Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 16, 2007

Postmarks for Freedom

On Wednesday, People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, announced that China had returned all mail to Taiwan that was postmarked with the slogan “Taiwan’s Entry into the UN.”

“Taiwan authority preaching ‘Taiwan independence’ through post services has infringed on Taiwan compatriots’ freedom of communication,” said Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office. “This has seriously impaired the exchanges of letters between people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as well as Taiwan people’s exchanges with other parts of the world.”

Ms. Fan has it backwards. It was Beijing—not Taipei—that disrupted the mails by refusing to deliver 158 letters. Unfortunately, her government’s tough tactic worked because Taiwan subsequently dropped the automatic use of the postmark, which was intended to boost the island’s campaign for worldwide recognition of its independent status. Taiwan Post, the island’s postal service, says it will now only use the controversial postmark upon customer request.

So Beijing has shown that it will block Taiwan’s mail. But will it block America’s? It’s unlikely that President Bush will ask the U.S. Postal Service to use the postmark that offends Beijing. As Arthur Waldron has written in contentions, Washington wrongly has taken China’s side in opposing Taiwan’s push for UN membership.

Yet Americans don’t have to wait for their leaders to act. They can customize their own postmarks. Today, we can even design our own stamps. This controversy has motivated my wife and me to customize our stamps with this slogan: “Support Taiwan.” I think it’s high time that people in the West, and especially Americans, show the world’s large autocracies what we think of their campaigns to intimidate small democracies. We can lick despots in many ways, even by licking our stamps.

On Wednesday, People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, announced that China had returned all mail to Taiwan that was postmarked with the slogan “Taiwan’s Entry into the UN.”

“Taiwan authority preaching ‘Taiwan independence’ through post services has infringed on Taiwan compatriots’ freedom of communication,” said Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office. “This has seriously impaired the exchanges of letters between people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as well as Taiwan people’s exchanges with other parts of the world.”

Ms. Fan has it backwards. It was Beijing—not Taipei—that disrupted the mails by refusing to deliver 158 letters. Unfortunately, her government’s tough tactic worked because Taiwan subsequently dropped the automatic use of the postmark, which was intended to boost the island’s campaign for worldwide recognition of its independent status. Taiwan Post, the island’s postal service, says it will now only use the controversial postmark upon customer request.

So Beijing has shown that it will block Taiwan’s mail. But will it block America’s? It’s unlikely that President Bush will ask the U.S. Postal Service to use the postmark that offends Beijing. As Arthur Waldron has written in contentions, Washington wrongly has taken China’s side in opposing Taiwan’s push for UN membership.

Yet Americans don’t have to wait for their leaders to act. They can customize their own postmarks. Today, we can even design our own stamps. This controversy has motivated my wife and me to customize our stamps with this slogan: “Support Taiwan.” I think it’s high time that people in the West, and especially Americans, show the world’s large autocracies what we think of their campaigns to intimidate small democracies. We can lick despots in many ways, even by licking our stamps.

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Bring Back Sarah

The legacy of France’s Nazi occupation is manifold and enduring. In culture, nowhere is it more central and blatant than in the very name of a major public performance space in the heart of Paris, the Théâtre de la Ville, facing the famed Châtelet theatre. Operating on an annual budget of 13 million euros, of which around 11 million come from the municipal government, the Théâtre de la Ville attracts 220,000 audience members to evenings of music, dance, and theatre. Originally called “Théâtre Lyrique” and later “Théâtre des Nations,” the theatre was then renamed “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt,” after the fiery, majestic actress who starred there, beginning in 1899. Bernhardt (1844-1923), who was partly Jewish, was admired for her artistic daring, despite being castigated in French anti-Semitic books like Les Femmes d’Israël (1898) for being “neither more nor less than a Jewess and nothing but a Jewess.” When the Germans arrived in 1940, the “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt” was renamed the “Théâtre des Nations” and later, “Théâtre de la Ville.”

From 1945 to this day, no French politician has dared to advocate returning the theater’s name to its former dedicatee, “la divine Sarah.” The reasons for this are complex and peculiarly French, as may be gathered from the well-documented study from Yale University Press, Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama by Carol Ockman and Kenneth E. Silver, which accompanied a multifaceted 2006 exhibit at New York’s Jewish Museum. These are only two instances of the ever-burgeoning interest in Sarah’s captivating mystique and legend—everywhere except in her native Paris.

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The legacy of France’s Nazi occupation is manifold and enduring. In culture, nowhere is it more central and blatant than in the very name of a major public performance space in the heart of Paris, the Théâtre de la Ville, facing the famed Châtelet theatre. Operating on an annual budget of 13 million euros, of which around 11 million come from the municipal government, the Théâtre de la Ville attracts 220,000 audience members to evenings of music, dance, and theatre. Originally called “Théâtre Lyrique” and later “Théâtre des Nations,” the theatre was then renamed “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt,” after the fiery, majestic actress who starred there, beginning in 1899. Bernhardt (1844-1923), who was partly Jewish, was admired for her artistic daring, despite being castigated in French anti-Semitic books like Les Femmes d’Israël (1898) for being “neither more nor less than a Jewess and nothing but a Jewess.” When the Germans arrived in 1940, the “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt” was renamed the “Théâtre des Nations” and later, “Théâtre de la Ville.”

From 1945 to this day, no French politician has dared to advocate returning the theater’s name to its former dedicatee, “la divine Sarah.” The reasons for this are complex and peculiarly French, as may be gathered from the well-documented study from Yale University Press, Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama by Carol Ockman and Kenneth E. Silver, which accompanied a multifaceted 2006 exhibit at New York’s Jewish Museum. These are only two instances of the ever-burgeoning interest in Sarah’s captivating mystique and legend—everywhere except in her native Paris.

Born Marie Henriette Bernardt to a Jewish courtesan, Sarah was an international phenomenon during her lifetime, touring America nine times in roles from Racine’s Phèdre to Hamlet (in French). Her dauntless tours, which extended to Cairo, Tahiti, and Istanbul, were not halted after doctors amputated her leg at age 70. Sarah fearlessly performed patriotic plays at the front for World War I soldiers. Her funeral in 1923 featured a vast outpouring of public emotion, especially when her coffin passed before the “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt.” A few short years later, she was a non-person in France, much the way Mendelssohn was treated in Germany by the Nazis, with the exception that after World War II, the Germans re-embraced Mendelssohn, whereas Sarah is still left out in the cold.

Postwar Paris, eager to forget its recent history, was looking forward artistically, not to the surviving legacy of Bernhardt, which amounted to some stagy silent films and a few trembly-voiced recordings from her old age. It is to be hoped that this ignorant attitude will soon change. Two months ago, a future new director was named for the Théâtre de la Ville. Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, a young Parisian director, will take over the reins in June 2008. A lively character and amateur race-car driver who is Portuguese on his mother’s side, Demarcy-Mota should shake things up at the Théâtre de la Ville. His first act should be to return the theater to its former name, the “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt.”

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Denial Spreads

Throughout the Muslim world, history is being retold. The most notorious example, of course, is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust is a “myth,” which has given new credibility to a conspiracy theory that has long circulated among Muslim publics. However, thanks to the constant attention the Western press has afforded Ahmadinejad’s lies, this is old news. Yet the Western media has failed to cover another distortion of history that is suddenly gaining traction even within the most liberal, Western-friendly of Muslim states: that Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem have no basis in reality, having been fabricated as part of a broader Zionist conspiracy.

This lie found a new venue yesterday in Istanbul, where the three-day Al-Quds International Forum opened. Within the Arab press, this was a top news item, with conference participants’ denials of Jerusalem’s Jewish historical ties a prominent theme. Al-Jazeera’s headline declared “International Al-Quds Forum Opens With a Call to Resist Judaization,” while the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) similarly announced that “The Al-Quds Forum Calls for the Necessity of Liberating Jerusalem and Opposes Plans to Judaize It.” In fairness to the Western press, it’s a story that would have been easy to miss: the English-language headlines regarding the Al-Quds Forum were more benign, while Al-Jazeera English typically declined to mention it.

Whether or not it ever appears in the New York Times, make no mistake: this conference is deeply significant. The charge that Israel is “Judaizing” Jerusalem through archaeology or maintenance of religious sites is deeply rooted in Palestinian political discourse. Yasir Arafat and Hanan Ashrawi invoked the terminology of “Judaization” in 1996, after Israel opened Hasmonean Tunnel in the Old City, which revealed the foundations of the Second Temple. This past February, Palestinians used “Judaization” charges to protest Israel’s repair of an access ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Dome of the Rock; one Fatah spokesperson accused Israel of trying to replace the mosque with a “Jewish Temple.” At the time, these charges resonated sufficiently among Muslim publics that Israel installed webcams to prove that they were not damaging Muslim holy sites. The furor seemed to have cooled thereafter.

But conspiracy theories don’t die easily in the Middle East. The charge of Jerusalem’s “Judaization” has thus officially moved beyond the Palestinian territories. The Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul—and the overwhelmingly positive press it is receiving throughout the Muslim world—shows that denial of Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem has attained disturbing legitimacy.

Throughout the Muslim world, history is being retold. The most notorious example, of course, is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust is a “myth,” which has given new credibility to a conspiracy theory that has long circulated among Muslim publics. However, thanks to the constant attention the Western press has afforded Ahmadinejad’s lies, this is old news. Yet the Western media has failed to cover another distortion of history that is suddenly gaining traction even within the most liberal, Western-friendly of Muslim states: that Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem have no basis in reality, having been fabricated as part of a broader Zionist conspiracy.

This lie found a new venue yesterday in Istanbul, where the three-day Al-Quds International Forum opened. Within the Arab press, this was a top news item, with conference participants’ denials of Jerusalem’s Jewish historical ties a prominent theme. Al-Jazeera’s headline declared “International Al-Quds Forum Opens With a Call to Resist Judaization,” while the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) similarly announced that “The Al-Quds Forum Calls for the Necessity of Liberating Jerusalem and Opposes Plans to Judaize It.” In fairness to the Western press, it’s a story that would have been easy to miss: the English-language headlines regarding the Al-Quds Forum were more benign, while Al-Jazeera English typically declined to mention it.

Whether or not it ever appears in the New York Times, make no mistake: this conference is deeply significant. The charge that Israel is “Judaizing” Jerusalem through archaeology or maintenance of religious sites is deeply rooted in Palestinian political discourse. Yasir Arafat and Hanan Ashrawi invoked the terminology of “Judaization” in 1996, after Israel opened Hasmonean Tunnel in the Old City, which revealed the foundations of the Second Temple. This past February, Palestinians used “Judaization” charges to protest Israel’s repair of an access ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Dome of the Rock; one Fatah spokesperson accused Israel of trying to replace the mosque with a “Jewish Temple.” At the time, these charges resonated sufficiently among Muslim publics that Israel installed webcams to prove that they were not damaging Muslim holy sites. The furor seemed to have cooled thereafter.

But conspiracy theories don’t die easily in the Middle East. The charge of Jerusalem’s “Judaization” has thus officially moved beyond the Palestinian territories. The Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul—and the overwhelmingly positive press it is receiving throughout the Muslim world—shows that denial of Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem has attained disturbing legitimacy.

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Hillary’s “No”

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

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The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Clinton’s definitive “no” took her partly off the general election hook. But with nearly 80 percent of voters opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, her party, as represented by Obama and Bill Richardson, is still in the hot seat on this issue. Led by liberal Democrats, seventeen states have opposed a national standard for driver’s licenses. (In eight of these states, licenses are already being issued to undocumented workers.) This has led Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac Poll to analogize that, like affirmative action for racial minorities—an issue that badly damaged the Democrats in the 1970’s and 1980’s—today’s immigration issue has split the party’s working class supporters from its liberal activists. And as with affirmative action, liberal activists are quick to deride their opponents as racists.

Brown is right about the broad similarities. But there are also significant differences. Affirmative action and racial quotas pitted middle- and lower-middle-class white male Democrats against African-Americans and liberal activists. But on immigration, the remaining white working-class Democrats are aligned with most African-American voters, who are often those most directly in competition with low cost illegal immigrant labor. And this tension can only be exacerbated by the reality of black downward mobility. According to a new study from the Economic Mobility Project, “children of black parents earning in the middle 20 percent of all families in the late 1960′s had a 69 percent chance of earning less than their parents, the study found. For white children, that chance was just 32 percent.”

Hillary may have dodged a bullet for now, but the internal Democratic party debate on undocumented workers has only begun.

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Mole Hunt

Two weeks ago, I called attention to CIA worries over the possibility of an al-Qaeda mole inside the agency. We still do not know if al Qaeda has any agents inside the CIA or other components of the U.S. intelligence community. But what about Hizballah?

The stunning case of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman who entered the U.S. via a fraudulent marriage, ended up with sensitive jobs in both the FBI and CIA, and has just now pleaded guilty to a series of criminal charges, raises all sorts of questions about internal security at our premier domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. Slate‘s Bonnie Goldstein has the best short roundup of the case, complete with links to all the public documents available so far.

We still need to know much more about this affair. One thing is clear: the demand for fluent Arabic speakers evidently collided with security procedures, and the latter gave way. If there is one such case, there might be two or more. Both the FBI and the CIA have been chronically weak in the area of counterintelligence. Even as a Lebanese immigrant who came to the U.S. via a fraudulent marriage, entered their ranks, and was promoted to sensitive jobs, they seem to have focused their limited resources on the hunt for Israeli spies. The quest for a second Jonathan Pollard seems to be the genesis of the breathtakingly shaky AIPAC case.

The more dots Connecting the Dots connects about the CIA and the FBI, the more evident it becomes that these agencies remain unable to connect the dots.

Two weeks ago, I called attention to CIA worries over the possibility of an al-Qaeda mole inside the agency. We still do not know if al Qaeda has any agents inside the CIA or other components of the U.S. intelligence community. But what about Hizballah?

The stunning case of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman who entered the U.S. via a fraudulent marriage, ended up with sensitive jobs in both the FBI and CIA, and has just now pleaded guilty to a series of criminal charges, raises all sorts of questions about internal security at our premier domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. Slate‘s Bonnie Goldstein has the best short roundup of the case, complete with links to all the public documents available so far.

We still need to know much more about this affair. One thing is clear: the demand for fluent Arabic speakers evidently collided with security procedures, and the latter gave way. If there is one such case, there might be two or more. Both the FBI and the CIA have been chronically weak in the area of counterintelligence. Even as a Lebanese immigrant who came to the U.S. via a fraudulent marriage, entered their ranks, and was promoted to sensitive jobs, they seem to have focused their limited resources on the hunt for Israeli spies. The quest for a second Jonathan Pollard seems to be the genesis of the breathtakingly shaky AIPAC case.

The more dots Connecting the Dots connects about the CIA and the FBI, the more evident it becomes that these agencies remain unable to connect the dots.

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