A gentleman and a scholar By Chan Akya
Late last night after getting home, I poured myself two glasses of scotch. One for myself, and a second that sat untouched on the table in front of me; a grim reminder of a man who I shall never share that drink with. Allen Quicke, Editor-in-Chief of Asia Times Online who died on August 17.
My association with Allen Quicke came about much like many other columnists for Asia Times Online; submission of articles through e-mail and after some polite back and forth an agreement to write for the publication. In my case, Allen asked many a time for me to write in my own name as against the pseudonym. Once he bought into my logic for the same, he went about enthusiastically creating my avatar – the image that accompanies my articles.
He and I had a “rocky” online relationship with frequent criticism of my analyses even as he enthusiastically illustrated other articles of mine. When I wrote “No country for Gold men”, “The string of Damocles’ sword”, “From Pravda to Prada” and so on, it was Allen who immortalized the spirit of those articles with rapidly drawn illustrations that adorned the articles on atimes.net.
I cite the “rocky” relationship because many readers may well be unfamiliar with just how erudite Allen was, and how much he debated and argued with “his” columnists on a regular basis. Some of those debates are (thankfully) available on The Edge. Other things he wrote on e-mail are unlikely to reach the public eye unless recipients disclosed them. In the spirit of conveying some of his messages that provide a glimpse of the man behind the editor, I produce here some select private e-mails he sent me.Readers are invited not to take offence at any of the contents, but instead consider the messages purely for what I intend to show about Allen the person, ie a very strong-willed, well-read, fair-minded and independent man.
In response to one of my recent articles, “Burqas over the Bastille”, he wrote a stinging e-mail:Dear Chan,Must take sharp issue with aspects of your piece. You’re entitled to your opinion as columnist, and we’ll publish it as such, but it seems to me to be a poorly argued case.
“Facile descriptions on the Internet would have it that Europeans have stronger views on upholding human rights, and that a ban on the burqa is part of that stream of consciousness. Americans tending to be more laissez faire have no such social considerations, in this view.” Facile, yes! Because surely “human rights” includes NOT imposing one’s prejudices on another. The argument by people advocating banning the burqa that they are standing up for the human rights of Muslim women is so much baloney. Human rights advocacy in this case is merely a “veiled” (sorry) disguise for outright racism and/or “religionism” (can’t think of a word that is religion’s equivalent of racism). Look no further than racism/religionism for moves to ban the burqa. More obviously, the “ban minarettes” movement (Switzerland, Germany) has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with racism/religionism. The anti-minarettes campaigns originated with the far-right wing, before gaining popular support through scare-mongering tactics. I’m pretty sure you would find the same for the burqa-banning campaigns. Burqas and minarettes are peas in the same pod.
Meanwhile, in the US, popular support is growing to prevent a Muslim cultural center being built some blocks away from the World Trade Center. If this is not racism/religionism, please tell me what it is.
Finally, the most important/interesting conclusion drawn by Pew in the summary of its findings is that Muslims in Europe are more concerned about economic issues than with religious or cultural issues. I’m sure a majority of Europeans think exactly the same. Thus, by cherry-picking data (as you have, to draw different conclusions), one could argue that Muslims and Westerners are in total agreement about the most fundamental issue in their lives, and we could push that to conclude that there is perfect assimilation!Best,AllenSubsequent to the e-mail, he debated me mercilessly and endlessly on The Edge; his post #176507 is reproduced here if for nothing because it was among his last messages on the Forum; but also because I’d like to think it marked a rapprochement of sorts between the two of us on the contents of my article; the differences between what is intended, what gets written and what is eventually understood by readers.Chan Akya wrote: Unfortunately the focus of the masses (9/11) and the intelligentsia (Saudi) has translated into a single code phrase, namely Islam. That’s probably where the phobia comes into its own. Eventually I believe that Americans will figure this out … but not yet. CA
Fair points in that post, Chan, and I think the bit I’ve quoted here is absolutely correct and very perceptive. Mass phobia. Cleverly implanted and exploited by the neo-cons, enabling Cheney et al to lead Americans by the nose to war in Iraq, which any thinking person knew had nothing to do with 9/11. Let us hope it does not turn into mass hysteria. I fear we may be seeing the beginnings of that (viz mosque bannings), and the Cheneys of this world are doing their best to whip it up.In that conclusion, Allen lives on – his humanity and fears of an unjust war being visited on the innocent are palpable here; as is his hope that nothing terrible eventuates.
I produce here, verbatim an e-mail that had the big impact on me; and in particular my decision to continue writing for Asia Times Online in December 2008. I had been deeply offended by the editors’ decision to publish an article by Indian writer Arundhati Roy. His response, crafted along with Tony, read as follows (emphasis added by me except for the all-caps bit which was from Allen):Our raison d’etre is to cover Asia-relevant politics/economics/business from an Asian perspective. Obviously Asians do not speak with one voice. Therefore we give space to a multiplicity of voices, across the spectrum. We do not push a specific line or agenda. If the Editor wants to air his thoughts, he may do so of course, in an Editorial piece, but beyond that, to repeat (many cannot understand this): WE DO NOT, WILL NOT, PUSH ANY LINE OR AGENDA.Thus we give editorial space to a vast range of often conflicting voices. For example, we will run an opinion piece advocating China-Taiwan reunification, to the fury of some who think they perceive a pro-Beijing bias in ATol. These people are then confounded the next day when we run an anti-Beijing piece by a Taiwanese.The criteria for publication have little to do with the specific opinions or analysis of the writer or whether the editors agree with them. They have everything to do with: Is it interesting? Well argued? Does it tell me something I didn’t know? Will it make readers think? This non-agenda has earned us enormous respect over the years and placed us firmly where we always intended to be: an alternative to the agenda-driven Western mainstream media.It has also subjected us to frequent shrieks of disapproval when we publish something that someone disagrees with. For your information, Chan, the loudest, most frequent shrieks are reserved for the writings of Spengler, and we have had to go on record in the past to state why ATol will not silence him – despite the fact that much of what he has to say conflicts (to say the least) with the opinions of the Editor. In fact, Spengler writes a regular column for ATol at Allen’s invitation. Strange? Welcome to the world of ATol. We tell readers who demand that we cease publishing Spengler much the same thing as we are telling you now. We defend the publication of Roy’s article on identical grounds, and reject any attempt to pressure us into toeing anybody’s line. Those who disagree with something we have published have every opportunity to state their own case on our website – and we welcome this. To us, this is a far more valuable journalistic exercise than disseminating what amounts more or less to propaganda or preaching to the converted, as practised by the Western mainstream press.That, Chan, is the norm, under Allen’s and now Tony’s editorship of atimes.com. Don’t fear it, work with it.By reproducing this e-mail, I hope to inspire some people at least into following his lead. I have read this e-mail many times, and every time it has given me fresh energy. As human beings we cannot avoid having opinions; but it behoves at least some of us to stand back and take the kind of stand that Allen took in his stewardship of Asia Times Online. If global media had more editors such as Allen, it is quite likely that the future may be altered for the better.
There is much more to say about the man and his e-mails to me. Then again, as an editor Allen insisted on his writers getting to the point and then leaving well enough alone; instead of belabouring it to kingdom come.
As for that scotch, when I wrote about “Asia’s Permanent Advantage”, he wrote on The Edge #173646 – “And you didn’t visit Hua Hin?!” I promised him I would do that soon, and chat about the world over a scotch or five. That never did happen, explaining the glass with scotch sitting on my table last night.
For the religiously minded, the answer is easy, that is, that they shall meet their missed ones in their version of bliss or purgatory. For the rest of us, there is no such fallback option; all we have to show for our missed opportunities in life are these silent glasses quietly evaporating their contents into the ether.
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A gentleman and a scholar By Chan Akya