The Weekly Miscellany: On Omission, Refugees and The History of Isis


Reading about writing is on of my favorite pastimes. This week John McPhee, long-time New Yorker contributor began his regular column “Writing Life” recalling his experience as a writer for the Miscellany column in Time. Of course, as you can imagine I was thrilled to see the connection. The rest of his piece is advice on what to omit when writing, so it was very useful.

On another note, I’ve been reading all I can about the refugee migration, with an eye for learning about the root causes and the future for this massive humanitarian crisis. But I’m also compelled due to my own family legacy of human migration during the Indian Partition because we still live with an unspoken history. I think of how that event impacted us now and when I see the faces of children walking along railroad tracks with their small possessions in tow, I know the pain of displacement will continue for a new generation. All I can hope is that their futures are filled with some amount of opportunity.

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I guess I wasn’t the only publication to think of a miscellany column

Omission, choosing what to leave out from The New Yorker, Sept. 14, 2015

At Time in the nineteen-fifties, the entry-level job for writers was a column called Miscellany. Filled with one-sentence oddities culled from newspapers and the wire services, Miscellany ran down its third of a page like a ladder, each wee story with its own title—traditionally, and almost invariably, a pun.

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A controversial point of view about how nations should deal with refugee crisis from philosopher Slavoj Zizek 

The Non-Existence of Norway from The London Review of Books, Sept. 9, 2015

If we really want to stem the flow of refugees, then, it is crucial to recognise that most of them come from ‘failed states’, where public authority is more or less inoperative: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, DRC and so on. This disintegration of state power is not a local phenomenon but a result of international politics and the global economic system, in some cases – like Libya and Iraq – a direct outcome of Western intervention. (One should also note that the ‘failed states’ of the Middle East were condemned to failure by the boundaries drawn up during the First World War by Britain and France.)

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Strangers in strange lands. The world’s institutional approach to refugees was born in Europe seven decades ago. The continent must relearn its lessons, from The Economist, Sept. 12, 2015.

Notice the immensity Partition of India in such a short period of time.


For months refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea have been retracing the routes used by European refugees in the 1940s. They pick their way through razor-wire fencing on Serbia’s northern border, where ethnic Hungarians once fled Titoist partisans. They are smuggled in trucks across Austria, just as Jews headed from Poland to Palestine once were. But this time the flow is moving in the opposite direction: towards Germany.

More on history of past refugees:

But every wave of immigration has been accompanied by fears. In 1709 the War of the Spanish Succession sent thousands of refugees from lower Saxony down the Rhine and across the North Sea to London. Believing that they would then be offered free passage to America, the so-called “Poor Palatines” instead ended up in refugee camps. Daniel Defoe and other Whigs argued that they were Protestant refugees from Roman Catholic oppression and should be settled in England—an argument that suffered a blow when, on closer inspection, half the Palatines turned out to be Catholic themselves. A Tory faction meanwhile argued that they were economic migrants, low-skilled undesirables who would prove an endless burden on the Crown. Ultimately, investors were found to put some of them on boats to America, where they founded Germantown, New York.

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The Truth about the Caliphate, from Prospect, Aug. 20, 2015.

What today’s commentators in London and Washington often forget—and militants repeatedly remind themselves and anyone else prepared to listen—is that the supremacy of the west is a relatively new phenomenon in historical terms. Across much of the world, for two thirds of the last 1,300 years, the power, the glory and the wealth was, broadly speaking, Islamic. The story of the caliphate, both as historical reality and as imagined by extremists like those of the Islamic State, can only be understood within the context of this overarching narrative, as the means by which the militants seek to return the world’s Muslim community to what it sees as its rightful status: a global superpower.

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