Wednesday, October 11, 2006

When Civilization Is Outlawed, Only the Uncivilized Will Be Civil

"I ought to go back to my cell. As a gesture it will have no effect, it will not even be noticed. Nevertheless, for my own sake, as a gesture to myself alone, I ought to return to the cool dark and lock the door and bend the key and stop my ears to the noise of patriotic bloodlust and close my lips and never speak again. Who knows, perhaps I do my fellow-townsmen an injustice, perhaps at this very minute the shoemaker is at home tapping on his last, humming to himself to drown the shouting, perhaps there are housewives shelling peas in their kitchens, telling stories to occupy their restless children, perhaps there are farmers still going calmly about the repair of the ditches. If comrades like these exist, what a pity I do not know them! For me, at this moment, striding away from the crowd, what has become important above all is that I should neither be contaminated by the atrocity that is about to be committed nor poison myself with impotent hatred of its perpetrators. I cannot save the prisoners, therefore let me save myself. Let it at the very least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian." (J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians, 1980).

Optimism of the Will

Langston Hughes:

"Sometimes when I'm lonely,
Don't know why,
Keep thinkin' I won't be lonely
By and by."

(Langston Hughes, "Hope," Selected Poems of Langston Hughes).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Free Marketplace of (Zionist) Ideas

Ezra Klein on Peter Beinart:

think Peter Beinart's TRB this week deserves a response. The editorial focuses on the lack of (online) liberal outrage after the Deutsche Oper yanked the opera Idomeneo, which features Muhammad's decapitated head, out of a desire to avoid controversy. The liberal blogs said nothing. Not so with the conservosphere, which erupted in outrage. Many liberals," Beinart writes, "seem unable to conceive of a struggle in which the Republican right is not an enemy but an ally. But there are such struggles, and, without today's activist liberals, they will be harder to win. Free speech is under threat, and Idomeneo should be the last straw."

First of all, free speech is fine. German's politicians -- including its prime minister -- roundly criticized the decision. You can call the Deutsche Oper cowardly, or overcautious -- but speech is no less free because an opera house decides not to run a performance. Happens all the time, in fact.

More importantly, the merry racists over at Little Green Footballs aren't pumping the Idomeneo controversy because they're deeply committed to artistic freedom. These are David Horowitz acolytes, after all. They're doing it because it furthers their other political ends. They're doing it for the same reasons Bush noticed the oppression of Afghani women after 9/11, or the right remembered Hussein had human rights abuses when they decided to attack Iraq. Painting Arabs as beastly and illiberal fits their expansionist political agenda, which calls for sustained, often violent confrontation with the Arab world.

Few liberals want any part in that foreign policy agenda. And so few liberals have any interest in buttressing the administration's supporting arguments. Too many recall how their genuine concern and outrage over abuses in Iraq was conscripted in service of a misguided, heavily politicized, war that included human rights abuses of its own. Given a government that thinks nothing of suspending Habeas Corpus, is criticizing the Deutsche Oper likelier to protect free speech or deploy bombers?

Here's a test: The empty opera house may be a suboptimal outcome, but is it worse than kidnapping children for force marriage in Kyrgyzstan? How about the death of an unjustly imprisoned journalist in Turkmenistan? Or the government-supported death squads in Guinea?

No. It isn't. But that's what the right wing is focusing on. And that's what Peter Beinart is bashing liberals with. Liberals are morally remiss for paying insufficient attention to an opera house's decision, but not for ignoring bride kidnappings, murdered journalists, or marauding governments. The agenda behind that odd prioritization isn't difficult to divine, and it's to the credit of the left that they refused to offer aid and comfort to those seeking its partial assent in their clash-of-civilization fantasies. For liberals to jump at each trumpeted instance of Arab misbehavior in this context, under this administration, with this many modern-day Curtis LeMay's populating government commissions, would be downright irresponsible.

Free speech isn't under attack, but Iran may soon be. And those selectively decrying the absence of liberal outrage should select a more worthy, and less destructive, targent. Unless, of course, it's the outrage, and not the abuse, that interested them in the first place." (Ezra Klein, "PLUS, I DON'T LIKE OPERA," Tapped, Oct. 6, 2006).

Meanwhile in the land of the (Zionist) free:

You might be interested to learn the following:

I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGO, academics, etc, from the US and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan

I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was cancelled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone-calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli antisemites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved and Network 20/20 were forced to cancel.

Whatever your views on the Middle East I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America.

Tony Judt

(Posted by Eric Alterman, "Abe Foxman: Commissar, McCarthyite," Altercation, Oct. 4, 2006).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shooting an Elephant

Ted Kooser:

"Long ago we quit lifting our heels
like the others -- horse, dog, and tiger --
though we thrill to their speed
as they flee. Even the mouse
bearing the great weight of a nugget
of dog food is enviably graceful.
There is little spring to our walk,
we are so burdened with responsibility,
all of the disciplinary actions
that have fallen to us, the punishments,
the killings, and all with our feet
bound stiff in the skins of the conquered.
But sometimes, in the early hours,
we can feel what it must have been like
to be one of them, up on our toes,
stealing past doors where others are sleeping,
and suddenly able to see in the dark."
(Ted Kooser, "Walking on Tiptoe," Delights & Shadows, p. 5).