From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, whose “gift” of $10 million to New York City in the wake of the September 11th attacks was rebuffed by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has now pledged half that amount to the Carter Center Peace and Health programs in Africa. $5 million bucks may sound like a lot of cash and one whopper of a donation, but keep in mind that for somebody like the prince, who’s worth $17.7 billion (and that's down from 2002), donating $5 million is simply the proportional equivalent of someone worth, say, $100,000 donating about $28. The prince isn’t exactly going to have to restructure his portfolio or miss a meal because of this donation, as large and as putatively generous as it is.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Following is an excerpt from an editorial in today’s Arab News, written by Neil Berry and entitled Kilroy-Silk Affair: Has BBC Played Straight Into the Hands of Enemies? I’ve omitted one word from the last sentence and replaced it with an underlined blank space. Keeping in mind that this omitted word has nothing to do with anything else mentioned in the article, see if you can choose which of the following words was nonetheless included in the editorial:

A) Spaniards
B) Methodists
C) Dean supporters
D) Grateful Deadheads
E) Laker Girls
F) Britney Spears
G) Jews

To the great mass of British people, the issue of freedom of speech is emotive in the extreme. It is seen as the very essence of everything that Britain has stood for — though it is striking how often disputes over the issue turn, as in the present case, on the right of the Englishman to be as abusive as he likes about foreigners. Loud in his professions of patriotism, Kilroy-Silk himself is much given to recalling how his own father died in World War II in the cause of defending free expression. Those who leapt to Kilroy-Silk’s defense over the past two weeks, as great numbers of people did, argue that the BBC betrayed that hallowed principle and acted with indecent haste in suspending Kilroy! (sic) the moment it became plain that the presenter’s attack on Arabs had caused widespread outrage. There have also been furious claims--from ______ and others--that the BBC has exposed itself to the charge of double standards.

I suppose the random exclamation points! are merely further evidence of the high caliber editorial and journalistic skills we’ve come to love and appreciate from Arab News.

Two days ago I linked to a book review (of Hitler’s sequel to Mein Kampf) in The New Republic. I forgot to mention that the author of the review, Omer Bartov, also penned a nice review in August 2000 of Norman Finkelstein’s obtuse, seething screed “The Holocaust Industry.” It’s one of the better assessments I’ve read of Finkelstein and the sanctimonious, controversy-courting quasi-intellectual theatrics that he seems to specialize in. For example, in response to Bartov’s evisceration of his work (or Bartov’s “major review,” as Finkelstein conveniently describes it), Finkelstein haplessly and (predictably) obnoxiously attacks the source: “ The New York Times,” he writes in the forward to the paperback edition of his book, “serves as the main promotional vehicle of the Holocaust industry. It is primarily responsible for advancing the careers of Jerzy Kosinski, Daniel Goldhagen, and Elie Wiesel. For frequency of coverage, the Holocaust places a close second to the daily weather report.” Yawn. How boorish and gleefully courting of controversy can you get? If you’re interested, Daniel Goldhagen has also written about Finkelstein and the latter’s academic credibility (or lack thereof). Here’s an excerpt from Bartov’s piece, from which it’s rather obvious why Finkelstein responded to it so predictably.

There is something sad in this warping of intelligence, and in this perversion of moral indignation. There is also something indecent about it, something juvenile, self-righteous, arrogant and stupid. As was shown in Peter Novick's far more balanced (though not entirely satisfactory) book, ''The Holocaust in American Life,'' the changing perception of the Nazi genocide of the Jews has also opened the way for a variety of exploiters and small-time opportunists. Yet to make this into an international Jewish conspiracy verges on paranoia and would serve anti-Semites around the world much better than any lawyer's exorbitant fees for ''shaking down'' a German industrialist.

Finkelstein speaks of the ''Holocaust industry'' as ''cloaking itself in the sanctimonious mantle of 'needy Holocaust victims.' ''Yet he cloaks himself in that very same mantle, while at the same time showing little sympathy for the feelings of the survivors and enormous zeal in exposing the ''reckless and ruthless abandon'' of the ''Holocaust industry,'' which he calls ''the main fomenter of anti-Semitism in Europe.'' By its ''blackmailing of Swiss bankers and German industrialists,'' as well as of ''starving Polish peasants,'' the ''Holocaust industry'' seeks endlessly to augment that pile of gold, or ''Holocaust booty,'' on which Jewish and Zionist leaders are now allegedly sitting. ''The Holocaust,'' Finkelstein concludes, is possibly ''the greatest robbery in the history of mankind.''

What I find so striking about ''The Holocaust Industry'' is that it is almost an exact copy of the arguments it seeks to expose. It is filled with precisely the kind of shrill hyperbole that Finkelstein rightly deplores in much of the current media hype over the Holocaust; it is brimming with the same indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics and dubious contextualizations; and it oozes with the same smug sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

This book is, in a word, an ideological fanatic's view of other people's opportunism, by a writer so reckless and ruthless in his attacks that he is prepared to defend his own enemies, the bastions of Western capitalism, and to warn that ''The Holocaust'' will stir up an anti-Semitism whose significance he otherwise discounts. Like any conspiracy theory, it contains several grains of truth; and like any such theory, it is both irrational and insidious. Finkelstein can now be said to have founded a Holocaust industry of his own.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s quite telling how folks like Finkelstein, who bewail the supposed exploitation of the Holocaust at the hands of Zionists and other nefarious parties, never seem to have any problem exploiting it for their own purposes.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Here’s an interesting article, courtesy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Tätervolk is 'non-word'of the year.

In the hall of infamy reserved for German words that insult a group or simply offend against common sense, Tätervolk - which translates as “race of perpetrators“ - has been chosen as the Unwort des Jahres in the German language for 2003.
An Unwort des Jahres - literally “non-word of the year,“ but described by one commentator as “the word that dare not speak its name - has been designated by an independently appointed group of five linguistics professors since 1991. Their mission: to expose “linguistic mistakes“ or made-up words that are “entirely inappropriate factually and possibly hurtful to human dignity.“
Tätervolk entered the public discourse after a Christian Democratic Union member of parliament said in a speech in October that “neither the Germans nor the Jews are a Tätervolk,“ implying that it was no fairer to blame Germans for the Holocaust than to put collective responsibility for the Bolshevik Revolution on Jews just because some of its most important leaders were Jewish.
When the CDU parliamentarian Martin Hohmann used Tätervolk, he chose a word not found in Duden, usually considered the standard dictionary for German, and which in recent years had mainly been confined to the political fringe. One committee member noted that Tätervolk had in the past been used to refer to the Jews' presumed collective guilt for the crucifixion of Christ. It mattered little that Hohmann said he meant no anti-Semitic offense: After a national and public uproar, he was expelled from the CDU's parliamentary group.

The above F.A.Z. article seems to gloss over to a significant degree the issue of anti-Semitism in this matter, but the issue is addressed more fully in this article from a website called Expatica: ‘Anti-Semitic’ word is year's ugliest.

FRANKFURT - A panel of German language experts has chosen an "anti-Semitic" phrase which caused a political row last year as the country's "ugly word" of 2003.

The word "taetervolk" - which translates as "perpetrator people" or "perpetrator nation" - caused outrage when used by a member of parliament to describe Jewish guilt for crimes allegedly committed during the Russian Revolution.

The independent jury said Tuesday "taetervolk" was particularly reprehensible because it attempted to make an entire people responsible for the actions of a small group.

The panel agreed it was "current proof of the anti-Semitism which still exists", said jury chairman Horst Dieter Schlosser, a German studies professor.

A review of Adolf Hitler’s unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf in the current issue of The New Republic, entitled He Meant What He Said: Did Hitlerism Die with Hitler? offers some additional, and rather troubling, information about the Hohmann/Tatervolk Affair, not the least of which is that Hohmann is hardly alone in his sentiments:

Anyone who has access (that is, anyone on the Internet) to racist, anti-Semitic, and neo-Nazi publications in the United States and elsewhere will find almost precisely the same opinions and depictions. These hateful representations are normally not much remarked upon. But there are some important exceptions. Most striking was the speech made by Martin Hohmann, a parliamentary representative of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the German Bundestag, to an audience of one hundred thirty people, on October 3, 2003. Hohmann argued that one had no right to speak of the Germans as a "people of perpetrators" ( Tätervolk ) because the Jews--presumably those making that argument--were themselves a "people of perpetrators," considering their high representation among the murderous Bolsheviks. This was the first time since the end of Nazism that a member of the Bundestag made an anti-Semitic argument based on the very logic of Hitler's rationalization for war against the Soviet Union. And an elite Bundeswehr general expressed agreement with Hohmann's speech. Under much public pressure, Hohmann was eventually ejected from the parliamentary fraction of the CDU--but 20 percent of his colleagues opposed his removal. And Hohmann knew, like so many fascists before him who said what he said, what many others were thinking. In a poll recently conducted by the University of Bielefeld, it was found that 70 percent of Germans resent being blamed for the Holocaust, and 25 percent believe that the Jews are trying to make political capital out of their own genocide (and another 30 percent say that there is a measure of truth in this assertion), and three-quarters believe that there are too many foreigners in Germany.

The New Republic article is interesting in other respects as well, including its discussion of anti-Israel rhetoric and the often concurrent attempts to equate so-called anti-Zionism with, of all things, anti-Nazism. These sorts of quasi-intellectual machinations to cast Israel as a racist Apartheid state and a “perpetrator nation” built on genocide, ethnic cleansing, and so on have become commonplace, despite (or, perhaps, precisely because of) the clichéd and counterfactual nature of such claims, not to mention the intellectual bad faith that so often buttresses them. Indeed, the notion that Israel is a nefarious Apartheid state has become one of the most popular and repeated, almost neurotically if not gleeful at times, refrains of the various efforts to criticize and disparage Israel. Do an Internet search for “Apartheid Israel,” for example, or ask anyone who attended the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s recent conference at Ohio State. Yet it is troubling, and often telling, how these discourses so frequently embody almost identical qualities as earlier discourses of stigmatization. If Jews were a taetervolk of earlier centuries—the taetervolk par excellence, even—then “Zionists” are certainly emerging as a favorite object of "taetervolk" stigmatization in today’s world. The protestations that it’s just progressively anti-Zionism ring hollow in the face of the virulent obsessiveness and intellectual violence that so often accompany anti-Zionist discourses, whether they take place on American college campuses or in the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere. The shallow, derogatory use of “Zionist” as a sort of epithet is but one symptom of this.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Remember Jules Farber’s line about how the time is at hand when the wearing of a prayer shawl and skullcap will not bar a man from the White House, unless, of course, the man is Jewish? Here’s an updated and British version of the scenario, and it’s not very funny: Half of British voters unwilling to accept a Jewish Prime Minister.

But yesterday a survey uncovered a widespread refusal among the voters to support a Jewish person as a British prime minister.

A poll published in the Jewish Chronicle today found 47 per cent of people were unable to agree with the statement: "A British Jew would make an equally acceptable prime minister as a member of any other faith."

According to the ICM poll, 18 per cent of the 1,007 people surveyed disagreed. Of those, 11 per cent disagreed strongly. Another 28 per cent were either neutral or "don't knows". The survey also found that 15 per cent of people, or about one in seven, believed the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated. The poll found 20 per cent of people did not think that Jews made a positive contribution to political, social and cultural life, while 18 per cent believed that Jews had too much influence in Britain.

I suppose such tasteless sentiments are somehow the fault of Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government, of course.

In other news, Dubai’s Gulf News offers us this trenchant commentary:

It seems to me that a close examination of the video on this web site will prove beyond all reasonable doubt that 9/11 was a sophisticated military operation, for which only the US itself could have been responsible. The evidence is irrefutable and would stand up in a court of law. While Bush is in power, of course, there will be no such court case.

It is rather plain that the aircraft is carrying an anomalous device underneath its right wing, very close to the fuselage. It almost looks like a third engine and is connected by tubing to the tail section. It also has a nozzle sticking out at the front. Not only is the anomalous device on the plane's underside clearly visible, it is clear too that, just as the plane's nose strikes the building, the nozzle of this device fires a jet of flame.

Well, if you say so.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

In an otherwise unremarkable and predictable recitation of tendentious drivel and misrepresentations in Gulf News , Dr. Hussein Abdulmunin Amery, an Associate Professor at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi and a professor of Geo-politics and of Hydro-politics at Colorado School of Mines, offers this trenchant commentary about the 1973 Yom Kippur War (he calls it the Ramadan War):

It is natural for Israeli politicians and journalists to describe the various wars and developments in the region in their own words. The west happily went along, using Israeli terminology. An example is the Ramadan War of 1973.

Arabs refer to it as the October or Ramadan or 1973 War. Israel, and therefore the western world use the term "Yom Kippur" war, clearly implying that the deceitful and disrespectful Arabs launched a war during the Jews' most holy of days.

"Clearly implying," eh? Fascinating analysis, to be sure, but in 1973 Arab states did indeed launch a war against Israel during the Jewish High Holy Days. In fact, they launched their war on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar; so the reference to Yom Kippur isn't an implication but a simple statement of fact in reference to the day on which this massive sneak attack against Israel was launched. And to say this attack was deceitful and disrespectful is a bit of an understatement. Stick to hydro-politics, doc, if y'know what I’m clearly implying….

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Ah, good stuff. American icon Studs Terkel will receive a lifetime achievement prize from the National Book Critics Circle and my man Bill Vollmann has been nominated for a National Book Award. I haven’t read the entirety of his Rising Up and Rising Down but based on the excerpts I’ve read I’d have to say it’s more than deserving. You’ve got to admire a guy who seems to write more stuff in a year than most people read.

Also, Israeli newspaper Maariv has launched an English website.

Update: This is cute, or something:

"[Popular] singer Sha'ban Abd Al-Rahim is making headlines again with his announcement that he has put the final touches on his latest album Mahibish Al Karasi (I Don't Like the Chairs) — possibly referring to political positions as opposed to furniture. The new album includes a new ditty about the U.S., Israel, and the road map.

"'Kharittat Al Tariq' (Road Map) is the name of the song which gives voice to widespread views in the Egyptian street regarding the September 11th events and the U.S. - Iraq standoff. The song talks about the road map and includes quotes from U.S. President George W. Bush about the plan's implementation. The song goes on to describe how America is the spitting image of Israel and it carries out its desires, making the world into a 'jungle.' But it does not stop at that point. Abd Al-Rahim goes on to boldly sing that the USA is the perpetrator of the September 11th attacks.

"'Hey people it was only a tower and I swear by God that they are the ones who pulled it down.' Abd Al-Rahim further sings that they purposely did it to make people think that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and were behind that disaster.
Now the U.S. can do what it pleases to the Arab world since everyone thinks they are to blame.

"The rest of the song includes lines like 'sometimes he [Bush] says Iran and sometimes he says Syria,' and 'he shortens his speech if someone says Korea.'

"The song is written by Abd Al-Rahim's long-time collaborator, songwriter Islam Khalil , an Arabic teacher at a primary school in Al Qanater in the Al-Qalyoubiya governorate. Khalil wrote earlier Abdel Rahim's hits like 'I Hate Israel' and 'Striking Iraq.'

My, how progressive, albeit rather lacking in originality, creativity, and intelligence. Incidentally, Egypt has received billions of dollars in aid from the United States in recent years, and this is the sort of hate and garbage we get in return. But, gee, let’s boycott and divest from that nasty little Israel. That’ll show ‘em!

Monday, January 19, 2004

Regarding the recent incident of the Israeli ambassador to Sweden going berserk and destroying an art installation that featured a Palestinian suicide bomber—that is, he turned off a couple of lights and berated the artist (ah, the media)—a piece that centered around a flattering portrait of a Palestinian murderer who killed 21 innocent people, floating in a pool of fake blood, I’m reminded of two pieces: The episode of Beavis and Butthead when the dynamic duo deface a wall with heavy metal graffiti, only to have it end up in a museum; and an Art Spiegelman back page cartoon in The New Yorker magazine. The latter piece is entitled something along the lines of “Duchamp Is Our Misfortune,” and featured a sleazy looking skinhead spray painting a Swastika on a wall and slinking away. By the last panel, the Swastika has been transferred to an art gallery and the skinhead artiste is sipping wine and conversing with an admiring crowd. How quickly obnoxious vandalism and other philosophically bankrupt “bombs of filth” can become challenging avante garde paradigms, regardless of their intellectual and moral vacuity, when people are unwilling to look at what’s confronting them. But an artist should no more be allowed to parade around naked than an emperor, and in this case Swedish artist Gunilla Skold Feiler and her Israeli-born husband, Dror Feiler, simply skipped defacing a public space and instead went straight to defacing a museum space with their juvenile, naked obnoxiousness.

So in that respect, I guess if you’re going to stoop to making an art construction whose central image is a flattering portrait of a mass murderer who last October deliberately and savagely terminated the lives of more people than either Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson did, not to mention all the people she maimed and traumatized, and with this installation include a maudlin, tendentious poem that suggests an allusion of sorts between this same mass murderer and Snow White, along with other quasi-political claptrap and implicit justifications for her savagery, you’d best be prepared for someone to call you on your garbage and all its grandiose effusiveness. The artists’ indignity at having the lights, quite literally, turned off on their little stunt is a bit much to take. They doth protest too much, to say the least.

Per Walter Benjamin: There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism also taints the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another.

The artists’ protestations to the contrary, I’d argue that a document—in this case, their art installation—which encapsulates the murder of 21 innocent people within a pretentious, controversy-courting aestheticization, politically and aesthetically, of the person who murdered them, is hardly a document of civilization but in itself is a document of barbarity. At best, it’s just a cheap shock tactic, and I’m somewhat surprised that a major art museum saw fit to display such a lazy effort. Rather than addressing any sort of reality at hand, this sort of cowardly, deliberately provocative artwork flees from any sort of meaningful encounter or understanding of the realities it purports to address. And rather than trying to examine the existential implications or ramifications of a mindset that allows one to strap on explosives, enter a crowded restaurant at lunch time, and detonate oneself so as to murder as many people as possible (or the mindset that allows one to support just this action, as did 75% of Palestinians in the territories), this sort of base artwork offers a framework of avoidance. That is, rather than addressing any sort of pertinent question, such as why, of all the people in the world who suffer, including those who confront far worse travails than the Palestinians do, it is only Palestinians who have adopted to such a degree this gruesome strategy of detonating themselves in civilian areas (the first time in history this strategy has ever been so widely employed), this display offers nothing but craven clichés and easy banalities. It reeks of intellectual and aesthetic bad faith, and it contributes nothing of any necessity or enlightenment, other than perhaps drawing (undeserved) attention to the artists. And, really, how long did it take for Gunilla Skold Feiler and Dror Feiler to think through, much less grapple with, the issues supposedly inherent in this work? Besides being emotionally cheap and easy, it’s an abuse of the deaths and the pain of innocent people, and this sort of anti-didactic smugness strikes me as reminiscent of propaganda, and rather poor propaganda at that. At least Beavis and Butthead and Spiegelman’s thuggish skinhead had the guts to display their imagery outside a museum setting rather than immediately hiding behind the pretensions and self-serving intellectual defenses of a gallery setting.

Imagine, if you can, a similar installation that posited this sort of self-serving, maudlin imagery and prose to another mass murderer of innocent people, namely, Baruch Goldstein, complete with a smiling portrait of him and a weepy exegesis of his hardships and his “innocent heart.” Is there any doubt that people, especially European politicians and activists of an anti-Zionist bent, would be falling over themselves to attack the installation and berating not just the artist but the institution sponsoring it? How many diplomats would attend an event that featured such an installation? Run away, then, you poor child, indeed. Yet for some reason people are shocked, shocked that an Israeli diplomat would take offense at a boorish, cliché-ridden piece of deliberately provocative art that exploits the murders of innocent people. Frankly, I’m a bit embarrassed for the artists that they even saw fit to offer this piece for public viewing. The banalities and clichés aside, it’s just not very good or interesting, and it would be too much of an understatement to say that the piece is as shallow (and fake) as its own pool of “blood.”

In this respect, I’m reminded of Jerry Seinfield’s comment about the Catholic dentist who converted to Judaism so as to take advantage of Jew jokes without being accused of being an anti-Semite: Jerry was offended at this conversion of convenience not so much as a Jew but, as he explained indignantly, as a comedian. Regarding "Snow White and the Madness of Truth,” one hardly has to be a Jew or an artist (or both) to be offended by the sort of sanctimonious, bloody drivel on display in Stockholm. The artists should be thankful for the actions of the Israeli ambassador in drawing attention to their piece, as otherwise it would have been even more quickly consigned to the dustbin of history, where such worthless, hypocritical efforts belong. I know several artists, all of whom are struggling to get by yet who remain honest to their work and to the subject matters they pursue, and so it’s a bit galling to see such exceptionally shoddy, boorish, and inferior artwork like this—gosh, a pool of blood and a suicide bomber: how magnificently deep and insightful, or something—garnering headlines and media attention.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry has said they will be calling upon the Israeli ambassador to explain his actions. Yet, seeing as how a pro-Israeli piece was excluded (censored?) from the exhibition at the behest of Syria, and that the “Snow White” installation in question was a blatant violation of an agreement to keep the Middle East conflict out of this particular conference, it looks like the Swedish Foreign Ministry has no small degree of explaining to do themselves.

A shame, of course, that the only people who will benefit from this incident are the artists of the idiotic piece, who are themselves already reaping international publicity, and those who would use the ambassador’s actions to defame Israel, as the artist Dror Feiler immediately and predictably did. Of course, nobody would be surprised if just this sort of convenient and manufactured controversy at the expense of Israel was a basic objective all along. As usual, so it goes.

Note: A few people have asked me when I’m going to post my updated account of attending the opening panel session of the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s Conference held at OSU last November. Right now, I’m thinking I’m not going to post it, partly because it was such a joke and posting more information about it would risk affording the event extra publicity; partly, as a friend and I were saying a few days ago, because the whole sorry affair seems like it was a long time ago and I don’t feel like dredging it up; and partly for some other reasons, including not wanting to pollute my blog with an extended post about the conference. I’m feeling rather jaded and reticent about delving back into that execrable mess, but I suppose if enough people express interest in reading the account then I’ll just go ahead and post it, or perhaps I’ll just email the information to folks who express interest in reading about it. That night at the Ohio Union does seem like a long time ago, though, the nasty “Yahoodi, Yahoodi, idol worshipper” filth and so on that was flung at me notwithstanding.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I was perusing some of my regular reads from the Middle East, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to do a study of non-Israeli newspapers in the Middle East to see what percentage of their articles are devoted primarily to Israel and what percentage of their articles are devoted primarily to themselves or to the situations in other Arab countries. I’m thinking in particular of outlets like Egypt’s Al-Ahram, which I’ve been reading for a while now, and which almost always contains a handful (or more) of editorials and other articles pertaining to Israel. Another interesting comparison would the number of critical articles about Israel and Egypt (say) that appear in the major media of such respective countries. We know that the Israeli press is filled everyday with articles and editorials critical of the Israeli government and its policies, yet it would be interesting to see the corresponding percentage of, say, the Egyptian media’s domestic criticism in proportion to its criticisms of Israel. Granted, freedom of speech in both countries extends to criticizing Israel and, granted, Israel is an interesting and important topic, but the coverage devoted to it by these non-Israeli sources seems to dwarf their coverage and criticism of other countries, especially Arab ones. I’m reminded of Voltaire’s quote that if God didn’t exist people would have to invent him: that is, if Israel didn’t exist, outlets like Al-Ahram and their respective governments would have to invent Israel so as to have something to occupy the thoughts and concerns of the people lest they start turning their attention and anger to their own governments. (Arab News, to cite a related example, seems to devote its daily editorial cartoon more often than not to addressing something about Israel: Yet how often do we see Israeli political cartoons about Saudi Arabia?)

In this respect, the Arab states are indeed fortunate that they failed in their attempts to wipe out Israel, for had they succeeded they’d have little left upon which to focus their attention besides themselves. It’s somewhat Freudian, I suppose, but Israel, in serving as a sort of unattainable object of desire—an always-already (and inexhaustible) opiate of the masses, if you will—provides an almost essential sort of stabilizing factor or fixation for various other countries, by which others of their own socio-political neuroses and traumas, especially of the domestic variety, can be endlessly deferred and directed at the always Other. A negative political cathexis on the domestic front could be endangering to the regime at home; so, better to have such (potential) resentment directed outward, at Israel, rather than vented into the craven space of inward self-recognition and interrogation.

How interesting would the Middle East be if we did not have Israel’s Apartheid and genocide and all its other myriad facets of nefariousness to complain about, and how interesting it would be to see all that roiling energy and anti-Apartheid sensibility directed towards criticizing other states in the region. In a sense, it reminds me of the teenager who constantly threatens to move out from her parents’ place but never does, because having mean ol’ Mom and Dad around to blame everything on offers a certain stability and comfort of self-agency. God forbid that Israel should ever disappear, as without the Zionists state outlets like Al-Ahram would lose a significant proportion of their subject material. A modest proposal for a thought experiment: imagine Al-Ahram, even for a month, keeping the same size but devoting no more articles about Israel than, say, Ha’aretz publishes about Egypt in the same time. Would the subsequent potential and available space for cover of other issues involve similarly critical reporting about domestic politics or merely increased coverage of, say, cricket?

Also interesting, I suppose, is the fixation of many critics of Israel regarding Jews and Semites and other such matters of Jewish identity and hybridity. As I’ve noted elsewhere at TBON, this fixation on Jewish heterogeneity and provenance, as entrenched in good faith as it always unquestionably is, is often given voice in the letters sections of papers like Al-Ahram. And so it’s not surprising that the latest edition of Al-Ahram includes a letter from Yousef Abdulla, who informs us that “Very few, apart from population geneticists, are aware that European Jews (Ashkenazi) are not Semites; they are mostly Slav.” Jews, Slavs, Khazars: it can be hard to keep all this Jewish socio-ethnography straight, but whatever.

Here’s a photo caption from the front page of Ha’aretz’s website: “Palestinian boys dressed as suicide bombers wearing mock bomb belts during a rally held by Islamic Jihad in Jenin on Saturday.(AP)” Awww, how cute, or something. Kids today, they blow up so soon.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Studying in America: Yes!
Studying Philosophy: No!
Studying Arab News: Priceless!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I’m still extremely busy, but to quickly follow up yesterday’s post: Today Arab News publishes an astoundingly obnoxious letter that includes this execrable drivel:

Please bear this in mind as you read what suggestion I have regarding the Israeli persecution of the Palestinian people. I suggest that the Palestinians temporarily change the names of their towns to the names of Nazi concentration camps. For example Jenin would become Auschwitz, Ramallah would be Treblinka, Nablus would become Dachau, and so on. What is happening to the Palestinians in the Holy Lands with the help of US tanks and helicopters plus millions of dollars in military support, is not any different from what was done during the Holocaust to millions of Jews, Gypsies, intellectuals and many other people who were not convenient for the fascist regimes.

Granted, Israel doesn’t use American tanks (they use Israeli Merkava tanks, which are built in Israel, from Israeli parts), as this genius falsely claims (and, as we've seen at TBON, other folks also), but what else can you expect from somebody who minimizes not just the Holocaust but the murderous persecution of millions of other people under the Nazis so as to compare all this to the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? And how pathetic, albeit typical, that our allies the Saudis see fit to publish this nasty garbage. You would think that for once, just once, somebody would compare the situation of the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel to the Khmer Rouge or the Armenian Genocide or the Rape of Nanking or the Stalinist Genocides or Rwanda or any of the other genocides of the last century, but no, it’s always Nazis and the Holocaust. What’s also interesting is that the same people who bewail the supposed exploitation of the Holocaust by Zionists seem never to have anything to say about people who exploit the Holocaust for witless, derogatory comparisons like the one above. And, of course, the letter includes the obligatory witless justification for suicide bombings: Palestinians are “obliged to blow themselves up as human bombs because they have no other way to fight the incredible forces that have been mounted against them in an attempt to annihilate them.” They’re obliged to detonate themselves, you understand. Good grief.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A letter from the always entertaining and insightful Ed Friedemann, helpfully published by the always progressive and non-inciting Arab News, claims that America can thank Israel, for among things: “Creating enough anger with its brutality, land grabbing, and murder to cause a retaliatory attack on American soil that resulted in the loss of over 3,000 lives and 25 percent of the wealth of America, has forced us to hire 180,000 Homeland Security personal to guard against further attacks and made us live in constant fear of future attacks, with no end in sight”; “The loss of civil liberties and constitutional rights and constant delays in travel…. the Patriot act that has created a de facto police state”; “Over $400 billion spent on attacking Israel’s enemies and the loss of life among American soldiers as a result”; “The loss of millions of American jobs and the disruption of family life”; “Making fools out of the American people by manipulating the media so that they do not know what is actually taking place.”

Ah, how refreshing. Hey, Ed, can we thank Israel for Mad Cow Disease, too? How about hangnails? The nasty weather? The Red Sox losing in the playoffs (who needs the Curse of the Bambino when you’ve got Israel?)? Indeed, the American people may be fools, but how fortunate we are to have geniuses like Ed Friedemann to tell us that, grrrr, it’s all thanks to Israel’s manipulation of the media.
Brief news from everybody’s favorite genocidal Apartheid state: Israel is hosting an international sporting event but, in typical Apartheid fashion, won’t let athletes from Arab countries compete, thus seriously jeopardizing those athletes’ chances of reaching the Olympics. Not surprisingly, the international community is outraged at this blatant display of bigotry and discrimination by which Israel has turned a sporting event into war by other means.

Oh, wait. The international sporting event isn’t being held in Israel. It’s being held next door in Jordan, and the only athletes not allowed to compete, thus jeopardizing their chances of reaching the Olympics, aren’t from Arab countries but are from Israel. Not surprisingly, the international community is outraged at this blatant display of bigotry and discrimination by which the Arab countries have turned a sporting event into war against Israel by other means. Er, never mind. Nothing to see, Sidney, now move along.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Blogging has been slow lately because I’ve been extremely busy, not to mention cold. Brrrrr. But Arab News, operated by our wonderful allies the Saudis, generally doesn’t fail to offer something of note, so here’s a quick entry made possible by everybody’s favorite progressive, non-Apartheid Middle Eastern country. Today’s Arab News features a typically blustery, self-righteous editorial about the recently cancelled and revived European Conference on Anti-Semitism. The article includes all the de rigueur snide comments about Zionism and anti-Semitism—anti-Semitism is hyped and exploited by Zionists for political gain, and is itself a core root of anti-Semitism, you understand, and whine whine whine blah blah blah ad nauseam—and concludes with this breathtakingly spiteful (and, of course, unsubstantiated and ridiculous) commentary:

Unfortunately, the price of this unbending arrogance will be the further rise of intolerant opinion in Europe. This may suit the Zionist purpose, but the fascist thugs it fosters will not confine their depravities to Jewish targets. Muslims, blacks and the whole emerging multicultural tapestry of Europe will come under threat. In truth, in its own way, Zionism itself is just another form of bigotry.

Um, right, but at least Zionism, unlike Saudi Arabia, doesn’t make it illegal to buy a Bible or for women to show their elbows in public. Are these people not shameless? Oh, and if the Einsteins at Arab News had checked the newswires before running their boorish and inane editorial about the conference being cancelled they’d know the conference had already been revived before their inept editorial went online. But since when are things like facts and truth and reality of any vague priority or importance to Arab News?

Speaking of which, just yesterday an opinion writer retched up this vomitous rhetoric and comparison:

Consider, as an example, what happened after the infamous Kristallnacht in the occupied territories, in March 2002, when Israeli occupation forces wreaked havoc all the way from Bethlehem to Nablus, and Gaza to Jenin, that gave terror a new name and left hundreds dead and thousands homeless: The US sent truckloads of blankets, tents and medicine to the victims. In Jenin, the town that had suffered most from the devastation, the townspeople refused to accept the shipment, sending it back with the admonition that it was the Israeli military, backed by America and armed with American weapons, that was responsible for the carnage, and thus Americans can take their aid and shove it.

Oho, such tough talk, coupled with a derogatory swipe at Kristallnacht (perhaps they heard Adam “Free Ticket” Shapiro's similarly asinine comments about Kristallnact (see below)). Because, you know, just like in the territories in 2002 there was in Germany in 1938 an overwhelming plethora of Jewish terrorists and suicide bombers involved in an active campaign of terror and mayhem against innocent German civilians. Just think of all those innocent German school children who had been murdered by Jewish terrorists up to that point! And all those bomb factories and other hornets nests of terrorism hidden in Jewish neighborhoods at the time, why, the comparison is just so, so, so… apt! To label this tripe as Orwellian garbage would be an insult to Orwellian garbage.

The “opinion” piece ends thusly:

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a Washington Post columnist, devoted his piece last week to telling the tale of a group of young Muslim Americans in their early twenties in southern California who had organized a series of pickup football games for the New Year’s holiday. Among the stylized names they chose for their teams were “Intifada,” “Soldiers of Allah” and “Mujahedeen.”

That didn’t sit well with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center nor with a whole bunch of bigots in California who, through threats, have made the boys abandon the games, fearing for their lives.

Well, I for one wouldn’t consider “young Muslim Americans in their early twenties,” or anyone else of that age, as “boys,” but unlike Arab News I have a predilection for accuracy. Also, had the opinion writer had even a clue what he was talking about he might have known that the “boys” didn’t’ “abandon the games” and that, truth be told, their little tournament went on as planned. But, as I noted above, since when are things like facts and truth and reality of any vague priority or importance to Arab News? So it goes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

This week’s (January 5) issue of The New Yorker magazine includes an article by Lawrence Wright entitled “The Kingdom of Silence.” Unfortunately, the article isn’t online, but it’s definitely worth reading. Here’s what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had to say about it:

Kingdom of silence: As an editor for three months at the English-language Saudi Gazette, reporter Lawrence Wright was able to view Saudi Arabia from a unique vantage point. He trained young Saudi journalists, shopped at malls, met Osama bin Laden's son and saw citizens being chased by the religious police. Wright reports these and other observations in a compelling cover story in this week's The New Yorker (Jan. 5).

At one political salon Wright attended, the men complained that their children's hatred of America terrified them. Many young people admire bin Laden, Wright was told. One man said his daughter listens to Britney Spears, but her wall is covered with pictures of Palestinian girl martyrs.

The most unnerving aspect of Saudi life, Wright says, was the treatment of women. "I could go through an entire day without seeing any women. . . . Almost all public space, from the outdoor terrace at the Italian restaurant to the sidewalk tables at Starbucks, belonged to men."

One of Wright’s tasks was helping train young Saudi journalists, and his portraits of these people are thoughtful and touching. Being a journalist in Saudi Arabia isn’t easy, to say the least, especially if you’re a woman trying to do research at a library that’s closed to you except for one day a week. Saudi society is extremely rigid and conservative, and apparently depression has become a mounting problem, to say nothing of the travails confronting the country’s sizable foreign worker community. One can see some of this in the people Wright encounters: They seem like good folks, but they’re people whose lives are everyday emotionally and socially constricted.

Among other things, Wright discusses doing an article to mark the one-year anniversary of a deadly fire that killed several students at a girls’ school. At the time, the story marked a watershed of sorts in the Saudi media, as many people questioned actions on the part of the government that had occurred during the fire, including those of a member of the religious police who had prevented people from rescuing the girls because they were not wearing their head coverings.

Near the end of the Thursday meeting, I suggested assigning a one-year anniversary story about the event. I wanted a woman reporter to write it. “The question is, after a year, have things really changed?” I asked.

“Of course they have,” Najla said impatiently, leaning on the table with what must have been her chin resting on her fist. “Everybody knows this. The head of the Presidency of Girls’ Education was fired. They merged that department into Ministry of Education. These are huge changes.”

“To me, they seem like symbolic changes,” I said. “The girls died because they were locked inside a ramshackle, overcrowded building with no fire escapes. Is the government actually building safe schools for girls? Are the terachers conducting fire drills? Are the girls still locked inside?”

One of the women, Sabahat Siddiqi, shyly spoke up. “I will do this story, if you will tell me how,” she said. I suggested that Sabahat talk to civil-defense authorities to see if they have improved fire safety, and to the Minister of Education to determine if the government had followed through on its pledge to build safe schools. I advised her to go to Mecca and talk to the families of the girls who died. She should visit girls’ schools in Jeddah, and talk to women educators to see whether they were satisfied with the government’s response. Sabahat nodded and earnestly took notes, but Najla laughed. “That’s not the way things work here,” she warned me.

As you can probably guess, Sabahat encounters various journalist difficulties, some simply because she’s a woman. The story eventually dies, and “The first anniversary of the school fire came and went, largely unremarked in the Saudi press.” It’s a good article. Check it out.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

If anybody knows how to get the permalinks on this here blog to work, please drop me a line (TBONotebooks at Softhome.net). I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

Friday, January 02, 2004

A woman who is a devout Muslim and a student at the University of Toronto has received numerous verbal assaults and even death threats because of her outspoken views regarding Jews and Israel. Boy, those bloody Zionists will stoop to any level to intimidate people and squelch any discussion of Israel they don’t like! Oh, wait. The woman is a supporter of Israel and says she loves Jews. She explains, "I received some violent resentment from the pro-Palestinian left-wing majority on campus. Most of my Muslim friends do not respect my views," she said. Oh. Well, nothing to see, move along, just another victim of progressive anti-Zionism.
An article in the always remarkable Arab News has this remarkable statement: “Being the largest users in the region of the Internet and e-mail, Gulf states are a melting pot for world cultures.” This is exceptionally ironic, coming as it is does in a paper publicized by Saudi Arabia, a country that blocks Internet access to websites promoting religious tolerance and websites that offer information about Christianity, Judaism, Bahaism; sexuality; women’s issues; popular culture and entertainment; and various other issues. It’s hard to see how any state that blocks access to information about Anne Frank (!) can be considered part of any sort of melting pot for world cultures. Perhaps the author was excluding Saudi Arabia from his discussion of Arab states.

In other news, The Jerusalem Report’s Back Page features an interview with Shahar Zahavi, 28, a Tel Aviv University student. Zahavi is the founder and coordinator of IsraAID, “a coordinating body of Israeli and Jewish organizations and other interested parties based in Israel who are active in development and relief work and are concerned about global issues.” “We want people to see the Israel that contributes to the world,” Zahavi says, in the course of this short but exceptionally interesting interview.

The Jerusalem Report: When did Israel begin aiding other countries?

It goes back to the early years of the state. In 1953 there was a severe earthquake in Greece, and an Israeli Navy patrol boat was one of the first on the scene. Since that time Israelis have been helping out, even when Israel was a very young country with enough troubles of its own. Organizations offering assistance to the developing world were founded early on -- MASHAV, the Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation, for instance [established in 1958].

What does Israel have to offer?

The Home Front Command has expert rescue teams which respond to disasters abroad; the Agriculture Ministry operates the Center for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CINADCO), which trains people from developing countries in modern agriculture and irrigation methods. Hundreds of foreign students are in these programs.

And then there are the many non-government organizations that offer aid under the IsraAID umbrella. I had the idea in 2001, after an earthquake in Turkey. Many groups stepped forward to help, but there was no organization to coordinate their activities. A disaster would occur and various groups would respond, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Our idea was to get them together when they weren’t faced with an emergency.

Today more than 30 organizations are under our auspices, providing medical assistance, AIDS treatment, agricultural training. We hold classes for members every few months on topics like humanitarian law.

Our members include the humanitarian fund of the Kibbutz Artzi Movement, which donated a large amount of food, clothing, and other supplies after the earthquake in Turkey in 2001. Another is Magen David Adom, which of course is busy here in Israel, but also sends gear and personnel abroad in emergencies. We have an organ-ization called the Jerusalem AIDS Project, which does AIDS awareness courses all over Africa. And FIRST (Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team) is an organization for rescue workers, which is active in Israel and also goes abroad in emergency. And we’re looking for more partners.

This is a remarkable organization; check them out. I’ve added their website to TBON’s links column. And, I must say, it’s a bloody shame, if not an affront to humanitarian sensibilities, that just a few days ago Iran, in the wake of an earthquake that killed over 30,000 people, rejected assistance from groups like IsraAID, simply because they were from Israel (god forbid any Iranian citizen should suffer the ignominy of having his or her life saved by an Israeli!). To their further credit, Israeli organizations have said they will contribute to relief efforts via third parties and other means. (A thought: How many relief organizations from Iran would rush to offer assistance if a massive earthquake struck Israel?)

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