Friday, February 29, 2008

Speech codes

1. Can an Israeli politician use the word "shoah" in an interview with a Hebrew speaking broadcaster, on an Israeli radio programme, intended for an Israeli audience quite familiar with the colloquial usage of the Hebrew word "shoah" as denoting a calamity, disaster?

Apparently, not, according to this.

2. Can an American politician repeat presidential hopeful Obama's full name and not be suspected of some unsavoury ulterior motive? *

Apparently not, according to this story.

3. And can anyone use the adjective "niggardly" without being accused of making a racial slur?

Apparently not, according to this.


* Update: here is Michelle Obama on same subject

Something funny. I didn't realize that those who pronounce Obama's full name intend to evince some sort of angst about its nominal commonality with a certain Iraqi dictator who is no longer. I thought they just wanted to remind listeners that he is an outsider, with an Arab or Muslim name. If I think about the name Hussein, my first association is King Hussein of Jordan. Not that other guy.

Political Mistranslations

An opinion which does not change itself when new facts are introduced, is not an opinion but a prejudice" ... or idiocy. (Some great man said this. Can't remember who)

In politics, words are never well-defined units of meaning; they assume a particularly fluctuating essence when mouthed by politicians and journalists. In a 1950 essay by George Orwell he says “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. It is easy to understand how, within such a context, translation can serve as a definite manipulative device.

A case in point is this most recent kerfuffle.

Here is what happened:

Defense Minster Ehud Barak on Friday blamed Hamas for the escalating violence in the south, and said the Islamic movement would bear the consequences of it. "Hamas is directly responsible for the current situation and will be the one to bear the cost of our response", Barak said during a visit to Ashkelon, adding that "an Israeli response is necessary and will be carried out."

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio (Galey Tzahal) on Friday:

The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,"

The word "shoah", Haaretz journalist tells us, is the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster. The word is generally used to refer to the Nazi Holocaust, but a spokesman for Vilnai said the deputy defense minister used the word in the sense of "disaster," saying "he did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide."

That Palestinians should pounce on the use of the word "shoah" to cry foul and make the best use of this in their usual resort to the appeal to misericordiam is hardly surprising:

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's prime minister in the Gaza Strip, said: "This is a proof of Israel's pre-planned aggressive intentions against our people. They want the world to condemn what they call the Holocaust and now they are threatening our people with a holocaust."

What never ceases to amaze is the way some Leftist Jewish intellectuals purporting to fight antisemitism -- a racist crime grounded in defamation and malicious misrepresentation of Jews, motivated by deep contempt and loathing to Jews -- back the Hamas interpretation, even after being apprised of the meaning and usage of the term "shoah" in everyday Hebrew parlance.

Earlier today I left a few comments on Engage, some of which were garbaged, in the fine tradition of Engage's inconsistent and uneven editorial policies, but these four made it through:

1. Shoah in Hebrew parlance means disaster. "The Shoah" is the Holocaust, (Ha-Shoah). A lot of mischief can be whipped up out of lack of familiarity with a language.

Recently I ran in this article in which the writer makes a lot of fuss over the meaning of "Kadima", Olmert's party. It means, he says "Eastwards". Well, it's not. It means something else in Modern Hebrew. But how would he know that, if someone who wanted it to be “eastwards” told him differently?

Be careful before you demonize a person for articulating in colloquial Hebrew what should have been translated as: The Palestinians are in danger of bringing upon themselves even a greater disaster.. I find disturbing this gleeful pouncing and rush to condemn and express outrage before you make sure you fully understand what the WORDS mean...

2. "Every Israeli knows this."

Well, no. Not unless you are a Gilad Atzmon kind of Israeli...

Shoah means disaster. And it usually comes with its own special verb: "Le-hamit shoah", to bring upon someone or something a disaster. Hebrew speakers use it to describe a nuclear disaster (shoah garinit), among other usages. The Holocaust, when brought up to by Hebrew speakers is always, always, always referred to as "Ha-Shoah", THE Shoah, to differentiate from any other shoah.

Seems to me that some commenters are determined to give this phrasing at this time a particularly sinister meaning. Why? Is it because you believe that Vilnai blurted out some secret plan, or wish, when all he did was use perfectly idiomatic Hebrew to warn Gazans that they should expect more disasters to befall upon them if they continue with their qassam violence? If so, what could account for such readiness to attribute the worst possible meaning to an Israeli politician's use of such a phrase?

3. Saul, I tried to contribute to your understanding of the problem from my knowledge of Hebrew and as a professional translator, which makes me sensitive to meanings of words and the way they can be mishandled, due to political agendas. You seem perfectly comfortable going along with the defamatory interpretation which is based on ignorance.

I ask again: Seems to me that some commenters seem determined to give this phrasing at this time a particularly sinister meaning. Why? Is it because you believe that Vilnai blurted out some secret plan, or wish, when all he did was use perfectly idiomatic Hebrew to warn Gazans that they should expect more disasters to befall upon them if they continue with their qassam violence? If so, what could account for such readiness to attribute the worst possible meaning to an Israeli politician's use of such a phrase?

4. "Your comment about Eric Lee : "This poster doesn't seem to know Hebrew". Apart from the fact that Eric used to be a kibbutznik.........."

So the fact that he was a kibbutznik is the final, unbeatable proof that he knows well enough Hebrew to make that quite unbelievable claim that "The term "shoah" as used in modern Hebrew has one meaning and one meaning only: the German Nazi genocide against the Jewish people. Every Israeli knows this."?

Whether he grew up in a kibbutz or a moshav or in Petach-Tiqva, he clearly does not know Hebrew well enough to differentiate between "shoah" as a common enough term for disaster or catastrophe (as in: shoah garinit, shoah kalkalit), and "Ha-shoah" which means only the Holocaust.

Whether Vilnai is a fool or an incompetent politician, is quite a separate issue.


A very good point is relayed via the commenter Alain on the same Engage post:

"The enthusiasm for repeating this story is quite disturbing. In contrast to Iranian President Ahmadinijad's comments where the media argued endlessly about whether it meant "wiped from the map" or "wiped from the page of history", this mild ambiguity did not change the essence of what he meant to convey - especially in the context in which he was speaking: nuclear weapons. Still, commentators fought to give him the benefit of the doubt. This courtesy has not been extended to the Israeli minister, even after the confusion was urgently clarified. Again in contrast, Ahmadinijad was never asked to clarify his words. His apologists did all the talking... and this despite the "wiped off the map" being the official translation presented by IRNA, the Iranian State news agency."


If you are interested and have the patience to follow the somewhat uncivilized discussion (Moonstruck leftists have a very short fuse and always lapse into ad-homs, which can be quite tiresome to read...) you can find it here.

Having re-read the post by David Hirsh, I wonder if I did not quite misunderstand him. He is peeved by Vilnai using the word "shoah" at all, and asks:

"How could anybody object to Hamas comparing the Israeli government to Nazis when the Israeli government itself threatens, prophecies or predicts a Palestinian Shoah?

"How could anybody object to the Guardian making a big story out of the fact that the Israeli government has threatened or predicted or prophecized a Palestinian Shoah?

How about the simple answer: because what they are saying is a lie, distortion and defamation, grounded in willful ignorance? Because when the meaning and usage of the word "shoah" was explained to them, and could be easily verifiable by resorting to the onerous task of checking out a dictionary, they should have realized their interpretation was wrong, erroneous, mistaken, misinformed, off-base, incorrect?

Why does he feel he is put on the defensive by someone else's deliberate dis-translation and abuse of a loaded Hebrew term?

Solomonia has a post, too.

Simply Jews has another

And here is an example how a mistranslation gets to work its malign mischief: "Don't panic, Israel to use nukes not gas chambers!" (something about the lack of intelligence and intelligibility in that blog that should put the kibosh once and for all on the myth of the Jewish genius...)


And here is a little word of advice from a sage person, about the only decent way to engage in a debate, dedicated to the commenters on Engage:

Cass Sunstein:

The antonym of respect is disdain or (better) contempt; the antonym of charity is selfishness or (better) stinginess. It is much worse to be disrespectful than to be uncharitable. [To] show respect is... not to attack the competence, the motivations, or the defining commitments of those who disagree with [you]. Those who show charity as well as respect tend to put opposing arguments in the best possible form, to praise the motivations of those who offer such arguments, and to seek proposals that specifically accept the defining commitments of all sides.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Birds of a feather?

Yesterday the Vatican joined the al-Azhar university in Cairo in condemning the republication of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s depiction of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban, but the Catholic state and the supreme institution of Islam in the Sunni world didn’t say a word about the foiled plot to kill Westergaard, who has been in hiding since November last year.

”Both sides vehemently denounce the reprinting of the offensive cartoon and the attack on Islam and its prophet,” the two sides said in a joint statement according to IslamOnline.

The cartoon was republished by 17 danish newspapers two weeks ago in an act of solidarity with the 72 year old cartoonist.

We call for the respect of faiths, religious holy books and religious symbols,” read the statement.
(H/T: Northern Light)

”We call for the respect of faiths, religious holy books and religious symbols,”

Really? How about this, then? is a university practicing institutional apartheid. The institution is banned for Jews and Copts, not only the department of theology, but also medicine, economics and agriculture. And speaking about offending religious sensibilities: al-Azhar has shown no willingness to abandon the part of the sharia providing Muslims with the obligation to insult non-Muslims’ religious feelings, while at the same time insisting that non-Muslims offending Muslims’ religious sensibilities should be punished.

Forked Tongues


I found this Aesop fable on the internet:

The Farmer and the Snake

One winter a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound.

"Oh," cried the Farmer with his last breath, "I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel."

According to the narrator, the morale of this tale is: "The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful. ". I, however, find the morale incompatible with the premises of this short story. "kindbess" and "ungrateful" are not the values that this fable tries to illustrate. It's not kindness that moved the farmer to help the frozen snake, but extreme pity, a pity so overwhelming and unthinking, that it by-passed all of the farmer's accumulated experience and knowledge, to do this act of human kindness. Gratitude is not the expected response to be evinced by the dispensation of pity. An ever greater brutality, buoyed by the entitlement of the "pitied" , is the natural consequence of this miscalculation.


A Un report "deems Palestinian terrorism the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation."

...Here’s the report’s author, John Dugard:

[C]ommon sense . . . dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.

In the meantime, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says to a Jordanian audience:

"At this present juncture, I am opposed to armed struggle because we cannot succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different,"

I'm always struck by the smoothness of the way the UN and Palestinian terrorism seem to work so well together. While the one provides the "moral" coverage, the warrant for past, present and future atrocities, the other proceeds to reap as much material benefit from a world that wants nothing more than to see Palestinian people pacified and normalized.

No longer able to pretend that Palestinian terrorism is not terrorism, the UN has moved beyond this sticking point to assert any even greater "truth": that Palestinian terrorism is a right, while Israel's self-defence is criminal.

There was a time when Palestinians pretended that they wanted peace with Israel. Abbas is no longer bound by that pretense. Showing how far he can milk the West and Israel for money and concessions, he says nothing about reciprocal gestures (promises) in return for the hard cash and real estate that were and are ceded to Palestinians.

The language of "for now, until such time..." is reminicesent of the notorious "Stages Strategy" which the PLO etched upon its covenant and its people's minds:

Since the outbreak of the current intifada, more and more Palestinian spokesmen have revealed that they ultimately have no intention of ever reaching a permanent peace with Israel. Speaking in Ramallah, one of the main ideologues of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, Sakher Habash, declared:

[A]t this stage it is imperative that we realize our temporary political goal continued in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem within the 4 June borders, and this will lead to a democratic solution of building democratic Palestine on all the national land. I believe that the time is not appropriate to speak about the revolution to liberate all of the land....

The Palestinian state whatever it will be will constitute of beginning of the dismantling of the Zionist enterprise" (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Nov. 17, 2000).

Two months later, speaking in the name of Yasser Arafat, Habash declared:

Experience proves that without the establishment of the democratic state on all the land peace will not be realized. We are going through transitional stages through which we can push the Zionist society to give up on Zionism for there cannot be co-existence between Zionism and the Palestinian National Movement. The Jews must get rid of Zionism....They must be citizens in the state of the future, the State of Democratic Palestine" (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Jan. 1, 2001). (Source)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Perceptions... and facts: Encouraging news

Muslims in 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East were interviewed for the survey, which is part of Gallup's World Poll that aims to interview 95 percent of the world's population. [-]

About 93 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.

In majority Muslim countries, overwhelming majorities said religion was a very important part of their lives -- 99 percent in Indonesia, 98 percent in Egypt, 95 percent in Pakistan.
But only seven percent of the billion Muslims surveyed -- the radicals -- condoned the attacks on the United States in 2001, the poll showed.

Moderate Muslims interviewed for the poll condemned the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington because innocent lives were lost and civilians killed


"The radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims," John Esposito, who co-authored "Who Speaks for Islam", said. (source)

Well, I suppose we can all heave a great sigh of relief, that of the 1.3 billion Muslims, only 7% are radicals who justify 9/11 and other atrocities.

As "Contentions" blogger Abe Greenwald tells us:

... we’ve all been a little alarmist over here... Seven percent of 1.3 billion leaves us with . . . 91 million radical Islamists. And to think we were concerned! That piddling handful is nothing that can’t be taken care of with a little dialogue, a few billion in American aid, and some proper education. I’m feeling audaciously hopeful...


Later: I wonder how this fits into the categories of moderate/radical used in the above mentioned poll.

Quote of the day:

"Being unaware of the existence of Jews,
the ancient Maya ascribed all their misfortunes
to the dark forces of nature."

(Via: Simply Jews)

Boy, were they ignorant, or what...? I'll bet they didn't even know that the earth wasn't flat.

Another reason to boycott Israel's acedemic institutions

The Abu Rish Brigades, an extremist branch of Fatah, claimed responsibility for most of Wednesday afternoon's Kassam rocket attacks. However, Hamas said that its operatives were responsible for launching a rocket that killed a student at Sapir College in Sderot. (here)

The "Apartheid Wall" makes the life of Palestinian students full of difficulties. They can't get to school on time... so many obstacles on the way...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A short introduction to the Al-Durah afffair

(Via: Solominia)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jihadi Nazism IV:

I is here
II is here
III is here

This story on Solomonia:

A disabled, wheelchair-bound man blew himself up on Monday in a northern Iraqi police station, killing a top police official and wounding six police officers, police told CNN.

The attack, which occurred in Samarra in Salaheddin province, reflects official concern over the innovative tactics employed by insurgents in Iraq. Bombs, have been placed inside dead animals and hidden in carts. And in recent days, vagrants have been involved in bombings.

A high-ranking official with Samarra police said that the man came to meet with Brig. Gen. Abdul Jabbar Rabei Muttar, the deputy commander of security, at the security operations building in the city. The pair met last week as well.

Some of Obama's supporters:


The 74-year-old Farrakhan...spent most of the nearly two-hour speech praising the Illinois senator.

"This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better," he said. "This young man is capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow. If you look at Barack Obama's audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed."

Farrakhan compared Obama to the religion's founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father. "A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," he told the crowd of mostly followers. "A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."

If you are interested in Farrakhan's oratory and its effect on his audience, here is an example

Hamid Dabbashi

The critical question of course at this conjuncture is that if we coloured and marginal folks -- we Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Arabs, Muslims and all the most recent (legal and illegal) immigrants to this land -- will have the courage and the imagination that Barack Obama lacks. Will we cross a fence and extend a hand to a man who is after all one of us, however he may think it politically expedient to pick and chose one thing or another from the baggage he and we have brought along across the borders?

Two of my three children .. are both committed Obama fans and voted for him in the New York primaries on Super Tuesday. At this point, I am afraid the votes of my two children are all I can offer Brother Barack. Come next November, I too may leave my own darkest convictions behind and vote with the bright hope of my children.

Rashid Khalidi:

The board of a nonprofit organization on which Sen. Barack Obama served as a paid director alongside a confessed domestic terrorist granted funding to a controversial Arab group that mourns the establishment of Israel as a "catastrophe" and supports intense immigration reform, including providing drivers licenses and education to illegal aliens.

The co-founder of the Arab group in question, Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, also has held a fundraiser for Obama. Khalidi is a harsh critic of Israel, has made statements supportive of Palestinian terror and reportedly has worked on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization while it was involved in anti-Western terrorism and was labeled by the State Department as a terror group. (Read the rest here)

Why are these people supporting Obama when he declaratively distanced himself from them?

The Husaria blog expresses similar scepticism:

What you are thunders so loudly that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Much has been made by the National Jewish Democratic Council about Barack Hussein Obama’s purported support for Israel. Obama’s actions, however, thunder so loudly that we cannot hear his lip service to Israel’s basic security and right to exist. After soliciting the support of the prominent racist and anti-Semite Al Sharpton, Barack Obama just accepted the endorsement of Let’s see what this official bulletin has to say about Israel and the Palestinians...

(Read the rest, here)

On the other hand, there is Cass Sunstein:

A former colleague of Obama's at the University of Chicago, Cass Sunstein is a widely published and deeply respected constitutional scholar and legal theorist. He is perhaps best known for his book '' about the likely impacts of the modern communications and information technology on the democratic process.

Professor Sunstein's scholarship on our legal and political systems is a profound and provocative critique with much more popular appeal and import than most legal scholars manage... (read it all here)

And Martha Nussbaum..

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Samantha Power, Obama and that word again.. hope

Here is an article about an interview with one of Obama's foreign policy advisers, Samantha Power, who "With her long, straight auburn hair, blue eyes and freckles, Samantha Power looks as though she has stepped out of a photograph of the Kennedy clan. She was born in Ireland, lives in Massachusetts and shares the admiration of America’s royal family for the candidate they regard as the new JFK. .... (Interesting introduction: she is not a Kennedy but she could easily be mistaken for one which is a good enough reason to include her in the same circle of "royalty")

Power shocked some friends by opposing the invasion of Iraq. “Some people said, ‘How could you write about genocide and not support the war?’ It felt like one was sentencing the Iraqi people to life imprisonment under a brutal regime.”

She decided, however, that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was planning a new round of slaughter and the costs and benefits of war were not worth the risk. Now she admits the question is: “If we leave, could it get worse?”

Power believes that Obama would do all he could to prevent large-scale civilian deaths by a meticulously planned withdrawal from Iraq. “If a systematic campaign of genocide were to unfold, he would try to get other countries to join the US to go back in order to stave it off. What you are talking about is a massive crime against humanity and the hope would be that humanity would step forward.”

How can this be considered even remotely well-thought out and responsible planning for the future of the Iraqi people? So Obama takes out the troops, the country collapses into the most ferocious civil war imaginable. At which point, America will turn to "humanity" ask them to intervene and stop the mutual slaughter? What precedent is there that "humanity" has ever stepped up to the plate to stop a genocide?

What is that Obama-sanctified word "hope" based on, except for sheer instinct to steer away from centres of troubles?

Hope is not a principle of policy. Hope does not change lived reality. Hope narcotizes when one should be most alert and in possession of one's faculties. Hope makes you feel good when you have no reason to feel good. Hope makes you forget that you need to do something, constructively, deliberately, to solve an urgent problem. "Hope" is not something I would wish to hear from world leaders when people are mass slaughtered, persecuted, bullied, terrorized.

Bob from Brockley, whose opinion I value, wrote this about Samantha Power:

(More hopefully, Obama is also advised by Samantha Power, whose fantastic "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide is a powerful resource for cosmopolitanism and against realism. Power, incidentally, has been cruelly and inaccurately described as an adherent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis by right-wing anti-Obama-ites like Paul Mirengoff and Noah Pollock.)

I hope that when he comes back from the short hiatus he took, he will find a moment to address my misgivings about this woman. She strikes me as thrilled with her own success and her new position as adviser to would-be-kings, too shallow and careless in her vision of the future. A person of genuine gravitas and deep commitment to the improvement of this world does not dispense so easily such comforting panaceas like "hope" and trust in "humanity".

A Sacred Narrative

"Palestine awareness Week" about which I blogged here is a good example of what kind of fruit is yielded by the"sacred narrative" of pity and victimization. This analysis by Richard Landes offers simplicity and clarity:

The media – purveyors of this pivotal tale – subsequently remained loyal to the framework they had helped shape, reporting virtually every and any Palestinian claim of Israeli brutality, piling up statistics of Palestinian civilians, children, and non-combatants casualties that made Israeli soldiers look like ruthless mass-murderers, despite the fact that there are no documented cases of the IDF deliberately murdering innocent children. When the real mass-murderers of children, the suicide bombers and struck Israeli domestic sites, the media found few problems empathizing both with the victim and the terrorist. Moral equivalence and the politics of pity had obliterated the difference between firemen and arsonists; indeed for many it had inverted the moral universe: the arsonists were rebel heroes and the firemen hegemonic oppressors.

...I make a stink about this particular case because this is not “just one of many.” On the contrary, it is the framing narrative – indeed, to use Daniel Dayan’s term, a “sacred narrative.” It serves as the procrustean bed in which all subsequent data is crammed no matter how mutilated it becomes in the process. Your 800 dead minors – presumably an “objective” “fact”, but also a source of great moral indignation –is both a construct of that sacred narrative and it obtains its ability to solicit moral outrage within that framework. “We’ve killed 800 of their children!” as if they were all innocent, defenseless 12 year olds whom the IDF wantonly killed. And the applause that greeted your remark with all the force of a flagellant’s whip, comes from their approval of your defending that sacred narrative against my blasphemous assault.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Published by The Foreign Policy Centre and Democratiya (London) pp.320.


This book collects together a fascinating series of rich conversations about the dilemmas of progressive foreign policy after 9/11. (Interviews with Paul Berman, Ladan Boroumand, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David Held, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Mary Kaldor, Kanan Makiya, Joshua Muravchik, Martin Shaw, Anne-Marie Slaughter)


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Todd Gitlin on Anti-Americanism / Peter Tatchell on Multiculturalism / Claude Lefort on Totalitarianism / Norman Geras on Crimes Against Humanity / John Lloyd on Old Europe, New Europe, Core Europe / Stephen De Wijze on Torture / David R.Adler on Michael Moore / Anja Havedal on Islam and Liberty / Shalom Lappin on Jacqueline Rose’s A Question of Zion / Ian Roxborough on Transatlantic Relations after 9/11 / Alexandra Simonon on Gay and Lesbian life in the Middle East / Marko Hoare on Occidentalism / Elisabeth Porter on Defending Feminist Dreams / Bogusia Puchalska on Democracy Derailed in Russia / André Glucksmann, Seperating Truth and Belief / Judith Shklar, Archive: Putting Cruelty First / Sidney Hook, Archive: The Social Democratic Prospect / Jon Pike on Ted Honderich / Michael Allen on Democracy Promotion / Michael J Thompson on Foucault and Islamism / Jonathan Derbyshire on Primo Levi / Mark Gardner on anti-Semitism / Nick Cohen on George Orwell / more


Professor Alan Johnson, Edge Hill University

Paul Berman, New York University
John Bew, University of Cambridge
Brian Brivati, Kingston University
Kirsten Campbell, Goldsmiths, University of London
Joshua Cohen, Goldsmiths, University of London
Robert Fine, University of Warwick
Eve Garrard, Keele University
Norman Geras, University of Manchester
Dr David Hirsh, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Marko Attila Hoare, Kingston University
Quintin Hoare, Director, The Bosnian Institute
Micheline R. Ishay, University of Denver
Faleh A. Jabar, Birkbeck College, University of London
John Lloyd, The Financial Times
Branka Magaš, The Bosnian Institute
Kanan Makiya, Brandeis University
Professor Chibli Mallat, University of Saint Joseph
Jon Pike, The Open University
Khalid Salih, University of Southern Denmark
Martin Shaw, University of Sussex
John Vail, Newcastle University
Barry Winter, Leeds Metropolitan University
Professor Sami Zubaida, Birkbeck, University of London


· Offers the possibility for all those dissatisfied with the inadequate and clichéd responses of much of the left to the perils of our time to develop more adequate responses, and engage in genuine debate. Jean Bethke Elshtain

· Like a breath of fresh of air promoting serious debate about how we embed progressive values across the world. Ed Owen Former special advisor to Jack Straw, Former Foreign Secretary

· Substitutes dialogue for diatribe, critique for cliché, in creating space for the intelligent conversation needed to revive a praxis of authentic democratic solidarity. Michael Allen, Editor, Democracy Digest

· Reclaims a forgotten or usurped internationalist vision of human rights Prof Micheline Ishay

· The only voice coming out of the left that is attempting to find responsible solutions for terrorism and dictatorship emanating from the failed and failing political systems of the Arab and Muslim world. Kanan Makiya, Author, Republic of Fear

· A most welcome addition to the web literature on Middle East related issues and Iraq in particular. Intellectual depth and insight, informative, critical and challenging. Prof. Sami Zubaida


Alan Johnson is Editor of and Professor of Democratic Theory and Practice at Edge Hill University.

Professor Alan JohnsonEdge Hill University

Peter Schumann's and Bread and Puppet's trivialization of the Holocaust

There is some update about this affair taking place in neighbouring Vermont, about which I blogged here.

Ian Thal who was somewhat involved in that kerfuffle reports:

The story of Peter Schumann's and Bread and Puppet's trivialization of the Holocaust continues.

The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research blog ran a series earlier this month analyzing the debacle, and featured interviews both with Schumann and myself.

I should also point out that the statement in Seven Days that Schumann's family had fled from Nazi Germany when he was ten years old, appears to be in error. Schumann tends to be vague about his childhood, but the few statements he has made indicated that his family was fleeing from Allied bombing of Nazi Germany and an invading Soviet Army. I pointed out that error in a letter to the editor

Why I'm not genuinely surprised by these new revelations is anybody's guess..


"If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?" - Peggy Noonan tries to unpack Mrs. Obama's declarations

"...the Messiah of Generation Narcissism" Kathleen Parker joins the new media trend of trying to understand the Obama factor.

This story seems to me not to pass the smell test. It makes the innuendo of impropriety, even corruption, without backing it up. I was taught that before you run something in the newspaper that could ruin somebody's reputation, you'd better have your facts very straight indeed. SeattlePI editor explains why he resisted the McCain story and almost restores my faith in journalistic ethics

Laugh as some may about the Bush Administration's idea to export democracy to the Middle East, they had the basic principle right. The world needs our help more than we need to petition its approval. We are a people who choose our own faith, and, after a civil war and a civil rights movement, a nation where the dignity of each individual human being is accorded respect, and men and women are equal regardless of race, sex, religion or creed.

The Middle East is not like that and George W. Bush thought it wise, for the sake of Arabs and Americans, to try to do something about it, an initiative that inspired some Arabs while it enraged others. (So now guess who the good guys are in the Middle East and who are the bad ones?) What made them like or dislike Bush wasn't the color of the president's skin or his religious faith, but his ideas. It's not clear to me why Americans seem now to be trying to export a very un-American idea - that a man's color and his faith matter. Lee Smith looks at how Obama's colour plays in the Arab world

More quotes, later..

This is later:

Simply Jews links to a perspicacious analysis by Barry Rubin about Iran's latest anti-Israel genocidal threat:

In effect, though, Jafari is erasing all the historical actors in the conflict: Arab states, Arab nationalist groups, Sunni Muslims, and--most remarkably of all--the Palestinians.

The battle is being waged by the heroes of today and the victors of tomorrow--Shia Muslims, and Lebanese ones at that. It is not even a Muslim-Jewish battle (which is in general the Islamist line), because the great majority of Muslims are also not included.

Of course, Hizballah has always maintained that it would fight and defeat Israel, though it was mainly interested in retaking the south of Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s. But to talk about Hizballah, and only Hizballah, as fighting and defeating Israel is a whole new theory of the conflict.

Weren't the Palestinians supposed to be the vanguard? Isn't this battle supposedly being waged on behalf of them?

Now, however it is a Shia cause--not an Arab or Muslim one--to be used to promote Iranian hegemony in the region. The Arabs are left out, the Sunni are left out, and the Palestinians are left out.

Friday, February 22, 2008

He will vote for Brother Obama; there is hope that Obama may yet come to his senses and hate Israel...

This is the gist of an article written by Hamid Dabashi, in Al-Ahram, in the usual grandiloquent, florid prose so beloved of Al-Ahram, a mixture of humongous self-pity, opinion, hostility, distorted history, distorted reality, conspiracy theory, tacit antisemitism, and self-contradictions

Today the absolutely weakest link in the chain of global injustice that tests the mettle of humanity at large, is the plight of millions of Palestinians suffering the indignity of exile from their historic homeland, forsaken in refugee camps and brutalised in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That Barack Obama's message to these suffering millions is to send more missiles to the apartheid state of Israel is an obscenity that mocks every time he stands up and puts forward his messages of hope and change.

The critical question of course at this conjuncture is that if we coloured and marginal folks -- we Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Arabs, Muslims and all the most recent (legal and illegal) immigrants to this land -- will have the courage and the imagination that Barack Obama lacks. Will we cross a fence and extend a hand to a man who is after all one of us, however he may think it politically expedient to pick and chose one thing or another from the baggage he and we have brought along across the borders?

Two of my three children (born and bred here in the United States) have now reached the age when they can vote. They are both committed Obama fans and voted for him in the New York primaries on Super Tuesday. At this point, I am afraid the votes of my two children are all I can offer Brother Barack. Come next November, I too may leave my own darkest convictions behind and vote with the bright hope of my children.

Of course he never quite tells us what that bright hope is, does he?

Let's put some of the above in its accurate historical perspective, or just in history.

Benny Morris used to be one of the most quoted Israeli historian by people of Dabashi's bent.

Here he is, in the Irish Times:

Israel-haters are fond of citing - and more often, mis-citing - my work in support of their arguments. Let me offer some corrections.

The Palestinian Arabs were not responsible "in some bizarre way" (David Norris, January 31st) for what befell them in 1948. Their responsibility was very direct and simple.

In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes.

It is true, as Erskine Childers pointed out long ago, that there were no Arab radio broadcasts urging the Arabs to flee en masse; indeed, there were broadcasts by several Arab radio stations urging them to stay put. But, on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948. And Haifa's Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, did, on April 22nd, plead with them to stay, to no avail.

Most of Palestine's 700,000 "refugees" fled their homes because of the flail of war (and in the expectation that they would shortly return to their homes on the backs of victorious Arab invaders). But it is also true that there were several dozen sites, including Lydda and Ramla, from which Arab communities were expelled by Jewish troops.

The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became "refugees" - and I put the term in inverted commas, as two-thirds of them were displaced from one part of Palestine to another and not from their country (which is the usual definition of a refugee) - was not a "racist crime" (David Landy, January 24th) but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves.

There was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing". Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah - the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) - to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That's what it explicitly states and that's what it was. And the invasion of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq duly occurred, on May 15th.

It is true that Plan D gave the regional commanders carte blanche to occupy and garrison or expel and destroy the Arab villages along and behind the front lines and the anticipated Arab armies' invasion routes. And it is also true that mid-way in the 1948 war the Israeli leaders decided to bar the return of the "refugees" (those "refugees" who had just assaulted the Jewish community), viewing them as a potential fifth column and threat to the Jewish state's existence. I for one cannot fault their fears or logic.

The demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies - much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two.
I would recommend that the likes of Norris and Landy read some history books and become acquainted with the facts, not recycle shopworn Arab propaganda. They might then learn, for example, that the "Palestine War" of 1948 (the "War of Independence," as Israelis call it) began in November 1947, not in May 1948. By May 14th close to 2,000 Israelis had died - of the 5,800 dead suffered by Israel in the whole war (ie almost 1 per cent of the Jewish population of Palestine/Israel, which was about 650,000).


And to conclude this little detour, I thought I would quote this comment from one of Engage's most venerable participants:

The reason why a great part of the left-liberal public in the UK is so much against Israel is in my opinion not the fact, that Israel has won the war in 1967 and has occupied territories densely populated by Arabs, but rather the fact, that its enemies are countries, where women have less rights than men, where homosexuals are persecuted or even condemned to death, where there is no such thing as free media. Many of the British intelligentsia seem to think: When in doubt always [side] with the dictators and the bloodier the better. Already George Orwell was aware of this characteristic of so many British left-liberal intellectuals.

King Salomon was right: Nothing new under the sun. (Karl Pfeifer)

One dupee about to sober up

" I’m nervous because it’s all gone to his head and he hasn’t even won yet."

The Cafe

"Babu: You're a very kind man.

Jerry: Babu, you're Pakistani?

Babu: Yes, Pakistani, yes.

Jerry: Babu, may I say something?

Babu: Of course, you're a very smart man, I'll listen.

Jerry: I'm not a restaurateur by any means, but it occurred to me that perhaps you might serve some dishes from your native Pakistan? As opposed to franks and beans for example.

Babu: But there are no Pakistani people here.

Jerry: Doesn't matter. You would have the only authentic Pakistani restaurant in the whole neighborhood.

Babu: Yes, you see everything, don't you?

Jerry: Well, not everything. I do what I can.

Babu: I'll close down today and when I open again it'll be whole Pakistani restaurant. Thank you, thank you very much, you're very special person, very special.

[Babu leaves]

Jerry thinking: I am such a great guy. Who else would've gone through the trouble of helping this poor immigrant? I am special. My mother was right. Of course I've never had Pakistani food. How bad it could be?

The willing dupee

I watched the second part of the Clinton-Obama debate last night. I was much struck by the operatic drama of the confrontation. The first debate triggered a chain of thoughts about Desdemona and Othello. In this debate I felt part of the time as if I were sitting in a theatre watching a play about a famous Baroque-time duellist.

Plagiarism, according to Wiki, is "the practice of claiming or implying original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else's written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one's own without adequate acknowledgement".

In academia, plagiarism by students, professors, or researchers is considered dishonesty or fraud and the offenders are subject to academic censure. Journalists who plagiarize are in breach of journalistic ethics.

Plagiarism is dishonest on two levels. On the one level, academic strictness in punishing plagiarists is based on the claim that it is tantamount to a theft. The property being stolen is the product of the intellectual acumen and efforts of an individual mind. The person whose work is being plagiarised is actually a victim of an academic transgression.

On the second level, less onerous culpability is displayed in terms of the seriousness of the offence, the fact that by plagiarising someone else's words, one misrepresents him/herself to a readership or audience. He/she uses another person's beautiful and effective creation in order to elicit admiration and accord to him or herself.

I say this is the lesser of the two evils of plagiarism because I expect the audience, any audience, to listen and assess a speaker's words with some degree of personal responsibility and cognition. If a person uses another’s words to create an effect, then he is not the only one dancing this tango. The audience being influenced is at least an equal partner, complicit no less in its eagerness to be swayed in a certain way.
Last night's debate between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama came up to this issue. She was booed by the audience and excoriated by the media pundits for explaining why she thought Obama's use of another man's words is the same as xeroxing a brilliant message.

There is no question that Obama is clear of the first count of the plagiarism charge. He was not only allowed but actually given these words by the person who originally articulated them. There was no theft involved between the two. It was an exchange of gifts between friends. Nevertheless, Obama is not completely innocent of the fraud charge because he relayed these words to an audience, leaving them with the impression that these clever and incisive words were the product of his own intellect. That's what Clinton was trying to express last night without actually resorting to such a harsh word like "fraud". She failed to fully explain her misgiving by not holding the receiving audience at least as equally to blame. The booing that followed her remark was a perfect illustration of how willing that audience was to be duped.

It's a bit like the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano loves Roxanne. Roxanne loves Christian. Christian loves Roxanne but he has a problem: Roxanne is an intellectual and he is a simple, unpoetic man. So Cyrano has a bright idea, he will write to Roxanne -pretending to be Christian. Christian agrees, because Cyrano's magical way with words will help him reach Roxanne’s heart. So Cyrano gets to express his true feelings for Roxanne while Christian gets the credit for their beauty; Roxanne, who was all too ready to fall in love with Christian to begin with, easily and uncritically accepts Christian's mesmerisingly eloquent letters as proof of his own genius.

So, no plagiarism took place, just a bit of a fraud played upon a very forgiving and compliant recipient.

When and if the audience sobers up, it might be too late to do anything about it but it least they will not be in a position to claim that they were unwittingly hoodwinked. They were warned but chose to look the other way. Kumbaya is so much more comforting and undemanding than actually having to do some rational heavy lifting, no?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The pricing of poetry, deleted comments, bounced checks and purloined letters

From the diary of an Internet Alice

George Szirtez had an amusing post today about an Internet encounter with a fellow-poet, here.

"This is my part of an exchange with Welsh poet Gwilym Williams, now resident in Austria, who writes on his blog here and here. Gwilym's blog discusses poetry in general and he has interesting things to say about D.H. Lawrence among other things.

The essence of his argument is that, considering their size in terms of pages, poetry books are very expensive. Furthermore, there are relatively few words per page so one is paying even more for even less. He calculates that he has paid roughly 12p per page for Seamus Heaney's District and Circle and argues that poorer prospective readers are priced out of buying books of poetry; that there may indeed be an element of profiteering going on. "

Intrigued by this novel approach to poetry appreciation, I went to check it out myself and noticed that the poetic duel continued somewhat in the comment section until mysteriously interrupted by a note from the blog-master: "Comment deleted, This post has been removed by the blog administrator."

Now definitely my resident imp, the one who sits on my left shoulder and conducts my writing hand, was sedulously engaged.

I wrote, here:

What an extraordinary angle of looking at the worth of poetry! I've only once encountered this price-to-value ratio consideration, in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal", here paraphrased from memory:

Amelia: I usually read history books. They're long and cheap and usually about men killing each other. 900 pages for less than $10, do you realize what a bargain it is?


BTW, what a shame the last two comments were deleted. It made me speculate about what could have been said in them that would merit such a drastic measure. It might have been more equitable to delete all mention to any comment. Leaving the interior of a comment blank is not as suggestive as substituting the comment with the verbal equivalent of a rap across the knuckles from the administrative authority, while depriving the reader from the possibility of judging for themselves.

But maybe I’m just overanalyzing, as, unfortunately, is my wont.

The PIR very graciously acknowledged my comment and complimented me on my name while explaining that his "blog has a 'no comment' policy in respect of deleted posts."

I reciprocated thusly:

"This blog has a 'no comment' policy in respect of deleted posts."

I get your point. It's a bit like TS Eliot's explanation to all those tedious Jews who claimed some of his poems were antisemitic. What he said was that, basically, the persona speaking in the poem is not necessarily identical to the poet who authored it. Thus, the blogger who owns this blog and determines its policies is not identical to the blogger who actually writes this blog.

Thank you for your appreciation of my name. Natural modesty compels me to reveal that it was not I who thought about it but a poet who knew me well enough to suggest it..

BTW, your point about the Bible being about wars etc, was originally taken up by the Goth bishop Wulfila who translated the Bible from Greek into the Gothic language in the fourth century. He omitted, however, the the books of Kings because his Visigothic flock were a warrior-type people and he was afraid that such heroic tales of wars might excite their war-mongering juices.

Imagine my surprise when my informative little comment was deemed unsuitable for the blog, too, and deleted! This time a reason was provided:

"Comments are appreciated but should be confined to the topic of the post. In this case the pricing of poetry books."

I was quite mortified. After all, I was only responding to points the Mr. Williams himself was making! I didn't introduce any new subject, just expanding a little on the themes provoked by his eccentric attitude to the value of poetry and comment policies... What could have triggered the deleting instinct and the prolectical substitute of its contents? Was it the mention of TS Eliot? Wulfila?

As a result of this very short exchange, my mind wandered far afield, to Poe and Seinfeld.

Let's start with Seinfend. It's easier to show the relevance:

New scene in the bodega, starts with a shot of Marcelino's cash register with Jerry's clown check attached under a sign that reads "checks no longer accepted from:".

JERRY: Again, I'm really sorry about the check, Marcelino.

MARCELINO: People seem to like the clowns.

JERRY (takes out his wallet): Look, let me just give you the forty, plus another twenty for your trouble.


JERRY (turning to leave): Aren't you going to take the check down?

MARCELINO: Sorry, no. It's store policy.

JERRY: But it's your bodega.

MARCELINO: Even I am not above the policy.

And now to Poe:

In his story, "The Purloined Letter", Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of a letter, the contents of which - if revealed - would be highly compromising to its writer. The letter was stolen by the villain of the piece with the intent of profiting from its contents by means of blackmail. Let's skip to the end, where the letter is found, in plain sight, and switched by a lookalike piece of paper, in order to mislead the culprit into continued insouciance, ignorant of the fact that the gold-yielding letter was no longer in his possession.

We never find out what the contents of that letter was. We imagine the worst (that it was a billet-doux from an illegitimate lover). But we do get to hear what message the villain would read when he next reached for it:

..In the present instance I have no sympathy --at least no pity --for him who descends. He is the monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I confess, however, that I should like very well to know the precise character of his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a certain personage,' he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in the card-rack."

"How? did you put any thing particular in it?"

"Why --it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank --that would have been insulting. D--, at Vienna once, did me an evil turn, which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as I knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I thought it a pity not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words--

--Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atree, est digne de Thyeste.

Don't look for symmetrical parallels. It's a simple lesson: he who controls the message, has a certain power. Once the letter writer lost the letter, she no longer controlled its fate, and by inference, whatever harm it would do to her reputation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Remember the much ballyhooed NIE report which was published two months ago and essentially cleared Iran of pursuing a nuclear bomb?

Well, "Michael McConnell, the man responsible for the US National Intelligence Estimate... backtracked last week.

In testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 5, the admiral vouchsafed that, in hindsight, "I think I would change the way that we described [the Iranian] nuclear program."

Here's the very first sentence of that immensely ballyhooed NIE, which was greeted rapturously by Iran and with horror in Israel when it was published in early December: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program."

What McConnell is now saying amounts to the very opposite: Yes, runs the amended narrative, we think the Iranians may have halted what we narrowly, foolishly and misleadingly defined as their nuclear weapons program four years ago, we're not sure if they've restarted it, but the fact is that we led you all astray with our definition of that program in the first place.

Read the rest, here. You won't find it easily in the mainstream media outlets. For some reason.

Isn't it too bad, that we can't keep pretending that Iran is not up to no good? That is, if we believe McConnell now in the same fervour that some of us (not me) believed him the first time. Something tells me that not everyone will summon up the mental resources to un-believe what they so readily and unquestioningly accepted when what he said was so very much what they wanted to hear...