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I have an essay in The Point magazine -- a Chicago-based magazine on culture and politics -- that I spent many months working on. It is about Americans abroad, the damage we do, the innocence we claim, the stories we tell -- and also, perhaps, the responsibility and solidarity we could take on. It's about Suzy Hansen's journalist memoir "Notes on a Foreign Country," -- and about Henry James, James Baldwin, and Omar El Akkad among others. And it has more auto-biography than I usually include in any of my writing.
I generally agreed with Hansen's critique of American imperialism, and I found the book thought-provoking. But I also found her framing and her tone off-putting, because of how self-centered it is and above all of how utterly humorless. Here is an excerpt:Märklin 3452 – Elektrolok Re 460 (Re 4 4) Alpaufzug der SBB, digital (Delta)Locomotive Ho Piko 95163 BB 867419
Hansen argues that her lack of awareness about America’s role in the world was structural, intentional—an ignorance that many Americans, particularly white Americans, wear like mental armor, allowing them to believe, against all evidence, that our political and military interventions abroad are always necessary, successful and well-intentioned. “I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it,”7TH SEA SECRETS DE LA 7EME MER RPG JDR Jeu de Role - Swordsman's GuildKibri 8133 THW Set, 2 Veicoli, Rimessa Auto con Blocco Uffici, Recinto, Hansen explains, “but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilization, and everyone else was trying to catch up.” Hence, she assumed that in Istanbul, she would assess how well Turkey was meeting certain U.S. standards (“democratization,” “modernization”); she would also think about “solutions” to Islam, because “that’s what Americans always do.”
Hansen occasionally mentions The Fire Next Time (1963), in which Baldwin describes the willful, 25mm Warhammer Fantasy WGS Painted Vampire Counts Bat Swarm VC019(LF453) Märklin aus 29710 C Gleis 15 gerade, 14 gebogene, 1 Paar Weichen, EVPviolent blindness of white Americans, and their determination not to face “reality—the fact that life is tragic.” Baldwin himself left America for France and Turkey because he found life there false and unbearable, a physical and psychological assault. At least African Americans, he wrote, possess “the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace.” Hansen read this passage long before moving to Turkey,Roco 74426 D-Zugwagen 1. 2. Klasse NS - Neu in OVPFaller 130468 Spur H0 Biogasanlage but one of her points is how often we can know something but not really accept it. She writes: “Even when I disagreed with America’s policies, I always believed in our inherent goodness, in my own.”
From Istanbul, Hansen traveled to report from Greece, Egypt and Afghanistan, only to discover from wry, patient locals that the crisis each country is currently undergoing can be explained by a history in which U.S. intervention figures prominently. In Afghanistan, Spin The Shot Novelty Drinking Game, Shot Glass Drinking Game, Party GameHornby Dublo 32304 - C3 Slave Controller Made October 1955 New Condition T48Postshe attends a Fourth of July party at the American embassy. There is a billboard outside the embassy that reads: “the u.s. embassy would be grateful if any of our friends who have information on terrorist activity or threats to please come to this gate.” There is a five-by-seven-foot American flag made out of cupcakes. The red, white and blue balloons keep popping from the heat, setting the crowd of Afghans and Americans, fearful of snipers, on edge. General David Petraeus and the U.S. Group Movement Parachute with Storage Bag (1.8m Diameter; Age 3+). WestcoAthearn G65759 HO Chessie B&O ATSF GP40-2 with DCC Soundambassador dodge difficult questions from Afghan guests and deliver platitudes.
This is all very well observed. A different sort of writer would have made something barbed and darkly funny of this scene. Hansen seems headed in that direction, but instead she stops, on cue, to wring her hands: “Those bland, company-man words. In Kabul these words sounded criminal. These were loveless, soulless words. How could we speak to Afghans like this? … No one believed in the words they were saying, A0653-03 Kyosho Decal (Red bluee) - FlybabyLiliput L230124 Rungenwagen-Set SBB-CFF Epoche IV H0 1 87 NEU & OVPand yet this language was about real things: flesh and death and war, people’s homelands, and their children.”
It strikes me as a luxury and nearly an affront to be as sentimental and naïve as this. It’s not that we shouldn’t sympathize with Afghans and others—it’s that such an expression of sympathy, in which one’s own guilt and shock takes center stage, isn’t worth much. Meanwhile, many of the people I’ve met out in the world who are really up against it—who by circumstance or choice live terribly exposed—wear the risks they run matter-of-factly,MICRO ACE JNR 80 Shonan color 1-second-order update car 4-Car A-3984Kings of War Deluxe Gamer's Edition (Mantic figures KW02) the bearers of what Baldwin calls an “ironic tenacity.” They are knowing, daring, uncomplaining. I guarantee you they waste no time being shocked by the platitudes of U.S. ambassadors.
Hansen notes that when Albert Camus visited New York in 1946, he wrote in his journal that America was a “country where everything is done to prove that life isn’t tragic.” Camus held that “one must reject the tragic after having looked at it, not before.”Locomotive vapeur 99 5015 DR ép III digital son train de jardin-G-1 22.5-LGB 207(Indiana Hoosiers) - NCAA Mini Basketball, 18cm. Gulf Coast Sales Hansen does the looking but not the rejecting. She remains transfixed by the tragic and her own response to it, casting pretty standard culture shock as emotional catastrophe. Her Turkish lessons are “soul-shattering.” In Cairo, she is “lonely and clumsy, wreaking havoc on things I knew nothing about.” In Afghanistan, “it was my mere existence, I felt, that did damage enough. I wanted nothing else but to withdraw myself.”
When I read this, a phrase of another writer immediately came to mind. “I hate tragedy,” wrote Waguih Ghali, a penniless alcoholic and suicidal Egyptian who, in self-imposed exile after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in 1956, wrote one of my favorite novels.2 Ferrovia treno modelli LMS 1924 & WHR Vintage giocattoli 1970 circaMAINLINE No.37077 (ex GWR) BR CLASS 2251 0-6-0 COLLETT LOCO & TENDER VN MIB Beer in the Snooker Club contains passages that still make me laugh out loud. Egypt, the Arab country I lived in for many years, has one of the best and darkest strains of humor I’ve ever encountered. It does not come natural to me but I have often witnessed its gift, the way it can lift the pall of fear and death. It’s the laughter of survivors, balanced right on the edge of hope and hopelessness.
And check out the rest of The Point, there are many great pieces of writing there.
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I just received a copy of Roco 78262b DRG Dampflok BR 85 008 Ep.2 2.Wahl, Yoav Di-Capua's new book on Sartre and Arab intellectuals (it is essentially an intellectual history of the post-colonial Arab world) and its cover is very, very cool. I very much enjoyed Di-Capua's last book, Bachmann Class 08 08834 BR Railfreight Distribution 32-122 FREE SHIPPING, a great historiography and was happy to meet him in Austin (where he teaches at the University of Texas) on the sidelines of South By Southwest a few years ago. It'll be some more rigorous reading than I'm doing now (I've been devouring Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem sci-fi series, see great reviews here and Tyco HO Train Set - 1 Engine - 6 Carts - Fair Condition) but looking forward to it.
Also recently received are two books on Morocco (and Jordan) – it's relatively rare that you get serious and in-depth English-language scholarship on Morocco, so good to see that – and a collected volume edited by Alfred Stepan including many A-listers and friends (Rached Ghannouchi, Bachmann Thomas & Friends HO Scale Toby The Tram Engine with Movi 02289958747924 x Präzisions-Radsatz Märklin Röwa Trix Lkdm 10,4 Zapfenachse 25,4 mm H0 e.i.Carrie Wickham, Nathan Brown, Monica Marks, Radwan Masmoudi, etc.) that looks at the Egypt vs. Tunisia question post-Arab Spring. With chapter titles like "The roots of Egypt's constitutional catastrophe", it's pure Arabist geek-bait.