Dec 08 2007

Less from Doris Lessing

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:37 PM

The screed issued yesterday by Doris Lessing, on accepting her 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, was the latest example of how Africans provide the backdrop — or the props — for priviledged Europeans and North Americans to fight over their diminished morality. Lessing of course grew up in Africa and is a special breed of European who long wrote about her beloved Zimbabwe with keen perception and wisdom. But who knew that Lessing, at the age of 88, was a closet Neo-Luddite seething with resentment against the youth of London and Manhattan. In her acceptance speech — read aloud by her editor in Stockholm — she complained bitterly about young men and women who have “read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.” She went to blame the Internet for corrupting youthful minds — and then romanticized about the outsized desire of a poor pregnant African for great literature. She went on to imagine how the woman, famished from not eating for three days, nevertheless maintained a lively conversation about great books.

Lessing’s broadside about the youth culture and its infatuations with digital media might be dismissed as the ravings of an old fuddy-dutty, the sort of the thing doyens of High Culture said about the spread of talking movies in the 1930s. Worse, though, Lessing dredges up images of whites propping up their own flagging sense of hard work by invoking African miseries. She made me remember how when I was a child I was told to eat everything on my plate because it would not be fair to the “starving Africans” to waste  food. If Lessing truly does not wish to criticize the intellectual development of priviledged youth in wealthy societies, she should make her argument stick on its terms. Using romanticized caricatures of Africans in order to score points in some culture war neither helps her argument nor the ordinary Africans she claims to care about.

Dec 05 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:38 PM

“Development strategies in Africa, with minor exceptions, have tended to be strategies by which the few use the many for their purposes. They are uncompromisingly top-down. There is not, and never has been, popular participation in political and economic decision-making.” — Claude Ake

Dec 01 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:13 PM

“The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer, full stop. This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers gain access to it is to give it away free or subsidize it heavily.” — Stephen Carr

Dec 01 2007

A justified termination: Sudan on the brink

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:39 AM

I feel sympathy for the British school teacher, Gillian Gibbons, jailed in Sudan for disrespecting the prophet Muhammed. Sudanese jails don’t have a reputation for hospitality. Gibbons’s crime — naming a stuffed animal after the Muslim holy man — seems trivial. The British government is outraged over the jailing, and human-rights activists around the world are understandably disturbed by the sentence. Yet at the risk of appearing uncharitable, I think the Sudanese officials who say they have shown charity towards Ms. Gibbons are making a good point.

We are crossing a fault-line between the West and the Rest when it comes to teddy bear named Muhammed. The school teacher was not teaching European kids but rather Muslim children of priviledged Sudanese families. Ms. Gibbons need not possess some unusual knowledge of Sudanese society, or Islamic culture, to know about prohibitions against idolatry. These prohibitions are basic to Islam and a respect for these prohibitions ought to be considered a minimum practice of multi-cultural tolerance. That Ms. Gibbons failed to display minimal respect for Islamic practices in Sudan would seem to be beyond rational debate. The only question is whether she should be punished for her lapse — and how.
My feeling is that dismissal from her teaching post, and deportation, should be sufficient punishment for her mistake. Even devout Muslims in Sudan should not insist on a greater punishment. To give Ms. Gibbons jail time — even 24 hours no less the 15 days given to her by a court in Sudan — is excessive and unjust. Yet the suggestion that Sudan’s officials have no justification in sanctioning Ms. Gibbons isn’t credible either. Ms. Gibbons is not being punished for exercizing her free speech or free expression. She was, after all, a paid employee of a school, and schools everywhere have their own standards. Governments too. It would seem to be much more productive to think of this hapless British school teacher as running afoul of a cultural tripwire that, while trivial, is nonetheless not inconsequential, especially in an African-Muslim society where mores are well established.

Finally, I worry that the over-reaction to the punishment of Ms. Gibbons is fueled by animus towards the Sudanese government — and isn’t a reflection of the case itself. Sudan’s government, through its repressive actions in Darfur and South Sudan over many years, has provoked a good deal of justifiable condemnation from many responsible and informed people. Yet opposition to Sudan’s awful government does not justify insensitivity towards Islam. There must be a way to condemn the Sudanese government for violence against Christian and non-Muslim minorities without defending attacks — witting or unwitting — on core Islamic beliefs.

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