Friday, January 30, 2009

Gandhi, Peres, Erdogan, Ignatius and my friend McKinty

Mahatma Gandhi, who was shot dead on this day 61 years ago, never received the Nobel Prize for Peace, an omission that tainted the award forever. The Nobel committee made things worse in succeeding decades by nominating warmongers as soon as they signed any peace agreement. That's how the likes of Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat won the award.
In Davos yesterday, Shimon Peres -- President of Israel, father of that nation's atomic weapons programme, and co-winner of the 1994 Peace Prize alongside Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin -- got into a slanging match with the Turkish premier Recip Erdogan . Erdogan walked out, complaining he wasn't given adequate time to rebut Peres' defence of the Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed over 1300 Palestinians.
The moderator accused of favouring Peres, David Ignatius, is a Jewish-American columnist at the Washington Post who has published several novels. Trying to decide if he was biased, I looked up his Wikipedia entry and then one about his spy novel Body of Lies (adapted by Ridley Scott into a well-made, if slightly cookie-cutter, movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe).
I was pleasantly surprised to find a footnote citing a review of Body of Lies written by an old acquaintance of mine, Adrian McKinty. Adrian and I were college-mates in England in the 1990s, but lost touch later. I learned recently through a common friend that he has settled in the United States and written several thriller novels.
In his review in the Washington Post, Adrian writes: "Ignatius seems to have swallowed whole the Edward Said pill and made a conscious decision that he will not resort to cliche or condescension in his descriptions of the Middle East. As a result, he bends over backward to portray his Arab characters as wise, honorable and decent. We find few instances of anti-Semitism in any of the Arab countries Ferris visits, and even in the misery of a Palestinian refugee camp, we see only fading Yasser Arafat posters rather than venomous anti-Jewish slogans or Hamas hate graffiti. At times, Ignatius seems almost embarrassed that his villain is an actual Arab terrorist (albeit one with a high IQ and a warped sense of morality)..."
This makes David Ignatius an unlikely target for accusations of bias. Perhaps he felt Peres deserved extra time as the lone voice for Israel on the panel, fighting the pro-Palestinian tag team of Erdogan and Arab League head Amr Moussa.
The widely differing opinions on the Gaza crisis remind me of how divisive the IRA issue was in Britain not so long ago. It was a subject Adrian McKinty, a Protestant from Belfast, researched for his Master's in Politics, and it led to an amusing and frustrating episode that involved me. I was the graduate library rep of Lady Margaret Hall College in my first year at Oxford, and passed on Adrian's request for two books published by Sinn Fein, the political party which many considered a front for the terrorist IRA. The librarian, to my astonishment, refused to buy the volumes on moral grounds, and didn't budge despite many protestations that the university was a site of free enquiry.
While this presented an obstacle to Adrian's research, we both figured it only meant he'd have to walk across to the main library, the Bodleian, to access the books. The Bodleian is one of six 'legal deposit' libraries in the British Isles. At that time, publishers of every book copyrighted in the country were required to send a copy to each of these libraries. The law's been modified a bit since then.
So off Adrian went to scan the Bod's old catalogues and rudimentary computerised search system. He discovered that, since Sinn Fein disputed Northern Ireland's place in the UK, it did not recognise legal deposit laws and had not sent any material to the Bodleian.
Adrian saw his thesis prospects being ground to dust between the LMH librarian's distaste for Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein's rejection of UK statutes. One of the most amusing guys I've known, he played up the absurdity of his situation, but it must have caused him some genuine worry.
The librarian who allowed her political prejudice to influence her work was incompetent in other ways too. Though ultimately sacked, she was allowed to stay for too long, probably because she was handicapped and the LMH authorities feared an anti-discrimination lawsuit. I happened to be present when the college treasurer explained to a colleague why the librarian had been fired. "We found she did not flourish in the job", the treasurer said. I resolved right there that, should I ever be in the position of sacking somebody, those would be the words I'd use: "I regret that you haven't flourished in this job".


DS said...

:). What if someone flourishes in their job but you still think they should be sacked. Like the Willingdon Club librarian, a Parsi bastion of stupid rules, who fines old men whose phones make the tiniest of beeps while she hollers on her landline in her boom box voice and told me with a straight face that the Library Committee would not entertain my request of a subscription to Sight and Sound as the library had 2 film review magazines already, Stardust and Cine Blitz.Well in this one instance the committee did entertain me and ignored her, but she's sharp as ever and still flourishing.

adrian mckinty said...

Girish Shahane, what a surprize!

You didnt tell them that I was your campaign mananger for election to MCR president though did you? We ran a masterful political operation, as I recall, defeating a powerful lady who is now a famous historian and whose recent book just got turned into a film starring Kiera Knightley.

BTW The Washington Post obviously didnt like my review of Igantius because they havent asked me to review anything for them again. I think they only wanted praise, praise, praise for one of their star columnists and the book, alas, was quite flawed.

Girish Shahane said...

Ah, this nation is a different kettle of fish altogether. For one thing, the idea of free enquiry is not accepted even at the level of principle, let alone practice. And incompetence is never a good reason for firing somebody.
I recall a seminar conducted by Art India in collaboration with Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art while I was editor. I discovered that the NGMA library did not subscribe to the magazine. When I expressed surprise that India's only periodical devoted to contemporary art found no place in the nation's modern art repository, the librarian asked me to send him an application and he would forward it to the library committee for consideration.
Needless to say, I wrote no such application.

Girish Shahane said...

Hi Adrian, great to hear from ya, I'm going to get a few of your books from Amazon soon. Can filled me in on your post-LMH moves a year or so ago.
'Course I remember that campaign, with Herr Ehrlich making scurrilous accusations at the hustings. The Americans took it as a rehearsal for their future run for Attorney General or governor.
Hope to meet up if I come to the US, and if you're ever in India, do get in touch.

adrian mckinty said...


I will mate. Heard from Can about a year or so ago. He was living in Pittsburgh! I dont know if you remember Alicia Stallings but she's a famous poet now, perhaps not quite as famous, though, as the lady we crushed in your election triumph.

If I was gonna get 1 book of mine make it Dead I Well May Be which is a pretty faithful memoir of my six years in NYC (apart from all the killings and stuff).

Dont be a stranger,


Anonymous said...

Ben Bradlee was my mentor. Danny Bloom in Taiwan.

parotechnics said...

laughing out loud at this post (and the memory of Zia-ul-Haq planning his acceptance speech when he gets the Nobel Peace Prize in A Case of Exploding Mangoes) - when I should be working.