Clash of Civilisations
To when can we trace the roots of the so-called, ‚Clash of Civilisations’ between Christendom and Islam that the Twenty-First Century is, according to many intellectuals, characterised by and embroiled in?
We could pick the date of the foundation of the State of Israel, officially recognised by President Truman in 1948 and the subequent first Arab-Israeli war, or the actions of the Stern gang, a group of Jewish ‘extremists’ who assassinated, amongst others, a UN mediator (Count Folke Bernadotte, who, during the second world war negotiated the release of 15,000 concentration camp prisoners) for suggesting that Jerusalem should be under Palestinian administration.
We could also, arbitrarily, pick the date of the fall from power of Mohammed Mossadeq, the democratically elected leader of Iran, who, as a result of a CIA and MI6 (Operation Ajax) supported coup carried out ostensibly to oust a communist dictator, was overthrown and spent the rest of his life in prison. The real reasons for this coup however, were to protect the interests of Western companies in Iran (in particular British Petroleum) from the dreaded threat of nationalisation which would have meant that the vast oil wealth of Iran (9% of the world’s proved reserves) would have gone to the people of that country. As we all surely know, this coup led to the installation of the Shah, a puppet leader who brutally suppressed opposition to his rule, supported by the West and the dreaded SAVAK (the Iranian secret police). In light of these facts it is therefore unsurprising that the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the installation of a more democratic government than had hitherto existed under the Shah, led the American government to declare Iran a rogue state. It is also unsurprising that Iran now refers to the US as ‘the great satan’. If we reversed the situation and it were an Iranian supported putsch of the democratically elected government of the UK or USA we were discussing, there would be little need to explain the hatred, outrage and contempt we would hold for the Iranians for their interference in our affairs and government.
Or perhaps the funding of Al-Quaeda (The Base), by the CIA in their struggle against communist aggressors in Afghanistan which led to a situation analogous in some respects to the Spanish Civil War where thousands of freedom fighters rallied to the cause of their oppressed brothers, among them people such as Osama Bin Laden, who received training from the CIA and also worked as a CIA operative, is a good starting point for an exploration of the so-called ‚Clash of Civilisations’, a term which has become common currency in the media and also in diplomatic circles.
This randomly picked starting point, lends an understanding to the subsequent actions of Al-Quaeda. Osama Bin Laden, trained by the CIA to struggle against foreign aggressors in a country not his own, perhaps had trouble understanding why his offer of help to protect his own country (Saudi Arabia) against supposed foreign aggressors (Iraq), aggressors who, it turns out, had not been planning an invasion of Saudi Arabia and whose forces were not massed along the Kuwait border with Saudi Arabia as American intelligence (CIA) had falsely claimed, was turned down, in favour of help from the U.S and its allies. This was the so-called justification for the first U.S. (for Muslim extremists, read here ‘godless infidels'’) bases in Saudi Arabia, a Holy land for Muslims around the world. We will not mention here the false grounds given for prosecuting the first Iraq war which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children. Perhaps this snub to Osama and his freedom fighters by the U.S. and the subsequent stationing of American bases throughout the Middle East, with the ulterior motives of preventing Israel from being surrounded and securing the world’s greatest energy resource, motivated Osama to take up arms against his erstwhile friends. Or maybe Osama doesn’t exist and never has. Like God, the evidence for existence or nonexistence thereof is scant.
How are we to understand the aggressive imperialist actions of the supposedly freedom-loving, democratic U.S. who fund terrorists and commit terrorist acts, such as the bombing of innocent civilians, while at the same time fighting terrorism by committing terrorist acts and bombing innocent civilians? Trying to practice such doublethink is enough to make one submit and let the aggressors have their way. But which aggressors?
We are told that trying to understand the terrorists is simply not possible. They are pure evil sowing disorder and terror indiscriminately throughout the world. Why, then, are their targets usually U.S. embassies, military bases, or Western corporations and chain hotels frequented by our supposedly ‘democratic’ elite?
If there is a so-called ‘clash of civilisations’, then why would 39 per cent of Germans not want Poles living in their neighbourhoods, whereas only 36 per cent do not want Turks living in their neighbourhoods? If there is a so-called clash of civilisations then why are Turkey and Egypt consistently the largest purchasers of American weapons after Israel? If there is a clash of civilisations, then why are American military missiles and bases stationed in some of the most staunchly Muslim countries in the world? If there is a clash of civilisations, then why was there no furore over Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, in contrast to Iran’s present attempts to acquire nuclear weapons? If, indeed, there is such as thing as a unified Western civilisation, then why does America continue to act unilaterally, or with the meagre support of little brother, UK? Why is the Franco-German stance on issues such as Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, the second Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay, so significantly different from the stance of the USA on such matters? Perhaps it is America’s belief in ‘carrot and stick diplomacy’, in throwing their weight around that the French and Germans take umbrage with.
If there is a clash of civilisations, then why has China (whose human rights record is appalling and who carry out 90 per cent of executions world wide, a nation, furthermore, which has nothing like a democratic system and which possesses a large nuclear arsenal) been given ‘most favoured nation’ status by the US?
The fact of the matter is, that this ‘clash of civilisations’ only exists when it is expedient for it to do so. When you need a reason to rape a country’s natural resources because you know they cannot adequately defend themselves, then you say things like ‘undemocratic, tyrannical, oppressive…terrorist/rogue state/axis of evil…’ or words to that effect. When it’s a powerful country that could also have the same labels applied to it but whose friendship you want to court because it is advantageous to do so, you keep quiet.
The case for a ‘clash of civilisations’, argued for so convincingly by Samuel P. Huntington, in his book of the same name cannot be denied, but to say that the next major conflicts we will have in the Twenty First Century will be civilisational ignores so many other issues and oversimplifies the matter greatly. It is of course easy to say, as Bush has done, ‘you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’ (also us, in many cases - doublespeak again). People like simplifications and over-generalisations. The Manichean struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, East and West, North and South, Islam and Christianity is one that appeals to our more primal instincts, our ‘us and themism’ to coin a phrase, but we must look beyond such simplistic definitions of an increasingly interconnected and complex world. We all want to live within a comforting new paradigm through which we can make sense of the chaotic world around us, a paradigm which creates social cohesion in decadent societies where the masses are becoming disillusioned with the ‘democratic oligarchy’ they live within (in most Western countries, 90 per cent of the wealth belongs to ten per cent of the people and this wealth divide is growing at the expense of the middle classes which are being eroded by neo-liberal politics propagated by the elites in these respective countries).
The project for the new American century declares as one of its main aims, the securing of energy resources and it is surely no coincidence that these energy resources lie in Muslim countries. Perhaps it is too simplistic to say that there is a struggle for control of these energy resources and that this struggle will determine whether Western hegemony throughout the world can be maintained, or whether Western power and influence will decline, as we have seen in decadent societies since civilisations began, but it is certainly no more simplistic than arguing for, and thus lending weight to, the absurd idea that there is a ‘clash of civilisations’. Wars don’t happen just because of religion. They happen because the status quo is threatened or because the balance of power (at the moment, Western hegemony) cannot be maintained. And wars happens because of a lack of resources leading to starvation and a subsequent battle for those resources. Maybe we are not witnessing a clash of civilisations, but rather an attempt by non-Western nations to secure a piece of the ever decreasing pie that has for so long now been shared only among Western nations. Maybe too, these ‘lesser’ nations, countries with populations of 1.3 billion (China) and one billion (India) want a democratic distribution of the wealth and also want a more proportional say in Western controlled organisations such as the IMF, WTO, World Bank and the UN which have such a powerful influence on their everyday lives. (For example, despite having one sixth of the world’s population, India does not a permanent seat on the UN security council!)
Before we begin spreading the ‘light of Western democracy’ (which concentrates the wealth of many in the hands of a few) throughout the world, perhaps we should reform our own institutions and organisations, making them more democratic. This would surely be the best way of promoting peace and freedom throughout the world: by showing every citizen of this planet that they too have a say in what goes on and that the world is not run by an oligarchical elite who have the power to control the rest of us. It is, sometimes, but not often, the disenfranchised who turn to violence when there are no means left open to them, a violence which has killed an insignificant number in comparison with the millions killed by largely undemocratic nation states.
This is an opinion piece and any reference to persons living or deceased is purely intentional. Any disputation of facts will of course be welcomed but for the time being I can’t be bothered to list my sources. I assure you though that most of my facts are ‘straight’.
Cargo Cults: Alive & Well
I don't mind admitting that I had never heard of a "cargo cult
" before I stumbled upon the following article from the BBC: Cargo cult lives on in South Pacific
. The concept is concurrently heart-warming, saddening, and hilarious. Basically, people (usually south pacific islanders) see modern stuff ("cargo") for the first time, assume it's from been sent from a divine being, and then spend all their time trying to get the being to send more. Here's an extract from the Wikipedia entry on the history of cargo cults:
The classic period of cargo cult activity was in the years during and after World War II. The vast amounts of war materiel that were airdropped on to islands during the Pacific campaign against the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen Westerners or Japanese before. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents weapons and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers — and also the islanders who were their guides and hosts. With the end of the war the airbases were abandoned, and "cargo" was no longer being dropped.
In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. The cultists thought that the foreigners had some special connection to their own ancestors, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.
In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size mockups of airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, though these practices did not bring about the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.
To cut a long story short, if you follow the link above to the article, you'll be able to read all about a cargo cult that's still going strong. Some of the people on this specific island worship an unknown American GI that they call "John Frum," but who many suspect was simply someone who introduced themselves as "John from America." I'm guessing that these folks are still using dialup.
die Rückkehr des Mistfinks
Alas, I am not the only avid blogger who has been struck gleichzeitig with a case of writer's block and a hopeless lack of free time. Funny how a 30 hour a week teaching job, 15 hour a week bartending job and four graduate classes can put a big damper on the whole do-whatever-you-please front. So it goes.
That said, my former not-so-productive self now feels a sense of completion after each day, having instilled the knowledge of a 'lesser' German (nach Lee...I'll get to that) in the fresh (but soon to be verwelkt) minds of young people.
Alas again, though I seem to be writing, I'm really just faking it, and my writer's block continues. I've simply taken up the soapbox to write a greeting and a brief response to Lee's 'Schwiezer Blog'. Lee indeed is not a Linguist, but he's generally a pretty sharp guy, and though generally you can't trust a country's population to know the whole truth about their language (test this by asking the average English speaker where their language came from), there usually is some truth to the popular myth. Whoever Lee did speak to is right that Swiss German did not undergo any of the second sound shift, which reached completion in the north, partial completion in central Germany, and didn't really even start in Switzerland. That said, it also never happened in Austria. The thing that makes certain varieties of Swiss really special, though, isn't the second sound shift, but nominal morpholog
y. We all know about those few words left in German that take a pesky weak -n or -e ending in the dative case (z.B. Bauer, Herr, etc.). Well, specifically in Valais, which is predominantly French-speaking, but which also has a very small and isolated German-speaking population, they have pretty much maintained the entire nominal morphology of Old High German. In a way we could say they are the Icelandic of continental Europe because their language has remained nearly untouched by major sound shifts and borrowings (save of course some French influx), along with any morphological loss of complexity. Screw the aspirated 'k' and 'li' endings...I think this is the real fascinating stuff. All that said, though, being a Linguist also means looking only descriptively at a language, so I'm am loath to give anyone any respect when they begin attaching value judgements to languages or language varieties. This has been going on since the beginning of time and has really only been used either for purposes of discrimination, propaganda, or to fool oneself into believing one is superior to another. That's another story, altogether, though, so I step down from the box of soap...
But so my students just don't have the same excitement level as Lee's. No backflips, no speed reading, not even a freaking septum piercing in my class. I thought this was the time for young adults to test the boundaries of their personalities and inner selves. The most clever thing I've seen in the last week was that one of my students was clever enough to come up with G6 when I asked them to come up with team names for a little translation competition. Yes, there are six people in their group. So when I told the little bastard that may not be entirely appropriate he comes back at me with Gruppe6. I told him to let me know when his testicles drop.
I started using Google Sketch-Up (which can be downloaded for free here
) during class because, as anyone who's ever sat behind me knows, I've pretty much exhausted MS paint as a medium. Sketch-Up is a pretty sophisticated design program that lets you create models in 3D. After messing about with a few buildings and abstract shapes, I set my sights on creating a racing yacht. This is the result, click on it to learn more. If you do get sketch-up, which is totally sweet, you can download my boat into it and mess around with it, rotate it, change it, whatever.
If you're familiar with Harper's magazine, you know that they have a section up front titled "Readings" in which they publish interesting or amusing pieces, often excerpts. In the current issue (Feb 2007), one of the readings is titled "Stet Offensive" and reprints some of the Q&As that have been posted on the Chicago Manual of Style website. They're super sweet and I got quite the giggle out of them. Admittedly I'd enjoyed a sherry or two at the time, but I think it's still worth reading.
When I began learning English grammar from the nuns in or about 1951, I was taught to NEVER use a comma either after or before independent clauses or compound sentences. Did the rules of English grammar and punctuation change while I was in that three-week coma in 1965 or in the years that it took to regain my basic and intellectual functioning before I returned to teaching?Answer:
I’m sorry I can’t account for your state of mind, but standard punctuation calls for a comma before a conjunction that joins two independent clauses unless the clauses are very short. Please see CMOS
6.32. I would go further and suggest that it’s a good idea to reexamine any rule you were taught that includes the word “never” or “always.”Question:
The menu in our cafeteria shows that enchiladas are available “Tues.–Fri.” However, when I ordered one on a Wednesday, I was informed that enchiladas are available on Tuesday AND Friday, not Tuesday THROUGH Friday. When I informed the cafeteria manager that this was incorrect, she seemed shocked and refused to change the sign. Please help determine who is correct!Answer:
Although the sign was incorrect, I’m not sure you should annoy the person who provides the enchiladas.Question:
My question is, is there any standard for the usage of emoticons? In particular, is there an accepted practice for the use of emoticons that include an opening or closing parenthesis as the final token within a set of parentheses? Should I (1) incorporate the emoticon into the closing of the parentheses (giving a dual purpose to the closing parenthesis, such as in this case. :-) (2) simply leave the emoticon up against the closing parenthesis, ignoring the bizarre visual effect of the doubled closing parenthesis (as I am doing here, producing a doubled-chin effect :-)) (3) put a space or two between the emoticon and the closing parenthesis (like this: :-) ) (4) or avoid the situation by using a different emoticon (Some emoticons are similar. :-D), placing the emoticon elsewhere, or doing without it (i.e., reword to avoid awkwardness)?Answer:
Until academic standards decline enough to accommodate the use of emoticons, I’m afraid CMOS
is unlikely to treat their styling, since the manual is aimed primarily at scholarly publications. And the problems you’ve
posed in this note give us added incentive to keep our distance. (But I kind of like that double-chin effect.)Question:
Is there an acceptable way to form the possessive of words such as Macy’s and Sotheby
’s? Sometimes rewording to avoid the possessive results in less felicitous writing.Answer:
Less felicitous than “Sotheby
’s’s”? I don’t think so.Question:
A friend and I were looking at a poster that read “guys apartment.” I believe it should read “guys’ apartment.” She claims that it should read “guys’s apartment” and that the CMOS
specifically gives the example of “guys’s” to make “guys” possessive. I looked through every section on possessives and did not find the word “guys’s” or any rule that would make this correct. Some people say “you guys’s apartment”—did I overlook the word “guys’s” as used in the attributive position? (I don’t think I did.)Answer:
“Guys’s” is acceptable in the way that “youse
guys” is acceptable; that is, neither is yet recognized as standard prose, and if your friend can find it in CMOS
, I’ll eat my hat. Plural nouns that end in s (like “guys”) don’t add another s to form the possessive, e.g., the students’ lounge. “Guys’ apartment” is the standard spelling. If you want to make “guys” attributive, you can get away without the apostrophe, but you might test the idea with a plural noun that doesn
’t end in s to see whether the attributive actually works: I doubt you’d write “the women apartment,” so you shouldn
’t write “the guys apartment” either. And shame on your friend. It must make you wonder what else she’s capable of.Question:
Oh, English-language gurus, is it ever proper to put a question mark and an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence in formal writing? This author is giving me a fit with some of her overkill emphases, and now there is this sentence that has both marks at the end. My everlasting gratitude for letting me know what I should tell this person.Answer:
In formal writing, we allow both marks only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing. Otherwise, no.
Its been a long, long while but I'm back. I am currently suffering from an agonising bout of writers block so please allow me to forego the usual erudite aphorisms that are characteristic of a well-written Stusie blog...School Life
I live here in Zürich, a stone's throw away from the train station and I am working at - allegedly - the 'best school in Switzerland'. This is apparently what all Swiss schools aver but this claim has been supported by many who do not work at my school. On top of that I once taught a group of highly-talented children who all attend my school: they only have to attend school in the mornings so that they can concentrate
on their talents in the afternoon. Among them were two gymnasts, a musician, a footballer, a dancer and a couple of mountain climbers. They all have to perform at
international level to be allowed to skip afternoon classes. I asked one pupil - doubting his gymnastic ability - whether he could demonstrate his skill for the rest of the class. Clearing a space in the middle of the classroom he launched into a backflip and landed squarely on his two feet. Momentarily flabbergasted, it took me several moments before I could utter the words, 'ok, so today we're going to talk about modals of deduction, ok everyone WHAT IS A MODAL OF DEDUCTION?' The rest of the class however, betraying their Swissness, didn't even raise an eyebrow at this remarkable feat.
My school also boasts a politician/teacher as the Swiss democratic system means that all politicians are part time. I must admit though she is rather too left wing for my liking and her ideas about the dictatorship of the proletariat are rather outdated to say the least... Swissocracy
This brings me to the much touted Swiss democratic system which, despite the complications of having four languages to negotiate in, functions extremely well. Indeed it leaves one with very little to complain about. I recently watched a documentary about the implementation of a new law to curb GM research where the negotiations were spread over a number of days and it was suprising to hear in the interval to one meeting a Swiss farmer/politician calling home to ask his wife if their sons had brought the hay in. These people have not studied political science and, having real jobs aside from their political duties, do not shamelessly pursue their own interests...well not all of them at any rate. Stereotypes
I have eaten fondue since being here (to be enjoyed with white wine apparently) and raclette. I have also eaten probably a kilo of Swiss chocolate, which I concede IS the best in the world. I also have a Swiss bank account which I am rather happy with but it is unfortunately NOT secret. The interest rates are also rather quite poor but the wages are so good that I'm thinking of staying on as a Putzfrau when my contract ends. Another thing that the Swiss are famous for is insurance. There are more kinds of insurance on sale here than you can shake a stick at - the Swiss even claim to have invented life insurance! Not exactly anything to get excited about, but if you you ARE predisposed to getting excited about such things which COULD possibly lead to an accident then you'll be happy to know YOU ARE INSURED. Health insurance is compulsory but life insurance isn't. One kind of insurance which I don't know if you guys have over there in the U.S. is a personal insurance in the event of you damaging someone else's property. The example given to me by a rather taciturn laughably stern Swiss person - who happened to work in insurance - was that if I was for example playing golf and the ball that I struck hit a ferrari, then of course, there had to be someone to pay for it - ergo this insurance. As for the skiing, I was rather underimpressed by the Swiss. I had a race with some of my snowboarding students and...I won. The idea of a day on the pistes for the Swiss means 2 or 3 runs then a Pfümli, 2 or 3 runs, then a bite to eat, 2 or 3 runs and then call it a day. Language
The Swiss German apparently is the purest form of German you will hear. As crisp as the glacial ice that leaks down into their pristine mountain lakes, the German that is spoken here is pre-Lutheran. I am no linguist but apparently there were some changes made to German around the time of Luther and these changes were ignored by the Swiss...but all this is conjecture. If its true then we could say the Swiss are living with a medaeval language while the rest of the German speaking world has modernised. Well, if its not broke, don't fix it I suppose. On first being exposed to Swiss German, one can be mistaken for thinking that one is hearing Dutch or a derivation thereof. In the ululations of the conversation one can pick out the similarites between Swiss German and English and I believe these two languages are alot closer than high German and English. For example, a common phrase one will hear when leaving a shop or a library is 'Wiederluege'. Here they have have substituted sehen
which is of course alot closer to the English look
. Swiss also 'luege' Fern although Swiss T.V. is light on entertainment, high on dull market information. A form of gewesen
is also used here with an almost tiresome regularity. Coffee houses are filled with the constantly repeating phrase 'isht es guet g'see?' (ist es gut gewesen). The other phrase one hears most often is 'en Guete' (guten Appetit). There is also a marked French influence on the language noticeable in such words as 'Abonnement' or 'merci' (märsi). Other than that they just seem to add an 'i' to the end of nouns and call it Swiss such as in 'Gipfeli' (Gipfel), Hüsli (WC), Lööli (Dummkopf), Müsli (Mäuschen and Muesli), Tüechli (Handtuch), and my personal favourite Verhüterli (condom). If any of you are interested I could send you a copy of my Swiss German Wörterbuch its a barrel of laughs although not quite on a par with German Trivial Pursuit.