Turkey at the Turning Point?

11 10 2007
tukey flag in breeze

Christopher de Bellaigue in The New York Review of Books

It is now clear that Turkey, a country to which Western visitors have often applied adjectives such as “timeless” and “slothful,” is changing profoundly, and with un-Oriental speed. To the many Turks who welcome this transformation, it holds out the promise of a free public culture, equally open to devout Muslims, secularists, and critics of Turkey’s past politics—something the country has never known. A smaller but nonetheless considerable number see the changes as a Trojan horse for Islamism as severe as one finds in Iran or Saudi Arabia. These two views come into sharp conflict on the subject of Abdullah Gül, whom the Turkish parliament recently elected president.

Abdullah Gül is a conscientious Muslim. He says his prayers and observes the Ramadan fast. His wife appears in public with a silk scarf wound tightly around her head. Although he was once associated with Islamism of a rather virulent kind and was a member of the Welfare Party, whose stated goal was to challenge Turkey’s secular traditions, Gül gives the impression of having mellowed. As foreign minister in the mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from 2003 until his election to the presidency, Gül directed his energies mainly at promoting Turkey’s claims to EU membership. As president, he has promised to safeguard Turkey’s secular regime.

More here.





Looking Up From the Gutter: Philosophy and Popular Culture

11 10 2007

Stephen T. Asma in The Chronicle Review

Philosophy has never had a good relationship with popular culture. The two domains seem like different planets, each with an atmosphere toxic to the other. Thales (625?-?547 BC), the first philosopher, is famous for being so out of touch with the mundane world that he once fell down a well because he was distracted by deep thought. Philosophy broods, analyzes, and tends toward the antisocial; pop culture celebrates, wallows, and tends toward the communal. Philosophy is for cynics, and pop culture is for bimbos.

But the recent trend in publishing, dominated by Open Court and Blackwell, has tried to undo those old stereotypes. Perhaps its chief architect, or hardest worker, is William Irwin, an associate professor of philosophy at King’s College, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Irwin was the series editor of Open Court’s “Popular Culture and Philosophy” from 2003 to 2007, generating more than 20 titles, including The Sopranos and Philosophy, Harry Potter and Philosophy, and The Beatles and Philosophy. Open Court’s series originated when the press’s editorial director, David Ramsay Steele, decided to follow up on the success of the one-off Seinfeld and Philosophy. The Open Court series is currently being edited by George Reisch, an instructor at Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies, and the ever-busy William Irwin has moved on to Blackwell, where he’s put seven new titles on the docket for 2007 alone in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series.

Philosophers, who devote much of their attention to remote texts, are seen by many as irretrievably elitist. But elitism isn’t always bad. Professional sprinters, for example, are an elite group, too, but nobody holds it against them.

More here.





Ayaan Hirsi Ali: abandoned to fanatics

11 10 2007

Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie in the L.A. Times

As you read this, Ayaan Hirsi Ali sits in a safe house with armed men guarding her door. She is one of the most poised, intelligent and compassionate advocates of freedom of speech and conscience alive today, and for this she is despised in Muslim communities throughout the world. The details of her story bear repeating, as they illustrate how poorly equipped we are to deal with the threat of Muslim extremism in the West. . . .

Hirsi Ali may be the first refugee from Western Europe since the Holocaust. As such, she is a unique and indispensable witness to both the strength and weakness of the West: to the splendor of open society and to the boundless energy of its antagonists. She knows the challenges we face in our struggle to contain the misogyny and religious fanaticism of the Muslim world, and she lives with the consequences of our failure each day. There is no one in a better position to remind us that tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.

More here.





The West should be proud of its ethical achievements

10 10 2007

Douglas Murray in Spectator

Recognition of the superiority of our values is made with people’s feet every day in the one-way human migration to the West. It is an admission which many make in private. But we seem to have become so comfortable with our rights that we no longer acknowledge their superiority, or the superiority of the values which gave them life.

Even a couple of generations ago, assertion of the superiority of Western values — the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equalities, freedoms of expression and conscience — was uncontentious. But we have become morally lazy. If other people live under tyranny, then who are we to ‘impose’ democracy on them? If others live in benighted societies in which half their population can be treated as chattel, then why should we disturb them? Like the multicultural edifice before it, this genuine prejudice — the refusal to discern or assert moral difference — is finally collapsing. It must do, when reality comes a-knocking.

More here.





The Historic Significance of Atlas Shrugged

10 10 2007
atlas shrugged

Robert Tracinski in Real Clear Politics

October 10 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged, so in the coming week we can expect to see a flurry of articles about the novel–many of which will, unfortunately, offer highly inaccurate descriptions of its meaning and significance.

That’s a shame, because Atlas Shrugged is a novel that everyone ought to discover and grapple with, because it succeeds at something too few artists and intellectuals have had the courage to do.

The purpose of art and philosophy is to show us truths about human nature, about the nature of the world and our place in it. Philosophy names these truths explicitly, in literal terms; literature dramatizes these truths in concrete terms, revealing its insights through the actions and statements of the characters created by the novelist. A philosophical novel, like Atlas Shrugged, is supposed to do both of these things.

But too often both the philosophers and the artists have simply repeated or project their own prejudices and pre-conceived notions.

More here.





This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie

10 10 2007

Robert Sullivan in the New York Times Magazine

Because Todd Haynes’s Dylan film isn’t about Dylan. That’s what’s going to be so difficult for people to understand. That’s what’s going to make “I’m Not There” so trying for the really diehard Dylanists. That’s what might upset the non-Dylanists, who may find it hard to figure out why he bothered to make it at all. And that’s why it took Haynes so long to get it made. Haynes was trying to make a Dylan film that is, instead, what Dylan is all about, as he sees it, which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive. The twist is that to not be about Dylan can also be said to be true to the subject Dylan. “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I’m about,” Dylan himself told an interviewer in 2001. “It’s ludicrous, humorous and sad that such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. . . . You’re wasting you own.” It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes’s part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. “If I told you what our music is really about, we’d probably all get arrested,” Dylan once said.

“I don’t know that it does make sense,” Cate Blanchett says of the film, “and I don’t know whether Dylan’s music makes sense. It hits you in kind of some other place. It might make sense when you’re half-awake, half-asleep, in the everyday lives in which we live. I don’t think the film even strives to make sense, in a way.”

More here.





I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer

9 10 2007

Ed Pilkington in The Guardian

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

More here.