Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

April 26, 2015

Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

AkuDuring his lifetime, Chairil Anwar born in Medan, North Sumatra wrote approximately 94 works, including seventy-one poems. Most of those were unpublished at the time of his death, but were later collected in several collections of his work published posthumously. Of these, Anwar considered only 13 to be truly good poems. The first published was Deru Tjampur Debu (Roar Mixed with Dust), which was followed by Kerikil Tadjam dan Jang Terampas dan Terputus (Sharp Pebbles and the Seized and The Broken). Although several poems in those collections had the same title, they were slightly different.The most celebrated of his works is “AKU”  (“Me”/I)–Wikipedia

Book Review: ‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy

February 16, 2015

BOOKS of the Times

Fresh Terrain in Huck’s Adventure

‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy

Reviewed by

mark_twain2Mark Twain

The famous preface to “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reads like a goad: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

No book is as regularly ransacked. Bowdlerized, when not outright banned, from the moment of its publication in 1884, it has been read like a rune and interrogated for its embodiment of American anxieties about race and freedom and language, the call of the open road (or river). “The brilliance of ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ” Toni Morrison wrote, “is that it is the argument it raises.”

In “Huck Finn’s America,” a capacious, companionable study of the novel, some 20 years in the making, Andrew Levy allows that, “One doesn’t say anything new about Huck Finn — a fact that, in itself, is not even a new thing to observe.” But in sifting through the scholarship, he discovers contemporary readers might have been misconstruing the book. We understand “Huck Finn” as a story for children and also a serious book about race. But in Mark Twain’s time, it was the other way around: The novel was regarded as lighthearted minstrelsy that contained a pointed and controversial critique of how childhood was being debated.

“The current fight over ‘Huck Finn’ is most recognizably a fight over the ‘n-word,’ ” — which appears more than 200 times in the book — “and whether or not the book ought to appear in secondary school Andrew Levyclassrooms,” Mr. Levy, an English Professor at Butler University, writes. But in the 1880s, another noisy public discussion reigned.

Children were being conceived of as a social class for the first time. Public playgrounds and pediatricians had started appearing. The number of public schools increased, and compulsory attendance came to be enforced. There were battles over corporal punishment and whether dime novels (the video games of their day) were a dangerous influence. With “Huck Finn,” Twain “was contributing something more than a lighthearted ‘boy’s book,’ ” Mr. Levy writes. “He was thinking and speaking about literacy, popular culture, compulsory education, juvenile delinquency, at risk children and the different ways we raise boys from girls, and rich from poor.”

Debates about race simmered at the time, too — Reconstruction began collapsing in those years — but Mr. Levy says Twain was less central to that conversation. “He was somewhere nearby, ingenious, outraged, self-interested, vastly more interested in how many Americans play with race than in how they rise above it, or render its terms obsolete at the ballot box.”

Twain began composing “Huck Finn” in the summer of 1876, Mr. Levy writes, in a “little octagonal study filled with cats” in Elmira, N.Y. Life seeped into the writing; Twain’s small daughter Susy, a terrific liar and a terrible speller, acted as partial model for Huck, and the book’s central plot derived from a real incident. A friend of Twain’s once found a fugitive slave hiding out on an abandoned island and tried, and failed, to help him. The slave was caught, mutilated and murdered.

Mr. Levy shows that much of the violence in the book, abhorred by critics at the time, was ripped from life. Twain’s childhood was filled with gothic horrors — he watched his father’s autopsy through a keyhole — and the newspapers of the day served up a steady fare of thrilling savagery. “I have to have my regular suicide before breakfast, like a cocktail, and my side-dish of murder in the first degree for a relish and my savory assassination to top off while I pick my teeth and smoke,” Twain wrote.

The papers at the time were especially excited by a new menace: feral boys, “made morbid by the habit of reading,” an editorial cautioned. “Victims as well as the patrons of the literature of crime.”

One of the most sensational stories of the day bore some resemblance to “Huck Finn”: the case of William Berner, the “boy murderer” of Cincinnati, who, with an accomplice, an older black man named Joe Palmer, robbed and killed their employer with so many different methods that multiple counts of murder were issued. Riots followed the trial, and editorials blamed another black man for inciting the violence, suggesting that, as with the “boy murderer” case, black men “seemed to open the gates to civil unrest, just or criminal. And boys, especially white ones, were always ready to rush through.”

Reformers began calling for more public schools, which gave rise to a fresh set of worries (all of them very familiar). Was the family being supplanted by schools and media? Was the new education system breeding pampered narcissists?

Huckleberry FinnThe Book I read when I was a School Boy –DDM

At the time, taking children’s stories seriously — by “writing about children as children alone meant taking sides with the reformers,” Mr. Levy writes. But Twain’s fictional children were victims and villains, sanctified by their unruliness, blasphemy and self-sufficiency — and openly contemptuous of becoming “sivilized,” as Huck might say, let alone suffering the indignities of standardized education.

Mr. Levy is excellent on Twain, on his drawl, his gait, his evolution on race matters — from youthful racism to passionate believer in the reparations owed former slaves — and even better on his contradictions. Twain, Mr. Levy reminds us, a friend to Frederick Douglass and benefactor of black college students, also commissioned the grotesque drawings of Jim for the novel and had a cheerfully proprietary relationship with black culture. “He saw that you could play with race: you could produce blackness. And you could make money-making blackness.”

The novel, though, too often feels like a shadowy presence in Mr. Levy’s book. We don’t get nearly enough of the text, which creates a curious distance — as if a doctor were examining a patient from the next room. Without the story closer at hand, Mr. Levy seems to pronounce and exalt rather than to delve and persuade. He repeats himself; chapters eddy instead of build.

But Mr. Levy lands his crucial point with feeling. The book, though familiarly cast as a fable about youth or racial progress, is, in fact, a brutal story about vulnerability, abuse and violence (some 13 bodies are very imaginatively dispatched) and a more deeply conflicted book about race than most readers realize. “These two mistakes are really twins of one mistake,” Mr. Levy has said in an interview. “Both signify that we, as Americans, are too easily convinced that we are moving forward when sometimes we are moving in circles.”

It’s peculiarly American amnesia, he says, a way of forgetting built into the very architecture of “Huck Finn.” In the sourest happy ending in literature, Huck learns from Jim that the brutal father he has been running from was long dead, that he has essentially been moving in circles. His last words to us are bitter, “I been there before.”


Tony Judt’s ‘When the Facts Change’

January 17, 2015

Tony Judt’s ‘When the Facts Change’

by Samuel Moyn

Jennifer Homans aka Mrs Judt“The arc is down,” is how Jennifer Homans, the widow of Tony Judt and an eminent dance critic and historian, describes the age of cruel disappointment that followed the end of the Cold War. It was the era in which her husband was condemned to live out his last two decades before his untimely death at age 62 in 2010.

This new and presumably last of Judt’s collections of scintillating journalism runs the gamut of his interests, organized so the reader can relive that downward arc in his company. “When the Facts Change” ranges from the excitement of 1989 through the agonies of post-9/11 foreign policy to our parlous domestic circumstances after the financial crash. It also includes some of the pen portraits for which Judt was deservedly famous. Taken together, these essays also paint his own portrait.

In 1989, Judt was still a little-known chronicler of the French left.Tony Judt's Essays Descended from East European Jewry and raised in England before moving to New York, he soon finished “Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956,” which became his most prominent book in his original field. Its blistering outrage toward Jean-Paul Sartre and others who threw in their lot with Cold War Communism made Judt controversial, especially in leftist circles, though he must have known that opposing bad old choices hardly ruled out making brand new mistakes.

Then Judt pivoted. He had flirted with consigning public intellectuals of Sartre’s stripe to the dustbin of history, but now he was turning himself into one. He also met and married Homans, who has artfully curated this collection of his essays.

From his post at The New York Review of Books, where he first wrote in 1993 and ultimately became one of its most frequent contributors, Judt swept aside some of his old assumptions and faced new realities lucidly, transforming himself from a scourge of Communism into a critic of American empire. This collection is a reminder of Judt’s clear mind and prose and, as Homans says in her lovely introduction, his fidelity to hard facts and to honest appraisals of the modern scene.

One reality Judt called out was the post-9/11 shock of perpetual war, rather than perpetual peace. Judt likens America’s aggressive war on terror to the S.U.V. beloved of its citizens — an indulgent “anachronism” in a “crowded world” — and America’s foreign policy to “just an oversized pickup truck with too much power.” (A better means of transportation, Judt thought, were trains, which modern Americans refused to build — or ride — but which he considered the hallmark of European civilization at its best.) Americans had earned praise for their beneficence but foolishly squandered it, Judt concludes, forgetting “a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die.”

Then there was Israel. Judt’s bombshell essay, “Israel: The Alternative,” published in 2003 in The New York Review of Books and reprinted here, was a turning point in the history of American opinion on a complex topic. Like the S.U.V., Judt concludes, Israel is also an anachronism, though he had been an ardent youthful Zionist and worked as a translator during the Six-Day War of 1967. Diagnosing the limits of the two-state solution that had long monopolized public debate about the Middle East, Judt’s essay brought a storm of fury down on him, changed the boundaries of acceptable discourse and lost him friends.

Professor Tony Judt in his NYU officeYet today even his enemies miss him. “The war of ideas is not what it used to be,” one of them, Leon Wieseltier, lamented when contemplating the debate about the Middle East — and the rather unimpressive row of adversaries left to tangle with after Judt’s passing. At the time he wrote this, in 2013, Wieseltier was the literary editor of The New Republic, which he recently left. Judt, too, had been affiliated with The New Republic — as a contributing editor — but his name was removed from the magazine’s masthead after his Israel article appeared.

For a partisan, Judt was not prickly at all. I knew him slightly; after I charged him in The Nation with contradicting himself over the years, he characteristically befriended me. But first he wrote a letter to the editor addressing my allegation. “When the facts change, I change my mind,” he remarked. “What do you do?” A version of this comment is commonly attributed to one of Judt’s heroes, John Maynard Keynes (though Homans writes that “Tony did not really have heroes”). It now finds itself the title of this collection, thanks to Judt’s elder son, Daniel, Homans reports.

During his frantic, final bout of intellectual activism around the time of his diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Judt threw in his lot with social democracy. In his masterpiece “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945,” Judt chronicled how the welfare state had come to its European homeland. And in the face of contemporary market fundamentalism, he protests here that he is a conservative, husbanding the achievements of the Cold War. It is the libertarians who are the radicals. Fear, he insists, the fear of rising insecurity, should motivate us to retain our welfarist birthright.

The redistributive politics of the European welfare state had themselves been based on a fear of the weakness of liberal institutions. “A social democracy of fear is something to fight for,” Judt tells us. But the fear that once inspired justice also involved the internal threat of the working class and the external threat of the Soviets, and the task now is to figure out how to provide a functional equivalent of those fears without incurring their historically stupendous costs. Nostalgia was forgivable in a dying man, but the truth is that the European welfare state as it emerged after World War II cannot be rehabilitated. It was faulty in its time, leading to its own undoing, and cannot now be turned into a global fix. Among other things, it tended to confirm worldwide hierarchies in wealth (though moderating them for a few decades in North Atlantic countries).

Those who miss Judt’s invigorating role, even when they disagree with him, can find a piece here on options in the Middle East that Homans included even though Judt ultimately chose not to publish it. It is inconclusive. “It ought not to be beyond the intelligence of even the most hidebound local politicians to see the benefits of imaginative compromise,” Judt says. Yet so far, it has been. Like Judt’s moving elegy for social democracy, his writings on Israel show he was much better at posing vexing problems, and bringing them early and exigently before a wide public, than he was at finding solutions. But that can be said to be the intellectual’s proper role. And, after all, we are still living in the era Judt so courageously challenged for betraying the promises it might have kept.

Ours remains an era of forever war, one that both American liberals and conservatives agree to go on fighting, while restricting their wrangling to how best to justify it legally. In the Middle East, the “peace process,” itself little more than a euphemism for repetitive violence, is widely considered dead, even by many former supporters, but with no feasible alternative in sight. And a Frenchman Judt would have lauded, Thomas Piketty, has demonstrated that we live in a time of galloping inequality that our leaders choose not to correct. Even Barack Obama, Judt says, is “someone who would concede rather than confront — and that’s a shortcoming in a politician, if not in a man.”

If the arc is down, those who miss Judt cannot take solace in the thought that it will someday bend toward justice. The facts have not changed enough. No wonder this book, and Judt’s assumption of the role of political critic after the Cold War, remain so relevant.


Israel: The Alternative

by Tony Judt

Israel’s behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington’s unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.–Tony Judt

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming “nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic” majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.

But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war. And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.

Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.

Anyone who supposes that this third option is unthinkable above all for a Jewish state has not been watching the steady accretion of settlements and land seizures in the West Bank over the past quarter-century, or listening to generals and politicians on the Israeli right, some of them currently in government. The middle ground of Israeli politics today is occupied by the Likud. Its major component is the late Menachem Begin’s Herut Party. Herut is the successor to Vladimir Jabotinsky’s interwar Revisionist Zionists, whose uncompromising indifference to legal and territorial niceties once attracted from left-leaning Zionists the epithet “fascist.” When one hears Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.

The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in “Greater Israel,” and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, “After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.”1 Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.

This is where the US enters the picture. Israel’s behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington’s unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.

It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America’s reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time.2 For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel. This story continues. We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. Syria backs Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad: sworn foes of Israel, to be sure, but hardly a significant international threat. However, Damascus has hitherto been providing the US with critical data on al-Qaeda. Like Iran, another longstanding target of Israeli wrath whom we are actively alienating, Syria is more use to the United States as a friend than an enemy. Which war are we fighting?

On September 16, 2003, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution asking Israel to desist from its threat to deport Yasser Arafat. Even American officials themselves recognize, off the record, that the resolution was reasonable and prudent, and that the increasingly wild pronouncements of Israel’s present leadership, by restoring Arafat’s standing in the Arab world, are a major impediment to peace. But the US blocked the resolution all the same, further undermining our credibility as an honest broker in the region. America’s friends and allies around the world are no longer surprised at such actions, but they are saddened and disappointed all the same.

Israeli politicians have been actively contributing to their own difficulties for many years; why do we continue to aid and abet them in their mistakes? The US has tentatively sought in the past to pressure Israel by threatening to withhold from its annual aid package some of the money that goes to subsidizing West Bank settlers. But the last time this was attempted, during the Clinton administration, Jerusalem got around it by taking the money as “security expenditure.” Washington went along with the subterfuge, and of $10 billion of American aid over four years, between 1993 and 1997, less than $775 million was kept back. The settlement program went ahead unimpeded. Now we don’t even try to stop it.

This reluctance to speak or act does no one any favors. It has also corroded American domestic debate. Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus.

But the crisis in the Middle East won’t go away. President Bush will probably be conspicuous by his absence from the fray for the coming year, having said just enough about the “road map” in June to placate Tony Blair. But sooner or later an American statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.

But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the “road map” says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill—rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin’s illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.3

The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution—the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon’s cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state.

But what if there were no place in the world today for a “Jewish state”? What if the binational solution were not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought. Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. “Christian Europe,” pace M. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is a dead letter; Western civilization today is a patchwork of colors and religions and languages, of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Indians, and many others—as any visitor to London or Paris or Geneva will know.4

Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not—as its more paranoid supporters assert—because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community—Jews—is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go; without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel’s identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel’s American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit. To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.

In the years after World War II, those many millions of Jews who did not live in Israel were often reassured by its very existence—whether they thought of it as an insurance policy against renascent anti-Semitism or simply a reminder to the world that Jews could and would fight back. Before there was a Jewish state, Jewish minorities in Christian societies would peer anxiously over their shoulders and keep a low profile; since 1948, they could walk tall. But in recent years, the situation has tragically reversed.

Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn’t do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions. Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel’s own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. The depressing truth is that Israel’s current behavior is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.

To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim. In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history. The “fence”—actually an armored zone of ditches, fences, sensors, dirt roads (for tracking footprints), and a wall up to twenty-eight feet tall in places—occupies, divides, and steals Arab farmland; it will destroy villages, livelihoods, and whatever remains of Arab-Jewish community. It costs approximately $1 million per mile and will bring nothing but humiliation and discomfort to both sides. Like the Berlin Wall, it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.

A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force—though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.5 A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

September 25, 2003


An Alternative Future: An Exchange December 4, 2003 …the fundamentalist clamor for a dominantly “Jewish” state—as pre-war Poland or Romania were ruthlessly “Polish” and “Romanian”—has increased over the years. “Affirmative action” for Jews has degenerated into crass discrimination against Israeli Arabs by means of punitive legislative as well as judicial, budgetary, and administrative measures.

1. See Burg’s essay, “La révolution sioniste est morte,” Le Monde, September 11, 2003. A former head of the Jewish Agency, the writer was speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, between 1999 and 2003 and is currently a Labor Party member of the Knesset. His essay first appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot; it has been widely republished, notably in the Forward (August 29, 2003) and the London Guardian (September 15, 2003).

2.See the interview with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair.

3. In 1979, following the peace agreement with Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Sharon did indeed instruct the army to close down Jewish settlements in the territory belonging to Egypt. The angry resistance of some of the settlers was overcome with force, though no one was killed. But then the army was facing three thousand extremists, not a quarter of a million, and the land in question was the Sinai Desert, not “biblical Samaria and Judea.”

4. Albanians in Italy, Arabs and black Africans in France, Asians in England all continue to encounter hostility. A minority of voters in France, or Belgium, or even Denmark and Norway, support political parties whose hostility to “immigration” is sometimes their only platform. But compared with thirty years ago, Europe is a multicolored patchwork of equal citizens, and that, without question, is the shape of its future.

5. As Burg notes, Israel’s current policies are the terrorists’ best recruiting tool: “We are indifferent to the fate of Palestinian children, hungry and humiliated; so why are we surprised when they blow us up in our restaurants? Even if we killed 1000 terrorists a day it would change nothing.” See Burg, “La révolution sioniste est morte.”


The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

October 23, 2014

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

How about a poem today? It has been quite while since I posted a poem. Suddenly, I Robert Frostfelt the urge to listen to poem. For that I have chosen American poet, Robert Frost to remind us that in our lives we face crossroads and have to decide the road we must take.

Do we want to take safe road, one commonly chosen because others have taken or do we wish to venture into the unknown, untested and uncertain. I have somehow chosen the latter, that is, the one less traveled.

Has it made difference ? An unqualified yes. The road not taken has allowed me to break social barriers, challenge taboos, speak my mind, discover my humanity and love my country. It was scary at first, but I do not think I will ever turn back.–Din Merican

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler,long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and-I
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

Embrace Teddy Roosevelt’s Conservatism

September 14, 2014

Embrace Teddy Roosevelt’s Conservatism: Equalize Opportunity

by David

teddy_roosevelt“I wish to preach … the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labour and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes … to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” That was how Theodore Roosevelt, never one for understatement, but arguably America’s greatest president, summed up his creed. And his was a life that was never boring – a war hero during the Spanish-American war, a perpetual man of action – he shook up the then-stuffy business of American politics with his relentless spirit. And politicians in 2014 should consider the powerful message that was at the heart of his politics.

Conservatives, in particular, should learn from a man who was able to show that conservatism could broaden its appeal and not be seen as the plaything of the rich. As British Tories consider how to break beyond their heartland they should look to Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative who claimed the progressive mantle as his own.

His message was one that successfully broadened the appeal of the Republican party, exiling the Democrats to their then “solid south” and winning more electoral college votes than any president before him. His was a conservatism that unapologetically represented enterprise, small business owners and workers. It was a conservatism that took on vested interests and legislated in the interests of ordinary voters, with measures such as the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

This was a man who believed instinctively that prosperity came from “thrift, business energy and enterprise”, but didn’t believe that being conservative should mean unthinkingly defending big business or monopolies. In his words: “We wish to shape conditions so that a greater number of the small men who are decent, industrious and energetic shall be able to succeed, and so that the big man who is dishonest should not be allowed to succeed at all.” He argued that monopolies meant higher prices for consumers, lower wages for workers and shut out the small businessmen and innovation that create prosperity.

Roosevelt was right that Conservatives should be prepared to act where market failure occurs and stand upcameron-radical against vested interests in both the private and public sector. Those who argue such an approach is unconservative would also find disagreement from other conservative icons. Adam Smith argued: “The monopolists … sell their commodities much above the natural price … and raise their emoluments … greatly above their natural rate.” Edmund Burke stood strongly against the monopoly power of the East India Company. Little wonder that Roosevelt described himself as “the true friend of property, the true conservative”.

Conservatives should be strong defenders of the power of capitalism to create prosperity and social progress, but they should remember that the free market and big business aren’t the same thing. Conservatives should create the right environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs. But supporting free enterprise isn’t the same as supporting the water monopolies, who, as Rob Halfon has pointed out, saw director’s salaries increase by between 37% and 171% over the past five years, while bills increased by up to 37%. They should be prepared to speak up about anti-consumer behaviour, whether it be over food packaging, bank charges or excessive utility prices.

It’s important that a regulatory environment is created in which encouraging competition, rather than concentration of power, is taken seriously, and monopolies aren’t allowed to abuse their dominant market position. The creation of a powerful, cross-departmental secretary of state for consumer protection would also help tackle rip-off practices. Polling last year also showed that a Conservative party that clamped down on big business that ripped off its customers would be an important way of showing that Conservatives weren’t just for the rich and powerful.

Roosevelt was a strong believer in capitalism as an engine for growth and a capitalism that works for everybody in society. His was “an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best there is in him”. For him, “the essence of the struggle is to equalise opportunity, destroy privilege and give to the life and citizenship of every possible individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth”.

Conservatives should firmly position themselves as the party that is the relentless champion of opportunity and the enemy of the closed shop, with education reform, improved childcare in the poorest areas and a strong vocational offer at its heart.

It’s pretty clear that the low paid and many parts in the north and Scotland didn’t benefit from the economic growth under Tony Blair. Between 2003 and 2008, GDP increased by over 11%, but real wages stagnated at best and wages have failed to keep up with prices for more than a decade. Roosevelt argued that “no man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living”. He was an early advocate of a minimum wage – understanding that such an idea was entirely consistent with conservatism and making the free market work for everyone. Conservatives shouldn’t be afraid of looking at ways of increasing the minimum wage, which has failed to keep up with prices in recent years, whilst reforming employers’ taxes to minimise the impact on job creation.

Teddy Roosevelt stood for the “square deal” and so should today’s Conservatives. A square deal for the small businessman and the entrepreneur, for the young person who deserves to make the most of their potential, for the consumer and the low paid. Modern conservatism must be compassionate and should be about removing barriers to opportunity, tackling vested interests in both the public and private sectors and promoting a free market that creates prosperity for all. Today’s Tories should hold up Teddy Roosevelt as a guiding light.

Literature moving into obscurity

June 15, 2014

Literature moving into obscurity

by Bhavani Krishna Iyer*

E Literature

I HAVE vivid recollections of receiving brickbats from family members and friends when I made the announcement one eventful day that I was planning to pursue a doctoral degree in English Literature.

Many thought that such a degree would not earn me a living and yet others thought literature was out of vogue. I would say both these groups were neither completely right nor wrong, but the point is I have no regrets having pursued my passion.

It was uphill all the way getting material, and my search to support my thesis often ended in futility. I remember scouring bookshops in India where the assistants would send me to the deepest, darkest and most obscure corners in the shop to look for books related to literature. I often felt small but never any less important.

IT and engineering references were hot sellers and the bookshop owners used to tell me that literature books don’t sell because there was no demand.

There is also this common complaint that studying literature will not be of any use for a working adult unless one is teaching the subject. Not forgetting the acidulous remark we get that literature will not teach anyone how to make a sandwich or build a bridge, hence, why bother?

A course mate said she was almost coaxed into doing something “more marketable” when she was about to embark on the PhD. Such were the harsh realities when all things related to science and technology appeared to have elevated status at work and outside work, due to their perceived importance.

English writersWhen I stood in front of my boss years ago, asking for time off to attend classes, I was not surprised that he asked “how is it going to be of any benefit to you and the company.” I simply said, “I will be a better person to say the least, and of course as an employee, I will have a more enlightened view of my surrounding, the environment and the people around me.

“People with a literature background have better written and other communication skills and it has been widely accepted that understanding complex ideas and theories and doing research come easy,” I explained. He did not say anything further.

The zeal for literature is very much a personal preference, either you like it or you don’t and for those who are consumed in it for reasons other than academic, they will know the many-pronged benefits. I am a staunch believer that the interest can be developed.

Exposure to literature keeps one afloat in a conversation about the life and times of people which would appeal to just about anyone. Additionally, one’s vocabulary increases by reading literature and last but not least, literature serves as momentary escapism from the harsh realities of life. It serves to de-stress people who are overcome by the stress of modern living. People who read literary works will know the power and pleasure of using the language with all its quirks.

Personally, I think, literature adorns one with the ability to appreciate the enriching array of human characters and experiences.”But literature is difficult,” is often the lament from many, but let me tell you it need not be so if you get into the groove of it and start with the right material.

The Ministry of Education has incorporated a component called Language Arts in its English Language syllabus where pupils from Year 1 study rhymes, short stories and others to “activate pupils’ imagination and interest”.

I am told by a friend who is a teacher trainer that the English language teachers are exposed to teaching literature in the classrooms, in a small way from the way I see it but this is a good move and I hope we get this going without high-handed interference.

Having said that we seem to be in transition most times from quick-fixes in as far as learning English is concerned and perhaps a revolutionary policy in teaching and learning English might be just the answer to arrest the decay.

*The writer was a language teacher and now teaches part-time in public universities, apart from having a full-time job. Comments: