The radical book review
Fully Automated Luxury Communism
by Aaron Bastani
(Verso ISBN 9781786632623)
In Iain Banks’s celebrated science fiction ‘Culture’ series, he set himself the task of imagining a post-scarcity civilization and, crucially, what a good and useful life might consist of in such a society. Back in the world of the real, Aaron Bastani, co-founder of the Novara Media website, has written a feisty manifesto for just such a political entity: Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Before outlining what he means by the term, the author delineates the many morbid symptoms afflicting the current world order: disruptive crises ranging from neoliberalism’s hegemony to catastrophic climate change. In response to these multifarious challenges, Bastani proposes a blueprint for a new society; one in which advanced technology will free humanity from the necessity to work. Automation, he argues, will lead to abundance and hence leisure and, in his phrase, luxury communism. He quotes with approval another science fiction author, Arthur C Clarke: ‘The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.’
In fleshing out his ideas, Bastani highlights the technological and societal advances which will underpin his radical vision. These stretch from the currently feasible, such as ubiquitous renewable energy and genetic editing, through the concept of Universal Basic Services, to the frankly science-fictional proposals of synthetic cloned meat and asteroid mining.
I salute Bastani’s optimism that humanity can steer a course from our bleak present to a better, brighter future. While we can perhaps argue that his hypothesis may favour enthusiasm over hard reality in several areas, the idea of Fully Automated Luxury Communism is certainly a concept deserving of investigation and an argument well worth having. PW★★★★✩ versobooks.com
A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch
by Sanam Maher
(Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781526607591)
How can a wannabe actress, model and singer who created a storm on social media, and about whom hundreds of column inches have been written, remain an enigma? When Qandeel Baloch was killed in 2016, journalist Sanam Maher went in search of the real story.
Dubbed ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’ – a moniker Qandeel saw as flattering – Fouzia Azeem first came to the public’s attention when she appeared on television auditioning for Pakistan Idol. She failed to qualify, but she used the publicity to recreate herself as Qandeel Baloch, posting racy videos on YouTube and Facebook and building up a huge following on Twitter. She didn’t just push the boundaries of what was acceptable to society, she tore them down. As a result, she faced a constant stream of online abuse, from being called a whore to being told she deserved to die.
In July 2016, her real identity was disclosed in a national newspaper. A few days later, she was dead. Her brother admitted to the murder, with a neighbour explaining that her village felt disgraced when its connection with her became known.
Sanam Maher delves deep into Pakistan’s psyche as she considers how Qandeel managed to become such a celebrity and to divide a society torn between conservative, religious and cultural customs and Western influences that promote women’s right to freedom of expression and choice. But there are no easy answers, and the only thing that seems clear is that Qandeel’s short life was not a happy one.
Misguided attention-seeker or feminist icon? You decide. JL ★★★✩✩ bloomsbury.com
America’s Covert War in East Africa
by Clara Usiskin
(Hurst ISBN 9781849044134)
We are approaching two decades since George W. Bush declared his bungled and incoherent ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the US. In that time the distorting effect of US power and money has been felt across the world, greatly to the detriment of good governance and global security. Extraordinary rendition, ‘black’ torture sites in third countries, and assassination by drone have become commonplace tools in the never-ending battle against an inchoate and shape-shifting enemy.
Human rights activist Clara Usiskin has spent the last decade investigating a particularly murky arena of the ‘War on Terror’: that of the East and Horn of Africa. In her book she documents the many hundreds of secret detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings that have taken place in the region since Bill Clinton’s nascent rendition programme developed in response to the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Usiskin’s book focuses particularly on how the sanctioning of indiscriminate and ill-informed detention by the US gives free rein to authoritarian governments in the region to flout legal constraints and abuse human rights in the hunt for often non-existent terrorists. Her work in exposing this complicit relationship has resulted in harassment, threats and her deportation from both Kenya and Uganda. America’s Covert War in East Africa is the harrowing and ongoing story of how a fundamentally misguided security policy – surveillance, rendition, assassination – has warped and destabilized the politics of a region and devastated countless innocent lives. PW ★★★★✩ hurstpublishers.com
This Brutal House
by Niven Govinden
(Dialogue Books ISBN 9780349700700)
In his previous books Niven Govinden has worried away at the troubled intersection between individual needs and the collective good, whether it be a dying artist on the East Coast of US in All the Days and Nights or an angsty teen in suburban Surrey in Graffiti My Soul.
At the heart of this, his fifth novel, is a visceral stand-off between citizens and bureaucracy. On the steps of New York City Hall five ageing men stage a silent protest. They are the Mothers, organizers of the gay vogue ball community who have taken it upon themselves to provide safe spaces for the marginalized and abused LGBTQ+ street children of New York. Lately the children in their care have been going missing and, having exhausted the official channels, the Mothers take their grievance to the streets in a last desperate attempt to demand action from an indifferent officialdom and a hostile police force. Watching from City Hall is Teddy; raised by the Mothers, he is now a city employee mediating between the two sides but deeply conflicted himself. Teddy is grief-stricken over his lost love Sherry and bitterly aware of his ambiguous status and the lack of trust shown to him by both sides in the confrontation.
In consummate prose Govinden circles around the notions of parenthood, belonging and exclusion, teasing out, in his layered narrative, the prejudice embedded in the supposedly disinterested machinery of the state. This Brutal House is the finest novel to date from a brilliantly challenging, fearless and passionate writer. PW ★★★★✩ littlebrown.co.uk