Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Regina Carter In London

The leading American jazz violinist Regina Carter is appearing with her band at Ronnie Scott's Club, Soho, all this week. Last night's sets were played to a packed house, and included music from Carter's most recent CDs Rhythms Of The Heart and Paganini - After A Dream, as well as some new material. The band is the same one that Carter has been touring with and with which she appeared in London last October at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, composed of distinguished musicians: drummer Alvester Garnett, who is renowned for his work with the singer Betty Carter, and has also played with Abbey Lincoln and Cyrus Chestnut, Cuban percussionist Myra Casales, pianist David Budway (son of the violinist and Arabic music specialist Leo J. Budway), and bassist Chris Lightcap.

Both sets were galvanizing in their energy and articulation, with a blend of drumming and percussion that enabled both Casales and Garnett to display their virtuosity, and yet in combination with piano and bass also communicated directly with the percussive and soaring lyricism of Carter's bowing style. The highlights of the first set were perhaps "Black Orpheus", containing a mesmerizing pizzicato solo by Carter, "Central Havana", with Casales taking the lead on Latin percussion, and the Ravel "Pavane". In the second set, the real tour de force was a witty, extended but lightning-swift account of the old Tommy Dorsey standard, later made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, "The Music Goes Round And Round", with Myra, David and Regina joining forces on vocals later in the number. Regina's performance in Debussy's "Reverie" was also notable, the gutsy, blues-like strength of her playing branching out in all directions, even into quotations from "Satin Doll".

While I enjoyed the band's performance at the QEH concert last October, I feel that the club setting suits it even better than the larger space of the concert hall. In the more intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scott's there's a better opportunity to follow the many-faceted interaction of percussion, drums and violin that is an essential feature of the Carter band. A major drawback, however, is the smoky atmosphere: despite repeated calls for no smoking during the performances - Regina Carter suffers with chronic asthma - people in the audience continued to smoke, with the result that the first set was curtailed by at least one number.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Life of Monologue - III

Das Ich des Grundworts Ich-Es, das Ich also, dem nicht ein Du gegenuber leibt, sonder das von einer Vielheit von »Inhalten« umstanden ist, hat nur Vergangenheit, keine Gegenwart. Mit anderm Wort: insofern der Mensch sich an den Dingen genügen läßt, die er erfährt und gebraucht, lebt er in der Vergangenheit, und sein Augenblick ist ohne Präsenz. Er hat nichts als Gegenstände; Gegenstände aber bestehen im Gewesensein. Gegenwart ist nicht das Flüchtige und Vorübergleitende, sondern das Gegenwartende und Gegenwährende. Gegenstand ist nicht die Dauer, sondern der Stillstand, das Innehalten, das Abbrechen, das Sichversteifen, die Abgehobenheit, die Beziehungslosigket, die Präsenzlosigkeit.

Wesenheiten werden in der Gegenwart gelebt, Gegenständlichkeiten in der Vergangenheit.

(The I of the primary word I-It, that is, the I faced by no Thou, but surrounded by a multitude of “contents”, has no present, only the past. Put in another way, in so far as man rests satisfied with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no present content. He has nothing but objects. But objects subsist in time that has been. The present is not fugitive and transient, but continually present and enduring. The object is not duration, but cessation, suspension, a breaking off and cutting clear and hardening, absence of relation and of present being.

True beings are lived in the present, the life of objects is in the past.)

Buber, Ich und Du

The Piano Revolution

An item from Estonian commentator Michael Tarm about Stalin's Favourite Pianos.

More than 50 years after Josef Stalin set up the Soviet Union's premier piano plant in this Baltic Sea state, the despot's favorite pianos are back in red-hot demand — in the United States.

"I've never seen a piano light up the market like the Estonia," said John Cordogan, owner of the PianoLand store in suburban Chicago, where a glistening Estonia presides center-stage in a showroom otherwise crowded with American and Japanese pianos. "They're our only product that sells before they even arrive."

The reasons for the pianos' popularity are not hard to fathom. Indrek Laul, the piano firm's present director, is himself a concert pianist and graduate of New York's Juilliard School of Music - so he may be said to know his trade from the inside. Then there is the question of price:

At US$20,000, an Estonia baby grand is half the price of a Steinway, seen as the thoroughbred of pianos. A full-sized Estonia concert grand is US$60,000 compared to at least US$120,000 for a Steinway.

Labor costs enable the Estonians to keep prices low. Average wages in Estonia are the equivalent of US$500 a month -- less than what a U.S. worker might make in a week.

Another edge for the Estonias, say analysts, is Laul himself.

"When you have a concert pianist at the helm, they want to reach the highest levels," said Harrison. "They're embarrassed if they can't."

Laul, who splits his time between Estonia and a New York office, likens himself to a race car river who makes his own cars. "Most pianists have to make the best of the piano they're on," he said. "I can change my piano as I see fit. It's every pianist's dream."

Incidentally, as Mari-Ann Kelam points out, when reading this item it's as well to be aware of a few facts that Tarm got slightly wrong: "NB 'Estonian craftsmen have been crafting pianos for over 200 years. Today, the ESTONIA Piano Factory, started in 1893, is among the leading handcrafted grand piano makers of Europe.' Stalin did NOT 'set up' the Estonia Piano factory - he 'nationalized it' (read 'STOLE IT') like everything else when the Soviets took over Estonia and the other two Baltic states.

The ESTONIA Pianos website may be visited at this URL.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Putin is an Andropov at heart

A no-holds-barred excoriation of Russia's President Putin by Gerald Warner in the Scotsman tells it like it is (free registration required).

Warner reflects on the current rehabilitation in Russia of Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov, who ruled the Soviet Union for just 15 months in 1983-84. Earlier this month, to mark the 90th anniversary of his birth, a symposium was held in his honour, a school renamed after him and a 10ft statue of him unveiled.

If any individual had the potential to precipitate a Third World War it was this ruthless disciple of Stalin. His fortuitous death in 1984 purged that date of its ominous Orwellian significance and the West heaved a sigh of relief.

Warner points out the double standard in the West's approach to the Soviet Union, and to its heir and successor, the Russian Federation, in no uncertain terms:

If Chancellor Schroeder were to unveil a 10ft statue of Himmler, it would be ingenuous to assume such a gesture would be viewed with equal complacency.

I remember clearly the period in the early 1980s when Western "peace activists" promoted the image of Andropov as a dovish liberal, fond of jazz and the odd dig at the status quo. As Warner points out,

It was all lies: he was an intransigent Cold Warrior whose military shot down a South Korean airliner, killing all 269 people on board - the Soviet Union’s Lockerbie - and who remorselessly prosecuted the war in Afghanistan.
And he continues:

The question arises: is Putin also imitating his hero in deluding the West about his character and intentions?

In security policy, as a former head of the FSB, successor body to the KGB, he has effectively restored the anti-dissident Fifth Directorate of the KGB, as the ‘Department for the Protection of the Constitution’. When the old KGB fell apart, many Chekists helped themselves to state funds and adopted new careers in ‘business’ - ie organised crime. Some of Russia’s major companies and banks were founded with KGB cash.

That is why Putin is anxious to attract foreign banks and sideline the more suspect home grown institutions. His desire for economic growth is sincere, whatever his eventual purpose. He has introduced some real reforms: a flat rate of taxation and initiatives on pensions and labour law. This has produced some statistics that the regime likes to trumpet: five years of economic growth, a taming of inflation and a stronger rouble.

Much of the hype, for example Putin’s confident forecast last month that the economy could double by 2010, has the resonance of statistics for tractor production in the Urals Soviet area for 1949. All of Russia’s eggs are still in one basket: 30% of GDP derives from sales of crude oil and natural gas, with the petroleum industry boosted by BP’s $8bn purchase of a 50% stake in the Tyumen oil joint venture. Such profitable business is threatened by higher taxes and by the Putin government’s excessive action against the Yukos Oil Company - the largest listed enterprise in Russia - resulting from a political vendetta against Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, its CEO.

The article also points to a consonance of aims and methods that is spreading among tyrannies around the world - led by Russia:

Putin represents a phenomenon now developing much further afield than Russia: the marriage of economic liberalism with oppressive state control. Marxism has become uncoupled from Leninism: the former is dead, the latter rampant. China is another example. In the West it is called ‘political correctness’ (the term was invented by Lenin).

Tyrants no longer have to shoulder the burden of running a command economy: privatisation of enterprise is perfectly acceptable, provided people themselves are nationalised - by regulation, state nannying, identity cards and bans on all activities and opinions deemed ‘incorrect’ by the ruling clique. In this context, the European Union is a streamlined Soviet Union, which will one day converge seamlessly with Putin’s police state, on the road to world government. Liberty has never been more insidiously threatened.

All in all, Warner's article is a salutory read for those who may still have any illusions about precisely who the new masters in the Kremlin really are.

Derek Bailey

This week sees the publication of a new biography of one of Britain's - and the world's - most eminent practitioners and advocates of free improvisation in music. Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation, by Ben Watson, traces 40 years of the development of a truly radical force in music: Bailey, whose website offers an amazing kaleidoscope of contributions to new music in many countries, played and recorded with some of the great jazz innovators of the twentieth century, including Cecil Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, John Tchicai and Tony Oxley, and his explorations of improvisatory traditions in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Japan are unique.

The new biography will be launched at Ray's Jazz, Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road this Thursday (July 1) at 6pm.

Hat tip: Anthony Barnett

Defence of Israel

In response to those who have asked why, on this weblog, I declare support for the state of Israel, I can't do any better than to refer them to the conclusion of Alan Dershowitz's book The Case For Israel, where he writes:

Before I turn to proposals for a future peace, let me directly address the growing number of students and young people who are joining the legion of bigots who can see no right on the side of Israel and no wrong on the side of those who seek to destroy the Jewish state and transfer its Jewish population. You are on the wrong side of history. You are on the wrong side of morality and justice. You have, perhaps inadvertently, joined hands with forces of evil that have for millennia imposed a double standard against everything Jewish.

You are on the wrong side of those who supported Hitler's Holocaust and now deny that it occurred. You are assisting those who are once again targeting babies, children, women, and the elderly just because they are Jewish. You are in very bad company. Nor can you continue to hide behind claims of ignorance, because the facts are so easily available to anyone who wants to think for himself or herself.

If tragedy were once again to befall the Jewish people, or the Jewish nation in which more than 5 million of them make their home, history will judge you harshly, as it has your ideological predecessors. Think for yourself. Learn the facts. Listen to all sides. And if you are a person of goodwill, I am confident that you will no longer see this complex issue as one-sidedly anti-Israel. You owe it to yourself and to history not remain complicit with a new variant on the world's oldest prejudice.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Reviewing The Idiot

The Guardian has published a full page review by A.S. Byatt of my new translation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, and it's a positive one. For some reason, the page seems to load very slowly - however, it does load.

Gospel Week

Last night saw the opening of Lewisham's Gospel Week, a 10-day event designed to bring gospel music to a wider audience. Last night's opening concert was held before a large and responsive crowd in Catford's Broadway Theatre, Rushey Green. The evening was devoted mainly to Gospel Reggae, with contributions from Sherwin Gardner(T&T), King Arthur (JA), Vanessa B (T&T), Tiko (T&T), Alan Charles (UK), Witness (UK), Shiselon (T&T) and others, backed by the Praise Plus band. While some of this music was familiar to anyone who listens to Choice FM's Sunday morning Gospel show, some of it was entirely new to a UK audience. I'd previously heard some tracks from Sherwin Gardner's album Leaning, but the impact of his live gig last night went beyond anything I'd experienced there - a strong, intensely-focused performance that drew the audience in and spurred it on to response without patronizing it in any way, with music inspired not only by reggae, but also by hip hop, jamoo and other genres. Tiko was also in good form, and gave a powerful set of duos with Vanessa Briggs.

The week continues at the Broadway tonight with Joann Rosario, plus Vanessa B, the Kingdom Choir and the United Praise Choir. Noel Robinson is compere.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Funding Espionage?

An eye-opening report by Geoffrey Alderman in this week's Jewish Chronicle (subscription required) about funding for the Israeli organisation Peace Now by European governments, in particular the government of Finland, which made a substantial grant to the private activist group:

Members of the Knesset interior committee have been poring over documents which confirm that the Finnish government has been funding Peace Now. To be precise, they have been perusing a grant application made by Peace Now to the Finnish government, which the Finns decided to support to the tune of 50,000 Euros — roughly £33,000.

As befits all bona fide grant applications, the applicants naturally had to indicate why they wanted the money. Peace Now was refreshingly frank. It wanted the money to conduct surveys of housing construction within Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan and Jerusalem. Twice a month, said Peace Now, it needed to rent a light aircraft to conduct reconnaissance flights over these areas, and take photographs. It also needed road transport — to be precise, armoured cars — to shift its volunteers from one part of the territories to another.

As also befits all bona fide grant applications, Peace Now had to declare what its objective was. It did so, de-claring it to be the production of “tangible graphic and quantitative data” to assist in “the fulfilment of the Road Map.”

And, as yet again befits all bona fide grant applications, Peace Now had to demonstrate how it would disseminate its findings. Again, it did so. The findings were to be distributed to the international diplomatic corps, the international press and, of course, the Israeli public. (It did not mention the usefulness of the findings to the PLO — which has Peace Now maps pinned to the walls of its offices.)

Faced with such chutzpah, members of the interior committee were left to ponder the contents of the Israeli penal code and, in particular, the section of that code that quite sensibly defines “photography of sensitive areas of Israel for any foreign power” as an act of espionage punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

While settlement construction sites are not “sensitive areas” in the military sense, they are not exactly insensitive in the eyes of those enemies of Israel intent on attacking both military and civilian targets. And if it turns out that there are grounds for prosecution, I hope such a prosecution will be brought. If there are no grounds under present law, the law needs amending without delay.

But, irrespective of the outcome of any prosecution, there is another line of action open to the government of Israel which I hope it will take: to demand a full, public apology from the Finnish government, failing which, the Israeli ambassador should be withdrawn from Helsinki.

What right and what business had the government of Finland in advancing funds to a private group for the express purpose of carrying out activities designed to undermine the democratically elected government of a country with which Finland is at peace? In making available such funds, the Finnish government was surely interfering in the internal affairs of another country, in circumstances which brook of no legitimate justification.

I have been told that the motives of Finland were merely to advance the cause of peace. In that case, I am bound to ask why, in approving the grant, the Finns did not also insist that Peace Now extend its surveillance to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority — say to rocket-making factories in Gaza and to Islamic terrorist academies on the West Bank.

The fact that they did not do so speaks volumes.

As a literary translator, I've been involved with Finland and Finnish literature for many years - I'm currently working on a Scottish-Finnish poetry anthology with the Scottish Poetry Library and the Finnish Literature Centre - and it troubles me to read this report. I hope that the Finnish government will take note of the Knesset protest, and issue a public apology for this evident breach of international protocol.

Increasingly,I'm concerned about the attitude towards Israel taken by the governments of Nordic countries. It really does at times appear now that there is deep hostility in Scandinavia towards the state of Israel. This was surely not always so - or perhaps it was, and only now is the truth coming out.

East Versus West

Worrying news from Lithuania, where the country's fledgling democracy appears now to be under attack from pro-Russian forces that are trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election runoff due to be held on June 27. At the Jamestown Foundation, the political analyst Vladimir Socor writes that the Lithuanian government's Special Investigation Service (SIS) has raided the offices of the two governing coalition parties - the Social-Democrats, led by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and the New Union/Social Liberals, led by Parliament Chairman and acting head of state Arturas Paulauskas - as well as those of the two opposition parties that support the government's policies on issues of democracy, market economics, NATO and US relations - in other words, the parties that maintain and support Lithuania's present pro-Western stance. Socor continues:

The SIS action clearly seeks to influence the election's outcome and, with it, Lithuania's international orientation. SIS has targeted the four parties that recently organized the impeachment and removal of President Rolandas Paksas (2003-2004). Paksas allowed Russians linked to intelligence services and organized crime to penetrate the presidential office. The targeted parties support the candidacy of former President Adamkus, a Lithuanian-American, in the June 27 election runoff. His opponent, Kazimira Prunskiene, has long-standing Russian connections. Paksas and allied left-leaning groups support Prunskiene in her bid for the presidential office, and have entered into an alliance with her party for the upcoming parliamentary elections as well. Valentinas Junokas, the SIS chief who ordered the actions against the pro-western parties, is a Paksas holdover and known personal sympathizer of the removed president.

By virtue of its actions on June 22, the SIS seeks to propel the Prunskiene-Paksas alliance into the presidency now, and into Parliament in the September elections with a view toward forming a governing majority. SIS' actions targeted the four pro-western parties, seeking to paint them with a broad brush of corruption and discredit them with voters on the eve of the presidential runoff. The SIS' actions have stunned and confused the political establishment. State institutions are unable to react due to lack of information. Many politicians find it difficult to object to an operation that claims to prosecute corruption, as taking a stand against such an operation on election eve seems politically risky. The legal basis for the SIS operation is far from clear. The political authority under which the SIS acts is murky, and the mechanisms for democratic control over the agency are now found to be inadequate and dysfunctional. SIS chief Junokas gave ambiguous answers and withheld hard information from members of Parliament during June 22 hearings. Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius, testifying alongside Junokas, failed to clarify the role of the prosecutor-general's office in the affair, or the relationship between the SIS and the prosecutor-general's office. Klimavicius seemed to passively condone the SIS actions, even complaining that politicians and the media were overreacting. The main question in these hearings concerned the timing of the SIS operation, just days before the presidential election runoff. Junokas and Klimavicius blithely conceded that the SIS action might have been mistimed.

In sum, Junokas and his team seem to be acting out of control; no political or state authority seems willing or able to effectively challenge the SIS actions. The presidential office is vacant, with Paulauskas serving as interim head of state until a new president is inaugurated. The parliamentary chairmanship also became vacant when Paulauskas became interim president. That parliamentary post is temporarily held by left-leaning Social-Democrat Ceslovas Jursenas, self-described as "ideologically close" to Prunskiene. Slightly more than half the Parliament's membership took part in a June 22 vote to instruct the legislature's security and defense committee to prepare a report on the SIS matter by June 24. On June 23, the State Defense Council instructed Klimavicius to probe the legality of SIS actions and present a report by June 25. Meanwhile, the State Security Department has a newly appointed and inexperienced leadership.

Few politicians seem willing to speak their minds at this juncture, although many undoubtedly agree with a statement made by Adamkus. "Lithuania's democracy is in danger. This move cannot be viewed otherwise than as an attempt to influence voters in the presidential election, destabilize the situation, and undermine the country's international standing. I hope that the state and appropriate institutions, including Parliament, will take urgent steps to establish what is behind these actions, whether laws were broken, and where these actions were initiated," Adamkus stated (LNK-TV, June 23). From Poland, Zuokas stated, "These actions have been fully influenced by foreign intelligence" (Reuters, June 22).

As usual in litmus test situations, Fatherland Union/Conservative leader Vytautas Landsbergis, who was the first head of the restored state from 1990 to 1992 and served as parliamentary chairman from 1996 to 2000, presented a clear-cut political diagnosis. Landsbergis said, "A synchronized attack has been launched on all political parties that don't back the Russian-preferred candidate Kazimira Prunskiene. Russia is playing its last card after Rolandas Paksas...The state has come under attack. The state must defend itself" (Reuters, Delfi web site, June 22).

Lithuanian mainstream media and think tankers view the Paksas affair, and now the Prunskiene candidacy in the context of Russian attempts to change Lithuania's -- and other ex-Soviet-ruled countries' -- western orientation by exploiting various internal economic or political vulnerabilities. In the case of Lithuania, and also Latvia, this is almost certainly the last chance for Moscow.

It looks as though this really may be the beginning of a last-ditch attempt by Moscow to achieve what it has failed to achieve since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 -- the subjugation of at least one, and possibly two, of the Baltic States that regained their independence at that time. Where demographic politics have failed, the long arm of the secret police (with a long-serving officer in charge in the Kremlin) is about to make a grab for power.

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam and Leopoldo Niilus

Update 28/6 2004: President Adamkus has won a second term - some details at the BBC website.

Freedom and its Foes

At the end of his dissection and critique of Islam as a form of religious fascism, Why I Am Not A Muslim, Ibn Warraq returns to the theme of the "betrayal of the intellectuals" with which the book begins. Concentrating on what he sees as the undermining of confidence in Western secular values by certain Western intellectuals, he discusses the problem of the self-denigration that is so widespread in the Western world. The left in particular tends to be unpatriotic, and Ibn Warraq quotes Richard Rorty, who distinguishes between a pluralism that aims to create a "community of communities", and a left-inspired multiculturalism that "is turning into the attempt to keep these communities at odds with one another." "At any rate," Ibn Warraq writes, I am convinced that despite all the shortcomings of Western liberal democracy, it is far more preferable to the authoritarian, mind-numbing certitudes of Islamic theocracy." He quotes Karl Popper:

One must fight those who make so many young people unhappy by telling them that we live in a terrible world, in a kind of capitalist hell. The truth is that we live in a wonderful world, in a beautiful world, and in an astonishingly free and open society. Of course it is fashionable, it is expected, and it is almost demanded from a Western intellectual to say the opposite.

And Judith Miller:

Islamic militancy presents the West with a paradox. While liberals speak of the need for diversity with equality, Islamists see this as a sign of weakness. Liberalism tends not to teach its proponents to fight effectively. What is needed, rather, is almost a contradiction in terms: a liberal militancy, or a militant liberalism that is unapologetic and unabashed.

And Ibn Warraq concludes his book with a paragraph which I believe is worthy of sustained reflection at the present time:

The West needs to be serious about democracy, and should eschew policies that compromise principles for short-term gains at home and abroad. The rise of fascism and racism in the West is proof that not everyone in the West is enamored of democracy. Therefore, the final battle will not necessarily be between Islam and the West, but between those who value freedom and those who do not (my emphasis).

I have dwelt on these excerpts from Ibn Warraq's thought-provoking book because they seem to me to have a direct relevance to discussions and debates that are taking place right now in many parts of the West, in both online and offline media and forums, on the subject of the West and its position in the war on terror. For some time now, the author Robert Spencer has been maintaining a website called Dhimmi Watch, where he most laudably seeks to expose the workings of "dhimmitude" -- the denial of equality of rights and dignity which remains part of the Sharia and is "part of the legal superstructure that global jihadists are laboring to restore everywhere in the Islamic world, and wish ultimately to impose on the entire human race." While Spencer offers valuable insights into the structure and dynamics of Islamic society, showing how tenets of the Islamic religion are translated into actual practical policy by jihadists and other extreme right-wing forces in the Muslim world, he also considers it his duty to draw attention to the ways in which militant Islam impacts on the societies of the West, as it seeks to influence and erode their legal and constitutional basis. He is particularly at pains to illustrate, chronicle and document the folly of many Western liberal and left wing publications, commentators and political figures in their dealings with Islam and its presence in their countries, and the area of his concern stretches beyond North America to the continent of Europe, where he perceives the most blatant forms of and expressions of dhimmitude.

Spencer is certainly not alone in pointing to Europe as the theatre in which the forces of militant Islam perform the most acute enactment of their hostility to the ideas, values and practices of Western civilisation, and where the contradictions of the liberal-left wing policies of multiculturalism reach their most glaring intensity. The Italian author and journalist Oriana Fallaci grew up in Fascist Italy during Mussolini's dictatorship, developed an interest in power and the ways in which it is abused, and largely because of her father (an underground resistance leader) and her activities in the resistance movement, she also gained the sense that abuses of power can be challenged and resisted and even overcome. For a long time she was a part of the political Left in Italy, but after the events of September 11 2001 she wrote a powerful book, The Rage And The Pride, in which she examined the threat posed to the West by Islam. The book's publication caused her to be ostracized by many of the left, who accused her of intolerance, hatred and religious racism, among other things. Yet Fallaci has stuck to her position, which is really that in the twenty-first century the West faces a threat from Islam analogous to that which in the twentieth century it faced from Fascism, Nazism and Communism. Bravely, she has recently published a second book on this subject, La Forza Della Ragione (The Force of Reason), where the West's - and especially Western Europe's - failure to prevent its own liberal and democratic principles and institutions from being hijacked by an intolerant and despotic religious ideology is excoriated even further.

However, Fallaci writes above all as a European. When she lashes out at the governments of France or Britain, at the liberal left's anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, she does so as someone who has a deep and personal knowledge of what it means to be a European - she is acutely conscious of the traumas of Europe's past, and her passionate denunciation of so much of Europe's social and cultural failure is inspired by an equivalent love of the societies and cultures of Europe. It is her pain in the face of the moral and political confusion of "Eurabia" - the term she borrows from the renowned historian of Islam Bat Ye'Or, but which first appeared in public view as the title of a journal founded to promote European-Arab relations in the mid 1970s - that impels her, and the foundation of her post 9/11 writing is not hatred, but love.

I wish it were possible to say the same about some of the writing that is published on Robert Spencer's website. What tends to happen there is that a deep tension is created between America and Europe. One often has the feeling that the extensive and severely harsh criticism of Europeans and their governments is inspired by a hatred, not a love, of Europe. Most recently an article has appeared, written by Hugh Fitzgerald, called Douce France, which paints an almost universally negative and denunciatory picture of modern French society and culture. I've already commented on this article at Eurabian Times, but I would like to draw readers' attention to it once again here, and particularly to the way in which, under the pretext of criticizing the French "elite", it apparently damns a whole culture and a whole people - even children - in a mocking tone, as though it represented some kind of Other: in Buber's terms, not a "Thou" but an "It":

At the end of the school day, chic mothers still congregate in little towns, or small cities, outside the school – this or that Ecole Jules Ferry -- waiting to pick up their children. Here come the littlest ones, from Maternelle, running up now -- just look at how small they are. And here are the CE1 group, with those huge cartables on their tiny backs. Run, run, run, to Mommy. Oop-la. And then the years of study, study, study marked by ever-larger cahiers -- "cahier" and "cartable" are the words that identify French DNA better than Piaf or gauloises, isn't that true? And now we will read the books, and study the subjects, set down so completely and precisely by the Ministry of Education. And now we are up to the final year, preparing for the Bac, with copies of blue-backed BALISES, guides to Les Châtiments and La Peau de Chagrin. And just look at the results listed in the newspaper: Claire-Alix has a mention très bien. Fantastic. Everything is fine, everything will always stay the same, whole countries cannot change. It’s not possible.

I would submit that this kind of "criticism" does more harm than good, as it is directed not against mistaken ideas or policies, but against human beings themselves. It attacks the very notion of human solidarity in the face of evil.

While it's true that there are many in Europe who even refuse to admit that there is a war to be fought, it's no by no means all who think this way. And America needs to work with the forces in Europe that do see the true situation. As Oriana Fallaci points out in La Forza Della Ragione, in order to win this war, America needs Europe -it is ultimately European values that are under threat, not - per se - American ones. Europe is indeed "Eurabianized", just as Europe was once heavily infiltrated by Communism, but that doesn't mean that there aren't forces in Europe - and especially in "enlightened", "rational" Europe - that can rise to the counterattack. But this is a cultural and ideological standoff - and it's ultimately ideas and values, not political propaganda, that will win the day.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Lost And Found - II

Reading the results of Today Translations' poll on The Most Untranslatable Word In The World, I couldn't help thinking about the very nature of translation itself. While it may be true that many individual words have a hard time migrating from one language from another, and it's certainly true, as the TT poll makes clear, that the translation of specialized sporting terms such as "googly" involve a translation not just from one language to another, but from one culture to another ("There Is No Such As Word As Googly In Lithuanian", Confesses Researcher), there is also the old and instructive Italian saying that equates traduttore (translator) with traditore (traitor). And as I read the poll results, some quotations from Jakobson and Boas also came to mind:

The real difference between languages lies not in what they can or can't express but in what speakers must or need not express. (Jakobson)

When we say "The man killed the bull", we understand that a unique and definite man has killed, in the past, a unique and definite bull. It is not possible for us to express this is event in such a way that doubt remains whether it concerns one definite person or several persons (or bulls), or the present or the past. We must choose between these options, and one or the other must be chosen. (Boas)

If some grammatical category is absent in a given language, its meaning may be translated into this language by lexical means. ... It is more difficult to remain faithful to the original when we translate into a language provided with a certain grammatical category from a language devoid of such a category. ... As Boas neatly observed, the grammatical pattern of a language (as opposed to its lexical stock) determines those aspects of each experience that must be expressed in the given language. ... In order to translate accurately the English sentence "I hired a worker," a Russian needs supplementary information, whether this action was completed or not and whether the worker was a man or a woman... (Jakobson)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Music Behind Barbed Wire

The Swiss publisher Peter Lang has just released the book Musik hinter Stacheldraht (Music Behind Barbed Wire). This is a collection of diary notes from the year 1940 by the Austrian composer Hans Gál, who attained success in Germany before World War 2, becoming Director of the Mainz Conservatoire in 1929, but who because of his Jewishness had to return to Vienna when Hitler came to power in 1933, and after the Anschluss of 1938 fled to Britain, where from 1945 he taught at the University of Edinburgh. The book is a fascinating account of the five months in 1940 Hans Gál spent as an "enemy alien", first in the internment camp at Huyton and later at Douglas on the Isle of Man. As the Gál website makes clear:

The war on the continent was going badly, and the threat of invasion loomed ever nearer. The authorities resorted to panic measures. Hanna had to leave the coastal area - which included Edinburgh - and Gál was interned. Aliens had originally been classified into three groups: category A (to be interned), category B (subject to restrictions) and category C (exempt from both). But with the fall of France, an increasingly nervous population, and Churchill's exhortation to 'collar the lot', by Whitsun 1940 internment was extended to cover category B and a large section of category C. In all about 27,000 'enemy aliens' were interned, including Jewish refugees, the group who, ironically, had the most reason to be on the side of the allies against Nazi Germany. The policy was, of course, motivated by the desire to control potentially dangerous enemies, but that it affected not just genuine Nazis but also those who were fleeing from them, and indeed incarcerated both together indiscriminately, can only be seen as not merely unwarranted, but also a serious misjudgement.

Gál, along with all the other Edinburgh refugees, was arrested on Whit Sunday, in May, 1940, and first accommodated in a disused hospital. After an uncomfortable few days, they were transferred to a camp at Huyton near Liverpool. A month later they were moved to Douglas, on the Isle of Man. The company included many of the most distinguished intellectuals, and it did not take long for a camp 'university' to be established, with lectures, study groups, and the like. Some of the internees thrived on the rich intellectual diet; Gál, too, found the company stimulating, but the experience was far from pleasant, given the deprivations of life as an internee and above all their total powerlessness in the face of mindless and petty bureaucracy, that appeared not to have understood the difference between Nazis and 'refugees from Nazi oppression'. He was also cut off from news of the war, and for weeks on end had no idea of the fate of his eldest son Franz, who had been taken into internment at the same time, but then immediately separated from him. His anxiety became panic with the torpedoing in the Irish Sea of the SS Arandora Star, a ship carrying refugees, which was en route for Canada, as it was possible that Franz might be aboard. He also contracted a skin disease in the camp, which became so bad that he had to spend several weeks in the camp hospital and was eventually released early.

For the first and only time in his life Gál kept a diary during this period, with the title Music Behind Barbed-Wire: A Diary of Summer 1940. It records in some detail his observations on life as an internee, and his reactions to them - the discomforts, the pettiness and incompetence of the authorities, the anxieties and frustrations; but also the human values which, in spite of - and perhaps because of - all the hardships, continued to assert themselves. Many of his Edinburgh friends were interned with him, but he also met up with old friends and acquaintances, who joined the camp from other parts of the country.

At first Gál had no appetite for music, but in due course his creative urge returned. In Huyton he composed his Huyton Suite (Op.92) for flute and two violins (the only instruments that were available in the camp). The cheerfulness of this work again testifies to Gál's ability to draw on inner strengths in spite of the external circumstances. He also wrote the music for a camp revue, What a Life. The hurdles and ultimate exhilaration in staging this review provide a constant, and tragi-comic, backdrop to much of the diary. Despite his distaste for internment, he stayed on in the camp for an extra day after being granted his release in order to give the second performance. It was an overwhelming success.

By the autumn of 1940, as a result of lobbying by liberally-minded politicians and other figures, and also in the light of the sinking of the Arandora Star, the folly of the internment policy was realised. Gál was able to return to Edinburgh in late September of that year, a free man.

Growing up in Edinburgh, I first met Hans's daughter Eva when she was nine and I was eight - we studied violin at the same Edinburgh music school. Later, I took private lessons with Hans Gál, and additionally learned a huge amount from him about the development of the Austro-German musical tradition. It's good to have this book - and also the CD, containing among other things a performance of Gál's Huyton Suite - which puts those years of learning in a new light. For me, it gives an Edinburgh childhood that can sometimes seem rather distant now a resonance and closeness that also reflects today's world, with all its deeply worrying resurrection of attitudes and hostilities that we who grew up in the years immediately following World War II had thought were buried for ever.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Through The Looking Glass

Via normblog again, a report to make one choke on one's British afternoon tea. The world in a distorting mirror, courtesy of Glasgow University:

Israeli bias: it's official

One of the most difficult tasks facing any journalist is reporting from, or writing about, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whenever I touch on Middle Eastern issues I receive scores, sometimes hundreds, of emails.

So my in-tray will surely be overflowing today because of a research study by the Glasgow University media group entitled Bad News From Israel, which is being published in book form this week.

Its findings confirm what so many impartial observers already know. The main overall conclusion is that there is a clear bias in television news bulletins in favour of the Israelis. The researchers discovered that there is a "preponderance of official Israeli perspectives", particularly on BBC1, where Israelis were interviewed or reported more than twice as often as Palestinians.

American politicians who support Israel appeared more often than politicians from any other country, and twice as often as those from Britain. There are also major differences in the language used to describe the two sides, with Israel benefiting from its official statist position and the Palestinians suffering as stateless rebels.

Read Norman Geras's comments on this at the link above, and read the piece itself (scroll down) at Media Guardian (free registration required).


Chechenpress Statement with regard to the events in Ingushetia:

The leadership of the ChRI has repeatedly warned Russia and the world community that it isn't possible to keep the flames of war within the borders of Chechnya for much longer. Today we see that military activity has gripped the territory of Ingushetia. Nobody can give solid guarantees that the war won't spread to still other territories of the Caucasus and to Russia itself, if the Kremlin continues to follow its blind suicidal course, tempted to solve the problems by force, which can only be solved by peaceful political means, due to their very nature.

It can be stated with certainty that the war in Ingushetia began already at the moment when the Kremlin forced President Aushev to retire and installed its humble protégé Zyazikov in his place, a Chekist cadre. From that time on, Ingushetia became a zone of the bloody trade of the Russian death squads. Murders, hostage-taking, terror against the Chechen refugees and complete lawlessness became a daily reality in Ingushetia, in the same way as the growing resistance against the intolerable arbitrariness which had ascended the throne in this region became a reality. Finally, the indignation of the people reached a critical mass and took the form of a direct, armed riot.

The Chechen leadership declares with all its authority that the entire fault for the tragic events in Ingushetia and their possible development lies on the Russian side and must be shared by its local puppets.

Vice-premier of the Chechen Government, Special Representative of the ChRI President to Foreign Countries, Ahmed Zakayev

Chechenpress, 22.06.04

Harry's Place

Harry's Place has disappeared. On his blog, Norm says he has had an email from Harry saying that

somehow the blog has vanished, along with the service provider, Bloghouse, and all the Harry's Place archives. Harry doesn't know if they have any chance of recovering the material but it looks very much as though they may have lost everything.

The person who took care of the hosting of Harry's Place was Kathy Kinsley. All her sites, Harry says, have vanished and her email no longer works. He asks me to say: if any blogger or reader knows how to contact her, please can you get in touch. Kathy is his only hope of recovering the material.

Also, Harry says that whatever happens, he hopes to have a blog up again in the near future, even if they have to start from scratch.

Can I appeal, for my own part, for anyone who can help to do so. (Others could perhaps spread this message.) Harry's Place is one of the very best of the British blogs. This is an awful blow.

I for one hope that Harry's Place is up and running again as swiftly as possible. It's one of my very favourite blogs.


For about a year now, I've been studying post-bop jazz harmony: partly on my own, using Mark Levine's incredibly comprehensive, careful and accurate Jazz Theory Book, Marc Sabatella's invaluable The Harmonic Language of Jazz Standards, and partly - perhaps mainly - in a class at City Lit, where as an instrumentalist who is also a singer, I've had the privilege of learning and practising in a group that's mostly composed of vocalists. Eartraining has also been an important part of the study process. As a classically trained musician, I've found that both eartraining and linear/chordal harmony are aspects of music that are neglected in classical music education, and it's only now, in seeking to develop my improvisational skills, that I feel I am really getting grips with this material for the first time.

One of the big hurdles for those who take the path of the improvising musician is trying to develop the ability to recognize and reproduce intervals and chord progressions aurally - i.e. without reference to the printed page. This skill is vital in improvisation, as it makes it possible for the soloist not only to relate to the overall harmonic and rhythmic texture of the ensemble, but also to build solos that are securely anchored in the harmonic basis of the music being played. I still have occasional trouble with minor sevenths, major sixths and fourths, though other intervals seem to come easily, and I don't have much difficulty in recognizing them. I've used a number of software programs as aids in this process of eartraining, among them Earope, which presents a piano keyboard on the screen, together with numerous exercises in intervals, scales, chords, inversions, melody, rhythm, chord progressions, and more. There is also useful guidance to be had at the Yahoo group Just Jazz.

But the best training I've received has undoubtedly been in the City Lit class, where the live setting makes it possible for the group to interact musically - some of the most useful hours have been spent in improvising sessions, where ideas have been exchanged not so much verbally as musically, and our teacher, who is not only a singer but also a pianist and drummer, has guided us with carefully measured frameworks for our solos. The final class this year is on Saturday, when we will go through all the melodies we have studied during the year, in a kind of extended jazz theory jam session. It should be fun! Next year I plan to take the second year course.

Miscellany - I

In a previous post, I wondered about the wisdom of including music-related posts in this blog. It's easy for confusion to arise when there are many different subjects under consideration, and I already have literary items here. But music is one of the main centres of interest in my life, so I do intend to keep the musical material coming here, if for no other reason than that music has the power to cross many different barriers cultural, racial, linguistic, geographic - and also political and ideological ones. And that's a real necessity in today's world, I think.

"Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day." (Psalm 96:1-4)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Spirit and Truth

It's been a busy weekend music-wise, with rehearsals and the concert on Saturday evening at the Albany Theatre, Deptford, where Vox Simba shared the bill with the Noisetttes, Blow Crazy and the Carol Grimes Band. Vox Simba sang well, and gave a particularly strong account, with the band, of the Trinitee 5:7 gospel blues "Oh Mary Don't You Weep", with powerful and moving solos from Nefertiti and Amanda. The audience response was enthusiastic, and numbers were encouraging - with the closing of the Vortex club, it seems that there's a now a part of the roving audience for jazz and gospel that's in search of a new home.

Now the choir is getting ready to participate - with another programme of soul, gospel, and reggae - in next Sunday's charity fundraising concert at the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington, which will be hosted by Juliet Alexander. June 27, 7.30pm to 9pm at the Commonwealth Events Centre at the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington High Street, London W8 6NQ (020 7603 4535).

Sunday, June 20, 2004

We Are Not Your Enemy

Akhmed Zakayev, a deputy prime minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who received political asylum in Britain, writing from London in the International Herald Tribune on June 19, 2004:

I am perhaps one of the few who was not really impressed by the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison. For I come from the part of the world where humiliation, torture, rape and murder in the name of the war on terror is a daily routine while exposure, apology and punishment of the perpetrators is an unattainable dream.

The Russian war in Chechnya has left 180,000 civilians dead, 17 percent of the population and twice as many homeless. Thousands of innocent people kidnapped by Russian soldiers disappeared without a trace. Some were ransomed to their families, alive and dead. Some were found in mass graves, disfigured by horrible torture. A human rights group recently published the confession of a Russian officer who took part in more than 50 secret executions.

Before Sept. 11, the West viewed Chechnya as a massive violation of human rights and condemned Russia for suppression of free speech and democracy. Then, democratically inclined Chechens - and Russians - felt the moral backing of the West and reciprocated with gratitude and respect. The Chechen problem was taken for what it was: a result of the disintegration of the Soviet empire that could be solved through negotiations.

But on Sept. 11, President Vladimir Putin pledged Russia's support to President George W. Bush; in return, Chechnya was declared a part of the global war on terror. So, while the statistics of atrocities in Chechnya have beaten all records in Bosnia and Kosovo, Slobodan Milosevic sits in the dock in the Hague while Putin attends the G-8 summit.

What, then, can we, the last democratically elected Chechen government, tell our people? That the United States deems us ineligible for life and liberty? That we have been sacrificed for the sake of strategic partnership with Russia? That the Russians have a license to kill us as long as Osama bin Laden remains at large?

Read the rest of Zakayev's article at this URL.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Life Of Monologue - II

Rückbiegung ist etwas Andres als Egoismus und sogar als «Egotismus». Es ist nicht dies, daß einer sich mit sich befaßt, sich betrachtet, sich befingert, sich genießt, sich verehrt, sich beweint; das kann alles himzukommen – wie zur Hinwendung, sie vollended, hinzukommen kann, daß man den Andern in dessen eigentümlichen Dasein vergegenwärtigt, ja ihn umfaßt, so daß man die ihm und einem selber gemeinsamen Situationen auch von seinem, des Andern, Ende aus erfährt –, aber es gehört nicht dazu. Rückbiegung nenne ich es, wenn einer sich der wesensmäßigen Annahme einer andern Person in ihrer seinem Selbstkreis schlechthin nicht einscrheibbaren, seine Seele wohl substantiell berührenden und bewegenden, aber nirgends ihr immanenten Sonderheit entzieht und den Andern nur also das eigne Erlebnis, nur als eine Meinheit bestehen läßt. Da wird denn Zwiesprache zum Schein, der geheimnishafte Verkehr zwischen menschlicher Welt und menschlicher Welt wird nur noch gespielt, und in der Ablehnung des gegenüberliegenden Wirklichen beginnt sich die Essenz aller Wirklichkeit zu zersetzen.

[Reflexion is something different from egoism and even from “egoism”. It is not that a man is concerned with himself, considers himself, fingers himself, enjoys, idolizes and bemoans himself; all that can be added, but it is not integral to reflexion. (Similarly, to the turning towards the other, completing it, there can be added the realizing of the other in his particular existence, even the encompassing of him, so that the situations common to him and oneself are experienced also from his, the other’s end.) I term it reflexion when a man withdraws from accepting with his essential being another person in his particularity – a particularity which is by no means to be circumscribed by the circle of his own self, and though it substantially touches and moves his soul is in no way immanent in it – and lets the other exist only as his own experience, only as a “part of myself”. For then dialogue becomes a fiction, the mysterious intercourse between two human worlds only a game, and in the rejection of the real life confronting him the essence of all reality begins to disintegrate.]

Buber, Zwiesprache

Friday, June 18, 2004

UKIP - The Angry Party

I don't always agree with Matthew Parris on many issues, but I think that with his latest article in the Spectator (free registration required), he has probably hit the nail on the head as accurately as it can be hit at present.

In particular:

I’ve enjoyed the flutter in Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat dovecotes provoked by the Ukip fox in last week’s elections. To watch feathers flying among the ranks of our classe politique is always a pleasure, and I happen to think an uncomplicatedly anti-EU party has every right to exist. This one is set to exercise an influence on the course of both Labour and Tory policy towards Europe. But a cool view should be taken of Ukip’s likely progress towards its declared destination: getting into Parliament, and getting out of Europe. There is, however, one issue on which it may find headway still to be made, an issue which should worry Michael Howard more than European integration: to this I shall return in a moment.

and, returning, to it:

I said at the outset that there was one issue on which Ukip might, however, find vacuum into which to expand. That issue is not Europe at all. It is immigration. ‘BNP in blazers’ was meant as a taunt, but I fear that the prospect would not be unwelcome to much of Britain. The challenge to our mainstream parties to find a non-racist voice which can discuss and respond to our national fear of overcrowding may be more urgent than they think. It is a voice which Ukip may shortly find. When the electorate speaks, isn’t ‘we must hold our nerve’ rather an insulting response from the political class?

Islamic Training

BBC Radio 4's "Crossing Continents" series has a programme on State Training For Europe's Imams, in which its presenter, Tim Whewell, visits Islamic communities in Ireland, the Netherlands and France with a view to investigating the practicalities of state intervention by European governments in the promulgation and teaching of Islam in Europe.

I found the general tone of the programme quite strange: while exploring regions of intolerance, hatred and religious bigotry that make little pretence at concealing themselves, Whewell adopted the same quiet and reverent tone that used to characterize his investigations of Yeltsin's Russia - the facts and statements being unearthed might strike even a casual listener as being so appalling as to make comment almost superfluous, yet the tone of the presenter's commentary persists in a kind of calm, easy-going yet respectful acceptance that makes one wonder if he is really serious - confirmation of the latter being upheld only in the last result by the programme's "serious" focus on issues of extreme social and political concern. For some fairly extended portions of the 30 minute documentary in which he is present at Islamic religious events, Whewell speaks his commentary in a hushed voice, meant to inspire the listener with the same kind of reverence that might be felt, for example, at a Roman Catholic service. This parallelism is extended to the discussion of the issues: when Miriam Sterk, a legislator from the Dutch Christian Democrat Party, says she thinks that the Dutch government needs to have some say in the training of imams, Whewell responds with the "objection" that the Vatican would be outraged were the Dutch government to demand a similar intervention in the training of Roman Catholic clerics - surely this is religious discrimination? Sterk's riposte - that it is Islam, not Roman Catholicism, that's causing the problems to Dutch society - is left hanging in the air, unanswered, and apparently unaccepted.

Some trenchant points do come across quite clearly in the programme: as, for example, when Aihan Tunja, a Turkish Muslim leader, makes it plain that imams trained in West European countries can by no means be relied upon to be more "moderate" than thpse trained in Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries. And perhaps the most graphic moment of all - and one where radio really comes into its own - is when we hear a supporter of Tariq Ramadan warming up a crowd in Marseilles with an Islamic prayer sung to the melody of the Internationale...

I think that the BBC does deserve some credit for bringing these issues to the attention of its listeners. But it's the attitude, the manner in which the material is presented that seems more than slightly odd - as though the programme were saying: "Yes, we know that this is a serious crisis, and these extremists pose a real threat to Western values and the political stability of our countries, but this is the BBC, and we must always bear in mind that not only does the opposing viewpoint deserve an airing - it is very possibly correct and justified in the terms of its own cultural background, and it's us Europeans who are failing to get the point."

Or something of that sort. Incidentally, the programme can be heard worldwide on RealPlayer at this URL.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Disconnection Of Europe

In an article in the International Herald Tribune this week. Thomas Fuller takes a realistic view of the low turnout in the European elections, in which only one in five Poles voted, and turnout in France, Portugal and Spain fell to the lowest levels ever recorded.

Yet the low turnout came at the very time when Europe's governments claim they are making an effort to reach out to their citizens by drafting a European constitution. Fuller sees the problem as one of poor communication and a failure to connect, quoting the European Studies expert Timothy Garton Ash:

"I don't think that the European Union is going to fall apart like an oil tanker breaking up on the rocks," Garton Ash said. "I think the danger is that it becomes like the Holy Roman Empire, a structure of enormous complexity and ever greater irrelevance."

The risk, he said, is that as the Union gradually becomes less effective and more distant from its citizens, "real politics will take place elsewhere."

While some commentators like to make comparisons between the European Union and the United States which, superficially at least, it is supposed to resemble, reading the low turnout as a kind of "protest vote", and pointing to the low turnout in American elections, Fuller notes:

But there is a sense that the Union is in many ways a more fragile flower. In a café in Paris, Berlin or Rome, the notion of the warring tribes of Europe may come up in nothing more than conversation about history - until, perhaps, one is reminded of the Balkans or a country like Moldova. Most Europeans cannot find Moldova on a map, but it is now a few hundred kilometers from the EU's borders and has a nasty, festering secessionist problem aggravated by the presence of a Soviet-era ammunition dump.

It's because of issues like these, Fuller suggests, that the question of how to overcome the apathy is so urgent.

And it's not helped by the Euro-speak and bureaucratese that characterize the EU's official communications:

An example: "Under the Amsterdam Treaty it was decided to move JHA from the third pillar to the first pillar with an automatic transition clause." (Rough translation: Justice and home affairs issues can be addressed on a European level.)

Or this: "The IGC is currently discussing the passerelle clause on the financial perspectives." (Rough translation: Leaders are discussing a change in methods for voting on the budget.)

"Finding the roots of European apathy is not specifically on the agenda for Thursday's meeting of leaders to discuss the constitution," writes Fuller. "But maybe it should be."

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Life Of Monologue

Buber (in Zwiesprache [Dialogue]):

Der monologisch Lebende gewahrt das Andere nie als etwas, das zugleich schlechthin nicht er ist und womit er doch kommuniziert. Einsamkeit kann für ihn aufsteigende Fülle der Gesichte, der Gedanken bedeuten, nie aber den tiefen, in einer neuen Tiefe eroberten Verkehr mit dem unfaßlich Wirklichen. Natur ist für ihn entweder ein état d’âme, also ein «Erlebnis» in ihm, oder ein passiver Gegenstand der Kenntnis, entweder idealistisch verseelt oder realistisch verfremdet; sie wird ihm nicht zum Wort, das man mit schauenden und spürenden Sinnen vernimmt.

(He who is living the life of monologue is never aware of the other as something that is absolutely not himself and at the same time something with which he nevertheless communicates. Solitude for him can mean mounting richness of visions and thoughts but never the deep intercourse, captured in a new depth, with the incomprehensibly real. Nature for him is either an état d’âme, hence a “living through” in himself, or it is a passive object of knowledge, either idealistically brought within the soul or realistically alienated. It does not become for him a word apprehended with senses of beholding and feeling.)

Soaping The Idiot

A phone call from Penguin's publicity agent, to say that The Idiot is to be featured in the August 6 episode of HOLLYOAKS. Not a show I watch regularly. Still, it's publicity, isn't it?


Davids Medienkritik has an interesting item about the reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War, and recent statements from German Chancellor Schroeder in the context of his speech in connection with the D-Day ceremonies.

As Davids Medienkritik points out, the speech

took great pains not to mention the U.S. as "liberator". The closest he came to mentioning the U.S. was in the context of "the Allies":

"Ladies and gentlemen, the fall of the Hitler dictatorship was the work of the Allies in the West and the East."

Compare this to Schroeder's treatment of Russia:

"The millions of victims of the Nazis in eastern Europe are not forgotten, the men and women of the western Alliance are not forgotten, neither are all the Russian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of their homeland."

Schroeder goes on to thank France, not the United States, for German reunification!

"Without the hand, which France in its generosity and political wisdom stretched out to us, we would not have found been able to complete the path which led us to reunification. And for this Mr. President I would especially like to thank you for your constant help and commitment. It is a good day -- today on June 6, 2004 -- to thank France and its Allies for that."

The item is also noteworthy for its inclusion of a link to a revealing 1974 interview with Lucius D. Clay, who was commander in chief of U.S. Forces in Europe and military governor of the U.S. Zone in Germany from 1947 to 1949. Clay throws some sobering light on the process of denazification that was begun with the Nuremberg war trials: "We were in a difficult position on this," Clay says, "because with the exception of the few notorious leaders, neither the British nor the French cared a thing about denazification. We were pursuing a policy in our zone that was not being pursued anywhere else..."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


In my translation, a sequence of poems by the contemporary Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden, from her collection Gjenkjennelsen (Recognition) which appeared in 1982. The sequence was read by the poet, with these translations, at the Rotterdam International Poetry Festival in 2002.


Where shall we go the day we see
there is nowhere
to go? When all doors are just as
open as they earlier were closed, when an
open silent space is all that remains
of all your longing?

The big green picture
and the rain making sound
the wind’s darkness in the tree
the forest on a black background

outside in the wind, inside in the wind

All that running water
all that gliding water
under the face, the neck, the skin that
is there for great confusion and balance

The open sucking space around
and in us that draws all
movements to it
and lets them go again

That one is an open system
That all one’s thoughts
have probably been thought by others, earlier or right now
That we are now gliding together down a flood
of words. Sometimes we glimpse one another
through the waves, other times not

cool now, water is the mouth

You are my eye that glides through us

I am your face that touches

you are my movement in all joy

I am your language for confusion

you are my sketch for a plan

I am your indistinct face that must always be filled in

we are the only possible point of departure

Yes, I know the darkness that blocks the movement
in us, days
that make you remain standing far inside
a dark lack

the darkness that
suddenly pours in through
sleep, the blood in the body that dives
cold down to the bottom

the fear, like a white curtain in the breast

Close to the blindness, your eye
the white wall
a sorrow and the flowing wall
under the white fingers, under over
your eye

you and the whiteness
you think it is not there, but
in the blue suction between

Your blue cry in the wall
your blueness so beyond reason, spread out
everywhere, and with numb moisture on the inside trickling
without will and with

But when you reach what touches you
it does not touch you
any more

yet there is always something that wants
to touch you

Yesterday you stood jammed into a word
almost without being able to breathe
Today perhaps you can say it, and
tomorrow it will be an almost imperceptible
change of colour in everything that was said

The unknown possible in your life
it rests in you
like a positive balance you can
always take up, also
outside the great powers

what you speak against, you will still remain with
but in reverse fashion

and all movement can be your own
if you go into it

If you say that things are bad
all you have said is
that things are bad

If you say you are oppressed
then you will probably succeed
in being just that

If you want to be an oppressed girl
you must say you are an oppressed girl
you will quite simply be taken
at your word

Come from without, come from within
do we have a language for it, do we have a language for oppression
from without, from within?

The collectively chosen and spoken,
you can certainly hold it up like a mirror, you
will not receive recognition for anything more
than your life, but
your life can be recognized in many
people, powers and masks
it is so

You must decide now
if you want to speak
or if you want to let language
state who you are

your secret word is
not a secret word, it belongs
to us all

You must decide now
who you want to be, you know that most
of what is said lies heavy in the sea
like a will to dive under

the language that submerges you deep
to the point of choking

You must decide if you want to be someone
stated expressly now, you must change languages
for your very life’s sake

As you ask anxiously if
there are people here, you realize
that it’s a reprise, nothing
prevents us from
calling it a context either

The struggle between emotion and intelligence, does it
exist? Yes, it exists
between weak intelligence
and weak emotion

You’re afraid the irrational in you
will show? Will come out?
The irrational is all
the uttermost, visible everywhere

One day you wake up near my

your cheek strangely touched

I draw you into my body
with my thought
and look at you

you lie submerged in my
thought, and I
in yours

you are my eye that glides
to rest
on the bottom

reason’s near eye

thought for desire

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Silent Island

A link to W.H. Auden's poem, The Silent Island.

This Island Now

So the UK's electorate has voted in the local and European elections (in the latter with a higher than usual turnout, contrasting with the drop elsewhere in Europe), and the results have been fairly predictable: a shift towards the smaller fringe parties, and especially the UKIP, which campaigned on an anti-European agenda, but which also brings together Britain's anti-immigrant, anti-politician and anti-metropolitan constituencies. As the Guardian points out, parties like the UKIP are familiar in other countries "from France and Italy to the United States and Australia. This is the first time such a party has made such an impact in a UK election. It is a big hit against the European cause but, as results from elsewhere in the EU showed last night, it paradoxically leaves British politics looking more typically European."

I commented in an earlier post on the sense of foreignness I derive from seeing cars driving about London with the St George's cross fluttering from their aerials - this kind of national flag-flying is more commonly encountered in Mediterranean countries, where it's mostly associated with the political right wing. Populism in the UK has a rather dubious past - its antecedents include figures like Enoch Powell, whose Rivers of Blood Speech of 1968 did nothing to soothe the intercommunal tensions in Britain at the time. As Johann Hari has shown, the UKIP has some rather strange fish in its pond. It also has a charismatic leader, which makes it even more of a problematic phenomenon.

While I don't see fascism on Britain's political horizon yet, there are clear and unmistakable signs that it may be on the way - coming, as they say, to a theatre near you, in the not too distant future. The British National Party also "did well" in the elections which have just passed. And the behaviour of football fans in Cryodon, Bromley and other parts of London last night after the England defeat shows what may lie in store on the streets in the months ahead. If the prognostications of many commentators are fulfilled, and Tony Blair, weakened by the constant barracking he has received over Iraq, cedes his party leadership, and thus the premiership, to Gordon Brown, the Labour government will move inevitably to the left. The Conservatives, with much of their support gone to the UKIP and BNP, will not be able to mount an effective challenge, Labour will win next year's general election by a narrow margin, and the right wing of the political spectrum will gravitate towards the ultra right. Let's hope this doesn't come to pass.

These reflections were made all the more acute by watching the Panorama special screened by BBC1 last night. Entitled Covering Up, it mostly consisted of an exposition of the views of four young British Muslim women who, we were told, "are choosing to wear the hijab - to cover their hair with headscarf - or even to veil themselves, and to cover their face entirely." The four included Sister Muddassar Arani, the lawyer who defended the Islamic extremist Abu Hamza - and this inclusion was rather noticeable. While two of the women who were interviewed mainly spoke of wearing the hijab, or veil, as a means of asserting their personal identity, almost like a fashion accessory, a third saw it as a badge of political protest, while for Sister Arani it was the mark of her alienation from British society, an alienation intensified by the obvious hostility that was expressed in her statements, her appearance and her gestures during the film. The programme seemed to be mixing apples and oranges in a dangerous way - the essentially playful and mischievous youthful protest of the two younger interviewees contrasted sharply with the hard-edged and politicized stance of the other two. Yet the BBC reporter was trying to blur the edges of this contrast, in a way that was meant to suggest that Arani, too, was merely attempting to "be herself", separate but integrated within the context of free expression in a liberal and tolerant society. The obvious falsity of this line was underscored by the comments of a Christian cleric, who questioned whether Muslims in Britain really wanted to integrate at all.

The programme tended to reinforce the fallacy of a confusion between race and religion that's common on the left - "Islamophobia" is seen as a form of racism, which it palpably is not, as Islam is not a race but a creed or, some would say, an ideology. Criticism and rejection of militant Islam is as valid as criticism and rejection of Nazism, or of Marxism-Leninism. This point was not brought out at all in the Panorama programme, which also failed to interview any ordinary non-Muslims. Some of these omissions and discrepancies are discussed on the BBC's Comments Page for the programme.

Thus, the shots in which the cars flying the St George's Cross were clearly intended to suggest a symbol of menace were wasted, and also bizarrely inappropriate: as an anti-racist message, these shots would have been most effective. But in the context of militant Islam they failed, because the threat and menace so obviously present in Arani's stance throughout the programme were so much greater.

With confusion like this on the liberal left, and with the extremes of Islamofascism and ultra-rightwing populism growing, it's hard to see how a focused debate on the UK's future is going to be possible. We can only hope that the run-up to the coming general election will concentrate minds to an extent where reason can begin to prevail once again on the political scene.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

An Uncertain Future

In response to Norman Geras's literary title game, my effort at chapter two is as follows:

Hard Times (Charles Dickens)

Persuasion (Jane Austen)

Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy)

Family Happiness (Leo Tolstoy)

Intruder In The Dust (William Faulkner)

Update: Sarah Cotterill has now posted a chapter three over at just another false alarm

Does anyone have an alternative chapter two?

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Preachers, and a Violin

At Harry's Place there's been a discussion about the contradictions evident in the failure of the British authorities to ban the entry to the UK of Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudays, Imam of the Ka'ba, to preach at the East London Mosque on the day (June 11) that the new Muslim community centre was opened next door to it - the guests included Britain's grand rabbi Jonathan Sachs and Fiona Mactaggart, Minister for Racial Equality. Prince Charles, who was in Washington for the funeral of former US president Ronald Reagan, also took part by way of a pre-recorded message. Yet al-Sudays is apparently the same Muslim preacher who, according to MEMRI

beseeched Allah to annihilate the Jews. He also urged the Arabs to give up peace initiatives with them because they are "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs."

"Read history," called Al-Sudayyis in another sermon, "and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [others'] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race 'whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs...' These are the Jews, an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption..."

According to Middle East Online, in May al-Sudays was denied a visa to enter Canada for allegedly preaching hatred against Jews.

As Harry's Place points out, it seems ironic, and even incomprehensible, that a preacher of al-Sudays' views and anti-Semitic rhetoric can be admitted to the UK to take part in a formal, official function, while a ban is still maintained on the black American Nation of Islam preacher Minister Louis Farrakhan.

I've a particular reason for mentioning Louis Farrakhan, as I've just been watching the NOI video of the story of his 1993 performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony Orchestra under Michael Morgan. It's perhaps not widely known that in his boyhood Farrakhan trained and studied as a classical violinist, giving public solo performances and winning national competitions by the age of 14. Later, unable to pursue a classical career in the segregated South, he continued to play as a calypso violinist. The Final Call video gives a fascinating account of how, some forty years later, Farrakhan decided to perform the Mendelssohn concerto, reviving his technique and taking lessons with a Russian Jewish teacher and soloist, Elaine Skorodin. There are contributions from Skorodin, from Michael Morgan, and from members of Farrakhan's family. The video concludes with a complete live performance of the concerto before a wildly enthusiastic audience at the Reynolds Auditorium in Winston-Salem, N.C. in April 1993.

What's remarkable about the performance of this very difficult work is the assured virtuosity of Farrakhan's playing: his tone is masterful, and the style of the playing shows above all a Russian influence, with suggestions of Oistrakh and Stern at many moments. Whatever one's views of Farrakhan as a preacher - and it's beyond dispute that he has delivered himself of many ant-white and anti-Jewish sentiments over the years - as a violinist he falls into the category of inspired artist-communicator, and one of the first rank.

Why the British authorities should ban Farrakhan, who is not even a Muslim, yet admit and officially encourage an extreme and militant Islamist like Al-Sudays, is puzzling, to say the least

Friday, June 11, 2004

Big Band Violin

Chuck Owen writes, in a message to the IAJEStrings List:

"I wanted to announce that the Jazz Surge CD, "Here We Are" (with Rob Thomas truly tearing it up!!) is, at long last, out on SeaBreeze records. It's now available at most online sites (amazon, barnes&, etc.). This is our third CD with Philip Booth (Downbeat contributor) calling it our "most adventurous yet" Distinguishing this release from the others is the use of the violin which virtually defines this recording. I hope you will check it out!

"Also, for those that sometimes lament the lack of published big band music with challenging violin involvement, you'll find all of the charts available from Walrus publications. They're not easy - but if you have a fairly mature ensemble, I think you'll find them rewarding and a lot of fun.

"Don't hesitate to email me with questions or comments. You can check out some clips at my website All the best."

The Genius

Two paragraphs about Ray Charles, who passed away yesterday at the age of 73 (from

After he was sent away, heartbroken, to the
state-supported St. Augustine School for the Deaf
and the Blind, Charles learned to read and write
music in Braille, score for big bands and play
instruments - lots of them, including trumpet,
clarinet, organ, alto sax and the piano.

His early influences were myriad: Chopin and
Sibelius, the Grand Ole Opry, the powerhouse big
bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, jazz
greats Art Tatum and Artie Shaw.


"Learning to read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory. I can sit at my desk and write a whole arrangement in my head and never touch the piano. I bring in a sighted person and I dictate the notes, what kind of notes, where they're supposed to be, for what instrument, whether there's an F, whether it's a quarter note, whether it's an eighth note, a dotted quarter or whatever. I dictate the notes right here at my desk, and I never move because I play the piano, so I know what the chords are going to be.

I know what the structure is, I know how I want it to sound, and I can hear it in my head. But I have to remember what I had the reed section doing, what I had the trumpet section doing, and so on. If you're going to write an arrangement you've got to remember all those things.... "

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Old Man Trotsky

A long and thought-provoking review by Christopher Hitchens of of Isaac Deutscher's three-part biography of Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein) in the July/August issue of Atlantic Online tries to revive the perception of the Russian revolutionary as "the Old Man" - a "prophetic moralist". To anyone who has spent time in the study of Russian history and culture, the concept of Trotsky as a moralist will seem a strange assertion. Atter all, it was Trotsky who, with Lenin, conspired at the creation of an evil totalitarianism that spanned most of the twentieth century, caused incalculable human suffering, and claimed the lives of untold millions of people.

On what does Hitchens base his support for this perception? Mainly, it seems, on the notion that Trotsky predicted the fall of Norwegian democracy, and the rise of Vidkun Quisling:

Most haunting of all, perhaps, was the moment when Trotsky, hounded from country to country, was ordered by the Norwegian government in 1936 to move on. An agitation against him had been started by Moscow's agents, who had not yet made their pact with Hitler, and by Vidkun Quisling, the leader of the Norwegian Fascists, whose name would later become synonymous with collaboration. The invertebrate Social-Democratic government of Trygve Lie, who was subsequently the founding secretary-general of the United Nations, caved in and told Trotsky to stop writing or else submit to deportation. Trotsky told these gentlemen,

"This is your first act of surrender to Nazism in your own country. You will pay for this. You think yourselves secure and free to deal with a political exile as you please. But the day is near—remember this!—the day is near when the Nazis will drive you from your country, all of you."

Hitchens also discerns what he calls two "moral moments" in Trotsky's political career. The first of these, he asserts, occurred during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when Trotsky "saw that all parties in the conflict were being manipulated by the 'Great' Powers in a cynical rehearsal for a larger war, and he believed that in all the contending countries there were healthy democratic and socialist elements that could rise above crudity and superstition." The second "moral moment" took place nearly two decades later:

As Hitler was advancing toward power in Germany, the European left once again abandoned its nerve and its principles, and declined to make common cause. The most depraved offender was Stalin's Communist International, which insisted that the Social Democrats were a greater enemy than the Nazis, and which implied that a victory by Hitler would merely clear the way for a Communist triumph. In a series of articles that really do vibrate with the tones of Cassandra, Trotsky inveighed against this mixture of ugly realpolitik and cretinous irresponsibility.

Hitchens writes of it being difficult to re-read these articles "even today without a tingling in the scalp and a lump in the throat... Better than Freud or Reich (or Churchill), Trotsky intuited the sheer psychopathic element that underlay the mass appeal of fascism..."

Such a statement seems to leave entirely out of account that it was from the paranoid, homicidal thinking of Lenin and Trotsky that the European fascists originally derived their muddled and dangerous ideas - a point that is made with admirable clarity by Oriana Fallaci in her recent book La Forza della Ragione, as she demonstrates the early adherence of Benito Mussolini to the extreme left wing of Italian politics, the Settimana Rossa: "He had been in prison with Nenni, had directed Avanti!, eulogized the storming of the Winter Palace, admired Lenin and Trotsky. His National Fascist Party was not a party of the right. Like Hitler's National Socialist Party, it was or wanted to be or said it was a revolutionary party." (p. 206)

Hitchens is at pains to show Trotsky as a sensitive, caring Russian intellectual, "for whom in the final analysis, Marxism was not quite enough..."

He always had the Russian classics in mind, and though these did seem to invoke the committed life as the highest calling, they also supplied ample warning of defeat and disappointment, if not despair. George Steiner cites a favorite passage of mine from Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. It describes one of his escapes from Siberian exile, in which he succeeded in boarding a train under his real name, Lev Davidovitch Bronstein.

"In my hands, I had a copy of the Iliad in the Russian hexameter of Gnyeditch; in my pocket, a passport made out in the name of Trotsky, which I wrote in it at random, without even imagining that it would become my name for the rest of my life ... Throughout the journey, the entire car full of passengers drank tea and ate cheap Siberian buns. I read the hexameters and dreamed of the life abroad. The escape proved to be quite without romantic glamour; it dissolved into nothing but an endless drinking of tea."

Hitchens' reference to - and apparent endorsement of - this kind of sentimentalism is, I believe, dangerous, for it ignores central testimonies of twentieth century Russian literature, such as the two volumes of memoirs by Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose central aim in writing those volumes was not only to chronicle the disaster that befell her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, as a universal disaster for Russian and European culture and civilization, but also to demonstrate the falsehoods that characterized the view of the Russian revolution from the West - particularly as expressed in the writings and utterances of Western intellectuals.

One can only suppose that Hitchens, in writing of Trotsky as he does, is in some way reflecting his background as someone who has emerged from the left that briefly stormed the barricades in 1968, during the "revolution" of the so-called "New Left". I remember the shock - it was a culture shock, but it was also much more than that - I felt when, after spending the years 1967-69 in Cambridge, England, I travelled to the Soviet Union for my second period of research as a British Council exchange scholar (I was writing a dissertation on the work of the Russian symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky), and encountered face-to-face students from North Vietnam and Cuba, who left me in no doubt of their revolutionary intent: it was to destroy the West, and everything it stood for.

Having read Hitchens' review again, I can't help wondering whether, if he had actually spent some extended periods of time in the USSR, he would not write of Trotsky, and of Bolshevism, as he does in his review. Perhaps the real problem for the European and American left - even for those members of it who have "seen the light" and, like Hitchens, have developed away from the constrictions of left-wing thinking - is that cultural and political divide that still separates East from West. The problem is the reality of the Soviet Union and its terrible heritage which, contrary to what is claimed so glibly in many sections of our Western media, has not disappeared but continues to survive in new and altered forms - not only in Russia itself, but also in other parts of the world, in China, North Korea, even in totalitarian states such as those of Syria and Iran. As for Deutscher - surely it is time to put his misguided trilogy to rest, rather than resuscitate it in this extravagant and unseemly way.