Archive for the ‘MIDDLE EAST’ Category

TWO KINDS OF THEATER

During a recent visit to New York for our nephew’s wedding, Carolyn and I attended six Broadway shows. One put in perspective recent Palestinian efforts to mark “Land Day” and the 1948 Naqba or Disaster stemming from the birth of Israel.

The Band’s Visit(11 Tony nominations)—a play with music rather than a standard musical—is based on the 2007 Israeli film. In 1994—a year after the Oslo Accords—a small Egyptian police band—it bills itself as an orchestra—visits Israel to play at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv/Yafo. Inside Israel, they mistakenly take a bus to the fictional Beit Hatikva—Home of Hope—in the Negev desert. They must wait until morning for a new bus.

The owner of a small café offers hospitality—hers and her employees. Only nominal peace exists between Egypt and Israel. But these men are strangers in a strange land as were the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. The band members spend a long and melancholy night discovering that these Israelis—these Jews—endure their own suffering. Beit Hatikva bears no resemblance to Tel Aviv with its office towers, lively beach scene, marvelous restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Its residents feel isolated, lonely and bored. Soured relationships and thwarted ambitions have left them wounded.

As the band and their hosts get through the night, all experience moments of understanding. Their mutual humanity becomes apparent. The show’s message is heartening. Real peace is possible if only Egyptians and Israelis encounter each other as individual human beings.

Demonstrations on Land Day and the Fridays preceding it constituted street theater. The results proved anything but music to anyone’s ears. Under cover of smoke from burning tires, Gazans failed to take down the border fence and intrude into Israel. About 60 were killed by the Israeli army. Most were members of Hamas, the thugocracy that runs Gaza and pledges to destroy the Jewish State.

The demonstrations revealed yet again that mob-to-army contact usually generates terrible—if desired—repercussions. Hamas supported the demonstrations hoping that the Israel Defense Force would kill enough Gazans to earn global condemnation. Some condemnation has come Israel’s way. But not much. Israel’s short-term policies—for good and bad—will remain unchanged.

Regrettably, Land Day never had to happen. In 1947, Palestinians and the Arab states could have accepted the United Nations partition of the British mandate. A Palestinian nation—one never existed before—would have had its capital in East Jerusalem. It also would have held more territory than after the 1967 war, which produced borders Palestinians now insist upon. What’s more, no refugees would have been created—those forced to flee by a war of their leaders’ choosing and the many who fled voluntarily at the urging of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem pending Arab victory.

Palestinian desire to eliminate Israel or trigger Israeli “one-state” national suicide reflects pure fantasy. Right-wing Israelis’ desire to ignore Palestinians represents a parallel fantasy. Peace can only be achieved by accepting reality and embracing our common humanity.

The Band’s Visitmay win many Tony awards. Future Land Days will bring Gaza only more losses. Israel won’t be a winner, either. Tikva—hope—remains in short supply.

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IDRIS ELBA, EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Carolyn and I have a friend in London, Asif Khan, who’s a terrific actor. He’s now in San Francisco performing a one-man show consisting of four monologues, Love, Bombs & Apples, by Golden Thread Productions at Potrero Stage. It’s great. He’s great. British star Idris Elba should worry.

Asif and Idris are up for the same acting award in Britain—proof that Asif’s career is moving forward. Which it is. In March, we saw Asif in London starring in a stage version of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Wonderful performance. Wonderful play.

Which brings me back to Love, Bombs & Apples, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, a British playwright born in Prague of Syrian parents and brilliantly directed by Rosamunde Hutt. (We hosted Asif and Rosamunde for dinner at our house Wednesday night.) This show challenges American audiences as it did audiences in the U.K.—and in more ways than one. Recapping…

The first monologue presents Asif as a Palestinian actor in the West Bank searching for sex in a society which limits such opportunities. In the second, Asif does a chameleon-like transformation to bring us a nerdy Pakistani-British author (Asif’s parents are from Pakistan) so intent on realism that his huge novel strikes British security forces as a terrorist’s bomb-making manual.

The third monologue offers a young, restless Pakistani-Brit from Bradford, where Asif grew up. At an Apple store, he considers joining ISIS, since their members use iPhones to record themselves and their abhorrent acts as tributes to power and glory.

Surprise: Each piece is suffused with humor. These Muslim characters are funny. And human.

Something different happens in monologue number four. Asif plays Isaac Levy, a New York Jew whose father is a big supporter of AIPAC and defender of Israel. He’s totally believable. The passionate Isaac follows his father’s position until he meets a leftwing Jewish woman named Sarah. Sex brings them together. The Israel-Palestinian issue rips them apart.

Isaac wants Sarah and his family to discuss the situation rationally. I suspect he sees a middle ground between the views of his father and Sarah. But in the end, Isaac feels he must choose between them. His last line encompasses the conundrum faced by many—probably most—Jewish-American families regarding discussion of Israel: “It’s gonna get ugly.”

Does it have to? Recently, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (I spent Passover week with him at Masada) and leader of the rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, addressed the Israel Awards ceremony. (Leftwing novelist David Grossman won the literature prize for A Horse Walks into a Bar.) Among Naftali’s comments: “We are a nation of ideas and we are a nation of debates… We argue in loud voices, and in the middle of the argument we find the breakthrough moment…” Of great importance, he also stated, “…if I had a button which I could push and make all Israelis share my exact opinion, I would not push that button.”

Will Asif win out over Idris? They’re both terrific actors. In the end—I’m rooting for Asif—it won’t matter. Award contests don’t disturb the peace. Two peoples claiming the same land does. We know. It’s been ugly for years. I fear it’s going to get uglier. At the very least, as Love, Bombs & Apples prods us, we can start listening to each other.

Love, Bombs & Apples plays at Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, today through Sunday and again from April 26 through May 6. Information and tickets: goldenthread.org.

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ISRAEL ON MY MIND, PART ONE

Carolyn and I just spent three weeks in Israel. Let me share some of the experience.

Let’s start with visiting leafy Perlstein Street in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv/Yaffo. In 2014, I discovered the street and “walked” it via Google Maps. It was a kick to be on a street bearing our name. Well, that of Jacob Perlstein (no relation), a developer. Life is good, right? But Elisha, our taxi driver, told us how hard life is in Israel. As in San Francisco, buying a home is out of reach for many people.

In high-energy Tel Aviv, we ate several breakfasts and a lunch (gigantic portions) at a café on Habima Square. It contains two theaters where large groups of new soldiers—men and women—see films and hear lectures there about Israeli history. Recruits—military service is mandatory except for the ultra-Orthodox, some of whom serve voluntarily—also visit museums like Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and archaeological sites. All to better understand what they’re defending. By the way, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Israel Museum in Jerusalem are standouts.

The young soldiers made me want to cry. They’re drafted after high school at about 18. (Torah sets military service—men only—at 20.) Why should young people—Israelis and Palestinians—continually face death? Chalk that up to the intransigence of Iran-backed Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Former prime minister Golda Meir said it best when she castigated the Palestinians not for killing Israeli children but forcing Israelis to kill theirs.

I mention this because English-language newspapers reported Palestinians in Gaza being killed during Friday protests near Israel’s border fence. It’s terrible. But let’s not delude ourselves. Protests urged by Hamas don’t seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The goal remains getting “their” land back—the right to return to all of Israel. Which would annihilate the world’s lone Jewish State.

Note: Fifty-seven totally or heavily Muslim nations belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Fifty-seven!

Do Gazans and West Bank Palestinians expect Israel’s 6.5 million Jews to desert the thriving nation they and their ancestors built over 70 years of statehood and in previous decades since the late 19th century? In 1947. the U.N. partitioned Palestine—an administrative area, not a nation. Israel accepted partition. A Palestinian state was available. The Arabs rejected it.

Easily overlooked: Many “Palestinians” migrated to what is now Israel from other nearby regions of the Ottoman Empire and following World War One, the British Mandate. Jewish economic development created jobs.

I’m no fan of the Israeli right’s desire for either a single state—which likely would disenfranchise Arab citizens—or Palestinian autonomy in part of the West Bank rather than independence. The former, would legitimate Palestinian cries of “Israeli apartheid.” Palestinians show no inclination to accept the latter. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to oppose Israel’s right to exist. Gaza’s suffering worsens.

Israel is a marvelous country built with pluck and brains. Still, beneath the glow of technology, medical breakthroughs, great restaurants and superb arts—in Tel Aviv, we attended a Batsheva company dance performance—an undercurrent of anxiety remains.

It’s easy to comment—and sometimes condemn—Israeli politics from the safety of North America. Also, no matter how well-intentioned—a bit dishonest.

Next week, I’ll offer thoughts on religion based on visiting the Western Wall and family re our Passover stay at Masada.

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CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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ISRAEL’S “UNTOLD” STORY

Two days ago, Israel experienced bad news and good news. Sadly, most of the world will focus on the bad. But the military court verdict regarding #SergeantElorAzaria must be noted for the good it presents about a nation so often maligned—and blindly so.

Last March, Sgt. Azaria shot dead a Palestinian man—one of two knife wielders in the West Bank city of Hebron. The other Palestinian had already been killed. Israeli troops have the right to defend civilians and themselves under attack. The problem lies in Sgt. Azaria having shot Abd Elfatah Ashareef eleven minutes after another soldier had shot and “neutralized” him.

The court determined that Ashareef had posed no danger and convicted Sgt. Azaria of manslaughter. Many Israelis support Sgt. Azaria. Many Israelis adhere to the law and do not. Yesterday police arrested two Israeli Jews for inciting pro-Azaria violence on social media. Here we need to recognize that Israeli law remains as impartial as it can be in trying times, holding all Israelis—Jews and non-Jews—responsible for appropriate conduct.

This is not the first time an Israeli court—military or civilian—has found a Jew or the government liable for criminal or civil actions. True, not all court decisions are balanced. But Israeli Arabs and Palestinians often achieve legal victories because the law—with support by Israeli Jews—recognizes that they are in the right.

Imagine the same scenario in a military court elsewhere in the Middle East. Would a soldier killing someone who acted against his government face legal—let alone public—discipline? If you can say yes, you know something about the region that I don’t.

Would a court in Russia or China try one of their soldiers who killed someone bearing a weapon with deadly intent after that would-be killer had been neutralized? Would journalists be allowed to report on the case? Would government leaders, pro and con, discuss it? Would those who incite violence on Moscow’s or Beijing’s behalf be arrested? If you can say yes, you know something about Russia and China that I don’t.

Yet these two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (I wrote last week that those settlements are wrong and provide the Palestinians with another excuse to avoid negotiations.) Russia and China hardly stand as advocates for human rights.

Finally, can you imagine Hamas or the Palestinian Authority bringing to trial Palestinians who assault or murder Israelis? I can’t; it doesn’t happen. The killers are praised. If they’re killed, massive funerals celebrate their martyrdom.” Cash payments go to their families.

Israel survives in a region filled with hostility flowing in all directions. The country can and should present a better image to the world, starting with a halt to settlement building. But Israel stands head and shoulders above its neighbors as a nation where law has real meaning, where Israelis of all religions—and Palestinians—can call on the courts with a reasonable, if still imperfect, expectation of justice.

The matter of Sgt. Azaria constitutes a painful story. Still, it must be told and seen in context. Hopefully, American law will remain as respectful of justice.

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JERUSALEM, RAMALLAH & WASHINGTON

Once, a man stacked up piles of dried grass, sticks, branches then logs in a heat-baked land. A friend asked, “What’s with all this fuel? One spark could set the whole area ablaze.” The gatherer said, “Maybe the weather will turn cold. But relax. I certainly won’t start a fire now.” The friend shook his head. “It’s not you starting a fire I’m worried about.”

One week ago, the #UnitedNationsSecurityCouncil condemned #Israelisettlements in the West Bank, 14-0. The United States abstained rather than vetoing the measure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration. “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

I love Israel. Which is why I say, “Friends don’t let friends stack up fuel for someone else to set on fire.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State #JohnKerry spoke about new settlements preventing a two-state solution between Jerusalem (yes, the capital of Israel) and Ramallah (capital of the Palestinian Authority). Washington supports a two-state solution. I do, too. An Israel encompassing the West Bank ultimately cannot be both a Jewish and democratic state. A one-state solution eventually will lead to Palestinians lighting a match and possibly causing a major conflagration.

Bibi, in turning to Israel’s far right for political support, continues to kick the can down the road. The can makes an increasingly explosive noise. The world community—hypocrites that so many nations are—will become even more antagonistic towards Israel. Yes, Israel is forging ties with India and China (the latter a member of the Security Council), African and Latin American nations, and Russia (also a Security Council member). It’s renewing ties with Turkey and creating “under the table” relationships with Sunni Arab states. Those are all positives. But Bibi keeps gathering fuel and painting Israel into a corner.

Am I bashing Israel? No way. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is non-negotiable. Moreover, while the Israeli right remains intransigent about holding on to Judea and Samaria, it’s the Palestinians who turned their backs on a meaningful (read that negotiated, not dictated) two-state agreement. In 2000 and 2008, Jerusalem offered Ramallah East Jerusalem along with modified West Bank borders compensated with land from Israel proper. The Palestinians walked away.

In 2014, Kerry offered what we can surmise to be a similar plan. Jerusalem—read that, Bibi—expressed willingness to talk. Ramallah—P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas—never responded.

Ramallah will continue to avoid making necessary compromises—Israel also will have to compromise—to achieve a Palestinian state and peace. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Minister and military Chief of Staff, presents a sad but cogent reason in Foreign Affairs (Jan./Feb. 2017). “Rejecting Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people means that the conflict is not about borders but about Israel’s very existence.” The Palestinians’ “chief objective has been not to achieve their own national community but to deny the Jews theirs.”

It’s in Jerusalem’s best interest to halt settlement building inside the West Bank and hit the ball squarely into Ramallah’s court. Let the Palestinians find another lame excuse for avoiding negotiations and take the blame they deserve. Removing all that highly flammable fuel will help Jerusalem keep from burning down its own house.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And Happy New Year. May 2017 bring us all meaningful steps toward healing and peace.

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ALEPPO REVISITED

Two months ago, I wrote about the battle of Aleppo pitting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Russia against a hodgepodge of rebels, from secular to Islamist. Despite the horrific violence, I thought major U.S. involvement unwise: “Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves.” The battle’s over. I haven’t changed my mind.

The Syrian bloodbath didn’t occur because President Obama foolishly drew a red line in the blood-soaked sand then backed off when Assad used chemical weapons. (True, he did.) It started well before and increased in ferocity when Russia and Iran tilted the battlefield towards Assad.

Are Americans aghast at the slaughter and destruction in Aleppo? Yes, and rightly so. But using American military power to halt the ghastly actions of appalling political leaders sometimes runs deep risks.

Would Russia and Iran have withdrawn so we could roll over Syria’s military and depose Assad? I doubt it. If they did? We’d have won a short-term victory then been saddled with overseeing the formation of a new government.

Once again, American troops would have to protect a government lacking widespread support. We’d also have to build a trusted Syrian security force while American troops faced insurgency and terrorism from many quarters. We’d suffer casualties. And all with no guaranty of Syrian stability once—whenever that might be—we left.

Some Americans might say, “We have to project American power in the face of inhumanity. Freedom isn’t free.” They can afford that stance. I agree that freedom’s not free, but they don’t pay the price. Ours is a military of courageous volunteers. Many Americans encouraging the nation to throw its weight around have no skin in the game. Their children don’t serve. They never served.

Is America toothless? Hardly. Should we withdraw to Fortress America? No. The U.S. plays a special role in helping keep peace—where strategic considerations are most critical. An evolving geopolitical climate demands that we understand military power’s limits.

Reality is, we’ve never ruled the world. That’s why I was taken aback when the New York Times’ Roger Cohen wrote that the Pax Americana—the global peace guaranteed by the United States—is over (12-16-16). Pax Americana represents a semi-myth.

Yes, we kept the former Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. We prevented China from expanding in Asia, although China never sought to invade other countries; it seeks to co-opt them economically. We helped protect South Korea but at the cost of over 50,000 U.S. lives. North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons. Vietnam proved a debacle with 58,000 American lives lost. Genocide ravaged Rwanda, Darfur and the Balkans on “our watch.” Our 2003 invasion of Iraq didn’t remake the Middle East in our image. It destabilized it. Witness Syria and Libya. (Yemen had been fractured earlier.)

We court disaster when our hubris exposes our troops to the physical and emotional hazards in lands whose cultures we don’t understand and whose people reject us. The folly grows when many of our most enthusiastic proponents of using force talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. American power takes many forms. Military force is one but not always the wisest choice. That’s a hard lesson to learn. We’re best off learning it.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And do enjoy a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever the holiday season means to you. (If you’re into Bah, Humbug!, that’s cool, too.)

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ALEPPO

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

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MUSLIM BASHING AND ANTI-SEMITISM

Does anti-Muslim rhetoric relate to anti-Semitism? Yes, according to my friend Claudia Hagadus Long, an attorney and fellow novelist. Claudia has authored a trilogy about colonial Mexico—Josefina’s Sin, The Duel for Consuelo and (late 2016 or 2017) Marcela Unchained. Given her family’s challenging Jewish history, an undercurrent of anti-Semitism runs through all. Now, Muslim bashing has her on edge.

Claudia’s parents were non-observant Jews, her American-born father militantly so. Her mother was one of the few in her family to survive the Holocaust. When Claudia was a child, her parents, sister and brother moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. Her father’s sister had married a Mexican Jew, and the family practiced Judaism in Guadalajara. Claudia’s Mexican friends were Catholic. She and her sister often accompanied them to church. That was okay with her mother, who’d been protected by nuns in Poland and elsewhere. “They helped her survive.”

As a youngster, Claudia was unaware of her family’s history and attitudes. Anti-Semitism remained “the bear in the living room no one spoke of.” Eventually she learned of her mother’s Holocaust experiences. The story proved so painful, she has not been able to write about it.

But writers find ways to deal with pain. Calling on her early years in Mexico—the family eventually returned to New York, and Claudia attended Harvard—she began writing about conversos. These “secret Jews,” along with Catholics once Jewish, are pursued by the Inquisition. Josefina, heroine of the first novel, is introduced to poetry by a Jew, whose brief appearance lays bare his precarious position in the New World. Consuelo, protagonist in the second, is a converso’s daughter. Her mother and grandmother light candles on Friday night—in secret.

It’s hardly surprising that Claudia is finely attuned to anti-Semitism today. Terrorist acts against Jews throughout the world, she says, are reported with a yawn. Otherwise-thoughtful people and self-proclaimed anti-racists happily vilify Jews. Claudia sees much anti-Semitism in attitudes towards Israel, particularly on campus. She cites a vocal minority of students who consider themselves liberal seeking to exclude Israeli scientists or poets from being part of activities because of their country’s policies. “This allows for a refusal to look at an individual’s contribution to the greater good simply because he or she is Jewish.”

Claudia doesn’t always support Israel’s policies but distinguishes Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora from the Israeli government. Non-Jews are treated differently, she points out. No one seeks to exclude Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis or Iranians from international conferences and forums, although their nations’ policies often raise eyebrows. The United States has committed its share of violence, yet vocal students seeking divestment from companies that do business with Israel never say a word about divesting from American companies.

So how does anti-Semitism connect with Muslim bashing? We’ll always have bigots, says Claudia, but people “who should know better” are jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. It’s now okay for them to be against a particular religion. That being so, anti-Semitism also becomes acceptable. It’s widespread in Europe and openly so.

Where might Muslim bashing lead the United States? While the U.S. offers “unbelievable freedom,” Claudia fears the tide may turn. “If it’s okay to be anti-Muslim then it’s okay to be anti-Semitic—the easiest anti of all.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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TERRORISM 101

Everyone talks about stopping terrorism. But to do that, we must understand what terrorism is. That will help us make rational, as opposed to emotional, decisions about what might work and what won’t.

To begin, terrorism is not a lone wolf or a pair of gunmen with a grudge who shoot up a school or movie theater. That’s criminal insanity and subject to another discussion. Terrorism constitutes a tool—acts of violence or the threat of violence to further an ongoing political or religious cause. Today’s most aggressive and pervasive such cause is Islamism—the desire of some Muslims to impose their fundamentalist tenets on the Muslim world now and the rest of us later.

Islamists know that military conquest of the West isn’t possible. But for now at least they have no intention of conquering us. Instead, they utilize terrorism on a relatively small if murderous scale to sow fear. This they hope will produce enough turmoil to lead to civic unrest and induce Western governments’ withdrawal from engagement with the Muslim world. Weak Muslim nations then will be easy prey.

How do you defeat terrorism? Terrorism, I repeat, is a tool. Intelligence services and military forces can uncover terrorist plots and strike at perpetrators, planners, supporters and advocates. But terrorism cannot be eliminated without discrediting its underlying ideology.

Truth helps. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the United States no favors by talking about a War on Terror for fear of offending Muslims. Mr. Obama finally used the word “Islamism” in his recent speech from the Oval Office. This was long overdue. Sadly, he often has failed to communicate with candor and anything approaching the passionate resolve Americans expect.

At the same time, many of the steps he has taken have been correct if limited. And Mr. Obama understands that Islamism will not be obliterated without the assistance of the Muslims it directly threatens. Yet obtaining that assistance won’t be easy. According to a July 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, “The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73% of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10% of Egyptians, 12% of Jordanians and 19% of Turks have a favorable view.” Fortunately, the numbers are slightly more favorable than a year earlier.

Still, Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Ted Cruz calls for carpet-bombing Raaka (Syria), ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, killing masses of civilians along with ISIS fighters and administrators. Both acts will alienate our own Muslim citizens and Muslims abroad who might work with us.

Statesmanship must play a major role in combating ISIS. It demands carefully chosen—but not misleading—language. This means not backing other Muslim nations into a corner while retaining our strong resolve. I recall a newspaper article from years ago. A teacher in a Chicago high school encountered two combative students. One had a gun. The teacher never threatened. Instead, he said, “Let me hold your gun.” The armed student—called out but not cornered—yielded the weapon.

I ask Republican candidates to think before they speak—a tall order. And I ask our government to acknowledge reality. Both rabblerousing and disingenuousness only make the problem worse.

The blog will take a break during the end of the year and resume on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and to all, best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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