Sunday, September 8, 2013

Same War, Different Country. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Same War, Different Country. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, September 7, 2013.


Say, did you see the news from Libya — the last country we bombed because its leader crossed a red line or was about to? Here’s a dispatch from Libya in the Sept. 3 British newspaper, The Independent:
“Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Qaddafi two years ago. Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that NATO’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention, which should be repeated in Syria. ... Output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now.”
I keep reading about how Iraq was the bad war and Libya was the good war and Afghanistan was the necessary war and Bosnia was the moral war and Syria is now another necessary war. Guess what! They are all the same war.
They are all the story of what happens when multisectarian societies, most of them Muslim or Arab, are held together for decades by dictators ruling vertically, from the top down, with iron fists and then have their dictators toppled, either by internal or external forces. And they are all the story of how the people in these countries respond to the fact that with the dictator gone they can only be governed horizontally — by the constituent communities themselves writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above. And, as I’ve said before, they are all the story of how difficult it is to go from Saddam to Jefferson — from vertical rule to horizontal rule — without falling into Hobbes or Khomeini.

In Bosnia, after much ethnic cleansing between warring communities, NATO came in and stabilized and codified what is in effect a partition. We acted on the ground as “the army of the center.” In Iraq, we toppled the dictator and then, after making every mistake in the book, we got the parties to write a new social contract. To make that possible, we policed the lines between sects and eliminated a lot of the worst jihadists in the Shiite and Sunni ranks. We acted on the ground as the “army of the center.” But then we left before anything could take root. Ditto Afghanistan.
The Obama team wanted to be smarter in Libya: No boots on the ground. So we decapitated that dictator from the air. But then our ambassador got murdered, because, without boots on the ground to referee, and act as the army of the center, Hobbes took hold before Jefferson.
If we were to decapitate the Syrian regime from the air, the same thing would likely happen there. For any chance of a multisectarian democratic outcome in Syria, you need to win two wars on the ground: one against the ruling Assad-Alawite-Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite alliance; and, once that one is over, you’d have to defeat the Sunni Islamists and pro-Al Qaeda jihadists. Without an army of the center (which no one will provide) to back up the few decent Free Syrian Army units, both will be uphill fights.
The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. They could hold together as long as there was a dictator to “protect” (and divide) everyone from everyone else. But when the dictator goes, and you are a pluralistic society but lack pluralism, you can’t build anything because there is never enough trust for one community to cede power to another — not without an army of the center to protect everyone from everyone.
In short, the problem now across the Arab East is not just poison gas, but poisoned hearts. Each tribe or sect believes it is in a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.
That means Syria and Iraq will both likely devolve into self-governing, largely homogeneous, ethnic and religious units, like Kurdistan. And, if we are lucky, these units will find a modus vivendi, as happened in Lebanon after 14 years of civil war. And then maybe, over time, these smaller units will voluntarily come together into larger, more functional states.
I still believe our response to Assad’s poison gas attack should be “arm and shame,” as I wrote on Wednesday. But, please do spare me the lecture that America’s credibility is at stake here. Really? Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting since the 7th century over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual and political leadership, and our credibility is on the line? Really? Their civilization has missed every big modern global trend — the religious Reformation, democratization, feminism and entrepreneurial and innovative capitalism — and our credibility is on the line? I don’t think so.
We’ve struggled for a long time, and still are, learning to tolerate “the other.” That struggle has to happen in the Arab/Muslim world, otherwise nothing we do matters. What is the difference between the Arab awakening in 2011 and South Africa’s transition to democracy in the 1990s? America? No. The quality of local leadership and the degree of tolerance.

The New Economy of Letters. By Jill Lepore.

The New Economy of Letters. By Jill Lepore. The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2013. Also here.

The Professor: Jill Lepore’s Fatal Flaw. By Rachel Shteir. The New Republic, November 4, 2012.

Luther Season 3 Finale.

London cop John Luther (Idris Elba) and genius murderer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) have a complicated yet friendly relationship in
 Luther. (Photo: Robert Viglasky).

Luther finale: Creator Neil Cross on that final moment. By Mandi Bierly. Entertainment Weekly, September 7, 2013.

Ruth Wilson makes Luther character a seductive psycho. By Brian Truitt. USA Today, September 6, 2013.

Luther’s Ruth Wilson on Playing Alice Morgan and Showtime’s The Affair. Vulture, September 3, 2013.

Ruth or dare: While Hollywood is crazy for British actress Ruth Wilson. By Jane Gordon. Daily Mail, July 27, 2013.

No one to ride shotgun: Ruth Wilson cuts a lonely figure at Dublin premiere of Lone Ranger . . . without leading men Depp and Hammer. By Fay Strang. Daily Mail, August 7, 2013.

Ruth Wilson talks Alice: Luther Series 3. Video. TopTVshows2013, July 20, 2013. YouTube.

Do You Believe in Evil? Alice and Luther: Luther, BBC. Video. BBCWorldwide, June 26, 2013. YouTube.

Alice and John | White Blank Page (Luther). Video. EternalSmile107, August 6, 2013. YouTube.

Luther: John and Alice. Serial Killer. Video. yotb0ka, August 29, 2013. YouTube.

The Black Keys: Never Gonna Give You Up. Video. Jen Braidley, January 15, 2013. YouTube. Also here, here, here. Played during the closing scene of the Luther finale.

We Need a New Road Map for the Jewish People. By Loolwa Khazzoom.

We Need a New Road Map for the Jewish People. By Loolwa Khazzoom. New America Media, June 16, 2003.


JERUSALEM—Jews across the globe worry whether the road map to peace with Palestinians is dead, or can be salvaged. To me it is critical that Jews and Arabs find a path to peace. But as an Israeli Jew with roots in Iraq, I’m disturbed when the Jewish world continuously emphasizes building relationships between Jews and non-Jews while it ignores a deep diversity issue among our own.
We Mizrahim, 900,000 Middle Eastern and North African Jewish refugees, were forced to flee from our homes about 50 years ago. Arab states confiscated and nationalized billions of dollars worth of our property, yet Jewish leaders have made barely a peep of protest. We are hardly invisible: We are half Israel’s Jewish population.
When Mizrahim came to Israel, everything we offered – thousands of years of Jewish history, culture, religious traditions, scholarship, and daily experience – was devalued. Viewed as primitive and barbaric, we were marginalized and treated as if destined to fail – an attitude that proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, Mizrahim make up the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israeli slums and prisons.
When that which is disdained in us is exactly the Middle Eastern and North African culture we share with our Arab neighbors, and when Jew-on-Jew racism against Mizrahim has gone unaddressed for five decades, how can Jewish-Arab bridge building have any integrity or expectations of success?
The only way out of the Mizrahi spiral downward was to run as fast and as far as possible from our native Middle Eastern and North African ways. There are many successful Mizrahim in Israel, but the price has been dissociation from our roots and shame about our heritage.
Today, Ethiopian Israelis are going through the same bleaching process, but worse. Their very Jewish identity was officially denied upon entry into Israel, and scores were forced to convert to Judaism (as if they were not already Jews), including the kes – the equivalent of rabbis in the community. More humiliation came through the separation of families – some family members accepted as Jews, others not; some brought to Israel, others left to rot in Addis Ababa.
Recently I went to a Jerusalem demonstration where thousands protesting treatment of Ethiopian Jews had gathered in front of the Office of the Government. I found myself facing a long fence separating me from the crowd, a fence that proved to be symbolic: On one side, demonstrators were all black. On the other side, we reporters were not.
I climbed through a hole in the fence.
Around me protesters shouted, “Mother! Father! Sister! Brother!” A young man named Amalu Alamoe, who had completed his three year military service and was going to college, said, “My parents are in Ethiopia. I can’t concentrate, because I’m so worried about them.” Amaloe’s mother and father are among the thousands of Falash Mura trapped in Addis Ababa, many suffering from hunger and disease.
Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under economic pressure from Christian missionaries and death threats from Christian neighbors, secretly remained Jews. During a 1991 Israeli airlift, Jews came from remote villages across Ethiopia to return to Zion – a dream for 3,000 years. Falash Mura, however, were not allowed to board the planes. Israel’s rationale: they were not practicing Jews.
Over the years, Falash Mura continued congregating in Addis Ababa, in increasingly worse conditions. Israel airlifted several thousand for humanitarian reasons, but not because it recognized them as Jews. About 18,000 Falash Mura are now in Addis Ababa; most have family in Israel.
On May 23, Israel’s Chief Rabbi declared that Falash Mura are “one hundred per cent Jews, without a doubt” and should “immediately be brought to Israel . . . to rescue them from the jaws of death.”
A Ministry of the Interior spokesman, Tipi Rabinovitch, said the government is concerned that the list of Falash Mura will be never-ending. This past decade, however, Israel actively scouted out and absorbed 1 million Jewish immigrants from Russia. According to the group Jewish Agency for Israel, almost 250,000 were in fact non-Jews.
Another official argument is economics: “Falash Mura come from another kind of culture, another kind of country and society,” said Aric Puder, spokesman for the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption. “We need to give a lot of special programs in order to absorb them into the Israeli society.”
“They look at us with closed eyes,” says Alamu Mondevro, a demonstrator who says he’s frustrated by the assumption that the Ethiopian-Israeli cultural, spiritual, and intellectual exchange is a one-way street.
Rather than humbly learning what our Ethiopian sisters and brothers have to teach, Israel is once again treating fellow Jews as primitive, barbaric and destined to fail. The government, in turn, is paying the financial price.
So as Jews everywhere clamor desperately to build bridges between Jews and Arabs, I challenge us to look at our own people and build bridges within. As our great sage Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”

Iraq War Marked a Defining Moment for Jews. By Joel Kotkin.

War Marks a Defining Moment for Jews. By Joel Kotkin. Jewish Journal, April 3, 2003. Also at New America Media.


The current war with Iraq marks a defining moment in the lives of American Jews and their lives in this country. For generations, Jews have lived, for the most part, on the left-wing edge of the American commonwealth.
They have been in Hollywood, in the political world, academia and the media generally hostile to the idea of the projection of American power and the idea of a new American empire.
This may soon be changing. Although initially somewhat less supportive of the Iraq invasion than other Americans, Jews are far more behind the projection of American power, arguably, than at any time since World War II. Over half of Jews strongly supported the Bush policy before the outbreak of hostility, according to the Pew Research Center; that percentage has likely increased more recently, as has occurred in the rest of the population.
How should Jews deal with the fact that America, by invading Iraq, has become in many ways an openly more assertive kind of empire?
This is no exaggeration. The utter failure of the European “allies” and the U.N. to stop Iraq’s weapons programs has forced the United States, with whatever allies it can muster, to operate largely without NATO, E.U. or U.N. approval.
Yet is becoming an empire necessarily bad?
It depends, clearly, on the nature of the empire. Given the current world chaos, not only in the Middle East but in North Asia as well, some power needs to assert itself over the outlaw regimes that seek to gain weapons of mass destruction.
The U.N. is useless for this; France too interested in selling its products; Germany too shell-shocked by its past; Russia still resentful of its decline. Only America can, or better, will, provide a counterweight for order.
Jews, for many reasons, need to rally to this notion, not only because of Iraq’s lethal anti-Semitic and anti-Israel stance, but because Jews, as an exposed minority, need a legal, responsible ordered world system. The alternative – a world controlled by the likes of Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il – is terrifying.
This support should not be simply couched in terms of support for Israel. The latent anti-Semitic elements on the left and right from Arab activists to Democratic Rep. James Moran and Pat Buchanan can easily make the point that Jews pushed the Iraq war simply for Israel’s sake. Would they, for example, back a possible strike at North Korea or somewhere else that could be launched for the same principles?
In a sense, we need to transcend two now powerful notions of Jewish identity. The first, now largely predominant, is one tied up with the current State of Israel.
This loyalty is understandable but not sufficient for American Jews’ political identity. As great an idea as the Jewish State may be, it is only a comparatively small force or ideal compared to that projected by the might of the diverse American republic.
The other is what could be called the “perpetual shtetl” notion of Judaism. In this, we are always victims and must associate with those forces – minorities, Third World nations, oppressed genders and sexual groups – no matter what the consequences to ourselves or the nation. This view represents a kind of nostalgic identification with either czarist oppression of the last century or with the experiences of the 1960s.
Neither of these views takes into account the new world situation. Today it is only America – in Iraq today, in Bosnia before and perhaps North Korea tomorrow – that stands between global disorder, including the eventual destruction of Israel and any hope for progress in the 21st century.
This American empire represents something new and worth our loyalty. It was designed, as Thomas Jefferson suggested, as “an empire for liberty.” We do not seek to conquer Iraq like scores of invaders leading up to the Turks or British, most recently.
After our victory in 1945, we did not occupy permanently Germany or Japan. Indeed, we even endure strong dissent from these countries and those we saved from conquest, like France and South Korea. We acknowledge that dissent is a testament to our national virtues.
But is this new empire good for the Jews?
Throughout our history, Jews have flourished under strong, and at least basically just, empires. This was true under Cyrus the Great of Persia, under Alexander and the Ptolemies of Egypt, where Jews constructed their greatest centers of learning, first in Babylon and then Alexandria. By the time of the birth of Christ, and before the collapse of the Judaic State, two-thirds of all Jews already lived outside Palestine, mostly in areas under some form of strong imperial control.
Even under Rome, which extinguished Jewish independence, many of our scholars, teachers, craftsmen and traders found a comfortable existence. Many became citizens, perhaps most famously, Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as St. Paul. Indeed, after the Second Revolt and the expulsion from Jerusalem, Jews largely benefited from Pax Romana.
This was particularly true under the enlightened Antonine emperors. Jewish cultural and community life flourished from the Galilee – Tiberias alone boasted 13 synagogues – to Mesopotamia, in Alexandria, Spain, France and Rome, itself.
It was under Roman rule, for example, that the Mishnah was written. Synagogues were even established and named after emperors like Severus. Under Rome, we became, for the first time, a truly Diaspora people with global influence.

This was no accident. At its best, Rome, like America, posed an ideal of breathtaking scope and cosmopolitan vision. It sought to be a transnational empire open to diverse races and, in exchange for loyalty, allowing a wide breadth of religious practice and philosophical practice.
“Rome,” wrote Areistedes, a Greek writer in the second century, “is a citadel which has all the peoples of the earth as its villagers.”
This universalist notion was perhaps best expressed by Marcus Aurelius, the emperor and philosopher, who assumed the principate in 161 C.E. at the death of highly regarded Antoninus Pius. Aurelius claimed that he arose each morning to “do the work of man.”
“For me, Antoninus,”Aurelius wrote, “my city and fatherland is Rome, but as a man, the world.”

When the order of this empire came undone, it was a disaster for the Jews. As cities declined, commerce waned and superstition, including within both Christianity and Judaism, waxed, our civilization declined. It was only with new and healthier imperial structures – notably the Persian Sassanians and, ironically, the early Islamic empire – that Jewish culture began to revive again, most notably in Muslim-controlled Spain.
Today’s American empire, not surprisingly, now serves as the primary center of Jewish culture, creativity and commerce. Israel is important, but it is essentially a dependency of the American empire.
The connections of Israel to Europe, so beloved by many liberal Israelis, are likely to weaken further as anti-Semitism and pro-Islamicist force grow, particularly in France. Israelis, likely in the hundreds of thousands, gravitate here.
The question is what do Jews owe as citizens of this empire?
I think we have much to offer. To survive, America must keep its moral compass. It is right for us to question unjust acts and also require virtue, particularly in areas such as overconsumption of fossil fuels. Our intellectual and commercial sharpness, and history-shaped experience, represent an important asset to America.
Will this mean a new American Jewish identity?
Yes, to some extent. Clearly the war in Iraq will accelerate the gradual shift of Jews toward the center and, to a lesser extent, even to the right.
Both the old shtetl mentality and that of the 1960s will also fade, particularly among the young and more recent newcomers to the country. Recent Russian or Persian immigrants are not likely to be as enraptured by an old Stalinist like Castro or willing to cut a break to an anti-Semitic monster like Saddam, as those Jews still romantically attached to the spent utopianism of the left.
At the same time, the left, the traditional home for many Jews, seems destined to become increasingly inhospitable to Jews. We have already seen the marginalization of pro-Israel leftists.
The antiwar movement, with its powerful links in both Europe and America, with those sympathetic or even supportive of terrorists, places the opposition uncomfortably in bed with those who want to kill Jews, simply because they are Jews, in Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, Tunisia and New York – or LAX and Sherman Oaks.
Does this mean all Jews will become conservatives after the war?
No, although most will become further to the right on foreign policy, as the fact that few Jews in Congress, including liberals, have been prominent in the opposition to the war. But they will not, I believe, become a bunch of Rush Limbaugh or even Dennis Praeger “dittoheads.” There are simply too many issues – abortion, school prayer and economic justice – that separate most Jews from the Republican mainstream.
But, Jews, like other Americans, will emerge from this war a changed people. We will come, I believe, with an enhanced notion of connection to the American empire and to our critical place within it.

Under the Arab Street. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Under the Arab Street. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, October 23, 2002.

Arab Activists Move from Street Protests to Basement Bomb-Making. By Rami G. Khouri. Albion Monitor, October 22, 2002. Also at New America Media.