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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Feast for Your Reading Pleasure


A review of “A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Short Stories”, edited and introduced by Mohammad A. Quayum. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, September 2010, Paperback. Mohammad Quayum is professor of English at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

If you enjoy reading short stories from around the world, this fine collection of 25 original stories by new and prize-winning writers is a good choice. From Bangladesh, Guyana, India, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, all but one of the stories were written by writers whose roots are in Asia. That one, Professor Quayum says in his Introduction “may not be…an Asian as such, but certainly…has absorbed and been absorbed by the culture of his adopted home to be considered an Asian by association.”

These 25 well-crafted stories are a wonderful mixture of humor, love, pathos, ghosts, family, war, horror (Suad Khatab Ali’s story The Subjugated Ones, about a sinister female Saudi clerical police detective I found particularly chilling), tenderness, class struggle and longing make for interesting and enjoyable reading. Chosen from a field of nearly140 submissions, these are the cream of the crop. The one story that was not written by an Asian is one that I wrote and sent to Professor Quayum in late 2009. I am surprised and honored to find myself among such distinguished company.

A Rainbow Feast is now available for purchase in stores in South and Southeast Asia and the publisher’s website http://www.marshallcavendish.com/marshallcavendish/genref/index.aspx. It will be available from amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository (http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/) early in 2011. Check back here or on my website (http://www.geogepolleyauthor.com/) for availability. On my website, click on The Rainbow Feast tab.

Again, if you're looking for some good reading, put this one on your Christmas list. I give it a +++++ rating.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Trustworthy Spiritual Guide For These Turbulent Times


Review of "Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation," by J. Philip Newell, Jossey-Bass, 2008

This book is much more than an introduction to the treasures of Celtic Christianity for our time. It is a response to what the author and many others see as a deep longing for peace in the world among nations and peoples today, a longing against which are ranged forces of fear and fragmentation "that are wedded to the mightiest political powers and religious fundamentalisms of the world today." A scholar of Celtic Christianity, Newell presents its unifying vision of a harmony that is at the core of all life, and its vision of Jesus of Nazareth as a unifying figure for today, a figure that has been controlled and obscured by the official Church from the fourth century on. Jesus and his ministry, Newell says, is not the property of the Church; he belongs to the world, to every religious tradition. He speaks to everyone, just as he spoke to everyone during the very brief career of what he regarded as his ministry, to heal the sick, free the downtrodden and oppressed, and turn the political and religious powers on its collective head, not by force, but by revealing how they systematically oppress the needy by exerting control over whom they regard as their "subjects". Newell documents this process very well within the history of Christianity, which moved away from a free-spirited "people of the Way" and into a tightly-controlled, imperially modeled hierarchy that robbed people of their freedom and their self-confidence, and punishing those who maintained a point of view more in line with that of Jesus, who preached and lived unity and loving-kindness.


It is high time for a change, and Newell's beautiful book is a clarion call for a more open and unifying spirit within Christianity and between people of all faiths. He is not alone here, and it is high time: Walter Wink ("The Human Being"), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer ("Jesus Against Christianity", "Saving Christianity From Empire" and "Is Religion Killing Us?"), Philip Gulley and James Mulholland ("If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person") join him, as do Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many, many others from across and beyond the religious spectrum. It is time that we listen to these people as guides for our future and the future of our world. It is way past high time for us to ignore and repudiate those who call for division, specialness, violence, resentment and hatred.


"Christ of the Celts" is a very important companion for anyone who seeks to live a more loving, compassionate and realistic life in these turbulent times.


It is not, however, going to be warmly received by the fundamentalist community, who are likely to regard it as another in a long line of heretical texts, and who miss the point of Jesus' ministry entirely.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My favorite book on Israeli history: Shlomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People"



Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Jewish People. Verso, 2009

Myths are powerful because they tell the story of origins – the origins of tribes and the origins of a people and nations. Myths tell us who we are and where and how we began. Incorporating folktales and legends, myths tell us what truth is and how it makes us different from others. Groups of people use myths in create histories of themselves as people who are different from others. National myths, involving politics and patriotism use myths and mythmaking to construct the national identity: what makes our country and people different from every other? Israeli historian and Professor of History at Israel’s Tel Aviv University calls this process “mythistory”. “From this surgically improved past emerge[s] the proud and handsome portrait of the nation” (page 15).

“Every history” writes Professor Sand “contains myths, but those that lurk within national historiography are especially brazen. The histories of peoples and nations have been designed like the statues  in city squares – they must be grand, towering, heroic… ‘Us’ and ‘All the Others’ was the usual, almost the natural division. For more than a century, the production of Us was the life’s work of the national historians and archaeologists, the authoritative priesthood of memory” (page 15).

In this fashion, a group of Jewish writers, political activists and others began in the second half of the nineteenth century to shape the history (mythistory) of the Jewish people. All Jews, they said, come from a single stock originating from the loins of the founding patriarch, Abraham. In the ancient past, they were citizens of a powerful Jewish state called Israel, were exiled after the destruction of the second temple in AD 70, and since that time have lived as exiles in nations where they have suffered persecution. It is time, they said, to recreate the Nation of Israel so that its people can return to it and live there.

Using the Biblical narrative as a history text, they began to construct the history of the Jewish people as a People Set Apart from all others. Their history, so the story line goes, “rests on firm and precise truths.” The problem with this is, none of it can be shown to be scientifically verified truth. Instead, it is what Professor Sand calls “mythistory”. The Zionists were having none of it. Using what we now know was pseudoscience, early Zionist thinkers turned to physical anthropology, social Darwinism and, later to eugenics to build their case for identifying the Jewish people as being biologically different from all others. “The purpose of Jewish biology,” Professor Sand writes (page 265) “was to promote separation from others… It sought to serve the project of ethnic nationalist consolidation in the taking over of an imaginary ancient homeland.”

The next step was to find a homeland to which all Jewish people could be invited. Though it wasn’t the first choice, the most logical choice was Palestine. The goal became immigrating to Palestine with the aim of taking it over and recreating the ancient and very mythical Nation of Israel. The obvious problem was that Palestine was already inhabited by a mostly Arab population that had lived there for over a thousand years.

What to do? Simple: build alliances with those who can and will help you. The golden opportunity arrived with Hitler’s massive annihilation of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s. Jewish immigration into Palestine, almost overnight, turned into a tsunami. Granted nationhood by the United Nations, Israel was “reborn”. “The land of Israel” reads the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel “was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identify was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books” (page 64). Out of the mists of ancient myth came the modern Nation of Israel and its armies. Built on the racially exclusionary ideological foundation of Zionism, this new Nation of Israel quickly began expelling the non-Jewish people who lived there. Beginning in 1948, almost overnight more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were dispossessed of their homes and lands and became refugees, a process that continues as I write. It is deeply cynical, racist and destined, so Professor Sand believes, to fail. :It is still possible to close one’s eyes to the truth. Many voices will continue to maintain that the ‘Jewish people’ has existed for four thousand years, and that ‘Eretz Israel’ has always belonged to it. and yet the historical myths that were once, with the aid of a good deal of imagination, able to create Israeli society are now powerful forces helping to raise the possibility of its destruction” (page 325).

To say that Professor Sand’s thesis and his research is not well-received in official Israeli circles is perhaps a bit too mild. Protective of their past and paranoid about their future, most of Israel’s political and religious leaders seem bent on maintaining the course they have pursued for the past sixty-two years and more. Only time will tell us the final outcome. My hope is that good sense will win the day and that Israel will become a new land that belongs to and serves all its citizens, not just its Jewish ones.

If you’re looking for a fresh approach to Israel’s history, Professor Sand’s book is one that I heartily recommend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dance of The Pheasodile

 


Tim Roux: The Dance of the Pheasodile. Night Publishing (UK) through CreateSpace, May 2010. Paperback and Kindle editions.

In the opening scene, architect Keith McGuire wakes up to find himself swinging upside down outside the plate glass window that wraps around the lawyer’s office where his wife is a partner. It is freezing cold and he’s bumping up against the glass. His wife and her coworkers, aghast, are staring at him and snapping photos. He has no idea how he got here, who is flying the chopper, who his tormentors are, or why they are tormenting him. He is, as he says in the opening sentence “in a bit of a predicament.” Dangling upside down and naked under a helicopter flown by unknown maniacs is only part of the story. Looking up at his body, he sees the body of a stranger. His body is long, lean and well-muscled; this one is stubby, hairy and out of shape.

I was hooked. I couldn’t put the book down.

Successful architect Keith McGuire has a happy life with wife Chrissie and their two children Ella and Mark for fourteen years … until he goes in for a hypnotherapy session to try and recover some childhood memories. Then the fun begins. Emerging from his hypnotherapy session, he finds himself in the office of a therapist named Brenda Starbright in Hull, a northern city where he’s never been. Worse, he is no longer Keith McGuire; he is Harry Walker, a thug, ne’er-do-well, con man and nemesis to his wife Fran, son Tommy and sister Kathy. What has happened to Keith? And the real Harry? Has Harry …? The thought of Harry inhabiting his body and his home and job gives him the chills.

Part romance, part paranormal crime thriller, it is a wonderful read. There are laugh-out-loud scenes in this book, some chilling ones and some very poignant ones. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to give too much away in this intriguing, funny and well-told story.


 I give it a AAA+

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Washington Rules – Book Review



It isn't often that I publish a review by a Guest Blogger, but when I read this one in The Palestine Chronicle I knew I had to have it. The book's been on my "Books to buy" list for weeks; now I have to buy and read it. The review is published with the kind permission of Ramzy Baroud, the editor of The Palestine Chronicle (http://palestinechronicle.com/). Here is Jim Miles' review.


By Jim Miles

Washington Rules - America's Path to Permanent War. Andrew J. Bacevich. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York. 2010.

Andrew Bacevich has written another authoritative and well written book examining the U.S. military and its influence on the United States. His writing, as with his earlier works,  is provocative, challenging, well researched, informative, and logically argued. Only someone thoroughly imbued with the rhetoric of U.S. benign stewardship of global affairs and ignorant of many key events within recent and current U.S. foreign affairs might be able to ignore Bacevich’s presentations and contentions about U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarism. 

This most recent work, Washington Rules, is appropriately titled and well focused on the one main theme that ‘Washington’ - the political and military structures of U.S. government - is responsible for and the only country capable of maintaining world peace through global leadership and the only means to do so is through military might. This leads to Bacevich’s “trinity”: a global military presence, global power projection, and global intervention. The route this trinity takes through successive governments from Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon through to Bush, Clinton, and more Bush demonstrates that it is neither a Democratic nor a Republican ideal but is instead a government institutional ideal that all presidencies have bought into up to and including Obama. The media presents presidents as being the “…Decider, a president all too often becomes little more than the medium through which power is exercised.” 
Certainly there have been differences in approaches, permutations of ideas and means, changes in structures and devices, but the over-arching “American credo of global leadership and the sacred trinity of U.S. military practice - commit the United States to what is in effect a condition of permanent national security crisis.” This permanent crisis, fostered first by anti-communism and now by anti-terrorism, this trinity, this strategy “has propelled the United States into a condition approximating perpetual war.” 

Ironically, by being so engaged, “this reliance on military might creates excuses for the United States to avoid serious engagement” making it “unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own.” That also leads to “an excuse to avoid serious self-engagement” to the extent that “citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.” 

Those statements, coming from a retired U.S. army colonel who has taken it upon himself to educate himself about the discrepancies he perceived after the fall of the Berlin Wall, are a powerful indictment of the U.S. military, political, and economic structures that allow a state of perpetual war while ignoring the problems at home, “Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit.” Education becomes part of the answer as “When Americans demonstrate a willingness to engage seriously with others, combined with the courage to engage seriously with themselves, then real education just might begin.” 

All the Presidents 

After these introductory comments, Bacevich takes the reader on a tour through the highlight events of U.S. foreign policy as dealt with by successive presidents.
Starting with Eisenhower, the base line was set for a paradigm of global dominance via covert activities from the CIA under the tutelage of Allen Dulles, and overt activities with the start up of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), under the tutelage of General Curtis LeMay. The CIA’s ‘successes’ included the overthrow of the Mossadegh constitutional democracy in Iran in 1953 and the CIA instigated coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guam├ín in Guatemala. LeMay’s success was the creation of the overwhelming nuclear force of bombers that he provided the battle plans for, worrying little about costs as per Congress, “SAC served as an institutionalized economic stimulus program.”

Both were intent on defeating the looming national security crisis of communism. While Dulles and LeMay “testified to [their] hopes of averting a showdown with the Soviet Union, each promoted patterns of behaviour that increased the risk of such a confrontation.”

Transiting from Vietnam

From that base Bacevich works forward in time. The Kennedy years witnessed Cuba and Vietnam, two significant events which reinforced the U.S.’s adherence to the ‘trinity’ of global affairs. It also witnessed the development of a “fraternity of nuclear strategists” who were “Trafficking in jargon tricked out as profundities” generating “a dizzying array of obfuscating twaddle.” Not much has changed there except that perhaps the “twaddle” gets piled higher and deeper as time goes on. 

Vietnam, “a war fought to sustain the Washington consensus,” resulted after all was said and done as a transformation of “a people’s army into a professional force,” in which “decision makers gain[ed] a free hand to use a military over which the American people had forfeited any ownership.” 

Former UN ambassador and secretary of state, Madeleine Albright serves as Bacevich’s focus to demonstrate how the Washington rules had been “fully refurbished” for delivery “into a new millennium.” He quotes four significant statements from her, the two which stand out are, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” and the usual U.S. boasts that “…we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further…into the future.” 

Bacevich recognizes the language as “pretentious…grating…and royal” yet realizes that she was “deadly earnest…and expressing sentiments widely shared across the foreign policy elite.” These views, “central to the Washington consensus…the pursuit of exalted ends empowers the United States to employ whatever means it deems necessary,” resulting in, as described earlier in the book, “highly flexible moral standards.” 

Into the Gulf

The presidency under Jimmy Carter is often viewed in the media as that of a ‘peace’ president, but Carter did more than his share to push forward the military power of the U.S. He reneged on his vow to remove troops from Korea, and under his watch, the Pentagon “began developing a major new base in the Indian Ocean on the British-owned island of Diego Garcia, a project that involved expelling the island’s inhabitants.” This ethnic cleansing of a colonial British claim set up the major base in the Indian Ocean from which the U.S. watches and operates throughout the Middle East and all of Southern Asia. 

The big move was in the Middle East - rather than turning down the military presence overseas as the Cold War chilled, Carter set in motion the U.S. adventurism into the Middle East, declaring that any attempt “by any outside power to gain control of the region “as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America,” to “be repelled by any means necessary including military force….The significance of the shift in military posture that Carter set in motion can hardly be overstated.” 

Overseas operating bases, rapid deployment, ‘precision’ munitions, and light fast forces became the new norm, with “Operation Desert Storm represent[ing] the culmination of a reform project that had absorbed the energies of the officer corps ever since the Vietnam War ended.” Following this, the blockade of Iraq, the “unexpected” attack of 9/11 which provided the new Pearl Harbour for the fraternity of nuclear/military strategists, then followed by “Iraqi Freedom”, the claim that this “concerted exercise of American power would eliminate the conditions giving rise to violent jihadism and affirm Washington’s claim to global dominion lost all coherence and credibility.” 

Open Ended War

The final section of the book examines the current overbearing military presence that has extended the Washington rules into an era of proclaimed never ending war. This “Long War”, the “Global war on terror”, two terms now trying to be forgotten - along with Bush’s ill-considered but with elements of truth “Crusade” - represents an era when “open-ended war became accepted policy.” Congress under the Democrats “routinely voted the money needed to ensure the war’s continuation, tacitly signalling their fealty to the WashingtonWashington rules, only affirmation and extension.  consensus.” While Obama campaigned on the slippery concept of change but only “produced results that served primarily to affirm the status quo,” “little of substance has changed” with the

Two groups accommodated willingly to this enterprise. First, “The American people more generally, accommodated themselves to this prospect,” even though “victory had essentially become indefinable and the benefits accruing to Americans were at best obscure.” The second group more obviously was the military itself, wherein “An officer corps that had once resolved to avoid protracted war at all costs now contemplated an era of conflict without end,” and “persuaded [the generation of officers represented by Patraeus] to see armed conflict as an open-ended enterprise.” 

Surge, COIN, and Obama’s Accommodation

The surge in Afghanistan, (modeled on the surge in Iraq that was “successful” only by a co-relationship with U.S. money buying off the Sunni insurgents) demonstrated that “By escalating the U.S. military presence there, the president in effect ratified the Long War.” The “counter-insurgency campaign” - COIN - or more accurately a “targeted assassination campaign” that is far from accurate - became the new idea introduced into “Obama’s war.”
Obama does not ride easy with Bacevich as with the surge, “the actual ability to exercise choice had already passed from his hands.” The result, reiterated, is the ratification of the long war, wherein “the president had effectively forfeited his opportunity to undertake a serious reassessment of the basic approach to national security formulated over the course of the preceding six decades….Real change would have to wait for another day.”

Education

Recognizing that “there is no end in sight, even though the conditions that first gave rise to Washington rules have ceased to exist,” that “the problem set has changed, while the solutions proffered…remain largely the same,” Bacevich looks for a solution.

First he returns to the credo and trinity express in his introduction. These Washington rules “Deliver profit, power, and privilege to a long list of beneficiaries: elected and appointed officials, corporate executives and corporate lobbyists, admirals and generals, functionaries…media personalities and policy intellectuals from universities and research organizations.” The credo combined with the money and power opportunities “make the imperial city on the Potomac one of the most captivating, corrupt, and corrupting places on the face of the earth.” If the status quo remains, the future holds “a military that is perpetually at war and…an economy propped up by perpetual borrowing caus[ing] one or both to collapse.”

Alternately, Bacevich sees the U.S.’ role as to model democracy and freedom rather than impose it, to create at home a “more perfect union” that is a beacon to illuminate and exemplify the way, and “any policy impeding that enterprise - as open-ended war surely does - is misguided and pernicious,” not to mention deadly and disastrous at home as well as abroad. 

He asserts that “No evidence exists - none - to suggest that U.S. efforts will advance the cause of global peace.” Military supremacy is both an illusion and a disaster, and U.S. forces should primarily be stationed in the U.S. The only effort that will succeed is that “U.S. troops should withdraw from the Persian Gulf and Central Asia forthwith.” Unfortunately in that regard, “The Washington consensus persists…because if conforms to and reinforces widely accepted, if highly problematic, aspects of American civic culture,” a large part of which is “individual choice above collective responsibility and immediate gratification over long term well being.” 

Ultimately, “If change is to come, it must come from the people.” Thus the need for education “to take on the responsibilities of an active and engaged citizenship - has become especially acute,” otherwise “Over the horizon a shipwreck of epic proportions awaits.” 

A powerful conclusion, from a well written, well sequenced work. Bacevich has a logical coherent thread throughout his arguments about the militarization of U.S. society by way of the national security strategies. As for education, it initially rises from seeing enough or being given enough information that is accurate (media take note) such that “dissonance [is] too great to ignore. The ensuing process of confronting illusions…and of dissecting the contradictions besetting U.S. policy [is] sometimes painful and never easy…The ability to see things as they are, without blinders, is [a great gift]”
Bacevich has been well gifted. 

- Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.