Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 11, 2007

A Problem from Hell

The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

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The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

That would cost Turkey little and gain it much international support. But it does not seem emotionally possible given how high feelings run in Turkey over this issue. Instead, should this resolution go through, the Erdogan government is again threatening all sorts of dire consequences for the Turkish-American alliance. Since we need Turkish cooperation in all sorts of areas, especially in Iraq, we must tread lightly. My own view is that Congress should avoid passing a symbolic resolution that will do little or nothing to help Armenian victims or their descendants, but that will hurt vital American interests.

That’s not, of course, the way Armenians see it, and they form a powerful lobbying group that donates a lot of money to politicians especially in states like New Jersey, Michigan, and California. (It is no coincidence that legislators from those states are leading the push for the Armenian genocide resolution.)

While I disagree with them on the merits of this legislation, I sympathize with their grievances and respect their right to seek redress in Washington. That’s the way our political system works. It’s common, and completely innocuous, for various ethnic groups to get involved in lobbying. It’s only a scandal, it seems, when the lobbyists in question are Jewish. In that case, their activities are denounced in odious anti-Semitic tracts, most of them published by groups like the John Birch Society, the Lyndon Larouchites, and the Ku Klux Klan, but some of which appear bearing the imprimatur of supposedly prestigious institutions like Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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The Noose Around Columbia

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

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BBC Crimes and Misdemeanors

Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

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Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

A report in the Guardian last April that BBC America plans to stop showing its unbearable Benny Hill reruns is cold comfort, considering its slew of newly minted trash TV like the brainless Footballers’ Wives, a miserable Brit wannabe fantasy based on ancient American TV trash like Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and The Love Boat.

It is clear from its programming over the years that the dim bulbs in charge of BBC America truly believe that Aaron Spelling is to be worshiped and slavishly imitated. As in the case of Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, what is vilest in Brit broadcasting all too easily becomes assimilated as part of America’s imbecilic TV scene. Paul Lee, who launched BBC America in 1998, was hired as president of the ABC Family network in 2004, doubtless due to his track record of providing the stupidest, most crassly profitable viewing material imaginable. Until the BBC and BBC America recall that some aspects of British culture are in fact admirable and of permanent interest, it looks like the channels will maintain their TV imitation of Yankee stupidity.

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