An American Radical

I missed American Radical: the Trials of Norman Finkelstein in the theater, but I hope to catch a copy on the black market. It’s even said to be well-balanced and fair, and that’s a real selling-point when talking about Norman Finkelstein. Watch the trailer below. I’ll just point out that F’s initial declaration, “Excuse me, every single member of my family on both sides was exterminated…” (um, playing the Holocaust card again, Norman?) can’t be taken too seriously. A minute later in the same trailer, he’s kvetching about how his mother thought he had taken her too literally and was destroying his life for an ideal. So was she exterminated or not? If not, the author of The Holocaust Industry is fabricating his own personal history around a people’s tragedy in order to win sympathy from his listeners. Sound familiar?

Why Are We Still Arguing About This?

Today the European court made an important ruling against the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools, saying that “the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms.” Right. But the Vatican doesn’t see it that way. In fact, they (and most Italian politicians who either believe this hooey or don’t have the balls to stick up for their country against the bishops) are even trying to twist the crucifix into a universal, non-denominational “cultural” symbol. As Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini puts it:

”In our country nobody wants to impose the Catholic religion, let alone with a crucifix, but it is not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built.”

The Bishops’ Conference added:

”The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked.”

Don’t be fooled. Europe is no more united by the crucifix than the United States are by the Ten Commandments. In fact, if anything unites the countries of the Euopean Union, it is a collective desire to get beyond the stifling, warring factionalism of inter-Christian warfare. The Catholic church imposed itself on Europe (and much of the rest of the Christianized world) largely through religious war and political domination, extirpating all other religious denominations except for Judaism, which was left to suffer beneath the heel of the Church as a “living witness” to Christ. Ghettoized, expelled, forced to convert, stripped of their rights and property, they were prepared for the slaughter of crusades, pogroms and – given enough time – the unprecedented carnage of the Shoah. This is the legacy of the Christianization of Europe and the universal values of the Catholic church.

It’s time Europe left them behind for good, making Christianity just another one of the many competing religious and non-religious identities on the continent. Everyone has the right to choose a religion and practice it, believe in it and love it. But no one has the right to impose that religion (yes, Christianity is a religion) on anyone else. Italy is a secular country, born in strict opposition to the totalitarian dogma of the late 19th century church (infallibility, et al). Under Mussolini, the church was given new life as a de facto state religion. The Italian constitution has upheld these agreements to this day.

The time has come for them to be abrogated in the name of humanism and a pluralistic, secular Italian state with freedom of religion for all and privilege for none.

Who Takes Iran Seriously? Or Caryl Churchill?

Jeffery Goldberg does.

And he’s done the dirty work for you by compiling a long list of money quotes by the Iranian President about Isra…ahem, the Zionist Entity.

For instance, he said this in December, 2006:

“I want to tell [Western counties] that just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and does not exist anymore, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out and humanity will be free.”

The Soviet Union? Just compare Israel to any worst-regime-in-history in an all-out effort at character assassination. This is anti-Zionism 101.

And Goldberg gets my vote for the most perceptive critic of Caryl Churchill, as well:

“I think that people like Caryl Churchill have a kind of gross, sometimes pornographic interest in proving Jewish immorality. It makes them feel better. I believe that. It makes them feel less immoral if they can prove that Jews are immoral too — that the ultimate victims are just like everybody else. Or worse than everybody else!”

We should all be paying attention to him.

Lanzmann vs. Rosenbaum vs. Hitler

I’m almost at the end of  Ron Rosenbaum’s massive search for Hitler–or, more precisely, for what made Hitler Hitler? The book, entitled Explaining Hitler, is less an attempt to explain Hitler than to come to grips with various threads of Hitler explainers who have spent much of their lives grappling with the Hitler enigma. It’s well-nigh impossible to contemplate the Shoah without some attempt at explanation: it was the product of German anti-Semitism (Daniel Goldhagen), Christian anti-Semitism (Hyam Maccoby), Adolf Hitler’s personal passion for Jew-hatred (Lucy S. Dawidowicz)…then there are those who downplay Hitler’s role, blaming the Inevitable Forces of History for the murder of six million Jews, or those who add that many Catholics, Romany and homosexuals were killed as well, in an attempt to steal back their greatest tragedy from the Jews and “universalize” it (or de-Judaize it).

One of the most peculiar of Rosenbaum’s subjects is Claude Lanzmann, director of the 9 1/2 hour film Shoah. Lanzmann finds all attempts at explanation obscene, and Rosenbaum aptly titles his chapter on Lanzmann “The War Agianst the Question Why.” But why declare war on those like Rosenbaum (and most of us nerds) who ask the forbidden question, why? Lanzmann’s metaphor is itself lifted from Primo Levi, a man who knew first-hand from Auschwitz (unlike Lanzmann): “Here there is no why,” a German guard maliciously quips to the young Levi, who was only asking why the guard wouldn’t let him have the icicle he’d noticed hanging from the roof of his barracks. Lanzmann turns this into a kind of “eleventh commandment”–thou shalt not ask why. I find Lanzmann’s logic (if there is any) puzzling, to say the least, and tend to shy away from mystic auras, in any case.

I’ll come back to this book in future posts. It’s worth reading. Meanwhile, here is an excellent review of the book.