Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Nation

The Anti-Zionist Civil War on the Left

Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

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Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

The dustup centers on Goliath, a new anti-Israel screed by Blumenthal, the son of Clinton administration figure Sidney Blumenthal, published by Nation Books. But to Blumenthal’s chagrin, the magazine (which is no stranger to anti-Zionist articles) allowed columnist Eric Alterman to write about it in The Nation. Alterman is himself a fierce and often obnoxious critic of Israel and defenders of Israel, and has been a major promoter of the myth that the pro-Israel community has been seeking to silence the Jewish state’s critics. Yet Blumenthal’s book was so appalling that Alterman took it apart in the magazine that spawned it. Calling it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” Alterman scored it for its frequent comparisons of the Jews with the Nazis and its complete absence of any acknowledgement of the Muslim and Arab war to destroy Israel. As Alterman wrote in a subsequent blog post, “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

To give you a taste of how outrageous this book is, Blumenthal even has the nerve to recount a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman who has been an important figure in the peace movement in which he lectured the Israeli about the need for the state to be dismantled and for its citizens to make their peace with the need to rejoin the Diaspora rather than to cling to their homes. Grossman responds to Blumenthal by walking out and telling him to tear up his phone number. Blumenthal attributes Grossman’s reaction to Israeli myopia.

But it gets better. As the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg writes in his own column on the dispute, Blumenthal appeared at a Philadelphia event with the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick (whose recent anti-Zionist diatribe in the New York Times was discussed here).

Almost halfway through their 83-minute encounter (minute 34:00 on YouTube), Lustick emotionally asks Blumenthal whether he believes, like Abraham at Sodom, that there are enough “good people” in Israel to justify its continued existence — or whether he’s calling for a mass “exodus,” the title of his last chapter, and “the end of Jewish collective life in the land of Israel.”

Blumenthal gives a convoluted answer that comes down to this: “There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (meaning the entire Jewish population of Israel): “Become indigenized,” that is, “you have to be part of the Arab world.” Or else …? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic population is non-negotiable.”

This is sobering stuff and, as Goldberg, put it, “a chilling moment even for the anti-Zionists among us.”

The bottom line here is that the real debate about the Middle East is not between the so-called “Jewish establishment” and left-wing critics of Israel like the J Street lobby and writers like Alterman and Goldberg. Rather it is between anyone who recognizes that Jews have a right to a state and those who wish to see that state destroyed. The vitriolic nature of Blumenthal’s disingenuous responses (here and here) to criticisms from these left-wing writers is, in its own way, a mirror image of the way Palestinians and European anti-Zionists have raised the ante in the past two decades as the line between critiques of Israel and traditional Jew-hatred have been blurred. Suffice it to say that in Blumenthal’s world, anyone who believes in the Jewish right to a state even in a tiny slice of their ancient homeland is a fascist, a Nazi, or a fellow traveler.

This shows how the discussion of Israel has deteriorated in the last generation of peace processing. Instead of appeasing its critics, every move toward peace in which Israel has given up territory has only convinced its enemies that it can be portrayed as a thief that can be made to surrender stolen property. While some of Israel’s critics think that conception can be limited to the lands beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines, people like Blumenthal remind us that this is an illusion.

For 20 years since the Oslo Accords Israel tried to trade land for peace only to have each offer of statehood for the Palestinians be rejected. Despite the spin that is directed at the West by some Palestinians, their culture of hatred for Israel and the Jews has made it impossible for even their most “moderate” leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. While Israel’s political thinking has shifted in this period to the point where even the supposedly “hard line” Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution, the Palestinians remain stuck in a time warp in which Fatah and Hamas compete for support based on their belligerency toward the Jews.

Unfortunately many American Jews are similarly stuck in the past and cling to the belief that Israel could entice the Palestinians to make peace via concessions. But rather than continuing to bang away at each other, as they have for a generation, the pro-Israel left and the pro-Israel right need to focus on the real opponent: the growing BDS (boycott, disinvest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state whose aim is its destruction and its allies.

Alterman and Goldberg may think that if only Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of Israelis who have drawn logical conclusions from Oslo’s collapse would change their minds, peace would be possible. But they, like those on the right who see them and J Street as the real enemy, are wasting their time. The only argument that means anything in the post-Oslo era is between those who stand with Israel’s right to exist and those who oppose it. While Blumenthal’s despicable hate is deserving of every possible condemnation, he deserves our thanks for reminding us of this.

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Portrait of Denial: ‘The Nation’ and Communist Spies

Revelations about the content of the former Soviet Union’s archives about spying in the United States ended some long-running intellectual arguments. After decades of denying that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Alger Hiss were guilty and pretending that the Communist Party of the United States was not a Soviet front, a lot of people on the left had to shut up. The anti-anti-Communist point of view about the Cold War was discredited, but for the publishers of The Nation, the impulse to wave the old red flag is still strong. That often leads them, as well as some other sectors of the left such as the New York Times, to pretend as if backing the totalitarian, genocidal, and anti-Semitic regime that ruled Moscow was an innocent romantic phase that all true liberals went through. But as bad as that deplorable tradition might be, the decision of The Nation to publish material about Communist espionage as if the Venona Files had never been published is nothing short of bizarre.

That’s the only way to regard their recent publication of a review of a history of the post-World War Two Bretton Woods economic conference that devotes a considerable amount of space to defending the lost honor of Harry Dexter White. White, the senior Treasury Department official who led the U.S. delegation to Bretton Woods, was exposed as a Soviet spy a long time ago. As John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, the pre-eminent academic experts on Communist spying and the Soviet archives, write on their Washington Decoded blog, James Boughton’s effort to vindicate White is embarrassingly short on evidence if not completely mendacious. There isn’t any reasonable doubt that White provided information to Soviet intelligence and did what in plain language amounts to spying for Stalin.

Which leads is to ask why The Nation even bothers engaging in this dead-end argument. The answer tells us something interesting about the role the past plays for the contemporary left.

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Revelations about the content of the former Soviet Union’s archives about spying in the United States ended some long-running intellectual arguments. After decades of denying that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Alger Hiss were guilty and pretending that the Communist Party of the United States was not a Soviet front, a lot of people on the left had to shut up. The anti-anti-Communist point of view about the Cold War was discredited, but for the publishers of The Nation, the impulse to wave the old red flag is still strong. That often leads them, as well as some other sectors of the left such as the New York Times, to pretend as if backing the totalitarian, genocidal, and anti-Semitic regime that ruled Moscow was an innocent romantic phase that all true liberals went through. But as bad as that deplorable tradition might be, the decision of The Nation to publish material about Communist espionage as if the Venona Files had never been published is nothing short of bizarre.

That’s the only way to regard their recent publication of a review of a history of the post-World War Two Bretton Woods economic conference that devotes a considerable amount of space to defending the lost honor of Harry Dexter White. White, the senior Treasury Department official who led the U.S. delegation to Bretton Woods, was exposed as a Soviet spy a long time ago. As John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, the pre-eminent academic experts on Communist spying and the Soviet archives, write on their Washington Decoded blog, James Boughton’s effort to vindicate White is embarrassingly short on evidence if not completely mendacious. There isn’t any reasonable doubt that White provided information to Soviet intelligence and did what in plain language amounts to spying for Stalin.

Which leads is to ask why The Nation even bothers engaging in this dead-end argument. The answer tells us something interesting about the role the past plays for the contemporary left.

You might think that having the most liberal president since Jimmy Carter would free The Nation from their commitment to keep fighting the old ideological battles. There are, after all, a host of contemporary arguments to engage in that, notwithstanding the weakness of the left-wing case, are not vulnerable to disproof by incontrovertible historical evidence as is the case with the delusional effort to defend White. Yet after so many years of pretending that Soviet infiltration of Washington in the 1930s and 1940s was a figment of the imagination of demagogic right-wing anti-Communists, keeping the flag of denial flying is their way of asserting that being left wing means never having to say you’re sorry.

Doing so can be dismissed as a mindless loyalty to their past as a publication, but one suspects there is also something else at work. Admitting the truth about Communist espionage doesn’t validate contemporary conservative critiques of other traditional left-wing positions on the economy like the minimum wage or the folly of socialized medicine and its forerunner, ObamaCare. But at The Nation, the notion that any cracks in what in another era would have been called party solidarity undermines all their beliefs still seems to prevail.

Why else would they bother beating the dead horse of espionage denial if not for the fact that doing so somehow bucks them up in the idea that the right is always wrong, even when it is obviously right.

Liberals often accuse conservatives of living in the past and acting as if the Cold War never ended. Sometimes they have a point on that score, but what this episode teaches us is that the left is far more addicted to their Cold War anti-anti-Communism than anyone on the right has ever been. Being honest about the past requires conservatives to admit that not everything done in the name of anti-Communism was correct or even honorable. At the very least, it should also require liberals to drop the pretense that American Communism was a benign faith that was untainted by its association with Stalinism. It’s too bad The Nation isn’t grown up enough to do even that much.

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Bellow, Hitchens, and COMMENTARY

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis's] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?” Read More

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis's] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?”

In his letter to Ozick, Bellow wrote that Hitchens had identified himself as a regular contributor to the Nation — a magazine Bellow had stopped reading after Gore Vidal “wrote his piece about the disloyalty of Jews to the USA” – and as a great friend of Said:

At the mention of Said’s name, Janis [Bellow] grumbled. I doubt that this was unexpected, for Hitchens almost certainly thinks of me as a terrible reactionary – the Jewish Right. … [He said] he must apologize for differing with Janis but loyalty to a friend demanded that he set the record straight. … Fortunately (or not) I had within reach several excerpts from Said’s Critical Inquiry piece, which I offered in evidence. Jews were (more or less) Nazis. But of course, said Hitchens, it was well known that [Yitzhak] Shamir had approached Hitler during the war to make deals. I objected that Shamir was Shamir, he wasn’t the Jews. Besides I didn’t trust the evidence. The argument seesawed. Amis took the Said selections to read for himself. He could find nothing to say at the moment but next morning he tried to bring the matter up, and to avoid further embarrassment I said it had all been much ado about nothing.

Then Bellow broadened the point of his letter:

Well, these Hitchenses are just Fourth-Estate playboys thriving on agitation, and Jews are so easy to agitate. Sometimes (if only I knew enough to do it right!) I think I’d like to write about the fate of the Jews in the decline of the West — or the long crisis of the West, if decline doesn’t suit you. The movement to assimilate coincided with the arrival of nihilism. This nihilism reached its climax with Hitler. The Jewish answer to the Holocaust was the creation of a state. After the camps came politics and these politics are nihilistic. Your Hitchenses, the political press in its silliest disheveled left-wing form, are (if nihilism has a hierarchy) the gnomes. … And it’s so easy to make trouble for the Jews. Nothing easier. The networks love it, the big papers let it be made, there’s a receptive university population.

So many ironies in this episode: only a few months before, Hitchens had learned that his mother and maternal grandparents were Jews, and that he was thus a Jew himself. Today he technically qualifies as part of the Jewish right (and believes that the U.S. military attracts the nation’s most idealistic people). He would write an introduction to a new edition of The Adventures of Augie March and receive a warm letter from Bellow; he left the Nation, in part because of the magazine’s tolerance of Gore Vidal, and he fell out with Edward Said, in part because of Said’s rigid anti-Americanism. Hitch-22 is marred by the occasional eruption of Hitchens’s anti-Zionism (reflecting his longstanding Palestinian blind spot), but it is a fascinating account of an extraordinary life by someone who traveled a long road after that dinner 20 years ago.

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Lobbying for the Impossible

David Cole, writing in the May 3, 2010, edition of the Nation, notices a curious silence about the Obama administration’s recent decision to green-light the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen who has allegedly encouraged and even planned terrorist attacks against Americans. “In our peculiar post-9/11 world,” he writes, “it is apparently less controversial to kill a suspect in cold blood than to hold him in preventive detention.”

It almost (but not quite) looks like an inversion of our World War II–era policy. Some American soldiers at the time thought it less of a hassle, and no doubt more satisfying, to shoot captured Germans than to herd them off battlefields into prisons. That was not, however, what they were ordered to do. Captured enemy combatants were to be treated decently and held until the war ended. It was the right thing to do, even in a war against Nazi Germany. So that’s what they did, at least most of the time.

Yet here we are, more than 60 years later, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, and a broad swathe of the American public seems more comfortable having a man shot or vaporized by a Predator drone than given three square meals and a mattress for an undefined period.

I agree with Cole that it’s strange, but there’s another way to look at this that he might consider.

“The argument for preventive detention during armed conflicts,” he writes, “has always been that since the army is authorized to kill an enemy combatant, it must be permitted to take the lesser step of detaining him for the duration of the conflict. If so, shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about executive killing as we are about executive detention?”

That’s one way to frame it. Here is another: if killing enemy combatants in the field is okay, why shouldn’t we be able to take the lesser step of detaining them until the end of the conflict?

Cole is quite right that detaining an enemy combatant for the duration is a lesser step than zotting him from the heavens. That would be true no matter how long the conflict grinds on. Even life imprisonment beats the pants off the battlefield equivalent of capital punishment, at least for most people. Imprisonment with the real possibility of being set free beats both.

Maybe I’m reading him wrong, but he seems to be suggesting the U.S. should restrict, if not outright ban, both the targeted killing and indefinite detention of terrorists. There are reasonable suggestions out there for how we could do both slightly differently and a little more ethically, and citizens in democratic societies should always debate these kinds of questions, but a sharp curtailment or prohibition of both would be ludicrous, especially while tens of thousands of our soldiers are deployed in war zones and some unknown but appreciable number of terrorists still plan to wreak havoc.

Some of President George W. Bush’s loudest critics hounded him for years that he hadn’t yet killed Osama bin Laden while also lambasting his administration over the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, the water-boarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and so on. Amnesty International even described Guantanamo Bay as the “gulag of our times,” a hysterical overreaction that trivialized the real Soviet gulag and the still existing slave-labor camps in North Korea.

The campaign against the detention and treatment of enemy combatants was so relentless for so many years that Barack Obama announced he would order the prison closed straightaway if the American people elected him president. Actually closing it has proved more difficult than he expected, and he’s getting grief from both the Left and the Right as he struggles to figure out how to proceed. His administration still doesn’t know what to do with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nor with some of the prisoners his supporters would like to see sprung but who still might be dangerous. It’s no wonder he decided, then, after all this and in part because of all this, that it’s less of a hassle to just have people shot.

Virtually no one but our Left-most intellectuals thinks we should neither kill nor detain terrorists. Barack Obama is the Left-most president we’re likely to have for a while; so if he finds their views unrealistic, they are lobbying for the impossible.

There have been more targeted killings so far during his presidency than there were during all the Bush years combined. Critics like Cole may find, if they think about it, that this is partly their fault, as they’ve spent so much time and energy discrediting the alternative.

David Cole, writing in the May 3, 2010, edition of the Nation, notices a curious silence about the Obama administration’s recent decision to green-light the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen who has allegedly encouraged and even planned terrorist attacks against Americans. “In our peculiar post-9/11 world,” he writes, “it is apparently less controversial to kill a suspect in cold blood than to hold him in preventive detention.”

It almost (but not quite) looks like an inversion of our World War II–era policy. Some American soldiers at the time thought it less of a hassle, and no doubt more satisfying, to shoot captured Germans than to herd them off battlefields into prisons. That was not, however, what they were ordered to do. Captured enemy combatants were to be treated decently and held until the war ended. It was the right thing to do, even in a war against Nazi Germany. So that’s what they did, at least most of the time.

Yet here we are, more than 60 years later, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, and a broad swathe of the American public seems more comfortable having a man shot or vaporized by a Predator drone than given three square meals and a mattress for an undefined period.

I agree with Cole that it’s strange, but there’s another way to look at this that he might consider.

“The argument for preventive detention during armed conflicts,” he writes, “has always been that since the army is authorized to kill an enemy combatant, it must be permitted to take the lesser step of detaining him for the duration of the conflict. If so, shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about executive killing as we are about executive detention?”

That’s one way to frame it. Here is another: if killing enemy combatants in the field is okay, why shouldn’t we be able to take the lesser step of detaining them until the end of the conflict?

Cole is quite right that detaining an enemy combatant for the duration is a lesser step than zotting him from the heavens. That would be true no matter how long the conflict grinds on. Even life imprisonment beats the pants off the battlefield equivalent of capital punishment, at least for most people. Imprisonment with the real possibility of being set free beats both.

Maybe I’m reading him wrong, but he seems to be suggesting the U.S. should restrict, if not outright ban, both the targeted killing and indefinite detention of terrorists. There are reasonable suggestions out there for how we could do both slightly differently and a little more ethically, and citizens in democratic societies should always debate these kinds of questions, but a sharp curtailment or prohibition of both would be ludicrous, especially while tens of thousands of our soldiers are deployed in war zones and some unknown but appreciable number of terrorists still plan to wreak havoc.

Some of President George W. Bush’s loudest critics hounded him for years that he hadn’t yet killed Osama bin Laden while also lambasting his administration over the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, the water-boarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and so on. Amnesty International even described Guantanamo Bay as the “gulag of our times,” a hysterical overreaction that trivialized the real Soviet gulag and the still existing slave-labor camps in North Korea.

The campaign against the detention and treatment of enemy combatants was so relentless for so many years that Barack Obama announced he would order the prison closed straightaway if the American people elected him president. Actually closing it has proved more difficult than he expected, and he’s getting grief from both the Left and the Right as he struggles to figure out how to proceed. His administration still doesn’t know what to do with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nor with some of the prisoners his supporters would like to see sprung but who still might be dangerous. It’s no wonder he decided, then, after all this and in part because of all this, that it’s less of a hassle to just have people shot.

Virtually no one but our Left-most intellectuals thinks we should neither kill nor detain terrorists. Barack Obama is the Left-most president we’re likely to have for a while; so if he finds their views unrealistic, they are lobbying for the impossible.

There have been more targeted killings so far during his presidency than there were during all the Bush years combined. Critics like Cole may find, if they think about it, that this is partly their fault, as they’ve spent so much time and energy discrediting the alternative.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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In Big Trouble

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

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Blind Leftist Squirrel Finds His Global Warming Acorn

There are some people who are so odious that when you find yourself on the same side of an issue with them, your first instinct must be to question whether you were right in the first place. Alexander Cockburn is certainly such a person. He is a rabid leftist, apologist for totalitarians and a vicious hater of Israel. From his perch as editor of his own rag CounterPunch and as a columnist for the Nation, he has spewed forth nonsense and bile for a long time. But like the proverbial blind squirrel, it appears as though even Cockburn is capable of finding an acorn. That is the only way to explain the utterly rational and completely on-target attack on the Copenhagen Global Warming jamboree and the entire Climategate cover-up that he has written for the Nation and which can be read for free at RealClearPolitics.com.

The headline on the version of the piece that appeared in the Nation aptly summed up the way in which the belief that global warming is caused by human activity is now more a matter of religious faith than of rational science: “From Nicea to Copenhagen.” He describes Copenhagen as “surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Making the same point that Bret Stephens highlighted with greater clarity in the Wall Street Journal on December 1, Cockburn shows that money is more of a motivation for the environmental alarmists than for the skeptics:

It has been a standard ploy of the Warmers to revile the skeptics as whores of the energy industry, swaddled in munificent grants and with large personal stakes in discrediting AGW. Actually, the precise opposite is true. Billions in funding and research grants sluice into the big climate-modeling enterprises and a vast archipelago of research departments and “institutes of climate change” across academia. It’s where the money is. Skepticism, particularly for a young climatologist or atmospheric physicist, can be a career breaker.

He goes on to nail the Climategate e-mails as indicative of the falsity of the theory that global warming is caused by mankind and rightly notes that such corruption is far from uncommon in the sciences.

Cockburn is, of course, a marginal figure even on the Left; so his apostasy from the true faith on warming, which is itself a derivative of the Left’s antagonism to capitalism, is just a pinprick in the vast body of unthinking consensus that characterizes most of the media’s commentary on this issue. But his voice is just one more being raised to say that the emperors who met in Copenhagen have no clothes on. As such, no matter how distasteful it may be to find oneself in agreement with him, it must be considered a hopeful sign.

There are some people who are so odious that when you find yourself on the same side of an issue with them, your first instinct must be to question whether you were right in the first place. Alexander Cockburn is certainly such a person. He is a rabid leftist, apologist for totalitarians and a vicious hater of Israel. From his perch as editor of his own rag CounterPunch and as a columnist for the Nation, he has spewed forth nonsense and bile for a long time. But like the proverbial blind squirrel, it appears as though even Cockburn is capable of finding an acorn. That is the only way to explain the utterly rational and completely on-target attack on the Copenhagen Global Warming jamboree and the entire Climategate cover-up that he has written for the Nation and which can be read for free at RealClearPolitics.com.

The headline on the version of the piece that appeared in the Nation aptly summed up the way in which the belief that global warming is caused by human activity is now more a matter of religious faith than of rational science: “From Nicea to Copenhagen.” He describes Copenhagen as “surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Making the same point that Bret Stephens highlighted with greater clarity in the Wall Street Journal on December 1, Cockburn shows that money is more of a motivation for the environmental alarmists than for the skeptics:

It has been a standard ploy of the Warmers to revile the skeptics as whores of the energy industry, swaddled in munificent grants and with large personal stakes in discrediting AGW. Actually, the precise opposite is true. Billions in funding and research grants sluice into the big climate-modeling enterprises and a vast archipelago of research departments and “institutes of climate change” across academia. It’s where the money is. Skepticism, particularly for a young climatologist or atmospheric physicist, can be a career breaker.

He goes on to nail the Climategate e-mails as indicative of the falsity of the theory that global warming is caused by mankind and rightly notes that such corruption is far from uncommon in the sciences.

Cockburn is, of course, a marginal figure even on the Left; so his apostasy from the true faith on warming, which is itself a derivative of the Left’s antagonism to capitalism, is just a pinprick in the vast body of unthinking consensus that characterizes most of the media’s commentary on this issue. But his voice is just one more being raised to say that the emperors who met in Copenhagen have no clothes on. As such, no matter how distasteful it may be to find oneself in agreement with him, it must be considered a hopeful sign.

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Taking It to the (J) Street

I just got off a journalists’ conference call with the proprietors of the new “J Street” project, which fancies itself an enlightened answer to AIPAC. J Street’s website advertises the organization as “a new pro-peace, pro-Israel political voice” that will stand against the prevailing U.S.-Israeli mindset of “advocating military responses to political problems.”

So what does J Street want? A “comprehensive negotiated peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.” Well, what if some of those neighbors — Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas — don’t want the same thing? This is a forbidden thought. A similar litany of foggy platitudes surrounds other issues: “You make peace with your enemies, not your friends” (i.e., Israel should negotiate with Hamas.) The list goes on; to save time, imagine roughly the editorial positions of The Nation magazine in the mouths of lobbyists.

J Street places near the top of its list of supporters someone named Avram Burg, who may not ring a bell to many Americans, but who is notorious in Israel. Burg advocates, among other things, the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state; recommends that Israeli parents secure foreign passports for their children; and compares Israel today to late 1930′s Germany. When asked during the call why someone like Burg is affiliated with J Street, the group’s proprietors downplayed and misrepresented the man’s radicalism. It is difficult to imagine how the J Streeters believe their organization will be taken seriously as a pro-Israel lobby at the same time they advertise the endorsement of a figure like Avram Burg.

One of the more interesting aspects of the J Street phenomenon is the belief that there are great battalions of American Jewish doves languishing in voicelessness, awaiting mobilization by leaders whose answer to Islamist terrorism is interminable dialogue. One of the salutary benefits of J Street might be a demonstration that the absence of a peace lobby is not the reason why diplomatic fetishism retains little currency among policymakers.

I just got off a journalists’ conference call with the proprietors of the new “J Street” project, which fancies itself an enlightened answer to AIPAC. J Street’s website advertises the organization as “a new pro-peace, pro-Israel political voice” that will stand against the prevailing U.S.-Israeli mindset of “advocating military responses to political problems.”

So what does J Street want? A “comprehensive negotiated peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.” Well, what if some of those neighbors — Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas — don’t want the same thing? This is a forbidden thought. A similar litany of foggy platitudes surrounds other issues: “You make peace with your enemies, not your friends” (i.e., Israel should negotiate with Hamas.) The list goes on; to save time, imagine roughly the editorial positions of The Nation magazine in the mouths of lobbyists.

J Street places near the top of its list of supporters someone named Avram Burg, who may not ring a bell to many Americans, but who is notorious in Israel. Burg advocates, among other things, the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state; recommends that Israeli parents secure foreign passports for their children; and compares Israel today to late 1930′s Germany. When asked during the call why someone like Burg is affiliated with J Street, the group’s proprietors downplayed and misrepresented the man’s radicalism. It is difficult to imagine how the J Streeters believe their organization will be taken seriously as a pro-Israel lobby at the same time they advertise the endorsement of a figure like Avram Burg.

One of the more interesting aspects of the J Street phenomenon is the belief that there are great battalions of American Jewish doves languishing in voicelessness, awaiting mobilization by leaders whose answer to Islamist terrorism is interminable dialogue. One of the salutary benefits of J Street might be a demonstration that the absence of a peace lobby is not the reason why diplomatic fetishism retains little currency among policymakers.

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Eric Alterman, Hack

I suppose that one of the benefits of having an easily-misspelled last name is that it provides an opportunity to see which of my detractors have actually read my work, and which are so lazy that they simply parrot the lines of other hacks.

Here is Eric Alterman in the latest issue of The Nation, on the Samantha Power controversy:

These attacks, as blogger Matthew Yglesias notes, have largely amounted to the following: “First Obama was an anti-Semite because Zbigniew Brzezinski is an anti-Semite. Then Obama was an anti-Semite because Robert Malley is an anti-Semite. And now according to [Commentary's Noah] Pollack it’s Samantha Power who’s tainted by Jew-hatred.”

Throughout the rest of the piece he commits the same mistake, which leads me to wonder: Has Alterman read a single word I’ve written? I suspect not. Do the editors of The Nation fact-check their articles? Same answer.

One might be able to take these accusations seriously if the people advancing them fulfilled basic journalistic requirements, such as spelling a person’s name correctly. And so I offer the same challenge to Alterman that I did to the fabulist originators of the Pollack-says-Power-is-a-Jew-hater myth: Quote me.

I suppose that one of the benefits of having an easily-misspelled last name is that it provides an opportunity to see which of my detractors have actually read my work, and which are so lazy that they simply parrot the lines of other hacks.

Here is Eric Alterman in the latest issue of The Nation, on the Samantha Power controversy:

These attacks, as blogger Matthew Yglesias notes, have largely amounted to the following: “First Obama was an anti-Semite because Zbigniew Brzezinski is an anti-Semite. Then Obama was an anti-Semite because Robert Malley is an anti-Semite. And now according to [Commentary's Noah] Pollack it’s Samantha Power who’s tainted by Jew-hatred.”

Throughout the rest of the piece he commits the same mistake, which leads me to wonder: Has Alterman read a single word I’ve written? I suspect not. Do the editors of The Nation fact-check their articles? Same answer.

One might be able to take these accusations seriously if the people advancing them fulfilled basic journalistic requirements, such as spelling a person’s name correctly. And so I offer the same challenge to Alterman that I did to the fabulist originators of the Pollack-says-Power-is-a-Jew-hater myth: Quote me.

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With Friends Like These…

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

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Bookshelf

• The last time I had occasion to write about the late, unlamented Edward W. Said in COMMENTARY, I called him “an intellectual thug who poses as a thoughtful, troubled citizen of the world while simultaneously serving as an apologist for Arab terrorism.” Now I find myself confronted with a posthumous collection of his essays on music, most of them originally published in The Nation, and so I suppose you are entitled to take with a stalactite of salt the fact that I didn’t think much of Music at the Limits. Nevertheless, I feel bound by duty to report that Said’s music criticism, next to none of which I had read prior to examining this volume, isn’t very good—though not always for the reasons I’d expected.

Said was, of course, an amateur pianist of what I take to have been considerable seriousness, and when such folk write about music, they not infrequently combine technical understanding with breadth of culture to interesting effect. Thus I was hugely surprised to find that in his capacity as a music critic, he was a merchant of bromides, of which choice specimens can be found by opening Music at the Limits virtually at random. I especially like the clunkingly obvious sentences with which he invariably launches his essays:

Glenn Gould is an exception to almost all the other musical performers in this century.

Pianists retain a remarkable hold on our cultural life.

Reading the brief but intelligent article on festivals in Grove’s Dictionary, you become aware of the deep divergence between premodern music festivals as symbolic rituals connected with religion and agriculture and modern music festivals as commemorations of great composers or as commercial and tourist attractions.

Nearly half a century after his death, Richard Strauss’s role in twentieth-century music remains an unresolved matter.

I have always agreed with Richard Wagner about the Jews.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the first four sentences quoted above really do kick off the first four chapters of Music at the Limits, and there’s plenty more where they came from. How is it possible that the editors of The Nation thought such platitudinous stuff worthy of publication without extensive and ruthless editing? The truth is that Edward Said had next to nothing fresh or individual to say about music, and I can only explain the fact that he was allowed to say what he had to say at such enervating length in so widely admired a publication by the sheer novelty of its having being said by so celebrated a scholar. Alas, that didn’t and doesn’t make it any less boring.

As for the matter of Wagner and the Jews, Said did in fact describe the anti-Semitic views of the composer of Die Meistersinger as “vile” and “despicable,” though he also disapproved of the Israeli ban on public performances of Wagner’s music (no surprise there) and apparently found it impossible to discuss the subject without dragging in the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations (ditto). He also says pretty much what you’d expect him to say about John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer:

But as you sit there watching this vast work unfold, you need to ask yourself how many times you have seen any substantial work of music or dramatic or literary or pictorial art that actually tries to treat the Palestinians as tragically aggrieved, albeit sometimes criminally intent, people. The answer is never, and you must go on to ask Messrs.-the-nonideological-music-and-culture-critics whether they ever complain about works that are skewed the other way, or whether for instance, in the flood of images and words that assert that Israel is a democracy, any of them note that 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza have fewer rights than South African blacks had during the worst days of apartheid, and that the paeans and the $77 billion sent to Israel from the United States were keeping the Palestinian people endlessly oppressed?

Whatever else that is or isn’t, it definitely isn’t criticism. Or good writing. Or interesting.

• The last time I had occasion to write about the late, unlamented Edward W. Said in COMMENTARY, I called him “an intellectual thug who poses as a thoughtful, troubled citizen of the world while simultaneously serving as an apologist for Arab terrorism.” Now I find myself confronted with a posthumous collection of his essays on music, most of them originally published in The Nation, and so I suppose you are entitled to take with a stalactite of salt the fact that I didn’t think much of Music at the Limits. Nevertheless, I feel bound by duty to report that Said’s music criticism, next to none of which I had read prior to examining this volume, isn’t very good—though not always for the reasons I’d expected.

Said was, of course, an amateur pianist of what I take to have been considerable seriousness, and when such folk write about music, they not infrequently combine technical understanding with breadth of culture to interesting effect. Thus I was hugely surprised to find that in his capacity as a music critic, he was a merchant of bromides, of which choice specimens can be found by opening Music at the Limits virtually at random. I especially like the clunkingly obvious sentences with which he invariably launches his essays:

Glenn Gould is an exception to almost all the other musical performers in this century.

Pianists retain a remarkable hold on our cultural life.

Reading the brief but intelligent article on festivals in Grove’s Dictionary, you become aware of the deep divergence between premodern music festivals as symbolic rituals connected with religion and agriculture and modern music festivals as commemorations of great composers or as commercial and tourist attractions.

Nearly half a century after his death, Richard Strauss’s role in twentieth-century music remains an unresolved matter.

I have always agreed with Richard Wagner about the Jews.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the first four sentences quoted above really do kick off the first four chapters of Music at the Limits, and there’s plenty more where they came from. How is it possible that the editors of The Nation thought such platitudinous stuff worthy of publication without extensive and ruthless editing? The truth is that Edward Said had next to nothing fresh or individual to say about music, and I can only explain the fact that he was allowed to say what he had to say at such enervating length in so widely admired a publication by the sheer novelty of its having being said by so celebrated a scholar. Alas, that didn’t and doesn’t make it any less boring.

As for the matter of Wagner and the Jews, Said did in fact describe the anti-Semitic views of the composer of Die Meistersinger as “vile” and “despicable,” though he also disapproved of the Israeli ban on public performances of Wagner’s music (no surprise there) and apparently found it impossible to discuss the subject without dragging in the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations (ditto). He also says pretty much what you’d expect him to say about John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer:

But as you sit there watching this vast work unfold, you need to ask yourself how many times you have seen any substantial work of music or dramatic or literary or pictorial art that actually tries to treat the Palestinians as tragically aggrieved, albeit sometimes criminally intent, people. The answer is never, and you must go on to ask Messrs.-the-nonideological-music-and-culture-critics whether they ever complain about works that are skewed the other way, or whether for instance, in the flood of images and words that assert that Israel is a democracy, any of them note that 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza have fewer rights than South African blacks had during the worst days of apartheid, and that the paeans and the $77 billion sent to Israel from the United States were keeping the Palestinian people endlessly oppressed?

Whatever else that is or isn’t, it definitely isn’t criticism. Or good writing. Or interesting.

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The Closest of Strangers

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

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Suffering a Fool

Avi Lewis is a Canadian television host and the husband of Naomi Klein, author and columnist for the Nation and herald of the anti-American, proto-socialist, “anti-globalization” movement. (Klein is infamous for a 2004 column she wrote the week of the Republican National Convention in New York City entitled, “Bring Najaf to New York.”) Klein and Lewis make, as you might imagine, a politically pugnacious couple.

Recently, for his show “On the Map,” Lewis interviewed the prominent ex-Muslim critic of fundamentalist Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, next to Burmese democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, qualifies as perhaps the most remarkable woman of our age. By way of introduction, Lewis glossed over Hirsi Ali’s childhood as a Muslim in Somalia (from which she escaped to the Netherlands), informing viewers that she got her start in politics with the “right-wing Dutch Liberal Party” and now holds “a job at the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

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Avi Lewis is a Canadian television host and the husband of Naomi Klein, author and columnist for the Nation and herald of the anti-American, proto-socialist, “anti-globalization” movement. (Klein is infamous for a 2004 column she wrote the week of the Republican National Convention in New York City entitled, “Bring Najaf to New York.”) Klein and Lewis make, as you might imagine, a politically pugnacious couple.

Recently, for his show “On the Map,” Lewis interviewed the prominent ex-Muslim critic of fundamentalist Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, next to Burmese democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, qualifies as perhaps the most remarkable woman of our age. By way of introduction, Lewis glossed over Hirsi Ali’s childhood as a Muslim in Somalia (from which she escaped to the Netherlands), informing viewers that she got her start in politics with the “right-wing Dutch Liberal Party” and now holds “a job at the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

Lewis was, apparently, incredulous that anyone could be as stringently critical of Islam as Hirsi Ali, and appeared doubly perplexed that the person in front of him spouting what he considers “Islamophobia” is a black woman. He challenged Hirsi Ali’s unremarkable statement that Islam is the only religion that threatens liberal democracy today, pointing south to the United States as the prime example of a country where “evangelical Christianity has ascended to the highest ranks of power, where conservative social values drawn and justified by the Bible are imposed upon people every day.” Lewis didn’t not stop there. “North American Muslims really feel under siege these days,” he informs Hirsi Ali. (How Muslims feel under the rule of the Saudi monarchy or the Mullahs in Iran is something Lewis doesn’t bother to consider.) What causes peaceable, everyday North American Muslims to feel this way? Are they being rounded up and sent to prison in massive police sweeps? Are prominent American political figures calling for their deportation? Not exactly: Lewis’s claim that “North American Muslims really feel under siege these days” rests on his contention that “People don’t want to travel because flying is such a hassle.”

Towards the end of the interview, Hirsi Ali praised the prosperity of the United States and the opportunities it provides to immigrants such as herself. Lewis, really sinking his teeth into the role of a provincial twit, replies sarcastically: “Your faith in American democracy is just delightful,” and chides, “Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés? Is it part of your application process?” Hirsi Ali took this in stride. A lifetime spent dealing with intimidation and vitriol has given her the ability to suffer fools with considerable grace.

As one already too familiar with Naomi Klein’s work, I never thought I would call her her husband’s better half. Either way, they deserve each other.

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Sheehan Agonistes

For a healthy bit of schadenfreude, take a look at this blog post from Katha Pollitt, a columnist for the Nation. It is a plaintive letter begging Cindy Sheehan (the well-known anti-war activist) not to challenge Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress.

The appearance, in a major political weekly, of an earnest plea for a flaky anti-war activist not to run against the Speaker of the House may seem journalistically unserious. But this race would not, to put it kindly, help the image of the Democrats nationwide; Pollitt is doubtlessly aware of this. “Instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the Left, it will show them how weak it is,” she writes. But if someone as nutty as Sheehan did relatively well—say, winning over 30 percent of the vote (hardly an impossibility in San Francisco)—it would look rather bad for the Democrats, and not just for the hard Left.

Pollitt’s lamentations are most amusing because the Nation, after all, has been Sheehan’s most full-throated supporter. Here’s one typical paean to her, published last year. And here’s a piece Sheehan herself wrote for the magazine, in which she tells of her “meeting with the families of children murdered in George Bush’s War of Terror against the world,” and celebrates “being toasted by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston.”

So it would be ironic to see a Sheehan candidacy that the Nation itself unwittingly launched. No matter how well Sheehan did, such a candidacy would be a lose/lose situation for the different wings of the anti-war Left. But, as the old song goes, “You dance with the one that brung ya.”

For a healthy bit of schadenfreude, take a look at this blog post from Katha Pollitt, a columnist for the Nation. It is a plaintive letter begging Cindy Sheehan (the well-known anti-war activist) not to challenge Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress.

The appearance, in a major political weekly, of an earnest plea for a flaky anti-war activist not to run against the Speaker of the House may seem journalistically unserious. But this race would not, to put it kindly, help the image of the Democrats nationwide; Pollitt is doubtlessly aware of this. “Instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the Left, it will show them how weak it is,” she writes. But if someone as nutty as Sheehan did relatively well—say, winning over 30 percent of the vote (hardly an impossibility in San Francisco)—it would look rather bad for the Democrats, and not just for the hard Left.

Pollitt’s lamentations are most amusing because the Nation, after all, has been Sheehan’s most full-throated supporter. Here’s one typical paean to her, published last year. And here’s a piece Sheehan herself wrote for the magazine, in which she tells of her “meeting with the families of children murdered in George Bush’s War of Terror against the world,” and celebrates “being toasted by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston.”

So it would be ironic to see a Sheehan candidacy that the Nation itself unwittingly launched. No matter how well Sheehan did, such a candidacy would be a lose/lose situation for the different wings of the anti-war Left. But, as the old song goes, “You dance with the one that brung ya.”

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