James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)


The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

From: https://aeon.co/the-legendary-debate-that-laid-down-us-political-lines-on-race-justice-and-history

Noam Chomsky: Sanders Threatens The Establishment By Inspiring Popular Movements

Noam Chomsky

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump for power abuses is winding down, with his acquittal all but ensured when the Senate reconvenes on Wednesday to vote on the articles of impeachment. Yet, his real crimes continue to receive scant attention, and it is Sen. Bernie Sanders who is regarded by the political establishment as the most dangerous politician because of his commitment to a just and equitable social order and a sustainable future. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the Davos meeting in January demonstrated the global elites’ ongoing commitment to unimpeded planetary destruction.

This is indeed the state of the contemporary U.S. political environment, as the great public intellectual Noam Chomsky points out in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: The impeachment trial of Donald Trump isnearlyover, and what a farce it has been — something you had predicted from the start, which is also the reason why you thought that an impeachment inquiry was a rather foolish move on the part of the Democrats. With that in mind, what does this farcical episode tell us about the contemporary state of U.S. politics, and do you anticipate any political fallout in the 2020 election?

Noam Chomsky: It seemed clear from the outset that the impeachment effort could not be serious, and would end up being another gift by the Democrats to Trump, much as the Mueller affair was. Any doubts about its farcical nature were put to rest by its opening spectacle: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts struggling to keep a straight face while swearing in senators who solemnly pledged that they would be unmoved by partisan concerns, and at once proceeded as everyone know they would to behave and vote along strictly party lines. Could there be a clearer exhibition of pure farce?

Are the crimes discussed a basis for impeachment? Seems so to me. Has Trump committed vastly more serious crimes? That is hardly debatable. What might be debatable is whether he is indeed the most dangerous criminal in human history (which happens to be my personal view). Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and otherdeviants, along with tens of millions of Slav Untermenschen. But Hitler was not dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species).
Trump is. And those who think he doesn’t know what he’s doing haven’t been looking closely.

Is that a wild and ludicrous exaggeration? Or the very simple and apparent truth? It’s not difficult to figure out the answer. We’ve discussed it often before. There is no need to review what is happening on Trump’s watch while he devotes every effort to accelerating the race to catastrophe, trailed by such lesser lights as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Australia’s Scott Morrison

Every day brings new forebodings. We have just learned, for example, that the gigantic Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica has been eroding from warm water below. The Washington Post describes this as “a troubling finding that could speed its melt in a region with the potential to eventually unleash more than10 feetof sea-level rise,” adding, “Scientists already knew that Thwaites was losing massive amounts of ice more than600 billion tons  over the past several decades, and most recently as much as 50 billion tons per year.It has now been confirmed, as suspected, thatthis was occurring because a layer of relatively warmer ocean water, which circles Antarctica below the colder surface layer, had moved closer to shore and begun to eat away at the glaciers themselves, affecting West Antarctica in particular.The chief scientist involved in the study warns that this may signalan unstoppable retreat that has huge implications for global sea-level rise.

That’s today. Tomorrow will be something worse.

What’s causing the warmer water? No secret. This is only one of the likely irreversible tipping points that may be reached if “the Chosen One,” as he modestly describes himself, is granted another four years to carry out his project of global destruction.
We have just witnessed an extraordinary event at the January Davos meeting of the Masters of the Universe, as they are called; for Adam Smith, they were only “the masters of mankind,” but 250 years ago it was just British merchants and manufacturers.

The conference opened with Trump’s oration about what a fabulous creature he is. The encomium was interrupted only by a comment that we should not bealarmistabout the climate. His Magnificence was followed by the quiet and informed comments of a 17-year old girl instructing the heads of state, CEOs, media leaders and grand intellectuals about what it means to be a responsible adult.
Quite a spectacle.

Trump’s war on organized life on Earth is only the barest beginning. More narrowly, in recent days, the Chosen One has issued executive orders ridding the country of the plague of regulations that protect children from mercury poisoning and preserve the country’s water supplies and lands, along with other impediments to further enrichment of Trump’s primary constituency, extreme wealth and corporate power.

On the side, he has been casually proceeding to dismantle the last vestiges of the arms control regime that has provided some limited degree of security from terminal nuclear war, eliciting cheers from the military industry. And as we have just learned, the great pacifist who is committed to end interventions “dropped more bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan last year than any other year since documentation began in 2006, Air Force data shows.

He is also ramping up his acts of war which is what they are against Iran. I won’t even go into his giving Israel what the Israeli press calls “a gift to the right,” formally giving the back of his imperial hand to international law, the World Court, the UN Security Council and overwhelming international opinion, while shoring up the Evangelical vote for the 2020 election. The prerogative of supreme power.

In brief, the list of Trump’s crimes is immense, not least the worst crime in human history. But none merit a nod in the impeachment proceedings. This is hardly a novelty; rather the norm. The current proceedings are often compared with Watergate. Nixon’s hideous crimes were eliminated from the charges against him despite the efforts of Rep. Robert Frederick Drinan and a few others. The Nixon impeachment charges focused on his illegal acts to harm Democrats.
Any resemblance to the farce that is now winding up? Does it suggest some insight into what motivates the powerful?

Speaking of the 2020 election, the corporate Democratic establishment and the liberal media are once again mobilizing to undermine Bernie Sanders, even though he may very well be the most electable Democrat. First, can you summarize for us what you perceive to be the core of Sanders’s politico-ideological gestalt, and then explain what scares both conservatives and liberals — the possibility of someone like Sanders leading the country?

The core of Sanders’spolitico-ideological gestaltis his long-standing commitment to the interests of the large majority of the population, not the top 0.1 percent (not 1 percent, 0.1 percent) who hold more than 20 percent of the country’s wealth, not the very rich who were the prime beneficiaries of the slow recovery from the 2008 disaster caused by financial capital. The U.S. achievement in this regard far surpasses that of other developed countries, so we learn from recently released studies, which show that in the U.S., 65 percent of the growth of the past decade went to the very rich; next in line was Germany, at 51 percent, then declining sharply. The same studies show that if current trends persist, in the next decade all growth in the U.S. will go to the rich.

The welfare of these sectors has never been Sanders’s concern.

The Democratic establishment and liberal media are hardly likely to look kindly on someone who forthrightly proclaims, I have no use for those regardless of their political partywho hold some foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when unorganized labor was a huddled, almost helpless mass…. Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.By right to work” laws, for example, or by hiring scabs, or by threatening to ship jobs to Mexico to undermine organizing efforts, to sample the bipartisan political leadership.

That’s surely the kind of socialist wild man whom the country is not ready to tolerate.

The wild man in this case is President Dwight Eisenhower, the last conservative president. His remarks are a good illustration of how far the political class has shifted to the right under Clintonite “New Democrats” and the Reagan-Gingrich Republicans. The latter have drifted so far off the political spectrum that they are ranked near neo-fascist parties in the international spectrum, well to the right of “conservatives.”

Even more threatening than Sanders’s proposals to carry forward New Deal-style policies, I think, is his inspiring a popular movement that is steadily engaged in political action and direct activism to change the social order — a movement of people, mostly young, who have not internalized the norms of liberal democracy: that the public are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who are to be “spectators, not participants in action,” entitled to push a lever every four years but are then to return to their TV sets and video games while the “responsible men” look after serious matters.

This is a fundamental principle of democracy as expounded by prominent and influential liberal 20thcentury American intellectuals, who took cognizance of “the stupidity of the average man” and recognized that we should not be deluded by “democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests.” They are not; we are — the “responsible men,” the “intelligent minority.” The “bewildered herd” must therefore be “put in their place” by “necessary illusions” and “emotionally potent simplifications.” These are among the pronouncements of the most influential 20thcentury public intellectual, Walter Lippmann, in his “progressive essays on democracy”; Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of modern political science; and Reinhold Niebuhr, the admired “theologian of the (liberal) establishment.” All highly respected Wilson-FDR-Kennedy liberals.

Inspiring a popular movement that violates these norms is a serious attack on democracy, so conceived, an intolerable assault against good order.

I believe we witnessed something similar in the last U.K. elections in the case of Jeremy Corbyn. Do you agree? And, if so, what does this tell us about liberal democracy, which is nowadays in serious trouble itself on account of the rise and spread of authoritarianism and the far right in many parts of the world?

There are definite similarities. Corbyn, a decent and honorable man, was subjected to an extraordinary flood of vilification and defamation, which he was unable to confront. At the same time, polls indicated that the policies that he put forth and that had led to a remarkable victory forLabour in 2017 remained popular. A special feature in the U.K. was Brexit, a matter I won’t go into here (my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it is a serious blow to both Britain and the EU, and is likely to cause Britain — or what remains of it — to become even more of a vassal of the U.S. than it has been under Blair’s New Labour and the Tories, whose social and economic policies have caused the country great harm). Corbyn’s vacillation on the Brexit issue, which became a toxic one, surely contributed to the negative feelings about him that seem to have been a major factor in the electoral disaster for Labour, but it was only one.

As in the case of Sanders, I suspect that the prime reason for the bitter hatred of Corbyn on the part of a very wide spectrum of the British establishment is his effort to turn the Labour Party into a participatory organization that would not leave electoral politics in the hands of theLabour bureaucracy and would proceed beyond the narrow realm of electoral politics to far broader and constant activism and engagement in public affairs.

More generally, much of the world is aflame. As the men of Davos recognized with trepidation at their January meeting, the peasants are coming with their pitchforks: The neoliberal order they have imposed for the past 40 years, while ultra-generous to them and their class, has had a bitter impact on the general population. A leading theme at Davos was that the Masters must declare that they are changing their stance from service to the rich to attending to the concerns of “stakeholders” — working people and communities. Another theme was that while not “alarmists,” they acknowledge the threat of global warming.

The unstated implication is that there is no need for regulations and other actions about climate change: We Big Boys will take care of it. GretaThunberg and the other children demonstrating out there can go back to school. And now that we see the flaws in our neoliberal model of capitalism, you can put aside all those disruptive political programs calling for healthcare, rights of workers, women, the poor. We’re taking care of it, so just go back to your private pursuits, keeping to democratic norms.

As the neoliberal order is visibly collapsing, it is giving rise to “morbid symptoms” (to borrow Gramsci’s famous phrase when the fascist plague was looming). Among these are the spread of authoritarianism and the far right that you mention. More generally, what we are witnessing is quite understandable anger, resentment and contempt for the political institutions that have implemented the neoliberal assault — but also the rise of activist movements that seek to overcome the ills of global society and to stem and reverse the race to destruction.

The confrontation could hardly have been exhibited more dramatically than by the appearance of Greta Thunberg immediately after the most powerful man in the worldthe leader in the race to destruction had admonished the Masters to disdain the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers” (virtually 100 percent of climate scientists) and to take up his wrecking ball.

Previoulsy published: https://truthout.org/noam-chomsky-sanders

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthoutand collected by Haymarket Books.

Machteld Leij ~ Joseph Sassoon Semah in Museum De Domijnen

Joseph Sassoon Semah Being Touched by an Angel Just Before Birth tot 16 februari in Musem De Domijnen, Linge 5, Sittard

Hart – Alles over kunst. Nummer 200.  De in Bagdad geboren joodse kunstenaar Joseph Sassoon Semah kwam in 1981 in Amsterdam wonen, na omzwervingen via Tel Aviv, Parijs, Londen en Berlijn. Van de meest prachtige, maar soms ook beladen materialen en vormen maakt hij installaties en geeft hij performances. Drijvende kracht in zijn symbolische werk is zijn eigen leven en de verdwenen joodse cultuur van het Midden-Oosten.

Dat kunstenaar Joseph Sassoon Semah (1948, Bagdad) niet altijd de aandacht kreeg die hij verdient, zou weleens kunnen komen door de religieuze onder- en boventoon in zijn werk. Religie ligt niet goed in de moderne kunst. Want die kunst zou rationeel en universeel moeten zijn. Maar Semah, joods en geboren in Bagdad, ziet dat heel anders. De moderne kunst barst van vormen die ten minste toch familiair zijn aan aspecten van joodse religie en geschiedenis. Het duidelijkste voorbeeld is het werk van Barnett Newman. Diens abstracte schilderijen met vlakken en banen zijn in Semahs ogen te vergelijken met de stroken op het witte gebedskleed van zijn grootvader, die opperrabijn was in Bagdad. Die blauwe stroken corresponderen met het abstracte werk van Newman, meent Semah. Hij verwerkt in zijn installatie NelLAH (The closing of the gates (Open closed) uit 1987 gebedsmantels, schildersdoek en deuren. Ernaast zette hij kartonnen dozen waarin ooit Blue Band, een margarinemerk, was verpakt.

In het rationele westen – in dit geval Nederland – is religie uit de kunst gefilterd. Maar Semah ziet, benadrukt en herijkt beeldelementen die terug te leiden zijn tot religie, tot de joodse traditie. Museum De Domijnen richtte Semahs overzichtstentoonstelling Being Touched by an Angel Just Before Birth in. Het vroegste werk stamt uit de jaren zeventig, het meest recente is van vorig jaar. De tentoonstelling is onderdeel van een langer lopend project, met performances en exposities in onder meer het Joods Historisch Museum. Waar andere kunstenaars nog weleens groeispurts doormaken, is het werk van Semah enorm consistent. Zijn installaties en tekeningen zijn tegelijk tijdloos en eigentijds. Als je niet naar de titels kijkt, zou je niet weten of een werk uit de jaren zeventig is, of dat het juist het atelier van de kunstenaar heeft verlaten.
De beelden die Semah maakt zijn voetnoten bij zijn teksten. Zijn materiaalgebruik is meesterlijk: zwaar geroeste vormen in cortenstaal zijn geometrisch, maar met hun roest ook een symbool van de verglijdende tijd. Glazen platen liggen gerangschikt volgens de plattegrond van een Duitse synagoge die tijdens de Kristallnacht werd vernietigd. Ze steunen op bronzen dingo’s. Honden zijn christelijk, associeert Semah, en dingo’s zijn bijzonder, omdat ze zich juist weer ontworsteld hebben aan de mensenwereld en opnieuw wild zijn geworden.

Lees verder: https://hart-magazine.be/expo/joseph-sassoon-semah-in-museum-de-domijnen

East-West GaLUT

The Orient in Germany

Treatise on the Origin of Language 

The more people invented, the more nomadic and separated they were when they invented, and yet for the most part invented only in a single circle for a single kind of things, then, when they afterwards came together, when their languages flowed into an ocean of vocabulary, the more synonyms! They could not be thrown away, all of them. For which should be thrown away? They were current with this tribe, with this family, with this poet. And so it became, as that Arab dictionary writer said when he had counted up 400 words for misery, the four hundredth misery [is] to have to count up the words for misery.

Treatise on the Origin of Language. Transl. by Michael N. Forester (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 117.

Goethe’s Study of Hebrew

From my Life: Poetry and Truth

I found an alphabet something like Greek, of which the forms were easy, and the names, for the most part, not new to me. All this I had quickly understood and learned, and supposed we should now begin to read. This, I was well aware, was done from right to left. But now, all at once appeared a new army of little characters and signs, of points and strokes of all sorts, which were in fact to represent vowels. At this I wondered the more, as there were manifestly vowels in the larger alphabet, and the others only appeared to be hidden under strange appellations. I was also taught, that the Jewish nation, so long as it flourished, had, in point of fact, been content with the first signs, and had known no other way of writing and reading. I should have liked very much to have gone on along this ancient, and, as it seemed to me, easier path; but my worthy instructor declared rather sternly, that we must be guided by the grammar in its generally accepted form. Reading without these points and strokes, he said, was a very difficult matter, and could only be undertaken by the learned, and the most highly trained scholars. […] At one time, it seemed, some of the primary and larger letters were to have no significance where they stood, simply that their little after-born kindred might not stand useless. At another time they were to indicate a gentle breathing, then a guttural, more or less harsh, or again they were merely pegs on which to hang the others. But, finally, when one fancied that one had taken in everything properly, some of these personages, both large and small, were made sleeping partners, and became inactive, so that one’s eyes always had very much, and one’s lips very little, to do. 

Poetry and Truth. From my Own Life. Transl. by Minna Steele Smith, vol. 1 (London: George Bell & Sons 1908), 108-9.

The West-East Divan


North and South and West are quaking,
Thornes are cracking, empires shaking;
You must flee; the East will right you,
Patriarchs’ pure air delight you;                                                                                                                         There in loving, drinking,
singing Youth from Chiser’s well is springing

Seeing rightly, seeing purely,
There I’ll penetrate most surely
To the origin of nations,
When on earth the generations                                                                                                                              Heard God’s words as humans use them,
Did not brain-rack and confuse them.

Poems of the West and East. Transl. by John Whaley (Frankfurt/New York: Peter Lang 1998), 4–5.

The West-East Divan


That’s why, Hafiz, I’m inclined To remind you of this sequel: If we share another’s mind We shall be the other’s equal. You I mirror to perfection, I who am myself endowed With our sacred book’s reflection, Like as on that holy shroud Our Lord’s image was impressed, Quickening secret in my breast Conquering sceptic, foe, or thief, Radiant vision of belief.

Poems of the West and East. Trans. by John Whaley (Frankfurt/New York: Peter Lang 1998), 52–53.

The West-East Divan

“Book of Proverbs”
Admit! The poets of Orient
Are greater than we of Occident.
But here with them we fully equate
That we our equals know to hate

Poems of the West and East. Transl. by John Whaley (Frankfurt/New York: Peter Lang 1998), 208–209.

“Spices” Zahava Kalfa

We ate the world, man.
With the teeth with the fork and the nails. Everything that dances, goes, moves and breathes.
We ate the mother of the juice and drank the seeds.
And the trees we cut to write poems and publish books.
I once loved him, especially the touch of light on his face at the twilight, you can’t do anything about that. The glow of this light dripped like wax, like an old perfume.
Then we ate everything and lost the taste.
Season the food, so that it would be as tasty as it always was. Like at your mother’s, he said, with the turmeric and the spicy. Forget it, I said, no spices, just like that, naked.
After a few months he left, found another taste. I cannot believe that it happened that way. Actually, I do not believe anymore.

“Mother Tongue” Zahava Kalfa

Umm Mahmud, who is privately called Nadschla
And officially Mrs. Mahamud
And between us, nobody calls her
Nor me.
We speak here one language.
She explains to me how to prepare Egyptian falafel.
with Ful Mukasher
For a second I thought she’d say Kosher.
With spiced herbs and chopped parsley
and cumin,
not too much of it.
At Ku’damm, the belly full with a little daughter
On the way to ultrasound
A leaflet distributor offers us the business lunch
At half price.
Little Mahmud looks at the pigeons and asks,
Why do they eat all the time?
She reminds him that this morning, he ate as well
And Mahmud continues talking and she answers muttering
A Pigeon.
Where I’m from?
Forty years
My parents are from Libya.
I answer
And my sister tells me about
the persecutions of the Jews
Thirty years ago in Syria.
Mother tongue, sometimes it flows and sometimes
it stutters.
Preparations for a Caesarean section
I am translating the forms into Arabic.
How should I translate thyroid gland?
You don’t have any thyroid gland problems,
I scanned her eyes
soaked with sweat.