everything is connected


Sunday morning – still in bed, and frankly am feeling I could do with a cup of tea. But first, checked a few things.

I’m just going to give you this post in full from Andrew Sullivan. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. There will be more today, as he and his indefatigable team sift through the chaos and bring us some clarity on the overnight events in Tehran. He really is the one to read on all this.

Sullivan puts it all together, why this event is so momentous. Twitter is full of of people quoting: “After 9/11 the world were all Americans. Today, we are all Iranians.” For myself, when the second tower fell I turned to my work colleague and said, “This is it. It’s just started.” He thought I was being histrionic. In the coming days many kind colleagues expressed their sympathy for me, saying how “sad” it was and asking about my family. Thank God they were all fine, though my sister had watched the whole thing from the East 50s, but I was going – “sad” isn’t in it, aren’t you feeling a little cold with fear? In fact, I was right. The whole world had just changed – and in a bad way. It’s been different ever since, as you don’t need me to tell you.

Since this is nominally a literature blog, let me remind you of how language has been debased in these years; how culture has been debased, with things like Big Brother, fashionista-like shopaholism and sleb-fever anaesthetising us along with – and especially – our young… like, wouldn’t we rather just go shopping? My kids, for example, Mlle B, doesn’t remember 9/11 much at all; she was only seven. And I think most people have forgotten entirely the origin of the name Big Brother.It was meant to be an exposé of state surveillance and the ultimate “nanny state” scenario, as many people DO still remember. 1984. Who knew at the time that it was the most important book of the century?

But can you put reality television next to 9/11, next to the Iran uprising? Are these things connected? Well, I think everything is connected. When we can patriotically “defend our way of life” just by asserting our right to wear skimpy clothing, watch The Apprentice (and fail to notice how exploitative it is, or – more importantly – to care), get sloshed and be racist, anti-immigrant, and (hi, Richard Dawkins! and yes, this is bit is for the more “educated” among us) intolerant of people because their ideas aren’t just like yours, you know things have gone a bit pear-shaped.

Elsewhere it was written that the polarisation created by Bush’s religio-warmongering polemics even helped the theocratists in Iran, as people there ignored, or tolerated, the extremes of the regime to present a united Iranian front against the perceived threat of America.

So… yes, books! Books and poems. Mantras, slogans, vocabulary, ideas! On the marches in Iran they are spontaneously resurrecting old songs from their 1979 revolution.

Meanwhile, here, we’re talking about dropping time-honoured spelling rules because they seem too, sort of, hard: “The i before e rule is not worth teaching. It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions.” Can’t have that. “Unless this was known?” Clearly just easier to have done with it and talk in grunts, innit bruv.

So eight years later, just look at this weekend: scores dead in a bomb blast in Iraq, bodies of two hostages delivered to UK authorities in Iraq, two other hostages amazingly escape kidnappers in Pakistan… In London three days ago there was a tense stand-off at Conway Hall, as a notorious extremist Islamic group – set to debate Sharia Law vs British Law with members of a right-wing think tank – tooled the place up with their own guards and then wouldn’t let women in. The debate was cancelled.

Thuggery: bigger than clarity of thought? Andrew Sullivan writes this:

Did you notice how many times he [Obama] invoked the word “justice” in his message? That’s the word that will resonate most deeply with the Iranian resistance. What a relief to have someone with this degree of restraint and prudence and empathy – refusing to be baited by Khamenei or the neocons, and yet taking an eloquent stand, as we all do, in defense of freedom and non-violence. The invocation of M[artin] L[uther] K[ing] was appropriate too. What on earth has this been but, in its essence, a protest for voting rights? Above all, the refusal to coopt their struggle for ours, because freedom is only ever won, and every democracy wil be different: this is an act of restraint that is also a statement of pure confidence in the power of a free people.

I share the confidence. I wrote a couple weeks back that something is happening in Iran. But it is not the only place where something is happening. The rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ground-up election of Obama in America; and now the rising up of Iranians for freedom and civility with their neighbors: these are the green shoots of recovery from 9/11 and its wake. Empowered by new information technology, chastened by the apocalyptic conflicts of the last few years, determined to shift course away from civilizational warfare, the people of many countries are grasping for a new order and a new peace. It will not be easy; and it will not be short. But it is the only path worth taking.

And these Iranians are now leading the rest of us.

Very interesting. Also interesting to read all the people on the internet excoriating Obama for “doing nothing,” when according to Sullivan he’s just done rather a lot. But you see, we don’t think words count. A few twits are tweeting that this would all be better if the Iranian people had guns! Oh, yeah, baby.

But the Guardian’s live news blog now reports that the authorities are now using some more debilitating form of tear gas, which knocks you out for 2-3 days (though how would they know yet), and a source there has had an email saying the protesters are resigning themselves to defeat… so let us watch and see.

So, where’s the poetry? Today is, as it happens, the final day of the London Review Bookshop’s International Literature Weekend. Later, at 2pm – sorry, not much warning! – the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti will be in discussion with Ruth Padel:

Midnight and Other Poems, translated by Radwa Ashour, is the first major collection of Mourid Barghouti’s poetry to be published in the UK. This remarkable Palestinian writer, best known to English-language readers for his autobiography I Saw Ramallah, which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, has spent many years in exile, and Midnight is a rich emotional montage of images of the land of his birth. He will read, then talk with Ruth Padel, whose latest book is Darwin: A Life in Poems. Barghouti and Padel will discuss translation, home and homelessness, here and away, language and landscape, self and other.

This is also the final day of Refugee Week. Have you done your Simple Act?

It’s also the birthday of the Russian poet Katia Kapovich, who now lives in the USA and runs the wonderful Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics. You should read her book, Cossacks and Bandits. (If you click on the link, which is Salt Publishing, and enter the code G3SRT453, you will get a third off the cover price!)

Okay, that’s more than enough from me.

My dream, my dream, would be to go somewhere for some time and just lie on a hammock drinking tea, and reading PG Wodehouse or Saki or Evelyn Waugh or Firbank. Oh, wait – or Oscar Wilde… but then I read two pages of De Profundis last week, didn’t I. The fruits of intolerance (uh oh – and the intolerance of fruits – now I must go get my breakfast!).

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