Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Since the semester ended (but not, alas, the grading, which still isn't done!) I've been doing some traveling. I went to Washington, D.C., for the Association for Jewish Studies conference. I chaired a session on "Passages to Glory - Textual Ways of Transforming Experience Among Sectarians, Sages, and Early Jewish Mystics."
Do the verbal structures and literary devices of sectarian, rabbinic, and early Jewish mystical sources correspond to transformations of experience? Where such texts speak of heavenly journeys and glorifications, are they intended also to induce them? Were the wondrous perspectives produced by these texts experienced as actual, and how so? Our panel carries forward a conversation about Sectarians, Sages, and Early Jewish Mystics, once more comparing notes across the ages and sources - this time, on the relationship between text and experience.
There were four speakers: Jonah Steinberg, Alan Segal, Nehemia Polen, and Daphna Arbel. I also went to a number of other good sessions on quite a variety of topics - it's always fun to go to sessions not in my field. I stayed an extra day in Washington to go to an Ithaca College Jewish Studies event (meeting with alumni) and then drove up to Boston to see family and friends, which has been a lot of fun. I've gone several Hanukkah celebrations, including visiting my cousins in New Hampshire. And some Hanukkiah photos follow!

Havurat Shalom candle-lighting.

At my cousins'.

A little bit later in the evening....

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bloggers on Paul Mirecki

More bloggers on Paul Mirecki:

WITCH HUNT IN KANSAS. The author comments: "[Kansas Rep.] Landwehr is right about one thing. This all is religious bigotry. But the bigotry comes from her side. Right wing 'Christians' have been trying to force their fundamentalist religious beliefs on the people of Kansas for too long now. When someone stands up to them, they cry foul and hide behind some bizarre banner of religious persecution. It’s a joke, though not a very funny one. "

Mark Goodacre on Paul Mirecki: assault, the media, and protection. He says, "Perhaps because I am now in American higher education myself, I find this report pretty depressing. The thought that a professor has now had to absent himself from class because of media harrassment, and that his colleagues and students are being interviewed on his character and integrity, is a very unhappy situation. I have long since ceased from releasing any personal information (address, phone number etc.) on phone-books, the web and so on (and I am surprised that Mirecki has been less careful) and this story hardly discourages me from that kind of course of action."

John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts, a postdoctoral research fellow in the philosophy and history of biology, writes:
1. ID [intelligent design] is mythology. It is not only not science, but it fulfils one of the major functions of a mythos - to organise and unify a community against outsiders. Mirecki was right to teach it that way, and right to put it in religious studies, for there is no other motivation or feature of ID than the religious.

2. Mirecki's email was obnoxious, but in no way unjustified or immoral or contrary to decent ethical standards. Religious people make much worse comments about "godless atheists" every day, and in America, they (and he) have that right constitutionally. The apology ought to have been enough to settle this, in a civilised nation. And it was in a private forum. He didn't broadcast it to the nation, Altevogt did. Is it a surprise that Mirecki thinks fundamentalists are often stupid bastards? I do, and many others, a lot of whom are Christians of a more reasonable kind, also do. So what is at issue? That he said to those he had a reasonable expectation shared those values what he thought? Bad man! Bad bad man!

3. Mirecki has academic freedom, or ought to, to teach what he wants without interference from lobby groups or the majority. His peers - those who are professionals in his discipline - are the ones who are fit to judge his actions; not some politician or religious opponent. Threatening the freedom of academics by withholding funding is the reason why universities got out from under church control in the first place.

Mark Maynard suggests, "Perhaps, it occurs to me, we’re entering an era in which the right not only demands more of a presence in academia (as we’re seeing more and more), but in which liberal faculty are 'held accountable' for their unpopular beliefs. This event in Kansas might not, in other words, be an isolated event - the work of 'a few bad apples.' It could be a harbinger of things to come." I certainly hope not, but it is also one of my fears.

And on Daily Kos, several postings about Paul Mirecki.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

More on Mirecki

Latest developments in the story about Paul Mirecki: Anti-creationism professor: Resignation was forced.

An interesting blog comment: Academic Freedom.

A professor at Johnson County Community College, in Overland Park, Kansas, Professor of Biology Paul Decelles has an interesting blog that addresses issues of intelligent design and academic freedom, and he has a number of posts about Mirecki. He seems like a sensible person and writes that "Now granted e-mails are not private but I doubt Mirecki is alone in having written inappropriate emails." Whatever else this case may be, it's also a renewed warning that one should not write in an e-mail anything you would not want printed on the front page of your local newspaper.

On the question of whether it's legitimate to mock other people's religious beliefs and practices. An interesting example is presented by J-Walk Blog, who makes fun of Orthodox Jews who don't use electricity on Sabbath and avoid doing so through various technical strategems, such as the Shabbat alarm clock. He refers to this and other devices that allow people to use electrical appliances on the Sabbath as "probably one of the most absurd religious practices of all time." A few weeks ago Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Slate attacking the practice of metzitzah be-peh (defined as "after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it"). Hitchens, in his inimitable fashion, lambasted those who engage in this practice as well as politicians who hesitate to condemn it (in this case, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC).

Are either of these writers wrong to mock or criticize Jewish practices? Not in my opinion. As far as I'm concerned they're free to make fun of Judaism or any other religion. I'm also free to disagree with them and argue against them.

People who teach religion on the college level do not lose their right to free speech by virtue of their jobs - including mocking speech about others. I don't think there's a place for that in the classroom, but if a professor wishes to make fun of others outside of the classroom, why is that wrong? There are a lot of things that people say that I don't like, but that doesn't give me the right to stop them from saying them or to dismiss them from their jobs for saying them. My only concern is basically a pedagogical one - in the classroom, or in other professional capacities, professors should behave in a respectful fashion towards students, regardless of whether they agree with what those students are saying on intelligent design or anything else. I also think that professors should do their best to refrain from one-sided advocacy in the classroom. This doesn't mean that they should avoid controversial topics or keep silent about their own opinions, but that they should educate students that there is more than one side to most arguments, and that it is worth listening to several points of view and analyzing them.

Academic Freedom and Creationism

Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica just brought to my attention a disturbing series of events involving Professor Paul Mirecki of the University of Kansas. For a summary of what has happened to Mirecki, see this recent article from the Lawrence, Kansas, local newspaper - Embattled KU Professor. In short, he got into a lot of trouble for making intemperate remarks about creationists in on e-mail and on a discussion board, was forced to resign his position as chair of the religion department, and in addition, was beaten up by a couple of thugs who mentioned the controversy when attacking him (see Professor blasts KU, sheriff's investigation).

The remarks were made in connection with a course that he planned to offer (but eventually had to cancel) on creationism and intelligent design, entitled: "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies." One of his e-mail messages read: "The fundies (fundamentalists) want it all taught in a science class. But this will be a nice slap in their big, fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category 'mythology.''' Even before the e-mail was published, his announcement that he was teaching the class seems to have angered many people who were offended that he was calling creationism and intelligent design mythologies. (See this WorldNetDaily article for an account by someone offended by Mirecki's remarks).

I find this whole story very disturbing. While Mirecki should certainly have been more careful in what he wrote on e-mail, he's certainly free to do so (given both the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom). The only genuine concern I could see is in how he would have taught the class - he should be respectful of all students and permit students who disagree with him to speak.

Some members of the Kansas State Legislature, however, seem to have a weak grasp of what academic freedom is, and what it means to teach religion at a university (as opposed to a seminary).
The university’s action [cancelling Mirecki's course] wasn’t enough for conservative lawmakers, who said they want to know whether professors teaching other courses are letting their biases get in the way. “This may show a bigger problem than just Professor Mirecki,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican. “It may show we’re not providing fair and balanced opportunities to our students.”

Landwehr has called for hearings when the Legislature resumes next month. She said she wants to know whether professors are exhibiting any intolerance, whether it’s religious, political or any other kind.

Landwehr also questioned whether Mirecki should be allowed to teach religious studies courses. “It’s hard to teach religion if you don’t believe in it,” she said.

Sen. Kay O’Connor, an Olathe Republican, said public universities should not condone anti-Christian talk by professors. “We’re not in the taxpayer-funded hatred business,” she said. “Why should taxpayers give him an opportunity to profess his hatred for Christians?”
Landwehr doesn't seem to understand that it's possible to teach all sorts of things one doesn't believe in. One doesn't have to be religious to teach about religion. Nor is it wrong to criticize (or even make fun of) people who belong to other religions and their religious practices. (I don't think mockery belongs in the classroom, however - that's advocacy, not education).

Aside from the issue of the intemperance of Mirecki's language, the most disturbing feature is the idea that a religion course is not the proper place to discuss creationism and intelligent design. This is exactly the place to discuss these two ideologies/theologies. In fact, on Wednesday, in my Hebrew Scripture class, I asked my students to bring in news stories that mentioned the Bible in reference to contemporary issues. In one section we spent a lot of time discussing creationism/intelligent design, both in connection to the case of the Dover School Board, in Dover, Pennsylvania, and in Kansas. We discussed (briefly) what creationism/intelligent design are, how creationism derives from the biblical account of creation, and how intelligent design is also a theological way of understanding how life has come to be. At some point I would like to teach a class on the Bible in American life and culture, and the creationism vs. evolution debate is an obvious place to start. Other professors at my college also discuss this issue, from other points of view (for example, it's addressed in the biological anthropology classes).

There are other courses at the University of Kansas that do address these issues without being attacked by religious conservatives.
Walter Dimmick, associate professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said he taught students in his introduction to evolutionary biology course about natural theology and beliefs at the time of Charles Darwin. These topics are a starting point to his course on evolution. “Young people need to have an understanding of what science is and what science is not,” Dimmick said. Dimmick, who has taught this introductory class for three years, has never stirred controversy in or out of the classroom. Part of this may be due to his approach. “It’s not my job to try and change their religious beliefs,” he said.
I agree with Dimmick on that last point. In my Hebrew Scripture class I certainly introduce students to theories about the Bible that they will not have encountered before - the most prominent example being the documentary hypothesis - but I certainly don't require them to swear allegiance to them. I want them to understand the theories, not have faith in them. I'm not in the business of telling students what their religious beliefs should be. But just presenting these theories, whose intellectual basis is that human beings wrote the biblical texts and that it's possible to investigate their origins through literary and historical analysis, can be upsetting to some students, and not only to students who are self-identified as fundamentalist Christians. I don't like upsetting the students, but I do believe that in order to teach the Bible in an intellectually honest way, it's necessary to teach critical theories about the composition of the Bible.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Our friend Ramsay Clark

Another good Hitchens column on Ramsey Clark, Saddam's chief apologist.

Our Friends, the Iranians, Take Two

At the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia yesterday (Dec. 8, 2005), President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran denied that the Holocaust occurred and suggested that the state of Israel be moved to Europe.
"Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps. Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that is taken to prison or gets condemned. Let's assume what the Europeans say is true…. Let's give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria. They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?"
It is comforting to see so many countries condemning Ahmadinejad's comments, but on the other hand, the Holocaust denial that he expresses appears on Iranian state television and in the popular media in many Muslim countries.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mel Gibson Developing Holocaust Mini-Series

Is this bizarre, or what?.
Mr. Gibson's television production company will base the four-hour miniseries for ABC on the self-published memoir of Flory A. Van Beek, a Dutch Jew whose gentile neighbors hid her from the Nazis but who lost several relatives in concentration camps.

The project is in its early stages, so there is no guarantee that it will be completed. Mr. Gibson is not expected to act in the mini-series, nor is it certain that his name, rather than his company's, will be publicly attached to the final product, according to several people involved in developing it.

But Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president for movies for television, acknowledged that the attention-getting value of having Mr. Gibson attached to a Holocaust project was a factor. "Controversy's publicity, and vice versa," Mr. Taylor said.
And I guess all we want is publicity, right? Well, it gets more twisted:
ABC brought in Con Artists [Gibson's production company] after an independent producer, Daniel Sladek, proposed a project to the network based on Ms. Van Beek's story. With her husband, Felix, she survived the sinking of a passenger ship by a German mine, followed by three years in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands, before going to the United States in 1948.

The network chose Mr. Gibson's company shortly after having rejected a pitch by Ms. Cotton of Con Artists for another Holocaust-related subject, Mr. Taylor said. "This has the middle, the love story, that the other one didn't have," he explained.

Mr. Sladek said ABC's motive in engaging Mr. Gibson - an Academy Award-winning producer and director whose "Passion" sold $370 million in tickets in the United States alone - was to win the largest possible audience. "I think that what ABC wants out of this is to build the biggest billboard imaginable in order to get everyone logically interested to tune in and watch this," Mr. Sladek said.
Well, it's good to get that out in the open - if we're going to have a movie on the Holocaust, it's got to have a love story, I guess so that the great American public doesn't have to focus on the fact that the Holocaust is not, really, you know, a love story! And we need that big billboard, so Gibson's the way to get it. This is about as crass as it gets!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Saddam and Ramsey Clark

A couple of interesting new articles on Iraq. The first one, The Big Black Book of Horrors, is on a recently published book about the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's regime. Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein presents comprehensive evidence about the crimes against humanity presented by Saddam and his dictatorship.
"The first weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein," writes Bernard Kouchner, who has been observing atrocities in Iraq since he led the first Medecins Sans Frontieres mission there in 1974. "Preserving the memory of the arbitrary arrests that Saddam's police conducted every morning, the horrible and humiliating torture, the organised rapes, the arbitrary executions and the prisons full of innocent people is not just a duty. Without that one cannot understand either what Saddam's dictatorship was or the urgent necessity to remove him."
While I do not think that reading this book would be very pleasant, I hope that it is soon translated into English, for the benefit of all the American anti-war activists who think that President Bush (for all his flaws) is worse than Saddam.

The second one is an opinion piece by Christopher Hitchens - Sticking Up for Saddam - Ramsey Clark admits that his client is guilty. Hitchens demonstrates just how deep into the slime Clark has sunk since his days as Attorney General for President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s - representing the likes of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Of course, even murderous dictators need competent counsel - but I would prefer that that counsel not justify their clients' crimes.

NPR this morning had a piece on Ramsay Clark in which they were trying their best to be absolutely even-handed, and unfortunately in doing so left out some of the damning evidence against him, including his association with the Workers World Party (the real force behind International ANSWER).

Escaping from the SBL

My way home from the SBL was much more eventful than I hoped it would be. When I finished loading up my car with luggage, I went to start it – and lo and behold! It did not start. Through pure coincidence, a car with someone from AAA was driving through the parking garage at just that moment, so I flagged him down and asked him if he could start my car. He did my best, but concluded that the car needed a new starter motor. I called AAA to get a tow-truck to take my car to the Honda dealership.

When the tow-truck arrived, it transpired that it was much too big to go down to the lower level of the parking garage. The tow-truck guy called a buddy of his from his shop. The buddy arrived in a two-tone car (the door was red, the rest of the car was blue). He towed my car out of the garage, and it was then put onto the enormous tow-truck. We drove to the shop (any hope of going to the Honda dealership was scotched by the two-truck driver). As we drove deeper into a run-down section of Philadelphia I wondered what was going to happen to my car. We drove into the lot (surrounded by a fence with razor wire on the top!), and he eased my car off the truck. I went into the office to talk to the manager. He promised to start working on it first thing the next morning. Then my eye wandered around the walls of the office – and fixed on two photographs of the Lubavitcher rebbe, and a prayer for a successful business, in Hebrew. Needless to say, this is not what I expected to find in a repair shop in urban Philadelphia. I asked the manager if the shop was owned by an Israeli. He said to me, “Is that a problem?” I said no, I had spent time in Israel. Then the guy sitting next to him spoke up – in Hebrew. I replied. His father owned the shop. After that I felt a bit more confident that my car would get fixed and that the repairs would cost a reasonable amount of money.

The next morning, the buddy from the shop drove my fixed car to the hotel where I was staying, and I went back to the shop to pay for the repairs – which were indeed at a very reasonable price. I got to meet the boss, who indeed spoke with an Israeli accent. It was an unexpectedly pleasant experience, despite the fact that I had to stay an extra night in Philadelphia and then had the truly tedious drive from Philly to Boston via the N.J. Turnpike, the GW Bridge, and I-95…. I hope never to do that again on the day before Thanksgiving!

Enoch/Metatron at the SBL

I attended the AAR/SBL meeting in Philadelphia the week before Thanksgiving, and was part of the book review session organized by the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section. I reviewed the new book by Andrei Orlov, The Enoch/Metatron Tradition, which traces the development of traditions about Enoch from the Bible through to the Zohar, concentrating mostly on Enoch traditions in Second Temple literature and 2 and 3 Enoch. What I found particularly helpful about the book was its treatment of 2 Enoch, which is extant only in Slavonic. My review began this way:
This is a fine book on the development of the figure of Enoch from early Mesopotamian traditions about the seventh antediluvian king, Enmeduranki, to the transformed Enoch-Metatron of the Hekhalot literature, especially in Sefer Hekhalot, (3 Enoch). Andrei Orlov comprehensively demonstrates how the roles and titles of Enoch developed from his first appearance in Genesis, when “God took him” (Gen. 5:24), through the five subsections of 1 Enoch (in many cases influenced by Mesopotamian traditions about the seventh antediluvian king, Enmeduranki), to the Slavonic apocalypse of Enoch (2 Enoch), which he dates to first century Alexandria, and finally to Sefer Hekhalot. The book examines the early Enochic booklets and then Sefer Hekhalot, only then turning back to the Slavonic apocalypse in order to show how the roles and titles there are an earlier version of what is found in 3 Enoch. The second part of the book addresses the question of how Enoch’s roles and titles developed in 2 Enoch as a result of polemics with several other important mediatorial figures: Adam, Moses, and Noah. This book is the first complete effort to show how the Slavonic apocalypse adumbrates several important roles and titles of Enoch that reach their full development in the Hekhalot literature. As such, it is particularly important for scholars like myself who do not have control of the Slavonic original of 2 Enoch and must rely upon translations. On important aspect of the book is that Orlov demonstrates that the Shi’ur Qomah tradition, the tradition that states that it is possible to measure the anthropomorphic body of God, found in the Hekhalot literature, is present in an early form in 2 Enoch.

The two sessions of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section were very interesting, as was the opportunity to go out to dinner with members of the section on Saturday night (although the food did take forever to come!)

The conference was fun – I got to see friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while, some of whom I will see again at the Association for Jewish Studies meeting, which is happening during the third weekend in December in Washington, D.C. I spent a fair amount of the conference in the Book Exhibit, as I usually do, and brought home a haul of books that I hope will be useful for my research.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

MEMRI: Latest News

According to this November 23, 2005 report by MEMRI: Latest News, a delegation from the Presbyterian Church USA met with Hezbullah's commander in southern Lebanon.
On October 20, 2005, the Lebanese press reported that a delegation from the Presbyterian Church USA, headed by Father Nihad Tu'meh and with Robert Worley as its spokesman, visited southern Lebanon at the invitation of Hizbullah, and met there with the terrorist organization's commander in southern Lebanon, Nabil Qawuq.

During the meeting, Qawuq expressed his doubts about U.S. actions in the region and the intentions of the Bush administration. Worley, on his part, assured Qawuq that he was not defending the U.S. administration, that all delegation members had voted Democratic, and that the Presbyterian Church had been pressured by U.S. Jewish organizations because of its campaign to divest from corporations working with Israel.
A separate delegation of families of 9/11 victims met with the Deputy Head of Hizbullah, Sheik Naim Qassem. A report was aired on this meeting on November 11, 2005.
Anchor: Sheik Naim Qassem met with an American delegation which included family members of victims of the 9/11 bombings in New York City. The delegation members said that the purpose of the visit was to spread peace and to establish ties with various forces in different regions of the world, in order to stress the united stand against terrorism and aggression.

Sheik Qassem recalled Hizbullah’s communiqu├ęs condemning the New York attacks and the recent bombings in Jordan. He emphasized that state-sponsored terrorism and the terrorism of some groups throughout the world should be condemned because it goes against humanity, regardless of religion, language or geography.

I find it utterly amazing that anyone from a family that had lost a loved one on 9/11 would want to meet with the leader of an Islamist terrorist group. It is a shame that this report has not been more widely disseminated, and the names of those who met with the Hizbullah leader revealed.

In the beginning was Al-Aqsa

An interesting new book on the contemporary Muslim denial of the history of the Temple in Jerusalem, reviewed in Haaretz.
The historian Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, who is now publishing a book entitled "From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back - the Muslim Rallying Around Jerusalem," has been collating for years thousands of publications, religious legal rulings, statements and pronouncements of Muslim clergymen, historians, public figures and statesmen on the subject of Jerusalem. His book draws in great detail a portrait of the great Muslim denial, a denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and to the Temple. This argument has strengthened in intensity since the Six-Day War.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

How much genocide is too much?

Nicholas Kristoff has another column (from today's New York Times) on how the genocide is getting worse in Darfur. He points out that the Congress has cut out all funding for the 7,000 African Union peacekeepers (who are already too few really to do much to stop the genocide). Even though we decry this genocide, and call it what it is, we are not stopping it.

Since this column is behind the Times' subscriber firewall, I'm including the whole text.

NYALA, Sudan

Who would have thought that a genocide could become worse? But after two years of heartbreaking slaughter, rape and mayhem, the situation in Darfur is now spiraling downward. More villages are again being attacked and burned - over the last week thatch-roof huts have been burning near the town of Gereida and far to the northwest near Jebel Mun.

Aid workers have been stripped, beaten and robbed. A few more attacks on aid workers, and agencies may pull out - leaving the hapless people of Darfur with no buffer between themselves and the butchers. The international community has delegated security to the African Union, but its 7,000 troops can't even defend themselves, let alone protect civilians. One group of 18 peacekeepers was kidnapped last month, and then 20 soldiers sent to rescue them were kidnapped as well; four other soldiers and two contractors were killed in a separate incident.

What will happen if the situation continues to deteriorate sharply and aid groups pull out? The U.N. has estimated that the death toll could then rise to 100,000 a month. The turmoil has also infected neighboring Chad, which is inhabited by some of the same tribes as Sudan. Diplomats and U.N. officials are increasingly worried that Chad could tumble back into its own horrific civil war as well.

This downward spiral has happened because for more than two years, the international community has treated this as a tolerable genocide. In my next column, my last from Darfur, I'll outline the steps we need to take. But the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.

It's true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur - a good guess of the toll so far - might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.

Already, large swaths of Darfur are so unsafe that they are "no go" areas for humanitarian organizations - meaning that we don't know what horrors are occurring in those areas. But we have some clues. There are widespread reports that the janjaweed, the government-backed Arab marauders who have been slaughtering members of several African tribes, sometimes find it convenient not to kill or expel every last African but to leave a few alive to grow vegetables and run markets. So they let some live in exchange for protection money or slave labor.

One Western aid worker in Darfur told me that she had visited an area controlled by janjaweed. In public, everyone insisted - meekly and fearfully - that everything was fine. Then she spoke privately to two sisters, both of the Fur tribe. They said that the local Fur were being enslaved by the janjaweed, forced to work in the fields and even to pay protection money every month just to be allowed to live. The two sisters said that they were forced to cook for the janjaweed troops and to accept being raped by them.

Finally, they said, their terrified father had summoned the courage to beg the janjaweed commander to let his daughters go. That's when the commander beheaded the father in front of his daughters. "They told me they just wanted to die," the aid worker remembered in frustration. "They're living like slaves, in complete and utter fear. And we can't do anything about it." That aid worker has found her own voice, by starting a blog called "Sleepless in Sudan" in which she describes what she sees around her. It sears at Sleepless in Sudan, without the self-censorship that aid groups routinely accept as the price for being permitted to save lives in Darfur.

Our leaders still haven't found their voices, though. Congress has even facilitated the genocide by lately cutting all funds for the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur; we urgently need to persuade Congress to restore that money. So what will it take? Will President Bush and other leaders discover some backbone if the killing spreads to Chad and the death toll reaches 500,000? One million? God forbid, two million? How much genocide is too much?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The World Without Zionism

If you've ever wondered what happened to good old Stalinist rhetoric, take a look at the Iranian website, The World Without Zionism. This particular page denounces the "Zionist octopus."

And lest you think that anti-Zionist does not equal anti-Semitism, see this page on the site: Jewish Conspiracy. The source for this particular screed? "Jewish Conspiracy: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”

My guess is that this is intended to be an official website to accompany the recent Iranian "conference."

Saudi Arabia ends boycott of Israel

The Washington Times is running an article that says that Saudi Arabia has agreed to end all economic boycotts of Israel as a condition of entering the World Trade Organization. It will be entering the WTO next month.

Business Week also confirms that Saudi Arabia will be abandoning the Arab boycott of Israel:
The World Trade Organization on Friday approved Saudi Arabia's bid to become the 149th member of the global body, winding up a 12-year negotiating process slowed by the country's participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

The acceptance by all WTO members is necessary before a new member can be admitted, and Saudi Arabia made a number of agreements with different countries on opening up its markets.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the WTO, said Saudi Arabia had provided sufficient guarantees in its accession process that it would follow the WTO's rules, which include "not having a boycott against anyone else inside the organization."

"Such types of boycotts within the WTO are totally unacceptable," Levanon told The Associated Press. "As soon as Saudi Arabia accepted all these rules, the door has been open for future relations when the moment is ready for that."

But Prince Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's assistant minister for petroleum affairs, was less clear: "They are a member and we are a member. We are just there as members of the WTO. Nothing more."
So which is it? Are Abdulaziz's comments just for internal consumption?

Eye of the Storm

A scary article on Iran by Amir Taheri in the Jerusalem Post of November 10, 2005. Some important points:
When Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his "wipe Israel off the map" remarks last month, many diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic rushed to explain, read between the lines and relativize what was an unambiguous statement of Teheran's long-established policy. They expressed the hope that Iran would "clarify" - meaning soften - its position....

Last week, however, Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi, the nation's ultimate decision-maker under the Khomeinist Constitution, not only gave his ringing endorsement to Ahmadinejad's remarks, but went further by offering his "vision for Palestine." Addressing a congregation at the end of Ramadan, Khamenehi said Iran rejected the two-states formula proposed by the US, and would fight for the creation of a single state encompassing Israel and the Palestinian territories. In such a state, power would be in the hands of Muslims, although some Jews would be allowed to remain, under unspecified conditions. Khamenehi went further by suggesting that Israel's political and military leaders, especially Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, be tried on charges of crimes against humanity.

....Iran, on the other hand, has become more powerful. Internally, the soft-liners have been kicked out, allowing a new generation of radical revolutionaries to seize control of all levers of state power. Iran's oil income is at an all-time high, allowing the new president to buy popular support.

....Iran has also emerged as the main supporter of Palestinian radical movements, some of which had been without a patron since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Next February, Teheran is scheduled to host the largest gathering of radical leaders from across the Muslim world to endorse its one-state formula for ending the Israel-Palestine conflict.

....The state-owned media in Teheran are in combative gear. Echoing Ahmadinejad's analysis, the Iranian media present the West, led by the US, as a "sunset" (ofuli) power that must be taken on and defeated by a tolue'e (sunrise) Islamic power led by Iran. In that context the destruction of Israel becomes a key element in Teheran's strategy in the Middle East because Ahmadinejad knows that radical Sunni Arabs will not accept the leadership of Shi'ite Iran unless it is perceived as the only power capable of realizing their dream of wiping Israel off the map.
But it's clear that the Iranian regime is not only anti-Israel, but also antisemitic. In other words, its animus is directed not only at the state of Israel, but at the Jewish people in general. Memri reported in January about antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the Iranian media.

Some excerpts:
In an op-ed titled 'Lies of the Holocaust Industry,' published by the Iranian Foreign Ministry-affiliated Tehran Times, columnist Hossein Amiri claims that the Holocaust never took place, basing his beliefs on "revisionist historians" who have "proven" that the eradication of the Jews would have taken more than the six years of the war and that "ethnic cleansing through the use of the poison gas Zyklon-B, as the Zionists claim, was not possible at the time." ...

In an interview with MEHR [the official Iranian news agency], Dr. Fredrick Toben of the Adelaide Institute in Australia discussed U.S. policy towards Iran and the nuclear issue, and said that " the state of Israel is founded on the 'Holocaust' lie" and that "exposing this lie" will help "dismantle the Zionist entity."...

French Holocaust denier Professor Robert Faurisson, a former lecturer at Lyon University, was interviewed by MEHR. The following are excerpts:
Faurisson: "In France, Jewish power is even stronger than in the USA. In France it is our lobby number 1. Nobody dares to speak out against those people because of their alleged 'Holocaust'…"

MEHR: "… Actually, France doesn't respect the rights of its citizens, as it has banned the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in public schools. How do you assess that?"

Faurisson: "Because Jews, in a certain way, are used to treating the French as they treat Palestinians. The difference is that Palestinians refuse to obey the Jews, whereas the French obey the Jews, once more because of the Big Lie of the alleged 'Holocaust,' in which unfortunately they seem to believe.

"The alleged 'Holocaust' of the Jews is the sword and the shield of the Jewish tyranny all over the world. Destroy it."
Antisemitic statements were made by Iranian university professor Heshmatollah Qanbari in an interview on Iran's Channel 1 TV, in which he surveyed the "evil nature" of the Jews throughout history, basing his beliefs on "historical truth" according to the Koran, under the guise of a scientific analysis. Qanbari claimed that Jews throughout history were a "subversive element" in human society and an "anti-human movement," which is "dangerous to both Christians and Muslims," and monotheism in general. The Jews, according to Qanbari, are the source of "all corrupt traits in humanity," and throughout history they have exhibited expansionist tendencies, coveting and usurping other nations. Global domination is also one of their aims, according to Qanbari, who says that most of Europe is under Jewish control today. Qanbari also warned that the Zionists' "racist" and "satanic ideology may take over the world." ....

Currently being broadcast on the Iranian Sahar TV channel is the antisemitic drama series 'Al-Shatat,' which was originally aired on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV station. 'Al-Shatat's' blatantly antisemitic features were the main cause for the banning of Al-Manar TV in France. The current rerun is a slightly modified version, in which some of the more gruesome features in the original were cut. The series still propagates the view that the Jews have sought to control the world for many centuries via a secret global Jewish government. According to the series plotline, this secret government has been led, since the 19th century, by the Rothschild family....
It's no surprise that the Iranian President and Supreme Ayatollah came out with their statements calling for the destruction of Israel - it is completely compatible with these official expressions of antisemitism in the Iranian media.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

'We'll definitely win,' French teen says

A reporter from Ha'aretz went to speak to some of the rioting French youths. He says, first of all, "There is something odd about the events that have been occuring in France since October 27, especially if your only source of information is media reports: The French government is dispatching helicopters and elite units, thousands of police officers, imposing curfews and even contemplating deploying the army - against wild kids aged 13 or 14 who, because they have nothing to do at night, are torching cars."

The two boys he spoke to (apparently in their late teens) have completely failed to find work (even with much trying) after leaving school.
Both have been unemployed since leaving school, not for lack of trying. They send off their resume, go to interviews, are perennially rejected. The main reason they can't find work, they believe, is their address - nobody wants to hire youths from 93 (the administrative code for their province) - but also their ethnic origin. Mohammed has a white friend from the projects who also dropped out of school and came with him to a job interview: The friend was hired.

Their complaint is not abstract: The nearest employment center is far away, and they want a local one in Villepeinte.

What does Mohammed mean when he says they will win in the end? "To win is work and respect," he says.

It certainly sounds from stories like these that people who interpret the riots as being plotted by Islamists are wrong. These are young men who don't want to be separate from French society - they want work and respect.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Darfur - Consider the horrors of peace

Another good column by Christopher Hitchens on Realism in Darfur - Consider the horrors of peace.

As he says: "What was all that garbage about 'never again'? What was the meaning of Clinton's apology to the Rwandans? What did Colin Powell mean when he finally used the word 'genocide' to describe the events in Darfur, just before resigning as secretary of state and becoming an advocate for more realism all round?"

He conducts a thought experiment on Rwanda:
Any critique of realism has to begin with a sober assessment of the horrors of peace. Everybody now wishes, or at least says they wish, that we had not made ourselves complicit spectators in Rwanda. But what if it had been decided to take action? Only one member state of the U.N. Security Council would have had the capacity to act with speed to deploy pre-emptive force (and that would have been very necessary, given the weight of the French state, and the French veto, on the side of the genocidaires). It is a certainty that at some stage, American troops would have had to open fire on the "Hutu Power" mobs and militias, actually killing people and very probably getting killed in return. Body bags would have been involved. It is not an absolute certainty that all detained members of those militias would have been treated with unfailing tenderness. It is probable that some of the military contractors would have overcharged, and that some locals would have engaged in profiteering and even in tribal politics. It is impossible that any child of any member of the Clinton administration would have been an enlisted soldier. But we never had to suffer any of these wrenching experiences, so that we can continue to wish, in some parallel Utopian universe, that we had done something instead of nothing.

Or not exactly nothing. The United States ended up supporting the French military intervention in Rwanda, which was mounted in an attempt not to remove the genocidaires but to save them. Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Our policy in Darfur has not just failed to rescue a stricken black African population: It has actually assisted the Sudanese Islamists in completing their policy of racist murder. Thank heaven that we are tough enough to bear the shame of this, and strong enough to forgive ourselves.

Does anyone think that this would not have been the reality in Rwanda? We might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but still had people complaining because we didn't go through the UN or listen to the French (who have their own problems now).

Adloyada: Paris is burning

An interesting perspective on the riots in France - Adloyada: Paris is burning. The author suggests that the riots are "the ultimate outcome of years of a statist system which has preserved a higher level of social protection and security for its own, whilst permanently marginalizing the children and grandchildren of the immigrants who were imported to do the work nobody wanted." She also tells a very interesting story about living in France as a teenager in 1960 and encountering young Algerian men:
I found I constantly got picked up by young Algerian men. It eventually penetrated my consciousness that the reason they made such a beeline for me was that no French girl would so much as look at them, and they were desperate for some sort of social and preferably sexual outlet.

I did begin spontaneously to think about what led to this state of affairs. Previously I would have thought of it as the product of something we in those days called prejudice. But I worked out for myself that it was more than that. There was clearly a system of importing the poor and desperate of actual or former colonies as cheap labour, and that the system would discard this labour as soon as it had served its purpose. It was my first serious independent accomplishment in political and sociological analysis, though it would be another twenty eight years before I got round to acquiring any formal qualifications in either subject.

The impact was powerful enough to have influenced my thinking till this day. The current riots,although they involve Muslims, seem to me to have much more in common with the riots and slogans of the black consciousness movement of the seventies. That manifested itself in Britain over incidents to do with alleged police brutality, or the failure of the police to solve murders or other serious crimes against black people.

I must say that whatever the ultimate reason for the riots, I have been quite astonished at the ineffectiveness of the police and government response in France. Only now are the police being given the power to impose curfews.

And one of Adloyada's commenters makes a point that I have also wondered about:
The Paris riots have this in common with the UK riots. I've not seen one interview with a decent ordinary person who has had his car torched, or with someone running a marginal, probably uninsurable business, now wrecked.

The media report either the clash of civilisations or the romantic rebel harbingers of revolution.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition

This article argues that Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition - it's a protest against having no future, rather than being a religious statement.
Abdel, echoing the anger of many of the youths, said he resented the French government's efforts to thrust Muslim leaders into the role of mediators between the police and the violent demonstrators.

"This has nothing to do with religion," he said. "But non-Muslims are afraid of people like me with a beard. I look suspicious to them. Discrimination is all around us. We live it every day. It's become a habit. It's in the air."

He continued: "I grew up in France, yet I speak of God and religion. I have a double culture. I belong to both. We should stop the labeling."

Rezzoug, the caretaker, said he has seen local youths struggle with deep personal conflicts caused by their dual cultures. "They go to the mosque and pray," he said. "But this is France, so they also drink and party."

Some French opinions: (as reported by the Washington Post's blog:

"A country which prides itself as the fatherland of the humans right and the sanctuary of a generous social model shows, in the eyes of all, that it is incapable of ensuring dignified living conditions for young French people," said the editors of Le Monde (in French).

"Nothing has deterred the gangs from running rampage. Not calls for calm, not marches for peace. Not even thousands of extra police," says the English-language Euronews

The explosion of violence has split both the public and the political classes.

The comment of hardline Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy that the rioters were "scum" prompted to Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande to tell Liberation, a left-wing daily, that [he] had "zero tolerance" for Sarkozy and his "simplistic polemics."

Looking at the photographs available on the Washington Post website, it is amazing to me that no one has yet been killed in the rioting.

Riots in France

It is very frightening to see the riots spread across France, and to realize that the police aren't being effective in stopping it. This article, As Riots Continue in France, Chirac Vows to Restore Order, points out that the rioting has spread to the center of Paris, including the Marais, the old Jewish quarter.

While the violence remains primarily constrained to uncoordinated attacks on property, Sunday's escalation raised fears that it could evolve into something deadly. It seemed only luck that by Sunday night, no one had been killed.

A gaping hole exposed a charred wooden staircase of a smoke-blackened building in Paris's historic Marais district Sunday, where a car was set on fire the previous night. Florent Besnard, 24, said he and a friend had just turned into quiet Rue Dupuis when they were passed by two running youths. Within seconds, a car further up the street was engulfed in flames, its windows popping and tires exploding as the fire spread to the building and surrounding vehicles.

"I think it's going to continue," said Mr. Besnard, who is unemployed.

The attack angered people in the neighborhood, which includes Paris's old Jewish quarter and is still a center of Jewish life in the city. "We escaped from Romania with nothing and came here and worked our fingers to the bone and never asked for anything, never complained," said Liliane Zump, a woman in her seventies, shaking with fury on the street outside the scarred building.

It's unclear to me from the coverage if the riots are merely caused by pent-up frustration of unemployed young people angry at the police because of unfair treatment, or whether there is more to it - religious or racial antagonism, or Islamist agitation. The riots originated in the suburban slums where Muslim Arab and African immigrants live. The article also says that even before these riots, about 20,000 cars had already been burned up in France. When is this going to end?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Italians rally for Israel

A very satisfying European response to the Iranian President's words - Italians rally for Israel, with some very nice photos from the rally.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Iran's Useful Reminder

Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post points out how President Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements serve as a Useful Reminder of the true nature of the Iranian regime and indeed of what the U.S. is fighting in the Middle East. He says:
Most Valuable Politician of the year? How about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has surged ahead for the 2005 MVP award in the few months he has been in office? He reminds a distracted world at crucial moments of the true nature of Iran's regime, of the abiding source of conflict in the Middle East and of the deeper meaning of global terrorism.

Racial and religious hatreds are at the core of these phenomena - and at the heart of Ahmadinejad's pledges to see Israel "wiped off the map" and to ensure that Arabs who recognize the Jewish state "burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury." His statements were reported in laudatory terms by Iranian state-run television Wednesday.

For Hoagland, the new thing is that the Europeans have denounced the statements of Ahmadinejad:
Even though the Persian chauvinists who took power in Tehran in 1979 have been more discreet in public in recent years, it is not news that they hate both Jews and Arabs - or that the sentiment is returned. If novelty there was, it lay in statements of condemnation that European governments issued as the inflammatory remarks spread around the globe.

Britain, France and Germany raced to distance themselves from Ahmadinejad's double-barreled anti-Semitic blast. They have been negotiating with his regime in hopes of rehabilitating it. A spiteful and belligerent speech the Iranian leader gave at the United Nations in mid-September had already signaled the enormousness of their task. But they persisted. Now even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, perhaps the coldest and most uncaring fish in international diplomacy, feels compelled to mutter that the Iranian firebrand's statements were "unacceptable."

He then turns to an example of hope in the Middle East - Iraqi Kurdistan.
The fates of Nazi Germany and Vichy France are not the only lessons available to Iranians - or for that matter to Israelis or Americans - of the bitter fruits of preaching and practicing racial hatred. In neighboring Iraq, a regime that committed genocide against the Kurdish tribesmen of the north and persecuted Shiite Arabs in the south lies in ruins and seems incapable of rising again.

Because Saddam Hussein would not leave them in the peace and isolation of their mountain redoubt, Iraq's Kurds went to war against Baghdad three decades ago. They deliberately set in motion the chain of events that were to bring an American invasion force to Baghdad to overthrow the dictator in 2003. While he could not foresee exactly how it would happen, the late Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani told me in 1972 that it would. I was skeptical; he was right.

No political outcome can balance the scales of personal grief and loss brought by the loss of 2,000 and more American service personnel in Iraq since the invasion began. Human lives cannot be measured and counted as instruments or integers of policy or politics.

So the fact that Kurds live in freedom today from racial pogroms directed at them from Baghdad -- in large part because of U.S. protection and sacrifice -- can assuage no mother's grief or friend's anger over U.S. casualties. But neither can the positive change that American actions have brought simply be dismissed or ignored.

Barzani's son, Massoud, visited the White House last week to thank the American nation, through President Bush, for those sacrifices and to reiterate the Kurds' commitment to staying in a "federal" Iraq that institutionalizes their autonomy -- and survival. Federalism for the Kurds is not some legalistic ploy to maximize their share of oil reserves, or a thumb to stick in Arab eyes in revenge. It is a chance to live and to let live.

We shouldn't forget that we've actually accomplished something good in Iraq - allowing the Kurds to live freely, rather than at the mercy of Saddam Hussein.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

More on Iran

This editorial, Contrived Fury, in the Arab News (published in Saudi Arabia - referral from The Religious Policeman) is an interesting comment on the Iranian President's call to "wipe Israel off the map."

The editorial points out that "Four years ago, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, regarded by the West as a moderate, called for the nuclear annihilation of Israel. The West did not blink an eye. Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been consistently and vehemently anti-Israel. The rest of the world has known it and lived with it. It lived with the knowledge because it also knew that Iran was not in a position to wipe Israel off the map and that the words were mere rhetoric from those who wanted to give their people something other than their failures to think about. The rest of the world too has been happy to live with the knowledge that most Muslims and Arabs would prefer that Israel did not exist. But it does exist. It is a question of accepting reality."

As this editorial states, it is not as if the current Iranian President invented the Iranian threats against Israel. And it is interesting the evidence the editorial brings about Rafsanjani, who is the head of the "Expediency Council" in Iran. In a May 25, 2005 article about the upcoming Iranian elections (in which Ahmadinejad was elected), Neil Macfarquhar of the New York Times says, "Mr. Rafsanjani is a staunch supporter of Iran's developing its nuclear capacity for electric power, medical applications and other uses, but says he opposes nuclear weapons. That contrasts with a sermon at a Friday Prayer in 2001, however, in which he suggested that just one nuclear bomb could solve the problem of Israel's threatening the region with its own nuclear arsenal."

This New York Times article describes how western leaders seem to regard Rafsanjani -
Mr. Ahmadinejad's principal rival for power, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president who was defeated by Mr. Ahmadinejad in the election, continues to hold considerable power as leader of the nation's Expediency Council, which was created in 1988 to help resolve contentious legislative issues. The Europeans have been negotiating with envoys loyal to Mr. Rafsanjani for the last two years and hope that they or others like them will re-emerge in the future.

Indeed in the last few weeks, Iran's ruling clerics, who still hold most of the power, have moved to strip the presidency of some of its authority over international diplomacy and hand it over to the Expediency Council under Mr. Rafsanjani. If there is any hope in the West for a diplomatic solution, it thus rests with this turn of events.

Now, since Rafsanjani essentially said the same thing as Ahmadinejad, then why should we be getting particularly upset at what Ahmadinejad just said - it doesn't represent a change in what the Iranian government would like to do. Perhaps the problem is simply, as the Arab News editorial says, that negotiations with the Iranian government over their nuclear weapons development have reached a critical point, and this statement points out once again how radical and dangerous the Iranian regime is.

A few years ago, in the late 1990's, when I had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Society of Fellows at Columbia University, Salman Rushdie came to speak. Rushdie still had to travel secretly and was protected by guards everywhere he went. We were invited to hear him speak by special letters and had to put our names on a list in order to be allowed into the hall where he was speaking. We also were not supposed to tell anyone that we were going to hear him speak, since his visit to New York was supposed to be a secret. When entering the hall, we had to show identification and our bags were searched. His talk was actually a conversation with Edward Said, then professor at Columbia. I also heard him the next day, when he came to the Society of Fellows to speak to graduate students. I knew that he was there because when I tried to enter the building, several NYPD officers were there as the security for Rushdie, and I had to prove that I had a legitimate reason to enter the building.

One thing I remember Rushdie saying - that the Iranian regime tried to present itself as reasonable to people in the West, that on the surface there were people in the regime who tried to present Iran as a regime like any other, but that we should not believe them - the regime was still as radical as under Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the same regime that (probably) ordered the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community organization building in Argentina. If Iran is today restrained from trying to act out its threats to Israel, that does not mean that given the opportunity, the regime would not try to destroy Israel.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dateline Spandau

Imagine how Human Rights Watch, and other pundits, might have reacted to a trial of Hitler, ca. 1946 - Dateline Spandau, October 1946.

An excerpt from this exercise in alternative history: “Human rights groups have expressed concerns. A Human Rights Watch report says the Berlin trial ‘runs the risk of violating international standards for fair trials’. Amnesty International has sent three delegates to Berlin to ensure that Adolf Hitler receives a fair trial, and to oppose the death penalty if he is found guilty.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fomenting hatred against the Jewish people

And if my previous posts today have not sufficiently depressed you about the spread of anti-semitism today - take a look at this posting from Norman Geras, about anti-semitic videos shown in Iranian and Jordanian television, and also anti-semitic brochures distributed at the Frankfurt Book Fair (happening right now). They included the Protocols and an abridgement of the "International Jew" by Henry Ford. See this article on the Frankfurt Book Fair: The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I had been under the impression that it was illegal to disseminate such literature in Germany, so I'm kind of surprised that the police did not seize these books.

Suicide bombing in Israel

Earlier today, an Islamic Jihad terrorist killed 5 Israelis in a suicide bombing in Hadera. Three of the victims have already been identified: Michael Koifman, Sabicha Nissim and Pirchiya Machluf. 30 people were wounded in the attack.

Mirty's Place

A moving post at Mirty's Place on the difficulties of being a Jew. She says:
Other things come back too. I remember now why it is hard to be a Jew. Not because of the many customs and laws, but because of the pain. It’s hard to read about young Israelis gunned down alongside a road outside Jerusalem, to see the photos of their beautiful, shining faces. It’s hard to face the hatred that inflates our enemies. The news from Israel is so often bad. Beyond bad; heartbreaking. James Joyce wrote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” But we know there is no escape. Our history is indeed a nightmare, a revelation of the darkest pits of human evil. It’s hard to carry that weight. It’s hard to watch my husband clean his plate at every meal, and wonder if he does that because his father was starved in Auschwitz. That is a lot of pain to carry. It is hard to be a Jew. It’s hard to care and feel so much.

I joked about the statement of the President of Iran in the previous post, but really, it's quite frightening to hear. I have good friends, whom I love dearly, living in Israel, and many relatives - and this man wants to wipe them all out! He's not seeking justice for the Palestinians - he's seeking mass murder.

It is a sobering return to reality after the splendid silliness of Simchat Torah services last night and today. I was one of the leyners for Bereshit (5th, 6th, and 7th days), and inbetween each day people in the congregation sang songs and acted out each day's creations. At the end, for the maftir reading (which outlines the sacrifices to be brought on the day, were the Temple still standing), we set up a grill & little stuffed rams were placed on it, next to some Triscuits (representing the grain offering). The two people who received Hatan Torah and Hatan Bereshit smiled with pleasure at the honor.

The other event I always mark on Simchat Torah is my mother's yahrzeit. She died on October 21 / Tishrei 23 in 1981 - 24 years ago. I was only 25 at the time, and it was devastating - and changed my life.

Our friends, the Iranians

As a post-holiday welcome to reality, Iran's President Says Israel Must Be 'Wiped Off the Map' - New York Times. He spoke at a "to an audience of about 4,000 student at a program called The World without Zionism, in preparation for an annual anti-Israel demonstration held on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan."

He continued by saying:
"The establishment of Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," Mr. Ahmadinejad said, the news agency reported. "The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land."

One wonders what is the identity of the "world oppressor" that he mentions....

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Justice in Baghdad

Once again, Anne Applebaum writes an important op-ed piece, this time on Justice in Baghdad, on the Iraqi trial of Saddam Hussein. I must say, I've been astonished and disgusted that human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have seemed to be more concerned with Saddam's rights as a defendant than they are in the necessity to hold these trials and expose what he did to the people of Iraq. They seem more worried about the possibility that Saddam might be executed at the end of these trials than they are in bringing out the truth of the atrocities he committed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Africa May Face Risk for Bird Flu

As I feared, Africa May Face Risk for Bird Flu.
"One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian influenza through migratory birds to North and Eastern Africa," said Dr. Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinary officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which monitors the spread of the disease in animals.

If the disease touches down there, it could well become widespread in the environment and on farms before it is even detected, he said.

Also, because in poorer African nations people live in close proximity with animals, such a situation would provide a dangerous crucible for the mixing or the bird and human viruses, vastly increasing the risk that the avian virus could gain the ability to readily spread among humans.

"The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease control capability in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus," Dr. Domenech said.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Asian Avian Flu Confirmed as Killer of Birds in Turkey

This article on the spread of avian flu to birds in Turkey mentions at the end the possible consequences if it spread to Africa: "Dr. Jutzi also said the disease would be much more difficult to control if it reached Africa - as it was in Asia - because poorer countries often lacked the disease surveillance capacity and health systems to orchestrate a swift response." The horrifying possibility this suggestion opens up is that if the bird flu spreads to Africa, and mutates so that it can be spread between humans (not just from bird to human), that it would first strike in African countries already reeling from civil war and genocide (e.g., Sudan), poor crops (e.g., Niger), abysmally poor governance (e.g., Zimbabwe), malaria, and AIDS (all over sub-Saharan Africa).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Peace is not the answer

An inspiring op-ed piece by William Shawcross on the limited vision of the anti-war movement and the necessity to stay in Iraq.

You did not see in those demonstrations, after all, many banners reading, "Support Iraq's New Constitution," "No to Jihad" or "Stop Suicide Bombers." The crimes committed daily against the Iraqi people by other Arabs who wish to re-enslave them seem to be of little interest to Michael Moore, Jane Fonda and their followers. Rage against the daily assaults on children, women, anyone, by Islamo-fascists and ordinary national fascists is not fashionable. Only alleged American crimes are cool to decry.

It's hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the horror the U.S.-led coalition is fighting in Iraq than the mass murder on Sept. 26, in which terrorists disguised as policemen (a New York Times headline called these butchers "fighters") burst into a primary school in Iskandaria, south of Baghdad, seized five teachers (all Shiites) and shot them dead. Children stood weeping through this atrocity.

Why do crimes like this make so little impression on those Americans and Europeans who want the coalition to abandon Iraq? The demonstrators think of themselves as moral, but it is hard to think of any policy more amoral than abandoning Iraq to such an enemy.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sokwanele - Zvakwana - Enough is Enough

Really, is there no end to the suffering of the people of Africa under horrendous rulers? In this case, in Zimbabwe, not in Sudan. A reporter reveals the ongoing starvation in rural areas of Zimbabwe as a result of Robert Mugabe's insane policies, which have led to runaway inflation, devastating lack of fuel, and a situation in which Zimbabwe needs to import food (it used to be a food exporter). Mugabe kicked out NGO's that were feeding people, and now they have nothing left to eat. He's thrown all sorts of street vendors and poor people out of the poor neighborhoods of the cities - hundreds of thousands of people who now have nothing to live on. Why aren't we crying to the skies about this horrible situation too!

On a slightly more hopeful note, Nicholas Kristof has a fine article in today's New York Times about citizen activism on the genocide in Darfur. (I reprint the entire article here - it's only available to NY Times subscribers otherwise).

A year ago, a group of Swarthmore students decided to take on an unusual extracurricular activity: stopping genocide. Mark Hanis, one of the students, is Jewish and all four of his grandparents survived the Holocaust. He was troubled by the way generations of Americans acquiesced in one genocide after another - only to apologize afterward and pledge "Never Again." So Mr. Hanis and fellow students started to raise money to help provide security to stop the slaughter in Darfur. In particular, they wanted to help pay for African Union peacekeepers. Their Genocide Intervention Fund has now raised $250,000 and is about to hand over the first installment to the leaders of the African Union. The money may be used to pay for female African police officers to protect Darfur women from being raped. The Genocide Intervention Fund now has an all-star cast, including the backing of former White House officials, generals, and celebrities like Mia Farrow and Don Cheadle. Its spokeswoman, a Rwandan genocide survivor who is now a Swarthmore sophomore, introduced Bill Clinton at a student conference. It has opened a Washington office and is lobbying for the bipartisan Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which calls for sanctions on Sudan and a no-fly zone. "We do lobby days, where we arrange for people to come to Washington to meet their Congressional offices and say, 'I've put $20 down to protect the people of Darfur. What are you doing?' " said Mr. Hanis, who graduated recently.

So far more than 100 colleges have raised money for the fund (www.genocideinterventionfund), and universities have become the center of the movement to stop the slaughter. A group started at Georgetown, Stand (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), has chapters nationwide and across Canada, and Harvard led a divestment effort by having its endowment sell stock in companies that support the Sudanese government. In the long term, the organizers hope to encourage more education about genocide in American schools - California and a few other states have passed laws that public schools must include education about genocide - and to bolster an early warning system so that the world will respond to atrocities more promptly. "We're getting smarter at this," Mr. Hanis said. "We're building a permanent political constituency against genocide." He paused and added soberly: "Of course, there are lives lost every day."

So while President Bush is proving wimpish on genocide, the response of many ordinary Americans like Mr. Hanis has been inspiring. Aside from students, the leaders in the effort include Jewish and Armenian groups (the word genocide has special resonance for both) and religious groups. In Dallas, Temple Emanu-El started Dolls for Darfur, which has made thousands of tiny paper dolls representing the victims of Darfur. It has sent them to senators and is preparing "advocacy kits" to help people lobby for a sterner American response to the genocide (see Dolls for Darfur).

Then there are the big-hearted folks at Ginghamsburg Church, a large Methodist church in Tipp City, Ohio. After the pastor, Mike Slaughter, read about atrocities in Darfur, he decided to ask the congregation to spend only half as much on Christmas presents last year as they planned, and to donate the rest to victims in Darfur. The result, along with other fund-raising efforts, was $327,000 in donations; the congregation is planning the same campaign this Christmas. The money is being used to keep children alive and safe in South Darfur. "We recognize that this is only a pittance in the face of the entire crisis in Darfur," says Karen Smith, director of operations for the church. "However, if we can successfully engage other churches across the U.S. in this call so that they issue the same challenge to their constituents, the impact could truly be God-sized."

During the Holocaust, when Franklin Roosevelt was as uninterested in genocide as George W. Bush is today, Arthur Koestler referred to those who demanded action as "the screamers." Today, Mr. Hanis, Ms. Smith and others like them are "the screamers," and if it weren't for them the death toll in Darfur would be even higher. Countless thousands of survivors sitting in refugee camps owe their lives to screams coming from places like Swarthmore or Ginghamsburg.So out of the miasma of horror that is Darfur, something uplifting is taking place. Ordinary Americans are finding creative ways to respond to the slaughter, so that they personally inject meaning into those traditionally hollow words: Never Again.

At Ithaca College, students have organized a local chapter of STAND and sponsored their first vigil last week, on October 6, which was a day to fast for Darfur. I went and said a few words. It was very moving to see students actually caring and organizing about Darfur. They are planning more activities, including a showing of Hotel Rwanda.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Photographer's Journal: A Wounded City

To see photographs from September 11, 2001, see this special site from the New York Times Photographer's Journal: A Wounded City.


Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.

Raising the flag at Ground Zero.

September 11, 2005

Today, as everyone knows, is the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. It's another beautiful, cloudless day in Ithaca - a blue sky day, just like September 11, 2001. This morning I went to the Farmer's Market with a friend and wandered around picking up my vegetables, drinking strong coffee, tasting local wines, and encountering friends doing the same thing. I don't know if I'll do anything to remember the day. Tonight, on campus, the student Republican club is sponsoring a candlelight vigil (why only the Republicans, I don't know - I don't think of remembering September 11 as a necessarily Republican action).

At this time of day on September 11, 2001, I was on campus, probably in my office, wondering what the hell I should be doing. I had a class scheduled for later that day and didn't know if we should meet (we didn't, as it happened). I tried to talk to people. I saw students calling their families on their cellphones. I went into the TV lounge and watched more of the coverage. I was in shock, along with everyone else I knew. I worried about friends of mine in New York City, one of whom I thought (incorrectly) worked at the World Trade Center. It was impossible to reach anyone by phone in New York City - in fact, I couldn't even get an open phone line to my family in the Boston area. You know, you all remember that day.

For some of the stories from that day, see this site from the September 11 Digital Archive. It's a Google map of lower Manhattan - click on the blue blobs and you get photographs, or on the red ones to get personal stories from the day.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A debate of biblical proportions

New excavating in Jerusalem has reopened a debate of biblical proportions - between those archaeologists who argue that the Jerusalem of David and Solomon was a substantial city with large public buildings, and those who maintain that Jerusalem only became an imposing city centuries after the time of David and Solomon.

One interesting find, discovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar, was a "a bulla, a round clay seal about one centimeter in diameter in which its owner's name was inscribed." It was inscribed "in a Hebrew script characteristic of the late First Temple period," and "contained the name of Yehokal ben Shlamyahu ben Shavi, who is mentioned twice in the Book of Jeremiah."

"When Mazar investigated further to see who the owner of the seal was, she let out a cry of surprise: Yehokal ben Shlamyahu was a senior minister in the government of Zedekiah. He is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 as one of two emissaries dispatched by King Zedekiah to Jeremiah, asking him to pray for the people during the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Chapter 38 tells that Yehokal was one of four ministers who asked the king to kill Jeremiah, alleging that the prophet was sowing demoralization among the besieged people."

Is this cool or what?

Monday, September 05, 2005


For extensive coverage on the racial implications of the hurricane in New Orleans, see my friend Ben's blog, Hungry Blues. Listening to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" show this morning was also eye-opening.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Nation's Castaways

The news about the racial divisions revealed in New Orleans by the hurricane has been noted by many news articles this weekend. In the Washington Post, an article reads:
The history of marginalizing black folk in America, especially poor ones, runs so deep that it occurs like second nature. It is one reason, say several prominent black intellectuals, that the response to the devastation of Katrina was so slow.

Racism runs "so deep that the folks who are slow to respond can't see it," says Russell Adams, professor of Afro-American studies at Howard University. "That's the unperceived character of racial behavior, of what I would call hidden racism where you don't know that this situation has a racial character to it, just like fish have trouble defining water."
The article also notes the racialized way that the photographs and news footage coming from New Orleans have been interpreted:
This feeling of being disregarded is pervasive in the African American community, where old wounds still sting. Witness a "Saturday Night Live" skit from 1998, where Samuel L. Jackson and Tracy Morgan indulge in a bit of hyperbole, playing African Americans in the fifth class steerage of the Titanic. Everyone was rescued before them -- even the furniture.

While that may have been comedy, its message is conveyed in all kinds of real-life ways. Deborah Willis, photographer and professor of the arts at New York University, laments some of the images coming out of New Orleans.

The frequent replay of what has become an iconic looting photo -- the guy with the flying braids and falling pants -- "desensitizes the viewer of finding compassion for what happened to the thousands of people who have died or who have suffered," she says.

It's an us-vs.-them kind of image, she says, and "a racialized image because of the way it's been used and reused over again."
For another way of thinking about race, see these comments:
Noel Ignatiev, author of "How the Irish Became White" and editor of Race Traitor, a journal dedicated to the "New Abolitionism," suggests that the nation is poised at a pivotal point. He sees an opportunity for a realignment of thinking.

"White is not a matter of color. White is a matter of a sense of entitlement, a sense they are or ought to be entitled to specially protected place in society," he says. "But there are plenty of white folks on the bottom rung of society, people for whom whiteness isn't doing much at all."

"Some may be awakening to the notion there's no use clinging to an identity that's doing them no good. If white folks start thinking of themselves as poor and dispossessed instead of privileged, it will change the way they act. We will see the beginnings of class conflict."

Friday, September 02, 2005

"To me, it just seems like black people are marked"

See a Washington Post article on the disproportionate number of black people hit by this disaster:
BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 1 - It seemed a desperate echo of a bygone era, a mass of desperate-looking black folk on the run in the Deep South. Some without shoes. It was high noon Thursday at a rest stop on the edge of Baton Rouge when several buses pulled in, fresh from the calamity of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Hundreds piled out, dragging themselves as if floating through some kind of thick liquid. They were exhausted, some crying.

"It was like going to hell and back," said Bernadette Washington, 38, a black homemaker from Orleans Parish who had slept under a bridge the night before with her five children and her husband. She sighed the familiar refrain, stinging as an old-time blues note: "All I have is the clothes on my back. And I been sleeping in them for three days."

While hundreds of thousands of people have been dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the images that have filled the television screens have been mainly of black Americans - grieving, suffering, in some cases looting and desperately trying to leave New Orleans. Along with the intimate tales of family drama and survival being played out Thursday, there was no escaping that race had become a subtext to the unfolding drama of the hurricane's aftermath.

"To me," said Bernadette Washington, "it just seems like black people are marked. We have so many troubles and problems."

"After this," her husband, Brian Thomas, said, "I want to move my family to California."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A social meltdown

Andrew Sullivan expresses eloquently how I feel: "This has morphed from a natural disaster into a social meltdown. The Lousiana governor seems overwhelmed (Barbour seems much more effective); New Orlean's civic authorities seem non-existent (and bear responsibility for the insufficient preparation for this potential and widely predicted nightmare); and the president's response has been decidedly weak. His call to restrain from using gas was, well, Carteresque. It seems to me inconceivable that we cannot impose basic law and order in a major American city five days after a hurricane has hit. This is a very basic governmental responsibility and all I can say is that I see no evidence of competence or effectiveness so far. FEMA had no solid evacuation plan? The feds had no plans to maintain order in such a situation? The explosion of complete lawlessness is beginning to make Haiti look like a pleasant place to live. This is America? Where order is so distant that snipers can prevent the evacuation of a hospital? The fundamental reason for my inability to support a second Bush term was his demonstrated incompetence in performing the basic functions of government. It seems to me that the people of New Orleans are now as much a victim of this as the people of Iraq. I guess we can merely be thankful that Rumsfeld hasn't yet appeared to say 'Stuff happens.' Yes, it does. When your government seems unable to do the most basic things required of it."

Disaster in New Orleans

I'm starting to have the feeling that the country I grew up in is no more. How can it happen that a major city can break down so quickly while the rest of us watch on television? Why isn't the federal government doing more - doing everything it can - to save people in New Orleans from hunger, thirst, heat, lack of sanitation, lack of access to doctors and medication - you name it? How can it be that people are dying in the streets and no one is even noticing the corpses? Why didn't the local and state governments bring in buses before the hurricane hit to evacuate the people too poor to get out on their own?

Is it really because our government has sent so many National Guard troops to Iraq that we have none left to deal with disasters here at home? So much for our "wartime" President, who can do nothing more than fly over Louisiana in Air Force One, watching from above. Is it because most of the people left in New Orleans are poor and black?

And the rest of us, we sit at our televisions and watch it as if it were a spectacle akin to a reality show.

Some words from local officials in New Orleans:

On the situation in the Superdome:
"Some people there have not eaten or drunk water for three or four days, which is inexcusable," acknowledged Joseph W. Matthews, the director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness. "We need additional troops, food, water," Mr. Matthews begged, "and we need personnel, law enforcement. This has turned into a situation where the city is being run by thugs."

Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans ... was particularly pungent in his criticism. Asserting that the whole recovery operation had been "carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days," he said that "the rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security."

"We are like little birds with our mouths open, and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm," Colonel Ebbert said. "It's criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA has never been to a hurricane." FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A local resident outside the Superdome:
"We're just a bunch of rats," said Earle Young, 31, a cook who stood waiting in a throng of perhaps 10,000 outside the Superdome, waiting in the blazing sun for buses to take them away from the city. "That's how they've been treating us."

On where the refugees are being sent:
The effects of the disaster spilled out over the country. In Houston, the city began to grapple with the logistics of taking tens of thousands of refugees into the Astrodome, and San Antonio and Dallas each braced for the arrival of 25,000 more. Baton Rouge overnight replaced New Orleans as the most populous city in Louisiana and was bursting at the seams.

On the receiving end in Houston, though, the Astrodome looked at times like a squatters' camp in a war-torn country. The refugees from Louisiana, many dirty and hungry, wandered about aimlessly, checking bulletin boards for information about their relatives, queuing up for supplies and pay phones, mobbing Red Cross volunteers to obtain free T-shirts. Many found some conditions similar to those that they left behind at the Superdome, like clogged toilets and foul restrooms.

But in Houston, there were hot showers, crates of Bibles and stacks of pizzas, while in New Orleans, many refugees scrounged for diapers, water and basic survival.

This article from the New York Times talks about how the government did not forsee the failure of the levees, and did not prepare for having to evacuate and house 100,000 people in the city who were too poor, old, or sick to leave on their own. They thought that even if Katrina had been a Category 5 storm, the levees and flood walls might be overtopped - not that they might be breached.
Rodney Braxton, the chief lobbyist for New Orleans, said that many of the city's poorest residents "had nowhere to go outside the region and no way to get there. And there wasn't enough police power to go to each house to say, 'You have to go, come with me.' " In a city with so many residents living in poverty, the hurricane came at the worst possible time: the end of the month, when those depending on public assistance are waiting for their next checks to be mailed on the first of the month. Without the checks, many residents didn't have money for gas, bus fare or lodging. City officials said they provided free transportation from pick-up points publicized on television, radio and by people shouting through megaphones on the streets. In addition to the Superdome, officials opened schools and the convention center as shelters.

While they may have done that, they didn't try to evacuate them outside the city.
The chaotic disaster response came despite repeated efforts over many years to plan a coordinated defense if the worst should occur. As recently as July 2004, federal, state and local officials cooperated on the Hurricane Pam drill, which predicted 10 to 15 feet of water in parts of the city and the evacuation of one million people. Martha Madden, who was the Louisiana secretary of environmental quality from 1987-1988, said that the potential for disaster was always obvious and that "FEMA has known this for 20 years." "Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, in studies, training and contingency plans, scenarios, all of that," said Ms. Madden, now a consultant in strategic planning. The Army Corps, she said, should have had arrangements in place with contractors who had emergency supplies at hand, like sandbags or concrete barriers, the way that environmental planners have contracts in place to handle oil spills and similar events.

I know that it's impossible to plan for everything, and that the magnitude of the disaster has overwhelmed everyone - but can't we help those people who are suffering?

Disaster relief funds for New Orleans

Miriam at Bloghead provides useful information on Jewish agencies where money can be sent to help people in New Orleans and the Gulf coast. As she says, "The pictures and stories coming out of New Orleans tonight are simply beyond belief. An entire city destroyed! Who can comprehend. Even the most powerful nation in the world can be impotent before nature."

More on Pulsa Denura

The Israeli Attorney-General, Menahem Mazuz has decided not to charge the Jewish extremists who enacted the Pulsa Denura against Prime Minister Sharon this summer.
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has decided not to press charges against a group of Jewish extremists who carried out an ancient curse ceremony meant to place a death wish on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, since the appeal was to God and not to mankind, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday.

The decision by Israel's top law enforcement official was made after determining that the ceremony was an appeal for heavenly action against the prime minister, and as such could not be viewed in the legal sense as incitement to violence, according to a letter that Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan sent to MK Ran Cohen (Yahad).