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Ed Webb

How to Think About Empire | Boston Review - 0 views

  • In your book, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2004), you identify a few different pillars of empire: globalization and neoliberalism, militarism, and the corporate media. You write, “The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code of democracy. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.”
  • updates now would include the ways in which big capital uses racism, caste-ism (the Hindu version of racism, more elaborate, and sanctioned by the holy books), and sexism and gender bigotry (sanctioned in almost every holy book) in intricate and extremely imaginative ways to reinforce itself, protect itself, to undermine democracy, and to splinter resistance
  • In India, caste—that most brutal system of social hierarchy—and capitalism have fused into a dangerous new alloy. It is the engine that runs modern India
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  • You once wrote that George W. Bush “achieved what writers, scholars, and activists have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.” What did you mean by this, and ten years and two presidents later, is the American empire’s apocalyptic nature still so transparent?
  • The assertion of ethnicity, race, caste, nationalism, sub-nationalism, patriarchy, and all kinds of identity, by exploiters as well as the exploited, has a lot—but of course not everything—to do with laying collective claim to resources (water, land, jobs, money) that are fast disappearing
  • The freer global capital becomes, the harder national borders become. Colonialism needed to move large populations of people—slaves and indentured labor—to work in mines and on plantations. Now the new dispensation needs to keep people in place and move the money—so the new formula is free capital, caged labor. How else are you going to drive down wages and increase profit margins? Profit is the only constant.
  • In the Obama years, you had to ferret out information and piece it together to figure out how many bombs were being dropped and how many people were being killed, even as the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was being eloquently delivered. However differently their domestic politics plays out on home turf, it is a truism that the Democrats’ foreign policy has tended to be as aggressive as that of the Republicans. But since 9/11, between Bush and Obama, how many countries have been virtually laid to waste?
  • I don’t think in some of the categories in which your question is posed to me. For example, I don’t understand what a “global” novel is. I think of both my novels as so very, very local. I am surprised by how easily they have traveled across cultures and languages. Both have been translated into more than forty languages—but does that make them “global” or just universal?
  • I wonder about the term postcolonial. I have often used it, too, but is colonialism really post-?
  • So many kinds of entrenched and unrecognized colonialisms still exist. Aren’t we letting them off the hook? Even “Indian English fiction” is, on the face of it, a pretty obvious category. But what does it really mean? The boundaries of the country we call India were arbitrarily drawn by the British. What is “Indian English”? Is it different from Pakistani English or Bangladeshi English? Kashmiri English? There are 780 languages in India, 22 of them formally “recognized.” Most of our Englishes are informed by our familiarity with one or more of those languages. Hindi, Telugu, and Malayalam speakers, for example, speak English differently.
  • In India today, storytelling is being policed not only by the state, but also by religious fanatics, caste groups, vigilantes, and mobs that enjoy political protection, who burn cinema halls, who force writers to withdraw their novels, who assassinate journalists. This violent form of censorship is becoming an accepted mode of political mobilization and constituency building. Literature, cinema, and art are being treated as though they are policy statements or bills waiting to be passed in Parliament that must live up to every self-appointed stakeholders’ idea of how they, their community, their history, or their country must be represented.
  • I recently saw a Malayalam film in the progressive state of Kerala called Abrahaminde Santhathikal (The Sons of Abraham). The vicious, idiot-criminal villains were all black Africans. Given that there is no community of Africans in Kerala, they had to be imported into a piece of fiction in order for this racism to be played out! We can’t pin the blame for this kind of thing on the state. This is society. This is people. Artists, filmmakers, actors, writers—South Indians who are mocked by North Indians for their dark skins in turn humiliating Africans for the very same reason. Mind-bending.
  • we are buying more weapons from Europe and the United States than almost anyone else. So, India, which has the largest population of malnutritioned children in the world, where hundreds of thousands of debt-ridden farmers and farm laborers have committed suicide, where it is safer to be a cow than it is to be a woman, is still being celebrated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
  • The word “empire” has often been invoked as a uniquely European and U.S. problem. Do you see India and other postcolonial nations as adapting older forms of empire in new geopolitical clothing?
  • How can we think of empire now in the Global South, especially at a time when postcolonial nations are emulating the moral calculus of their old colonial masters?
  • India transformed from colony to imperial power virtually overnight. There has not been a day since the British left India in August 1947 that the Indian army and paramilitary have not been deployed within the country’s borders against its “own people”: Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Kashmir, Jammu, Hyderabad, Goa, Punjab, Bengal, and now Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand. The dead number in the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands. Who are these dangerous citizens who need to be held down with military might? They are indigenous people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, communists. The pattern that emerges is telling. What it shows quite clearly is an “upper”-caste Hindu state that views everyone else as an enemy. There are many who see Hinduism itself as a form of colonialism—the rule of Aryans over Dravidians and other indigenous peoples whose histories have been erased and whose deposed rulers have been turned into the vanquished demons and asuras of Hindu mythology. The stories of these battles continue to live on in hundreds of folktales and local village festivals in which Hinduism’s “demons” are other peoples’ deities. That is why I am uncomfortable with the word postcolonialism.
  • When you think about the grandeur of the civil rights movement in the United States, the anti–Vietnam War protests, it makes you wonder whether real protest is even possible any more. It is. It surely is. I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently, when the largest Nazi march since World War II took place. The Nazis were outnumbered by anti-Nazi demonstrators, including the ferocious Antifa, by more than ten to one. In Kashmir, unarmed villagers face down army bullets. In Bastar, in Central India, the armed struggle by the poorest people in the world has stopped some of the richest corporations in their tracks. It is important to salute people’s victories, even if they don’t always get reported on TV. At least the ones we know about. Making people feel helpless, powerless, and hopeless is part of the propaganda.
  • I think we all need to become seriously mutinous
  • We fool ourselves into believing that the change we want will come with fresh elections and a new president or prime minister at the helm of the same old system. Of course, it is important to bounce the old bastards out of office and bounce new ones in, but that can’t be the only bucket into which we pour our passion
  • as long as we continue to view the planet as an endless “resource,” as long as we uphold the rights of individuals and corporations to amass infinite wealth while others go hungry, as long as we continue to believe that governments do not have the responsibility to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone—all our talk is mere posturing.
  • In certain situations, preaching nonviolence can be a kind of violence. Also, it is the kind of terminology that dovetails beautifully with the “human rights” discourse in which, from an exalted position of faux neutrality, politics, morality, and justice can be airbrushed out of the picture, all parties can be declared human rights offenders, and the status quo can be maintained.
  • How might we challenge dominant voices, such as Niall Ferguson, who put so much faith in thinking with the grain of empire? On the flipside, how might we speak to liberals who put their faith in American empire’s militarism in a post–9/11 era? Do you see any way out of the current grip of imperial thinking?
  • The “managed populations” don’t necessarily think from Ferguson’s managerial perspective. What the managers see as stability, the managed see as violence upon themselves. It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence. And I don’t just mean wars in which humans fight humans. I also mean the psychotic violence against our dying planet.
  • I don’t believe that the current supporters of empire are supporters of empire in general. They support the American empire. In truth, captalism is the new empire. Capitalism run by white capitalists. Perhaps a Chinese empire or an Iranian empire or an African empire would not inspire the same warm feelings? “Imperial thinking,” as you call it, arises in the hearts of those who are happy to benefit from it. It is resisted by those who are not. And those who do not wish to be.
  • Empire is not just an idea. It is a kind of momentum. An impetus to dominate that contains within its circuitry the inevitability of overreach and self-destruction. When the tide changes, and a new empire rises, the managers will change, too. As will the rhetoric of the old managers. And then we will have new managers, with new rhetoric. And there will be new populations who rise up and refuse to be managed.
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    "It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence."
Ed Webb

The White Christian West Isn't What It Thinks It Is - 0 views

  • Throughout what is commonly known as the West, there has been a slew of books, articles, and public interventions calling attention to the notion of a cultural crisis within. Such a phenomenon ought to be followed by self-reflection, self-interrogation, and retrospection. By and large, however, the past decade has seen far more of the opposite: The alarm surrounding crisis has been more of a call for “us” to attack and problematize “them,” which invariably leads to propositions such as “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” as Douglas Murray, a hardcore right-wing pundit, once argued—not to mention conspiracy theories that blame all the ills of the modern world on those who look different than “us,” meaning white Europeans, or, worse, pray differently than “we” do.
  • Ryan identifies the West as an intellectual space, rather than solely a geographical one. His model of what the West entails has three pillars: “the belief in a moral endpoint; the trio of republican values (liberty, equality, solidarity); and universalism.” Ryan correctly points out that all of these pillars are in crisis—and yet, the situation is, he argues, “not entirely hopeless.”
  • When it comes to conceptualizing themselves as a Western “us,” European Christendom has historically done so by positioning itself against the Muslims of the Mediterranean, be they Ottomans or Arabs
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  • a project that institutions such as the British Council have tried to bring to fruition, through enterprises like “Our Shared Europe” and “Our Shared Future,” which sought to uncover the huge amount of historical evidence that showed that Muslims and Islam played much wider historical roles internally in the West than was hitherto understood.
  • a form of Christianity that focuses on solidarity with the oppressed, rather than promoting tribalistic hate against the “other,” is precisely what Europe needs more of
  • If the West is to look for a better future, intellectuals ought to be transcending untenable readings of their history and looking for better ideas.
  • one could write an encyclopedia that focused only on the history of Muslim European communities and figures, be they in premodern Spain and Portugal or the Emirate of Sicily or indeed the many Northern and Western Europeans who became Muslims. Framing Islam as a newcomer immediately restricts the scope of discussion that is needed. And such framing leads to a focus on salvaging broken models rather than seeking a new model for the West.
  • Righting that wrong means not simply reimagining a new national myth to gather around, but Westerners forging a new narrative that dispenses with the historical marginalization of “them” in favor of creating what has always been a mythical “us.” What is needed is a new notion of “us” that emerges strongly and true, based on values and principles that the peoples of the West will be able to rally around in a cohesive manner for generations to come.
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