There is a de facto 21st century gold rush among elite universities in the United States. In the age of globalized capital, privatization of the state, and commodified education, top-ranked, private universities and colleges are expanding beyond U.S. borders and building proxy campuses in locations fundamental to American economic and military interests. Of the U.S. universities engaged in this project, the pioneer has been New York University (NYU), the first university ever to clone its flagship campus into a standalone campus abroad. In doing so, NYU president John Sexton — infamous for declaring that he’d turn NYU into a leader in the “ICE sector (1)” — upped the ante in the race for such capital by building a new campus in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) built itself its own private island in the Persian Gulf with a name fit for the neoliberal ideal it was trying to embody: the Island of Happiness (Saadiyat Island). Beyond happiness, a third of the world’s oil reserves lie beneath and around this little island — and Iran is right across the gulf.
There is hardly a project in the Persian Gulf that is not met with controversy. This one is no exception. The construction of NYUAD is murky business for many reasons, particularly NYU’s contracting of Nardello & Co. — an investigating firm that prides itself on getting high-profile corporations out of wrongdoing allegations — to perform a fact finding mission regardings its labor practices in the construction of the Saadiyat Island campus. In addition to the major ethical questions posed by the abuse of labor used to construct NYUAD’s campus, the project represents a marriage of the university with oil capital and U.S. military and economic strategic interests to create the “global university.”
An uncomfortably intimate close-up of a young man’s face opens one of the most recent “bullet films” by Syrian film collective Abounaddara entitled “Don’t Forget the Plums.” The penetrating eyes of the unnamed speaker confront the viewer as he gives cautionary advice about how to deal with the media: “When you’re live on air, the presenter will ask you questions about what interests her…don’t let yourself get dragged in.”
The camera remains fixed upon his face with the only partially visible backdrop an off-white wall. As the unnamed speaker continues, his voice becomes more energetic and his face more urgently expressive. “What about the fighting between the Free Syrian Army and the “Islamic State”? What is the regime doing? Is the regime doing this or that?” he asks, mimicking and mocking a journalist’s predictable questions. “But we don’t give a shit,” he declares, looking straight into the camera and straight at the viewer. “There are people on the ground dying.”
The events unfolding around the political arrest of an apolitical businessman tells the story of a politically troubled country. The author of Guban, Abdi Latif Ega, cleverly weaves the social, environmental, cultural and political provisions of Somalia to voice the journey of a largely misunderstood country that came to be viewed as predestined to failure because of its culture. The author impressively debunks this preconception by offering an urgently needed alternate narrative, not only to grasp the circumstances through which Somalia came to be “a failing state” but also to construe the histories of many African countries.
The author represents a rare voice that goes contrary to a great number of African authors who take a cathartic mode of writing through which they try to appeal to Western mainstream audiences confirming the prejudices about the savagery, inhumanity, poverty, famine, diseases and violence of African societies. He, however, does not go to the extreme opposite of that cathartic mode to talk about “the positive” through cultural enchantment. The author provides a compelling story of Somalia that humanizes and historicizes its political struggle. Guban is not a novel to be read for entertainment although it generously fulfills that requisite; rather, it is a story to be read for reflection and political learning.
Ashraf Khalil’s Liberation Square offers a gritty and engrossing account of the events that took place in Egypt in 2011, using the voices of both Egypt’s most prominent political observers and the activists who risked everything in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream. Khalil, who has covered regional politics from Cairo, Jerusalem, and Iraq for a variety of publications over the past 15 years, adds his perspective to the narrative, allocating praise and blame in careful doses. An Egyptian-American raised in the States, Khalil’s personal stake in the outcome of this upheaval makes him a unique interlocutor. As such, Liberation Square is not simply a catalogue of Egypt’s revolution; rather, Khalil, who is not afraid of colorful metaphor or bawdy language, calls for systemic change. Delving into the psychology of the uprising, Liberation Square illuminates both how corrupt Mubarak’s regime had become, and how improbable the success of the uprising to oust it was. Continue reading Liberation Square→
A month ago, few would have suspected that Mali’s government was in line to have its power usurped by its 7,500-man army. President Amadou Toumani Touré, whose present whereabouts are unknown, has been lauded for his democratic governance and was a likely candidate for the ever elusive Mo Ibrahim prize for African leaders who voluntarily cede power. Next month’s elections were to seal the deal for the political career of a man who has played by the rules, since he first took power in a coup in 1991 that earned him the title “soldier of democracy.”
“Israel is a small piece of land. We are not even 1 percent of the Arab space, you know. We don’t have water. We don’t have oil. Our greatness, if one may say greatness, stems from the fact we had nothing to start with. So we turned to human talent because there weren’t natural resources. The Arabs can do it too.” – Shimon Peres, Foreign Policy (March/April 2012 issue)
If by “human talent” the Israeli President meant illegally and unfairly managing water access for Israelis and Palestinians, then I might be inclined to agree. Now, the above quote was by no means the only condescending and misleading one to be found in the interview, but given the recent report released by the French parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee asserting Israel’s “apartheid” water management policies, it stood out as particularly cringe-worthy. (Note: a partial English translation of the report can be found here, and the original report, in French, can be downloaded here in PDF format.)