Archive for December, 2011
New York- Watching my old Simpsons DVDs the other day, I caught this quick gag where a tout tries to sell Bart a Spinal Tap t-shirt where the band is kicking Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s backside. This art presaged that of the Libyan revolutionaries by a good nearly 20 years. The Qaddafi shirt appears in The Otto Show which was broadcast in April 1992 at the end of the show’s third season.
2011 was one crazy roller coaster of a year. I want to thank some of the people that made the year both possible and memorable: Faisal my driver in eastern Libya who took me as far as Ras Lanuf and invited this strange Westerner who didn’t eat meat into his home for lunch, watching the circus that was Libyan state TV, and letting play with his Kalashnikov which he procured in case things got really bad. My old San Diego friend Brad, a reformed Orange County punker turned family man/junior diplomat at U.S. Embassy Bahrain and Nabeel Rajab for giving me his thoughts on the grim human rights situation in his besieged country. In Addis Ababa I want to thank my friend Carlo who introduced me to the last Italians in Ethiopia at the Buffet de le Gare near the defunct railroad station. Sorry we never did the trip to the Somali border mio amico! Next time… Khalid and the very hospitable Amazight (Berber) rebels in Nalut in Libya’s Jebel Nafusa. I hope the war really is over for you. Kenny in Barcelona who rescued me on the way back from North Africa when there was no place to stay in the city on a hot summer night. And Kostas and Veronika at Caveland on Santorini, I hope to come again! I miss those pups. Caroline and all the staff at the American Embassy in Paris closed out my year very nicely and for that I am grateful.
No one could have ever predicted all of the things that took place this last year. The world began to reorder itself in a messy and violent way. The status quo became unbearable to the point of both peaceful and armed revolt. The drone war escalated, the neocons are trying to stage an awkward comeback and a host of other negative trends mean we are in no way out of the proverbial woods. But people were and are willing to fight and die for their freedom which came at a terrible cost in Libya (and continues unabated in Syria). Plenty of dictators-yes I’m talking about you Central Asia-and monarchs-GCC, Jordan, Morocco-still stand around the world. The clock is ticking for Bashar al-Assad. Plenty of issues seek to be ironed out in 2012 in the European Union to say the least. God only knows where the next crisis will arise in the coming year and anyone who says they do is likely a fool.
Happy New Year from TWD!!!
New York-Last night some bar fly friends and I were screaming this tune on a freezing Brooklyn sidewalk at some ungodly hour. None of us could come close to remembering the full lyrics. “Snow in Africa….do they know it’s Christmas time at all…the other ones…” Earlier this year, taking a bit of a break from the revolutionary Arab world, I spent some time in Ethiopia, a place that had occupied my imagination…well…since this Band Aid video. Twenty-seven years after Bob Geldof and co tried to save rural Ethiopians from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s vile Marxist Derg junta, plenty of people in the Ethiopian highlands still depend on food aid from the developed world.
I visited the lauded rock hewn churches of Lalibela and was almost more taken aback by the sprawling feeding center just outside of the little town that I wandered into. Ethiopia has obviously come a long way since the Derg’s civil war era but Meles Zenawi is certainly no saint and Isaias Afewerki is just plain crazy it seems (Note: the two big men are cousins). Ethiopia’s stalemated conflict with Eritrea, its lack of any port, military adventures in Somalia, and being located in an all around unstable neighborhood has kept most kinds of development at bay (save for communist China as of late). Come on Meles and Isaias, don’t you guys know it’s Christmas time at all??
Paris- It was an extraordinarily busy week in the French capital to say the least. Before heading back to Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, I managed to make a mad dash to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Seine whose owner George Whitman died a couple of days before. I read the US Embassy’s Twitter feed of Ambassador Rivkin mentioning it and decided a visit to the legendary store was worth my last few hours in the city of lights. I didn’t have much time to loiter as I would have liked but picked up a Arundhati Roy’s fantastic, impassioned new book on one of my absolute favorite subjects, the Maoist war in central India. In my sleepless stupor I tore into Walking with the Comrades on the flight home and it did not disappoint. I only wish I could have written it myself. Roy writes about the Maoist issue with the same vigor as her outstanding work on Kashmir.
I decided to make one more rushed walk along the right bank to head back to the hotel to pick up my bags. After passing by the Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, I happened upon this magnificent victory fountain commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his campaign against Mamluk forces during the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798. In what I suppose must have been typical Bonapartist fashion, the column emulated elements of Imperial Rome, fitting I guess as the rather delusional Messr. Bonaparte saw himself a latter day emperor at the time. The Sphinx heads basked in a cold winter light as the sun moved across the Parisen sky on one of the shortest days of the year.
As I hustled along the river in the brisk afternoon sun, I saw what seemed like countless Roma (Gypsy) kids pulling this scam that a gal I met in Santorini had warned me about where they mark tourists pretending to be deaf/mute while aggressively hassling them for cash playing on Western notions of guilt. Apparently there is nothing the Paris police or courts are willing to do about it as the Roma all appear to be under 18 despite the damage it does to tourism. I either didn’t have the look of such a whale or I was walking to hard for them to pay me any mind.
A fitting end to my stay was a cool (!) taxi driver who was playing American jazz on the radio as I quietly exited the city after an incredibly hectic, fascinating week. Waiting in the American Airlines departure lounge, I overheard the conversations of American university exchange students who were all excitedly heading home for Christmas after a rollicking semester abroad that apparently included a class trip to Morocco where they slept on dunes in the Sahara and experimented with drugs for the first time. Generation Facebook crowded into the airport in Uggz boots carrying iPads and yet still found things to complain about. It kind of surprises me that there are families that in this day can still afford to send their kids off to one of the world’s most expensive cities en masse to study (read: party) for months on end especially considering how nonsensically weak the dollar still is against the euro. Either the middle class is actually in better shape than I thought or perhaps they are part of the dreaded “1%.”
Although my work on this trip entirely concerned the future of the Muslim world and the West’s relationship with both the newly post- and present-tense revolutionary Arab states, I was also consumed with the future of the European Union and the eurozone. Much of the lunch and dinner conversation revolved around the troubled future of the so-called European project and the Franc0-German alliance/relationship. As someone who has always advocated for both continued EU enlargement as well as the steadied (but calculated!!) enlargement of the eurozone, much of what was said over the course of the last week was downright depressing. Has the enlargement of both the EU and the euro currency area been reckless economic adventurism? I hope not but I may be wrong which is immensely disappointing. The unity of the West is so important for a number of reasons not least of which because many believe, myself included that the “rise of the rest” is a de facto defeat for the hoped-for primacy of human rights in the world. I definitely am already well fatigued by the tiresome rise of China/maybe-authoritariansim-isn’t-really-so-bad-after-all talk. Yes, maybe it was a disastrous idea for Greece to have joined the euro (which I said at the time) but it is too late to go back now. 2012 will be a key year for the future of political Europe as the EU is often referred to in think-tank circles. A strong, united Europe is key to the struggle against neoconservatism which is seems to be having some level of resurgence here in the US and in the isolationist/nationalist/anti-immigrationist quarters of the EU’s differing electorates. I’m still holding out plenty of hope.
Oh and to the kids I met on Rue Mouffetard who took me to the electro dubstep party on Le Batofar, thanks! It is nights like that why I fell in love with the EU in the first place and why I will always return.
Paris- Took a long, brisk walk around the 5th arrondissement tonight after another red eye transatlantic trip leaving me in a daze. After a falafel and a Delirium Tremens, I got lost on my way back to Hotel le Demeure and stumbled upon the Moroccan-Algerian styled Grande Mosquée de Paris on a quiet backstreet at midnight which made for an ill-focused Blackberry snapshot. Upon a brief Google, the mosque is much older than I would have thought and rather than being a post-war structure, it is in fact a post-Great War construction dating back to the roaring twenties. Sometimes it’s good to lose one’s way.
New York- Taking off from the Big Apple in a couple of hours to head to Paris on behalf of the State Department on a three-day speaking tour. My first event will be held at L’Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM) on 14 December at 14:30 talking about the effects of the Libyan war on the broader Mediterranean geopolitical spectrum. I’ll then be appearing on France24, one of the EU’s principal news networks on 15 December at 11:00. I will then be speaking at Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) on 16 December from 09:00-11:00 on U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. My last stop will be at Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) at 14:30 also on 16 December.