Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sneaking Truth from Power?

Rashid Khalidi spoke in a 2003 video given the Los Angeles Times in confidence. On it, evidently, Obama praises his former colleague at the U. of Chicago, a professor and "former PLO operative." Khalidi at his farewell celebration prepared to start at Columbia. Reportedly fellow faculty Bernadette Dohrn and William Ayers, once leaders from the Weather Underground, attended. According to the most deeply archived and linked meta-entry I can locate at Gateway Pundit, Peter Wallsten at the Times had written about the tape back in April, dismisses any brouhaha over its contents now, and considers the matter over. Talk about noblesse oblige.

Given the suppression of the tape, as with anybody else except Wallsten I've found it difficult to track what Khalidi declared at his testimonial dinner. Apparently, according to Wallsten's April 10, 2008, "Allies of Palestinians See a Friend in Barack Obama," Obama gave more anodyne comments about how the Khalidis had broadened his own outlook. Ayers-Dohrn and the Khalidis apparently go back a long way; the Khalidis additionally, according to Rachel Neuwirth at Campus Watch babysat the Obama children. (Neuwirth documents the ties between Khalidi and anti-Israel factions in depth.) Others attending the dinner bashed Israel and vowed to uphold the intifada, as you'd expect. The fact that Khalid takes over the Middle Eastern Studies program at Columbia aligns too with his polemical predecessor, Edward Said.

While at UCLA years ago, I heard Said speak at an English Department gathering. I am no hardcore Zionist. I regard Israeli rule of their occupied territories often as harsh necessity mixed with opportunistic manipulation. When the shrouded enemy blends in undercover among three million civilians, as the British found in Ireland, how justice and mercy can kiss proves difficult. Hard to sing Kumbayah and quote Scripture, at least particular verses recommending lovingkindness rather than extermination. No, I cannot lure lions to lie down with lambs, either. I have studied books from the Israeli right to left and in its middle-- from Meir Kahane & Thomas Friedman, Yossi Klein Halevi & Amos Oz, Hillel Halkin & David Grossman-- over the years in trying to understand this intricate situation.

Part of me as an anti-imperialist resents any takeover by an empire of a small nation; part of me as a minority cubed (!) acknowledges that all of our cultural legacies bring patterns of our own ancestral takeovers and inevitable pains that any of our histories attest to, of our own probable linguistic, religious, and political subjugation of others in the name of God, real estate, and power. Around the time Said came to campus, I would have been learning about Judaism. I cannot remember after so long what impelled me to get up and walk out, but I did in protest-- perhaps the only time I left in the middle of a public forum.

Said, as his posthumous biographers found, was not above his own rewriting his tale, as if he grew up practically in a refugee camp rather than Cairo luxury. Obama's own reworking of his narrative has and will earn attention by those far more informed than me. Ayers and Dohrn, and Obama's own duplicity in his lack of frankness about what he knew and did not know, has been treated smartly by blogger Coyote-BlueJay under "Stand Up Guy".

In a similar way, the complicity of the media with the pro-Obama contigent sounds to me like bias. Perhaps a counter twist to the claims that the press and politicians remain beholden to Zion, but two wrongs...etc. More about this when I ask my wife about the book she's making her way through by conservative author, from Detroit but for decades living in Jerusalem, Zev Chafets, in his 2005 investigation into the ties between the Christian Right and Orthodox Jews, "A Match Made in Heaven."

My wife, who supports Obama's stance on concessions to Palestine, and the Times regarding their protection of this video, nonetheless has wondered in "Hope Hurt Help" about Ayers and why Obama's campaign has been so chary to tell that truth. Still, she insists that the Rev. Wright association over two decades weighs in much more against Obama's innocence.

Neuwirth and Coyote, however, ask tough questions about a man's relationships with elements that appear to further hatred in the Middle East, anti-Semitism, and relentless assaults on Israel. Why can't Obama, with the most liberal voting record in the Senate, admit his sympathies? If he's so confident of his leftist agenda, his solidarity with Palestinian guerrillas and unrepentant Weathermen, why wait until the Jewish vote's cast? This I'd find more respectable than his calculated control of every single utterance he makes-- at least on video we're allowed to view.

I find myself in disagreement with many Israeli policies, but I have often been disappointed by the lack of consistent investigation by the media into the slant that pro-Arab and Palestinian factions have managed to frame around events there. You look long in the European press to find sympathetic accounts of Israelis, although given the power of certain voting blocs and the symbolism that Sarah Silverman exploits in her viral YouTube schlep for Obama, it's far less vitriolic within the U.S. This may be a mixed blessing. Still, you easily find soundbites on NPR or CNN calculated to blame the Jews for having to build the walls, shoot back at snipers, and search those grandmothers who may hide grenade launchers in baby strollers at borders. Yes, I am aware of sins on both sides, but I also encounter enduring prejudice against valuable and valid efforts to promote Judaism positively.

For example, on the Irish Studies discussion list on-line about a year and a half ago, I posted an innocent entry asking readers to assist, if they so cared to, in restoring the humble Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin. Given its Joycean and historical importance, I did not see such a request-- timed with the inevitable press that around March 17th connects the remnants of Irish Jewry with their commemoration-- as controversial. One of the leaders of the Marxist Official IRA, an intellectual whose own autobiography I reviewed with care and at great length, and who's now a Quaker-ish peace advocate, lashed out. He responded to the list with an attack on Israel's Zionist terror, and overwhelmed my attempt to remind Irish Studies scholars of what I figured were legitimate opportunities for safeguarding and perpetuating an dignified legacy of facing exile, fighting oppression, overcoming prejudice, and continuing culture.

Flashpoints also can fool us, no matter how informed we suppose ourselves, when interpreting symbols of one country's fears and another nation's rage. You probably recall the photo of Mohammed Al-Irsa's father purportedly sheltering his son. You may not know that the IDF apologized immediately for the boy's death. This was during the 2000 intifada. The suspicious circumstances that later journalists uncovered about the image publicized even on postage stamps in the Islamic world does display the world's eagerness to think badly first not of those who seek to demolish Israel, but those who defend it. What seems to have happened was that the Palestinians shot the twelve-year-old, while the IDF took the rap. This follow-up gained little attention. Nothing can replace a child's loss, of course. Yet, the blame should not be shouldered all by those attempting to quell a riot by guerrilla fighters in the streets who attacked the IDF stronghold on all sides, with innocents caught in the crossfire.

It's easy, as my students who are Iraq or Afghan veterans caution me, to pass judgment when you're safe behind a keyboard. These men do the dirty work that none of us, not under siege, not surrounded by millions of enemies, truly cannot fathom. It's tempting for us to play peaceniks, safeguarded by soldiers and oceans. As those who have visited Israel tell me, you cannot comprehend the place until you go there, and I betray therefore a marked degree of ignorance as I peck away.

Protecting this Khalidi tape from distribution may be defensible, as my wife argues, who professionally knows about the limits of releasing "intellectual property." My guests at dinner last night, Obama supporters, also agreed that the Los Angeles Times acted righteously. Yet, the withholding of a possibly inflammatory video days before Floridian Jews and swing voters still uncomfortable with the company that one belated Christian with the middle name Hussein keeps with the anti-Israeli majority on the left does smack, to me, of canny collusion. Although I guess it disproves at last that canard that Zionists dominate all of our media.

The prattle at Khalidi's shindig reminds me of widespread neglect of more measured alternatives from the educated Left. Perhaps, to give him the benefit of my doubt, Obama did toast Khalidi but with tact and diplomacy. I'm told by Obama's defenders of his tolerance. This video may attest to his even-handedness. I'd still like to be trusted to watch the tape myself that my hometown paper hides. By such ways our freedom to know gets whittled away by censorship in the name of protecting property. I know sources must be sheltered, but why has the transcribed content of the video been, if you scan the responses at Gateway Pundit, silenced?

Thus the need for dissemination of this video rebounds. We deserve to know. If Obama's showing his capacity to fight hatred with charity, then let's find out for ourselves. If he's representative of a new era of dialogue with our opponents, let's hear his prescience from five years ago. We rarely hear of principled thinkers who don't repeat what anyone in the London or New York Review of Books rattles off against the Zionist menace and Yankee evil. Yet, who do not fall into knee-jerk genuflection to fundamentalist distortions, whether rooted in gospel, Torah, or Qur'an.

The resident intellectual at the Times, Tim Rutten, reviewed Bernard-Henri Levy's "Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism" on October 8, 2008. I must quote Rutten on BHL at length, as it's bracing material. Here's relevant, if heady, excerpts:

It's an apologia based first on shared images, ideals and experience -- an aesthetic of loyalty, if you will -- and then on a series of critiques of the left's shortcomings, followed by concrete suggestions for their remedy. (The subtitle is borrowed from his initial anti-Marxist manifesto -- "Barbarism With a Human Face" -- which was itself a gloss of the Prague Spring's motto: "Socialism With a Human Face.")

American readers likely will find two of these chapters/lectures of particular interest. One has to do with the pervasiveness, persistence and perniciousness of anti-Americanism as an ideology. You can get a flavor of how the author deals with that by the fact that he terms "anti-Americanism" the "socialism of imbeciles." (There's really no put-down like a French put-down.) Levy's discussion of contemporary anti-Semitism is sophisticated, detailed and convincing. In his analysis, a new left-wing critique centers on Israel and accuses Jews of first, monopolizing the world's compassion by insisting on remembering the Holocaust; of creating an industry, Zionism, around that memory; and of using both to establish and maintain a racist, fascist and criminal state, Israel.

Levy is particularly good on showing how this new "progressive" critique of Jewish conduct has merged with traditional prejudices against Jews in commerce and professions to create a new, socially acceptable anti-Semitism in England and continental Europe. (It's worth recalling in this context that Levy always has supported Israel as a liberal democracy rather than a "Jewish state" and has simultaneously argued for the creation of a Palestinian nation alongside, which is today's conventional diplomatic wisdom.)

Levy offers as fine a description as you're likely to find anywhere of what the conventional international left -- political and journalistic -- has adopted as its worldview: "We are in a world in which, on the one hand, we have the United States, its English poodle, its Israeli lackey -- a three-headed gorgon that commits all the sins in the world -- and, on the other side, all those who, no matter what their crimes, their ideology, their treatment of their own minorities, their internal policies, their anti-Semitism and their racism, their disdain for women and homosexuals, their lack of press freedom and of any freedom whatsoever, are challenging the former."

The author is not only a committed secularist in the best French republican tradition, but also an atheist by principle and not simply through skeptical default. Yet he links religious insight with the "tragic wisdom" he proposes as the familial left's salvation -- albeit in that inimitable flow of rhetorical quicksilver that is the BHL signature. He begins with William of Orange's famed martial dictum: "One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere."

At the Hebrew bible's heart, according to Levy, is a similar insistence on the necessity for a "laborious, tireless, efficient morality":

"And that's the beautiful and strange invention of those Polish rabbis from the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century who -- in reaction to Hasidism and its excessive reenchantment of the world . . . -- proposed . . . the theory of a God who, of course, created the world; who wanted to do so and who therefore created it, but who after having done so, his need satisfied, then 'concealed his transcendence' and 'withdrew' -- leaving his creatures the responsibility to retain or not the pieces of this universe that he left to them. If men failed to take up the task, the world would fall to pieces."

On the other hand, "if they took care to keep the world from falling apart -- then they would manage to prevent that decreation. . . .

"That is how, in any event, it seems to me that politics ought to be thought of in the democratic age."

As an Irish lad, I do shrink a bit from William of Orange as my blog entry's indirect inspiration, but in this marketplace of ideas, peel away the label and the proverb stays fresh. I also, given my ethnicity, have long resented rhetoric indulged in by many republicans and nationalists who delight in eviscerating Israel's every strategy. Some of them were urban guerrillas who borrowed from the PLO inspiration, ammunition, and Marxism. My defense not only of Israel's right to exist but Tibet's against genocide earned me in my assertions no respect from a few virtual freedom fighters. Their craven devotion to anyone who opposed the U.S.-- China, Castro, Islamicists, or Irish socialists-- trumped my earnest arguments.

On my college campus I tried to start a DSA chapter (which meant me and a punk-loving classmate and that was about it, back in the Reagan years). I champion the sort of wealth redistribution that enabled me to attend college, drive on freeways, drink potable water, breathe less smog, and to live protected by police often jerks but I guess aren't that corrupt. So, I don't deploy "socialism" as a dirty word. Better that New Deal echo than Kapital stomping on a human face forever. Ralph Nader quixotically unfurled a banner on Wall Street last month: against "Socialism Only for the Rich."

As an aside, I find it risible that the GOP condemns socialism while backing corporate bailouts. If McCain had defended his own earlier opposition to such rescues, he'd have kept my respect more. I also figure if the Democrats are going to make us pay for those same fat cats, along with deadbeats, liars, irresponsible mortgagees, and those whose bankruptcies great and small I must fund, they should admit they're democratic socialists. Under leftist Obama, deliver us a European model we can drive. On the other hand, I resent dictation by bureaucrats. Neither capitalist or communist in my views, I lack a badge. I deny that anybody can run the state better on their own given our endemic ineptitude. So, for me, the "small is beautiful" unrealistic idyll of decentralized, non-statist, agrarian and communally based structures in anarchic ecotopia's my chosen dream of my impractical republic.

Levy, on the other hand, may show us a more realistic platform by which we can come together. Our belief in capitalism as our deity and globalization as our savior's as foolhardy as our idolatry of Obama or our hero-worship of McCain. Perhaps we contrary folks may revive a respectable forum for critiques both of Israel and the Arab world, without special pleading. A way in which we can resist interventionist America, consumerist Europe, or what Oriana Fallaci called Eurabia when these hegemonies threaten to crush the local, the communal, the traditional in their allegiance to a dominant market's doctrine obliterating nuance, dissent, or doubt.

Rutten's review, in fact, glances at many secularists who have sought to respect religious commentators. More than ever, after our current administration, I urge that we begin to listen to one another's confessions. Stop defining ourselves by labels. Those with whom I found closest allegiance in Ireland managed to do this after decades of self-scrutiny. "The Blanket" documents many of their journeys over the past eight years of transformation. Activists learned that their own party, their own tribe, their assigned denomination, did not answer all of their questions. And, in their freedom to wonder more than to answer all of their queries, they found liberation towards a skeptical, pliable, multivalent truth that leaves room for at least seven types of ambiguity.

Levy as filtered by Rutten, in this broadminded mode, mentions many philosophers who prepared for those Irish colleagues to emerge into political maturity today. Perhaps this post will find its path towards the same goal I share. Rutten's article lists those that I'd expect except-- perhaps for space-- it leaves out Christopher Lasch, whose "True and Only Heaven" back in 1991 I tried to muddle through. I dimly recall similar arguments to those made in this entry back in there. Rutten goes on:

In Levy's view, the "choice, after all, is clear": "the melancholy Left versus the lyrical Left." The former can move forward committed -- or, to borrow the French formulation, "engaged" -- to democracy, human rights and solidarity. The latter can drift from one self-delusion, the old messianism (the construction of new men and women), to a new demonology -- the Anglo-American alliance and Israel. Meanwhile, a force that would devour both if it were able -- Islamo-fascism -- lurks in the outer darkness, the new totalitarian threat.

This brings us back full if elliptical circle to what we'll face November 5th. Obama in charge, what happens to Israeli dependence on our subsidies, our fight against Islamic hatred, and the difficult separation of justified criticism of Zionist zealots apart from groupthink spewed by anti-Jewish propagandists? With the mainstream media's protection of Obama and his Democrat majority from investigation of Palestinian influence, this video's cover-up by the Times does not bode well for an ideological or practical version of "climate change."

Photo: Al "Belfast's Psychological Barriers." November 26, 2007. Danny Devenny's mural on the Falls Road. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find an image I could copy of this triptych from the "International Wall" near Divis Street. Kieran Nugent, "the first blanketman," the PLO flag, and "Palestine" with its painted caption: "Palestine..The largest concentration camp in the world!!! 3.3 million people tortured, denied their... freedom!"

A few years ago, I gave a paper about the shift in Irish republicanism from its early ties to Zionists and anti-British solidarity with its alignment in post-colonial struggle with the PLO; contrasting with this was the Loyalist appropriation of the Star of David, and I traced this back into British Israelite mythmaking. A presentation so long I never finished in the twenty minutes, due to the mass of information I fought to digest!

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