On May 31, an extraordinary article from the Associated Press made its way around the world. It was headed, “Al-Qaida’s stance on women sparks extremist debate.” It drew some comment at the time — but maybe not enough comment.
Frankly, it was one of the most mind-boggling news articles you will ever see. It should be studied years from now, as evidence of the moral strangeness of these times. The article reads almost like a parody — because of its earnestness, its very normality. The reporter is writing about the great desire of Islamist women to kill themselves and lots of others — a desire thwarted, or frowned on, by al-Qaeda.
The article begins,
Muslim extremist women are challenging al-Qaida’s refusal to include — or at least acknowledge — women in its ranks, in an emotional debate that gives rare insight into the gender conflicts lurking beneath one of the strictest strains of Islam.
In response to a female questioner, al-Qaida No. 2 leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri said in April that the terrorist group does not have women. A woman’s role, he said on the Internet audio recording, is limited to caring for the homes and children of al-Qaida fighters.
His remarks have since prompted an outcry from fundamentalist women, who are fighting or pleading for the right to be terrorists. The statements have also created some confusion, because in fact suicide bombings by women seem to be on the rise, at least within the Iraq branch of al-Qaida.
Later, we read, “Hamas, another militant group, is open about using women fighters and disagrees with al-Qaida’s stated stance.” So does that make Hamas the more “moderate” group — more “liberal,” more “progressive”?
The entire article is written in a state of moral obliviousness (unlike many other articles from wire services, for example on the subject of the environment). It is written as an exploration of feminist, or at least female, angst. And yet these are women whose aim is to murder.
The article is absolutely fascinating — fascinating and appalling at the same time. As I said, it could be a parody, by a Rob Long, Mark Steyn, or Christopher Buckley. But, lo — a genuine AP product.
If you’d like to study it for yourself, go here. It is a sample for the ages.
‐A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Dubai School of Government. It invited me to a lecture and book signing by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. The lecture’s title: “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
And I was thinking, “I imagine that’ll go down well!” That pair must be received like Elvis in the Middle East . . .
‐Let’s jump to music — for a few nights ago, I attended a Lyle Lovett concert. (Don’t act so surprised.) As someone who has attended very, very few non-classical concerts, I have a couple of observations:
Amplification has gone crazy in America, and throughout the world. Everything is overamplified — amplified to ridiculous degrees. There is no reason for it. And it detracts seriously from musical enjoyment. At the Beacon Theater here in New York, it was like there was some mistake: The amplification was turned up as though Lyle had to reach listeners in Ohio. And the acoustics of the Beacon are perfectly fine as they are.
I just don’t understand.
Do you know that no programs are given out at pop concerts (by which I mean, non-classical ones)? Do you know there is no intermission? (At least there wasn’t in this case.)
I am a Lyle fan, and long have been. He’s a little country, a little indie, a little “roots,” a little gospel — a little of a lot of things. Call him a fusion musician.
Some of his songs are uninspired, I’m afraid. And some of them are repetitive, and go on too long. (These errors are related.) Lyle sometimes seems unaware of what thin gruel he has.
But some of his songs are positively wonderful. Is there anything more stirring and infectious than “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas)”? And “If I Had a Boat” is justly famous.
Plus, he seems an interesting fellow — respectful of religion, which is very interesting. Fans would holler out to him, and he’d just say, “Thank you, thank you,” in an understated way. He may look odd, but he moves cool — and the entire package is very, very cool.
He’s Lyle Lovett, what can you say?
‐Give you a little more music — but, for this, you’ll have to go to the current National Review. It includes a piece by me on William Kapell, the brilliant American pianist who lived from 1922 to 1953. He was killed in a plane crash, coming home from an Australian tour.
And, in this piece, I make a macabre listing — of musicians who died young. (I’m talking about classical musicians in the 20th century.)
I list Lili Boulanger, the French composer (sister of Nadia) who died at 24 (from disease). Dinu Lipatti, the Romanian pianist who died at 33 (also disease). Guido Cantelli, the Italian conductor who died at 36 (plane crash). Dennis Brain, the British French-horn player who also died at 36 (car crash). Fritz Wunderlich, the German tenor who died at 35 (fell down the stairs).
I also mention Jacqueline du Pré, the British cellist, who lived till 42, but who was forced by disease to stop playing at 28.
As I said, a macabre listing — and I could have included others, such as Michael Rabin, the American violinist who died in a fall at 35.
Don’t even get me started about Mozart (also 35 years) and Schubert (31!)! And to think that Elliott Carter will turn 100 in December!
One more word about Kapell: Several years ago, my sister and her family moved to Greenport, N.Y., way out on the North Fork of Long Island (across from Shelter Island). She told me that her realtor was an interesting man named Dave Kapell — who was also mayor and an antiques dealer. I asked her to spell the name, and she did. It is an unusual spelling.
“Any relation to Willy?” I asked. She said she’d check. And Dave, amazingly enough, is his son.
‐Yesterday, on the streets of Manhattan, I saw a delivery man for a restaurant — going about in a motorized wheelchair. I thought, “That’s a good working out, employment-wise.”
I have no point for you, really — just wanted to relate an interesting, and unexpected, sight . . .
‐And now I wish to recommend and hail a column. It is by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal. As perfectly as can be done in a brief space, it addresses the subject of global warming — or rather, the subject of global-warming hysteria. Absolutely nails the matter.
Find it here.
The column ends, “In ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience,’ William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, ‘morbid-minded’ religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.”
‐You know what “WTF” means, right? It’s e-mail and text-message shorthand for “What the Fig” (only not “Fig”). Mighty, mighty handy initials. Anyway, I quote to you from a news article: “Thanks to some text message-savvy grandchildren, N.C. drivers whose license plates have the potentially offensive ‘WTF’ letter combination can replace the tags.”
Or keep them! (For the rest of the article, go here.)
‐You may remember that, some weeks ago, I wrote about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Berlin. The chancellor, Frau Merkel, who admires the Dalai Lama, was out of town. That left Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the vice chancellor and foreign minister (who is from the other party). He refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, making disparaging remarks about him.
Received a note from a reader:
I recently stayed in Berlin on business. As luck would have it, the Dalai Lama stayed at the same hotel. Only later did I hear of his shabby treatment at the hands of Steinmeier. However, when the Dalai Lama entered the hotel lobby, all rose to their feet and applauded. Some of us saluted. He modestly waved at us, reminding me of no one so much as the late, great John Paul II.
Just thought you might like to hear that.
‐And this! Do you recall that, when I wrote about being in Florence a few weeks ago, I mentioned some divine peanut ice cream, from an artisanal parlor? (Bill Buckley would have loved it.) Got this note from a Florida friend:
When I was a lad (1940?) and worked for electrical maintenance at the University of Florida, we would go to the dairy lab each day for lunch and for 35 cents would buy a quart of peanut-butter ice cream or orange ice cream, made that a.m. — some lunch!!!!
I’ll bet. Peanut-butter or orange ice cream in Florida, c. 1940 — almost makes me weep . . .
‐It’s hard to leave the subject of ice cream, but would you care for a letter on music?
Your review of the Karajan-conducted Fidelio [here] brought to mind the one opera story I know. Some 25 years ago, Jon Vickers [the great tenor] came to Fort Erie, Ont., to visit his son, who was working in a small church as a pastoral intern and had been given an opportunity to preach one Sunday morning.
The senior Vickers sat quietly at the back and joined discreetly in the singing of the hymns — but not discreetly enough. After the service, the choir director — always on the lookout for talent — approached him, complimented him on his voice, asked if he had any experience singing in front of people, and invited him to come to choir practice.
Vickers said he was flattered but, alas, couldn’t do it as he was from out of town.
We’ve gotten quite a few chuckles out of that over the years . . .
No doubt! Reminds me of something Frederica von Stade (the mezzo) said once: that her kids requested she not sing in church, as everyone stared.
‐Friends, I think it’ll be a while before I return to this column — other responsibilities call (and some non-responsibilities, too).
I’d like to finish today with one more letter, this one responding to the lead item in yesterday’s Impromptus. That item touched on Capt. Ivan Castro, a blind member of our Special Forces.
You talk about Captain Castro, and contrast him with “the cynics, the sneerers, the sideline jeerers.” Let me tell you a quick story.
My little brother, Lt. Charles Turner, USN, was a naval aviator. He flew the A-6 Intruder as a BN (bombardier-navigator).
On August 2, 1990, as you remember, Saddam invaded Kuwait. My brother and his squadron shipped out on the USS Ranger in December, to arrive in the Persian Gulf in mid-January. He was one of the officers who planned the aerial mining of Umm Qasr, Iraq’s only port. VA-155, the Silver Foxes, were tasked with the mining operation.
To mine a harbor, you have to fly low, straight, and slow. Bad bad bad. My brother volunteered to do it — he said, “I helped plan the mission, I’m going to fly it.” The Iraqi anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles (all Russian, by the way, as if anyone remembers anymore) lined both sides of the harbor.
Anyway, he and his pilot were shot down. They were listed as missing in action for two months until the Red Cross recovered their bodies in a Baghdad morgue. He left a wife and a six-month-old son.
He also left a diary. I edited the diary and circulated it to friends and family. Years later, I showed it to a colleague at work and he said, “Man, I didn’t know anybody thought like this anymore.”
I’ll never forget the comment, which I took to be the greatest compliment that could be given to my brother. And, yes, some people still think that way.