Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It's so easy to slip into despair. Easy to lament and bemoan the seeming fact that nothing changes. What we often mean is that it never changes for those of us who are most vulnerable. It's true that history records similar issues being addressed over and over. But there are often changes taking place right under our noses - for good and for ill. In a New Yorker review of Christian Caryl’s book Strange Rebels, 1979: John Lanchester provided this perspective: At the start of 1978, the biggest country in the world, the Soviet Union, and the most populous country in the world, China, both seemed immovable monoliths of Communist ideology. Iran was run by the Shah, and the aging leader of the clerical opposition, Ayatollah Khomeini, was in exile in Iraq. Afghanistan was under the control of Mohammad Daoud, a French-educated secularist, keen on modernizationa and women’s rights, and the main threat to his autocratic rule came from a different flavor of secularist, those of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, who were Communists. The Iron Curtain seemed a permanent division between the free and the unfree, and the cold War was the dominant fact of global politics. By the end of 1979, all these pillars of a seemingly permanent world order had crumbled or were crumbling. An obscure Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, was now Pope John Paul II, and the galvanizing effect of his papacy on the people of Poland was starting to destabilize the entire Soviet bloc. The Shah had fled into exile, and Ayatollah Khomeini was at the head of Iran’s new revolutionary Islamic government President Daoud had been deposed and murdered, and Islamist Guerrillas had begun the war of resistance to his successors that was to turn into the global jihad that is still with us. Deng Xiaoping had steered China sharply toward its new identity as a capitalist economy. Caryl sees 1979 as a moment of counter-revolution, a swing of the historical pendulum against the trends of the preceding decades. He makes a strong, sweeping case that the year ushered in, as his subtitle puts it, the birth of the twenty-first century. Today the Soviet Union is gone, China is capitalist, Iran is a theocracy, and jihad is the new normal; and all these things began to happen in 1979, which nobody at the time saw coming." From The Critics, a Critic at large “1979 and all that: Margaret Thatcher’s revolution." By John Lanchester. “Caryl’s book 'Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century' asks the question: What if the really important year in recent history was 1979?'" New Yorker, August 5, 2013.

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