Brainstorming about history, politics, literature, religion, and other topics from a 'gypsy' scholar on a wagon hitched to a star.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
In this town, your name is Mudd, . . .
Monday, January 16, 2017
Martin Kramer: The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East
My entry into the scholarship of Martin Kramer was a consequence of my reaction to 9/11. As a political centrist, I was torn in two directions - both leftwards and rightwards - by terrorism on such a massive scale.
On the one hand, I found myself nodding at Noam Chomsky's remark about chickens coming home to roost because I assumed that the United States had funded Bin Laden in the Afghan uprising against the Soviet Union, though I soon discovered that Bin Laden strongly refuted this, claiming never to have received any American money.
On the other hand, I found myself agreeing with Samuel Huntington on religious, even civilizational motives behind 9/11, and I said so in a presentation given a year after the attack, only to discover that I was guilty of "Orientalism."
I knew of Edward Said, naturally, and had even read passages from his famous book, but I couldn't see how Western Orientalism drove Muslims to such a cultural atrocity as, for example, the Islamist destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
I was somehow led to Kramer's book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, which showed the extent to which Said had misunderstood the field of Orientalism and had thereby contributed to politicizing Middle Eastern studies.
In the years since my discovery of Kramer, I have followed his writing as a guide to fact and error on the Middle East, and I am pleased to see that he has collected and expanded much of that writing in this new book, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East. Here's the official description:
In The War on Error, historian and political analyst Martin Kramer presents a series of case studies, some based on pathfinding research and others on provocative analysis, that correct misinformation clouding the public's understanding of the Middle East. He also offers a forensic exploration of how misinformation arises and becomes "fact."That looks like a pretty accurate summary to me. I fully recommend the book for anyone with an interest in its themes, and that includes about everyone - you just haven't realized it yet.
The book is divided into five themes: Orientalism and Middle Eastern studies, a prime casualty of the culture wars; Islamism, massively misrepresented by apologists; Arab politics, a generator of disappointing surprises; Israeli history, manipulated by reckless revisionists; and American Jews and Israel, the subject of irrational fantasies. Kramer shows how error permeates the debate over each of these themes, creating distorted images that cause policy failures.
Kramer approaches questions in the spirit of a relentless fact-checker. Did Israeli troops massacre Palestinian Arabs in Lydda in July 1948? Was the bestseller Exodus hatched by an advertising executive? Did Martin Luther King, Jr., describe anti-Zionism as antisemitism? Did a major post-9/11 documentary film deliberately distort the history of Islam? Did Israel push the United States into the Iraq War? Kramer also questions paradigms - the "Arab Spring," the map of the Middle East, and linkage. Along the way, he amasses new evidence, exposes carelessness, and provides definitive answers.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Intellectuals for Trump?
The cultural critic Kelefa Sanneh attempts to make sense of pro-Trump intellectuals who attempt to make sense of Trump, who won't make sense of himself, in "Intellectuals for Trump" (The New Yorker, January 9, 2017):
The most cogent argument for electing Donald Trump was made not by Trump, or by his campaign, but by a writer who, unlike Trump, betrayed no eagerness to attach his name to his creations. He called himself Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul known for sacrificing himself in battle, although the author used a pseudonym precisely because he hoped not to suffer any repercussions. In September, on the Web site of the Claremont Review of Books, Decius published "The Flight 93 Election," which likened the country to a hijacked airplane, and argued that voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit: the consequences were possibly dire, but the consequences of inaction were surely so. Decius sought to be clear-eyed about the candidate he was endorsing. "Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise," he wrote. But he argued that this corruption was also evidence of a national crisis, one that could be addressed only by a politician untethered to political piety. The author hailed Trump for his willingness to defend American workers and America's borders. "Trump," he wrote, "alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live." By holding the line on unauthorized immigration and rethinking free trade, Decius argued, Trump could help foster "solidarity among the working, lower-middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities." Decius identified himself as a conservative, but he saved much of his criticism for "house-broken conservatives," who warned of the perils of progressivism while doing nothing in particular to stop it. Electing Trump was a way to take a stand against both ambitious liberalism and insufficiently ambitious conservatism.That's the introduction. Go and read more if more interests you. It should. Incidentally, I thought the writer familiar, as I remarked in a comment on Malcolm Pollack's website:
I thought I recognized the name "Sanneh." Kelefa Sanneh is the son of Lamin Sanneh, an intellectual and a convert to Christianity from Islam and a practicing Roman Catholic.Lots of ironies all around . . .
Labels: Malcolm Pollack
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Bienvenido Bones Banez with his art on Milton's Cottage Day
John Dugdale Bradley (standing second from left)
Kelly O'Reilly (taking the photograph)
Terrance Lindall tells of a "[w]onderful and fruitful visit by the charming John Dugdale Bradley and Kelly O'Reilly from Milton's Cottage England!" We are invited to learn more about Milton's Cottage Day and to peruse photographs of the visit and "[r]ead about it in ISSUU MAGAZINE." In further support of Milton's Cottage, Bradley and O'Reilly "are planning major events with artists and writers and the events will be associated with the British Library, Westminster Abbey and other [important sites]."
Among such artists are Terrance Lindall, standing first from left in the photo above, and Bienvenido Bones Banez, standing furthermost right.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Nat Hentoff Passes . . .
Nat Hentoff died a few days ago at the no longer advanced age of 91. I first read Hentoff in his column for the Village Voice back in the late 1980s, mostly for his varied and various defenses of free speech. But I saw that he also penned articles on the right to life, and I began reading those. Here is a passage from his talk, The Indivisible Fight for Life (Presented at AUL Forum, 19 October 1986, Chicago), in which he speaks on why he came to oppose abortion:
For me, this transformation started with the reporting I did on the Babies Doe. While covering the story, I came across a number of physicians, medical writers, staff people in Congress and some members of the House and Senate who were convinced that making it possible for a spina bifida or a Down syndrome infant to die was the equivalent of what they called a "late abortion." And surely, they felt, there's nothing wrong with that.For those readers who wish to read more, go here.
Now, I had not been thinking about abortion at all. I had not thought about it for years. I had what W. H. Auden called in another context a "rehearsed response." You mentioned abortion and I would say, "Oh yeah, that's a fundamental part of women's liberation," and that was the end of it.
But then I started hearing about "late abortion." The simple "fact" that the infant had been born, proponents suggest, should not get in the way of mercifully saving him or her from a life hardly worth living. At the same time, the parents are saved from the financial and emotional burden of caring for an imperfect child.
And then I heard the head of the Reproductive Freedom Rights unit of the ACLU saying - this was at the same time as the Baby Jane Doe story was developing on Long Island - at a forum, "I don't know what all this fuss is about. Dealing with these handicapped infants is really an extension of women's reproductive freedom rights, women's right to control their own bodies."
That stopped me. It seemed to me we were not talking about Roe v. Wade. These infants were born. And having been born, as persons under the Constitution, they were entitled to at least the same rights as people on death row - due process, equal protection of the law. So for the first time, I began to pay attention to the "slippery slope" warnings of pro-lifers I read about or had seen on television. Because abortion had become legal and easily available, that argument ran - as you well know - infanticide would eventually become openly permissible, to be followed by euthanasia for infirm, expensive senior citizens.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
A bad penny always turns up . . .
. . . to be turned down.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Walter A. McDougall: On Trump
My old Berkeley professor of American history, Walter A. McDougall, has an article ("Art of the Doge?" January 6, 2017) in FPRI's American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull. In this article, McDougall asks an interesting question, namely, does the President-Elect have a distinct operational code?
McDougall goes to an interesting place in search of an answer:
Might Donald Trump's modus operandi derive from his lifetime as an entrepreneur? In fact, he has already given us a candid answer which nearly all journalists and pundits have curiously ignored. It can be found in Trump: The Art of the Deal, his 1987 autobiography. Its ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, now regrets his role in massaging the man's image but does not disavow the book's contents, which telegraphed 30 years ago Trump's startling, successful leap into politics.McDougall also notes that Trump was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth:
The first chapter, a chronicle of one typically busy week, highlights an act of charity he performed and goes on to mention how much he relies on female executives. The chapter on his childhood combats the assumption that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth by describing his father's rise from poverty in the gritty construction business, the hard work he had to do as a child, and his four years in military school. That he once thought of trying to make it in Hollywood anticipates his later stardom on television. That he scoffed at public relations firms and pollsters while hyping his ability to manipulate the media anticipates his unorthodox political campaign 30 years later.The rest of the article has similarly interesting observations to share.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Good Advice, Taken Aback
Monday, January 09, 2017
A Royal Headache
Shakespeare informs us in Henry IV, Part II, that:
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.But Shakespeare neglected to offer a remedy for such a headache (though some jester might somewhere or other suggest a beheading).
I propose a simple, but fitting remedy. Before going to bed, take the crown off.