Politics & Policy

A Voice From Egypt, &C.

Care to begin with some good news out of the Middle East? That’s never a bad way to begin (or end). MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, captured an Egyptian intellectual named Ahmad Naji Kamha. He was writing in Al-Ahram, which is Egypt’s New York Times (except controlled by the government). Here is Kamha:

Yes, we are [the U.S.’s] allies, and this does not constitute a betrayal of any principle. This is an alliance aimed at reshaping the entire region on the basis of freedom and equality, and in order to change and awaken societies that deserve a better life. What is wrong with presenting this message loud and clear? Yes, we are [the U.S.’s] allies, and this alliance grows with every crisis in the region. This alliance is based on principles which permit no-one to interfere with our affairs. It is our policy and our reform alone that leads us to join the policy lines of our strongest ally–politically, economically, and socially–for the sake of a society that is free in every sense of the word.

Let’s have a little more, before leaving Kamha (and if his words strike you as unremarkable, rest assured they are not–not for Egypt):

One must expose the lie behind the inciting claims that the U.S. is the great Satan with eyes for Israeli interests alone, that the changes and reforms currently taking place are merely the result of external pressures, and that the U.S. is [only] looking for some opening that would enable it to exert additional pressures on the Egyptian state and to intervene in its political decisions. Exposing all these [lies] is the opening shot for the phase of an ideological breakthrough that would enable the Egyptian mind to examine everything rationally and to reach rational conclusions instead of being pushed toward a policy of suicide . . .

A couple of points: Three years ago, when I talked to him for a piece, MEMRI’s co-founder, Yigal Carmon, told me that he had begun the institute mainly for the purpose of giving voice and wing to Arab moderates and liberals–not for the purpose of exposing the extremists (who in the Arab world, alas, are mainstream). And here we see an example of sanity in Ahmad Naji Kamha.

Second, you will see in that piece–here–that Al-Ahram, ordinarily, is very, very bad news. Its editor-in-chief–appointed by Mubarak–infamously wrote that America had poisoned the food it was dropping over Afghanistan. Also that we were dropping it in minefields. So if the poison didn’t get you, the mines would.

They’ve come a long way, baby, if Kamha is any kind of indication at all.

‐This has made its way around the world, but I wanted to be sure you saw it: The German Open (tennis) had a printed program; it included an essay on the host club, Rot Weiss (Berlin). According to Reuters, the essay was accompanied by a photo of Goering “sitting on the club’s honorary tribune, with uniformed Nazi officers behind him.”

And the text? Well, you see, Jews had skedaddled, or otherwise disappeared, and “with its membership reduced by half in this way, the club, previously known as a ‘Jewish club,’ opened itself to new members. In sporting terms this change brought no interruption for the club and top German tennis. On the contrary, golden times ensued.”

Yes, of course!

The Reuters report tacks on a nice coda: “The elite tennis club is just a stone’s throw from the city’s Grunewald train station, where a platform from which thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths has been preserved as a memorial.”

‐Speaking of genocide: Are you sick of Sudan, or have you not learned enough about it? I have a piece in the current issue, examining the Darfur genocide, and the one that took place previously in Sudan’s south. (Darfur is in the west–same country, different genocide. Lovely record, Khartoum’s.) I hope it will repay your time, if you read it.

Here, I will merely link to a little item saying that 336 slaves have recently been released: These are “black Sudanese slaves from the Dinka tribe . . . freed from their Arab masters.” Nina Shea, a heroine of Freedom House, told me that, while the southern nightmare was in full swing, the American media wouldn’t write about it, except to say how horrible it was that some “Christian Right” groups were redeeming slaves (i.e., buying their freedom). If I’m ever enslaved, I hope a Christian Right group notices.

‐Last week, the office of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced the death of his father, Rafael Lincoln Diaz-Balart. He was also the father of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and of others. (Lincoln and Mario are Miami Republicans.) I have written about this remarkable man, Rafael, before–in my March 2003 piece on his Capitol Hill sons. Please have an excerpt:

Rafael Lincoln Diaz-Balart rose to become an important politician in the [Cuban] Republic. He would be majority leader in the House of Representatives. But first he was a friend, comrade, and roommate of Fidel Castro. One fatal thing the boys’ father did was introduce Castro to his sister Mirta, whom Castro married in 1948. They had one son, before divorcing in 1954. That boy, Fidelito, was sent to the Soviet Union to study and be communized.

According to Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his mother always hated Castro, even when the young rabble-rouser was best friends with her husband. She never trusted Castro, and she was appalled at the way he treated Mirta, her sister-in-law. When Castro seized power, the Diaz-Balart family–which then numbered four–happened to be out of the country. How important was that to their survival? “Put it this way,” says Mario Diaz-Balart, when I ask him: “If they hadn’t been out of the country, you and I and Lincoln wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.” The Castroites looted and burned their home. . . .

[Rafael Diaz-Balart] gave an extraordinary speech in the Cuban House in May 1955. Lincoln hands me a translation. The father wanted to explain his opposition to a law that amnestied Castro and his band. The law had just been passed and was apparently popular.

And here is what Majority Leader Diaz-Balart said, in part:

Fidel Castro and his group have repeatedly declared, from their comfortable prison, that they will be leaving prison only in order to continue plotting new acts of violence and whatever it takes to achieve the total power they seek. They have refused to take part in any type of peaceful settlement, threatening both members of the government and members of the opposition who support electoral solutions to the country’s problems.

They do not want peace. They do not want a national solution. They do not want democracy, or elections, or fraternity. Fidel Castro and his group seek only one thing: power, and total power at that. And they want to achieve that power through violence, so that their total power will enable them to destroy every vestige of . . . law in Cuba, to institute the most cruel, most barbaric tyranny–. . . a totalitarian regime, a corrupt and murderous regime that would be difficult to overthrow for at least twenty years. This is because Fidel Castro is nothing more than a psychopathic fascist, who could choose to align himself with communism only because fascism was defeated in the Second World War.

Rafael ended, “I believe that this amnesty–so imprudently adopted–will bring days, many days, of mourning, pain, bloodshed, and misery to the Cuban people, even though these very people do not see it that way now. I ask God that the majority of the people and the majority of my fellow representatives present here be the ones who are right. I ask God that I be the one who is mistaken–for Cuba’s sake.”

Last week, after his father’s death, Lincoln Diaz-Balart said, “My father was my constant teacher and my best friend. He taught me how to live, and now he has taught me how to die. I will miss his brilliance and wisdom, his extraordinary generosity of spirit, his limitless love for his family, and above all his supreme love for Cuba. His death constitutes another reason to continue the fight for Cuba’s freedom, which was the ideal of his life, and of so many Cubans who have died longing for free Cuba.”

I can add nothing to that.

‐But I can note this: The Diaz-Balart brothers and others have started a Cuba Democracy Caucus in the House, which “will meet on a regular basis to discuss legislative and media strategies to support the rebirth of freedom in Cuba.” There are some Democrats involved, two of them not from Florida: Eliot Engel and Gary Ackerman, both New Yorkers. There’s no political percentage in it for them. (Incidentally, since I’m talking about pieces, you may wish to see my piece in the 4/25 issue, on congressional human-rights champions. Engel, in particular, is astonishing.)

‐One more Cuba item? Okay. This one isn’t so fun. You recall that movie Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams? Well, there’s a real Patch Adams–and I’ve been sent an article on his visit to Havana. Unfortunately.

I will quote just a little from the good Dr. Adams: “It is important that we work with the dreamers and visionaries of Cuba, even if our government doesn’t want us to. . . . Today, money sweeps away everything and no socio-economic system can work that way. We must change the present values system based on money for one in which compassion and love prevail. That is why we have come to Cuba: to tell you [Cubans] to keep on defending what you are doing.”

It goes on in this vein. A little “compassion and love” for Cuba’s political prisoners? Are you kidding? From the Robin Williams Left?

Come Liberation Day–if it comes–these people will have a lot to answer for. But then, they don’t ever have to answer, do they? If they weren’t embarrassed by the Vietnamese boat people, or by the Khmer Rouge’s victims . . .

Who was it who said, “They don’t embarrass easy”?

‐Off Cuba, and on to something maybe as bad: the French foreign minister. Here is Michel Barnier, quoted in the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/03/AR2005050301279.html"Washington Post:

There have been two guiding principles in Europe over the last 50 years. One is a huge free-trade zone, which is a more Anglo-Saxon approach. And then the idea that in addition to that, we’d be a real community with a real voice counting on the international scene. We do feel that Europe must count as an entity, because not one of our countries alone, singly, has the kind of clout, has the kind of strength that the United States has or that China has.

This seems to me to give the game away, a bit: to acknowledge that the EU exists, at least in part, to be a rival or counterweight to the United States, as to China. The U.S. and China! Two great powers to be countered! So what if one is liberal democratic and the other Communist (and expansionist)?

Merci, monsieur, pour votre franchise (which means, “Thanks, Mike, for fessing up”).

‐You may recall that I recommended–heartily–a Newt Gingrich white paper, found at his website. My colleague Jason Steorts read it, and had a point to make: “My jaw dropped when I read this: ‘[T]he forces of the reactionary status quo bitterly oppose the emerging new system.’ If I had no context and didn’t know who wrote that, I’d assume it was straight from some Marxist historian’s pen. Interesting to hear those terms coming from a former GOP Speaker.”

Indeed–but I assume that Newt was taught by Marxists, as we all were. I mean, it just seeped into our blood, and into our tongues. We’ve never stopped speaking the language. (Of course, sometimes we do it for purely rhetorical effect.) And I’m reminded of something about James Burnham, the ex-Communist NR father: Long past his Communist days, he’d refer to an opinion as “correct” or “incorrect”!

‐At the end of an interesting Wall Street Journal piece, Michael Steinberger told a story. This one:

I spent several years after college working on Wall Street, during which time I was interviewed for a job with a major hedge fund. The interview did not go especially well, and the tone was set pretty much from the start. As the gentleman meeting with me scanned my résumé and came across Haverford College, he icily commented: “Well, if you read it quickly enough, it looks like it says Harvard.”

That gave me a flashback, to a Tony Kornheiser column, years ago. (Kornheiser is a Washington Post sportswriter who does a general, and hilarious, column on the weekend. Or at least that used to be true, when I was in touch.) He graduated from Haverford–as I remember–and he wrote, “. . . school motto: ‘No, I did not say Harvard.’”

I’ve always loved that.

And God knows I’m not picking on anybody. I hope you know it, too–especially those of you who send e-mails and stuff.

‐Back to the French: I cherish this passage from our friend VDH: “Personally, I’d rather live in a country that goes into an anguished national debate over pulling the plug on a lone woman than one that blissfully vacations on the beach oblivious to the 15,000 elderly cooked to well done back in Paris.”

‐Some language? A friend asked me to comment on “different from” and “different than.” This is a sticky wicket, but I’m going to be brief: “The rich are different from you and me. They think differently than we do.”

And I’m leaving it at that.

‐Feel like a little music criticism, from the New York Sun? Great, but first my April New Criterion “chronicle,” added to the archive: here.

And now from the Sun: For a review of the New York Philharmonic, guest-conducted by Leonard Slatkin, with cellist Lynn Harrell, and for a review of the Tokyo String Quartet, at the 92nd St. Y, please go here.

For a review of the Bamberg Symphony, conducted by Jonathan Nott, with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, please go here.

And for a review of “The Andsnes Project”–i.e., the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and friends, at Zankel Hall–please go here.

‐A word about the 92nd St. Y (which is, or was, a YMHA, incidentally, not a YMCA–a Young Men’s Hebrew Association, not a Young Men’s Christian Association): You look up in the auditorium, where concerts are held, and you see names. Ready for them? Beethoven, Lincoln, Washington, David, Moses, Isaiah, Jefferson, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Bach . . .

Is it not hard to feel what has been lost, when you see what our culture was, what our civilization was, what people appreciated, what they looked up to (literally)? Is such a feeling pure, conservative, shameful nostalgia?

And what if names were placed in some pantheon today? We’d have . . . Alice Walker, Michael Moore, Barry Commoner . . .

Okay, enough of my whining (for this item).

‐Friends, I’ve got tons more, but I’ve kept you way, way overtime, and I’ll publish a couple of letters, and say goodbye (if I remember).

Dear Jay:

I saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, “Dick Cheney has a GAY daughter”–complete with an image of the vice president. I could tell by the car, and the driver, that this was some “liberal” statement. The sticker was meant to rub the noses of the religiously conservative–who are abundant in my part of the country–in that fact, about Cheney and his daughter.

Now, my question is this: What if some Democratic leader had a gay daughter, and some right-winger had a similar bumper sticker on his pickup truck? Huh?

Huh, indeed.

‐And this is from a dear old friend:


CNN has a big article on their website about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are limiting the ability of the U.S. to fight. Does this mean that there are other enemies we may have to confront (Syria, Iran, North Korea)? Or is it a good thing that Iraq and Afghanistan limit the ability of the military-industrial baby-killing complex to wage wars elsewhere? The media have me so confused, as usual!

‐From the academic groves (or at least about them):


A colleague of mine is currently taking a sociology course at a college in NYC. I was appalled at the tone and clear bias of the proposed questions for an essay. Have a look at this:

“Discuss 1984 in terms of the present reconfiguration of US democracy in the post-9/11 regime of Bush/Cheney/Rice/Gonzales et al. In what way did reading 1984 inform your understanding of the alarm sounded by civil libertarians about the USA Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act? Has ‘terrorism’ become the excuse for ‘Big Brother’ to watch your every move, every purchase, every book you read, every trip you take, every conversation you have? Will the conservatives who run your life keep this country permanently at war against a vague and ever-changing ‘Axis of Evil’? Is this secretive administration a ‘Ministry of Truth,’ constantly spinning its version of global reality to an ill-informed, overconsumptive population? Lastly, why is control of the population by fear such an important part of the book’s climax and a critical part of the present administration’s basis of popular (?) support?”

Yup–that’s the academia I know! (Not enough transgendered stuff in there, though.)

‐More bumper-sticker angst?

Dear Jay,

You wrote at length recently about Manhattan Democrats and their Kerry/Edwards pins. Can I make a related point about bumper stickers?

I live in Rockland County [N.Y.], which narrowly went for Bush. But you’d never know it by the bumper stickers. To drive around and see “Kerry/Edwards ‘04,” “Impeach Bush,” “It Takes a Village Idiot,” “Four More Wars,” etc., you’d think you were in, say, Ann Arbor. As for Republicans, you see the occasional “Bush/Cheney ‘04,” but that’s about it.

Is there something in liberals–something inherent–that makes them proclaim their political beliefs in sticker form? Or is it just part of being an opposition party (though I imagine there were more Clinton stickers than Dole ones in the mid-’90s)?

Also, if you’re a rabid Democrat, you may still believe the most horrible things about Dubya, and want to proclaim your feelings on the back of your car. But scrape off the Kerry/Edwards sticker already . . .

Hey, man, Arms Are for Hugging! And You Can’t Hug a Child with Nuclear Arms. And It Will Be a Great Day When the Schools Have All They Need, and the Pentagon Has to Hold a Bake Sale. And . . .

At least that’s what I read, back on the mean streets.

Goodbye, y’all.

‐Oh, I almost forgot: If You Don’t Like Abortion, Don’t Have One. Got it?! And If You Don’t Like Slavery, Don’t Own Any! (Oh, sorry: Never saw that one.)


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