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Mullahs, Mayhem, Midterms, and Music from South Africa

Dear Friends,

Last week, a 17-year-old young man died in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, after being shot at point-blank range by security forces during anti-regime protests. Abolfazl Adinezadeh died of liver and kidney damage caused by bird shot.

Demonstrations have been spreading across Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last month. Iranian officials deny reports that the 22-year-old young woman, who had been detained over the way she dressed, was beaten into a coma by security personnel.

Iran’s dauntless, women-led protest movement faces a well-armed and well-prepared police state. Yet by all accounts today’s uprising runs wider and deeper than previous rebellions. Labor unions (Opens in a new window) are climbing onto the stage, calling for strikes at factories and oil facilities. Students across the country remain brave. Here’s (Opens in a new window) a video of students at all-female Al-Zahra University welcoming Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi with chants of “Raisi get lost” and “Mullahs must get lost” (my thanks to RFE/RL’s Golnaz Esfandiari).

There’s no sign of Ukrainians losing their nerve. Vladimir Putin’s armed forces, having embarrassed themselves on the battlefield, turn increasingly to missile and drone terrorism, including Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as a prime target. Moscow is preparing conditions for a protracted conflict, reports the Institute for the Study of War.

Beware phony peace plans aimed at dividing the Alliance — and Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed last week that Putin is “much softer and more open to negotiations.” French President Emmanuel Macron visited Pope Francis in Rome this week.

Be aware that Russia can lose on the battlefield and still leave Ukraine decimated. UNESCO estimates that Moscow’s invading forces have already caused damage or destruction to 86 religious sites, 13 museums, 18 monuments, 10 libraries, 37 historic buildings, and at least three dozen other buildings of cultural significance. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded earlier this month more than 15,000 civilian casualties — with 6,114 killed and 9,132 injured. The U.S. State Department says that Russian authorities have deported from their homes to the Russian Federation between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, often to isolated regions in the Far East.

Putin wants Ukraine’s children and elderly to freeze this winter. Russia Today’s Anton Krasovsky, host of a talk show called The Antonyms, wants Ukrainian kids drowned. At least that’s what the 47-year-old television host said last week, adding that Ukrainian grandmothers would use their burial funds for the chance to be raped by Russian troops.

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Colleague Roya Hakakian — now a senior fellow and member of our editorial board has a forthcoming essay in the Atlantic that draws parallels between the struggles against the cruelest denigration and domination in Ukraine and Iran. While no reliable figures exist, after two months of protests in Iran several thousand may have already been arrested. According to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, at least 215 people — including 27 children — have been killed by security forces.

Our managing editor Carolyn Stewart has discovered a remarkable work at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington by Persian female artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Most of her creative output was destroyed or confiscated during the 1979 revolution that brought the mullahs to power. Here’s (Opens in a new window) a short Instagram video Carolyn pulled together.

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In a moment of spiraling mayhem, I’m re-reading Scott Montgomery and Dan Chirot’s 2016 The Shape of the New (both are American Purpose contributors; Dan’s a member of our editorial board). It’s a wonderful book (Opens in a new window) about the power of ideas in politics over the last century.

We’re cobbling together snap shots and will continue to work to make sense of the current moment. We’re always looking for meaningful links and perspective. Among our offerings I’ll mention:

• On midterms and the next Congress, Bill Kristol joins us by Zoom (Opens in a new window) on November 4 at 12 noon ET.

• On the problems of ideology in education, Chuck Lane was joined recently on his American Purpose podcast (Opens in a new window) by education historian Jonathan Zimmerman.

• On the need for a competent, effective administrative state, Frank Fukuyama continues his series (Opens in a new window), writing in Part V about an overlooked problem: How legislators want government to do things, without issuing clear mandates on how. For his latest, part VI, see here (Opens in a new window). Frank will discuss the series with us on November 3 at 12 noon ET in a Zoom event (Opens in a new window) exclusively for Leaders’ Circle members (Opens in a new window).

• On America and the world, Texas A & M Professor Fritz Bartel is with us today at 12 noon ET by Zoom (Opens in a new window) to discuss his new book, The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism.

• On Alexander Hamilton and “American exceptionalism,” Gabe Scheinmann has a piece (Opens in a new window) for us arguing that threats from abroad affect the security and integrity of our democracy at home.

• On the next Britain — and next British PM — Nick Timothy joins us again by Zoom next week (date tbd). Nick is a Telegraph columnist and former chief of staff to Theresa May.

• On the current Hungary, Charles Gati has an essay for November on the roots and exploitation of the country’s authoritarian culture. We’ll host Charles for an in-person discussion in Washington on November 1.

• On Spain’s complicated past, Richard Aldous was joined recently on his American Purpose podcast (Opens in a new window) by Giles Tremlett to discuss his new book on the nation’s search for national identity.

• On the Germans and democracy, Michael Kimmage will host historian Hedwig Richter by Zoom (Opens in a new window) on her book, “Democracy – A German Affair? Rethinking the German Past.”

• On Eastern Europe post-Putin, Iulia Joja and Batu Kutelia argue that the rest of the West needs a strategy. Read their article here (Opens in a new window).

• On matters practical to each and every one of us, Princeton’s Martha Coven joins for an in-person discussion in Washington on November 2 on how to communicate and write clearly in this dizzying, digital age of ours. She’s written a smart new book on the subject. I’m grateful to Peter Dougherty for the introduction to Martha and her work.

On Music

I’m listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was Allen Guelzo who brought to my attention that this month marks the sesquicentennial of Vaughan Williams’ birth. “It was in that ‘low mean decade’ of the 1930s,” emails Allen, “that RVW began writing his 5th Symphony, which may almost be compared to a benediction, or an island of spiritual calm, in the midst of the turmoil of those times.” Here’s (Opens in a new window) the Symphony No. 5 conducted by Simon Rattle.

I’m always listening to Bach. The Art of the Fugue was an incomplete work composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) toward the end of his life. The 1740s were a decade in which war engulfed nearly all of Europe, spilling into North America as Britain and Spain fought over trade and slaves in the Caribbean. Bach’s masterpiece comprises fugues and canons with ever increasing complexity, without ever losing order and control. Listen here (Opens in a new window) to a wonderfully clear performance by pianist Marta Czech.

South African cellist Abel Selaocoe (pronounced seh-lau-chay) stretches boundaries by moving across genres. I’ve only just discovered him. He comes from Sebokeng, a township to the south of Johannesburg. He was raised in a household where there was a lot of singing and playing, he says. His brother Sammy played bassoon. On Saturdays, the two would go (Opens in a new window) to an outreach school run by Michael Masote, “the South African godfather of classical music.”

Try this (Opens in a new window) for starters. It’s where “African Music Meets Baroque.”

My best,


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