a back-handed compliment, one that recalls the famous face-fuck scene in The Dying Animal. Finally Callil asks, “in 20 years time will anyone read him?” as if this is the sole measure of greatness. Taken together, it makes her seem rather churlish – with the decision taken collectively, there was always a possibility that she would be disappointed with the decision. But controversy sells, and literary prizes need all the publicity they can get. Read more

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What India can Teach Israel

“What Israel lacks, though, is a robust culture of pluralism, and it is this that India has in abundance. During my first visit to India, in the summer of 2008, I was struck by the country’s religious diversity. I hiked with Sikhs to the pilgrimage site of Hemkund, sat with Muslims at the 13th century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya’s shrine in Delhi, and walked with Hindus through the famous temple town of Khajuraho. This diversity characterises the entire country, whether it be the language, the food or the literature. Even though the majority of Indians are Hindus, the way each group practices their religion is remarkably diverse and pluralistic – and all this in a country with a robustly secular constitution.” Read the rest over at Common Ground News Service


The boycott of Israel is a campaign of elimination

Greens Engage pick up the baton.


Then one day we’ll all be the same

The Kallash are a 3,000-strong animist tribe that live in a remote valley in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, in the northwest of Pakistan. According to myth (but not the DNA), they are descendants of Alexander the Great. They are connected to the nearest town by the nine kilometre long Lowari tunnel. This makes it easier to get supplies in during the harsh winters, and has allowed them to strengthen their education system (they have only recently put their language into written form for the first time), but it has also exposed them to those who want them to convert to Islam, a threat that has increased since the rise of the Taliban.

In a comment on my piece, ‘The World is What it Is’, Joseph writes: “When I see people breaking across borders and implementing their freedom of movement, my heart lifts, be it in Spain, Mexico, Britain or Israel. I recognise that borders exist, just that I recognise that neo-liberalism exists. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and change things.” For Joseph, the border is an obstacle to the spread of progressive politics, and is used to maintain artificially constructed divisions between peoples. For this reason, any attempt to break down borders is to be encouraged. Read more


The World is What it Is

In just over a month’s time I hope to be in Kashmir. Specifically, I’ll be in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. There’s also the Pakistani-administered Gilgit-Baltistan and the Azad Kashmir provinces, and the Chinese-administered regions of Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract. The Indian and Pakistani areas are divided by the Line of Control, which was the staging post for insurgents during the bitter conflict that flared up during the 1990s. If I try and cross the Line of Control, I am likely to be shot by Pakistani soldiers. If I bring a Kashmiri from south of the Line of Control, in order to help him go and see his ancestral home of Muzaffarabad, I am still likely to be shot by Pakistani soldiers. If I bring hundreds of people with me, my chances of being shot by Pakistani soldiers will increase exponentially. And if I were to do that, who do you think my mother would blame? A clue: it wouldn’t be the Pakistani soldiers. Read more


The Myth of BDS Universalism

One of the many lies told by supporters of the BDS movement is that their solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is absolutely uncontroversial, and that they are merely in favour of guaranteeing that international norms are observed. In a recent article, Omar Barghouti picks up on this theme, suggesting that those who point out that BDS threatens the “existence” of Israel are attempting “to muddy the waters and to push beyond the pale of legitimate debate the mere statement of facts about and analysis of Israel’s occupation, denial of refugee rights, and institutionalized system of racial discrimination, which basically fits the UN definition of apartheid.” Read more


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