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Tashkent Odyssey

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My life journey as a peacenik took me to Moscow in 1989 to see Gorbachev's 'socialism with a human face', his attempt to combine materialist communism with ... it wasn't clear exactly what Gorbachev had in mind, but it certainly wasn't a wholesale sell out of what had been built over the previous 70 years. However, the rickety structure that the Soviet Union had become, a tired society always under pressure from the capitalist West, final collapsed. Or rather was pushed over by a well-planned conspiracy―begun in 1979 under Carter but greatly expanded under Reagan―to destroy the last socialist revolution, in Afghanistan, next door to Uzbekistan. The tragedy of Afghanistan put Uzbekistan on my radar. A remote part of the world shrouded in mystery and now convulsed in war. Sounded interesting to the young adventurer devoted to world peace.

I had come to Moscow at the invitation of Moscow News. From my editor's office on Pushkin Square, I watched on TV the last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan and arrive in Uzbekistan, retreating across the Amudarya River on the Friendship Bridge (built in 1982 to ferry Soviet troops into Afghanistan). Even as the troops retreated, mujahideen snipers continued to target them, with US arms still being poured into what was already a powder keg. I was intrigued by this little-known part of the world, and remembered a dream-like trip as a Russian language student in 1980 to Tashkent, with its elegant opera house and its bountiful fruits, soaring mountains and hospitable people.

After five years in Moscow, working as an editor at Moscow News and then as a Greenpeace activist-administrator, I had had enough of a Moscow in upheaval, where food was scarce and expensive, and people were losing their laid-back Soviet ways and embracing the worst features of the West. I was robbed more than once (once by the train police waiting in a suburban station on the way to Uzbekistan), and remember gun shots in the Vikhino apartment building entrance one night, told the next day someone had been found murdered just a few feet away from me.

Moscow had lost its charm. I yearned to try living in a Muslim society. Uzbekistan seemed to be the most developed, cultured of the Soviet 'stans' and a short hop away from
Mazari-i-Sharif. My 1980 memories made me decide to take the leap. I looked on the budding internet (still in its infancy 20 years ago) and signed on to a 'friends of Uzbekistan' notice board, where I found a call for English speakers to teach at the new English-language university in Tashkent. Despite protests from my Moscow friends ("You will be mugged or killed by the Muslim insurgents. Russians are all escaping, and you are going there willingly?"), I made the wild leap to Tashkent to teach at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy (UWED), and bought a $15 platzkart [third class] one-way ticket, bracing myself for the long journey in the heat of mid-August to Tashkent. As the train pulled out, as if on cue, a band of robbers climbed through our open window (they were later kicked off trying to rob someone further down the car).

1/ Russian ghosts

I'm not the first western adventurer to find romance in Tashkent. Tashkent has benefited, as do the more attractive colonial possessions, from pampered rakes from the imperial centre. The most famous, or rather infamous, was Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich of Russia (1850–1918), first-born son of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia, grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. Born in St Petersburg, he was a gifted military officer and an incorrigible womanizer. His scandalous affair with the American adventuress Fanny Lear
had led him into a plot to steel three diamonds from his mother's icon. He was declared insane and banished to the far reaches of the Russian empire in 1874, eventually settling in Tashkent in 1881.

Despite his notoriety as a diamond thief, he still had his family fortune, and he used it to built a modest palace in 1890 and sponsor a number of philanthropic and entrepreneurial projects. He was renowned as an engineer and irrigator, constructing two large canals, the (now silted up) Bukhar-aryk and the much more successful Khiva-Aryk, later extended to form the Emperor Nicholas I Canal (atoning for the betrayal of his royal family?), irrigating 33,000 acres of land in the Hungry Steppe between Djizak and Tashkent. Most of this was then settled with Slavic peasant colonisers.

He used his palace to show his large, priceless collection of works of art. The palace became the Lenin Young Pioneers Palace in 1935 and reopened in the 1980s as the State museum of arts of Uzbekistan, since 'independence' closed to the public and used for foreign ministry receptions, a few of which I attended. It is itself a priceless gem, one of Tashkent's few.

The rebel gene was passed on to the Grand Duke's youngest granddaughter, Princess Natalia Alexandrovna Romanovskaya-Iskander, born here in the fateful 1917, the last Romanov and the only Russian among the Romanovs to remain in Russia following the Revolution. Her father Alexander died in 1918 and her mother kept the family in Tashkent out of the upheaval of the Civil War. They eventually moved to Moscow under a new name and miraculously survived, despite their Romanov blood and the fact that her uncle Artemi died fighting for the Whites. The princess becoming a professional vertical motorcyclist, an army driver during WWII, and secret agent of Lubyanka. She would visit the Pioneer Palace in Tashkent, fondly remembering that it was their family home. Natalia died in 1999, having witnessed the Revolution from start to finish.

One day, I stumbled upon a tiny museum opened in 1981, dedicated to another Russian adventurer, one of modern Russia's great poets, Sergey Esenin (1895–1925), founder of imaginism. It is, appropriately, on Tolstoy Lane on Pushkin St near Puskhin metro station (now Independence St and Salar metro) commemorating his visit to Tashkent in 1921. Esenin had a lifelong fascination with Central Asia; his lyrical poems include a series "Persian Motives". In the now Soviet Tashkent, he met local poets and read his poem "Pugachev" which he'd just finished. Esenin was originally enthusiastic about the revolution but became disillusioned, writing such poems as “'The Stern October Has Deceived Me”.

When I arrived by train from Moscow in the summer of 1994, following the same journey of the more illustrious Esenin and Grand Duke, life was peaceful, but Uzbeks were looking on with unease at the anti-communist whirlwind a mere 300 miles to the south. Afghan President Najibullah was still alive though without a government, living in the UN offices in Kabul. The Taliban only got to Kabul in 1996, when they seize and castrated him before hanging him from a lamp post.

The plan of Reagan was for the mujahideen to merely drive the Soviets out as a stepping stone in the US plan to undermine the Soviet Union. US strategists just assumed they could 'divide and conquer' the tribal Afghans, and bribe the resultant mess into the latest client state in their New World Order. The mujahideen, fresh in their victories, were having none of this. Liberate Afghanistan from the Russians and hand it over to the equality evil Americans? Fat chance! Au contraire, they were eager to keep going and 'liberate' Soviet Central Asia.

The Soviets were threatening Pakistan from Afghanistan in the 1980s, so the story goes, and Pakistan dictator, President Zia, was using the massive supplies of US firepower at the time to contemplate not only conquering Kashmir, but Soviet Central Asia, using the insurgency in Afghanistan as a stepping stone. This far-fetched plan was approved by the CIA first in 1952 and then dusted off in 1984. Things were going swimmingly until all this caught up with Zia and he died mysteriously in a plane crash (along with the US ambassador) in 1988. My naive hope was that I could make my journalistic career in this hot spot. As it turned out, I did this, but not in the way I expected, nor was that the only transformation I experienced.

The four-day trip across steppe and desert in an open sleeping car of 80 people is a blurry but pleasant memory now. The Soviet tradition of camaraderie on crowded, spartan trains was still alive, this time surrounded by genial Asian faces, all of whom spoke Russian, encouraging me with stories of life in Uzbekistan. I was covered in soot upon arrival in Tashkent, but was relieved to find a dapper Alisher from UWED on the platform. We took a 'taxi' (most taxis are just private cars which you hail on the street) to the elegant university, formerly the Communist Party school, renamed in 1992. I joined the staff along with a British Council language teacher Martin, a tall, gangly fellow from Leeds, who was a like-minded adventurer. He became a good friend, and a passport into the diplomatic world of expat parties, a lifeline to the distant West.

2/ Timurid ghosts

Public life in Tashkent unavoidably centres on Amir Timur (1337-1405), the legendary Turko-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. Timur is considered the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more durable "Gunpowder Empires" in the 1500s and 1600s, which once blazed and now limp along, their baneful effects enduring.

Timur envisioned the restoration of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, claiming descent (probably falsely) from the even more legendary and ruthless 12-13th century Mongol conqueror. He even justified his Iranian, Mamluk and Ottoman campaigns as a re-imposition of legitimate Mongol control over lands taken by usurpers, referring to himself as the "Sword of Islam" and patronizing educational and religious institutions. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population. He was not as bad as Genghis, who is considered responsible for closer to 40 million deaths. (The Brits are somewhere in between in British India, overseeing 27 million deaths, mostly due to famine.)

Timur paid no attention to Tashkent, making his capital Samarkand in 1370, where he brought the world's best artisans and had constructed fabulous Islamic mosques and madrassahs. He was the grandfather of the renowned Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician Ulugbek, who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and great-great-great-grandfather of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for over three centuries, from 1526 until 1857.

Just as Mongolia fetes Genghis Khan as their patron saint, Timur is now officially recognized as Uzbekistan's national hero, his museum in Tashkent occupying the place where Karl Marx's statue once stood. Appropriately, it abutts Amir Timur Square, where the world's largest statue of Lenin formerly stood, replaced by a globe featuring a geographic map of Uzbekistan at its centre. And in the Karimov traditon, it replaced a quiet tree-lined park which was a beloved meeting place for ordinary Tashkenters. 1996 was declared to be the “Year of Amir Timur”, and the 660th anniversary was widely celebrated, reaching a peak with the inauguration of the museum by President, who said, “Every man visiting this museum can make sure to my words, that this museum is like a great mirror, reflecting both our past and present and our great future”.

There is no question that Timur was a genius, if a cruel one. He took counsel with Muslim intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun and Hafiz-i Abru. But whitewashing his genocidal acts and seeing him as the inspiration of "our great future" raised eyebrows at the time. It is no coincidence that Karimov is also a Samarkander, and as Karimov spoke of “our future”, he was no doubt using the royal "our", having turned Tashkent into his personal fiefdom.

3/ City of stone (and trees)

Tashkent, literally "Stone City", is the capital and largest city in the 'stans', with a population of two and a half million―big but not too big. Due to its position in Central Asia, Tashkent came under Sogdian and Turkic influence early in its history, before Islam in the 8th century AD. After its destruction by Genghis Khan in 1219, the city was rebuilt and became an important way station on the Silk Road. In 1865 it was conquered by the Russian Empire.

With the collapse of the Russian monarchy, changes in Tashkent mirrored those elsewhere in the former empire. In March 1917, Tashkent celebrated the first revolution in Petrograd with a parade with Russian workers marching with red flags, Russian soldiers singing La Marseillaise, and thousands of curious onlookers. Governor General Aleksey Kuropatkin closed the events with words, "Long Live a great free Russia". The First Turkestan Muslim Conference was held in Tashkent in April 1917, dominated by the Jadid, Muslim reformers (think: Young Turks). A more conservative faction emerged in Tashkent centered around the Ulema. This faction proved more successful during the local elections of July 1917, forming an alliance with Russian conservatives, while the Soviet became more radical. The Soviet attempt to seize power in September 1917 proved unsuccessful, as it was mostly Russian-based, Russians being 20% of the population, but soon prevailed, bringing in Jadid types.

The historic Congress of the Peoples of the East was a multinational conference held by the Communist International in Baku, Azerbaijan (then part of Soviet Russia) in September 1920, attended by nearly 1900 delegates from across Asia and Europe and marking a commitment by the Comintern to support revolutionary nationalist movements in the colonial East. The gathering adopted a formal "Manifesto of the Peoples of the East" as well as an "Appeal to the Workers of Europe, America, and Japan". Muslim religious leaders attended, but the congress was solidly secular and anti-imperialist.

In April 1918, Tashkent became the capital of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkestan ASSR). The new regime was threatened by White forces and basmachi (read: mujahideen), revolts from within, and purges ordered from Moscow. The anti-religious campaign of the time was not as severe here as in Russia, but signs of independent movements were repressed. My friend Mubin's grandfather disappeared in 1934 and his mother only found out that he was executed in Moscow when the KGB archives were made public in the 1990s. In 1930 Tashkent fell within the borders of the Uzbek SSR, and became the capital, displacing Samarkand.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, whole factories were dismantled and 'shipped' to Tashkent. This led to a great increase in industry, and the Russian population increased dramatically; evacuees from the war zones increased the total population of Tashkent to well over a million. In addition to groups forcibly deported (mostly Koreans in 1938 and Crimean Tatars in 1944), Russians and Ukrainians eventually comprised more than half of the total residents of Tashkent. Many of the former refugees stayed in Tashkent to live after the war, rather than return to former homes, but many left after 1991, and Russians comprise less than 10% of the population today.

During the postwar period, the Soviet Union established numerous scientific and engineering facilities in Tashkent. After the war, Japanese prisoners of war built the stunning opera house. Soviet archeologists did important work documenting the past. Being sent to Tashkent was deemed a plum location for winter-plagued Russians. In 1966, much of the old city was destroyed by a huge earthquake (7.5 on the Richter scale), leaving 300,000 residents homeless. In a spirit of socialist comradery, the Soviet republics, and some
other countries such as Finland, sent "battalions of fraternal peoples" and urban planners to help rebuild devastated Tashkent. They created a model Soviet city of wide streets with parks, immense plazas for parades, fountains, monuments, and acres of apartment blocks. A beautiful metro was built, with fine mosaics of Uzbek poets (Alisher Navoi) and scientists (Ulugbek).

It was noted for its tree-lined streets, numerous fountains, and pleasant parks, at least until the tree-cutting campaigns initiated in 2009 by President Karimov. He mortified Tashkenters by cutting down the towering century-old chinars (plantanes), planting lovingly by the Russians at the turn of the last century in the central square, renamed Amir Timur.* Probably they were seen to overshadow the sparkling new Amir Timur Museum. The park is lovingly called Broadway by locals (too lovingly for Karimov), a lively meeting spot where people could get relief from the summer sun under the legendary chinars.

4/ Teaching new Uzbeks at UWED

My excuse for being in Tashkent was to teach sons and daughters of the new elite. I was given a room in the dormitory and ate in the cafeteria during the day and used the communal kitchen to make simple meals, there being no fridge. It was spartan and when I was proposed possession of my own apartment in exchange for an occasional English lesson by a local performing legend, I jumped at the chance. His English was already fluent and he said he would be on tour most of the time. Alisher2 was the drummer in Yalla, one of the most popular Soviet folk rock bands in the 1970s--1980s, but by 1994, long past its due-date.

I thought I had lucked out, an inside track to the Uzbek cultural world. But once he had me trapped, his apparatchik haughtiness was revealed with a vengeance, and he started to demand daily (free) lessons, making life unbearable. A good lesson for me about the worst type of “Soviet man”, used to ordering people around, lying, with no religion and no social graces.

The students had to go to the fields to pick cotton in November, and I pestered the administration to be allowed to go with them. They promised yes, but then one day the students were gone―without me. Hardly surprising, as this is called forced labour by the Anti-Slavery International, and Ikea, Adidas, Marks & Spencer and others boycott Uzbek cotton. The authorities were unlikely to let the curious Eric nose around their dirty laundry. My students later told me they mostly did nothing in the fields as they could pay a bribe to have someone else gather their quota. They treated it as time off to party. But that only works for the rich students. 

By the end of the school term, I'd had my fill of spoiled students eager to move up the ladder in the brave new capitalist world, and had enough contacts to find a normal rental apartment. I landed work on contract with a UNIDO privatization project. My landlady was an Evangelical Christian who after a few months politely asked me to leave (“You can stay with me”) to accommodate a church member. So the second of six moves, a Godsend, so to speak. I politely declined her offer to share her flat. 

I finally found what was to be my main home, settling into a rather pricey apartment with a phone and a delightful Tatar landlady right next door, cultured, Muslim and with stories to tell about Soviet life. It was on what is now called Bogishamol Kychasi (Garden Breeze St) near the Botanical Gardens, across from the new Intercontinental Hotel and new western-modelled Tashkentland children's park. The pricey theme park is enclosed by a high chain link fence, and consists of treeless expanses (what does Karimov have against trees?), a water slide and rollercoaster. It had just opened, replacing the modest, wooded Soviet children's park, which had been gratis and fenceless, but lacked the water slide and roller coaster. 

What had drawn me to Tashkent was both the fact that it was largely Muslim and precisely the fact that it was still very much a Soviet remnant, not yet invaded by the West, though the Intercontinental Hotel and Tashkentland were forebodings of things to come. I had always been impressed that the Soviet experiment, despite its flaws, was a viable alternative to capitalism as a way of organizing society, stressing social equality and mobility, de-emphasizing materialism―all borrowings from the Quran. Its major flaw was its long tradition of discouraging religion as the alternative to material pursuits, and this was already changing when I got there. The street name changing and Tashkentland-type buildings were already taking place when I arrived,** the tree cutting would move into full gear later. They both are examples of Karimov's obsession with blotting out all evidence of  Russian and Soviet heritage.

The president, Islam Karimov, had a promising name, but this turned out to be a misnomer, as he was the most ruthless of the pre-independence Soviet appartchiks, quickly dispensing with any likely rivals, muzzling all media. Being in the right place at the right time, during the chaos of Gorbachev's perestroik (1985--1991), he became head of the new version of the old Communist Party, the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, now the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party, and wasted no time taking control of the reins of power after declaring 'independence' on September 1, 1991. He has been the dictator presiding over fake elections every since, and has killed, tortured and imprisoned thousands of mostly Uzbek Muslims. When the killing gets too scandalous, the West cools its relations, but the exigencies of geopolitics and Uzbekistan's strategic importance has brought him forgiveness more than once. Relations with the West now are cool but correct.

I had survived the grind of teaching Economics and English, and was restless to explore life here. I eventually stumbled onto the beautiful old Chorsu Turkish banya, with a flavour of both Turkish and Soviet tradition of steam and sauna to make the summer heat bearable (soon privatized, now an upscale club). As a result of my earlier trip to Astrakhan, I had written articles for the Moscow Tribune (Russian sails around the world from Caspian Sea, animal rights, cold bathes, the banking pyramid scandals in Moscow). I reinvented myself as a journalist, wrote the Privatization Newsletter for UNIDO and prepared an English language paper Good Morning for the main daily, People's Word, and the Canadian Peace Magazine, carefully steering clear of Uzbek politics.

I took time out for trips to the magnificent Chimgan mountain, only an hour and a half by bus, Uzbekistan's highest peak, part of the Tien Shan range which merges with the Himalayas. There, I met Nuf, a wiry old Kazakh tour guide, now retired after years in service in Chimgan, Uzbekistan's only ski resort. We became friends and I visited Nuf often, and did some paragliding, skiing, and trekking with a Russian New Ager Vadim who lived there.

To keep my visa, after the UNIDO contract ended, I hussled to get work at―of all places―the President's Office, translating presidential decrees and pro-Uzbekistan 'news', continuing my own writing but, with the new opportunity the internet offered, under a pseudonym. After 9/11, internet news sites proliferated and there was interest in the West on this new ally of the US. Canadian Press and the Economist business reports actually provided some cash. 

I made good friends, Mubin an editor and Yuri a designer at the Tashkent Business Weekly (TBW), where, as an employee at the dread President's Office, I had use of a desk and computer to translate the TBW English page. We enjoyed carousing and hiking. They were not 'new Uzbeks' though both would like to have had a better life. They, like most Uzbeks and most Soviets, bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union. "We were once living in a borderless world covering a sixth of the globe. We were a respected world power," sighed my hiking friend Rashid, a Tatar whose family was from Kazan.

My friend Vladlen (Vladimir-Lenin acronym) and his friend Anafi are Tatars whose families were deported from Crimea in 1944 as punishment for Tatars cooperating with Nazi invaders. Vladlen's grandfather had been an imam, suffering Mubin's grandfather's fate. Vladlen (he was born in 1967 on the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution) was from a broken family and grew up off and on in orphanages. Though life was grim growing up, he was well-educated and enjoyed reading psychology. His favourtie painter is Dali.

There was no sign of anti-Russian sentiment. This happened only briefly during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the early excitement at independence. Everyone spoke Russian and the Uzbeks would slip into Uzbek among themselves. I diligently studied Uzbek, but when I tried to speak it, my interlocutor would laugh and reply in Russian. I played piano with an Uzbek musicologist, Olim, and his Jewish violinist friend Sasha. It was a pleasant life, not rushed. My friends were a mix of Uzbeks, Russians, Tatars, Koreans and Ashkenazy Jews from European Russia. The legendary Bukharan Jews had by now got their US green cards or Israeli passports, but many Russian Jews had no interest in emigrating, enjoying their lives as part of the intellectual and artistic elite. 

5/ Horseback riding in Iranov nature reserve (don't tell anyone)

On a three-day mountain hike in the Tien Shan, Sasha decided to take a shortcut back, which meant going through the nature reserve which is off limits. Of course, we were found out. The patrol leader, Zhora, as he introduced himself with a Russian diminutive, put his hand on his heart to show respect (though our party was clearly not Muslim), and proceeded to explain that this was a sanctuary, and hunting and hiking were forbidden. He was short and athletic, missing a few teeth with a few others capped in gold, but with the traditional Tajik flashing eyes and a well-shaped, handsome face. They made a half-heartaed attempt to fine us, but Sasha said no one would ever keep track of the paperwork. Zhora was intrigued to meet a Canadian. I was equally intrigued by this fresh young Tajik mountain dweller, and said how great it must be to do his work on horseback. "Come and I'll take you on an expedition," he offered.

I accepted and a few weeks later, showed up in his village Nevichu unannounced, phones being a luxury back then. Zhora has 6 brothers and 4 sisters, and the family is mostly able to live off nature (gardening, fishing and poaching, but as the ranger he earned a measly $8 a month).  I found Zhora at a ‘toi’ for the neighbourhood, hosted by Bakhodir, a friend from schooldays, a birthday party for his new-born daughter. 

“Why such a big deal for the first birthday?” I asked Zhora after enduring long speeches of gratitude and many vodka toasts.

“Bakhodir is a very generous guy. He was a teacher, but took advantage of commercial possibilities after independence in ’91 and became rich. He’s always helping people out with their weddings and funerals, circumcision ceremonies and whatever. But for seven years, he and his wife had no children. That is a terrible thing for young people, and when his wife finally gave birth, he decided to show his thanks to Allah, and celebrate by inviting all his neighbours and friends.” 

It was in fact quite a do, with endless food and drink. I didn't point out that strictly speaking the vodka was taboo. This after all was the Soviet Union for 70 years. Old habits die hard. I ended up at the table with bachelors and heavy drinkers, who tried to get me tipsy, but after a hard 4-hour bike ride in 30+ degree heat, I craved only tea and the succulent watermelon and early grapes, which I gathered from abandoned tables nearby. The drinkers lost interest in me. In fact, one was soon hanging his head in an unsightly stupor, and one of his cohorts quickly ushered him out, a great example of the evils of liquor. Knowing your limit is very important in a Tajik village, where everyone knows everyone and there is little news other than neighbourhood scandals.

It struck me that this village dynamic harks back to ancient traditions which are an integral part of Islamic culture. It certainly was not something that was introduced when Uzbekistan embraced capitalism at its independence in 1991. It seemed like a combination of the North American native tradition, where it was the duty of their well-off tribal members to blow their surplus on big potlach parties, plus a dose of Muslim paternalism: “Praise Allah for your blessings.” 

In any case, though many in Nevichu may be jealous of Bakhodir for his successes, he seems to be unanimously admired and respected, and is playing a vital role in distributing some of the wealth among direly poor neighbours. For example, Zhora;s $8 a month must feed his wife and four young children, not to mention pay for his own ‘toi’s. In addition, there is the day-to-day danger which he must now face. Last year several inspectors were killed by bandits (shade of the old basmachi and the nearby mujahideen) and there are militia currently patrolling the area.

With her 11 children, Zhora’s mother was a Hero of the Soviet Union, though that doesn’t hold much water these days. His father was inspector at the nature reserve for 40 years, so Zhora came by his job almost by inheritance; certainly love of nature is in his blood. His grandfather lived in the territory of the reserve until the 1930s and part of the reserve is actually named after him, the Iranov valley and river.

After the ‘toi’, I said in a respectful jest to Zhora’s father: “You are probably the richest person in Nevichu. After all, children are wealth, and you have 11 healthy children and countless grandchildren.” He laughed and said: “Not true. I’m still trying to marry off my three youngest sons. Have you any idea how much work they have been?” But I think he was rather more proud than frustrated, and if I could judge from Zhora and his equally handsome younger brother, who brought us my horse for our trip, there would be little problem in finding eager partners for the remaining unmarried sons. 

The expedition was a challenge, the horse fully aware that I was a greenhorn. The serious danger of a tree branch stump ripping open my designer jeans didn’t enter my mind till after the fact, giving me a nasty scrape and sprinkling the path with the pocket contents, including my keys, and ripping the arm off my glasses. Fortunately I found them, but we had no needle and thread (along with bandages, an absolute essential on such hikes), so Zhora later used his hunter-gatherer wiles, found a bit of electrical wire in his bag, stripped out some filaments, and showed me how to use a match stick as a needle and the metal filaments as thread until we got home. For dinner, he caught six trout (a 1000 soum fine for each one!) while I prepared the fire and some tea. We spent a lazy day, gorging on fish and tippling on vodka (I know, shame on us), swimming in a pool in the river and lounging on hot rocks, specially worn down for us by Mother Nature.

This adventure confirmed my love of the Uzbeks/ Tajiks, who have kept their culture and traditions through thick and thin, love their big families and find true wealth in them. Even the new Uzbeks that I knew were not cold and calculating. Bakhodir, who I worked with on another UNIDO privatization project and befriended, was very much the new Uzbek (actually half Tajik). He started up his own consulting business, and was generous with neighbours (and me), not obsessed with money.

6/ Brave New Uzbekistan

Ploff dinners at Mubin's home are a fond memory. He lived with his mother as the youngest son, in a traditional Uzbek mahalla (neighbourhood) of one/two storey adobe homes with a courtyard, all surrounded by a high adobe fence. His mother had been a translator of Russian novels, his sister Sayora a professional singer, his older brother is a noted artist. 

His good friend Hasim became a slot machine owner, raking in cash and saving to go to the US. He came over after dinner and we all stood around in the courtyard shooting the breeze. As virtually all young people here believe, America is the magical heaven on earth where they can earn lots of money and come back home to live like kings. That prompted me to ask: "What do you think about Bush's plans to attack Iraq?" 
"That's just to gain control of the oil there," he said in a matter-of-fact way. 
His friend Salim piped in: "Afghanistan, Iraq … the US has lots of weapons. It has got to use them up. War's good for the economy." 
I thought that wasn't far off the mark, considering their only sources of news are word of mouth and official Uzbek news, which is slavishly pro-American. 
Somehow the conversation came around to what it was like 'before', i.e., before the Soviet Union collapsed. 
"Life was secure then. We had communism and didn't realize it," said Hasim sheepishly. "You didn't think much about money. Studying was free. Now our kids have to hustle to pay for everything. They don't have time to study properly. Or play." 
"And the US thought twice before bombing another country into oblivion," I couldn't help adding. 
"We were part of a powerful country that the world respected," said Salim. "Where are we now? A backwater, cut off from the world behind tightly controlled borders."

It was getting nippy, so Mubin and I bade farewell and joined his family. As the youngest son, he had settled into the family home when he married, and he looks after his energetic, no-nonsense mother, this being the Uzbek and Muslim tradition. In fact, she needs little looking after, though she was pushing 80. The garden is a riot of color in the summer, full of flowers, persimmons, figs, pomegranates, apples, berries ... She had just finished a biography of her father, who studied in Turkey until 1925, and, as with so many of the intellectuals of the Soviet Union, disappeared during the '30s one day, never being heard from again. 

Despite this, Barno opa (opa means elder sister, a term of respect) never suffered being a child of an 'enemy of the people'. The family, though devastated when he disappeared, fantasized that he had gone back to Turkey somehow. She became a noted journalist, joined the Communist Party, and lived a full and interesting life; a strong, independent woman who had no need for 'women's lib'. She had read Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin, but only learned the fate of her father after the floodgates opened under Gorbachev in 1989, over 50 years later. He had been arrested along with 80 other leading Uzbeks, and was one of 15 who were spirited off to Moscow and shot without trial for advocating a pan-Turkestan independent republic. 

"But didn't you know about the gulag?" I asked her. "Didn't you suspect that he had been 'repressed'?" 
"No. We knew that there were many unjust arrests and murders under Stalin, but I never thought this had happened to my father," she said. 

As a result of this shattering revelation, Barno opa welcomed Uzbekistan's independence, and supported Karimov, refusing to bemoan the collapse of the Soviet Union that had done so much, both good and bad, for her. She accepts the entrenching of a petty dictator (who incidentally was a destitute orphan and yet was able to rise to be president), the extreme censorship of media, the jails full of ordinary believers. In her twilight years, she doesn't worry about the radical economic changes and the brave new world growing up around her. What's important to her is that her father's picture is in the Museum of the Victims of Colonialism, which lumps Russian and Soviet periods under one imperialist yoke. It's hard to blame her. 

Nonetheless, I suggested that it was a tragedy that the Soviet Union collapsed. As if to end any further criticism, Barno opa said firmly, "I'm proud of our new independent Uzbekistan." But Mubin's beautiful, smartly dressed sister, Sayora, surprised me by readily agreeing with me. "I'm a profession singer and lived comfortably in Soviet times, with no worries about hustling to find engagements." Her charming personality and talent convinced me of that. Their mother remained silent, but Sayora's husband, Temir, an erstwhile Communist Party member, launched into a critique of the Soviet Union as state capitalist. He is a budding businessman, and during perestroika, was active in organizing a “trade union of entrepreneurs”. As we were both economists, I started to protest his obvious misuse of terms. 

"Of course, it wasn't a trade union in the real sense of the word, but at that time, we had to use acceptable terms to organize," Temir explained smoothly. 
You know the type: he would have fit well into the ideology section of some Soviet ministry, and now, if his English were better, he would be snapped up by Saatchi & Saatchi to dream up ads in Uzbek for Dentamint. He struck me as having less of a grip on reality than the street-smart Hasim, and with a lot more pretensions. 
"Yes, poor Gorby," I said rather undiplomatically and proceeded to poke holes in Temir's trade union for entrepreneurs and his theory about the Soviet Union. "Gorbachev had these naive ideas that if things were loosened up a bit, people would honestly work together, form real cooperatives, and the reforms would succeed," I continued. "Instead, everyone grabbed what they could and Yeltsin tore the whole system down." Maybe they were just being polite, but no one dissented. Even Barno opa didn't have a good word for Yeltsin, except that by scuttling Gorbachev's attempt to salvage the Union, he had paved the way for Uzbekistan to become independent. 

Such a stew of contradictions ― the worship of the American dream, but also the cynical awareness that the US is selfish and violent on a world scale. People lived well under a harsh but egalitarian system, but either their personal tragedy or just their gullibility undermined their faith in it. They have to come to terms with their brave new world, and it's not easy. 

In Soviet times, it was the US that was the cause of the problems. Now Uzbek President Islam Karimov told parliament in August that "the shadow of the USSR" was a major reason for its present problems. He hailed the new generation growing up free of "the totalitarian heritage" of the Soviet Union. As Karimov told parliament in 2002, "Having visited one of the schools, I asked the children, 'Do you know who Brezhnev was?' They answered, 'No, we don't.' Then I asked them, 'Who is Gorbachev?' They again said that they didn't know. Then I told them that they are doing great." 

Whew. The saving grace in all this stew was the fragrance and (muted) voice of Islam, which had proved impossible to eradicate. Given what Karimov was up to, it was now the only remaining path not sullied by the clodhopping Soviet past and Karimov present.

7/ Journey within

For the first few years, I hadn't seen or heard much evidence of Islam, other than the azan from the Mirzo-Yusuf mosque near my home in 1996, which soon was banned, and an invitation at the UNIDO office by some shy Uzbek women to join in their iftar in February 1997. True, Uzbeks said a blessing for meals and ran their hands down their face then and every time they passed a cemetery. Russians kidded them about this, but Uzbeks paid no attention. There was talk of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), but no violence until 1999, when six car bombs exploded in Tashkent, killing 16 and injuring more than 100, in an attempt to assassinate President Karimov. This followed the more spectacular bombings―the 1997 Luxor massacre in Egypt and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Uganda, in which 224 mostly innocent bystanders were killed. 

Citizens in the Central Asian republics had been in fact quite content to remain in the Soviet Union. With a 95% turnout, 95% of Uzbeks (vs 70% of all Soviets) supported the 1991 referendum by Soviet President Gorbachev to maintain the union. After a few decades of repression of all religions, the fruits of socialism had come to Soviet Muslims and Christians alike, with economic well-being far exceeding that of the Muslim world under the imperialist yoke. The Uzbeks knew they had a good thing. A glance at the deplorable state of the Muslim world outside the Soviet Union was all they needed.

The socialist revolution in next-door Afghanistan in 1978 must be seen in this context. Until its collapse in 1991, the Soviet Union, after briefly flirting with the newly created Jewish state of Israel in 1948, was a solid ally of the Arab world in its fight against Israel, and was welcomed as an ally by the peoples of Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine. Afghan leftists did not fear Soviet influence (most studied in Moscow at the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University) and by the 1970s looked on enviously at the high standards of living, education and culture next door, without a thought for how shaky the foundation for an ‘Afghan Soviet Republic’ might be. 

The putsch by Afghan secular leftists in 1979 came as an unwelcome surprise in Moscow. Brezhnev was signing disarmament treaties with the US and joint space projects. Pepsi and Marlborough were literally on everyone's lips. It looked like the era of detente was being renewed. That is what I saw unfolding in the 1970s and what lured me to Moscow to study and later work, with Uzbekistan my final stop on this quixotic odyssey.

The Great Games played in the Muslim world by the West (including Russia and the Soviet Union) has left a contradictory and painful legacy for Islamic civilization, a constant attempt to undermind Islam (as was done to imperialism's other rival, communism), a trail of tribal and linguistic divisions, trade routes disrupted, and local leaders as dictators with opportunistic allegiances. If far from perfect, life was better for Muslims in the Soviet Union than it was in the neocolonial Muslim world, or is in the post-Soviet world,. 

Looking back, no one (apart from conspirators Brzezinski et al) would dispute that nurturing the mujahideen in Afghanistan was a bad idea for the US, leading to the al-Qaeda-based terrorism that we have all experienced in the past two decades. I felt the effects myself in 1999, when the nearby IMU-planted bomb shattered the windows of my corner shop, and sent the plant on my window sill flying, and poor Kitty scurrying under the bed.

The collapse of the Soviet Union is what led me to search for some answers in Islam, which I knew was also a bedrock of anti-imperialism, notably in Palestine, and which, as a socialist, I saw, approvingly, as a bedrock of a just society. With the collapse of the communist dream, I finally found my 'Damascus moment' in events which unfolded in 2005 in Andijan. 

Many Uzbeks had kept their faith through all the Soviet repression, which had subsided. There were only 500 functioning mosques in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and public religious observance was not allowed, but religious practice was not outlawed. It was not expected that the new post-independence order would repress religious observance, let alone return to the practices of Stalin. But when peaceful Muslims tried to make a public protest, asking only for the municipality to issue licenses to form businesses based on Islam principles, 1000 were gunned down while sitting in the city square in Andijan.

When the news of the massacre spread, I was shaken. “It is necessary to honour them. Teach me the Muslim prayers and let's pray for them,” I told Mubin. Though a believer, he was embarrassed, as he didn't know them. After all, his grandfather had been killed in a purge in the 1930s, and his mother, though a believer, was a communist. But he was also shaken and began to learn the prayers. He is no revolutionary: "There's no point losing your life trying to overthrow a dictator as ruthless as ours. I will keep on educating my children in the straight path. One day we will win." Karimov's viciousness was galvanizing many into affirming their faith.

That began my journey to Islam (thank you, Mr Karimov). But wait. It was not just the horrible massacre in 2005. It was much earlier, in 1996, waking to the gentle azan. And the next year, when sweet Uzbek women offering a share in their iftar at work. I only signed on the dotted line later in Cairo, where I moved in 2006, once the precious visa was denied me in Tashkent. A chance to work as a journalist at al-Ahram Weekly, learn Arabic, pray at the many historical mosques that make Cairo so special, share in the public festivities surrounding Ramadan, again, thanks to Mr Karimov.

Following the massacre, Mubin and I went every Juma to the modest Kukeldash Madrasah, which serves as one of the few functioning mosques.*** It was built in 1570 and went through many different transformations, as a caravanserai in the 18th century, later a fortress. In the 20th century it was a museum, first of atheism, and later of folk music (I remember going to a disco there in 1980 as a Russian language student in Moscow), before returning to its roots in the 1990s as a centre of Muslum education. The modest open-air courtyard serves as the most central mosque in Tashkent. Karimov has avoided building a large public mosque in the capital. Mubin and I were taking our chances worshipping there, as it was watched by Karimov's police like hawks. 

A lovely memory of that time is walking in the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were unkempt, very Soviet, spaceous, a blessed riot of restful green. I discovered a meandering, overgrown brambleberry thicket, and often went there to struggle to reach the berries through the thorns. A quixotic activity, but for some reason it gave me satisfaction. I suppose I sensed how it expressed metaphorically my own struggle to find the precious reward in the thorny, hostile surroundings, all the tastier for the struggle. 

Tashkent brings back haunting memories with their fleeting beauty. I keep on looking for such treasures through the new pathways I trod. There was no happy ending to my 13 years in my special city, but there were many happy moments, and the greatest treasure I found there was Islam, which found Turkestan in the 8th century, where Sahih Bukhari, the most authentic of all hadith compilations, was written in the 9th century, and where Ibn Sina wrote the definitive medical encyclopedia of the time, The Canon of Medicine, in the 11th century. Both are ageless works.

M8/ y thanks go to ...

My journey to the Other could have been to Kuala Lumpur, Konya or Karachi. What's important is being the Other. Tashkent is almost exactly half way around the world from Toronto, at the same latitude. I like to image: what if my soul had been plopped down on the other side of the earth, growing up in this exquisite mountain river valley, with small farmer traditions enduring, living a tough but peaceful life, rich in culture, Muslim? 

My 13 years in Tashkent as my Other were mostly happy in human terms, and provided the vivid experiences and time to reflect, allowed me to find the spiritual path that Marx ignored. Thank you, Muhammud (pbuy) for foreseeing the evil that lay in wait for us 14 centuries later, and providing an enduring roadmap to keep us on the straight and narrow. Thank you, Muhammad al-Bukhari for your hadiths, and Ibn Sina for your healing genius. And thank you, centuries of Uzbek craftsmen and musicians for your inimitable works of art. 

Few people outside the ex-Soviet Union see the demise of the Soviet Union―the intention behind the US creation of al-Qaeda―as the root of the problem. So, hats off to Marx, for exposing the devastating logic of industrial capitalism, the truth behind these events for me.

A heartfelt thanks to the ogre who presides over the current sad state of Uzbekistan. Thank you for not boiling me in oil upon discovering a naughty gadfly on your staff. Yes, I betrayed your confidence, but in my defense it was mostly just to prevent myself from going mad, and my scurrilous internet screeds did not seem to harm you in the least. What's more, they turned me into the writer I am today, fighting injustice but with a sense of humor, and a foundation in your hated Islam. 

We can even thank Stalin for something. Though he was ruthless, he was following a socialist path, and provided Uzbekistan with the foundations of a thriving economy. He also can be thanked for preserving Uzbek culture. Yes, culture. Stalin's mistake, for hardcore communists, was to preserve both Russian and the many non-Russian cultures and languages. Bach, Tchaikovsky, Pushkin and Dostoevsky are not secular. Nor are shashmaqams, traditional Uzbek music with roots in Sufism and Persian and Indian ragas. They are profoundly spiritual. Even if the Quran was not widely disseminated, it was cherished, and when the strictures against religion were relaxed, it became widely available again.

Karimov is an especially appallingly dictator, but one whose power is skin deep (an unfortunate metaphor). Uzbeks remain a charming, handsome people. Despite the torture and killing of innocent Muslims, the accumulating scars in Tashkent, the treeless and faux Disney amusement parks, the burgeoning mahallas for the super rich, the inherent beauty of the Uzbek people and their magical Tashkent prevail. Dictatorships eventually crumble, and good Muslims like my friend Mubin are preparing a new generation to pick up the pieces, just as his mother and Vladlen's mother survived Stalin's dictatorship and brought fine sons into the world.

Yes, Mr Karimov, your billions continue to accumulate, your nation's children still slave in the cotton fields, you cut down priceless trees with impunity, your daughter waits in the wings to grab the reins of power. Her lack of ability and well known scandals could even be a blessing, as when you are gone, it is unlikely she will kept the reins long.**** Finally, thank you Canada for my passport.
xxx
*It was originally called Constantine Square, then Kaurmann Square with a statue of governor general Konstantin Kaufmann in 1882. It later became a racetrack and promenading area for the well-to-do. The Bolsheviks renamed Kaufmann's square Revolution Garden and replaced him with a monument to Free Workers (1917), monument to 10th anniversary of October revolution (1927), temporary obelisks and Lenin busts, until 1947 when Stalin took pride of place. In 1968, it became Marx Square, with a bronze head of Karl Marx, replaced in 1993 as Amir Timur Square, with a large globe, with uzbekistan ground zero. 
**For instance, Gorky metro station was changed to the clumsy Buyuk Ipak Yolli (Great Silk Road), Pushkin was changed to Salar (Persian meaning leader).
***The Khast Imam Mosque, like Kukeldash, is in the old city, but is less accessible, more a museum, containing the Uthman Qur'an, considered to be the oldest, dating to 655 and stained with the blood of murdered caliph Uthman. It was brought by Timur to Samarkand, seized by the Russians as a war trophy and returned in 1924. Far more gawking western tourists see it than Uzbek and non-Uzbek believers.
****Gulnara Karimova has attempted to break into the global cultural elite, with her albums, fashion and jewelry lines. In 2011, organizers canceled her show at New York fashion week following pressure from human rights groups. A 2005  US diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks said that "she remains the single most hated person in the country."
xxxxx
Update (2019): Since the death of Karimov in 2016, his family has disappeared from Uzbek life, relations with Russia and neighbours have improved, though as yet little else has changed.

Critical Muslim 18 April 2016

I thought I had lucked out, an inside track to the Uzbek cultural world. But once he had me trapped, his apparatchik haughtiness was revealed with a vengeance, and he started to demand daily (free) lessons, making life unbearable. A good lesson for me about the worst type of “Soviet man”, used to ordering people around, lying, with no religion and no social graces.


The students had to go to the fields to pick cotton in November, and I pestered the administration to be allowed to go with them. They promised yes, but then one day the students were gone―without me. Hardly surprising, as this is called forced labour by the Anti-Slavery International, and Ikea, Adidas, Marks & Spencer and others boycott Uzbek cotton. The authorities were unlikely to let the curious Eric nose around their dirty laundry. My students later told me they mostly did nothing in the fields as they could pay a bribe to have someone else gather their quota. They treated it as time off to party. But that only works for the rich students.


By the end of the school term, I'd had my fill of spoiled students eager to move up the ladder in the brave new capitalist world, and had enough contacts to find a normal rental apartment. I landed work on contract with a UNIDO privatization project. My landlady was an Evangelical Christian who after a few months politely asked me to leave (“You can stay with me”) to accommodate a church member. So the second of six moves, a Godsend, so to speak. I politely declined her offer to share her flat.


I finally found what was to be my main home, settling into a rather pricey apartment with a phone and a delightful Tatar landlady right next door, cultured, Muslim and with stories to tell about Soviet life. It was on what is now called Bogishamol Kychasi (Garden Breeze St) near the Botanical Gardens, across from the new Intercontinental Hotel and new western-modelled Tashkentland children's park. The pricey theme park is enclosed by a high chain link fence, and consists of treeless expanses (what does Karimov have against trees?), a water slide and rollercoaster. It had just opened, replacing the modest, wooded Soviet children's park, which had been gratis and fenceless, but lacked the water slide and roller coaster.


What had drawn me to Tashkent was both the fact that it was largely Muslim and precisely the fact that it was still very much a Soviet remnant, not yet invaded by the West, though the Intercontinental Hotel and Tashkentland were forebodings of things to come. I had always been impressed that the Soviet experiment, despite its flaws, was a viable alternative to capitalism as a way of organizing society, stressing social equality and mobility, de-emphasizing materialism―all borrowings from the Quran. Its major flaw was its long tradition of discouraging religion as the alternative to material pursuits, and this was already changing when I got there. The street name changing and Tashkentland-type buildings were already taking place when I arrived,** the tree cutting would move into full gear later. They both are examples of Karimov's obsession with blotting out all evidence of Russian and Soviet heritage.


The president, Islam Karimov, had a promising name, but this turned out to be a misnomer, as he was the most ruthless of the pre-independence Soviet appartchiks, quickly dispensing with any likely rivals, muzzling all media. Being in the right place at the right time, during the chaos of Gorbachev's perestroik (1985--1991), he became head of the new version of the old Communist Party, the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, now the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party, and wasted no time taking control of the reins of power after declaring 'independence' on September 1, 1991. He has been the dictator presiding over fake elections every since, and has killed, tortured and imprisoned thousands of mostly Uzbek Muslims. When the killing gets too scandalous, the West cools its relations, but the exigencies of geopolitics and Uzbekistan's strategic importance has brought him forgiveness more than once. Relations with the West now are cool but correct.


I had survived the grind of teaching Economics and English, and was restless to explore life here. I eventually stumbled onto the beautiful old Chorsu Turkish banya, with a flavour of both Turkish and Soviet tradition of steam and sauna to make the summer heat bearable (soon privitized, now an upscale club). As a result of my earlier trip to Astrakhan, I had written articles for the Moscow Tribune (Russian sails around the world from Caspian Sea, animal rights, cold bathes, the banking pyramid scandals in Moscow). I reinvented myself as a journalist, wrote the Privatization Newsletter for UNIDO and prepared an English language paper Good Morning for the main daily, People's Word, and the Canadian Peace Magazine, carefully steering clear of Uzbek politics.


I took time out for trips to the magnificant Chimgan mountain, only an hour and a half by bus, Uzbekistan's highest peak, part of the Tien Shan range which merges with the Himalayas. There, I met Nuf, a wiry old Kazakh tour guide, now retired after years in service in Chimgan, Uzbekistan's only ski resort. We became friends and I visited Nuf often, and did some paragliding, skiing, and trekking with a Russian New Ager Vadim who lived there.


To keep my visa, after the UNIDO contract ended, I hussled to get work at―of all places―the President's Office, translating presidential decrees and pro-Uzbekistan 'news', continuing my own writing but, with the new opportunity the internet offered, under a pseudonym. After 9/11, internet news sites proliferated and there was interest in the West on this new ally of the US. Canadian Press and the Economist business reports actually provided some cash.


I made good friends, Mubin an editor and Yuri a designer at the Tashkent Business Weekly (TBW), where, as an employee at the dread President's Office, I had use of a desk and computer to translate the TBW English page. We enjoyed carousing and hiking. They were not 'new Uzbeks' though both would like to have had a better life. They, like most Uzbeks and most Soviets, bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union. "We were once living in a borderless world covering a sixth of the globe. We were a respected world power," sighed my hiking friend Rashid, a Tatar whose family was from Kazan.


My friend Vladlen (Vladimir-Lenin acronym) and his friend Anafi are Tatars whose families were deported from Crimea in 1944 as punishment for Tatars cooperating with Nazi invaders. Vladlen's grandfather had been an imam, suffering Mubin's grandfather's fate. Vladlen (he was born in 1967 on the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution) was from a broken family and grew up off and on in orphanages. Though life was grim growing up, he was well-educated and enjoyed reading psychology. His favourtie painter is Dali.


There was no sign of anti-Russian sentiment. This happened only briefly during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the early excitement at independence. Everyone spoke Russian and the Uzbeks would slip into Uzbek among themselves. I diligently studied Uzbek, but when I tried to speak it, my interlocutor would laugh and reply in Russian. I played piano with an Uzbek musicologist, Olim, and his Jewish violinist friend Sasha. It was a pleasant life, not rushed. My friends were a mix of Uzbeks, Russians, Tatars, Koreans and Ashkenazy Jews from European Russia. The legendary Bukharan Jews had by now got their US green cards or Israeli passports, but many Russian Jews had no interest in emigrating, enjoying their lives as part of the intellectual and artistic elite.


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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.

From Books



  • Fernandez's second book could be called The imperial messenger: Thomas Friedman at work Part II, or This is Not a Travel Book. The subject of her first book delightfully keeps popping up at conferences, interviewing American puppets, his spirit haunting her from the New York Times opeds exhorting Africans to tend their gardens, saluting Colombian ex-president Uribe.*

    Her observations are often laced with strychnine, since, for all her revulsion at the empire, she can't avoid its footprint. It is everywhere, often ridiculous, all too often lethal, tragic,

    the global superpower that has specialized in making much of the planet an unfit abode for its inhabitants via a combination of perennial war, environmental despoliation, and punitive economic policies resulting in mass migration. Despite being founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, it presents itself as the global model for greatness—a position that is unilaterally interpreted as a carte blanche to bomb, invade, and otherwise enlighten the rest of the world as it sees fit.

    Every few pages, a lightbulb moment.

  • Matt Farwell, Michael Ames, American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Penguin, 2019.


    Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.


    He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, my journey through a turbulent world, St Martin’s, 2016.


    The art of autobiography is a slippery one, “a review of a life from a particular moment in time.”* Whatever truths are revealed here by Khalilzad in 2016, they are by definition personal truths, confessions, with lots of caveats.


    The Afghan version of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, Zalmay Khalilzad (ZKh) began life in a remote village, riding a horse to school. He brags of winning a race by taking a short cut through a farmer’s melon field, crushing the precious fruit but bragging to mommy upon reaching home. No remorse for collateral damage. No punishment. He would go on to repeat his success as ambassador and hitman in first Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Afghanistan, then the UN.


    He is a staunch Republican, so he disappeared into private consultancyland under Obama, president of Khalilzad Associates. In September 2018 he was rehabilitated, hired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as a special envoy to Afghanistan. Good timing with the autobio, Zal.

  • Linh Dinh, Postcards from the End of America, Seven Stories, 2017.


    A masterly saga of a broken nation, Linh writes his Postcards from the End of America as he moves from town to town by rail and bus, with lots of walking, each one anchored by a theme, sort of, though what stands out are the deftly sketched portraits of mostly down-and-out survivors of the pressure cooker America, seething and occasionally exploding in violence and collapse.


    What is powerful is the intensely personal look inside the beast. Linh calls himself "a Unapoet",* a "PayPal-buttoned, reader-supported blogger". He writes with care and at the same time, abandon, occasionally losing it with angry Unabomber** diatribes.  But given the subject matter, it’s hard to fault him. In an interview with Diacritics, he calls it "a diary of America’s ongoing collapse, and I’ve learnt much from roaming around." A kind of Unatourism.

  • Review Ed. Cynthia McKinney, How the US Creates “Sh*thole” Countries, Clarity, 2018.

    Bravo to Cynthia McKinney, former US Congresswoman and Green Party nominee for president, for taking this offhand remark by Trump and running with it.

    The Forward is by Senator Mike Gravel, an unsung hero of American democracy, whose life is colourful to say the least. McKinney’s book is worth it to rediscover some of the hopeful signs for change, with Gravel in first place.
  • The 17th century hangs heavy over the ‘heartland’ of Georgian Bay, the twin peninsula to ‘the Bruce’ to the west. Both, of course were the home of natives, who were forced to cede about 98% of their land to the white settlers in the 18-19th cc. Even much of whatever shoreline is in the remaining 2% was/ is leased to the present day colonists, who flock to the  sandy shores in the summers. Georgian Bay’s history is a dramatic example of how this happened.


    The 17th century was the killer, literally. Measles, influenza and smallpox killed 15,000 of the 25,000 Hurons. The Iroquois, head of the confederation of five nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, sealed their fate, ‘winning’ the Beaver Wars throughout the St. Lawrence River valley and the lower Great Lakes region, killing most of the rest.  But who ‘traded’ them guns for the (then) valuable furs to play the now lethal war games? The Dutch.



  • 7:20am Union Station. 12 hours door to door to door. Six hours of travel hassles, 6 hours of fine biking, visiting childhood haunts in Eden Mills and Guelph from 1951 to 1969.


    To get there, a 2 1/2 hr milk run Go bus from Union Station to Guelph University. First, parachuting down Gordon St to inaugurate the adventure, over the Speed river, through town, to the library for the weather report. Promises no rain. Chilly and overcast. Perfect biking weather.

  • The weekend before I left, every moment I was thinking about the trip, imagining the long haul on the bike, neck pain, sweating, muscles operating at full capacity hour after hour, adventures, getting lost and found, a challenge with many rewards. Southern Georgian Bay is (or at least was) idyllic. Good farmland but not on the way anywhere, so still relaxed. Worth three days of biking, and accessible by bus for cyclists.


    It wasn’t the same worry as 2 yrs ago from Kingston to Cornwall or the Orillia Gravenhurst jaunt, more just a delicious anticipation of the (reasonable) challenge. My search at couchsurfing: 5 requests, within an hour, an invite from Josh from Collingwood, my supposed destination. ‘I am teaching in Russia, but home for the summer.’ yes!


    Everything went like clockwork till the usual ‘getting lost’ clicked in north of Barrie. But looking back, I realized I’d actually found a good route, avoiding the dreaded highway #26, stumbling on Horseshoe Valley road and eventually Flos rd 4 through the Minesing wetlands, the only road through, (wonderfully) forgotten, with a narrow one-lane rusty old bridge. The perfect bike route.

  • 1) How do you asses Iran’s presence in the region? Could we say the major reason for American hostility against Iran is its strong position in the Middle East?

    Iran has played a vital role in the Middle East, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Palestinians lost their superpower support, which had meant that the UN had a balanced voice to counter, at least to some extent, the US imperial objectives of world dominance, and Israel's objective to dominance in the Middle East, serving as a proxy for US interests.

    In 1975, the Soviet Union and third world countries sponsored a UN resolution calling Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination”, outraging Israel. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it was revoked under US pressure.

    The struggle to liberate Palestine suffered defeat after defeat since then,
  • I feared Kristen Ghodsee’s Red Hangover: Legacies of 20th century Communism (2017) would be yet another dumping on the sad ending to the world’s socialist experiment, or at best a boring collection of footnotes. I was wrong. It is full of ironies, twists, incisive exposes of the venality of the whole process of ‘liberation’. And some biting Bulgarian barbs.* Oh, and women have twice as many orgasms under socialism.

    Like Feffer in Aftershock, also published in 2017, Ghodsee uses her travels, studies, lectures to audiences east and west to test the waters of eastern Europe today. This fresh approach to documenting history through the eyes of both participants and sympathetic observers is more like reading a page-turner spy novel, full of often misunderstood heroes and villains, crafty confidence tricksters and lots and lots of victims. Who needs fiction? You enter the theatre of life, feel its pulse.

    Sleuthing in Sofya

    Ghodsee, always the researcher, saw a heap of documents in a garbage can on a trip to Bulgaria in 1997, and on an impulse started putting them in her bag. A pathetic homeless guy, clearly a drug addict, accosted her, always on the lookout for something to hawk. She told him she was CIA and he fled. Safely back at Duke University, she started perusing them.

    The  files were of agronomist Andreev, who rose in the 1950s to be Mr. Cucumber, responsible eventually for importing Dutch seeds and planting them in government greenhouses to feed the nation, with some for export to other socialist countries in COMECON. He had been awarded a golden badge of honour. It appeared his life was tranquil, successful, that he was a model citizen who didn’t worry about ‘profit’, though he no doubt was key to determining the production, distribution and pricing of cukes.
  • Toronto cyclists know how hard it is to get beyond the roller coaster nightmare of Toronto traffic to Elysium fields. Ok, dreary fields of GMO corn and soybeans, but it’s a step up from strip malls. Relying on The Canadian Cycling Association’s Complete Guide to Bicycle Touring in Canada (1994), I fashioned a trip to meet the litmus test:
    1/ no car headache to take you to some distant starting point,
    2/ some sites worthy of the name,
    3/ no mass of tourists, either biped or bipedal.

    Lake Simcoe is tantalizingly close, more friendly than big Lake Ontario, but featuring a tightly packed string of cottages possessing every bit of lake front available.

    Undaunted, I thought it was worth a try. The rapidly expanding Go bus/train system reaches as far as Barrie,
  • For a complex and critical examination of the relationship between Canada, Israel, Judaism, and Zionism, Eric Walberg’s new work The Canada-Israel Nexus provides a challenging perspective.

    It is challenging in several ways.  Primarily, the most important ideas are the critical lines of thought towards the impact of Zionism within Canada. This includes the influences on the media, academics and academia, and the political. The latter mostly affects Canada’s foreign affairs position as a sycophant of the U.S. empire, but in many ways as a leading vocal supporter of Israeli Zionism and its colonial-settler policies.
  • Feffer’s Aftershock: A journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams documents how the brown shirts moved into the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. (Part I is at Review Aftershock)


    East Europeans are making good use of their new proportional representative democracy, allowing protest movements to gain access to parliament. Poland’s Andrzej Lepper founded Samoobrona (Self defense) in 1990 to help indebted farmers, the unemployed and pensioners, and quickly had 15%  of the popular vote. In 2005 he became minister of agriculture and deputy prime minister in the Law and Justice government, which is similar to the other east European rightist parties -- a brown-red coalition, conservative culturally, vaguely socialist in economics.


    Recipe: Collapse, discredit socialism, discredit liberalism -> fascism. Again Hungary does the counter-reformation with flair. A leader of the 1989 overthrow of socialism, Viktor Orban soon regretted the mess that he helped throw Hungary into, and founded a "national conservative" party Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats), rising to  prime minister from 1998 to 2002 and 2010 to the present, now with a 'super majority' which he uses to amend the constitution in the face of EU protests over his policies.


    In 2003, Orban stated that liberalism has fulfilled its historic mission, that there is no need for further destruction. In 2014, Orban announced his plans to create “a new Hungarian state” that adopts political economic systems in Singapore, Russia, China, India and Turkey. He shocked both left and right by suggesting Russia was the more natural partner than the EU. He angered his 'alt-right' cousins in the rest of Europe by supporting the Turkish bid to join the EU, being a devotee of turanism linking Turks and Hungarians, though he has hounded Soros for “attempting to destroy the Hungarian nation and Europe's Christian identity by promoting the settlement of millions of Muslim migrants.

  • John Feffer’s Aftershock: A journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (Zed, 2017) is an epic tour through the remains of the Warsaw Pact countries, history through the eyes of those both making and enduring it. It’s full of surprising twists, with chameleons changing colours, marauding western bullies, lots of nostalgia for ‘real existing socialism’, hints of new political seeds pushing through what is now a bleak wasteland with nodes of renewal.


    Feffer is one of the new breed of journalist-historians, postmodern in his goal of seeing history through the eyes of those living it. His inspiration is surely the Belarussian Svetlana Alexievich, awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". Her equally epic Second-hand Time follows hundreds of Russian and other (ex)soviet interviewees from the 1980s to the 2010s.

  • Review of Jordan Peterson, 12 rules for Life: An antidote to chaos, Random House, 2018.


    Over the past year, Peterson shot into the public eye with his jihad against political correctness, using YouTube, the new medium for getting one’s beliefs broadcast without corporations, governments and media gatekeepers censuring and burying one’s new ideas.  And his ideas are radical, but more radically old than new. To him, cherished beliefs are mostly cherished because they’ve worked for millennia, some actually hardwired in us, and we abandon them at our peril.


    He asserts what he argues is his male, rational energy, taking no prisoners as he fights to save the English language from attempts to substitute gender neutral terms with orwellesque ‘they’s and ‘zhe’s and then forcing one and all (provincial premiers and profs included) to bow to the new golden calf. Language is important, as is marriage and respect for sex (not the amorphous ‘gender’). That is just part of his message, and he is now riding an angry, bucking herd of politically correct broncos. Peterson stares them down unapologetically.


    Prairie boy makes good


    Peterson grew up in a tiny village in northern Alberta, and gives a fascinating account of his youthful friendships, looking at his early life now through his psychiatrist lenses. His own maturing led from socialism till he turned 18 (he grew disenchanted with the NDP due to what he saw as a preponderance of "the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist" who "didn't like the poor; they just hated the rich") to … well, some kind of conservatism, but not the neoliberalism which has poisoned both conservative and liberal politics. He also moved from a limp protestantism to a kind of spiritual agnosticism, though his conservative bent will please Catholics.

  • My life journey as a peacenik took me to Moscow in 1989 to see Gorbachev's 'socialism with a human face', his attempt to combine materialist communism with ... it wasn't clear exactly what Gorbachev had in mind, but it certainly wasn't a wholesale sell out of what had been built over the previous 70 years. However, the rickety structure that the Soviet Union had become, a tired society always under pressure from the capitalist West, final collapsed. Or rather was pushed over by a well-planned conspiracy―begun in 1979 under Carter but greatly expanded under Reagan―to destroy the last socialist revolution, in Afghanistan, next door to Uzbekistan. The tragedy of Afghanistan put Uzbekistan on my radar. A remote part of the world shrouded in mystery and now convulsed in war. Sounded interesting to the young adventurer devoted to world peace.

    I had come to Moscow at the invitation of Moscow News. From my editor's office on Pushkin Square, I watched on TV the last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan and arrive in Uzbekistan, retreating across the Amudarya River on the Friendship Bridge (built in 1982 to ferry Soviet troops into Afghanistan). Even as the troops retreated, mujahideen snipers continued to target them, with US arms still being poured into what was already a powder keg. I was intrigued by this little-known part of the world, and remembered a dream-like trip as a Russian language student in 1980 to Tashkent, with its elegant opera house and its bountiful fruits, soaring mountains and hospitable people.

    After five years in Moscow, working as an editor at Moscow News and then as a Greenpeace activist-administrator, I had had enough of a Moscow in upheaval, where food was scarce and expensive, and people were losing their laid-back Soviet ways and embracing the worst features of the West. I was robbed more than once (once by the train police waiting in a suburban station on the way to Uzbekistan), and remember gun shots in the Vikhino apartment building entrance one night, told the next day someone had been found murdered just a few feet away from me.

    Moscow had lost its charm. I yearned to try living in a Muslim society. Uzbekistan seemed to be the most developed, cultured of the Soviet 'stans' and a short hop away from
    Mazari-i-Sharif.
  • 9 minute interview with Phil Taylor on University of Toronto radio

    http://www.radio4all.net/files/anonymous@radio4all.net/16-1-CanadaIsraelNexus.mp3
  • 1/ Manial
    2/ My Arab godson
    3/ Al-Ahram
    4/ Bringing down the Brotherhood
    5/ Sisi – Muhammad Ali redux

    1/ Manial 

    I stumbled into Cairo after Tashkent, where I had stumbled across Islam, courtesy of dictator Islam Karimov, who – despite his name – persecuted brave Muslims mercilessly, and impelled me to recite the shuhada, at first, more as a sign of solidarity. I was now determined to learn Arabic, read the Quran, experience Muslim culture first-hand and test my enthusiasm for Islam.

    I found the Fajr Centre for the Arabic Language, founded in Cairo in 1995, online. The new session was beginning in January 2007. Fajr (dawn) is for new enthusiasts and prospective imams, affiliated to the Egyptian Ministry of Education and al-Azhar, and located in Medina Nasser (Nasser City), which I was to discover is a sprawling suburban near the airport. Transportation in Cairo is a nightmare, be it by taxi or public transit. Virtually all Fajr students share digs near the 'institute', which is modest to say the least, but I immediately liked it, despite the anonymous suburban clutter. The administrators and my teacher were clearly devout Muslims, and warm, friendly people. This was not for rich secular westerners, who studied at the AUC or one of many private institutes down town, at three times the cost.

    I heard of a Canadian-Egyptian artist who lived in Manial, the southern-most large island of Cairo, perched just upstream from more upscale Zamalek. Anna responded to my query,
  • Reading Rabkin's What is Modern Israel  (2016), you can only marvel that Israel continues to exist at all, given its unending criminal behaviour, from the 1920s, while it was still just a dream, until the present, the only change being in the details, the full scale wars of expansion giving way to smaller scale invasions of occupied territories and Gaza (there's no more land to conquer), and ever new bureaucratic torture techniques intended to drive the Palestinians either crazy or into voluntary exile. Even the latter, a soft version of the 1948 ethnic cleansing, is made difficult, as the Palestinians can only leave via Jordan, at the mercy of Israel. Why does the world, especially the US, which could bring Israel to heel overnight, let the horror continue?

    Rabkin delves deep into the Russian Yiddish roots of Israel and brings together many startling facts which suggest that there was a much better option for Palestine and the Jews, one which was scuttled by secular Jewish fanatics inspired by their experiences before and after the Russian revolution. What is Modern Israel is packed with fascinating quotes and historical tidbits. Some of Rabkin's insights from his book and a podcast interview :

    *He decries the use of 'holocaust' in depicting the tragedy of WWII, as it is a religious symbol, and the deaths were hardly a burnt offering to some god. Rabkin uses 'genocide'. He also insists that it is not the "Jewish lobby" and "Jewish state", but the Zionist lobby/ state, as most Jews are not Zionists, certainly not approving of Israel's bombings, invasions, and illegal settlements. The lesson of the genocide for Zionists was 'be strong and kill and hound suspected antisemites.' For Rabkin, it is the opposite: a rejection of Zionism and Israel as a Jewish state.
  • Review of Graeme Wood, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State, Random House, 2016.

    Wood is the most prominent media star exposing ISIS today. A Yale professor, Council of Foreign Relations guru, his articles on ISIS have appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and on and on. He has an ambitious agenda, instructing the lay reader in Islamic theology and jurisprudence as he travels from one leading ISIS supporter or fellow traveller to another around the world. While providing a wealth of detail, his American slant, almost entirely overlooking the US as the chief culprit in abetting terrorism, is evident. But his book is worth reading, giving the reader a window into the people behind ISIS. None of them are monsters, but all of them challenge Muslims to better understand Islam and Islamic history.

    Wood poses throughout his research as a possible convert to Islam and apparently fools one and all. This deception he would no doubt rationalize using a quote from the Quran about lying being okay in a time of war (taqiyya), but he used it in Egypt merely to string along a modest tailor, Hesham, who was sincerely trying to convert Wood, and believed Wood was genuine. This gave him otherwise forbidden access to Hesham's personal life, ridiculing him in the account. Others Wood interviewed were not so naive, but politely answered his questions, though his agenda was seen for what it is: a report for use by western academics, media and security forces to better 'fight the beast'.

    Some of his interviews are revealing and colourful. He met multiple times with larger-than-life Muslims based in the West, both pro-ISIS and anti-ISIS activists and theorists. His professionalism as a researcher and writer produced a good overview of the different movements and actors in western radical Islamic circles, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda factions, and their visions of revolution and apocalypse. He interviews leading western Muslim scholars and activists, mostly American converts, including  the Sufi Yusuf Hamza, the Salafi Yasir Qadhi for their critical analysis of ISIS (they are both targeted as apostates by ISIS), and Yahya Michot, who lies somewhere in between.
  • Reviews of James Petras, The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Clarity, 2016

    Jeremy Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Worldview, 2016

    It is time to assess the legacy that President Obama bequeaths us. These two timely books contribute to this, Hammond focusing on the “special relationship”, Petras, more broadly on US imperialism. Both are pessimistic about the possibility of any change without an active, articulate citizens' movement that has staying power, thereby creating the conditions for a political renewal.


    Hammond's work is detailed, documenting the period starting with Obama's 2008 victory and Israel's immediate response: its invasion of Gaza in December. Throwing down the gauntlet, which president-elect Obama refused to pick up.


    There were more such attacks to come, involving seizing aid flotillas headed for Gaza, culminating in a repeat of that full scale invasion of Gaza in 2014, both killing thousands of innocents. Hammond's main point is to separate Obama's weak, nice words -- "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines" -- with his inability to move towards fulfilling them.

  • Okay, by bicycle ‘express’. But that was how i saw myself, galloping along the St Lawrence, a watchful eye out for the enemy yonder across the mighty river. The dirt road is now a bicycle lane (sometimes more, sometimes less) that followed--by a stretch of the imagination--the 18th century trail that once bound Canada together.


    Forget the mindless 401 hurtling by, for the most part, out of sight and sound. Enjoy the exotic roadside wild flowers shouting “I’m alive and bigger and more beautiful than you!” Some otherwise grueling stretches of highway are transformed into zany public gardens, complete with giant monsters and noxious invaders.


    Life in the womb of Upper Canada

  • Azizi Ansari's runaway bestseller Modern Romance is the perfect self-help book. Lots of data, thoughtful interviews with psychologists and 'victims', funny. The celebrated stand-up comic confirms the truth in the oxymoron, "the wise fool". And surprisingly, finds that humans pretty well figured things romantic out long before computers.

    A few nuggets

    Experiments on rats show the "uncertainty principle" in rewards: reward the rat when it presses the knob till s/he figures out it must press the lever to get the treat, but after that, only reward it intermittently. Their reward dopamine levels increase beyond the level when they always get rewarded for knob-pushing, like they're "being coked up". We are rats: in the human version of the experiment, women are most attracted to those guys who are in the 'uncertain' group, those who rated them high are second rate. No doubt this works the same for men.
  • The Gaspé  is considered one of the top hiking spots in the world, after the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Swiss Alps. There are 6,000 km of trails, and a range of vistas from mountains to cliffs facing the mouth of the St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. And best of all, it is hardly known outside Quebec—a spectacular, untouched place right in our own backyard.

    For the past decade, hundreds of cross-country skiers—nearly all of them Quebeckers—have come for a six-day, 100-mile-plus ski odyssey through the winter wonderland at the eastern edge of Canada’s largest province. After an article in the New York Times in 2013, 100 Yanks showed up, but as yet, very few Anglo-Canadians. Two years ago, hardy hikers started coming at the end of September to see the fall colours and the caribou, and I opted to join them this year.

    Saturday – The 8-hour 'trek' from Toronto to Montreal brought me to the bus to Gaspé at 5am, just in time. Our guide to Gaspé, Gilbert, was one of the many volunteers, a physiotherapist by profession, our residential doctor for sore feet. He is a joker, and over the microphone acted the voice of an airline pilot explaining to brace ourselves for the 2-hour climb that evening on arrival in Gaspé "to reach the hotel". Ìn line for coffee I met Robert, who is a Montreal-based fundraiser for nonprofit organizations and hospitals, a charmer, well in tune with his profession. We settled in for the 10-hour trip to Carleton-sur-Mer, on the south coast, before moving northeast to Gaspé and then east to Percé.
  • Eric Walberg has now written three books on the topic of Islamic culture in relation to Western geo-politics and world events. He is a prolific journalist and scholar who has lived in Central Asia and the Middle East (1).

    In Walberg's third book, “Islamic Resistance to Imperialism” (2015, Clarity Press, 304 pages), he presents a view of the world most people in the West, especially those exposed to a diet of mainstream media may not be familiar with or sympathetic to. Issues that deal with religion, culture and geo-politics are inherently complex. Even worse, disinformation is intentionally promulgated by Western governments and their lapdogs in the media to mislead the public into supporting the West's “war on terror.”

    The constant drumbeat in the media is that Muslims are “terrorists” and that America needs to police the world to rid this evil. Since communist-totalitarianism in its most overt form fell in the East, a new boogie man needed to to be invented in order to justify the military industrial complex. The gradual demonisation of Muslims in the Hollywood media (See the documentary: “Reel Bad Arabs”) culminated in what I believe was a false flag terror attack on 911. The myth of the Muslim Terrorist was born.

    For this reason, Walberg's book is a healthy antidote to our largely uninformed and biased views on the world's largest growing religious grouping.

  • Eric Walberg is a Canadian journalist who converted to Islam and has been covering the Middle East for a number of years. I do not know whether there are other books about Islam by converts, but this one is written by someone who is fiercely political and who sees Islam as a remedy to the world's ills.[tag]

    Although Walberg does not say so explicitly, the notion of resistance to imperialism has been basic to Islam since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle against Great Britain in the nineteenth century. After the creation of Israel, Iran, Lebanon and Syria became known as 'frontline states' in that resistance (see my review of http://click here).

    This is an ambitious book that may suffer from being at once an argument for Islam as the solution to the woes of the modern world and an analysis of the various aspects of Islamism as well as a history of Islamism's progress or lack thereof by country.

    The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet - growing faster, according to Time magazine, than the population - notwithstanding Islamophobia - suggests that its appeal is fundamentally different from that of other religions, and Walberg makes that point eloquently, quoting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, on the Iranian revolution:

    "Young people believe Islam is the solution to the ills in society after the failure of western democracy, socialism and communism to address the political and socio-economic difficulties." It prompted Saudi rebels to occupy the Kaaba that same year in an attempt to spark revolution, Syrian Muslims to rise against their secular dictator Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and future Al-Qaeda leader Aymin Zawahiri to conspire to assassinate Egyptian president Sadat in 1981."

  • Kevin Barrett has become a legend in the US as a fearless journalist who cuts to the quick, his political and analytic skills leading to provocative, truthful explanations of our mostly inexplicable reality. He has written several books dealing with 9/11, and is currently an editor at Veterans Today, and pundit at Press TV, Russia Today, al-Etejah and other international channels. His website is TruthJihad.com. He builds on a well-established American journalistic tradition of brave exposers of government misdoings. Bill Blum and Seymour Hirsh are best known, but there are hundreds more.

    Great American tradition

    Blum is a legend from the 1960s, as the first to amass detailed proof of false flags by the US government. If you still have any trust in the US government's foreign policy, you haven't read Blum's Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since WWII (2004), which documents more than 50 blatant US overthrows of democratic government in the 3rd world, though溶ote溶one occurred in the US (Pearl Harbor is suspicious but no slam-dunk).

    There's no question that the false flag experts in the US government weren't aware of the greatest terrorist event in US history. There are a string of whistle-blowers that show how evidence was ignored or buried building up to the event, evidence which if properly shared by the intelligence agencies, with their special al-Qaeda and Taliban watch groups, could have prevented 9/11. David Shipler interviews several of these forgotten heroes in Freedom of Speech:Mightier Than the Sword (2015). 

  • In Islam, the first two adjectival "most beautiful names" of God are al-Rahman al-Rahim, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. (Or, in Michael Sells' translation, "the Compassionate, the Caring.") The Arabic root of both words derives from "womb" and connotes the kind of outrageously generous love and compassion a mother feels for her children.

    These days, the Western discourse on Islam “especially political Islam“ is not exactly overflowing with compassion and generosity. As the French-Algerian Jew Albert Memmi wrote in The Coloniser and the Colonized, colonizers typically take a very ungenerous view of the people they are attacking, occupying, brutalizing and exploiting. If they admitted the humanity of their victims, they would look in the mirror and see a brutish criminal. So to avoid facing the truth, they project their own criminal brutality on the colonized victim.

    Memmi notes that Western colonizers typically refuse to acknowledge the positive traits of colonized Muslims. Even an admirable virtue such as generosity “ a notable feature of Islamic cultures“ is made into a vice: "Those crazy Muslims don't know the value of money; accept their hospitality, and they'll feed you a meal that costs a month of their salary, and offer you a gift worth ten times that. They're just not frugal!"
  • Book review

    Ken Ballen, Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals, Free Press, 2011.


    This is a strange book—a racy title, documenting the way six jihadis turned to al-Qaeda and its spin-offs in desperation to find some kind of fulfilment in life. There are several Romeo and Juliette stories, though the author seems oblivious to the fact that the 'love' in the title is mostly about devotion to God, however mistaken.

    Ballen is president and founder of Terror Free Tomorrow, “a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that investigates the causes of extremism”. Ballen's CV suggests “nonpartisan” can be taken with a grain of salt, as he spent two decades in law enforcement and intelligence, and was given grudging accommodation by the Pakistani ISI intelligence, and free access to the Saudi Ministry of Intelligence (MOI) Care Center, where captured jihadis are sent for rehabilitation.

    As well as his extended interviews in Saudi Arabia, he gained access to several jihadis still on the run, and relates a truly remarkable story—if he is to be believed—of a Saudi royal son who discovers he is gay and has a passionate affair with his cousin before joining the jihad.

  • Canadian journalist Eric Walberg has produced two very impressive works that between them cover most of what is politically relevant today: Post-Modern Imperialism: Geopolitics and The Great Games, the games being those played on the world political chessboard, and From Post-Modernism to Post-Secularism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization, both from Clarity Press.

    Walberg admits that the internet made his task easier, but without a very thorough grounding in political theory and history, they could not have been written. Walberg who has a degree in economic from Cambridge and has lived in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia, specializes in the Middle East. His Great Games are labelled GGI (pre-Russian revolution), GGII (the Cold War era) and today's on-going GG III, which he sees as a US-British-Israeli campaign for world dominance. Walberg shows globalization's brutality, and with theory to back him up, lays it squarely at imperialism's door.

    The scope of this work is vast, but I have chosen one quote that is particularly relevant to current events. Since 2008, the European Union, built up painstakingly after two world wars devastated the continent, has been teetering on collapse, and I have often affirmed that it is a deliberate American policy to destroy that elaborate welfare state. Walberg's confirmation is stunning:

  • Review of Morten Storm with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014.
    ISBN 978-0-8021-2314-5

    Summary: As IS continues to confound the West with its consolidation of a Salafist-inspired resurrection of a ‘caliphate’, the Danish mole responsible for leading the CIA to Anwar Awlaki has caused a scandal by publishing his memoirs of life “inside al Qaeda and the CIA”.

    Recruiting Muslims has not been easy for western ‘intelligence’. The New York Police Department has tried for decades to recruit Muslim immigrants, and was finally embarrassed by a 2013 ACLU lawsuit to disband its most public recruiting unit, which essentially blackmailed anyone with a Muslim name arrested on any pretext, including parking tickets.

    The most successful double agent prior to Morten Storm was Omar Nasiri (b. 1960s), the pseudonym of a Moroccan spy who infiltrated al-Qaeda, attending training camps in Afghanistan and passing information to the UK and French intelligence services. He revealed all in his fascinating memoirs Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda A Spy’s Story in 2006.

  • Thoughts on From Postmodernism to Postsecularism

    Chandra Muzaffar in dialogue with Eric Walberg

    Muzaffar: Eric Walberg’s new book From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergII.html is a stimulating and informative survey of both Islamic history and reformist thought, culminating in an analysis of the ongoing upheavals in WANA.

    The book is an extensive exposition on Islamic Civilization itself. It covers the whole spectrum of dynasties, major episodes and personalities which is why the book should be an important reference for students of the civilization.

    You are right, Eric, in arguing that for Islam the goal has always been “to nurture a morally sound community based on the Quran…” (p28). There have been endeavours in that direction in the past—some successes, many failures. In this regard, I am wondering why you did not mention specifically the moral indictment of Muawiyyah by Abu-Dharr Al-Giffari who some would view as the first major critic of the creeping injustices in early Muslim leadership?

  • In his introduction, Eric Walberg states, “The main purpose of this book is to help the reader to understand the alternative map which Islam offers.” This is both a literal and figural map, an alternative to the imperial and neocolonial boundaries that divide the Islamic world, and an alternative viewpoint to that of the imperial driver of capitalism. This offer includes “realigning ourselves with Nature, and rediscovering humanities’ spiritual evolutionary path…without abandoning the vital role of reason.”

    This path along this alternate view is created strongly, with an obvious sympathy for the parts of Islam that are little known to the capitalist imperial view. It is a fully comprehensive path, leading the reader through time and through not just the Middle East, but on into Northern Africa, the Sahel, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    The path always interacts with the imperial capitalist landscape ranging from the original European nationalist empires of France, Britain, Spain, and Holland on through to the hegemonic empire of the United States that has subordinated the previous empires into its fold. This has been done through military backing of corporate enterprises and many financial maneuverings that have – up until now – managed to stretch this empire into a full global span.

    The first chapter, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, explains the nature of the Koran without the political prejudice brought on by imperial reaction (blowback) to occupation and creation of the ‘evil’ other. Following that, it presents a broad history of Islam up until the era of the First World War. While the interactions with Christianity were often violent, Islamic expansion eastward generally tended to be accomplished more peacefully through trade and missionaries – the latter of course being against the military corporate interests of the west.

  • Forging a Socialist-Islamist Alliance
    Review of Eric Walberg's From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization, Clarity Press, 2013

    By William T. Hathaway

    Most western Middle East experts see Islam as a problem for the West -- a source of terrorism, religious fanaticism, unwanted immigrants -- and they see their job as helping to change the Middle East so it's no longer a problem for us. Eric Walberg, however, recognizes that this is another instance of the Big Lie.

    The actual problem is the multifaceted aggression the West has been inflicting on the Middle East for decades and is determined to continue, no matter what the cost to them and us will be. His books and articles present the empirical evidence for this with scholarly precision and compassionate concern for the human damage done by our imperialism.

  • Brain research and social psychology have made astounding advances in understanding the mind. These two books will blow yours. The implications for western 'civilization' are profound. Here are some notes.

    Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Doubleday, 2011.
    -heuristic (system 1 rule of thumb) biases -overconfident (first impression), resemblance, ease of memory search, emotion (sympathy for psychopathic charm), halo effect (exaggerate emotional reaction), WYSIATI (what you see is all there is), treating problems in isolation (not integrate variables), framing effects (context, importance of first impression, including page layout etc), priming (thinking about x -> x), endowment effect (owning x appears to increase its value)
    -fallacies re human nature -rational, emotions such as fear, affection and hatred explain departures from rationality
    -rather systmatic errors in thinking due to design of machinery of cognition rather than the corruption of thought by emotion. luck plays large role in success. accurate intuitions of experts better explained by skill and practice incorporated into heuristics. (variant of reason/ faith dialectic)
    -system 1 (fast thinking) -automatic operations (associative memory, automatic mental activities (perception and memory), unconscious/ conscious skills incorporated from system 2 as automatic, -> heuristic
    -system 2 -controlled operations -both self-contol and cognitive effort (allocates attention to effortful mental activities when demanded requiring choice and concentration, can reprogram normally automatic funs of attention and memory)
    -also experiencing vs remembering self (a construct of system 2 but incorporating (fast) associative memories of system 1) -what makes experiencing self happy not same as what satisfies remembering self -need to balance using system 2 slow thinking. -memory both system 1&2 and system 2 can adjust system 1 experiencing/ associative memories (ie, counterintuitive steering out of icy skid)

  • Lawrence Wright, Twins: and What They Tell Us About Who We Are, John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

    These notes summarize the main findings of twinning studies during the past century which lead to some startling conclusions.

    -behaviorism (BFSkinner) argued all behavior genetically based (we are the product of natural selection) but can be programmed in the individual. he denied special genes for altruism/ criminality/ other character trait -what our genes give us is the capacity to adapt to our environment. we are not innately good/ bad, rather determined by our environment. there is no individual responsibility. to change behavior we must design a different environment.
    -but twin studies suggests genetic basis to behavior (approximately 50%, ie, 1/2 determined, 1/2 'free will' which we develop by creating our own environment as we mature and become more self-aware)

  • In August 2013, Marxism Leninism Today editor Zoltan Zigedy reviewed Eric Walberg’s new book From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization

    Zoltan Zigedy summarized Walberg’s writing in the following terms

    1. The last great secular social justice project — socialism — has failed with the demise of the Soviet Union.
    2. Islam and its attendant political-social-economic doctrines are viable alternative routes to social justice.
    3. Islam is the only alternative that can deliver social justice. Therefore, Islam is the universal way to social justice.

    My -comments to Zoltan's >points:

    >the rise of Islamic civilization that Walberg foresaw was dashed on the rocks of divisiveness and foreign intervention

    -I see this 'Islamic awakening' as coming in waves. the 2013 coup in Egypt is a trough, but the process of evolution/ revolution continues. the openness and experience of the Islamists cannot be put back in the djin's bottle.
    I recall young Egyptian friends who were 'politicized' after the 2011 uprising. they didn't join secular groups, but the Muslim Brotherhood -- a huge move by millions of Egyptian youth. this has never been mentioned anywhere in the press. the ongoing demonstrations are courageous and principled, and deserve our respect and support.

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.it/daniele-scalea/islam-vs-capitalismo_b_4095817.html

    summary: Islam has a complete social doctrine which opposes the exploitation of man by man and lending at interest. For this reason, Islam is, in the contemporary world after the end of communism, the great alternative to capitalism. Massimo Campanini, one of the leading Italian scholars of the field, in his History of the Middle East, confirms that Islam stands as challenge to the idea of "end of history". But this challenge is not extremist Islam and terrorism, which in his opinion is already defeated, but two other "Islamists".

  • Resisting The Modernist Nightmare: Islam As Road To Peace?  by Richard Wilcox

    Following the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was supposed to have been a “peace dividend” which would have allowed the world to stop wasting money on arms manufacturing and explore roads toward peace and commerce. However, the Cold War itself may have been a ruse to some extent in order to justify the growth of global totalitarian government and corporate power in both the West and East, and as a result a peaceful world was never achieved.

    Even the most naïve observer could see that something was very odd, given that at the same moment that the Russian enemy was tamed and the Berlin Wall had fallen, a new, even more nefarious enemy was born: the Muslim Terrorist. This seamless transition that benefited the military industrial complex and zionist warmongers was practically lifted out of a Hollywood script. In fact, Hollywood played an important role in creating the caricature and stereotype of the “evil Muslim” through innumerable anti-Muslim Hollywood propaganda films.

  • This book is a continuation of my earlier work, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games (2011), though it stands on its own. My purpose in Postmodern Imperialism was to give a picture of the world from the viewpoint of those on the receiving end of imperialism. It traces the manipulation of Islamists by imperialism, and poses the question: What are the implications of the revival of Islamic thought and activism for the western imperial project?

    The subject of this work is the expansion of Islam since the seventh century, when revelations delivered to the Prophet Muhammad led to its consolidation as the renewal and culmination of Abrahamic monotheism. It looks at the parallels between the Muslim world today and past crises in Islamic civilization, which gave impetus to reforms and renewal from within, relying on the Quran and hadiths,1 and attempts to interpret recent history from the viewpoint of the Muslim world—how it sees the imposition on it of western systems and beliefs, and how it is dealing with this.

    The period up to and including the occupation of the Muslim world by the western imperialists corresponds to Postmodern Imperialism’s Great Game I (GGI). For Asians, the most important event heralding the possibility of a new post-GGI ‘game’ was the Japanese victory in 1905 over Russia. Japan had successfully reformed via the Meiji Restoration in 1868, inspiring all Asia, including China and the Muslim world, which saw Japan’s determination to develop independently of the imperial powers as a way out of the colonial trap that they were rapidly falling into.

  • European Journal of American Studies review of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games

    (March 2012)

    Recent history for even the casual observer of international affairs has been plagued by wars and conflicts in specific regions of the world.  The wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, seem to indicate the latest machinations in the imperial designs of the USA.  For many, using the term imperialism and connecting it to the USA is at best inappropriate.  For others, American interventions in particular countries or specific regions of the world represent the practices of a hegemonic power and the expansion of an American empire.  Some even argue that the nature of American imperialism is utterly novel, and deserving of a new label:  ‘postmodern imperialism.’  As the title of Eric Walberg’s book, his examination of the trajectories of contemporary imperialism includes scrutiny of the geopolitical interests of the USA and its “new developments in financial and military-political strategies to ensure control over the world’s resources” (27-28).  While Postmodern Imperialism primarily focuses on key aspects of imperialism, geopolitical analysis and commentary forms the foundation of Walberg’s narrative.

  • Robert Wright, Nonzero: the logic of human destiny (2000)

    -organic evolution tends to create more complex forms of life, raising overall entropy but concentrating order locally
    -Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, the thinking envelope of the Earth
    -throughout nature, main trend is the increase in capacity for information processing, storage and analysis. DNA not just data, but data processor.
    -the function of the energy marshaled by an organism or society not just to sustain and protect structure, but to guide the marshaling.
    -secret of life not DNA but zero sum (zs)/ nonzero sum (nzs) games (to better pass on one’s DNA - the ‘meaning of life’).
    ‘laws of nature’:

  • Review of Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Sharia Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World,

    Sadakat Kadri

    New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

    There are 50 Muslim-majority states in the world; 11 of them, including Egypt, have constitutions that acknowledge Islam as a source of national law. In Heaven on Earth, Sadakat Kadri, an English barrister and New York attorney, provides a much-needed and highly readable overview of Islamic legal history and an entertaining survey of the state of Islamic law today, full of fascinating anecdotes.

    For instance, have you heard the one about the eleventh-century Sufi mystic whose prayers were interrupted by a familiar voice: "Oh, Abu Al-Hasan!" it boomed. "Do you want me to tell people what I know about your sins, so that they stone you to death?" "Oh, Lord," Al-Hasan whispered back. "Do you want me to tell people what I know about your mercy, so that none will ever feel obliged to bow down to you again?" "Keep your secret," came God's conspiratorial reply. "And I will keep mine."

    Such risqué offerings aside, Kadri looks at the development of Islamic law from the time of the Prophet, focussing on attitudes to war, criminal justice, religious tolerance, and movements of reform through history. He provides valuable background for all those concerned and/or excited about today's resurgence of Islam. As the fastest growing religion, second only to Christianity in numbers (and surely first in terms of sincere practitioners), Islam is an increasingly powerful force not only in the world of religion, but in the realms of culture, politics and even economics.
  • Guided missives

    Ard ard (Surface-to-surface): The story of a graffiti revolution
    Sherif Abdel-Megid
    Egyptian Association for Books 2011
    ISBN 978-977-207-102-9

    Graffiti -- the art of the masses, by the masses, for the masses -- has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and arguably to Pharaonic Egypt. Sherif Abdel-Megid, a writer who works for Egyptian television, boasts that Egypt's revolution and the explosion of popular art that followed it finds its roots in the decay of the Sixth dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom, following the reign of Pepi II (2278-2184 BC), credited with having the longest reign of any monarch in history at 94 years (Mubarak, eat your heart out). His own decline paralleled the disintegration of the kingdom and it is thanks to Pharaonic graffiti that we know about it.

  • I confess that I cringe when I see the word “post-modern.” This word has obscured more discussions, confused more gullible readers, and conned more writers than any word since “existential” and its “-ism.” For the most part, it has served as a kind of fashionable linguistic operator that signals something radical and profound will follow. Almost always, what follows disappoints.

    Eric Walberg’s book, Postmodern Imperialism (Clarity Press, 2011), doesn’t change my general opinion of the word, though what follows the title certainly doesn’t disappoint.

    Walberg has offered a welcome taxonomy of imperialism from its nineteenth century genesis until today; he has given a plausible explanation of imperialism’s contours since the exit of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism from the world stage; and he has convincingly described Israel’s unique role in the continuing reshaping of imperialism’s grasp for world domination.

  •  I. Let the Games Begin…Again…and Again

    The great disaffected masses tell us that history is on the march and, as usual, guns and butter are the simpler issues. In America, support dwindles for a war that has lasted a decade. Drone missiles, each costing $100,000, kill “terrorists” in gutturally named, chicken-scratch places bewilderingly far from America’s hometowns, whose simple citizens ask where their taxes go. Costs of the Afghanistan war this year are the highest ever, $119.4 billion and counting.[1] Polls show historically deep disaffection with The System. The mask of America-First patriotism is falling, revealing an intoxicated self-grandiosity and will to power by renascent Bush-era neocons and cynical manipulations by the CEO caste and other one-percenters for more and more wealth, and whose sense of entitlement the victims of class warfare, lumpen proles and petit bourgeoisie alike, seem unable to stomach any longer.[2] Approval of the Republican led-by-gridlock Congress hovers around fifteen percent.[3] Ever-larger protests in other cities in America and internationally have extended those on Wall Street – protests even a year ago one would never have predicted – and “class warfare – rich against poor” appears on the protestors’ signs.

    The disaffected might also ask why the US, as Eric Walberg notes in his extraordinary new book, has 730 American military bases in fifty countries around the globe, and why the US share of the world’s military expenditures is 42.8% while, by comparison, China’s is 7.3% and Russia’s 3.6%. The unavoidable irony is that the Pax Americana seems to be requiring endless war with no particular rationale behind it – and truly astonishing numbers of dollars are spent on behalf of war rather than at home. What may be fatally undermining credibility in America’s “transcendent values” has been the sense that as the facts filter down to the masses, the Empire’s new clothes appear to be the same as that of past empires. All empires have births and deaths – the US Empire will be no different. Internal contradictions of the US efforts to control the globe seem now to be sending things spiraling out of control.[4]

  • Eric Walberg’s acute insights into the contemporary global order raise many questions about the continued viability of the American and Israeli focus on wealth and power. Perhaps understandably, his interests and insights inspired by the Islamic world make him a penetrating commentator on peoples who are a product of Christian and Jewish tradition.

    Walberg is a Canadian authority on the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia who writes for Al Ahram, the best known English language newspaper in the Middle East.

  • Though the number of critical voices concerning Israel, Zionism and Jewish power is growing steadily, a clear distinction can be made on the one hand between contributors who operate within the discourse and are politically oriented, and others who transcend themselves above and beyond any given political paradigm.

    The former category refers to writers and scholars who operate 'within the box,' accepting the restrictive measures of a given political and intellectual discourse. A thinker who operates within such a framework would initially identify the boundaries of the discourse, and then shape his or her ideas to fit in accordingly. The latter category refers to a far more challenging intellectual attempt: it includes those very few who operate within a post-political realm, those who defy the dictatorship of 'political-correctness', or any given 'party-line'. It relates to those minds that think 'out of the box'. And it is actually those who, like artists, plant the seeds of a possible conceptual and consciousness shift.

  • The Wandering Who? A study of Jewish identity politics, gives a unique insider’s view of the Israeli mind. Its author explains to Eric Walberg that you can take the girl out of Jezebel, but you can’t take Jezebel out of the girl

    Gilad Atzmon is a world citizen who calls London his home. He was born a sabra, and served as a paramedic in the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1982 Lebanon War, when he realised that “I was part of a colonial state, the result of plundering and ethnic cleansing.” He has wandered far since then, become a novelist, philosopher, one of the world’s best jazz saxophonists, and at the same time, one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause, supporting their right of return and the one-state solution. He now defines himself as a “proud self-hating Jew” and “a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. In 2009 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quoted Atzmon during a debate with Israeli president Shimon Peres, telling him at the World Economic Forum that “Israeli barbarity is far beyond even ordinary cruelty.”

  • Three books recently published by the American radical publisher Clarity Press reflect different aspects of racism in the US, which even under a black president is unfortunately alive and well, promoted in US policy at home and abroad -- if not officially:

    Devon Mihesua, American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities

    Stephen Sheehi, Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims

    Francis Boyle, The Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law

  • -secular thinkers imagine they have left religion behind, but have only exchanged religion for a humanist faith in progress

    -Joseph Roth worried about spread of ideas of national self-determination. Monarchy was more tolerant. A society can be civilized without recognizing rights, while one based on rights may be tainted with barbarism (Austria-Hungary abolished torture in 1776)

    -torture is Enlightenment tradition, 'progress' a legacy of Christianity (salvation in battle between good and evil Zoroastra). 'God defeats evil' translated into secular terms. also meliorism of liberal humanists. Enlightenment hostile to Christianity but used Christian framework.

  • -US enriched rather than impoverished by the two world wars and by their outcome, nothing in common with Britain -> still glorifies military, sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945.

    -in Europe, dominant sentiment relief at "final closing of a long, unhappy chapter" vs in US - story recorded in a triumphalist key. war works. thus remains the first option, vs last resort

    -20th c rise and fall of the state. welfare state a cross-party 20th c consensus implemented by liberals or conservatives not as first stage of 20th c socialism but culmination of late-19th c reformist liberalism, prerequisites of a stable civil order. p10

    -citizens lost gnawing sentiment of insecurity and fear that had dominated political life between 1914 and 1945. forgot this fear -> neoliberalism. now fear reemerging [-> neofascism], fear that not only we but those 'in authority' have lost control of forces beyond their reach [implicitly acknowledging the cabal of international bankers/ military industrial complex (mic) that conspire above governments, tho Judt would be the first to dismiss this p20]

  • Clarity Press June 2011

    advanced purchase http://www.claritypress.com/Walberg.html

    PREFACE

    To young people today, the world as a global village appears as a given, a ready-made order, as if human evolution all along was logically moving towards our high-tech, market-driven society, dominated by the wealthy United States. To bring the world to order, the US must bear the burden of oversize defense spending, capture terrorists, eliminate dictators, and warn ungrateful nations like China and Russia to adjust their policies so as not to hinder the US in its altruistic mission civilatrice.

    The reality is something else entirely, the only truth in the above characterization being the overwhelming military dominance of the US in the world today. The US itself is the source of much of the world’s terrorism, its 1.6 million troops in over a thousand bases around the world the most egregious terrorists, leaving the Osama bin Ladens in the shade, and other lesser critics of US policies worried about their job prospects.

    My own realization of the true nature of the world order began with my journey to England to study economics at Cambridge University in September 1973. I decided to take the luxury SS France ocean liner which offered a student rate of a few hundred dollars (and unlimited luggage), where I met American students on Marshall and Rhodes scholarships (I had the less prestigious Mackenzie King scholarship), and used my wiles to enjoy the perks of first class. The ship was a microcosm of society, a benign one. The world was my oyster and I wanted to share my joy with everyone.

    But I was in for a shock.

  • How green is your deen?

    Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, San Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2010

    Muslim Americans are slowly beginning to make their mark on their very conflicted society. There are more Muslims than Jews in the US now -- approximately 5 million. They are the most diverse of all American believers, 35 per cent born in the US (25 per cent Afro-American), the rest -- immigrants from southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Traditionally they have voted Republican, but have shifted to Democrat and Green parties in recent years.

  • Three new publications from the leading radical British press are the tip of a growing iceberg of passionate pleas for sanity in international affairs. Most of us prefer to stick our heads in the sand as the world goes to hell in a hand-basket, but there are works that can fascinate and uplift, perhaps even inspire us to do something before it is too late.

  • -the attempt to fuse the public and private lies behind Plato’s attempt to answer the q “Why is it in one’s interest to be just?” and Christianity’s claim that perfect self-realization can be attained through service to others. [capitalism proposes the invisible hand, soc – class consciousness and state-sanctioned ideology, Rorty’s vision – soc demo and  metaphors]

  • -ecology - 19th c term - investigation of interrelationships between animals, plants, and their inorganic environment - dynamic balance of nature, interdependence of living and nonliving things. vs environmentalism (natural engineering)

     -social ecology - dialectical unfolding of life-forms from simple to complex. (history of phenomenon is the phenomenon itself) human-made universe is 'second nature'. society = institutionalized communities. philosophy of evolution. must synthesize these 2 natures into a 3rd. process of achieving wholeness by means of unity thru diversity, complementarity (vs homogeneous monocultural oneness of cap).

  • -x preferred schoolgirls because less complicated, less real than adult women, as dream less complicated than reality.

    paradox of sex - always seems to be offering more than it can deliver.
  • Time and its discontents

    -Latin words for culture = agriculture/ domestication AND translation from Greek terms for spatial image of time. We are 'time-binders', creating a symbolic class of life, an artificial world -> control over nature. Time becomes real because it has consequences. Flow of time 'the distinction between what one needs and what one has, the incipience of regret' (Guyau (1890) Carpe diem, but civ(ilization) forces us to mortgage the present to the future.

  • -worldatlarge dangerous and threatening. It didn't like the Jews (Js) because they were clever, quick-witted, successful, but also because they were noisy and push. It didn't like what we were doing here in the Land of Israel either, because it begrudged us even this meager strip of marshland, boulders, and desert. Out there in the world all the walls were covered with graffiti: yids, go back to Palestine, so we came back to Palestine and now the worldatlarge shouts at us: Yids, get out of Palestine.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html