Friday, September 22, 2017

A propaedeutic for the question, “What to Do?”

What kind of person, holding the office of President of a country that possesses the most powerful military capacity in the world (‘the US spends more money — $601 billion — on defense than the next nine countries on Credit Suisse’s index combined’), publicly threatens to annihilate a county with more than 25,000,000 million human beings? During the same speech, Trump’s characterization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran deal or Iran nuclear deal, as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” reveals the darkest depths of his ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance. And it was of a piece with the Manichean madness splattered in spittle and blood all over his inaugural UN speech (Are the conventions of diplomatic discourse irrelevant, devoid of any normative value?).

In the words of Jack Goldsmith from his recent piece in The Atlantic, “We have never had a president so ill-informed about the nature of his office, so openly mendacious, so self-destructive, or so brazen in his abusive attacks on the courts, the press, Congress (including members of his own party), and even senior officials within his own administration.” Characterized in comparative terms, “Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.”

Hence I suppose we should not be surprised at Trump’s habitual rhetorical reliance in public speeches upon crude, hyperbolic, and often child-like adjectives and metaphors (with corresponding child-like or homologous and associationist thinking: mistaking bigness for greatness; the quantitative valuation of virtually everything; connecting competition, success and size; the attraction of novelty; a thirst for sensationalism; an overweening sense of privilege and superiority rooted in a fascination with sheer power if not megalomania, and so forth and so on), the harm of which is exacerbated by mendacious Manichean propaganda within an overarching framework of narcissistic nationalism. Alas, we don’t need the intimate privacy and authoritative atmosphere of the clinic to make a symptomatic diagnosis of narcissistic megalomania. Bearing in mind the trenchant psychological and philosophical critiques of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it remains a source of qualified guidance for clinical judgment. As Alex Morris explains in his Rolling Stone article, “Why Trump Is Not Mentally Fit to Be President” (25 April 2017), the latest

“iteration of the DSM classifies narcissistic personality disorder as: ‘A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.’ A diagnosis would also require five or more of the following traits:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., ‘Nobody builds walls better than me’; ‘There’s nobody that respects women more than I do’; ‘There’s nobody who’s done so much for equality as I have’).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (e.g., ‘I alone can fix it’; ‘It’s very hard for them to attack me on looks, because I’m so good-looking’).
  • Believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions (e.g., ‘Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich’).
  • Requires excessive admiration (e.g., ‘They said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl’).
  • Has a sense of entitlement (e.g., ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy’).
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (see above).
  • Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others (e.g., ‘He’s not a war hero . . . he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured’). Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her (e.g., ‘I’m the president, and you’re not’).
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her (e.g., ‘I’m the president, and you’re not’).
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (e.g., ‘I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters’).” 
“Viewed through the lens of pathology, Trump’s behavior – from military-school reports that he was too competitive to have close friends to his recent impromptu press conference, where he seemed to revel in the hour and a half he spent center stage, spouting paranoia and insults – can be seen as a constant quest for narcissistic supply. Certainly few have gone after fame (a veritable conveyor belt of narcissistic supply) with such single-mindedness as Trump, constantly upping the ante to gain more exposure. Not content with being the heir apparent of his father’s vast outer-borough fortune, he spent his twenties moving the Trump Organization into the spotlight of Manhattan, where his buildings needed to be the biggest, the grandest, the tallest (in the pursuit of which he skipped floors in the numbering to make them seem higher). Not content to inflict the city with a succession of eyesores bearing his name in outsize letters, he had to buy up more Atlantic City casinos than anyone else, as well as a fleet of 727s (which he also slapped with his name) and the world’s third-biggest yacht (despite professing to not like boats). Meanwhile, to make sure that none of this escaped notice, he sometimes pretended to be his own publicist, peppering the press with unsolicited information about his business conquests and his sexual prowess.”

And yet if history provides us with any appropriate standard in such matters, it seems “having a mental illness, in and of itself, [doesn’t] necessarily make Trump unqualified for the presidency.” Again, Morris:

“A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder, from depression (24 percent) and anxiety (eight percent) to alcoholism (eight percent) and bipolar disorder (eight percent). Ten of them exhibited symptoms while in office, and one of those 10 was arguably our best president, Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from deep depression (though, considering the death of his son and the state of the nation, who could blame him?).

The problem is that, when it comes to leadership, all pathologies are not created equal. Some, like depression, though debilitating, do not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making and are mainly unpleasant only for the person suffering them, as well as perhaps for their close friends and family. Others, like alcoholism, can be more dicey: In 1969, Nixon got so sloshed that he ordered a nuclear attack against North Korea (in anticipation of just such an event, his defense secretary had supposedly warned the military not to act on White House orders without approval from either himself or the secretary of state).”

And we need to distinguish what has been called “run-of-the-mill narcissism,” which is common to more than a few politicians (and episodically, perhaps most of us), from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) proper:

“For many in the mental-health field, the most troubling aspect of Trump’s personality is his loose grasp of fact and fiction. When narcissism veers into NPD, it can lead to delusions, an alternate reality where the narcissist remains on top despite clear evidence to the contrary. ‘He’s extremely quick, like nanoseconds quick, to discern anything that could conceivably threaten his dominance,’ says biographer Gwenda Blair, who wrote The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President. ‘He’s on it. Anything that he senses – and he has very sharp senses – that could suggest that he is anything except 200 percent total winner, he’s got to stomp it out immediately. So having those reports, for example, that he did not win the popular vote? He can’t take that in. There has to be another explanation. It has to have been stolen. It has to have been some illegal voters. It can’t be the case that he lost. That’s not thinkable.’”

The office of the presidency has of course provided a global stage for the unavoidable and relentless exhibition of the aforementioned pathological symptoms, making it difficult for most of us to afford Trump the sympathy or compassion we might otherwise generate in the intimate realm for a person afflicted with such a personality or character disorder, if only because in his case the enhanced harmful consequences (both immediate and long-term) of such behavior will affect an enormous number of people (especially those most vulnerable to the actions of the upper classes and the politically powerful) as well as impact the wider, life-sustaining properties of the natural world.

Accompanying real or promised actions born of non-delusional grandeur or grandiose delusions, Trump’s rhetoric, as his UN speech made painfully pellucid, only serves to further muddle when not obliterating already hazy or vague boundaries in the political arena between appearance and reality, pretense and substance, deception and truth. And this only immeasurably worsens, within the prevailing polluted climate of neoliberal capitalism, existing threats to the ethos, values, principles and essential methods of democratic praxis that have been assiduously cut, chiseled, and polished over many years, in an astonishing variety of geographic locales and among peoples motivated by or tethered to different worldviews, lifeworlds, and ideologies. The convoluted and insincere hermeneutic rationales routinely if awkwardly constructed in defense of Trump’s inconsistent and haphazard rhetoric by his cronies and sycophants has conspicuously shrunken the depth and scope of democratic political argumentation. Thus our corresponding public discourse—whether in the mass media or informal public fora—is invariably shallow and sullied, except perhaps, in those precious quarters where opposition, resistance, and rebellion is being nurtured under the protective banner of liberté, égalité, and fraternité, where the virtues of participatory and deliberative democracy have not disappeared, thereby making it possible if not probable that the thirst for social justice will one day be sated.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ricardo Flores Magón, PLM, and the Labor Struggles of California Farmworkers

Cipriano Ricardo Flores Magón (known as Ricardo Flores Magón; September 16, 1874 – November 21, 1922) was a noted Mexican anarchist and social reform activist. His brothers Enrique and Jesús were also active in politics. Followers of the Magón brothers were known as Magonistas. He has been considered an important participant in the social movement that sparked the Mexican Revolution.”
“Periodically throughout their history, California farmworkers have fought vigorously, sometimes in small, local battles unknown to anyone but the immediate participants, and at other times in large campaigns—directed by radical or even openly revolutionary leaders—that have lasted for several seasons. The nature of these fights is rooted in the special character of agricultural production and in the real opportunities that farmworkers have encountered in the fields for nearly a hundred years.” Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (Verso, 2011)

The “special character of agricultural production” Bardacke refers to above includes the “short-lived harvest” period, as it is only during this precious time of year that a commodity is produced (although various kinds of work on the land are performed throughout the year), thus leaving the commercial farmer vulnerable to interruptions or delays. Another conspicuous vulnerability arises from the dependence on migratory workers, the demand for labor varying greatly throughout the year. Hence, Bardacke informs us,

“Time is often on the workers’ side, and they have not hesitated to seize it. Brief harvest walkouts, sit-downs, slow-downs, and stay-at-homes are part of farmworker tradition, weapons used much more regularly by agricultural workers than by industrial workers.”

Before the Depression-era upheaval that led to various forms of worker militancy, both spontaneous and organized, there were several years of “militant farmworker action [and] significant wage gains” that presaged patterns of future farmworker struggles. Unfortunately, these early battles did not result in a lasting union for those who labored on the land. Again, Bardacke:

“Between 1914 and 1917, in a period of overall labor scarcity, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), at times in tandem with the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) [organized by Ricardo Flores Magón and later led by both Ricardo and his youngest brother, Enrique], led a series of walkouts in the California fields, orchard, and vineyards that pushed up wages, forced labor-camp managers to provide better food, and prompted the state of California to build an extensive series of new labor camps, which improved the lives of many migrants. A harvest-time strike in the hops in 1914 doubled piece-rate wages, and by 1917, the average wage of California farmworkers had risen to nearly 90 percent of the average wage of California’s city workers.”

Ricardo Flores Magón had been a leader of university student protests in Mexico City in the 1890s and as early as 1904, the “Magonistas” (largely anarchist in political ideology) who found sanctuary in the U.S., “began to send emissaries—revolutionary culture brokers—into the mining camps of the Mexican north and into the agrarian villages as far south as Veracruz and Oaxaca.” And for this and other reasons, Flores Magón “is celebrated in Mexican secondary school textbooks as a ‘precursor’ of the [Mexican] Revolution.”

In California, Flores Magón “and a small band of comrades” whose “interest was not primarily California farmworkers,” continued to publish their weekly newspaper, Regeneración (in turn smuggled back into Mexico), and “for which [Ricardo] wrote political and social commentary.” As Bardacke reminds us, Flores Magón and the PLM were nevertheless indirectly active in the agricultural fields of California, as Ricardo and Enrique, together with a “substantial number of displaced Mexican revolutionaries,”

“… set up a series of PLM clubs in the Southwest and California. Those clubs attracted Mexican migrant workers, some of whom began to call themselves Magonistas. The clubs were linked through Regeneración and several other local, less regular PLM newspapers. Club leaders read the newspaper out loud to assembled groups of workers, who then discussed the situation in Mexico and their own troubles in the United States.

The hub of PLM power was Los Angeles, which was still an agricultural town in 1907 when the Flores Magón brothers settled there, and already was the center of the Mexican community in the United States. The PLM’s LA clubhouse became a center of multilingual, multiethnic activity where socialists and Wobblies famous and obscure mixed with Magonistas. Regeneración, its back page printed in English, built up an LA circulation of 10,000, making it both the first bilingual paper in California and the largest Spanish-language newspaper in town. The PLM club, which was also considered a Spanish-speaking IWW local, had 400 active members, most of who were farmworkers.” 

Magonistas were soon found throughout Spanish-speaking IWW locals in Southern and Central California. Whatever their cultural and language differences, Wobblies and Magonistas were united in their political ideology and political praxis:

“In San Diego in 1910, a joint IWW-PLM local organized a strike at the local gas and electric company that won equal pay for equal work. That same year a fight for free speech that ultimately did much to popularize the IWW among California farmworkers, began in Fresno in the midst of a battle to organize Mexican workers who were being contracted to build a dam on the outskirts of town. In hop fields, vineyards, sugar refineries, and citrus orchards, many farmworker walkouts were joint Wobbly-Magonista efforts.”

Our short story ends on a tragic note, for “[i]n 1918, Ricardo Flores Magón, along with other PLM and IWW leaders, was convicted of violating the Espionage Act … for ‘obstructing the war effort.’” Ricardo died on November 21, 1922 at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. Alas, and for motley reasons, one of the foremost being the appeal of communism and the rise of Communist parties following the Russian Revolution, the IWW and PLM did not formally survive World War I. All the same,

“… Magonismo never totally disappeared from the California fields. Remaining underground in unfavorable times such as 1939, Magonismo has reappeared whenever farmworkers have had an opportunity to fight. It is there when they slow down on the job, sabotage the crops, or strike at the beginning of a harvest. Magonistas played a part in Imperial Valley melon and lettuce strikes in the late 1920s. They worked together with other militants when California farmworkers shook the state in the early 1930s. A generation later a few Magonistas would play a small role as the movement that produced the UFW was getting under way. And in 1979, the ghost of Ricardo Flores Magón would make a cameo appearance at one of the most dramatic moments in UFW history.”

Further Reading:
  • Albro, Ward S. Always a Rebel: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Mexican Revolution. Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1992.
  • Chacón, Justin Akers. Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, Forthcoming.
  • Daniel, Cletus E. Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
  • Dyson, Lowell K. Red Harvest: The Communist Party and American Farmers. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
  • Hart, John M. Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, 1860-1931. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1978.
  • Lomnitz, Claudio. The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. New York: Zone Books, 2014.
  • MacLachlan, Colin M. Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution: The Political Trials of Ricardo Flores Magón in the United States. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Indic (or Indian) Contribution to Grammar, Linguistics, and the Philosophy of Language

Linguistics, insofar as it is (or aspires to be) a science, touches (directly, or indirectly by way of presuppositions, assumptions, and presumptions) on more than a few questions that fall within the province of the philosophy of language (the ‘philosophy of linguistics’ is germane as well, being the ‘philosophy of science as applied to linguistics’). And the Indic tradition is a rich repository of sophisticated reflections on grammar, linguistics, and philosophy of language proper, particularly (and thus not exclusively) the “Grammarians” and the Mīmāṃsā darśana. Hence the reason for bringing this article, Talking Gibberish by Gaston Dorren to your attention, as its shortcomings provide yet another piece of evidence for the imperative value of comparative philosophy.

I thought this essay in Aeon by Dorren overwrought, and in some respects awful, as when it refers to the “pre-scientific era” of linguistics as having “produced a lot of codswallop and hogwash,” while neglecting to mention the brilliance of Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī  (‘The Eight-Chaptered’) (150 BCE?), properly characterized by Harold G. Coward and K. Kunjunni Raja as a “very remarkable work,” “providing a model for recent and contemporary work in descriptive linguistics that can stand with the best efforts of modern analysts.” As the Wikipedia entry on Pāṇini informs us,

“Pāṇini’s work became known in 19th-century Europe, where it influenced modern linguistics initially through Franz Bopp, who mainly looked at Pāṇini. Subsequently, a wider body of work influenced Sanskrit scholars such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, and Roman Jakobson. Frits Staal (1930–2012) discussed the impact of Indian ideas on language in Europe. After outlining the various aspects of the contact, Staal notes that the idea of formal rules in language – proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure in 1894 and developed by Noam Chomsky in 1957 – has origins in the European exposure to the formal rules of Pāṇinian grammar.  In particular, de Saussure, who lectured on Sanskrit for three decades, may have been influenced by Pāṇini and Bhartṛhari; his idea of the unity of signifier-signified in the sign somewhat resembles the notion of sphoṭa. More importantly, the very idea that formal rules can be applied to areas outside of logic or mathematics may itself have been catalysed by Europe’s contact with the work of Sanskrit grammarians.”

According to at least some experts on our subject matter, the Sanskrit grammarians and Indic philosophical schools have nothing to contribute to either the philosophy of linguistics” or the “philosophy of language” (see too Bob Hale and Crispin Wright, eds. A Companion to the Philosophy of Language [Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997]).

Well, before I could finish my response to the article, one Bjorn Merker beat me to it, taking Dorren to task in the comments for failing to mention this “giant linguist,” as well as noting that “Pāṇini’s grammar … availed itself of a technical metalanguage consisting of a syntax, morphology and lexicon, organised according to a series of meta-rules. This technique, rediscovered by the logician Emil Post in 1936, became a standard method in the design of computer programming languages ….” 

Recommended Reading (not an exhaustive list):

  • Bilimoria, Purushottama. Śabdapramāna: Word and Knowledge. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1988.
  • Bronkhorst, Johannes. Tradition and Argument in Classical Indian Linguistics. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1986.
  • Cabezón, José Ignacio. Buddhism and Language: A Study of Indo-Tibetan Scholasticism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.
  • Chari, V.K. Sanskrit Criticism. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
  • Coward, Harold G. The Sphota Theory of Language. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.
  • Coward, Harold G. and K. Kunjunni Raja, eds. The Philosophy of the Grammarians (Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. 5). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Freschi, Elisa. Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā: Including an Edition and Translation of Rāmānujācārya’s Tantrarahasya, Śāstraprameyapariccheda. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  • Ganeri, Jonardon. Semantic Powers: Meaning and the Means of Knowing in Classical Indian Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1999.
  • Ganeri, Jonardon. Artha: Meaning. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Herzberger, Radhika. Bhartrihari and the Buddhists. Dordrecht: D. Reidel/Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1986.
  • Iyer, Soubramania, K.A. Bhartrihari: A Study of Vākyapadīya in the Light of Ancient Commentaries. Poona: Deccan College Postgraduate Research Institute, 1997.
  • Kahrs, Eivind. Indian Semantic Analysis: The ‘Nirvicana’ Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna (Jonardon Ganeri, ed.). Epistemology, Logic, and Grammar in Indian Philosophical Analysis. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005 (Mouton, 1971).
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna. Logic, Language and Reality: an introduction to Indian philosophical studies. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985.
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The Word and the World: India’s Contribution to the Study of Language. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna (Jonardon Ganeri, ed.). The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Mind, Language and World. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna and Arindam Chakrabarti, eds. Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony. Dordrecht: Springer, 1994.
  • Siderits, Mark. Indian Philosophy of Language. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991.
  • Staal, Frits. Universals: Studies in Indian Logic and Linguistics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Bedouin worldview .... or, Bedouin philosophy

Historically, philosophy has been articulated in an astonishingly wide —at least from today’s vantage point—array of literary forms and genres, although I’m not aware of any systematic comparative work on this score (there is a nice entry in the SEP by Eileen Sweeney on the literary forms of ‘medieval philosophy’). For better or worse, and depending on who you ask, contemporary professional philosophy has severely narrowed the “acceptable” or normative models of philosophical expression, usually within the constraints of what is considered a proper “analytical” approach (as a generic method, Buddhists arguably excel in philosophical analysis; with the Sanskrit grammarians pioneers in this regard, blurring the lines between science and philosophy). However, sometimes philosophy is expressed obliquely, perhaps embedded in material that requires some sort of distillation or—to use a more mundane metaphor—digging, to reveal itself as “philosophy” of one kind or another: moral psychology, metaphysics, ontology, ethics, epistemology, what have you. This may simply be due to the fact that those who are responsible for this material are not sages, philosophers or even intellectuals (by vocation), and yet one may discover here and there philosophical ideas, insight, even wisdom. The three works pictured above are exemplars of the phenomenon in question from the Bedouin, the material taking the form of poetry, proverbs, and law.  

I have an introductory reading list on the Bedouin here (it includes the Bailey titles pictured above).

The Manifesto of the 21: French Intellectuals and Decolonization

[I intended to post this yesterday, so the date of the Manifesto’s signing and the date of the post would coincide; since that did not happen, I’m posting it today, a day late.]
As I learned this morning from Verso Radical Diary, The Manifesto of the 121 was signed on this date in 1960:
“The Manifesto of the 121 (Full title: Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie or Declaration on the right of insubordination in the Algerian War) was an open letter signed by 121 intellectuals and published on 6 September 1960 in the magazine Vérité-Liberté [124 more intellectuals signed soon thereafter]. It called on the French government (then headed by the Gaullist Michel Debré) and public opinion to recognise the Algerian War as a legitimate struggle for independence, denouncing the use of torture by the French army, and calling for French conscientious objectors to the conflict to be respected by the authorities.”
The Declaration was drafted by Dionys Mascolo, Maurice Blanchot and Jean Schuster. It stated that the cause of the Algerians was the cause of all free men, and that the struggle was striking a decisive blow to the cause of colonialism. Although the vast majority of the signatories belonged to the French Left, a few had been close in their past to the French far-right, such as Maurice Blanchot or Robert Scipion (who had been a sympathiser of the Croix-de-Feu). The signatories included figures from a variety of political and cultural movements, such as Marxism, existentialism, and a number of figures associated with the Nouveau Roman and New Wave literary and cinematic trends.” (Edited from the Wikipedia entry)
*           *           *
“[The Manifesto] was a document more read about than read since – of the journals in which it was to appear, one was seized, and the other, Sartre’s Les Temps modernes, came out with two blank pages in its place, the result of government censorship. The government didn’t stop at censorship. As a result of the manifesto, they put in place stiff penalties for those calling for insubordination; jobs were lost and careers temporarily shut down.”
David L. Schalk elaborates:
“The complete document became briefly available in France only in 1961, when it was published in Le droit à l’insoumission, a collection of texts dealing the controversy [i.e., the question of the struggle for Algerian independence and opposition to the war in Algeria], edited by François Maspero. This volume was promptly seized by the government.
In Le Monde during September and October 1960 there are fascinating brief references to what must have appeared to many readers as a mysterious document. When a famous intellectual figure such as André Schwartz-Bart or François Sagan added his or her name to the list of signers, Le Monde took note. Journalists also reported on the sanctions taken by the government against some of the signatories, and Le Monde published a list of the 180 who had signed through September 30, 1960, including Clara and Florence Malraux, the ex-wife and daughter of de Gaulle’s minister of culture.
Le Monde printed in its entirety a counter-manifesto of October 1960 that condemned the work of ‘the professors of treason,’ accus[ing them] of being a ‘fifth column’ that draws its inspiration from ‘foreign propaganda.’ This manifesto was signed by nearly three hundred intellectual supporters of Algérie française, including seven members of the French Academy. But at the time readers could only speculate as to the exact nature of the ‘treason’ supposedly perpetrated by these ‘professors.’”
Among the signatories of the Manifesto of the 121:
  • Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher
  • Michèle Bernstein, situationist
  • Maurice Blanchot, writer
  • André Breton, surrealist
  • Guy Debord, situationist
  • Jacques Gernet, sinologist
  • Daniel Guérin, historian
  • Henri Lefebvre, sociologist
  • Michel Leiris, writer and ethnologist
  • Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, philosopher and psychoanalyst
  • Jean-François Revel, journalist
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher
  • Simone Signoret, actress
  • François Truffaut, film-maker
  • Jean-Pierre Vernant, historian
  • Pierre Vidal-Naquet, historian

For the full Declaration, see the link (along with other invaluable links), “The Manifesto of the 121,”at the History of Algerian Independence page of the Marxist Internet Archive.  
I hope shortly to write more about the opposition of anti-colonialist (and later, anti-imperialist advocates for national self-determination) French intellectuals to the Algerian War as well as the intriguing later influence of this manifesto on US intellectuals opposing the American War in Vietnam. The petition titled “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” published in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic in October 1967, and “widely circulated thereafter,” “was one of the most important documents in the intellectuals’ campaign against President Johnson and the Vietnam War,” leading “directly to the establishment of the militant antiwar organization called Resist.” According to Sandy Vogelgesang, its authors, Marcus Raskin and Arthur Waskow, “borrowed consciously” from the Manifesto of the 121.
    Essential Reading:
    • Aronson, Ronald. Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
    • Fanon, Frantz (Haakon Chevalier, tr.). A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.
    • Feraoun, Mouldoud (Mary Elllen Wolf and Claud Fouillade, tr. and James D. Le Sueur, ed.) Journal-1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000 (Éditions du Seuil, 1962).
    • Harrison, Alexander. Challenging De Gaulle: The OAS and the Counterrevolution in Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Praeger, 1989.
    • Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Penguin Books, 1979; 2nd ed., New York: NYRB Classics, 2006.  
    • Le Sueur, James D. Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the French Algerian War. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2nd ed., 2005.
    • Sartre, Jean-Paul (Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams, tr.). Colonialism and Neocolonialism. New York: Routledge, 2001 (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1964).
    • Schalk, David L. War and the Ivory Tower. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005 ed.
    • Sorum, Paul Clay. Intellectuals and Decolonization in France. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

    Monday, September 04, 2017

    Ethnic Cleansing & Crimes against Humanity in Myanmar

    The following is from an online petition being circulated by

    “Aung San Suu Kyi is an apologist for genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. For the past year, Aung San Suu Kyi has been State Counselor, or de facto head of government, in Myanmar, where members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the northern Rakhine state have been shot, stabbed, starved, robbed, raped and driven from their homes in the hundreds of thousands. In December, while the world focused on the fall of Aleppo, more than a dozen Nobel Laureates published an open letter warning of a tragedy in Rakhine ‘amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.’

    In February, a report by the United Nations documented how the Burmese army’s attacks on the Rohingya were ‘widespread as well as systematic’ thus ‘indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.’ More than half of the 101 Rohingya women interviewed by UN investigators across the border in Bangladesh said they had suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence at the hands of security forces. ‘They beat and killed my husband with a knife,’ one survivor recalled. ‘Five of them took off my clothes and raped me. My eight‐month old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him too with a knife.’

    And the response of Aung San Suu Kyi? This once‐proud campaigner against wartime rape and human rights abuses by the Burmese military has opted to borrow from the Donald Trump playbook of denial and deflection. Her office accused Rohingya women of fabricating stories of sexual violence and put the words ‘fake rape’ — in the form of a banner headline, no less — on its official website. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry — also controlled directly by Aung San Suu Kyi — dismissed ‘made‐up stories, blown out of proportion.’ In February, the State Counselor herself reportedly told the Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, that the international community is exaggerating the Rohingya issue.”

    The latest article from The Guardian [sans hyperlinks] about what is happening to the Rohingya Muslim community notes that Myanmar has blocked all UN aid to civilians at the heart of Rohingya crisis

    “Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign in Myanmar, the Guardian has learned. The world body halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August [only recently, after years of and State-led violence and Buddhist-led pogroms against the Rohingya did some of their members resort to violence in organized self-defense against the government], and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds.

    The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told the Guardian that deliveries were suspended ‘because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance,’ suggesting authorities were not providing permission to operate. ‘The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible,’ it said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.
    In the deadliest violence for decades in the area, the military is accused of atrocities against the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds.

    Staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have not conducted any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week, a dangerous halt in life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingya. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving a quarter of a million people without regular food access. Sixteen major non-government aid organisations – including Oxfam and Save the Children – have also complained that the government has restricted access to the conflict area. [….]

    Refugees who have made it to Bangladesh during the past week have told horrific stories of ‘massacres’ in villages that they say were raided and burned by soldiers. Along miles of the border, thick black smoke can be seen rising from small settlements surrounded by green fields. The government blames rebels for burning their own homes and accuses them of killing Buddhists and Hindus, a claim repeated by some residents.

    Although the Rohingya have suffered oppression for decades, the recent bout of violence is seen as a dangerous escalation because it was sparked by a new Rohingya militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The military says 400 people have been killed, the vast majority of them ‘terrorists,’ although a government block on access to Rakhine makes it impossible to verify official figures.

    An estimated 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, which refuses to grant them citizenship and has been internationally condemned for its treatment of the ethnic minority. Hardline religious leaders in majority Buddhist Myanmar have fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment and accuse relief workers of a pro-Rohingya bias. Aid offices were ransacked during 2014 riots in Rakhine’s state capital, Sittwe.
    Leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also forged an increasingly antagonistic relationship with humanitarian organisations in Myanmar. Her office accused aid workers last week of helping ‘terrorists,’ a claim that prompted fears for their safety.

    More than 100,000 Rohingya who have lived in displacement camps in Rakhine since 2012 when violence between Muslims and Buddhists forced them out of their homes, also stopped receiving assistance last week.” [….]
    Aung San Suu Kyi has had many opportunities to speak out, truthfully, about what is happening to the Rohingya Muslims yet has failed to do so. It is simply inexcusable. In particular, she should have spoken to the two principal forms of nationalism responsible as the primary ideologies rationalizing and sanctioning this ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide: Buddhist and militarist. It appears at this juncture as if members of both groups are acting as co-principals of one kind or another (e.g., full joint wrongdoing, conspiracy, co-operation, or collusion) in the acts of coercion and violence. By rescinding the Peace Prize the Nobel Committee could bring absolutely necessary and urgent attention to what is happening in Myanmar/Burma and remove the stain of utter hypocrisy and contradiction now attached to her award.

    On Facebook, Chris Bertram writes, “Well, Kissinger, Obama could also be stripped I suppose. And posthumously Wilson and Begin (and that’s just off the top of my head). Agree that she should lose it, but maybe the whole thing should be abandoned.” And I agree with Chris, although in this case the loss is designed to have some immediate impact on the events in question. But, yes, there are more than a few Nobel Peace Prize winners who were not deserving of the prize in the first place (and a few that perhaps we would rescind now given what we later learned). More importantly, perhaps, I think we should indeed scrap the prize altogether. I can live with (pun intended) the Right Livelihood Award garnering the displaced acclaim and attention.
    • Please see the full article here.
    • For an earlier post by yours truly on this conflict in particular and on Buddhists and violence generally, please see “When Buddhists Resort to Violence.”
    • For an independent legal analysis of the question of whether or not the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar amounts to genocide, please see the paper produced by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, in October of 2015, the introduction to which is here, and the publication itself, here.
    • Please take a moment to sign the petition here.