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Global Affairs

This category contains 30 posts

River of Smoke

River of Smoke follows Sea of Poppies, as the second instalment of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy. Whereas the first book illustrated the rich details of opium production from its harvest to its packaging in earthenware balls for shipment, this second volume follows the path of the opium to its trade in Canton. The heterogeneous world of the Indian Ocean trading community is again clearly illustrated, with discursions into botany, painting, and the varied food available in each port. The subaltern can indeed speak in these books: characters who are of the “elite” are not the focus, rather those lower on the ladder, more directly affected by all aspects of the drug trade. As in Sea of Poppies, much of the dialogue is in various dialects — in this book, the pidgin of the Canton trading port — thus weaving a rich tapestry of the cosmopolitan diversity of colonial ports at the time. After production and trade, asks reviewer Katrina Gulliver, will the final book in the trilogy focus on opium’s end users?

A Plea for Multireligious Self-Confidence

Nilüfer Göle’s book “Interpénétrations: L’Islam et l’Europe”, recently translated as “Islam in Europe: The Lure of Fundamentalism and the Allure of Cosmopolitanism”, makes a strong case that Islam must be acknowledged as having become part of the fabric of European modernity. As reviewer Mohammed Khallouk points out, the experience and lifestyle of a generation of young Muslim women in Europe occupies a central place in Göle’s argument. While the values they adopt in their personal lives may differ from those of their (non-Muslim) peers, their non-confrontational fusion of Western modernity and Muslim spirituality showcases what a self-confident multireligious Europe might look like.

Offense Taken

When do images and words become so powerful that they warrant punishment, or should be considered morally reprehensible? In this essay, Bruce Fleming, Professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy Annapolis, reflects on the policing of speech and the increasing polarization of public debate in the United States. In an unlikely pairing, he contrasts Sarah Palin’s ‘America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag’ with John Searle’s ‘Making the Social World’. What could a political memoir and mission statement of a presidential wannabe have to do with a scholarly work by a Berkeley philosophy professor? Read more to find out.

Tales From a Dystopic Camelot

In his book ‘Mumbai Fables’ (Princeton 2010), Gyan Prakash unfolds the rich tapestry of the city’s cultural history. From the grand colonial architecture to more recent land reclamation projects, he traces the spatial dimensions of the city and their cultural meanings. Like all great cities, Mumbai has more than one fable in its story. But for all of Mumbai’s historical glamour, the situation of shanty-town dwellers is not overlooked — even though reviewer Katrina Gulliver has some doubts about whether the plotline of a comic book (to which Prakash devotes considerable space) is the right literary device.

Interview: Humphrey Davies on Egyptian Writing

Leading Arabic-English literary translator Humphrey Davies, who has lived in Cairo for the past 35 years, paints a picture of contemporary Egypt through words and graphic narratives. Speaking to Sophie Roell, co-editor at FiveBooks and contributor to TheBrowser (which commissioned the interview), Davies explores the political dimension of everday life in pre-2011 Egypt by looking in depth at five recent books by Egyptian writers: Alaa Al-Aswany’s ‘The Yacoubian Building’, Ahmed Alaydi’s ‘On Being Abbas El Abd’, Khaled al-Berry’s ‘Life is More Beautiful Than Paradise’, Khalid Al Khamissi’s ‘Taxi’, and Magdy El Shafee’s ‘Metro’.

Rage, Time, and the Politico-Religious Revenge Banks

In his recent book ‘Rage and Time’ (originally published as ‘Zorn und Zeit’ in 2006), Peter Sloterdijk, best-known to the English-speaking world for his ‘Critique of Cynical Reason’, published in the 1980s, tells a compelling story of the mediations, exploitations, and translations of rage through, and into, the great religious and political ‘cosmologies’ of Western civilisation. ‘Rage and Time’, according to reviewer Francisco Klauser, is a powerfully written book about the sociopolitical ordering, coding, and accumulation of rage; a book which, in sum, acknowledges and investigates the role of rage as one of the driving forces of human history. However, while Sloterdijk’s narrative is rich in suggestive power, his analysis of the upcoming sociopolitical challenges in the 21st century remains essentially incomplete — the future of rage has yet to unfold.

Germany Goes Global: Farewell, Europe?

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Germany’s reunification on 3 October 1990, Ulrike Guerot reconsiders Germany’s place in Europe. Having been, for the longest time, the great engine both of Europe’s economic strength and its political unity, Germany is falling out of love with, or at least is becoming more indifferent towards, the very European Union it helped to bring into existence. A new-found pragmatism and growing global ambitions — as indicated by the government’s ongoing efforts to gain a seat on the UN Security Council — show that the country’s perception of its place in a globalised world are shifting. In Europe, too, Germany is gradually replacing foreign policy by hard-nosed trade policy. The challenge to the future of the European Union is profound.

What are the Humanities For?

Martha Nussbaum, in her latest book, warns of a world in which “the humanistic aspects of science and social science — the imaginative, creative aspects of rigorous critical thought” are being lost. Instead of surrendering to “thin market norms” and the demands of the labour market, education must rediscover its goal of creating citizens who are both compassionate and capable of critical thinking. While the impetus behind such demands is laudable, it would be irresponsible — writes reviewer Stephen John — to ignore the shortcomings of Nussbaum’s book in the name of political expediency. Too often she succumbs to hasty overgeneralization, lumping together different trends and developments and, in the process, overlooking sources of political agreement and convergence. While the book’s message is important, it fails in its ambition to map out the future shape of education.

Tracing the Origins of Islamophobia

Recent polls conducted by a number of polling institutes indicate that, in the minds of Germans and Europeans, Islam – more than any other religion – is associated with negative feelings. A recent edited volume, ‘Islamfeindlichkeit – Wenn die Grenzen der Kritik verschwimmen’ (roughly: ‘Islamophobia: When the Limits of Criticism become Blurred’), traces the origins of these negative connotations, along with more recent expressions of resentment towards a visible presence of Muslims in Western societies. But, argues reviewer Mohammed Khallouk, the book may also be read as a manifesto for cultural dialogue, with the goal of finding a consensus on values.

What Can Be Learnt From Piracy

What drives the recent resurgence of piracy, especially in the Gulf of Aden and along other major trade routes? In a recent book, Peter T. Leeson argues that by examining the piracy that reached its peak between the end of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth century, and preyed on the major trade routes, one may hope to get a clearer understanding of modern piracy. Leeson, writes reviewer Daniele Archibugi, adopts a thoroughgoingly economic perspective, according to which pirates have historically aimed at obtaining the maximum result with the least effort and above all minimum risk. The prospect of high profits, together with strict rules for social organisation and a striking commitment to principles of equality, made piracy a lucrative and attractive profession in the arly 18th century – with one important downside: when captured, pirates would almost always be hanged.