Thursday, November 08, 2007

Review—Hold Everything Dear

John Berger, the writer of such acclaimed works as "G." (which won the 1972 Booker) and "Ways of Seeing", an insightful collection of art criticism which was adapted into a BBC series, has been voicing his protest against the prevalent global order for some time now. He donated part of the Booker money for "G." to the Black Panther Party in Britain, and converted the ceremony into a cry against the capitalist excesses of its sponsors.

He now returns to familiar territory with a collection of essays that he penned while roaming occupied territories, from Palestine to Iraq. While Berger is always forthright, he does tend to suffer from a bias for the so-called victim, which he proudly displays in an unabashed love for Marxism. His writing is filled with the voice of death. When he travels Ramallah, he moans the breakdown of a city since the Nakbah of 1948 when "ten thousand Palestinians were killed and 700,000 were forced to leave their country." He speaks about the "stance of undefeated despair," which compels young Palestinians to "sacrifice themselves in suicidal counter-attacks." There is a willful ignorance of the other side of the story, which drapes Berger's linguistic flourishes with a plastered sense of reality.

Berger falls for the convenient myth about terrorism: that it breeds in the despair wrought by the excesses of the Superpower. So, links between disparate events are sought out and parlayed when none exist. "Bin Laden was certainly planing his attacks against the West before the Iraqi war, but that war and what was and is happening there, is supplying Al-Qaeda with a steady flow of new recruits," says Berger, in a reference to the attacks on the London and Madrid train networks.

This argument is fallacious. Must the civilized world keep seeking justifications for acts of terror in past and present historical wrongs? Do Berger and his ilk really believe that Al-Qaeda's nefarious designs would be tossed aside if the US mended its ways, as it were? Terror is now an international industry, working with the latest inventions and methods of the globalized world, and too sophisticated an enterprise to be obliged to history and politics. Thankfully, Europe has begun to see that traditional criminal processes of trial and punishment will not suffice in dealing with terror.

Berger's knowledge of poetry and art is exemplary, and he weaves a passionate dialogue for reclaiming the power of language, but perhaps he should stick to fiction and not indulge in rhetoric. For that is what "Hold Everything Dear" ends up being.

2 comments:

Christopher said...

I'm dazzled by the implied counter-argument you seem to have presented here... do you mean to say no act of terrorism has any meaningful root cause? Now that would really be a terrifying world to live in.

Vikram Johri said...

Hi Christopher, it is a terrifying world we live in. I am not suggesting that there is no truth to the struggle in Palestine or Kashmir. But the terrorists don't speak for them. Look at Pakistan. The country is burning. Don't you see the curious dichotomy between terrorists espousing a regressive way of living versus using the most modern trappings like email to plan and execute terror attacks? It is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and has little relevance with real sufferings, IMHO. Often, the real sufferers are also terrorism's victims.