m afraid Im going to throw some scattered thoughts at you on the Middle East, Impromptus-style. I suppose thats okay, this being Impromptus.
We all read the other day that, in his speech to the Knesset, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was heckled by Arab Arab-Israeli legislators.
Can we just pause for a second, to let the momentousness of that fact sink in? It is a rather humdrum fact, in Israeli life. But on reading that news item, I had the craziest thought: of Yasser Arafat giving a speech in some (mythical) Palestinian Authority parliament, and being heckled by Jewish legislators, elected by and representing the ethnic and religious minority. It was so absurd, I almost laughed.
Strange that the world doesnt seem to recognize the vast, vast gulf between Israel and its anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic enemies. Im told all the time, by critics of Israel, that I should be repulsed at the notion of a Jewish state. Im never told that I should be repulsed by a P.A. that cant bear the idea of a Jew living there, or by an Arab state that has expelled all Jews, confiscating their property, without compensation, natch.
Speaking of the right of return (as we sort of were): Odd isnt it? that theres never any talk about a Jewish right of return, to the Arab homelands (not that many Israelis are just itching to go back to, for example, Iraq). (Iraq, by the way, is where the great Jewish scholar Elie Kedourie came from. The family home in Baghdad was long ago Saddamized.) I might mention that one of the most beautiful memoirs ever written is Out of Egypt, André Acimans account of his growing up in Alexandria. It is, among other things, an elegy for the Jewish community there. Mainly, though, it is simply a gorgeous piece of writing.
I have been reminded, in recent days, of old and very elementary truths. Even sloganistic ones: Peace Through Strength. No Appeasement. Never Again. No More Vietnams [Gulf Wars, instead].
They endure, ever applicable.
A news story in the New York Times the other day had the following passage: In the last week there have been attacks on Jewish buildings throughout France, the worst of which was in Marseille where a synagogue was destroyed. The attacks are believed to have been carried out largely by French Arabs acting in support of the Palestinians.
How, exactly, does torching a synagogue support the Palestinians? What does that do to advance the cause of their freedom and dignity? Perhaps the reporter meant to say carried out largely by French Arabs who support the Palestinians. That in support of made a stomach-turning difference.
Every day, U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan makes himself more repulsive, at least to me. He denounces Israel for causing a mounting humanitarian and human-rights crisis in the P.A. This is unacceptable from a country that lays claim to democracy.
When did Annan ever denounce an Arab country for its ghastly trespasses against human rights? When, for that matter, did he ever denounce the P.A., for keeping Palestinians in a police state, not to mention a perpetual state of war, in which suicide bombing is encouraged (and paid for)?
And about this lays claim to democracy: Israel, first of all, is a democracy, which is more than can be said for a single Arab nation, ever. And what of (Annans) Ghana? The last time I checked, it was not exactly a Jeffersonian ideal.
Seeing that the U.N. is composed largely of despotisms and that its human rights commission has on it such as Syria the secretary-general should exercise a little humility.
Odd that our U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte, is not more of a figure that we dont see him on the news more often, dont read his comments in the newspapers. He is a formidable man bright, experienced, articulate and could be a major spokesman for U.S. policy, and a bulwark against the hypocrites, liars, fanatics, and nuts around whom he works. Jeane Kirkpatrick and Vernon Walters did a world of good not least educative good from their U.N. perch. So, many moons ago, did Daniel Patrick Moynihan, before he entered politics and became an ordinary left-liberal Democrat with an extraordinary gift of gab.
If you want to sound wise, in the Big Media, just say, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat deserve each other. Works every time.
A colleague of mine showed me a cartoon I forget by whom that perfectly encapsulates the establishment view: It shows a big and peeved Colin Powell holding up a little Ariel Sharon and a little Yasser Arafat, one in each hand. They are brawling, trying to hit each other, like quarrelsome and unreasonable children. Dad has had to step in to mediate.
Perfect. And so disgusting.
You will be pleased to know that, despite his education in a free economy, when he owned an inn (and failed), George McGovern is still George McGovern. Writing in The Nation where else? McGovern says, All of us who love this land want our President to succeed. [Ahh.] Nothing would give me greater happiness than to see him become a great President. [Ahh McGoverns happiness is on the line!] But is it possible that the well-intentioned President and his Vice President have gone off the track of common sense in their seeming obsession with terrorism? [Uh-oh: anti-terrorism as an obsession.] Is there still validity to the proverb Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad? For half a century, our priorities were dominated by the fear of Russian Communism [uh-oh: anti-Communism as a fear just like Jimmy said at Notre Dame] until it collapsed of its own internal weakness. [That all it was?] As I listen to the grim rhetoric of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, I wonder if they are leading us into another half-century of cold war, with terrorism replacing Communism as the second great hobgoblin of our age [oh, hobgoblins nothing about real attacks, real wars, real threats, real unfreedom].
No, McGovern is still McGovern.
A reader writes to complain about the term Israeli offensive, to describe Israeli operations in the territories. Websters defines offensive as making attack: AGGRESSIVE. It defines defensive as serving to defend or protect and devoted to resisting or preventing aggression or attack. My reader finds the term Israeli defensive much more appropriate than Israeli offensive. After all, Israel doesnt seek conquest it has repeatedly offered the lands in which it is now having to war to the PLO, only to be turned down. It is seeking to defend itself against ongoing murder and eventual annihilation.
I am reminded of how useful Secretary Rumsfeld has been in insisting that we are engaged in a defensive war: that we are not retaliating, but defending ourselves against murderers who have vowed to murder again.
In the previous Impromptus, I wrote about separate graduation ceremonies for black college students. Many campuses have them, and they are nauseating, in infinite ways: un-American, ungrateful (for all the integrationist strides made in the past), societally harmful. A reader writes to say, Why not do the full Lester Maddox? Forget separate graduation ceremonies and dormitories: How could we overlook separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, separate sections on the bus?
Come on, guys: If you have that much contempt for the civil-rights past and civil-rights ideals, at least have the courage of your segregationist convictions and do it right. Any surviving Dixiecrats will be happy to tell you how.
Check out the Tufts University curriculum lately? I have. The American Studies Department offers a course on National Construction of Whiteness: Formations of Race and Ethnicity. It is taught by Lisa Coleman, director of the universitys African-American Center.
Herewith the course description:
There is no room for the satirist none in American society at the beginning of the 21st century.
The New York Times had an editorial headed Latin Americas Muzzled Press. Guess what country it didnt mention? Of course. It mentioned Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Haiti. Can you think of another Caribbean nation Spanish-speaking sort of near Haiti? Whats the name of that country again? The one whose absolute dictator has been in power for over 40 years? The one where independent journalism is forbidden, and where those who attempt it are harassed, jailed, or worse? The one in which two Reuters journalists were recently attacked by state security, because they tried to film the crashing of the Mexican Embassy by ordinary people desperate to leave the country?
Ladies and gentlemen, remember that Cuba simply doesnt exist except in lies and obfuscation.
Earlier this week, the head of the American Society of Travel Agents, Richard Copland, met with Castro. Of the dictator who has tortured and murdered many thousands, while enslaving and immiserating an entire country Mr. Copland said, He is the most gracious and pleasant man I have ever met.
I have quoted Joseph Davies on Stalin before, so maybe I should turn to something else: The story is told that, when she met Stalin in Moscow, Lady Astor said, So, when are you going to stop killing people?
That spirit is dead at least among those who seek and receive audiences with Fidel Castro.
The casting-out of Doris Kearns Goodwin by the great and good liberal institutions in whose bosom she has always been, continues: She is mocked this week in the cartoon on the back page of The New Yorker. Thats almost worse than an entire New York Times editorial against you.
A major journalist this week used the phrase in an increasingly complex world. This reminded me that perhaps the most impressive forensic performance I have ever witnessed was by William J. Bennett, in debate against (then) Harvard president Derek Bok. (Jerry Falwell, also at Harvard, was awfully good, too, but thats another item.) The year was 1987 or so, and Bennett was Reagans education secretary, and the bête noire of the education establishment, to put it as mildly as possible. He went into a kind of lions den; the crowd was unbelievably hostile. And, in the course of that hour or two, he pacified them. It was the most startling and glorious thing to behold. So thoroughly did he thrash Derek Bok so completely did he out-think and out-talk him that he wound up feeling sort of sorry for Bok, defending him against questioners in the audience, who obviously felt that the prez had let their side down.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I could write another several pages on the debate that day, but one of the questioners in the audience said, to Bennett, In an increasingly complex world . . . Then she went on with her question. Bennett answered that question, then, at the end of his answer, said something like, Oh, by the way: Id drop that increasingly complex world line, if I were you. Its not just a cliché not just a tic but wrong: In many ways, the world is less complex now than it was (and he detailed some of those ways).
I dont remember yesterday very well, but I remember that, clearly.
Still interested in the Florida election (and Im talking, of course, about November and December 00, not about Janet n Jeb)? (Janet n Jeb they sound like a cute couple, dont they?) Gary Rosen, an editor at Commentary magazine, had an excellent and controversial essay on the subject you can find it here and it was followed up by an engrossing and enlightening semi-symposium, found here. All the big legal hitters are present, including Robert H. Bork and Richard A. Epstein, stalwarts of National Review, and wonderful guys to boot.
A letter: In your April 5 Impromptus, you mention the peace activists who have gone to the West Bank to act as human shields for Palestinian leaders. I find it ironic beyond ironic, in fact, but thats the only word I can think of that these peace activists would never, EVER dream of serving as human shields in defense of Israelis against Palestinians, not only because they would never defend Israelis, but because theyd be afraid that the Palestinians would shoot them. They know damn well the Israelis wont summarily shoot or beat or kill them, so theres no risk of getting hurt while defending the Palestinians. A little matter of the Israelis observing the rule of law (even in combat) and respecting human life and so on. In other words, the complete opposite of the Palestinian militants.
Another letter: Its interesting that the word terrorism is used so readily by Democrats when speaking of policy differences [Jesse Jackson speaks of Bushs economic terrorism] or that Alec Baldwin finds it easy to compare the events of September 11 with the recount in Florida. Meanwhile, Reuters and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis refuse to use the word terrorist in describing people who massacre civilians.
A last one: Your Impromptu about calling waiters and waitresses waitrons brought to mind a little piece in The Readers Digest years ago. It seems a corresponding reader of the Digest was at a restaurant and asked a tray-carrying woman whether she was his waitress. She informed him in no uncertain terms that she was not his, or any one elses, waitress. In fact, the restaurant had no waiters or waitresses. She was a waitron. The man inquired what a waitron was, and the woman condescendingly educated him that a waitron was a gender-neutral name for a person who blah, blah, blah. When she finished her blather, the customer inquired whether she would bring him a glass of water. Oh, she replied, the busboy will do that.
Okay, yall, Masters time. Wonder if Arniell break 90, with the course stretched out.