World

Why Reading Globally Matters

The case for breaking our parochial American reading habits.

AP Images/Anthony Devlin
When it was announced in March that Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo had won the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for her mesmerizing debut novel We Need New Names , it wasn’t difficult to share in her victory. Honors such as these further prove that literature from all parts of the world merits our collective attention. Bulawayo, who writes in English, shows the beaming promise of a young Junot Diaz. With a style all her own—one steeped in wit and striking imagination—she movingly details the complexities of the immigrant experience. Not only is Bulawayo talented, she is also necessary. Discovering her and her work, whether we know it or not, is necessary. Although I’d read a ton of poetry—from Frost to Dickinson and Whitman—I’ll submit I wasn’t all that bookish a teen. Not until the summer after my senior year of high school, in fact, did I realize my reading habits were a bit too insular, lacked variation. This needed to be remedied. So I sought out some familiar titles, made a...

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski
The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such. The screening took place last Thursday in a rented hall at the University of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—the umbrella organization of the city's Jewish community, which could reasonably be expected to stay...

Disrespecting Your Defender

AP Images/Reynaldo Paganelli/NurPhoto/REX
M oshe Ya'alon thinks that President Barack Obama is a wimp and that Secretary of State John Kerry is mentally incompetent. If Ya'alon were a GOP senator, this wouldn't be worthy of comment. He'd be doing what has come to be the job of Republican politicians: to blame every international crisis on Obama's alleged lack of machismo and to presume that action-hero growls will attract votes this November and two years hence. The job requirements do not include providing realistic policy alternatives. Ya'alon, however, is not one of Obama's domestic political opponents. Rather, he is Israel's defense minister, responsible for the security of a client state that is heavily dependent on a superpower, of which Obama happens to be president. So it registered several points higher on the Richter Scale of rudeness and irresponsibility when Ya'alon gave a talk last week at Tel Aviv University describing the decline and impending fall of America. In Ukraine, and pretty much everywhere around the...

Daily Meme: The Crimean War 2.0

Diplomatic hell broke out this weekend when the citizens of Crimea, the southwestern region of Ukraine at the center of a standoff between Russia and the West, voted to secede and join Russia . Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally reclaimed Crimea and gave a speech which The New York Times characterized as "emotional" : “'Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,' Mr. Putin declared in his address, delivered in the chandeliered St. George’s Hall inside the Kremlin before hundreds of members of Parliament, governors and others. His remarks, which lasted 47 minutes, were interrupted repeatedly by thunderous applause, standing ovations and at the end chants of 'Russia, Russia.' Some in the audience wiped tears from their eyes." Needless to say, U.S. politicians are not amused by Putin's antics. Speaking from Poland on his solidarity tour of NATO allies, Vice President Joe Biden called the move "nothing more than a land grab" by the...

The Imagined Reagan Will Live Forever

In 2012, the most popular baby names, according to the Social Security Agency, were Jacob for boys (18,899 little Jacobs) and Sophia for girls (22,158 wee Sophias). But holding on strong in the girl category, still cracking the top 100 at #97, was Reagan. No fewer than 3,072 proud, freedom-loving Americans named their girls after our 40th president that year, nearly a quarter-century after he left office. Liberals, it need hardly be said, don't go in for that sort of thing. Would you consider naming your kid after a Democratic president? Probably not. I have a friend who named his son Truman, but let's just say that in school when the teacher calls his name, nobody has to ask which of the class's many Trumans she means. I'm sure there are some parents who have named their boys Barack, but even in 2009, at the height of President Obama's popularity, the name Barack didn't crack the top 1,000. What's interesting about this isn't just the contrast between liberals and conservatives but...

Tolerance For the Non-Religious, Here and Around the World

Our chart of the day comes from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project , which asked people in 40 different countries whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. There's a lot going on within that yes-or-no question, and one could see how it could carry different connotations in different cultures. The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in God, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species. So for instance, in Ghana, where 96 percent of people in another poll described themselves as religious, it isn't surprising that 99 percent in this poll—or basically everyone in both cases —says you have to believe in God to be moral...

Dealing with Iran's Two Faces

AP Images
I srael’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Hamas-ruled Gaza came a day late to be included in the bill of particulars against Iran in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. But it did come in time for a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who used it to bolster the argument that Iran’s only true face is the terrorist one. “You see on the one hand there is this charm offensive” from Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Steinitz told The Daily Beast . “And now you discover underneath the mask of this charm offensive, that Iran is still the same Iran.” Make no mistake, this is bad news, the latest exhibit in a sizable portfolio demonstrating again Iran’s destabilizing support for violent extremist groups in the...

Daily Meme: Vladimir Putin is Delusional Like a Fox

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, while you were still blissfully asleep, Russia's president and tiger-fighter-in-chief , Vladimir Putin, gave a strange, rambling press conference. In it, he insisted to reporters that there were no Russian troops on the ground in Crimea , and likened U.S. foreign policy to a dark science experiment. "They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats," he said. “Why would they do it? No one can explain it.” The strange remarks prompted immediate speculation about the state of Putin's mental health. A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Angela Merkel had tried—and failed—to talk sense into Putin, concluding that the world leader is "in another world. " Julia Ioffe says that Merkel is right—Putin has lost his marbles . But is dealing with Putin really, as Mark Halperin claims, like "playing Russian roulette" ? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "amused" by the headlines. Putin, he says, isn't...

Time to Dump "Pro-Israel"

An Israel Day parade in New York. (Flickr/Johnk85)
There have been a lot of angry debates recently about Israel, complete with the requisite accusations of anti-Semitism hurled at just about anyone whose opinions about the country's history and policies contain any complexity whatsoever. Which means that this month is pretty much like any other. So let me make a proposal: Isn't it about time we just banished the very ideas of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" once and for all? Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel" and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem , a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone's intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance. There's no other country in the world we talk about in this way. No one asks if you're "pro-Canada" or "anti-Costa Rica...

Conservatives Condemn Weak Weakness of Weakling Obama

If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something? Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong! One big problem...

Will Iraq Break a U.N. Arms Embargo On Iran?

AP Images/ffice of the Iranian Supreme Leader
E arlier this week, Reuters broke the story that Iraq had signed a deal to purchase $125 million worth of arms and ammunition from its eastern neighbor and former bitter enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. If carried through, the deal would violate a UN arms embargo on Iran, in place since March 2007 . It’s the latest evidence of the new relationship that has steadily developed between two countries that fought a hugely destructive war between 1980 and 1988. Responding to the report, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned that “any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, and said the U.S. was “seeking clarification on this matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.” The Iraq defense ministry issued a statement that a deal had not been finalized. The fact that Iraq’s government is close to Iran’s is not...

Daily Meme: El Chapo and Our War on Drugs

Splashed all over this weekend's news was the capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka, El Chapo , the Mexican drug kingpin ranked #67 on Forbes' s "Powerful People" list who got his billions from the being the man in at the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, responsible for an estimated 25 percent of the illegal drugs that make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. The capture was surprisingly undramatic—he was found in bed—especially for a man who created a network of tunnels connecting six safe houses (one which emptied into a bathroom of his ex-wife's house ... cheeky of him). Now is as good a time as any to review the facts of the U.S. War on Drugs. Spoiler alert: It ain't pretty, and the capture of one guy probably won't change much about the current state of affairs. Last February, The Chicago Crime Commission named El Chapo Public Enemy No. 1 (a title once held by the irrepressible Al Capone). "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in...

Israel-Palestine Peace: A Hostage to History

AP Images/Mahmoud Illean
AP Images/Mahmoud Illean O ne of Benjamin Netanyahu's best known preconditions for a two-state peace accord is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. That's actually the short version of the Israeli prime minister's demand, it turns out. The long version, as he laid out last week before the most amenable audience he could find, is that the Palestinians must sign off on the entire Jewish narrative of the history of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Speaking in Jerusalem to a delegation of leaders of American Jewish organizations, Netanyahu asked: "Do they not know that we’ve been here for the last 3,800 years? They don’t know that this is the land of the Bible? That this is where Jewish history and Jewish identity was forged?" These, of course, were rhetorical questions. Netanyahu's implication was that Palestinians understand that these truths are self-evident, as is the conclusion that Jews have the primary claim on political sovereignty...

Walking on Ukrainian Eggshells

AP Images/Darko Bandic
At times, you have to wonder where Europe’s strategic and economic sense has gone. Consider Ukraine, most of whose citizens clearly wish to become Ukrainian-European and have their country join the European Union. Some of whose citizens died for that this week. Until this week, however, Europe was doing all it could to repel them. Last autumn, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych bitterly disappointed his compatriots by backing off his promise to sign an association document with the EU. The conventional wisdom is that he succumbed to Russian pressure—after all, it’s Russia that supplies Ukraine with its oil and gas. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was also offering Ukraine $15 billion, while the EU was offering it nothing, and telling Yanukovych that any real progress in integrating his country into the Union would depend not only on cleaning up Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt government but also on imposing austerity conditions on its already economically-beleaguered citizens...

John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things; Press Swoons

Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem . My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour . What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago , the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon. What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to...

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