Commentary Magazine


Topic: Italy

Paris Art Woes

An old saying in Europe goes that British people “take their pleasures sadly”; an update might add that the French take theirs violently. On the night of October 6, known locally as the “Nuit Blanche” (Sleepless Night) Festival, during which musical and artistic events are presented all night long, five vandals broke into the Musée d’Orsay (Paris’s treasure trove of 19th century art) and punched a four-inch hole in an 1874 canvas by the Impressionist Claude Monet, Le Pont d’Argenteuil. Security cameras captured images of five visibly drunk Parisian teenagers forcing open a door to the museum just before midnight. After smoking cigarettes and urinating on the museum’s floor, they were scared away by the rather belated sound of an alarm. Patrick Bloche, a deputy in France’s National Assembly, reasonably inquired whether the embattled Minister of Culture Christine Albanel intends to wait until a four-inch tear is also made in the Mona Lisa, before having the locks on national museums double-checked.

The damage to the Monet painting (showing idyllic boats on the Seine River in a happier time) is less dramatic than a near-tragic episode during Paris’s “Nuit Blanche” in 2002, when the city’s openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was stabbed in the abdomen in the City Hall in the early hours of the morning. The assailant, who almost killed the mayor, claimed to be a “devout Muslim” who “does not like politicians and in particular does not like homosexuals.”

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An old saying in Europe goes that British people “take their pleasures sadly”; an update might add that the French take theirs violently. On the night of October 6, known locally as the “Nuit Blanche” (Sleepless Night) Festival, during which musical and artistic events are presented all night long, five vandals broke into the Musée d’Orsay (Paris’s treasure trove of 19th century art) and punched a four-inch hole in an 1874 canvas by the Impressionist Claude Monet, Le Pont d’Argenteuil. Security cameras captured images of five visibly drunk Parisian teenagers forcing open a door to the museum just before midnight. After smoking cigarettes and urinating on the museum’s floor, they were scared away by the rather belated sound of an alarm. Patrick Bloche, a deputy in France’s National Assembly, reasonably inquired whether the embattled Minister of Culture Christine Albanel intends to wait until a four-inch tear is also made in the Mona Lisa, before having the locks on national museums double-checked.

The damage to the Monet painting (showing idyllic boats on the Seine River in a happier time) is less dramatic than a near-tragic episode during Paris’s “Nuit Blanche” in 2002, when the city’s openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was stabbed in the abdomen in the City Hall in the early hours of the morning. The assailant, who almost killed the mayor, claimed to be a “devout Muslim” who “does not like politicians and in particular does not like homosexuals.”

Even when such Parisian denizens of the night are not doing their worst, one wonders whether the level of urban violence in today’s Paris is really conducive to institutionalized all-night hilarity. Even in plain daylight, the French cannot be trusted with their cultural treasures. On November 16, a verdict will be handed down in the much-publicized trial of Rindy Sam, a Frenchwoman who identifies herself as an artist. Last July, Ms. Sam kissed a painting by American modernist Cy Twombly, which resides in a special collection at Avignon’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Ms. Sam smeared the white canvas with lipstick. Since her oral tribute, museum technicians have been unable to remove the lipstick stain from the canvas, previously valued at $2.8 million. Ms. Sam has explained that all she did was offer a kiss as a “gesture of love.” The museum and the collector who retains ownership of the painting are not endeared, demanding compensation to the tune of over 30,000 and 2 million euros respectively. Additionally, a prosecutor wants to fine Ms. Sam 4,500 euros for her action. Only Twombly himself, who lives in Lexington, Virginia and Italy, has kept his compensation demand to the scale of a state fair kissing booth, asking for just a single euro as “symbolic” reparation.

Since its arts collections are the mainspring of France’s tourism-based economy, and one of the main reasons why foreign visitors bother to put up with Parisian nastiness, it behooves the country to act vigorously to prevent these kinds of absurdities.

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Old Gould

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

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The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Some readers may be allergic to the Second Vienna School, but Gould was one of the rare pianists (like Italy’s Maurizio Pollini, who played Arnold Schoenberg’s works with genuine love. A 1960’s meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Schoenberg “Phantasy,” has a feeling of affection (tied to Gould’s admiration for Menuhin) unmatched in the discography. A gentler version of Schoenberg’s modernist investigations came from the Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887– 1952). Gould found spooky poetry in Valen’s work, too.

All of these achievements are essential elements of Gould’s artistry, and those who love—or dismiss—Gould based on his Bach recordings alone are missing the forest for the trees. Some who admire Gould’s Bach have missed his obsessively intense recording of Johann Sebastian’s “Art of Fugue” on the organ. Yes, Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” from 1955 and 1981 are both remarkable, but they are not the summa of all things Gouldian. Yes, there are bad recordings by Gould, like his Mozart sonatas (music he despised) or his famously ungainly 1962 Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein. Yet the best of Gould is splendid indeed.

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Addio, Pavarotti

When an international superstar like Italy’s champion tenor Luciano Pavarotti dies, a horse race ensues for posthumous tributes. As Milan’s Corriere della Sera marveled, the first governmental condolences about Pavarotti, who died of pancreatic cancer in Modena, Italy this week at 71, came from the peripatetic, hyper-energetic Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even before Italy’s movers and shakers could be stirred from their early-autumn lethargy. A calculating and astute Northern Italian from Modena, Pavarotti was anything but the cartoon of a carefree, sunny Southern Italian that he projected on CD’s and in public appearances.

Despite allegations of casual musicianship, Pavarotti had many enduring achievements, including a 1967 Deutsche Grammophon DVD of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and a Decca CD, also with Karajan, of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, a true connoisseur of the Italian repertory, conducted CD’s of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana on Decca and L’ amico Fritz on EMI, which are also among Pavarotti’s best.

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When an international superstar like Italy’s champion tenor Luciano Pavarotti dies, a horse race ensues for posthumous tributes. As Milan’s Corriere della Sera marveled, the first governmental condolences about Pavarotti, who died of pancreatic cancer in Modena, Italy this week at 71, came from the peripatetic, hyper-energetic Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even before Italy’s movers and shakers could be stirred from their early-autumn lethargy. A calculating and astute Northern Italian from Modena, Pavarotti was anything but the cartoon of a carefree, sunny Southern Italian that he projected on CD’s and in public appearances.

Despite allegations of casual musicianship, Pavarotti had many enduring achievements, including a 1967 Deutsche Grammophon DVD of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and a Decca CD, also with Karajan, of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, a true connoisseur of the Italian repertory, conducted CD’s of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana on Decca and L’ amico Fritz on EMI, which are also among Pavarotti’s best.

A characteristically ignorant critic like the always boorish and clueless Manuela Hoelterhoff, an employee of Michael Bloomberg, claims to “shudder with delight” at hearing Pavarotti bellow “Maria” from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Pav’s attempts at pop, like the best-selling Three Tenors Concert, are in fact best appreciated according to the criterion of a champion cyclist I once met, who said he played the Pavarotti CD on his earphones constantly during workouts because the lengthy explosions of applause kept his adrenaline going. The entire concept of “three tenors” is a surreal distortion of what opera is all about; arias written for a solo voice are shamelessly traduced when sung simultaneously by three voices. It should also be recalled that when the elegant Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus pointed out in 1992 that there were in fact more than three tenors in the world, he was banished—by none other than José Carreras, one of the mighty three—from participation in the musical events around the Barcelona Olympics.

Of Pavarotti’s efforts to share the stage with pop stars—many of which (it must be admitted, to lessen his personal culpability) were done for charity—probably the worst was Pavarotti with the Spice Girls in something called Viva Forever, with a close runner-up being the rock star Sting bleating out Franck’s Panis Angelicus. In other celebrity duets, Pavarotti simply stands or sits onstage with stars, singing in Italian against—rather than with—Barry White and James Brown. That said, Pavarotti’s duet with Meat Loaf on Come Back to Sorrento is not as bad as might be feared. Even when singing New York, New York with Liza Minnelli, Luciano sways anxiously like a grizzy bear on its hind legs, poised for attack.

Pop and schlock apart, Pavarotti’s burnished tone will long echo in our memory, regardless of the crass hype. It is our loss that Pavarotti was unable to imitate the longevity of his mother and father, who lived hale and hearty to the ages of 86 and 89 respectively. Lively and charming, Pavarotti conquered all.

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Prodi’s “Evolution”

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

To be fair, Italian politicians are not the only ones contemplating dialogue with Hamas: more than 100 British parliamentarians called for dialogue because “peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.” Britain’s former shadow Foreign Secretary and one-time chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Michael Ancram, went even further, in a Sunday Telegraph editorial in early July, by recommending that newly-appointed Middle East Envoy Tony Blair should “dance with wolves.”

As for Prodi himself, at least he is consistent. After all, in his first interview after winning last year’s parliamentary elections, in April 2006, he said to al-Jazeera: “I shall commit myself at the European level to shape a new position with respect to the new Palestinian government. I am looking with great attention at the signs of an opening being made by Hamas.” Soon after, Prodi spoke to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the phone, becoming the first European head of government to do so.

We shouldn’t wonder, then, what Prodi meant when he linked dialogue with Hamas to its possible “evolution.” Clearly, the Italian Prime Minister is being optimistic. Yet, can he point to any evolution at all since April 2006? How long will Europeans resist the temptation to engage in dialogue with Hamas?

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Hizballah’s Racket

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

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New York Philharmonic: New Conductor, New Season

The hoopla surrounding the naming of a 40-year-old native New Yorker, Alan Gilbert, as the next music director of the New York Philharmonic has somewhat obscured the fact that its current conductor, Lorin Maazel, will retain his job until after the 2008-2009 season. Gilbert, who is chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, will next appear here in March 2008, according to the New York Phil’s newly released 2007-2008 season schedule.

Curious music lovers might meanwhile try a soon-to-be released CD of Gilbert conducting Mozart at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Koch International Classics. Live performances of Gilbert leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in works by Mahler and Mendelssohn have appeared; Gilbert has also shown a somewhat uneven interest in contemporary music, including a concerto for recorder by Swedish composer Daniel Börtz on BIS Records. All this suggests that Gilbert is still a talent-in-progress, who will be paid nothing near the reported $2,638,940, which a recent study documented as Maazel’s current annual salary.

Do New York concert-goers get enough bang for their buck? Next season’s finest musical events will surely be three concerts on April 3, 4, and 5, 2008, in which the British conductor Colin Davis leads one of America’s most profound pianists, Richard Goode, in Beethoven’s philosophical Fourth Piano Concerto. Davis, born in 1927, has produced a series of CD’s for the LSO Live label that ranks among the finest classical recordings (of anything) in recent years.

Among other soloists invited by the Philharmonic is the emotive Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, whose EMI Recital CD of works by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert was a revelation. Batiashvili will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic this September 19, 20, and 21. Other parts of the Philharmonic schedule are sadly trite and predictable, none more than the September 18 season opener with the omnipresent Yo-Yo Ma playing the overexposed Dvořák Cello Concerto.

Then there are concert performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” on June 12, 14, 17, and 19, 2008 conducted by Maazel. A concert performance is most suited to a musical rarity that is almost never staged; the inescapable “Tosca” hardly qualifies. Likewise, when an admirable soloist is programmed—like the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto on January 17, 18, and 19, 2008—he is saddled with a conductor hardly reputed as a Brahmsian, Italy’s Riccardo Muti.

One of the two co-winners of the 2002 Maazel/Vilar Conductors’ Competition, the Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, will perform in November, but nowhere to be seen is the other superbly talented winner of the same competition, the Thai maestro Bundit Ungrangsee, a fine Mozartian on CD. Ungrangsee would himself have been a brilliant choice for music director.

Too many of the Phil’s concerts are centered around presumed “audience favorites,” like the grievously unidiomatic pianist Lang Lang, or Frenchman Pierre-Laurent Aimard, another merciless keyboard hammerer. When Maestro Gilbert takes over the Philharmonic’s helm, he might consider, as an urgent priority, hiring a new concert programmer.

The hoopla surrounding the naming of a 40-year-old native New Yorker, Alan Gilbert, as the next music director of the New York Philharmonic has somewhat obscured the fact that its current conductor, Lorin Maazel, will retain his job until after the 2008-2009 season. Gilbert, who is chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, will next appear here in March 2008, according to the New York Phil’s newly released 2007-2008 season schedule.

Curious music lovers might meanwhile try a soon-to-be released CD of Gilbert conducting Mozart at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Koch International Classics. Live performances of Gilbert leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in works by Mahler and Mendelssohn have appeared; Gilbert has also shown a somewhat uneven interest in contemporary music, including a concerto for recorder by Swedish composer Daniel Börtz on BIS Records. All this suggests that Gilbert is still a talent-in-progress, who will be paid nothing near the reported $2,638,940, which a recent study documented as Maazel’s current annual salary.

Do New York concert-goers get enough bang for their buck? Next season’s finest musical events will surely be three concerts on April 3, 4, and 5, 2008, in which the British conductor Colin Davis leads one of America’s most profound pianists, Richard Goode, in Beethoven’s philosophical Fourth Piano Concerto. Davis, born in 1927, has produced a series of CD’s for the LSO Live label that ranks among the finest classical recordings (of anything) in recent years.

Among other soloists invited by the Philharmonic is the emotive Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, whose EMI Recital CD of works by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert was a revelation. Batiashvili will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic this September 19, 20, and 21. Other parts of the Philharmonic schedule are sadly trite and predictable, none more than the September 18 season opener with the omnipresent Yo-Yo Ma playing the overexposed Dvořák Cello Concerto.

Then there are concert performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” on June 12, 14, 17, and 19, 2008 conducted by Maazel. A concert performance is most suited to a musical rarity that is almost never staged; the inescapable “Tosca” hardly qualifies. Likewise, when an admirable soloist is programmed—like the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto on January 17, 18, and 19, 2008—he is saddled with a conductor hardly reputed as a Brahmsian, Italy’s Riccardo Muti.

One of the two co-winners of the 2002 Maazel/Vilar Conductors’ Competition, the Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, will perform in November, but nowhere to be seen is the other superbly talented winner of the same competition, the Thai maestro Bundit Ungrangsee, a fine Mozartian on CD. Ungrangsee would himself have been a brilliant choice for music director.

Too many of the Phil’s concerts are centered around presumed “audience favorites,” like the grievously unidiomatic pianist Lang Lang, or Frenchman Pierre-Laurent Aimard, another merciless keyboard hammerer. When Maestro Gilbert takes over the Philharmonic’s helm, he might consider, as an urgent priority, hiring a new concert programmer.

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D’Alema, Double-Tongued

The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.

This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?

The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.

This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?

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Parisi’s Ignorance

Italy’s defense minister Arturo Parisi, interviewed last week on a morning show about Hizballah’s activity in southern Lebanon, dismissed any concern about its arms smuggling. “I am not aware [of any arms smuggling],” he said, “at least not to the extent that it requires a change of behavior by the UN.”

Parisi did recognize Lebanon’s difficult situation—given the ongoing battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah-al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, near the Syrian border, it would be hard to deny it. But he stated that the real trouble in the region stems from “actors coming from abroad and present in the Palestinian camps, whose links lead both to Sunnis and Shi’as”—and not, apparently, to Hizballah.

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Italy’s defense minister Arturo Parisi, interviewed last week on a morning show about Hizballah’s activity in southern Lebanon, dismissed any concern about its arms smuggling. “I am not aware [of any arms smuggling],” he said, “at least not to the extent that it requires a change of behavior by the UN.”

Parisi did recognize Lebanon’s difficult situation—given the ongoing battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah-al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, near the Syrian border, it would be hard to deny it. But he stated that the real trouble in the region stems from “actors coming from abroad and present in the Palestinian camps, whose links lead both to Sunnis and Shi’as”—and not, apparently, to Hizballah.

Parisi’s statement is baffling, in light of mounting evidence to the contrary. After all, he should know better. He is not merely the defense minister of Italy. Commanding the largest single contingent of troops in Lebanon and the UNIFIL forces in general, Parisi has access to privileged information about the situation on the ground. How, then, can one reconcile his recent statements with this one, from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

I have received information from Israel on arms trafficking. This information has been detailed and substantial, as outlined in my recent report. In addition, I have also received reports from other Member States detailing that illegal transfers of arms do occur. According to such reports, some weapons produced outside the region arrive via third countries and are brought clandestinely into Lebanon through the Syrian- Lebanese border. Such transfers are alleged to be taking place on a regular basis.

Ban wrote this in an interim report to the Security Council on the implementation of UNSCR 1559, which demands the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. A news report by IRIN, the news network affiliated with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), went further still. IRIN’s report offered specific details, interviews with foreign fighters, and eyewitness accounts of arms smuggling in Lebanon:

The two most significant reported violations of Resolution 1559’s demand for disarming militias over the past six months were weapons seized from members of the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP) in north Lebanon and a truck full of rockets and mortars seized in the eastern Bekaa Valley, which Hezbollah said was bound for its fighters.

Arms smuggling has also been reported in the international press and media. In a recent article in the French daily Le Figaro, Georges Malbrunot quoted a UN official close to the Secretary General saying that “This time the satellite photos that the Israelis showed us seem conclusive.” Malbrunot’s piece continues:

During their six months patrolling southern Lebanon its bloodhounds have discovered over a hundred bunkers, some of them cunningly established alongside UNIFIL positions, and a great many arms caches concealed under mosques and soccer pitches. To coordinate their attacks on Tzahal, militiamen have even established a telephone network independent of the Lebanese postal service! “How could the Beirut government have been unaware of all that?” one senior UNIFIL official asked; he suspects Hizballah of concealing weapons in the cellars of homes in southern Lebanon, to which blue helmets do not have access. “We could be unaware of many things,” this UN official complained.

Judging by his statements, one can only conclude that Parisi is also unaware of these developments, despite the wealth of information available even in the public domain. Unlike the UN Secretary General, who, at least, is “deeply worried” about the Lebanese crisis and the role played by Iran and Syria in arms smuggling, Parisi has dismissed any concern. And perhaps he genuinely doesn’t know.

But Parisi may simply be loath to embarrass his colleague Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s foreign minister, who is expected to visit Damascus soon. The purpose of this trip, as D’Alema reportedly claimed in a recent phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, is “to lecture” the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Given the evidence (and D’Alema’s foreign policy record), it’s tempting to assume he will pretend that all is business as usual—as Parisi did last week in front of the cameras.

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Wagner Without Tears

A commenter asks if I can recommend any performances conducted by the German conductor Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956). Abendroth was the “only conductor who ever made me genuinely love anything by Wagner,” says the commenter, citing a 1943 Parsifal from Bayreuth. Abendroth, who mainly conducted in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and East Germany, also produced dynamic recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony circa 1950, of which two, with the Berlin and Leipzig Radio Symphonies, have been reprinted on CD by Tahra.

Must music-lovers look to conductors like Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm, to name just two, as the final Wagnerian authorities? Yes, Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite who probably would have approved of Hitler’s Final Solution. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a fascist to produce great Wagnerian performances.

Try listening to the conductor who was—with good reason—considered the truest Wagnerian at Bayreuth and Salzburg, until his anti-Fascist convictions made him refuse to perform there in the 1930’s: Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Volume Seven of RCA’s Immortal Toscanini series is devoted to Toscanini’s fearlessly virtuosic performances of Wagner with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung has its typically intense dramatic emotional imagery—it sounds like a noble person has died and we are mourning him with grandeur—along with high intellectual clarity. (We can actually see Toscanini conduct Wagner on Volumes One and Four of “Toscanini—The Television Concerts 1948-52” on DVD from Testament.)

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A commenter asks if I can recommend any performances conducted by the German conductor Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956). Abendroth was the “only conductor who ever made me genuinely love anything by Wagner,” says the commenter, citing a 1943 Parsifal from Bayreuth. Abendroth, who mainly conducted in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and East Germany, also produced dynamic recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony circa 1950, of which two, with the Berlin and Leipzig Radio Symphonies, have been reprinted on CD by Tahra.

Must music-lovers look to conductors like Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm, to name just two, as the final Wagnerian authorities? Yes, Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite who probably would have approved of Hitler’s Final Solution. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a fascist to produce great Wagnerian performances.

Try listening to the conductor who was—with good reason—considered the truest Wagnerian at Bayreuth and Salzburg, until his anti-Fascist convictions made him refuse to perform there in the 1930’s: Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Volume Seven of RCA’s Immortal Toscanini series is devoted to Toscanini’s fearlessly virtuosic performances of Wagner with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung has its typically intense dramatic emotional imagery—it sounds like a noble person has died and we are mourning him with grandeur—along with high intellectual clarity. (We can actually see Toscanini conduct Wagner on Volumes One and Four of “Toscanini—The Television Concerts 1948-52” on DVD from Testament.)

Another of the greatest Wagnerians is Pierre Monteux (1875–1964), a French Jew whose exultant embrace of life expresses the inherent sensuality in Wagner’s music. His performances are available on CD’s from the EMI Great Conductors and BBC Legends series, as well as a fascinating 10-CD box set from Music & Arts, Sunday Evenings With Pierre Monteux. And how about Fritz Busch (1890-1951)? Busch’s musical career might well have flourished under the Third Reich—he was of Aryan birth—but his principles pushed him into exile from Germany. Busch’s exalted 1936 performance of Parsifal at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires has been released on CD by Marston. This performance features a number of great talents, including the bass Alexander Kipnis, a Ukrainian Jew who would later be forced into exile by Hitler’s regime.

Other must-hear conductors of Wagner include Italy’s Guido Cantelli (1920-1956), who spent most of World War II in concentration camps because of his brave anti-Fascist activities. Cantelli’s fervently poetic performances of Wagner with the Philharmonia have been reprinted by Testament. The Czech maestro Karel Ančerl (1908-1973) was interned in Terezín and Auschwitz (where his family was killed), yet after the war he recorded a pellucid and humane version of the “Prelude to Act I” of Lohengrin with the Czech Philharmonic, reprinted on Supraphon.

Conductors of moral rigor and human depth like Toscanini, Cantelli, and Ančerl overcame the historical stain on Wagner’s music to find its inner value. And thankfully, listeners today need not be limited to historical performances from the Third Reich to find the “real” Wagner.

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Via Romana

Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

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Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

The refinancing of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan proved to be another point of contention. Though Italy’s presence in Herat and Kabul is appreciated, Americans have been growing resentful of the unwillingness of the Italian government to commit troops to the fight against the Taliban in the south. Italy is not alone in its reluctance—Germany and Spain also have not committed military resources to the south. But a recent article by the ambassadors to Italy of six NATO countries whose troops are fighting—and dying—in southern Afghanistan irked the Italian foreign minister. The article called on Italy not to disengage. D’Alema called it “inopportune.”

In the last three weeks, Italy further tarnished its government’s credibility with the U.S. Under pressure from Rome, the Afghan government agreed to let five Taliban terrorists loose in exchange for an Italian hostage, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for La Repubblica. The Prodi government’s deal with the Taliban did nothing for Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan driver and interpreter, who were beheaded.

In a twist of fate, Kabul then arrested Rahmatullah Hanefi, the local point man of an Italian NGO called Emergency, headed by the renowned leftist radical Gino Strada, who had mediated the hostage release. The Afghan government accused Hanefi of double-dealing with the Taliban. Defending his associate, Strada retorted that Hanefi was beyond reproach: he had performed honorably last fall, when he delivered the Taliban a substantial sum of money for the release of another Italian hostage. Relying on Strada—who equates Bush with Osama bin Laden and considers the U.S. the chief perpetrator of international terrorism—proved to have been a terrible error. Italy now stands accused of bringing about the release of terrorists, of having sacrificed two Afghans to rescue one Italian, of having damaged Hamid Karzai’s government, and of having emboldened the Taliban.

Even outside the theater of the global war on terror, Italy’s government shows a new hostility to America. When a joint venture of AT&T and Mexico’s America Movil sought to buy a stake in Italian telecommunications giant Telecom, government ministers raised the banner of the “national interest” to prevent the company from falling into foreign hands. Prodi said he would be happy if Telecom were to remain under Italian ownership, though he promised no interference. D’Alema went a little farther, expressing his hope for an “Italian initiative” to keep Telecom from a foreign take-over and hinting that the parliament could override market considerations.

In less than a year, Prodi and D’Alema have caused, more or less, a complete breakdown in Italo-American relations. Is it any wonder that they are still waiting for an invitation to the White House?

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Eternal Text

Since I arrived in Rome not long ago to take up a post as a guest professor, this most fascinating and puzzling of cities has more and more come to strike me as an urban-architectural attic, a place in which the achievements of humankind over twenty-five centuries have been accumulated and recorded. This accumulation has resulted in a largely haphazard and undifferentiated mass, a collection riddled with serendipities and self-contradictions, in which almost everyone of note gets to have a street, or a block or two of a street, named after him.

The naming falls on the just and the unjust alike. Even the zanily theatrical medieval revolutionary Cola di Rienzo, the kind of man most cities would prefer to forget, has been granted a long and important thoroughfare in the Prati neighborhood. True, there is no Via Mussolini in Rome. But one does not have to look too hard to find even his name in public places: the medallion high above the stage at the Teatro dell’Opera, his bust on the wall of the famous Caffè Greco.

Rome does not tell one story, or five, or even a hundred, but an infinitude, and it is up to you to sort them out. This is true of any great metropolis. But it is particularly true here: the artifacts of history are plentiful and undeniably important, and beg to be interpreted, yet so often are ambiguous in meaning.

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Since I arrived in Rome not long ago to take up a post as a guest professor, this most fascinating and puzzling of cities has more and more come to strike me as an urban-architectural attic, a place in which the achievements of humankind over twenty-five centuries have been accumulated and recorded. This accumulation has resulted in a largely haphazard and undifferentiated mass, a collection riddled with serendipities and self-contradictions, in which almost everyone of note gets to have a street, or a block or two of a street, named after him.

The naming falls on the just and the unjust alike. Even the zanily theatrical medieval revolutionary Cola di Rienzo, the kind of man most cities would prefer to forget, has been granted a long and important thoroughfare in the Prati neighborhood. True, there is no Via Mussolini in Rome. But one does not have to look too hard to find even his name in public places: the medallion high above the stage at the Teatro dell’Opera, his bust on the wall of the famous Caffè Greco.

Rome does not tell one story, or five, or even a hundred, but an infinitude, and it is up to you to sort them out. This is true of any great metropolis. But it is particularly true here: the artifacts of history are plentiful and undeniably important, and beg to be interpreted, yet so often are ambiguous in meaning.

Let the grandiose monument at the Piazza Venezia to King Vittorio Emmanuele II, the Vittoriano, a structure cordially hated by most Romans, stand as an example. This wildly over-the-top creation, with its too-white Brescian marble and its endless columns, steps, horses, winged lions, and its Unknown Soldier, has the false grandeur of an oversustained operatic high note. Begun in 1885 and inaugurated in 1911, it was meant as a triumphant symbol of Italian national unity. And its placement, overshadowing so much of the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Hill, shows that it was meant in part as an effort to loosen the grip of Italy’s fractured past, and wave away its ghosts.

But the tale always eludes the control of the teller, especially here in Rome. The very fact that the Vittoriano is, quite simply, too, too much, shows that it was announcing something prematurely, in a way that bespoke nervous bravado, not settled self-confidence—as events of the successive decades would demonstrate. Even today, the fractiousness and regional rivalries that beset Italy indicate that a unified Italian nation remains far less fully achieved than such a monument would suggest. The monument has become an expression of cultural insecurity at the city’s very center (or at least one of them). And the monument now stands forever (if only as a lasting subject of complaint) as a part of the Eternal City’s eternal text.

Rome’s physical and political history is so deep and so rich that no-one could ever fully control the meaning of any architectural addition to the city. Realizing this is both inhibiting and inspiring. Inhibiting, because in Rome you don’t feel a surge of that great sense of human possibility that electrifies the air in New York, for example; the young Romans I meet seem to like New York, and Los Angeles, and America for their embodiment of precisely that quality.

In Rome, you are humbled in the way you are humbled when you stand before some great natural wonder. Except that the wonder before you is a hybrid, both manmade and yet not manmade, being in large measure a work that could only have been produced by the hands of time itself. And it does not reveal itself automatically or immediately. You must work at deciphering it, the work of years—and work well worth doing if one is privileged to get the chance.

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Hamas and the Europeans

Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.
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Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.

Rumor has it that the next Norwegian diplomatic move was a phone call to the EU’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, asking EU states to emulate Norway (which is not a member). The EU chose caution instead: it would judge the new government by its deeds, a spokesman said, not only by its words. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, visiting Ramallah last Friday, reiterated this message. But he did so at a joint press conference with the new Palestinian foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr. And Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vittorio Craxi, called Haniyeh “in his personal capacity,” but did not pay an official visit.

Next, it was the turn of Marc Otte, the EU special envoy to the Middle East, who met the new PA finance minister, Salam Fayyad (as did the U.S. consul in Jerusalem). As the International Herald Tribune reports, the Swedish foreign minister is next; the Swiss and Russian ambassadors will also meet Fayyad. Switzerland and France have invited him to visit; the UK announced that it, too, will speak to non-Hamas ministers.

Unlike Norway, the EU still has a few problems talking to the PA while Hamas is part of the government: Hamas, after all, is on the EU terror list. And the Quartet, at least officially, still stands by the Roadmap and the three preconditions that any PA government must meet for the international embargo on aid and dialogue to be ended.

But even Europe’s modest overtures are quite astonishing when one considers how Hamas itself views the new “unity” government: as the group’s leaders have repeatedly emphasized, “resistance” in all its forms will continue. True to form, Hamas followed words with deeds, and proceeded to claim responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli worker only two days after the government was sworn in.

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The Land of the Eunuchs

In Thursday morning’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash appealed for European solidarity with Britain in the face of the Iranian seizure of fifteen British naval personnel. “Fourteen European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged ‘confession,’ clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what’s it going to do about it? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the action?” asks Garton Ash.

He notes that “the EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis.” This commerce is not purely in the private sector but is sustained by European government subsidies. “The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn, more than for Russia or China,” Garton Ash reports.

Garton Ash asks whether “Britain’s European friends—and Germany, France, and Italy in particular—might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed.”

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In Thursday morning’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash appealed for European solidarity with Britain in the face of the Iranian seizure of fifteen British naval personnel. “Fourteen European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged ‘confession,’ clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what’s it going to do about it? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the action?” asks Garton Ash.

He notes that “the EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis.” This commerce is not purely in the private sector but is sustained by European government subsidies. “The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn, more than for Russia or China,” Garton Ash reports.

Garton Ash asks whether “Britain’s European friends—and Germany, France, and Italy in particular—might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed.”

When I read this, I took pen in hand to point out the insipidness of Garton Ash’s remedy: that the words to Iran would be spoken “privately,” that they would only allude to a “possibility” of suspending credits “temporarily.” Presumably, then, when the fifteen were freed, Europe would resume subsidizing the Iranian economy while Iran went on building its nuclear bomb. In short, I thought Garton Ash rather namby-pamby.

Until, that is, I read the replies to his column posted on the Guardian’s blog. Then I saw that by contemporary European standards—or at least the standards of that part of Europe represented by the left-leaning Guardian—Garton Ash might as well be the second coming of Winston Churchill. Scores of comments are posted. Out of a randomly chosen 25, I counted one who grudgingly supported Garton Ash’s position, two who called for stronger action against Iran and 22 (i.e., 88 percent) who denounced him as a jingoist, imperialist, war-mongering puppet of Uncle Sam.

Here is a sample (not including any whose comments or screen names suggested that they might be Iranian or Middle Eastern):

“Timothy Garton Ash [is] a pompous tub-thumping twat who gets his meal-tickets from the Americans these days. . . . It ill behooves pundits like Mr. Garton Ash to bang the table about who can detain whom, when the ‘Alliance of the Willing’ is illegally holding 450+ detainees in Guantanamo Bay.”

“If the prisoners confessed to being in Iranian waters, they probably were.”

“Britain is now no better than Stalinist Russia, with regard to certain media in so far as taking the government line.”

“We have the hullabaloo about supposed mistreatment, possibe torture, etc. Complete propagandistic bullshit. Once again, no proof at all.”

“A simple apology to the Iranians (i.e., sorry fifteen sailors got lost by a kilometer) would have diffused this crisis completely in a single instant.”

It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. Mutatis mutandis, in the land of the eunuchs.

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

Recent years have furnished a great deal of material suited to his talents and expertise. Harrison brings to his subject the “habitual skepticism, bitterly close reading, and aggressive contentiousness” produced by “forty years in the amiable sharkpool of analytic philosophy.” His merciless deconstruction of the anti-Israel invective and smug clichés of the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, and other bastions of anti-Jewish sentiment in England reminds one of the powerful literary scrutiny pioneered in this country by the New Critics.

Harrison’s method is to scrutinize the statements of Israel-haters for internal contradictions, inconsistencies, specious reasoning, misstatements of fact, and outright lies. To read the fulminations of such people as John Pilger, Robert Fisk, or Jacqueline Rose concerning Israel ordinarily requires the mental equivalent of hip-boots; Harrison, however, takes up a rhetorical scalpel and dissects their ravings with surgical precision.

He devotes all of the book’s second chapter, for example, to a single infamous issue of the New Statesman. The cover of January 14, 2002 showed a tiny Union Jack being pierced by the sharp apex of a large Star of David, made of gold. Below, in large black letters, was a question posed with characteristic English understatement: “A Kosher Conspiracy?” It would not have been out of place in Der Stürmer; and the articles that followed it had at first suggested to Harrison that he entitle his analysis of them “In the Footsteps of Dr. Goebbels.” (He decided, however, that this would be “inadequate to the gravity of the case.”)

Among the many canards that Harrison dismembers in the book: “Israel is a colonialist state”; “Israel is a Nazi state, and the Jews who support it are as guilty as Nazi collaborators were”; “Anybody who criticizes Israel is called an anti-Semite”; “Jews do not express grief except for political or financial ends.” Take, for example, the way in which he draws out the implications of the Israel-Nazi Germany equation, without which people like Noam Chomsky would be rendered almost speechless: “To attach the label ‘Nazi’ to Israel, or to couple the Star of David with the swastika is . . . not just to express opposition . . . to the policies of one or another Israeli government. It is to defame Israel by association with the most powerful symbol of evil, of that which must be utterly rejected and uprooted from the face of the earth.”

Harrison consistently criticizes contemporary liberals who have allowed their moral indignation on behalf of Palestinians to pass into something “very hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism of the most traditional kind.” Yet he just as consistently refrains from calling them anti-Semites. (He does, however, wonder whether, in their dreams, they call themselves anti-Semites.) Thus the editor of the New Statesman who approves a cover worthy of Julius Streicher is “an entirely honest, decent man,” and Dennis Sewell, author of the essay on the Anglo-Jewish “kosher conspiracy” belongs to the rank of “sincere humanitarians.”

Two factors play a role in Harrison’s mitigation of his criticisms. One is his assumption, oft-repeated, that liberals and leftists in the past were almost always opposed to anti-Semitism. But this is open to question. In France, for example, the only articulate friends of the Jews prior to the Dreyfus Affair were conservative writers who denounced anti-Jewish attitudes as “one of the favorite theses of the 18th century.” French leftist movements of the 19th century had been outspoken in their antipathy to Jews until the Dreyfus Affair forced them to decide whether they hated the Jews or the Catholic Church more. (They became Dreyfusards.) In England, Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby and father of Matthew, called English Jews “lodgers” and wanted them barred from universities and citizenship. Gladstone referred to Disraeli as “that alien” who “was going to annex England to his native East & make it the appanage of an Asian empire.” Ernest Bevin, Labor foreign minister from 1945-51, was notoriously short of sympathy in the Jewish direction.

The other, more positive motive for Harrison’s use of such delicate epithets stems, perhaps, from his education in philosophy: he seems to believe genuinely in the ability of people to self-correct, to be swayed by reason. Let us hope that he is right. My own, darker view is that a thinker’s ideas are an expression of character. If Harrison believes that he can reason into decency people like his fellow philosopher Ted Honderich, who espouses “violence for equality” and effusively sings the praises of Palestinian suicide bombers, I wish him joy in his efforts. But deductions have little power of persuasion, and I have no great hopes for his success.

Despite my quibbles, Harrison’s book is one of the necessary and indispensable utterances on the subject of these new, liberal anti-Semites, the people who are busily making themselves into accessories before the fact of Ahmadinejad’s plan “to wipe Israel off the map.” The fact that this eloquent and elegantly argued book has until now been totally ignored by book review editors is itself testimony to the alarming dogmatism that Harrison has so vividly criticized.

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God and Man in Rome

When it comes to cultural exchange programs for academics, my reflexive attitude tends to be very much like my attitude toward the institution of tenure: it’s probably a bad idea in many cases, for most people, but if it’s going to exist . . . well, I shouldn’t deny myself the benefits. Thus I’ve come to Rome, under the auspices of the Fulbright program, for a semester of teaching and lecturing. I am not sure whether five months spent living in Rome and traveling around Italy will make me a better professor, but the experiment seemed worth conducting. So I have taken it on—strictly, I will have you know, in the severe spirit of disinterested scientific inquiry, a spirit I bring with particular asperity to my examination of Italian foods and wines.

I am teaching the history of American religion to graduate students in an American-studies program, and can report that the level of interest in the subject is extremely high. I had not really wanted to spend so much of my time teaching about American religion, but my Italian hosts insisted otherwise, and now I understand their wisdom.

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When it comes to cultural exchange programs for academics, my reflexive attitude tends to be very much like my attitude toward the institution of tenure: it’s probably a bad idea in many cases, for most people, but if it’s going to exist . . . well, I shouldn’t deny myself the benefits. Thus I’ve come to Rome, under the auspices of the Fulbright program, for a semester of teaching and lecturing. I am not sure whether five months spent living in Rome and traveling around Italy will make me a better professor, but the experiment seemed worth conducting. So I have taken it on—strictly, I will have you know, in the severe spirit of disinterested scientific inquiry, a spirit I bring with particular asperity to my examination of Italian foods and wines.

I am teaching the history of American religion to graduate students in an American-studies program, and can report that the level of interest in the subject is extremely high. I had not really wanted to spend so much of my time teaching about American religion, but my Italian hosts insisted otherwise, and now I understand their wisdom.

None of my students, so far as I can tell, consider themselves believers in any conventional sense, though I assume that most are at least nominally Roman Catholic, and have been baptized and confirmed. Italians, like most of us, hedge their bets; and given the remarkable closeness of Italian families, and the still-formidable presence of the Italian mama, I suspect that such young people go to mass more often than they let on.

But they are utterly without the kind of anti-religious or anti-clerical edge to their sentiments that one might expect, and seem genuinely curious to understand the reasons behind the otherwise inexplicable (to them) persistence of religion in America. They came into the course knowing nothing whatever about Protestantism, and are astonished to find out that the New England Puritans were such formidable intellects, to read documents like James Madison’s magisterial “Memorial and Remonstrance,” and to see the truth in Tocqueville’s assertion that in America, the spirit of liberty and the spirit of religion actually supported one another, and that the Enlightenment and Protestantism coexisted with remarkable comfort.

Above all, they are curious: curious about revivalism and its relationship to social reform movements, curious about Mormonism, curious about all the utopian experiments of the 19th century and all the other wild edges of American religion, curious about the centrality of the conversion experience in American evangelicalism, about how Protestants understood the authority of the Bible, and perhaps above all, about the voluntaristic character of American religion. The Baptist emphasis on the primacy of the uncoerced conscience: this is an ideal that clearly intrigues them.

In other words, it is all entirely new to them, so that the experience of teaching them has been energizing, and has caused me to see my own subject afresh. (Thank you, Senator Fulbright.) From the inside of American culture, one is at times impressed by nothing so much as the anarchy and inanity of American religion: its thinness, its institutional chaos, its individualism, its trendiness, its willingness to pander to the consumer and to the culture. These observations remain as valid as ever. And yet my experiences here, listening to students who have grown up in a largely monochromatic religious culture, in which the choices placed before them are far more stark, cast it all in a different light.

We Americans take our freedoms too lightly in other respects, and our highly voluntaristic religious culture—and the boisterous vitality and variety of religious expression that have resulted from it—is no exception. Not all of what it produces is to my taste. But the exercise of freedom is not the same thing as good taste. “It is the duty of every man,” Madison said, “to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to Him.” My Italian students help me to see anew the grandeur in those words.

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Israel’s War for Public Opinion

Well, in case you weren’t absolutely certain, it’s now official: Israel is the least-liked country in the world. A new BBC poll of the attitudes of 28,000 people in 27 countries shows Israel at the bottom of the list, with 17 percent viewing it positively and 56 percent negatively—slightly below Iran (18 and 54 percent) and North Korea (19 and 48 percent).

The only four countries in the world in which more people are favorably rather than unfavorably inclined toward Israel are the United States, India, Nigeria, and Kenya—and not by big margins in any of them. Forty-one percent of Americans, for example, thought well of Israel while 33 percent didn’t, a serious drop-off from previous polls.

At the other end of the spectrum, apart from Muslim countries, Israel did worst in Europe. In Italy the vote was 58-to-18 against it. In England, 65-to-17. In France, 66-to-17. In Greece, 68-to-11. In Germany (Germany!), 77-to-10. These are frightening—I would almost say terrifying—figures. They show that the international campaign against Israel has succeeded incredibly well.

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Well, in case you weren’t absolutely certain, it’s now official: Israel is the least-liked country in the world. A new BBC poll of the attitudes of 28,000 people in 27 countries shows Israel at the bottom of the list, with 17 percent viewing it positively and 56 percent negatively—slightly below Iran (18 and 54 percent) and North Korea (19 and 48 percent).

The only four countries in the world in which more people are favorably rather than unfavorably inclined toward Israel are the United States, India, Nigeria, and Kenya—and not by big margins in any of them. Forty-one percent of Americans, for example, thought well of Israel while 33 percent didn’t, a serious drop-off from previous polls.

At the other end of the spectrum, apart from Muslim countries, Israel did worst in Europe. In Italy the vote was 58-to-18 against it. In England, 65-to-17. In France, 66-to-17. In Greece, 68-to-11. In Germany (Germany!), 77-to-10. These are frightening—I would almost say terrifying—figures. They show that the international campaign against Israel has succeeded incredibly well.

Nor is it much comfort that the United States did badly too, with 51 percent of the BBC’s respondents viewing it negatively and 30 percent positively, or that America and Israel appear to be linked in the eyes of world public opinion. For one thing, America’s position will start to rebound as soon as the Bush administration steps down, while Israel’s almost certainly will not. And secondly, the world’s greatest power need not feel endangered by such unpopularity, but it must be viewed differently by a small and beleaguered country toward whom the world’s attitudes can ultimately be a matter of life or death.

Although public opinion has less influence on foreign policy than on domestic policy, governments are not ultimately immune to it there either. So far the European Union, whose good will is crucial to Israel, has behaved toward it, if not always supportively, at least with a reasonable measure of sympathy and fairness. How long can this be expected to go on? How much longer will the government of Germany, which over and over has led the pro-Israel forces in Europe, continue to do so when its citizens, by a ratio of nearly 8-to-1, disapprove of the country it has been defending?

When one debates what “legitimate” criticism of Israel does and does not consist of, such figures need to be kept constantly in mind. No criticism of Israel that further distorts the wildly inaccurate picture of it that prevails in most of the world can possibly be legitimate. Israel is fighting a war for public opinion that is, in the long run, part of the war it is fighting for its survival—and it is being routed. Those who care for it, no matter how much they disagree with its current policies, should think not twice but ten times before they say or do anything that can only make this rout worse.

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The Muslim Lobby

Europe’s democracies have changed dramatically in recent years in response to Islamic population growth, growth fueled by immigration and birth rates substantially higher than local norms. Great Britain, France, Italy, and other nations have been forced to accommodate the needs and preferences of their Islamic citizens, often at the expense of the global conflict with radical Islam.

Can it happen here? Suppose that the writer Mark Steyn is right to argue that “demographics are destiny.” What number of Muslims, agitating for their self-defined interests and agendas, would constitute a critical mass in the U.S.? At what point would American politicians feel compelled to take up their cause?

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) all worked overtime this past election cycle to create the impression that, in American politics, Muslims are now a force to be reckoned with. They were especially emphatic about the country’s growing Muslim population—some 8 million souls, in their oft-repeated estimates.

So it comes as a useful corrective to read Patrick Poole’s “Numbers Don’t Lie” in this week’s Front Page Magazine. Poole cites two recent pieces (in IBD and the New York Sun) criticizing the methodology of the survey that produced the 8 million figure and citing new estimates drawn from survey work done at CUNY and the University of Chicago—estimates suggesting that there are, in fact, not 8 million Muslims in the U.S. but well under 3 million. Moreover, of these, only a minuscule 4,761 are dues-paying members of CAIR, which presents itself as the community’s authoritative voice.

Whether CAIR or any of the others truly represents the sentiments of American Muslims is a question that political strategists might consider before pandering to their radical demands or overlooking their questionable (or worse) political associations, all amply documented over the years by observers like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. But why be fooled by numbers? The readiness to inflate the size of their alleged constituency is only another tactic in a campaign of intimidation to which too many have already succumbed.

Europe’s democracies have changed dramatically in recent years in response to Islamic population growth, growth fueled by immigration and birth rates substantially higher than local norms. Great Britain, France, Italy, and other nations have been forced to accommodate the needs and preferences of their Islamic citizens, often at the expense of the global conflict with radical Islam.

Can it happen here? Suppose that the writer Mark Steyn is right to argue that “demographics are destiny.” What number of Muslims, agitating for their self-defined interests and agendas, would constitute a critical mass in the U.S.? At what point would American politicians feel compelled to take up their cause?

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) all worked overtime this past election cycle to create the impression that, in American politics, Muslims are now a force to be reckoned with. They were especially emphatic about the country’s growing Muslim population—some 8 million souls, in their oft-repeated estimates.

So it comes as a useful corrective to read Patrick Poole’s “Numbers Don’t Lie” in this week’s Front Page Magazine. Poole cites two recent pieces (in IBD and the New York Sun) criticizing the methodology of the survey that produced the 8 million figure and citing new estimates drawn from survey work done at CUNY and the University of Chicago—estimates suggesting that there are, in fact, not 8 million Muslims in the U.S. but well under 3 million. Moreover, of these, only a minuscule 4,761 are dues-paying members of CAIR, which presents itself as the community’s authoritative voice.

Whether CAIR or any of the others truly represents the sentiments of American Muslims is a question that political strategists might consider before pandering to their radical demands or overlooking their questionable (or worse) political associations, all amply documented over the years by observers like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. But why be fooled by numbers? The readiness to inflate the size of their alleged constituency is only another tactic in a campaign of intimidation to which too many have already succumbed.

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News from the Continent: Never Again?

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

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In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

When the MCB pressed for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, “Home Office officials. . .told the [group], which represents more than 350 Muslim organisations, that they [were] considering the request. But officials have no plans to broaden the remit of the occasion because they fear it would infuriate the Jewish community.” Not principle, then, but sheer political expediency safeguards the day in Britain. And with only political arguments keeping Holocaust Memorial Day in place, how long can it be before voters convince the government that it is time for Britain to be more “inclusive”?

It is, therefore, doubly important to watch how Europe responds to the initiative, recently launched under the new German presidency of the EU, to introduce continent-wide legislation banning Holocaust denial. Strictly speaking, the MCB is not denying the Holocaust. But its comparison of the murder of Europe’s Jews to the plight of the Palestinians is a clear attempt to demonize Israel, with the not-so-unintended side-effect of trivializing the Holocaust. In Palestine, fewer than 4,000 people have been killed by the Israeli military in the last six years, all in an effort to disrupt the activities of terrorists and armed militants. In Auschwitz, 30,000 defenseless Jews were slaughtered every day. The analogy, in other words, is a patent untruth.

This kind of gross distortion has already gone a step further in Spain, where the city council of a small town near Madrid tried to mandate the commemoration of the “Palestinian Holocaust.” In the end, luckily, the council backed down. But making the case that history can defend itself rings hollow in the face of such episodes.

Even with such moral stupidity abounding, the subject of banning Holocaust denial remains a highly contested one across Europe. On January 24, Joan Bakewell commented in the Independent that “Freedom of speech commits us to hearing things with which we profoundly disagree. But unless we hear them, we have no chance to refute and correct them.” Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian a few days earlier, concurred, arguing, in essence, that free speech must be protected, memory must be defended through education, shutting them up would turn them into celebrities, etc.

This argument holds sway in much of the continent. Angelo D’Orsi wrote a similar column in Italy’s La Stampa, claiming that “history can defend itself” without being helped by legislation. In Italy, however, there are opposing voices. The justice minister Clemente Mastella has tried to beat the Germans to the punch, introducing his own legislation against Holocaust denial, which the Italian cabinet approved on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Most Americans consider it both and silly and dangerous to punish people for their opinions. But Europe is not America. It is a continent where the dark shadow of the past requires striking a fine balance between freedom of speech and the protection of memory. Is Holocaust denial truly something that we should defend, à la Voltaire, despite its odiousness, its motives, and its sometimes seductive power? Is truth, in a world submerged in the cacophony of cultural relativism, so compelling that we can always confidently rely on evidence and education to rebuke the charlatans and their sinister denials?

Regulating such hate speech may well endow the David Irvings of the world with the halos of martyrs. But it could also deprive them of a platform, discourage others from providing them with one, silence thousands of hate-spewing websites, shut down publishing houses that still print the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in general make it more difficult to spread the “opinion” that the Holocaust did not happen. For to say such a thing is not just an opinion: it is a libel against the six million Jews who died—as well as those who survived and their descendants.

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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