Highlights from New Left Review 44

posted by Kaihsu Tai on May 6th, 2007

I am assuming that the gentle readers of Pie and Coffee also get their news from the BBC and the Guardian so we don’t have to alert you to anything already reported there. Gentle readers might also already be subscribed to the free publications OSCE Magazine, and Finance and Development from the IMF.

But then gentle readers may want to spend some money and start receiving “the most intelligent political journal in the world”, the New Left Review, whose 160 punch-packed pages arrive neatly every two months. From this issue 44:

Sven Lütticken, Idolatry and its discontents:

[T]he veil has been hijacked by right-wing mouthpieces who routinely invoke the Enlightenment in a way that reduces critique to neatly packaged dogma for the age of the soundbite. One such Enlightenment fundamentalist is Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who during her years in Holland—she has since moved on to the US, to work at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute—wrote the script for a short film on the role of women in Islam. […] Turning women wearing veils into the faceless face of otherness allows Hirsi Ali and her allies to ignore the questions raised by the rise of the veil in Europe—questions that can be uncomfortable for the heroic defenders of western liberal values. […] Is the veil not effectively being used to unmask and lay bare the limits of Western liberalism—to reveal it as a sham, an ideology in the service of capitalist powers?

Stephen Graham, War and the city:

A hidden archipelago of mini-cities is now being constructed across the US sunbelt, presenting a jarring contrast to the surrounding strip-mall suburbia; other Third World cityscapes are rising out of the deserts of Kuwait and Israel, the downs of Southern England, the plains of Germany and the islands of Singapore. […] In a mirror-image reversal of the more familiar global marketing contests in which cities parade their gentrification, cultural planning and boosterism, here the marks of success are decay and an architecture of collapse. Col. James Cashwell, a US squadron commander, reported after an exercise in an urban-warfare training city at George Air Force base in California that ‘the advantage of the base is that it is ugly, torn up, all the windows are broken [and trees] have fallen down in the street. It’s perfect for the replication of a war-torn city.’ […] The ‘military–industrial–entertainment–media complex’ has played a central role in naturalizing the idea that American and allied forces should be pitched in battle against the inhabitants of Arab and Third World cities. The two most popular video game franchises in 2005 were Full Spectrum Warrior and America’s Army, developed respectively by the US Marines and the Army. Both games centre overwhelmingly on the task of occupying stylized Arab cities. Their immersive simulations work powerfully to equate these environments with ‘terrorism’ and to stress that they need ‘pacification’ or ‘cleansing’ by military means.

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  1. On May 6, 2007 at 22:20 BobSugar said:

    FYI – there’s several factual errors in there about Full Spectrum Warrior and America’s Army. Neither games were developed by the Marines – both FSW and AA were funded by the US Army, FSW as a training tool for enlisted soldiers (the commercial version was a separate project unfunded by the US Army), and AA as a recruitment tool to encourage people to join the army.

    Furthermore, neither game comes even close to being “the two most popular video game franchises in 2005.” America’s Army debuted in 2002, and has been modestly successful since then, but it’s not particularly popular. Its primary appeal is that it’s free to download (the game is fully subsidized as a recruiting tool by the US Army).

    Full Spectrum Warrior was released in 2004, sold just over 1 million copies world wide, the bulk of which were in 2004. It’s sequel wasn’t released till 2006, which did not sell well (less than 50,000 copies), so FSW wasn’t a particularly successful videogame franchise either, in 2005 or 2006.

    The actual best-selling videogame franchises can be found here:
    Consoles: http://www.gamespot.com/news/6142407.html
    PC: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=7832

    As you can see, neither America’s Army nor Full Spectrum Warrior can be found on either of those lists. The PC game sales in 2005 had 2 war games in the top 10 (Battlefield 2, ranked 6th, and Call of Duty 2, ranked 10th), you’re welcome to criticize those games as signs of your ‘military–industrial–entertainment–media complex.’

    But console games fared even better against this sort of criticism, with the only games with any violent content in the bestseller’s list being Star Wars games. I doubt swinging a lightsaber in ‘Lego Star Wars’ trains Americans to support the war. And given that console sales outstrip PC sales by 10 to 1 ($10.5 billion vs. $953 million), I think the nonviolent console videogame market is more indicative of the American videogame consumer habits.

    If you’d like to criticize Full Spectrum Warrior and America’s Army anyway, go ahead, but know that they’re at best modestly successful videogames in an industry whose best-sellers are sports games, Pokemon, and Star Wars.

    I’m going to hope that New Left Review’s fact checking on its other articles are of a slightly higher quality than in “War and the City,” else it probably shouldn’t be recommended to anyone.

  2. On May 7, 2007 at 14:42 Adam (Southern California) said:

    Is there any way you could summarize Lütticken’s argument about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the veil? Does it make more sense taken in context? I’ve read the excerpt above about three times and can’t understand what he’s trying to say. At the moment I’m not really inclined to pay 3 pounds to read the whole thing.

  3. On January 5, 2009 at 09:18 Kaihsu Tai said:

    John Leland: Urban Tool in Recruiting by the Army: An Arcade. New York Times 2009-01-04.

  4. On January 5, 2009 at 10:18 Mike said:

    I was *just* talking to someone about that arcade!