Monday, 21 July 2014

Assata Shakur's story "stands the test of time"

Authors, journalists and activists are rallying to re-read Assata Shakur's 1988 memoir Assata: An Autobiography, republished this month by Zed Books with a new foreword by Angela Davis.


"When we acknowledge the scale of surveillance and covert policing that we face today," writes Kewsi Shaddai in The Guardian's Comment is Free, "the FBI’s renewed attempt to “recapture” Assata should disturb every single one of us."

After more than a decade of civil rights activism with the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army, Assata was convicted for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. Escaping from maximum security prison in 1979, she has been a fugitive ever since. Last year she became the first ever woman to make the FBI's most wanted terrorist list.


In his double page spread for The Independent - 'Black militant, fugitive cop killer, terrorist threat... or escaped slave?' - Tim Walker takes a look at the many divisive faces of an American villain and heroine.


Meanwhile, in her cover feature for The Guardian's G2 magazinecharting Assata's rise from tom boy misfit to civil rights activist to become one of the FBI's most-wanted 'terrorists', Bim Adewunmi asks: "Is she still such a threat to US security that she warrants a $2m reward for her capture?"


Lastly, prize-winning British author and poet Bernardine Evaristo writes in the Independent Magazine how "Shakur is definitely the feisty heroine of her own story, and has long been an iconic figure, now with a $2m bounty on her head."


With her conviction and 'terrorist' classification seen by many as emblematic of institutional racism in the USA, and as godmother to rapper Tupac Shakur, Assata has been eulogised by some of hip hop's brightest stars, from Public Enemy to Jay-Z, via Common. To listen to our Assata-inspired playlist, click below.






Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur is published by Zed Books, available to buy online and in shops nationwide.

The new edition will be launched at an event at the new Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London, on 21 August. Joining us will be rapper Akala and performance poet Zena Edwards. For further details click here and scroll down. Tickets are free but RSVP is essential.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Zed 'Open House' - July 17th with Tony Phillips, editor of 'Europe on the Brink'


We are very excited to be holding our first Zed 'Open House' event on Thursday July 17th. The Zed HQ will be open from 6pm.   

*Refreshments and snacks served

*Wide range of Zed books available for sale at an incredible 50% DISCOUNT - from brand new titles to Zed classics

* Tony Phillips, editor of Europe on the Brink: Debt Crisis and Dissent in the European Periphery, will lead a discussion on the current economic and political crisis shaking Europe, providing unique insights drawn from the European periphery and similar situations in the global south

*Zed staff will be on-hand to serve drinks and answer questions about Zed and how our unique co-operative structure works.

Come and find us at 7 Cynthia Street, London, N1 9JF. We are a short walk from either Kings Cross or Angel tube stations, just off Pentonville Road. You can view our location on this map.

Space is limited, so please do RSVP: marketing@zedbooks.net

Come and say hello!




Friday, 23 May 2014

Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel by Richard Jackson - book trailer and author Q&A




Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel
                       
by Richard Jackson

Leaked by Zed Books May 2014

Available to buy here.

Follow the leak at #ConfessionsofaTerrorist




"I remain puzzled by the failure of many contemporary novelists to depict 'terrorists' in an authentic manner."

Already a leading academic, terrorism expert Richard Jackson has turned his hand to fiction. Upon the publication of his debut novel, Richard spoke to Zed Books about the influences, politics, and frustrations that lead him to write what the Morning Star has called 'a book that's too important not to read.'

               

You’re a respected scholar with a number of academic books and papers to your name – why decide to write a novel? 

I saw that there were too few novels about terrorism that I could honestly recommend to my students as a way of animating and informing them about the subject. I came to believe that writing my own novel might be a more effective way of reaching a wider audience and engaging my students. Once I had decided to write the novel I then had to work out a good story, characters, dialogue and the like. I shared my initial thoughts with some wonderful and skilled people I trusted, and over a number of drafts and a lot of conversations, what I think is a good story emerged. Of course, I also drew upon my personal stories of growing up in Africa and the stories of people I had met or read about. Novelists are, in many ways, story collectors. They pick them up and then try and weave them into a new form.


Who is your favourite novelist and why? 

For me, John Le Carré has an eloquence and incisiveness that lifts him above many other contemporary novelists, especially within the espionage genre. He was clearly very angry with what he saw after 9/11, and it came out in the series of brilliant novelistic deconstructions of the absurdity and savagery of the global war on terror. While other novelists in this genre appear to have bought into the logic of the war on terror unquestioningly, John Le Carré tore its inverted morality and counterproductive logic to shreds. I am also a big fan of Yasmina Khadra, who writes about the conflicts in Algeria, Palestine and Iraq – and the people caught up in them – with an insight and authenticity that many Western authors simply haven’t captured.


What’s frustrated you most reading fictional depictions of ‘terrorists’? 

I remain puzzled by the failure of many contemporary novelists to depict 'terrorists' in an authentic manner, although it's not surprising given the powerful cultural taboo against terrorism today. In a sense, 'terrorists' have come to be viewed in the same way that paedophiles are – as a kind of pure evil, and as inhuman and without any redeeming human qualities. This is the result of years of political speechmaking, movies, television shows, novels and the like depicting them as cruel, inhuman fanatics. The point is, even a most basic level of research would reveal that terrorists are not evil, inhuman, animal-like. I would have thought that some courageous novelists would have by now made a real effort to understand their subjects as real human beings – done some real research – and then narrated them in more authentic, more human terms. In my experience, most literary depictions of ‘terrorists’ involve a great deal of stereotyping, and are psychologically shallow and unconvincing. I think that film has been much better at depicting 'terrorists' in meaningful and insightful ways. Paradise Now (2005), for example, is a brilliant exploration of two Palestinian suicide bombers in the twenty four hours after they have been selected for an operation. It draws out their humanity, their politics, their frailties, and never reduces them to caricatures.


Why do you think novelists have struggled so much to accurately depict the psyche of a terrorist? 

I think the primary reason for this is cultural and political. It’s a direct consequence of the powerful terrorism taboo. Particularly after 9/11, the atmosphere was so fraught and tense that public figures really had to watch what they said. There are numerous cases of television presenters, comedians and other public figures who made comments that were considered sympathetic to ‘terrorists’ by questioning the dominant idea of ‘evil, cowardly terrorists’ who subsequently lost their careers and faced vociferous public opprobrium. It became taboo to even hear the voice of a ‘terrorist’, lest one come to understand and sympathise with their point of view. This is why, despite how prevalent this topic is, and how easy it would be to interview an actual ‘terrorist’, we never see direct interviews with them on television. In this context, writing a sympathetic literary depiction of a ‘terrorist’ is seen as akin to writing a sympathetic portrayal of a paedophile. That’s why I think most novelists find it too challenging to even attempt. I think I can probably get away with writing against the grain like this because I have been writing critically about terrorism for years, and have a number of academic publications to back up the way I have constructed the ‘terrorist’ in my story. However, I expect that some people will still be upset at the way in which my novel violates the terrorism taboo.


Do you get frustrated at how the ‘war on terror’ is depicted in the mass media? 

I get immensely frustrated at the way the war on terror is depicted in the mainstream media, although there are some notable journalists and publications who have courageously reported on it against the norm. This is because the media largely appears to have adopted an unquestioning and uncritical viewpoint, and consequently never rigorously questions the official narratives about terrorism and the war on terror given by politicians. Nor does it engage in any in-depth research or analysis itself, relying instead largely on official sources – despite their proven penchant for misinformation and lying. In particular, the media has failed to question the assertion that terrorism is a massive existential threat requiring billions of pounds to counter-act, or the notion that our security requires giving up some of our civil liberties. A little research would demonstrate that neither of these narratives are credible. It has also failed to probe the question of why ‘terrorists’ want to attack us, or whether our violence overseas could be reasonably considered terroristic itself. In truth, the war on terror has been not only a massive mistake which has fuelled violence and militarism around the world, but it has been deeply immoral and very often criminal. I believe that over the next few decades, as documents are declassified, prisoners released and stories brought to light, the crimes of the war on terror will come to collectively haunt us. We will have to confront all the victims of torture, extra-judicial murder, disappearance, death squad activity, and innocently imprisoned people – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere for the sake of lies and distortions. We will then have to face up to the fact that all this was done in our name, and that our media failed to inform us and warn us about it, and that we failed to effectively oppose it. In part, the novel is an attempt to educate the readers about some of the terrible things being done in our name, and the reasons why intelligent, concerned individuals might be led to violently oppose our governments’ foreign policies.


How do you reconcile your own beliefs as a pacifist with your sympathetic portrayal of the Professor – someone who is prepared to use extreme violence to achieve their aims? 

The purpose of the novel is not to justify violence, but to try and understand why someone would decide to employ political violence in the pursuit of justice and freedom. I don’t believe that violence is either an effective or moral instrument by which to achieve one’s political goals. However, in a world where the powerful retain the right to use violence in pursuit of their interests and do so all the time, and where democratic mechanisms are often ineffective in freeing people from oppression and domination, I can understand why someone might think that they needed to fight back against the violence and oppression they face. My novel is also something of an attempt to show that violence begets violence, and that we are currently trapped in a vicious cycle of attack and counterattack in the war on terror. In this sense I think it is essentially a pacifist novel.


Have you ever met anyone like the Professor in real life? 


I have met many individuals who were convicted of terrorism and have since been released. On occasions, I’ve even invited them to speak at my conferences. Of course, they do not consider themselves to be ‘terrorists’ and would reject this label. More importantly, I have read a great many interviews with militants and militant autobiographies in which militants were allowed to explain themselves. I list some of these sources at the end of the novel. On the other hand, I have also met people I would consider to be state terrorists, although neither would they see themselves that way. The minute you talk to such individuals all the stereotypes about so-called ‘terrorists’ disappear. What remains is a human being with a real story – ideals, aspirations, intelligence, humour and real humanity. This is not to excuse the often terrible things they have done, but simply to acknowledge their humanity and reject the notion that they are somehow no longer human or worthy of human rights.


- TAPE ENDS -


Friday, 11 April 2014

Win tickets for the 'Critique, Influence, Change' debate at HowtheLightGetsIn!


Courtesy of our friends at the wonderful HowTheLightGetsInthe world’s biggest philosophy and music festival, we have a pair of tickets to the Critique, Influence, Change debate, which takes place at the festival on Monday 26 May. To be in with a chance of winning just answer the following question:

Which Dutch-American sociologist will be joining Pnina Werbner and Robert Wade to debate the future of capitalism at this year's HowTheLightGetsIn?

Send your answers via an email titled 'CIC Competition’ to marketing@zedbooks.net before Monday 21st April to be in with a chance to win. The winners will be chosen at random from all correct entries. Good luck!

For a flavor of what to expect at the debate you can watch highlights from the London launch of Critique, Influence, Change with Ha-Joon Chang, Ellie Mae O'Hagan and Duncan Green:




Friday, 4 April 2014

The night we re-built the left (or made a start anyway...): video highlights of the Critique, Influence, Change launch

In March we were very excited to be joined by world-renowned economist Ha-Joon Chang, Guardian journalist Ellie Mae O'Hagan and Oxfam's Duncan Green, to launch the Critique, Influence, Change series at London's Free Word Centre.

Ellie Mae O'Hagan set a challenge at the beginning of the evening: 'Seal the doors - we aren't leaving until we've re-built the left'. We might not have fully achieved that, but the discussion was fascinating, refreshing and provided a great starting point for future activism and debate.

The debate on social change will continue at How the Light Gets In, the world's biggest philosophy and music festival, where we are excited to be sponsoring a Critique, Influence, Change panel. Series contributors Robert Wade and Pnina Werbner will join Saskia Sassen and Pippa Malmgren to debate 'The End of Capitalism' on Monday 26 May, 12pm in the Globe Hall. 

In the meantime, you can watch highlights from the London launch in the rather nice video below: 




Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Growth for who, George?


On UK Budget day 2014 Lorenzo Fioramonti, author of Gross Domestic Problem and How Numbers Rule the World, argues that GDP is a failed yardstick which needs to be dumped – and replaced with measurements that truly account for social wellbeing and environmental sustainability.


No doubt GDP is the world’s best-known ‘number’ and an extremely powerful political tool. Over the course of the past century, it has dominated not only in capitalist countries but also in socialist societies. In spite of its apparent neutrality, GDP has come to represent a model of society, thereby influencing not only economic, but also political and cultural processes.

GDP was invented in the US exactly 80 years ago, in 1934, with a view to jump-starting the economy out of the Great Depression and maximizing production in what was soon to become a wartime economy. An economist of Russian descent, Simon Kuznets, then working at the National Bureau for Economic Research, was tasked with the job of condensing all production by businesses and expenses by government into a single number, which should rise in good times and fall in bad. This number was initially called National Income Produced and then Gross National Product (GNP) and included market-based transactions, but left out non-market activities, such as voluntary work, household services and natural capital.

In 1942, Kuznets went to work for the War Production Board and his numbers proved that the Roosevelt’s Victory Program was badly designed: he was convinced that the country was capable of a greater effort without curtailing internal consumption. The president’s political advisors, argued for the country’s seizure of industries and corporations. In the end, the economists prevailed and the government revised its approach. As expected, the US economy boomed and the country’s capacity to sustain military exposure appeared almost unlimited. By 1944, the US could afford to wage the war simultaneously on two fronts while domestic consumption was at an all-time high. By contrast, Hitler’s military targets were disconnected from the overall performance of the German economy, a deficiency caused by the lack of GDP accounts. For Kuznets’ former boss, Wesley Mitchell, there is no way to describe how much GDP “facilitated the World War II effort.” Economists nowadays agree that the invention of GDP was as important to win the war as that of the nuclear bomb.

To guarantee GDP growth after the war, the government pushed private consumption on a massive scale and increased its defence budget. While military conflict had marked the success of GDP as a political instrument, the postwar system of mass consumption sealed its grip on society as a tool of economic hegemony: “Our young men had marched off to war,” once wrote economic analyst Colb and his colleagues. “Now Americans were marching off to the malls that eventually covered the land.” And this intimate relationship between war and consumption did not fade away in times of peace. Between 1948 and 1989, American economic growth was largely dependent upon military spending. Kuznets did not like these developments and argued for a ‘peacetime concept’ of GDP, with the exclusion of military expenses.

The GDP mantra has also resulted in the increasing importance of economists in policy making. Before the war, economists were rarely quoted in the media, but ever since the invention of GDP, economic experts have become essential players in public debate. Conformity among mainstream economists has been pervasive. The fact that GDP neglects some of the most important factors in a society, such as the informal economy, social relations, the value of natural resources and – perhaps most importantly – human wellbeing, never seemed to bother them. Unlike them, Kuznets had always recognized that GDP is “affected by implicit or explicit value judgments” and “controversial criteria.”

While GDP served the interests of political and business elites for several decades, it appears to have run out of steam. Since 2007, estimates of GDP have been revised several times, with governments trying to manipulate data and results for political purposes. In Europe, the OECD and the EU promoted a new initiative by the name of ‘Beyond GDP’. British Prime Minister David Cameron called on national statisticians to complement the ever-more gloomy calculations of quarterly GDP trends with more general references to the “happiness” of Britons. The US government followed suit, sponsoring a new measure of “subjective well-being.” Even China embarked on a controversial ‘green’ GDP project. Finally, in April 2012, the UN Secretary General maintained that while GDP “has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured”, it “fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress.” He called for “a new economic paradigm” to capture social, economic and environmental wellbeing. Together, he said, these define “gross global happiness.”

The GDP war did not end in 1945. It turned into an endless conflict against social wellbeing and natural resources, in which consumers became the new foot soldiers. GDP is built on a great lie. This lies says that markets are the only producers of wealth. What is not priced, what does not involve a formal financial transaction based on money, does not count. By paraphrasing Yale professor Charles Lindblom, one may say that GDP has not only “imprisoned our thinking about politics and economics,”  but also our capacity to reinvent our social environment. However, “where there are prisons, there are also jailbreaks.” By challenging GDP, we stand a chance to regain control over our political, social and economic institutions. 



Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World's Most Powerful Number

Lorenzo Fioramonti

‘This book is long overdue. Finally, the political interests behind the GDP mantra have been unveiled, forcing us to rethink mainstream economic views and build a more just and sustainable world. It is indeed the most important struggle of our generation.’Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director






Further reading: a Zed Books economics reading list

How Numbers Rule the World: The Use and Abuse of Statistics in Global Politics 

Lorenzo Fioramonti

Numbers dominate global politics and, as a result, our everyday lives. Credit ratings steer financial markets and can make or break the future of entire nations. GDP drives our economies. Stock market indices flood our media and national debates. Statistical calculations define how we deal with climate change, poverty and sustainability. But what is behind these numbers?

In How Numbers Rule the World, Fioramonti reveals the hidden agendas underpinning statistics and those who control them.


“Urgent and highly accessible.”  David Boyle, author of The Tyranny of Numbers


Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?

Steve Keen

Debunking Economics exposes what many non-economists may have suspected and a minority of economists have long known: that economic theory is not only unpalatable, but also plain wrong. Essential for anyone who has ever doubted the advice or reasoning of economists, Debunking Economics provides a signpost to a better future.

'Economics still awaits its Darwin. Keynes came close, but not close enough. Keen comes closer still. Economics, like biology used to be, remains mostly faith-based. No book poses a bigger threat to that faith than Debunking Economics.'  Real World Economics Review.




The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy

Yanis Varoufakis

In this remarkable and provocative book, Yanis Varoufakis explodes the myth that financialisation, ineffectual regulation, greed and globalisation were the root causes of the global economic crisis. Rather, they are symptoms of a much deeper malaise which can be traced all the way back to the Great Crash of 1929. This is an essential account of the socio-economic events and hidden histories that have shaped the world as we now know it.

‘Varoufakis is a rare economist: skilled at explaining ideas and able to put his discipline in a broader context.’Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian lead economics writer



The candle-lit bunker book launch of Max Haiven's 'Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power'

Monday, 17 March 2014

Event video highlights: 'Africa's Urban Revolution' launch at Africa Research Institute

Last month we launched Africa's Urban Revolution, a new volume edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse which seeks to process and understand the startling facts of Africa's ongoing urbanisation. Those who missed out on our fantastic launch event in collaboration with Africa Research Institute need wait no longer.

In introducing his chapter – 'Urbanisation as a global historical process' – Sean Fox called into question the notion of an African 'urban revolution', arguing that urban growth across the continent is far less a result of mass migration from rural to urban areas, and more a result of decreased mortality rates and increased food security. The implications for this on development policy, he argued, are drastic.





In her contribution (4:40 onwards) Jo Beall, Director of Education & Society at the British Council, explained the thinking behind her chapter with Tom Goodfellow, 'Conflict and post-war transition in African cities'. She discussed how she sought to avoid the tendency of urban, Africa and conflict scholars to focus solely on the noir, and instead to ask what really happens to different African cities in different kinds of conflict. In doing so she touched upon a wide range of case studies, which were then picked up during the open discussion with students, policy-makers and academics that followed.

To purchase the book – which the LSE Review of Books wrote should be 'a standard textbook for students' of African-focused, developmental and other social science departments – visit the Zed Books website.

And to watch Susan Parnell, one of the book's editors, discuss in detail some of the aims behind the volume as a whole, visit Africa Research Institute's YouTube channel.