Friday, April 27, 2012

Vogue's Ms. Buck Regrets Her Encounter with Asma and Bashar

"You know, they are pretending that nothing is happening there. It's disgusting."

Buck: "The children that I met - there were three children."
The little girl had curly hair; the two little boys had blonde hair.

Readers can't get enough of Asma Assad and I'm gonna give it to them -- she's good for my ratings. Now, thanks to NPR, they can have a glimpse into how it felt to inhabit the same space as the stylish Assads in this interview with Joan Juliet Buck the writer of The Most Embarrassing Article Of The Year.

Buck was sent to Damascus by editor, Anna Wintour, to portray Asma on the basis of Vogue's criteria: "I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking first ladies because they're a combination of power and beauty and elegance. That's what Vogue is about. And here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore, qualified to be in Vogue. And they had - Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time."

Anna Wintour and Joan Juliet Buck, partners in shame. Such stylish eyewear yet so blind.

Darling, you must read and listen to the whole interview, but here is a cute little snippet just to pique your interest. Pay special attention to the skinny on the family picture. 

"MELISSA BLOCK: Do you regret the story that you ended up writing?

JOAN JULIET BUCK: I regret that they titled it "A Rose in the Desert."

BLOCK: That was not your title?

BUCK: Of course not. No. There are odd things. The children that I met - there were three children. The little girl had curly hair; the two little boys had blonde hair. The photographer went after me. In the photos that came out in the magazine, you only see two children, and they both have black hair. I'm sure that if I were the president of Syria, I wouldn't want photos of my real children to appear in a magazine. But everything was like that.

I don't think I should have gone near the Assads. Asma Assad called the ancient culture of the country its hardware. She speaks like a banker with a degree in computer science. She said what interested her were the people. They were the software. The software has been getting killed every day for 13 months by her husband's forces, and they're pretending nothing is happening. It is horrifying to have been near people like that."

Read and listen to it all here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mona Eltahawy's Arab Violence Against Women Story Arouses Passions

Mona Eltahawy after being assaulted
by Egyptian riot police.
Mona Eltahawy has published an impassioned and audacious piece about violence against women in the Arab world, Why Do They Hate Us?, and already the twitterati and post-colonialist/post-modernist/post-feminist cohort are after her. It seems she is guilty of 'orientalizing' Arab society with a Western discourse based on civil-rights, equality and individual freedoms. Western assumptions about female emancipation are a form of colonialization imposed upon the 'other' and apparently the Arab-American Eltahawy has joined the dark side described as the "neoliberal agenda of privatization and individual rights," by M.J. Schueller in a paper on cross-cultural feminism and neoliberal identification.

Judith Butler, puts it this way: "The political assumption that there must be a universal basis for feminism, one which must be found in an identity assumed to exist crossculturally, often accompanies the notion that the oppression of women has some singular form discernible in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination. The notion of a universal patriarchy has been widely criticized in recent years for its failure to account for the workings of gender oppression in the concrete cultural contexts in which it exists. Where those various contexts have been consulted within such theories, it has been to find “examples” or “illustrations” of a universal principle that is assumed from the start. The form of feminist theorizing has come under criticism for its efforts to colonize and appropriate non-Western cultures to support highly Western notions of oppression,but because they tend as well to construct a “Third World” or even an “Orient” in which gender oppression is subtly explained as symptomatic of an essential, non-Western barbarism. The urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism’s own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated the shortcut to a categorial or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce women’s common subjugated experience."

So, a writer like Mona Kareem in Al Monitor can actually question Eltahawy 's use of the word hate to describe brutality against women: "The essay is also stereotypical, as it relies on generalizations and stereotypes of Arab men to make its point. Eltahawy says “they hate us and we need to admit that!” And then she lists more than three pages of recent violations of women’s rights in the Arab world. The issue at stake here is not whether women are discriminated against in the Arab world, as that argument is well established and is only denied by Islamist maniacs. The issue here is: how the hell can those violations prove an argument of 'hate?'" Huh? Is Eltahawy not allowed to use the discourse of 'hate' to describe heinous behavior?

And, The Angry Egyptian is furious about Eltahawy's and Western journalism's obsessive interest in this issue -- after all women have been at the forefront of the revolution -- but is defensively unable to accept that there may be deep cultural and religious reasons for the oppression of women: "Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance, they are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power) and systems of exploitation (which exploit based on class not gender). Having women in power in a flawed system will not “fix” the problem either. We had a women’s quota in Mubarak’s parliament, did that change anything for women in reality? It was all ink on paper.” I see, get rid of oppressive regimes and all will be well.

Then Eltahawy is criticized for 'essentialising' Arab societies and for not including other cultures in the scope of her analysis: "...the article singles out 'Arab societies' for criticism.  Whilst, relative to Sub-Saharan, Asian, or Latin American societies, Arab nations are disproportionately grouped at the bottom of the 2011 Global Gender Gap (based on a list of nations which is far from comprehensive, leaving out Afghanistan and Somalia for instance), this is no excuse for not building an analysis which integrates other offenders: half of the bottom six are not Arab.  As an Arab woman herself, Elahawy undoubtedly does not intend to essentialise Arabs societies, but by treating the problems she describes as specifically Arab ones, and lacking in historical origins or non-Arab equivalents, she will unavoidably be perceived to have done so."

This is a typical apologia for some very specific social relations found in the Middle East (and Muslim cultures) and reminds one of the venom that greeted Ayaan Hirsi Ali when she appeared on the scene and was accused of helping to inflame Islamophobia. As one critic put it: "Some Muslim women from Muslim backgrounds have been willing to join forces with media and governments in seeking to discipline unruly Muslim communities. Ayaan Hirsi Ali being the most prominent international example. However, other Muslim women...are painfully aware of the ease with which discussion of social problems within Muslim communities can be appropriated to vilify Muslims in general." 

That fear is understandable for both Arab societies and Muslim communities in the West, but it has been used to silence appropriate criticism such as Eltahawy 's and Hirsi Ali who, unfortunately, never runs out of examples of violence against women within the culture she knows a great deal about...

Newsflash: a roundup of responses to Eltahawy's piece has just appeared on the FP site so I will give you the link while I read it for myself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poles Agree: Israel is Conducting a War of Extermination Against the Palestinians

Q: Daddy, how do you spell "Zionist"?
A: I don't know, but before the war you spelled it with a "J"!

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement,
"Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians",
63% of Polish participants agreed.

There are so many things wrong and repulsive about Europeans believing that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians and each of the nationalities participating in a survey by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation has its own set of historical legacies that may inform such a view. But for Yom HaShoah, I want to focus on Poland where half the Jews of Europe were exterminated by the Nazi killing machine that depended on the collaboration/ obliviousness/ hatred/ indifference of the Polish people. The largest Jewish population anywhere in the world lived in Poland and 85% of them were killed during WWII. From approximately three million, the number of Jews in Poland nowadays is somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000.

So...let's ask how it could be that 63%, or two-thirds, of Polish respondents felt comfortable enough -- not ashamed, not secretive -- to agree to the term 'War of Extermination' in relation to Israel and the Palestinians. It's as if there is cloud of confusion related to numbers that seems to hover above Polish minds and it is reminiscent of a similar confusion that wildly overestimates the numbers of Palestinian deaths, say, since 1948.

According to the Polynational War Memorial and other unbiased agencies, between 1948 and 2009 there have been approximately 15,000 combined Palestinian and Israeli casualties as a result of the conflict. Let's say that more than half of those were Palestinians. The Nazi's ate numbers like that for breakfast and outside Auschwitz and Birkenau and Treblinka, Polish townfolk and peasants witnessed numbers like that coming in on trains and going out through smokestacks on a weekly basis.

The syndrome of forgetting numbers is well illustrated in one of my 'favorite' scenes in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah "...when the wife of the Nazi schoolteacher in Chelmno, who witnessed the gas vans coming and going each day, could no longer remember how many Jews had been gassed, whether it was 4,000, 40,000 or 400,000. When Lanzmann tells her 400,000, what is her response? ' knew it had a four in it.'" 

I realize I'm being impressionistic, but how can one account for the conflation of the actual war of extermination of that eternal object of projection -- the Jew on whom we blame our sins and the Israel-Palestinian conflict of which there are two sides? When there is no sense of scale differentiating the lose of almost an entire people, the Jews, from the death of a regrettable number of Palestinians? And that loss of precision situated in a country whose Jewish population went from three million to, relatively speaking, almost nothing?

Perhaps a few examples of 20th Century historical memory can account somewhat for the projection of Polish guilt upon the Jews. One such was the 1941 Jebwabne Pogrom in which approximately 1,000 Jews were massacred by their Polish neighbors. In 2001, when the book Neighbors by Jan Gross was published, there was a fierce debate in Poland with many blaming either the Nazis for instigating the pogrom or the Jews themselves for collaborating with the Soviets and bringing the horrendous massacre upon themselves. That was during the war. The Kielce Pogrom in 1946 came after the war when some Jews returned from concentration camps and tried to reclaim their property and resettle in the town. For over 60 years the Poles were unable to come to terms with their guilt for inflicting such horrors with their very own bare hands.

The government orchestrated Anti-Zionist demonstrations in 1968.
And then, of course is the other, thornier conflation: the one between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. In 1967 following the Six-Day War, the Polish government, in line with other Soviet Bloc countries switched allegiance to the pro-Arab camp and, in a classic case of scapegoating the Jews, unleashed an Anti-Zionist campaign to purge the Communist Party of some of its Jews and also to deflect attention from student and worker protests against food shortages, lack of democracy, etc. It was a great way to channel the people's frustration towards the "Zionist-revisionists." 1968 saw the clearing out of most of the remaining Jews when many jumped at the opportunity to emigrate leaving behind a small Jewish cohort that has been helped, in recent years, to rebuild many of its institutions and become, ironically, an object of celebration by the larger society.

In an interview about the Left's Anti-Zionism, the Chicago University Marxist historian Moishe Postone provides a very credible description of the movement from Anti-Semitism to Anti-Zionism and the particular projection of genocidal aims onto the Jews after the establishment of Israel

"...the violence historically perpetrated by Europeans on Jews is erased; at the same time the horrors of European colonialism now become attributed to the Jews. In this case, the abstract universalism expressed by many anti-Zionists today becomes an ideology of legitimation that helps constitute a form of amnesia regarding the long history of European actions, policies and ideologies toward the Jews, while essentially continuing that history. The Jews have once again become the singular object of European indignation."

You can read the entire Friedrich Ebert Foundation survey here and the summary here.

Message to You, Asma

I have nothing to add to the reporting about the video plea to Asma al-Assad produced by Sheila Lyall Grant, wife of British ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant, and Huberta Voss Wittig, wife of German ambassador Peter Wittig, except to say that karma works. Asma was an energetic facilitator of her husband's charm offensive in the West and consequently is being held as responsible, by her former admirers, as he is for the bloodshed his regime has unleashed.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flytilla Who? Mainstream Media May be Getting Bored with Anti-Israel Shenanigans

The mainstream media seems to be saying to the supposedly pro-Palestinian but primarily anti-Israel network, "Enough already!"

In just two months, we have witnessed damagingly underreported events such as 'Israel Apartheid Week', 'Occupy AIPAC', 'UPenn BDS Conference', 'One-State Solution Conference', 'Park Slope Food Coop BDS Referendum', 'Global March to Jerusalem', and this weekend, the 'Welcome to Palestine Flytilla'.

Do I hear someone crying wolf?

Apart from paying a bit of attention to the Park Slope silly-fest -- a local story after all -- the New York Times gave the other events listed practically no coverage. Neither did the other important national newspapers. We only got to read about them when a little blood was shed. Forgive my cynicism, but I think the organizers were looking for a little more blood, either literally or figuratively, and they didn't get what they were itching for.

I won't go into the accuracy of Isabel Kershner's dispatch on the FlytillaIsrael Moves to Block Activists’ Entry Into Nation, but it seems to me that the most significant detail of her story was this: "The main Palestinian news media have displayed little interest in what the Israelis have dubbed “flytilla”..."  Wow, even the Palestinians are getting tired of this.

The only people invested in these activities -- cos they sure ain't helping the Palestinians get a state of their own -- are the peace activists, many of whom are in their latter middle years, possibly retired, and definitely looking for something to do.

Nevertheless, it is still very important for those working to expose Israel's delegitimzers to maintain our vigilance and do the due diligence because it may just be possible the mainstream media is paying attention to us and not just losing interest in the same old, same old lies.

Here's the skinny on Flytilla:
CIF Watch: Classic anti-Zionist strategy employed by Flytilla 2 activists: Fail miserably, claim victory and, Normal, average Europeans
Anne's Opinions: Flytilla Folly Fizzles
Camera Snapshots: Where's the coverage?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Moral Inversions of Günter Grass

Grass at 16 (right) in his Waffen SS uniform.
The gigantic conceit of Günter Grass, that he took such a courageous step by daring to tell it like it is -- that Israel threatens to annihilate the Iranian people -- is an echo of Europe's clown jester/philosopher Slavoj Zizek's gigantic conceit that the greatest danger today is anti-Antisemitism because it muzzles criticism of Zionism and the perfidious actions of the Jewish state. The forces of Jewish power are amassed against the consciences of Europe's deep thinkers and something had to be said to prevent the Iranian holocaust. If only Grass had published his poem during Purim, what a field day the topsy-turvies would have had with that.

Moral inversions abound and are described brilliantly by Sarah Honig in Another Tack: The German Robbed Cossack. They have had a long history of preparing the ground leading to Ahmedinejad's calls for Israel's extinction. She presents, for example, Leo Tolstoy's response to various entreaties by Jews to speak out against the Russian pogroms. Tolstoy was annoyed; the Jews have brought it upon themselves and must behave better. “The Jews must, for their own good, conduct themselves by the universal principle of ‘do onto others as you would have them do to you.’ They must resist the government living lives of grace, which precludes not only violence against others, but also the partaking in acts of violence.”

As Honig writes: "Given the background of Eastern Europe’s downtrodden Jewry, such ’turn-the-other-cheek’ sermons appear chillingly pitiless (to say the least) because all the Jews had been doing was turning the other cheek. Taken in a broader context, Tolstoy argued against Jewish self-defense before any self-defense was actually attempted. Jews, Tolstoy in effect said, share culpability for their tribulations, must suffer quietly and cannot rise to protect themselves."

For Grass and others throughout history, "Anti-Semites – whether they specialized in mere pogroms or outright Holocausts – habitually portrayed themselves as the aggrieved side."
Grass, "Like Tolstoy before him, demand they do nothing to defend themselves. If they do, they become, in Grass’s idiom, ‘the greatest danger to the world.’ It’s Israel that threatens Iran and not vice versa. By his criteria, our forebears threatened Egypt’s pharaohs, the Amalekites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Haman’s Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusader marauders, Muslim conquistadors, Spanish inquisitors, Chmielnicki’s Ukrainian mass-murderers, Russian pogromchiks, to say nothing of the Germans, whose fuehrer always screamed hysterically about the danger posed to the world by ‘the forces of International Judaism,’ compelling him to formulate a ‘final solution’ to their problem."

In Grass and the Sueddeutsche Newspaper, Dr. Clemens Heni  notices another aspect of the inversion: "In the very beginning of his text Grass portrays himself and all of ‘us’ as possible ‘survivors’ of a hypothetical future war. Intentionally or not, Grass uses a term reserved for Jewish survivors of the Shoah. He is portraying himself as a possible victim of Jews, projecting his own guilt onto the victims." 

Yet, as Heni posits, "Some might argue that Jews and the state of Israel are living in a pre-Holocaust time due to the fact that Iranian President Ahmadinejad said on October 26, 2005, at a conference in Teheran about ‘A World without Zionism,’ that Israel must be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Bernard-Henri Levy catches another inversion in Grass’s fear that Israel will force Germany's complicity in a potential Iranian holocaust because of it's sale of nuclear submarines to the Jews"Germans are 'already sufficiently burdened' (one wonders with what) without becoming, what's more, 'complicit' in the present and future 'crimes' of Israel."

And then there is the useful idiot, Larry Derfner, defending Grass in +972, the Israeli anti-Zionist website often cited by the NYTimes: “Gunter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi over the cliff.”

How cunning the use of 'following the herd behind Bibi'. Does that not have a whiff of Jews going sheepishly to their deaths? And isn't it grand of the former Nazi to warn them of the danger?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Israel's Habima Theatre and the New McCarthyism

Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist?

Surely, these words could be applied now to the blacklisting of Israeli artists by those who would claim a higher morality. A letter of dismay was sent to the Guardian a few days ago urging the banning of Israel's national theater, Habima, which is scheduled to perform "The Merchant of Venice" in Hebrew at the London Globe extravaganza, the largest Shakespeare festival ever held. Habima will be one of 37 international companies presenting the Bard's plays in their own languages. Imagine, only Israel, among those 37 participants, has generated any controversy.

Blacklisted Jewish American actor, Sam Wanamaker, with a model
of the Globe Theatre.

Some of the other nations represented will be China, Russia, Turkey, 'Palestine', Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Oman, Armenia and Tunisia. Is there one among these with hands cleaner than Israel's? I don't need to remind you of the human rights abuses perpetrated by each and every one of these countries.

But here's the kicker: The person who was most instrumental, who initiated and worked tirelessly to give the Globe Theatre its second life was Sam Wanamaker, the Jewish American actor who was forced to leave the United States to find work in London as a result of being blacklisted from Hollywood during the McCarthy reign of terror. Sadly, he died a few years before seeing the new theatre fully built, but I would like to imagine that he would be very disgusted with this new witchhunt stigmatizing the only Jewish nation.

The 1925 Hebrew production of "The Golem" in Moscow where
Habima started life in 1905. It was brought to Tel Aviv in 1928.

The Globe's management, to its credit, is honoring the invitation to Habima, stating, "Habima are the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world, and are a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew. They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians." However, the letter calling for a ban is signed by a clique that includes some of Britain's most 'serious' theatre personalities -- as well as some of the usual anti-Zionist suspects -- so you never know, they may win the day.

You will note that the letter makes a distinction between boycotting companies that perform in the settlements as against those who have abided by the call to boycott the disputed territories. But that's a ruse because most of the signatories object to any cultural exchanges with any Israeli performers, films, orchestras, etc., and know very well that the world will conflate the two types of boycott into a generalized delegitimization of all things Israeli.

You may also note how extraordinary it is that an Israeli company would choose to perform 'Merchant' but that's another story.