Who Is Tony Karon?

I’m a journalist from Cape Town, South Africa, resident in New York since 1993. I’m currently a senior editor at TIME.com (although I do this site on my own time, and am personally entirely responsible for its content, which in no way reflects the views or outlook of anyone else). I’ve worked there since 1997, covering the Middle East, the “war on terror” and international issues ranging from China’s emergence to the Balkans. I also do occasional op-eds for Haaretz and other publications, as well as bits of TV and radio punditry for CNN, MSNBC, and various NPR shows. I did an ever-so-brief stint at Fox News (measured in months, I swear!) and worked at George magazine in its startup year. Having majored in economic history, I cut my analytical teeth in South Africa in the struggle years, where I worked both as an editor in the “alternative” press and as an activist of the banned ANC. And in that context, my obsession with understanding global events took root, as a means of contextualizing the choices and obstacles we faced in the struggle against apartheid.

In 1990/1, I gave up my activist career almost as soon as Nelson Mandela was released, the ANC was unbanned and the regime conceded to a transition to democracy — once we’d achieved a “normality” to politics in South Africa, and it was not a profession that interested me. (If you’d been French under occupation, you might well have joined the resistance, but that didn’t mean you’d remain active in party politics after the Nazis were gone — that was how it was for many of my generation of South African activists.) I went to work in the mainstream media at the Cape Times and the Mail&Guardian Weekly, before leaving for New York in 1993 on what I imagined would be an extended holiday. A brief research gig at Time Out opened my eyes to the possibilities of working here — as well as hooking me up to the first connections of the sort of ever-expanding networks that make life in the city possible (and if this were an Oscar thank you speech, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a huge shout-out to Gerda Marie Kenyon, wherever you are now, who gave me that Time Out gig and started the snowball rolling). What followed was a mad array of freelance gigs ranging from the sublime (television work for Britain’s Channel 4 that involved escapades such as spending three days with the rapper Notorious B.I.G.) to the ridiculous — writing the script for a Geffen Records “rockumentary” on Manowar, an upstate New York heavy metal band, really big in Spain and Greece, whose brief spell in the Guinness Book of records as the world’s loudest band underscored their image of themselves as Norse warriors and Wagner’s true inheritors.

While I relished the professional holiday from the serious themes that had preoccupied me during the 80s, and the opportunity to explore other interests and passions, I seemed to gravitate back to writing about geopolitics despite myself. The optimism surrounding the new paradigms of post-Cold War politics suddenly began to recede, and familiar patterns began to repeat themselves. Reading the New York Times on the subway en route to various day jobs, I found myself drawn back to the big themes. There were things that needed saying, and I had more to offer than commentaries on the marketing strategies of the Wu Tang Clan.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I found many friends and acquaintances asking me to share private observations about the “war on terror” and related subjects. I started mailing those out to a list of friends and colleagues, that just kept growing as they forwarded them to others. And finally, after a substantial hiatus, they’ve evolved into this web site.

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