Tony Judt was, in effect, two historians: first, a Marxist from a working-class English-Jewish background educated at Cambridge and at the École Normale in Paris who wrote four excellent books on the French left, and then a grand New York scholar who wrote an unimaginably good history of postwar Europe as well as strikingly clear studies of leading European intellectuals, such as Albert Camus and Leszek Kołakowski. The hinge was Past Imperfect, Tony’s eloquent critique of Parisian intellectual politics after World War II, published in 1992. On the surface, this was a close study of Jean-Paul Sartre’s communism and the political narcissism of Left Bank intellectuals who celebrated Stalinism while ignoring its consequences in Eastern Europe. At another level, it was the repudiation by a French Marxist of his own tradition.
As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics, we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of nativism in the current controversy over the establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
A new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) provides grim reaffirmation of something we already knew: sexual violence is epidemic within our country’s prisons and jails. According to the report, 64,500 of the inmates who were in a state or federal prison on the day the latest BJS survey was administered had been sexually abused at their current facility within the previous year, as had 24,000 of those who were in a county jail that day—a total of 88,500 people.
In fact, as we’ve explained before, the true national total is much higher. The BJS numbers don’t include thousands who we know are sexually abused in juvenile detention and other kinds of corrections facilities every year, nor do they account for the constant turnover among jailed detainees. Stays in jail are typically short, and several times as many people pass through jail in a year as are held there on any given day. Overall, we can confidently say that well over 100,000 people are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year.
During a recent month-long stay in China, my wife and I toured the southwestern province of Guangxi with a jovial guide from Guilin. James (his professional name) was very knowledgeable, but a little too eager to give us our money’s worth. For five days he talked non-stop. But one night, in a remote mountain village set atop terraced rice paddies, he fell silent. As we were sitting down to dinner he got a call and asked to be excused; when he returned half an hour later the smile was gone and his eyes wouldn’t meet ours. At first grateful for the silence, we became worried when he remained withdrawn the next day. With a little prodding, he eventually told us what the call was about. It involved his son, his only child.
Because of its strategic location on the Persian Gulf, the Iranian city of Bushehr has been an important seaport for centuries. In the eighteenth century, the British East India Company had a trading post at what they called Bushire, and until 1913 the British agent for the Persian Gulf was stationed there. It is only in recent decades, however, that Bushehr has become known for its nuclear industry. Now, Iran has announced that it has completed—with Russian help—its long planned Bushehr reactor, an event it has marked by an elaborate dedication ceremony and claims of victory against its western enemies. But questions remain about Bushehr’s strategic importance—and whether the West should be worried about it.
The poet Paul Celan said of his native Czernowitz that it was a place where people and books used to live. Tony Judt was a man for whom books lived, as well as people. His mind, like his apartment on Washington Square, was full of books—and they walked with him, arguing, to the very end.
Critical though he was of French intellectuals, he shared with them a conviction that ideas matter. Being English, he thought facts matter too. As a historian, one of his most distinctive achievements was to integrate the intellectual and political history of twentieth-century Europe—revealing the multiple, sometimes unintended interactions over time of ideas and realities, thoughts and deeds, books and people.
While people in the US and elsewhere have been reacting to the release by WikiLeaks of classified US documents on the Afghan War, Chinese bloggers have been discussing the event in parallel with another in their own country. On July 21 in Beijing, four days before WikiLeaks published its documents, Chinese President Hu Jintao convened a high-level meeting to discuss ways to prevent leaks from the archives of the Communist Party of China.
On a recent trip to Brazil, I struck up a conversation with Lilia Schwarcz, one of Brazil’s finest historians and anthropologists. The talk turned to the two subjects she has studied most—racism and national identity.
Though it has received only moderate attention in the western press, the torrential flooding of large swaths of Pakistan since late July may be the most catastrophic natural disaster to strike the country in half a century. But even greater than the human cost of this devastating event are the security challenges it poses. Coming at a time of widespread unrest, growing Taliban extremism, and increasingly shaky civilian government, the floods could lead to the gravest security crisis the country—and the region—has faced. Unless the international community takes immediate action to provide major emergency aid and support, the country risks turning into what until now has remained only a grim, but remote possibility—a failed state with nuclear weapons.