The Making of Modern Ukraine: A Free Online Course from Yale University, Featuring 23 Lectures

Back in Sep­tem­ber, we men­tioned that Yale his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der had start­ed teach­ing a course, The Mak­ing of Mod­ern Ukraine, and putting the lec­tures online. With the fall semes­ter now over, you can watch 23 lec­tures on YouTube. All of the lec­tures appear above, or on this playlist. Key ques­tions explored by the course include:

What brought about the Ukrain­ian nation?  Ukraine must have exist­ed as a soci­ety and poli­ty on 23 Feb­ru­ary 2022, else Ukraini­ans would not have col­lec­tive­ly resist­ed Russ­ian inva­sion the next day.  Why has the exis­tence of Ukraine occa­sioned such con­tro­ver­sy?  In what ways are Pol­ish, Russ­ian, and Jew­ish self-under­stand­ing depen­dent upon expe­ri­ences in Ukraine?  Just how and when did a mod­ern Ukrain­ian nation emerge?  Just how for that mat­ter does any mod­ern nation emerge?  And why some nations and not oth­ers?  What is the bal­ance between struc­ture and agency in his­to­ry?  Can nations be cho­sen, and does it mat­ter?  Can the choic­es of indi­vid­u­als influ­ence the rise of much larg­er social orga­ni­za­tions?  If so, how?  Ukraine was the coun­try most touched by Sovi­et and Nazi ter­ror: what can we learn about those sys­tems, then, from Ukraine?  Is the post-colo­nial, mul­ti­lin­gual Ukrain­ian nation a holdover from the past, or does it hold some promise for the future?

A syl­labus for the course can be found on Sny­der’s Sub­stack.

The Mak­ing of Mod­ern Ukraine will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es, a sub­set of our meta col­lec­tion: 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

20 Lessons from the 20th Cen­tu­ry About How to Defend Democ­ra­cy from Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Accord­ing to Yale His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion of On Tyran­ny: Twen­ty Lessons from the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, the Best­selling Book by His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

Sav­ing Ukrain­ian Cul­tur­al Her­itage Online: 1,000+ Librar­i­ans Dig­i­tal­ly Pre­serve Arti­facts of Ukrain­ian Civ­i­liza­tion Before Rus­sia Can Destroy Them

Putin’s War on Ukraine Explained in 8 Min­utes

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How Qatar Built Stadiums with Forced Labor

I will let Vox pref­ace the video above:

Ever since Qatar won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010, its treat­ment of migrant work­ers has made inter­na­tion­al head­lines. News sto­ries and human rights orga­ni­za­tions revealed migrant work­ers who built the sta­di­ums, hotels, and all the new infra­struc­ture required for the World Cup were being forced to work, not get­ting paid, unable to leave, and in some cas­es, dying.

At the heart of the abuse faced by migrant work­ers is the kafala sys­tem. A sys­tem preva­lent in Gulf states that ties work­ers to their spon­sors, it often gives spon­sors almost total con­trol of migrant work­ers’ employ­ment and immi­gra­tion sta­tus.

Due to all the scruti­ny Qatar has been under, some reforms have been put in place, but the kafala sys­tem is more than a law — it’s a prac­tice. And while these reforms exist on paper, human rights orga­ni­za­tions say there’s still a long way to go.

To under­stand how hun­dreds of thou­sands of migrant work­ers were stuck in an exploita­tive sys­tem while build­ing the sta­di­ums for the World Cup, watch our 10-minute video above.

To delve deep­er, it’s also worth lis­ten­ing to the New York Times’ recent pod­cast, Qatar’s Big Bet on the World Cup and read The Guardian arti­cle, 6,500 migrant work­ers have died in Qatar since World Cup award­ed.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Meet Little Amal, the 12-Foot Puppet of a 10-Year-Old Syrian Girl, Who Has Been Touring the World

Lit­tle Amal is a 10-year-old Syr­i­an girl from a small vil­lage near Alep­po, a refugee and unac­com­pa­nied minor, who’s trav­eled over 9,000 kilo­me­ters over the last 15 months, hop­ing to reunite with her moth­er.

Lit­tle Amal is also a 12-foot tall rod pup­pet, oper­at­ed by three per­form­ers — one on stilts inside her mold­ed cane tor­so, to oper­ate her head, face and legs, with two more tak­ing charge of her hands.

As her cre­ators, Hand­spring Pup­pet Com­pa­ny co-founders Adri­an Kohler and Basil Jones, explain above, Amal’s pup­peteers must enter a group mind state when inter­act­ing with the crowds who turn out to meet her at free, com­mu­ni­ty-cre­at­ed events:

If the per­son inside on the stilts decides to turn left, the oth­er two have to respond imme­di­ate­ly as the arms would, so they all think the same thought.

Amal, who trav­els with three times as many pup­peteers as are required for any giv­en appear­ance and two back up ver­sions of her­self in case of mal­func­tion, is tru­ly a mir­a­cle of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

As a child who doesn’t speak the lan­guage of the coun­tries she has vis­it­ed, she express­es her­self with ges­tures, and seem­ing­ly invol­un­tary micro-move­ments.

She bows gra­cious­ly in both greet­ing and farewell, tak­ing extra time to touch hands with lit­tle chil­dren.

She swivels her head, eager­ly, if a bit appre­hen­sive­ly, tak­ing in her sur­round­ings.

Her lips part in won­der, reveal­ing a row of pearly teeth.

Her big, expres­sive eyes are oper­at­ed by the per­former on stilts, using a track­pad on a tiny com­put­er.

The light­weight rib­bons that make up her long hair, pulled none too tidi­ly away from her face with a flop­py bow, catch the breeze as she tow­ers above her well wish­ers.

After stops in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzer­land, Ger­many, Bel­gium, France and the UK, Lit­tle Amal land­ed in New York City, where mem­bers of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Orches­tra and Children’s Cho­rus ser­e­nad­ed her with Evening Song from Philip Glass’ opera Satya­gra­ha as she passed through John F. Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Air­port.

The New York Times’ Matt Stevens described the scene as Amal came into view:

As her head peeked out from above met­al bar­ri­ers, Lit­tle Amal widened her eyes as she took in the arrivals ter­mi­nal at Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Air­port on Wednes­day. She looked left, then right, clutch­ing her big green suit­case with its rain­bow and sun stick­ers. She was, as new­com­ers to New York City so often are, a lit­tle ner­vous, and a lit­tle lost…(she) appeared trans­fixed by the music — much like the many trav­el­ers strolling by with their suit­cas­es appeared trans­fixed by the 12-foot-tall pup­pet sud­den­ly tow­er­ing before them. Still, she was trep­i­da­tious, a tad reluc­tant to approach the orches­tra. At least, that is, until a cho­rus mem­ber — a girl wear­ing a sun­flower yel­low shirt — went up to her and took her by the hand.

With 50 events in 20 days, Lit­tle Amal had a packed sched­ule that includ­ed a nigh­t­ime vis­it to Jane’s Carousel in Brook­lyn Bridge Park and an ear­ly morn­ing trip along Coney Island’s board­walk. Unlike most first time vis­i­tors, she spent time in Queens, Stat­en Island and The Bronx.

A New Orleans style sec­ond line pro­ces­sion­al escort­ed her a lit­tle over a dozen blocks, from Lin­coln Cen­ter, where she inter­act­ed with dancers and per­for­mance artist Machine Daz­zle, to the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, above.

New York’s immi­grant his­to­ry was evi­dent in Lit­tle Amal’s tour of the Low­er East Side and Chi­na­town, with stops at the Ten­e­ment Muse­um and the Clemente Soto Vélez Cul­tur­al & Edu­ca­tion­al Cen­ter.

With every appear­ance, Amal’s incred­i­bly life­like move­ments and dig­ni­fied reserved turned adults as well as chil­dren turned into believ­ers, while bring­ing atten­tion to the tens of thou­sands of chil­dren who have fled war and per­se­cu­tion in their home coun­tries.

See pho­tos and read more about Lit­tle Amal’s past and future trav­els here.

Down­load a free Lit­tle Amal activ­i­ty and edu­ca­tion pack here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets in Vin­tage Primer From 1969

The Hand Pup­pets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

Albert Ein­stein Hold­ing an Albert Ein­stein Pup­pet (Cir­ca 1931)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Carl Sagan Issues a Chilling Warning to America in His Last Interview (1996)

Until the end of his life, Carl Sagan (1934–1996) con­tin­ued doing what he did all along — pop­u­lar­iz­ing sci­ence and “enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly con­vey­ing the won­ders of the uni­verse to mil­lions of peo­ple on tele­vi­sion and in books.” When­ev­er Sagan appeared on ”The Tonight Show” with John­ny Car­son dur­ing the 70s and 80s, his goal was to con­nect with every­day Amer­i­cans — peo­ple who did­n’t sub­scribe to Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can — and increase the pub­lic’s under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion of sci­ence.

At the end of his life, Sagan still cared deeply about where sci­ence stood in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. But while los­ing a bat­tle with myelodys­pla­sia, Sagan also sensed that sci­en­tif­ic think­ing was los­ing ground in Amer­i­ca, and even more omi­nous­ly with­in the cham­bers of the Newt Gringrich-led Con­gress.

Dur­ing his final inter­view, aired on May 27, 1996, Sagan issued a strong warn­ing, telling Char­lie Rose:

We’ve arranged a soci­ety on sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in which nobody under­stands any­thing about sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and this com­bustible mix­ture of igno­rance and pow­er soon­er or lat­er is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is run­ning the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in a democ­ra­cy if the peo­ple don’t know any­thing about it.

20 years lat­er, fig­ures like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are out there, try­ing to pop­u­lar­ize sci­ence with new forms of media. But the same struc­tur­al prob­lem, so well artic­u­lat­ed by Sagan, remains large­ly in place. And yet there’s rea­son to hope. Because even as estab­lish­ment politi­cians still play the same games with sci­ence, there are ear­ly signs that, as with oth­er impor­tant issues, pub­lic opin­ion is shift­ing beneath their feet.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Glob­al Warm­ing: A Free Course from UChica­go Explains Cli­mate Change

Carl Sagan Tells John­ny Car­son What’s Wrong with Star Wars: “They’re All White” & There’s a “Large Amount of Human Chau­vin­ism in It” (1978)

Carl Sagan’s Ambi­tious Col­lege Read­ing List: Pla­to, Shake­speare, Gide, and Plen­ty of Phi­los­o­phy, Math & Physics (1954)

Carl Sagan Explains Evo­lu­tion in an Eight-Minute Ani­ma­tion

Carl Sagan Writes a Let­ter to 17-Year-Old Neil deGrasse Tyson (1975)

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The Brooklyn Public Library Gives Every Teenager in the U.S. Free Access to Books Getting Censored by American Schools

We have cov­ered it before: school dis­tricts across the Unit­ed States are increas­ing­ly cen­sor­ing books that don’t align with white-washed con­ser­v­a­tive visions of the world. Art Spiegel­man’s Maus, The Illus­trat­ed Diary of Anne Frank, Alice Walk­er’s The Col­or Pur­ple, Toni Mor­rison’s The Bluest Eye, and Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird–these are some of the many books get­ting pulled from library shelves in Amer­i­can schools. In response to this con­cern­ing trend, the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library has made a bold move: For a lim­it­ed time, the library will offer a free eCard to any per­son aged 13 to 21 across the Unit­ed States, allow­ing them free access to 500,000 dig­i­tal books, includ­ing many cen­sored books. The Chief Librar­i­an for the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library, Nick Hig­gins said:

A pub­lic library rep­re­sents all of us in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety we exist with oth­er peo­ple, with oth­er ideas, oth­er view­points and per­spec­tives and that’s what makes a healthy democ­ra­cy — not shut­ting down access to those points of view or silenc­ing voic­es that we don’t agree with, but expand­ing access to those voic­es and hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and ideas that we agree with and ideas that we don’t agree with.

And he added:

This is an intel­lec­tu­al free­dom to read ini­tia­tive by the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library. You know, we’ve been pay­ing atten­tion to a lot of the book chal­lenges and bans that have been tak­ing place, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the last year in many places across the coun­try. We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expe­ri­ence a whole lot of that here in Brook­lyn, but we know that there are library patrons and library staff who are fac­ing these and we want­ed to fig­ure out a way to step in and help, par­tic­u­lar­ly for young peo­ple who are see­ing, some books in their library col­lec­tions that may rep­re­sent them, but they’re being tak­en off the shelves.

As for how to get the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library’s free eCard, their Books Unbanned web­site offers the fol­low­ing instruc­tions: “indi­vid­u­als ages 13–21 can apply for a free BPL eCard, pro­vid­ing access to our full eBook col­lec­tion as well as our learn­ing data­bas­es. To apply, email” In short, send them an email.

You can find a list of Amer­i­ca’s most fre­quent­ly banned books at the web­site of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion.

NOTE: We’re see­ing reports on Twit­ter that a teacher in Nor­man, OK has been ter­mi­nat­ed for let­ting a stu­dent know about the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library’s free library. While this report has­n’t been ful­ly sub­stan­ti­at­ed, teach­ers who want to rec­om­mend this resource should pro­ceed with cau­tion. Par­ents could seem­ing­ly refer BPL’s free library to stu­dents with less con­cern about retal­i­a­tion.

via KTVB

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Texas School Board Bans Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion of The Diary of Anne Frank

Ten­nessee School Board Bans Maus, the Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Graph­ic Nov­el on the Holo­caust; the Book Becomes #1 Best­seller on Ama­zon

The 850 Books a Texas Law­mak­er Wants to Ban Because They Could Make Stu­dents Feel Uncom­fort­able

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

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How Salman Rushdie Has Lived and Written Under the Threat of Death: a Free Documentary

Alfred Hitch­cock spe­cial­ized in films about marked men: inno­cents, more or less, who sud­den­ly find them­selves pur­sued by sin­is­ter forces to the ends of the Earth. Lit­tle won­der, then, that Salman Rushdie would count him­self a Hitch­cock fan. The nov­el­ist ref­er­ences the film­mak­er more than once in Salman Rushdie: Writ­ing Under Death Threats, the DW tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary above. He remem­bers a sequence from The Birds that cuts between stu­dents in a class­room and the play­ground out­side: in one shot a black­bird comes to sit on the jun­gle gym, and just a few shots lat­er it’s been joined by 500 more. “The case of what hap­pened to The Satan­ic Vers­es was, it was some­thing like the first black­bird.”

Rushdie refers, of course, to the fat­wa called down upon him in response to that nov­el­’s sup­posed blas­phemies against Islam by Aya­tol­lah Khome­i­ni. As a result he had to spend most of the sub­se­quent decade in hid­ing, under the pro­tec­tion of the British gov­ern­ment. By the time of this doc­u­men­tary, which came out in 2018, the dan­ger seemed to have passed.

“What’s hap­pen­ing now, as the scan­dal goes away,” he says of The Satan­ic Vers­es, “is that peo­ple are able to read it as a book, rather than as some kind of scan­dalous text.” But the dan­ger had not passed, as we learned ear­li­er this month when Rushdie was stabbed onstage at a lit­er­ary event in upstate New York, avoid­ing death by what’s been report­ed as a nar­row mar­gin indeed.

This sto­ry has its ironies, not least that Rushdie’s attack­er was born in Cal­i­for­nia a decade after the Iran­ian gov­ern­men­t’s dis­avow­al of the fat­wa. But for Rushdie him­self, the attempt on his life can’t have come entire­ly as a sur­prise: he saw the gath­er­ing black­birds of vio­lent fanati­cism as well as those of met­ro­pol­i­tan com­pla­cen­cy. Reflect­ing on the 2015 attack on French satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Heb­do, he laments that “even peo­ple who are on the lib­er­al, pro­gres­sive, left­ist end of the spec­trum now find ‘prob­lem­at­ic’ the idea of sup­port­ing peo­ple who make fun of reli­gion.” Always and every­where, writ­ing has been done under the threat of one kind of pun­ish­ment or anoth­er; more than 30 years after The Satan­ic Vers­es, Rushdie’s case remains the most har­row­ing­ly extreme illus­tra­tion of the writer’s con­di­tion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

When Christo­pher Hitchens Vig­i­lant­ly Defend­ed Salman Rushdie After the Fat­wah: “It Was a Mat­ter of Every­thing I Hat­ed Ver­sus Every­thing I Loved”

Hear Salman Rushdie Read Don­ald Barthelme’s “Con­cern­ing the Body­guard” 

Jeff Koons and Salman Rushdie Teach New Cours­es on Art, Cre­ativ­i­ty & Sto­ry­telling for Mas­ter­Class

Salman Rushdie: Machiavelli’s Bad Rap

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

When Christopher Hitchens Vigilantly Defended Salman Rushdie After the Fatwah: “It Was a Matter of Everything I Hated Versus Everything I Loved”

I have often been asked if Christo­pher defend­ed me because he was my close friend. The truth is that he became my close friend because he want­ed to defend me. –Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie remains in crit­i­cal con­di­tion after suf­fer­ing mul­ti­ple stab wounds while on stage in New York, a shock­ing occur­rence but not quite sur­pris­ing giv­en that the author has lived with a death sen­tence over his head since 1989. (You can read the his­to­ry of that con­tro­ver­sy here.) The nation of Iran has denied any respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack on the author, but it’s prob­a­bly safe to assume that his 1988 nov­el The Satan­ic Vers­es has some­thing to do with it, over thir­ty years after the fact.

“Even before the fat­wa,” Steven Erlanger writes in The New York Times“the book was banned in a num­ber of coun­tries, includ­ing India, Bangladesh, Sudan and Sri Lan­ka.” Protests of the nov­el result­ed in sev­er­al deaths and attacks on book­sellers. Rushdie had not set out to enrage much of the Islam­ic world, but nei­ther had he any inter­est in appeas­ing its con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers. Always out­spo­ken, and a fero­cious crit­ic of British Empire as well as Islam­ic theoc­ra­cy, his career since the fat­wa has demon­strat­ed a com­mit­ment to free­ing the lit­er­ary arts from the dic­tates of church and state.

On the sub­ject of impe­ri­al­ism, Rushdie and the late Christo­pher Hitchens came to dis­agree after the U.S.‘s inva­sion of Iraq and Hitchens’ “U‑turn across the polit­i­cal high­way to join forces with the war-mak­ers of George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion,” Rushdie writes in a Van­i­ty Fair appre­ci­a­tion for Hitchens’ after the lat­ter’s death. But his book God is Not Great “car­ried Hitch away from the Amer­i­can right and back toward his nat­ur­al, lib­er­al, ungod­ly con­stituen­cy”; a col­lec­tion of peo­ple who see the free expres­sion of ideas as a far prefer­able con­di­tion to the exis­tence of theo­crat­ic death squads.

Wher­ev­er he fell at any giv­en time on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, Hitchens nev­er gave up his defense of Rushdie, one in which, as he wrote in his mem­oir, Hitch-22, he was com­plete­ly com­mit­ted from the start:

It was, if I can phrase it like this, a mat­ter of every­thing I hat­ed ver­sus every­thing I loved. In the hate col­umn: dic­ta­tor­ship, reli­gion, stu­pid­i­ty, dem­a­gogy, cen­sor­ship, bul­ly­ing, and intim­i­da­tion. In the love col­umn: lit­er­a­ture, irony, humor, the indi­vid­ual, and the defense of free expres­sion. Plus, of course, friend­ship– 

Hitchens was grave­ly dis­ap­point­ed in lib­er­al writ­ers like Arthur Miller who refused to pub­licly sup­port Rushdie out of fear, as he says in the tele­vi­sion inter­view at the top of the post. The ambiva­lent response of many on the left struck him as gross polit­i­cal cow­ardice and hypocrisy. He went on the attack, argu­ing round­ly on pop­u­lar shows like Ques­tion Time (below, with his broth­er Peter, Baroness Williams, and recent­ly deposed prime min­is­ter Boris John­son).

Hitchens “saw that the attack on The Satan­ic Vers­es was not an iso­lat­ed occur­rence,” Rushdie writes, “that across the Mus­lim world, writ­ers and jour­nal­ists and artists were being accused of the same crimes — blas­phe­my, heresy, apos­ta­sy, and their mod­ern-day asso­ciates, ‘insult’ and ‘offense.’ ” Rushdie had meant no offense, he writes, “I had not cho­sen the bat­tle.” But it seems to have cho­sen him:

It was at least the right bat­tle, because in it every­thing that I loved and val­ued (lit­er­a­ture, free­dom, irrev­er­ence, free­dom, irre­li­gion, free­dom) was ranged against every­thing I detest­ed (fanati­cism, vio­lence, big­otry, humor­less­ness, philis­tin­ism, and the new offense cul­ture of the age). Then I read Christo­pher using exact­ly the same every­thing-he-loved-ver­sus-every­thing-he-hat­ed trope, and felt… under­stood.

If the fat­wa against Rushdie made him infa­mous, it did not make him uni­ver­sal­ly beloved, even among his fel­low writ­ers, but he always had a fierce ally in Hitchens. Let’s hope Rushdie can pick up the fight for free expres­sion once again when he recov­ers from this bru­tal stab­bing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Hitchens Dis­miss­es the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advo­cat­ing Self­ish­ness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Rein­force­ment”

Hear Salman Rushdie Read Don­ald Barthelme’s “Con­cern­ing the Body­guard” 

Jeff Koons and Salman Rushdie Teach New Cours­es on Art, Cre­ativ­i­ty & Sto­ry­telling for Mas­ter­Class

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Why You Should Read The Handmaid’s Tale: A Timely Animated Introduction

Prophe­cies are real­ly about now. In sci­ence fic­tion it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many pos­si­bil­i­ties, but we do not know which one we are going to have.

Mar­garet Atwood

There is no need to explain why Mar­garet Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone from read­ing like a warn­ing of the near-future to an alle­go­ry of the present after the U.S. Supreme Court’s rul­ing in Dobbs v. Jack­son Women’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion. Atwood’s sto­ry revolves around the fic­tion­al Repub­lic of Gilead, which takes over the U.S. after a fer­til­i­ty cri­sis dec­i­mates the pop­u­la­tion. Overnight, the fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian theoc­ra­cy divides women into two broad class­es – Hand­maids: chat­tel who per­form the labor of forced birth through forced con­cep­tion; and the infer­tile who prop up the patri­ar­chal rul­ing class as wives, over­seers, or slave labor in the pol­lut­ed “colonies.”

It’s a bleak tale, a sto­ry far less about hero­ism than the TV series based on the book would have viewers–who haven’t read it–believe. (The 5th sea­son, slat­ed for this July, seems to have been delayed until Sep­tem­ber with­out expla­na­tion.) Why should we read The Hand­maid­’s Tale? Because it is not only a work of dystopi­an futur­ism, but also a nar­ra­tivized account of what has already hap­pened to women around the world through­out his­to­ry to the present. The nov­el is a prism through which to view the ways women have been oppressed through repro­duc­tive slav­ery with­out the sci-fi sce­nario of a pre­cip­i­tous loss of human fer­til­i­ty.

As Atwood has explained, “when I wrote The Hand­maid­’s Tale, noth­ing went into it that had not hap­pened in real life some­where at some time.” Some of the worst offens­es were not well-known. “Female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion was tak­ing place,” says Atwood, “but if I had put it in 1985 [when the nov­el was writ­ten] prob­a­bly peo­ple wouldn’t have known what I was talk­ing about. They do now.” But we can still choose to over­look the infor­ma­tion. “Ignor­ing isn’t the same as igno­rance,” Atwood says in the nov­el, “you have to work at it.” The quote opens the 2018 TED-Ed les­son by Nao­mi Mer­cer above on Atwood’s book, walk­ing us through its sources in his­to­ry.

The Hand­maid­’s Tale, the les­son points out, is an exam­ple of “Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion,” a form of writ­ing con­cerned with “pos­si­ble futures.” This theme unites both utopi­an and dystopi­an nov­els. Atwood’s books trade in the lat­ter, but any read­er of the genre will tell you how quick­ly a more per­fect fic­tion­al union becomes a night­mare. The Cana­di­an writer has offered this lit­er­ary inevitabil­i­ty as an expla­na­tion for the mul­ti­ple crises of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy:

The real rea­son peo­ple expect so much of Amer­i­ca in mod­ern times is that it set out to be a utopia. That didn’t last very long. Nathaniel Hawthorne nailed it when he said the first thing they did when they got to Amer­i­ca was build a scaf­fold and a prison.

What Atwood does­n’t men­tion, as many crit­ics have point­ed out, are the slave pens and auc­tion hous­es, or the fact that Gilead close­ly resem­bles the slave-hold­ing Amer­i­can South in its theo­crat­ic patri­ar­chal Chris­t­ian hier­ar­chy and ulti­mate con­trol of wom­en’s bod­ies. And yet, the nov­el com­plete­ly side­steps race by hav­ing the Repub­lic of Gilead ship all of the coun­try’s Black peo­ple to the Mid­west (pre­sum­ably for forced labor). They are nev­er heard from again by the read­er.

This tac­tic has seemed irre­spon­si­ble to many crit­ics, as has the show’s side­step­ping through col­or­blind cast­ing, and the wear­ing of red cloaks and white bon­nets in imi­ta­tion of the book and show as a means of protest. “When we rely too heav­i­ly on ‘The Hand­maid­’s Tale,’ which ignores the pres­ence of race and racism,” says activist Ali­cia Sanchez Gill, “it real­ly dehu­man­izes and dis­miss­es our col­lec­tive expe­ri­ences of repro­duc­tive trau­ma.” Atwood’s “pos­si­ble future” pil­lages slav­ery’s past and con­ve­nient­ly gets rid of its descen­dants.

The trau­ma Gill ref­er­ences includes rape and forced birth, as well as the forced ster­il­iza­tions of the eugen­ics move­ment, car­ried out with the impri­matur of the Supreme Court (and con­tin­u­ing in recent cas­es). Kel­li Midg­ley, who found­ed Hand­maids Army DC, offers one expla­na­tion for using The Hand­maid­’s Tale as a protest sym­bol. Though she agrees to leave the cos­tumes at home if asked by orga­niz­ers, she says “we are try­ing to reach a broad­er audi­ence for peo­ple who need this mes­sage. We don’t need to tell Black women that their rights are endan­gered. They always have been.”

Maybe a new mes­sage after Dobbs v. Jack­son Wom­en’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion is that an assault on any­one’s rights threat­ens every­one. Or as Atwood wrote in a Cana­di­an Globe and Mail op-ed in 2018, “depriv­ing women of con­tra­cep­tive infor­ma­tion, repro­duc­tive rights, a liv­ing wage, and pre­na­tal and mater­nal care – as some states in the US want to do – is prac­ti­cal­ly a death sen­tence, and is a con­tra­ven­tion of basic human rights. But Gilead, being total­i­tar­i­an, does not respect uni­ver­sal human rights.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­garet Atwood Releas­es an Unburn­able Edi­tion of The Handmaid’s Tale, to Sup­port Free­dom of Expres­sion

Pret­ty Much Pop #10 Exam­ines Mar­garet Atwood’s Night­mare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hear Mar­garet Atwood’s Sto­ry “Stone Mat­tress,” Read by Author A. M. Homes 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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