June 25, 2004

Weekend Reading

I'm on the road tomorrow and blogging looks to be light to non-existent over the weekend. So here's a little compilation of items well worth reading until I'm back in circulation.

A Q&A on al-Qaeda.

A veritable Saudi-rama over at CSIS.

Missing missiles in Ukraine.

Tony Lewis on Abu Ghraib over at the NYRB:

Another Iraqi officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kareem 'Abd al-Jalil, died on January 9, 2004, while at an interrogation facility. The original death certificate said he died of "natural causes... during his sleep." After stories in the Denver Post and on German television indicating that American soldiers had "danced on his belly," the Pentagon issued a new death certificate describing his death as a homicide from "blunt force injuries and asphyxia." Those two were regular Iraqi officers, not terrorists. In American history, until now, flag and field officers of opposing armies were given great respect when captured.

And don't miss Michael Ignatieff's contribution to a "What We Think of America" issue over at Granta:

On another wall of the monument, you could just make out the words from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, written as the Civil War advanced to its terrible victory:

'With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.'

He was a country lawyer, and the language that was native to him came from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Shakespeare’s plays and the Old Testament prophets. Out of these elements, forged together in a hundred stump speeches to his fellow citizens, he created American scripture, the prayers the country offers to believe in itself.

The invention of American scripture is not the prerogative of presidents. In 1945, on the battlefield of Iwo Jima, a rabbi from the US Marines buried his marines with these words:

'Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it die barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: it shall not be in vain. Out of this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.'

The rabbi was burying Jews and Christians in the same soil. He was burying blacks and whites who had served in a segregated army. He knew, as Lincoln had known, that if citizens are willing to die together, then their descendants must live in freedom together.

I teach students from twenty countries in my class at Harvard. During this autumn of September 11 I thought they should hear American scripture. I played them the speech that Martin Luther King gave on the steps of the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, after he had led his people to the end of the Selma March to secure their rights as American voters:

'I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon: however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because the truth pressed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, cause mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on… Be jubilant my feet. Our God is marching on.'

The power of American scripture lies in this constant process of democratic reinvention. First a wartime president, then a battlefield rabbi, then a black pastor—all reach into the same treasure house of language, at once sacred and profane, to renew the faith of the only country on earth that believes in itself in this way, the only country whose citizenship is an act of faith, the only country whose promises to itself continue to command the faith of people like me, who are not its citizens.

Have a good weekend.

UPDATE: Don't miss this piece.

Sounds like "contacts" to me--whether "collaborative" or not.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at June 25, 2004 12:19 AM