Category Archives: Books and Book Reviews

More Weekend Reading: New Democratiya (15/Winter 2008)

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[Just a few selections. Check it all out here.]

Terry Glavin: Afghanistan: A Choice of Comrades

Irfan Khawaja: Rethinking Afghanistan: Reading Sarah Chayes

Progress: Progressive Multilateralism White Paper

Maajid Nawaz: Countering Violent Islamist Extremism

Maryam Namazie et al.: One Law for All: The Campaign against Sharia

Fred Siegel: On Bernard-Henri Lévy on the ‘Right-Wing Left’

Gabriel Noah Brahm: The Concept of the ‘Post-Left’: a Defense

Lyn Julius: On Weinstock on Dhimmitude and the Jews

Inna Tysoe: Inside the ‘Israel Lobby’

Sidney Hook: Archive: Heresy, Yes – But Conspiracy, No

Anti-Zionist Pens Encyclopedia Chapter on Zionism

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[H/t to A.L.]

Encyclopedia entries are at the bottom of the academic publishing market. Lacking the prestige of peer reviewed journals, editors and publishers are lucky to find skilled professionals willing to take the time to write an entry. Occasionally they will settle for whoever they can find. This appears to be the case when the editors of the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism decided Noel Ignatiev would make a fine choice for the chapter on Zionism. (See: AJC Calls on Publisher to Retract Zionism Chapter in Encyclopedia).

Ignatiev is a controversial American Historian who seeks to “abolish the white race.” Setting aside his notable lack of scholarship in the fields of European History, Middle Eastern History, or Jewish History, it is surprising the editors did not realize he is a partisan anti-Zionist who simply parrots the lies and distortions of the radical left milieu he is enmeshed in. You can read a pdf of the chapter here. Take a look at the sources (Norman Finkelstein, Lenni Brenner, etc.).

I recently finished reading Ruth Wisse’s “Forgetting Zion” in the recent Commentary and thought of this passage:

From the very beginning, what set Zionism apart from other national-liberation movements was its nemesis: anti-Zionism. Unlike every other new member state of the United Nations, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Israel, from birth, had been denied its national legitimacy.

Campus based anti-Zionists are a continuation of that legacy.

ADDED:

ZWord has an excellent post on this issue here:

Some of you will be wondering who Ignatiev is. I first came across Ignatiev’s name a few years ago, when the antisemitic writer who uses the name “Israel Shamir” referred to him as “our good friend.” Lest I be accused of damning by association, I should point out that Shamir and Ignatiev appear to have their disagreements, although these will be barely intelligible to those not familiar with the obscurantist doctrines they represent.

What strikes me is that Ignatiev, like Shamir, is a provocateur and a propagandist who relentlessly pushes themes shared by far left and far right alike. He makes statements like this one: “Osama bin Laden was no more than telling the truth when he said that the Muslim world is facing an alliance of Zionists and Crusaders.” And this one, from the same article: “Is one permitted to say above the level of a whisper that U.S. policy toward Israel has something to do with Jewish influence in the US?”

So why, then, is he writing for this encyclopedia? An encyclopedia is not, say, Counterpunch, the frequently antisemitic online magazine which Ignatiev has also contributed to, or Race Traitor, the strange online journal he started. One turns to an encyclopedia for an overview, a dispassionate account of the development of a particular subject, a summation of its key controversies. “The purpose of an encyclopedia,” wrote the French philosopher Diderot, who devoted himself to assembling the great work of the French Enlightenment called the Encyclopédie, “is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe.”

Judged by this yardstick, Ignatiev’s effort falls woefully short. Imagine a creationist writing about evolution and you will have some sense of the crackling errors and ugly distortions which litter the text. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Zionism entry was noticed by several academics and that it was brought to the attention of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the organization which sponsors Z Word.

Solomonia posted about this as well.

New Democratiya (14/Autumn 2008) Available Now

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14 / Autumn 2008

Editor’s Page

Letters to the Editor

Michael Walzer
Robert Reich
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Mark Major
David Lowe
Ben Gidley
David Miliband
Eric Lee
Martin Shaw
David Clark
Elizabeth Porter
Martin Shaw/David Hirsh
Max Dunbar
Tom Gallagher
Eric B. Litwack
Lawrence J. Haas
Cathy Lowy
Gary Kent
David R. Adler
Kevin Higgins
Michael Weiss
Denis Healey

Interview with Robert Reich / Supercapitalism: A Critique

University of Michigan Cuts Ties with Crackpot Press

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[H/t Solomonia]

This is a bit dated (last month) from Inside HigherEd:

In September, the University of Michigan Press faced intense criticism from pro-Israel groups — and questions from some regents — over its distribution of a book called Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the “one state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country, without a Jewish character. Michigan wasn’t the publisher, but it distributed the book under a deal with Pluto Press, a leftist British publisher with extensive lists on the Middle East and international affairs.

Some critics of the book demanded that Michigan stop distributing the book, which it briefly did, and cut ties to Pluto immediately. The university declined to do so, and resumed distributing the book, citing both contractual obligations to Pluto and concerns that halting distribution because of content would raise issues of academic freedom. By the end of this year, however, Michigan will no longer be distributing the book or have any ties to Pluto Press.

[read it all]

In the comments below one finds the following:

“Shame on zionists for seeking to suppress views they disagrees with. What next: book burnings? Shame on the University of Michigan Press for caving into this pressure.”

“This is a good example of how much muscle the Israeli Lobby has in the US. The U of Michigan should be ashamed to cave in to the unjustified bantering of the Israeli groups who seek to control American thought and policy.”

“What conspiracy? The right wing Zionist lobby targeted the University of Michigan and applied enough pressure to force them to sever ties to Pluto. No conspiracy — it’s a transparent fact, and a chilling one. Attention all university presses: if you publish or even distribute anything critical of Israel, you will be treated the same way.”

This was my favorite:

“No one should demand that outside groups meet the same academic standards as the university.”

Ivanhoe nails it:

“You guys are pathetic, just pathetic. If the U. Michigan had been discovered to be distributing, exclusively and without review, thirty or so right wing books that bashed the Palestinians, denied their claims to a state, attacked and mischaracterized Islam and talked about the great worldwide conspiracy of terrorists, every single one of you so called “free speech” advocates would have been marching in the street to kill it.

And what would your argument have been? That the books are political, non-academic and polemical, and occasionally racist. Or, put another way, exactly what Pluto Press books are.”

Other titles published by Pluto include:

Jewish History, Jewish Religion by Israel Shahak. Forewords by Gore Vidal, Edward Said, Norton Mezvinsky and Ilan Pappe.

Israel’s Vicious Circle by Uri Avnery

Israel and the Clash of Civilizations by Jeff Halper

You get the picture…

David Castle, Commissioning Editor, Pluto Press has this to say:

The reason that Kovel’s argument is so controversial is not for any scholarly reason – the reason is purely political. The pro-Israel lobby is an extremely powerful force in US politics – highly organised, very well funded, with influence in the heart of government – and through persuasion, chastisement and not a little bullying, the lobby has managed to establish in many people’s minds that criticism of Israel and Zionism is no less than anti-Semitism – that is to say, that criticism of the actions of a state and a political ideology is equivalent to an attack and denigration of a whole people…

In the face of the controversy surrounding Overcoming Zionism, a group of scholars, campaigners and lawyers have established the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, which aims to defend the principle of free speech on debate over Israel. The Committee asks for your support – you can find them at www.codz.org.

You can email him at: davidc@plutobooks.com

Justice Illuminated: The Art of Arthur Szyk

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[H/t Mom]

I received a copy of Justice Illuminated: The Art of Arthur Szyk in the mail yesterday. Most readers are probably familiar with Szyk’s art. I posted the “Four Sons” image from his illuminated Haggadah earlier this year.

As I mentioned in that post, a problem common to much political art is the political content takes precedent over the quality of the drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. Szyk, by contrast, is a political artist who is truly a master. His biography is incredibly interesting as well. Born in Lodz, Poland (1894) and expelled from high school for producing anti-Czarist, pro-Zionist sketches, Szyk went on to study art in Paris, Krakow and Palestine. He fought in the Russian Army during World War I (1914) and as an anti-Bolshevik guerilla during the Polish-Bolshevik War (1921). He also served as Artistic Director of the Department of Propaganda for the Polish Army from 1919-1920. For Szyk, the ideal type of modern Jew is a warrior who fights for his dignity and for that of others.

Szyk was an early anti-fascist and his caricatures of Axis leaders in Collier’s, Coronet, and other magazines are perhaps his best known work besides the Haggadah. Eleanor Roosevelt termed him “ a one-man army” against fascism. Examples below:

Szyk believed in the promise of the American Dream and celebrated America’s gift of Liberty to the world writing, “In America, I have found the home I always searched for. Here I can speak of what my soul feels. There is no other place on earth that gives the freedom, liberty and justice that America does.”

At the same time, he recognized this country’s faults (racism, injustice) and supported the civil-rights movement and the labor movement.

Szyk was a dedicated Zionist. Gad Nahshon (Jewish Post) writes, “Szyk and his wife, Julia, served the Irgun with love and dedication. He fought for justice with Peter Bergson, Ben-Hecht, Shmuel Merlin, Yitshag Ben Ami, Harry Selden, Stella Adler and Eri Jabotinsky, to name a few.” Despite his obvious dedication to the Jewish people and state, the revisionist strain of Zionism which motivated Szyk and his strong advocacy of the Irgun may explain why his work has never been exhibited in Israel.

In another sad irony, Szyk, a life-long anti-communist, was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for his supposed relations with a group affiliated with the Communist Party. Friends and close associates feel the disillusionment he experienced from this event led to his death by heart-failure in 1951.

The image below compares the ships bringing Jewish refugees to Israel to the Mayflower.

If you have never seen his work, it is fantastic. These digital images do not capture the vibrancy of his color palette but you can at least get an idea. This last image is Hillel:

Cuban Independent Libraries Need Your Help

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[h/t to Friends of Cuban Libraries]

The 2008 annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA) begins this week in Anaheim, California. Three members of the ALA Council, Barbara Silverman, Shixing Wen and Cristina Ramirez, have introduced a resolution condemning the persecution of Cuba’s independent library movement and calling for the release of imprisoned librarians. The resolution also takes note of the burning of confiscated library books in Cuba and demands that surviving books be returned to their lawful owners.

While support for this resolution should be unanimous among those dedicated to freedom of thought and expression, there is an organized pro-Castro faction within the ALA. This group denies the existence of censorship, library persecution and book burning in Cuba.

As is often the case the majority is in the middle and uninformed about the specifics. ALA Councilors are unaware of Cuba’s grim reality and receive much of their information from biased committees dominated by the pro-Castro faction, with results that could be expected.

But thanks to the new resolution on the ALA Council’s agenda, now is the time to change ALA policy. Ms. Silverman, Mr. Wen and Ms. Ramirez are being attacked for daring to speak the truth about Cuba. We need to let them know how much we appreciate their principled support for intellectual freedom and justice. They need our encouragement in standing up for truth and freedom.

ACTION NEEDED… PLEASE ACT IMMEDIATELY TO SEND MESSAGES OF SUPPORT TO:

Barbara Silverman (kidzread@aol.com)

Shixing Wen (shwen@umich.edu)

Cristina Ramirez (cdramirez@vcu.edu).

You don’t need to be an ALA member, a librarian or a U.S. citizen to make your voice heard on this crucial issue.

Every message counts. Your message can be short or long, but the main thing is that you send a message today! And please express support for the principle of intellectual freedom, avoiding any language that could be regarded as “political.”

Among the points you can make in your messages are:

* The issue of library repression in Cuba is a matter of principle, not politics
* Express thanks for their defense of jailed library workers who cannot defend themselves
* The ALA has a duty to speak out against book burning wherever it takes place

Free Markets and Food Riots Redux

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In a previous life (1990s) I studied the political-economy of development with an emphasis in the Indian subcontinent, in particular India and Nepal. I traveled to India in 1993 when the market was first opening to Foreign Direct Investment. Like the rest of my cohort I was extremely skeptical of “globalization” or capitalism in general. One book that had an impact on me at this time was Seldon and Walton’s, Free Markets and Food Riots: The Politics of Global Adjustment. The basic thesis is as follows:

In numerous countries in the global South, from the Middle East to Latin America, shock treatment in the form of structural adjustment, privatization, and so on established the conditions for “IMF Riots.” In the Middle East alone, major austerity protests occurred in Algeria (1987, 1988, 1990); Egypt (1977, 1986, 1987, 1989); Jordan (1989); Lebanon (1987); and Turkey (1978-1979, 1980, 1990). Sedden and Walton argue these outbursts were analogous to the “bread riots” in eighteenth-century Europe and “part of the process of international economic and political restructuring” that swept the globe from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Countries that pursued a more moderate course of economic liberalization (e.g. Mexico) experienced less unrest.

There were food riots in over thirty countries last week but the economic forces at play in 2007 are not the same as those in the 1990s. The reasons given for the current food crisis include:

1) Increasing oil prices. Oil is critical for agricultural production whether as gas in tractors or as a primary component of pesticides, etc.

2) Drought/Climate change. For example, Australia, a major wheat producer, has been experiencing drought for a decade.

3) Demand for biofuel. The NY Sun reports, an estimated 30% of America’s corn crop is now used for fuel instead of food.

4) The booming economies of India and China. Both countries are consuming more energy than in the past. And an increasing middle-class in both countries means that their food consumption patterns are changing. They want to eat more animal protein, especially in China. Today, China purchases 2/3 of Brazil’s soybean crop to feed animals.

Given that so many factors are contributing to these high food prices, what can be done to remedy the situation? The first thing Western nations can do is assist in situations of food emergency. We also need to cut subsidies to agribusiness. The United States and Western Europe should be ashamed that we tell poor countries to open their markets and cut subsidies (Haiti imports 90% of its food) while providing massive aid to our ADM and other mega-producers.

Meanwhile, back here in the U.S. Costco and other retailers are rationing the amounts of rice, flour and cooking oil they are selling to customers. Foreigners and immigrants are buying large quantities of grain and other foodstuffs to ship back home to their relatives in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. The dollar is weak and is buying less food overseas these days so they are asking for direct shipments of food instead. Yet as my wife pointed out to me, a lot of these packages will likely not make it to the families and loved ones they are intended to reach as the civil services in many of these countries (including the postal service) are rife with graft and other forms of corruption.

Read More:

AP: UN food agency needs hundreds of millions of hungy

Commodity Online: Food crisis is a silent tsunami

Foreign Policy: Seven Questions, the Silent Tsunami

The Hindu: UN food agency warms of eroding capacity

Seattle PI: A food disaster is brewing

Washington Post: U.S. Scrambles to Address International Food Crisis

Tag, I’m It

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I’m not much for these tag games, but I like the Contentious Centrist so I will comply and shut up…

Here are my tasks:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I’m tagging Elder of Ziyon, the Kvetcher, Modernity Blog, Ben Neill, and Sultan Knish.

Not sure if they will all respond but what the hay.

The nearest book to me is George Nash’s, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945. It’s the last required book in my course on twentieth century American history. The class also read Lizabeth Cohen’s Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 and Van Gosse’s Movements of the New Left, 1950-1975: A Brief History with Documents, among other things.

Here is the quote:

The leaders of the new conservatism are not now, nor will they be, identified with the American business community. They are clearly identified with natural law philosophy and revealed religion. The seat of the new conservatism is not a hereditary aristocracy which America lacks, but the Churches and theological faculties which are playing an ever more important role in American life.

This is from conservative historian Stephen Tonsor of the University of Michigan, who was vigorously rebutting Schlesinger’s persistent attempts to link conservatism with the business class in the U.S. This quote is from 1955.

Democratiya: Spring 2008 and New Book

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12 / Spring 2008

Editor’s Page

Letters to the Editor

The Editors
Simon Cottee
A.Markovits/G.Brahm
David Zarnett
David Miliband
Michael Weiss
Juliet O’Keefe
Donna Robinson Divine
Zora Hesová
Rayyan Al-Shawaf
Barry Rubin
Matthew Omolesky
Jeffrey Herf
Evan Daniel
Thomas Hale
SSG Johnny Meyer
Guberman/Muravchik
Tom Kahn
Robin Simcox

Interview with Gina Khan / Muslim Women vs. Islamism

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This book collects together a fascinating series of rich conversations about the dilemmas of progressive foreign policy after 9/11. (Interviews with Paul Berman, Ladan Boroumand, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David Held, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Mary Kaldor, Kanan Makiya, Joshua Muravchik, Martin Shaw, Anne-Marie Slaughter)

‘The Democratiya Interviews do more to re-establish and invigorate a coherent concept of democratic internationalism than any single volume in recent memory. This book is both a breath of fresh air and an act of democratic solidarity.’
Carl Gershman, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY

‘Alan Johnson has edited an important and engaging volume of interviews with intellectuals and journalists who play leading roles in today’s debates on global politics. At a time when political argument is so riddled by cliched venom, every reflective person on the left who is concerned about the dangerous state of our world should read this collection and think very hard about the different arguments made in it.’
Mitchell Cohen, CO-EDITOR, DISSENT

‘The principles Democratiya develops with such flair are the best route out of the swamp in which too many liberal-minded people have been stuck for too long.’
Nick Cohen, AUTHOR OF WHAT’S LEFT? HOW THE LEFT LOST ITS WAY

‘Democratiya has emerged as the leading voice of a new kind of moral politics grounded in the resolve to stand firm against new threats to freedom and democracy in the 21st century. If you are looking for original thinking on the left, this outstanding collection is the place to find it. Prepare to be provoked and challenged.’
Thomas Cushman, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, WELLESLEY COLLEGE

Many of the most intractable issues in world politics are conflicts rather than merely problems. There are few prospects of resolving them definitively, but there are better and worse ways of managing them. The Democratiya interviews are an invaluable guide to the principles underlying a rational approach to those conflicts. The analyses are taut, critical thinking of a high order. The interpretations are diverse and unvaryingly thought-provoking.
Oliver Kamm, The Times columnist and author of Antitotaliarianism

‘Democratiya has made an essential contribution to defending our common democratic values of solidarity with those struggling for liberty around the world. In the battle of ideas we require deep intellectual analysis and the sort of moral clarity that Democratiya provides.’
Tony Blair, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, 1997-2007

‘Democratiya has become, by my lights, the liveliest and most stimulating new intellectual journal on political themes in the English-speaking world—certainly the liveliest new thing to appear on the English-speaking left in a good long time.’
Paul Berman, AUTHOR OF TERROR AND LIBERALISM AND POWER AND THE IDEALISTS

TWO WAYS TO BUY GLOBAL POLITICS AFTER 9/11: THE DEMOCRATIYA INTERVIEWS (Edited by Alan Johnson, Preface by Michael Walzer, Foreign Policy Centre / Democratiya, 320 pages)

1. ONLINE. Please make a £11.95 donation per copy to Democratiya using the Pay Pal button below. (£9.95, plus postage and packaging) Be sure to give your full postal adress.

2. Or send a £11.95 / $25 cheque made payable to ‘The Foreign Policy Centre’ at The Foreign Policy Centre (Book Orders) 23-28 Penn Street, London, N1 5DL. Make clear you are ordering ‘Global Politics After 9/11’ and with your full postal address.

UPDATE:

The links (above) should be fixed. I did not realize Democratiya changed from a .com to .org

Brian Latell on C-SPAN 2’s Book TV

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Latell, a former Cuba analyst for the CIA, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America from 1990 to 1994 and a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami discusses his recent book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Cuba’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader. This event was part of the Raleigh International Spy Conference at the North Carolina Museum of History. The panel was titled: “Castro and Cuba: The Inside Story.” Powerful stuff and not to be missed. Click here to view.

The emphasis of this year’s conference is “CIA’s Unsolved Mysteries,” featuring the top experts in counterintelligence to discuss unresolved issues from the Cold War:

  • Pete Bagley, the former chief of CIA’s Soviet bloc counterintelligence division will defend his controversial new book on KGB defector Yuri Nosenko, with its mysterious connections to Lee Harvey Oswald and John F. Kennedy that kicked off 40 years of unresolved internal strife at CIA.
  • David Robarge, Chief Historian for CIA and expert on infamous counterintelligence chief James Angleton, will discuss the controversy created by the former chief of counterintelligence for the Agency by his obsessive hunt for a Soviet mole.
  • Brian Kelley, the wrong man in the Robert Hanssen spy case – and former counterintelligence officer for CIA, will use examples of defectors and double agents he uses as case models for courses he teaches to train espionage agents.
  • Jerry Schecter, former correspondent for Time magazine in Moscow during the Cold War, and respected expert and author of books on Cold War espionage, was on hand to witness for the press the important cases of defectors and double agents in the heat of the Cold War.
  • David Ignatius, former foreign editor – now columnist for the Washington Post – and author of espionage fiction, is respected in the “community” for his insights on the impact of defectors and double agents on the craft of espionage.