Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

Nir Rosen at Jaddaliya:

For the last ten years American foreign policy has been dominated by war with Muslims out of fear of a phantom threat. My own career has been entirely a result of these wars. Bin Ladin’s thousands of innocent victims will be happy to learn of his belated demise, but the industry the September 11 attacks spawned may come to miss him. Following those attacks Americans engaged in little introspection about its relationship with the third world and what it had done to provoke such resentment. Instead the nation embraced a self righteous narrative about a Muslim world that hated us for our freedoms and had to be taught a lesson, (“suck on this,” as Thomas Friedman explained). Americans sought revenge in Afghanistan and Iraq, they backed dictators and warlords, they abandoned the pretense of international law, declaring a global war, dispensing with civil liberties. America’s wars in the Muslim world killed tens of thousands of innocents. And still Americans clung to belief that they were the good guys fighting for freedom. The exaggerated American reaction to the killing of one man makes it seem as if a war was won, or a powerful enemy defeated, inflating the importance of one aging extremist hiding in Pakistan.

Thanks to an industry of overnight experts and celebrity pundits al Qaeda was viewed as a social movement with roots in the Arab world. They advocated a battle of ideas as if al Qaeda was a dominant phenomenon and not a marginal group of a few hundred men out of one billion Muslims. Others justified American support for compliant dictators because democracy in the Arab world would lead to religious extremists taking over. These so called experts mixed only with elites in the Arab world and all they knew of al Qaeda was translations of pro-jihadist websites or videos. They did not spend time living and working with normal people to know what their real concerns were. They viewed Muslims as robots programmed only by Islam without the same mundane concerns and aspirations as the rest of us. Some supported “deradicalization” programs so they could put install new programs into the robots’ minds. They worried about challenging al Qaeda’s narrative. They worried that if the U.S. acknowledged its war in Afghanistan was pointless and pulled out then “what would Bin Ladin say?” They spent more time watching al Qaeda videos than any Arab I ever met and worried about Bin Ladin’s victory video.

A photo exhibit, “How Africans Want to be Seen.”

Those are, inexplicably, goats.

Argentina considers “granting a special pension to writers on the grounds that they generate “social richness” but often end up impoverished.”

Mohamed Jallow asks What will Osama Bin Laden’s death mean for Africa?

Googlescholar, publishers, and free stuff from the feds.

As usual, when the MSM wants you to cluck disapprovingly at an undersourced “the youth are stuipid!” story (in response to the news that lots of young people were googling “who is osama bin laden,” maybe), Angus Johnston is there to bring the knowledge:

First of all, as I’ve suggested above, it doesn’t mean that large numbers of teens were asking this question. Again, we just don’t have any data on that. Also, even the fact that a high proportion of askers were young teens is ambiguous — I’d be inclined to guess that young people are more likely than older people to phrase search queries as questions. If that’s true, then the stat makes teens look comparatively less informed, because it excludes all the fortysomethings who didn’t recognize the name and just searched “osama bin laden” to find out.

I’d also question the assumption that anyone searching on “who is osama bin laden” has no idea who Bin Laden was. A Google search on the question shows that at various times in the last ten years it’s been asked by, among others, BBC News, the PBS Frontline documentary series, and the Canadian Broadcasting Commission.

“Who is Osama Bin Laden,” in other words, can be, and often is, used as a synonym for “Tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden.” And “tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden” is a perfectly reasonable request for a thirteen-year-old to have made last Sunday night.

The Wall Street Journal has a wikileaks type-dropbox and it’s getting serious criticism for being terrible.


As usual, Rortybomb is killing it on higher ed reform. Both here and here.

Not exactly what happened with Al Quaeda, I expect, but still worth passing along:

The ten weirdest sentences in David Brooks’s novel. Do yourself a favor and savor them.

Ruth Franklin argues that “as the efforts of novelists have shown, the place we still cannot travel is the mind of a jihadist.”

On why the man who tweeted Osama Bin Laden’s death is a citizen journalist.

Jane Corwin has my vote for everything.

“Bob Dylan has become incrementally trickier to reach in recent years, though he will very rarely emerge, rather in the way that God occasionally appears to Portuguese virgins.” from Robert Chalmers’ piece on Bob Dylan:

Weberman, self-proclaimed inventor of the science of “garbology”, rooted through Dylan’s bins in the early Seventies…Talking to AJ Weberman, you quickly sense how wrong it is to accuse Dylan of being paranoid about securing his privacy…Weberman, you sense, is not so much a man on the road to madness, as someone who has arrived there, bought a property and is renting out rooms…The day Dylan beat him up, Weberman says it felt like a privilege. “I’d been going though his trash. He knocked me down. I was glad to see him, even though he was banging my head against the sidewalk. Afterwards these bums come over and say, ‘Did he get much money?’ I say, ‘Money’? That was Bob Dylan.'”

At one point I mention a relatively obscure Dylan composition called “Sign Language”. “Now that,” I suggest, “really is a bad song.”

Weberman looks appalled. “Are you crazy? Bob has never written a bad song. Bob Dylan,” he adds, with some warmth, “is a genius.”

Mohammed Hanif on Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden:

There were no celebrations. And there was no mourning. It didn’t occur to anyone to make an Obama effigy; no American flags were burnt. There were no heated debates about whether Osama was a martyr or not. The buses that were set ablaze in Karachi had nothing to do with the high drama in Abbotabad. The crowd in front of Karachi Press Club was a group of private bank employees wanting their jobs back. The little group at the gates of the electricity company offices was demanding nothing more than some good, clean electricity.

Pakistanis are not in denial. Just busy.

I always like a good teardown of a moderately mediocre movie, far more than the movie itself:

…the kind-of-O.K. aspects of “Thor” have the effect of making it more depressing, rather than less. The movie cannot be an interesting, appalling train wreck because it lacks the spoiled grandeur of ambition gone off the rails. You can’t sit and marvel (as it were) over what went wrong because nothing, at the level of execution, really has gone wrong. Mr. Branagh has not failed to make an interesting, lively, emotionally satisfying superhero movie, because there is no evidence that he (or the gaggle of credited screenwriters, or Paramount, the sponsoring studio) ever intended to make any such thing. On the contrary, the absolute and unbroken mediocrity of “Thor” is evidence of its success. This movie is not distinctively bad, it is axiomatically bad.

Raffi Khatchadourian on Rules of Engagement and the legality of killing bin Laden.

Bassam Haddad, on the future of “Arab Democracy”:

when it comes to the question of Western democracy, and whether we are likely to see something emerge in that direction, I wonder what is meant by, in public discourse, what is meant by Western democracy. Do we mean the tradition, historically, of racism, sexism, and classism, slavery, all of which were based on genocide that coexisted with pseudo-democracy for the few who were basically upper-class propertied white men? Or are we talking about Western democracy that developed over 300 years to produce stable institutions which, basically, include what we — some of the fruits that we have today?If you mean the result of this struggle: no. Syria, Egypt, Tunisia will not provide that, will not produce that anytime soon. It will produce something as nasty and problematic as American history was. Perhaps it will be squeezed into less than 300 years, perhaps it will not include the genocide of dozens of — millions of people and their enslavement, but it will be squeezed into a shorter period, one hopes.”

William Deresiewicz, “Fawlty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education.” Worth reading in its entirety.

Timothy Burke on academic humanists and the bubble:

The worst thing that can happen when a bubble begins to pop or a form of professional labor begins to undergo major transformation is panicked retrenchment. When the shape of the crisis confronting journalism and publishing began to be clear, many professionals in those fields retreated into surly, hyperexaggerated assertions of what they took to be their essential prerogatives. The music industry, confronted by digitization, chose lawsuits and and legislatively-mandated market capture and it took a technologist to show them the market they’d been missing, a vision that many in the industry still refuse to fully credit.

In riding out a bubble, humanists will need to excel at what they already excel at, the making of normative judgments and avoiding simple reductions of inquiry to instrumental ends, but social scientists and scientists will also need to enable students to think broadly, to make choices, to creatively apply one way of knowing to other ways beyond the specific intent or instruction of their teachers. What I’m seeing, not just at Swarthmore but at many of its peer institutions, is a strong tendency in the opposite direction as faculty grow more and more anxious about the future. A curricular version of the Smoot-Hawley Tarriffs is threatening to take hold, with the same disastrous consequences, as faculty scurry back inside their disciplinary walls and insist that the value they provide to a college or university is only secured through exclusive, deep study of a single disciplinary tradition.

The wicked problem of drop-outs.

Adam Kotsko on ending world hunger and free will:

[T]he commercial presents a variety of online statistics and then sets them side by side with “every minute, ten children die of hunger.” It then proposes that the billion people currently online can band together to help the one billion chronically hungry people in the world and encourages us all to do our part to spread such sentiments through our respective social networks…As this commercial was airing — one of many in the “every two seconds something horrible happens” genre of PSAs that play very frequently on Hulu — I turned to The Girlfriend and said, “Yeah, we could either try to coordinate the actions of a billion people worldwide or like a dozen people at Goldman Sachs.” Another alternative occurs to me: “We could either try to coordinate the actions of a billion people or the dozen or so U.S. Senators who guarantee that farm subsidies will never be repealed.” Or: “We could either try to coordinate the actions of a billion people or the handful of executives in charge of Monsanto’s genetically modified seed racket.”

All of the second options are, of course, unthinkable. It is taken for granted that those with the greatest amount of power are absolutely locked into taking the most sociopathic course of action possible — it’s all about “market forces,” and “getting reelected,” and “they have to make money somehow….”