Monday, January 31, 2011

Rights Readers Authors on Egypt

The Day the Leader Was Killed

If you can tear yourself away from the Al Jazzera coverage of Egypt for a few moments, Rights Readers authors have some insights to pass on to you.

Of course, it's too bad Naguib Mahfouz (The Day the Leader Was Killed) is not around to see this day, but Alaa Al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building) was interviewed on NPR Sunday:
HANSEN: Where do you think this is going now?
Dr. AL-ASWANY: I think now everything is clear. We have one major problem: that Mr. Mubarak has not been convinced yet to resign. I spent two days and even more with the protestors. And I even made some speeches to the protestors. And nobody wants to hear anything except that Mubarak must go.The Yacoubian Building: A Novel

Robin Wright (Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East) declares, "One way or another, the Mubarak dynasty is toast," and expands on the challenges that lie ahead for Politico and contributes to the discussion at NPR's On Point here. Reza Aslan (No god but God) writes about the Muslim Brotherhood's possible role in a future Egyptian democracy in the Washington Post,
Far from trying to transform Egypt into a theocracy, as Arab rulers and western ideologues predicted they would, the Brotherhood fully embraced the principles of democracy by creating political alliances with liberal intellectuals and secular democrats in the Egyptian to lobby for greater political freedoms, including freedom of religion, assembly and speech. Their actions convinced even their staunchest critics that, given the opportunity, they could become a legitimate political force in Egyptian politics, which is why Mubarak turned so violently against them, rounding up their democratically elected members, jailing, torturing and murdering them inside his dank, sadistic prison cells.
In the early 1990s, the Pasadena chapter of Amnesty International worked on behalf of one of those jailed, possibly tortured, Brotherhood sympathizers. It's long past time to see that era come to an end. Don't forget to check in with Amnesty International USA for appropriate  Egypt actions!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

For May: The Routes of Man by Ted Conover

The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World (Vintage)For May we have selected The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World by Rights Readers favorite (Newjack, Coyotes) Ted Conover,
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Newjack, an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world.

Roads bind our world—metaphorically and literally—transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, and reveal the hopes and fears of those who travel them.

With his marvelous eye for detail and his contagious enthusiasm, Ted Conover explores six of these key byways worldwide. In Peru, he traces the journey of a load of rare mahogany over the Andes to its origin, an untracked part of the Amazon basin soon to be traversed by a new east-west route across South America. In East Africa, he visits truckers whose travels have been linked to the worldwide spread of AIDS. In the West Bank, he monitors highway checkpoints with Israeli soldiers and then passes through them with Palestinians, witnessing the injustices and danger borne by both sides. He shuffles down a frozen riverbed with teenagers escaping their Himalayan valley to see how a new road will affect the now-isolated Indian region of Ladakh. From the passenger seat of a new Hyundai piling up the miles, he describes the exuberant upsurge in car culture as highways proliferate across China. And from inside an ambulance, he offers an apocalyptic but precise vision of Lagos, Nigeria, where congestion and chaos on freeways signal the rise of the global megacity.

A spirited, urgent book that reveals the costs and benefits of being connected—how, from ancient Rome to the present, roads have played a crucial role in human life, advancing civilization even as they set it back.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Martin Luther King Day Action

This Martin Luther King Weekend our friends at All Saints Church in Pasadena are celebrating the life of Lydia Wilkins, 1904-2010. I'm not sure when I took this photo of Lydia signing a death penalty petition, perhaps ten years ago when she was a mere 96 years old, but the sight of Lydia with pen in hand was not an unfamiliar one when I was staffing action tables. As the Star-News reported, Lydia saw a lot of change in her lifetime, from women getting the vote to the first African-American president and she just kept that pen moving asking for more. More on the gift that was Lydia here.

Keep your pen moving to honor Lydia and Martin Luther King, Jr. The great news out of Illinois is that the state legislature has passed a death penalty abolition bill which now sits on the governor's desk awaiting his signature. You can urge Governor Quinn to sign that bill (and if you live in Illinois, do it early and often!) and take other death penalty actions here.

Previously we recommended a clemency action for Kevin Cooper. We are disappointed to report that Governor Schwarzenegger did not come through for us, however I am pleased to report that two governors in other states commuted sentences of death row inmates facing execution. Here's hoping that Governor Brown follows their example in the future. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty In The United States

For a little extra inspiration, check out this clip from a Fox Business News interview with Rights Readers author Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) made in the wake of the tragedy in Tuscon where she does a little pre-emptive lobbying against the death penalty for Jared Loughner. (Don't let "Fox" scare you, the interviewer closes by calling her a national treasure - I agree!)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our January Author: Reza Aslan

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of IslamThis month we are reading Reza Aslan's No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.  The author has such a comprehensive website, I'm tempted to just refer you there-- or take the short cut to his YouTube channel or Daily Beast columns and find the topics that interest you most.  Here are a few more pointers:

One thing missing from his site are his talks given here in Pasadena at All Saints Church. Check the Forum archives and note that he will be speaking there (with James Carroll) again at an event March 27-28. Keep an eye on their calendar for updates.

This Los Angeles magazine interview gives you some biographical insight and pointers to other up-coming projects,
After seven years on television and in the op-ed pages, how would you rate your effectiveness in shedding light on Islam?
To be honest, you caught me at a weird time. I’ve spent most of this last decade writing books and articles and doing media appearances and working with organizations and interfaith councils. I’ve been essentially doing my best, or at least my duty, in trying to educate people and provide them with the information they need to hopefully reframe their perceptions not just of Islam but the Middle East—a part of the world that has been misunderstood as monolithic and unchanging. And what I’ve concluded over the last three or four months with this unprecedented wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, or Islamophobia—whatever you want to call it that has gripped this country and become disturbingly mainstream—is that I’ve completely wasted my time. I could write a dozen books and do a hundred interviews on every media channel in the world, and I am not going to shape the way people think as effectively as I would if I could just focus on what I really want to do, which is storytelling.
While seeing him this discouraged makes you want to reach out and offer a big ol' Rights Readers solidarity hug, this makes me really curious about what direction he will be headed in at the All Saints event!

I also love hearing our Rights Readers authors talking to each other and the Los Angeles Public Library's ALOUD series gives us a chance to hear Amy Wilentz (Martyr's Crossing) interview Aslan. You can also hear Aslan interviewing Pamuk (Snow) and Rushdie (Midnight's Children).  All of his appearances with ALOUD can be found here.

Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Words Without Borders)Aslan's latest book is an anthology Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East. You can sample it at Words Without Borders.  WNYC interviews him about the book and other issues in the news including Islamophobia and the Park 51 project. In this Guernica interview, he talks at length about the book, the power of literature and the internet to erase borders and create new communities. Also a bit of news, No God But God will be out in February in a Young Adult version.

Reza Aslan appears frequently on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Here's a Colbert clip of an interview re No God But God. See his website for links to Jon Stewart clips.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Reza Aslan
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

Saturday, January 01, 2011

For April: Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

Red April (Vintage International)For April we have chosen Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo,
A chilling political thriller set at the end of Peru's grim war between Shining Path terrorists and a morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency.

Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is a by-the-book prosecutor wading through life. Two of his greatest pleasures are writing mundane reports and speaking to his long-dead mother. Everything changes, however, when he is asked to investigate a bizarre and brutal murder: the body was found burnt beyond recognition and a cross branded into its forehead. Adhering to standard operating procedures, Chacaltana begins a meticulous investigation, but when everyone he speaks to meets with an unfortunate and untimely end, he realizes that his quarry may be much closer to home. With action rising in chorus to Peru’s Holy Week, Red April twists and turns racing toward a riveting conclusion. 
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