Fresh Apricots – A Syrian Prison Story

Jebel Druze – Landscape by Nancy Lindisfarne

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: Last week in Koblenz, Germany, a former Syrian intelligence officer, Eyad al Gharib, was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. It is an important verdict. It has formally exposed the scale, and appalling horror, of the crimes of the Syrian regime.

To mark this moment we are reposting a short story I originally published in Arabic in 1997. I did anthropological fieldwork in Damascus in the late 1980s, and from day one I saw the tyranny of the regime.  But I knew the whole time I was in Syria, and then again when I tried out the stories on friends in Damascus, that for their sake, I could only hint at the fear everyone felt.  As you can see here, the most politically explicit of my Syrian stories, ‘Fresh Apricots’, is little more than a bare whisper about a prisoner who has been fortunate enough to be released from Saydnaya prison.
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In 1997, Mamdouh Adwan, the Syrian poet and playwright translated into Arabic a collection of short stories I had written after my year of fieldwork. Al Raqs fi Dimasq was published in Syria before an English version, Dancing in Damascus, came out in 2000.[4] But though a bare whisper, I also knew Syrian readers absolutely understood what I was trying to say.

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Renewables and the Market

Jonathan Neale

Over the last few years, the falls in the price of solar and wind power have been dramatic. Does this mean the the market will now produce enough renewable energy?

Unfortunately, no.

We have been told for two decades that the proportion of renewable energy in total global energy has been continually rising. But in fact, in 2019 wind and solar produced less than 2% of the total energy used globally. Less than 2%.

[This article is an excerpt from Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. You can download a pdf or an e-book for FREE here, or order a paperback here.]

That proportion of 2% has not been growing. For the last four years, the amount of new wind and solar each year has been flat, and not increasing. That means that total investment has actually been falling. (If solar is cheaper, lower investment can still produce the same amount of solar.)

On the face of it, this makes no sense. Surely, if the price of wind and solar is falling, they should be replacing fossil fuels. And the cheaper they get, the more corporations should be investing. In fact, the opposite is happening. The market is failing. This article explains why, and what we can do about it.[1] Continue reading

Lithium, Batteries and Climate Change

Jonathan Neale writes: I have spent the last year working on a book called Fight the Fire – Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. Most of it is about both the politics and the engineering of any possible transition that can avert catastrophic climate breakdown. One thing I had to think about long and hard was lithium and car batteries.

[This article was first published by Climate and Capitalism on 11 Feb 2021.]

I often hear people say that we can’t cover the world with electric vehicles, because there simply is not enough lithium for batteries. In any case, they add, lithium production is toxic, and the only supplies are in the Global South. Moreover, so the story goes, there are not enough rare earth metals for wind turbines and all the other hardware we will need for renewable energy.

People often smile after they say those things, which is hard for me to understand, because it means eight billion people will go to hell.

So I went and found out about lithium batteries and the uses of rare earth. What I found out is that the transition will be possible, but neither the politics nor the engineering is simple. This article explains why. I start by describing the situation simply, and then add in some of the complexity. Continue reading

Fight the Fire

Jonathan Neale’s new book Fight the Fire – Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs can be downloaded as a free pdf or a free e-book here. It can be ordered as a paperback for £15 here .

Advance Praise for Fight the Fire

“This is a timely book. At a time when the world is still reeling from the ravages of Covid-19 and the massive economic dislocation that it engendered, now is the perfect time to reinvigorate the campaign for climate jobs, or, as in the case of the Philippines, to launch it. And this book is just what any climate jobs campaigner would need. It provides the big picture, the science and the politics of climate change, as well as the nuts and bolts of how such a campaign would look like. More than that, it is replete with lessons that the author has gained from a life spent fighting in the trenches of various campaigns.” – Josua Mata, Secretary-General, SENTRO union federation, Philippines. Continue reading

The Falmer Method – Towards a New Kind of Conference

Andrea Cornwall, Frank G. Karioris and Nancy Lindisfarne 

With all the immense pressure on young scholars to present at conferences, to publish and find jobs, it is easy to forget that we got into academia because we were excited about thinking, reading and grappling with new ideas – and that academia is full of people who have those enthusiasms. In the early summer of 2014, at the University of Sussex in Falmer, we tried out a formula for a symposium which celebrated these values. The symposium wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good, and we think the format will be of interest to others. We’ve decided to call it the Falmer Method.

The symposium was Frank’s idea.

Too many academic conferences bore senior scholars and scare young ones, sometimes quite badly. They are a way to test people, favour a few and put others down. And keep them down. In essence, that is what the usual format does. As Kircher and Biswas (2017) put it, writing in The Guardian, expensive academic conferences give us old ideas and no new faces. Continue reading

We Shall Not Surrender Until the World Shatters

Medical workers protest the coup at Yangon General Hospital

“We shall not surrender until the world shatters” are the first words of the song that the crowds of the Civil Disobedience Movement have been singing on the streets of Myanmar this week. The songwriter Naing Myanmar wrote the words in 1988, in the midst of the Democracy Uprising of that year, to give heart to the people on the street. The words are important. So is the three fingered salute shown above, borrowed from the uprisings in Hong Kong and Thailand, and ultimately from The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins trilogy about a revolution. Here are the words of the song: Continue reading

Racism and the Myth of Trafficking

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: The myth of trafficking was invented by right-wing evangelical Christians in the United States. It is untrue, racist and dangerous to sex workers. Yet to many people it seems both feminist and left-wing. This article explores that paradox.

In 2007 the US sociologist Kimberley Kay Huong went to Vietnam to study sex trafficking. She found none, and decided to study sex work, capital flows and masculinities instead.[1] The striking thing is that, even among critical academics in the US, no one had suggested to her that maybe there was no trafficking in Vietnam. Many other anthropologists and sociologists were having the same experience in other parts of the world. When they did the actual fieldwork, the trafficking disappeared. Continue reading

Anti-maskers, Anti-vaxxers and the Racist Right

Jonathan Neale writes: One of the puzzling and enraging things about the covid pandemic is the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers in the United States, Britain, and more widely. And then there are the other forms of covid denial – ‘It’s only the flu’, ‘It’s not real’, ‘There are no cases in hospital’, ‘Herd immunity will save us’.

Many people explain this by saying those other people are mad, deluded, stupid, paranoid, the victims of the internet and conspiracy theories. Or by saying it’s a mystery why they do that. I want to present a political explanation. It comes from some thinking Nancy Lindisfarne and I have been doing about big lies and fascist movements.

[First published at The Ecologist on 27 Jan 2021]

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Poetry Aflame and Unafraid

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Yesterday, at Biden’s inauguration, we saw a moment that marked a turning point in the history of poetry in English. We saw also how three women marked and lived the contradictions of a turning point in the history of the United States.

Joe Biden’s speech was never going to be the centrepiece of the event. He does not have the skills as an orator. More important, the politics of compromise he brings to this moment could not do justice to the passions of the movement that put him there. So the weight of the moment fell on the shoulders of the artists, two singers and a poet, three women, one white, one Latina, one black, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Amanda Gorman. Continue reading

My First Day in Camp with the Piruzai – Afghanistan, 1971

Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper

My friend Maryam

In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.

The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.

They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading