Posts tagged Paris

The luxury of truth

Here’s the latest from occupied Zimbabwe:

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have called for the repeal of a punitive luxury tax on newspapers that are imported into Zimbabwe, which is preventing independent newspapers from reaching their audience.

The tax was imposed in early June in the run-up to the widely condemned presidential election won by Robert Mugabe after his opponent quit the race in the face of escalating violence against his supporters. It aims to reduce the influence of South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans.

Restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Paris-based WAN and WEF, which represent 18,000 newspapers world-wide, said in a letter to President Mugabe.

The two organisations called on Mugabe to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The letter to the President said:

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to call on you to immediately lift the punitive luxury tax imposed on imported newspapers, magazines and periodicals, which is clearly aimed at preventing independent newspapers from reaching the people of Zimbabwe.

On 8 June, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that all foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty, as the government moves to protect Zimbabwean media space. The newspaper went on to say that this move is meant to curb the entry into the country of what it called hostile foreign newspapers.

All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40 percent. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority refused to release a consignment of 60,000 copies of the 19 June issue of The Zimbabwean. This followed the burning of 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday on 25 May.

We respectfully remind you that restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.

We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.

WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

The WEF is the organisation for editors within the World Association of Newspapers (http://www.worldeditorsforum.org).

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, WAN, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 00. Fax: +33 1 47 42 49 48. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail: lkilman@wan.asso.fr.

— World Association of Newspapers (2008-07-08): Newspapers Fight Luxury Tax in Zimbabwe

WAN and WEF have to be diplomatic in their letter, so they can only respectfully remind. But I am under no such obligation, so I will take the liberty of saying here that the actions of the armed faction occupying the seats of power in Harare are despicable and yet another step down an incredibly dangerous road. Zimbabwe is a naturally rich and fertile country that has been systematically stripped and immiserated by a century of successive kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing white colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government which intones populist slogans to justify thievery, patronage to its political supporters, and sustained state and paramilitary assaults on all popular movements and all centers of civil society that are even remotely independent of the all-devouring State. This latest assault on Zimbabwean civil society and basic norms of truth and rationality, in declaring all non-State-dominated sources of information a mere frippery, indeed as a sort of decadence from which Zimbabweans must be protected against their wills, is only one of many incredibly troubling developments from a belligerent occupying regime, which imposes the will of a tiny political-military clique on the innocent and unwilling majority, and which indulges in the incredible audacity of passing itself off as a Leftist regime, while actively constituting itself as one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world.

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Over My Shoulder #6: Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989). I broke the rules a bit here: rather than a single passage of a few paragraphs, I have two, because the latter one reinforces one of the important points of the former, and also because it’s damn near impossible to pick out any one thing that is the most interesting from the chapter. So here goes:

The situation of the prelingually deaf, prior to 1750, was indeed a calamity: unable to acquire speech, hence dumb or mute; unable to enjoy free communication with even their parents and families; confined to a few rudimentary signs and gestures; cut off, except in large cities, even from the community of their own kind; deprived of literacy and education, all knowledge of the world; forced to do the most menial work; living alone, often close to destitution; treated by the law and society as little better than imbeciles—the lot of the deaf was manifestly dreadful.

But what was manifest was as nothing to the destitution inside—the destitution of knowledge and thought that prelingual deafness could bring, in the absence of any communication or remedial measures. The deplorable state of the deaf aroused both the curiosity and the compassion of the philosophes. Thus the Abbé Sicard asked:

Why is the uneducated deaf person isolated in nature and unable to communicate with other men? Why is he reduced to this state of imbecility? Does his biological constitution differ from ours? Does he not have everything he needs for having sensations, acquiring ideas, and combining them to do everything that we do? Does he not get sensory impressions from objects as we do? Are these not, as with us, the occasion of the mind’s sensations and its acquired ideas? Why then does the deaf person remain stupid while we become intelligent?

To ask this question—never really clearly asked before—is to grasp its answer, to see that the answer lies in the use of symbols. It is, Sicard continues, because the deaf person has no symbols for fixing and combining ideas … that there is a total communication-gap between him and other people. But what was all-important, and had been a source of fundamental confusion since Aristotle’s pronouncements on the matter, was the enduring misconception that symbols had to be speech. Perhaps indeed this passionte misperception, or prejudice, went back to biblical days: the subhuman status of mutes was part of the Mosaic code, and it was reinforced by the biblical exaltation of voice and ear as the one and true way in which man and God could speak (In the beginning was the Word). And yet, overborne by Mosaic and Aristotelian thunderings, some profound voices intimated that this need not be so. Thus Socrates’ remark in the Cratylus of Plato, which so impressed the youthful Abbé de l’Epée:

If we had neither voice nor tongue, and yet wished to manifest things to one another, should we not, like those which are at present mute, endeavour to signify our meaning by the hands, head, and other parts of the body?

Or the deep, yet obvious, insights of the philosopher-physician Cardan in the sixteenth century:

It is possible to place a deaf-mute in a position to hear by reading, and to speak by writing … for as different sounds are conventionally used to signify different things, so also may the various figures of objects and words …. Written characters and ideas may be connected without the intervention of actual sounds.

In the sixteenth century the notion that the understanding of ideas did not depend upon the hearing of words was revolutionary.

But it is not (usually) the ideas of philosophers that change reality; nor, conversely, is it the practice of ordinary people. What changes history, what kindles revolutions, is the meeting of the two. A lofty mind—that of the Abbé de l’Epée—had to meet a humble usage—the indigenous sign language of the poor deaf who roamed Paris—in order to make possible a momentous transformation. If we ask why this meeting had not occurred before, it has something to do with the vocation of Abbé, who could not bear to think of the souls of the deaf-mute living and dying unshriven, deprived of the Catechism, the Scriptures, the Word of God; and it is partly owing to his humility—that he listened to the deaf—and partly to a philosophical and linguistic idea then very much in the air—that of universal language, like the speceium of which Leibniz dreamed. Thus, de l’Epée approached sign language not with contempt but with awe.

The universal language that your scholars have sought for in vain and of which they have despaired, is here; it is right before your eyes, it is the mimicry of the impoverished deaf. Because you do not know it,you hold it in contempt, yet it alone will provide you with the key to all languages.

That this was a misapprehension—for sign language is not a universal language in this grand sense, and Leibniz’s noble dream was probably a chimera—did not matter, was even an advantage. For what mattered was that the Abbé paid minute attention to his pupils, acquired their language (which had scarcely ever been done by the hearing before). And then, by associating signs with pictures and written words, he taught them to read; and with this, in one swoop, he opened to them the world’s learning and culture. De l’Epée’s system of methodical signs—a combination of their own Sign with signed French grammar—enabled deaf students to write down what was said to them through a signing interpreter, a method so successful that, for the first time, it enabled ordinary deaf pupils to read and write French, and thus acquire an education. His school, founded in 1755, was the first to achieve public support. He trained a multitude of teachers for the deaf, who, by the time of his death in 1789, had established twenty-one schools for the deaf in France and Europe. The future of de l’Epée’s own school seemed uncertain during the turmoil of the revolution, but by 1791 it had become the National Institution for Deaf-Mutes in Paris, headed by the brilliant grammarian Sicard. De l’Epée’s own book, as revolutionary as Copernicus’ in its own way, was first published in 1776.

De l’Epée’s book, a classic, is available in many languages. But what have not been available, have been virtually unknown, are the equally important (and, in some ways, even more fascinating) original writings of the deaf—the first deaf-mutes ever able to write. Harlan Lane and Franklin Philip have done a great service in making these so readily available to us in The Deaf Experience. Especially moving and important are the 1779 Observations of Pierre Desloges—the first book to be published by a deaf person—now available in English for the first time. Desloges himself, deafened at an early age, and virtually without speech, provides us first with a frightening description of the world, or unworld, of the languageless.

At the beginning of my infirmity, and for as long as I was living apart from other deaf people … I was unaware of sign language. I used only scattered, isolated, and unconnected signs. I did not know the art of combining them to form distinct pictures with which one can represent various ideas, transmit them to one’s peers, and converse in logical discourse.

Thus Desloges, though obviously a highly gifted man, could scarcely entertain ideas, or engage in logical discourse, until he had acquired sign language (which, as is usual with the deaf, he learned from someone deaf, in his case from an illiterate deaf-mute).

— Oliver Sacks (1989), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf, pp. 13—18.

And:

When Laurent Clerc (a pupil of Massieu, himself a pupil of Sicard) came to the United States in 1816, he had an immediate and extraordinary impact, for American teachers up to this point had never been exposed to, never even imagined, a deaf-mute of impressive intelligence and education, had never imagined the possibilities dormant in the deaf. With Thomas Gallaudet, Clerc set up the American Asylum for the Deaf, in Hartford, in 1817. As Paris—teachers, philosophes, and public-at-large—was moved, amazed, converted by de l’Epée in the 1770s, so America was to be converted fifty years later.

The atmosphere at the Hartford Asylum, and at other schools soon to be set up, was marked by the sort of enthusiasm and excitement only seen at the start of grand intellectual and humanitarian adventures. The prompt and spectacular success of the Hartford Asylum soon led to the opening of other schools wherever there was sufficient density of population, and thus of deaf students. Virtually all the teachers of the deaf (nearly all of whom were fluent signers and many of whom were deaf) went to Hartford. The French sign system imported by Clerc rapidly amalgamated with the indigenous sign languages here—the deaf generate sign languages wherever there are communities of deaf people; it is for them the easiest and most natural form of communication—to form a uniquely expressive and powerful hybrid, American Sign Language (ASL). A special indigenous strength—presented convincingly by Nora Ellen Groce in her book, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language—was the contribution of Martha’s Vineyard deaf to the development of ASL. A substantial minority of the population there suffered from a hereditary deafness, and most of the island had adopted an easy and powerful sign language. Virtually all the deaf of the Vineyard were sent to the Hartford Asylum in its formative years, where they contributed to the developing national language the unique strength of their own.

One has, indeed, a strong sense of pollination, of people coming to and fro, bringing regional languages, with all their idiosyncracies and strengths, to Hartford, and taking back an increasingly polished and generalized language. The rise of deaf literacy and deaf education was as spectacular in the United States as it had been in France, and soon spread to other parts of the world.

Lane estimates that by 1869 there were 550 teachers of the deaf worldwide and that 41 percent of the teachers of the deaf in the United States were themselves deaf. In 1864 Congress passed a law authorizing the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and the Blind in Washington to become a national deaf-mute college, the first institution of higher learning specifically for the deaf. Its first principal was Edward Gallaudet—the son of Thomas Gallaudet, who had brought Clerc to the United States in 1816. Gallaudet College, as it was later rechristened (it is now Gallaudet University), is still the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the world—though there are now several programs and institutes for the deaf associated with technical colleges. (The most famous of these is at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where there are more than 1,500 deaf students forming the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.)

The great impetus of deaf education and liberation, which had swept France between 1770 and 1820, thus continued its triumphant course in the United States until 1870 (Clerc, immensely active to the end and personally charismatic, died in 1869). And then—and this is the turning point in the entire story—the tide turned, turned against the use of Sign by and for the deaf, so that within twenty years the work of a century was undone.

Indeed, what was happening with the deaf and sign was part of a general (and if one wishes, political) movement of the time: a trend to Victorian oppressiveness and conformism, intolerance of minorities, and minority usages, of every kind—religious, linguistic, ethnic. Thus it was at this time that the little nations and little languages of the world (for example, Wales and Welsh) found themselves under pressure to assimilate and conform.

— Oliver Sacks (1989), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf, pp. 21—24.

Talking about the French rioters

There’s been a lot of talk about the rioters in France, and a lot of analysis of why they rioted.

Jocelyn Gecker (2005-11-02), for the Associated Press, reports on the seventh day of rioting. Experts are said to say that Islamic radicals seek to recruit disenchanted youths by telling them that France has abandoned them; sociologist Manuel Boucher suggests that French society is in a bad state … increasingly unequal, increasingly segregated, and increasingly divided along ethnic and racial lines, and that some youths turn to Islam to claim an identity that is not French, to seize on something which gives them back their individual and collective dignity. Gecker says that some said that the unrest — sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers last week — is an expression of frustration over grinding unemployment and police harassment in the communities, and cites direct quotes to that effect from the president of the Clichy-sous-Bois mosque, the Socialist mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, and a 22 year old Moroccan-French resident of Clichy-sous-Bois. On the other hand, there are no direct quotes from any of the rioters as to why they are rioting.

Franck Prevel, reporting for Reuters (2005-11-07), discussed the escalating violence against police. He quoted a statement from the French police union, President Chirac, a police officer, Interior Minister Sarkozy, Prime Minister de Villepin, and mentioned a fatwa against the riots issued by one of France’s largest Muslim organizations in response to official suggestions that Islamist militants might be stoking some of the protests. Prevel mentions that rioting began with the accidental electrocution of two youths fleeing police in Clichy-sous-Bois outside Paris and cites frustration among ethnic minorities over racism, unemployment and harsh treatment by police. On the other hand, he doesn’t cite any direct quotes from any of the rioters as to why they are rioting.

Meryl Yourish (2005-11-03) linked to Gecker’s AP report; she suggested that there is a global war being driven by radical Islamism in European slums, and remarks that first they came for the Jews, and many did not speak out, because they were not Jews. Her post has a lot of analysis, but no direct quotes from any of the rioters on why they are rioting.

She added a later update which links to an article by Paul Belien (2005-11-02) in his Brussels Journal blog. The article cites Theodore Dalrymple’s poignant analysis the crisis faced by British Muslims, and articles from FOX News, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, Knack, and a Danish blog called Viking Observer on the dangers faced by police and other emergency workers in Muslim slums in Malmo and Brussells, and rioting by mostly Muslim youths in France and Denmark. Belian suggests that these are problems all across Europe, and that they’ve resulted from a naive belief in universal cultural compatibility, the harsh reality of looming permanent conflict, and weak-kneed appeasement by the government officials in European countries. He suggests that the proximate cause of the French riots was unreasonable resentment over reasonable attempts by the French police to do their job; and that they were exacerbated by the unwillingness of the French government to take a more militant response. He quotes Viking Observer’s translation of some direct quotes from Danish rioters, as reported in the Danish press; on the other hand, he has no direct quotes, and links to no stories with direct quotes, from French rioters on why they are rioting.

At Positive Liberty, Jason Kuznicki (2005-11-07) argues that evidence for radical Islamist involvement is thin at best, and argues that it has much more to do with the material and the cultural conditions faced by young men in communities marked by poverty, dependency, desperation, and ghettoization, in turn caused by the French government’s restrictive economic and social policies. He cites some comments by Mark Brady at Liberty and Power, who in turn cites commentary by British sociologist Frank Furedi, attributing the riots to the exhaustion of national politics in Western Europe, and commentary by British writer James Heartfield, who suggests that It is not that assimilation has failed, but that France only pays lip service to assimilation, while practically refusing it to the descendants of North African migrants. Timothy Sandefur dissents, arguing that there is good reason to believe that at least a large part of the Islamic world does see the situation in France as an Intifada. He offers some subtle comments aimed at demonstrating the ways in which an extremely insular immigrant population and a stagnant, stultified economy can, by producing an an angry mass of economic and social outcasts, which comes to see itself as exploited by another large segment of the community, provide an opportunity for violent, hatred-fueled ideologies such as fascism or terrorist Islamism. He suggests that in such a situation the causal threads tying together the material conditions and the Islamist ideology can intertwine so thoroughly that it may not make any sense to try to separate the one from the other when trying to give causal explanations of the violence that ensues. He cites commentary from the Affordable Housing Institute, which discusses the alienation and insularity created by France’s public housing policy and mentions statements by Interior Minister Sarkozy, President Chirac, Prime Minister de Villepin, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, authorities (who anonymously say that it’s Islamist militants and drug traffickers), and A Clockwork Orange. He also cites two news articles — one on the arrests, back in September, of some suspected members of an Algerian terrorist group living in France; and another from a reporter who seems to have actually found a website in which the rioters make bellicose statements and brag about their martial accomplishments. On the other hand, neither that article nor any of the others, nor Sandefur’s commentary, nor Kuznicki’s, nor Brady’s, nor Furedi’s, nor Heartfield’s, contains any direct quotes from any of the rioters on why they are rioting.

Brad Spangler (2005-11-04) thinks that it’s racialized violence and the ghettoization created by the welfare state, with conditions that have far more in common with the recent riots in Toledo (or in Watts a generation earlier) than they do with events in the Middle East.

French fascist demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen blames mass immigration, the moral corruption of the country’s leaders, disintegration of the country and social injustice.

David Brooks (2005-11-10) thinks it’s French gangsta rap.

Victor Davis Hanson (2005-11-07) thinks that the riots are a clear example of what happens to a society that doesn’t ask the immigrant to integrate, and the immigrant doesn’t feel that he has to integrate, or to learn the language, or learn the traditions of the West, and further blames the French govement’s appeasement of Muslim immigrants.

Colby Cosh (2005-11-07) argues that France has undeniably been more aggressive than the Anglo-Saxon countries in asserting a unitary national culture and blames the despair and anger created by a government housing policy that amounts to warehousing members of a particular ethnic group in horrible, unsightly, cheaply-made housing projects.

Rox’s friend from Paris says that it’s not an Islamic riot at all, but rather drug dealers defending their turf from the police.

Emma Kate Symons (2005-11-12) thinks it’s the expression of a violently male supremacist adolescent culture.

Mark Steyn (2005-11-10) thinks this is the start of a long Eurabian civil war we’re witnessing here.

On the other hand, none of them cite any direct quotes from any of the rioters as to why they’re rioting.

So why did all those rioters set towns across France afire? Don’t ask me. How would I know? If you want to find out, ask a rioter Pourquoi? You might even wait for the answer before you start offering an analysis.