Saturday, July 11, 2009

John Calvin at 500

Reflections on a mixed political legacy.

by Joseph Loconte
The Weekly Standard
07/10/2009 12:00:00 AM

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, the French theologian who helped carry the Protestant Reformation into the heart of Europe and shatter the spiritual hegemony of the Catholic Church. Though Calvin was never the theocratic thug of popular imagination, neither was he a champion of individual freedom. If his system of thought inspired later democratic reformers--especially the Puritan ministers who backed the American Revolution--it was largely because they sought to overcome Calvinism's internal contradictions.

Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, into a religious world already in crisis--a cacophony of superstitions, inquisitions, clerical concubines, and souls for sale. After coming under the influence of Martin Luther, he converted to Protestantism. A severe crackdown on the "new heresy" in Catholic France forced him to seek refuge in Switzerland, where he settled in Geneva. Over the next 25 years Calvin would combine his powerful intellect and elegant prose to become the Reformation's leading theologian.

His most important work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, helped revolutionize the meaning of divine mercy. Against a religious culture of rituals, indulgences, and pilgrimages to earn God's favor, Calvin preached a message of grace. Salvation, he taught, could neither be bought nor earned: It was a gift from God through faith in Jesus. "We could not lay hold of his mercy, if he did not offer it," he wrote. "Christ is the only pledge of love, for without him, everything speaks of hatred and anger." Calvin's doctrine of predestination, however, went beyond Luther in delineating God's "elect," those chosen for eternal life, from those destined for eternal damnation. Many would find the doctrine repugnant, since it seemed to make God the author of evil and nullify human choice in matters of faith.

Against a political system that threatened to subjugate and enfeeble the church, Calvin elevated the concept of God's sovereign rule over every earthly power. Although he taught obedience to civil magistrates, every ruler was accountable to God. All political authority was therefore provisional, derivative--and limited. The king should defend and promote Christian teachings, Calvin wrote, but keep his nose out of the spiritual affairs of the church. If the magistrate commanded anything contrary to the will of God, "it must be as nothing to us."

Unlike previous reformers, Calvin did not expect the rapid arrival of the Second Coming of Christ. His aim was to establish a holy commonwealth, a "new Israel," where God's elect--functioning as a democratic polity--would glorify him through their earthly vocations. No Protestant reformer did more to help dignify secular work and inspire Christian engagement in culture. Calvinism would spread to Holland, France, England, Scotland, and New England, where it would shape America's colonial experiments in self-government. "Calvin came out with a resolute summons to action within the sphere of society," writes historian Roland Bainton. "Calvinism therefore bred a race of heroes."

Something less than heroic, however, emerged in Calvin's Geneva. His view of the church, guiding God's people with "motherly care," took a repressive turn once his Reformed vision gained political power in the city council. Although he vigorously attacked Catholicism for its theology of persecution, he soon formulated his own: Faith could not be compelled, but neither could civil or religious authorities tolerate false teachings. Dissent--viewed as both a political and spiritual threat--was criminalized. A denial of predestination meant banishment. "When God is blasphemed in a most loathsome manner, when souls are led to perdition by godless and destructive teachings, then it is necessary to find the remedy which will prevent the deadly poison from spreading."

When it came to the poison of heresy, the safest remedy was execution. Calvin's infamous role in the trial and death of Michael Servetus, condemned and burned as a heretic in Geneva in 1553, shocked the conscience of the Protestant community. Many accused the Protestant leaders in Geneva of adopting the "popish" ways of the Catholic Church. Sebastian Castellio, a linguist and colleague, broke with Calvin over the principle of religious toleration: "I do not see how we can retain the name of Christian," Castellio said, "if we do not imitate His clemency and mercy."

Calvin did not yield an inch. Invoking Old Testament passages condemning the worship of false gods, he defended the use of violence against those who challenged orthodoxy and threatened the purity of the elect. Detractors were presumed to be insincere, morally debased--or worse. Despite their dark view of human nature, Calvin and his followers seemed to invite a new form of hubris into the church. "They did not usually act as if they believed what their own theology said about the huge gap between divine omniscience and human finitude," writes Notre Dame historian Mark Noll, "nor did they seem to really believe their own claim that even believers continued to abuse the gifts of God for idolatrous, selfish ends."

Thus, John Calvin and the Reformed tradition he launched were simultaneously medieval and modern. Much like his Catholic antagonists, Calvin viewed the political and religious realms as part of an unbroken spiritual unity. For all his theological innovation, he never imagined that the church could maintain its fidelity to the truth without the assistance of the state.

Nevertheless, Calvin anticipated the modern, liberal world by demanding that church authority yield to individual judgment when its traditions seemed to contradict conscience and the word of God. He insisted on the functional independence of the church from the state. He emphasized the spiritual freedom and equality of all believers, regardless of their station in life. In this way, Calvin helped sanctify a doctrine of liberty that democratic reformers--from John Locke to James Madison--would put to good use.

Joseph Loconte is a senior research fellow at The King's College in New York City and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. He is working on a book on the history of religious freedom in the West.

The Catholic WFB

Bill Buckley made his faith look resplendently good.

By Neal B. Freeman
July 10, 2009, 0:00 p.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is adapted from remarks delivered before a Portsmouth Institute session celebrating the life and faith of William F. Buckley Jr.

Let me begin by confronting the canard spreading through this conference that I am here under false pretenses. Not true. I am an Episcopalian, which is to say that I’m here under real pretenses. Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by the Gallup organization, I may not be just an Episcopalian but the Episcopalian. Perhaps I should present myself to your monastery as a kind of anthropological exhibit. Let me note, however, in a transparent and pathetic plea for absolution, that I have a Catholic wife, three Catholic children, and eight Catholic grandchildren — which is more than most Catholics have done for you lately.

I was introduced to the woman who would become my Catholic wife, of course, by Bill Buckley. It was part of his indefatigable campaign to enlist me in the legions of Rome. Every few years for a half-century he would inquire, “Mon vieux, are you still a stalwart Episcopalian?” I would reply that I was. He would then say in a pained tone, “Ohhhh, I see,” as if he had been reminded yet again that my ignorance was invincible.

If I am not licensed, then, to discuss the Catholic Buckley, let me say a few words about the universal and apostolic Buckley. To begin with, he was my best friend. I hasten to add that I was not his best friend. Over the years I had heard him describe twelve different men as his best friend. There were undoubtedly others who went uncounted. He had an enormous talent for the making and keeping of friendships, so much so that he made of his life a work of art.

This special gift, by the way, ran in the Buckley family. Back in 1976 Bill had dispatched me on a secret mission. His brother Jimmy was running for re-election to the Senate, and Bill anticipated a rough-and-tumble contest. The early Democratic favorite was the ferocious Bella Abzug. I was then running a journalistic organization, and Bill asked me to prepare an opposition-research report on Jimmy — a catalog of all the mudballs an unrestrained opponent might be tempted to sling. We beavered away and came up with a thick file: no drugs, no women, no scams, no unsavory connections, no funny money, no domestic incidents, nothing at all to excite my staff gumshoes. Jimmy’s criminal career seemed to have peaked with the allegation, later refuted, that he had ripped one of those tags off a mattress. But we did unearth evidence that Jimmy had served as best man at five weddings. I was stunned by what I regarded as a world-class performance in the Friendship Olympics. Bill found this datum unremarkable. Everybody was good at making friends, weren’t they?

Bill was of course a man of several parts. A writer. An editor. A controversialist. A fully formed Christian man. A mentor to some of us here. I was once asked about Bill’s mentoring and responded that, if the term were not usefully employed elsewhere, I would describe his approach as the Heimlich Maneuver. He pushed, he cajoled, he demanded that you produce your best work. And when you did, he was boyishly delighted and promoted you shamelessly to his well-connected friends.

It is perhaps less widely recognized that he was an organizational genius of sorts — a great talent scout, a prodigious fundraiser, a builder of movements and institutions. We used to joke about how hard it was to change the world, even for Bill Buckley. He would say of his budding conservative enterprise, “We have 200 absolutely essential jobs to be done and only 20 people to do them.” Bill’s solution to that managerial challenge was typically elegant. He announced that we would all do ten jobs each. There would have been some grumbling in the ranks but for the fact that Bill took on all of the toughest jobs himself.

My own experience was not untypical of the young idealists who gathered around him. When RKO offered him a weekly television slot, he said, “Great. And Neal will produce the show.” And that’s how I got into the TV business. And when the old Washington Star offered him a syndicated column, he said, “Great. And Neal will edit the column.” And that’s how I got into the newspaper business. And when the Conservative party offered him its nomination for mayor of New York, he said, “Great. And Neal will run the campaign.” And that’s how I got into politics. You will have discerned in this anecdote one of Bill’s most conspicuous and charming flaws: his naïve and redundantly misplaced confidence that his friends were as omnicompetent as he.

As I say, my experience was not at all unique. There are many of us, we Friends of Bill, salted across American media, the academy, the political world, and — I would hope — the Church. Not a one is a time-server or a clock-watcher. They are all, each in his or her own way, still trying to change the world. Bill picked his friends with care. My own good fortune, then, was to be the guy standing next to Bill Buckley when he became Bill Buckley. In 1963, he was a gifted polemicist in the world of the small magazine. After the column, the campaign, and the launch of Firing Line, he was, only a few years later, a commanding figure on the national scene.

Let me leave you with two stories, the first about Bill Buckley and the second about Pat Buckley, who’s gotten some bad press recently. I hope these stories will suggest why I found them both to be irresistible.

Some years back my good Catholic wife gave me the best Christmas present I ever received — a copy of my FBI file. I don’t know if the lacuna still exists, but at the time, under an obscure provision of the Freedom of Information Act, you could obtain a redacted copy of everything the Bureau had bothered to remember about you. Included in this so-called raw file were transcripts of agent interviews conducted during field audits — those elaborate inquiries into a candidate’s suitability for federal appointment. These files made for fascinating reading: All of the interviewees had been sworn to tell the truth, but at the same time had been promised permanent confidentiality. The raw file, indeed. Well, come Christmas morning I read through what I immediately recognized as Bill’s interview — complete with the agent’s misspelling of mutatis mutandis — and I came to the final, omnibus, fanny-covering question: Would I, candidate Freeman, be likely to embarrass the administration? Replied witness Buckley, under oath: “I should think that the reverse is much more likely.”

And now a word about the luminiferous Mrs. Buckley. To those of us who knew her in the Sixties, she was Patsy. By the Seventies, when she was emerging as a powerhouse fashionista, it was Pat; and by the Eighties, when she had become an arbiter of cosmopolitan taste and trend, it was always, “the chic and stunning Pat Buckley.” She of the three first names. I once asked if I might call her “Chic” for short. Down through the decades Patsy had been a constant presence at National Review board and editorial dinners. Her custom was to descend the staircase of the maisonette after her guests had assembled in the foyer, make the entrance grande, and then perambulate, working her way around the room with a witty word and an air-kiss for each of us. We would then go in to dinner, Patsy hosting one table, Bill the other. During the first course, Bill would move around the tables handing out slips of paper with after-dinner speaking assignments. On one memorable evening, my slip read simply, “After Henry.” I didn’t recall meeting anybody named Henry at the reception, so I looked around the tables and saw, sitting next to Patsy, a man who looked very much like Henry Kissinger.

I should add a bit of context here. Until Bill Buckley mellowed with his fame of the Seventies, and even more so with the political prosperity of the Eighties, his dinners could be tough and edgy affairs, the site of forensic combat on the British public-school model. It was a way, as Bill once said, to separate the women from the girls. And indeed, some young editors and directors failed to survive the ordeal and were quickly airbrushed from institutional memory.

But please excuse the apostrophe. Back to the night in question . . .

We finished Patsy’s magnificent dinner — Beef Wellington, it frequently was in those days. Bill tapped his wine glass and then introduced our special guest, instructing him to “crystallize” his views on the current international situation. We all enjoyed it when Bill would issue instructions to princes and presidents. Almost invariably, they would immediately and meekly comply. I believe the phenomenon is called command presence. Well, Henry Kissinger got to his feet and began to unwind this sweeping tour d’horizon, fully Kissingerian in scope, weaving historical, military, and economic aperçus into a fine geostrategic tapestry. As he did so, I sat staring glumly at my slip of paper, a young NR director whose knowledge of foreign affairs might charitably be described as cursory; a young NR director praying that God, even a Catholic God, might breathe a little inspiration my way. Kissinger concluded to thunderous applause and just as I rose to speak, Patsy Buckley said in that voice that could cut through harbor fog — “Henry, you’re making no sense at all. Thank God we’ve got Neal here to straighten this all out.” Only my Episcopalian genes restrained me from dashing across the room and kissing her sloppily on the face.

As you will appreciate, Patsy Buckley was the kind of woman who could inspire devotion and, in Bill Buckley’s case, that devotion was inspired until death did them part. Bill was, in equal measure, devoted to his son Christopher, to his many best friends, to his beloved country. To those close to him, however, what was most striking of all was his devotion to his Church. I traveled with him in five different decades and I can report that, while he could not always be relied upon to find a decent restaurant, or a hygienic restroom, or a surgeon who spoke English, he could always find a place to profess his faith. On a rocky coast, in an urban hellhole, even in a Communist wasteland — wherever his travels took him, he would identify some semblance of a Church outpost and make his pilgrim’s way there to worship his Savior.

I leave it to you licensed professionals to determine whether Bill Buckley was a good Catholic. What I can say with authority is that, for the rest of us, he made Catholicism look resplendently good.

— Neal B. Freeman is chairman of the Blackwell Corporation and can be reached at

Obama Frees Iranian Terror Masters

The release of the Irbil Five is a continuation of a shameful policy.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
July 11, 2009, 7:00 a.m.

There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps poster. Photo from Trends Magazine.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business.

Third, Obama’s decision to release the five terror-masters comes while the Iranian regime (a) is still conducting operations against Americans in Iraq, even as we are in the process of withdrawing, and (b) is clearly working to replicate its Lebanon model in Iraq: establishing a Shiite terror network, loyal to Iran, as added pressure on the pliant Maliki to understand who is boss once the Americans leave. As the New York Times reports, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, put it this way less than two weeks ago:

Iran is still supporting, funding, training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq — flat out. . . . They have not stopped. And I don’t think they will stop. I think they will continue to do that because they are also concerned, in my opinion, [about] where Iraq is headed. They want to try to gain influence here, and they will continue to do that. I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been, in fact, funded or trained by the Iranians.

Fourth, President Obama’s release of the Quds terrorists is a natural continuation of his administration’s stunningly irresponsible policy of bartering terrorist prisoners for hostages. As I detailed here on June 24, Obama has already released a leader of the Iran-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network in Iraq, a jihadist who is among those responsible for the 2007 murders of five American troops in Karbala. While the release was ludicrously portrayed as an effort to further “Iraqi reconciliation” (as if that would be a valid reason to spring a terrorist who had killed Americans), it was in actuality a naïve attempt to secure the reciprocal release of five British hostages — and a predictably disastrous one: The terror network released only the corpses of two of the hostages, threatening to kill the remaining three (and who knows whether they still are alive?) unless other terror leaders were released.

Michael Ledeen has reported that the release of the Irbil Five is part of the price Iran has demanded for its release in May of the freelance journalist Roxana Saberi. Again, that’s only part of the price: Iran also has demanded the release of hundreds of its other terror facilitators in our custody. Expect to see Obama accommodate this demand, too, in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.

You may not have wanted to addle your brain over his tutelage in Hawaii by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, nor his tracing of Davis’s career steps to Chicago, where he seamlessly eased into the orbit of Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, anti-American terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and Maoist “educator” Michael Klonsky — all while imbibing 20 years’ worth of Jeremiah Wright’s Marxist “black liberation theology.” But this neo-Communist well from which Obama drew holds that the world order is a maze of injustice, racism, and repression. Its unified theory for navigating the maze is: “United States = culprit.” Its default position is that tyrants are preferable as long as they are anti-American, and that while terrorist methods may be regrettable, their root cause is always American provocation — that is, the terrorists have a point.

In Iran, it is no longer enough for a rickety regime, whose anti-American vitriol is its only vital sign, to rig the “democratic” process. This time, blatant electoral fraud was also required to mulct victory for the mullahs’ candidate. The chicanery ignited a popular revolt. But the brutal regime guessed right: The new American president would be supportive. So sympathetic is Obama to the mullahs’ grievances — so hostile to what he, like the regime, sees as America’s arrogant militarism — that he could be depended on to go as far as politics allowed to help the regime ride out the storm.

And so he has. Right now, politics will allow quite a lot: With unemployment creeping toward 10 percent, the auto industry nationalized, the stimulus revealed as history’s biggest redistribution racket (so far), and Democrats bent on heaping ruinous carbon taxes and socialized medicine atop an economy already crushed by tens of trillions in unfunded welfare-state liabilities, Iran is barely on anyone’s radar screen.

So Obama is pouring it on while his trusty media idles. When they are not looking the other way from the carnage in Iran’s streets, they are dutifully reporting — as the AP did — that the Irbil Five are mere “diplomats.” Obama frees a terrorist with the blood of American troops on his hands, and the press yawns. Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl press for answers about the release of the terrorist and Obama’s abandonment of a decades-old American policy against trading terrorists for hostages, and the silence is deafening.

Except in Tehran, where the mullahs are hearing exactly what they’ve banked on hearing.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).

Musial still the Man in St. Louis

By The Associated Press
Saturday, July 11, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- If he'd played in Boston, he would've been Ted Williams. In New York, maybe Joe DiMaggio. In Brooklyn, who knows what song they might've written about him?

Instead, Stan Musial spent his entire career in the Midwest. Far from the famed East Coast ballparks that made up baseball's epicenter in the 1940s and 1950s, Musial simply wailed away on his harmonica and overmatched pitchers to build a legacy in St. Louis.

Stan the Man.

There's a reason there are not one, but two statues of Musial outside Busch Stadium, and why Tuesday night's All-Star Game hosted by the Cardinals is a natural tribute to the man himself.

"He was known as the best player in the National League, the same way Ted Williams was the best hitter in the American League and Joe DiMaggio was the best player overall," 90-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said. "He was a very good hitter, very good baserunner, team leader.

"One of the best players in the history of the game."

A fixture in St. Louis long before the Gateway Arch, the Donora native and recent inductee into the WPIAL Hall of Fame hit a record six home runs in a whopping 24 All-Star games. A three-time MVP with seven batting titles, he held the NL record for career hits when he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1969 with 93 percent of the vote.

A decade after his retirement, he would show up at Old-Timers games and still line shots to the wall.

Now 88, Musial has been a less frequent visitor to the stadium in recent years because of balky knees and general declining health.

He briefly flashed his corkscrew batting stance on opening day this year after getting a ride in a golf cart to the mound. He participated in a tag-team first pitch, flipping the ball to former teammate Red Schoendienst, then watching the Hall of Fame infielder walk halfway to the plate for an underhand toss.

Predictably, the sellout crowd responded with a standing ovation.

"He's hanging in there," said the 86-year-old Schoendienst, a special assistant to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "Good days and bad days."

Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., Brooks Robinson idolized Musial. He recalls the Cardinals coming through town and playing the Chicago White Sox every year at the end of spring training.

Robinson, a first-ballot Hall of Famer himself after his career with the Orioles, ranks Musial up at the top of his era along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson.

"Stan is one of the elite Hall of Famers, that's the way I put it," Robinson said. "He towers over just about everyone."

Musial and other Hall of Famers will be honored in a parade a few hours before Tuesday's game. Musial memorabilia figures to be plentiful, too, at the All-Star FanFest with an exhibit detailing the city's baseball history.

Litho by James Fiorentino

A star pitcher in the minors before an injury, he joined the Cardinals in 1941 and never left. He played the outfield and first base, and year by outstanding year built the case he was one of the best ever.

Musial had amassed 55 major league records when he retired in 1963, and is still the only player to hit 400 homers and strike out fewer than 700 times. In fact, he never fanned even 50 times in a season.

He hit .300 for a record 16 straight years and finished at .331 overall. His 3,630 career hits stood as the NL mark until Pete Rose broke it, and he hit 475 homers with 1,951 RBI while scoring 1,949 runs.

For decades, and now at two stadiums, the original Musial statue has been a reminder for those too young to have witnessed his accomplishments.

The inscription says it all: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."

Warm-mongers prefer you in poverty

All that consumerism and higher living standards is bad for the planet.

Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
July 10, 2009

According to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, we only have 96 months left to save the planet.

I'm impressed. 96 months. Not 95. Not 97. July 2017. Put it in your diary. Usually the warm-mongers stick to the same old drone that we only have 10 years left to save the planet. Nice round number. Al Gore said we only have 10 years left three-and-a-half years ago, which makes him technically more of a pessimist than the Prince of Wales. Al's betting Armageddon kicks in January 2016 – unless he's just peddling glib generalities. And, alas, even a prophet of the ecopalypse as precise as His Royal Highness is sometimes prone to this airy-fairy 10-year shtick: In April, Prince Charles predicted that the red squirrel would be extinct "within 10 years," which suggests that, while it may be curtains for man and all his wretched works come summer of 2017, the poor doomed red squirrel will have the best part of two years to frolic and gambol on a ruined landscape.

So, unless you're a squirrel, don't start any long books in 95 months' time, because time is running out! "Time is running out to deal with climate change," said Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace in 2006. "Ten years ago, we thought we had a lot of time."

Really? Ten years ago, we had a lot of time? Funny, that's not the way I remember it. ("Time is running out for the climate," said Chris Rose of Greenpeace in 1997.) So what's to blame for this eternally looming rendezvous with the iceberg of apocalypse? As the British newspaper The Independent reported;

"Capitalism and consumerism have brought the world to the brink of economic and environmental collapse, the Prince of Wales has warned. … And in a searing indictment on capitalist society, Charles said we can no longer afford consumerism and that the 'age of convenience' was over."

He then got in his limo and was driven to his other palace.

It takes a prince, heir to the thrones of Britain and Canada and Australia, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and a bunch of other places, to tell it like it is: You pampered consumerists are ruining the joint. In the old days, we didn't have these kinds of problems. But then Mr. and Mrs. Peasant start remodeling the hovel, adding a rec room and indoor plumbing, replacing the emaciated old nag with a Honda Civic and driving to the mall in it, and next thing you know instead of just having an extra yard of mead every Boxing Day at the local tavern and adding a couple more pustules to the escutcheon with the local trollop they begin taking vacations in Florida. When it was just medieval dukes swanking about like that, the planet worked fine: That was "sustainable" consumerism. But now the masses want in. And, once you do that, there goes the global neighborhood.

By contrast, as an example of an exemplary environmentalist, the Prince hailed his forebear, King Henry VIII. True, he had a lot of wives, but he did dramatically reduce Anne Boleyn's carbon footprint.

I always enjoy it when the masks slip, and the warm-mongers explicitly demand we adopt a massive Poverty Expansion Program to save the planet. "I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing," said Gar Smith of San Francisco's Earth Island Institute a few years back. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity," he continued, regretting that African peasants "who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot-pedal-powered sewing machines" are now slumped in front of "Desperate Housewives" reruns all day long.

One assumes Gar Smith is sincere in his fetishization of bucolic African poverty, with its vibrantly rampant disease and charmingly unspoilt life expectancy in the mid-forties. But when an hereditary prince starts attacking capitalism and pining for the days when a benign sovereign knew what was best for the masses he gives the real game away. Capitalism is liberating: You're born a peasant but you don't have to die one. You can work hard and get a nice place in the suburbs. If you were a 19th century Russian peasant, and you got to Ellis Island, you'd be living in a tenement on the Lower East Side, but your kids would get an education and move uptown, and your grandkids would be doctors and accountants in Westchester County. And your great-grandchild would be a Harvard-educated environmental activist demanding an end to all this electricity and indoor toilets.

Environmentalism opposes that kind of mobility. It seeks to return us to the age of kings when the masses are restrained by a privileged elite. Sometimes they will be hereditary monarchs, such as the Prince of Wales. Sometimes they will be merely the gilded princelings of the government apparatus – Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi. In the old days, they were endowed with absolute authority by God. Today, they're endowed by Mother Nature, empowered by Gaia to act on her behalf. But the object remains control – to constrain you in a million ways, most of which would never have occurred to Henry VIII, who, unlike the new cap-and-trade bill, was entirely indifferent as to whether your hovel was "energy efficient." The old rationale for absolute monarchy – Divine Right – is a tough sell in a democratic age. But the new rationale – Gaia's Right – has proved surprisingly plausible.

Beginning with FDR, wily statists justified the massive expansion of federal power under ever more elastic definitions of the Constitution's commerce clause. For Obama-era control freaks, the environment and health care are the commerce clause supersized. They establish the pretext for the regulation of everything: If the government is obligated to cure you of illness, it has an interest in preventing you getting ill in the first place – by regulating what you eat, how you live, the choices you make from the moment you get up in the morning. Likewise, if everything you do impacts "the environment," then the environment is an all-purpose umbrella for regulating everything you do. It's the most convenient and romantic justification for what the title of Paul Rahe's new book rightly identifies as "Soft Despotism."

The good news is that, at this week's G-8 summit, America's allies would commit only to the fuzziest and most meaningless of environmental goals. Europe has been hit far harder by the economic downturn. When your unemployment rate is 17 percent (as in Spain), "unsustainable growth" is no longer your most pressing problem. The environmental cult is itself a product of what the Prince calls the "Age of Convenience": it's what you worry about it when you don't have to worry about jobs or falling house prices or collapsed retirement accounts. Today, as European prime ministers are beginning to figure out, a strategic goal of making things worse when they're already worse is a much tougher sell.


Film Review: Public Enemies

Shoot-outs, and a script full of holes

By Ty Burr, Boston Globe Staff
July 1, 2009

How could “Public Enemies" go wrong? The director is Michael Mann, one of the smartest mainstream mavericks working. Star Johnny Depp brings his sizable intelligence and charisma to bear on the role of John Dillinger, the legendary Depression-era bank robber. Christian Bale plays Dillinger’s implacable FBI hellhound, Melvin Purvis. The shoot-outs have been shot with a fastidiousness that extends to using actual historical locations. The lead actress won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf.

The parts, in other words, promise a brilliant whole. So why is this movie one of the signal disappointments of the year? You have to go back to the basics: “Public Enemies’’ has everything going for it except a reason and a script. Do you really need either when Depp is up there giving a working definition of star power? Surprisingly, yes.

Adapting Bryan Burrough’s 2004 popular history of the same name, Mann and co-screenwriters Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman jettison context and drop us in the middle of things: It’s 1934 and Dillinger is breaking a group of confederates, including mentor Walter Dietrich (James Russo), out of the state prison in Michigan City, Ind.

Actually, I’m guessing Dietrich is his mentor, since the movie never makes clear who he is. It isn’t very clear about anything, other than that John Dillinger was an exceptionally cool dude who robbed banks for a living. “Public Enemies" presents him as living wholly in the moment - he’s a successful Zen sociopath - and takes a similar present-tense approach to its storytelling. We don’t learn anything about Dillinger’s background or the reasons for his behavior. He is who he is, and who he is is a mystery.

OK. Other movies have been made from this existential-bad- ass cloth, and better ones. “Public Enemies" works fitfully on a scene-by-scene basis, but there’s nothing to fit the pieces together, and after a while you realize the movie’s not about anything. No larger idea enlivens its 143 minutes, other than that Dillinger was a folk hero and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) was a fame whore. Mann just follows the chronology and sends us home.

For the second movie in a season, Christian Bale locks so furiously into a part that you gasp for oxygen whenever he’s onscreen. His G-man, Purvis, has no family, no past, no nothing other than his mission to scour America of its barnstorming gangsters. “Public Enemies" underscores his decency - he’s a better man than his boss Hoover or the FBI underling (Adam Mucci) who roughs up a female suspect - while showing him to be an unstoppable instrument of justice. He’s Dick Tracy, no less but, unfortunately, no more.

Mann gets a few interesting scenes out of the FBI’s early interest in technology, with tapped phone conversations recorded on vinyl LPs, but the movie’s much too slick for any political reading to take hold. “Public Enemies" mostly comes to life during the bank robberies, with Dillinger leaping effortlessly across the counters, and in the scenes with Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette, the gunman’s lover.

Their first evening, beginning in a Chicago nightclub and moving to a fancy restaurant, is the one scene where you sense what Mann may have been getting at. It’s glamorous and erotic, hushed and expectant, and much of the pleasure - make that all of the pleasure - is in watching two beautiful people warm slowly to each other. The sequence holds you in the palm of its hand, a world unto itself, and, like the lovers, you wish you could stay there forever.

But there are people to shoot and historical facts to mangle. I don’t mind that Pretty Boy Floyd is introduced and shot dead within the space of 10 seconds, but what a waste of Channing Tatum, one of our most interesting young actor-hunks. (We don’t even see his face clearly.) Gangster movies have always rearranged the particulars to suit whatever romantic Robin Hood notion they’re peddling, and “Public Enemies" is no different.

That said, letting Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) go down in a hail of bullets during the shoot-out at the Little Bohemia Lodge is a flat-out untruth (Nelson was shot and killed in November 1934, four months after Dillinger’s death and six months after Little Bohemia.) The battle between the “second Dillinger gang" and the FBI is Mann’s big action set piece - this movie’s version of the bank shoot-out in “Heat" - and it’s tense and excitingly filmed. Yet the director’s decision to shoot on high-definition video has become a liability by this point, with lights in the night-time sequences overmodulating and bleeding onto the film like cheap camcorder shots.

Why would Mann and the gifted cinematographer Dante Spinotti do this - intentionally sabotage the look of their film? Are they trying to make the Dillinger story topical by filming it as if it were “Cops" or “America’s Most Wanted" (or a bar mitzvah video)? If so, the experiment falls on its face, and “Public Enemies" gets stranded between an undersketched past and an irrelevant present.

What remains undiminished is Johnny Depp’s almost unholy screen magnetism. The actor looks surprisingly like Dillinger - a movie-star version, anyway - and the trim moustache and blocky bad-boy haircut become him. He gives the criminal shades of confidence and quiet daring and, behind it all, an unsolved melancholy that’s the movie’s one fresh note. In a lovely scene late in the game, Dillinger walks unnoticed through Purvis’s local FBI headquarters, marveling silently at the piles of evidence that have failed to capture him.

In another, the hero spends his final evening in a movie theater watching the MGM gangster film “Manhattan Melodrama," and Mann cuts back and forth between Clark Gable onscreen, Dillinger in the audience, and the gathering agents outside. The scene shows a public enemy communing with his Hollywood twin, but it’s really about one generation’s king tipping his hat to another’s. The hat fits, even if the movie around him doesn’t.

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to

Today's Tune: Iggy Pop - Home

(Click on title to play video)

I work so hard, man, so don’t trip me up
Shakin’ a leg like the tail o’ the pup
I’m payin’ dues till I register heat
Sure hope I don’t end up on the street

Home, boy
Home, boy
Everybody needs a home
Home, boy
Home, boy
Everybody needs a home

So many people rise and fall
Who’s lookin’ after you at all?
Nobody knows anybody at all
Strangers in paradise down at the mall

Home, boy
Home, boy
Everybody needs a home
Home, boy
Home, boy
Everybody needs a home

The life we live is tricky tricky
I love my home, and my family
Who’s gonna love you when the
Mountain gets steep?
We’re gonna make it-in a jeep

Home, boy
Home, boy
Everybody needs a home
Home, boy
Home, boy
You better think about your home, boy
Better love it
Don't shove it
Every motherfucker really needs a home
Home, Home
Oh I need my home
When I get home I feel so good
Cause the door is locked
And it ain't just wood
No asshole better get in my way
Cause I got everything
I'm still home I feel good
I got everything like I should
I'm safe, I'm alright
I got my home & I feel alright
I got my home & I feel alright

Friday, July 10, 2009

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - I Ain't Got No Home

(Click on title to play video)

I ain't got no home, I'm just a ramblin' around
Work when I can get it, I roam from town to town
The police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I was farmin' shares and always I was done
My debts they was so many they wouldn't go around
Drought got my crops and Mr. Banker's at my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Six children I have raised, they're scattered and they're gone
And my darling wife to heaven she has flown
She died of the fever upon the cabin floor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been workin' mister since the day that I was born
I worry all the time like I never did before
Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Now I just ramble around to see what I can see
This wide wicked world is a funny place to be
The gamblin' man is rich and the workin' man is poor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I'm stranded on this road that goes from sea to sea
A hundred thousand others are stranded here with me
A hundred thousand others and a hundred thousand more
I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Banker chronicles fall to homelessness

[Craig was my roomate in college when we attended Liberty University in the early '80s and he remains a dear friend. His story is more than compelling. - jtf]

Business fell 70 percent before he lost job, house

By Nancy Mueller
The Nashville Tennessean
July 10, 2009

FRANKLIN — Not that long ago, Craig Daliessio had a nice life as a mortgage banker, helping other people obtain their dream homes while earning commissions that financed his dream home, too.

But being a mortgage banker did not insulate him from the effects of the recession, tightening credit and the housing slump.


Craig Daliessio becomes emotional while talking about how he lost everything including his home. He was homeless and lived in his car. He has written a self-published book called
Nowhere To Lay My Head.

In fact, quite the opposite: The downturn in the economy and the accompanying mortgage crisis cost him his livelihood and, eventually, his Thompson's Station home, too.

In the space of only 18 months, he lost pretty much everything he owned. For four months late last year, he lived in his car.

"It was a kick to the heart and it hurt for a long time," Daliessio relates in a memoir he has written about his experiences, Nowhere to Lay My Head: The Secret Confessions of a Homeless Banker.

At the height of his career with the Franklin branch of Allied Mortgage Co., Daliessio was earning $91,000, but his income from commissions began dropping in 2006.

"One by one, loans I thought were sure to close fell out of underwriting for one reason or another," he said. "People with astounding credit were turned down because of the general fear in the industry."

By August of 2007 his business volume had dropped by 70 percent. By March 2008, he was out of work and looking for any job that paid.

But he said even minimum-wage jobs were hard to find.

"From what I understand, Dominos hasn't hired a new driver in six months," he said.

He did eventually find some temporary laborer jobs. He worked for a landscaper, he pressure-washed driveways, he aerated lawns, built someone a chicken coop and built someone else a deck.

Unable to make payments on a rental home — he had sold his house and mini-farm in early 2007 — he was given shelter for a while by friends who owned a spare apartment.

But by the end of August, those friends had to move him out because they had committed the space to someone else.

"I sofa surfed for a while," Daliessio said. "Then I ran out of options and started sleeping in my car."

Struggles multiply

Complicating his dire situation even more, his ex-wife filed a complaint against him for failing to make child support payments on time, and the judge ordered Daliessio to spend his weekends in the Davidson County jail.

Daliessio said that not being available to work on weekends cost him a job opportunity with a duct-cleaning company and two other employers.

But getting his child support obligation reduced by the court, he said, "is an eight-month long process if you don't have a lawyer."

Still, he said he sometimes slept better at the jail than in his car.

"Living in the car is hard," he said. "It is almost work. It is difficult to sleep; it's either cold or it's hot."

He said he learned quickly that he needed to hide the car and himself at night or local police would rouse him for loitering and make him move on.

He found a place near a church parking lot with some tall grass that proved to be a good hiding place.

But he said he couldn't roll his windows down because of the mosquitoes, and the parking lot lamps kept an incessant light shining into the car all night long.

"When you are sleeping on the streets . . . whether in your car or a doorway or under a bridge, you don't really sleep at all," he said. "You nap.

"Sirens wail, the wind blows, dogs bark, someone is coming and you hear their footsteps.

"I have yet to sleep more than about two hours at a time," he wrote.

Being broke and homeless was particularly excruciating in a community that is as prosperous as Williamson County, he said.

"In Davidson County, if you are homeless, you're an outreach project. In Williamson County, you're a pain in the butt," he said. "That's a little how it felt.

"In the world they live in, if you lose your house and you lose your money, this is your own fault somehow."

In his book, Daliessio, now 45, writes that his acquaintances here "did not know the desperation I was feeling," adding, "They did not care that they did not know either, they just blurted out their John Wayne-esque spiritual machismo and decided I was lazy."

Today Daliessio, in addition to giving motivational speeches, is again writing some loans for Allied. And he has a home in a Franklin subdivision.


Craig Daliessio’s memoir about becoming homeless includes this poignant meditation on the meaning of home:

“What makes a home a home?
For me, it was a lot of simple things. The promise that love and acceptance always awaited you on the other side of that door when you pulled up at night.

The feeling that no matter what the day had brought, no matter whether you won or lost your battles against the dragons you warred with, you were loved and eagerly expected each evening.
There were people here with the same dreams, the same goals, the same loves and joys and hopes as you.

You would rally behind each other no matter what. This place was safe and secure and it was your home base.

There were pictures on the walls and music in each voice. The kitchen smelled of everyone’s favorite recipe and the beds were warm and inviting each night.

Your best friends were here and you could not wait to see them each night after the workday ended.

That was a home . . . at least as I defined it.”

Craig Daliessio’s book, as well as another book he wrote about being a divorced dad, are available through

Film Review: Bruno

Review: ‘Bruno’

by John Nolte
Big Hollywood
Posted Jul 8th 2009 at 6:04 pm

One of the great Hollywood con jobs of the last five years was in convincing a mostly indifferent American public that a film with fewer domestic ticket sales than “Click,” “Mission Impossible III,” “Over the Hedge” and “Superman Returns” was some sort of cultural phenomenon. Wildly profitable? Sure. But any reasonable analysis of a modest $127 million haul shouldn’t be described as anything nearing a “phenomenon.” Luckily for “Borat” (2006) the right people were on board to hype up this nonsense-machine.

The “right people,” naturally, are mostly coastal elites who loved watching the everyday folks they so loathe cynically set up and manipulated to a point where they could be edited into unappealing, buffoonish caricatures, which isn’t to say a few weren’t truly unappealing and buffoonish, or that when it wasn’t gross-out disgusting the adventures of Sacha Baron Cohen’s clueless foreigner didn’t serve up a few honestly-earned laughs. But just the thought of joining up with the superior, self-satisfied smugs imperiously chuckling from Hollywood Hills and Manhattan skyscrapers as their personal jester demeaned we peasants cast a mean-spirit over everything.

With “Bruno,” and to his eternal credit, the Jester has turned on his masters and as we’ve seen in all those “Does ‘Bruno’ go too far?” articles, not surprisingly, many of them find turnabout unfair play. Because it’s now celebrity culture and other protected classes (gays and blacks) also facing Baron Cohen’s withering fire, suddenly what was once so daring, illuminating, brave and hilarious - guffaws at the expense of others - must now be met with beard scratching over “false gayness” and heavy, solemn pauses due to a “nasty streak.”

If you define politically incorrect as I do - having the guts to satirize the Left’s sacred cows (or everything Stewart, Letterman and Maher don’t do) - ”Bruno” hits the mark with an across the board ambush which, because everyone’s taking fire, goes a long way to mitigate the mean-spiritedness that made “Borat” such an exercise in elitist cruelty. The downside, and it’s a steep one, is that “Bruno” is relentlessly smutty and lewd, packed with full-frontal male nudity (much of it in close-up), outrageous but explicit portrayals of gay sex, and most disturbing, a swingers’ orgy with only the smallest of black dots to avoid an X-rating. This is easily the most off-putting film in years.

A series of increasingly disturbing, ambush-style set pieces designed for uncomfortable laughter revolve around the thin plot of a flamboyantly gay Austrian television host who, with his faithful gay assistant Luntz, comes to America seeking fame, celebrity and to be the biggest “gay star since Arnold Schwarzenegger.” At first Bruno tries the conventional Hollywood route with an agent who helps to set up a pilot for a celebrity interview show. After this crashes and burns, Bruno starts to re-think the whole “gay” thing and hopes success can be found if he “man’s up” with, among other things, a stint in the National Guard, self-defense courses and a sexual re-orientation ministry.

There are some truly funny moments, dozens of them, in fact, and many of the situations are even inspired. Watching Bruno destroy a fashion show, take the adopted black baby he named O.J. on a Jerry Springer-ish talk show, get permission from degenerate stage mothers to put their young children in danger and criticize Osama bin Laden’s sense of fashion to one of his underlings, is to bear witness to moments of real comic genius. But for every one of these there are at least five seedy others that make you want to take a shower and go to confession.

There’s another comedy line breached that has nothing to do with the explicit content. Frequently the narrative gets lazy and asks us to consciously laugh only at the idea we’re being shocked - only at the idea of how explicit and revolting things get. You can almost hear the filmmakers bragging like children, “Can you believe we got an R-rating?”

No. I can’t.

Over time the relentless nudity and crudity starts to wear. Even though you’re laughing, at the same time you’re hoping the next scene gives it a rest. But as the film rolls on things only get worse until - even though you’re still laughing - you can’t wait for it to come to an end.

As far as all the talk about whether or not “Bruno’s” homophobic , the answer is absolutely not. Unlike Baron Cohen’s victims, those everyday people who mind their own business, the Bruno character is fictional and obviously satiric. The only possible “homophobic” moment comes from former presidential candidate Ron Paul who calls Bruno a “queer” after the Austrian Fashionista makes a crude pass at him. Personally, I think GLAAD should award Paul a medal for tolerance. Gay or straight, Bruno deserved to get knocked on his ass.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said that after ten minutes of watching porn he wanted to have sex with everyone, but after an hour he never wanted to have sex again. That pretty well sums up sitting through “Bruno.”

Beauty and Desecration

We must rescue art from the modern intoxication with ugliness.

By Roger Scruton
City Journal
Spring 2009

At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. Philosophers of the Enlightenment saw beauty as a way in which lasting moral and spiritual values acquire sensuous form. And no Romantic painter, musician, or writer would have denied that beauty was the final purpose of his art.

The Art Archive/Victoria and Albert Museum London/Sally Chappell

The West’s great landscape painters, like the eighteenth-century Italian Francesco Guardi, capture the intimations of the eternal in the transient.

At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch—something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue. In a seminal essay—“Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” published in Partisan Review in 1939—critic Clement Greenberg starkly contrasted the avant-garde of his day with the figurative painting that competed with it, dismissing the latter (not just Norman Rockwell, but greats like Edward Hopper) as derivative and without lasting significance. The avant-garde, for Greenberg, promoted the disturbing and the provocative over the soothing and the decorative, and that was why we should admire it.

The value of abstract art, Greenberg claimed, lay not in beauty but in expression. This emphasis on expression was a legacy of the Romantic movement; but now it was joined by the conviction that the artist is outside bourgeois society, defined in opposition to it, so that artistic self-expression is at the same time a transgression of ordinary moral norms. We find this posture overtly adopted in the art of Austria and Germany between the wars—for example, in the paintings and drawings of Georg Grosz, in Alban Berg’s opera Lulu (a loving portrait of a woman whose only discernible goal is moral chaos), and in the seedy novels of Heinrich Mann. And the cult of transgression is a leading theme of the postwar literature of France—from the writings of Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, and Jean-Paul Sartre to the bleak emptiness of the nouveau roman.

Of course, there were great artists who tried to rescue beauty from the perceived disruption of modern society—as T. S. Eliot tried to recompose, in Four Quartets, the fragments he had grieved over in The Waste Land. And there were others, particularly in America, who refused to see the sordid and the transgressive as the truth of the modern world. For artists like Hopper, Samuel Barber, and Wallace Stevens, ostentatious transgression was mere sentimentality, a cheap way to stimulate an audience, and a betrayal of the sacred task of art, which is to magnify life as it is and to reveal its beauty—as Stevens reveals the beauty of “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” and Barber that of Knoxville: Summer of 1915. But somehow those great life-affirmers lost their position at the forefront of modern culture. So far as the critics and the wider culture were concerned, the pursuit of beauty was at the margins of the artistic enterprise. Qualities like disruptiveness and immorality, which previously signified aesthetic failure, became marks of success; while the pursuit of beauty became a retreat from the real task of artistic creation. This process has been so normalized as to become a critical orthodoxy, prompting the philosopher Arthur Danto to argue recently that beauty is both deceptive as a goal and in some way antipathetic to the mission of modern art. Art has acquired another status and another social role.

The great proof of this change is in the productions of opera, which give the denizens of postmodern culture an unparalleled opportunity to take revenge on the art of the past and to hide its beauty behind an obscene and sordid mask. We all assume that this will happen with Wagner, who “asked for it” by believing too strongly in the redemptive role of art. But it now regularly happens to the innocent purveyors of beauty, just as soon as a postmodernist producer gets his hands on one of their works.

An example that particularly struck me was a 2004 production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Komische Oper Berlin (see “The Abduction of Opera,” Summer 2007). Die Entführung tells the story of Konstanze—shipwrecked, separated from her fiancé Belmonte, and taken to serve in the harem of the Pasha Selim. After various intrigues, Belmonte rescues her, helped by the clemency of the Pasha—who, respecting Konstanze’s chastity and the couple’s faithful love, declines to take her by force. This implausible plot permits Mozart to express his Enlightenment conviction that charity is a universal virtue, as real in the Muslim empire of the Turks as in the Christian empire of the enlightened Joseph II. Even if Mozart’s innocent vision is without much historical basis, his belief in the reality of disinterested love is everywhere expressed and endorsed by the music. Die Entführung advances a moral idea, and its melodies share the beauty of that idea and persuasively present it to the listener.

In his production of Die Entführung, the Catalan stage director Calixto Bieito set the opera in a Berlin brothel, with Selim as pimp and Konstanze one of the prostitutes. Even during the most tender music, copulating couples littered the stage, and every opportunity for violence, with or without a sexual climax, was taken. At one point, a prostitute is gratuitously tortured, and her nipples bloodily and realistically severed before she is killed. The words and the music speak of love and compassion, but their message is drowned out by the scenes of desecration, murder, and narcissistic sex.

That is an example of something familiar in every aspect of our contemporary culture. It is not merely that artists, directors, musicians, and others connected with the arts are in flight from beauty. Wherever beauty lies in wait for us, there arises a desire to preempt its appeal, to smother it with scenes of destruction. Hence the many works of contemporary art that rely on shocks administered to our failing faith in human nature—such as the crucifix pickled in urine by Andres Serrano. Hence the scenes of cannibalism, dismemberment, and meaningless pain with which contemporary cinema abounds, with directors like Quentin Tarantino having little else in their emotional repertories. Hence the invasion of pop music by rap, whose words and rhythms speak of unremitting violence, and which rejects melody, harmony, and every other device that might make a bridge to the old world of song. And hence the music video, which has become an art form in itself and is often devoted to concentrating into the time span of a pop song some startling new account of moral chaos.

Those phenomena record a habit of desecration in which life is not celebrated by art but targeted by it. Artists can now make their reputations by constructing an original frame in which to display the human face and throw dung at it. What do we make of this, and how do we find our way back to the thing so many people long for, which is the vision of beauty? It may sound a little sentimental to speak of a “vision of beauty.” But what I mean is not some saccharine, Christmas-card image of human life but rather the elementary ways in which ideals and decencies enter our ordinary world and make themselves known, as love and charity make themselves known in Mozart’s music. There is a great hunger for beauty in our world, a hunger that our popular art fails to recognize and our serious art often defies.

I used the word “desecration” to describe the attitude conveyed by Bieito’s production of Die Entführung and by Serrano’s lame efforts at meaning something. What exactly does this word imply? It is connected, etymologically and semantically, with sacrilege, and therefore with the ideas of sanctity and the sacred. To desecrate is to spoil what might otherwise be set apart in the sphere of sacred things. We can desecrate a church, a graveyard, a tomb; and also a holy image, a holy book, or a holy ceremony. We can desecrate a corpse, a cherished image, even a living human being—insofar as these things contain (as they do) a portent of some original sanctity. The fear of desecration is a vital element in all religions. Indeed, that is what the word religio originally meant: a cult or ceremony designed to protect some sacred place from sacrilege.

In the eighteenth century, when organized religion and ceremonial kingship were losing their authority, when the democratic spirit was questioning inherited institutions, and when the idea was abroad that it was not God but man who made laws for the human world, the idea of the sacred suffered an eclipse. To the thinkers of the Enlightenment, it seemed little more than a superstition to believe that artifacts, buildings, places, and ceremonies could possess a sacred character, when all these things were the products of human design. The idea that the divine reveals itself in our world, and seeks our worship, seemed both implausible in itself and incompatible with science.

At the same time, philosophers like Shaftesbury, Burke, Adam Smith, and Kant recognized that we do not look on the world only with the eyes of science. Another attitude exists—one not of scientific inquiry but of disinterested contemplation—that we direct toward our world in search of its meaning. When we take this attitude, we set our interests aside; we are no longer occupied with the goals and projects that propel us through time; we are no longer engaged in explaining things or enhancing our power. We are letting the world present itself and taking comfort in its presentation. This is the origin of the experience of beauty. There may be no way of accounting for that experience as part of our ordinary search for power and knowledge. It may be impossible to assimilate it to the day-to-day uses of our faculties. But it is an experience that self-evidently exists, and it is of the greatest value to those who receive it.

When does this experience occur, and what does it mean? Here is an example: suppose you are walking home in the rain, your thoughts occupied with your work. The streets and the houses pass by unnoticed; the people, too, pass you by; nothing invades your thinking save your interests and anxieties. Then suddenly the sun emerges from the clouds, and a ray of sunlight alights on an old stone wall beside the road and trembles there. You glance up at the sky where the clouds are parting, and a bird bursts into song in a garden behind the wall. Your heart fills with joy, and your selfish thoughts are scattered. The world stands before you, and you are content simply to look at it and let it be.

Maybe such experiences are rarer now than they were in the eighteenth century, when the poets and philosophers lighted upon them as a new avenue to religion. The haste and disorder of modern life, the alienating forms of modern architecture, the noise and spoliation of modern industry—these things have made the pure encounter with beauty a rarer, more fragile, and more unpredictable thing for us. Still, we all know what it is to find ourselves suddenly transported, by the things we see, from the ordinary world of our appetites to the illuminated sphere of contemplation. It happens often during childhood, though it is seldom interpreted then. It happens during adolescence, when it lends itself to our erotic longings. And it happens in a subdued way in adult life, secretly shaping our life projects, holding out to us an image of harmony that we pursue through holidays, through home-building, and through our private dreams.

Here is another example: it is a special occasion, when the family unites for a ceremonial dinner. You set the table with a clean embroidered cloth, arranging plates, glasses, bread in a basket, and some carafes of water and wine. You do this lovingly, delighting in the appearance, striving for an effect of cleanliness, simplicity, symmetry, and warmth. The table has become a symbol of homecoming, of the extended arms of the universal mother, inviting her children in. And all this abundance of meaning and good cheer is somehow contained in the appearance of the table. This, too, is an experience of beauty, one that we encounter, in some version or other, every day. We are needy creatures, and our greatest need is for home—the place where we are, where we find protection and love. We achieve this home through representations of our own belonging, not alone but in conjunction with others. All our attempts to make our surroundings look right—through decorating, arranging, creating—are attempts to extend a welcome to ourselves and to those whom we love.

This second example suggests that our human need for beauty is not simply a redundant addition to the list of human appetites. It is not something that we could lack and still be fulfilled as people. It is a need arising from our metaphysical condition as free individuals, seeking our place in an objective world. We can wander through this world, alienated, resentful, full of suspicion and distrust. Or we can find our home here, coming to rest in harmony with others and with ourselves. The experience of beauty guides us along this second path: it tells us that we are at home in the world, that the world is already ordered in our perceptions as a place fit for the lives of beings like us.

Look at any picture by one of the great landscape painters—Poussin, Guardi, Turner, Corot, Cézanne—and you will see that idea of beauty celebrated and fixed in images. The art of landscape painting, as it arose in the seventeenth century and endured into our time, is devoted to moralizing nature and showing the place of human freedom in the scheme of things. It is not that landscape painters turn a blind eye to suffering, or to the vastness and threateningness of the universe of which we occupy so small a corner. Far from it. Landscape painters show us death and decay in the very heart of things: the light on their hills is a fading light; the stucco walls of Guardi’s houses are patched and crumbling. But their images point to the joy that lies incipient in decay and to the eternal implied in the transient. They are images of home.

Not surprisingly, the idea of beauty has puzzled philosophers. The experience of beauty is so vivid, so immediate, so personal, that it seems hardly to belong to the natural order as science observes it. Yet beauty shines on us from ordinary things. Is it a feature of the world, or a figment of the imagination? Is it telling us something real and true that requires just this experience to be recognized? Or is it merely a heightened moment of sensation, of no significance beyond the delight of the person who experiences it? These questions are of great urgency for us, since we live at a time when beauty is in eclipse: a dark shadow of mockery and alienation has crept across the once-shining surface of our world, like the shadow of the Earth across the moon. Where we look for beauty, we too often find darkness and desecration.

The current habit of desecrating beauty suggests that people are as aware as they ever were of the presence of sacred things. Desecration is a kind of defense against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims. In the presence of sacred things, our lives are judged, and to escape that judgment, we destroy the thing that seems to accuse us.

Christians have inherited from Saint Augustine and from Plato the vision of this transient world as an icon of another and changeless order. They understand the sacred as a revelation in the here and now of the eternal sense of our being. But the experience of the sacred is not confined to Christians. It is, according to many philosophers and anthropologists, a human universal. For the most part, transitory purposes organize our lives: the day-to-day concerns of economic reasoning, the small-scale pursuit of power and comfort, the need for leisure and pleasure. Little of this is memorable or moving to us. Every now and then, however, we are jolted out of our complacency and feel ourselves to be in the presence of something vastly more significant than our present interests and desires. We sense the reality of something precious and mysterious, which reaches out to us with a claim that is, in some way, not of this world. This happens in the presence of death, especially the death of someone loved. We look with awe on the human body from which the life has fled. This is no longer a person but the “mortal remains” of a person. And this thought fills us with a sense of the uncanny. We are reluctant to touch the dead body; we see it as, in some way, not properly a part of our world, almost a visitor from some other sphere.

This experience, a paradigm of our encounter with the sacred, demands from us a kind of ceremonial recognition. The dead body is the object of rituals and acts of purification, designed not just to send its former occupant happily into the hereafter—for these practices are engaged in even by those who have no belief in the hereafter—but in order to overcome the eeriness, the supernatural quality, of the dead human form. The body is being reclaimed for this world by the rituals that acknowledge that it also stands apart from it. The rituals, to put it another way, consecrate the body, and so purify it of its miasma. By the same token, the body can be desecrated—and this is surely one of the primary acts of desecration, one to which people have been given from time immemorial, as when Achilles dragged Hector’s body in triumph around the walls of Troy.

The presence of a transcendental claim startles us out of our day-to-day preoccupations on other occasions, too. In particular, there is the experience of falling in love. This, too, is a human universal, and it is an experience of the strangest kind. The face and body of the beloved are imbued with the intensest life. But in one crucial respect, they are like the body of someone dead: they seem not to belong in the empirical world. The beloved looks on the lover as Beatrice looked on Dante, from a point outside the flow of temporal things. The beloved object demands that we cherish it, that we approach it with almost ritualistic reverence. And there radiates from those eyes and limbs and words a kind of fullness of spirit that makes everything anew.

Poets have expended thousands of words on this experience, which no words seem entirely to capture. It has fueled the sense of the sacred down the ages, reminding people as diverse as Plato and Calvino, Virgil and Baudelaire, that sexual desire is not the simple appetite that we witness in animals but the raw material of a longing that has no easy or worldly satisfaction, demanding of us nothing less than a change of life.

Many of the uglinesses cultivated in our world today refer back to the two experiences that I have singled out. The body in the throes of death; the body in the throes of sex—these things easily fascinate us. They fascinate us by desecrating the human form, by showing the human body as a mere object among objects, the human spirit as eclipsed and ineffectual, and the human being as overcome by external forces, rather than as a free subject bound by the moral law. And it is on these things that the art of our time seems to concentrate, offering us not only sexual pornography but a pornography of violence that reduces the human being to a lump of suffering flesh made pitiful, helpless, and disgusting.

All of us have a desire to flee from the demands of responsible existence, in which we treat one another as worthy of reverence and respect. All of us are tempted by the idea of flesh and by the desire to remake the human being as pure flesh—an automaton, obedient to mechanical desires. To yield to this temptation, however, we must first remove the chief obstacle to it: the consecrated nature of the human form. We must sully the experiences—such as death and sex—that otherwise call us away from temptations, toward the higher life of sacrifice. This willful desecration is also a denial of love—an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it. And that, surely, is the most important characteristic of the postmodern culture: it is a loveless culture, determined to portray the human world as unlovable. The modern stage director who ransacks the works of Mozart is trying to tear the love from the heart of them, so as to confirm his own vision of the world as a place where only pleasure and pain are real.

That suggests a simple remedy, which is to resist temptation. Instead of desecrating the human form, we should learn again to revere it. For there is absolutely nothing to gain from the insults hurled at beauty by those—like Calixto Bieito—who cannot bear to look it in the face. Yes, we can neutralize the high ideals of Mozart by pushing his music into the background so that it becomes the mere accompaniment to an inhuman carnival of sex and death. But what do we learn from this? What do we gain, in terms of emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or moral development? Nothing, save anxiety. We should take a lesson from this kind of desecration: in attempting to show us that our human ideals are worthless, it shows itself to be worthless. And when something shows itself to be worthless, it is time to throw it away.

It is therefore plain that the culture of transgression achieves nothing save the loss that it revels in: the loss of beauty as a value and a goal. But why is beauty a value? It is an ancient view that truth, goodness, and beauty cannot, in the end, conflict. Maybe the degeneration of beauty into kitsch comes precisely from the postmodern loss of truthfulness, and with it the loss of moral direction. That is the message of such early modernists as Eliot, Barber, and Stevens, and it is a message that we need to listen to.

To mount a full riposte to the habit of desecration, we need to rediscover the affirmation and the truth to life without which artistic beauty cannot be realized. This is no easy task. If we look at the true apostles of beauty in our time—I think of composers like Henri Dutilleux and Olivier Messiaen, of poets like Derek Walcott and Charles Tomlinson, of prose writers like Italo Calvino and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—we are immediately struck by the immense hard work, the studious isolation, and the attention to detail that characterizes their craft. In art, beauty has to be won, but the work becomes harder as the sheer noise of desecration—amplified now by the Internet—drowns out the quiet voices murmuring in the heart of things.

One response is to look for beauty in its other and more everyday forms—the beauty of settled streets and cheerful faces, of natural objects and genial landscapes. It is possible to throw dirt on these things, too, and it is the mark of a second-rate artist to take such a path to our attention—the via negativa of desecration. But it is also possible to return to ordinary things in the spirit of Wallace Stevens and Samuel Barber—to show that we are at home with them and that they magnify and vindicate our life. Such is the overgrown path that the early modernists once cleared for us—the via positiva of beauty. There is no reason yet to think that we must abandon it.

- Roger Scruton, a philosopher, is the author of many books, most recently Beauty.

Palestinian Taliban Arrest Palestinian Feminist. Government Promises Investigation

By Phyllis Chesler
July 8th, 2009 11:55 am

An Interview with Asma’a Al-Ghoul

Asma’a Al-Ghoul is a Palestinian secular feminist who has written poignant, heartbreaking pieces about honor killings and women’s rights in Gaza. Last month, Asma’a quit her job at Al Ayaam because her subject matter got her into “trouble” at work. She is also the journalist who was arrested over the weekend by Hamas’s “morality” police, ostensibly for “laughing immoderately” and for “immodest” clothing at the beach.

The beach!

FILE - In this June 17, 2009 file photo, Hamas security officers patrol the beach in Gaza City. Hamas police in Gaza attempted to detain a woman after she was seen walking with a man on the beach, raising concerns that the conservative Islamic militant group is attempting to quietly enforce stricter Muslim law as it becomes more comfortable with ruling the coastal territory.
(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa, File)

Asma’a, the 27 year-old mother of a four year-old son, was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. She went into the water fully clothed. Apparently, that was not modest enough for them.

According to Asma’a, with whom I just spoke, the Palestinian police detained her and took her passport away. They also beat up four male friends: two right there on the beach, all four back in police custody. (One of these men was not sitting with them at the time but came to their aid when the police attacked them). Due to the intercession of a journalist-friend with whom the beach goers were visiting, the police let Asma’a go—but with a warning; they told her “they would be following her case.” The police also returned Asma’a’s passport to her. In addition, the police wanted to confiscate her laptop but luckily, they were unable to find it.
Since then, Asma’a received a written death threat. She has been staying home, and has, understandably, had trouble sleeping.

“But,” she tells me, “Both my friends and the media have been supporting me.” Indeed, Asma’a wrote to thank me for my recent piece which mentioned her plight.

“And” she points out, “yesterday at noon, the government, possibly for the first time ever, announced that they will be looking into this matter.”

Asma’a explained that many other such incidents have happened and been covered up. “People are afraid to speak out. But we must speak out in order to stop this. We fear that the government will banish those who speak.”

It has been said, that the Palestinian people once were the most educated people in the Arab world. Over the years, I have known and worked with both secular and religious Palestinian Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists who are in favor of modernity and women’s rights.

Nevertheless, increasingly, Hamas officials have been cracking down on women and on western ways. They have “urged shopkeepers to take down foreign advertisements which show the shape of women’s bodies and to hide lingerie which is currently displayed in windows. Officials search electronic shops to check if they are selling pornography on tiny flash drives.”

According to human rights activist, Isam Younis, “There’s an open, public program to preserve public morals in Gaza,..In reality that means trying to restrict freedoms. Hamas denies that any crackdown is under way. But they have failed to take any action against the groups that have been attacking hairdressers and internet cafes.

Under Hamas, women have been increasingly veiling: wearing hijab, wearing versions of the Iranian, Saudi, and Afghani abayas, chadors, burqas, etc.

Asma’a tells me: “Palestinian feminists have not called to support me. They are afraid. Some have told me that I am so ‘strong,’ (which means that they think) they are not.”

Asma’a has written a moving paper about honor killings and women’s rights in Gaza which she originally published in Arabic in Al-Ayaam. She has given me permission to edit and publish it here which I will do in two parts. In it, one of the things she describes is how Palestinian women themselves have internalized misogyny (something that is a global phenomenon and about which I’ve written in Women’s Inhumanity to Woman ). Women accept, even support, the punishment and murder of women.

According to Asma’a, at a recent workshop in Khan Yunis, many of the women gathered “were fully convinced that a woman who makes a mistake must be killed. A woman wearing a black folk dress consisting of two parts and only the forehead and one of the eyes can be seen through said: ‘She deserves to die…she should be a way to give a lesson to others.’ Neither she nor the other women believed that men should be punished for the same crime or for murdering a woman for the sake of ‘family honor.’”

“You know,” Asma’a said, “when my mother was my age she used to wear short skirts and no hijab. I do not wear hijab. But now, the women cover everything, even their faces. I am a secular Muslim. Theoretically, I believe that Islam and secular values can be compatible The government has attached themselves to the most extreme facets of Islam, not to Islam ( as it has been practiced in the past).” These morality police think they are god.”

As to the future—Asma’a tells me: “We don’t know. We are waiting.”

Asma’a is lucky. Her family supports her. This is crucial. She has friends. She has a college degree and a profession. The media is paying attention. The government, perhaps responding to such media attention, has gone through some pro forma damage control. Asma’a was not arrested. Still, for the first time, Asma’a is now thinking about leaving Gaza.

“Gaza needs liberal and secular people to defend liberty. For this reason, I have never wanted to leave. But after what happened, I am thinking of leaving.”

Asma’a wonders whether Hamas would become more flexible, more tolerant, if they were part of a real government. “Now, they are like a caged cat that has become a tiger.” I reminded her that the Islamists in Iran and Saudi Arabia also think they are gods and they have full state legitimacy–and they have largely caged and murdered women and dissidents. Their policies on women are reprehensible.

Asma’a immediately agreed. But she also said this: “There are no books in Gaza. If you don’t give people a chance to learn new things, how will they change?”

I was very moved by Asma’a’s article about honor killings in Gaza. She had—and still has—no idea that we share a common passion or that I’ve been writing about this subject for a long time. With Asma’a’s permission, I am publishing it here in an edited form. I will publish Part Two later this week.

The author would like to acknowledge the seamlessly efficient assistance of Elizabeth McAvoy and Colette McIntyre in the preparation of this piece.


Honor Killing is Permitted Socially and Legally

Gaza: Silence, Collusion and Shame for Female Victims, While Killers Enjoy the Sun and Freedom

By Asma’a Al-Ghoul

What did Iman A., a 18 year old girl, do to be murdered in such a brutal way? The question is raised by whoever hears of her– a girl coercively led to death. According to her cousin and friend “S.J”, Iman died last September after spraying anti-cockroach solution into her mouth for three consecutive days, imprisoned in her family’s bathroom by her father.

On the last day, she suffered from severe stomach pains. Her father relented and transferred her to the hospital. Unfortunately, she passed away while they were on their way. According to medics, the poison had spread to her liver and kidneys and finally stopped her heart.

Her mother feels that she died because of medical negligence, convinced that the strike of doctors at the time deprived her daughter of access to medial treatment. According to medics, Iman was brought to the hospital dead, but her mother, 42, claims that she “saw a line in the cardiogram, which indicated that her heart was beating!”

Iman was a beautiful girl who wore a headscarf and respected family traditions. Nevertheless, her father doubted her, imprisoned her and refused to allow her to proceed with her university study although she was happy that she completed her high school education.

At her funeral, held in her grandmother’s home in the Tal Al-Hawa district, her father said, crying: “This is Allah’s will… What happened is down to Allah’s will… Iman disappeared forever; it’s over.”

I heard him crying, but did not see the tears. However, it was said that he was psychologically traumatized after his daughter’s death. He did not know that his maltreatment and cruelty could and, eventually, would lead to Iman’s passing. “Iman did not want to die; she just wanted her father to be concerned for her,” her mother said. However, who knows the truth? Iman can never wake up to tell if she was killed or committed suicide.

According to human rights and women’s organizations, some 25 girls and women annually are killed or commit suicide, cases with mysterious circumstances that are never seriously investigated to unveil the circumstances of the death. Everyone remains silent, and human rights organizations only report briefly, coldly and neutrally on such crimes for the purpose of documentation. Everyone justifies such silence by claiming it is a family affair or “a crime to preserve family honor.”

Nevertheless, there is a question that remains unanswerable: If ending the life of an innocent girl like Iman is a family affair, when will it be a human affair? Our affair?

Over the past few years, we have heard stories of women that we keep in our hearts–secret–without being able to even whisper them to ourselves. This issue remains taboo, remains untouchable.


Najla’ A., 24, a divorced woman, was strangled by her extremist brother while sleeping. He hosted her at his home and waited until she slept to kill her. Her sister, “M.”, only noticed Najla was dead accidentally–she had got up to feed her baby. She said that Najla’ was living in Rafah refugee camp, working as an administrative assistant in a trade office in Gaza City. She used to be away from home for long hours, which ignited rumors about her behavior. Her brother, the “Sheikh” as the sister named him, could not tolerate it. The sister added that the police discovered what happened and arrested her brother. The family then initiated negotiations with the police–whispering into the ears of the chief of police followed by a gift:13 square meters of flagstones–and quickly the criminal was released without any feeling of guilt. Those who knew how much Najla’ needed this job to buy medicines for her sick mother remained still. Silent.

“M.” said that the most painful thing for her was that her brother strangled Najla when Najla was sleeping. He killed her like a coward. He betrayed her as she lay there sleeping, not even having the hospitatlity to let her know that she was going to be killed.


Unlike Najla’, Ahlam, who was barely 16, learned that she would die. “Ahlam used to sleep outside the house very often, and when I asked her, she told me that she was sleeping at an old woman’s house in Al-Shujaiya district. I knew that she was sleeping with young men,” said Her father, enjoying the sun in front of his house while Ahlam lay in her grave “disgraced”. A social worker, who followed up Ahlam’s case and asked to remain anonymous, explained that Ahlam complained about her family’s cruelty and expressed her fear of her father who was sexually harassing her. Ahlam’s father, who accepted to talk to us only when we told him that we were from a relief organization, coming to provide assistance for him, complained about being poor and needy. When he began his daughter’s story, he said, with pride and shame, “I told her that I would take her to eat shawirma. I took her in the car and we ate shawirma. I allowed her to listen to the song she liked. She did not doubt me, but when I drove the car away and asked her to get out, she hesitated. When she saw a knife in my hand, she said, ‘Why do you want to kill me, Dad?’” He was talking as if the story he was telling was not his own as other family members sat and listened. Even Ahlam’s own sister, a supposed “friend” of hers, adopted the same, unjust culture. Without emotion she said, “Ahlam did not listen to anyone… Ahlam was stubborn. She was sleeping in flats which she did not know anything about. She deserves it.” “Don’t you have sweet memories together?” I asked her. She answered, her eyes filled with confusion, “Yes, I love her. She was dressing my hair.” At that moment, Ahlam’s mother arrived home. When she heard that we were from a relief organization, she doubted us, refused to talk to us and, eventually, forced us to leave. We immediately left the area. Ahlam’s father benefited from passed legislation which eases the punishment in such cases–he was set free. Ahlam’s killer was free to enjoy his life, forgetting his aggrieved daughter’s question: “Why do you want to kill me?”

Iman, Ahlam and Najla’ are three girls who lost their lives because of their community’s heritage. No one cared about their fate or even whether they committed a crime that made them deserve such punishment.

Maria’s Cave

In a workshop organized in Khan Yunis which focused on the role of the media in reporting so-called “family honor murders”, the discussion lost track as the speakers discovered that all the 60 women attending the workshop were fully convinced that a woman who makes a mistake must be killed. A woman wearing a black folk dress consisting of two parts with only the forehead and one eye revealed said, “She deserves to die… She should be a way to give a lesson to others.” When they were asked if the man should be punished as well, they were shockingly silent as if they suddenly remembered that there is another party in such cases. However, they said almost collectively, “Never mind, he remains a man.” The organizers of the workshop were extremely disappointed and a very deep gap emerged between the women’s rights activists and those in the workshop. A women’s rights activist stated that such thinking was frequent in poor and marginalized area where any talk about murders committed for “family honor” is not allowed since women themselves believe that such crimes are legitimate.

If you attended this workshop, you would realize why such an important documentary such as “Maria’s Cave” by Palestinian director Buthaina Khouri is banned from being shown in Gaza. The documentary was strongly criticized even in the West Bank, an area believed to be more open-minded, as it addresses the issue of murdering women for “honor” in bold and shocking language. So what is the difference between Gaza and the West Bank? Where is the West Bank’s “openess”? Attitudes are the same when the issue a woman’s. Under the umbrella of “honor,” killing is allowed; is even linked with resistance and patriotism as explained in Buthaina Khouri’s documentary, which I watched secretly and cautiously without making any attempt to recommend it to others.

When has talking about the very basic right of a human being–the right to life–become taboo, a topic one must be ashamed of? Why are we banned from revealing the names of these poor princesses mentioned in this article whom were killed? Is it out of fear of their families, the law, or the extremists–whatever their ideologies may be? All three threaten press freedoms, making the topic so taboo that addressing it means enagaging in immorality and publicizing depravity. Time is not appropriate to raise such issues.

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