In a barrel

Nice post by Andrew Sullivan, ripping up Stanley Fish for “post-modern claptrap”:

Yes, Fish has read Nietzsche, hence his homage in the sentence: “The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously.” But this is a distortion of liberalism, as Nietzsche’s was. The defense of free speech is not a frivolous exercise, as Fish argues. In the context of a continent where artists and writers have been threatened with death and murdered for their freedoms, it is a deadly serious task. And maintaining support for the difficult restraint that liberalism asks of us — to maintain faith if you want, but to curtail its intolerant and extreme influence in the public square — is, pace Fish, not an easy or platitudinous path. It is the difficult restraint liberty requires in modernity. Fish, however, like many postmoderns, is skeptical of such ideas of liberty and, in a pinch, seems to prefer the Taliban’s authenticity to societies where writers dare to challenge religious taboos.

This cultural jiu-jitsu put me in mind of a passage from George Orwell’s great essay, Inside the Whale. I don’t think I’ve written about this passage before. Orwell has been discussing political trends among British writers: the modernists of the 1920s — whom he characterizes largely as fascists — and the Comintern-supporting writers of the 1930s. Since I can’t write anywhere near as well as Orwell, let’s just go with an extended passage:

[W]hy did these young men turn towards anything so alien as Russian Communism? Why should writers be attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible? The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment.

Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. The trouble was that by about 1930 there was no activity, except perhaps scientific research, the arts, and left-wing politics, that a thinking person could believe in. The debunking of Western civilization had reached its Climax and “disillusionment” was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding, honour, discipline — anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole lot of them inside out in three minutes. But what do you achieve, after all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You have not necessarily got rid of the need for something to believe in. There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism. But I do not think one need look farther than this for the reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and — at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts — a Fuehrer. All the loyalties and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion, empire, military glory — all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader, hero, saviour — all in one word, Stalin. God — Stalin. The devil — Hitler. Heaven — Moscow. Hell — Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after all, the “Communism” of the English intellectual is something explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated.

But there is one other thing that undoubtedly contributed to the cult of Russia among the English intelligentsia during these years, and that is the softness and security of life in England itself. With all its injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the over-whelming majority of English people have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the dominant writers of the thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.

Update: I zapped this post to Andrew Sullivan, who liked it enough to riff on it as his second Quote of the Day, and extend me a hat-tip! Much appreciated! New visitors: Enjoy the site!

Out of Toon

Comicsreporter reporter (and occasional VM contributor) Tom Spurgeon has a good roundup of posts about the Danish cartoons that goof on Muhammad.

I have a couple of archive posts that get at the subject of intolerance-through-art. In Weighing In, I touch on the subject of how, when people of other faiths are “offended,” they protest or call for boycotts. I cited The Last Temptation of Christ in that one, but you could say the same about Spike Lee’s caricature Jews in Jungle Fever. You didn’t see Jews calling for Lee to be killed. They just shut off the flow of money to his accounts and made sure none of the major networks covered his new movies.

In Who’s Smarter? I explain that Salman Rushdie doesn’t stack up to Madonna.

I’m happy that the managing editor of France Soir took a stand, in solidarity with the press’ right to goof on just about anyone, and bummed that the French Egyptian owner of the paper fired his ass, in solidarity with the culture of resentment.

More on Hamas

Richard Posner’s take jibes with mine (but is much more informed).

Christopher Hitchens’ take does not jibe with mine (but is much more informed).

Meanwhile, the best thing about this Washington Post opinion piece by Mousa Abu Marzook is the author’s byline:

The writer is deputy political bureau chief of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). He has a U.S. doctorate in engineering and was indicted in the United States in 2004 as a co-conspirator on racketeering and money-laundering charges in connection with activities on behalf of Hamas dating to the early 1990s, before the organization was placed on the list of terrorist groups. He was deported to Jordan in 1997.

My aforementioned take is over here.

We Like Jewish People! (or, Psychosemitic)

In today’s Washington Post, there’s an article about evangelical Christians who are becoming “philo-semitic”. While some of the people demonstrate a straight-up belief that Jews are the chosen people, I’ve been a little nervous about this trend for years now.

I guess it derives from my feeling uncomfortable with any religious group that links paradise with apocalypse. There’s a manic evangelical woman in my office who used to put all sorts of “literature” in my mail slot. Since it was a pretty clean ergonomic movement from the mail slot to the trash can, it was never a huge problem.

Then she e-mailed me an excerpt from The Omega Letter, explaining how the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was God’s revenge for the U.S. support for Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I flipped out on her, as I predicted would happen last August. All this apocalypso gives me the Heebie-Jewbies:

Julie Galambush, a former American Baptist minister who converted to Judaism 11 years ago, has seen both sides of the divide. She said many Jews suspect that evangelicals’ support for Israel is rooted in a belief that the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion.

“That hope is felt and expressed by Christians as a kind, benevolent hope,” said Galambush, author of “The Reluctant Parting,” a new book on the Jewish roots of Christianity. “But believing that someday Jews will stop being Jews and become Christians is still a form of hoping that someday there will be no more Jews.”

Anyway, what I’m saying is, some evangelicals consider support of Jews just a necessary step in the Second Coming. I’m not saying they all feel this way, because it’d be unfair to characterize everydarnbody based solely on religion. But I’m glad that some — like the profiled Rev. Mooneyham — appear to have different motives for their “charity” for the Jews.

Still, the idea of bringing Russian Jews “home” ties into this idea of prophecy and Armageddon (for me), and this centering of the Jews with history and its end:

Jacques Berlinerblau, a visiting professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, said the rise of philo-Semitism in the United States has led Jewish scholars to look back at previous periods of philo-Semitism, such as in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century. He said revisionists are increasingly challenging the standard “lachrymose version” of Jewish history, questioning whether persecution has been the norm and tolerance the exception, or vice versa.

Still, some Jews think that philo-Semitism is just the flip side of anti-Semitism.

“Both are Semitisms: That is, both install the Jews at the center of history. One regards this centrality positively, the other regards it negatively. But both are forms of obsession about the Jews,” said Leon Wieseltier, a Jewish scholar and literary editor of the New Republic.

Which, of course, brings me back to basketball. Last century, people joked about the eschatological evangelical beliefs of Sacramento’s power forward, Lawrence Funderburke. See, Lawrence had been making comments about how the world was going to end after 1999, but he’d also been holding out for a long-term contract, so the sportswriters had a pretty easy time goofing on him.

So ESPN writer Frank Hughes decided to interview Funderburke about it two days before this projected apocalypse:

Why not sign a one-year deal, or a half-year deal, get everything up front, live it up like a drunken banshee for the remainder of his days and just go nuts in that final game of games, the Kings-Seattle SuperSonics tilt on Dec. 29?

Hey, I realize the globe is about to blow a gasket, and in the larger scheme basketball does not really mean a whole lot since all life on this planet is about to end, but regardless, we’ve still got a job to do. Tip-off at 7:30.

So I go in to talk with Larry after a game the other day, completely prepared to listen to his prediction of Almighty destruction with a smirk on my face.

And guess what? The guy is very well spoken, very intelligent and makes some solid arguments. And after writing the column last week about what a farce some of the aspects of religion are in this league, it was actually refreshing to listen to a man who is so devoted to his beliefs and so willing to shamelessly stand up for them in the face of ridicule and adversity.

Most of Funderburke’s comments were prophecies about Israel weakening, imminent mega-destruction, and the Jews coming to accept that Jesus is the messiah, but he also said something that I found pretty touching:

“I don’t get caught up in the millennium, and I know that it is not going to happen around then. And I think a lot of people will point at Christians and say, ‘If it doesn’t happen, then they are all false prophecies and they are predicting all these things.’ [. . .]

“I live day to day, my life. If you look at Payne Stewart, if you look at John Kennedy, no one knows when The Lord is going to come for your individual life. The main thing is to be ready, make sure you have a personal relationship with Him. I don’t worry about that. I’ve always lived my life day by day. I can’t control the future. No man can. What I try to do is give to the Church, help people out, do all I can to follow Christ’s example. A lot of people kid me, a lot of people ask me questions about Y2K . . . but I tell them I don’t know.”

Apart from the passages about impending nuclear war, his sentiments were pretty close to the those of the Dalai Lama, who contended that the true cataclysm is within the human heart, and that every day can be the millennium for someone.

Have a happy agnostic valentine.

The Rest Wing

Perhaps the need for clean public toilets will lead to an Iranian counter-revolution. As the Brooding Persian sez:

“A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible to keep its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power.”

Build It Up, Tear It Down

According to this article in the Washington Post, the organized homicidal faction of the Palestinians is calling for reforms of the Palestinian Authority (an end to corruption, nepotism and graft, particularly), and wants a voice in the government.

At first, I was going to make a joke about how tough it would be to vote for candidates who always wear black ski masks, but that seemed mean-spirited. Then I thought about how the article (which I read quickly) doesn’t seem to mention a need to destroy Israel. Which made me think, “Maybe this security wall is already serving its purpose.”

Back!

Not exactly rested and ready, but at least the big issue is wrapped, in time for my family’s visit for the next 7-10 days!

To get re-started, here’s a post by The Brooding Persian, about the 4th of July in Iran.

In the Persian calendar, today is 18 Tir, which has become a day of protest for Iranians. It marks the anniversary of the 1999 Iranian students national uprising, which was flat-out massacred by the troops of the theocracy. There are protests and demonstrations going on worldwide, a guide for which can be found here. If there was one in NYC tonight/this afternoon, I’d head out for it.

Update: Here’s a little more background on the events of 18 Tir back in 1999.