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The NI Star rating system. Music

by Eduardo Niebla and Adel Salameh
(Riverboat TUG CD1012)

Mediterraneo There’s a perception – persistent but incorrect – that music, like the nation-state, has its own boundaries. You have Spanish music, Arabian music, and so on – each distinct in its own ways and virtues. It’s with some regard to this insularity of thought that Eduardo Niebla and Adel Salameh’s collaboration enters the world. A partnership of original work from Spanish guitarist Niebla and Palestinian oud player Salameh, it’s a gleeful, witty record, which at once explores the continuities and discontinuities in their musical traditions.

There is much to link Spanish and Arabian music. The oud, a stringed instrument which is the precursor of both guitar and lute, was introduced to Europe, via Moorish Spain in the eleventh century. The cadences of Arabian music can still be heard today in Spanish flamenco. This is not, however, a flamenco record; neither is it a rather dry exposition on two entwined traditions. It is rather an exploration of territory, looking not only towards Spain and Palestine for its roots, but also to a place where their music, in all its modern aspects, can sit. The musicians behind Mediterraneo – guitars, oud and Indian tabla and Egyptian riq percussion – are well situated to do this. Salameh, from Nablus, is an accomplished soloist who has worked with a wide variety of musicians. So too Niebla. Born in Tangiers of Andalusian parents, his musical career began in childhood and was later to embrace work in jazz, orchestral arrangements and pop sessions: credits include work with Belinda Carlisle and George Michael.

So how do these strands in Mediterraneo fit together? Wonderfully well. From the opening track, which provides the album with its title, a brisk pace is established. The Spanish aspect seems to dominate at first but it becomes quickly apparent that the oud operates in a more subtle way, insinuating itself into every fibre of the musical weave. The two percussionists anchor this piece, as indeed they do for the album’s three other instrumentals, but the exuberance and attitude belongs at all times to Niebla and Salameh. Such brightness gives way to other moods, ‘Andalusia’ and ‘Jardines del Corazón’, for example, are more contemplative, slower, but no less stately and statuesque for that. Overall, this is an album of enormous intricacies: the musical lines are of a delicate filigree which teases out patterns and associations as they move along. And as a listening experience, it is a rewarding one. It’s a historical fact that Arabian and Spanish music share certain similarities but it’s intriguing to hear the two side by side, in a collaborative album that has little of the hybrid about it.

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Surviving Indonesia’s Gulag
by Carmel Budiardjo
(Cassell ISBN 0-304-33562-2)

East Timor at the Crossroads
ed. Peter Carey and G Carter Bentley
(Cassell ISBN 0-304-33265-8)

Generations of Resistance
by Steve Cox and Peter Carey
(Cassell ISBN 0-304 33252)

Last year saw both the thirtieth anniversary of the emergence of Indonesian dictator President Suharto and the twentieth anniversary of his invasion of East Timor. The mini-surge of publishing that these dates have prompted, serves as a reminder of just how long the Suharto regime has been around – and how extensive has been its repression of East Timor, Irian Jaya and of dissidents in Indonesia itself.

Surviving Indonesia’s Gulag tackles this last category. Carmel Budiardjo and her husband, both former government officials, were arrested in 1968 over links with the suppressed Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI. She was to spend three years in detention without trial. Both she and her husband were category ‘B’ political prisoners – they were believed to be communist activists involved in the alleged 1965 coup attempt, but there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial. Carmel’s release was secured in 1971 through the efforts of family, friends and Amnesty International, using her (renounced) British nationality. By the time her husband walked free, in 1978, he had spent a total of 12 years in detention without trial.

Budiardjo’s account of her initial period of detention in 1968 intercuts rather awkwardly with flashbacks to the events of 1965 and Suharto’s rise to power. However, once she starts telling of her longer stay in Bukit Duri prison, the narrative becomes more engaging and her fellow-prisoners come across as real people, not just political stereotypes.

After her release, Carmel set up the London-based Indonesian human-rights group, TAPOL. Her book provides a timely reminder of the roots of a regime that has killed or imprisoned hundreds of thousands as part of its continuing ‘final solution’.

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East Timor at the Crossroads. By comparison, East Timor at the Crossroads is startlingly academic. This collection of papers from two conferences on East Timor held in 1990-91, is strictly for the serious student. The historical background to the East Timor situation, the illegality of the Timor Gap oil exploration treaty between Australia and Indonesia, and the role of the Catholic Church as well as that of the former colonial power, Portugal, are all carefully examined. Only with the testimonies of a former Fretilin commander and a student activist does the book seem about to throw off its studious mantle and appeal to a wider audience. But it cannot escape its conference origins and despite referring frequently to the international community’s role in East Timor, it never actually dissects it. But it’s an informative and at times enlightening collection, nonetheless.

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Publisher Cassell may have been trying to offset the dryness of the last book by at the same time publishing Generations of Resistance, based on the photojournalism of Steve Cox. For the general reader it offers a more concise explanation of the history and the present situation, along with striking – if at times gruesome – photographs of the horrific Dili massacre of 1991. What none of the above books does is to pull together all the strands of the Suharto regime’s repression during the past 30 years. To achieve that task a depressingly large tome would be required.

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Beyond Beijing
by Shirini Heerah and Enrique Berrios

Like most women in the world, I wasn’t able to go to the Women’s Conference in Beijing last year. The media coverage at the time had focused on the difficulties of holding such a conference in China, and I never really felt that I knew what had actually gone on there or how it related to my own life.

Beyond Beijing fills the gap and also communicates the incredible buzz felt by the 30,000 women attending. ‘This is fantastic!’ says one woman, with tears in her eyes. ‘It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.’ The energy and sheer variety of the event and its participants combine to create a joyous kaleidoscope.

There are sober notes too. Clips of workshops on prostitution, a heated discussion with World Bank officials on the effects of structural adjustment on women; a mother from Azerbaijan showing a photo of her dead daughter; women in black in a powerful silent protest against genocide, against the events in Rwanda and Bosnia, against all violations of women’s rights. In a scene near the end of the video, a night-time procession of coloured paper lan-terns wends its way through an arch. ‘We will never forget the women who are now in prison because we are attending this conference; the activists in China whose voices have been silenced,’ say the women with the lanterns.

Woven throughout is the ‘ribbon’ of the Women Weaving the World Together project. Pieces of cloth made by women from every country in every colour are bonded together to make a ribbon many kilometres long which is walked around the conference centre and even taken to China’s Great Wall.

The outcome of all this? ‘We now have the strongest international document on women’s equality ever!’ says one jubilant interviewee dancing in the rain at the end. ‘And we must make sure that women everywhere ensure that their governments live up to what we made them promise here. Beijing is more than words.’ The material accompanying the video gives ideas for making this a reality. And having watched it, I felt like doing my own little dance.

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Beyond Beijing is available from Shirini Heerah, 16b Saltoun Road, London SW2 1EP, England. Tel/Fax: (44) 171 737 6024

Reviews by Louise Gray, Roger Bingham, Nikki van der Gaag.
Reviews editor: Vanessa Baird

T H E[image, unknown] C L A S S I C
River Out of Eden
...being the book that keeps the rational debate alive
and kicking against a wave of religious dogma.

River Out of Eden Science and religion have clashed frequently throughout history, most often with religion as the entrenched political power and with decidedly detrimental effects on the health of the scientist – as Galileo could confirm. Many would argue that religion’s greatest crisis in the battle with scientific rationalism came when Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, striking at the heart of the Christian creation myth. Despite desperate attempts by Christian thinkers to construct an alternative theory encompassing the creation and a neutered version of Darwinism – most famously the ludicrous logic knots of Philip Gosse’s Omphalos – dogmatic Christianity suffered a blow from which it has never really recovered. In a sense, all scientific and rationalist thought in our century has been conducted amid the ripples still spreading from Darwin’s idea. It is 20 years since Richard Dawkins, the most persuasive of modern Darwinians, published his groundbreaking study of natural selection, The Selfish Gene. But despite the force of Darwin’s idea – as Dawkins says, ‘never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions’ – the same arguments in favour of creationism come round again and again. In River Out of Eden, Dawkins tackles these objections head on and his writing sparkles with wit and apt examples. Dawkins’ ‘river’ of his title is a river of DNA, flowing and branching down through geological time and in its defence he is tenacity itself. Faced with the ‘Argument from Design’ – the imbuing with a divinely inspired purposefulness the development by natural selection of wings or eyes – he constructs an essay involving the dance of honey bees and the sex-ratio of elephant seals to prove the irrational grounding of the original premise.

Dawkins’ favourite argument – evident from the relish with which he demolishes it – is what he has dubbed the ‘Argument from Personal Incredulity’. It goes as follows: ‘This creature/organ/behaviour is so perfect/intricate/unlikely that I cannot believe that there has been sufficient geological time for the necessary evolutionary steps to have occurred.’ A variant on this is the assertion that an organ or behaviour pattern needs to be perfect in order to be of any use, therefore previous developmental stages, being of dubious utility, could not occur. This can be summed up as the ‘What use is half an eye?’ question. Dawkins has splendid fun with the misapprehensions underpinning this position, beginning with the arrogance of the assumption that we can apply human judgement and standards to the natural world. Our notions of utility or perfection have no universal validity; mimicry or camouflage need to meet criteria common to prey and hunter, not human perception. The related ‘half eye’ question is given short shrift: ‘Half an eye is just one per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye, which is already better than 48 per cent and the difference is significant.’ As to time, Dawkins produces evidence showing that, not only has this been ample to develop the present complexity of the eye, there has been enough for it to have evolved from scratch 1,500 times in succession! Thus, ‘the time needed... far from stretching credulity with its vastness, turns out to be too short for geologists to measure! It is a geological blink.’

There is a view that the modern tendency to construct personality cults around scientists – as with the three famous Steves: Jones, Gould and Hawking – is an unhealthy manifestation of the public’s need to personalize complex questions. There is much truth in this and Dawkins may be guilty of fostering this attitude in his combative enthusiasm to communicate. Certainly he is no paragon of disinterested inquiry; he is a partisan for the principle of Darwinian selection and can be scathing with those who fail to see the blinding logic of his argument. ‘Wrong, utterly wrong!’ and ‘The fallacy is glaring!’ are just a couple of his magisterial put-downs.

River Out of Eden is not Dawkins’ most original or thorough book but it is an excellent starting point for the general reader. No special scientific knowledge is assumed and the basis of Darwinian selection is simply and elegantly laid before the reader. Those beguiled by the logic and beauty of the process will acquire from this book a solid base from which to tackle Dawkins’ more closely-argued works, such as The Blind Watchmaker, or his most recent volume, Climbing Mount Improbable (Viking 1996). At a time when fundamentalism is resurgent throughout the world and the forces of religious intolerance from Arkansas to Algeria are trying to close down the channels of debate and education, Richard Dawkins is an invaluable ally in the struggle for tolerance and rationalism.

Peter Whittaker

River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins is published by Weidenfield & Nicholson, London 1995.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 282 magazine cover This article is from the August 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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