Word Power - LA Review of Books

A SPECTER IS HAUNTING Timothy Garton Ash’s book Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World — it is “the specter of what in the West is called ‘dissent.’” You might catch the ironic echo of the opening line from Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, but this quote is taken from “The Power of the Powerless,” the most important essay by Václav Havel, the playwright and dissident who was elected president of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Published last May, Free Speech is a book about all that has changed for global freedom of expression since the seemingly triumphant year of ’89. But what if the post-1989 world that Garton Ash is addressing has already vanished?

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Anthropology and Philosophy

e-Flux Architecture and the "Superhumanity" series

Although "Superhumanity" has since wrapped up, for those interested in how human rights resonates across the disciplines and the ways it is located in the world, I would highly recommend articles from this series. "Superhumanity" emerged out of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial and is a direct response to this biennial's theme of "Are We Human?" It brought togeter an interdisciplinary team of historians, archaeologists, artists, anthropologists, scientists, and philosophers.

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Should We Move Human Rights, or Should Human Rights Move Us? Reflecting on the Possibilities of A Broken Academic Heart

"Your own actions are a better mirror of your life than the actions of all your enemies put together. That is why I told you to watch what you do to others instead of always thinking about what others do to you."--from Ngugi wa Thiongo's "Wizard of the Crow" (2006)

Although I am a graduate student in Anthropology, it was literature and the humanities that first introduced me to human rights and emphasized the immensity of their social importance. The work of African writers like Ngugi, Wole Soyinka, Mongo Béti, and Amos Tutuola were not just read for the beauty of the prose but for the magnitude of the stories they told. Ngugi sharply depicts the horrors of the Mau Mau rebellion in his Weep Not, Child, while Beti fictionalizes and satirizes the effects of missionaries in colonial Cameroon in the Poor Christ of Bomba. Refusing to gloss any side as purely evil, Béti rather equates evil to the ways that power is used and abused, regardless of sex, race, nationality, or creed. For the sake of brevity, this wave of literature can be seen as the advent of a calling to human rights outside of the realm of the purely political.

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History and Humanitarianism

Human Rights in the Age of Trump - Guest post from Faculty Director Mark Philip Bradey

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” then presidential candidate Donald Trump said at a February 2016 campaign event in Bluffton, South Carolina. “Okay, folks, torture—you know, half these guys [say]: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works, okay?” At the time, I was finishing my recent book on Americans and human rights in the 20th century, and Trump’s repeated defense of torture, like so many of his pronouncements, struck me as relics of the past. Like many, I did not see the Trump presidency coming. Now less than one week into his presidency we already have a draft executive order that would reopen the “black site” prisons where terrorist suspects were detained and tortured during the George W. Bush Administration. And on Friday, Trump issued an executive order that suspended entry of all refugees into the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. Academics against Immigration Executive Order has rightly characterized the ban as “unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants” that “fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.” The Trump presidency is unlikely to be remembered for its vigorous championing of human rights but it is already producing powerful forms of resistance that may put human rights center stage in the United States again. Why, again?

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State of the field and Methodology

Human Rights, Interdisciplinary Scholars, and a New Blog

Scholars who engage the topic of human rights find themselves confronted with a massive and multi-disciplinary literature.  The subject of human rights can bring out the best of inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary scholarship: exciting conversations develop among people working in diverse fields. But "human rights" scholarship can also illustrate all the pitfalls and challenges of a truly multi-disciplinary field. Sometimes debating scholars talk past each other rather than to each other, their misunderstandings exacerbated by different methodological approaches. Sometimes a writer in one discipline dismisses the concerns of another due to disciplinary tunnel vision. And sometimes scholars working in one area miss the relevant conversations going on in some other corner of the academy because there's just too much to read and keep up with.

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