Archive for 2011


Time Person of the Year Runner-Up: Ai Weiwei: The Dissident

Written on December 20, 2011 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

For 81 days last spring and summer, Ai Weiwei was China’s most famous missing person. Detained in Beijing while attempting to catch a flight to Hong Kong on April 3, Ai, an artistic consultant for the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, was held almost entirely incommunicado and interrogated some 50 times while friends and supporters around the world petitioned for his release. On Nov. 1, Ai, who says the case against him is politically motivated, was hit with a $2.4 million bill for back taxes and penalties. Two weeks later, he paid a $1.3 million bond with loans from Chinese supporters who contributed online and in person and even tossed cash over the walls of his studio in northeast Beijing.

The son of a revolutionary poet, Ai, 54, has grown more outspoken in recent years, expressing his anger at abuses of power and organizing online campaigns, including a volunteer investigation into the deaths of children in schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. His detention came amid a broad crackdown on activists by the Chinese government meant to stamp out a call for Arab Spring–inspired pro-democracy protests as well as continuing unrest in the Tibetan regions, where 12 people have set themselves on fire since March to protest Chinese policies.

Ai, who speaks excellent if not quite flawless English, sat down on Dec. 12 with TIME’s Hannah Beech and Austin Ramzy — and a calico cat, one of nearly two dozen cats and dogs at his studio — to discuss his detention, the poetry of Twitter and whether China is immune to the global forces of protest and revolution.

In 1981 you left China with no plans to return, but you came back. Why? 
Before, I had seen my father and other people criticized or struggled against, but I was not directly involved. Then you see your generation being crushed. You see that this power has no intention of telling the truth. On the one hand it is ruthless, but on the other hand it is so weak.

When you are 20-something years old, you realize the only way to protect your dignity is to leave rather than to be damaged by this big machine. You see in your generation people who are destroyed. So I decided I had to leave.

After 12 years in New York, I was 36. I heard a lot about how China was different. My father was ill. I wanted to go back to China and pay my last respects.

You returned in 1993. How is today’s China different from the one you left? 
I think two things have changed China. To survive, China had to open up to the West. It could not survive otherwise. This was after many millions have died of hunger in a country that was like North Korea is today. Once we became part of global competition, we had to agree to some rules. It’s painful, but we had to. Otherwise there was no way to survive. But domestically it’s still the same machine. There’s no judicial process or transparency.

The other is the Internet. They realized that it was also important to surviving. It’s also related to survival. But to use it, they had to open up. They could not completely censor the information and the knowledge available there. These two things completely changed the character of this nation.

Continue reading in TIME



By , Guardian columnist

The former president of the Czech Republic was the epitome of a dissident because he persisted in his struggle, patiently, non-violently, with dignity and wit

Hands whirring like twin propellers, Václav Havel moved with his characteristic hurried, short-paced walk across the mirrored foyer of the Magic Lantern theatre, the headquarters of the velvet revolution. The slightly stooped, stocky figure, dressed in jeans and sweater, stopped for a moment, began to speak about some “important negotiations”; scarcely three sentences in, he was swept away. He gave an apologetic smile over his shoulder, as if to say “what can a man do?”

Often Havel talked as if he was an ironic critic watching the theatre of life, but there in the Magic Lantern, in 1989, he became the lead actor and director of a play that changed history.

Havel was a defining figure of late 20th-century Europe. He was not just a dissident; he was the epitome of the dissident, as we came to understand that novel term. He was not just the leader of a velvet revolution; he was the leader of the original velvet revolution, the one that gave us a label applied to many other non-violent mass protests since 1989. (He always insisted that a western journalist coined the term.)

Havel was not just a president; he was the founding president of what is now the Czech Republic. He was not just a European; he was a European who, with the eloquence of a professional playwright and the authority of a former political prisoner, reminded us of the historical and moral dimensions of the European project.

Continue reading in The Guardian


Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

Written on December 16, 2011 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Christopher Hitchens, the controversial British author and journalist and the scourge of public figures from Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa, has died at the age of 62.

Hitchens, who had long been based in the US, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010 and died as a result of pneumonia, a complication caused by the disease, in a Texas hospital late on Thursday.

His death was announced by Vanity Fair, the magazine where Hitchens was a contributing editor and for whom he had written for almost two decades.

“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.

“Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”

Hitchens, whose career lasted over four decades, was a regular contributor to US publications such as The Atlantic,SlateWorld Affairs, and The Nation.

In recent years, he was known for his strong position on atheism, being one of the advocates of the “new atheism” movement.

HItchens also chronicled his struggle with cancer as he underwent bouts of chemotherapy treatment.

In a memorium written by Julie Weiner on the Vanity Fair website, she quoted Hitchens’ own work regarding the battle he faced against cancer.

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centred and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair.

“But his own final labours were anything but,” she wrote.

Previous works

In a colourful and always provocative career, HItchens engaged in verbal and occasional physical battles on behalf of causes on the left and right, and wrote the provocative best-seller “God is Not Great” in 2007 in which he made an impassioned and uncompromising case for atheism.

Even after his diagnosis, which forced him to cancel a tour of his memoir “Hitch-22”, his columns appeared weekly, ranging savagings of the British royal family to reveling in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Continue reading in Al Jazeera


Time Person of the Year: The Protester

Written on December 15, 2011 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Once upon a time, when major news events were chronicled strictly by professionals and printed on paper or transmitted through the air by the few for the masses, protesters were prime makers of history. Back then, when citizen multitudes took to the streets without weapons to declare themselves opposed, it was the very definition of news — vivid, important, often consequential. In the 1960s in America they marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War; in the ’70s, they rose up in Iran and Portugal; in the ’80s, they spoke out against nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Europe, against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, against communist tyranny in Tiananmen Square and Eastern Europe. Protest was the natural continuation of politics by other means.

And then came the End of History, summed up by Francis Fukuyama’s influential 1989 essay declaring that mankind had arrived at the “end point of … ideological evolution” in globally triumphant “Western liberalism.” The two decades beginning in 1991 witnessed the greatest rise in living standards that the world has ever known. Credit was easy, complacency and apathy were rife, and street protests looked like pointless emotional sideshows — obsolete, quaint, the equivalent of cavalry to mid-20th-century war. The rare large demonstrations in the rich world seemed ineffectual and irrelevant. (See the Battle of Seattle, 1999.)

There were a few exceptions, like the protests that, along with sanctions, helped end apartheid in South Africa in 1994. But for young people, radical critiques and protests against the system were mostly confined to pop-culture fantasy: “Fight the Power” was a song on a platinum-selling album, Rage Against the Machine was a platinum-selling band, and the beloved brave rebels fighting the all-encompassing global oppressors were just a bunch of characters in The Matrix.

Continue reading in Time


Desmiento los rumores

Written on December 14, 2011 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Por Javier Gomá Lanzón

El ministerio político cede su prioridad al cultural. La responsabilidad del intelectual es alimentar la conciencia del hombre de mañana

Nada más eficaz para inventarse una noticia que negarla con rotundidad. Recuerdo que, “en aquel tiempo”, disfrutaba desmintiendo en el círculo de mis amigos de distancia media el (imaginario) rumor que me atribuía una relación sentimental con alguna bella de la época: “Nada que comentar sobre Aitana Sánchez Gijón”, decía yo, insinuante; “al día de hoy, Judith Mascó y yo no mantenemos contacto”; o a veces, con más atrevimiento: “Por favor, no me preguntéis más sobre mi amistad con Brooke Shields”. Revistiéndome de dignidad y de discreción daba a entender que un sentido quizá anticuado de la caballerosidad me retraía de hablar de estas cuestiones privadas. Seductor y caballero a un tiempo gracias a un sobrio desmentido.

Ahora considero mi deber salir al paso del insistente rumor que me hace miembro del nuevo Gobierno. Aunque me llamen loco, no aceptaré ser ministro. Y os diré la razón: estoy escribiendo un libro.

Imagino la expresión de extrañeza dibujada en el rostro del lector. “¿A quién le importa tu libro?”, se preguntará estupefacto. En comparación con el poder, la notoriedad, la influencia, las ventajas tangibles e intangibles y, si tiene uno ese capricho, la capacidad de servicio público que van aparejados al cargo de ministro del reino de España, la publicación de un libro más en la ya inflacionaria producción editorial de este país parece una tontada. Como alguien afirmó, en España la gente no tiene tiempo para leer libros porque cada uno está demasiado ocupado escribiendo el suyo. Miles de volúmenes dormitando en los anaqueles de las librerías esperan ser comprados por algún lector ocioso y, en contraste, nada hay más codiciado en el mundo que un asiento en el Consejo de Ministros, por el que rivalizan a cuchillo legiones de candidatos. ¿Y tú, infeliz, piensas en añadir otro título más al ISBN?

Continuar leyendo en El País


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