(April 24, 2006)
[Ed. As a reminder to Letter writers: If you want your letters to be published, you must include your first and last names and your city and state of residence. Also, please, enter in the subject line of your e-mail "letter to the editor," and specify the article or the subject on which you are commenting. Thank you.]
Shove the Liars and Charlatans: Martin Murie's Yugoslav GlimpsesTo the Editor:
Thank you for this excellent piece. It is time that these liars and charlatans were shown up for what they are. We must never give up the fight for truth and justice. The Serbian people deserve nothing less.
London, United Kingdom - April 10, 2006
A Modest Man: Charles Marowitz's Improving Shakespeare
To the Editor:
Charles Marowitz has grown too modest. He lists valid reworkings of Shakespeare from Dryden to Stoppard but leaves out his own versions of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello. It would be interesting to know just what he thinks now of those creations of thirty-some years ago.
His article brings to mind another problem, less concerned with text than with mise-en-scène and interpretation. How sacred are more recent authors? Only months ago, the Beckett estate tried to stop a serious Italian production of Waiting for Godot because it used all women actors. Fortunately, an Italian court ruled to let the production proceed.
A placid and silent fellow if ever there was one, Beckett went ape when Bertolt Brecht asked to do a progressive version of Godot. Beckett's veto may have robbed us of a masterpiece even if it might have twisted his thought. Seeing a major playwright's own approved production on stage during his lifetime is certainly of great value. But after his death? In the case of Beckett, as productions proliferate in the centenary of his birth, the time may have come to put a stop to embalming.
Our own wrongheaded respect, not only authors' estates, stands in the way of accelerating grimaces. A beautiful Italian production of Jean Genet's The Maids is now touring Italy. But it's the same beauty, the same movements and inflections that Louis Jouvet created in Paris in 1947 plus Victor Garcia's Spanish refurbishing in 1969. That was quite a few domestic poisonings ago.
Lecce, Italy - April 10, 2006
Disconstructing a Critique: Jacob Amir's The Case Against The Case Against Israel
Dear Gilles d'Aymery & Swans,
In the beginning of his book, The Case Against Israel, Michael Neumann states specifically that the question he is addressing is "about what ought to occur in Palestine" and "what solution to the conflict should be adopted." Dr. Amir writes, "I agree with Neumann's opinion on the West Bank and I hope Israel will be able to withdraw (with agreement or unilaterally) from most of the West Bank" (my emphasis). In other words Amir doesn't really agree with Neumann on the West Bank as a breakdown of the sentence will show. Neumann urged Israel's immediate withdrawal from the West Bank and noted that this course of action has been recommended since 1998 by the Council For Peace and Security, a group of Israeli security experts including numerous ex-army and intelligence officers. What does Mr. Amir mean when he says "I hope Israel will be able to withdraw"? Is he seriously saying that Israel is not currently able to withdraw? This certainly isn't what Neumann says. Hoping for Israeli withdrawal is different from making an effort, any effort, to push Israel's government to leave the West Bank. And why does Mr. Amir use the qualifier "most of" the West Bank? Why not just say the West Bank? After all, that is in keeping with world opinion as well as the spirit and the basic letter of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which saw only minor border adjustments at most. My guess is that Dr. Amir will support whatever half-hearted, partial withdrawal measures Kadima eventually decides on and won't ask for much more.
It is notable that since the Oslo Accords were signed the West Bank settlements expanded while the number of Israeli settlers doubled. This trend was only somewhat reversed after the second intifada began. Dr. Amir never mentions this and the omission is typical of his entire review, which gives his impressions and assertions on the past and the legitimacy of Zionism, while largely avoiding the substance of Neumann's actual arguments and evidence. I do not currently have the time to comment further on Amir's distortions of Neumann's work although they are substantial. I could do so in another letter if anyone is interested. Thanks for posting Mr. Amir's piece which shows the basic bankruptcy of the moderate "supporters of Israel."
Northampton, Massachusetts, USA - April 22, 2006
Misreading and Misrepresenting Michael Neumann: Jacob Amir's The Case Against The Case Against Israel
To the Editor:
Jacob Amir's review of Michael Neumann's book, The Case Against Israel is an attempt to argue against the book without presenting any argument. At the heart of Neumann's book is his denial of the right of self determination for ethnic groups. Amir offers nothing to rebut Neumann's argument and misrepresents it, to boot. Here is a passage from Amir:
But in Neumann's opinion: "Neither international approval nor the UN's Charter are sufficient to bring rights into existence." And then he brings a most bizarre comparison stating that if the UN said that people have the right to eat their children, would that make it so? And he adds: "There is no right of self-determination of peoples. The whole idea is a bad one." This outlandish comparison speaks volumes about the substance of this book.
But no, it doesn't speak volumes, for it is not a comparison. What is Neumann comparing to what? Mr. Neumann is offering an intentionally extreme example to show that neither international approval nor the UN Charter could bestow a right so at odds with our normal understanding of what is right and wrong. Neumann does immediately follow this with a claim that there is no right of self-determination of peoples, but this is a statement of his claim, not a comparison. The example is intentionally extreme to make the point that the UN cannot bestow rights. Only rights in harmony with our sense of what is right can exist. Neumann's argument against ethnic self-determination rests on the ground that ethnic self-determination, in real life, violates our sense of what is right and wrong. His argument does not rest upon any comparison between ethnic self-determination and this extreme example.
Neumann's argument might be condensed as follows:
Neither the United Nations Charter nor international approval can create the right of self-determination of peoples. Rights must grow from our sense of what is right. If the United Nations Charter declared eating children a right it would not make it so because it would violate our sense of what is right.
The right of self-determination of peoples, when considered as a right of ethnic groups, violates our sense of what is right. The right of self-determination seems to agree with our sense of what is right because the argument for it is based on myths of unanimity that sound good. But in real life, movements of self-determination are often bloody and undemocratic. Those who argue for the right of self-determination conveniently ignore or exclude these examples, but these examples are nation-building movements nevertheless. Neumann argues that self-determination is fine as an ideal but does not apply to the real world, where, if we look at it objectively, it violates our sense of what is right.
Neumann admits that self determination for "peoples," defined as those who happen to live in a particular region, might be all right. But there is no right of self-determination for ethnic groups, for there are many instances where this has proved horrible. Ethnic groups can only be vaguely defined, and those they exclude who live in the region will be forced into subjection. Indeed Nazi Germany justified itself as ethnic self-determination. Neumann argues against the right of ethnic self-determination on the grounds that it produces horrible results, including those in Nazi Germany, and on the grounds that it deprives other people of their rights. These outcomes violate our sense of what is right.
Neumann goes on to point out that a state is the monopoly on violence within a region. Amir claims Neumann here quotes Trotsky, an apparent attempt by Amir to tar Neumann with the "communist" brush and so to refute Neumann's claim with an ad hominem attack upon its source. But no, Neumann is not quoting Trotsky, he is quoting Max Weber who is the obvious and best known source of this observation. To be sure Weber quotes Trotsky and insists that he is right, but the observation that the state is such a monopoly is actually a commonplace in political theory. Would anyone seriously thinking about the state deny it? Amir, apparently, would. Neumann's point is that a Jewish state would inevitably subject Palestinians to arbitrary power, for the state monopolizes power and a Jewish state would monopolize power for the sake of Jews. Since the state is, at bottom, the monopoly on the use of force, no constitution can ultimately restrain it. Neumann's argument is here pretty non-controversial to anyone who has studied politics, but Amir thinks he refutes it by simply calling it bizarre and stating protections in the constitution.
Here is another interesting quote from Amir.
The author asks: "Were or were not the Zionists going to accept a state in which, perhaps in matters of life and death, it was possible for the citizens to decide against the Jews?" Now, it would be more than interesting if the author could point to a single state in which the citizens will decide against themselves. Again, one of his more than bizarre statements.
What's really going on here? Neumann is offering a rhetorical question. The answer to the question, if it must be answered, is "of course they were not!" Amir seems to accept this answer but also seems to imagine that Neumann is demanding that the Zionists do something that no one else would do -- relinquish the power of the state. But Neumann's point is that the state cannot, by its nature, relinquish this power. Amir is in effect agreeing with Neumann, but entirely missing Neumann's point. Neumann is saying that because of the nature of the state it will necessarily favor the Jews in matters of life and death. Therefore, no matter what the constitution says the Palestinians will suffer in a Jewish state. Amir accepts Neumann's argument, pretends Neumann demands that the state be other than it is, then calls Neumann's arguments bizarre. Indeed, in this passage Amir concedes everything while thinking he is finding the argument foolish.
There are many other cases of misreading and /or misrepresentation in Mr. Amir's review. One could make arguments against Neumann, but Mr. Amir's reading is so poor and his misrepresentations so obvious that his review raises questions about his ability to judge the book fairly. For either he does not know how to read or he is intentionally misrepresenting Mr. Neumann's argument.
Ithaca, New York, USA - April 15, 2006
A Disappointed Reader: Jacob Amir's The Case Against The Case Against Israel
To the Editor:
I wonder what Jacob Amir's review is doing in Swans. That is, yes, by all means have an exchange of letters about Neumann's book. However if Swans positions itself on the left, I really don't see why Amir's review should have been published in Swans at all. The "balance" argument stinks, and I don't see why a critique of Neumann's book by a hard-line Zionist should be published. If you were to take issue with a review in, say, The New Republic, or The Atlantic Monthly, and other similar archzionist magazines, they would never publish your review, or related article -- I even doubt that they would be honest about publishing a letter exchange. So, why do you have to accord them an opening in Swans? I simply don't agree.
Since you have published his review, I think that it would be useful to provide some background info on J. Amir. The only thing I can find are letters to the editor -- and these defend a hard-line Zionist position... So it would be nice to know a bit more about this clown -- relevant and useful context (and this should appear in the article).
Paul de Rooij
London, England - April 10, 2006
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Jonathan Nitzan and the Profits from Instability: Gilles d'Aymery's Creative Destruction: From Iraq To Iran - Why the Coming Attack on IranGilles,
Your article on the deep strategy of US meddling in the Middle East is very interesting. Conventional wisdom says the purpose of our invasion of Iraq was to grab control of Iraq's oil, in order to guarantee supply, stable prices and strategic advantage against global competitors like China. Your departure from the conventional view is the idea that the real aim was not stable supply and continued low prices, but just the opposite -- instability and higher prices, which hurt our global competitors much more than us.
Jonathan Nitzan and Shimon Bechler make a similar point in their scholarly work The Global Political Economy of Israel. There they prove pretty conclusively that in the fifty years following WWII, oil and defense industry profits correlate consistently with periods of Middle East instability and higher oil prices. They conclude that these two powerful sectors of the US economy have exerted their influence on the US political process to assure that periodic Middle East instability is an ongoing result of US policy.
The fascinating short book on the multiple meanings of 9/11, Afflicted Powers, also supports your argument that instability is the real goal of US policy in the Middle East. The authors expand the playing field, however, and see instability as the global condition of what they call US "military neo-liberalism," whose aim is to pressure Third World countries both economically and militarily until they are weak enough to allow US companies to move in and extract or exploit their natural resources.
Sausalito, California, USA - April 15, 2006
Iran and US Mid-term Elections: Gilles d'Aymery's Creative Destruction: From Iraq To Iran - Why the Coming Attack on IranTo the Editor:
My take on Iran is that there will probably be a single set of non-nuclear air strikes, with no follow-up, launched from Diego Garcia in the first days of November, immediately preceded by large troop withdrawals.
Bush's only concern, at this point, is impeachment. He can't have a third term and he can go no higher. When he leaves office, he will be coming up to 63 years old. He has got all that's going and all he has to worry about is having it taken from him. Impeachment is the only way that can happen and impeachment requires a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Given his ever-increasing difficulties, a political stunt designed to swing the election is a real possibility. An attack now would be counterproductive, since the voters will have seen by November that it was totally useless and has alienated whatever little bit of mankind was not already alienated. An attack a few days before the election can be presented as a success and by the time the public discover the truth, the election will be in the bag. Since the purpose is to swing the election, not damage Iran, a single series of attacks will do the trick nicely and that "forbearance" can then be presented as a desire for peace.
Of course, the Shia militias will be unleashed against the US military, so there needs to be many fewer of them on the ground than now. That also fits in with Bush's election strategy as it would suit him to have America's TV screens, from, say, mid-October, full of shrieking wives running across airport aprons to embrace their husbands and smiling soldiers carrying children. Earlier withdrawal would be counterproductive inasmuch as the horror stories would have already started leaking into the media before election day and the claim that the Iraqi police and military were "up and running" would be seen to be false, as would the claim that Iraq was not degenerating into civil war. As John Murtha has pointed out, military withdrawals have to be fast and you don't announce them in advance. My guess, therefore, is that it will happen more or less overnight, and without any prior warning, in the second half of October.
Operating from Diego Garcia suits Europe, which wants to stay out of the whole thing, and allows access from the sea without violating anybody's airspace.
The aftermath: Iraq unravels into three states. Independent Kurdistan unravels Syria, Turkey and Iran. The Shia Arab state unravels Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and the Gulf states. Afghanistan unravels into ethnic rivalries, affecting Iran, Pakistan and the neighbouring ex-Soviet republics. The sense of "empowerment" affects the Muslim world generally.
The Israelis? Suits them just fine! In an ideal world, the Israelis would like to see their neighbours ruled by American stooges and America ruled by Israeli stooges. With America's superpower status gone, a plethora of small, new states, weak and squabbling among themselves over frontiers, makes a very acceptable Plan B.
So such a scenario actually suits everybody! Bush avoids impeachment, the Iranians get their martyrdom without too much loss of life, the Europeans keep out of it, the Israelis can say they took no part in it and they've cut "Goliath" down to a manageable size.
Luxembourg - April 12, 2006
Poetry ex-post EasterDear Mr. d'Aymery & all at Swans,
I'm a bit tortured by all the torture, even on Easter Morning. So I wrote the following. Perhaps it's something you can put in the Letters section sometime.
Happy Easter and happy Spring to you and to all those you hold dear.
Malvern, PA, USA - April 16, 2006
Zarqawi, US Infiltration, and Costly MercenariesTo the Editor:
You should have known months or years ago that Zarqawi was a myth of the Pentagon and the administration just as was the claim of WMD, BW, etc., prior to March 2003. See Mike Whitney's "America's Terror-war in Iraq" on Information Clearing House.
At one time there may have been a low level Zarqawi for a few days. But his legend should have died after a few reports of "terrorism." No man of his alleged terrorism can or even could have operated in Iraq divided between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds for more than a few days while being pursued by the Pentagon. With the carnage alleged to him, opposition within any segment would have exposed him and he'd have been captured and killed by any one of these groups of Iraqis. Look back at the pathetic Saddam capture, who had been drugged.
With our vast communication capabilities, his extremely limited intelligence, and our ongoing infiltration, which is the most intense operation in the world, only a new myth by the Pentagon and US Government eaten up by our gullible and obedient news media served a useful purpose by this invading American army.
How long will a gullible American continue to suck up our continual wont to fight wars one after the other?
In the end the military equipment, and separately, personnel, will devour this nation. We have a military that has a current history of abuse, misuse, and corruption without end. The list is endless. We bring them all back as "heroes."
Are you aware that we have a MERCENARY MILITARY today? They all enlisted or took a commission for pay, travel, adventure, schooling, citizenship, and high retirement.
Pay, allowances, bonuses, and benefits are out of this world. I bet you didn't know that a widow/widower of only one day collected $996.00 per month plus $250.00 for each child in 2005 -- this is on a COLA increase -- for the rest of his/her life or child until age 21. Now the beneficiary draws all of $100,000.00 death gratuity plus upwards of $450.000.00 life insurance on which you and I pay the premium on a substantial part under certain conditions.
Over 1/3 of the so-called warriors -- I say wussies -- are coming home and claiming mental problems, which will likely run up to $2,500.00 per month or more in today's dollars plus meds running up to $50.00 per day, and life-long VA health care. FIGURE IT OUT?
Willard D. Gray
Sumner, Illinois, USA - April 21, 2006
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