Going to the Max

by Jay Nordlinger

Last week, I did some writing about The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera by John Adams. I devoted most of a column to it here; and I did a blogpost here. I’m loath to rehash, but I’d better do a little of that, particularly for newcomers.

The Death of Klinghoffer is about the Achille Lauro affair. This is the hijacking in 1985 in which Palestinian terrorists took over an Italian cruise liner (the Achille Lauro). They murdered a passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly American Jew who was confined to a wheelchair. They shot him and dumped his body overboard. Later, U.S. forces captured the terrorists (though they were all able to flee Italian justice in the end).

Adams is probably the most celebrated classical composer of our age, along with Philip Glass. (You could count John Williams, the movie king, too.) His Klinghoffer will be staged by the Metropolitan Opera next season. But the Met has canceled its planned broadcast of the opera, not wanting to “fan global anti-Semitism,” as they said. This has caused a furor. And I bet the Met will relent (because the Left is really ticked).

Let me quote a little of that blogpost I mentioned:

Googling around, I found the New York Times editorial on the matter. The editors say, “The opera gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder.” “All sides” — really? Maybe I am misreading the editors, but this “all sides” business seems an almost comical example of moral relativism run amok.

Palestinian terrorists murdered an innocent, helpless man in cold blood because he was Jewish. Period. The terrorists have a “side,” true: They are monsters. Or am I being judgmental, in my simple, Reagan-like way?

Okay, new material, at last. A reader sent me a short video from the Met, featuring comments from the composer and the stage director, Tom Morris. The reader was repulsed by what they said, and asked me to give it a listen. Overcoming very strong resistance, I did.

In the video, Adams explains why he wrote the opera: “Opera is the art form that goes to the max. It’s the art form that is the most emotional, the one that goes the furthest, and in a sense terrorism is the same thing.”

The director, Morris, calls the Achille Lauro hijacking “a hugely controversial event.” What a strange word, “controversial.” Terrorists murdered an innocent man bound to a wheelchair. Yes, it made the news — as did our eventual capture of the terrorists. But “controversial”?

Morris also says, “One of the passengers, Leon Klinghoffer, died — he was killed — within the hijacking.” Give him credit for saying “he was killed.” When I watched the video, I thought he was going to stop at “died.” But what dainty wording, right? He died, he was killed, within the hijacking. This makes the murder sound almost accidental, as though Klinghoffer had slipped in the tub.

With great resoluteness, Morris says, “The most important thing about this opera is it doesn’t assume that it has any answers to anything that it’s addressing. It’s saying, let’s spend some time wrestling with the very difficult questions that arise from this very difficult conflict.”

Well, I’m a wrestler. I like wrestling. It’s practically my job. But once in a while, I’m reminded why I left the Left, many years ago. Why I recoiled from the Left. A big reason was their moral relativism — a compass all out of whack. A refusal to countenance good and evil. (Well, true, a lot of them regarded Reagan and Thatcher as evil.)

Adams says, “Our opera tries to look at the terrorists and the passengers and see humanity in both of them, and for some people that’s an egregious mistake. I don’t feel it is. I feel that, for all the brutality and the moral wrong that they perpetrated in killing this man, they’re still human beings, and there still ha[ve] to be reasons why they did this act.”

Okay. Fair enough. But tell me who would make an opera about some lynching in the old South, taking care to understand the lynchers’ point of view. How about an opera on the Scottsboro Boys? Or the assassination of MLK, presenting Ray’s side? How about apartheid South Africa, giving the Boer rulers full and equal voice? Who would do that?

You knew I would get to Nazism. So . . . Auschwitz? Emphasizing the Germans’ hurt over the terms of the Versailles Treaty and so on?

You see what I’m getting at. What a mess. You can form your own commentary, without further words from me.

Except for a P.S. The lead terrorist in the Achille Lauro hijacking was Abu Abbas. He fled to Saddam Hussein and was sheltered by him. You often hear — from the Left and parts of the Right — that Hussein had nothing to do with terrorism. The big bad neocons tried to link him to terrorism, falsely. They were pulling the wool over our eyes.

Anyway, remember Abbas. While you’re at it, remember Abdul Rahman Yasin, one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. He, too, fled to Saddam, and was sheltered by him. Same with Abu Nidal. Etc. Don’t let the revisionists and memory-erasers win.