“Politics as Usual” Will Never Be A Solution To The Current Climate Threat

Richard Falk

There is an ever-growing consensus that the climate crisis represents humanity’s greatest problem. Indeed, global warming is more than an environmental crisis — there are social, political, ethical and economic dimensions to it. Even the role of science should be exposed to critical inquiry when discussing the dimensions of the climate crisis, considering that technology bears such responsibility for bringing us to the brink of global disaster. This is the theme of my interview with renowned scholar Richard Falk.

For decades, Richard Falk has made immense contributions in the areas of international affairs and international law from what may be loosely defined as the humanist perspective, which makes a break with political realism and its emphasis on the nation-state and military power. He is professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, where he taught for nearly half a century, and currently chair of Global Law at Queen Mary University London, which has launched a new center for climate crime and justice; Falk is also the Olaf Palme Visiting Professor in Stockholm and Visiting Distinguished Professor at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta. In 2008, Falk was appointed as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. He is the author of some 50 books, the most recent of which is a moving memoir, titled Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim (2021).

C.J. Polychroniou: The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time, but, so far, we seem to be losing the battle to avoid driving the planet to dangerous “tipping points.” Indeed, a climate apocalypse appears to be a rather distinct possibility given the current levels of climate inaction. Having said that, it is quite obvious that the climate crisis has more than one dimension. It is surely about the environment, but it is also about science, ethics, politics and economics. Let’s start with the relationship between science and the environment. Does science bear responsibility for global warming and the ensuing environmental breakdown, given the role that technologies have played in the modern age?

Richard Falk: I think science bears some responsibility for adopting the outlook that freedom of scientific inquiry takes precedence over considering the real-world consequences of scientific knowledge — the exemplary case being the process by which science and scientists contributed to the making of the nuclear bomb. In this instance, some of the most ethically inclined scientists and knowledge workers, above all, Albert Einstein, were contributors who later regretted their role. And, of course, the continuous post-Hiroshima developments of weaponry of mass destruction have enlisted leading biologists, chemists and physicists in their professional roles to produce ever more deadly weaponry, and there has been little scientific pushback.

With respect to the environmental breakdown that is highlighted by your question, the situation is more obscure. There were scientific warnings about a variety of potential catastrophic threats to ecological balance that go back to the early 1970s. These warnings were contested by reputable scientists until the end of the 20th century, but if the precautionary principle included in the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (1972) would have been implemented, then certainly scientists bore some responsibility for continuing to work toward more capital-efficient means of finding technological applications for oil, gas and coal. As with adverse health effects, post-Enlightenment beliefs that human progress depended on scientific knowledge inhibited regulation for the benefit of the public good. Only when civil society began to sound the alarm were certain adjustments made, although often insufficient in substance, deferring to private interests in profitability, and public interests in the enhancement of military capabilities and governmental control.

Overall, despite the climate change crisis, there remains a reluctance to hamper scientific “progress” by an insistence on respecting the carrying capacity of the Earth. Also, science and scientists have yet to relate the search for knowledge to the avoidance of ecologically dangerous technological applications, and even more so in relation to political and cultural activities. There is also the representational issue involving the selection of environmental guardians and their discretionary authority, if a more prudential approach were to be adopted.

The climate crisis also raises important ethical questions, although it is not clear from current efforts to tame global warming that many of the world’s governments take them seriously. Be that as it may, how should ethics inform the debate about global warming and environmental breakdown?

The most obvious ethical issues arise when deciding how to spread the economic burdens of regulating greenhouse gas emissions in ways that ensure an equitable distribution of costs within and among countries. The relevance of “climate justice” to relations among social classes and between rich and poor countries is contested and controversial. As the world continues to be organized along state-centric axes of authority and responsibility, ethical metrics are so delimited. Given the global nature of the challenges associated with global warming, this way of calculating climate justice and ethical accountability in political space is significantly dysfunctional.

Similar observations are relevant with respect to time. Although the idea of “responsibility to future generations” received some recognition at the UN, nothing tangible by way of implementation was done. Political elites, without exception, were fixed on short-term performance criteria, whether satisfying corporate shareholders or the voting public. The tyranny of the present in policy domains worked against implementing the laudatory ethical recognition of the claims of [future generations] to a healthy and materially sufficient future.

Taking account of the relevance of the past seems an ethical imperative that is neglected because it is seen as unfairly burdening the present for past injustices. For instance, reparations claims on behalf of victimized people, whether descendants of slavery or otherwise exploited peoples, rarely are satisfied, however ethically meritorious. There is one revealing exception: reparations imposed by the victorious powers in a war.

In the environmental domain, the past is very important to the allocation of responsibility for the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gas emissions. Most Western countries are more responsible for global warming than the vast majority of the Global South, and many parts of Africa and the Middle East face the dual facts of minimal responsibility for global warming yet maximal vulnerability to its harmful effects.

These various ethical concerns are being forced onto the agendas of global conferences. This was evident at the 2021 COP-26 Glasgow Climate Summit under UN auspices. The intergovernmental response was disappointing, and reflected capitalist and geopolitical disregard of the ethical dimensions of the climate change challenge.

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“Localization” Can Help Free the Planet From Neoliberal Globalization

Helena Norberg-Hodge – Photo: nl.wikipedia.org

Localization offers the means to return to a real and stable economy not based on speculation, exploitation and debt.

Is there a viable alternative to the economic, social, political and environmental problems stemming from globalization? How about “localization”? This is the antidote to globalization propounded by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of Local Futures, an organization focused on building a movement dedicated to environmental sustainability and social well-being by rejuvenating local economies. Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the new economy movement, which now has spread to all continents, and the convener of World Localization Day, which was endorsed by the likes of Noam Chomsky and the Dalai Lama. Norberg-Hodge is the author of several books and producer of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness.

In this interview, Norberg-Hodge discusses in detail why localization represents a strategic alternative to globalization and a way out of the climate conundrum, the ways through which localization challenges the spread of authoritarianism, and what a post-pandemic world might look like.

C.J. Polychroniou: The global neoliberal project, under way since the early 1980s following the so-called “free-market revolution” launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the U.S. and U.K., respectively, has proven to be an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. Why does a shift toward economic localization, a movement which you have initiated on every continent of the world, represent a superior strategic alternative to the existing socioeconomic order, and how do we go about making this transition?

Helena Norberg-Hodge: The process of globalization with its disastrous effects is a consequence of governments systematically using taxes, subsidies and regulations to support global monopolies at the expense of place-based regional and local businesses and banks. This process has been going on in the name of supporting growth through free trade, but it has actually impoverished the majority, that has had to work harder and harder just to stay in place. Even nation states have become poorer, relative to the trillions of dollars circulating in the hands of global financial institutions and other transnational corporations. This has systematically corrupted virtually every avenue of knowledge, from schools to universities, from science to the media.

As a consequence, instead of questioning the role of the economic system in causing our multiple crises, people are led to blame themselves for not managing their lives well enough, for not being efficient enough, for not spending enough time with family and friends, etc., etc… In addition to feeling guilty, we often end up feeling isolated because the ever more fleeting and shallow nature of our social encounters with others fuels a show-off culture in which love and affirmation are sought through such superficial means as plastic surgery, designer clothes and Facebook likes. These are poor substitutes for genuine connection, and only heighten feelings of depression, loneliness and anxiety.

I see a shift toward economic localization as a powerful strategic alternative to neoliberal globalization for a number of reasons. For starters, the increasingly planetary supply chains and outsourcing endemic to corporate globalization are systematically making every region less materially secure (something that became starkly apparent during the COVID crisis) and enabling ecological and labor exploitation cost shifting such that feedback loops that could promote greater transparency and thus responsibility are severed. A recent study showed that one-fifth of global carbon emissions come from multinational corporations’ supply chains. Localization means getting out of the highly unstable and exploitative bubbles of speculation and debt, and back to the real economy — our interface with other people and the natural world. Local markets require a diversity of products, and therefore create incentives for more diversified and ecological production. In the realm of food, this means more diversified production with far less machinery and chemicals, more hands on the land, and therefore, more meaningful employment. It means dramatically reduced CO2 emissions, no need for plastic packaging, more space for wild biodiversity, more circulation of wealth within local communities, more face-to-face conversations between producers and consumers, and more flourishing cultures founded on genuine interdependence.

This is what I call the “solution-multiplier” effect of localization, and the pattern extends beyond our food systems. In the disconnected and over-specialized system of global monoculture, I have seen housing developments built with imported steel, plastic and concrete while the oak trees on-site are razed and turned into woodchips. In contrast, the shortening of distances structurally means more eyes per acre and more innovative use of available resources.

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Mati Shemoelof – Opening Words – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV, October 28, 2021, Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Performance

Joseph Sassoon Semah

28 October 2021, 20.00 pm, Performance and Meeting – Mati Shemoelof (Poet, Author, Editor, Journalist, Berlin) & Joseph Sassoon Semah

The discussion about the creative activities of Joseph Beuys adhere to Eurocentric culture in general and to post-war German culture in particular. And yet, what will happen when two Iraqi Jews, i.e. Babylonian Jews – who live in two European capitals, Berlin and Amsterdam, respectively – decided to deconstruct Beuys’ post war art production.
Could we give these two guests who became our host free speech, and should we listen to their desire to reclaim the Jewish Babylonian tradition from Joseph Beuys’ art?
Most of the research on Joseph Beuys artistic activity has been generated by theories concerning Eurocentric culture, values and experiences, however this time we have the opportunity to hear other voices, a different reading that criticizes Beuys’ work.

Mati Shemoelof – Opening Words 28.10.2021. Goethe Institut – Amsterdam

Joseph Sassoon Semah’s artistic work criticizes and unmasks the work of Joseph Beuys, the most influential German artist post WWII. In his criticism of Beuys’ art, Joseph Sassoon Semah uses the term “An Oppressive memory”. To my mind, he means how an oppressor performs/re-presents/re-disguises himself as a victim and by doing so, he silences the victim.

Beuys, the big shaman of German art, spoke of the famous LEGEND of how his airplane was shot down and that he was saved by the Tartars. This is a myth that he created in order to make us feel compassion for his deeds.

Joseph Sassoon Semah

Let us first state the facts: In 1936 Beuys was a member of the Hitler Youth. We know that it was compulsory, but later on, in 1941, Beuys volunteered for the Luftwaffe (the aerial warfare branch of the Wehrmacht during World War II). In 1942, Beuys was stationed in Crimea and was a member of various combat bomber units. From 1943 on he was deployed as a rear-gunner in the Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber. Initially stationed in Königgrätz, later on in the eastern Adriatic region. On March 16th 1944, Beuys’ plane crashed on the Crimean Front, close to Znamienka. Records state that Beuys was conscious and recovered by German search commandos. There were no Tatars in the village at that time however. Beuys was then brought to a military hospital where he stayed for three weeks from March 17th to April 7th.

The research, texts, performances, art works and installations of Joseph Sassoon Semah today is a Babylonian Jewish de-construction of the artistic activities of Beuys from the center of Europe. In his artistic performance Joseph Sassoon Semah refers to two famous installations of Beuys. The first is the “Straßenbahnhaltestelle / Tram Stop” that was unveiled at the Venice Biennale of 1976. Joseph Beuys created a copy of a monument which was placed next to Tram Stop in Kleve – consisting of a field cannon crowned with a bust based on the figure of “Jean Baptiste Cloots”. Cloots was born in 1755 near Kleve, at the castle of Gnadenthal, and later called himself “Anachrsis Cloots”. He later joined the French revolution and symbolizes democracy.

Joseph Beuys’ Tram Stop in 1976 is in a matter of fact a memory of Beuys as a 5 year old kid waiting for the train that would take him to visit his uncle who lived in Kleve. Joseph Beuys explained that he used to cross the street and sit on the monument named by the city as the “Iron Man”; At a certain time, the field cannon was crowned with a cupid. So, the memory is love and the idea that democracy should be spread by the cannon, and not war.

In Kleve not so far from the tram stop, there was a Jewish synagogue that was destroyed by Nazi troops during Kristallnacht. And when you add the fact that Beuys himself was part of the Nazi air force you get a story of re-creating himself as a rebel figure. Meanwhile ignoring the authentic victim while re-presenting himself as a victim.

Joseph Sassoon Semah doesn’t forget Kleve’s synagogue, as well as the real actions of Beuys. He writes letters to Albrecht Dürer, another German artist, in order to penetrate the German and European cannon and to bring back the lost Jewish voice. He writes: “All in all, Jose[f]ph Beuys’ Straßenbahnhaltestelle / Tram Stop 1976 is physical – that is a real visible object in opposition – a manifestation to be contemplated from afar. The result of the intolerable conflict of false and true elements in Jose[f]ph Beuys’ ideology which he tried to expand – to escape as it were, from his impossibility, i.e. from his post-traumatic stress disorder into a symbolic Healer of post-war West Germany, and at the same time to foster its future reputation.”

In another famous Artwork Beuys planted 7000 Oak trees throughout the city of Kassel – each tree accompanied with basalt stone – as part of the seventh Documenta in Kassel (1982). Joseph Beuys’ idea was to breath life back into the emptiness and rubble of 7000 bomb holes that were left bythe carpet bombing made by the allies in WW2.

Joseph Sassoon Semah refers to different theological resources – the Bible and the New Testament – in order to find the origins of meanings of the number 7000.
1 Kings: 19: 17-18 “17. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 18. Yet I have left me 7000 seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

And the New Testament – Romans 11:4 – “But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself 7000 seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.”

Joseph Sassoon Semah uses these two resources in order to re-capture the real essence of the number 7000. He also uses an additional theological resource to capture the essence of The OAK and the Stone from the Old Testament – The Bible tells us about the OAK AND THE STONE – Joshua 24 :25-27: “On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he established for them a statute and ordinance. recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was near the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “You see this stone. It will be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words the LORD has spoken. To us, and it will be a witness against you if you ever deny your God.”

To summarize my ideas until now, I want to contextualize why we are doing the action of planting an OAK tree and placing it next to a Stone originated from Jerusalem. Joseph Sassoon Semah wants to create a real new covenant with God. Not the God of the scripture, but the spiritual one. He reclaims the Jewish symbols which Beuys appropriated, and recreates a new symbolic order on the land of Europe. It is both an artistic moment and a spiritual one, both happening here on the European ground.

Beuys refers to Kleve with nostalgia and at the same time forgets about the Kristallnacht and his own involvement in WW2; Beuys also refers to the bombing of KASEL and forgets that it took place in order to defeat NAZI troops and to stop the destruction of Jewish life. In his position Beuys appropriates the victim voice but Joseph Sassoon Semah reclaims it and re-creates a new alliance with God using the old meaning of the Oak tree and the stone here in the garden of Goethe Institute.

Joseph Sassoon Semah’s de-construction of Beuys art is also another dialogue that he conducts as an Israeli Jew who emigrated to Europe.
In his artistic performances and installations, he criticizes the admiration of Israeli artists toward Beuys.

In his insightful article, Dr. Kobi ben Meir writes about “Joseph Beuys and the Cultural Effect of Israeli Art of the 1970s”. I will use some of his ideas in order to reflect upon Joseph Sassoon Semah’s sharp artistic and poetic response to the Israeli admiration of Beuys’ art.

David Ginaton, Adoration of Beuys, 1973

At the art school of Bezalel, Beuys became a revered hero, and Israeli artists made a pilgrimage to his Studio in Düsseldorf. The known Israeli artist David Ginaton says that he first heard about the beginning of the Yom Kippur War as he was he travelling by train to Düsseldorf. As soon as they arrived in Düsseldorf on the second day of the war, on October 7th, 1973, Ginaton went to Joseph Beuys’ home. After ringing the doorbell of Beuys’ house, his wife opened the door and said that her husband was out of town for several days. Ginaton’s partner photographed him kneeling in front of the door of the Beuys’ house.

It is interesting to examine how Ginaton positions himself in front of the closed door of Beuys’ house. When it comes to size ratios, the young artist appears small in size and is almost disappearing in front of the massively large door. He kneels like an admirer of a holly person, and while he lowers himself, he is looking up as if at a holy past or a coveted hero. Ginaton kneels outside the door frame in a sense the frame represents the high German art world to which he can’t enter. Therefore, Ginaton has no choice but to admire in reverence.           Dr. Kobi ben Meir concludes that this admiration is a sign of pagan fetishism.

If we go back to the first part of my interpretation of the artistic work of Joseph Sassoon Semah, we will find the real man behind Beuys. The soldier, the oppressor who manipulates through his myth in order to transform himself into the voice of the oppressed. When we observe the kneeling of Ginaton in frontof Beuys door – We get a distorted image.

How is it possible then that the Israeli Jewish artists, most of them second-generation Ashkenazi Jewish Holocaust survivors – are kneeling in front of Joseph Beuys and not the other way around?

Only 30 years after 1945 Beuys transformed himself into an extraordinary identity, which somehow forced them to forget about his real past actions.

David Ginaton testifies that through this photo and others he sought to clarify the relationship between Israeli art and international art, and to discuss questions of influence and appropriation.

In this photograph, the Israeli artist reveals himself as inferior to European art as part of a central and peripheral relationship, both influential and influenced.

Joseph Sassoon Semah

In his artistic works Joseph Sassoon Semah removes the veil and de-mystifies this distorted identity. Joseph Sassoon Semah is both a European/Amsterdam Based artist and a post-Israeli one. In having this dual identity he raises critical questions directed at the backbone of German and European art (Dürer-Beuys) and at the same time directs his artistic critical gaze towards the Israeli Jewish field of art to which he belonged before leaving Israel. He questions the reasons for the admiration that borders on self-cancellation.

There are several answers I can give as a commentator concerning these distorted relationships of the Israeli art world towards the image of Joseph Beuys:
1. The Israeli militarism, subconsciously is being connected to the figure of the German soldier, in which the Israeli admiration towards the Israeli soldiers is evident.
2. The insult felt by the survivors of European descent from Europe. Yes, the same Europe that annihilated their families, became a phantasmatic desire to be accepted by them.
3. There is an element of an imagined return to the ethnic hierarchies that existed before World War II, in which European Germans were above all and Asians were inferior. That is, in perverted peripheral/center relations that recur in the minds of the Ginaton as a symptom to the positioning of the Israeli art in relation to the European art.

You can read it well in the famous Hannah Arendt‘s quote in a letter she wrote from Jerusalem in 1961, when she was attending the Eichmann trial. Her description of the crowd at the courthouse, in a letter she sent to Jaspers, passes beyond condescension into outright racism: “On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.”

Joseph Sassoon Semah’s gaze is a DOUBLE gaze, it resembles the double face of Janus the god of Gates:  On the one hand, he deconstructs and demystify the admiration of the Israeli artist to Joseph Beuys. On the other hand, his artistic work criticizing and unmasking the work of Joseph Beuys and the whole European cannon.

He also uses old Biblical knowledge (don’t forget that he is the grandson of the last Rabbi of Bagdad). So, his art is also a living traditional performance that is very much inspired by the Jewish tradition in order to re-present and re-perform a new artistic, social and political, spiritual and geographical order between his Babylonian Jewish point of view and his temporary place /HaMakom – both towards the German European art and the Israeli art.

Lost Homelands, Imaginary Returns – The Exilic Literature Of Iranian And Iraqi Jews

Ella Shohat – Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

When I first contemplated my participation in the “Moments of Silence” conference, I wondered to what extent the question of the Arab Jew /Middle Eastern Jew merits a discussion in the context of the Iran- Iraq War. After all, the war took place in an era when the majority of Jews had already departed from both countries, and it would seem of little relevance to their displaced lives. Yet, apart from the war’s direct impact on the lives of some Jews, a number of texts have engaged the war, addressing it from within the authors’ exilic geographies where the war was hardly visible. And, precisely because these texts were written in contexts of official silencing of the Iran-Iraq War, their engagement of the war is quite striking. For displaced authors in the United States, France, and Israel, the Iran-Iraq War became a kind of a return vehicle to lost homelands, allowing them to vicariously be part of the events of a simultaneously intimate and distant geography. Thus, despite their physical absence from Iraq and Iran, authors such as Nissim Rejwan, Sami Michael, Shimon Ballas, and Roya Hakakian actively participate in the multilingual spaces of Iranian and Iraqi exilic literature. Here I will focus on the textual role of war in the representation of multi-faceted identities, themselves shaped by the historical aftermath of wars, encapsulated in memoirs and novels about Iraq and Iran, and written in languages that document new stops and passages in the authors’ itineraries of belonging.

What does it mean, in other words, to write about Iran not in Farsi but in French, especially when the narrative unfolds largely in Iran and not in France? What is the significance of writing a Jewish Iranian memoir, set in Tehran, not in Farsi but in English? What are the implications of writing a novel about Iraq, not in Arabic, but in Hebrew, in relation to events that do not involve Iraqi Jews in Israel but rather take place in Iraq, events spanning the decades after most Jews had already departed en masse? How should we understand the representation of religious/ethnic minorities within the intersecting geographies of Iraq and Iran when the writing is exercised outside of the Iran-Iraq War geography in languages other than Arabic and Farsi? By conveying a sense of fragmentation and dislocation, the linguistic medium itself becomes both metonym and metaphor for a highly fraught relation to national and regional belonging. This chapter, then, concerns the tension, dissonance, and discord embedded in the deployment of a non-national language (Hebrew) and a non-regional language (English or French) to address events and the interlocutions about them that would normally unfold in Farsi and Arabic, but where French, English, and Hebrew stand in, as it were, for those languages. More broadly, the chapter also concerns the submerged connections between Jew and Muslim in and outside of the Middle East, as well as the cross-border “looking relations” between the spaces of the Middle East. Writing under the dystopic sign of war and violent dislocation, this exilic literature performs an exercise in ethnic, religious, and political relationality, pointing to a textual desire pregnant with historical potentialities.

The Linguistic Inscription of Exile
The linguistic medium itself, in these texts, reflexively highlights violent dislocations from the war zone. For the native speakers of Farsi and Arabic the writing in English, French, or Hebrew is itself a mode of exile, this time linguistic. At the same time if English (in the case of Roya Hakakian and Nissim Rejwan), French (Marjane Satrapi), and Hebrew (Sami Michael and Shimon Ballas) have also become their new symbolic home idioms. In these instances, the reader has to imagine the Farsi in and through the English and the French, or the Arabic in and through the Hebrew. Written in the new homeland, in an “alien” language, these memoirs and novels cannot fully escape the intertextual layers bequeathed by the old homeland language, whether through terms for cuisine, clothing, or state laws specifically associated with Iran and Iraq. The new home language, in such instances, becomes a disembodied vehicle where the lexicon of the old home is no longer fluently translated into the language of the new home—as though the linguistic “cover” is lifted. In this sense, the dislocated memoir or novel always-already involves a tension between the diegetic world of the text and the language of an “other” world that mediates the diegetic world.
Such exilic memoirs and novels are embedded in a structural paradox that reflexively evokes the author’s displacement in the wake of war. The dissonance, however, becomes accentuated when the “cover language” belongs to an “enemy country,” i.e., Israel/Hebrew, or United States/English. The untranslated Farsi or Arabic appears in the linguistic zone of English or Hebrew to relate not merely an exilic narrative, but a meta-narrative of exilic literature caught in-between warring geographies.

Figure 2.1. The recusatio in Persepolis. Image courtesy of Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007), p. 142.

Roya Hakakian’s Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis both tell a coming-of-age story set during the period of the Iranian Revolution, partially against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War. Written by an Iranian of Muslim background (Satrapi) and by an Iranian of Jewish background (Hakakian), both memoirs are simultaneously marked by traumatic memories as well as by longing for the departed city—Tehran. Although the Jewish theme forms a minor element in Persepolis, Satrapi’s graphic memoir does stage a meaningful moment for the Muslim protagonist in relation to her Jewish friend, Neda Baba-Levy. More specifically, it treats a moment during the Iran-Iraq War when Iraqi scud missiles are raining down on Tehran, and where neighborhood houses are reduced to rubble, including the house of the Baba-Levy family. While forming only a very brief reference in the film adaptation, the chapter in the memoir, entitled “The Shabbat,” occupies a significant place in the narrative. Marjane goes out to shop and hears a falling bomb. She runs back home and sees that the houses at the end of her street are severely damaged. When her mother emerges from their home, Marjane realizes that while her own house is not damaged, Neda’s is. At that moment, Marjane hopes that Neda is not home, but soon she remembers that it is the Shabbat. As her mother pulls Marjane away from the wreckage, she notices Neda’s turquoise bracelet. Throughout her graphic novel, Satrapi does display “graphic” images, showing, for example, the torture of her beloved uncle by the Shah’s agents and then by the Islamicist revolutionaries who later execute him. Here, however, the Neda incident triggers a refusal to show what is being expressed in words. After the destruction, Satrapi writes: “I saw a turquoise bracelet. It was Neda’s. Her aunt had given it to her for her fourteenth birthday. The bracelet was still attached to . . . I do not know what..” The image illustrates the hand of little Marjane covering her mouth. In the next panel, she covers her eyes, but there is no caption. The following final panel has a black image with the caption: “No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and my anger.”[i]

Of special interest here is precisely the refusal to show, a device referred to in the field of rhetoric as recusatio, i.e., the refusal to speak or mention something while still hinting at it in such a way as to call up the image of exactly what is being denied. In Persepolis it also constitutes the refusal to show something iconically, in a medium—the graphic memoir—essentially premised, by its very definition, on images as well as words. Marjane recognizes the bracelet, but nothing reminiscent of her friend’s hand, while her own hand serves to hide her mouth, muffling a possible scream. In intertextual terms, this image recalls an iconic painting in art history, Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
While the expressionistic painting has the face of a woman taken over by a large screaming mouth, here, Persepolis has the mouth covered; it is a moment of silencing the scream. Satrapi represses—not only visually but also verbally—the words that might provide the context for the image, i.e., what Roland Barthes calls the “anchorage” or the linguistic message or caption that disciplines and channels and the polysemy or “many-meaningedness” of the image.[ii] In this case, the caption also reflects a recusatio, in that no scream could express what she is seeing and feeling. As a result, there is a double silence, the verbal silence and the visual silence implied by the hand on the mouth, and then by the hands on the eyes culminating in the black frame image. The final black panel conveys Marjane’s subjective point of view of not seeing, blinded as it were by the horrifying spectacle of war.

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Walking Stories

Cover 'Walking Stories'Lisa, a fragile Indonesian woman, walked along the paths of Saint Anthony’s park. Saint Anthony is a mental hospital. Lisa was dressed in red, yellow and blue; I was looking at a painting of Mondriaan, of which the colours could cheer someone up on a grey Dutch day. She had put on all her clothes and she carried the rest of her belongings in a grey garbagebag. She looked like she was being hunted, mumbling formulas to avert the evil or the devils. I could not understand her words, but she repeated them with the rustling of her garbage bag on the pebbles of the path.

When she arrived at an intersection of two paths where low rose hips were blossoming, she stopped and went into the bushes. She lifted all her skirts and urinated; standing as a colourful flower amidst the green of the bushes and staring into the sky. A passer-by from the village where Saint Anthony’s has its headquarters would probably have pretended not to see her, knowing that Lisa was one of the ‘chronic mental patients’ of the wards. Or, urinating so openly in the park may be experienced as a ‘situational improperty’, but as many villagers told me: ‘They do odd things, but they cannot help it.’ The passer-by would not have known that Lisa was a ‘walking story’, that she had ritualised her walks in order to control the powers that lie beyond her control. Lisa was diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia’ and she suffered from delusions. When she had an acute psychosis, she needed medication to relieve her anxiety. Her personal story was considered as a symptom of her illness. That was, in a nutshell, the story of the psychiatrists of the mental hospital. Her own story was different. Lisa was the queen of the Indies and she had to have offspring to ensure that her dynasty would be preserved. She believed at that day that she was pregnant and that the magicians would come and would take away her unborn baby with a needle. To prevent the abortion, she had to take refuge in the park and carry all her belongings with her.

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From A Dysfunctional World Order To A Sustainable Future

Em. Prof. dr. Richard Falk

In the interview that follows, Richard Falk, an internationally-renowned scholar of Global Politics and International Law, offers his insights on the contemporary state of world politics and shares his radical vision of the future world order. Richard Falk is Alfred G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton University, where he taught for more than forty years, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine and Advisor of the POMEAS Project, Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University. He has served on scores of Commissions on International Law and Justice and is author and editor of more than fifty books, including (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope and Chaos and Counterrevolution: After the Arab Spring.

C. J. Polychroniou is scholar, author and journalist. He has taught at numerous Universities in Europe and the United States, was founder and director of the now defunct Centre for the Study of Globalization in Athens, Greece, and author and editor of scores of books, academic articles and popular essays. His latest books Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (conversations with Noam Chomsky) and The Political Economy of Climate Change and the Global New Deal (conversations with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin; forthcoming).

C. J. Polychroniou: Richard, I want to start this interview on the state of global affairs near the end of the second decade of the 21st century by moving from the abstract to the concrete. To begin with, it’s regarded as axiomatic that the postwar international liberal order is fracturing and that we are at the same time in the midst of a geopolitical transition where the most prominent characteristic seems to be the decline of the United States as a global superpower. With that in mind, can you offer us a panoramic perspective on the contemporary state of global affairs? In that context, what do you consider to be the primary changes under way, and the emerging challenges and threats to global peace and stability?

Richard Falk: There are many crosscutting tendencies now evident at the global level. At the very time when globalizing challenges are intensifying, the mechanisms available for regional and global cooperation are becoming dangerously less effective. The failure to address climate change, so clearly in the global public interest, is emblematic of a dysfunctional world order system. This failure can be further delineated by reference to two distinct, yet interrelated developments. The first characterized by a vacuum in global leadership, which reflects both the overall decline of the United States as well as its explicit renunciation of such a role by the Trump presidency. Trump proudly proclaims that his only political agenda is shaped by American national interests, declaring he was elected president of the United States, and not the world. The second broader development is the rise of autocrats in almost every important sovereign state, whether by popular will or through imposed rule, resulting in the affirmation of an ultra-nationalist approach to foreign policy, given ideological intensity by chauvinistic and ethnic hostility toward migrants and internal minorities. This kind of exclusionary statism contributes to the emergence of what might be called ‘global Trumpism’ further obstructing global problem-solving, shared solutions to common problems. A discernable effect of these two dimensions of world order is to diminish the relevance and authority of the United Nations and international law, as well as a declining respect for standards of international human rights and a disturbing indifference to global warming and other global scale challenges, including to biodiversity and the stability of major global rainforests.

Overall, what has been emerging globally is a reinvigoration of the seventeenth century Westphalian regional system of sovereign states that arose in Europe after more than a century of devastating religious wars, but under vastly different conditions that now pose dire threats to stability of international relations and the wellbeing of peoples throughout the world. Among these differences are the dependence upon responsible internal behavior by states in an era of growing ecological interdependence. The tolerance of fires in the Amazon rainforest by the Brazilian government for the sake of economic growth, via agrobusiness and logging, endangers a vital global source of biodiversity as well as depletes essential carbon capturing capabilities of the vast forest area, yet there is no way under existing international norms to challenge Brazil’s sovereign prerogative to set its own policy agenda, however irresponsible with respect to the ecological future. Read more

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