Sabeen was always a woman made of different stuff

Kamila Shamsie writes about her lifelong friend Sabeen Mahmud.

“Be careful,” I said to my childhood friend Sabeen Mahmud when I saw her in London in 2013, soon after she’d received a death threat – neither the first nor last. “Someone has to fight them,” she replied.

Sabeen was always a woman made of different stuff, thanks in large measure to the two great influences of her life: her mother, Mahnaz (shot twice during the attack), from whom she inherited her socialist tendencies, and her friend and mentor Zaheer Kidvai (Zak) who introduced her to the idea of counterculture, via everything from Abbie Hoffman to revolutionary Urdu poets. While most of us at our elite school in Karachi lived in a fairly apolitical bubble, Sabeen was developing class-consciousness and identifying political heroes. Post-university, when most of her schoolfriends were choosing not to return to an increasingly embattled city, she decided to take another approach. [Read more…]

Guest post: We have a long way to go to raze the house that slavery built

Originally a comment by freedmenspatrol on Very much a part of many white Southerners’ identity.

For quite some time, white Southerners actually refused to observe the national Memorial Day. In various places they also didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July. Not so many wave the flag or the other totems as have done in past generations, but plenty of white Americans still do. It’s worked deep into how the culture operates, inside and outside the South. The Second Klan controlled Indiana and Oregon for a while. White Northerners could be absolutely vicious even when they had slavery around for contrast, passing laws excluding black Americans from even living in entire states and demanding those present leave. [Read more…]

“The narrative of white Europeans being killed by Muslim extremists”

The CBC talked to Francine Prose about her hostility to Charlie Hebdo today.

Prose tells As It Happens host Carol Off that despite her objections, she supports the magazine’s right to free speech.

“Free speech is indivisible. If you believe in free speech you believe in any sort of free speech — that you can say anything you want. And that’s absolutely what I believe in and I would include in that everything Charlie Hebdo has done.”

But she says that doesn’t mean Charlie Hebdo deserves the award.

No, it doesn’t; she’s right about that much. They are two separate things.

“We defend the right of neo-nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois but that doesn’t mean we give them an award.”

I’m not even sure I do defend the right of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, because that’s direct intimidation. I’ve always had reservations about that. [Read more…]

Very much a part of many white Southerners’ identity

There’s such a thing as Confederate Memorial Day. I did not know that. It’s today in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Woohoo. Is there also a Hooray for Slavery Day? A Glorify Racism Day? A Steal Other People’s Labor Day?

Alabama closes its government offices today in observance of Confederate Memorial Day, along with Mississippi and Georgia. On May 10, South Carolina government offices will close in observance of the state holiday.

Of the 11 Southern states that made up the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, few agreed on what date was best for remembrance once the war officially ended in 1865.

[Read more…]

Satire is, by definition, disrespectful

Suzanne Nossel’s reply to Deborah Eisenberg, also in Glenn Greenwald’s collection, is very elucidating.

We believe that honoring Charlie Hebdo affords us an opportunity to inflect global opinion on an issue of longstanding concern to PEN and to free expression advocates worldwide, including many in the Muslim world: namely, efforts to devalue, ban, or punish acts deemed to constitute the defamation of religion. Such assaults come both from governments and from vigilantes, and they are not acceptable in either context.

That pulls a little against some of the other things she says, which are on the “speech all speech no matter what the content” side. This is saying that it’s not just a matter of all speech no matter what the content; that the particulars matter. I agree with that. Suppose instead of Charlie Hebdo we had writers for a hardline Catholic magazine, one funded by the Catholic League for instance, or the Iona Institute. I wouldn’t want to see them get a PEN award. The Catholic League doesn’t believe in free speech, just for one thing, while Charlie Hebdo emphatically does. The Catholic League doesn’t believe in freedom itself, except in the very strained sense of freedom for popes and bishops to control everyone else including non-Catholics. [Read more…]

Guest post: The Mancunian Way

Guest post by Al Lee.

The long and fascinating history of Manchester is punctuated by moments of important scientific, technological and industrial advance, as well as radical socialist thought and revolutionary action. Engels wrote about the “grim future of capitalism and the industrial age” when viewing the dark slums and working class conditions in the city. But without those bleak and hard days of the textile-driven, inchoate Industrial Revolution, we would not have the vibrant and independent city that we know today. The grim, mill-strewn, industrial landscapes of the city’s environs were depicted by L. S. Lowry and later mirrored in the sparse, hard-edged music of Manchester band Joy Division, and the Northern sardonic wit and desolate ordinariness of the people reflected in the words of Stephen Patrick Morrissey, all artists in many ways, being true to their own working class origins.

The city and its denizens have their own unique sense of irresponsible style and language, in a similar way, as does its great rival from 38 miles away, Liverpool. A reluctance or downright refusal to conform to the ideals and ideas of the rest of the country, London notably, have driven the city and its peoples to purposefully think and act differently to the rest of society throughout recent history. The important figure of Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was born in Moss Side, Manchester. She was an English political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. There is a history here, for sure.

The more clued-up and cool supporters of the red side of the football-supporting community renamed the place, only in half-jest, ‘The Republic of Mancunia’. A working class nod and a wink, no doubt, to the history of independent, socialist thought and perhaps even the early Northern Co-operative workers’ movements.

With true genius comes real pain and anguish. Inseparable and clashing bedfellows, the two extremes have helped to drive the great minds of troubled, technological titans such as Alan Turing, who worked for many years at the University of Manchester, and was instrumental in birthing the nascent functions of the modern programmable computer, without which I would not be able to type this piece… or you to read it for that matter.
[Read more…]

Say no to the assassin’s veto

From PEN: Rejecting the Assassin’s Veto.

The “assassin’s veto” over speech has become a global phenomenon in recent years and, even more vividly, in recent months, when we’ve seen killings not just in Paris but also in Copenhagen and Bangladesh. Reflecting the intensification of violent intolerance for speech considered offensive by some, former PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie has commented that while he would write The Satanic Verses again today, he does not believe that he would survive the reprisals in this era.

Charlie Hebdo has positioned itself in the firing line of this battle, refusing to accept the curtailment of lawful speech by those who meet it with violence. It is undoubtedly true that in addition to provoking violent threats from extremists, the Hebdo cartoons offended some other Muslims and members of the many other groups they targeted. Indeed, were the Hebdo cartoonists not satirical in their genesis and intent, their content and images might offend most or all of us. But, based on their own statements, we believe that Charlie Hebdo’s intent was not to ostracize or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits—no matter the purpose, intent, or import of the expression.

And ask yourselves: who is ultimately most harmed by the efforts of a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits? We’re not. It’s the people who are most subject to the power that those extremists (aka murderers) are enforcing who are most harmed. Muslims are marginalized in Europe but at the same time Islam is a powerful religion, and way too many people are crushed and maimed by that power.

Joyce Carol Oates joins the pissing contest

Joyce Carol Oates is another useful idiot. That doesn’t perturb me as much as for instance Prose, because I have never liked Oates’s writing, to put it mildly.

The useful idiocy:

Deborah Solomon ‏@deborahsolo 16 hours ago
Thank you, @PENAmerican, for honoring #CharlieHebdo & not bowing to the pressures of literary correctness.

Joyce Carol Oates ‏@JoyceCarolOates 4 hours ago
@deborahsolo @PENamerican It is a very delicate issue to honor “freedom of expression” without seeming to endorse seeming “hate speech.”

I wonder what the scare quotes are for. If Oates doesn’t think it is hate speech, then what is she talking about?

Joyce Carol Oates‏@JoyceCarolOates
@deborahsolo @PENamerican Have you actually seen these “satirical” images? If they were of Jews would be “anti-Semitism.” No?

Daniel Mendelsohn ‏@DMendelsohn1960 3 hours ago
@deborahsolo @JoyceCarolOates but the cultural context is quite different in France. Surely that is a factor?

Joyce Carol Oates ‏@JoyceCarolOates 2 hours ago
@deborahsolo That may be. But you would not give “Mein Kampf” a National Book Award if you were a judge–right?

Oh dear god – she compared Charlie Hebdo to Mein Kampf.

Ike Aramba ‏@shmarxism 1 hour ago
@JoyceCarolOates @deborahsolo One of the CH journalists was murdered for being Jewish – now you’re comparing it to “Mein Kampf”.


Deborah Eisenberg gets Charlie Hebdo all wrong

Glenn Greenwald is collecting

the key documents giving rise to the controversy that has erupted inside PEN America over the award the group is bestowing on Charlie Hebdo.

He starts with an email from Deborah Eisenberg to PEN’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel on March 26.

What a wonderful thing to give an award to some person or institution that courageously exemplifies freedom of expression – and how entirely in keeping with the objectives of PEN. But as a member, up until now anyhow, of PEN, I would like to express myself freely on PEN’s decision to confer the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. [Read more…]

Six writers in search of a clue

You have got to be kidding.

The New York Times reports:

The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

It’s one of those cases where there wouldn’t be a “debate” if so many people weren’t industriously getting everything wrong.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on Jan. 7 and missed the attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people, are scheduled to accept the award.

[Read more…]