Friday, January 13, 2012

Sexual Zionism: Frankie Goes to Holllywood Goes to the White City

TBR (that's "The Brahmsky Report," for neophytes and the acronymicaly challenged) salutes Israel's cultural capital, Tel Aviv--at slightly more than 100 years of age--for its mature cosmopolitan embrace of human rights and personal liberty. And all the fun bars and nice beaches and stuff.

As a welcome article in Israel's paper of record,
Haaretz (reposted below) explains, "the Jews" (as their neighbors refer to them) have indeed made the desert bloom, but with a flower more rare and beautiful than any mere shrub- or cactus-blossom. It's no secret that modern standards of respect for diversity thrive in the Hebrew democracy--not to mention the fun bars, nice beaches and stuff--amidst what has to be said is still a region where such life-giving resources remain as scarce as precious H20. Albeit not non-existent--TBR is on record as supporting the beleaguered liberal-secular forces of the Arab Spring from the start (see our entry made from a hotel in Wisconsin or Minnesota or some such place (that was a helluva confusing trip) en route to Cairo, dated February 20, 2011).

Although, by contrast, skeptics of the American academic uber-left may go to absurd lengths to call it "pinkwashing the occupation"
(see for example CUNY prof. Sarah Schulman's November 22 NYT op-ed, "Israel and Pinkwashing"), TBR believes no sensible person denies the fact that gay rights are infinitely richer and more secure in Tel Aviv (called the "White City" for its plethora of Bauhaus architecture) than in Cairo or Tehran, much less Gaza or the West Bank, and that this matters greatly. If-and-hopefully-when, someday, the changes set in motion by the Arab Spring mean that a new Syria can boast a Damascus voted "best gay travel destination" in the Muslim world, then I suspect we will have finally seen peace in the middle east as well.

Until that to-be-wished-for day comes, however, the "fight for gay rights"--among other liberal democratic principles--may well remain unavoidably a
fight per se at times. Menacingly, one conducted of late under the intensifying threat of a potentially nuclear-armed--and only "incidentally" homophobic and misogynist?--totalitarian regime in Iran.

So does that mean, as the 1980's disco sensation had it, "Frankie Say War--Hide Yourself"? Unappealing as it sounds, there may be no
pinkwashing the hegemonic aspirations of Iran's reactionary Islamofascist tyranny, or of avoiding facing-up to the very real stakes of a conflict that has in some ways already begun. Or of hiding what each side stands for. To the mullahs of Iran: "We're here...get used to it!" to coin a phrase. Jewish atheist communist capitalist imperialist nationalist sodomites, pornographers, organ peddlers, "fake" European Jews, exploiters of the phony "Holocaust industry" and fans of disco music (or just kvestioning), unite!

Or at least plan a lovely vacation to conveniently located Tel Aviv in 2012.

What follows appeared in Haaretz on 01/11/12.

Tel Aviv declared world's best gay travel destination

In a world-wide survey hosted and American Airlines, 43 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of the White City, pushing it ahead of other proud towns including New York, Toronto and London.

By Haaretz Tags: Israel travel Israel culture Tel Aviv

Israel's LGBT community has a reason to be proud: It has officially been proclaimed the best gay travel destination of 2011.

In a world-wide survey conducted by and American Airlines, 43 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of the White City, followed by New York City with 14 per cent, Toronto with 7 per cent, Sao Paulo with 6 per cent, Madrid and London with 5 per
cent each and New Orleans and Mexico City with 4 per cent each.

TA Gay Pride Parade 10.6.11 Moti Kimche

Participants at the annual Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade sporting Israeli and Swedish flags, June 10, 2011.

Photo by: Moti Kimche

The crowning title of Best City was just one of the categories included in the competition of gay destinations. New York scored top votes for Best Night Life, San Francisco took Best Pride, Paris won Best Food and Seattle got Best Settle Down City. The smaller city of Buffalo took in quite a few votes itself, and was declared Best Up and Coming City.

Tel Aviv has always been known as a gay-friendly place, but it upped its presence around the world this year with a number of different activities, including its Tel Aviv Gay Vibe campaign, organized in coordination with the municipality's Ministry of Tourism.

About 5,000 gay tourists were recorded as visiting Tel Aviv last June for the annual Gay Pride Parade – 25 percent more than in 2010. Now that it's been voted best city, Tel Aviv can probably expect even more foreign visitors this June.

Link to this article as it appeared originally in Haaretz,

Friday, August 5, 2011

Terrorism or Narcissism? Understanding "Root Causes"

A friend in Turkey writes to ask about the meaning of the word "terrorism," vis-a-vis the awful massacre in Norway last month:

If the person who killed 100+ people in Norway were Muslim, the Press would have declared him as a terrorist. For now though, he is just an 'Assailant ', 'Attacker' (Reuters), 'Gunman' (BBC, CNN & Al Jazeera). Looks like 'Terrorist ' is a name reserved for Muslims? The US Dept of State calls it… an 'Act of Violence', Not an 'Act of Terrorism'. What're you thinking about this??

Here's my reply to my friend:

I agree that there could be some racism involved in these discussions--Norway does not have a spotless record in the 20th century, as Europe in general doesn't--but not much in this case, I think. That is not the main issue concerning how the killer's actions are being categorized.

Much more important is that it appears the assailant was/is a madman (mentally ill). Terrorists are evil-doers, but they are typically not insane, and the clinically demented (even mass murderers) are not normally counted as terrorists. There are right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim extremist groups in Europe, of course. And they are dreadful. But they are not very significant, do not have much support, are not well organized--and so far have not undertaken the kind of systematic terror campaigns that groups like Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others have engaged in for decades.

Neither do you see anyone dancing in the streets, celebrating the violence in Norway--as we witnessed in some places after 9/11. This time nobody is expressing support for the "martyr's" cause--the way many supported Bin Laden, or at least professed an "understanding" of the "root causes" of his actions
, and continue to aid groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, et al.

So far as I know, this schmuck murderer, Anders Breivik, was a lone nut case--his tragic deed therefore, in my opinion, was even more pointless than terrorism (which is saying something). Imagine by contrast if he were part of an organized group that took credit for the act, and promised more to come--then it would be terrorism, and everyone would support eliminating such a group and its networks.

No Such Thing as Islamophobia

Political scientist and far-left public intellectual, Corey Robin (, thinks Anders Breivik's reading of the "conservative canon" helped shape the killer's reactionary mind. Robin even suspects--if I catch the insinuation--that the nutty Norwegian's dreadful rampage might be attributable to all that disreputable bookwormin', spiked with a dose of "Islamophobia."

My response to this is, huh? Acknowledging that Breivik, author of a 1500 page manifesto, might wish to see himself as a political philosopher, are we supposed to take him at his word? In fact, his mind seems to have been cast as much in the mold of such canonical ("conservative"?) thinkers as the Unabomber as anything else.

Here (below) is Robin's original post of July 24th, from his blog, followed by my view of it, which I posted there in reply. We agree that Islamophobia doesn't seem like a satisfactory explanation in this case. But I doubt the missing puzzle piece is to be found in a close-reading of Hayek, and, furthermore, question the salience of the concept of Islamophobia that Professor Robin--like many others--embraces. Finally, I direct interested readers to Alan Johnson's latest World Affairs column, where Breivik is diagnosed as a "radical loser" (see below).

So! Anders Breivik. Right-wing intellectual manque? Narcissistic nutbag, a la De Niro's character in Taxi Driver? Or just another loser coughed-up by cyberspace? You be the judge...

Robinsky: Anders Behring Breivik, the guy who’s confessed to the Norwegian terrorist bombings, doesn’t just have ideas about multiculturalism and Muslim immigration (in case you haven’t heard, he’s not crazy about either)—though you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage, which focuses almost exclusively on Breivik’s identitarian interests. Breivik also has a fair amount to say about capitalism and its critics. In his lengthy manifesto, he proffers opinions about Naomi Klein (dislikes) and Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman (likes). He also seems more than passingly familiar with some of the leading figures of conservative thought like Roger Scruton. I haven’t had time to immerse myself in Breivik’s statement—it’s 1500 pages!—but from the bits I’ve read, it’s clear that there’s more here than Islamophobia.

Brahmsky: I’m not sure how noting that Breivik prefers the rather interesting Scruton to the rather dull N. Klein (a lot of people do) is supposed to help explain his demented outburst. I’d say that much is to his credit. The Underground Man has always been an avid reader, but surely that in itself was never what’s wrong with him.

I think you’re right though to suggest that "Islamophobia" doesn’t cover it. I’d be more open to that over-hyped notion if he’d targeted Muslims (a), and (b) if he’d done so because of some widespread, culturally ingrained, deep-seated animus of longstanding that expressed itself as loathing for Islam per se. Qualms about immigration, doubts about multiculturalism, or anxiety over the threat of mass-murder terrorism can all be legitimate or illegitimate (fairly reasonable or grossly exaggerated), it seems to me, and can surely be expressed in legitimate or illegitimate ways.

Calling all this what it is–various forms of uneasiness pertaining to relatively concrete circumstances of fairly recent vintage–rather than inventing another essentializing pathology (how many sorts of "-phobia" can the Western subject reasonably be imagined to harbor within itself?) for college students and their timidly, ingenuously PC teachers to check themselves for, confess to, and police the ubiquitous signs of, won’t excuse those who get carried away by events in little (Juan Williams) or big ways (Breivik).

To stress one of the salient differences between an honest journalist, however, and Norway’s newest Travis Bickle (did you see some of those kitsch poses/outfits? I could almost hear him saying "You talkin’ to me?" in Norwegian) Breivik just seems crazy to me (unlike most terrorists, who, of course, are evil-doers but not crazy). Granted, I’m not a medical doctor…

Or, maybe he’s just a "radical loser," as social theorist and leading British public intellectual of the "vital center," Alan Johnson, persuasively argues,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Jews Stole My Brain: Arab Revolutions Inspired by Turkish Humanitarian Group

The Gaza flotilla incident of 31 May 2010 cost the lives of nine Turkish men and left another flotillan grievously wounded in the head. Several Israeli soldiers were seriously injured as well, in an operation launched by Israel's IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) to halt the advance of a small fleet of ships toward Gaza. Afterward, relations between Turkey and Israel--longtime allies in a tough neighborhood--were seen to have reached their nadir as a result, when the Prime Minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, denounced Israel's actions. In the still turbulent wake of this notorious incident, TBR met recently in Istanbul with Huseyin Oruc, President of the Board of Directors of IHH (Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief), one of the main organizers of the international sea-borne mission to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and filed this report.

The goal was to break the siege of Gaza by traversing what IHH--a radical Islamist group with declared ties to Hamas and purported links with al-Qaeda--regards as Israel's illegal military blockade
of the Palestinians in that region, Oruc said. But the motley collection of eight ships from seven countries (including Togo, Cambodia, and Comoros), bearing roughly 600 passengers in all, ran afoul of senseless Israeli brutality, he asserted--when the largest boat, Turkey's Mavi Marmara, was boarded and violence ensued, as credible reports have indicated. Or rather, as Oruc would have it, when Israeli soldiers attacked gratuitously--opening fire with machine guns, launching "a gas bomb," and killing two people immediately--both "shot in the head"--in an unprovoked act of aggression, typical of the Israeli mentality, before even a single IDF soldier had come aboard.

Moreover, in addition to needlessly and intentionally causing the deaths of well over half-a-dozen innocent and unarmed humanitarian workers, Israel subsequently removed 1/3 of another man's brain, Oruc asserted. They did this in order to conceal the fact that the IDF makes use of illegal ordnance. He did not further specify the nature of these mysterious weapons, but stressed that Jewish paranoia was the real reason for the confrontation, rather than any sort of legitimate security concerns: "They are paranoiac," he said. The reason the United States backs the mentally ill Jewish State is "the Israel Lobby" and Jewish control of the media.

And "they kill birds," Oruc added. This after TBR remarked on a pair of chattering parrots in a cage behind the IHH leader's desk. The little aviary was situated in a window affording what Oruc insisted was not only a nice view, but "the best" view of the Fatih mosque, which is next door to IHH offices. Fatih mosque is a magnificent structure indeed, on a par with others of Istanbul's architectural wonders--magnificent enough, in fact, that it was the site for funeral services in remembrance of Turkey's popular Islamist ex-prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, on Tuesday, March 1, the day after TBR met with the IHH. Khaled Mashal will attend the funeral, IHH eagerly informed at the time, proud of Turkey's association with the Hamas leader and singling him out for mention.

Although Oruc "would not call it [the Mavi Marmara incident] a victory" (gravely demurring at the suggestion his group might have scored a propaganda coup at Israel's expense in some quarters of global civil society), nonetheless, the whole world now understands what Israel is capable of, he explained (wearing a darkly serious expression, to match his all-black outfit). And for Oruc--prepared for such questions, with his steady martyr's eyes, his lugubrious tone, and nearly uninterruptable rhythm of speech--this is not only a kind of triumph. It's the kind he savors best.

Moreover, the flotilla succeeded in not only stripping Israel of its last veil of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, he said: It had also inspired the recent waves of revolution in the Arab world! For the intrepid humanitarian effort had demonstrated that a few people could stand up to a mighty state, and need not back down. Oruc's group's example had thus provided the kindling that soon thereafter set fire to the imagination of the Arab street--first in Tunisia, then Egypt, Libya, et al., he explained with deadly seriousness. And as a result--the whole Muslim world now looks to Turkey, the model for what change in these other countries might one day bring. Beneath the chest of a devout Islamist, there beat the heart of a proud Turkish nationalist. Never let it be said that these impulses--Islamism and nationalism--are simply at odds in Anatolia. While this is--or was historically--certainly often the case in Kemal Ataturk's modernizing state, today neo-fascist anti-Semites like Oruc combine the two.

"Not shaky, finished"--underlining "finished"--is how he responded to the question of where the tragic flotilla incident mow leaves Turkish-Israeli relations. And with that, TBR left him to mourn the passing of his fellow Islamist, the late PM Erbakan (deposed in Turkey's "postmodern coup" of 1997, mentor to today's ruling "mild Islamist" AKP party) and his anticipated visit with Khaled Mashal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Egypt's Oasis in the Desert: Cairo's Lost & Found?

In her 1963 book, On Revolution, Hannah Arendt wrote poignantly of the "revolutionary tradition and its lost treasure." What was this trove of priceless gems and relics, with a noble pedigree few are aware of and without a name? Why was it lost? And what's this got to do with the events of January-February 2011 in Egypt?

Political freedom--the collective power of shaping the world we share by means of word and deed--comes and goes, Arendt observed. It springs up and disappears, like a fata morgana, though it's no illusion. Real but ephemeral, it's something that few think to tell the story of, in terms so consequential as those of History (capital-H). Its effects--unlike those of bombs, bacteria, or the birth of the internet--can be difficult to trace with certainty. Although, its unpredictable presence from time to time, here and there, can hardly be gainsaid, even by the most pragmatic, literal-minded or trepidatious souls.

For while History, after the postmodern "death of grand narratives," might have started to seem like a monotonous desert we are lost in--a confusing if not empty space without guideposts, direction, purpose, or hope of getting anywhere--, the desert in fact contains more life than some imagine, or are taught to expect. Deserts, Arendt observed, also harbor their sheltering, refreshing oases.

So is this--what philosophers call "political liberty," object of so many of Arendt's lovingly extended metaphors--the performance-art that the Cairenes have reinvented, belatedly, for the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? (And incidentally, is it true that these giants of new social media have merged, to form YouTwitFace?)

To read accounts in The New York Times is to believe so (all kidding--which, in the age of "Tweeting the Viral Revolution," not only intrudes, but seems inexorably a part of the otherwise deadly serious phenomena given to us to understand--aside).

"My relationship to the country has transformed," a young Egyptian filmmaker, Omar El-Zuhary, tells Mona El-Naggar. "People never used to talk to one another. This has been broken, and this is why I now want to stay--because I have a right to be here, I have a right to my identity, I have a right to this place" ("The Legacy of 18 Days in Tahrir Square,"

This two-fold legacy, then, Egypt has, apparently, for the moment, recovered: That of individual identity discovered in the exercise of collective agency, and the priceless experience of dignity that goes along with it. To wit: The streets of Tahrir Square are clean tonight. As one protester among many with a garbage bag explains, "I am cleaning because this is my home."

What comes next, no one yet knows. For now it is enough to be grateful that the United States long ago purchased Mubarak's army in exchange for peace with Israel, and so in effect bought a lease on life for Egypt's fledgling, still much beleaguered, civil society. A glance at the carnage in Bahrain and neighboring Libya is enough to remind one of the "price of freedom," and the uncertainty of the housing market in the Middle East.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let My People Go Home & Get Some Rest

TBR is on assignment in Jerusalem, Istanbul, Athens & Cairo.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What You Cannot Say (but Paul Berman Does)

Paul Berman published this great article recently. I re-post it below in case you missed it. And if you haven't read his latest book, The Flight of the Intellectuals--on the controversies surrounding Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali--it's a must.

What You Can't Say About Islamism

American intellectuals won't face up to Muslim radicalism's Nazi past.
Wall Street Journal
July 10, 2010

In our present Age of the Zipped Lip, you are supposed to avoid making any of the following inconvenient observations about the history and doctrines of the Islamist movement:

You are not supposed to observe that Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and '40s.

You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide.

And you are not supposed to mention that, by inducing a variety of journalists and intellectuals to maintain a discreet and respectful silence on these awkward matters, the Islamist preachers and ideologues have succeeded in imposing on the rest of us their own categories of analysis.

Or so I have argued in my recent book, "The Flight of the Intellectuals." But am I right? I glance with pleasure at some harsh reviews, convinced that here, in the worst of them, is my best confirmation.

No one disputes that the Nazis collaborated with several Islamist leaders. Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, orated over Radio Berlin to the Middle East. The mufti's strongest supporter in the region was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna, too, spoke well of Hitler. But there is no consensus on how to interpret those old alliances and their legacy today.

Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic philosopher at Oxford, is Banna's grandson, and he argues that his grandfather was an upstanding democrat. In Mr. Ramadan's interpretation, everything the Islamists did in the past ought to be viewed sympathetically in, as Mr. Ramadan says, "context"—as logical expressions of anticolonial geopolitics, and nothing more. Reviews in Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker—the principal critics of my book—have just now spun variations on Mr. Ramadan's interpretation.

The piece in Foreign Affairs insists that, to the mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler was merely a "convenient ally," and it is "ludicrous" to imagine a deeper sort of alliance. Those in the National Interest and the New Yorker add that, in the New Yorker's phrase, "unlikely alliances" with Nazis were common among anticolonialists.

The articles point to some of Gandhi's comrades, and to a faction of the Irish Republican Army, and even to a lone dimwitted Zionist militant back in 1940, who believed for a moment that Hitler could be an ally against the British. But these various efforts to minimize the significance of the Nazi-Islamist alliance ignore a mountain of documentary evidence, some of it discovered last year in the State Department archives by historian Jeffrey Herf, revealing links that are genuinely profound.

"Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion," said the mufti of Jerusalem on Radio Berlin in 1944. And the mufti's rhetoric goes on echoing today in major Islamist manifestos such as the Hamas charter and in the popular television oratory of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a revered scholar in the eyes of Tariq Ramadan: "Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one." Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker have expended nearly 12,000 words in criticizing "Flight of the Intellectuals." And yet, though the book hinges on a series of such genocidal quotations, not one of those journals has found sufficient space to reproduce even a single phrase.

Why not? It is because a few Hitlerian quotations from Islamist leaders would make everything else in those magazine essays look ridiculous—the argument in the Foreign Affairs review, for instance, that Qaradawi ought to be viewed as a crowd-pleasing champion of "centrism," and Hamas merits praise as a "moderate" movement and a "firewall against radicalization."

The New Yorker is the only one of these magazines to reflect even briefly on anti-Semitism. But it does so by glancing away from my own book and, instead, chastising Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch champion of liberal values. In the New Yorker's estimation, Hirsi Ali's admiration of the philosopher Voltaire displays an ignorant failure on her part to recognize that, hundreds of years ago, even the greatest of liberals thought poorly of the Jews. And Ms. Hirsi Ali's denunciations of women's oppression in the Muslim immigrant districts of present-day London displays a failure to recognize that, long ago, immigrant Jews suffered oppression in those same districts.

But this reeks of bad faith. Ms. Hirsi Ali is one of the world's most eloquent enemies of the Islamist movement. She makes a point of singling out Islamist anti-Semitism. And the anti-Semites have singled her out in return.

Six years ago, an Islamist fanatic murdered Ms. Hirsi Ali's filmmaking colleague, Theo van Gogh, and left behind a death threat, pinned with a dagger to the dead man's torso, denouncing Ms. Hirsi Ali as an agent of Jewish conspirators. And yet, the New Yorker, in the course of an essay presenting various excuses for the Islamist-Nazi alliance of yesteryear, has the gall to explain that, if anyone needs a lecture on the history of anti-Semitism, it's Ms. Hirsi Ali!

Such is the temper of our moment. Some of the intellectuals are indisputably in flight—eager to sneer at outspoken liberals from Muslim backgrounds, and reluctant to speak the truth about the Islamist reality.
Mr. Berman is a writer in residence at New York University. He is most recently the author of "The Flight of the Intellectuals" (Melville, 2010).