Politics & Policy

We’Re All Middle East Specialists Now, &C.

When I was a serious student of the Middle East some years ago, I would often think, “You know, the world doesn’t know anything about this–the Holocaust denial, the freakish theories, the irreconcilable hatred.” And I wished the world could know more about the Middle East.

One thing that always amazed me is that many Middle Eastern elites couldn’t decide whether to deny the Holocaust, celebrate it, or lament that it didn’t go far enough.

If you ever peruse the website of the Middle East Research Institute, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

And you recall this charming fact about “Abu Mazen,” the head of the Palestinian Authority: He wrote a dissertation that denied the Holocaust. It was later published as The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement. (The Palestinian boss wrote this scholarly opus while in Moscow.)

Anyway, one thing 9/11 and the War on Terror did was make people far more aware of the nature of the Middle East. When the Iranian president talks the way he talks–the Holocaust never happened, Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, blah, blah, blah–the world focuses in. The nature of that region is now out in the open, confronted. If I may speak frankly, a lot of us feel like we no longer possess secret knowledge.

Which comes as a great relief.

And, by the way: the line that the Iranian president took the other day? I’ll paraphrase: “The Holocaust didn’t occur, but if it did, it was a European crime–and why should the Middle East have to pay, with Jews in our midst, for a crime of Europeans? If Israel has to exist, let it be in Europe.”

Many people were shocked by this. But such talk is routine in the Middle East (and elsewhere). Absolutely standard. No more remarkable than, “Are you enjoying the weather?”

Holocaust denial, and the strict refusal to recognize anything legitimate about Israel, have long been part of the Middle Eastern air. And now the broader world is more cognizant of it. Perhaps this has had the effect of making people more sympathetic to the Israelis, as they cope with their enemies. (I said “perhaps.”)

And may I give you something else about the Muslim world and the Holocaust? I recall to you what Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the dictator, said at the Davos conference last year. In a session with journalists, he was asked about Holocaust denial in countries like Libya (for example, in their textbooks). Gaddafi began, “I’m not a historian, I don’t know all the facts.”

Oops. He quickly recognized that this wouldn’t fly, in this particular room–so he took a new tack.

“It is incorrect to deny the Holocaust.” Why’s that? Because it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, and the world learned about these horrors from them–”not from the Zionists, not from the New York Times.” From the Red Army.

(In the Muslim world, the New York Times is seen as an Israeli propaganda sheet. How’s that for misunderstanding?)

“So,” young Gaddafi concluded, “if Arabs deny this [the Holocaust], it is incorrect.”

Whew. Thank heavens for the Red Army.

Before I leave this general–very general–topic, let me add one thing: The other day, a headline read, “ElBaradei says world is losing patience with Iran”–over nuclear weapons. I disagree with Director General ElBaradei (imagine that!). I don’t think the world will ever lose patience with Iran, just as it would never have lost patience with Saddam. The world’s patience when it comes to mad and dangerous Middle Eastern tyrants seems infinite.

Some people simply have to be warier than others. When the Iranian president talks about wiping Israel off the map–the wipees have to pay attention.

You know?

‐Saw a story in Time the other day, saying how stubborn President Bush is: He just won’t get with it. Listen to this: “… recalibration and retrenchment do not come naturally to this President. Bush recently rejected a draft of an economic speech because it didn’t mention his now dead proposal to restructure Social Security.”

Isn’t that wonderful? That’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard about Bush in ages. Makes me admire him all the more.

‐I’ll give you something else from that story: The writers–this is a co-bylined piece–say,

No one has written a playbook for the President who is trying to stop a second-term slump before it becomes a long slide to oblivion. The most successful ones in modern times have gone about it in different ways … Ronald Reagan rid his White House of the aides whose incompetence and duplicity had produced Iran-contra, and engaged the Soviet foe he had once called an “evil empire.”

Aha! That’s the liberal line, friends: Reagan changed his mind, you see, and embraced a form of détente. But that is not how it went, is it? No, the Soviets came to him, thanks to the firmness he had demonstrated. His policies in the first term made possible his moves in the second. (So did the advent of Gorbachev, of course.)

It might be comforting for liberals to think that Reagan had some kind of conversion experience, leading him to strike deals with Boris–that he jettisoned his mean old anti-Communist self. His mean old anti-Communist self is what gave us his achievements in disarmament, the lessening of global tension, and so on.

You know this, I know, dear readers–I’m just reiterating.

‐I hate to use the word “liberal,” in conjunction with the Left, as I have above. But sometimes you have no choice–you just bow to the convention of your day.

What word you have left for Locke, Hume, Smith, Jefferson, Hayek, and the rest of the boys, I don’t know.

‐Did you hear what that Harry Reid spokesman–Jim Manley–said when asked about Reid’s criticism of Joe Lieberman? (This was over the Iraq War, I needn’t tell you.) He said, “[Senator Reid] feels that Senator Lieberman’s position on Iraq is at odds with many Americans.”

Everyone’s position on Iraq is at odds with many Americans! It’s a big country, of 300 million people, and it’s a sharply divided country.

Good grief!

And I make another point about journalism (in addition to what I’ve already said about Time): The New York Times reported, “Concerns about Mr. Lieberman’s coziness with the administration grew this week when he had breakfast with Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.”

“Coziness”: Isn’t that a partisan word, a loaded word? Lieberman happens to agree with Bush on the Iraq War. Once upon a time, it wouldn’t have been so surprising that a liberal Democrat would support the overthrow of the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein regimes, but leave that alone. When someone allies with someone else, and you don’t like that alliance, you call it “coziness.”

And the Times had no business using that word there. At least, that’s my opinion.

(And what do opinion journalists give but opinions?)

‐You’ve heard me say it repeatedly, friends: You just can’t satirize anything anymore. You can’t. What if I had said to you, a month ago, “Guess what? Dario Fo is creating a play based on the writings of Cindy Sheehan”? Ha, ha, ha.

Well, it happened. (The play is called Peace Mom.) And that is delicious.

One reason I like writing about Dario Fo is that I get to say “the Nobel-winning Italian Communist clown”–because he is a clown, a literal clown, or at least he has performed as one in the course of his brilliant career.

And my NR colleague Anthony Dick sent me something noteworthy: “When I enter the search string ‘”Peace Mom” Fo’ in Google, it asks me if I meant to write, ‘Peace MoFo.’ Just thought that was amusing.”

You’re not the only one!

‐Orating before students at the University of Havana the other day, Fidel Castro taunted Gov. Jeb Bush as fat. Judging from the looks of his political prisoners, Castro likes his men nice and thin.

And speaking of political prisoners, reports out of Cuba say that Oscar Biscet is doing very, very badly. If he dies, will anyone in the world care, outside Miami (and Cuba itself)? I wonder.

The prisoners in Cuba who command the world’s attention, of course, are the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Human-rights heroes such as Dr. Biscet count for much, much less.

‐Okay, I’m holding in my hands a new book, about East Germany. The author is Mary Fulbrook, a history professor at University College London. The book is called The People’s State: East Germany from Hitler to Honecker. (So far, so unpromising.) And here’s how the text on the jacket ends: “Replacing the simplistic black-and-white concept of ‘totalitarianism’ by the notion of a ‘participatory dictatorship’, this book seeks to reinstate the East German people as actors in their own history.”

We like to say that Reagan won, but did he? In the universities, never! “Participatory dictatorship”! The cake is taken. Congratulations, Professor Fulbrook. Comrade Honecker would be so pleased.

‐I’m on the Washington Post’s website, and I see this headline in the Letters section: “Jesus Had the Right Idea.” I had a suspicion that Jesus’ idea comported with the political views of the letter writer.

And what do you know!

‐Friend of mine was listening to NPR, on a road trip. (His fault, I know.) There were four guests, all on the left. One of them was Julianne Malveaux, or “Dr. Julianne Malveaux,” as she calls herself. (Whether she makes house calls, I don’t know.) She’s the one infamous for wishing an early death on Clarence Thomas. And what were she and her fellow NPR commentators discussing? Who was the worse president, Reagan or Bush (George W.). Not one of them had anything positive to say about either man.

I have to ask a tired question: Why does the United States have government radio? The Republicans have controlled Congress since 1995: Why does NPR still exist?

Well, at least we repealed the federal speed limit.

‐Little story out of San Francisco:

(Reuters)–Lesbian motorcycle enthusiasts have won their fight to trademark the name “Dykes on Bikes,” a lawyer for their group said on Thursday.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had denied applications by the San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent to trademark “Dykes on Bikes,” arguing the phrase would be perceived as disparaging to lesbians.

But the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Brooke Oliver Law Group said the word “dyke” is no longer viewed as derogatory.

“Within the lesbian community that term has been reclaimed as a very positive term that denotes strength and pride and empowerment,” said Shannon Minter, a lawyer for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Okie doke. Years ago, when I worked at golf courses, the LPGA Tour was sometimes snortingly referred to as “Dykes on Spikes.” Is that designation now acceptable (inaccurate and unfair as it may be)?

Sorry, just reminiscing–a reminiscence combined with a sociolinguistic note.

‐Ugh, “sociolinguistic”–I don’t think I’ve talked like that since I was in college. And I didn’t much like such language then.

‐Gonna lay a whole bunch of music criticism on you, from the New York Sun:

For a review of a concert by the pianist Richard Goode and the Brentano String Quartet, please go here.

For a review of a concert by the New York Philharmonic Chamber Ensembles, please go here.

For a review of Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, and a review of a chamber concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, please go here.

And for a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, with piano soloist André Watts, please go here.

‐Thought you might be interested in a letter from France:

Dear Jay,

My godson is 14, and a huge baseball fan. I took him to his baseball practice today. (Yes, they have baseball in France.) It turns out they have to practice outdoors, with temperatures in the 30s, because some vandals (guess who) torched the gym of the school where they’d normally go.

Now, what makes this even worse is that their backup facilities, located a few miles from this site–we’re talking about Grenoble–could not be used either. Why? Of course: This site has been on the receiving end of a number of petrol bombs.

How sick is that?

Sick is the word.

‐Another letter:


When you related the story about your friend who said, “I got my George Bush check today!” it reminded me of the experience my wife and I had. We had been wanting to get a new bed for some time, as the old mattress was sagging dreadfully, but things were somewhat tight, money-wise. Well, when we got our $600 rebate check (which, by the way, meant a lot to us, and we were angered by the liberals in the media saying that $600 was not enough to matter to anyone), we went straight out and got that new bed. From that time forward, it became known in our family as the “George W. Bush Bed.”

Rock on!

I’ll see you soon.


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