“Inch’Allah,” Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s feature about Israel-Palestine, may be the strongest effort yet to convey the emotions of the supercharged struggle over land and dignity in the present period. For nearly a half-century, those who wanted justice in Palestine hoped that some representation of their narrative could reach the screen. They lived in the shadow, of course, of the epochal power of “Exodus,” probably the most effective propaganda film in world history. A great many years ago I recall Andrew Sarris telling a Columbia film class that the Palestinians were enthused when Jean-Luc Godard got funding to make a movie about their struggle, but were disappointed by the results. What they had in mind was something like a modern western, with the fedayeen in the role of heroic good guys, a project which was never really in the French auteur’s wheelhouse.
Numerous films have sought to convey something of the moral ambiguity of the struggle, including Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” I haven’t seen Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” based on the novel/memoir by Rula Jabreal, the story of an orphanage for Palestinian girls whose parents were killed at Deir Yassin. Many had high hopes for the film, perhaps because of the widely acknowledged talent, warmth, and celebrity of Schnabel, but for one reason or another the movie never really took off.
“Inch’Allah” can’t boast the star power of Jean-Luc Godard or Julian Schnabel; its director, Barbeau-Lavalette, is young and highly regarded in the Quebec film world, but not any sort of household name. But her movie deserves the hopes and access to screens granted to “Miral,” and more. It is a tough, gritty, and intense portrayal of Palestinian life under the occupation and the moral dilemmas faced by those—like the Canadian doctor played by the gorgeous Evelyne Brochu—who get involved trying to help them. The Palestinians, three generations ago a rural and pacific people, have been ghettoized and hardened. More than any movie I’ve seen, “Inch’Allah” conveys the something of the feel of Palestinian life, sarcastic and bitter in the younger generations, old-fashioned in the older ones, trying cope under a system of domination and control far more sophisticated than anything South Africans could dream up.
The protagonist, Chloe, represents an element that has become a significant part of the struggle for Palestine, the Westerners who have gotten involved, often putting their lives on the line because however they might have felt about the establishment of Israel, they refuse to accept that this should mean Western complicity in Israel’s stamping on the Palestinians, forever. As Margaret Thatcher put it with precision, while Israel deserves to live in peace with secure borders, one must also work to fulfill legitimate Palestinian aspirations “because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.” Read More…
The most surprising exploration of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy comes from Ali Gharib, writing in Open Zion here. It is well known that the lady was well thought of by Britain’s Jews, particularly those of conservative tendency. Commentary was fond of her, as was Paul Johnson: she was, with her no-nonsense unapologetic bourgeois conservatism, her toughness and work ethic, a figure American neoconservatives considered an exemplary politician. They admired her far more than Reagan—something I recall from my days among that group and which could probably be documented without difficulty.
Given this, Gharib’s account of her positions on Israel and Palestine comes as a surprise. For here, Thatcher was not particualrly a neocon, but instead a partisan of international law and fairness. She was a Zionist in the sense that she believed in the justice of establishing a Jewish state in the Mideast, but—and here the distinction is critical—with the provision that Palestinians receive meaningful self-determination or statehood as well. And her belief in the sanctity of international law—to be enforced without remorse against land grabs by Argentinian generals or Saddam Hussein—she believed should apply to Israel as well, though of course as America’s junior partner she recognized that this was something which could only be talked about, not implemented.
For instance, Thatcher was quite clear that the Palestinians should have a full state along the ’67 borders once they recognized Israel. She thought Menachem Begin, with his aggressive settlement plans in “Judea and Samaria” was pursuing an “absurd” vision. She implicitly criticized Israel for its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and opposed Israel’s unilateral attack on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak. In a 1988 interview in the Times, she hoped Israel “might at last live in peace within secure borders, giving the Palestinian people their legitimate aspirations, because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.”
These last words, reflecting as they do the moral essence of the peace process, are critical. It is hard to improve on them. Shortly after Thatcher spoke, Israel would accelerate its settlement building under Shamir, a program designed to deny Palestinian aspirations for a state—and one that seems to have succeeded.
Can one imagine what would happen if a prominent American politician used words like Thatcher’s in an interview about Israel? What treatment they would get from National Review, the Weekly Standard, Fox, and Commentary (cf. Chuck Hagel)? What smears would be inflicted in prominent op-ed pages by Michael Gerson, Charles Krauthammer, Elliott Abrams, the varied minions of Bill Kristol? Something to contemplate this week as one reads the Thatcher panegyrics emanating from conservatives.
Various outlets are reporting that the U.K.’s longest serving post-war prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, has succumbed to a stroke. From The Telegraph:
Lord Bell, her spokesman, said: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning.A further statement will be made later.”
Known as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher governed Britain from 1979 to 1990.
She will go down in history not only as Britain’s first female prime minister, but as the woman who transformed Britain’s economy in addition to being a formidable rival on the international stage.
Lady Thatcher was the only British prime minister to leave behind a set of ideas about the role of the state which other leaders and nations strove to copy and apply.
Just over a year ago Peter Hitchens reassessed her legacy in these pages, and recalled his earlier days covering her with the traveling press:
It was not intimate contact, but we saw more of her than most people ever could. Sometimes we would be summoned to her cabin for interminable briefings which never yielded anything worth writing—for to us she was just the same in private as she was in public. What journalists want from close contact is indiscretion and mischief. She, being a real leader, who sought power to do what she thought was good, was simply not interested in that. She was not really a politician, but a real human being who had entered politics to do what she wanted.
Once, wrongly thinking she had finished a foreign-policy harangue, I rose awkwardly to my feet to leave the presence, and she gave me such a stare that my cheap suit almost caught fire. I think she gave us another half-hour of her opinions on Korea just to punish me.
I did not pause in those days to question the great myths by which she was surrounded. She possessed that unmistakable magic of authority and majesty that settles on some people and bypasses thought. The fact that she was a woman, and a very feminine woman, made that magic even more potent. You might admire her, as I mostly did, or hate her as the embodiment of all that was evil, as many British people also did. But you would never have missed the chance to be close by in the years of her greatness. Power crackled and flickered around her presence.
Update — The BBC’s obituary is now online:
For many, her philosophy was summed up in a magazine interview she gave in 1987.
“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’; ‘I am homeless, the government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?
“There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.
“It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.”
I’ve been under the weather for a few days, and resurface to find the world spinning out of control. North Korea, the boy-king with nukes. Syria now filled with foreign fighters, many from Europe, and Damascus University under mortar fire. And what, for instance, do people think about these photos ? (Nudity, NSFW, and all that.) They do get one’s attention.
I’m curious about the instigators, who are these generally attractive young, white for the most part, women? How many—if any—are former Muslims, rebel/apostates in the Ayaan Hirsi Ali sense? How many are more typical young Western feminists, appalled as everyone is by the misogony resurgent during the Arab spring, and wanting to protest it. How many are hipsters hoping to stir the pot, in the same spirit of young women I’ve heard of trying to “provoke” the Hassidim in Brooklyn by dressing provocatively? While the targets of the protest certainly make it seem compatible with a purely Islamophobic or neoconservative agenda, it’s beyond my imagination that anyone Pam Geller-inspired could organize anything like this. But then who?
One of the appealing things in modern Islam—which I’ve seen in Cairo and in Damascus seven years ago (certainly not now)—is the blend of symbols of piety and communal belonging with a studied sex appeal: the headscarf with tight jeans and good eye make-up look. It seems to connote a lot of good things, a sort of modernism within the tradition, a sensuality compatible with marriage and family, reverence for learning and education.
I can’t imagine that these protests, which I suspect will be the most widely viewed photographs from Morocco to Pakistan in the days ahead, will convey to men and women in those societies anything beyond antinomianism and anarchy and a sense that the West is hopelessly corrupt and doomed. And I can’t see them doing any good at all for Amina Tyler, the Tunisian nude body artist in whose name they are held. Still, I’m curious about the mentality and agenda of those who planned and instigated this. Unlike many political phenomena, it’s far from obvious.
“If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you,” said Calvin Coolidge, who ever counseled patience over the rash response.
Unfortunately, the troubles presented by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un seem unlikely to run into a ditch before they reach us.
For Kim has crawled out on a limb. He has threatened to attack U.S. forces in Korea and bases in Asia, even U.S. cities. He has declared the truce that ended the Korean War dead and that “a state of war” exists with the South. All ties to the South have been cut. Read More…
Scandinavia has a disproportionate role in the American political imagination. For progressives, the Nordic countries represent a postmodern Cockaigne, in which economic egalitarianism is balanced with personal autonomy in a way that communism never achieved. For conservatives, on the other hand, “Sweden” is shorthand for the fusion of an infantilizing welfare state with unusually suffocating political correctness. Either way, Americans talk much more than you’d expect about peripheral region with a combined population of only about 26 million.
A report in The Economist argues that the Nordic countries are worth special attention, but also that both sides misunderstand the reasons. According to an economist quoted in the piece, Sweden, in particular, is pursuing a “new conservative model” that combines flexible labor markets, consumer choice, and high technology with relatively generous welfare and infrastructure spending. The result is a successful capitalist economy without especially small government:
The Nordics do particularly well in two areas where competitiveness and welfare can reinforce each other most powerfully: innovation and social inclusion. BCG, as the Boston Consulting Group calls itself, gives all of them high scores on its e-intensity index, which measures the internet’s impact on business and society. Booz & Company, another consultancy, points out that big companies often test-market new products on Nordic consumers because of their willingness to try new things. The Nordic countries led the world in introducing the mobile network in the 1980s and the GSM standard in the 1990s. Today they are ahead in the transition to both e-government and the cashless economy…
The Nordics also have a strong record of drawing on the talents of their entire populations, with the possible exception of their immigrants. They have the world’s highest rates of social mobility: in a comparison of social mobility in eight advanced countries by Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Stephen Machin, of the London School of Economics, they occupied the first four places. America and Britain came last.
This account of a wired, entrepreneurial society that meets progressive demands for social integration and mobility will appeal to the kind of technocratic centrists who read The Economist. But the Scandinavian experience is too unusual to offer much guidance to the United States (or the U.K., for that matter).
As Joseph Schwartz points out, the Economist piece presents a considerably “sanitized” account of the Scandinavian economies. Even after significant cuts, Nordic governments still spend about half of their GDP, just a bit less than the U.S. spent at the peak of the Second World War. It’s true that the Scandinavians have impressively low debt and responsible fiscal policies. But that’s because their citizens take on a considerably higher tax burden than Americans are willing to accept.
It’s worth asking, then, why Scandinavians are consistently willing to spend more and pay more than Americans. An important part of the answer is that members of small, homogeneous societies are much more willing to bear the burden of supporting their fellow citizens than members of large, diverse ones.
Schwartz contends that “the publics in these countries trust government because the social democrats built their welfare state upon a vision of comprehensive and universal social rights.” That’s partly true. But it neglects the crucial fact that this vision was achieved in societies where the vast majority of the population looked the same, talked the same, had names and relatives in common, went to same churches, and so on.
As the political scientist Robert Putnam has found (behind paywall), increased diversity tends to decrease social trust and willingness to make sacrifices for others. And that’s just what’s happened as the generous North has experienced its first encounter with mass immigration, as The Economist obliquely acknowledges.
Other lessons of the Scandinavian model are similarly mixed. For example, the Nordic countries have exceptionally high rates of laborforce participation by women. But those rates are made possible, in part, by quota systems that would likely be illegal in the U.S. What’s more, Scandinavian women tend to be concentrated in “mommy-track” and public sector jobs. If there’s a lesson here, in fact, it’s that universal preschool and parental leave are not sufficient conditions of economic equality between the sexes.
The observations aren’t objections to the Scandinavian model as such. Although they are by no means without problems, the Nordic countries have developed political, economic, and social arrangements that seem to work reasonably well for them. But these arrangements, and the conditions to which they respond, are so unusual as to be almost sui generis. While we can always learn from specific policies, attempts to make American politics speak Swedish are a waste of time.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that John Cassidy (a former Murdoch empire business editor) penned an essay from the New Yorker predicting that Marx the thinker, the analyst of capitalism, would come into vogue once more. In fact it was nearly 16 years ago, before Monica Lewinsky, before 9/11, before the Iraq and Afghan wars—two large market crashes ago. When I first read it, it struck a tiny chord—yes, he may be right—and if I reread it, (which I will when my New Yorker subscription kicks in) I suspect it will resonate a bit more.
Linked to Marx’s appeal as an analyst of capitalism is the fate of societies which ruled in his name—that is, the largely failed and now defunct communist world. As I recall, Cassidy separates Marx from those failures, though not completely successfully. There is, of course, a related nostalgia for the USSR in contemporary Russia, and even for Stalin. It could be rather obviously understood as a longing for order and a fondness for Soviet great power status. But I wonder if there aren’t more subtle sentiments involved in such stirrings as well.
Over the weekend I saw “Barbara” the Christan Petzold film about an East German dissident physician in her thirties who, for unspecified political reasons, is exiled from Berlin to a provincial hospital. She has a well-off boyfriend in the West, and is plotting her escape. The tension in the film revolves around her growth of a sense of duty and attachment to her patients, despite continuous surveillance and harassment from the Stasi, and the quite realistic prospect of much easier, safer, materially richer life on the other side of the wall. Read More…
In “No,” the new satire about the ad campaigns waged by both sides in the 1988 vote that led Augusto Pinochet to step down, the anti-Pinochet side faces a much more difficult task than expected. They thought their task was to convince the people that Pinochet was a dictator with blood on his hands. It turned out that people basically agreed with them on that part. They had the much tougher task of convincing people that it mattered. The elections will be rigged, the past is a foreign country, why bother?
“No” is immensely fun to watch, despite the grim subject matter. It looks just glorious: the filmmakers decided to make the whole movie look like we’re watching it on VHS, with fuzz on the images and moments of blurry color separation. This is an obvious “medium is the message” form-follows-function thing, but it also just looks really good. It makes the world of the movie cheaply-colored, like memories of the bad old days. It heightens our awareness of how any attempt to honor history inevitably warps it—and it also reminds us of how bright and poppy and cheesy and glam the pop culture of the 1980s really was. All those bouncy one-hit wonders about nuclear war.
“No” also gives us an unexpected hero to root for. Gael Garcia Bernal, as adman Rene Saavedra, is quite easy on the eyes. His storyline, in which he tries to reconcile with his dissident ex (the mother of his child), is an effective and poignant counterbalance to the movie’s overall optimism-always-wins arc.
The story of “No” is basically this: the Chilean constitution requires Pinochet to hold what amounts to a vote of no confidence, and if he loses, he’ll hold open elections. Each side (“yes” for more Pinochet/no elections, “no” for elections) will get a brief segment of advertising time each night. The No side leans on Saavedra to mastermind their campaign. He replaces their ads, which are heavy tributes to the tortured and the disappeared, with happy, funny scenes of jazzercise and mimes. He doesn’t want folk music, he doesn’t want sad solo dancing, he wants a jingle. Read More…
I’ve noticed a dubious new PR tactic that hawkish senators are employing to get their way on the leadership of, and funding for, the Defense Department.
During former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe made hay of some Iranian propaganda about Hagel:
The question I’d like to ask you and you can answer for the record if you’d like is, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination for Secretary of Defense?
And yesterday, at a press conference with House Armed Services Committee Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”
This is childish. With tail tucked between legs, Hagel meekly submitted to the Obama administration policy that starkly rejects the idea of merely “containing” Iran. The idea that Hagel, if confirmed, will somehow weaken Obama’s commitment in this regard strains credulity. The idea, meanwhile, that the sequester’s automatic spending cuts will emasculate U.S. force projection around the world, and specifically in the Persian Gulf, is less obviously ridiculous. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, well liked and trusted by both sides of the aisle, has vociferously insisted the cuts (totaling $55 billion in cuts to the military budget this year) would degrade our ability to respond to crises around the world (“around the world” typically taken to mean, in this context, North Korea, China, and Iran).
Still, it’s hard to imagine Iran’s mullahs breathing a sigh of relief because of the sequester. The defense authorization bill that President Obama quietly signed into law amid the chaos of the fiscal cliff last December tightened sanctions on Iranian shipping and included $211 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed pleased with the measure. “AIPAC thanks Congress for its actions to thwart Iran’s nuclear quest and help Israel defend against emerging threats,” it said in a statement.
And remember: Even if it succeeds in doubling its defense budget, as it has vowed to do, Iran would spend just $30 billion annually—compared to the $633 billion behemoth that Obama and Congress just approved.
None of this is to say that the sequester won’t affect national security needs as Leon Panetta and Lindsey Graham define them. Conversely, I don’t mean to imply that the sequester is a smart way to trim military spending.
But I think it’s fair to say that “Iran likes it” belongs in the same file as “The terrorists will win.”
Of all of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s “inquisitors” at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing, John B. Judis observes that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican, was “tough and fair” and well-mannered. I suppose this is superficially true. And yet I was utterly gobsmacked by the exchange.
Here’s a YouTube clip:
The infraction in question here is that Hagel, in a 2007 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “The core tenets of George Kennan’s ‘The Long Telegram’ and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.” (I bolded the clause that Ayotte quoted, and presumably found damning.)
The speech in full (go ahead, read it!) should offend no one. It was a routine formulation of classical realist principles:
In the Middle East of the 21st Century, Iran will be a key center of gravity…and remain a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic thinking and policies for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and well into the future.
To acknowledge that reality in no way confuses Iran’s dangerous, destabilizing and threatening behavior in the region. Our differences with Iran are real. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and continues to provide material support to Hezbollah and Hamas. The President of Iran publicly threatens Israel’s existence and is attempting to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has not helped stabilize the current chaos in Iraq and is responsible for weapons and explosives being used against U.S. military forces in Iraq.
Yet, America’s military might alone cannot successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable stability with Iran. The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence within its foreign policy arsenal—political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military.
This is the way moderate Republicans and liberal internationalists talked about foreign policy challenges throughout the 1990s. It is the kind of rhetoric that President Clinton employed and, for the most part, the kind of rhetoric President Obama employs today. Now, it’s true, as was pointed out to Hagel ad infinitum yesterday, that the Obama administration does not profess a policy of containment toward Iran; it has vowed to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
But Obama was not president in 2007. And Hagel, then still a senator, was free to ruminate on the “inventory,” as he put it yesterday, of options available to American diplomats and national security strategists.
“Was it that containment was one of the options?” Ayotte probed.
Hagel: “Yes, of course.”
This is damning?
Yes: Of course a strategy of containment is an option. So is an air attack or a land invasion tomorrow. Yet Ayotte strongly implied that the mere entertaining of the idea of containment was disqualifying. Containment ipso facto means appeasement, and to have said it’s worthy of consideration is a kind of thought crime. Consider: a member of the U.S. Senate, “the world’s most deliberative body,” thinks that it’s impermissible to actually deliberate foreign policy.
Add Ayotte’s exchange to Sen. John McCain’s confrontation with Hagel, in which McCain treated the arguable success of the Iraq surge as a priest would the historicity of the virgin birth, and we have the unmistakable voice of a school of foreign policy that operates more like an office of doctrinal enforcement.
These are dangerous people.