Ghosts of Cairo

Anthea Butler hears the ghost of Malcolm X in Obama’s Cairo speech. “So the past isn’t over until we understand it,” writes poet Lawrence Raab in his new book, The History of Forgetting, “which is one of the reasons / ghosts keep appearing.” Obama’s speech will not allow them to rest, says Alexander Cockburn. “There are fine words. There are facts on the ground, and they often strayed far from each other in Obama’s big speech.” Cockburn invokes another ghost to measure the gap: “ ‘I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States,’ Obama declared in Cairo, ‘and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.’ Vivid in the minds of many Muslims listening to this passage would have been the fate at the start of this week of Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih — a 31-year old Yemeni who had been in a wire cage since February, 2002 (more than seven years) without charges and declared by his U.S. military jailers ‘an apparent suicide.’ Salih, on hunger strike, was down to 85 pounds.” Quibbles, say Obama’s staunch supporters; our man has a plan to close Guantanamo. Mark Oppenheimer, writing on George Scialabba writing on Christopher Lasch: “Actually, I don’t expect my naive utopian dreamers to offer plans; I’m suspicious when they do. I’d prefer they model joy.” Easier said than done. “How do you tell a scribe from a prophet?” novelist Marilynne Robinson, “world’s best writer of prose,” asks in Gilead. “The prophets love the people they chastise.”

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).