Category Archives: Musical Chairs

The Cracking Left As Evidenced By Odd Bedfellows

Jolly Nick Cohen has said it so well, I won't even begin to add to his eloquent insights into the confusion of the Old Left with the New Reality in his bruising piece originally reposted here on Oct 24, 2006, called: "Where Have All The Pacifists Gone?" Now if only the Left will crumble into dust and blow away. Here are the first few paragraphs of the right persuasive piece.

Nick Cohen
"You Can't Read This Book" by Nick Cohen
BEFORE YOU GO TO A LEFT-WING meeting, brace yourself for the likelihood that everyone you meet in the hall will be standing on their heads. Do not be surprised to see communists supporting fascism, feminists throwing their arms around misogynists and liberals volunteering to be advocates for tyranny. It’s been like this since 9/11 turned the world upside down, and the temptation for a journalist is to play the cynical reporter and pretend to be unshockable. I try my best to be a hard man, but the shocks keep on coming. Take the fates of two venerable left-wing institutions, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Searchlight.

For 18 months I’ve had CND workers telling me how they have been forced out by the same people who disgraced the anti-war movement – the Socialist Workers Party, Ken Livingstone’s homeboys from Socialist Action, the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party . . . the friends of the indefatigable George Galloway, in short. I couldn’t see how to write about it. How could I prove that they were victims of a political purge rather than guilty of poor performance? In any case, there was always an element of a Quaker-communist alliance about the old CND, and the ideas it produced weren’t always wrong. CND’s policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament was political poison for Labour because it was so clearly in the interests of the Soviet Union, but CND had a second argument that was truer than its legions of critics in the 1980s admitted. Nuclear power breeds nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons breed more nuclear weapons, CND’s argument ran. Unless proliferation stops, they will get into the hands of men who are prepared to use them.

That was then. Anyone who now believes CND is as much against proliferation as for unilateral disarmament would have been surprised by this autumn’s annual conference. Among the guests was the startling figure of Dr Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, the then Iranian ambassador. Iran is building the nuclear power stations CND once protested against – an odd project for a country with one of the largest reserves of oil in the world. Not only the US government but the United Nations and the European Union suspect the Islamic Republic wants the bomb. The obvious course for those sincere about nuclear disarmament is to oppose Tehran as vigorously as they oppose a replacement for Trident. But there’s the rub. Standing by its principles would, if only for a moment, have put CND on the same side as George W Bush and Tony Blair, and that would never do.

Betrayal has defined the liberal left since Iraq because anti-Americans find their comrades in the Kurdish socialist movement or the Iraqi Communist Party or Arab liberal parties an embarrassment and cannot stick by them or even acknowledge their existence. Given that record, I guess it was inevitable that CND, whose governing council is stuffed with people who call themselves “socialists”, “workers” and “communists”, would take the next step and betray the Iranian left.

Read it all.

The Thin Veneer Of Cultural Iconology

Fifth Avenue
The Thin Veneer of Cultural Iconology

In his article—Confessions of a Cultural Drop-out—published by Pajamas Media, Victor Davis Hanson slays the huffing and puffing dragon of popular culture by assessing the thin veneer of cultural iconology as it swishes by with no apparent staying power. His last few paragraphs begin with eerily the same language I just this past weekend used to describe my own general malaise which can also be summarily dismissed as simple aging by those who, in Kierkegaard's terms, simply refuse to make distinctions , so I start here...

A FINAL, ODD OBSERVATION. As I have dropped out of contemporary American culture and retreated inside some sort of 1950s time-warp, in a strange fashion of compensation for non-participation, I have tried to remain more engaged than ever in the country’s political and military crises, which are acute and growing. One’s distancing from the popular culture of movies, TV, newspapers, and establishment culture makes one perhaps wish to overcompensate in other directions, from the trivial to the important.

Lately more than ever I try to obey the speed limit, overpay my taxes, pay more estimates and withholding than I need, pay all the property taxes at once, pick up trash I see on the sidewalk, try to be overly polite to strangers in line, always stop on the freeway when I see an elderly person or single woman with a flat, leave 20% tips, let cars cut me off in the parking lot (not in my youth, not for a second), and patronize as many of Selma’s small businesses as I can (from the hardware store to insurance to cars). I don’t necessarily do that out of any sense of personal ethics, but rather because in these increasingly crass and lawless times, we all have to try something, even symbolically, to restore some common thread to the frayed veneer of American civilization, to balance the rips from a Letterman attack on Palin’s 14-year-old daughter or a Serena Williams’ threat to a line judge, or the President’s communication director’s praise of Mao, civilization’s most lethal mass murderer, or all of what I described above.

I don’t fathom the attraction of a Kanye West (I know that name after his outburst), a David Letterman, Van Jones, Michael Moore (all parasitic on the very culture they mock), or the New York Review of Books or People Magazine (they seem about the same in their world view). So goodbye to all that.

Horace called this reactionary nostalgia the delusion of a laudator temporis acti, the grouchy praiser of times past for the sake of being past. Perhaps. But I see the trend of many ignoring the old touchstones of popular entertainment and life as a rejection of establishment culture—a disbelief in, or utter unconcern with, what elites now offer as valuable on criteria that have nothing to do with merit or value. I was supposed to listen to Dan Rather because Murrow once worked for CBS? I am to go to the Cinema 16 because Hollywood once made Gone With the Wind or On the Waterfront?

I don’t particularly like the idea that I want little to do with contemporary culture. But I feel it nonetheless—and sense many of you do as well.

But don't neglect reading it all..

Extermination of Iraqi Artists

One wonders if the website I found this morning in a search for Iraqi work has incriminated these artists who have posted there. The colorful work of these painters is certainly exquisite, if mildly derivative of past Western art movements, but then, the same can be said for most of the contemporary painting populating Western galleries. We however, must not neglect to record our disgust with these code-bound jihadists of every stripe who have crawled out of the rubble of American intervention to murder and oppress their own people, but this is what we are fighting, people, if not over there, then soon in a neighborhood near you. The only strategy left to even the most rigid of peacemakers is the strategy of total victory.

Because this is the jihadist strategy also.

Mohammed Jafaar, Demonstration, acrylic on canvas, 30" X 24", 2006

IRAQI SINGERS, ACTORS, AND ARTISTS are fleeing the country after dozens have been killed by Islamic radicals determined to eradicate all culture associated with the West. Cinemas, art galleries, theatres, and concert halls are being destroyed in grenade and mortar attacks in Basra and Baghdad.

According to the Iraqi Artists' Association, at least 115 singers and 65 actors have been killed since the US-led invasion, as well as 60 painters. But the terror campaign has escalated in recent months as both Shia and Sunni extremists grow ever bolder in enforcing religious restrictions on the citizens of Iraq....

In November Seif Yehia, 23, was beheaded for singing western songs at weddings, and painter Ibraheem Sadoon was shot dead as he drove through Baghdad. In February Sunni fighters killed Waleed Dahi, 27, a young actor, while he rehearsed for a play due to open at the Jordanian National Theatre this month.

Those remaining are in hiding as they make preparations to get themselves and their families to safety.

Haydar Labbeb, 35, a painter in Baghdad, said he had received five death threats and an attempt was made on his life as he drove his family home from a wedding. He is now trying to get to Amman in Jordan, where he hopes to continue painting.

'My art is seen by extremists as too modern and offensive to Islamic beliefs,' he said. 'For them, every painting has to be based on Islamic culture. But I am a modern artist.

Culture was encouraged during Saddam Hussein's regime, but no longer. Abu Nur, an Islamic Army spokesman, said: 'Acting, theatre and television encourage bad behaviour and irreligious attitudes. They promote customs that affect the morality of our traditional society.'

Read it all.

Mozart In Saudi Arabia

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)

DON'T OVERESTIMATE the power of the tease. As long as its oil and its oil wealth gives them the upper hand, the Saudi crown will not be fools when it comes to doling out tidbits to its first world dhimmis in this real-time international game of chess. Just a taste they will offer, then back to business as usual. The following event should not be taken as a crack in the dam, as the German ambassador suggests, but merely a rare toss of bone scrap to the cur dog infidels (and a few of its own ruling elite, of course. No harm in that) extending the long arm of taqiyya precisely enough to keep the kingdom’s dhimmis in check.

It's probably as revolutionary and groundbreaking as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gets these days. A German-based quartet staged Saudi Arabia's first-ever performance of European classical music in a public venue before a mixed-gender audience. The concert, held at a government-run cultural center, broke many taboos in a country where public music is banned and the sexes are segregated even in lines at fast-food outlets.

The Friday night performance could be yet another indication that this strict Muslim kingdom is looking to open up to the rest of the world. A few weeks ago, King Abdullah made an unprecedented call for interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews—’the first such proposal from a nation that forbids non-Muslim religious services and symbols, and often uses this type of open call for propaganda purposes to soften up resistence to its own Wahabi supremicism that it is busy exporting al over the world, particularly in the West.

"The concert is a sign that things are changing rapidly here," said German Ambassador Juergen Krieghoff, whose embassy sponsored the concert as part of the first-ever German Cultural Weeks in Saudi Arabia. Public concerts are practically unheard of in the kingdom. Foreign embassies and consulates regularly bring musical groups, but they perform on embassy grounds or in expatriates' residential compounds, and the shows are not open to the public.

Friday's concert of works by Mozart, Brahms and Paul Juon was the first classical performance held in public in Saudi Arabia, said German press attache Georg Klussmann. It was advertised on the embassy's Web site with free tickets that could be downloaded and printed. The excitement in the 500-seat hall was palpable as the largely expatriate audience walked in.

Japanese pianist Hiroko Atsumi, the quartet's only woman, said there was some debate before the concert about whether she should perform in an abaya, the enveloping black cloak all women must wear in public. She settled on a long green top and black trousers.

Among the first to arrive was Faiza al-Khayyal, a retired Saudi educator, with her 15-year-old daughter. Miss al-Khayyal said she had inquired about seating arrangements and had been told the audience would be mixed. Did she mind bringing her daughter to a mixed gathering? "It's OK with me," she said, adding with a smile: "I'm with her."

Faleh al-Ajami, an Arabic-language professor, brought his wife and two sons to the concert—a rare opportunity for the whole family to do something fun together. "It's a good step to introduce Saudis to classical music," Mr. al-Ajami, 50, said during the intermission.

For the expatriates, the evening was an opportunity to have a normal evening out in Riyadh, a city with no movie theaters and where women are not allowed in outdoor cafes. One foreign couple held hands, while another husband put his arm around his wife's shoulders—rare public displays of affection in the kingdom. The mutawwa, the dreaded religious police tasked with enforcing public morality, were nowhere to be seen for a change.

"I'm glad for an opportunity like this," said Mary Ann Jumawan, a 40-year-old administrator at the South Korean Embassy. "It's the first time in nine years here as a married couple that my husband and I go to a location like this."

But this last paragraph says it all. Not everyone was impressed, however. Saud al-Sabhan dismissed the notion that gatherings involving men and women together might one day become the norm. "Saudi society wouldn't accept it. And girls aren't used to such mixed gatherings," he said, adding that if he had a sister, she certainly would not have been allowed to attend.

See what I mean? Of course, I would rejoice to be proven wrong in this matter as in most matters of this nasty war which seems to have no name we can all agree upon. Unfortunately, my instincts and my education instruct me otherwise. Because if I am any judge of girls, I am inclined to believe that they "aren't used to" being burned alive either. For those of you who don't recall my reference:

Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from fleeing a burning building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, local newspapers reported. In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media accused them of blocking attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire March 18, 2002. About 800 students were inside the school in Mecca when the fire started. The daily al-Eqtisadiah reported that firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

One witness reportedly saw three police "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya." The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses saying the mutaween—or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—stopped men who tried to help the girls, warning "it is sinful to approach them." The father of one of the 15 girls claimed the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out. "Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.

Bono Warns Islamic Threat Real

Bono With Wife Ali

Not that this news is sweeping through the mainstream media wind tunnels, but Bono, lead singer for the Irish rock band, U2, has issued a warning in a recent Rolling Stone interview that bears repeating. A noted liberal celebrity bucking his own usual party line to engage the results of honest unbias observations is indeed real news. Because let's face it, the press loves to headline celebrities who speak out against President Bush, the war against Islamic fundamentalism and anything else that strikes paydirt in the darling media's end zone. This celebrity, however, has gone off-script.

Bono's efforts for Africa, unlike many other celebrities, appear to be sincere and he has shown himself to be unconcerned with who helps him, as shown by his collaborations with President Bush—a strange bedfellow scenario that would be anathema to most of his fellow celebrities. Now comes evidence that Bono also understands the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists such as al-Qaeda, and his courage to call evil by it's name. In the interview with the ultra liberal magazine, Bono said of the Islamic nemesis:

"I want to be very, very clear, however: I understand and agree with the analysis of the problem. There is an imminent threat. It manifested itself on 9/11. It's real and grave. It is as serious a threat as Stalinism and National Socialism were. Let's not pretend it isn't."

Bono goes on to show that he discourages those steeped in the Bush Derangement Syndrome approach to world politics. In response to the reporter's statement that "But this Administration destroyed that." when they discussed the outpouring of support for the United States immediately following the attacks of September 11, Bono says of President Bush"

There was a plan there, you know. I think the president genuinely felt that if we could prove a model of democracy and broad prosperity in the Middle East, it might defuse the situation.

Despite his sometimes petulent ideology, this particular celebrity—in my opinion—is someone worthy of respect, because he understands that the threat is a real one and it is not one that can be defused simply by talking. In this, as in his statement that I try to stick to my pitch, and it's an abuse of my access for me to switch subjects, he earns that respect.

The rocker turned activist and philanthropist is keenly focussed on his efforts for Africa, knowing that this focus is what gets him access and he did not want to abuse it. Bravo, Bono. I for one, have never been much of a fan, but with these recent developments, while his music may still fall on deaf ears, I have gained a strong measure of respect for Bono the man.