Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya, 1958-2006

Anna Politkovskaya, זצ״ל (this, this, and this), was assassinated last week. No surprise, I guess. Politkovskaya dedicated her adult life to reporting on human rights abuses in Russia, especially in the second Chechen war. She was a spokesperson for the ordinary oppressed Chechen (and Russian), and she condemned all the oppressors, both in the Russian government and among the Chechen rebels. She got many well-deserved awards from human rights and journalistic organizations; closer to home, she got jailed, poisoned, and threatened with death.

On a personal note, I had the privilege of playing a minor bolt-tightening role in preparing the English translation of one of her books, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, for publication.

People like Politkovskaya put me to shame. I'd like to do more for other people, but it's sometimes inconvenient, and I have more important concerns, like the kashrut of Lake Michigan water.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Distorted quotation

Warning: this post is nonparochial.

Richard Byrne's "A Collision of Prose and Politics," in the October 13, 2006, issue of Chronicle of Higher Education, is a discussion of some Edward Said-ian criticisms of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. Byrne writes that

Paul Berman (who supported the invasion of Iraq) uses Reading Lolita in Tehran as a case study in how writers respond to totalitarianism--and specifically, he writes, to "Islamism [note the word] as a modern totalitarianism."

Byrne goes on to say (in his own voice, no quotation marks),

it is such readings of Ms. Nafisi, linking her work and personal story to views of Islam [note the word] as totalitarian, that do alarm some observers.

Some other observers, including yours truly, are alarmed by the misquotation. You may believe Islam is totalitarian. Maybe, maybe not, but that isn't what Berman said. I don't know whether Byrne himself is responsible for the misquotation, or whether some editor at the Chronicle, working in a pompous and uninformed mode, decided that "Islamism" isn't really a word. Either way, it's alarming and unacceptable.