Friday, December 16, 2005

David Brooks: What 'Munich' Left Out

The New York Times
December 11, 2005

Every generation of Americans casts Israel in its own morality tale. For a time, Israel was the plucky underdog fighting for survival against larger foes. Now, as Steven Spielberg rolls out the publicity campaign for his new movie, "Munich," we see the crystallization of a different fable. In this story, the Israelis and the Palestinians are parallel peoples victimized by history and trapped in a cycle of violence.

In his rollout interview in Time, Spielberg spoke of the Middle East's endless killings and counterkillings. "A response to a response doesn't really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual motion machine," Spielberg said. "There's been a quagmire of blood for blood for many decades in that region. Where does it end?"
"The main problem, he concluded, is intransigence itself. "The only thing that's going to solve this is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you're blue in the gills."

"Munich" the movie is a brilliant representation of this argument. Its hero, Avner, has been called in by Golda Meir to assassinate the terrorists responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Over the course of the movie, as assassination piles upon assassination, Avner descends into a pit of Raskolnikovian hell. Israelis kill Palestinians and Palestinians kill Israelis and guilt piles upon paranoia. Eventually, Avner loses faith in his mission, in Zionism, in Israel itself.

This is a new kind of antiwar movie for a new kind of war, and in so many ways it is innovative, sophisticated and intelligent.
But when it is political, Spielberg has to distort reality to fit his preconceptions. In the first place, by choosing a story set in 1972, Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism. In Spielberg's Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-Semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis.

There is, above all, no evil. And that is the core of Spielberg's fable. In his depiction of reality there are no people so committed to a murderous ideology that they are impervious to the sort of compromise and dialogue Spielberg puts such great faith in.

Because he will not admit the existence of evil, as it really exists, Spielberg gets reality wrong. Understandably, he doesn't want to portray Palestinian terrorists as cartoon bad guys, but he simply doesn't portray them. There's one speech in which a Palestinian terrorist sounds like Mahmoud Abbas, but beyond that, the terrorists are marginal and opaque.

And because there is no evil, Spielberg gets the Israeli fighters wrong. Avner is an American image of what an Israeli hero should be. The real Israeli fighters tend to be harder and less sympathetic, and they are made that way by an awareness of the evil implacability of those who want to exterminate them.

In Spielberg's Middle East the only way to achieve peace is by renouncing violence. But in the real Middle East the only way to achieve peace is through military victory over the fanatics, accompanied by compromise between the reasonable elements on each side. Somebody, the Israelis or the Palestinian Authority, has to defeat Hamas and the other terrorist groups.
Far from leading to a downward cycle, this kind of violence is the precondition to peace.

Here too, Spielberg's decision to tell a story set in the early 1970's makes "Munich" a misleading way to start a larger discussion. In 1972, Israel was just entering the era of spectacular terror attacks and didn't know how to respond. But over the years Israelis have learned that targeted assassinations, which are the main subject of this movie, are one of the less effective ways to fight terror.

Israel much prefers to arrest suspected terrorists. Arrests don't set off rounds of retaliation, and arrested suspects are likely to provide you with intelligence, the real key to defanging terror groups. Over the past few years Israeli forces have used arrests, intelligence work, the security fence and, at times, targeted assassinations to defeat the second intifada. As a result, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with teenagers, and the political climate has relaxed, allowing Ariel Sharon to move to the center.

Recent history teaches what Spielberg's false generalization about the "perpetual motion machine" of violence does not: that some violence is constructive and some is destructive. The trick is knowing the difference. That's a recognition that comes from reality, not fables.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Raymond J. Keating: Familiar Faith Themes Enrich the "Chronicles"
December 12, 2005

With "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" debuting at movie theaters this past weekend, a cinematic path to Narnia's imaginative creator, C.S. Lewis, was opened.

For decades, various avenues already were available for people of varying backgrounds and ages to discover this writer, scholar and leading defender of Christianity. Through his varied works, Lewis exemplified the power of imagination in stories, faith and life.

Lewis was not only a professor at Oxford and Cambridge but an accomplished author in areas such as science fiction and fantasy, literary criticism, theology, philosophy and ethics. An atheist interested in Renaissance literature, a reader looking for a page-turner or a Christian seeking illumination could all appreciate the creativity of Lewis.

But it is perhaps Lewis' seven children's books in "The Chronicles of Narnia" where the power of imagination is most fully displayed. These books don't fit neatly onto the children's literature bookshelf.

Lewis dedicated "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to his goddaughter, noting by the time it was published she would be "too old for fairy tales." He added, though: "But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." That observation reflects imaginative wisdom and joy.

Indeed, Narnia has been well worth visiting at various stages in life since "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first book Lewis wrote in the series, was published in 1950. For the young (and the rest of us), it's a great adventure. But other positives - such as love, sacrifice, courage and good conquering evil - can be seen as a parent and during times of more mature reflection.

The Christian reader is treated to familiar faith themes as well. For example, Aslan is not just a lion, but is a Christ-like figure who lays down his life for a sinner, and conquers death and the evil one. This merely scratches the surface of Christian analogies in Narnia. As quoted in "A Family Guide to Narnia," Lewis explained: "In reality, however, he [Aslan] is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He has actually done in ours?'"

It is through Narnia that Lewis captures key aspects of imagination - not to imagine just fictional worlds but also the realities of an unseen Savior and what that means in the daily lives of Christians. Indeed, faith and its consequences require imagination.

Therefore, making "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was not like making just any movie. It could be argued that it stood as a more daunting task than the one faced by Mel Gibson with "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson was making an overtly Christian film that mattered mainly to Christians, risked his own money and harbored no great expectations for commercial success.
Meanwhile, the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" must reach Lewis' monumental achievement of appealing to children and the general public while also pleasing Christians who treasure the religious themes in the book.

Amazingly, this was accomplished in the movie. How? The filmmakers largely stuck to the book. And where they strayed, it was only to enrich to the story cinematically, adding bits of humor and embellishing the battle scene toward the end of the film.

In a crowded theater, I saw the delight of children (although this is not for the very young, like preschoolers) and heard satisfied adults who simply enjoyed a good movie. And I'm sure there were Christians present who were also deeply moved by some powerful Christian imagery.
In the end, the filmmakers deserve praise for trusting the fertile imagination of C.S. Lewis.

Raymond J. Keating is a columnist for Newsday.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed Set $28.77

Larry Elder: The "Redemption" of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams
Dec 15, 2005

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, convicted multiple murderer and co-founder of the notorious street gang the "Crips," died via lethal injection at 12:35 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2005, in San Quentin State Prison. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, only hours before Williams' scheduled execution, refused to grant clemency. Who was Stanley "Tookie" Williams, and why did so many people want his life spared?

The Crips, co-founded by Williams in 1971, became a national -- indeed, international -- gang responsible for thousands of deaths. In 1981, a jury convicted Williams of murdering four people, and he was sentenced to death. Williams claimed he was innocent, a victim of a racist criminal justice system. He partnered with a writer and co-authored several anti-gang children's books. Williams apologized for founding the Crips, renounced his membership and urged others to do the same.

The usual suspects came out in support of Williams' clemency -- Hollywood stars and anti-death-penalty advocates. But so did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The NAACP took out an ad in the Los Angeles Times and began a four-city tour urging the governor to grant Williams clemency. Bruce S. Gordon, the new president and CEO of the NAACP, called Williams the organization's "secret weapon" in combating gang violence. Gordon also suggested that race played a part in Williams' conviction and noted that the criminal justice system "makes mistakes."

About the death penalty, according to the NAACP's website, the organization opposes it: "The NAACP has long opposed the death penalty because in many states there has been a disproportionate number of African-Americans sentenced to death, particularly when the crime involves a white victim."

But where was the NAACP's opposition to the death penalty back in 2000? The organization ran an ad during the 2000 presidential campaign of then-Gov. George W. Bush. The ad -- with a voiceover by the daughter of James Byrd, the man dragged to death by three men in Jasper, Texas -- attacked Bush for not passing enhanced hate-crime legislation. Bird's daughter, in a dramatic voice, said, "(I)t was like my father was killed all over again." But two of the three men convicted of killing Byrd had already received death sentences, with the third, who testified that he attempted to stop the other two from committing the murder, getting life without possibility of parole.

The NAACP ad, in essence, says that Byrd's killers should have been punished more harshly. So apparently white bigots deserve the death penalty, but a black multi-murderer who founded a street gang does not. All clear now?

Williams claims redemption, but refuses to accept responsibility for murdering four innocent people. Williams shot one victim, Albert Owens, who worked at a 7-Eleven, twice in the back, after Owens pleaded for his life. Williams, 11 days later, gunned down the owners of a small motel, a family of three.

According to Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision refusing clemency: "Williams ... robbed a family-operated motel and shot and killed three members of the family: (1) the father, Yen-I Yang, who was shot once in the torso and once in the arm while he was laying on a sofa; (2) the mother, Tsai-Shai Lin, who was shot once in the abdomen and once in the back; and (3) the daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, who was shot once in her face. For these murders, Williams made away with approximately $100 in cash. Williams also told others about the details of these murders and referred to the victims as 'Buddha-heads.'"

Consider the following hypothetical. David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, murders, in cold blood, four innocent blacks. But, wait. Duke later renounces the Klan and pens children's books urging white kids to reject racism. But he refuses to accept responsibility for the murder of the four innocent blacks, claiming that a racist jury convicted him for his reputation, not for the murders. Imagine Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx, Ed Asner or the NAACP organizing a campaign to spare the "redeemed" Duke's life.

Williams' life inspired the movie called "Redemption." But a truly redeemed Williams would have said: "This is what happens. This is where you end up when you think the rules do not apply to you; when, because of anger and rage, you kill innocent people. I accept responsibility for what I did. I apologize to the family members. Please understand that I was not a victim of a racist, unfair criminal justice system, and I urge all criminals to first look into the mirror before blaming the police, the judges, the system. I made choices that put me here. The lesson of my life is -- no matter your circumstances, your race, your class -- you are responsible for making proper moral decisions. It is your duty to do so."

That's redemption.

Communists For Tookie

Click on the link provided to read a very entertaining account of the freak show that was on display outside the prison at Tookie Williams' execution...plenty of pictures of wild-eyed zealots...plenty of catchy rants...something for everybody.