...and Pet Shop Boys.
This is a fun song.
I'd mentioned a while back that I'd been reading Three Who Made a Revolution, Bertram D. Wolfe's masterful account of the lives of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, and their efforts to save their country (and humanity) by blowing both up. It's a wonderful work -- if one doesn't understand the tactical intelligence of Lenin, or the appeal of Trotsky, or the horror of Stalin, this is the book to read.
I might start writing about Qutb and his influence on al Qaeda again (I reread the book with that purpose vaguely in mind), because I think and have always thought that Qutb was far more influenced by Russian revolutionary thought than he was by the Qur'an. Or rather, there was nothing in his attitude toward the Qur'an to distinguish him from millions of other Muslims; what made him unique was the bait and switch he performed, trying to dress up a Leninist revolutionary, terrorist organization in Qur'anic clothing.
In any case, as a sort of preface, I thought it worth quoting Wolfe quoting Trotsky's critique of Lenin's conception of the professional revolutionary party during one of many breaks between the two men:
...he portrayed Lenin as a caricature Robespierre, talking socialism but modeling himself on the dictatorial bourgeois revolutionary, setting up a pseudo-Jacobin dictatorship over the masses, installing a committee of public safety over the Party, using the "guillotine" to eliminate those he could not control, forming local organizations on the Cartesian principle: "I am confirmed by the Central Committee, therefore I am." Lenin's celebrated centrism, he said, was in reality an "egocentralism" and one day it would lead to a state of affairs in which:The organization of the Party takes the place of the Party itself; the Central Committee takes the place of the organization; and finally the dictator takes the place of the Central Committee...
More settlers of European origins are denying the rights of an indigenous people to their land. A recent court case declared that archaeological evidence of earlier settlement was inadmissible in court cases brought to lay legal claims to lands usurped by the newcomers. Yet there are thousands of place names from the indigenous language still in use today in places that the usurpers claim never hosted an indigenous people. As the latest issue of Archaeology reports, that land is Sweden, and the dispossessed are the Saami. A critical paper about the Swedish majority's relations with the Saami can be found here.
If one waits long enough, I suppose, one will see every fantasy of the past reborn. Writing in the Asia Times Online, Spengler threatens Muslims with a familiar bogey man of the past:
As Father Dall'Oglio warns darkly, Muslims are in dialogue with a pope who evidently does not merely want to exchange pleasantries about coexistence, but to convert them. This no doubt will offend Muslim sensibilities, but Muslim leaders are well-advised to remain on good terms with Benedict XVI. Worse things await them. There are 100 million new Chinese Christians, and some of them speak of marching to Jerusalem - from the East. A website entitled Back to Jerusalem proclaims, "From the Great Wall of China through Central Asia along the silk roads, the Chinese house churches are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ all the way back to Jerusalem."
It is reminiscent of a figure whose supposedly vast realms and millions of followers comforted medieval Christians confronted with aggressive Islamic expansion. Much like the bogus website Spengler cites, a text of dubious origins set off the hope for the coming of Prester John:
In the twelfth century, a mysterious letter began to circulate around Europe. It told of a magical kingdom in the East that was in danger of being overrun by infidels and barbarians. This letter was supposedly written by a king known as Prester John.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the legend of Prester John sparked geographic exploration across Asia and Africa. The letter first surfaced in Europe as early as the 1160s, claiming to be from Prester (a corrupted form of the word Presbyter or Priest) John. There were over one-hundred different versions of the letter published over the following few centuries. Most often, the letter was addressed to Emanuel I, the Byzantine Emperor of Rome, though other editions were also often addressed to the Pope or the King of France.
The letters said that Prester John ruled a huge Christian kingdom in the East, comprising the "three Indias." His letters told of his crime-free and vice-free peaceful kingdom, where "honey flows in our land and milk everywhere abounds." (Kimble, 130) Prester John also "wrote" that he was besieged by infidels and barbarians and he needed the help of Christian European armies. In 1177, Pope Alexander III sent his friend Master Philip to find Prester John; he never did.
The lands of Prester John were never found of course, just as I doubt the 100 million strong Chinese Catholic Church with its mission of back to Jerusalem will ever be much more than a Web site -- and a comforting myth for the deluded.
A friend from work loaned me Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta, which I started reading this morning and haven't been able to put down. This passage, about the Jogeshwari slums, struck me as being particularly relevant to the sorts of things I've been thinking about lately (about which, perhaps, more later):
I couldn't use the public toilets. I tried, once. There were two rows of of toilets. Each one of them had masses of shit, overflowing out of the toilets and spread liberally all around the cubicle. Fore the next few hours that image and that stench stayed with me, when I ate, when I drank. It''s not merely an esthetic discomfort; typhoid runs rampant through the slum and spreads through oral -- fecal contact. ...
There are two million people without access to latrines in Bombay. You can see them every morning along the train tracks, trudging with a tumbler of water, looking for a vacant place to squat. It is a terrible thing, a degrading thing, for a woman to be forced to look every morning for a little privacy to go to the toilet or to clean herself while she's menstruating. No city this rich should make its women suffer this way. The women of this slum were luckier. They had toilets built by the municipality, but they were full, and the municipality wasn't doing anything about unblocking them. ...
Mehta goes on to describe how a committee of Jogeshwari women pressed for cleaner toilets, then better water, rights for "divorced-divorced-divorced" Muslim women, and more. Mehta writes,
If there is hope for Bombay, it is in this group of slum women, all illiterate, and others like them. Issues of infrastructure are not abstract problems for them. Much more than the men, the women have to deal with such issues firsthand. If you want to make sure that the money you send to a poor place will be spent properly, give it to the women who live there.
I'm not sure I entirely agree with that conclusion or the evidence used to support it: certainly, women have put up with far shabbier infrastructures for centuries and accepted it as entirely normal -- indeed, would rebel against something more sophisticated. Mehta also writes,
I asked one of the Jegeshwari women if she wouldn't rather live in a decent apartment than the slum she lived in now, with the open gutter outside and the absence of indoor plumbing. Yes, there was a building planned nearby to resettle the slum dwellers. But people from her neighborhood wouldn't move there. "There's too much aloneness. A person can die behind closed doors of a flat and no one will know. Here," she observed with satisfaction, "there are a lot of people."
Not exactly evidence of a feminine demand for better infrastructure...