The New York Review of Magazines » Ali Gharib The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 The American Conservative Devotes Space to Israel Thu, 13 May 2010 16:55:09 +0000 Ali Gharib By Ali Gharib

For my piece in this year’s New York Review of Magazines “In Review” section, I discuss the topic that initially brought The American Conservative to my attention: Israel. TAC delivers the sort of badly lacking attention to U.S.-Israel relations anyone yearning for a good, honest and critical debate would hope to see. And they ain’t backing down anytime soon.

The May issue of TAC (a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan to promote his “old right” — aka paleoconservative — agenda) has two feature articles on Israel. The cover shows U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu standing nose to nose, looking determined, with the words “Will He Blink?” between the two. It’s referencing Obama’s challenge to Netanyahu for a halt to settlement construction, which contravenes international law and U.S. policy.

But the articles, by Philip Weiss and Scott McConnell, two of my interview subjects for the magazine review, are not about Israeli colonies. Rather, in keeping with the name of the magazine, they focus on the U.S. angle.

McConnell, a Buchanan acolyte, offers bits of history in the U.S.-Israel relationship — including a precedent for the tough task of confronting Israel — and recounts some of the changing debate in Washington. He includes a shift in the mainstream media, until recently a dependable ally willing to affix a fig leaf to Israel’s more nefarious policies, or ignore them altogether. McConnell writes of a new set of critics that, “far too diffuse to be called a coalition, includes some anti-Zionists, but its vast majority favors a two-state solution. It is composed of Christians and Jews and an increasing number of Muslims.” McConnell goes on:

“Whereas informed skepticism about Israeli claims was once limited largely to American diplomats who served in the region, today its base may be ten times larger. For the first time in U.S. history, the pro-Palestinian side has a competitive voice in the public discourse—far smaller than the Israel lobby’s but growing every day.”

The so-called Israel lobby is exactly what Weiss takes aim at in his piece, helpfully titled: “Out From the Shadows: AIPAC Confronts its Worst Fear: Daylight.” AIPAC, of course, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the flagship of the lobby — considered one of the most powerful groups in Washington. The daylight theme is a double entendre referring to both the lobby meme that there should be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and the notion, articulated by longtime AIPAC official Steve Rosen (no longer), that “A lobby is a nightflower/ It thrives in the dark/ And dies in sunlight.” Though Weiss unfortunately declines to make the second reference clear, he heaps the sunlight on AIPAC, something he’s done before for TAC.

Weiss, a friend who runs the blog Mondoweiss (which — full disclosure — I’ve contributed to), comes at these issues from a left/liberal perspective. His website, filled with his thoughtful anti-Zionist musings about Jewish identity and Israel, has become a clearing house for progressive news and opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Israel lobby is a common foil for Weiss. The topic was once taboo — even as recently as 2005, when The Atlantic refused to run an article it had commissioned by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (who is quoted in Weiss’s latest TAC piece), international relations professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively. “We believe they rejected it because they came to believe the subject was too controversial and would cause problems,” Mearsheimer told CounterPunch. They had to take it off-shore to the London Review of Books. And here’s Phil Weiss, well to the left of these center-right realist scholars, taking their reasoned arguments to the pages of a conservative magazine just three years later.

You still won’t see much of this sort of frank talk, even in major left-leaning magazines. The ostensibly liberal New Republic’s foreign policy veers hard-right under its neocon publisher Marty Peretz. McConnell discusses longtime TNR literary editor Leon Wieseltier’s assault on The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, who’s been more and more critical of Israel recently. But The Atlantic also publishes Jeffrey Goldberg, a former Israel Defense Force prison guard who is a both nuanced critic of, say, settlement policy and nonetheless a reflexive defender of Israel who tends to dismiss her critics as anti-Semites. (On the pages of TNR, Goldberg compared Walt and Mearsheimer to the 1930’s fascist-friendly anti-Semite Father Coughlin, later accusing their book of making an “anti-Jewish argument” and comparing it to Charles Lindbergh, another fascist sympathizer.)

TAC, in this sense, stands as a tower of intellectual honesty looming over other conservative magazines. As mentioned in McConnell’s piece, National Review long ago gave in to neoconservative (in lock step with Israeli right-wing) positions on Israel. The Weekly Standard and Commentary are that movement’s flagship publications.

Make no mistake, though. TAC is a conservative magazine. My politics make me averse to many of the views put forward by paleocons who contribute to TAC. But I’m encouraged that it’s not a magazine so obsessed with ideological rigidity that it’s unwilling to publish progressives — side by side with paleos like McConnell himself — on complex issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where progressives and paleos agree that the status quo is untenable.

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Behind Enemy Lines Thu, 13 May 2010 04:02:30 +0000 Ali Gharib

By Ali Gharib

In a nondescript office building on 16th Street in Manhattan, Nir Rosen is pruning his new book. He rests his bulky frame on the floor as his editor peppers him with questions. They’re in the process of cutting down the manuscript from about one thousand pages to five or six hundred. “I just wrote down everything I had,” says Rosen, smiling behind a dense black goatee, face fringed with a little stubble on his cheeks and neck. “I think it’s going to be better than the last one,” he offers, referring to his debut book on the Iraq War. Wearing jeans, a maroon T-shirt and an Adidas warm-up jacket, Rosen seems more relaxed than he probably ought to be — his second book on the war, which he’s covered for most of the past seven years, is more than a year and a half overdue.

He has made a career of staying relaxed in situations when he shouldn’t be — cool enough, for instance, while visiting a charred and blood-soaked Iraqi battleground in the summer of 2003, to notice a single deflated soccer ball. That image, used in a resulting Time magazine article, is an example of Rosen’s abilities as a war reporter — from a single, throwaway line, the reader immediately imagines the fighters kicking around the ball the day before the bloodshed. It’s only one of the innumerable telling details observed first-hand and then reported by Rosen in publications ranging from Mother Jones to The Atlantic.

He writes long in an era during which even the The New Yorker rarely publishes stories of more than than 10,000 words — he produced double that in a Boston Review piece on Iraq’s civil war. Commenting on Rosen’s stories, his editor at the Review, Deborah Chasman, says with a laugh, “They’re long. They start out longer.” It’s quintessential old-school magazine writing — lengthy, detail-rich scenes and blocks of analysis — but what makes his work unique is often the hook: “If you propose something crazy,” says Rosen, “they’ll accept it.”

Sitting in the same room as Rosen, listening to his low, thoughtful speech, you don’t get the feeling he’s so crazy — not until he regales you with stories of his travels. Take his journey two years ago into Afghanistan’s war-ravaged south. It started as the sort of Hollywood elevator pitch that gets a freelance writer an assignment in four words: “Embed with the Taliban.” It ended with an article — published in the October 2008 issue of Rolling Stone, clocking in at more than 8,400 words and titled “How We Lost the War We Won” — that is a harrowing tale of a highway laced with craters and smoldering truck carcasses, leading to a Taliban-controlled enclave of wind-worn mud huts where, in a dangerous climax, Taliban fighters detain Rosen. After a few days, a high-ranking insurgent official checks in from Pakistan and orders his release.

Rosen regards the story as a “failure” because he wasn’t able to “embed” with the fighters. He intended to capture the Taliban in action — going on patrols and raids, and rendering services — not to be captured himself. But he’s undaunted. “I’m sure I’ll do it again,” he says, with a cautious grin, “but when I think about it, I get panic attacks.”

Despite the gonzo assignments, this is serious war journalism, providing America with the rarest of perspectives on its numerous ongoing wars: the other side of the conflict. Reporting extensively from Iraq, Rosen gained access to both the Sunni insurgents and anti-U.S. Shia militia of Muqtada al Sadr. The Taliban experience speaks for itself. He has tried to embed with Somali pirates and failed — twice. Nonetheless, Rosen gets closer to more disparate active enemies of the United States than any other reporter working today.

He first tried to become a journalist in 2000. He traveled to Serbia after two years of dating a native and picking up the language. Then just 22 and, by his own admission, “foolish,” he was arrested at the border for trying to re-enter on a single-entry visa. His cellmates, a gang of neo-Nazis, did not take kindly to Rosen. But, thinking quickly, in a move literally stolen from a Val Kilmer movie, he splashed himself with water to simulate perspiration, did pushups to raise his heart rate and cut his own forehead. Complaining to the guards that he was sick, Rosen was taken to the hospital and then spent the rest of his 10 days in the clink in cushy conditions sipping coffee and watching television.

Rosen wrote that hospital duty was a “charmed life.” Considering all the situations he’s slipped into and out of over the ensuing years — not to mention his professional successes — the phrase is something of an understatement. Rosen, now 33, has been detained five times, mostly by non-state actors.

Charmed or not, his life began in Manhattan, where he was raised by a father from Iran and a mother from Jerusalem. He went to the High School of Music and Art, where he met his future wife; they have been married for five years now and have a three-year-old son. After high school, he attended American University, where he studied pre-law. But it didn’t agree with him, and he dropped out. He got an unpaid research job with Scott Armstrong, a former investigative reporter for The Washington Post and the founder of the National Security Archive, and he worked at nightclubs to make ends meet. Both jobs would prove fortuitous. Armstrong had contacts. And at the doors of the clubs, Rosen met members of D.C.’s large Middle Eastern population and built up a store of knowledge about that part of the world.

When the invasion of Iraq became imminent, Armstrong hooked him up with Time and Rosen headed to the region for take two of his journalism career. He fibbed about his reporting experience, overstated his grasp of Arabic, and on April 13, 2003, three days after Baghdad fell, he arrived in the country where he would spend the bulk of his time over the next seven years.

Rosen’s rise to elite war correspondent — and to his unique position in the journalism profession — was sudden, if not meteoric. Just six days after his arrival, he had his first byline in Time on a piece called “Marines Cast as ‘Mongols’ in Baghdad.” The story recounted an incident that foreshadowed the oncoming disaster for the occupying Americans: With no maps, a Marine platoon had haplessly interrupted a massive Friday prayer ceremony spilling onto the street in the Adhamiya district. None of the soldiers knew Arabic, and they couldn’t read the banner that said, “We reject foreign control.” The Iraqis began to stand up, put their shoes on and become visibly angry. Rosen sprang into action: “I ran to advise the Marines that Friday prayers was not a good time to show up fully armed,” he wrote. “They referred me to their lieutenant, who appeared oblivious to the public relations catastrophe he might be provoking, and merely responded, ‘That’s why we’ve got the guns.’” The tale says much about American hubris and lack of preparation, as well as about the Iraqi resistance organized around the mosque — the imam preaching that day had compared the United States to Baghdad’s Mongol invaders of yesteryear.

But Rosen had misgivings about his professional arrangement. He says he felt that Time focused too much on the English-speaking elites of Iraq. And his editors wanted him to write stories about the atrocities of the previous regime — he cites an assignment to profile a woman raped by Uday, the notorious son of the fallen dictator Saddam Hussein. “In postwar Iraq, and everywhere in the world — I hate to use the word the ‘street’ — but I thought that was much more important.”

Rosen’s view of his work hints at an attitude of transparency that is relatively uncommon in his sort of reporting. In Baghdad, he quickly befriended a group of Iraqis of his age group. “They ended up being very useful,” he says. Eventually, they started introducing him to people in militias. His access and stateside profile began to rise in tandem, culminating in an article for the July 5, 2004, issue of The New Yorker, a nearly 5,000-word story detailing life in insurgent-controlled Fallujah in the aftermath of a major battle there in April. In early May, U.S. forces withdrew and, soon after, Rosen went in. The strength of Sunni fighters at the time Rosen visited was demonstrated after he left, by the Second Battle of Fallujah in November and December — the heaviest urban fighting Marines have engaged in since Vietnam.

For the story, Rosen tells me, he reluctantly agreed to his editor’s request to tip his hand in how he got around Fallujah. “I was able to avoid being taken hostage or killed because I speak Arabic and have olive skin and black hair and, when asked, I said that I was Bosnian,” he wrote. “More important, I was traveling with a Palestinian who had helped the resistance leaders during the fighting.”

His appearance is something Rosen dwells on. “I have a huge advantage over other Western journalists,” he tells me, pointing at his face. “How I look.” The first time I met him, briefly, at a think tank conference in D.C. in 2008, he was dapper in shiny black shoes, jeans, black blazer and white shirt — the top buttons undone, exposing a little chest hair. Since then, I’ve seen Rosen sporting everything from chin-length curly locks to a shaved head, from a tight goatee to a full beard (which he grows out when he wants to travel inconspicuously in Afghanistan). He’s tall and large — he was once a club bouncer, after all — with huge biceps and a barrel chest.

But his intimidating size belies his amiable nature. As we eat lunch at Chipotle by Union Square — Rosen orders a steak fajita with double veggies and double meat — he seems genuinely happy to talk. Asked if he travels with security in war zones, he says, “My smile is my security,” flashing a charming ear-to-ear grin. Rosen made his initial street contacts in Baghdad by approaching locals his age. “People want to talk to you if you’re nice,” he says, peeling back the fajita shell and eating its contents with a fork. He then built the relationships by becoming friends (he kept in shape, he says, by going to the local gyms with his new acquaintances). No wonder his list of contacts is so extensive.

Rosen also maintains a large network of friends among the mainstream and progressive press, and in government and the military, as well as in hotspots abroad. While he views embedding as a potential compromise of journalistic independence, he has done it nonetheless. In 2009, he was given a copy of a dossier on him drawn up by a military contractor as part of the embed process. His Rolling Stone article, it said, was “highly unfavorable to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan … portraying the situation as hopeless and doomed to failure.”

Rosen concurs with the assessment and commends the military for accepting his application despite the report. He says, however, that he was empathetic with U.S. soldiers in the war, whom he notes he has much more in common with than their adversaries. Those adversaries, though, remain the bread and butter of Rosen’s reporting. What sets him apart is not his embeds with U.S. forces, but those with the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, and his attempts at embedding with Somali pirates and, coming soon, with Mexican drug cartels.

Rosen’s street-level friends in the parts of the world he covers prove most beneficial to his unique writings, introducing him to people they know in various militias. “I doubt they read my stuff,” Rosen says of the often-violent underground groups he covers closely, as we sit on a park bench in Union Square after lunch, with birds chirping and dog-walkers strolling by. “The people that would behead me probably don’t have LexisNexis.” But friends who put him in touch with some of the less savory characters, he says, vouched for him.

He declines to place himself precisely in the political spectrum but adds, “I’m closest to anarchist, I guess.” One thing is certain, though: Rosen is unabashedly against foreign occupations of nearly any sort — especially those of the sort the United States conducts. He admits that some of his views are “extreme” and “angry.”

At a forum at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in late February, before he gave a talk on counterinsurgency, I said hello to Rosen, who was dressed in a tight, pink Polo sweater and khakis. “I just got back from ‘liberated Baghdad’ yesterday,” he told me, thoroughly drenching the phrase with sarcasm. Later, during the question-and-answer session, Rosen declared that while 9/11 was a tragedy, the U.S. reaction was more tragic. “How many Afghan civilians do we have to kill before we realize we are the terrorists?” he asked, speaking softly into a microphone. The audience was older than a typical journalism school crowd, and a few people gasped and muttered to themselves, though no one objected aloud.

Despite the unique insights in Rosen’s reporting — many stateside policymakers read his work — his close contact with enemies of the state has led to harsh accusations. In a long piece for U.P.I., reworked for The Atlantic, Rosen made a case for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Neoconservatives howled: “No wonder Rosen has such great access to the Baathists and jihadists who make up the Iraqi insurgency. He’s on their side,” The Weekly Standard’s Scrapbook feature said about him.

He has also paid a professional price. In April 2008, when asked by then-senator Joe Biden what could be done to improve the situation in Iraq, Rosen replied: “As a journalist, I’m uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. I don’t think we’re there for the interests of the Iraqi people.” He then, however, went on to say that U.S. withdrawal could ignite ethnic tension, acknowledging the dangers of pulling out. Rosen thinks the “imperialist” quip cost him a lucrative job as a contributing writer at the The New York Times Magazine.

Despite his left-wing inclinations, Rosen has still grown into a respected war reporter, writing for a long laundry list of top publications — virtually every major rag read by anyone who’s anyone in Washington. The Times Magazine, Time, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and Harper’s have all published his work. “He probably has more sources in the insurgency than any other American reporter,” acknowledged The Weekly Standard while in the same breath accusing him of being a traitor.

“A lot of these people who are debating what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing it more from an ideological perspective — they’re severely hampered by their lack of detail,” says Steven Clemons, a foreign policy thinker at Washington’s New America Foundation, where Rosen was once a fellow. “I think it’s that granular on-the-ground awareness that makes Nir more difficult to discount. He’s seen and heard Muqtada al Sadr. While he’s got his views, which are clear and distinctive, his real sword and armor is his appreciation for the facts.”

Clemons is right. Rosen has gotten the stories, and he’s not beholden to his ideology. Ahead of this winter’s Iraq elections, many pundits were making dire predictions of a new round of open sectarian warfare. Rosen demurred, writing a spate of articles declaring that the civil war was over. But his evidence, culled from walking the streets, was still boldly critical of U.S. policy — the ethnic cleansing of many neighborhoods had been successful, leaving monolithically sectarian neighborhoods unlikely to produce conflict. So far, his theory has been borne out. The election and the slow process of forming a government have gone down with little violence.

His fearless independence allows Rosen to do things like embed with the United States’ enemy. He’s beholden to them for his safety; he gets permission from clerical authorities, militias and even Taliban defense ministers to roam freely. But he is not a propaganda tool. He maintains a critical eye and, later, reports honestly on what he saw.

Rosen’s “sword and armor” have also attracted the attention of the United States’ own warriors. Military and intelligence types read his work, Rosen says, beaming with pride that his efforts get noticed. Attention from power circles clearly matters to him. He says he has little interest in writing for magazines — GQ is an example he uses — that are not likely to be read by policy makers.

“I want to get [U.S. Gen. David] Petraeus and [left-wing professor Noam] Chomsky to blurb my book,” he half-jokes. “It’s hard to criticize my facts because I’ve gone places where other people with my politics haven’t.”

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The American Conservative Wed, 12 May 2010 17:02:10 +0000 Ali Gharib The American Conservative]]> By Ali Gharib

Circulation: 12,000
Date of Birth: 2002
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $3.95

The American Conservative is a politics magazine with something to love or to hate for both conservatives and liberals. Founded in 2002 by right-wing iconoclast Pat Buchanan, journalist Scott McConnell and Greek-shipping-heir-turned-writer Taki Theodoracopulos, the magazine took aim at George W. Bush’s peculiar brand of conservatism — his rampant foreign adventurism and massive spending. Its attack on what mainstream conservatism had become established TAC immediately as an outlier on the right, tending toward Buchanan’s “paleoconservatism” (more traditionalist than today’s conservative movement) and the libertarian right.

That’s not all there is to TAC, though. In fact, there’s even something for your average paleocon to hate: A trickle of progressive journalists have been publishing articles in TAC, including Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald; former New York Observer writer Philip Weiss, now blogging on his Mondoweiss website; and Robert Dreyfuss, who writes for The Nation. Most of their coverage does, however, revolve around themes of the founding ideology of the magazine, such as criticisms of U.S. policy in the Middle East — particularly of Israel and its U.S. supporters — and government infringements on First Amendment and privacy rights.

TAC is onto something with its principled but eclectic stable of writers. McConnell, who remains the editor (though executive editor Kara Hopkins runs the magazine day-to-day), explains its unique positioning: “We take a beating from all sides, but I’ve always thought — it’s almost a cliché to say so — the left-right dichotomy doesn’t necessarily explain the way actual readers are or the way America is.”

That is something I, too, have found in my days in Washington writing about foreign policy. The neoconservative architects of the Iraq War have more in common with the Democratic liberal interventionists who were their enablers — Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry, to name just a few major liberals who voted to authorize the war — than they do with either midcentury Republican isolationists (some now paleocons) or militaristic Republican realists. Likewise, progressives can find common cause with libertarians on privacy issues and with noninterventionists on issues of war and peace.

The magazine’s focus on the U.S.’s involvement in the world is not an accident. “I’m kind of a believer that there is one issue that defines an era,” McConnell says. Right now, he thinks it’s terrorism and U.S. dealings in the Middle East — Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, at the center of it all, U.S. policy toward Israel. TAC doesn’t shy away from issues involving Israel, a subject that often, despite robust discussion in Europe and even in Israel itself, gets short shrift in the U.S.

“When you write on Israel-Palestine, it’s always loaded,” says Phillip Weiss, who lost his job at The New York Observer because he wanted to focus on that one issue — especially how it’s tied up in Jewish American identity and politics. In March of last year, Weiss wrote a cover story for TAC on the torpedoing of Charles Freeman’s nomination to head Obama’s National Intelligence Council, expounding on the so-called Israel lobby’s role in the affair. “There’s stuff I don’t like in TAC, but big deal,” Weiss told me, noting his trouble getting pieces on his subject of choice published elsewhere. “TAC wanted my stuff and I said ‘great’ and worked for them. And I didn’t care about the labels.”

The labels are legion, and they come from the right as well as the left. David Frum, an arch-neocon and former Bush speechwriter, attacked paleocons in general, and specifically TAC’s editors and adherents, as “unpatriotic conservatives” in a 2003 National Review article, accusing them of “apologetics for the enemy and wishful defeatism” in the so-called War on Terror. Buchanan, who writes editorials for TAC, is a particular lightning rod. He has been called a racist for decades. During Buchanan’s presidential run in 1991, William Buckley wrote a 40,000-word article, again in National Review, declaring him an anti-Semite. Famously a drinking buddy of Hunter S. Thompson in the 1960s and now a frequent guest on the liberal-leaning cable channel MSNBC, Buchanan is unapologetic for his controversial views. To him, the labels are nothing but overwrought distortions intended to silence him.

After some financial trouble last year, much like everyone else, TAC is back on solid footing (a relative term in the magazine world — especially in the small-circulation, low-revenue sphere of political magazines) after reducing its staff through attrition, moving to a cheaper office and cutting the publication frequency in half. Although progressives like Weiss (and me) might not agree with everything The American Conservative says, there is no doubt that it is a unique voice in American political life.

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Party Time Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:39 +0000 Ali Gharib By Ali Gharib

A wise man once said: When times are good, people drink; when times are bad, people drink more. For journalists and writers — already notorious lushes — the latter might not be humanly possible. But they can keep going. One mainstay of publishing, the magazine party, has stuck gloriously around despite pitfalls in the industry. Because literary crowds are so much fun, here is a rundown of our favorite literary magazine parties.

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Nir Rosen Has Plenty Left in His Notebook Sun, 25 Apr 2010 20:26:10 +0000 Ali Gharib By Ali Gharib

If you check out my profile of über-war correspondent Nir Rosen in this year’s edition of The New York Review of Magazines, you’ll pick up on a few of Rosen’s unique abilities. In a recent post on the CenterLine the new blog of New York University’s Center for Law and Security, where Rosen is a fellow — he reinforces a few familiar themes in his writing.

There’s his tendency to go to some of the world’s most dangerous spots. The before mentioned blog is drawn from Rosen’s January 2010 trip to Afghanistan, the site of a rapidly swelling U.S. and NATO war.

Rosen tends to write long.  Most blog posts are just a few paragraphs, sometimes even just a sentence or two. Rosen’s deep reporting and spirited opinions can’t be bound by these limits. In a guest post on Steve Clemons’s blog late this winter, Rosen used nearly 2,000 words to rebut a 1,300-word New York Times op-ed by Efraim Karsh. This post for the CenterLine racks up more than 2,600 words.

Rosen also hits the streets to report for his blogs. The post is full of stories from regular Afghans he talked to during his trips. It is titled “Voices from Afghanistan.” In addition to the “voices” from the war-torn country we usually get — Rosen quotes aid workers and members of parliament — we also get to hear from a Kabul baker, four bus drivers, a travel agent, and teachers attending an N.G.O.-sponsored seminar in Wardak Province.

I’m guessing the materials in the post, which is quote-heavy, are samples from the many interviews Rosen conducted that haven’t made it into either his magazine pieces or his upcoming book. In short, he’s unloading his notebook on the reader. By doing so, he’s shedding light on what Afghans from both officialdom and bakerdom think about what is going on there.

Notably absent, however, are any Westerners. Perhaps that’s because the post focuses on people “from Afghanistan,” not those who just happen to be there.

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Tony Judt in Focus Thu, 15 Apr 2010 07:24:37 +0000 Ali Gharib By Ali Gharib

If you’re keeping track of intellectually-inclined magazines, it’s been pretty difficult to miss Tony Judt’s recent high profile. Judt, the British-born historian, is a mainstay of The New York Review of Books, where, recently, he’s been publishing a series of short memoirs (the two linked here are free ones, not limited to subscribers). Then,ah last month, he sat with The London Review of Books for a lengthy interview by Kristina Božić. But even if you find NYRB and LRB too high-brow (read: pretentious), you might have stumbled upon a moving profile of Judt in New York, or perhaps caught an interview with him on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.

The central feature of Judt’s recent exposure will not be a surprise to those who follow his writing: He’s struggling with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, usually known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Though forced onto a machine that aides breathing and rendered effectively quadriplegic, Judt keeps remarkably busy. Every month, several memoir essays appear in NYRB, kicked off by one about living with his ailment; Judt still directs New York University’s Remarque Institute; and, most recently, he’s been doing press for his newest book, “Ill Fares the Land,” excerpted in the April issue of NYRB.

The excerpt — I haven’t picked up the book yet — serves as a powerful reminder that Judt’s illness has not yet cut short his mind or his ferocious spirit. It’s a bald-faced call for social democracy, that very mode of government that American liberals spend most of their time running away from. Why? Because, as Judt writes, “We cannot go on living like this.” While his memoirs seem to fulfill a need to get his stories out before he no longer can (they’ll soon be collected in a book of their own), “Ill Fares the Land” has an imperative of its own.

“[N]ow I detect — and I don’t just think it’s because I have ALS — an urgency about the need to be angrier about what needs doing, what needs saving, and what needs changing,” he told New York. In other words, Tony Judt is completely self-aware enough to recognize that, despite what ails him, the gifts he possesses as an intellectual and a writer need to be used to resolve what ails the world.

When Lou Gehrig announced to the world, from the playing field at Yankee Stadium, that he was retiring because of ALS, he reflected mostly on his past and declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Judt, for his part, has been making this speech for months now, in labored breaths that land as words in NYRB. But his message is that everything is not okay — “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today,” he writes. Those of us who get to read him every month, it turns out in this scenario, are the lucky ones.

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