Politics & Policy

That Evil Act, &C.

President Bush had exactly the right words for the blowing up of the Golden Mosque: an “evil act.” You could hardly have done anything worse in Iraq. This is taking a match to a tinderbox. The terrorists are sowing hatred, distrust, and, of course, violence.

The terrorists obviously want a civil war. Will Iraqis give it to them? I hope not, and I think not.

I noticed some glee last week, when the country was aflame. (I’m talking about some glee in America.) There are principled critics of the war; then there are those who want it to fail simply because they want it to blow up in George Bush’s face, and Tony Blair’s, and others’.

I also noticed some loose talk, as in “the Sunnis blew up the mosque.” No, “the Sunnis” didn’t. Some Sunnis did. They probably weren’t even Iraqi. Hajim Alhasani, the president of the Iraqi National Assembly, didn’t blow up that mosque. Neither did millions of other Sunnis.

The problem in Iraq–as in other situations around the world–is that a few thousand can control the news, control the atmosphere, in a sense control the country. But when something like this happens, we shouldn’t forget the millions who want to live decently–the millions we saw braving dangers to go to the polls last year. Three times.

Will the terrorists be allowed to steal the country from these millions?

I wish to quote one Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi, spokesman for the Sunni Clerical Association of Muslim Scholars. He was furious at Shiite leaders for urging demonstrations against the Golden Mosque attack.

He said–according to wire services–”They are all fully aware that the Iraqi borders are open, and the streets are penetrated with those who want to create strife among Iraqis.”

Exactly so. There are cool heads in Iraq–Iraqi ones–and we must fervently hope that they will prevail.

Years ago, I used to read about sectarian violence in India–Muslims killed Hindus, by the hundreds, etc., etc., etc. I didn’t see how India could survive, as a country. It seemed too unnatural a country: all those religions, all those ethnicities, all those languages. Two Gandhis were assassinated by ethnic extremists.

Today, India is acknowledged as maybe the great juggernaut of the world. No one questions its legitimacy as a country, or its staying-power.

And for years, I would ask Indians whether they felt Indian–or Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, or whatever. Not a single one ever answered anything other than “Indian.” Some seemed affronted by the question.

About Iraq: We’ll see.

‐I was speaking of Indira Gandhi: The Sikhs who killed her were motivated, or so it was said, by the storming of the Golden Temple. Golden Temple, Golden Mosque.

I don’t wish to make too much of it, or anything, really–I simply note it, because it occurred to me.

And Rajiv Gandhi? Assassinated by a suicide bomber.

Suicide bombing before it was “cool.”

‐You have heard about the anti-abortion bill in the South Dakota legislature. I was interested to note that its main sponsor is Julie Bartling. So what? Well, Senator Bartling is a Democrat, and Democrats are supposed to be pro-abortion–or pro-choice–while Republicans are supposed to be anti-abortion, or anti-choice.

Of course, I–like you–know many, many pro-abortion/pro-choice Republicans. And not a few anti-abortion/anti-choice/pro-life Democrats.

As far as the pro-life movement is concerned: the more in each party, the better. (I hasten to add that the other side would say the same.)

‐You have perhaps noticed this trend: Journalists keep noting that President Bush spoke before a “friendly audience,” and took “friendly questions,” or “gentle” ones.

Consider this article from the AP. The reporter says that Bush spoke to a “friendly, invitation-only audience” (in Tampa). Later she says that he “roll[ed] up his sleeves before submitting to gentle questioning from a sympathetic audience that surrounded him.”

Friendly, gentle, sympathetic–that’s laying it on a little thick, isn’t it? We get the point, Jennifer! (That’s the reporter’s name.)

I have two points of my own: 1) What did the president say? Isn’t that what matters? Indeed, Bush said many, many interesting and useful things before that audience in Tampa, including about Sudan. And 2) I was pretty alert during the eight years of Clinton, and I don’t remember his speaking before many hostile audiences, or even neutral ones. And I don’t recall its ever being noted.

Do you?

Just sayin’.

‐Many readers have written to ask me to say something about Helena Houdova. Glad to. Who she? She’s a Czech model, or supermodel, the former Miss Czech Republic (1999). She does many good works, of a charitable nature, all around the world. Not long ago she was in Cuba.

I have noted before the amazing regard the Czechs have for the Cubans. The Czechs are almost uniquely attentive to human suffering on that island. If you care to, see my article from last year, on this subject: “Solidarity, Exemplified.” (Subscription required.)

When HH–Helena Houdova–was in Cuba, snapping photos of a slum, she was arrested. According to Castro and his apologists, there are no slums in Cuba. There couldn’t be. HH, along with a companion–a psychologist named Mariana Kroftova–was arrested. Later, the model said to reporters, “The revolution’s watchmen rose up because I was taking pictures of something they don’t like.”

She and her friend were detained for eleven hours, during which time they were forbidden to contact the Czech embassy. They were released when they signed a pledge not to participate in any “counterrevolutionary activities.” Their film was confiscated–but HH managed to hide the memory card of her camera (digital) in her bra. The photos will be displayed later.

Said she, “They screamed at us,” and “they even shouted that we were terrorists.” She also said, “We grew up under Communism and know what it’s like.”

Funny how Czech celebrities, visiting Cuba, are different from American celebrities, visiting that same country. Isn’t it?

‐Let’s look in on E. J. Dionne, for a moment. He is a columnist with the Washington Post. About a week ago, he wrote a couple of things that arrested my attention. (The column is here.)

First, he said that Bush critics are arguing that Health Savings Accounts “would offer a lot of money to the most well-off among our fellow citizens without increasing health coverage.”

Hmm–offering a lot of money to those citizens? You mean, it wouldn’t be their own money? They would be given someone else’s money? That’s news to me.

Second, Dionne described Fox News as “Republican State Television”: “. . . phony populism was on display during Dick Cheney’s” interview “on Republican State Television–excuse me, Fox News . . .”

I know that the existence of Fox News makes some people crazy. A monopoly is a hard thing to give up. But Dionne should really be better than this Republican State Television baloney. There is a concerted effort–and he has apparently joined it–to read Fox out of the media family. They are illegitimate, not fit to be in the company of CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and whatever other initials you can come up with.

Brit Hume’s interview with Cheney made people especially crazy. But I think those whom it made crazy have an obligation to say: What questions should Hume have asked that he didn’t ask? In what way did he botch the interview? (Answer: He did not.)

I have this in my notes, too: About a month ago, David Letterman had a Top Ten list of “Questions on the Al Jazeera Anchor Application.” The first one read was, “Have you worked for any propaganda organization besides Fox News?”

Now, David Letterman works for CBS. Wouldn’t you think that, after the summer of 2004–frankly, after decades of goofs and bias–such a person would have a little humility, when it comes to networks and news? Shouldn’t such a person at least maintain a dignified silence?

‐Like lots of other journalists, I see the Top Ten list via The Hotline, from National Journal. They have a Quote of the Day, every day (every day they publish). Last Thursday, that quote was from President Bush: “People don’t need to worry about security.”

Obviously, The Hotline thought this was a real hoot, or outrage. But, of course, they yanked those words out of context–Bush was talking about the port situation.

That was beneath anything associated with National Journal, I thought.

‐Encounter Books (where Roger is president and publisher).

‐As long as I’m plugging–I remind those in the Providence area that I will give a talk at Brown, Wednesday, at 7 o’clock. The site? Starr Auditorium, in MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer St. BYOOT. (Bring Your Own Overripe Tomatoes.)

‐Had a conversation I’d love to tell you about. Was visiting a judge at a federal courthouse. (No, I wasn’t on trial.) I was grousing about the politician after whom the courthouse is named. Why does this place have to be named after this fellow?

My judge friend answered, “You know what the best name for a U.S. courthouse is? ‘U.S. Courthouse.’ You just can’t improve on it. It says everything that must be said”–and personalities are aside.

Exactly, exactly so.

‐A few music reviews, from the New York Sun: For a review of the New York Philharmonic, under the conductor Robert Spano, with Dawn Upshaw, soprano; and for a review of a French evening from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, please go here. For a review of the violinist Joshua Bell in recital, please go here. And for a review of the flutist Emmanuel Pahud and the pianist Yefim Bronfman in joint recital, please go here.

By the way, that New York Philharmonic concert featured the premiere of a new song cycle by John Harbison. He uses poems of Czeslaw Milosz, the late, great Polish poet and prose stylist. Milosz was also one of the most powerful anti-Communists–anti-totalitarians–on earth. He taught, briefly, at my (obnoxiously left-wing) college, and I remember looking at his door–the name on his door–wonderingly.

And Impromptus readers may recall this: Many years ago, I was talking with Jian-li Yang, the Chinese intellectual and Tiananmen Square leader, now in prison. (I can’t wait to talk to him again, someday.) I asked whether he would describe the position of Chinese like him. He thought for a second and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Well, you’ll find it all in Milosz’s book The Captive Mind.”

Not to play with words–or concepts–too much, but I have a feeling that, though Jian-li’s body is now captive, his mind is not.

‐Couple of letters? Both are on the same subject, and express really the same thought. They respond to an item last week about Pappy Boyington–and the refusal of the students at his alma mater, the University of Washington, to honor him with a memorial.

Hi, Jay:

I wanted to make a fast comment re your hope that the kids at UW would someday feel ashamed for what they’ve done.

I was a little campus radical in the early ’90s (the tail end of the Reagan/Bush Reign of Terror). I never did anything as bad as dishonor a war hero, but I did do some embarrassing stuff. Fortunately, most of my stupid behavior had very little effect on the outside world.

I am, indeed, ashamed of the way I used to act. I’m particularly ashamed when I think about the young guys who were in the military while I was playing Abbie Hoffman Wannabe at college. Based on my own experience, I am sure a number of those kids will wake up and realize what knuckleheads they are. The real world can be a very stern and effective teacher.

Yes–and sometimes not.

And the second letter?

You asked if, perhaps, any of the students at UW might someday feel shame. I know that after 30 some years I still feel deep shame for my stand against the war in Viet Nam. Maybe it is atonement for my past sin that I now try to be as informed about current events as possible and am quite conservative, politically. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I made in my youth.

What a lovely thought–conscientious citizenship, national and global. It reminds me to stay awake, my own bad self.

See you.

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