Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Favorite Magazine

Al-Hayat 19 May 2009

My favorite English-language magazine is not “Time” or “Newsweek”, not even the late and lamented “Life” magazine. For over 20 years now I have enjoyed reading “The New York Review of Books”.

I hope I am not wasting the time of my Arab readers by writing about a Western cultural magazine, but I believe that the interested reader will add to his knowledge if there are translations of some of its articles in similar Arabic-language publications. The Egyptian “Fusool” (Seasons) is the closest to my subject today.

Why do I write about “The New York Review of Books” now when I have been reading it and saving most of its copies for so long? I am tempted by the current issue dated May 14-27 which carries more of the material that I am normally interested in. In an earlier article I referred to Senator Arlen Specter, the Israel apologist who defected to the Democratic Party and wrote an article headlined “The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs”. And this is from a man who was a leading cheerleader for the war on Iraq, a war that the Bush administration used to usurp many of the powers of the legislature and courts of law.

I cannot comment on every review or article, but would choose examples of the material available.

Under the headline “How to understand the Disaster” Robert Solow reviewed the book “A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ‘08 and the Descent into Depression” by Richard A. Posner who is an appeals court judge while Solow is Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT and winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in economics. Not every review or article is by a professor emeritus, a Nobel laureate or a judge, but they come close.

John Gross reviewed the book “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped his Life” by Timothy W. Ryback. Hitler is reputed to have owned a 15,000-book library, but the Russians took 10,000 books to Moscow in 1945 and they have not been seen since. I had an added reason for interest in this review because Haj Amin Al Husseini, whom I knew and met in Beirut, was close to Hitler and I wanted to see if he had given him a present of books. There is no reference to him in the article and hopefully the books in Russia do not include any that he gave Hitler.

Under the headline “Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?” Hugh Eakin reviewed two books: “Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage” by James Cuno and “Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities” edited by James Cuno. This subject should be of interest to Arab readers as almost half the Old World antiquities are to be found between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

In pages advertising new books and journals from university presses I found “Silent Images: Women in Pharaonic Egypt” by the famous Egyptian Archeologist Zahi Hawas, reconsidering evidence from tomb and temple, artifacts and texts. There was also a translation of Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Mirage” (Sarab) by Nancy Roberts.

Two books on Islam should be a must reading for interested Arabs and Muslims, especially that the review by Ian Buruma included a picture of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, famous, or should I say infamous, for his anti-Islam film “Fitna:. The books are “Beyond Terror Martyrdom: the Future of the Middle East” by Gilles Kepel, translated from French by Pascale Ghazaleh, and “Le Peur des barbares: Au-dela du choc des civilisations (Fear of the Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations) by Tzvetan Todorov.

Equally interesting was the article “Israel: Civilians & Combatants” by Avishai Margalit, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. They take issue with a study by Asa Kasher and Amos Yadlin on “Assassination and Preventive Killing”. The writers of the study in 2005 had claimed that the views expressed were their own and not necessarily those of the IDF or the State of Israel. Margalit and Walzer argue that the conduct of the Israeli army in Gaza reflects such views. They also contest the claim “what priority should be given to the duty to minimize casualties among the combatants of the state when they are engaged in combat…against terror”. I ask whose terror? The article deserves to be translated in full into Arabic and published in the Arab press.

In writing about one issue of The New York Review of Books I realize that I do a great injustice to other issues and to great writers and very interesting books, but I am pressed for space. I would only say in conclusion that the co- editors Barbara Epstein, who died in 2006, and Robert D. Silvers and many of the writers and reviewers are Jewish. It is New York, you know. They are the kind of Jews who restore my faith in human nature. They more than make up for Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman and their ilk, and they are the majority of Jews everywhere.


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3:23 PM  
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