Culture and Religion

4/6/9 -- The Western "civilising" project in its many guises has given rise to strange bedfellows. Not only do Christian and Islamic fundamentalists -- officially enemies of each other -- find common cause in demanding more public displays of religiosity and less liberal social policies regarding sex. In fact, as Joseph Massad shows in his new book, Desiring Arabs, both parties -- again, paradoxically, as enemies of the international gay movement -- actually work in tandem with that very movement, aiding in the process of defining people according to the Western paradigm of hetero-homo sexual categories, which, prior to the 19th century, did not even exist.

10/5/8 -- Amitav Ghosh, author of In an Antique Land (IAAL), 1992, was recently in Cairo for an Arab Writers Union conference, where I interviewed him. Ghosh's second novel, The Shadow Lines, in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award, India's most prestigious literary award. Since then, he has published The Calcutta Chromosome (1997), The Glass Palace (2000), The Imam and the Indian (2002), and done fieldwork in Cambodia. Ghosh's latest work of fiction, The Hungry Tide (2004) is a story of adventure and unlikely love, identity and history, set in the Sundarban Islands in the Bay of Bengal. He was awarded the Padma Shri Award by the Indian government in 2007. He currently lives in New York and teaches at Columbia University.

Reflections from Tashkent circa 2003

When the West was forced to drop its Cold War (CW) campaign (during WWII, and to some extent during the early 60s and mid-70s, due to the invigorated peace struggles of the time) there was a slight breathing space which gave hope to the possibility of detente, i.e., respect of each system for the other's right to exist. More precisely: respect by capitalism of the right to exist of a social system diametrically opposed to capitalism. As opposed to Thatcher's TINA (There Is No Alternative) -- There Was An Alternative (TWAA)! Fear of this ‘enemy’ quickly evaporated among intelligent mainstream people in the West. These brief respites were tactical retreats in the long-term fight by imperialism, biding its time. Imperialism was always ready to provoke a new CW crisis, and did so on many occasions. I was able to slip through the ideological door during the flowering of detente in the mid-70s.

Winds of cultural change are clearing away cobwebs. Eric Walberg reviews a Czech film and observes how Czechs are re-evaluating the 1940-50s
6/11/8 -- History just won't leave the poor Czechs alone. As the Czechs celebrated their National Day on 28 October, knives were drawn in Prague where accusations that the dean of Czech belles lettres, Milan Kundera, had collaborated with the Communist authorities to capture a Czech deserter and US spy, Miroslav Dvoracek, in 1950. Dvoracek is now feted as a hero

The Bible tells me so. Lurking behind the Middle East's problems -- and not only -- these days is the misuse of the Bible to further unscrupulous political ends, argues Eric Walberg
29/11/7 -- "There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our scripture," Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize beseeched Israelis at "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel" conference sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian Palestinian group in Boston recently. "Don't be found fighting against this god, your god, our god, who hears the cry of the oppressed," Tutu said.

For more than a century, archaeologists and historians have attempted to confirm beliefs of both Christians and Jews about their common past using the Old Testament (OT) and New Testaments (NT) as starting points. Christians, while embracing the OT as a harmless precursor of the NT, insist that the combined texts prove the truth of Judaic monotheism, with its covenant with God, a covenant that was renewed with the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. Jews, of course, stick with the basic OT texts, insisting they alone prove their role as God's Chosen People and their right to create a Jewish state, Israel, in the Holy Land.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here