Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2007

The British Pat Buchanan

The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

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The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

Wheatcroft is equally hostile to the United States: “There was once a vigorous high Tory tradition of independence from—if not hostility to—America. It was found in the Morning Post before the war, and it continued down to Enoch Powell and Alan Clark.”

As it happens, I met both these colorful figures, who served in various Tory administrations, though never at the highest level. Powell is best remembered for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968, in which he denounced mass immigration from the Commonwealth and warned of civil war. This speech was widely interpreted as racist; it permanently marginalized Powell in mainstream politics. A few years later he left the Tory party. Some people now see him as a prophet who foresaw the difficulty of integrating a large Muslim minority, but his concerns were about race rather than religion.

Powell was once asked whether he was anti-American. He replied: “Most people are. The only change is that it has become a term of abuse.” In answer to the question why, he said: “Well, I just don’t like America, or Americans. It’s like saying you like sugar in your tea. De gustibus non est disputandum.”

At least Enoch Powell was not an anti-Semite. Alan Clark, however, was not only anti-American, but an enthusiastic and unashamed admirer of Hitler, whose portrait he kept on his wall. Clark’s pro-Nazi views permeate Barbarossa, his well-known history of the German invasion of Russia, but they also shine through at several points in The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-1997. He hints that German-Jewish refugees hindered Anglo-German efforts to preserve peace. Of Chamberlain’s belated decision to declare war on Germany in 1939, he writes: “Not since the Angevin kings had responded to mystic revelations from the Divinity instructing them to call a crusade to arms can any group of national leaders have taken so momentous a decision on such tenuous assumptions.”

But it is when Clark comes to Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland that his agenda is clearly revealed. Not only is he convinced (against all the evidence) that Hess brought a genuine peace offer from Hitler, that Churchill turned down this “wasted opportunity” to save the British Empire, and that the entire British establishment then engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up right down to 1987, when Hess was “strangled in his cell.” Clark also believes that a fall in Wall Street stocks on the news of Hess’s flight holds the key: peace, he claims, would have hit profits, which were far more important to Americans (many of them Jewish) than “the certain fate of human beings.”

As for more recent episodes: Clark depicts the Falklands war as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Reagan administration, determined to frustrate the British attempt to regain the islands, and a stubborn Mrs. Thatcher—which is more or less the opposite of the version she herself recalls. Clark gained notoriety by publishing his sensational diaries, but they merely reinforce the impression of a clever but twisted mind, a crashing snob and conspiracy theorist, who fantasized about his boss, Mrs. Thatcher, as a kind of female Hitler, describing the thrill he got from her proximity as “Führer-Kontakt”.

So much for Alan Clark and Enoch Powell as keepers of the Tory flame. But Wheatcroft also admires the Arabist tradition exemplified by the vehemently anti-Zionist Ian (now Lord) Gilmour. Then he goes further back, rejecting Charles Moore’s claim that Conservatives have usually supported Israel in the past: “That highest of high Tories, Lord Curzon, deplored the Balfour declaration. . . . In his day Curzon might have seemed the truer Tory than Balfour, and it’s only recently that his spirit has been stifled in his old party.”

So, in Wheatcroft’s mind, true Tories reject the existence of Israel. He ignores such Conservative heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly supported both America and Israel, or in the more remote past Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Instead, he postulates “infiltration” of the party by “zealous Anglo-neocons” who have “encircled” the Tory leader. He does not want David Cameron to become “the Hugo Chavez of Notting Hill,” he says, but to “forge a foreign policy that, unlike Blair’s, is based on the national interest of this country and not another.”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft emerges here as a British equivalent of Pat Buchanan. It is not often that such venomous resentment of the United States and Israel from the Right is brought out into the open in Britain—and no accident that it is the Guardian that offers these views a platform. To judge from the readers’ comments on the Guardian website, he has brought quite a few extreme anti-Semites out of the woodwork, too. But the tenor of Wheatcroft’s article is not untypical of the circles in which many senior Tories move. It is not only in America that paleoconservatives exist. Britain evidently has its very own Anglo-paleocons.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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“Hurt Into Poetry”

Last week I attended a reading of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s poems at the New School in downtown Manhattan. At the podium were the poets Edward Hirsch and Adam Zagajewski, Herbert’s translator Alissa Valles, the journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, and New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. This event marked a long-awaited occasion: the publication of Herbert’s collected works in English. Collected Poems, 1956-1998, in Valles’s sensitive translation, makes an important addition to our understanding of post-war literary modernism, and of post-war poetry in general.

On the occasion of Herbert’s death in 1998, his compatriot, translator, and friend Czesław Miłosz wrote a short, understated poem about their shared art form and how the deceased unfailingly attended it:

He, who served [poetry],
is changed into a thing,
delivered to decomposition
into salts and phosphates,
sinks
into the home of chaos.

Changed into a thing: a line Herbert himself would have seen as no small compliment. A battered son of Eastern Europe who saw his country repeatedly swapped by Hitler and Stalin, Herbert was understandably preoccupied with the permanent and stable. His poetry is a lasting monument to the safety of objects, to what he once called “a predatory love of the concrete.” Flowers, diamonds, armchairs, stools–these rarely let one down in the flux of life, and through them mankind can fashion a saner metaphysics than through appeals to History and the inevitable forces of “progress.”

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Last week I attended a reading of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s poems at the New School in downtown Manhattan. At the podium were the poets Edward Hirsch and Adam Zagajewski, Herbert’s translator Alissa Valles, the journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, and New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. This event marked a long-awaited occasion: the publication of Herbert’s collected works in English. Collected Poems, 1956-1998, in Valles’s sensitive translation, makes an important addition to our understanding of post-war literary modernism, and of post-war poetry in general.

On the occasion of Herbert’s death in 1998, his compatriot, translator, and friend Czesław Miłosz wrote a short, understated poem about their shared art form and how the deceased unfailingly attended it:

He, who served [poetry],
is changed into a thing,
delivered to decomposition
into salts and phosphates,
sinks
into the home of chaos.

Changed into a thing: a line Herbert himself would have seen as no small compliment. A battered son of Eastern Europe who saw his country repeatedly swapped by Hitler and Stalin, Herbert was understandably preoccupied with the permanent and stable. His poetry is a lasting monument to the safety of objects, to what he once called “a predatory love of the concrete.” Flowers, diamonds, armchairs, stools–these rarely let one down in the flux of life, and through them mankind can fashion a saner metaphysics than through appeals to History and the inevitable forces of “progress.”

That is not to say, however, that Herbert was unconcerned with politics and ideas. Born in 1924 in Lwow, he seemed destined for a quiet life of the mind until the noise of invasion and occupation roused him from that idyllic might-have-been. He joined the resistance, continued his studies while underground, and performed odd jobs throughout Poland until his gifts as a poet were recognized with the publication of his book Chord of Light in 1956

Herbert’s career as a poet only became possible after the Communist “thaw” of that year, the slight liberalization following Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech.” It is sobering to consider how great the loss would have been had this modest liberalization tempted him to compromise his talents for the sake of political expedience. (He once wrote a wry and haunting poem, A Life, that imagined what doing exactly that would be like: it ends with the poet-stooge and his friends asking rhetorically if “the dictatorship of the proletariat / may exclude art in the true sense,” before erupting into grim laughter.)

Yet a figure far more expressive of Herbert’s actual biography was his alter ego Mr. Cogito, a supremely ironic and polymorphous being, inhabiting every mode of thought and experience, through which the poet voiced his deepest insecurities, longings and fears: becoming a has-been, returning to his native town, confronting the abyss of “fathomless days,” his own eventual decay.

It’s well worth recalling that after the Berlin Wall came down, Herbert returned to his homeland with harsh words for the agreements struck between Solidarity and the Communist government. A staunch cold warrior, he went so far as blame the softer politics of Milosz and Michnik for the national malaise then gripping Poland. But not even this slight minimized Herbert’s artistic achievement and his indomitable humanity in the eyes of his anti-totalitarian compatriots. Michnik is all forgiveness today. When, during the question and answer period after the reading, Edward Hirsch drew a comparison between Herbert and the Latin American poets, specifically Pablo Neruda, the great Polish dissident shot back: “Neruda wrote about Stalin, Herbert wrote about Marcus Aurelius. I’d like to have the value of the difference between them in dollars.” (So would I.)

Auden wrote of Yeats that “mad Ireland hurt [him] into poetry.” Without World War II, there’s a good chance Zbigniew Herbert would now be remembered, if at all, as a professor of philosophy or art history: he, too, was hurt into poetry. He loved antiquity and used myths and other classical imagery to evoke the grim conditions of the ravaged world outside his window, but could also be arrestingly direct about those conditions: “Metaphors mock you as you flee/into a spray of righteous bullets.” Hard to surpass, as a comment on the fragile and tragicomic position of the artist in history. But we should be grateful, in Herbert’s case: if not for the bullets, then for the metaphors.

 

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Beleaguered “Civil Servants”?

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up a profoundly confused column this morning about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

He begins by noting the extraordinary public service that many career federal workers perform for the country, and he’s absolutely right. But then he turns to accusing the Bush administration of ignoring, abusing, and demeaning such people, using as his example the e-mails sent by Justice Department political appointees regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed by the administration. Those e-mails, he argues, offer an example of political appointees disparaging civil servants.

The only problem is that the U.S. Attorneys who were the subjects of the e-mails he quotes were themselves political appointees, not career civil servants. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, generally at the urging of other elected officials from the President’s party. They stay in office only as long as the President wants them to. A number of Presidents have started their terms by firing all of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys and hiring their own people in their place. (Bill Clinton did that, for instance, firing among others a U.S. Attorney investigating Clinton himself in Arkansas, as Rep. Lamar Smith points out in today’s USA Today.) So the e-mails Ignatius quotes are actually examples of politicals talking about politicals, and do nothing to make the case he wants to push. On the contrary, they show that political appointees, too, do difficult and important work for the country.

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Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up a profoundly confused column this morning about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

He begins by noting the extraordinary public service that many career federal workers perform for the country, and he’s absolutely right. But then he turns to accusing the Bush administration of ignoring, abusing, and demeaning such people, using as his example the e-mails sent by Justice Department political appointees regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed by the administration. Those e-mails, he argues, offer an example of political appointees disparaging civil servants.

The only problem is that the U.S. Attorneys who were the subjects of the e-mails he quotes were themselves political appointees, not career civil servants. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, generally at the urging of other elected officials from the President’s party. They stay in office only as long as the President wants them to. A number of Presidents have started their terms by firing all of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys and hiring their own people in their place. (Bill Clinton did that, for instance, firing among others a U.S. Attorney investigating Clinton himself in Arkansas, as Rep. Lamar Smith points out in today’s USA Today.) So the e-mails Ignatius quotes are actually examples of politicals talking about politicals, and do nothing to make the case he wants to push. On the contrary, they show that political appointees, too, do difficult and important work for the country.

His more general point that the Bush administration is uniquely dismissive of the contributions of career civil servants is no less careless and unsupported. All you have to do is talk to a civil servant who worked, say, in the Office of Management and Budget or the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Clinton years, and you will be quickly relieved of any such notion.

There is always bound to be some friction between political appointees who work to advance the agenda of the elected President and the career civil servants who see one President or another as a temporary problem. The friction is especially great when the bureaucracy is actively opposed to the President’s agenda, as often happens for instance in the State Department during Republican administrations or the Pentagon in Democratic ones. The Bush administration has faced a particularly hostile bureaucracy in a few key agencies, including several (like the CIA) that play crucial roles in the war against Islamic radicals. The administration has, on the whole, handled it well, and has actually treated civil servants with more respect than they’re accustomed to throughout the government, appointing career staff to unusually senior positions and including them in very sensitive discussions.

Whether or not that’s the case at the Justice Department, a dispute between two groups of political appointees, as in the U.S. Attorneys scandal, is beside the point.

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“Europeanization, Not Islamization”

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

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The Aging Society

An analysis of government demographic data published this week reveals an astonishing spike in the number of Americans stricken with Alzheimer’s disease—an increase of 10 percent in just five years. The chief reason is one we could hardly regret: the great success of modern medicine.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s increases sharply with age, and many more Americans are living into their seventies, eighties, and nineties than ever have before. Among those fortunate enough to make it past age eighty-five, a whopping 50 percent are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia. The baby boomers are the first American generation to have lived their entire lives truly in the age of modern medicine (which we might roughly define as beginning with the introduction of penicillin into general use). That has made them the healthiest generation to date, and will surely make them the longest lived. It will also mean that for an enormous number of American families, the coming decades will be shaped by the contours of the slow mental (and eventually physical) decline brought on by dementia.

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An analysis of government demographic data published this week reveals an astonishing spike in the number of Americans stricken with Alzheimer’s disease—an increase of 10 percent in just five years. The chief reason is one we could hardly regret: the great success of modern medicine.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s increases sharply with age, and many more Americans are living into their seventies, eighties, and nineties than ever have before. Among those fortunate enough to make it past age eighty-five, a whopping 50 percent are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia. The baby boomers are the first American generation to have lived their entire lives truly in the age of modern medicine (which we might roughly define as beginning with the introduction of penicillin into general use). That has made them the healthiest generation to date, and will surely make them the longest lived. It will also mean that for an enormous number of American families, the coming decades will be shaped by the contours of the slow mental (and eventually physical) decline brought on by dementia.

The advance of the disease can be emotionally excruciating for the patient’s loved ones, as the afflicted person is slowly lost to them but is still very much with them. The disease can also carry enormous economic costs for the families involved, since in middle and later stages patients often need constant and intense care.

We are thoroughly unprepared for the scale of the demographic shift to come, as our society (on average) grays in the coming years. Families will learn to cope, and the nation will find ways to afford the added burdens, but it will take time and it won’t be pleasant at first, as a whole set of complex emotional, ethical, and economic challenges rush at us.

Some have begun the work of thinking through these challenges. The President’s Council on Bioethics, for instance, released a report on the issue in 2005. Leon Kass (the Council’s former chairman) and Eric Cohen also wrote a powerful article on some related questions in the January 2006 issue of COMMENTARY. Many others are at work as well. But it’s fair to say that policymakers and the bulk of the public still have no idea what’s coming, and how the life of every American family will be affected.

Here’s a hint for anyone hoping to run for President ten years from now: learn everything you can about long-term care.

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France’s “Grandeur”

In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

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In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

Chirac’s predecessor, François Mitterrand, made a dramatic flight into Sarajevo in 1992 while it was under siege and bombardment by Serbian ethnic cleansers. But this was just theater. France’s main goal in the Bosnian crisis was not to stop the killing but to keep NATO out, so that the American role in Europe might be reduced—in the interests of French grandeur. However many Bosnians might be sacrificed on this altar was of secondary concern.

Chirac has had a better record than his predecessors, cooperating with the U.S. on Kosovo, Lebanon, and recently on Iran. But his approach to Iraq, the Israel-Arab conflict, China, and other issues has been based on the pursuit of French grandeur rather than justice, prosperity, or peace.

France’s overweening amour-propre is especially troubling because of the nation’s seat on the UN Security Council. The theory behind the UN, as explained by Secretary of State Cordell Hull when it was being founded, was that “the four major powers will . . . consider themselves morally bound not to go to war . . . and to cooperate with each other . . . in maintaining the peace.” (The four powers were the U.S., the UK, the USSR, and China. France was subsequently added as a permanent member of the Security Council at the behest of Winston Churchill, in what amounted to the UN’s first act of affirmative action.)

The key phrase in Hull’s statement is “morally bound,” suggesting action based on something other than naked self-interest. Every state will put its own security first. But some interpret this in an enlightened way, leavened by a concern for the international commonweal. The U.S and the UK do so, but two other veto-wielding members of the Security Council, Russia and China, pursue national aggrandizement, pure and simple, constrained only by prudence. And France pursues its obsession with grandeur. This is the principal reason why the world body is such a hopeless failure.

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¡Viva la Inmigración!

The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

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The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

I’ve been to Des Moines before, and I hope I don’t unduly offend any Iowans by noting that I prefer Miami or other multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. It’s not just a matter of the weather—though there is that too. And it’s not that the Midwest doesn’t have any ethnic spice; every part of the U.S. was settled by someone from somewhere, who brought along native customs, foods, languages, and cultures. The big difference is that the dominant immigrant groups in the Midwest arrived long ago, generally in the 19th century. Their cultures have blended into a generic white-bread Americana, so now these assimilated German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans or Polish-Americans resent new arrivals just as much as they were once resented by English-Americans.

All this immigrant-bashing, itself a long American tradition, is pretty silly. Ambitious young immigrants, both high-tech inventors and low-tech lettuce-pickers, provide much of the vigor that keeps our economy vibrant. They always have. The contrast with insular, graying Japan, which is only now recovering from a decade-long recession, couldn’t be starker.

Concerns that these immigrants won’t assimilate or will destroy our common culture seem to me vastly overblown. American culture is spreading all over the world, much to the distress of the Academie Francaise and other guardians of traditional folkways. People all over the world are acting, dressing, and speaking like Americans, while watching American-produced TV shows and movies, playing American video games, and listening to American music. (Indeed, on a recent trip to Berlin I did very well speaking English to everyone from army officers and government officials to waiters and taxi drivers.) Do nativists really mean to suggest that, while American culture is conquering cities from Singapore to Santiago, it will die out in San Diego or Miami? It seems implausible, to put it mildly. Indeed, Miami remains identifiably American. Its secession from Florda—the lurid and implausible nightmare of some immigrant-bashers—isn’t remotely in the cards.

This isn’t to minimize some of the problems with immigration, which undoubtedly puts a strain on schools and social services. But on the whole I’d say immigration was and remains a major plus for the United States. There is even something to be said, dare I say it, for the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” Shorn of some of their radical academic dogma, they are a realistic recognition that America is the sum of divergent parts. The inevitable process of assimilation, which is going on now as in the past, is a good thing on the whole, but it does have its downside. I, for one, hope that Miami never loses its Latin flair.

*Editor’s Note: The title of this post originally contained an error.

 

 

 

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Tarek Heggy’s Nightmare

Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian businessman and intellectual, perhaps the most prolific liberal writer in the Arab world. He is a no-holds-barred advocate of political and economic freedom, delivering, as Brookings Institution senior fellow Shibley Telhami has put it, a “refreshing message of self-reliance that challenges the prevailing sense that regional ills are largely made abroad.”

But currently Heggy, for a change, is broadcasting a message of dire alarm at an impending regional catastrophe that, if not made abroad, would be catalyzed from abroad. His worry? The likely consequences of an American flight from Iraq.

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Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian businessman and intellectual, perhaps the most prolific liberal writer in the Arab world. He is a no-holds-barred advocate of political and economic freedom, delivering, as Brookings Institution senior fellow Shibley Telhami has put it, a “refreshing message of self-reliance that challenges the prevailing sense that regional ills are largely made abroad.”

But currently Heggy, for a change, is broadcasting a message of dire alarm at an impending regional catastrophe that, if not made abroad, would be catalyzed from abroad. His worry? The likely consequences of an American flight from Iraq.

Responding by email to a recent article in Haaretz, Heggy writes:

The core message of this article is that a premature American withdrawal from Iraq will lead to the toppling of the current regime in Jordan. Is that an exaggeration? Certainly not. It is actually an understatement. I personally believe that if failing to kill Osama bin Laden and al Molla Omar was the first step of the Jihadi Islam towards its goal, the lousy job in Iraq was the second step and a premature American withdrawal from Iraq will be the third and semi-final step JUST before the finale which will be the spread of both: Sunni Radical Islamism & The New Persian Empire (which will equally represent another facet of radical Islam). I predict that if such a premature American withdrawal from Iraq takes place in 2009, before 2015 Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan & Pakistan (at least) will be in the hands of radical Islamists with at least two nuclear powers among these countries.

Any prognostication on this scale is of course wildly speculative. But can anyone deny that the scenario Heggy paints is at least plausible? Throughout the region, governments and thinkers who opposed our going to Iraq now oppose any hasty departure, for reasons along the lines of Heggy’s fears.

This is what is scandalously irresponsible about the current position of the congressional Democrats. If they believe that Heggy’s scenario is wrong, they owe it to us to explain why. If they have some other program for averting this scenario, it is high time for them to unveil it. Instead they march on, as if Bush and “the war” are the only threats we face. Theirs is truly a shameful performance.

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Bookshelf

• “For God’s sake, don’t fill the paper with Bach in B minor,” one of George Bernard Shaw’s editors warned him back in the days when he was writing music criticism. I sympathize, but sometimes you can’t get around it, which may explain why I’ve never read a good book about Bach that was fully accessible to non-musicians. The problem is that we know a fair amount about the details of Bach’s life but very little about his personality, since he left behind no diary and next to no correspondence. Like Shakespeare, we can only “know” him through his art, which is hard to talk about intelligibly (much less intelligently) without at least some resort to the kind of technical language against which Shaw’s editor warned him.

Martin Geck’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 738 pp., $40) is unapologetically written for musicians, but laymen will be able to make sense of most of it, and I commend it to anyone in search of a deeper understanding of Bach and his world. Geck does an admirable job of summarizing what is known about Bach’s life without overstating the extent to which it sheds light on his music: “Whichever way we turn in hopes of discovering more intimate, ‘personal’ information about Bach, we encounter obstacles, because few opportunities existed for expressing the private life of a kapellmeister and cantor in the first half of the eighteenth century . . . Bach no more composed for us than he lived for us. His music comes from far away; it speaks a language that we understand yet in which we hear echoes of another language, outside our expressive range.” That’s well said, as is the rest of this fine book. Don’t let the musical examples throw you—Johann Sebastian Bach is full of good things from start to finish.

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• “For God’s sake, don’t fill the paper with Bach in B minor,” one of George Bernard Shaw’s editors warned him back in the days when he was writing music criticism. I sympathize, but sometimes you can’t get around it, which may explain why I’ve never read a good book about Bach that was fully accessible to non-musicians. The problem is that we know a fair amount about the details of Bach’s life but very little about his personality, since he left behind no diary and next to no correspondence. Like Shakespeare, we can only “know” him through his art, which is hard to talk about intelligibly (much less intelligently) without at least some resort to the kind of technical language against which Shaw’s editor warned him.

Martin Geck’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 738 pp., $40) is unapologetically written for musicians, but laymen will be able to make sense of most of it, and I commend it to anyone in search of a deeper understanding of Bach and his world. Geck does an admirable job of summarizing what is known about Bach’s life without overstating the extent to which it sheds light on his music: “Whichever way we turn in hopes of discovering more intimate, ‘personal’ information about Bach, we encounter obstacles, because few opportunities existed for expressing the private life of a kapellmeister and cantor in the first half of the eighteenth century . . . Bach no more composed for us than he lived for us. His music comes from far away; it speaks a language that we understand yet in which we hear echoes of another language, outside our expressive range.” That’s well said, as is the rest of this fine book. Don’t let the musical examples throw you—Johann Sebastian Bach is full of good things from start to finish.

The Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press, 1067 pp., $50) is the first all-new reference book of its kind to come along in years, and the first ever to make systematic use of what Fred Shapiro, the editor-in-chief, describes as “state-of-the-art research methods,” meaning the searchable online databases that are revolutionizing scholarly research. It has a strongly American bias (Ambrose Bierce has 144 entries, Karl Kraus two) and an equally strong pop-culture slant (Woody Allen has 43 entries, Emily Dickinson 29). It also has an introduction by Joseph Epstein, who approves of the fresh tack taken by Shapiro and his collaborators: “Although I am normally conservative in matters of culture, I think Mr. Shapiro is correct to make these changes in emphasis . . . Even though, as Henry James well said, ‘It takes a great deal of history to produce even a little literature,’ cultural leadership usually follows political power, and for the past fifty or so years it has become apparent that the United States has been playing with far and away the largest stacks of chips before it.”

Far be it from me to disagree with Epstein, so I won’t—much. Having read The Yale Book of Quotations from cover to cover, I found a number of suspicious-looking attributions, one or two outright errors, and many glaring instances of the variegated forms of bias one expects to find in any book produced by a team of academic scholars (somehow I doubt that George W. Bush’s slips of the tongue really deserve as much space as Shapiro gives them). As for the countless snippets lifted by the editors from pop-song lyrics of the past couple of decades, I doubt that many of them will be long remembered (indeed, a goodly number of them are already forgotten). I should also note that Raymond Chandler, Noël Coward, Johnny Mercer, and P.G. Wodehouse are all severely underrepresented, though G.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and Satchel Paige receive their due. All these quibbles notwithstanding, The Yale Book of Quotations is useful, diverting, and full of surprises, and while I don’t plan to throw away my well-thumbed copy of H.L. Mencken’s invaluable New Dictionary of Quotations, I’m making space next to it for this satisfying piece of work.

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Regulating Biotech

How, if at all, should we govern new developments in human biotechnology? In many cases, decisions will be made best by the individuals involved. In others, legislation and government action will be required to prevent genuinely serious abuses. Telling one type of case from the other is not always simple, and requires a lot of argument and give and take.

We have already seen the early skirmishes surrounding issues like human cloning, “fetal farming,” embryo-destructive research, and some forms of assisted reproduction. In some instances, laws have been passed. In others, the advocates of unrestricted choice have carried the day. That’s how we make decisions in a democracy.

But to some, this seems like no way to approach such momentous and difficult issues. Surely, they argue, a detached body of experts would do a better job, case by case. This, at any rate, is the argument for a new structure of regulation for biotechnology, an argument that has carried the day in Britain (and to some extent in Canada) and whose most prominent American exponent is Francis Fukuyama.

As Ron Bailey reports in Reason Magazine, Fukuyama has just produced a 400-page report calling for the creation of a new regulatory agency to make decisions about the appropriate uses of human biotechnology. The report emerged from the work of a study group convened by Fukuyama at Johns Hopkins University. Though I was a member of the group, I did not sign on to the report, since I disagreed with its conclusions.

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How, if at all, should we govern new developments in human biotechnology? In many cases, decisions will be made best by the individuals involved. In others, legislation and government action will be required to prevent genuinely serious abuses. Telling one type of case from the other is not always simple, and requires a lot of argument and give and take.

We have already seen the early skirmishes surrounding issues like human cloning, “fetal farming,” embryo-destructive research, and some forms of assisted reproduction. In some instances, laws have been passed. In others, the advocates of unrestricted choice have carried the day. That’s how we make decisions in a democracy.

But to some, this seems like no way to approach such momentous and difficult issues. Surely, they argue, a detached body of experts would do a better job, case by case. This, at any rate, is the argument for a new structure of regulation for biotechnology, an argument that has carried the day in Britain (and to some extent in Canada) and whose most prominent American exponent is Francis Fukuyama.

As Ron Bailey reports in Reason Magazine, Fukuyama has just produced a 400-page report calling for the creation of a new regulatory agency to make decisions about the appropriate uses of human biotechnology. The report emerged from the work of a study group convened by Fukuyama at Johns Hopkins University. Though I was a member of the group, I did not sign on to the report, since I disagreed with its conclusions.

Fukuyama believes that only a complex regulatory body can handle the difficult decisions to come—an agency like the Food and Drug Administration or (a closer analogy) Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (how’s that for an Orwellian name?). Others, like Bailey in his Reason article, seem to think that government control will only make things worse, and that individual choice could and should set the proper boundaries of the age of biotech. Still others, myself included, argue that turning things over to regulators would harm both the development of biotechnology and the protection of human life and dignity. When boundaries are needed, they should be set by answerable elected officials, not a body of bureaucrats certain to be captured by the very interests they regulate.

The crucial feature of the regulatory approach is that it closes off some key questions at the outset. If your job is to regulate embryo-destructive research, there can be no discussion of whether such research is ethically appropriate to begin with. This is what has happened in Britain, where an arcane regulatory regime holds endless public discussions and arguments about everything except the actually relevant ethical questions. That’s no way to treat a live controversy, where the question is not “how” but “if.” It is, however, an effective way to change the subject—which of course is what its advocates like best about it.

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The Politics of Personality

At first, it seems hard to disagree with Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, which argues that in politics, ideas should outweigh loyalty to particular politicians. “It is better to see activists driven by philosophy than by personalities,” she writes. “Better to be faithful to the cause than to individuals with whom you merely have a history.” A long-time Reagan loyalist, Noonan argues that she was simply true to his conservative principles, never really knowing the man.

Yet it’s hard to deny that personality has played a very important—and positive—role in Republican politics. Democratic primary politics have always been about institutions and traditional alliances: unions, teachers, Hollywood, blacks, Jews, women, gays. Even today, Democratic jostling is not really over philosophy, but rather over who is a better voice for the reliable Democratic interest groups.

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At first, it seems hard to disagree with Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, which argues that in politics, ideas should outweigh loyalty to particular politicians. “It is better to see activists driven by philosophy than by personalities,” she writes. “Better to be faithful to the cause than to individuals with whom you merely have a history.” A long-time Reagan loyalist, Noonan argues that she was simply true to his conservative principles, never really knowing the man.

Yet it’s hard to deny that personality has played a very important—and positive—role in Republican politics. Democratic primary politics have always been about institutions and traditional alliances: unions, teachers, Hollywood, blacks, Jews, women, gays. Even today, Democratic jostling is not really over philosophy, but rather over who is a better voice for the reliable Democratic interest groups.

By contrast, Republican primaries have always been a potent mix of big ideas and outsize individuals. Reagan’s popularity surely depended not only on his pithy paeans to smaller government but on his sunny optimism about America—a distinct retreat from the more dour conservatism that preceded him. Their attraction to lone-wolf leaders has made possible the candidacies, however flawed, of Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, John McCain, and Alexander Haig. Personality is what makes us listen to Fred Thompson’s ideas about what he might do as President.

It is also worth remembering that Republicans have always believed that character—an essential part of personality—really does matter. Many of Clinton’s policy ideas were not that bad, but his character—revealed so plainly in his first campaign for President—made him unfit to serve as our chief executive. We should be happy that the GOP continues to attract quirky, ambitious, colorful, admirable personalities who want to mix it up in the battle of ideas.

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Lord Hannay’s Defense

Last week I gave a lecture at the London School of Economics titled “What’s Wrong with the United Nations?” I was honored by the presence of Lord David Hannay, who served in the early 1990’s as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Lord Hannay is a smart and sophisticated man, and a friendly conversationalist. He also personifies the mindset of the UN.

In 2004, Kofi Annan, in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the Iraq war debate, undertook one of the UN’s most far-reaching reform initiatives by appointing a High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Lord Hannay was one of the panel’s few Western members. He and I had met once before, at a conference to evaluate the panel’s report. Where I was critical of the UN, Lord Hannay voiced the argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its member states and is used as a whipping boy by thoughtless critics.

This time, at a dinner following my talk, Lord Hannay took issue with an attack (similar to what I wrote in this recent post) I had made on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Hannay said that the Council’s singular chastisement of Israel was understandable in light of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon last summer.

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Last week I gave a lecture at the London School of Economics titled “What’s Wrong with the United Nations?” I was honored by the presence of Lord David Hannay, who served in the early 1990’s as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Lord Hannay is a smart and sophisticated man, and a friendly conversationalist. He also personifies the mindset of the UN.

In 2004, Kofi Annan, in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the Iraq war debate, undertook one of the UN’s most far-reaching reform initiatives by appointing a High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Lord Hannay was one of the panel’s few Western members. He and I had met once before, at a conference to evaluate the panel’s report. Where I was critical of the UN, Lord Hannay voiced the argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its member states and is used as a whipping boy by thoughtless critics.

This time, at a dinner following my talk, Lord Hannay took issue with an attack (similar to what I wrote in this recent post) I had made on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Hannay said that the Council’s singular chastisement of Israel was understandable in light of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon last summer.

Never mind that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were in response to a deadly attack on its territory and soldiers by a military force sworn to its destruction. Are Israel’s abuses, such as they are, more blameworthy than those of, say, Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc.? Is it possible that Lord Hannay believes that they are? More likely, he knows better, but suppresses common sense in order to defend the organization that he cherishes.

This impulse to protect the UN at all costs is just what led the body into its worst moments, and Lord Hannay, as it turns out, was in the thick of that. I refer to the UN’s refusal to lift a finger to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The U.S., under President Clinton, was in the forefront of this disgraceful decision. But Lord Hannay stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States government.

Some UN peacekeepers were present in Rwanda when the slaughter began, and they pleaded for reinforcements. Instead, the opposite happened. As recalled by journalist Linda Melvern: “It was the British ambassador, Lord David Hannay, who first suggested to the council that the peacekeepers be withdrawn, and he had suggested ‘a token force’ to remain behind in Rwanda in order to ‘appease public opinion.’”

So much for Lord Hannay’s credentials on human rights. A decade later, when questioned by CNN about those events, Hannay pleaded ignorance. Reports by UN forces in the field saying that mass murder was imminent were “smothered,” he explained. “The Security Council was never told something appalling was going to happen. We were flying completely blind.”

Perhaps so. But who “smothered” the reports to which Lord Hannay was referring, the ones that were sent to UN headquarters in New York by General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who commanded UN forces in Rwanda? None other than the Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; Kofi Annan, then the head of the UN department of peacekeeping; and Annan’s deputy, Iqbal Riza. They did so because they feared that the truth about Rwanda’s imminent genocide would lead UN member states to order actions that might fail and reflect poorly on the UN. Better to let events take their course. In short, Lord Hannay’s self-exoneration gives the lie to his own argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

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Debating Israel

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see? Read More

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see?

Still, there is no denying that political debate is somewhat more contentious in Israel than in the U.S. (although we seem gradually to be catching up). But it is also the case that, despite the rough-and-tumble of the debate Kristof praises so highly, a fairly stable consensus has been reached in Israel about certain policies pertaining to the Palestinians.

One is the need for a security fence to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel. Another is the disinclination to offer more concessions to a Palestinian entity that shows no inclination to live in peace with Israel. Despite his avowed admiration for Israel’s freewheeling brand of politics, Kristof takes the opposite view on both these questions.

His own analysis of the problem, such as it is, is little more than a series of clichés: he blames Israel and its “hard-line policies” for “radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hizballah, isolating Israel in the world.” It does not occur to him that these “hard-line policies” (though it’s hard to see what is “hard-line” about building a defensive barrier and refusing to negotiate with radical movements devoted to your destruction) might be a response to years of Palestinian terror. And nowhere in his column does Kristof press for the Palestinians (or the larger Arab world) to engage in the kind of self-lacerating debate he so admires in Israeli politics. Apparently, the mere fact that “the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people in coffee shops” across the Middle East is enough to warrant demanding of Israel that it bend over backward to address their grievance.

For all of the noise Kristof makes about candor in politics, his main concern is that Israel be cast, permanently and publicly, as the primary cause of its own problems: “The best hope for Israel isn’t a better fence or more weaponry. . . . Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Why Kristof ignores Israel’s repeated demonstrations of its willingness to make peace is unclear. But before he demands more concessions of Israel, or changes in American discourse on the Middle East, he ought to wait until some healthy “vitriol” appears in Palestinian political debate. The silence of dissenters in that arena is truly deafening.

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Jesse Simons, R.I.P.

(Cross-posted at About Last Night)

Last night I went to a memorial service for Jesse Simons, one of the most delightful and fascinating men I’ve had the good luck to meet. Jesse, who died last year at the age of 88, was a Trotskyist turned labor arbitrator. He became sufficiently distinguished in the latter capacity to earn both a Wikipedia entry and a New York Times obituary, neither of which mentioned that he was also a bon vivant, a ladies’ man, and an unswervingly devoted balletomane.

Even in Manhattan, there aren’t all that many people interested in both George Balanchine and Leon Trotsky, so it was probably inevitable that Jesse and I should have gotten to know one another sooner or later. He reminded me of Eric Hoffer, another blue-collar man who turned himself into a intellectual by sheer force of will, though Jesse’s aesthetic streak was at least as pronounced as his interest in ideas. One of the speakers at his service mentioned his love of Robert Musil and Arthur Schnitzler, and his passion for Freud was a byword among all who knew him. Yet there was nothing pretentious about Jesse, who wore his learning lightly and was modest to a fault, though he had no earthly reason to be.

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(Cross-posted at About Last Night)

Last night I went to a memorial service for Jesse Simons, one of the most delightful and fascinating men I’ve had the good luck to meet. Jesse, who died last year at the age of 88, was a Trotskyist turned labor arbitrator. He became sufficiently distinguished in the latter capacity to earn both a Wikipedia entry and a New York Times obituary, neither of which mentioned that he was also a bon vivant, a ladies’ man, and an unswervingly devoted balletomane.

Even in Manhattan, there aren’t all that many people interested in both George Balanchine and Leon Trotsky, so it was probably inevitable that Jesse and I should have gotten to know one another sooner or later. He reminded me of Eric Hoffer, another blue-collar man who turned himself into a intellectual by sheer force of will, though Jesse’s aesthetic streak was at least as pronounced as his interest in ideas. One of the speakers at his service mentioned his love of Robert Musil and Arthur Schnitzler, and his passion for Freud was a byword among all who knew him. Yet there was nothing pretentious about Jesse, who wore his learning lightly and was modest to a fault, though he had no earthly reason to be.

Among countless other intriguing things, Jesse was one of the founding directors of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua, the pioneering early-music group. Noah Greenberg, who started the Pro Musica, was another ex-Trotskyist a labor organizer who subsequently turned his back on radical politics to immerse himself in the world of art. Late in life, Jesse was interviewed by James Gollin, Greenberg’s excellent biographer, to whom he made the following remark:

I knew dozens of the people who were around in those days. Politicals, labor people, intellectuals. We were all going to make the world a better place. But the only one who really left the world a better place than he found it was Noah, with his music.

I made a point of including those telling words in a piece about Greenberg that I wrote for COMMENTARY in 2001, partly because I knew that Jesse was a faithful reader of the magazine and hoped the gesture might please him. It was the only time his name ever appeared in COMMENTARY, and one of the few times it appeared in print during his lifetime. More’s the pity, for he could easily have written a classic autobiography. Instead his friends—of whom there were many—must rely on their memories. I know that mine will always stay bright and true.

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The German View

There has been much talk about the improvement in American-German relations since Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, took over as chancellor and Gerhard Schroeder, her oleaginous predecessor, who used anti-Americanism as one of his central campaign issues, left office to take a job as a shill for a Kremlin-owned oil company. There is no doubt a great deal of truth to this talk. But, as I discovered during a week as a guest of the American Academy in Berlin, the two countries’ perceptions remain as far apart as ever on a variety of foreign-policy issues.

In the U.S., the biggest issue at the moment is the Iraq war. In Germany it is missile defense—specifically an American plan to deploy a limited missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to provide protection against Iranian missiles. Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though he knows the planned shield is far too small to interfere with Russia’s massive ICBM force, has vehemently decried this as an act of aggression against his country. (How can a defensive system be aggressive? To answer that question would require a long foray back into the arms-control theology of the 1970′s and 80′s.)

The Germans are in a tizzy because they don’t want to offend Russia. Many still see the country’s role as being a “bridge” between East and West, much as in the cold-war days of Willy Brandt’s ostpolitik. A cynic might note other German interests, such as keeping natural gas from Russia flowing. But whatever the cause, various German officials I spoke with anxiously inquired if there was some way to compromise on the missile-defense plan so as dampen growing tensions with Russia.

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There has been much talk about the improvement in American-German relations since Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, took over as chancellor and Gerhard Schroeder, her oleaginous predecessor, who used anti-Americanism as one of his central campaign issues, left office to take a job as a shill for a Kremlin-owned oil company. There is no doubt a great deal of truth to this talk. But, as I discovered during a week as a guest of the American Academy in Berlin, the two countries’ perceptions remain as far apart as ever on a variety of foreign-policy issues.

In the U.S., the biggest issue at the moment is the Iraq war. In Germany it is missile defense—specifically an American plan to deploy a limited missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to provide protection against Iranian missiles. Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though he knows the planned shield is far too small to interfere with Russia’s massive ICBM force, has vehemently decried this as an act of aggression against his country. (How can a defensive system be aggressive? To answer that question would require a long foray back into the arms-control theology of the 1970′s and 80′s.)

The Germans are in a tizzy because they don’t want to offend Russia. Many still see the country’s role as being a “bridge” between East and West, much as in the cold-war days of Willy Brandt’s ostpolitik. A cynic might note other German interests, such as keeping natural gas from Russia flowing. But whatever the cause, various German officials I spoke with anxiously inquired if there was some way to compromise on the missile-defense plan so as dampen growing tensions with Russia.

Germans are also anxious to compromise with Iran. A number of them wanted to know if the U.S. was serious about attacking the mullahs’ nuclear program. They have been reinforced in their preference for talk over military action by the quagmire they see in Iraq. They wonder why Americans can’t see the light too.

Germans are now willing to send their military abroad—but only if it won’t be used for combat. The Bundestag has just approved the deployment of six Tornado aircraft to southern Afghanistan following a wrenching debate, even though the Tornados will be used for reconnaissance only. As for German troops, some 3,000 of them are in Afghanistan, but they are not allowed to venture anywhere where they might get shot at; they are not even allowed to come to the aid of NATO allies who are under fire. The German officers I spoke with seemed eager to take a more direct role in the fighting, but the consensus of politicians and journalists was that this will never happen.

Why not? An American observer offered an interesting explanation. It is not so much that the Germans are afraid of getting their own troops killed, he said; they are more afraid of what their troops might do. They realize that counterinsurgency is a nasty type of warfare and that troops of any nationality are liable to commit some excesses. Germans, this American suggested, are deathly afraid that combat atrocities might revive old stereotypes about German militarism. Thus the Germans will continue to stress “soft” power while we (and, to a lesser extent, the Brits) perform the “hard” tasks.

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How Bad is Robert Gates?

America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

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America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

But Gates was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer yesterday and made a convincing case for national patience with another direction entirely—the current troop surge:

The way I would characterize it is so far, so good. It’s very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it’ll probably be summer before we know whether we’re being successful or not. But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations. So here, at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

On Face the Nation, Gates was also exceptionally deft in disarming Democratic calls for withdrawal, as called for in a bill before the House of Representatives. His posture here was disarmingly respectful—even as it threw a punch.

I believe everybody involved in this debate is patriotic and looking for the best thing for America. I think most people agree that, across the political spectrum, that leaving Iraq in chaos would be a mistake, a disaster for the United States, and so we’re all wrestling with what’s the best way to bring about a result that serves the long-term interests, not only of the Iraqi people but of the United States. . . . With respect to the specific bill in the House, the concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve—to achieve their objectives. And frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

Then there was a side issue that, to judge by the intensity of Schieffer’s questioning, was to CBS not a side issue at all. Last week, General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexual acts are immoral. Gates was pressed hard about this by Schieffer: “a lot of gay people are saying that that is a slur on thousands of people who are serving in the military right now”; and shouldn’t the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy be revised?

Gates got a bit testy answering this, but acquitted himself well:

Look, I’ve got a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, challenges in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, global war on terror, three budget bills totaling $715 billion. I think I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.

What Gates said about progress in the war on Iraq can be said about him: “So far, so good. It’s very early.”

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Why Sontag Switched Off

Groucho Marx once observed: “I find television very educational. Whenever somebody turns it on, I go into the other room and read a book.” You may not be surprised to learn that the late Susan Sontag felt the same way, although she lacked Marx’s sense of humor. In “Pay Attention to the World,” an essay extracted from her posthumous 2007 volume At the Same Time and published in Saturday’s Guardian, Sontag writes that television, the Internet, and other mass media threaten to “render obsolete the novelist’s prophetic and critical, even subversive, task.”

Sontag charges mass media not only with having “dramatically cut into the time the educated public once devoted to reading,” but also with offering “a lesson in amorality and detachment that is antithetical to the one embodied by the enterprise of the novel.” She concedes that mass media may give some pleasure and enlightenment. But “the mindset they foster and the appetites they feed,” she argues, “are entirely inimical to the writing (production) and reading (consumption) of serious literature.”

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Groucho Marx once observed: “I find television very educational. Whenever somebody turns it on, I go into the other room and read a book.” You may not be surprised to learn that the late Susan Sontag felt the same way, although she lacked Marx’s sense of humor. In “Pay Attention to the World,” an essay extracted from her posthumous 2007 volume At the Same Time and published in Saturday’s Guardian, Sontag writes that television, the Internet, and other mass media threaten to “render obsolete the novelist’s prophetic and critical, even subversive, task.”

Sontag charges mass media not only with having “dramatically cut into the time the educated public once devoted to reading,” but also with offering “a lesson in amorality and detachment that is antithetical to the one embodied by the enterprise of the novel.” She concedes that mass media may give some pleasure and enlightenment. But “the mindset they foster and the appetites they feed,” she argues, “are entirely inimical to the writing (production) and reading (consumption) of serious literature.”

This is a curiously old-fashioned argument, which didn’t hold water even in 1936 when her hero Walter Benjamin first wrote about the impact of mechanical reproduction on the appreciation of art. All the evidence suggests that television and the Internet, far from rendering serious literature obsolete, have vastly increased its popularity. Indeed, the Internet has brought about a renaissance of some literary genres—the letter (email), the diary (blogs), the little magazine (webzines)—that had seemed to be almost endangered species. The advent of narrowcasting has allowed specialized TV channels to multiply, giving artists unprecedented access to their publics. And the insatiable hunger of all mass media for “content” means that there are now more people earning a living by writing than ever before.

These phenomena signify only the vulgarization of high culture to Sontag. She falls back on a weak argument, a vaguely Marxist form of alienation based on a patently false dichotomy: “Literature tells stories. Television gives information. Literature involves. It is the recreation of human solidarity. Television (with its illusion of immediacy) distances—immures us in our own indifference.”

There is something preposterous about Sontag’s alienation from the media that have, for better or worse, helped to keep her books and her memory alive. She is absurdly fatalistic about modes of communication that are certainly bad masters, but may be excellent servants, of the intellectual life.

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Lucie Aubrac’s Fictions

Lucie Aubrac has died at the age of 94. She certainly lived an adventure in World War II, but what sort of an adventure even now nobody can say with certainty. Perhaps she was a heroine who took part in armed struggle against the occupying Germans. That was her view of herself, as expressed in her 1993 autobiography Outwitting the Gestapo, and as shown in Claude Berri’s film Lucie Aubrac in 1997. President Jacques Chirac uttered what might be called the official eulogy for her, saying, “A light of the French resistance has been put out tonight. Lucie Aubrac embodied the commitment of women in the resistance.” The obituary in the Times of London took the story of her heroism at face value, with no mention at all that an alternative version ever existed.

Lucie and her husband Raymond Aubrac, both Communists, joined the resistance group known as Libération-sud in Lyons after the fall of France in 1940. In June 1943, leaders of the resistance met in a house in Caluire, a suburb of Lyons, in order to receive orders from Jean Moulin, parachuted in from London as the representative of General de Gaulle.

The Lyons Gestapo was headed at the time by Klaus Barbie, a hardline Nazi and a sadist who personally tortured his victims. He and a Gestapo detachment burst into the house at Caluire, arresting Jean Moulin and eight others, among them Raymond Aubrac. According to Lucie’s story, she then visited Barbie in his headquarters and persuaded him to let her see her husband. During a visit, she and Raymond planned his escape, which took place that October when Lucie led an ambush on the prison van escorting her husband and others to a different prison. Moulin died under Barbie’s torture without giving away any secrets.

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Lucie Aubrac has died at the age of 94. She certainly lived an adventure in World War II, but what sort of an adventure even now nobody can say with certainty. Perhaps she was a heroine who took part in armed struggle against the occupying Germans. That was her view of herself, as expressed in her 1993 autobiography Outwitting the Gestapo, and as shown in Claude Berri’s film Lucie Aubrac in 1997. President Jacques Chirac uttered what might be called the official eulogy for her, saying, “A light of the French resistance has been put out tonight. Lucie Aubrac embodied the commitment of women in the resistance.” The obituary in the Times of London took the story of her heroism at face value, with no mention at all that an alternative version ever existed.

Lucie and her husband Raymond Aubrac, both Communists, joined the resistance group known as Libération-sud in Lyons after the fall of France in 1940. In June 1943, leaders of the resistance met in a house in Caluire, a suburb of Lyons, in order to receive orders from Jean Moulin, parachuted in from London as the representative of General de Gaulle.

The Lyons Gestapo was headed at the time by Klaus Barbie, a hardline Nazi and a sadist who personally tortured his victims. He and a Gestapo detachment burst into the house at Caluire, arresting Jean Moulin and eight others, among them Raymond Aubrac. According to Lucie’s story, she then visited Barbie in his headquarters and persuaded him to let her see her husband. During a visit, she and Raymond planned his escape, which took place that October when Lucie led an ambush on the prison van escorting her husband and others to a different prison. Moulin died under Barbie’s torture without giving away any secrets.

How did the Gestapo know that Jean Moulin and the others were in that house in Caluire? That someone tipped them off has always been evident. Suspicion fell on the Aubracs, but in preliminary investigations they were cleared. They were also unpopular because of the zeal and frequency with which they had accused people, after the war, of collaboration with the Nazis.

And then Klaus Barbie was captured in Bolivia, and brought to trial in France. He declared that Lucie Aubrac had, in fact, tipped him off. Prisoners did not escape the Gestapo, he emphasized with authority, unless the Gestapo wanted them to escape.

The Aubracs then submitted the issue to a group of French historians led by Moulin’s former secretary and biographer, Daniel Cordier, a keeper of the flame of the resistance. This panel rejected the accusation of outright collaboration, but pointed out numerous inconsistencies and peculiarities in the Aubracs’ version of events. Cordier expressed “profound disappointment” and dismissed Lucie’s book as fiction. The British writer Patrick Marnham, in his book Jean Moulin, examines the evidence very thoroughly. The book’s brilliant ending reconstructs that moment in Caluire and the underlying motives for the betrayal. Marnham does not say so in so many words, but lets it be clearly understood that he too suspects the Aubracs.

How difficult and dangerous were those times! Equivocal behavior was indeed forced on many in the French resistance. The truth of what happened that day in Caluire will surely never be known, and certainly not from listening to Chirac or reading the Times.

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Jewish Voices?

Readers may recall the debate over the creation of Independent Jewish Voices, a new network of “independent” Jews in the UK. IJV’s manifesto is first and foremost a political document, lacking any real connection to the religious sensibilities and needs of Jews. A testament to this is the fact that the group’s second public outing took place Friday at the City Circle, a new Muslim organization whose aims are:

to promote the development of a distinct British Muslim identity; to assist the process of community cohesion and integration by building bilateral strategic alliances between Muslim and non-Muslim communities; and to harness and channel the skills and resources of Muslim professionals into practical projects thereby facilitating and empowering young Muslim women and men to “put back in” to the wider British community.

All commendable purposes, certainly. But why did IJV choose this venue? There is nothing distinctly Jewish about interfaith dialogue and cultural pluralism: they belong much more to the political order of secular modernity. An organization that claims to represent a part of the Jewish world marginalized by the Jewish establishment should strive to show more awareness of—to say nothing of identification with—specifically Jewish values.

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Readers may recall the debate over the creation of Independent Jewish Voices, a new network of “independent” Jews in the UK. IJV’s manifesto is first and foremost a political document, lacking any real connection to the religious sensibilities and needs of Jews. A testament to this is the fact that the group’s second public outing took place Friday at the City Circle, a new Muslim organization whose aims are:

to promote the development of a distinct British Muslim identity; to assist the process of community cohesion and integration by building bilateral strategic alliances between Muslim and non-Muslim communities; and to harness and channel the skills and resources of Muslim professionals into practical projects thereby facilitating and empowering young Muslim women and men to “put back in” to the wider British community.

All commendable purposes, certainly. But why did IJV choose this venue? There is nothing distinctly Jewish about interfaith dialogue and cultural pluralism: they belong much more to the political order of secular modernity. An organization that claims to represent a part of the Jewish world marginalized by the Jewish establishment should strive to show more awareness of—to say nothing of identification with—specifically Jewish values.

We live in a world where Jewish identity comes in many forms. It may not be exclusively expressed through a connection to Israel, or through religious observance, or through Yiddishkeit. But at least one of these elements should be present to some degree in the DNA of an organization claiming to speak for even a small segment of Jews. And all three are conspicuous by their absence from the words and actions of IJV.

The City Circle that played host to IJV has made it clear that its basic aim—to create an open and pluralist forum for British Muslims—will not contravene the tenets of Islam. The group shows (as is perfectly reasonable for a Muslim group) no similar sensitivity to Jewish ritual needs: its events calendar states that “Weekly events are held every Friday evening from 6:45 pm, except for public or Muslim holidays, or during the month of Ramadan.”

If the City Circle had been asked specifically, it might well have made an exception, and held the meeting on, say, a Sunday or a Thursday evening. On the other hand, why should it have? The Jews the organization is hosting are not, apparently, bothered by publicly breaking shabbos. The City Circle can be said to speak credibly for Muslims because it respects fundamental Muslim beliefs. IJV, however, has blithely violated one of the most basic principles of Jewish law, which should bring their much-touted identity as Jews into question.

But however misdirected the group’s efforts at self-definition may be, they are worth examining. In the end, IJV’s “Jewishness” seems to consist largely in its claim to embody the authentic tradition of the Hebrew prophets. As Brian Klug, one of IJV’s founding members, wrote:

When the language of human rights is spoken, many of us (secular and religious) hear the voices of those Hebrew prophets, rabbis, writers, activists, and other Jewish figures down the centuries for whom Judaism means nothing if it does not mean social justice.

Jacqueline Rose, another IJV stalwart, has taken issue with my criticisms of the incongruence of these fully secular, anti-Zionist Jews evoking the prophets to defend their positions on Israel. That shows, I would argue, how uncomfortable she is with the real ideas of the prophets, who championed the violent destruction of Israel’s enemies, the exclusive and divine Jewish right to the whole land of Israel, and stringent adherence to the Torah.

She might feel more at home with another Jewish prophet, Jesus (a well-known preacher who once suggested turning the other cheek to one’s enemies). IJV’s representatives should have quoted from his teachings at the City Circle meeting. It would have proved beyond any reasonable doubt what kind of Jewish identity IJV actually posseses: none at all.

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